Archive for October, 2011

City of Faith Christian Fellowship

October 26, 2011 Leave a comment

I took my entourage back to City of Faith for my second visit. My primary traveling companion would like to give the church an extended try.

So for the duration I will not be blogging about City of Faith.


Robert Jeffress, cults, and all that

October 25, 2011 Leave a comment

I am not a big fan of Robert Jeffress; I don’t know a lot about him, but he came to my attention during the fundraising campaign for his downtown Dallas campus a couple of years ago. At the time I thought he was a pretty good example of what’s wrong with the Southern Baptist Convention: he’s a strong personality, has a board that apparently agrees with him on everything, doesn’t mind saying or doing controversial things that have nothing to do with the Gospel, etc. If I had a “big-name conservative pastor dead pool,” a list of guys I expect to blow up or break down within the next five years, I suspect Jeffress would be on it.

I’d rather be wrong, of course. As always I’d much rather learn I’ve misunderstood someone, or see someone who is being reckless have a change of heart and learn to moderate their behavior, or whatever. And some recent posts by Tom Rich at his FBC Jax Watchdog blog [e.g. link] suggest that perhaps Jeffress isn’t just another loose cannon in the pulpit.

Still, I am inclined to see Jeffress’s recent “Mormonism is a cult” comments much the same way a lot of secular commentators have seen them: as just an uncomfortable religious/political favor done by a high-profile pastor for the high-profile governor of his state. In this case, a favor done by Jeffress for Texas governor Rick Perry.

I was interested to see that National Public Radio went to Richard Land for comment on the Jeffress flap [link], and I would love to hear Land’s unedited comments. Land is right: “cult” is a term with a bunch of meanings, and Mormonism’s relationship with little-oh orthodox Christianity is complicated. And I’m not surprised to see Land here lumping where Jeffress is splitting: despite Land’s apparent position as someone who advocates on behalf of a religious group with political organizations, I would argue that what he really does is sell Republican Party decisions to Southern Baptists. So the Jeffress flap puts Land in a difficult position, since Land will be stuck selling Romney to Southern Baptists if and when Romney is the Republican nominee.

It would take a lot for me to vote for Romney; I tend to see second-generation political figures who switch their position on abortion midlife (or midcareer) as not being solidly pro-life and not likely to do much to deliver on pro-life campaign promises, and as a former Massachusetts governor I just don’t see Romney as being all that conservative. I won’t say I’d vote for Obama over Romney necessarily, but I’m going to take some convincing to vote for Romney.

I tend to see Romney as being in that Bush Sr/Dole/McCain mold, an establishment Republican that evangelical opinion leaders sell at their peril. I’d be willing to guess that in his heart of hearts Richard Land wishes he had a better candidate to sell. Or at least that Robert Jeffress would shut up.


two quick unrelated news items

October 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Here are a couple of articles that are part of ongoing trends, and while they’re not especially exciting in and of themselves they’re worth checking out because of the big narrative they’re part of.

  1. Secret Service, IRS investigating Eddie Long’s church [link]. For political speech? No, for scamming people out of their retirement money. I guess it goes without saying: if your church starts holding wealth-building seminars it’s time to find another church. Just saying.
  2. A megachurch in Alabama has taken over another failing small local church and made it a campus church [link]. Kudos to reporter Greg Garrison for not mentioning the recession.

Regarding the second story: there probably are churches that are failing due to the recession, but by and large I would be tempted to ascribe the consolidation in the church business as part of a demographic shift rather than blaming tough economic times. I think it’s due to smaller congregations getting older and aging out of their prime giving years. I’d be tempted to say that if the recession were hitting churches hard then we’d be seeing the megachurch collapse everybody swears is coming.


Ken Bailey on Issues Etc.

October 22, 2011 1 comment

A while back Issues Etc. re-ran a 1999 series on interpreting parables in the original cultural context featuring author Ken Bailey. The five-part series can currently be found on the Issues Etc. archive page for Ken Bailey [link].

I love this sort of in-depth study; it really makes the text come alive.

At the same time I can’t help wondering how much of this sort of thing is necessary to be a theologically orthodox Christian. I come out of a tradition that values the plain meaning of the text in translation and prefers to ignore any questions regarding accuracy of translation, the difficulty of being certain when attempting to add anything to the plain meaning of the text.

Anyway, in this case Bailey assembles an interpretive framework for the parables in Luke 15 that makes them seem less foreign by appealing to his description of the culture in which they were originally spoken. It’s fascinating stuff; I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide just how Lutheran the results are.


One Community Church, Lynchburg, VA

October 21, 2011 1 comment

One of the many perils of visiting someone else’s church, compounded when only visiting a church once, is the hazard of being (in a metaphorical sense, mind you) one of the pagans on Mars Hill, endlessly classifying, never engaging, and always wanting to hear something new. It’s a pitfall, and one I try to always be aware of. Most of the time I hear familiar passages of Scripture interpreted in familiar ways, and I sometimes waste the opportunity to hear a sermon trying to predict which of a small number of standard interpretations a preacher is going to use.

So I have to admit I was blown away when I went to church this past Sunday and I heard something that hit me where I live. We were in Lynchburg for Liberty University’s Homecoming weekend, and on the invitation of an old family friend we visited One Community Church [link], a relatively young church that shares a building with a ballet school on Kemper St, in one of the older and less fashionable parts of downtown. And I was blown away when the pastor started his sermon on 1 John 1:8-2:2 thus:

The Word of God will not change your life unless you are willing to confess.

I come from a tradition that takes the assurance of salvation so seriously that we are light on confession (and rarely repent). And one of my great crises of faith can probably be best stated like this: I don’t understand how someone who has been a dedicated, active Christian for a long time, who may even be a professional Christian of some sort, and spends lots of time and effort reading and studying Scripture, can still be a cold/hard/heartless/petty/flat-out evil person. I don’t understand how someone who is supposedly Spirit-filled and has an active prayer life could remain unconvicted about a pattern of sin that causes great and probably permanent damage to other people. And the pull quote above is as good as any I’ve heard so far; confession/repentance is a habit and has to be cultivated.

Because the church is located in a willfully funky downtown location and is stuffed to the rafters with college students, many of them sporting a grunge look, some of them still wearing sock caps in the heat of a Central Virginia Indian Summer, I was expecting some variety of hipster Christianity, for better or worse. Hipsters, lest we forget, tend to be post-ironic authenticity-seekers. They’re a funny mix of studied earnestness and referential irony; and I have a real soft spot for them.

The music was loud but the lyrics were surprisingly unrepetitive and theologically sound. The sermon was thoughtful, practical, and sound. It followed a basic Law-and-Gospel pattern but it didn’t make it sound like algebra. There was a community involvement segment, a music video that fit the sermon thematically, and Communion by intincture.

I really liked this church, and I wish the folks there all the best. It’s tough to sustain a church full of Liberty students, as many of them have been churched to death; they have no money; and they are in town for roughly twenty-eight weeks a year for four years and then they’re gone. So this church more than most will probably face a serious Pareto problem, with a very small fraction of the people contributing the overwhelming majority of the time, effort, and money required to keep the church afloat.

If I ever find myself back in Lynchburg on a Sunday I’d love to visit again; I’d be curious to see where and what they are a year or more from now.


Boorstein profile of Johnnie Moore

October 20, 2011 Leave a comment

A reader was kind enough to point me to a recent Washington Post profile by religion writer Michelle Boorstein of Liberty University vice president, campus pastor, political operative, and first-time author Johnnie Moore [link].  Readers with memories longer than a year may remember Boorstein’s article on Ergun Caner’s demotion [link] that more or less served as the official history of the Caner situation outside the community of interested parties.

I am inclined to read the Moore profile as a sort of birth announcement for Moore’s political career, mostly as an idea leader or vote-deliverer for the young evangelical vote. It also appears to be part of the publicity push for Moore’s book Honestly.

Here are a few pull quotes:

From this lofty perch, he has come to two conclusions about American evangelicals.

The first is that they have become too callous[…] Moore says evangelicals have cared too much in recent decades about building massive megachurches for the upper-middle class and too little about getting their hands dirty serving the poor.

His second conclusion is more Falwell-esque: Evangelicals are becoming too liberal about their faith. To Moore, if you say you believe in the Bible as literal truth, but privately believe it’s a metaphor, you’re a phony.

Moore sees his fellow young evangelicals as highly emotional and “entitled” — but idealistic. They don’t trust organizations or traditional political activism (which is why he thinks they don’t identify with the tea party), but they want to be a part of causes (which he believes Obama convinced them they were).

[Rev. Samuel] Rodriguez, the Latino evangelical leader, says evangelicals like Moore will eventually merge in America with ethnic minorities and be a massive force.

“Some of these other groups have a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy about their Christianity; it’s sort of clandestine, they kind of dilute it. But Johnnie would say: Why can’t we be both sold out to Christ and addressing issues like sex trafficking?”

There are bits and pieces of this that give me hope; I’m always hopeful that those of us who share the legacy of the Moral Majority will someday acquire a social conscience that is expressed in more than just a handful of issue check boxes. On the other hand, I have a sneaking suspicion that Moore represents just another generation of sellouts who express mature, high-sounding personal values while helping persuade young conservative Christian voters to vote for candidates who ultimately don’t share those values, much less express them as policy. I guess we’ll see.


Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre

October 19, 2011 3 comments

Over the summer Liberty University announced that it is terminating some 50 programs of study in favor of 23 new programs, reducing the number of programs from 290 to 263 [link]; I don’t really have an opinion on this: universities do this from time to time, etc. and I can’t guess whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing without a list of the programs that have been eliminated. Unfortunately the Liz Barry article at the link above doesn’t include lists; doing so in the print edition of the News-Advance would be something of a typesetter’s nightmare anyway.

While looking for the lists of new and sunset majors I stumbled across a press release from Liberty meant to set the record straight on a number of things, including how much public money it receives and what it does with it [link]. This quote jumped out at me:

Liberty has also built a unique artificial ski slope – the only one of its kind in North America – that is used by Liberty students as well as ski enthusiasts from Central Virginia and around the country.

This is a reference to the Snowflex Centre [link]. It dominates the peak of Candler’s Mountain, and is visible from almost anywhere in Lynchburg; if you’re in the neighborhood I’d recommend seeing it from a connector road called Simon’s Run, near Wards Ferry Road, where you can see it framed by woods on both sides. Sadly I didn’t have time on my most recent visit to snap a picture for posterity.

When Liberty installed the Monogram [link] several years ago I didn’t think anything could be more hideous. The monogram isn’t just gaudy; it’s lopsided, and if my eyes don’t deceive me it isn’t aging well; its white background appears to be turning beige, meaning that at some point in the future it will need to be repainted or Liberty will need to change its colors to red, beige, and blue. But I digress.

I realize lots of universities have big ugly things on their grounds, and they’re treated with a mixture of kindness, nostalgia, embarrassment, and contempt, but I am tempted to suggest that the Monogram and the Snowflex Centre are the sorts of things Charles Foster Kane might have had at Xanadu [link] if he’d had less time, less money, and less taste.