A card-carrying member…

in the Post-Evangelical Wilderness.

***

Not that I want to be defined by ‘what I’m against’ or slap on a trendy label, but after being called a ‘good post-evangelical’ recently, I prayed to St. Google and realized it was time to send away for my membership card and decoder ring.

If you require further explanation, browse these links: Wiki Page, This Blog Post, or This One, and This Excellent Article.

No, I’m not draping myself in the mantle of Indignant Victim/Misunderstood Prophet, nor am I jettisoning foundational orthodox doctrines. I’m weary of the bullshit is all. Celebrity ministries, flatulent egotism, unrepentant rationalizations for long-term character flaws, imperious immaturity, moral failures, financial shenanigans, organization politics, dysfunctional and disproportionate sermons… Sad to say if you’ve been in church longer than five years, you probably know what I’m talking about.

Looking over 28 years of following Jesus, plus what I can discern and analyze of the current state of the American church, I wonder if in this Providential place and season, my service to God must be developed and engaged outside the traditional venue of the church. That recognizing the present options are not only less than ideal, but out of my purview, if I am being forced to grow into new areas of faithfulness and fruitfulness. I also wonder if this large shift – which I find myself a part of – isn’t a falling away as critics claim, but rather a divine pruning that requires Christians exercise missional impulse (i.e. obey the Great Commission) outside the traditional pyramid scheme church. Perhaps like the Acts 8 persecution in Jerusalem after the martyrdom of Stephen, this scattering is God’s intention. Maybe He’s saying it’s time to stop congealing around brand-name ministries in mega-churches, and go into the highways and byways and deal one-on-one with people.

If so, I need to move forward rather than drag old modes of thought and practice behind me.

It’s not a little scary – this pushing out into the deep and leaving sight of the shore. But the boat is solid, tempest-worthy if you will. The instruments work. So long as I keep my destination in mind and don’t lose sight of the North Star, I’ll get through it. The shore behind me was the starting point, not the goal. And it wasn’t what was keeping me dry either.

It’s just a thought.

Thought for today


“Somehow or other, and with the best intentions, we have shown the world the typical Christian in the likeness of a crashing and rather ill-natured bore—and this in the name of the one who assuredly never bored a soul in those thirty-three years during which he passed through the world like a flame. Let us, in heaven’s name, drag out the divine drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slipshod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction. If the pious are the first to be shocked, so much worse for the pious—others will pass into the kingdom of heaven before them. If all men are offended because of Christ, let them be offended; but where is the sense of their being offended at something that is not Christ and is nothing like him? We do him singularly little honor by watering down his personality till it could not offend a fly. Surely it is not the business of the Church to adapt Christ to men, but to adapt men to Christ.”

― Dorothy L. Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine

Plug for ‘Story’

Of the hundreds of ‘How to Write’ books, I suspect there are very few you actually need. “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers”, Gotham Writer’s Workshop’s Writing Fiction workbook, and How to write Science Fiction and Fantasy helped me tremendously. Add in Steven Pressfield’s ‘War of Art’, and Stephen King’s Memoir on Craft.

But STORY by Robert McKee is dope-slapping me in the best possible way. I haven’t highlighted and underlined a book in years. This however is so perceptive and articulate, not only am I marking it up like a middle-schooler, I’m reading portions aloud to my wife. Ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Looking back over the last four years, if I’d only read this first…

By way of example, here are excerpts for all the ideological writers. (that includes Christians) who weigh their stories to the point of painful contrivance.

When your premise is an idea you feel you must prove to the world, and you design your story as an undeniable certification of that idea, you set yourself on the road to didacticism. In your zeal to persuade, you will stifle the voice of the other side. Misusing and abusing art to preach, your screenplay (story) will become a thesis film, a thinly disguised sermon as you strive in a single stroke to convert the world. Didacticism results from the naive enthusiasm that fiction can be used like a scalpel to cut out the cancers of society.

Make no mistake, no one can achieve excellence as writer without being something of a philosopher and holding strong convictions. The trick is not to be a slave to your ideas, but to immerse yourself in life. For the proof of your vision is not how well you can assert your controlling idea, but its victory over the enormously powerful forces you array against it.
Story, Robert McKee. p 121,122

A novel is not a painting is not a symphony is not a film is not a sermon. Each discipline has its own requirements, opportunities, and boundaries. Be true to the one you’re called to. Pick this book up if you write fiction. Read it if you want to learn to write well.

“Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn’t try to write fiction. It’s not a grand enough job for you.”

“The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.”

― Flannery O’Connor

Praise Serendipity?

“That’s just serendipity,” he scoffed, when I mentioned an answered prayer. “The universe has a way of giving good things to good people.” (to soften the blow, I guess)

So you’ll attribute subtle, benign intent to an anonymous universe but not God? Affirm this karmic dynamic, yet insist on random, meaningless chance? Intelligent Design and Meta-narrative need not apply.

And you mock my faith?

So how come ‘serendipity’ happens more frequently and specifically the more I pray – to God?

Just asking.

Charlatans for Christ

So WORLD magazine has yet another expose in the Parade of Shame for mega-ministry train wrecks. This month’s culprit is Ron Luce of Acquire the Fire fame. You can read the full article HERE if you can stomach it, but it is the all-too-typical sordid fare of shallow dealings, megalomania, dissembling, deception, and rationalizations rather than repentance. “Be sure of this, your sin will find you out,” seems to have dropped off the memory verse list.

“You have given occasion for the enemies of God to blaspheme” the Lord said to adulterous, murderous King David. As a former minister and present Christian, thanks for that brother Ron. As if it ain’t tough enough.

This is really just another fine example of Western Christianity’s “TET Offensive” style of ministry: reliance on Talent, Emotion and Technology over Character and Anointing. All genuine ministry is fundamentally supernatural, rooted in who Jesus is and what He did. It’s His story preacher, not yours. It’s the Chef, not the Waiter, so stop spitting in the food. Don’t believe your own press and hog the spotlight. Ministry isn’t a cruising altitude – it’s a diving bell. Hide in Christ and let Him get the glory – He’ll reward you soon enough. (and any crown you get you’re going to throw at Jesus’ feet anyway, so…)

I don’t know which is worse: that there’s enough scandal fodder for WORLD to do monthly articles, or the general undermining of Christian credibility. It’s rather discouraging, all you leaders getting caught with your pants down or hand in the till. I swear, If it wasn’t for Jesus, I’d give up on Christianity altogether.

*apologies to jesters all over the world.

Sci Fi is Sin?

The first in a series titled “Spitballs from Baptisneyland.”* It deals with Christian worldview issues. So you’ve been warned.

IT’LL JUMP ON YOU!
I’m old enough and been around church long enough to remember the “Rock and Roll is Devil’s music” debate. “Words and motives don’t matter! Drums and electric guitars are Satan’s tools. It’s the beat – that pagan, idol-worshipping beat.”

Never mind God considers the heart before the appearance, that character and content matter more than cosmetics, that the root determines the fruit… scores of the faithful were burning other believers at the metaphorical heresy stake because they couldn’t/wouldn’t disassociate the medium from the message.

Offspring of shallow thinking, anec-data, bolstered with a few out-of-context Chapter and Verse, this things are evil doctrine is rooted in bad theology. Let me clarify right here, Stuff isn’t inherently sinful** – people are. We sin because we’re sinners – not the other way around. It’s not the THING- it’s how we use it. It’s us – not the item. Music is a vehicle for self-expression before it’s a vector for ideas. Same with film, theater, dance, art… To borrow a computer tech troubleshooting term, PICNIC: Problem in Chair, Not in Computer. Basic Christianity, right there.

That’s why salvation doesn’t merely forgive our crimes but transforms our criminal tendencies. It’s conversion of the soul, i.e the essence of who and what we truly are. But back on topic…

ROBOTS AREN’T REPROBATE
Now maybe you were expecting Yoda to be a little green Billy Graham, (died on tree, savior did) but is it really that shocking when non-believers express non-Biblical worldviews? When they speculate in speculative fiction? Aside from enjoying the experience, allowing yourself to be entertained, the key is shift your expectations, spit out the bones and discern (there’s that word again) the themes, virtues, principles that ARE portrayed. To stand on the common ground of our humanity. All truth is Gods and it’s the perfect place to start the conversation.

I believe artistic integrity, or faithfulness to the medium, is mandatory – I’ll talk about that in another post – but the notion that portraying the futuristic, the fantastic immediately disqualifies a story, renders it unprofitable and ineffective for Christian truths, betrays a blinkered, petty perspective based on ignorance and fear, not faith. That some use fiction to dissemble and deceive, and others follow along speaks more of a vacuum than inherent malice or conspiracy.

C.S. Lewis’ statement “The world does not need more Christian literature. What it needs is more Christians writing good literature” hits the mark. Unless you deliberately neuter your work in the editing process, Who and What you are can’t help but come out. The essence is transmitted. The challenge then is not simply to become an genuine Christian, but master your chosen medium and so authentically express the reality of redemption working in your life.

I’ll end with a quote from Dorothy Sayers. (I have a crush on her.)

“The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore – on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him ‘meek and mild,’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.”

EXTRA CREDIT BONUS QUESTION: If a net-friend’s autocorrect on her IPad keeps changing “Jesus” to “Jedis”, is it possessed?

*So titled as my attempts to fend off wads of gloppy logic fired by the insular religious

**Gnostic duality (material = bad but spiritual = good) isn’t Biblical. Sanctification isn’t seclusion. Creation is damaged by sin, yes, but it is NOT implicitly evil. God created, inhabited and continues to animate the material world. He made it. He blessed it. The Incarnation sanctifies mortal creation.

The Gospel according to Sci Fi


Consider the implications of the TED talk below. Or rather the ethical implications of this mind-blowing technology: techno-slaved insects/animals, designer hybrid pets, cloning, genetic engineering… If we do it with animals, it’s only a matter of time before the techniques and technology are used on people. Think it’ll never happen? We treat regular human beings with astonishing cruelty and callousness – how much more a being that is designed and grown? 50 Shades of Josef Mengele

One of my favorite books in recent years, Drew Magary’s ‘Post Mortal’, extrapolates a decidedly non-idyllic look at the near-future where age-freezing gene-therapy is developed, debated, then disseminated. Blunt, realistic, well-written, I highly recommend it to anyone, especially those wrestling with the inevitable struggle to integrate the Person and Principles of our faith with advancing technology in a global society. (Side note: I believe in the Rapture, but think it’s too often a cop-out of serious work and thought. After all, why dig deep or plan when you’re out of here at any minute, right?)

Far from being pagan or hostile, science fiction is an incredible opportunity for Christian writers. It challenges us to get a hold of Who and What we believe, then develop credible, consistent, working expressions of God’s redemption, compassion, and holiness. A cloistered, ‘Hold the Fort/Siege’ mentality won’t work. Does anyone actually remember the Alamo? Retreat and separation isn’t holiness – it’s heresy. All you’re really saying is ‘My God is small and stupid and no God at all.’

It’s a shame the TED talk cuts off. I’d love to hear the rest of the discussion.

But maybe that’s the point.