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.

The root of the problem

Faith-based post for Sunday. Big idea I’ll try to keep brief.

***

There are over two hundred types of cancer, says the Cancer Society. Of these dozens upon dozens of ways your own cells rebel in your systems and organs, it’s the same basic problem manifesting itself in different ways. These different cancers require different approaches, treatment regimens, but all have the same desired goal: to stop the cancer, the internal treachery, before it spreads and kills.

There’s a lot of talk in religion over Sin: what is sin? is this or that behavior a sin? is Sin A worse that Sin B? etc, etc, ad nauseum. Now it certainly needs to be addressed; sin doesn’t make you bad – it makes you dead. But the discussion of a problem should never be at the expense of its remedy. Christian faith is the good news about the Remedy, specifically that God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth is the effective, authentic solution to our deepest problem.

and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. “You are witnesses of these things.…” Luke 24:46-48

It seems to me three core theological foundations get lost in the furor of these ‘Sin’ debates.

The first is that we sin because we are sinners. The Spiritual Cancer is in all of us – it just manifests differently. Or to put it another way, our problem with God isn’t so much our Crimes as our Criminal Tendencies.

This is Christianity 101: we are not simply sick or broken; there’s a nasty rebellious streak in all of us. God’s holiness doesn’t demand judgment on merely sick people. That’s tyranny, and God is not the Big Sky Bully. The problem is a willful, selfish aspect to our being that knowingly denies and defies God. The whole ‘Original Sin, Fruit of the Tree, Garden of Eden’ story wasn’t about Satanic deception and arbitrary disobedience; it’s about human beings rejecting God as the final authority on Good and Evil, insisting we know better and are accountable to no one, except perhaps ourselves and only if we want to be.

This brings us to the second issue, the big R-word: Repentance. There’s no Redemption without it because the first step is acknowledging the problem. Repenting or “metanoia” is more that compliance to morality or conformity to dogma; it’s changing your mind about who you are and who God is. It’s allowing God to be God once again. It’s admitting you and I aren’t the center of the universe, we don’t know everything, and that God as Lord, Creator and Savior has the final say over our lives, over what’s Right and Wrong.

The third foundation is people are saved by Who they know, not What they know. I’m all for sound doctrine, apologetics, credible and consistent theology. But directions to the doctor aren’t the same as the doctor. The guardrails and signposts on the narrow road to life are only there to help prevent wrecks and getting lost. Morality stems from what God likes/dislikes, Doctrine from what he said, but Salvation is a Gift from a Person. It’s an ongoing spiritual relationship with a living, resurrected Savior.

These two recent posts http://mycropht.wordpress.com/2013/10/02/judgecooking/
http://mikeduran.com/2013/10/interview-w-stephanie-drury-of-stuff-christian-culture-likes/
brought this statement to my attention:

MIKE: Loaded question: Do you think it’s possible to believe homosexuality is a sin and still be a “good Christian”?

STEPHANIE: It depends on how you define a “good Christian.” If by it you mean someone who falls in line with what their pastor or denomination says, then yes. If by it you mean someone who engages the teachings of Jesus fully and thoughtfully, then no.

I’m not going to try and understand the logic behind that assertion. It strikes me as a sad and silly statement on many levels. I agree emphatically with Katherine Coble that Christian faith doesn’t rest on my response to another person’s sexual behavior – It’s based on my response to Jesus of Nazareth. The Bible is no more ‘anti-gay’ than it is ‘anti-liar’, ‘anti-adulterer’, ‘anti-greed’, or ‘anti-thief’. Sexual immorality – of which homosexuality is one type – is clearly stated, numerous times, as symptomatic of Mankind’s isolated, broken and defiant nature.

I’m aware it’s not currently popular to say that, but see the ‘Repentance’ part above. I don’t get to say what’s right and wrong. But I also reject the fear and hate mongering against people who deal with that particular sin. God loves people and offers forgiveness, redemption and transformation to anyone who comes to Him.

I’ll end with this remarkable testimony. Have a good week.

When the Dark Matter hits the fan

Thoughts on Christian faith here.

***

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

I want to be real with God. I want Him to be real with me. I am so all done with perpetually effervescent charismatic caricatures gushing the latest gift or revelation. I can’t comply with the rank and file of brittle, painted saints, stuffed with a thousand minor pieties and doctrinal dissections. Perfection is and never really was an option. Best I can muster is honesty and a constant diet of repentance.

I think there are phases of growth in our personal understanding of God. Stages to practical theology, if you will. To use a contested term, I think we evolve in our understanding of him, his Word, and how to implement His reality in our lives. Truth and Reality are Objective, but we view them through the lens of our worldview. The clearer, deeper, more accurate, the better we can comprehend and conform to his will and his image. I parallel this to Astronomy and Mankind’s expanding understanding of the universe.

1. Primitive Phase: new convert stage. We think it all really revolves around us. Like newborns. We experience the love, the sense of purpose, personal intimacy, assistance, grace… That’s all true and real, but we filter it through an immature selfishness. We acknowledge God’s Sovereignty, but in practice, we get upset when it’s not all about us.

2. Copernicus Strikes: Given some time and disappointments, we bump into enough hard facts to recognize we are not the center of the universe, God is. What do you know, Rick W was right: It really isn’t all about us – it’s about Him. We admit God might love us but doesn’t spoil us. He truly is the Eternal and Sovereign God, far above all Principality and Power, dwelling in unapproachable light. Amen.

That said, we still demand order, structure, certainty in our religion. And not just confidence in the Person, Principles, and Promises of God, but in our day-to-day values, attitudes and applications. The cloister or gated-community mind-set, we expect perfect spheres to revolve around our faith in perfect circles. As Christians, we insist our marriage, our jobs, our kids, health, family, church, ministry… all move from glory to glory in an ever-escalating testimony to the Abundant Life. (TM)

Here’s where Classic confirmation bias kicks in. We tailor everything those expectations, discarding what doesn’t conform. It’s safe, predictable, certain… but it’s also small and inherently false.

3. When the Dark Matter hits the Fan: Given a peculiar combination of time and circumstances, everyone gets Black Hole and Hubble Revelations. Light gets sucked in. Gravity hits like a runaway freight train. Your conceptions get shattered. The Universe is a big, scary place – Really big and really scary. It’s not at all what we thought and we’re very, very uncomfortable.

We discover yes, there are laws and principles. Yes, there is a vast, complex harmony that keeps it spinning. But there are ellipses, apogees, perigees, anomalies, deformities. Gravity, light, time actually change in strange relationships to mass and each other. They aren’t constant and perfect and uniform. The universe is mind-blowing, frightening, so much bigger and stranger than any one, or all of us.

But this is actually the God who saved me in the first place. This vast, complex, confusing, Creator, Sustainer, Sovereign and Savior. He hasn’t changed. I have. Even more humbling; he’s been waiting for me to get to this precipice. After all, He brought me here. He is the Author and Finisher of my faith.

Time to start believing that.

Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day. – 2 Tim. 1:12

I am…

*The following post deals with issues of Christian faith and the person of Jesus. In fact, it’s veering into ’emotional rant’ territory, so if such things offend you or you came for sci-fi action and didn’t expect ‘religious stuff’, you’ll wanna skip this one. On the Eshu front, SHIFT TENSE: RED FLAGS is currently at the editors and Michal Oracz is working up the cover. I’m excited and will post relevant updates as I get solid info.

I AM SECOND
Spent the better part of this morning watching I am Second videos and ended up bawling like a little kid. (try here and here to see what I mean) I need to say it doesn’t get any better than this; redemption is what Jesus is all about. It doesn’t get more simple or more profound. It’s eternal.

Furthermore I believe deep in my bones if a ministry isn’t centered around salvation not just as a theory or catch-phrase but the practical day-to-day application of a real God reaching into real lives, then it’s worthless. Regardless of organizational tonnage or theological buttress, it’s only so much chaff come Judgment Day.

This is the Jesus that saved me. This is the one I want to be around, the one I want to introduce people to. No bait and switch. Not someone else.

I AM A STEWARD
I confess I’m in a crisis of faith at the moment regarding church. I am marvelously blessed in so many areas of my life: my marriage, children, grandchildren, work, writing… But this church thing is a real brawl.

A while back, I had an online discussion about ministry, involvement and membership with fellow Christian and writer Jessica Thomas and said I was ‘sick and tired of being sick and tired and pretending I’m not.’ That’s where I find myself once again and it’s the literal crux of the matter.

It occurred to me if I had a quarter for every sermon I’ve heard in the last 27 years lambasting immature, shallow, goosebump-seeking church-hoppers, I’d take my wife to dinner at this great little Thai joint we love. Now I know ‘free-range’ believers exist. I realize our society is infected with a selfish, consumer mentality. I also acknowledge my own incompleteness and vital need to function in community and under authority. I have no desire to end up a self-centered consumer.

I am however called to be a Christ-centered steward and I want to know where the Scripture requires believers to enable mediocrity? Where does it say we have to knowingly submit to flaccid, dysfunctional theology? When did the Berean call become ‘rebellion’?

Don’t mishear me: I’m not saying all ministry is vapid or shoddy. There is a lot of valid, powerful, gracious ministry, most of it unrecognized. Catastrophes always get better press. I’ve been (spiritually) living off Mars Hill, Times Square, and The Village. Let’s thank God for the internet, shall we?

But for all those services scorching ‘fickle, whiny consumers’, I can’t recall any apology for all those petty (left or right) political rants masqueraded as sermons, for superficial morality passed off as righteousness, for denominational rules touted as sanctification. I know the Gospel is a hard-edged hope. Grace is balanced by Truth. But if Grace is offered with one hand while the other snatches it back with a thousand little rules and dogmatic stipulations, all you have left is a brittle parody. A painted, plaster lawn-ornament.

Or how about an admission that your seeker-sensitive, tech-savvy, hip and hype approach isn’t cute, or cool, or fruitful? It’s vital to be informed and attuned to our society, but do I really have to point out that spiking your hair like an anime character and squeezing into your wife’s jeans doesn’t equate to relevance? Neither will a soul-patch or getting inked. I don’t care one way or another about a tie, but tuck in your shirt, eh?* You can stop with the pop-psychology, stop the ego-stroking, stop apologizing for every hard saying in the Bible. The Word of God is called the ‘Sword of the Spirit’ for a reason. Swords have a point and an edge, and so should you. Only the Eternal is truly relevant. Only the Truth sets people free. Trending the latest celebrity-craze (Christian or Secular) boils down to tail-chasing. It’s time to re-read “Not a Fan“. Hipster-dom isn’t discipleship: it’s sowing empty seed on shallow ground.

I AM STARVING?
Am I wrong or does the pulpit set the tone and temperature for the congregation? Doesn’t leadership bear a measure of responsibility? Being ‘leaders’ and all. To quote Dr. Horrible: “The fish rots from the head…” Perhaps one reason people are leaving church, having difficulty committing is it’s hard to find someone saying anything worth listening to. Don’t give me the “There’s no such thing as a perfect church, and if you find it, don’t go there ’cause you’ll ruin it” line. Most folks aren’t looking for perfection. They know it doesn’t exist. What they’re searching for – what they deserve – is something worth sticking around for. Was Jesus lying when He said the fields were ‘white unto harvest‘?

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land– not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. – AMOS 8:11 NIV

God identified Himself as “I AM”. He knows every hair on my head. He knows who I am, where I am, and why I am. I get that. My days are in His hands and He’ll see me through, despite my problems. If like Elijah I have to live off what birds bring and a little stream provides for a season, then I’ll cope. (No, I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m talking about provision) Christians are called to declare the unadulterated Gospel and model the action of definite grace. People are dying for it. Their eternal souls depend on it. My fear is I am stuck in that prophecy, and while I’ve been seeking God in prayer and Scripture even more lately, and have confidence God will provide direction, I tremble not only for my own soul, but for my children and grandchildren.

I AM PRAYING
Christians are called to represent the one who saved them, to reflect in some fashion the character of their Lord and Savior. I think the best we flawed sinners can do – even redeemed – is provide a sketch, a caricature if you will, of God. It won’t be perfect, but God keep me from rendering some hideous misrepresentation or superimposing some mortal icon. When I stand before Him, I’d like to have got the important features and proportions correct so it was recognizable.

*My personal conviction is if you’re making dress code of either extreme a major plank in your ministry, you’ve already missed the point.