Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the different perspectives on theology that are within the Christian community and that are being expressed within the church. During this time of reflection a question has come to the forefront of my mind that I want to ask and hear some responses on.
Why is it that many conservative Christians are okay (and even support) those who advocate a prosperity gospel yet they condemn and judge those who raise questions about Christian theology and doctrine?
At the core of this question is another question, which is more wrong or damaging, those who use the gospel to gain profits or those who use questions to strive for a deeper understanding of faith, even when those questions may call into account traditionally held presuppositions? To me I find that those who advocate for questioning and even openly struggle with times of doubt are being honest and sincere in their desire to better understand Christ and following him, yet there are those who quickly condemn these people for preaching a false gospel. All the while, there are others who preach a gospel that tells us that if you are faithful to God he will bless you with health and wealth. These health and wealth advocates are accepted, quoted and supported by many Christians yet I find that their gospel is truly false. Granted, I can admit that many liberal theologians have gone too far in their pursuits for an empirical and completely rational Christianity but I do believe that pursuing to understand something better is far more honorable than manipulating the gospel to sell books. Some of the greatest thinkers of our time are guys like Hauerwas, Boyd, and (please contain your gasps) even Rob Bell; all of which have been labeled as heretics and false teachers for raising doubts and calling into question the status quo, yet guys like Casey Treat, Joseph Prince, and Joel Osteen are hailed as solid Christian teachers because they make people feel good. This is backwards to me.
So help me with this a bit, removing the extreme aspects of liberal theology, is it more noble and Christlike to pursue a deeper understanding of the Christian faith through questions and doubts or by preaching a gospel that advocates for riches, wellness, and happiness?
For anyone who knows me well they will affirm the fact that I am not the most patriotic person in the world. If I’m completely honest patriotism is not a part of my personality. I don’t hold my hand over my heart and recite the Pledge of Allegiance and I don’t tend to like the phrase “God Bless America”. Now before I turn you off and get labeled as a “pinko-commie” let me say that I love the freedom that I have in the United States and feel fortunate to live in such a place. The core of why I am not overly patriotic is simply due to the fact that I believe that my citizenship and allegiance are to the Kingdom of God not any Kingdom of man. Also, just because I hold to this belief does not mean that I condemn those who are patriotic, it’s simply a difference of opinion and ideology. With that being said, I definitely struggle when July 4th rolls around and we have patriotic elements in our worship services.
Despite my reservations with patriotism mixing with Christianity I do believe that God has a sense of humor and so today I filled the role of Campus Pastor at our Graham Campus as we held our services and had patriotic elements. Now, our services weren’t overly mixed with patriotism. We sang God Bless America and had a short video of quotations from our founding Fathers. Beyond that there wasn’t much to it. I walked away not feeling bothered but with a lot still on my mind.
The thing that I love about the 4th of July and affirm in our worship services around this time of year is the celebration of freedom. It’s an amazing privilege to have the freedom of Religion that we have in the United States and I am thankful for that, it should be recognized. But let’s not stop there, let’s not have our celebration of freedom be in regard to the United States, rather let us celebrate freedom in Christ. Political freedom is one thing but it really is no match for freedom from the bondage of sin and freedom from this world. Perhaps a middle ground for us “pinko-commie Christians” and those “patriotic Christians” is the universal love for freedom that is brought in Christ and we can use the 4th as a recognition of that. In doing this it will not only serve as a reminder of how privileged we are to have our freedoms here in the US but also as a reminder to pray for those and take action for those who are in bondage both locally and abroad. Let the reminder of our freedom motivate us to act for those who are in bondage both spiritually and physically.
I hope that this post isn’t taken as a patriotism bash, or that I am negative towards the United States but rather as a few thoughts from a guy who wants to respect perspectives and find balance so that God is glorified more than anything else. Feel free to disagree and comment but any conversation should be done in love not in anger or frustration.
Every week we look for a “YouTube Clip of the Week” for our Student Ministry. They are usually funny or random videos that just allow for students relax a little bit for the evening. This week while looking for a video I came across this short film. It’s a profound video that asks several people one question.
I’ve always operated in trying not to regret anything as I believe that my past failures, mistakes and successes have made me who I am today. However, this video made me think about what I regret in my life. I would love to hear your input on this video and possibly, if you’re comfortable, what you regret.
God completely humbled me last night. If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t enjoy it at first but once I recognized that it was a healthy lesson I felt a sudden burst of freedom. It was if I had been held captive and all of the sudden the chains were broken, the noose had been loosened and I could breath. I realized I was being held captive by numbers.
I have a healthy ministry at my church. (In large part thanks to amazing volunteers and my boss/co-pastor.) Our students are solid and we’ve experienced tremendous growth over the past year. Tonight, however we were low, I mean really low. It’s not that hard to see why, it was Mother’s Day and the students that were gone were all gone for legitimate reasons but that didn’t prevent the frustration of low numbers from creeping in. Numbers were holding me captive because I was measuring not only the effectiveness of the ministry based on them but also my self-worth as a pastor. I came home feeling ineffective, frustrated and depressed because we had such a poor turnout. But as the night progressed I became relieved, even hopeful. After talking with one of my very good friends and fellow Pastor, in addition to my wife, I found myself back to where I once was not so long ago.
My first ministry out of college was a tiny little church in the Conejo Valley of California. The student ministry was small but that didn’t matter to me. I was excited to work with those students and build relationships. For the short amount of time that I was there the ministry didn’t grow much in the area of numbers but that never affected me. It didn’t have an impact on how I viewed the ministry because relationships were being built and students were encountering Jesus in a fresh way. In that ministry, I didn’t base the success of the ministry on numbers but on whether or not students were hearing about Jesus and building relationships. It wasn’t out of any profound wisdom that I thought this way, more likely out of idealism, but as I look back now I see the wisdom in that mentality. If students are encountering Jesus and growing in relationships with Him, their peers and their leaders then a ministry is successful. Don’t get me wrong, numbers are great. There is an amazing energy that flows in a room full of students and that energy is an amazing high but it an be disillusioning too. Numbers measure only a portion of a ministry’s success. If students are not encountering Jesus and growing in relationships then it doesn’t matter how large of a group you have, it is a largely ineffective ministry.
It’s freeing to not base your ministry’s worth and success on numbers because it allows you to focus more clearly on the students that are present. This is something that I need to work on but am all the more excited to do so. I will continue to strive to draw students who don’t know Jesus into this ministry but I won’t base it’s success or worth on how many are there. Don’t be consumed by numbers, they are great when you have them but can quickly turn into an idol; an idol that takes the focus off of Jesus and his ministry and onto quantity rather than quality.
I was recently invited to share my thoughts as part of a blogging community on the Stations of the Cross. I chose to write on the betrayal of Jesus. It was an amazing experience of coming to a deeper understanding of Christ’s work on the cross in a new way. I want to invite all of you to check out all of the Stations of the Cross and the works by various bloggers in this community by visiting http://orthodaxis.blogspot.com/p/stations-of-cross_19.html
Thanks to Michael Shepherd for the invite to work on this!
And have an wonderful weekend celebrating the risen Christ!
I spent this afternoon watching a documentary called “The Human Experience”. It was a great film that showed the value of human life and where hope and purpose come from. The young men in the film went on 3 different adventures in order to understand the Human Experience: a week living homeless during the winter in New York, working with the lost children of Peru and visiting a leper colony in Ghana. Through these experiences they saw joy, hope, suffering and loss but ultimately they came to realize that the human experience is about community, love, and contributing to the well being of others.
Watching this film brought a question to my mind. Has Western Christianity lost its humanity? The reason this question came to mind was because of all the need that is out there both local and internationally and while Christian ministries contribute a lot, has our focus been taken off of what we can do with the life abundant that Christ has given in order to focus on future events that we have no control over? The incarnation of Christ was the perfect meshing of divinity and humanity. Christ’s work on earth dealt directly with humanity that was inspired by divinity. Have we become so encompassed with the end result of spirituality that we have neglected to allow the hope that our spirituality gives us to influence how we impact humanity? Have we become so influenced by our culture that we have lost the spiritual call to use our humanity to bless others? To bless them tangibly, here and now? Has our Christianity become so enmeshed with materialism, capitalism and prosperity that we have failed to see that Jesus called us to cloth the naked, feed the hungry, and visit those in prison?
This is not a new question but one that is weighing heavy on me. When Christianity loses its humanity it becomes Spiritualism. Spiritualism neglects reality. Christianity is our belief in the divine Christ influencing our humanity that exists in the here and now. It loves your neighbor as yourself, loves your enemies, blesses those who persecute and gives hope. It is the manifestation of life and life to the fullest.
Recently there has been a ton of reaction online to Rob Bell’s new book “Love Wins”. Controversy isn’t really anything to new for Rob Bell but this book has driven the blogosphere and Twitter crazy with the amount of hype it has received. I have no desire to write a review of the book as enough people have done that already but I do feel that I need to address some of the lines that have been drawn in the sand over the book.
Before I can address the situation I must first ask for forgiveness and repent for my own participation in the reactions to Bell’s book. I am in no way shy about my support for Rob and his writings. He has been a huge influence in my pastoral ministry and in the way I have come to develop my own theology. However, I am repenting for my actions of throwing stones at other pastors such as Mark Driscoll and John Piper. While I disagree theologically with much of what these men teach I cannot in good conscience deny them my hand of fellowship in the body of Christ. We believe in and worship the same Jesus and therefore I recognize them as brothers in Christ.
I was humbled today as I was catching up on Twitter posts and I stumbled across a post by Rick Warren. The post simply stated:
“I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. I do NOT believe in the inerrancy of my interpretation… nor yours either!”
It reminded me that while I have my particular interpretations of Scripture and my understanding of God the Father and Jesus, I should not have the audacity to believe that my interpretation is inerrant. As the thought process followed various rabbit trails I came to the point where I recognized that the arguments surrounding Bell are beginning to sound much like the situation that the Apostle Paul was addressing in his first letter to the Corinthians.
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
The lines have been drawn in the sand. Either you are a part of Bell’s camp or Driscoll’s which sounds familiar to Apollos or Paul. Our camp is Christ and always should be. We should recognize that Jesus is our common ground, while we may be influenced more or less by one side or the other we should never throw stones because we all live in the same house. Our family has become more and more divided as history has progressed so rather than contribute to that I believe that we must be reconciled to the Gospel. We must not elevate our interpretations to inerrant but must be willing to disagree in grace. We must agree on the essentials (In my opinion they are the incarnation, the DBR, and salvation through Christ alone) and then allow for interpretation on the non-essentials. I may line up with one side but I will no longer condemn the other.
I am not of Apollos, or Paul, or Cephas but I am of Christ.