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Archive for the ‘F & L Insights’ Category

[218] Dress Rehearsal

Recently I used this space to discuss why we never sermons about hell.  Let me say that I hear very few sermons about the afterlife at all.  The closest is the occasional reminder that this life is but a “dress rehearsal” for the next.  That’s about it.

In short, contemporary preaching is almost totally devoid of the eternal perspective.  It is temporal.  The eternal is crowded out by focusing on discipleship, practical applications of the gospel, and coping with life’s dilemmas with a Christian spirit.

In other words, the focus is entirely on this three-score-and-ten, which when you think of it, is but a mere snap of the divine finger when compared with eternity. It wasn’t always this way.  In grimmer—pre-internet, pre-cell phone, pre-SUV—times, when people were regularly wiped out driving on two-lane highways, acute epidemics tore through populations, and chronic diseases like cancer were death sentences, believers longed to escape the sorrows of the flesh and move into eternity. But life is very different now.  What were once luxuries are now take-for-granted necessities for many Christians, such that indeed (this) “life is good.”  In any case, other-worldly sermons apparently don’t go down very well with earthlings—even those who profess a faith in Christ.

This is not good.  And it is not biblical.  Christ spoke endlessly about “the kingdom of heaven.” Paul said to “die is gain.”  The scriptures tell us we are eternal beings, who should be longing to be “home” with the Savior.  In short, we are to look toward eternity, not our pensions. But that’s difficult to do when those who dispense the “counsel of God” seem all in on the dress rehearsal. DC

[217] Sex

Bill Hybels, Frank Page, Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and who knows how many other well-known evangelicals, have been ensnared in real or alleged sex scandals. Forget about who is and is not guilty.  That is not the point here.  The point is that we are no longer surprised when a new allegation of sexual misconduct is leveled against a high-profile Christian.

It keeps happening and it ought not to be.

Why?

I think one reason is that many Christians are very uncomfortable about sex. In many Christian homes sex is not discussed.  Never brought up.  That was the case in my home. Nary a word from either of my parents. I found out the facts of life from a neighborhood peer.  Curious about the mysterious but much-used F-word, I asked what it meant, and taking me aside, he told me in a very candid and enlightening fashion.  I think you will find that in many Christian homes children learn two things when it comes to sex: don’t “do it” until you are married, and then only with your marriage partner.  So much for sex education.

Of course, that approach (or better yet, non-approach) prepares no one for real-time navigation in a secular world.  Yet courageous attempts to address the matter of sex in the Christian world can engender a peculiar form of bullying.  Decades ago Christianity Today published a sort of “sex and the single Christian” article. In it, were the results of a survey on the sexual behavior of single believers.  The purpose of this less than fully scientific survey was to get a sense of “what is,” not what should or should not be.  Not surprisingly, the results revealed that many Christian singles were having substantial difficulty managing their sexuality, with many having lived lives of less than vestal virginity.

The reaction to the article was radioactive.  The good folks at Christianity Today were all but damned to outer darkness by readers enraged that the magazine had the temerity to print the survey.  On the heels of these seething subscribers’ advocacy of the “Mushroom Syndrome” (keep them in the dark and feed them garbage), I don’t recall seeing many more such articles in Christianity Today.

Which brings us back to the question above. When Christians grow up in a sexually-repressive, paranoid environment the result is not always going to be restraint.  It is often going to be curiosity about this unspeakable, off-limits world, coupled with a lamb-like naivete upon entering what is a sexually wolfish culture.

But there’s more. Some of these same people grow up to become rather powerful “professional Christians,” frontrunners in Christian organizations.  Trained in leadership and other necessary skills, and ready to build God’s kingdom, too many go off into their careers still naïve–wholly unprepared to deal with the often very available sexual “benefits” of power.  Hence, as they—especially males—accumulate power and the elevated regard of others, they become prey to the Delilahs.  In fact, some may find themselves internally pulled in forbidden directiosn, growing out of lingering adolescent fantasies and excitement about exploring unbounded sex.

The point is this.  Seminaries and other Christian institutions cannot assume their students have a mature and comprehensive understanding of sex, all the while disregarding those students’ future vulnerability as they traverse a sexually-obsessed culture.  These organizations must address the issue of sex in their education and training. To do otherwise, is to ready their graduates to navigate God’s kingdom with their seatbelts unbuckled. The issue of sexual temptation and availability is as old as Samson and David, and as current as today.  It is time for Christians to cast off fear, paranoia, and Victorian discomfort, and–pulling their heads out of the sand–take this issue on. DC

[216] Arnold

My recent blog about the possibility of OJ Simpson having CTE got a bit of a reaction from the readership.  A discussion with a reader underscored how important it is to factor in possible brain abnormalities when we see aggressive acts. The case of my friend’s long-departed father, we will call him Arnold, offers a stark illustration of this point.

In his youth, Arnold had been hit by a car while walking his bike home at dusk. The pre-frontal lobe of his brain was severely damaged. His brain literally protruded through the gap in his forehead, the result of a severe skull fracture. The overmatched physicians tried to push the brain back inside Arnold’s skull, but could not stuff it all back in. They then cut off the part of the brain that did not fit back in. For years Arnold experienced fits of anger and emotional outbursts (normal symptoms for CTE), and at age 57 he was committed to a state mental hospital. Upon his death his brain was donated to a state university for further study.

What makes Arnold’s story particularly sad was that Christians in his small town felt Arnold’s wife had married a demon-possessed man. The result was overt and covert rejection for Arnold, his wife, and his family.  Yet today, if you speak with Arnold’s son, you will not hear about what a sadist his father was.  In fact, you will not hear a single negative word about Arnold.  Rather, his son will regale you with many happy stories of affirmation, encouragement, and father-son outings.  Arnold’s son did not live in fear of his dad. Yes, he saw some outbursts, but the son also sensed they were not the true Arnold.

Nonetheless, there are lifetime emotional scars for Arnold’s family. But they were not put there by Arnold. They were put there by the graceless judgments of the Christian community that did not make the effort to get to know him and his history. DC

[215] Hell, no

When is the last time you heard a sermon about hell?  Even a part of a sermon about hell?  I grew up watching the Billy Graham Crusades, and I remember the dynamic, physically-imposing evangelist waving his bible in the night air as he rendered stark descriptions of hell.

No more.

Every once in a while you will hear a speaker say that this life is but a “dress rehearsal” for the next.  But it pretty much stops there, making it a rather tame statement.

When there are no sermons about hell—and frankly, that seems to be the case today—we leave people with the sense that how one lives one’s life here has no real consequences beyond the grave.

So why are there no sermons about hell?  For one, it is not politically correct.  To tell someone he will be damned if he does not believe what you believe invites the retort, “Are you telling me that if I don’t believe in Jesus I’m going to hell?”  All that is missing in that angry question is “you intolerant —–?”

I think another reason is that many people just cannot wrap their head around the idea that a loving God would damn people for all eternity.  It is an extraordinarily difficult notion to accept. But so was the Holocaust, American slavery, and many horrifying natural disasters.  In any case, I include many pastors in that group.  Some believe hell is metaphoric. Others think God may give people a second chance in eternity.

God can do what he wants to do, but his son, took hell pretty seriously.  Jesus spoke of it more than he did of heaven.  DC

[212] Why not Jesus?

It seems there aren’t a whole lot of atheists around these days.  Everyone is “spiritual.”  Not in the biblical sense of course.  That would require commitment, giving control of one’s life over to someone else.  That violates perhaps the first, and arguably the only doctrine of postmodern–that truth is some ephemeral energy that is unique to each individual, and to be determined solely by that individual.

It’s a comfortable have-one’s-cake-and-eat-it-too notion.  You can be in touch with whatever spiritual force there may be in the universe—you decide of course—and you can do so free of any accountability.

It is also nonsense.  It is a lie.  Gravity exists, arithmetic exists, physical reality exists, chemistry exists.  And truth exists.

What is interesting is how the postmodern population meanders off into fantastical other-worldly Alice-in-Wonderland notions, all the while walking past a simple gospel—one that works for everyone.  Consider just that—how incredibly simple the gospel is, yet how all-encompassing it is.  Everyone has the same choice to make.  There are no buyouts for the rich who want to opt in or out, no monthly payments for the poor who want in, and no “good works” side roads for the middle class who want the benefits of faith without turning over their lives to Christ.  In short, the foolishness of the gospel is indeed confounding to the natural human mind.

My question to all those spiritualists traveling their own path to nowhere is this.  Why not Jesus?  Or is that too simple? DC

[213] Education

Education is not good.  It is not bad.  It is just education.  It is simply the objective process of transmitting knowledge and developing the capacity to think critically.

Education becomes good when it stimulates a Christian worldview.  It is also good when it is transmits knowledge to Christian learners, and teaches them to think critically.  No other education is inherently good.

My father use to say, to educate a Christian person is to create a potentially powerful disciple.  To educate an evil person is to create a devil. DC

[212] Intolerance

Religious persecution is like never before. It is a major issue around the world. It also exists here. In the US it hasn’t taken the form of lopping off heads, or imprisoning parishioners, but it is going on, and figures to get worse. Here is why. The gospel of Jesus Christ has the temerity to claim that it is the Truth. No elbow room. No place for customized, individual versions of faith—the predominant nature of religiosity in an age ideologically ruled by postmodernism.

No. For Christians, the gospel is as true as water being two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen.

Hence, those who proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ are open to the ugly charge of being intolerant—unwilling to accept theological hybrids and substitutions. If that is the definition of intolerance, then indeed those who advance the gospel are intolerant; as intolerant as their God who says there should be no other gods before him.

As you can then see, postmodernism—with all its claims to freedom of thought, belief, and expression—is the primary enemy of the Christian faith. It marginalizes the Truth of the gospel by rendering it optional, one choice among many equivalently valid belief options, something many people choose to believe for whatever reason. It is not the only way to have a relationship with sovereign God. To claim Truth is to be intolerant. That is a violation of the only real doctrine of postmodernism.   DC

[211] Irked in Prayer

I take prayer seriously.  I spend a lot of time praying each day.  Prayer takes energy—focus and concentration.  Yet, it doesn’t seem that many churches take prayer seriously at all.  First, there isn’t really much of it.  A few minutes here and there, seemingly serving as boundaries for the various activities of worship service.  Where this not taking prayer seriously really stands out is during the offering and at the conclusion of the sermon.  Here, while the pastor is praying, any number of people may be marching down the aisle to the front of church or moving to their designated platform spots setting up the final song.  All of this while the pastor is speaking directly to Sovereign God.  Clearly the prayer is just for us parked in the pews; not at all for those involved in the conduct of the service.

None of this walking and setting up would ever be permitted while the pastor is preaching.  If you were scurrying around some grim-faced usher would pull you over to the side of the ecclesiastical road.

But it’s just fine during prayer.  Maybe they think we won’t notice with our eyes closed.

Maybe they really don’t take this means of grace seriously enough.  DC

[210] Diversity

“We have a diverse campus church. You will really like it.” You will hear that more and more these days—particularly at college churches–and hence, it begs the question: Just what is a diverse church? First, I notice most of the diversity proclaimers are white. So what do I black or Hispanic people say? With issues of race and diversity one of my specialties, I can answer that.

First, diversity is not about how many different groups are visible in the sanctuary for a worship service. It is about the substance of the worship experience. More specifically, how evident are the various cultures in the actual service? Are there any soulful solos sung? Negro spirituals sung by the choir? Gospel songs performed with a Latin beat? The answer is few at best, and usually none.

Most churches offer a culturally snow white worship service, conducted by people of various colors leading a mixed congregation in worship.

Legendary urban pastor, Bill Leslie, used to say that everyone needs to hear their own sound in the worship—whether that is in music, preaching style, or other venue. Not every Sunday. Not ever service. But regularly. That is what makes a church diverse. DC

 

[209] Secular Privilege

Mary Poplin teaches at the Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California. She was interviewed for Christianity Today by Andrea Palpant Dilley. The link for this interview is http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2017/september/lets-save-university-from-secular-privilege.html?share=pHjigdVEUe8xbGWiBaFAwEykQok7NvnX.

Poplin, who has experience in secular research universities, isolated five characteristics of the secular university system that severely undercuts its effectiveness.

First, while the university sees itself as a free and open marketplace for ideas, is free and open only to those ideas that come from a secular worldview.

Second, it claims to value pluralism, a co-existence of many ideologies and mindsets. It is not.

Third, its secular worldview does not prepare its graduates to enter a world that is filled with religious belief of varying sorts, with Christianity the dominant one. Their graduates’ distorted view renders many ineffective.

Fourth, it establishes “speech codes,” a political correctness in which one can say some things but not others.

Fifth, in its feeble attempt to mollify religious groups, the university has taken an “interfaith” approach, one that enables students of varying religious traditions to engage in “so-good: activities. This is totally ineffective as it fails to account for the distinct nature of religious frameworks—the basis of their identities. DC

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