Monthly Archives: August 2009

Saved! a critique of incoherent Christian culture

Saved! movie posterMy wife and I recently watched “Saved!“, a dark comedy about evangelical Christianity produced by  REM lead singer Michael Stipe1. I have had this movie in my Netflix queue for quite some time, shuffling it around because I thought it would turn out to be like “Dogma“. Boy was I mistaken.

This movie’s portrayal of popular evangelical culture is stunningly accurate. Just watching this movie brought me back to when I was first Saved! and the jargon, ideas, and general incoherent babbling I got caught up in.

For instance, in the movie the main character, out of a good desire to “save” her homosexual boyfriend, decides she has “heard from Jesus” that she needs to sleep with him and proceeds to do so. While we may think this kind of thing is silly, I’ve known and have been known to use the exact same reasoning to justify similar behavior.

The similarities don’t end there and aren’t limited to my narrow experience. They permeate many Christians thoughts and beliefs. From pastors who ought to know better to the parishiners who often don’t (but wish they did), the common theme brought out in this movie is the tendency to act holy, to use holy language2, and to generally accept a burden of legalism that is far removed from the “law of liberty” James writes about.3

In short, this movie exposes the eagerness with which many Christians rush to pick up a yoke far removed from the “light” and “easy” yoke promised by Jesus.4

Within the first 5 minutes of this movie you are hit squarely between the eyes with causal determinism (baptized stoicism popular among reformed theologians) and the corresponding question of evil. By the time you move to meeting the rest of the characters you are also confronted with the logical paradox this presents when coupled with the popular Christian pastime of “finding God’s will” in addition to the ambiguous (and often vacuous) understanding of prayer.

All of these ideas are combined with a general air of anti-intellectualism  ((God forbid we use our minds to try and sort all this mess out. )) combined with an overarching emphasis on “spiritual highs”5 to give us a chaotic mess. From this chaotic mess you begin to have a clear view of the neurotic mess most Christians are and why we are largely ineffective at reaching a culture that is often more clear about what love, community, and genuineness mean than we are.

Unfortunately the confusion we take in is often expressed very clearly to those around us which begs the question in them of how we can claim to have the answers to life’s deepest questions when we have trouble with even the simplest choices of whom to marry and what job to take.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Church, I love the church enough to desperately wish this movie was a work of pure fiction but the sad reality is that its not. It is, instead, scarily accurate.

I hope mature Christians6 take a good long look in the mirror with this movie and, instead of getting angry about the mocking, ask the tough questions like, “What does this movie show us about ourselves?” and “How can we work to clear up the misconceptions portrayed in this movie?”

Even though I’m not a movie critic, I give this movie two big thumbs up and encourage everyone to go see it. You’ll have a bit of a challenge finding it, though, it’s not something you’ll be able to ask the clerk at Family Christian or Lifeway to grab for you.

  1. You know, the guys who brought you the great song “Loosing my religion“ []
  2. I contend that one of the banes of Christendom is the use of words and phrases we have not carefully studied and have no idea the meaning of. We simply use them because they sound good. Phrases like “God told me..“ []
  3. James 1:25 and James 2:12 []
  4. Matthew 11:30. ..for  my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. []
  5. In other words, we’ve created our own “Christianized” brand of existentialism that we think is spiritual []
  6. Or those who think they are at any rate, this movie can also show you how mature you are by how visceral your reaction to it is. []
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Comprehensive Christian Discipleship

I recently came across an excellent sermon series on Christian discipleship, relationship with the culture, and the central calling of the great commission given recently at SEBTS. This series is by Ken Myers, director of Mars Hill Audio. Here are the links to Ken’s sermons, the corresponding interview1, and various other resources by Ken Myers such as a sermon done at 9 Marks Ministries all having to do with faith in culture and Christian discipleship.

The Comprehensive Character of Christian Discipleship – Ken Myers @ SEBTS

The Counter-Cultural Imperative for Christian Disciplers – Ken Myers @ SEBTS

Interview with Ken Myers – Dr. Bruce Little with Ken Myers @ SEBTS

Christians and Culture – Ken Myers @ 9Marks

Questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you!

  1. Contains excellent insights into the forms of communication, particularly in the area of music and television, and how they affect the content of the message and how some forms are better or exclusively suited to convey various types of information. []
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History of the Bible

Since starting to study Greek in order to (hopefully) understand the original text of the Bible (New Testament, I’ll save Old Testament later) I’ve been prompted to investigate the history of the Bible, specifically the history of the English Bible. Here are a few resources I’ve found helpful in explaining the history of the NT from Greek to what we have today. Interestingly enough, both lecture tracks were originally designed to combat the “KJY only” position but as they grew they began to encompass a lot more.

Bill Mounce – History of the Bible

Daniel Wallace – History of the English Bible

Do you know of any other resources? Feel free to post them in the comments!

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Sanctified idiots: The specter of Christian education

To clear up any confusion on this post I felt the following disclaimer is necessary:

The major opponent or thrust of my argument is not homeschooling per se since it is wholly possible to attend public or private schools while maintaining an isolationist mentality. Isolationism is the major issue here, not the format of education.

The Mat 10:16 quote comes in because Jesus makes the point that he is not advocating that we disassociate ourselves from people in the world, which I believe is not only a problem but contributes to a stunted intellectual life by avoiding exposure to divergent ideas and arguments.

I recently ran across an article on the educational views of Morris Chapman, the current executive director of the Southern Baptist Convention. At the center is the call by Chapman for churches to establish “Christian schools” in order to avoid the “secular reasoning, situational ethics and moral erosion” found in public schools.

While I am no fan of the particular moral dogma taught in secular institutions I think it is worth pausing and examining Christianity’s commitment to education and how the historical commitment looks nothing like the contemporary “exodus mandate” taken by many well intentioned parents.

Christianity’s Historical Commitment to Education

Many people may be surprised to learn that Christianity was the driving force behind universities like Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Oxford, etc. These institutions were, at one time, bastions of learning of both the “secular” variety as well as the Christian theological variety. The reason they were founded by Christians is because of the nature of the Christian religion, specifically it’s grounding in truth and it’s call to “test the spirits” and examine the world around them. Many scientists, the founders and formers in fact, were committed Christians who firmly believed that if this world was created by a God of order in accordance with logic that has been, in part, imparted to us, then we can, though careful study and analysis, understand how it works.

The Shift

What happened, then to drive us off of the intellectual high ground we enjoyed for well over 1,500 years? Was it a coup of the evil secularists and atheists? Hardly. The real enemy and reason for Christianity’s ousting from the halls of academia came from within rather than from without.

In short, we gave up and stuck our holy heads in the sand.

I won’t speculate on the particular event or chain of events that ultimately toppled the intellectual superiority, but I will point out that as secular challenges grew, Christians retreated. Rather than stand our ground, a ground well established upon the truth we claim to believe to be a person in the form of Jesus Christ, we ran away. First we created competing schools to replace the ones we lost to the rising tide of secularism. Then we created smaller schools to replace those schools once they failed.

Now, it seems, we are encouraging parents to retreat into specially designated schools and, in many cases, their own homes.

What are we retreating from?

It may almost sound absurd to ask such a simple question, especially since many Christians have been taught by their pastors for years to “hate the world”, but I believe it would do us good to stop and re-examine what we are afraid of and what we are running from. In short, we need to re-examine what “the world” is and how we are to relate to it.

J.P. Moreland, in his series on “The Kingdom Triangle“, makes the excellent point that “the world” is not always a negative thing, but that it depends on how you define “world” since it is used in various senses in the Bible to refer to vastly different sets of people and paradigms. Put simply, the difference is that in one sense “the world” refers to the whole of human kind and is either positive or neutral when used in Scripture whereas in the other sense, “the world” refers to a system dominated by Satan and evil.

Since we are told we are to be “in but not of” the world, we can surmise “world” and “secular” aren’t necessarily evil. It may shock some people to hear that because it is vastly different than the “us vs. them” mentality1 taught in most churches, but the notion that anything that isn’t explicitly “Christian” is to be avoided is just plain silly. As Paul out it in 1 Cor 5:10, we shouldn’t avoid the world or expect the people in the world to behave as if they knew Jesus. Even the Amish, who make a conscious effort to avoid anything “worldly” can’t avoid the culture they live in.

What does this mean for our children?

Are we supposed to throw them to “the wolves” of secular education and pretend they are willing missionaries being sent out to reclaim their schools?

Certainly not.

Rather we should understand that no matter where we decide to educate our children, we are in the midst of a battlefield and the only way to protect and prepare our children for the world (good or bad) is to teach them to be as wise as serpents at the same time we are obeying Deut 6:4-9 in teaching them to be as innocent as doves2.

Anything less than a complete training in both the ways of the world as well as the ways of God is to retard the education of a child and thus handicap him in some way.

Does this mean that home schooling, private schooling, magnate schooling, etc. are forbidden options for a Christian?

Certainly not.

Each parent must decide the proper course for their children. Each situation, school, circumstance, etc. is different. There is no “magic bullet” that will solve all of our problems or make our lives easier. By the same token, however, there is also no grounds for us to claim that homeschooling is the holy grail of education and that those who refuse to drink of the cup are somehow less holy.

The heart of the matter

The central issue here is our attitude towards education and “the world”. As Ed Stetzer recently quipped: How can we circle the wagons in an attempt to avoid the world and then expect to be on a mission to the world?

We, as Christians, need to come to terms with “the world” and 1. stop the misguided notion that anything that isn’t labeled “Christian” is inherently evil and 2. stop retreating from the public square while at the same time whining about how “the secularists” are taking over.

Put up or shut up.

Either join the fight to make a difference in the world by becoming an active participant in the world (which means not making a “Christian copy” of everything), especially in education, or stop whining about the rising tide of immorality in culture.

I think that many Christians have conveniently forgotten who the keys to kingdom of heaven3 and what Jesus said about the gates of hell and their resistance to an advancing kingdom.

It’s high time we stop retreating, turn around, pick up our crosses, and start singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” again.

  1. Not to say that there isn’t a difference between believers and nonbelievers, but that the mentality here is to tend to think of believers as superior to nonbelievers as if the nonbeliever is incapable of doing any good. []
  2. Mat 10:16 []
  3. The Lord of which who is the only one that can effect real, lasting, moral change in sinful people, not laws from a secular government []
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