Tag Archives: controversy

Material Possessions and Bad Dating Relationships

I recently watched a two-hour discussion between a couple of Christian preachers from a big conference. I’ll leave everyone nameless because I’m less interested in who they were than what they discussed. In particular, at one point they entered into a debate about the way we as Christians need to think about material things. The first pastor (we’ll call him John) argued that the central issue for Americans is that they need to give up their attachment to material things (houses, cars, food, money, etc.). The second pastor (who we’ll call Doug) said this might be true, but that we also had to teach them how to truly enjoy and think about the material things they have, since most of them aren’t called to simply get rid of them. John agreed in principle, but pointed out that this wasn’t nearly as common a problem as over-attachment. Doug argued it’s still an issue because otherwise people are just left feeling guilty about the things they have, after which the conversation moved on to other things.

I have to confess that my sympathies are actually with Doug, but if you’re on John’s side, hear me out. It’s the last comment, that of feeling guilty about what you have, that I think highlights the weaknesses of the simplistic self-denial approach. But first, an anecdote. Continue reading

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He Loves Me Not… (Review: Love Wins)

Rob Bell’s book Love Wins has generated a great deal of controversy in many Christian circles. While I have no desire to jump on the bandwagon of reviews just because everyone else is (I think some of the people freaking out are owed part of Bell’s royalties for the hand they had in making the book as popular as it is), the book is up for discussion in a class I’m taking this summer, and since I wrote up some thoughts on it anyway, I thought I’d put it into a blog post. For your perusal are three things I appreciated about the book followed by three areas of concern; I’ll let the length of the respective sections speak for themselves. Continue reading

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Against Prophetic Nonchalance

It’s a common stick used to beat those sheep who stray too close to the fence between the church and the world back into the safety of our little pasture.

It’s the I.D. badge of many Christians, an initiatory right you must go through, using the right words to prove your right standing with God.

It’s the explanation for some good, and the justification for even more bad.

It’s the call to “be prophetic.”

And I’m sick of it.

If you didn’t sign off already, let me explain. I have heard pastors make passing reference to issues like homosexuality and abortion in sermons, condemning then in a breath and then moving on, while hearts and backs are broken in the congregation because no thought was given to those struggling with same-sex attraction or regretting the hard choice they made as a teenager. I have had co-workers who have been wounded by the church who I try to explain that Jesus doesn’t hate them, that he’s not some closed-minded bigot, only to have a “brother” come in and in ten minutes undo months of bridge-building with a tract and an angry mini-sermon. I have read blogs where calling out sin and naming names costs the blogger nothing more than the effort of a few hundred keystrokes but costs the pastor his career and his job.

There are multiple issues in play with all of the above examples. However, the one that really strikes me is how carelessly all of the people I mentioned conduct themselves. It’s an aside, a blip on the radar of their day, something that takes minimal effort but can do massive damage. I’m calling this sort of conduct “prophetic nonchalance.” It justifies a behavior which is in truth probably better categorized as insensitivity or carelessness as “prophetic” just because some truth of God’s word is involved. It treats such truths as if they were easy things to proclaim.

The fact is that the prophets of Scripture never found it easy to speak the word of God. Isaiah can’t believe he’s worthy. Jeremiah argues with God’s decrees. So does Moses, for that matter, and near as we can tell, he wins. Jonah gets the call and runs in the other direction. These are certainly a mixed bag of examples, but they point us toward an important observation: being a prophet was never easy or self-affirming. It had a tendency to break people down right where they didn’t want to be.

What’s more, being a Biblical prophet was not comfortable. God might send you to the middle of the desert, or to your worst enemies. Israel’s own religious leaders would almost certainly try to kill you. And it’s not like God would necessarily make it easy for you: your prophetic ministry might very well consist of walking around town in your underwear for years or marrying a whore.

Of course these realities shouldn’t dissuade us from being prophetic in a proper biblical sense. However, they should warn us against a cavalier attitude toward this part of our calling. Take for example the preacher we mentioned earlier, the one who takes pot shots at abortion and gay rights. There is nothing wrong with addressing these issues in a sermon. They just can’t be addressed lightly. They are deeply entangled issues with who people are: their sexuality, their history, their future. We must correct gently, with grace in our hearts and tears in our eyes, but it is true that we must correct that which denies what God says. That said, the pastor’s careless aside is not correction. You cannot convince me that its aim in pointing out the error of such a sin is the aid of sinners. No, it is instead the self-congratulation of saints.

Here’s the ultimate problem: Christians tend to have a confusion about the connection between prophetic truth and love. Of course, even the most angry internet pseudo-prophet will pause from his demagoguery, wipe the spittle-spray off his monitor, and insist that he is being loving by prophetically screaming the truth. I get that; there is something loving about telling perishing people the error of their ways. (Of course, spanking your child can be loving too; making it your full-time occupation – or, worse, your hobby – is not.)

Yet declaring the truth is only one small part of what it means to love. At the very least, loving a lost person would also include going to and living among them, sacrificing for them, coming alongside them as they struggle with their sins, and joyfully accepting them into the church as our equals even though they have a lot of growing to do.

An over-emphasis on obeying God in His command to speak the truth can in fact be a clever ploy to cover up our disobedience in other areas. One of the inevitable effects of this sort of behavior is that the area in which we are obedient ends up looking distorted. The Pharisees tithed dill and cumin while ignoring the weightier things of the law, and as a result their tithe, which was meant to be an offering to God for the priests, the poor and the alien among Israel to be blessed, turned into something ugly and twisted. The same thing happens with prophetic nonchalance: we use something meant to heal in a way that instead wounds.

I once knew a man who exemplified prophecy. He fearlessly spoke the truth, yes, to the religious and irreligious alike. But he did it at their table, after sharing a meal and healing their sick. He would not break a bruised reed, but rather was as harsh or gentle as the situation demanded. Let’s spend a little time looking at Christ, and Christ as a whole, for our model of prophetic ministry; then, after looking, let’s join him in loving the world with a love that looks like dying.

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Seven Thoughts on Blogging About Controversy

Lord knows there are plenty of issues in the modern church today ripe for criticism, satire and correction. Sometimes they’re not only ripe, they’re even fruitful. However, this is not usually the case. From my own meditations on how to approach criticism on the blogosphere, here’s my list of seven things to consider when blogging about issues. These were originally written by me, to me, so the “you” is meant to include me before it does anyone else. I know I haven’t always kept my own advice, but if I’m going to write in this medium at all, I want to wrestle with out how to do it in a Christ-honoring way. Here are some of my thoughts:

1. Pray for the problem/issue/ministry you have a concern with before doing anything else. If this isn’t your primary response, I can almost guarantee the criticism you’re about to level is just self-congratulation in disguise.

2. Quit trying to prove that everyone you disagree with is a false teacher. The only reason you work so hard to make them sound apostate is that otherwise you’d be accused of being divisive. This is because you are.

3. Make sure you realize that when you criticize the “modern American church”, everyone in the world except you considers you to be part of it. This is because you are.

4. If there is a specific ministry/individual you want to lambast by name, you probably shouldn’t. If you decide to anyway, you ought to e-mail them first in order to try to set up a time for an interview with someone from the organization, at which you can present your concerns to them. If they don’t have time to meet with you, it’s probably because they’re out ministering to people while you’re trying to set up an interview so that you can lambast them on your blog. If your priorities still seem in line with the gospel after all this, then you definitely shouldn’t post the criticism. Otherwise, go ahead.

5. Satire is fantastic, but only if you appreciate being satirized. If you consider beating people over the head with a stick to be an expression of love, you better say “thank you” when someone takes the cudgel to your own skull.

6. If you quote more Scripture on your blog trying to prove people wrong than you do praising God and encouraging people to love him, you might be abusing the Bible. This is kind of a big deal, and is probably grounds for someone to write a nasty blog post about you. Why don’t you beat them to it.

7. The church’s sin is your sin. Evangelicalism’s failings are your failings. “People who don’t understand the gospel” is another way of saying “you and everybody else.” Grace means that Jesus saves, loves and uses people who are doctrinally wrong, sin-sick and prone to wander. Like you. Especially you. Amen.

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