My son was taught this story at his daycare when he was 3. Two weeks later he told me that the pumpkin we were carving was filled up with “yucky sin.”
The following day his teacher and I had a talk…
Sadly, I’m still working my way through this title. It’s taking me awhile, not because I don’t like it-I actually like it a lot-but because of time. But I thought I would go ahead and mention it at my blog. As the title suggests, this book is about theology.
And as I’ve recently learned-I’m a theologian. Or at least according to my friend Adam.
Adam is a pastor, and I don’t hold that against him. In fact, I pretty much look forward to having conversations with him. Not only is he one of the most intelligent people I know, every time I have a conversation with Adam I leave encouraged, hopeful, and more comfortable in my own skin.
One time, during one of our many discussions about God, he told me that it was his belief that everybody is a theologian. “All of us have the ability to think about and study God,” he told me once. “You don’t need a degree to do that.”
I believe author Ed Cyzewski would agree with Adam. In his book, Coffeehouse Theology, Ed invites everyone into a theology discussion, one that blends story, study, topics, and critical thought into a well-crafted, though not too crafted, conversations about God and the things he’s passionate about. Coffeehouse isn’t a difficult read, not like many theology books, and unlike those other books, Ed doesn’t write with a heavy hand and beat his readers over the head with his point of view. He simply let’s you join his journey of experiencing the many sides of a particular theological discussion, offering pertinent information, explanation, and a few theories, but ultimately let’s the reader form his or her own opinions and thoughts. I think that’s what makes this book such an important read for the church. While I didn’t agree with everything stated within these pages, topics are presented with grace and humility, so I’m pretty sure anybody can read without getting hurt. Also, big thumbs up to the person who designed the cover of this book–quite trendy.
It was kind. Or maybe it was just nice. Either way, its tone wasn’t terrible. That much I’ll give them. But honestly, most of their communication toward Karen was presented with what can be perceived as kindness.
And I’ll give them this, too: it seemed to be humbly expressed.
But humbly expressed what is still what; it just requires one to actually ask what, process the what, and then ask again what.
So, now that I’ve lived with the response for several hours, I must ask: WHAT?!
I mean, first of all: WHAT were the reasons for offering an apology?
Sure, they offered a humbly presented apology to Karen, but they actually don’t apologize for anything that has, for the last 5 months, been a thorn in Karen’s side.
Rather than apologizing for acting like jackasses, they apologized for not presenting their jackassery with greater clarity.
Rather than apologizing for treating a victim whose life was just turned upside down with dignity and equality, they apologized for not offering a clearer perspective regarding what they deem acceptable and unacceptable divorce. How many times must one tell the elders at TVC that Karen wasn’t getting a divorce. She was getting an annulment. There’s a difference. A big difference.
Rather than apologizing for spiritually and emotionally harassing her for the last 5 months, they apologized for not “leading her toward repentance”! What the hell? I mean, seriously friends, what on earth does Karen have to apologize about? For not wanting to be married to a man who is sexually attracted to 4-year-old girls? For not falling in line and following their advice?
DING. DING. DING.
That’s why TVC believes she should repent. Because she didn’t follow protocol. Because she dared to challenge TVC’s male-led religious establishment. Because she was strong. Because she stood her ground. Because she didn’t submit.
And they blame themselves for all of that, because they didn’t “lead her” correctly.
That’s not why you should be sorry, TVC. Karen didn’t need you to apologize for any of those things.
People in your church might have. Your friends in high positions might have liked hearing that. But Karen, the reason why you issued that statement–she didn’t need to hear any of it.
Since there seems to be some confusion as to what you did wrong here, let me offer a few reasons as to why you SHOULD apologize to Karen.
You need to apologize for harboring, protecting Jordan and making Karen feel like the perpetrator.
You need to apologize for all of the misogynistic language that you used in your Jesusy-sweet communication to Karen.
You need to apologize for acting like jerks regarding Karen’s desire to seek an annulment. Those are my words. Not hers.
You need to apologize for silencing Karen’s story and for turning her into the enemy because she believed the church needed to know the full scope of Jordan’s confession…
You need to apologize for even thinking about putting her through that godawful church discipline process.
You need to apologize for all that b.s. you proclaimed about Karen in the “membership update” on May 23… I mean, seriously, you defamed her in front of your 6000+ members… and you didn’t apologize for that…
She didn’t need you to be better leaders.
She didn’t need you to clarify your theology.
She didn’t need you to be more prepared.
She didn’t need you to express a pseudo apology using the anonymous pronouns “we” and “them”….
The truth is, she didn’t need you.
Which was the problem from the beginning. Her non need of you scraped against your spiritual maleness.
And yet, the more you tried to force her submit to your authority, the more you made her excruciating circumstance more excruciating.
But then again, that apology really wasn’t an apology to Karen was it, TVC? It was a public relations move to calm down the members of your church, right? Am I close? Just a little too close…
Again, kudos to TVC for being kind and seemingly humble.
But you put a good woman who really loves God and trusted you guys through hell. I mean, seriously, think about it… Karen was evangelizing Jesus in East Asia, all alone without family and good friends when she found out her husband and fellow missionary was a pedophile…
And what did you do? You put her through hell. She’d already been there. But you made her ride the hell coaster one more time…
And you didn’t apologize for that… You didn’t apologize for that.
And so, sure, your statement was kind/nice and perhaps humble. But it completely missed the point.
But you knew that already.
As you likely know, Matt Chandler is the pastor of The Village Church, a Southern Baptist and neo-reformed mega church in the Dallas area boasting a weekly attendance of 11,000. Chandler is also the president of the Acts29 network, and one of the many pastors who signed that letter to Mark Driscoll.
On May 23, Chandler’s church sent its membership one doozy of a letter, a letter laced with a plethora of reformed catchphrases and dogma, a letter detailing the reasons why the church has put Karen Hinkley (formerly Karen Root) under “church discipline.”
Karen, along with her now ex-husband, Jordan Root, were sent out (by the church and Serving in Mission) as missionaries last August to South Asia. Then, in December, Jordan confessed to viewing child pornography.
According to Karen: “The discovery of Jordan’s pedophilia and use of child pornography was an indescribable shock and triggered a thorough upheaval of every aspect of my life.” SOURCE
And she couldn’t be more correct…
After Jordan’s confession, the church brought them home from the mission field. They put Jordan through some “path toward repentance.” And they chided Karen for wanting her marriage to be over.
Still, 4 weeks after returning home, Karen filed for her marriage to be annulled.
Her church’s reaction? Whoa, slow down. And they sent her letter after letter, seeking reconciliation of Jordan and Karen’s marriage. And then, when she didn’t respond?
They issued church discipline… dear God…
“Karen’s decision to pursue immediate annulment, to decline any attempt of reconciliation, to disregard her Membership Covenant and pastoral counsel, and to break fellowship with the body has led her into formal church discipline. While members in good standing are free to leave the church and seek membership elsewhere, those in the disciplinary process have covenanted to see that process through before leaving the church. Because of this, we have attempted to fulfill our biblical commitment to love and care for her according to the Membership Covenant she affirmed and subsequently renewed on multiple occasions. ” READ THE CHURCH’S FULL ACTIONS HERE.
But the thing is, Karen had resigned from the church. That’s right. She’d asked to be removed from their membership. But according to Christian Today, the church sent Karen a letter and declined her request to part ways.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: I mistakenly credited Christianity Today with this link. My apologies for the misinformation. It is my understanding that Christianity Today is working on a story about this topic.)
“The letter asks for forgiveness for any shortcomings on the church’s part, but says that “we have been perplexed by your decision to file for an annulment of your marriage without first abiding by your covenant obligations to submit to the care and direction of your elders…this decision violates your covenant with us – and places you under discipline”. Younger adds that the church’s bylaws prohibit a member voluntarily resigning while they are subject to the formal disciplinary process.” SOURCE.
“This decision violates your covenant with us – and places you under discipline”?? What? Is this the 1600s? Are they gonna call her a witch next? I mean, come on…
But Karen stayed strong, holding to her position that she didn’t want anything to do with The Village Church. And that she didn’t want anything to do with Jordan either.
And for good reason…
She says: “Jordan’s admitted pedophilia and use of child pornography over many years is no small thing. The child pornography industry relies on the exploitation and abuse of children and their bodies, and the use of child pornography harms children by driving the demand for more. What is even more disturbing than his use of child pornography is that throughout the duration of these years, Jordan sought and gained access to a large number of children, many of whom represent some of the most vulnerable populations of children in our society. His ability to successfully manipulate others is evidenced by the complete trust that was placed in him by many parents, companies, churches, and organizations over the course of these years. It is my sincere hope that Jordan has not sexually abused any children, but I believe the circumstances warrant his exposure so that any victims who might be out there can be identified and given an opportunity for justice and healing.” SOURCE
Karen goes on to say: “The inclination towards minimization and secrecy that the pastors and elders of The Village Church have displayed is inexcusable. And the spiritual abuse I have experienced at their hands is unacceptable from those who would represent Jesus Christ. Jesus cares deeply for the vulnerable and the voiceless. He speaks strongly against those who would victimize children, and he went toe-to-toe with the religious bullies of his day who “tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” (Matthew 23) The treatment of Jordan as the victim and me as the perpetrator by the leadership of the church is an appalling reversal that evidences priorities that are not in line with the Word of God.” SOURCE
According to the church: “In similar counsel from our elders, SIM has given Karen a gracious six-month leave to pursue healing but also required that she be reconciled to The Village Church before they would consider sending her back to the mission field. She also declined SIM’s counsel, abandoning her request to return to the mission field.”
But seriously, what on earth is Matt Chandler and his band of elders thinking? Jordan and Karen’s marrage is over. Period. And the State of Texas has sided with Karen, not that that should matter. They’ve gone to great lengths to reconcile with Jordan. And put Karen through hell, choosing to put her under “church discipline” and refusing her desire to resign from their membership! What? How inhumane. How unChristian. And how Puritan…
And in addition to that, they decided to shame her decision in an 8-page letter to the membership of a mega church.
Once again, a powerful and seemingly arrogant church is further abusing a victim, failing to see past their rigid bylaws and theology and choosing law over humanity.
Have some mercy, Matt Chandler. Retract your church’s actions toward Karen immediately. Stop playing “God”… and get off your church/theological high horse.
I’m a progressive Christian (or I think I am), though I’m not sure I’ve ever uttered that sentence aloud. That’s not because I’m ashamed of the label, but more or less because nobody seems to define “progressive Christian” the same way. (<-That’s problem number 1).
That’s partly because “progressive” is a vague term in today’s culture, nearly as vague as the word “Christian.” It’s no wonder the combo of the two make for a less than definitive idea. (<-Problem number 2?)
However, despite America’s progressive Christianity being undefined (Is it a movement? Is it organized? Is there any unity whatsoever?), a growing number of believers—many of whom are Christians who grew up in conservative churches/denominations—are still choosing to wear the label. That said, nobody who comes from conservative backgrounds jumps into faith-based progressivism headfirst. While not all progressive churchgoers are former conservative Christians or disenfranchised evangelicals, many indeed are coming from those backgrounds with a myriad of expectations, disillusions, frustrations, hopes, etc. And chances are, for a majority of those onetime fundamentalists or evangelicals, their journeys toward progressive Christianity evolved over many years and often started out of a place of spiritual pain or spiritual doubt or spiritual disenchantment. For them, “Progressive Christian” is a label they approach cautiously and slowly, often wading into their new realities/understandings with far more uncertainty than faith. (<-Problem number 3? That depends.)
Personally, I began embracing the progressive term mostly because other people labeled me as such. Though I’m fairly outside the evangelical box with my theology, I don’t attend a progressive church and many of my best friends are self-identifying conservative or moderate evangelicals. It wasn’t until 2, maybe 3, years ago that I started owning the label to some degree, though I confess, sometimes I do so with much trepidation. Why? For several reasons: Labels frustrate me. Sure, I see their necessity and often use labels and/or stereotypes in my own writing, I also find them to be somewhat unhelpful, suffocating, and limiting in the real world. Moreover, as I mentioned, “progressive” is such an indistinct term with a multitude of variables that owning the label doesn’t “define” me as much as it puts me in a corner with a host of other wonderful and complicated believers/thinkers who (<-Here’s problem number 4->) often have many of their own issues with the label/concept.
For example, many of us have a cumbersome relationship with scripture. (<-Problem number 6) Am I allowed to say that? Yes, suggesting that many of us have complicated relationships with scripture might give some people a reason to pounce on us even more than they do (or perhaps discount us altogether), but let’s face it: many of us (not all of us) are a bit clumsy when it comes to scripture.
Now, it’s not that we don’t love scripture, we do love it. We just also hate it sometimes, at least parts of it. Often our odd relationships with the Bible are because we come from experiences where chapter and verse was/is the beginning and the end of God and many of us had that view of God memorized by the time we hit puberty. (<-Problem number 7.) Which isn’t our fault, of course; but for many of us, our history with God’s Word has caused us to become less-than-passionate about using scripture to prove our new, more progressive, points/ideas/theories. Why?
Well, for several reasons perhaps.
1) Because many of us likely know how to prove the opposing view with scripture as well or better than we can prove our current view.
2) Because some of us are uncertain (or fearfully certain) of where to begin or how to prove our current views using scripture.
3) Because a few of us are somewhat unconvinced that “progressive theology” can actually be found in the biblical narrative.
4) Because it’s much easier to just use scripture as a tool against conservative ideas (our old way of thinking) than it is to use it to build up and/or support our new understanding. (<-Problem number 8.)
And trust me (<-Here’s problem number 9->), I get it; going from thinking about the Bible in that literal spoken from the mouth of God and using it as a weapon sense to thinking about the Bible in that non-literal, biblical narrative—part history, part allegory, part inconclusive riddle but always inspired—sense is a difficult journey for most of us. Yes, we believe scripture is “inspired,” but we don’t know exactly what that means, at least, not like we once did. Now, though we often say it’s inspired, how “inspired” impacts our understanding of the Book of Judges and whether or not that story in the Book of Judges about a woman getting cut up into 12 pieces and sent as gifts to the 12 Tribes says anything true about God is another thing altogether.
A part of the bigger problem is that it’s easy for many of us onetime conservatives/now progressives to get caught up in our faith being defined by our past as opposed to it being inspired by what’s in front of us (<-Problem number 10). In other words, many of us know exactly what we believe to be true and untrue about the churches we grew up in, the theologies that we were taught, and the perceptions of God that we once worshiped. And there’s nothing wrong with knowing what we believe to be good and true about our pasts. But sometimes we fall onto the path of getting so lost in fighting the ills of our former spiritual lives that we go for long periods of time when that’s all our faith is, one big fight against what was. (Now, for some of us, I think that’s exactly where we need to be. Because the freedom to be angry is a part of the journey.)
But some of us linger there because we are so uncomfortable engaging God with questions and doubt (<-Problem number 11). In many ways, we don’t know how to engage God without belief squarely intact (<-Problem number 11.5), so we instead become consumed by our own certainty about other people’s certainty. And there’s a time and place for that! But for many, engaging in spiritual wars (usually online) become the most visible, worked-out part of our faiths. Our Christianities become seemingly void of belief or hope or even questions and doubt and instead, most known for a mostly clumsy presentation of angst (<-Problem number 12).
And again, I get it. I really do. Angst, in the right context, is a beautiful thing. But sometimes it seems that’s all our faith is—angst against what was. I’m constantly struggling with this. Because on one hand I do want to use my voice and influence to speak up for those who have been silenced by the sometimes harsh certainty of evangelical, reformed, and fundamentalist doctrines—and I will continue to do that because speaking up for somebody else is a whole other thing—but when the fight is only personal, bursting out from the unresolved issues we have with our former selves, it’s easy to begin mistaking those fights as elements of faith(<-Problem number 13). I’ve learned (and am still learning) that I can’t hand my fights down to my kids and expect them to want to engage God. I can’t inspire belief and hope and mystery with only personal angst toward my past. (Problem number 14->) If our progressive faiths are going to be more than simply labels or responses to our pasts then we must become comfortable engaging the story of God without the lens of our former spiritual ideas. We must accept that it’s far more difficult to pursue God’s story with doubt, questions, and little bit of hope than it is with certainty and doctrine. But we must, if we want to be happy and content and continue on something of a Christian path, take the difficult path, relearn how to believe without certainty, and allow grace to fill in a few of the cracks. Because if our past faith is the defining factor in our current faith, is that really faith? I think that’s a question we must answer ourselves, in our own time.
For many of us, the journey out of angst includes learning the art of critiquing/questioning the Church. Progressive Christians have always been fantastic critics (<-Problem number 16? Sometimes. But not always.). In fact, here in America, it was often because of progressive believers that change in America’s Church became possible, that abuses by churches and ministries were challenged, that hate and intolerance amid the culture was uncovered and remedied. They made mistakes and weren’t always friendly. But sometimes, the sins that the Church commits in God’s name demand to be confronted by unfriendly voices. So all of us should thank God for good critics. We need critics. But the one bigger difference about many progressive voices from our history and many of the progressive voices of today is that the best progressive thinkers of our country’s past learned the art of balancing the breaking of things down and the calling of wrongs out with the creation of ideas, theologies, new ways of thinking, and hopes, inspiration that helped in the pursuit of reframing faith, rebuilding churches, and reconnecting people to the stories of God. (Problem number 17->) Many of us (me included!) are terrible at that balance. Some of us aren’t even looking for the balance.
Again, this isn’t true for every progressive voice. Some people are indeed balancing their fight against the establishment with truths and ideas for reconstruction. But finding the footing or foundation to be both good critics as well as good inspirers is difficult for many of us. (Problem number 18->) Some of us are so busy sharpening our skills as critics that even if our voices do inspire change, we often miss the opportunities that come along to be a part of what happens—the rebuild—after the change (<-Problem number 18.5) Why?
Because we’ll be tempted to find something new that’s broken to critique.
Because at the end of the day, though many of us truly want to help to build something authentic, something new, something believable, something hopeful, something good, many of us still don’t know what that something is… which pays tribute to that earlier point that progressive Christianity is vague and undefined.
Because again, progressives are fantastic critics—needed critics! However, their talent for critiquing the ills of the Church or the sins of the “other side” are only outdone by their seemingly limitless ability to eat up their own kind without a second thought. It’s kind of shocking to behold actually. But progressive Christians jumping on other progressive Christians over the tiniest differences is disheartening. I’ve watched Christians who support equality lash out at other Christians who support equality. I’ve witnessed Christian feminists hating on other Christian feminists. And that’s just the beginning. Many of us are just spectators to these wars, and while we don’t get involved too often, the interactions silence us. Why? Because we’re afraid of our own kind (<-Problem number 19). Yes. It’s true. I think THIS is one of the biggest problems in the progressive Christian culture and why so few new ideas come out of this trend/movement: Because it seems there’s so little grace for mistakes or for being wrong or for being not completely right… And so many progressives become so intoxicated by their own “pet issues” (ideas that most inspire them or interest them) that speaking into that issue is to risk getting attacked socially online by that individual and their friends…. somebody who fights poverty but doesn’t fight poverty the way one person or group thinks it should be fought, they are ridiculed with rage online. Or somebody who speaks out against our country’s racial inequality but either doesn’t do it exactly the way a person/group thinks it should be done or isn’t the kind of person that a person/group thinks they should be, they get vehemently attacked. And I could go on and on. Which is why I think progressive Christianity remains so vague, so undefined. It’s not conservative theologians that limit us. We are far more limited by those with whom we agree with 99 percent of time (<-Problem number 20).
And I believe we can do better. But we need to pick up the mirror. And take a long look.
Much about the Christian music scene has been depressing in recent years. Mainly because there really isn’t a “Christian music scene” per se. Not really. Not like the scene that I encountered in 1996. And honestly, that’s probably a good thing. That scene was a bit crazy, self-involved, and had little to do with Jesus.
When I was working at CCM magazine, the writing on the wall became rather clear. Christian music was dying. The reasons why that’s true vary according to who you talk to. My opinion? Worship music killed Christian music. The worship music movement slowly, over time, suffocated the true creatives out of record deals, pushing them to the fringes of the music scene to fend for themselves. It wasn’t personal. It was business. Christian radio started limiting their playlists to include artists like Chris Tomlin, Mercy Me, and Casting Crowns. And while they might be nice people with good voices, their music is safe for the whole family. And nothing stifles a creative scene like safety. And for a long while, there’s been a serious lack of good spiritual music coming out of Nashville. Sure, there have been a record here and there… but nothing that seemed to suggest a true revival might be happening.
Some people think that the Christian music scene is pointless anyway. I disagree. While some Christian music is downright dreadful, Christian music gave me a lot of hope when I was a kid trapped in Christian fundamentalism. From my world, Christian music was a window to an outside world, a place where Jesus still had issues but nothing like the issues he had in my world. Christian music opened my eyes to different ways of thinking. It pushed me to explore theology. It challenged my worldview. It caused me to feel God’s presence in a way that I wasn’t accustomed to… Christian music isn’t perfect. And at times, it’s downright awful. However, it also created an environment that allowed me to be introduced to artists and songs that helped me believe that Jesus was bigger and more gracious and more hopeful than what I’d been taught for most of my life.
But Hillsong music isn’t going to do that. It might make me “feel” emotionally connected to God in the moment, it does not have the creative power or means to push minds and hearts to think and experience God differently. It doesn’t have the ability to create dialogue about theology, about culture, and about philosophy. And I’m sorry, Jesus Culture isn’t going to make music that spearheads anything more than fairy dust and goosebumps. But a true artist who’s passionate about life and faith and art and truth can cause you to not only think outside your comfortable box but experience worship at the same time.
But signs of hope might be on the horizon. There’s a handful of artists, songs, and rumors about artists and songs that make me wonder if there’s a springtime coming for music about faith and spirituality. While there’s no guarantee, here are few reasons why I think a new birth of creativity might be happening Christian music…
1) John Mark McMillan’s “Borderland”
That’s just the first single. The whole album is an amazing collection of intricately constructed songs. Click the picture below to view the record at Amazon.
2) Ellie Holcomb “As Sure As the Sun”
Holcomb’s “As Sure As the Sun” is a hopeful collection of melodies and words, a bright collection that’s filled with mystery and production intricacies. Listen to more at Amazon.
3) Shawn McDonald’s new song “We Are Brave”
You can sample it here. It will be a little too pop for some, but it’s so dang catchy. Definitely give it a listen.
4) Jars of Clay “Inlandia”
Yes, it’s Jars of Clay. And they’ve been around for 20+ years. But a bright path can’t all be spearheaded by newly discovered talent, some of it must come from longtime musicians and artists. And with this remix EP of their record “Inland,” Jars of Clay showcases they’re amazing ability to evolve with age (Check out the record at iTunes.
One of Nashville’s most poetic storytellers finally released some new music last year. If you’re not familiar with Sarah Masen’s previous efforts, check out these two songs: Carry Us Through and one of the best songs about faith ever written, Wrap My Arms Around Your Name (listen below).
6) And Nichole Nordeman is rumored to be working on new music. And that is good news indeed. Nobody writes songs about God and faith like Nichole. If you need reminding, listen to “Hold On” from her 2005 record “Brave”:
Other bright signs…
-Gungor’s “I Am Mountain”
And again, these are just signs of a little creative life happening among Christians making music about God, life, faith…
How about you? Have any “signs” of your own?
The Christian music duo Shane & Shane sing a song called “Though You Slay Me,” a worship song about suffering which features an excerpt of a John Piper sermon. Though it’s been out for several months, I’d not heard the song before yesterday. And to be honest, the lyrics (some of which were borrowed from the Book of Job) troubled me.
I come, God, I come
I return to the Lord
The one who’s broken
The one who’s torn me apart
You struck down to bind me up
You say You do it all in love
That I might know You in Your suffering
Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need.
Maybe I’m in a minority, but my spirit cringes when I hear those kinds of big statements about God, statements that make God out to be an abuser rather than a loving parent, a destroyer as opposed to a healer, an Almighty who slays, ruins, and tears apart as opposed to bringing new life. Now, it’s one thing to praise God through pain and suffering. That’s not easy to do. But as a person of faith, I do believe we can/do find healing and hope in suffering through gratitude. My grievance with this song is what it says about God. In these lyrics, God is a monstrous presence, a deity who is cruel and unusual, a Great Inflicter of pain… are there limits to what this so-called awesome God will do?
I understand that these same themes show up in the Book of Job. But Job, as book, is a complicated, and as a man, is complex. Some believe the story to be historical in nature; others suggest that it’s a grand allegory that sheds light on the relationship between God and people. Either way, Job is an uneasy biblical narrative that has befuddled wise people for thousands of years. And for good reason. That dialogue between God and Satan alone is filled up with complexities and details not easily understood as they relate to today. Do we really believe that every time somebody dies or gets cancer or loses everything that Satan and God have been wheeling and dealing? Are we supposed to assume that every time there’s a school shooting or a natural disaster that it’s an event spearheaded by God? Is that what we really think about God, that amid our human suffering, as we struggle through, seeking God’s light and healing, that we are also to assume that God is the author of our hopelessness? Is that what we’re supposed to believe?
And if so, are there any limits to this kind of God? I mean, if this God slays us and ruins us, does he also set up rapes? Does he schedule miscarriages? Murders? I mean, is God our hope and salvation or the disease-maker and/or terrorist?
Yes, I know what you might be thinking: But God allows suffering, suffering that God, if he wanted to, could stop. And yes, that is a confusing and complicated idea, that God allows suffering as opposed to stopping it from happening. But still, I think there’s a huge difference between finding reason to praise God through the mysteries and questions of human suffering and praising a God who purposely puts cancer in somebody’s body or demolishes a town with a tornado just because he needed a little glory that day.
While I don’t like to use human examples to portray concepts about God, many believers do it often. The most common example is that of a father who swoops in to rescue his child from danger. Many of us would praise that father, or at least, celebrate the rescue. But what if we found out that the child’s danger had been prearranged by the father, that the child’s rescue had been actually been grand scheme authored by the father so he could receive our praise. Most of us would say that’s sick and demented. And again, while no human example is good at explaining the complexities of God, that is what this song suggests. That is what Shane & Shane are singing about.
And yes, many believe that Book of Job suggests the same. But does that give us permission to assume that the story of Job is happening all the time? Is it wise for us to make these great assumptions about about every form or instance of human suffering. Do not genetics and habits and evil play a role? Doesn’t the Book of Job demand more than to be simply applied to our every struggle? Shouldn’t it at least be used with caution and mercy.
Because I’m all about praising God in and through all things. But I also believe that we should use a little grace, humility, and common sense when applying a 5000-year-old text to our circumstances, especially as it relates to making big seemingly ugly assumptions about God.
Do I understand every nuance and idea surrounding the ways of God and the realities of suffering? No, I don’t. And chances are, neither do you. And sometimes, rather than promoting our thoughts about God like they’re the gospel truth, the best theology one can offer is I don’t know.
Because in many cases, especially in circumstances involving suffering, we don’t know.
Francis Chan recently spoke at International House of Prayer (IHOP), the Kansas City church led by controversial minister, Mike Bickle. It doesn’t take too much searching on Google to discover that Bickle has made more than a few enemies in his day. And even if you dismiss the plethora of people whose personal interactions with Bickle and his ministry have been less than pleasant–heck, some are downright strange–there’s enough crazy in Bickle’s “theology” and “ministry” dealings to make the average believer approach with caution. There’s that terribly dark “vision” he had for America. He’s also quite connected to the Christian movement in Uganda, the same movement that helped create the intolerant laws against gays and lesbians in Uganda. And then there’s his cultish church, IHOP. And that’s just the tip of the IHOP iceberg. Like Chan says in his introduction, lots of people think Bickle is “creepy.”
And so not only does Chan ignore the drama and speak at IHOP (which is his right, of course), he begins his sermon with an over-the-top and very awkward public testament to how much he LOVES Mike Bickle. Chan has always had a somewhat quirky delivery, a seemingly earnest passion that just doesn’t always translate on video like it does live or in person. His expressiveness can often get in the way of what he’s really trying to say. (For instance, remember his book trailer for Erasing Hell?
Even if you don’t agree with Chan’s theology, most still find him endearing as a speaker. Yes, he’s quirky. But his passion is believable. Which I think is one of the reasons he’s garnered such a massive fan base.
But here, in the above clip, Chan’s quirky love for “creepy Mike Bickle” isn’t believable. I think he wants to believe it. But I’m not sure he really does, not like he believes in and loves Hell.
What do you think? Does Chan really LOVE IHOP creepy, Pastor Bickle? And if so, isn’t it an odd and awkward match?
Yesterday I posted this. Several people (here and on Facebook) asked me to explain my conversation with Elias’s teacher. A couple people asked why I felt the need to speak with his teacher about the “pumpkin illustration.” So I thought I’d offer a follow-up post to explain…
Why did I talk to Elias’s teacher?
For one thing, because he was 3! And not almost 4, either, though that wouldn’t have made much of a difference. I likely would have discussed the use of this illustration with his teacher even if he’d been 6 or 7. [Read more…]
In the eighth grade, after my Bible teacher explained his Baptist theology for how Jesus’s death and resurrection conquered the gates of Hell, I raised my hand and asked “then why do Baptists believe Hell still exists if Jesus conquered it”?
Did he just conquer part of it? Why didn’t he take care of the whole thing? Didn’t he technically create it?
My questions didn’t go over so well. But as far as I was concerned, inside my mind, my teacher’s answers didn’t go over well, either. Usually they only brought more questions.
Back then—at least among my spiritual kin—those who asked questions were considered troublemakers, trifling, and disruptive.
And perhaps I was all those things at times. But raising hell wasn’t my intent. I would have done just about anything to fit in, to be among the majority who simply believed our church’s doctrine without ever feeling the need to question it.
Today, those of us who ask faith questions are more welcomed among God’s family. Sometimes, depending on what kind of questions we ask and the spiritual environment we exist inside, we’re even accepted as an important part of the faith process. And for that, I am grateful.
But it’s still not easy. For many reasons. [Read more…]