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.
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...]
Over at Christianity Today’s Gleanings blog they showcased a new song called False Teachers by reformed rapper Shai Linne.
Hip-hop lover John Piper praised Linne’s new song, Tweeting this: “My,my, Shai, this is good.”
I’m still trying to get used to the idea that “reformed rappers” are becoming popular.
UPDATE: Paula White’s son responded.
What do you think?
The following post is my opinion, one based on experiences and conversations that I’ve had over the years.
Rachel Held Evans is trending. Huffington Post, Yahoo, Slate.com, and many more have covered posted stories about Rachel. On Monday, Rachel, along with her husband, Dan, will be on the Today Show. And I couldn’t be more excited for my friend. I had the privilege of reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood this past summer and offering an endorsement of the book.
A Year of Biblical Womanhood is thoughtful, witty, and eye-opening, one of the most important books I’ve read in a long time. In detailing her “Old Testament” adventure, the always earnest Rachel Held Evans flexes her writing muscle by painting vivid scenes, inspiring prose, and offering well-played opinions doused with persuasive theology. A Year of Biblical Womanhood is a brave book, proving Evans’ knack for packing a powerful punch while still managing to remain devout, humble, full of grace.
Much of the current buzz about Rachel and her new book is about LifeWay Christian Stores refusing to carry the title because of the word “vagina”. And yes, that’s ridiculous on many levels. But of course there’s more to all of this than just the word “vagina”. There always is. And let’s face it, none of us are exactly surprised by this news regarding Lifeway. LifeWay has a long list of books that its refused to carry. Several of my books have sparked inside conversations between my publishers’ sales team and LifeWay’s buying team. One of my books was banned because of the word “masturbation” and another time it was because of a joke I wrote that referenced Baptists. Rachel’s in good company. Even Donald Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz” was banned AT FIRST. The popular title was deemed too controversial, too. But then it became too popular and a too “good of a sales opportunity” not to sell. So LifeWay’s moral code got trumped.
LifeWay has every right to stock what they want to stock. Some have called it censorship, and of course it’s censorship. Censorship is a part of LifeWay’s brand as a “Christian” retail establishment. Those who shop at LifeWay do so because they desire a certain level of censorship. Customers trust LifeWay to have screened the content that they sell. And they do. And trust me, they take that responsibility very seriously.
But regarding Rachel’s book, the word “vagina” is only the beginning of why LifeWay won’t carry the title. Another reason that we don’t like talking about is because Rachel has a vagina. Let me explain. Even before LifeWay read the first word of Rachel’s book, the fact that she is a female author, limited what those words were allowed to say and also to whom Rachel was allowed to say them to. Being a woman limits an author’s biblical platform according to LifeWay.
The only thing that would put Rachel at a bigger disadvantage on the front end would have been if she was a female pastor. A book by a female pastor wouldn’t have made it through LifeWay’s security checkpoint at the entrance to their Nashville offices.
Why? Because LifeWay is owned and operated by the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC has rules regarding what women are allowed to say and do. Those rules trickle down to the retail level, influencing what and whom LifeWay is willing to support and sell in their retail stores.
Sure, LifeWay carries a multitude of books written by women. In fact, books written by women are some of their biggest moneymakers. But all of their biggest selling female authors fit into the “role” that the SBC believes is “biblically” fitting for women.
Beth Moore is a perfect example, she’s a non-pastor who “speaks” and “teaches”. Beth’s primary reader and conference attendee is the female who is engaged in church. While men might read her book or see her live, you will rarely see an advertised “Beth Moore teaching event” that is not marketed directly to a female audience. That’s on purpose. Men are usually allowed to attend if they want, but the event is rarely for them. And they are never the marketing focus, because it is against the SBC policy for a female to “teach Bible” to men. Beth “speaks” in front of mixed crowds all the time. But speaking and teaching are different. The language used in the marketing material to advertise A Beth Moore “teaching event” and a Beth Moore appearance is carefully shaped and massaged so that her ministry fits within the context of the SBC rules for women.
I’ve read where some have asked, “Why does LifeWay carry Mark Driscoll’s sex book? It contains the word ‘vagina’ and rather lengthy sexualized descriptions.” To be frank, because he’s a man. And furthermore, because he’s a man who is a “pastor,” which puts him “two LifeWay points” ahead of Rachel from the start.
I have many friends who have worked at LifeWay. Years ago, when she was getting ready to hand in her notice, I remember a friend telling me, “I’m a woman. I’m limited as to what I can do here. I can’t go any higher than I am right now.” Another former employee once said, “sexism bleeds throughout this company in the most subtle ways. Sometimes, because it’s such a part of the culture here, you hardly notice it.”
Oh, people with vaginas work at LifeWay. And they sell lots of books by people who have vaginas. But LifeWay only associates with vagina people who know and respect the rules they have in regards to people with vaginas.
Let me write it one more time… vagina.
The conversation happening all over the Internet about Rachel’s book is a very important one. And it’s not simply about the word “vagina”. This conversation is about equality in the eyes of God. It’s about the limitations that one denomination continues to subject women to simply because they are women. It’s about how a large part of the Christian culture undermines and devalues the role and words of women in conversations regarding theology, church, and spiritual growth.
So please don’t miss the bigger issue here, the story that affects all of us, not just Rachel. Because in the end, Rachel doesn’t need LifeWay to sell her books. She knows that. But this conversation is not just about Rachel and her book. And it’s not just about LifeWay.
It’s about equality in the church. It’s about empowering women to speak up. It’s about encouraging women to embrace their voice/thoughts/opinions with freedom. It’s about the church (all of the church) becoming a safe place for people, people with and without vaginas. And it’s about our daughters, our moms, our sisters, our friends who have vaginas being nourished in spiritual environments where they are not the “weaker partner” but rather a strong valued soul who know and feel loved and accepted fully by God.
Like life itself, the conversation about Rachel’s book begins with the vagina, but that’s only the beginning.
Last week at the Story Conference in Chicago, Phil Vischer shared his story. It was a good story, one that included detailed thoughts and commentary about starting Big Idea, voicing “Bob”, and the lessons he learned when he lost it all. Phil is a wonderful storyteller. He’s honest, articulate, and offered some good bits of wisdom for those of us in attendance.
But one of the themes of his talk, a theme that I hear a lot of evangelicals bringing up these days, left me a little frustrated. As Phil told his story, one thread that kept coming up throughout was a personal battle to pursue religion vs. pursuing relationship.
The “Religion vs. Relationship” storyline is not new. Oh, the words we insert have changed a few times over the years. But the basic personal story is the same: One day a person wakes up to find themselves “being religious and nothing like Jesus” which eventually leads that person to make their faith “not about religion, but rather about a relationship with Jesus”.
But like most of these kinds of “awakenings”, when Phil began to describe his newfound “relationship”, what he told us–and I mean, pretty much every single element of the faith he now pursued–was a religious practice, therefore making his “relationship vs. religion” battle rather weak.
Is “relationship” really the antithesis to religion? I don’t think so. Because whether we want to admit this or not, any action or habit or idea that we “pursue” in effort to experience a relationship with Christ is indeed religion. And that’s not a bad thing.
I get why people war against religion. Trust me, I do. I’m not always a fan of “religion” either. But just because I find aspects of “religion” to be less than divine, doesn’t mean I get to call my spiritual pursuance something other than what it is, a religion.
Because unless my Christianity contains no practice or effort or deed or pursuance of any kind, then my Christianity is indeed religion. It can certainly be “relationship”, too. But that relationship does not re-categorize my faith under some different “non-religious” category. Does it?
Maybe it’s just semantics, but how is a “relationship with Jesus” not religion? It could be argued that it’s a “new” religion or a “different” religion–but if one’s relationship contains any form of practice, it’s a religion.
Does the pursuit of religion save us? The answer to that question might depend on your theology or denomination. But I’d say no. However, the pursuit of a “relationship” doesn’t save us either. But often (or usually), spiritual change or awakening happens because we’ve engaged a process or idea or deeper connection to God. And that process, idea, or “connection” is religion.
I guess I don’t understand why so many people are jumping on the “Jesus is my savior not my religion” bandwagon. Because those two ideas don’t have to be at odds. Moreover, those two ideas are pretty much synonymous.
Even Jesus practiced religion. Sure, he challenged the “religions leaders”, often putting them in their place. But that’s because they turned their religion into a way to judge people from atop of their holy pedestals. Still, Jesus used religious elements to engage a relationship with his father. He prayed. He visited the temple. He studied the holy scriptures. Jesus was religious. Sure, he recognized the danger of religion. But he also recognized its usefulness.
In the same way, I recognize the atrocities that people can cause using religion. But in my pursuit of God, I’ve also found value in how religious elements–habits, rituals, etc.–can change me.
For me, my religion is about relationship and my relationship is religious.
Phil’s faith has changed, I believe. He indeed engages Jesus with a new perspective. And while his new perspective is about “relationship”, and that’s great, his relationship with Jesus is still “religion”.
And really, as long as he’s not hurting anybody, I think that’s okay.