A bumper-sticker slogan I have seen more than once proudly declares that “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” This slogan is the cornerstone theological statement of many in western evangelical movement, and it is the problem. Many Christians believe that their sins, no matter how great or small are of no matter because they, being Christian and all, are forgiven. However, at the same time those same Christians are cruelty unforgiving of any who sins in their eyes and is not a Christian.
Christians can divorce at will and still be “stalwart defenders” of traditional marriage. They can also be “staunchly pro-life” when screaming for vengeance and war that kills thousands of children. They can be greedy and hoard up wealth and still attack “godless” forms of economy. The duplicity is mind boggling. In a way, it can appear that what these Christians really want is a world where the non-Christians act better than them. They want the unforgiven to live by “biblical” standards while the forgiven celebrate their freedom to do as they please. Followed to its logical conclusion, Christians want a world where Jesus finds all of those he is about to send to Hell being good people, and his chosen few sinning as they please and boasting of their forgiveness.
If you are deeply entrenched in the Christian culture of America, let me assure you, this attitude looks amazingly and illogically hypocritical. Case in point: Tennessee Congressman Scott DesJarlais. Like many politicians who claim the conservative Christian label and its accompanying political support, he is a complicated man. During the election season, a scandal arose regarding the congressman and his mistress. The staunchly anti-abortion candidate, while practicing as a medical doctor, had impregnated a patient and then pressured her to have an abortion. Conservative Tennessee voters elected him on his promise to “defend traditional marriage” and “protect unborn life.” This was despite the knowledge that the same man cheated on his wife, abused his position as doctor, and pressured a woman to have an abortion so that he would be spared “embarrassment.” This is what some in the Behavioral Science field call cognitive dissonance.
After his reelection in November the scandal began to widen and it was learned that when he divorced his earlier wife he had also pressured her to have two abortions. If this were anyone but a “pro-life” Republican congressman, Christians would call him a serial killer. Yet support for him has barely diminished. When asked about all of these things he has done, while at the same time restating he is against them and will fight anyone who thinks they are ok, he answered in a typical Christian manner. “I’m human… I don’t think I ever put myself out there to be somebody that was perfect.”
It his clear from his statements that the congressman from Tennessee has decided it is not his place to be hard on himself, it is his job to be hard on others. His record will prove as much.
Thus we have an illustration of the problem. Christians have convinced themselves that they can be as absolutely wicked as they want, and by some measures worse than the rest of the world, yet remain at peace because of God’s grace. Any sin committed by the in-crowd can be rationalized away as a “simple mistake,” a “stumble,” or dodged completely by blaming it on an attack by Satan.
The world on the other hand, is ripe for judgement. Their sins are deliberate and premeditated. When the world fails to do right; it is because in their evilness they can do nothing but violently attack God and his way. Remember Bill Clinton? He did far less than DesJarlais, yet every Christian leader of note called for his resignation. They claimed that his personal failings proved he was morally incapable of leading.
Ironically the Apostle Paul in his letters, James in his letter, John in his first letter, and at many times the Lord Jesus himself all indicated that they believed the exact opposite. The clear teaching across the New Testament is that Christians are supposed to be better. Yes we are forgiven, but our response to that forgiveness is that we are better. We do not judge the world for the precise reason that we do not believe they can do better without the grace of God. Our view toward the rest of the world should be a sharing of the gospel message of God’s love for them. Our forgiveness should not be an issue of pride on our bumper stickers, but of humility in our prayers.
I don’t want to be an American Christian.
I don’t want to be an American Christian.
I want to be a Jesus Christian.
John Piper thinks I am going to hell. No, he didn’t witness me murdering an enemy (at least I don’t think he did) or anything else that is out of the realm of normal sin. I don’t believe he saw me blaspheme the Holy Spirit or anything unforgivable like that. In fact, his problem doesn’t even seem to be with me. John Piper seems to have a problem with how I was saved, or at least how I think I was saved.
Let me explain. John Piper, one of the most influential leaders of the Neo-Reformed movement currently en vogue in conservative American Evangelicalism and the sponsors of my very own theological education, takes issue with dreams. Specifically, he says that he “suspicious… big time” of Muslims seeing Jesus in their dreams and converting to Christianity. While the angels in heaven rejoice at a single lost sheep being found, John’s not quite ready to break out the champagne quite yet, and not just because there are Baptists in the room. Piper’s problem, theologically speaking, is with the plan of salvation seemingly at work. He argues that people must hear the gospel to be saved, and this requires a human effort to preach to the person before he or she can be saved. He says in a recent talk to pastors,
“The Gospel needs to be heard. How shall they believe unless they hear and how shall they hear without a preacher and how shall they preach unless they be sent. That’s a pretty significant argument in Romans 10.”
His argument is simple, in order to be saved, you must first be preached to.
The problem for me is that long before I ever attended a Protestant church or heard their articulation of the gospel, a voice spoke to me from some unseen source and imprinted upon me some truths: There is a God, Jesus is God, I should be saved from my own hell but cannot do it myself, God offers needed salvation freely by his own grace. These are ideas that I accepted as fact long before I ever picked up a Bible or hung out with Christians. So radical were these ideas to my cultural background that I believed I was the only one who knew these things. Imagine my surprise some years later when a friend invited me to church only to find out that there was a whole religion based on the ideas I had carried with me. I am a disciple as a result of direct, supernatural revelation; I am not a convert because of a preacher’s words.
So what am I to do? Should I abandon my call to ministry because I can’t possibly be saved. Should I go to a Baptist church on revival Sunday and wait until the end to run down the aisle and tearfully throw myself at the preacher’s feet. I suppose I am going to have to get baptized again. Third time’s the charm you know. Perhaps I just need to critically examine Pastor Piper’s claim.
Having been educated in circles highly influenced Piper, I know that Romans is a pretty significant book for him. I know that many of his tradition view salvation through the lens of Romans as a universal truth. Evidence for this theology is granted when one simply asks, “what must I do to be saved?” Rarely will a Neo-Reformed take a person to any of the myriad occasions when someone asked Jesus the very same question, rather they will be taken down a Romans’ Road of disjointed verses that provide a simple set of propositions, that if a person agrees to, assures them of salvation. The problem with that view, is that the
book letter to the Romans is a particular communication regarding a particular situation in time. Of course it is inspired and there is a great deal we should learn from it, especially the nature of sin and salvation, but to make it the exclusive plan of salvation for the world is just wrong. Romans 10, as quoted by Piper as the basis for his thought being discussed, is a great admonition for the propagation of the gospel throughout the world. But it is unfair to the text, especially in the context of the whole Bible, to declare that it presents the exclusive path of salvation. I think the writer Paul would agree; but if Piper is right, Paul is not saved anyway so who cares what he thinks.
The main problem I see with Piper’s thinking is that he falls off a logical cliff that Neo-Reformed theology likes to walk perilously close to. By turning Romans into God’s tract of salvation, and pouring over each individual verse with an a priori understanding that each individual verse is a stand alone universal truth for all time, we are forced to turn salvation into an equation which must contain specific parts. When this hermeneutic is applied to Romans 10, one has no choice to declare that people can’t be saved unless they have heard, and that they cannot hear without a preacher. Therefore a preacher becomes neccessary for the salvation of another. The problem with this thinking of course is that human effort plays an essential role in a person’s salvation. Salvation is no longer a free gift from God gotten without our merit, but has now become dependent on someone else’s merit, namely the preacher! Put another way, the fate of my soul depends not only on God’s grace or my response, but a third person who must be faithful to preach to me. This is the “Theology of Glory” that Martin Luther fought so hard against to establish “Reformed Theology.” I feel the need to say that while John Piper has said and continues to say many theologically insightful things, in this case his suspicions are wrong, proving that even good preachers can sometimes produce bad theology.
Under the direction and lordship of Jesus Christ, there are many paths to salvation. Each one of us has our story, and God hasn’t even finished writing most of them. When we equate our experience with the exclusive truth of God, we run the danger of wandering into the territory of Job, who believed that he could grasp the mind of God, not realizing the meagerness of his own understanding. We do well to take Job’s lesson to heart and not bite off more than we can theologically chew.
True Blood fans out there know well “Fellowship of the Sun,” the vampire-hating cult that revels in its own self-righteous hypocrisy. Claiming to be a Christian church, they picket vampire-owned establishments, go on TV to preach unmitigated hate, and send the occasional suicide bomber out on a holy jihad. Strangely enough, there seems to be no gospel and a lot of hate that comes from the group. Despite the ongoing infidelity, duplicity, greed, and corruption of its leaders, the church seems to think they are the only “light” in a sea of darkness. They even run “The Light of Day Institute,” a boot camp for hand-picked righteous souls called to be leaders in their movement. At its climax in the True Blood narrative we are left seeing the fellowship as the myopic hate group that it is.
Of course, we all know that this is just a fictional group. Or is it?
Recently I cam across a video from a charismatic, if not homely-looking preacher named Damon Thompson. “Pastor” Damon preaches at The Ramp, a self-proclaimed “place of awakening in Hamilton, Alabama.” Just as the original (fictional)Fellowship of the Sun was obsessed in its hatred of gays. So this group seems to with homosexuals. Boy howdy, these guys don’t like them gays. And why should they? You can’t have a TV show nowadays with some “queer” as the funniest, smartest person on the show.
We also learn from that clip that gay teens to not commit suicide because of preachers like this, but because they are gay.
Here’s the good shepherd offering to exorcize the gay out of you…
He also wants you to know that Westboro Baptist Church is right, God sent AIDS to kill them “queers.”
Of course every prophet needs his prophetess, so Damon works intimately with Karen Wheaton of TBN (sort-of) fame. Do you want to be among their elect? They have a group of young spiritual elites to help them in their god-given mission called “The Elect” and like the Fellowship of the Sun, you can’t just sign up, from The Ramp’s website the process for becoming one of the Elect…
My trusty sidekick, Sammy Sarcasm, would like to point out that there is nothing suspicious or creepy about that process at all.
So there you have it, the Fellowship of the Sun is alive and well in Hamilton, Alabama, it just has new monsters to fight.
On a serious note, I don’t know much else about them other than what is on their website and the preaching clips making the rounds online, but it doesn’t matter. The systematic use of slurs and hatred during the teaching drowns out anything else they have to say. There are plenty more clips, I just didn’t see the need to post them all. This is a hate group pure and simple. It seems to be somewhat popular, but there is a good reason for that. Anytime a church preaches woe to the outside world, everyone within the group feels better about themselves. By focusing on a classic scapegoat, the members are allowed to believe that they are in a superior standing with God. They do not have to look inward at their own defects. Even if a defect becomes apparent, they know that they are still better than those being preached against. They are filled with a self-righteousness that can only come from putting down others. They reject grace because they restrict grace. Hate and bile cannot flow from the same outlet as mercy and love. This group is a cult in the classical Christian sense. They do not conform to the clear teaching of Scripture because they reject grace for those outside while refusing to walk humbly and show mercy themselves.
WARNING: Consenting photo of a persecuted Christian activist and stalwart for traditional marriage below
Oh what a strange world we live in. A beauty pageant contestant can be against gay-marriage “because she was raised that way,” and become a Christian celebrity. She can write a book about her struggles for the faith and persecution and make money speaking at church after church even though she is a pornographer. She can get a standing ovation at the Dove Awards, and even speak at Liberty University, no really, I did not just make that up. Sure she isn’t perfect, but neither was Jesus, oh wait… nevermind.
A pastor can “bring the gospel of grace” to a new generation of people reaching the unchurched, while at the same time raving like a madman at children’s movies because they value the embracing of nature and macho invasion soldiers are somehow “bad.” James Cameron produced the most satanic, demonic film ever, and Christianity Today Magazine apparently doesn’t have the Bible Astute Learned Lens Sight (or B.A.L.L.S. for short) to call it like it is (see the video linked). Remember, grace has its limits, like stay-at-home dads. Now the celebrity pastor is streaming himself to a
theater, er… church near you!
These are just two who stick in my craw. I bet you have yours too. I just want to point out that when you have two descriptive nouns in a row, like red dog. The first one modifies the second. A red dog is not a red that happens to be a dog, it is a dog that happens to be red. Likewise a Christian celebrity is first and foremost a celebrity. A celebrity is someone who is celebrated, you know, honored, esteemed, looked up to, envied. All the things Jesus refused to take on himself. But that was then and this is now. Today celebrities reign supreme, the good looking crowd we admire and want to be like. Lately, the prophet Isaiah’s description of the true Lord of Lords and King of Kings keeps ringing in my head for some reason:
For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Leadership’s Out of Ur blog recently recounted a story of a family with a child with cerebral palsy being asked to leave a worship service for being a distraction. The family went to “Elevation Church” in North Carolina. A local news station picked up the story and interviewed the mother, who spoke of the child’s desire to go to the Easter service, giving his own heartfelt “amen” after the conclusion of the music, and promptly being accosted by ushers and taken out of the “sanctuary.” The church responded to the news outlet, saying that they apologize for any misunderstanding (apparently the family misunderstood that they were not welcome), but that they are committed to providing a “distraction free environment” for their attendees.
The mother, being a better person than I, used the event as an opportunity to ask the church if she could start a ministry for disabled children, the church responded to her request by saying that they are about worship, not ministry! I would argue on a theological level this “church” can’t possibly be a church if they do no ministry, but that is for another day.
As I read through the lively feedback on the posting blog, I noticed one astute commenter had found that this same church was featured in an earlier article. The subject of the article was a publicity event where the pastor was going to preach for 24-hours strait. The highly publicized event coincided with the pastor’s releasing of his new book, and when pressed if the event was just to “pimp his book,” he said indeed it was!
The pastor in question is apparently known for trying really hard to be cool. His hair and attire change frequently, and his services are top-notch Christian entertainment. He is praised for being on the cutting edge like many other celebrity pastors out there. Few seem to be making the case that being thrown out of church may have a terrible impact upon the disabled child in the story, or that if this pastor is indeed responsible, he should have a millstone tied around his neck and thrown into the ocean (Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:42, Luke 17:2).
I have worked at and visited many “cool” churches and “happy” churches before. I have made many observation about them during my time there. The first is that they all claim to be outlandish in order to reach the unchurched, but in reality the vast majority of their members grew up in the church and want to be more like the world than attractive to people “of the world.” Case in point. When I worked in a restaurant in Alabama many of my coworkers went to the same massive, cool church. Most of them had grown up in stodgy old traditional churches and wanted something more “hip.” One day a friend of mine told me she was excited because for the first time in her life she was going to (that same) church. I was happy for her. She was the image of the prodigal daughter, a former stripper, but soon her enthusiasm for the church began to fade. I asked her why she wasn’t going to church anymore, and she told me how uncomfortable she was. “Why?” I asked her. She told me that the females in the church dressed “slutty” and it made her feel bad because she didn’t want to dress like that anymore but she also looked so out place fully clothed. I sent an email to someone I knew on their church staff. It read: “Congratulations, your church body has managed to make a stripper blush!” I was told I was too stuck in my ways. Yes, the liberal Californian who didn’t start going to church until he was 17 was too tied to old church traditions, that must be it. This interaction just reaffirmed something I always knew, cool churches do build a bridge to the world, but rather than the bridge allowing the world to come to the church, it provides a spiritually-dressed path for the church to retreat to the world. where the church girls could dress like strippers and the real strippers felt too awkward to attend.
A few weeks ago on my favorite podcast, the host’s long time girlfriend, and ex-stripper herself related a similar story from her previous weekend. A friend of hers had taken her to a cool church in LA, they sat right up front and when the service began, the former stripper said, mostly-naked young women danced in the air, suspended by ribbons and the men below gawked and drooled. She said the performance was followed by a Britney Spears look-a-like evangelist who proclaimed, “this is for the men, the conquerors of God!” After which she invited all the men in the church to rush the stage so she could lay hands on them. I wont go into details as what was reported next, but if accurate, I wish someone had an audio recording of the moans that filled the room bellowing from the groped men.
Church has become a show, that is why it needs naked girls on the stage and in the crowd, because that is what the crowds want. It can’t have disabled children in the crowd because people would be “turned off” and in order for these shows to be successful, everyone needs to be tuned in and turned on. This trend seems to be getting worse. In the quest for “cool” we are losing any witness we once had for the gospel. The world is seeing the church for what it is, and it doesn’t look pretty.
Just remember that at one time church wasn’t the place people went to be cool, it was the place people went to encounter God.
Social networking traffic hit a record high as word of the death of Osama Bin Laden spread across the globe. Before the President of the United States even made the official announcement, dozens of people were shown in front of the White House cheering “USA! USA!” Similar scenes were eventually shown from various locales across the country. Celebration also reverberated around the internet, as tweets and facebook statuses declared “America winning.” But what did America win?
Osama Bin Laden may be dead, as are many of his supporters, allies, and followers. But to what end? On September 11th, 2001, nearly ten years ago, 2,977 lives were ended in a matter of a few hours in New York, Washington D.C., and rural Pennsylvania. Subsequently America launched its War on Terror, focusing on Afghanistan and Iraq. This strategy puzzled many as the hijackers and planners of the horrific attack on America were not acting on behalf of either nation, but through a a quasi-religious non-governmental organizationwith followers from all over the globe, including the United States itself. Ten years of fighting across the globe followed.
On the day that Bin Laden’s death was announced, the death toll in Iraq was 4,404 dead American soldiers, 318 from other coalition nations, and between 100,000-109,000 Iraqis. In Afghanistan, the U.S. and its allies have lost another 2,340 men and women, while Afghanistan lost around 17,000. These numbers do not include deaths indirectly caused by the wars such as illness, famine, etc., nor do they include the deaths that have occurred in the War on Terror outside these two main theaters of operations. “Justice,” as President Obama described it, cost America two lives for every one that died on 9/11, and charged the world about 44 for each of the victims. Eye for an eye be damned, we took 4 dozen for each set! The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are still raging, and it is unlikely that the big assassination will slow the carnage. If the dust finally settles one day, those 3,000 killed 10 years ago will still be dead. Their spouses still widows, and their children still living with the pain of a lost parent. The thousands of dead Iraqis and Afghanis will still be in their graves as well, most for committing the same crime as the people in the planes and in the cities attacked that September day, namely, being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Bin Laden was found in Pakistan, not in a general’s command center desperately trying to continue a losing war, but in an ordinary mansion, reportedly using a woman to shield himself from the advancing American troops. He was not an evil genius, nor some sort of supervillian with super powers to match. He was just a man who hated America. In his mind he had his reasons, and they were convincing enough to sway the minds of many people around the world. Now that he is gone, another will take his place, just like he took the place of the boogeyman before him.
In America we can celebrate that we are powerful enough as nation to take our vengeance. That one eye will be repaid with 44. But did anyone on earth doubt we could do it?
I am a Christian, I am not God. Only God can look back at the past ten years and see what really happened, who is to blame, and what constitutes true justice. I am not so arrogant to believe that I can know that this weekends announcement was one of justice, as my President declared, or simple vengeance. But I do know that God’s justice restores all things to the way they were, and from what I can see with my human eyes is just a lot of graves to dig and far too few shovels. Therefore I can only march with the orders given to me by my creator, and that is to love my enemies and pray for them, while trusting that no one will escape God’s justice.
When your goal is revenge, your only reward is another grave to dig.