One Of The Fundamentalist’s Worst Nightmare (He Has Many), Or The Ambiguity Of Discernment

It’s a scary world out there for fundamentalists. Not because of their declining numbers, increasing attacks both from inside and out, and of course the continued descent of society into widespread, overt liberalism – but because each year that goes by takes them one more year away from Biblical times. And this means that it gets harder and harder to use the Bible as law for how things should be.

We are living in a very different world from the 1st century Christians – in too many ways to count. And as it turns out the Bible doesn’t cover everything. It would almost seem there are gaping holes in what it doesn’t cover (capitalism, computers and chemical warfare aren’t mentioned – and that’s just words that start with “c”!). What’s a religion to do?

Now more than ever we need discernment. It is increasingly more and more difficult to live by the letter of the law – and so we need to turn to the dreaded spirit of the law and duke it out amongst ourselves rather than easily turning to the Biblical authority that provided clear answers.

Discernment means disagreements, yes. It means hard work, too, as quick and simple answers are rarely had. It means we must be wise. It means we must have the utmost awareness of our own slants and biases and desires. It also means we are playing with something strong, powerful and beautiful.

Gotta go back to this...

It could seem like discernment is license to run a bit wild – when it could actually be the opposite. But there is little sense in debating this – as discernment is simply where we are. We’ve got to figure this stuff out with what we’ve got – which is to say, a lot.

What’s one thing you wish was made clear in the Bible? What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard someone twist Scripture to say was/was not permitted? Do you agree we are heavy into discernment times?

We Need More Sinners, Or The Squeaky Clean Make Squeaky Wheels

For some reason religion, when in the hands of teenagers, tends to go only one of two directions: shyness/embarrassment or annoyingly vocal. I tended more towards the former, very much so inspired by my peers who were the latter.

I know a teenager who is incredibly devout. He seems almost old-school in his piety – taking great care to shield his ears from the music his peers take in veraciously, keeping a short leash on his tongue, and he reads his Bible half a dozen times a day. Despite all that, he is not obnoxious or the squeaky wheel when it comes to his faith.

So why did he break my unfair, overgeneralized mold about the two types of religious teenagers?

Because he’s a registered sex offender.

I think it’d do Christians better if they sinned more. I know that sounds terribly odd, but I think for many of us raised in very strict Christians homes we are taught how to keep our religious codes with sniper-like precision. Santa visits them ever year. Their confessions are as weak as the coffee in a mechanic’s waiting room because they’ve got nothing to release from the vault. And that’s exactly why they are so annoying and loud.

For being a teenager this teenager I know is incredibly humble – no doubt because he has already fallen hard, nearly as hard as you can fall in our culture, and landed bloody on the ground. He is meeting Jesus and finding redemption, and that isn’t translating into a fiery, over-the-top personality bent on declaring all of the faults of his surroundings.

I hope I really don’t need to make the disclaimer that I’m not suggesting we purposefully go out and sin. But maybe it’d do us some good to actually sin and wipe away the self-righteousness that seems to grow as quickly as weeds in a garden.I don’t think his crime is a good thing, but it’s taught himself invaluable about the proper way to express his faith.

I point a dozen times a week here that we Jesus seems to turn our whole existence into opposite day. Sinners should not be quarantined or beaten down, for they are the most powerful among us and have the strongest witness. Sinlessness does not give the greatest testimony, but in fact it’s sinners who aren’t going to hell but are merely coming back.

Keep In Mind We’re Crazy, Or Holding The Parachute Under The Tree

I’m gonna stand up for sinners again.

If you’re a teenager with your folks out of town for the weekend then you only have one choice: throw an epic party. However when planning this party you have many considerations: hide valuables, buy lots of cleaning supplies, and whatever you do please don’t invite the Christians from your school. They’re the party killers.

To most of the world this is the reputation we’ve earned. We rain on parades and are the messengers telling people that all of the stuff they’re doing is wrong.

We have become the watchdogs for our culture – ever adding to the hopelessly long list of sinful things in our world. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing – Christians stand for hope, love, holiness and a redeemed world so it would only make sense that we are aware of the depravity inhabiting the world and calling it into the light.

See?! The decadent pleasures of this life are tempting... You salivated, I know it.

But we forget a few things in the process…

  • Sex feels good. That’s why so many people are doing.
  • Having a buzz feels good.
  • Buying stuff feels good.
  • Etc.

Pursuing earthly pleasures and treasures is all most people know because it is what they can touch, smell, see and hear. You can’t blame people too much for this – yet we often freak out over these things as if we can’t understand why people choose to have sex and have a few beers. 

It’s no wonder people fall for this stuff again and again. And as such, I think it’d do Christians good to realize that people don’t go for this stuff because they’re illogical and hellbent on evil with a lustful appetite for sin.

It’s as if we forget how counter-intuitive the Christian way really is. We are telling people that God is not big and flashy like you’d think but in fact a humble servant among men who cares more for love and forgiveness than throwing his weight around. Our message is that our love, which dies to ourselves for the sake of others, is better than all the treasure and pleasure in the world…. They’re not the most natural beliefs to hold.

Our message is our own stumbling block, so it only makes sense that people don’t buy it right away. So let’s give ‘em a little grace. Their initial judgment, if we’re honest, is a fair one.

Instead of pointing our fingers and condemning them as they go along their path, maybe we should try being there for them when they realize the destructiveness it creates. Instead of being the watch dogs, maybe we should be the ones holding the parachute to help break the fall. Because they will. If you take these things to their conclusion (alcoholism, a trail of broken hearts, and all the money in the world yet still not happy) then they’ll see what we mean. But til then, we’re the ones who are a bit crazy – not them. If anything, we’ll only drive them crazy (and away from us) with our condemnation.

Care to agree or disagree?

Screw Christian Unity, Or Our Crazy Big Beautiful World

This post is my last minute contribution to the Rally To Restore Unity that’s rippled across the blogosphere. I figured I’d post now that you are sufficiently tired of the subject. 

As I mentioned recently, there are scores of churches here in Bend, Oregon, even though it’s a very progressive town (read: hippie) in a very progressive state. The churches are sometimes scattered around and sometimes they are smashed together (downtown there are three churches all within 100 feet of another. Not even Starbucks is that ambitious!)

Seeing so many churches makes me long for Christian unity. There has to be a better way than all of these Christians holed up in their sanctuary not interacting with all of the other Christians within a stone’s throw. However all of the Christians gathered in one building would make for a circus of a service as the pastor would try to hold the collective attention of 15,000 people. He’d have to enter the stage on a lion’s back holding a flame thrower. So I don’t have an answer.

The more I think about it – Christian unity doesn’t make sense. Sorry Rachel. The world is just too big, there are too many cultures at play, there is just too much, well, life. Because life isn’t unified. There is diversity everywhere. Ecosystems, the animal kingdom, primitive tribes, farming villages, and cutting edge cities – all are vastly different and contrasting, yet all belong. Trying to unify them would likely jeopardize the beauty inherent within each one and we’d lose something valuable.

My daughter Noelle shares a message we can all agree on.

So maybe unity isn’t a great goal. Not because it isn’t possible, but because it isn’t how our world is set up to be. Maybe it’s brotherhood* we’re after. Family practically implies diversity. I can’t think of many families that aren’t wildly diverse and maybe even at least semi-dysfunctional – yet they are families nonetheless. It’s their craziness that makes them beautiful.

And really that’s what we’ve lost in today’s Christian world – a sense that all of these other people are our brothers and our sisters. That we’re connected by blood. And that it just isn’t a family without them present. Sure, that guy wants you to send him a “faith” check, and sure that broseph is yelling about drums in worship, and yeah that dude’s got ugly tattoos and a wild imagination about salvation – yet brotherhood.

*for the record I’m not sexist, I would have called it siblinghood rather than brotherhood – but it just doesn’t work. I’ve got nothing against my sisters out there – y’all rock.

We Are Better For the Experience, Or My Bird’s Eye View of The Rob Bell Controversy

Though the debate rages on I think we’ve calmed down about the Rob Bell firestorm. I followed the whole thing closely as I find it quite enthralling, and I wanted to offer some observations and clarifications.

I know that many of my readers are not Rob fans, and please know I’m not trying to make you into one. I’m not saying all of them, but I do think Rob has contributed some valuable insights I’d hate for people to miss simply because they disagree with him. I’ll be starting with some of the good things that have come up:

  • Does Rob say that God isn‘t punitive (a natural conclusion if all go to heaven)? No, but Rob emphasizes that God is punitive for a purpose. He punishes for the purpose of transformation and restoration, not for simply expressing his burning anger. I think this is a huge point to make – God punishes with redemptive intention. One thing I do know about God – he is always moving towards restoring and redeeming.
  • A common complaint is “if God saves all then why bother evangelizing?” This exposes a deeper belief – that Jesus only came to hand out heaven tickets and therefore has nothing else to offer. I’ve seen far too many people have a dramatic and beautiful encounter with Jesus that’s left them changed. Addictions healed, heavy burdens lifted from broken shoulders, emotional torment taken away – this is the gospel (or maybe better stated – part of it). Jesus has much for our desperate world other than a ticket out, and this a huge point worth making. That’s why Bell keeps saying  the gospel is good news NOW - it is! I know I treat people more lovingly. I know I don’t carry around shame from my past informing everything I do because I’ve been forgiven now. Evangelism isn’t merely trying to fatten heaven’s numbers but offer people Jesus’ healing now - and this is a worthy critique.
  • Finally, I think Rob has rightly pointed out that we misinterpret many passages to be about heaven and hell. Long before this controversy started I had a post sitting in my drafts folder about this very subject – how we mistakenly made the terms “Kingdom of God” and “heaven” interchangeable. I’m not saying the Bible never addresses people’s eternal fate – merely that it doesn’t mention it as often as the Baptists & Fundamentalists say it does. I think Rob has rightly pointed out that how we see the world is very different from the Biblical writers and it would do us good to not transpose our ideas into the Bible (ex: we use the terms “eternal” and “salvation” differently from Jews 2000 years ago).

Here’s the other side to the story:

  • This, unfortunately, has shown the world how nasty Christians can be – especially to each other. If Time Magazine picks up on this and makes it their cover story – then millions have gotten a peak into our bedroom brawl. This is true for both progressive and conservative Christians – both have blood on their hands.
  • Rob contradicts certain scripture – some may have a problem with this but I’ve long believed Scripture doesn’t present a unified doctrine. Rob continually points out Scripture that discusses the restoration of all things to God and this doesn’t jive with other passages about wrath. What I’m trying to say is that this controversy has shown that our Scripture is not what we say it is – and so it means we’ve got some explaining to do. I’m gonna catch flack for this and likely start a debate I don’t have the energy to get into.
  • One final negative thing that has come up. In every interview I’ve seen Rob has had to continually field questions and accusations and offer a defense. That makes sense considering what he’s implying. However are we really saying that we only care about what we perceive are your faults? Is that all Rob is? Almost no one has asked Rob “positive” questions. What does that say about us? I think it heavily shapes the way we interact with people.

I wanted to say more but this post is at record length. Ultimately I think it’s been a good thing for Christians to begin talking about heaven and hell. I don’t mean it’s good for everyone to consider universalism, I’m merely saying we needed to have a solid discussion on the matter because it isn’t as black and white as the Romans Road we’ve been presented – which is an idea that’s dominated Christian thought for a century.

What are your thoughts on things I’ve raised? (And please, I’m not interested in discussing universalism, so please don’t tell me how much you hate Rob – do you think the clarifications I made are valid?)

Using The Tools In The Shed (Even If They’re From The Dollar Store), Or The Master Denomination

Sometimes when I’m out on a bike ride I can’t help but notice the large number of churches around. For living in the famously unchurched Pacific Northwest we still have tons of ‘em. In fact I counted four on the same mile stretch of highway outside of town.

I get to thinking “why are we so divided?… Imagine how great it would be if we were all together. Imagine how great it would be if we abandoned all our little churches and were together like a true body.”

But then I remember that mega-churches aren’t an ideal alternative.

Is there a denomination or version of Christianity that is the one? Could it be the Methodists, the Lutherans, or the Pentecostals, or by surprise the Eastern Othodox, or what about those Emergents? Who gets “it” and who doesn’t? Why would God seem to be working with conflicting versions of the faith? How can each denomination claim that God is working in and through them when they are doing a very different thing than the different denomination down the street?

I think, they can say this, because God is at work through them both.

God uses what’s around. Though he can make something out of dirt – he seems to prefer the dirt that’s already semi-formed (ie us). He doesn’t wait to use someone until they’re perfect- he uses them where they are.

God uses what's around, crazy as it seems.

People get baptized into the Pentencostal tradition every day, as do people into the Baptist way. I’m fairly critical of the Baptist way in light of my own problematic upbringing – yet God is still blessing them and adding to their numbers. That seemed a big contradictory to me…

I think God takes who’s around and uses them to transform the people they encounter. So even though there are plenty of flaws with the Baptist way God still forms people into Baptists. He doesn’t make each believer into the master denomination where everyone gets it exactly right. It’s taken me a while to see this.

The truth of the matter no one gets it perfectly – and yet God doesn’t seem to mind. It’s a startling idea to me – that God isn’t concerned with us having everything aligned just right.

Which denomination gets it? How can the church be more unified? Why do you think conflicting denominations can both thrive?

Can We Come Out Of Hiding Yet, Or Rightfully Ashamed Of The Gospel

I’m out of town on a surfing trip this week taking advantage of my time off due to unemployment. So I’m cleaning out the draft folder and posting what I consider to be Charlie’s Church of Christ b-sides. Every band writes songs that aren’t amazing enough to put on the record, yet still shouldn’t be tossed out. These posts are like that. Hopefully you don’t think they’re “f-sides.” Please note I won’t have regular internet access and won’t be replying to comments until later in the week.

Recently I opened up a can of worms about evangelism and how we sell the gospel. Despite the fact that I operate a blog anyone can read I’m not necessarily public with my faith. I’m don’t mean I don’t have a Jesus fish on my bumper (though I don’t have one), nor do I mean I don’t wear a cross necklace (I don’t do that either). What I mean is that not everyone knows I’m a Christian – in fact the vast majority of my co-workers (now former) don’t know.

(I’m already imagining the rebuke I’ll get for that one.)

Christian rock bands play songs about not being ashamed of God, but truth be told there is a reason why we are a little ashamed of Christianity – the very ugly, well known public mistakes of our brothers and sisters. I remember in college if someone “found me out” I had already prepared a speech about how I’m not one of those Christians who shoves religion down your throat along with deep fried cooking. I didn’t want to put off that person simply because of their deeply implanted image of abusive Christians.

I think there has largely been a negative reaction to that sort of evangelism – and so many have compensated by choosing to show, not tell Jesus via love and forgiveness. That’s why you hear that quote “preach the gospel always, and if necessary, use words” at least once a week. We’ve retreated and began to preach ambiguously through our actions.

This isn’t a bad thing of course, I think Christianity needed the correction that love means nothing unless you actually do it in visible, tangible ways.

You may, possibly likely, disagree, but I think compensating for the ridiculous Christianity projected onto the skies for so long is a good move. I think we saturated the world with our ideas and it’s a good idea to step back and let the people detox. But, you can’t stay in the cave for too long or you’ll go blind.

I think it’s been a while now – can we re-emerge yet? Can be a little more vocal? When is it okay?

Was it okay for us to step back and not be like those other Christians? How do we re-emerge from that? How do you talk about faith without shoving it down someone’s throat? How does Christianity move forward from the era of obnoxious evangelism? What do you think the new path should be like?