Christianity Isn’t Cool: No Matter How Much You Want it To Be

napoleon-dynamiteWe all want to be cool whether it’s dressing up as a Jedi for the premiere a new Star Wars, debating the latest Indie film while wearing skinny jeans, or starting at point guard for the school basketball team because with coolness comes acceptance and belonging. As human beings we crave to be accepted and to belong to a group. That group may be as small as a third grade lunch table or as large as the American culture. Either way, we want to be “in” and not “out”.

The teenage years are the crucible of cool. Teens adjust their mannerisms, accentuate their appearance, acquire possessions, and arrange their lives in an attempt to be accepted. The stakes are high and winners get happiness and losers get misery.

Sometimes I wonder if we ever truly graduate from this.

A lot of Christians are concerned with making the faith “cool”. Not cool as in a church with a band that sounds like Coldplay and pastor who preaches from his iPad. Rather, the kind of cool that brings acceptance and belonging; that gets Christians a seat at the political table and earns the praises of communities, cultures, and cable network commentators. Many are warning that if we don’t shape up, we will be left behind – and it will be worse than anything Tim LaHaye wrote about. We will become irrelevant and unwanted; a dead faith surviving on the life-support of our traditions.

American Christianity is afraid of becoming like the kid who sits alone at school and receives the taunts of his classmates. We are told we must change or die the slow death of rejection. After all, there is nothing worse than holding a faith most of America considers foolish and harmful. Many Christians – some quiet well known – are filling up sermons, books, blogs, twitter feeds, and Facebook posts calling us to turn on our past, kick the dust off our shoes, and progress into a better faith that can survive the twenty-first century.

The problem with this desire to make Christianity fashionable is, well, Jesus. He said in John 15:18-19, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” Jesus is warning us about a harsh reality: no matter how many people we liberate from slavery, malnourished children we feed, free block parties we throw, pairs of Toms we wear, or art galleries we support, as long as we follow the Jesus of the Bible the world will never accept us.

Why? Because Jesus claims to be Lord of all. He says in Matthew 28:18, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” And in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” All of humanity will be judged by him in Matthew 25:31-32, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” When Jesus makes these claims it immediately puts him into conflict with all the lords of the world from presidents and kings to sex and money.

How do you make Christianity cool? How can Christians who worship a counter-cultural Jesus be accepted and belong to the wider culture? Follow some of the advice out there and water him down.

Create a god who is more loving and affirming; that never judges or condemns. Tell a story where humanity is the hero, progressing to a more peaceful and enlightened future. Compile Scriptures that offend less and inspire more. Define sin as anything that doesn’t make us happy and whole. Recast the cross as the compelling end of a social revolutionary and the resurrection as the product of our collective hopes and dreams. Build marriage, gender, and sexuality on the shifting cultural consensus. Construct a faith where only actions matter, not beliefs. Craft a Jesus who is only one option among many.

This will create a Christianity that is cool and acceptable, but that is no more compelling than the United Nations or the Peace Corps. Just one more option for doing good in the world.

But if you’ve embraced the fact that being cool doesn’t mean being right, if you’ve realized that acceptance by the world is nothing compared to acceptance by the One who made the world then worship the God who is both loving and just; who has wrath and grace. Tell the story where Jesus is the hero rescuing sinners for the glory of God. Meditate on the Scriptures that both inspire and offend. Stand in awe of the cross where the Son took the punishment for our sins and the resurrection where he conquered death. Wage war on sin that is an offense against the character of God. Celebrate marriage, gender, and sexuality in the way God has given them for our good. Live out a faith strong in belief and action. Follow a Jesus who is not simply another Ghandi but the author of life and necessary for every person.

You may not be cool or accepted. They probably won’t give you your own talk show or invite you on theirs to talk about how much they love what you’re doing. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:13, “We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” You can’t make Christianity cool without tearing it down and rebuilding it in your own image. So let us not labor to make the world love us and instead let us love the world, shrugging off any hatred it throws our way. We follow a rebel King. And in his mighty company there is singing, joy, and pleasures forevermore.

-Brian

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Raise Your White Facebook Flag

facebooklike1Facebook makes the world go round. We can reconnect with old buddies, advertise our businesses, declare our love and dialogue about (mostly) important issues. Years ago, the initial concern for this new and non-private world of constant connection was exposure to and sharing of the indecent; it was enough for parents to forbid children from opening user accounts. Surprisingly, Facebook remains committed to monitoring traffic, removing any illicit content and deleting false profiles. Users can report anything they deem inappropriate or untrue and Facebook will remove the user entirely if needed. It seems a safe and fun place to browse.

Slowly and quietly, Facebook has proven dangerous territory for the heart. In the wake of the Facebook sensation, a few unforeseen effects have cropped up: envy, jealousy and resentment. Fox News reported on a recent study that confirms the most avid Facebook users are among the loneliest and unhappiest individuals.  Their article states, “In a world already flooded with social pressures where teenagers and young adults are attempting to find their true identity and not be judged, Facebook has created a new standard of social acceptance.”

Research uncovered envy and resentment peaked among users while looking at vacation photos or posts related to family happiness. For women in their 30’s and 40’s, jealousy was experienced most commonly when viewing photos of other women who were more attractive and had more “likes” and comments on their photos. On a user’s birthday, those with high numbers of wishes and comments had a healthier state of mind than those with low numbers. A German study published in December 2012 found the more time college students spent on Facebook, the worse they felt about their own lives. Even my local news channel reported last week on the “Facebook Fatigue” felt worldwide.

Facebook has shifted from a place to connect with people to the socially acceptable, seemingly less pretentious way of saying to the world, “Look at me!” It’s a hub to flaunt wealth, prosperity, success, and status and it is slowly eating away at the hearts and minds of our “friends.” As Christians and Facebook users, we must wrestle with this question: What are our motives for both viewing and posting content on Facebook?

Consider Jesus’ interaction with Peter.  After His resurrection, Jesus conversed with Peter and revealed how his death would one day glorify God. Immediately after, Peter saw another disciple, John, and asked Jesus, “What about this man?” as if to say, “What about his death? How do your plans for him compare to mine?” Jesus replied, “If it is my will he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”(John 21:20-22) Peter was caught in the snare of compare and Jesus rebuked him. It was none of Peter’s business what God had in store for John. The information could have distracted Peter, made him jealous or caused him to doubt God’s goodness. Little good is accomplished when we dwell on the details of someone else’s life.

If that’s true, are we bringing good to our friends and neighbors in belaboring for them every detail of what we’re doing, day in day out? Not only has Facebook become a showcase for the world to gaze upon our awesomeness, but also a chance to join us in our suffering as we declare our hardships, trials and misfortunes. In both cases, it’s attention we want.

Paul exhorted Timothy to pray that Christians would lead peaceful, quiet lives (1 Tim. 2:2), as to not draw attention to themselves. The prophet Jeremiah spoke these words:

“Thus says the Lord, ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me…’” – Jeremiah 9:23-24

Basically, if you have brains, power, success, money and blessing, don’t brag about it (talk about it, post about it, Instagram it). We are called to brag on the One who gave us those things.

We might be tempted to say, “I’m not responsible for how someone responds to what I post. That’s their issue.” Not entirely. In everything we do, we are to look out for the interests of others (Phil. 2:4). Paul taught that while we have freedom in Christ, we are to “decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother (Romans 14:13).”  Broadcasting our lives can be a stumbling block to others, stirring bitterness, envy, resentment, jealousy, sadness or strife. Some still say, “But people want to see these pictures and know these things.” Is it possible we want people to want to see and know these things?

Maybe you’re oblivious to this Facebook debacle and have zero underlying motives. What then? Wisdom. In knowing we are called to glorify God and not ourselves, are our posts and pictures wise, necessary, helpful and a true blessing to those viewing them?

When you log on, what are you seeking to do? Daydream about another life? Keep up on all the drama? Trying to catch someone not including you? Lamenting over vacations you aren’t going on or things you don’t own?

When you post, what are your true motives? Are you hoping for lots of “likes” and comments? Are you trying to one-up somebody? Do you want everyone to know you’re with these people and they aren’t? Looking for attendees to your pity party? Reminding everyone how cute and talented and smart your kids are? Wanting widespread sympathy? Making sure old classmates see you aren’t battling the bulge?

Only our Creator Judge knows the roots and motivations of our Facebook activity. Don’t be afraid to search them out and amend your habits if necessary. The rest of Jeremiah 9:24 says this:

 “…but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

God has called us to make people glad in Him, not intimidated by us, focused on us or disappointed in themselves. Let us raise our white flags and surrender the mighty Facebook battle for attention and instead seek to love each other well by exercising wisdom we post. Consider reclaiming some of what Facebook has taken: the sweet intimacy of sharing your great victories and difficult struggles with your closest friends (offline) and looking to Christ for all acceptance and comfort.

Does this mean we should only post Bible verses and Piper quotes? No. Does it mean we never post personal things? Not at all. Does it mean we have to “like” or repost the I Love Jesus and I Don’t Care Who Knows It picture? Of course not. It simply means we become thoughtful and intentional with every post and picture, knowing we represent the God of the universe who seeks to draw all to Himself. Hopefully, it will start with me.

-Emily

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Digital Media Overload: Are We Addicts, Slaves, or Consumers?

Social_Media_OverloadIn early 2011 a woman was walking through the Berkshire Mall in Reading, PA while texting on her phone. She failed to see a fountain in front of her and tumbled head first into the water; getting completely drenched. The mall’s surveillance cameras captured the scene which found its way onto YouTube where it received over 2 million views. Her fall provoked laughter and became a modern parable of the perils of being too absorbed in digital media.

Two years later, we are even more absorbed. Information is streaming at ever faster rates in ever greater volumes demanding ever more of our attention. Authors W. Russell Neuman, Yong Jin Park, and Elliot Panek attempted to find out just how much information comes at us and published their results in the International Journal of Communication. They found that in 1960 there were on average 82 minutes of media coming into the home for every minute someone in the household actually consumed media. By 2005, that number had grown to 884 incoming minutes for each minute spent consuming. Therefore, if we consume one hour of media we have over 53,000 minutes of information flooding us. No wonder we’re so absorbed in our smart phones, tablets, computer screens, televisions, and video games.

Most of us impose no limits on digital intake. Like a person who promises to eat just a few Oreo cookies but accidentally consumes half the package, we don’t realize how media consumes us. One minute updating our status on Facebook turns into ten. Ten minutes to scan the news on our tablet turns into thirty. Thirty minutes to watch television turns into an hour. An hour to play video games turns into two. Soon several hours each day are consumed adding up to uncounted days each year devoted to the close companionship of our media devices.

What happens when the plug is pulled? In October, Hurricane Sandy roared on shore in the Northeast. As part of its destructive wake, it left millions without power and without their devices. The New York Times reported on how families were coping with the loss of the constant stream of information.  The Ingall family is one example:

“For the first three days, I was full of maternal pride,” said Marjorie Ingall, a writer in the East Village. “’Look at my children: reading by candlelight, cutting out paper dolls, engaged in such brilliant imaginative play. We are so ‘Little House on the Prairie.’ Then Day 3 hit and the charm of screenless togetherness wore off. I was genuinely concerned that we were all going to kill each other.”

By the time the family made their way to a relative’s fully powered home, one of the children “had cracked like an egg, spending three hours glued to the TV and ignoring all humanity,” Ms. Ingall said. “My prediction: It’ll be a week to 10 days before we’re back to all our zoned-out-and-beeping habits.”

One home that still had electricity became a haven for family and friends to charge their devices. Another family fought viciously over the car charger. Some parents likened what their children were going through to withdrawal from a drug addiction. Others left the state in search of power. One mother found conversation with her ten year old son so difficult she was “…silently pleading for someone to turn the power on.”

Addiction – or at the very least, dependency – may be the best word to describe our relationship with digital media. Yet, despite its controlling effects, most of us aren’t willing to impose any limit to its sovereign reign over our lives. Our attention spans get shorter. We are exposed and desensitized to sex, violence, and tragedy. Our days are one constant distraction. We lack the initiative to read a book much less attempt something significant with our lives. We build our beliefs on sound bites from bloggers and vent our rage in Facebook posts. We have become a generation with nearly limitless information but no real knowledge. We can instantly look up the speed of light, the winner of the 1996 Super Bowl, or the best recipe for fried chicken, but we lack the wisdom which comes from study and experience.

A Christian is called to something more than mindless and endless consumption of digital media. Paul writes in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God.” Are we being conformed by our media or are we being transformed by the God we supposedly worship? Many Christians have never read their Bibles; not because they won’t but because they can’t. Their steady diet of Twitter feeds has made the Old Testament wholly unintelligible. Many have no real prayer life because it doesn’t provide the instant gratification found in the click of a mouse or the tap on a touch screen. Many fail to serve Jesus in their church or community because of their service to Call of Duty on xBox.

Does this mean televisions, computers, smart phones, gaming consoles, and tablets are bad? No. Like most things humans create, how we choose to use or not use them makes them good or bad. We can redeem digital media and use it as a blessing and for the glory of God or we can let it slowly strangle us.

Do we control media or does it control us? 1 Corinthians 6:12 tells us, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything.” Digital media is enslaving millions who bow to its every beep and vibration. Does that include us?

Do we place any limits on our consumption or do we put the fire hose of media in our mouth and turn it on? Proverbs 4:23 tells us, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Digital media and its often questionable content are shaping the culture but the Word of God should shape Christians. What is shaping our lives?

According to a Verizon Wireless survey, children receive their first cell phone at age 11. A Nielson company study said the age could be as low as 9. Digital media is here to stay and is already saturating the next generation. How we use it will shape our lives, families, churches, and communities. Maybe we should unplug and discover if the fountain of living water we’re drinking from is Jesus or Google.

-Brian

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http://www.cjr.org/the_research_report/tmi.php

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/11/fashion/hurricane-sandy-reveals-a-life-unplugged.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Chasing Success in Ministry

Adoniram Judson was part of the first group of missionaries to leave North America. They sailed for India in 1812 and Adoniram and his wife Ann planted their lives in Burma. Years later, after the death of his wife and daughter Maria and a long imprisonment at the hands of the Burmese, Adoniram re-evaluated his motives for ministry. On the surface, leaving the comfort and companionship of New England for the harsh conditions of Burma seemed a humble and God-glorifying act. Yet, upon closer inspection, Adoniram found his motives for such a selfless ministry were not as selfless as they appeared. Courtney Anderson relates Adoniram’s struggle in his book To the Golden Shore:

He began to suspect that his real motive for becoming a missionary had not been genuine humility or self-abnegation but ambition – ambition to be the first American foreign missionary; the first missionary to Burma; the first translator of the Bible into Burmese: first in his own eyes and in the eyes of men… He had always known that his forwardness, self-pride and desire to stand out were serious flaws in his nature… They made his entire missionary career up to now a kind of monstrous hypocrisy, a method of securing prominence and praise without admitting it to himself. He had deluded himself. But he had not deluded God.

The story of Adoniram Judson’s ministry to the Burmese is full of personal sacrifice. Yet he had to wrestle with whether those sacrifices were ultimately for God or himself. Most of us will not have to experience what Adoniram did to discover our true motives for ministry. We may not have to watch our children die, bury our spouse, and spend a year and a half in a death prison to figure out why we do ministry. But why we do ministry is just as important as what we do.

My first paid ministry position was at a traditional church in the city. I was entering seminary and needed a job; they needed a part-time student minister. I accepted and quickly discovered the youth ministry was struggling. They had taken more adults than students to camp and had less than twelve active students. I had grown up in a youth group of over two hundred. I had spent four years in an active and exciting campus ministry. This struggling group was not what I had envisioned. The student ministry “industry” told me success was a huge youth group that featured amped-up events and generated more decisions for Christ than the day of Pentecost. I poured my blood, sweat, and tears into making my youth group into that image because I wanted more than anything to be successful. Instead of building a “successful” youth ministry, I successfully made myself frustrated, disappointed, and burnt-out.

Like Adoniram, my desire to be successful had outpaced my desire to know Christ. My joy and self-worth were tied to how well my Bible studies went, how many came to my event, and how many compliments I received. When my ministry was successful I would feel great; when it was struggling I would become despondent. Meanwhile, the internet reminded me at over 100 kb per second of all the successful ministries doing amazing things. Christian books, conferences, and blogs continued to assure me a new strategy, habit, or tool would reverse my failures. But they never did.

The idol of success is powerful. It can cause us to give sacrificially to ministry in ways that appear selfless but earn us our selfish rewards. It can lead us to stampede over family and health in the rush to be significant. It can even bring us to our knees to pray for God to advance His kingdom – that ours might advance with it. Success in the hearts of God’s people builds buildings, expands budgets, delivers masterful sermons, invests in poor communities, avoids moral failures, and spreads the gospel. All good things – and all things we can do ultimately for ourselves and not out of love for God.

How do we kill success in our hearts and truly live for Christ? I don’t have it all figured out, but I have two ideas.

First, we must change our definition of success.  In Isaiah 6, God asks the question, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah famously responds, “Here am I, send me!” What kind of ministry did God send Isaiah to? The rest of the passage reads:

Go, and say to this people: “’Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste…”

Success for Isaiah meant no one would listen to his preaching until the land was destroyed. Jeremiah’s ministry was much the same as was Ezekiel’s. Even after the resurrection, Jesus only had 120 committed followers. Success is defined by God. He calls us to be faithful and fruitful wherever He places us. Success may be laboring for decades in a foreign land and only winning a handful of converts. It may be faithfully discipling twelve teenagers to love Jesus. God doesn’t care about our ministry being featured in Outreach magazines; He cares that we are faithful and fruitful.

Second, we must remember who we are. We were dead in our sins and enemies of God. He loved us and died for us so we could be adopted into His family.  Our joy and self-worth should be tied to God’s infinite love and acceptance of us; not to the success of our ministries. He loves us just as much when our message falls flat and our event fails to draw a crowd as He does if we preach like Spurgeon and plan the greatest evangelistic revival since the Second Great Awakening. We minister not to win the prize of success but because we have the greatest prize – the unconditional love of God through our Savior Jesus Christ.

After an extended stay in the jungle, Adoniram Judson came to terms with his struggle for success. Did it ever truly leave him? We don’t know. But we do know he was content to minister to the Burmese and translate the Scriptures into their language. Have I conquered my idol of success? No. But I have found greater joy in the ministries God has given me and in the love He has shown me. Let us strive to find our joy in Christ and not the changing winds of success.

-Brian

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Missing the Point: On Pop Music in Christian Worship

Liquid Church is one of the fastest growing mega churches in the state of New Jersey. They recently made waves by announcing a new message series entitled “Pop God.” During this series the church’s worship band will be leading the congregation with songs by Adele, Bruno Mars, Cee-Lo, and the Foo Fighters. Anticipating some blowback from these selections, the church leaders announced some justification for this departure from the norm.

Lead pastor Tim Lucas claims the “heartbroken torture” of the Adele song Rolling in the Deep will allow his listeners to connect with the tone of the book of Hosea – which features the prophet Hosea’s tumultuous marriage to a prostitute named Gomer.

He went on to say churches can either reject the dominant culture or redeem it. The Christian sub-culture is disconnected from the broader world. By bringing these songs into worship the church is redeeming the dominant culture.

Ultimately, playing these songs is about connecting with a wider audience. Lucas says the church is trying, “to live in that tension of the weight of theology, but making it accessible to [as] wide [a] variety of audiences as possible.”

It would be interesting to have a further conversation with Lucas and find out how the “weight of theology” has influenced their worship. The desire to redeem culture and connect with a wider audience is certainly commendable. A passion for evangelism and relating God’s Word to the average American is necessary for any church. Yet, in the case of pop music in worship, it seems like cultural relevance is a bus and theology is the unlucky possum that crossed the road at the wrong time.

Should churches use pop music in a worship service? Should they use non-Christian pop music? Should the congregation sing it? To answer these questions we must turn to a definition of the corporate worship of the church.

John Stott defines true worship as follows:

All true worship is a response to the self-revelation of God in Christ and Scripture and arises from our reflection on who He is and what He has done. The worship of God is evoked, informed and inspired by the vision of God.

Bob Kauflin defines the task of a worship leader in his book Worship Matters:

A faithful worship leader magnifies the greatness of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit by skillfully combining God’s Word with music thereby motivating the gathered church to proclaim the gospel, to cherish God’s presence, and to live for God’s glory.

David Peterson depicts corporate worship in his book Engaging with God:

The gathering of the church is meant to be an anticipation of the heavenly or eschatological assembly of God’s people. It is to be characterized by worship or divine service in the form of prayer and praise directed to God and in the form of ministry to one another… We gather together to encourage one another to live out in everyday life the obedience that glorifies God and furthers His saving purposes in the world.

Corporate worship is founded on who God is and what He has done, is doing, and will do and on our response to Him (Ps. 21:13, 99:3, 105:2, 117:1-2). It is not only praise directed to God, but it is also the body of Christ building one another up by declaring and celebrating truth corporately (Eph 4:19).

Adele’s song Rolling in the Deep is about the heartbreak of a broken relationship, assigning blame to the other person for wrong doing and desiring to inflict pain on them. A number of things in the song encourage harmful and sinful approaches to relationships that run counter to what the Bible teaches (Matt. 5:44). Should a congregation be building one another up with the “truth” of Adele?

Furthermore, the song says nothing of the character of God, what He has done, or our response to Him. It doesn’t magnify the greatness of God in Jesus Christ. It doesn’t utilize the Word of God. It doesn’t proclaim the gospel or lead people into the presence of God. It doesn’t exalt the glory of God. So the song cannot be used to praise God – unless that god is ultimately oneself.

The problem with using pop music – and sometimes even Christian pop music – in worship is that it fails to conform to any of the purposes of worship. Worship is centered on God; the Billboard top 40 is not centered on God. That’s not to say it’s necessarily wrong to enjoy it, simply that it does not belong in the worship of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Some may object – isn’t evangelism a purpose of worship? Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:24-25:

…if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.

Evangelism is a purpose of worship. But notice when the outsider enters worship, the congregation convicts the person, calls them to account, and reveals God to them. This cannot be accomplished if worship is simply a reflection of the culture the outsider comes from. It is the discontinuity of our worship with the dominant culture that makes it convicting. Our words and worship should be intelligible to outsiders, but if worship blends in completely with the surrounding culture there will be nothing left to convict and call them to account. We don’t see outpourings of salvation and repentance at Foo Fighters’ concerts. Why would we expect the same songs to bring different results in a worship setting?

We worship God in response to who He is and what He has done. We worship God because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We worship God through the power of His Holy Spirit at work in our lives. We worship God to build up our fellow Christians in the truth of His Word. This is why we gather to sing with the body of Christ.

Could we attract more people by singing Cee-Lo’s “Forget You” like Liquid Church? Maybe. But the New Testament never commands us to pack a church building; it commands us to glorify God by making disciples. I have a feeling God will be glorified and more disciples made as the church joins in singing “In Christ Alone” than a song that degrades those who may have wronged us in a relationship. Just sayin.

Brian

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What Would Jesus Do? Can We Know?

This little phrase began with Charles Sheldon’s 1896 book In His Steps which has sold an estimated 30 million copies. In this piece of inspirational fiction, the question Sheldon asks as he deals with the social issues of his time is, “what would Jesus do?” For Sheldon, the core of Christianity was the life of Christ. Jesus was our moral example and to follow “in his steps” meant to embrace the social gospel and to work to bring about the kingdom of God on earth. He believed “the entire passion and purpose of Jesus’ life centered about the human being.” Thus, the phrase “what would Jesus do” emerged from a picture of Jesus as a social revolutionary who came to end oppression, care for the poor, and bring about economic justice.

Ironically, a phrase born in the mix of liberal theology and socialism would eventually find a home among largely conservative evangelical Christians in the 1990s. The WWJD movement spread from Michigan to engulf the nation with its catchy merchandising and widely accepted push for Christians to live out their convictions in their everyday lives. Now believers could be spotted by the colorful bracelets they wore reminding them to stop being jerks and to treat people decently.

While the marketing trend has faded, “what would Jesus do” remains a popular question.

During the debt debate, Rep. Charlie Rangel asked “what would Jesus do” about the U.S. debt crisis at a press conference on Capitol Hill. According to Rangel, Jesus – through the voices of spiritual leaders – would want us to cut spending but not if it affects the homeless, jobless, and helpless including the “aging that are sick or those depending on social security, Medicare, and Medicaid.”

In an article found in the New Statesman on the politics of Jesus, entitled “What Would Jesus Do”, author Medhi Hasan wrestled with the question. He decided Jesus would support the redistribution of wealth, oppose the financial and political elite, back a living wage, defend free access to health care, and bring the soldiers home.

When Albert Pujols was holding out for more money before renewing his contract with the St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis Today columnist Tim Townsend posted an article titled: “In Pujols’ Case, What Would Jesus Do?” He questioned whether Jesus would hold out for money like Albert Pujols, a Christian.

In response to Nancy Pelosi’s statement to the Catholic Community Conference that she pursues public policy in keeping with the values of Jesus, conservative blogger Michelle Malkin wrote: “what would Jesus do? Vote against Nancy Pelosi for starters.”

It would take a full length book to catalogue all of the times the question “what would Jesus do” has been raised and answered.  What would Jesus do about illegal immigration? Would Jesus celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden? Would Jesus support using horses for human consumption? Would Jesus burn the Koran? Would Jesus support coercive interrogation of terrorists? What would Jesus do for a Klondike Bar?

As you read the gospels, you realize Jesus was routinely doing the opposite of what everyone expected. Peter confesses Jesus to be the Messiah, only to rebuke Him six verses later because he was expecting a triumphant Messiah and not a suffering one (Matt. 16). After the resurrection, the disciples still think Jesus will put Israel on top of the food chain but instead He intends for them to be His witnesses (Acts 1). Everyone knows Jesus will rush to heal his friend Lazarus, yet He waits until Lazarus has died (John 11). When Jesus comes to John the Baptist, he shocks John by insisting John baptize Him (Matt. 3). Later, when John doesn’t see Jesus doing what he expected, he dispatches messengers to find out if Jesus really is the One (Matt. 11). After healing many Jesus withdraws and when the people find Him, instead of healing more like they assumed He would, He leaves to preach to other towns (Mark 1, Luke 4).

The problem with asking, “what would Jesus do” is we don’t know what Jesus would do, anymore than the disciples, Pharisees, Romans, and His own family knew. God says of Himself in Isaiah 55:8-9, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” What God thinks and what God does are so far beyond us that claiming we know what Jesus would do is a bit like a two year old claiming they know what their parents should do when they file their taxes – we’re just not going to figure Him out.

Instead of trying to do what Jesus would do – which is impossible considering He is God and walking on water isn’t going to work for us – we should stand in awe of what Jesus did and obey what He said. If we reduce Jesus’ life down to an ethic we should follow than He becomes just another social revolutionary who achieved less than Ghandi or Martin Luther King, Jr. But if in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection we find life, salvation, and the power to live for the glory of God than we have a Savior worth our worship.

So what would Jesus do? Who can know that? But we’re not left there. We have a gospel that will transform us, we have what Jesus said to guide us, and we have what Jesus did to inspire us. If we can acknowledge Jesus can’t be crammed into the mold of a conservative capitalist or a liberal socialist and that our views, as sinners, would probably be affirmed, rebuked, and challenged by Jesus than we have a good place to start humbly following the Son of God. It may not be a fashion trend, but humbly worshiping, obeying, and following might just be what Jesus wants us to do.

-Brian

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Stay-At-Home Daughterhood: Optional or Biblical?

Until recently, I was convinced of my complete awareness about every concept surrounding biblical womanhood. In a desire to continue my studies and further prepare for my exciting role as a new mommy, I ordered the book “Joyfully At Home” by Jasmine Baucham. Familiar with Pastor Voddie Baucham, I assumed the book to be his wife’s. Having benefitted from his teaching, I expected to benefit from hers also. Turns out, it’s his 20 year-old daughter’s book on stay-at-home daughterhood. I discovered this a few pages in and was too curious and committed (especially after paying the shipping cost) to stop reading.

Stay-at-home daughterhood is a new idea for most. It rejects the expectation of girls leaving for college after high school. It embraces staying at home until marriage for a season of parental training and discipleship in preparation for future roles plus full-time contribution to the needs of the immediate family. College isn’t completely ruled out; Jasmine encourages earning an online degree, but more important is avoiding secular academia and staying home to learn and contribute.

There is much about this work I commend. The reevaluation of cultural norms and life pursuits is a wise step, especially for young women. The much needed focus on fashioning the home according to God’s word is boldly presented in a genuine tone. I believe the author is a good example for her peers.

My goal here is not to review and critique the book itself, but to engage with the premise on which it is based: the immediate family is superior to all other efforts and callings.  In this book, it is given an attention and emphasis not found in Scripture. Stay-at-home daughterhood flows from this viewpoint: “Young men and women seeking advice on how they can serve the Lord often pepper me with questions…they never expect the answer that I inevitably give…’If you are serious about serving the Lord, get married, pray that he gives you a house full of children and bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (pg. 115).’”

Jesus did not agree. While the texts on familial roles and the importance of marriage and raising children are just as inerrant and inspired as any, they do not exclude nor eclipse the rest of the Bible. Jesus was very clear throughout the Gospels about the connection of family relationships to His mission:

  • “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:26
  • “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Matthew 10:37
  • “But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!” Matthew 12:47-49
  • “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” – Mark 10:28-30
  • “To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” – Luke 9:59-62

Obviously these texts have a context, but Jesus meant what He said. He was frequently confronted with familial idolatry as He recruited disciples and taught on hillsides. Never once did He encourage someone to devote the best and most of their time and attentions to the family unit. He explained to the Sadducees that the family unit is not eternal (Matthew 22:29-31). Yet, His teaching is not incongruent with texts emphasizing the spiritual importance of and roles within the family. Teaching about family is part of Scripture, not its grand subject. Jasmine reminds readers that “the Great Commission isn’t the only passage in the Bible (pg. 186).” However, Matthew 28:18-20 contains Jesus’ final words to those disciples who would carry out His kingdom work. If her view of family was shared by Jesus, as He ascended to heaven and charged the faithful one last time, He would have said, “Go ye therefore and get married, having lots of children and focusing primarily on your own household,” but He didn’t.

Jasmine appeals to Paul’s Epistles in building her theology for stay-at-home daughterhood (with other texts such as Exodus 22, Numbers 30, Deuteronomy 6 & 22 and Proverbs 31). She states: “…I understand that the college campus is neither the only nor the best place for ministry to take place. If it were, the Apostle Paul would have spent less time encouraging Christians to devote themselves to building solid family units…and more time encouraging them to go out and be educated among the Romans.” First, teaching how to correctly do something is not encouraging devotion. I can teach someone to ride a bicycle even if I don’t like doing it. Paul was giving instruction about families, not actively campaigning for them. In fact, Paul himself never married. Arguably the greatest missionary and servant of Christ we know of did not see procuring a family unit as the best way to serve His Savior. Another problem is that Paul didn’t really spend that much time writing about families. He spent more time engaging skeptics and intellectuals with the gospel message (Acts 17 &18). On one such occasion, however, he wrote this:

  • “I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband.” 1 Corinthians 7:32-34

The author makes it clear she is not mandating this practice for every young woman: “…living at home after graduation should be a decision that we can trace back to guiding principles in God’s Word (pg. 140).” I found myself having to perform some pretty clever Scriptural gymnastics to link her cited texts to her reasons for staying home. She confidently rests all her book’s content on this assertion: “I can see no pattern in Scripture for a young woman to pack up and head cross-country to be discipled outside of the framework of the church and home (pg. 142).” This statement accomplishes nothing for her case. Because of travel constraints, underdeveloped nations, lack of education and widespread illiteracy in first century Palestine, we would no more expect a pattern for a girl going off to college in Scripture anymore than we would a pattern of space exploration. Aside from this claim, her case is founded on experience and opinion, cushioned by some cherry-picked Bible verses. By applying her hermeneutic, one could easily argue that all Christians are called to overseas missions. I do not think a biblical case is made for or against either stay-at-home daughterhood or girls going off to college.

I do admire her convictions. To see such a young girl making a culturally radical choice for God’s glory is refreshing. I am not necessarily disagreeing with stay-at-home daughterhood; I’m disagreeing with the elevation of family above all else. This serves as an example of what happens when we “go beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6), extrapolating from the Scriptures, filling in the gaps with personal experience and elevating our conclusion as biblical.

A family can pursue a Christ-centered home with a vision of “multi-generational faithfulness” and not flirt with family idolatry. I agree with her: the neglect of the family unit in and outside the Christian world is shameful, but to lift it above all other biblical teaching is irresponsible. A young woman leaving home for anything other than a husband is not antagonistic to the Bible. There’s no reason the kind of preparation Jasmine speaks of cannot take place prior to college. I am a very blessed stay-at-home wife with a baby on the way. No other task has given me greater joy. However, a day is coming when my wife and mommy duties will cease and I will function as part of a larger, heavenly family. That is the family I must ultimately work in view of.

-Emily

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