Walter Kirn GQ Article
Just read an article about a secular, not entirely unsympathetic but not apparently not "born again" journalist and the 7 days he spent immersed in American Suburbian Christian culture. He dubbed it "The Ark" - as in, a lifeboat keeping its occupants safe from the flood of filth and sin around them.

Here is a short section from the end:
Ark culture is mall Christianity. It's been malled. It's the upshot of some dumb decision that to compete with them–to compete with N'Sync and Friends and Stephen King and Matt and Katie and Abercrombie & Fitch and Jackie Chan and AOL and Sesame Street–the faithful should turn from their centuries-old tradition of fashioning transcendent art and literature and passionate folk forms such as gospel music and those outsider paintings in which Jesus has lime green bat wings and is hovering lovingly above the Pentagon flanked by exactly thirteen flying saucers, and instead of all that head down to Tower or Blockbuster and check out what's selling, then try to rip it off on a budget if possible and by employing artists who are either so devout or so plain desperate that they'll work for scale.

What makes the stuff so half-assed, so thin, so weak and cumulatively so demoralizing (even to me, a sympathetic journalist who'd secretly love to play the brash contrarian and rate the Left Behind books above Tom Clancy) has nothing to do with faith. The problem is lack of faith. Ark culture is a bad Xerox of the mainstream, not a truly distinctive or separate achievement. Without the courage to lead, it numbly follows, picking up the major media's scraps and gluing them back together with a cross on top. You like this magazine--you like GQ Then check out New Man, "America's #1 Christian Men's Magazine." Subscribe to Time, you say? Give World a chance. The covers are almost identical.

The whole article is here

I would love to hear everyone's thoughts on this. I personally find it a scathing indictment, even though I like Third Day. :}

Annette, Tuesday, 9-9-03 1:24 PM
Article
Actually, I read this a couple of weeks ago. Fascinatingly accurate in a few places, but patently unfair and clearly biased in several others. Though what would you expect from someone out to trash the Christian culture (or subculture)? Yes, he has an obvious agenda and very little objectivity.

But doesn't his article totally nail what we would be (and actually are) without the spiritual reality of Jesus in our lives? I mean, we're just another philosophy, another belief system among many--only more bland, more "wonder bread." No edge, just "nice."

Personally, the Christian subculture just doesn't work for me. I find it hard to even play along in order not to offend my brothers and sisters. Is this part of the reason City's Edge remains so small? Or is it the opposite--that we still "play along" too much?

At any rate, he hasn't earned the right to critcize because he falsely assumes that Christianity is about the externals. Thank God it isnt!


ROUS  Dan Banham, Tuesday, 9-9-03 2:54 PM
I can't agree...
I don't think that your assumptions about his assumptions bear out. You assume that he assumes that Christianity is about externals, when it seems clear that he's arriving at that conclusion after observation - and that is perhaps the most damning part of the article.

Gone are the days of Handel and Beethoven, when Christians were producing richness of culture because what welled up from within frothed over resulting in amazing, if poingiant, beauty. Today - and he nails it well - we immitate, and we do that badly. Moreover, those of us who DO create with great flair and originality - the band U2, filmmaker Kevin Smith, novelist Stephen King (and these are just the most obvious popular examples) - are often ostracised from the Christian community. The reason? Christian subculture is about shallow comfort and pacification, not truth. It should be the other way around, but it (for the last 50-60 years and for the forseeable future) isn't - not in this country, anyway.

He hasn't earned the right to criticize? I think he has. He suffered through a week of our garbage and nothing but, and he lives in a culture (American) that is continually attacked by many of the vocal producers of the kitchy "Christian" consumerist subculture. He tells the truth, whether he has an adgenda or not. Isn't the truth what we're supposed to be attuned to and looking for?
-Lokmer
Lokmer, Tuesday, 9-9-03 5:27 PM
Fascinating
As I read the article, images I would otherwise try to bury flooded my memory. Cute and/or funny comments on church reader boards (you bought a reader board for THAT???)...bumper stickers that are mini-sermons in twelve words or less...75% of the stuff you find at Christian Supply. I find myself wondering what people who produce those Christian paraphenalia are hoping to accomplish. I'm sure a number of them are strictly into it for profit. However, I do not doubt that many of those people produce Christian items with an aim toward edifying or evangelizing. If that is so, it would appear that we have a crisis of communication in our country.

When I got to this point in my thought process, I began to have serious reservations about Mr. Kirn's article. This crisis in communication does not end at the church doors. It extends to every square inch of our culture. It's in the garbage we see on television on a day-in, day-out basis (think people in the entertainment industry are hired based on talent? Think again!) It's in our politics. It's in Kirn's article! ("Gee, I could try to give a well reasoned explanation as to why I think creation is a bogus theory, but it's so much easier to ridicule and misrepresent.") The crisis I am of course speaking of is our dependance on rhetoric as if it were valid argumentation. Sure, large numbers of Christians engage in this from a Christian perspective. Why shouldn't they? My generation has been emersed in sound-bites our whole lives. Turning our lives over to Christ doesn't immediately fix all of the flaws in our lives. However, sincerely turning our lives over to Christ fixes our spiritual flaws, the ugliness in our lives that digs way down past the surface to our very core. That, of course, is where the author missed the boat. As Dan said, a relationship with Christ isn't about whether or not we wear a "Lord's Gym" t-shirt. It's about allowing Him to come into our lives and fix our brokenness.

It was obvious in the persistent sarcasm and the attempts at humor that Kirn had no real intent to understand what makes Christians tick. He was more intent on having fun with rhetoric that is dressed up in Christian clothes. Did he have a right to write what he did? Sure! We live in America! He can say whatever he likes. And as an aside (and a poorly veiled response to the last posted comment), it is well within a Christian's (or any individual's) rights to voice (attack?) his/her opinion on any political or social issue. But I digress. Now, was the article responsible or fair? No way! It was no more fair to say that this represents Christianity than if I were to sit down and watch several hours of Allie McBeal and then declare myself fit to tell you what lawyers are like. If Mr. Kirn were to put a rainbow sticker in the back window of his car and write this same sarcastic article about the subculture and material goodies in the homosexual community, GQ would be flooded with faxes and phone calls to have the man fired!

I'm not saying we all should run right out and rent Kirk Cameron in Left Behind. On the contrary, superfluous Christian paraphenalia often leaves me feeling like I need a shower. However, I know that those items, by and large, represent a miniscule amount of the sincere Christian's life.
ROUS  Doug Miller, Sunday, 9-28-03 11:23 PM
Well said, Doug
I agree very strongly with your comments. Just a few more small ones of my own.
Kirn - intentionally or unintentionally - made a handfull of falacious assumptions, which lead to some false conclusions
Assumtion 1) Equating "Ark Culture" on a one-to-one basis with "Christianity." is a fair representation of the way most Christians think and believe. Yes, I know he's mostly pretty carefull to use his "Ark Culture" code-phrase instead of "Christianity," but my feel is that he's certainly confused the two.
OK, I can cite no scientific studies to prove that "most" Christians feel dirty after visiting Christian Supply. But I do, Doug does, and most of the Christian people I know do, at very least, have some pretty serious reservations about "Christian" tchotchkes, "Christian" music, and "Christian" movies.
Assumption 2) (More damning) You can immerse yourself in "Christian Culture" and use it and it alone to analyze Christianity - without actually meeting any Christians.
Nowhere in the article does Kirn mention talking to, writing to, or spending any time with living breathing Christians. Again, this is on the level of saying you understand spy-craft and the CIA 'cause you watch Alias! No wonder he walks away with such a crappy view of us!
OK, OK, so there are zillions of said living, breathing Christians the dude could have talked to and still walked away with his assumptions intact - even validated. But he didn't try! He tried to join the Christian culture purely by imbibing its products, and then professed surprise at getting a stomach ache. Skin deep Christianity *is* 100% pointless. Probably even more than 100% pointless!

That said, it is deeply painfull to me that the outward trappings Christianity most visible to the casual observer are - in large part - so banal, so apparently shallow, and so pathetically unoriginal, and (often) so *badly executed!* My biggest problem with the "Left Behind" series is not its interpretation of Revelation, it's that the writting, frankly, Sucks! I'd rather read a certain juvenile series by J.K. Rowling, if you know what I mean. This seriously makes me angry. If we are who we say we are and we believe what we say we believe, why doesn't our art, literature, and entertainment rise above the garbage we see in the mainstream secular culture? Where are the Handels and Beethovens and C.S. Lewises and Tolkeins, etc, etc.? Are they all being supressed like Lawhead who can't find "Christian" publishers? Or are they genuinely MIA?
And how can we work against this?
Anonymous, Monday, 9-29-03 11:45 AM
Working against it
The only way I know of to work against it is to go out there and do it differently. If you're an artist, then go create! If you're not, don't buy schlock - instead patronize good art (done by Christians or not) and do it publicly. As I said before, I think Kirn's indictment of "Ark Culture" is dead-on accurate. That doesn't mean that all Christians are that way, of course! But Evangelical culture is certainly greatly beholden to, romanced by, and deliniated by the "Ark Culture." And it's that way because, from first principles, we read the Bible incorrectly. We prefer being "of" the world but not "in" the world to being "in" but not "of" it. We define the "world" as anything we don't happen to like, and we tend to not only withdraw from it but to punish Christians who do not withdraw from it. And this is, I think, because we (as a culture) tend to take the Old Covenant (where Israel is called to be seperate and define itself in opposition to its neighbors) more seriously than the New (where we are called to go into the world and work for its redemption). Unfortunately, not only is this path we've gone on self-defeating, but it has resulted in great hypocricy that is evident to everyone on the outside and to a lot of us on the inside (although those on the inside are, in my opinion, far to prepared to turn a blind eye). Hypocricy such as (for example) being hyper-critical on sexual morality (far more stringent than the Bible even is) but indulgent on materialism. Not that I'm saying sexual morality is unimportant - far from it - but that we have, as a culture, deified it over all other types of morality. Even Dan's interrogatory to one of the Friends associations (elsewhere on this board) had as his 6 "essential" doctrinal questions 3 items that were completely sexual (gay marriage, gay practice, and abortion) and non-doctrinal in nature, and 1 that was sexual but still doctrinal (virgin birth). (BTW, Dan, this is in no way a personal attack on you)

This to me speaks of a culture that has hopelessly lost its way in a morass of idolotry (of sex, money, and politics) and has taken its eyes off of the central teachings of Jesus. "Ark Culture" is simply the most extreme example of that phenomenon. It seems to me that it's easier to pretend that Kirn's percieved bias (which may be quite real) somehow renders everything he says untenable than it is to honestly engage the points he raises, which are valid quite apart from his biases. As Tony Campolo said "We have met the enemy, and they are partly right."

-Lokmer
Anonymous, Tuesday, 9-30-03 5:55 PM
Two cents more
With all due respect, Lokmer, I disagree with what you are saying. I'm embarrassed to admit that for the first several times I read your post, I didn't know why I disagreed with it. I'm not even really sure that I know why now, but it does strike me that you are not describing the Evangelicals I know. I don't know any Evangelicals who describe "the world" as "anything we don't happen to like", either in word or deed. I don't know Evangelicals who "punish" other Christians who don't withdraw from anything we don't happen to like. I don't know Evangelicals who are hyper-critical of sexual immorality but indulgent of materialism. In fact, you misrepresented (mistakenly, I presume) Dan's posting and the meaning behind it. Dan was not the person asking the questions. Instead, he had posted a letter (and the subsequent response) from a guy who was asking what Friends believe about six different issues. Personally, I figured that the reason he chose those six questions was that those are hot-button issues within the church right now and he was trying to figure out if the Friends Church is theologically liberal or conservative. Of course, sexual issues are not the only indicator of where a church stands doctrinally. However, there just aren't too many denominations out there right now arguing about whether or not they should ordain thieves. By and large, the Evangelicals I know and associate with seem to pursue a healthy balance between trying to live holy, separate lives from the wickedness (as it is defined in Scripture) of the world on the one hand, and the grace and love modeled by Christ, coupled with the Great Commission (Matt. 28: 19-20), on the other. Sure, we fail at that sometimes. Humans do that. But to say that that failure somehow lines us up with "Ark Culture" is shallow at best and completely fails to recognize the relationship we have as individuals with the Living Lord of the Universe.


ROUS  Doug Miller, Sunday, 10-5-03 12:14 AM
Oops
First off, apologies to Dan for my mistake that the letter was his.

Doug, I am gratified to hear that your experience with Evangelicals is on the whole quite pleasant - and I'm not arguing for a moment that evangelicals are evil people, unloved by God, or any of the rest of it. Much the contrary, on a personal level the Evangelicals I know are generally warm, caring people as well.



I don't know any Evangelicals who describe "the world" as "anything we don't happen to like", either in word or deed. I don't know Evangelicals who "punish" other Christians who don't withdraw from anything we don't happen to like. I don't know Evangelicals who are hyper-critical of sexual immorality but indulgent of materialism. In fact, you misrepresented (mistakenly, I presume) Dan's posting and the meaning behind it. Dan was not the person asking the questions. Instead, he had posted a letter (and the subsequent response) from a guy who was asking what Friends believe about six different issues. Personally, I figured that the reason he chose those six questions was that those are hot-button issues within the church right now and he was trying to figure out if the Friends Church is theologically liberal or conservative. Of course, sexual issues are not the only indicator of where a church stands doctrinally. However, there just aren't too many denominations out there right now arguing about whether or not they should ordain thieves. By and large, the Evangelicals I know and associate with seem to pursue a healthy balance between trying to live holy, separate lives from the wickedness (as it is defined in Scripture) of the world on the one hand, and the grace and love modeled by Christ, coupled with the Great Commission (Matt. 28: 19-20), on the other. Sure, we fail at that sometimes. Humans do that. But to say that that failure somehow lines us up with "Ark Culture" is shallow at best and completely fails to recognize the relationship we have as individuals with the Living Lord of the Universe.

Anonymous, Monday, 10-6-03 6:54 PM
double oops
I pressed "post" before I was done.

I further don't mean to suggest that evangelicals identifying "the world" with "anything we don't happen to like" is a conscious, cynical process. But it DOES happen, and quite often. The phenomenon is particularly evident in the more vocally political portions of the evangelical camp, as evidenced by the propaganda and activism visited on the community by the Focus on the Family organization (which, while generally having what I believe to be are the best of intentions, nevertheless are not above stooping to dishonesy and subterfuge to convince others of their point. I can cite examples, if you wish). This manifests itself in a variety of ways, many of them stemming from the basic mistake of interpreting one's doctrine in light of one's politics (identifying abortion as forbidden by God, for example. While I'm no fan of abortion, the assertion that it is a doctrinal/spiritual issue based on biblical teachings is spurious and indefensible). The mentality I'm describing is unavoidable when ideals (doctrinal, moral, political, or otherwise) are elevated in importance above people (God's creatures whom we are called to love).

As far as Evangelicals "punishing" other Christians, allow me to cite several popular and VERY obvious examples:
Amy Grant, in the early '90s, was roundly lambasted in the Christian press for appearing in a video with an actor who was not her husband. Bono (lead singer of U2), last March or April, was done over in an editorial hatchet piece in Christianity Today for his AIDS activism. The editorial accused him of having a "paper thin ecclesiology" that rendered him inelligable to speak to the church on matters of conscience. The sidebar accompanying the news piece in the same issue skipped over 3 of U2's most spiritually involved albums without comment (or even mention) because they are part of what evangelicals generally consider to be their "apostate" phase, although a careful listen to the albums in question prove them to be the some of their most deeply spiritual work. Evangelicals (and evangelical catholics), led by Ted Baehr and the Catholic League, succeeded in cutting off the theatrical distribution of the film "Dogma" by Christian filmmaker Kevin Smith, because it lampooned the crass materialism of the church and portrayed God as a woman, even though the film affirmed every single historical creed of the church (virgin birth, diety of Christ, crucifixion, resurrection, etc.) and was deeply reverential to the person of God.

On the matter of Evangelicals being indulgent of materialism but hyper-critical of sexual matters, I need only point to the huge success of Paul Crouch's television network, the continued Evangelical support of Hank Hennigraf (in spite of numerous accusations of embezzlement and malfeasance, not to mention tax fraud), the continued evangelical support of Pat Robertson who appeared in Liberia to pronounce God's blessing on the despot dictator in order to protect his diamond mining operations which employ slave labor, and the overwhelming Evangelical support for George Bush in spite of his complicity in the Enron scandal (the same branch of the church, who you will recall, called for Clinton's head on a platter in a matter of sexual sin has been helping to run interference for Bush in the Enron and Haliburton matters. I am not by any stretch a fan of Clinton, BTW). In fact, being a regular reader of Christianity Today and several other major evangelical publications (such as WORLD), I find it telling that most of the news of the "cultural decline" focuses on pornography, homosexuality, and sexually active teenagers while (on balance) staying virtually silent on questions of poverty, evangelicalism's oppulent prosperity, the failure of the evangelical church to be involved in social justice causes on a street-level (although there are notable exceptions to this phenomenon, such as World Vision, this is indeed the rule), and the level of crass commercialism that permeates our "Christian" bookstores (scripture tea, anyone?).

You said:
> By and large, the Evangelicals I know and associate with
> seem to pursue a healthy balance between trying to live
> holy, separate lives from the wickedness (as it is defined
> in Scripture) of the world on the one hand, and the grace
> and love modeled by Christ, coupled with the Great
> Commission (Matt. 28: 19-20), on the other.

The grace and love that the evangelical community extends to the suffering (women who have abortions, who are physically and emotionally abused, people around the church [though not necessarily in it] living in poverty and hopelessness, etc.) is severly lacking, and is generally (though not always) accompanied by a great deal of preaching and judgement, or of strings attatched (most churches help people who attend their churches, and stop inquiring after them if/when they leave). This is not to say that nothing good comes from evangelicalism - far from it - but the criticisms contained in this thread (in the article posted and in my comments) are absolutely verifiable. The only reason not to listen to them is that it makes us uncomfortable because it is (at least) too close to the truth.

You said:
> But to say that that failure somehow lines us up with "Ark
> Culture" is shallow at best and completely fails to
> recognize the relationship we have as individuals with the > Living Lord of the Universe.

I'm not saying that it "lines up" with Ark Culture - I'm saying that the problems proceed from the same source. Of course we as individuals have a relationship with the Lord of the Universe - that doesn't mean that we do much with it. If people are to "know we are Christians by our love," then we're doing an awfully poor job (on the whole) of being convincing Christians. I'm not saying that we're not saved - far from it! But I AM saying that by focusing on the things we do we subvert the gospel and turn millions off to the true grace of Christ.

This is not a new phenomenon. It goes all the way back to the Judaizers and the Pharisees. Bonhoffer, Ellul, Luther, Barth, Tillich, Briggs, Peters, et.al. have all seen this phenomenon at work and commented on it extensively through the ages (as has Philip Yancey, who, though an evangelical favorite, is widely read but rarely heard).

If the gospel is to have any credibility in our culture, we would be well served to take criticisms such as that offered in the article above to heart. Self-perception invariably gives way to self-delusion, it is too easy to judge ourselves by what we're comfortable with (which we often do). If the Bible is to be our yardstick, with the teachings of Jesus at the center, then let us be consistant about it. That would mean, for example, that if we fail to ordain homosexuals (an issue whith Christ NEVER spoke to), then we certainly should unfrock pastors who divorce and remarry (an issue that Christ was ADAMANT about). The traditional justification for this is that it was a sin, but it can be repented from. Yet a remarried person who continues to have intercourse with their spouse continues (by Christ's standards) to commit adultery, so where is the evidence of repentance? Certainly the situation is analogous to the non-promiscuous homosexual in a covenant relationship.


Ultimately, I believe both issues (homosexuality and divorce/remarriage) are far more complicated that they are generally treated and outlined above. My point is that our focus is in the wrong place. Sex and sexual sin does not a person make - important, surely, but not all-important. God speaks through who he will and calls those to ministry who he will. The great shame of evangelicalism is its failure to think and to love without reservation. See the book "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind" by conservative evangelical theologian Mark Knoll and "The Subversion of Christianity" by conservative evangelical Jacques Ellul for corroboration of these particular "misconceptions."

If we are to be the light of the world - surely we should listen when the world tells us that we're making it darker for them than it already is.

-Lokmer


Anonymous, Monday, 10-6-03 7:31 PM
double oops
I pressed "post" before I was done.

I further don't mean to suggest that evangelicals identifying "the world" with "anything we don't happen to like" is a conscious, cynical process. But it DOES happen, and quite often. The phenomenon is particularly evident in the more vocally political portions of the evangelical camp, as evidenced by the propaganda and activism visited on the community by the Focus on the Family organization (which, while generally having what I believe to be are the best of intentions, nevertheless are not above stooping to dishonesy and subterfuge to convince others of their point. I can cite examples, if you wish). This manifests itself in a variety of ways, many of them stemming from the basic mistake of interpreting one's doctrine in light of one's politics (identifying abortion as forbidden by God, for example. While I'm no fan of abortion, the assertion that it is a doctrinal/spiritual issue based on biblical teachings is spurious and indefensible). The mentality I'm describing is unavoidable when ideals (doctrinal, moral, political, or otherwise) are elevated in importance above people (God's creatures whom we are called to love).

As far as Evangelicals "punishing" other Christians, allow me to cite several popular and VERY obvious examples:
Amy Grant, in the early '90s, was roundly lambasted in the Christian press for appearing in a video with an actor who was not her husband. Bono (lead singer of U2), last March or April, was done over in an editorial hatchet piece in Christianity Today for his AIDS activism. The editorial accused him of having a "paper thin ecclesiology" that rendered him inelligable to speak to the church on matters of conscience. The sidebar accompanying the news piece in the same issue skipped over 3 of U2's most spiritually involved albums without comment (or even mention) because they are part of what evangelicals generally consider to be their "apostate" phase, although a careful listen to the albums in question prove them to be the some of their most deeply spiritual work. Evangelicals (and evangelical catholics), led by Ted Baehr and the Catholic League, succeeded in cutting off the theatrical distribution of the film "Dogma" by Christian filmmaker Kevin Smith, because it lampooned the crass materialism of the church and portrayed God as a woman, even though the film affirmed every single historical creed of the church (virgin birth, diety of Christ, crucifixion, resurrection, etc.) and was deeply reverential to the person of God.

On the matter of Evangelicals being indulgent of materialism but hyper-critical of sexual matters, I need only point to the huge success of Paul Crouch's television network, the continued Evangelical support of Hank Hennigraf (in spite of numerous accusations of embezzlement and malfeasance, not to mention tax fraud), the continued evangelical support of Pat Robertson who appeared in Liberia to pronounce God's blessing on the despot dictator in order to protect his diamond mining operations which employ slave labor, and the overwhelming Evangelical support for George Bush in spite of his complicity in the Enron scandal (the same branch of the church, who you will recall, called for Clinton's head on a platter in a matter of sexual sin has been helping to run interference for Bush in the Enron and Haliburton matters. I am not by any stretch a fan of Clinton, BTW). In fact, being a regular reader of Christianity Today and several other major evangelical publications (such as WORLD), I find it telling that most of the news of the "cultural decline" focuses on pornography, homosexuality, and sexually active teenagers while (on balance) staying virtually silent on questions of poverty, evangelicalism's oppulent prosperity, the failure of the evangelical church to be involved in social justice causes on a street-level (although there are notable exceptions to this phenomenon, such as World Vision, this is indeed the rule), and the level of crass commercialism that permeates our "Christian" bookstores (scripture tea, anyone?).

You said:
> By and large, the Evangelicals I know and associate with
> seem to pursue a healthy balance between trying to live
> holy, separate lives from the wickedness (as it is defined
> in Scripture) of the world on the one hand, and the grace
> and love modeled by Christ, coupled with the Great
> Commission (Matt. 28: 19-20), on the other.

The grace and love that the evangelical community extends to the suffering (women who have abortions, who are physically and emotionally abused, people around the church [though not necessarily in it] living in poverty and hopelessness, etc.) is severly lacking, and is generally (though not always) accompanied by a great deal of preaching and judgement, or of strings attatched (most churches help people who attend their churches, and stop inquiring after them if/when they leave). This is not to say that nothing good comes from evangelicalism - far from it - but the criticisms contained in this thread (in the article posted and in my comments) are absolutely verifiable. The only reason not to listen to them is that it makes us uncomfortable because it is (at least) too close to the truth.

You said:
> But to say that that failure somehow lines us up with "Ark
> Culture" is shallow at best and completely fails to
> recognize the relationship we have as individuals with the > Living Lord of the Universe.

I'm not saying that it "lines up" with Ark Culture - I'm saying that the problems proceed from the same source. Of course we as individuals have a relationship with the Lord of the Universe - that doesn't mean that we do much with it. If people are to "know we are Christians by our love," then we're doing an awfully poor job (on the whole) of being convincing Christians. I'm not saying that we're not saved - far from it! But I AM saying that by focusing on the things we do we subvert the gospel and turn millions off to the true grace of Christ.

This is not a new phenomenon. It goes all the way back to the Judaizers and the Pharisees. Bonhoffer, Ellul, Luther, Barth, Tillich, Briggs, Peters, et.al. have all seen this phenomenon at work and commented on it extensively through the ages (as has Philip Yancey, who, though an evangelical favorite, is widely read but rarely heard).

If the gospel is to have any credibility in our culture, we would be well served to take criticisms such as that offered in the article above to heart. Self-perception invariably gives way to self-delusion, it is too easy to judge ourselves by what we're comfortable with (which we often do). If the Bible is to be our yardstick, with the teachings of Jesus at the center, then let us be consistant about it. That would mean, for example, that if we fail to ordain homosexuals (an issue whith Christ NEVER spoke to), then we certainly should unfrock pastors who divorce and remarry (an issue that Christ was ADAMANT about). The traditional justification for this is that it was a sin, but it can be repented from. Yet a remarried person who continues to have intercourse with their spouse continues (by Christ's standards) to commit adultery, so where is the evidence of repentance? Certainly the situation is analogous to the non-promiscuous homosexual in a covenant relationship.


Ultimately, I believe both issues (homosexuality and divorce/remarriage) are far more complicated that they are generally treated and outlined above. My point is that our focus is in the wrong place. Sex and sexual sin does not a person make - important, surely, but not all-important. God speaks through who he will and calls those to ministry who he will. The great shame of evangelicalism is its failure to think and to love without reservation. See the book "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind" by conservative evangelical theologian Mark Knoll and "The Subversion of Christianity" by conservative evangelical Jacques Ellul for corroboration of these particular "misconceptions."

If we are to be the light of the world - surely we should listen when the world tells us that we're making it darker for them than it already is.

-Lokmer


Anonymous, Monday, 10-6-03 7:31 PM
I've got two more pennies around here somewhere
Thank you for taking the time to respond, Lokmer. It is obvious that your opinions come with some thought process attached to them, and I respect you and enjoy reading your posts. That stated, I again have to disagree with most of what you've written. There's a lot I'd like to address, so if I can pull this off without looking like a sixth grade teacher (which I am) with a red pen, I'm going to cut and paste some of your comments and follow with a rebuttal.

You said:
"I further don't mean to suggest that evangelicals identifying "the world" with "anything we don't happen to like" is a conscious, cynical process. But it DOES happen, and quite often. The phenomenon is particularly evident in the more vocally political portions of the evangelical camp, as evidenced by the propaganda and activism visited on the community by the Focus on the Family organization (which, while generally having what I believe to be are the best of intentions, nevertheless are not above stooping to dishonesy and subterfuge to convince others of their point. I can cite examples, if you wish)."

Please do.

You said:
"This manifests itself in a variety of ways, many of them stemming from the basic mistake of interpreting one's doctrine in light of one's politics (identifying abortion as forbidden by God, for example. While I'm no fan of abortion, the assertion that it is a doctrinal/spiritual issue based on biblical teachings is spurious and indefensible)."

If I may offer a defense, most of us who are against abortion are so because it is murder. Murder as a bad thing appears a few times in the Bible.

You said:
"The mentality I'm describing is unavoidable when ideals (doctrinal, moral, political, or otherwise) are elevated in importance above people (God's creatures whom we are called to love)."

And just what does that love look like? I would argue that Focus, while not perfect, does a very good job giving feet to their love for people. It may be objectionable to those who disagree with them, but Christ was/is objectionable to those who disagreed with Him, too. Loving God's creatures doesn't mean we are called to live and let live. If we truly love people and are concerned for their eternal destiny, standing idly by while they lead themselves and others on a path of destruction is not what is called for.

You said:
"As far as Evangelicals "punishing" other Christians, allow me to cite several popular and VERY obvious examples:
Amy Grant, in the early '90s, was roundly lambasted in the Christian press for appearing in a video with an actor who was not her husband."

Not too familiar with that one cuz I'm not a big Amy Grant fan. I seem to remember (correct me if I'm wrong) her seductively appearing in a video with some guy in various levels of undress? If so, what should we do? Reward her? If Christians can't hold other Christians accountable, who can? Walter Kirn?

You said:
"Bono (lead singer of U2), last March or April, was done over in an editorial hatchet piece in Christianity Today for his AIDS activism. The editorial accused him of having a "paper thin ecclesiology" that rendered him inelligable to speak to the church on matters of conscience. The sidebar accompanying the news piece in the same issue skipped over 3 of U2's most spiritually involved albums without comment (or even mention) because they are part of what evangelicals generally consider to be their "apostate" phase, although a careful listen to the albums in question prove them to be the some of their most deeply spiritual work."

On an episode of "Behind the Music" last year, they pointed out that three of the four members of U2 emersed themselves in Christianity in the early 80's, but when Larry Mullen Jr. threatened to leave the group, they dropped it for the sake of the band. While it's good that their lyrics speak to you on a spiritual level, understand that you may be pouring meaning into the lyrics that not even the band intended to be there.

You said:
"Evangelicals (and evangelical catholics), led by Ted Baehr and the Catholic League, succeeded in cutting off the theatrical distribution of the film "Dogma" by Christian filmmaker Kevin Smith, because it lampooned the crass materialism of the church and portrayed God as a woman, even though the film affirmed every single historical creed of the church (virgin birth, diety of Christ, crucifixion, resurrection, etc.) and was deeply reverential to the person of God."

"Christian filmmaker Kevin Smith"? I'm not attempting to cast judgment on Smith's eternal destiny, but I have NEVER seen those words grouped together. Exactly which Christian film was Smith responsible for? Chasing Amy? If the Catholic League was successful in blocking distribution Dogma, they didn't tell the theaters around here. I distinctly remember seeing it on local marquees. And I STRONGLY disagree with the assertion that it was deeply reverential to God. As I remember the movie, wasn't God trapped in the body of a comatose senior citizen, thereby affording Satan the opportunity to take over the world? That's reverential? I saw the movie from beginning to end (which was more than my wife could stomach), and while it may have affirmed some sound doctrine, it did not do so in a reverent manner. And Smith didn't intend to. He said so in text at the very beginning of the film. The text said that the veiwer should try not to get offended because he was just messing around (obviously, I'm paraphrasing. The video is absent from my library so I can't go look it up.)

You said:
"On the matter of Evangelicals being indulgent of materialism but hyper-critical of sexual matters, I need only point to the huge success of Paul Crouch's television network, the continued Evangelical support of Hank Hennigraf (in spite of numerous accusations of embezzlement and malfeasance, not to mention tax fraud),"

You're pointing to Paul and Jan Crouch as examples of Evangelicals? I'm offended! Seriously, people like Hanegraaff have done an outstanding job of exposing their theology as being something other than Biblical. In fact, part of the mission of the Christian Research Institute is to expose aberant movements within Christianity. You think those people are going to take it lying down? Benny Hinn went so far once as to issue a veiled threat against Hanegraaff from his pulpit! They'd love to see Hanegraaff's reputation get shot down! Those allegations of wrong doing have been present for several years. However, actual legal charges, not to mention a conviction, are conspicuous by their absence. It saddens me to see that you are willing to stand up for a guy like Kevin Smith, whose main purpose in making films seems to be to shock people, and yet condemn a man like Hank Hanegraaff, who continues to serve as President of the Christian Research Institute and who edifies millions through his daily radio broadcasts, based on allegations of wrong-doing. Are you willing to extend grace for people who don't want it, but only condemnation for Christian brothers who are merely accused of wrong-doing?

You said:
"the continued evangelical support of Pat Robertson who appeared in Liberia to pronounce God's blessing on the despot dictator in order to protect his diamond mining operations which employ slave labor,"

Okay, so you win this one.

You said:
"and the overwhelming Evangelical support for George Bush in spite of his complicity in the Enron scandal (the same branch of the church, who you will recall, called for Clinton's head on a platter in a matter of sexual sin has been helping to run interference for Bush in the Enron and Haliburton matters. I am not by any stretch a fan of Clinton, BTW)."

And there have been charges filed against Bush? What are you relying on to bear witness like that about our country's leader? Or the members of the Body of Christ who have "run interference" for him?

You said:
"In fact, being a regular reader of Christianity Today and several other major evangelical publications (such as WORLD), I find it telling that most of the news of the "cultural decline" focuses on pornography, homosexuality, and sexually active teenagers while (on balance) staying virtually silent on questions of poverty, evangelicalism's oppulent prosperity, the failure of the evangelical church to be involved in social justice causes on a street-level (although there are notable exceptions to this phenomenon, such as World Vision, this is indeed the rule), and the level of crass commercialism that permeates our "Christian" bookstores (scripture tea, anyone?).

And yet, weren't you just saying in your last post that we should go out and create? How do you know that what you're identifying as crass commercialism isn't seen as creatively spreading the Gospel by someone else?

You said:
"The grace and love that the evangelical community extends to the suffering (women who have abortions, who are physically and emotionally abused, people around the church [though not necessarily in it] living in poverty and hopelessness, etc.) is severly lacking, and is generally (though not always) accompanied by a great deal of preaching and judgement, or of strings attatched (most churches help people who attend their churches, and stop inquiring after them if/when they leave)."

Where is your evidence for these bold, damaging statements? Do you KNOW that what you're asserting is true, or do you FEEL it's true? If it is something that you are witnessing, what are you doing about it?

You said:
"This is not to say that nothing good comes from evangelicalism - far from it - but the criticisms contained in this thread (in the article posted and in my comments) are absolutely verifiable."

Verifiable in what way? Isolated incidents? Items that made the news? My question is did those isolated incidents receive publicity because they are exceptions to the rule? Did it ever occur to you that perhaps much of the good work that Christians do in our world never reaches the spotlight?

You said:
"The only reason not to listen to them is that it makes us uncomfortable because it is (at least) too close to the truth."

Or because the support for the arguments being presented is opinion or only partially true.

You said:
"I'm not saying that it "lines up" with Ark Culture - I'm saying that the problems proceed from the same source. Of course we as individuals have a relationship with the Lord of the Universe - that doesn't mean that we do much with it. If people are to "know we are Christians by our love," then we're doing an awfully poor job (on the whole) of being convincing Christians."

I am curious. What, specifically, would you change? I'm not asking about more negative assertions against fellow Christians that, quite frankly, you are having difficulty verifying. I'm asking about what positive ideas you have to bring about meaningful change within the Christian Church.

You said:
"I'm not saying that we're not saved - far from it! But I AM saying that by focusing on the things we do we subvert the gospel and turn millions off to the true grace of Christ."

Again, what should our love for people look like? What would turn the world on to the true grace of Christ? I realize that perhaps I sound sarcastic, but I'm not trying to. I do, however, think that if we shut our pie-holes about the wickedness of the world, we become insignificant in the eyes of the world. After all, who needs a Savior if there is nothing to be saved from?

You said:
"This is not a new phenomenon. It goes all the way back to the Judaizers and the Pharisees. Bonhoffer, Ellul, Luther, Barth, Tillich, Briggs, Peters, et.al. have all seen this phenomenon at work and commented on it extensively through the ages (as has Philip Yancey, who, though an evangelical favorite, is widely read but rarely heard)."

You seem to be treading on dangerous ground here. If I'm reading you right, you are comparing many Evangelicals to the Judaizers and the Pharisees. The Judaizers and Pharisees had trouble with their doctrine that led to a rejection of Christ. Are you insinuating that the same is true of modern day Evangelicals?

You said:
"If the gospel is to have any credibility in our culture, we would be well served to take criticisms such as that offered in the article above to heart."

However, Kirn wasn't going for constructive criticism. He was utilizing rhetoric to make a shallow assessment of what he perceived to be true. How many Christians did he talk to? For how long? Did he make any attempt to understand the need to pray for influential people? As I read it, it was nothing more than ridicule.

You said:
"Self-perception invariably gives way to self-delusion, it is too easy to judge ourselves by what we're comfortable with (which we often do). If the Bible is to be our yardstick, with the teachings of Jesus at the center, then let us be consistant about it."

I would argue that the whole Book contains "the teachings of Jesus". There aren't parts of the Bible that are more "Word of God" than other parts.

You said:
"That would mean, for example, that if we fail to ordain homosexuals (an issue whith Christ NEVER spoke to),"

Again, if one believes in a triune God, and that the Bible is God's very Word spoken to us, then yes, Christ DID speak against homosexuality.

You said:
"then we certainly should unfrock pastors who divorce and remarry (an issue that Christ was ADAMANT about). The traditional justification for this is that it was a sin, but it can be repented from. Yet a remarried person who continues to have intercourse with their spouse continues (by Christ's standards) to commit adultery, so where is the evidence of repentance?"

Are you speaking about a pastor who divorces for convenience while claiming to be a Christian and then remarries? I couldn't agree more. However, if you are speaking of a person who divorces, remarries, and then becomes a Christian, you are talking about subjecting an individual to church discipline for something that happened before he joined the church. If somebody living in the homosexual lifestyle joins a church and repents of that lifestyle, I would hope that he would be shown the same level of grace as anybody else who repents from their sin.

You said:
"Ultimately, I believe both issues (homosexuality and divorce/remarriage) are far more complicated that they are generally treated and outlined above. My point is that our focus is in the wrong place. Sex and sexual sin does not a person make - important, surely, but not all-important. God speaks through who he will and calls those to ministry who he will. The great shame of evangelicalism is its failure to think and to love without reservation."

The great shame of the human condition is its failure to think and to love without reservation. Try as we might, its certainly a trap we all fall into. I'd like to think, though, that Christians can look to the grace afforded us by Christ and view people with a different set of eyes than the world does. Mind you, not a set of eyes that says, "What you've done or are doing is okay", but rather, "What you've done or are doing is not okay and is in fact destructive, but its something we all go through and there is healing in Christ."

You said:
"If we are to be the light of the world - surely we should listen when the world tells us that we're making it darker for them than it already is."

Why? Doesn't the world love the darkness? And who is saying that we're making it darker for them than it already is? Kirn? Actually, I think Kirn was just saying, "Look at the ridiculous Christians and all their copycat stuff!" I think we've turned this into something way beyond what Kirn was asserting. Don't get me wrong though, Lokmer, I respect your desire for something else (You still haven't found what you're looking for?) from Evangelicals. I just don't think that the situation is anywhere near as dire as you are painting it.
ROUS  Doug Miller, Tuesday, 10-7-03 1:40 AM
I'll see you're 2c, and raise you...

Anonymous, Tuesday, 10-7-03 9:10 AM
I'll see your 2c and raise you...
Hit the wrong button again. I really must stop doing this without the benifit of my morning caffine dose.

Wow! Great reply, Doug. Here goes :-)

You said (in regards to Focus on the Family using disinformation):
"Please do."

The packet "In Defense of a little Virginity" which is still making the rounds in high school youth groups was authored in 1992. It is a STD-awareness brochure advocating abstinence. It contains fallacious statistics, most notably on condom failure rates, that were compiled during the late 50s and early 60s. Along with a video entitled "Sex, Lies, and the Truth"(1993), it lists the average condom failure rate at 15% for preventing pregnancy and states that it must be MUCH higher for AIDS since a woman is fertile only a few days a month - and besides (Dobson argues), latex is porous with holes smaller than 5 microns (HIV is one micron wide). Of course, the stats used were - as stated - 30 years out of date at the time of the writing. They deliberately used old stats because new stats defeated the entier point. CDC studies over the past 20 years consistantly show a condom failure rate (with consistant proper usage) of less than 1%. The risk of HIV infection is no greater than the risk of pregnancy. (Stats Source: Harmful to Minors, by Judith Levine, 2002) I quote directly from the CDC website:

"Epidemiologic studies that are conducted in real-life settings, where one partner is infected with HIV and the other partner is not, demonstrate conclusively that the consistent use of latex condoms provides a high degree of protection."

In addition to misrepresenting the facts, the video uses a mixture of images based on fear and seduction, presenting sex as a ride through the House of Horrors in an amusement park followed by gruesome scenes and discussions of AIDS deaths. It's a rank propaganda film, thoroughly dishonest in its approach, but it gets better. Articles around the same time in Breakaway magazine (which I have in a box around here somewhere) talked about the risk of AIDS transmission through french kissing (10 years after the possibility of transmission through that method was discounted as any sort of risk). All of this is a shame because there is a good case to be made for abstinence on legitimate grounds, but FOF finds it easier to use sexy lies to make its case.

Want more examples?


You said (regarding abortion):
"If I may offer a defense, most of us who are against abortion are so because it is murder. Murder as a bad thing appears a few times in the Bible."

The association that abortion is murder cannot be backed up medically before the first trimester, or biblically before birth. After the end of the first trimester you have encephlographic activity (brainwaves), heartbeat, and resparation of sorts. But the ancient Hebrews held that life does not begin until the infant takes its first breath (because Adam's life did not begin until God breathed into his nostrils, this was seen as the standard for when life begins). The Levitical/Deuteronomic law commands abortion in cases of suspected adultery, and the law in Exodous lists spontaneous abortion resulting from injury to the mother as a property crime. Equating abortion with murder (particularly in the early stages of pregnancy) is, as I said, biblically indefensible and medically indefensible. As I said before, this does not mean that abortion is not dangerous or does not have serious ethical issues associated with it, but it is not the make-or-break doctrinal issue that many evangelicals believe it is.

You said (in response to my statement that we are called to love):
And just what does that love look like?

What did Christ do? Did he go around preaching death and hell to the wicked? Hardly. He fed people, he encouraged them. The few occasions where the subject of sin and judgement came up were in confrontations with the Pharisees or in intimate moments of quiet exhortation (i.e. the woman at the well). He did not make repentance a prerequisite to his love, and he did not deny healing and mercy to pagans and/or gentiles because they didn't belive the theologically correct thing (the Centurion and the Samaritan woman, for two great examples). The condemnatory judgement that he pronounced was uniformly on the self-righteous.

You said:
"I would argue that Focus, while not perfect, does a very good job giving feet to their love for people."

I absolutely disagree. Focus, whatever it once was, has evolved into a political group which works in tandem with Jay Grimstead's group, Pat Roberston, Jerry Fallwell, and Tim LeHaye. (Several of the above are theonomists, and others who are not share similar political goals). The goals and methods are not only unloving, they are deeply unChristian, despite the best earnest intentions of many of the people involved in the various ministries.

Even if politics weren't an issue, FOF's theology and influence over churches is deeply destructive. For perspectives from those who have left the church or are in the church but hurting deeply because of FOF's work, see http://www.elroy.net/ehr/focus.html and http://elroy.net/ehr/antifocus.html#hurt

You said:
"It may be objectionable to those who disagree with them, but Christ was/is objectionable to those who disagreed with Him, too."

Those who disagreed with Christ were the ones interested in promoting righteousness, fidelity to the inerrency of scripture, obedience to the law, and biblical standars of purity (things that Jesus described as a yolk to heavy too bear). He quite notably did NOT cause dissention among the diseased, the prostitutes, the extortioners, the adulterers, the pagans, and the Jewish/Samaritan apostates.

You said:
"Loving God's creatures doesn't mean we are called to live and let live."

Absolutely! It means that we are called to live fully, love wastefully, and lay down our very lives for others.

You said:
"If we truly love people and are concerned for their eternal destiny, standing idly by while they lead themselves and others on a path of destruction is not what is called for."

Paul said that it was the work of the Spirit by which people are called to faith. Jesus said that we were to be the light of the world, and that we should preach the good news. "You are going to hell because you're doing sinful things" is not good news. "I love you and accept you regardless of what you do," praying for God's movement in their lives, and consistantly sacrificing for someone - THAT is good news. The gospel of salvation,love, and abundance of life is not the gospel that we preach. We preach the gospel of damnation and judgement, which is NOT our job.

You said:
"Not too familiar with that one cuz I'm not a big Amy Grant fan. I seem to remember (correct me if I'm wrong) her seductively appearing in a video with some guy in various levels of undress? If so, what should we do? Reward her?"

Yup, that's the video. The "various stages of undress" was one scene in a teddy and shorts. Should we reward her? I don't know - I found the song itself to be pretty bubble-gummy and unimpressive, but she *DID* break into the mainstream and expose many to the gospel as expressed through her music (and although I generally disapprove of Christian music on principle, even I am forced to admit that this was probably a good thing).

You said:
"If Christians can't hold other Christians accountable, who can? Walter Kirn?"

Hold her accountable for what? She didn't even kiss the guy in the video (not that it would be a problem if she did). She is a performer - acting is part of the job description. She didn't do anything wrong, and certainly didn't do anything that could be considered the slightest bit racy (to say nothing of immoral) by the standards of anyone but those in the evangelical community.

You said:
"On an episode of "Behind the Music" last year, they pointed out that three of the four members of U2 emersed themselves in Christianity in the early 80's, but when Larry Mullen Jr. threatened to leave the group, they dropped it for the sake of the band."

Actually, the Christian fellowship they were involved in was pressuring them to drop the band because rock'n'roll was unChristian. Adam was the one who threatened to leave. They left the fellowship but not the faith. Have you never left a church because it was a destructive part of your life? Music is not a sin, nor does it require repentance. Over the years, Bono particularly has displayed (in both his lyrics and his life) a heart for people born of the gospel. He has put his fortune, his reputation, and his life on the line to give free concerts in the middle of war zones, donated millions of his own money to Amnesty International and Project Jubilee, taken years out of his life stumping for 3rd world debt relief and AIDS relief for Africa. He is unapologetically Christian in his performances, and has been influential on numerous people in the rock'n'roll community with regards to the gospel (the lead singer of Oasis not least among them). Now, he's not an evangelical by any stretch, and definately does not share evangelical values on subjects such as alcohol, tobacco, bad language, or sexual material in art, and he's certainly quite liberal politically, but that does not make him any less of a Christian. (In fairness, Edge and Larry Mullin have also been fairly active in their faith, but they are less visible about it).

You said:
"While it's good that their lyrics speak to you on a spiritual level, understand that you may be pouring meaning into the lyrics that not even the band intended to be there."

Really? How well do you know their work? Or, to put it another way, why should anyone assume that a band that consistantly puts confessed (in interviews and in their book "Into the Heart") PRAYERS and PRAISE SONGS on their albums (Love Rescue Me, Wake Up Dead Man, When I Look At The Worls, 40, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, The Wanderer, Mysterious Ways - need I go on?) be assumed - contrary to their own public assertions - to be devoid of genuine spiritual meaning?

You said"
""Christian filmmaker Kevin Smith"? I'm not attempting to cast judgment on Smith's eternal destiny, but I have NEVER seen those words grouped together."

Forgive me for saying so, but if that's the case then you haven't been paying attention. In numerous interviews (including one in "High Times") he is unapologetic about his faith and the influence it has on his work. In his film "An Evening with Kevin Smith" he tells a number of stories that relate to his reasons for believing in God and why he is a Chrsitian. He is a regular attender of a non-denominational Protestant church.

You Said:
"Exactly which Christian film was Smith responsible for? Chasing Amy?"

Now that you mention it... :-) Dogma was his one overtly Christian film. Chasing Amy and Clerks both dealt with weighty (and complicated) moral topics under a veneer of crued humor - there's a reason why Clerks won Sundance, and it's not because of the dirty jokes. Chasing Amy was a VERY moral film, or did you not notice that it ends with the moral thrust that exotic sex has a price, and that love and forgiveness are the heart-matters of relationship?


You said:
"If the Catholic League was successful in blocking distribution Dogma, they didn't tell the theaters around here."

It was produced by Mirimax and was slated for general release until the groups I mentioned got involved and pressured Disney into ordering Mirimax to sell the property. Lion's Gate (a relatively small art-house distributor) picked it up and it got a limited release on one or two screens in each major metro area. If it got a big release up there, perhaps Regal has a deal with Lion's Gate. I had to go to an art house theater in San Francisco to see it.

You Said:
"And I STRONGLY disagree with the assertion that it was deeply reverential to God. As I remember the movie, wasn't God trapped in the body of a comatose senior citizen, thereby affording Satan the opportunity to take over the world? That's reverential?"

It's called a "McGuffin" or a "conceit." Every story has one - it's the one thing in the premise that allows everything else to work. It was a comedy, they used a comedic conceit. You're confusing a surface plot detail with the thrust of the movie. Kevin Smith's STATED INTENTION was to "Spread the word of God." (From the booklet in the collector's edition of Dogma). And in that he was successful - I've had a number of people ask me directly about my faith as a result of seeing that movie - people who never would have asked the "Big Questions" otherwise. A friend of mine who's a conservative theology professor requires it for his students. It has raised a HUGE awareness about Christianity, in no small part because it lampoons our foibles (doctrinal narrowness, commercialism, hypocracies) which are EXTREMELY visible to those outside the church, while still affirming the person of Christ and the involvement of God in the world. Bethany's faith journey is central to the film - and she begins with "Where was God? To hell with him!" and ends with deep gratitude for the life she thought was worthless.

You said:
"I saw the movie from beginning to end (which was more than my wife could stomach), and while it may have affirmed some sound doctrine, it did not do so in a reverent manner."

You are confusing manner with intent. Christ himself was supremely irreverent in his parables, and was no stranger to satirical and offensive humor (suggesting, for example, that a Samaritan could be more righteous than was a priest - kind of like suggesting to today's audience that a homosexual could be more righteous than a protestant pastor).

You said:
"And Smith didn't intend to. He said so in text at the very beginning of the film. The text said that the veiwer should try not to get offended because he was just messing around (obviously, I'm paraphrasing. The video is absent from my library so I can't go look it up.)"

It said "So before you think of harming anybody over this trifle of a film, remember, even God has a sense of humor. Just look at the platypus." I don't know if you're aware of this, but that disclaimer was put on the front of the film after the fiasco with the Christian groups and Disney, because some of the Christians who were campaigning against the film (sight unseen) were sending Smith death threats.

You said:
"You're pointing to Paul and Jan Crouch as examples of Evangelicals? I'm offended!"

Like it or not, they are. I grant you, they're not mainstream evangelicals, but their television network ain't supported only by charismatics.

You said:
"Seriously, people like Hanegraaff have done an outstanding job of exposing their theology as being something other than Biblical."

Oh, I agree. And "Christianity in Crisis" did a pretty decent job of it. But it's funny to read it now and discover that Hennegraf is condemning many of the same behaviors that he currently practices (and, evidently, did practice at the time of that writing).

You said:
"They'd love to see Hanegraaff's reputation get shot down! Those allegations of wrong doing have been present for several years. However, actual legal charges, not to mention a conviction, are conspicuous by their absence."

Why, then, has Hennegraf settled for many millions of dollars with former employees rather than seeing the charges brought in open court. Why, in the last 6 months, has a criminal investigation been undertaken on the basis of the evidence present in the civil pleadings (I need not remind you, I suppose, that one of the plantiff's is Hennegraf's own secretary)?


You said:
"It saddens me to see that you are willing to stand up for a guy like Kevin Smith, whose main purpose in making films seems to be to shock people,"

It does? I thought his main purpose was to entertain people! Just because it shocks you doesn't mean it shocks everyone. Bad language and dirty jokes are the language he uses - because that's the language he speaks. Believe it or not, people speak differently in the secular suburbs of Red Bank, NJ than they do in Portland, OR (which has a generally more polite social ettiquette). Does he emply shock to good effect? Sometimes. But usually he's just having fun.

You said:
"and yet condemn a man like Hank Hanegraaff, who continues to serve as President of the Christian Research Institute and who edifies millions through his daily radio broadcasts, based on allegations of wrong-doing."

As stated previously, Hanegraaf has settled his charges out of court to avoid them being brought in. I am no stranger to Christain organizational coverups, I know the M.O. very well. He would not have settled if he was not interested in hushing the situation up "for the good of the ministry." I have been involved in or a witness to several major cover-ups in Christian ministry, including a rape, a major employment regs violation, and a blackmail, and the M.O. for covering them up is unmistakeable. I would be happy if he was exhonerated in open court, but based on the evidence I've seen (much of it coming in through Christianity Today) if it goes to court he's likely to lose.

You said:
"Are you willing to extend grace for people who don't want it, but only condemnation for Christian brothers who are merely accused of wrong-doing?"

No, I'm perfectly willing to extend grace. That does not mean I will hold him up as a paragon of virtue or seek to shield him from the legal penalty for his actions. What he has done is deeply humiliating to anyone who calls themself a Christian, but more embarassing still is the "circle the wagons" mentality which seeks to protect wolves in the fold at all costs. If I ever met Hank on the street or had coffee with him, I would probably greatly enjoy the man in spite of it all. But he certainly shouldn't be covered up for or defended - or left in charge of a major ministry. His sins I am perfectly content to forgive, whether he wants that forgiveness or not, and he has done a great deal of good. That does not mean I will be a party to his exploitation of fellow Christians or his blasphemous use of God's name to cover up his crimes.

And which people are you referring to when you say they "don't want" grace? People outside the church are itching for it. Some - particularly AIDS victims - are literally DYING because of their pursuit of some sort of tangible grace here in San Francisco.

You said:
"And there have been charges filed against Bush? What are you relying on to bear witness like that about our country's leader? Or the members of the Body of Christ who have "run interference" for him?"

I'll dig up newspaper references and weblinks on this one for you this evening - I'm a little pressed for time right now :-)

You said:
"And yet, weren't you just saying in your last post that we should go out and create?"

Absolutely!

You said:
"How do you know that what you're identifying as crass commercialism isn't seen as creatively spreading the Gospel by someone else?"

Oh, I'm sure it is in some cases, but just because someone believes that "spreading the gospel" justifies the use of propaganda doesn't make it so. There's a qualitative difference between doing a drama in church and selling that drama to a publishing corporation to be exploited for profit. I am, of course, not against the sale of art, but I think you would be hard pressed to disagree with me that most of the items cited in the "Ark Culture" article weren't cheap gospel-flavored knock-offs of pop culture. These things cheapen the gospel. They make it commonplace, ordinary, a vehicle for commercial exploitation. They take something that is beautiful and life-changing and reduce it to a bumper-sticker slogan, or a cheap dime-store thriller, or a marginal-quality CD. I have been tangentially involved with the Christian publishing industry and music business. There is a REASON that both of these businesses have a reputation in the secular creative community for being sleazy and cheap. They pay less than their secular counterparts, their profit margins are higher, and they produce almost nothing of merit - certainly very little that makes an impact on the secular world (which, by the by, are the people that we are supposedly trying to reach with the gospel).

That's what crass commercialism is. While some of the artists might see it as a creative way to spread the gospel, that is not what its major function is. The major function of Christian media is to comfort and insulate Christians. Kevin Smith (for example) is spreading the gospel to the world that doesn't know it - he may be (as he puts it) "Using butt-f**king jokes to spread the word of God," but he at least is spreading it in a language the culture he's talking to can understand and appreciate.

You said:
"Where is your evidence for these bold, damaging statements? Do you KNOW that what you're asserting is true, or do you FEEL it's true? If it is something that you are witnessing, what are you doing about it?"

It IS something I am witnessing, every day, personally. I'm sure given some time I could also dig out some interviews/articles I've seen on the topic, though (and forgive me please for saying this) I very much doubt that you will find them very compelling, given your stated mistrust of shallow non-christians workign adgendas. If I'm wrong about that, I'll dig some references up for you to look at, because I do think that you would find them enlightening and (as a leader in your church) very useful. Just say the word.

I'm also doing my best to do something about it. I am in the process of writing a book on Christianity and Art. I am deeply involved in the San Jose artist's collective (a secular collective run by Christians, myself included). I am active in my local independant film community and in local business. I am DP'ing a historical documentary on the history of the California Grizzly Bear for a local pagan group. I am both out in the world doing my best to be a light of love and mercy, and in the Christian community (though much less so than I once was) trying to be a light to show the way back from our self-exile. I find it deeply distressing when people tell me (as many have in the past 2 years since I started on this road) that I am the only Christian they have ever met who reminds them of Christ. I find it disturbing because I do not consider myself a good Christian - I am a deeply flawed and imperfect human being, if I am the best/only Christian these people have known, then the church is seriously failing.

You said (in response to my assertion that these things were verifiable):
"Verifiable in what way? Isolated incidents? Items that made the news? My question is did those isolated incidents receive publicity because they are exceptions to the rule? Did it ever occur to you that perhaps much of the good work that Christians do in our world never reaches the spotlight?"

Hopefully I have provided (though cited references et.al.) some of the verification you ask about. Christian ministry work actually does frequently make the news in some quarters (Bono's AIDS drive, for example, or the Oakland Interfaith Gospel choir in my neighborhood), but none of it is evangelical ministry. There are many other ministries that do worlds of good without the dirty tricks and corruption I've described, but with the exception of "Habitat for Humanity" most of them are very small and inconspicuous, and very few of them are evangelical. Evangelicalism is trapped in what Mars Hill Forum (a group from our neck of the woods) calls "The Christian Ghetto." And, seeing as how most Christians with media access are part of the evangelical political movement, they (with all of their power, money and often ugly rehtoric) are the ones that get the airtime.

In either case, what reaches the spotlight shapes the culture's perception, and the ugliness that grabs the spotlight, whether in the form of Jerry Falwell, televangelists, John Ashcroft, Pat Robertson, Focus on the Family, Tim LeHaye, and many others, is REAL ugliness that the evangelical community ACTIVELY supports.

You said:
"Or because the support for the arguments being presented is opinion or only partially true."

If someone told me that my business partner was dealing drugs out of my office I would go and seek evidence, not sit around and say "you have no proof."

You said:
"I am curious. What, specifically, would you change? I'm not asking about more negative assertions against fellow Christians that, quite frankly, you are having difficulty verifying. I'm asking about what positive ideas you have to bring about meaningful change within the Christian Church."

A few things, I think. I'd like to see the church but out of politics (on both the right and the left [Al Sharpton, et.al.]) and return to its central mission of mercy. I'd like to see the conservative church embrace the social gospel. I'd like to see more Christians like Ralph Winter, Renee Russo, Bono, Kevin Smith, and Stephen King accepted by the Christian Commnunity and celebrated for the work that they do (which, though there are notable exceptions for each of them, is on the whole remarkably good) instead of lambasted, questioned, ostracised, and hatcheted. And I'd like to see the church embrace an ethic of excellence in the things that it does - both its art and its ministry - instead of aspiring to mediocraty and praying that God will tranform it into greatness.

I would like to see a churh where the central teachings of Christ (love god with all your heart, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself) actually mean something more than "tell people how to avoid going to hell and teach them the right morals." I want to see the church engaged in sacrificial love for those who do not deserve it or do not have the strength or resources to ask for it.


I'd like to see us become a people of integrity in the spirit instead of people who live by a book (according to Paul, the two are mutually exclusive. Scripture can inform, it cannot save or give life).
I want a church that means something, not an institution that stands for propositions.

You said:
"Again, what should our love for people look like? What would turn the world on to the true grace of Christ?"

Many of the things I have ennumerated, and I'm sure there are others that I haven't thought of.

You said:
"I do, however, think that if we shut our pie-holes about the wickedness of the world, we become insignificant in the eyes of the world. After all, who needs a Savior if there is nothing to be saved from?"

There is PLENTY to be saved from. It still astonishes me that "wickedness" is identified primarily with sexual sin and sensual pleasure rather than with legalism and moralism (which Christ explicitly associated it with) and idolotry and cruelty (which Paul explicitly associated it with). The world is filled with injustice, evil, pain, misery, suffering, and hurt. In this country - particularly from the vantages of the middle classes - we are somewhat insulated from a lot of it. But people need salvation. The gospel promises life abundantly, not just in the hereafer, but also in the here-and-now. We should be preaching the gospel by modelling the love of Christ - conversations about WHY we do that will inevitably be started by the people who are affected by what we do (in my experience, I never have to bring Christianity up. Those who are around me start talking about it on their own or ask me why I do what I do).

You said:
"You seem to be treading on dangerous ground here. If I'm reading you right, you are comparing many Evangelicals to the Judaizers and the Pharisees."

Absolutely. It's not dangerous ground.

"The Judaizers and Pharisees had trouble with their doctrine that led to a rejection of Christ. Are you insinuating that the same is true of modern day Evangelicals?"

Yes - I'm flat out saying it. And, BTW, the Judaizers and the Pharisees central sin was the idolization of the law, not the rejection of Christ. But that idolization of the law did lead to the rejection of Christ *in practice* even if not in name (as with the Judaizers).

You said:
"However, Kirn wasn't going for constructive criticism. He was utilizing rhetoric to make a shallow assessment of what he perceived to be true."

Forgive me for saying so, but that statement is utterly self-serving. It doesn't matter if he was trying to be clever, or if his understanding was shallow. He spent a week immersed in "Christian" kitch and came to the conclusion that it was shallow. Whether he had an axe to grind or not, he made a point that we should be listening to. If evangelicals won't listen to a secular critic because he's "shallow and non-constructive" and they won't listen to critics in their own fold (such as my self) because they're "unfairly stereotyping", and they won't listen to the reportings of the press or the judiciary on Hanegraaf because they're "biased", and they won't listen to non-evangelical Christian critics like Campolo because they're "liberal" or like Bono they have a "thin ecclesiology", and they refuse to read their own academics like Ellul, Pinnock, Peters, Price, and Knoll for whatever reason (usually doctrinal disagreements about innerrency or some other minor thing), then evangelicalism is a lost cause. This attitude effectively insulates evangelicalism from everything but its own viewpoint, and cancels out any possibility for true renewal, revival, rebirth, or repentance. Have we grown so arrogant and insulated from everything but our own propaganda that we cannot recognize a problem when someone points it out? Is our concern for the splinter so big that we can no longer see the plank?

You said:

You said:
"I would argue that the whole Book contains "the teachings of Jesus". There aren't parts of the Bible that are more "Word of God" than other parts."

Ooh! Do we get to have a fight about innerrancy now? :-)

Our opinions here obviously differ. I hold with Luther's assertion that the whole of scripture must be interpreted in submission to the spoken words of Christ and the gospel of grace built on top of them by Paul. Their is a heirarchy of authority in scripture, with the actual words of Jesus at the center.


You said:|
"Again, if one believes in a triune God, and that the Bible is God's very Word spoken to us, then yes, Christ DID speak against homosexuality."

That's a really complicated series of logical hoops to jump through in order to avoid the point. Jesus Christ never spoke about homosexuality. Moses did. Paul might have (the word translated "homosexual" actually means "male prostitue" so there is a great deal of debate in scholarly circles about this). Jesus never did.

You said:
"However, if you are speaking of a person who divorces, remarries, and then becomes a Christian, you are talking about subjecting an individual to church discipline for something that happened before he joined the church."

Am I? That person continues to live an adulterous lifestyle by staying married and continuing to have sex with his second wife.

You said:
"If somebody living in the homosexual lifestyle joins a church and repents of that lifestyle, I would hope that he would be shown the same level of grace as anybody else who repents from their sin."

This is exactly analogous to the situation described above. Or did you not notice that in every place in scripture where Paul speaks against "homosexuality" he (in the same breath) speaks against adultery. If the bible is the innerrant rule for life and conduct, then you can't get around this one.

You said:
"The great shame of the human condition is its failure to think and to love without reservation. Try as we might, its certainly a trap we all fall into."

I couldn't agree more! It's nice to agree with you on some things :-)

You said:
"I'd like to think, though, that Christians can look to the grace afforded us by Christ and view people with a different set of eyes than the world does. Mind you, not a set of eyes that says, "What you've done or are doing is okay", but rather, "What you've done or are doing is not okay and is in fact destructive, but its something we all go through and there is healing in Christ.""

It is not our role to pass judgement on people for what they've done. Love the sinner and hate the sin is B.S.. We are to love the sinner. Period. Hating sin is God's job. Matters of church dicipline, where sin is causing division and disrepute in the body is a seperate matter, but even then the most we are supposed to do is to exclude the troublemaker from fellowship, not stop loving them individually.

You said:
"Why? Doesn't the world love the darkness? And who is saying that we're making it darker for them than it already is?"

I am, for one. Many of the people I've cited as sources and/or references are saying the same (and have done for a LOOONG time). The world lives in darkness - being familiar with something and loving something are not the same thing.

You Said:
"Actually, I think Kirn was just saying, "Look at the ridiculous Christians and all their copycat stuff!" I think we've turned this into something way beyond what Kirn was asserting. "

If we are to be mocked, let us be mocked for being foolish lovers of people and subverters of retributive justice and ambassadors of hope, not for being stupid kitchy consumers duped by anything with the word "God" or "Jesus" on it.

You said:
"Don't get me wrong though, Lokmer, I respect your desire for something else (You still haven't found what you're looking for?) from Evangelicals. I just don't think that the situation is anywhere near as dire as you are painting it."

I'm very sorry to hear that. I hope this note has convinced you that there might be something to what I'm saying. If not, then the evangelical church truly is as doomed as I fear it is.

-Lokmer
Lokmer, Tuesday, 10-7-03 12:20 PM
Kevin Smith
Doug:""Christian filmmaker Kevin Smith"? I'm not attempting to cast judgment on Smith's eternal destiny, but I have NEVER seen those words grouped together."

I think the confusion comes in parsing Lokmer's statement. I read it at "the Christian Keven Smith, who is a filmmaker" as opposed to "Kevin Smith, who is a Christian filmmaker". I'll admit that I've seen a Kevin Smith movie or two, and would not call at least the majority of the films "Christian". However, I do find that they frequently raise questions (moral, ethical, etc.). Do I always agree with Smith's views? No. But that doesn't mean they should be cast aside without thought.

Lokmer:"He is a regular attender of a non-denominational Protestant church."

Smith used to be a Catholic.

Lokmer: "Lion's Gate (a relatively small art-house distributor) picked it up and it got a limited release on one or two screens in each major metro area. If it got a big release up there, perhaps Regal has a deal with Lion's Gate. I had to go to an art house theater in San Francisco to see it."

I was travelling around several different areas in the U.S. at the time Dogma came out, and seem to remember seeing theaters playing it every place I went. As a point of trivia, Smith participated in a protest against Dogma.

ROUS  David , Tuesday, 10-7-03 1:09 PM
I'm out
Well, Lokmer, it appears you and I are in complete agreement. Well, I mean except for our opinions about the Kirn article, how we interpret Scripture and apply it to our lives, our views on the inerrancy of Scripture, our views on when life begins, how we interpret the writings of great Christian thinkers, reformers, and philosophers, our views on how the Christian should relate to God and to the world, whether or not we should judge the motives of and unproven allegations against our fellow believers, and our political beliefs. Did I forget anything? :-) At any rate, it seems obvious to me that you are not open to changing your mind, and having been brought up in a fairly theologically liberal home, I have no desire to return to that train of thought, so I'm thinking it would be pretty fruitless, at least for me, to continue in this discussion. Therefore, I'm respectfully bowing out. I wish you the best and thank you for your insights.
-Doug
Doug, Wednesday, 10-8-03 9:47 AM
Sorry to hear that
Well, Doug, I'm very sorry to hear that you're bowing out rather than refuting or conceeding the points I've made. I would sincerely like to know where you can demonstrate that I'm misguided, as I'm always looking to learn and grow.

Oh well :-( Consider your hand shaken, and my hearty thanks for the several hours of vigorous and entertianing debate. I hope we can do this again sometime.

BTW, I stopped in to drop of a refference RE: CRI.

Have a good one!
-Lokmer
Link: cri article
lOKMER, Tuesday, 10-14-03 9:22 PM
Hanagraph's $ trouble
Lokmer may immediately accuse me of being either (a) two-faced, or (b) just one more in the rank of "evangelicals" so focused on sex they don't care about money. Nevertheless, I have these off-the-cuff comments regarding the money troubles at CRI
(1) It is painful to consider that an otherwise reputable organization may be playing fast and loose with their contributions. It is entirely right that non-profit, ministry oriented organizations be held to an extremely high standard when it comes to their finances. I really respect the approach Focus on the Family takes. Employees and students are reminded frequently that the money they spend on the organization's behalf originated with a donor - that you are spending some old lady's sacrifically given $5 on this or that lunch or business expense. This sure put the brakes on *my* spending while on per-diem at Focus's expense. (Note to Lokmer: I may not read very deeply if you respond with some website or other reference on how Focus too mis-uses contributions. I know they're too big to be without reproach. I refer only to the sentiment I heard expressed and standard I saw exercised during my time there. Related comments later.)
(2) Nobody is perfect! Not Annette, not Dan, not Doug, and not Hank Hanagraph. Immediately, of course, this statement sounds like a cop-out - a "glossing over" of the crime. So how can we say this - admit that people, even (or especially) people in positions of high authority and high responsibility frequently fail and screw up and do dumb, unethical, even illegal things with hard-earned $ belonging to someone else - without saying that it's also "OK"? I don't really know the answer to that. I do know that we cannot hold people to impossible standards, however, or we will never get anywhere. We're all human here - even when we're also Christian. If I never give $ to people (family members, friends, organizations, beggers on the street) who have not proven repeatedly that they never mis-use it, well, then I'm afraid I can't even give it to myself. :} This isn't to say that, was I a contributer to CSI, I might not re-consider my giving (after a little more research, of course - not based on the strength of one article.) I hate being played for a fool along with the rest of us.
I think what I'm trying to get at here is that God uses Cracked Pots (or jars of clay, or whatever you'd like to call us.) He takes imperfect people who have besetting weakenesses and sins in regards to money, sex, trust, faith, honesty, etc, etc, etc and does really great things with them. In other words, thankfully God does not withdraw his contributions to imperfect ministries as quickly as I do!
Nuts, this is timing consuming work here.
But a group of us last week discussed at length how "irrational" God does indeed tend to be in whom He choses to use to do great things. So, so often he doesn't chose the wise, the rational, the intelectual, the theologically sound, and the "Free from besetting sin." He uses people that seem to me to be the bottom of the barrel. (Literally, in Gideon's case!) And this is *frustrating!* Can't he see how screwed up they are?
Of course he can, and I think that's actually a big part of the point: He goes to extreme lengths to show that it's not our power, not our intelligence or wisdom or worthieness, it's HIS. Anything that gets done (and good things do get done by Hank Hanagraph, Christian Supply, The Revolve Bible, Thomas Kinkaid, and even the Left Behind series!) is *in spite* of us. Thankfully God is bigger than our best (and worst) attempts at art, science, preaching, witnessing, propoganda, and evangelism. 2000 years of sordid history proves this.

So maybe I should have titled this post "Yes, we're screwed up. Can we move on now?" ;)
ROUS  Annette Collins, Wednesday, 10-15-03 7:05 PM
Not that I've heard of
I haven't heard of any financial malfeasance at FOF, and I've been watching them for years. This is one area in which they seem quite above-board.

In either case, my basic point in the above diatribe(s) was not to go on ad nausem crucifying those who may or may not deserve it, but to point out that we in the Evangelical church have become, as Lewis pointed out in "The Screwtape Letters", a "party church." What we do, how we react, etc. have become thoroughly partisan (in an ecclesiastical sense as well as a political sense). There are very few things a leader in our party can do to get ostracised, and most of them revolve around sexual matters (this is aggregious mostly insofar as other more important ethical issues - such as fraud - are overlooked) and/or very petty doctrinal matters. We may believe our first love and loyalty go to God, but increasingly it goes not to God but to our particular brand of ideology. We love (in an active sense) our conception of God and morality better than we love God's creatures. But because we live in a generally closed community, surrounded primarily by other Christians of a similar bent (except when we're at work), we don't see it.

But those on the outside can, and it makes us, and the God we are supposed to represent, look bad. I for one hope there are more artices like Kurn's to gadfly our culture into wakefulness once again.
Lokmer, Thursday, 10-16-03 5:28 PM
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