Confessions of a Current Evangelical

The American Conservative had an article today titled ‘Confessions of an Ex-Evangelical, Pro-SSM Millenial‘ that was very interesting and troubling. It comes from someone my own age who has turned away from their Evangelical upbringing and is attempting to explain why. He begins the article with one caveat: that he is only 24 years old and may not be speaking for everyone, but does share his own experience. A couple paragraphs in he writes:

We were taught that our church not only had the absolute truth, but that there was no earthly history between the Bible and the doctrines being presented to us.  I went to Evangelical churches fifty-two Sundays a year for the better part of 19 years, and I cannot for the life of me remember once when the name of a theologian was mentioned.  There was one interpretation of scripture, and it was absolutely true.  And, in fact, even the various doctrines that were taught were never mentioned by name, because the presence of the name might suggest that there were alternatives.

This is shocking to me! And is quite the opposite of what I’ve experience in my Evangelical upbringing. I was taught that there was an overwhelming abundance of connection between the earthly history and the theology I was taught. I was regularly told that no archaeological find of the past 2,000 years ran contradictory to Scripture. And I was told that there was 1 TRUE interpretation of Scripture, but then different applications of that text to our own lives. And my dad was using big theological terms that I still don’t understand (except for general and special revelation, that’s the one big thing I still remember, thanks Dad!).

Instead of an intellectual tradition, it is a church built on emotion.  Every sermon is a revival stump speech about the evils of the world and the need for salvation.  Every sermon ends in a sentimental pop song/worship chorus to accompany an altar call in which the same handful of members weeps at the altar

This sounds to me like his experience in church is limited to one church that is very traditional. I’ve only seen an alter call twice, and both times it was at local events that weren’t at the church my family went to. In fact, my experience at church has been so focused on intellect that I didn’t think I could relate my faith to my emotions. It wasn’t until college that I understood I could have an emotional response to God, the Bible and my relationship with him.

You see SSM advocates as employing emotive arguments in order to win, but you have to realize that a lot of the Christians that are being argued against have traded in nothing but emotion for the last 30 years.  Salvation is a weeping, sinners-prayer mumbling, emotional roller coaster, and the emoting never stops.  In all the years I was a member, my evangelical church made exactly one argument about SSM. It’s the argument I like to call the Argument from Ickiness:  Being gay is icky, and the people who are gay are the worst kind of sinner you can be.  Period, done, amen, pass the casserole.

Yes, salvation CAN be an incredibly emotional response, but it also needs to be an intellectual response. We need to worship God with our whole being. It’s very easy to emphasize one of these areas at the expense of the other. For example, throughout most of my life in Jr High and High School, I only wanted to read the Bible because it was the right thing to do (which meant I didn’t really want to). But as I got into later High School and college, I started to have an emotional connection to Scripture as God revealed himself to me through His Word. Yes, I could understand the grow in my knowledge and understanding to God, but that should naturally lead to an emotional response of worship of God (just read the Psalms, they’re overflowing with emotion!).

Unfortunately, the churches response to homosexuality has been to condemn or condone not lovingly come alongside and point back to Scripture (Wesley Hill says this far better than I ever could in his book ‘Washed and Waiting‘).

When you have membership with no theological or doctrinal depth that you have neglected to equip with the tools to wrestle with hard issues, the moment ickiness no longer rings true with young believers, their faith is destroyed.  This is why other young ex-evangelicals I know point as their “turning point” on gay marriage to the moment they first really got to know someone who was gay.  If your belief on SSM is based on a learned disgust at the thought of a gay person, the moment a gay person, any gay person, ceases to disgust you, you have nothing left.  In short, the anti-SSM side, and really the Christian side of the culture war in general, is responsible for its own collapse.  It failed to train up the young people on its own side preferring instead to harness their energy while providing them no doctrinal depth by keeping them in a bubble of emotion dependent on their never engaging with the outside world on anything but warlike terms.

This is true that the moment many millennials befriend a homosexual their belief falls apart. When you don’t have any background in how to study Scripture your beliefs will fall apart at the slightest breeze (Ephesians 4:14). Yes, many who experience same sex attraction are incredibly nice people (just like many people who experience heterosexual attraction are), but that doesn’t change the fact that they are sinners in need of grace, just like me. In fact the entire world is full of sinners who are in need of God’s grace in their lives to represent Christ to a dead and broken world.

So if the church continues to emphasize intellect OR emotion as the only response to faith, there will continue to be people who refuse to believe what the Bible teaches. We need to emotionally connect to God AND intellectually “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

“Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.”

-Jaraslov Pelikan in The Vindication of Tradition: The 1983 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities

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Worshipping in the Dark: Why I Turn Off the Lights

During my time as a pastor who leads worship on a weekly basis, I’ve tried many different things to help people meet with God on our Sunday morning worship service. Despite recent criticisms, I’m not ready to stop going to church regularly, and it’s for many different reasons than simply because they pay me. One of the most recent things I’ve tried to do is to create a better environment in which people are able to connect with God easier and without distractions. The way churches are currently set up it’s incredibly hard to get away from all the focus being on me as the worship leader, but there are some ways I try to keep the focus off of me, and one of the things I’ve started doing is turning off the lights during the worship through music on Sunday mornings. Here are some of the reasons I’ve started doing so:

1. It eliminates the distractions of those around you.

When the sanctuary is dark, it helps you to focus on what you’re singing instead of the kids fidgeting next to you, or the person sitting down, or the person raising their hands. It has seemed to help created a place where people feel free to be more expressive in their singing. Yes, I’ve addressed before that we should be “addressing one another” (Eph 5:19) in our singing, but that doesn’t mean we need to be able to see each other perfectly.

2. It gives you more freedom to worship as you would like.

This is tied in to the above note, if you aren’t as concerned that people will be looking at you, you’ll feel more free to express yourself, whether you’d like to raise your hands, or kneel, or even sing louder because people won’t be staring at you.

3. It keeps the focus on the cross.

At the church I serve, it literally does this as the cross is the focal point of the front of our sanctuary. The main things you see up front are the words to the music and the cross. It helps to eliminate our selfish wants and desires and should point them to the cross, where our needs and wants find their fulfillment.

One of the things I’m emphasized before on this blog is the “others” aspect of our weekly gatherings (Heb 10:25, Eph 5:17-21). We are generally too focused on our own wants and the music and sound we want and not focused enough on those around us we are called to minister to through our singing. So the natural question arises: “aren’t the reasons you just gave selfish and individual focused?” Yes and no.

I want people to be able to feel free to connect with God through whatever means is most natural to them. Some people are naturally more expressive than others (watch a Matt Chandler sermon, then go watch a John Piper or David Platt sermon), so when people are able to connect with God better on an individual level, it encourages the whole body to be more engaged with God. And the worship of God isn’t just audible, but should involve our whole bodies, which is part of the reason we stand when we sing.

This isn’t a complete list of reasons why I turn the lights off when we sing, but I’d love to hear any other thoughts on why or why not you do this.

Christians Who Make Art, Not Christian Artists

I admit, I grew up in the heyday of Christian Contemporary Music (CCM). Jars of Clay had gotten play on MTV, dc Talk was still together, and even my non Christian friends would ask to borrow my P.O.D. CDs. But as I entered my teenage years, a lot of my favorite Christian bands stared to get more play time on the secular radio. Switchfoot’s Meant to Live was played on the top hits radio station, Skillet started gaining traction within mainstream audiences and all the while I kept hearing the phrase, “I don’t want to be known as a Christian band. I want to be known as a band who is made up of Christians.” Being the incredibly mature and thoughtful homeschooler I was, I was convinced my favorite bands were selling out and were becoming just like the world. Yet as I’ve grown and started wrestling through these issues myself, I’ve started to realize how right a lot of those people were.

Enter Lecrae. I was introduced to Lecrae by my youth pastor during my senior year of high school (06-07) and he quickly became my favorite rapper. Up until that point I was frustrated with Christian’s lack of innovation within music, especially within rap. His songs “Send Me” “Aliens” and “Represent” quickly became my go to pump up songs before any basketball games. I finally had a Christian rapper I wasn’t embarrassed to show to my friends! Over the past couple years, Lecrae has now broken into the mainstream rap scene, with number 1 selling albums on iTunes, number 1 selling album on Billboard and appearances on BET. Yet through all this success Lecrae hasn’t backed away from his Christian convictions. In fact, he’s continued to take a strong stand for his beliefs, and many other people are starting to take notice. The Huffington Post just wrote a piece today titled ‘This Is What Happens When Hip-Hop Lets the Saints In.’ It’s a very telling piece that gets to the heart of why Lecrae does what he does. It’s worth reading the whole piece, but some very good excerpts:

“What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects — with their Christianity latent,” Lewis wrote.

C.S. Lewis was a man so far ahead of his time. This shows exactly what so many of the bands I liked were trying to do: be faithful in their calling and then use that calling as a way to make Jesus’ name great (John 3:30).

“The hard-lined wing of evangelicalism that would criticize someone like Lecrae for ‘selling out’ is a very small piece of the evangelical world these days. If anything, American evangelicalism prizes recognition and engagement in mainstream culture these days,” said D. Michael Lindsay, author of Faith in the Halls of Power, and now the president of Gordon College.

This is a very true statement, but a very important one. Conservative Evangelicals who attack someone like Lecrae seem to be the loudest group out there. Yet often those Christians who are attacking Lecrae fail to see the pride in their own eyes. I’m encouraged by the general trend of Evangelicalism to neither hide from the culture, but also not become exactly like the culture. We need more Christians like Lecrae or Tim Tebow who are able to do incredibly well at their jobs and use it as a way to proclaim Christ.

Lecrae believes that the best way to change popular culture, and ultimately to make a difference in people’s lives, isn’t to attack others, but to build trust through personal relationships. In 2007 he moved to Atlanta, the center of the Southern rap world. It was a professional decision, giving him the opportunity to network and build his career. But it has also given him a chance to speak about his faith to influential members of the hip-hop community.

This is something I’ve been saying for years now. The confrontational model of evangelism was most effective 10-20 years ago (if it was even effective at all!). Today we need to be building inroads to unbelievers, or the “nones” as they’ve been called, over a long period of time and through many conversations. It’s not enough to simply say you’re a believer, leave a tract and think you’ve done your duty. It’s going to take a long time of someone seeing the way you live and seeing that you’re different before they’ll be willing to trust and believe you.

“The most stressful part is coming from the Christian side. Because everybody has a standard and a conviction that they believe you need to be living by,” he (Lecrae) said.

This is the part the hurts me the most. The group of people who should be encouraging Lecrae and lifting him up in prayer are the very ones who are blasting him. I hope and pray we continue to have more people like Lecrae who are gifted in areas and can begin to actively engage with the culture in ways they’ll listen. Lecrae is reaching people I could never dream of reaching, and God is continuing to bless Lecrae’s faithfulness. I hope that we can continue lifting him and the others on his label up in prayer that they will stand strong against the temptations of the world.

I also hope that Lecrae is setting the stage to make it easier for people to follow in his footsteps. As we continually engage culture my hope is that we can start becoming the trend setters. I get tired of hearing cheap knock-offs of secular songs, but genuinely enjoy when I hear something innovative coming from a believer. We are called to do everything we do to the best of our abilities at to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). What do you need to do to become a better and more faithful example of Christ to the world today?

The Church of the Old Testament

I’ve so often heard people appealing to Acts and the New Testament as our model for how our church should be today, but I’ve never heard anyone appeal to any Old Testament passages for why and how we should do church today. And I know, in the Old Testament they had a temple, they were under the old covenant, Jesus hadn’t come yet, they were in a much different culture, etc. BUT I can’t help but see some references to the church in the Old Testament. I had the opportunity to teach through Nehemiah 10 yesterday and the last verse is very interesting, it says,

We will not neglect the house of our God.

How easy is it for us to neglect the house of our God? We have the command in Hebrews 10 to not neglect meeting together, but we don’t take it seriously. It’s so much easier to use Sunday as a day off to recover and prepare for another week.

It’s become much more trendy recently for evangelicals to question to authority of Scripture and the necessity of a local church body. But I have yet to find a text in Scripture that supports either of these thoughts. No, it’s not the easy way, and sure there are more things even I would rather be doing on a Sunday, but we have this command throughout Scripture to not neglect meeting together, to not neglect the house of our God.

So how can you go about taking care of the house of our God this week? What things do you need to do in your life to reorient your life around God and meeting with his people? What things do you need to let go of to better serve God?

Preaching on Colossians

I had another opportunity to preach this week at church, with my Sr Pastor gone and the other associate’s wife having a baby a couple weeks ago, I was the one who got to preach. So here’s my sermon on Colossians 1:24-2:5.

Putting Childish Ways Behind

I’ve been reading ‘The Dude’s Guide to Manhood‘ this past week by Darrin Patrick (review coming when I actually finish it). The fact that Willie Robertson is what sold me on buying the book! Plus, that’s quite a manly beard on the cover. As I’ve been reading this book, it’s been a good reminder to me that when we grow up, we need to leave behind our childish ways. No one would think it’s right if I were to not be able to get the candy bar I wanted at Wal Mart and I started throwing a temper tantrum. Yet there are so many ways in which I don’t even want to grow up.

It’s easier to do the potato chip curl while watching TV then do a real curl and force myself to work out.

It’s often more enjoyable to read the newest novel or watch the movie than to read the Bible.

It’s way more fun to sit at home than work.

It’s much easier to post on Facebook than to actually sit down face to face with someone.

All these things remind me that life isn’t easy. Sure, some seasons of life may seem to be easier than others, but overall we are told work and life isn’t going to be easy. Why do we so often try to cut corners? Why do we expect to be the experts in our fields before we’ve even started working? God told Adam in Genesis 3, “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life.” I know that work is going to be hard, despite me wanting it to be easy. Within this lies the desire to be continually youthful. I’m not sure about you, but I’m so grateful I don’t have some of the same issues I had when I was a youth!

I’m glad I’m not an acne ridden teenager.

I’m glad I’m down growing.

I’m glad my brain has finished developing.

I’m glad I can hold down a good job and enjoy going to work.

Part of the reason people don’t seem to want to work is because they want to continue to be younger than they are. As I’ve aged (I know, I’m not THAT old), I’ve started to see that I shouldn’t try to act like I’m in high school or college anymore. There was a time in my life when that was good and appropriate, but that time is not now. There’s a Bastille song that’s called Oblivion that says,

Are you going to age with grace?
Are you going to age without mistakes?
Are you going to age with grace,
Or only to wake and hide your face?

Even now, whether you’re in high school, college, a 20 something, a 30 something or even beyond, are you beginning to age with grace? Are you able to start accepting the responsibility that comes with age and look for others around you that you can help grow and age with grace?

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” – 1 Corinthians 13:11

Don Miller’s Thoughts on Church

Don Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz penned a blog this week on why he doesn’t go to church very often. And that’s all well and good – people do connect with God better through different ways. I have friends who best connect with God when doing some intense studying, others who do it through painting, and others who do connect to God through singing. Yet Miller’s whole premise is off because it makes church all about him. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating:

Church isn’t about you, your needs, your desires, your wants – church is about God and his people representing Christ to a dead and broken world.

Yet even if someone doesn’t necessarily connect to God through singing, we’re still commanded to do it (Eph 5) and the biggest book in the Bible is devoted to, you guessed it, singing! This singing thing must be pretty important if we see so much of Scripture devoted to it. What are your thoughts on singing at church, whether or not you do connect with it?

For a much more in depth look at this issue, see Stephen Miller’s blog here.