Megachurches are not churches?

Megachurches are not churches?

I think the thing that’s most disturbing is the megachurch because megachurches are not churches. ~ Eugene Peterson   Some years ago, my car was broken into and my satchel containing my diary and computer was stolen. It was right on the eve of me going to the UK on a speaking tour and the loss of my diary and the notes that I stored in my laptop had a strange effect on me. I felt part of me had been lost. I know that sounds dramatic, but it was as if I had stored not only notes and ideas on the computer, but my very thoughts. Part of me. And it really threw me. I felt a real loss of confidence going into the various events at which I was making presentations. Even though I’d presented those talks before and didn’t need the notes anyway, their loss tripped me up. I felt unsteady. It was as if I was in a light fog the whole time, and not just because I was in dreary England. We store information on screens. We’re storing everything we need to know in apps, files, online diaries, websites and other screen-based ways. So the loss of our screens evokes in us an existential reaction. I’ve seen a friend have a complete meltdown at an airport

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Every time a church choir sings “Make America Great Again” an angel loses its wings

Every time a church choir sings “Make America Great Again” an angel loses its wings

There’s been some general disquiet about the First Baptist Dallas choir performing a song entitled Make America Great Again as an ode to President Trump at the Celebrate Freedom Rally in Washington. The rally, held on July 1, was sponsored by the megachurch’s pastor Robert Jeffress, and it gave the President an opportunity to reaffirm his commitment to traditional Christian values (as he sees them), as well as reminding the audience of America’s Christian heritage. Mr Trump referred to God bestowing the gift of freedom on the USA, while praising the military’s defense of that freedom. “Since the signing of the Declaration of Independence 241 years ago, America always affirmed that liberty comes from our creator,” he said. “Our rights are given to us by God and no earthly force can ever take those rights away.” “Our religious liberty is enshrined in the very first amendment in the Bill of Rights,” he continued. “The American founders invoked our creator four times in the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Franklin reminded his colleagues at the Constitutional Convention to begin by bowing their heads in prayer. Inscribed on our currency are the words: ‘In God We Trust’.” When the First Baptist Dallas choir fired up with a rendition of a song based on Mr Trump’s campaign slogan the fusion of religion and politics

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We don’t need a more violent Christianity (it’s plenty violent already)

We don’t need a more violent Christianity (it’s plenty violent already)

When Christ disarmed Peter in the garden, he disarmed all Christians and cursed the works of the sword for ever after. ~ Tertullian   I’d never heard of Dave Daubenmire before this week. All I know is he’s a former football coach-turned-evangelist who has gained some notoriety for his televised rant about the need for “a more violent Christianity.” Explaining that “the Bible is full of violence,” Daubenmire went on to say that “the only thing that is going to save Western civilization is a more aggressive, a more violent Christianity.” To illustrate this point, he referred to President Trump’s behavior at a NATO summit where he shoved the Prime Minister of Montenegro aside so that he could stand in front of the group of assembled leaders. Christianity should be like that, Daubenmire explained, “[President Trump] is large and in charge. Look at him. They’re all little puppies. Ain’t nobody barking at him … He’s walking in authority. He walked to the front and center and they all know it, too, man. He just spanked them all. The Lord is showing us a picture of the authority we should be walking in.” Get that? The Lord is showing Christians how to behave through Donald Trump’s aggressive, discourteous example. But Daubenmire wasn’t done yet. Warming to his subject, he then cited

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Farewell Jen Hatmaker: the brutality of unhealthy religion

Farewell Jen Hatmaker: the brutality of unhealthy religion

Uh-oh, it looks like it’s Jen Hatmaker’s turn. The protectors of orthodoxy appear to have drawn a bead on her as they did on Rachel Held Evans, Rob Bell and Brian McLaren before her. And it’s getting ugly. Not only are they repudiating her views on various issues (especially on same-sex marriage), but they’re even attacking her for daring to express the pain that all this criticism is causing her. Sadly, this is what happens when religious communities become obsessed with building walls to exclude others. Sooner or later they start excluding their own, throwing those members they perceive to be recalcitrant over the wall to the wolves below. We see it most clearly in closed communities like Scientology, or in cults like Jonestown or the Branch Davidians, or among fundamentalist churches like Westboro Baptist. And we deplore it. We’re sickened by it. But often we fail to see it when it’s practiced within our own communities. Hey, I’m not saying conservative evangelicalism is as bad as Jonestown, but I do know this: once the pack starts circling an identified victim there’s very little stopping it. And if you think I’m exaggerating, recall John Piper’s incendiary tweet “Farewell, Rob Bell”, written in response to Bell’s book Love Wins. Over the wall you go, Rob Bell. When Jen Hatmaker wrote a

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Being silenced on sex isn’t the end of Christianity

Being silenced on sex isn’t the end of Christianity

In America and Ireland, the touchstone of public outrage about same-sex marriage seems to have been wedding cake bakers. In Australia, perhaps fittingly, its brewers. Recently, an Australian beer company appeared to sponsor a debate between two politicians arguing for and against marriage equality (same-sex marriage isn’t legal in Australia). The brewery didn’t actually sponsor the debate (explaining that will take way too long), but the mere appearance of involvement in a debate in which the conservative view was being presented touched off a firestorm. The brewery was the subject of a public boycott, social media ridicule, and even threats against their staff. They promptly renounced all involvement in the debate (which was true) and formally signed a pledge to support marriage equality. The response by conservative Christians to this strange episode was nothing less than feverish. One blogger announced, “The overriding lesson to learn from the debacle is that it’s over, baby – give it up.  The cultural narrative no longer includes us in its story except as the villain in the piece.  And we’d better get used to it.” Yikes. That sounds bad, right? Even worse, another distraught minister blogged that Christianity in Australia was going to be “pushed into Southern Ocean.” “Let the reader understand,” he announced, “anyone, any organization or person who allies themselves with civil

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What the Weird Cities movement is showing the suburban church

What the Weird Cities movement is showing the suburban church

In my last blog I explored some of the signs that suburbia is dying and warned the church against identifying itself so strongly with suburban culture. There’s a cultural shift happening and some cities are catching on quicker than others. In 2000, Austin, Texas, adopted the expression “Keep Austin Weird” as its city slogan. Generated as a grassroots expression of place attachment and anti-commercialization, Keep Austin Weird became a rallying cry for local business, a sense of neighborhood and a zone for creative resistance. The slogan has since been appropriated by Santa Cruz, Portland, and a bunch of other cities across the US. The “Keep [insert city name] Weird” tagline was interrogated by Joshua Long in his 2010 book, Weird City. He defined the weird city doctrine as a combination of the following elements: attachment to a sense of place; more socially and environmentally responsible consumption patterns; sustainable development; and urban politics. The weird city doctrine values such things as the beautification of the built environment, resistance to irresponsible gentrification, the promotion of boutique local industries, being a refuge for alternative lifestyles, addressing homelessness in more meaningful ways, and generally defying the cultural trends that make many other American cities so much the same. Of course, the most obvious question to ask is what are they keeping Austin weird from?

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The Death of Suburbia and the Suburban Church

The Death of Suburbia and the Suburban Church

Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next. ~ William Ralph Inge   Most Americans grow up in suburbs. Forty-four million people live in America’s 51 major metropolitan areas, while nearly 122 million live in their suburbs. And suburbia isn’t exclusively a white domain as it’s often depicted. One-third of suburbanites across the country are racial or ethnic minorities, up from 19 percent in 1990. Students in suburban public schools are 20 percent Hispanic, 15 percent African American and 6 percent Asian American. For better or worse, the suburbs have reflected American society. In fact, suburbia has been so popular that, according to the American Farmland Trust, the US loses more than 1.4 million acres of farmland, forest and wetlands to suburban sprawl each year. Between 1982 and 2007, suburbia devoured an area the size of Illinois and New Jersey combined. But like Truman Burbank from The Truman Show, there are thousands of kids who grew up in the suburbs and want out. Like Truman they want to be explorers. Or visit Fiji. Only their Fiji isn’t in the middle of the Pacific. It could be just across country in one of the increasing number of cities that are eschewing the master-planned generic nature of American suburbia. The movement of young adults out

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Theo Epstein and the art of discipleship

Theo Epstein and the art of discipleship

I don’t know much about baseball. Because I grew up in a culture without baseball, its appeal eludes me, sadly.  Sure, I’ve seen a few movies about the magic of the game (The Natural, Field of Dreams) or the science behind it (Moneyball) or the romance of baseball (For the Love of the Game). I just haven’t seen much actual baseball. But that hasn’t stopped me from hearing about this guy from the Chicago Cubs, Theo Epstein. Epstein, in case you don’t know, is the president of baseball operations for the Cubs. He guided them to their recent World Series victory, their first since 1908 (expect the film version to be out sometime soon). He turned around an over a century long losing streak not just by signing the best players in the game, but by looking for the best people. When Epstein and his scouts went looking for players they didn’t just assess their skill level. Epstein wanted players with character. “In the draft room, we will always spend more than half the time talking about the person rather than the player. We ask our scouts to provide three examples of how these young players faced adversity on the field and responded to it, and three examples of how they faced adversity off the field.” Say what? According to Epstein, to

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When the country goes temporarily to the dogs

When the country goes temporarily to the dogs

“The fundamental cause of the trouble in the modern world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” – Bertrand Russell   Lord Russell wrote that back in 1933 just as Adolf Hitler was being installed as the duly elected chancellor of Germany. Benito Mussolini had been ruling Italy since 1922, and fascist dictator Franco was on the rise in Spain. Moderates like the UK’s decent leader Ramsay McDonald sought appeasement, but they were no match for Hitler’s fanaticism. Russell had put his finger on an issue of his day, but he had also voiced a timeless truth. Fanatics are always so certain of themselves, while wiser people, aware of various possible solutions to any problem, struggle with self-doubt. The latter know that immigration policy in a globalized world is complex and vexing. They know that overhauling an entrenched system of cronyism and lobbying in modern politics will take time, tact and resolution. But fanatics can just chant “Build that wall!” and “Lock her up!” and “Drain the swamp!” And they do so with great gusto and confidence. They seem so… to use Russell’s term, cocksure. It’s the same in the church. Some of us believe we need to do the work of developing a detailed and compassionate biblical response to issues like gender roles

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Yep, meaningful public discourse is dead.

Yep, meaningful public discourse is dead.

Yesterday I posted a link to Meryl Streep’s Golden Globe acceptance speech on Facebook. You know, her impassioned plea for basic human decency in publc discourse. The speech that referred to how “…the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter – someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back.” The one that concluded, “When the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose.” That one. In response to my post, a self-confessed conservative groused, “…says a member of the powerful Hollywood elite whom much of America no longer trusts.” Okay, maybe it’s because I’m the brother of an intellectually disabled woman, but I was irritated. I mean, even if you’re a Trump supporter surely you can’t think the public humiliation of a person’s disability is acceptable. Ever. So I bit back. Don’t shoot the messenger, dude. Even if you don’t like Ms Streep, you’ve gotta agree with her stand. No, my Facebook friend replied, “…it’s hypocritical for Streep to say this when she publicly supports the biggest murderer of disabled babies in America (Planned Parenthood).” Several others weighed in on the discussion, pretty much making the point that on the topic being discussed (the public mockery of the powerless), Streep was right. And then something interesting

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7 Broken Men: John Howard Yoder

7 Broken Men: John Howard Yoder

We come to the last of our 7 Broken Men and I’m going to take a somewhat more serious tone with this one. Recent blog posts in this series have been presented with a lighter touch as we’ve noted the way our broken men have been used by God for the greater good. And while some of them did inflict suffering on others, their offences were long ago, making it easier to wave off the excesses of those trapped in the long distant past. But now we come to the most troubling entry in our series, John Howard Yoder. He has hurt people. Many people. All of them women, in fact.   And he did so relatively recently. Many of Yoder’s victims are still with us, although he isn’t. God certainly used him. Powerfully. He is one of the primary thought leaders behind the modern Anabaptist movement. His teaching on the church, social justice and pacifism, peacemaking and capital punishment have filtered into both the mainstream evangelical and progressive evangelical movements. True to his Mennonite roots, Yoder called on the church to resist the temptation to try to take over politics and society (remember, this was the era of the Christian Coalition). Instead, he argued, the primary responsibility of Christians is faithful presence, ie. “to be the church.” That meant that the church’s role was to

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7 Broken Men: Ignatius of Loyola

7 Broken Men: Ignatius of Loyola

So far (if you’ve been following along) we’ve discovered that some of the greatest movements of Christianity – Calvinism, Pentecostalism, the Great Century of missions, the Jesus Revolution, and the Australian Baptist church – were all launched by broken men. Welcome to the sixth of our 7 Broken Men, at the raffish Spanish courtier, Iñigo Lopez de Oñaz y Loyola, better known as St Ignatius of Loyola. Iñigo de Loyola was actually physically broken. A French cannonball had shattered his leg while he was defending the fortress town of Pamplona in 1521. The broken leg was not properly set, leaving the protruding bone to create an ugly lump under the skin. Iñigo was vain. He was also quite the ladies’ man. So he insisted on having the leg re-broken and re-set. Without anesthetic, of course. The injured leg ended up shorter than the other, so the once-dashing Iñigo limped for the rest of his life. That was no small thing for Iñigo. He had grown up in the castle of Loyola, the 13th child of Don Beltrán Yañez de Oñaz y Loyola, a brash, free-spirited womanizer who had fathered several children by other women. Iñigo’s grandfather was an even more shadowy character, regularly in conflict with the crown. Nonetheless, they were landed gentry and could get away with bad behavior.

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