Category Archives: irreverent

I Am the Worst Choir Member for A Deeper Family

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microphone choirI was standing on stage with the choir for my high school’s Christmas concert because it was the second to last place in the world where I wanted to be.

Study Hall with notorious hard guy Mr. Jenkins was number one last place I wanted to be, and it coincided with choir and band practice at my small Christian high school. Jenkins somehow managed to be an incredibly kind and caring man outside of the classroom, and a hard nosed staff sergeant  once he crossed the threshold to his room. He wore cheerful sweaters and put product into his hair, but he also ran his classroom with strict precision and demanding standards that brought me back to my days of Catholic school.

I can’t say whether my animosity toward Jenkins in the classroom came from our clash of personalities or whether he really did have some extreme control issues that manifested in nitpicky classroom management. Either way, when I stepped into his room for study hall and met his guns a blazing gaze, I vowed to audition for choir the next day.

Read the rest at A Deeper Family.

Is Jesus Greater Than the Stuff Jesus Cared About?

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cross-Jesus-discipleshipLet’s just talk about Jesus for a minute, shall we?

We’re just going to talk about his love, kindness, and forgiveness.

Mind you, if we’re really just going to focus on Jesus and Jesus only, we shouldn’t think too hard about who Jesus loved, who Jesus forgave, or who Jesus showed mercy to. And we really shouldn’t think about how that impacts how you and I live, right?

If we started to think about those things, then we’d have to start thinking about changing our relationships and being kind to people we’d rather not talk to. And then we’re talking about things that sound like “social justice” and “mercy ministry.”

Gosh, can’t we just talk about Jesus for a minute here? Isn’t Jesus greater than all of this other “stuff” that gets tacked onto Jesus. Aren’t these things like loving our enemies, caring for the “least of these,” and being kind to society’s outcasts the extra stuff?

I just want to talk about Jesus for a minute. Just Jesus. Nothing else.

If we care about how we’re supposed to live, we’re not talking about “Jesus.”

And for heaven’s sake, don’t bring up the way Jesus healed Roman officials, welcomed tax collectors, and confounded the rebels and collaborator’s of his day. We can’t talk about Jesus and POLITICS. That’s divisive and troubling.

The minute we talk about political engagement, we’re not talking about Jesus.

In fact, let’s just make this really simple. Let’s just talk about the cross and the empty tomb.

I mean, talking about the cross is virtually harmless besides the fact that it was an ancient instrument of torture and death that symbolized the unquestioned power of the Roman Empire which Jesus then re-appropriated as the symbol of God’s triumph over the powers of this world.

Besides ALL of that, the cross is really just a symbol of the salvation of our souls. The resurrection offers assurance of new life in heaven. Isn’t it?

And perhaps those things are really what we want to talk about when we say, “Let’s just talk about Jesus!”

Try as we may, we can’t escape the implications of Jesus’ life for us today.

Removing Jesus from his context and the imitation of him that is essential for “disciples,” we’re left with a Jesus who just dispenses salvation, a holy pez dispenser that we pass from one person to another, teaching each other the prayer that unlocks salvation.

It is so easy to reduce Jesus to this hollow caricature, to assume we can just stop at his high-minded ideals of love and forgiveness without asking how he embodied them among others and how I could possibly do the same in my life.

I don’t want to ask myself the hard questions:

What if I’m associated with a Christian living in deliberate sin?

What if I welcome the people considered outcasts by society?

What if I need to use my political voice for the benefit of those who have no voice or security?

What if the way Jesus treated women gives us clues we dare not overlook when we read the rest of the New Testament?

And when I ask these questions, it’s just as easy to assume that my answers put me 100% on the side of Jesus. That’s another risk to following Jesus. It’s a tension we can’t avoid.

When we learn to follow Jesus, we start to love the same kinds of people Jesus loved, and that leads us into all kinds of trouble.

If you’re going to love prison inmates, you’re going to start caring about the “war on drugs” legislation that has become more of a war against black men who are incarcerated at an alarmingly high rate.

If you’re going to love your neighbors struggling to make ends meet, then you need to choose a political side on food stamps and other safety net programs (or at least think of a better alternative for your community).

I don’t claim to know what Jesus would do if we dropped him into America today. We’re all pretty much going to say that he’d care about the same things as us, right?

Isn’t that human nature?

With that risk in mind, Jesus did choose sides to a certain degree. As much as he occupied a murky position or found a higher path at times, a la render unto Caesar, he also took stands. It’s just that we won’t necessarily agree on what exactly Jesus was standing for.

Jesus was an instigator, at times pushing for one side over another. To say you’re going to ignore the gender equality debate and to just focus on “Jesus” misses a part of Jesus’ message and fails to consider the implications of his actions.

Just as Paul fought against the racism that divided Jew and Gentile based on their unity in Jesus, we have a similar calling today to ask hard questions about race in the church. This is not a peripheral distraction from the more central focus of Jesus.

If we look to Jesus first, he should be pointing us toward racial reconciliation and, I would argue, gender equality.

It’s certainly possible to focus on a cause and to lose sight of Jesus. I know I’ve done that, and I’ve seen it done many different ways.

However, I’m concerned that we’ve placed Jesus in an imaginary neutral territory that doesn’t ruffle feathers and only saves souls.

Jesus interacted with complicated, sinful people in a complicated, sinful culture.

He bucked religious conventions by sparing a woman who, according to the Bible, should have been stoned for adultery.

He taught women as equal disciples even though their family viewed them as only homemakers.

He refused to take “sides” in politics, but he also welcomed Centurions, zealots, and tax collectors to his table. 

He didn’t leave us with a blueprint for discipleship. This isn’t easy stuff. We’re making interpretations based on how we understand an ancient culture.

It’s impossible to just talk about Jesus because he lived his life in a way that he calls us to imitate as disciples. We’re going to disagree over what that’s supposed to look like, and some of us will have different callings based on what we learn from Jesus.

The trouble is that we can’t say Jesus is greater than things like loving neighbors, forgiving enemies, advocating for equality, healing the sick, or becoming a neighbor to the poor. We can’t separate his identity as Savior from the kind of life he lived. And we dare not avoid the hard questions that the life of Jesus raises for us today.

Let’s Have a Laugh about the Greatest Threats to Our Faith!

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hellfireI don’t know why I thought this was a good idea.

That thought crossed my mind several times while working on my latest book project.

It all made sense at the time: talk about the most challenging and threatening topics to the Christian faith in an accessible, conversational manner. Along the way the most natural step, for me at least, was to toss in a few jokes.

This sounds sort of horrible on the surface.

Worried about an eternity in hell?

Not sure if the Bible was forged?

Where is God in the midst of tragedy?

Struggling with persistent sin in your life?

Let’s talk about it and have a laugh!

If you look at it like that, this book sounds like a terrible idea. Add in the fact that I talk about fourteen really pressing, tough topics in rather brief 3-4,000 word chapters, and you can see how hard this has been for me.

However, there’s another way you could think about this.

Let’s say you and I sat down for a chat about the doctrine of hell or the reliability of the Bible. Perhaps you don’t know me very well, but there’s a 99% chance I’d toss in a corny joke of some sort during our conversation. We’d take rabbit trails. We’d run off on a tangent together.

It would be hellarious.

Conversations don’t always follow the straight line of a book.

So when I put together my book project: A Christian Survival Guide, I addressed serious, important topics, but I also added in some light-hearted and humorous sidebars that help drive home a point from the chapter.

In the chapter about interpreting the Bible I added a fake press release for a book called The Papyrus Driven Church, which is Paul’s step by step guide to church planting via letter, including tips on surviving ship wrecks, handy put downs for heretics, and the best way to hand someone over to Satan.

It’s over the top, ridiculous, and a little stupid, but I think it adds something to the overall point of the chapter as well.

I also opted for the more humorous, conversational style for this book because the topics are so serious that I thought some readers would find my approach an easier point of entry. Speaking for myself, I’m much more comfortable talking about serious challenges to my faith with a trusted friend who can level with me, speak freely, and be himself.

In each chapter I openly mention what has and hasn’t made sense to me over the years. I try to avoid simple answers like the plague, but I’m also not beyond calling B.S. on crazy town doctrines like the rapture.

Something else about this book that I need to write more about is the way it changed me.

I shifted in my beliefs a little bit while working on this book. The Bible has an inconvenient way of doing that to people. I won’t give any spoilers here, but some personal shifts took place as I dug into doctrines like hell (as a place of eternal conscious torment), the problem of the Canaanite genocide in Joshua, and the place of doubt in our faith.

I’m not 100% sure when the book will be released or whether my editor will think I’ve gone to crazy town myself, but it’s a safe bet that most books take about a year to produce. So… next summer or fall? No promises.

If you want to get a sneak peak at this book and other projects I’m working on, I’ve been sending out chapter previews to my monthly e-newsletter subscribers.

Sign up today and you’ll also get two free eBooks: Divided We Unite: Practical Christian Unity and my Guide to Faith Blogging.

Millennials Need to Know Church MUST be Boring and Irrelevant

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Millennial Prefers Coffee to BibleWay to go Millennials. You’ve destroyed Christianity.

That’s right: destroyed. You could have been content to sit in our churches keeping quiet and playing along, but now you’ve ruined Christianity by making church all about you.

Me, me, me, that’s all I ever hear from Millennials.

Church isn’t about what you want. It’s about what the older generations want. How could you be so selfish?

Millennials complain:

Oh, the sermon is too long! Why won’t you serve us communion???

That’s what all of the edgy, new fangled churches are doing these days.

Look, we’re committed to teaching the Bible. We’re not going to waste our time on a new innovation like serving communion every week.

We stick to our traditions, not some hip fad that you heard about in Brooklyn.

Oh, are you hungry? Eat a snack before church.

But that’s not the end of what I hear from millennials trying to destroy the church.

We want to go serve the poor?

Well isn’t that the cool and “relevant” thing to do? Looking to get a merit badge for Jesus? Want to stay in Awanna?

Look, we’ve got VBS and mission trips. Don’t like the looks of that? Why don’t you Instagram us a picture of you and your friends making sad faces.

Oh, you want to talk about the Kingdom of God instead of politics? Got an oversensitive BS meter, have we?

That’s just typical Millennial, self-centered nonsense that is code for: “Vote for Obama.” I’m so sick of Millennials supporting politicians who are just going to give them handouts.

Waaaa!!!! I can’t afford to pay off $80,000 in student loans!

Waaaa!!!! I need healthcare because I can’t find a job!

Waaaa!!!! My drinking water is polluted from natural gas fracking!

True American Christians recognize that our country is blessed by God. Not feeling blessed? Then you’re probably just an ungrateful socialist.

But then you millennials start complaining that our worship songs aren’t good enough for you. You don’t want something flashy. You want “substance.” Our lattes aren’t what YOU want?

Listen, church isn’t a party.

If you’re not slightly bored and a little depressed, then something is most certainly wrong. You’re all so worried about everything in life being a grand old time that you never stopped to ask: “Does everyone else like going to church?”

No. We most certainly don’t. Does that stop us? Not at all. That’s because it’s not about us.

Church should be irrelevant, long, and boring. Why do you think we serve fancy coffee???

We like it just like that.

Remember, it’s not about us. Church is about God. And we’re so committed to making church all about God and not about us that we need to shun anyone who calls us into question.

We’ve made a lot of sacrifices to make the church what it is today. We didn’t just write cranky blog posts or complain on Facebook. We broke away from the churches who were doing it wrong, read the Bible, and figured out how to do church right.

We do church this way because we care about the Bible. Do millennials really care about the Bible?

I think millennials care more about blogs, being trendy, drinking coffee with friends, and getting their way.

They used to be welcome in our church, but now it seems they don’t want to be there any more.

Want to complain about the ways church isn’t appealing to you?

Fine.

We’ll do one better. We’re going to change all of our services to 6 am and card everyone at the door. Born after 1980? Out!

Want to write about why millennials are leaving the church?

I’ll give you a reason: we don’t want to listen to you.

Stop making the church all about you, millennials. You don’t get to have an opinion.

Leaving Home Behind: My Post for A Deeper Family

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keys“We used to watch deer eat in that field before they built your family’s house there.”

That was the first conversation I had at the church I visited across from my dad’s new home. His development fit in with the rest of the homes being built in the area: over-sized, suburban homes that felt like a slice of heaven to a former city dweller after slaving away in the concrete and grit of the city where “houses” were built on top of each other.

I celebrated a few milestones in that house, graduating from high school and celebrating my engagement, but I had mixed emotions when the house went up for sale last month.

For all of the good memories I can piece together, there are other stories that make me want to leave the house behind. Where I expected sentimental reflection, I caught myself leaning toward “Good riddance.”

Read the rest at A Deeper Family.

What I Love and Hate About Being an Evangelical

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bibleI wandered into an evangelical church without even knowing what I was getting myself into. I only knew that this church had the same exact name as our last church but the people were a lot less uptight.

They were really hip.

They would go to movie theaters to watch their PG and G movies instead of taking the risk of being spotted at the movie theater. They never asked, “What if someone saw you at the movie theater and assumed you were going to see a rated R movie?”

I didn’t have to hide my NIV Bible.

The sermons cooled down the fire and brimstone.

Some people didn’t wear ties.

They still talked about sharing the Gospel. They just didn’t harbor the same “us vs. them” mentality against “the world.”

I had moved from a fundamentalist church to an evangelical church. I’ve been an evangelical since the age of fifteen.

If you ask ten people to define “evangelical,” you’ll get ten different answers. That’s what is both great and awful about being an evangelical Christian.

Why I Struggle with Evangelicalism

Evangelicalism is riddled with disagreements, irony, and contradictions.

We claim to put the authority of the Bible first, but call anyone “unbiblical” if the Bible steers him/her from the majority’s position on a topic.

We generally list the Bible as our most important guide, but we forget that the Bible tells us there is no foundation other than Christ Jesus and the words of scripture testify to him—the person.

We claim the heritage of a generally inclusive and broad group, but constantly fight over creating new standards and tests in order to wall off what it means to be an evangelical.

Commitment to the authority of scripture is measured by different groups according to what you believe about:

  • Evolution
  • Hell
  • Predestination
  • The End times
  • Women in Ministry
  • Spiritual Gifts

The tone of these conversations can become so sharp that plenty of evangelicals have given up on this label.

The seed of evangelicalism’s destruction has been sown within it. It’s is the same reason why evangelicals continue to split and fracture. Our central challenge is we’ve made the Bible alone into our defining standard, but it’s impossible to make the Bible “alone” our central standard.

We have cultural assumptions, philosophical commitments, and guiding traditions, each playing havoc on our understanding of the Bible.

We encourage open-minded biblical exploration, but some groups actively patrol a biblical “no-fly” zone. Evangelical academics know that certain topics are off limits, even if they relied on the Bible to determine their positions on the historicity of Adam, the dating of biblical books, the existence of hell, gender roles, homosexuality, or the end times.

Evangelicals committed to the centrality of the Bible will always disagree on these topics and many more. And yet, some act scandalized that such diversity exists.

 

Why I Still Call Myself an Evangelical

For all of its challenges, the title evangelical still works for me but not because I want to preserve a particular understanding of the term. I’ll always understand evangelicals in the broadest sense that the term allows, but I’m not interested in a turf war over what the term means or doesn’t mean.

I always tell people that my evangelical status depends on who you ask.

My evangelical identity serves as my roots that define where I came from and how I respond to new challenges. Without my roots, I have no way of perceiving my own bias or working toward the things that I affirm.

I am frequently concerned to hear evangelicals say, “I just want to call myself a Christian.” While I affirm the desire to join together with other Christians and focus on a common bond in Christ, there is a problem with thinking of ourselves as “only Christian.” We can never be that. We will always have our baggage, our memories, and our assumptions steering us in different directions.

The influence of evangelicalism is hard to shake. You’re most likely either shaped by it or reacting against it. As much as I try to learn about the history of evangelicalism in order to understand myself better, there’s always the possibility that I’m either holding fast to long held assumptions or fighting against a part of my evangelical past.

For all of evangelicalism’s problems, I’m sticking with it.

Prayer and Holiness

An emphasis of personal piety, as in prayer and holy living, has been central to the evangelical movement throughout its early years in the 1700’s and even stretches back to influential groups in the 1600’s. While we can still distort and individualize personal piety, especially in a context where we chronicle our daily lives with status updates and instagrams, this emphasis on personal holiness and prayer have served us well. So long as these practices are part of the church, God will be able to guide his people.

Sharing the Gospel

While evangelicals have, at times, lost sight of how exactly we should share the Gospel and we often disagree about what is exactly at stake, I never want to lose sight of the fact that Jesus sent us to share his good news. As jaded as I’ve become about the ways certain evangelicals push the Gospel, that failure does not corrupt the freedom and hope that it holds for everyone.

Reading the Bible

As much as the Bible stirs up trouble among evangelicals as we try to reconcile our competing beliefs, I can’t escape the correlation of Bible reading with greater peace, connection with God, and love for others. When I lose sight of God and others, fretting about myself selfishly, there’s a good chance that I’ve been away from the Bible for a few days. The impact of scripture on my life is noticeable.

There are plenty of other things about evangelicalism that I could affirm here as well. And while I wish I could say that I’ll always call myself an evangelical, the fact that I’m an evangelical makes it certain that I cannot do that. As an evangelical, I have to follow the Bible and the lead of the Holy Spirit wherever they may take me.

I may find that the only way to live as a faithful evangelical will be to affirm doctrines that are outside of the evangelical fold—although I would personally dispute such boundaries. That is why I love and hate being an evangelical.

Rachel Held Evans Is Hiding in Your Church

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Rachel-Evans-Project

I doubt that author Rachel Held Evans knows how to pick a lock, quietly break a window, or disarm an alarm system, but there’s one thing I know for certain: she is hiding in your church. No matter how solid your locks or air tight your theology, she’s there, hiding in the church office, slouching in a pew, or pining away in the nursery under a pile of toys.

Well, maybe she’s not there in person exactly…

Here’s the thing that makes someone like Rachel important for the church today: she’s putting into words the very questions and issues that many women (and men) have been asking and thinking about for years but haven’t been able to discuss openly.

  • What does it look like to be a biblical woman?
  • How much should a Christian marriage imitate the stories found in the Bible?
  • When are the Bible’s teachings about women culturally limited?
  • Why do we apply certain parts of the Bible literally and not others?

These questions tie into some of the most heated debates in the church today. And even if these questions aren’t always being asked out in the open, they are simmering beneath the surface in just about every church.

So perhaps Rachel isn’t hiding in your church right now, but you’d better believe that everything Rachel writes about is out there in our churches. It’s not like Rachel is some lone voice in the wilderness stirring up trouble. She’s putting into words the very conflicts, struggles, and desires that are pulsating throughout many congregations.

To attack Rachel and to dismiss her is to attack and dismiss a huge part of the church. While I understand that folks will disagree with her latest book’s methods or conclusions, she has brought up  the very things we not only need to talk about now but exactly what we’ve been talking or thinking about for years in far less visible circles such as seminary classrooms.

Rachel is one of the most capable voices who is speaking up for gender equality to the broader church. For many women, she has shown them that biblically committed Christians can take the Bible seriously and still live without gender hierarchies.

I recently had a chance to spend some time with Rachel at a conference and to hear her speak about her book. There were two things that stood out to me.

  1. Rachel is a very kind, generous person who is deeply committed to both following God and studying the Bible.
  2. There were a lot of heads nodding while she spoke. You could hear a pin drop as a packed room tuned in to her struggles with obeying the Bible and sorting out what it says about gender roles.

“Rachel” is in your church because she’s putting into words what many of us are already thinking.

I trust Rachel to speak for me. Many others do as well.

Her latest book A Year of Biblical Womanhood aims to start a conversation, even if it’s a tough one. However it’s a mistake to think of this book as a conversation between complementarians and Rachel. It’s bigger than that.

For those of us who identify with Rachel’s work, we view this book as our chance to enter into a dialogue with the broader church about how we interpret the Bible, particularly as it relates to gender roles. This is a book we can all use, and I’m grateful that Rachel dedicated a year of her life to write it.

This post is part of a synchroblog put together by J. R. Goudeau thanking Rachel for being a woman of valor who speaks for so many of us. Read some other posts at J. R.’s blog.