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Deconstruction Permits

My wife and I were having a discussion, and, if I’m honest, I was a bit of a jerk when the topic of deconstruction came up.

After I apologized, I had to ask myself why I had such strong feelings about this topic, and I think I figured it out.

I’m angry. I’m literally furious about this, but not at the deconstruction crew.

I’m furious at the leaders and scholars who have buried Christianity in so many layers of cultural garbage. I’m in the second stage of grieving for a Church who has responded to the deconstruction movement with shame upon those asking questions and expressing doubt.

Of course, I have some frustrations with the deconstructors, too, but most of those frustrations would have been mitigated at the very beginning of this movement had the Church responded better. Rather than attack people with questions, we should have humbly listened, not just so we can answer but so we can hear the heart and hurt behind the questions and validate the person and their pain they feel.

So, I’m not sure how far I’m going to take this, but maybe I need to walk you through my own deconstruction that I went through about ten years ago.

That’s right. Like a true OG hipster millennial, I deconstructed before it was cool, before it even had a name. (If you read Blue Like Jazz or Velvet Elvis, you know what I’m talking about.)

Let me repeat that louder for the folks in the back: I deconstructed, aaaaaaand I am STILL a Christian.

Because deconstruction can be a good, natural, and life-giving process. Because deconstruction doesn’t have to be about tearing up the foundation of faith that is Jesus Christ.

In most of the deconstruction stories I have heard and in my own experience, the process didn’t begin as an attack on faith but a growing discomfort with and then removal of the cultural elements many have conflated with our faith.

I wrote about this a few months ago, but it bears repeating: culture is everything.

I don’t mean that our faith is merely cultural—i.e. a social construct without transcendent value—rather, much of what we think of as our faith is actually a cultural, man-made affectation. To be fair, just because these elements are man-made doesn’t make them bad, but at the same time, just because they are attached to our faith doesn’t make them biblical. For example:

  • Going to church to hear one person speak is cultural
  • Every song we sing at church—singing songs, even!—is cultural, as is having instruments
  • Altar calls are cultural, having only been around since the 1800s, which isn’t that long for an ancient faith like Christianity
  • Reading the Bible on our own at home and in English is cultural and also recent additions to the faith

Those aren’t bad things, but we blindly accept them as biblical. There are other examples of culture that have become part of the Church that are cultural affections, such as democracy, capitalism, patriarchy, commercialism, etc. Not all of these are inherently bad, but to some degree, they have all been accepted and given near biblical adherence.

So, if all of that is cultural, man-made additions upon the foundation laid by God, what’s left?

So much!

God is and loves everyone.
God died and rose again.
God lives, and I live because He lives and loves me.

These are the universal truths of God that should be the focus of our faith.

Yet, for centuries, we have been adding to our faith with so much cultural bunk that it is no wonder people are desperate to tear down the artifice so that they can find the actual truth of God.

Church, let’s be honest: the work of men has been too long held as the work of God, while the work of God has been minimized.

This is why, when people have begun to deconstruct, they cannot find where the cultural constructions of American Christianity ends and the truth of God begins.

Thus, they tear it all up and are left with nothing.

Tragically, had the Church, at the outset, been willing to hear their complaints and answer their questions, had the Church itself gone to the altar so that God could reveal where we had all lost our way in the morass of culture, then maybe we would have seen more true deconstruction, instead of this recent wave of demolitions.

As it is, unless the leaders of the Church in America are willing to be honest about what they and their predecessors have done in building with culture instead of Christ, then we’re going to see even more Christians declare the whole building condemned.

Background of featured image by Dakota Roos on Unsplash

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Blog Church Ideas Deep Thoughts

The False Enemy of Culture

“We have to be wary of the influence of culture.”

That’s what I heard an older gentleman say the other day in a conversation about how the Church should conduct its business. Culture, as he saw it, was a mental contagion that was poised to infect the Church and kill her from the inside.

Let me be clear that I’m not writing this to criticize this person. In fact, I’ve waited nearly four weeks to start writing about this experience and won’t be posting this for several more weeks. No, this isn’t about that particular person. It’s about the narrow view of culture that he expressed so clearly that I’ve heard others express as well, though less explicitly. And so, let’s discuss his perspective without judgement of his character.

Implicit in his assessment of culture as a threat to the Church was his belief that culture was an entirely worldly creation and was not already an aspect of his own Christian experience.

Culture is a false enemy. People often use “culture” as a stand-in for the ideology of their political or religious rivals. Combined with a flawed view of what is secular and what is sacred, we arrive at a perspective of culture as an evil force desperately trying to influence, infiltrate, or in anyway incapacitate the Church.

There is no such thing as a “secular” or “sacred.” All things belong to God, and so nothing, in that sense, is secular. However, some things are sacred in that we use them for God or to worship God and other things are “common,” which is to say that we use them as part of our everyday lives.

“Profane,” however, is what we call the treating of sacred things as common. When we take the name of the LORD and use it as an expletive, a word uttered to express anger or pain, we profane the Name. However, that doesn’t mean the we cannot use words to express our suffering, but rather, we should reserve some words, like the Name, for when we call out for an end to suffering.

The problem in that scenario wasn’t the language, but it’s use. The enemy isn’t culture; it’s the way it’s used, expressed, warped toward the common away from the sacred. Human beings are sacred creatures, and the culture we create out to reflect that. To the extent it doesn’t, we and our culture are profane. But that doesn’t mean culture is the enemy, and it doesn’t mean that culture is a foe or force banging on the door of your church, trying to force its way in.

Culture is already inside the church because it is part of every single one of us.

The fact that this individual in this meeting was debating an issue in English is an example of his culture.

The fact that we were meeting to discuss and debate is an example of culture.

Culture is an indispensable part of who we are, and like everything else, reflects our fallen nature while simultaneously being slowly redeemed.

In Revelation 21:10, the Apostle John had a vision of a heavenly city, a “New Jerusalem,” descending to the earth. This would be the capital of God’s eternal kingdom, Heaven on Earth.

But why wasn’t it a garden? In Genesis, when all of this began, God planted a garden and placed humanity in it as the crown jewel of all that He had made. The first cities were made by men, men descended from Cain. In fact, for most of the Old Testament, cities were places that represented the heights (or rather depths?) of humanity depravity.

And yet, at the close of this world and the opening of the next, God was founding a city, not planting a garden. Why?

Because Jesus died to redeem humanity along with the rest of creation, including what we have created. God has redeemed us, and one day, He will redeem our culture.

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Why I Oppose Theocracy

I have shocked some of my fellow Christians by not supporting legislation that would require prayer in schools or Bible classes in schools. I have shocked others by not voting solely based upon the potential for certain judges to be appointed to the Supreme Court.

To be clear, this is not because I don’t care about prayer, or the Bible, or biblical morality. I oppose these because I think that such laws and strategies are flawed, short sided, and even a bit dangerous. I’ll give your three quick reasons.

1) Laws restrict behavior; they don’t resurrect the dead.

Nothing saves a soul except Jesus. Yes, we can forbid certain soul-killing activities, but we cannot bring a soul back to life through legislation. Banning gay marriage, abortion, and every other sin that the conservative Christian media sphere obsesses over—don’t hear much about gluttony, do we?—won’t do anything to abate the habits, desires, and mental frameworks that produce these things.

I understand why conservative Christians are obsessed with trying to end abortion: it’s the state-sanctioned murder of unborn babies. I get that, and I agree. And yet, I sometimes wonder if we work so hard to win the courts, the laws, the political positions because it is easier than trying to “win souls,” as the old revivalists used to say it. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the pro-life brigade are actively lobbying the government while also actively loving their neighbors with the love of Christ, proclaiming the gospel with their words and actions.

That’s our real mission. Ending abortion would be a miracle, but it’s a temporal miracle. Aborted babies are physically murdered, but their souls live on. Ending the physical murder of these babies would be a good and godly thing, and yet, those babies, as they grew, would still need to be introduced to Jesus. Saving their lives is not the same—nor as eternally valuable—as saving their souls. The real, eternal miracle is that of someone coming to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. That should be our mission, that should be our goal.

2) Laws safeguard the vulnerable: my faith isn’t vulnerable.

Generally speaking, laws are created to safeguard and protect the vulnerable. We have a law against murder to offer some protection for those who are mortal, and therefore, vulnerable for murder. Granted, that’s all of us, but the point is that laws are designed with the vulnerable in mind. There are laws against shoplifting that don’t directly protect me because I don’t own or run a shop. I’m not vulnerable to that crime, so I don’t need that law. But if I opened a bookstore, as is one of my dream careers that will likely never happen, I would need that law against shoplifting to help me.

Christianity is not vulnerable. Jesus is not vulnerable. We don’t need laws to protect them. We don’t need Bible classes to promulgate our faith. We don’t need compulsory prayer in school. We can survive in a country that features a variety of religious traditions. How? Because we have the truth. Is that a bold and seemingly arrogant statement? Yeah, but also, it’s intellectually consistent. If I didn’t believe the claims that Christianity made about life, the universe, and everything, then, why would I be here? Why I would I hold to a faith that I only partially believe in?

I’m not claiming the absolute truth of Jesus’ claim to divinity as a way to put other faiths down, anymore than I believe that the Earth is round as way to insult Flat-Earthers. If I insult Flat-Earthers—and I have—it’s because of what they believe, not what I believe. I believe in Jesus because I have been convinced of the truth of His claims. I am convinced that He is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, God of all the Universe, and therefore, not in need of protection by the federal government.

3) Democracy is a two-edged sword: who will wield it next?

Our nation is changing. It’s quickly becoming a majority non-white nation, which I have zero problem with. (If you do have a problem with that, you might want to ask yourself about the ethnic make-up of all those biblical figures that you want school kids to learn about.) But not only are we becoming a non-white nation, but we’re also quickly becoming a nation of no religious majority, as more and more adherents to Eastern religions are immigrating to the US while, at the same time, many US citizens have begun to claim “no religious affiliation” on census and survey forms, reducing the number of people who claim Christianity as their faith.

We are a members of a shrinking demographic category, so we should be careful of how we use our majority power while we still have it. Anything we do to support our faith or to oppress another can always be undone or even reversed when members of other religions or no religion eventually gain majority power.

I’ve often heard Christians sing the praises of our First Amendment right to the freedom of religion and speech and rightfully so. We have some tremendous freedoms in this nation, and those freedoms should applies to every citizen! Every attempt to weaken or limit these rights for those who don’t agree with us will backfire and result in the limiting and/or weakening of our rights.

Do to others as you would have them do to you—the Golden Rule is the heart of good citizenship.

Conclusion

Friends, I am a committed Christian with conservative social views, and yet, even I can see how we cannot impose our faith upon others. Do I want to see our society become more Christ-like? Sure. Do I think the best what to achieve that is through political means? Absolutely not.

Jesus called upon us to bring His message, His love, His power to the lost. We must take up that mission. Let’s live our lives as a public proclamation of the power of Jesus to save lives. Maybe if we took up that mission with the same passion that we campaign for presidential candidates, we wouldn’t have to worry about legislating morality because we’d see a significant influx of our fellow US citizens becoming citizens of Jesus’ kingdom.

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Arrogance in Failure


I failed last night.

This wasn’t the first time I’d failed, in general, but it was the first time I’d failed at speaking at church in a long time. Or at the least, the first time I’d fully failed. There have been plenty of times when I put the microphone down and think to myself, “That wasn’t very good.” Last night was not one of those times.

Last night, I put the microphone down and said, “That was terrible.”

I walked back to my office and pouted and stewed. I started to make up excuses, to search for others to blame, but thankfully, I quickly put all that aside and blamed myself.

I had failed, and it was my fault.

After a few minutes, I rejoined our prayer service in the sanctuary, but I couldn’t think, couldn’t focus, couldn’t pray.

My wife gave me a stern talking to after service, and basically said to me, “This isn’t about you. You’re not performing; you’re speaking God’s truth.” Her point was that, so long as I’d delivered a bit of God’s truth, I had done what I could do.

The counterpoint, of course, is that there were a lot of other things I could have done to be better prepared, but in the end, she was still right: it wasn’t about me.

This morning, in my devotional readings, I found this same theme. I was reading about humility, and I realized that my failure last night might have been due to some practical issues, like not being as prepared as I should have been, but my reaction to my failure was all about pride.

I was upset not because of the failed attempt at speaking but because it was I who had failed. I failed, and that was no okay.

My reaction was the problem, not my lackluster presentation of Scripture. How little faith did I have in God—how much misplaced confidence did I have in myself—that an off-night could derail what He wants to accomplish in the church, in the lives of those in attendance, or in the life of fool on stage? It’s the height of arrogance.

At times like this, when I’m faced, once again, with my own sinful nature, I remind myself of my favorite piece from Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God:

That when an occasion of practicing some virtue offered, he addressed himself to God, saying, “Lord, I cannot do this unless Thou enablest me;” and that then he received strength more than sufficient.

That when he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault, saying to God, “I shall never do otherwise if You leave me to myself; it is You who must hinder my falling and mend what is amiss.” That after this he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.

May we always pray such prayers.

God, unless You are with me, I will ever be failing. Only You can fill in my gaps; only You can supply what I lack. Only You can save me from failing, and in failing, from my arrogance.

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The Angry Sheep

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I’ve worked part-time as a minister for over ten years, and before that, I was (and still am) a pastor’s son. In my experience–limited thought it might be–I’ve met some angry Christians.

Some are angry over something that has happened. This is understandable. Anyone and everyone can become angry and being angry is not a sin. However, there are others who become angry so easily and so often that it seems as if there is never a break in their rage.

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Evangelism: God’s Passion – Our Mission

evangelism
This will be my last post in this series, and it will be my shortest. I want to cap this all off by tying to the the subtitle of this series: God’s Passion – Our Mission. We’ll take this one half at a time.