The Grateful Christian

Essays, opinions, and works-in-progress by a conservative Lutheran pastor.

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Location: West Michigan, United States

In order of importance, I am a: Husband, father, pastor, hobby programmer, writer. Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust instead
Of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.

--C.S.Lewis, The Apologist's Evening Prayer

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Sociology Scares Me

Ok, not really. That was a cheap shot to grab your attention.

What scares me is not sociology, but using social forces to manipulate people in the name of Christ. Ryan over at Wretched Of The Earth wrote a great piece about The Personal Testimony as a staple of Evangelicalism.


Here's an excerpt:
I was abiding beneath the grandiose deception propagated by Evangelicalism that the chief evidence for the veracity of the Christian faith is found in personal experiences. There is no arguing, it is said, with a changed life. Consequently, pervasive in Evangelicalism is the “testimony,” or autobiography of one's encounter with God, usually following the formula:

1. I was bad
2. I accepted Jesus into my heart
3. I became good

Anybody can have a spiritual experience that leads to improvement of behavior. Happens to plenty of Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, Wiccans, etc.; any schmuck can clean up his act with a little discipline, and maybe the help of a guru or something. But also, as we see in the case of Frey (and probably Sanong, too), when you're making a sell it's in your best interest to make your product as attractive as possible. And in a world of schemes purporting to offer “the abundant life” if you just do a, b, and c, it's all about the sell. Thus, the logical progression is to, well, tweak.

Making a sell. Yeah. A far cry from an authentic Christian witness. As Ryan goes on to say a little later,
the emphasis on personal change and the importance of leading a victorious life means you must hide the fact that you're still [gasp!] a sinner. So you end up with a bunch of Pharisees who are really good at disciplining themselves into showing off a whitewashed exterior, even as inwardly the wretch remains—fed now with a steady diet of pious self-righteousness, the worst kind. Yet at the same time the navel-gazing Evangelical grows in despair because he knows it's a hoax he can't maintain.

Authentic is hard. Much easier to adapt marketing techniques. Many years ago the leadership of the District of which my church is a member got enamored with a program called "The Phone's For You!" It was basically telemarketing. Seems there is some kind of natural law that states that if you make 100,000 phone calls, you'll have a thousand positive results, no matter what you are selling. Some genius said, "Wow! God has revealed this to us so the Church can use it! It's bad stewardship for us to not use this wonderful gift to Grow The Church!"

Maybe, I thought, God revealed it to us, so we can learn yet another way the Church is not to copy the World.

This is why I always got a weird feeling about the Promise Keepers, or any kind of mass-rally event. There is tremendous power in social forces, and sociological study brings them, but to me the best way to use them is in a negative way. To say, "what I'm doing now--what we as a church are doing--this program or that campaign--are we relying on the flesh? Have we forgotten that God said, 'Not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts'?"

Kyrie eleison. Lord, please save the Church!

Hail And Well Met!

Dr. Gene "Ed" Veith over at Cranach (see Blogroll to the left) tipped me off to this great site: The Pearcey Report. Actually, about a year ago Ed had recommended Nancy Peacey's book Total Truth to me over lunch at a conference, so I was familiar with the name already.

Nancy's husband Rick writes in the About page,
Our idea of a good time includes the arts, controversies in science, palpitations in politics, plus a timely and strategic look at the news, events, people, and trends of this moment in history. So there is a serious component to what we do in these pages.

My kinda place! But the next paragraph turns out to be almost a manifesto-grade statement for anyone who takes seriously the Christian doctrine of vocation.


Here is that paragraph:

And yet, nothing written here shall be deemed more important than how each one of us live and work day in and day out -- How we raise our kids, the choices we make, the culture we create, the assumptions we think through, the behavior we affirm or let slide. A disconnect in areas such as these has been known to turn fairly normal people into seedbeds of opportunism for PR sharpshooters, image magicians, money-grubbers, and influence-mongers of all stripes of religion and irreligion (and ever the twain shall meet). We would just as soon see a world without that junk littering the landscape.

Well said, brother, and may we all take it to heart!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Valentine Thoughts

One year when I was pretty young, it was a leap year. "What's that?" I wanted to know, because I heard people talking about it. "It's terrible!" one male classmate of mine wailed. Another one pshawed that notion, and went on to tell me what it really is.

I turned back to the first kid. "Why's it terrible?"

"Because," he said, with his eyes wide, "on Leap Year the girls chase you, and if you get caught, you have to let them give you a kiss!"

"Ewwwww" we all said in unison, and the fear of catching "cooties" became a strong social factor for the next week. It was like double jeapordy--we had just escaped Valentine's day, and now this?


I managed to get through February 29th cootie-free that year, even though my mom wouldn't let me bring my pet garter snake to school to protect me.

I didn't learn until I was an adult that St. Valentine was a third-century Christian martyr who died for his faith. There are worse things, obviously, than being caught and forced to submit to a peck on the cheek! Love and sacrifice ought to go together. That's why I never marry a couple unless I have enough time to meet with them several times for premarital counseling, where I drive that point home repeatedly. Jesus is the highest expression of that love, because He was bringing His Father's love to earth, but He didn't bring candy or flowers. He didn't write a mushy poem. He let Himself be caught--and nailed to a cross. He was innocent, but submitted to execution in our place. That's real love, and that's the engine that can drive a joyous courtship, and sustain a successful marriage. Since He became alive again, and offers His help from above, we can abandon the pathetic, stressful, and ultimately self-defeating search for "someone to love me."

Stop running. Let Love Himself catch you.