Life in Babylon. Love for Babylon. And a few more thoughts a week after the Supreme Court’s ruling.

(image credit to wilx.com)

(image credit to wilx.com)

I’m starting to think that many, myself included, are perhaps getting a little exhausted with the dialogue concerning the SCOTUS marriage decision. Maybe it’s because same-sex marriage has already been a reality in my state for several years. Maybe it’s because I’m well aware of my generation’s overwhelmingly supportive opinions about same-sex marriage. By the way, some of that support is, in fact, because many young adults feel romantic relationships between same-gendered persons are perfectly legitimate. On the other hand,  some of that support is because many young adults, while they don’t agree morally with same-gendered relationships, also don’t believe it’s morally appropriate that homosexuals should be denied other rights/privileges merely based on sexual orientation.

Practically, it makes little difference, because Millennials are set to become the nation’s largest generation soon, which seemingly would suggest that same-sex marriage is the new norm for the foreseeable future. While the footnotes of our country’s history may remember Friday as a historic date, the Supreme Court’s decision didn’t actually move the idealogical needle all too much. It merely publicly declared what we, as a nation, already believed.

Human sexuality is a major issue, and needs to regularly be addressed, so I do so once or twice a year. But, in recent years, I’ve already given my personal thoughts on what I believe the dynamic between Christians and same-sex relationships and the government needs to be here, and here, and to a lesser degree, here. So, I want to change the focus a little this week.

I get the impression that what the Obergefell v. Hodges same-sex marriage ruling did, as much as anything, was shock some Christians into the realization that America is not their home. We’ve had hints in this direction since WWII, but I think for the first time on Friday, American WASPs started to feel like a minority. That’s not at all a bad thing. Generally speaking, wasps are awful. Furthermore, Christians who hold to the Bible as inspired, inerrant revelation from God, while a minority now, shouldn’t feel too sorry for themselves, because they aren’t the only minority here. In fact, our nation, as perhaps evidenced by the marginal 5-4 Court ruling, is basically non-majority. We live in a highly fragmented civilization, where it’s almost as though majority opinions – about religion, morality, worldview, etc., are nonexistent. Almost every idea is coming from a relative minority viewpoint.

What the Supreme Court ruling also is doing, however, is forcing us to reevaluate how we, as Christians, engage a post-Christian society. So, today I’d simply propose that the two false avenues to go down would be to 1) avoid and condemn the culture completely, or 2) over-assimilate to the culture.

Perhaps the most helpful biblical text on the matter is what God says to the Israelites through the prophet Jeremiah.

“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 29:7-9)

After being conquered by Babylon, many of God’s people, the Israelites, had been carried away into exile in Babylon. Much like ours, Babylon was a fairly fragmented society.

The Babylonians were sharp. In the ancient world, after you defeated a nation in battle, there were basically three options of what you might do with them. First, you could drive them out of the land. Often, after regrouping, the defeated party would later storm back more hostile than before. Second, you could subjugate the defeated nation as slaves. While the cheap labor sounded nice, nations figured out quickly that afflicted, humiliated people groups often find resilience in their common cause to overthrow oppression. The third option, which the Babylonians preferred, was that of separation and assimilation. In this case, the defeated nation was divided, and the best and brightest were often actually educated in the mother nation’s ways and given opportunity for a good life, so long as they assimilated on major cultural issues.

Under the Babylonian’s rule, the only time you’d potentially face genuine hardship is if you refused to play ball. This is precisely what we see, for instance, in the case of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, i.e. The Three Men in the Fiery Furnace (Dan. 3) and in the case of  Daniel himself, i.e. In the Lion’s Den (Dan. 6). A refusal to assimilate meant opposition from the state. Nonetheless, Daniel and his friends held their ground because they considered the fires and lions of hell much more dangerous than those of earth. Stated differently, the thought of offending and thus being separated from their gracious LORD was much more horrible than the thought of offending and being separated from sinful man.

So, for the Israelite believers in exile, one option was to fully assimilate and break their faith in God. Another option was to stand their ground on issues of faith and potentially face persecution.

A third option was to rally together in their own little group, avoid Babylonian culture and people at all cost, and hope and pray that God would soon rain down judgment on this wicked, sinful people. A number of Israel’s false prophets, like Hananiah, were encouraging this sort of self-righteous tribalism (Jer. 28).

Again, the Israelites naturally thought they had two options – compromise their faith and selfishly take as much as they could from the city OR selfishly avoid sharing their faith (and their God) and eschew the city and culture entirely. But God intervenes with a thought that doesn’t come to us naturally, a third option that comes to us only through his Spirit – “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” (Jer. 29:7)

The Israelite exiles were supposed to love Babylon as they functioned as salt and light for Babylon.

How does this all apply to same-sex marriage?

Let’s remember what the gospel is.

Michel Foucault was a French philosopher and perhaps the most commonly cited social theorist of the postmodern era. Speaking about identity, Foucault believed that we all have some factor that makes us feel good about ourselves. We tend to build our identity on this factor. The inevitable problem, however, is that we begin to despise the people who don’t have that same factor. We treat them as inferior. Furthermore, we also tend to be intimidated by those who appear to have that factor to a greater degree than we do. We feel excluded by those who seem superior. So, for instance, if you find your identity in your personal beauty, your intelligence, your wealth, your personality, your moral performance, etc., you will always find reason to hate those beneath you AND those above you. In other words, Foucault is suggesting that the way we humans naturally go about forming our identities invariably causes humanity to wrestle with issues of inferiority and superiority, abuse and oppression, me against you.

Is there another option?

What if your identity is cemented in a changeless fact that exists outside of you – like the fact that you are a redeemed child of God? And what if that reality was equally available to everyone? How does that status – that of a child of God – come about? Through the grace of Jesus Christ. The gospel says that when I was not doing a single thing right, not thinking a single thing right, fully selfish and headed for destruction, Jesus loved me enough to die for me. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)

If that’s the foundation of my identity and the hope for my life, how might it change the way I look at a nation that is filled with people who think the wrong things, do the wrong things, a nation of people who are headed for destruction just like I was?

Jesus loved me, he died on the cross for me, even though I differed greatly with him. And if I realize that this is what liberated me, such grace now empowers me to also love others, even die for others, who differ with me.

Because of what Jesus did for me, I’m not afraid to die. And only when you’re not afraid to die will you be courageous enough to stand for truth AND selfless enough to serve in love.

In practice…

What will this truth & love dynamic look like in your life moving forward?

It’s easier to say what it can’t look like.

As a Christian, you can’t just assimilate to Babylon. In the context of the Supreme Court’s ruling, you simply cannot be a Christian and pretend that God’s clearly revealed will for human sexuality does not exist. I am yet to meet the Bible interpreter who believes BOTH that the Bible is fully the inspired Word of God AND that God is supportive of a homosexual lifestyle. I know some people who call themselves Christians and think that God’s will for human sexuality has perhaps changed over the years or that the Bible’s stance on homosexuality is nebulous, but these people unequivocally do NOT consider the Bible to fully be the inspired Word of God. The person who has 1) seriously studied the Bible, 2) believes it’s fully inspired, and 3) draws the conclusion that God is supportive of a homosexual lifestyle would be like the unicorn of biblical interpretation. This stance would be so self-evidently illogical, that no one holds it. Point is, if you’re actually a Christian who has read your Bible and believes that it’s inspired, you absolutely can’t approach the same-sex issue the way the majority of your peers in America now do.

On the other hand, as a Christian, you can’t just avoid Babylon. In the context of the Supreme Court’s decision, you simply cannot be a Christian and ignore Jesus’ statements about believers functioning as the salt (an integrated, flavor-inducing preservative) and light (a more beautiful option pointing towards truth) of the earth (Matt. 5:13-16). God said to the Israelites “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” (Jer. 29:5) You can’t do that from a distance. You’ve got to get in there and show costly, sacrificial love.

So how do you show this community-transforming truth & love? Sounds daunting. Carrying out the will of God is always an enormous goal. Goals are intimidating. I just read a great piece on productivity that encouraged focusing on sound systems rather than overwhelming goals. For a Christian, the goal of being the salt of the earth and light of the world comes only from the system of having your heart broken and fixed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

G.K. Beale’s thesis in We Become What We Worship is that we all develop the qualities of the person/thing from which we find our greatest hope in life. Well, what if Jesus was not only what we say we put our hope in, but he actually is where we find our hope?

Jesus was so filled with truth that he’d rather die than compromise a word of his Father’s will. Jesus was so filled with love that he’d rather die for those who were killing him than let them see harm. Focus your life on that guy, you’ll become more like that guy, and I guarantee you’ll figure out how to apply truth and love in whatever your context.

Should Wives Still Submit?

(image credit to sarahorn.com)

(image credit to sarahorn.com)

No secret, gender issues are hot right now. It’s due to a combination of cultural gender crisis, the summer wedding season, and a fairly controversial new TLC series. The deeper we get into the “anthropocentric turn” (how philosopher Charles Taylor has described the shift from a God-believing culture to a human-centered culture), the further we get from things like created gender distinctions, and the less sense things like “gender roles” make. Very often the mere mention of such things today are considered passé, narrow-minded, and offensive.

(image credit to thoughtcatolog.com)

(image credit to thoughtcatolog.com)

Here’s the key though. What are sometimes falsely considered biblical “gender roles” today are often just 1950s Leave It To Beaver Americana. Truth be told, I’m sort of put off by that stuff too. You don’t have to browse through too many advertisements from the mid-twentieth century to gather that in this time frame, women were considered by many to be intellectually inferior and largely incapable of doing much outside the walls of the home. By the way, many churches still probably reflect June Cleaver roles for women more faithfully than they do the entrepreneurial, intelligent, faithful Proverbs 31 woman. If the majority consensus about your church is that women have fewer/lesser spiritual gifts than men, your false theology is showing. If you think the gifts that God has most uniquely granted to women to impact his kingdom are recipes and vacuums, at some point this probably must become an issue of repentance for poor understanding.

(image credit to businessinsider.com)

(image credit to businessinsider.com)

This is not to say we shouldn’t love women who are good with recipes or are persnickety about keeping the place tidy. We benefit from that greatly too. The point I’m trying to make is that we need to be very careful to let the Bible itself, not the culture we grew up in, shape our thoughts and theology.

So here’s some thoughts about twenty-first century submission.

Words are Important with Gender Distinctions

Distortion of words unquestionably contributed to the first sin. (Gen. 3:1 The serpent said, “Did God really say…?”) This distortion continues to contribute to subsequent sins. Any words that twist and garble THE WORD are doing a disservice to us.

So the pertinent question today then is, “What does submit mean in contemporary society?”

(image credit to jobs-tree.com)

(image credit to jobs-tree.com)

Technically, the word submit today still does not have an inherently negative connotation. The last time you applied for a job, my guess is that you submitted a resume. And you probably didn’t think that was beneath you.

On the other hand, when I personally think of submit, the first thing that comes to mind tends to be mixed martial arts UFC fighting. In this instance, submitting involves tapping out because you’re enduring such excruciating pain that you can endure it no longer. I don’t think one has to be a Bible scholar to figure out that this sort of Randy Couture-induced tap out is not what the Apostle Paul is encouraging wives to do in Ephesians 5.blog - submission 5

A pastor friend of mine recently told me that a woman informed him whenever she heard the word submit it made her think of Fifty Shades of Grey. Yeah, again, I’m quite confident that the Apostle Paul wasn’t proposing sadomasochistic erotica either.

But the point is that whatever words Christians use to express the relational roles between husband and wife, we had better be VERY careful that we’re conveying the same thoughts that the Apostle Paul originally intended. I’ve sat through enough weddings where the word “submit” was used a bit haphazardly and have heard the audible scoffs from perturbed men and women in the congregation that day. Now, before we say, “What wicked, godless, anti-biblical people!” we probably should make sure we’re doing our job of faithfully communicating the writer’s original thoughts. IF submit doesn’t convey those thoughts in today’s culture, I’d propose we consider alternative words.

What Words Are Used in Eph. 5 to Differentiate Genders?

The whole “wives, submit to your husbands” thing, while it falls under an umbrella of gender roles established throughout Scripture beginning in the Creation Account (Gen. 2), is technically taken from the Apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 5.

The first issue we run into with modern misunderstanding are those “helpful” section titles that have been inserted into your English translations of the Bible. So, for instance, the most recent NIV translation uses the title “Instructions for Christian Households” to separate verses 20 and 21. The previous NIV version used the phrase “Wives and Husbands” to separate verses 21 and 22. 

What’s the difference? What’s the big deal? Well, where you place verse 21 makes a big deal in comprehending the flow of Paul’s thought. Verse 21 says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph. 5:21) While this is a good encouragement for all Christians to do to one another, it also happens to be a nice segue for Paul to begin talking about gender roles in marriage. Because the very next thing he says is Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” (Eph. 5:22) Interestingly, the Greek word for submit is not even found in verse 22, but it’s linguistically implied as a holdover from verse 21. The bottom line is this – submission is something God intends for ALL Christians, male and female, in general, to do to one another, and in the marriage relationship, for a wife to do for her husband. 

What does it mean? In Greek, the word hypotasso (transl.), used here, is the picture of arranging oneself (tasso) under (hypo). It basically means to place yourself under the will of another. In marriage, it means to place yourself under the will of a godly leader. We KNOW that headship is not an inferiority thing, because Christ himself has a head – “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Cor. 11:3) Jesus has a head and, remember, it doesn’t get any better than Jesus – “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” (Heb. 1:3) Therefore, this genderedness stuff clearly isn’t an issue of talent or worth or goodness or intelligence or anything like that. It’s merely an issue of deferring to another’s will. Jesus, who has all of the glory and majesty of the Father, says to the Father, “Father … not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

And as long as we’re on the topic of misconstrued words, note also that when God creates Eve to be a “suitable helper” (Gen. 2:18) for Adam, this whole helper thing has largely lost its flavor today too. When God says he will make a suitable helper, ezer (Hebrew transl.), this word for helper is actually only used elsewhere in the Old Testament to describe the help that God offers to his people. In other words, when we hear the word helper today, we generally think of someone assisting us in doing something that we could do by ourselves. E.g. “Will you please help me wash the dishes?” See, I can take care of the dishes by myself just fine (NOTE: Relatively speaking. Sweetheart, no need to comment here.), but it’d be sort of nice if someone else helped me out. That is NOT how helper is being used in Genesis 2 nor the rest of the Old Testament. Israel was not sufficient in themselves. They needed God’s help, for instance, to accomplish their purpose of arriving in the Promised Land. In this case, the word helper indicates that you are assisting someone in doing something they could not do by themselves. Wives (women in general) help men accomplish their created goal – glorifying God – in a way that husbands (men in general) would be incapable of doing without the women. When God creates Adam and he says that it is “not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18), he’s not suggesting that Adam’s design is flawed, but rather that man is incomplete without woman. If God had created another Adam to go along with the first Adam, the two Adams would still be equally incomplete in the same way that two identical puzzle pieces don’t fit together and, thus, don’t create a completed puzzle/full picture.

What God, through the Apostle Paul, is suggesting then in Ephesians 5 is that husband and wife are a complementary unit with a common goal, but it is illogical and detrimental for them to have common roles, so, one of them has to take a headship role. WHY God specifically chose which gender for which role (i.e. helper or head) is for reasons that God himself only fully understands. THAT he differentiated genders for complementary roles, on the other hand, is Scripturally obvious.

One final note here. What I’ll often hear is a wife who says that she can no longer respect her husband (or submit to him), because he has behaved so poorly. To this, I’ll often counter with, “Well, if you only want to respect him when he’s completely respectable, do you really want him to love you only when you’re completely lovable?” Obviously not. This love/respect thing simply cannot have constantly fluctuating conditions. With that said, I would, however, also include the thought that a husband does need to lead in this regard. The Church only praises Christ and submits to him AFTER he has shown unbelievable love to her. Similarly, husbands need to move first – in grace, patience, communication, repentance, forgiveness, humility, etc. If you’re in that headship role, you’ve got yourself a huge responsibility and you should expect that God is going to hold you to the higher standard. (Gen. 3:9)

Common Concern about Gender Differences

1) Oppression

One of the biggest concerns I hear about the gender roles is a certain amount of trepidation from a woman distrusting that a male is fully adequate to lead her. This is understandable especially when a woman has a history of a man in her life who stunk as a leader. The wrong way to handle that, however, would be to say that God’s design for gender roles is flawed. That’d be like me buying all of the parts to a Ford Explorer, paying a bunch of preschoolers to assemble it in order to save a buck, and then when this machine doesn’t perform at the level I’d like, blaming Ford for its bogus product. In other words, don’t mistake lousy execution for faulty design. I am yet to meet the woman who had a truly Christ-like husband who had any real issues with biblical gender roles. God’s design for gender roles works just great. It’s unfaithful execution that creates havoc.

But, worst case scenario, what if a man becomes oppressive in his leadership role? This is one of the reasons why God designed churches. This is also a reason why it’s so important for a woman to both 1) marry a godly man who resembles Jesus as much as possible, and 2) join a godly church that has a healthy understanding of gender roles AND disciplines men who don’t fulfill their roles. If a man does not step up and into his role as a godly leader in a household, his church’s leaders had better encourage and train him to get there. If you don’t marry a man who is either interested in God-designed gender roles or engaging in a church where proper gender roles or discipline are present, there’s no great way to safeguard against this sort of oppression.

What’s interesting is that the bigger concern for women probably should be a man who is afraid/negligent of his headship role, as Adam appears to have been in the first sin in Eden. We assume Adam was present when Eve was tempted and took the fruit, but for whatever reason, he didn’t intervene and lead his wife away from danger. He was on the couch staying out of her way rather than protecting the woman God had entrusted to his care. Oppression (over-embracing the headship role) is bad, but cowardly negligence (under-embracing the headship role) is more common, and arguably worse.

2) Loss of Voice

Another concern I’ve heard from women is the fear that if the man is the “head” in the relationship, her opinion will never be heard. Look, if your husband loves you like Christ loves the Church, he’s constantly going to be striving for what pleases you and is in your best interest. Jesus was/is constantly paying attention to, sacrificing for, and living to the glory of … his Bride. Jesus is the husband his bride can directly access 24/7 and he’ll always listen. A guy who is daily striving to emulate that WILL care about your opinion.

Practically, the way this plays out is that a wife may very well end up making many of the decisions in a marriage. Speaking from experience, my guess is that my wife and I probably lean towards her preferences in somewhere around 80-90% of our group decisions. Where are we going to go out for dinner? Well, I have certain foods I strongly dislike, but the rest register about the same to me. My wife, on the other hand, has stronger preferences about what she likes to eat. Because I love her and want her to be happy, I often happily default to her preference. Simple example, but because I make an effort to try to live this way consistently, when something comes along that I do feel quite strongly about, my wife senses my conviction and respects my position in the home and consistently defers. For instance, with every major career decision I’ve had to make, after I’ve gained her input, each time she’s said, “Well, you know how I feel, but ultimately this is your decision, and I will support you in whatever you think is right.”

My wife and I are both strong-willed, opinionated people. And I’m absolutely no master at this. But if a knucklehead like me can figure out how to make this husband/wife headship system work, I’m quite confident that most others can find the beauty of it as well.

Everybody Acting Like Jesus, No Matter What Your Gender

Perhaps the best way to look at the corresponding gender roles is to understand that both sexes in marriage are ultimately attempting to reflect the attitude and character of Christ. As Timothy Keller shares in The Meaning of Marriage:

Both women and men get to “play the Jesus role” in marriage – Jesus in his sacrificial authority (i.e. husbands), Jesus in his sacrificial submission (i.e. wives). By accepting our gender roles, and operating within them, we are able to demonstrate to the world concepts that are so counterintuitive as to be completely unintelligible unless they are lived out by men and women in Christian marriages. (The Meaning of Marriage, pgs. 201-202)

What Keller is saying is that, while men and women have different roles, the key ingredient is Christ-likeness. And mirroring Jesus means to put the other person ahead of yourself. Jesus was God who made himself low enough to save sinners. Jesus was God who subjected himself to his Father’s will. In both cases, whether in feet-washing leadership or cross-embracing obedience and submission, he was putting another ahead of himself.

Both the man or woman, head or helper, are asking for God’s power to carry out their roles, asking for God’s forgiveness when they fail, and asking for God’s wisdom to grow beyond committing such mistakes again.

So, yes, since the Bible clearly teaches it and God’s design is flawless, women should still hypotasso. If you want to call that submit, fine, but don’t foist your own ideas of what submit means upon the role. Let the Bible speak for itself. Furthermore, when talking about God’s design for gender roles, if you love people like Jesus does, you’re going to at least be a little sensitive to what others are hearing even if it’s not what you’re saying.

Remember, both husband and wife are simply trying to play the “Jesus role” in marriage. And on our best days, when we are doing this really well, this is still only a taste of what perfect relationship will be like in heaven.

The Soul of Caitlyn Jenner

blog - Jenner 1

(image credit to vanityfair.com)

There was a time long ago, in a land far away, when “private parts” were considered, well … private. But reality TV, social media, and sensationalistic journalism have helped dawn the era of radical transparency. This is a time when a sex tape won’t actually ruin your acting or music career, when explicit tweets won’t derail your political career, and a time when the biggest question surrounding gender reassignment surgery is, “Can we let him/her keep his/her Olympic medals?” In some ways, our society has moved from a religious view of human sexuality (i.e. sex is a dirty, necessary evil) to an irreligious view of human sexuality (i.e. sex is merely an appetite to be fed, and flexible enough to be fed in any way we’d like.)

(NOTE: I’m defining “religious” differently here than many would. I’m considering Christianity/the gospel as something entirely different from much organized religion. Additionally, there are many people who label themselves as “Christians” who I believe fit much better in this “religious” camp.)

The world today has shifted to highly value honesty and transparency. On such an occasion, your core beliefs rise to the surface and become obvious to all. So, for Christians, stories like that of Caitlyn Jenner are good opportunities to measure what kind of evangelical balance, if any, actually lives in our hearts.

While I’ve heard a lot thus far about Jenner’s physical changes, as well as some knee jerk reactions about how wonderful or disgusting they are, I haven’t read a ton about Jenner’s soul. So that’s where we’ll go today.

I’ve used the “trispectival analysis” tool before for diagnosing cultural issues. As a reminder, here’s a quick summary of how it works:

religious person sees morality as purely black and white, believes there are good people and bad people, and while he acknowledges God as the ultimate authority, he believes that because of his good behavior he is more deserving of God’s blessing than the “bad” people. Religion is perhaps best characterized by self-righteousness. The way our current political system is set up, religious people tend to lean right and emphasize truth at the expense of love.

An irreligious person sees morality as relative, believes people are born basically good but sometimes hurt others or themselves when put in bad circumstances, and acknowledges no higher authority than man. Irreligion is perhaps best characterized by self-indulgence. The way our current political system is set up, irreligious people tend to lean left and emphasize love at the expense of truth.

gospel-thinking person understands the black and white of morality but recognizes there is a shaded spectrum of motives, believes we are inherently born broken and powerless to put ourselves back together, and acknowledges Jesus Christ as both Lord and Savior. Gospel-thinkers are perhaps best characterized by humility about self and confidence in Christ. Gospel-thinkers are careful not to over-identify politically, understanding that no party perfectly holds biblical reality, and they work hard to hold truth and love as inseparable, non-expendable ingredients for mankind’s flourishing.

With that said…

The Religious Viewpoint – Bruce Jenner is a wacko.

It’s very easy to take cheap shots. It’s easy to say stuff like, “Yeah, after living with the Kardashian girls for 20 years, my only surprise is how long it took Bruce to say he’s no longer interested in women.” In other words, to identify some undesirable traits about some obviously godless people is not difficult, not particularly creative, and for people seeking to shine the light of Christ in the world, not helpful.

But this is a good chunk of our society’s reaction to Jenner and his celebrity family. The Daily Caller didn’t hesitate to take some shots. The Blaze’s frequent op-ed contributor, and someone who is somehow now the apparent poster boy for conservative Christians, Matt Walsh, unsurprisingly shared his thoughts too. In one breath, Walsh says things like, “few share my love or concern for him (Jenner)” and “I pray for him.” But the very next moment he uses expressions in his article like “a culture of narcissistic imbeciles” and “You know, if I want to be preached at by humorless progressive gasbags, I don’t need the worldwide leader in sports.” and “I’m told that white people appropriate black culture when they listen to Nikki Minaj or wear flat brimmed hats. I’m not sure that such offenses constitute cultural theft as much as they indicate possible brain damage…”. 

We’ve got a real problem if THAT is the Christian side of this issue, a side that I cannot comprehend the Jesus of the Gospels ever sitting on. In fact, as I recall, without being dismissive of sin, Jesus ate with sinners, who, so far as we can tell in the ancient world, in all likelihood did consist of the sexually confused, sexually damaged, and even perhaps sexually reassigned.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matt. 9:10-11; see also Matt. 21:31-32 to understand that “sinners” is often used synonymously with sexual deviancy)

If Matt Walsh actually has the desire to share the love of Christ with someone like Jenner, he forfeited any opportunity by calling people he disagreed with “disgusting, brain-damaged imbeciles and gasbags.” For that matter, I’m not sure he has any of this actual “love of Christ” thing to share. His militant morality makes him a better candidate to be the voice of the Islamic State, not Christianity.

As many well-intentioned religious people do, Walsh has so many right things to say, but he says them in such a way that he registers as nothing more than the personification of a “resounding gong” (1 Cor. 13:1), a heartless noise-maker.

Christians aren’t heartless.

The Irreligious Viewpoint – Caitlyn Jenner is just being true to herself.

Since western culture today as a whole, especially the average young adult, tends to lean left, most of the reception for Caitlyn Jenner has been overwhelmingly positive. Many have commented on how great she looks in her photo shoot (as though that has something to do with the issue itself being right or wrong). Even more have commented on how proud they are of Jenner for being true to herself – doing what she feels is right and matching her outside to her inside.

Even the president chimed in to offer his support …

While such acceptance seems loving, when something is simply not truly beneficial, it’s not that difficult to prove that it’s not, in fact, loving to support it. By the way, even the secular world understands the concept of “intervention” for someone who is doing something personally dangerous though that individual doesn’t objectively see it that way. While there is some research, including Jenner’s own self-assessment, that seems to suggest gender reassignment surgery is psychologically dangerous, I don’t know that we have enough evidence to be conclusive.

blog - jenner 2

(image credit to people.com)

Fortunately, there’s a much easier way to take down the arguments supporting Jenner’s choices. All I’d ask for is that people apply the “do what feels right inside” argument consistently. So, for all of the women who are supportive of Jenner’s transition because he’s simply being true to what he feels, are you comfortable allowing your husband to also do whatever he feels inside? Shall he get a free pass on his next business trip if he experiences strong feelings for another woman? For the men, what if there was a known child molester coaching at your child’s school? Shall we still let him be true to himself? Do we still not realize that there are legitimate organizations like NAMBLA who exist because of this “you gotta be you” mindset. Using a “true to yourself” logic, you cannot fault the bully or the drug addict or the murderer or the rapist or the adulterer or the pedophile. Granted, we could debate whether Jenner’s actions are “victimless” or not (the argument usually brought up in these sorts of issues), but that doesn’t at all change the question of whether or not our personal feelings and natural impulses should always be rightly followed. The obvious answer is that they should not.

The reality is that a civilization can only exist not when people are encouraged to pursue the wildest fantasies that exist within their broken human nature, but when they are compelled to resist that within them which, from the standpoint of God, is clearly wrong.

While we said the religious viewpoint espouses truth devoid of love, the irreligious viewpoint often touts baseless love – love not grounded in truth, logic, or consistent thought. Christians shouldn’t be mindless, i.e. devoid of sound logic, either.

The Gospel Viewpoint – Jenner is broken by sin but offered grace by Jesus.

Bruce/Caitlyn is a tender, valuable, eternal soul. He/she struggles with sin. He/she needs to repent of those sins (not just this one). And while I’ll offer an encouragement/warning, ultimately he/she will answer to God, so I have no need to bring him/her to justice. I’ll let God do that as I am merely a witness to his grace, not a judge.

There is a point of commonality between Jenner and me. We recognize that something is not right inside of us. We are far from what we were originally created to be. And the more we look in the mirror, the less we like what we see in our natural self. This reality of imperfection is so gut-wrenching that we know we can’t live another day with it as is – so we look for a cure. We (all) self-medicate in vastly different ways, from alcoholism to workaholism, anorexia to plastic surgery, social approval to materialism, but the underlying issue is much the same – something’s wrong and we want to fix it.

Jenner took the drastic step of gender-reassignment, but I’m guessing this will provide a temporary bandage, a quick high, yet will eventually result in deeper despair when the painful realization sets in that the broken piece was not the private parts. The broken piece was actually deeper than skin and more complex than feelings. Jenner has a heart that hasn’t been pressed by the weight of God, touched and healed.

Interestingly, healing sick people is one of God’s clearest ways of showing his goodness. Whether it’s the blind (John 9:1-9), the deaf (Mark 7:31-37), the lame (Matt. 9:1-8), the diseased (Matt. 8:1-4), the demon-possessed (Luke 4:31-37), or the flat out dead (John 11:1-44), Jesus takes it upon himself to cure those who are sick on the inside and out, including you and me.

Therefore, scoffing at Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner as “sick” (i.e. the religious stance) doesn’t help. Neither does calling him “healthy” or “brave” (i.e. the irreligious stance). To be the kind of person that could actually help Jenner, you have to believe that Jenner is, by nature, exactly as sick as you are. And he needs the same cure that you need – a Savior who was broken in order to put your pieces back together, and then says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11)

Jenner’s actions, by most estimations throughout history would be considered a bit strange, but “This sickness is not unto death” (John 11:4 KJV) The sickness that he’s trying to medicate – the separation from the love of Christ – that, on the other hand, is actually quite deadly.

(image credit to nydailynews.com)

(image credit to nydailynews.com)

Bill Cosby Has Always Been Guilty; And So Are You And I

(image credit to qz.com)

(image credit to qz.com)

This has been the celebrity story that will not end for the past year. And maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe it still needs to come to resolution.

To date, 30 women have publicly accused Bill Cosby of rape charges, the number accelerating since November of last year. In each case, the statute of limitations, a state-by-state determined law which forbids prosecution for crime after a specified number of years, has been reached. The wisdom behind such a law is the understanding that the further away we get from the event’s occurrence, the murkier any evidence, whether physical or eyewitness, becomes.

While the law makes sense, in these particular cases, it almost complicates matters further, because it seems as though no true resolution is in sight. While many celebrities close to Cosby have spoken out in his defense, many others, whether alleged former victims or female comedians, don’t seem to want to let this get by unpunished.

While the story appeared to be losing steam, with the last “new” info reported on March 3rd, comedian Amy Schumer stirred the pot a bit more on her Comedy Central show Tuesday night. You can watch the full clip here. Schumer’s satirical sketch aimed to poke fun at the reasons she thinks so many defenders of Cosby WANT to believe Bill Cosby is innocent. As unworthy.com contributor summarized, the implied reason for defending Cosby appears to boil down to the idea that he was so beloved as “America’s Dad,” such an important black male role model playing family man, Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, such an important part of many of our youths, that we almost have an a priori belief that Bill Cosby is pure good and we’d refuse to entertain any evidence to the contrary.

I think Schumer (and other accusers) might have something there.

Now, to be clear, I honestly don’t have a strong opinion of Cosby’s innocence or guilt in these charges. I don’t consider myself fully qualified/informed to offer too strong of an opinion. There are some, including Cosby’s biographer, Mark Whitaker, a very highly credited writer and former editor of Newsweek, who said“I was aware of the allegations, but ultimately decided not to include them in my book. I didn’t want to print allegations that I couldn’t confirm independently.” Now, Whitaker has since expressed regret for not pursuing the charges more aggressively, but then again, how fair would it be to include unsubstantiated allegations in a man’s biography? Others, especially victims, are demanding justice, at least an apology from Cosby, if the charges are indeed true, regardless of statute of limitations rules. In short, there are many people very close to the situation that are on other side of the debate, so why should I think my opinion, from so far away, would somehow be more accurate?

(image credit to the wrap.com)

(image credit to the wrap.com)

Setting aside the legalities of the issue, as Christians, it’s important that we give some thought to Schumer’s claims, no matter how irreverent or exaggerated they may be. Is it possible that we choose what we want to believe, irrespective of the evidence, and then use our thoughts and whatever data we can scrape up, to make a defense of our predisposed opinions. Put differently, is it possible that some of us believe Bill Cosby is innocent simply because we love Bill Cosby, have fond childhood memories of him, and therefore refuse to accept evidence to the contrary. On the other hand, is it possible that some of us have had strained relationships with men, including/especially fathers, and are more inclined to believe Cosby is guilty, because deep down inside, all men are evil, selfish, and sex-crazed, women are victims, and someone needs to finally pay for this. According to social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, in The Righteous Mind, these predispositions are not only possible, but probable – we largely believe what we want to believe and then we start gathering our data.

So it’s interesting to me that many of the people who are arguing that the accusations of 30 independent eyewitnesses who would face public ridicule couldn’t possibly be orchestrated, yet some of these same people would also refuse to believe the 500+ independent eyewitnesses who were willing to face death to testify to Jesus’ resurrection. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living.” (1 Cor. 15:3-6) Again, we believe what our hearts tell us to believe, and then we try to dig up some data. Unless we’re honest about our predispositions, it’s harder to find the truth.

So how does a Christian process the Cosby accusations?

(image credit to s2smagazine.com)

(image credit to s2smagazine.com)

1) Bill Cosby is a sinner – While I don’t know if Cosby’s guilty of any/all of the charges brought against him, I know that from the time his mother conceived him, Bill Cosby was sinful (Psalm 51:5). No human belongs on a pedestal. Every mere human belongs in hell. We’re all only anything because we’ve been adopted into God’s family through the grace that comes in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:27-29). Every truly good thing we’ve ever done, ever had, ever produced, is a gift from God (James 1:17). Consequently, any Christian who has been adamantly defending Cosby’s innocence on the basis of their childhood laughter at Dr. Huxtable’s funny faces will want to repent of false justifiers.

2) I am a sinner – As we’re knocking Bill Cosby off his lofty entertainment pedestal, we realize he doesn’t fall below us. He falls to the same level as us. Even though we still have no concrete proof against Cosby or confession from Cosby, let’s for a moment say that the accusations are accurate. What does it mean? What does it change? What have we learned? Humans are capable of great evil – were we so poor at history and social studies that we were unaware of this? Societies governed by sinful humans are corrupt and often unjust – the same? I think what we’ve learned is something about ourselves – the wickedness expressed in the life of the murderer or rapist when compared to the best of us – is merely a circumstantial difference. In other words, a little boy who steals a pencil out of another student’s desk without his knowledge or a comedy legend who has abused women due to his lofty social position – it’s the same impulse – self-interest as opposed to other-interest – but the circumstances are different. The color of evil in us is universal, but the shades are just a little different. Point being, we all stand equally condemned before the court of God’s Holy Law. In no way am I attempting to minimize the awfulness of such crimes. But the fact of the matter, according to the Bible, is that we are all equally guilty of the most heinous crime in history – the murder of God’s only, innocent Son, Jesus. So whether he committed these crimes or not, I’m no better or worse than Bill Cosby. There is no difference… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 3:22-24)

3) God saves sinners – What’s interesting is that the same sinners who are justified by grace are often resentful of God’s grace. You listen to ex-supermodel and alleged victim Janice Dickinson’s passionate public pleas for Cosby to come to justice and you see a woman who doesn’t know or understand the Christian doctrine of Judgment Day, or perhaps the vile nature of her own sin. See, within the Christian framework of belief, no one gets away with anything. Either, you repent of your sins and turn to Christ to receive forgiveness through his payment of your sins, or you will pay for your own sins eternally. Either way, sin gets paid for. Either way, the scales are balanced. And the Apostle Paul tells the Romans that in EVERY case, Jesus had to do that for ALL mankind. God is in the business of graciously declaring sinners not guilty for the sake of Jesus.

I wonder if Janice Dickinson is equally concerned about herself being brought to justice? How can someone be angry with God (or the world) for the grace and patience shown to others when God has shown (and I have needed) the same incomprehensible grace and patience. It makes no sense to be angry over the same trait of God that is necessary for my salvation.

Conclusion

Whether or not Cosby is guilty of these rape charges, I don’t know, you don’t know, and due to the way our legal system is set up, we may never know. On the cosmic scales, this doesn’t change much. Cosby has always been a sinner who could only ever be saved by the sacrifice of Jesus, which brings justice and peace with God. The same could be said of you and me. And any statement about this case that doesn’t keep that reality in mind is forgetting the gospel.

Christians, remember the gospel.

blog - bill cosby 2

Ministering to Millennials (Part VII – An Attempt to Practice What I Preach)

blog - Res sanctuary

I am one of three pastors at a multisite church, Resurrection & Life Lutheran in Rochester, MN.

Over the past several years, I’ve gathered information from a variety of influential churches within Rochester (non-WELS) who seem to be making concerted efforts to reach Millennials. When I’ve asked what’s been tried, they’ve suggested many items I’ve read elsewhere – small groups, studies tailored to Millennial interests, and special services with a more Millennial feel (i.e. heavy video content, dimmed lighting, modern music that uses a large band, etc.). The churches reported varying degrees of success with the methodology. However, one consistent seemed to be that they were more successful at reaching young families, less successful at reaching singles, who tend to bounce from church to church, or even to reach young newlyweds. That last bit sounds relatively WELS – once young adult couples have a child and realize their decisions affect another soul, this tends to be a jolt to their desire to pursue church involvement. This is nothing really new. What’s different is that Millennials, for a variety of reasons, are waiting longer to get married and have kids, if they do that at all. And even if they do, they’re simply not “coming back to church” at the rate previous generations did. This an issue irrespective of denomination.

When we started our second site over four years ago, truth be told, I was a bit terrified.

We structured a second campus with, in my opinion, a bit of a “Goldilocks” feel to it, i.e. everything was designed to be “just right” for people searching for a church. Our second site had a highly desirable worship time (9:30am). It was a casual atmosphere with great coffee, comfortable seats, eager musicians who played a combination of traditional and contemporary songs, and the amenities of a new facility. Sixty to eighty of our most active, exuberant members claimed that second site as “home” and were eager to welcome visitors. On top of all that, we built an indoor children’s playplace right into our second site, available throughout the week to members and the community alike, which has been incredibly successful in getting people from our city onto our campus.

“Sounds great,” you say. So, why was I a bit terrified? The reason is…I was serving primarily at the original site, not the second site. Here we had built a facility and tailored it to appeal to people in their twenties and thirties, the most common age of those seeking a church. It stood in contrast to our more traditionally WELS site only five miles away. For about a year I was filled with panic, feeling like I was constantly fighting upstream, that the deck was stacked against our more traditional site. I prayed about this A LOT. Literally, every night I prayed about this exact topic. And I had almost no suggestions to offer to God either (which is unusual for me). I simply could not see how Resurrection would survive after creating a nearby option that would seemingly appeal more to worship visitors. I started tracking worship attendance very carefully, counting “worship units.” Single adults, married couples, singles with kids, and couples with kids, all counted as just one worship unit. I divided worship attenders into three categories – people in their 20s & 30s, 40s & 50s, and 60s+.

Fast forward three years. In that span, the 20s & 30s age bracket (again, by far your largest segment of worship visitors) has now become our largest demographic group at Resurrection (see Fig. 1).

Res Worship Demographics

Figure 1 – Res Site Worship Demographics

What happened? How did we not only replace the attenders at our original site, but actually get comparatively younger than we were before? Well, the only thing I know is that God’s grace is powerful. And God hears prayers. Beyond that, I can only speculate. I did, however, poll the Millennials at Resurrection and got more than enough responses to be representative.

It would appear that the items that most strongly affected the Millennial-aged attenders were relationships and variety (our worship style in recent years has varied a decent amount from week to week). (see Fig. 2)

Preferences of Res Millennials

Figure 2 – Reasons Given for Attending Resurrection

 

You might be surprised that something like “theological integrity” wasn’t an option in the polling. That was because there are other WELS church options in the area. In other words, theology, while of utmost importance in these Millennials’ decision for a church, didn’t fully account for the choice of attending Resurrection.

So far as I could tell from the comments, it’s nearly half and half as far as worship style preference. In other words, some feel quite strongly that we should be more traditional and reverent and others feel quite strongly that we should be more contemporary and casual. So, amongst Millennial attenders, those feelings coexist, but the final outcome seems to be that all appreciate some variety. At our church, we talk quite frequently about not becoming sinfully dogmatic in areas we are free, that this is as serious an offense as taking away from God’s Word (Rev. 22:18; Deut. 4:2). And we spend time explaining why humans get so self-righteous. As a result, people have become quite open, accepting of the beauty of variety.

Overall, the comments that survey respondents gave largely supported the high premium that Millennials place on relationships.

For instance, many responses included thoughts like:

“Through all this I have formed friendships and bonds and even though life is busy during the week with different schedules, I enjoy seeing fellow believers and friends on Sunday…it is encouraging to know there is a support system when I need to talk to a fellow Christian friend.”

“I was pleasantly surprised to learn about a living and active group for young adults.”

“Our family chooses to go to Resurrection mainly because of the connections with friends that we have there.”

“Most of my friends are young adults without kids that attend Resurrection.”

“Resurrection has a very welcoming group of young people and it has been refreshing to worship with this group and make some meaningful friendships from it. The lasting friendships have stemmed from the small Bible Study groups that have been formed.”

“We have a core group of friends that we enjoy worshipping and visiting with…”

“I like the small groups…”

“I chose Resurrection because it seems to have quite a few young people.”

Seemingly, nothing attracts relationally-minded young people like… young people.

Furthermore, if we had done a better job in the past several years of strategically fostering relationships, offering additional levels of variety, implementing new technology, and promoting more social causes that young adults could get behind, I wouldn’t be surprised if the statistics would have reflected even greater change.

The bottom line is that my congregation is living proof that a fifty-plus-year-old site with several factors working against it and few Millennials can still reach Millennials. I’d personally recommend starting with prayer and offering God no suggestions.

Final Thought

While I’ve spent a great deal of time studying, thinking about, writing about, and praying about this topic of ministering to Millennials, I hope you have not gotten the impression that I think I have everything figured out. I don’t. Not even close.

What I do have is a deeper appreciation for the brilliance of a gospel that “works” at every level for every generation. Imagine a Savior so unalterable, so uncompromising, and yet so culturally flexible that a large segment from every generation in the past 2000 years has considered him their best friend. I count myself as one. And to think, he invites us to come along on the journey of introducing him, THE Answer, to a generation of people who’ve got questions.

Ministering to Millennials (PART VI – My Recommendations regarding Social Renovation, Drama, Apologetics, and Change)

(image credit to workforce.com)

(image credit to workforce.com)

Redemption and Renovation, Not Avoidance

As mentioned previously under the “Judgmental/Exclusive” section, Millennials don’t like the idea of running away from the world and hiding. They’d much rather enter, impact, and improve existing institutions. It’s not as though there isn’t historical precedent for such an idea either. Historian Rodney Stark reasons that the early church, instead of creating their own institutions, were known for joining and enriching existing ones.[1]

In other words, Christians today have the resources to build private schools, make Christian pop music and Christian movies and Christian TV and radio stations, and basically mirror and Christianize nearly everything we see in the world. Millennials appear more interested in popping that bubble and working to better the world, the institutions, and the people around us.

What implications this has for our churches and church body is hard to say. We have a long history of privatized schools. Perhaps the main issue that comes up today regarding the continuance of this system is birth rate. If our church body doesn’t grow, our schools will shrink due to decreasing birth rates. A separate issue, however, is that Millennials are probably going to be even more difficult to convince that such exclusion is necessary…or good. And when it comes to the survival of an institution, as far as recruitment is concerned, leadership is going to have to be very careful to not cross a line of binding consciences to what Christian nurture and education must look like.

Finally, another important aspect of this topic is the realm of vocation. As already mentioned, countless Christians have difficulty attaching meaning to their current work lives in the secular world. In fact, it’s not uncommon for adult Christians, once they experience some period of spiritual growth, to take that as God’s hand moving them into fulltime public ministry. Their current employment is not viewed as spiritual enough. While public ministry may be a legitimate option and noble pursuit for some adults, for others, it is not. Adults need to be able to think through what infusing their work environment with gospel grace would look like – patience, mercy, forgiveness, generosity, etc.

Millennials prefer to redeem what exists if possible, not avoid it and create a separate alternative.

Make Christianity as Dramatic As It Is

The next generation of Christians doesn’t appear to want easy. They seem to want their lives attached to a meaningful narrative that involves high expectations, sacrifice, and surrender. Would you expect less from a generation that was largely shaped in the movie theatre? Think about it – what was the last movie you saw (or book you read) where the main character had low expectations, always played it safe, and sacrificed nothing to advance any causes? Who would care about such a character? You wouldn’t. And yet that’s exactly how a younger generation perceives many Christians today – boringly safe.

Contrast this with the early Christians who were tossed to the lions, took care of the sick, shared everything with the poor but shared their beds with one or none. In the ancient document, The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, we read about the early Christians:

They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all.[2]

Christianity spread in the Roman Empire because the Holy Spirit was not only working through gospel proclamation, but also because the Spirit was attracting people to that message by having gospel effects visualized in the day-to-day lives of the early Christians. That was the same “Institution of Church” as we have today, but arguably more beautiful than what we often see from churches today. No?

This high stakes drama, sacrifice, and risk-taking all actually fits in quite well with how Millennials think. The nonchalant, slacker “whatever” attitude of 80s/90s Buster teens is largely gone. Millennials care about stuff and aren’t afraid to tell you. They want to use any status and influence they gain to do good. They have a true sense of ownership in making the world a better place. Churches should be affirming this desire and tapping into the healing power of the gospel, explaining how Jesus too came here not to condemn the world, but ultimately to work for the betterment of human existence (John 3:17; 2 Pet. 3:13).

Put differently, if you are spending a majority of your time as a church communicating where you’re at in your unified budget, expounding on the dangers of interdenominational prayer fellowship, and debating the merits of various worship styles…all while Coptic Christians in Egypt are being beheaded, you’re going to lose your Millennials, or at the very least turn off any potential new ones. The Christian faith is not a line item, it’s a lifeline, and it needs to be communicated with every ounce of drama and passion that it deserves.

Update Catechism Curriculum to Include Apologetics

Atheistic thought never really gained traction in Europe until the French Revolution and Age of Enlightenment. Consequently, aside from giving some time to the Natural Knowledge of God, Luther’s Catechisms aren’t really major resources for Christian Apologetics.

With the rise of New Atheism[3] and increasingly secular academics, the Christian Church is in desperate need of good apologetic study. While the research is debatable as to the exact percentages[4], there is no denying that “university professor” is one of the most atheist professions in our country. When young, impressionable adults then enter into college and sit before men and women who are well-respected in their given fields and the students find these professional educators making disparaging comments about the accuracy of Scripture, they feel ill-equipped to defend their faith. I’ve received countless texts, emails, and Facebook messages over the years from college students who were asking for clarification on biblical stances, because their professor had made a comment blatantly disregarding the Bible in their psychology, sociology, philosophy, biology, chemistry, geology, astronomy, etc. courses.

I have no doubt in my mind that apologetics is a more pressing need for God’s people in the twenty-first century, post-Enlightenment western world than in sixteenth century Germany. We need to build some of this into curriculums starting at an early age. Fortunately, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel on a good portion of it. Ken Ham’s group at Answers in Genesis is phenomenal.[5] And they have an enormous collection of age appropriate study materials. Let’s start there.

Willingness To Change

All of my recommendations here require a willingness to change. Now, any Christian who truly knows the gospel understands the gospel must never change. To the degree that you believe it can or should, by definition, you’re pushing yourself outside of God’s Kingdom. However, in proportion to seeing that saving gospel clearly, you also understand that everything but the gospel can, and sometimes must, change. If you don’t understand that, you’re guilty of the manmade religion that the Apostle Paul so readily condemns. (Col. 2:16-17; Gal. 2:11-21)

Change is difficult for religious people. Sinful hearts tend to self-righteously latch onto certain practices, certain clothes, certain patterns of saying things, certain music, certain programs, certain systems, and then condemn all that is different. Our sinful hearts do this because they are hostile to Christ (Rom. 8:7). By nature, we want to justify ourselves before God apart from Christ. As a result, we make up rules, we do our best to keep them, and we condemn all who don’t abide by these rules to the same extent that we do. Then, in our minds, we are, relatively speaking, closer to God than others. The subconscious, self-righteous goal all along was to bring ourselves to God apart from Christ. The motor was unbelief. This was the same engine that powered the Pharisees. (Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:7)

Again, Millennials are almost perfectly calibrated to embrace the beautiful freedom of forms that the gospel presents.[6] Millennials understand that change is simply a natural part of life. Accelerating technology means that communication, organizations, and life itself are ever-changing. But the essence of humanity stays the same. Consequently, the gospel is brilliantly BOTH non-negotiable AND tremendously flexible.

As Christians, we should reflect that in our churches too.

….

Next week is the final installment in the series. I’ll share with you the results of my efforts to practice what I preach.  

(image credit to coca-colacompany.com)

(image credit to coca-colacompany.com)

[1] Stark, pg. 55

[2] http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/diognetus-roberts.html

[3] In short, New Atheism (led by voices like Richard Dawkins, the now deceased Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett) is “new” in the sense that whereas atheism in the past merely said that God didn’t exist, New Atheism is saying that organized religion is dangerous to society and should be eradicated, at least from the public arena. For more insights and details on its impact, check out Adam Lee, “Rise of the New Atheists,” http://www.salon.com/2012/07/30/should_atheists_make_an_alliance_with_religious_progressives/

[4] Amarnath Amarasingam, “Are American College Professors Religious?” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amarnath-amarasingam/how-religious-are-america_b_749630.html

[5] https://answersingenesis.org

[6] Yale professor Lamin Sanneh has some great insights on this in Whose Religion Is Christianity? The Gospel Beyond the West. Raised in Gambia, he makes the case that the reason Christianity is burgeoning in Africa today is precisely because, in contrast to other faiths like Islam, the Christian faith didn’t de-Africanize the continent. Rather, it enriched Africa’s pre-existing forms.

Ministering to Millennials (PART V – My Recommendations regarding Sex, Learning Style, Service, and Tolerance)

(image credit to thenextweb.com)

(image credit to thenextweb.com)

(four more recommendations…)

Talk About Sex…Positively

Of the several hundred Millennials I’ve talked to fairly privately about their lives, most of them Christian or formerly so, almost none had conversations with their parents about sex during adolescence. For that matter, other topics that tend to occupy young brains in addition to sex – money, career, friends, identity, meaning of life – extremely few of the Millennials I’ve spoken with had these important conversations with people who loved them, who were the primary caretakers nurturing their relationships with God. I don’t know a single young adult who hasn’t struggled with the question of “how far is too far” in dating relationships and yet I’m still waiting to meet more than a handful of young adults who had highly productive conversations with his/her parent(s) about this. It’s almost as if Satan has thoroughly damaged this gift of God merely by the threat of “awkward conversation.”

Consequently, young adults have been left to base their evaluations of such issues, to form their perceptions, based on peers, music, television, movies, the internet, and media…the ways secular teens form their perceptions.

Granted, many of these young adults were aware that “sex outside of marriage is wrong.” Significantly fewer, however, were aware that “sex inside of marriage is a beautiful, God-glorifying thing.” The idea that God invented sex and designed humans as sexual beings seems odd to many young adults, unfortunately even Christian ones.

As far as young people being products of the environments in which they grow up, including sexually, I’m not sure exactly what we can do. But sympathetically acknowledging the difficulty of the extraordinary influx of hormones in young adulthood, teaching a proper theology of sex, and helping Millennials understand that the promises of extramarital sexual activity are Satanic lies that ruin relationships, both with other humans and your relationship with God…this would be a good place to start.

Socratic Learning Experience

Millennials are the generation that has access to any and all information. They can Wikipedia their way into biometrics, bomb-making, or Buddhism. In other words, they have plenty of places from which they can get information, and therefore they don’t need you to be dispensers of information per se. They need your help discerning between conflicting information.

This creates a drastic shift in learning. A generation or two ago, a minister was able to say, “Thus sayeth the Lord,” and his congregation would swallow it whole. Not so with Millennials. Millennials will challenge you on that, reasoning, “Who are you to say what the Lord says?! The Catholic priest says this. The Baptist minister says that. The Lutheran pastor says a third thing. And for that matter, the Jewish rabbi and the Dalai Lama don’t agree with any of you.” All of these individuals claim spiritual authority. But who holds the truth?

It is simply not enough to teach a Millennial the way something is, you have to show them. You have to take them down a journey of spiritual exploration, and you had better maintain a delicate balance – both a humility that leads you to listen attentively to their thoughts and concerns AND a passionate “I’d lose my life for this” conviction about where you currently stand. You forfeit your audience if you make a mistake on either side.

Connect Service To Evangelism

For better or worse, many young adults believe that evangelism must be connected to service on behalf of others. Many new studies coming out suggest that Millennials are significantly more inclined than their parents were to volunteer for causes perceived as important.

Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation of National and Community Service says,

“We’re on the crux of something big, because these Millennials are going to take this spirit of giving and wanting to change communities and they’re going to become parents soon. I am very encouraged by what we’re seeing.”[1]

Millennials are so skeptical, and sniff out hypocrisy so readily, that they will adamantly reject any love and forgiveness talk that isn’t genuinely reinforced by a selfless, serving walk. To them, action must provide shading to the beauty of word. And lest someone think this smacks of Social Gospel ideology, let’s not become so jaded against social causes that we forget the emphasis that both Christ and the early Christians put on social concern. Historian Rodney Stark describes how such service by Christians led to interest in the Christian faith in the early years of Christianity…

“alien to paganism was the notion that because God loves humanity, Christians cannot please God unless they love one another. Indeed, as God demonstrates his love through sacrifice, humans must demonstrate their love through sacrifice on behalf of one another.”[2]

Further related, a whopping total of 96 percent of Millennials believe that they will someday “accomplish something great.”[3] That’s right – 96 PERCENT! Here’s the catch though – while previous generations may have defined greatness in terms of personal wealth, power, and fame, that’s not how Millennials see it. They still want the money, but their end game, at least from their own mouths, is a greater good for humanity. They’d like to sponsor a camp or build wells with clean water for kids in Africa. The generation that’s concerned about things like carbon footprints is very conscious of leaving a positive impact on the world. Without question, this is something churches will want to tap into – Millennials want to live out the gospel, especially when it comes to social causes.

Be Sensitive To Their Tolerant Disposition

Okay. Okay. Yes, we all know Millennials have work to do on their problem with moral relativism. But before immediately correcting their inconsistent and illogical attempts at morality, let’s start with a positive – these young adults are eager to find a point of commonality rather than a point of contention. This is drastically different from previous generations. Many Christians and Christian churches in the twentieth century largely defined their faith and denominational affiliation on the basis of what they were not, e.g. a Lutheran was not a Catholic because…, a Baptist was not a Lutheran because… Certainly such doctrinal differences are serious and at some point in time need to be worked through, but Millennials don’t want to start there. Older WELS members often do appear to.

So it’s worth reminding ourselves that statements of inclusion are important to communicating the gospel clearly. Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28) John says, “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” (1 John 4:2) Jesus himself says, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24) These are clear statements of gospel inclusion. The gospel is so overwhelmingly inclusive that it works for EVERYONE. It’s intrinsically inclusive. So let’s not be too quick to stomp out a good, but often misguided trait of Millennials.

Rather, for confronting a misguided common belief in culture – in this case, the native tolerance of Millennials – I would prefer to approach it with the methodology that Timothy Keller proposes:

“Our premises must be drawn wholly from the Bible, yet we will always find some things in a culture’s beliefs that are roughly true, things on which we can build our critique. We will communicate something like this: “You see this ‘A’ belief you have? The Bible says the same thing – so we agree. However if ‘A’ is true, then why do you not believe ‘B’? The Bible teaches ‘B,’ and if ‘A’ is true, then it is not right, fair, or consistent for you to reject ‘B.’ If you believe this – how can you not believe that?” We reveal inconsistencies in the cultural beliefs and assumptions about reality. With the authority of the Bible we allow one part of the culture – along with the Bible – to critique another part. The persuasive force comes from basing our critique on something we can affirm within our culture.[4]

So, for instance, on the issue of tolerance, it works like this: What if someone says, “I think you’re being intolerant – and therefore, unloving – of other beliefs and other Christians by not (e.g.) allowing them to commune with us.” At that point what you do is say that you agree that the gospel does promote radical, almost otherworldly, inclusiveness. However, tolerance of beliefs has nothing to do with it. In fact, by saying that I’m being “narrow-minded” or “intolerant,” you’re being just as intolerant of my beliefs as you claim I’m being of the beliefs of others. Neither of us is more or less tolerant than the other. BOTH of us are claiming authoritative spiritual insight. At that point, you’ve both affirmed their desire for a good, gospel-flavored attitude, but corrected their misguided application of what is or is not loving.[5] This affords you the opportunity to then walk them through 1 Corinthians 10-11, at which point they’ll be impressed to see how loving and compassionate the idea of close Communion really is. If you come in with, “Well, that’s just wrong” you’ll run into that Nietzscheian Millennial distrust of authority and institutional power plays.

Affirm the good. Gently walk them through what is incorrect.

….

Enough for this week. Again, I’ll have four final recommendations next week. Thanks for reading!

(image credit to socialmediatoday.com)

(image credit to socialmediatoday.com)

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2014/12/29/us/politics/ap-us-ap-poll-young-volunteers.html?_r=0

[2] Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, pg. 86

[3] Rainer, pg. 16

[4] Timothy Keller, Center Church, pg. 125

[5] Perhaps a better example of this methodology, I’m constantly using this teaching technique on the issue of Evolution. Most young adults operate with “macro-evolutionary beliefs” since that’s what they learned in their science textbooks. However, most young adults also often have particular compassion for the oppression of human rights around the world. So, what I’ll do is establish that such human sensitivity (an ‘A’ belief for them) is a wonderful attribute, but gently point out how this is inconsistent with their ‘B’ belief of evolution. Evolution is predicated on the idea of “survival of the fittest” and “the strong eat the weak.” So, if you believe in macro-evolution, you cannot logically say that it is “wrong” for a stronger country in the Middle East to devour a weaker country. That’s merely the advancement of the species. See, at that point, their ‘A’ belief trumps their ‘B’ belief, and they feel compelled to correct the cognitive dissonance. I don’t know that I’ve ever explained macro-evolution to a young adult that way and had them not say, “Hmmm. That’s interesting.”