This week, the Southern Baptist Convention announced it is launching yet another committee to examine changing its name. The goal is to better reflect the fact that, aside from folks who live at the North Pole, they’re not necessarily always geographically “Southern” anymore. Whether or not the name change will go through is up in the air — this is the eighth attempt at renaming the organization.
But it isn’t just the Southern Baptists. Name change fever is in the water. The interwebs are abuzz with the announcement by Netflix this week that it’s changing the name of its DVD service to Qwikster — a name that conjures up images of oil changes and bunnies with chocolate milk. Campus Crusade for Christ, in a move which resulted in a public relations nightmare, recently announced it was changing its name to Cru (rowing teams or short haircuts, anyone?).
Often, name changes are a result of corporate mergers. If you were a customer of AT&T Wireless back in the day, your cell phone company for a time was renamed Cingular — until, of course, it reverted back to AT&T. Kinko’s became FedEx Kinkos, and then just FedEx, even though everybody still calls it Kinko’s.
Women seem to have perfected the art of the name change, since the most common changes of name happen with marriage. Women bear well the burden of changing all their documentation and notifying their friends — unless the husband takes his wife’s name, in which case the man bears the brunt of jokes for the rest of his days.
When I was a kid, I knew a girl named Nicole who, for whatever reason, felt inspired to change her name to Michelle. And, for whatever reason, her parents relented and legally changed her first name. I can’t recall exactly, but she may have been referred to as “Micole” for a while thereafter.
The changing of one’s name does have biblical precedence. Abram became Abraham. Simon became Peter. Saul became Paul. The book of Revelation even tells us that the ones who overcome will be given a white stone with a new name written on it (Rev. 2:17). All of these changes, I think, reflect a radical inward transformation. The new name represents the new man.
This recent spate of name changes, however, seems to tout the continuity of the old. Qwikster will offer the same great service, same red envelopes, etc. Cru will remain committed to the Great Commission, etc. Those proposing the Southern Baptist Convention’s name change aren’t seeking a change in the its mission.
Ultimately, I think, we make our names more than they make us. After all, Amazon.com isn’t a website about a South American river, and few are under the impression that it is. Will Qwikster, Cru, and the Earthen Baptist Convention (What do you think, SBC committee?) make radical differences in the groups that carry those names? Probably not. But then again, they can always change it back.
Whether or not the tactics used to capture such career-ending statements are morally valid themselves, I’ll not argue here — that debate has been well articulated elsewhere on both sides. It is worth noting, however, that the “shock” generated by these exposées comes from the haphazard manner in which those who were stung displayed their off-the-record views. After all, we’re not that surprised Planned Parenthood would offer to keep things on the down-low, or that an NPR exec would have disdain for evangelical Christians. In all cases, the “stars” of the videos had their dark sides brought to light in a fashion that made their sensibilities look ridiculous to the culture at large.
The incredulity given to their behind-closed-door statements comes, of course, from the drastically different faces they and their organizations portray to the public. When discussing oaths, Jesus told his disciples, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37, NIV) A person’s word should be their word, regardless of external validation or not by an external source.
Now that the cat is out of the bag, it won’t be long before all sides of any debate will be hit with the hidden camera. It’s only a matter of time. It’s too easy, and the potential for publicity in the internet age is enormous. What would be found out if you were filmed or recorded without your knowledge? Do you shudder to think?
Should sting operations like these force us to live always on edge that somewhere — everywhere — there is a hidden camera at the ready to catch us off guard. Do we dare even use the restroom or change clothing without fear of our actions being translated into megapixels? Certainly there are things we would not want on camera for the right reasons.
Proverbs 5:21 warns that, “…a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he ponders all his paths.” (ESV) Ultimately it matters not if there’s a hidden camera watching you — the eyes of the Lord penetrate far further than a grainy twenty-frames-per-second camera could ever go. It is in the healthy fear of those eyes that we should accordingly adjust our conduct. Cameras or not, before him we are never hidden.
Yeah. I’ve always believed that if you make a film with ambiguity, it needs to be based on a true interpretation. If it’s not, then it will contradict itself, or it will be somehow insubstantial and end up making the audience feel cheated. Ambiguity has to come from the inability of the character to know — and the alignment of the audience with that character.
Nolan’s point here underscores an important factor in interpreting any “text,” be it a blockbuster film, a child’s cry, or the Bible itself: Ambiguity is an attribute of appearance — not an indicator of reality.
A concept may very well be masked in ambiguity, but the underlying reality must be just that — real, true, and objective.
There is much that could be said about the above clip, but most striking is the fact that Lamb left it to his wife to say the hard words. Lamb does note in the clip that he “takes full responsibility” for his actions, but having your wife do the dirty work for you seems far more empty than full.
Whenever I’m sent by my wife to the store on “milk & bread” runs, there’s one rule I follow that keeps me from endlessly wandering the fluorescent freezer-aisled jungle: if we need more than three items, I must make a list. I’m unsure of the average human limits (five items, six?), but three is the limit of items that my meager brain can remember.
Lists save us from ourselves. In my case, they save me from bringing home ten boxes of Coco Puffs just because they’re on sale (who knows, we might need them…). In a fascinating 2009 interview with Der Speigel, Italian semiotician Umberto Eco explains that lists are the basis of culture (ht: LifeHacker):
The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries.
Indeed. Whether for making sense of infinity, the grocery store, or one’s Amazon.com wishes, lists do give our lives a sense of order. Christians, of course, know this well, as the Bible is brimming with lists:
There’s the obvious Ten Commandments (perhaps the most-referenced list in the history of Western civilization), which helps to bring order to our ethics.
The genealogies of the Old Testament display God’s people’s heritage as well as our own temporal natures.
There is even in the Bible the abuse of lists — think of David’s sinful census (2 Samuel 24 & 1 Chronicles 21)
The Christmas story begins with a list that has nothing to do with wishes or shopping (see Matthew 1), but has everything to do with showing that from the beginning there was order, and Jesus was no mistake.
Some lists were even apparently too big a project for the biblical writers to take on, as we see at the end of the book of John, where we find that “…there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25, ESV)
This list (aha!) could go on and on, but one gets the the idea. Eco observes that “we like lists because we don’t want to die.” This may be true, but the Bible’s use of lists is more positive in that its lists show us how to truly live — lists we should definitely check twice.
So, you’ve started a church plant. You’ve gathered together a few faithful families and individuals from within a community, and you’re likely now meeting in homes, rented office space, or more likely — a public school building. Hopefully, you’ve decided (and founded your church) upon sound doctrinal tenets and have identified at least a few church leaders.
Your next order of business — even before you secure adult-sized folding chairs and an electronic drum machine — is to decide up on a church name. While there’s ample biblical precedent for the naming of animals, textual support for the naming of a church is scant.
Thankfully, we evangelicals (who are typically disoriented without written instruction) have found a way to remedy this. I’m not sure as to the origins of the method, but the system below can account for approximately 83.585 percent of all evangelical churches. It’s really a rather simple process.
STEP ONE: Start with the list of words below:
Of course, one could readily add the word “Pointe” into the mix above, but by all means, make sure that the trailing “e” is in place if you want to look like a bona fide evangelical church. Otherwise, congregants might miss the “point.”
STEP TWO: Take any combination of the words listed above, in any order, add to them your denominational (or lack thereof) appellation, and tack on the word “Church” at the end (unless you’re really progressive, then you might want to go with “gaggle of Christ-followers,” or “seekers”). Voila! Your church now has a name.
There will be outliers, of course — the Chevrolet Missionary Baptist Church I once spotted while driving through rural Kentucky certainly didn’t fit the mold — but as a general rule, the system works pretty well.
Are there any other church-name-words that I’ve missed?
In addition to a “royal priesthood” and a “holy nation,” the King James Bible speaks of Christians in 1 Peter 2:9 as a “peculiar people.” Modern translations dispense with the term, but it seems that to at least one sociologist, some Bible-belt Christians are so far removed from American culture that they’re deserving of studies to document their peculiarity.
On her third trip to the museum, Barton took her undergraduate students, who found the visit unsettling. Several in the group were former fundamentalists who had since rejected that worldview. Several others were gay. In part because of these backgrounds, Barton said, the students were on edge at the museum. Particularly nerve-wracking were signs warning that guests could be asked to leave the premises at any time. The group’s reservation confirmation also noted that museum staff reserved the right to kick the group off the property if they were not honest about the “purpose of [the] visit.”
Because of these messages, Barton said, the students felt they might accidentally reveal themselves as nonbelievers and be asked to leave. This pressure is a form of “compulsory Christianity” that is common in a region known for its fundamentalism, Barton said. People who don’t ascribe to fundamentalism often report the need to hide their thoughts for fear of being judged or snubbed.
At one point, Barton reported in her paper, a guard with a dog circled a student pointedly twice without saying anything. When he left, a museum patron approached the student and said, “The reason he did that is because of the way you’re dressed. We know you’re not religious; you just don’t fit in.” (The student was wearing leggings and a long shirt, Barton writes.)
Having never visited the Creation Museum (do they sell replicas of Adam’s rib at the gift shop?), I can’t relate to the oppressive fear that these students must have felt. One can only imagine the displacement felt by the professor and her students during their expedition. After all, they endured the nearly two and a half-hour journey from the cosmopolitan venues of Morehead, Kentucky to the wilds of the Greater Cincinnati Metro Area — only to be accosted by a canine and almost conscripted into “compulsory Christianity” had their disguises been slightly less effective.
All ribbing aside, while the absurdity of this account reveals how out-of-touch with their own surroundings the Morehead expedition was, it reminds us of the reality that Christian beliefs are increasingly cast by the world as quaint eccentricities — even when the numbers may not validate such a view. At this, we Christians shouldn’t be as shocked as our professor on her field study.
Whether or not the Creation Museum is a proper touchstone of twenty-first century Christianity is certainly debatable , but it is of little importance. For any Christian who believes that a dead man got up out of his grave two thousand years ago, there is an ever-increasing gulf with those who do not — a fact which no amount of cultural hipness can overcome. We will be found weird, wanting, and ripe for ridicule. We will be painted with a broad brush, and the temptation will be to say “that’s not me — I’m not like those Christians.” It would be better — when the occasion arises — if we instead pointed to Christ and lamented how unlike him we are. Better yet if we pointed out how unlike us he is.
Even after all the press they received, the bulk of press reports focus on the giveaway, and the message of the resurrection is lost in the skipping-down-the-aisle of the lucky winners of new cars. As if Oprah’s favorite things were somehow in the neighborhood of the crucifixion and resurrection, the AP reports that the pastor says “the prizes are a metaphor for the Easter message of the ultimate giveaway.”
The Gospel is not a game show, and pragmatism at all costs costs us much indeed — more than just a few hundred thousand dollars in prizes.
This past Sunday, I did something generally considered verboten in conservative evangelical circles.
I went to church without my Bible.
No, I haven’t cast aside the primacy of the Word in exchange for platitudes, and my reading of the Scriptures was no less than on any given Sunday. The only difference was that this time I did all my reading on my phone.
Reading the Bible on an electronic device is not a novel idea. Bible apps for the iPhone have been around since the device began, and before that, as far back as two decades ago electronic Bibles could occasionally be seen in the pews. But sightings of the Franklin Electronic Holy Bible were as rare as the taped eyeglasses, short-sleeved dress shirts, and pocket protectors worn by its users. And even today, at least in my circles, people overwhelmemingly use the traditional codex.
This wasn’t my first experience with using an iPhone or Blackberry-based application to read the Scriptures. I’m currently reading through the Bible daily using the Logos Bible app for the iPhone, and I’ve previously used my iPhone as a substitute text when in a pinch, like when carrying my kids precluded toting a leather bound Bible safely.
This time, I wanted to see what it was like to go all-in, and attend the Sunday morning service codex-free. My app of choice was Crossway’s new ESV iPhone app, which has a navigation system better suited to virtually “flipping” back and forth through the text than the Logos app, which has better readability but an awful navigation system.
I used it both for teaching in my Sunday School class, and for reading along during the worship service. Within such contexts, if felt odd, but that was mostly due to the “first time” factor. Here are a few observations:
The temptation to check email, the internet, etc. wasn’t much of an issue, but the potential for distraction remains, and should not be ignored. I’ve actually heard of pastors asking people to text them questions during the sermon — something even a technophile like me can’t understand.
A codex is still faster for navigating through the Bible. If you ever did Bible drills as a kid, and you’re at least somewhat familiar with your Bible, you’ll find the passage you’re looking for faster in a bound paper Bible nine times out of ten.
I don’t usually write or take notes in my Bible, but this could be an issue for someone who does. The ESV app and others do allow you to take notes, but I can’t see how this would be quicker than pen & paper.
The nagging feeling that people around you might think you’re checking your email rather than reading the text is, well — nagging.
Have I converted? No, not yet. I’ll have my codex with me this weekend, but I do see myself increasingly using PDA Bible apps. I do wonder, however: if the PDA bible isn’t more traditional than a bound book? After all, Jesus didn’t turn pages when he read the Scriptures, but, shall we say, scrolled.
What do you think? Will the days of Bible-thumping be succeeded by Bible-tapping?
When pondering the nativity, I’ve heard much made of the fact that the manger is a place of great humility for the King of Kings to be found, and rightly so. I’ve seldom given much thought, however, to what the manger was — a feeding place for animals.
There’s little evidence that there were animals present at Christ’s birth. “The cattle were lowing,” as the song goes, but it it’s difficult to imagine a Jewish setting with high values on both cleanliness and hospitality that would permit a woman to give birth while having to worry about being stepped on by a donkey. The manger was indeed lowly, but this manger was not in use when Mary and Joseph sought a place to lay their child.
There is no stable mentioned in any of the gospel accounts — just the manger. The shepherds are not told to go to a stable, but a manger. They would not find the baby lying at his mother’s breast — the most logical place to find a newborn — but lying in a manger.
It’s a feeding trough. Its significance is veiled somewhat in that a manger holds the livestock’s food. The animals’ sustenance is replaced by a baby who really, after all and before all is their true sustenance.
Some three decades later that same baby would tell his followers, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” His further explanation of this cryptic principle would alienate many who couldn’t grasp what they saw as madness: a man calling upon them to eat his flesh and drink his blood.
In the end, the repurposed manger served its original purpose after all. Christ is our sustenance. Man does not live on bread alone, but from God’s words — from the Word made flesh. Let us feed upon him this Christmas.
This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for blood. It’s one of the most powerful metaphors in any language, and it is the substance by which we measure our humanity.
Blood can mean death, of course. With loss of blood goes our life. Blood is the mark of violence, whether it is brought to bear through force or poisoned through more subtle forms of malice.
But blood also means life. The Scriptures tell us that “the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life” (Lev. 17:14, ESV). The death that comes with blood loss is chased away by new blood. Blood unites all the undulating parts and sinews of our bodies, making our disparate members whole.
Blood means family — those who live in different bodies but share with us the same blood. The association brought by blood can and will bring joy, pain, loyalty, betrayal, happiness, suffering, and love. Blood bonds us in ways which on this earth we will never fully comprehend, and can never fully escape even if we tried.
Ultimately, blood means grace. Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins. Without death, there is no life. Christ displayed the full picture of the meaning of blood. The violence that shed his blood resulted in his death, but it is by his blood that we find life. It is by Christ’s blood that I can call others “brother” and “sister,” while our genetics have little in common.
So this year, as we gather together in the presence of blood that is familial, foreign, violent, and life-giving, let us thank him who covered us with his own.
WSJ: Does this issue of length apply to books, too? Is a 1,000-page book somehow too much?
CM: For modern readers, yeah. People apparently only read mystery stories of any length. With mysteries, the longer the better and people will read any damn thing. But the indulgent, 800-page books that were written a hundred years ago are just not going to be written anymore and people need to get used to that. If you think you’re going to write something like “The Brothers Karamazov” or “Moby-Dick,” go ahead. Nobody will read it. I don’t care how good it is, or how smart the readers are. Their intentions, their brains are different.
I think this is largely true — the only 800+ page non-thriller novels I’ve read tended to be old and Russian. The bite/byte-sized culture in which we operate today makes our attention spans struggle to hold beyond 140 characters, much less 140 pages (see Nicholas Carr’s “Is Google Making us Stupid“). Such indicators would not seem to bode well for Christians who claim to be a people of the book — a book which generally has over a thousand pages, thin paper and double-columns notwithstanding. Could there be any future for ideas that are bigger than a status update? (more…)
The circus that is Haggard (Ted, not Merle) launched a new act this week — he’s starting a new church at his home in Colorado. Just three years since the former megachurch pastor scandalized himself with a male prostitute, he is now ready to “to do something in [their] house to connect with friends.” Beginning next week, the Haggards will host “prayer meetings,” which in Haggard’s mind could also be called “a church.”
“For this prayer meeting, I have no goals,” Haggard said. “I have no secret hope that more people will come. I am not driven as I was. Before I focused on the Great Commission. Now I focus on helping other people.”
Setting aside the claim that he “has no goals,” or the seemingly self-deprecating hopelessness of his group’s prospects, it’s Haggard’s supposed antithesis of the Great Commission and “helping people” that’s most troubling. How could an evangelical (former National Association of Evangelicals president, no less) see proclamation of the Gospel as being antithetical to “helping people?”
An evangelical who has lost the fact that the Gospel is our ultimate help should at the very least question his evangelical credentials. Better yet — perhaps he should seek to listen more than lead, and let the Gospel question him.
Yesterday, at a Heritage Foundation-sponsored event here in Washington, D.C., I had the opportunity to hear researcher Christian Smith present findings from his latest batch of research involving his National Study of Youth and Religion project. Whereas the first round of research focused on the religious lives of American teens, Smith’s second round follows the same subjects several years later as they move into what he describes as “emerging adulthood,” the phenomenon in which a variety of factors prolong adolescence and delay the full responsibilities of adulthood — not to be confused with the “emerging church”.
The results of the research are both frightening and fascinating. Among some of the findings on their views of religion and religious communities are that Emerging Adults (EAs):
are generally indifferent to religion
think that the shared central principles of religion are good, while religious particularities are peripheral
think that religion is for making good people
think that religious beliefs are cognitive assents rather than life drivers
One item which stood out was that EAs felt that religious congregations were “elementary schools of morals.” Smith aptly noted that people tended to graduate from schools, and then move on (obviously Smith excludes the “perpetual grad student” from the purview of his study…). These EAs tend to see religion in the same manner: something from which they can “move on.” The research also notes that EAs do not see themselves as “belonging” to their religious congregations
Given that his sample was from broad religious spectrum — and the fact that it’s obvious in the aggregate that persons who harbor the above sentiments are likely unregenerate — it’s still a sobering notion that many evangelical churches are full of EAs who think like this. We should be ready for ministry to them.
Ratted out by the Huffington Post, no less. In her exposé there, Valerie Tarico — a self-described “former fundie” — shows politicians the ropes on “speaking evangelicalese.” Tarico urges politicians to do things like:
1. Refer to “my heart”:
a. Evangelical examples: asking Jesus into your heart, God is speaking to your heart.
b. Secular use: I feel in my heart, I know in my heart no matter how hard it may be, we need to provide basic medical care for every child in this country.
2. Say you felt “called” or were led to do something.
a. Evangelical examples: God called me to move to Seattle, to take up the ministry, to put John 3:16 on my eyeblacks. Richard Dawkins and I have been brought together.
b. Secular use: I felt called to take up the cause of health care for all.
3. Use the word “personal” liberally.
a. Evangelical example: I needed a personal faith. You aren’t really a Christian until you have a personal relationship with Jesus.
b. Secular use: I have a personal relationship to the people in that nursing home.
Tarico does warn those seeking to woo evangelicals not to fake it, but still implies that certain key phrases can cause evangelicals to warm or cool to a politician.
What intrigues me about this is not that playbooks like this exist — I’ve been around politics long enough to know that there isn’t a target audience out there which hasn’t been neatly categorized, packaged, and labeled for presentation. One could write a similar list for speaking to liberal environmentalists, sexual libertines, or blue collar union workers. What’s revealing here (and equally disheartening) is the depersonalized view of people that comes with such mass-culture thinking.
E pluribus unum rules the day. In this instance, evangelicals are viewed as little more than a voting bloc to be swayed — easier to deal with en masse than as individuals. Sadly, such thinking infects the whole of the political spectrum, and it’s far from the approach Jesus took when he looked upon the crowds. That we would all view others more as “sheep without a shepherd” than sheeple…
Most internet users, surprisingly enough, don’t look to esoteric bloggers for answers. They turn to the Almighty Search Engine, which more often than not is Google (hey, we all can’t hang on to AltaVista, Lycos, Excite, and Webcrawler). Therefore, I thought our discussion of what is an evangelical wouldn’t be complete without letting Google chime in:
As you can see, all the pixels we’ve spent here determining the nature of evangelicalism could have been easily solved by Google’s “Suggest” feature. Scary.
Ideally, evangelical is more an adjective than it is a name. It’s not so much the evangelical church as it is evangelical churches. In this respect, the content of this week’s sermon by my pastor is of greater concern than what national leaders are saying — a concept the national media often has difficulty grasping. As pervasive as national evangelical voices can be, the local ministry of the gospel (and the personal authority of the Scriptures is about as local as one can get…) has primacy over the universal.
This is not to say that evangelicals are or should be separatists, let alone wagon-circling fundamentalists (now there’s a tricky word!). Evangelicals indeed listen to and learn from each other from afar — this very blog is but one example of many. However, the gospel that evangelicals preach happens not in a vacuum, but is lived in the daily lives of believers young and old. Paul reminds us: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Feet serve us best when on the ground, and that’s where evangelicalism is found most pure.