Thursday, November 29, 2007

His Dark Materials Indeed!

I presume many of you have heard about the movie The Golden Compass. If not, Fox News has an article here. As this article describes, the movie version has removed many of the offensive religious elements that were originally in the book. Fine.

My observation on the ol' brouhaha, though, is that the book trilogy, entitled His Dark Materials, is not just "atheistic," but satanic. It reverses the moral order (what is presumed good is not, and what appears evil is good), it establishes a false cosmology and theology of the "daemons"--spirits who guide us, and in the end, the characters reportedly "kill God." All of this is a lot of repackaged gnosticism; it's diabolical. It is not enough to say the author doesn't believe in God. It is not enough to say the books seek to convince young people that there is no God. Science textbooks do it routinely. These books propose another "gospel" altogether.

I suppose if you want to fill your head with this wickedness no one will stop you. But if you care for your faith and the faith of your children, flee this stupid filth.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Speaking of Being Watchful...

According to Google Analytics, just over 7% of you visit in the 7:00am hour (CST). Doesn't sound like many, but it is the most popular time you visit. The second most popular time is 2:00pm (Central (that's -7:00 GMT, Doorman). The least popular time to visit is 3:00am (.4%)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Being Watchful

And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:11-12 NKJV)

You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. (1 Thessalonians 5:5-8 NKJV)

"Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is." (Mark 13:33 NKJV)
Scripture uses the term "watchfulness"often when speaking of our Christian living. In Greek, two terms are used primarily, nepsis and agrupneo. Nepsis is the favored term of the Church Fathers.

What does it mean to be neptic? Certainly not "to not go to sleep at all," though at times this was done. Keeping vigil was common practice in the early Church (and in Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism to this day). A vigil meant hours of standing in prayer through the night--sometimes all night, sometimes for a few hours.

Being neptic--watchful--is a characteristic of living moment by moment, the opposite of drunkenness and stupor, as Bp. Kallistos Ware defines it. Being watchful means paying close attention to the thoughts that you suffer, in order to "bring... every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Watchfulness heeds the condition of your heart, where your trust is, where your hope is, how you are responding to the grace of God (or not). It means paying attention to the moment you are in, not worrying about yesterday or tomorrow, for "sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matt. 6:34). A watchful spirit asks, "How may I serve God in this moment," or rather, "how am I serving God in this moment?" It pays attention to how God is giving out of His loving abundance at this moment, at this juncture.

In many ways watchfulness is the opposite not only of drunkenness, but of multi-tasking. It is the opposite practice of eating while reading a trade journal, of emailing in the middle of writing a report, of washing dishes and helping with homework and breaking up fights. Thus it is counter to modern life, as our enemy has no doubt engineered.

It is tiring work, to be watchful. It is exhausting, and we are quickly distracted.

We also face the objection: "That's all very spiritual of you, Pastor Hall, but I have a job, I have many things to do. It doesn't even sound very Lutheran."

Watchfulness is not optional. Reread those passages at the beginning. These are not "evangelical counsels" as the Roman Catholics define them. Watchfulness is an exhortation of the Lord and His Apostles for all people.

It is possible to be watchful even in the midst of work and obligations. Instead of refuting this, simply try it. In the midst of what you are doing in your vocation, pay attention to what your hands are doing, to what your mind is doing, to what is happening around you. Think on those things that are good, giving thanks to God. Pray without ceasing (1 Thes. 5:17). It will be difficult because we are not used to paying that much attention to what is around us. Our flesh and our enemy so barrage us with distractions to stupefy us, and our souls are not used to being awake.

Finally, if this is "not Lutheran" then my only response is that it ought to be, if we are actually interested in what the Word has to say to us.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Satanic Reversal of Meaning

On Passion:

To have passion, to have a dream, to have a purpose in life. And there are three components to that purpose, one is to find out who you really are, to discover God, the second is to serve other human beings, because we are here to do that and the third is to express your unique talents and when you are expressing your unique talents you lose track of time --Deepak Chopra

I didn't want to repeat my parents' life. I saw in their lives a routine and a lack of dreaming, a lack of the possibilities, a lack of passion. And I didn't want to live without passion. --Hugh Hefner
And Apathy:
Apathy is a sort of living oblivion. --Horace Greely

Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all -- the apathy of human beings. --Helen Keller
On language:
"The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible." --George Orwell, 1984

Webster's defines "passion" as
3: the state or capacity of being acted on by external agents or forces
4 a
(1): emotion passion is greed> (2)plural : the emotions as distinguished from reason b: intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction c: an outbreak of anger
5 a: ardent affection : love b: a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept c: sexual desire d: an object of desire or deep interest
"Passion" derives from the Latin passio, to suffer, to be acted upon. In the Latin, and the Greek (peithos) a "passion" was primarily a negative aspect, a feeling or emotion from the outside that seizes us, is immoderate, is alien to human life as creatures of God. This is the way it was used in Christian theology through at least the 10th Century.

It's opposite is apathy (Greek a-peithos). Webster's defines:
Etymology:Greek apatheia, from apath─ôs without feeling, from a- + pathos emotion

1:lack of feeling or emotion: impassiveness
2:lack of interest or concern:indifference
In the Christian theology of the Church Fathers, fighting against the passions, which are (usually) sinful by nature, means living a dispassioned life--or in Greek an apathetic life, a life not tossed about by every wave of emotion and argument, not in slavery to fears or lusts, selfishness or inappropriate favoritism.

The meanings of these words have been changed, at least in popular usage and connotation to convey opposite values: passions are good, being passionate is human and the very definition of virility and femininity, whereas apathy and dispassion are negative traits and to be avoided.

The effect of this is that modern American Christians have been severed from the Christian faith of the Fathers, from the faith that was lived out for centuries (and continues to be for many). Thus you can hear modern Christians talking the same way as Hugh Hefner and rarely like any Christian living in the first 1000 years after the Ascension.

We ought to be circumspect, to say the least.

I Think It's St. Hilary's Fault..No Offense!

cash advance

...or Football players...


“You are a hopeless lot. You know the names of all the charioteers but not even the names of
the evangelists.”

— St John Chrysostom

(HT In Communion)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Pleasant Surprise

My wife insists on bringing down the Christmas decorations and starting the process the day after Thanksgiving. I don't mind. We did the same thing when I was a kid...but not so insistent about it. This year especially it seems early to me, and I always have this lingering feeling of jumping the gun. As liturgical as I would like to imagine myself being, distinguishing Advent and Christmas, it's just not reality. So we distinguish it in other ways.

The surprise came after the tree was up and lit and the kiddos were starting to place the ornaments. Jack had tried to grab the globes, yelling, "Ba..!!" (Anything spherical is a ball to him). So I grabbed him and carried him around. We walked around the house and then back into the front room. The tree was lit and centered in the picture window, and snow was drifting down in the fading light of dusk. Snow???!!

I yelled "It's snowing!" And we all ran outside, the kids barefoot and wearing short sleeves, and we circled the yard a few times, and then back inside to drink more hot chocolate and finish trimming the tree.

We live in a world where we try so hard to make our dreams reality, where advertising and culture raises our expectations for everything beyond reason, where dreams are often sweeter than reality, where we must practice and work to give thanks for what is--amidst all this God gave us a Norman Rockwell moment and we didn't deserve it. We couldn't expect it, and shouldn't expect another (why, even? He painted the platonic ideal of America, not even close to reality...or was it?) but thanks be to God! It was a beautiful evening.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Fr. Stephen's "What Faith Shall I Defend"

What follows is gold. I resonated with his description of the impossibility of communication with some. I was struggling with this just a few hours ago during hospital visits.

I am reprinting the entire article here because I know sometimes it is hard to find time to follow links. But if you spend time to read these little thoughts and weak gestures, then be more edified by reading Fr. Stephen's words:

Contemporary challenges to the Christian faith, whether from children’s writers such as Pullman or various scientific voices in the world of mass media, are frequently not challenges to the Christian faith but attacks on the misperceptions of the Christian faith. By the same token, many professions of the Christian faith are not professions of the faith, but professions of misperceptions of the Christian faith. To some degree, one can beget the other.

I occasionally find myself in social situations in which a conversation partner has left the Christian faith for one reason or another - or becomes curious about why I am an Orthodox Christian rather than the Anglican I once was. The conversation frequently reveals the fact that short of a full-blown catechism, including a removal of masses of misinformation, no real progress can be made in communication. What many people understand of Christianity and what I believe the faith to be are simply worlds apart.

It is for such reasons that I struggle to find language to help people re-understand the faith. The language that I have been writing about in recent months - that of a One-Storey Universe versus a Two-Storey Universe - is simply one of those efforts. God is not as many people imagine Him to be and has not revealed Himself to be as His detractors frequently claim. Indeed, God cannot be the subject of discussion in a manner similar to the discussion of some object we may have before us. God is never an object before us.

Indeed the knowledge of God is not analogous to the knowledge of anything else, for God has no true analogy. Thus conversations that are productive of an encounter with God tend to be idiosyncratic. In sharing a story, or explaining an idea, in singing a song, or sitting in silence, God is encountered. The same story, idea, song, or silence will not necessarily yield the same result (indeed it would be rare) with another human being. For God has revealed Himself to us as Person and is thus always Free. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” St. Paul says (2 Corinthians 3:17). He will not be at our beck and command or standby as our object. If we know Him, we will know Him in His freedom, just as we must approach Him in our own freedom.

There is a living witness among us that this God who revealed Himself to us in Christ is indeed the True and Living God. That living witness is His Church - itself maligned and misunderstood. To see the Church as merely a human organization or as an association of like-minded individuals is not to see the Church at all. When the Church is described in Scripture as the “Pillar and Ground of Truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) or the “Fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:23) it should give us pause. If the Church is such as St. Paul described it - what does he mean? How is it that the Church can be this?

Answering such questions is an inherent part of the search for God and I have no other purpose in writing than to share and encourage that search. The knowledge of the true and living God is the only faith that I care to defend. I have no interest in defending someone’s misperceptions of the faith.

My own experience is that those who want to know the truth eventually find their way - sometimes despite overwhelming odds. Even a man bent on murdering Christians can become Christianity’s greatest apostle. The wonderful truth behind all of this is that God is searching for us and always has been and will go to the depths of hell to find us. If I have not found Him, then what have I done so that I missed Him? (by Fr. Stephen Freeman, Glory to God for All Things)

Unpredictable

I apologize for my recent blogging inconsistency. We had two men pass away late last week, one I had been attending to regularly, the other somewhat suddenly, and a few unexpected hospitalizations.

Friday I cleaned the garage (long overdue), snorted around with allergies or another cold or something, but felt good about what I'd accomplished...until our 30 year-old garage door opener got caught on something and the motor burned out. Saturday (and part of Sunday afternoon) I spent a good bit of time attempting to replace it. All went well until I wired up the sensors on either side of the door. Apparently there is a short in the wire. Dad is coming tomorrow for Thanksgiving and bringing his voltmeter.

I also shared Saturday with preparing for Sunday, practicing the sermon, preparing the prayers, finishing handouts for Bible study (Ch. 13 of Revelation). Sunday I preached a sermon which didn't pull many punches. The funny thing about those sermons is how cathartic they are for both preacher and hearer, but how easy it is to forget them. I suspect that some of the reason is the nature of protestant Christianity. Much of our practice of our faith is sitting and hearing, and we've inherited a good bit of "not doing," lest we boast in our works. More thoughts on this later this week, deo volente.

Yesterday was a committal service and a funeral, and another unexpected hospitalization.

I write this to explain my inactivity here, but not to complain. When I have the dying to comfort, mourners to encourage, the ill to visit, sermons to prepare, I am doing my job and I love it. I'd rather have these than so many other things which could distract me. Glory to God!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Five Years from Now

I had posted a link a few months ago to a Christianity Today article on the high rate of bloggers quitting--more bloggers have quit posting than are currently active. This Side of Glory has a recent post on the same topic, asking if she would be blogging five years from now (Incidentally, her title is like the strange Bizzaro title of my blog).

On this quiet blogging week it raises a good question. Will I be doing this in five years? If you asked an Incan, the answer would be no--we'd all be dead or changed into some higher form of life (see here). Is keeping this up reasonable? A good use of time? Or will blogging be like pet rocks in half a decade?

Some possibilities:

1. Nothing will change.

This is unlikely. I didn't even know what a blog was five years ago. Five years before that, the internet was wild and wooly and dial-up friendly. Five years before that, few had heard about "web browsers" and MOSAIC, the first "killer ap" of the 'net was still being developed...for UNIX. Things change, and fast.

2. Blogging will be a fad after all.

More likely. Fads come and go, and five years from now many folks will probably have home entertainment servers piping mp3s to their stereos, movies and tv shows off the net to their home theaters, and more and more emailing and such from PDAs and phones. Sitting at a box in the home office browsing the net my indeed be waning in popularity as the net becomes integrated more and more into other appliances.

3. Cream will rise to the top.

Noteworthy and popular blogs will continue, and the amateur blogger will fade away. Blogs will be web-based extensions of marketing and publishing for professional writers and journalists. More old media sites will make extensive use of their staff and freelance writers' blogs. Blog readers will serve as the new newspaper, essentially.

4. Something else will happen, of which I cannot conceive.

This is the most likely option.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Argh! It's a Rigged Quiz!

Your Inner European is French!

Smart and sophisticated.
You have the best of everything - at least, *you* think so.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Reading the Psalms

The suffering of the Prophet David is, according to the account we have given of the title, a type of the Passion of our God and Lord Jesus Christ. This is why his prayer also corresponds in sense with the prayer of Him Who being the Word was made flesh: in such wise that He Who suffered all things after the manner of man, in everything He said, spoke after the manner of man; and He who bore the infirmities and took on Him the sins of men approached God in prayer with the humility proper to men. This interpretation, even though we be unwilling and slow to receive it, is required by the meaning and force of the words, so that there can be no doubt that everything in the Psalm is uttered by David as His mouthpiece. For he says: Save me O God, by Thy name. Thus prays in bodily humiliation, using the words of His own Prophet, the Only-begotten Son of God, Who at the same time was claiming again the glory which He had possessed before the ages. He asks to be saved by the Name of God whereby He was called and wherein He was begotten, in order that the Name of God which rightly belonged to His former nature and kind might avail to save Him in that body wherein He had been born. (St. Hilary of Poitiers, Homily on Psalm 54, NPNF II.09.04)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

What Is Idolatry?: Images in Paganism & Christianity

I went to the Quickie Mart and noticed the smell of incense...not real incense, but that stuff hippies use that looks like fireworks punks and smells like them too. It wasn't so unusual to smell incense in convenience store. Sometimes those places smell a little funky.

But when you smell something burning--even if it smells good--instinct makes you look for fire. I glanced around and quickly found it. Across from the door there was a bookshelf butted up to a pillar and on the bottom shelf a few punks of incense burned in front of a statue of a little happy god. On a plate near the incense was a bunch of bananas. The owner wasn't a hippy after all. He wasn't trying to ward off the Quickie Mart Funk. He had a little idol down there.

In my most ecumenical spirit, I was pleased that this shop owner kept a public display of his devotion and religion--unusual in our society. It's good to see someone who is religious and not afraid to advertise the fact. Too often businessmen are afraid of alienating a potential customer with any sign of their religious sentiments. Never mind that his religion would be very unpopular around here. He had a display anyway.

But this man was clearly worshiping an idol. This happy little figure was being offered food, and incense was burning before him. What would happen if I accidentally knocked the bookcase and sent that happy little god flying? Would it be proper to say that I had just knocked over this business man's god? That his god was catapulted by a mere mortal like me? Or what did this business man do when the happy little god didn't eat the bananas? Did he eat them instead?

I faced these questions because few in western society worships images anymore (and few societies in the East as well). To be sure, idolatry in the general sense abounds; who hasn't noted the similarities between families gathered around the "entertainment center" and the family gathered around home altar? With an eye on Luther's definition of a god, "that which provides all good things," we know how many worship the idol Mammon, and how easy that temptation comes. But no one gives offerings to the television, nor do we bow down before a dollar bill. We don't actually bow down before anything or anyone; western Christian worship by and large is a gnostic affair, worship of the mind, and heart, of intention but not necessarily action.

But when good ol' Demos stood before a statue of Diana in 41 AD, bowing and touching his forehead to the floor, what was he doing to that statue, that idol? Did he believe that object carved from stone was Diana, the goddess of the hunt? Or did he believe that the image only represented Diana, a sort of means by which he could render adoration to the goddess who was unseen?

Scripture describes idolatry as the former. Daniel 5:23 says, "And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored" (ESV). Likewise, Psalm 135:15-18 says, "The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them!" (ESV)

The gods of the nations are described in terms of their physical representations, following the lead of their worshipers, no doubt. The foolishness of calling something made by men, out of lifeless material "a god," is the criticism that the prophets lodge against the practice.

But the question remains: did the pagans really believe that those objects were the actual god? How would they then explain that a temple to Baal could be found in multiple places? How could the god be in Samaria and in Tyre, for instance? If this one was the god, then what was that one? For thoughtful pagans there must have been another understanding.

There was, and pagan writers utilized a more nuanced understanding of the images which sought to refute the claims of Jews and Christians. The problem is, many of those primary sources have been lost or destroyed. But Christian writers regularly addressed those works in their writings. St. Athanasius' work Against the Heathen pointedly addresses a nuanced understanding of idolatry. The value of what Athanasius writes lies in his chronology. He wrote these words probably before the Arian controversy erupted. Athanasius spared little opportunity to remark on Arianism, and probably would have, had the controversy arisen at that time. A likely date would be sometime after the conversion of Constantine, but before his first dispute with Athanasius in 319 A.D. Regardless of the exact date, Athanasius wrote during the time that idolatry was popular and practiced everywhere. He wrote as a Christian apologist who engaged the pagans whose worship he saw first-hand and who were actively opposed to the new-found legality of the Christian religion.

He wrote,

For ye carve the figures for the sake of the apprehension of God, as ye say, but invest the actual images with the honour and title of God, thus placing yourselves in a profane position. For while confessing that the power of God transcends the littleness of the images, and for that reason not venturing to invoke God through them, but only the lesser powers, ye yourselves leap over these latter, and have bestowed on stocks and stones the title of Him, whose presence ye feared, and call them gods instead of stones and men’s workmanship, and worship them. For even supposing them to serve you, as ye falsely say, as letters for the contemplation of God, it is not right to give the signs greater honour than that which they signify. For neither if a man were to write the emperor’s name would it be without risk to give to the writing more honour than to the emperor; on the contrary, such a man incurs the penalty of death; while the writing is fashioned by the skill of the writer. (NPNF II.4 Against the Heathen, ss.1-2)

So the pagans acknowledged that the gods were not really confined in stonework in temples. The statues and images then were ways that the worshipers could "apprehend" the god in doing homage, and aids of contemplation. Devotional aids, we would say. Furthermore, pagans in Athanasius' day were making the distinction between pure divinity and the mediated divinity of the daemons. The images were of the lesser power, the mediated powers of the divine, whereas the rarefied divinity, the pure essence of the godhead was not being depicted.

But as Athanasius writes, it mattered little, for despite the nuanced argument, despite that the pagans acknowledged a greater reality beyond the confines of the arms of Aphrodite, they still called these objects "gods." So his argument was essentially that they were inconsistent and illogical. Notice that Athanasius does not actually criticize the argument that the images are "letters for the contemplation of God." He allows this argument, with the caveat that their god is false, but denies them the option of calling the image a representation or figure as well as the god itself.

That he conceded this point is no small thing, for Christianity likewise made use of divine images and literal "letters for the contemplation of the [true] God." This is practiced most clearly in the Eastern Orthodox use of icons, though we in the West likewise make use of "materials" for the apprehension of God. Our pastors vest, we reverence the altar, we treat the vessels with utmost sanctity, and the image of the cross, while not often kissed in Western Christianity, is treated with reverence (could you image spitting on one? walking on one?). Bibles are treated with reverence and afforded prominent places in homes and, when necessary, disposed of with reverence. John of Damascus, writing 400 years after Athanasius described the relationship of Christians and images this way:

Often, doubtless, when we have not the Lord’s passion in mind and see the image of Christ’s crucifixion, His saving passion is brought back to remembrance, and we fall down and worship not the material but that which is imaged: just as we do not worship the material of which the Gospels are made, nor the material of the Cross, but that which these typify.... (NPNF, II.9 An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Ch. XVI)

Perhaps my friend at the Quickie Mart holds a similar view to his happy god. Perhaps that figurine was only an aid to his worship, a means to apprehend and contemplate the god for which that statue stood…or sat. Perhaps his offering of bananas was symbolic, indicating his spiritual sacrifice he made in devotion. All of this could find expression, or translation into the devotion and reverence Christians place on our means of contemplation.

Yet suppose I had begun dialog with this idolater and he had become a Christian. Would he be tempted to replace his happy idol with a statue of Jesus, perhaps a figurine depicting Jesus with a lamb on his shoulders? Would he be tempted to place incense before it and bananas as symbolic of his devotion to his new god? Even if were to confess sincerely that this hypothetical statue to Jesus was only a symbol, a “means of apprehension,” would it be appropriate to place offerings before it?

I will never know, for I bought my gas and pack of gum and headed out the door.

"Have a good day please come again!"

Monday, November 5, 2007

Macs V PCs: Round II

I've been doing some freelance writing and musing about using those profits to get a laptop. It's hard to write from home, as the computer is in the office (originally designed as a tiny dining room) and there's always commotion during the weekends...although a lot of that is an excuse to get a new toy to carry around and use wirelessly and all that. I admit it. There's a reason my wife calls me "Gadget Boy," though I'd prefer Gadget Man.

So while thinking about new computers, the big question remains: which platform? I've used PCs my whole life (well, since about age 9), but am no fan of Microsoft. They've been doing better, but I'm enough of a rebel to want something different than what everybody else uses. Thus, I fall perfectly into the Apple demographic model. And there's a certain attraction. They are pretty sleek, pretty smooth.

But there's the learning curve. There's the "tinkering" factor, which I actually like. There's the upgrading issues, which I also like to do.

However, as for the "alternative" computer label, the different ethos of Apple and all that, it's really as The Who says, "Meet the new boss, Same as the old boss." How is using iTunes, the free bundled software that comes from Apple any different than using Windows Media Player, besides the snappy, trendier name? Fundamentally, buying Apple is buying from the Company Store. It may give a better consuming/computing experience, but it is just that: an experience engineered by a large corporation. There is nothing "alternative" or "independent" about that.

No, the true independent computing experience is Linux and the OpenSource movement, where nobody really makes a buck but the products are good, and anyone can tinker with them and improve them. But that carries such a "geek" factor, I'm not sure I'm willing to go that route.

Let Your Linker's Know

I was just checking this site's metrics via Google Analytics (incredible!) and noticed that in the last month 89 of you have gotten here via the old location pastorsblog (dot) redeemer-enid (dot) com. Eventually, that redirect page will be removed, so please update your links to this new location, or if a referring site got you there, kindly do me and them the favor of informing them that their link to my blog, while greatly appreciated, is currently incorrect.

Thank you!

Willow Creek: Broken

Bill Hybels, the founder of Willow Creek Church, together with Cally Parkinson and Greg Hawkins, the "executive pastor" of Willow Creek, have released a book entitled Reveal: Where Are You? which sounds oh-so-emergent, yet has the added value of debunking the work that they have done for the past twenty years.

That's right. Willow Creek is broken. According to other reports and reviews, the Willow Creek executives have discovered that their "seeker sensitive" model to church growth can certainly grow attendance and income of churches, but does little to actually foster disciples and spirituality.

Such news may be of little surprise to readers here. As I've told some members who are fascinated with our local version of the mega-church, it's simply a matter of technique and the right social environment to build a mega-church. Less skill is required to build simply a big church, but such techniques and sociological conditions do not necessarily make Christians. All of this is no news to many of us, though it is nice to see the actual originators of this model admit as much, with statistics to back it up.

But I'm concerned about the effect that such a realization will have. Hawkins said,

Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he's asking us to transform this planet.

My friend Byzantine Dixie wrote about this,
You know what…they don’t need a tabla rasa and more surveys. They just need to look at what the Church has provided throughout the centuries, spiritual fathers. They are our personal trainers.

Amen. It doesn't take a genius to see that Willow Creek, in "chang[ing] the way they do church," will end up right back where they started. Apparently Hawkins is unaware of something called history, and likewise unaware that Christians have been "doing church" for millennia without "research" and "rethinking old assumptions." Vanity.

But my other concern was illustrated by a conversation I had with someone who, by all accounts, is even more pragmatic and a-historical than the Willow Creek folk. I mentioned this to him, emphasizing the lack of discipleship and spiritual growth--even life--of the thousands who attend Willow Creek. He responded, "Well, at least they're doing something! We need to do more than just sit on our cans." I'm afraid too many like him will not see beyond the operation and budget and esteem of the megachurch. I'm afraid too many pastors will fear loosing their kingdoms, and members fear loosing the community, and too many loosing the anonymity of "worshiping" with thousands of others. I'm afraid too much is invested in many of these operations to risk loosing the wealth, influence and power associated with these churches which outnumber many small towns.

What?? No Lutheran Fruits??

For those of you who are concerned about Lutheranism, and/or like to read posts by those who are (I suppose if you didn't you wouldn't be reading here), please go and check out "You Will Know a Tree by its Fruit" over at Pr. Benjamin Harju's blog, Paredwka:Dropping the Ball. It has some great observations and good food for thought.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Mike Baker's Blog

Yes, you heard it here first. Mike Baker, a more recent commenter here, has his own blog now at

http://christianaar.blogspot.com/

He's won my admiration for his lucid thought and writing in comments here and elsewhere. Take a visit.