At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Christian Mutt Sounds Off

I have a running joke with some of my friends: "I was raised in the Presbyterian Church; therefore, I am overqualified to poke fun at it." In truth, as I get older, as I refine some areas of my thinking and as other areas of my soul grow (I hope!) more mellow, I discover a few things that I find bothersome. Lately, that has been within the general pool of white-bread evangelical Christianity. Now don't get hot and bothered just yet. I'm not sounding off against the Christian faith itself. What has grated on me for some time (and what the video above pokes fun at so well) would be the buzz-phrases in the evangelical subculture that cause me to grind my teeth.

Examples, you ask? Here goes:

1. "How's your relationship with Jesus Christ?": For the love of St. Stephen and all martyrs, the last couple of times I've heard this--or anything referring to Christianity as a 'relationship'--it's a miracle the bile stays away from my oral cavity. It's not that I'm averse to realistic connection to Christ as Lord and Savior. It's the unspoken leveling of the divine-human bond this statement implies. If Jesus is who he says he is, he's a King and Master, not a drinking buddy, not a chum, not a bro. Semantics matter. It's better, less misleading, and more biblical to identify as a follower of Jesus. Sure there are more layers to who Jesus is, but we get way off track if we cutesy ourselves into thinking he's our co-pilot or soulmate.

2. "Well, I believe in the Bible, not creeds.": Some people will crack this one off as a way of ignoring not only creeds or confessions of faith, but of dismissing the consensus tradition of Christian orthodoxy that people have built, argued for, and--in some cases--died for. Evangelicals aren't all this way, but I've run across some pretty severe chronological snobbery from people who are blissfully unaware of Francis Schaeffer, or even C.S. Lewis, let alone the Nicene Creed. Another thing, when you say you believe the Bible, the next question is "Well, what to you believe the Bible says about (insert subject here)?" Then a creed is a pretty handy digest to have in mind, eh?

3. "Do you know of any books on that from a Christian perspective?": Bile alert, folks. I'll just echo C.S. Lewis on this. "What the world needs is not more Christian books, but more excellent books written by Christians." This whole dividing stuff into secular and Christian is not what God has in mind, and you can't find justification for it in Scripture. This thinking has wrought sub-par copycat garbage that we see pervasive in any "Christian" subculture, like Christian music, for example. Now in literature, we actually have Christian vampire fiction and--the horror!--Christian erotica. I'm not making this up, unfortunately.

4. "I like Christian vampire fiction": Just kidding. That's not a buzz phrase....yet.

5. "I don't like the idea of doing that in church; it's too Catholic/Anglican/(insert pre-21st century paradigm here)": Some people don't like the idea of a pastor wearing a robe, saying "It's too Catholic", as if that's a taboo thing. Really? Um, just so you know John Q. Protestant, do you know what else Catholics and Anglicans do in church? They read the Bible. They preach. They sing. Want to get rid of those things too? The discussion of what is beneficial and wise to have included in a church service is a debate that should take place on biblical grounds, not personal preference. And what is the sin in casting your tradition net wide? (As you read this, you can probably see my self-description on the right hand side of this web page: Presbyterian body. Lutheran heart. Anglican blood. Orthodox spirit. There's a reason for that.)

6. "God won't give you more than you can handle.": Excuse me, but God is in the business of giving you more than you can handle. Constantly. That's what gets it through our thick heads and even more dense hearts that there is a God, and we are not him, and we need to cling to him like mad in the midst of life's hurricane. If you could handle what's thrown at you in life, you wouldn't need grace or strength. You wouldn't even need God. You'd be God.

7. "I'll pray for you.": I can be generally be appreciate of this sentiment, but honestly I'm of the "don't say you're going to do something, just do it" school of thought. I'm much more encouraged by hearing this on the back end in the form of "I prayed for you." Much better.

8. "God told me...": I'll just say this...In one of the churches where my grandfather pastored, there was a well-meaning person who had a burning conviction that he needed to confront another church member about some pretty serious spiritual wandering. So he went to this man's house and the other man's wife answered the door. He asked for her husband. Well, he's not here, said the wife. Oh, said the man in response, he should be here because the Holy Spirit gave me a message of repentance and told me to confront him today. To which the woman said, "If the Holy Spirit told you to come over to speak to my husband, the Holy Spirit would have made sure my husband was home!"

9. "God loves us just as we are.": My final choice buzzphrase runs through our American evangelical landscape like a greased pig at a rodeo in western Kansas. Let me first of all affirm that it is absolutely true and biblical that God loves his people, and there is nothing we can do to earn his love, his grace, his mercy. All that is completely unconditional. But "just as we are"? He loves our rebellion, our sinfulness, our selfish core that would rather spit in his eye and stab him through the heart? Does God believe those are good aspects of our very selves? Does he not desire to change us? If we come to God as we are, he most definitely does not want us to stay that way! Maybe a better option is to say, "God loves us in spite of who we are" for that seems to be more accurate about the intersection of God's affections and the human dilemma.

As my friend Cameron Kirker once eloquently said, "Why does God love us? He loves us simply because he loves us."

Now that's a phrase and a truth I can affirm and build my life around!

Romans 8:38-39

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