Tuesday, December 30, 2014

More Emergent Blastphemy

So I see this very compelling headline (don't follow that link, I'm only posting it for reference) on my newsfeed that's been liked by my friends, and when I click on it I find it to be infuriating blasphemy. John Pavlovitz. You again. Why am I not surprised? So now I'm going to do something unusual and jump you again. In fact to get my friends to stop liking this stuff I'll hit you with the metaphorical tire iron as many times as I need to. And this time I'm going to be even more ruthless with my take down--I'm going to quote you. At length. Until everyone sees you for what you are.

Dear Jesus, Why People Are Really Leaving You
I see the panic on your face, Jesus.
I know the internal terror as you see the statistics and hear the stories and scan the exit polls.
I see you desperately scrambling to do damage control for the fence-sitters, and manufacture passion from the shrinking faithful, and I want to help you.
You may think you know why people are leaving you, but I’m not sure you do.
You think it’s because “the culture” is so lost, so perverse, so beyond help that they are all walking away.
You believe that they’ve turned a deaf ear to the voice of God; chasing money, and sex, and material things.
You think that the gays and the Muslims and the Atheists and the pop stars have so screwed up the morality of the world that everyone is abandoning faith in droves.
But those aren’t the reasons people are leaving you.
They aren’t the problem Jesus.
You are.
Point one I'll skip because Ciaphas here prophecies correctly regarding mega-churches. We'll just jump to point two.
Jesus, you talk and talk and talk, but you do so using a dead language. You’re holding onto dusty words that have no resonance in people’s ears, not realizing that just saying those words louder isn’t the answer. All the religious buzzwords that used to work 20 years ago [will] no longer do.
This spiritualized insider-language may give you some comfort in an outside world that is changing, but that stuff’s just lazy religious shorthand, and it keeps regular people at a distance. They need you to speak in a language that they can understand. There’s a message there worth sharing, but it’s hard to hear above your verbal pyrotechnics.
People don’t need to be dazzled with big, churchy words and about eschatological frameworks and theological systems. Talk to them plainly about love, and joy, and forgiveness, and death, and peace, and God, and they’ll be all ears. Keep up the church-speak, and you’ll be talking to an empty room soon.

Part three is a mixed bag again. I'll give John one point for calling out teen mega church antics, and ten minus fifty for following it up with this:

Rather than simply stepping out into the neighborhoods around you and partnering with the amazing things already happening, and the beautiful stuff God is already doing, you seem content to franchise out your particular brand of [culture], and wait for the sinful world to beat down your door.
Your greatest mission field is just a few miles, (or a few feet) [away] and you don’t even realize it. You wanna reach the people you’re missing?
Leave the [church] building[s].

Didn't think things could get worse? They do. 
We know you like to fight, Jesus. That’s obvious.
When you want to, you can go to war with the best of them. The problem is, your battles are too darn small. Fast food protests, hobby store outrage and duck-calling Reality TV show campaigns may manufacture some urgency and Twitter activity on the inside for the already-convinced, but they’re paper tigers to people out here with bloody boots on the ground.
Every day we see a world suffocated by poverty, and racism, and violence, and bigotry, and hunger; and in the face of that stuff, you get awfully, frighteningly quiet. We wish you were as courageous in those fights, because then we’d feel like coming alongside you; then we’d feel like going to war with you.
Jesus, we need you to stop being a warmonger with the trivial and a pacifist in the face of the terrible.

Take a deep breath. Take another. Okay, now we'll keep moving.

Love seems to be a pretty big deal to you, but we’re not getting that when the rubber meets the road. In fact, more and more, your brand of love seems incredibly selective and decidedly narrow; filtering out all the spiritual riff-raff, which sadly includes far too many of us.
It feels like a big bait-and-switch sucker-deal; advertising a “Come as You Are” party, but letting us know once we’re in the door that we can’t really come as we are. We see [you] in the Bible [hanging] out with lowlifes and prostitutes and outcasts, and loved them right there, but [now] that doesn’t seem to be your cup of tea.
Jesus, can you love us if we don’t check all the doctrinal boxes and don’t have our theology all figured out? It doesn’t seem so.
Can you love us if we cuss and drink and get tattoos, and God forbid, vote Democrat? We’re doubtful.
Can you love us if we’re not sure how we define love, and marriage, and Heaven, and Hell? It sure doesn’t feel that way.
From what we know about you, we think you look like love. The unfortunate thing is, you don’t look much like him.

The midpoint call to reflection:
That's part of the reason people are leaving you Jesus. These words may get you really, really angry, and you may want to jump in a knee-jerk move to defend yourself or attack these positions line-by-line, but I hope that you won’t.
I hope that you’ll just sit in stillness with these words for a while, because whether you believe they’re right or wrong, they’re real to us, and that’s the whole point.
We’re the ones walking away.
We want to matter to you.
We want you to hear us before you debate us.
Show us that your love and your God are real.

What's really clever here is that he anticipates a rebuke and tries to shrug it off:

Jesus, give us a reason to stay.
It’s not you, it’s me.
That’s what you seem to be saying, Jesus.
I tried to share my heart with you; and thousands and thousands of people like me who are walking away, to let you know of the damage you’re doing and the painful legacy you’re leaving, and apparently, you’re not the problem.
(Which, of course, is still a problem).
I’ve relayed my frustration with your rhetoric, and you responded by cut-and-pasting random Scripture soundbytes about the [Churchy word] and the [Stupid churchy word] insisting that the real issue is simply my “biblical ignorance,” and suggesting that I just need to repent and get a good Concordance (whatever that is).
I let you know how judged and ridiculed I feel when I’m with you, how much like a hopeless, failing outsider I feel on the periphery of your often inward, judgmental communities, and you proceeded to tell me how “lost” I am, how hopelessly “in love with my sin” I must be to leave you, reminding me that I never really belonged with you anyway.
In the face of every complaint and every grievance, you’ve made it clear that the real issue is that I’m either sinful, heretical, immoral, foolish, unenlightened, selfish, consumerist or ignorant.
Heck, many days I’m not even sure I disagree with you.
Maybe you’re right Jesus.
Maybe I am the problem.
Maybe it is me, but me is all I’m capable of being right now, and that’s where I was really hoping you would meet me.

I get it already you say? Can't take any more? Stop it already? No my friend. Vampires and other such minions of darkness don't die until you put the stake through the heart. Read.

It’s here, in my flawed, screwed-up, wounded, shell-shocked, doubting, disillusioned me-ness that I’ve been waiting for you to step in with this whole supposedly relentless, audacious “love” thing I hear so much about, and make it real.
Jesus, I know how much you despise the word Tolerance, but right now, I really need you to tolerate me; to tolerate those of us who, for all sorts of reasons you may feel aren’t justified, are struggling to stay.
We’re so weary of feeling like nothing more than a religious agenda; an argument to win, a point to make, a cause to defend, a soul to save.
We want to be more than a notch on your Salvation belt; another number to pad your Twitter posts and end-of-year stat sheets.
We need to be more than altar call props, who are applauded and high-fived down the aisle, and then forgotten once the song ends.
We’ve been praying for you to stop evangelizing us, and preaching at us, and fighting us, and judging us, and sin-diagnosing us, long enough to simply hear us …
… even if we are the problem.
Even if we are the woman in adultery, or the doubting follower, or the rebellious prodigal, or the demon-riddled young man, we can’t be anything else right now in this moment; and in this moment, we need a Jesus  big enough, and tough enough, and loving enough; not just for us as we might one day be then, but for us as we are, now.
We still believe that God is big enough, and tough enough, and loving enough, even if you won’t be, and that’s why even if we do walk away, it doesn’t mean we’re walking away from faith; it’s just that faith right now seems more reachable elsewhere.
I know you’ll argue that you’re doing all these things and saying all these things because you love and care for us, but from the shoes we’re standing in, you need to know that it feels less like love and care, and more like space and silence: If someone is frustrated, telling them that they’re wrong to be frustrated is, well, pretty freakin’ frustrating.
It only breeds distance.
If someone shares that their heart is hurting, they don’t want to hear that they’re not right to be hurt.
It’s a conversation-stopper.
If someone tells you they are starving for compassion, and relationship, and authenticity, the last thing they need is to be corrected for that hunger.
It’s a kick in the rear on the way out the door.
So yes, Jesus, even if you’re right, even if we’re totally wrong—even if we’re all petty, and self-centered, and hypocritical, and critical, and (I’ll say it), “sinful”—we’re still the ones searching for a place where we can be known and belong; a place where it feels like God lives, and you’re the one who can show it to us.
Even if the problem is me, it’s me who you’re supposed to be reaching, Jesus.
So, for the love of God; reach already.

Found that long and troubling? I'll condense it for you.

Dear Mr. Jesus. 
You are so dumb. You are really dumb. For reals. You're all like, "Why don't people love me John?" Well I feel so bad for you that I'm willing to help by writing an article to help you feel better about things. Sound good?
Your first big problem
Mr. Jesus is that you think educating people by explaining all these old fashioned ideas will actually work. Here's my advice instead: stop using words that convey your meaning and use ones that don't! Instead of "justification" try "spiritual formation." Instead of "propitiation" try "community." Next, start showing us you care for us by addressing the things that matter in our life like catastrophic climate change and raising awareness for living wage coffee bean farmers. Quit talking all the time about such stupid and trivial things like judgement and the life to come, and please for once just do something great. Please? Why not try joining the Muslims in a world outreach event day? That would be huge.
Now don't take any of this the wrong way Mr. Jesus. I know this is likely to make you angry, but be cool. Mediate on it for awhile. Sit. Have a latte. Think it over, you'll see I'm right. Then perhaps consider doing something for us and showing us you love us. Because the fact of the matter is the image we have in your mind is so wonderful. You say such sweet things. You never demand anything from us. You let us think whatever we want about you and are cool with it. In fact entertaining this delusion about you is so wonderful that I'm going to actually rebuke the real you. Be more like the guy in my head. I'm a broken man Mr. Jesus. I think you are too and if you could just admit that it would go a long way to fixing what bothers me so much about you. So do it. Quit telling me things that offend me and start ratifying every decision I make regarding you, no matter how wrong it is. You jerk. You have a lot of potential in there. Just... keep it to yourself okay?

The fundamental problem with guys like this and Emergent Churches is that they want the blessings of the righteous while living in a completely unholy fashion. They want to be apart of the world, serve mammon, and claim to be loving God. "Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase" isn't even a question they ask themselves because giving up sinning never crosses their mind. They have a view of God who tolerates everything they do and loves them just the same, good behavior or bad, and calling them to live like a Christian is strictly off the table. They want unholiness. Sanctification isn't just optional, it's unwelcome. So they say horrible things like the quotes above. 

But there's a punishment waiting for those who commit such blasphemy. There's also a punishment for those who agree with it. For the love of Christ John, stop. You too Emergents, close your mouths. He's the Lord of glory. He's the almighty conqueror. He's resplendent in majesty, enthroned above the angels, perfect in beauty, unsurpassed in loveliness. He's a consuming fire. His word is sharper than any two edged sword and His gaze is upon the wicked, whom He will burn with unquenchable fire. His greatness no word can contain, and no one is worthy of more worship and adoration. Please, for your sake, just stop. And never start again. Because holiness isn't optional.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

5 Things I Admit about the Bible

So John, I read your latest article, the one with the buzzfeed title, 5 Things you wish Christians would admit about the Bible. Personally I think you should have subtitled it, "You'll never believe what they said, or what she did next upon seeing it..." but it's too late now.
You should know that I see you jocking me, trying to pretend like, you know me. I saw how cleverly you wrote your piece, putting a hook into the nose of the undiscerning orthodox so as to pull them away from Christ later. It's a great article by the way, you masterfully walk the line of sounding like you're just dialoguing or raising awareness while hiding your true stance.
But if 10 years of marriage has taught me anything it's that the loving thing to do is take the garbage out before anyone asks you to. So on behalf of true Christianity, I admit it all.

1. The Bible isn't a Magic Book

You want us to admit the Bible is 66 collected books? Fine by me.
[The books of the Bible are] poetry, history, biography, church teachings, letters, and... have dozens of authors; from shepherds, to prophets, to doctors, to fishermen, to kings. These diverse writers each had very different target audiences, disparate life circumstances and specific agendas for their work; so we don’t approach each book the same way.
Yep. They're also written across three continents over thousands of years. And we also admit that they're singularly focused on explaining the fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. How improbable is that? It's like no matter who expresses it, doctors, fishermen, kings, shepherds; or whether you express it in song, poetry, history, letters, Jesus is God. He's writ large on every page no matter who you are, where you're from, or what you do. We confess.

2. We admit we would like to have more

I can't tell you how many times I would like the Bible to have gone into just a little more detail or given me just a little more clarity. Was Abel a shepherd because you told Adam to sacrifice animals to atone for bloodguilt and remember your promise to send a Savior? What were the disciples expressions when Jesus rebuked the waves they were so frightened of? What happened to the man formerly known as Legion, how many people did he lead to you? What was the rest of the sermon Jesus gave while in Nazareth? How beautiful was Delilah? I... oh wait. That's not what you meant. You mean the Bible is full of contradictions until you realize the center of the Scripture is the story of the savior. It's like we are blind in our unbelief until we come to Christ, whereupon the veil is lifted and our eyes are opened to the truth. We admit that too.
Oh wait. No. I think you're saying not everything is equally easy to grasp. Like what Peter says, "Some things Paul writes are hard to understand." Agreed, but that's not really a problem, as Alistair says, "the main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things." In fact Romans 14 teaches us that some things are purposefully not spelled out, because God wanted them to remain a matter of conscience for the believer.
Or maybe I'm wrong again since I'm not exactly sure what you're point is here, (that's probably my fault) but I can say with confidence that just because God doesn't say anything about musical instruments in the early church doesn't mean the Bible isn't clear that we're saved by faith alone, by grace alone, through Christ alone, as revealed in the Scriptures alone, to His glory alone. And if your point was that the Scripture is silent on secondary issues because that allows it to blast out all the harder how Christ was our substitute who saves us from the wrath of the Father, then we give a hearty Amen!

3. The Bible was Inspired, not Dictated

I'm not sure there was ever a serious student of the Bible who argued that men are nothing more than sock puppets with no internal violations who God used to write down His words. Men were moved as the Holy Spirit carried them, and the result was the very word of God Himself were written down and compiled. I will say you got hung up there on "God Breathed" as if you thought it meant something like "God blowing air across a piece of paper" and forgot that our words are shaped by us literally breathing out. Talking is breathing out remember? But that nitpick aside we are in full agreement of you knocking this straw man down. We admit the same thing and stand shoulder to shoulder with you against the hordes who believe men are nothing more than hungry corpses of rotting flesh incapable of rational thought. Unless you meant this to be the first premise in an argument for disbelief. Something that starts with men were inspired to write the Bible and ends with inspiration is the divine spark of the goddess within each of us that causes us to reach for the stars. If that's what you're on about then we deny that.

4. We All Pick and Choose the Bible We Believe

Oh man so true. I got the ESV Bible I use now from the bottom shelves of the Bible section at The Bible House, which is a local bookstore, and I had the hardest time picking out just the right one. I suppose someone could argue that technically we don't all pick our Bibles, because I'm getting my daughter a kids Bible this Christmas, and that meant I picked it for her, but that's just being argumentative, am I right? I assume that's your point at any rate. I'll keep reading and find out if I'm wrong.
Christians often accuse believers with differing opinions of “cherry picking” from the Bible; holding tightly to verses they agree with, while conveniently jettisoning ones they are uncomfortable with.
Uh oh, not only was that not your point but I'm only in half agreement with you now. While I myself have indeed often accused you emergent types of cherry picking verses and meanings of the Scriptures--y'all seem to like "Judge not lest ye be judged" but then turn around and dislike "If you love Me you will keep my commandments"--I don't ever recall calling those of you with alternative doctrines believers.
The only problem is, each time this assertion is made, the one making the accusation conveniently claims objectivity; as if they somehow have a firm, dispassionate understanding of the entirety of Scripture, without bias or prejudice, and that the other is violating that.
Why yes, that's true. I admit we even do that on purpose, because "no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation" and because we see how accepting the premise of relativism necessarily leads to the conclusion of apostasy. Or did you not notice how your brand of post-modernism has washed out the foundation of truth on purpose in order to allow disobedience to Christ into the fold? Didn't you see how the emergent church is arguing that Truth isn't objective so they could justify their unbelief? Meanwhile us knuckle dragging throwbacks still insist on the foundational truth that Jesus is God and we are not.
But the funniest thing about your call to melt all offensive doctrines down so that we may become a glorious subjective soup is the fact that it itself is subjective. If all truth is relative and we cannot know it given our backgrounds, genders, faith history, etc then why should we listen to your call to stop judging? Hey man, who are you to judge us anyway? Calling a spade a spade and being intolerant of error makes us feel good, why should we stop? You just sawed off the branch you're sitting on. And I think we can all agree that that's funny.

5. God Is Bigger Than The Bible.

I admit it. This cheaply bound tomb in front of me isn't Jesus Himself. I know we may have confused you there by tucking it under our arms and carrying it around places, but I assure you, unlike Catholics who chew up and swallow their God, we are perfectly willing to admit a number of things aren't Him. Books, pets, crystals, baby clothes, TV. Lots of things really.
The words in the Bible point to someone for whom words simply fail. The words are filled with good and lovely things that give us some frame of reference, but ultimately, God is far too big to be contained in those words.
Woah, and here I thought you were going to argue for the necessity of further revelation like a charismatic. "God's bigger than the Bible, and He's still dialoging with us today. That's why you must now do as I say." That would have been a clever play against us Biblical literalists.
But your point was that it doesn't matter how many flowery words, or good things you say about Jesus, what matters is that you truly believe in Him. Ghandi is in hell for refusing to bow the knee to Christ, even though he said he liked Him. We readily admit the truth of such a statement. Many will write such wonderful words about Him, but find on the last day that He still says, "Depart from Me, I never knew you." Well spoken, that was an apple of gold in a setting of silver.
No wait, my mistake. You're point is that God is so big that nothing said about Him could possibly be true. No word can describe Him, not even His own. Uh. No. Just no.

I'll wrap this up by ceasing to cleverly distort your words into orthodoxy and offering a relevant Bible quote: "Why are you persecuting Me? It's hard for you to kick against the goads."
I warn you sir, the living God will not appreciate your unbelief, and no matter how sensible or trendy it sounds now it will not avail you on the day of Judgment. Only the shed blood of Christ will do that.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

It's A Feature, Not A Bug

Here is what's been working through my mind lately regarding being offensive.

Offensive Institutionally

The wisdom from the seeker sensitive movement often goes something like this: earn the right to witness to your neighbor about Jesus by doing good deeds for them, then use that built up capital to invite them to a church service, but don't say or do anything that would offend them. Once they're there, don't offend them with outdated or offensive doctrines, because we want them to come back. If they're comfortable, they'll return, if they're offended, they'll leave. Our goal is to get people to hear as much of the Bible as possible, because the more, the better.
Probably true. 

But what if being offended is a feature God built into the gospel proclamation, and not a bug? What's if it's not an embarrassing side effect we should seek to minimize but an essential ingredient in our message? What if taking out the offense of the gospel results in another gospel which cannot save? I submit that it's better for the non-believer to clearly hear the gospel message and walk away offended than for them to hear a thousand feel-good sermons that never offended them. We need to be willing to pay the consequences again.

Offensive Personally

I've got enough distance from when all our old church friends ditched us to see clearly now, and therefore can finally say something meaningful about something other than how it feels. While in the pain I suspected myself as the one at fault for being needlessly churlish, because let's face it, I'm often needlessly churlish, but now after they were gracious enough to talk to us about it I see what's happened. I offended them. Badly. Because I rebuked the old church and left it. Because I condemned their doctrine and course of ministry as both insufficient and headed into non-Christianity. They like the church's new direction and don't want to hear a rebuke. Thus, I unwittingly handed them a huge dose of offense. You know what? Maybe that was God speaking to them. I do not repent of the decision to leave that church, and if it came with a painful lash across their conscience, then perhaps God meant for that to happen as a lesson.

Offensive at a Distance

At the same time I've been watching a friend of mine get it from his old denomination for breaking away from them. They're offended by him. They're angry. They don't like it. But the fact of the matter is truth isn't pleasant. It hurts. And perhaps that's a good thing. A very good thing. Because otherwise we might take the soft road right into hell without ever being jolted awake.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Mary Did You Know - A New Version!

Mary, did you know
that one day you would
be called the queen of heaven?

Mary did you know
that you could make your boy
hold back even Armageddon?

Did you know
that they’d pray to you;
and say worshipful things?
Or that you’d lead a sinless life, and ascend so magically?


Mary did you know
that they’d see and worship you
on things like breakfast toast

Mary did you know
that they’d make statues and say
Mother of God, true and holy host

Did you know
it’d be a mortal sin
To miss one of your 29 annual feasts?
Or that you’d be our intercessor
our perfect lady of peace!

Oh, Mary, did you know?
Oh, Mary, did you know?

The blind stay blind, the deaf stay deaf,
The dead don’t live again.
The lame don’t leap, the dumb don’t speak
It’s all so fraudulent!

Mary, did you know
They’d build shrines to you
and fall down before your face?

Mary did you know
you’d be called “the cause of our joy”
and be exalted to such a place?

Did you know
That they’d stop caring
about your firstborn son
Cause let’s be real, who needs him
When you’re the greatest one!

Friday, December 5, 2014

This is where it ends

So about my old denomination hiring an intern to preach on Sunday mornings, and defending their choice of a woman... (Fourth Avenue Church of Christ in Franklin, TN I mean you), it makes me realize just how rotted the structure was. The storm has come and the fence has blown down. This is proof.
This conversation of how it happens stands for the wider churches. This is what they did collectivly.

"Hey Tommy it's me Doug. Listen, I know we lost track since university, but you said we'd always be friends and I could always call you."
"Oh... right... *pause* How are you Doug? By the way it's Thomas now, or N.T."
"I'm doing badly N.T. my daughter has just left the house in a storm, said she hates me and isn't coming back. I didn't know who else to turn to."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"I had three kids N.T., and they've all done that now. They've left me and it's finally caught up when my baby did it. I... I... oh God!"
"Calm down Doug they didn't die, there's always a chance for reconciliation."
"No, there's not. They left the church under my eldership. *sobbing* They're going to hell forever N.T.... I can't bear this any longer, it's crushing me... *sobbing* I... can't."
"Oh posh! That's no way to talk! God is a loving God."
"You... you mean I should still trust him?"
"Of course. Don't you? Didn't you say you're an elder?"
"Yes, but we're the restoration movement, you know, a loose affiliation of independent churches in America."
"No sorry, not familiar in the least."
"Well, we're pretty strict you know. Trying to be faithful to the Bible."
"Good, then believe the Spirit will lead them back."
"I don't believe in that."
"The Spirit or Sovereignty? Well never mind either fine, that's not a problem. But look, the Bible says God is love right?"
"So trust he's going to save her. I'll be personal here, I had to come to grips with something similar once everyone started fleeing Anglicianism. "Are they leaving because of me?" I asked myself. Is it my fault? But then I realized that just because they left Christianity didn't necessarily mean they left God's love. They hadn't left salvation."
"I... I always rejected that before, but now I see the truth of it... thank you N.T."
"You're welcome."
"Huh? Why are you shouting?"
"Sorry, I'm excited because we're going to have our children back."
"Really? How"
"It's simple, faithfulness got us into trouble, so faithlessness is the way out! Call the colleges, see if they can send us a woman preacher, we've got a lot of catching up to do and no time to lose!"

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Adding Balance to My Previous Post

Would you have your children saved? Teach them what the Bible is really about. Would you have their Sunday School meaningful? Magnify the attributes of God. Would you have your hears strengthened to stand against the flood of iniquity that washes over them from the world? Open the Bible, exposit it, and let God's voice truly be heard. When it gives imperatives don't soften them. When it gives indicatives don't mess with them. Open the door and stand back, and watch your deliverance come like the Israelites passing through the Red Sea.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Response to "Is Sunday School Destroying Our Children?"

Update: Dec-4-2014. Internet gunslinger Sam "they're not pince nezs so stop asking" Williamson has left a comment below graciously indicating I've misunderstood his point, which was (in my own words): "The classes are run by a bunch of semi-pelagians who stress an imaginary intrinsic worth of humanity. They have lost sight of man's depravity, and therefore God's grace." Can't disagree there. The fault is entirely mine since he says in his bio "start questioning your emergent unbeliefs you cods" so I've made some small changes to the article. If you're reading this for the first time then I'm sorry you've just wasted 10 seconds of your life on this first paragraph.
It's no secret that I have withdrawn from the interwebs a bit in order to work like a madcat on what might be a terrible fiction story, and the only consolation to these many hours I'm dumping into it might only be that I'm becoming a "better" writer. So that's why there's been no blogging lately. However this article pulled me out of sabbatical because I think it needs a response, and as someone who's just pulled his kids out of a mega-church Sunday school program, I have something to say on the matter.

Let's be gracious and start with what Sam gets right--a correct diagnosis that a sorry form of moralism is being taught to our kids during Sunday school which isn't helping spiritual development. (My oldest was being taught to dress appropriately for the weather during her Sunday school class, so I can validate this concern.) He asks the question (loose translation): "What are they getting there that's any different from Mormonism, or some kind of Janism? 'Be good, do good' isn't exactly a compelling reason to remain Christian, if it's even Christian at all." There's something rotten in the state of Denmark indeed.

He then adds that reducing the Biblical characters to their virtues is equivalent to lying. Well, okay. Half truth can indeed be a lie, although I'm not sure that little kids have a good capacity for abstract thought yet. Certainly this is a valid point for the high school aged.

Now Sam's not advocating this, but this is exactly the same wording used by the emergents, and their desire is for us to be genuine and teach the kiddies about hookers, sexual immorality, murder, and rape. Lets instruct them that we're all beastly, and it's okay to be beastly because God loves everyone anyway. In an amusing turn of irony they commit the same error they blast their Southern baptists forerunners for, just in the opposite way. Rather than reduce the characters to their virtues, they reduce them to their vices and say, "See? Sin's no big deal, God's cool man. Just look at all those people who were forgiven." Which is of course wrong. Gods love is not, in any way, unconditional; it's conditional, it's just that for those of us who are in Christ those conditions have been met, while for those outside of Christ the conditions haven't been. The wrath abides. Take away that bit of bad news and you've killed the gospel dead. Now to be clear Sam is calling for a fair telling of the characters in the Bible, not the slanted, law abiding portion only, but I'm on a soap box now and I'm not getting down until I have thoroughly dismantled the modern children's education movement and that means two more points.

Firstly, teaching the kids to obey the law in those simple terms is not just good, it's essential. Praise God it's absolutely, must-have critically essential, and they can't be saved without it. I'll say it more plainly still: lifting up the saints of the Bible for loving the law and trying their best to keep it is a necessary thing. It brings me great pleasure to hear my children running out of their new Bible class singing, "Brother won't you help me, sister won't you help me, building up the temple of the Lord" because they are learning essential truths for life. They're understanding the fundamental message of the gospel in an appropriate way for their age, even if that looks like a base moralism to an emergent fellow.
This is because the law doesn't just smell of grace, but is pure grace, run through a fine filter. It's the path that leads us to Christ, not phariseeism. The lighted sign that shows the way starts with "Do, and do not." Because what is the gospel? It's that we can't keep the law perfectly, we mess up so bad every time we try to keep it that it makes us want to flat give up, but there is someone who has kept it. We can't earn God's favor, but there is someone who has earned it. As Alistair says, "The law is not a ladder which we climb to forgiveness, but is a mirror in which we see our need for a savior." And once we give up on using the law as a means to be right before a holy God, we see that the law doesn't just lead us to the one who kept it, but that it also provides a way for us to please God once we're born again. Fail to teach the children the law and you've failed to give them the ability to understand the gospel. Take Romans 7 out of your Bible and Romans 8 goes with it. If we want kids that understand the gospel we need kids that understand the law so much that they realize they're sinners. He who has been forgiven much, loves much.

The second problem is that throwing out traditional programs is that it's already been implemented in church to disastrous consequence. The Sunday morning services across our country are filled up with this watery kind of self-help, feel-good-about-yourself drek that passes for sermons. I would gladly welcome a return to the proto-gospel days of old where the preacher used the word 'hell' to warn his hearers not to sin, not only in Sunday school but even in big church. Because sadly the damage caused by the feelie goodie gospel is almost irreparable. I can rebuke the atheist who holds up a straw man version of Christianity by telling him he's rejecting only something suitable for young children. I can even take what he's learned and build on it to give him the complete gospel message, but what can I do when the preacher gets up on Sunday morning and willfully passes out a weak sauce sermon about how God loves and forgives everyone for everything anyway? In the first case you can point out his immaturity as a remedy, but if the pastor is doing it knowingly and deliberately what can you do? The congregation becomes hardened in their babyhood, and soon thinks nothing about pooping their diapers and sucking on bottles when they should be teachers themselves, or at least eating meat.

I'll wind down by making my point this way: The law isn't the problem, we are. Teaching it to the children isn't where we go wrong, and driving it out of their lives in a misguided attempt to bolster their sinful self esteem is only going to ruin them. Take my word for it, I've seen it personally. In an attempt to gather as many people into the building on Sunday morning my old church diluted the message to the point where it no longer gave sustenance, and implemented that at all levels.
No, our mistake has not been in teaching the children the law, it's that when the time comes to complete their training and put the final piece in place we instead throw everything back in the box and say, "That was fun, now let's go listen to Tony Robbins or Rick Warren make us feel good about ourselves."
That my friend, that, is where we have gone wrong. We've settled for a Christless Christianity that our forefathers would find completely unrecognizable and allowed Theraputic Moral Deism to win the day. And that is why your kids don't attend your church when they grow up.

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