Codependency and Egoism: Two Ways To Obscure Easter

It is that time of year when, once again, Churches of all denominations ramp up their hospitality.  One need not look far to find flier invitations for Easter egg hunts, local ads for sunrise services, or Church billboards declaring that all are invited to join them for Easter service.  According to Christian tradition, this is exactly as it should be.  Easter is the most important day in the Church calendar – the Feast of all Feasts – and is the greatest declaration of our salvation.

However, when we take this opportunity to tell people about the Christianity, our advertisements often betray bad beliefs which we have adopted alongside the good.  I have observed two strong motivational trends which I think betray such bad ideas: (1) the “Jesus wants to give you stuff” message, and (2) the “You should pay Jesus back for all He did” message.  The first invites me to come to Jesus because I want stuff for myself, the second invites me to come to Jesus because I feel badly for Him. Continue reading Codependency and Egoism: Two Ways To Obscure Easter

You should be especially nice at church: an examination of Galatians 6.10

“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6.10)

This verse strikes me as being counter-intuitive. First of all, shouldn’t we do good to everyone equally? Secondly, if we are to do good “especially” to some, shouldn’t they be nonbelievers? The church is a place where people already recognize the goodness of God. I often think that since a person is saved, they are secure in their knowledge of the goodness of God, and there is no pressing need for my actions to serve as a reflection or reminder. On the other hand, I often feel a compelling need to point nonbelievers to God’s goodness by my actions, so that they too can become secure in God’s goodness. I can recall many times in which I have been more inclined to do good to a nonbeliever than a believer, simply because I want to win the nonbeliever over. When we see a world full of hurting, hopeless people, it becomes easy to be apathetic regarding your behavior around Christians and be more concerned with doing good to those who are lost. Yet, this way of thinking and accompanying behavior is not quite right.

To make sense of this command and readjust our way of thinking, we should start by examining the verse more carefully and then considering it in relation to Paul’s other teachings. The beginning of this verse, unfortunately, is easily overlooked. Paul writes, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone”. Paul is not calling us to neglect anyone in our good deeds. Paul is calling us to live with a mindset that leads us to do good to everyone whenever the opportunity arises. This verse is at the end of Galatians – a letter which emphasizes justification by faith and not by works. Paul teaches that we are not saved by good works. It is futile to try to save yourself or another by doing good. The reason we do good is because our Father is good, and we are created in his image. In other words, we ought to do good because we have been created to do so. When God use a good deed to be a reminder or a reflection of his goodness, then it is bonus.

With the proper reason for doing good in mind, let us consider Paul’s teachings on the church in 2 Corinthians. Paul’s letter indicates that church, as a whole, must be the starting place for the expansion of the Kingdom. Throughout the epistle, he discusses of the church’s obligation to share. The church must share in sufferings, forgiveness, and even material wealth.
In the context of sharing material wealth, Paul writes:

>Your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. (2 Corinthians 9.14)

This is a tangible example of the sort of good that needs to be done within the church. We “do good” when we provide for our brethren; this could mean bestowing forgiveness, loving-kindness, or tangible goods. Likewise, our brethren ought to “do good” to us as well and provide in the places where we are lacking. When the church family does good to one another there is fairness and fulfillment. If we take Galatians 6.10 seriously, then members of the church should feel complete in forgiveness, love, and strength. Then, we can better serve to be a light in the world. Think of a stone lighthouse, in which the stones are the members and the whole structure is the church. Each stone lends its strength and stability to the others. Together, they make the structure strong, and are able to provide light to those out at sea. It is necessary that each stone is present and lending all of its strength.

As we consider Paul’s command to do good, we must keep in mind the proper reason for doing good. We bear the image of the Highest Good, and our actions should manifest this. However, by the grace of God, our good actions can also serve to transform those around us. This is what Paul is getting at in the latter half of Galatians 6.10. Ultimately, we do good because we can and should. However, when we do good especially to those in the household of faith, we are being used by God to form the beacon of faith that shines out into a world of lost souls.

An Insurmountable Obstacle

Did you know it’s estimated that in 2011-1012 about 7.1 billion people were considered chronically undernourished? Or did you know that the estimated number of orphans world-wide is around 1.5 billion? Statistics like these are often employed to raise awareness and are often effective in alerting an audience to the magnitude and importance of a problem. However, they can also have the unintended effect of overwhelming an audience. In light of solving a problem that seems hopeless, how are we supposed to respond?

a) walk away

Even when faced with a small problem, it’s tempting to leave it alone believing someone else will fix it or it will be resolved on its own. Dirty dishes in the sink? Maybe I can pretend I didn’t see them and my roommate will wash them when she gets home. Or maybe they’re not actually a problem at all; maybe she put them into the sink for a reason. As ridiculous as these excuses may sound, they still run through our mind and  cause us to realize there is a daily temptation to ignore and give up on the small problems.

When faced with a huge problem, especially one that doesn’t personally affect us, the temptation becomes even bigger to just walk away. Of course, nobody wants to admit this. Nobody would say, “I don’t care if global hunger continues” because theoretically, everybody wants the problem to end. While there are some who actively work to fix the problem, many seem content only expressing a desire to fix the problem and then ignoring the needed work.

b) settle for less

Sometimes when confronted with a large problem, sometimes one attempt won’t offer a solution so it’s necessary to begin by taking small steps. The small steps then offer a better approach by breaking the problem up into manageable pieces. This approach can be extremely useful and is often necessary to begin addressing the problem.

However with this option, there is a risk of contenting oneself with only the small steps and never resolving the larger problem. For example, removing a tree means the roots eventually need to be removed. Beforehand, sometimes its necessary to prune the branches which is an example of taking small steps to fix the problem. However, sometimes only the branches are pruned and the trunk is never touched. Similarly with a large problem, sometimes actions are only taken to relieve the problem and fail to follow through in solving the entire problem. This option is tricky because it follows the same lines as an appropriate response. However, this option becomes faulty when the small steps fall short of addressing the problem either at its core or in its entirety.

c) try harder

Especially for those plagued with guilt or self-doubt, trying harder seems to be the simple solution to an unsolved problem. We know that when we care about something, we will spend time and effort with it, so if we truly cared about an issue, it would then seem we should spend a maximum amount of time and effort. However, this mindset is a recipe for burnout since it usually doesn’t realistically view the problem’s extent or man’s ability.

Although these options differ in their approach, whether it’s overworking or underworking, they all fail to offer a satisfying solution because of one simple reason. They forget the basic truth that’s taught all throughout Sunday school: the right answer is Jesus. While it’s somewhat of a trite saying, in this case it’s the correct answer. As believers, we are now children of God and we are in the process of being fashioned like Christ.

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” We are called to be obedient to this command in a way that mirrors Jesus’ love. Jesus didn’t abandon the world or settle for the minimum, but in His life and death, He fully engaged with life’s essential and daily problems. While we don’t have Jesus’ divine ability to completely fix the world’s problems, we do have the motivation and the ability to mirror His love. This doesn’t mean trying harder to solve immense problems but rather trying properly by pointing to the ultimate solution of Jesus.

Finally, in spite of our feelings of hopelessness, the truth is He has already overcome the world. Jesus loved us with a love that carried Him through the earth and the heavens and we have been shown this love. If we are filled with this love, our response to the world problems around us will not cause us to become overwhelmed or afraid. Instead, we will be able to act in a way that demonstrates Christ’s love and thus allows our love to be stronger than our fear.


Capitalism is Not God’s Dream for Humanity

Capitalism is often deeply intertwined with the American’s idea of patriotism and Christianity, and for good reason. Capitalism, like the Christian life, encourages discipline. As seen through America’s rise as an economic super power over the past century, capitalism can give a man with a good work ethic the opportunity to move from rags to riches, achieving the American dream of full life, liberty, and happiness. In recent years, however, more Christians have questioned the negative affects of capitalism on humanity and whether American Christians should accept all capitalistic ideas as part of their worldview.

Like Victoria Van Vlear, who recently posted an article on Evangelical Outpost called Why You Should Listen to Communists, I believe we can learn more about capitalism and its limitations by studying the economic system that juxtaposes it: communism. Unlike Victoria, however, I am not surprised that communism’s founder, Karl Marx, was able to revolutionize entire countries with his theory. Marx was eccentric, yes. And there is no denying that communism has been used to oppress people in horrific ways. Yet Marx’s ideas point out some serious flaws in capitalism, flaws that we American Christians cannot ignore if we are to be responsible stewards of our possessions and love others well.

Therefore, I’d like to take a Marxist perspective on some of the harmful effects of capitalism. The problems capitalism creates, though different than those of socialism, can still be severe and debilitating. Capitalism creates vast wealth but also immense poverty. It provides jobs and products for consumption, but it also promotes alienation, overconsumption, and exploitation. Capitalism has brought us wealth, but this wealth might come at too great a price.

– Let’s begin with alienation. Marx tells us that capitalism alienates us from the purpose of our labor, because in a capitalistic society the worker ceases to labor out of his or her own will and volition and begins to labor to meet another person’s goal. In other words, most of us are working for The Man. According to Marx’s essay Alienated Labor, man differs from the animal inasmuch as he “makes his vital activity itself into an object of his will and consciousness.” Man creates through conscious, vital activity. As beings created in the image of the Creator, an essential part of our being must be to create and labor to bring our ideas into reality. In a capitalist society, however, we waive our right to labor for our own purposes, trading our labor for wages in order to fulfill the desires of another human being. In Alienated Labor, Marx goes on to argue that the result of this is “man (the worker) only feels himself freely active in his animal functions…and feels himself an animal in his human functions.” In other words, when we sell our labor instead of experiencing the fruits of it ourselves, we can feel enslaved. Work can become the thing we do just to make money rather than a sacred opportunity to exercise our image-bearing quality of creativity. As a result of this shift in our understanding of labor, work becomes the place where we feel least human and least fulfilled, which entirely contradicts the intrinsic nature of labor as an expression of our purpose and humanness. In a capitalist society, our labor is only as valuable as the wage we are receiving. In a perfect society, however, our labor would do more to enhance human dignity: we would see the whole fruits of our labor rather than paper money equivalent to our labor.

– Next comes overconsumption, which is partially a result of alienation from labor. Because his work makes him feel like an animal, man looks to physical pleasure to help him feel more human. It is for this reason that Americans live for the weekend: we have sold our entire week to someone else, working in someone else’s office for someone else’s purpose, so that on the weekend (the only time that wholly belongs to us) we can live in excess for the final and exclusive end of experiencing pleasure and fulfillment. As man grasps at appetitive pleasures in search of purpose, capitalist society continuously uses advertising and stereotypes about economic status to suggest that consuming makes him more human. Capitalism encourages consumption to a fault: industry purposely engineers dispensable things, and the things industry creates still don’t fulfill the majority of humanity’s basic needs. A trip to a majority world country like Swaziland brings the realization that a number of people have cell phones that will break in three years but come from a village that still has no access to clean water. While many go without food, there are thousands of cars in dealerships all over our own country with no one to buy them. Instead of focusing on improving the health of humanity, capitalism has led to an excess of material things falsely deemed necessary and ignored true necessities.

– Finally, capitalism allows for the fulfillment of the purposes of some at the expense and exploitation of the majority. As we grow alienated from our labor and our humanness, we become alienated from one another. As demonstrated in the documentary The Corporation, virtually every corporation in the United States outsources labor from parts of the world where protection for workers simply does not exist. CEOs like Phil Knight of Nike Inc., have, in the past, completely ignored the conditions in their factories because their factories exist halfway around the world.* Few have ever actually visited their factories to see the working conditions, allowing the CEO’s primary focus to be monetary gain rather than concern for the human condition. Capitalist society is structured in such a way that exploitation becomes a necessary evil in order to create competition, and the capitalist can even exploit without coming face to face with the consequences of his actions. In this way, capitalism damages the morality of the capitalist.

I am not positing that communism represents an adequate solution for or response to the problems created by capitalism. I am positing, however, that Marx predicted the negative effects of capitalism that we are experiencing today, and that makes him worth listening to. I never would have been able to identify these problems if I hadn’t read Marx. We ought to listen to communists, and not just to compose better arguments against their ideology. We ought to listen to communists because they can help us see the problems with our system and work with us to respond to these problems in ways that improve the quality of life for the worker.

Realizing some of the flaws of capitalism helps us remember that the American Christian is not inherently a capitalist. To be a rich Christian (and that includes us—most American Christians are rich compared to the majority of the world) amidst poverty and hunger is to contradict the main focus of the Christian faith: human reconciliation and flourishing and the advancement of God’s kingdom. You might believe that the pros of capitalism outweigh the cons, but Christians, at least, should think hard about what it means to subscribe to any system that does not promote human flourishing for all.


*Nike has, as of late, improved their social responsibility. For details, click here.

Pull Question: The Origin of the Species

Why is the existence of God beyond the scope of science for Darwin?

Darwin’s Origin of the Species ends with the following sentence:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.

I was rather surprised—and pleased—to find that Darwin does not immediately couple his theory of evolution with atheism. In this last sentence, he even alludes to life as being initiated by the Creator. There are several conclusions I can reach from a cursory glance at this ending:

First, Darwin is writing to lay people. Before this time, he had produced other scientific works, but none were directed to the common people. The Origin of the Species was meant to be read by the unscientific masses, and when Darwin published the book in 1859, most of the West was still Christian. To publish such a theory and not still attribute existence to God would have severely damaged the reception of the work.

Second, Darwin never claims to know the source of all life. He writes in his conclusion, “It may be asked how far I extend the doctrine of the modification of species. The question is difficult to answer…it does not seem incredible that…all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth may be descended from some one primordial form.”

Notice here that while Darwin postulates that all life may have descended from one original species, he makes no move to claim that this species sprang into existence of its own volition. He does not cite the big bang theory. In fact, he states, “I see no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of any one.” Darwin simply steers clear of the original source.

The existence of God is outside the scope of Darwin’s work. Darwin understands that speculating on the original source is a question of Why and not of What. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis states:

But why anything comes to be there at all, and whether there is anything behind the things science observes – something of a different kind – this is not a scientific question…The statement that there is any such thing, and the statement that there is no such thing, are neither of them statements that science can make. (Book 1, Chapter 4)

Science is an observational practice. This means that it is relegated to answering the question What? It cannot move to answer the question Why?—that is the job of religion. Darwin very wisely sticks to answering What? He observes that species gradually change over time, and conjectures that perhaps they modify from one species to another over longer periods of time. But he stays away from guessing at the original source of all life, because that would be answering Why life exists.

Atheists have since encompassed the source of all life in the theory of evolution, which  moves the theory from the realm of science to that of religion. Darwin never made that claim. At one point, he comments, “My conclusions have lately been much misrepresented, and it has been stated that I attribute the modification of species exclusively to natural selection…I am convinced that natural selection has been the main but not the exclusive means of modification.”

However Christians may disagree with Darwin, we cannot rebuke him for denying the existence of God. He never did it.

A Year of Atheism: “Lord, I believe, but I’ll give up my belief”

Following a tried-and-true marketing formula, one former professor and pastor is attempting a year of atheism. He’s going to give up praying, reading the Bible for wisdom and encouragement, hoping that God will intervene in his life, and giving credit to God for day-to-day events.

Ryan Bell (no relation to Rob Bell, as far as I know) makes a few claims in his “coming out” post. Among many things, he says:

Christian educational institutions are not serving their students by eliminating professors that are on an honest intellectual and spiritual journey, just because it doesn’t line up with the official statement of faith.

The category of those who are on an “honest intellectual and spiritual journey” is a little larger than just those who are seeking atheism for a year. The push lately for those who are living “honest” journeys is a bit bewildering in its implications: if “living honestly” means that we abandon Christianity, does that mean Christianity is dishonest? If the educational institutions that Bell is referring to fire those who are living “honest…journey[s]”, what does that say for the professors who are still employed? While he “guess[es]” that many professors are in the same place that he is spiritually, he suggests that they live dishonestly in fear of termination.

If you are doubting and want to be honest about it, great. I’m absolutely okay with people who profess their struggles, even from the pulpit. It’s okay to say something is hard, it’s okay to say something is difficult to understand.

But if you’re teaching students or shepherding a flock and you’re to the point where you’re closer to atheism than Christianity, perhaps it is time you step back from leadership. Don’t be surprised when employers agree with the sentiment.

Christianity as a worldview is hardly filled with absolute certainty; sometimes faith is extremely challenging. That’s the reality we live in. We groan for a better understanding of the mysterious ways of God, we cry out in despair, and sometimes we get angry with our Creator. That’s acceptable. Even Jesus begs that the Father take the cup from him, before ultimately submitting himself.

If we don’t want to compare ourselves to Jesus, lest we be accused of arrogance, perhaps we can compare ourselves to the father of the spirit-possessed boy who confesses “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” Or David when he cries out in the Psalms, often in ways that make us uncomfortable. Or even Job, who lived righteously and asked God some brutal questions.

The assumption that the Church cannot handle doubt is misplaced, but somewhat understandable. We’ve all experienced the ridicule of doubters, even if the mockery was subtle. Whether that was from the slam-dunk answers youth pastors gave honestly struggling kids or senior pastors who just didn’t take us seriously, it’s hard not to empathize with Bell’s frustrations.

But most of us also have experiences on the other end of the spectrum, where we sit with pastors or mentors, pour out our struggles and our frustrations, and are met with empathy and grace. We’ve all felt like Peter, ready to give up on Christ because the pressures are great. And to suggest that Christian institutions have, by and large, missed the grace offered to Peter is dishonest. At the very least, it’s incredibly sad.

There’s a difference between those whom God calls to lead and those we might term “laymen.” While it is appropriate for doubts to be a part of the Christian life at times, they ought not to characterize our leaders. Sure, frustration and doubt can creep up. We expect that, even in church leadership. But living a public year of atheism is a few steps beyond that. Doubt has manifested itself in a far more public and declarative way.

Jesus is willing and eager to save us from our doubts. He kept Peter from drowning when he walked on water. Our doubts do not damn us.

But our doubts are distinct from those who hear the teachings of God and proclaim them too difficult. Those who cannot even fathom following are distinct from those who follow and doubt.

May God grant us the strength to believe, even in our unbelief.

Duck Dynasty, Pope Francis, and “Seasoned Speech”

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:6

Gracious speech has been a struggle for believers for as long as we’ve been around. Sometimes we get so caught up in truth that we forget to treat people like people. We ignore that many will be turned off by stale speech, instead preferring the seasoned words of the practiced rhetorician. But some of our truths are rather unpalatable to the modern ear. Children may not care for vegetables, but adults stomach them, regardless of whether or not they enjoy them: the goodness requires our action. And so it is with truth: sometimes we won’t like what is true, but must find a way to stomach it, for our own good.

Seasoned language, much like seasoned food, ought not cover up the subject entirely, but rather accent and enhance it, according to the palette of the listener. Some rhetoric seeks to cover the topic at hand, winning the listener over with sweetness; good rhetoric, however, ought to enhance the subject, rather than covering it up.

Perhaps I’m late to the game to discuss Phil Robertson and the Duck Dynasty clan. But if ever somebody spoke some truth (mixed with some falsehoods) that wasn’t well seasoned, it was probably him.

That’s a bit of hyperbole. Phil isn’t the first harsh speaker to hit the world, and he won’t be the last.

So let’s not talk about Duck Dynasty and the unsurprising statements from backwoods Christians. Let’s talk about how we ought to speak our minds day-to-day. How do truth and sensitivity interact? Must we silence our beliefs in order to win souls?

Pope Francis lands on the opposite spectrum from Phil, and not just in his beliefs concerning the nature of a church service. The Pope has been making news by stating what the Church has always believed, despite what caricatures of Catholics believe. But he’s also carefully answering questions. When he is asked flat-out what he believes about homosexuality, he says we ought to see everyone as people first. That’s far smoother than the Duck Dynasty version (which likens homosexuals to idiots who don’t know what they’re missing). And Roman Catholic doctrine hasn’t changed regarding homosexual activity.

However, if you use too much seasoning, at some point the dish itself doesn’t matter: all you taste is the topping. Some seem to think this is the way to go with Christianity (“If we make Christianity attractive by only talking about love and not judgment, maybe people will convert!”), but that is an offense to the Gospel. Francis has been accused of seasoning his words too much, but I think he has a robust dish to land on, so to speak. Catholicism is the sort of religion that changes far more slowly, if at all, even if Protestant Christianity has shirked that particular reputation.

So if you say “I’m Catholic”, people probably know where you stand on the issue. But if you say “I’m a Christian”, suddenly the world is without clarity on your stance. If it is our job to lead the world from sin and towards Jesus Christ, it is (at least partially) our job to point out sin. But many who claim Christianity do not believe that homosexuality is a sin, regardless of what Scripture makes clear (and not just Old Testament passages). So, what do we do? Do we speak our minds and offend, or keep our mouths shut and make friends?

The answer comes down to context, more often than not. If asked flat-out what you believe about homosexuality, you should have the strength to stand by and speak your convictions. If you are misunderstood, you may need to follow Francis’ example and remind yourself and others that those in the LGBTQ crowd are, first and foremost, people made in the image of God.

But if you aren’t asked directly, should you ever bring it up? Short answer: maybe. If your friends don’t have a clue where you stand (or even that you are a believer), perhaps you aren’t living your life for Jesus as strongly as you thought. But if they know you are a believer, and even know where you stand on homosexuality issues, it isn’t worth trumpeting every time you talk to someone. Really, it won’t do you any good. Don’t serve the same dish at every meal; it gets tiresome.

If you never seek to soften your words, if you only ever speak offensively, you cannot claim that you are being attacked for your faith. The world may persecute you for Christ’s sake, but if you are attacked because you never considered your words or your actions, you are being persecuted for your own sake. And, unless you’re already perfect, that’s not going to fly.

So, step back and consider your words. Don’t be needlessly offensive, but don’t avoid all offense. The gospel is worth losing friends over, but your unnecessarily brash language isn’t. Season your words carefully, but remember to vary them as needed.

Proving Rap is Sinful: A Quick Guide

If you’ve found the recent debate in some circles of Christianity about hip-hop to be a bit overwhelming, I’d recommend focusing here. I suspect that Scott Aniol represents some of the best arguments out there against the rap as a musical genre, while Shai Linne is not only a successful Christian rapper, but also a devote believer who has interned with pastors, and has released albums centered around theology (The Attributes of God was fantastic, and his most recent album, Lyrical Theology, Pt. 1: Theology is pretty solid, as well). It is always good practice to read and represent the best possible position, and I commend their thoughts to you.

I gave my thoughts on the topic shortly after the panel that sparked the whole thing. It’s a little odd to me to watch scholars who have spent very little time looking at hip-hop disregard it so quickly, especially when confronted with solid Christian brothers and sisters who so strongly disagree with them. This isn’t something like pornography, which can easily be dismissed as sinful; there aren’t huge groups of otherwise righteous people devoting their lives to it. But media, broadly speaking, has devotees among Christians–rap music is no different. While this is far from enough to conclude that rap is holy (after all, some cultural realities may be sinful), it should at least give us pause.

Here’s why you should care about the debate, no matter where you currently stand (and why I’m eager to follow along): if rap is inherently sinful, it ought to be avoided, plain and simple. At all times. Vigilantly. Let us not sin that grace may abound. If, however, rap is not intrinsically sinful, but only made sinful by some other quality (whether content, some particular style of beat, or something else), then we have to be careful about shutting out something that has apparently helped many people draw nearer to the face of God. There are reports of people who have been saved by rap music; I myself have been convicted and encouraged by Christian rappers, including Shai Linne.

If there were no good to be saved here, we could give it up. In fact, it might be wise to give it up, for the sake of our brothers and sisters.

From utility, it seems that we can’t quite discount rap on the suggestion that it might be sinful. After all, it is putting Scripture into the hearts of many listeners, both believers and skeptics. Even if sin plays a large part in rap music, isn’t the light worth preserving?

To convince me that hip-hop is not worth investing in, an opponent would need to address a number of issues: first, I’d need to see evidence that something about the musicality of hip-hop (the drum, the synths, the bass, the samples, or something else entirely?) is somehow universally going to result in sinfulness. If someone could genuinely explain how the beats of hip-hop universally encourages lust in people, or hatred, or any other sin, I’d be pretty quick to drop it (at least) in front of others, if not personally.

Second, if someone could prove that the the majority of those who are brought to Christ through rap music are somehow hindered by rap, rather than helped by it, then I’d be happy to sit and talk about other evangelistic tools. This is a bit of a utilitarian view, but if you can’t convince people that it is a sin, you could at least attempt to convince people that it is harmful.

Third, I think if someone actually spent time with an album recommended by a Christian fan of rap (might I recommend Shai Linne’s The Attributes of God?), listening to the album all the way through more than once, I’d be a lot more likely to listen to them. Perhaps this is asking much of those who think the music is sinful (though Scott Aniol did post a YouTube link for his argument from Christian “Death Metal”, suggesting that perhaps just listening for the sake of discussion is not a problem). But if it isn’t, I think this should really be a prerequisite.

Finally, I think those who wish to claim rap is sinful should provide some metric by which all music may be judged. How did rap (and death metal, apparently) end up on the short-list for sin, while many other genres have not (country, rock, folk, etc.)? Other than plain assertions, this hasn’t yet been demonstrated.

I don’t throw these challenges out to be trite, nor do I intend them to be rhetorical. I’ll listen to any responses, either sent to me personally or otherwise. My bias shows through, I’m sure, and I won’t pretend otherwise.

But I really do believe that the debate is important, and I wish to see it advanced. If the conclusion is one I don’t like (and, frankly, am skeptical we will be led there), so be it. May God be honored in all we say or do, whether we listen to hip-hop, debate hip-hop, or abstain from hip-hop. And may we all learn which way to best serve God.

Saint Nietzsche: The Last True Atheist

There have been few men as great as the late Friedrich Nietzsche, and the longer he is gone, the more that I miss him. He was great in the same way a hurricane is great, or the Cambodian Genocide was great; he is great in that he lashed out viciously and consistently. No man, method, or morality was spared his worldview.

For that, Christianity owes this pillar of Atheism a great debt—perhaps one that cannot truly be repaid. For in a world of lukewarm ideals and smarmy podcasts built around cute little quips, Friedrich Nietzsche glows like a white-hot iron—and should that iron be heated by the very fires of Hell, at least it glows. When placed before God, there will be no question where Nietzsche stood, and that is more than can be said for many folks. Nietzsche may have descended into the very gut of the Inferno, but he never descended as low as modern intellectualism. At the Judgment Seat, there will be at least one man that God need not worry about being lukewarm.

Many have died dull deaths with dull ideas—whether because they are easy, or fashionable, or simple. Nietzsche was not one of them.

Nietzsche brings to the philosophical table a rare consistent idea (and it is wonderful that this atheist/academic is willing to approach the table at all). His argument is as smooth as glass and as round as a perfect sphere. This is notable for two reasons: (1) he is willing to talk about Truth as something that actually exists and (2) he is unswerving in applying his ideas to the cosmos around him. You can take Nietzsche worldview and philosophical ideas and spin them, flip them on their head, twist and kick and roll them, and they will always be the same, with the same logical application. It would do every Christian a favor (and every person who holds even the slightest concept of a Higher Power) to familiarize themselves with some of Nietzsche more well-known works. It will either destroy your faith or make it unshakeable, but either way, it will allow you to hear an honest man speaking honestly.

When Nietzsche said that religion is a means of the weak enslaving the strong to stop their own torment, he really meant it. Therefore, if you were strong, you should not allow the weak to enslave you with their petty morality. When Nietzsche said that there is no God watching over our lives, and that the best thing that humanity could do for itself was to have every creature be as strong and vibrant and powerful as it could be (which is the basis for Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged), he really meant that man should be overpowering other men; after all, it would make humanity better. There was no room for limp-wristed justifications of “love your neighbor as yourself” after God was dead. Why should there be? It would make as much sense for an anarchist to say that all government is evil, but that we should keep an active military and police force; either the anarchist isn’t really an anarchist, or he is a coward, afraid of what his ideals will bring. If God is dead, there is no reason to keep the world dressed in His clothes.

Furthermore, Nietzsche ideas have been more or less applied in certain circumstances throughout history. When a rabid, National Socialist Germany held up the banner of the Übermensch[1] in the days preceding World War II, they were adopting Nietzsche’s idea’s, although they were grossly misapplied; after all, every man can be a Superman—he only need to be stronger than his neighbor. And why not? There is no God, there is no Judgment. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we disappear.

Of course, man does not do this. Even Nietzsche himself expressed repeated frustration with his inability to shed the shackles of his socially and religiously imposed conscience. But where Nietzsche was unique is that he did not stop trying. Modern atheism condemns religion for being a vehicle for men to do evil to other men (a claim that is not without credibility), but they allow evil, which means there is some good, which means there is some ideal that humanity is subject to, and has always been subject to, which means something established that ideal—at the very least, it exists outside of men and culture. It is always amusing to hear Christianity condemned for being so unlike Christ—as this is the silver bullet that will slay the concept of a divine Being. Look at all these people who believe in God—they don’t act like there’s a God, there must not be a God. Anger with God is understandable, but trying to keep the Second Commandment (“love your neighbor”) while discarding the First (“love your God”) is trying to hold up the roof without the walls.

Nietzsche understood this—if anything, he praised those who would abuse religion for being scheming and cunning. Where the chic intellectualism of our day would damn the Church for their abuse of power, Nietzsche would praise it, if only because it was clever enough to impose itself on the rest of the weak little lambs seeking shelter from the hawks. Nietzsche viewed religious authority as one hawk would view another—with the respect that comes from competition. After all, if he was anything, he was consistent. Honest, vicious, possibly insane, almost certainly evil (if not extremely misguided), and consistent. Why does it matter if people are “evil”? It doesn’t. If there is no Truth, than any social or religious institution that would restrict a man from being a Superman should be ignored.

The only problem with Nietzsche is that he is wrong. When he made his worldview, he shaped it into his image, with his knowledge, and while it is consistent, as with any created thing that is perfectly consistent, it is small-minded. Nietzsche was a man so focused on his crystal ball he couldn’t see the crystal sky above him or the crystal sea around him. He committed intellectual blasphemy, and should be regarded as such.

But the next time you get wrapped up in a debate where you are challenged that your faith in Christ is a vehicle for weakness and evil, think back upon Saint Nietzsche—the last true Atheist—and realize that there may have been bad Christians, but there is little more terrifying than a good Atheist.

[1] Over-man, or Superman

This Millennial Isn’t Leaving the Church

I, a millennial, am not leaving the church. Recently there has been a small flashflood of articles unearthing possible reasons and remedies for the ongoing exodus of millennials from the Christian church. I read them as a stranger to the departing crowd.

Rachel Held Evans suggested toning down the trendiness and giving a listening ear to the thoughts and passions of a millennial near you. We are actually thinking about the creeds, science and faith, sexuality, and holiness, but we wonder over them in questions, not “predetermined answers.” Her last word is to “encourage church leaders eager to win millennials back to sit down and really talk with them about what they’re looking for and what they would like to contribute to a faith community.”

 Brett McCracken rebutted, asking millennials to give a listening ear to age and wisdom. Millennials are highly sensitive to nearby flaky self-images and the nearest one is our own. ‘Tis our season to scrabble through liminal self-perceptions toward a strongly rooted identity. So, the church should take a cue from the millennial and become as sensitive to their potential fakeness as they are to hers. McCracken thinks “that the answer is decidedly not to sit the Millennial down and have him or her dictate exactly what they think the church should be. But this is what Evans suggests.”

Not quite. Evans got timid with her final plea and left it vague. McCracken is being unfair, inserting this scenario when nothing in Evans’ statement gestures to it. Picture this specimen Millennial in a coffee shop with this specimen church-goer/deacon/die-hard. Never mind who asked whom.

There should be mutual listening. If either person actually thought they were coming to give a monologue, they could have found a pulpit or a stage. This is a conversation. Each speaker shuts up every few sentences. Granted, when people are ignored outright, intervention is advisable. But opening the dialogue by staking out one party’s right to be heard over another doesn’t allow for much traction down the road. If we all concede that good listening is lacking but key and then promise to stop tuning out our counselors’ or therapists’ practical tips to improve active listening, real conversations are just around the corner.

Where Evans and McCracken solidly agree, I ask for a significant nuance. In McCracken’s words, “Christianity has become too obsessed with how it is perceived.” I could easily interpret that two different ways: either he means ‘obsessed with first impressions’ or ‘obsessed with the self-image.’ If the latter, then of course we are obsessed with how we are perceived. Christianity nurtures concern for self-image. What begins as a shallow itch for approval is just the shadow of our deep human longing to be seen. We are created: we are created beautiful as well as functional: we are art. As art invites an audience, so we long to be displayed to each other. For Christ to completely restore us to what makes us truly human, we may only expect Him to increase our hunger for more and more attention.

But if in fact we are obsessed with making first impressions, no wonder we are frustrated. First impressions are one or a series of quick insights about a person based on visual (or other sensory) impressions. I don’t say judgments because the word connotes a distasteful opinion that we’ll probably end up dismissing as incorrect. Perceptions could be entirely correct. They just aren’t going to be deep. What we need in addition to first impressions is a certain space to be seen, where those impressions will purposefully become contemplation.

There’s no way to be a functioning human for long in a gallery space. We’re best displayed elsewhere in the space of shared experiences, alongside creations like ourselves. There, seeing and being seen are real possibilities.

Maybe we look to family, friends and professional circles or artistic communities for shared experiences. Yet, in proportion to human history, these are young, recent communities. Additionally, they may be more transient than permanent. They are less-than-guaranteed spaces for shared experience. The church is human history’s longest living community. It offers an extensive architecture of shared experiences (cf. its calendar, reformations and revivals, plus contributions to art). It is a certain space to be seen.

And so I remain a millennial church-goer. While my voice matters, I don’t stay on the condition that I am heard. Although my elders’ wisdom is a far better gift, I’ll persist to give as well as receive. Many, many concerns prick me every time I go to worship—I notice her lack of good discourse on human sexuality, feel her tight rein on artistic honesty, and wonder when her missionaries will feel called to America.  These concerns are powerful enough to activate me toward change and confrontation within the church, but will never rise to become conditions for remaining in the church. I pray to love the church as I hope to be loved: unconditionally. And similarly, I affirm that both the church and millennials have responsibility toward each other—to heed or challenge concerns, not as terms and conditions, but as doorways to unconditional love.