What it Means to be an Elderly Christian

Youth lends itself to the good Christian life. We look good, we’re athletic and healthy, have our whole lives in front of us, and we love God. We are in control and independent, we need no help to make it through the day.

We are also really good at pretending the above is true.

Young people, myself included, want to do their best to appear independent. We are good at convincing others (and ourselves) that we are making do on our own, but we’re lonely. In our efforts to remain independent, we have forgotten how to be dependent on a community.

The elderly Christian understands community. They have spent a lifetime walking with God and this lifetime of experience has helped them see more clearly who they are and how they fit into a community.

An elderly Christian has spent a long time walking with Jesus. They have been shaped by their Christian relationship and see the results of God’s work in them. They can see who they are. They can see that they are broken, sinful, in need of a savior. They can also see that they are loved, redeemed and improving. By God’s grace this has all been revealed to them. By their age they have become more comfortable in it.

The proper response to this example is for the young Christian to remain in the Lord.  It will not work out perfectly every day, or even any day. But then again, it did not work out perfectly in the 75 year old Christian’s life, but God was still faithful and so he will be faithful to the 20 year old that desires to follow Him.

When we have a better understanding of who we are in Christ, we then have a better understanding of how we fit into the Christian community. It is then with this refined sense of self that a Christian community can grow. The more I know who I am, the more I am able to find my role within a community and the more I am able to rely upon others.

With this new found self-knowledge I can better see how I fit into the scheme of things. Just as one gear in a machine works to turn other gears and is also turned by surrounding gears, I find throughout life how I help others and how others help me.

The young Christian that tries so hard to appear independent often does this by being one the one that serves others. It is very difficult for a young Christian to be able to accept service from others because we think that we ought to be able to help ourselves and not need the help of others.

But an elderly Christian has lived with God long enough to know that community is what has gotten them this far in life. Their self-knowledge allows them to see that they do need help, but that they can also help others. This interdependence is what drives a community, and the elderly know how to utilize this the best.

So, to the young Christian who wants to serve, remember that you have the ability to help an elderly brother or sister in Christ. You can simply be of company to an elderly Christian, be a helping hand in the kitchen or a friend that takes them to doctor’s appointments. Many things can bring you to their aide, but remember to stay a bit longer. Listen and watch. The elderly have a lot that they can offer to young Christians, whether it be words of wisdom or examples of love, do not overlook the ways that they can serve you. After all, it is the elderly who has mastered this best of all of us Christians.

They do not see it as their fault if they need help, rather they rejoice when they receive the aide they need. And when they can help, they do so readily.

The young Christian can look to this example and learn to know when they need help and when it is they can help others. Over time this process will become easier and easier because as a young Christian walks with God and sees themselves more clearly they will see how it is that they serve others and are served.

The Christianity of a 75 year old is not much different than the 20 year old’s Christianity. The only difference is that the longer cultivated community is richer in love. As a twenty year old Christian then, strive toward that love that can only come from such a long walk with God. Start by remembering that the 20 year old’s Christian community is the same one as the 75 year old’s.

Christianity: It’s Not About the Endgame

Recently, my husband and I were at the home of a friend of ours from church. As we chatted in the living room, my husband noticed a set of juggling balls sitting next to the television, and our friend began to teach us the proper way to learn to juggle. As my husband practiced, he mentioned his tendency to become obsessive over technique-driven activities (he once pulled an all-nighter in college, not finishing a paper, but working out a Sudoku puzzle). Part of why he loves running is that he enjoys perfecting his technique, which, for him, takes priority over lofty goals like “run a marathon” or “lose fifty pounds.”

“That’s because outcome is unimportant,” our friend commented. He suggested that consistent practice in improving the form and activity of something is actually more important than achieving a certain goal. Then he connected this to Christianity, saying that the Christian’s ultimate goal should be improving the activity of loving God as best as we can.

I pondered his comments for the rest of the day. It reminded me of something our priest has mentioned more than once: God honors our struggle, not our perfection. Because we are fallen creatures, we will constantly fail in our efforts to pursue righteousness. However, the goal is not perfection; the goal is to keep trying. If we give up because of our failures, the devil wins. If we keep struggling toward God, he will bless us for it.

Struggling through prayer, Scripture study, fasting, and other spiritual activities doesn’t change God; it changes us. We don’t do these things for God’s benefit, but for ours. Through such activities we become better oriented toward God and in a position in which we are better able to love him and, in turn, receive his love and grace.

A critique of Christianity I’ve heard multiple times is that some Christians use scare tactics as evangelistic tools; they threaten eternity in hell to encourage (or frighten) more people into becoming Christians. I understand the critics’ point: if Christianity is solely about “getting into heaven,” then the act of being a Christian becomes selfish and legalistic. Christianity is about better loving and knowing God, and loving our neighbors, than about ensuring our reservation for our own personal corner of paradise. If someone only wants to be a Christian out of fear of eternal torment, and/or out of desire for eternal comfort, than I believe they are missing the point. Our state of being in the age to come is not a reward or punishment doled out from God for meeting, or failing to meet, a certain list of requirements; it is a result of how we work to orient ourselves toward God in this life. As my priest put it recently, heaven and hell are not necessarily two different places, but rather they are two different dispositions toward God. The question, then, is not whether Christ will embrace us in death, but whether we will embrace him.

In his contribution to Rachel Held Evans’ Hell Series, Jerry L. Walls sums this up nicely (see his answer to the second question in the post). He references Acts 17, in which Paul preaches on Mars Hill:

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything…Yet he is not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’  Acts 17:24-25, 27-28

God’s disposition toward us never changes; his sustaining love and grace is not contingent upon our actions. However, because our very existence is contingent upon God, we can never be fully separated from him. Rather, we can be either properly or improperly oriented toward him. We can either accept and benefit from his embrace, or reject it and find only suffering in it. The struggles we endure in this life can help us reorient ourselves away from sin and back toward God and our divinely intended state of being.

I came across an article adapted from a speech by Archbishop Joseph of the Antiochian Orthodox Church in which he also describes the importance of Christian struggle over seeking an end goal (in this case, the Kingdom of Heaven as a Christian’s final destination):

It is within Christ that the Kingdom is to be experienced. For this reason, we cannot think of the Kingdom as something we are either “in” or “out” of. Through baptism and a life of repentance, we participate in the Life of Christ, and thus we participate in the Kingdom. The Kingdom is a dynamic state, wherein we grow in perfection through God’s grace. Our journey is not to the Kingdom, our journey is in the Kingdom.

As long as we are struggling to be Christlike, we are assuredly tasting of the Fountain of Immortality. When the struggle ends and the growth ceases, the Kingdom disappears. It is nowhere to be found. The moment we think we have achieved something, that we have earned our place, then we have lost the Kingdom. Our struggles are meaningless without Christ, and vice versa: without struggles, we are meaningless, because we will lose Christ.

Archbishop Joseph further makes the important point that God honors and helps us in our struggles:

When God sees our struggles to put aside our ego, He will grant us strength. When He sees us acting on our desire to enter into the Kingdom of His love, then He will help us in our time of need. No one shall ever perish from seeking after God.

While the outcome of how we live our current life can’t, I think, be called unimportant, it is certainly a secondary concern. The goal of the Christian life should be to always strive to improve one’s orientation toward God. This is achieved through struggle, not perfection, and by the grace of God. We should work not to “get into heaven” or achieve some end goal of perfection and ease, but to love God better and to set aside our pride and humble ourselves before our neighbors as we love them, also. Christianity is a way of life, the way of life for which humanity was created. It is not merely a means to an end.

The Lessons Learned through Suffering

Since I can’t send this to my own 2010 self, I’ll open it up to everyone else

Dear Pre-Suffering Self,

Thank you for going through everything you’re about to go through; it’s going to suck. You’re going to feel the fire and regret and loss of being human. You’re going to weep. You’ll wish you could stay in bed all day. It’ll overwhelm you: you’ll find yourself hating your life, yourself, your choices. You’re going to go through every negative feeling imaginable.

But, you’re going to keep waking up, going to work and class, going to church. You’re going to fail and fall down again and again and again, collapsing in tears and loneliness, until finally you learn that only God can pick you up. You’ll find yourself unable to do anything but pray for hours on end. You’re going to suffer, to be chastened, and you’re going to grow.

And, when you’ve gone through it, you’ll know what matters and what doesn’t. Where you had pride and confusion, you’ll grow humility and clarity. You’ll learn to ask for help and figure out your limitations. You’re going to find out that those limitations are what make you you and God God. That will become very comforting.

So, thank you for going through all this so that I can be who I am and know what I know, as your own future, post-suffering self. The amazing thing is, the whole time you’ll be praying and struggling and learning, you won’t even be confident I exist. You’ll never quite believe there will be a post-suffering you until you become me. If you could know that, I think it would be easier.

I wish I could convince you that one day, you’re going to walk into a coffee shop and someone you don’t even know will comment on how remarkably happy you look. And, it will be true: there won’t be a more contented person than you in any room that you enter. You’ll have a hard-won smile, bought with weeped darkness and painful hours. All those months of soreness chiseling the flabby bits off your soul will leave a cool, resolute peace. The personality that remains will be a lean personality, fit and ready. For the first time, you will begin to become patient, joyful, generous, strong, humble, and gracious, all learned through suffering.

You’ll discover that what you once called “joy” was always tainted with fear; it rested on shaky supports. Those things are all about to be pulled back like a curtain. The bright light that blasts through, shriveling up all your false supports and half joys, will threaten to blind you. It’s Christ, and he’ll do the opposite, and he will do it cleanly and fully. But, it will be a surgery and a flame, and you will learn that great phrase: “Our only hope (or else despair), lies in the choice of pyre or pyre: to be redeemed from fire by fire.”

You’ll fall into the arms of Christ, because you won’t be strong enough to stand. You’ll whimper, “You must do this. I cannot.” And, your tear-cleaned eyes fixed on Christ will detect close-up textures and features that startle and upset you; he’ll look different than you remembered from your soft days. Until now, he’s always patiently let you play with the little images of him you hand-picked out of your favorite Scriptures and your favorite virtues and your favorite sermons. But, he’s about to teach you that you don’t get to choose the Christ who welcomes the children without choosing the Christ who flings tables in the temples. And, he’s about to remind you that you need the table-flinging Christ, because you – temple of Christ – have weighed yourself down with idols, and they’re crushing you. For years, you’ve approached theological arguments with proud and pious discernment, thinking you’ll be the judge of their virtue; and, for the first time in your life, they’ll turn the tables and you’ll realize that you’re the one being judged. And, naked and vulnerable, you’ve been found wanting.

Once, you might have run away from this unbearably objective God; now, you have no where else to turn. 

You’ll be all alone in a room with the God you’ve always said you loved, and you’ll realize one of you needs to change for this relationship to work. One of you. And he’ll kindly ask you: Are you willing?

You’ll realize that the thing that you were trying to force God to remain was not a God big enough for all your injuries. Discovery: the radical, wild ways He wants to behave are the only ways that can save you from death. It turns out you disagree with him and that he sometimes makes you feel very, very uncomfortable. The moment of clarity comes when you realize that’s a problem with yourself, and not with him. Once you resolve to change yourself around Christ, instead of hoping he’ll change himself around you, the surgery will start. The Doctor is working. That doesn’t keep the pain from being painful. You’re still going to hurt a lot, and I do and I will. But, I’ll hurt with less fear. Your first fearful steps into the shallow end will start my journey toward the deep end. There, walking beside Christ, we’ll experience that gorgeous paradox of increasing danger and decreasing fear.

One day, you’ll hear people share their fears, and the fears will sound foreign, like a language you’ve almost forgotten. How could I fear car accidents, if they would send me to heaven in God’s timing? How could I be afraid of never getting married; if God wants me to marry, won’t it happen? How could I fear abandonment when Christ will never abandon me? Little fears will wander around, but the only thing you’ll fear deeply is your own ability to turn from Christ. And, that fear will keep you praying, and that prayer will keep you from all the other fears. You’ll know, when fears creep back in, that it’s time to pray more. And, when you pray, you’ll feel the fears shrink back, and the cool, hard-won peace of the cross will help you through the sufferings that will always continue. (Yes, the cross: the truth is, most of the suffering that won my peace won’t even be borne by you.)

But, I wouldn’t know this if you didn’t go through the things you’re about to go through. So, thank you. I know this isn’t going to be easy for you. Thank you, thank you for going through all these lessons and all this discipline so I can know this. Thank you for the mornings you’ll choose to get out of bed when you just don’t want to face the world. Thank you for the hours you’re going to spend praying. Thank you for the Sundays you’ll go to church. Thank you for enduring. Thank you for wrestling through the hard times and offering the one thing you can actually offer – obedience – by which you will make it possible for me to start becoming the most content of all creatures.

I won’t say it won’t hurt. It will. All I can say is this: thank you. I’m so glad to know all the things you made it possible for me to learn. And, I would do it again. In fact, I know I will.

Under the mercy,

Your Post-Suffering Self

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Body Modification and Ethics: A Helpful Framework

If you aren’t reading Mere-O Notes, you really ought to be. Perhaps it is presumptuous to use an ‘ought’ so early in a discussion of ethics, but so be it. Really, go check it out. It is some of the best content curating on the web from an evangelical perspective.

How do we evaluate body modification in certain extreme cases? One woman has decided that she wants to gain weight for the express purpose of livestreaming herself on the web, either eating or otherwise. Her purpose for gaining weight is simple: there’s a market for “big, beautiful women,” and she can make more money by increasing her size. Jake ends his brief article on the subject with a question:

hope that Christian readers will be disturbed by this story and agree that this isn’t an ethical way to modify the body. But the counter-argument for good moderns will be, “It’s her body, she’s not hurting anyone but herself, and she’s finding a way to actually make a living from it… so what’s the problem?” What’s the appropriate response for thoughtful evangelicals?

The comments are helpful. Two readers ran with the same argument: the body isn’t ultimately ours. We are stewards of the body, and the body is a temple. The above example makes it pretty clear that stewardship has gone out the door, and any reverence due a temple seems missing. I added my own thoughts, which I’ll quote here:

I think the issue gets a little trickier when we start to discuss the issues in the public sphere. Arguments like “the body belongs to God” doesn’t hold much weight with people who either don’t believe in God or don’t think God has any pull in our day-to-day lives, or even from people who hold to other religious beliefs, potentially.

I don’t think that means we can’t make the arguments, though.

On the one hand, I might be tempted to just say we shouldn’t worry about making the arguments. We can’t morally police everyone who isn’t within the fold, so to speak, so why try?

But if we were to make a run at it, I might start by arguing that our bodies are actually more public than we often recognize; if they are indeed our extension into space, it follows that our presence is shifted by the shape and state of our bodies. Perhaps people think they are only harming themselves, but (at least in the above example), there’s certainly the issue of encouraging others (how many people might see this method as a way to make money, and then damage their own bodies in desperation to pay their bills?). There might even be something worth arguing about the strangeness of finding unhealthiness intrinsically attractive (rather than finding someone attractive who is unhealthy, it seems these people are attracted to the act of making oneself less healthy, which strikes me as pretty problematic).

The other arguments we’d have to combat (happiness is the leading/best reason that people should be allowed to do things; ownership is reason enough to justify any action; we are our own greatest authorities, and are sovereigns of our own bodies) are trickier to work through, sans Christianity or some other religious appeal, but I’m not sure they’re impossible.

I won’t repeat myself, but I did want to take some time to advance one of these arguments a bit further. If there’s interest, perhaps I’ll work through some of the others.

That second-to-last paragraph is what I want to hone in on; in particular, I want to talk about the intrinsic public nature of bodies. I’ll admit right off the bat that a lot of my thoughts on bodies, especially theological thoughts, have been influenced by Earthen Vessels, written by Matthew Anderson.

In one sense, our bodies are private: we cover them, and only reveal them in intimate moments (most of us, anyway). But for the most part, our bodies are absolutely public: people look at us and see us, we smell and touch others, we live in the world as embodied beings. So when we make decisions about our bodies–from the food we eat to the people we see to the places we go–we’re acting in a way that, by definition, doesn’t stay with the self.

And so it gets tricky when we start to look at something like intentionally making ourselves unhealthy. While the story cited above may give us all a similar reaction (perhaps it doesn’t; I’d like to hear from you, if that’s the case!), what about when we go and eat fast food, or skip exercising, or avoid vegetables? These are moments when we act against the body, in a way. The counter argument, and the one most of us will probably quickly jump to, is to say something like “Well, pleasure is an important part of life as well. If we don’t all like vegetables, we should sometimes enjoy stuff that isn’t so good for us, because we enjoy it.”

If we push that further, however, we get to the point where we gorge ourselves for the sake of enjoyment, rather than practicing stewardship.

So what do we do to evaluate our own actions in regards to our bodies? What framework should we use; what questions should we ask?

I think the stewardship line is a helpful one to explore. We should take care of the temples we have been given. While it feels like this will immediately lead us all to rigorous diet and exercise schedules, I think we should stretch the analogy a bit more. A temple that is crafted and decorated and chiseled until it looks absolutely perfect may be beautiful, and it may even be functional, but it will also be cold. A place of worship–a church–that discourages people from experiencing emotion or from opening up their very souls is a poor place of worship.

The analogy gets muddled there (I was tempted to say that lots of people frequent the church building, but I’m certain I don’t want to push that line), but the point is this: sometimes we should spend our time attending to things other than temple maintenance. Sometimes it is appropriate to eat something for the pleasure of it, even if it isn’t the healthiest thing we can find. Enjoyment is valuable, as are exercise and vegetables.

But the question should always be one of stewardship.

Giving Up: The Significance of Sacrifice

I’ve been contemplating a new life motto:

“I give up.”

I consider this not in a self-loathing or self-pitying way, and this is not to say I don’t believe in my value or abilities (to an extent).

Rather, I think of it in a relational way, a spiritual way, even, considering certain types of fasting, a physical way.

My new motto was spurred by an Ingrid Michaelson song, “Giving Up,” which popped up on my Pandora station recently. I’d never heard it before, and I was immediately struck by the lyrics of the chorus (of course, it’s better listened to):

I am giving up on making passes

I am giving up on half-empty glasses

I am giving up on greener grasses

It’s a love song, and I find it to be a rather theologically sound take on Christian commitment in marriage. I once heard it put this way: “When you say, ‘I do,’ you’re also saying, ‘I don’t’ to everyone else.” When my husband and I got married, we committed ourselves to each other and our marriage, which means we promised to give up on things like flirting with or dating others, physical intimacy with anyone else, and most shades of emotional intimacy with others, too. We were (and are) giving up on living individualistically.

I don’t think everyone should or needs to get married—some are meant for singleness and celibacy. But I think those who resist marriage because they don’t want to give up their independence are missing out. They choose to sacrifice bigger, deeper, longer-lasting joys for smaller, more immediate pleasures.

I think it’s worth it, giving up.

And I think this idea has far-reaching spiritual and theological implications (which also encompass the physical aspect I mentioned). When the young rich man asked Christ, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” the Lord didn’t reply with, “Hoard your wealth, and focus on doing whatever you can to make yourself happy.” He said:

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19:21)

In other words: give up. Give up your wealth, your comforts, your self-serving ways, for Christ. The apostles, when called, literally gave up their former lives—Christ called Peter and Andrew while they were fishing (doing their job), and Scripture tells us that “they immediately left their nets and followed Him.” (Matthew 4:20)

Christ doesn’t stop at possessions or trades, though; He takes it all the way: deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24) So what do we need to do to serve Christ, to live fully as Christians?

Give up.

Finally, a thought on fasting, which is a very literal approach to giving up. Physical fasting, obviously, demands one to give up certain foods; many Christians also fast from certain activities or other indulgences. In the Church, this activity serves several spiritual purposes: to remind us of our limits as human beings and dependency upon God; to help us focus on things of God, instead of on serving our desires; and to remind us that faith and Christianity are active, not passive. They are effortful, requiring work, even pain, and especially sacrifice.

We are called to give up. Which is why I think this makes such a good marriage, spiritual, and life motto. This idea of giving up reminds me of two other related interests of mine: minimalism and monasticism. Minimalism, or the practice of living lightly on necessities rather than messily on luxuries, has many pragmatic benefits: it can help save space, reduce stress, and save money. But I also find it to have spiritual significance, similar to that of monastic living. Living simply puts into practice the monastic mindset of disconnecting from typical worldly desires or material goods for the sake of pursuing greater goods like spiritual clarity and fullness and a stronger devotion to God.

And that’s what all of this giving up is about, anyway. We give up so that we may gain more.

An Interview With Lars Walker

trollEditor’s note: See our review of  Troll Valley by Lars Walker here.

EO: Hi Lars, thanks for taking the time to do this interview for us.  I’d like to ask a couple questions about Troll Valley first, then about Christian Fantasy in general.  

First, is Troll Valley based on a true story?

LW: Troll Valley is a sort of valentine to the town and church where I grew up, and to my grandparents’ generation. I use places and cultural elements I knew, and I’ve worked in some elements of my family history, but the people and events are fictional.

EO: Where did the idea for Troll Valley come from? What were your inspirations? How did the story take shape?

LW: The first time I read Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories,” in high school, it occurred to me how strange (and frightening) it would be to have a real fairy godmother. The character of Miss Margit in this story grew from that. Also, I’d always wanted to write a story about a big house in my home town (actually pictured on the book cover), so I installed my fictional family in it. And one day, years ago, I saw a young boy with a crippled arm in an ice cream store. I began to wonder what it would be like to be him. That crystalized the character of Chris.

EO: What was your hope for Troll Valley, in terms of its impact on the reader?

LW: This is the most personal book I ever wrote. It’s an attempt to explain the kind of pietism I grew up with to people unfamiliar with it, and to do a gentle critique as well. It’s also a kind of microcosm of the development of Progressivism out of Evangelicalism during the early 20th Century. I guess a lot of the purpose is just to teach some history.

EO: Do you intentionally try to inject your stories with gritty realism to make them cooler and more appealing, or is it something more than that?

LW: Gritty realism isn’t any thing I think about as such. I always try to just tell the truth about life. I’m not big on easy answers, and I never answer all the questions in a story. Nobody’s going to believe the answers you offer if they know you’re lying to them about the way the world is.

EO: I usually would not recommend “Christian fiction” to my non-Christian friends, but I love to recommend your books. Do you intend them to be a kind of evangelistic tool?

LW: Certainly I want to spread the gospel through my fiction, but not by preaching (though I do preach sometimes; I try to do it in an oblique or disarming manner). Again, Job One is telling the truth (even in a fantasy). If you believe your message, telling the truth will extend to telling the truth about the big questions.

EO: The one thing I’d like to know most: Do you think the Norse gods and other mythical creatures were real in some sense, whether demonic powers or something else?

LW: I have no idea. Perhaps one of the reasons I can write fantasy comfortably is that the supernatural generally keeps its distance from my life. I believe that unexplainable things happen (they certainly happened in Bible times, at least), but they don’t happen much around me. In my books, the heathen gods are usually portrayed as either demons or some kind of elemental spirit, and magic is mostly discovered to be some kind of illusion.

EO: Do you think mythology and fantasy are ever incompatible with Christianity? Is there any fantasy that a Christian shouldn’t read or write?

LW: This falls under the “do not give offense” principle from Romans 14. People misunderstand this. It doesn’t mean “Give no offense to people who think they know everything and like to judge others.” It means “Don’t do anything that will cause someone with a weakness or a bad habit to fall back into old sinful patterns of behavior.” Some people can handle all kinds of fantasy; other people ought to stay away from some (or all) of them. I don’t generally advise my own books for young teens, for instance. Outside Christian fantasy, I haven’t read widely enough to make an educated statement, but I believe there are some fantasy books, comics, movies, etc. that are so rooted in the demonic that Christians ought to avoid them. An exception might be made for people doing criticism for the purpose of cautioning others.

EO: Thanks very much!

Find out more about Lars, his upcoming books and other projects at LarsWalker.com.

Do I Want a Theologian or Philosopher?

When I was at Biola University, a conservative evangelical Bible college including the Talbot School of Theology, one of my anthropology professors talked about how Talbot professors served to screen every incoming professor in every discipline so that there was not accidentally an anarchist-feminist-atheist-environmentalist professor subverting students’ faith. There has even been trouble about having Eastern Orthodox professors at the university, given its evangelical Protestant leanings. Not only do you have to be a Christian to teach at Biola, you have to be the right kind of Christian! In my experience, Talbot oversight of the Biola faculty has been decently open-minded about acceptance of faculty with alternative views on some subjects, and theologians are not authorities beyond what they have studied. In any case, there is an important question to ask: When do I need a theologian, and when do I need a philosopher? Continue reading Do I Want a Theologian or Philosopher?

Pastors, Elders and… Tim Tebow?

Celebrities are an odd phenomenon. There is little that these people do to earn the love of the masses—usually some demonstration of physical prowess to entertain an audience. Oddly, these people are expected to be role models for our children, to rise above what is expected of an average citizen and to espouse the ideals that are trendy in popular culture. This is the expectation in spite of the fact that their only proven virtue is their ability to physically compete, act well, or simply look beautiful. Humanity expects those who are externally “perfect” to also be a model for internal “perfection.”

When a celebrity is then outed as a Christian, suddenly the world compares that person to a different set of standards (usually moral) than what usually would apply to a celebrity. They are expected to conform to outmoded or poorly-understood notions of Christian morality. Accordingly, the Christian community gathers around the person and holds them up (provided they withstand the pressures of culture sufficiently well) as the standard-bearer of Christian culture.

A prime example of this is the ever divisive Tim Tebow. While Tim Tebow might not be a media darling, I think it is safe to say that Tebow has achieved celebrity status in both the secular and Christian worlds. At least he did have that status. After last week, there are a lot of people on both sides of the religious fence who either dislike, or are disappointed in, Tebow. What possible sin could Tebow commit to alienate both sides of his fan base? He committed to speak at a mainline, outspoken Evangelical church and then cancelled. The sides boiled down to this: Secular proponents of Tebow were enraged that he could even consider speaking at a church that espouses hate propaganda; and Christian supporters of Tebow were saddened that their idol crumbled under the pressure of culture, and then skewered him publicly for it.

Personally, I think there is a lot for a Christian to like about Tebow. In a world of “Christian” celebrities who live mostly like the rest of the world, but periodically toss up a verse or a public prayer, Tebow is like a breath of fresh air with his genuine, unabashed stances on morality and Christian principles. What is there to make of Tebow’s recant on teaching at a church? Doesn’t that make him a cultural pushover? Maybe, but I think we should hold off on crucifying him.

First, despite having a solid Christian upbringing and his apparent aspirations to one day be in ministry, he has had little formal theological training. Tebow was scheduled to share his testimony at First Baptist Church of Dallas, nothing more. In fact, the majority of what Tebow talks about when he shares publicly is his testimony. Why is this significant? It demonstrates that his strength is in his own story, not in exegesis and preaching. In other words, I don’t think that Tebow is prepared to handle the tough questions that would be lobbed at him were he to align himself with First Baptist. Despite the fact that they are well within the mainlines of Protestant Evangelicalism, Pastor Jeffress has lacked tact in the past, and as a result, his words have been misconstrued to make the church tantamount to Westboro Baptist. Tebow may have had a hard time fielding the questions that would have been asked were he to follow through with the engagement. While his parents are wonderful missionaries who are doing marvelous things for the cause of Christ around the world, it seems unlikely that they trained their children to cogently and effectively defend beliefs such as the sinfulness of homosexuality and the exclusivity of Christ for salvation in the modern American public square. I think that I would have had a hard time fielding such questions, and I’ve had four years of training at a theological institution.

Second, Tebow is under a colossal amount of pressure. The performance expectations on him as a football player would stifle most. The fact that he has managed a genial, upright, and consistent moral character demonstrates that this is not a guy who wavers easily. It seems plausible that he had good reasons for cancelling the appointment, especially given the fact that there are other men who have to undergo sensitivity training for their anti-homosexuality statements. It’s easy to criticize someone for appearing to waffle under cultural pressure, but when faced with the kind of scrutiny Tebow does daily, I doubt that any of us would hold up half as well. While I think Tebow is committed to shining the light of Christ in a dark world, I don’t think he signed up as the poster boy of good, moral evangelicalism in America. Christians put him on that pedestal and then cried foul when he didn’t live up to their expectations.

It’s moments like these that ought to cause Christians to take a step back and examine who we idolize. Perhaps we ought to even realize that we are making idols of celebrities. We need to remember that our best role models of Christianity are our local church pastors, elders, and mentors, not our athletes, actors, and models. At the end of the day, Christian role models are those who have committed their lives to the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word, regardless of their fame. Yes, both are merely men and women who will stumble and fall, but at the end of the day, celebrities are committed to entertaining in a public forum, while pastors and elders are committed to the discipleship of people. Instead of turning to celebrities and expecting their interior to match their exterior, I think it’s time that the church turn within itself to find those who have committed to living a life of discipleship, regardless of how their exterior looks.

‘The Game’ and Christianity: A Tree by its Fruit

Christianity and hip-hop seem to be converging lately. There has been a flurry of discussion surrounding a number of artists, both Christian and otherwise. We’ve seen major mainstream attention focus in on Lecrae and his releases in the last year or so, and the discussion there has centered around the Christian’s role in mass media as an evangelism tool: when producing rap for a mainstream audience (as he is clearly doing on Church Clothes, and arguably on Gravity), what should be the priority? Some argue that a clear Gospel message, preferably with Jesus’ name sprinkled into every song, should be the entirety of the album. Others suggest that rappers and other artists need to establish themselves within their genre, even if that means writing songs that are less explicitly ‘Christian.’

But what if the roles are reversed? What if we are facing an individual who has never professed faith before, was recently baptized, and is now releasing an album called Jesus Piece? Continue reading ‘The Game’ and Christianity: A Tree by its Fruit

Owning Our Faults

A few days ago, this post showed up in my email (I subscribe to the blog). In it, the author, Joshua, (who is a non-religious Jewish atheist) makes a strange assertion that took me a while to come to grips with: That the Christian Church has a history of antisemitism, that this antisemitism persists even today in many Christian circles, and that the Church refuses to acknowledge this past and present antisemitism. Finally, Josh asserts that because of this, and because of a continued reluctance on the part of individual Christians (and the Church as a whole) to consciously and deliberately take steps to rectify the past and current wrongs, he finds it very difficult to take the Church seriously as a moral authority. I dialogued briefly with him on his post and felt convicted to write about it. Continue reading Owning Our Faults