Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Loss of Perspective

I can't decide if this is in the series of posts on Civil Discourse or not. We'll say not.

I'm about to start reading Love Wins by Rob Bell soon and I'll have a review done ASAP. There are already a 1000 reviews out there already but I was reminded the not everyone goes around reading reviews of bloggers that they don't know so a review from me could still serve a purpose. This isn't that review even though it's on a related issue. I want to raise a question:

Have we lost the ability to know which issues are essential to the Gospel and which issues are non-essentials?

This issue came to mind when in the midst of all of the reviewing of Love Wins and charges of universalism going on I saw an interesting response from someone. This person is someone I respect and I know loves Christ and serving in His Church. His response to the controversy was to post a link to a blog. This blog came to the conclusion of all of the universalism hubbub that it was a sign of a split in the Evangelical church.... between legalists that cared about attacking anyone different from them and progressives that wanted to love their surrounding communities.

Uh... really?

I can safely say that both my friend and that blogger missed the point of the debate completely. I think I know why they missed it though. The most interesting part of the Martin Bashir/Rob Bell video that went viral last week (YouTube it if you missed it) was that Bell admitted that this book was largely a response or working out a reaction to the way he was raised. I think that my friend and the blogger are doing the same thing.

I think we all do the same thing to an extent.

Many who grew up in the American Christian world can remember what their churches stood against when they were growing up and most of the time it resembled either a Republican platform or petty differences much more than it reflected Scripture. What kind of music you listened to, what translation of the Bible you used, what kind of clothes you wore were the issues that drove the debate for many in the past. Many of us would love to run away from that past and be Christians that are not forcing people to take on our extra-Biblical convictions when they come to Christ.

Augustine probably didn't say this but he's credited with saying: "In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love." We're finding out that in the past we quarreled and shut out people over the non-essentials. We aim to correct the problems of the past. The problem that some come to is that they not only correct the problems of the past, they over-correct. They don't want to disagree or debate or call out any position. They basically treat every issue as a "non-essential."

Why is this a problem? It's a problem because what happens when we refuse to stand against false teaching, when we refuse to say that anyone is wrong, we project a Christianity that will not be appealing to anyone outside the church. Why would anyone want to be part of something where two people can say completely opposite things about the core of the Gospel and neither side cares? We think we're showing love but we're actually showing that there's no substance to what we have to offer.

To close, there is one issue left. How then do we determine which issues are essential to the Gospel and which issues are non-essential. How do we keep from overcompensating from a past where every issue was essential to a world where none of them are? I won't aim to frame orthodoxy in the space of a blog but I do think we can look at some conclusions that the reformers came to.

Salvation is by faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone. Scripture alone is our final authority on what God has to say to us and we live for the glory of God alone

Regardless of where Rob Bell stands on the issue, universalism is much too serious a strike against the core of the Gospel to be considered a non-essential. We should we wary of shifting to a world where we no longer stand for those core truths in the name of unity.

If that's the case, what are we unified about?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cheesy Bumper Stickers and Christian Irony

This is the 2nd in a series of 3 or 4 on Civil Discourse.

Anyone who knows me personally knows my affinity for sarcasm. It was a major shock to me when I studied in the South for a year that sarcasm was not the major mode of speaking for some people. I often use sarcasm to poke fun at things that seem ridiculous but are trying to be taken seriously. I run to it so often that people that don't know me well enough don't even realize that I'm trying to be sarcastic. I was recently referred to as “obnoxiously arrogant” for saying that I didn't like The King's Speech now that it was popular to like it. I was trying to make a point about the people that actually say that sort of thing but instead came off as a jerk. Oops!

I'm not alone in this love of irony, however. You only need to take a look at the popularity of things like The Onion or The Daily Show to recognize how irony has taken a hold of the millennial culture. Everything and everyone is open to ridicule.

Irony sometimes pops up when I don't expect it though. A group of us were visiting a church on the east side of Michigan last weekend and I found myself poking fun at some of the building setup by making jokes about Jesus throwing over the cash register outside of their gift store or cafe because it accepted Visa and MasterCard. I had to stop myself when I realized that if the pastor we were meeting was standing behind me I would have died. Literally.

Well, maybe more figuratively.

It would have been close.

The church in the 21st century has found a similar love for ripping on things with a sarcastic tone and the target is often the church itself. Just how entrenched is this attitude in Christians today? Brett McCracken writes in his book Hipster Christianity: “If you are a Christian of a certain age (let's say 21-50) and you grew up in the Christian church (especially in the eighties or early nineties), you probably love making fun of the evangelical subculture.” McCracken specifically points out that this is a trend in response to the commercialization of the Christian culture, especially as a “Christian version” of every popular area of pop culture hits the shelf of the local Christian bookstore. Recognizing how the consumer mindset turned Christianity into a profit margin has created a jaded generation towards much of the American Church in general.

Need proof? Just take a look at bumper stickers.

I can't tell you how many churches I've been to where the sermon apparently needed to be enhanced by dedicating a lengthy amount of time to making fun of Christian bumper stickers. Are we really helping anyone by making fun of these bumper stickers? Or making fun of chrome fish on cars? Or t-shirts that look like a corporate logo but say something spiritual instead?... or WWJD bracelets?

It's not wrong for us to try and be relevant but I'm really not sure that Jesus would be ok with us openly mocking the factions of Christianity that are less in touch with culture. Yes, the lame way that we often try to catch up with culture 10 years too late should be talked about. We should do our best not to hinder the Gospel with out of date methods. I'm not sure irony is the best venue to address that though. Here's why:

When we openly mock other parts of the Church we are mocking His Bride.

Some of the most mild-mannered of my friends have dropped profanities or taken swings when those that they loved were mocked. Why should be expect Christ to care any less for His Church? Brett McCracken writes that “The chorus of 'we want Jesus but not the Church' represents a trend in Christianity toward what one recent author called 'decorpulation'-- not the cutting off of the head (Jesus) but the cutting off of the body (the church).” We should try and be relevant to our culture but it can't come at the expense of neglecting or abusing the Body of Christ.

We are called to love the things that Jesus loves... and that especially includes His Church.

Even those who are unhip.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Civil Discourse: An intro to the blog

So, I really wanted to open this blog by starting a short series of posts on civil discourse. I'll go into the specifics in later posts but basically there's a need for issues to be able to be discussed in Christianity without throwing "opponents" under the bus. We're culturally wired to be constantly trying to get ahead of each other, even if we're on the same team. Wide receivers in football are continually complaining about the lack of throws they are receiving, regardless of how the team is doing. In this economy, people do whatever they can to look better than other people applying for a job. Friends make fun of their "friends" just to get a laugh.

Christianity needs to be viewed more like a team working to make each other better for the success of the whole rather than a group of individual opinions fighting for personal traction.

I resisted writing a blog for a long time because I'm too prone to pride and narcissism as it is. It's too easy to base the worth of what you have to say on how many people respond to it. Frankly, that's why I made the URL "thejoetimmerblog." Well, it's also easy to remember but I hope that the over-the-top name helps me remember that I write because I can, not because I deserve to be heard. I write to the honor and glory of Christ and hope that once and awhile I say something that might be useful to someone reading it.

Too many blogs get started and stop shortly after because no one is reading it. I can't promise that I won't get tired of writing on a regular basis but I think I'm ok just writing for God's glory. I know He'll use it to mold me into who He wants me to be regardless of the number of views I get. If you look at my Facebook statuses or tweets you can see I'm not always funny or thoughtful... but baseball players get paid to hit the ball 30% of the time so I'm ok with falling short of perfection.

Civil discourse is the name of the blog. This is both because of the opening series posts and because I hope that regardless of what I'm writing about, the title reminds me of how I should be writing it.