Happy Saturday. I can’t believe we’re into August already. Time really does fly, and pretty independent of how much fun a person is having.
I wanted to start this post off with links that I shared on the blog’s Facebook page throughout the week (if you haven’t already done so, go ahead and “Like” it, if you’re on Facebook; while I don’t blog everyday, or even every week, I usually post links to interesting stories over there with some regularity).
I posted to a story by Eric Metaxas (author of the excellent “Bonhoeffer“) at the Christian Post about young atheists who are former Christians. They shared what actually turned them off to their former faith. An excerpt:
My friend Larry Taunton of the Fixed Point Foundation set out to find out why so many young Christians lose their faith in college. He did this by employing a method I don’t recall being used before: He asked them.
The Fixed Point Foundation asked members of the Secular Students Associations on campuses around the nation to tell them about their “journey to unbelief.” Taunton was not only surprised by the level of response but, more importantly, about the stories he and his colleagues heard.
Instead of would-be Richard Dawkins’, the typical respondent was more like Phil, a student Taunton interviewed. Phil had grown up in church; he had even been the president of his youth group. What drove Phil away wasn’t the lure of secular materialism or even Christian moral teaching. And he was specifically upset when his church changed youth pastors.
Whereas his old youth pastor “knew the Bible” and made Phil “feel smart” about his faith even when he didn’t have all the answers, the new youth pastor taught less and played more.
Phil’s loss of faith coincided with his church’s attempt to ingratiate itself to him instead of challenging him. According to Taunton, Phil’s story “was on the whole typical of the stories we would hear from students across the country.”
These kids had attended church but “the mission and message of their churches was vague,” and manifested itself in offering “superficial answers to life’s difficult questions.” The ministers they respected were those “who took the Bible seriously,” not those who sought to entertain them or be their “buddy.”
This passage reminded me of a NY Daily News story I had posted just the day before. It was about the popular Hillsong Church based in the city. An excerpt:
I’ve got no argument with that “relationship with God is a superpower” part, but as I’ve written previously, the Evangelical love of bashing “religion” really should stop. As much as I liked Jefferson Bethke’s meteroic YouTube spoken word video that garnered millions of views a couple of years ago, I noticed that to many of those outside the Evangelical/Protestant/Nondenom bubble, it was at best confusing, and at worst, a straight up lie.
I spoke to a few non-Christians who pretty much argued that if you 1.) attend a church (or fellowship), 2.) read the Bible (and/or other spiritual literature), and 3.) partake in such rituals as baptism, communion, group singing/ reciting Scripture/creeds/beliefs, well, you, dear Friend, ARE part of a RELIGION. I remember some ten years ago, when I began attending a nondenom church, I was apt to say the same things. I wasn’t “religious” but “spiritual”. My non-Christian friends (and some who were Christian but belonged to a mainline Protestant or the Catholic church) were initially impressed, but eventually just confused. I would read my Bible on breaks, belonged to a home small group and often attended two services on Sunday. They began to view my disdain of “religion” as merely a matter of semantics, and that my church had less rules on dress/appearance (I could wear pants, makeup, and didn’t have to get all dolled up for services.).
Now, older (and hopefully wiser), I skip all that “Religion versus Relationship” talk. Not only is it not helpful in coversation with those not part of the in-group, it also seems to fly in the face of James 1:26-27:
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
So here we have “worthless” religion and “pure and faultless” religion. It does not say that all religion is “worthless”. Big- no huge- difference there.
A pic I snapped a few days ago. It’s an extremely religious looking candle. Not Jefferson Bethke- approved.
Back to the Christian Post and Daily News excerpts above- they linked in my head because it seems the atheist college kids got turned off by some of what makes churches like Hillsong so popular. They are heavy on what’s cool, great music and a laid back vibe, but seem to be lacking on the heavy things, like studying the Word and discipleship. Now, I’m not saying I know Hillsong is actually like that. I’m not a member and the Daily News story obviously painted up the superficial. What I do know is a few acquaintainces like to cross the bridge to worship there, and they enjoy it immensely. But none of them actually belong to the church. They spend Sunday mornings at their home church, and then go over there for the praise and worship experience. It is a lot like Christian clubbing. Perhaps most noteworthy is all those aquaintances are actually in leadership positions at their home churches. They are musicians, singers and youth group leaders. It’s where they go to party- nondenom Christian style.
A few days before I posted a link to “A Church for Exiles” at First Things. Here’s an excerpt:
We live in a time of exile. At least those of us do who hold to traditional Christian beliefs. The strident rhetoric of scientism has made belief in the supernatural look ridiculous. The Pill, no-fault divorce, and now gay marriage have made traditional sexual ethics look outmoded at best and hateful at worst. The Western public square is no longer a place where Christians feel they belong with any degree of comfort.
For Christians in the United States, this is particularly disorienting. In Europe, Christianity was pushed to the margins over a couple of centuries—the tide of faith retreated “with tremulous cadence slow.” In America, the process seems to be happening much more rapidly.
It is also being driven by issues that few predicted would have such cultural force. It is surely an irony as unexpected as it is unwelcome that sex—that most private and intimate act—has become the most pressing public policy issue today. (Who could have imagined that policies concerning contraception and laws allowing same-sex marriage would present the most serious challenges to religious freedom?) We are indeed set for exile, though not an exile which pushes us to the geographical margins. It’s an exile to cultural irrelevance.
American Evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism start this exile with heavy baggage. Evangelicalism has largely wedded itself to the vision of America as at heart a Christian nation, a conception that goes back to the earliest New England settlers. An advertisement for The American Patriot’s Bible (2009) proudly boasts that it “connects the teachings of the Bible, the history of the United States and the life of every American” while “beautiful full-color insert pages spotlight the people and events that demonstrate the godly qualities that have made America great.” Yet a nation where the language of “choice” and “freedom” has been hijacked for infanticide, the deconstruction of marriage, and a seemingly limitless license to publish pornography is rather obviously not godly. That’s a hard truth for those who believe America belongs to them by right.
For Roman Catholics, the challenges of our cultural exile are different. Rome has somehow managed to maintain a level of social credibility in America, despite holding to positions regarded as intolerable by the wider secular world when held by Protestants. Her refusals to ordain women or sanction the use of contraception do not seem to have destroyed her public reputation. But if, for example, tax-exempt status is revoked for educational and social-service nonprofits opposed to the increasingly mandatory sexual revolution, the Church will face a stark choice: capitulate to the spirit of the age or step out into the cold wasteland of cultural and social marginality. When opposition to gay marriage comes to be seen as the moral equivalent to white supremacism, it is doubtful that the Roman Catholic Church will be able to maintain both her current position on the issue and her status in society. She too will likely be shunted to the margins.
Perhaps I am mistaken and have portrayed my Christian brothers in a way that over-emphasizes weaknesses and downplays strengths. But of this I am convinced: Reformed Christianity is best equipped to help us in our exile. That faith was forged on the European continent in the lives and writings of such men as Huldrych Zwingli, Martin Bucer, and John Calvin. It found its finest expression in the Anglophone world in the great Scottish Presbyterians and English Puritans of the seventeenth century. It possesses the intellectual rigor necessary for teaching and defending the faith in a hostile environment. It has a strong tradition of reflecting in depth upon the difference between that which is essential and that which, though good, is inessential and thus dispensable. It has a historical identity rooted in the wider theological teachings of the Church. It has deep resources for thinking clearly about the relationship of Church and state.
Read the whole thing. In it, Carl Trueman argues why he believes Reformed Christianity, chock full of TULIP, OSAS and plenty of other abbreviations for long theological teminology, will be able to withstand America’s increasing move to secularism. Basically, Trueman is saying Christian churches need to be more rigorous, more demanding, more… like the Puritans! Over at Rod Dreher’s blog (where I first saw this story), using this essay as a springboard, he argued why he believes the Orthodox Church, with it’s ancient traditions, fasts, and long prayers and readings going back thousands of years, will withstand the secularism. He then opened the comments for others to take a stab at it. I read a bunch of the them, and I didn’t see any that supported the casual, the cool, or the trendy.
I really think that as more people choose to be “Nones”, the churches that thrive (or at least survive) will probably be the ones that require more. They’ll be far smaller, but most likely, more committed to living out the Gospel in the everyday.
My friend (and most loyal blog reader) Aja passed on some information about her friend Sharon Kon who has a new Christian film coming out:
Malaysian immigrant Sharon Kon has produced her first feature film after numerous documentaries and short films. Her feature film, The Father’s Love, releases August 20th and follows the painfully honest story of Sarah, an aspiring filmmaker in New York City whose world is turned upside down by the man of her dreams. Highlighting the difficult lives that many people live, Sharon Kon’s film presents the honest reality of many who live on the edge of Christian faith. Today, Sharon Kon shares a little about the movie and her filmmaking experience.
Who is this movie for?
This movie is intended for singles and women, age range anywhere from 15 to 55. It’s made specifically for audiences who are seeking hope, forgiveness and redemption.
What are the biggest challenges facing Christian filmmakers?
Hmmm… personally as a filmmaker, I enjoy producing thought-provoking films. I think in the Christian film industry there are rules and regulations of what is acceptable that makes it difficult to gain the support of a Christian audience. When a movie is classified as a Christian film, Christians tend to have a high expectation on what a Christian film should look like. I think it’s important to see film as an important visual tool and use it as an open dialogue with others. You never know what God can do or whose heart He will provoke from an authentic story.
Does being female and/or Asian alter those challenges?
I don’t think so. That has nothing to do with being a female director. However, I do think sometimes being a female Asian director can be overlooked because it’s such a male driven profession. I don’t think we get the fair share of representation.
The whole Christian Cinema interview is here. If you’d be interested in seeing this film, you can get tickets here. It’s a small, indie film, so it won’t be widely released. But check out that link for more information. Also, (and this is super exciting), Aja wrote and performed a song based on Psalm 34 that is featured in the film. Also, her talented hubby Paul shot a number of scenes. So big ups to them both, and while I’m at it, check out some of Paul’s photography on Instagram and his project New York Love Letter, too.
This is Aja. She may very well kick my butt for posting this, but isn’t she adorable? And this was taken by Paul. So talented.
Let’s end this post with Audrey Assad’s “Death, Be Not Proud”. Have a great weekend.