The 10 Commandments in American Culture

While reading through The Art of Pastoring: Ministry Without All the Answers, by David Hansen, (a book recently recommended to me that I find myself wishing I had read years ago,) I came across this convicting assessment of American culture – an indictment that sadly is also widely applicable to a wide swath of American Evangelicalism:

“The majority of Americans will tell any pollster that they believe in the Ten Commandments. But only a small percentage of those people could even recite the Ten Commandment; and even a smaller percentage have any genuine interest in following them.”

David Hansen


Warped Christianity

Warped Reality

Sociologist Christian Smith introduced the phrase Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in his book Soul Searching:The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.  Smith, and his colleagues, assert that, from their research, this would be a fitting description of the spirituality of the typical American teenager – a spirituality they gained from watching and listening to their Baby Boomer parents.

Al Mohler, in a post titled Moralistic Therapeutic Deism – the New American Religion, describes Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as consisting of beliefs like these:

  1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”
  2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”
  3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”
  4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”
  5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”That, in sum, is the creed to which much adolescent faith can be reduced.

What is perverse about these statements is that none of them is entirely wrong.  But it is the subtle errors that erode genuine faith, especially when the propositions fit together to form a worldview.  Together they create a warped perspective that, while borrowing the language of Christianity, is not actually Christianity.

Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics – An Interview

I am not a fan of Diane Rehm, by any measure.  Not only do I find her views unpalatable, her voice grates my ears.  But as I was driving to an appointment today I clicked the NPR preset on my JEEP radio and in the matter of seconds had my attention arrested by the discussion between Rehm and her guest, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat.  Earlier this week Douthat released a book provocatively titled Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics.  This book was only on my “To Read” list – or at least, it was on the list to put on my list, but now it on my “Definite Read” list.

I have no doubt that there are areas of doctrinal difference that I have with Douthat, but as I listened to him make his points and respond to Rehm and some of her regulars, I could not help but nod in agreement.   Douthat offers some astute cultural observations that, being missional, I cannot ignore.

To listen to today’s interview click: Bad Religion

Lord Save Us

I spent this morning watching the documentary, Lord Save Us From Your Followers.  I was prompted by a note from a friend and, despite it not being on my agenda for the day, I was intrigued.

Once again, I am not sure where I have been. This film came out over a year ago.  Some of it looked familiar, so I may have caught part of it on GMC or some other television cable network.  But for whatever reason, what I saw before did not capture my interest enough. Perhaps I had an initial wrong impression.  Perhaps I was just busy and could not watch the whole thing before. But even if that were the case, I am not sure why this went out of mind so quickly that I did not seek it out when I had the time to check it out.

The driving questions about this exploration of the Culture Wars in the United States is: Why is the Gospel of Love Dividing Our Nation? That is a great question.

Here are a few brief thoughts that come to my mind having just finished watching:

  • Ouch!  This cuts close to home.  This film clearly reveals how we as Christians (and I personally) are at fault for much of the perception the UnBelieving Culture has about Christianity and Christians.
  • I was encouraged by the responses of those who are opposed to Christianity and Christians when a Believer was willing to engage them in an honest discussion. I was moved by the power of humility, compassion, repentance and confession by the Believer. Apparently Jesus knew something when he commanded his followers to first take the plank out of our own eyes before confronting others about the specs in theirs.  (Matthew 7.5) Paul, too, when he instructed the Galatians to “gently restore” those who were astray of the way of God, but that they should be careful that they did not stumble in their own sin in in the process. (Galatians 6.1)
  • I am hopeful of a positive impact. But our strategic priorities must be in order. First is the reformation of the Church, including widespread repentance of God’s people for our failure to seek genuine righteousness.  Only later can we expect to have any positive cultural impact.  (2 Chronicles 7.14)

Now for the qualifications:

I know some who read this blog will be inclined to immediately dismiss the message behind this film because some of the theological premises expressed by those interviewed are questionable (to say it kindly), because it is not a theological discussion, and/or because some of the Christians represented do not reflect your tradition. (For the most part, this is true of mine too. Only John Perkins comes to mind who I know to share a similar theological heritage.)  But to dismiss this film for any of those reasons is a sad mistake.  At the very least recognize that this film depicts how a wide spectrum of our culture views us.

This documentary runs 1:42, so to watch it takes some time.  I suppose it would not lessen the appreciation to break it up into segments.  But I do encourage honest Believers, those interested in engaging in holistic mission to take the time, however you break it up.

To watch, click: Lord, Save Us From Your Followers

Can We Get Along Together?

One of my ecclesiastical/theological heroes, John Piper, came under a slew of criticism earlier this year for inviting “Purpose Diven” Rick Warren to be one of the speakers for the Desiring God 2010 Conference

I like the way Collin Hansen introduces the controversy, in his article, Piper, Warren, and the Perils of Movement Building:

You only thought junior high was over. But lately the evangelical blog world has been abuzz because John Piper invited Rick Warren to speak for his Desiring God National Conference… You see, a lot of folks who like John don’t like Rick. So now some of John’s friends aren’t sure they want to hang out with him anymore. They may not come to his party in Minneapolis. And they aren’t sure that you should either.

I’ll admit I was a little surprised when I heard about it. But I really gave it no thought, until these past few days.  There was nothing specific that compelled me to reconsider the issue. I stumbled upon a few articles that made reference to the matter. And as I began to think about it I wondered to myself: “What is the real problem here?”

Frankly, I see only possible benefits. I am no Warren proponent. But honestly, I find much admirable about the guy and his ministry. I may have concerns about some aspects of his ministry style, and I do have some theological differences with him. But then again, I have theological differences with many people I admire – Piper included.  Nevertheless I gain insights from many people in areas where I do agree. And I am challenged to think more deeply by thoughtful expressions with which I disagree. 

Some time ago I posted The Jesus Pledge, authored by my friend, Paul Miller. Those embracing that pledge declare a willingness to “learn from all types of Christians”.  That is something that I don’t think we Evangelicals do enough.  And it is something that Piper appears to be attempting to explore. At least that is the sense that I get from him in a video he did explaining and defending his reasons for inviting Warren to his party. (Click: Why Rick Warren?)

Two final thoughts:

First, do we implicitly endorse what someone from another Christian tradtion, or with a different ministry methodology, believes and practices simply by entering into conversation and fellowship?  I don’t think so.  Without such conversations, though, how would we become acquainted with anyone outside our own circles?  We can maintain our own convictions, even distinctions, without isolating ourselves from others.

Second, I wonder if there is a possibility of synthesizing Piper’s Christian Hedonism and Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life/Church.  I don’t know what that would look like, and I am not sure I would embrce it, but I know I would not ignore it.  In fact, I am intrigued by the possibility.

95 Theses for the American Church

Just as Martin Luther offered some suggestions for the Church of his time in Germany, Jared Wilson has some ideas for us to consider.  On his blog: The Gospel-Driven Church, Jared has posted 95 Theses for the American Church.