Concerning popular Christian culture, there is no doubt we are currently living in The Great Backlash. It is a time where the cool and hip Christians critique and complain about the pitfalls of Christian faith. We have fun new tools like blogging and Twitter to give us a voice we never had inside the church. In addition, we have also discovered millions who feel the same way we do.
And can you blame us?
The late 20th Century witnessed the rise of mega churches and pastor celebrities, Christian apparel, alternative approved entertainment industries (including best-selling worship albums) and the WWJD movement. In short, the Christian culture created a bubble just large enough to coalesce American consumerism into the teachings of Jesus, the church, and the Bible.
As we aged, we began to think for ourselves. We started asking questions. We wondered if we weren’t Christians, but were, instead, just another market segment. We started wondering about others, the non-us’ we loved to condemn and pray for.
In, “When We Were On Fire,” Addie Zierman writes,
“Remember, you were born into this. You asked Jesus into your heart and you belonged to the Church People who had known you forever, who loved you like their own. …but you stared out the window, silent, thoughtful. You were born to a world within a world, and suddenly you could see marked boundaries. You could see that there was in here and there was out there and between them, there was a yawning chasm” (pp. 18-20).
Unfortunately, in recent years, this chasm has only widened. Worse, the chasm between attendees and non-atendees have also widened. There are people like me who love to complain about how big churches have grown into businesses. About how church branding has become a thing. How utterly ridiculous the amount of time and money spent towards keeping up appearances are. How pastors spend their time trying to gain followers on Twitter. And so forth…
Then there’s the other camp, the (in-crowd), who are dedicated to the Church’s cause. They believe the organization can do more together than it can apart, and that tradition is what keeps us together, united. They believe any mainstream attention is good for the overall cause of Christianity. They believe pastors and elders are God picked and, much like Aristotle’s virtuous person, are the proper people who should be in charge.
Us vs. Them
No, I’m not just looking for an excuse to mention a Pink Floyd song. I really do worry about the Us vs. Them mentality running rampant throughout the Christian faith community.
In this time of The Great Backlash, we talk and write and write and talk and tweet and blame each other for not listening. There’s screaming. Facebook wars. Driscolls and Bells. Relevants and Christianity Todays. We’ve become obsessed with attacking our differences, forgetting that differences are the primary function of the human experience.
I am as guilty as anyone. I like to focus on problems instead of providing solutions, all, of course, for the cause of “freeing minds.” What has become apparent, to me, is that I’m not really accomplishing anything except for higher stats and a padded ego.
I find it interesting how hip and cool questioning the norm via opposing the Church has become. I’m not arguing this sentiment is a “bad thing.” I just wonder if the trend, unchecked and without purpose, will lead us all down a more divided path.
Confrontation is good. Tension is wonderful. Growth is ideal. But if we’re not actually listening to each other, if we’re not actually trying to find solutions, we will never get any work done (you know, the Love side of our faith).
Two themes I’ve noticed.
1) Christianity is graduating from a consumer segment into a two-party political system. Can’t you just see it? In five years? A CNN and a Fox News for Christians? Believers yelling at each other through split TV news programs? Aye.
2) In all our fighting, we’ve forgotten about the people we need to serve. Maybe (this is my first attempt at offering a solution) we can focus on helping others instead of ourselves.
I’m not suggesting I’ve solved anything here. In my heart of hearts, I still believe more good can be accomplished if we averted church salaries (and big entertainment and branding budgets) to more pressing matters.
But lets be honest, compromise has to happen. What the hell are we really trying to change? I’ve been asking myself this quite a bit lately. Would I rather live in a world of “purer” (less consumerist based) worship services, or in a world with less overall oppression, exploitation, and evil? The latter is a world where Christians who still disagree, but, in the spirit of Christ, work together for the common good despite differing biblical translations and Sunday morning routines.
I don’t know how we’ll get there. But I have a feeling it starts with letting go (on both sides of this hopeless ego-fight).
An excellent work Kevin. I’m always drawn to Hebrews 13:8 which compels me to consider what, if anything has really changed in true followers of Christ. It says “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” & followed by the very relevant clincher in verse 9 “for this day anyhow do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.”
There IS a for sure a massive wave of men and women who seem to have a new market cornered with rock & roll church’s (think AC/DC, not old Southern Baptist), the come as you are crowd (shorts and flip flops) the uber charismatics (distracting cross chatter, flags flying everywhere) then we still see the “Followers of Christ” and we’ve looped right back to Hebrews 13:8. Seek Christ…..nothing else.
There ISN’t much new under the sun as I see it. Our great-grandparents were astonished when “this or that” happened during services (insert your own thought here) and our grandparents were perturbed over this that and then my own parents were upset over the use of overheads proclaiming “they’ve stripped the blood from our good old hymns”. That sinful Maranatha bunch, huh? (the birth of praise and worship as you enjoy it today).
Love what you’re doing with that creative brain my friend!! Keep on keepin’ on.
Tis very true.
Kevin, I like how your prophetic stance here is moving toward a “confessional confrontation.” Sort of like the old cartoon (well before your time) where Pogo looks around at a ravaged forest and says, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
The church and individual believers will be strengthened not so much by turning up the volume of our social media critiques or debating whether we sacrifice our financial offerings for mega-church ministries or something more secular to satisfy our appetites (music, beer, haggis, books). Real growth, as you point out, will only come when we “love as we have been loved in Christ.
I’m torn. I’m divided. I have two minds. The greater part of my mind and heart shout, “orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy.” Right belief will inevitably be followed by right behaviors. If this is true, then the right beliefs have not yet been codified and applied (as evidenced by all the wrong behaviors by those of us claiming sound theology). The smaller part of my mind and heart thanks the Lord God for saving my broken heart. For giving me love and joy and a life.
I’m out of balance. Koyaanisqatsi. Life out of balance will tip itself over.
God’s people need reality. For a great long time, theologians have been providing that help for his people. Through study, prayer and long hard looks at the nature of God, we have been given a viewpoint. A theological viewpoint. With the advent of the blogosphere, and desktop publishing in general, sound theology has given way to liberty and individualism out of balance with Scripture’s record.
Rather than forsake a strong understanding of theology and, matters theological, to seek social justice and caring for those we are supposed to serve, I want to have balance. I want my life not to tip itself over trying to parse the perfect tense while ignoring the poor in the streets. I want my life not to tip itself over trying to help the poor in the streets, while the perfect tense remains misunderstood. There is much for explaining “it is finished” while at the same time continuing to serve those who need the Lord.
I like your blog and the way you present topics. I am an amateur keyboard player who was playing for a small student church in the UK until a few weeks ago. There is certainly an increase in cynicism within the church which, if left unchecked, can lead to complacency and smugness without actually advocating for positive change when, or if needed at all.