Category Archives: Current Church Trends

The Sacrifice of Cultural Relevance

An interesting observation about  the cost of attempts by the church to be culturally relevant instead of truth-bearers.

It’s very English (and, therefore, quite Anglican) to dismiss the evangelicals as crazy people with an antiquated addiction to the Bible. But it’s actually the strength of their faith that makes them so attractive to people searching for certainty in a confusing and often horrible world. After all, “we offer the keys to the kingdom of heaven” is a far more compelling advertisement for a church than, “help us address alienation and the inexorable rise of consumerism.” Put aside your prejudices and ask why anyone might visit a church in a time of distress? To hear moral clarity; to be told that “you too can be saved!”? Or to discuss “how to protect the natural environment”?

Taken from: Stanley, Tim. “In Its Search for ‘relevance’, the Anglican Church Is Losing Relevance.” (blog). The Telegraph, 21 Nov. 2012. Web. 23 Nov. 2012. <;.


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Threats from within facing the church today

© Paweł Marynowski / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Michael Horton explains the “Greatest Ecclesiastical Threat Facing the Church Today.” Here he provides a helpful perspective on why the evangelical church is on the decline. He suggests,

“In an age when the faith of young Christians is going to be tested more than ever before, they are the least equipped to meet those challenges because they have not been integrated very well into the life of the living church. They have been in children’s church, youth group, then in a campus ministry, and they never had to join a church.”

I would agree with his assessment, but would like to add another culprit: the Christian College. Many Christian colleges see themselves as a surrogate to the church while the student is away from their home church. It is interesting that many parents and pastors alike urge college students to remain attached to the home church even though the student will spend nine of the twelve months of the next fours to five years at the college location. This provides the student an excuse to be nominally involved in the church they attend while at college, setting up a habit of nominal commitment for the future. Most colleges don’t set out to intentionally undermine the local churches, but policies, campus culture and sometimes teachings on the campus do just that. A healthier model might be for the parents and pastor of the sending church to assist the students in finding an appropriate local church to join while in college. This is perhaps one of the greatest teaching moments for both the pastor and the parents in the life of their child. It begins the process of understanding how to look and find a church wherever the student relocates after college.

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Evangelical Aesthetic Poverty

I happened upon Clyde Kilby’s 1969 article entitled, The Aesthetic Poverty of Evangelicalism, in the Christian Harold today and thought it was worth posting. It is amazing how little progress evangelicalism has made engaging the arts. Much of what is determined to be Christian art remains somewhere between kitsch and just plain tacky. However, that said, there is movement albeit incremental. Some churches are turning a gaze toward the arts. Today’s culture is an art culture: fine, kitsch or otherwise. If the church wants to engage culture, it must engage the arts. Here is how Kilby described it in 1969:

I want to base what I have to say on three facts which I think indisputable. The first is that the Bible belongs to literature; that is, it is a piece of art…. The second indisputable fact is that…the Bible is an imaginative book…. The third indisputable fact is that the greatest artist of all, the greatest imaginer of all, is the one who appears at the opening of Genesis….

Now when we look from these three facts to contemporary evangelical Christianity, we find a great oddity. The people who spend the most time with the Bible are in large numbers the foes of art and the sworn foes of imagination. And I grow in the feeling that these people have quite an astonishing indifference to the created world. Evangelicals hear the great “I am” of God, but they are far less aware of the “I am” of his handiwork. Furthermore, when evangelicals dare attempt any art form it is generally done badly.

As to the evangelicals’ skittishness toward imagination, I have looked into the Scriptures and I cannot find such a prejudice there. One prominent evangelical holds that the triad of truth-goodness-beauty is Greek in origin, and the Hebrew concept is only that of the true and the holy. I doubt it. I doubt it primarily because of the glorious beauty I see every day in God’s handiwork, but I also doubt it from looking at Scripture. The Revised Standard Version shows ninety uses of the words beauteous, beautiful, beautify, and beauty (the King James Version uses seventy-six of these words), and overwhelmingly in a favorable sense. I see no esthetic difference between God’s word and his creative work. Even if his world were purely a functional one, the bee and the flower around which it buzzes would be equally glorious, equally fantastic, equally miraculous.

How can it be that with a God who created birds and the blue of the sky and who before the foundation of the world wrought out a salvation more romantic than Cinderella, with a Christ who encompasses the highest heaven and deepest hell, with the very hairs of our heads numbered, with God closer than hands and feet, Christians often turn out to have an unenviable corner on the unimaginative and the commonplace?…

Evangelical Christians have had one of the purest of motives and one of the worst of outcomes. The motive is never to mislead by the smallest fraction of an iota in the precise nature of salvation, to live it and state it in its utter purity. But the unhappy outcome has too often been to elevate the cliche. The motive is that the gospel shall not be misunderstood, not sullied, not changed in jot or tittle. The outcome has often been merely the reactionary, static, and hackneyed…

There is a simplicity which diminishes and a simplicity which enlarges, and evangelicals have too often chosen the wrong one. The first is that of the cliche—simplicity with mind and heart removed. The other is that of art. The first falsifies by its exclusions; the second encompasses. The first silently denies the multiplicity and grandeur of creation, salvation, and indeed all things. The second symbolizes and celebrates them. The first tries to take the danger out of Christianity and with the danger often removes the actuality. The second suggests the creative and sovereign God of the universe with whom there are no impossibilities. The contrast suggests that not to imagine is what is sinful. The symbol, the figure, the image, the parable—in short, the artistic method—so pungent in the Lord’s teaching and acting, are often noteworthy for their absence in ours. Is this not a case of humanism far more reprehensible than the sort of humanism we often decry?..

The final words of Kilby’s article yield the most the significant indictment against evangelicalism’s sensitivity to art.

Our excuse for our esthetic failure has often been that we must be about the Lord’s business, the assumption being that the Lord’s business is never esthetic.

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For the Least of These: Adoption

Here is a link to a very reflective article on a blog called, “For the love of one.” The article should make all of us stop and reflect on what we are really doing in this life. In the middle of a society of self-absorption, adoption of children from at-risk countries stands as a vanguard for thinking Christianly about how we commit our resources. Their story brings a fresh reading to Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31-40,

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Here is a way you can help them in their journey: Give1Save1


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Abbot Suger and the Doors of St. Denis: Should Churches be Aesthetically Pleasing?

Through construction of his new church at St. Denis in 1122, Abbot Suger is commonly thought as the catalyst for Gothic church architecture. Deeply criticized for the extravagance of the church, he ignored the critics and completed the project. He sought to employ architectural methods that mirrored the glory of God and sense of awe in religious experience. When completed he had these words inscribed on the church doors,

‘Whoever thou art, if thou meekest to extol the glory of these doors,
Marvel not at the gold and the expense but at the craftsmanship of the work.
Bright is the noble work; but, being nobly bright, the work
Should brighten the minds, so that they may travel, through the true lights,
To the True Light where Christ is the true door.
In what manner it be inherent in this world the golden door defines:
The dull mind rises to truth through that which is material
And, in seeing this light, is resurrected from its former submersion.’

And on the lintel:

‘Receive, O stern judge, the prayers of Thy Suger;
Grant that I be mercifully numbered among Thy own sheep.’[1]

I really admire the church architecture of the past and think we are missing something when we construct churches that mirror society instead of God. Many churches today look like over sized houses or undersized big-box retail stores. Very little thought is placed on purposeful aesthetics. Purposeful aesthetics in a divine context aspires to tell something about God through architecture, art, design, and layout. Few churches take this into account when constructing a new facility or revamping the old one. Most spend their money on volume space over ornate interest. Granted, concern for utility must be addressed; it would be pointless to have a architecturally beautiful church that proclaims purposeful aesthetics that is unusable. However, most do not even entertain how their church architecture could proclaim divine beauty or tell the glory of God. So to rescue myself from the hypothetical, let me suggest a few ways that any church could begin this progression. First, incorporate art into your church. I am not talking about those cheesy (sorry if you like them) pictures of Jesus that portray him as a 1960’s hippee. I am talking about images that would be found in an art gallery or museum– images that portray the divine and divine acts. Most churches have very little art in them, why not incorporate an art gallery the highlights Christian artists? Second, think theologically when arranging your building. Recently while in Louisville, I visited two labyrinths, one at the Louisville Seminary and the other at Church of the Epiphany. Walking through these allowed me to experience many things, but the most apparent thing was how it mirrored our journey through life. Sometimes I was really close to the center or the end, but still had a long way to go if I followed the path. This created a bit of anxiety and longing to complete the journey through the labyrinth. I am not suggesting everyone build a labyrinth (although they would make a great addition!). There are other ways to create the same idea. One might be constructing the entry to your church that give all who enter a journey through the entry a feeling of anticipation that ultimately results in them entering the worship area where they encounter images of the cross or other images that tell them Christ is with them. Another might be in arranging the worship area so that the focal point is centralized (most churches have many more than one). The ways to make a church aesthetically pleasing with a purpose is endless, but yet few consider it even a profitable discussion. In this age of visual consumption, purposeful aesthetics must be part of the conversation.

[1] Thiessen, Gesa Elsbeth. Theological Aesthetics: A Reader. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 2005, 115.

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Bringing up Children in the Digital Age

The NY Times featured an interesting article in their Technology section today entitled, “Big Brother, No It’s Parents” The article suggests,

“If, a few years ago, the emphasis was on blocking children from going to inappropriate sites on the family computer, today’s technologies promise to embed Mom and Dad — and occasionally Grandma — inside every device that children are using, and gather intelligence on them wherever they go.”

I must admit, our family is an electronic geek family. Most of our electronics are Apple from iPhones and iPads to MacBook Pro laptops. I have been a mac-user since I was first introduced to them in the U.S. Air Force in 1986. We even have Apple relics, previous iPhone now used as iPod touch and old laptops now used by the children. The NY Times article highlights the struggle I feel in attempting to, on the one hand, keep communications open and, on the other hand, protect my children from themselves and others. Presently, both my sons have iPads (got’em free, long story, not hot and not sharing) and have access to a laptop for games, internet, and homework. I have found the iPads are not as parent friendly as computers. iPads don’t allow for separate admin accounts, but they do have parental privileges. Because of the limited options and because the boys have access to a computer, I have chosen to turn off all internet connection, ability to change apps, and access anything not pre-approved by me. On the computer, I have set up a user account that allows me to monitor and choose which programs and web sites they can access. It also allows me to monitor usage. They have an allotted amount of time each day on the computer, when the time is up the device logs them out. The set-up was easy and separates them from things they don’t need to see. This may not be a long term solution, but it works for now. Some might argue that this is over-protection, but I don’t think so. I believe they are still exposed to many things in their school, neighborhood, and society as a whole that are vacuous of any virtuous quality, I don’t have to be a part of that. Those items in the larger society, provide enough basis for conversation to last through their high school graduation. In fact, we have great dialogue about those things as we encounter them through daily life. Some might also argue that I am delusional in thinking passwords can be kept secure from my children. I agree and that is why they are changed regularly. The point of the article and this blog entry is vigilance. That is what it takes to bring up children in the digital age. You have to be in tune with you kids, listen to changes in their communication, their attitude. You have to constantly check and re-check your security measures to guard them. Most importantly, I believe I must talk to them about what they are experiencing in the culture itself. I have found these conversations frustrating and valuable at the same time. They are frustrating because many times it seems like they are not listening, but they are. They are valuable because it allows me to speak truth into their life– to help them quantify, measure, evaluate, and compare what they hear and experience to what we value as Christ-followers. I think this helps me follow pattern set in Deuteronomy 6:4-8 which states,

“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders.”

I really believe letting them experience the world in these limited ways allows me to point out the virtues and the pitfalls around them. In doing so, it provides a voice into their world. However, I can’t do it alone. The church must be a voice in their world also. The church’s role is to speak truth into my family’s life, which affirms teaching received in the home. No computer parental protection device can do this part. That is why bringing children up in a digital age isn’t really different from successful parenting of other eras– it takes vigilance, dialogue, ongoing communication of truth, and the church.

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Classifying the LDS Church: Christian Cult or Abrahamic Religion?

In this presidential election year, much discussion has been about the LDS church and its relation to orthodox Christianity. Here are a couple related articles that suggest the LDS church become a religion of its own, separating from the orthodox Christian tradition. Richard Land, a proponent of such an idea suggests four Abrahamic religions,

“Judaism being the first, Christianity being the second, Islam being the third and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being the fourth….Joseph Smith would play the same character in Mormonism that Muhammad plays in Islam.” ~The Christian Post

It appears that members of the LDS church are not entirely opposed to the idea. David Mason wrote a N.Y. Times article entitled, “I’m a Mormon not a Christian.” In his Op-ed, he compared LDS church with Christianity’s struggle for identity from Judaism. He asserts,

“Christianity, you’ll recall, had to fight the same battle. Many early Christians grew up reading the Torah, living the law, observing the Sabbath and thinking of themselves as Jews. They were aghast to find that traditional Judaism regarded them as something else entirely.”

If the Christianity is about Jesus, who he is and what he did, then maybe LDS should be a separate religion. Certainly the LDS church does not subscribe to the notion that the person and work of Christ hails preeminent importance to genuine faith. For the LDS church, other things retain priority over Christ and his work. Does the LDS church have enough importance to be considered a separate religion? There have always been cults of major religions. Judaism has Kabbalah, Islam has Bahai, Christianity has… well, lets just say they have more than their allotted crazies (e.g. David Koresh?). When should these become a separate world religion? Do these types of things come out of pronouncements or are they more organic? To help understand this one should identify the differences between a cult and a religion. Brad Hirschfield suggests five characteristics of a cult. He asserts,

“First, cults tend to centralize power in the hands of a single individual or small group that is considered beyond questions. Second, they treat all questions about the group and its beliefs as intolerable challenges to the group’s authority and authenticity. Third, they demean all those who do not share their beliefs and sow fear and mistrust amongst their believers about all such people. Fourth, they typically cut off all or most opportunities for members to interact freely with those outside the group. And finally, they take revenge upon those who choose to leave the group, in ways which include, cutting them off from all relationships with those who remain inside, confiscation of material goods and even physical harm.”

So perhaps we should assess the LDS faith based on these types of qualifiers. We should also seek to distinguish the political LDS veneer from the layman reality under which most LDS members reside. This is not a shot at the LDS church as I would suggest the same thing about most public figures that claim Christianity as their religion. In the case of the LDS church, it might be helpful to travel to Utah or Montana with Hirschfield’s characteristics in hand to get a boots on the ground assessment. In these places we might find closer resemblance to Hirschfield’s suggestions than the Political LDS machine or Mitt Romney would like.

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