Category Archives: Cynicism

God in the Wasteland

I want to do this one more time. My buddy Dwayne Polk brought this to our attention today.

In pointing this out, he hashed tagged with, #evangelicalwasteland and #disgusted. These hashtags are my biggest problem because by using these hashtags there’s a strong sentiment against evangelicalism or the evangelical community. You know, “The evangelical subculture is pretty #%+? up.”

Now, in a conversation with a couple of my scholarly friends on facebook last week it was assumed that if those on the side that say that Christians and Muslims DON’T worship the same God would simply read Feser’s piece here it would be self-evident that indeed Christians and Muslims DO worship the same God (correct me if I misunderstood). But here’s the point that I wanted to make and that I want to make again. Apparently, according Francis Beckwith, there are a number of scholars in which it is NOT self-evident that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

So. If that is the case, then:

A. Wheaton is not being THAT paranoid about it’s concerned over statements made by Dr. Hawkins. They fall within the “no” camp that these other scholars that Beckwith talks about. This is simply something they believe. This is something Hawkins DOESN’T believe.
B. Why then, are there these ad hominem remarks? Are we to say that McKnight and Molher , Wheaton et al., are the purveyors of an evangelical wasteland or merit disgust? Christianity IS tribalistic. Especially in its Protestant and evangelical manifestations. I HIGHLY doubt that it is ever going to be the case that it won’t be. So why the ad hominem? Why can’t we just accept this tribalism for what it is? Why can’t we just accept that there are different camps and leave it at that?

Let me throw another issue out there. Baptism. Nobody makes a deal out of the fact that there are different schools of thought on it, that, well, we have not been reconciled on it and we have learned to live with differences while carrying on with the work of the Kingdom, not in spite of those differences but THROUGH those differences.
You do realize that there are people who believe that children and infants should be baptized right? You do realize that there are some who believe in “believers baptism” right? There are some who believe in in both. And then there are folk like myself who believe that non-believers can be baptized! Yes! There are those of us, who deep down believe that!
I’m not worried that someone doesn’t believe what I believe. I certainly don’t worry about what they believe. People evolve over time with regard to much of what they have come to believe. I simply, walk in that belief and carry out the work of the Kingdom through it. Maybe someone was baptized as an infant and will switch over to believers baptism as they get older because that is what they genuinely and sincerely have come to believe and they don’t think that their earlier baptism was in a sense, “enough.” Can God, through the revealing of the Holy Spirit not lead people down a particular pathway? And especially can God not work through what is now seen formally as an “error” to bring people to him/herself, ie., God using less than ideal theology ie., health and wealth gospels, modalism, theonomy, YEC, ECP (eternal conscious punishment) etc? Yes, God works through broken vessels-always has-to bring us to greater and greater light and even still we may move yet again.

So, I say, let the tribalism be. Recognize it for what it is. God will sort it all out in the end but quit the whining and bemoaning. Serve God by the lights you have received and don’t worry about the guy beside you.

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Popular Religion, Victoria Osteen And Why It’s Not All That Bad

There has been a video of Victoria Osteen floating around on the internet this past week or so which has received quite a bit of flack from many evangelical Christians for it’s shoddy theology. You can see that video and a more favorable response here .

Years ago, I read Richard Mouw’s book, Consulting the Faithful: What Intellectuals Can Learn From Popular Religion .

It had a great impact on me, challenging me to be more charitable and less suspicious of popular religion by trying to see below the surface to understand “the hopes and fears” of the average lay person. I’ve been surprised via searching out and reading alternative views such as Brent White’s above at how much I/we as a community of Christians don’t see or deliberately ignore opposing views just so we can sulk and criticize and be bitter about the “state of the Church” in general.

But let’s face it folks. Folk religion, popular religion or whatever you want to call it is here to stay. Let’s face the fact this thing called “popular religion” could possibly be one way that God is using to bring folks into a deeper relationship with himself. Let’s face the fact that popular religion, because not everyone is an intellectual, is the way many folk relate to God (thinking of the mentality challenged here). Let’s face the fact that there may be some GOLD nugget(s) that we can glean from. It could be said that when Franky Schaeffer wrote, “Addicted to Mediocrity,” though this brought to the fore the critical “state of evangelicalism,” it did not help in terms of understanding the laity and many of the sentiments which drive their form of worship and by which they “live and move and have their being.”

Mind you, while I will probably not attend an Osteen service myself, as I’m past much of that sort of theology, (though I would never count out attending for other purposes ie., praise and worship where that, it seems, is most untouched by popular theology, at least one can praise God where the praise, though probably simple, can still be heart felt and not wrapped up in struggles of Billy Cosby sentiments), I really don’t blame others for doing so as this is where they meet God at. I’ll say it like this. Mouw uses the analogy of “puppy love.” That’s a good place to start for relationships but it can’t carry those relationships through the long haul and the topsy-turvy storms that relationships eventually bring. Our relationship with God begins some where on some level.

Now one might say, “Ahh…but those people have been going to that church for years and they are none the farther theologically.” The problem with such criticism is the way one is viewing personal piety and church attendance. How do you KNOW many of these folks are not theological giants? How do you know WHY they are attending such services? As I said, I could attend because I like the music aspect of the service though I’m barely able to sit through the preaching. I may attend because I have good friends whom I’ve developed deep relationships with. I may attend because I am accepted and that is all I needed at the time.

At the end of the day:

A. I don’t think any of us has “correct” theology (though this is not to say that we should neglect studying theology, after all, professors and teachers, are gifts to the body as well).
B. There are many different reasons for why people attend church and God meets us where we’re at. My church attendance isn’t all about having correct theology but an encounter with the Divine.

So. While **I** probably wouldn’t attend certain churches for shallow theology, (I definitely see that not all is negative–there is SOMETHING that can be redeemed), people attend for various reasons and I trust God, through the Holy Spirit, to lead us into all truth.


Cynicism: Who’s to Blame?

Was thinking about the issue of cynicism. There is quite a bit to be cynical ABOUT these days. But that is precisely the point of this post. While I shake my head and facepalm myself in embarrassment towards a lot of what goes on “out there” I wonder if it also possible that cynicism resides WITHIN me, the cynic as well. Before looking at this a little more I want to share a story from Andrew Byers book, “Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic Saint.”

“Most of us do not actively seek to embrace cynicism. We fall into it. I fell rather hard in the sixth grade. It was 1986. That was the first year we had lockers, and their metallic clang and bang added a new hallway sound. Vocab quizzes replaced the elementary spelling tests, but most of the new words in our mouths were of the “dirty” variety, and we whispered them awkwardly for laughs and furtively wrote them on our desks in #2 graphite. Newly awakened hormones spawned a feral hallway energy distinctively unlike that of the fifth grade hall. Cliques of “cool” and “uncool” were beginning to solidify. You could almost smell the pungent aura of territorialism in the halls between each class. It was the last year of outdoor recess. It was the year Wanda Turner had a “period” (whatever that was). It was the year when the boys and the girls were taller than I. It was my first experience of corporal punishment in the school system. It was the worst year of my life.

And in that year I fell in love.

She and I were good friends, but she was in love with him. You know the one: the guy who had a bit of height on him, no acne and that roguish charm that girls find so irresistible. The role of quarterback was given to him without dispute for every football game at recess. When a girl became “It” in freeze tag, there was hardly any point for the rest of us boys to run—we knew who she would be chasing. He wore the latest Swatch for a timepiece, and as I recall he knew how to efficiently “tight roll” his denim pant legs just above his sneakers. And there was of course the gold chain glimmering in the V-shape imposed onto his tanned chest by the polo shirts. (They were definitely made by Ralph Lauren and not the imitation brands.)

I did not stand a chance.

Strangely enough, he and I were friends. In the previous year the teacher had sentenced him to move his seat from the back of the classroom in order to sit by the shy, squeamish kid who was too harmless to pose any trouble. That was me, and due to his spatial relocation we developed a bit of a friendship. But now, a year later, he had effortlessly secured as his girlfriend the one dazzling gem who had become the object of all my romantic hopes. One night he called me and confessed to cheating on her. (I was never sure what this entailed during the middle school years, but it always sounded so sinister.) The next day, his betrayal was the big scandal, and my chance had come to rise to the surface as an alternative suitor. All day long I stood by the distressed damsel as a valiant guardian against all male evils, repeatedly hinting to her that should she choose to “go with” me, she would never have to face the pain of mistreatment again. By lunchtime it seemed as though the entire sixth grade class was involved in this thrilling imbroglio. Then at the end of the day, through the clang and bang of the hallway lockers, she broke the news to me with laughter that it was all staged—our classmates knew about my (supposedly secret) crush, and they just wanted to see how I would react to the fictional scenario. The spectacle I had provided went beyond their grandest expectations.

For years to come I was a romantic cynic. There are much darker adolescent tales out there than my unpleasant little introduction to teenage romance. The story is provided to make the point that cynicism often arises from painful disillusionment—when the rug gets violently jerked out from under us, when the wool long pulled over our eyes is yanked off. The moment of the defining injury is often abrupt, having the effect of an explosive collision that tosses us into some pit. When we open our eyes after the impact, we find ourselves in a dark place staring up into a light we once enjoyed—and to which we feel we can never return. Sometimes the painful disillusionment is not abrupt but subtle, gradually developing within us over time like the imperceptible infiltration of a slow-working virus. Then one day it occurs to us that we have become all too familiar with a darkness we never knew took us over, and we barely recognize the light. Then again, was it really “light” from which we fell? Disillusionment is the dispersal of illusions. What we violently collide with before the sharp plummet into cynicism’s pit is usually a disturbing reality. If the downward movement is more gradual, then our cynicism has resulted from accepting a series of disquieting truths over a period of months or years. Cynicism arises from an embrace of reality. But since illumination often hurts, it can become an embittered embrace of reality. 1 eventually recovered from my bout with romantic disillusionment. (And I should point out the fact that the young teenage girl in the previous scene is now serving Christ nobly on the mission field.) There is a form of disillusionment that is much more potentially devastating than that of crushed romance, though. What if we are disillusioned by the church—that one safe harbour of community on which Christians are told to rely when all else comes crashing down? What if we become cynical toward the faith that is supposed to sustain us through all life’s trials? Even worse, what if the object of our disillusionment is not the thirteen-year-old dream girl we adore, the spouse we treasure, or the church that (supposedly) nurtures us, but the God we worship?”

Other than wondering what the jock is doing these days (possibly a miserable failure?) or if the girl is doing OK and whether we should wish ill fortune upon them, the important point that Byers brings out here is the psychological aspect of cynicism and not so much the reality “outside” of the cynic. The interiority not the exteriority.

I’m not suggesting that the rug does not get pulled out from under us. That we don’t suffer from painful disillusionment. Rather, that “light” from which we fell….is it REALLY light or is it a false high expectation? Either way, there is both a reality/exteriority side and a psychological/interiority side to cynicism. If this is the case, then maybe the “problem” of cynicism to some extent resides with(in) us and not others and because of this, is something that can help us to understand our own (displaced) anger towards others.