The Nones, The League & Death of the Nuclear Family

Jordan took his family to Disneyland this week, so Christian recruited his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt to co-host. They act pretty much like what you’d expect a married couple hosting a radio show together to act like, so that’s kind of entertaining in itself.

Then, after interviewing Shannon Moore, a Christian minister in Texas who has been denied ordination for a decade for being out about his sexual orientation, Christian promptly deleted the interview by accident (sorry Shannon!). WE’ll have Shannon back on soon, but for this week, we’re sharing an interview Christian did with Welton Gaddy on State of Belief Radio about a Washington Post piece Christian wrote called “Don’t Call Us the Nones: In Praise of Religious Independence.” Christian explains why the phrase “The Nones,” referring to religiously unaffiliated people, smacks of the dying remnants of Christendom in our culture: a cultural dynamic we’d do better without, thanks.

Then Amy and Christian tackle Olympian-turned-killer Oscar Pistorius in the Echo chamber, along with Tim Tebow’s recent refusal to speak at a prominent Dallas Baptist Church. From there, the conversation moves into family values and gender roles, taking a look at Phyllis Tickle and some blowback she’s gotten for claims that changing gender roles have negatively affected communities of faith and family as a whole.

Finally, Christian asks Amy why so many women like The League, a TV show about men in a fantasy football league. Basically her conclusion is that women find pleasure in watching men be idiots and tear each other down.

So we’ve got that going for us.

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Jeremy Lin: more than just Basketball’s Tebow

I have not seen Jeremy Lin play. But I am keeping a close eye on him. 

For those who don’t know, Jeremy Lin is a point-guard for the NY Knicks basketball team. He was a surprising star in college having received no scholarship offers to play after highschool.  He then went undrafted in the Pros and only recently, in his 2nd year, got an opportunity to play because of teammate’s  injuries. He surprised everybody by leading his team in incredible ways and scoring more points in his first series of starts than any superstar.  He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated for two consecutive weeks and even made the cover of Time.

He has gained notoriety for some amazing play, for being the first Asian-american superstar in the NBA  and now for being a “New kind of Christian”  (according to CNN). *

Lin, who is of Taiwanese descent,  has also triggered some racial insensitivity with both ESPN and Ben & Jerry’s committing blunders 

 I am hoping that three things come can potentially come  out of the Jeremy Lin meteoric rise

1. There is no such thing as Asia – not in the way that it gets used to describe so many diverse cultures and peoples under a generic geographical term. Edward Said has changed the way I think about Orientalism and ‘other-ing’.

Therefore as much as the West itself, the Orient is an idea that has a history and tradition of thought, imagery, and vocabulary that have given it reality and presence in and for the West. The two geographical entities thus support and to an extent reflect each other.

Though Said was not addressing ‘Asia’ specifically, it is this romantic creation of the other that is so rooted in our mentality and needs to be addressed for the 21st century. All projections point to there being no white majority in the USA by 2050. Race will be one of the biggest issue in my lifetime.

 2. There are many ways to be a Christian (or religious) athlete. Not everyone is treated like Tim Tebow was. Tebow is both vocal and demonstrative about his faith – but what the evangelical fans did with it was nearly frenzied. In the CNN article it is clear that Lin goes about his faith a little differently than Tebow. It will be interesting to watch as his popularity grows, how he handles his faith, his fame, and his image.

3.  There is really something significant about immigrant communities, generational gaps, and how they practice faith. The CNN article introduced it well, but there is so much more to be examined.

I grew up outside Chicago then my family moved to Saskatchewan Canada where my dad worked at a Seminary with a missionary denomination. He has been in NY for the last 20 years at a sister school and I am now studying in Southern California. It might be my affiliation with seminaries that has thrown off my perception but I was shocked to hear that just 5% of the population is of Asian descent.

I have met so many Vietnamese, Hmong, Japanese, Taiwanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Cambodian, Laotian, Thai, and Malaysian believers who have incredible stories about generation differences, immigration and how those two things affect faith communities and language.

I know that Lin is just a basketball player – but in the hyperreal world of modern TV and sports it is conceivable that he will play an important role in awareness that there is an issue to be addressed.

 

 

*The phrase really caught my attention because I am a big fan of Brian McLaren’s book  A New Kind of Christianity

 

 

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Jesus loves you … some more than others?

In recent weeks both Tim Tebow and Marc Driscoll have been hot button topics of conversation in my circles. The whole thing peaked this week when Tebow was knocked out of the playoffs and Driscol was interviewed on a popular British radio show.

In the Driscoll interview (he was going after the host because his wife is a pastor) he said something that is hugely troubling about its implications for the value of certain types of people. Driscoll was asking about how many young single men have come to Christ in the past year. Not how many people, but how many of them were men. Still not satisfied, he asked about what kind of men they were – were they strong men?

 

Do you see the sequence? (some might call it a pecking order)

He asked not about numbers of people who came to Christ, not about Church health or the British context (ie. implications of having a Church of England)

  • How many were men … specifically young single men.
  • Not men in general, but a specific type of man (strong)

Some may want to simply dismiss this as an eccentric fascination of an isolated mentality. I beg to differ.  I see this as a ongoing, if below the surface, mentality that is pervasive in the North American Protestant-Evangelical-Charismatic camp (also known as ‘my people’).

I have written recently that we may worship success more than any God – and I don’t want to make sweeping generalizations about the fallout of the 20th centuries rejection of the Social Gospel or the inherent downside of anti-intellectualism that is still widely pervasive – what I am saying is that Driscoll’s views and Tebow’s fans are not an anomaly. They are the logical end expression of an underlying belief about who God is and how God works.

 

The Driscol-Tebow controversies are merely the public manifestation of an underlying theology surfacing in examples that bring to the public’s attention to what is always bubbling just below the surface – or behind the closed doors of the sanctuary.

The Gospel as it is configured in some quarters is surprising to those who are outside this stream. Does Jesus love everyone? Technically, yes. Is there a type of person that Jesus loves more … or a part of that person (soul, gender, etc.) that Jesus is more interested in?

If this concept is completely foreign to you – I may need to come at this a different way:

I had a chance to talk to a faithful saint who suffers from a chronic degenerative disease. She found a piece that I wrote about why we need to move away from old understandings about curses. She had undergone more than a decade of people ‘discerning in prayer’ that someone had placed a curse on her when she was younger and then attempting through intercession and deliverance to break the enemy’s power over her.

She was intrigued by my insistence that God was not picking and choosing who to intervene for and which situations to interfere in. She had heard last week’s interview with John Cobb where he said that we believe that God is doing in every situation all that God is able to do that in situation.

This is a radical assertion and a sharp departure from the common belief about how God can and does work in the world.

I told her about an old interview that Tripp did with Bruce Epperly where Tripp paraphrased him by saying “God does not hold out or run out”.   Think about the implications of those two statements:

In every situation God is doing everything that God is able to do

God does not hold out or run out

I love this view of God. Some people get really upset because God is not as powerful as the Zeus-Caesar (theos) character they have been told lives up in the heavens watching us all and intervening/interfering according to ‘His’ will. But we are actually saying that God is powerful – its just that God’s power is a different kind of power from the unilateral and coercive power that has classically been ascribed to the Divine Being.

In this past week’s TNT I said that I thought something really positive came out of the pushback we got from our cross-efforts with Rachel Held Evans and Kurt Willems. It became clear that Process-Relational thought really is saying something quite different than classical theologies based on Imperial assumptions and Greek metaphysics.

This is not a simple tweak of the existing system (like Open theology). This is not a program that you just download and install into your already in place operating system. It is not a patch that employ to get rid of the bugs and kinks in the classical program. Relational thought is a different operating system (to use the fun Mac v. Microsoft Windows analogy).

I am excited about the upcoming Theological Conversation Jan 31-Feb 2  between the Emergent Village and Process-Relational thought. I am not under the impression that P-R is for everyone or that many folks will ‘convert’. But I am hopeful that we can engage, in a significant way, the ongoing and persistent glitches that  (while they may rarely come to full blown Driscoll-Tebow levels) are perpetually just below the surface.

 

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My Love (hate) Relationship with Tim Tebow

I love Tim Tebow – I just hate what his fan do with his success.   It is irresponsible and un-Biblical.

I have said before that I respect Tim and that he does not think God helps the Broncos win football games.

Why I love Tim: He works incredibly hard, has an amazing energy, lives out his faith, and serves orphans. This guy is incredible!

Why I hate his success: If you are in the NFL, you are gifted. Every player is extraordinarily talented … and I think that those talents come for God. I would prefer if we said that every player was blessed by God –  some acknowledge it and some are quite vocal about.

The assertion that God blesses one player more than another is where I run into the problem: that God is picking and choosing this person over that one – and interfering in this moment but not that one is a view of God that is irresponsible and indefensible. 

 I will go as far as to say that it is somewhere between superstition and missing the entire point of Jesus’ life and message. This certainly is not a Christian view of God.

Last week Tripp had a blog posted by Rachel Held Evans where he said that God was not omnipotent and that the future is not determined. In the TNT podcast that comes out today, Tripp and I talk about the line of reasoning that some people took in not only their objection to Tripp’s note but came to the defense of an omnipotent conception of God . Some people just came out and said “the book of Job shows that God is omnipotent”. This is a terrifying sentence to hear from a Christian.

There are three things about Job that need to be clear:

  • It is not a newspaper report. It is a dramatic presentation (broken into distinct acts).
  • That God rewards those who do right and love God and punishes those who disobey and turn away from God … is exactly what the book of Job is written against. That is against the narrative of Job’s life story at the beginning and against what God says at the end.
  • Christians believe that Jesus lived a perfect life – and was brutally murdered. I see that as the Death of Job’s God. That old concept of God died on the Cross.

So the BIble doesn’t teach this view of God and the history of the world does not reflect this view. God does not reward those who are faithful and put down those who are evil. The evil prosper and the righteous suffer as much as everyone under that evil. 

We have to stop with this superstitious system of rewards and benefits that treats God like God as some sort of cosmic Gum-ball Machine.  It is extremely hurtful and insulting.  The part that baffles me is how prominent the view is among evangelicals … who make bold claims about being based on the Bible and ‘being Biblical’.

This view of the interfering God who doles out blessing to ‘His’ favorites is a relic of the past that we must outgrow.


This antiquated, superstitious view needs to die on the Cross so that the God revealed in Christ can be resurrected for our time. 

 

 

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The 99 and Tim Tebow: Canada, Success, Billy Graham and God

Several weeks ago I had fun looking at the difference between Tim Tebow’s* faith and what his zealous (mostly evangelical & charismatic) fans do with it. I took some flack from asserting that Jesus was not intervening to help him win close games.

Since then he has lost 3 games. The choir has gone shockingly quiet. It appears - and this may come as a surprise - that Americans worship success more than any ‘god’. In fact, one might wonder if success is America’s god.

It always piques my imagination when politicians say ‘May God bless America” at the end of their speeches … I try to pay attention to how they say it and what they might be expecting that blessing to look like.

 There are two elements to this that really attract my attention:

Part of the reason this sticks out to me so sharply is that I have dual-citizenship with Canada. I went to High school and started Bible College there. When I see Tebow bowed on the sideline praying in the 4th quarter, I smile as I think of the completely different religious and political atmosphere in Canada. Almost every Canadian I know – even the believers – I can hear saying “Easy big guy, don’t make too much of a display”.

 American zeal is a phenomenon. I have a theory that it is actually embedded in the DNA of this country courtesy of those original Calvinists who brought with them the concept of “signs of divine benevolence”. This little mechanism says

‘while we can’t know who is elect unto salvation or damnation – certainly we say that a good tree will bear good fruit. So, while no can know for sure if they are “in” certainly God graces the chosen with “signs of divine benevolence”.

This is how we get that famous “Protestant Work Ethic” in order to make it as easy as possible for God to ‘bless you’. It almost boils down to ‘If its good  = its God. If its bad = its you… unless your good = then its the devil.”

The second element is this idea of the 99 and the 1. I heard over and over in the Tebow hysteria “If even one person comes to Christ because of what God is doing for Tebow and Tebow’s witness, then it is worth it.”  I hear this “if even one person” thing so often that I can see it coming a mile away.

Admittedly, Jesus told a story about the 99 sheep and the 1 lost sheep. But I just have to say that it was a metaphor- a poetic picture of how much God loves each person. It is NOT a permission to be irresponsible with our resources and strategies to either neglect or disrespect the 99 in order to attract the one.

I became of aware of this during the 80s and 90s when statistics about Billy Graham’s actual effectiveness regarding Stadium campaigns and alter calls. Studies found over and over again that of all of those thousands who came forward, the number who were actually un-churched was quite low … and of those, the number who were associated with a Christian church in the years that followed was atrocious. But if any question the effectiveness of this style of Evangelism and the millions of dollars that were spent on these campaigns, the battle cry would go up “If only ONE … then it is all worth it”.

I’ve said before that I like Tim Tebow, that I am amazed at both his life and his work ethic. I have also been clear that he does not think that God intervenes in football games. But Tebow and his zealous cheerleaders have actually exposed an interesting trend that I can’t quite put my finger on… America worships success, we hold it to be a ‘Sign of Divine Benevolence’ and we are fine with collateral damage to the 99 if, in the end, “the one is found… then it was all worth it.”

Thoughts?

 

* Tim Tebow is the Quarterback for the NFL football team the Denver Broncos

 

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Talking to Tebow’s God

I have held off as long as I could but I think we better talk about this now before it goes any further.

Tim Tebow is a phenomenon is the media these days. His Denver Broncos football team is on a 6 game winning streak and he is 7-1 as their starting Quaterback. Despite his apparent limitations (skills) he has orchestrated a series of amazing comebacks during the winning streak.  That is a big deal! Any fan would love to have their team on this kind of a roller coaster – come from behind – frenzy.

That, however, is not what makes this news.

This past week the Broncos beat my beloved Chicago Bears in overtime after a miraculous set of circumstances turned the game around in the 4th quarter. The Tebow’s teammate picks up the story there: 

“Tebow came to me and said, ‘Don’t worry about a thing,’ because God has spoken to him,” Woodyard told The Denver Post this week.

It was Woodyard who then stripped Bears running back Marion Barber to hand the football — and the game — back to Denver.

For Tebow, just another day at the office.

“I believe in a big God and special things can happen,” he said, after he erased a 10-0 deficit against Chicago in the final 2:08 of regulation. “It’s not necessarily prophesying, but sometimes you can feel God has a big plan.”

Woodyard, for one, has no lingering doubts: “For all the Tebow haters: You better start believing.”

I want to be clear this before I say anything else: I am not hating Tebow. In fact, I like him. I like how he uses his summers to serve needy people in other countries. I like that he works so hard. I like that he is unorthodox in his throwing motion and scrabbling technique. I like that he is so sincere and transparent about his faith.

Some people get upset that he is always cramming his faith in their face. That is not what concerns me. It is his brand of faith that concerns me.

I have been very forthright that A) this is the camp of evangelical-charismatic zeal that I was raised in and emerged from B) that the epistemology behind ‘hearing from God’ … and the interventionist assumptions behind a ‘super’ natural worldview are antiquated relics of a pre-modern understanding and are untenable in the 21st century. If you want a more nuanced explanation, listen to “Pentecost for Progressives” [here] - starting in  minute 55 OR read the summary [here].  

This is the season of Advent and we do tell the story of God speaking to Mary. That is not what I am contesting. 

I try to never-ever play this next card… but the cards that I have been dealt has forced my hand:

Are you under the impression that God cares who wins a football game and intervenes to bring it about but doesn’t care enough about the thousands of children who are starving to do something about it?

Are you telling me that god knows but doesn’t care, or that God cares but doesn’t know, or that god could do something but won’t or that god would do something but can’t?

Look, I am not an either-or guy. I hate binaries, dualisms, and us vs. them mentalities. But when someone says that this is how God is… sometimes it forces you to say that I believe this God to be a false creation of human imagination – nothing more than an athropomophic projection.  

______

Three things for clarification:

  1. I could be wrong. He keeps winning and people say ‘If Joel Osteen wasn’t doing something right, he wouldn’t have 37,000 people who go to his church.”  In America, success = correct.
  2. The Calvinists could be right. God chooses whom ‘He’ wants to. I don’t want to be one of those people who say “If God is not the way I believe they-she-he  is, the I am not going to worship them-her-him.” I will worship God no matter what way God turns out to be… but I happen to really like the Jesus of the 4 canonical gospels… just sayin’.
  3. Tim Tebow himself has hinted in the past that he does not believe in an interventionist god. Bob Costas alluded to this to in his amazing speech.  It’s not Tebow that concern me – its Tebow’s fans.

 

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