Monthly Archives: April 2009

Divine Commodity Blog Tour

Today is the blog tour for Skye Jethani’s new book The Divine Commodity. Jethani is managing editor of Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal, which, depending upon your impression of LJ, may belie just how counter-cultural to the consumeristic church the spirit of his book really is. The book, simply put, is phenomenal. Jethani does an excellent job of merging matters of practicality and contemporary church culture with an imaginative aesthetic missing in a lot of ecclesiological diagnostics. The book is artful, penetrating, and important. (I recommend it as a companion piece to Michael Horton’s Christless Christianity. Read the two together and get a firm grasp on the problems facing the flashy yet impotent American church.)

Those of us participating in the blog tour each submitted a question to Jethani inspired by our reading. Here’s mine and his response:

JW: What specific advice would you give the churchgoer who is growing more disillusioned by the moment with the deadening consumerism of his or her church? The closest you come to prescription in the book is saying it is about personal transformation as seed-planting, but imagine someone is telling you personally that their church has lost all sense of the gospel and discipleship in community and that they don’t know what to do about it. What would you say to them?

SJ: This is a potent question, and the last thing I want to do is enflame someone who is already about to storm out of the church. First of all, if you …

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Worship Spectacles Produce Spectators, Not Worshipers

One forgets how refreshing engaged congregational worship is after years of immersion in a passive crowd watching the show. No matter how many times the cheerleader worship leader urges response, most everyone knows they are there to watch, consume, maybe clap hands and sing along, but mostly to be impressed or entertained or moved. The “worship” is for us, not God, which is why we pick churches based on how good (or “rockin’”) the music is.

Another good passage from Skye Jethani’s great book The Divine Commodity:

This philosophy of spiritual formation through the consumption of external experiences creates worship junkies — Christians who leap from one mountaintop to another, one spiritual high to another, in search of a glory that does not fade. In response, churches and Christians conferences are driven to create ever-grander experiences and more elaborate productions to satisfy expectations. Ironically, these worship spectacles, according to Sally Morgenthaler, are failing to produce real worshipers. She writes:

We are not producing worshippers in this country. Rather we are producing a generation of spectators, religious onlookers lacking, in many cases, any memory of a true encounter with Gd, deprived of both the tangible sense of God’s presence and the supernatural relationship their inmost spirits crave.

Ministries that focus on manufacturing spiritual experiences, despite their laudable intentions, may actually be retarding spiritual growth by making people experience-dependent.

Tomorrow, btw, I’ll be participating in Zondervan’s blog tour for Jethani’s book. I’ll have a brief review, plus a one-question interview with him featured in this space, as …

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Adventures in the Bible Belt

This from Shaun Groves is all kinds of excellent.

She cut me off. She made a left right in front of me. I was leaving Lowe’s – the home repair store – trying to get home in time for my niece’s birthday party. She was trying to get her Burger King fix faster.

I slammed on the brakes and skid and honked the horn. I may have said a singular bad word i hopes that the Holy Spirit can not only interpret “groanings” but also profanity to be a cry for immediate assistance, please. I was scared. I wasn’t angry. Yet.

Then she moved the phone from her hand to her neck, cocked her head to hold it in place, and flipped me off with her now free hand. I came to a stop in the road – and also a metaphorical fork. And I chose to follow her into the Burger King drive-thru line.

I pulled up beside her. She rolled up her windows without looking my way. So I screamed at her about how I have three kids and a wife who could have lost a father and husband because she was really hungry for a Whopper and couldn’t wait two seconds for me to pass by before turning. I told her she wasn’t important enough to endlessly be on her cell phone. I informed her that I’m not sixteen, I’m an adult like she’s dressed up to …

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Maybe Redemption is Stories to Tell

This is a must-watch video (from the folks at The Austin Stone Church).

Cardboard Stories from The Austin Stone on Vimeo.

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The Consumer Church

One of the most resonant sections (to me anyway) of Skye Jethani’s excellent The Divine Commodity (more on this book in this pace on Thursday) is in his personal recounting of friends switching churches.

While enjoying our drinks of choice, Greg and Margaret proceeded to explain why they were leaving our church to attend another congregation in a nearby town. The new church, they said, had multiple services on Saturday and Sunday so they could choose to worship at a time that fit their busy schedules. (Our church had only three services — all on Sunday morning.) The youth group had multiple worship teams for their daughter to serve on. (Our student ministry had only one worship team.) And, because it was “way bigger” than our church, it had more to offer Greg and Margaret too. They could find a class or small group that perfectly fit their needs. Despite making a public commitment as members a few years earlier, Greg and Margaret’s commitment to our church had ended. A more comfortable ship had sailed into port — one that offered more choices.

A core characteristic of consumerism is freedom of choice. Customization, creating a product that conforms to my particular desires, has driven businesses to offer an ever-increasing number of choices to consumers. Nothing represents this trend better than the iPod. No longer must a listener commit to buy an entire album to enjoy one song. She now has instant access to millions of songs, and may choose to download them …

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Four Important Changes for Churches

David Fitch was asked, “If you had to list 5 of the most important elements that you would like to see changed in local churches across America, what would those 5 things be?”

OK here’s 4 off the top of my head:

1.) Less emphasis on success and growth, more on authentic Christian living and discipleship. This is the obedience God is looking for.

2.) Less on pandering to Christians who have little time but more money, and more pandering to the poor who have more time and less money

3.) Concentrate more on the simple stuff where one encounters the transcendent living God, less on programming.

4.) Leadership that listens and responds to what God is doing, not orchestrating the future they learned at business school.

Whether one agrees with these or not (and I do, for what it’s worth), I think it’s at least refreshing to see a request for a “What do we do?” and a response. Lots of critics are long on diagnoses, short on prescriptions, and that just ain’t helpful.

(HT: Dash)

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The Worship Gathering is for Beholding

He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.– Ecclesiastes 3:11b

The gospel must be central because nothing else even comes close to filling the eternal gap.We all agree that fallen man has a “God-shaped hole,” but then we go on to suggest all kinds of fillers that are not God — financial success, good sex, promotions at work, healthy relationships, happy spouses and children, community service, outlets for our creativity, etc. All good things but all things you can have and do and still be eternally bankrupt.

Our scale is far too small. The Bible speaks to all manner of good things useful to all men, but the Church is starving (starving!) for the glory of God. We too easily forget that the gospel covers the scale of eternity, that it is the division between real life and death, that God is infinite and our sin is a condemnation-worthy offense against an eternally holy God. We preach and we settle for much less than, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!”

Every week people file into our church services aching for eternity; in our zeal to provide something they may find comfortable and useful and inoffensive, are we offending the God who wishes to offend us in awe of his glory? Are we dismissing our brother Jesus whose formula for victory includes crucifixion?

The scale is enormous, the stakes are high. Instead of spiritually …

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Colbert Owns Ehrman

Yeah, he’s a parody, but Stephen Colbert’s jousting with renowned Christ-denier Bart Ehrman (who has a new book called Jesus Interrupted) is pretty sweet.

The Colbert Report
Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c

Bart Ehrman

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NASA Name Contest

There are actually some better arguments against Ehrman’s errors (for instance, Ehrman is right that “Son of God” wasn’t originally a term of divinity; N.T. Wright barks up that tree better than Colbert does with his riposte), but it’s still neat to watch Colbert’s exaggerated incredulity.

HT: Lots of places, but saw it last at Frank Turk‘s blog

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New Life from the Man Who Cannot Be Killed

Imagine you are one of Jesus’ devoted followers grieving his execution. A couple of days have passed. You are dejected, bewildered, perhaps scared of the repercussions. You are, of course, totally devastated that your friend, the kindest, gentlest, most faithful friend you’ve ever had has been executed for a crime he didn’t commit. There is at this time no celebration that Jesus had finally achieved victory on the cross. You and the other disciples aren’t partying, overjoyed that Jesus has died to forgive your sins. In your minds, your friend is gone, and since messiahs weren’t expected to die before establishing a restored kingdom of Israel , seeds of doubt begin to sprout. Maybe you begin to wonder if he was who he said he was. You begin to think the cause has been defeated.

In grieving the loss of your friend and rabbi, you are beginning to wrestle with grieving the loss of the meaning he gave to life and to the incredible promise of God’s return to his people he represented. At some point, a dangerous despair could kick in.

That is how Christianity would have stalled before it could even get started, were it not for one shining moment in the history of the world.The resurrection.

As Christians, we believe that Jesus not only died for our sins, but that he rose from the dead three days later to conquer death. And that glorious event is when all heaven broke loose.

For the disciples, the sacrificial death of Jesus …

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Catch you on the flipside.

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