Empowering the People

  09/15/14 , by Dissidens, Categories: Evangelical culture

Matt Smethurst is providing a valuable service to young pastors over at the Gospel Concoction. He is sampling the views of celebrities on the question: In addition to knowing Scripture and sound doctrine, what should young pastors today be studying? Is your answer any different from what you would’ve recommended 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago?

All the men in this first installment have nice, smiling publicity photos to lend some gravitas. Wayne Grudem is even wearing a dark suit and a red tie, so….

Sam Storms advises shepherds to “empower people to pursue superior pleasures”, and Grudem observes that the “the standards of moral conduct commonly assumed and practiced by the dominant culture are far more opposed to biblical standards than they were 10 or 20 years ago”. Highly doubtful, but ok; that's one way to go with it I suppose.

The advice I find most intriguing comes from David Wells: deepening study of the Word and serious reflection on the world.

Young Evanjellicles engaged in serious reflection on the world?

I certainly hope that advice wasn’t offered in jest.



  09/08/14 , by Dissidens, Categories: Evangelical culture

We know that culture is very, very important to Evangelicals, and we know this for several reasons.

First, Evangelicalism has quite a reputation among your more distinguished scholars, artists, and critics for the enormous body of superior work Evangelicals have produced over the last century. As I mentioned before, libraries and museums have gotten to the point that they simply cannot accept any more Evangelical masterpieces simply for the lack of storage space.

Second, Evangelicals talk an awful lot about culture. You can hardly go to an Evangelical blog or website without seeing the word littering the opinions. (You really should do what I did; you will be amused: get on your computer and type the word culture—or cultur, if you want to snag matches for the word cultural as well—into your browser’s resident search function, and then surf the blogs and websites you frequent. I prophesy that the more perceptive a reader you are the harder you will laugh.)

It used to be that when you asked an Evangelical a question about culture, you got the deer-in-the-headlights look, you endured a few preliminary observations of things that are patently obvious while he groped for a coherent thought, and then he’d start spewing bafflegab that stressed the importance he attaches to “the Gospel”. Nowadays if you ask the same sort of question, he is likely to insert his commitment to culture nearly as often as he inserts the Gospel. Try it sometime.

But there is a third way we know how important culture is to Evangelicals. Notice how precisely they grasp its meanings. CaPCMag has issued another call for articles, this time on “Playing God”. Mr. Loftus asked for some clarification—poor guy—on what Mr. Clark means by playing God.

Matthew Loftus 

September 4, 2014 at 10:25 pm 

Can you say more about what you’re looking for or what you mean by “Playing God”? Like, the Crouch book in particular or the themes he explored or something else or anything else?

And this is the reply he got:

Richard Clark

September 4, 2014 at 10:54 pm 

I suspect the main thing we’re looking for is just stuff revolving around the concept of overstepping the bounds of humanity. But we really do try and be purposefully vague with this stuff and are open to creativity in your pitch.

Mr. Clark isn’t real sure what, exactly, he is asking for (which is tricky since he is supposed to be the one, or one of the ones, to judge whether submissions meet the requirements he set out!). Anyway, Richard doesn’t know for sure, but he suspects that “the main thing” his website is looking for is just “stuff revolving around the concept”. And then he helpfully identifies the concept as stuff that “oversteps the bounds of humanity”.

Which is nice, I guess, because you could write about J.S. Bach, Adolph Hitler, Neil Armstrong, Albert Einstein, Hercules, Tiny Tim….

What precisely “oversteps the bounds of humanity” presumes a certain shared notion of humanity which, as irony would have it, is the traditional work of culture.

Maybe even the traditional work of pop culture, I don’t know.

You really do have to laugh, because if you don’t laugh you will cry and never stop crying.


The Gospel Brainiacs

  09/03/14 , by Dissidens, Categories: Evangelical culture

The drones over at The Gospel Concoction continue to talk rubbish on a broad range of topics.

I don’t want to piggyback this whole conversation, but it might be worth your time to follow up on some of the twittering and jitney skollership at the place where evanjellicles are “renewing” their pathetic faith and “reforming” their ministry practices to conform fully to their current interpretation of the Scriptures.

I wonder if Wilson’s article is making Robert Brady think.

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Hearts of Darkness

  08/30/14 , by Dissidens, Categories: Bearings



Snoeberger’s fluffpiece creates an excellent opportunity to address a troublesome issue.

I’ve recently had about a dozen of those rather unsatisfying conversations having to do with fixing what is broken in the church. As I’ve said several times in the blogosphere: sometimes you cannot fix what is broken, you have to live as prudently as possible with the broken thing. About half the time I sympathize with the person I’m talking to; about half the time I’m frustrated by this lust for action before understanding, as though there is virtue in a well-meant wrong action. Mark Snoeberger helps us see why the future continues to be bleak and why the institutional church (as Forster calls it) is the patient, not the doctor.

In the same way Tim Challies misapprehends the scruples of the Amish and dismisses their underlying religious impulse by judging it legalistic, Snoeberger refuses to deal with first things.

It is breath-taking how close an imperceptive person can come to an insight and still miss it! The solution cannot be to transcend the flow of natural, inevitable cultural change. That’s just not possible. And there is nothing more frustrating than attempting to do what is impossible.

The truth that ought to have stared every Christian in the face and shouted, “Yo, dummy, I’m right here!” is that the undesirable change—and the cause of our sorrows—is that religious sentiments are now attached to ephemeral things! This is how it is that parent and child cannot understand or tolerate each other’s religious expressions.

Go on YouTube and listen to Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, Hadyn’s, and Dvorak’s, and tell me we are not enriched by having them (and others) side by side. Why on earth would we want to “cultivate timeless, transgenerational bodies”? There are some of us who, if this progression in sensibilities didn’t occur naturally, would contrive to make it happen!

So where are we now?

Mohler wants us to welcome every cultural decadence and let the performers decide what is good, true, and beautiful. Challies would prefer that we sing badly, Jamie Smith doesn’t think we can worship with anything that isn’t a sing-along, and Snoeberger thinks that by trying to be “timeless” we can ignore the development of religious perceptions and avoid a clash of preferences.

And Greg Forster thinks in spite of all this cultural street-fighting the institutional church has a special formation and an equipping to engage culture.

Evangelicalism is truly a House of Horrors.

I have often pointed out Evangelicalism’s lack of cultural participation. It has not produced a Milton, Dante, Bunyan, Herbert, Rossetti, Eliot, Bach, Mendelssohn, Dvorák, Tolkien, Pärt….That would be obvious even to people who merely glance at the movement between beer commercials. Now the Mohlers, Challies, Smiths, and Snoebergers offer irrefutable evidence why: misguided prejudices have replaced aesthetic judgment.

Secular culture is well represented by the girl in a bikini straddling a Harley-Davidson. Evangelical culture is represented by the girl in a bikini straddling a Harley-Davidson and holding a Tim Keller book.

Writing a few new hymns for our tribal allies and talking about this at more conferences is going to fix nothing, people.

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Verbal Abuse

  08/26/14 , by Dissidens, Categories: Evangelical culture

If you want to see an excellent example of what happens when people use the word culture with criminal indifference to its meanings, you will want to read this post and the trailing comments.

And ponder this—dare I call it a thought?:

The answer, I would suggest, is faithful ministry in confessionally bounded churches committed more to the spirituality of the church than they are to the socio-political and cultural relevancy of the church. By striving, self-consciously, to be as culturally transcendent as possible, I would argue, we can cultivate timeless, transgenerational bodies that do not need to reinvent themselves every quarter century to remain solvent.

I’m a little bit afraid of people who imagine they can “cultivate timeless, transgenerational bodies”. I would be very afraid if I thought they could do anything of the sort. (Wasn't there a horror movie based on this idea?)

Fortunately tonight I shall sleep well knowing it’s a fool’s errand and the energy expended might keep the participants from more harmful endeavors.


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