Francis Chan and “Christian Famous”

This will be a quick post today.  I ran across the following story on CNN this morning about Francis Chan leaving his congregation of 4000 and moving away to Asia: He said he just wanted to be anonymous for a while and was concerned about perpetuating the whole “Christian famous” thing.

I have mixed feelings here.  On the one hand, I agree that too often the church focuses on celebrities rather than on Jesus.  On the other hand, is leaving the 4000 people who looked to him for leadership the best course of action?  Or would it be better to intentionally and subversively redirect them to Jesus?

In other words, is the proper response to the American obsession with celebrity to simply abandon our platforms of influence, or is it to use those platforms to redirect people’s priorities?

Just curious what those who read this think…please share!

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Why Christmas Needs Easter

If Easter never happened, Christmas is just another day.

If Easter never happened, Mary’s baby was no Savior, just another fatherless child.

If Easter never happened, all of those angel stories are just nice fairy tales.

If Easter never happened, the shepherds should have stayed with the sheep.

If Easter never happened, the wise men were just deluded astrologers.

If Easter never happened, this season is simply an excuse to indulge our materialism and celebrate a fictional man in a furry red suit.

If Easter never happened, we have no hope that Jesus is coming back. We have no hope of forgiveness. We have no expectation of eternal life.

If Easter never happened, Christmas is meaningless, just like every other day.

But Easter did happen.

We celebrate Christmas only because we know the whole story.

His death defeated death. His resurrection promises life.

If Easter never happened, all is lost.

But Easter did happen!

Christian Music (Part 2): Michael W. Smith

OK, I’m going to date myself a bit with this one. I realize that for many of my younger readers, Michael W. Smith’s music is what their moms listen to in the minivan.

Believe it or not, the style and genre of his music has evolved over the years — some would say it has matured, others would say it’s gone beyond mature to just plain old.  I guess perspective is everything. Keep in mind that he’s 53 years old. For many of you college students, he is quite literally older than your own parents.

I know all of that, but still have to include him as a major influence on me in my earlier  years. The first contemporary Christian album I ever received was Michael W. Smith Project, released in 1983 (actually, it was a cassette tape, not technically an album). It contained the perennial Christian favorite “Friends,” which was literally the campfire anthem for millions of youth-group kids. What struck me about the album at the time was his mixture of classical and pop piano (I was taking piano lessons in those days from a man who believed that pop music was a stain on the face of the planet — if it wasn’t classical it was evil trash). In addition, Smith’s songwriting and somewhat edgy voice appealed to me. That album was certified gold (500,000 copies sold), which was virtually unheard of for Christian albums in those days.

But it wasn’t until he released The Big Picture, his third studio album, that I was hooked on his music. The Big Picture came out in 1986, and it was a masterfully written album that managed to sound contemporary and relevant without being imitative. It sounds a bit dated now, but still pretty good for something released nearly 25 years ago. It addressed head-on issues that were very important to kids my age, like dating, future dreams, and even depression and suicide. Frankly, Sandi Patty just wasn’t doing that for us (if you don’t know who she is, don’t worry too much about it — she was the “mom” music of my day).

The album i2 (EYE) followed The Big Picture, and was enormously popular with the song and video Secret Ambition. By this time I wanted to BE Michael W. Smith one day.  I virtually wore out that cassette (no, I still didn’t have a CD player yet), and even bought the piano songbook. I have to admit (somewhat sheepishly) that I even had a taller-than-life-size poster of MWS on my wall in my room.

From Michael W. Smith I learned that Christian music could speak powerfully to the challenges and dreams of Christian teens and young adults. I also learned that Christian music did not need to be second-string or cheesy — again, I know that it probably sounds cheesy in retrospect, but at the time it was very cutting-edge for the market. He carefully crafted his songs and brought high production quality to everything he did. It was very empowering for Christian kids who wanted something other than our parents’ stuff to listen to, but who still wanted something consistent with our belief in Christ.

I also first began to learn to sing and play piano at the same time with Smith’s songs. The fact that I led worship at various churches for more than a decade is largely due to the influence of MWS on my musical development.

If you are not familiar with his older stuff, check out i2 (EYE) first.

Oh yeah — he’s one of the only artists I know of (Christian or otherwise) who has done THREE Christmas albums.  The first one (just called Christmas) is the best.

Inerrancy Round Three!

Earlier this semester I wrote a couple of posts on the subject of biblical inerrancy, and I continue to receive comments on the topic. In particular, a couple of biblical scholars who do not hold to inerrancy have challenged my statements as overly simplistic.  They have argued that I am (1) drawing a false distinction between God’s authorship of the text and the reader’s interpretation and (2) that I am underestimating the extent to which the human authors were involved in the text and overemphasizing the divine authorship of the Bible.

(I perused the website of one of these critics and ran across the following statement: “A liberal is a fundamentalist who got an education.” The implication, of course, is that those who disagree with the liberal position on Scripture do so out of naivete and poor education.  The only “real” education, then, is the liberal one. Excuse me while I gag.)

OK, I’m back — beware of anybody who dismisses his critics by calling them naive, stupid, or poorly informed.  That’s generally an easy way to avoid interacting with the actual ideas being presented by one’s critics.

Let me clarify my position a bit. This might be a long post — be warned.

First, I do not deny that the reader is an active participant in understanding and interpreting the text. It’s for this reason that we do careful exegesis and instruct on the process of Bible study method.  To be honest, I can’t understand why exegesis or Bible study method makes any real difference if a person doesn’t hold to the truthfulness of the text itself.  Why bother to research the field of meaning of Paul’s exact words if we deny verbal inerrancy? It might be nice to know Paul’s subjective judgment, but if his judgment is in error, then it carries no authority.

The reader’s job is to find the meaning that is already present in the text, not to create meaning absent from the text.  Nonetheless, readers will have different interpretations because we are finite human beings.  The problem, then, is not that the text has no definable meaning or even that the text is in error.  The problem is that we are often in error.

Second, I don’t make a false dichotomy between the human and divine authorship of the Bible. In my opinion, it seems that the liberal position is more guilty of that than the inerrancy position.  Why? Because the liberal argument is that the Scripture is riddled with errors (made by men) but still speaks in some sense authoritatively as God’s Word.  In other words, the parts that are theological and divine speak to us with authority, but the parts that are human can’t be trusted.  The Bible is God’s Word to the extent that God speaks through it in the present day, but the human authors made too many mistakes, it is claimed, to be trusted.

I’ve been reading a book by Francis Schaeffer called How Should We Then Live in which Schaeffer chronicles the rise and fall of Western culture. In his discussion of Karl Barth (a Swiss theologian who sought to preserve Scripture’s authority without holding inerrancy), he mentions that Barth held an essentially existentialist understanding of Scripture.

In other words, in the realm of reason, the Bible cannot be trusted, but we can still view it as the Word of God in the way it interacts with the individual in the realm of “non-reason,” as Schaeffer puts it.  So Barth argues that we seek in the Scripture an experience of God, but it doesn’t really make a difference if that experience is grounded in anything historical or technically accurate.

While this position supposedly frees us from the need to defend the Bible’s inerrancy while allowing us to use as a guide for Christian faith, it creates a whole new set of problems.  And here is the key of what I’ve been trying to articulate.

If the Christian faith is not grounded in history, then it has no ultimate hope.  The resurrection of Christ is a bodily, physical, historical event.  It is not merely a spiritual event or a moral story that gives me an idea of God’s character.  Physical resurrection, literal resurrection, is critical to the Christian faith.  And yet the resurrection is one of the more difficult aspects of Christianity to believe in.  It always has been — read Acts 17, for example (assuming you think Acts 17 chronicles a real event).

Now work backwards from that point.  If God could accomplish something like the resurrection, then who is to say he couldn’t do some of the more unusual miracles of the Bible (e.g. make an axhead float, create the world ex nihilo by His words alone, make a donkey talk, etc.).

I recently heard N.T. Wright speak at a conference (a British scholar who holds a high view of Scripture although he doesn’t use the word inerrancy).  He told a story that culminated with this line: “If God could raise Jesus from the dead, then the rest is just rock ‘n’ roll, isn’t it?” That’s basically what I’m arguing here. The historicity of the Resurrection (if it is indeed historical) argues strongly for the historicity of even the toughest parts of Scripture.

So are there challenges in interpretation? Of course.  Are there places where textual variants and lack of manuscript evidence and poor knowledge of the ancient near east create problems for the inerrantist?  Sure.

But again, inerrancy is not a naive position.  We just believe that once you accept the historicity of something as bold as the Resurrection, the idea that God could use people to create a divine and perfect book…well, that doesn’t seem so impossible anymore.

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