Posts Tagged ‘Prosperity Gospel’

version2-ryze-logo

Going up?

The votes are in.  It is clear that, in many and various ways, the church is slowly but surely abandoning the cross as its primary identity.

The new hotness? The arrow.

And if you doubt this is true, think of all the churches that have an arrow pointing upward, or “right and up” as the business world calls it, in their logos. As their logo. It’s the new “thing” and it speaks to optimism and the “you can do it” vibe that much of Christianity is giving off these days.

You don’t have to Google too much to find one.  You probably will see it on a bumper or as a window cling on your way home from work today.

And that’s not bad, necessarily.  But it certainly isn’t the cross.

Sermons are now “TED talks.”  They’re “how can I improve my life?” talks instead of “how does Jesus ask me to give up my life?” proclamations. (And I love me some TED talks)

And, look, I’m all for practical and relevant sermons.  I think I give them. And I’m all for trying to improve myself and others.  I hope I do that in some ways.

But I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t die on the cross so that I can learn how to reach higher in life.  I’m pretty sure Jesus talked, lived, and died in such a way that makes me desire downward mobility rather than upward mobility.

The downward mobility of washing feet.  The downward mobility of kneeling with those in grief. The downward mobility of embracing a life that banks more on repentance and grace rather than “trying harder” or “getting it right.”

In my neck of the woods so many churches are embracing the arrow over the cross.  The arrow of “make your life better” instead of “God is embracing you where you are, and believe it or not, that is better than constantly trying to make your life better.”  And I get why it’s happening, at least in part.  Arrows can speak to transcendence, a desire that humanity has been wrestling with since we first started to think bigger than our stomachs.  But the problem is that arrows promise a false transcendence; a transcendence that requires you to “keep climbing” instead of giving up.

But the cross speaks of giving up.  Specifically giving up your life for the sake of others.  And only then realizing that your life is given back to you in a new way.The cross speaks to the truth of human fragility, human vulnerability, human suffering and, subversively, Divine hope.  The arrow speaks to the lies of stair-stepping our way to salvation and human moral progress in such a way the sacrifice is less about “what I give up” and more about “I’m going to work harder.”

A difficult truth to swallow for some may be this understanding, which I’ve come to see as true: sometimes I find people following other faith paths (and sometimes even no faith path) living a more cruciform life than those with Jesus fish on the back of their cars.

And it’s not about wealth or church attendance or even belief statements, necessarily.  It’s about, as Jesus says, “Losing your life to gain it.”  It’s about starving the all-consuming ego monster in deference for the Other in front of you.  It’s about God resurrecting you more than you trying over and over again to resuscitate your happiness, self-worth, career, what have you.

This is something that 12 step programs understand so well, and something that we’re missing in the pews (or auditorium chairs, if that’s your thing).

Now, before you write that response below, I have to clarify something: I’m not for living or wallowing in total depravity.  I’m not for shunning the gym or canceling your therapist.  I am all for self-betterment in the non-annoying, non-cloying, non-consumerist ways it can happen (spoiler alert: that audio book will not “take away your Mondays”…but you knew that before you bought it and you bought it anyway because you’re willing to try anything to get rid of that feeling, right?).  This is not just a “grumpy church person” rant.

I think these things form and shape us.  And I think arrows are bad news when it comes to spiritual life.  They look like good news, but as a Lutheran I must “call a thing what it is.”  And it is bad news.

Because we don’t climb our way out of life.  This life is not about the climb.  We can’t climb out of that life, no matter how high you go, but we can live in such a way that we give up that life in exchange for a different one not so intent on moving up, but more intent on having the Spirit move within.

But the Spirit does all sorts of thing that will make you unhappy.  Things like:

Ask you to give up your life for the sake of others.

Ask you to put down the self-help book, to help the other selves around you.

Ask you to speak out against injustice  and own your role in the system (a system that promises you ascension at the expense of others).

Things like convince you that God is less interested in how much money you make, and more interested in how much money you decide to keep.

And, ironically, that’s exactly what we need.

Advertisements

imagesHeard across America last month on The Mindy Project, “He’s hot like a youth minister…”

Yeah, that’s a thing.  Have you noticed it?

Our youth minister really liked the line.  One of our health and healing workers at the church, an acupuncturist, made sure to relay the scene to him.  Smiles and laughs followed.

But man if there isn’t some truth there, right?  The popular church sure does hold up beauty in its pastors and people.

Look at some of the popular pastors you know: T.D. Jakes’s suits cost more than most of his parishioners’ monthly incomes; Joel Osteen’s teeth and hair are never unpolished (cue the “Soul Glo” theme from Coming to America); Joyce Meyers’ earrings could double as nunchucks they’re so big and sparkly; Mark Driscoll’s tight jeans betray their price tag shock value by looking just a little too distressed to be naturally distressed…

We love attractive people telling us about God.  Perhaps, then, we’ll begin to believe that God is attractive (have you seen Jesus without ripped abs?) or that God wants you to be attractive.

In a blog post by Mark Driscoll, “16 Things I Look for in a Preacher,” coming in at number 11 snuggled between Driscoll’s desire for the pastor to be emotionally engaging and not be a “coward” is the exhortation that the pastor needs to “look like they have it all together.”  From clothes to haircut to overall presentation.

When I read that I ran and vomited in a trash can.

Look, you don’t have to go far to find that the church worships beauty, especially physical attractiveness.  The apostles are all ruggedly handsome in their depictions.  The various Marys in the Bible are never overweight, never suffering from hair loss, and certainly don’t have any moles to speak of.

In fact, in the recent movie Son of God (which was surprisingly un-bad), Jesus’ mother Mary clearly has had plastic surgery, making her look like an odd choice for the role.

Beauty and aesthetics have their place within the worship of a God who encompasses beauty.  I’m not denying that.  But take a look at the stock photos on church websites: happy families with bright teeth and 2.5 kids all around, often representing a racial diversity not present in the congregation.

And all the while we’re reading and hearing ancient stories of Jesus touching lepers, healing the sick and the lame, loitering suspiciously at well-known watering holes.

It doesn’t sound very “stock photo” to me.

I think it’s a little bit of an illness that we have here.  This idea that God or Jesus is “put together” and expects/desires/wants/needs for us to be so, too.  Even the local evangelical church-plant pastor who I hear all the time say, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints” never leaves home without his tragically hipster jeans and plaid shirt…

It may seem like all sorts of judgment on my part, but I’m trying more than anything to be observant.  Because my faith, more than anything, tears me a part in all sorts of helpful ways…ways that allow me to not be so tied to appearance and the necessity of having it all put together in deference for letting go of appearances and engaging life, and others, more fully.

It’s sad that “youth pastor hot” is a thing.  It’s sad that it is based in reality.

When the writer of Ecclesiastes penned, “Vanity, vanity…all is vanity” it wasn’t a prescription for the church.

Glasses on Open Bible

Please note: Not all theological progressives wear glasses.

I’m a theological progressive.

When I fell away from faith, I fell away from a faith that was absolutely confused about its identity.  I was interacting in worlds that didn’t seem to speak the same language.  One world I lived in included people I knew and loved who were of intellect and not willing to take the Bible literally, people of different sexual orientations, people of different faiths.

And I also lived in a world of religion that didn’t seem to encompass that other world very well.  Or, if it did, it marginalized the people who didn’t fit well into certain categories, namely “Bible-believing,” “straight,” and “Christian.”

For a while my solution, then, was to leave the faith…at least in spirit.  I still moved in both worlds, but my heart was with the first world and turned against the second world.

And then I came back to faith…a faith re-figured.  A faith that could encompass the first world and still remain in the second.  In fact, it merged the two worlds so completely together that now, for me, they are one cohesive world.

I came out as a theological progressive.

To me this means a couple things:

I have a heart for justice.  Sometimes people call it “social justice,” but I think that phrase is laden with all sorts of issues and assumptions.  My justice is not just for society, though.  It’s for the world in sum.  Shalom is a better Biblical term for it.  I have a heart for Shalom, God’s good balance and peace.   Ensuring that people live with dignity, that the world we live in is respected, and that we keep an eye toward balance and harmony as we all eek out our God-given existence.

-I have a sincere respect for other faith traditions. The sincerity part comes from the realization that we are all trying to navigate life in a way that bends toward not putting ourselves at the center of it all.  We’re all trying to navigate life through the lens of deeper truth.

I talk about Jesus. Yes, I do.  Sometimes I call Jesus “the Christ,” or sometimes I refer to God as “the Divine,” but I do so because different language helps, not hurts, our understanding of God.  For a long time language has boxed God in…and we need to break God out of the box.  But that doesn’t mean, though, that I don’t talk about Jesus.  In fact, I think we have a lot of Christians who are afraid to talk about Jesus because they don’t want to be “that” type of Christian.  I get that.  But our silence isn’t doing Jesus’ rep any favors.  Why?  Because the Franklin Grahams and Glenn Becks (how did he become a Christian spokesperson, btw?) of this world do talk about Jesus.  And their Jesus does not look like my Jesus…

I want to be inclusive.  Lots of people are excluded from faith communities for things they’ve done or not done, or for things other people think are “sin,” usually things they do with their bodies.  In truth: I think we sin a lot more with our checkbooks than we do with our bodies.  Funny thing about the Jesus we find in the Gospels: he doesn’t spend a lot of time making people feel guilty for their sin, real or imagined.  In fact, Jesus doesn’t really talk a whole lot about specific sin if you read carefully.  What Jesus does talk about, though, are people who think they have no sin, or that they lead sinless lives.  “Because you say, ‘I am not blind,’ your sin remains,” Jesus says to the Pharisees, these archetype characters in John’s Gospel for those who think they’re above sin.  So, in modeling Jesus, I want to be inclusive.  Of everyone.  It’s dangerous; I know.  Try it out, though.  You might just find Jesus lurking in people you never thought possible…

To me being theologically progressive doesn’t mean:

I’m politically progressive. I know plenty of theological progressives who don’t fit into political categories.  Honestly, I’ve never been able to vote with a clear conscience.  And your church shouldn’t be a para-political organization, either.  Your church’s mission shouldn’t sound like a party platform.  Sure, faith is political.  My faith certainly informs and shapes my politics.  In fact, I think that pastors can’t help but be political.  After all, in the polis we deal with money, health, life, and death…all things Jesus talked about extensively.  But if Jesus were running for office, no party would claim him.

I don’t take the Bible seriously.  Actually, I take the Bible very seriously.  So seriously, in fact, that I take into consideration its origin, its writing styles, its editing, its historical conditioning…all of it.  I would claim that anyone who just takes anything at face value doesn’t take it seriously at all!  They’re ignoring so much in their quest for simplicity.  But life isn’t simple.  The books of the Bible aren’t simple.  God isn’t simple!  Let’s stop pretending that you have to be an idiot to be a believer. The only thing someone reading the Bible at face value takes seriously is their own desire for absolute certainty at the expense of their brain.

I’m a Communist.  Again, idiocy leads to this conclusion, or any other label of fear-mongering that people come up with to keep you from actually engaging with others in this world.  The best way to combat idiocy is to remove your head from your buttocks.

I have a church that won’t grow. Our church is growing.  We need not worry that fear and false certainty are the only ways to grow faithful Christians.  And as a parent, I want to help my son hold tension with faith, not inadequately resolve tension with easy answers and cheap grace.

So, theological progressives, here’s the deal: we have to talk about Jesus more.  Especially in this time of crappy Jesus movies and headlines of Christian charities being…well…uncharitable, and mega-church pastors claiming Jesus wants them to be wealthy, and Catholic bishops getting in hot water for building million dollar mansions.  Because Jesus is getting a bad rap.  And we shouldn’t be afraid to claim that we’re people of progressive faith.

And, sure, Jesus has a quiet way about him.  This is true.  Real Godly work doesn’t sound the trumpet in the temple, but locks itself in the closet.  And God sees in secret.

But, as a parishioner of mine recently said in a conversation about this issue, “We’re not doing Jesus any favors by being quiet.”

And she’s right.

Isaiah 55 asks a good quesimagestion.

Well…a number of good questions.  Verse two asks, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?”

God, if we could only ask that question more.  To ourselves.  To our kids. To our spouses.

But mostly to ourselves.

See, I have a lot of people sit on my couch in a week.  They talk.  I talk.  I listen.  They listen.

There’s a lot of it.

And one thing that I notice more and more from  pretty much everyone under the age of sixty these days is that we have this fixation on 80 hour work weeks and being busy.

There is a nasty myth going around that we need to be the first ones at work and the last ones home.  In fact, there’s a Forbes article from yesterday where entrepreneur extraordinaire John Nazar gives that very same advice.

We don’t.  And it’s killing us.  Jason Nazar may be successful, but at what price?

It’s at this point where I’ll say, “Physician, heal thyself” because Lord knows that I fall into the 80 hour work week trap a lot.

And it costs me.

So much, in fact, that I have a couple of blogs waiting in the wings where I admit to some of my bad work habits and what it’s doing to my spiritual life.

But more than anything I want to tell the majority of these couples, and singles, and people under sixty, to just go home.

Seriously.  Go home.

Part of the bane of the middle class is the idea that success means more money and prestige and more toys and more expensive vacations and more, more, more.  It’s like we get addicted to stuff and once we have a snort of “stuff” we can’t get it out of our noses and we have to consume it until our houses and calendars are cluttered and our hearts are empty.

This is a spiritual problem.  And it’s hard for someone like me because I can pretty much do “work” anywhere.  Because I deal in people, and people have this amazing way of sticking with you and crowding out your vision so that you don’t see your wife or husband or child or partner even when you’re at home because you’re stuck on someone else’s issues that you’ve decided is your own issue.

And by God you’re going to work that problem from sun up to sun down.

Because that’s success.  That’s what it takes.

If that’s it, then I’m going to excuse myself from the race.

And I want you to, too.

Our mothers and fathers fought hard in the labor movements to ensure a 40 hour work week.  And God damn our prosperity because we have kindly forgotten that and have opted in favor of 80 hours and email inboxes that must always be open lest we miss something.

80 hours, which means we burn the midnight oil long after our kids and spouses are in bed.  Because that’s what it takes. It takes us not spending quiet time next to our loved ones to be successful.  It takes being tired and grumpy in the morning to our kid because we have to put food on our middle class tables.

There are people who are working two or three jobs because they have to; that’s what it takes to survive.  That’s a terrible truth that could take some midnight oil to solve.

But many of us are working one job twice over in a week because that’s what it takes to have a three car garage.

Physician, heal thyself.

But I can’t.  And I don’t think the church has sufficiently taken on this issue, which is spiritual in nature, with our congregants.  We bemoan the demise of the family but blame it on mixed up gender roles instead of our addiction to success.  We bemoan that nobody comes on Sunday mornings and blame it on faithlessness and institutional decline instead of the fact that an 80 hour work week doesn’t want another hour of obligation…especially if that time could be spent catching up on work or getting a jump on work. Or spending time with our spouse and kids that we forfeited on Thursday to stay late.

We spend money on things that don’t feed us.  We labor for things that won’t satisfy.

We all know the story of pastors and nurses who sit at the bedsides of the dying and hear them say they wish they had worked less and loved more.  But somehow we all think we’re the exception to that.  And that we won’t regret 80 hours because we’ll retire early. And that’s what it takes.  And it’ll pay off one day.

I ran into a fellow pastor who is hired part-time at a church.  We were chatting and I said, “So what does part-time look like for you?” to which he responded, “Well, if I actually worked part time, I think I’d be a pretty crappy pastor.”

And I disagreed and said so.  I pushed back.  I don’t want to cultivate a society that expects full time work for part time pay, and I don’t want to cultivate an individual who accepts that they aren’t valuable enough to not be defined by their job.

It’s a spiritual issue.  In my work I can “work for God” so much that I lose sight of God altogether because I’m so busy.  In our work we can lose sight of ourselves, of our God-given identities, because we take on the identity of “success.”

Don’t be successful if it’s going to kill you.  In fact, I’d say that success will probably kill you…at least the parts of you that people love most and want most.

Time in community.  Time in family.  These are things I value.  These are things I want my parishioners to value.  Jesus wasn’t successful by any measurable standard.  And yet Jesus followers flock to mega-churches in mega-numbers because they want to be a part of something that succeeds…hoping it will bleed over into their personal lives.

How can we have spiritually healthy people if we have spiritual leaders and spiritual homes who are in the same rhythm as the mega-firm and the mega-business?

By and large, I just want you to go home.  And I want me to go home more. As a Christian, as a pastor, as someone who cares about the health and souls of my people, just go home.

And I want the church to tackle this issue more.

Seriously.

I’m prepping to preach on Psalm 25:1-10.  I think it’s timely.images

See, I have serious issues with people breaking the Second Commandment.

I think it’s a woefully misunderstood commandment, by and large.

Most of my Confirmation kids think it’s about cursing when we first come to it in our study of the Decalogue.  By the time they leave, though, I hope they have a broader view…they tell me they do.

I want to impart this much on them: as a preacher I am very (i.e., terribly) nervous about ever saying something from the voice of God.  Because I don’t want to use God’s name, or likeness, or voice, uselessly.  This is really what the Second Commandment is about, I think.

So that lovely billboard that says, “You know that ‘Love one another’ thing?  I mean that.-God”.  I think it’s in bad taste.  And poor form.

And I think it breaks the Second Commandment just as much as those signs that say, “God hates fags.”

I don’t think their impact is the same, of course.  The former is aimed toward a reminder of love, the latter is best used as firewood.  But I think they’re both wrongheaded.

In Psalm 25 we have a student (the Psalmist) entreating the teacher (God) to teach them and lead them on godly “pathways.”  “Show me how to live,” the Psalmist asks.

And if you go to the book store, you’ll see tons of books dedicated to just that.  There are so many in this world who are simply convinced of God’s will, pathway, for not only their life but also yours.

And I am suspicious of it all.  And it gives me the shakes to think that I am culpable at times of falling into that same trap.

It’s like Christian Mingle’s tagline, that online dating service marketed specifically for Christians: “Find God’s Match for You.”

Do we really think that God’s will is algorithmic in origin?  Do we really think that God wants you to choose from a pull-down menu “washboard abs” (an actual choice on that site), and that God’s match for you will appear based on that, your height, and your education level?

God, I hope not.

Why, then, do we think that other things pertaining to God’s will align like this?

Career changes, relationships, neighborhood locations, vacation destination…”where does God want me to go?  What is God’s will for my life?”

So often this is just a way for us to find ways of getting divine support for our own decisions and situations.  I would be the first to admit that I don’t think God wants you to harm yourself or others; I can say that this is not “the good” that God desires for humanity.  But between two career choices?  Or a neighborhood move? Or a relationship?

Can we not be honest about it all and say that to quickly know God’s will…perhaps to know it at all…is really just a way we try to placate ourselves into thinking we’re making good choices?

Leslie D. Weatherhead, that process theologian best known for his work The Will of God (a good, if dated, work), tells the story of the parson who is offered a high-paying job at a new parish in the next city over, twice the salary of his current position.  When a young parishioner asked the parson’s son what his father will do, the son replies, “Well, Dad is praying over it, but Mom is packing.”

I think Dad has made his choice.  Or maybe Mom has.  A humorous (and true) example of this in action.

The worst example of course, and I’ve mentioned this before, is assigning tragedy to being part of “God’s will.”

This is another placation of sorts.  It’s easy for us to deal with life situations if we believe they’re divinely ordained.

But I want to talk about honesty here; I don’t want to be careless just because it’s useful. And I don’t think God wanted your child to die, your mother to have cancer, you to be born with one arm, or that Asiana Airlines flight to crash.

Gravity happens.  Cells divide and mutate…sometimes in ways that are tragic for life.

But to call such things “God’s will” is sick and demented and wrong.  And it’s not any better to say, “Well, I’d never say it at the time because it’s not helpful, but it’s true that it is God’s will…”

In fact, that’s worse because it’s patronizing.

And I think it’s wrong to say that it must be God’s will that these things occur because in such situations people gain great insight, or muster great courage, and that those goods outweigh the tragic bad.

In this vein Weatherhead can again be enlightening.  He notes that tragic situations do not cause great courage or insight, they just uncover it.  And to suggest that such courage or knowledge couldn’t be gained in other, non-tragic ways, is shortsighted.

We either give lip service to seeking “God’s will” while just reinforcing our own, or we proclaim “God’s will” carelessly while not really knowing what we’re talking about.

Both are sad realities for the Christian world.  This is how I see it most often done, though.

To steal Kierkegaard’s famous title, the topic of God’s will should approached with “fear and trembling.”  And with a healthy dose of mystery.

This is why spiritual disciplines are very important.  They’re less than formulaic; anyone immersed in deep discernment can tell you that it often feels like three steps forward and two back when trying to suss out a path in the deep woods of doubt and indecision.

They invite us into mystery.

Finding the will of God is less like being the captain of a ship out at sea whose rudder turns it sharply as the stars realign and the course changes in the captain’s sight.  We want such swift movement…we desire it and love it when people tell us they have such clarity.

But I, by and large, don’t trust it…and don’t encourage you to, either.

I liken it more to being a laborer on an archeological dig where slowly we uncover the thing we are seeking. And even then we sometimes end up uncovering a broken pot when we were hoping for a dinosaur.

The fact that God’s will is difficult…impossible in the specifics?…to determine is clear by those who commit themselves to the monastic life.

It is, in essence, declaring that one might arrive at God’s will by the time the tomb calls us.  Maybe. Hence why it’s a life choice.  And a good bit of discernment goes into deciding to enter an order; it takes years and years.

And sometimes people discern wrongly.  God’s will is not algorithmic in nature.

Instead of always hastily proclaiming knowledge of God’s will, I’d much rather we all agree to stumble blindly (and be honest about it) while fervently praying, discerning, and sifting for goodness in this world as we go.  Seek God’s will; sure.  But let’s not pretend to be so certain or have such clarity.  Let’s not pretend to have quick answers and divine revelations when really all we want is wish reinforcement.

I don’t think Christian Mingle can find God’s match for you.  I think it can find you some good dates, and maybe even a partner (apparently only if you’re straight, though…you can’t seek for the same sex).

But I wouldn’t say that the person you find there is “God’s match” for you anymore than the person you pick up at the bar.  And I think they should be ashamed for using that tagline.  It breaks the Second Commandment.  And it’s a dumb tagline anyway.

Instead of waiting around for God’s will, do something (very Lutheran) and step out into the world.  Sift away at the sands of life as you go; look for the good.  But don’t imagine that you can be on the “wrong path” anymore than you are on the “right path.”

You are on the pathway.  At each step you sift a little more and slowly eek out the beautiful existence.

The Psalmist doesn’t wait for God to teach them the right path before beginning the journey, but instead prays for constant companionship and enlightenment and courage as they go.  I hope I can do that, too.  Hence why I practice spiritual disciplines (as best I can).

So throw away those books that proclaim God’s will for your life is only 200 pages away; you can be “purpose driven” without it, I think.

And if you write such books, do so with fear and trembling and not because you know it will sell in a world where people want quick answers, and literalism, and divine algorithms.  What we need is honesty.  And I’m often a reluctant Christian because honesty seems to be kind of rare in this particular arena.

It doesn't work

It doesn’t work

No, it doesn’t.

And no matter how much those smiley mega-church pastors, or those trendy pastors, or those evangelists with their little bottles of snake oil  want you to believe it does, it doesn’t.

Christianity does not work the way your hammer works.  And you may want to hammer in the morning, or in the evening all over this land, but it still won’t work.

It doesn’t do that.

I read a recent article online about a church that was welcoming in their new pastor.  They lauded the pastor as being “energetic and enthusiastic,” claiming that he “grew his previous congregation into one of the fastest growing churches in the denomination.”

No doubt that is an article that tries to get you to think that it works.  It creates energy and enthusiasm, growing and multiplying and expanding.

Expanding influence.  Expanding pocketbooks.

We’re talking about success here.

But Christianity doesn’t do that.  It is not a magic pill that you swallow to become successful.  It does not, as I recently read on the cover of a free evangelical e-book, help you “conquer life.”

In fact, it helps you lose your life.  Christopher Hitchens hated that part about Christianity.  He said it was cruel to expect people to give up their lives in deference to others, especially enemies and those they never met.  This point is about the only point about Christianity that Hitchens ever understood: self-sacrifice and self-giving love is at the heart of the Christian.

And it encourages you to adopt tactics that don’t work.  Forgiveness, for instance, doesn’t work.  It doesn’t automatically repair relationships.  It doesn’t automatically make you feel better or heal your insides.  It doesn’t do any of those things, as a recent New York Times article points out.  Sometimes revenge satisfies more than forgiveness.

And yet, the Christian is called to forgive.  It is but one example of how Christianity doesn’t work in the way the world wants things to work.

Christianity doesn’t work. And that’s going to upset some people to hear it, but it’s true. And I’m a reluctant Christian because so much of our church culture today is about success and numbers and winning and…and about it all working.

The Christianity I practice doesn’t work.  It hasn’t made me successful.  It hasn’t made me wealthy.  It hasn’t made my marriage perfect or my parenting perfect or my manners perfect or my morals perfect.  It certainly hasn’t given me all the answers.  I have more questions then ever.

It has given me a lens, though, to view my work and any successes I might claim.  It’s given me a lens to view my pocketbook and my marriage and my parenting and my manners and my morals.  It has given me a lens to view questions and has encouraged me to ask more questions.

But it doesn’t work.

And quick growth in faith communities, or enthusiastic pastors, or wealthy congregations, or any of these business markers for success are smoke and mirrors covering this truth: Christianity doesn’t work.

Thank God.  So much of what supposedly works in this life is killing us.

And so much of Christianity is about self-sacrifice.  And somehow, it gives life.

Rob Goodman recently wrote an excellent article critiquing Rick Warren, “Smiley” Osteen, and the like for their “self-help” theology.  The main instigation for the article was Rick Warren’s new “Daniel diet” based off of the Daniel story from the Older Testament.

Yeah, that guy who fell into the lion’s den.

Warren supposedly mined the depths of scripture to come up with this plan loosely taken from the section of Daniel where the book’s title character refuses to eat the king’s food in their place of captivity (thereby avoiding the appearance of consenting to the godless ways of his captors).

It’s a good story.  And it may actually hold some diet advice…for lions.

But, as Goodman points out, it’s a story about identity and resistance and trust.  Not about dieting.

So why is Warren using it as a diet guide?

Warren plays into what I think is one of the most dangerous trends in Christianity that has still, inexplicably, continued since the Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment did wonderful things for humanity in many ways.  It also has some negative consequences, one of the chief ones being that we now only see something as “truth” if it correlates to “fact.”

I’ll go out on a rhetorical limb here and say that the statement, ” ‘Truth’ and ‘fact’ are always synonymous,” is simply…not true.

But, in Warren’s view the two must be the same, which means that the Bible must be “fact” and the home of all fact, or else the authority of the Bible is laid to waste.  Basically, it’s a story of the Christian who rails against the Enlightenment because of what it has done to the authority of the religious community thereby perpetuating Enlightenment thinking by buying the primary premise.

Yeah, it’s that age-old story, that old chestnut, where, as Paul rightly says, someone (in this case Warren) “does not do what (they) want, and only does what (they) do not want to do.”

And so for Warren, the Bible is not only the authority on how the world was created (Genesis 1-2), why there are different languages (Genesis 11), what you should think about social issues (scan Leviticus and the Epistles and pick one), and how you should vote (wait…that’s not in there), it also must be the authority on everything else including dieting.*

Because if the Bible is reliable, it must be infallible and inerrant and the home and locus of all that is necessary for knowledge as a primary document.

And you spent your money on those Encyclopedia Britannica books…

I’ll cut right to the chase: the Bible wasn’t written to give you a diet plan, to save your marriage, or to help you make money.  In fact, if you go to certain places of scripture you might find that you’re given permission to eat anything (Acts 10), or that you can hate your family (Luke 14), or that God intends for you to be penniless and poor (Matthew 19).

Like that advice?  It’s probably not good for the purposes that I intended to use it for.  But it has about as much merit as the basis for Warren’s diet plan.

That little move, where you take a section of Scripture and use it to proof-text a point or position is actually just taking it out of context.  It’s a popular move, to be sure.  I mean, what adds weight to a cause more than the very voice of God?!

But it’s not honest.  And, dare I say, it might be breaking the second Commandment (from the Protestant Decalogue).  “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” has little to do with cursing (although, from a previous post you’d think that that’s all it means).

It actually means that you shouldn’t take God’s name “uselessly.”  You shouldn’t associate God with things that God has no association with.  And so, if you believe that the Bible was more dictation than experiential writing, or if you think the infallibility and inerrancy of the text come from the very will of the Divine, I’d tremble in my boots before I use the Bible as back-up to most anything, let alone a diet plan.

I tremble doing it myself, and I don’t think the Bible is inerrant and infallible!

I tremble because, well, scripture is important to me.  It is sacred.  And as something sacred I hate seeing it belittled to the point of Jenny Craig and Seattle Sutton.

I do think that what we eat and how we care for our bodies is important, and Godly work, and I believe it can say something about our core convictions (hence why Chick-fil-a won’t be getting a dime from this pastor’s pocket anymore).

There are times when I can get insight into an issue from the Bible.  Many a sermon is based on this.  But that’s taking the Bible into my context.  Warren, and those who routinely do this, mistakenly assumes the Biblical context is this context.

Suffice to say, I don’t think the Bible has a diet plan for me.  And I don’t think it has a plan to get me rich.  And I don’t think it has a plan to get me buff (Sampson comes to mind here…and I can’t grow much hair on my head).  And I certainly don’t think that Solomon is a good example of a successful marriage.

The Bible doesn’t do that.

I do think it contains stories of people who have had experiences with God powerful enough to talk about them.  I think it contains glimpses of my faith heritage.  And I think it contains the best, most beautifully engaging story I’ve ever read in the person of Jesus.  I think it’s instructive for devotion and faith.

Really, the only thing close to a diet plan I hear from the scriptures is from the book of  John in chapter 6 where the Gospel writer has Jesus talking about him being the “true bread from heaven” that the world lives on.

But, as a Christian who takes Scripture seriously, I’m entreating the Christian world to stop with this nonsense of looking to the Bible like one might look to an encyclopedia.

The Bible wasn’t written to be your self-help book.

But, it does have beautiful stories, letters, poetry, and history that just may change your life.  So please, do help yourself to it.

*If, perhaps, Warren does not believe that the Bible holds dieting advice, but is just using it as a basis to help sell the product, that would be the definition of the word “despicable.”