Thursday, March 5, 2015

Fear & Loathing in "Christian" bookstores.

"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
2 Tim. 2:15

Sometimes I dig a little King James version.  You just never know where it's going to shew up.

So anyway...

Last month I went over to Lifeway near a mall by me.  If you didn't know, Lifeway is a "Christian" bookstore.  Before it became Lifeway, it was Northwestern books.  I was looking for some books by a theologian I enjoy.  Turns out, they didn't have any of his stuff.

They did, however, have just about everything that John MacArthur has ever written.

I've always been a little uncomfortable about "Christian" bookstores.  It's not that I don't appreciate a one stop shop for all of my evangelical needs.  It's just that I'm not a fan of self-imposed ghettos.

We have "Christian" bookstores that sell "Christian" music, "Christian" books, "Christian" coffee mugs, "Christian" T-shirts, etc.  Some of them have baristas so that you can get "Christian" coffee in your "Christian" mug, which was probably grown by a "Christian" in Central America using "Christian" beans.  If you ask nicely, you can get a dollop of cream on top that was certainly taken from a "Christian" cow.

When I am in a store like this, I appreciate the fine selection of pictures of Jesus that they normally carry.  It's good to be reminded that Jesus is very white, like me. (Sometimes he even has blue eyes, which I'm sure is straight out of the book of Revelation.) Jesus also has a full head of hair, which is normally styled a like a good mid-westerner from Iowa of Nebraska.

I have also noticed the wide variety of bibles available.  They have sports bibles, with handy sayings for your team to quote.  They have bibles for hunters and other outdoorsy activities.  They even have a "Patriots" bible, with verses taken out of context and highlighted so that you can prove that America is Jesus' favorite country at your next NASCAR rally.

They also have a John MacArthur study bible...

Back when Lifeway was still Northwestern books, I went in and noticed that they were selling books by Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura.  I found that odd since neither of them are Christians.  But then I remembered that to follow Jesus properly, you must partake daily of the sacrament of FOX news.

Actually, to their credit, Northwestern carried a rather wide variety back in the day.  They had books by prosperity preachers, which I completely disagree with.  They also carried books by Brian McLaren and Rob Bell. (Guys I enjoy, but have some very profound disagreements with.) So they were all over the map.

Once Northwestern became Lifeway, that all changed.  I remember the first time I went in there after the new owners came in.  Holy moly, the variety was out the door.  White Jesus was still there, but now  the amount of John MacArthur's works had quadrupled.  There was a noticeable increase in other Dispensationalist authors, too.


Now I know that Lifeway is owned by the Southern Baptist Convention.  The SBC is lead by Albert Mohler.  Al isn't known for being the most open minded guy.  This may explain a great deal.


BTW: Please don't think I am picking on John MacArthur.  Most of his stuff is good.  However, you have to realize that he views the bible and everything else through the lens of Dispensationalist theology.  Dispensationalism has some merits, but can run into some pretty goofy stuff.  In a nut shell, they have sliced and diced the bible into pieces like a loaf of bread.  Most of modern American evangelicalism has this as it's foundation without most people being aware of it.  Certainly when it comes to understanding eschatology. (End times stuff.)

If you are a fan of those "Left behind" movies, that's all based on Dispensationalism.

I like a lot of John MacArthur's stuff.  However, he and his followers also believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not applicable to today. (And, boy, is he adamant about that!) This would come as a surprise to a few missionaries I know.  I think it would come as a surprise to the Holy Spirit, too.


I think it's a really bad idea to only read/listen/learn from people you agree with.  That's why I like to get a variety of opinions when it comes to following Jesus.  My opinion is that way to many American evangelicals live in self-imposed bubbles.  This renders us virtually incapable to speaking into the broader culture, unless it is to condemn.

I don't think I would really know what I believe and stand for unless I took the time to hear as many sides as I can.  How can I be articulate to someone when I don't know their side of the story?  I don't have to agree with them.  That's not the question.  I think the question is wether or not I will be well-rounded and properly informed.

It seems to me that too many Christians are afraid of asking questions.

I really love Rob Bell.  Now, before you burn me in effigy, let me explain.  I think that in the past few years, Bell has gone off the reservation.  However, I also think that evangelicals are partly responsible for this.  I remember the big stink when he published "Love Wins."  Since it was controversial, I naturally had to read it.  Over all it was good, particularly the last chapter which read like a Billy Graham alter-call.  However, the weakest link was the very chapter that got Bell into trouble.

Bell wondered if God might give people second chances after thy die.  That was it.  Rob asked questions...and we can't have that.

Rob left the reservation.  But we are extremely guilty of pushing and shoving him along the way.  In fact, a few weeks ago a friend of mine stated that she had kicked Bell to the curb a long time ago.  I noted that we American christians are really good at kicking people to the curb.

I like Rob Bell because he makes me think.  It is irrelevant wether I agree with him all of the time, because I don't.  He makes me think!

This past year, Mark Driscoll lost his entire ministry for being a tough guy, hard ass.  Guess what?  I like Mark Driscoll, too.  I like John Piper, Rick Warren, Greg Boyd, Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, Peter Rollins, Roger E. Olson, etc.  I have yet to agree 100% with ANY of them!  But they make me think!!! (I do not care for Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland.  They give me itchy, burning hives.) Heck, I can't even agree with myself a good deal of the time.

Too many Christians lick their lips in joyful anticipation when a leader falls from Grace.  I'm much more interested in seeing the restoration of guys like Driscoll and Bell.  It seems to me that the only prominent Thinker who got the Bell broohaha right was Francis Chan.  In response to "Love Wins," Chan wrote "Erasing Hell," which was an excellent book.  He didn't condemn Bell with silly tweets.  He engaged him politely and out of love.


In my last post, I said that American Christians have a lot of fear.  I still think that's true.  But I also think it's nonsense.  Of the few things that I am certain about in life is that Jesus always wins...ALWAYS!  If that's true, then what is there to be afraid of?

My faith isn't the least bit threatened by some dumb plan or law the government might be working on.  It's not threatened by Islamic militants or Right-Wing kooks.  It isn't threatened by secular music, or some evil song by Marilyn Manson or Bette Middler.  It isn't threatened by my fellow Believers who deny science based on their own misunderstanding of Scripture.  And it certainly isn't threatened by questionable ideas put forth in a book sold in a "Christian" ghetto...I mean, bookstore.

I would prefer any day, a "Christian" bookstore that carried everything, including the works of those theological masters, Joel Osteen, Robert Tilton and "Dr." Mike Murdock, than I would one that sells only the "Approved" ones.  I trust Jesus enough that his spirit will guide me through any of that.

Since I've never been one to shy away from the heretical, I'll leave you with a quote from Rob Bell that I actually DO agree with 100%; "I'm not afraid of people who ask questions.  I'm afraid of people who don't."



P.S. Peter Rollins is a Christian philosopher from Belfast.  I have some profound disagreements with him.  But surprise, I like him because he makes me think.  Here's a bit of his that I actually think is profound and brilliant...

Divine atheism from Peter Rollins on Vimeo.


Just for farts and giggles, here's a little Bobby Tilton fo ya...

It just gets better.

And last but not least...

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Talkin' Mega Mall Blues

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."
Ecc. 1:9

"I have told you these things, so that you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world."
John 16:33

Two days ago I had to run some errands.  One of them was to talk to the good folks at T-Mobile about some phone stuff.  The nearest T-Mobile place for me is at the Mall of America.

You may have heard of this place before.  It's the largest mall in the U.S., and soon to be the largest mall in the world. (The construction going on is impressive, and causes me to get lost rather easily.) It's located on the east side of Bloomington, Minnesota, and right across the freeway from the Twin Cities' metro airport.  This, in turn, makes the roof of the mall a handy spot for emergency landings.

You may also have heard of the mall because the Somali group, Al-Shabab, recently asked for it's followers to commit a terrorist act there.  Lovely!

My first thought on hearing this news was to think, "If you could really pull something like that off, you wouldn't blab to everyone where you were going to do it."  My second thought was, "Yeah, but it only takes one crazy."

Minnesota has one of the largest Somali populations in the U.S.  There have been young people from that community heading over to join either Al-Shabab in Somalia, or ISIS over in Iraq and Syria.  Needless to say, the Somali community is enraged over this.  They have been doing everything they can to keep crazies from recruiting their kids.

I have no idea what would cause a young person to join a death-cult.  When I was their age, I grew my hair longer to show my teenage rebellion. (I even had a Mullet for a while.  YAY!!!!) The thought of strapping on dynamite or grabbing an assault rifle wasn't in the cards.

Anyway, the local Somali community has a tradition for the end of Ramadan.  Thousands of them will descend on the Mega Mall for an all night party (Minus the beer.), chow down in the food courts, and ride the rides in the amusement park.  Therefore, I am inclined to think that most of them are not interested in blowing up one of their favorite places.

So I'm at the mall around noon on a Friday.  It wasn't terribly busy, but busy enough.  As I was walking around, it only took me only a few minutes to notice the increased police presence.  The white uniformed mall police were partnered with officers of the Bloomington police department.  I would guestimate that there were at least 4 times the usual amount.

I headed in to the Apple store with some questions about my computer.  At the door was guard.  I figure he was in his 70s, and was clearly blind in one eye.  Perhaps Apple is concerned that an elderly terrorist will strap something to their walker and head on over.

So I ask the guard about the noticeable police presence.  He said that, yes indeed, they were there to reassure the nervous.  I asked him if the threat was credible?  He said no, but that it only takes one crazy...

I have noticed that the church in America has a lot of fear in it.  In fact, a lot of our theology and behavior is based on fear. (So it seems to me, anyway.) We fear Muslims.  We fear our neighbors.  We fear Marxist/Socialist/Secretly Kenyan Presidents.  We fear that the government will take away our guns so that we can't overthrow it when we feel the need.  We fear Evolution because we know that God has to bring creation into existence according to our wishes and really poor exegesis of Scripture.  We fear that if we can't legislate our morality God will smite our nation.

You know what I fear?  
Strawberries with hair on them.


"There is nothing new under the sun."

I like history.  I have fully embraced my "Inner Nerd."  I've been reading various history books since I was a kid.  One constant that I have noticed as far back as Socrates and Plato, is that every generation complains that the younger one is full of spoiled brats and is destroying society.  Today, humanities' ability to wreak havoc and do it in a spectacular fashion for all to see, has been greatly expanded.  But the impulse to do it is nothing new.  It's been there ever since the fall of man.  The world has been coming to an end for along, long time.

Of the many, many things I love about Jesus is his ability to tell the truth bluntly.  Unlike prosperity preachers, Jesus is honest.  He told his followers that they would have plenty of problems, troubles, persecution, etc.  And then he would say, "Trust me.  I know what I'm doing." (My translation.)

I admit it.  Trusting Jesus is hard.  I have a 50 year track record of him having my back and saving my butt over and over again.  But it's still hard.

A friend at work asked me once what he needed to do to be saved.  I told him, "Just put your faith in the faithfulness of Jesus."  At the end of the day, he's the only one who can/did/will pull it off.  My faithfulness sucks!  But he's really good at it.


There is a Mosque with a Halal market near where I live.  It's the only place I know of where I can find camel and goat meat. (Hey, I lived in the Middle East for a while.  I dig me some Arab cuisine from time to time.) I like to go in there just to see the looks on their faces. "What's that Cracker doing here?!?!?!  Is he F.B.I???"  I like to use the few Arabic phrases I know.  Pretty soon it's like I'm an old friend.  They are genuinely happy that some blonde hair, blue eyed person is showing some respect to and enjoyment of their culture.  If Jesus wants to use that to plant some seeds for his kingdom, then I'm happy to oblige...and get some camel meat.

I am not afraid to go into a place like that.

There is a gas station down the road where I normally fill up.  It is owned by a Lebanese family.  I had assumed for a long time that they were a tribal christian family.  I filled up there after having been at the mall.  I was talking to Ali, the owner, about what I had seen.  He gave me an earful about how much he hates ISIS, then he told me he was a Muslim.  He then told me that he almost never tells anyone that because he is scared.  He is not scared when I am there...and I am not afraid to buy my gas from him.

While I was at the mall, I people watch.  There are people from all over the world there even at the oddest of times.  I hear a lot of different languages.  I'm decent at guessing which are which.  I'm curious.  I'm not scared.  That which is different intrigues me.  Those who were made in the image of God come in all shapes and sizes.

There certainly were many Somalis at the mall that day.  As I was leaving, a group of four Somali girls were standing outside one of the cheesy restaurants at the mall.  They were taking selfies of each other. They had on colorful headscarves, robes, and were chattering away in a language I couldn't understand.  They were giggling and goofing around like any 20-something would.  I was not afraid.

I'll probably go back to the mall next week.

I'm not afraid.



P.S. Normally, I try to find a video to end my screeds with one that is appropriate to the tone of the post.  I couldn't find one that worked for the Mega Mall.  However, this was the song on my Pandora station as I was finishing up.  Enjoy!