Thursday
Mar032011

Christian Celebrity Culture

I am not part of the gospel coalition, or the president of a seminary, or a megachurch pastor...so I am not going to pretend that many people are paying attention to what I say. And while I fear that another entry on this topic will simply "add to the noise" surrounding Rob Bell and his newest book, I also know that I have a unique perspective that seminary presidents and most pastors don't have.

What's that, you ask? It's that I am a 20-something. While this may not be advantageous on many accounts (only because being in your 20s usually means you think you know more than you actually do), in this particular scenario, I think it's important. Why? Because unlike my elders, there is a part of me (and most everyone in my generation) that is initially attracted to voices like Rob Bell that question our traditional (and sometimes legalistic) way of thinking about things. To be perfectly honest with you, when I hear Rob Bell teach on something "controversial", my first reaction is usually excitement. But after the emotion of hearing something "new" wears off (however long it may take), I'm ready to dissect whether or not what he's saying is something that I believe to be consistent with Scripture.

I fear that most people in my generation never come down from that excitement, and so they begin to form their lives around any "new" doctrine that sounds appealing. I also fear that those falling outside of the 20-something category respond to these "new" doctrines with a lack of understanding (or acknowledgment) on why it looks so attractive to our generation. The collision of these two communities, especially when something controversial comes up, is never pretty.

Of course, there are exceptions...so before you accuse me of age-stereotyping, I know there are plenty of 20-somethings who consider Albert Mohler their hero; and plenty of 40-somethings who are following Brian McLaren's every move. But I don't think they are considered the majority.

And so we get in these debates over relevance vs. tradition...and honestly, it's exhausting. Do I think the conversation is important? Yes. But worth sacrificing the command to love each other and live in unity with each other? Nothing is. I propose that we find a way to debate (and maybe even disagree) WITH love, but that's not actually a point of emphasis I'm trying to make by writing this.

Here's what I would like to say:

Forget Rob Bell's theology for a minute. Personally, I am withholding thoughts and opinions about Bell's theology until I actually read his book. And while I can be quoted as saying that I consider his marketing skills "impeccable" surrounding the launch of his new book (whether he intended to or not); his leadership skills in this situation, on the other hand? Disappointing. What authority do I have to say that? Well, 1 Corinthians 10:32 to start. "Do not cause anyone to stumble..."

Most of the people engaged in this debate have enough education and foundation to be able to make decisions on whether a person's theology lines up with biblical truth. But there are plenty of people sitting in churches (or not...because they believe they don't need to submit to the authority of an institution thanks to, in part, non-orthodox leaders who have encouraged them to do so) that do not have the spiritual maturity to weed through a lot of the pop-culture theology that, while it may sound good and is presented in a "sexy" way, is contrary to the Gospel.

I think Albert Mohler said it best when he talked about Bell performing a "theological strip tease" in this article. If the book comes out, and we all learn that Bell is not, in fact, a Universalist...great. But I have to wonder how many people who are young in their faith are being led astray by the voices of Christian "celebrities" that are just trying to say something to gain attention.

Now, before you go off on me for accusing Rob Bell of either A. being a heretic, or B. just saying something to gain popularity, hear me when I say this: I'm not just pointing my finger at Bell. I'm pointing it at everyone who has influence over people through their words because they have been given a public forum and asking: are you leading people astray? With your relevance, with your legalism, with your pride, with your idolization of theology, with your need to be famous, with the way you love people...

I'm pointing the finger at myself too.

And while I know that a leader cannot control what every person does with their lives as a result of something they taught, that doesn't make James 3:1 any less true.

Don't like it? Don't teach. I'm sorry if that seems harsh, but living in a world where 99% of the people I know are addicted to people pleasing (including myself), we don't need Christians that are speaking out of their need to gain popularity. It's wreaking havoc on our generation already.

And so I don't hate Rob Bell. I actually don't think that anyone who has publicly disagreed with him over this whole controversy does either. I actually respect him as a creative thinker and a man who is willing to think outside of the box and ask tough questions. 

If there's anything I hate, it's the Christian celebrity culture that has been created, where people are more prone to follow a human being than Jesus Christ. I'm guessing that most of the leaders we idolize never really wanted the fame, but because of our human tendency to worship the creation over the Creator, they find themselves elevated to a place far above what they are comfortable with (and if they are comfortable with it...they are in a dangerous place).

None of these men are perfect, including the one that stands up in front of your congregation and preaches every week. We react and analyze their every move like we expect them to be. Instead, we should be praying for their godly influence on this culture.

Also, we need to remember that at the end of our lives, we will answer and be judged by one person, and he won’t be wearing skinny jeans and thick-rimmed glasses. He won’t have thousands of followers on twitter, and he won’t ask you to categorize yourself as reformed, emergent, or any other label we use to divide ourselves.

Now that I’m thinking about it, there’s some irony in my first paragraph. People ARE paying attention to what I say. It may not be in the thousands, but I’m still held accountable by those I influence to represent Christ in my words and actions.

And so are you.

 

(I had part of this post written yesterday, and then my mom forwarded me a staff e-mail from my home church in IL, written by Mike Baker, that inspired me to finish this post; so I will gladly give him credit for some of this thought.)

Tuesday
Feb082011

the difference between me and John Piper (or how I spent the year 2010)...

2010 was the year of silence for me. I'd like to say that it was the deep, meaningful kind of silence. You know...the kind that includes prayer and fasting. That's the kind of year I imagine John Piper had during his sabbatical. And now he's back...posting thought provoking poems and tweeting quotes about prayer that are evidence he's spent a lot of time in the presence of God over the past year.

But no...my silence was more of the "lacks any real purpose" kind...the kind that is avoided by filling it with noise. Instead of following in the footsteps of John Piper, I decided my year would be better spent watching all 7 seasons of House over the course of 2 months. And caring way too much about what clothes I decided to wear in the morning. And opening a twitter account. I haven't lived in any other time periods, but I'm pretty sure the society we live in today wins the award for most possible distractions. There is no such thing as unintentional silence today.

Now I find myself in 2011, not being able to say the typical, "Well, 2010 was a tough year. But I'm thankful for the lessons I learned." Because the lessons I learned were more along the lines of how to diagnose rare diseases (at least on television shows) and skinny jeans.

And the fact that I really, really like comfort. That's one of the most painful things I've learned about myself this year. I have spent more days feeling sorry for myself (and asking God to feel sorry for me) than I have in rejoicing in my trials and hardships.

Isn't it funny how words stick in your memory? I remember posting a blog about 2 years on...something. I can't even remember what it was about, but I remember what someone said to me after reading it the next day:

"You sound wounded."

Immediately, two thoughts came into my mind. First, was I? I didn't feel like I was. But writing has a way of bringing out feelings I didn't even know existed in me. And second, if I was wounded...I certainly didn't want to sound like I was. I've been blogging since high school, and when I go back and read all the dramatic stuff I posted, I get embarrassed for myself. In those moments, I always wish I would have been wise enough to not publish my inner-feelings on the internet.

So I deleted that post (though I don't know enough about how the internet works to know whether it still exists somewhere out there in digital space) and vowed never again to write in an emotional state that would expose any current pain I had. Only after healing had taken place and everything was resolved and wrapped in a nice package entitled "Amy's life, Volume VIII" and put on a shelf could I then write about it.

But here's the thing. I find my own writing incredibly uninspiring when I introduce something I've been wrestling with and, in 500 words or less, make sure the last paragraph reads something like "...and then Jesus showed me this, and life was all better." That may be true...but I hate when the middle of the story is missing. The parts where I really struggled to understand what God was doing, or asked difficult questions. Without those parts, the solutions and answers seem robotic.

I've always been attracted to writers that have the courage to exude a certain type of vulnerability. Not the "I'm going to verbally spew all over this page every detail of my horrible life" type of writing (though admittedly, it can be interesting to witness...but I think it's a good rule to not have the internet be your main source of community for processing everything). No, I'm talking about the type of writing that evokes emotion. The kind that makes people feel a little less alone for searching for answers to life's more difficult questions.

So...this is the middle of my story. It's not the beginning...and it's not the end. I don't know what I want to do with my life, what city or church I'll end up in, or why God is taking me through this season. I'm learning that I don't know myself as well as I thought apart from leadership, and that I have a habit of trading reconciliation for socialization. I get exhausted by my own pride, I'm trying to learn what repentance truly means, and I'm not as courageous as I'd like to be.

This really has nothing to do with comparing myself to John Piper (although John, if you ever do read this...know that I decided to become a Calvinist in 2010. I thought you would be proud). Or anyone, for that matter. I'm just a person refusing to spend another year avoiding what really matters.

Monday
Sep062010

expectant

Expectations are funny things.

I make them for myself, which leads to insecurity.

I make them for others, which leads to frustration.

I make them for God, which leads to disappointment.

Isn't it true that most of our discontentment comes from unmet expectations, either in ourselves or in others? And yet we continue to self-sabotage our minds with thoughts on how to create perfection with our own efforts; we withhold sacrificial love from those who have failed at meeting our requirements on how life should be lived.

I've been thinking a lot about this sacrificial love since my sister (who also happens to be my best friend!) just recently got married. And I've been considering more and more the comparison of husbands and wives to Christ and the church. All the while, I've been lost in the words from one of my favorite musicians (Andrew Peterson):

"I do" are the two most famous last words 
The beginning of the end 
But to lose your life for another I’ve heard is a good place to begin 
Because the only way to find your life is to lay your own life down

A close friend that has been somewhat of a mentor/teacher to me has always told me that, before I get married, I have to answer one question: Am I done being Amy Whikehart?

Really, this question is just an adaptation of the life Christ modeled to us by laying his life down so that we may live. It doesn't just apply to earthly marriage...and it doesn't mean that I stop being who I was uniquely created to be to advance the Kingdom. But it does mean that I willingly surrender the constant focus on myself, the control I claim over my life, and my efforts to maintain my own comforts. 

My team has been reading Nehemiah, and I've been challenged by a man who had very Godly expectations...because he had a correct view of himself, in humility. He desired what God desired because he walked with Him on a daily basis. He was a man who knew his purpose and identity in the King.

And the prayer I prayed to follow Jesus with my life was a vow I took to lay everything down. I was given a new name.

I am done being Amy Whikehart.

Monday
Jan112010

Ephesians 2:14 

I lose a lot of sleep over thinking about words. I have a hard time shutting my mind off at the end of the day, making me prone to insomnia. Sometimes it's mindless...I once spent an hour trying to figure out how many 3 letter words could be rearranged to make 3 different words; like ate, tea, eat. That's just one example of the list I complied.

But aside from my obsession with unscrambling words (I probably have some sort of psychological disorder), I think a lot about definitions of powerful words. Even if I start out dreaming and pondering and dissecting and analyzing in complete sentences (I usually think like I'm writing or speaking), I find that I eventually condense my thoughts into a flow chart of words.

Risk. Courage. Vulnerability. These are the words that have been rolling around in my mind over the past few weeks. They've stayed there for an abnormally long time.

I've recently started painting. I enjoy most things creative, so I thought this would be an endeavor worth pursuing. It's definitely not my hidden talent (I think becoming a rap artist is more likely. I'm serious. If you don't believe me, ask me about "This is why I'm hot"), but I started to wonder if it would help me see communication in a different light. If it's true that words can paint pictures, I wanted to see their visual beauty.

I started with "Hope", a seemingly easy word for me to unfold on a canvas. I moved on to words like "Grace" and "Truth", and while these words have a rich depth to them, I found myself able to tell a story.

But when it comes to words like risk, courage, or vulnerability, I had blank canvases in front of me. And I found myself suddenly frustrated with the subjective nature of art. I knew there were experiences and truths inside of me that would speak to what these words mean, but my objective nature quickly dismissed all of this.

It's so much easier for me to depend on my mind rather than my heart. I fear moments when I have to live out words I can't find definitions for in my mind. I'm much more comfortable with that which I've prepared myself to understand. 

God is asking me to sacrifice an image of having everything figured out for the presence of true humility. Christ is the image of perfection...in truth, humility, grace, courage, joy...

And He himself is our peace.

Friday
Jan012010

a new year, a new step

Sometimes the new year feels like a "reset" button...a chance to start over, to move on from the past, to abandon the old and pick up the new. For a perfectionist such as me, I love new beginnings, because I get the opportunity to do things a little bit better than I did last time. I was one of those weird people that loved taking tests and getting back my scores in school, because I was able to better assess, evaluate, compare, and analyze the potential for improvement.

This new year, I found myself thinking more about the past and less about the future. I wondered why, as I usually look forward to sitting down and setting goals (and a plan to accomplish them) in the new year. But I think God was challenging my idea of the "reset" button.

Renewal. Restoration. Rebirth. Redemption. These are all aspects of the Christian life that are seen as we grow in maturity. And the beauty is seen in all of them when we understand where we came from (and what we are commanded to grow towards--"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:48).

I will not dwell on the past, but I will not forget it either. I will GROW from it. And I will remember that moving on in the future is not about rising above the pain of failure and heartache, but allowing God to heal and ultimately rejoice in my sufferings for His glory. Sometimes I treat my past like it's categorized into a series of time spans that's mapped out on a graph based on how little struggle I went through.

This year, I want my eyes opened wider to how God sees my life...not based on comfort or happiness, but on dependence and surrender.

I want to speak of the provision of God...not just in my joy, but in my deepest sorrows. 

I want to claim the freedom that is found in a new birth in Christ...not forgetting that his love is made perfect in my weakness.

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:2-4

I love the word complete in this passage. The dictionary defines complete as having all the necessary steps in order to be fully carried out. When I read these verses, I picture a staircase in which I am walking up. Some of the stairs are nicely carpeted, others are made of unfinished, splintered wood. As a perfectionist, I would like my staircase to look pristine and uniform.

But each step is made for a reason. It's taking me closer to completeness in Christ. Growing from the past doesn't always mean starting over and forgetting the past. God's love has been the same; yesterday, today, and forever. From the day I was born to now, he's been shaping me with a testimony of how He has overcome.

And so, may I learn to see 2010 more like another step towards growth and less like a "reset" button that was pushed at the end of the midnight countdown.

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