In defense of Santa Claus

It’s almost that time of year. Leaves are changing. Lattes are pumpkin spicing. Winter is coming…

And with winter comes Christmas time. I obviously don’t remember if this conversation existed when my parents were in their early 30s, but it exists now. I have friends and family that don’t intend to talk about Santa Claus in their homes. Of course, that’s a valid life choice, it’s understandable and fair.

But we plan to have Santa come to our house, at least until Jack finds this blog and discovers the horrible truth-- that his parents are terrible liars and made up some creep to infiltrate our home each year and leave us gifts.

I don’t think it’s wrong to not have Santa, but I also happen to think it’s ok to celebrate Christmas with Santa as well, which is why we’re doing just that!

So, why, what good reasons do we have for continuing the tradition of St Nicholas?

I think the first reason is that there is magic in the world. When we tell Jack and Phoebe that a jolly old soul comes down our… wait, we don’t have a chimney, I guess he comes up our sump pump then, yeah, when we tell them that… we’ll be telling them that magic things happen in our world. Maybe not the same kind of magic, but magic either way.

As a kid, I believed in magic, spells, wizards, Santa Claus, Easter bunny, whatever. As I got older I realized that magic doesn’t exist in our world. And I was angsty about it for awhile… but over time I’ve come to see that magic is very real, just different than I used to believe. Santa tells kids that some people are generous and kind, for no reason other than just being generous and kind.

We were poor, but I remember some wonderful folks brought us presents some years. I had nice jeans and a nice sweater because of that. Those people weren’t Santa, but were they any less magical?

The second reason is that imagination is fun. The world needs more daydreamers, more people willing to ask “what if?” Jack and Phoebe will have plenty of time to see the sober reality, but not always plenty of time to unleash what could be. I believe God made us creative, and stories are part of that. What a wonderful story, a fat old version of Tim Allen lives in a hut at the North Pole and brings us toys every year, because toys are fun.

Imagination unlocks truth that fact sometimes can’t. Stephen King calls fiction “lies that tell the truth.” The truth is that sometimes imagination is just as important as what is “real.”

Sometimes people say they don’t want to do Santa because it’s a lie. But I think when you explain the truth (that Santa isn’t real) it gives you a great opportunity to explain harmful lies vs good lies. Situations call for different responses. The response sometimes is that kids won’t trust their parents because Santa isn’t real, what else are the parents lying about. But my own anecdotal experience wasn’t that at all. I trusted my mom even after I found out Santa wasn’t real (hilariously, my response when she told us was to ask about the Easter bunny… cuz that’s more believable!).

Some might say Santa takes away the REAL reason for the season, Jesus and his birth. But isn’t that just a different type of generosity? Can a child understand the generosity of God, or the generosity of a toy maker more easily? I think it gives a great lesson in the generosity of God, when we tell stories about the generosity of Tim Allen…

I don’t think people are wrong to skip out on Santa, but those are just a few reasons why we’re doing Santa in our house. Santa is a gift we’re giving our kids, a fun time, and I think we have good reasons for it.


Our Sacredest Cow

Jesus had a funny way with people. Everyone had that one thing. For the rich young ruler, it was his money. For Peter and his friends, it was fishing. For the Pharisees, it was being right. For Paul, it was being a jerk… kind of kidding. Whoever he encountered, Jesus found that one thing that they were least willing to give up, that they were least willing to question, and he asked them to leave it behind to follow him. Jesus found their sacredest cow, and asked them to slaughter it at his feet. Yeah, I know sacredest isn’t a word.

Lately I’ve been trying to process what the least debated thing is within the American Christian Church. What is that thing which we hold to the fiercest, and that we are least willing to question? What is our sacredest [sic] cow?

Some might answer that it is theology. We are passionate about our theology. The problem with this answer is that we don’t really all agree on it. We range from Open Theists to Calvinists (calling this group “Reformed” is problematic, in my opinion), from transubstantionists to symbolic views of the Eucharist, from strict inerrancy to authoritative to whatever else there is. Add onto it that most Christians I’ve encountered are willing to rethink their theology. I think we enjoy theology, but are willing to question it.

Another thought might be that we hold onto our politics with the most tenacity. In some ways this is true. This happens on nearly every political viewpoint. Maybe part of the reason we can’t make progress is that none of us listen enough to consider the other side… But in spite of how tightly we hold our political opinions, I don’t think they are the most sacred cow of Christianity.

Denomination might be an answer, but that would be a bit out of date. Most people under 50 or so no longer hold tightly to any denomination. Baptism may be up there, the list could go on.

I have started to think that the sacredest [sic] cow in the American Church is actually the form church has taken. Or, to put it another way, we are the least willing to question what we call “church”.

We are willing to question our beliefs, our politics, our communities, and our haircuts, but we aren’t willing to question HOW we do church. Now, I don’t really think a weekly worship service with weekly bible study is bad. I don’t think the form is harmful, necessarily. But I am beginning to think that it has outlived its usefulness. I’m beginning to think that we should question the form of church just as much, if not more, than we question our theology and other beliefs.

If you sat down with the bible, the New Testament specifically, and started jotting down what the week to week operations of the church were, what would you come up with? If you limited yourself to the Gospels, what did Jesus say about WHAT we do as the church? How much did Paul have to say about the weekly rhythms of the church?

You’d come away with a few things, things about devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, prayer, breaking of bread, not giving up meeting together, songs, hymns and spiritual songs, maybe a bit about Jesus going to the synagogue regularly (though the regularity of this isn’t really mentioned either way). What you will not find is a bulletin from First Baptist Nazareth. Or three point sermons. You might struggle to find more than a handful of sermons at all.

You would find a bunch of exhortations on how the church should look. Love God and love your neighbor. Patience, kindness, generosity. Worship is good and important. Learn about scripture and about God. Follow Jesus. But you wouldn’t find a list of programs that detail how to do that.

The way we do church right now, with a sermon as the center piece and songs surrounding it, is the sacredest cow we have. And in the interest of having no idols before God, I think we have to even be willing to question the way we worship him. I think this sacred cow at least needs to be questioned.

There is precedent for this. The Israelites put the way they worshiped over the creator that they worshiped. God lamented that he would rather have obedience than burnt offerings (1 Samuel 15.22, among others). I think we’ve fallen into a similar trap.

You don’t have to look beyond both Mars Hills for cautionary tales. Many have used them to discuss other topics, but I think this one underlies both. Our current form of church lends itself very well to pastor worship. Pastor worship lends itself very well to unhealthy church. And it loops back in on itself. The pastor should be just as much growing and learning as everyone else. The pastor should be part of the community, not the head of it (Christ alone is head of the church, right?). But when one person has the only voice in week-to-week operations, then that voice becomes synonymous with God himself. It’s not intentional, and not inevitable, but it happens much more than it should. It can happen even without the weekly sermons, but my opinion is that it gets much easier with them.

Our worship services are also passive. Many people “go to church” once a week, and that is the only real chance to interface with God and other Christians. And they do it in the most passive of ways. We’ve tried to use things like liturgy, and having different people read each week to avoid this, but the main activity for most is still sitting and listening. The hope is that people go and do something as a result, but it seems to stop at a hope most times. Or else the people that do something end up overworked because they are the 17% or whatever. So they do too much. Can people be passive in other formats? Yes, but I think it’s harder.

If you looked at churches today, and you asked “What do they believe that God believes is the  most important thing for them to do?” the most obvious answer is worship. God desires worship above all things, if you just look at what we do. But I think the biblical answer to that is that God most desires obedience, or in New Testament terms, he most desires that we follow Jesus. Worship is certainly an important part of that, but it’s become the only part.

I don’t think we have to give up on worship. I really don’t. I do think that we have to take a good, honest look at this sacred cow and ask ourselves if it serves the purpose for which it was intended. I think we have to question it. I think we have to ask if we would give it up in the interest of following Jesus. We may not have to, but are we at least willing? Maybe we come back and do worship like we always have. But maybe God wants us to do something different.


Temptation of the Church

Death isn’t permanent.

He walked alone into the desert. But he wasn’t alone for long. His adversary was there, always there. His adversary tempted him, pushed him, called to him. His own body tempted him, telling him that if he did not eat soon, then all this would be for nothing. His eyes betrayed him, comparing the dusty rocks to the delicious bread his mom used to make.

His adversary gathered his wits, and approached him for one last assault. “Look at all these rocks. You are the son of God, no doubt about it. What’s so wrong with eating now? Why not just have a bite? Would be an awful shame if you passed out and died from hunger…”

Jesus tried to lick his lips, but his mouth was parched. In a gravelly voice, mostly unused for 40 days, he quoted the scripture to the adversary “Man doesn’t live on bread alone.”

The adversary didn’t give up easily, so he took him to a high mountain. The enemy showed him the kingdoms of the world, the wonderful things they could accomplish if they only had the right guy in charge. He showed him the suffering, the injustice. “Look at all the terrible things happening. Look at the poverty. If you just bow down, worship me, you can be king! A king could stop it all, you could rule in power, and no one could stop you!”

He could. He could stop all the evil. He could remove the evil people from power and he could make sure that justice reigned. But there was only one worthy of worship, and it was not this snake in front of him. “God alone is worthy of worship.”

So the enemy took one last shot. He took him to the center of faith in the Jewish world. The temple. One of the corners overlooked a valley, a valley full of rocks and bones and vultures. “Look, one last chance. If you throw yourself off here, God will surely catch you. Then everyone will KNOW that you are his son. Who wouldn’t follow you then? If everyone is following you, you can overthrow Rome, you can restore the Jewish faith, you can make things right!”

Jesus looked into the distance. His body sagged. It would be so easy. God would catch him. Or maybe not. But at least it would be over. He could avoid the cross, he could restore the faith that was missing. I imagine in that moment his deity told his humanity to shut up. “Do not tempt the Lord your God.”

He found himself alone again. The road stretched before him, and he had only just begun. But he knew the road he had to walk, and he knew the way he had to walk it.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all describe the temptation of Jesus. Each tells us that before Jesus began his public ministry, he had a private battle with his enemy. Because it was before he entered the public, we can only conclude that the temptation was a question of who he would be when he did enter the public. What kind of Messiah would this Jesus be?

Had he answered any of the temptations differently, then he would have been a different Messiah. Or perhaps no Messiah at all.

The first temptation was to turn stones into bread. It’s not too difficult to go the other way, just leave the bread outside in the dry Denver air, and in a matter of days you will have a tasty stone. But the ability to turn stones into bread… Imagine if someone could do that today? She could single handedly eliminate world hunger. She would gather a following and the whole world would be changed. People will do nearly anything to feed their families. Imagine the following someone would gather who never ran out of food?

The second temptation was to rule the world. Seems like Jesus would be the only person that’s ever lived that would be qualified to actually do that. Imagine if every soldier took orders from Jesus alone. Imagine a world where Jesus controlled the banks, the armies, the politicians. Or, maybe even better, imagine a world without politicians! It could be instant utopia. But it would also be his way or the highway.

The third temptation seems a bit more subtle. I can admit, it doesn’t seem too tempting to just throw myself off of high things. But God wouldn’t let Jesus die. Instead, he would come slowly floating down, like Mary Poppins without the umbrella. Who wouldn’t follow a guy that could do that?!

No, no, no. Jesus said no. Jesus was not called to be that kind of savior. Jesus was called to save on the cross. In many ways, the savior of the cross is the only kind of savior that allowed people to maintain free will. Would people really be free if the only way to eat was to acknowledge Jesus as savior? Would they be free if Jesus drove his tanks into our city squares and demanded surrender? Would we be free if Jesus was essentially Superman, regularly throwing cars and brushing off bullets like flies? I think we would not. I think we would be slaves. Jesus did not come to make slaves, but to make friends from enemies.

It became obvious as the gospels progressed that Jesus was the savior of the cross, so why is the temptation account included in our bible? What value does it give us today, when we are struggling to pay bills or questioning our place in the world?

The temptation is important today because it tells us that, just like our savior was tempted, we also will be tempted. I can already hear anyone reading this say “No kidding?!” But I’m not talking about the temptation to steal, or to lie, or to be unfaithful to friends or spouse. Those are temptations, but perhaps we also face temptations as a group. Perhaps we need to recalibrate our communities to fall in line with our savior. We have become communities devoid of the cross, even as it hangs on our walls.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that, “though we all have to enter upon discipleship alone, we do not remain alone. If we take him at his word and dare to become individuals (at the cross!), our reward is the fellowship of the Church.” Perhaps we have to embrace the cross both as individuals and as communities. Maybe we face similar temptations today to those he faced so long ago. I like to imagine that each time Jesus was faced with his temptations, he muttered “Can’t get there from here.” Can’t be the Jesus of the cross and the God of bread. Can’t be the Jesus of the cross and rule by force. Can’t be the Jesus of the cross and get followers through hero-worship. Can’t get there from here.

What if the Church went into the desert? What would the adversary do to tempt us today?

He may begin by taking us to huge cathedrals. He may show us the beautiful chapels that are filled on a weekly basis. He may show us all the praise songs that are sung and all the sermons that are preached. Our hearts could be moved while our bodies stayed still. And when he was done showing us all that, he would whisper, “All is well. Return home. Come back next week, you’re fine until then.”

Our first temptation would be to bury our heads in the sand and refuse to admit that something might be wrong.

But if we managed to pass that temptation, he may take us back to those cathedrals and chapels. He may take us to the very front. Then one by one, he would bring the others in the seats to face us. “She struggles with lust. He cheated on his taxes. They neglect their children. This congregation is full of terrible people, and the Church itself is a terrible failure. Now, return home. Come back next week, so that you may see all the other problems. Or, better yet, don’t come back at all, you can do better without all these idiots and jerks.”

The second temptation might be to critique and criticize everyone and everything else, then do nothing.

If somehow, we managed to get past that temptation, the adversary might take us to a treadmill. He would start us running. Then he would begin to add activities on. “Can’t take time to rest, you must keep busy! There is so much kingdom work, no time to consider it all. Monday night you need to learn about a new bible study. Tuesday night you need to take part in visiting the elderly. Wednesday night you have community fellowship, and Thursday night you have your other bible study. Friday night is TV night, Saturday you need to serve your congregation by doing yard work and cleaning the facilities, then Sunday we need you here for all three services. If you truly want to be a Holy Person, you must earn it.”

Our third temptation would be to simply act. To work and work and work, and to attempt to solve the problems with the Church with activity and busy-ness.

Our temptation in the Fast Food Faith world could come in any combination of those three: to refuse to admit that there is a problem, or else to critique and criticize but refuse to change anything, or else to simply work ourselves to death without ever critiquing or criticizing the work we’re doing.

Statistics show that something is wrong. An estimated 90% of church growth in the United States today is due to transfers from other congregations. We are not reaching the unreached. We are not helping people know Jesus for the first time. Not only that, but the people we do have we are not discipling. People in our communities struggle with their own spiritual growth. Most feel stagnant, and because of our approach they feel ashamed of that. So they look for new bible studies or new knowledge to get them out of their rut. It’s like telling a depressed person to stop being sad. That’s not how it works. So we can’t bury our heads in the sand.

Slacktivism also won’t work. I’m sure most people vaguely remember Kony 2012. A vast Facebook campaign that did all of nothing. We want to like something on Facebook and that make a difference. But it doesn’t. Or else we want to say that something isn’t right and that be enough. If there is a problem in Church today, then it falls at the feet of every single Christian. We are the Church. We are the problem. If you believe there is a problem but continue to do the same old things, then you are no different than the one with his head buried in the sand.

Activism for its own sake doesn’t work either. We can’t simply try harder. We can’t outwork the problems we face today. Of course, if we are failing on either side of this, it’s that most of us don’t work all that hard to begin with. But there are those rare people that seem to just work. All the time. We can’t blindly keep trying the same old things but try them harder. That leads to guilt complex, lack of sabbath, and emotional illness. God’s work should rejuvenate, at least some of the time. We can not just work ourselves to exhaustion and think that will change things.

So what do we do? Something different. We must first acknowledge our failings as a Church, then we must critique and criticize who we are and what we are doing, and then we must do something different. We will fail, at least sometimes. But God is not looking for stewards to bury their treasure in the ground. He’s looking for gamblers and risk-takers!


Casual the Tyrant

I think in many ways my generation gets a lot of undeserved flak. We’re lazy. Entitled. We don’t follow through. We are on our phones all the time.

Some of those things are definitely true. Some are true of many around my age, but couldn’t they be said for many around every age? I think the really terrible thing about my generation isn’t any of those things, though it may impact them.

I think the worst thing about us is this: we are casual. And we are militant that you are casual too.

“Just get there whenever, no big deal.” “If you could bring something, that’s great, but if not that’s ok too.” “No problem, do what you can.”

I think that for many of us, we dream big. We want a better world for those younger than us. We want equality, freedom from bigotry and violence. We think a world with those things is possible, and to be sure, it is! The problem is that we want it to just happen. We want to Kony 2012 the world into a better place. We want big changes to happen casually.

We approach our marriages in this way. We think, “well, I didn’t do anything all that specific or intentional while we were dating, it just happened organically. It should keep going that way.” For some reason we think a lifetime commitment to loving one person well can “just happen.”

You can see it in the way we approach friendships, emotional health, physical fitness. We look for casual commitment to make actual change. But it doesn’t. So what’s the solution?

To many of us, we have found ourselves mired in legalism as a solution. I’m thinking specifically in terms of our spiritual health. We come up with moral dos and don’ts and start to enumerate to others how they ought to live. If someone doesn’t ice bucket challenge in their 24 hours they must be a terrible person. People that don’t immediately agree with whichever cause we’ve devoted ourselves to become literally the worst.

So, we go to church and we talk about how glad we are to be part of the solution. We have the right doctrine, we don’t smoke, we avoid Walmart, we must be part of the positive change. Then we start to judge those that do smoke, that shop at Walmart. Legalism is almost always concerned with getting others to follow our standards. Legalism avoids real spiritual growth because we can always find something that we’re doing right and that others aren’t.

Legalism is not a solution to the tyranny of the casual.

But I think discipline is.

Discipline is concerned with getting better. Discipline is about establishing routines and intentionality towards the things that matter in life. Discipline positively effects change in ourselves, instead of looking to impose rules on others. Discipline allows us to be better to the people around us, and in fact to be better to the God we follow.

Discipline molds us into better versions of ourselves, allowing us to be better to those that we love. Discipline helps us to consistently improve, instead of dramatic jerks and stops and fits and failures. Discipline allows us to set a standard for ourselves and live into it, instead of setting standards for others that they may never achieve.  

Being casual has become a tyrant to many of us. We don’t want to be tied down to any specific commitment on such and such night because something more awesome might happen. But it never does. So we end up searching Netflix for two hours and going to bed, because actually watching something takes a commitment, and that’s just not casual enough.

Casual can be good, and it can have a place. But if we want our lives to improve, if we want spiritual, personal, emotional growth, we have to put casual in its place. We have to be disciplined in our relationships, because the people we love deserve commitment.

No one can casually change himself. Even more so, no one can casually change the world. If we want to pass a better world to our kids, we have to be disciplined about it. For Christians, discipline is the place that we allow God to change us. But I think discipline has value for non-Christians as well, so that is part of why this hasn’t been all that specifically “Christian” of a post…


Is there hope?

I hope I’m wrong. 

I don’t think I am, but I hope I am. I’m wrong about a lot of things, probably about twice as many as I admit. But this one, I really hope I’m wrong about this.

The Church is failing. The Church is falling apart.

Like I said, I hope I’m wrong. But I think I’m right.

We’ve been in a steady state of denial for quite some time. No way, we say, our church buildings are full on Sunday mornings. In fact, we have to have multiple services! No way the church is failing.

Meanwhile small churches are closing their doors daily. Ministers are quitting their call. Estimates put church growth at 90-95% of Christians simply moving their membership. Meanwhile, many more are leaving church completely and for good.

Is there any hope? Should we just give up the ghost, quit church and just go with “Jesus and me” faith instead?

Obviously I think there is hope, and I think we shouldn’t give up. My dad didn’t do me a ton of favors in life, but he did pass me strong sense of tenacity. I’m not really a fan of quitting.

So what do we do? If we are willing to take the hardest step and admit that church is not as it should be, how do we start to change it?

Our first step is really a step of return. We have to trust Jesus. If we profess that Jesus is alive, and that he is capable of doing all things, then that is where we must start. In my experience in church, I have trusted (probably in this order); myself, my church members, preaching, myself, worship music, curriculum, books, myself, movies, education, advertising, pew cards, whatever else.

But the call of the Christian life should be to hold onto Jesus, and Jesus alone.

Reading books and singing songs and listening to speeches is not following Jesus. They can be part of it, but they are NOT the whole of it, not even close. Following Jesus is sometimes a spontaneous thing, thanking him for the sunrise as you go to the gym way too early on a Saturday morning. Taking time to listen to the gas station attendant. Showing up for people that didn’t show up for you. Giving to the poor, empathizing with people who have left the church, caring for people simply because they exist.

Following Jesus is so much more than showing up to “church” once a week and bringing our bible.

The second step in finding hope again is giving up our passivity. We show up. We go through a door. We take our seat. We say/sing some things. We listen (we took notes this week!!!). We get in our car. We grab lunch. We watch football. We go to work for five days. We repeat.

We are not made to be passive Christians. Passivity is killing our churches. We equate following with being passive. But the truth is real following is active and takes work. We have to listen to God, we have to take action. Love means we do things.

The third step, and maybe this step occurs all along the way, is that we must be willing to give AND receive criticism. Somewhere along the way we began to think that criticism was hateful. Probably we see the way it happens on TV and think that’s the only way we can do it.

I had a seminary professor one time hand my paper back without a grade. He said “Chris, this isn’t good work. You are capable of more. Do it better and get it back to me.”

I could have taken that as hateful, but it wasn’t. He knew I could do better. And I did. My next paper was “A” quality. When was the last time we did “A” quality following-of-Jesus? We suck, but we’re completely terrified of admitting it. So what do we do? We criticize everyone outside of the church and claim we’re persecuted when we are criticized back.

What if our churches allowed open forums for non-members? Non-members could come in and tell us how we could help them. Of course we can’t do everything, but we could probably do SOMETHING.

What if we stopped criticizing outsiders, and instead offered serious feedback only to other Christians, and only in safe, small group environments? I think we might see much better return.

Next, I think we have to give up on our “success” mentality. We all want to play for the winning team. We want to sit with the cool kids. The church world is no different.

People see a worship service that is standing room only, they often think that this is a success. And in some ways, it is. But a success at what? Maybe just at filling a room. Maybe they’re a success at more, but maybe not. KKK rallies filled rooms, but I don’t think any sane person considers them a success.

We have to give up on the idea that a filled room is a good church. Jesus got 12 guys to buy into his ideas. None of them really stuck the whole time. They all jumped back on the bandwagon after the resurrection. I think today most of us as church leaders would consider Jesus a failure.

But if we’re following Jesus, then it is his standard for success that we follow. And I think that is life change.

This post is already too long, but I think to actually find hope again in the American church we’re going to have to take some risk. We’re going to have to try new things, we’re going to have to fail. We have to be willing to chuck out everything we think we know and hold onto Jesus alone. Maybe we’ll get some of those things back, maybe not. But we have to pursue life change, and that doesn't happen by staying the same.

I’m wrong about a lot of things, but I think we’re failing. There is hope, with God there always is. But if we keep doing the same things, odds are good we’ll get the same results.


Those guys?!

I’m sure this comes as a surprise to zero people, but I don’t really like Mark Driscoll. I think he’s arrogant and pretty ridiculous.

But when it comes to faith, I’m going to trust the grace of Jesus over my own judgement. I think Driscoll is wrong about a lot of things, and I think Jesus is probably sad over a good deal of his behavior, but I think he can and will forgive him just the same.

I don’t know Michael Gungor. Until recently I didn’t have an opinion on him either way. After reading his blog a bit, and seeing the controversy that seemed to find him, I have started to like him a little bit.

But I think he is probably wrong about a lot of things, and I think Jesus is probably sad over a good deal of his behavior, even as he can and will forgive him anyway.

Frequently I will say things like “the Church is failing” or “the American Christian Church is not living up to what we could be” or anything like that. People hear “I hate the church” or “I’m better than all the rest of you” or “you’re killing your father, Larry”. But I don’t mean any of that. I love the church. I am part of the problem. I criticize because we can be better.

See, here is our problem right now, we are way too stuck in our binary thinking. Everyone is either a “1” or a “0”, a “good” or “bad”, an “us” or a “them.” And it is killing our churches. It is killing us as Christians.

So what are you, a “1” or a “0”? Are you right or wrong?

When we’re honest, most of us are right about some things, and wrong about some others. We are all heretics and orthodox at the same time. We don’t mean to be, we all try to be right, but the unfortunate fact of the God that Christians profess is that God is not completely knowable. It would be arrogant to think otherwise.

For instance, most Christians believe in the Trinity, but can you explain it sufficiently? Most err into some form of heresy when they try. Does that mean that they become a “0” and are headed straight to hell?

But that is the binary thinking we’re used to. Criticism means hatred, critique an act of war. If someone disagrees with us then they are not only wrong, but most likely headed straight to hell. We never really admit that if we are judged by that same standard, then we’re in big trouble too.

I contrast much of this with a good friend of mine whom I rarely see anymore. His name’s Michael, and as far as theology goes, I doubt two Christians could be much further apart. We meet at “Jesus is Lord.” And when I was in a serious crisis, he was one of the first people I reached out to. He didn’t tell me my crisis was because of my heresy or my bad theology, he challenged me but also encouraged me.

Because even though we see things differently, neither of us buys into binary thinking. We both believe that Jesus saves. We believe it is worked out in different ways, but we both trust that he is the boss, and we aren’t.

So the temptation to avoid binary thinking usually involves just shutting up and not saying anything. That would certainly be the easier way to go about it. Unfortunately it doesn’t do anyone any good. A few things that I believe help:

Humility in our own theology. We are all definitely wrong about SOMETHING, even if it’s trivial. So let’s be humble in our approach. Let’s enter discussion seeking the truth, not seeking victory.

Worry about you. This is always the best advice for people new to the gym: worry about you. No one at the gym is all that concerned with what you’re doing, just as you shouldn’t be all that concerned with what they’re doing. When Peter asked Jesus about John, Jesus just told him to shutup and follow him. That’s our job. Of course it’s ok to discuss differences, but our goal should be to learn and grow ourselves, not to ride in on our horse and bludgeon someone into agreeing with us.

Fight well. Part of the evolution of binary thinking is that fighting is bad, coexisting is good. But every time I talk to a couple that claims to never fight, I wonder if they ever talk. Or if one is just completely submissive. Because Robin and I have had some doozies! I’m blessed with a strong wife, and I think our marriage has been better for the resolutions to our fights. We need to fight within the faith, but we also need to affirm our brotherhood and sisterhood after. If someone claims Christ, then we must trust them to be honest and Jesus to do the pruning that needs to be done. But it is ok to argue hard, to get frustrated, and to disagree. We just have to return to our common ground afterword.

So how should we think of Michael Gungor and Mark Driscoll?

In so many ways, they are just like us. They are flawed and hurt, and in need of grace. They both may need someone to argue with them. They are both wrong about some things, and right about some things. We should be sad that they are in the midst of controversy, we should discuss what they’ve said and done, but we should also seek to embrace both as brothers. Because I know that we all have a little Gungor and a little Driscoll in each of us. We need grace too.


Still a Christian...

There was a time a few years ago I considered changing my last name from Richardson to Jackson. Richardson represented all the bad parts of me. My dad left when I was small, doing irreparable damage not only to my family, but to all those around us. I wanted to blame him at times, but he was only following a script from his own dad. And maybe his dad before him.

Jackson always represented the best parts of me. My grandma was the most kind, caring person I’ve ever known. My grandpa was smart, disciplined, and loyal. The Jacksons were farmers from way back, surviving the depression with courage and strength.

The Richardsons were drunks and liars.

The idea came to me when I was outside working on our lawn. Jack was only a few months old, and I kept wondering if keeping this last name was cursing him to years of wandering and wondering. Would the family name curse live on? Or should I change my name to avoid the bad things that came along with it?

I’ve read a lot of Christians lately, including Greg Boyd who I admire immensely, talk about how they no longer call themselves “Christian.”

Christians have behaved poorly. Christians have been hateful. That name no longer represents me, so I will just say I follow Jesus. But where do we stop?

In our glitz and glamour world, we have decided that we only want to be defined by our victories in life. We only want to discuss what we’re good at, we want to increase our strength and ignore our weaknesses. We want others to celebrate our best sides, while ignoring the worst in us.

After talking to Robin, I decided to keep my last name. Yes, it represents the worst parts of me. But what would I do if I found out that the Jacksons owned slaves back in the day? Or if they helped commit genocide against the Indians? Would I change back, or create a new name?

The reason I’ve stayed with the name “Christian” is largely the same. Jesus has allowed me to use his name. It would be naive and foolish to pretend that I haven’t ever dragged it through the mud. But that’s kind of the beauty of grace.

Many that bear the name Christian don’t represent me or my Lord. But it would be dishonest to try to disown them and pretend that they aren’t part of the same faith heritage that I claim. It would be dishonest, and it would be arrogant. Why am I better than them? Jesus accepts them just as he accepts me.

No, I think we have an obligation to be real.

I am a Richardson. I belong to drunks and addicts and adulterers and liars. But by the grace of God go I.

I am also a Christian. I belong to homophobes and legalists and teetotalers and hypocrites. Sometimes I go there too, even with the grace of God!

Just like it isn’t my choice to change my heritage, to belong to a different family with different genetics and healthy choices, it isn’t my choice to change my faith heritage. I belong to the family of faith that enacted the crusades and today acts persecuted when people disagree with Fox News.

I belong to those families, but they don’t define me. God gave me choice, and my choice is to try to improve those families. My choice is to give Jack a dad and a family he can believe in. Never perfect, but loyal and honest. My choice is to stay a Christian, because Christian comes from Christ, not Luther or Augustine or Fred Phelps or Pat Buchanan or Joel Osteen.

I want to fight for my names. I can be sad and ashamed of those related to me while also attempting to live better. I want to fight for my names, because if I don’t, who will? I want to fight because if I give up and retreat, where do I stop?

I think giving up on the name “Christian” is almost a form of hypocritical elitism. It says that I’m better, I’m not a failure like them over there. I’m only judging the judgmental, after all!

Instead, I want to suggest that we take the name “Christian” with a large dose of humility. Christ allowed us to be called “little Christs” and instead of telling others why they don’t measure up, why don’t we love as unconditionally as he does?

Does that prevent us from speaking out? Definitely not. It is our obligation to speak against judgmental and hypocritical Christians. But let’s not be so quick to let ourselves off the hook. Instead, we ought to seek to restore the “older brothers” even as we seek to welcome home the prodigals. If not us, then who?