More Than Hypocrites — Ministering in the wake of Ashley Madison

Depressed

My heart has been grieved over hearing about resignations and suicides resulting from the revelation that a lot of men within the body of Christ sought out extramarital affairs through the Ashley Madison website. When I first heard about the data breach, and the threat the hackers issued concerning the release of the large amount of customer data they stole, I had mixed feelings. I felt the hackers were misguided in their attempted extortion, because the people who would be most hurt by their threatened release of gigabytes of company data were not the people running Ashley Madison, but the people who had used the site. But, if I’m completely honest with myself, I didn’t feel too bad for Ashley Madison’s customers; because, they were, after all, men seeking adulterous relationships. I didn’t feel bad for the people who were being threatened with having their sexual indiscretions made very public; and, I now find myself having to repent of that misguided inclination to not care about the suffering that was being threatened at the time.

Now, we are starting to see what the Ashley Madison data leak means and the fallout is as unpredictable as it is, potentially, terrifying. Multiple suicides have already been tenuously connected to the data leak, and more are likely to follow. I have heard of resignations of pastors and other religious leaders in states where lists of “cheaters” have been published online. And, my heart grieves for the suffering that will flow in the weeks to come. Sin needs to be exposed (Ephesians 5:11), there is no doubt about that. But, the way sin needs to be dealt with is with an eye towards redemption. None of us is without sin that need to be exposed and dealt with, but that does not mean all sin ought to be exposed in the same way, and certainly not all sin needs to be exposed with the sort of recklessness that has characterized the Ashley Madison data breach. What we have in this situation is not anything resembling a Christian notion of sin being revealed. Instead, what we are seeing is a mass shaming with no intention or effort at encouraging repentance or redemption for those who have pursued sin.

I grieve for the lives that have been, are being, and will be destroyed by this reckless attempt to blackmail a company by threatening, and then following through with, the shaming of their customers. Again, this sin needed to come to light; but, not like this. I grieve most for the universal church, who will suffer the familiar refrain of being called hypocritical on the issues of marriage and sexual ethics in the wake of the revelations that pastors and other religious leaders were among those seeking illicit relationships on the Ashley Madison website. But, what I grieve most for is the expectation I have that the church will not respond to this scandal well. I fear that Christian churches will turn to legalism and harsh criticism, instead of loving correction and careful shepherding. I worry that we will prove ourselves hypocrites by abandoning our obligation to minister graciously to those who suffer. I fear that spouses will prove just as quick to seek divorce in this instance where they have moral cause as so many spouses have proven willing to seek divorce for no moral cause at all. I fear for the further demonstration that the church is made up of a bunch of hypocrites — and that I will be counted among them.

But, I do not fear for the mission of the church or the cause of the Gospel. The church is full of hypocrites because the world is full of hypocrites. We all judge others by standards we fail to apply to ourselves. We all conceal the things we are ashamed of from even our closest friends — even from our spouses. We all exchange the truth of God for idols of our own designs and desires. We are all hypocrites in the end. But, God, being rich in mercy, sent Jesus Christ to die to redeem such wretched creatures for His own purposes and His own glory. No matter how many are disgraced by the data stolen from Ashley Madison, Jesus Christ spilled his blood to redeem as many as would repent and believe.

That reality must be the rallying cry of the church in the wake of this scandal. We must not cease from preaching the message that Jesus died to redeem sinners from the worst of themselves. We must proclaim that the blood of Jesus can cleanse the soul of the vilest offender. We must continue to share the good news of Colossians 2:14 that our certificate of debt, which we all owe to God on account of our sin, has already been nailed to the cross, for all those whom He has, is, and will make alive together with Christ. We must preach the Gospel in this hour of need. God help me to minister grace to those who need it — even my own wretched self!

Why the barber is not like the florist, the baker and the photograph taker

What Would Quark Do?Christians have been very bothered by the advancement of efforts to normalize homosexual marriage in the last few years. I must admit that I am also bothered by the aggressive pace. Bakers, florists and wedding photographers have all been hauled into courts to justify their refusal to serve homosexuals who ask them to provide services for their, now legal, weddings. Christian businesspeople in all these circumstances cite their deeply held religious beliefs concerning the immorality of homosexual behavior and, particularly, the legalization of homosexual marriage. The Christians are all free to hold to these convictions, but courts have ruled that Christian businesses may not act on these convictions in a way that leads them to refuse service to homosexuals.

Such figures as Drs. Albert Mohler and Russell Moore have weighed in, taking up the cause of the businesspeople and raising alarms about the erosion of religious liberty. I want to be clear: in some ways I agree with Drs. Mohler and Moore. I think there are signs that religious liberty is becoming a difficult to maintain freedom in the West, and a big part of that is the advancement of laws designed to curtail speech and open dissent surrounding the issue of homosexuality. But, I don’t believe that the examples cited in the United States of florists, bakers and photographers being told they can not refuse service is quite the crisis some imagine.

I’ve gotten into far too many discussions with folks and had the same line used repeatedly in defense of the liberty of business people to “refuse to serve whoever they want for whatever reason they want.” This line sounds great to advocates of an unrestrained free market, libertarians and the like. But, it would require the unmaking of laws put in place to protect minorities and women against discrimination and return us to the possibility of an era where society could be segregated along racial and gender lines, at least in the context of some businesses. Do I think such segregation would come? Only in a very limited way in communities where bigotry and hatred still have powerful holds. But, the adoption of such an attitude, consistently, would open the door to discrimination without restraint in the business world: should business owners be permitted to discriminate in hiring, or in any other area of operations when they are granted the right to discriminate in their refusal of service to certain kinds customers?

Personally, this quasi-libertarian argument opens way too many doors to way too many problems to be considered reasonable. I believe that businesses that operate publicly ought to serve the public, without unreasonable restrictions that can not be justified from a business or purely religious basis. I include the idea of “a purely religious basis” intentionally, and I want to argue that the florists, bakers and photographers can not use it as their justification. The reason I want to make that argument is because of what sounds like the start to a bad joke: A lesbian seeking a haircut from a Muslim.

In Canada, a lesbian is suing a Muslim barber for refusing to cut her hair. The reason the barber gave is that according to his religious beliefs he can not touch women who are not his wife. On the surface this sounds like the very same issue that the florists, bakers and photographers in America are facing: a desire to refuse service based on religious beliefs. There is a big difference though and I think many Christian miss it. Until this story came along I wasn’t even sure how to articulate my belief that Christians were wrong for denying services to homosexuals who wanted them to provide for their weddings.

The barber is on solid legal ground, or would be in the United States, because of the tendency of courts to steer clear of examining articles of religious faith. In order for a U.S. court to overrule the barbers decision to not cut the lesbian’s hair they would have to directly examine the barbers specific religious commitments and rule them invalid. This is an action that U.S. courts refuse to do because it isn’t their job to determine which religious beliefs are valid or not. So, how does this differ from the florists, bakers and photographers?

In the U.S. cases the Christian business owners have tended to defend their refusals to serve homosexuals on the basis that participation in their weddings would constitute an endorsement of such weddings and thus violate their Christian consciences. Here is where the problem lies: a court can examine whether participation is equivalent to endorsement without having to consider the religious beliefs of the businesspeople involved. The objection for the sake of conscience isn’t solely grounded in religious conviction, but is also based on an understanding of what participation denotes. Dr. Albert Mohler explicitly makes this connection when he writes “active participation can only be read as a forced endorsement of what they believe to be fundamentally wrong and sinful.” But, is participation, necessarily, endorsement?

Lets use some analogies to help clarify things: journalists actively participate in events of all sorts in much the same way as photographers do at weddings, yet their participation can not be construed as an implicit endorsement of the events they report on. Further, citizens in the U.S. elect leaders, yet the active participation of the citizens in the electoral process does not imply their endorsement of everything the government does. The issue is one of proximity and association, and so I’m led to believe that the argument that Dr. Mohler and others make in justifying Christians denying services to be used for homosexual weddings is an expression of the association fallacy. Florists, bakers and photographers are not required to give their consent to those being married, and so their participation is ancillary, and thus should not be understood as an endorsement.

For this reason I’m inclined to agree with the courts who have ruled that Christian businesses that provide service for weddings don’t have a firm basis for refusing services to homosexuals. They are still free to hold to their convictions concerning the immorality of such weddings, just as I do. But, unless they can remove the degree of separation established by being a business, or somehow prove that their involvement would, necessarily, require endorsement; I don’t see the cause for their rejection of business on purely religious grounds in these cases. The barber is not like the florist, the baker or the photograph taker in reality.

Shawn McCraney is probably not a heretic

argument-cartoon.jpg-300x239Last night Shawn McCraney and his C.A.M.P.U.S. ministry hosted an open forum to address the accusations that have been flying around the last few weeks. The format wasn’t quite what I expected  with the event called an “Inquisition” and Shawn’s detractors referred to as “accusers.” Personally, I think this set an unhelpful tone from the outset that wasn’t improved on much through the course of the evening. A photo of the program handout can be found here.

The main discussion began with Pastor Jason Wallace confessing his ill-preparedness for the format and the strict limitation of the discussion to the subject of the Trinity. He also confessed being uncomfortable with referring to the event as an “Inquisition.” At the heart of his concern with Shawn’s doctrinal positions was his use of the term ‘manifestation’ and that term’s close ties to the heresy of Modalism. Pastor Dale Finley also expressed concerns about Shawn’s rejection of the Trinity, as did the final accuser: Rob Sivulka. Rob led his presentation of concerns with the firm statement that he does not regard Shawn as a brother in Christ, he also followed it with multiple declarations throughout the evening decrying Shawn as a heretic and a Modalist.

The event was not a formal debate and lacked civility on all parts at a number of points; along with a few unhelpful outbursts, and even one very disruptive heckler who was ushered outside while screaming that Shawn was an “idiot,” a “heretic” and a “cult leader.” Shawn’s response to his opponents was fused with invective from its outset, which some of his opponents responded to in kind. Initially, Shawn did not offer much clarification of his belief except to identify his objection to the term “Trinity” on the basis that it does not appear in Scripture. However, Shawn did, eventually, clearly reject Patripassianism, which is a form of Modalism.

After a brief break the, so-called, “accusers” then had further opportunity to question Shawn and for Shawn to respond. Of all the further questions asked of Shawn only one by Rob Sivulka could have helped clarify the discussion: how did God exist before the creation? Unfortunately Shawn did not answer this question fully and directly. However, I was able to ask this essential question again, along with some follow-ups to try and bring more clarity to the essentials of the matter. In the end I don’t know that either side was moved in a helpful way. Shawn’s supporters seemed just as supportive and his detractors seemed just as resolute in their opposition. But, I’m not thoroughly convinced that Shawn is all that far from his opponents. Shawn’s opponents seemed hung up on his refusal to use terms such as “Trinity” and “persons” in articulating his view. But, I’m not convinced that Shawn is really departing from the essential teaching of Trinitarianism.

Shawn articulated his clear affirmation of monotheism, something he and his opponents agree upon. But, Shawn’s rejection of basic and historic theological terminology muddied the waters and I think is the real root of misunderstanding. In my attempts to clarify what Shawn believes we struggled to identify a word to adequately describe the distinctness of Father, Son and Spirit; which Shawn preferred to refer to as Father, Word and Spirit. In the end I simply used “thing” in place of the more theologically clear term of “person.” Shawn affirmed the co-eternal nature of all the “things” within the singular God, as well as their basic distinction from one another. He also affirmed a voluntary subordination between the divine “things.” Because of this exploratory questioning, which I prompted late in the proceedings, I’m not willing to decry Shawn as a heretic. I’m not convinced that whatever errors he holds to in his theology rise to the level of damnable error.

I want to say that I do think Shawn is being needlessly vague by rejecting historically established and helpful terminology simply because it does not appear in the Bible. This seems to be a troublesome path since the Bible teaches many things which, if we wish to communicate them concisely, benefit from adopting theological, and even philosophical, terminology. Yes, such terminology is a form of jargon; but that does not make it bad, wrong, or unbiblical. In a very narrow sense it is man-made, which seemed to be one of Shawn’s big hang-ups; but, that does not mean it is without use or value. In this case I am simply led to disagree with Shawn, but that is not the same as considering him a heretic. I disagree with Shawn’s assessment of Calvinism, being a Calvinist myself, but I don’t know that Shawn and I really mean the same thing when we use such labels. I also disagree with Shawn’s readiness to reject the use of the creeds, but I understand his reticence as it has been held to by many of my Baptist kin over the years.

In the end, I consider Shawn a brother in Christ, but I believe he is errant and perhaps misguided in some of his teachings and approaches. But, I think the vitriol that has been displayed on all sides, going back even to the beginning of last year is the real problem. Shawn and his opponents need to calm down, slow down and talk more with each other, and less at each other. I look forward to taking up both Shawn’s and Pastor Jason Wallace’s invitations to sit down and talk more. I will continue to hope for more unity amongst Christians and will look for ways I can even foster that myself.

It was an interesting night in Utah, and I trust God will use it for some purpose that will bring Him glory.

UPDATE: 2014-02-21 — 9:45am

A good brother pointed out that I may be painting with too broad a brush in castigating both sides for being overly harsh with one another. I want to clarify that my point of reference is restricted to the event that Shawn hosted. At that event Jason Wallace was the only one of the formal “accusers” who maintained a calm and respectful tone and presentation throughout. There were some other questioners from the audience who maintained a gentle and loving tone, and I want to be clear that it is not my intention to treat everyone who has voiced concern with Shawn’s teachings as though they have been overly harsh or unloving in their presentation, that is simply not the case. There are plenty of Christians who have approached Shawn in private and public and maintained the gentle and Christ-like approach that is called for. I hope this clarifies my meaning and intention in criticizing both sides in the current controversy.

UPDATE: 2014-02-21 — 12:56pm — Defining Terms

A friend asked if I could include a few definitions for those who may not be as steeped in the jargon of theology at issue:

  • Heresy — I use this term to mean damnable error, error so egregious that you will end up in Hell for holding firmly to it.
  • Trinitarianism — The affirmation that there is one, and only one, God eternally existing in three equally divine and equally eternal persons described as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • Persons — As used in the previous definition to mean a subsistence within a single being, each possessing completely the divine nature, yet not representing the totality of the Godhead; and each distinguishable from the other two persons. The term is insufficient in some ways, but useful.
  • Modalism — A family of heresies that essentially affirms the unity of God while denying the distinctions presented in Scripture between the members of the Godhead.
  • Patripassianism — A form of Modalism that is represented by the idea that the Father became the Son and thus suffered on the cross.

I highly recommend the online resource Theopedia for those who want to explore these terms more or learn about the jargon of Christian Theology and its rich history.

UPDATE: 2014-02-24 — 12:40pm

The video from the event has now been posted.

UPDATE: 2014-02-25 — 3:57pm

I have closed the comments section before it would normally be automatically closed because I’m not in a position to stay on top of them and some look to be venturing into discussion that, while important, is not best conducted in the comment area of this blog post. This is an issue that will not be going away soon or quietly, nor should it. It is important for believers to wrestle with the Word and come to to conclusions about where they stand on important doctrinal issues. I am in discussions with some friends of mine about the doctrine of the Trinity and I have an email I recently sent to Shawn that I am awaiting reply to. I expect to have a follow-up post on this important matter in the coming weeks and I want to encourage everyone to maintain hope in Christ that unity may come, not at the expense of sound doctrine, but as a result of sound doctrine and with the support of Christian charity between brothers and sisters in Christ.

Wondering what to expect from Shawn McCraney

Last year I wrote a number of posts about Shawn McCraney, a well known ex-Mormon here in Utah. For years Shawn has had a television program where he confronted Mormon teachings with the Bible and critiqued their history, theology and organization. Then, at the beginning of last year, he announced his intention to go after American Evangelicalism. I was cautiously supportive of Shawn and publicly stated why and identified some things that bothered me about the way some Utah Evangelicals were responding to Shawn.

Well, it’s been over a year since the first post and Shawn is embroiled in another controversy. This one is a bit more substantial in my estimation. Lately Shawn has been teaching things that sound a lot like denials of basic Christian doctrines. He appears to now be denying the Trinity and the eternality of Hell. Tonight Shawn is hosting a public Question and Answer session. I will be attending it since I have withheld judgement up to this point despite my misgivings about Shawn’s teachings, hoping for him to offer more clarity.

Tonight, I am hoping for that additional clarity before I make up my mind about how to regard Shawn in relation to the body of Christ. I’m hoping that he’ll clarify his beliefs sufficiently to allow me to continue regarding him as a brother in Christ. But, I am honestly not sure what to expect. I will hold on to hope and be sure to respond with as much charity and understanding as Scripture demands.

It is going to be an interesting evening in Utah.

Why the Creation v. Evolution debate is boring

This past week Bill Nye and Ken Ham had a debate. Lots of people have weighed in on both sides and in the end the issue remains just as intractable as ever. No one won the debate and no one lost, except the folks who walked in with their opinions already established, which includes everyone I know. In the end the debate was, in my opinion, a waste of time.

I want to be clear. I’m a young earth creationist. I believe that God created the entire universe in six twenty-four hour periods. I’m less committed to a particular age of the earth, and would tend to place myself in the old-earth creationist camp. But, I hold these beliefs for purely theological reasons. I am not a creationist because I believe the science points there. But, I also don’t hold my views in spite of science. To the best of my knowledge absolutely no one witnessed the creation of the universe. Nobody knows based on observation, repeatable experimentation or any other empirical means how all the exists came into being. For the theist, like myself, this presents no problem whatsoever because of a commitment to revealed truth, as contained in the Bible. But, in the absence of another source of authority arguments about the origin of the universe are simply boring.

Everyone has a narrative they want to put forward. Some, like Ken Ham, advance a very clear biblically literalist narrative based on a singular source. Others, like Bill Nye, advance a more nuanced, less certain and certainly more complex narrative filled with as many questions as supposed answers. And yet others advance variations or even entirely different narratives regarding the origins of all that is. But, they are all simply narratives based on their own prior commitments and presumptions. And, without an agreed upon source of authority, it is very difficult to arbitrate between competing narratives.

For these reasons I am not an evidentialist and I don’t put a lot of stock in Christian Apologetics. And it is because of this that I find the Creation v. Evolution debate to be exceedingly boring. Additionally, as a Church Historian, I find the modern predisposition to make one’s belief about origins a litmus test of orthodoxy quite strange. The only essential commitments of the Church through the centuries has been that God created all that is. The processes used to accomplish this creation are not specified in any of the early creeds and they appear in very few confessions coming from the Reformation until now. The Westminster Confession affirms a six day creation, but nearly every other confession or catechism of the church end simply by stating that God created all things.

Again, I want to affirm my full belief in Exodus 20:11 in which Scripture declares that “in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them” (ESV). But, I also take Scripture seriously when it declares that unrighteous men suppress the truth by means of their unrighteousness and gladly choose to worship the creation rather than the creator (Romans 1:18, 25) and that “No one can come to [Jesus] unless the Father who sent [Him] draws him” (John 6:44, ESV). For this reason the arguments over evidence to defend one narrative about origins or another is very boring to me. I believe that we ought to engage with science as Christians, but we also need to avoid substituting apologetics for preaching the Gospel. We need to recognize that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18, ESV). We have nothing to offer this lost and dying world apart from the message of Christ who lived, died and was raised for the forgiveness of our sins.

Building the wrong house from the right blueprints

On Sunday, January 12, 2014 Elder Tad R. Callister of the Presidency of the Seventy gave an address to the Church Educational System of the LDS church. In it he spoke about the analogy of a blueprint for a house and how “[i]n a similar way Christ built a home to best accommodate the spiritual needs of His children. It was called His Church.” On this count it is hard to disagree with Elder Callister. Jesus certainly did provide instructions on how His church was to operate, who it was composed of and the like. And, I even find myself, basically, agreeing with Elder Callister’s affirmation that we ought to look to the New Testament as our source for knowing how Jesus Christ desires His church to operate: “If one desired to discover Christ’s Church today he would want to match the spiritual blueprint found in the New Testament against every Christian church in the world until he discovered a church that matched the blueprint—organization for organization, teaching for teaching, ordinance for ordinance, fruit for fruit, and revelation for revelation.”

But, when we look to the New Testament what do we see? We clearly see Apostles leading the church in its earliest days, and even resolving disputes over matters of doctrine (Acts 15). However, we also see those Apostles appointing other leaders to carry on their work, such as Paul’s instruction to Titus to appoint elders in the various towns (Titus 1:5). There is absolutely no indication in the New Testament that the ministry of the Apostles would be perpetual. In fact, Acts 1:21-22 records Peter declaring in the midst of the other Apostles the need to replace Judas, and not just with any individual but with a person who met particular qualifications:

“So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22, ESV)

This is a very particular qualification required to serve as an Apostle that Peter lays down: an Apostle must have been a witness to the ministry of Jesus and his resurrection. The obvious question that should be raised then is: what about Paul? Paul defends his apostleship repeatedly in his letters, and Acts 9 describes Paul’s encounter with the resurrected Lord, meeting the second qualification that Peter had laid out in Acts 1:21-22. And, Paul was likely familiar with the ministry of Jesus, despite not being among those who followed Him as His disciples. But, the strongest reason to accept Paul’s apostleship are the words of Peter as recorded in 2 Peter 3:15-16:

“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” (2 Peter 3:15-16, ESV)

Peter refers to Paul affectionately and recognizes the wisdom given to Paul in his writings. But, moreover Peter writes of Paul’s writings alongside “the other Scriptures.” So, it appears that Peter is supporting Paul’s authority and elevating his writings even to the level of already received Scripture.

Today, the LDS church claims to have Apostles, yet not a single one was a witness to the earthly ministry of Jesus, nor have they likely “witness[ed] … his resurrection.” If any of them claim to have had an experience akin to Paul’s vision of the resurrected Lord, they certainly aren’t publicly stating such. On this count the LDS Apostles would seem to be misnamed, at the very least. But, the LDS church has also adopted other practices the find no foundation in Scripture.

Never does the New Testament advocate the building of temples in which to conduct, so-called, ordinances, endowments and the like as practiced by the LDS church. The LDS temple system is an invention that has no parallel in Scripture. The Temple, as known to the biblical Apostles and to other Jews, was a place of offering, prayer and thanksgiving with its practices clearly defined in the Old Testament. In fact, Leviticus 10 records the death of Nadab and Abihu for offering “unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded.” God takes His worship seriously, and the LDS temple system makes a mockery of what God has commanded by adding to His Word.

While Elder Callister is right in identifying the New Testament as the place to look for the blueprint of Christ’s church, it is clear that the LDS church is the wrong house. A careful reading of the New Testament, especially a reading which is informed by the fullness of the Old Testament, ought to make it clear that Christ’s church is not accurately reflected in the temples, ordinances, organizations and, so-called, revelations of the LDS church. Doctrine and Covenants 1:30 clearly is wrong to assert that the coming forth of the LDS church represents “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.” The LDS church is the wrong house to build from the right blueprints of the New Testament.

True Christians ought to side with Luther and Tertullian who rightly identified means to discern the presence of a true church:

“Now, anywhere you hear or see such a word preached, believed, confessed, and acted upon, do not doubt that the true ecclesia sancta catholica, a ‘holy Christian people’ must be there.” (Luther, On the Councils and the Church)

“For their very doctrine, after comparison with that of the apostles, will declare, by its own diversity and contrariety, that it had for its author neither an apostle nor an apostolic man; because, as the apostles would never have taught things which were self-contradictory, so the apostolic men would not have inculcated teaching different from the apostles, unless they who received their instruction from the apostles went and preached in a contrary manner.” (Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics)

Any church that follows after the teachings of the Apostles, and thus the Word of God as revealed in the Old and New Testaments alone is where you will find God’s people. In spite of ecclesiastical differences, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists and others confess the same faith as taught by the Apostles: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV)

Following up on Shawn McCraney

It’s been months since I last talked about Shawn McCraney and in my personal life I have found myself being an unlikely advocate for Shawn with folks. That being said I have just gotten around to watching some of Shawn McCraney’s recorded Heart of the Matter: Evangelical Christianity. I intend to deal directly with some of the issues he raises; but, so far, I like that Shawn feels freer and more open to being himself. It really comes through in his presentation. Concerning the content of his first show focussing on Evangelical Christianity, I can’t comment on any of the reasons that Shawn identifies in it for his original show’s cancellation, other than what I’ve said previously about what I know of the whole situation. And, concerning the things I know and documented Shawn is right that his termination appears to have been both vindictive (my word) and punitive (Shawn’s description).

I completely agree with Shawn that there is ample reason to critique and even go after, aggressively, idiotic elements that exist within contemporary American Evangelical Christianity. Evangelicalism is full of hypocrisy and, more seriously, heresy. There are things being taught in Evangelicalism today that put the souls of millions at risk of eternal condemnation because they are not hearing or believing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The reality is that Shawn has biblical justification for going after the problems that exist in Evangelical Christianity. Pastors and leaders in the Church are called to serve as watchmen, prophets (in a sense) in their role as shepherds and overseers of the flock. Shawn is also totally correct in distinguishing between the Body of Christ and Evangelical Christianity. The two are not synonymous and Shawn, again, has biblical justification for offering criticism of contemporary Evangelical Christianity, so long as he maintains he distinction. Shawn has sound reasons and biblical support for his stated goal and I welcome his criticism and hope that God will use it to sharpen those who need it. I welcome and pray for a new reformation that returns churches to the bedrock of Scripture, and I hope that Shawn’s work will be useful to that end.

So, in the end I will continue to support Shawn McCraney and advocate for him, despite my disagreements with him (especially his apparent objections to Calvinism). I’m also not on board with his notion of Christian Anarchy. Although it sounds nice on the surface, my understanding of Church History leads me to be very concerned about any emphasis on Christian Anarchism because of the bloody history of the peasant’s revolts of the post-Reformation period. But, Shawn isn’t perfect, and thankfully makes no pretenses of being above all criticism. Because of his honesty and his willingness to follow his conscience I find no reason to encourage anyone to abandon Shawn McCraney at this point. In fact, I would say that more Evangelical leaders need to stop and listen to Shawn and take seriously his criticisms. I look forward to going through the videos as he posts them to the archives and will try to cover each one, although I won’t promise that.

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYOQkkIC?p=1 width=”550″ height=”443″]

Impotent Words: “Our Thoughts Are With You”

In the aftermath of the bombings in Boston today I’ve seen a tremendous outpouring of concern and support for those affected by the horrific events. I’m encouraged by those Christians and others who have openly expressed their concern and support through prayer. But, I’ve been equally disgusted by those who have nothing better to offer than that their “thoughts,” which either “go out to” or “are with” those who are suffering. I’m sure many of these folks will offer more tangible support in the coming days; but how impotent does your worldview have to be that the best you can muster in the face of evil is that you will think about it?

What can your mere thoughts accomplish in the face of evil? Am I the only one who finds mere thought less than encouraging in the face of evil? Should we not, rather, avail ourselves of the One who has the power to bring evil to a final end? Should we not avail ourselves of prayer? Should we not offer humble intercession and supplication to the creator who holds all things together by the exercise of His great power? Should we not do much more than merely think about the victims of evil?

Philippians 4:8 commends us to think. But, it commends us to think of those good things which flow from God. And, 1 Corinthians 14:15 entreats us to pray with our minds. Our thoughts are to dwell on that which is good and to actively direct ourselves to those things in prayer. Dwelling on evil with our minds will not make things right. And how impotent our lives will be if we only think about the great evil and suffering around us. We must do more. We must pray. For it is God who has the power to bring an end to all evil.

I will pray for all those who suffer, because I know my mere thoughts can not blunt the sting of evil. But, my prayers go up to the one who will, one day, put all evil to an end and make right all that is wrong. Come, quickly, Lord Jesus!

Playing Pagan

This past weekend was an wonderful time for me. Friday evening I spent time in fellowship and study as part of the Secret Church simulcast at First Baptist Church of Provo. And, Sunday I celebrated Resurrection Sunday with family and friends in worship of our risen Lord. But, this weekend was also special to thousands of other people; people who ostensibly want to be known as followers of Jesus Christ. I’m referring to the participation by thousands of Mormons in the annual Holi Festival that takes place at the local Hari Krishna temple in Spanish Fork, Utah. While these members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints would swear to no end that they follow Jesus Christ and that they worship one and the same God as other Christians, their participation in an overtly pagan religious practice tells a very different story. The reaction of some of the event participant’s to First Baptist Church of Provo’s, and others’, evangelical efforts outside the festival also reveals that as much as Mormons want to call themselves Christians, many are little more than run-of-the-mill pagans putting on a shameful pretense. Just to cite an extreme example, one girl left a message on the church’s voicemail telling us, in the same breath, that “God loves everyone. And you can go to hell.” Apparently, God’s love didn’t inspire this girl to extend  love to those of us who proclaim that Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of God’s love and the only means of salvation. We are, apparently, so wretched that we ought to be consigned to everlasting punishment by the very God whom she asserts loves everyone equally. Pardon me while I laugh at the utter foolishness of such a statement, as well as the attitude and inconsistent beliefs that underly it.

Now, I know I’m going to be labelled as hateful, bigoted and/or judgmental for this post; but, in light of the truly hateful response some members of my church received for their evangelical efforts, I’m willing to hazard the vain and hollow name calling. Besides, the people flinging those particular insults around probably should stop and do two things: 1) read the name of this blog; and 2) examine the tone and attitude of their own response. I encourage those two bits of reflection because, as a theologically conservative Baptist, no one should be surprised that I’m neither syncretistic nor pluralistic. And, I usually find that the ones calling others bigots, hateful or judgmental often are doing far more to project and expect outright acceptance of their own beliefs, opinions and attitudes by others than the one they are calling nasty names.

But, that is straying from the point I wanted to get at. Why are Mormons behaving like pagans when they go to the Holi Festival? The Holi Festival is an ancient tradition that is tied up in a lot of Hindu mythology. There are some good moral lessons to be gleaned from the mythology regarding the conquering of good over evil, but there are also some really troubling religious teachings wrapped in the good moral lessons. So, lets examine a bit of history about the Holi Festival:

“It is said that Holi existed several centuries before Christ. However, the meaning of the festival is believed to have changed over the years. Earlier it was a special rite performed by married women for the happiness and well-being of their families and the full moon (Raka) was worshiped.

Hiranyakashyap wanted everybody in his kingdom to worship only him but to his great disappointment, his son, Prahlad became an ardent devotee of Lord Naarayana. Hiaranyakashyap commanded his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap. Holika had a boon whereby she could enter fire without any damage on herself. However, she was not aware that the boon worked only when she enters the fire alone. As a result she paid a price for her sinister desires, while Prahlad was saved by the grace of the god for his extreme devotion. The festival, therefore, celebrates the victory of good over evil and also the triumph of devotion.”

(“History of Holi”, Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India, http://www.holifestival.org/history-of-holi.html)

What is interesting to me, and should be interesting to anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ is that monotheism is implicitly portrayed as evil in this myth. The Bible is clear that God is both one, and to be worshipped alone (Deuteronomy 6:4; Exodus 20:3; Matthew 4:10; 1 Corinthians 6:9; Revelation 21:8). So, to celebrate a festival that has its mythological origins tied to the acceptance of polytheism should cause anyone who wants to claim they believe the Bible some pause. I know that most of the folks who went to the festival are about as ignorant of the religious underpinnings of the festival as they are the theological underpinnings of Hanukkah; and, who can blame them. There are probably just as many Jews in Utah as there are legitimate devotees within the Hari Krishna community, meaning a lot fewer than there are Christians (< 3%). Yet that doesn’t change the reality that thousands of supposedly good Mormon folks, who would claim to be followers of Christ, participated in a religious worship service. They just didn’t stop to think about what they were doing and why. In that way, at least, they are not so different from many others who would claim to be Christians, even people within my own faith community: Southern Baptists. But, ignorance will not excuse anyone on the day of judgement (Acts 17:30; Ephesians 4:8).

Because ignorance will not excuse them, I am proud of those who went out from First Baptist Church of Provo on Saturday to share the Gospel with those who willingly, yet probably ignorantly, participated in offering strange worship to false gods. Hopefully someone among the thousands of attendees of the Holi Festival will read the 2013 Holi Festival Tract that was distributed and ask the question of why they would worship false gods while claiming to be followers of a God who describes Himself as both jealous and wrathful regarding right worship of Himself (Exodus 20:5). In the end though I expect that thousands of Mormons will continue to participate in the Holi Festival, even knowing it is a pagan act of worship, and in so doing they will merely confirm that they are no more followers of Christ than the Krishna’s they worship with or the legions who worshipped Zeus centuries ago. In the end, pagans will behave like pagans and even knowledge won’t stop them. Only through being transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ can anyone hope to be saved and to rightly understand how to worship God in spirit and in truth.

Heart of the Matter Cancelled: It’s Complicated…Sort Of

Well, I’ve received the official statement from KMTW TV20 about why they chose to cancel Shawn McCraney’s show, “Heart of the Matter,” earlier this week. As a matter of review, here is the basic timeline:

  • First, Shawn went on the air on January 1st announcing that his show’s 2013 emphasis would not be a continued critique of Mormonism, but instead a year-long focus on the problems within American Evangelical Christianity.
  • Following this announcement the station attempted to dissuade Shawn McCraney from this plan and he responded with a letter, dated January 2nd, to the station owner reiterating his reasons and calling for them to allow him to continue.
  • On January 4th Greg Johnson, founder of Standing Together Utah and host of “This Week in the Word” on TV20, sent out an email to a couple dozen Pastors in Utah calling on them to express themselves to the station regarding what he termed an “attack against the Body of Christ in Utah.” (Read them on my previous post)
  • On Monday, January 7th, Greg Johnson sent out a follow-up message announcing the cancellation of Shawn’s program
  • Shawn released a letter later announcing the cancellation of his program on the “Heart of the Matter” web site
  • On January 8th I received a copy of the letter sent by Shawn McCraney to the station owner that has since been verified to be the one received by them.
  • On January 11th, today, I received a copy of the station’s official statement regarding the cancellation.

In the interest of total disclosure I am posting both the letter sent on January 2nd by Shawn to the station, including the proposed programming schedule, and the official response in their entirety here, as PDFs:

Also, over the last couple days the program that aired on January 1st has been made available as well:

So, now that everything is out and official, what do we know? Well, the letter from Shawn McCraney is caustic at points and expresses frustration over the idea of not being allowed to pursue this new emphasis. Greg Johnson’s messages still stand as clearly as before and seem to be most critical of the topic that Shawn had planned to cover. The program itself is pretty standard fare from what I can tell and while some may object to certain choices of Shawn’s with regards to language, it seems pretty tame  to my sensibilities and I don’t know if Shawn’s program could ever really have been considered children’s programming, given the content. The station’s response provides a lot of history about Shawn’s original coming to the station, some troubles he had in the past and the concern that the station had over Shawn’s unannounced decision to change direction. Given all this context I’m willing to walk back my previous opinion that the station over-reacted; although in a qualified way.

Had Shawn still been airing at the largesse of the station their desire to make sure he stayed on message with their desire for his program would seem perfectly reasonable. But, that situation apparently ended two years ago, and Shawn has been paying to have his program aired on TV20. Given that fact I tend to think he should have been given some license to deal with whatever topics he wanted to deal with. However, I understand the station’s concern that he did not clear this change with them first and that they previously turned down a program he wanted to air which addressed this same general topic. All that to say, I understand the station’s point of view and reasons for canceling Shawn’s program, as they’ve stated them.

I still believe the station should not have cancelled the program though. Shawn has always been a caustic figure, it is part of both his appeal and the reason why many dislike him. He’s similar, in many ways, to a radio “shock jock.” It would seem that were his method of criticism the heart of the reason for his cancellation it would have come sooner. The convergence of criticism over his style and the chosen topic seem to be unavoidable to deal with. The station’s letter cites their choice to air “Wretched” with Todd Friel, and “Word Pictures” as evidence of their willingness to host programming critical of Evangelicalism. The latter of these two programs I am not familiar with, but I am a fan of Friel’s program in general. To say that “Wretched” is a match for the systematic critique that Shawn was apparently planning doesn’t seem like an even comparison. Yes, “Wretched” mocks all kinds of problems within Evangelicalism; but it also goes after all kinds of other groups. But, “Wretched” does criticize Evangelicalism, so if the station wants that to be the extent of its self-critical programming then they can do that.

A staff person at the station has told me that they receive only a handful of calls regarding Greg Johnson’s email to pastors. Whether those played any role in the decision to cancel Shawn’s program is unclear, since they are not mentioned in the official response from the station. It seems unlikely that criticism of Shawn’s focus and possibly further criticism of his style from area pastors would not have tipped the scales to some degree. But, the station has stated their official reasons for the decision to cancel “Heart of the Matter,” and unless something else becomes known that’s the most that we’ll know.

In the end I’m still not a fan of Shawn’s style, but the topic he was planning to delve into is something that needs to be dealt with. There are lots of churches in Utah and throughout this country that lack strong biblical teaching, where musical worship is more of a concert than true worship, and where the sheep are not being adequately cared for or defended by their pastors. Shawn’s plan for 2013 could have been part of a very healthy bit of self-examination for the Evangelical community in Utah. It would have provided a opportunity for dialogue. Now, that needed self-examination will have to come by some other means, and hopefully it will still come.



UPDATE: 2012-01-13

Yesterday an additional update was posted to the Heart of the Matter web site by Shawn. You can read the update on Shawn’s website or here: HOTM January 12 Update. Shawn rightly identifies a lot of division that is surrounding the cancellation of his show. Such division was probably inevitable, given the circumstances, and some of it existed before the cancellation took place. I think this whole situation is perhaps reflective of a larger issues facing contemporary Christianity.

In Utah, and the rest of the United States, there are may questions about the future of Evangelicalism. With the failed attempt to unite Evangelicals around Mitt Romney, there are cracks appearing in the once, seemingly, mighty “Moral Majority.” A former co-worker of mine at the Oneida Baptist Institute once introduced me to the term Post-Evangelical. With the rise of the Emergent and Emerging movements within Evangelicalism it may be time to think about what it means to move beyond Evangelicalism. To move beyond the socio-political ecumenism and towards something more meaningful.

I’ve mused elsewhere that today’s Evangelicalism looks an awful lot like the Fundamentalism of the early twentieth century. It lacks the penchants of sectarianism and separatism, but it is no less combative or politically oriented. Even, the same concerns that were played out in the Scopes Trial of 1925 have been popping up periodically for over two decades now. The difference is that today’s Evangelicalism is far more ecumenical than the Fundamentalism of the 1920s. But, the similarities are no less striking.

Everything that is playing out in this situation could be instructive for other conflicts that may be coming, as well as for some that are already upon us.


UPDATE 2013-02-01

Over the last week or so I’ve had a number of items forwarded to me that have been published by Shawn and his ministry. It sounds like Shawn recognizes problems in the way he handled certain aspects of what transpired in the January 23 2013 Update from Shawn McCraney posted to the HOTM site last Wednesday. While it is very good to see Shawn publicly apologizing for errors in judgement, it still seems unfortunate that his show was cancelled over a set of matters that could have been handled via an on-air apology. But, hindsight is almosts always 20/20 and I am waiting patiently for Shawn to take up the task of critiquing Evangelicalism in 2013 that he seemed intent on continuing to pursue in the January 2013 Alathea Ministries Newsletter.