I just saw the "Jesus Camp" movie with my kids from youth group. It is a stunning, breathtaking, evenly-balanced movie. It will also make you sick. I got nauseous watching it. The whole movie was a continual mix of truth and error, Gospel and Law, God and the devil. It was like riding in the car with a narcoleptic. For a long time you would be driving along just fine, agreeing with what was being presented, and then all of the sudden the driver would fall asleep at the wheel and the car would veer off of the road and crash in flames. And this happened at least a half-dozen times in the movie.
It wasn't like the "religious" people were presented as all evil all the time. They weren't. For the most part they were presented as kind, loving, caring people, who were a little odd. They were the kind of folk that live next door. And then all of the sudden they would drive off of the side of the road into this scary ravine of hate and exclusion and power-politics. And this happened over and over in the movie.
I think the words that best describe the movie are idolatry, warfare, and humorless.
Idolatry, because of the whole emphasis on the U.S. being a "Christian Nation". They pledged allegiance to the American flag, the Christian flag, and the Bible. But they did not pledge allegiance to Jesus. They prayed to a cut-out picture of George Bush, laid hands on the picture, and talked to the picture, asking God to empower the President to make the USA a Christian Nation. But they never asked God about it. They just assumed that President Bush is the anointed Messiah of the Nation. I love our President, but I do not idolize him. They did. And they idolized the power that comes with controlling the political system. There was little concern for love of God or neighbor, and a huge concern for converting people and this Nation to a certain belief system and a certain religious style.
The other main motif was warfare. Us versus Them. Good versus Bad. In the words of one of the mothers: "There are two types of people in the world. Those who love Jesus and those who don't". The children are being trained- not raised- to be soldiers for Christ to take back America for Jesus… and this is all their wording, not mine. This warfare mentality can only result in the marginalization and exclusion of people who are not "like them". You can already see it in the attitudes in the film, and if they take political power, it is only time before such prejudice becomes a matter of public policy.
And not only that, but they did not allow the kids to be kids. The adults did not encourage them to play, they trained them. They indoctrinated them, because according to "Pastor Becky", children do not have the freedom to learn and make choices. Instead, children must be shaped and formed by the adults around them. Now I realize there are some things that must be "indoctrinated", like looking both ways before crossing the street, and not touching stoves. Perhaps the idea that God loves everyone and will save everyone through Jesus is another idea that must be constantly re-emphasized. After all, parents do have a responsibility to nourish their kids with both physical AND spiritual food.
But, it is quite another thing to make them into little soldiers, and put them to work as little door-to-door evangelists. For instance, the Christians in the film came up with a brilliant way to silently protest abortion by putting red tape over people's mouths that said "LIFE" on it. This was designed to signify that a human life had been silenced by abortion. It was visually stunning and effective, and since I believe that life is sacred from womb to tomb, I think it is a good idea. Well, a good idea for adults who can make a choice about what they choose to protest. Not to make kids do, even if the kids think they want to do it. They are simply too young to be "put to work" in the Name of Jesus. They have no real choice, and no informed understanding of the issue beyond what their caregivers feed them. Thus, their protest is meaningless because they do not have the ability to choose to NOT protest!
We don’t make kids work in sweatshops anymore. Why? Because childhood is about learning and development and play, and to make kids work like adults short-circuits the growth process in kids. I want to put forward the idea that the kids in this movie were being made to work in a "spiritual sweatshop", when they should have been enjoying the innocence, beauty, and play of being a kid. Pastor Becky loaded them down with guilt and dreams of empire and idolatry in the Name of Christ, and that just ain't right!
And finally, perhaps most critically: there was absolutely NO sense of humor in the Jesus Campers that was not directed at making fun of those on the "outside". Sure, they could crack jokes about how stupid the evolutionists and the liberals were, but they could not laugh at themselves. They were always dead serious about their mission, and their warfare with the world. And that is a spiritually deadly place to be in. Because humor IS humility with a smile on, and those who cannot laugh at themselves cannot be humble.
The religion of Jesus Camp is a very clever look-alike to Christianity. It uses the Name of Jesus a whole lot, but not for Jesus' sake. Rather, Jesus is used for the sake of other things, such as making America a Christian Nation and getting oneself out of hellfire. Jesus is used as a means to an end. And when Jesus is used as a means, that means that Jesus is not in the center of the religion. Rather, an idol has been placed in the center… and we know where that leads. It leads to an idolatrous system that divides the world into two "camps" of Us versus Them, and then proceeds to wage war on the Them. It sucks the joy out of life and leaves us with a humorless idolatry that is deadly serious about its own mission, and scornful of anything that is important to anyone else.
May God show us all how to passionately follow Jesus in a way that does not lead us to Jesus Camp. Amen+
What could be more comedic than a smelly biped with a three pound brain trying to comprehend the purposes of God? Yet, that's what delights our Maker! So much that He became a smelly biped too. This blog explores this ironic fact with amusement, wit, and just a little bit of sarcasm.
Let's face it, it's fun writing blog posts, even when they are somewhat "serious" and "theological". Debates are fun too. And, as long as we really love each other, poking fun at each other is fun. And some of the best jokes that comedians make are about really serious subjects, like politics, for instance. If you don't believe me, turn on nighttime TV.
And let's also face it: We take ourselves waaaay too seriously. We forget we are smelly bipeds and we begin to think we are God. Not even God is as serious as we are most of the time. One of the problems with academia in general and theology in particular- why it is dull, and dusty, and deadly boring- is that we have forgotten to laugh at ourselves. We have forgotten the core irony and absurdity of our existence. We have forgotten to play.
Let's put fun, play, humility, humor, and comedy back into theology. Let's do theomedy. And above all, let us not forget:
There are some things that are too serious not to joke about!
What is theomedy? The shortest definition is simply "the comedy of theology". A more exact definition is:
The-o-med-y [thee-om-ed-ee] noun. 1. An exploration of the comedy found in theology; 2. A method of doing theology that is playful and ironic, and seeks to mediate between the paradoxes found in the Christian worldview, Christian spirituality, and Church life.
And this leads to:
The-o-med-ic [thee-oh-med-ic] adj. Something that pertains to theomedy, or shares in the worldview of theomedy.
The-o-med-i-an [thee-oh-med-ee-an] noun. A thoughtful Christian, or professional theologian, who practices theomedy.
But what is the origin of the concept of theomedy? There are at least five distinct "roots" that describe what theomedy is all about:
The first root of theomedy is the Greek word "Theos", which means "God". The most important aspect of theomedy is that it is rooted and centered in the identity of God, as God reveals Himself in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Theomedy is not an attempt to destroy, edit, or revise, the orthodox faith that is embodied in Christ, preached by the disciples, recorded in the Scriptures, defined by the early Church Councils, and summarized in the Nicene Creed.
Rather, theomedy seeks to uphold, defend, and explain the "faith once for all delivered" to the Church. Theomedy is an unabashedly orthodox Christian view of the world that is Trinitarian, Christ-centered, Spirit-dependent, Scripture-based, and grace-filled. Yet, theomedy does seek to explore this consensual Christian worldview and reveal the paradoxes of the faith, the irony of our relationship with God, and the humor that is found in the Church.
This leads to the second root of theomedy: Comedy. We need to put fun, play, humility, humor, and comedy back into theology. We need to have fun with God! He did not just make us to be little factory workers, or guilt machines, or Gospel salespeople. He made us to enjoy Himself, and to rejoice in His presence. Remember, Jesus endured the cross "for the JOY set before Him" (Hebrews 12:2). Joy and humor is part of Jesus' mission, and we cannot be Jesus people without being people of humor.
I was in a worship service the other day and everyone was stressed. No one was having fun. Everyone was afraid to do the wrong thing at the wrong time. Does this bring glory to God? Does he enjoy worship like that? We take ourselves waaaay too seriously. We forget we are smelly bipeds with three pound brains, and we begin to think we are God. Not even God is as serious as we are most of the time.
One of the problems with academia in general and theology in particular- why it is dull, and dusty, and deadly boring- is that we have forgotten to laugh at ourselves. We have forgotten the core irony and absurdity of our existence. We have forgotten to play. And there is a certain humility that is part of being able to laugh at oneself and one's theology. Theology that is too serious is theology that has no humility. And if theology does not have humility, it becomes a source of pride. And pride comes before a fall!
How many theological conflicts and Church splits could have been prevented by having more humility and more humor?
How many theological systems have become idols of paper because of pride and seriousness? How many of these theological idols have blinded people to the reality of God?
If you want to cure some of the theological diseases of the Church, start by taking a huge dose of humility and comedy!
And not only that, but one of the reasons people don't want to become a follower of Christ is because they do not see joyful Christians. They see Christians who cannot take jokes or make jokes. They see Christians who do not appreciate irony and sarcasm. They see Christians who cannot laugh at themselves or their faith (even when it is a joke found in the text of the Bible!). They see Christians who are just dull.
We need to send this stereotype to hell, because that is where it belongs, and where it comes from. We need to recapture our identity as people of joy and laugh at the devil when he tries to make us so serious we cannot relate to God or the world He made!
Comedy was the second root of theomedy. The third root is "media", where we get "median" from, which brings us to a sense of being balanced in the middle. Theomedy is a "middle way", or a "via media" between extremes. Heresy comes about in the Church because of imbalance: because one side of the Truth is held onto tightly and another side is let go of.
For instance, three of the central paradoxes of the Christian faith have to do with the Trinity, the Incarnation, and salvation. In the Trinity, we find that God is one AND three. In the Incarnation we find that Jesus is God AND human. In salvation we find that God is sovereign AND humans are free. The worst heresies about God have come from emphasizing the oneness while denying His threeness. The worst heresies about Christ have come from only emphasizing his humanity or divinity while excluding the other. The worst heresies about salvation have either denied that man is free, or denied that God is sovereign.
Rather, healthy, holistic theology comes from balancing between these extremes, always holding them in tension, and never denying either side of the equation. Some think that healthy theology comes from finding some rock-solid foundation and building on it, so that nothing can ever move us from the Truth. And, if this foundation is Christ alone, then this idea is true (cf. 1Co 3). But, after we have put ourselves on Christ's foundation, what next?
Perhaps a better image of healthy theology is a tightrope, where each side that holds up the tightrope is built into the foundation of Christ. And, instead of standing on a foundation, maybe healthy theology is a lot more like walking on the tightrope, always holding a balance between extremes on the right and on the left. Scripture is like the pole that helps us stay balanced, and the Holy Spirit is the line that we walk on.
This balance, this tension, this "via media" is what theomedy is. We seek to maintain a healthy, holistic spirituality and theology by constantly balancing between extremes in Christ. A friend named Bret has called this "raging moderation". I just call it theomedy.
So, theomedy is Trinity-centered, comedic, and mediating. But there is a fourth root: mediator. The word "mediator" leads us to a mission: to mediate conflicts between others. Theomedy not only seeks to be balanced, but to bring balance to others. The practice of theomedy leads one to mediate between different Christian Traditions, and mediate between the Church and the World.
Let us look at our mediation between Christian traditions. The two main reasons for the fractures of the Church are (a) the grave harm we have done to each other, and (b) the theological and spiritual disagreements we have with each other. I hazard a guess that if we truly forgave and loved each other for the wrongs we have all done, the theological problems we have would be much less insurmountable.
So, theomedy is a practice of forgiving each other, and helping all Christians love one another as our Lord commanded us and modeled for us (cf. John 13:34-35). Theomedians stand in the midst of the fractured Church and call out in this wilderness "Repent! Love one another! Forgive one another for Christ's sake!"
Theomedy also seeks to mediate and find balance between the theological differences of the fractured Church. I also have a hunch that most of our theological problems come from imbalance rather than sheer error. One tradition emphasizes one aspect of Christ's Truth, while the other emphasizes another aspect, and both declare each other to be heretics and apostates. Yet, both have something that the other needs, and if they would just forgive each other they could find balance and holism from each other's theological insights.
Now, there are also many cases of flat-out error as well. Some Christian groups affirm things that are just false or imaginary. And theomedy is not afraid to say so. There are many cases of EITHER / OR, where one side is right and the other wrong. Yet, it is the first impulse of theomedy is to look for a BOTH / AND solution, before looking for an EITHER / OR solution.
Now, theomedy does not just seek to mediate between the churches, but also between the world and the Church. It seeks to find bridges of mercy and grace to extend to a lost and hurting world so that they can be brought into the abundant life of Christ. Theomedy does this by focusing on the fifth and final root of theomedy: The Media.
The Media is a indispensable resource of parables and analogies that can communicate the Gospel to a lost world. Theomedy seeks to deconstruct our sources of media- our music, movies, TV, news, and literature- and find bridges from them that lead to Christ. Christian theology that neglects to use the divine gift of the media refuses to use many incredible tools to communicate Christ's Truth. "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable", we think about these things and find ways to use them to bring others to Christ (cf. Phil 4:8).
So, this is the definition of theomedy: Trinity-centered, comedic, mediating, mediatorial, and media-savvy.
These five aspects of theomedy lead to the effect it has: Medicine. When we do theomedic theology, we are taking medicine to heal us from the schismatic, over-serious, death-dealing way we have done theology for centuries. Theomedy is medicine for the soul. Theomedy is medicine for the Church. Theomedy is medicine for the world.
May we all become theomedians. Amen+
Someone has asked: How can you say you love your neighbor and then put them to death? That is a great question. But, perhaps a better question is this: How can you love your neighbor and allow them to be raped, tortured, or put to death? And that is the question which haunts us today.
When given the material resources necessary to defend the oppressed and powerless from those who would oppress them, which course of action best bears witness to the life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ? If we have the material resources to forcibly stop victimization of the innocent after all reasonable non-violent methods have been exhausted, which course of action should we take: Should we use force and stop victimization, or should we merely have a prayer meeting as the screams of the innocent echo in our ears?
This is the choice of Rodrigo and Gabriel in the mission. Rodrigo had the means, the training, the manpower, and the reasonable possibility to stop the rape and pillage of the innocents he shepherded. Yes, he was a shepherd, and sometimes shepherds do have to kill wolves. Gabriel chose a different route, a route of non-violence. Given his lack of training in combat and his need to shepherd the women and children who could not fight, this was most probably the right route for him. The purpose of this debate is not to "prove" that pacifism is always wrong and just war is always right. Both Gabriel and Rodrigo did what God had gifted them for. God gifts some with gifts and resources that lead to pacifism, and some that lead to just war. Rather, the purpose of this debate is to show that just war is sometimes the best option in bad circumstances.
Let's face it. Armed conflict of any type is never a good in and of itself. But, it sadly may be the lesser of two evils, if our options are to either allow the innocent to be victimized or forcibly remove the victimizer. Another way to say it is this: Just war is not about giving the oppressors what they deserve. This is God's job (cf. Romans 12). Just war, rather, is about giving the oppressed what they deserve, and that, according to Paul is "that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:2-4).
Just war is not about punishing evil, but restraining and limiting it so that oppressors cannot victimize the oppressed. In short, just war is a last ditch effort to seek social justice.
Let us be clear by defining terms: Just war is one of three primary options in moral theology for the resolution of armed conflicts. The first option is the crusade or jihad. In this theory, the Gospel is actually spread by the barrel of a gun as we invade "infidel" territory and make them convert or else. Both Christians and Muslims through the ages have been guilty of this, and it goes without saying that this distorts the teachings of both. It is important to realize that jihad differs from just war in that just war does not use war as a tool of conversion or empire building. It only uses war as a means to protect the innocent. Jihad is essentially offensive, while just war is basically defensive.
The second option is pacifism, which is the refusal to bear arms against an aggressor. Pacifism comes in two varieties: the fashionable and realistic varieties. The fashionable pacifist is against war because they are under the mistaken assumptions that (a) aggressors are always rational people who can be negotiated with, and (b) pacifism will cause less pain and bloodshed if we just play nice and concede to the demands of oppressors.
The realistic pacifist knows that both of these assumptions are flawed. First, there will be nations, leaders, and movements that are not sane, and will not negotiate in good faith. They remember the folly of Neville Chamberlain and Charles DeGaulle thinking they could keep Hitler at bay with concessions. A world war and 6 million innocent Jewish corpses later, we see that this was in error. Realistic pacifists also realize that whether aggressors are met with AK-47's or prayer meetings, there will be carnage. There are Hitlers, Idi Amins, Stalins, and Chairman Maos in the world who will step over as many corpses as necessary to gain the power they want. Regardless of whether we take up arms or not, women will be raped, children will be gutted, cities will be burned, and mass graves will be dug. The realistic pacifist has the courage to face this, while the merely fashionable pacifist in another age would be called a coward. Now they are called enlightened and politically correct.
The realistic pacifist holds on to the conviction that, no matter the consequences, it is an affront to the Gospel of Christ to strike back or kill another human being. This is a courageous and bold stand, unlike fashionable pacifism. It takes as much courage to be an realistic pacifist as it does to fight for the oppressed, perhaps more. But the issue is not whether such pacifism takes courage, but whether it is a righteous way to live out the Gospel in all circumstances. Just war says it is not always righteous, nor is it for everyone.
Just war could be called "Defensive War" theory. It states that there is a use for armed conflict to protect the innocent, as a last ditch effort when all reasonable non-violent means have failed. Over and again the Hebrew Bible tells us things like: "Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked" (Psalm 82:3-4). Defend, maintain, rescue, and deliver here are military words. They are used in the Hebrew Bible of BOTH physical AND spiritual force to stop victimizers.
Likewise, Paul says of the power of those in Governmental Authority that "He is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer" (Romans 13:4). I do not need to tell you that the sword in mind here is the Roman Gladius, the tool used by the Romans to bring peace and order over the entire Mediterranean. The sword is sometimes necessary to stop those who would increase their own power at the expense of others.
The commandment "You shall not kill" (Deut. 5:17) uses the Hebrew word "ratsakh", which means to kill with intent to destroy the innocent. But this does not prohibit forcibly stopping people who are guilty of ratsakh. Indeed, in the Law it also says "If anyone kills a person, the murderer (guilty of ratsakh) shall be put to death at the evidence of witnesses" (Numbers 35:30-31).
But of course, we are not under the Law but under the grace of Christ. And Christ tells us to "love our enemies" and "turn the other cheek" when we are struck on the face (cf. Matthew 5). This is the proof text of proof texts for pacifism. We neglect to notice that Greek expression for the striking the cheek mentioned here is the back-handed slap of insult, not the full frontal assault of someone trying to put you to death. Jesus forbids repaying insult with injury. He says nothing about the aggressor who is trying to take someone's life. And while we are supposed to love our enemies, what do we do when love of our enemies conflicts with our love for the oppressed and victimized?
Shall we say "I love my enemies, so I am going to stand by and watch them rape, torture, and kill you"? Would it be right to allow your next door neighbor to abuse his family, steal from others, and attack them with weapons, all because you "loved" him? What if he broke into your house and attacked your family? What if it wasn't a man, but government that abused its citizens, and attacked other countries? What response bears the best witness to the Gospel which is supposed to liberate the oppressed? Which response does not conspire together with the powers that would keep them in bondage and destroy them?
We must face the reality that there are people, and governments, who cannot be reasoned with, and who are bent on wealth, power, evil, and destruction. History makes it abundantly clear that they must be stopped physically or else they will harm and murder others. God wants to protect all life, but it is a higher good to protect the life of the innocent, than to protect the life of the guilty. God wants no one to die. Yet, if the only choice is between killing the guilty to protect the innocent, or allowing the guilty to live and victimize the innocent, just war is the lesser evil.
Just War states that If war seems to be the only alternative left, it may be pursued according to the following principals:
- First, war must truly be a last means to peace. Every other alternative, such as negotiation, protest, and economic sanction, must be tried first.
- Second, war must be waged by the right authority, and not by individuals, organizations, or the Church. War can only be waged by an authority who has the rightful responsibility to protect a group of people from unjust oppression.
- Third, war must have the right cause. A just war is caused as a response to injustice done to a group of people which deprives them of their lives or their rights, such as an invasion or a genocide.
- Fourth, war must have the right goal. The only right goal is to ensure the protection of the innocent, and to establish a new government of peace and justice, which protects and does not victimize its citizens or those of other countries.
- Fifth, war must have the right means. War cannot be fought unjustly or in a way that intentionally targets the innocent. The damage caused by the war must be less than what could have happened if the evil government was allowed to stay in power. People who are not in combat must be protected, and there can be no cruelty, rape, pillage, or stealing of property.
- Sixth, war must have the right timing. As soon as a government is unwilling to honestly negotiate, and unwilling to stop warfare or military buildup, it must be stopped by force.
- Seventh, there must be a possibility of victory. If going to war would almost certainly destroy our nation and not stop an evil government, it is best to wait and negotiate.
To use a medical analogy, just war is to human society as surgery is to the body. As a rule, it is bad to dissect one's flesh just as it is bad to kill another human. But, sometimes there are diseases and cancers in the body, and in society, that must be cut out or else they kill the whole. Pacifists are like those who feel called against all the odds to pray for a miracle recovery. Just war represents the surgeons who feel called to cut out parts of it so that the whole may be saved.
Just war agrees with the Teacher in Ecclesiastes who says that: "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die… a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build… a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace." (Eccles. 3:1-10).
It agrees with Jesus who made a whip and forcibly drove oppressors out of the temple. It agrees with Jesus who told his disciples to sell their cloaks to buy a sword (Luke 22:36). And it agrees with Jesus that those who live by the sword shall die by it (Mat 26:52). Some are called to take up the sword to defend the oppressed, and even to die by that same sword in righteous conflict.
Rodrigo was one of these people. He knew that bearing the sword was evil, but it was a lesser evil than not using his military gifts to try and defend the victims. And he was ready to die in witness to that Gospel of social justice and liberation, just as Gabriel was willing to be martyred for the same Gospel in a way more befitting the gifts God had given him. May we all have the same courage these men had to live and die with Christ using the unique gifts and resources He has given us.
Love 'em all, let God sort 'em out!
God loves you more than that...
Christmas is nice, but
Let's put CHRIST
back in christians!
whatever you do, do NOT think about jesus christ.
jesus is for loosers...
we're all loosers...
to hell with your fascist barbie doll beauty standards!
jesus makes you beautiful.
you are what you worship.
what do you worship?
imperfect. flawed. needy. hurting. sinner.
loved. redeemed. treasured. cherished. child of god.
jesus is a just crutch for weak people...
...and he is waiting for us all to realize we are weak people.
christians are all hypocrites
and we have room for one more... so join us.
the bible is irrational, confusing, and contradictory...
that makes it the perfect guide to help us through an irrational, confusing, contradictory world.
an apathetic christian
is a pathetic Christian.
porn is slavery...
if you don't believe it, just try to stop watching it for a month.
mass marketing is making you a slave...
if you don't believe it, just try to stop watching t.v. for a month.
be a true rebel... throw away your television set.
be a real non-conformist... say no to mass marketing
i am a person
not just a body
so look me in the eyes.
- my family doesn't have time for god... we worship our child's extra-curricular activities!
- i don't have time for god... i worship at the altar of success!
- don't ask what you can do for jesus... ask what jesus can do for you!
- i am the god of my own universe. really.
jesus is ironic.
when god made man and woman he did not consult mtv, maxim, cosmo, playboy, or victoria's secret
jesus makes you beautiful
I'm an aatheist
do you know who you are?
ask me about jesus.
The difference between what you think you believe
And what you really believe
Is shown in how you live
men - women - children - teenagers - the unborn - the elderly - gays - straights - christians - nonchristians - atheists - hindus - buddhists - muslims - black - brown - red - yellow - white - pink - the poor - the rich - the stupid - the smart - pretty folks - ugly folks - skinny - fat - liberals - conservatives - fundamentalists - random acts of mercy and love - probably some politicians and lawyers - the person in this shirt - and...
Finally someone said it. It is something we all need to hear.
They are right. Internet information is worth precisely what we pay for it. Nothing. Perhaps I may give up blogging. I waste too much time on it anyway.
Maybe I will just go "old school" and start up conversations with real people at coffee shops and bookstores again.
"[There are those] who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." (1 Timothy 6:5-10)
The Development of Prosperity Theology
Modern prosperity theology is the result of a long line of development. It begins with the dry Orthodoxy, naturalistic Liberalism, and eschatological Conversionism found at the end of the 1800's. Dry Orthodoxy emphasized teaching and learning all of the right things, but it presented a God who was largely uninvolved in our lives. Not only that, but all emotionalism was suspect in such circles, so the net effect was a religion of the head totally unconnected with everyday life.
At this time naturalistic Liberalism arose which denied that God was in the business of making dramatic entrances into people's lives. This view reduces Christianity to morality and makes faith a series of "do's" and "don'ts" with no clear "pay off" for such obedience. Furthermore, naturalistic Liberalism denies that God is still in the business of healing people (if he ever was in the first place). Along with both of these arose a version of eschatological Conversionism which stressed conversion to Christ chiefly as a means to avoid hellfire. The salient feature of this movement is that it postponed the blessings of God to post-Earthly life. Thus these three movements created an arid religious atmosphere in which God no longer worked directly in our Earthly lives. It was only time before this aridity created a thirst for something more.
This "something more" came in the Keswick and Holiness movements (1850-1900), which stressed an emotional experience of God, along with joy and peace, right here, right now. This morphed into the Pentecostal movement (1900-1950) which not only stressed emotional experience, but miraculous activity in the form of speaking in tongues and prophecy. As this movement grew and spilled out into the charismatic movement (1950-1970), another new emphasis was added: divine healing. It was taught that God wanted us healthy and whole in body, spirit, and soul (cf. 1Th 5:23). Not only that, but healing is something God wanted to do, right here, right now.
This led to "Third Wave" charismatic churches, such as John Wimber's Vineyard Churches. These churches push divine healing in the direction of relevance and psychological wholeness (which is actually a good thing). In addition, classical Pentecostalism, with its emphasis on the power of the spoken word in prophecy and tongues, led to the "Word of Faith" movement. In this movement (exemplified by Robert Tilton and Kenneth Copeland) we have to "name" a faith-vision given to us by God, and "claim" it through faith and action, in order to make it become a reality in our lives.
Current Forms of Prosperity Theology
Today have two main types of prosperity theology today. One is "personal fulfillment" theology, exemplified by folks like Ed Young (of Fellowship Church) and Joel Olsteen (of "Your Best Life Now"). In this theology God is primarily a tool to make us self-actualized people who are successful and can realize the potential God has placed into us. The other type of prosperity theology is the standard "health and wealth" version that states that it is God's will that you be rich. This is exemplified by folks like Creflo Dollar.
The development of prosperity theology into a heresy can be easily traced in three stages: First, something of God's work is denied and excluded (in naturalistic liberalism, dry orthodoxy, and eschatological conversionism). Second, there is an effort to affirm and re-include what was missing (in Pentecostalism, the Charismatic movement, and the Third Wave). Third, this missing ingredient is elevated to the center of the gospel, combined with selfishness, and Christ is made a mere tool to procure blessings (in Word of Faith and prosperity movements).
The Recipe for the Health and Wealth Gospel
The recipe for health and wealth is simple: It is one part "God-as-vending-machine" combined with one part "blessings-come-through-obedience", mixed with a generous helping of "Christ-took-my-punishment-so-I-don't-have-to-suffer". Let me explain: Each of these ingredients is a partial truth, but when combined they create a blatant lie. First of all, God is seen rightly as the possessor and dispenser of material blessings. He causes "sun to shine on the righteous and unrighteous" and he gives us what we need if we "seek first his Kingdom" (cf. Mat 5-6). And, so the logic goes, if God is the King with all the treasure, and we are children of the King and heirs of his treasure, then we get it all! They forget the part in Romans 8 that says it is only by co-suffering with Christ that we become co-heirs with Christ.
The second ingredient is doing works of merit to gain blessings. This is oh so very close to what started the Reformation. Yet, instead of the blessings gained being postponed until after death (Catholic indulgences are supposed to lessen one's time in purgatory), they blessings "earned" come in this life in the form of material wealth. It is all found in the Deuteronomic Law: You obey in faith, you get blessed. You are faithless, you get cursed (cf. Deu 27-28). Thus, if you plant a "mustard seed" of faith by giving money to God's work, then you can expect that gift to be blessed and return to you a hundredfold (cf. Luke 8:8). Yet again, this identifies God's blessings as primarily material, and ignores much Biblical material about how we must suffer with Christ and suffer for Christ to be whole.
The third ingredient is really the genius of prosperity theology, because prosperity theology would be ship-wrecked on the problem of curses from sinfulness if it were not for Christ's substitutionary atonement. But, now that Jesus has taken all the pain for us, there is no more pain for us to bear! So, when we do bad he gets the rap, and when we do meritorious acts, we get the blessing. It is a win-win situation… Well, I guess not for Jesus, but who cares as long as I am happy and self-fulfilled. Again, this has no place for redemptive suffering such as that Paul mentions when he says he "fills up what is lacking in Christ's sufferings on behalf of His Church" (Col. 1).
Forget Redemption, Give Me "Success"
The two biggest flaws in prosperity theology is in what they focus on, and what they leave out. They leave out redemptive suffering. There is no place for it. I have read tracts by prosperity preachers that even state that Jesus was wealthy and had many "mansions" (based on John 14). They systematically ignore or explain away passages that indicate we will have to suffer for Christ, or re-interpret them in such a way as to state that we will only temporarily have to suffer as a means to prove we are worthy of, and ready for, material blessings.
This week a person calling themselves "pornstudent" (see his blog here) commented on a twocitiesblog which was dealing with child pornography and sexual consumerism. Pornstudent has made it the point of his blog to defend adult use of pornography as "good" and "beneficial". I felt called to reply on his blog. Here it is:
You commented over on Two Cities Blog, and I followed you here. Some folks said we oughta pray for you and "dialogue" (i.e. debate) with you over the morality of porn.
But, you and I both know debate would go nowhere. You have your mind made up that sexual consumerism is good. You are arguing that it is good to pleasure yourself alone in a dark room to the light of computer screen, while watching a video of some nubile young thing and imagining it is you she is moaning for. You say it is good to use, and be used by, others as a pleasure machine. In the words of Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails: "I want to f*ck you like an animal… You bring me closer to G*d".
You are convinced that porn is good, and that your genitals belong to yourself. I am convinced that porn is bad, and that my genitals belong to the God who loaned them to me. You are convinced that you know what is best for life, based on what pleasures you most. I am convinced my Creator knows what is best for my life, and that this Creator has revealed Himself in the person of Christ, and in the Community that bears His Name (although we do a pretty piss poor job of bearing His Name most of the time… but that is another blog).
We come from utterly different worldviews, and so dialogue is next to pointless. It would take something like a total conversion or transformation in one of us to even gain a foundation for dialogue. Either you would have to come to believe that there is a transcendent Purpose and Plot to life given by a God who is Love, or I would have to come to believe that there isn't.
I have been where you are at. I would have (and did) sleep with any girl that would sleep with me. I went to the smoky bars and stuffed dollar bills down G-strings. I have sat alone in the viewing rooms at adult arcades. And I have done other things I am now ashamed of. When you are in it, you think it is "real life". When you are so numb inside it feels real to feel anything, even if it is just getting off to some thrice-removed simulation of true sexual love. I felt that way before Christ became a reality to me.
All I can say is that it isn't real life. There is something so much better. I have a "friend of a friend" who told his pre-teen child about sex and why adults do it. After listening the child asked, with a very worried expression, "Well, can we eat candy while having sex?" You see, the highest pleasure the child could imagine was eating candy. He couldn't imagine how sex could possibly be better than candy. So, he wanted to make sure he could have "real fun" while having sex. You think that porn and what the Church and Scripture label as "sexual immorality" are "real fun", while "traditional morality" and everything that goes with it are not.
That is a fallacy that can only be arrived at by inexperience of the real thing, in the same way that thinking one needs to eat candy to enjoy sex is a fallacy that can only be arrived at by inexperience of the real thing.
In this case, merely understanding the "do's" and "don’ts" of Christian sexual morality are not the whole story of the "real thing", any more than a pre-pubescent child can understand whole story of what sex is and what it means. In order to even begin to understand sex beyond the level of mere "plumbing", one has to have gone through puberty and have the hormones and life experiences that allow one to understand sex. So also, to understand what Christian sexual morality is, one must encounter a whole host of experiences, realities, and beliefs that make it make sense.
For instance, you have to believe God is there, that God cares for you more than you care for yourself, that God better knows what is best for you than you do, and that God has a purpose for your life that is better than your own. Not only this, but you must invite this God of Love to fill your whole being and bring you into His life. Not only this, but you must acknowledge that there are some activities- particularly those which use and objectify God and His children- by which we cut ourselves off from the life, love, and purpose of God. To put it another way, you have to acknowledge that there are some things we do which "unplug" us from the Source of Being, and lead us toward death. And, to top it all off, you have to want to be whole, healthy, and experience all that God has for you by turning away from all that destroys your connection with God.
These are the basic requirements of practical and theoretical knowledge that undergird Christian sexual morality (what philosophy would call the "epistemic requirements"). If all of these things are a reality in your life- not just a fleeting "that sounds nice", but a resounding "I believe"- only then can you satisfy the foundational requirements that make Christian sexual morality make sense. Anything less, and you are the kid asking "can I eat candy while having sex?"
But, it doesn't seem like you yet have met these epistemic requirements. And I have tried and rejected the epistemic requirements necessary to make sense of your position. So, I guess that dialogue will be useless.
From reading your blog it seems you come out of a Christian environment and you know the Christianese used in the "sex debate". In fact, it seems your entire blog can be read as the extended justification of a guilty conscience about porn addiction. I know, guilty consciences do not exist. They are the product of the religious imagination that somehow enjoys guilt (and they say Freud is outdated!). If that explanation works for you, great. But when your imaginary conscience starts ruining your life with real guilt, and you can't effectively medicate it with drugs or orgasms anymore, there is a remedy in Christ.
I know where you are at and where you are coming from. And, man, if any of this has been caused guilt-ridden Christian hypocrites who have tried to beat you over the head with a Bible, I am sorry they did that. They disgrace Christ. The Religious Right in this country drives me nuts, always thinking they can legislate people into being "nice" Christians. People have to choose to follow Christ, not be legislated to follow Him. So, ironically, I agree with you on many counts that the State should not "legislate morality". But not for the reasons you list. Not because porn is good. But, because if we are going to choose to follow Christ we have to be allowed freedom of choice, and the ability to screw up and the opportunity endure the consequences.
But there is a better way. It is the way of Christ. The way of Liberation and Freedom. The way of Victory over death by His resurrection. The way of selfless Love. You may not realize that now, but you will. And right now, logical arguments will probably not work. You probably will have to come to the logical endpoint of your own ideology and face the horrible consequences it entails, before you realize there must be a better way. That's what happened to me. If I try to logically argue with you what WILL and MUST result from "sin", it will only cause you to say things like "Well, that is not necessarily so. Testing by Anywho University shows that actually porn can help us if..."
Just remember, statistics can be rigged to support anything you want. After all, studies show that 87% of statistics are made up on the spot, and it is statistically provable that being born is the world's leading cause of death.
But, when you do reach the end of the road you are on, and your life is falling apart, remember that God still loves you and has a purpose for your life, if you will surrender and accept His Love and Purpose. Like Paul said: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life… nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers… nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39). He will be there to heal you when you decide you need to be healed. Until then, may you find what "works" for you…And I will pray for you.
May Christ fill your life,
Have you seen movie posters yet for the movie "Jesus Camp"? Are you wondering if perhaps it is some teenage-angst-and-hormone filled cross between "Saved" and "American Pie"? Well, you would be wrong. It is a documentary about a Pentecostal children's ministry camp that is aimed at making elementary-aged children "soldiers for Christ" who will take back this country for Jesus.
It looks like it will: (a) Be fairly biased against conservative Christian believers, and try to paint them/us in a negative light; (b) Make us take a long hard look at the Jesus we are portraying; and (c) Open a great opportunity for dialogue with Christians and Non-Christians about what Jesus is really all about.
Rather than summarize what I have read, let me give you what Wikipedia says (which is pretty good):
"JESUS CAMP follows a group of children to Pastor Becky Fischer's "Kid's on Fire Summer Camp" in Devil's Lake, North Dakota, where kids as young as six years-old are taught to become dedicated Christian soldiers in God's army. This film follows these children at camp as they hone their prophetic gifts and are schooled in how to take back America for Christ. Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, "Jesus Camp" is a first-ever look into an intense training ground that recruits born-again Christian children to become an active part of America's political future.
During the 2004 Presidential election John Edwards's "Two Americas" speech seemed like a rather unoriginal way to describe the growing divide in this country. But now, after having spent almost a year shuttling back and forth between the religious heartland of Missouri, and home in New York City, the "two Americas" concept has taken on an entirely new meaning. Clearly there are two parallel Americas: and one is a conservative counterculture comprised of tens of millions of Evangelical Christians who feel engaged in a culture war with what they perceive as immorality and godless liberalism. They consume their own news and popular culture via Christian television, radio, and publications, and carefully expose their children both to a literal interpretation of the bible and a call to political activism.
On the surface these kids experience the same things as most middle-class kids: trips to Wal-Mart, homework, sports, dancing to their favorite music, summer camp. But quickly it becomes clear that they are living a version of childhood where devout Christianity is at the center of everything. The music coming out of their stereos may be heavy metal, but it's the Christian take, celebrating the "blood of Jesus." Their homework hails from a strict creation-based curriculum and boys on the soccer team proudly wear red bracelets imprinted with HWJC, short for "How would Jesus compete?"
And when it comes to summer camp, go-carting excursions and the water balloon toss are intermingled with raucous anti-abortion revival meetings.
The camp is a riveting example of a world many Americans either do not understand or dismiss as "fringe" and irrelevant to their own lives. But we felt perhaps they should take a closer look. The people portrayed in this film - white, middle class citizens - are part of an enormous and forceful voting block, an increasingly loud voice in American culture and politics. Together with their children they are preparing not only for Jesus to come back, but to "take back America for Christ."
What is fairly interesting is that the main adult featured in the film, Pastor Becky, has no idea how politically subversive the Gospel is that she is preaching. The Gospel is always subversive to the powers and principalities that control the world, and I find it odd that apparently she was oblivious to the blatantly militaristic Church-and-State message she is feeding her flock. Check out this quote from her website:
”They captured some incredible footage of our children praying, worshipping, warring in the Spirit, being touched powerfully by the Holy Spirit, preaching and prophesying… The surprising twist none of us expected to come out of the film was that it ended up having strong political overtones. "How in the world did that happen?" I kept asking myself and them. I have never ever considered anything we do political in any way.
But through secular eyes tons of things we did was political. For instance, for us evangelical Christians we are commanded in the Word to pray for our government leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-3 NLT, "I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people… Pray this way for kings and all others who are in authority, so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior.") To us this is just obeying our Savior. This is good Christianity. But when we drug out a life size poster of President Bush to teach our kids this scripture, secular eyes saw this as political.
Likewise when we brought out a flag of Israel and taught the kids to pray for the peace of Jerusalem according to scripture (Psalms 122:6 NLT, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May all who love this city prosper.") they saw it as political. Without question then when Lou Engle came the last night and shared his vision of praying for the peaceful overturn of Roe vs. Wade (the court case that made abortion legal in the USA) the filmmakers saw a whole new angle to their film. But this is just good Christianity to us!"
I just find it incredibly odd that she would have no clue that her weaving of Gospel and Conservative political doctrine together is political. And then she blames this observation on "secular eyes", as if the same thing is not blatantly obvious to Christian eyes. This raises the question: Has the "Christian Right" political agenda done something incredible and nearly impossible? Have they effectively raised up a political movement in which the people involved do not even see they are being used as a political power block, but instead just practicing "good Christianity"? Imagine: a whole political movement made up of people who by-and-large think of themselves as a-political, so that they can be used at will for political purposes without ever realizing they are being used. Wow.
Don't get me wrong. I believe in 1Ti 2:1-3 too and practice it every day. In my youth room at Church I have a 8"x10" glossy of George Bush on the side wall with the caption "You may love him, or you may hate him, but God says pray for him. 2Timothy 2:1-3". So, I do not have a problem per se with using a picture of Bush as a focal point (did it have to be life sized?).But what I have a concern about is how someone could do that and NOT see it as blatantly political.
Anyway, it looks like it will be a great, thought provoking film, that will yet again confirm to me that I agree with neither the religious right nor the liberal left in our country.
If you want more info on the film:
Jesus Camp movie website with video clips, pictures, and upcoming theaters:
Jesus Camp on Wikipedia:
Pastor Becky's "Kids in Ministry International" website and her interview about the film:
Pastor Becky's FIRE Church:
Rock of Ages Church, where one of the main characters' father is pastor:
Loki Films, the distributor of Jesus Camp: