What’s Pastor Kevin Reading: Stuff Christians Like

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I am not going to lie.  I like stuff, particularly stuff that makes me laugh.  That is why I enjoyed Jon Acuff’s “Stuff Christians Like.”  His 2010 collection of lists and diagrams and essays is one of the funniest books I have read in awhile.  He uses a brilliant blend of irony, sarcasm and heart touching roasting to unmask the hidden truths behind current American Evangelicalism.  This wonderful cocktail also makes “Stuff Christians Like” one of the most honest books I have read in awhile.

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Like many, I would love to think that Evangelicalism as a subculture is ceasing to exist.  However, Acuff proves me wrong.  Our subculture has gone nowhere, though it has changed drastically in the last 50 years.  And John Acuff describes and unmasks this new evangelicalism in brilliant detail.  He mocks everything from pushing on your eyes during prayer (which I do) to the different roles people play in prayer circles to metrosexual worship leaders, to feeding 3 year olds their body weight in fish crackers during “Preschool Life Groups,” (because we can’t call it Sunday School anymore).

The most brilliant aspect of the book (and his blog) is that its critique of evangelicalism is surprisingly current.  In my experience, most recent blogs and books about Evangelicals are 10-50 years too late.  They are still complaining about our legalistic, politically motivated, angry and fundamentalist past.

But that time has come and gone.  Now, as Acuff perfectly describes, we are an over-emotional, cliche drowned, hipster loving, logo touting movement of missional, radical, postmoderns.  In one of Acuff’s more brilliant observations, if there is a copyright infringement expert standing at the door to heaven, not one of us is getting in.  Likewise, our hesitance to boycott Abercrombie and Fitch for severe human rights violations shows how sold out we are to “soft, cotton T-shirts.”

So after reading, “Stuff Christians Like” I have to ask “what next?”  Now that our legalistic, fundamentalist and conservative movement has morphed into a showy, sentimentality infused, hipster monster, what is a devoted pastor to do?

I suppose the answer is that I will continue to do what God called me to do.  I will speak truth to the monster.  I certainly do not advocate for a return to our legalistic and conservative ways.  Instead by, “speak truth” I mean a way of living and being among the evangelical culture that questions its assumptions, practices and worldviews.  The hope is to bring about a truer form of faithfulness, one that transcends rock choruses and prayer circles and fish crackers in “life groups.”

This faithfulness might encourage a rock star metro sexual worship leader to lead a smaller, rural congregation from time to time.  It might include a deeper commitment to more ancient forms of prayer that move beyond “prayer circles.”  It might be more generous towards those churches that are so out of date they still call it, “Sunday School.”  It would probably mean not judging those who have to use the Table of Contents in their Bibles or come to church with a head cold.

It would certainly include treating copyright law respectfully and humbly and being inventive over clever.  And it might even suggest caution when it comes to corporations like “Abercrombie and Fitich.”

And it would most certainly mean not pressing your eyes out during prayer.

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Christian Fundamentalism Part 1: What is It?

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I graduated from an evangelical, fundamentalist high school where I was taught about an evil dragon named “Atheistic Humanism.”  It breathed in the oxygen of scientific evolution and breathed out the fires of progressive culture.  It flew on the wings of mainstream media and public universities, all while burninating God’s timeless truths contained in Scripture.  He had even infiltrated our Christian universities where evil professors who pretended to love Jesus actually taught old earth evolution.

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I owe my dragon metaphor to this wonderful book by Alister McGrath.

I rushed into college ready to slay the evil dragon only to realize that secular humanism was not a dragon at all but a feeble, old man who had fallen on his own sword.  After realizing the dragon was dead, I threw off my fundamentalism and embraced traditional Christianity, a faith founded by Jesus, articulated in the ancient creeds, testified to in the lives of the saints and preserved in the sacraments of the church.  After digging deep into historic Christianity, I naturally came to reject the actual dragon who had raised me, Christian Fundamentalism.

What I thought Fundamentalism Was. . .

I learned why the fundamentalists were wrong, why they were harmful and why my denomination firmly rejected their teachings for 100 years and counting.  I left seminary ready to rush out in the world and slay this evil dragon only to dash into the cave and find another feeble old man who had fallen on his own sword.

Yet, like the famous Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail fundamentalism was claiming it only had a flesh wound.  Even with all their limbs cut off they still tend to be rather obnoxious.

What it actually is.

In my small town we only have a few fundamentalist families left but every time I talk to them or they insist I promote one of their creation seminars or attend one of their propaganda movie nights, I walk away feeling anything but edified.  Instead I am filled with an odd mix of frustration, panic, anger and even a little hatred.  I pray about those experiences often and these prayers have led to deep questions.

How do you define Christian fundamentalists?  Are they really as harmful as I was led to believe?  If not, then why do I catch myself blindly hating them?  Why had the mere mention of a “young earth” seminar and a fundamentalist propaganda movie scared me half to death?  And, of course, are they the problem or am I?

This post is the first in four posts that seek to answer these questions through my real life encounters with fundamentalism.  Somehow in college I began judging an abstract stereotype instead of engaging with the real people who have fundamentalist views.  So I want to revisit my assumptions about this passionate but dying group of evangelical Christians in light of my conversations with them.  Tomorrow’s post will be about the good I have experienced from fundamentalists because they are not an all together evil lot.  The third and fourth will be about why I still am not a fundamentalist either theologically (post 3) or in practice (post 4).

Before I get there, I have put together a working definition of Christian fundamentalists based off the people in my community.  Calling every Christian who votes Republican a fundamentalist is a bit harsh although every fundamentalist I know votes Republican.  Neither is the term to be equated with Pharisaic legalism.  I know plenty of legalistic Christians who are not fundamentalist.

Instead, fundamentalists in the 21st century have two defining characteristics.  The first is that they believe in the absolute inerrancy of the English translations of Scripture.  The second is that they believe that “traditional America,” which they relate to 1950s suburban America was the best expression of the Kingdom of God and any move away from 1950’s gender roles, marriage definitions, United States politics, moral etiquette, church and family structures etc. is a move away from God.

I hope this post and the next few will begin an honest and down to earth discussion about this segment of American Christianity and that it engages further conversation.  Click on back tomorrow!