Evangelical Split, Piper Imperialism, & a Search for Postcolonial Christian Expression

Many evangelical bloggers have just finished chiming in on Rob Bell’s new book.  While there have been a couple nuanced positions, overall most have fallen into two camps; conservative modernist evangelicals (especially reformed conservatives) and postmodern missional  evangelicals (especially emerging church leaders).  What I and others realized was that this internet and blogosphere battle that was unfolding really was not about theological and doctrinal difference (even while those tensions do exist), but rather the real underlying issue was a matter of control, influence, and power.

Younger, fresher expressions of church are “emerging” and are winning over many from white America. Simultaneously, the old guard is losing relevance, and feels threatened. Rather than working together as as the Church, imperial and colonial instincts have kicked in as folks gaze upon all the religious authority that could be attained. Domination over American Christian theological direction has quietly been the real story & narrative when you stop and read between the lines.

A war is unfolding and the victor of the war will take over (or continue) as the theological overlords of American mainstream Christian thought. They will be the de facto referees, deciding whether any given theology is in or out of bounds. Therefore these two streams of American evangelical Christian tradition fight over which white male dominated group will inherit the reigns of 21st century Christendom.  At the heart of all this hype is a thirst to reign over the Church, it is not primarily about Rob Bell and his views on heaven and hell.

John Piper jump started everything.  He personally took on the role of theological referee, wanting everyone to know Rob Bell stepped out of bounds. That’s where his “farewell Rob Bell” comes in. To be able to pull off such a ballsy move like that, John Piper must convince American Christendom that he knows the fine line between theological curiosity and theological heresy.  Repeatedly he and many of his conservative reformed entourage have basically claimed that their understanding of God, scripture, and overall theology is indeed truth. They have grasped the universal, neutral, objective, biblical, and fully truthful realities of God and the Bible. In essence, the conservative Christian tradition has arrived and know all there is to be known about truth and God (my assertion and words not theirs). 

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Piper does not only use his comprehensive understanding of (his) god to deem people as heretics, but he also uses his knowledge of his apparently small god (one that can be fully explained by finite humanity), to assert divine will over the horrific earthquake in Japan that killed thousands. He offers 5 reasons why God kills thousands of people. Yes in the midst of tragic human suffering, confusion, and pain, Piper decides to boldly assert that God caused the earthquake killing tens of thousands as a warning to repent and to show off his magnificence.  This is a disturbing, ugly, and untimely depiction of God that vandalizes his Image in this world. Whatever happened to “good news” for those struggling?

via Google Images

I can understand why younger white evangelicals would want to break away from this brand of American Evangelicalism. While I can appreciate many of the theological nuances expressed by this zealous group of white 20 and 30 somethings, they have their own set of problems. Before we get too excited about this coming shift in influence over American religious life, we must acknowledge that the practice of hegemony and domination will still continue through these “emerging leaders”. Overall, I have been pleased with the theological shifts being expressed, because they express desire for racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity in the Church… wanting the Church to be ONE church, which we were called to be.  However, it did not take very long for me to realize that the proclamations and the practices of this group were not lining up. Everything that is done is done to cater to white middle class suburbia. They cater to the priviliged despite affirming Jesus’ call to serve the least of these. As far as hegemony goes, Black and Latino pastors and theologians still continue to be uninvited to the infamous “table” Even these newly formed tables under banners of emergent or missional are starting off on the wrong foot, being almost completely homogeneous. Of course these Evangelical 3.0’s have learned from their predecessors that you must at least grab a token black for your entourage or program (however the 2.0’s actually did a better job at pulling in tokens), often this GED effort of token representation is not even being done at many of their gatherings and events. Unfortunately the white control and supremacy over religious life in America is not going anywhere if left on track.

This leaves many black leaders who are open to partnership feeling skeptic about the actual intentions of these young leaders who have all good stuff to say, but no follow through.  Many black christian leaders (fully missional minded) have told me that they have quit trying to join the white dominated table, and instead have determined to create their own table where all people groups are truly welcome.  A table that finds solidarity with the oppressed before it does with Starbucks. A table made up of people that are tired of the colonial and imperial practices of Western European Christian Empire. Such anti-racist, post-colonial Christian communities will not be endorsed by Zondervan or the billion dollar Christian industry. Nope, this movement is taking place on the corners, porches, courts, homes, and church basements of America.
In the end, neither Piper and his peeps, nor Bell and the boys represent me, and billions of other Christians globally.  We have absolutely no stake in this growing feud (that is just heating up in my opinion). No stake, because for many it still leaves us in the same place (except with fewer tokens) of not being heard or taken seriously, and not being treated with dignity as though we lacked the Imago Dei in us.  It is now more than ever that we need to take our attention off of superstars like Rob Bell and John Piper… and begin learning from those who have been crying out from the margins with a very different gospel.  A gospel that is good news to the poor and oppressed.

You are Wretched, Pitiful, Poor, Blind and Naked!

The third chapter of the book of Revelations Jesus writes a letter to the church of Laodicea. This community is a relatively wealthy community that seems to have all the material possessions one could want.  The letter written to them speaks into their context of financial security and wealth, greed, complacency, and self reliance.  Sounds a bit like America in my opinion.   This is what is the letter says…

14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me. To those who are victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

(Revelations 3:14-22, TNIV)

What is interesting is that this is a familiar passage in many churches in America, yet I have hardly heard it exegeted in consistency with the message and main point addressed there.  Many either isolate the section about being hot or cold from the rest of the passage… or some grab  vs. 19 about Jesus knocking oustside on the door and wanting to come in, using it as a evangelistic verse to ask unbelievers to “let Jesus in”.  The reality is that this verse is written to the church, to those who already believe, not unbelievers.

These folks were wealthy and self reliant, not fully following after Jesus. Apparently, Jesus is not present at their community and fellowship according to the passage.  They have been enticed by the things of this world, and have tried to chase after those things while attempting to follow Jesus.  The reality is that they can’t have both and so really all they have is the temporal wealth of this world.  They are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.

Lord, forgive us for our self reliance, pride, arrogance, and greed that continually pulls us, and has us chasing after things other than you.  Help us to truly see our brokenness and poverty without you. May we follow after only you, may you be at the center of our gatherings, may you shape and mold us to be more like you, may we be good stewards of your stuff, may we become generous and compassionate like you, and may we be fully committed to you.

Does Simplistic Opposition Against “the Other” ever work?

Can we all just stop for a moment? Amidst all the yelling and arguing, finger pointing, partisan-political emails, TV News propaganda, YouTube video conspiracy theories, and anger, we must all ask ourselves one little question… has any of this helped in anyway other than to strengthen the resolve on both sides that the other is the enemy???

Can’t we see that when you aggressively oppose the agenda or act of “the other” we actually end up strengthening their cause. The end result is always the opposite of what one’s original motivations were.  This cycle of madness is done on both sides of the aisle, and we are all to blame.  In a desire to see one movement stop we simplistically oppose it and in return strengthen the resolve and tactics of the other side.  It’s time to step back from these simplistic oppositions and begin to engage in healthy dialogue as though we are all created in God’s Image.

People are complex, issues are complex, society is complex.  When you apply simple answers to a complex world, you do not always get the results that you originally intended. If you want someone to change their mind on an issue… probably yelling at them while holding mean signs is not going to get it done. If you somehow miraculously convince one out of a thousand people through those means, the other 999 will develop greater resolve and become more organized in responding to your tirade.

Here’s an idea… why don’t we try the slow yet proven method of REAL conversation. Sit down over a cup of coffee, a beer, or a sweet tea and share your stories, experiences, and how the issue that you are passionate about hits home for you. Uh but wait, remember that conversation takes two to work, so you need to allow the other person to share their own stories and experiences.

Now I know that crusading around opposing everything may feel more like the right thing to do, but in the end we look back and must ask ourselves what have we really accomplished. No, for those who actually want to see change come are going to have to do it the old fashioned way… by rolling up those sleeves and investing yourself and much time in people and communities as you begin building bridges of mutual trust, respect, and understanding.

If not we are destined to the continuing escalation of resistance, tension, and division that has defined us as a people in America.

I’m Just Sayin!

Tom Skinner

I tend to have very different views than most black and white Christians I encounter or read. Few people embody much of my values, worldview, and beliefs as did Tom Skinner. He was a courageous evangelist who dared to both proclaim the good news and challenge injustice, of which he saw as inherently intertwined. While he has gone to be with the Lord, his ideas, books, and words live on. I am very grateful for him and others who have paved the way for folks like me. If you ever get a chance, read a book by Tom Skinner, you won’t be disappointed.

Another perspective on Obama’s reforming of Health Care

Just wanted to share this article I read about Obama’s  failure to follow through on his original promises for Health Care that he got elected for.  And it leaves me thinking, when it comes to Health Care, are we our brothers keeper?  I have health care coverage, but should I fight to make sure that everyone has access to fair and quality coverage? We pursue right relationship with our creator, but are we also called to pursue right relationship with God’s creation as well?

Freestyle with me, how has your awareness of God impacted your views on access to health care for the poor and marginalized?

Just One thing… Remember the Poor!!!

Galatians 2:9-10

and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.”

Isn’t it interesting that when Paul was commissioned to take the message of Christ global, the only request that the leaders and so called “pillars” of the church had, was that they remember the poor.  Clearly taking care of the poor, as seen lived out in Acts as well as spoken of in other letters of Paul was central to the mission.  And when we look at the message of Jesus, we see exactly why they would have said such a thing.  Jesus constantly taught on selling one’s possessions and giving it to the poor, as well as several parables, clever comments, and teachings on the rich and the poor, and what was neccesary to follow him.

As the Church of the 21st Century, how do we take heed to the same ancient caution and exhortation that was given to Paul and Barnabas 2000 years ago to Remember the Poor?  Freestyle with me…