Tag Archives: church culture

Steven Curtis Chapman, Godliness, and The Death of Squeaky Clean

The church today has a problem. Well, actually, it has many problems, but we’re just here today to discuss one of them, and that is the problem that modern Christians seem to have something against “good boys.” You know what I’m talking about. There was a time when the wholesome, the upright and the clean-cut were held up as admirable examples, but today, that admiration has been replaced by aversion. Godly people are no longer admired for their godliness. Instead, they are stereotyped and labeled as “goody two-shoes” by fellow Christians.

This prejudicial attitude manifests itself in a variety of ways, some more vitriolic than others. Generally it comes out as sheer hatred among the more liberal Christian types. Yet it can manifest itself in subtle ways as well. In a sense, the latter is more pernicious because when it’s worded in the right way, it can hold a certain attraction for more conservative Christians who might not be so easily taken in by its cruder forms.

I most recently encountered one of these subtle manifestations from someone for whom I have  a lot of respect—Andrew Peterson. Andrew is one of the most gifted Christian songwriters in the industry today, and even though he may not be the best tunesmith, he has a wonderful way with words that recalls the work of Rich Mullins or Paul Simon (two writers he’s repeatedly cited as major influences). So before I launch into this post, I wish it known that I am a big AP fan, and I think his heart is in the right place. What’s unfortunate is that he has picked up some misconceptions about Scripture and its application to the Christian life, including that aversion to “squeaky-clean-ness.” This came out in a piece called “What I Learned From SCC,” a tribute to Steven Curtis Chapman that he wrote a few days ago. The piece was inspired by the fact that he had just completed a tour with Steven and was moved to express his gratitude. I was excited to read it. But as my eye flew down the page, this paragraph caught my eye, where Andrew talked about his expectations before meeting and working with Steven:

… I’ve never heard a single negative story about the guy. I’ve been in Nashville for 15 years now, and, well, you tend to hear less-than-flattering stories about folks from time to time (I’m sure there are a few about me floating around out there), but I have yet to hear one of those about Steven. What that might lead a rascal like me to conclude is that either a) Steven is so squeaky-clean he must be hard to like or b) he’s a complete wreck and he’s hiding it. I didn’t realize until this tour was underway that there’s a third option. Here it is: Steven is a wreck, he’s not hiding it, and because of the mighty presence of Jesus in his life, grace abounds to those around him.

Now watch what Andrew did here. He equivocated—he took the phrase “he’s a wreck” and introduced it with one implied meaning (skeletons in the closet, un-confessed sin, etc.), then turned around and used it again with a different implied meaning (broken sinner who needs the grace of God). Probably he thought it was profound, but really it’s just misleading (not to mention linguistically sloppy). Yet the wording of this proposed “third option” reveals quite a bit. Why, for example, did he not say it the other way around: “Steven really is squeaky clean, he’s not hard to like, and  because of that, I realized that I’m needlessly prejudiced against the ‘squeaky clean’ types”? It’s because “squeaky clean” in his mind automatically carries negative connotations—Pharisaism, pietism—rather than pure, real, honest-to-goodness wholesomeness. The solution he found allowed him to keep holding onto that prejudice. Here is an even more direct excerpt from a little later in this piece:

Everyone I know in Nashville who knows Steven has said to me something like, “I love Steven. He’s a good man.” But from the first week of the tour I discovered that Steven isn’t a good man. He’s as sinful as the rest of us [my emphasis]. He wears his weakness on his sleeve. He’s quick to share his pain and his struggle. That doesn’t make him mopey–he’s quick to share his joy, too. But what’s so wonderfully subversive about the Gospel is that our ability to honestly bear our grief and woundedness just makes room for God’s grace to cast light on all that shadow; it makes room for us to love each other.

Just as a quick aside here, don’t you love it when people blur the lines between sin on the one hand and general “brokenness” on the other? Godly people constantly suffer pain and grief through no fault of their own. In fact, Steven is a prime example of that. But even waiving that little issue, this whole paragraph just comes off as a long way of saying, “Phew!” Though of course that’s not how Andrew looks at it.  I think his idea is, “Hey, we’re all sinners in the eyes of God, and nobody is any ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than anyone else, so we might as well not pretend by calling anybody ‘a good man.’”

But that pretty much defines “non sequitur.” Yes, we’re all sinners, and…? Let’s put it this way: Mother Theresa needed Jesus just as much as Hitler did, but even so, one of them murdered 6 million people and the other lived a life devoted to caring for the poor. Now kids, which of these is not like the other? I am not preaching works salvation here. I am saying that moral relativism is the bane of clear thought. We can’t pretend that there is no difference between people, and it can be wholly legitimate (and not idolatrous, as Andrew seems to imply at one point in the piece) to say that Mother Theresa was “good” and Hitler was “bad.” Moreover, we repeatedly see in the Scriptures that God delights in those who glorify Him, and He is angered by those who despise Him. Man demonstrates his love for God by keeping His commandments. This truth resounds through Old and New Testament alike.

“But Jesus came to abolish religion!” No he didn’t. Get off of Youtube and open your Bible to Matthew 23:23.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

What did Jesus say? Did he say “Tithing is stupid. Forget about it. It’s all a heart issue”? No. He said that tithing and other “externals” by themselves, when they are not accompanied by mercy and faith, are empty. It does not follow from this that there is anything wrong with “keeping the rules.” On the contrary—it’s both/and. So in other words, you can wear a suit to church on Sunday, watch your language and listen to praise songs while still being unsaved. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to dress like a bum and swear like a sailor.

Now, on an individual level, people can have a genuine rebirth of faith where they look back on their life and say, “I have been hiding behind the appearances while my heart was really selfish, prideful, and far from God.” I have heard testimonies like this from Steve Green and others who share similar reflections. This can be wholly appropriate and biblical. The problem comes when we move out from the individual level and make sweeping generalizations for Christian society as a whole, to the point where some Christians automatically suspect other Christians who seem to “have it all together,” as if there’s something “not right” about that. Or they simply feel a distaste for it. “Ugh… too perfect. Too nice. Too Mayberry.”

Now, this is obviously not Andrew Peterson’s attitude towards Steven Curtis Chapman. But that’s because he’s convinced himself that a proper understanding of grace involves an aversion to all things he deems “legalistic,” therefore “messy” is better than “[squeaky] clean.” And since he doesn’t have an aversion to Steven (to the contrary, he loves him and enjoys being with him), Steven must not be “one of those types,” where “those types” means “the annoying squeaky clean types.” Because you see, under Andrew’s view of Christianity, it’s downright unbiblical to say, in the words of the old poem, “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!”

And yet, for all that, I believe Andrew Peterson is wholly sincere. His tribute came from a full heart. I’m quite sure he wasn’t saying to himself at the beginning of it all, “Well, it would be really awkward if Steven were just a great guy because that would make me feel inferior, and I’m embarrassed by that.” But subconsciously, I think it’s the psychological process that leads Christians like him to their larger spiritual conclusions about grace and godliness.

Is Steven Curtis Chapman a sinner saved by grace? Yes! So are we all. But is Steven Curtis Chapman also a godly, upright, and yes, good man who is walking in righteousness before the Lord? Yes! So we should all aspire to be.

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How I Wish I’d Responded to Jefferson Bethke

Yesterday I wrote a hastily worded response to Jefferson Bethke’s viral video on Jesus and religion. Now I realize that had I taken more time over my thoughts, I probably would have written that response differently.

It might have looked a little bit like this:

“If you want a real discussion of Christianity, don’t look on the Internet. Go read Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. Or the Summa. The whole thing. In Latin.”

WORD!

LYRICS

Religion is . . .

So misunderstood but what’s the world without some mystery?
People on the internet revising all of history.

By now you’ve heard the claim, “Jesus hates religion,”
Despite his founding one called Christianity. Now listen —

Glad the guy found Jesus, but he should have been more subtle.
Gave us false dichotomies, I give you my rebuttal.

I’m a big believer in the license of a poet:
Alexander Pope’s ironic couplets were heroic.

But still you have to note that when he wrote about Belinda,
He didn’t redefine his words to suit his own agenda.

I say we consult a standard definition
Of this murky word that’s thrown around — I mean “religion.”

Oxford English Dictionary says it with acumen:
“Belief in or acknowledgment of powers superhuman

Which typically is manifest in reverence and worship.”
Not about publicity, not entrepreneurship.

The problem with the Pharisees was not that they’re religious,
But that they were self-righteous: their pride was prodigious.

The thing about the Son of God is that he had a Father
Who gave a Law to Israel. Now let us briefly ponder:

Why would God institute religion for his people —
Observances, rituals — if all of that were evil?

Jesus didn’t come to curse what is external.
He came to heal our eyes when we were blind to what’s eternal.

And part of what’s eternal is our eyes, our bodies.
Let me catch my . . . breath . . . alrighty.

The essence of our nature is to be body and soul.
Inner faith and outer works are never gonna cancel.

Antinomianism is a leech that will bleed ya.
(If you don’t know the meaning, look it up on Wikipedia.)

Jesus didn’t come to take away the Law, or kill it.
He honored the Old Testament, came to fulfill it.

Gnosticism reappears in every generation,
Misreading Paul, and preaching segregation

Between outer works and inward salvation,
Between the God of grace and the Demiurge of creation,

Saying, “Hey, I’m spiritual, but no, I’m not religious.”
Man, without a creed, it’s only superstitious.

Faith without works is perfume on a casket.
Obedience is love, so how could it mask it?

You call the Church a hospital? Then it must have a structure.
Doctors and their medicine, food for our hunger.

We are Christ’s body even though we’re broken,
And saying we’re a body is no metaphoric token.

Bodies have blood, and bodies have a skeleton.
The way these people talk it’s like the Church is only gelatin.

I lost my mind reading Martin Luther,
But John Henry Newman saved me from my stupor.

The Church must be visible; pietism’s risible;
Unity in Christ should never be divisible.

Think for a minute of a faith without religion:
Say goodbye to Christmas, say goodbye to mission,

Sunday morning worship, common prayer and baptism.
Ritual is not a slope that slips into fascism.

Of course, it’s true that going through the motions
Can cover up a heart that lacks true devotion.

But what a non-sequitur to criticize the motions —
The saints have been religious with a love as big as oceans.

God is a lover, he wants to romance you.
Religion is the rhythm that a fervent heart can dance to.

Worldwide communion — how is that monotonous?
Go read St. Augustine on the Donatists.

The Church is corrupted, lots going wrong there,
All of which tells me that, in fact, I belong there.

I’m a sinner, too, I fail to live out
The calling I believe in, the words that I spout.

Who am I to instigate a detrimental schism,
To leave in the worst form of judgmentalism?

No, as for me, I’ll stay where the grace is —
That’s in the Church, and what the Church embraces:

Sacraments and love, charity and missions,
Doctrine and prayer, Scripture and Tradition.

The bottom line is false religion can’t negate the true one:
Relationship with Christ is religious communion.

***

Now THAT’S some good writing. :D

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Saturday Survey #11: Doug Harrison’s New Book Cover, Tim Tebow, Me Singing Celine Dion, And More…

I’ve decided to give a little added info next to each Saturday Survey to make them a bit easier to distinguish from each other. Assuming readers won’t mind!

–A non-SG blogger who happens to be a fan of southern gospel music has been holding a fascinating discussion over what legal recourse the singers on the front cover of Doug Harrison’s upcoming book might have under Illinois State law. There is a code saying that a person’s image may not be used without permission “for commercial purposes,” but opinions differ as to exactly what that means, and whether it could apply here. But there is some evidence that it could. Of particular interest is this directly relevant page of legal advice, which explicitly states that commercial purposes can “include use of the individual’s identity on or in connection with the offering for sale or sale of a product,” concluding, “So if you wish to use someone’s name, image, or other identifiable attribute in advertising or in connection with sale of goods or services, you should first obtain that person’s consent! ” So whether or not Scott Fowler, Mark Trammell, etc. feel motivated to go full-bore with a law-suit of University of Illinois Press, it is at least well worth their while to seek legal advice on the matter.

–Brian Crout has ranked Gold City’s Pillars of Faith #9 out of the 15 GC albums in his collection. We are shocked, shocked. [EDIT: Brian actually has many more than 15 GC albums in his collection. These are just the 15 that made it into his top 100. Sorry Brian. :)]

–I will be posting a review of Ernie Haase & Signature Sound’s new album next Monday. Stay tuned! Meanwhile, read this interview with Ernie Haase about it here. It’s hard to believe that I was conducting an interview with him only a year ago…

–Check out this clip of Karen Peck from Joyful Noise that everyone’s been passing around. Here’s a sweet little interview clip with her too. Karen sounds awesome. As for the movie… Karen sounds awesome.

–Tebow’s made another believa. Man, that guy is so embarrassing. Just not in the way everyone else thinks he’s embarrassing.

–But hey, speaking of embarrassing… apparently nobody told this guy that he acts like a whiny teenager who needs to get a life, learn how to think and how not to smirk (taken lessons from Hayden Christensen, he has), and how to find two words that actually rhyme together. I do recommend the always-solid Kevin DeYoung’s methodical dissection of it, but I think he’s far too generous to the kid. For one thing, he appears to be under the impression that our little punk friend is writing (*muffled choke*) POETRY. HAHAHAHA! Seriously, “mention” and “spectrum?” Say no more. Also, he may have missed this alternate version of the poem, in which Whiny Teen flies his true colors even more blatantly with the extra line: “See, one reason I hate religion is because they usually choose/To propagate the gay-hating Republican Jesus you usually see on Fox News.” Oh look, yet another young “revolutionary” who, at the end of the day, just wants to move the Church to the left. Yawn. Moving on…

–I recently made history by singing a Celine Dion song. Never would have anticipated that, but, well, I’m kind of embarrassed to say that I listened to “Because You Loved Me” and sorta liked it. I mean, as in, I thought that as cheesy, generic, fluffy inspirational 90s pop goes, it wasn’t too bad. So here’s my very hastily assembled (but hopefully decent) cover. It was the guinea pig for all my “Let’s see if I can mix with Audacity and not make my voice sound totally cruddy” experiments in the span of a few days. Learning and recording the song all happened within the last week of Christmas break. So let’s just say I’m a little tired of it now. However, I do want to dedicate it to my significant other. I mean, my favorite deceased uncle. I mean, my Lord and Savior Jesus and Christ. I mean, my favorite stuffed animal. Whatever. Whatever meaning it holds for you… enjoy. :) I wanted to post it on Godtube with a photo of a sunset or something, but I’m having trouble logging in to my account, so here’s a 4shared link instead.

And before you ask, no, a cover of “My Heart Will Go On” is not forthcoming. In the words of Glenn Beck, “Horrific. Truly.”

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Saturday Survey #7

*The Dove Brothers have found their replacement tenor. I think Jonathan had the better voice, but I 100% support McCray in the turnover. I’m sure he’d appreciate your prayers.

*Our favorite Southern Gospel Blog contributors, the Garms family, took a tour of the Cathedrals’ legendary bus this week, the Silhouette.

*Jackie Wilburn, the Wilburn family patriarch, passed away the other day. Steve Eaton has posted some exclusive vintage concert clips of the Wilburns, featuring an incredibly young Jonathan Wilburn—I’m gonna guess he’s no older than 23 or so. Here’s a moving obituary from Jonathan.

*DBM has a new column: Hype/Reality, in which he takes the hype over a new album or song and assigns a letter grade based on how well it reflects his own opinion. Check it out.

*Just came across an episode of Southern Gospel Gardener featuring a surprise guest appearance by Clayton Inman. We love the gardener! I sure hope he reads my blog. Maybe some of his coolness will rub off on me.

*Here’s a disappointing blog post by Dr. Russell Moore, in which he gives his readers his class’s final ethics exam. Not only is it highly unprofessional, charged with manipulative language to make the students feel pressured into giving one particular answer (which is blatantly obvious much as he may protest to the contrary), but it is also strangely and deliberately unrealistic. It’s a situation involving American law concerning immigration, except Moore has made the laws far more draconian in his hypothetical scenario. You’d think that if you were trying to equip students for ministry, you’d train them to think and reason under real-world conditions instead of giving them deliberately skewed hypothetical scenarios. But sadly, I wasn’t that surprised by this post since Moore has shown oddly left-leaning instincts in the past, religious-righter though he may be considered by most die-hard liberals. So this just continues the trend.

*So many stupid blog posts, so little time to tear them apart…

*I’ve recently been indulging myself in some Pixar movies. Discovering and re-discovering. First, I revisited the original Toy Story after what has to be roughly a decade and a half (it’s still awesome), then I watched Toy Story 3 (forced, melodramatic and overrated, but still pretty good—heck, I cried at the end). I then went and found some priceless behind the scenes footage for the latter. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen in peak form:

Then I revisited Finding Nemo (more crying), and then I discovered what all the fuss was about Up. That movie is not overrated. It is the most brilliant piece of film-making sincesince… well, anyway, it’s JUST BRILLIANT! More crying. Oh yes, and I realized where Michael Booth got his “squirrel” line from…

Then I revisited A Bug’s Life, which has one of their best blooper reels…

Finally, I watched Monsters Inc., which made me cry twice. TWICE! That one may actually be my favorite. I might even be heretical and say I like it better than Toy Story, but… I don’t feel brave today.

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Are Hymns Harder to Sing Than Praise Songs?

A common complaint that I see about hymns is that they are overly complicated musically speaking. The melodies and harmonies are impractical for unskilled musicians and singers. “People need something simple they can pick up easily.” Hence the rise of highly simplistic, repetitive worship tunes.

My question is this: Are they really easier to sing?

Last night I went to a youth gathering, and the band ran through some worship tunes. They actually weren’t terrible as worship tunes go, but what I noticed as I tried to sing along is that the melodies weren’t that memorable. For songs I didn’t know, it would take me a little while even just to grasp the tunes to the point where I could sing along. They didn’t have body to them. They didn’t have movement. They didn’t flow naturally and gracefully. The rhythms were vague. I felt cramped as I sang them. And I can hardly remember a note the morning after.

Now maybe I’m just not putting myself in a beginner’s shoes, but I think songs like “It is Well,” “Amazing Grace,” and “How Great Thou Art” are FAR more singable. The rhythms are more clearly marked out. The melodies are going somewhere definite. They stick in your head. They have character and form.

For me, melodies like that are much easier to sing.

Thoughts from those of you who work in church music?

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A Word On Gay Christians in Ministry, or Music Ministry, or Gospel Music Ministry

A lot of discussion has been had about this particular topic recently. There is much to say about it, but instead of saying everything that could be said, let me offer just a word or two.

First, the annoying thing about gossip is that it’s unfailingly vague. So when some know-it-all comes around talking about what his sources have told him about how umpty bagillion people in SG are gay, it’s never clarified what exactly they mean by “gay.” People can be proudly gay and act out on their impulses, or they can feel shame and try to fight them. The know-it-alls never make distinctions like that.

Second, there seems to be this false dichotomy about what a singer or minister in that situation can do. A friend said to me recently that if you’re gay, and you’re working in gospel music, maybe you shouldn’t be there… but then again, in this genre, with the fanbase it has, “coming out” carries a high cost with it. So, the argument runs, it’s difficult to blame singers/writers who aren’t proud of their orientation but are choosing to stay quietly in the closet. (Obviously we have no sympathy for so-called “Christians” who saunter out of the closet and flaunt their orientation to push their agenda. Nor should we feel sympathy for those who are coldly and calculatedly choosing to live a sinful double life.)

But for those who feel guilty and convicted, I think there’s a third option nobody’s ever really considered: disappearing quietly. If you sincerely recognize your desires as sinful, and you feel that they disqualify you from ministry, the best thing you can do for yourself, the industry, and the fans is to find some other line of work and keep your private desires to yourself. Obviously you should feel much more guilt if you have acted out on those desires, but I think even in that situation the silent exit is best.

The truth is we live in a “tell-all” society where people are expected to blab every private detail of their lives. Secretly living in sin (or with powerful sinful desires) while staying in the ministry is not the right way. But telling the whole world about it isn’t the right way either. Instead, disqualify yourself with dignity. Turn in your resignation and tell the good people who have supported you that God is calling you somewhere else. It will be the absolute truth. Then leave the ministry and bear your cross alone.

That sounds harsh. But I believe it’s what Jesus would say. You’ll remember he had his own cross to bear.

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Watch Your Mouth

In the Church today, it’s apparently becoming narrow-minded to watch your mouth. I’ve seen Christians who look down on other Christians for thinking that language still matters. Some try to claim it’s all “a heart issue,” and the actual words aren’t as important as the spirit in which they are said.

I beg to differ.

I realize it can be taken to the other extreme. For example, I’ve known wonderful, godly people who think it’s a sin to say the word “darn.” My family once even had to sit through a skit on the subject by some very earnest teenage girls. In the opening scene, they sit down to eat lunch, and one exclaims, “Darn, I forgot my sandwich!” Another says in shock, “You shouldn’t say that word.” We had a running joke for some time afterwards that perhaps the profane word in question was “sandwich.”

Nevertheless, I do take our use of language seriously, because I think language is too beautiful to be turned into something ugly. Moreover, when it profanes something that’s been ordained by God as sacred, I believe it’s a form of blasphemy. That includes the relationship between a man and a woman.

This is something that I think a lot of Christians are losing a sense of. For example, there are Christian singers who stand out in their chosen secular genre in some ways because of their faith, but to an extent they still blend in when it comes to songs with suggestive content. This is true of artists like Josh Turner and Brad Paisley.

Another trend I’ve observed is that Christians in the Church are picking up suggestive turns of phrase without really stopping to think about it. For example, Christian guys will refer to their “smokin’ hot wives,” or Christian girls will titter over the latest “hottie” they saw on TV. Several years ago, I even heard a motivational speaker on Focus on Family recall the moment when she first saw her future husband in a group at church by saying, “And then four of the yummiest guys I had ever seen walked in.” The other girls in her audience were very appreciative, naturally. I wasn’t. I fully believed that she was a godly lady, but I wanted to do a facepalm.

It makes you want to ask some of these people, “Brother in Christ… sister in Christ… do you understand that sex is sacred?” And they might look at you and say, “Well, yeah, it means you’re supposed to be faithful to your spouse and stuff like that.” Okay, that’s a start. But sometimes I think Christians still don’t really understand what it means for sex to be sacred. Simply, it means that when you treat sex lightly, as a thing to be joked about or sung about in suggestive songs, you’re profaning God. I don’t even appreciate it when Christians take the f-bomb and replace it with some euphemism  (freakin’, flippin’, frickin’, etc.) What’s the idea—that we’re supposed to fall all over ourselves and be so very grateful that you didn’t actually say the f-bomb? How restrained. Yes, I realize everybody does it. That’s the problem. By the way, what’s wrong with “stinkin’?” Brad Stine manages to make do with it.

My point is, think before you imitate. Think before you toss off an expression. No, I’m not saying you should become obsessive and insufferable (“Did I just hear you say that tuba was cute? Watch your mouth”).  I’m just saying, be discerning. Be thoughtful. Guys, is it really necessary to tell the world that your wife is “hot”? Try telling the world that she’s beautiful. It sounds a lot better, doesn’t it? Girls, “yummy”? Come on. He’s not a cheeseburger you know. Be like my little sister, who likes Michael W. Smith because he’s “haaaaandsome.”

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P & W and the Wussification of the Church

Increasingly, our culture is refusing to let boys be boys. Comedian Brad Stine calls it “the wussification of America.” The newly prevalent attitude is that if you are a guy, and you have a spine, you must be a Neanderthal. Masculine strength is scorned and has been replaced by a new standard of masculinity that is disturbingly effeminate. This of course is linked to the gay movement, but it has become so pervasive that you can find the “new type” being represented in all sorts of contexts…even the Church.

The idea of the “sensitive guy” today is not what it used to be. The “sensitive guy” used to be a tormented hero (e.g. Marlon Brando, James Dean), who needs a pure female to rescue him from his inner conflict and work a redemptive change in his character. Today, the sensitive guy is not merely rescued by his female counter-part. He’s expected to submit to her. If he doesn’t, the knee-jerk reaction is, “Well why don’t you just drag her by the hair to your cave while you’re at it?” In short, loving authority is now equated with being a jerk.

What are the observable results of this feminizing trend in the Church? They are legion, but here’s one: Nice, young, evangelical Christian guys, under cultural pressure to downplay their masculine instincts, are becoming “sensitive” instead. This is tangibly manifested in many different ways, including effeminate haircuts and earrings (???), but another key factor in this process has been the introduction into the evangelical world of “love songs for Jesus.” We’ve seen a massive increase in the number of these types of songs among evangelicals in the past two decades, until now you pretty much can’t swing a dead cat without bumping into one on the radio or in a worship service. And any guy who might feel uncomfortable singing them fears that he will be challenged by his guy friends, “Well I don’t feel ashamed to sing a love song for my Lord and Savior. What’s wrong with you, don’t you have a heart for God??” Under such an indictment, perhaps he swallows very hard and continues to sing “God, I am so in love with you.”

Or maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he says, “Forget this” and walks out. And maybe he doesn’t come back.

Simply put, men who come to church in order to escape a world trying to steal their identity are finding that the same process is taking place there too. At that point, either they are assimilated, or they are driven away. Neither of these options is good. And meanwhile, a whole generation of Christian boys are being taught to accept emasculating language without a trace of contrary instinct.

Is this a healthy thing? Should we be encouraging young men to “find their feminine side?” Or should we encourage young men to be… well, young men?

I appear not to be the only one who is concerned about these trends. I now yield the floor to Brother Paul Washer:

Men, here’s what I want you to realize. This will help you later on when you get married. Let’s say all hell’s breaking loose and everybody in the world has just come to your office with signs: “Down with you.” Everybody hates you, the world’s falling apart. Happens to me about every other day [laughter]. I get in my car and I drive home and I’m trying to get my heart right, and when I pull in that driveway, I do not get out of that car until I’ve settled some issues. It’s not about me, it’s not about my whining, it’s not about my needs, it’s not about my emotions, it’s not about any of that goofy stuff that people are telling you as men you need to be concerned about. My only concern is getting out of that car and walking into that house strong and joyful. ‘Cuz the burdens I’m supposed to carry as a man, my wife is not supposed to carry, nor are my children supposed to carry.

See, you’ve been told that you need to marry a woman who can just “carry you” basically, that you can “share all your emotions with.” Just die to your emotions, okay? Just die to all that psycho-babble and everything else you’ve been told that you ought to be feeling inside. Say “no” to your feelings and like my wife says, “Man up!” And just do it. Carry the burden. Cast your cares upon Christ, because your wife was not created to carry your burdens. Children were not created to carry your burdens. And brothers in Christ can carry some of your burdens, but guys, I want to tell you honestly, I see Christian guys get together  sharing their burdens, and they sound like a bunch of just girls. They’ve been trained to talk a certain way  …  There is a biblical casting your cares upon Christ, and there is one brother strengthening another brother, and that is good, and sometimes we all need that, but guys, we’re just so… You know, even the Christian songs today, I hear some of these guys singing these songs and they’re just whining about all their feelings. Makes me want to throw up. It’s not what you are. You’re being re-created in the image of something that’s not biblical. Again, don’t take this to an extreme … but be very careful. They’ve turned men into little emotional wastebaskets. And that’s not what we are.

The man has spoken. Can I get an Amen?

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A Few Words on Soul Surfer

Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the past few months, you’ve probably heard of the latest inspirational family flick to come out of Hollywood: Soul Surfer. Based on the true story of surfer Bethany Hamilton’s inspiring struggle to overcome the tragic loss of her arm in a shark attack, it’s been marketed to and largely accepted by a Christian audience. Since I rarely go to the movies, I’ve been relying on detailed reviews and short Youtube clips to give me a sense of the film.

I’ve seen enough to inform me that I don’t need to waste any time on it. One of the most insightful negative reviews I found came from, interestingly, a non-Christian perspective. There are many different reasons why I would advise other Christians not to bother with the film, but one of the things that bugs me most about it is its hopelessly generic treatment of the religious. It’s taken the real-life Christianity of Hamilton’s family and turned it into little more than insipid… inspirationality. I think Ebert At the Movies really puts it in a nutshell. They’re completely right: In order for the film to work even just as a good film, it needed to either leave Christianity entirely out of the picture, or go all the way with it. The tepid, mushy middle stance it ultimately took should not only make it less appealing to firm Christians, but it should also make it less appealing to those of us who appreciate good art and good film-making. As it stands, “cynical and calculated” is sadly not far from the mark as a descriptive phrase. Watch the review.

See also some solid words from a Christian perspective here. This snippet just about nails it:

It seems, too often, Hollywood uses Christians for free marketing. If they can produce a movie that shows enough flesh to sell in the secular market, all they have to do is convince the Christians that it has a godly message and we’ll find a way to excuse the immodesty.

First, they’ll need a good moving story (we Christians like to cry…thinking like a movie promoter here). If they can find a story where someone does an amazing good deed, or an athlete (we love our sports too) becomes a hero by overcoming some huge obstacle–especially if it’s true­–they’ve hit the jackpot. Now all they have to do is throw us a few bones to make it “Christian” enough for us to tell our friends and buy the tickets.

In the case of Soul Surfer, all they needed were two verses, a female youth pastor, a worship song, and the flash of a Bible. Throw in a deeply moving (true) story about a sweet Christian girl who pulls herself up by her bootstraps (or bikini straps) and we’re hooked.

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Focus On the Family: The Beginning of the End?

This is an excellent post on the “new face of Focus on the Family” and its implications for conservatism in America. Specifically, it addresses the recent dust-up over Blake Mycoskie and his organization’s association with FotF—or rather the lack thereof.

I would like to hope there are other conservatives similarly alarmed over the direction the organization has been gradually taking ever since Dobson stepped down. The pathetic attempts of ostensibly conservative Christians to curry favor with a political side that will never have anything but contempt for them are simply… well, pathetic. I heartily agree with this author and couldn’t have said it better myself.

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