Archive | Rants

Why I Don’t Think Much Of the Spiritual Formation Movement

I was recently asked to participate in a group that is creating a curriculum in the area of “spiritual formation.” I have never really written or spoken much on this, but my nerve endings are a bit sensitive when the subject is introduced. In other words, I can hang with it for a bit, but when it is talked about in terms of “curriculum” or “discipleship” or forming the “whole spiritual person,” I start to back out.

What is “spiritual formation”? I am trying to be fair and representative of it, but I know there will be those who feel I have left something out. Nevertheless, here it goes:

“Spiritual formation describes a process or path to spiritual wholeness though a practice of specific disciplines including prayer, meditation, study, fasting, solitude, confession, and worship. The end goal is that the person would be more Christ-like.”

Nothing wrong with that. Right? After all, who would argue against the necessity of confession, prayer, and Bible study?! These are all staple food groups in the food pyramid…errr…circle (or whatever it is now) of the Christian life. And it is the beginning of a new year. Time to set new goals, agendas, remake ourselves, right the wrongs, and discipline ourselves in ways we failed to in the previous year. So, how can I have ill will toward such things? I don’t, but hang with me.

In the last ten years, “spiritual formation” has become quite popular. I took a course called “Spiritual Formation” in seminary. Many well-respected colleges and seminaries are even offering Master’s degrees in spiritual formation. It is nothing new and there is everything right about being disciplined. But the current practice seems to have evolved into some sort of perceived spiritual antibiotic to all sin, malnutrition, and disease.

At one time, I tried to get in with the spiritual formation thing. At least, I tried to understand it as a movement. I even offered an elective course at Stonebriar Community Church through the Center for Biblical Studies of Dallas Theological Seminary. Why? Well, everyone else was doing it! I am not going to mention any of the gurus in these circles (many of whom I have great respect for and from whom I have learned much), but I do have some things about which I don’t mind taking liberty to be somewhat offensive.

First, a confession: for me, listening to or reading books of this genre is like listening to an organ. I know, you love the organ. I don’t too much. It drains the life out of me. I only have enough breath to make it though half a sentence in each organ-led song and the sentences are not long. When I read spiritual formation books, it is the same. It takes me half a day to get through a paragraph and the paragraphs are not that long. When I finish the book, I usually think to myself, “That could have been said in a lot less space. Did I just lose a week off my life?” Dramatic? Yes. But I am speaking for myself here.

(Calm down and keep reading.) Continue Reading →

Is Expositional Preaching Really Enough?

I love to preach. Arguably, I love to preach more than I love to teach. Yes, there is a difference. But I am getting ahead of myself . . .

I graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) in 2001 with my ThM. I had a double major in New Testament and in Pastoral Ministries. The pastoral ministries department is concerned with practical hands-on training such as the teaching process, leadership development, and counseling. I even had to take a course in the use of media (which came down to how to create a proper PowerPoint presentation). They were all great courses which I often return to for sage advice.

However, the gem of the pastoral ministries department at DTS was the preaching courses. There were a lot of things to fear at seminary (not the least of which was Dan Wallace’s Advanced Greek Grammar course), but nothing more so than the day you had to give you sermon in front of the students and the professor. After your “masterpiece” was delivered, you had to sit through the critique of students (who were just as green as you) and a professor (who was paid to find out what you did wrong). The professor would share how you fell on your face with the whole class using you as an object lesson! Many of us would pray for the rapture just before the critique began.

Above all else, when you graduated from DTS, you were a man who preached (or a woman who “shared”) the word of God. No, not your own thoughts. Not your weekend story about how camping trips can go bad. Not four illustrations from the Bible about how to have a godly marriage. Not even your conversion story. But you were prepared to “preach the word.” We did not preach from the word. We did simply use the word in our preaching. We did not illustrate using the Bible. We preached the word.

Expositional Preaching vs. Topical Preaching

You have not heard about this debate? Come on . . . Let me introduce you to a debate that rivals the number of dispensations, the five points of Calvinism, and, yea, even the six days of creation.

Expositional preaching: preaching through the word of God, verse by verse.

Topical preaching: using God’s word as a springboard to preach on relevant topics.

(You can see the bias of my training coming through here). Continue Reading →

Why I Don’t Like Christian Music

Well, the title gives away my lack of passion for Christian music, so I am not going to do an inductive blog. There, I got it out. I don’t like Christian music. In fact, I think Christian music is theologically wrong. It is like saying “I like Christian cooking.” There is no such thing . . . or at least there should not be. I know that some of you are not going to agree with me, and that is cool. Your probably right. This is not that big of a deal. Nevertheless, allow me to express my odd passion here anyway.

Why don’t I like Christian music? That is a good question. I have often asked this of myself. What happens is this. I am driving down the road, listening to talk radio. The Renewing Your Mind broadcast ends, and is replaced by an hour of Christian music. I immediately change the station. I look for other music. Maybe something in the 90’s. The 90’s was a great decade for music. Here is my order of preference:

  • U2
  • Lifehouse
  • Creed
  • The Fray
  • Cranberries
  • Alanis Morresette
  • Smashing Pumkins
  • Switchfoot
  • Matchbox 20
  • Nickleback
  • REM
  • Pearl Jam

Oh, and (cover your ears boys and girls) . . .

  • Just about anything Country

That is my list. In fact, you can check my iPhone and see the same on my favorites list. I know what you are thinking. None of these, other than Switchfoot, are Christian groups. In fact, some have been thought of as anti-Christian. Even U2, Lifehouse, The Fray, and Creed, although they have Christian members, are not Christian bands. I like that. In fact, if they were to change and exist under the title of “Christian rock” I would probably bow my head in sadness and cease to listen to them so much. I would think to myself “They have caved to the pressure of the Christian sub-culture network.

It would take much more than one blog to explain my reasonings for this (especially since I do not completely understand them myself), but let give you some thoughts.

Broadly speaking, I don’t like the Christian mentality that Christians must create Christian sub-cultures in order to be truly Christian. We have a sub-culture for everything. When people come into Church they have to learn a different language, change the way they dress, only read Christian books, start liking the organ, and limit their cinematic entertainment to Fireproof and Facing the Giants. Why? Because we must conform to the sub-culture that says everything outside the Christian sub-culture is evil at worst and dangerous at best.

I especially don’t like a sub-culture in a genera that is a human genera—music. What does this mean Continue Reading →

Short Blog: Thoughts on Testimonies

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like most testimonies. You know, the kind that have a BC and an AD.

No, it is not the testimonies themselves, but the burden of what a testimony must bear. There has to be a former way of life before Christ (BC) and what you have become after Christ (AD). The burden is that in order to have a “great” testimony, pressure is placed upon you to present yourself in a nice and polished way that says, “Look what God has done with me: Can you believe it? You can be like me too.”

To me, testimonies are more valid (not to mention more believable and inspiring) when the “finished product” (the AD) is never really finished at all, but still broken. I don’t like the shallow “now and then” of the Christian testimony format.

How about you?

In Defense of Hymns (Performed in a Classic Way)

I went to a church the other day and it was not much different than a rock concert. Might I say, it was a very well done rock concert. Electric guitars, drums in their own sound area, smoke, lights, and two or three people singing the latest in contemporary worship music. There was a part of me that enjoyed it and another part of me which sighed. Another church I attended had a mixture of some of the classic hymns along with some contemporary worship. No smoke. No flashing lights. But the sigh was still there. It just had a different sound. It was lacking something.

There is hardly a place you can go anymore and hear the classic hymns of the faith sung in a classic way. Nine out of ten times, churches have quietly changed their tune. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against contemporary worship music. In fact, I really like it. But more and more the great hymns of the faith are being ushered out. Now, even when they are played, their sound is contemporary. It is not really the same. The best way I can express it is that hymns are epic and epic songs need an epic sound. 

I like the word “epic.” It fits when it comes to the great hymns of the faith. Hymns are epic as God is epic. Hymns played in a traditional way, with the traditional sound, are even more epic.

I don’t wish to beat this thing to death. I am 37 years-old. I just caught the tail-end of the transition to contemporary music. Think of this as an opinion piece rather than an informed theological argument. I am not saying that God is more pleased when we play hymns. I am not saying that this is the “right” way to worship. I am just saying that there is a defense that can be made for hymns.

Hymns enter the church into a saga. While I think church can and does take these kind of things to far, there is something to be said for tradition. When I attended an Eastern Orthodox church not too long ago I remember thinking about all the things that they did wrong to the detriment of the Gospel. However, there is something that I believe they get right: they allow people to experience the church. No, not the building they are in or even their congregation, but the historic church. Because of their liturgy, which goes back thousands of years, they join hands with all the saints of the past.  Other traditions do this as well in their own respective ways. This is one aspect of the value that the great hymns of the faith sung and played in a classical way have. Of course most of them don’t go back to the earliest church. In fact, most only go back a few hundred years. But when we sing, “A Mighty Fortress is our God” (pipe organ, trumpet, choir and all), their is a sense in which we take the hand of Martin Luther and the reformers expressing our solidarity with them. Continue Reading →

Christians Can be So Bizarre or “He Hates the Buildings!”

I sit here with a bit of a conflicted soul. On the one hand, I got the new issue of Christianity Today and found that it is devoted to the importance of doctrine in spiritual formation. Giddy. That is what I was when I read it. However, I also received an email yesterday that serves to curb my excitement, reminding me of the reality of our desperate condition. (I’ll get to the email soon).

Christians often scare me. Really, all religious people scare me. But Christians in particular because they are the ones I have to deal with everyday. I have a deep empathy for the so-called “new atheists” such as Daniel Dennet and Christopher Hitchens who find religion repulsive and counterproductive to the betterment of society. While I completely disagree with them for a variety of reasons that will not be covered here, I can put myself in their shoes and find myself saying the same things. Namely: Christians can be so bizarre.

Seriously, we can produce the craziest nutcases the world has to offer. Sadly, it is often our beliefs that are the issue. From the “God told me to kill my children,”  “I cannot talk to you because you are going through a divorce,” “If you say the earth is going around the Sun we are going to put you in jail,” to “Our ministry needs a million dollars or I am going to kill myself,”  we have our embarrassments. The things said and done in the name of God are astonishing and disturbing. Yes, I know. Everyone has their nutcases, but we have the tendency to breed a special variety. I have already, in times past, talked trash on my own breed: Calvinism. But now I am going to get after the species in general: Christians.

In the interest of full-disclosure I must tell you something. I have Gail Riplinger’s book Which Bible is God’s Word sitting right in front of me. Its basic argument is that all Bible translations other than the King James Bible are from Satan. Oh yeah, I am serious. The sin is not that I have this book, but that it is representative of times past when I was, for about six weeks, a KJV Only advocate, believing that all other Bible versions were from Satan. To make matters worse I was actually an outspoken evangelist of this belief. I told my family, my friends, and everyone who would listen about Satan’s plot to get you to read another version of the Bible. I can only imagine what the conversation sounded like. I had “evidence” that I thought was solid, but as I look back on this “evidence”, my face turns red. I guess I keep Riplinger’s book in front of me to keep me humble and always aware of how bizarre I can be.

Christianity is dangerous. The Bible is dangerous. Please don’t get me wrong. I believe that both, rightly understood, are wonderful and true. However, the “rightly understood” is so hard to come by. The difficulty is not that one has to be a super-genius to understand the Bible or the Christian faith. Quite the opposite. The Bible is wonderfully simple and so is the Christian faith.

I believe that the difficulty lies in two areas:

1. Christians believe that the Bible is God’s word.
2. There is not a bolt of lightening that strikes you when you interpret it wrong (i.e. there is no immediate evidence of or consequence for wrong interpretation.)

The reality of these two make a potentially lethal combination. They don’t make good bed-fellows and hence the Roman Catholic cry for an imperial authority to regulate such things. Although Catholics have their share of bizarre teachings themselves, their problem is bigger in my opinion since their bizarre doctrines get dogmatized and everyone must believe them. At least in Protestantism we can both recognize and repudiate our weird uncles. Catholics are stuck having to defend them for all time. (Another story, another time.)

Now for the bizarrity of the moment. . .

This is from an email I received from a concerned follower of our ministry. It is a phone message from his Bible Study leader. Every time I listen to this, I am reminded of the movie “The Jerk” when Steve Martin is getting shot at but he naively thinks the guy is shooting at the cans beside him. “Its the cans. He hates the cans!” Well, in this case: “Its the buildings. God hates the buildings.” Listen and you will see what I mean:

(Please note that the audio has been altered to protect the identity of the caller.)

Buildings are the whore of Babylon? Really? Satan is luring people into buildings which is the great apostasy? Really? Continue Reading →

Jesus with His Lights Turned off on Halloween

Will is dressing up as a ghost for Halloween. I was shocked. He has his Indiana Jones costume that he wears everywhere. I thought at least he would choose the Storm Trooper costume. I have given up on him being a superhero (Batman, Vigilante, Green Lantern, or any other DC character). Sigh… but a Ghost? Where did that come from?

My Fundamentalist right pinky toe started to speak.

Toe: “You know what is going to happen if he dresses up as a Ghost.”

Me: “No, what?”

Toe: “Satan.”

Me: “Say what?”

Toe: “Satan will have a foothold. You and your family will have compromised to evil.”

Me: “How so. I don’t get it?”

Toe: “Ghosts are demons. Or at least they are demonic. Therefore, your son is taking his first step toward practicing demonology. It is a form of Satan worship.”

Me: “Say what?”

Toe: “Exactly, you have already compromised and you don’t recognize it. Next thing you know, Katelynn and Kylee will be dressing up as witches.”

Me: “To what end?”

Toe: “What?”

Me: “To what end? So what? Who cares?”

Toe: “I want a new master. You can just go watch Harry Potter for all I care.”

Yes, then there is  that. Christians on Halloween. Scared to celebrate. Some with more than their pinky toe doing the talking. You know the ones. They are the only ones in the neighborhood who have their lights turned off. “Oh, here come the kids. They are going to come to our door. If we open it, we will have compromised and, in effect, told them that Satan is my friend, that Satan is my pal. Turn off the lights and HIDE! It is the only Christian thing to do.Continue Reading →

Save the Kings!

My heart is vexed within me. I know not what to do or whence to do it. Therefore, I chose this – here and now. Not just Facebook (where my voice is only accessible by my few friends), not Twitter (where I am limited to my few followers), but here on the P&P theology blog, accessible to the whole world, especially those in the west of the New World.

My voice is that which seeks liberation from an evil, but the knife has already been laid to the flesh.

What is this evil you ask?

It is the cancellation of the wonderful.

How can “wonderful” be canceled, Michael? Is it not created by God?

Ah, to the contrary. The contrary cometh not by way of your assumption of creation, but by the will of a vessel to His glory. By one action the glory of the Lord hath been shielded and its light, seemingly, denied.

What could this be, Michael? Why speaketh thou thusly of such pain and travail? Whither cometh your woe? Speak or I shall be drained of hope myself!

Ah, ye should be drained of hope. NBC hath canceled its show Kings without giving it proper chance for success. It wast the greatest show to arise out of the west of thousands upon thousands. It wast a tale that told of King David, father to our Lord. It taught a story in such a way that hath not been seen since Sir Gibson’s Passion. It should be hailed as a triumph among both the heathen and the brethren alike. But, alas, it has been canceled.

(The madman is crying, “The Kings is dead, and we have killed him.)

What shouldest we do Michael, I did not know? I never even heard of that about which you speaketh.

Nay, I have no answer. Mourning and beseeching to our Lord that NBC might take a second, yea, third look and have faith that our community will raise up and take notice.

Executive P&P Translation: NBC’s Kings has been canceled. This is very unfortunate as it represented a wonderful representation of the story of King David in a modernized form. I have watched every episode with great excitement. Rarely do we see such great quality on all fronts (story, acting, production, etc.) that has a good message. Kings represented what many of us would love to see coming from Hollywood. Kings was what so many people have prayed for. Of course it was not perfect, but it was one of the best (if not the best) new show in the last few years and its message was superb. What a terrible waste that this is ending after its first season. 

I don’t know how, but I say “Save the Kings”! 

If you love Kings, spread the word. If you have not seen it, watch the back episodes and get caught up. Read 1 and 2 Samuel along with it!

Sign here as a petition of your support. Lead others to do the same.