Friday, July 30, 2010

Author Anne Rice Quits Christianity--But is Still a Believer

Now here is an interesting article. Anne Rice, a one time author of graphic vampire novels, made headlines a few years ago for converting to Christianity. Because of her conversion, she ceased writing these types of novels.

Today she made headlines by announcing that she was renouncing Christianity and being a Christian:

"In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control," the author wrote Wednesday on her Facebook page. "In the name of ... Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen." Read the AP story here.

Here is another quote from Anne Rice's Facebook page:

For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being "Christian" or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to "belong" to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For tenyears, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

And yet, the article report this: "Although no longer part of any denomination, she remains a believer and continues to read theology and post Biblical passages on her Facebook page."

So, what does this say about the perception of "Christianity" and "Christian"? I am reminded of a joke I heard once in which someone said this in trying to define Christians: "They are against things and go to a lot of meetings." It is interesting that Anne Rice defined Christianity and being a Christian entirely as being against things.

Now, there are things that Christians should be against. But we ought to be known primarily for what we are for. Jesus said that we would be known as his disciples by our love for one another. He said that we should do our good deeds before people so that they would praise the Father in heaven. When Anne Rice thought of quiting Christianity and being a Christian, why did she not think of quitting loving one another or doing good deeds? The reason is simple. Whether we like it or not, the reality is that a great percentage of non-Christians define Christians as being against things and being judgmental.(Check our David Kinnamon's book UnChristian for stats on this.)

It is interesting that Rice says, "In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being a Christian." This seems to confirm that she is making a distinction between what Christ was actually for and about, and what she perceives Christianity and Christians are all about. I'm not sure if she is actually for homosexuality, or is just against being "anti-gay." The Bible, of course, says that this behavior is sinful. Perhaps she is confronting mean-spirited behavior towards gays. It has been said that we should love the sinner and hate the sin. Sounds like a good idea. But so many times, sadly, it seems that people end of hating the sinner, or at least act and speak against "sinners" in a hateful manner. It is interesting that "sinners" seemed to really like Jesus, where as those who fall into the "sinners" category today often run from, well, Christians and Christianity.

Rice is defined by the writer of the AP article as still being a believer, and the writer notes that Rice continues to post biblical passages on her Facebook page. Rice also writes:

"My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me."

But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.

I am glad that Rice took renounced atheism and has made her faith in Christ central to her life. Praise God! I do not know all the rest of her beliefs, and am not here to defend them--that is really beside the point I am making. The point I am making is this--we need to be known primarily for the things Jesus said that we would be known for, such as our love for one another, doing good deeds in the community, etc. We have a huge PR problem, and many non-Christians do not see us as a positive force in the world.

What do you think is the cause of the world's negative perception of "Christians" and "Christianity"? How can we change this perception?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Missional, Evangelism, and the Kingdom of Heaven

Here is a pretty decent post, Missional & Evangelism by Richard Dahlstrom. In this post, Dahlstrom quotes The Message, which is a paraphrase of the NT:

“Don’t begin by traveling to some far off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. God to the lost, confused people rigfht here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.”
(Matthew 9:5-7).

I'm preaching on the "Limited Commission" on Sunday (Mt. 10), which covers similar themes that are found in this passage--being missional (sent), evangelism, and the kingdom of heaven/kingdom of God.

From looking at Jesus' life and mission, I have often held up three primary things as being central to the missional concept: seeking the lost, serving the community, and sharing the good news of Jesus and the kingdom of God. Without an active seeking, there is no missional thrust that compels us into the world. Without service and acts of healing, we fail to demonstrate the kingdom of God--that God's kingdom is filled with love, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. And in today's world, sharing without serving often places us in the same category as telemarketers and pushy salesmen. Without service, our sincerity is questioned and we may never get a hearing.

At the same time, if we serve without sharing the good news, or evangelism, we fail to give people the hope of their ultimate salvation. The gospel, or good news, is fundamentally about two things: 1) Jesus' life, death, burial, and resurrection; and 2) the kingdom of God. The first might be called the gospel about Jesus, while the second might be called the gospel of Jesus, or Jesus' gospel.

Sadly, the message of the kingdom is often neglected or absent today. But where it is preached and taught, it has a powerful effect. People begin to get a glimpse of a God who is powerful and able to infinitely more than them. They begin to get a taste of a life free of worry, stress, and anxiety, where cares are cast upon the Lord. They begin to find fulfillment in self-sacrifice and serving others.

Let us not forget all three of these aspects of mission--seeking, serving, and sharing.
What do you see is the link between "missional" and evangelism?

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Desire for Simplicity - How can the church respond?

We live in an incredibly complex world. We have gone from the big 3 broadcast channels to hundreds of cable and satellite channels.

The amount of digital information in the world doubles every 11 hours--an unfathomable rate (see story).

The Internet has brought virtually unlimited amounts news, pictures, books, blogs, videos, and social sites.

And we feel the overwhelming weight of all of this noise. We dread opening our email. There is too much junk email to go through. Too many forwards that are not funny or worth the effort. Too many people who ask questions that require two page answers. Too many people we don't know, with their own agenda, cluttering up our lives.

And the daily choices we have to make--while great in some ways--are overwhelming. Remember the add that highlighted the question at the check out stand, "paper of plastic"? In an overly complex world, even these types of choices can start to overwhelm us.

Our world is longing for simplicity.

For years, consumers responded to having more choices. The more offerings, the greater the appeal to different people. And this is still often the case. But consider the appeal of Google's home page. A single, unadorned text box with no advertising. Simple. No pretense. Nothing else clamoring for our time or attention. Studies have shown that the more you have on your home page, the less people go to it. (Which is one reason I will be reducing the number of choices on MON's home page.)

And despite all of the interest in customization--still a huge desire--it is ironic that the Iphone, with its 100,000 apps, is not able to be customized in its software (see story). People seem not to have minded. In fact, by having a closed system, Apple has eliminated hackers and spammers. Aren't you glad that you don't have to deal with this on your Iphone?

Businesses--often the first to note cultural trends--are responding to our world's desire for simplicity. There are email filtering technologies. Closet organization systems. Simple billing (cell, Internet, and cable on one bill). Simple diets. Simple exercise routines. Simple wills. Sadly, last week I even saw multiple signs for "Simple Divorce" along the highway.

There is much I want to say and apply to the church on this subject of simplicity. But I don't want to do too much at once. I "simply want to ask:

In seeking to be servants, what areas of people's lives can we--individually and as a church--help simplify? Where do people seem overwhelmed in their time, organization, or choices?