Thursday, August 30, 2007
Yet another group of books I recommend... These are the ones that helped me get a feel for what this culture is today that I'm supposed to be salt and light in.
13th Gen by Neil Howe and William Strauss
Generations by Neil Howe and William Strauss
Postmodern Pilgrims by Leonard Sweet
SoulTsunami by Leonard Sweet
Soul Salsa by Leonard Sweet
The God Who Is There by Francis Schaeffer
A Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer
He Is There and He Is Not Silent by Francis Schaeffer
Escape From Reason by Francis Schaeffer
A Reverence for Live by Albert Schweitzer
What on Earth Are We Doing Here? by John Fischer
I've arranged an interview with author Brian McLaren, who has written such books as The Story We Find Ourselves In, A New Kind of Christian, Finding Faith, More Ready Than You Realize, The Secret Message of Jesus, The Church in Emerging Culture, Adventures in Missing the Point, etc. I'll be posting it soon, so keep your eyes peeled.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Going through the motions doesn't please you,
a flawless performance is nothing to you.
I learned God-worship
when my pride was shattered.
Heart-shattered lives ready for love
don't for a moment escape God's notice.
(Psalm 51:16-17, The Message)
For thou delightest not in sacrifice; else would I give it: Thou hast no pleasure in burnt-offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: A broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Psalm 51:16-17, NASB)
It's probably pointless to add any of my thoughts to this, I'd say. The more important thing would be to simply remember it. I particularly love the way The Message paraphrases the verse, and I think, still captures the essence of the verse quite well, even if it isn't an exact translation: a flawless performance is nothing to you.
And how do we overcome that tendency? I think this part answers it best: I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered.
To quote Stan Lee, the famous Marvel comic book guy, "'Nuff said."
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
The previous list of books are the ones that helped me learn to "dance in grace," but these are some of the ones that helped me rediscover the Jesus that my years of church had sadly stripped away from me and re-learn how crucial the necessity and efficacy of faith can be.
Immanuel by Michael Card
The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey
Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey
Finding God in Unexpected Places by Philip Yancey
Can Man Live Without God? by Ravi Zacharias
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
No Wonder They Call Him the Savior by Max Lucado
Alone in the Universe: Aliens, The X-Files & God by David Wilkinson
God, Sex & the Search for Lost Wonder by Mike Starkey
Can the Real Jesus Still Be Found? by Sigmund Brouwer
Streetwise Spirituality by Jim Thomas
Coffeehouse Theology by Jim Thomas
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne.
Unfailing love and truth walk before you as attendants.
Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship,
for they will walk in the light of your presence, Lord. (Psalm 89:13-15, NLT)
We human people tend to think in terms of either/or, I've found. We see it all the way from high school cliques (either a jock or a geek or a goth, etc. rarely a combination of several types) to adult career choices (are you going to be a real "career" person or make the sacrifice and be "family" person?) – after all, a coin can't be both heads and tails at the same time, can it? We just don't do balance very well, at least not the people I've come in contact with in my 38 years.
Luckily God is big enough to put opposites together in a way that may not make sense to our puny little human minds. Take his justice and his mercy, for example. Common sense would tell us that we can either give judgment to the guilty or give mercy to them. But God does both somehow.
This Psalm tells us that justice and righteousness are the foundation of his throne, and that love and truth are his attendants. In other words, everything thing he does is based on the simple fact that God is righteous and just and he will never do anything to contradict that. But the filters (if you will) through which he delivers himself are love and truth. Or, everything he does, including dispensing justice and demanding righteousness, he does in and with love and truth.
Our human courts don't give us an adequate understanding of this principle. When we think of justice, we think of people getting what they deserve. But mercy would be the equivalent of a judge passing down a ruling and then serving the sentence in the guilty person's place. That scenerio would settle the accounts for being both just and merciful.
No wonder then that, if that's the way God loves us, we would be happy to hear the joyful call to worship and to walk in the light of his presence.
Monday, August 27, 2007
Or at least he was one of the few who actually "got" this faith thing.
At least in my opinion, as the disclaimer goes.
If you've not read Mike's book Messy Spirituality, you've missed out on something amazing and genuinely life-changing. Mike had a way of cutting through the garbage to get to the heart of the matter of what it means to have and live faith. These are just two quotes I found this morning as I was looking at some of the stuff he wrote. He died a few years ago, and the world is so much poorer for the loss.
I post these here because I think they have particular relevance to the issue of how an artist who is a Christian (note I didn't use the vomit-inducing phrase "Christian artist") can and perhaps should approach his or her creative life.
For the Christian, there is no distinction between the sacred and secular. Everything a Christian does is an expression of his faith.He does not make choices based on the religious significance of the alternative. As a Christian he makes the choice that is a logical extension of the values he has derived from his faith…
What happened to radical Christianity, the un-nice brand of Christianity that turned the world upside-down? What happened to the categorysmashing, life-threatening, anti-institutional gospel that spread through the first century like wildfire and was considered (by those in power) dangerous? What happened to the kind of Christians whose hearts were on fire, who had no fear,who spoke the truth no matter what the consequence, who made the world uncomfortable, who were willing to follow Jesus wherever He went? What happened to the kind of Christians who were filled with passion and gratitude, and who every day were unable to get over the grace of God?
I’m ready for Christianity that “ruins”my life, that captures my heart and makes me uncomfortable. I want to be filled with an astonishment which is so captivating that I am considered wild and unpredictable and …well…dangerous. Yes, I want to be “dangerous” to a dull and boring religion. I want a faith that is considered “dangerous” by our predictable and monotonous culture.
Predictability and faith cannot coexist.What characterized Jesus and His disciples was unpredictability. Jesus was always surprising the disciples by eating at the wrong houses (those of sinners), hanging around the wrong people (tax collectors, adulterers, prostitutes, lepers), and healing people on the wrong day (the Sabbath). There was no Day Timer, no strategic plan, no mission statement; there was only the eager anticipation of the present moment. The Pharisees wanted Jesus to be the same as they were.His truth should be the same truth that they had spent centuries taming. But truth is unpredictable.When Jesus is present, everyone is uncomfortable yet mysteriously glad at the same time. People do not like the surprises—even church people—and they don’t want to be uncomfortable. They want a nice, tame Jesus.
Just thought I'd share a few of the books I've found to be helpful in coming to my understanding and interpretation of this life of faith. These books are the ones that helped me learn to "dance in grace" and get over the need to try to show off my Christianity for the church's dog and pony show of "my morality is better than your morality." These are some of the books that really helped to shape my longing to simply love and serve God and in doing so ditch a lot of the trappings that are just religious baggage.
Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
Reaching for God Knows What by Donald Miller
Through Painted Deserts by Donald Miller
The Message paraphrase by Walter Wangerin
On a Hill Too Far Away by John Fisher
Making Real What I Already Believe by John Fisher
12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee by John Fischer
Real Chrisians Don’t [with "Don’t" crossed out] Dance by John Fischer
True Believers Don’t [with "Don’t" crossed out] Ask Why by John Fischer
Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey
What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey
Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church by Philip Yancey
Ice Cream as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe by Billy Sprague
Addicted to Mediocrity by Frankie Schaeffer
The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis
The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
Roaring Lambs by Bob Briner
The Wisdom of Each Other by Eugene Peterson
Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconelli
Dangerous Wonder by Mike Yaconelli
A Simple Path by Mother Teresa
The Importance of Being Foolish by Brennan Manning
The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
Scribbling in the Sand by Michael Card
A Fragile Stone by Michael Card
The Story We Find Ourselves In by Brian McLaren
Tangled Up in the Bible: Bob Dylan and Scripture by Michael Gilmour
Bob Dylan and Philosophy: It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Thinking) edited by Peter Vernezze and Carl Porter
The Door and The Wittenburg Door magazine
Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation toward us!
Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you? (Psalm 85:4-6, ESV)
Wow. When's the last time we sang something this powerful, this emotional, this desperate in a church worship service? I dare say we've never known this kind of sheer desperation for God to act on behalf of his people and that because of that, we have probably never seen this kind of longing in a worship song or hymn. Besides, that kind of display has no place in a formal, organized and tidy service, does it?
Bah. Yeah, you heard me. Bah.
To the Jewish people, God was real, very real, so real in fact that he was just the type of King they could complain to like we might complain to a local political leader or educational beuracrat when we don't like something going on in our children's schools.
Equally real was their sin and the depths and punishment they faced because of it. Experiencing political and geographical slavery served as a rather intense reminder or how serious God was in dealing with sin. In our post-Jesus'-death-and-ressurrection age, I think we may take that more lightly than serious. And the current sermon series will, I hope, cause us to reflect more on the effects sin can have on our ability to have a close relationship with God and thereby to really, honestly, truthfully worship him.
Maybe we need more of this attitude in us when we worship, the kind of desperation that would plead with God to restore and revive us, that we may rejoice in Him.
There is none like you among the gods, o Lord, nor are there any works like yours. (Psalm 86:8, ESV)
A few things stick out to me when I read this verse.
1. God didn't apparently expect his chosen people to think in purely monotheistic (i.e., there is only one God) terms at all points during their road to maturity. Either that, or they were too dumb to get it, and he put up with their ignorance without making a big deal about it. (If not, how could he ever allow us to ever consider him as just the greatest among many in one of the worship songs recorded in the Bible?)
2. Even if his chosen people didn't get it then, they at least understood enough to know that even if there were other gods out there, Yahweh stood alone and unique and the most and best among them. There was something special and real about God that set him apart from all the Baals and sun gods and fertility goddesses and harvest gods that all the people around them served and worshipped and lived in fear of.
3. There were proofs, works, that people could go back to and draw a line in the sand to say, "God did this, period." And those works were different enough to stand out.
What I can gleam from that as a worshipper is that even when I don't get all the picture that is the majesty and worthiness and holiness of my Lord, if I don't miss the main point -- that he is holy and great and worthy of my praise -- then at least I'm on a decent footing from which to begin. And like he did with the Jewish people, he will continue to bring me along to a more full understanding and appreciation of his glory as he continues to work in me. Even when I'm wrong. Even when I'm confused. Even when my stupidity gets in the way.
I think the idea of the works of God is a good place for worshippers to begin and continue. We see it in lots of the praise songs and hymns. We frequently see topics like:
* Jesus' death on the cross
* Jesus' resurrection from the dead
* Jesus loving us
* Jesus teaching us
* God creating the world and nature
Even contemporary songs from the past few hundred years get this apparently. They're filled with pointing people toward the working proofs that God loves us and is worth following and worshipping.
Our job as a worship team, to a large degree I believe, it to help people get those first steps down. Even if they aren't mature believers, even if they aren't sure if they want to be believers at all, even if they worship in ignorance of God's truth, even if they are clearly wrong about theological fine points as argued by scripture, we are to help them get a picture of the mightiness and grace and awesomeness of God. We are to help them see the uniqueness of the God who can take care of all the rest of that as they draw closer to him and he draws closer to them.
And if we can lift Jesus up in song and point people to even just a few of the things God has done for us, then maybe that will help some small seed take root in someone's life as God does the work of drawing men and women unto himself.
Friday, August 24, 2007
Then the disciples in the boat worshiped Jesus. "Truly you are the Son of God!" they exclaimed. (Matthew 14:33, Good News Bible)
Worship. The principal Old Testament word for it (Shah ah) means to bow down or be prostrate. The principal New Testament word for it (proskune´o) literally means to "kiss toward"?a tender and intimate notion that goes deeper than just the contemporary "experience" of worship all wrapped up in music and tied with a bow of calm and/or peaceful feelings derived from that music, or perhaps even the combination of music and lyrics.
Both words tell us that worship is something more than just feelings we get from songs and sermons. They tell us that worship is more of an attitude combined with the natural actions that play out from that attitude. Whether we bow down and acknowledge our submission to a holy God or if we kiss toward our loving Savior with affection and adoration, our worship is best seen to be true in the light of our responsive action.
Still, even in with all that being true, I think the disciples did a wonderful job of summing up the very basic nature of worship when in Matthew 14:33 they said, "Truly you are the Son of God!"
To me, this is where all worship begins and ends, with us simply acknowledging Christ as the Son of God, as God himself. I think that should be one of our driving forces, if not THE driving force, behind our approach to worship here as the Lakeland Community Church praise band, simply declaring to our congregation and our community that Christ is the Son of God. Then we set the stage for the responsiveness to follow, each following the dictates of his or her own heart and own relationship with that Christ. Some will bow. Some will kiss toward. Some will worship in quietness. And some will sing and dance. That's not our concern, though. We just have to make it known, like the disciples, that "Truly you are the Son of God!"
Thursday, August 23, 2007
"Now sing praises to God! Every kingdom on earth, sing to the Lord! Praise the one who rides across the ancient skies; listen as he speaks with a mighty voice." (Psalm 68:32-33, CEV)
Worship is communication. That means talking and listening. (And I'd hope more listening than talking or singing. The old cliche about having two ears and one mouth and listening twice and much as speaking applies here quite well, I believe.
In writing fiction, those non-dialogue bits that appear to give the speaking parts rhythm and pacing are called "beats," and they give the reader an opportunity to let the words said sink in.
Even worship music has beats, those times when we need to take our focus off our singing and just listen. Sometimes that happens when the band is silent. Sometimes that happens when the band is simply playing an instrumental interlude. And sometimes it can happen in those rare songs that people sing the choruses and sit out during the verses. The important that is that we as a team build in time to encourage God's people to converse and not just sing, to listen and not just talk, to now God more by what He says to us than what we sing to Him.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Kim and Jim Thomas of Say So
T-Verse: Tell us a little about how you became a Christian. What experiences led you to believe that there had to be something more than just this life?
Say So: We both became Christians at an early age and grew up in the church. Later on, during our high school and college years, we began to understand that being a Christian is about more than just sin management.
T-Verse: How did those experiences and that decision to follow Jesus Christ impact your life and the relationships you had with others?
Say So: Discipleship means integrating our faith into all the other areas of our lives. Because we have decided to follow Christ, it means we look at life in a completely different way than we used to.
T-Verse: What does your faith mean to you? Why is it important to you?
Say So: The Christian faith begins to answer all the BIG questions of life i.e. Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? How can we know the difference between right and wrong? Where are we going?
T-Verse: What lessons have been the most valuable to you during your experience of following Christ?
Say So: Understanding the importance of seeking hard after God and studying the scriptures which reveal God's thoughts.
T-Verse: While many Christians today seem to retreat into a subculture of Christian music, Christian books, Christian TV, your music seems to speak openly and honestly about faith and life in fresh ways, not just telling Christians something they want to hear or repeating the same old things over and over again, but speaking so that anyone can listen and wonder. Do you feel that this retreat into the subculture has kept many Christians from being able to have a real voice in the world?
Say So: Perhaps. American evangelicalism has on occassion fallen into the trap of trivializing and sloganizing the Christian faith.
T-Verse: How do you avoid that retreat, particularly as songwriters and artists?
Say So: In the lyrics of our songs and in the books we've written (Jim: Coffeehouse Theology and Streetwise Spirituality, Kim: Simplicity and Living in the Sacred Now) we've tried really hard to speak in a language that anyone could understand. We try to think more in terms of worldview and less in terms of a Hallmark card approach to our faith. We feel we should sing/speak/write about all of life from a Christian worldview.
T-Verse: How do you perceive the state of Christian music today?
Say So: It's probably fair to say there is some very good, some ok, and some bad. But that's nothing new.
T-Verse: One of my favorites songs you've recorded has the line: "water and blood and flesh and bone ... mysterious jewel in a plastic box." That line has always stuck with me since. What was the genesis of that song?
Say So: The first part speaks of our solidarity in physical terms and the second of our solidarity as creatures made in the image of God. The mysterious jewel is the image of God that sets us apart from the rest of creation and gives us the capacity to know our creator as a heavenly Father.
T-Verse: Who are the thinkers, artists, and writers who have influenced your understanding of the life of faith?
Say So: C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Dallas Willard, John Stott, Alister McGrath, Francis Schaeffer, Annie Dillard, Madeline L'Engle
T-Verse: What do you see as the biggest hang-ups keeping Christians from being able to make an impact in the world at large, or becoming what Bob Briner refers to as "roaring lambs"?
Say So: I think we are doing better than we were in the past couple of decades. But there are probably several things that still hold us back at times. Our use of "Christianese" or, insider language. The arrogance we so often display. Our lack of unity. Our lack of social responsibility. etc.
T-Verse: What do you see as the real issues Christians should be addressing to a postmodern generation?
Say So: One thing is that we need to rethink evangelism. I think we need to approach it on more of a relational level. This takes more time and involves more listening and less talking which we aren't used to. But that is definitely what it will take if we're going to make more Christians and better ones at that.
T-Verse: Okay, supposing I'm an honest skeptic standing before you at this moment. What's the one thing you wouldn't want me to leave without hearing?
Say So: That the Designer of your brain (God) really does exist or you wouldn't even be able to think your skeptical thoughts. That the ancient scriptures reveal how this Designer desires to be in relationship with you, so much so, that in spite of your doubts, He loves you and is in hot pursuit of you.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
"I can't wait to hear what he'll say.
God's about to pronounce his people well,
The holy people he loves so much,
so they'll never again live like fools.
See how close his salvation is to those who fear him?
Our country is home base for Glory!" (Psalm 85:8-9, The Message)
The simple truth of worship is that God loves us. I think we tend to overemphasize our own importance and think that, even if just a little bit, it's about what we are doing and saying to God. But it's not. It can't be. We don't have it in us to really worship him. The truth be told, we're probably thinking about our next chord change, not missing the words, the football game after church, or what our children did that morning that really made us made and put us in a bad mood for church. (Or maybe that's just me...)
Somehow, when we're supposed to be focused on simply loving and adoring and celebrating our Lord, we just plain can't sustain that kind of focus. Maybe that's why I love to read stuff like this in Psalms:
God's about to pronounce his people well,
The holy people he loves so much...
If God can love us and call an imperfect and undeserving group of worshipers well and holy, then I'm safe in knowing that its all about him doing the act of worship through me, and I'm good with knowing that worship doesn't have to happen because of me or my ability to "do" it.
Monday, August 20, 2007
T-Verse: Tell us a little about how you became a Christian.
Chuck Dixon: Well, I was born and raised Catholic. And no matter what that teaching stays with you. Those nuns had a big impact on me and I thought that priests had to be the coolest guys on the planet. I still do. And I suppose I'm still a Catholic in a cultural sense. But my wife introduced me to the Church of Christ and their beliefs seem so simple and streamlined with strict adherence to The Word and none of the mystical mumbo jumbo. And that's where I call home.
T-Verse: What experiences led you to believe that there must be Someone or Something out there beyond just this life?
Chuck: Simple faith. You look at the life of Christ and His words and you'd have to be in total denial not to see that He was a model for humanity and civilization as well as the Big Answers. Once I had faith the rest fell into place. I could clearly see how everything around me sprang from Somewhere; Someone greater than us. The simple fact that science consistently proves rather than disproves the words in the Bible should convince anyone. As someone recently said, "The only reason you wouldn't believe in The Word is because you're afraid to admit it's true."
T-Verse: How did that decision impact your life and your relationships with others?
Chuck: Not terribly. It's not like I hung with the Hell's Angels or anything. I've always been a quiet, straight arrow kind of guy. I didn't fall to rise again. Hey, I'm just a comics geek.
T-Verse: Many Christians seem to have retreated to a subculture where they can recreate the world into a "safer," Christian morals-based mirror of reality, with Christian TV, Christian music, Christian fashion. Do you feel this retreat from the world has helped give the impression that Christians don't really care about people but instead care about protecting themselves from the "bad" influences out there?
Chuck: I think you have to be in the game to win. I could have retreated to Christian comics and probably been happy creatively and financially. But that's preaching to the choir. I think it's better to present moral values in the wasteland of general entertainment. I dealt with the abortion/adoption issue in a Warner owned publication and reached an audience I would never have reached otherwise. I backed out of a government funded project to produce an anti-drug comic because it was ill-conceived and poorly executed. One of the participants accused me of being some kind of heartless jerk saying, "You'd rather make money writing Spider-man." Truth is, I probably reached more readers with anti-drug stories featuring Batman and Robin than any government handout could have.
All that said, as a dad I can see the allure of all-Christian entertainment. It can serve as a filter to block out the crass and vulgar stuff thrown at kids today. They say kids are growing up faster than they used to. That's a load. They're FORCING the kids to grow up by spewing puerile muck at them.
T-Verse: The notion of separating the sacred (that spiritual existence) and the secular (the "real" world of jobs and flat tires) -- what's your response to the person who tries to divide the world into these simple divisions?
Chuck: One of my favorite quotes of all time was said by George Foreman when someone challenged his devotion to Christ when he was a boxer. "I think Jesus and boxing is a great combination." He went on to explain the relationship between sportsmanship and Christian ethics. I agree with him. Jesus' teachings can guide you through anything. The answers are all there.
T-Verse: In what ways have you had the opportunity to see your beliefs and writing career integrated?
Chuck: Mostly in the fortunes God has allowed me. He granted me the talent to write stories in a series of static pictures and then guided me to a career in that area. With His help and guidance I've had an unusually long and successful career.
I mentioned the other ways earlier -- the opportunity to introduce a moral element into stories.
T-Verse: I notice in your writing that you don't limit yourself to writing "Christian" comics or "Christian" books, or even turning the stuff you are writing into outreach publications. And some of the publications you've written for aren't markets most Christians who write would consider (such as The Simpsons comics or war comics). Is that intentional?
Chuck: The Simpsons are the only characters on television or in comics who attend church regularly. Even that insipid family on 7th Heaven only rarely stops in for a service. The Simpsons also deal with BIG issues and their experiences cover the entire moral spectrum. When they address religion, they are often irreverent but never sacrilegious. As far as I'm concerned the episode where Bart sells his soul to Milhouse should be shown in Sunday Schools. C.S. Lewis couldn't have done a better job explaining sin and redemption.
As far as war comics go, it's a part of human experience and fascinates me because it represents the best and worst in human behavior. I've never written stories that wallow in gore and carnage and excuse myself by claiming that my story was "anti-war." I usually emphasize sacrifice and heroism and deprivation in my war stories. My war stories for The 'Nam and Savage Tales were also blatantly anti-communist. As far as I'm concerned that's serving God in a BIG way.
T-Verse: Do you find that by being in the real world and not in the Christian subculture you have opportunities to meet people where they are and discuss your faith naturally instead of using the memorized or "canned" approaches many church outreach programs use?
Chuck: Certainly. I think my job as a Christian is to get atheists and agnostics to question their LACK of beliefs. I'm not out to convert by evangelizing. I think it's better to start by shaking others arguments and at least opening them up to The Word.
T-Verse: What does your faith mean to you? Why is it important to you to believe? What has believing in and following Christ benefited you as you look back on your life?
Chuck: Well, every time I ignored what I knew to be The Truth I made enormous mistakes in my life.
But more importantly my faith gives me courage. Or it helps give me courage to face what comes at me. I'm not one of these guys who shrugs and says, "Oh, it's God's will" when some calamity strikes. But I will explore the nature of the bad news to find what good God meant in it. I find that as my faith deepens my doubts are more easily swept aside.
My belief in Christ also prepared me for my most important job; as parent to my children. You can throw out all those parent guides and how-to books. Raising kids is all covered in the books of the Bible. It's also given me the patience to deal with kids. And that's the most important element of being a parent.
T-Verse: If I were an honest skeptic standing with you right now, what would be the one thing you would tell me in regard to opening my mind to the idea of believing in God and following Him?
Chuck: The Book of Genesis blows it all away.
What other religion or mythology has a creation story that is proven to be true each year by scientific research?
Our universe was created in a series of stages from an explosion of light to the birth of life. And each of these stages happened in a particular order. Science has proven that these events in this order are the way it happened. How did the ancient Hebrews, essentially a bunch of nomadic shepherds, know about the Big Bang Theory, astronomy, biology, thermodynamics, geology, etc., to get all that right? Especially when other cultures had patently ridiculous ideas like the world resting on the back of a turtle or everyone walking down to the earth along the blade of a sword. Hey, maybe somebody TOLD them how it happened. And Who was that Somebody?
Friday, August 17, 2007
"Declare them guilty, O God! Let their intrigues be their downfall. Banish them for their many sins, for they have rebelled against you.
"But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
"For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield." (Psalm 5: 10-12)
I chose this verse simply because I appreciate that the ancient songbook (the book of Psalms) understands that songs used in worship went beyond just simple adoration and "good feeling" songs. If you read the book of Psalms with an open mind, you will quickly find songs dealing with praise and adoration, but not only that. You'll just as quickly also discover songs filled with repentance and regret and sadness. And it gets worse. You'll also find songs demanding retribution against enemies, songs expressing doubt about why the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer, and songs about fond memories of being able to worship freely that were written during the Jewish captivity.
Why is this important to me? For me, this knowledge enhances my experience of worship. It means I can worship in doubt and misunderstanding, as well as in joy and praise. It means that worship songs don't always have to be upbeat and happy. It means that when God demands that we worship him in spirit and in truth, he means it.
Sure, our modern, contemporary take on worship likes to highlight the adoration and praise elements, but if we are going to worship in the way that scripture's songbook guides us, we will have to be sure that our definition of "worship music" is always open to be changed by the truth of God.
Intermixed with the e-views from the former Form and Matter site, I'll also be posting each day one of my "worship thoughts" that I have included in the Nothing Regal newsletter that I send out to the band each week to help us prepare for that upcoming Sunday's worship service. These are quite as philosophical, but they are more devotional in nature. I thought they might be appropriate here regardless. So, enjoy.
the view from ... John Fischer
T-Verse: Tell us a little about how and why you became a Christian.
John Fischer: I grew up in a Christian home and have believed most of my life. My issue has not been believing but making real what I believe.
T-Verse: What lessons have been the most valuable to you during your experience of following Christ?
John Fischer: A Christian is to be real. There is no need to hide. It is not how good we are but how honest we are to ourselves with Christ living in us.
T-Verse: You helped usher in Christian music during the '70s with many songs that became campground favorites of that youth generation. Tell us a little about that experience and how you perceive the current Christian music culture (or subculture)?
John Fischer: I have books written about this. The short of it: The Jesus movement was turned out towards the world. The subculture that grew out of it is turned in on itself.
T-Verse: In one of your CCM columns from years ago, you wrote a statement that I've had tacked on my office bulletin board ever since. You said, "Is there anyone out there fool enough to think they can still change the world with their guitar? I don't think anything's going to happen until there is." Do you still hold to that statement? How do you think it applies to this current generation of Christians, even those without musical talents?
John Fischer: We can make a difference in the world through living as an honest Christian in our own sphere of influence.
T-Verse: One of the things I've enjoyed about your writing is the sense of honesty and realness and transparency that comes across in your books. Do you make a conscious effort to stay real or does that come naturally to you? Why is that important to you and your writing?
John Fischer: When I gave my life in service to God as a college student, it was on one condition. That following Him -- being a Christian -- would be real. He's kept his side of the bargain. I've tried to be honest about mine.
T-Verse: In your earlier books Real Christians Don't Dance and True Believers Don't Ask Why (editor's note: both books have the word "don't" crossed out on the cover) you wrote of the hang-ups that plague Christendom and keep Christians from focusing on the truly vital issues of being salt and light in the real world. Do you still see those hang-ups getting in the way? Or does each new generation develop it's own set of hang-ups to focus on?
John Fischer: We have new ones as culture and society and people change. I see the big issue now being fear of the world and a desire to hide in the Christian subculture where we can be safe.
The In's and Out's Of It
by John Fischer
"In it not, of it," the statement was made
As Christian One faced the world, much afraid.
"In it, not of it," the call was made clear,
But Christian One got something stuck in his ear.
"Not in it, or of it," was the thing that he heard.
And knowing the world was painfully absurd,
He welcomed the safety of pious retreat,
And went to the potluck for something to eat.
Now Christian Two, he knew what to do,
He show those fundies a thing or two!
How will the world ever give Christ a try
If we don't get in there and identify?
So "In it, and of it," he said in his car,
As he pulled in and stopped at a popular bar.
"I'll tell them the truth as soon as I'm able
To get myself out from under this table."
Now along comes Christian Three jogging for Jesus,
In witnessing sweats made of four matching pieces.
His earphones are playing a hot Christian tune
About how the Lord is coming back soon.
"Not in it, but of it," he turns down the hill
And stops in for a bite at the Agape Grill.
Like the gold on the chain of his "God Loves You" bracelet,
He can have the world without having to face it.
While way up in heaven they lament these conditions
That come from changing a few prepositions.
"Not in it, or of it," Christian One thought.
But who in the world will know that he's not?
"In it, and of it," thought Christian Two.
But who in the world will know that he knew?
"Not in it, but of it," thought Christian Three.
But who in the world watches Christian TV?
And Jesus turns to Gabriel, shaking His head.
"'In it, not of it,' wasn't that what I said?"
(used by permission)
T-Verse: One of your books contains a poem that perhaps best illustrates how Christians have misunderstood Christ's intention for our interaction in the world and have created a Christian subculture. In your opinion, how and why did such a "counter-culture" develop and why is it such a danger for Christians to pull away from the world at large?
John Fischer: It developed out of a preference for the familiar and a desire to be safe -- to protect our kids from the world instead of prepare them for it. We created an alternative world with a Christian version of everything cultural so we could reject the world and still enjoy it anyway.
T-Verse: What do you think are the biggest trouble spots or blind spots contemporary Christians face in trying to impact their culture and develop ongoing, genuine relationships with people who may not believe as they do?
John Fischer: Most Christians are trying to prove the world wrong. The world is not wrong as much as it is lost. We don't know how to dialogue with our culture. We spent our time and effort fighting culture instead of making a difference in it.
T-Verse: Any advice for Christians who want to impact their culture rather than retreat from it or judge it from a "safe" distance?
John Fischer: Don't surround yourself with Christian things. Be a Christian in the world. The world doesn't need Christian music; it needs Christians making music. You can substitute pretty much anything for "music" and get the point.
T-Verse: Just as your writings have influenced many people in this generation, who are some of the writers and thinkers who helped to influence your views on faith and living out that faith? Why are they important to you?
John Fischer: C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Frederick Buechner, Harry Blamires
T-Verse: Tell us a little about the concept behind the book 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (Like Me).
John Fischer: The biggest errors of Christians are in attitudes of self-righteousness and condemnation. I felt the recovery model would suit breaking out of those attitudes well. Someone came to me after a talk and said my writing was like a 12 step recovery program for a Pharisee. I told them right then and there that I wanted that for a title of my next book. Two years later at the same event I was able to give that person a copy of the book!
Thursday, August 16, 2007
(Quotes worth knowing)
Chase after truth like hell and you'll free yourself, even though you never touch its coat-tails.
-- Clarence Darrow
It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a skeptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, "Why should anything go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?"
-- G.K. Chesterton
Man by the Fall fell at the same time from his state of innocence and from his dominion over nature. Both of these losses, however, can even in this life be in some part repaired: the former by religion and faith, the latter by the arts and sciences.
-- Francis Bacon
Christianity has the opportunity, therefore, to speak clearly of the fact that its answer has the very thing that modern man has despaired of -- unity of thought. It provides a unified answer for the whole of life. It is true that man will have to renounce his rationalism, but then, on the basis of what can be discussed, he has the possibility of recovering his rationality.
-- Francis Schaeffer
And our view of final reality -- whether it is material-energy, shaped by impersonal chance, or the living God and Creator -- will determine our position on every crucial issue we face today. It will determine our views on the value and dignity of people, the base for the kind of life the individual and society lives, the direction law will take, and whether there will be freedom or some form of authoritarian dominance.
-- Francis Schaeffer
Alone you stood before God when God called you. Alone you had to obey God's voice. Alone you had to take up your cross, struggle, and pray and alone you will die and give an account to God. You cannot avoid yourself, for it is precisely God who has singled you out. If you do not want to be alone, you are rejecting Christ's call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called ... But the reverse is also true. Whoever cannot stand being in community should beware of being alone. You are called into the community of faith, the wall was not meant for you alone. You carry your cross, you struggle, and you pray in the community of faith, the community of those who are called.
-- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The church is only the church when it exists for others.
-- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Unless Thou show us Thine own true way no man can find it; father! Thou must lead.
I obey Thee, Lord, first for the love I, in all reason, owe Thee; secondly, because Thou can shorten or prolong the lives of men.
-- Leonardo Da Vinci
You think that the body is a wonderful work. In reality this is nothing compared to the soul that inhabits in that structure ... It is the work of God.
-- Leonardo Da Vinci
The works of God are appreciated best by other creators.
-- Leonardo Da Vinci
God, who ordains all for the best, however strange it may appear to our eyes ...
-- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
I have concluded the evident existence of God, and that my existence depends entirely on God in all the moments of my life, that I do not think that the human spirit may know anything with greater evidence and certitude.
-- Rene Descartes
All other religions are indirect. Their founder sets himself aside and introduces another in his place ... Christianity only is a direct expression (I am the truth).
-- Soren Kierkegaard
(The Bible) is in my opinion the most sublime of all books; when all others will bore me, I will always go back to it with new pleasure; and when all human consolations will be lacking, never have I vainly turned to its own.
-- Jean Jacques Rousseau
All nature cries to us that He exists, that there is a Supreme Intelligence, a power immense, an order admirable, and all teaches us our dependence.
I defend the Good God against the idea of a continuous game of dice.
-- Albert Einstein
When I reflect on so many profoundly marvellous things that persons have grasped, sought, and done I recognize even more clearly that human intelligence is a work of God, and one of the most excellent.
One should believe in God; if one does not have faith, though, its place should not be taken by sound and fury but by seeking and more seeking, seeking alone, face to face with one's conscience.
-- Anton Chekhov
It now shows itself ethical and practical. We learn that God IS; that He is in me; and that all things are shadows of Him.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. he would either be a lunatic -- on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg -- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You can shut Him up for a fool. You can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
-- C.S. Lewis
There was a man born among these Jews who claimed to be, or to be the son of, or to be "one with," the Something which is at once the awful haunter of nature and the giver of the moral law. The claim is so shocking -- a paradox, and even a horror, which we may easily be lulled into taking too lightly -- that only two views of this man are possible. Either he was a raving lunatic of an unusually abominable type, or else He was, and is, precisely what He said. There is no middle way. If the records make the first hypothesis unacceptable, you must submit to the second. And if you do that, all else that is claimed by Christians becomes credible -- that this Man, having been killed, was yet alive, and that His death, in some manner incomprehensible to human thought, has effected a real change in our relations to the "awful" and "righteous" Lord, and a change in our favor.
-- C.S. Lewis
Well, I don't think that this is it, you know -- this life ain't nothing ... If you believe in this world, you're stuck; you really don't have a chance. You'll go mad, 'cause you won't see the end of it. You may want to stick around, but you won't be able to.
-- Bob Dylan
Jesus was a human being, a Jew in Galilee with a name and a family, a person who was in a way just like everyone else. Yet in another way he was something different than anyone who had ever lived on earth before.
-- Philip Yancey
As I look back on my own pilgrimage, marked by wanderings, detours, and dead ends, I see now that what pulled me along was my search for grace. I rejected the church for a time because I found so little grace there. I returned because I found grace nowhere else.
-- Philip Yancey
Do Christians have anything to learn from someone who rejected our faith? I had concluded yes. Although Gandhi never accepted the claims of Christian theology, he based his life philosophy on principles learned from Jesus. In an odd sort of way, the impact of his life helped convince me of the truth of the Christian faith.
-- Philip Yancey
When you say there is evil, aren't you admitting there is good? When you accept the existence of goodness, you must affirm a moral law on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil. But when you admit to a moral law, you must posit a moral lawgiver ... For if there is no moral lawgiver, there is no moral law. If there is no moral law, there is no good. If there is no good, there is no evil.
-- Ravi Zacharias
We must be those who have a great interest in creativity. Whether it is creativity from Christians or non-Christians, all people (saved and unsaved) are made in the image of God, all people are worth the respect that that statement accords them, all people's creative endeavors should interest us... each of us should have a great interest in both what God has made and what man makes as one of God's creatures, and therefore an expression of God himself. Christians should be those least threatened of all by new artistic ideas, by experimentation, by taking risks, by looking at and enjoying what the other side has to say. If indeed our feet are solidly rooted on truth itself, we are those who can look the world in the eye with confidence, pleasure, fulfillment. Christians should do more, not less. The less and narrower we become, the more "spiritual," often the less we can truly accomplish.
-- Franky Schaeffer
When Jesus designated his disciples "friends" (John 15:15) in that last extended conversation he had with them, he introduced a term that encouraged the continuing of the conversation. "Friend" sets us in a nonhierarchical, open, informal, spontaneous company of Jesus-friends, who verbally develop relationships of responsibility and intimacy by means of conversation. Characteristically, we do not make pronouncements to one another or look up texts by which to challenge one another; we simply talk out whatever feeling or thoughts are in our hearts as Jesus' friends.
-- Eugene Peterson
"How did you manage to make them cherish all this nothingness?" he asked the World-Hater.
"I simply make them embarrassed to admit that they are incomplete. A man would rather close his eyes than see himself as your Father-Spirit does. I teach them to exalt their emptiness and thus preserve the dignity of man."
"They need the dignity of God."
"You tell them that. I sell a cheaper product."
-- Calvin Miller
the view from ... Charlie Peacock
Charlie Peacock: A saxophonist told me the story of Jesus. I wanted to become a student/follower of Jesus. The story wooed me and taught me how.
T-Verse: How did those experiences and that decision to follow Jesus Christ impact your life and the relationships you had with others?
Charlie Peacock: It reconfigured the DNA of life.
T-Verse: You write in one of your early songs "We can only possess what we experience." How does that relate to your journey of faith?
Charlie Peacock: So-called truths or certainties need to be embodied in day to day life or they are hardly convincing.
T-Verse: What lessons have been the most valuable to you during your experience of following Christ?
Charlie Peacock: It's all grace -- a gift. Live as one who is grateful.
T-Verse: While many Christians today seem to retreat into a subculture of Christian music, Christian books, Christian TV, your music seems to speak openly and honestly about faith and life in fresh ways, speaking so that both Christians and non-Christians equally can listen and wonder. Do you feel that this retreat into a subculture has kept many Christians from being able to have a real voice in the world?
Charlie Peacock: Of course. At its heart, retreat is an open abandonment of the calling to care for the planet -- to care for God's creativity.
T-Verse: How do you avoid that retreat, particularly as a songwriter and artist?
Charlie Peacock: I try not to compartmentalize my life and I spend time around people who often don't agree with my spiritual conclusions.
T-Verse: One of the things I've enjoyed about your music is the sense of honesty and realness and transparency that comes across. Do you make a conscious effort to stay real or does that come naturally to you? Why is that important to you?
Charlie Peacock: If "real" is good I can't choose the opposite -- that is fake.
T-Verse: What do you see as the biggest hang-ups keeping Christians from being able to impact culture, or becoming what Bob Briner refers to as "roaring lambs"?
Charlie Peacock: Christians stand outside the gates of culture and try to impact it. They should forget trying to impact culture and first learn to be human, to be cultural. Then, if they are truly following Jesus, impact will occur.
T-Verse: What do you see as the real issues Christians should be addressing to a postmodern generation?
Charlie Peacock: Love of God and neighbor. Justice, mercy, a humble life.
T-Verse: What do you think are the biggest trouble spots or blind spots contemporary Christians face in trying to develop ongoing, genuine relationships with people who may not believe as they do?
Charlie Peacock: Having too many unembodied certainties and not behaving as if they still need a Savior.
T-Verse: You've recently taken to addressing John Coltrane's spiritual jazz composition "A Love Supreme." What can modern-day seekers learn from Coltraine and his work?
Charlie Peacock: At the point in his career of "A Love Supreme," there was no bifurcation between his spiritual life and his work life.
T-Verse: Just as your music has influenced many people in this generation, who are some of the writers and thinkers who helped to influence your views on faith and living out that faith? Why are they important to you?
Charlie Peacock: Wendell Berry, Os Guinness, Daniel Doriani, Steven Garber, N.T. Wright, and Dallas Willard.
T-Verse: If I were an honest skeptic standing before you right now, what would be the one thing you wouldn't want me to leave without hearing?
Charlie Peacock: You don't have to sign off on a list of propositions and certainties to begin following Jesus, but you do have to be genuinely curious. And if you are, the words of Jesus, "Come and seek." If you follow and seek the way of Jesus, see reality as he sees it, and decide that he does in fact have the best thoughts and actions regarding the most important things, then commit to be his student/follower. Commit to his ways of knowing, being and doing.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
(or any other thing for that matter)
Note: This is massively long, but worth the time, I hope.
This is reposted from a discussion on my Christian Comic Arts Society page.
The original post by me...
I'm curious because I've had this discussion with pastors and youth pastors starting from way back years ago when I worked as a music buyer in a Christian bookstore. Of course, back then the discussion was about Christian music. What made it Christian?
The attitude of the artist's heart and his or her faith?
Was DC Talk Christian and Bruce Cockburn not?
Now I ask the same thing of Christian comics. What makes them Christian?
Is it that they're advertised and marketed as such?
Is it that they're published by Christian publishers?
Is it that they're blatantly evangelistic?
Or can mainstream comics written by Christians like Chuck Dixon and Roland Mann be included?
It is the attitude of the writer and/or artist's heart and faith?
I figure that this group, if any, would be able to help hammer this out.
Personally, I'm a bit more liberal in my definition. (I must be to write for the Gene Simmons line at IDW, right, and particularly to write a book called Gene Simmons Dominatrix, or to be hard at work on so many horror-tinged books at the moment.)
But I feel that almost any story, no matter the language or content (to a large degree) can be a story of redemption. Taking my cues from the Bible, it seems that almost no subject is taboo, from revenge, bloody wars, genocide, sex, incest, you name it. It's all in there, and I'm hoping that gives us earthly creators a grace-filled free reign to tackle almost any subject redemptively. I guess that's my definition at the heart. If it's a genuine redemptive story, it can be called a Christian one, because that's what Christ came to do, redeem.
The response by Greg...
The definition is difficult because we have hard bought freedom from the Son of Man.
As man we naturally drift towards definite rules, for what reason I don't know. It is has virtually destroyed every aspect of beauty on this planet, we have to tame EVERYTHING. What is right and what is wrong is important but we waste so much time on absolute right and absolute wrong that we rarely reflect God's model of righteousness: what He does is what is right.
It is frustrating because we want it to be spelled out for us. However, it like the freedom He bought us assures nothing because for every problem there is a different solution.
In 1 Corinthians Paul basically explains further that for some men eating meat sacrificed to idols was sinful (because those men believed a spiritual connection to exist between the meat and the idols) but to others (who just liked meat and truly believed in one God, it wasn't).
There is only one rule that is implied and often missed by most believers: it is sinful to encourage sinfulness in other men, even indirectly.
I.e. if my father is an alcoholic, I'm not ordering a drink in front of him. Regardless of my religious freedom to do so.
So to answer your question: nothing is "Christian" except believers, and anything we create is "but rags compared to the glory of the Lord."
There is only what is acceptable and unacceptable. If anything anyone does can (in an extreme and outright manner since we are so easily prone to sin) encourage sinfulness, such as nudity, I really don't think it is defensible as "acceptable" material.
Violence is defensibly acceptable because the Lord acted violently in appropriate times, we have to follow His example.
I really think it is a tool of the enemy to engage man in creating non-existant boundries that can really hinder his ability to follow the Lord.
If your in to Metal and love the Lord, this dynamic is ALL ToO PRESENT.
The response by Robert...
This is a great topic to discuss. I'm definitely more conservative than what a lot of other artists think about this issue. The following is an essay I wrote last year on this very issue.
Christian Comics and the Proclamation of the Gospel
By Robert Flores
“But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.” —1 Thessalonians 2:4
As I look around the Christian pop-culture scene, I am concerned that Jesus has been taking a back seat to much of what we call Christian pop-culture, particularly Christian comics and Christian music. I look at the Christian music industry as a forerunner to Christian comics (something I am very much a part of and of which is very dear to my heart) and I see the places where I don’t want Christian comics to turn. This essay is concerned primarily with how Christian comics can be more effective in changing people’s lives for Christ. I will be discussing the erroneous position that Christian comics without Jesus are just as effective as Christian comics WITH Jesus in them. I will be using some references to Christian music and novels and I will be emphasizing the gospel of Christ. I will be touching on the definition of a Christian comic and the call that God has placed on each of our lives, as artists. I’m writing this essay for the purpose of advocating a straightforward approach to making Christian comics, by putting Christ at the center of all we create. So, now that you know where I am headed, let’s begin.
Many Christian artists, both musicians and visual artists, promote the idea that to win the world over for Christ, one must produce a piece of artwork that waters down the fact that it has anything to do at all about Jesus Christ. Terms like “symbolism” and “allegory” and “metaphor” are thrown around a lot to give validity to this idea. These types of stories are used to force-feed an audience something that is not the gospel. Why would any Christian artist or writer create a story with the intention of watering down the gospel? In hopes of changing people’s hearts for Christ? The gospel of Christ is the only thing that will change people’s hearts towards Him! Any Christian artist, who thinks in terms of equating the gospel with symbolic stories of Christ, is setting himself up for defeat if he thinks that it can change a single person’s life for eternity. It is ONLY the gospel of Christ that can regenerate a heart.
I want to try to define some terms before we get too deep into this essay. For a comic to be truly “Christian” it must emphasize and glorify Christ. I am not talking about stories with solely evangelistic bents to them, but stories in which Christ is at the very center of. Christian comics make no pretense that their stories are anything other than being about Jesus of Nazareth. Christian comics, like true Christian music, do not try to hide Jesus behind subtleties and metaphors and symbolism. They are overtly Christian. How this is accomplished is by preaching the gospel, which entails the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Christian comics hinges on the person of Christ and that gospel.
So, what kind of content makes a comic Christian? If you look up the word “Christian” in any standard Webster’s Dictionary, you will find these definitions: 1.) a person professing belief in Jesus as the Christ, or, in the religion based on the teachings of Jesus. noun. 1.) of Jesus Christ or his teachings. adjective. 2.) of or professing the religion based on these teachings. adjective. 3.) having the qualities demonstrated and taught by Jesus Christ, as love , kindness, humility, etc. adjective. So, to state the obvious, a “Christian” comic would exemplify any of those meanings. Notice that the definition doesn’t divorce Jesus’ teachings from Jesus Himself.
If one were to create a Buddhist comic, would its subject matter not contain either: a) Buddha himself or b) Buddha’s teachings? If the reader had difficulty in identifying either of those elements, could that comic truly be called a “Buddhist comic”? Likewise, you cannot take Jesus or His teachings out of the center of things and call it a Christian comic. Now, let me clarify what I am saying. When I advocate Christ at the center of stories, I do not mean JUST visual depictions of Him. What I am promoting are Christian protagonists that have Jesus at the very center of their lives. He is the source of their strength and their hope and their joy, no matter where a story takes them—kind of like our own Christian lives.
I am interested in promoting Christian comics that will make a genuine difference in people’s spiritual lives. Incidentally, those are the only kind of Christian comics that exist, based on the definition of “Christian comics”. If a Christian comic is not making a difference in people’s lives, then it is not Christian. If it IS making a difference in people’s lives then it is Christian. If you, as a Christian artist, want to be effective, then the gospel of Christ HAS to be apparent in your work. Remember that equation in school? If A=B and B=C, then A=C? Here’s the Christian comics equivalent: To be Christian is to be effective (A=B). To be effective is to preach the gospel (B=C). Therefore, to be Christian is to preach the gospel (A=C). That goes for our Christian lives as well as for our Christian comics.
As one can probably tell, I am an artist that advocates pure, overt Christian art, specifically with an emphasis on Christ and His gospel. I spent much of my life apart from Christ and I cannot waste any more time emphasizing anything other than Him in my art. Art, for me, is an act of worship, no different than if I were singing praises to Him in church. My singing praises to God in church isn’t done with subtleties. So, my question is, why should my art be?
At this point, it would be well to note a small, but important difference: There are comics that are done by Christians and there are comics that have Christian content. People think that “comics with Christian content” and “comics done by Christians” are the same thing. They are not. A comic done by a Christian is not necessarily Christian in content. But a comic with Christian content done by an atheist, could be called a legitimate Christian comic. The Lord of the Rings would be considered a “story done by a Christian”, not a “Christian story.” It is an important distinction, for if a Christian artist is downplaying Christ in a comic, it can no longer be called “Christian” in content, but is simply a “comic done by a Christian”. If a Christian artist wants to emphasize Christ in a comic it is a true Christian comic, or, a “comic with Christian content”. The same could be said about Christian music: there is music done by Christians (which is the bulk of so-called “Christian music”) and there is music with Christian content (which will affect people’s lives). For it is only in Christian content, which emphasizes the gospel of Christ, that lives can be changed. Any content that is NOT the gospel of Christ would be impotent to do so.
Someone may say, “Well Christian comics don’t have to have “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” on every page!” Of course a Christian comic doesn’t have to have “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” on every page! But, at the same time, if I have to search long and hard to find a single reference to Jesus in a 32-page comic, there is something wrong. It’s bad enough that I have to wade through 4 or 5 “Christian” songs on the radio to hear the word “God” or “Jesus” or “Savior”. If I, as a Christian reader, am having difficulty finding references to Jesus in a Christian comic, then doesn’t that presume that the rest of the world would have that same difficulty, if not more? How can it change someone’s life for eternity when they can’t even see the God-part in it?
Now, I know that there are people that can find Christian meanings in pretty much ANY story, ANY song, ANY piece of art. Am I saying that those personal meanings are invalid? Of course not. If that art benefits you in your Christian life, that’s great. My objection to this position, though, is that if one starts looking for Christian meanings in EVERY book and EVERY song and EVERY movie, where will one draw the line? Could one find Christian meanings in Marilyn Manson or Eminem or Black Sabbath? Do you see what a ridiculous position this is, if it is taken to the extreme? You either have to let it all in or draw the line somewhere. And, if you are drawing the line somewhere, where is that line?
There are, however, a lot of stories that have themes of redemption and self-sacrifice and love, that do not take a lot of stretching to see Christian meanings in them. What about those stories? Are they worthless? Any story could be good and still be void of Christ. Themes of victory and self-sacrifice are great, but, when divorced from Christ, are quite helpless to change someone’s life. Is the world really connecting these good themes of redemption and self-sacrifice with Jesus? We Christians shouldn’t be relying on these types of stories for evangelism and we shouldn’t be promoting these stories as substitutes for the gospel and we shouldn’t be thinking that these stories have a 100% chance of changing a person’s life towards God, because they don’t. As talented as J.R.R. Tolkien was, how many people have actually come to know Christ as Savior because of The Lord of the Rings? The subtle-Christian art enthusiasts would say “multitudes”, but the truth is is that no one really knows. It is, in fact, a THEORY that subtle-Christian works of art, like The Lord of the Rings, can reach someone for Christ. “There is no other name under heaven by which men are saved”. If the audience cannot even identify that one Name, then there is no hope. Christ HAS to be preached openly if a Christian comic is to effect change and produce fruit.
I am not saying that gospel-less stories are worthless or that good stories are powerless, but that those stories are worthless or powerless in actually making a person born-again. Works like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings are not worthless as works of art, but how effective those stories really are is a question only God can answer. God never commissioned us to preach subtleties to the world. He told us to preach the gospel. Many Christian artists have lost sight of that fact, and then they get disappointed when God doesn’t use their stories to lead someone to Christ.
So, are “stories done by Christians” without any merit? Nothing is without no merit, but only God knows how He is working in people’s lives. God can work through anything, but He most certainly work through what He has commissioned us to do: preach the gospel. I wouldn’t even be devoting a lot of time to this subject of “stories done by Christians are just as valid as Christian stories”, if I didn’t see so many Christian artists running after this erroneous thinking. That is the problem. Overt Christian art, with the gospel as its center, has been supplanted by subtle “stories done by Christians”.
Call me naïve, but I do think that overt Christian comics can have a huge impact on the world, not because it is such a great medium or that it has cool art, but because it can preach the Truth of Christ, which, in turn, will change the world by the power of the Holy Spirit. And we Christians have that Truth! Should we be putting that Truth under a bushel? Christian comics are comics that glorify Christ overtly. Non-Christian comics are comics that do not glorify Christ, or, are comics that glorify Him covertly, inadvertently or by accident. Do you see that there is almost no difference between subtle Christian comics and non-Christian comics?
And still, people will find no fault with subtle Christian comics. They often will equate “subtle Christian comics” with “planting seeds”. I’m certainly not against planting seeds. I’m against the kind of seed being planted. So, what is the seed that we are to be planting? It’s the Word (Matthew 13:23). The engrafted Word can save people’s souls (James 1:21). The Word is the incorruptible seed (1 Peter 1:23). There are no other seeds capable of that. People tend to think that the seed represents any truth (i.e. subtle Christian themes), and that those truths are saving truths. That is not the case. There are many truths, but only one saving Truth: the gospel of Christ. For example, anyone can believe that 2+2=4 (a truth statement), but that truth won’t make him born-again! Likewise, the seeds that should be planted should only be that one saving Truth. A good seed always leads to good fruit. If subtle Christian comics are not producing fruit (i.e. making people born-again, increasing God’s Kingdom, etc.), then people need to stop planting that seed and start planting “the Word” which brings forth fruit a hundredfold.
I want to talk a little about secular and Christian work. I work in a secular workplace as a graphic designer. I don’t design “Christian” catalogs, I design secular catalogs that are designed to sell products. But when I get home at night, I put on my other hat of Christian artist (the thing I was born to be) and I produce art for the God of the universe. There is nothing wrong with using one’s talents in the world, but if ALL an artist does is “art done by a Christian”, I think there is a problem. Everything we do in life cannot be Christian in content. I don’t have a lot of control of making everything I do overtly Christian, but the one part that I do have control over—my art—why wouldn’t I want people to see Christ in it?
There are also some Christian artists who just want to do good wholesome comics and that’s fine. But there is a colossal difference between a good, wholesome comic and a Christian comic. A good, wholesome comic doesn’t have to get around to talking about Jesus and a Christian comic does. Wholesome comics are not Christian comics! That’s like calling “Americans” “Christians” or “Intelligent Design” believers “Christians”. Some may be, but they are not interchangeable terms!
Briefly, I want to touch on forcing a story to be Christian. Should Jesus ever be “forced” into a story to make it “Christian”? No. Jesus should never be forced into a story. Jesus and His gospel should be the VERY FOUNDATION of your Christian stories. He should be there at the very beginning of a story and then should be built up from there. “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11).
Subtle Christian art just doesn’t seem to be producing fruit, whether it is comics or music. It is a well-known fact that most Christian bands get their start in churches, and, right away, run to the secular market in hopes of bringing people to the Lord. They have the misplaced hope that if they remove from their songs the words “Jesus” or “God” or “Lord” and replace them with pronouns like “He”, “You” or “Him” that the world will be saved. How erroneous! Out of all the thousands of songs on the radio, how is a listener to know the difference between a “You” referring to Jesus and a “you” referring to someone’s girlfriend? Normally “Context” would be the answer to this question, but, unfortunately, the content of the context of most Christian songs are so subtle that that really doesn’t help either.
Are Christians really deceived into this type of thinking that their justification of not saying “Jesus” is to win people to Him? Or, are today’s Christian artists really and honestly afraid of offending people away from Jesus? James 4:4 says “ . . .know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?” If you, as a Christian artist, are determined to win people to Christ, while not offending them, I have news for you: you are chasing after the wind. YOU CANNOT WIN PEOPLE TO CHRIST WITHOUT OFFENDING THEM! The whole point of the gospel was to show people that they are sinners in need of a Savior, and, in fact, that they have a Savior in Jesus. Take the gospel out of Christian comics, music or art, and I assure you that no lives will be touched for Christ.
As I witness today’s Christian pop-culture, artists have taken just the good things of what they wanted from Jesus—His sacrifice, His love, His teachings and have left Jesus completely out of it; and preachers behind the pulpit have done no differently. Is it any wonder why there is no revival going on America today? Is it any wonder why people are confused as to what the gospel is or what they are even to be preaching to the world? Is it any wonder why “Christian” comics are not as effective as they should be? Jesus is the fullest and most perfect expression of those themes of “sacrifice” and “honor” and “redemption”. Can an artist really blame an audience for “not getting it” when Jesus is hidden under so much symbolic baggage?
I get the feeling that many Christian artists out there (perhaps some who are even reading this essay) ALREADY know that they should be placing the gospel at the center of their stories. They have no more need to be convinced of that fact; they realize that. But, they are concerned that the gospel, perhaps, will shortchange their creativity. Or, perhaps, they think that the gospel isn’t as exciting or interesting as many other thousands of topics to make artwork about. I want to address this thinking by saying: look at the history of western art. How many times has Jesus been the theme of paintings and of sculptures and of poetry and of prose? And, yet, His gospel continues to inspire artists today, leading them to create artworks based on His life and teachings. Either artists are terribly unoriginal, or, the gospel is something that cannot be contained. The gospel is indeed, a fountain of ideas and creativity. It doesn’t stifle creativity—it enhances it. It doesn’t short-change artists on ideas—it gives them MORE ideas to work with. The gospel is an eternal source of inspiration, because the gospel itself is eternal. Written by the hand of God, before the foundation of the world, and made real by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ gospel is THE source for creativity. The gospel didn’t shortchange my life and it hasn’t shortchanged any other Christian’s life in history—it gave life more abundantly. What subject matter could be more exciting or potent than that?
The older I get, the more I realize that I have very little time to tell people about Christ and the more I do art I realize that I have very little faith in the audience to “connect the dots”. In today’s fast-paced society, does any reader really care about studying symbols and searching out the meanings of such things? I cannot keep hoping that the audience will. I can’t beat around the bush anymore. I have to cut to the chase: “JESUS IS LORD”. I can’t rely on symbolism or metaphor to get that message through to the audience any faster. And, when you think about it, is that “in-your-face” method any different than how Paul preached? Until I see multitudes of people turning to Christ, due to the subtle-Christian art being produced today, I’d rather follow Paul’s example of preaching the gospel.
In closing, I want to mention that the hope that I have in the gospel changing people’s lives outweighs all my other hopes. When this supernatural, eternal, transcendent gospel is preached, in any medium, an artist is dealing with something that works 100% of the time. It is a sword and it is guaranteed to pierce someone’s life. It will either draw them closer TO God or push them further away FROM God. When preaching with “stories done by Christians”, an artist is just dealing with theory—an unproven theory. I don’t know about you, Christian artist, but I would rather increase my odds of changing someone’s life with what I KNOW works—the gospel of Christ.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” —Romans 1:16
The response by Greg...
I found this very interesting but I'd like to point out a few things you should really consider.
1. You call for a direct approach because that is the only effective method. This does two things. First it ignores that much of Christ's teaching was parable. It implies that there is one method all the time. You cite Paul as that example. But Paul wasn't "always in your face." Paul spoke in a highly contextual manner although it was always truth he preached.
2. You say here that "you can not win people to the Lord without offending them." I'm sorry, but you can't win people to the Lord - period.
No Christian can bring someone else to the Lord. Our mission has less to do with accomplishing salvation because we have no power to save. Our mission has more to do with faithful obedience to God and love for man that leads to the constant expression of the Gospel in our lives and from our mouths. We preach because we are told to but it is only to His glory that anyone is saved. None has any part in salvation than the author of our faith.
3. Your "hat" should ALWAYS be on. We can live a life that is always Christian in content. Because anything we do we can do the glory of the Lord. That isn't always preaching or putting Christ's face on a product. Consider Bach:
He composed music that is practically unsurmountable. Every sonata and fugue is of the utmost quality. Keep in mind that his 9-5 was writing cantata's for church every Sunday. Probably also one of the most prolific composers in history. But his music had something different. Even the calligraphy was painstakingly drawn. But what made him different than his contemporaries was that instead of the name of the church written at the bottom of each tabulature, these words were written: For the Glory of God.
Every piece. It was never for his glory, and during his time, he had none. It was for the Glory of God. He gave his best to the Lord and those words are common on the tongues of historians who discuss his work. Everyone knows what he stood for.
That is what the Lord wants from your work, regardless of what it is. Your best for His glory.
But let me say this about your essay. I love your willingness to portray the message. The Lord is proud of men like you.
My response to all of that...
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
I tend to take the side that Christian is a noun, not an adjective. As such there is no Christian music (I like to call it "so-called Christian music"), only music. No Christian comics, only comics. No Christian books, only books.
I like the point about our work being for the glory of God, as Bach demonstrated. I firmly believe that's our line in the sand, not whether or not our work is evangelistic in tone. If it is created to bring glory to God, then while people disagree with our content or our willingness to take risks in storytelling, they can't argue with our intent to glorify God.
To me this is what makes so much "so-called Christian art" distinctly NON-Christian from the get go. How much of it is created for marketing rather than to glorify God? To meet a market niche rather than creation as an act of worship?
We've turned "Christian" (as an adjective, bleh!) into a marketing word because we've created a subculture within Christendom to sell stuff to.
As for storytelling, Christ was liberal with his stories. They rarely featured religious protagonists, and when they did, rarely in a good light. I'd say never, but I know there are probably a few parables I can't remember at the moment. They simply were the stories of average people. Farmers, vineyard owners, servants, etc.
That's why I love the writing of Flannery O'Connor so much. She told stories about the salt of the earth people being themselves and let the reader glean any religious subtext for themselves. She didn't spell things out. "For him who has ears to hear."
Sadly, I think the need to spell out analogies, stories, songs, and dumb them down to the lowest common denominator among the churched (mind you, I didn't say Christians per se), is killing the freedom for Christians who are artists to create.
Apparently there are fewer with "ears to hear" than we think because nothing can be picked up by a Christian (as a marketing term again) publisher unless it is explained to death so as to kill the artfulness of it or fits some sort of religious stereotype.
I've spoken to many writers and artists who live in fear that if they include something "offensive" or honestly questioning or doubting or revengeful or heartbroken rather than showing how following Christ solves all our problems and makes us shiny happy people, or creates something specifically for the purpose of (typically boomer-focused) logical progression evangelism, then they are basically disowned by their church family as worst, or treated as some sort of back-sliding heathen at best for their willingness to let their art show the truth. I think any quick read through the Psalms will find more than enough revenge songs, doubting songs, angry songs, hurting songs, songs with no easy answers, songs that would honestly cause someone to question faith more than seek it. And if that was acceptable for the Bible, why is it not acceptable for the church? I mean, honestly, the Bible is my guideline for storytelling, and if God saw fit to include it in Scripture, then it must be okay for Christians to write about it too. That includes: violence, human sacrifice, sexual love, nudity, incest, revenge, betrayal, self sacrifice, redemption, etc. The list goes one. (I've long held that to do a fair movie version of the Bible AS WRITTEN, if would have to be NC-17 at best.) Now, if the reason is just to see how far we can go, what we can get away with, we're already wrong before we begin. But if the reason is to glorify God, then those are all fair game. The point is the motive, not the content, regardless of how much it might upset your grandma or your pastor or your buddy from church. (Unless you're specifically looking to write for the Christian market, then you must cowtow to the market rules.)
And on that note, I read a book by Mike Yaconelli (sp?) in which he addressed the idea of offending others. He said that his language, smoking or drinking was only offensive to the church, not the world, and that it never caused anyone outside the church to question following Christ, or caused anyone inside the church to question their salvation, only his.
I think he captures the heart of that argument that is thrown up about content quite well. If we become stumbling blocks to people's faith, then we should watch out. But if we only cause them to question ours, as long as our hope is in Christ and not the religious status quo, then we're still truckin' along on solid ground.
Granted, this is just my understanding from seeking God's truth through Scripture on this matter, and as a fallen creature redeemed by grace, I reserve the right to be wrong, but still wrapped in grace.
Good stuff. But really --Christian is a verb: those who FOLLOW Christ Jesus.
I have to say, God has made you with passion towards its subject.
Your argument about nc-17 made me think about God's sanctioned genocide (city-cide) of Jericho and Sodom and Gomorrah.
We forget, most pastor's skip over it, that the Lord demanded the Jews to annihilate a whole city. Women and children included.
Gives me chills.