Thursday, September 25, 2008


I know this is the name of some magazine which I believe was started by Billy Graham, but I just read an article about Rick Warren perhaps being the next one. And I admit he’s highly influential. I have seen no Christian book that pervasive with so many copies sold around the world. It’s huge (“Purpose Driven Life”). And though Osteen is huge and TD Jakes as well, this article in the Economist said that their appeal is staggered by their prosperity theology. But I was just trying to imagine if one of these newer, unorthodox, young guys ever became the advisor to the president. Let me see if I can explain.

A Christian magazine (the one that bears the title of this section) in a September 2006 issue named two new movements/philosophies as the two hottest things in Christianity today (I think they mean Western Christianity to be correct): the new Reformed Movement (Mark Driscoll [formerly part of Emergent Church movement] out of Seattle) and the Emergent Church movement (Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, etc.). Funny enough I’m sandwiched between these two as I read and agree a lot with the latter and go to church in the former (my Cape Town church is the same group of churches [New Frontiers, founded by the same original New Frontier Church] New Frontiers churches). The New Reformed is characterized by urban growth, charismatic churches, massive church planting, being missional, complementarianism (men and women being equal but should have different roles with the man leading and the woman submitting) etc. The Emergent Church Movement (not a well-defined movement, just a bunch of guys who happened to say similar things) is defined by simplicity, back-to-basics, Jesus-following, social relevance, living interpretation meaning-for-today messages. It’s the type of thing for young adults and college people who are burnt out on religion and church and see no point in it. Guys like Donald Miller and Anne Lamott share their faith in real ways to make you feel like they are real people and this is possible. It’s that sort of feel. Funny enough, both Rob Bell (go out and read every book by him—there are only two) and Mark Driscoll named their church Mars Hill after the Greek site where the 1st century apostle Paul spoke to Greek people about God (Acts 18).

In that scene you find Paul quoting Greek poets and writers and referring to their objects of worship. Rob Bell uses this to wonderfully point not to a new model of mission but (he and I feel though he never said) the original model of missions. In the traditional paradigm, with a missionary and the people, who has God? . .. . . that’s right—the missionaries. Who doesn’t? . .. that’s also right God. But you see here Paul points to the presence of God in the lives of the people. So missions isn’t about taking God to people who are Godless, it’s about identifying God already with the people. And I see it all around me. I actually remember telling Kate about how I could see God in her or God working in her. It’s really great to watch her; I’m not sure where she is at faith-wise, but she is going to start tithing, not to a church, but to good loving works. I thought that was great. She reminds me of relational tithing.

So I encourage you to go out and read “Blue Like Jazz” or “Searching for God Knows What” by Donald Miller or any of Rob Bell’s books (“Velvet Elvis”, “Sex God”) or Anne Lamott (“Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith”, “Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith”, “Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith”) or Shane Claiborne (“Irresistible Revolution”, “Jesus for President”). Outside of Rob Bell, the rest are not pastors or clergy, just non-clergy people (and so maybe I shouldn’t connect them to the Emerging Church movement). These people have a sense for what it means to be human and what it means to follow Jesus. What I especially like is that say at churches similar to these people, churches like Mars Hill in Michigan or Riverside in Houston, etc. everyone is welcome. This has not been a problem in minority communities where everyone knows who is the prostitute or the pimp or the gang member or the drug pusher or the drop-out or the teacher or the lawyer. This refers mainly to white churches I grew up in where you don’t know that anyone has any issues or struggles. Take for instance my student life group. Outside of me (I’m not considered the same as a black South African because I’m American) there is only one black guy. He struggles with issues of identity, acceptance (by whites), manhood, race, polygamy of his father and competing families, pornography, etc. But when he goes to our meetings everyone seems perfect to him without a care or problem. They give the PERFECT answers and they grapple with nothing. It discourages him. For him, it’s important that I share my struggles because he doesn’t feel normal or human in that group. Even though a majority of adult males in almost all churches (over 50%) view pornography you would not know it. You wouldn’t know of any issues, who is cheating on tax returns, who is embezzling, etc. And in many churches that I grew up in, someone who is poor or an ex-con, someone who is dirty or smelly, someone who is a prostitute or a gang-member does not only feel uncomfortable but also feels unwelcome. And these places (like Riverside Church in Philly) admit to the brokenness of us all and they accept you as you are. If you want to quit smoking, don’t worry. You can work it out; for now, come and join and we’ll quit together. The overriding over-defining characteristic is not theology but love. It’s not perfection but faith through the communal journey.

All this is to say that these guys make me laugh sometimes. Again I don’t think Christians should worry about hot new movements and I definitely don’t think there should be a top 20 list of most powerful or influential youth pastors (I think it can be a numbers game; you can’t get on if you go to a small church). But I wanted to show a funny picture. Look at all the respectable guys, the nice smiles the beautiful poses, the authority and command.

Now look at #19 on the list. This guy is the youth leaders at Mars Hill in Michigan, Rob Bell’s church. You kinda get what I mean. Silly. Some see this as posturing though, like they are trying to be too real instead of being real. And perhaps that’s true for the picture and the youth pastor at the time of the taking. But I invite you to jump with me as you read “Velvet Elvis,” and you’ll see it’s true.

1 I am well aware that many people do not consider them to be such. There are varying degrees of it depending on how much it is mentioned or which words are used, but to the most sensitive, it is present in their teachings. Regardless, one cannot deny that they have both helped sooo many people out of tough situations and circumstances. And we are all grateful for positive influences.

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