Tuesday, April 15, 2014
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- A Bubba With a Passion for the Gospel and Golf
- Cultural Engagement that Avoids Triumphalism and Accommodation
- Three Kinds of Shame
- Growing Up Gothard
Posted: 14 Apr 2014 06:19 AM PDT
The Story: On Sunday Bubba Watson, one of the most untraditional golfers on the PGA Tour, was the winner of the 2014 Masters Tournament. But golf isn't Watson's top priority. What he considers most important can be gleaned from the description on his Twitter account, @bubbawatson ("Christian. Husband. Daddy. Pro Golfer.") and his website, BubbaWatson.com ("Loves Jesus and loves sharing his faith").
The Background: In an interview with Trevor Freeze of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Watson tells how he uses his Twitter account—along with his PGA platform—to share about his faith in Christ.
"For me, it's just showing the Light," said Watson. "There's people who want to put down Christians. I try to tell them Jesus loves you. It's just a way to be strong in my faith."
After his first Master's win in 2012 Watson's Tweeted: "The most important thing in my life? Answer after I golf 18 holes with @JustinRose99. #Godisgood." Later that day he posted on his account, "Most important things in my life- 1. God 2. Wife 3. Family 4. Helping others 5. Golf"
"Lecrae said it the best," Watson said of the Christian rapper he listens to on his iPod. "He doesn't want to be a celebrity. He doesn't want to be a superstar. He just wants to be the middle man for you to see God through him."
Why It Matters: Christians have always been involved in professional sports, so why is the faith of superstars like Watson suddenly worthy of the public's attention? Because athletes like Watson show that it's still possible for athletes to be open and unapologetic about their willingness to share the Gospel. Also, Watson may be one of the best in his sport but he understands the importance of keeping his priorities in order, winsomely admitting that their life's callings are secondary to serving the Creator who has called them. To a culture that is both obsessed and disillusioned with fame and fortune, this centered perspective provides a refreshingly countercultural witness.
Posted: 13 Apr 2014 10:02 PM PDT
Greg Forster's important and practical new book helps Christians think out how to engage culture. Many would say this is not a proper goal for believers, but that is a mistake.
Acts 17 records Paul's famous visit to Athens, the academic center of the Roman Empire of the day. One commenter likened the intellectual power of Athens at the time to all the Ivy League schools as well as Oxford and Cambridge universities all rolled into one. Though Paul was repulsed by the idolatry he saw there, he did not turn away from the city in disgust. Instead, he plunged into the marketplace, the agora, where we are told he daily "reasoned" with those he found there about the gospel. Now when you or I think of a "marketplace," we think of shopping and retail. Of course the agoras of ancient cities contained that, but they were much more. The agora was the media center—the only place to learn the news at a time before newspapers and other technological media. It was also the financial center where investors connected with businesses. It was the art center as well, the place where so much art was performed. It was the place where new political and philosophical ideas were debated. In short, the agora was the cultural center of any city. And since this was Athens—which along with Rome had the most influence of all cities—it could be said to be part of the cultural center of the Greco-Roman world. The ideas forged and accepted here flowed out and shaped the way the rest of society thought and lived.
It is instructive, then, to see that Paul takes the gospel literally into the public square. It means that he did not see the Christian faith as only able to change individual hearts. He believed that the gospel had what it took to engage the thinking public, the cultural elites, and to challenge the dominant cultural ideas of the day. He was after converts of course—he was first and foremost a church planter, not a theologian or Christian philosopher. But he wouldn't have been able to engage the hearts of cultural leaders unless he also engaged the ideas of the culture itself. He did not shrink from that challenge. He did not merely try to find individual philosophers to evangelize in a corner. He addressed them as a culture, a public community.
It is often missed that, although later Paul was invited to give an address, he did not start by preaching in the agora. He did not get up on a soapbox and merely declare what the Bible said. It says Paul "reasoned" (Acts 17:17) in the marketplace, using a word—dialegomai—that sounds like "dialogue." However, as John Stott says in his commentary on Acts, this term probably denoted something more specific than we would think of today when we hear it. Stott says it was something closer to what we might call the Socratic method. This was not a "debate" as we see debates today, where two parties read off talking points at one another. It required lots of careful listening, and in particular it meant asking questions that showed that your opponents were self-contradictory, that is, they were wrong on the basis of their own premises. And indeed, when we actually hear Paul's address to the philosophers in Acts 17:22-31, we can't help but notice that he does the Socratic method even here. He does not expound or even quote Scripture, but rather quotes their own thinkers (v. 28) and then shows them that, on the basis of their own intuitions and statements about God, idolatry is absolutely wrong (v. 29). Many have pointed out how Paul's address lays the foundation for a doctrine of God, contrasting the contemporary culture's beliefs in multiple, fallible, powerful beings who must be appeased with the idea of one supreme Creator, sovereign God who is worthy of awe-filled adoration and worship. Every part of what Paul says is deeply biblical, but he never quotes the Bible; instead he shows them the weakness and inadequacies of their own views of the divine and lifts up the true God for their admiration. He appeals as much to their rationality and their imaginations as to their will and hearts.
What It Is and It Not
The term "cultural engagement" is so often used by Christians today without a great deal of definition. This account of Paul and Athens gets us a bit closer to understanding what it is by showing us what it is not. Christians are to enter the various public spheres—working in finance, the media, the arts. But there we are neither to simply preach at people nor are we to hide our faith, keeping it private and safe from contradiction. Rather, we are as believers to both listen to and also challenge dominant cultural ideas, respectfully yet pointedly, in both our speech and our example.
When Paul addresses the Areopagus, a body of the elite philosophers and aristocrats of Athens, he was, quite literally, speaking to the cultural elites. Their response to him was cool to say the least. They "mocked" him (Acts 17:32) and called him a "babbler" (v. 18), and only one member of that august body converted (v. 34). The elites laughed at him, wondering how Paul expected anyone to believe such rubbish. The irony of the situation is evident as we look back at this incident from the vantage point of the present day. We know that a couple of centuries later the older pagan consensus was falling apart and Christianity was growing rapidly. All the ideas that the philosophers thought so incredible were adopted by growing masses of people. Finally those sneering cultural elites were gone, and many Christian truths became dominant cultural ideas.
Why? Historians look back and perceive that the seemingly impregnable ancient pagan consensus had a soft underbelly. For example, the approach to suffering taken by the Stoics—its call to detach your heart from things here and thereby control your emotions—was harsh and did not work for much of the populace. The Epicureans' call to live life for pleasure and happiness left people empty and lonely. The Stoics' insistence that the Logos—the order of meaning behind the universe—could be perceived through philosophic contemplation was elitist, only for the highly educated. The revolutionary Christian teaching was, however, that there was indeed a meaning and moral order behind the universe that must be discovered, but this Logos was not a set of abstract principles. Rather it was a person, the Creator and Savior Jesus Christ, who could be known personally. This salvation and consolation was available to all, and it was available in a way that did not just engage the reason but also the heart and the whole person. The crazy Christian gospel, so sneered at by the cultural elites that day, eventually showed forth its spiritual power to change lives and its cultural power to shape societies. Christianity met the populace's needs and answered their questions. The dominant culture could not. And so the gospel multiplied.
Do we have Paul's courage, wisdom, skill, balance, and love to do the same thing today in the face of many sneering cultural leaders? It won't be the same journey, because we live in a post-Christian Western society that has smuggled in many values gotten from the Bible but now unacknowledged as such. Late modern culture is not nearly as brutal as pagan culture. So the challenges are different, but we must still, I think, plunge into the agora as Paul did.
Greg Forster's new book does a marvelous job of showing us a way forward that fits in with Paul's basic stance—not just preaching at people, but not hiding or withdrawing either. Within these pages, believers will get lots of ideas about how to "reason" with people in the public square about the faith and how to engage culture in a way that avoids triumphalism, accommodation, or withdrawal. Paul felt real revulsion at the idolatry of Athens—yet that didn't prevent him from responding to the pagan philosophers with love and respect, plus a steely insistence on being heard. This book will help you respond to our cultural moment in the same way.
This article was adapted from the foreword to Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding it (Crossway, 2014), by Greg Forster. This book is the second installment of the Cultural Renewal series edited by Tim Keller and Collin Hansen.
Posted: 13 Apr 2014 10:01 PM PDT
Sin is muddy. When it splashes, we rightly want to clean it up. But sometimes our zeal to clean causes us to oversimplify sin's muddiness by seeking trite answers for complex situations.
Consider the example of Jesus healing the blind man in John 9. This man had spent his entire life in darkness, and his misery had no comfort. His blindness brought shame. He couldn't get a job or volunteer in God's temple. All he could do was sit and beg.
Jesus' disciples asked a reasonable question: "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind" (John 9:2)? In other words: Is he responsible, or are his parents responsible?
The disciples knew that shame is no accident, but unfortunately they knew of only two possible causes: immorality or abuse. And while we know Jesus will present a third perspective, let's consider these two options the disciples presented.
Shame #1: My Sin Against God
In this case, I did something I'm ashamed of, and I should be ashamed of it. There's a standard of right and wrong, moral and immoral, kindness and cruelty—and I broke it.
This is the shame of immorality. In moments of clarity we're horrified by our ability to be horrible. We've lied to people who trust us. We've ridiculed others to get a good laugh. We didn't wait for marriage, or we selfishly destroyed what could have been a sweet honeymoon. We've aborted our babies. We've touched people—perhaps even children—in ways they didn't want to be touched. We touch ourselves often, and we don't want to stop.
Jesus acknowledged that suffering and shame are sometimes caused by our own sin (John 5:14). But though we are blind, Jesus sees us. He wants to cleanse our mud.
Shame #2: Others' Sin Against Me
In this case, someone else did something to me and that person should be ashamed of it. There's a standard of right and wrong, moral and immoral, kindness and cruelty—and he or she broke it. But I'm stuck with the shame of it.
This is the shame of abuse. Do you replay the memories and wonder if you're a horrible person? Perhaps your best friend lied to you or betrayed your confidence. Perhaps you were the ridiculed outcast. Perhaps your dream date or honeymoon became a nightmare when your lover lost control. Perhaps you felt manipulated into getting an abortion. Or someone touched you where you didn't want to be touched. Maybe you even trusted that person—everybody trusted that person. When you told people about it, they didn't believe you.
Jesus acknowledged that innocent people sometimes suffer under the hand of evil (Luke 13:16). But though we are blind, Jesus sees us. He wants to cleanse our mud.
Shame #3: The Work of God in Me
Now we get to the blind man's true shame. "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:3).
Sometimes this is the most difficult kind of shame, because it seems to serve no purpose. There's nobody to blame for it but God, but you and I still have to bear the weight of it.
Do you carry the shame of being different, such as a physical deformity or speech impediment? Maybe people think you're not as pretty as the other ladies, or not as strong as the other guys. Maybe you feel attracted to people you know you shouldn't be attracted to. Perhaps you're too tall, too short, too clumsy, too geeky, too stupid, or too awkward.
Though we are blind, Jesus sees us. He wants to cleanse our mud and so work the works of God in us.
How to Minister to Shame
All three kinds of shame surround us. They fill our neighborhoods and our churches.
Foolish counselors and teachers assume all shame falls in only one category. For Job's miserable helpers, everything fell into the first category (your sin against God). Today, the spirit of the age puts everything into the second category (others' sin against you). We who are Calvinists sometimes overreact by placing everything into the third category (the work of God in you).
Wise counselors and teachers recognize shame's complexity, and they seek to understand the mud before laboring to clean it. They know the shame might get worse—by coming into the light—before it can get better. They empathize liberally, and they denounce sparingly. They speak of shameful things in a way that invites disclosure and doesn't drive the issue further underground.
For example, as you preach against abortion, do you put yourself in the shoes of those who have sought abortions? Does your tone and word choice invite confession and repentance, or does your harshness confirm their need for ongoing secrecy?
Are you honest about sin and shame, even while you take people to Jesus for cleansing?
For one blind beggar, the work of God showed him the reproach of Christ so he might bear courageous witness to it. Jesus—who could have given sight with a mere word—spit. Not a nice, clean spittle, but a loogy so wet and slimy that it turned dirt into mud and stuck to the man's eyes (John 9:6). Then Jesus sent him groping across Jerusalem to find a certain pool. Thus, having endured the shame of both blindness and healing, the man faced the Pharisees and staked the claim that earned ejection from the synagogue: "If this man were not from God, he could do nothing" (John 9:33-34).
Finally, when the man asked Jesus who the Son of Man is, he heard something that had never been said to him before: "You have seen him" (John 9:37). Jesus turned his shame into his glory, and he can do the same in our churches today.
Posted: 13 Apr 2014 10:01 PM PDT
"You may run from sorrow, as we have. Sorrow will find you." — August Nicholson in The Village
My wife and I (Ted) were in the mood for a '90s movie, so we rented M. Night Shayamalan's The Village, which actually came out in 2004 but is still a '90s movie in terms of its earnestness and desire to be deep. It succeeds (in being deep) inasmuch as it always makes me think about the church, and about trends in the church.
In a nutshell, it's about a group of academics—all of whom have been deeply wounded by life in a fallen, sinful world—who decide to follow one charismatic leader (William Hurt) into forming an 1800s-style commune on a nature preserve. The idea is that if you take away everything modern and broken and hurtful about the world and replace it with floor-length skirts, suspenders, chickens, and primitive farm equipment, then nothing can hurt you. The movie then spins out a wonderful narrative that illustrates how there is no fleeing from total depravity. It finds us because it is in our hearts to begin with.
Utopia will elude humans, because sin causes the dystopia. Yet we still long for utopia and sometimes try like crazy to create it.
Recently, my friend Derek shared about what life was like growing up inside the Bill Gothard movement in the 1980s and '90s. His account was utterly fascinating both in terms of how weird it was, and also how eerily similar it sounds (in some ways) to how some Midwestern Reformed families are rolling today with the homeschooling, chicken-raising, huge-family-having, government-disdaining, and so on. The Gothard movement, as far as I can tell, was part life-coaching, part para-church organization, part-homeschool curriculum, part-subculture, and part-arena show.
The Village and the Gothard arc show that in spite of our best efforts, sorrow still finds us. Children still get sick and still sometimes rebel. WE still sometimes rebel and hurt people with our sin. Sorrow found the Gothard/ATI  empire recently, amid allegations of years' worth of sexual misconduct.
There are a few encouraging things that surface in Derek's story—namely that he came out of the Gothard experience in one piece spiritually and loves the Lord. His story prompts us to talk and think about what happens when people either follow an individual or a set of culturally mandated standards, and end up making those their operative gospel.
Here's Derek's story, in his words. 
I had a great childhood. My parents loved me and did their best to raise me and my siblings to be productive, thoughtful Christians. While I may disagree with some of the principles they followed, I cannot begin to even pretend that I have all of the answers. My reflections on my upbringing are a matter of perspective. I have no intention of misrepresenting Bill Gothard's views or the principles of ATI. I wish to simply share what I felt was overemphasized and underemphasized.
What is the draw?
Our society seems obsessed with systems. Whether raising children or creating your own backyard oasis, someone has a step-by-step guide that will take you to the Promised Land. We also have an obsession with doing things right, so it becomes logical to follow the system that promises the best results. The danger is that we quickly shift the focus from the goal of glorifying God to following a system. We then invest our trust in the effectiveness of the system, rather than the grace of God.
What was it like?
The aspect of ATI that has lingered longest in my life was the expectation of perfection. This idea was applied in a way that overemphasized the role of the individual at the expense of God's involvement. Furthermore, the categories in which perfection was expected extended beyond scriptural commands. A frustrating cycle of commitment, failure, guilt, and then recommitment pervaded my personal life. My family was not a "perfect" ATI family, so this cycle became a practice for our family as a whole.
The mission of ATI maintained an inward focus. Families isolated themselves from the evil influences of those outside of the system. Much like The Village by M. Night Shyamalan, parents secluded their families from outside threats by threatening their own families with God's judgment on rebels and sinners. At the very least, the outside world was painted as a place too dangerous for a Christian to live. The fatal flaw in the system (other than being completely contrary to the missional purpose to which we are called), is that sin was treated as an external force, rather than internal. The focus on the external resulted in a forced attempt at an appearance of godliness, while burying internal struggles.
This quarantined Christianity did not occur with physical barriers, but with outward expressions that demonstrated supposed inward spiritual change. All music with a drumbeat was frowned upon as it had a connection with demonic forces. Contemporary Christian music was just as evil. Cabbage Patch dolls were somehow connected with a devilish force or worldly influence. Circumcision was strongly, strongly, recommended for all males.
"Modest" dress was a must. The rows of navy blue, khaki, and white clothing at ATI conferences was a cross between a well-organized fan section and the North Korean military. Just as important as your dress was the expression on your face. You would be hard-pressed to find a "good" ATI family whose eyes were not shining like high beams while they flashed their pearly whites. If you were missing one of those qualities, you definitely were not going to end up with your family picture in an upcoming publication. Dying your hair was frowned upon as being too worldly, although the rumor was that Bill Gothard justified his own salon treatments as being necessary to prevent distractions regarding his appearance. ATI men did not have facial hair, but I do not know if it was forbidden or if men just wanted to be like Bill, who is sans mustachio.
One of the foundational truths of ATI was the "umbrella of protection." In a family structure, the father was the umbrella that protected his wife and children from Satan's attacks and God's judgments. If you stepped outside of that authority, you would face temptations and wrath. The umbrella came without an expiration date. As a teenager, the gradual increase of responsibility would not coincide with a gradual increase in decision-making. A young man would be eligible to step out from under the umbrella of protection only when he married. A young woman would only transfer from the father's umbrella to a husband's. This authoritarian approach forced the fear of both God and parents to become the main reason for obedience.
The ATI ministry structure was built around the same concept. Leadership within the organization provided the same protection from Satan and God. Questioning or challenging an interpretation of a verse or application of a principle was grounds for removal from the ministry.
Another cornerstone of the "barely in the world, but definitely not of, by, close to, around, or near the world" mentality was the ATI way for members of the opposite sex to interact. Part of the ATI teaching was, "Avoid Defrauding: To defraud another person is to stir up in them desires that cannot be righteously satisfied." While this teaching was specifically focused on "courtship," it outlined a system in which two major errors occurred. First, the blame was directed at the other person for "defrauding." It ignored the responsibility of the individual and encouraged isolationism. Second, the emphasis was on the external, not on the internal. My responsibility as a man was to not touch and not talk about marriage. The girls were responsible for covering up and not being flirty. If that was all taken care of, then nothing sinful could occur within our hearts, right?
Dating was of course far too worldly of a way to find a spouse. Enter courtship. Once a young man was prepared to support a wife and family, he was to approach the father of a young woman whose countenance  had caught his eye. As the young man was still under the umbrella of protection of his parents, his parents must approve of his choice, or even better, choose for him. The courtship should then be as short as possible to avoid any potential defrauding. The couple participated in primarily group activities, or chaperoned dates . I distinctly remember listening to a couple tell their courtship story at the national ATI conference. When he proposed, he dropped the ring in his future wife's hand, saving all physical contact for marriage. The audience gave a standing ovation. I just kept wondering what was so bad about putting a ring on someone's finger.
Hero worship was definitely not one of the stated principles of ATI, but was on full display at any ATI gathering and embedded within the ATI curriculum. The Wisdom Booklet  often referenced a "hero of the faith" but always seemed to emphasize the strength of the individual over the faithfulness and grace of God. I remember reading D. L. Moody's statement, "The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him. By God's help, I aim to be that man." Yet the focus was not what God could do, but on what man could do. These "heroes" were portrayed as arriving at a sinless life through dedication to perfection.
In a similar way, the best ATI families were frequently paraded at conferences or trainings. Big families with those beaming countenances were the top draw . Extra-special bonus points were given if the family had a special musical or artistic talent that they could demonstrate for the jealous viewers. The thought was if we could only be more like Perfect Family, then everything would be so much better. It was a pyramid of legalism. Families networked and advanced through the system based on external factors. Other families worshiped the perfect families, while hating them for the ease with which they seemed to find perfection.
What were the results?
You were expected to be perfect, but the expectation was separate from Christ's righteousness being credited to you. The cross became an event in your past that took you from a negative on the number line of righteousness to zero, neutrality with God. Your advancement beyond zero was predicated on your ability to follow biblical (and sometimes extrabiblical) commands. It was rebuilding the Tower of Babel. Legalism stretched towards the heavens in a futile attempt to reach God, yet ultimately built without God. Despite the attempts, sin shockingly still existed. Grace was ruined and guilt reigned. Sin was routinely condemned, but just as routinely hidden.
True evangelism, sharing the gospel, was nonexistent. We may have been a city set on a hill, but the isolationist mentality made sure that hill was in the middle of nowhere. When there was interaction with others, evangelism amounted to, "Look at how perfect I am. Let me help you be this good."
How do you move forward?
We must first recognize that these man-made systems hold no promise. No political, economic, social, or educational system can guarantee the spiritual results sought. Any faith placed in a system is misplaced. The answer is not a system, but a Savior. A Savior who promises his grace will be sufficient, who promises to complete the work started in us, who promises to remain faithful when we are faithless, and who promises that nothing can separate us from his love. So we recognize who we are, who God is, what he has done, and what HE will do.
 Which stands for "Advanced Training Institute." If there was ever a more "'80s-sounding" set of initials and company name, I haven't found it. Derek is trying to find an ATI T-shirt for me so that I can wear it ironically.
 All further footnotes by Ted Kluck.
 Countenance is Gothard for "face." When Derek and I were researching this piece he showed me some worksheets from an ATI manual wherein six pencil drawings of clothed women were presented, and you were supposed to pick out what was "trashy" or "defraudy" about each woman's outfit. Aside from all six of the outfits being hopelessly "'80s" all of the women's countenances/faces had been removed, and only a weird, empty oval remained atop their shoulders.
 This all sounds so eerily familiar.
 What the?
 See: things that sound familiar.
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