...thoughts expressed here are not necessarily final.

August 15, 2005 Al Mohler commentary

Mohler is fast becoming one of my favorite "must reads"- he generally is well balanced and yet true to the Truth. and unlike Leonard Sweet (imho), he manages to write originally while quoting extensively from his vast resources of reading materials. Reading Mohler is an adventure in distillation. A quote from a recent commentary stands out:

"Christopher Caldwell of The Weekly Standard once described his brief but intensive
experience with the game "Snood," as a form of addiction. "I also began to
understand for the first time what an addiction is . . . . It's a desperate need to simplify. An addiction is a gravitation towards anything that plausibly mimics life while being less complicated than life.""

That definition is appropos, I think, and properly defines many activities a addictions we do not normally think the word encompasses. More on this later.

Mohler has recently taken on deliberate childlessness as serious moral rebellion. As a man who had to lay down the driving desire to be a Dad years ago, I read it with mixed emotions. We are clearly not in the category he writes of, as "deliberate" had nothing to do with it in our case. One of the defining struggles of our life has been in coming to terms with a second class status childless couples are proffered by evangleical churches.

But much of the controversy belies a careful reading of Mohler's comments. He is not addressing infertility. I clearly cannot fathom how anyone can justify not having children since we wanted a child so badly. After years of embarrassing fertility testing and procedures and trying to navigate the adoption system, it became apparently that we were trying to make something happen that was not in keeping with God's natural course of events. We finally understood childlessness as a calling.

In rereading the commentary and keeping in mind the context of the specific statements, a few questions still attain and may shed some light on the emotional responses. Perhaps no other topic is so emotion charged, and any commentary must be offered up with that in mind.

"The entire process requires parents to give themselves unreservedly to the toil and joy of raising, teaching, protecting, nurturing, disciplining, loving, and enjoying our children. Does God not use this to make us different people than we otherwise would be -- even different Christians?
This isn't for everyone -- only for those who marry."

I agree wholeheartedly with the contention that raising children disciplines the Christian. I would go further to say that it is part of God's design of common grace through which, if done in a manner consistent with scripture, even unknowingly, character can be built in the non-Christian as well. On the other hand, we have had Christians tell us that children are more of a curse than a blessing, trying to say something that would make us feel at ease. As one who understands what scripture says about children, it did not.

Mohler says, "I am perplexed by Christians who seem to believe that marriage and reproduction can be separated while glorifying God within the marital bond. "

My question is- does childlessness redefine marriage? Is it possible to glorify God within the marriage bond for those who are infertile and have been forced to pursue a remarkably wonderful marital relationship sans children? What is the "meaning of marriage" when one eliminates the possibility of childbearing?

God is good, and has provided us with opportunities to nurture the helpless and learn the humility of selfless service in the lives of other believers and as an aunt and uncle. In our case it has been fulfilled in giving ourselves unreservedly to the toil and joy of raising, teaching, protecting, nurturing, disciplining, loving, and enjoying our spiritual children and the aged, infirm, the stranger and alien, and the mentally handicapped. I have also known non-believers who have a servant spirit, and who are amazingly engaged with the outcasts of society. That being said, we know ourselves too well, and we fully believe that we could not have done any of this without God's resurrection power enabling us. Soli Deo Gloria , especially in the ugly and messy parts of life. So change a diaper to the Glory of God if you get a chance.

The truth behind the "Hands of God" photo still circulating via email attachment at snopes.com


AF:A friend asked me to comment on this article from the San Francisco Chronicle, which I am glad to do. Mu comments are interspersed with the quoted texts.

First a side road. As a Kentuckian living in the North, I recognize the writer's condescension in the frequent and pointed dropping of endings on words, aimed at stygmatizing all churchgoers as uneducated and slothful and "southern". Since I moved from the South, I have never been more amazed at people's ability to be rude, having been told that my accent is offensive and people ranging from waiters to storeclerks drawing attention to my heritage.

That being said, the article attacks several old chestnuts in some cases and has legitimate commentary I fully agree with in some other cases. Some of these controversies are matters of in-house debate. Yes, some of what he describes is fluff, but much of it is indicative of a subchristian phenomenon that will be cast out with others who say Lord, Lord.

I also recognize that the writer absolutely castrates his authority (something an author should not do) with letting it out of the bag that, of course, he has never experienced that which he so vociferously castigates. He exhibits a depraved Christophobia muddled with ecclesiophobia and several other phobias thrown in there. What he has to say is evidence of a sinsick and blinded mind. From my experience, little of what can reasonably be said will get through to this sort of blatant obfuscation.

Joel Osteen's message is what disturbs me far more than the venue. His idea of being led by the Spirit and experiencing God's favor(according to one quote I read) is finding a good parking space.

There is such a thing, I think, as a "megachurch mentality" and indeed is something worth repenting of. I have experienced the corporization of churches far smaller than the ones described in the article. Piper tookon this whole phenomenon of losing our focus in lieu of keeping the main thing the main thing in "Brothers, We Are Not Professionals". I have also noted that among the large churches I have attended, there is the reality of spiritual connectedness and love along with the "tares"- a multitude of the unregenerate who are part of what makes the experience a melange of humanity. One defining struggle of megachurches that I have witnessed is a serious lack of accountability and connectivity between the elders and flock.

I remember around 1985 when our pastor, Duane Litfin, returned from a Lausanne Conference - he reported an accord among the participants on a prognosis of the church in the year 2000. They contended that there would be a trend toward megachurches that would constitute a major shift in the identity of the church in the world in the 21st century. He foresaw that as a good thing, enabling vital and coherent inroads into the community culture, as well as a good stewardship of resources. Do the critics ever consider what it would take to provide worship spaces for 30, 000 Christians at the average rate of 100 per church? Far more than 75 million, I would venture.

Quoting the article,"I mention all this because megachurches are the latest phenomenon, the hottest trend in the Christian God-fearin' biz, arena-scaled piety polished up and bloated out and aimed like a giant homophobic cannon straight at the gloomy face of a new and improved God, one who apparently truly loves the fact that these tacky, sanitized enormo-domes are raking in an average of $5 million a year each, depending on size and girth and the magnetism of their glossy preprogrammed pastors and depending on how many CDs and syrupy self- help books and movie production companies and proselytizing Web sites and recording studios and hateful radio brainwashin' programs and malicious teenage abstinence seminars they have to go along with the nearly naked virgin car-wash fund-raisers they offer up to Jesus on warm summer Sundays."

AF:A straw argument here, in part. How much are mega-houses of porn raking in each year? Hateful and malicious? Yes, I have seen that first hand as well. Christians should be in the business of repenting. And I agree that the syrupy self-help books and the young ladies flaunting their bodies in carwash attire are a stench in the nostrils of God and a form of idolatry, along with my own pet peeve, flying fish (Vans with icthus stamped bumpers careening madly down the interstate at about 25 mph over the speed limit).

Quoting the article, "But you really don't need to attend one of these surreal spectacles to realize that most of us should kneel down right now in heartfelt gratitude that we have never been forced to endure, say, the all-paunchy-married-man revue of a Promise Keepers rally, or the bizarre pious cheerleading of a Harvest Crusade in L.A., and hence we have been blessedly devoid of the taint of guys like Greg Laurie, one of the new breed of sleek, preening pastors, a strange new mutant species of pastor-CEO-huckster-salesman, who leads the big Harvest chant-alongs and who writes milky best-selling self-help books, books that claim to know something of God but that somehow never mention single-malt scotch or Tom Waits or grinning Buddha icons or chocolate ice cream drizzled on a lover's tailbone, slowly, tantalizingly. Greg. Sweetheart. You so don't know God. I'm just sayin'. "

AF:The writer condescends here again to place his brand of religion above all others, that of the temporal and sensual over the eternal. That is sad and stupid, as he has enough facility with words used in hate to show that he has a brain. I rather like Tom Waits and refrain from chant-a-longs, BTW. On the other hand, I am sometimes offended by Greg Laurie's inarticulate representation of the faith on Larry King Live.

He goes on the write: "These huge churches are, in short, redefining the Christian experience in America, growing faster in the past 20 years than even Wal-Mart has been able to destroy small towns and hope."

AF:Oh, please. If your hope is built on consumerism, it needs to be destroyed. The Christian experience is being redefined constantly and the key for us is to hold on to the unchangeable while being set "free indeed". Living with freedom within boundaries is a challenge we can do better at.

Quoting the article, "They are places like the New Life Church, perhaps the most powerful and frightening of all megachurches, home to the famous and heavily shellacked Pastor Ted Haggard and his 11,000 fiery "Left Behind"-addled throngs located in the heart of honey-let's-never-go-there Colorado Springs."

AF:I agree that some of these devotees are "addled". The ones I speak of know more of the LB books than the scriptures they purport to be based in. And I do have a concern in regard to the Bransonization of western Christianity. I have friends who go on Christian cruises, listen only to Christian radio, walking lockstep with Dr. Dobson's take on all that is good and true, and reading only from an approved evangelical list of self-help books. One such worldview weekend included a bit of Bible study plastered onto the end of Christian comedy routines and feelgood spirituality sheltered away from anyone who didn't look just you.

Quote: "Pastor Ted, that is, with his bright red hot line straight to the White House (he and our sanctimonious, war-happy prez speak at least once a week), Pastor Ted who, along with the snarlingly pious James Dobson of the violently militant Focus on the Family sect of frothy true believers, helped terrify the Federal Communications Commission and slam women's rights and galvanize all those mad throngs of confused Christians to vote to keep Dubya in office all these shockingly impeachment-free years. Praise Jesus." (Emphasis mine)

AF:The writer is exhibiting a sanctimonious spirit and the descriptors of insanity throughout this piece that sinks into blasphemy here. That being said I do NOT square with Haggard's confession doctrine or spiritual mapping or prophetic movement ties.

Quote:"Maybe the appeal is self-explanatory. Maybe you walk into one of these stadium-size God-huts and everyone is forcibly blissed out and everyone is just numbly patriotic and everyone is throwing hand-rolled tubes of nickels (most megachurch parishioners have very low median incomes and little more than a high school education, and the vast majority are as white as bleached teeth) into the giant golden donation vats and snatching up freshly published copies of "He Died for Your Lousy Little Sins So Put Down the Porn and Listen Up, Sicko."

AF:Here the write sinks from diatribe into the patently false. Most have higher than average incomes and education. Also his characterization of sin here is very instructive.

Quote:"Of course, people want to belong. People are desperate to connect to something, anything, bigger than themselves, something that professes to have answers to questions they don't even know how to ask. Especially now, especially when the country's identity is imploding and moral codes are deliciously evolving and we are no longer the gleaming righteous superpower we always thought we were and instead are much more the fat self-righteous playground thug no one likes. "

AF:I fear moral codes that deliciously evolve.

Quote:"I think it's actually something far more interesting, and hopeful, and maybe even enchanting. Here it is: Maybe these megachurches are not, in fact, a sign that the United States is coagulating like a tumor to the right, but, in fact, they indicate the exact opposite."
So the opposite would be that the USA is coagulating like a tumor to the left? Sounds about right.

Quote:"Maybe megachurches are, in short, an anxious, quivering reaction to a hot divine upsurge, one that people can't quite comprehend and that makes their eyeballs shudder and their loins burn; the churches' existence is irrefutable proof that something divinely radical is afoot, a sea change, a karmic mutiny, with the churches acting merely as a sleek and desperate defense. You think?"

AF:So, here's what I think- the divinely radical is afoot, as always. A hot divine downsurge will come in wrath against those who would suppress the truth, including the goofy scions of health and wealth and other "other" gospels. At least some of what the writer has observed as wrong with the church today is a passionate groaning on the part of redeemed sinners that the spirit understands and to the degree that such behaviors find their broken wellspring in a heart that pants after God, they will be blessed. And EVERYTHING that is not done in faith is SIN. My eyeballs shudder when I think of THIS.

Quote:"In other words, maybe these delirious throngs of blind believers are merely a trembling shield masquerading as salvation, vainly attempting to protect themselves from the onslaught of, oh, I don't know, divine self- definition? An orgasm of radical sticky nontheistic cosmic beauty? A goddess with a bright red tongue and a wry, knowing grin and an appetite for destruction? Let us pray."

AF:Postmodern gnosticism to the core, I would say. Black is white and white is black. Everything you know is wrong. In the final analysis, the writer is, as you have said attacking far more than the megachurch phenomenon. He is running scared that his way of life is being challenged and that the monopoly on cultural influence by those who would suppress Truth is being affected.
Interesting, if sad.



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