Affecting Culture Through Stories


HollywoodStreetPreachingHow important are stories? Next to actual Bible study, I suggest they are the most powerful teaching tools available.

Way back when—more than twenty years ago—I read a book by Gary Smalley (which, it turns out, was re-released several years ago) entitled The Language of Love. In that book, Smalley suggested a communication technique that would especially help women reach men, not with abstract information but at the heart level. The technique, in essence is, to tell a story.

After reading that book, I began to see ways in which our culture has been and is being shaped by the stories we embrace. Changes in attitudes toward a particular moral idea often follow the gradual changes in depicting the topic in the media. (The typical pattern is first to make a joke about the subject until joking about it is normative; then joking changes to acceptance and open discussion; acknowledgment, especially of the rights an individual has in connection to the subject then morphs to an attitude of “everyone does it” or “they’re just like us.” This pattern is evident in things such as the attitudes toward pornography and homosexuality).

I was reminded of this by two unrelated sources. One, a letter from a US-based ministry, quoted statistics published in the AARP magazine (that’s for seniors), including questions like, “Do you believe in God, in heaven, in hell?” The startling thing for me was this report:

There was a sizeable number of individuals who believed in a second time around. 23% believed in reincarnation (50 years ago the % would have been 1.)

Now for the second source. In a blog post including information from an interview about the non-fiction book, Rethinking Worldview author Mark Bertrand said this:

After all, the average Christian has been much more profoundly influenced by non-Christian art and entertainment than he has by non-Christian evangelism and apologetics.

That line made total sense as I thought about the 22% of our population who have converted to belief in reincarnation, without people standing on the street corners handing out tracts about it. Or holding reincarnation tent meetings.

Mind you, I am not against these kinds of evangelism tools in the hands of Christians. The point is, persuasion often comes in more subtle ways—through pop culture, through art, through literature.

I’ve ranted before about the “innocent” little Disney movie that so many Christians embraced, The Lion King, in which many New Age teachings were front and center. Shortly thereafter (at least here in SoCal), makeshift shrines began to appear on the street when someone died, followed with claims that “I know my deceased ____ is watching over me/helping me/looking down on me.” I’ve heard such anti-biblical comments from people who claim to be Christians. And maybe are.

The point is, the culture, and story in particular, has had a greater influence on forming belief about death and the afterlife than has the Bible and preaching about the subject. Well, to be fair, maybe not a greater influence. After all, the reincarnation number is still not the majority.

Sadly, however, only 29% believed they would go to Heaven because of a belief in Jesus Christ, though 88% said they believed THEY would go to heaven. Clearly, our culture is an eclectic hodge-podge of false teaching, with truth mixed in.

And how can we sort through the sludge to show the gospel? Next to Bible study and good expository Bible teaching in church, I tend to think stories can be the most effective tools.

With some minor revision, this post first appeared here in September 2007.

Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner And Media Manipulation


Adam_and_Eve019The Jenner media campaign has been quite impressive. Having signed a contract with the Creative Arts Agency (CAA), Jenner has been in the public eye almost non-stop since the beginning of April.

For several weeks we heard of a coming, groundbreaking Diane Sawyer interview with Jenner—a tell-all to end all tell-alls. The promotion was unparalleled for a two-hour network TV special that didn’t involve war, politics, national security, an election, a sports figure, or a celebrity currently touring, performing, or producing (although his involvement with the Kardashians has kept him in a spotlight of sorts).

At least two and a half weeks before the interview, promo spots turned up all over the place. News anchors discussed the coming show. Speculation abounded regarding the big secret Jenner would reveal.

At last the day came, and to few people’s surprise, the “secret” Bruce revealed was that he believes himself to be a woman.

So that was done.

Or was it?

Not really.

Next was the a two-part special titled Keeping Up with the Kardashians: About Bruce which aired in May and received network news coverage. Then in June, Bruce revealed his female identity, choosing the name Caitlyn and changing to the use of female pronouns in relation to herself.

A scant two days later came the Vanity Fair cover revealing sixty-five year-old Caitlyn Jenner posed in a woman’s undergarment (and looking like anything but a sixty-five year old). Of course the nightly news led with the story. The next night there was more Jenner news—she revealed the first trailer of her highly-anticipated docu-series I Am Cait. Somewhere in there the news also came out that she’s been announced as the Arthur Ashe Courage Award recipient for this year’s ESPYS and which will be presented in July.

Last night, I believe it was, the news broke that perhaps Caitlyn Jenner would not receive the same treatment in her country club now that she’s a woman, implying that men are given perks women don’t enjoy. So apparently, the transgender cause is going to be hooked to the feminist cause.

Don’t expect the Jenner news to simmer down any time soon. Expect a book deal soon, and watch for product endorsements.

Before all the hoopla started, and while still answering to Bruce, she made it clear, through a source that she “wants this to be taken seriously so that [his situation] can have the most positive impact on society’s perception of the transgender community.”

As one pop culture site reported

The 65-year-old has been very open about how she hopes exposing her journey to the public will help other transgender people feel less alone, and to lower the high rate of suicide attempts within the population.

In other words, selling Caitlyn Jenner to the public is by design—a very good design, apparently, since newscasters on all the network shows I’ve seen have only positive things to say about “such courage.”

So many thoughts go through my head in regard to this on-going story. I’d even call it a tragedy. Jenner has suffered, apparently for decades, with gender identity disorder (GID) or gender dysphoria. According to Wikipedia this is

the formal diagnosis used by psychologists and physicians to describe people who experience significant dysphoria (discontent) with the sex and gender they were assigned at birth. (emphasis mine)

In one of the clips for the docu-series, I believe, someone says to Caitlyn, “I miss Bruce,” and she answers, “Bruce hasn’t gone anywhere.”

Apparently not, since reportedly the outward changes have not included “sex reassignment surgery.” Caitlyn has benefited from hormones that Bruce took as far back as the 1980s, as well as facial plastic surgery (and breast implants?), but not an actual reconstruction of genitalia.

But she feels like a woman.

So which is true—the physiology that is the kind of stuff science usually requires (male genitalia, a Y chromosome, male muscular structure, and so on) or how she feels? Why is the biology wrong and the emotions right?

Are emotions oh-so-reliable that we can’t question a person’s choice when they announce they feel this way or that? At one point Bruce felt enough like a man to play football on a men’s team, compete for a spot on the men’s Olympic team, win a gold medal in the men’s decathlon, marry a woman—well, actually three different women—and father children.

To this day, Caitlyn says she’s never been attracted to a man (which doesn’t sound like the women I know), and considers herself asexual.

In truth, our culture, with the kinds of media orchestrated focus on gender issues, is redefining, not just marriage, but what it means to be a man or a woman. How can a man act as God intends him to act or how can a woman act as God intends her to act, when we’re scrambling to figure out whether we agree with the gender “we were assigned” at birth?

In contrast, God was not ambiguous about gender:

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply. (Gen. 1:27-28a)

Something else this whole spectacle has made me think: this transgender movement seems to depend on having money. What would Caitlyn be without her hormone therapy and cosmetic surgery? How many transgender people live in developing countries where they don’t have the luxury to reconsider the gender “assigned to them” at birth? Where they can’t afford to get drugs that change their chemical make up? Where there is no subsequent “evidence” that suggests GID has physical and not merely psychological causes? If this were true, where are the transgender people in the poorer countries of the world? Where are the transgender Huaorani or the transgender K’iche’? Maybe they exist but simply don’t have the spotlight Catilyn Jenner has.

But I suspect our western culture has a greater percentage of discontented people when it comes to gender. If you think about it, how would Bruce Jenner have known what it feels like to be a woman—so much so that he believes he actually is a woman inside? He has no basis of comparison. He knows what it feels like to be a man, but he only knew what it felt like to be a cross-dresser, not an actual woman. He still doesn’t know since he has kept that part of his anatomy that women don’t share with men.

Is there any more evidence we need to validate the truth claims of the Bible regarding our increasing propensity to call right, wrong; up, down; good, evil? God made men and women and called them good. Our sinful society says, the “assigned gender” might not be the real one. On whose authority? Who gets to say? Well, apparently Bruce/Caitlyn—or any other person who wants to say what God made isn’t good, and they’d like to remake it as they see fit.

Living For The Weekend


night_clubLiving for the Weekend or the summer or vacation or the next holiday… I’ve been there, even lived there you might say. 😉

But I’ve been thinking about the culture in America that can’t wait to be away from work, that can’t wait to do the Next Great Fun Thing. For it seems that the race to leisure time actually means a race to fast-paced, adrenaline-rushing, heart-pounding Entertainment of some sort.

Not too many people talk about looking forward to the weekend so they can have a nice chat with their spouse or so they can clean out the garage as they promised last week. Not too many kids talk about looking forward to the weekend so they can play board games as a family or read the novel they checked out from the library.

And does anyone talk about looking forward to the weekend, the summer, an upcoming holiday so they can have a longer, more relaxed, uninterrupted quiet time alone with God?

Somehow, this cycle of enduring the workweek in order to get to the Fun Times seems off to me. It strikes me that moms don’t live by this cycle. Their families still need to eat, still need clean cloths, still need the hurt of bumped elbows and skinned knees kissed away.

The difference seems to be that moms don’t live for themselves. But what about everyone else? Is selfishness what drives people to live for the weekend?

I don’t think it’s that simple. From my own experience, I can say, living for the weekend has more to do with medication than it does exhilaration.

So much of our American culture finds normal life wanting. Work isn’t satisfying, problems exist at home, the news is always bad, and the government is a mess. What good thing can we look forward to on a Monday morning?

Better to grit my teeth and survive until I can get to the weekend when I’ll be able to immerse myself in sports or shopping or movies or parties or … something, anything mind-numbing.

Except, that worldview is the world’s, not the Christian’s. God gives us plenty to look forward to on Monday and every day. He Himself is new every morning. He gives us purpose and joy in fulfilling it. He puts a song in our hearts and invites us to “offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy.”

Christians, of all people, have life to celebrate, because we’ve been born and reborn. Even if we sit in the doctor’s waiting room or at the bedside of a dying loved one, we still have available to us the peace that passes understanding, the fruit of the Spirit, and His comfort. We have forgiveness in Jesus and the hope of Heaven. We have a Savior who will never leave us nor forsake us. We have His unending love.

Yet we find Monday too wearying? Too mundane? Too tedious?

Perhaps the problem has more to do with where I’m fixing my eyes which reveals my true worldview, no matter what I say my perspective is.

Here’s what Scripture says:

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory …

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

– Col 3:1-4, 15-17 (emphasis mine)

Nothing in there about a separate focus for Monday through Friday.
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This post originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in June 2010.

Published in: on June 25, 2014 at 5:12 pm  Comments Off on Living For The Weekend  
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The Christian View Of Culture: The Secular/Sacred Divide


    Nothing for the Christian is essentially secular. It can only be secularized by leaving God out of it or by engaging in that from which God, by his nature, must be excluded.
    The Real Face of Atheism by Ravi Zacharias (p. 145)

mud_poolI’ve read any number of times that one of the problems in the church and in Christian fiction is a propensity to divide life into camps—secular over there, Christian over here. Often times this line of reasoning comes from someone decrying the term “Christian fiction.”

However, the thought usually goes more along these lines: God created the world and everything in it; therefore, everything has a touch of the divine if we will see it—mountains and mud puddles, priests and prostitutes.

Interestingly, the quote above from evangelist/apologist Ravi Zacharias agrees with the idea that we have constructed an artificial divide. There’s an interesting wording difference between Zacharias’s phrasing and what I’ve read before. Rather than saying all is sacred, he says none is secular. I think that might be significant.

On one hand, those suggesting we do away with the “Christian fiction” distinction say all is sacred. There seems to be a period there. The implication is that all can be enjoyed or utilized by a Christian whether or not God shows up.

In contrast, Mr. Zacharias stipulates that nothing is secular but anything can be secularized by leaving God out

But what does it mean to include God in the picture? Are we supposed to see Jesus in Avatar, for instance? Are we supposed to read Watership Down (Richard Adams) and see some end times message?

Not at all. I think including God means I first see the object or person or piece of writing before me for what or who they are. Jesus, for example, understood exactly who the woman at the well was—a Samaritan, a “seeker,” a divorcee, a sinner in need of a Savior. He didn’t dismiss her as too far gone for God and He didn’t dismiss her as already one of the family of God.

I guess what I’m thinking is this: we don’t need to force God into places.

I remember when I saw the first two Star Wars movies. I started to see Christian parallels and began to wonder if possibly Lucas was using intentional symbolism to convey a Christian message. Maybe he was saying the Force was God. Maybe our hero was a type of Christ.

In reality, I was forcing my worldview onto the movie.

Then where is God in Star Wars? Are they simply “secular,” something I can enjoy apart from my Christianity?

While I can enjoy them, I don’t think it’s necessary for me to do so apart from my Christianity but because of it. As I think on God and His Son, I am filtering my culture through the lens of my Christianity.

For example, I can look at the Force and compare that to God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible—a personal, loving Heavenly Father. While the Jedi knights could say, “May the Force be with you,” they could never say, “May the Force comfort you in your time of grief” or “May the Force hear your prayer” or “May the Force extend its grace and love to you.” God transcends the Force by His nature, by His personhood.

So I can come away from Star Wars entertained but also thankful that I know a personal loving God and do not have to trust to an impersonal, distant Force.

That’s only one example. Other possibilities include a conviction to commit to God … Or a willingness to mentor someone new in the faith … Or a determination to stand against evil regardless of the strength of the opposition.

You get the idea.

Nothing is secular unless I leave God out.

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This article is a reprint of one entitled “The Christian View Of Culture” published February, 2010.

Thinking Biblically


Bible-openThinking Biblically ought to put Christians at odds with our culture. How could it be any different? Western culture says humans are their own masters, captains of their own fate. Christianity says, God is our Master and, in fact, Lord of all.

Western society is an odd mix of democracy and equality tangled with one-upmanship capitalism. We’re all equal, which means we don’t care who we step on as we climb our way up the ladder of success. Christianity, on the other hand, has no such confusion. We are to share with the needy, give no bribes, play no favorites.

The world in which we live says we are to protect what’s ours. Build fences (which make good neighbors), sturdy banks, efficient security systems. The Bible says we are to trust God, love our neighbors, give our shirt when someone takes our coat.

Our culture says there’s a drug for all your needs. Feeling a little anxious? Try something to calm you down. Need more sleep? Take a sedative. Not alert in the morning? How about some caffeine in a cup? God says, let your requests be known to Him. Don’t be anxious. Make Him your refuge and your strength.

I could go on and on–about our attitudes toward people of different races or ethnicities, toward those in governmental authority, spouses, parents, bosses, toward discipline, money, enemies, borrowing, work, education. There are a hundred ways Christians should stand out as different from our culture.

The point is, believing God to be omnipotent, sovereign, good, all knowing, and my personal friend ought to change the way I do things. But it seems there’s too much noise drowning out God’s voice, too many activities to crowd out time with our sure Counselor.

I think the bottom line is this: none of us can think Biblically if we don’t read the Bible. Regularly. As though the answers to all the problems we face day after day are within its pages.

I remember one particularly difficult year when I read the book of 1 Peter every day for a week or more. I wanted to hear what God had to say and it seemed like that book had the answers. But as each day wore on, I found myself back with my same attitudes and worries. So I’d dig into 1 Peter again. I wish I’d been better at putting what I was reading into practice, but I hadn’t learned to pray with those things in mind.

I knew God would hear and answer prayer according to His will. I just hadn’t figured out that the Bible told me at least a part of His will. So when He said, “casting all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you,” I didn’t draw the conclusion that God’s will for me was to cast my anxiety on Him.

It seems rather obvious now. But my learning to think Biblical was and still is, in process.

To be honest with you, I’d prefer to be in the social center rather than at odds with society. I don’t like feeling like an outsider, a misfit, someone who doesn’t belong. I spent too many years as the new kid who’d just moved into town and had to find a way to be accepted.

Now as an adult I learn I don’t fit because my citizenship is in heaven. I have a different mindset, a different allegiance, a different hope, a different strategy, a different goal.

Part of me would like to pull in and find a comfortable place with like-minded people where I’m understood and secure. Except, then I’m not positioned to accomplish my goal or live out my strategy or demonstrate my hope or allegiance.

In short, thinking Biblically isn’t easy. It puts me at odds with my culture. And that’s actually as it should be.

Published in: on January 28, 2014 at 6:34 pm  Comments (4)  
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Art and the Christian


1411705_mary_joseph_jesusThree different online venues have discussed the topic of art and the Christian, in one way or another. The first one, the Gospel Coalition, presented an article entitled “How to Discourage Artists in the Church” by Philip G. Ryken, the president of Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois. In addressing the topic, however, Dr. Ryken left writers off the list of artists. I pointed out to him how discouraging that was. 😉

The next one was an article to which one of the commenters to Dr. Ryken’s article linked: “The Cruciform Heart of the Arts” by Toby Sumpter, one of the pastors at Trinity Reformed Church, Moscow, Idaho. This is the one I wish I had written. It is filled with gems.

The third was a Facebook conversation started by Mike Duran about the Christian writing/reading community. The question was this: “Am I the only one who feels that the Christian fiction writing/reading community is drifting further out of touch with culture?”

Put it all together, and I’m mulling the whole topic of Art, Christians, the Church, and culture.

I grew up in the era of the liberal arts education–school was intended to help you become a better person as much as it was to teach you facts and figures. Whether or not it led to a job after you graduated was almost an after-thought. My college was weak in the sciences and math. The business department was almost non-existent. Foreign languages were thin. But music, literature, history, Bible–those were the flourishing majors.

Clearly things have changed. Today most students go to college to get the prerequisites they need for the career they want. The last I checked, business is the largest department at my Alma Mater.

The point of this being, there’s been a shift in Western culture away from art. We are more concerned now with pop culture, defined as commercial “art” based on what is popular (the “pop” part of the equation).

Some decry pop culture as a shabby imitation of real art, and to some degree, those folks might be right. When we stopped teaching music and art and when we started worrying more about politically correct themes and multiculturalism in literature, we forgot what true art looked like; we forgot that it is universal and transcends differences.

I think another turning point came in our culture with Stephen King. As shocking as it may be, I haven’t read any of his novels or even any of his writing books, but I’ve heard any number of authors talk about his ability–as a storyteller and as a wordsmith. In other words, he wrote stories that sold to the everyday person, which put his books on best-seller lists, but were made of timeless ingredients.

Christians, it would seem, have been slower to come around to the idea that we can write stories with true quality and with saleability. Instead, the first Christian fiction of the contemporary era was more inclined toward establishing an alternative to the culture—stories that were wholesome and had happy endings. They were the long version of Hallmark cards. Of course, Frank Peretti offered a different type of story–a truly Christian story, with a Christian explanation of the way the world worked.

As the demand for fiction grew, so did the demand for stories of substance. The problem was, Christian fiction became the exclusive property of a handful of evangelical publishers beholden to a large number of Christian bookstores which had the power to prevent books from ever seeing a customer. Consequently, Christian fiction took the shape the booksellers wished it to take.

Times have changed. First the big bookstore chains and box stores like Wal-Mart began to include Christian fiction. Then Amazon took over, and lately there’s been an explosion of small print-on-demand presses, ebooks, and self-publishing.

The traditional Christian publishers have not been untouched by these changes. Some of the most prominent have been bought by general market presses, though they retain their Christian imprint. Others have narrowed their sights with the intention of fulfilling their mission statement. In those cases, it seems they desire to sell primarily to the market carved out in earlier days by the booksellers. Still others are making money putting out the books that they’re putting out, though they’ve begun, slowly, to expand in order to widen their audience.

Still, these are businesses, and the bottom line is, they will only continue to operate if they make money.

Where did art go in this discussion?

The same place it went when it fled the Christian liberal arts colleges, I guess.

So, is it important to bring it back? Should we worry about encouraging the artists in our churches? Does it matter if our books are artistic as well as truthful?

I think art is important for one particular reason—by it we show God. I’m not one who thinks all good writing glorifies God. There are some well-written stories that defame God’s name. But how we as believers write, matters. If I say, I am a Christian, then knowingly do a poor job at work or clock out early day after day or complain all the time, I don’t think God is glorified. In the same way, a novelist who doesn’t do his homework, who puts in half an effort, or any number of other “less than best” actions, isn’t glorifying God–though He may still use their work for His kingdom.

That’s the amazing thing about God–He uses His people but is not limited by our weaknesses.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t rest on the fact that God will fix our messes. We should be diligent because we love Him and want to serve Him as good stewards of His manifold grace, and aim for excellence in our art.

Which looks like what?

Not like a re-working of the latest popular general market story. No more “Christian Harry Potter’s” or “Christian Twilight’s.”

Not like another in the line of other general market successes–the next Hunger Games or the next Scorpio Races.

Christian art must take on the culture, not sanitize it nor excuse it. But the culture doesn’t need to shape up. Rather, people who make up the society that creates culture need to be redeemed. Christian art, then, should be stories of redemption, one person at a time. But those stories may look different from conversion stories. And conversion stories may look different from happily-ever-after stories.

In short, Christians who want their fiction to be artistic must write the hard truth and the divine end–death and resurrection, suffering and glory, the cross and the throne.

Story And Culture


Jon_Provost_Lassie_1962I found a new TV channel–well, new to me–Cozi TV. As in, the opposite of gritty and real. Actually, it shows oldies. There have been a couple stations here in the LA area that launched using this same strategy. Cozi shows include The Bionic Woman and Magnum PI. And their late night fare? Lassie and The Lone Ranger and Hop-Along-Cassidy.

I fell asleep during that last one, but I had a chance to watch adorable little Timmy learn the don’t-cry-wolf lesson and the heroic masked man save another helpless victim from unscrupulous villains.

It was a little shocking, actually, to see moral good trotted right out on the screen, front and center, with no apology. Especially after I had recently read a New York Times article By Paul Elie entitled “Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?”

What has happened to Western culture, I ask, when 50s TV paraded morality in its stories but in the aughts of the new century, fiction has lost its faith?

This, in short, is how Christian belief figures into literary fiction in our place and time: as something between a dead language and a hangover. Forgive me if I exaggerate. But if any patch of our culture can be said to be post-Christian, it is literature. (from “Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?”)

Granted, there’s a good deal of difference between moral fiction and that showing Christian belief. And maybe the fact that the 50s pushed morality rather than the Person and reason behind moral standards in part explains what happened to Western culture.

Elie asks an intriguing question for one such as I, a Christian who aspires to publish Christian fantasy:

Where has the novel of belief gone?

The obvious answer is that it has gone where belief itself has gone. In America today Christianity is highly visible in public life but marginal or of no consequence in a great many individual lives.

There’s a great divide, according to Elie, between what we say we believe and how we actually live our lives. And I wouldn’t argue.

So is that it? Do we pack up our computers and retire from the stage, tiptoeing past the next equivalent of 50 Shades of Grey? Our society has moved past Christian and is on to something else more adaptable to its post-modern thought.

But wait a minute. What about the Left Behind books that garnered blockbuster sales numbers, or as bad as its theology, The Shack and its rise from the ranks of the self-published to best-seller status? Are these books of no consequence because they didn’t qualify by someone’s standard as literary or timeless?

Or are they, in fact, indicators that pop culture is touching a nerve that the literary world is missing?

In naming a smattering of stories that fit his standard, Elie says

These stories are not “about” belief. But they suggest the ways that instances of belief can seize individual lives.

A worthwhile point, especially in light of a second article, this in today’s Atlanta Daily World. “Why Being Christian is Hot…Again” enumerates various singers, actors, and public figures who have made some kind of profession of faith recently.

Despite all the pastoral turmoil, this year has been a proactive and reputable year for faith. Recently, a lot of heavy hitters have openly come out.

According to Jet Magazine, Bishop T.D. Jakes rise “from the pulpit to pop-culture” is what works. Recently Actress Meagan Good opened up to several Media outlets professing her faith, and controversial rapper Nicki Minaj expressed to “Nightline” that God was her hero.

Even Mega-church Pastor Jamal Bryant jokingly proclaimed Tim Tebow the thirteenth disciple, as the Pro football player stunned the world with statistical signs and wonders.

There was also surprisingly, much ado when Billionaire Media mogul Oprah Winfrey confessed Christ during one of her ‘Lifeclass’ tours in NYC. And after news of Rihanna “living her life for God” the string of events only further proclaim: It’s OK to “come out”. (from “Why Being Christian is Hot…Again” by April Byrd)

Is this the type of cultural influence a Christian novelists wants to have–that which has famous people jumping on a God-bandwagon? Or ought we to write about people whose lives have been seized, not by faith but by Jesus Christ?

Published in: on January 17, 2013 at 6:58 pm  Comments (1)  
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Things Change, Don’t They?


I’m not a Bible scholar and I’ve never taken a course on the history of the Middle East, but I think contemporary understanding of the Bible might be missing an important truth: things change.

For example, I believe land topography changes. Just this summer I saw a news item on TV showing how much the drought here in the Midwestern US had dropped the level of certain lakes. That was in one year. Imagine what would happen over a period of three years in a land with no irrigation.

So I look at a map and think, Why couldn’t the Red Sea actually have stretched all the way to the Mediterranean during the time of Moses? Think, too, about the effect of the devastating plagues on the land. Was there even a Sahara Desert in Egypt before the locusts and hail and tainted river water?

Those who experienced the brunt of the recent “super storm,” Sandy have come away saying “Mother Nature” is more powerful than we are. The wind and rain and waves tore up man-made structures, but also uprooted trees and washed away coast land.

Imagine what forty days and forty nights of super storm could do.

I read the Bible and see Samson killing a lion not far from what today is the Gaza Strip, I read about deer and other wildlife not known to flourish in and around Israel, and I think, why couldn’t those animals have lived there when the vegetation was different? I read about all the variety of trees and forest areas various people cleared and the fruit trees the Israelites were instructed not to cut, and I think, things have changed.

I think the same could easily be true about culture. How many times have I heard sermons describing the plight of women in Israel–except, the Bible doesn’t seem to give the same picture. I wonder if some of these ideas about what life was like for women then haven’t been influenced by what life is like for women in the Middle East now.

They were subservient, many teaching the Old Testament claim. How do we explain the judge Deborah? Or Abigail who saved her husband and all that belonged to him by taking action herself? What about Jael who single-handed killed a fleeing opponent? How about the woman who defended her city by throwing down a millstone from the wall? Or the city whose leader was a woman? What about Athaliah who took the throne in Judah for six years? Or Jezebel who was the power behind Ahab’s throne? Obviously not all the women who took power or leadership were good. The point is, they are far more prevalent than you’d think if the culture had such a strict attitude toward women and their subservient place in society.

The New Testament is similar. Aquilla, for example, took his wife Priscilla with him to evangelize. Paul was confronted about going to Jerusalem by Agabus who had four daughters, all prophetesses. Anna prophesied in the temple over the baby Jesus. And as an adult He Himself spoke to women frequently, and in public. Paul counted women like Euodia and Syntyche as fellow workers. Nympha hosted a church in her house. Paul noted the faith Timothy’s mother and grandmother had. Lydia was a business woman as well as a leader in her community.

Granted, some of these women lived and traveled in areas heavily influenced by Greek culture. But that reinforces my hypothesis. Culture changes, often because of the influence of other cultures. This principle was one God warned Israel about. They were to avoid intermarrying with pagan women so they wouldn’t become idol worshipers themselves.

Things change. Land changes. Culture changes. And people change. No one is a better example of this last fact than Paul who went from murdering those following Christ to evangelizing people for Christ. Unless you count Peter, denying Christ one day and preaching Him before thousands a couple months later. How about the believers in Corinth who went from approving of immoral behavior in their midst to repenting and disciplining the one living in sin. Or Onesimus, Philemon’s slave who ran away, only to come back because He came to faith in Christ and Paul sent him back.

Too often I think we read the Bible as if things then were just like they are now. And I think we look at things now as if they will always be like they are. Unless, perhaps, they get worse.

Believing that things, land, culture, people don’t change ignores the power of God. Thankfully the Bible is full of examples to the contrary.

The Influence Of The Media On Culture


Today Justin Taylor over at The Gospel Coalition posted key excerpts of a New York Magazine article by Jonathan Chait addressing the influence of TV on culture.

In the past any number of people denied the (mostly conservative) accusation that the media was exerting influence on viewers. It was a silly denial since of course those creating commercials clearly believed they were able to influence those who watched their short spots. Certainly a regular length show, airing week after week for years would have an even greater impact.

Apparently the denials have come to an end. Research and data have surfaced, but also admission about the intentions of some in the media to move society in a different direction:

A trio of communications professors found that watching Will & Grace made audiences more receptive to gay rights, and especially viewers who had little contact in real life with gays and lesbians. And that one show was merely a component of a concerted effort by Hollywood—dating back to Soap in the late seventies, which featured Billy Crystal’s groundbreaking portrayal of a sympathetic gay character, through Modern Family—to prod audiences to accept homosexuality. (excerpt from Jonathan Chait’s article as quoted by Taylor)

I guess this article was written before NBC unveiled its newest program in that line: The New Normal.

But rather than focusing on one particular social issue, I want to think about the influence of story. This came to mind as I was reading the posts for the recent CSFF Blog Tour. About a particular aspect of the book we featured, one blogger questioned if a Christian novel should contain such a thing. Secular novels, sure, but not Christian.

That comment reminded me of Mike Duran’s suggestion that Christians hold Christian writers to a higher standard when it comes to theology.

And shouldn’t we?

Which is more apt to influence those in the church, an atheist like Richard Dawkins saying no one goes to hell or a professing Christian like Rob Bell saying it? Who’s going to introduce the idea of universal salvation to Christians more effectively, a New Age guru like Eckhart Tolle or Paul Young in The Shack?

But what if an author is writing a story about the realities of the human experience without delving into the greater truth of a person’s interaction with his Creator? Must the fictional world align with Scripture in that case?

In other words, can angels who aren’t really Biblical angels inhabit our fictional world? Or wizards who aren’t anything like the wizards God condemned. Or dragons who aren’t like the Dragon of Revelation. What about priests and prophets? Sacrifices? Demons? Ghosts? Heaven? hell?

Here’s the greater question: Will a fictional portrayal of real supernatural beings begin to undermine the Biblical truth about those? Is Gandolf the Wizard in danger of dulling the senses of Christians to the existence of real wizards who seek to acquire illegitimate power?

I suppose some people think these questions have already been asked and answered, but I wonder if they shouldn’t be asked again in light of this awareness that the media influences culture.

How, then, should a Christian writer influence those who read his work? And I’ll say in advance–shame on any who say our job isn’t to influence, but to tell a good story. Whether we think it’s our job to influence or not, clearly, stories have that affect on people. We can either do it well and intentionally or we can watch from the sidelines as others convince our culture that a sinful lifestyle is a viable option.

Christmas And Our Culture


Should Christians be dismayed at the way our culture treats Christmas? For example, when the high school down the block from my place was about to let out for vacation, they held a party. The music playing over the school loud speakers, which would suggest it was sanctioned by the administration, wasn’t related to Christmas in any way, let alone focused on or pointing to Christ.

Of course there’s the whole “Happy Holidays” thing — a catch-all phrase that used to mean Christmas and New Year but in many people’s minds now encompasses Hanukkah and Kwanzaa (an entirely made up holiday, not related to any African commemoration of any thing). And we’re all aware that “religious expression,” including nativity scenes, has been curtailed in many public places funded by public moneys because of the new interpretation of “separation of church and state.”

Are these fires Christians should be rushing around to put out?

As I wrote that last line, I couldn’t help but think about a devastating fire here in Southern California a few years ago. Unlike many of the fires we contend with, this one started in an urban center and the chief fuel was people’s homes. The thing was, it could not be contained because embers — not nice little ones as you see coming up from a camp fire, but huge chunks of burning matter — driven by hurricane-force winds, ignited new hot spots miles apart. Essentially the fire department looked like a dog chasing its tail, only less organized. There was no way to get ahead of the fire line for the simple reason that there was no fire line. There was a massive outbreak of fire all over. It was devastating and terrifying.

So I ask again, should we Christians play the part of the over-matched firefighters and chase each new outburst, trying to contain the damage and minimize the spread of the flames? Or is there a better way for us to handle this cultural collapse — because that’s exactly what we’re seeing.

The older generation — the baby boomers — were raised in a religious environment. Characters on TV dramas and comedies prayed, for example, and this was normal. Their children grew up in religious ignorance. Today’s children are growing up in an atmosphere that is increasingly hostile to Christianity and some Christian values.

Do we try to fix the culture? Make it less hostile? Force it to accommodate our values as well as the ones in opposition?

Sadly, or perhaps happily, we’re losing the culture wars as surely as those firefighters years ago were losing the battle against the wind-whipped fire.

The thing about fire — it purges, purifies, refines. Could it be that the religious trappings of our culture that made us look Christian-y on the outside, needed to burn up so we could see what is at the heart of people, even people in a Christian nation?

Now true believers in Jesus Christ have a much clearer choice. Do we play the part of firemen, running hither and thither, to stop the spreading flames? Or do we evacuate to our safe corner of the world, stick our fingers in our ears and close our eyes?

Or do we get on our knees and start praying for a change in the wind? Do we set up rescue centers to help those who are losing everything? And do we think long-term about setting up wind breaks that will prevent future firestorms?

So I wonder, what would happen if a group of Christians started praying weekly for our culture — not that we could have more manger scenes or the Ten Commandments would be allowed to return to public land or even that the Marriage Act might finally become law. Instead, what if we prayed for two people to come to faith in Jesus Christ in the year 2012? Just two (knowing that God does far more than we ask or think 😉 ) for starters. I mean, sometimes we don’t begin a project because it seems too overwhelming. We don’t feel we can pray for God to save everyone in Los Angeles, so we pray for revival — a good request and nebulous enough so that we have no idea if He is answering our prayer. Why not start with something we believe is reasonable, and if we pray for two specific people we know, something we can actually see God answer.

Paul told the people in Colossae to devote themselves to prayer, and in so doing to pray for him and Timothy too so that God would open up for them a door for the Word. And at the time, Paul was in prison.

He didn’t see his cultural situation as the problem (and pray for me that I get out of prison). Instead what he wanted was opportunity to speak forth the mystery of Christ, making “it clear in the way [he] ought to speak.”

Perhaps we should start by devoting ourselves to prayer.

Published in: on December 26, 2011 at 6:32 pm  Comments (1)  
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