Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Category: Archive

Easy Growin’

Dane Ortlund of Crossway Books recently asked 26 evangelical leaders what each thought the key to growth in godliness was. Read them over, if you’re at all interested, and see if you can tell what is similar about nearly all of them.

Did you catch it? Did you see it there?

Nearly each one is abstract, intellectual and conceptual. They are focused on a certain point of view or a point of fact or belief. Generally they are things you can do in bed. Read this book. Think these thoughts. Take this view.

Not all of them, of course. Carl Trueman says the key is going to church. Some of them say it’s reading the Bible. A few, like Steve Nichols’, are just plain confusing.

I don’t mean to nitpick, of course. They only had a sentence or so to respond and I’m sure they’d elaborate if they had the chance. But isn’t it telling that the first thing to come to mind, for these leaders of the evangelical movement, are things we do in our head or things that involve benefitting ourselves? Is there something wrong with that?

Didn’t God say that in helping the helpless we will find spiritual health (Is. 58)?
Didn’t Jesus say that in helping the helpless we will find spiritual cleansing (Luke 11:41; 14:12-14)?
Didn’t Paul say that in helping the helpless we will find spiritual treasure (1 Tim. 6:17-19)?

Maybe I’m being a little jaded. Maybe I’m blowing this horn again because it’s trendy or because I’ve been disillusioned by my upbringing or because I have a bit of a malicious streak and I like to imagine fundamentalists squirming in their seats. Maybe I’m preaching a social gospel and since I am for helping people on earth I don’t care about their souls. Maybe.

I have never understood why folks perceive a conflict between social justice and spiritual welfare. In fact, doesn’t Jesus seem to suggest that the two dance together? Wherever he went he helped bodies and helped souls. So when a group of evangelicals can all give different answers on the ‘key’ to spiritual growth and not a single one mentions anything that has to do with our relationship with our fellow man and the way we treat them, I think it’s a symptom of something yucky.

Am I saying there is no mysticism with Jesus? Am I saying that a metaphysical view of Christ does not change us for the better? Nope. In fact, most of those keys seem useful. But not as keys. Not as the deep secret to spiritual growth. If they were, we might as well become hermits. A spiritual life that is not holistic, I think, is not spiritual at all.

Crazy Horse

Jesus was having dinner one day when he decided to rip up some of the religious and political practices of his hosts. When a lawyer who was watching mentioned that his talk was kinda insulting. Jesus turned to him, then, and started laying into him and his kind, blaming him for the murders of all the ancient prophets.

Seems a bit unfair, eh? I mean, how did this lawyer have anything to do with the deaths of prophets hundreds of years ago? It sounds kinda like how some bands charge us western folks for the murder of the Natives and all the various crimes of our forefathers. Unreasonable, eh?

Or maybe not. Jesus seemed to suggest that the lawyer was guilty of those murders because he was living in a way that denied the message of the prophets. He was looking at their messages in a scholastic, unfeeling way. A way that denied the life in the message, and only accepted the words. In a similar situation, he would not have acted much differently from his ancestors.

And what about me and the modern Christians I represent? Some modern media charges me with the murder of Crazy Horse. Legit?

  • I buy things from stores that oppress their workers oversea.
  • I see extreme poverty, have excess of food, and do not alleviate.
  • I care little for floods and earthquakes in Asia, but I was glued to the TV for the minor quake in Canada.
  • I care more whether or not two men can marry than I do about the 50,000 people who died of hunger yesterday.

How can I deny it?

The way I live shows no remorse.
For the day, the day we killed Crazy Horse.

A Good Day

I knew the coffee would be bad, so I ordered a tea instead.

There was no Tim Horton’s nearby, as strange as that may sound. There was only a Coffee Time. I had to hurry. I had just got off of my normal night shift and I had thirty minutes until the planning meeting began. It would go on into the afternoon, and when it was done I’d have to race home, sleep fast, and be back at work for the next night shift. I was not looking forward to it.

I ordered a tea and a muffin. Dragging my feet I carried them to a table in the corner and sat. Immediately my body tried to fall asleep. I shook my head and looked around for something interesting to take my mind off my fatigue. Right beside me there was a sign with the words written on the bottom: “It’s going to be a good day.”

It pissed me off.

I started an internal argument with the sign. “What makes you think,” I said, “that this will be a good day? What do you know about my day? I have just come off a night shift, you silly sign. And I have a meeting in a few minutes and another night shift after that! Does that sound like a good day? On top of that, you don’t know about all the things I’m trying to start that seem to be failing before they get off the ground. You don’t know about the stresses my family is facing or how we are dealing with them. You don’t know about my internal struggles with all the nasty spiritual, mental and emotional forces I am dealing with. You don’t know, you silly, stupid sign! You just don’t know!” I took a bite from my muffin. “And this muffin tastes horrible, too! Why? Because on top of all the stresses that this country gives me, I cannot even find a decent coffee shop from which to get some decent comfort food. So what, you stupid, silly sign, makes you think it’s going to be a good day?”

And then I looked down at my tea, and stopped. There, on the lid, written in that white chalky pencil, was a smiley-face.

Affection. The lady who made my tea took a second and drew a smiley-face on the lid. And the serious and smiling truth hit me: Love and affection exist. Indeed, I have plenty of both in my life. Therefore it is going to be a good day.

Despite a crappy work situation.
Despite a handful of dim-looking prospects.
Despite a fatigue so great I fell asleep during the meeting.
Despite a muffin so insipid I couldn’t finish it.
Despite all these things, I have love. I have affection. Both stream to and from me and to and from my friends, family, neighbours and strangers.

Despite not seeing fully. Despite not knowing fully. Despite not living fully I have these three things that remain: Faith, Hope, Love. Love’s the best. It’s going to be a good day.

Look at me! Look at ME!

It never stops. It never shuts up. And when you beg it to be quiet, you feel empty and cut off, don’t you?

The phone chirps with messages and e-mails. Each one is probably of dire importance, if we judge by the way we respond to them. A chirp from the phone pauses conversation. A ring signals an end altogether.

The computer flashes with new news. The blog reader is constantly being refilled as it begs, nay, demands to be read. And we drink down the thoughts of others while nodding or shaking our heads. Blogs of import, that we, in turn, blog about.

The television sings and dances with news and facts and laughs we cannot live without. With somber yet cheerful faces those familiar strangers fill our hours with stories of hunger in the east and lost kittys in the west. We mock them for slanting the stories and filtering the information, but remain hopelessly devoted to them.

And then the day ends and the noises cease. We have nothing to hear but the murmurs of our awesome minds. And what do they say at the end? Very little. They have been overfed and undernourished. They have gorged on the tender snacks of media and unbreakable communication. And they are sated. They are tired, you see. They need a rest. Yes, a night’s rest will do them good. Tomorrow will be clearer. Tomorrow we shall be wiser.

And as I sit in the dark, with all my pretty toys turned off, my mind begins to stir and wake again, as it once did, so long ago. The truth is clear, of course. My phones and TVs and Internets and blogs and chirps and bells and whistles are making me stupid. No argument. Case closed. But will I stop? Indeed, as I type this and throw it on the Internet and beg people to read it, am I advancing the problem?


Scot McKnight interviews Brian McLaren: Watch the video.

The best moment was at about 2:40 when Brian said, “When I read a book or listen to music, I’m not always asking, ‘what do they believe?’ I want to ask, ‘what do they have to say to me?'” And he expands on that in the following minutes. It makes me wish I had put my own checklist away years ago – perhaps I would have gained more by now that I already have.

Quick! Fast!

So the Muslim world just started fasting again. For the next month faithful Muslims will avoid food, drink, smoking and sex while the sun is up. Not only that, but every mosque will hold Qur’an recitations every day and actually get through the entire book before the month is up. And the already burdensome prayer times will get a boost. Whole lot of religious duties going on!

At this point Christians will usually shake their heads, make a bit of a *tsk* sound and say, “Don’t they realize that all these religious works are useless? Don’t they realize that they are missing a key thing that negates all the hard work they’re putting into their faith? Poor, misguided Muslims.”

I guess I shouldn’t sound so … snarky, should I? I mean, anything spiritual without Jesus really does seem useless. But I just can’t help thinking about all the ways Christians nullify their own spiritual acts. Fasting, for example. Some people think it’s a bit of a lost Christian art, but I know a lot of Christians who still fast. And I wonder how many fast in the way God intended. Like how Isaiah says we are supposed to fast in Isaiah 58. In that part of the Bible, God is calling the people’s fast useless because they did it wrong. And then he laid out how to do it right:

  • Loose the bonds of wickedness (v.6). – Break yourself and others free from sin and self-destructive habits.
  • Undo the straps of the yoke (v.6). – Undo burdens. Help people.
  • Break every yoke (v.6). – Be an enabler. Break people out of whatever is holding them back.
  • Share bread with the hungry (v.7). – What deep, spiritual truth are we meant to wrestle out of this confusing text? What grand, internal glory can we take? Just feed the hungry.
  • Invite homeless people into your house (v.7). – Er… of course the prophet must be exaggerating here. I mean, homeless people are dirty and awkward. He wouldn’t really have us invite them in… Right?
  • Give clothes to the naked (v.7) – Supply the basic needs for people who do not have them.
  • Don’t hide from fellow humans (v.7) – Don’t look at your watch when you pass that homeless guy. Don’t pretend to see something interesting across the street. Don’t set your face like flint and stare resolutely ahead of yourself as you pass the one living without a roof over his head. Jesus identifies with that man, you silly Christian. Oughtn’t we?
  • I feel like I cannot criticize another group’s fast when they leave something out when the group I grew up in seems to be doing the same thing, y’know?

    New Testament

    The denomination I grew up in is fond of calling its churches New Testament Assemblies. The idea is that our churches follow more closely after the pattern that the New Testament Church followed. We point to the book of Acts where it talks about the four ‘meetings of the assembly’ (2:42) and other passages like it. We try to take our cues from the early church and the early writings. We are so obsessed, in fact, with the idea of an ideal New Testament Church, that we go into towns where there are already evangelical churches and plant our own because Baptists and Pentecostals are not so nearly New Testament as we are.

    But I had a realization the other day. We, also, are not nearly as New Testament as we think we are.

    Here are some interesting characteristics of the church in the time of the New Testament that I don’t quite think we are pulling off:

  • They hung out every day (2:46).
  • They sold their possessions and gave to the poor (2:45, 4:34-35).
  • They performed miracles (5:12).
  • They had no private property but held everything in common (2:44, 4:32).
  • They had no building set aside for ‘church’.
  • The church spent its money on the needy (4:35).
  • They risked and lost their lives to help other.
  • It’s interesting how we don’t do most of this. But I think that the most interesting thing is that, by and large, we don’t think these things should be done at all. Which is a shame, really, because it seems like a wonderful system. So wonderful, in fact, that I think this is why the early church grew by the multitudes (5:14) while the modern church … doesn’t.

    He Won’t Invite You Back…

    Luke 11:37-54

    So a Pharisee invites Jesus over for lunch. It seemed like a good idea. Jesus had been stepping on many religious feet and maybe a friendly meal would help bridge the gap that had sprung up between Jesus’ followers and the fundamentalists. It looked like a good PR move. Except that Jesus forgot to wash his hands.

    But somehow, I cannot imagine that Jesus actually forgot. I mean, he was raised in a nice, religious Jewish family and would have been taught from a young age about the importance of hand-washing. To avoid washing his hands, Jesus would have needed to go against his upbringing. He must have done it on purpose. He wanted, I think, to pick a fight.

    But his host was too gracious! He kept his thoughts to himself and didn’t say a word against Jesus. Maybe he wanted to secure a bit of unity before getting Jesus to fall in line. He was astonished, to be sure, but he seemed to bury it inside and hoped to move on to more productive topics.

    Jesus didn’t want to move on, though. As soon as the Pharisee shows his surprise, Jesus jumps into action and starts insulting and belittling his host. Fool! Grave! Dirty dish!

    A lawyer tries to calm the situation down, reminding Jesus that he is being rude and insulting.

    It doesn’t work. Jesus rounds on the lawyer and calls him an idiot, too. No, not an idiot, but a murderer of prophets and holy men.

    I don’t think he was invited back.

    Break Time

    I’m taking a tiny break from this. I’ll be back soon. Promise!

    No Longer Slaves

    I came across this neat news article, just in time for the fourth of July.

    It seems that when was drafting the Declaration of Independence, he was struggling for the right word to describe the American people. He settled on ‘citizens’, but originally he had written ‘subjects.’

    I find that wild. In the beginning Jefferson was going to confirm the convention that all men and women are slaves to the monarch or the state. But with one stroke of the pen he changed all that. No longer subjects, but citizens with rights and privileges and information.

    It made me think of the Bible. When you read the Old Testament you get the feeling that God is looking for subjects. That he’s looking for a bunch of people who will just do what they’re told without asking too many questions. But then Jesus came and made it clear that he was not after slaves at all, but citizens. Indeed, fellow citizens. People he could tell his plans to. People who could share the inheritance he earned. In a real way, brothers.