Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: evangelicalism

Lament

Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem (Rembrandt)

“Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water for the destruction of the daughter of my people” (Lam. 3:48)

As a religion, Christianity may have failed. Not because of its roots, but its branches.

Because it has become a tool for oppressors,

and the watchers on the wall have either not noticed,

or have sided themselves with antichrists:

Scribes
Pharisees
Pilates
Caesars

They rail against the marginalized, forgetting that the Christ-followers are called to empty themselves.

Like Christ, who did not consider his privilege something to be grasped and squandered,
but
poured
out
for the benefit of many.

The holy city sinned.

Her prophets and pastors see vain and foolish things. They do not expose their people’s sin, but glory in their own self-righteousness. They lay false burdens on those who trust them.

I weep for my people, the Church. Evangelicalism has become a byword because her leaders side with oppressors instead of the Samaritan, the adulterous, and the crucified thief.

Justly do her enemies wag their heads.

 

What it Would Take to Believe

There’s beauty in the idea that we are chosen, and our reward will be worth any amount of suffering. There’s power in the idea that the Omnipotence indwells a believer. It’s great to believe that no matter how bad things get, the One in control of the cosmos has my back.

I’d wager it sounds trite to most unbelievers. The power of Evangelicalism is a bit like the harm of cultural appropriation: you can’t understand it unless you know the whole story. And even then there’s something important lost in translation.

See, every human restlessness and ache and shame and attachment is because of innate brokenness. Our souls are bent before birth, and our bodies reflect it. Ours is a world of exiles, so far from God that we wouldn’t believe the truth even if it slapped us in the face and sent us all to hell. Cut off from reason, we suffer and cause others to suffer until we die and reap suffering’s fulfillment.

Some are saved when God breathes life into their dead spirit, rips the scales from their eyes, gives them a heart of flesh instead of the stone inside. These ones are set apart. No matter what suffering they go through it will not be comparing the eternal weight of glory prepared for them through Christ.

I used to believe all that.

The year of living christianly is not about trying to recapture that belief–it seems dishonest to set out trying to attain any specific belief. But the other day someone asked me what I wanted from God. What would God have to do to prove that he was real? Well, faith is a gift of God, lest anyone boast. If God wanted to prove himself real to me, he would have to give me faith.

so either you aren’t real

or I am just not chosen

maybe I’ll never know

either way my heart is broken

– Derek Webb, “Goodbye, for now”

Escapism in Entertainment and Religion

        Ever notice how similar religion and entertainment can be? I bet if you thought about it, you could come up with a list.

        I think about the religion I was raised in; fundamentalist evangelicalism. Nice people, more or less. All my life I heard stories about how much our human society sucked and how great it was going to be when Jesus burned everyone else up and took us away to live happily ever after. The gospel was like one of those escape route maps you find in the back pocket of the seats on airplanes. Go from A to B then C to avoid burnination.

        Alas, during my formative years, I never really heard about any of the amazing things I could do to make the world a better place. The entire focus was on abandoning ship. My religious education never encouraged me to take an interest in politics (except for being sure not to vote for people who supported gay marriage). I was rarely encouraged to care for the environment or social justice. Instead of trying to fix and redeem the world, we were content to sit back and let it burn as we wore our asbestos suits and neckties.

        Not that this is a problem specific to fundamentalism. Every religion I’ve had relationships with leans this way.

        But I’m optimistic. I think that our religious climate is starting to look at the human experience in a much more holistic way. Yay for that.

        But I fear that this obsession with escapism has trickled down into how we view our entertainment.

        Why do you read books? Why do you watch TV? Most people will say, ‘To get away for a while.’ To unplug. To let go. To escape.

        Let it never be!

        A human being, carved from dirt into the image of the divine, has poured their creative energy, inherited from God, onto a page or a screen or a canvas. They have, in their own weak and fledgling way, become a creator of worlds and stories and lives and people. With ten fingers tapping they have called something from nearly nothing. And you want to use their world as a place to escape?

        No!

        Stories are not a place for you to escape the real world. They are images of the real world. They are not idealized life, but elevated life. Through stories we see our own world ever more clearly. And through their invented wonders we more clearly see the wonders of our own world and characters and societies. Stories ‘make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water (G.K. Chesterton).’

        I beg you, friends, do not escape! Do not run away. Not to religion and not to stories. Because both of them are such mind-bogglingly powerful things that to use them only for escape seems as trite as using a jackhammer to kill a butterfly. Not only is it a supreme waste of energy, it begs the question as to why you want to kill something so beautiful as a butterfly in the first place.

The Bestest Newest Product on the Market!

If you’re like me you’ve had your special moments of frustration with that best of Books. Maybe you accidentally found yourself in James or one of the synoptic Gospels and you read something that did not in any easy way seem to mesh with good, old-fashioned Evangelical theology. If you were a good Christian you had an evangelical study Bible that tried to help neuter the offending passage, but deep down inside you could feel something was still off. Some voice inside told you that when you interpret something in a way that negates everything that was spoken, it’s bad somehow.

Well not to worry for I have found an answer that will save fundamental evangelicalism from its current state of decline! Forget having a study Bible to merely explain away the anti-evangelical things that some Apostles say! Say hello to the brand-new Theological Conformity Bible!

No longer will we be embarrassed about lines from the Apostles who hadn’t read the Pauline Epistles nearly enough. See how the TCB renders these verses:

Hebrews 6:1 – “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity in sounding and defining the depths of eschatology, unpacking deep Trinitarian doctrine and word studies about how ‘World’ doesn’t always mean ‘World’.”
1 Peter 1:17 – “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s doctrine, conduct yourselves with confidence during your time of exile, because your doctrine is probably right.”
James 2:24 – “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone (Ha! Just kidding guys!)”

And, of course, it’s not just the Apostles, but Jesus himself has uttered some words that, at first glance, do not really line up with an evangelical way of thinking. But with a few innocent tweaks we can make it all fit nicely:

Luke 18:18-25 – “And a ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Pray this prayer with me: God, I know that I am a sinner. I know that I deserve the consequences of my sin. However, I am trusting in Jesus Christ as my Savior. I believe that His death and resurrection provided for my forgiveness. I trust in Jesus and Jesus alone as my personal Savior. Thank you Lord, for saving me and forgiving me! Amen!”

Matthew 7:12 -“So be sure to spend a lot of time reading your Bible and going to church and listening to sermons, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

John 14:28 – “If you had loved me you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is co-equal and co-eternal with me and the Holy Spirit.”

Matthew 22:36-50 – “‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall get the doctrines of the Trinity, atonement, eternal state and end times right. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You will make sure your neighbour gets them right, too. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.'”

Matthew 25:31-46 – “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep form the goats. And the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For you accepted Jesus as your personal savior and said a prayer to that effect. You held the doctrine your preachers preached and maintained an unquestioningly evangelical outlook on life. You are orthodox in your views on hell, the end times and the Trinity.’ Then the righteous will say, ‘Hurray! We knew it would be like this!’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For your prayer of conversion did not mention substitutional atonement and you questioned aspects of evangelical theology. Your views on hell, the end times and the Trinity were a little off as well.’ Then they will also answer and say, ‘Nuts.'”

I anticipate this new Bible being a great hit. To order your own copy, please call 1-800-485-3787.

Swords or Plowshares?

Doctrine!
Dogma!
Orthodoxy!
Good or bad, small or big, all depending on your point of view.
Or, perhaps more pointedly put, depending on your view of the point.
The point!
The point!
What is the point?
A statement usually uttered in the dark depths of despair, never really expecting an answer to reach that far down into Shadow’s lair.
But my cry is not hopeless or thoughtless or a cry for attention. I want the point, no matter it’s sharpness.
The greatest of men once called only a few things important, and maybe just one. So what is the one? What’s the point?
What is the true dogma?
What is the true doctrine?
Wherein lies that romantic orthodoxy?
Is it not to live life as Christ’s proxy?
Surely life as a proxy outweighs popular orthodoxy.

This insight just might tell me there’s no need to fight over who’s wrong or right in this plight.
For I say and confess that dogma is less than the over-all stress of Christ to clean the mess of this world and our souls.
So why should I complain when you say it is plain that Saviour’s campaign in his battle with pain was to sustain and maintain a healthy dogma?
For that’s a doctrine and my thoughts make another. And I’ve already established that doctrine is secondary.

Ah! But wait!
I suddenly fear a fight must ensue.
For your doctrine dictates your life.
And when your doctrine holds itself in its own high esteem the outcome borders obscene.
Ivory towers with puzzle doors, the residents within claiming to have food but will not open their gates except to those whose poor tongues can utter ‘Shibboleth’
Ivory towers stand in the land of famine, claiming to burst with true mana. But the gates are locked and the password is Shibboleth and most in that land cannot manage the post-alveolar fricative – SHHHHH.

When dogma preaches out that doctrine has the clout to show who is in or out of the kingdom of Christ, then your disciples will flout everyone who is without as they sit and tout their books and their preachings.
And those towers of ivory will forever be empty of everything good, except for the slaves and sermons and books and matrices.

So what do we do, who stand at the base of the beast and look within, after knowing that there is no food to be had?
We leave and find Him who feeds.
And what of the crowd, growing ever so loud, demanding to be let in so they can freely starve with the keyless gatekeepers? Must their lives become ash? Must the monks in the tower perish without the power they claim to wield over the elements?
Or must that tower be burned?

I have two objects before me. Both pregnant with power. In my one hand I have a plow, the likes of which can wound the earth so that it gives birth to those things that nourish and cure and enrich.
Shall I use it?
In my one hand I have a sword, which I may turn upon that tower, standing tall with all the pride and beauty of ancient Babel. This sword can chip and slash and bite and gnash away at the tower, so full of power, that mayhap it will crack and the monks will see the attack and realize they lack whatever it was they were searching for. And maybe they’d leave that tower of sin and begin to take part in the noble plowing.
A sword and a plow, which one ought I use now?
Can I hold them both here at once?