Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sometimes, Grace = Laugh Out Loud

So, a funny thing happened on the way to becoming an author...

Most of it fits somewhere between a head-scratching "huh?", and a laugh-out-loud "you have got to be kidding me". Whether you write as a humorist or not, a sense of humor is absolutely essential if you're a writer.

Now, please don't get me wrong: I've had tons of fun, I really enjoy the hard work, and I've experienced many positive things during the saga of two editions of Post-Charismatic.

But as always, it's the puzzling, unexpected, ranging-from-slightly-to-deeply bent things in the wacky and wonderful world of books that catch your attention. And you discover that you need to include "humor" and "laughter" as practical out-workings of the Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness & self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

For example:

Post-Charismatic? (1st Edition: 2008)
  1. The shortest review (three lines), which was both very positive and included this priceless observation: "McAlpine has done a [expletive deleted]-load of research".
  2. The suspicious & indignant reviewer who waxed darkly eloquent about my "obvious Vineyard agenda". (funny!)
  3. Not-so-funny: the website that sells an illegal PDF version for $25 a pop (ie. a grossly inflated price and no royalties paid to the author).
  4. Some websites wrote glowing reviews (thanks! you're making me blush!), and then proceeded to endorse the very teachings & practices that I wrote against (really? did you even read the book?!?).
In one case, a website included a decent overview of the issues that I was writing about (Latter Rain, Word of Faith, and the Shepherding Movement), yet attempted to sell the New Apostolic Reformation as The Antidote (face-palm).

I emailed them several times to protest that what I wrote was completely opposed to the NAR (so please stop insinuating that I approve of it). They were kind enough to respond (once).
The only change they ultimately made, however, was to periodically update my bio photo on their website to match whatever my blog had at the time. (double face-palm...)
See? You gotta have a sense of humor about these things! Sanctification (1 Peter 1:13-16) requires it.

Post-Charismatic 2.0: Rekindle the Smoldering Wick (2nd Edition: 2013)

I had an unintentionally-hilarious conversation with the original publisher of the first edition. He was informing me of the parent company's plan to discontinue the book after the current print run ended, as a result of what he termed "disappointing sales":
What I wanted to say:"Disappointing sales?!? Well, what else did you expect, when you did absolutely zero advertising or marketing, and waited almost a year to even make it available in North America at all?!? While everybody over here was trying to figure out Bam-Bam Bentley and blogging about how they disappointed they were that the book wasn't available on this side of The Pond?!?"

What I actually said:"I'm sorry to hear that, and I completely understand. Could we talk about an official 'copyright reverts to the author', so I can have creative control of my own work?" (Note: it took a while, but I eventually got the official letter.)
And just over a year later, Post-Charismatic 2.0: Rekindle the Smoldering Wick was released. And the surprising & puzzling gems continued:
  1. Encouraging: early reviews have been overwhelmingly positive; I even placed #4 on one blogger's "Top Ten of 2013" reading list
  2. Odd: the people who privately expressed how much this book was needed, yet vanished into thin air when I asked for endorsements
  3. Go figure: the deafening sound of crickets chirping when I offered free copies to various online entities after John MacArthur declared war on charismatics via his Strange Fire book & conference
  4. Absolutely Priceless: having coffee with someone who had just read the book, and hearing: "Your book really helped me sort things out. I think I'm ready to do ministry again". (That's why I write!)
God works in mysterious ways. I've given up (a long time ago) trying to understand and/or explain it. Neither do I doubt that God also possesses a very quirky sense of humor. :)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Do Not Feed the Old Farts

There are two extremes to be found in the ongoing debate about age and worship. On the one hand, there's the older musicians & leaders who jealously clutch all things worship-related in an iron grip, leaving the younger musicians with few options beyond playing in bar bands until the old folks die off. Thankfully, this doesn't happen as often as it used to.

The other side of the equation is becoming much more common: older worship musicians/leaders are finding themselves ostracized from worship because the pendulum of public opinion now holds that only young, hip, and attractive worship leaders & musicians can truly bring people into the presence of God through song.

Of course, nobody would ever dare say it that bluntly. Because if anyone did, using their outside voice, it would instantly sound as dumb and discriminatory as it actually is. (One pastor recently suggested that worship leaders (OT: Levites) should only be allowed to be involved in worship between the ages of 25 and 50, based on Numbers 8:24-26.)

This kind of thinking is affecting more than just worship leaders and musicians; more and more, it's being applied to pastors in general as well. In order to be truly used of God, you can't be old. Some have gone so far to defend it as "church branding", without any sense of shame for being so completely mercenary in their approach to ministry leadership.
This is nothing new in charismatic churches, either, due to the sad-but-predictable cycle of speakers on the conference circuit spreading the Latter Rain-inspired mantra: "God is calling the younger generation to rise up and take the land that the previous generation failed to because of unbelief."

Source: Wikimedia

In these circles, the younger are encouraged to despise, or at best ignore, Christians over a certain age (usually 35). After all, what could a young disciple of Jesus possibly learn or receive from one of the "failed generation"? (Unless you have the good fortune of (a) being the conference speaker giving this "word", or (b) already gained recognition as the "anointed of God".)

Call me an aging curmudgeon, but I'm still a big fan of Caleb & Joshua. They were definitely not young when they led the children of Israel into the promised land, after wandering through the wilderness for forty years. In fact, Caleb was eighty-five years old when he asked to be allowed to conquer the land that God had promised to him (Joshua 14:6-14).

And Psalm 71 has always been one of my favorites:
Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come. (Psalms 71:17-18)
Don't count the old guy out just yet!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Chess Match

As mentioned in the previous post, I've been camping out in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy & Titus) over the past few weeks, and aside from being encouraging and uplifting, it's also sparked some ponderables.

For example: the past decade and beyond has seen an increase in the number of voices decrying the lack of a "chastened epistemology" or in plain English: a humble approach to saying how we know something is true.

In this chess match back and forth between those defending an evangelical approach to the Bible and those who, well... don't, the most derogatory name-calling label seems to be "arrogant".

And the first side to label the other arrogant, wins. Not sure how or why this is so, but it is. And somewhere in recent history, some a priori assumptions have been introduced:
  1. Saying anything definitively about the Bible = Arrogance
  2. When it comes to theology, Humility and Conviction are mutually exclusive
I'd like to suggest that both of these assumptions are untrustworthy.
I remember learning about "Reader-Oriented" or "Reader-Response" Biblical criticism around the turn of the century. The basic premise was that when the Apostle Paul labelled some people as "false teachers" or "false apostles", he was clearly out of line. Proponents of the Reader-Oriented approach (ie. Postmodern Use of the Bible) would insist that all voices are welcome at the table of Biblical interpretation, and that historical orthodoxy is merely an arrogant power trip by rigid evangelicals. (At times, I found myself wondering if "reader-oriented" should be called "agenda-oriented" instead.)

I think that it's profoundly unhelpful to conflate an evangelical view of the Bible as the Word of God with the stereotype of rigid, unloving arrogance. Look at the phrases found in 2 Timothy 2:22-28 where Paul instructs Timothy on how to deal with "false teachers" (whose voices would not be welcome at the table):
  1. Pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace
  2. Not quarrelsome; kind to everyone; able to teach; not resentful
  3. Gently instruct

Photo source: Wikicommons
These are not the words of oppression, arrogance, rigidity or power. These epistles from Paul are rightly called pastoral because the attitude Paul wants to instill in his young protegé is that of a caregiver, a shepherd. A pastor.

Paul even adds another reason for Timothy to be pastoral, even as he opposes false teachers, in hopes that they might: "escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will."

Earlier in the same chapter, Paul instructs Timothy with words like "teach, warn, be strong" as Timothy "correctly handles the word of truth". To Paul, truth could be handled correctly. Truth could be confidently taught, and appealed to in order to warn other disciples against false (erroneous) teachings.

And yet the attitude that Timothy is instructed to cultivate is one of pastoral concern -- not just for the other disciples, but also for those who have been caught in false teachings by a spiritual Enemy.
Humility can walk hand-in-hand with strong Biblical convictions. And for us to be faithful disciples, it must.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hostage Crisis

Clichés are like jargon, in some ways. All groups develop them over time; they tend to serve as a sort of verbal short-hand when communicating with others who speak the same language.

But now, we've been told that certain Christian clichés will actually cause 'Millenials' to run screaming away from our churches faster than if they were fleeing a Zombie Apocalypse.

Honestly, I sympathize with what the author was saying in this article. (I've written about self-righteous Christian jargon before.) Clichés sound like fingernails on a blackboard. Or maybe that eery wailing sound á la Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And the clichés listed in the article -- well, yeah, some of them bug me too.
For example: "love on".

As in: "we just want to love on people."

It should be filed under @#$! Christians Say, because nobody talks that way except (some) Christians. If one of my neighbors dropped by, and I offered him a coffee and asked him whazzup?, and he said, "Oh, nothing. I'm just here to love on you", I'd take the coffee back and start polishing up my aluminum baseball bat as a hint.
But it was the very first cliché mentioned in the article that got me thinking. Now, just so it's been said: This is not a rebuttal to the article, or even the cliché I'm about to explore. It just got me thinking, that's all, and this is where my brain went:
Which cliché, you ask? "The Bible clearly says..."
Now, I would agree with the author of the article that, as a cliché, it can sound arrogant, smug and condescending. And no doubt it's been used exactly that way by some people. (I've met the type; they make me uncomfortable too.)

At the same time, it is possible to use the mere existence of this cliché as a weapon. In the wrong hands, the general fed-up-ness with "the Bible clearly says" cliché could be used to hold pastors and leaders hostage to an agenda. (This is where I leave the original article per se, and move to a related issue. Again: Not. A. Rebuttal.)

There is a huge difference between: (A) arrogantly shutting down all discussion by using "the Bible clearly says" as a war club, and (B) agreeing that we speak humbly, but we can also affirm that the Bible is clear on some quite a lot of things.
I've been camping out in the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus) for a couple of weeks now. If "the Bible clearly says" is now off-limits to prevent a potential Millenial Exodus, we would find ourselves unable to obey almost any of Paul's instructions to pastors, elders, and leaders.

For example, if we can't say anything definitely or "clearly", how do we:
  • "Command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer" (1 Tim. 1:3-4).? [Interesting note -- Paul quickly adds: "The goal of this command (stopping false teachers) is love" (1 Tim. 1:5).]
  • Follow Paul's instructions on the character that church leaders must have in order to lead (1 Tim. 3:1-13)?
  • "Command and teach these things... devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching" (1 Tim. 4:11-13)?
  • "Watch your life and doctrine closely... you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Tim. 4:15-16)?
  • Have the confidence to believe: "These are the things you are to teach and insist on. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing" (1 Tim. 6:2-5)?
  • "Command those who are rich... to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous" (1 Tim. 6:17-19)?
And that's just 1st Timothy...
By all means, let's avoid clichés because they:
  1. Are annoying,
  2. Can be easily misinterpreted as arrogant know-it-all-itis, and
  3. Tend to create a fight-or-flight reaction in Millenials (and other generations too, truth be told).
And... Let's not confuse the avoidance of a smug-sounding cliché with a hostage-taking agenda that forces us to ignore what the Bible actually clearly says.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Most Interesting Voices

Yesterday's post on Musical Re-Intergration touched off "a whole whack of" comments on my facebook page. (Note: "a whole whack of" is a Canadian slang term meaning "many".) I am (still) enjoying the multi-faceted conversation that continues there.

Aye, but here's the rub...

The beauty of leaving a comment here -- connected to the original blog post -- means that readers can follow the conversation easily. Blog commenting even allows people to respond to other comments in a way that keeps them logically organized.

And readers of this blog really do benefit from the ongoing conversation. As the Bible says, "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed." (Proverbs 15:22)

Feel free to post your comments here or on facebook; I love the conversations we have.

But please consider posting your comments here, because the conversations sparked by blog posts are helpful, insightful, thought-provoking, and encouraging to readers that would otherwise have no access to the combined wisdom of community.

And if that last sentence sounds like a compliment, well... it was meant to be. :)

Monday, February 10, 2014

Musical Re-Integration

This morning found me relaxing in my living room, reading C.S. Lewis' The Weight of Glory and drinking some fresh coffee, with Resurrection Band's Rainbow's End as the background ambiance.

Lewis inspires me as a Christian because of the depth and insights found in his books. And Lewis inspires me as a writer because he's deep, he's profound, and he communicates so much with an economy of words (and with classic understated, dry British humor).

But during a brief pause to mull over some of Lewis' thoughts, the CD player caught my attention again. This particular album is pretty typical for earlier Christian rock music: some of the songs are addressed to Christians, some deal with social issues, some are geared more for non-Christians, and some were what we would call "worship".

And it hit me all of a sudden...
When (and why) did we separate worship music from other kinds of music?
I hear fairly regularly from other musicians who have decided to stop recording exclusively "worship" albums, and to include songs about life, social issues, and their own personal musings on faith. I've been quietly encouraging people to do this very thing, but I hadn't stopped to notice -- until this morning -- that back in the olden days, worship songs were quite naturally integrated into a typical Christian artist's recording projects. It was all part of the musical experience and expression of faith.

But then it changed.

Was it because worship became a hot genre in the 90's and beyond? And so every band now felt obliged to record worship albums? (I've heard stories of bands being pressured to do worship albums by their record companies because "worship is hot now".)

And I wonder... By compartmentalizing worship, creating a whole new sub-genre with its own "stars", are we unintentionally encouraging Christians to compartmentalize their faith in general?

Doesn't it seem more... what's the word... authentic to write songs that represent the full gamut of faith? I suspect that such albums would serve a much stronger purpose in encouraging, discipling, challenging, educating -- and yes, inspiring worship -- for their listeners.

(And I suspect the overall quality of worship songs might get better, too.)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Invest Time Wisely

There are times when you find a video online where somebody really challenges you, or encourages you (often at the same time), and you think, "wow, I need to post this."

Then you think, "Dang, it's a half hour long. It's not like a blog post you can skim in a few minutes. Or a short video clip that you can watch before your cuppa coffee gets cool."

So, please, bookmark this for later if you don't have time right now. It's well worth 30 minutes of your time. It would be investing time, not wasting it.

This video from Francis Chan is well worth the 30 minutes. It's about the pressures of ministry, so you'd assume it had to do with the unique challenges facing pastors of churches. No, it's really much more universal than that. It has everything to do with the praise of man (and the criticisms, too) and how it can change/challenge/manipulate/blunt our message.

I really appreciate Chan's transparency and humility, and his challenge towards a multiplying discipleship mentality is needed and well-said.