Religion of None?

Someone once said, “Give me the making of the songs of a nation and I care not who writes its laws.”[1] In his book Can Man Live Without God, Ravi Zacharias gives the context of this quote, stating that these words “not only divulge a major cultural access point to our contemporary mind-set, but also acknowledge the extraordinary control of song lyrics upon the moods and convictions of the young, who are embattled by the tug of so many allurements.”[2]

This thought resonates with me. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen the truth of it played out in my life and the lives of those around me. I and so many of my generation are having our ideologies and worldviews shaped by the philosophies of the latest pop sensations. What do the songs of today tell us about our culture, our contemporary mindset, and the convictions of our youth and young adults?

There is one song in particular that I can’t get out of my head, which aptly describes the convictions of my generation and the generations following me. It’s on the radio constantly; the depth of the message hidden in a catchy, upbeat tune. The song is “Some Nights.” Sung by the band FUN, the lyrics are anything but fun. They capture the struggle to find purpose and meaning in this life. Continue reading

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In Tebow we Trust

A recent article by NBC Sports reported that the New York Jets are expecting crowds of church groups  to show up during their training camp to watch Tim Tebow practice.  Like many in this country I am a Tebow fan. I’ve followed his career since his days at Florida. I even follow him on Twitter. Even if you’re not a football fan (which I am) it is almost impossible NOT to follow him in some way.  He has the tendency to pop up everywhere. There is a constant media frenzy around him. People either love him or hate him for his outspoken beliefs and choice to talk about Christ as often as he can. 

Christians and non-Christians alike have debated his outspoken behavior and have weighed in on every aspect of how he lives. To be honest, it baffles me. He’s not the first Christian athlete to bow in prayer during games, be vocal about his faith, or seek to live with integrity in what’s often an immoral environment. While I commend him for doing these things and pray that his love for Christ will keep him grounded in his fame, all of this hype that surrounds him has caused me to start asking some questions about American Christian culture.

Why are we obsessed with celebrities?

We live in a culture obsessed with celebrities. We idolize them, want to meet them, look like them, and be like them. We read, blog, and tweet about their lives, dissecting their successes and failures. The Christian culture is not immune to this. Whether it’s Tebow or any number of well-known “celebrity” believers, we tend to put them on a pedestal, treating them as a super-Christian.  It is good and right to have Christian role models for encouragement in our journey with the Lord. But what is it that makes us look to and follow someone whom the media has put in the spotlight and not the family member, friend, or neighbor who daily invests in our life and (hopefully) points our attention to Christ? It’s impossible not to admire Tebow for his confident faith, but do we also admire the confident faith of the janitor, stay-at-home mom, grocery store clerk, or mediocre student athlete?

Who are we worshipping?

Worship is part of every human experience. We all worship someone, whether it’s our favorite actor, singer, athlete, God, or ourselves. As Christians, we know and believe that we are to worship the Lord and serve him alone. When we follow and sing the praises of our favorite Christian celebrity, whether it’s Tebow or someone else, we need to ask ourselves who we are elevating, the person or God whose grace we see in their life. I can’t help but think of the words of the Apostle Paul in one of his letters to the church at Corinth.

 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 1 Corinthians 3:4-7

The believers in Corinth were wrongfully focusing on Paul and Apollos and not the One these two men were pointing to. I know I fall into this trap all the time, worshipping the created and not the Creator. Is this what we are doing today with men and women who, like Tebow, are Christians in the spotlight?

What happens when our celebrities fail us?

Today we love Tebow, flocking to his games, following his life, and wearing his jersey number. But where will we be if he fails? What happens if he falls off of the pedestal we’ve place him on? Will we still love him, support him, and pray for him? If he messes up will we offer him grace or will we move on to the next Christian celebrity, hoping they won’t let us down? Have we placed unrealistic expectations on him, holding him to a standard of perfection that no Christian can live up to this side of heaven? We rightfully want him to do well and succeed, but the world wants him to fail. If he does and the world rejoices, will we stand by him?

Refocusing

Tebow is a good role model and we can learn a great deal from his faithfulness to Christ, but we were never meant to focus on him. We are to focus on the God who is the founder and perfecter of his faith and ours. If we flock to his games, let us do so to encourage him in his walk with the Lord. Let’s cheer him on, not just with our voices, but with our prayers, asking God to create in him a clean heart in a very unclean culture. When he and other Christian celebrities succeed we should praise God for his goodness, grace, and that he uses them for his glory. And if they fail, we need to support them because God’s same goodness and grace is at work, transforming their lives and ours.

The Irrelevance of Culture

C.S. Lewis once wrote,

“Culture? The irrelevance of it!”[1]

If you are like me the idea that culture is irrelevant is ridiculous and goes against your understanding of our humanity and Christianity. We love Lewis, but considering the deep impact his life and writings have had on Western culture his statement is surprising. He’s way off here!

In recent years there has been a large push from the Evangelical world to become culture-makers and “sub-creators.” As Christians we believe we’re created in the image of God with the cultural mandate to fill and subdue the earth (Genesis 1:28). This includes more than having babies and keeping plants and animals in check. It includes using all the talents and gifts God has given us for His glory. It includes music, literature and drama, fashion, politics, taking care of the environment, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. As Christians who take the Bible seriously it doesn’t get more relevant than culture. Yet, as Christ-followers, why don’t we see a greater impact on culture? Why is it that so often we are trying to keep up or catch up with the culture around us? We want to dramatically influence culture for the kingdom and glory of God (and in many ways we are), yet we often we seem to miss the mark.

This has led me to start asking questions. As a follower of Christ, am I to pursue impacting culture for Christ? Or am I to pursue Christ which will inevitably impact culture? It’s a subtle difference, but it is a difference. And I think it’s a significant one. I can’t help contemplating the idea that as Christians we’re not experiencing the influence we long for because we’re focusing on the influence itself. How does the world perceive us? Do they see us as relevant? Are we speaking their language? Do they get us, find us attractive, or want to imitate us? These are all good questions that we need to take seriously and work through. But is it the right place to start?

Regarding culture Lewis also said,

“True culture comes from genuine, spontaneous, un-sought after enjoyment of something.” [2]

In other words, true culture comes from who you are, not what you do. I would suggest that he was right and take it one step further. As a Christian, true cultural impact comes not from seeking to impact culture but from genuine enjoyment of SOMEONE, namely Jesus. If we are not having the impact we long for, does it indicate the depth of our love for God Himself? When I look at history, the greatest impact Christians have had on culture and the world (this includes Lewis) has been from those who were not seeking cultural influence. They had an awe-inspiring love for their Savior which they longed to share with others. With the Psalmist their souls hungered and thirsted for God. They longed for a better country, a heavenly one. Their cry was,

“My goal is God himself, not joy nor peace, nor even blessing, but Himself, my God.”[3]

Their consuming love for God poured out into all they did. It influenced art, science, politics, justice, and life both at home and abroad. Maybe Lewis was right. Maybe culture in and of itself is irrelevant. Just as culture is the outward manifestation of our inner longings and character, maybe the Christian’s impact on culture also comes from within. Maybe if my consuming goal was “God himself” I’d start to see the cultural transformation I rightly long for.


Note: For the first posting of this blog, visit Park Community Church

[1] Lewis quote taken from his essay “Lilies that Fester” in The World’s Last Night: and Other Essays

[2] Ibid

[3] Quote from Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest