Revisiting: The Christian Paradox (from Harpers)

kinnon —  September 3, 2006 — 3 Comments

I’m not sure if I ever linked to this article, when I read it last year and can’t find it when I Google search the site. It’s a very good article – and should be read after listening to Derek Webb’s “Mockingbird.” (See the post below.)

A New York Times reporter visiting one booming megachurch outside Phoenix recently found the typical scene: a drive-through latte stand, Krispy Kreme doughnuts at every service, and sermons about “how to discipline your children, how to reach your professional goals, how to invest your money, how to reduce your debt.” On Sundays children played with church-distributed Xboxes, and many congregants had signed up for a twice-weekly aerobics class called Firm Believers. A list of bestsellers compiled monthly by the Christian Booksellers Association illuminates the creed. It includes texts like Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen—pastor of a church so mega it recently leased a 16,000-seat sports arena in Houston for its services—which even the normally tolerant Publishers Weekly dismissed as “a treatise on how to get God to serve the demands of self-centered individuals.” Nearly as high is Beth Moore, with her Believing God—“Beth asks the tough questions concerning the fruit of our Christian lives,” such as “are we living as fully as we can?” Other titles include Humor for a Woman’s Heart, a collection of “humorous writings” designed to “lift a life above the stresses and strains of the day”; The Five Love Languages, in which Dr. Gary Chapman helps you figure out if you’re speaking in the same emotional dialect as your significant other; and Karol Ladd’s The Power of a Positive Woman. Ladd is the co-founder of USA Sonshine Girls—the “Son” in Sonshine, of course, is the son of God—and she is unremittingly upbeat in presenting her five-part plan for creating a life with “more calm, less stress.”

The power of the Christian right rests largely in the fact that they boldly claim religious authority, and by their very boldness convince the rest of us that they must know what they’re talking about. They’re like the guy who gives you directions with such loud confidence that you drive on even though the road appears to be turning into a faint, rutted track. But their theology is appealing for another reason too: it coincides with what we want to believe. How nice it would be if Jesus had declared that our income was ours to keep, instead of insisting that we had to share. How satisfying it would be if we were supposed to hate our enemies. Religious conservatives will always have a comparatively easy sell.

But straight is the path and narrow is the way. The gospel is too radical for any culture larger than the Amish to ever come close to realizing; in demanding a departure from selfishness it conflicts with all our current desires. Even the first time around, judging by the reaction, the Gospels were pretty unwelcome news to an awful lot of people. There is not going to be a modern-day return to the church of the early believers, holding all things in common—that’s not what I’m talking about. Taking seriously the actual message of Jesus, though, should serve at least to moderate the greed and violence that mark this culture. It’s hard to imagine a con much more audacious than making Christ the front man for a program of tax cuts for the rich or war in Iraq. If some modest part of the 85 percent of us who are Christians woke up to that fact, then the world might change.


I rediscovered this post when another blogger mentions a church leader who has stated that 20% of the Bible is about money – and in doing a little Googling, I came across the Harpers’ article again.

In response to the myth-taken pastor, Randy Alcorn comments:

Throughout the entire Bible there are roughly 2,350 verses concerning money. This is roughly twice as many as faith and prayer combined. Fifteen percent of everything Jesus said related to money and possessions. He spoke about money and possessions more than heaven and hell combined. The only subject Jesus spoke of more often is the Kingdom of God. Why? Because the Scriptures make clear there is a fundamental connection between a person’s spiritual life and his attitudes and actions concerning money and possessions. Often we divorce the two — Christ sees them as essentially related to one another. [from The Treasure Principle]

And just in case you were wondering, there are over 31,000 verses in the Bible. That means about 7.5% of the Bible talks about money. Perhaps we could begin to restrict some mega-church pastors to the same percentage.

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kinnon

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

3 responses to Revisiting: The Christian Paradox (from Harpers)

  1. Thanks for the analysis and comment. As a pastor, I find it difficult at times to combat some of the attitudes and teaching mentioned in the excellent Harper’s article. In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul speaks of feeding infants in Christ with milk because they are not yet ready for solid food. Of course, people need milk, but they also need to move on to solid food. In my opinion, we have a lot of milk today and not much solid food.

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  2. Pastor Mike,

    Your church looks like one I’d enjoy attending (not that enjoyment is why one should attend church, of course <GRIN>).  Your book list is similar to my own. Might I also recommend you read Al Roxburgh’s books, The Sky is Falling!?! and Missional Leader.

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  3. Hello Bill and all,

    Two Ways, Paths, and the Narrow Gate

    Be aware that what I say is intended to make people uncomfortable with the status quo so we can finally forge that long promised new path to the future. Here is the chance to truly understand the Creator’s expectations. The truth will be a bitter pill to many, so remember that patience and humility are wise virtues and scoffing causes blindness.

    Many Christians speak of the straight and narrow gates, doors, or paths without comprehending the true meaning of this symbolism. Thanks to historical and doctrinal errors resulting in confusing language in the New Testament and other sources, the true meaning of these verses and other philosophical discussions of dualism are so poorly and vaguely presented that people have been forced to rely on the interpretations of religious leaders, that have unfortunately been the primary sources and perpetuators of confusion.

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