[@] Dueling diagrams (6)

It's a little unfair to leave you hanging over the weekend about Mark Driscoll's book Radical Reformission, but I have other things to do on Friday at 5 PM like take my kids to gymnastics and check on my parents who are visiting from NY to make sure my kids have not killed them yet. You'll all be glad to know that kids when to gymnastics, parents are alive and well, and we had spaghetti for supper. So what Driscoll's second reason that "garbage in, Garbage out" theology is wrong? He says this:
Second, it is uncertain what distinguishes clean "Christian" and unclean "secular" entertainment forms and why Bibleman is so much better than Spiderman.
Seriously now: that's all he says. My response to that starts with the fact that the distinction "clean" vs. "unclean" is bogus, as is the distinction "Christian" vs. "secular". I'm not sure, however, that it's Driscoll's fault for using it: it is common in the dialog he is part of, and it is established by the people he frequently is challenging or (not to start a fight) opposing. It's a stacked deck from Driscoll to emphasize his view in this chapter that failing to distinguish culture from worldliness are "unlike Jesus". It's an effort -- conscious or not -- to equate any objection to his point with legalism. As always, let's be clear that I think there's a right answer to the question, and that answer is Jesus and we represent it by the Gospel (see the diagram, which I know I haven't finished explaining yet) -- but just because there's a right answer, it doesn't mean it's either Driscoll's view or legalism. I am sure that anyone reading this gets why the clean/unclean thing is bogus, but the Christian/secular thing -- cent, have you gone mad with blogging? No, because the contrast is not between "Christian" vs. "secular" is exactly the same stupid comparison that “clean/unclean” represents, but in partisan jeans and t-shirts. The contrast is not “Christian” vs. “secular” but between "Godly" and "secular". See: when we fall into the trap that some thing -- like a book, or a stadium event with 80,000 guys paying $100 each to see some speakers and hear some people play second-rate pop music, or a program, or a video, or an action figure -- is "Christian", we have made what I would call the "Jewish" mistake – and don’t start reading anti-Semitism into this blog.

The Jews thought that because they were the descendents of Abraham and had the Scriptures through the prophets, they were made men -- and anything thereby "Jewish" was what God wanted. So for example, selling pigeons in the temple was just fine; making up commentary which was on-par with God's scripture was fine; dedicating all my money to the temple rather than to care for my aged parents was just fine. They were the Jews, and anything Jewish was just fine. But Jesus said it was not fine -- that the point was not to be Jewish (turns out “the Jews” could not recognize God when He was standing there talking to them) but to be faithful to God. That is to say, the Law does not itself make you holy by (as I am famous for saying) rubbing it on your head: the Law in fact proves you are not an equal partner with God, you are not holy, so you need to take your birth certificate and your leather-bound Thompson’s Chain Torah someplace else. The Law is an indictment of all men, not a membership card to a private club.

And in that, Jesus told those to whom He was teaching that the contrast they should understand is that it is either the (fallen) world's stuff or it is God's stuff. So this stupid, stupid, STUPID distinction of "Christian" retail, or "Christian" videos or "Christian" conferences is simply temple hypocrisy v 2.0. The paradigm, which my fellow #prosapologian denizen wonky has so pithily stated, "it has a fishy, it must be holy" is the worst kind of self-delusion. By the way, for those of you who don't know, I own a place called "Kingdom Bound Christian Booksellers". Up until this year I was a member of CBA (the Christian Booksellers Association; I let my membership lapse because of the fee, not because of their theology), and I sell all that stuff. I sell plastic "GODStrong" bracelets by the barrel; I sell paper bookmarkers with every kind of Bible verse you can imagine; I sell music from groups ranging from A Capella to Zao. If there's anybody who is in a position to know what this is all about, it's me. Notice, btw, that it is the "booksellers" who are Christians at my store. What we sell at the store is retail merchandise, primarily books, Bibles, music and then junk ranging in price from 50¢ to $500.00 (wall art is expensive). The books -- they never made a confession of faith. They don't belong to churches. The CDs -- they never seem to get me their certificates of baptism. Not a single t-shirt can tell me who its pastor is, or whether it has lately been in fellowship with other believers. So none of that stuff is "Christian". It may be manufactured by Christians; it may seek Christians as its primary consumer demographic. None of it is, in itself, Christian.

So the question, really, is if it is as good or better than the stuff you see at WAL*MART or Target or Best Buy or the mall or whatever -- better in the sense that the secular culture is producing all that other stuff, too? For example, is my "St. Peter's Body Surfing" t-shirt more godly and gospel-oriented than the St. Patty's Day beer-drinking t's they had at Old Navy this year for $5? Or as another example, in spite of its flaws, is Phil Keagy's discography actually more godly than Eric Clapton's? The answer has got to be "yes", but why? Because it’s in a Christian bookstore? Of course not. It may be a cliché, but something’s not a car just because it’s parked in the garage. The body surfing T says something that the St. Pat’s beer T doesn’t: it offers to the person who’s wearing the Tshirt a an opportunity to testify. If you buy that T-shirt and can’t use it as an opportunity to then preach the Gospel from the perspective of Mt 14, then you might as well be wearing the beer t-shirt.

And frankly if we use that criteria even in the comparison of Spiderman/Bibleman, Bibleman wins hands-down -- because the matter really is not form but substance. Yes, Bibleman is hokey with at-times wicked-bad production values. There are parts of Bibleman that make me cringe when I watch it with my 5-year-old because we could have done better in the back yard with my VHS-C and iMovie. But if I would watch a Spiderman cartoon with my boy, the moral and spiritual message is ambiguous at best; the message in any Bibleman episode is so painfully obvious that my son gets it. Think about this: my 5-year-old knows that when the Bible calls the believer "meek", he knows it does not mean "timid" but "exercising self control" because that was part of one Bibleman episode. Peter Parker's on-going bout with self-loathing in spite of 30 years of daring-do and service to Aunt May is not even in the same league with that kind of seed-planting.

And before this turns into a bash Pastor Driscoll's session, let me offer an olive branch: part of his problem in this point is that he accidentally bought the "christian culture" stereotype. We Americans who call ourselves Christians think that everything we touch is Christian. We have Christian cars (cf. fishy), and Christian bookstores, and Christian political action committees. It's hypocrisy at best to think that just because we do it it must be "Christian" -- which is to say, exactly what God wants. Most of the things we do are sinful because we are sinners and we turn our eyes away from God, and we have to stop thinking that just because somebody is a Christian and he's a financial planner his advice must inherently be lead by the Holy Spirit. In that, I agree with Driscoll that we have got to start to do something different than we have ever done in our lifetimes. The comparison has to be "Jesus Christ" to "culture". We can, at last, come back to my diagram and make some sense out of the rest of it. The entire work here begins with Jesus Christ -- who He is, what He did, why He did it. That purpose or intention of Christ, and the results of it, is the Gospel. When Christ brings the Gospel in His incarnation to "culture", the result is "church" - both as an indwelling and as on out-calling. But, as the diagram indicates, the Church exists in an inconsistent state. On the one hand, when the church is in contact with Christ and the Gospel, it is at its most powerful and effective -- and it exists both in a cultural, material state and in an eternal, glorified state. But when it gravitates away from Christ and the Gospel, it becomes more and more diluted and weak, until it is undistinguishable from the culture itself. At this place, I point the reader back to my blog entry of the Epistle to Diogentus for review and for the sake of saying more about Driscoll's book that might offer some middle ground.
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