Christians Doing the Harlem Shake

The Harlem Shake, a thirty-second dancing video, has become an internet sensation. In the past four weeks, at least 40,000 groups have posted their own version of the video. This internet meme has been covered heavily by the media, has resulted in 15 miners losing their jobs for safety violations, and has even launched an FAA investigation for a video shot on a commercial airliner. I wondered how many churches and christian organizations have done Harlem Shake videos, so I did a quick YouTube search.

As you might expect, you can find hundreds of Christian groups doing the Harlem Shake. By my rough estimation, there are somewhere between 600 and a thousand “Christian” versions of the Harlem Shake on YouTube. Even conservative Christian colleges such as Cedarville and Liberty have student groups posting Harlem Shake videos. The vast majority of “Christian” Harlem Shake videos appear to be coming from church youth groups. Here’s Saddleback’s video:

Before I say some not-so-nice things, I will admit that the line between being in the world and being of the world is not always clear and often leaves some room for debate. Furthermore, churches that isolate themselves from their surrounding cultures risk losing opportunities to evangelize and developing pride problems.

That said. Every Christian who has posted a Harlem Shake video should repent, ask God for forgiveness, and delete their post. Every youth pastor who has led their youth group to produce one of these videos should receive a public reprimand at the very least. Any pastor or church member who finds another church member posting one of these videos should initiate the process of church discipline beginning with a private confrontation.

What is wrong with American Christianity that we can’t bring ourselves to call a vulgar dance sinful? Sure, it’s popular and fun. Since when has sin been boring and unappealing?


Theological Traditions

biblethumbAmerican evangelicals tend to dislike tradition. Perhaps this is due to the individualism of American culture or a response to the excessive trust Catholicism places in tradition. Whatever the reason, evangelicals tend to be soured towards tradition even though evangelicals hold many traditions themselves.

Every believer inherits conclusions about the meaning and application of Scripture from other believers. These conclusions are expressed in distinctive collections of beliefs and practices know as a traditions (e.g. evangelical, reformed, covenant, dispensational). Theologians cannot entirely separate their personal theological studies from their communities’ doctrinal positions. Moises Silva writes,

“The old advice that biblical students should try as much as possible to approach a text without a prior idea as to what it means (and that therefore commentaries should be read after, not before, the exegesis) does have the advantage of encouraging independent thinking; besides, it reminds us that our primary aim is indeed to discover the historical meaning and that we are always in danger of imposing our meaning on the text. Nevertheless, the advice is fundamentally flawed, because it is untrue to the very process of learning. I would suggest rather that a student who comes to a biblical passage with, say, a dispensationalist background, should attempt to make sense of the text assuming that dispensationalism is correct. I would go so far as to say that, upon encountering a detail that does not seem to fit the dispensationalist scheme, the student should try to “make it fit.” The purpose, of course, is not to mishandle the text, but to become self-conscious about what we all do anyway. The result should be increased sensitivity to those features of the text that disturb our interpretive framework and thus a greater readiness to modify that framework” (“Systematic Theology and the Apostle to the Gentiles,” Trinity Journal, new series 15 [Spring 1994]:26).

Tradition plays a key role in communicating doctrine from one believer to another. Christians are commanded to gather together and exhort one another (Heb 10:25). God uses tradition to perpetuate correct doctrine (2 Thes 3:6). However, since all tradition is human in origin, it will never escape the effects of the fall. We cannot assume that our beliefs and practices are correct just because we love and respect those who hold those positions. Of course, theological study must begin somewhere, and theologians will naturally assume their beliefs are correct anyway. Thus theologians ought to treat their communities’ traditions as provisionally correct and constantly critique their theological assumptions with Scripture.

Everybody’s Wearing Blue Pants

blue jeansClothing styles are among the most noticeable elements of any culture. Whenever one encounters a new culture, it is easy assume that others are less intelligent due to their clothing styles. How bright can these people be if they dress so dumb?

Clothing differences surely helped form the colonial attitudes so unfortunately prevalent in nineteenth-century missions. Missionaries frequently required converts to adopt Western clothing styles in addition to the gospel message.

However, people don’t have to go traipsing about in loincloths in order to arouse our condemnation. All a culture has to do is wear our own clothing styles slightly differently. We see people wearing t-shirts with misspelled or nonsensical English, and we assume that we’re much smarter because we understand a language that they obviously don’t. Meanwhile, they are feeling superior because our t-shirts betray the fact that we have no idea how to read Chinese or Japanese.

Imagine going to a mall or fast food restaurant with a couple who has never had any interaction with Western culture. The first thing they might wonder is “why is everyone wearing blue pants?” Imagine if you went somewhere and everyone was wearing green or red pants. It would seem odd. However, our culture has conditioned us to expect the majority of casually-attired people to be wearing blue pants.

Culture sets our expectations and helps us draw impressions. When we’re outside our own cultures, we need to be constantly mindful of potential cultural differences and conscientiously withhold judgment. Don’t start making assumptions about people who just don’t wear blue pants.

Ironic Advertizing

Have you heard the series of commercials Nexium is running? The ads have doctors ineptly trying to operate jackhammers and throw baseballs. Then the ads cut to their message:

You wouldn’t want your doctor doing your job, so why ardoctor-jack-hammere you doing his? Only your doctor can determine if your persistent heartburn is something more serious, like acid reflex disease. Over time, stomach acid can damage the lining of your esophagus. For many, prescription Nexium not only provides 24-hour heartburn relief but also can help heal acid-related erosions in the lining of your esophagus. Talk to your doctor…. Let your doctor do his job and you do yours. Ask if Nexium is right for you.

Doesn’t it seem ironic that Nexium is running ads telling you to “let your doctor do his job” in order to get you to pressure him into letting you choose your own medication?

The World Saw You Celebrate

Back in 2008, a Chinese church did a series of man-on-the-street interviews asking “What is Christmas?” and “Who is Jesus?” The resulting five-minute video is worth taking a look.

If you went to any mall in the US three weeks ago and asked “What does Christmas mean for you?”, I think the answers given would convince you that the Chinese pretty much understand Christmas as it is celebrated in the West. The world sees what we do, not what we say we believe.

The world was watching this holiday season, and I’m not so sure they have stopped looking yet.

Free Audiobook

Compelling is giving away free downloads of Roger Resler’s Compelling Interest through the entire month of January.

Roger Resler is an author, media producer and researcher. Roger’s background is in radio and audio production. He has been an announcer, DJ, news, producer, production director, account executive and station manager for several radio stations in three states. He was also an audio editor for Focus On the Family.

From ChristainAudio’s site,

In Compelling Interest, author Roger Resler draws on original sources, including the actual transcripts for oral arguments, the majority and minority opinions, and comments by the lawyers and others involved to take a careful look at the real story behind the historic Roe v. Wade decision.

Resler includes conversations with experts, including sociology professor Dr. William Brennan, the late Dr. Mildred Jefferson and Dr. Carolyn Gerster who co-founded the National Right to Life Committee, prolific author and speaker Randy Alcorn, bioethics professor Dr. Gerard Magill, perinatologist Dr. James Thorp, and photojournalist Michael Clancy.

Should Churches Pay Taxes?

The Inspiring Body of Christ Church in Dallas, TX, operates the world’s largest privately-owned aquarium. The tank, which cost $4.7 million to build, is stocked with over $100,000 worth of exotic fish. Also in Dallas (perhaps everything just really is bigger in Texas), First Baptist Church announced a $130 million renovation plan in 2009 for their downtown campus. Of course, they’re not alone. American churches generally spend a huge percentage of their budgets on buildings.

I’m not against church buildings. Churches can often minister more effectively with a nice campus. However, lavish building programs can also be counterproductive sometimes. I’ve been told by several pastors that their churches were cutting back on missions because they bit off more than they could chew in a building program.

Whenever a church spends a lot of money on its building, inevitably somebody starts complaining about churches not paying taxes. The argument goes, “Since churches have enough money to build something like that, they ought to have enough money to pay taxes.” One group of researchers recently estimated that the U.S. could raise $71 billion a year by taxing churches.

This argument is generally a thin cover for an anti-Christian rant. Those arguing that churches should pay taxes aren’t willing to see all non-profit organizations pay taxes. You want to build a $4.7 million aquarium for the community? Great, here’s your 501c3. You want to spend a $130 million on an educational center? Wonderful, don’t worry about taxes. You want to put them in a church? Better pay Uncle Sam your fair share.

If we are going to have freedom of religion in this country, we have to be willing to let churches spend money on whatever they want–even if we think their choices to be wasteful. Should we start making churches pay taxes? I’m actually fine with that…just as long as every other nonprofit organization is taxed on an equal basis.

“Offensive” Is Not “Damaging”

The Muslim world continues to erupt in protest over a low-budget American film that nobody would ever watch without the media attention resulting from the protests themselves. Obviously the protests are either extraordinary counter-productive or serving some ulterior motive. Regardless of the protesters’ motives, the media flurry around the incidents have begun to employ a dangerous new rhetoric.

The film is being condemned by some as “damaging the beliefs of others.” While the film may be offensive and even insulting to Muslims, it should not be called damaging. How can one “damage” someone’s beliefs? Are we going to curb freedom of speech so that you can say anything you want as long as you don’t say someone else is wrong? What harm can befall someone who hears a voice of disagreement? There is no “damage” so we should not use that word.

Lest someone say, “well, you are not a Muslim….” Let’s look at two images offensive to Christians.

To the left is Andres Serrano’s 1987 Piss Christ in which the photographer submerged a crucifix in a glass of his own urine. To the right is Edwina Sandys’ 1975 Christa in which the Christ on the crucifix is presented as a naked woman. Both images are offensive. Both are insulting. Neither damages my beliefs.

Go to any bookstore and you can find scores of books and DVDs put out by the new atheists who mock and deride both Christ and Christianity. Have they “damaged” the Christian faith? Can they “damage” the Christian faith?

The only real way to “damage” a belief is to restrict its expression and thus hinder its spread. Labeling a contrary belief as “damaging” serves not to protect but to destroy. Something that is “damaging” can be repressed. When we begin to label free speech as “damaging,” we have begun a course that actually could damage the beliefs of others.

The Crown that Perishes

In case you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, Michael Phelps is now the most decorated athlete in Olympic history. His athletic accomplishments are truly amazing … and ultimately forgettable.

Phelps accomplishments were even more stunning in Beijing, but until this year’s Olympics rolled around, I hadn’t thought about him at all for four years (apparently I missed the news coverage of several of his indiscretions). After the close of this year’s Olympics, I’m fairly sure his feats won’t cross my mind until NBC airs a flashback during their Olympic coverage four years from now. These reminders will eventually cease as swimmer after swimmer slowly erase Phelps record times and some new prodigy wins just a few more metals. Who remembered Larisa Latynina before Phelps unseated her as the most decorated athlete of all time? Records are made to be broken and forgotten.

Let’s all applaud Michael Phelps for his incredible accomplishments in the water. However, we should also remember that everyone will soon forget the amazing Michael Phelps. As we each seek our much smaller bits of acclaim, remember that we too will be forgotten. Only the applause of God can echo for eternity.

The Decline and Fall of Mainline Denominations in America

I recently read Dave Shiflett’s Exodus: Why Americans Are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity (New York: Sentinel, 2005). Shiflett writes from the left and analyzes the downfall of the Liberal American mainline denominations.

The book contains some startling statistics such as “a 1995 study found that Methodist churches had been losing one thousand members a week for the past thirty years” (xv). On the other hand, “by the mid-1990s, the Southern Baptists were taking on 750 members and five churches per week” (xvi).

Shiflett recounts the experience of a student in a liberal seminary who was told by his fellow classmates: “We’ve been talking about you. We know you’re having a rough time, and we’ve finally figured out what your problem is…. You’re the only one here who believes in God” (72-73).

Liberalism systematically undermined belief in God and the authority of Scripture. Christian vocabulary was redefined to express secular philosophy rather than biblical teaching. When Scripture could not be bent, it was broken. Shiflett explains,

The bishop [of Wales] had provided a blueprint of the mechanism by which Scriptural admonitions are neutralized. The process is quite simple. Step one is to find a passage in the Old Testament that is startling in its brutality–cutting off limbs, executing unruly children, and stoning women are popular choices. Step two is to fine the New Testament passage on wants to undermine–in this case, passages critical of homosexuality, and before that admonitions against divorce and remarriage and female ordination. Step three is to insist that if one is indeed taking one’s cues from the Bible, then one must take the book all in all. The Old Testament thus neutralizes the New and leaves wide the way for the substitute virtues, such as tolerance, inclusion, and the insistence that sexual behavior traditionally considered sinful is to be considered morally co-equal with heterosexual monogamy.

As liberal denominations ceased believing in God and rejected biblical doctrine, they lost their reason for being. Shiflett’s thesis is simple and sound. Mainline denominations are failing because:

Progressive clerics are talking themselves out of a job. Their admonitions that we should all be nice to one another–be accepting, tolerant, hospitable, and open–are welcome enough in a harsh world. Yet they are not giving the world anything it cannot get from television chat shows, movies, op-ed pieces, and the other soapboxes where contemporary sages gather. Their advice is much the same, if not identical, and sofas are much more comfortable than pews (25).