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.

180-Degree Reactions

no u turnChristians tend to over-correct for the sin of their cultures. When confronted with error, Christians often counter with a 180-degree response. Entire entertainment media are labeled sinful. Liberal social agendas are condemned in whole. Fields such as science, psychology, and even sometimes medicine are rejected as having no value for the Christian. Truth becomes defined as the opposite of error.

Unfortunately, sin rarely appears in it purest form. The most dangerous errors are those which contain large amounts of truth. Christians who take stands in reaction to error often embrace error in the process. Ron Horton put it this way,

“Responses to error can go awry because of counterrelational thinking. The earnest Christian, intent on taking a stand against a dangerous belief or practice, stakes out his position directly opposite the error, forgetting that error is not always 180 degrees from the truth. Error may lie 90 degrees off the truth or even be sitting on truth’s borders. If truth, let us say, is north by the compass, error is not always due south. Error may be east or west, even northwest, and even in not so rare instances northnorthwest. Instead of forming his position directly from Scripture, the zealous contender takes his bearings from the error, distorting the position he means to defend” (“A Balanced Response to Error,” Voice of the Alumni 77.5 [2004]:6).

Horton concludes, “To be aligned with truth, our positions…must be formed naturally from Scripture, not counterrelationally to the error we mean to combat” (7). Christians must take positive stands for the Bible’s teaching, not reactionary stands against the world.

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.

Should Christians Profit from Sin

Here are three ethical scenarios. Each assumes that the person making the decision is a Christian and understands pornography to be sinful.

Scenario 1

You buy a foreclosed storage unit at auction, the rules of which prevented you from opening any boxes prior to purchasing the unit. While cleaning out the locker you bought, you discover a box full of pornography. You set the box aside along with several other items you plan to haul to the dump. Before you have the opportunity to throw anything away, a middle-aged man walks up to you and offers you $100 for the box of pornography. Do you sell it to him?

Scenario 2

You invest heavily in the stock market. The pornographic industry is having a very good year, and you could profit greatly by buying stock in Playboy Magazine. Ethical considerations aside, Playboy would unquestionably be your best investment option. Do you buy the stock?

Scenario 3

Your retirement savings are invested in mutual funds. This means a very tiny percentage of your holdings include stock in companies like Phillip Morris, Budweiser, and Playboy Magazine. You could opt for a specialty mutual fund that avoids morally objectionable companies, but your rate of return would be considerably less. Do you leave your investment where it is?

My Answers

The Christian in the first scenario should throw away the porn. Selling it would promote sin, and would make you a party to that sin. While it would be nice to have $100, it would be much worse to dishonor God.

The Christian in the second scenario should not buy the stock in Playboy Magazine. As with the first scenario, buying part of such a company would promote sin and make the buyer a party to that sin. While the stock would otherwise be a good investment, pleasing God should be a higher priority.

The Christian in the third scenario should leave his or her investment where it is even though that mutual fund invests a small percentage of its holdings in objectionable companies. The key difference in this case is that there is no direct promotion or involvement in sin. Christians will never be completely able to avoid interaction with the sinful elements of their societies. However, they should avoid directly and deliberately profiting from sin.

Let’s go back to the first example. Say you bought the storage unit and found the porn. However, when the man walked up to you—rather than offering to buy the porn—the man offered to buy the entire unit from you for considerably more than you paid for it. Could you profit from the entire unit even though you knew one of the boxes contained porn? I would assume the man was not buying the unit for the porn and would sell it without overburdening my conscience (1 Cor 10:27)

Of course, the situations would be totally different if most of the boxes were filled with porn or the mutual fund in question specialized in objectionable stocks. However, while Christians must not be of the world, they are to live in the world. Sometimes this means they will indirectly profit from the sinfulness of their societies, but if Christians are to be not of the world, they should neither directly nor deliberately profit from sin.

Princess Bride Bucket List

The Princess Bride has got to be one of the funniest movies of all time. If you’ve never be juvenile enough to watch it, the plot is your basic save-the-princess romp with every cliche imaginable refined to perfection. It is definitely worth seeing if you have somehow missed it.

In honor of the film’s 25th anniversary, I have put together a little Princess Bride inspired bucket list.

15. Roll down a massive hill.

14. Hide a secret lab inside a fake tree.

13. Jump out of a window onto the back of a horse.

12. Put a giant in a sleeper hold.

11. Kill a rodent of unusual size with my bare hands.

10. Find a good use for a holocaust cloak.

9. Free climb a sheer cliff.

8. Start a “Dread Pirate Roberts” franchise.

7. Have fun storming a castle.

6. Tell someone at a funeral, “Don’t think of your friend as being dead. He’s only mostly dead.” Then start selling chocolate-covered walnuts.

5. Develop an immunity to some obscure poison

4. Pause in the middle of a sword fight and dramatically declare, “I am not left-handed!”

3. Open a wedding with “Marwage. Marwage is what bwrings us here togetwer toodawy.”

2. Walk up to a total stranger and say, “Hello, My name is Inigo Montonya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!”

1. Get my beloved to humbly submit to my every whim replying simply, “as you wish.”

“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.

iPray

Tim Challies recently reviewed three iPhone prayer apps. All three function similarly with users entering prayer requests and the program compiling randomized daily prayer lists. While none of the apps have a feature that enables the user to automatically forward their requests to God via email, the apps do select the users’ prayer requests for the day. Christians should seriously weigh the consequences of automating their prayer life.

Before you accuse me of being some sort of Luddite, I readily admit that there is very little difference between an iPhone prayer app and the printed prayer calendars that many churches distribute. Furthermore, I generally go to prayer after having done my daily Bible reading using Bibleworks on my laptop, and I often have an electronic prayer list open on my computer as I go to prayer. However, I don’t think I’m going to download a prayer app anytime soon.

I constantly have to fight the tendency to coast on autopilot through my prayers, just trying to cover all the things I need to present to God. Remember that Jesus said:

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him (Matthew 6:7-8).

In order to avoid heaping up empty phrases, I have to take time to think about my requests and yield myself to God’s will before I start praying. The more automated prayer aids (printed or electronic) I have around me, the temptation to rush prayer increases.

I’m not arguing that it is wrong to use your iPhone in prayer. However, as with all lawful things, it must be used lawfully. If you pray with your iPhone, remember it can’t prepare you to pray. At best, it can provide moderate assistance to you during prayer and perhaps make you look cool in the process. At worst, it can rush you to prayer unprepared and turn your prayer time into a fashion statement to be seen by others.