Saturday, November 14, 2009

Eugene Peterson, Author of The Message Bible

I am well aware that people know my thoughts on The Message Bible (See image for reference) but I have to say that the author of said work, Eugene Peterson, has written something that I think is Perfectly Brilliant. So without delay here are Eugene Peterson's comments on the Church and Pastors...

For a long time, I have been convinced that I could take a person with a high school education, give him or her a six-month trade school training, and provide a pastor who would be satisfactory to any discriminating American congregation. The curriculum would consist of four courses.

Course I: Creative Plagiarism. I would put you in touch with a wide range of excellent and inspirational talks, show you how to alter them just enough to obscure their origins, and get you a reputation for wit and wisdom.

Course II: Voice Control for Prayer and Counseling. We would develop your own distinct style of Holy Joe intonation, acquiring the skill in resonance and modulation that conveys and unmistakable aura of sanctity.

Course III: Efficient Office Management. There is nothing that parishioners admire more in their pastors than the capacity to run a tight ship administratively. If we return all phone calls within twenty-four hours, answer all the letters within a week, distributing enough carbons to key people so that they know we are on top of things, and have just the right amount of clutter on our desk—not too much, or we appear inefficient, not too little or we appear underemployed—we quickly get the reputation for efficiency that is far more important than anything that we actually do.

Course IV: Image Projection. Here we would master the half-dozen well-known and easily implemented devices that that create the impression that we are terrifically busy and widely sought after for counsel by influential people in the community. A one-week refresher course each year would introduce new phrases that would convince our parishioners that we are bold innovators on the cutting edge of the megatrends and at the same time solidly rooted in all the traditional values of our sainted ancestors.

(I have been laughing for several years over this trade school training with which I plan to make my fortune. Recently, though, the joke has backfired on me. I keep seeing advertisements for institutes and workshops all over the country that invite pastors to sign up for this exact curriculum. The advertised course offerings are not quite as honestly labeled as mine, but the content appears to be identical—a curriculum that trains pastors to satisfy the current consumer tastes in religion. I’m not laughing anymore.)

from Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (pp. 7-8), As quoted by Matt Chandler.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Event Review : Hellhouse

Backstory: The Church, Andy specifically, received an invite from a semi-local church who for Halloween was putting on a 'hellhouse.' When I first heard about the event, and saw the postcard/flier I was less the enthusiastic to be sure. I find no pleasure in putting ones self into frighting situations for entertainment. However, when I read the accompanying letter with tickets, I was attracted.

The Letter boasted that 1 in 4 people going through this pray a prayer of salvation, and 25% of those are for the first time! (notice that out of 16 people, 4 "make a decision" and 3 of those have done it before...). It seemed that I would be going to the Hellhouse after all, to see if it was indeed an effective evangelistic tool, what the Gospel presentation was, ect... (all those minor theological issues) I felt it to be wise to take along someone, and go figure there were two tickets.

Into The Hellhouse: I will note that I was a bit distracted, it was a cold (mid 40's) evening and we arrived at the hellhouse at about midnight Halloween night (so technically this morning). As a personal note, an event center is not a strictly understood indoor venue per se, and a jacket would have been a wise addition to the lone t-shirt I was wearing. There was a line when we arrived, which is to be expected, however, it wasn't a long one. We waited just about 30 minutes to enter. Walking through the double doors covered with what seemed to be black plastic sheets of some sort, it was difficult to see, and we were guided as a small herd to the center of the room, it was then that I first noticed our tour guides, they were 'demons' In the center of the room was a young lady (teen) in a casket. The main tour guide (again, demon) began telling us how we would all end up like this some day, and that it was his goal to make it sooner rather then later.

The next room was a bathroom, with a teen boy sitting on the toilet. The tour guide began to explain how much he enjoyed suicide. A drama was played out where a demon lead the young man essentially from life problems ( girlfriend issues, Sports teams, absent father) to the point of suicide. The end was predictable, with the young man shooting himself, and the demon rejoicing. (no blood/guts). The before entering the next room the demons (about 4 or 5 that traveled with the group, began telling us about their next scheme, Sex. As we entered the next room, I was shocked; the setup was that we would be seeing a boyfriend and girlfriend after prom, with her parents away, and they were in love (dating all of three weeks). In a bed, was a shirtless young man, and a clothed young lady (presumably of High School age) making out, hardcore. The tour guide calls for the execution of the pearl of her virginity. This is followed by her hearing the tour guide and the boy getting down to business so to speak. She under the blanket she removes her shirt, and the couple have simulated sex. The demons dance in pleasure sing, "that's the way I like it, uh-huh, uh-huh." The boy leaves, and the girl is left alone, weeping.

The next room was an accident scene, where 3 had died, and one young man, had lived. He falls out of his car, with a beer bottle, weeping. Paramedics arrive, and explain that the other people are dead. The scene ends with the demons rejoicing. We are then ushered it to a party scene. A girl was encouraged to remove some clothing, and drink. She passed out, and some boys said they would have their way with her. However, the demons spoke not of the rape, but of the drinking.

The next room, from my understanding is a staple at all hellhouses and that is the abortion room. I have to say that it was not overly realistic, but there was gore. Mostly a screaming girl and an uncaring doctor... The demons rejoiced at the death of infants. The room that followed, was perhaps the most striking of the entire experience, and it was the newly emptied womb, the mother, and four manifestations of the dead child, as a young child, a teen, a bride and as an old women. This was combine with a weeping mother and the "angel of the future."

The next room was, hell. It was stereotypical, demons torturing people for pleasure, Satan as the king, he even had a throne. The general message was that it was Satan's goal to get you there. We were then ushered into a room that had 5 floor to ceiling coffins. We were put into them and the were locked on both sides. After a short time the opposite door opened to a bright, all white heaven, complete with Jesus and Angels. Jesus had no throne but stood and addressed us. The final place we were taken into was the 'decision' room. One of the youth pastors addressed as and basically made an alter call.

The Christian Perspective I think that there are several things that were extremely problematic about this Hellhouse. First, It presented an essentially dualistic view of God and Satan. Demons seemingly had the power to kill man, and God was absent. Second, The Gospel was absent. At no point was there a clear presentation of the forgiveness of sin. We were told that if your name is found in the book of life you will not parish, however, this is far from a clear gospel presentation. Moreover, the concept of repentance was also absent. There was plenty of law preaching, what sin was, was clear, but the concept of repentance was just not spoken about. However, it was only briefly mentioned of such sins as lying, cheating, stealing, and in some respects i don't think that this brief mentioning of the law really hit people. That said, it seems that if you haven't have premarital sex, or killed someone with a car, raped someone, gotten hammered, had an abortion, the law missed you. These are problems, but the width of condemnation wasn't wide enough.

The next issue is the couple in bed. Now, I am not sure if they were a married couple, which is my hope. If not, the problem is huge, and clear. Also, The Gospel in the decision room was so weak and anemic that it hardly recognizable. The message of do you know where you are going when you die, is not the Gospel. I wonder what the 1/16 first time responders really responded to. Was it the Fear of God's Wrath? I don't think so. Was it brokenness over their sin? I don't think the presentation definitionally warranted the belief that we have sinned against a holy and righteous God. I struggle with the presentation of the powerful Satan, and the yearning God.

Concluding Thoughts: The Hellhouse was an interesting experience. Would I say it is an effective evangelism tool? Maybe. There were significant issues with this one, that made it problematic, however, I think that it could be done in such a way as to present truly biblical views. That said, I don't think that it takes the place of preaching the forgiveness of Sin in Jesus' name. I struggle with the tactic in general. I don't think it is by definition sinful. I would be interested to see the results v/ cost, as well as a defense of charging people to enter. Overally, I rate the event a 2 out of 10 for evangelistic value, Gospel Centered, and Biblical Accuracy.