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I remember growing up and becoming confused by the term “Christian Music.”  I always assumed that a Christian artist created this music and wrote only about God.  They could only sing about the love of Jesus or something of that nature.  It was often lamented when a formerly “Christian” band crossed over into the secular realm.  Their music no longer explored Christ but talked about something else.  In short, Christian art could only depict Biblical themes.  An artist was either in the camp of Christ or was in the realm of something more sinister.

While this worldview can be applauded for its zeal, it simply is not ideal.  God has provided grace to the world and has fashioned humans to be creative.  He delights in the creative impulse of His children and appreciates the talent of those outside of Christ.  The Holy Spirit has gifted people to create culture regardless of their standing before Him.  We can enjoy their art, whether a painting or concert, and applaud their creation of beauty.

At many points in history, Christians were at the forefront of artistic movements.  I can think of Bach, Handel and Tolkien as people who created excellent things and were also Christians.  The fact that we are people who proclaim that we are redeemed by Christ should be reason enough to do things well.  Additionally, we as Christians should not endorse mediocre art just because the person is a Christian.  We must create culture that is robust and worth sharing with the broader world.  It is not enough to stay in our little bubble and subculture.  We must not produce mediocre art, instead opting to enter into the mainstream to directly engage culture.  This engagement should be done with excellent culture, for in that we bring glory to God.

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There has been such an outcry over religious violence throughout the world.  Well, perhaps it is more like criticism of religion that could lead to violence.  A pastor recently threatened to burn the Quran, promoting a response by other Christian leaders to bend over backwards to remove the threat of defacement of the text.  There was a church here in Irvine that chose to bless the Quran on September 11th, attempting to counteract any harm that might befall any other books that might befall the flame.  The pastor of that church believed that Muslims were travelling up a different road on the same mountain and that they should be encouraged on in their faith.

As warm and fuzzy as that is, I feel that the pastor (and those who share his same position) is disrespecting the Islamic religion.  He is basically taking the Islamic truth claim, “there is no god by Allah and Mohammed his prophet”, and putting as an equal idea as polytheistic Hinduism.  The God of Christianity, which has been revealed as a Triune God, is equated with religions that place a human at the center of the religious experience.  It is very ignorant to say that Christians and Muslims all believe in the same thing when a Trinitarian God is abhorred by a Muslim.  One thing can be properly asserted, clarity is certainly lacking in this conundrum!

I found a few articles over the past couple of weeks that was incredibly powerful (and frightful for that matter).  Hopefully this doesn’t look lazy, but below are my contributions to this week’s musing:

I recently finished this article in First Things and found it was brilliant and powerful.  It is about the pornography’s proliferation in our culture and how it has became mainstream.  It is everywhere you look, younger generations (including myself) are exposed to it constantly. One of the concluding paragraphs is brilliant on its solution:

For starters, we could use a campaign that might promise to do to pornography what was ultimately done to tobacco—a restigmatization based on the evolving record of fact. What’s needed is nothing less than the kind of leadership that turned smoking, in the course of a single generation, from cool to uncool—one eventually summoning support high and low, ranging from celebrities, high-school teachers and principals, counselors, former users, and anyone else who knows they belong in the coalition of the willing on this wretched issue.

Pornography must be discussed in the open and I highly recommend that you read this article.  It is well worth your time!

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2010/05/the-weight-of-smut

I recently finished a book for a class in seminary that is entitled “Fundamentalism and American Culture.”  In it, scholar George Marsden paints the historic rise of fundamentalism in American society, tracing it back to the 19th Century and moving it up to nearly modern day.  In his concluding thoughts of modern-day fundamentalism (read: Religious Right under Reagan through George W. Bush) Marsden points at the contradiction in their global understanding.  Fundamentalists often viewed American society as a decaying carcass in the world, incapable of hope as “liberalism” continued to root out its Biblically-centered core.  This view is also coupled with a rampant nationalism when it comes to foreign policy related ventures, especially military efforts.  Marsden pointed out this and one can only think back a few years ago when anyone could venture into a Bible church parking lot and see the wide array of patriotic stickers on every bumper.  Running into a Christian who opposed the war meant that they were not patriotic, forget about the historic pacifistic denominations!

Marsden wrote an insightful sentence clearing this up saying,

“And although in domestic affairs fundamentalistic American Protestants clearly distinguish between the far-too-secular nation and their churches, in foreign policy they often seem uncritical of American nationalism and treat the United States as though it were unquestionably on God’s side in warfare against the forces of evil.”

It is my hope that evangelicals, to distinguish from militant fundamentalists, will not follow along the same blind mistakes and be nationalistic in any area, especially foreign policy.  America is a force for good in the world but it also has perpetrated some rather negative acts as well.  “America right or wrong” is not a proper response for an individual who is ultimately loyal to the Kingdom of God. 

America is a Hindu nation. That is what a Newsweek poll discovered last summer. Even Evangelicals believe certain tenets that run contrary to the very core of being Evangelical. I am not writing about disagreements between Calvinism and Arminian or Traditional music and contemporary music, I’m talking about a denial of key doctrines like the bodily resurrection and the necessity of the gospel. Yes, those same Bible-thumpers might place a high value on Scripture but interestingly enough a portion deny central mores to their faith. The Newsweek article writes,

Stephen Prothero, religion professor at Boston University, has long framed the American propensity for “the divine-deli-cafeteria religion” as “very much in the spirit of Hinduism. You’re not picking and choosing from different religions, because they’re all the same,” he says. “It isn’t about orthodoxy. It’s about whatever works. If going to yoga works, great—and if going to Catholic mass works, great. And if going to Catholic mass plus the yoga plus the Buddhist retreat works, that’s great, too.”

It comes down to the point that Bible-believing Christians as a large portion do not necessarily follow the key tenets of their faith. In regards to the trend within contemporary American Christianity, theologian Michael Horton would write,

On one hand, there is the tendency to say, as Luther characterized the problem, “I go to church, hear what my priest says, and him I believe.” Calvin complained to Cardinal Sadoleto that the sermons before the Reformation were part trivial pursuit, part story-telling. Today, this same process of “dumbing down” has meant that we are, in George Gallup’s words, “a nation of biblical illiterates.” Perhaps we have a high view of the Bible’s inspiration: 80% of adult Americans believe that the Bible is the literal or inspired Word of God. But 30% of the teenagers who attend church regularly do not even know why Easter is celebrated. “The decline in Bible reading,” says Gallup, “is due in part to the widely held conviction that the Bible is inaccessible, and to less emphasis on religious training in the churches.”

The American church, in many ways, has returned to a state of illiteracy. Emphasis is placed on nationalism, political action and culture wars instead of the power of the gospel. It is not just seminary students that reject historic tenets of their faith, but a large portion of laypersons (35% according to Barna). Hopefully evangelicals as a whole will begin to focus on the gospel instead of alien philosophy and rhetoric from the Religious Right and Left.  There needs to be a reformation within the Church.

I hope I am around to see it.

As mentioned in many blogs, articles and Facebook status updates, ‘Avatar’ was a film that lived up to the hype on the technological side.  The visuals were stunning and the technology truly put you on the ground of the extraterrestrial planet called Pandora.  While there were certainly blatant and subtle political themes that were interwoven into the plot line, there was also one concept that I thought was very beautiful.  Racism, anti-military, anti-colonialism, and hyper-environmentalism have all been listed as possible themes for the film, but I would like to take a second look at the majestic planet in light of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection.
To start off with, our planet is not too shabby.  While some moviegoers were depressed with the inability to live on the planet of Pandora, I do not find myself depressed, instead I am encouraged.  Encouraged because this planet is incredibly beautiful and is full of majesty in the most unlikely of places.  Encouraged because this planet is not operating at its peak level, since it is under the bondage of sin that humanity brought into this world.  Encouraged that the cosmos will be corrected when evil has been supplanted.  Paul writes in Romans 8 to give assurance,

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (8:20-22)

It was the entrance of sin that subjected the universe into disarray.  It is through redemption that everything from a slug to an asteroid will be rectified.  The universe is not the only thing that has a promise.  Paul takes this idea another step further and writes,

And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (8:23-25)

I do not believe that Cameron attempted to portray this insight into the film, but it truly was a remarkable thing to think about.  To think that our planet will be righted.  And that is encouraging.

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