December 2, 2020

“Normal” Is Not Enough?

Update: several have noted  the plane crash last Friday, in which Ron Luce’s daughter was seriously injured. Out of respect for the Teen Mania family, please stick to the concept we’re discussing and do not direct your comments at this specific ministry.

Note: This post is NOT a specific critique of the ministry cited. Please don’t focus comments on Teen Mania or Acquire the Fire. My point is that this slogan represents a fairly common (and in my opinion, misguided) mindset in the evangelical world.

• • •

The 2012 Acquire the Fire tour has begun and the message being proclaimed this year is, “Normal is not enough.”

For me, that depends upon what you mean by “normal.”

If the message is that Christians are to respond to the grace of God in Christ and center their lives on him in contrast to those who care little for Jesus and think that is “normal,” well OK.

But I suspect it goes beyond that. I’ve heard this message a thousand times, even given it during my years as an evangelical pastor. This is the “attempt great things for God, expect great things from God” message. The “no small ambitions” message. This is the challenge to be extraordinary: “the world has yet to see what God will do with one person who is wholly devoted to him.”

Which is fine, except that “great things for God” ends up only being a few distinctively “Christian” things. “Normal” things aren’t enough. A select few end up responding to this message and going into “Christian service,” and the vast majority go on to live “normal” lives. And wondering if they missed the boat, or let God down, or just settled for being second class in the kingdom. Or worse, they continually crash after experiencing any number of intense spiritual highs and decide the whole “Christian” thing is bogus and can’t be sustained in the context of “normal” life.

One of the great burdens of Martin Luther’s reforming efforts was to restore the dignity and importance of “normal” life as the main vocation highly honored and blessed by God. Luther had crashed and burned trying to be an “extraordinary” Christian in the monastery and out of that experience he came to preach passionately against any suggestion that such “works” put people in some “inner circle” before God.

As Rev. Paul T. McClain writes, “Encouraging people to seek to live a ‘higher’ Christian life in monastic communities, as Luther says in this article ‘conflicts with the chief article on redemption through Jesus Christ.’ How is that? When the Church teaches, or creates the impression, that by observing humanly devised services to God, one is in fact bringing oneself closer to God, making oneself more holy in God’s eyes, then the merits of Christ are obscured, clouded and eventually set aside in favor of a focus on the ‘higher’ calling invented by man.”

Come to think of it, when I read the Bible, I don’t see Jesus and the apostles engaged in this kind of hype either. Ever.

A normal life in Christ seems to be just fine with them.

Why isn’t it for us?

 

Comments

  1. This is a lesson I am trying to learn. And yet something within me says that there should be “more” to life (whatever that is).

    I believe in the Kingdom Come
    Then all the colors will bleed into one
    Bleed into one
    But yes I’m still running

    You broke the bonds
    And you loosed the chains
    Carried the cross
    Of my shame
    Oh my shame
    You know I believe it

    But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
    But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
    But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

    -U2

    • humanslug says

      I suspect Bono’s referring to an angst that is common to the human condition. The reality is that there is more to God’s Kingdom and purposes than what we see and experience on a daily basis — and there is more to who we are and who we will be in Him than we can really grasp or understand at this point. And until we see Him face to face, there’s going to be something incomplete about who we are. I suspect that everyone, at one level or another, can sense this incompleteness — and, under His guidance, this sense or feeling can help to move us in His direction.
      But, far too often, I think religious leaders perceive this reality too narrowly and mistakenly come to believe that they have found the universal formula or plan of action for filling in the blanks of what is missing inside all human beings. And, far too often, I think religious leaders exploit this common human angst as a way of prodding people in desired directions.
      The problem comes when their desired directions don’t line up with the individual and collective paths that God has laid out before His people’s feet. In that kind of scenario, feet are made to feel inadequate because their not hands, and apple trees are minimalized because they’re not producing peaches.

    • There is always more.

  2. Anonymous says

    A couple of weeks ago, I changed a sink faucet for an elderly couple. Took a bit of time due to old plumbing, “creative” modifications, mold under the sink where it had been leaking, etc. The next day at church we had a video trying to pump up excitement about a mission trip to a second world country, complete with two days of fun excursions. Seems like “normal” surrounds us all of the time, but it is not nearly as cool.

    • Radagast says

      “God is found in the mundane so embrace the mundane’… kind of the philosophy I live by. Otherwise one falls into seeking the extraordinary all the time, or making life extraordinary through events, like becoming a missionary (when one may not be prepared to do so…) because it is the ultimate calling.

      Of course we on this side of the Tiber have our own, and if one reads Merton we can see clearly through his eyes the ideology versus the reality.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Why am I reminded of Saint Therese of Lisieux and her “Little Way” of finding/experiencing holiness and God’s presence in everyday routine?

      • br. thomas says

        “We cannot all do great things on this earth,
        but we can do small things with great love.”
        Mother Teresa

    • Josh in FW says

      Thanks for the reminder of the value of my fix it skills. I too often take that ability for granted and forget how much of a blessing it can be when shared.

    • THANK YOU!! You gave HIM the glory by staying anonymous on here.

  3. An aside that IS about Teen Mania: Please be in prayer for Ron Luce, his family, and many others who had family in a recent plane accident. His daughter is the only survivor of a crash that killed 5. They were on the way to a rally.

    • Joseph (the original) says

      amen…

      such tragedy that occurs without regard for one’s theological perspectives a sobering realization that there is no rhyme nor reason to the brokenness we all are subject to…

      Lord, have mercy on the Luce family & those that lost loved ones in this terrible accident… 🙁

  4. I believe evangelicals’ tendency towards hype and obsession with the extraordinary is a result of its lack of any kind of sacramental aspect to their worldview. The Christian worldview, which is fundamentally sacramental, gives us the proper perspective on everyday life – jobs, family, neighbors, etc. Without an understanding that God’s normal way of communicating Grace to us is through mundane “things” like water, bread and wine, evangelicals have no way to conceive of how God could be revealing Himself through the mundane aspects of everyday life. Therefore they imagine that God must reveal Himself only through the dramatic and “miraculous”.

    • Affirmative.

    • petrushka1611 says

      Forgive me is this is leftover Zwinglian ignorance, but if God changes the bread and wine into his flesh and blood, whether trans- or con-, doesn’t that involve something miraculous turning mundane things into channels of grace?

      I’m speaking as someone who’s in an agnostic center field about what happens during the Lord’s Supper, not as one side picking on another.

      • Yes, that is why I put miraculous in quotations. Some Christians are looking for something more obviously miraculous.

  5. Joseph (the original) says

    My point is that this slogan represents a fairly common (and in my opinion, misguided) mindset in the evangelical world.

    but the hyper-charismatic, signs-and-wonders, supra-spiritual camps take this to the nth degree. they are the most X-treme of seeking dramatic spiritual manifestations/expressions as if to prove once-and-for-all, their doctrinal position the one God smiles upon more than any other worship expression…

    hype. manipulation. emotionalism. like the frenzied prophets of Baal calling down their god to show himself in a mighty & powerful way. they feel that God is only pleased with hightened sensory stimulation to show just how sincere, i mean REALLY sincere they are & they are REALLY serious about wielding the power & the glory of God. everybody else just wannabe Christians content to sit in their pews meditating, praying, worshipping in ways unlike theirs…

    {sigh}

    those that have been involved in such aspects of the hyper-charismatic camps & have witnessed both amazing things & some very, very wack things, can understand the dangers youth are subjected to from those claiming to be leaders/heralds/prophets/apostles/anointed, etc. and the promises of a new supra-spiritual ‘normal’ the most egregious spiritual abuse that will result in the most harm…

    the resulting exposure of those that get caught up in the signs (feathers, gold dust, gemstones, etc.) supposedly confirming their zeal for the supernatural should be the caution all saints head. alas, there is no such characteristic of self-inspection & integrity within these camps.

    Lord, have mercy… 🙁

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      but the hyper-charismatic, signs-and-wonders, supra-spiritual camps take this to the nth degree. they are the most X-treme of seeking dramatic spiritual manifestations/expressions as if to prove once-and-for-all, their doctrinal position the one God smiles upon more than any other worship expression…

      hype. manipulation. emotionalism. like the frenzied prophets of Baal calling down their god to show himself in a mighty & powerful way.

      Or a Voudun houngan calling upon Legba to open de gate and de Loa to come mount their horses and ride ride ride.

      • Joseph (the original) says

        the sensationalism component of supra-spirituality (or spooky-spirituality) is dependent upon competition: who can outdo, out manifest, out miracle the poor sap standing next to you at the most recent conference, seminar, ‘gathering’, ‘calling’, etc. get noticed by leadership to be the next poster child of The Joshua Generation (or some other contrived name of implied divine destiny)…

        and the Christian disciplines of fasting (to the extreme) & all-night prayer vigils (spiritual warfare intercession) part of the formula to indoctrinate young, eager proselytes into the AWESOME things of God…

        {sigh}

        this is not a harmless fringe element that is simply a religious curiosity. it is dangerous emotionally, phsychologically & spiritually. especially to young people that are still in the process of maturing into adulthood.

        anything taken to such an extreme is harmful to the unsuspecting. even when such things are being done in the name of God. and especially then…

        Lord, have mercy… 🙁

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          the sensationalism component of supra-spirituality (or spooky-spirituality) is dependent upon competition: who can outdo, out manifest, out miracle the poor sap standing next to you at the most recent conference, seminar, ‘gathering’, ‘calling’, etc. get noticed by leadership to be the next poster child of The Joshua Generation (or some other contrived name of implied divine destiny)…

          In four words: CAN. YOU. TOP. THIS.

          And what happens when hyena laughter, vomiting demons, and Tokin-the-Ghost Jehovah-Juana (Yoing Yoing Yoing) become Old Hat and have to be Topped?

          and the Christian disciplines of fasting (to the extreme) & all-night prayer vigils (spiritual warfare intercession) part of the formula to indoctrinate young, eager proselytes into the AWESOME things of God…

          Over at Orthocuban’s blog, he sometimes talks about “Monk-a-bees”, the favorite way for Eastern Orthodox to flake out — take on all the shtick of an Ascetic Monk and play Can-You-Top-This with Asceticism and Mortification.

          And don’t get me started on Spiritual Warfare types — or as we called occult fanboys in local fandom years ago, “Masters of Mighty Magick”. Add seeing DEMONS under every bed Conspiracy Theory to Christianese Aliester Crowley Syndrome and you get a very scary combination.

          You know what the Spanish Inquisition would charge these Spiritual Warriors with? Same charge as when they rolled on the occasional Witchcraft case — “Ascribing Too Much Power to the Devil.” Think about it — they make the Devil so powerful even God would be defeated if it weren’t for their Mighty Spiritual Warfare; maybe the reason they’re so shrill is they’ve made the Devil so Omnipotent that deep down inside, they’re afraid they’re on the losing side?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Martha of Ireland in Private Correspondence, January 2011:

          Now! My little pet theory! The Reformation threw out the whole layers of acculturation that had accreted around popular Catholicism, and they went after it where it hurt – the folk religion. Not alone did they deny the efficacy of the invocation of the saints (whatever the leaders’ theological position on saints) but they deliberately broke open and despoiled saints’ shrines, broke open the tombs, either reburied or burned the relics, chopped up for firewood any wonder-working icons, crucifixes or statues (for example, what the Henrician reformation did to the images of Our Lady of Walsingham and others: “It was the month of July, the images of Our Lady of Walsingham and Ipswich were brought up to London with all the jewels that hung around them, at the King’s commandment, and divers other images, both in England and Wales, that were used for common pilgrimage . . . and they were burnt at Chelsea by my Lord Privy Seal”.)

          But not alone did they destroy all the official church paraphernalia, this meant that for the ordinary man or woman, you couldn’t even have a rosary beads, a crucifix, a holy picture, a relic , holy water in your house or on your person – nothing except the Bible (if you could read it and had a copy). You couldn’t even say a prayer to your patron saint – no more of Martin Luther in the thunderstorm promising St. Anne if she’d save him, he’d join a monastery. So all the protections that the ordinary people had relied on were whipped away in one fell swoop and they were left with naked faith.

          And with a lively belief in the devil still alive and kicking, and a view of God that may not have been meant as punitive but turned that way (as we’ve seen in the IM discussion threads about ‘if you’re sick, it’s God’s punishment or your own lack of faith’), they were left reliant on their own faith – ah, but wait! If you’re inclined to the Calvinist end of the spectrum, that may not be enough! Because how do you know this is real faith, saving faith, living faith as distinct from the dead faith that avails naught? God even permits some of the reprobate to feel they have a saving faith, even though they really don’t, and are not of the elect but are damned already despite whatever they may do or say.

          If all that will protect you from the Devil is your own faith, and you can’t be sure of that, of course all the alternative they had was to make a fetish of the Bible (as bad in its way as any magical charm-prayer or novena to saints in the Bad Old Days). All you can do is wave the Word around and see devils under every bush.

          And I think that attitude soaked in to the Protestant sub-consciousness and we’re still seeing the fruits of it in, as you say, demonic UFOs and duelling Bible-verses. You have to get the right verse exactly right with the right exegesis and right interpretation, or you’re toast – the same way a magician must get the circle drawn exactly right when invoking demons or he’ll be torn to shreds.

          The early Reformation universe was a very bare and hostile place, and that translates wonderfully into the bare and hostile reaches of empty, dark space with demonic aliens looming out of it to pounce on the unwary.

    • Someone out there at I-Monk probably has a story that can beat this…but did this happen at your chruch? At my place of worship in Wisconsin the high shcool youth group went out and did demon deliverances for a youth activity. That was in 2003-2004…here it is 2012 and it still blows my mind.

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Which is fine, except that “great things for God” ends up only being a few distinctively “Christian” things. “Normal” things aren’t enough.

    “A few distinctively ‘Christian’ things” as in Bible Study, Witnessing, Praise & Worship Choruses, Bible Study, Witnessing, Praise & Worship Choruses, 2/7/365. “Just passin’ through” to an eternity of never-ending compulsory Bible Studies and Praise & Worship Choruses.

    Contrast this with Judaism, where the emphasis seems to be on “Keep My Commandments, but Live Your Life!”

    • cermak_rd says

      Yes and with Reform you also get the concept of give other Jews the autonomy to live out their faith. Which completely eliminates the temptation to bash others for not being faithful enough.

    • Amen. I’m often reminded (and remind others) that Abraham was just a simple guy, largely indistinguishable from his pagan neighbors (except for that one-god thing). He just raised his sheep and family, wandered around, made some mistakes, but is remembered as the friend of God and father of all the faithful.

      What amazes me is that Abraham was caught up in something much larger than himself, and probably had very little inkling of what that involved. But God used him to play a key role in salvation history, while he lived a pretty normal life for his day. He doesn’t seem to go out of his way to live some super-spiritual ‘extraordinary’ life. I see the same thing when I read much of the Old Testament. Sure there are prophets, but most people (even kings) just do what normal people do and God blesses them. I sometimes think this ‘super-spiritual’ ‘on-fire’ life is just marketing to the flesh – so I can be somebody that God really can’t do without.

  7. I come out of around 20-25 years of this camp. It springs out of the revival mindset.

    The idea is that God is going to create a big end-time revival where millions will meet Christ. So, we need to be aligned and ready for this. This is a fundamental teaching in many pentecostal circles (and variants thereof). It will be accompanied by signs and wonders.

    I am not hostile to the idea at all. We do need something dramatic that will transform our society. My specific problem with this mindset is that it completely misses God being involved in the ordinary. We get so busy and whipped up with experiences that we are unable to see God in the ordinary details of life.

    The corollary is that if the great experiences don’t exist, than we are obviously not walking the Christian life!

    • Yes. It does not need to be an either/or mindset. We can live ordinary, everyday lives AND still expect the miraculous and the supernatural. The two do not need to be opposed to each other at all.

    • We do need something dramatic that will transform our society.

      I don’t agree. In fact, I think it can be argued that God rarely goes the big and dramatic route. The story of Jesus sounds like one amazing event after another from one perspective, but when you stop and think about it, it was pretty quiet and hidden. Even the resurrection appearances were hidden from the world. Signs and wonders occasionally open a few eyes but the real work of God is done in the obscure and mundane.

      • Yes, track the grand events, relative to history of the world and it’s mundanity and you will come up with a lot of down time. Even in scripture, which seems chock full of the grandiose, the timeline would illustrate mostly in-between when nothing was happening..

      • Stuff like this always make me think….

        …that God was not in the fire, or the hurricaine, or the storm, but in a still small voice!

        Mountaintop “peak” expereinces feel wonderful and can change our lives, but almost all of us have to leave the mountain to live and work in the valley. I know that my expereince is ONLY my personal experience, but in over 50 years on earth, all of them as a Christian, I think I have been “glowing” on a mountain in rapture maybe ten times total, for a day or a couple of days at most. It is like trying to live on Kobe beef, truffles, and Dom Perignom…..nice, but not a sustainable diet for day in and day out.

        • Patti, to put it another way, a long-term relationship (which is anything but “normal” these days) does not consist solely of ever-grander, more romantic gestures, though those may occur upon occasion. It is in the everyday life that sacrifices are made, and the bonds of love mature.
          “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.” THIS is the miraculous thing produced by a spirit-filled everyday life in the valley.

          • ‘Zactly….but you said it better!

          • YES! In fact, Paul says this in Eph. 3:6-10 (‘This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel . . . so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.’) In Paul’s thinking, it is the fact that God brought together the most incompatible groups of people (in his day) – Jew and Gentile – normally hostile to each other, and made ‘one new man’ out of them is what ‘impresses’ the rulers and principalities in the spiritual realm. It’s like God says ‘look at these imperfect, incomplete people getting along as well as they do!’ It is genuine, honest, less-than-ideal Christian community that glorifies God, not showy miracles or showy spirituality (read Matt. 25!). This is what is the ‘not normal’ we need more of!

    • cermak_rd says

      Why do we need something to transform our society? It seems pretty good to me. Sure, it would be great if we could get the crime and victimization numbers down, but otherwise, it doesn’t seem that bad to me.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        But it doesn’t have Young Earth Creationism taught in every school (right after the Mandatory School Prayer and before the Mandatory Bible Study)!

        It doesn’t enforce Public Morality (especially against Jezebels and Sodomites)!

        And Church Attendance (Wednesday nights, too!) isn’t Mandatory by Law!

        • Headless Unicorn Guy, aren’t you sort of attacking a straw man there? and cermak_rd, what “society” are you talking about? There are plenty of “societies” that are not fine just the way they are, including mine, including me. I can’t speak for you, because I don’t know your situation. But, I, personally, would like to see some changes take place, sex trafficking could come to an end right now as far as I’m concerned. Child abuse, political corruption, our obsession with looks and sound-bytes and the list could go on.

          In case anyone thinks that only “Fundy’s” want change, look at all the talk from the Left about recycling, economic and social equality etc. etc. Everyone, Left or Right, Christian or secular, wants to change society in some way. We can’t escape the urge to point out what ought NOT to be. It’s not only a “Christian” practice. It’s universal. It is self-defeating to take part in self-loathing, especially over something that is part of being human, not Christian.

  8. Richard McNeeley says

    I am reminded of a scene from the movie Tombstone. Val Kilmer (Doc Holliday) utters the line “There is no normal life Wyatt. There is just life. Now get on with it.”

    • Hey Richard – Are you one of the McNeeleys of Salvation Army fame? Any relation to Catherine McNeeley who died tragically a number of years ago.

      • Richard McNeeley says

        Not that I am aware. I used to get the question about being related to Peter McNeeley (the boxer) or in evangelical circles Dr. Richard McNeely (Biola), but again no relation that I am aware of.

  9. “When the Church teaches, or creates the impression, that by observing humanly devised services to God, one is in fact bringing oneself closer to God, making oneself more holy in God’s eyes, then the merits of Christ are obscured, clouded and eventually set aside in favor of a focus on the ‘higher’ calling invented by man.”

    One point made in Peter Enn’s “Genesis for Normal People” was the contrast between a Babylonian ziggurat – the stair-step buildings ascending to the heavens, as depicted in the tower of Babel – and a Jewish tabernacle or temple. The ziggurat was an effort to reach heaven by human means; the Jewish temple was a place where God descended. It seems to be an age-old struggle. The revivalists who want “relationship” rather than “religion” seem the most susceptible. They don’t see their efforts as falling under the same category of “religion” which they claim to condemn. Offering the loaves and fishes of our daily vocation for God to bless and multiply by His grace and forgiveness is seen as “Normal”. How I wish. Calling good evil and evil good yet again. “Normal is not enough” sounds like more code for “Theology of Glory”.

    • I think calling this human-devised rules or service is key. This is a new law: Thou shalt not be normal; the day that thou become normal is the day that thou shall surely die. Add this to the inumerable reasons people are walking away from the faith. You can’t be normal; you can’t be imperfect; you can’t have the slightest incling of doubt. All that is left is being a hypocrite: hiding your normalness behind your shiny, happy, ernest, and enthusiastic mask. Youth may have more energy any naivety necessary to pull this off, but even youth has limits.

      How about we teach youth to be normal so that they can have a faith that lasts into adulthood, rather than burning out before the age of twenty? As I type this, Neil Young plays in my headphones: “It’s better to burn out than to fade away. My, my; hey, hey.”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        You can only function on overload for so long before you break down or burn out.

  10. I agree that there’s too much hype in our pictures of what it means to be completely “sold out for the Gospel” or whatever phrase is in vogue at the moment. I also agree that it’s unhealthy to idolize people in overtly Christian vocations as if they’re some sort of spiritual superheros and the rest of us are just compromising with the world. But, what about the words of Jesus:

    “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (Lk 14:26-27, 33)

    Following Jesus does involve challenges and sacrifices. Many of those sacrifices in a “normal” life won’t be as exciting or as impressive to other Christians as flying across the world as a missionary, say. But if the challenges aren’t there – if somehow following Jesus isn’t deeply costing us anything – than maybe we _have_ sold out and abandoned the Gospel. A life committed to Jesus _will_ look different than the lives of our secular neighbors.

    I do wonder, also: when we get all fired up about doing big things for Jesus some day, how much of that is just a defense mechanism to keep us from focusing on doing little things for Jesus right now, right where we find ourselves? It’s all too easy to excuse myself for some small failure to embody Christ (say, walking by a homeless person and ignoring them) if I think I’m on my way to doing something big and more “important” than that.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Following Jesus does involve challenges and sacrifices. Many of those sacrifices in a “normal” life won’t be as exciting or as impressive to other Christians as flying across the world as a missionary, say. But if the challenges aren’t there – if somehow following Jesus isn’t deeply costing us anything – than maybe we _have_ sold out and abandoned the Gospel. A life committed to Jesus _will_ look different than the lives of our secular neighbors.

      And when I read that, I hear “WRETCHED URGENCY”.

      With Blue Oyster Cult’s “Veterans of the Psychic Wars” playing in the background.

  11. What I know of these ministries would feel a four ounce Dixie cup.

    If I had to guess, I would say that most of the people posting on I-Monk are 40-60 years old. The ministry here is aimed at people in their teens and twenties.

    As older people, we’ve lived through disillusionment and disappointment. We’ve experienced the struggle on following Jesus in the normal. When my kids aren’t yelling at each other, and when I experience a God moment at work, it feels like a touch of the miraculous.

    I see these ministries that say that “Normal is not enough” as being about a youthful faith that has not been spoiled by disillusionment. When they say that normal is not enough, I wonder if it’s more of a critique on the spiritual and religious life of their parents (which is my generation). This is their normal. It’s a critique of the American middle class conventions.

    I think these are great questions to ask. Personally, I want my daughters to expect great things from God, and not to be blandly satisfied in a “normal” life. The challenge comes with transitioning these young people to a mature faith, one that understands the importance of living the normal, even while desiring and expecting something more.

    • “would fill a four ounce dixie cup.”

      Although, I know what it is to “feel a four once dixie cup”
      They feel round and vaguely cuplike.

      sigh

    • “I see these ministries that say that ‘Normal is not enough’ as being about a youthful faith that has not been spoiled by disillusionment.”

      I hear you on that one. That is my problem with turning my kids over to twenty-something youth pastors. Unless someone has had the seasoning of going through life’s ups and downs, they are just setting these kids up for a disillusionment of their own that may cause loss of faith. I can’t remember the numbers off-hand, but I do remember being shocked by the large percentage of these kids who walk away from their faith as they move into adulthood.

    • “I see these ministries that say that “Normal is not enough” as being about a youthful faith that has not been spoiled by disillusionment.”

      I wish I had a 40-60 year old around when I was a teenager to tell me that this stuff (yes, pretty much word-for-word; only the packaging changes slightly) was a load of crap. (Actually, my parents told me). The youth are free to make their mistakes; that’s part of being young. The other part of being young is growing up to realize that no one cares about your battle scars nor want’s to learn from your mistakes. Everyone will ignore you and look to the next brood of youth to save us. Hence the disillusionment. Today’s youth have better street-smarts, right? That’s what I thought when I was young; it will never happen to me.

      • When I was a teenager, many of the 40+ were sold out to this stuff, too.

        • Joseph (the original) says

          yeah. so how old are Ron Luce, Lou Engle, Mike Bickle, Bill Johnson (Bethel Church)? you know, those older ‘leaders’ marketing/targeting their so-called spiritual snake-oil to the youth? touting that indeed the ‘supra-natural’ is the New Normal for the totally sold out disciple of their particular brand of signs-and-wonders experience…

          Lord, have mercy… 🙁

      • Alas. If could only be a young Christian again with what I know now as an old, disillusioned, crumudgeon. Youth is truly wasted on the young.

  12. At the risk of making this a semantics argument, I think we need to distinguish between “normal” and “ordinary.” Ordinary means the small, everyday acts that we all find ourselves in contact with, such as changing someone’s faucet (as mentioned above). “Normal” has more connotations of what we come to accept as average or to be expected. So in that case, we do need to be very careful as to what we accept as “normal,” or the way things should be whether it’s a medical issue, a social issue, or a doctirinal issue. But even an ordinary act can be a wonderful thing if we do it as an act of worship.

  13. Adam Palmer says

    Acquire the Fire is a weekend event aimed squarely at high school students, and it features many different components: music, speaking, drama, etc. I actually was part of the team that wrote the drama for this year’s event, so I can speak to this particular iteration of the phrase “Normal Is Not Enough.”

    The idea is that students tend to accept societal and cultural norms that are presented to them, things like: partying is cool if you don’t get wasted; girls need to get skimpy if they want attention from boys; boys are incorrigible horn-dogs who cannot control their impulses; church is neat, but keep it at church; etc.

    We wanted to challenge some of those cultural norms, those assumptions, and help students recognize and realize the bigger spiritual picture: that we all have opportunities to fight against such norms and, in a sense, redefine the word “normal” for our own lives and for the lives of those we love.

    It has nothing to do with setting kids up for exorbitant expectations and future disillusionment. In fact, we were very conscious of that fact as we were writing the drama and tried to make it as plausible as we could. We didn’t want to express a Pollyanna, sabre-rattling version of Christianity; we diligently worked at putting as much meat on the bones of the faith as we could, and to leave the audience with the ultimate message that sometimes life sucks and doesn’t work out the way we want to, but God is still good and we can still trust Him and give Him our all.

    Hope that adds some clarification. And for the record, I’m not involved with Teen Mania or ATF at all–I’m a freelance writer who worked on this drama in that capacity.

    And yeah, my heart and prayers go out to the Luce family and the rest of the families affected by the plane crash on Friday night.

    • Joseph (the original) says

      Adam: call me the proverbial skeptic, but really, i cannot think the likes of Teen Mania (doesn’t the name give you a clue?) or ATF simply trying to promote a truly realistic (mature) representation of Christianity.

      will there be any happy testimony times of youth at this function? and if so, will they be totally devoid of any implication of supernatural, miraculous ‘happenings’?

      c’mon, the way you’ve painted the ATF event it is simply a slightly more ‘hip’ version of a Billy Graham crusade…

      trying to get teenagers to be counter-cultural is doomed to failure only because they are simply teenagers; not mature adults understanding the deeper implications of being presented with intense spiritual, cultural, political & doctrinal issues for them to process.

      Lord, have mercy… 🙁

    • Adam,

      This was my interpreatation of what the phrase “Normal is not Enough” meant when I first saw it, so I’m glad to see that is the message you were going for. It seems like everyone here has assumed the message was “A normal Christian life is not enough,” but what I understand you saying the intended message was “A normal life, as our secular culture defines normal (meaning materialism, free-for-all sexuality, self-centeredness, etc) is not enough” and hopefully that’s something we can agree with. In the world but not of the world, etc.

      I have to say, I’ve been a regular reader for a while now and there are often plenty of great insights both in the articles and the comments, but it seems like the temptation of this site is to become like the old men in the Muppet Show who just complain about everything. I think we need to be careful that in pointing out the flaws in evangelicalism and other parts of the Church, we don’t become jaded cynics who always jump to the worst possible interpretation of things.

      Finally, to Joseph, I would beg to differ with your comment that teenagers cannot be counter-cultural. I know several teenagers and college students who are doing exactly that. I think Chesterton said something about how when society is built on rebellion, the only possible rebellion left is tradition.

      • Joseph (the original) says

        Faramir: if, and that is a BIG if, teenagers are qualified as being counter-cultural, it will always be the exception…not the norm (rule)…

        insisting that the ‘normal’ Christian teenager is to be ‘on fire’ for God all the time, be a witness to the nations (& their peers), engage in supernatural manifestations of glorious expressions, confront every “ruler, authority, power of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,” then i would say such an approach is more manipulation than maturity; more hype than holiness…

        i will agree that it has been the ‘norm’ for the extreme youth organizations/movements insist that ‘their’ generation is THEE one to overcome the (fill in the blank) issues that infect culture, the church, the nation. theirs is the new Joshua/Gideon storm troop destined/ordained to take the land & usher in the new theocratical world order.

        yeah…if that is the counter-cultural propaganda being touted as being unconventional, new, mighty, “not the normal” approach to Christianity, then i would insist this is harmful, not helpful to youth today. if by being counter-cultural teenagers are living out the gospel, looking after orphans & widows (the needy/helpless), loving the stranger, living a low-maintenance lifestyle, then such things should be encouraged, even though it will always be the exception, not the rule too…

        usually, but not always, the hyper-emotional youth-oriented events/organizations stress the POWER of God to overcome deep personal problems, manifest miraculous encounters & be a short-cut to instant holiness/maturity/self-control. i do not see how this could be considered a healthy approach to discipleship & promoting a balanced world view. just my personal conclusions after being involved in the uber-charismatic camps…

        • if by being counter-cultural teenagers are living out the gospel, looking after orphans & widows (the needy/helpless), loving the stranger, living a low-maintenance lifestyle, then such things should be encouraged, even though it will always be the exception, not the rule too…

          I hope that this is the message (and it’s what I was assuming it to be as I wrote my comment), but I agree that more radical messages are out there and are not helpful. Thanks for the clarifications.

        • Joseph,

          I have three emotionally healthy Christian counter-culture teenagers (18, 16, 13). It isn’t as rare as you make it out to be.

          No these types of events aren’t going to be perfect, but they can help in a child’s spiritual formation. If a parent turns responsibility of their kid’s spiritual formation completely over to the youth pastor and events like this, then yes, it’s a recipe for failure. But as long as you are doing the parenting, church and para-church activities like this can be a big help.

          Also, what is wrong with teaching a kid about the supernatural power of God? The Bible talks a lot about it and if I hadn’t seen it in my own life, I don’t know where I would be right now.

          • Joseph (the original) says

            TPD: i consider myself ‘post-charismatic’ as i exited the hyper-charismatic camps of signs-and-wonders, divine destiny, prophetic/apostolic emphasis, miraculous expressions/manifestations. saw more abuse & misunderstanding & manipulation & just plain ol’ nonsense done in the name of God to convince the most ardent spiritual gift proponent to never want to think it ever was a valid move of the Holy Spirit. yes, i have witnessed some amazing things that did not belong in the wack category, but really, to have to sift through all that chaff to get one kernel of wheat not how God arranges things. as always, the miraculous, by definition, always, always, always the exception, never the rule…

            and to try & manufacture such things the most egregious religious BS ever promoted. it is akin to divination more than the ‘freedom’ of the Holy Spirit that is being touted. conjuring a good descriptive word to. trying to either train oneself, or be ‘open’ to something new & unusual for the glory of God & the resulting super-duper Brownie Points of being ‘used’ of God in such a MIGHTY way…

            sheesh. what a bunch of hooey…

            the testimony times just like getting a handful of fishermen together to recount their best fishing story. it will continue to be ‘top this’ fest of tremendous proportions…

            your idea of the supernatural power of God & mine will not be compatible. and presenting such things as a new norm for the ‘sold-out’ teenager a terrible injustice to their spiritual development. measuring the miraculous in degrees another misunderstanding of the extreme charismatic camps. very few people could wield the power of God without letting the ego get in the way. is it any wonder such things are the exception? and my eldest son made the very keen observation that during his entire High School church youth-group tenure (a large church of 1500-1800) the reality of playing (pretending) Christian was the norm, not the exception. and not from just the kids, but from the group leaders too…

          • Joseph (the original) says

            TPD: however, kudos to you for what sounds like well-adjusted, spiritually mature teenagers.

            i would never, ever encourage, nor insist that my boys attend one of these events. i have taught them to take extreme claims with a grain of proverbial salt, to not take everything they are taught as ‘the gospel’, & to consider how their concept of God is being shaped by those that are in positions of leadership. of course they are influenced by their skeptical father that has ‘been there—done that’ in ways i would not want them to have to repeat…

            blessings…

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          i will agree that it has been the ‘norm’ for the extreme youth organizations/movements insist that ‘their’ generation is THEE one to overcome the (fill in the blank) issues that infect culture, the church, the nation. theirs is the new Joshua/Gideon storm troop destined/ordained to take the land & usher in the new theocratical world order.

          Until they grow up and get denounced as Lukewarm Apostates by the NEW Joshua/Gideon storm troop On Fire For The LORD and destined/ordained to take the land and usher in the new theocratic world order…

      • Faramir, as one of the grumpy old muppets, let me just say that one point of this post is that we need to be very careful about our language. If I were a young person and heard a Christian leader say, “Being normal is not enough,” I would find that hard because the one thing I don’t want to be is “abnormal.”

        We can argue about the meaning of words all we like, but if we have to explain a simple slogan, and especially when the context of evangelicalism is always calling us to be “heroic” and to “change the world” and using other hyped-up phrases, then maybe we’d better consider something else.

  14. In the evangelical circles of my youth group and college days, normal might mean you weren’t really on fire or not even saved… Luther’s work on vocation was some of the most beautiful words I have read.

  15. I was involved in a ministry that some people may have felt was like Teen Mania. Ironically it was only 10 miles from Garden Valley (Teen Manias headquarters).

    For me and many others it was life changing. We were challenged to believe that God could do great things and that we should give our lives to him whole heartedly. Unfortunately the church in those days tended to be moribund and hung up on the ordinary. We went to the streets of America, Canada and Mexico to reach out to the lost. All of us are in our 50s and 60s now, and I keep in contact with hundreds of them. Many of us are now professionals, we have become Doctors, lawyers, politicians, businessmen, evangelists, church-planters, academics, plumbing/heating specialists and many other things. Most are pillars in their Christian community.

    Several of us founded ministries, one in Africa (he was the shy guy!) and he is on national TV in his country and has founded churches and orphanages. Another has done church planting for years in Mexico. And this was all because an Assemblies of God minister dared to believe God wanted him to mobilize an army of young people to change America.

    I do not believe I would be a Christian today if it were not for this effort. So while I agree that God does work in the ordinary, there is also lots of evidence he does do big things.

  16. Mr. Poet says

    There is a difference between “normal” and “average.” A normal Christian, for example, prays every day. The average Christian, I think, does not.

  17. Can I put in a request for a re-posting of Michael Spencer’s “Wretched Urgency” essay?

    • Interesting quote from part II of Michael’s essay:

      “Dr. Piper has just published an excellent book for college students called Don’t Waste Your Life. In the book, there is a captivating illustration of a young (very young) ‘retired couple’ who spend their time playing softball and hunting for sea shells. In a great homiletical moment, Piper says (paraphrased), ‘Can you imagine them on the day of judgment, standing before Christ, saying, ‘Look Lord; here are our shells.’?

      “…Now, call me whatever you want, but I’m bothered by something. What’s wrong with collecting shells and playing softball? Not what is wrong compared with these things in excess or when compared to something else, but as they are- simple pleasures in God’s world? The ‘serious Christian’ says it is time wasted; time that could have been spent on real “treasure.” Missions, prayer and evangelism. The ‘fun’ of the real disciple is the wartime life. But is this right?”

      • Bingo.

      • There is another point that I would make. I came from a crowd that was greatly influenced by John Piper and that book. I left one job in Wisconsin and against better judgment moved to Washington, D.C. and accepted a job I probably would not have taken. I thought my life was going to be a waste unless I did something dramatic for God. This is one of the things that burned me. I’ve known some others who were burned in their own way.

        But take this classic story that John Piper re-tells. I think it illustrates why he preaches heresy. I mean consider…

        John Piper teaching about the couple collecting shells and “wasting their life” like is akin to the older brother in the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. Remember how angry his brother gets that his father slaughtered the fattened cow after he squandered his resources? It’s in Luke 15:28-30. John Piper is teaching from the perspective of that older brother. It’s why is teaching is so often flawed.

        Man I wish I would have known this. I can’t undo bad theology or bad decisions.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        “The ‘serious Christian’ says it is time wasted; time that could have been spent on real “treasure.” Missions, prayer and evangelism. The ‘fun’ of the real disciple is the wartime life. But is this right?”

        Veteran of the Psychic Wars
        Blue Oyster Cult, 1981

        You see me now a veteran of a thousand psychic wars
        I’ve been living on the edge so long
        Where the winds of limbo roar
        And I’m young enough to look at
        And far too old to see
        All the scars are on the inside
        I’m not sure that there’s anything left to me

        Don’t let these shakes go on
        It’s time we had a break from it
        It’s time we had some leave
        We’ve been living in the flames
        We’ve been eating up our brains
        Oh please don’t let these shakes go on

        You ask me why I’m weary, why I can’t speak to you
        You blame me for my silence say It’s time I changed and grew
        But the war’s still going on, dear, and there’s no end that I know
        And I can’t say if we’re ever…
        I can’t say if we’re ever gonna be free

        Don’t let these shakes go on
        It’s time we had a break from it
        It’s time we had some leave
        We’ve been living in the flames
        We’ve been eating out our brains
        Oh please don’t let these shakes go on

        You see me now a veteran of a thousand psychic wars
        My energy’s spent at last
        And my armor is destroyed
        I have used up all my weapons and I’m helpless and bereaved
        Wounds are all I’m made of
        Did I hear you say that this is victory?

        Don’t let these shakes go on
        It’s time we had a break from it
        Send me to the rear
        Where the tides of madness swell
        And been sliding into hell
        Oh please don’t let these shakes go on
        Don’t let these shakes go on
        Don’t let these shakes go on…

  18. There is something sick with this mindset . . . and I spent the bulk of my life hating the normal day. But the normal days are the bricks that build real life. I really think that this is part of the thinly veiled narcissistic thinking of Evangelicalism. This is where God allows genocide, but makes sure that I have a parking spot. That the Children’s hospitals might be full of the little ones who are dying a slow and painful death from cancer but God is busy giving me a sunny day for my yard work, that God allows those around me to get killed on the plane . . . but spares my life out of His goodness. Woops. I guess that last comment was too close. But my point is that we are “special” . . . but not in a healthy way, in a narcissistic way.

  19. First year in ministry, took the youth group to AtF rally. Quite a memorable experience, for better or worse. Gungor’s career was getting it’s major kickstart from it, they were quite good.

    Holy Moses, Luce’s daughter just survived a plane crash? What are the stats on that? I thought that was nearly impossible.

    “Normal” is quite a loaded word. You might say that Jesus lived a painfully ordinary life. Or he was the complete antithesis of “normal.” It depends on what determines normal: The current ideals of your particular society or the transcendant ideals of the kingdom of God. They seem to be usually at odds with one another, and excellence in one usually seems to mean mediocrity in the other.

    • “First year in ministry, took the youth group to AtF rally. Quite a memorable experience, for better or worse.”

      I would say better AND worse. Personally, I have always let my kids go to these types of rallys, and even encouraged it. I like when they get fired up and excited about their faith, when they feel like they are part of the winning team. They need that. But then in the days that follow I make sure I talk to them about what they learned and I try to provide context and balance out some of the “super-hero-christain” hype.

      • True that. The “fire” that they “acquire” doesn’t last incredibly long. …and I don’t appreciate them being told to protest the lingerie adds outside Victoria’s Secret (there’s got to be a better way of spreading the faith). But the whole “winning team” thing has a positive effect. Kids need to know their church is bigger than their congregation.

  20. CM, did you see the latest “Coffee With Jesus”?

  21. Maybe another way to look at this is that there are visionaries and others who are not. We need one another.
    Obviously Paul had the energy and calling to do something significant. How many others did not? We remember names of people who had significant vision: St Benedict, Francis of Loyola, The Wesleys, General William Booth, Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, Mother Theresa.

    I think we need to recognize this as both a gifting and a calling.

    One of the songs recorded by the ministry I was in years ago was ‘Simple Jesus Lovin man’ and part of the lyrics go:

    ‘thank the Lord because he made you a Simple Jesus Lovin man, we can’t all be great Christian history …’

    I am not one of those dynamic people that can go out and rouse people to believe great things, but some people are. And provided it is not used to manipulate people, but is in a true spirit of humility I do not have a problem with it. That is part of what it means to be the body of Christ.

  22. Why does “normal is not enough” sound like the plot from Richard Bach’s “Jonathan Living Seagull” with its “higher plane of existence”, which evangelicals criticized as “new age”?

  23. But what about the person who seeks comfort above all else? What about that young person who needs to see, and believe, that there is more to this life than just going to the mall, getting a good-paying job and pursuing the “American Dream”?

    A good physician studies her patient to see what is wrong with that particular one. If the patient has bad kidneys, the Dr. better not treat him for Cancer just because some of her other patients have that disease.

    It sounds like most of you think that there is no way that an American Christian could be living a self-centered, idolatrous life. SOME of us need a kick in the pants to get out of our comfort zones, because taking up one’s cross daily isn’t about comfort. I am not saying that all Christians need the same thing, and that knife cuts both ways. Many people need to hear Luce’s message. But you’re right, it could be articulated more clearly and with more nuance.

    Less emphasis on “Rock Star” and much more on feet washing in anonymity. The problem is that some serve out of a desire for recognition, some serve out of a genuine love of Jesus. Some are doing exactly what they should be doing in “routine” life, some are seeking a life of comfort. One answer doesn’t fit all of these situations.

  24. humanslug says

    Like it says in Ecclesiastics, there’s a time and season for just about everything.
    There’s a time when it’s fit and proper to dance for joy like David.
    And there’s a time when it’s just as fit and proper to mourn in sackcloth and ashes.
    And there’s a time for every work of God, from the mundane to the miraculous.
    The problem arises when we try to set those times or orchestrate or summon up the miraculous and/or spiritual/emotional highs in a controlled setting.
    It’s like trying to live on a diet of cake and ice cream while skipping over the full meal God has prepared for His people.

  25. finding the magnificent in the mundane.