June 6, 2020

Ranting And Raving

Warning: I am going to rant. I am going to rant and rave and basically have a fit. If you want something more fun and entertaining, I suggest you check out these amusing Nancy and Sluggo covers. Otherwise, proceed at your own risk.

Passion for your house has consumed me, and the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me (Psalm 69:9 NLT).

I am, on the whole, a fairly easy person to get along with. I don’t get too worked up about things–or, at least, I try not to. But this week I’ve had it. I have had it with stuff I have been hearing and reading, and I just don’t care to be nice about it any more. This site has called people out since almost day one, and we have no intent on changing that. Michael Spencer wrote about Joel Osteen’s “gospel” in this manner:

As much as I would like to join those who say that Osteen is a simpleton who doesn’t know what he’s doing, a close examination will show that at every point where there is a choice between being part of the church or departing into heresy, Osteen sticks with the church where there is money to be had and departs from the church where there is a faith to be confessed. He could be called a heretic by some, even if he is a believer, and he communicates a purposefully false trivialization of the person and work of Jesus Christ in favor of a man-centered motivational message of self-improvement.

Again, as I’ve said before, every evangelical leader needs to personally and by name repudiate and separate from Osteen, and call upon him and his followers to come back into the faith that is articulated in the Apostle’s Creed.

Michael continued in a different post about Osteen,

Make no mistake about this: Osteen isn’t confused about Jesus like many of the prosperity preachers you hear on TBN. Osteen is intentionally avoiding irrtiating language about sin because he wants to keep it positive every week. He is not just avoiding mentioning Jesus, the cross and the Gospel just because he is seeker sensitive. Joel Osteen is preaching the no-Gospel, no-Jesus message because it’s filling the church with thousands of people who want to hear it. Osteen will ignore his critics because the common people are voting every week—in book sales, ratings numbers and attendance- for his message.

So it is the foundation of this site to not only lift up Jesus, but to call out those who relegate Jesus to a logo for their products. Chaplain Mike did so a few weeks ago when he called Ken Hamm’s plans to build a creationist theme park the “Disney–ization of our faith.” We will continue to do so as the occasions present themselves.

Well, they have presented themselves in spades to me these past few days.

First of all, I love those in my life group. I have been a part of a specific life group—or small group—through my church for at least five years now. I have walked through a lot of messy stuff with these good people. I love them as my brothers and sisters. So when I say I don’t know how I will be able to attend for the next dozen weeks, I say it with intense sadness. But they decided we would start the year by going through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. I “attended” this “university” six or seven years ago, and came away saying I disagreed with 85% of what he teaches. After lesson one last night, I think I am up to disagreeing with 98% of what he teaches. And not only what he teaches, but where it is taught.

I tried to listen last night. Admittedly, I went in with guns loaded and cocked, and I was not disappointed. Ramsey, in case you don’t know, teaches his “students” how to get out of debt, cut up their credit cards, store up money for emergencies, and build wealth. There is not a thing wrong with any of this on the surface. But—BUT—should it be taught in church? Do we gather together as a family of faith—whether in a large church setting or a small group setting—in order to learn techniques for getting out of debt? As I listened to Ramsey last night, two things struck me. First, any so-called credit counselor could teach what he teaches (and I am not ready to concede what he teaches is sound fiscal planning; but that is another discussion), be they Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Druid or atheist. Which brings up the second thing: Jesus was mentioned twice by Ramsey, a self-confessed Christian, both times as part of his brand of humor. Yet this is being presented in our churches. And that should tell you a lot.

Rant? I’m justing getting started.

I read where Rick Warren of The Purpose-Driven Life fame wants to lose weight. Bully for him. So do I. Once you get north of 50, you can just think about a slice of cake and gain a pound. But here is how Warren plans to lose his goal of 90 pounds: He will do it as part of a year-long health-and-fitness program at the church he pastors, Saddleback Church, in Southern California. It’s a plan developed by Dr. Mehmet Oz, author of You: The Owner’s Manual. Warren and others in the church will participate in the Daniel Plan, so named for the prophet Daniel. Oh, didn’t you know that Daniel came up with a diet plan? You didn’t? Neither did I. And neither did Daniel.

(And yes, there is a difference between a weight-loss program promoted through your church and what Damaris called for last week—the preaching of gluttony as a sin. The Daniel Plan is not going to call anyone a sinner for eating an entire crock-pot of barbecue weenies now, is it?)

The Daniel Plan: God’s Prescription For Your Health. That is what they are calling it. God’s prescription for your health. Holy freaking cow. I … I … allow me one more, ok?

My daughters and their husbands both attend the largest church in Tulsa, a 15,000 (give or take a thousand) member megachurch with flashing lights, smoke machines, and “ushers” who stand guard at the doors to keep parents from taking any children under the age of two into the auditorium. (I refuse to call it a sanctuary.) My oldest called me today—I had suggested she and I go to Dallas on Saturday. I have been missing her and just wanted to spend some time with her, and she likes to shop down there. She couldn’t this weekend, partly because of the new series they are starting at her church: “I Want A New Marriage.” No doubt accompanied by Huey Lewis and the News singing a remake of “I Want A New Drug.” (And I’m not kidding. At their annual Christmas spectacular this last year they worked in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” complete with zombies. You read that right. How God is holding back his wrath over our whole city on that one is beyond me.)

So, just what is wrong with getting out of debt, losing some pounds, and improving your marriage? Well, nothing. And yet, everything. It is the no-Gospel, no-Jesus message Michael Spencer saw Osteen preaching. It is effective. It will fill a church building with people with money to spend on books and CDs and DVDs all day long. But it has nothing to do with the Gospel. Nothing.

Not long ago I was reading an ad for a new church that was opening in Tulsa. (They pop up around here like loan sharks on payday.) “Are you stuck in a dead-end career? Do you need help parenting your children? Is your marriage in need of a recharge?”

“What kind of crap is this?” I asked. Someone asked me, “Don’t you think Jesus wants us to have better marriages?” I thought for a minute and then said, “No. No, I don’t think he really cares one way or another whether we have better marriages or not. I don’t think he is concerned about us being better parents or getting promoted at work. No, I definitely think these are things that matter not in the least to him.”

You can probably understand why I’m not exactly at the top of the list for guest preachers any longer.

Let me just say this straight out. If all you are interested in is becoming is a better person, then Jesus is not your best avenue to get there. You can find lots of self-help books—and in Christian bookstores without embarrassing references to Jesus to worry about—that deal with marriage, health, finances and life-issues you find yourself dealing with. They are piled high on tables leading into the temple. As a matter of fact, you can buy them in many temples every Sunday, credit cards accepted.

Jesus is not a self-help guru. He is not interested in you becoming a better person. He could not care less with you improving in any area of your life. Because in the end that is your life. Yours. And he demands you give it to him. All of it. An unconditional surrender. He did not come to improve you, or encourage you, or spur you on to bigger and better things. He came to raise the dead. And if you insist on living, then you’re on your own. Good luck. Sign up for all the seminars, workshops and marriage improvement weekends that you can, because you’re going to need them.

The Gospel is this: We are dead in our sins. Jesus, too, is dead in our sins. But because he is very God of very God, death could not hold him. He conquered sin and death and rose again. And the only life we are now offered is the life he lives in us. Period. He wants us dead. He’ll do the rest.

How many churches are preaching that these days? How many signs do you see in front of churches inviting you to “Come and die with us”? Joel Osteen didn’t need to buy an NBA arena because he is encouraging his followers to die daily now, did he?

Here is a challenge for you. Go into your local Christian bookstore and ask for the book Chaplain Mike has been highlighting this week, Why Jesus by William Willimon. I’ll bet there are fewer than twenty religious stores that stock that book on their shelves. Or Robert Capon. Ask them for anything Capon has written and watch them scratch their heads. But Osteen? Ramsey? Rick Warren? Stacked deep to sell cheap.

Jesus did not attract a huge following, simply because he refused to play the religious games of his day. As a matter of fact, he went out of his way to make the religious professionals hacked at him. And he also turned on those who followed him simply for what they could get. “You want to follow me? Hate your spouse, your kids, your extended family. Hate them.” “Oh, you like the food I provided for you? Want some more? Eat my flesh and drink my blood.” Not exactly the kind of thing to say in order to build your ministry now, is it? No wonder Dave Ramsey doesn’t quote Jesus.

So, if you want to know how to budget your money and get out of debt, find a church presenting Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. If you need a new marriage, there is a church in Tulsa that will show you how to get it starting this weekend. Need to lose some of that weight you added over the holidays? Follow the Daniel Plan. I suggest you avoid churches like The Oaks in Middletown, Ohio. All they do is sing and preach and eat Jesus. All they do is show you the way to die daily.

And who wants to do that?

Comments

  1. Jeff,

    Not so much a rant as a raving. A rant at least has a general purpose. I don’t disagree with a lot of what you say, but I don’t think lumping Dave Ramsey (never been to financial peace but I have listened to his program) in with these other examples really fits.

    Dave Ramsey is not a pastor. He is not making decisions to bring these things into any church. He offers a product, and others have decided to use it at their church. In fact, I would think all the Lutherans here would love Ramsey. He seems to be a good example of vocation. He is a financial counselor who is a Christian, not a Christian financial counselor. He niether hides it nor advocates it.

    • I disagree. He has a whole marketing team that calls on churches to get them to use his materials in small groups and Sunday school classes. He most definitely targets Christians and churches.

      • small groups and SS are not common worship and even though that doesn’t mean its an anything goes situation, there is a lot more leeway

        Should a Christian be in so much debt it consumes his every thought and prevents him from providing for his family and their well being?

        Should a Christian not be advised to not default on his debts unless he is absolutely neccesary?

        Should that be done on Sunday Morning in place of Worship? No, can it be a part of an overall Christian ed program? I think so.

        • But what about those outside the church? Do they not also need this advice? Part of my issue with all of this is that it does nothing to spread the gospel outside the church, but only contributes to the “country club” aspect of many churches, where it is all about the products and services provided to the members.

          On another point, if I were able to borrow a million dollars and use it to help the victims of the Haiti earthquake, or provide health care for those who can’t afford it, or simply feed homeless people with it, i have served the least of these in a way that far outweighs my debt. People need health care far more than banks need another million bucks. Banks don’t hesitate to default on debts if it makes business sense, but get bent out of shape if consumers do the same thing.

      • Jeff,

        I agree that Ramsey’s business relies on marketing to churches, but I do not necessarily think that’s a bad thing. Everyone gets something beneficial in it. Ramsey makes money, of course, but the church has a truly useful tool to truly help it’s flock and also bring people in the door who would never step into a church otherwise.

        I don’t think it should be the entire ministry of a church, but I do think the gospel also has to do with helping people practically with real problems. I don’t appreciate Osteen’s or others’ brands, but I think the Church has room to be mulit-faceted in its ministry.

        Thanks.

    • If that is his vocation, he should buy an office and hang out a shingle. Instead, he sets up shop in churches. It’s very similar to what happened in nineteenth century German churches, when their message ceased to be the objective truth of the Gospel and became mere subjective feelings. Sermons then became lectures to farmers on better plowing techniques.

      The church feeds the congregation with Word and Sacrament, and sends them back to their vocation. The church does not tell the congregation to leave the world and bring their vocation into the church. Michael Spencer’s term, “churchianity” says it all. The church doesn’t tell the congregation how to perform their vocations, except to do so out of love and justice for ones neighbor and for the glory of God.

    • VolAlongTheWatchTower says

      Worse, he’s a Right-Wing shill. and, in 4, 3, 2,… 😉

      “…very similar to what happened in nineteenth century German churches, when their message ceased to be the objective truth of the Gospel and became mere subjective feelings. Sermons then became lectures to farmers on better plowing techniques…”
      Great point. I went there on the political thing, but ever since the GOP bought God in 1983 or 84, our “farmers” have been under attack or delusion ever since by Corporate Masters, Sunday-Monday, that NEED them in those bad marriages, dire financial straits, obesity scooters etc, and all the talk of nicer discourse since Giffords/AZ doesn’t change that.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        “…Ever since the GOP bought God in 1983 or 84…”

        “…obesity scooters…”

        Good Lines!

    • I went through a similar program, Crown Financial Ministries. I can’t remember if it’s connected to Dave Ramsey or not. But I think they’re similar in some respects. Crown had lots of Bible references and “expectations of God” and all that, but no Gospel-conditioning that I recall. The result was some decent principles, and some wildly false statements like “everyone is supposed to be rich(for ministry’s sake).”

      My opinion is, if your going to make paradigm-shaping statements about something, and cultivate a ground-up understanding of a type of practice, if it’s Christian, it should be Christ-full. It’s not that in one’s vocation one has to constantly invoke the Gospel explicitly, but when teaching sweeping principles for a discipline, there is a way to condition it with the Gospel. And if it isn’t, is it because they don’t know how it’s conditioned by the Gospel, or don’t think it’s important? In my experience, it’s often that people flat out don’t know. They really, honest-to-God think that Gospel is something for religious gatherings, but doesn’t govern everything in life.

      I would liken it to a high school science class- plenty of great nuts-and-bolts that isn’t Gospel, but nothing survives in the “big picture” without it.

      • I should revise that statement about Crown- I think there was indeed the clear expectation that service to Christ was the goal, yet that’s still different than Gospel-conditioned IMO.

  2. My sentiments exactly–thanks!

  3. For some strange reason, this reminds me of the “Plastic Jesus” song. Weird!

    • I don’t care if it rains or freezes, long as I’ve got my plastic Jesus riding on the dashboard of my car…

      • VolAlongTheWatchTower says

        “Disillusioned words like bullets bark
        As human gods aim for their marks
        Made everything from toy guns that sparks
        To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
        It’s easy to see without looking too far
        That not much
        Is really sacred.” –Dylan.

  4. Briefly: I agree with the other posters about Dave Ramsey – he doesn’t belong in church on Sunday mornings, but I have no problem with him in small groups at a church setting… it gives a venue for people to build relationships over a common goal, and that is something I *think* Jesus would be OK with. The building relationships part, I mean. He doesn’t try to tell people he’s ministering the gospel of Jesus, he’s just trying to share how he got financially secure…and he happens to be a christian, which makes all the church types hyperventiliate in excitement.

    I’m digressing and not being brief. Sorry. My point was: This is the best post I’ve read on IM in a while. Kudos, and amen and amen! And as a former Houstonian, BOO on Joel.

    • Right. But if the purpose of the small group is to focus on Jesus, then Ramsey is a bad choice. If the purpose of the small group is financial freedom, then go for it. Of course, this begs the question of whether we need purpose-driven small groups.

      • To me, it sounds like Dave Ramsey’s program goal is to “build up wealth”. While I can agree
        that debt isn’t good—-we aren’t to take from others without repaying—-I don’t think that is the
        goal that Christ lays out for us. In fact, in Acts 2, they held money and property in common and gave to who ever had a need. So a person would not be building up wealth. Ever. Except the intangible kind—-in Christ.

  5. Dont get me started on the “Jesus is my best friend” songs…

    • Are these guys serious?

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      We had a little kerfuffle at my parish over one of those songs this week. Our priest was getting a little riled up in his preaching (it happens sometimes, God bless him) and he made a little aside about how it ticks him off when folks in our church sing Chis Tomlin’s “How Great is Our God” in a bored way (especially the guys who he knows get into their Teams). And we were scheduled to sing that song that same day. Well, when it came to the song, I realized I just COULDN’T feel it. And I never can. As I thought about it I realized that it’s because the lyrics are good anthemic praise, but the music is schmaltzy Jesus-is-my-boyfriend crap. I’d be like Elton John singing Queen’s “We Will Rock You” to the music of “Candle in the Wind.” It just don’t fit.

      • ” As I thought about it I realized that it’s because the lyrics are good anthemic praise, but the music is schmaltzy Jesus-is-my-boyfriend crap. I’d be like Elton John singing Queen’s “We Will Rock You” to the music of “Candle in the Wind.” It just don’t fit”

        Well put sir, well put.

      • I like plenty of modern worship music but I absolutely CANNOT STAND that song. It’s the most repetitive, monotonous, and overused worship song ever written. I groan just about every time I hear it.

      • Interesting thought. I hadn’t really thought about how the melody doesn’t fit the lyrics.

        When our church does it, we combine it with the chorus of “How great thou art” to up the “oomph” factor.

        • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

          See, “How great thou art” is an anthem! I challenge any church to try and play that without people joining in the song for all their worth!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Never mind “Jesus is my best friend.” It’s way beyond that.

      What about “JEESUS IS MY EDWARD CULLEN! SPARKLE SPARKLE SPARKLE SQUEEEEEE!!!”?

  6. Jeff,

    I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this post. Thank you! Rant more often!

  7. I didn’t realize Ramsey was bad advice. Imonk was actually in favor of some of his materials (though where they were used was not brought up). I personally heard him speak for about 30 minutes and walked away with some pretty darned good tips that are gonna help me a lot in the long run, I think (debt snowballing! Makes penny pinching sound fun!).

    While I can understand your frustration with his materials being used in your spiritual greenhouse, I’ve just gotta ask: If you low-ball his advice, I wanna know where you’re getting some better tips! I’m no financial genius, but I can follow a recipe.

    Oh yeah, Imonk did say that Ramsey was a man who made a heck of lot of money by simply telling people some some very common sense things. Moralistic therapeutic deism is one thing. But when religion is replaced with common sense, we have officially reached an all time low.

    • You can get all the Ramsey plan you need by listening to his show. HIs advice is generally good, but he views debt like an alcoholic views booze. Considering how much of a wake up call so many Americans need in regard to their spending I would say he does more good than harm.

      That said, I have to agree with you on the marketing technique.

      • It is his view of debt that I really object to. Not that we desire to steer clear of debt, but his approach that we should be very, very afraid of debt. He continually quotes “the debtor is slave to the lender” to drive it into our heads that we are to fear debt.

        Jesus taught two things about money: Live as generously as possible, and above all do NOT worry or be consumed by money. Ramsey teaches the opposite: Fear debt. Think about it all the time so you can come up with a plan or budget to stay out of debt. Again, here is where I come down: Jesus does not want us to be in control of our lives. He wants us to die and then he will live thru us. That includes our money.

        • Mike (the other chaplain) says

          Jeff,

          I’m not following your logic at all. Many Americans, including Christians, are in debt up to their noses…..I can give my debt to Christ all day, but the repo man is still going to take my car if I’m not careful. Christ has something to say about everything, including how we use our money. I think you are compartmentalizing way too much and, I’m afraid, beating your fists against the air.

          Mike

          • I have no doubt that debt counselors are very necessary, Mike. As are doctors to help us lose weight and marriage counselors. My problem is 1) the way these programs I mentioned are presented. They want us all to be “winners” rather than embracing our lostness so that we can enter the kingdom. And 2) they are put forth in an atmosphere where people are very susceptible, as sheep are, to believing “well, the church is sponsoring this, so it must be the way God wants me to go.” Then they spend the money to buy the materials, watch the videos, believe all is going to be well, and…well, it ain’t. I talked to a financial planner once who says he spends all day with clients cleaning up the mess that Ramsey and his like creates.

        • Jeff, everything we have is his. We are stewards. Debt (outside of prudent mortgages, education loans and maybe car loans – the last two can be debated) can weigh you down, contribute to bad choices in the present and future ( e.g., taking a job that you hate just to pay off the student loan, fuel greedy choices like buying more house than you can afford, etc.). The economic downturn was due primarily by people leveraging up, and encouraged to do so by bad private and public policy.

          What does this have to do with Jesus? He taught about money more than anything in other than the kingdom. The oppressive spirit of mammon is behind money. It screws people up like no other, and Christians by and large run from hitting the topic of money head on. A good teaching on money plus a practicum is something that I think Jesus would approve of.

          My husband runs a Willow Creek course for people that are interested in our church and it has been really helpful for people. It is not a small group study, it is not a sermon, it is not a sacrament but just help for people that need it and has some biblical underpinning. I don’t know about this other program, so I make no comment it.

          It is not a mortal (or venial) sin for the church to come alongside people to help them in their everyday lives. God does too. And yes, while discernment is needed, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

        • I think you have Ramsey completely wrong. I’ve listened to him a lot and have followed his advice. I will be debt free this Spring thanks to it. He does teach you to fear debt, but the purpose of that is so you don’t have to worry about money.

          And as far as “the debtor is slave to the lender” bit, is that a false statement? Is it not from the Bible?Certainly it could be a bad thing if taken out of context and out of balance, but it seems silly to have that complaint.

          You could certainly call me a fan of Dave Ramsey, and take that as you may, but I do get a little uncomfortable with how he uses Scripture and portrays his faith at points, but overall I don’t think he is so bad as you insist.

  8. So much of the business, self-help, life improvement, positive thinking teachings have been ‘churchified’ & marketed in such a way as to fit neatly into the greater ‘church’ dynamic. Heck, just look at the popularity of Glenn Beck or Limbaugh. Nothing of the gospel in their claptrap, but the audience keeping the ratings strong swallow it as being gospel…

    There is the ‘expert’ or ‘celebrity’ persona that does make the peddling of their snake oil, well, smoother than other brands. So it is easily slipped into church settings with an unspoken affirmation of this being ‘gospel’ also…

    Church sponsorship is a marketing gimmick. I agree. Same with Christian Yellow Pages. Heck, anyone can put a fish symbol on their logo to make it more palatable to a consumer. It is a crazy way to promote one’s business or vocation, but then the idea is valid: such people expected to be of a higher caliber than others in the marketplace. However, the ‘stuff’ being peddled is not anymore holy or God approved because of the manner it is promoted. And giving such approval from the pulpit carries with it that divine sanction that does artificially make it out to be gospel-ish…

    • One axiom I practice in the construction industry: never trust a contractor who advertises with a fish logo.
      At best, it only means (if he’s sincere about it) that he will be forgiven for the wrong he is about to inflict on me.

      • I worked for a top Christian radio station in the early 80s as a sales rep. We quickly figured that if a business used any Christian lingo in its name (“Agape Hair and Nails”) or featured a fish logo, we asked for cash in advance before their ads began to run. We were stiffed too many times by “Christian” businesses…

        • Ethan Magness says

          Okay, now I understand this rant. You helped publish One Month to Live and you worked in Christian radio. You have earned the right to rant in a way I never will. 🙂

        • Wait…que the sentimental music, now the announcer with the sweet voice… don’t forget to mention the name of the dentist/car dealer/chiropractor (with serenity in the name) along with the word christian…..Oh… and a scripture quote in the commercial gives you extracredibility…..

      • One more Mike says

        One of the rules I live by is to “avoid the fish”. That’s why I like the “Christian yellow pages” and “The sheperds guide”. I know who NOT to do business with. The people I have been burned by the worst were the people who asked me within the first minute of meeting me what church I went to. Steve is dead on with his observation and it doesn’t just apply to construction.

      • This is the correct answer and totally inline with my experiences as well. Never do business with anyone who promotes themselves as a Christian business.

        • Simply put, when the fish logo is utilized in advertising, it tells me that you are relying on a type of “spiritual nepotism” as your primary means to attract business.
          It is natural to initially find business contacts through networks and personal connections, but those networks ought to then develop via the strength of your reputation and the experience of satisfied customers. If your network is “juiced” via the fish logo, it tells me you have not been interested in developing your personal reputation for business integrity.

          • If your network is “juiced” via the fish logo, it tells me you have not been interested in developing your personal reputation for business integrity.

            Very well articulated…

            Our witness in the world+marketplace should be one of integrity, not advertisement affiliation. Needing that extra Christian symbol on the logo, or Christian sounding wording in the description, seems to me to be false advertising with the intent to lure or entice naïve sheep to be fleeced, not treated with Christian charity+respect…

            My experience has been to avoid the advertised Christianese jingo-lingo or logo business ads & simply use the time honored process of word-of-mouth reputation or personal experience of friends+family. It is the wiser place to start.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Never do business with anyone who promotes themselves as a Christian business…

          I’d have to agree. There’s a lot of fakes out there who use a fish or Christian to lure in easy marks. And even when I have experienced a real Christian business, some of them let their professionalism slide under the theory that their Faith is enough. (And then there was that Christian (TM) used car dealer I tries based on a radio ad — when I showed up looking for a car, the salesman drew his Bible and started on the Four Spiritual Laws…)

      • Richard Hershberger says

        It also means (if he is sincere about it) that he isn’t very good at paying attention. Otherwise, he would have noticed what Jesus had to say about people who stand on street corners ostentatiously praying.

  9. Bravo, brother. Bravo. Preach on.

  10. One of my favorite things about Chesterton’s writings (and Lewis’s too) is the way that everything he writes just bubbles over with his excitement about how EXCITING God is. God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, creative, kind, jealous, joyous, and the ultimate of every good thing we can only glimpse occasionally here on earth. By comparison, we’re terribly boring!

    I wonder if this isn’t what some of these people are missing: the sense of excitement with God. Thinking that they have to woo people to church with fitness plans, for crying out loud? I wish they would just turn off all the lights and go outside on a starry night and realize that A) all the statistics of their church are insignificant and B) God is better than any of those things . . .

    On a side note, I think Rick Warren may be onto something with his Daniel Plan. They’ve already got a giant open room, a top-notch sound system, and I presume a praise team and stage. Next week everyone can show up in their casual stretch clothing, spend the first few minutes warming up, and then get down to blasting the fat with today’s hottest Christian tunes! They can clap to the praise choruses while doing jumping jacks, and whenever the leader yells “Amen” or “Hallelujah” everybody has to drop down and give him ten. And the tagline can be: “Become a New Man (or Woman) in Christ with the Daniel Plan!”

    Yup, we’re about to see a fitness revolution. Sigh.

  11. Dan Allison says

    Unbelievable timing, Jeff. I just resigned as member, elder, and media coordinator tonight over precisely these matters, came home, and found your rant/rave.

    I’m following Jesus right out the door. Thanks so much!

  12. Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

    OK, I’ve probably got too much to say on this, so I’ll try to be more briefish. On the one hand, I don’t have problems with the church community offering some practical help in the form of classes or advise on practical matters. Nothin’ wrong with the brethren helping each other get out of debt or live healthier or relate to their spouse, children, etc. better. After all, we’re not to compartmentalize our lives and those are real-life issues. And we should be there for our fellow Christians in these matters.

    BUT to dress up that stuff a disguise of spirituality is stupid. It’s probably creeping toward the sacrilegious side of things to try and baptize that kind of thing. As Steve Brown has pointed out, we Christians have a bad habit of isolating ourselves in a Christian Subculture where we only watch Christian TV and listen to Christian Music and eat Christian Cookies and wear Christian Underwear…

    If they really want to get to the spiritual truths behind some of those problems, they ought to explore gluttony and greed have ensnared so many of us Christians without us even realizing or acknowledging it. They ought to teach marriage in a sacramental way that is a model of Christ’s love for the Church. They ought to teach about how the family should be the “domestic church” where we live out the gospel in our daily lives. Same areas of life; totally different worldview.

    • “Christian underwear”… That gave me a smile. It’s probably really sexy underwear–you know, the kind they were giving out during Sex Week at church, so married couples can have the hot sex God designed marriage for.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        This the same Seven Day Sex Challenge that was delivered from a bed (installed in the sanctuary) instead of a pulpit by Mr Megachurch Pastor and his wife (preaching from said bed) the same day us Romish Papists were attending the Mass of Christ the King?

    • Richard Hershberger says

      My only disagreement is with that “we Christians”. This is not a general trait of Christians. It is a trait of modern American Evangelical Protestants. (There are other groups of Christians as well who do it, such as the Hutterites and the Amish, but that is a different discussion.) One of the most annoying habits of modern American Evangelical Protestants is to speak as if modern American Evangelical Protestantism and Christianity were one and the same.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        “American Evangelical Protestants” have hijacked the word “Christian” without any other qualifiers to apply to themselves and themselves alone. To an AEP, if you’re not one of them, you’re not really Christian (TM).

        Example is the Christian Fiction Publishing industry, where Christian means Fundagelical. The Christian Booksellers Association was originally the Baptist Booksellers Association, until they hijacked the word “Christian Fiction” to apply to their Jesus Junk and their Jesus Junk alone, Amish bonnets and all. And all other Christians (of various stripes) who write fiction have had to struggle under guilt by association.

        • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

          For what it’s worth, I do see the same kind of mindset in some non-Evangelical circles. Just spend a day listening to EWTN for the Catholic version. But you’re right, the main culprit of that kind of self-ghetto-izing in Christianity is Evangelical Christianity.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      As Steve Brown has pointed out, we Christians have a bad habit of isolating ourselves in a Christian Subculture where we only watch Christian TV and listen to Christian Music and eat Christian Cookies and wear Christian Underwear…

      “And you’ll only drink milk
      If it comes from a Christian cow!
      Stop spending your bread
      Keeping the heathen well-fed —
      Line Christian pockets instead!”
      — Steve Taylor, “Guilty by Association”

      Testamints — Just like Altoids, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!
      GodTube — Just like YouTube, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!
      Christian Chirp — Just like Twitter, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!
      Praise Hero — Just like Guitar Hero, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!
      Seek & Find — Just like Google Search, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!
      Johnny Hammer — Just like Justin Beiber, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!

  13. Our church is going to be starting a “One Month to Live” sermon series based on the book. Has anyone had any experience with this and would be willing to comment? I noticed that the book is recommended by both Osteen and Warren, so I suspect it will be some variation on “Your Best Purpose-Driven Life Now”.

    • I have to be careful here. I helped to outline that book. I was in the room with the writer when the book was drawn up on a wall-size white board.

      I am just wary of “schemes” and too much cutsie stuff. That said, the Shooks came across to me as real and desiring the best for their church.

      I suggested to our life group a couple of years ago we study Eat This Book by Peterson. We got thru about four chapters before it was deemed to be “too hard to understand.” Sigh…so that is why books like One Month To Live are there.

      Why not suggest working thru all three of Capon’s books on the parables of Jesus? That would certainly melt minds…

      • Why not dispense with books for about 6-9 months altogether, which can be to the ministry of the word of God what Lean Cuisine microwave meals are to real food?

        A radical solution—radical in the sense of dealing with the root of the matter—would be to suspend small group meetings for a month or two with the understanding that from now on it’s going to be dependent for content on that arises out of your own relationship with God.

        “What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, em>everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” (1 Cor 14:26)

        The real problem is that the majority of us can’t stand on our own two feet with God. We have secondhand relationships based on what Christian authors, speakers and teachers have learned from God. We live vicariously through the experiences that we watch, hear, read, get excited over and tell others about—but they happened to someone else who wrote about them, talked about them during a radio interview or preached them on a television program.

        The unintended consequence of this is that people try to shoehorn their lives into whatever study guide, DVD series, book or seminar that is currently making the rounds and causing a buzz but may not necessarily have any relevance to their real life. I can tell you from experience that this gets tiresome, and at some point people just give up and look elsewhere—or just give up on church.

        • The small group I led did experiments because of this. We spend several months just reading the bible aloud, without discussion or debate. Then we spent a few months going through the book of common prayer. But taking that next step and having people show up without a spelled out plan or theme is too much for some members- type A personalities?

      • I would like the Capon discussion series. I read From Noon Until Three recently and found it very helpful. I do attend a SBC church, so that’s not a promising idea. I’ve thought about putting something up on Craigslist for a non-denominational discussion group to see where that might lead.

  14. Having waited nearly 2,000 years for Jesus to come back and set up His kingdom as He promised, and with no positive sign that He’s coming back in the near future (unless you happen to be Harold Camping), the church in America and hence its members became and continue to be more concerned with how to live better and happier in this world. Self-help, marriage and financial improvement, weight-loss programs, etc. – things people do when they expect to live a long time and don’t expect the Lord to return for an even longer time. Despite a few wars, most things in this world have gotten and continue to get better and better – better health, better medicine, better entertainment, better transportation, better technology, etc. The world is just “better” – or seems to be – than what is “not from the world.” So why wouldn’t people be enticed by things that make them happier in the world, instead of trying to separate themselves from it?

  15. I am the first one to say, “God does not care in the least about that” when someone asks me to pray that it not rain on their wedding day, or that they get an A on a final exam. However, i disagree that God does not care about your marriage. Marriage is as holy to God as the church, and he uses marriage to teach us to die to ourselves. If “being a better spouse” advice is absent the gospel, absent dying to self, absent Jesus, then it is drivel. But if the marriage advice is all ABOUT the gospel, then that glorifies Christ and pleases God.

    • Believe me, I know this church. It will be Drivel with a capital “D.”

    • I’m approaching my 20 year anniversary and when I got married, I hated Christians. I had no thought of God on my wedding day — only the thought of the lifetime commitment I was making to my wife. I did not get married in a church, but in a casino in Las Vegas. I did not look for God to bless my marriage or do anything at all with it. The success or failure of it was purely in my and my wife’s hands. When I see our Christian friends getting divorces, I wonder if it is because they looked for God to somehow make things better in the holy relationship and it didn’t happen.

      Really, some of the weddings I’ve been to where it seems like God is totally absent are ironically those in churches. It is all about giving the bride the most special day of her life, with her parents going into debt to finance the whole production. The focus is not on vows before God, but on satisfying human ego.

      I’m hoping my daughter, when it comes time for her to marry, will do it in a simple ceremony in the office of the justice of the peace, with the focus purely on two people making a lifetime commitment to one another, attended by a few close friends. I doubt that will happen but hope is never in vain 🙂

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Really, some of the weddings I’ve been to where it seems like God is totally absent are ironically those in churches. It is all about giving the bride the most special day of her life, with her parents going into debt to finance the whole production. The focus is not on vows before God, but on satisfying human ego.

        Out of curiosity, Fish, has anyone done any research as to whether the “Disney Princess Wedding”-slash-Bridezilla Syndrome is more common among Christians than the mainstream? In a lot of cases, “married” is Christianese for “laid” (as in “getting XXXX”) with Christian girls being “marriage-crazy” instead of “boy-crazy”.

        (You know the type… Go to Christian college after the M.R.S. degree, “Ring by Spring or you’re not trying”, mass weddings to beat the date of the latest Rapture Scare, constantly chasing for a husband to the point of tunnel-vision.)

        In such a “I’ve Got to Get Married” environment, I would expect Bridezilla Syndrome to be widespread, with the corollary of unrealistic expectations after the wedding night. I wonder if this might be one of the reasons behind the Christian divorce rate — so much time and energy spent on getting to The Wedding that there is none left over for the marriage afterwards.

    • Actually if you read Paul and the writings of the early church more focus was put on virgins… but I agree that God in a marriage is very important…

  16. Becky or BK as Jeff calls me says

    This is the Jeff I know and love!

    Here is my take. Everything you said is right on and true but my take is motive is the key.

    If things like financial planing are going to be done, I think small groups and/or special weekday classes are the way to do it. Sunday is about worship so self-improvement/personal gain seem to me to be opposite of laying down my life. Church however, is also about community so it follows that it would cover a vast area of topics.

    My problem is with the texts we use more than the topics. If these topics were taught and discussed using the talents and gifts of the people in our congregations and the Bible was the guide; I say go for it. I would go listen to any of the men who are on the finance board at my church discuss how they handle money. I know them. I know they are gifted in that area and that they love Jesus. I would know they are sharing their gift and wisdom, not profiting off it. Exploring how marriage is talked about in the Bible would be at the very least a reminder. But I wouldn’t want anyone teaching it to me, I would want a couple from my church that I know has been married 40-50+ years, seen some tragedy and hasn’t been divorced.

    The BUT, and it is a big BUT is that motive matters. If we are using these books, classes and big conventions to get a better life for ourselves we know instantly we are looking at self, which means we are not looking at Christ. Cannot serve two masters kind of thing. BUT if we are learning how to handle money so that we can send more funds to the starving, house the homeless in our city, provide medical service, etc for our community than yes, being good stewards is worth taking some time for. If our desire is to strengthen families so that our kids grow up understanding what family is and our sons learn from our example how to be GODLY men and our girls how to be GODLY woman and that love witnesses to the world, a love beyond understanding then I am all for it.

    Sadly, I think our motive is for self gain not Christ gain and there lies our problem. Paul said it best.
    “To die is gain, to live is Christ.”

    Disclaimer: This is sent from my lousy phone. Please excuse any errors. I can kind of spell check but I can’t fluidly read all I posted. I am sure I will be horrified when I look at it from the computer. 🙂

    • Becky, this came out GREAT sent from your “lousy phone.” And what you say is very important.

  17. Good post. Thank you for speaking boldly and clearly.

    Self-help programs are so attractive precisely because they are actually good. That’s what makes them dangerous, and the danger is twofold: first, that they will usurp the place of the gospel and growth in the faith; and second that they will be seen as worthy of this usurpation (bit it’s so good!) and even in the worst cases mistaken for a the gospel. When that happens, we stop being the church.

    .

  18. Jeff,
    I used to eat up Dave Ramsey but, I like you found that doing it at church was way off base. I would listen to his radio program in my car but, the idea of going to some church function to learn how to get out of debt by Dave Ramsey… well I think we have crossed a line.
    Oddly, get out of debt, improve your marriage, get your kids off drugs etc… it’s just all law. Strangely, the more I hear “Jesus wants you dead and he does the rest” I begin to want to lie still just as a dead person would. All of this other drivel just increases the trespass all the more. We just become that hampster in the wheel and we never seem to make any head way. The moment we get out of debt we realize we don’t love our spouse like we used to. It is NEVER ending. So, basically we do all this self improving for what gain? Jesus isn’t smiling up in heaven because I don’t have any student loans. I think that we forget that phrase right as Jesus gave up his spirit. “It is finished.” When you start giving us all of this crap to do to me you are saying well actually it wasn’t totally finished.

    • Brilliantly put, Robin. Excellent.

    • “The moment we get out of debt we realize we don’t love our spouse like we used to. It is NEVER ending.”

      Awesome. Totally awesome. And oh so true. It.Never.Ends.

      • Besides, those seminars (especially the marriage one) who on earth could ever live up to the demand that is placed on someone in marriage? In my opinion if you attend enough of these seminars you are going to go insane with the constant attempt to do it right. Because you are going into it with the mentality that you have not done been living for God and now you are going to get these steps or life principles or whatever and you are going to get better. But believe me, You will never do enough, love enough, etc and honestly I think it just ends in despair. It’s kind of like how Paul didn’t know about coveting but, once he learned what it was he just couldn’t stop himself:) It’s like once they introduce more law, we naturally end up doing it more often to our dismay. So, what ends up happening is we just fall farther and farther into despair seeking to do it on our own when Jesus said “hey I died for your bad marriages, debt, and all of those other flaws that make up YOU. Yes, my death already took care of all of your garbage. Yeah, you will still struggle but, I took care of it and now you are mine. In the past year the Gospel has become real to me finally! I am beginning to relax and rest. But, I am still shuffling along and I am constantly taking one step forward and then two steps back. However, as I am slowly moving along I realize that all of these programs are just too much and the Gospel seems so little yet, it totally frees you from the rat race.

    • “Jesus isn’t smiling up in heaven because I don’t have any student loans.” He may not be, Robin, but I would surely be smiling if I had no credit card debt. It’s our own fault, but that is not making it any easier to get rid of. Believe me, I am looking at options.

      • JoanieD, you are right it is great if we don’t have debt. My husband and I make that a practice but, I just know that so often these things tend to replace the dead and risen God. I don’t mean to imply that we can just spend and be bad stewards and that is somehow good. I just think that Jeff is right that the focus at church needs to be one thing only.

        Thanks for the comments. In a few posts back Jeff said you are the nicest person on the internet and I have to agree. When I read your posts I think I would like to have coffee with you!

        • Thanks for your kind words. Robin. I would like to have coffee with you, too. I don’t feel like a very nice person today. I feel like a very sad person. But I don’t want to drag anyone down into sadness with me. After I take a bath and settle in with the sixth book in the Narnia series of C.S Lewis’ books, maybe I will feel a bit better. So many people say we cannot live our Christian lives based on “feelings” and that is true and yet, I do also believe that Jesus thinks our feelings matter. His presence on earth made all of the physical creation matter and we humans are his most loved part of that creation. God works through these humble human bodies that we have.

    • We just become that hampster in the wheel and we never seem to make any head way. The moment we get out of debt we realize we don’t love our spouse like we used to. It is NEVER ending.

      Wow. You really hit the nail on the head, Robin. Great comment.

      The other result of this constant striving is an undue focus on self. In the end, it’s all about me and how good I am. That approach both leads to the sin of pride and inevitably sets people up for the disappointment you so well describe.

      Contrast that with dying to self and taking on the humble and self-effacing character of Christ. I’ve been married for 23 years now and I can tell you that probably the main key to a successful marriage is the ability to die to self, have humility, not have great expectations for self, and serve others. There’s true joy there, but I couldn’t begin to reduce it to a series of neat self-help steeps or techniques, and I wouldn’t want to.

  19. The content of your rant is why (to a large part) I am not in church today.

    Let me join the voices that have said, “Thank you for this post. Rant-on, Brother – Rant on!”

  20. Regarding the Ramsey topic. Our church is offering it after much promotion but to take part you must pay $99. Is this typical? I’m not understanding why one would have to pay.

    • I think so. My church has offered it on occasion ( just offered it as a class available on Thursday nights, felt more like “using our building” than “ministry, if that makes sense).

      As I understand it, they charge because they want people to be “invested”. Thought being that if you paid a hundred bucks for the program you are more likely to stick with it and actually take the advice.

      I do agree that Ramsey approaches debt like an alcoholic. But….I tend to extend more grace to the alcoholic who rants about the evils of booze than I do my legalistic, tee-totaler in-laws who look down their noses at someone having a nice glass of wine with dinner.

      I used to listen to him on the radio but quickly realized that he had very little to offer me….wife of a CPA and woman who was raised by parents who modeled sound financial practices.

      Ramsey abused debt to the point of almost destroying his family. Many of those who are drawn to his style of teaching are in the same boat he was in and looking for a life raft.

  21. It just seems to me that we spend so little time at church praying to God, thanking him for what he has done for us, that we should not take that time away from Him, so that we can work on making our lives here on earth better,

  22. Thanks for the rant. I’m not particularly bothered by much of the above. I am bothered by the all too large Jesus-shaped hole. All the extracurricular programs are nice, but don’t fulfill the purpose of the institutions we like to call churches. I hail from a charismatic background and I’ve attended too many services where the “extras” are advertised (aren’t there enough infomercials on Sunday morning?) and a “how to get your miracle” sermon is preached with Jesus serving only as punctuation.

  23. An analogy here about the life improvement programs at church:
    I am a married man. I work 5-6 days/ week to to put food on the table. I fix up the house. These are practical things I do because I love my family. But they do NOT define my family, or my relationship to my wife. I love my wife, and I sometimes express it to her with cards and flowers. But it’s not the cards and flowers that count – – anybody could just phone that in!

    Yes, I know it is popular to say “all of life is worship”, just as I could look at my job and my home maintenance and say “all of life is marriage”. The more important question for a church in worship is, what is the conversation when I recognize I am in the presence the presence of my God?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The more important question for a church in worship is, what is the conversation when I recognize I am in the presence of my God?

      Belonging to the original Western Rite Liturgical Church, I would say that is what the Liturgy is for.

  24. Thanks for this, Jeff. It’s the things you describe that have kept me from going back to church for almost four years now.

    I’d like to find a church that sticks to the Gospel, and stays away from the theraputic, moralistic stuff. It’s not easy to find in my part of the wilderness. I’ve been down that road; all it did was stress me out to the point of heart problems and attempted suicides. I’ve given up on trying to fix myself. If Jesus can’t do it — or rather, hasn’t already done it — then there is NO hope for me. I’d rather have Him than a thousand programs on how to lose weight, get out of debt, or have a better marriage.

  25. this is great stuff. i’m glad to see it was pretty well received too.

  26. Jeff,

    It is little wonder that the faith of many of our teens amounts to therapeutic, moralistic deism. Your rant reminded me of the review on IM of Kendra Creasy Dean’s Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church.

    This rant does have a purpose. It is a call to repentance to return to the Gospel of Christ Jesus, to focus again on His death, burial, and resurrection.

    Peace,

    Tim

  27. Thanks for these sharp and incisive insights. People are searching for humanness and they won’t find it in this sort of pseudo-psycho babble. In many churches today, Christians are not being taught to be human. There is a failure to inform believers of the following: Creation counts; they will only find themselves in community with God and others, not programs to make us feel better, or wiser, or less heavy. Christ is Lord of all of life; following in his footsteps is what being truly human is all about. Spirit empowerment opens up a missional calling and transformational possibilities; these are deeply anchored in the gospel. Christians, of all people, ought to be extending a vision of humanness that makes sense, and ultimately it is the biblical vision of the world that does this most truthfully.

  28. I agree wholeheartedly with 95% of the article. Here’s my disagreement: I do think God cares about our marriages, our parenting, and our finances because those things are part of “loving your neighbor as yourself.” I don’t think He cares about them in the way of having a shiny, perfect family, a boat, and trips to Europe, but the concern is there.

    • Nicole, I agree. He also cares what and how much we eat., the way we care for the neighbors who live on our left and on our right, how well we do in school or how well we do our work–these are all things that make up our lives. Jesus himself is LIfe: we are to float on his sea of Life.

      In other words, he wants all of us, not parts of us. So yes, all these things matter to him. But they are to come from a life lived out of Life, not from “workshops” that are frankly designed more to make money for the presenter, or to bring more people into the presenter’s church, then they are to enable one to realize he or she is a loser and thus they are saved by the only Winner.

  29. Personally, i think that God would want me to get out of debt if i was in it. However, i agree that the gospel is not a textbook that helps me to do that.

    A question, Jeff. When you write a post like this, are you thinking only about the hypocrisy you are trying to expose, or does the fact that rants are generally fun to read, and thus contribute to the readership of the this site, play any part?

    • I rant because 1) it is burning in my heart, and 2) I hold the keys to this site, so I have the ability and freedom to rant when I want.

      I don’t do it lightly. Writing what I did yesterday drained me and depressed me.

      We have incredible numbers of readers already. We don’t write things simply to spike comments. My writers have never been told to do that, and never will. All of our writers have the freedom—actually, the responsibility—to write as they feel the Holy Spirit leading them. That is why we have the best writers on the internet.

      If I were you, I would choose the Nancy and Sluggo covers next time. They are a lot safer than my rants…

  30. Ethan Magness says

    Of course God cares about our marriages. And God cares about our finances and our health.

    How many broken and breaking marriages do I need to counsel before I as a pastor decide to do public teaching on the subject? How many people do I need to help move out of the home they have lost because no one ever taught them how to manage money with any wisdom before I am allowed to offer tools to groups to study financial management? I have read dozens of group based financial planning material. I don’t enjoy Ramsey much and he exaggerates his case, but people like him and they do change their habits.

    There is so much pain in these areas. I really do feel like this kind of teaching is analogous to giving a cup of water and binding up the wounds of the broken. Would you feel the same if the church was providing GED training or other social services to the community?

    If you are in a “life group” then I am assuming that you care about all of their life. Why not release your pride and share life with these people? Apparently they need to be called back to financial sanity. Great. Engage with them. Submit. Live with them, not beside them or above them or in derision of them, but live with them.

    I know this is a rant so you are not trying for balance. I am not even sure if I stand to defend the methods you have criticized. But the need is real. If not these methods then what. Do I ignore the real financial, health and relational suffering of the people around me and just tell them to go die and Jesus will take care of the rest?

    • “Do I ignore the real financial, health and relational suffering of the people around me and just tell them to go die and Jesus will take care of the rest?”

      You are asklng good questions, Ethan.

    • Of course God cares about these things. I don’t think that’s the point. The point is do we seek the Kingdom above all these things. If we are doing that, these other things will take care of themselves.

      Of course doing this is easier said than done. My wife and I are in the process of moving, and we’ve had to sell our current house while looking for a new one. It’s a very tiring, frustrating, and potentially worrisome process. It’s the kind of stuff that will keep me up with worry at night if I allow it. However, I’ve simply reminded myself this entire time that I need to simply trust my Father in all this, and not become consumed by the process.

      I know people who swear by Ramsey’s stuff, and like Jeff said, it’s not that he necessarily gives bad advice. It’s just I think he instills this mentality that we can provide our own security by making the right decisions, and by having all of our ducks in a row. I think one reason why events like the shootings in Arizona affect us so deeply is that it temporarily shatters these myths. It doesn’t matter how well we have our financial books in order, how good our marriage is, etc. All it takes the act of a crazy madman, and we could be dead. In those instances, we need to cling to Jesus above anything else.

      • Ethan Magness says

        I agree with your concern about programs like Ramsey’s easily teaching us to be secure in our own wealth. I certainly agree that we must seek first the kingdom. Thanks for that clarity if I had implied anything else.

    • some don’t deal with the pain of others, they throw the “gospel” at them & see if it sticks.
      you are asking good questions & it sounds like you are trying to do what Jesus has called us to do. 🙂

    • “There is so much pain in these areas. I really do feel like this kind of teaching is analogous to giving a cup of water and binding up the wounds of the broken. Would you feel the same if the church was providing GED training or other social services to the community?”

      This is an awesome question! Until we have walked a mile in a broken marriage or felt the panic of knowing that we are close to losing the roof over our children’s heads, it is easy to say that churches shouldn’t be invested in such things.

      Let’s be careful not to toss the baby with the bath water here folks. Yes, the church should gather for worship which is focused on God and teachings which focus on the finished work of Christ.

      However, to say that a weekend retreat for couples or a Thursday night series on finances isn’t with in the scope of what a church should offer? Really?

      Self-help sermons and folks who are using the name of Christ to make a buck ( whether Olsteen or the plumber with a fish in his ad) belong in the same conversation.

      Outreach programs for helping the homeless and a financial classes which help families to not become homeless…..I would dare to guess that few on here would suggest that helping the homeless isn’t a Jesus-shaped activity.

    • Glad you jumped in here, Ethan. A pastor’s perspective is what we needed in this.

      Yes, there are many hurting people in your church and in mine. But Jesus’ command still stands: Seek first the kingdom of God. Seek it. Seek it. Look for it in every circumstance, including bankruptcy. Including divorce. Including our eating habits.

      The bottom line is this. All of the programs I mentioned in this rant, and many many others beside, are designed to make us winners in life. Jesus calls us to be losers. These programs want to help us live. Jesus calls us to die. And that is where they miss the mark.

      From how you write, I can assume you care for individuals placed under your care. That is all too rare in churches these days whose pastors are much more concerned with “church growth” than the lives of those already there.

      If Dave Ramsey, et al, would help someone who is seeking the kingdom of God, fine. As for my life group, there is no one in that group who is in dire financial needs. They are watching this to know how to better budget, how to build wealth. I have nothing but love for them, and will gladly set my pride aside, but it is the “teaching” of Ramsey I object to. It is wrong.

      Ethan, thank you for contributing to this discussion. Keep it coming…

      • Jeff, although I am not familiar with his material, I know that Michael Spencer credited Dave Ramsey from saving them from financial disaster.

        • I have also used his techniques… but it is totally separate from my faith life and has nothing to do with being christian….

    • I really apprecate this pastoral perspective. I struggled with the same questions when teaching a SS class/small group for a couple of years. We had people with struggling marriages, drug addictions, bankruptcies, rebellious kids, affairs, you name it. And the general educational level was pretty low, so they didn’t have a lot of resources or knowledge to draw on. It was also one of the most real and honest groups of people I’ve encountered with a real longing to walk with Jesus.

      I did bring up financial concepts, and I used some relationship/marraige self-help stuff. But never in its raw form. I always started with the Jesus/faith/spiritual/biblical foundation (I had to come up with this myself — the self help stuff either didn’t provide it, or did so in such an anemic fashion that it was useless) and kept coming back to it when teaching these subjects. And self help wasn’t the main course by any means. But a little of it was there, I hope in the right perspective and context. The needs were great and they were real.

      So I’ve seen the practical needs. But I still understand and appreciate the rant because while mere self-help oriented approaches don’t transform lives, lives transformed by the gospel and living it each day will also produce the fruits of practical help and love in action within the community of believers. No marketing needed.

  31. Thank you for mentioning the antichild bias… We have been effectively kicked out of church because we don’t want to send our children to Sunday school. They are quiet and well behaved, but we are “too culturally different” and unless we send them off to five separate locations with a rotating cast of uninterested strangers, I can’t be involved in the music ministry, which I’ve really enjoyed. It’s bullying and inappropriate grasping for control. Not a lot of Jesus… A whole lot of programs though, including Dave Ramsay.

    • My church just changed from the Children’s Church model to having all ages in worship (with nursery care available if the parents want it) and you know what? Despite all the fears, the world did not end.

      Crying babies can be distracting, but to me it is the sound of life. Weddings where children are subtly discouraged lest they interrupt the best day of the bride’s life…. if you aren’t prepared for the sound of crying babies, then the likely output of your marriage is going to be a real shocker.

      • “if you aren’t prepared for the sound of crying babies, then the likely output of your marriage is going to be a real shocker.”

        That was pretty harsh, Fish. Just because someone doesn’t want crying babies at their solemn ceremony doesn’t mean their marriage is going to fail.

        • I don’t think Fish said anybody’s marriage was going to fail. He said the output of marriage (which often includes babies) will be a shock to an otherwise ordered life.

        • I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that all. I meant that if crying babies bother someone, they are going to really be bothered when they have one of their own.

      • I specifically requested no children attend my wedding, and had a few nasty rsvp responses because of it. We now have a toddler and another on the way, and the all the noise and adventure that comes with kids is not only expected in our house but appreciated. We both come from families with more than a few kids and knew what to expect. But welcoming that noise in your house is very different than welcoming at your wedding ceremony.

  32. If my observations of prayer requests in a communal setting are any indication, all God cares about is our physical ailments since we never pray about anything else.

    /sarcasm

    Nicely said Jeff. I like the fact that you aimed your words broadly, including things that most folks see as OK. It’s the “nice” things that seem to most easily supplant Jesus.

  33. I am simultaneously amused and aghast. Okay, on one hand, I sympathize with your anger–debt management and weight loss are clearly secular subjects which do not particularly benefit from the addition of Jesus. On the other hand, I find myself wondering why you have gravitated to a church which would even consider such a thing. Are there no regular churches in Tulsa? Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, something like that…?

    • Werner, you can’t swing a dead cat in Tulsa without hitting three churches. There are plenty of “regular” churches in Tulsa. But the one I choose to be a part of is, for the most part, very real. Very genuine. Very good in the presentation of the Gospel. There is not a lot of flash or show in what we do.

      If my church were to shut its doors, I would start my search with the Lutherans, then the Anglicans. And I would not rule out the Catholic church.

      But I have been in my church for a dozen years now, and since they let me keep coming back, I think I’ll stick with them as they have with me.

      • If my church were to shut its doors, I would start my search with the Lutherans, then the Anglicans. And I would not rule out the Catholic church.

        Talk about taking a flying leap out of the post-Evangelical wilderness!

        Lord, have mercy!

        Would you consider the Eastern Orthodox Church in your flight from craziness?

      • If the Catholic Church were to disappear tomorrow I would gladly move to the eastern lung (Orthodoxy – Greek strain)… but I do appreciate your consideration of the Catholic Church… yay….

        • Radagast,

          So would I. I even took St. John Chrysostom as my patron saint, for confirmation. That way I am somewhat connected with all major branches of Christianity.

  34. Your so-called rant helped to explain a lot of things for me.

    Why Christians ask such questions as like:

    “why should I care whether or not people can afford health care or not?”

    “why do I need to watch whether or not my words are insultting, or mean, or cruel? Don’t I have free speech”?

    It explains why so many people who call themselves Christians seem to have attitudes seriously at odds with what Jesus did, taught and commanded.

    These people aren’t evil, they don’t KNOW any better because their “churches” have failed them.

  35. I am so glad I am not the only one! My problem with Ramsey is similar to other commenters. I have one additional problem, I actually like Suze Orman’s advice. It sounds horrible to many that I listen to an openly homosexual person who doesn’t pretend to be a Christian, but at least she is honest. She doesn’t make any attempt to use Churches as her marketing tools. Also, her advice is simple “people first, then money”.

    In general, I get my best financial advice from those who don’t advertise themselves as Christians.

    • Exactly. If my car needs repairs, I want a good mechanic to do it, I don’t care whether he is a Christian or not.

      As for the church, its mandate is to preach Christ and him crucified. It is not for financial counselling, marriage counselling, beauty tips or anything else.

  36. Joe Rutherford says

    It sure would be wonderful if so called ministers would stop selling the Word of God. Christian websites have books for sell. There seems to be lots of Christian meeting places where the Word of God has a price tag on it.

    I’m wondering how many ‘ministers’ will be looking for a place to hide when Jesus appears in the sky?

  37. Well said Jeff.
    What is more important than what is being said is that the preaching is accepted as the primary message of the church and that the gospel proclamation is replaced week in and week out.

    I sat in these churches and was lost for sometime. It does not have to be the bright lights, flashy distractions but that the key gospel proclaimed “for you” is nowhere to be found.

  38. I agree with some of what you rant about. I especially agree none of this “self-help” should be in the sermon or worship service. But most of what you are talking about is from “small-groups”, programs, & “life groups”. I don’t have a problem with Christians working together & walking together to try & live a life with Jesus’ teachings close to heart.

    Let me let you in on a little secret, if you are 50 lbs over weight you suffer from the sin of gluttony. If you are in credit card debt for nothing but “comfort purchases” you suffer from greed. Greed, gluttony, lust, selfishness, & all sins our ruining marriages & lives. To work with a group of believers to try & get some control of your life so you can serve the Lord is not a bad thing or turning your back on the gospel.

    You seem to think the gospel is magic. It is not. Presenting the gospel to an alcoholic who can not get sober does little good. Sharing the gospel with someone who is scared to death that they are going to lose their home may not be the best answer to their current problem. Sometimes walking with the suffering, loving the suffering, & even HELPING the suffering is the door that leads the suffering TO the GOSPEL.

    “Jesus is not a self-help guru. He is not interested in you becoming a better person. He could not care less with you improving in any area of your life. Because in the end that is your life. Yours. And he demands you give it to him. All of it. An unconditional surrender. He did not come to improve you, or encourage you, or spur you on to bigger and better things. He came to raise the dead. And if you insist on living, then you’re on your own. Good luck.”
    This is just antinomian & silly. Jesus does care about us! Jesus is interested in us! Jesus does want our lives & he wants not just to improve them but to make them perfect! Jesus will perfect us, it just won’t be completed on this side of the river Jordan. But the “unconditional surrender” is not surrendering your wanting to serve the Lord as one of his children, it is to surrender wanting to make yourself better for yourself, society, or this world.

    For the record:
    -I agree with those above – Dave Ramsey seems to be ministering to a need in people’s lives. Money is important, we need to learn to manage it or it could manage us.
    -Rick Warren is the best thing that has come out of the SBC in a long time. I have disagreements with him. But I’m usually about 85% with him.
    – I have little use for Osteen
    – that church in Tulsa sounds scary!
    peace

    • Now I’m going to rant. I’m pretty bugged by your post, Jeff, and I’m surprised at my own reaction. I’ll try to put it into words, and I hope I don’t offend.

      I’m in agreement with briank. One thing that caused me to leave the church was that people who were suffering serious problems, like alcoholism, abuse, etc., just had someone say to them, “Oh, just pray to Jesus! Just die to self! He will fix all your problems!” And everyone walked around with a plastered smile on their face, and hid their deepest sins, and Jesus was their boyfriend.

      Telling people to “just accept Jesus” is spiritual pixie dust. He told us to worship in Spirit AND in truth. Accepting Jesus, praying, and accepting that I must die to myself is worshipping in Spirit. Worshipping in Truth is searching the Bible to find out how to live my life. How to solve my problems God’s way. How to heal my hurts, habits, and hang-ups. And when I don’t have the answer, I need to seek wisdom and counsel from someone who has more knowledge than me–whether Christian or secular, doesn’t matter. Christians do not have the corner on wisdom.

      Do I have crippling debt? Yes. Do I know how to pull myself out of debt? No. Do I need to seek counsel? Yes. Is Jesus going to come down from heaven and tell me how to run my finances? No. Maybe I need someone like Ramsey or Crown Ministries or CCCS. I do need Jesus, and then I need a framework from people wiser than myself for how to live like Him. (And I need to test that framework and not assume it is good just because it was given by a “Christian”.) I simply wasn’t born with financial knowledge and I need practical help.

      Getting that help alongside my Christian brothers and sisters is a good plan, not a bad one. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if I am pursuing wisdom with my brethren then I am IN God’s plan, not OUT of it. If church is not making life better, then what’s the point? And no, I’m not talking about the prosperity gospel. I’m talking about my church family spurring me on to be better spiritually, emotionally, physically, and financially. Iron sharpening iron.

      Jeff, you say that Jesus wants us to die to ourselves and He doesn’t care if I become a better person. I happen to believe that Jesus wants me to die to myself so that I CAN be a better person. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Only when I am a better person can I follow the #1 commandment, which is to love. Am I ever going to reach perfection? Heck no.

      Could you also explain this comment: “He came to raise the dead. And if you insist on living, then you’re on your own. Good luck.”

      I know Jesus loves me and saved me from my sins. That is the milk–I need the meat, too.

  39. Scott Miller says

    Jeff, if you would just repent of living in Tulsa most of this would be taken care of!

    🙂

    • Scott, you have no idea how close I am to selling my house and moving back to Ohio just so I can be a part of a tiny church in Middletown where they eat the Gospel in weekly communion, sing the Gospel and preach the Gospel—and do very little else.

  40. I don’t know Ramsey. But his message sounds a lot like what Ron Blue was putting forth several years ago. And therein lies a point that supports what Jeff is ranting about.

    Most of the new initiatives discussed here (weight loss, financial management, a ‘better’ you) are not very bad in themselves. But they are all bad to the extent that they peddle themselves on the basis of newness. Weren’t Promise Keepers, The Prayer of Jabez, Master Your Money, Take Back Your Temple, and WWJD bracelets already supposed to do what these new fads are claiming THEY will do?

    Rick Warren isn’t a heretic. His gospel message is pretty tame and solid. But he does real harm by peddling the message, over and over again, that a person needs to buy his new book in order to get started. Every such program does harm by teaching that the key to success has something to do with 7 Habits or 40 Days or 30 Points.

    “New” and “more” are bad guides for the Christian, whatever the topic. The Christian message is simple, direct and imperative, or it is no longer the Christian message at all.

    • …and the gospel is free!

      Both free & freeing! Liberating! Good news! No, great news! And should never be used in such a way as to lend some credibility to the book, seminar, conference, DVD, CD, trinket, talisman, charm, etc. being peddled in the Court of the Gentiles…

      There is a subtle superstition that associates itself with the gospel as if “good luck will rub off” if you shake hands with Jesus. He is the most copyright infringed person I know. Used as a grace luck charm for whatever is associated with His reputation. Lord have mercy… 🙁

  41. Speaking of finance. Our church’s evening class is going to be listening to David Jeremiah’s “The Coming Financial Apocalypse” Rest assured I will not be attending.
    Nothing like substituting faith with a little paranoia…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      That sounds like “The Gospel According to Glenn Beck” — GOLD! GOLD! GOLD! GOLD! GUNS! GOLD! GOLD! GOLD! GOLD! GAWD! GOLD! GOLD! GOLD! GOLD!” etc.

      (I have to field phone calls “advising” me what to do with This Latest Hot Investment from a guy who as far as I can tell is using Glenn Beck as his financial planner. There are a LOT of “Hal Lindsay of Gold Futures” out there…)

  42. david carlson says

    Going to disagree.

    Jesus was all over money. And many people, myself and many other Christians, have made really bad decisions that now impact our lives and how we spend our money. Or not spend it, as the case may be. Paying off credit cards at 31% interest means we do not have money to spend as God desires.

    A church offering a class on money management is a great idea in how believers can put their faith in action.

    I believe fully that churches should not just preach it, but help their members live it. And if that is offering Dave Ramsey based classes, so be it.

    • Yes, but are Dave Ramsey-based classes going to help? If they could help, then similar classes offered by similar gurus would have solved the problem years ago.

      Is the phrase ‘put their faith in action’ appropriate here? Those programs have a gloss of faith, but what they sell is a method. And a method requires deliberate attention to . . . the method itself. A method is not faith.

      What we want is not another new miracle exercise routine. What we want is a change of heart that will allow us to delight in activity, and a change of heart after which we will delight to eat for nourishment and for fellowship, but never for any of the wrong reasons.

      • david carlson says

        We have a number of people in our church who it has helped. People who have reduced/eliminated debt and know spend much more of their money on various missions, church, etc.

    • Jesus was all over money as a dependent sub-category of the Kingdom of God. The mistake people make is to think that because you’re talking about something Jesus talked about, you must be talking about him and his priorities. This isn’t the case. You don’t get a free pass to say what you want because it seems like it’s in the Bible somewhere. You preach things like this as explicitly dependent on the cross and resurrection, and never with personal improvement as the end goal.

  43. John Morgan says

    Thank you for this, nothing to add other than Amen!

  44. The more I hear of this “Lutheran-antinomian Gospel”, the more I think it is just therapy for tired, middle-aged men. 🙁

    • Just read the Book of Concord or attend you local Lutheran church before you come to any conclusion.

      The preaching of the pure promiscious gospel is always met with “they are antinomian” responses in various forms.

  45. David Cornwell says

    Sometimes on weekends when I can’t drive the 30 miles to my church, I attend a local UMC church where my daughter goes. Up until they had a change in pastors last year they had this Ramsey stuff every so often. The service I attend, with my daughter, is in a large multi-use building and has a “contemporary” slant. When you walk in on Sunday morning for the service, they always had advertisements on the screen announcing the classes. During the “break” they have in the middle of the worship service (for a re-fill of coffee, donuts, and cookies) the advertisements would be flashed on the screen once again.

    The new pastor seems to be steering gradually away from this stuff. The worship is taking a turn for the better, and these kind of commercials are disappearing.

    It’s not just the “evangelical” churches that are buying into this stuff. Some mainliners are turning to any kind of crap in an attempt to turn around dismal declining membership. And it is working if they can connect this with the right gung-ho (sp?) pastor. But it seems mighty shallow.

    • “It’s not just the “evangelical” churches that are buying into this stuff. Some mainliners are turning to any kind of crap in an attempt to turn around dismal declining membership. And it is working if they can connect this with the right gung-ho (sp?) pastor. But it seems mighty shallow.”

      Yes! I’ve experienced this as a member of a conservative PCUSA congregation. It is one of the reasons I’ve lurked on and off here for years in the Evangelical Wilderness. In our case it all comes down to pastoral leadership. Some years ago, our new gung-ho pastor, decided we needed to be “Seeker Sensitive”. It is gone downhill from there, trying out nearly every trend from the Evangelical/Non-Denomination churches and seminaries. All of these trends failed. Early on, I picked up on the shallowness of it all. What is profoundly sad is that when he came on, the church was actually growing and full of dynamically faithful people doing God’s work. Now, although we are still larger than most congregations, we have lost enough members over the years that there are serious concerns. We are still doing God’s work, but the spiritual light is much dimmer.

      I mentioned to a seminary student I know that I thought the mainlines were damaged by this type of influence from Evangelical/Non-Denominational groups. The student affirmed my thought and implied they were discussing this in seminary. We didn’t have time to continue the conversation, but it does make me wonder about the growing, formerly churched population out there.

      • David Cornwell says

        Some of the mainline churches started to go gung-ho over the church growth stuff back at least as far as 1980. I remember a church growth guru or two from Fuller came to our UMC Annual Conference and some districts to present their programs. Numbers became the big thing. Numbers for attendance and membership. At district meetings certificates were given to the winners in different church categories. Seminars were held. District Superintendents and Bishops were on board. They told us how to conduct worship (little w I think). I’m not sure if Seeker Service was in yet, but it was the same shallow stuff.

        This growth emphasis naturally led to all kinds of “how to” programs with a Jesus brand.

        I’ll have to admit some individual churches did start growing. I just could never quite get into it because this isn’t what I thought a pastor should be doing. I finally left the ministry after leading a very successful building program, another sidetrack from the gospel maybe.

  46. I am mixed on the rant.

    I agree that not enough churches are sharing the gospel or including Jesus as the basis of the messages that they preach, but can you really share the gospel every week?

    I mean the gospel is that Jesus died for our sins and allows us to be reconciled back to God right? Once I am saved / dead if I hear that same message every week, I am not growing spiritually. While I am dead in the flesh, I am alive in Christ and I must know how to live in Christ right? That is generally the purpose of these courses and programs. I admit they are watered down, but the church isn’t growing because we are birthing people into the faith. They are being converted by God and from what I have seen from mainly not Christian households.

    They didn’t grow up on the word or under a Christian structure, so these people are the babes who need to drink the milk and be spoon fed the message. Yes it comes off as watered down to others who already know it, but it isn’t for them. It is for those new believers who need to develop the principles as they struggle to reckon themselves alive unto God. The church should offer more meatier teachings to those who are mature, but we cant forget the newborns. Isn’t the purpose of the church to equip the saints to survive in the world while being apart from it? Why send them out to learn how to survive in the world by those who are of the world? That point is lost on me. Marriage principles, financial responsibility, parenting skills. These and many more are needed by those claiming Christ if they are to be a faithful witness to Him. To deny the teaching of them in the church is irresponsible.

    I agree Rick Warren seems off base with this new program. I heard about the Daniel Plan from other books and I can see the biblical basis to it. It is not a bad thing to consider with the obesity and processed food that plagues us, but I don’t think it should be taught or expanded on by those who want to bring eastern spirituality into the mix. It should be based on a diet that Daniel followed and not some chanting and meditating techniques.

    I am all for dying to self, but the church has to teach living for Christ or you end up having a dead church.

    • Personally, I guess I’m tired of churches offering these sorts of programs simply because because their seems to be an unspoken understanding in churches that once a church offers them, they are ordained. That creates this whole culture of busyness within churches where people could literally be doing something or other within the church every night of the week. It creates guilt for people who don’t want to be involved, and it puts all sorts of demands on volunteers who want to help out. I sometimes almost feel that being involved in church programs can be a substitute for actually living our real lives.

      I’m not saying that having fellowship of some sort apart from a weekly service isn’t good or necessary. I believe it is. I just wish it would happen in a more natural and organic way. If people need help with their finances, there are all sorts of ways churches can do that.

    • “but can you really share the gospel every week?”

      Yes, you can. You don’t stop growing spiritually when you hear this every week, you stop growing spriritually when you hear it delivered as merely as an empirical information transfer every week. This isn’t a mature vs. immature question, but a “what is your center” question.

    • Xander — In response to your statement, “I agree that not enough churches are sharing the gospel or including Jesus as the basis of the messages that they preach, but can you really share the gospel every week?” I would offer this.

      If the Gospel is a piece of information that you need to know, it would be stupid to share it every week. Maybe occasionally going deeper would help, or trotting it out again so that new folks can hear it.

      But if the Gospel is not just information but is food and drink and air, then yes, we can share it every week. It doesn’t seem repetitive that we eat three times a day. We don’t complain that we just ate yesterday.

      I suspect that churches put on the programs Jeff is ranting about because they feel that the Gospel is a data point and everyone’s already got it — so what do we do now? I’m a teacher, and I’m guilty of that thinking, too — I have to remind myself that just telling students what to do won’t improve their writing. They have to live day in and out according to their new way of life before anything will really change. I could give them the information they need in a few minutes, but the transformational part comes in the repetition of new habits. If our life in the Body of Christ is going to be transformational, it has to be repetitive.

      • I could not have said it half as well as Damaris has just said it. The Gospel is not our entry point into a life in Jesus. It is every part of our life for eternity. The sad thing is I think very, very few who call themselves “Christian” really understand what the Gospel is. And even sadder, I don’t think very many care to know. Losing weight and having a better marriage is more important than the message, “Your life as a winner means death. Your embracing the death of Jesus is the only way to real life.” You don’t build a successful ministry preaching that week after week after week. But you do make disciples…

    • So churches that proclaim the Gospel each and every week are dead churches?

  47. A couple of things:

    1) I was just talking with some friends about Mr. Ramsey and his presence/message within the church. My observation is this: The dangerous thing about him and his message is that he does not temper all of his exhortations toward financial building with the Biblical wisdom of Solomon, who said, ‘I have all of this wealth, and I am empty. I have all of this wealth, and it is meaningless.’ This is important for Christians to bear in mind as they listen to Mr. Ramsey.

    As Christians we are called to hold dear in our minds and hearts the things that are above mere monetary concerns. I have seen too many well-intentioned people get led astray by Ramsey and his university. I have seen too many people become pre-occupied by their wealth and portfolio. I have seen too many Dad’s take on a second job and become unable, due to their new obligation, to attend their sons little league game. Which will echo into eternity more, the time that you spent with your children teaching them about life, about meaning, about love, or the few extra dollars that you stored away that will ultimately just fade away? I have seen too many couples forgo cultivating their affection for one another in order to stay within the budget. I have seen too many couples grow distant as a result of their over-identification with their finances. What will impress one’s children more, a sound financial standing or the agape love that their parents display toward one another? The best thing that parents could ever give their children is not money, but rather, it is the quality of their relationship to one another. The bond between a husband and wife will be remembered long after the money has been spent. We do not find our identities in how much money we do or do not have. In the end, it is about love.

    2) ‘He did not come to improve you, or encourage you, or spur you on to bigger and better things.’

    I don’t know about this one. I understand, I think, what you are trying to convey here, but I think your ranting and raving got away from you here. Didn’t Jesus say, ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’ ? Don’t we see Jesus weeping? I do think that Jesus cares about the quality of our existence, and that he does, in fact, want us to become more authentic versions of ourselves.

    Other than that, GREAT article!!

    • Jason, perhaps I was not clear enough. Jesus did not come solely to improve us, or encourage us, or spur us on to be winners. If this occurs out of a life lived in him fully, then so be it. But we read in Hebrews of those who followed God and had less than an “abundant life” as defined by this world. Being sawn in two is not exactly what I would call a quality existence, but the author of Hebrews—and God himself—sees them as the winners.

      So I stand by what I said, but perhaps I could have said it better…

      • Thank you for the clarification!! I WHOLEHEARTEDLY AGREE!!!!! Yes, this is an angle that is all to often minimized in order to make room for the ‘bigger, better and more’ “theology” that has come to define so much of North American Evangelical Christendom.

  48. I remember as a young man asking someone I admired if he was a Christian. He said yes, but im not a “Professional Christian” meaning he didn’t use his beliefs tofurther his business interests.That stuck with me. Some churches remind me of Amway dealers, if you are one of us then you are in the group and we will all profit from it.

  49. This might help shed some light on the difference between teaching “sound, financial principles” and teaching Jesus Christ, with sound financial principles as the outflow:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5YzI7b92L8

    It’s a Matt Chandler clip. Notice he doesn’t say we shouldn’t be teaching the material, but demonstrates where the Gospel crucifies our old understanding of money and debt, and raises us from the dead. This is the part that most ministries are either assuming, or flat out don’t get. I’m sorry, but if you can’t articulate practical material in a cross/resurrection sort of way, you shouldn’t be teaching it. At least not under the guise of “Christian ministry.”

    • So, how did you run across Matt Chandler? We live just down the street from The Village Church and I ran into Matt at Starbucks the other day – he has a full head of hair again! 😀

      • Good for him! I’ve followed his ministry on and off for a couple years. I think I found him through a blog. I love everything he’s got on Youtube, and all the sermons i’ve heard him preach- The Village sounds like quite a place!

  50. Wow. May I be the voice of dissent? While I agree with your disdain for those like Olsteen and the therapeutic, moralistic deism that invades the church, I think the anti-evangelical prejudice on this blog just hit a new high! I feel many times that you all condemn in what you consider the ‘evangelical’ church the very things that praise in other places.

    For example; recently in comments to a different posting, someone mentioned that their ‘church’ met in a coffee shop, then went and picked up trash in neighborhoods to show God’s love, and then went and discussed scripture back at the coffee shop. People praised them, because these community-minded, practical ways to show God’s love are great, and it’s awesome that they have thrown traditional church to the side and jumped into the post-evangelical wilderness. But, if an evangelical church tries to practically help people by offering financial or marriage classes, they have strayed from the gospel.

    Responders seem to be all about ‘feeding the homeless’ and ‘supporting healthcare for those who can’t afford it’ as acts of Christian love. But once again, if you offer financial classes so that people can get out of debt and help the poor, you are bad. If you try to do something practically about obesity (which is a huge factor in rising healthcare and insurance costs), then you have thrown the gospel to the wind.

    I agree that these things shouldn’t be the main focus of a church service. That should be the grace of Christ. But come on, at least put a veneer of fairness on the acidic ranting.

    • Hi! I’m with the group that picks up trash some Sundays. Yes, we do it to show the love of Jesus to the neighborhood. We do it to preach the Gospel to the neighborhood in a way that most understand. Some people ignore us, but others engage. Almost to the last person, these people do not identify as Christ followers. Most of them tell us of their own accord that at some point they have been connected with a church, but felt the church was pushing something other than Jesus. They like Jesus, but not so much the church. Traditional churches find it very difficult to engage these people. The people, however, of their own accord engage with us on their own turf. This is not to suggest that you or your church should try to do something similar.

    • So it would be ok with you if your church had a Christian dentist in the pulpit this Sunday to explain the importance of flossing, followed by a Christian auto mechanic the next Sunday to discuss why you need to change your oll every 3000 miles?

      Look, financial counseling is fine. Marriage counseling is fine. And losing weight is fine. So is learning a foreign language, taking up dancing (well, for non-Baptists, that is) and becoming a Sommelier. But is that the purpose of gathering as believers?

      Many have been commenting that these are good things to draw believers closer together. How about if you organized a small group of your neighbors–Christians and non-Christians–and worked thru the Dave Ramsey materials? Maybe you found a neighbor who would commit to walking with you two or three times a week in order to lose some weight. Would that be ok?

      Let’s remember what Jesus said: Seek first His Kingdom. Seek. First. His. Kingdom.

      • The dentist, the car, learning a foreign language, etc.–these are physical problems, and generally are taken care of outside of the church. The church is a place for spiritual healing. Finances, marriage, and gluttony are spiritual problems, so a church is not remiss in addressing these issues.

        Some of us think taking a course with fellow believers to learn how to be a good steward of money (or whatever else we need to be a good stewards of) is actually a part of seeking first His kingdom. Some think it’s not. The disconnect here is that we can’t all agree on what the purpose of a gathering of believers should be. So what now?