September 29, 2020

Riffs/Open Mic at the iMonk Cafe: Planetshaken, But Not Stirred

psAn atheist visits Planetshakers Church for the big show.

This may be the best discussion starter you’ll see this year. If you want to take a measure of how evangelicals see their world, hand them this description of an atheist’s visit to a high-powered Australian megachurch. Read. Ask for responses. Take notes.

I’ll be quite honest with anyone: In my limited opinion, this appears to me to be the death throes of any substantial evangelical Christianity. The atheistic author doesn’t leave me any hints that the Gospel showed up (and maybe it did.) The stumbling block of the cross? Maybe it’s there and atheists don’t hear it. I’ve never been to Planetshakers, so I don’t know. I can’t judge the Gospel proclamation from this distance. I will say I don’t believe atheists are stupid. If Jared Wilson were preaching, the atheist would have been offended by his constant focus on Jesus.

It’s interesting to me that most evangelicals will read this, not see the probable absence of a clear Gospel proclamation and not see the potential dominance of technological manipulation in the place of dependence on the Holy Spirit and scripture. I believe many evangelicals actually like to be emotionally manipulated by technology and equate it with a spiritual experience. (Timothy Leary, your phone is ringing….somewhere.) Perhaps we’re only a few steps away from Christians creating virtual worlds into which they can enter and have “spiritual experiences” as they choose.

Evangelicals also will tend to see this as an evolution of missionary methodology, i.e. what we now do to “reach” young people. The true spirituality of an event like this- a dangerously addictive technology based spirituality that will crush any lesser version of the Christian experience- doesn’t register, mostly because evangelicals are so devoted to their pragmatic ideals. Is this aimed at the creation of simple faith? Or is its goal an overwhelming sensual-social experience? Is resistance futile?

Reading this leaves me profoundly sad at what is happening to us as we contemplate the coming evangelical collapse (and I assure you, this sort of church is creating thousands of “evangelicals” who will vanish into thin air with contempt for Christianity.) I read it and I understand why my wife is a Catholic and my children are Anglicans. It makes me certain that I’ll live and die in the evangelical wilderness.

So there is my curmudgeonly response. What do you think?

Comments

  1. Remember reading this back in late July during my lunchbreak at work and almost laughing so loudly that I would have had to be shushed by work colleagues.

    I remember going to a Planetshakers concert/conference about 4 years ago before I refound my liturgical roots (yes I am an Aussie myself). At the time I thought it was whiz-bang great (being a techy geek from way back). Until about midway through the 2nd night of the conference when my ears started to bleed and I ran outside to buy myself some earplugs. And when it came to the sermon, supposedly long-time Christians asked me where they could find Malachi (that verse about storehouses, Mal 3:10 and the surrounding verses) in their Bibles. Despite there being a table of contents in it, they ended up not bothering to look because they couldn’t be bothered listening in because they couldn’t wait to get back to “praising and worshipping God” in the music. *rolls eyes&

    At the end of it that conference, despite the hype I had heard, I left wondering how on earth the Christianity I had grown up with and loved could be 5 miles wide but yet an inch deep (or rather 8km wide but 2.54cm deep, if you want metric figures). I heard sermons that were entertaining but gave me nothing but air to chew on. I heard terms like awesome and majesty thrown around until nearly every darn thing was awesome and majestic that the words meant nothing. I’ve never been back since and going by that op-ed article, I don’t think you’d find me going back again (service or conference).

    And @ SallyD, I once heard the main pastor at PlanetShakers, Russell Evans, say that he wanted his funeral to be a party in the church service. From my vantage point, that’s nothing much more than the usual shenanigans that go on there every week.

    • FollowOfHim says

      Brandon F> I was just exchanging remarks with your fellow Aussie skane above. Your ears actually BLED? Wow. In another era that might have been taken for a supernatural sign….. Aural stigmata. “He that hath ears to hear” indeed.

      Thanks also for the metric conversion. One of our own famous politicians, William Jennings Bryant, was once described as being like his home state’s (Nebraska) Platte River: “an inch deep but a mile wide at the mouth.” I never considered the metric conversion of that description before. (Americans often say “the metric system is confusing.” Yeah. All that multiplying by 10 is really hard to wrap your head around.)

      While I’m thinking about it: what happens to pound cake in the metric system?

      /begin/sarcasm/
      American Christians might be able to find Malachi more easily. It’s usually preached from every Sunday morning in the pre-offering sermon.
      /end/sarcasm/

      More seriously, I’m happy you’ve found some grounding in your liturgical roots, wherever that may be, and that you can keep your experiences in a healthy context.

      • Ahhh, if only my ears really did bleed… at least then I’d be up for something like Padre Pio was in life and in death. I’m sure that’s at least one of the ticks in the box for sainthood or something… =P *just kidding: RC’s don’t take that last statement too much to heart!*

        Glad to see that the metric conversion works out alright for you FollowOfHim. Though I think that pound cake in metric terms would be “400 gram cake”. A bit of a mouthful to get out.

        And LOL @ the sarcasm! It’s nearly 12:30am as I type this and I’m having to stifle laughter to avoid waking up the rest of the people in the house. =)

        Yes, my liturgical roots, a mixture of evangelical Methodism and Anglo-Catholic Anglicanism. It’s a far cry from the PlanetShakers experience indeed.

  2. Excellent.

  3. Ran Vosler says

    The difference between “rock concert” and “worship service” is a purely internal thing. That said, here’s one meager tactical suggestion:

    Put the band and singers in the back. Let them do their thing, but it’s quite a different experience to have full music, albeit not focused on the “stars on the stage.” It worked in a Lutheran church I attended decades ago….somehow even with amps and all, it was a holy experience. FWIW.

  4. Neville K. says

    Did everyone catch this part?

    “It felt as if Jesus was going to turn up any minute…Then out came the pastors. Middle-aged blokes peppering talk about Jesus with constant references to the footy, reality shows and McDonald’s.”

    Those of you who object to the concert for not being spiritual enough–well, that’s what the pastors were supposed to provide, no? But it sounds like they were the least successful part of the show. Or are you saying they should put MORE emphasis on the “middle-aged blokes”? I realize you probably object also to their sermons, or what was reported of them, but do you honestly think a more traditional presentation would have been any more interesting?

    Church in its traditional form is widely understood to be boring. Oh sure, some people like it (or pretend to), while others put up with it because they think it’s good for them. But for most, going to church is a sacrifice, not a pleasure.

    Also, most churches come with a lot of baggage about authority. Should “middle-aged blokes” really be telling everybody else what to do? (Or old blokes, depending on your denomination?) You may not care so much, but the whole hierarchical structure alienates a lot of people.

    By the way, notice that the concert people felt like they had to invite these guys on–some kind of theological thing, like the requirement some churches have that the band has to pray x number of times and do an altar call.

    Anyway, my point is that the concert people are trying to fix problems that the churchy-church people have just ignored and left to fester. Maybe they didn’t fix it the right way, but at least they’re making an effort.

    • Neville, you have entirely missed the point of most the criticism that has been written in response to this post.

      You are right in saying that the atheist visitor may well have been just as turned off by another form of Christian service. That’s a given. The point is, this “church” as described has totally abandoned true Gospel proclamation, Christian humility, beneficial tradition, and Biblical understanding of worship, fellowship, and Christ-like love of neighbor and replaced it with pyrotechnics and spectacle in a supposed effort to wow and impress the “seeker” (but probably more because they themselves think it is fun). This is the rotten fruit of over a century of evangelical revivalism’s commitment to “reach out” without a solid theological basis undergirding their efforts. Joe Bayly wrote about this in the 1950’s, for heaven’s sake, in “The Gospel Blimp.”

      Read my post above and meditate on Paul’s words in 1Thessalonians 2. That’s how we present ourselves and that is how we reach people for Christ. If they reject that kind of appeal and devotion, it’s an entirely different story.

  5. for the last 20 years i’ve felt like a misanthrope in the church. confused by the call of leaders to do more in terms of getting from God for myself and the call of Jesus to give more to the people around me. because of this i decided that if the church wasn’t going to do anything, i was. i’ve worked with some of the most disadvantaged children and youth in Kentucky and Minnesota. i’ve spent time with the homeless, sick and widows. i’ve loved my wife faithfully and raised my children lovingly. i’ve lived the gospel to the best i knew how.
    about five years ago God made me painfully aware of my own arrogance in criticizing His beloved church and thinking that i could do better on my own. He asked me a simple question, “you are really good at criticizing the church, but what are you willing to do to help?” to quote an old college professor, “you’ll never change the system without becoming part of the system.” God really does love His church, with all of it’s flaws. what can we do to love the church more? and don’t give the answer that if the church was more lovable we would love it more.

    • I appreciate your testimony Paul, but your assumption that all criticism of the church is a lack of appreciation for God’s love for the church and is an expression of arrogance is one I cannot share.

      I also would suggest that no one on such a thread is announcing they do not love the church, aren’t serving the church or stands above the church demanding that it be lovable.

      I just received two emails about abusive church situations. If the voice of the ordinary Christian cannot say “this is wrong” without questioning of their motives, such abuse will simply continue.

      I affirm your call for a motive check and the need to be constructive and part of the solution. I can’t go with the direction of your comment that God’s love for the church means Luther should have sat down and shut up.

      peace

      ms

      • i only meant that my lack of appreciation for God’s love for the church was arrogant.

        also, i agree and do not mean to imply that we should always be silent. my point, as you’ve said, is that we who serve as critics need to be more aware of our motives and state of heart and not assume we know other people’s motives.

        i specifically agree with your statement, “If the voice of the ordinary Christian cannot say ‘this is wrong’ without questioning of their motives, such abuse will simply continue.” if more people who sensed that something was wrong were able to say it, things would be simpler.

  6. The distant occasion of tables being overturned, and whips cracka-lacking in the temple comes to mind.

    I am all for using technology in evangelical ways. However, in situations like the one described in the article, it is rare to ever see the true humility modeled by Jesus. Or the not-letting-the-left-hand know what the right hand is doing.

  7. Many churchgoers like to think their version of Christian doctrine is perfect in every way.

    The mega churches are worst for this. Jesus drove the ware sellers out of the temple with a whip yet most of the mega churches have a brisk trade in all kinds of knickknacks within the church temple every day of the week, including Sundays. I wait for the day when they are again driven out of the church.

  8. Interesting synchonicity with this post in that I just visited Planetshakers to evaluate their worship service for a class (I’m an Anglican, btw). The article is fairly accurate in its description. Memorable moments:

    – We need to ‘position God’ to receive our praise. ???
    – A young women in a red shirt being singled out to be told that she needed victory in her life – God now giving her the name ‘Victoria’.
    – Singing the same chorus upwards of fifty times, then being told by the pastor, without irony, that we often need to ‘sing a new song’ because old songs can get stale when we’ve sung them too many times.
    – People being begged to let go of the bondage of the Big Bang Theory and Evolution
    – A healing time devoted especially to people who take medication for long-term medical problems such as blood pressure.

    And most significantly for this discussion:

    – Being assured that becoming a Christian doesn’t mean joining a church or performing a ritual, it means a personal relationship with God. Now pass the giving bucket and credit card forms….

    I don’t think post-evangelicalism can arrive soon enough.

    • iMonk, this post of mine was a bit of a vent which on second thought I would probably prefer not to leave up, since the discussion is on the phenomenon not the particular church. I would appreciate if you could delete it.

  9. I have only one real question in response to this. If this is a apears to you to be the death throes of Christian evangelicisim, what do you propose we do about it?

    Admitedly, for most of us it isn’t our congregation we’re reading about. Admitedly many congregations have similar characteristics to greater or lesser degrees. Admitedly pointing out the problem is the first step towards finding a solution. Can we please, please, please move on to the next step. If that’s pointing out what is working (or did work historically), or experimenting with new ideas that no one’s tried yet, or simply getting down to the specifics of what went wrong to facilitate addressing the problems piecemail. Criticism is only different from bad-mouthing if it offers hope of(and perferably a plan for) improvement.

    Or is it your position that the evangelical church is beyond recovery, beyond hope, and no longer used by God in any meaningful way?

    • That’s a pretty evangelical response. What’s the next thing?

      The post evangelical answer is that the answers have always been there in the smaller, deeper, more ancient, simpler, Christian traditions. They are there in China, India, and the global south. Theres a world that has said no to the evangelical circus.

      It’s there for whomever wants it. It’s not going away, which is more than I can say for what we’ve reading about here.

      As long as we want to play in the playground of cultural idolatry, we aren’t going to see the answer. The kingdom was right in front of the Rich Young Ruler, yet he asked Jesus to give him the next big thing. When he got his answer, he turned away.

      What will it be evangelicals? Power? Fame? Celebrity? or The dusty roads of Galilee and the world? The church of the poor? The small places? The real deal.

      The problem is in OUR HEARTS brother. Not in our program.

      • That response raises more questions than answers, but Jesus tended to do that too. I do find it hard to judge the hearts of all those attending Planetshaken to be in the wrong, but I think your point is not where their hearts are, but ours should be and using this as an example.

        Anyway, thank you iMonk for your thought provoking article.

      • iMonk, you are right, the answer is in our hearts. What will it look like when our hearts are right? I don’t claim to have much wisdom in this area, but here are a few of my dreams…

        1. A resurgence of smaller, simpler, neighborhood-oriented churches.
        2. Worship that is simple, hospitable, sacramental.
        3. A less “professional” ministry (in the world’s terms) and a humbler, more pastoral model of leadership, Biblical preaching, spiritual care and formation.
        4. Congregations that are truly missional–abandoning the “temple” mentality where everything revolves around the organization and its programs, freeing and encouraging people to celebrate God’s presence in everyday life, finding ways of serving their neighbors first, sacrificially supporting their brethren and mission efforts around the world, and planting churches in new neighborhoods when they reach a size where intensive pastoral care and community become difficult.
        5. An undeviating focus on the Good News of Jesus rather than moralism, culture war and political issues, and theological hobby-horses.

        These characteristics comprise my understanding of (your term) “Jesus-shaped” churches. Forget “the cutting edge.” Put technology in its place–in some cases, abandon it when it keeps you from face-to-face relationships. Slash the budget, focus on the essentials, and give the rest to missions (but take good care of your pastors). Serve those who have no way of paying you back. Abandon the impulse to impress. Stop spouting the party line long enough to listen to your neighbors and discover afresh what it means to be human and living in a fallen world. Grow up. Get real. Get on “the way” and walk with Jesus in the community of his friends and those who can guide you along the path.