This Isn’t About Kanye

Kanye West Jesus is King

“I’m my favorite rapper.” What Kanye West lacks in subtlety, he makes up for in honesty.

Kanye’s conversion to Christianity and his release of an album which reflects that faith, titled “Jesus is King”, is big news right now.

But to look at this and only see Kanye, is to miss the bigger picture.

Christianity is Not Collapsing in America

There has been much talk recently about the decline of Christianity in the United States. However, reports of decline are overstated. I have explained why the numbers alone do not tell the whole story in these posts:

The New York Times published an article this past week about why claims about the “collapse” of Christianity in America are grossly overstated.

On his new album, Kanye is joined by Kenny G, who has also attended his Sunday Service events. Christian rapper NF was recently the best selling musician in the entire US.

Let’s put it this way: Christianity is much more widespread and influential than many would have you believe, and it is not going away any time soon.

Christianity is Thriving Amongst Minority Communities

Why are there fewer Christians were I live, near Boulder, Colorado, than there are in the American South? At least one reason is probably because of the relative homogeny of the  population in this area, compared with the number of people of color in the South.

The type of person most likely to be an atheist in America – and in the entire world – are white males. According to Pew Research Group, 78% of atheists in America are white, and 68% are men, even though white males only make up just over 30% of the US population.

According to one study, for example, at historically black universities 85.2% of students identified as Christian, and 11.2% identified as atheist, agnostic, or none. This is contrasted with a national average in all universities of 60.2% of students identifying as Christian, and 30.9% identifying as atheist, agnostic, or none.

As the major Western countries, including the United States, continue to become more ethnically diverse, it is predicted that we will see the number of atheists and agnostics decline, not increase – due to the fact that atheism and agnosticism are overrepresented by white males. For more on this topic, read: Projections for Belief & Secularization Around the World

If you look at Kanye’s Sunday Services, you will notice many people of color. Christianity is not, nor ever has been, a white, Western religion. African American communities have a rich heritage of Christianity, including Christian music, and it should come as no surprise to see African American people making music with gospel themes; it’s nothing new.

Speaking of the gospel and gospel music, I loved this episode of Carpool Karaoke with James Corden and Kanye West – both what Kanye said, and the music the choir sang:

Of course one of the big topics of discussion has been whether Kanye’s conversion is for real. I really appreciated Greg Laurie’s comments on this:

Furthermore, Kellen Criswell wrote a great article for Calvarychapel.com: Eight Things I Would Say to Kanye If I Could

For what it’s worth, here is my favorite song from “Jesus is King”:

To echo Greg Laurie’s words: I am glad for any person who makes a movement toward God, and I think it’s great that he is using his platform to get people talking about Jesus.

This isn’t about Kanye, but I’m glad Kanye is making it about Jesus.

 

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A Culture of Loneliness and What to Do About It 

loneliness

I’ve noticed something: a lot of people are lonely.

I don’t know if it’s particular to Colorado, or even to the United States. I would guess that it isn’t.

In my conversations with people, this is a recurring theme: they are lonely, they wish they had more friends, they find it difficult to connect with people.

From a quick search on the internet, it seems that this is a widespread problem. This article mentions major media coverage of this problem, and there are some interesting causes which they point to: one of them is the Internet, another is the decline in church membership and attendance in recent generations. This article from the New York Times talks about how research has shown that even in social situations where people are surrounded by others, loneliness can be contagious.

It seems clear that people long for deep, meaningful relationships, but struggle to create them.

What’s at the root of this?    Here are a few things I can see:

1. “Rugged Individualism” Leads to Loneliness

I moved to Hungary when I was 18, spent 10 years there and moved back to the US when I was 28, having spent ALL of my adult life in that cultural setting. When I moved back to the US, even though I grew up here, I had never really lived as an adult here, and so I experienced a good deal of culture shock.

The 2 characteristics of American society, particularly here in Colorado and the West, are what I call: “Rugged Individualism” and “A Pervasive Sense of Loneliness”.  These 2 go hand in hand: the rugged individualism leads to the pervasive sense of loneliness.

In the US, individualism is considered not only a virtue, but one of the supreme virtues. However, in other cultures, individualism can even be considered a vice, whereas being part of the group is considered a virtue. This comes out in our politics: perennially, there are calls for “an outsider” to come in and “shake things up”. Our culture places value on not needing or depending on anyone but yourself, and looking out for your own needs first above those of the community. It’s an every-man/woman-for-him/herself type of mentality. The result of this mentality is an undervaluing of other virtues such as loyalty and self-sacrifice for others outside of your immediate “tribe” (usually a nuclear family). When people do meet up with other people, they tend to be very careful to put their best face forward, showing their strength rather than being vulnerable. Americans tend to be very generous, which is good, but sometimes the motive behind generosity can be a way of showing strength: that “you are weak, and I am helping you, because I am strong”.

2. Isolation is one of the results of “the Fall”

The Book of Genesis begins by presenting the “ideal”:  God and humankind, in relationship with each other, in a world where death and sickness, malice and sin do not exist. However, when humans decided to rebel against God, not only was the natural harmony ruined, but the results were: shame, fear and isolation.

The results of “the Fall” were: shame, fear and isolation.

This isolation was not only isolation from God, but it also involves isolation from each other. People fear intimacy, often in large part because they are afraid to really be known, lest their shame be revealed or discovered. Isolation and the breakdown of community is one of the results and repurcussions of sin in the world.

 

3. A Culture of Fear and an Obsession with Privacy

One thing that stuck out to me when I moved back from Europe, was the degree to which people here in the US are concerned about their privacy. People tend to be very cautious with who they give their address or phone number to, who knows where they live, how much they let people know about themselves. For a people who pride ourselves on being “free” – we are particularly captive to fear in many areas of our lives, and quite obsessed with privacy.

My take on it personally, is: if someone is watching my every move, 1) they are going to be very bored, and 2) they are going to see me live a Christian life, and hopefully hear a lot about Jesus.  I always think of the Proverb: the righteous is as bold as a young lion, but the unrighteous runs even when no one is pursuing (Proverbs 28:1)

Being obsessed with privacy leads to being afraid of intimacy in relationships – which hinders friendships from developing. People are afraid of sharing too much about themselves, afraid of inviting others into their homes, etc.

Okay…but now what?

Here are a few thoughts on how to combat this pervasive sense of loneliness:

Begin with the Assumption, that Everyone Else is Lonely Too

…because the great majority are. Most people I talk to are lonely, yet they assume that everyone else has tons of friends, and that their loneliness is unique to them. It’s not. Reach out to others, because most of them are lonely too.

Embrace the Gospel

Many people believe that they can be either fully known or fully loved, but not both – because if someone was ever to really know everything about them, they could not possibly love them. The message of the gospel though, is that God knows you better than you even know yourself, and yet, he loves you more than you can even imagine; so much so that he was willing to suffer and even die for you.

That love, perfect love, the Bible says, casts out fear (1 John 4:18). If you know that you are fully loved and fully accepted, and that you have nothing to fear, neither in life nor in death, then you are truly free. With a God who is both sovereign and wholly committed to our good, Christians should be the most bold, fearless people in the world, as they allow the gospel to address each and every fear that they have.

Live Out Redeemed Community Life

Furthermore, Jesus told us that the real life that we desire is found not in seeking our own fulfillment, but in laying down our lives – as he did – for the sake of something greater than ourselves: e.g. God’s mission, and the good of other people.  In other words: what most of us are looking for is something which can only be found indirectly: it is not in seeking friends that we find friends, but in serving others. I’ve found that when you pour our your lives for others, you find yourself surrounded by people, and paradoxically, it is in pouring yourself out that you become full, rather than empty.

When you embrace the gospel, you become a changed person. And as changed people, we are to live out the principles of God’s Kingdom together as a new community, that doesn’t function on the same basic principles of community at large.

 

How about you? Do you feel this “pervasive sense of loneliness”?  What causes do you see – and what solutions?  Feel free to share your thoughts below.

 

 

Family Christian Stores Files For Bankruptcy

America’s largest Christian retailer, Family Christian Stores, has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

This doesn’t mean that they are closing down; they are doing this in order to save their company. They are going to restructure and try to stay in business.

Perhaps most interesting though, is that while Family Christian Stores is floundering, Lifeway Christian Bookstores is expanding.

What’s the difference between these two?  In short, I would put it this way: Lifeway has higher standards about what they sell and how they do business.

Earlier this year, when it came out that a certain big name pastor/author had committed rampant plagiarism, Lifeway immediately dropped his books from their shelves. Family Christian Stores, on the other hand specializes in cheesy Christian paraphernalia and selling whatever sells. I remember going into one of their stores once and being surprised to see a particular book on their shelves. My wife asked the manager why they sold that book – his response was very telling: he said he was ashamed to have that book on their shelves too, but corporate said that they had to, because they are first and foremost a business and people buy that product.

It would seem to me that the reason Family Christian Stores is struggling whereas Lifeway is flourishing must somehow be attributed to the fact that Christians actually have higher standards and are more discerning as to where they spend their money and what values they want their retailers to represent than Family Christians Stores gave them credit for.

 

A “Christian Nation” and the End of an Era

Have you ever heard the term “Christendom”? I have often heard it used to refer to the “invisible community of Christians everywhere” – kind of along the lines of the term “blogosphere”.

While that use of Christendom isn’t wrong – it isn’t the historical use of the word either. Historically, Christendom referred to the “Christian nations.” It was a way of dividing up the globe, into “Christendom” and “heathendom”.

One of my professors from seminary, Llyod Pietersen, recently wrote a book titled Reading the Bible After Christendom.

In the book he includes two lists: the first is a list characterizing Constantinian Christianity and culture, and the second characterizes the shift away from it. They are particularly interesting in regard to thinking of the United States or the United Kingdom (or any country for that matter) in our modern era as a “Christian nation.”  Whether or not our founders were God-fearing people, or whether we have a history of movements of God in our country – we need to assess the reality of the modern situation. Sweden, for example, like a number of other European countries, is still technically a Christian nation, whilst practically they shifted away from Christendom long ago.

The other thing you realize from these lists is that maybe Christendom wasn’t actually as great as people think it was. One of the great downfalls of a “Christian nation” is that you give people a false sense of security in their salvation – simply because they were born into a “Christian” culture or society. At least in a pluralistic society (which is what we are in – but was also the situation Paul the Apostle and the Christians in the Book of Acts were in!) people realize the immediate and pressing need for them to make a choice to follow Jesus, and the radical implications that come with it!

Rather than bemoaning the end of Christendom, I believe that Christians are faced with a great new opportunity in pluralistic society – the opportunity to bring to bear on all people the challenges of the Gospel and the call to follow Jesus Christ, because being a Christian is no longer a “given”.

Here are those lists:

Characteristics of the shift to Christendom:

  • The adoption of Christianity as the official religion of city, state, or empire.
  • Movement of the church from the margins to the center of society.
  • The creation and progressive development of a Christian culture or civilization.
  • The assumption that all citizens (except Jews) were Christian by birth.
  • The development of a “sacral society,” corpus Christianum, where there was no freedom of religion and political power was divinely authenticated.
  • The definition of “orthodoxy” as the belief all shared, determined by powerful church leaders with state support.
  • Imposition, by legislation and custom, of a supposedly Christian morality on the entire society (though normally Old Testament morality was applied).
  • Infant baptism as the symbol of obligatory incorporation into Christian society.
  • The defense of Christianity by legal sanctions to restrain heresy, immorality, and schism.
  • A hierarchical ecclesiastical system based on a diocesan and parish arrangement, analogous to the state hierarchy and buttressed by state support.
  • A generic distinction between clergy and laity, and relegation of laity to a largely passive role.
  • Two-tier ethics, with higher standards of discipleship (“evangelical counsels”) expected of clergy and those in religious orders.
  • Sunday as an official holiday and obligatory church attendance, with penalties for non-compliance.
  • The requirement of oaths of allegiance and oaths in law court to encourage truth telling.
  • The construction of massive and ornate church buildings and the formation of huge congregations.
  • Increased wealth of the church and obligatory tithes to fund the system.
  • Division of the globe in “Christendom” and “heathendom” and wars waged in the name of Christ and the church.
  • Use of political and military force to impose Christianity, regardless of personal conviction.
  • Reliance on the Old Testament, rather than the New, to justify these changes.

Characteristics of the shift into post-Christendom:

  • The Christian story and churches have moved from the center to the margins.
  • Christians are now a minority.
  • Christians therefore no longer feel at home in the dominant culture.
  • Christians no longer enjoy automatic privileges but find themselves as one community among many in a plural society.
  • The church no longer exercises control over society but instead Christians can exercise influence only through faithful witness to the Christian story and its implications.
  • The emphasis is now no longer on maintaining the status quo but on mission in an contested environment.
  • Churches can no longer operate mainly in institutional mode, but must learn to operate once again as part of a movement.

 

What do you think?  Are there any Christian nations these days?  Do we really want to be one?

Jesus didn’t live in a Christian nation, neither did Paul. And I don’t think they thought our goal as Christians was to establish them either.