Wednesday, April 06, 2005

I Want My MTD!

I just got around to reading an article that appeared in Easter Sunday's New York Times Magazine called "The Soul of the New Exurb." What are exurbs? Once small counties experiencing rapid growth "into dense communities of subdivisions filled with middle-class families likely to move again and again, settling in yet another exurb but putting down no real roots." The piece highlights Surprise, AZ and the megachurch of 5,000 that has grown in its midst. If the writer's description is accurate, it takes no stretch of the imagination to see why the authors mentioned in my previous post on "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" believe that the unorthodox theological beliefs of American teens don't differ all that much from those held by adults. Describing Lee McFarland, the church's senior pastor, Jonathan Mahler writes:

McFarland works under the assumption that people don't want to be intimidated by their pastors, that modernity has punctured the myth of the morally superior religious leader. He is replacing the sinner-be-damned fundamentalism that once characterized much of evangelical Christianity with forgiveness. McFarland never talks about transforming your life though struggle, surrender or sacrifice; he talks about being happier by accepting Jesus -- into your office, your kitchen, your backyard, your marital bed, everywhere. "People aren't looking for the elevated holy man who's got all of the answers," he told me one afternoon. "They want someone to be real with them."
There are more false dichotomies in that one paragraph than I know what to do with. Fortunately, we don't have to choose between taking a morally superior stance and telling a fellow sinner that he, just like us, is guilty of sin and in need of receiving God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It is exactly because I am under God's condemnation that the message of forgiveness is such good news. The pronouncement of forgiveness through faith in Jesus is not meant to replace the declaration that sinners will be damned but rather, presupposes it. Have we so imbibed the cultural concept of tolerance that we now think it self-righteous to preach the gospel?

The article notes that the church was built on Rick Warren's "Purpose-Driven Church" techniques. This included polling residents to find out what kind of music they listened to and why they believed people didn't go to church. The answers to these questions were then used to structure the services. Fuller Theological Seminary professor Eddie Gibbs, author of Church Next, warns: "The danger though, is that you end up with a Gospel that endeavors to meet your needs without challenging your priorities." He notes in his book that "Worship is designed not to make people feel good about themselves . . . but to make them holy" and offers the following caution concerning limiting worship music to sentimental praise songs: "Intimate worship that degenerates into a casual overfamiliarity is both presumptuous and embarrassing to those who see God from a transcendental perspective."

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