Building Arks and Propping Up Faith

A church in Texas is building a life-sized replica of Noah’s ark.

Because that’s a good use of millions of dollars.

Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk calls it the “Disney-ization” of Christianity – taking classic stories and making cartoons out of them.  This may help you sell a product, but it does little in the way of creating disciples of Jesus.   Fred Clark quotes the pastors of the church who say that the reason for building this ark is to show people that the story really happened, to which Fred retorts, “And because building a replica proves something happened, just like the way Peter Jackson proved the existence of Rivendell.”

What does such a spectacle ask people to put their faith in?  Cool graphics and colors? Jesus?

People are walking away from the church on a daily basis.  Building a gigantic ark is not going to convince the skeptics to stay on  board.  Providing spectacular entertainment that wows a person may be enough to provide a good vacation or a fun afternoon, after all, that’s what amusement parks are for, but it is not enough to build a life-changing religion, relationship or spirituality.

Churches can choose to shelter kids as long as possible in an attempt to prop up a shallow or non-existent faith, or take the risky move of following that crucified Jew from Nazareth all the way into the suffering in our own world.

Too many churches choose the shallow way, and I resonate with what Jen Hatmaker says about this:

 I’m hungry for a church less known for sanctimony and more for their shocking intervention for hungry babies and human trafficking and racism and injustice. Christianity is too thrilling to reduce to middle/upper-middle class First World Problems, encapsulated in issues and gauged by a nebulous moral compass that lost its bearing decades ago.
People are starving – spiritually and physically – and this world needs some Good News, but they can’t decode what is actually good about us. Good is finding a safe place to struggle, to doubt, to ask hard questions. Good is food when you’re hungry. Good is warm, kind, genuine love extended, no strings attached. Good is clean water, medicine for your sick baby, education, family. Good is community, even before ‘belief’ binds us tight. Good is sustainable work, dignity. Good is Jesus and His backwards, upside-down ways.I constantly ask these hard questions of the Bride, of myself, of my own little family.

Because of this, I was recently uninvited to speak by a large church. They cited my struggle with the church, concerned that “these disparaging glimpses at the church certainly can be helpful to a more mature follower but cause great confusion to those who are not quite so far along in their walk with the Lord.” In fact, it is the exact opposite. It is the young believers asking the questions and finding very few safe places to do so. Sanitized Christianity in which the church is propped up and healthy criticism is labeled as “spiritual attack” is the head-in-the-sand approach turning away the next generation.

Amen.

A few days ago news came out that Rob Bell endorses gay marriage.  It was big news.  Some applauded, some shook their heads in dismay.

Yesterday millions of children went to bed hungry, young girls in this country were forced into prostitution and raped by men, other millions died because of lack of clean water or suffered from disease.

What matters more?

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10 thoughts on “Building Arks and Propping Up Faith

  1. So … why is the right response here a dismissive criticism and a gesture towards the insignificance of this in the face of more important things? And, to measure the importance of their work against the suffering and need of this world? That has to feel hypocritical, right? There probably aren’t too many people that could read this that haven’t actively and continually prioritized many things over feeding the world’s hungry and standing up for the world’s abused. Is it a question of degrees? We can mock people for spending a million dollars on an ark when there are starving children but you can still go to a movie?
    I’ll just offer my struggle with thinking this is a fair response.

    1. That may be a fair response. I’ll be the first in line to admit I’m a hypocrite. 🙂

      But does this mean we can never offer critique? I own an iPhone so I can’t voice my opinion that a church spending millions on something is a bit out of whack? I think it is a “question of degrees”, as you said. Every person is responsible to use the gifts they have been gifted with to help others. I am accountable for how I use my own riches. That said, you can see throughout scripture that the more you have the more is expected of you. And beyond the individual, I think the church community, what claims to be the body of Christ, has a large responsibility.

      I think the difference I am trying to get at is that of you going to a movie with your family as opposed to the church community building their own movie theater and watching their own entertainment (“Christian” movies, “Christian” books). It reminds me of a Christian bubble mentality.

      Maybe I am too cynical. But people are walking away from the church on a regular basis and one of the reasons, though not the only one, is that the church in America often creates fun and enjoyment for itself at the expense of the rest of the world. I’d encourage you to read more of the Internet Monk blog, they’ve been talking about this sort of thing for years.

      And like I said, I am a hypocrite. Don’t think if I sound harsh I am ignoring my own messed up priorities. Thanks for convicting me of that.

  2. I understand. Where I fall on this is, for the sake of entertain blog controversy :): Yes, you can’t and shouldn’t criticize something that you know little about. As a tangential question, would you feel their spending was worth immediate criticism if you also knew the same year they did this they gave $10M to feeding the poor and sponsored 25 families in their missionary work in eastern Europe? In this made up year they gave the majority away but kept a small percentage to follow through on a passion they’ve had for years and put off? These are real people even though they’re distant. And importantly they’re theoretically brothers and sisters in Christ. We, or at least I, know very little about them. They are people who have some sort of a relationship with God and are doing what they feel is right. If there is concern that they are yet one more example of a trend, then offer caution and encouragement around what this trend misses or lacks. We can’t just paint them in that corner because we’ve become so aware. So, I mean we should not stereotype and criticize. I also mean that we should be careful throwing stones at someone else’s actions when our own fail the same standard.

    1. So what you’re really saying is I should go back to just posting links to a few recent articles/blogs I read, without posting any comment. No one ever comments on those posts!

      I will admit I was predisposed to be cynical in regards to this particular church. I have read quite a bit about Hagee and his theology and I find it to be a microcosm of many of the central problems with American evangelical Christianity (nationalism, health and wealth, dispensationalism, etc.). I am hesitant to say my actions fail to meet the same standard as I do not have a church with a million dollar budget (campus ministry, we have barely any budget). I don’t think we ought to compare individuals to church communities. In my experience, I haven’t met a student who walked away from the faith because I owned a kindle, I’ve met ones who walk away because the institutional church has mistaken priorities.

      It is interesting, as a sidenote, that we are quick to defend those who move way far to the right (as Hagee) but would we be as uncharitable to those who move too far left? If I had posted something along the lines of criticizing Rob Bell for moving farther left, would you still remind me he is my brother in Christ? In other words, I don’t want to be criticized for disparaging my friends to the right of me if I wouldn’t also be criticized were I to disparage those to the left.

  3. Hey Dave – I’d hope there are other options because I don’t think silence is part of the solution either.
    What makes me uncomfortable is going after individuals (communities are a tempting illusion here) from afar and way outside of them. This contributes to further polarization and break down, both for any coincidental readers of that community seeing attack from afar and readers of your sphere of influence that go “yea, what a mistake”. I am also uncomfortable with standards that lead to answers like they should do this but I’m exempt. Or, what they’re doing is part of the problem in part because they don’t live up to my standard but I’m not part of the problem because I’m not big enough to be.
    For the political part, I suppose I wasn’t seeing that here. I’m not sure how we create a hypothetical “left” counterpart. Maybe there is a Church in New York that decides to reallocate all the money they’ve been spending on tracts, Christmas plays, and “Jesus loves you” billboards. They find out they’re spending a million dollars on what they now believe is Christian sugar and want to spend it on an outreach to LGBT community. But their outreach has no intention of changing their orientation, just on bringing them into the Church. Maybe that’s a fair alternative story. In this case I’d be equally uncomfortable with dismissing them as part of the problem or as having foolishly invested the offering their members put forward because it isn’t focused on ending child hunger. I would have the same comment about needing to remember that they have some sort of relationships with God and are doing what they think is right and we don’t know it isn’t. I would still disagree with reaching into their community from afar and telling them what to do with their offerings and how they should rank the needs and suffering in this world, especially if we fail that ranking ourselves.

    1. Thanks for the good dialogue man.

      I don’t see what I wrote as attacking individuals. Attacking an individual would be more along the lines of, “can you believe Bill put in a huge swimming pool in his backyard…what a hypocrite.” This is a huge church with a national influence (Hagee preaches on TV, my grandma used to watch him) that is building something large enough it made news in the Christian Post. I don’t mean to say I’m exempt, and I apologize if I have come across that way. What would you say can be said on the internet though, if silence is not the solution?

      Maybe this is part of the problem with the internet and a connected world: we have so much knowledge about much that is irrelevant to our lives. We live in a celebrity culture with celebrity pastors and megachurches that distract us with all sorts of news that is irrelevant. Perhaps this post is me being part of the problem.

      My hope would be people read Jen’s post that I linked to and quoted at length. My final question, “what matters more” was meant to challenge myself and the reader. The last word is not to make myself feel good that I am not like someone else, but to ask myself what I am doing to help those in need. Am I more interested in reading about controversies over which celebrity pastor said what and which church spent what, or am I more interested in helping those around me? What matters more? Again, I apologize for my own unclarity.

  4. (Not a retort here but a continuation of your questions about the internet.) I agree with the direction of the question. I am suspicious of the impact that the internet has on the way we interact with the world. I’ve wondered for a while if part of the great shallowing of society is really that we don’t go as deeply into the few thing we did before or rather that we do go more superficially into far far more. I’m sure it’s not an either/or but I think the second has a greater impact than we realize. That’s not directed at you, me or anyone. I’m just curious about what the over abundance of information does and the breakdown of the relationships between our moment in time and what we have knowledge of. I think it is one of the greatest single contributing factors to the polarization of our time. We have the opportunity to speak about things we have no proximity to, separating criticism and action. It isn’t that the critic in this environment intends not to act but that they can’t.
    I also wonder if it temps us to internalize a sense of required action because we have knowledge. There have been critics of the Christian command to love that use the fact that if you universalize the command it is impossible. I remember a criticism from Derrida along these lines. Now I’m not well read in Derrida – of course his texts don’t mean anything anyway. 🙂 But I remember thinking in that class that they’re looking to interpret a command born in a very local time during a hyper non-local time. I’ve chosen to insist that knowledge alone cannot necessitate action when knowledge and proximity are so greatly disassociated. The other thing I’m not crazy about with the information age is that “action” should feel like action and “inaction” should feel like inaction. Our ability to speak and be heard blurs the lines between action and inaction. Again, not directed at you, this is a pressure I see in the information age.
    If we oversimplify for a moment, writing brings time and distance under some control. We aren’t confined to our moment. But in print there is still some distinction between experience of our moment and experience of what writing has brought from distant times and locations. Fast-forward to the information age, I’m not sure we still feel there is a distinction between experience of our moment and what the internet brings to us. It’s much easier to feel connected, relevant, and almost participatory on the internet with things that we are not connected to and certainly not participating in … except at the conceptual level. But concept is destructive when it’s applied to our moment of experience in absence of relationship. The internet allows us to take a concept that is fair and reasonable and apply it to a particular same-time situation we have no proximity to. And that to me is tragic because the distance dissolves the human elements that make criticism, conflict, and debate capable of coexisting with human relationship. It dissolves the human elements that enable us to incorporate criticism, conflict, and debate as beneficial engines for idea, challenge, and instruction. It also allows us to lose the complexity that is involved in action and the ambiguity of what is right because we don’t have all the trappings of the moment, just the concept.

    1. For the record though, I thought John Hagee was nuts when I first heard him preach on TV when I was like 15. I didn’t have the internet then 😉

      Okay, that was mean.

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