Sports Rise, Church Fall?


Sports as religion?Over at Al Mohler’s site, he adds to the talking point that sports, notably the Super Bowl, are the new American religion. Over at, several “unhelpful” review comments for my negative review of the Christian book Transformed got me wondering about doing versus being.

What they do they have in common?

A few weeks ago, I read an article about the sameness of today’s movies. The author argued that all films today seem the same because we Americans no longer have an approved set of themes that define us as Americans. If we make a movie about the greatness of America, people who don’t think America is great will not go to see it. We can’t do a movie about religion’s steadying influence on the American Way of Life because a lot of people aren’t religious. We can’t talk about the sanctity of family because that means too many different things to different people.

About the only script we can agree upon is that oppression is bad. And in America 2014, oppression is seen as little more than bad people preventing us from doing what we want to do. It doesn’t get blander than that.

Enter the Super Bowl.

For a prescribed number of hours, Americans can agree on one event that promises a football game, some entertaining commercials, and a mid-game spectacle. A free, package deal that is harmless enough and gives us an excuse to socialize and eat too much. And unlike Thanksgiving, we can pick and choose with whom we hang out.

From this, some claim that sports are our new religion.


Instead, sports—well, the Super Bowl at least—are America’s last touch stone.

Religion stopped being a touch stone when we became aware of too many religions. Sure, we in America sort of kind of chose Christianity, but now we’re swimming in 20,000 brands of Christianity, and who can choose the right one? They all seem a little factious, too, with one claiming to be better than another.

Plus, they are all so demanding.

Which brings us my Amazon review.

The main thought in the book Transformed by Caesar Kalinowski is What if Christianity were more about being and less about doing?

What person today doesn’t want Christianity to be more about being and less about doing?

Well, pretty much everyone, because I think people feel maxed out. They can spare one Sunday evening a year, but don’t ask them to spare every Sunday morning and a whole lot of other days and evenings along with them. One more thing on the schedule? God help us!

Maybe we are run rugged. Maybe we are lazy.

In a way, it doesn’t matter, because whatever the truth is, the perception is that if one more person asks us to do one more thing, we’re going to go postal.

Kalinowski’s book doesn’t help. That promise of just being able to be gets turned into “change all your traditional church activities into  missional community activities.” Swap overscheduled for a cool, hip, quasi-religious word, intentional. Feel more Christian yet?

Well, no.

What happened to the promise of just being?

That’s a good question, but it’s not one Christian leaders are answering. Give more money, attend more conferences, be more available, help more people, and do more stuff for the Kingdom. In the end, for whatever reason, the response from the guy with bags under his eyes is no. So people turn on the tube and watch the Big Game instead. It doesn’t ask much from them. Then, when the hoopla is over sometime around 10 p.m. or so, folks head home to bed and get ready for the next day at work. See you next year.

I don’t think church leaders get this. So nothing changes.

I don’t think there’s enough being in the American Church. We’re not teaching people how to abide in Christ. We’re teaching them the Christian life consists of a bunch of disconnected activities and to-do list items, and people are saying no. Why wouldn’t they?

It’s not that the Super Bowl is America’s new religion. It’s just that it’s easy. Meanwhile, the Church keeps loading up overloaded people with more things to do. Meanwhile, Jesus goes missing amid all the hubbub.

The 10-Word Reason for America’s Troubles


Flag, America in distressI hear a lot of laments online about why America is in trouble as a nation. There’s a reason for that trouble, a remarkably simple one.  It’s found in this verse of the Bible:

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
—James 4:6b ESV

America, as a nation, is too proud. And while that would be enough, we Americans are not only proud, but we are proud of our sin. We parade sin everywhere. We call evil good and good evil. We establish new standards of depravity in our nation and sign wickedness into law. And we are proud of ourselves for doing so.

If Americans ever want to see our country become great again, we need to become humble. We need to move from taking pride in sin to being disgusted by it. We need to stop calling the worst atrocities good and start calling evil for what it truly is, evil.

If we don’t stop being proud—and especially of the depraved things we say, think, and do—then there will be no grace poured out by God upon America. Instead, we will find ourselves on the wrong side of an unwinnable war.

Because no one who opposes God wins. Ever.

Irrelevant Relevance


Over at World Magazine, Anthony Bradley has generated some brouhaha over his piece “The ‘New Legalism.’” Up-to-date Cerulean Sanctum readers will note Bradley’s article reads like a rehash of my recent “Kids, Systems, and Success (A Response to Brant Hansen’s ‘Your Kids Don’t Need Your Stupid Success Track’)” and its follow-up, “Radical for Jesus: What Does That Look Like in America?

Church ruinsThe Bradley article is good and got trackbacked extensively. As always, read the whole thing. I do think, though, that he puts too fine a point on it by centering the angst he notes in the lives of young people alone. As I’ve noted elsewhere, my peers are laboring under that burden of relevance as much as anyone, and perhaps more. We’re the ones who are trying to be faithful to the mission of God…while we try to get back into the workforce after being pink slipped for being “old,” caring for increasingly decrepit parents kept alive by modern medicine, dealing with our own health failings, and still raising children.

Bradley mentions the self-pummeling meted out by our adoption of the words missional and radical. I want to add a third: relevant.

Google relevant church sometime. The pages stretch on forever.

As for the guts of the three links above, all of it comes down to relevance. In light of this, I don’t believe that Bradley’s diagnosis is right. Young people are not leaving the Church because they are being challenged too strongly to live a radical life. They’re leaving because the challenge is posed by a Church willing to challenge but unable to help achieve the goal. And in those cases where a local church is NOT challenging people, it’s also NOT providing answers to the most pressing challenges of life.

For all our talk of relevance, the fact remains: Our churches are not helping us meet the relevant challenges of the times.

And people are NOT going to hang around to hear messages about a watered-down salvation that can save mostly from a problem that doesn’t seem to be the most pressing problem they face. Or the third most-pressing problem. Or even the tenth.

Yes, Jesus Christ came to save sinners from their sin. Sin still matters. It’s the problem that must be dealt with before any other problem gets addressed.

But for all our talk of relevance, what is the solution from most churches for dealing with life once one has dealt with the problem of sin?


Your spouse lost a job in a corporate downsizing and has been out of work for eight months. Your bank account has taken a major hit, and you’re starting to eat into your kids’ college funds. Your teenage daughter was diagnosed with full-blown depression, and the meds she’s on do weird things to her personality, which make you wonder which is worse, the cure or the disease. Your mother is in an extended care home and has maxed out her benefits. You don’t know how you’ll pay for her care, and you sit there on Sunday morning wondering what will happen when you have to bring her to live with you in the midst of all the rest of this.

Meanwhile, they found a heart murmur in you that may require a valve replacement and you don’t have the insurance coverage because it was on your now-unemployed spouse’s policy. The prices at the grocery store keep going up. The cost of repairing the car you depend on keeps going up. The cost of repairing you keeps going up. You may have to change your own job just to keep up and also look into a master’s program because everyone wants a master’s degree, and that costs so much in dollars and time and…

And the preacher is telling you you must be radical or else you’ll be the lukewarm person spat out of the Lord’s mouth.

In the midst of all that, what does relevant mean?  I don’t think the contemporary Church in the West has any idea.

If we want to know why people are looking elsewhere, the answer is simple. For all their talk of relevance, our churches are not addressing the struggles of most people today. And if people can’t find answers to life’s issues in Church, they will find someplace else that will give them answers, even if those “answers” are lies.

In the wake of the death of Pastor Rick Warren’s son due to suicide brought on by mental illness, Christians talked about mental illness for a  few weeks. While that’s better than nothing, I’d like to see what the lasting fruit of that discussion will be on a practical level within our churches.

Because THAT is relevant.

But I’m not holding my breath.

You see, I’ve been waiting for a decade for someone in the Church with some level of clout to speak out on the employment issues facing us in America. Because if you want relevance there is nothing more relevant than talking like adults about the one issue that makes or breaks more people in this country on a day to day basis. And yet for how dominating the issue of work is in the lives of average Americans, I have yet to see or hear anything from a national-level Christian leader talking about our work lives and the sheer amount of time we devote to that one aspect of daily living.

My great fear for the Church in America is an increasing drift into total and complete disconnection from daily reality. Yet that is what I’m seeing.

Most of the relevance I hear about is irrelevant. It has little to do with real people and real lives.

Hey, massively relevant hipster church, you want to help couples with their sex lives? Great. Help dad find a better job. That’ll do more for mom and dad’s sex life than anything else. Far more then sexy readings of Song of Solomon.

You want to keep teenagers? Get them deep with Jesus and stop trying to outduel the world on trendiness. And start addressing the mental illness rampant in young people today.

You want dad to come to your men’s event? Find a practical way for him to deal with the longterm care of his aging parents.

And no. No one said any of this will be easy.

There will be people who say all this is outside the bounds of what the Church is supposed to be about. I contend that unless the Church stops being an ostrich with its head in the sand on issues like these, all the talk of relevance will stay talk and functionally remain irrelevant.