Plugging Mockingbird


In an age that too often passes off legalistic moralism as “The Gospel,” even in supposedly Gospel-centered churches, it’s refreshing to find a source of genuine Law/Gospel preaching. Add to this that the preaching in this case is young, intelligent, hip, and conservative Episcopalian (yes, shocking, I know!), well, it’s worth sharing.

Mockingbird ( was born in 2007 in the heart of David Zahl and a couple of his friends as a way to reach disaffected, young, urban hipsters. They not only succeeded, they drew in a few old, rural charismatics too. 😉 The site consists of intriguing writing that covers contemporary culture, events, lit, and music, and it offers some truly excellent preaching podcasts. They even publish a slick quarterly.
Mockingbird Logo
Most of all, the Mockingbird crew tackles 21st century life in a way that is astute, grace-filled, humble, and relevant—a combo sorely needed in the modern American church. I’ve found the preaching of Jacob Smith, in particular, to be some of the best I’ve ever heard.

Yes, the writing occasionally strays into East Coast literary journal-like esoterica, and love for certain aspects of culture sometimes exceeds its quota (if you don’t consider Seinfeld genius, well…), but overall, this is a great resource. Nothing thrills me more than to hear other Christians talking about the kinds of topics I tackle here at Cerulean Sanctum. I don’t agree with their take on everything, but even when I don’t, it still gets me thinking—and Gospel-driven thinking in the American Church should be something we celebrate.

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.

Doctrinal Silence and Spiritual Abuse


There are times when I think Jesus’ spitting on the ground and smearing the resulting mud over the blind man’s eyes gave too many Christians a supposed license to be weirdos in church on Sunday.

I’m not saying Jesus was out of bounds (He enjoyed perfect communion with the Father, remember), only that I wish more Christians showed wisdom in how they dealt with others.

So a guy comes up for healing prayer and is told to lie down while the people stack Bibles on him and then walk around him seven times while chanting. Did the Holy Spirit really direct the people praying to do this? REALLY? And was that direction verified, not only beforehand by checking with the elders but also by noting whether such an odd means of dealing with the problem actually resulted in a positive outcome?

Spiritual abuse has many forms. From bizarre charismania passed off as ministry to the cult of personality favored by some church leader “celebrities,” one can find some type of spiritual abuse in nearly every church. It’s just that most churches and the people in them are often too timid to point out their own failings. And the beat goes on…

While it may be easy for outsiders to walk into a church and immediately notice what might be “off,” people are far better at noticing a present problem than recognizing what is absent.

The issue for us as Christians today is what might be absent may form a more egregious example of spiritual abuse than the presence of any obviously bizarre practice.

Over at Church A, everyone talks about finding freedom in Christ (present) but no one ever talks about the perseverance of the saints (absent). Likewise, at the Church B, the talk is always that the shed blood of Christ on the cross bought healing from sin (present), but no one ever hears the blood and cross bought us healing from physical illness and disease (absent).

At Church A, the people there live in constant fear of losing their salvation. At Church B, people wrongly make peace with their physical sufferings and never take hold of the healing Christ bought them.

When we do not preach the whole Gospel to the whole man, are we not perpetrating spiritual abuse?

I’ve long been a fan of Leonard Ravenhill, the British revivalist. One of his consistent jabs was to call denominations “abominations” and then “correct” himself, as if he’d made a slip of the tongue. Let the nervous tittering commence.

When you get to the heart of this issue, though, the truth hurts, and I think that Ravenhill was closer to the truth regarding denominations than some think.

I enjoy musical theater, and one of my favorite musicals is South Pacific. The theme of that musical concerns racism and its devastating warping of people’s thoughts. The highlight song of that theme is “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” (see video).

The problem with denominationalism and the conformance to one ingrained “brand” of Christianity over another is that such adherence not only teaches through the presence of ideas, it also teaches by absence. You’ve got to be carefully taught, and in many cases what is not taught is as important as what is. And it is the absent teaching that most often rattles people when they encounter other Christians who are content with a valid, present theological concept the “lackees” have never heard (or have been told doesn’t matter). More divisiveness enters the Church for this reason than any other.

If we are not preaching and teaching the entirety of the Gospel, if we pick and choose our theology so as to create doctrinal silence here and there, then it is likely that we are spiritually abusing those charged to our care.