The Coming Religion


Genuine vs. CounterfeitAs I noted a few posts ago, my church is going through The Truth Project, a series from Focus on the Family that outlines a Christian worldview. I have enjoyed the series so far, and I think it is excellent. But I have a problem with the third lesson, which asks the question, “What is Man?”

The lesson contains an excellent outline of the case of biblical anthropology against an anthropological theory that many would immediately recognize as that of atheism or secularism. You know, the favorite bogeyman of those enmeshed in the culture wars.

My thoughts? I absolutely agree that the secularized worldview portrayed in the lesson (as epitomized by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with its pinnacle of self-actualization) is definitely a problem. What troubles me is that I don’t feel that a secular worldview is the threat against genuine Christianity that the lesson makes of it. Atheism? Secularism? That’s so…well, 1990.

Fact is, if you look around the world, people are not rushing to atheism and secularism. Sure, in some places they’re buying the books, but not in the majority of the world. With the exception of small pockets of atheism and secularism in Western nations, the actual trend is toward a more progressive spirituality, a spirituality that may not—at least from undiscerning human eyes—appear to enthrone self, as does secularism. In fact, some people might even call it a new fundamentalism, a return to what are ultimately superstitious or flawed religious beliefs. Ask an African what is sweeping Africa, and he’ll not reply atheism, but Islam.

Though atheists and dim-bulb “brights” claim antisupernaturalism is on the rise, that is anything but the case. Witness the mass euphoria over the so-called Lakeland revival. The supposed supernatural displays on center stage had people transfixed. Rational people who never would have entertained supernaturalism otherwise flocked to Florida, hoping for a miracle. Many spent thousands of dollars to fly in from around the globe to bask in the overhyped glow of the Bentley miracle show. People who believe in nothing outside the material world don’t do that.

Remember this:

For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.
—Matthew 24:21-26

Does Jesus Himself predict that secularism will reign at the end? Hardly. If anything, it will be a time of people desperately seeking spiritual nourishment, seekers who latch onto one magician after another.

Jesus’ warning should shake us all because the genuine lie isn’t going to be as obvious as secularism or atheism. That’s bush-league deception. That will only fool the completely gullible.

What should sober us is that the coming lie will look so much like truth that even the elect will be perplexed by it. Brother doesn’t hand over brother because of secularism, but because of fundamentalistic religious beliefs that sound exhilirating yet are at odds with genuine Christianity. It’s the form of godliness we shoud be alarmed by, not the form of godlessness.

Lee Grady, the editor of Charisma magazine, claims a pastor he knows insists that many charismatics will follow the antichrist because of their devotion to supernatural signs. I think that pastor nails it. The deception that is coming is less obvious. It’s subtle. It’s sorta-Christianity, with a veneer of powerful wonders. It will have many of the trappings of what Western Christians have come to accept as Christianity but will actually be a complete lie. In some ways, we Western Christians have been test subjects. We’re just too drowsy to see it.

To the man buried in an avalanche, the entire world is snow. But the man standing at the top of the mountain knows better. With the world moving in a more religious direction, not a lesser one, the ultimate snowjob may be just around the corner.

A Dirty Tampon by the Side of the Road


Walking my son to his bus stop today, we passed a used condom and a blood-stained tampon.

The condom’s been there for at least a week. I keep wondering when my son will comment on it. The tampon is more recent. Or at least new since my last bus stop sojourn before I took ill.

I had to take out the trash today. Plus, I’m normally the one who accompanies my son to his stop in the mornings. Though I’m still feeling lousy, I did it anyway. Planned on going back to bed after the bus came. But I couldn’t sleep.

Instead, I thought about a condom and tampon thrown by the side of the road.

I’ve got to believe that the kind of person who throws a used condom or tampon out of a speeding car onto the side of a rural road is the kind of person who probably never thinks about his or her standing before God. This is not a reflective person, not the kind who goes on a spiritual quest or asks of the family, “What do y’all think about life after death?”

Pondering this more deeply, I believe the kind of person who throws a used condom or tampon out of a speeding car onto the side of a rural road may be the fastest growing segment of the American population.

The state of that person’s spiritual life very much mirrors what he or she tossed out the window: filthy. This is the kind of person who’s got an appointment at the Great White Throne of judgment and the outcome won’t be pretty.

I don’t know how we reach that person. And that troubles me.

Most of us spend time with people who at least give some attention to what really matters in life. The people we tend to fraternize with will at least be willing to listen to us put in a word or two about spiritual things.

But the kind of person I believe is becoming a majority in this country is completely and utterly seared. Spiritual? Who cares. And they stay seared in their spirits and souls for a very, very long time.

I seem to be encountering more and more people who fit that description. I wouldn’t call them anti-spiritual. They’re more aspiritual. There’s absolutely not one genuine thread of spiritual awareness in their lives and no reason to cultivate any, as they see it.

When you look at the world’s cultures, every society has had a religious longing, wrongly placed though it may be. The complete absence of spiritual perception...And nearly every one of those cultures has placed that longing on something outside themselves.

But I take a look at the kind of person who tosses a used condom or tampon out a car window and I see nothing going on in that regard. Zero. It’s one thing to not know the way to God; it’s quite another to have no desire to know.

By all surveys, the Church in this country is failing miserably at making disciples. Most church growth figures have come at the expense of other churches—megachurch consumes mom and pop church in a slow Darwinian dance of survival-of-the-fittest. And even as the megachurches continue to grow, the total losses mount up as fewer and fewer of the general population attend church at all.

How does this generation of believers reach a generation that is not just spiritually empty, but seems to lack any apparatus for receiving the spiritual at all? It’s not a matter of filling an empty cup; it’s working to ensure that the cup itself even exists.

I don’t know how to meet that problem. Perhaps it’s too late to meet. We may indeed be seeing the final generation, a generation so spiritually cauterized as to have no desire for transcendence beyond scoring the latest XBox game.

A generation of used condoms and dirty tampons.

The Oprah-ization of American Evangelicalism


A little more than ten years ago I sat in the plush seats of Willow Creek Community Church, the Sunday pageantry unfolding before my eyes as I took copious notes for a college class: slick, professional music; non-threatening setting lacking any controversial religious symbolism; an (unknown to me) Christian “celebrity” telling how she saved her faltering marriage; a dramatic presentation on why men and women just can’t get along; and a message from founding pastor Bill Hybels talking about the unmet psychological and physical needs of marriage partners. There was something for everyone and the crowds seemed to leave happy. Little did I know that I was watching would become the norm of evangelical church programming in years to come.

Later, as I tried to analyze the information I had compiled after almost eight months of charting Willow Creek’s programming style, I was left wondering. Where was the cross of Christ (not the one that hangs in the sanctuary, but the one that asks all men to die to self)? Why was everything so calculatingly planned out? Why the lack of Bible exposition during the message and the overt reliance on psychology to explain our condition? But most disturbing of all, given the emphasis on reaching “seekers”, what were people being saved from and just whom were they being saved by?

A few years later, I talked with the pastor of the rapidly growing Midwest church I had attended for several years. My wife and I were moving to Silicon Valley and wanted to have a nice transition. In that time, I said to him, “Please, don’t let this church become just another Willow Creek.”

California didn’t pan out in the long run, so we eventually returned to find that my almost prophetic warning had gone unheeded. Not only that, but the church was firmly under the auspices of The Willow Creek Association, a rather nebulous organization that continues to draw evangelical churches into its fold. Along the way, the same ministry mentality had permeated many aspects of my old church. Cultural relevancy was the mantra and the message was less about the person of Jesus and more about how He can meet my felt needs. The messages were more structured along the lines of three points and a conclusion. Much of the charismatic emphasis that had brought me to the church in the first place had been toned down, perhaps to keep from scaring away seekers.

Having settled more than an hour from that church, we started looking around our area only to find ourselves startled by the sameness of different denominational churches that all were trying to be a clone of the church we were thinking about leaving, itself more of a clone of Willow Creek. In a bit more than a decade, what started in Barrington, IL had successfully permeated throughout a variety of different Christian traditions.

I’ve never really understood the fascination with Oprah’s TV show. And yet, I find evangelical churches today to be transitioning into something that increasingly resembles the Oprah cult. Truth is subject to feeling. Empathy reigns – how deeply someone feels about someone else’s pain is the principle measure of their spiritual depth. The Bible is just one source of wisdom. Anything that attempts to help us grow in religious knowledge is unquestionably assimilated. Reliance on psychological methods of dealing with reality is a given. Like John Lennon sang, “Whatever gets you through the night, it’s alright….”

Francis Schaeffer warned that the evangelical church’s fascination with philosophies outside of the ring of God’s truth would eventually drive it into error. He particularly cites the wholesale incorporation of psychological theory as one of the harbingers of disaster. We are living that warning every Sunday across America.

So even as pastors claim that their teaching is getting better and better – and 90% rate themselves as Good/Excellent in this regard according to pollster George Barna – biblical knowledge among those in the pews is reaching all-time lows. It is a curious thing that the unction of the Holy Spirit seems to be yielding a flock of “three points and a conclusion” messages that are falling on largely deaf ears. Perhaps we are entering a second fulfillment of Amos 8:11 – “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD , “when I will send a famine through the land- not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD .” Our sanctuaries are filled with costly, state-of-the-art sound systems, but there appears to be nothing worth hearing coming out of the speakers.