Choosing Your Canaan


We’re thinking about putting our son in public school this August.

We homeschooled him via a public e-school this year and personally experienced the Achilles heel of homeschooling: lack of socialization. As an only child in an area where almost all the children go to public school, our son suffered from piecemeal contact with other kids and it showed. Yes, we have him in activities with other kids. It simply hasn’t been enough.

In addition, because he’s an only child, he needs to be in an environment where he’s not the center of attention all the time. Homeschooling works totally against that idea. Nearly every growth area he needs to improve in can best be met by hanging out with a large group of kids for long periods of time.

But when I mentioned this reality to a friend the other day, I received a rather pointed response:

“You’re handing him over to the Canaanites.”


What followed was the usual explanation of how anything but education in an exclusive private Christian school will permanently warp our son. We’ll be totally unable to counteract the brainwashing he’ll receive in public school. Welcome to Canaan!For our decision, we’ll end up with a child who grows up to be one part Bertrand Russell, one part Aleister Crowley, and one part Ted Bundy.

Thank you, NEA.

Or actually, thank you Baptists.

You see, two Baptist megachurches in our rural town control much of the public school district. Folks from their congregations make up a big chunk of the superintendents, principals, and teachers. Considering that these two churches try to outdo each in moral rectitude, I highly doubt first graders will be forced to read Heather Has Two Mommies.

But all this is beside the point.

No, some think the private Christian school education must be superior because it has better people in it. Along the road I live on, many families live in trailers, sectionals, and double-wides. They tend not to send their kids to private Christian schools for no other reason than they can’t pay the tuition.

Truth is, most people making a household income less than $100,000 a year can’t pay to send their children to private Christian schools.

Which leads to the heart of this post:

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the LORD your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God.
—Leviticus 18:1-4

No matter what we do in the United States of America, we’re forced to choose our Canaan because we aren’t a theocracy like Israel was. As much as the Lord wants us to follow Him exclusively, we Christians aren’t called to bunker ourselves against the rest of the world. We’re called to shine our light amid the darkness. And where is the darkness? Everywhere we look.

And sometimes, it’s oh so disarmingly subtle.

Whatever my child may face in public school, I can assure you that none of it is subtle. On the other hand, the pernicious nature of the subconscious message of the exclusive private Christian school is the the message of upper-middle-class suburban Evangelicalism: materialism.

Fourth-graders putting condoms on bananas OR materialism. Which one damages the soul more? Which is harder to root out? When the Lexus SUVs pull up to drop the kids off at the private Christian school, are the kids aware of their privilege? When they’re all equipped with the latest iPod, the swankest TI graphing calculator, and the non-stop message that it’s all about them, how can they NOT be?

Worse still, how can they possibly see through that gray fog when their own parents can’t?

I’m no master of discernment, but I think I’m fairly capable of dealing with whatever the public school Canaanites can throw at me. The kids I truly worry about are those in the private Christian school who may very well be materialists at the core, yet surrounded by a highly polished veneer of Christianity or—in keeping with an age when truth is now truthiness— what I like to call Christ-iness.

We can’t drop out of Canaan because it’s all around us. We have to choose which Canaan we’ll dwell in. Some do so consciously, while other get sucked in by osmosis.

One of the reasons we moved to the country was to get away from the overt materialism we saw pummeling the suburbs. We want our son to see that not everyone garners merit by what they own. We want him to escape the dependence on others to provide for his every need. We don’t want him in the Canaan that’s so intractable that hardly anyone sees it.

The private Christian school parents forced to send their kid to public school may sit down with him or her and say, “Now be on your guard if they try to tell you that homosexuality and abortion are okay.” Meanwhile, the public school parents sending their child to the private Christian school may say, “Now be on your guard because many people there will define themselves by what they own or what they can buy.”

Choose your Canaan. We all must. No one gets a free pass. Every day each of us must fight evil.

But evil itself is not uniform. It bends the rules. Sometimes it comes as an angel of light and sometimes as a blackened beast from the pit of hell.

It’s the angel of light that troubles me.

The Great Giveaway, Part 3


The Great GiveawayThe finale of a three-part review (Part 1, Part 2) of David E. Fitch's The Great Giveaway: Reclaiming the Mission of the Church from Big Business, Parachurch Organizations, Psychotherapy, and Consumer Capitalism.

The final chapters (with the book's final summary chapter omitted from the review):

    6. Our Understanding of Justice
    7. Spiritual Formation
    8. Moral Education


Our Understanding of Justice


Fitch starts this chapter with a bang: what would happen in a church if a woman stood up during Sunday service and announced that she just found out she has breast cancer? The kicker: she says she has no health insurance. 

Evangelicals talk a great deal about helping others, but our execution is profoundly flawed. We tend to think of benevolence and justice as something a Christian individual does on his or her own. Fitch notes that justice begins inside the Body of Christ and extends outward. We serve our own as a community and our community serves those outside the community. We owe as much benevolence to the brethren as we do to the poor and hurting outside the church doors, But, too often, we fail to see how we ignore people within our own congregations as if the only brownie points we get from God are for helping strangers.

Like everything else, we've mangled the way the church should reach out. We've made it too individualized, the old "my ministry" mantra. But Fitch claims no real social justice exists apart from the local church as a whole operating to meet the needs of the needy.

The source for our broken ideals of justice and mercy are rooted in democracy and capitalism. Democracy marginalizes the minority and the weak, while capitalism exploits them. Our entire culture is based on winners and losers, but the are supposed to be no winners and losers inside the Church. The Church, so co-opted by culture, cannot see the malignancy that capitalism and democracy bring to this issue of justice. Christ's justice is not of this world and it trumps the systems we adhere to. The Kingdom of God supercedes politics and economics. We cannot say we are righteous if we fail to understand that social responsibility in the Bible is a component of righteousness.

Likewise, we base a person's value on his or her job, not on the value that Christ gives a person. The American Church's obsession with big business means it can no longer discern business success from spiritual success. We must learn that the two cannot abide together, much less determine levels of success in the Kingdom of God.

As to the woman suffering from breast cancer, Fitch recommends that churches set up leaders who hear requests for aid. These teams go beyond just handing out money, but seek to resolve sin issues in the needy person's life that may have led them into the state they're in. They work with the needy to help them overcome practices that caused their need, hold them to accountability, and offer grace. In the boldest move of all, Fitch recommends that no benevolence be given outside the local church. If people need help, one of the requirements must be that they join the worshiping body. With that given, no one walks alone through trials.


Apart from the misguided digs at democracy and capitalism (which I'll discuss further down), this chapter is easily the best in the book. Nearly everything Fitch discusses you've already read on Cerulean Sanctum. The Church in this country is simply not speaking about corrupt business practices, jobs, unemployment, health care, and a host of other issues that come down to everyday needs in the lives of people around us. We're too stuck in godless bootstrap thinking and "God helps those who help themselves."

But that's not Kingdom thinking; it's a cheap way to excuse us from being responsible to others in our community. As we know, though, Jesus praised the Good Samaritan and not the smug priests and Levites. Real community means that one person's problem is everyone's problem. Amish and Mennonite communities understand this, but we Evangelicals are too stuck in our self-righteous modernity to get it.

As to Fitch's woeful understanding of democracy and capitalism, he commits the classic blunder of lumping defective practices in with proper practices, calling it all wicked.

Capitalism and democracy in and of themselves are neutral systems. Both can be abused, Both can offer great results.

Capitalism goes wrong is when it globalizes. Capitalism is an outstanding form of economics when coupled with local economies. Our country largely operated in this manner early on. Localized economies that practice capitalism cannot afford to have winners and losers because losers damage the community. If one farmer undercuts everyone in the community and puts others out of business, the entire community suffers for the bankruptcies that result. Capitalism within localized economies is naturally self-correcting. (Other balancing factors exist, but that's a whole 'nother post, as they say.) But on a globalized scale, winners and losers are natural because the losers can be located so far away that they (supposedly) do not affect local, regional, or even national communities. That's wrong, though. We can't operate that way even though it looks like we won't be the ones to suffer.

Then answer is to revitalize capitalism within local communities, not villify it altogether. The same goes for democracy.

Despite this problem in the chapter, Fitch nails our mistaken attitudes toward helping others and offers excellent solutions to better the Church's outreach to the broken and needy. 


Spiritual Formation


We've capitulated to psychobabble in our churches. Instead of operating from Biblical principles of sin, repentence, and restitution within a spiritual family, we've chosen to dignify sin through the manmade nonsense we call psychotherapy.

Pyschology is a worldview that competes against Christianity. As a result, it cannot be adequately reconciled with Christianity. Pyschology exalts the self, while Christianity says the self must die at the cross. Modernism created psychology because it sought scientific and rational explanations for Man's broken image. Like all philosophies that have their origins in modernism, psychotherapy promotes individualism at the expense of community and preaches tolerance of thoughts and actions the Church says should never be tolerated. The solutions to Man's problems lie not in psychotherapy, but in Christ. The Church needs to recover its role as the primary God-approved means of bring mental health into the lives of the shattered.

Psychotherapy wars against true discipleship, making it hard for Christians caught in psychotherapy's insidious trap to grow closer to Christ. The Church must distance itself from psychotherapy and refrain from explaining Mankind's problems in psychological terms. True spiritual counseling rooted solely in the Scriptures should be restored to our churches. The Church must replace the psychotherapist's couch.

Along with the office of trained spiritual counselor, Evangelicals must restore the confessional. Much damage results from Evangelical churches shunning the hearing of personal confessions. We've attached too much judgment and not enough grace to those who have sinned and seek repentence. In many ways, our laxity toward personal confession may have been the impetus that pyschotherapy needed to gain a foothold in the Church.


You'll find no arguments from me against Fitch's points in this chapter. Every argument is salient and well-documented. In fact, I would say my overview does a disservice to the breadth of analysis Fitch offers for how we traded truth for a lie.


Moral Education


Education is one of the cornerstones of discipleship. Unfortunately, the way we school our young works against true discipleship and moral education.

Evangelicals gave away rituals and rites of passage that set godly waypoints in our walks with Christ. We've also placed too much emphasis on the freedom of the individual to pursue his or her own beliefs rather than indoctrinating that individual into the beliefs of the believing community.  Lastly, we've turned our kids over to those people who would indoctrinate them in a worldview foreign to true Christianity.

Public school is not the Church. The civil religion taught in public schools is not remotely Christian. Values education is a ruse, too, since no one set of values in our country can cover all values systems. The public schools cannot be trusted to teach anything Christian; only the Church can do that.

Homeschooling (here comes the flame war) is not the Church. No one family can adequately stand in for what the Church community as a whole can provide.  One family cannot be a culture in itself, nor is it capable of withstanding all of secular culture. A single family is also blind to its own sins, leaving holes in a child's moral education. Family dysfunctions are only multiplied within homeschooling environments.

Parochial schools are not the Church. A tendency exists even in Evangelical schools to promote allegiance to country over allegiance to the Kingdom of God. Parochial schools often ape their public school counterparts, but add a sheen of Christianity over the top. They do not always begin with Christ first, instead patterning their operation off worldly systems.

Only a child schooled in Christ within the whole church community will get a rounded education. The Church best speaks against worldviews, while allowing safety for the schooled to engage defective thought systems.

Fitch advocates a return to full-blown catechism in Evangelical churches, starting in infancy. His own church has a goal of preparing all children for baptism and membership by age ten. He believes that all educations systems within a church reinforce each other, so that kids and adults get the same (age-appropriate) teachings matched to the church year lectionary. Running the children out of the church service is a mistake, too.

A church that practices catechesis will by necessity be smaller in order that everyone know the people in the worshiping community. Such a church organizes its life around the community of believers, altering family schedules to put worship of Christ first.

Armed with such a catachesis program, no one educational practice (public school, paraochial, or homeschool) will undermine the worldview instilled in our children. Therefore, any type of school might be chosen.


In theory, I believe that Fitch is on track. He correctly identifies the flaws in every schooling system. He's absolutely right that we need to recover rites of passage within our churches. My own church is re-examining this need. Just this last Father's Day, we instituted an annual blessing of the children by their fathers (and mothers). I'm also a strong proponent of some type of catechism within the Church. I think we need some sort of worldview analysis and overview, too. Lastly, I believe the Church has a responsibility to prepare young people, starting as young as ten, for being Christian husbands and wives through some kind of marriage awareness program.

That said, I think Fitch overlooks what can go wrong with catechism. One would hope that a church would handle catechism correctly, but as long as there are teachers, flaws exist. A bad set of teachers leads to a badly implemented catechism. I've favored more of a whole church rite that pulls all the church's men into a process by which they mentor the boys in the church, with a similar program for the girls. This mitigates the possibility of getting a lousy teacher who's not with the program.

Final Thoughts on The Great Giveaway

Like I said in the first installment of this three-part review, everyone should read this book. I'm sure you'll take umbrage with at least a few of the author's analyses and solutions, but that's good. Again, discernment is not a blanket condemnation. Think about what Fitch writes and lay it before the Lord. You may find the Lord changes your heart.

Fitch understands the needs of the 21st century Church and the needs of those outside it. He correctly states our need for ritual, symbolism, art, and beauty within our congregations. His views concerning the need for real community—not the half-hearted attempt that passes for community in nearly every church—are prophetically accurate. Modernism has turned the Communion of Saints into an Army of One. But Christ never founded an Army of One; He founded a Church.

Despite the  faults of modernism, it can't become a boogeyman. It's too easy to blame modernism or postmodernism or some other -ism for our problems. What we need to do is get back to the simplicity of the Gospel. And that's what Fitch calls for in this book.

I mentioned before that most of his solutions to the Western Church's problems are old school. If your idea of a finely tuned Church is not something Anglican circa 1790, then I ask that you at least consider what we may have lost in our churches since that time. Few of us would say we're better off spiritually than that age, so perhaps fine tuning Evangelicalism to incorporate that old school thinking wouldn't be a bad idea.

Read the book. Any review is a disservice, especially with a book as densely packed with ideas as The Great Giveaway. Fitch has a blog, too (see Kingdom Links in the sidebar), so the conversation continues.

Blessings. I hope this review provoked you—at least a little bit. 

Unshackling the American Church: Fraternitas


When I was small, I found comfort in something beautiful: the sound of laughter in my house. Mom and Dad liked to entertain, and I remember cold winter nights when the chill outside was dissipated by the sounds of adults talking and laughing into the wee hours of the morning. I’d fall asleep to those sounds knowing all was right with the world.

I fear my son won’t know that same pleasure, not because we don’t want to entertain like my parents once did, but by the sheer fact that it’s increasingly rare in our society that others come over for anything. According to Robert Putnam’s seminal work, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, nearly every social group that existed in American culture in the 1960s has seen precipitous drops in members or involvement.

Putnam warns that our stock of social capital – the very fabric of our connections with each other, has plummeted, impoverishing our lives and communities. Putnam draws on evidence including nearly 500,000 interviews over the last quarter century to show that we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often. We’re even bowling alone. More Americans are bowling than ever before, but they are not bowling in leagues. Putnam shows how changes in work, family structure, age, suburban life, television, computers, women’s roles and other factors have contributed to this decline.

From the webpage description of the book.

The title stems from the loss of bowling league membership in small towns, and in a frightening bit of correlation, I once spent an afternoon bowling alone in Silicon Valley for no other reason than no one else wanted to come. Worse yet, for the hour I was there, I was the only bowler in the alley.

Indeed, like its currency-based counterpart, social capital has value critical to the social economy of this country. Conserving social capital should be the hallmark of any belief system that calls itself conservative, but in an odd bit of data, Putnam’s own studies showed one of the most social capital impoverished portions of the country is the conservative South.

Alarmed by the data from Putnam’s book, a committee of top sociologists, intellectuals, historians and politicos convened at the University of Pennsylvania to discuss the findings and possible recourse. Their conclusion:

Incivility and coarseness are a continuation of behaviors that have always been with us. However, these behaviors are greatly amplified by the new economic dynamics of mass markets, by the new technologies of mass communication and by laissez-faire governmental policies.

The tender web of society depends on people, but we’ve instead chosen compartmentalizing technologies and cheapness.

Hands unitedI grew up in what was a brand new subdivision in 1972. We were one of the first residents of that new neighborhood, watching houses go up and people move in. A mostly Catholic neighborhood developed with us Lutherans and the AoG pastor at the end of the street.

I loved that neighborhood. Most of the people were seasoned marrieds with kids in elementary and junior high school. Plenty of other kids to play with. I was ten, the perfect age for navigating both the slightly older kids and slightly younger.

One of the things that neighborhood did that impressed me is that very early on they started having block parties once a year. Amazingly fun, these were the single most anticipated events of the neighborhood year. We ate, drank, played, danced, celebrated and enjoyed an entire day of fun.

Time passed and the neighborhood got a little older. A few couples divorced. Those two or three “life-of-the-party” couples moved away. The kids got older and a second generation of people moved in. That life-affirming decade of block parties came to a crashing halt.

When I returned to that old neighborhood after my first stint in college, a few houses had some new toys: Beta and VHS videotape players, plus video game players. More houses now had personal computers, too, the 128k Macs, PC XTs, and PC Juniors of lore.

I stuck around that neighborhood for a few years, but didn’t notice the change initially. One fine spring day I glanced outside to find a curious sight: an empty street lined with empty yards.

As a kid, we’d played in the dead-end street every day. The yards were big enough to host a football game if you played across three of them, or a softball variant we played constantly called Zoneball.

Yet despite knowing that a few dozen children still lived here, I saw none Even the ones who were toddlers when I moved in and would have been outside weren’t.

A couple months later, a strange thing happened. Gorgeous June day, blue skies and sun, and the power went out at 6:45 PM. From a lawn chair on my parents’ porch I witnessed a curious exodus, as the neighborhood residents gradually stumbled out into the bright sunshine and started talking to each other.

By 7:00, the streets and yards were filled with kids playing an impromptu game of kick-the-can, just like I had done for so many summers. The old neighbors reminisced, then pulled the new neighbors into the conversation. The energy level? Block-party-sized. You could feel the life.

But around 7:30, the unmistakable hum of air conditioners starting up broke the electrical silence. By 7:45, emptiness reigned once again.

Till the day I die, I will never forget watching people break up and head for their front doors.

The TV, VCR, Computer, Video Game—pick a device—called like sirens and we obeyed.  I took a stroll up the street, watching people through windows, each one parked in front of this tech gadget and that. The tech gods are indeed unappeasable.

Flash-forward twenty years and we loyal consumers opened a vein and told Sony, Panasonic, Apple, Microsoft and others to jack us in. Best Buy is the new worship center, its blue-shirted acolytes preaching to our itching ears that a 40″ TV is passé—60″ is the new hotness.

In his book Why We Don’t Talk to Each Other Anymore: The De-Voicing of Society, John Locke discusses studies that show that our dependence on technology for communication is damaging our ability to read instinctive social cues. Young people accustomed to interacting through computers and cellphones find that they can’t gauge other people’s feelings when confronted with face-to-face interactions. The result is an increasing disconnection between what one person communicates and another understands.

When a society can no longer interpret agreed-upon social cues, it won’t take Visigoths storming the gates for societal collapse to occur.

But what of the ultimate social capital bank, the Church of Jesus Christ?

A couple months ago, I petitioned readers to answer a few questions about their financial and living situations. One of those questions asked, “Do you live within thirty miles of extended family?” To my utter shock, out of the dozens of responses I got via comments and private e-mails, only about 10% answered positively.

Christians answered those questions, not unbelievers. But if we Christians–who so nearly make an idol of family with our rhetoric about it–aren’t near our extended families, then what of all our talk?

Joseph Myers wrote in his popular book, The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups, that  we Christians can no longer expect people to come to our homes since many are fearful of stepping across the threshold into another’s residence. If this is true, then we might as well pack up and turn out the lights.

Is it any wonder then that consumerism bedevils American Christians? If what God gave us to conserve is gone, why not find fulfillment in the latest tech gadget?

We used to be producers. Pre-Industrial-Revolution America saw capitalism flourish in home-based economies. Both parents worked at home. Both parents taught the kids. Both parents and children produced out of their home.

But after the Industrial Revolution, as our economy was wrongfully forced into big business models and city-living, the home’s essence as the base of family operations withered. The Church abetted that little death by failing to question this so-called march of progress. Instead, American Christians marshalled the parade of efficiency and championed late-19th and early-20th century triumphalism .

Consumerism rushed in to fill the void. Consumption replaced community. Advertising pitted the Joneses against the rest of humanity, handing us a new national pastime. Social Darwinism stirred that pot and told us that it was us or our neighbor, but it couldn’t be both. Someone had to win. Might as well be us.

If we wish to know why the “Church of Me” predominates today, why churches are filled with folks who want to know what’s in it for them, then we need only ask what happened to the home. We need to ask if modernism, postmodernism, industrialization, and globalization are bad for families, churches, and communities.

Destroy the home and you ultimately destroy community. Oddly, I hear no Christian leaders today arguing for a return to  home-based economies that fuel local communities. A few might be trumpeting the single-wage-earner households that homeschool, but that’s a band-aid on a bigger problem. Until we can find a way to resurrect real home-based economies, well never see an end  to the relentless onslaught of consumers trickling out of polished McMansions demanding that churches tickle their ears till the thrill departs and so do they.

No matter how much we talk about community, we simply don’t have real community in our churches. The Church in Acts broke bread in each others’ houses every day! And that was possible because of how they worked and lived out of home-based economies.

I think one of the reasons that revival has been so elusive in America since Azusa Street a hundred years ago centers around the fact that home-based economies afforded people the chance to linger at church to see revival. Can you imagine anyone today calling his boss and saying, “I can’t come into the office because revival broke out at our church?” That guy’d be pinkslipped the next day.

I think we can resurrect true community, the kind where you watch my back and I watch yours, but it’s going to take paradigm-shattering effort to do so.

A few ways to begin:

1. Stop with the materialism! Start getting rid of what we own. Stop letting what we buy rule us.

2. Start asking our pastors why they’re preaching that it’s okay for mom to stay at home, but not mom AND dad? Start asking how we can restore home-based economies that support the family, which supports the local community, and ultimately enhances the church community.

3. Start talking with other people we know about their always-going, non-stop-consuming lives. Create some dissonance in the standard thinking that we have to be robots who serve the State by perpetually buying things.

4. On the Web sites of prominent American Church leaders and their churches, bring up these questions and ask how real community can be restored.

5. Put people first, not things. Contact friends we haven’t spoken with in years. The alarming statistic for married men over forty shows that those guys have only one other man (or two) they consider to be a close friend. Time to better those numbers.

6. In church meetings, start brainstorming ways to keep people entrenched in the local body. Start questioning the need to chase work all over the country, too (one of the main reasons so few of us live near extended family). Americans are moving every seven years—and that number is getting smaller. We can’t experience real community in our churches if we’re turning ourselves over like that.

7. Make your home an open home. Find ways to make your home a nexus of community. Let your kids know that your home is for others; encourage them to bring friends over. Practice hospitality at all times. Start a block party.

8. Pray through your church directory. Then start inviting two or three families at a time to your house.

9. Develop relationships with local merchants. Consider the extra money you might spend at their place of business (versus a Category Killer or Big Box store) a tithe to the development of godly community.

10. Reject pat answers. We’re too busy, too tired, too disconnected, and too socially bankrupt. Time to divorce the status quo.

Despite the fact that our churches preach a form of Gospel today that is completely individual-centered, Jesus founded a Church, not disconnected individuals. It’s time we start thinking about Christ in Community and not always Christ in the Individual. But to get there, we have to be bold and question everything our society and our churches hold up wrongly as sacred, questioning assumptions in our churches that are based on non-Christian ideals and not on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We can have true community folks, but it’s going to cost us to get it back.

What are you prepared to give up to make it happen?


Other posts in the “Unshackling the American Church” series: