Steve Jobs, Jesus Christ, and the Bland Conformity of Western Christianity


Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo.
—Apple Inc., “Think Different” ad, 1997

And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead–by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened.
—Acts 4:1-21

In the wake of the death of Steve Jobs, people all over the world have lamented the passing of Apple’s charismatic leader. Gene Veith, provost and professor of Patrick Henry College and a member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, attempted to understand this outpouring in his article “The Apotheosis of Steve Jobs.” In it, he writes:

I would say that it isn’t just that Jobs has been turned into a saint.  In our newly-minted paganism, he and other celebrities have undergone apotheosis.  That is, they have been turned into gods.  The parallel is what would happen in the Roman Empire.   An accomplished emperor dies.  So the Senate votes to proclaim him a god.  Whereupon he enters the pantheon and citizens are enjoined to perform sacrifices to him.


Unfortunately, Veith is blind to the real feelings of people who seem unusually grief-stricken by the death of a business leader they didn’t know. He represents the typical Evanglical Christian position that interprets the world through personal perspective only, not from any view larger than the individual. “Personal Jesus” indeed.

Everything we need to know about the lament over Jobs and what it means for Western Christianity can be found in two Apple commercials, “1984” (hailed by advertising experts as the greatest commercial of all time) and “Think Different,” which followed 13 years later with the identical message:

The average American slogs through the wreckage of the industrial revolution, commuting through endless traffic to a job he tolerates simply for the (diminishing) money, rushing through some “quality time” with the fam, and then collapsing into bed—only to start the relentless process anew the next day. His life consists of buying things he doesn’t need so that people will think better of him. He buries himself in his work, his family, and his home, walled off from the greater world—and from any hope of transcendence. He consumes for 70 years, retires, takes a job as a greeter at Walmart to make his insufficient pension last, and then he dies, having made no mark on the planet at all save for a pile of garbage.

The epidemic of prescription psychoactive drug use, the Occupy movement, the Tea Party, the overwhelming worry and angst people everywhere are feeling—much of it is due to the collapse of ideologies we once held dear. Industrialism made us little more than cogs in a broken machine, and the American Dream imploded.

What Steve Jobs and Apple sold better than any individual or company in the last 100 years is a break from that oppressive conformity. The kingdom Jobs promoted told people crushed by it all that their thoughts can make a difference. That they could be more than just a cog in an impersonal machine. They could think different. They could toss the hammer into the face of the oppressor. Each of us was creative and could make a difference, a better world for ourselves, our families, and the rest of the world.

Now whether Jobs was a true visionary or just a marketing genius is debatable. So is his kingdom’s ability to pull off what it sold.

But the only thing that mattered in Jobs’ message was that other people bought it. They hated being crushed down by the world and they thought Apple products might be able to unleash their inner world-changer.

The outpouring of grief over the death of Jobs reflects two similar trains of thought.

Those who had a teacher or coach who stood by them when no one else did, who challenged them to reach further, who believed in their potential when others scoffed, understand the loss of that mentor.

Those who look around the world today and believe even more strongly that we must break out of conformity and conventional thinking to solve the problems of the world feel the loss of someone who urged them to do just that.

This explains the continuing lament over the loss of Steve Jobs.

It also starkly frames what is wrong with the Church in the Western World.

Jesus Christ came to establish a Kingdom that turned every status quo belief and practice on its head. Everything we thought was right about God and what He desires of us was out of kilter with reality. The Kingdom of Heaven comes and upsets the conventional, bland, and mundane.

Read the Book of Acts and tell me if today’s Western Church resembles that dynamic, supernatural, communal, loving entity that was the Early Church.

How is it that we Western Christians have become so bland? Why are our services so dead? Our people so disempowered? Why do we settle for living like dogs who eat crumbs from the Master’s table when we are supposed to be seated beside the Master Himself?

Steve Jobs was a man. He’s dead and gone. Jesus Christ was not only a man, but He was God Himself too. He lives and reigns forever. His Kingdom is infinitely better than anything Steve Jobs could whip up, and it’s not based on clever marketing or tapping into some cultural angst, but on everlasting truth.

The reason for the almost religious fervor over Apple products and over Steve Jobs’ death comes because people today are starved for transcendence. They need not only to know that there is more to this life, but they want to feel empowered to reach out and make a difference. They want to live and think differently from the status quo. They want to be extraordinary.

We Christians can pooh-pooh that desire, but the fact is that God lit that flame in us. He made Adam to be remarkable, creative, strong, and intrepid. Those qualities reflect the fulfilled man of God.

So how is it that the Church has driven out the creative class? Why do we love conformity and the status quo? Why do we endorse the conventional rather than the unconventional? How is it that we are so reactionary rather than revolutionary?

We are the square pegs in the round holes, the fools for Christ. We have a better Kingdom! How then can we let our churches continue to be so conventional and bland?

Steve Jobs tapped into mankind’s discontent with bland conformity. How the Church continues to ignore that discontent and go on doing the same old same old is one of the tragedies of our times.

Silencing the Voice of Hearsay in the Church


I suspect Cerulean Sanctum will be delisted from a number of blogrolls after this post, but I need to write it. Put on the seatbelt and hang on.

Recently, Tim Challies had an interesting post entitled “Body Piercing Saved My Life,” a review of a book of the same name by Andrew Beaujon, a frequent contributer to the secular music magazine Spin. Christian rock music intrigued Beaujon, so he decided to get the real scoop on the genre. He went to concerts, talked with fans, attended several churches, interviewed the artists, and delivered his book, a firsthand account of what he learned.

In the end, Beaujon didn’t have a life-changing conversion, though he grew to appreciate Christian music through the time he spent examining it.

On the heels of Beaujon’s book comes a much-anticipated book from a renowned Christian author and pastor. He attempts to expose what he perceives as truth-mangling in the Emerging Church (EC), ripping into its questionable theology and practice. The Godblogosphere’s already quoting excerpts from the book, some blogs claiming it will deliver the final word on the EC.

I’m no rah-rah fan of the Emerging Church. Like a lot of reactionary movements, it’s underdeveloped in many ways, off completely in others, and right on the mark on a few select issues. EC proponents offer both enlightening critiques of institutional Christianity and brain-dead ones. As with any critical movement, I weigh their rhetoric against the Scriptures and the illumination of the Holy Spirit, then discard the dross. In truth, I’ve learned a few things from the EC concerning Evangelicalism’s shortsightedness. I’m a wiser Christian for those insights.

Over the last five years, I’ve interacted with hundreds of people in the EC. I’ve written on the EC several times here at Cerulean Sanctum (“That Other Standoff,” with embedded links elsewhere). I know something about it, though I’m by no means claiming to be an expert.

But this new book IS written by someone many people consider a bastion of truth and expertise. In fact, truth is the subject of the book. Plus, his offering isn’t a haphazard blog post (like any of mine or yours), but a book-length examination of truth problems in the EC, and postmodernism in general. For these reasons, what he says ought to be better thought-out, researched, and double-checked.

What I would like to know then:

Before he wrote his book, did this prominent author/teacher/pastor…

…personally sit down with EC leaders and get firsthand answers to his concerns?

…personally talk to a wide range of real people who left “traditional” churches in favor of Emerging Churches to find out why they did?

…personally talk to a wide range of real people in Emerging Churches to see what their doctrinal stances truly are?

…personally visit a wide range of churches under the EC umbrella in order to see if they might not be “One Size Fits All” in doctrine and practice?

I really want to believe he did. I hope that every question I asked above can be answered affirmatively.

For any book that’s ultimately about truth, second, third, and fourth-hand reports (or sound-biting unclear quotes without getting a firsthand clarification) simply won’t cut it. WhisperThat’s particularly true when millions of people will be affected by some major Christian leader’s withering assault.

I’ve been a Christian for 30 years. In that time, I’ve been shocked how easily we condemn other Christians on what amounts to hearsay. Even though the biblical standard is two or three witnesses, we know how two or three witnesses worked at the trial of our Lord! I think the Christian standard must be higher than that.

The Church of Jesus Christ is founded on relationship: our relationship with the Triune God and with each person He indwells. Because we are supposed to be a community free of rancor, the Lord commanded that if we have something against our brother, our best response is for us to stop what we’re doing and go make peace with that brother face-to-face. We don’t send emissaries and don’t write notes. We go in person.

Rather than write a book on contemporary Christian music from indirect sources, Andrew Beaujon (an unbeliever, remember) put his person on the line and went to see for himself. All through the Gospels, people who encountered Jesus, especially those on the receiving end of miracles, said, “Don’t take my word for what He did. Go see for yourself!” That admonishment carries some weight.

It would be terribly ironic if a book about absolute truth contained nothing but indirect reports on supposed malfeasance. I’ve read far too many Christian books that attempted to uncover the truth about a leader or movement, then failed to contain any firsthand accounts by the author. Such books are nothing more than venom.

Are we seeing for ourselves? Or we are crafting “truth” out of hearsay?

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.