Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Reaper

Last night as I was channel surfing I watched part of a new show called the Reaper. I don’t usually get into sci-fi (well not since Quantum Leap), but this sitcom was mildly entertaining. The main character, Sam (Bret Harrison), was having a conversation with the Devil (Ray Wise), and the Devil was really upset. It was the evening before Halloween, and to Sam’s surprise the Devil said that Halloween was the worst day of the year for him. The Devil said that it was “the commercialization of evil.” He said that no one was afraid of him and that it was just all fun and games now.

I couldn’t help but laugh at the wisdom behind the comedy. Halloween has become a fun time for many kids. At Oakland we are planning to give out lots of candy tonight. As I drove onto our campus this morning, I had a momentary rush of excitement as I thought about thousands of kids in Roanoke flooding the streets (and coming to our event) as Power Rangers and Princesses. I can’t help but think that tonight is going to be lots of fun. Too bad I don’t have my Superman outfit anymore!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Casper the friendly atheist

Allow me to put on my educational hat for a review. I freely admit that it is much easier to critique a book than it is to write one.

Book review: Jim and Casper Go to Church

I recently read a new book, Jim and Casper Go to Church, and it has sparked my thinking related to church growth. Jim (a former Pentecostal preacher) hired Casper (a self-proclaimed atheist) to attend church services with him and give his impressions of the services. The premise of the book was irresistible to me as I wish to see the church from the blind side of Johari’s window. I enjoyed the case studies in this book, but I think the authors went too far with their applications.

Jim and Matt’s book was worth the read for me because it made me think, but not for the reasons the authors intended. All truth claims must be evaluated before acceptance into the core of church life. I think that this book fails to provide compelling evidence of truth for most churches.

From a research standpoint the book says more than it is able to say. The authors exhort all Christian churches to do a number of things based on their observations in a few churches. The application of qualitative research (by definition) is limited to the cases included in the research. It is the rough equivalent of observing a handful of mushrooms in the wild and concluding that all mushrooms are perilous.

My greatest concern from the book is that the authors make truth claims while telling the Church that there is no Truth. Readers are supposed to accept absolute truth claims from two authors (neither of which qualify as experts outside of their own life experience) who argue that Christians should stop making absolute truth claims. (Yes, that is a self-contradiction.)

One would expect Matt (as an atheist) to assert that Christians have no right to claim Truth, but why does Jim champion the same cause? I believe that Jim honestly thinks that he is doing churches a favor by telling us that we are offending atheists by claiming that we have Truth.

The simple suggestion of this book is that if we are going to be effective in reaching people like Matt Casper, then we must abandon our truth claim rhetoric in our church services. The end result would be church services where no truth claims are made, and the only rallying force would be to meet humanitarian needs. This book is about a hundred years too late. Mainstream, liberal churches have been using this approach for a century now. (I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist.)

I appreciate attempts to help churches become more effective in reaching people with the Gospel. I hope that we continue to try to understand different perspectives of unique individuals. Perhaps we can soften our approach, but now is not the time to soften our message.