Friday, September 17, 2010

Finding God in a Bar

Can we find God in a bar? According to Erika Eichelberger, we can. She relates her own experience at Revolution church. It’s the church of Jay Bakker – the hipster son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker – in young, trendy, and artistic Williamsburg Brooklyn:

“I haven’t met Jesus, as they say. But hearing Reverend Vince [Jay’s partner in ministry] was a religious experience for me. I laughed, I danced, I sang along. Gin and tonic in hand, tears streaming down my face, I felt pure.” (All quotes are taken from her article in the Brooklyn Rail, Sept, 2010, 7)

Why in a bar? Bakker explains:

• “Meeting in a bar is the greatest neutral ground in the world because you’re not on the street corner preaching at people and also people don’t feel like they have to come into a church, which might seem threatening.”

Sounds reasonable! Meeting at a bar might represent the “appearance of evil” to some. However, to the church-rejecting youth of Williamsburg, the organized church sadly represents “the appearance of evil.”

But is Bakker’s enterprise truly a church? A guest preacher there explained that,

• “…the pursuit of the God question has to be reconciled in each of us. And that may take the form of Buddhist or Muslim or Hindu or all the other religions that we think aren’t important to us.”

How can someone preach both the grace of the Cross and the needless-ness of the Cross at the same time? If we can access God’s grace through other religions, then Christ died in vain! Granted, any mention of the fact that Christ is the only way or that gay marriage is wrong will erect almost insurmountable barriers among Williamsburg’s educated youth. However, preaching the adequacy of other faiths is pointless. If people can be saved through Mohammed or Buddha, why not also through their own worldviews and lifestyles? Why does it have to be through one of the ancient and socially “approved” religions? Why can’t their consumerism, materialism, postmodernism, moral relativism or pop culture equally serve as a vehicle to God? If any of these worldviews can deliver, why then preach any of them? It would seem entirely unnecessary. Instead, just allow the youth find salvation on their own!

However, there are other reasons that this new breed of seeker-sensitive, emergent churches pursues this politically correct course:

• “…The more honest we are about the problems we have with other Christians, with faith, with religion, the less easy it is to demonize people who don’t believe in the same things we do.”

The less easy it also is to take a stand for what we believe, whether its for love or speaking out against injustice. Nevertheless, it’s true that we often use our beliefs in an insensitive way that might cause needless hurt. However, a more realistic goal might be to try to love others despite the differences. After all, this is the challenge we have to surmount in regards to our own wives and children. They don’t always agree with us! Maturity demands that we have to learn to navigate the rough waters stirred up by the differences, rather than trying to make believe that they don’t exist.

Bakker calls his approach “Christian agnosticism,” and it fits in perfectly with our postmodern culture. Basically, this approach affirms the experience of Christ but stops short of an understanding of Christ. If you cannot be sure of anything doctrinally, then you won’t judge or offend anyone. At least, that’s the reasoning. (But if you can’t be sure of anything, what then is there to preach about?)

However, these postmodern churches are teaching a schizophrenic-producing message – yes, they too have their theology and doctrines, although they are loath to admit it. You can know Christ in your heart, but not in your head through understanding. You can experience Him, but you can’t believe Him or talk and live like Him.

This creates insurmountable problems. While the heart loves Christ, the mind denies Him and remains filled with many contrary thoughts. Consequently, while they believe that they can experience the same grace through Buddha or Muhammed, they are rejoicing in the One who needlessly died for their sins.

This state of affairs creates cognitive dissonance, a condition where dysfunction is master. If we are a Christian agnostic (CA) and therefore can’t be sure what to believe, then we also remain unsure how to live. Do we cheat on our wives when our feelings tell us “go for it?” Do we lay down our lives for others? Do we turn our backs when we see someone getting mugged? In order to live heroically, we have to think heroically – clearly and confidently.

To be fair to Bakker, he does acknowledge some areas where he isn’t agnostic: “We have to make and manifest the very heart of grace.” For him, this means that we have to love others. However, this assertion is inconsistent with his agnosticism. How is it that he knows to love but fails to know much else? Besides, how do we love without the teachings of the Bible explaining the nature of love? And doesn’t loving God require that we abide in His Word (John 14:21-24)?

Consequently for the CA, love tends to be a very limited thing. It means that we mustn’t judge others, even when they need correction. Instead, it means that we must indulge their feelings and “needs.” The person with same-sex attraction is therefore counseled to follow his inclinations. After all, this is who he is! However, would they also counsel the pedophile and the adulterer this way? Perhaps not, but this would open them up for a charge of having a “double-standard.”

I’m glad Erika has had what seems to be a taste of Christ. I pray that she and her church will find that living without objective Biblical truth is like trying to operate a one-winged plane. I also pray that when they crash, they will begin to seek His truth, not just experiential “truth.”

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