Not a Troll, But What?

Whether you are a Tolkien fan or spend any time with blogs or forums on the internet, you know what a troll is, right? Someone who intentionally stirs up trouble on the comments section of a blog or on a message board. Trolls also cause trouble in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. They’re nasty, and when you get a bunch of them together, they tend to start a fight.

But what about someone who just keeps hanging around, even if they’re not wanted, just because they want attention? What do you call them. They’re not trolls—they don’t cause any trouble. In fact, sometimes, they don’t say anything at all. If you are a blogger, you know who they are, those people who run pell mell through the blogosphere liking random pages in hopes of upping their page views and readership.

I don’t know if any of Tolkien’s characters fit this description, but one of Jane Austen’s is close. If you are familiar with Austen’s Pride and Prejudice—either the movie or book—you are familiar with Mr. Collins. He just wants to be important, but he’s not. He wants to be the center of attention, but most folks just want him to go away. I know he’s not exactly the model I’m looking for, but as the book is fresh on my mind and Tolkien doesn’t offer me anything better, it will have to do.

If you’ve blogged for any length of time, you have your Mr. Collins. In fact, if you randomly look at people’s blogs, you’ll see them all over the place: those little avatars of the same people—over and over and over again—liking all kinds of people’s blogs. And when I go to their blogs and see their ideologies, I know if they actually read my blog, they wouldn’t like it!

I have one that is especially funny. Yes, I know I may be sending him traffic; that’s ok. He started liking my posts several weeks ago. As I usually do, I at least visit the visitor’s site (even if he or she didn’t actually visit mine). What I found was some form of religion that vaguely claimed to be Christian, but was far from it. Secret codes, visions of angels—and only positive comments!

I engaged him on his blog in a friendly manner, but when I pressed him on whether or not he considered Jesus as fully God, he blocked me from commenting and removed some of my other comments. But since that time, he continues to “like” almost every post I make—on both of my blogs! So he is a Mr. Collins, simply looking for page views, trying to be popular in a world—despite his visions of angels and cryptic codes—that is full of more interesting characters—there are Darcys and Elizabeths spread all through the blogosphere!

The question is, will he like this one?


Are Light and Darkness Mutually Exclusive?

Daniel Siedell wrote a piece recently critiquing Thomas Kinkade’s work. He basically raked Kinkade over the coals for not being enough like Dostoyevsky. My take on the article is that Siedell thought that the absence of pain, the absence of evil, the absence of the Fall failed to allow any sign of grace to shine through all that light. I suppose he has a valid point, but does all art have to mirror Dostoyevsky or someone like Flannery O’Connor for it to be considered grace-filled?

A clue might be in a quote Siedell attributes to Kinkade: “I like to portray a world without the Fall.” This appears to come from a Christianity Today article from 2000. You can read more of what he says there.

The beef with this statement from Kinkade is that is not the world we live in. And for that to be a goal is a misrepresentation of the truth. But Kinkade also says: “The world is very dark, but in heaven there is no dark.” Unfortunately, that brings up another problem: his paintings are not about heaven. They deal squarely with the scenes of earth.

Two questions: First, should we be concerned about an artist’s theological purpose if it is contrary to the way the Bible relates the world to us? Second, is Kinkade guilty of some sort of artistic heresy that we need to stamp out?

The answer to the first is yes—if the artist is intending to speak as a believer in Jesus Christ. His purpose should match up with Scripture, and this is irrespective of what we might think of the art. So does Kinkade break any theological rules? As long as we know and are aware of his purpose: fantasy, can we not then move on to whether or not it is good art? Tolkien wrote, in my opinion, a masterful work called The Lord of the Rings. He explicitly said that it was not meant to be an allegory—many have ignored these words and gone on to show how Christian it was. It may have been, but that was not his purpose. His purpose was to create a fantasy story, complete with other gods, other creators besides the creator God of the Bible. Whatever we think about the quality of Kinkade’s work, in purpose, is it different than Tolkien’s?

The second question is not so easy to answer because it involves all the people who love his work, and there are lots of people who love his work. But why do they love it? Do they need to love it only if it reveals the biblical concept of grace? Or is it ok to love it because it makes them feel good? Ultimately, our creations should point others to God. And when fallen humanity sees God, the Bible indicates that one of two responses is typical: “Woe is me for I am undone!” and “Oh the depth and riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” The response in various grades is either despair at our own condition or praise and adoration at our changed condition.

If Kinkade’s work draws us to heaven, and in the scenes of everyday life, we get glimpses of what life will be like: a present shadow—ironically achieved with light—of our future reality, then he is not guilty of such a vile act as Seidell accuses him of. If, however, his viewers are drawn to what might be here on earth, are made to loathe their existence here based on what they think their earthly life should be like, are left more focused on their own failures instead of God’s glory, then we should be more cautious in praising his work.

But that is an individual experience, is it not? Are we to become thought police for everyone who reads Dostoyevsky and sees only despair and never grace and then accuse Dostoyevsky of avoiding grace? I haven’t surveyed the landscape on what the Kinkade lovers see in his work.

For me, however, what Kinkade brings up is nostalgia: the idea that times used to be better. And that is patently untrue. Man has always been fallen. Man has always been depraved. Man has never been happy and comfortable in his cottage by the lake in static reverie. That is not to say that we consistently wallow in a joyless existence either.

So my take: if all the art you imbibe is Kinkade-like art, you are not getting a complete diet of art. It would be like eating sweets all day. And if we do that, we will enjoy the taste to our detriment and eventual death. So have some Kinkade if you like that sort of thing and it turns your eyes to heaven, but don’t forget your body’s—your soul’s—need for someone like Dostoyevsky.

Blooming, I Mean Cultivating, Where Planted

Some things we talked about Sunday morning and this blog post got me thinking about Genesis 2. God placed Adam in the garden (a pre-fall garden) and gave him a task: till (or cultivate as it is sometimes translated) and keep. After the fall, God placed him outside the garden and told him to till.

At the end of the OT, in Malachi, we read that the people don’t really care about the things that God cares about. The prophet says that the people no longer serve (the same word in Genesis 2 for till) God or keep (same word as in Genesis 2) his charge.

It seems that regardless of where we are, we have been tasked with taking care of things that God has entrusted to us. And God has placed each of us in a particular culture so that we might cultivate it, add order to it—redeem it as Jake talks about in his blog post. And if we buy into the fact that everything does matter, then we must look at our surroundings, both physical and spiritual, material and immaterial, living and inanimate as part of what God would have us till to God’s glory. We really must not separate the sacred from the secular and try to order our lives that way.

But surely the neighbor’s marriage is more important than my yard needing mowing, right? Well, if we think it is an either/or, that is a false dichotomy. Both should be attended to with the same purpose: bringing order from chaos. Sure, when faced with a yard that needs mowing and an urgent phone call from the neighbor, I will choose the neighbor, but that doesn’t mean the yard is less important in its need for order and redemption.

And we must not forget that those mundane tasks require the power of the Spirit to order just as much as the neighbor’s marriage.

Andy Stanley and What Has NOT Been Talked About

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary recently wrote an article on his blog about megachurches. In the article, he referenced an April 15 sermon (click on message 5: When Gracie Met Truthy) by Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church in Atlanta where Stanley seems to normalize homosexual behavior. After reading the article and listening to the sermon and then reading several other articles, what amazes me is what people weren’t upset about. Of course, many in the evangelical world would be upset about his apparent normalization and acceptance of homosexual behavior, but no one seemed to notice three bigger, underlying issues.

First, Stanley says that Jesus’ love was messy, inconsistent, unfair, and confusing. Granted, he sort of implied that these were from our perspective—but not really. Because he went on to say that when our love seems messy, inconsistent, unfair, and confusing, we must be doing it right. I would disagree. First, while things may have appeared messy, inconsistent, unfair, and confusing from the disciples’ or our point of view, they certainly were not from Jesus’ point of view. And we need to keep that in mind. Stanley says that when we try to figure it out, we are in danger of losing something. Again, I would disagree. We need to understand why Jesus was not inconsistent or unfair (from our point of view) so that we can accurately display God’s love as well. To imply that Jesus was inconsistent and unfair shows a lack of understanding about Jesus’ deity. He was not just a man who changed the rules. Certainly he related to different people in different ways, but he was perfectly consistent in his love, grace, truth, justice, and holiness.

Second, Stanley redefined two key theological terms: grace and truth. In giving a long list of things that grace means, he said, “Grace says, ‘You’re fine.'” But Grace does not say, “You’re fine.” In fact, grace is the loud and clear declaration that we are not fine. Grace is getting something we don’t deserve. If we are fine, we don’t need grace, and therefore, we don’t need God. This is a horrible representation of what grace is. He also said, in a long string of what truth means, that truth says, “You’ve got to work it out.” Truth does not say that in the Bible. Truth says, “You can’t work it out, but God can.” Stanley even pitted grace and truth against each other like two parents raising a child. While he didn’t use this analogy, I came across with the perception of good cop/bad cop sort of deal. But again, this is not correct. God is both grace and truth. They do not battle each other, and certainly grace is not untruth, as Stanley implied. Granted, Stanley did say, on more than one occasion, that Jesus was complete grace and complete truth, and he even had a nice visual to demonstrate this. But the previous long explanation about the differences between the two stayed in my mind as well, and they were what actually stuck with me more than the visual.

Finally, the issue of shepherd and sheep comes into play in the sermon. In the long story he told as his final illustration of the importance of grace and truth, a man and his male partner were allowed to be involved in some ministry team even though one of the men was still married. It took a conversation with the ex-wife of the other man with Andy Stanley and then a phone call to the satellite church for the men to be removed from the ministry team because of the adultery of the married man. How is it that two unmarried people, engaging in extra-marital sex, with both men committing adultery—one on his former wife, the other on his current wife—are allowed to be actively involved in ministry? Was there no one to ask questions? Had the church gotten so big, and desperate, for volunteers that any warm body could sign up to serve?

It appears that North Point is in danger in at least three ways. First, they have diminished the character of the Lord Jesus Christ. Second, they are teaching a false idea of two key theological terms: grace and truth. Third, they have lost control of the ability to monitor the spiritual fitness of  those who desire to serve in ministry. And if these issues aren’t dealt with, it will matter little what North Point’s view of homosexuality is.

Those Annoying Character Developers

School has kept me busy as of late and car trouble and various odds and ends—those little annoyances, character developers, if you will. I have also been working on catching up with the blogs I have been reading and was encouraged and challenged by this post. I know it’s old, but it’s still good.

I need to do a better job of not letting the little things turn into big things. I need to take the focus off myself. I need to allow Christ to live in me each day in each situation. I’m not much on WWJD because most of the time that turns into what do we think Jesus would do based on our own preconceived notions. While principles can be mined from scriptures, Jesus did not live in the 21st century in Texas with my family or at my job. But, I can let the Holy Spirit work in me, trusting that He knows best in each situation and that whatever comes my way doesn’t have to affect how I treat others.

A Bowl Full of Fun

My youngest was reading to me this morning from one of her favorite series (and mine too). Cynthia Rylant, who authors many books, has a series called Mr. Putter and Tabby. The illustrations are marvelous and the stories make my six year old crack up (and me too). This morning we read Mr. Putter and Tabby Stir the Soup (Mr. Putter is old, so it doesn’t take much for him to have excitement!). The neighbor’s dog, Zeke, keeps getting in the way, and the morning consists of Mr. Putter taking things away from him and putting them in the bathtub. All Zeke really wants is to go for a walk; he’s really a good dog.

We all have Zeke’s in our lives—good things that get in the way of better things. For each of us those things can be different: exercise, certain relationships, blogging, entertainment, hobbies—ok, ok, blogging too. We have to ask ourselves if the good in each of those is replacing a better: time with God, time with family, time at work, time in building relationships. Better yet, it would be helpful if we allowed someone else, someone who knows us well, to have that kind of input into our lives. I am quite masterful at convincing myself of a position.

Does the life I live, though, convince anyone else? Does my life present the evidence necessary to convince someone that I abide in Christ and He in me. Or do I allow good things to slowly erase His influence in my affairs while I collapse at the end of each day, like Mr. Putter, exhausted from chasing that good thing, while someone else stirs the soup?

What’s a Christian To Do?

If you are unsure how to behave in this politically charged season, you can find no end of advice in blogland. 

Here and here and here and here

Those took all of two minutes to find. Don’t know if you’ll find anything you like or not. 

But, if my opinion means anything to you, here’s one that I thought was right on the money.