[Paleopsych] Rock Christianity

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Wed Apr 27 01:20:38 UTC 2005

Rock Christianity

When I sent out the Will to Live alternative to a living will yesterday, I 
should have called to your attention the near absence of any concern about 
costs or whether the taxpayers would have to foot the bill to keep others 
alive. Certainly, the entire GDP could be spent on keeping the elderly alive, 
and so choices do have to be made. It seems, though, that the state of passion 
in the culture wars has so escalated that details over who pays have been 

I should also have added, and not just to this story, that in practice 
Evangelical Christianity means Rock Christianity, not the rock in Galilee on 
which Peter supposedly founded the One True Church of Jesus Herman Christ, but 
Rock 'n' Roll music softened into "Christian Rock." Actually, it is noisier 
than the early rock of Little Richard and Elvis Presley, as far as loud bass is 
concerned. The early records sound tinny in comparison with "Christian Rock." I 
recall a teevee special on the first anniversary of the bombing of Federal 
bureaucrats in Oklahoma City. Shown was a
splendid Roman Catholic church (by their standards, which I have always found 
too gaudy) but with this godawful "Christian Rock" music and the mourners doing 
the Twist in the aisles. I should not complain. Chubby Checker claimed to be 
able to teach the Twist in 30 minutes, but I figured it out for myself in five. 
All rock "music" is dreadful, from Little Richard (to those of you who remember 
me from high school and college: I was being satirical about Little Richard the 
whole time. I was perhaps too subtle. I mocked "Bob Dylan" then, and still do 
today. My younger daughter has repeatedly tried to argue me out of it, and I 
have taken on the persona of someone totally close-minded just for this one 
instance. I do not know if she has caught on. Probably.)

I attended one megachurch service, in Colorado Springs. No rock "music" in this 
one, but a spectacle with massed choirs. The message was about how much Jesus 
loves you, how Jesus can make your life better, how Jesus can help you if you 
slide into sin, all upbeat stuff. Nothing about Hell, the escape from which is 
the central theme of the New Testament. It continues to amaze me when I ask a 
liberal Christian if he believes in Hell. "I wouldn't go that far," comes the 
reply! But from this sample of one megachurch service (articles I've read say 
the same thing), those for whom Hell is a burning issue constitute a small 
number of Christians (and almost no Jews as all, despite Sheol in the Old 

Why the culture wars, then? I'll have to think about it some more. Anyhow, my 
preference for contemplative and dignified religious services may just reflect 
an early identification of this kind of service with religion. I was raised an 
Episcopalian but when to a Presbyterian church with my parents (I have been 
going voluntarily to a religious service once a year now for about ten years, 
just in case the Episcopalian vision of the Great Country Club in the Sky, as 
Miriam put it, is true) and was shocked that there was no kneeling during 

Below is a reverend wrestling with important issues.

Christian discipleship and the Super Bowl
Florida Baptist Witness
2005 Publishing Good News since 1884 Volume 122 Number 14
Executive Editor
Published February 10, 2005

[Click the URL to see an image of Rev. Smit.]

    I could hear the anguish in his voice.

    Jerry Vines - the most prominent pastor in the Super Bowl XXXIX host
    city of Jacksonville - told me the morning after the big game how
    difficult it was to cancel First Baptist Church's Sunday evening
    services to assist city officials clearing the way for the National
    Football League's championship game.

    As anyone who has even casually followed Southern Baptist life would
    know, Vines is not the sort of Christian leader who bows to cultural
    trends or bends to the will of politicians. As church after church has
    moved out of downtown facilities for seemingly more prosperous
    suburban climes, as Sunday evening worship services have increasingly
    fallen out of favor with some pastors, Vines has remained steadfast in
    his traditional commitments in the heart of Jacksonville's downtown.

    The former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, one of the
    nation's most prominent Christian leaders for decades and an outspoken
    defender of the total truthfulness and inerrancy of the Bible is no
    wimp in today's Culture Wars.

    Nevertheless, the world's premiere sporting event inescapably clashed
    with the decades-long commitment of Vines never to cancel an evening
    worship service to accommodate church members who wanted to see the
    Super Bowl. Occupying nine downtown blocks, First Baptist Church was
    asked by city officials to not hold evening services Feb. 6 since the
    rest of downtown would be closed for the Super Bowl, held less than a
    mile away at Alltel Stadium.

    Left with no other choice, Vines was forced to cancel the services.

    "We did it without rancor; we didn't kick a fuss up about it," Vines
    told me Feb. 7. "I'm realistic - you can't spit in the wind. We
    cooperated as best as we know how. We try to be good citizens in

    In the wake of Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction" at last
    year's Super Bowl, Vines vigorously exercised his Christian
    citizenship and his considerable influence in Jacksonville to make
    this year's event as family-friendly as possible.

    Mayor John Peyton and Vines "were in close communication" throughout
    the year leading up to this year's game in the hopes of averting a
    replay of last year debauchery, Vines told me.

    Vines' criticism of Jackson's performance elicited a letter from NFL
    Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, promising a "family-friendly" event in
    Jacksonville. The 62-year-old former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney
    headlined the Jacksonville half-time show, which most observers
    credited as being far more subdued than last year's debacle.

    "I guess it's a commentary on the decadence of entertainment today
    that a former Beatle is considered family-friendly. But, at least the
    old guy kept his clothes on," Vines quipped.

    While thankful for the comparatively mild half-time performance, Vines
    acknowledged there were still plenty of pre-game activities and
    commercial messages that were "pretty raunchy" and "pretty tasteless."
    A sport that is inextricably linked to beer ads featuring scantily
    clad women and "male performance" messages has a long way to go to
    family-friendliness, to say the least.

    While he used his citizenship to try to positively influence the
    morality of the Super Bowl, Vines spoke candidly of the mounting
    tension in today's Christian churches concerning how we balance our
    obligation to be in the world, but not of it.

    The fact that this American cultural phenomenon falls on a Sunday -
    "Super Sunday" isn't an accolade for an especially remarkable worship
    service these days - illustrates the challenge for Christians in
    relating to an event of the Super Bowl's magnitude.

    Rather than attempting to compete with the event, many churches use
    the occasion to host fellowships and to do evangelistic outreach.
    Vines is not critical of those who choose this path; nor is he
    critical of those who would choose to even go to a football game or
    other sporting event on a Sunday. But the readiness of some churches
    to accommodate the world does concern Vines.

    Canceling his first Sunday evening worship service in four decades of
    pastoral ministry because of Jacksonville's first Super Bowl "was
    uncomfortable for me," even though the city left him no other choice.

    "I really think it's not about football. I love football, but the
    church makes it too easy for Christians," Vines said.

    In our morning-after-the-Super Bowl interview, Vines elaborated at
    length about his concern for a diminishing passion for discipleship
    among Christians today which is being encouraged by America's
    entertainment culture.

    "I think that there needs to be times when Christians have to decide
    between activities related to the Lord's work and activities related
    to the things of the world. If the church just acquiesces and never
    gives the Christian that opportunity" to make a choice, believers will
    be harmed, he noted.

    Vines told me the story of a young, gifted baseball player at his
    former church in Rome, Georgia, who declined an invitation to the
    state all star game because it conflicted with a church youth camp.
    The young man heard the call to ministry at the camp - and today,
    David Allen is dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist
    Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

    "What if we had just said, `go ahead and play baseball'? I think there
    needs to be those times when Christians have to decide, difficult
    times. I think that's a part of growing as a Christian. Churches
    today, everything that comes along, churches cave in. It's really a
    sad state of affairs."

    At the same time, Vines was insistent that I make clear, "I don't come
    at this from a legalistic, judgmental standpoint. ... I, in no way, am
    judging others or that I view this as this makes you a better
    Christian because of what you don't go to or don't do.

    "I'm just talking about one's personal convictions and I'm talking
    about commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. And we just don't have a
    lot of that today," Vines said.

    Vines reminded me of the classic movie, "Chariots of Fire," in which a
    sprinter who is a Scottish missionary refuses to compete for the
    Olympic Trials because the race is held on Sunday.

    "That (kind of commitment today) is just like a foreign language to
    most Christians, isn't it?" Vines asked me.

    Concluding our interview, Vines said, although the signs are not
    hopeful, "I long to see a day when Christians will really, really get
    serious about the Christian life."

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