Thursday, April 4, 2013

Graffiti in Christianity's Ghetto

Although I disagree with controversial Christian author Rob Bell on many things, on one thing, he's quite right.

During a recent appearance in San Francisco in which he called for liberality towards gay marriage, Bell accused evangelicals of living in a Christianized cultural ghetto.

"I think there is a very narrow, politically intertwined, culturally ghettoized, Evangelical subculture" in North America, Bell has been quoted by Huffington Post as saying.  And to a certain extent, I've been complaining about that too, on this blog.

New York's historic ghetto culture
But I guess, since I'm so familiar with New York City, associations with the word "ghetto" conjure up completely different imagery than the way Bell uses it.

After all, a ghetto simply refers to an insular - or insulated - community.

But even then, both modes apparently work for our evangelical ghetto, considering what I've learned today by visiting Tim Challies' blog.

Fish Don't Fry in the Kitchen

Challies is a reformed evangelical who writes a popular blog on all sorts of Christian topics.  He reviews books, exegetes Scripture and Biblical concepts, and discusses deep nuances within theology that oftentimes make my eyes glaze over.  Indeed, I don't visit his site often.  Not because I disagree with him, but because, frankly, deep theology doesn't float my boat.  He's writing mostly to folks within mainstream reformed evangelicalism who seem to enjoy fussing over the semantics of faith, a robust activity within the cultural ghetto of Christianity Bell has identified.

Theologians like Challies assume that the merit to semantics is that people of faith will turn around and apply them to their testimony among their spheres of influence.  The problem is, if his readers ever do that, I suspect their spheres of influence are usually people just like themselves.

Meanwhile, I'm writing to whomever will listen!  And since semantics bore me, I write about other things.  I realize that, on many issues, I'm outside the mainstream school of thought, whether you're a reformed evangelical or an atheist.  Plus, I tend to view things through an Americanized political and sociological lens than does Challies, a Canadian.  It doesn't help my disconnect with Challies that, as one of the Internet's first bloggers for any genre, he's a techno-geek, and you know what a Luddite I am.  He's also published books and has influence within the Christian publishing world, itself a contributor to our Christianized cultural ghetto.

And then there's his admiration for Christian rap.  Particularly rap that he insists features reformed theology.  I know some very fine believers who enjoy rap music, but I fail to see the merit in a type of noise born of dysfunctionality and aversion to authority.  What about cultural relevance, you ask?  Last night, the choir conductor at my church was talking about classical music as a white person's "tradition," and I wanted to scream!  I don't like Bach because his music exalts white traditionalism, but because it so closely adheres to the metrics of reverence and awe with which we're to worship our Creator!

See what I mean?  Challies might be a nice guy and all, but rap and Bach collide too painfully in my world.  Still, it apparently resonates with Challies' readership, and even revered reformed preacher John Piper is said to like reformed rap.  Which, I guess, means that it's OK, since two of reformed evangelicalism's apologists endorse it.  In the Christianized cultural ghetto, popularity means a lot, and following popular leaders is a popular way to live.

In fact, Bell used to be a popular leader in our cultural ghetto, until he started wandering from some of the basic tenets of our faith.  Still, he's seen our ghetto from the leadership's podium, and he knows how most of us have cloistered ourselves within walls that allow just enough of our surrounding culture in, but keep out just enough of the sin so we can render superior evaluations on the heathen unbelievers around us.

Since so much popular culture has been invited into our ghetto, the easiest way to differentiate ourselves from those heathen unbelievers is to use the political tag by which many of us identify ourselves.  Which has led to blind allegiance to all things Republican, while at the same time creating a freedom to castigate all things Democratic.  This means that our Christian ghetto is mostly white, even though plenty of Christ followers have other skin colors.  This also means that, as our North American society becomes more diverse, we're having a harder and harder time correlating the might our political leaders have told us we enjoy against our rapidly sinking clout among heathen unbelievers.  Things like gay marriage, gun control, immigration reform, tax reform, entitlement reform, school reform...

Do you notice how many things folks in the Christian ghetto want to reform?  I guess it makes sense, since reformed theology is so trendy these days.

Beans Don't Burn on the Grill

However, here's where the ghetto motif with which I'm most familiar comes into play.  The ghetto where people are not only segregated by race and religion, but where graffiti covers every available commercial building.  And subway cars.  I remember riding New York's subways in the 1970's and 80's, when seats were covered in so much wet paint from all of the fresh graffiti, riders had to stand.  Some avant-garde liberals tried to tell us graffiti was a beautiful form of urban art and freedom of expression, but only fools believed that schtick.

Within our evangelical ghetto, our anti-social behavior takes similarly foolish forms, including a digital graffiti of vitriol and impertinence.  Although I rarely read Challies' blog, I did so today, and quickly became alarmed at what he calls "Discernment Bloggers."

Apparently, some so-called Christian bloggers have been excoriating Challies on their own websites out of anger for comments Challies has made on a variety of subjects, including a lawsuit over child abuse that has been filed against Sovereign Grace Ministries.  I'd heard before of Sovereign Grace Ministries - an affiliation of charismatic reformed churches - and its former leader, C.J. Mahaney, but only in passing.  Turns out, as some sort of retribution, these discernment bloggers have been digging into Challies' finances and other personal records, trying to find dirt they could throw at him.  All in the name of Christianity.

I had no idea that Sovereign Grace Ministries was involved in a lawsuit accusing it of covering up child abuse.  Nor had I ever heard the term "discernment blogger," although I was relieved to learn that, according to Challies' stiff definition of their merciless tactics, I don't fit that category.  You might not always agree with how I think and what I write, but wouldn't you be hard-pressed to prove my viewpoints lack grace or dishonor God?  Especially when I write about fellow believers in Christ?

To learn that muckraking is alive and well within our evangelical ghetto, aided and abetted by technology that allows any indignant blogger to look like an expert, is extremely sobering to me.

While I consider myself to be fairly well-versed in the culture of our evangelical ghetto, even though I'm on the ghetto's fringes, maybe it's a good thing that the folks who enjoy living deep within it don't pay much attention to me.  I'm only sorry that some of them appear to be turning on Challies.

He may be gettin' jiggy with reformed rap, but that's the worst stuff I've seen from him.  And while that genre of noise comes from the dangerous ghetto of painted graffiti, I'm ashamed to see that digital graffiti is now disgracing Christianity's ghetto.

There goes the neighborhood.


  1. I must be weird: my two favorite bloggers are Tim Challies and you! I also like classical music and hate rap...Oh well! I used to read a couple of those "discernment bloggers", until I realized that they were mostly just looking for dirt.

  2. Lol!! Maybe I should read Challies more - maybe we have far more in common than I give him credit for! In any event, I consider it an honor to be read alongside Challies.

    Thanks for the feedback.


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