Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pop! Goes Another TGC Article

Maybe my problem is that I expect people to mean what they say.

And then I get my knickers in a twist when what they say is something I hope they don't mean.

Sometimes I stumble over little stuff, the incidental parts of somebody's argument that maybe they didn't spend a lot of effort on developing.  You see, if I can't accept your little points, how do you expect me to accept your bigger points?

I'm finding that I'm having this problem more and more with one of our more popular Christian websites.  The Gospel Coalition (TGC) features content written by avant-garde leaders of the so-called "New Calvinist" movement, or "New Reformers," or whatever brand of post-seeker, post-Willow-Creek, new-urbanist theology you're comfortable calling it.

Sometimes their content hits well within the mark.  But, at least to me, increasingly, other stuff of theirs doesn't.  A lot of times, the problems seem to crop up when their writers try to pander to popular culture, or when they try to make themselves sound hip and relevant.

When it comes to relevance, I've found that the Bible and Christ's Gospel are the most relevant things any culture can ever appreciate, so I think that sticking with those two things helps make any article or argument credible.  Ironically, it's preachers and teachers who've been to seminary who tend to display an irresistible attraction to our culture instead.

I started realizing TGC's credibility could be highly subjective when one of their writers began defending his leadership style as legions of long-time members flocked to a new church being launched as an alternative to his heavy-handedness.  Then I began having issues with the way some of their writers expected people suffering from chronic clinical depression to just snap out of it.  I never did like the way they turned preachers into celebrities, or the odd lack of negative reviews of any of their books.  What was supposed to be a collective of ministry aids for pastors and laypeople who believed in predestination turned into just another corner of our evangelical ghetto where select seminars, conferences, videos, books, blogs, and podcasts were marketed to our vast evangelical industrial complex.

Then today, I read yet another article that turned into a sneak preview for yet another book.  Yet another book by a professional Christian - a pastor, seminary professor, and conference speaker - about the world of work and employment.  It's being released by its well-known publisher today, and by the number of Facebook "likes" the piece has already garnered on TGC's website, it looks like it'll be a good seller.

But even that depresses me.  Because it means people actually believe that preachers who don't work in the conventional world of work are experts on it.

Technically, there's nothing wrong with the author's basic premise.  He wants fellow Christ-followers to see their jobs as an opportunity to serve Christ and model His Gospel.  I believe that is the appropriate way for us to see our jobs, as I think most evangelicals do.  The reason it's a subject for which publishers can sell how-to books, however, is because it's a lot harder to do in practice than it is in theory.

But what makes preachers the best source of information for putting the Gospel to work in the workplace?  Sure, many pastors like to run their back offices and administrative staffs like corporate fiefdoms, and the profit motive lurks under the thinnest of surfaces at many of these popular megachurches carrying massive payroll burdens and other overhead costs.  But most other churches are not like corporate America, and even if they were, most churchgoers are not preachers or members of elder boards, the two areas in most churches where power rests.  It's like Jack Welch telling workers how to work when he was head of General Electric.  Yeah - it's easy for him to say.  He's the boss.

Meanwhile, for the most part, the rest of us have to do what we're told.  That's why we're the employee, and not the employer.  In fact, it's the main reason why most of us find so much drudgery in our jobs, and why they're so unfulfilling.  We don't have the creative opportunities, or the authority to control the quality we'd like to see, or the access to budgets that could help us hire the ideal team of experts, any of which would substantively empower us in our jobs.  We have to deal with managers who either don't understand our job, or don't care about much else than their own approval rating from their own managers.  We may not get to just take a break so we can decompress.  Our schedules are not our own.

Hey - most of us don't look at employment as drudgery because we want to!  It's because our employers wish they could save money by not having to employ us.

Preachers and professors may work a summer internship, or a pre-college gig, or even a couple of years in the office of a seminary to help pay for their schooling.  However, none of that is the same as spending upwards of forty years of your life facing the same routine, struggles, disappointments, competition, dead ends, incompetence, frustrations, idea-stealing, brown-nosing, office politics, pink slips, outsourcing, downsizing, everyday workplace complexities of post-industrial employment.  It's not that professional Christians need to be experts in every subject for which their parishioners encounter conflict.  And it's not that preachers don't have their own disappointments and burnout.  But maybe the subject of finding the rewarding aspects of whatever employment God gives you should be left to the guys who've transitioned, mid-career, out of their for-profit working lives, and are re-inventing themselves in the ministry.

Then again, I could be wrong about that.  So I decided to see what this particular pastor had to say on the subject.  Would he be just another holder of unrealistic assumptions about the workplace, or would he have some realistic insights?

Like most professional Christians, this one starts his article with some light-hearted banter to get the ball rolling.

Only it's not anything in the Bible he references, or a legitimate corporate world experience he might have had after college, but the popular TV show, The Office.  Okay, this preacher-author is in his 30's, so The Office seems relevant to him because it's a funny show with good acting and appropriately trendy workplace situations.  Except he makes a point of including the office romance angle between two of the show's main characters.  The two people who flaunt morality and God-honoring sexual activity by having a baby out of wedlock.

He even calls the guy who gets his girl pregnant "noble."

Now, obviously, premarital pregnancy is a common situation in our society today, and indeed, in many workplaces.  But just because it's a common situation, and cleverly written for a TV show, and acted out by characters who strike us as anybody we could know and work with in our normal, everyday lives, that doesn't make the people who do it appropriate characters to be affirmed in an article on an evangelical-themed website.  Does it?

In fact, the way this preacher glosses over it, on his way to promoting the theme of his book (which is living out the Gospel in the workplace, remember) I'm left to wonder what his gospel looks like.  If he was going to use the reference to Jim and Pam as a launchpad for how believers in Christ could Biblically support their officemates in a similar situation, that would have been one thing.  But no, he lets it hang there as "a great love story."

And we wonder why each successive iteration of doing-church-in-shiny-new-ways fails to resonate with our culture.  Or even look much different from it.

If this pastor had completely left out any reference to The Office from the promotional article he provided to TGC's website, then we could have had a discussion about how adequately a preacher-professor can appreciate all of the struggles and dynamics everyday workers in corporate America use to justify their ambivalence - and, indeed, fear - of living a life marked by the cross of Christ in their lives.

As it is, unfortunately, there's no point in getting any further than the first paragraph of this preacher-professor's article.  Unless, of course, I'm being a prude, and not blithely acquiescing to the overall theme of The Office, which as this author points out, is to portray the working world as drab and stifling.

It was supposed to be part of his opening banter, to get his audience thinking about his topic.  If he misses the point about what makes The Office such an unsuitable depiction of "a great love story," however, how is it nitpicking of me to doubt he's got anything special to say about the workplace?

Looks like pop culture comes out ahead yet again.

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