Dr. James Emery White

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

About Tomorrow (Halloween)

Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published in 2013. The ChurchandCulture.org Team thought it was an important read for Halloween.

I grew up in a day when Halloween was little more than pumpkins, fall festivals, hayrides, and dressing up as a pirate or a farmer to go trick-or-treating. And that is what it held for my now very post-Halloween-age children as well. 

I know its history, but few celebrations in our day are free of pagan roots – almost all had a pagan heritage that were later seized and transformed by a Christian culture.

So that doesn’t mean much to me.

On the Christian calendar, it’s actually to be celebrated as part of Reformation Day, when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg church which sparked the Protestant Reformation.

So while I still hold to the child-like fun the night can hold, I no longer view the day itself as innocent. But it’s not because of the occult.

That’s not where I have a hard time with Halloween.

It’s the sex.

In an earlier article in the New York Times titled, “Good Girls Go Bad, For a Day,” Stephanie Rosenbloom wrote of the changing nature of women’s Halloween costumes in the last several years. 

Little Red Riding Hood, in her thigh-highs and miniskirt does not seem en route to her grandmother’s house. 

Goldilocks, in a snug bodice and platform heels, gives the impression she has been sleeping in everyone’s bed. 

And then there is the witch wearing little more than a Laker Girl uniform, a fairy who appears to shop at Victoria’s Secret , and a cowgirl with a skirt the size of a – well, you get the point. As Rosenbloom notes, the images “are more strip club than storybook.” 

No wonder Halloween costume stores have signs out front that say, “no one under 18 allowed without a parent.”     

So my take on it all is pretty simple.

I think Halloween as an American cultural event for kids is no big deal. Dress them up as one of the minions from Despicable Me and have fun. It's just not a big deal from the paranormal or occultic side of things. In my opinion, this is an area where a lot of people are majoring on the minors.  

So it’s not the kids and Halloween that are the problem, it’s the adults. I think as far as the kids go with Halloween, I think it can still be something innocent.

But a word to you adults who have made it “dress like a porn star and act like one” night.

You’re the ones making it dark.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Stephanie Rosenbloom, “Good Girls Go Bad, For a Day,” New York Times, Thursday, October 19, 2006, p. E1 and E2.

Michelle Healy, “Sexy teen Halloween costumes: What's a parent to do?,” USA Today, October 26, 2013, read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

The Cultural Conundrum

The pastor of a large and influential church was recently asked about his stance on gay marriage. He gave what I thought was a very astute response. He said that on such matters, there are three things that must be considered: “There’s the world we live in, there’s the weight we live with, and there’s the Word we live by.”

That’s actually quite right.

Consider the world we live in. Its position on gay marriage has changed seismically over the last few years. Churches have never failed to have the moral high ground on this matter…until now.

Consider the weight we live with. Who isn’t heartbroken that people of any orientation or lifestyle, color or creed, is bullied, discriminated against, hated or terrorized? Speaking to the issue of gay marriage in a manner that would consciously add in any way to such repugnant behavior would be unconscionable.

But then we must consider the Word we live by. By this, he meant “what the Bible says.” Where the Bible stands, we must stand. 

And then came the awkward moment.

“It would be much easier if you could feel like all of those three just easily lined up. But they don’t necessarily….The real issues in people’s lives are too important for us to just reduce it down to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer in a media outlet.”

Now before you rush to a cry of “Compromise!,” once again, he’s actually right. 

First, they don’t line up. At all. 

Second, anyone who works with people – I mean, really works with people – knows that there is a serious pastoral side to such issues. Simple declarations of your stance at conferences filled with the already convinced is not the real world. Nor are they particularly helpful to those we are trying to reach.

To give an answer that truly serves the historic Christian position on such an issue takes more than a tweet. Further, when you are being asked such a question in a secular context, it becomes even more careful to finesse. 

Why? Because there is a thin line between maintaining an earned voice through which to speak to culture, and compromising the very message you long to share. There are certain things you know you can say that will shut the other side down.

And you don’t want them to shut down.

But you don’t want to compromise, either.

So when dealing with the secular world you pick your way through such conundrums with care. Never lying, never compromising, but picking your battles – answering in ways that let you maintain a voice so that you can continue to have a listening ear when it’s time to shout the voice of challenge.

I'll give you a somewhat less controversial example. If you were to ask me, point blank, if I had a denominational heritage, I would answer “Baptist.” But I don’t lead with “Baptist.” I lead with “Christ follower.” And when asked about Meck, I lead with “inter-denominational,” and stress that we have people coming from all backgrounds including no background at all.

Many of you would know why. While I hold to such classic theological tenets as congregational participation, believer’s baptism by immersion and biblical inerrancy, the tag “Baptist” is one of the more pejorative, jarring, discomfiting labels around. For reasons, I might add, that have more to do with social and cultural missteps from various leaders than its actual theological and ecclesiastical sinew.

This is one of the things that Jesus did masterfully. He refused to get pulled into Roman politics, even when baited. He didn’t rise to many of the theological squabbles within the Jews. But when He did, it was always for something significant. Like the debate between Pharisees and Sadducees concerning the resurrection. 

To Jesus, that one mattered.

And when those times come – the time for a truly prophetic voice – cultural relevance be damned. If it’s time to be prophet, simply expect a prophet’s reward. And any study of the Old Testament will tell you what such rewards tended to be.

Let’s just say don’t expect to be heralded.

So returning to our pastor, should he be affirmed for his response to the question on gay marriage?

Sadly, no.

Because the nature of marriage and family lies at the heart of the created order.

Because the nature of sexual expression lies at the heart of physical morality.

Because the nature of the prophetic voice is to speak to that aspect of culture that is most at odds with God’s intent at the moment in history.

And most of all because the third leg of the cultural conundrum, following the world in which we live and the weight with, is the Word we live by.

And when you consider the Word, you find that it does offer a concrete position. It is, no matter how much we might need to explain it, a simple “no.” And to his credit, the pastor in question later added a clarifying word:  “My personal view on the subject of homosexuality would line up with most traditionally held Christian views. I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject."

But as Jonathan Merritt rightly pointed out in covering the matter, “In a moment when so much is at stake a non-statement statement is, well, quite a statement.”

Yes, it was.

And that is the challenge of the cultural conundrum to us all.

James Emery White

 

Sources

“Hillsong’s Brian Houston says church won’t take public position on LGBT issues,” Jonathan Merritt, Religion News Service, October 16, 2014, read online.

“Hillsong's Brian Houston on Gay Marriage: 'I Believe the Writings of Paul Are Clear on This Subject',” Nicola Menzie, Christian Post, October 18, 2014, read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

In my latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, I charted the meteoric rise of this religious classification in the United States.

And it has been meteoric.

If you’re new to the conversation, here’s a précis:

A “none” is someone who says that they are religiously unaffiliated. When asked about their religion, they did not answer “Baptist” or “Catholic” or any other defined faith. They picked a different category:  “none.”

The number of “nones” in the 1930’s and 1940’s hovered around 5 percent. By 1990, that number had only risen to 8 percent, a mere 3% rise in over half-a-century. Between 1990 and 2008 – just 18 years – the number of “nones” leaped from 8.1 percent to 15 percent. Then, in just four short years, it climbed to 20 percent, representing one of every five Americans. 

Even more telling was the discovery in the National Study of Youth and Religion that a third of U.S. adults under the age of 30 don’t identify with a religion. 

All to say, the “nones” are currently the second-largest and fastest growing religious group in the United States and the only true national religious trend in our nation.

Caught up?

Get ready to buckle your seat belt.

According to the latest data from the first stage of the 2015 British Election Study, a survey of more than 20,000 people by a team of academics from Manchester, Oxford and Nottingham universities, the “nones” in the U.K. have risen from just 3% in 1963 to 44.7% today. 

Read that again:

Religious “nones” in the U.K. have gone from 3% to 44.7% in just five decades.

Among adults age 25 and under, it climbed to nearly two-thirds.

This. Is. A. Crisis.

Please, if you haven’t already, wake up. Understand the “nones,” and what it takes to reach them. If you haven’t already, get the book and read it. If you are a pastor of a church and genuinely can’t afford it, we’ll send you a copy for free.

Because this isn’t about royalties.

It’s about the future of the church.

And keep on the lookout for information on the Church and Culture Conferences debuting in the spring of 2015 in the U.S. and the U.K., designed to help the church answer the call to the evangelization and transformation of culture through the primacy of the church.

It’s time.

James Emery White

 

Sources

James Emery White, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated (Baker).

“Exclusive: New figures reveal massive decline in religious affiliation,” Ruth Gledhill, Christian Today, Friday, October 17, 2014, read online.

“Religion Among American Hits Low Point, As More People Say They Have No Religious Affiliation: Report”, Katherine Bindley, The Huffington Post, March 13, 2012, read online; see also “Americans and religion increasingly parting ways, new survey shows,” Yasmin Anwar, March 12, 2013, UC Berkeley News Center, read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Answering the “WT*IUWT” Questions

Recently, I was interviewed for a National Public Radio program related to my new book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated.

It was a robust and spirited conversation, but it was the off-air dialogue that may have been the most revealing. The host and I continued talking after the program. He was among the “nones” himself, and was curious about the kind of church I led – particularly one that reached so many like him.

“So you must be on the liberal side, right? I mean, if you’re reaching people who are turned off to church.”

“Actually,” I said, “we would be considered more conservative in our theology. But there isn’t a legalistic or judgmental spirit running around. People feel very free to ask questions and explore things.”

The conservative thing threw him.

“So you take the Bible literally and all that?”

I knew where this was going. He had a pop-culture view of what it meant to believe the Bible, and an even worse understanding of what it meant to interpret it. Taking the Bible “literally,” to him, meant checking your brains at the door and being forced to believe the most wooden and clumsy of interpretations. Ones that even most Christians would reject.

But it was what he said next that was key:

“So tell me, what the &#*% is up with this idea that the earth is only six or seven thousand years-old?”

Yep, he dropped the F-bomb on me.

Let’s not get into young-earth vs. old-earth. I’m not a young-earther, but if you are, fine. Let’s not get into his use of language. You know you’ve heard the word before, so don’t give into false offense. 

Here’s what everyone should get into: The “What the **** is up with that” questions.

Why?

Because they are the heart of what is churning around in the minds of those on the outside-looking-in at the Christian faith. They have so many “WT*IUWT” questions, and the essence of any conversation that might move them down the spiritual road will involve talking about them.

And without defensiveness. 

It’s simply a cultural reality that they are genuinely incredulous that anyone would think like…well, a Christian. Or at least, what it means in their mind to think like a Christian.

So of course they are going to ask,

“WT*IUW not wanting two people who love each other to get married?

“WT*IUW thinking sex is so bad?

“WT*IUW a loving God sending someone like Ghandi to hell?

“WT*IUW…” I’m sure you can keep filling in the blank.

Answering the “WT*IUWT” questions is what lies at the heart of modern-day apologetics, the pre-evangelism so missing in churches. And it is missing. We’re so used to talking to the already-convinced that we have no intuitive sense of what it means to talk to someone who isn’t.

Maybe we’re just afraid of the questions.

All I know is that until you answer them, you can’t get to the greatest question of them all, the one they need engaged more than any other:

“WT*IUW the cross?”

James Emery White

 

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

About Dr. James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.

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