Archive for December, 2011


“Totemism” Chronically American

The reader will immediately recognize that I have only a cursory knowledge of what I am writing about.  I am good at bluffing but privately I make no pretence to being a credible intellectual. I have met a few of these folks here or there so I know what they are. I hear something once and I’m off and running with it.

Perhaps twenty years ago I heard preacher, sociologist and “comedian” Dr. Tony Campolo discuss the concept of “totemism.”  I had taken both cultural anthropology and sociology in university and had heard the term but paid little attention to the concept at that time. Campolo referred to anthropologist Margaret Mead as one of those who studied the phenomena and went on to explain some of her observations.

Though the word seemed ponderous the concept did not. Campolo handily explained that the idea came from the totem. He went on to use the totem pole as a way of unraveling how the concept works.

Mead, pointed out that almost all cultures, though centuries and miles apart, are notable in that they are incurably religious and have totems of one kind or another as a way of expressing their mystical beliefs. Whether it happens to be the enormous stone and lava heads of the Easter Islands in Rapa Nui National Park or the totem poles of the northwestern American aboriginals, the Nootka, Haida, T’simshian, Tlingit to name but a few, totems appear almost everywhere in the world. Sometimes they show up as glyphs rather than something made of stone or wood. Nevertheless, various mascots universally occur.

Campolo made the following application: every culture adopts totems of one kind or another. It might be, as in the case of American Indians, a Thunderbird. This bird doesn’t exist in reality, but the idea sums up all of the cultural values of the tribe(s) so they build a tribute to it. What existentially follows is the interesting idea. They worship or pay homage to the pole. We might refer to this practice as idolatry.

In primitive societies this plays itself out in thousand ways throughout the history of man. The image might have been a scarab, owl, cat, cow, frog or turtle. In more sophisticated cultures these might be a bear, lion, dragon, beaver, eagle but you get the idea. The animal or some other thing, whether real or imagined, embodies the qualities the culture wants to project regarding its own perceived strengths, character and qualities. Of course, we should expect this from primitive societies. What should we expect? They don’t know any better until we reach them with the Mustang, Cougar, Viper, Ram, or the gospel, right?

About a year ago I happened to be in an American denominational church in the south on Independence Day. They made quite a thing out of this special national holiday by recognizing those who had served in the military, to which there was much-deserved applause. Next, however, they struck out to sing “America the Beautiful,” a song to which, without prompting, people all around began to stand to their feet with hands over their hearts and sang at the top of their lungs. In fact, I made note that I had not heard this sort of worship all the while I have attended there. I’m afraid that in the same way, the Jesus of Roman Catholicism plays second fiddle to Mary. While  “American Jesus” plays second fiddle to Caesar and his agenda. It was theologian, Francis Schaeffer who said, “Caesar and God cannot both be God. One must make up his or her mind.”

Are we guilty of pagan “Totemism?”   

It occurred to me, have we dressed Jesus up to look like us so we might actually worship ourselves? I think so. This isn’t just true of Americans. It’s equally true of the Chinese, Guatemalans, Kenyans, Tutsi, and Massai, Southern Baptists or members of the Assembly of God. In some circles we have imagined a “Reformed,” holiness, charismatic or Pentecostal Jesus. The great challenge of every believer is coming to terms with the authentic Jesus. This becomes a lifetime of re-calibration. Whatever we have gathered up about Jesus probably isn’t Him.

It’s election time again and some Americans are trying to figure out how they might turn Jesus into a Republican. In many minds he’s certainly not a Democrat! Jesus doesn’t live downtown. He’s not black. You won’t find him with “nappy” hair, low pants or sporting a tattoo. He lives in the suburbs. He graduated from university, drives a SUV and several other late model cars. He has a Jacuzzi and a hot tub. For some he might be a cool Jesus or a “Gap Jesus” in the same way Central America had fashioned a “Liberation” Jesus with a bandoleer and Uzi machine gun.

You see, we have all done this to Him. We have invented a Jesus that embraces our cultural values so that we can indirectly worship ourselves and our values. This is classic narcissism. We fail to honestly examine Him and take Him as He really is. We have laid our grid over Him rather than His grid over us. We have turned Jesus into the culture learner.

“Okay, Jesus, we’ll let you be God but only our terms.” 


Deism… we need a Copernican revolution in the church

“In answer to your inquiry, I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and heaven without hell.”

William Booth (1829-1916), Founder of the Salvation Army

The chickens have come home to roost.

I recently made this statement on my Facebook wall, “Deism is not Christianity.” It was simple enough but some people wanted to know why I would post such a cryptic comment. What did I mean by the statement? Who is it for? I admit to having a motive. I am addressing folks that I know so this is no accident. A nod of the hat toward Jesus will not do in the day of judgment. One does not have to be blasphemous to be a Christ rejector. You may go to church every Sunday and still reject Him. All one has to do is say at heart, “I will not have this man to rule over me. He won’t ell me what to do. I will think and do as I please.”

As usual, I just say what I mean to say. Both churches and hell are full of Deists and Humanists masquerading as Christians. Let me remind the reader of James 2:19,  “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”  At least the demons go farther than the impostor. They have a fear of God. They know the authority of Jesus. Deists have no special place for Christ. He is simply one among many.

There is most probably a God but He has taken His hands off of human affairs. He does not interact with history or time and man is left to his own devices. Because of this, there is in fact, a direct link between Deism and Humanism as ideologies. Since God is not involved then man must do his best to go it alone. Humanism puts man at the center.

I am always suspicious of those who claim to be Christians but Jesus’ name never comes up in their life story. They will talk about God well enough but have no place of affection for Jesus Himself. As a Bible teacher I see this far to often expressed or should I say, not expressed by members of the student body. Some do not hold him dear. Many who do not find Jesus attractive – all together lovely. He is not in any sense precious. People absolutely will not come outside of the camp and bear his reproach. We will gladly bear a cross as long as it is not brutal and blood stained.

Jesus is central to what it means to be Christian and there is no Christian faith, no saving faith, without Him. He is the unique manifestation of the only One, true and living God in the flesh. Again, here is support for what I have to say, “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.” 2 John 1:9

It is critical for people to get this  right.


When foolish minds are darkened…

Ultimate Questions

Sometimes I have said from the pulpit, “Some people just aren’t smart enough to get saved.” Of course I say this to shock the ambivalent back to their senses but I mean what I say. I don’t mean they aren’t intelligent I just mean they never think about anything very large. They don’t think about the main questions of life-like,

1. Where did I come from?
2. Why am I here?
3. Where am I going?
4. Does it make any difference?
5. What went wrong?
6. What if I’m wrong?
7. What makes a human being incredibly different from all of the animal world?

I can tell you. We have only five shared senses.We have an additional two. We are made with two senses they apparently do not have. Perhaps we should ask ourselves, “Why?” We have reason (the ability to plan and reflect) and conscience (the ought of right and wrong). Where did these intellectual attributes come from? Evolution will not account for either.

They prefer rather to whistle through the graveyard of life, living unconsciously – being occupied by stupid trivialities and momentary amusements like the Oscars, the Golden Globes, American Idol, Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan, et al. There is nothing wrong with any of these trendy things when kept in the cellar rather than allowing them to take over the living room. Most (even Christians) have elevated the small things and from those (albeit shallow) they find existence rather than purpose. Socrates was right, “An unexamined life isn’t worth the living.” We used to say of people who would not face the facts as those who “played the Ostrich.”


More Calvinist (REFORM) stupidity and arrogance

Please, to see why this is all such myopic nonsense read my blogs on Calvinism. They honestly believe that they have the “full counsel of God” and the only one’s who are preaching it.

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May I also refer you to the small booklet entitled, “The Larger Place, Detecting Spiritual Imbalance in Christian Groups.” Calvinism (Reform by its proper name) is something but it is not everything. Election has to do with God’s prerogative not His practice.