|"Christus," Peter Eugene Ball, Winchester Cathedral, |
They love me, protected me, taught me to think.
They made choices—to homeschool, not to have television, to emphasize work experience instead of playing sports.
I don't regret those things.
We were also...creatures of our time...part of Bill Gothard's homeschooling program, the Advanced Training Institute.
In his book, "Bad Religion: How we became a nation of heretics," Ross Douthat explores the forces at work in the "Christian convergence" after World War II and in orthodox Christianity's declining influence since.
He observes that Americans have not become less religious so much as less orthodox—more inclined to equate righteousness with prosperity, to confuse Christianity with Americanism, to espouse what researchers Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton call Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.
Gothard mastered the “how-to” formula before clickable content.
He reached out with birthday cards and newsletters before Seth Godin coined the term “permission marketing.”
He built his audience with exclusive conferences and brought in other Evangelicals—Al Smith, David Barton, Ray Comfort.
His biblical interpretation—a method that emphasized personal insight, or “rhema"—allowed him to combine ideas from various fields and biblical texts, creating what he called “a new approach to life.”
Gothard's conferences emphasized lifestyle "commitments." And this narrative defined humanity—and most of reality—in terms of ethical principles and behavior.
Thus, he imagines God relating to us more as jurist to citizens than as potter to clay. The pressure is on the individual to do what is right so that relationships...and the kingdom of God...can succeed.
The Bible becomes a source of cautionary tales and formulas for successful living. Grace became “the desire and power God gives to do his will.” Freedom became “not the right to do what we want but the power to do what we ought.” Wisdom became “seeing life from God's perspective." A good life involves following Jesus' example and receiving spiritual power.
This is not to say the Bible never describes God as a judge. It's also not to say that parents do not shape whom their children become. It does point out how reading the Bible for how-tos leads to a particular experience of what Christianity means.
But Gothard's focus on “success in life” and the culture of celebrity whereby he built an audience reflected broader trends.
At a Get Motivated seminar in Oklahoma City, 2006, Peter Lowe gave a faith presentation, envisioning God as a source of power for an eternally successful life. It was just before lunch, as I recall, on a day that also featured Rudy Giuliani, Suze Orman, University of Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops, and stock tips.
A lot of what we call “missional” today critiques American consumerism but measures success in lifestyle and behavior. It critiques American individualism...by challenging individuals to make a difference.
Church planters often use the language of entrepreneurship...or social entrepreneurship...to describe themselves.
And once it's plausible to equate platform building with the mission of the church, it becomes less surprising that Time Magazine would mentioned Mark Driscoll as a leader in "new Calvinism" in 2009 and then a marketing scheme to get the Driscolls' book, "Real Marriage," on bestseller lists helped speed the shuttering of Driscoll's Seattle mega church in 2015.
In his book “Christless Christianity,” Michael Horton critiques Osteen and others. Horton says, “Calling us to accomplish great things for God is part of the hype that constantly burns out millions of professing Christians. Telling us about the great things God has accomplished—and, more than that, actually delivering his achievement to sinners—is the real mission of the church.”
Indeed the irretrievability of lost time, the frequency with which best intentions go astray, and the experience of suffering defy explanation in moralistic or entrepreneurial terms. We can't make wrongs unhappen.
At least in some sense, I might be doing that. But there's something else too.
Call it longing...and a glimpse...of something true in spite of me...more like my parents' love than Gothard's theories, old as Genesis and strange as Revelation, more like a crucifix than a seminar.