White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

To Make the Word of God Fully Known

On Family Feud, the mystery hidden for surveys and responses when revealed to competing families is the hope of glory.  With every game, contestants can be seen eagerly awaiting every “top answer” uncovered, as fortunes hang in the balance.  Especially engaging is the moment in the “triple money” round, when the very last guess awaits a final judgment: it’s either on the board—in which case, the family lives on to enter the “fast money” round—or it gets the “X” and the family is banished from the stage, cast away to forever consider what might have been.

It provides a wonderful image of Final Judgment.

How interesting then to have one day viewed this set of responses written on the games show’s book of life: “If you were to get to Heaven, what would you expect to see?”

Here were the top six responses:

 

The set of answers requires little commentary, beyond this: What…not Gandhi?  Seriously, look at the answers.  Especially pastors and preachers: Look at the board!  It breaks the heart.

In Colossians, Paul says his “stewardship from God” is “to make the word of God fully known” (Colossians 1:25).   May the image of these top six answers motivate us all to truly strive to make the word of God fully known.

A final note: These last five weeks I have been treating Family Feud as a “cultural text”―and as a demonstration of kind of thinking done in the field of cultural hermeneutics.  Toward this end, I want to commend Kevin Vanhoozer’s Everyday Theology How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends (Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic, 2007) to WHI listeners and MR readers.  In making the word of God fully known, it is not only essential to know and share God’s word, but also to understand the word-deprived world in which its hearers are situated.

I hope you have enjoyed this short series of Family Feud posts.

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James Gilmore is the co-author of the bestselling book, The Experience Economy. A prolific speaker and popular business consultant, Jim has also been a guest on White Horse Inn and has recently written for Modern ReformationJim is a Batten Fellow and Adjunct Lecturer at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. He is also a Visiting Lecturer in Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, where he teaches a course on cultural hermeneutics.

 

 

 

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We Have No King But Elvis

Since presented via a TV game show, it may be tempting to consider Family Feud surveys inherently frivolous. Indeed, it would not be unreasonable to feel that any public opinion survey unduly emphasizes transitory feelings over more significant perspectives.  For this reason most of us understandably look unfavorably at a politician guided more by polls than by principles.  So when it comes to matters of faith, surely we wouldn’t want to mistake ephemeral opinions for eternal truths, let alone ones gleaned from some survey.

How interesting then to consider how Jesus conducted opinion surveys: “Who do the people say that the Son of Man is?” he asked his disciples (Matt. 16:13 ESV).  Survey says (Matt. 16:14):

  • John the Baptist                   43
  • Elijah                                  28
  • Jeremiah                             17
  • One of the prophets              8

And of course, his follow-up question (which would be worth double the number of points if posed on Family Feud) was: “But who do you say that I am?” (Matt.16:15)  Clearly Jesus could have just led with this later question, so he evidently wanted to first establish some context.  Why?  Jesus must have anticipated that none of the answers on the board for the first question would be “the Messiah.”  In pairing the questions he was therefore highlighting just how skewed from public expectations of a messiah was his earthly ministry.

Let’s now look at the top answers from a recent Family Feud survey which asked 100 people, “When someone mentions ‘the King,’ to whom might he or she be referring?”  The results:

Before rushing to condemn the survey respondents, note that the question posed was not “When someone mentions ‘the King of Kings,’ to whom might he or she be referring?”  In fact, the Family Feud contestant who uncovered the “God/Jesus” answer on the board did so by saying, “I’m going to go with the King of Kings, Jesus” (to which Steve Harvey nodded approvingly).  No, we should actually give the respondents great credit for most accurately capturing who folks are referring to today when they mention “the King.”  (And we should feel no shame in seeing the humor in “the Burger King” rounding out this list.)

The only point I would like to make about the responses to this Family Feud question is how it provides a wonderfully simple articulation of the cultural context in which the gospel is presented in our age.  Few people today are likely to mistake Jesus for John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or some other Old Testament prophet (if they could even name one).  No, the expectations of Jesus today are much different: some look to Jesus as a role model for respecting human rights or as a champion of various societal concerns (represented by Martin L. King, Jr.: 3), and a few others—whose “god is their belly”—look to Jesus to help them prosper (represented by The Burger King: 2). But the overwhelming majority of people really want Jesus to be Elvis, a feel-good rock star whose every gyration excites the soul.  But such a Jesus is but a “comic caricature” of the true King of Kings, as Stephen J. Nichols describes this figure in Jesus Made in America.  And this Elvis is but a Jesus impersonator.

James Gilmore is the co-author of the bestselling book, The Experience Economy. A prolific speaker and popular business consultant, Jim has also been a guest on White Horse Inn and has recently written for Modern ReformationJim is a Batten Fellow and Adjunct Lecturer at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. He is also a Visiting Lecturer in Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, where he teaches a course on cultural hermeneutics.

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As Is The Habit Of Some

What excuses do people give for not going to church?

Family Feud has dealt with this matter.  I know that what the “survey says” on Family Feud is not scientifically based (in terms of conducting in-depth anthropological, sociological, psychological, or ethnographic studies) or even close to being statistically valid (in terms of surveying a sufficiently large numbers of individuals), but still the survey results can provide some insights into the hearts and minds of congregants.

According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, 59% percent of U.S. churches average under 100 worshippers each week; the median average Sunday church attendance is 75 people.  (See statistics for 2009 study at: http://www.newchurchweblog.org/?p=81)  And how many people does Family Feud ask their survey questions?  One-hundred.  So think of each Family Feud question as a glimpse into the musings of a single, typical, local church.  Or simply put:

Survey says = Church says!

And now to the question before us: “What excuses do people make for not going to church?”

Here is a picture of my TV screen recapping the “top six answers” to that Family Feud question:

 

What can we learn from this?  Let me suggest some possibilities:

1) “Have to work” only garners 3% of the responses.  With the call to “defend and promote my neighbor’s good name” (see Heidelberg Catechism Q. 112), let us assume these respondents have in view emergency room attendants, power plant workers, police officers, and others who perform acts of necessity.  And if you really think about it: Americans in general have no problem with ceasing from work on Sunday, be they Sabbatarian or not.

2) A better fight may be had with Saturday night, alright, for 27% in the survey cite “Tired/Out Late.”  What shall we make of this?  Well, rather than suggest more folk ought to stay home and get to bed earlier, let me suggest that more Christians go out into the heart of Saturday night.

Let me here share a personal story:

In the mid-80’s, as a bachelor living in Sacramento, California, I had fallen into a period where I had ceased attending church altogether—for well over a year.  If I woke up before noon, it was only to watch the NFL while still under the sheets.  One weekend a friend was visiting from the Bay Area.  He was a recent convert to Christianity, and he insisted on going to church that Sunday.  So he consulted the Yellow Pages and picked a church for us to attend.  I very much enjoyed the worship, but afterwards gave little thought to returning the next week.  But that very next Saturday, on another typical night out with my work buddies, I happened upon all the elders from the RCUS church where I had attended the previous Sunday.  They too were out to see the Briefcase Blues Band (a Blues Brothers tribute band) at Harry’s Bar & Grill.  There, drinking their Beck’s beers with their wives, the elders spotted me and invited my buddies and me to join them.  Long story short: I attended that local church every Sunday thereafter, at first just the morning worship service, but soon the study hour as well, then Sunday evening worship too, and eventually I became a communicant member (of the first church I ever committed to joining).

May I dare suggest to local churches that your future Sunday morning is to be found on Saturday night?

3) Consider next the 20% who responded “Sick/In Pain.”  James writes, “Is anyone among you sick?  Let him call the elders of the church, and let them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.” (James 5:14)  I’ll not comment on this use of oil, but let me suggest there is an opportunity in many churches for better communication between elders and their flocks.  In this age of ubiquitous cellphones, text-messaging, Facebook updating, and tweeting, there really is no excuse for poor communication between elders and their flocks.  Note this communication starts with the sick: If you are sick, call your elder!  Elders, be open to such calls.  And visit the sick, not just the very sick, but the 20% Sunday sick.  Frankly, it’s tempting to think those who stay home from church are simply lazy; but perhaps it is those of us who neglect to go visit the sick that are all the lazier.

4) More survey respondents cite “Ball game on” (38%) than “Play sports/Golf” (3%).  In his commentary on Galatians, Luther makes the distinction between passive righteousness (all-sufficient salvation by grace) and active righteousness (insufficient effort by works).  Note that we see greater sports passivity (game-viewing) than sports activity (game-playing) cited in the survey findings.  While all sin against God is active rebellion, maybe a distinction here too can be made, between active unrighteousness (on the fairway) and passive unrighteousness (on the couch).  And maybe for every person actively perfecting their game (for a better life now), tenfold more are to be found passively amusing themselves to death.

Another possible lesson: let me suggest that those who do place their bodies in the pews on Sunday morning may still have their hearts and minds on the “ball game on” television back home.  Perhaps some pastoral prayers along the following lines may be in order (especially in the Pacific Time zone): “Lord, I want to thank you for the invention and awesomeness of the DVR and TiVo.  Please help those who may be here preoccupied with the ballgames going on right now, and with how their fantasy football teams may be doing, to let it go.  Let them be confident in the performance of these recording devices, so that they may focus solely on the greater awesomeness that is to found in communion with you in this hour.”  More such realism might help land more people in the pew, for people might actually want to join in such honest prayer before the Lord.

5) Forbid it that anyone might think they have “Nothing to wear” (2%) to church.  While this Family Feud survey response may seem ridiculous at first glance—the excuse seems like such a, well, such an excuse—do recognize that a church can signal to visitors that they are unwelcome when because of outward appearances they are not embraced as equally as the more fashionably attired.  I have witnessed this with my own eyes: individuals completely ignored by pastor, elders, and well-mannered parishioners, too pre-occupied with small talk to truly greet someone who looks out of the norm.  It is with this lack of looking and loving that we ought to truly feud.

I close with this prayer: “Lord, open our eyes.  Let us affirm that we all stand naked before you.  We are the 2%.  Do please clothe us with your righteousness.  Amen.”

James Gilmore is the co-author of the bestselling book, The Experience Economy. A prolific speaker and popular business consultant, Jim has also been a guest on White Horse Inn and has recently written for Modern ReformationJim is a Batten Fellow and Adjunct Lecturer at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. He is also a Visiting Lecturer in Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, where he teaches a course on cultural hermeneutics.

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Greet One Another With A Holy Kiss

“Meet the Hatfields: Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and their brothers who are here in the audience.  And meet the McCoys: Philologus, Julia, Nereus, and his sister—how are you, darling?—and Olympas, and all their family with them in the studio today.  Greet one another with a holy kiss.  All the families greet you.” (Romans 16:14-16, my paraphrase)

We know more about most families who have appeared on Family Feud than we do the final cast of characters that Paul commends in Chapter 16 of Romans. William Barclay may have a novel thing or two to say about Nereus, but really, we know little about these folks other than Paul’s high regard for them all.   At least we learn a little bit about the occupations and interests of individuals who appear on Family Feud as Richard Dawson (and Louie Anderson, Richard Karn, John O’Hurley, and Steve Harvey—the whole list of hosts over the years) greets each person right on down the line.  In Romans, we don’t get to know even that much about Asyncritus and company, or Philologis and the others.  You see, it’s not about them.

The main point of this whole passage in Romans 16 is that Paul is recollecting these saints, commending these saints, loving these saints, as he considers those who have “risked their necks” for the sake of the Gospel:  Greet one another with a holy kiss.

For those who might think it unimportant to confront Osteenism and his not so equally prosperous ilk, consider what topic Paul turns to right after asking the saints to greet one another in the customary kiss.  He warns all in Rome to do what?

watch out for those who cause divisions (Romans 16:17a ESV) or as James Boice comments on this phrase, “those who divide churches into factions that will be loyal to themselves”

and those who

create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught (v. 17b), who cause skandalon, or again as Boice puts it, “[not] scandalous behavior… but rather of adding things to the gospel that get in the way of those who are merely trying to obey the Bible and follow Jesus Christ.”

Could any two phrases better capture the essence of the psychobabble that Joel Osteen parades as Bible teaching?

And what does Paul say next?  Avoid them (v. 17c). Flee Houston, we have a problem!

Moreover, Paul (who I’d like to believe had really bad teeth and unkempt hair) goes on: for such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites (v. 18a ).

Wow.  How harsh.  And how does Paul say these scandalous scoundrels operate? By smooth talk and flattery. (v.18b)

To all in Houston, who are loved by God and called to be saints: Can’t you see the parallel here?  Those of us who warn about Joel and Victoria (“Avoid them!”) do not do so because we somehow have it out for the Osteens.  No.  We’re simply greeting you—one another—with a holy kiss.

Note how Paul concludes in characterizing these smooth talkers: they deceive the hearts of the naïve. (v. 18b) That is the crime of it all.  The false gospel feeds on the naïve.  All the more reason to know what you believe and why you believe it!

Now hand me that remote…

James Gilmore is the co-author of the bestselling book, The Experience Economy. A prolific speaker and popular business consultant, Jim has also been a guest on White Horse Inn and has recently written for Modern ReformationJim is a Batten Fellow and Adjunct Lecturer at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. He is also a Visiting Lecturer in Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, where he teaches a course on cultural hermeneutics.

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