Saturday, October 15, 2005

Thoughts About Evolution

To hear people from the "mainstream" scientific community and the liberal press, one would think that anyone who questions evolutionary theory must be a complete idiot. Well, my I.Q. was tested a number of years ago, and my score was 140. That isn't high enough for me to qualify as a genius, but it's hardly the I.Q. of an idiot, either.

I went to public schools where I was indoctrinated with the view that evolution was a proven "fact", and where contrary views were generally dismissed or ignored. Nevertheless, I find evolutionary theory to be lacking in credibility.

Evolutionary theory is historically associated with the term "survival of the fittest". We are told that evolving from one species to another was nature's way of adapting to change which was so extreme that pre-evolutionary life forms could not have survived without evolving. That begs the following question: If apes needed to evolve into human beings in order to survive, why is it that the apes seem to have survived even to the present day? If they were so "unfit" that they needed to evolve into human beings in order to survive, then shouldn't chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas logically be extinct? Clearly, evolution was not necessary for their survival.

We are told that the long neck of the modern giraffe was an evolutionary response to the fact that vegetation was increasingly scarce, and giraffes needed their long necks in order to be able to reach the branches of the tallest trees. That is ludicrous. Anyone who has observed the complex ecosystem present in modern Africa can see that there are plenty of other species there (such as various antelopes which subsist on low-lying vegetation) which have managed to survive quite nicely without the benefit of such long necks.

Moreover, even if a particular species proved to be truly unfit for its environment, one cannot help but be struck by the realization that genetic evolution is a mighty extreme response to a changing environment, given the fact that other responses, such as migration to more hospitable climates, would make much more sense. Unlike evolution, migration is a recurring natural phenomenon which can be easily observed, year in and year out.

Even if the Galapagos Islands where Darwin first conceived of evolution was so isolated that migration would have been impossible for the species living on that island, it does not follow that it wasn't an option for animal species living on larger continents. Yet Darwin and his followers essentially claimed that evolution occurred in all parts of the world, not just on that remote island.

No rational person would dispute the existence of the fossil evidence cited by proponents of evolutionary theory. But it does not follow from the fact that that evidence exists that a particular interpretation of its significance is correct. Were those scientists actually present, millions of years ago, to witness the evolution from one species to another? No. The most they can do is to engage in speculation about how and why the physical evidence came to be. It may be informed speculation, but it is speculation nevertheless; and while it may be considered plausible by some, it does not follow from the fact that something is plausible that it is indisputably true. It is seldom if ever the case that there is only one plausible explanation for a given piece of evidence.

If scientists were to discover the bones of an animal which looked as if it might be a “missing link” between ape and man, would it automatically follow that it was in fact a missing link? No. It might very well be a completely separate species --- created ex nihilo by God --- which subsequently became extinct.

Evolution cannot be replicated in a laboratory, and in fact, no scientist has ever produced conclusive proof that one species has ever evolved into another species. Genetic mutation, often cited by Darwin in connection with certain moths which mutated over a period of time, is not tantamount to evolution.

Ask yourself: Why is it so important for public school students to accept evolution as fact? How would a failure to do so handicap them in terms of their ability to accomplish things in life?

We know, of course, that certain sciences have numerous practical applications. For example, a person who refuses to accept existing knowledge about aerodynamics may very well be handicapped when attempting to design airplanes and rocket ships. Hence, it would make sense to insist that science teachers teach the science of aerodynamics to students wishing to pursue careers pertaining to aviation.

Likewise, a knowledge of molecular science and chemistry has numerous practical applications, including the discovery of various medicines and the invention of various household and industrial chemicals which can make life easier.

However, I fail to see the practical benefits of accepting evolutionary theory as fact. There is no product currently in use which could not have been designed by a believer in Intelligent Design. No scientist has ever managed to replicate evolution by designing a new species which started out as a different species. So why is acceptance of evolutionary theory so important to the mainstream scientific community? There must be some reason why so many scientists advocate such a questionable theory with such vigor!

My opinion is that evolutionary theory is the foundational premise for a new worldview or cosmology which has the principal unspoken objective of undermining belief in the reliability and primacy of divine revelation. While there are those who claim that Christianity and belief in evolution are compatible, it often turns out, on closer examination, that most of the people making such a claim believe that the authority of the scriptures is limited to moral issues, and that the scriptures are unreliable insofar as such things as miracles are concerned. Apparently, in their view, God can be trusted to tell the truth with regard to right and wrong, but he's hopelessly naive when it comes to scientific facts pertaining to the universe which he created!

This, of course, has the ultimate effect, intended or unintended, of causing people to wonder why God should be trusted to tell the truth about anything at all. After all, as the book of Job makes clear, God's authority to do things which humans sometimes find inexplicable rests on his infinite and vastly superior knowledge of the universe. If God’s knowledge of the universe and the scientific principles which hold that universe together is questionable, then his right to command obedience is also questionable.

Not coincidentally, that's exactly what the predominantly liberal people who currently control academic curricula tend to believe. In their view, God may exist, but his existence is irrelevant to modern life. Objective truth, in their view, is a myth, and morality is merely a matter of personal opinion. Their ultimate agenda is to promote a form of "morality" which could best be described as licentious social anarchy.

It would not be the first time the theory of evolution was used in order to advance a social agenda. Racists of all stripes have long argued that if "survival of the fittest" is nature's way, and if some species (and, by logical extension, some races) can be considered to be "unfit", then it is appropriate to engage in that primitive form of genetic engineering known as genocide in order to insure that "more advanced" races will prevail.

Such arguments have been described as "social Darwinism". From Margaret Sanger to Adolph Hitler, evolutionary theory has been used in order to justify policies which deny the intrinsic value of human life. If for no other reason than that, it seems to me that Christians ought to regard evolutionary theory with great suspicion.

The scientific method would seem to require that all plausible theories be examined and considered seriously. Yet, evolutionary "scientists" are threatened by anything standing in the way of their social agenda, so genuine dialogue is discouraged. They ostracize and stigmatize those who fail to adhere to the new orthodoxy, which is defined primarily by its rejection of the old orthodoxy based on Judeo-Christian traditions. Such people claim to highly value diversity and tolerance. Very few things could be further from the truth.

UPDATE (4/21/2008): "Expelled" is a new movie by Ben Stein. I haven't seen the movie yet, but from what I've read about the movie, it echoes the point which I made in the last paragraph of this blog post. Here's a link to one of my comments (posted in response to a Chicago Sun-Times review of the movie) which deals more with the subject.

Ten Resolutions for Life

A few years ago, around the beginning of the year, I found myself thinking about the custom of making New Year's resolutions. As everyone knows, the one thing which can be safely predicted is that such resolutions will usually be broken before several months have passed. (There are exceptions, of course, but I suspect that the exceptions are in the minority.)

I had heard (probably while watching a TV news show) that the tradition of making such resolutions started with the Babylonians. Those familiar with the Old Testament know what God thought of Babylon. The city was regarded as one which was built on evil and on a rejection of God's moral law. Historians tell us that the ancient land of Babylon is now Iraq, a nation with which Americans are now very familiar. In the light of history, it's hardly surprising that our attempt to bring the virtues of democracy to that land has met with such resistance.

As I contemplated the ungodly origins of the tradition of New Year's resolutions, I decided that it made more sense to make resolutions which would guide and direct me for the rest of my life. I decided that I wanted those resolutions to be based on my Christian beliefs.

Perhaps you will benefit by reading those resolutions, so I am presenting them here for your consideration.

© Mark Pettigrew
  1. I will begin and end every day by expressing gratitude to God for my life --- not only with respect to those things in my life which I deem good, but also with respect to the bad things which nevertheless help to shape my character and make me into the person He wants me to be.
  2. I will not derive my sense of personal identity from the flawed perceptions of other fallible human beings, or from my own fallible comparisons between myself and other human beings who may have life callings which differ from my own. Instead, I will seek to derive my sense of personal identity from my real identity in the eyes of God, who has created me in His image, and who loved me so much that He sent His son, Jesus, to die on the cross so that I might be saved.
  3. I will try every day to life a life which honors God, by obeying His commandments (even when doing so is costly to me), and by seeking the genuine welfare of others above my own temporary personal pleasures. I will seek to live according to the Golden Rule, by treating others as I would wish to be treated.
  4. I will seek to fully use the talents, skills and abilities God has given to me in order to make the world a better place. However, when temporary circumstances (including the unjust acts of others) prevent me from being able to fully utilize particular talents, I will remind myself that God sees and knows all, and that He is a just God who never expects us to exceed our own capabilities. I will make the most of the opportunities and resources which have been given to me, even when those opportunities and resources are more limited than I would prefer.
  5. I will remind myself daily that even though there is no guarantee that I will be protected from trials and tribulations, God can be trusted to take care of my fundamental material, emotional and spiritual needs. In times of stress, when fear threatens to overwhelm me, I will cry out to Him for help, rather than finding comfort in drugs and other forms of escapism which offer no real solution.
  6. I will try to develop and maintain a lifestyle which is conducive to good physical health, but I will place a higher priority on my spiritual health, since one's body dies, whereas one's spirit is eternal.
  7. I will stay in touch with my emotions, but I will seek to control my emotions rather than being controlled by those emotions.
  8. I will seek to grow and improve every day, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually, in order to make the most of the limited time I have been given on this earth. I will seek to spend a minimal amount of time in activities which are frivolous and unproductive.
  9. I will treat my life with the seriousness it deserves, but I will also seek to maintain a sense of humor, and to keep things in their proper perspective by reminding myself that I am but one among billions of people, all of whom have needs and desires which are as legitimate as my own.
  10. When I fail --- and I very likely will, since I am a fallible human being --- I will not use that failure as an excuse for giving up or for beating up on myself. Instead, I will humbly acknowledge my failure, and I will ask forgiveness from God and from any people I may have wronged. Having done so, I will then resume my efforts to stay true to my original commitments.

The above list is far from perfect, but I think it's a pretty good starting point.

Perhaps it will be useful to you, too.

A Christian Love Song

There's a common misconception among many Christians that if you're a Christian singer, you're obliged to sing about Jesus constantly. That's nonsense, just as it would be nonsense to suggest that Christians were forbidden to read books which were not about Christ.

(I doubt that I'd be computer literate if I'd only read the Bible, which says nothing about Windows or the Internet, so far as I can tell. In fact, you'd have a hard time finding a more enthusiastic bookworm than myself.)

Obviously, it would be sinful to sing a song which promoted and condoned sin, just as it would be sinful to write such a song, but that still leaves a huge range of legitimate topics for believers.

Of course, the most popular category of secular song is the romantic love song. The Song of Solomon, a book of Bible, is in fact such a "song" (although one shudders to think how long the piece would be if it were to be set to music). Given the fact that God saw fit to include a romantic love song in the book which is regarded by Christians as God's holy word, why should anyone conclude that such songs are unsuitable for Christians? I have no idea, but I can make an educated guess: It's not about Christian discipleship, it's about marketing music to the Christian subculture in America. Fortunately, things are a little bit less restrictive in that respect than they were several decades ago, but we still have a long way to go.

One night not long ago, I awoke in the middle of the night, and for some reason, I experienced what might be described as a creative frenzy. Within a very short period of time, I had written the lyrics to an entire love song, written from the perspective of an older man who has finally been blessed with the godly wife he has sought for so long. (Perhaps it was a case of wishful thinking. At age 49, I still haven't found such a woman for myself. Nevertheless, as the old saying goes, "Where there's life, there's hope." I'm sometimes tempted to give up hope, but the Bible reminds me: "With God, all things are possible.")

Here are the lyrics to the song I wrote that night:

Heaven In Your Eyes
© Mark Pettigrew
Verse 1
I see Heaven in your eyes, and it's really no surprise
that I want to spend my lifetime by your side.
When I met you, I just knew that I always would love you.
It's a special love that cannot be denied.

I never thought that I could ever love again.
You know I really thought those days had come and gone.
I thought I'd never find the woman of my dreams,
but now you know it really looks like I was wrong!

Verse 2
You're a special kind of friend, and I won't even pretend
I deserve the love that you have shown to me.
You're an answer to my prayers, all my worries and my cares,
and I thank the Lord for you on bended knee.


Verse 3
I'm so happy every day that our love is here to stay;
to abandon love like this would be unwise.
So I promise to be true to this love I have for you,
for I love to see the Heaven in your eyes.
Yes, I love to see the Heaven in your eyes.


I attempted to write a song which would make reference to Biblical values pertaining to commitment (since I believe that God abhors divorce), without losing the feeling that the singer is really passionately in love with his wife. Who knows? Perhaps "Heaven In Your Eyes" will do for wedding anniversaries what Paul Stookey's "Wedding Song" did for weddings! That would be great.

Of course, no human spouse can love us the way that God loves us. Have you experienced that love? Ask him to be your Savior, and receive the fullness of his love for you!

The Voice of Wisdom

I'd like to share the lyrics to a song I wrote some time ago. The song was inspired by the first chapter of the book of Proverbs (Verses 20-33), and also by the excellent book Death in The City by Francis Schaeffer.

There's a line in the song which says, "our children have nothing to eat". While it certainly refers in part to the needs of the poor, who literally go to bed hungry when they should not have to do so, it also refers to the spiritual hunger which has existed in cities ever since Adam and Eve committed the first sins. That hunger can only be satiated by Jesus, the Bread of Life.

The accompanying tune had a driving rock beat, in the key of E minor. I've always played it on the piano, but I'd really like to hear it performed by a hard rock band, since that was the feel I was trying to achieve.

(Incidentally, the lyrics to this song are copyrighted, as are all of the other materials on this blog site. If you wish to republish anything on this site for some purpose, send me a message at to let me know specifically what you want to do with my creative work. Unless your utilization of my work stands to substantially cut into the money I might make from that work, I'll probably grant you limited permission to do so. Naturally, I have no problem with your linking to this blog entry, or others, on your own web page or in your e-mail messages.)


© Mark Pettigrew

Verse 1

Wisdom cries out, listen now, hear her voice in the street.
The city is dying, our children have nothing to eat.
Tell me, how long will you follow your own foolish plans?
How long will you be a slave to what Satan demands?

Turn your face towards Heaven.
Leave your past behind.
You can be forgiven;
given true peace of mind!

Verse 2
Jesus is calling and knocking at everyone's door.
Let him inside, and you won't be alone anymore.
Listen to wisdom, and not to your selfish desires.
Judgment is coming, and payment will be required.



As the above lyrics amply demonstrate, rock music doesn't necessarily have to glorify evil things, even though it's certainly been used for that purpose on occasions. In fact, I like to think that there's something vaguely prophetic about my lyrics for In The Street.

Speaking of good and evil, I recently posted some substantial updates to a blog entry I posted earlier. Even if you have already read the post entitled "When Bad Is Called Good," I invite you to check it out again. Its Web address is:

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Not So Alone After All

If your name is something like John Smith or Bill Jones, you probably aren't surprised to learn that there are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of people who share your name. A surname such as Pettigrew is far less common, here in the U.S. at any rate. Even so, I've occasionally seen evidence that I am not the only Mark Pettigrew in the world. That impression has been substantiated by a web search via Yahoo, Google or Dogpile. One recent search (at turned up 60 different results!

It's interesting to see what other Mark Pettigrews are doing in the world. Among my namesakes, there seem to be a lot of writers (one of whom specializes in religions of the Middle East, and another who has written a number of educational books about science) and professors. I also found at least one police officer (in Canada), and even a tattoo artist. I'd have to say that I identify most with the writers and educators, in terms of my own interests.

Growing up, I knew very little about the history of the Pettigrew name, but I've subsequently learned that we seem to originate primarily from Scotland (e.g., Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Kelso, etc.) and, to a lesser degree, from Ireland.

There's a Scottish company, Pettigrews of Kelso, which makes some excellent food products such as fruit cake, lemon curd, chutney, and so forth. (I confess. I actually like fruit cake! And their lemon curd tastes great on shortbread. And no, I don't have any business connections with the company.) Perhaps one day I'll get to travel to the U.K. and meet some of my distant relatives there.

A person could kill a lot of time by using the Web to search for information pertaining to the geneology of one's family name, and tracking down all of one's distant relatives, no matter how remote. But to what end? I admit that there's a certain narcissistic pleasure associated with seeing one's name in print or on the Web, even when it belongs to a person one has never met. Even so, I think that a person's identity ultimately has much less to do with one's family name, and much more to do with the type of legacy one leaves behind.

If you'll take the time to read a number of the articles I've posted on this blog site so far, I think that you'll see that I'm trying to be a person of substance. I'm trying to focus on things which matter in the light of eternity, not on the type of trivial matters (such as celebrity gossip) which seem to preoccupy so many people these days. That's not to say that everything in this blog will be deep and profound, but it is to say that I will try to keep the trivia to a minimum.

As important as it is to leave a lasting, positive legacy, even that is insufficient. Ultimately, the most important aspect of one's identity is one's relationship (or lack thereof) with God. So while I am by no means ashamed to say that my surname is Pettigrew, I take much more pleasure in identifying myself as a Child of the King. Earthly families are transient. My heavenly family is eternal. Sometimes, when I contemplate all of the ridiculous quarrels which take place in the Family of God, I wonder if that's such a good thing, but then I remind myself that such quarrels are just a reflection of the fact that the final fulfillment of God's plan has not yet occurred. I look forward to the day when all of God's children can fellowship together in perfect harmony, in God's eternal kingdom.

When Bad is Called Good

"It's Good To Be Bad," proclaims a bus-bench advertisement for The Alley, a Chicago store (on Clark and Belmont) which sells clothing, shoes and jewelry for people into the punk lifestyle. Think leather jackets, metal studs and the like. The image accompanying the ad shows a woman, down on her hands and knees (like an animal awaiting copulation), wearing a shiny black jumpsuit and an ugly hairdo reminiscent of what one might have expected to see on a guard in a Nazi concentration camp.

Not surprisingly, The Alley is endorsed, in Chicago, by an organization called the Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame. This particular blog entry is not the place for me to give an in-depth explanation of the reasons for my opposition to the agenda of the substantial number of Americans who now embrace gay and lesbian lifestyles, but you can safely surmise that I believe that the gay agenda is immoral and irrational, as are the foundational beliefs which enable gays to promote their agenda. I will write more about that subject at a later time.

If you've read my profile in the sidebar of this blog, you already know that I am politically conservative, so you probably aren't surprised by my opposition to homosexuality. However, if you are one of the many liberals who seek to characterize political conservatives as wide-eyed, intolerant lunatics, you may be surprised to learn that I currently attend a Lutheran church (on Belmont, just east of Ashland and Lincoln) which is led by a pastor who clearly disagrees with me about that subject. I would be pleased if he and I could agree about everything. Yet, despite our differences of opinion about that matter, I am still able to fellowship with those who attend and lead that church. Treating them hatefully because I believe them to be wrong would serve no godly purpose, and might even obstruct the work of the Holy Spirit. I haven't yet discussed the subject of homosexuality with that pastor. However, in the future, I hope that I will be able to influence him to reconsider the wisdom of his endorsement (or, at the very least, his acceptance) of a licentious lifestyle which, in my view, is clearly condemned in scriptures such as Romans 1:26-27.

When people seek to justify the unjustifiable, they tend to make statements which are transparently nonsensical. For example, saying that it's good to be bad makes about as much sense as saying that up is down, or that black is white, or that the Devil is God. Words lose their meaning when people claim that they are synonyms for their antonyms.

In Isaiah 5:20, the Bible says this about such people: "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" Now, when the Bible says "woe" to someone, that isn't something to take lightly. It's an old-fashioned way of saying, "Listen, buddy, God is seriously ticked off about your rejection of his wise advice, and if you don't change your ways, you're going to regret it."

Gay punks (and those who profit by selling products to them) aren't the only people to twist the meaning of words. The word "bad" has often been used as a compliment in the black community, particularly the segment of that community consisting of people who like to think of themselves as "cool" and "hip".

It seems that some people think it's incredibly clever to thumb one's nose at the Almighty. That's about as smart as playing chicken with an 18-wheel truck when you're riding on your bicycle. Perhaps, after such people have spent a few years frying in Hell, they'll come to realize that bad really is bad!

Not that I want to sound flippant about the prospect of anyone going to Hell. It would be wonderful if everyone could accept Christ as Savior, thereby escaping eternal damnation. However, the scriptures offer a reality check for the delusional people who argue that all roads lead to Heaven. Matthew 7:13-14 says, "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." There's a reason why cheap, slutty women are called "easy", and it isn't just that it's easy for men to persuade them to have sex. It's also because they have chosen the easy way, not the right way.

It is common for liberals to accuse conservative Christians who believe in moral absolutes of being "narrow minded". We should take that as a compliment, for Jesus tells us that it is the narrow-minded who will inherit paradise. Godless people who lack humility and moral discernment will be destroyed. Don't cite your opinion polls, because the popular consensus is wrong. I didn't say that, Jesus did. If you have a problem with that, take it up with Him, if you dare!

Some people ask how a loving God could send anyone to Hell. I ask how a loving God could deny justice to those who have been victimized by people who have rejected God's plan for their lives.

Tell me this: If you discovered, upon arriving in Heaven, that your next-door neighbor throughout eternity would be an unrepentant Adolph Hitler or an unrepentant Jeffrey Dahmer, would you feel that Heaven was very heavenly? Or wouldn't that feel more like Hell?

God excludes people from Heaven, not because he hates them, but because he hates their capacity for ruining the perfect eternal heavenly kingdom he is preparing for those of us who have submitted to his will. God sends some people to Hell because they have arrogantly rejected his mercy, not because they are less than perfect. If perfection were the criterion for admission to Heaven, none but Christ could enter. (And that helps to explain why I can still find common ground with Christians who, in my opinion, are seriously wrong about some things.)

What about you? Do you call good "bad" and bad "good"? Are your ideas about right and wrong based on the latest opinion polls? Or have you submitted to the will of God? Let him forgive your transgressions so that you can be assured of a place in his heavenly, eternal kingdom.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

More Comments Regarding Christian Coffeehouses

In response to my last blog post, which pertained to Christian coffeehouses, I received a thoughtful e-mail from Paul Ellingsen, a talented Christian folk singer who often performs with his band at the Celebrate Jesus coffeehouse in Forest Park, IL (at St. John's Lutheran church). Rather than reprint his entire letter, I'm simply reprinting my response to him, since that response contained the portions of his letter to which I felt a response was needed.

NOTE: Paul's comments regarding large organizations were in response to the portion of my blog (at the end) where I talked about my extremely ambitious plans for the Christian Artists' Resource Center.

Here is my letter to Paul.

Dear Paul,

I appreciate your perspective regarding the contents of my blog.

You write: "I question if the Lord really wants more big organizations, or just a handfull of people who are willing to follow the Lord with all their heart, all their soul & all of their mind. 12 apostles turned the world upside down."

My question: Why does it have to be an "either/or" proposition?

Yes, 12 highly-dedicated apostles turned the world upside down, but they did it by thinking big. Would you really be saying that they had turned the world around if there were still only 12 dedicated believers in Christ in the world today? I think not. If they'd been complacent about the status quo, one in which the overwhelming majority of the world was ignorant about Christ, you and I probably wouldn't be serving the Lord today, because we never would have heard about Him.

Big organizations and intense discipleship are not mutually exclusive. All other things being equal, church growth is a sign of spiritual health, whereas stagnation is a pretty reliable sign that something vital is being done poorly or not at all. This is not to say that all big Christian organizations are in tune with God's will, but it is to say that if they are out of touch with God, the cause is not the mere fact that they are big.

The automatic equation of small groups with deep dedication to the Lord is highly questionable. In any given Christian organization, regardless of whether it's large or small, some people will be more dedicated to the Lord than others.

The real question, it seems to me, is this: Is there a need for the type of ministry I envision when I describe my vision for the Christian Artists' Resource Center? It seems to me that there is. In fact, I would describe it as a desperate need.

Even a casual reflection on the state of society today will surely reveal that the Christian consensus which once existed in America has eroded significantly, particularly in big cities such as Chicago where liberalism is the predominant mode of thinking. That's reflected in our art, our music, our movies, and other aspects of our culture. If you don't believe me, spend a day or so browsing through the rock record racks at a place such as Tower Records. Pay close attention to the song titles. If you're like me, you will surely be appalled at some of the godless trash being disseminated today.

How can we as Christians be indifferent to this problem? Sadly, we often are. We may give lip service to the idea that we want to change the world for Christ, but if we aren't constantly evaluating and reevaluating our methods, and revising those methods as need be in order to maximize the effectiveness of our evangelistic efforts, it remains mere lip service. There's an old saying: "Insanity can be defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." The truths of the gospel of Christ are timeless, but that doesn't mean that our evangelistic methods shouldn't change with the times in which we live.

Large organizations for the sake of large organizations are a waste of time and resources, but there are some legitimate reasons to seek the cooperation and assistance of as many people as possible when pursuing goals which require substantial material resources.Many of the things which need to be done in order to turn our culture around spiritually can only be accomplished by large organizations, or by numerous smaller organizations (including, but not limited to, churches) which pool their resources in pursuit of a common goal. The Church has the resources to do what needs to be done. The question is, does it have the desire? If we neglect to do everything we can do to save our generation, I believe we will answer for our apathy on Judgment Day.

You write:

"Quite a while ago I suggested to Darlene that we just advertise the Coffeehouse as "a Coffeehouse" instead of "Celebrate Jesus Coffeehouse", and she strongly disagreed with me. Later I was ashamed of myself as I thought, "Am I ashamed of the name of Jesus?" I see too many "Christian" performers who are afraid to mention the name of Jesus so that they will be accepted in secular venues."

I certainly agree that Christians, whether or not they are musicians, ought to be proud to proclaim the name of Christ (although it doesn't necessarily follow from that fact that they have an obligation to do that in every song they sing). But you're comparing apples to oranges here. I wasn't talking about the content of the songs bands sing once they're inside the coffeehouse. I was talking about the name of the coffeehouse itself. What's the point of having a roster full of music groups which boldly proclaim the name of Jesus, if the coffeehouse is promoted in such a way that most non-Christians never hear those musicians because they never go inside?

Do me a favor, Paul. The next time the Celebrate Jesus Coffeehouse holds its monthly session, ask the audience for a show of hands in order to indicate whether or not they consider themselves to be Christians. In fact, do that for the next several months, just to be on the safe side. I'll go out on a limb and say that I can virtually predict the results of such a survey already. I've been there three times now --- four, if you count the time when the only people who showed up were me and one other person --- and I have spent enough time talking with the people there to be able to say with a reasonable amount of certainty that hardly anyone who attends that coffeehouse is a nonbeliever. In fact, my perception is that the coffeehouse doesn't really do a very good job of attracting Christian believers who don't have a vested interest in attending. Last time the coffeehouse was held, I noticed that almost everyone in attendance was a musician who was planning or hoping to perform that night. Talk about preaching to the choir!

Personally, I think that evangelism should be one of the main reasons for running a Christian coffeehouse, and I would therefore characterize a coffeehouse which isn't regularly drawing reasonable numbers of nonbelievers as a failure. But even if the sole objective of a coffeehouse is to provide a place for Christians to meet, it seems to me that it ought to attract a wide spectrum of believers, not just Christians who are looking for a chance to showcase their talents!

In the early 1970's, I was a regular at a Christian coffeehouse in Springfield, Missouri. It was called the New Wine Coffeehouse. The name was subtle enough that unless you knew the scriptures, you might have no idea that it was a Christian coffeehouse. But I can assure you that the message of Christ was unequivocally proclaimed at New Wine. On most weekends, the place was jam packed with people from all areas of the city, many of whom were non-Christians who came to know the Lord as the result of the ministry (which featured nationally known performers such as Larry Norman, as well as a lot of local Christian musicians).

Another ministry which has done quite well over the years is one, founded by Rev. David Wilkerson, called Teen Challenge. That drug and alcohol rehab ministry was (and still is) thoroughly and unequivocally Christian, but its name was sufficiently neutral to attract people who would have been turned off by a more blatantly Christian name.

Chi Alpha, a college ministry run by the Assemblies of God, is yet another example. Again, the name is subtle enough that most non-Christians would be unaware of its Christian connotations. And again, I can assure you (having spent many hours in the company of the members of my local Chi Alpha chapter at SMSU in Springfield) that the gospel was boldly proclaimed at their meetings.

When I was in college, I briefly ran a Christian coffeehouse called The Brass Serpent. The name sounded like it could have been the name of a bar or restaurant, but those familiar with the Old Testament knew that the name had its origins in scripture.

If I were to run a Christian art gallery, I might call it Gallery 1212. The first 12 would refer to the 12 tribes of Israel, and the second 12 would refer to the 12 disciples. (You may notice, incidentally, that my current room number at Lawson House YMCA is also 1212.)

It's possible that you and I will have to simply "agree to disagree", but I hope that I've furnished you with some food for thought.

Additional thoughts pertaining to Christian coffeehouses will be forthcoming at a later date and time.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

In Need of a Good Coffeehouse

In the early 1970's, Christian coffeehouses became extremely common throughout the country, as a way to communicate the gospel of Christ with street people and others who would never set foot inside the doors of a traditional church. This was at the beginning of the era in church history known as the Jesus Movement. That term entered the consciousness of mainstream America when Look magazine published an extensive cover story on the phenomenon in 1970.

People who belonged to and identified with the Jesus Movement were Christians who embraced certain cultural elements characteristic of the hippie movement (such as the rock music, the clothing and hair styles, and in a few cases, the communal lifestyles), while rejecting elements (such as the use of illegal drugs) which were deemed incompatible with their Christian beliefs. In a sense, they were more revolutionary than the hippies, since they took a radical stand which embraced neither progress nor tradition for their own sakes. Instead, they believed in a third way, based on the idea the people had a moral responsibility to exercise discernment. Different groups experimented with this idea with varying degrees of success. In a few cases (such as the well-known group The Children of God), unbiblical and cultish characteristics arose among certain groups, but that was the exception, not the rule. Often, the people who were at the center of the Jesus Movement went on to become spiritual leaders in their local churches.

The members of the Jesus Movement were sometimes known as "Jesus people" or "Jesus freaks". The latter term was sometimes used derisively by non-Christians (just as the term "Christian" was used derisively during the first century). It was embraced, nevertheless, by those who understood its potent appeal to the outcasts of conventional society.

The decor at Christian coffeehouses was often typical of what one might find in a hippie hangout, with blacklight posters, crudely constructed furniture (such as recycled telephone cable spools), drippy candles and so forth. Music (which was usually live) was usually in a folk-rock style, dominated by acoustic guitars, but Christian rock bands occasionally made an appearance as well. Sometimes, traditional gospel music groups would also perform, but they had limited appeal to the demographic group which dominated in such coffeehouses. Those who attended such coffeehouses were primarily students in high school and college. They were the generation which supported the first musical performers (such as Larry Norman, the Children of The Day, Love Song, Randy Stonehill, Barry McGuire, Nancy Honeytree and others) who were the pioneers in what eventually became known as contemporary Christian music.

Members of the Jesus Movement had to deal with resistance, both from ultraconservative Christians who regarded the music and attire as inherently un-Christian, and also from members of the secular counterculture, who felt justified in excluding Christian rock music on the grounds that it was "inauthentic", since they defined "authentic" rock music as music which thumbed its nose at traditional beliefs such as Christianity. To be a "Jesus freak" was to understand firsthand what it meant to be persecuted (or, at the very least, ridiculed) for one's beliefs.

Christian coffeehouses were sometimes the focal point of evangelistic activities which would spread out into the surrounding streets and neighborhoods, with Christians periodically coming and going throughout the night, in-between excursions during which they would approach strangers on the street, engage them in conversations about the Lord, and hand them gospel tracts (which were miniature printed sermons designed to appeal to the unsaved). Often, an encounter on the street would lead the Christian to invite the unsaved person back to the coffeehouse, and many people accepted Christ as Savior as a result of such personal attention.

When properly conceived and administered, Christian coffeehouses served other purposes, too. They served as meeting places for like-minded Christians throughout the cities and towns in which they were located. Baptists, Assemblies of God, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and many other Christians found common ground, as well as opportunities to exchange ideas about their doctrinal and political differences in an environment of mutual respect, friendship and Agape love.

Socially, Christian coffeehouses met the needs of numerous Christians. Many friendships were forged, and more than a few marriages resulted from encounters which took place in Christian coffeehouses.

Today, there are still a few good Christian coffeehouses in the country, but there are also large regions of the country where there is a real void in terms of such ministries. In some cases, there are no Christian coffeehouses at all. In other cases, the people who run what they describe as Christian coffeehouses don't really understand what it takes to create a successful coffeehouse ministry. Instead of running ministries which are making a major impact on their communities, they limp along year after lonely year, eventually coming to believe that second-best is the most they can ever hope for. Often, such ministries are little more than an exercise in nostalgia.


What are my criteria for a successful Christian coffeehouse ministry?

First, in order to be really successful, a Christian coffeehouse should be supported by numerous churches, as well as other Christian institutions in the area, such as Christian colleges. A coffeehouse which is just an extension of a single local church (or which is just a church in disguise) fails to meet this standard, because other churches tend to see that coffeehouse as "the competition", when they ought to see it as a resource.

Second, a really successful Christian coffeehouse should be in a neutral location, such as a storefront, so as to attract non-Christians who might be averse to the idea of entering a traditional church. For the same reason, the name of the endeavor should be subtle in terms of its references to Christianity. By definition, a coffeehouse with a name which is blatantly Christian will attract very few non-Christians.

Third, a successful Christian coffeehouse must be built on a solid business model so that its continued existence will not be at the constant mercy of the benevolence of others. Even though it may be a non-profit endeavor which accepts donations, a successful coffeehouse ministry needs to have other substantial sources of legitimate income to supplement the money from donations, since the attendance at most Christian coffeehouses can ebb and flow with the seasons (especially in cases where large percentages of those in attendance are college students). Numerous non-profit groups and church groups sell products and/or services in order to supplement the money from donations. These days, there is an amazing variety of legitimate fundraising options from which to choose. For people willing to consider such options, and to clearly communicate their vision and their needs with Christians who are in a position to help, there is no reason to be hamstrung by financial limitations.

Fourth, a successful Christian coffeehouse must be in tune with the times. Things considered "hip" in the early 70's are not necessarily considered to be hip anymore. People's expectations have changed. This is not to say that every aspect of the old coffeehouses should be rejected by someone wishing to start a modern Christian coffeehouse ministry, but it is to say that the coffeehouse should be updated in such a way that it is appealing to people living in this century and this decade.

For example, a single drip coffeemaker might have sufficed in the early days, but people are now accustomed to fancy coffee from places such as Starbucks, Julius Meinl, Caribou Coffee and Seattles' Best Coffee. Expecting to draw huge crowds consisting of a healthy percentage on non-Christians, with little more than drip coffee, lemonade and a few storebought cookies, is irrational.

Fifth, the music at a modern coffeehouse should be eclectic. It should cater to people with a variety of stylistic preferences, including soft and hard rock, folk, jazz, new age, electronic music, country, bluegrass, Latin, R&B, soul music, blues, hip-hop and even classical. (NOTE: By "new age", I mean music, usually instrumental, which fits that description stylistically. The term "new age" can also refer to a set of specific religious beliefs which are contrary to the teachings of Christianity. Obviously, music promoting such beliefs would be inappropriate in the context of a Christian ministry!) Other types of performance art and related events (such as Christian "poetry slams", dramatic presentations, and more) should also be considered.

While I'm on the subject of music, let me say that there need to be some minimal standards in terms of the talent. If a place gets a reputation for featuring substandard acts, that can greatly dilute its effectiveness, especially in a large city where unbelievers have their choice of hundreds of professional music acts on any given night. This is not to negate the value a Christian coffeehouse can have in terms of giving stage experience to musicians who are just starting out. There is a time and place for such performances, and the time and place is "Open Mic Night". (Many secular nightclubs devote one night a week to such an event.) People who attend "open mic" events do so with the expectation that high quality is not guaranteed. "Open Mic Night" can also serve as an audition, for musicians and other performers who don't yet have good demo recordings and/or videos.

Sixth on my list (but first in terms of its importance), the underlying motive must be a passion and a deep love for lost souls. A coffeehouse which is not regularly bringing in "new blood" by means of evangelism will ultimately fail, regardless of whether or not it continues to exist as an entity. That passion for evangelism must be built on a solid rock consisting of scriptural teaching, fervent prayer, and intelligent planning.


Is the Christian coffeehouse a relic of the past? The answer, in my opinion, is a resounding NO! Yes, the implementation should be revised in order to keep up with the times, but Christian coffeehouses once met certain needs which, even today, are difficult to meet in any other way. In my opinion, it's a crying shame that many of those who started the original Christian coffeehouses lost the vision or just plain gave up.

I want to start a new Christian coffeehouse, preferably in a location (such as downtown Chicago) which is desperately in need of such a place. However, I would not want the ministry to be limited to the coffeehouse. Rather, that would be just one aspect of an extremely ambitious ministry which would have the larger goal of helping to reverse the moral decay so prevalent in modern popular culture.

Such a ministry would tentatively go by the name of the Christian Artists' Resource Center. The ministry would focus on all of the arts, not just one or two art forms. The ministry would include a coffeehouse, a bookstore, a multitrack recording studio, numerous soundproof music practice rooms and rehearsal spaces, a radio station (focusing primarily on satellite radio, "podcasts" and digital broadcasting), a record company, a concert hall, an art gallery, an art "colony" (with residential facilities for those wishing to access the numerous material and spiritual resources of the organization), an international web-based artists' community (including e-commerce capabilities for members), a graphic design studio, a book publishing company, a movie studio, a Christian botanical garden with sculpture and topiary (a/k/a God's Glorious Gospel Garden), and much, much more.

The objective of such an organization would be to eliminate the impediments which currently result in the relegation of faith-based art to a fringe subculture which has minimal impact on mainstream society. In short, I want to initiate what I like to call a "righteous renaissance". In addition to the very worthwhile goal of winning individual souls to Christ, I want to play a role in transforming society for the better. I am not naive. I know that there will always be an element of society (especially in the "last days") which will rebel against God. Nevertheless, using that as an excuse for a failure to do everything one can do to create a better world is unacceptable.

I plan to create additional blog posts in the near future in order to more fully communicate my vision, hopefully in such a way as to elicit participation and support from other Christians who recognize the validity of that vision. Such support will be essential (since my own personal resources are currently very limited) in order for any of these ideas to get off the ground.

Stay tuned! Good things are sure to follow.