With the North American Christian Convention (NACC) concluding just last week, it is a good time to reflect upon the entire event while it is still relatively fresh in the mind. I was present for the entire week (except Friday), “manning” the Louisville Bible College booth, meeting and greeting old friends and new friends, and even taking in a session or two along with a few workshops. As any good philosophical theologian, I listened attentively to all the speakers and focused my attention on my surroundings. What were the messages being conveyed? Who was there? Why were they there? Overall, I found the entire experience to be a gallimaufry (look it up; it’s a great descriptive word) of messages. In the end, the NACC epitomizes the good, the bad, and the ugly of a Christian movement with an identity crisis.
First of all, the NACC is a great place to meet up with old friends and make new ones. Thousands of Christians from the Christian Churches and the Churches of Christ (i.e., the Restoration Movement—hereafter, RM) gather from different parts of the country to hear speakers on faith, visit Christian Church affiliated college and university booths, and become acquainted with other affiliated ministries. Just having so many Christians from the RM in one place shows some type of commonality. These people truly love Christ and his church. You can see it in their faces, hear it in their music, and feel it in their hand-shakes and hugs.
But the good of the NACC goes beyond the people. It extends to some of the things they did at the convention as well. For example, Senator Rick Santorum was invited (and I got to meet him! Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture), and he presided over the showing of the documentary One Generation Away. This film, produced by Echolight Cinemas (which Santorum is now president) narrates how religious freedom in America is being threatened. The film is essentially a call for Christians to engage the current culture to fight for religious freedom. It will be released in September for churches and para-church organizations to view. I highly recommend it.
Some of the content of the speakers was also quite good and edifying. Christian author and speaker Liz Curtis Higgs gave a fantastic and biblical oriented presentation concerning her journey in life. As usual, her presentation was filled with good humor.
Speaking of humor, the directors of the NACC did a fantastic job of bringing in Christian comedian Tim Hawkins. Some of the highlights from his routine include his commentary and songs about the atheist megachurches springing up in the western world. One song, taken from the tune of the children’s song “Deep and Wide” was spot on and hilarious: “Reason why, reason why; I exist but there’s no reason why.” His “slam” against the Message Bible paraphrase was apropos: “What’s up with the Message? It’s like missing parts. Genesis 1:1: ‘In the beginning God created all the stuff.’ And now: Genesis 2.”
Tim Harlow, this year’s president of the NACC, had a good introductory presentation during the first main session. His exhortation for Christians to “get out of their comfort zone” to lead people to Christ was very encouraging. Too many Christians shirk their duty to evangelize, and Harlow did a fantastic job of waking up the church to its mission.
By far, one of the best sessions was conducted by Rich Knopp, Professor of Philosophy and Christian Apologetics at Lincoln Christian University. The gist of his presentation was that the church needs to shift its paradigm in making disciples. The youth are leaving the church in droves—never to return. The answer? The church needs to teach the Christian faith from a worldview perspective, i.e., the church needs to teach in order to shape the mind, will, attitude, and behavior of Christians. The point is to shape the whole person so that the whole person loves God. For more information about this very important workshop and related ministries that Rich Knopp is involved with, go here.
Of course, it goes without saying that the music during the main worship sessions was superb. It was done very professionally and the songs that were chosen were, for the most part, theologically sound. One song was a bit off theologically, but nothing is perfect. Speaking of not being perfect, that leads me to the “bad” parts of the NACC.
I want to begin “the bad” with an aspect that I am not quite sure how to categorize: the interview with Brian “Head” Welch from the hard core band Korn. This interview was not really “bad”; I found it to be mostly good. It was the end that confused me (this is why I have put it under “the bad” category—if something is confusing, it’s bad something). “Head,” for those who do not know, is the guitarist for the secular band Korn. When he converted to Christianity he left the band to care for his daughter. Recently, “Head” returned to the band Korn. I take “Head’s” conversion to be real, but it is still unclear to me exactly how he lives out his faith in the secular hard core music environment. Specifically, does he still play the songs with the lyrics “all I want to do is think about sex all day long?” This line of questioning was never broached. It seems to me that if he is still playing these songs, then there is an issue of inconsistency here.
In addition, at the end of the interview, Tim Harlow (the one interviewing “Head”) asked everyone to stand, put out their hands as a symbol of laying hands on him, and pray for him as the Restoration Movement sent him out as a missionary into the “Rock ‘n’ Roll” mission field. I found this odd. Can Harlow do that on behalf of the Restoration Movement? Does he have that authority? Did Brian “Head” Welch even desire such an action? I can’t quite wrap my head around this. I have no problem (and even would expect and endorse) praying for “Head.” But send him out as an official missionary for the Restoration Movement?
My next “bad” point I’m not going to expound upon much. I’m just going to lay it out there and you can do with it what you want: too many young females were dressed like “ladies of the night” during the college fair. Sure, it’s a good way to recruit, but exactly what for may be a question left in some people’s mind. It was just plain bad.
Speaking of “just plain bad,” one of the opportunities to give an offering was done in such a way that left me with a poor taste in my mouth. The second day of the conference, the audience was told that the NACC planning committee had a goal for the previous day to reach a giving of about $100,000 and they received only about $10,000. That is a rather large short fall, but does the speaker have to berate the audience into giving more—to “dig” deeper? What was this? A Benny Hinn rally?
Yes, I know that it takes a lot of money to put together the NACC. But, hey, I’ve got an idea: how about getting rid of two or three of the gargantuan screens to save money? And why not dispose of the HD screens (or should I say HD “walls?”) that were used as a backdrop for the entire stage? And that crane “boom” camera—is there a reason why we have to have it? This would save thousands of dollars. I know, I know. It’s all about the “experience,” and if these items were not used, no one would have an “experience.” There is not enough space here to reflect on that sentiment. Let it suffice to say that such an idea is just plain bad as well.
Finally, there is the volume of the music. I’m not a crotchety, old man (I’m not even 40 yet). I just like my divine gift of hearing. I’m already at the beginning stages of losing my hearing and I know there are others who have similar issues. I apologize for wanting to take care of my God-given hearing so I can hear my family say “I love you” when I’m 50. But, then again, I suppose people like me just need to “suck it up” and go deaf for the benefit of the youth. That is, after all, the courteous thinking-of-others thing to do.
So now we come to “the ugly.” First, how about those blatant contradictions? In one of the main sessions (I can’t remember which one presently) the audience was effectively told to get out of the fight for the culture. And then there is Rick Santorum, showing the film One Generation Away, firing up Christians to fight for religious freedom. Which is it? Get out of the fight for culture or fall headlong into it?
Then we have the contradiction of whether we are to engage our minds. At the beginning of one of the main worship sessions, the song leader told the audience to “get all the critical thoughts out of your mind about the music, what’s being done here” (this is a good paraphrase of what she said). In other words, it seems like we were told to “check our brains” at the door. But then Rich Knopp has a superb session about how the church needs to engage the mind. Which is it? Disengage our cognitive faculties or become a smarter church?
Then there is the elephant in the room: the contradictory held views of gender roles in the church. Thankfully, I did not see this issue rear its ugly head during the conference. But, surely, we are all aware of this issue simmering. College and Universities holding contradictory views on this issue were represented: some believe that women ought to be ordained and others do not. Exactly how this will eventually pan out is anyone’s guess. But it will—somehow.
Then there is the contradiction between the message that life is all about Jesus on the one hand and it’s about “you” on the other hand. Clearly, the impression one is left with throughout the worship songs is that Jesus is to be praised–he is the creator and he is our redeemer. There were also numerous moments when it was declared that “it’s all about Jesus.”
The curious thing, however, is that there was a clear message that evangelism is about “telling your story”—it’s about you. Every main session was filled with speakers “sharing their story.” Even those who were supposed to be preaching simply shared their own stories (one after another after another after another, ad nauseum). Ok, I can give credit where credit is due: many of the speakers at least began with reading some Scripture. But abandoning Scripture to speak about one’s own ministry and personal life for 30 minutes is not a focus upon Jesus and his word. It is not even a sermon. I found myself tuning out the speaker after 10 minutes of “story time.” Consider, too, that many colleges and universities advertised at their booths by “sharing stories” of their students. Which is it? Are we to focus upon Jesus and his story or our story?
Moreover, let’s think about this for a moment. Should evangelism be simply about “sharing our story?” I remember one day not too long ago that such an idea was criticized as unbiblical. In fact, this was one of the main reasons the RM was begun. Alexander Campbell, Barton Stone, and the like criticized the so-called “conversion by experience” that was practiced in the early 19th century, particularly because it was too subjective and it could not be supported biblically. The only requirements for salvation were faith, repentance, and baptism. These were objective conditions for receiving God’s grace. So, here’s the contradiction (or irony): the very movement that began by criticizing experience-based salvation has now come to accept it.
Additionally, I cannot see how “sharing my story” is going to convince anyone in this postmodern, post-Christian culture to accept Jesus as his savior. I’ve had these discussions with unbelievers; I’ve overheard these kinds of discussions. And guess what? The unbeliever always responds with, “Well, I’m glad that you had the experience and that you found your truth. I’m glad your journey has led you to your belief. But it means nothing to me. My experience has led me to a different truth.” Evangelism DOA. What the church needs more than ever is not to “tell their story,” but to be equipped with what they believe and why they believe it, i.e., theology and apologetics (gasp! Those dirty words!). Until then, many in our culture will continue to believe that Christianity is equivalent to believing in the tooth fairy or magic.
Here are my final two “ugly” points. First, during the last session, the speaker actually said that the church ought to consider using the term “missing” rather than “the lost” when referring to unbelievers. “Lost” is evidently–in his words–a “derogatory term.” Um…problem: someone needs to inform Jesus that he was wrong when he said, “I came to seek and save the LOST.”
Finally, why is Rick Warren continuously returning to the NACC? I have nothing personally against the guy. But it gets really old hearing the same things—his messages are like a broken record player. His video-streamed presentation at the NACC this year was lifted from his books (almost verbatim), or at least it sounded like it to me. He also continuously performs the same hermeneutical circus tricks: ripping verses out of context and quoting every translation and paraphrase ever written to prove his own points. (Sorry, Rick Warren fans. I’m just calling it like I see it.)
The NACC is a mixed bag of ideas and philosophies (some good and some not so good), leaving the clear impression that the RM is in the throes of an identity crisis. One person offered to me the idea that the RM is no longer a movement—it’s a heritage. I’m inclined to agree. If one is looking for a consistent, coherent system of beliefs and practices, he will not find it here. In fact, one will find contradictions. Because of these contradictions and polar opposite beliefs, the NACC will probably be beneficial for just about anyone. If you disagree with one aspect, just wait. It’s like the weather in Indiana. If you don’t like it, just wait five minutes and it will change to something more agreeable.
One of the best aspects of the NACC is meeting up with old friends and making new ones (and they DO all love the Lord). In short, it’s a beneficial convention to meet up with friends and others who represent beliefs from a wide spectrum, from liberal to conservative, from pragmatic to theological. There’s truly something for everyone! But one has to wonder: if this is the case, what will the RM be in the future? Will it even exist? After all, a house divided cannot stand, and a movement with no identity is no movement at all.