Newsboys Tell Nietzsche that God’s Not Dead, Add Nothing To The Conversation

In a statement released today, scientists have concluded that, based on their research, God is a myth.

These words open the music video to the Newsboys’ music video “God’s not dead” (embedded below).

A newspaper headline in the video says “God is a myth.” A billboard reads “No evidence that God exists.” An article online says A tweet comes across a smartphone that says “God is dead,” with an image of Christ carrying the cross. A man reads an article that says “Man is just another animal.” A tweet pops up on a screen that says “Everything came from nothing.” Another man watching a news show on his iPad sees a news anchor discussing “How can God allow evil?” He looks up in shock and disgust, and then the chorus starts:

My God’s not dead
He’s surely alive
He’s living on the inside
Roaring like a lion

My God’s not dead
He’s surely alive
He’s living on the inside
Roaring like a lion

He’s roaring
He’s roaring
He’s roaring like a lion

The video’s Christians (I think they’re the band members) immediately correct the misinformation being spread. One writes a blog titled “We are made in the image of God.” The twitter user replies “everything came from SOMETHING!” The man watching the news video switches furiously to a video titled “God Gave Us Freedom to Choose. Man Chose To Do Evil!” Then he gets up with a self-vindicated look on his face. And the Newsboys’ lead singer slaps his newspaper titled “God’s Not Dead” over another reader’s paper that says “God is a Myth.” And then the chorus starts again. Everyone gets happy. People watch a video that says “Complexity of Life Points to Design.” Another blog says “I was dead but am alive forevermore. -Jesus.” At a (Newsboys) concert, people hold up signs that say “God’s Not Dead.”

For what audience is this video and song intended? If it’s for a non-Christian audience, it is highly unlikely to convince them. They are more likely to view “God’s not dead” (if they view it at all!) as proof that Christendom’s smug self-assurance will continue.

Nietzche
I looked up Friedrich Nietzsche, the originator of the “God is dead” quote. As it turns out, Nietzsche, like many who are violently anti-Christian, grew up on (surprise!) some variation on Christian. He was raised Lutheran. He even went to seminary to become minister in his father’s place. However, he found Christianity squashing. Pushing. Crushing. He came to believe that mankind could only ever truly be free if we got rid of the idea of a God who was going to get us for everything bad we did. I can sympathize with his frustration, honestly. And in spite of Nietzsche’s dislike for what went for Christianity, Christopher Rodkey says that Nietzsche had a great deal of respect for Jesus.

The quote “God is dead” comes from Nietzsche’s book The Gay Science (which had nothing to do with homosexuality, by the way). It’s from a chapter called “The Madman.” In it, a madman rushes into the town square:

“Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

Nietzsche’s madman challenges me. He pushes my preconceptions, forces me to re-examine what I think and search for new reasons to believe. He reminds me of a story from an old book in which a man who claims to be God is crucified.

* * *

If, however, the Newsboys’ song is for Christians, it may be even worse than if it’s intended for non-Christians. It reinforces our preconceptions. It reminds us in short form of all the reasons we should believe, provides bumper-sticker responses to the hard questions, and the video shows us that an angry disunderstanding should pervade our interactions with those who disagree with us. Rather than enter into a dialogue, rather than reading what those who disagree with us have to say, we should simply put our fingers in our ears and utter a diatribe: GOD’S NOT DEAD, HE’S SURELY ALIVE! Because that is what’s most likely to convince the skeptics and convert the unbelievers. (Just kidding) The Newsboys respond to Nietzsche’s madman in like: The madman says God is dead, the Newsboys say God’s not. This conversation would be appropriate. …If the Newsboys were 2-year-olds.

I find “God’s Not Dead” immensely troubling on two counts: First, it fails to provoke its audience as good art should, and second, it further polarizes those who believe and those who do not.

Good art provokes. It flips our pre-conceptions and slips in another way of seeing things. In an episode of the BBC TV show Doctor Who titled “Vincent and the Doctor,” the Doctor visits Vincent Van Gogh. At the end, Van Gogh shows the Doctor and his companion what he sees when he paints Starry Night:

Van Gogh: Hold my hand, Doctor. Try to see what I see. We’re so lucky we’re still alive to see this beautiful world. Look at the sky. It’s not dark and black and without character. The black is in fact deep blue. And over there! Lights are blue. And blue in through the blueness, and the blackness, the winds swirling through the air… and then shining. Burning, bursting through! The stars, can you see how they roll their light? Everywhere we look, complex magic of nature blazes before our eyes.

The Doctor: I’ve seen many things, my friend. But you’re right. Nothing’s quite as wonderful as the things you see.

 Art shows us what was always there but we never saw. It tilts the frame so we see things anew. It puts words to our hearts’ deepest dreams, longings, and fears. It shows us things we’ve seen a million times in a way we’ve never seen them before, and it shows us things we never imagined could be true that are. It provokes us, pushes us to see the world in a different way. It lets us see the world through the soul of another. “God’s Not Dead” does none of these things.
* * *
Fifteen years ago, Rich Mullins said that the current trends in Christian music were “Shallow, mindless, stupid, and perfectly harmless at best.”

“God’s Not Dead” allows both parties to adopt a rather smug self-righteousness: the non-Christians can say “Those stupid Christians” and the Christians will say “Those stupid non-Christians.” We hold up our slogans and they hold up theirs, and absolutely nothing good comes of any of it. Worse than failing to further the dialogue, “God’s Not Dead” turns the serious conversation about God’s existence or non-existence into a cliché-shouting match. Our idea of a conversation about atheism is quoting “The fool has said in his heart ‘There is no God,'” somehow forgetting that the atheist with whom he is disagreeing has no reason to accept that verse as God’s word because the atheist doesn’t believe God even exists to have written it!

The Newsboys used to be good. Well, good with aliteration and catchy phrases and tunes that stuck in your head. They can do better. Christianity can do better. And I won’t even comment on the biblical veracity of the idea that Jesus lives inside of us, or the silliness thinking that telling someone that “I know Jesus lives because he lives inside my heart” will convince them of anything.

* * *

I can’t just leave you depressed, though. Some good has come out of Christian music lately. Like Jason Gray’s album “Everything Sad is Coming Untrue.” The album title comes from this scene from Lord of the Rings, which automatically makes it better.

Samwise thinks that Gandalf has died, but when Gandalf appears before Samwise’s bed and Samwise finally awakens, Gandalf asks,

“Well, Master Samwise, how do you feel?”

But Sam lay back, and stared with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last he gasped: “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”

Jason Gray, in the song of the album, asks

The winter can make us wonder
If spring was ever true
But every winter breaks upon
The Easter lily’s bloom
Could it be everything sad is coming untrue?
Could you believe everything sad is coming untrue?

Broken hearts are being unbroken
Bitter words are being unspoken
The curse undone, the veil is parted
The garden gate will be left unguarded.

“Everything Sad is Coming Untrue” shows us what was always there but we never saw. It tilts the frame so we see things anew. It puts words to our hearts’ deepest dreams, longings, and fears. It shows us things we’ve seen a million times in a way we’ve never seen them before, and it shows us things we never imagined could be true that are. It provokes us, pushes us to see the world in a different way. It lets us see the world through the soul of another.

 Listen to good music, kids.

Newsboys – God’s Not Dead (Official Music Video) from newsboys on GodTube.

Also: What news sources were the newsboys getting their articles from? I’ve never seen such headlines!

Edit August 9, 2012: Christopher Rodkey wrote his essay as a student at St. Vincent College in 1999, not a professor as was stated previously. He is now the Reverend Doctor Christopher Rodkey and is currently the pastor at Zion Goshert’s United Church of Christ in Lebanon, PA. He now teaches part-time at a college and a seminary. For more about Rev. Dr. Rodkey, please see Zion Goshert’s web site. And thank you, sir, for your correction.

Me vs Them

I hate “Us vs Them” Christians. You know the type: Every other denomination is going to hell in a handbasket, and they have a handle on the truth, and if only somebody would listen to them, the world would be a much better place. They go to small churches and have small minds and occupy small worlds where everybody is against them. They try to convert people to their way of thinking, and scare them off in the process.

That’s the kind of church I grew up in.

Since then, I’ve matured. I’ve realized that us vs them Christianity is evil. I’ve finally gotten a handle on the truth, and if only they would listen to me, the world would be a much better place. I try to convert people to my way of thinking, and scare them off in the process.

Oh dang. Continue reading

Preach

I learned during my very formative years that the world was largely filled with people who were going to hell because they didn’t believe in Jesus. I also learned that my primary job as a Christian is to get other people to believe in Jesus so they will go to heaven and not go to hell.

I heard sermons telling me that on God’s final judgment day, I would see every person I had ever met and not told about Jesus and heaven and hell and they would ask “Why didn’t you warn me?” I even heard a story about a man who had “seen one person saved per day.” For years, he prayed with at least one person who wanted to accept Jesus every single day.

I was raised roughly Arminian, I think, which is to say that I believed that people had choices about whether they would become Christians or not. Being raised Arminian is pretty rough, because you believe two things: Everyone in the world has a choice about whether they’re going to accept Christ, or reject Him, and it’s your job to tell them. Matthew 28:19 was often called “The Great Omission” because every Christian was supposed to go make other people accept Jesus, and so few actually were. It never occurred to me that Jesus has been saving people without my help for over 4,000 years.

I always had a hard time with that because I was selling other people something I hadn’t actually experienced for myself but believed was true and couldn’t prove. Life-after-death fire insurance. Also, I was taught in church was that accepting Jesus and living for Him means accepting a boring life where one gives up anything that is remotely fun in exchange for what is spiritual. In a paraphrase of Rob Bell’s words, “Religious people don’t throw very good parties.” And so I’ve lived most of my life with a screaming in my heart that says that I have to get other people to accept Jesus. And I’ve had jobs where I’ve woken up every morning with a profound sense of emptiness because I wasn’t getting other people to accept Jesus through those jobs.

Then I heard Mark Driscoll talk about how only the “elect,” those God chooses, are going to heaven, and everyone else is going to hell, and how that’s completely fair because God *should* send everyone to hell, and the elect will become Christians when they are preached to. From that perspective, if I don’t preach to someone who is elect, then someone else will and they will become Christians anyway because they are elect, so that takes a little bit of the pressure off… but it still makes God seem kinda mean because he chooses some people to go to hell, no matter how you frame it. He’s just and fair, but kind of mean to everyone he doesn’t choose to be gracious to.

So when Love Wins came out, and Rob Bell said that maybe people who don’t “receive [Jesus] by that name precisely” (Athol Dickson‘s words) may find their way into eternity with God, I almost cried when I got to the end because of three things (I didn’t quite realize what they were until I had had a few months to process it and read other books):

  1. Maybe I don’t have to go out and sell everyone on what I was raised to believe was “the gospel” (that everyone was bad and going to hell and Jesus came and died so they wouldn’t have to).
  2. Maybe God is more gracious than I first thought.
  3. Maybe there is indeed something about Christianity that is worth sharing that isn’t guilt, condemnation, and fear of hell.

The first has been discussed already, so I’ll grab the other two.

If God is, in the words of Paul in II Corinthians 5:19, “…reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them,” then that could truly be good news! Maybe people don’t have to believe that they’re evil and God is angry with them for their sins to be reconciled to God. And maybe those who have been harmed in Jesus’ name may one day be reconciled to God in spite of their inherent distaste for the name they believe to be responsible for their wrecked lives. Maybe some people who haven’t heard about Jesus may still be counted righteous. Maybe the doors of heaven are open to more people than we thought.

I have not become a universalist. I still believe that “no man comes to the Father except through [Jesus]” (John 14:6). Like my facebook post said the other day, “Jesus is the front door to the dining hall, and there are no other doors.” But haven’t you ever been somewhere and not known where you were or quite how you got there? Tell me you’ve never had someone ask, “Did you come through the foyer?” and said “What foyer?” They pointed back where you just came from and said, “That one.” I’m beginning to suspect that people may be able to come to the Father through Jesus without necessarily realizing it.

There are some who have said that if God lets people in who haven’t accepted Jesus by that name precisely, then that makes Jesus death, burial and bodily resurrection irrelevant. I don’t understand how that logic even works (though Ree tried to explain it to me). If God accepts more people, it can only be by Jesus’ work on the cross, thus making Jesus work on the cross more effectual, rather than less!

But these are rabbit trails. The real discussion I wanted to start was this:

What would you do with your life if you stopped believing that the eternal destinies of other people lay in your hands?

Because I really don’t know what I would do.

I posted my question on facebook and got no responses from the usual suspects. Nobody touched it. But this is hugely important for me. I’ve lived my life with a screaming inside of my soul that won’t sit down or shut up, telling me that people are going to hell, and they need to accept Jesus, and I need to tell them about Him, so they can stop having “fun” to have “real fun” which is usually… not really fun.

But if Rob Bell is right, and if Jesus was right and being a Christian means living life to the max (John 10:10), then maybe I can live my life with arms, eyes, mouth, and heart wide open. Maybe I can live free like the birds who don’t have to worry. Maybe I can live righteously and feed the poor and be delighted in giving (because I have experienced that! Giving is fantastic! It’s way more fun to give money to someone who needs it than it is to use it for yourself!) Maybe I don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying the good gifts that God has given to me.

And maybe I can tell this screaming voice inside of me to finally shut up… because voices that scream aren’t Jesus. He whispers.

On the other hand, maybe it’s the Holy Spirit, and it’s actually a consistent quiet whisper. Because I still need to do work that feels meaningful, work that actually translates into things that are good. Maybe that’s why I like Jumonville so much. I haven’t had to tell anyone that they need to become a Christian. I’ve told them they’re beautiful unrepeatable miracles. I’ve told them that Jesus loves them. Some have accepted Jesus during Wednesday Worship… but there isn’t this compelling to tell them.

And never once have I woken up wondering why I do what I do.

So now I’m trying to figure out what I like to do. What work it is that makes me wake up in the morning with the sense that this is what I was made for? What has God made me for? How can I be a part of God’s good and creative work in the world?

A lot of my life has had to do with affirmation – having people pat me on the back and say “Good job, kid.” I’m a pleaser. I want people to be happy with me and what i’m doing. …So largely I end up not doing what I want, but doing what I think will make other people happy. Ree asked me what I do when there’s nobody to please, nobody watching to say “Good job.”

…And I told her that I don’t know, because i’ve hardly ever had time like that except when i’m completely by myself, and then i’m usually bored and watching movies or something… because I’m alone.

What would you do?

To Save a Life Review

To Save A Life didn’t suck.

That surprised me a lot. An awful lot. They took the usual Christian movie route but dodged all the potholes. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I think we’re heading in the right direction. Finally. On the other hand, it cost twice what Fireproof cost and made 1/11th as much money (though it turned a profit nonetheless). To Save a Life was honest, truthful, and (in my opinion) not preachy. It was preachy when it was appropriate to be so, and selectively preachy at that.

CHRISTIAN MOVIE POTHOLES DODGED

Perfect Christians
Jake Taylor starts out as a non-Christian who becomes a Christian after he stops being a jerk.
The youth pastor doesn’t have all the answers
The senior pastor is a jerk, and his kid was “played by Satan” according to some fellow moviegoers.

Easy Evangelism
(From TVTropes) “Any story where a character is converted unnaturally easily to whatever the writer is trying to teach.”
Jake doesn’t become a Christian overnight. He’s just… exploring Christianity. It just so happens that he meets our lovely youth pastor, who tells him to “just visit church” and then manipulates him into coming: “It’s inconvenient for you to come to church? It’s inconvenient for me to pick up drunk kids from parties…” I approved of that moment. Continue reading

Saviour, renamed.

So I was reading Numbers a week or two ago and I came upon this odd little verse tucked away in chapter 13:

“These are the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land; but Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun, Joshua.”

Why, I wondered, did Moses change Joshua’s name to Joshua? What did his other name, Hoshea, mean? I looked them both up in my strong’s hebrew reference. Here’s what Hoshea means:

Howshea, from the root yasha, meaning 1) to save, be saved, be delivered, to be liberated, be saved, be delivered, to be saved (in battle), be victorious, to save, deliver, to save from moral troubles, to give victory to.

Well, that’s pretty clear. Hoshea’s name meant saver, deliverer, liberator, victor… savior. But what about Joshua, the new name?

The Hebrew for Joshua is Yĕhowshuwa. It’s a blend of Yĕhovah and Howshea. Yehovah. That’s the word most English bibles translate “the LORD” with LORD in all caps. It’s God’s holy name. It means “The Eternal One,” “The Existing One.”

So Joshua is a mix of two words: One, the name of our Lord, and the other, Savior, redeemer, rescuer. What just happened here?

Here’s what I personally believe: Moses needed Hoshea to know that he is not the savior. God is. So Moses changed his name to “God Saves.” It was a reminder that no person gets to be savior – God does. I wrote some of this down in my notebook. Hosheas must be renamed to Joshuas before they can be of any use to God. Before we can be of any use, we must be renamed from “I save” to “God saves.”

And then over the past couple weeks He’s been showing me how desperately I try to be the savior. I use Him for my plans to save people, instead of allowing Him to use ME for HIS. Last sunday in church I hit my knees and repented. I’m praying now…

God, I’m not the Savior. You are. I don’t want to use YOU as a part of my plan, but instead I want YOU to use ME as a part of YOURS.