The CNN religion blog began an article on the movie this way: “”Moms’ Night Out” starring Patricia Heaton and Sean Astin is opening on more than 1,000 screens, and it aims to do something no other Christian major motion picture has endeavored to do: make you laugh. On purpose.”
Notice the premise of CNN’s post: Can Christians even be funny? Evidently, we have an image problem when it comes to humor, happiness, and joy. We truly are expected to be joyless, somber people with no place for laughter in our lives. On the one hand, it seems absurd because I work with a bunch of Christians and we laugh heartily and often. But on the other hand, the premise exists for a reason—on average, we Christians are a pretty dour bunch.
But what exactly does it look like to be a joyless Christian?
Reflections like this are helpful.
The multiethnic church movement is working: Protestant churches in the US have become three times more likely to be racially diverse than they were 20 years ago.
The percentage of Protestant churches where no one racial group makes up more than 80 percent of the congregation tripled from 4 percent in 1998 to 12 percent in 2012, according to new research out this week from Baylor University. Evangelicals and Pentecostals show even higher levels of diverse churches, up to 15 percent and 16 percent, respectively.
Overall, nearly 1 in 5 of all American worshipers belong to a multiethnic congregation.
Adam Laats, Professor of Education and History at Binghamton University, is the author of Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education (Oxford University Press, 2018), which Joel Carpenter calls “a major contribution to the history of Christian higher education and to the understanding of fundamentalism and evangelicalism in America.” Dan Williams calls it “essential reading even for those well versed in American evangelical history, because it offers a fresh analysis of the complex ways in which fundamentalist colleges reflected (and shaped) their religious movement’s tenuous balance between the demands of the world and the tenets of faith.”
Here are three reasons I think this is a unique and important project.
I attended my family’s church until I was 11 years old. In that time, I acquired a certain cynicism about religion and ministry. The word religion, at its root, means “to bind back,” and I witnessed person after person trying to somehow work back to God through good deeds and moral effort. In many ways, ministry became an idol in my home, and it often kept us from being a close family. Good things, like serving others, inevitably became “God things.” Our home life was emotionally arid and devoid of intimacy, and I grew to hate whatever god would allow this.
We are all accustomed to reading works on the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life. We know that as Christians we ought to discipline ourselves to ensure we maintain a lifelong focus on Word, prayer, and fellowship. And so we read the Bible and meditate on it, we pray as individuals and families, and we maintain fellowship with one another through local church worship and the sacraments or ordinances. Well and good! This is the stuff of the Christian life. Yet in his classic work Holy Helps for a Godly Life, Richard Rogers draws out a spiritual discipline that has largely been lost and neglected in recent years—the discipline of watchfulness.
A favorite from the archives:
In Christian circles, we have our own conversation killers, in addition to the ones we’ve picked up from the surrounding culture. Most of these are buzzwords like “missional” and increasingly “gospel centered”—the terms and phrases we either overuse or just haven’t bothered to adequately define, thus rendering them meaningless. But there’s one word to rule them all—one forged in the fires of Mount Doom: