Coming to God with empty hands. Much as you don’t wanna.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 May

What do we really have to give him, anyway?

God is gracious.

Yeah, you knew this already. (Hope so, anyway.) Problem is, we Christians tend to compartmentalize grace. We imagine it applies to some parts of God; not so much others. It applies to some facets of our Christian life; it really hasn’t sunk in how grace applies to all of it. God’s kingdom runs on grace.

We remember God is gracious when it comes to salvation. He’s gonna save us whether we deserve saving or not. Isn’t this the good news we share with others? But when it comes to prayer, we totally drop the grace idea. We imagine we somehow have to deserve God’s favor before he’ll grant our prayer requests.

Why does this happen? Well, bad examples from fellow Christians. ’Cause for the most part, we’re not living lives of grace. We’re living the way the rest of the world does, and the world runs on reciprocity: If I want something from you, I gotta do something for you first. Quid pro quo, this for that.

So if we wanna get anything out of God, what’re we first gonna give him? And I kid you not: Various Christians actually teach us we need to give God a little something.

Like it goes in Christina Rosetti’s 1872 poem, “In the Bleak Midwinter” (which we sometimes sing at Christmas):

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him: give my heart.

So sometimes we’re instructed to give our hearts. Although weren’t we required to do that way back when we said the sinner’s prayer? We gave that already. What else y’got?

Although many of us try to give our hearts all over again. Temporarily, at least. We psyche ourselves into feeling benevolent and holy for a little while; at least till we’re done praying. Then we get distracted by other things, and our hearts are once again our own. As gifts go, our nasty little self-centered hearts make a crummy gift.

But what’s the alternative? Material gifts? Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense with an immaterial God. How’re we expected to give God a car, or jewelry, or electronics?—as if he needs such things. Some Christians suggest we give cash to one of his churches. (Particularly those pastors whose budgets are a little tight.) But what if we’d rather not bother with a middleman?

A lot of us figure we’ll give services instead of goods: Do a lot of good deeds. Rack up a bunch of charitable works which God might appreciate. Point to them as our offering.

The Brownies, a Girl Scout group for younger girls, used to give points to kids who committed good deeds. That’s kinda how we imagine our good deeds work with God: We’re accumulating Brownie points. As if we weren’t already meant to do good deeds; Ep 2.10 as if our additional good deeds count as extra credit, and we can stash ’em in God’s karmic bank and maybe make withdrawals in the form of answered prayer requests.

If all this sounds ridiculous, it should. Yet this is what we Christians unconsciously do whenever we go through the motions to merit God’s favor.

I’ll say it again: God is gracious. Do we need to do any of these things? Or are we already in God’s favor because we’re his kids?

Yep, it’s that second thing.

Humor, sarcasm, irony, mockery, me.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 May

On using my sense of humor for good, and not evil.

Too many people are convinced a person can’t learn to be funny: Either we have the built-in ability to make people laugh, or we lack it and are never gonna get it.

Which means these folks obviously don’t understand how humor works. Anyone can learn to do anything. Maybe not well, but better than previously. Anyone can learn to be funny. They just gotta learn how humor works, and practice at it.

No, I’m not trying to sell you a class. I’ll even explain how humor works—for free.

Laughter is an automatic nervous reaction. People laugh when you expose them to the unexpected. Surprise ’em, shock ’em, play around with words a little, push things to a ridiculous extreme—or even frighten them, which is why some people laugh when they’re scared. The unexpected makes us laugh, and laughter floods the brain with feel-good endorphins. It’s actually a defense mechanism. But since it feels really good, people pursue laughter.

Unless of course their brain doesn’t produce enough of those chemicals; then they don’t bother. That’s why they’re humor-deprived: There’s no payoff. So they don’t see the point.

So how do we get people to laugh? Simple: Throw something unexpected at them. Like a monkey throwing poo. See what I did there? Unexpected. Shocking. Hence laughter.

But of course not everyone will laugh at it. Some of us won’t find it funny because they expect poo: Their dad was into poo jokes, their brothers were into poo jokes, their spouse is into poo jokes, their kids are into poo jokes, all their friends are into poo jokes, they’re up to their armpits in poo jokes. Poo wore off a long time ago. “That’s the lowest form of humor,” they’ll respond. It’s old, so it’s no longer unexpected. Nor funny.

And many are offended by scat or sex jokes. Or profanity. You notice how certain comedians swear a lot: Half their laughs come from the audience being so unused to all the dirty words, or the way they juggle those words for shock. They’re giggling about as much out of discomfort as surprise. But to the easily offended, these things aren’t funny whatsoever. Loads of people don’t find the Three Stooges funny at all: Three grown men beating the tar out of one another is horrifying, not hilarious. They have the same problem with Warner Brothers cartoons, Tom and Jerry, America’s Funniest Home Videos, or someone simply slipping on a banana peel or taking a pie to the face: They feel bad for the victims of these pratfalls. They’re not amused; they’re sympathetic.

But because laughing at the unexpected works so well, it’ll get people to watch terrible sitcoms and movies. Case in point: The Date Movie/Epic Movie/Disaster Movie/Scary Movie films. Critics can’t understand why on earth they sell so well. I do: Throw as much unexpected stuff at the screen as possible. “What’s she doing there?” makes a lot of people laugh. Even when it’s not actually funny.

Stop sucking up to the wealthy.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 May

James 2.1-9.

A lot of Americans aren’t Christians anywhere near as much as they’re Mammonists: They covet wealth. They don’t necessarily have it, but the American Dream tells ’em if they work hard enough, they will. So, anticipating the day they become wealthy, they wanna rig things so they get to keep as much of their wealth as possible… even if such a system totally works against them today, or even if it actually makes wealth creation impossible. Single-minded covetousness blinds people to a whole lot of things.

And to their minds, critiquing the wealthy kinda means you’re critiquing them. ’Cause they aspire to wealth. One day they expect to be wealthy. Since they already envision themselves in the role… well, those criticisms aren’t justified. They aren’t greedy. They aren’t exploiting anyone. They’re honest, hardworking Americans. The critics are just trying to shake them down and get something for nothing. Greedy opportunists.

They can’t—and really won’t—fathom the idea some wealthy folks are totally exploiting the needy. Have been for centuries. And aren’t anywhere near as good and kind and Christian as they imagine. But they sure do play Christian.

Jesus’s brother James saw right through all of that, and pointed it out to his readers who were blind to it:

James 2.1-4 KWL
1 My fellow Christians, don’t act prejudicially.
Not in the faith of our glorious master, Christ Jesus.
2 When a man with a gold ring and showy clothing enters your synagogue,
and a poor person in dirty clothes also enters,
3 and you covetously eye the wearer of showy clothing and say, “You sit here in the good spot,”
and tell the poor person, “You stand there,” or “Sit under my footstool”:
4 Isn’t this prejudice among you?
Have you become critics with evil schemes?

See, it’s human nature to want to suck up to the successful. Irritating, but true. Everybody loves a winner, and whenever somebody does well in an area we admire, we flock to ’em like flies to manure. Those who love money flock to the wealthy. Those who pursue fame gather round celebrities. Those who aspire to be smart kowtow to the intellectuals. Those who covet power follow the powerful. And this is true even in church.

Thing is, not everyone who’s achieved worldly success has done so in a righteous way. In fact, since it’s worldly success, it’s almost guaranteed they did a lot of worldly things to achieve it. They made compromises. They lied or stole or slandered others. They took advantage of people who couldn’t help their circumstances. This was true in the Roman Empire, and true today. Success and righteousness have nothing to do with one another. Remember, the devil promised Jesus the world if only our Lord would kneel down. Lk 4.5-7 Too many of us haven’t resisted that temptation.

Church-shopping. ’Cause sometimes you need a new church.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 May

Know what to look for when you’re considering a move.

Church-shop /'tʃərtʃ.ʃɑp/ v. Look for the best available church.
[Church-shopper, /'tʃərtʃ.ʃɑp.pər/ vt., church-shopping /'tʃərtʃ.ʃɑp.pɪŋ/ vt.]

If you haven’t been going to church, or never did go to church, it’s time to start.

And at certain times in a Christian’s life, we’re gonna have to go to another church. Sometimes for good reason; sometimes not. In my case it’s usually because I moved to a new city, although twice it’s been because the church went wrong.

In any event, Christians decide to begin a process we Americans call “church-shopping.” We visit a new church and try it on for size. If we like it, we stick around. If not, we move along and try another.

It’s not a complicated idea. It only gets complicated because certain Christians are extremely choosy about their churches. And there are other Christians who are convinced church-shopping is fundamentally wrong. Even devilish.

Devilish? Yeah; it’s because they read C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. Namely where senior devil Screwtape advises a junior devil to encourage what sounds an awful lot like church-shopping. If a person must go to church, “the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him,” which “makes the man a critic where [God] wants him to be a pupil.” Letter XVI We’re no experts on what makes one church better than another. We’ll wind up using silly, superficial criteria to judge. How dare we?

Well, here’s how dare we: You’ve got a brain, don’t you? You can learn how to gauge a church on meaningful, weighty criteria. Ain’t that difficult. Those who insist we leave all the thinking to experts, have a really bad habit of doing very little thinking, and as a result fall prey to a whole lot of false teachers and legalists. Ignore them; they have their own problems.

For most Christians, church-shopping isn’t at all complicated. There’s a church in town they’ve either visited, and wouldn’t mind visiting again; or a church they’ve never tried, but they’re curious about it, and would like to give it a shot. They go. They like it. They stay. Simple.

For other Christians, church-shopping is an incredible trial. They go to a church for a few months: They get involved, get to know the people, even try to minister or join or get into leadership. Then they discover the dealbreakers. And they’re just heartbroken, and leave. They’ve been church-shopping for years, and haven’t found a church home yet. Just about every church in town—heck, the county—has met these folks: “Yeah, they went here for five months. So they’re at your church now? Well, glad they’re somewhere. I always wondered.”

I gotta tell you, though: If you’ve gone through 25 different churches in the area and can’t stay in a single one, it’s not the churches which are the problem. It’s you.

Justification: How God considers us right with him.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 May

The part of our salvation that kinda falls on us.

JUSTIFY 'dʒəs.tə.faɪ verb. Show or prove to be correct.
2. Make morally right [with God].
[Justification dʒəs.tə.fə'keɪ.ʃən noun.]

In our culture we tend to use the word “justify” to mean we have a good excuse for what we did. Say I took someone behind the church building and beat the daylights out of them. Ordinarily, and rightly, that’d get me tossed into jail for battery. When I stand before the judge I’d better have a really solid reason for my actions.

“He started it; I just finished it” might work for most people, ’cause it sounds badass. But it’s not legally gonna work. Outside of movies, the law doesn’t give free passes to badasses. Juries might, but there are a whole lot of those guys in prison. Nope; justification means I need a legal reason for why I shouldn’t be jailed or institutionalized for my behavior. Like I reasonably feared for my life otherwise. Only then might my act be justified, and I’d be declared not guilty, and free to go. Society might still have a problem with me though.

Now when it comes to sin, I am so guilty. I have no good excuse. Neither do you. Neither does anyone. Yeah, we all have accidental, unintentional, or omissive sins in our past. But we have even more sins which we totally meant to do. We weren’t out of our right minds; we weren’t backed into tragic moral choices; we weren’t predetermined by God to sin in order to fulfill some secret evil plan of his. We’re totally guilty. We have no excuse. We have no justification for our behavior.

But in Christianity, we’re not doing the justifying. God is. Ro 8.30 We’re not the ones defending why God oughta have a relationship with us, regardless of our awful, sinful behavior. God is justifying why he bothers with us—again, despite our unworthiness.

And it’s a really simple explanation: God is gracious. He forgives sin. Jesus died to totally, absolutely wipe out the sins of the whole world. 1Jn 2.2 Anybody can have a relationship with God! Our sinfulness is no barrier whatsoever. We might imagine so, ’cause he’s holy and we suck. But Jesus took care of that. Sin is defeated. We don’t need to do anything more. We’re forgiven.

So if everyone’s forgiven, why are some people saved, and some people aren’t, even though God wants to save everyone? 1Ti 2.4 Why does God have relationships with some individuals, and not others, even though he loves the world? Jn 3.16 Why doesn’t God just drag everyone to heaven, no matter how they kick and scream?

Well it’s not, as Calvinists insist, because God doesn’t wanna save everyone, doesn’t really love everybody, and limits his forgiveness to a select few. It’s because only one thing justifies God having a relationship with us: Whether we’re gonna respond, in any way, to such a relationship. Whether we’re gonna love him back.

The apostles distilled this idea to one word: Faith. I mean, people respond to God in all sorts of ways. Pagans pick and choose what they wanna believe he’s like, and what they don’t, and as a result don’t really follow him. Unbelievers don’t even try. But if we do try—if we trust God to love us, forgive our screw-ups, make up for our deficiencies with Christ, 1Jn 2.1-3 work with us, guide us, and glorify us Ro 8.30 —and y’know, God’ll accept faith in the tiniest of servings Lk 17.6 —we’re good. It justifies God’s interactivity in our lives; it won’t be time wasted! It’ll lead to our salvation.

So God’s made faith a condition of our relationship with him. No faith, no relationship. No relationship, no kingdom. Mt 7.22-23 Kinda important.

Needlessly long and wild prayers.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 May

Don’t let people pressure you into hypocritical prayer practices.

As I’ve written previously, ain’t nothing wrong with praying short prayers.

You might remember the Lord’s Prayer is a really short prayer. I mention this to Christians and they respond, “Oh! Yeah, that’s true.” Somehow it hadn’t occurred to them. Obviously Jesus has no problem with us keeping it brief: His example showed is it’s fine with him.

Problem is, we’re not following that example. We’re following a different one—where Jesus went off places and prayed for hours. Seriously, hours. One evening he sent his students off ahead of him and climbed a hill to pray; Mt 14.22-23 by the time he caught up with them (walking across the water, but still), it was “the fourth watch of the night,” Mt 14.25 KJV meaning between 3 and 6 a.m. Even if we generously figure Jesus stopped praying and started walking two hours before the fourth watch began (so, about 1-ish), that meant he was praying from sundown till then. Easily six or seven hours.

There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to be able to pray that long. But it needs to come naturally, like it does to Jesus. Can you talk six or seven hours with your best friend, or a beloved family member? Well some of us can. Others of us simply don’t talk that much, to anyone. And yet we all have this screwy idea we’ve gotta engage God in prayer marathons.

No, we’re not ready for six-hour prayers; we’re not Jesus-level prayer experts. But we figure we can at least do six minutes. Sounds reasonable, right?

Except we’re gonna attempt a six-minute prayer with two minutes’ worth of material. Two minutes of praise, thanksgiving, and requests. Followed by four minutes of repetitive, meaningless fluff. Two minutes of authenticity, four minutes of stretching things out. Two minutes of prayer, four minutes of hypocrisy.

Yes, hypocrisy. Who are we trying to impress? God? He didn’t ask us for long prayers. Others? Ourselves? Well, yeah.

When I became a theologian.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 May

Relax. “Why” is part of the story.

My pastor recently asked me what led me to go to a bible college and study theology.

It strikes a lot of people as odd that I majored in biblical and theological studies… and yet never had any plans to become a pastor nor college professor. ’Cause that’s usually why people major in that area. Or it’s not, but it’s what they naturally gravitate towards next. Whereas I went right back into journalism.

Well, journalism and theology are both searches for truth, y’know.

But generally how it happened was like this: I originally majored in journalism. Then I got sidetracked by newspaper jobs. And since the whole point of journalism school was to get newspaper jobs—and I already had newspaper jobs—I ditched school for work. Till I got downsized out of a job. Then I decided to knock out that bachelor’s degree once and for all.

By this point, I realized I didn’t need a journalism degree to get a journalism job. Half my fellow employees had no such degree: They majored in other stuff, and a lot of times they used that other stuff to help ’em be better reporters. A political science major is definitely gonna write better stories about politics, as will an economics major about business trends, or an education major about schools. You certainly don’t need a journalism degree to own or start a newspaper. Since I figured I’d taken all the relevant editing, ethics, media, and law courses, I didn’t feel like taking the others. I wanted to do journalism, not study it.

My mom asked me what I’d study if it could be anything I wished; I picked God.

For that, I figured my best bet would be a college in my denomination, the Assemblies of God. I looked into their nearest school, Bethany College (later Bethany University, which closed in 2011). The biblical studies major covered everything I wanted, so I knocked out the last general ed classes I needed to complete my A.A. in journalism, then transferred in. The journalism stuff didn’t transfer—which left me some units short, to my annoyance—so I minored in biblical languages. They come in handy.

And yeah, it confused my fellow students when they found out I had no plans to get a pastoral or teaching job. ’Cause that’s why they were studying it. What, was I there for fun?

Darn right I was there for fun. I had a blast. Really annoyed my roommates, ’cause all those years writing on deadline means papers come ridiculously easy to me. Plus I have this bad habit of remembering everything I read, so I spent way less time studying than they did, and aced tests anyway. I spent my free time turning the school newspaper from a monthly to a weekly, and writing a third of it myself. And yes, I still had a social life. And got my seven hours of sleep every night.

And after graduating, went back into journalism. Teaching came later.

Don’t be all talk.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 May

James 1.26-27.

Both the Religious Left and Religious Right suck at following the following verses:

James 1.26-27 KWL
26 If anyone who doesn’t rein in their tongue thinks they’re religious,
they’ve deluded their own mind instead. This “religion” is meaningless.
27 Genuine, untainted religion before our God and Father is this:
Supervise single mothers and their children when they’re suffering.
Keep yourself spotless in this world.

The Left focuses on caring for the needy. Rightly so. But when it comes to spotlessness, they regularly make the mistake of confusing grace with compromise, and make too many compromises. (The Right likewise confuses grace with compromise; their error is out of their fear of compromise, they practice too little grace.)

The Right focuses on spotlessness—as they define it. As they should. But when it comes to the needy, they only take care of the deserving needy, not the poor in general. Like I said, too little grace. Jesus came to preach good news to the poor, Lk 4.18 but today’s poor don’t always see oncoming Christians as good news, and the lack of grace is precisely why.

Both wings need improvement. But instead of repenting and working on it, they talk. They rip apart their political opponents, ’cause they figure it’s appropriate: Those guys are doing it wrong, and need rebuking. Meanwhile, verse 27 goes half-followed. Or unfollowed.

Politics aside, this bit connects with the previous bit about behaving instead of merely believing. Of living out Jesus’s teachings, and not just listening to them, believing in them, but not changing our lives in the slightest.

Here, James described those of us who listen but never act, as all talk. Not just all talk: Too much talk. Serious diarrhea of the mouth. But in fact it’s a smokescreen for the fact we’re not really following Jesus. We’re Christianists, not Christians.

And yeah, I gotta include myself in there. I have a bad habit of ranting more than I act. I try to do it the other way round, and try to be constructive and proactive instead of griping. But I’m under no delusion—or as James put it, apatón kardían aftú/“deluded [the] heart of them,” or as I translated it, “deluded their own mind.” I’m not lying to myself about it. Jesus doesn’t want me to merely talk, but to do the good deeds the Father originally created me to do. Ep 2.10 Talking ain’t necessarily a good deed.

No it’s not. Don’t delude yourself either.

Don’t let foreknowledge weird you out about prayer!

by K.W. Leslie, 03 May

When people try to second-guess our God who knows the future, things get sticky.

FOREKNOW fɔr'noʊ verb. Be aware of an event before it happens.
[Foreknowledge fɔr'nɑl.ədʒ noun.]

God is omnipresent, meaning he exists everywhere in spacetime. There’s no place, nor time, where he’s not. Various Christians incorrectly describe God as outside time, looking down upon it all at once; they got the idea from St. Augustine, who probably got it from Plato of Athens describing his pagan gods. But that’d make God not omnipresent, because he’d be outside the universe, not everywhere within it. So that’d be wrong. Space and time are the same thing anyway: God’s inside time and fills time, same as he does space. He’s here, aware of what’s going on. And 20 years ago, still here, still aware. And 20 years from now, still here, still aware. Simultaneously.

That’s a mind-bending idea to us Christians. Even us Christians who love to watch science fiction TV and movies where they monkey with time travel for fun and adventure. ’Cause we’re time-based creatures: We only experience now, the moving present instant. And even when we’re consciously aware, paying attention to now… we actually aren’t. ’Cause in the split second of time it takes for our senses to take in the world around us, and for our brains to process it, and attach emotions and ideas and values to it… that instant is over. It’s become the past. We’re reacting to a memory. We move through time just that quick.

Whereas God didn’t move. He still sees that moment. Plus every moment we consider “now,” whenever we perceive it: The moment I write this, or the moment you read it. And all the moments before, and all the moments to come. Forever, in both directions.

God knows the future—a phenomenon St. Paul labeled προγινώσκω/proyinósko, “foreknowing,” Ro 8.29, 11.2 ’cause from our human viewpoint the future doesn’t yet exist. Because of God knowing it, a lot of us Christians take a lot of hope, and feel really confident, that everything God says about the future is guaranteed to happen. Jesus is returning. We are getting raised from the dead. All things are gonna be made new. None of this is hypothetical: God’s not making the universe’s greatest-educated guess, or talking about stuff he’s gonna almightily try to achieve. He’s speaking from experience (or to coin a word, foresperience). He foresees it, so he foreknows it. It’s real. Well, fore-real.

Thing is, on the other side of this coin is another phenomenon which I tend to call “predestination angst.” You might already experience it; you just don’t know what to call it.

Paul’s word προορίζω/prohorídzo, “foredecide” (KJV “predestinate”) is where Christians got the idea of predestination—that God hasn’t just foreseen stuff, but fore-decided stuff. Like whether you’re getting into his kingdom or not. God’s not waiting for the future to happen first, nor for you to decide something before he responds to it. Why should an unlimited God need to? He’s acting now. Or he might’ve acted already.

Fr’instance: You’re not sure you’re gonna make your car payment; you pray really hard; you get an unexpected check in the mail which means you can make your car payment. Hallelujah. But when did God start answering your prayer? When you prayed? Well he can’t have: That check had to get printed and mailed, so these events started in motion days ago. Which means God answered today’s prayer days ago. He foreknew your prayer, foredecided what to do about it, and foreacted upon it. Mind bent yet?

True, some Christians only talk about predestination when we’re talking about God choosing our eternal destinations. I’m not talking about that today. I foresee another time for that. (Well, not like God foresees: I’m predicting. He’s seeing.)

But the angst—that feeling of dread or anxiety we can’t put a finger on—comes from our worry that because God foresees, foreknows, and foreacts… exactly why do we need to pray? God already knows what we need before we ask it. Jesus even said so. Mt 6.8 So… do we even need to pray? Hasn’t God already made up his mind? What’s the point?

And so our budding little existentialists sit down and despair, and stop praying.

If that’s what you’re doing, cut it out. Pray.

Simony: Christians who wanna make a buck off you.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 May

Shades of Elmer Gantry.

Simony /'s(a)ɪ.mə.ni/ n. The buying or selling of religious things which are meant to be given freely, or given only to qualified individuals.
[Simoniac /saɪ.mə'naɪ.ək/ adj., n.]

One of my bigger pet peeves are churches who forget a significant part of our job as Christians is to preach good news to the poor. Mt 11.5, Lk 4.18, 7.22 They kinda forget they even have poor among ’em. Consequently the poor find church a surprisingly expensive place to go.

Certain churches don’t want you in their Sunday services unless you’re in your “Sunday best.” I’ve actually heard a preacher justify this idea by pointing to Jesus’s story where a king throws out a guest for not wearing his wedding clothes. Mt 22.11-14 He figures Jesus is the king, and you better show up for his church in your Sunday best. Can’t afford the clothes? Try the thrift stores. Keep looking till someone finally donates a suit or dress in your size. ’Cause the people of the church won’t offer you any help, and people never think to ask; they just assume they’re not welcome there. Which ain’t far wrong.

Once you can finally dress for church, you’ll find many churches have hundreds of activities—but nearly all of them have a fee. It’s $100 to go to the men’s retreat. It’s $50 to register for the women’s conference. It’s $40 per couple for the couples’ dinner. Childcare’s an extra $5. There’s a six-week class on spiritual gifts, and the book is $18.95. There’s an out-of-town speaker, and people from the church will carpool to hear him, but gasoline and parking will be about $10, and afterward they expect to have dinner at a nice restaurant, which’ll set you back another $15.

And I haven’t even touched on simony yet. Now I shall.

There’s a growing trend in revivalist churches: They wanna open a school. Nothing wrong with that; a lot of great Christian colleges began as revivalist schools. (I graduated from one.) Now, if we’re talking a regionally accredited school, with educated faculty, transferrable units, and recognized degrees, that’d be one thing. We’re not. We’re talking about Sunday morning bible studies, now taught five days a week, and now people have to pay $1,000 or more to attend. Same variable content and quality as those conference speakers I just mentioned. I once visited such a school and sat in on such a class: It’s basic information which every church should teach every Sunday. But at this church, they have no Sunday morning classes. All their classes are behind a paywall.

Bigger churches tend to have midweek services, like on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights, to supplement the Sunday morning services, or accommodate people who couldn’t make ’em. One large church in my area put them behind a paywall too. Now they hold regular conferences: One of their pastors, or some visiting speaker, picks a topic, speaks two evenings plus Sunday morning, and the church charges $50 or more for the evening meetings. For some speakers, this (plus pushing their books) is their bread and butter. Content varies. Some of it’s actually good. Others are clearly winging it, and quote scripture out of context more often than not.