Monthly Archives: March 2013

Is Culture Changing the Church

Published on Fuller Seminary’s Burner Blog for Pastors and Leaders.

Read the Article here

by Marcus J. Carlson

Is Culture Leading the American Church?

The church today resembles culture more and more, and unfortunately, instead of changing the world, the church has been changed by the world. This is backwards, and while we must minister to the culture we live in, the church is losing its identity. Here are five of the ways I believe the church has been changed by the world:

The church has become overly corporate. The church has become too corporate. In fact, most churches in the United States today look and act a lot more like a business than they do the body of Christ. Certainly the corporate world can teach the church much about systems, processes, policies and how to handle finances; however, the church has not used discernment as to which corporate values should be applied to the life of the church and how those values should be applied. We treat our ministries and programs as products, look at our congregation and community members as customers, and seek to please rather than to lead.

The church is incredibly consumeristic. Evangelism has turned into marketing. We have turned the church into a fast food restaurant, seeking to have a sleek appearance in our buildings, our worship services and even our staff. We are constantly trying to find ways to meet everyone’s needs so people will come and stay. We inundate people with programs and ministries for every niche so that they do not leave us for the church down the street. We want to be sure to offer the right kind of worship service, whether it is one that ends in exactly an hour or it is a worship service that is perfectly scripted. Entertainment and comfort have replaced theology.

The church is too democratic. Most reasonable people would argue democracy is the healthiest and best form of government we have in the world today, but like any system or philosophy, democracy is not perfect. Somehow the freedom we are promised (and often feel entitled to) in our country has become the expectation in the church. We assume the values of democracy should be the values of the church, but even a cursory examination of the life of Christ demonstrates this is not the case. Our call is to sacrifice not to entitlement.

The church has become a capitalistic institution. For the record, Jesus was not much of a capitalist. In fact, Jesus was not much of a socialist either. The worship of capitalism in the church has given prominence to the prosperity gospel, one of the great heresies of our modern culture. Grace and capitalism are not always compatible, and the church is called to be a mission organization focused on service, not what it can do, earn or produce. The production of fruit is God’s business; our business is to trust God and to be faithful.

The church is dangerously individualistic. We have lost sight of community in our world. Our focus is on our own individual needs, wants and desires. Our energy is poured into our own sense of justice, fairness and our rights as individuals with laws, systems and expectations emphasizing the individual to a high level. The church iby its nature and definition is a communal organization. Yet our own focus on individual salvation often neglects our need for community, so our churches have become a collection of lonely, isolated, individual participants rather than a community of faith.

The church is called to be different. Jesus is the light of the world and the church is his bride. It is time for the church of Jesus Christ to act more like his partner and less like a religious mirror of the world Jesus came to transform.

Lessons from Newtown

Published in Connections Magazine (Mar/Apr 2013)

Learn about Connections here

Lessons From Newtown

by Marcus J. Carlson

There are a few moments in my lifetime I will never forget. Many of them are personal; some of them are communal. I will never forget my wedding day. I can still envision the moment each of my children was born. I will not likely forget my ordination or many other important events in my life.

I will also never forget the day the shuttle Challenger exploded or the Berlin Wall came down. I will always remember where I was on September 11, 2001, when I heard the news. Living in Colorado Springs, I will never, ever forget the Waldo Canyon fire that devastated our community. I won’t soon forget the shootings that have plagued Colorado—the shooting at Columbine and the Aurora theatre shootings. I will also never forget the very moment I learned of the shooting in Connecticut.

In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, we all find ourselves impacted. Those of us who have been given the great gift and call of being parents have another reaction as well. As I watched the news, I thought first of my own children,—my son Micah who is in second grade and my daughter Abigail who is in kindergarten. I thought especially of Abby’s class and the joy of volunteering in the room of over 20 joyful young children. I could not help imagining and thinking, “What if?”

I wanted to go and get my kids from school right away—not to rescue them, but just to be with them. I cannot say I have ever hugged my children as hard as I did that night. I won’t soon forget the conversation I had with them both about the tragedy, or watching the news with my son as we processed this tragic event.

I know Jesus mourns with us, and there are more questions than answers.

I wonder what kind of emotions struck the disciples as Jesus went to the cross. I begin to feel their pain, our pain and my pain once again. We do not live in the most encouraging of times. Life often feels a lot more like Good Friday than Easter. While it seems

that everything has changed, some things will never change. Suffering is a reality of life that will exist until we are either called home or Jesus comes again to reclaim all of creation. Reacting against suffering is natural; it is not something we need apologize for.

Yet, there is a dramatic difference between reacting against suffering and being destroyed by it. While reacting is normal, very few reactions are healthy in the long term. As I listened to and read the news, and watched the debates regarding the cause of this tragedy unfold in coffee shops and social media, I, too, was tempted to get caught up in the debate. After some careful reflection, I realized the debate was moot. I cannot imagine parents who have lost a child in such a painful way wanting to argue about gun control or video games as they try to muddle through the first Christmas without their precious son or daughter.

Herein lies one of the major faults of our society today: we choose blame and fear over hope and redemption. Blame and fear have nothing to do with the Easter story, the Gospel message or the Kingdom narrative. We all know Good Friday is not the end of the story, and neither is the tragedy in Newtown.

While searching for answers and seeking someone or something to blame may provide some relief in the short run, it is not the answer. It is not what will bring health and restoration, nor is it at all consistent with the Easter story. While blame might feel good and seem productive, it only serves two ends: to create more fear and division, and to relieve us of any ownership or personal responsibility in the situation. Blaming guns, video games, parents, gay marriage or any other object or issue will not change our culture and will not bring health and healing. Blame does not help us to see and experience God’s redemption.

Additionally, living in blame is an abdication of responsibility; it prevents us from coming together and finding healing. We cannot look to the government or any other institution to solve our problems. Not only is that not going to work, it is not what we want and need. While answers may provide some level of comfort, answers alone cannot solve the problem.

If we as Christ followers continued to spend every Easter blaming Judas, we would miss the joy and hope of the resurrection. Likewise, our blame does not bring hope or healing to the parents or communities that need it the most.

The first lesson from Newtown as we journey to Easter: focus on God’s redeeming power instead of on blame.

When I think about what has changed in the world over my lifetime, I have many observations. Certainly one of the most passionate is that many adults are no longer invested in the lives of our children and youth.

Another important observation is we have become a fear- based culture and society. Everything from politics to gas prices has become about fear. When I think of the Newtown tragedy, I cannot help thinking of the resulting fearful comments, reactions and behavior. The problems of living in fear and being a culture and society focused entirely on fear are too many to name here in this article. It certainly is not healthy, does not bring healing and is not at all what God intended for us.

In Scripture, when someone encountered God, the phrase “do not be afraid” was one of the first statements uttered. From Moses to Mary, God reminds us to not be afraid. Living in fear does not leave much room for hope. If we lived as if the soldiers were still looking for Jesus, we would never be able to rejoice in Easter.

Easter is about many things, chiefly hope. We cannot live in fear; we must live in hope. We know that even in the midst of great tragedy, there is hope—and it will always be more powerful and life-giving than fear.

The second lesson from Newtown: hope will always trump fear, but we must choose hope.

The band Mumford and Sons accurately points out in the song Awake my Soul that “where you invest your love, you invest your life.” I believe the only answer is investing our lives in people around us—and not just our family and friends, but our neighbors, churches, schools, communities and the world that God created out of love.

If we want things to be different in this world, then we have to be different. Unless we choose to live in hope, seek to build relationships and look for God’s redemptive work, then nothing will change for the better.

Each one of us must choose to make a difference in the lives of everyone we encounter to prevent another young man from growing up to be a murderer of innocent children. It is going to take the community of faith, living out the Gospel daily, to write a better Kingdom story in the lives of our children. Only then can they live in hope instead of fear.

As the precious, innocent children lost in Newtown join with Jesus, I know they would tell us to not be afraid and to live in hope and redemption instead of fear and blame.

Revelation Book Review

Published at Youthworker Journal


The Book of Revelation  by Fr. Mark Avery

The Book of Revelation is a Biblical graphic novel that includes the complete text from the book of Revelation based on the original Greek. It includes all verses and is rich with images, which dominate the text. The book is organized by chapters and provides a dramatic presentation of the book of Revelation. The images correspond with the text very well and the quality of this book, especially the images, is superb. It is very engaging and presents a vivid picture of John’s writing throughout though the all black background is a little distracting and dark.  It is a very creative way to approach the scripture, especially a complicated and image rich book such as Revelation. I am concerned about this medium for scripture, as it may create an approach to scripture that is more consumer based. Yet it also makes the scripture more approachable and could help it come alive for others. The danger would be if a tool like this is used in isolation. Revelation is poetic literature, and an image-based treatment such as this one may cause the reader to take Revelation literally, which I do not believe is the intent of this particular book of the Bible. As a pastor who works with children and youth, I could see older elementary youth as well as middle school youth enjoying this book. I am not sure high school youth would enjoy it as much. In teaching middle school youth, Revelation dominates many of their questions. This book could be a helpful tool for children and youth who have interest in Revelation or find meaning in image rich presentations of story.

Rev. Marcus J Carlson has worked with children and youth for over 14 years and is a spiritual director. He current serves as Associate Pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church in Colorado Springs, CO. (