a rant by a runt about the american church, part 8

important preliminary comments here (part 1)
our american identity here (part 2)
my framing theological assumption here (part 3)
the unfortunate results of being reactors here (part 4)
the unfortunate results of being simplifiers here (part 5)
the unfortunate results of being systemitizers here (part 6)
the unfortunate results of being highly individualistic here (part 7)

since we americans are over-staters, and we love blanket-statements…

our best overstaters become our biggest heros. in other cultures, overstaters are instantly viewed with a great amount of suspician. frankly, when i’m speaking in other countries and use overstatement (which is, like, every other sentence when i speak), i’m laughed at as the crazy american (best case) or dismissed as arrogant (not so best case) or dismissed as not being connected to reality (worst case). i usually just hope for the first of those, because i am wholly adicted to overstatement.

what i’ve observed, though, is that, in the U.S. — with the pop-culture church, unless one uses a healthy dose of overstatement, one cannot succeed as a speaker or author. people who say, “this might be true” or “these are only the anecdotal and subjective conclusions of my own experience” don’t get invited to speak or write books — especially in church-world. come on: this whole rant is an exercise in overstatement!

so you have a guy like john maxwell, who writes a massively influential book like ‘the 21 irrefutable laws of leadership’, the book sells like crazy. sure, it has some helpful stuff in it. but ‘irrefutable’??? come on! and 21? god only took 10 for the commandments; and he’s god! winnow it down a bit, john!

or, once again, take ‘the purpose-driven life’. as i said earlier, this book has had a wonderfully profound impact on more people than i will ever meet or influence in my lifetime. and whether you like the book or not, it really does have some good stuff in it. but the author insists that these are THE FIVE purposes for your life. end of discussion. there cannot possibly be a sixth, or a re-working of one of the five.

my point here isn’t that john maxwell or rick warren shouldn’t have written that way. my point is that we americans LOVE them because they’re really, really good at overstatement!

and don’t even get me started on james dobson.

we define ourselves more by what we AREN’T than by what or who we ARE. overstatements have a nice dramatic flair. they’re compelling. but there’s another unintended (most of the time) side-effect: they draw extremely deep lines in the sand. when we speak (or write) in fiat statements, we necessitate a “either your with me 100% or you against me 100% response.” and since americans love to swing the pendulum, since we’re reactors, we don’t seem very capable of saying, ‘well, john, i think i can go along with 13 of your irrefutable laws.’

add this all to our obsession with systemizing, and we’re very quick to throw ourselves against what we don’t believe, and use that as our defining script.

here’s a non-church example: i was at the green day concert a couple months back. and billy joe, the lead singer, shouted out at one point, while holding up both his middle fingers, “this is for all the politicians!” a new friend of mine who’d seen their show on several stops in europe commented that, in europe, billy joe had always done the same thing, but said, “this is for george bush.” but in the U.S., billy joe had changed it to all politicians. railing against bush wasn’t enough in america — he had to overstate it to the point of absurdity: ‘all politicians’. now, i’m sure billy joe could find a few politicians that he completely agrees with. and i’m sure he’d find plenty to agree with in most polititians. but americans groove on negative overstatement. we learn this from our leaders — including in the church — and we dress ourselves in those clothes.

next up: since we’re enamoured of BIG… (part 9)

4 thoughts on “a rant by a runt about the american church, part 8”

  1. Marko,

    I really don’t have too much of a comment other than since I’ve read this I notice it everywhere. It has been uber-thought provoking.

    ~Jason Pauli

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