Shane Rosenthal of
“The White Horse Inn”
Source: Shane Rosenthal, Issues Etc, http://issuesetc.org/2016/08/02/3-a-hipster-church-in-silicon-valley-shane-rosenthal-8216/(Accessed 2/08/2016, Published !0/08/2016)
A Hipster Church In Silicon Valley
“When we heard the 5-5-5 vision we got really excited to see a church where we’re believing for something that was seemingly impossible – you know, at five campuses in five years reaching 5000 people in the Bay Area for Christ and we heard statistics about 96% of the Bay Area’s unchurched and so it really spoke to our hearts that we could be a part of something great, something that could really make an impact here. We had some loans, we had a mortgage, we had a lot of reasons why we couldn’t, we could have said to each other we shouldn’t give.”
So we decided that this was really something that the Lord wanted us to do. Plus that Adam said, write the numbers down and so I wrote one number and Luke wrote another. And I’m much more of a “give a billion dollars” and Luke is a lot more “let’s be practical” . So our numbers were really far apart and it goes to say and we decided to compromise somewhere in the middle closer to Luke’s number than my number.”
That’s a little bit of a promotional video for C3SV. Remember when churches used to have names like St. Paul’s, Trinity or Holy Cross? Not any more, not any more. Especially if you’re in Silicon Valley. It’s got to sound like a computer language. C3SV stands for Christian City Church Silicon Valley, C3 (cubed) Silicon Valley. And Silicon Valley is, true, not a place where you find a lot of churches. There are churches there, good faithful churches. But 96% unchurched, the often quoted statistic, so if the place needs churches, is the answer churches like Silicon Valley?
Joining us to talk about this hipster church in Silicon Valley Shane Rosenthal executive producer of the Whitehorse Inn radio show. He is contributing writer and editor of Modern Reformation Magazine, and assistant pastor of Christ Reformation Church in St. Charles Missouri.
Shane, welcome back to Issues Etc.
Hey good to be with you
I think we would agree that Silicon Valley and every valley needs all the churches that it can get but is hipster church the answer?
Well you know that’s one of the challenges of our time right? You want to see churches growing especially in areas where there appears to be a dearth. And so in some cases you want to say great, the church is expanding. But the problem comes when you evaluate the quality of the new kind of church and in particular, you have this particular specific market demographic. Let’s appeal to the hipsters let’s appeal to the tech industry type individual. The person who might like the name ” Petri” more than a Redeemer Lutheran church name. It’s been a lot of marketing and you know appealing in the articles and the rest to cultural relevance. Those particular things show up the triumph of consumerism and marketing. So at the end of the day we are just rebranding, we’re taking the wisdom of the marketing tradition and we’re selling something they’ve packaged it, that’s being sold supposedly the same as the classical church right? Just as a new under brand, a new logo except for the fact that’s not exactly what you get at the end. It’s not just another church. In fact what happens in those kind of places is you have a complete switch from what used to be called Christianity to a new kind of Christianity, which is from a position from someone like me, well, not Christianity at all.
What do you mean by that? What is it if it’s not Christianity that’s being pushed at churches like that?
So, my insight into this comes from reading a book called “The Secularist Heresy”, written by a friend of CS Lewis named Harry Blamires way back in English context, in 1952. Blamires at that time was talking about this trend that was just beginning and he said this “today’s churchgoer is nowadays unlikely to come away with church wondering if that sermon has got any connection with the secular world outside the church. He’s more likely to come away asking has that sermon got any connection with anything other than the secular world. Has it led my thoughts to where picking up a newspaper or turning on the television could not have led? And then he says “that Christianity is relevant to all aspects of life but can we be so obsessed with being relevant that we forget how to be Christian”. And he diagnoses the problem by saying, “many have tackled the problem of how to present the Christian message in an idiom intelligible to the 20th century mind”, he’s writing in the mid 1900s.
I’ve addressed myself to the opposite problem, that of keeping the Christian message free from corruption by 20th century habits of thought, which he says are fundamentally hostile to it and the outrage is being committed in our day wherever the supposedly Christian message is presented without reference to baptism, grace, regeneration. Without reference to Incarnation, atonement, redemption. Without reference to church, sacrament or Holy Spirit. Now think about those categories he presents there. This always blows my mind, you go into a typical mega church, a particular market-driven culturally relevant group and you don’t hear about baptism, grace, regeneration, incarnation, atonement, redemption, sacraments. What are you hear are, you know, normal street language about love and warmth. Maybe a loose concept of grace. I was at one mega church where they even talked about God liking us to get funky when it came to the music. You know, I don’t know about you Todd, but I’ve read the Bible I can’t remember any place where God likes people to get funky. There was one scene in the Old Testament where He didn’t like them getting funky around the Golden Calf and he actually at once put a stop to that sort of thing.
But this is the day we live in where churches are attempting to appeal to the person of our day trying to make it relevant and actually exchanged the church, instead of being a transcendent church, have tried to make it relevant with where they are at. But in doing that they have made the church just like the world, it’s just a community group with a little bit of Christian sprinkling.
It’s ironic to me Shane, part of the trouble – they claim to be trying to address, in Silicon Valley, at C3SV church, is well, you know, these young professionals they have everything. They show up at work and food is all complimentary, they work at these big .Com’s or Tech’s or they work for places like Facebook and Google and places that are genuinely the most relevant places in the world if relevance counts for anything of that kind. But they want more! Why is it then, when they get to church on Sunday morning at C3SV, they don’t give them more! They just give them more of the same.
Yes well that’s the problem of relevance. I mean in the quest for relevance, which by the way hasn’t worked out well for them, in mainline denominations, they started down that path in the 30s 40s and 50s and ended up by the 60s preaching the Vietnam war and left-centred politics. And it’s relevant to the person who likes left-centred politics but few other people. And in the same vein, you have a start-up church doing niche demographics to find out how do we meet the young 30 something young Silicon Valley techie. And what we find out when we do that is you are going to speak his language and speak things that are relevant to his time and day. The problem is, is that propitiation typically doesn’t come up when you’re asking what’s relevant to the young Silicon Valley techie. It’s a relevant word for the Bible and it’s relevant for the perspective that God has, why we need to have God’s anger and wrath turned aside by the death of Christ. But it’s not particularly relevant to the felt-need of the techie. And when you try to adjust the, you know, the sales pitch, I am going to try to reach this one individual. Well, the fact is we are never called to do that. We’re are called to preach the gospel to all nations and make disciples of all nations. But not to adjust the message to the particular interest of one particular individual demographic group.
Some would say, look this is just what Bill Hybels, this is just what Rick Warren was doing two decades ago. They’re just carrying the ball further down the field, would you agree or disagree?
I would in general agree. This particular group, reading the articles about them, looks to be more Pentecostal and it has certain nuances but yes I think it’s the same trajectory lead by Bill Hybels and the mega church movement. Basically we’re focusing on cultural relevance, outreach, dynamic worship. They see a buyers market, so you’re trying to attract the consumer rather than to make demands on your disciple or your parishioner. And in a buyers market, how can we reach out to you and what are your needs what are your felt-needs? And we need to appeal to those kind of things. There is some wisdom to thinking about what are the needs of my audience but if you in that process end up short shrifting essential things, upon which Christianity is founded upon. Then if you change the Gospel, tailor it to your audience, that’s where the problem comes.
Shane Rosenthal is our guest we’re talking about Silicon Valley hipster church, C3SV. When we come back we going to talk a little bit more about this hipster church. Yes they’re just doing what Bill Hybels and Rick Warren started but you know, to their credit, at least in the early days Hybels and Warren kept the essence of Christianity. Why was it inevitable that it would be lost? If you kept running the ball down that field?
Shane we were talking before the break about how this is, in a lot of ways, a continuation of the mega church movement, the seeker-driven movement, was it inevitable that although I don’t think that either Hybels or Rick Warren or any of the other progenitors of the church growth movement or the seeker-driven movement would have wanted it this way, was it inevitable? That Christianity be forfeited eventually? If you are going to take the seeker-driven model?
So I don’t know if it’s inevitable that Christianity as a whole, so I do think it’s inevitable that the form and structure of what should be a Christian Church was inevitable. For example you had in 2007 or 8, the Reveal study which showed the people at Willow Creek were essentially upset or feeling that they weren’t spiritually fed. They were, and these were the people who were invested in the organisation but they were feeling like “fortune cookie spirituality isn’t enough for us, we need meat”. And the people – the leadership said essentially people need to be self-feeders. We are here providing resources and we are trying to make these things attractive, and you know, come and get it! And we have all these different niche groups but basically it’s the “trough model”. That’s the way they think and when you compare this to the New Testament, do you know Jesus is very clear to the disciples that they are called to go and make disciples of all nations and teach them and baptise them.
You know, you have that language with Jesus and Peter, where Jesus tells Peter to feed the sheep, tend the sheep regularly, there at the end of John’s Gospel. So this is something that is the lifeblood of the church. It’s not just putting teaching there on a website although that’s something you and I do on our respective ministries. But we…basically, the life blood of the church is the care of actual pastor/shepherds who are not just teaching but also caring for the sheep individually and then making sure they are being discipled over the long haul, repenting of sin and being baptised and being confronted with various issues. That’s the kind of thing that’s not well done in one of these settings where it’s just “come you all and get it”. Because as I was a member of one of these churches when I just converted to Christianity, you know you can just slip in and out of these places without being cared for or being recommended for baptism or anything. It’s just “hey come on and get it” and that’s where this kind of a church with a particular call to “let’s have a big church with rap music and lots of kickstart videos, it’s just the same trajectory which, you know, is not going to be the kind of church, an ecclesiastical structure that Jesus actually founded.
There’s a section here in the “buzz feed” story that I want to read to you and I ask you what this means exactly. Smallcombe is the name of the pastor there at C3SV. Smallcombe’s response to questions about the church’s stance on homosexuality was evasive, quote: “There’s a big difference between to approve of it, acceptance and approval, he said I might not approve of somebody’s lifestyle but I don’t need to approve of it if I’m at a dinner table with them, having a conversation. What I’ll do if they invite my perspective in, I’ll tell them what I believe and what I see the Bible’s position is love them. I fundamentally love them, love people if they never change. Not coming out in support of gay marriage is a position I said, writes the reporter. Smallcombe replied, that his position was love.
What was the pastor of this Silicon Valley church saying there?
That I don’t know, I think the reporter was right it’s a little bit evasive. He is essentially saying somethings that I would agree with, we want to love the sinner no matter what their background is. If they are, if they have a problem with gambling, cheating on their spouse or homosexuality. Hey the church is a hospital for sinners and I’m going to reach out for you and be there for you and care for you as you’re thinking about the faith. As you want to dialogue about the faith, as you want to become baptised and become a disciple of the faith. On the other hand the pastor of the church, representatives of Christ’s flock, are called to speak out Law and Gospel very clearly. And in the case of homosexual marriage? Well, you don’t have to agree with everything that Jesus said but you do have to come to terms with the fact that Jesus and his disciples, you know, were not for sexual immorality, they did not, so either take it or leave it. This is what Christian ministers are called to do. They’re called to put forth the commands and the gospel proclamations of Christ. Now that is hard teaching in our day but this is the problem when you are looking at the culturally relevant ministry. You know what, it’s not relevant to where people are at, to give hard teachings, give the difficult stuff, to give the Law and to give the harsh judgemental tone. And yet a lot of that is in the Bible, what are you going to do?
One of the catchphrases of the Silicon Valley church is, “Don’t like religion? Great, neither do we”. What is that saying, what is that sales pitch about?
So it’s interesting, if you look at the end of the article, which I really encourage your listeners to read, there’s a person there at the end, a non-Christian interacting with a member of this church and they fundamentally thought that was false advertising. Do you know if you don’t consider yourself religious, you shouldn’t call yourself a church. And the fact is I agree with that guy, I agree the non-Christian that it’s false advertising. Christianity is a religion, one of the major religions of the world. Now one of the typical lines in our day is, in order to attract people who are coming from a perspective of being burnt-out on religion, we are not offering a religion, we are offering a relationship. Yes but a relationship with whom? With Jesus of Nazareth is not just a nice teacher from the past but actually God in human flesh, died, buried, risen again from the dead. Well frankly that’s religious dogma, it’s either true or it’s not true but it’s religion! So to call it not religion is just fundamentally false advertising in order to appeal to those who have been burnt out on religion. But it’s also a little bit true, in that they no longer have, as I mentioned in the beginning of the interview, that Harry Blamires had talked about. There is very little discussion of baptism, of regeneration, of atonement and of all these things that are classically identified with the Christian religion. Which makes it seem like it’s kind of a true statement.
With about 30 seconds here, these are churches often strongly Image driven, kind of the hipster image, the right haircut, and fashion. Does that, what does that say about these hipster churches?
So there is a..it’s basically called “cool hunting”, and this is the thing. If you’re going to sell a product on television, you can’t be wearing outdated clothes. You’ve got to look cool, you’ve got to look hip for it to be attractive. And they are basically applying that idea into their sales pitch, to their web marketing, to everything they do visually. And the fact is it works. The question we need to all ask, is not what works though. The question we need to ask, are we deemed faithful to our tradition, is our tradition being sold out and exchanged for a mess of pottage. And at the end of the 20th century, at the beginning of the 21st-century we have to realise that there is a, you know, the messengers of the Christian tradition are infected with the disease of secularism. We are propagating secularism from our pulpits. And that’s why secularism is on the rise – partly it’s because the people who are speaking, you’d think you’d go to a church and you are going to hear the transcendent message from the transcendent Kingdom but you’re not. You’re hearing how to live a happy life and how to be a better you.