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Friday, February 6, 2009

Url's World

Greetings, Urthlings.

Next week's going to be really busy on Ur. As you'll read below, there will be tons of live blogging going on from the NPC conference in San Diego. So, to cleanse the pallet, I thought I'd post my annual Pigeon Awards to honor those books overlooked by other reputable editorial teams this last year.

You'll also want to read the editorial to find out why Brandon O'Brien doesn't like the term "Christ follower."

Finally, the Collin Hansen piece from earlier this week about the decline of rural churches has really hit a nerve. Be sure to join the debate.



Url Scaramanga

Out of Ur blog facilitator

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Ur at National Pastor's Convention

Out of the cold and into San Diego for next week's gathering of leaders at NPC.
Ur at National Pastor's Convention

Next week, Leadership editors Skye Jethani and Brandon O'Brien will be at the National Pastor's Convention in sunny San Diego. Every year about this time, NPC brings pastors from all over the country to talk about church and culture, preaching and worship, spiritual formation, and that sort of thing. Skye and Brandon will be blogging live from the sidelines and hopefully catching a few minutes with authors and pastors like John Burke, Anne Jackson, Dave Gibbons, and Scot McKnight. Stay tuned.


What's In a Name

Why we should be proud to call ourselves Christians.
by Brandon O'Brien
What's In a Name

Christians are endlessly creative when it comes to finding new names for our specific branch of the family tree—Friends, Charismatics, Emergents, Neo-conservatives, and Calvinists come quickly to mind. Each of these names clarifies particular doctrinal commitments, more or less, even when there is disagreement between insiders and outsiders regarding what those commitments are.

There is one term that has gained currency in the past few years. I was attracted to it at first, but now I hope it will go away forever—and soon: "Christ follower."

I see this on the Internet, for the most part. Certain Christians prefer this designation in their Facebook and MySpace and blog "about me" sections. As far as I can tell, the term is intended to distinguish consciously committed Christians from their casual and cultural counterparts. It's not a sinister thing to do. But I think it's problematic for three reasons. (And, to be clear, I'm not talking about the code language missionaries and persecuted Believers worldwide must use. I'm talking about comfy American Christians like me.)

First, "Christ follower" is no more descriptive than Christian. A "conservative" can consider herself a Christ follower if she has a personal relationship with Jesus; a "liberal" can consider himself one if he works with the urban poor; and a Roman Catholic or Orthodox Christian might do the same based on their commitment to the church. Religious vocabulary varies greatly within Christianity, and this term clarifies nothing. It just adds to the confusion.

Second, it's an alienating term. It's intended to differentiate between authentic Christians and false ones. Besides being presumptuous, this shows very little concern for historical and global Christianity. Giving ourselves new names—we characters in the Christian story—we effectively remove ourselves from the narrative that includes Paul and Peter, Augustine and Claire, Luther and McPherson. Perhaps worse, few Christians worldwide have the luxury of a name change. When Palestinian, African, and Indonesian brothers and sisters pay dearly for identifying as Christians, it is an affront (in my mind) to disassociate with them.

Finally, the title suggests that all it takes to be a "real" Christian is a new name. Jesus says people will know we are his disciples because of our love for one another (John 13:35). Paul says essentially the same thing in 1 Thessalonians 4. My point is, you can call yourself whatever you like and still not bear the fruit of genuine Christian commitment. As Skye Jethani might say, this is a branding issue. A new name does not a new man make.

I feel the urge to separate myself from some of Christianity's dark past. But part of being a community is accepting and forgiving the horrors of the past and striving, in Christ, for a better future. As we do, be proud (in the appropriate, Christ-like way) to call yourself a Christian.

Brandon O'Brien

Brandon is Leadership's assistant editor.

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The Pigeon Awards

Out of Ur's annual round up of books that made Url stop and say "hmmm."
by Url Scaramanga
The Pigeon Awards

Like other editors and publications, every year I receive hundreds—perhaps thousands—of books. Some rise to the top because of the contribution they make to our understanding of the world, faith, or mission. They challenge, inform, and critique, and the truly gifted writer will even entertain in the process.

If you are looking for those kinds of books, I suggest checking out Leadership's Golden Canon Book Awards or the 2009 Christianity Today Book Awards. But there are other books overlooked by these popular and reputable editorial teams. That's why I've created the Out of Ur Pigeon Awards. From the ever-flowing stream of books that have crossed my desk this past year, here are the ones I believe deserve some recognition.

The Golden Dropping goes to … Jesus, the Man Who Loved Women

Jesus, the Man Who Loved Women

A captivating title married to an equally intriguing cover design makes the book a must read. I was, however, disappointed that the endorsement on the back promising any man who read this book would "be able to capture the heart of any woman," proved to be hyperbole. I read the book and the female officer who pulled me over last week didn't appreciate my Jesus-inspired charm.

The Silver Dropping goes to … Lord, Help! Here Comes Mom!

Lord, Help! Here Comes Mom!

No title has ever rung more true. And have you ever seen anything more menacing in a wheelchair (Dick Cheney's temporary immobility not withstanding)? Although three hundred pages and twenty-six chapters isn't nearly enough space for this important subject, I remain disappointed that I didn't write the book first. Perhaps I can pen the follow-up, God, Save Us! Here Comes the Ice Cream Man!

The Bronze Dropping goes to … Only You Can Be You

Only You Can Be You

Ah, the brilliance of the obvious. Few books that cross my desk can be easily translated to the medium of the fortune cooking—this is one. And when was the last time a Christian book title could be mistaken for dialogue lifted from a Mike Myers film? I'm grateful for the reminder that only I can be I, or you, no … me. Wait … I'm confused?

The Copper Dropping goes to … Dear Nancy, Answers to Letters from Girls Like You

Dear Nancy, Answers to Letters from Girls Like You

Just what I've been waiting for—answers … from girls … like me! I'm not entirely sure how or why this book was sent to my attention, but sometimes it's best not to ask why. Instead, we should just accept such events as providential blessings. All these many years I've been journeying through life not realizing that "if you have a question, Nancy's got the answer!" Bless you, Nancy.

The Genuine Dropping goes to … Watermelon Faith

Watermelon Faith

I never thought I'd find books more profound than Pomegranate Praise or Kiwi Ecclesia, but then came Watermelon Faith. With previously unknown insight and uncommon wisdom, the book "shares the arena of truth using a cut melon and the heart of man." I now browse the produce aisle with a sense of wonder I haven't felt since Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber taught me that God is bigger than the boogie man.

Url ScaramangaUrl Scaramanga is the blog moderator for Out of Ur.