Freaking on Jesus: A look at the Christianity of the early 1970’s


We are formed in our youth. We are formed by our parents’ instruction and example, by our teachers, our friends, our culture, and our religious affiliation. We typically don’t know to what extent this happens, or how deep it goes, until later in life, and then only if we care to know. As a youth I was immersed in, and formed by, the evangelical/baptist/fundamentalist culture of the 1970’s. I was affected by both a love and a wariness. Although I was not directly involved in the Californian/Calvary Chapel/”Love Song”/Jesus People kind of Christianity, I was influenced by them more than I knew.

That “hippy” Christianity, one of long hair, wide collars, bellbottoms, and tripping on Jesus, was meant to confront the western world of that time in terms that would speak to that culture in its own language. In many way it worked. The culture was reached, and so was the Church. Within Catholicism, which was watching closely, grew a felt need to strip away the old and usher in the vibrant new — a new that consisted of folk music and more playful rubrics. But accommodation took its toll. This was true in Protestant culture as well. I saw church services go from the formalism of my grandparents time, to the laissez faire of today where church services are more like rock concerts and preachers try hard to be un-stuffy and hip. For better and for worse, sometimes much worse.

Below are videos of that crucial era of modern Christianity where the seeds were sown for what we experience today, and for what we assume and take to be normal for worship, preaching, the language of the gospel, and how to do church. It is fascinating to see something that is so distant in some ways from us today and yet so utterly contemporary.

Although I have moved away from this version of Christianity in many ways (or am trying to) I still love the fundamental passion and simple Christ-focussed nature of it. That is something I never want to lose.

I’m curious if any readers experienced this kind of Christian experience, and what you think of it now.

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Dr. Anthony Esolen – Wonder and Imagination

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Pray for the World

A woman carrying flowers cries in front of the Carillon cafe and the Petit Cambodge restaurant in Paris Saturday Nov. 14, 2015, a day after more than 120 people were killed in a series of attacks in Paris. French President Francois Hollande said at least 127 people died that Friday night when at least eight attackers launched gun attacks at Paris cafes, detonated suicide bombs near France's national stadium and killed hostages inside a concert hall during a rock show. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

A woman with flowers cries in front of the Carillon cafe and the Petit Cambodge restaurant in Paris Saturday Nov. 14, 2015, a day after more than 120 people were killed in a series of coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

What can we say about France? The image above says more than any words can.

What horrors, what unspeakable terror; these words seem to lack meaning.

And it’s not just France, it’s the world really. Tragedy everywhere. Broken hearts.

Even for the Christian, who claims a future hope, there is no escape from weeping.

Pray for Paris. Pray for France. Pray for the world.

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Pope Francis, Yves Congar, & True Reform: An Interview with Austen Ivereigh

Ivereigh offers some perspective on what Pope Francis is doing and why.

Yves Congar is a fascinating figure in twentieth century Catholic theology and thought. His ideas were censured and censored at one time by the Church, but then became accepted and were highly influential at Vatican II (perhaps the single most informative influence at the council).

I am inclined to think that many of the issues that some Catholics are having with the pope, namely regarding his apparently confusion-sowing manner and way of speaking, are in fact a kind of cover for deeper fears. In other words, it seems there is a protective strain within Catholicism, particularly from conservatives (but not only), that actually has problems with the three approaches to reform that Ivereigh identifies. If true, then it would follow that their frustration is actually masking a fear of reform, and the natural processes of reform as identified by Congar. (Keep in mind I say this as a recent convert from Protestantism — which may skew my perspective.)

Although I tend to identify with many aspects of conservative Catholicism (and many aspects of liberal Catholicism), I worry about a kind of Phariseeism that seems to lie just beneath much of the anti-Francis rhetoric — and I’m speaking of the even-handed stuff, not even the foaming-at-the-mouth stuff.

I too see the confusion with Pope Francis, but I can’t judge. I don’t really know what he is up to, and I believe the Church, like all of us, is always in need of reform.

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The Perfect Role Model of Faith

The perfect role model of faith is a sinner who has faith, not a non-sinner who has faith. It is not the perfectly moral person who is our role model for this side of eternity. It is the imperfectly moral, struggling, sinning and repenting and sinning again person who, while in the midst of all that, still has faith.

We should not so quickly judge our Christian leaders, saints, paragons of one sort or another, based finally on objective moral standards which can be so easily be faked and turned to pride and pharisaical haughtiness. And we should not judge each other so quickly for the same reasons. Rather, we should look for faith which, ironically, shows itself most often in response to moral failings than successes.

Humbleness arises from the realization that being sure of faith in oneself is, at best, a difficult and long project, and a near impossibility to be sure of in others. Abraham, sinner though he was, is the father of our faith; King David, sinner though he was, was a man after God’s own heart; St. Peter, denier of Christ himself, was martyred finally for his love of our Savior. We should remind ourselves that faith is a miracle, and act accordingly.

The perfect role model of faith is, in the end, the one who truly has faith — and it takes time to know who that is, often until the end of their lives.

Crucifixion of St. Peter by Caravaggio.

Crucifixion of St. Peter by Caravaggio.

Keep in mind that faith is related, but still something different, than the moral life or the devout life. Some may be very good at being moral examples, living exemplary lives of good conduct and right living. And they are examples of holiness. Hopefully they also have faith. But it is the one who, when faced with their own moral failings or profound sufferings, still cling to God — “Where would we go, you have the words of eternal life.” “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”


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The Fear of Mercy

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (The Gospel of St. Luke 6:36)


“The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt van Rijn, oil on canvas, c. 1668, in the Hermitage

We will soon enter the Year of Mercy. For some Christians the word “mercy” elicits deep concerns. I find Christians tend to fear mercy for at least three reasons:

  1. We fear mercy because we feel the “world” will get the wrong message and find in mercy the permission to sin. The problem here is that the world has already found the permission to sin, even believes it needs none. It may be true that some define mercy as mere acceptance and thus want “mercy” without repentance, but growing (sometimes slowly and painfully) in one’s understanding of mercy is part of the journey of faith and a risk that Christians must be willing to take. None of us come to Christ fully formed, free of sin, having fully repented, ready now for the mercy that we no longer need. Who of us is not still learning about the great mercy offered to us? The world already has the wrong message. Mercy is a key part of the right message. Offering mercy is integral to the Christian life.
  2. We fear mercy because we fear the Church will crumble if we let mercy too quickly out of the bag. This is related to fear #1. We fear people will get the wrong idea about sin if we offer mercy, even Christians will get the wrong idea, and next thing you know the Church is filled with folks reveling in their mercy by glorifying sin (or reveling in their sin by glorifying mercy). This comes from seeing mercy as analogous to no-strings-attached freedom. But that, of course, is not true. Mercy is love’s response to sin. Mercy, by definition, takes into account sin, acknowledges it, calls it out. But mercy also, and in spite of sin, extends the hand, welcomes the sinner. Mercy requires faith, which is to say offering mercy begins with trusting God. The truth is, the Church will crumble if we don’t offer mercy. Lack of mercy points to lack of trusting God. Perhaps we fear offering mercy because we believe we understand mercy more than we do.
  3. We fear mercy because we demand justice (meted out on others). Justice is a good thing. We look to God to bring about justice. But if all we have is justice then we’re all sunk — the upstanding deacon is just as sunk as the suspected gay choir leader, as is the marxist activist, as is the little old lady praying her rosary, as is the pope himself. None of us wants justice if it includes ourselves. But we fear mercy if it means that others will not get the justice we know they deserve. We are desperate for justice in this world. Sin makes us hate others, and demanding justice can too easily be the blessing we bestow on our own hate. What we must recognize is that we, all of us, are still desperate for mercy for ourselves — and not merely at an emotional level, for without mercy there is no salvation. The saints have all known this.

Consider these stories:

  • The Pharisee and tax collector: Who shows mercy? Who does not? God shows mercy. The Pharisee does not.
  • The prodigal son: Who shows mercy? Who does not? The father shows mercy. The eldest son does not.
  • The woman caught in adultery: Who shows mercy? Who does not? Christ shows mercy. The Pharisees do not.

Will we show mercy? Showing mercy requires faith in God. Do we trust in faith, in God’s mercy, in God’s sovereignty? Are we willing to let God fight our battles?

God will fight our battles. That is the story of the Old Testament, reiterated in the new. We claim faith, hope, love… and God fights our battles. Remember faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. Let God have the big picture as well as the small, let Him fight the battles, and let us show mercy — for God will also show mercy.

Mercy is love’s response to sin. God is love. We are His children.

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Bishop Robert Barron on the Family

Here is a great talk given by Bishop Robert Barron on the family.

I like just everything about this talk. Among many interesting and profound things he says, and he says a lot, I found one thing that really jumped out at me at 47:15. He says that if the “great figures of Vatican II” (Henri de Lubac, Romano Guardini, Joseph Ratzinger, Hans Urs von Balthasar) could see that today 75 percent of Catholics do not go to mass regularly they would view their project (Vatican II and all that it anticipated and was meant to accomplish) as a failure. Bishop Barron says Vatican II was meant to revive the Church, in essence to bring more life into the Church. He seems to be saying, however, the evidence seems to point in the opposite direction.

The possible implication is that if all had happened as they thought it would, then our church buildings would be bursting on Sundays, and filled with many faithful throughout the week. It would have been the Catholic Church that defined the idea of Evangelical, and taken that spirit to the world. Instead Catholics left the Church for the Evangelicalism of the Protestants, or just stopped going to Church altogether. This was happening prior to the council, but it exploded since then. The Catholic Church was run over by the steamroller of late modernity and many Catholics were happy to be run over.

I do not think Vatican II caused any of this in the way that some claim, but it played a part. Exactly how is debatable, but one thing seems certain, though the great figures of  the council were noble in their desires, they thought the Church wanted one thing (get closer to God) when, in fact, it wanted something else (push God away, at least away from their sexuality, definitions of marriage, contraception, etc.). They thought Catholics in large part wanted more freedom to be fully alive in Christ, but what Catholics wanted was freedom from the strictures of the Church (from the perceived tyranny of tradition, the un-coolness of the old, from the barriers that demarcated the Catholic subculture from the popular world). In other words they thought Catholics were interested in becoming more Catholic when, in fact, they wanted to become culturally, socially, even theologically Protestant.

I would like to hear more from Bishop Barron on his thoughts about this. Was Vatican II a failure? What would the great figures of Vatican II say?

Just to be clear, Bishop Barron has a generally very positive view of Vatican II. You get a good picture of his understanding here:

…but I’m curious.

Could it be, however/also, that we have too short and too impatient a timeline for a post-council Church revival to rise and flourish? Do reformations take longer? 40 years in the desert, generations dying off? I am increasingly inclined to see the changes brought by the council may still be in their early stages — and that they are leading towards a deeper understanding and celebration of the mysteries of faith, including the depth of tradition, etc. Sometimes one has to move away for a while before returning in order to appreciate one’s homeland. If this is true, then all the troubles that have flowed from the time of Vatican II may actually be step one in the council’s success.

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