Author Archives: Jason VanDorsten

Free Church Database

I came across a free church database system today. You can use it to track your church’s attendance, giving, etc. It actually looks like a it may be decent tool, and the “free” part is particularly good for smaller churches with the need, but not the finances. (My church bought a new database system a couple years ago, and we paid a ridiculous amount of money for something that probably does about the same thing.)

If anybody puts this to use, drop us a comment and let us know if it’s any good –


1 Comment

Filed under Church, Resources, Technology

Everybody Loves Free Music

Derek Webb is at it again.

Remember back in ’06 when that dude went off the deep end and just started givin’ away his music? Yup – we got the entire Mockingbird album for as cheap as free. Webb is now involved in a similar gambit, and this time has several other artists along for the ride.

On, you can download Webb’s album The Ringing Bell for free by spamming telling three friends about the site. Or you can “pay what you want” – and let the downloading fun begin.

I found the site a month ago, when Webb’s album was available along with one or two other unknowns. When I checked today, however, it seems the download options have expanded to over 25 artists, including well-known artists like Sandra McCracken, Waterdeep, and Sixpence None the Richer.  Looks like fair trade music is catching on. Take a look.

Leave a comment

Filed under Mockingbird, Music

Art & God (4)

I came across this post from Sojourn Music [HT: The Bored-Again Christian] that features an audio link by Harold Best speaking on worship and art in the church. Best had some good thoughts regarding art in the church and art by the church as a means of engagement. Sojourn Music distilled some of his main points as follows:

• The engagement of the Church in the arts should be the norm, not the exception.

• We’ve exhausted our superlatives – everything is “awesome” now. We’ve reserved no words for God.

• If you’re an artist asked to serve the liturgy in corporate worship, remember that the Word is preeminent. Art must serve the liturgy by humbling itself to wash the feet of the Savior and the congregates.

• The blood of Jesus is still needed by Christians as much as by the unbelieving world.

• Art for the Church should be simple, accessible, authentic.

• Art from the Church should be a rampant, outspoken, prophetic invader. For instance, write simple tunes on Sunday morning to serve the liturgy, then go “out there” in culture as prophet, going to the edge of who you are, creatively.

• The intent of the world’s art is idolatry, but the content is neutral. Don’t try to “out-art” them. Debate the intent while celebrating the content.

[Just a note on this last point – I do not agree that all content is neutral and can be celebrated… and I’m not sure that is the point Best was making. The better point, I think, is that intent determines content. Content is the surface of an intent – and so content can be subjective as to how it is perceived. Engage, therefore, with the intent.]

Some other ideas he presented in the audio that I found intriguing:

• There is a universal urge among human beings to be “artistic” in some form.

• Some “art” is only art because someone has called it art.

• Art in the church must be surrendered to the Word of God. Art is a servant of the church – it should be lost, hidden behind the Word.

• Christian artists have 2 roles – they should be humble servants to the church and ministering prophets to the world.

• Christian artists must be well-equipped as theologians to fulfill both roles well.

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Church, Culture

‘Til Unhappy Do We Part

My good friend Travis McSherley, the editor of (a ministry of Prison Fellowship), wrote a good article contrasting happiness and joy in the context of marriage. Says Travis,

…Happiness and joy are not really the same, though they are clearly linked. In many ways, happiness is the world’s cheap imitation of joy, perhaps the way lust is a lesser substitution of romantic love. Happiness is temporal and physical; joy is eternal. Happiness is primarily a feeling; joy is primarily a choice. Happiness is easy, since it requires the absence of pain; joy is often quite difficult, coming in spite of pain. Happiness is self-centered; joy is others-centered and God-centered. Happiness is surface level; joy is soul level.

To set a marriage relationship—or any relationship—upon a foundation of happiness is to build on a most unsteady surface indeed. When the inevitable rains and floods come, the edifice is destined to collapse, likely crushing the people inside.

You can find the whole article here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Living, Family | Parenting

Young, Restless, Reformed

I just finished reading Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey With the New Calvinists. In it, Collin gives a good (albeit brief) overview of the contemporary wave of Reformed and Calvinistic theology resurfacing within North American evangelicalism. Hansen’s journalistic writing style is interesting and easy to move through. Even if you’re not hardcore Reformed, this book will give you a good read into what I would consider a vital return to practical theology by up-and-coming evangelicals, even in the face of church consumerism and relativistic emergent trends.

On a more personal note, it was fun to read about a whole generation of folks who, unbeknown to each other, were “discovered by Reformed theology.” Events, places and names all familiar and key in my own journey were often referenced. I couldn’t help but recall the freshness of my first time hearing Piper preach of the magnificence of the glory of God at Passion’s OneDay event in 2000. As a fresh-faced, nearly graduated college senior standing in a field in Memphis TN with forty thousand other young Christians, I don’t think I’d yet even heard the term “Reformed” (except maybe in reference to criminals). But for the first time ever, I felt like I had encountered – and worshiped – a God who was massively bigger than I was.

It was good to remember that.

So – if you happen to be taking a little break from the 12-pound theology tomes this summer, but want a little taste just to keep the ol’ bean sharp – check it out. (You folks at SBTS even get a whole chapter, entitled Ground Zero. Booyah.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Books & Media, Culture, Theology

Text + Context

text+contextLast February, I had the opportunity to attend The Resurgence 2008 Conference, Text+Context. It as easily one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended. There are some excellent teachings, particularly for you aspiring pastors and church planters. If you don’t have time to wade through them all, I particularly recommend Driscoll’s Putting Pastors in Their Place, Mahaney’s Pastoral Character & Loving People, Piper’s Why I Trust the Scriptures, and Chandler’s Preaching the Gospel from the Center of the Evangelical World. Check out the audio/video here.


Filed under Audio, Books & Media, Church, Theology

Art & God (3)

This is a brief response to Matt’s previous post. I hope it provides some historical/cultural background to the issue of art in the church.

I think there are several reasons why the Christian culture seems to have an inordinate amount of guilt with regards to art and cultural engagement. Matt, you mentioned fundamentalism’s decampment from the arts, which in my estimation is no small part of the problem. In fact, I think you have the crux of the issue right there. Although there are many variables in the issue, in the end you are dealing with the broader aspects of truth and beauty, essential commonalities that resonate with every fallen human being. If the Church withdraws from those grounds, how can we show them a Savior who is perfect in beauty and truth?

Concepts of truth and beauty have changed drastically over the past couple of generations. In cultural chronology going back only a little more than a century ago, you have the movement of Modernism, which in a great sense rebelled against “traditional” forms of art and literature. In general, Modernism rejected the reality of the supernatural and the authority of the church or religion. Modernists asserted truth can be discovered and beauty can be seen, but only through objective power of the individual mind or scientific methodology. Modernism affirmed the reexamination of previously accepted forms of art and truth and beauty, and did so while maintaining that these were things with external anchors and standards outside of one’s self. While perceptions of art and beauty changed, truth was still considered discoverable, knowable.

As Modernism begot Postmodernity, truth joined beauty as being “in the eye of the beholder.” Ambiguity and contradiction no longer matter (or are even seen as desirable) since any notion of truth is relative to the sovereign eye of the individual. Comic books and computer screens can be just as good and beautiful as classic literature or the Sistine Chapel – it all depends on your point of view.

As postmodern plurality and relativity emerged in the early 20th century, the Church’s general reaction was not to engage or redeem – but to withdraw from all things “secular.” Modernism gave us the ol’ stinkeye, so we sulked off and sat in a corner while postmodernity took root around us. Faith in the Church became a buffer zone between the secular and the sacred. Parachurch ministries virtually exploded because the Church disengaged. Now, decades later, we have finally decided that it may actually be beneficial to engage people culturally for the sake of the Gospel… but we approach it like the annoying little sister who is just trying to tag along with big brother.

Think about it – for centuries, the Church drove art and music and cultural trends. Now, we simply try to imitate those things. While society in general and Western culture in particular rejoices in the value of the creative individual (see also, YouTube, Myspace, the blogosphere, etc.), the best the church seems to be able to do is make flimsy imitations (see also, GodTube, MyChurch, the blogosphere, etc.) We are not exactly a consistent hotbed of innovation in the areas of visual art, music, film and literature. I think we sense we should be doing more, but are really too lazy to put forth the effort of being truly innovative. So we feel guilty.

Why is it assumed that to reach the culture, we must be artistically engaged? I think the answer is because culture is artistically engaged. That is where unregenerate people are. The Church in many senses has become passive and lazy. We want the people to come to us because going to them takes effort, and – God forbid – maybe pain. Artistic engagement on whatever front or medium can be a powerful means of missional engagement. They are confused about truth, but are drawn to beauty. We have truth, but have lost a clear vision of the beauty therein. Truth and beauty are essential commonalities within us and are worthy ground upon which to advance the Gospel.

This, of course, begs the question – what is the relationship between beauty and truth? Comments are open.


Filed under Art, Church, Culture, Post-Modernity