I think we’re basically 3 for 3 on Halloween costumes. We have had the Baby Elephant, the Clark Kent, and the Lumberjack(son).
Chester and Timmis offer another insightful, Biblical, and helpful book on “church.” Their previous book Total Church is one of my ecclesiological “must-reads.” This book is helpful because it applies the foundations of “gospel and mission” (discussed extensively in Total Church) in the current Western situation.
They open with a provocative observation on the decline of Christianity in the Western World. Rather than spend too much time bemoaning its fall, they quickly look for the gospel opportunity. I would argue that their underlying question (laid out on pp. 13-21) is this: Do we want to hold on to Christendom or Christ?
It is likely that for all Christendom’s good you can’t have both. And that’s not to mention its many demonstrated ills. Christendom cannot exist in a pluralistic society because it requires political and/or military power. Following Christ requires radical love and service. Conversion cannot be coerced by power but must be won by love.
It is a losing battle to only focus on rechurching the dechurched (see p. 26). Reintroducing Christian culture without Christ is a painfully misguided attempt at returning to the glory days. What is needed is a radical commitment to reaching the unchurched with the gospel. To do this requires that Christ and his message be the central principal of our lives EVERY DAY.
We need to do church and mission in the context of everyday life. We can no longer think of church as a meeting on a Sunday morning. We must think of church as a community of people who share life, ordinary life. And we cannot think of mission as an event that takes place in an ecclesiastical building (p. 28).
The church is about the “people of God” not some sort of “building of God.”
One of the central contentions of this book is that our marginal status as Christians in the West requires us to think differently about mission. One way is by dropping our preoccupation with church [defined as a building] (p. 85).
The foundation of Gospel community is the word of God (1 Peter 1:23). Nothing can supplant that foundation. If the word is first and final, then the way it says “to do” mission is important. Mission in the Bible is not primarily “attractional” (e.g., “come and see”) but “go and tell.” Even when crowds came to Jesus, he was “among them.”
Much of the message of this book is broken down into four basic truths about God. These liberating truths are for those we pastor and those who pastor (p. 76).
The discussion of pastoring based on the greatness, glory, goodness, and grace of God (pp. 82-83) was the most helpful and convicting part of the book for me. It helped me identify some latent sin in my heart toward God and the church. As a result, I could identify with various levels of “over-pastoring” (e.g., self-importance, domination, micro-managing, proving myself) and “under-pastoring” (e.g., fear of others, conflict avoidance, seeing people as burdens.”The same truths that inform pastoring are truths to be proclaimed to those we are seeking to reach with the gospel. This book is wonderful in its biblical depth, theological acumen, and cultural analysis. However, it is also very practical. The chapter on “everyday evangelism” recognizes the necessity of sharing the “good news” on which our faith is built but also the difficulty that many of us have. Not everyone is a natural evangelist! How do you develop the ability to share the gospel in everyday life?
Chester and Timmis suggest that “story” is the primary way that people in the modern world interpret life. As such, everyone has a “story” that includes their version of salvation. Look for points of intersection between the “true” gospel story and the functional gospel story that most people have.
The authors bring the book “full circle.” They started explaining the marginal status of modern Christianity and end similarly “at the margins.” As such, the Biblical admonition to expect persecution and suffering should be taken seriously. The result is a paradoxical coexistence of joy and grief amidst suffering. But suffering is no threat to the will of God. Suffering has no power over the “hope of glory” (e.g., 1 Peter 1:6, 4:13).
In the end, the authors are challenging the church to take the mission of God seriously “every day.”
Let me be up front, I am not a fan of American politics. I think they are divisive and reductionistic, focused less on doing what is right (or searching for what is right) and more on getting re-elected. I hate the false dichotomy that Americans have been fed for so long that one party has the moral high ground compared to the other. Both parties have proven to be tribalistic and self-focused with more concern for personal gain than the common good.
That being said, one issue on which I just can’t move is the issue of abortion. I believe that the protection of all human life is not a political issue but a divine mandate by God (e.g., Gen. 9:5-6; Deut. 27:25; Ps. 127:3; Psalm 139:13-15; Deut. 30:19). I believe the government should protect the freedom of all people, but I don’t buy into the argument that this is a “women’s choice” issue. One of the strongest denouncements of abortion came from the mouth of John Piper a number of years ago. In response to President Obama’s statements on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Piper spoke with prophetic eloquence and power. What I love about his response is that is drenched in love and respect for the then newly elected president (a sentiment not all can echo). Listen carefully to a passionate plea to protect the most innocent among us. The video is only a few minutes long but every word is drenched in prayer, power, and Biblical conviction.
Our church supports a local organization that helps women in crisis pregnancy situations. I would encourage you to seek out such organizations that are on the front lines of helping pregnant women and their babies. Pray for them and give to them because it is more than a cause.
It seems that everyone is so easily offended. I’ve watched from the sidelines as comedians navigate which words are in and which words are out (sometimes at the expense of honesty). Political correctness dominates the cultural conversation but usually without a careful understanding of language and morality. Instead, arbitrary preference and magical words restrain truth-telling.
The same seems true in the church. So many people are looking for an opportunity to be offended. Often they are offended on behalf of other people (an odd phenomenon). It just seems that a lot of amateur referees are waiting to blow their whistles. As a result, those who are called to lead and challenge are often forced to mute the force of their message for fear of upsetting or unsettling. There is no room for pandering in the church (2 Tim. 4:3).
There are clearly things in the Bible that are offensive. In fact, God’s Word intentionally offends and disrupts (1 Cor. 1:18, 21, 23; Gal. 1:10, 5:11, 6:12-14). Jesus was anything but politically correct. Paul was far from gentile in his speech. The prophets of the Hebrew Bible are not the kind to invite to a formal dinner party.
Sometimes, to expose sin and make room for truth it takes a disturbance. Maybe this comfortable ‘don’t rock the boat’ attitude is hampering our growth in Christ. In my life, my greatest times of spiritual growth come in the midst chaos. I’ve learned more from the teachers that have challenged me than the ones who let my complacency suffice.
Recently, I read this interesting quote: “the easily offended are missing the point.” If I am on guard (always critiquing, always judging) then I am not listening, gleaning, discerning, or participating. As the same author reminds, “Learn how to glean good lessons from bad teachers.”
Social Media and the Democratization of Truth
I am quite fond of social media. I love the connection, the sharing of information, and the ease of interchange. With all of its benefits, however, come a number of drawbacks. With the election season in full swing, I am reminded how the equal playing field of the world wide web has negatively impacted an ability for honest dialogue.
In theory, it seems nice that niche news services no longer have exclusive access to “the facts” (if there are such things). We have seen numerous examples where non-official sources have provided better information than traditional news outlets. However, more often than not ideology trumps truth and punditry trumps accurate sources. Say what you will about traditional news outlets (and much negative can be said) but the idea that “facts” must be vetted and checked is important. It seems that news agencies are getting themselves in trouble when they try to compete with bloggers or try to push an ideological agenda.
One quick glance at Facebook provides me with numerous opinions and quotes concerning politics, economics, religion, and more. Some are inspiring, clever, and quite persuasive. However, often the powerful and untrue statements are given equal weight with the mundane yet accurate. I mean, where else can the ramblings of an unemployed college student be on par with a trained economist on the topic of rising gas prices. The same is true for theologians, teachers, and more. While education does not guarantee truth it is important to recognize that some sources are more reliable and more qualified than others.
Why Scholarship is Better than Punditry
This is precisely why scholarship, at least in its best iterations, is so enlivening.
Now scholarship can fall into the same ideological traps as anything else but it hopefully has the necessary safeguards to avoid a never ending spiral into meaningless bickering.
I suppose there is little recourse to the current state of dialogue in the public arena. Hopefully, more people will take the quest for truth and honesty seriously and learn that every opinion is not equally valid.
It has only been a few months since “Graduation Season.” Which, by the way, is neither a climate or hunting designation (bag a few graduates and everyone gets all huffy). As a
glutton for punishment seemingly perpetual student, I’ve sat through too many graduation speeches. The best are funny (e.g., Coco, John Stewart, or this guy) and the worst are freakishly dishonest.
Usually, some numskull will pander on and on about “chasing your dreams.” Despite the ridiculousness of such an assertion, it plays well to the sentimental and naïve among us. My basic problem with this sort of advice is twofold: it is both unrealistic and unbiblical.
No matter how passionately R. Kelly croons, the assertion that seeing and believing equips one to “do it” is ridiculous. No matter my belief, I cannot (as space Jam indicates) dunk a basketball. Faith is not blind and unrealistic: faith has truth at its core. Some people won’t be astronauts. Why do we insist on pretending that everyone is equally intelligent, capable, and able. Certainly, God uses the weakest among us but strength in weakness requires humility and honest appraisal of shortcomings.
Finally, and more importantly, such blind and self-centered optimism is unbiblical. The purpose in life is not about chasing your own dreams. As I told some graduates in June, “life is not about pursuing your dreams, it is about pursuing God.” Don’t chase what you want, chase what God wants for you. As you grow in Christ, your desires will begin to align with his. You will never find satisfaction in pursuing your narcissistic passions; only in Christ will your satisfaction be made complete. As Chris Wright has reminded us, stop trying to fit God into your life but, rather, ask where your life fits into God’s story and God’s mission. Don’t waste your time applying the Bible to your life but, rather, conform your life to the Bible.
Don’t chase your dreams, chase your creator. He has prepared a path for you to walk that is more glorious and satisfying than you could dream on your own.
With the release of the Relevant Magazine tablet edition, the good folks in Orlando have proved they are on the forefront of emerging media. In my humble opinion, this is what a tablet magazine should be. It incorporates all of the features of the print magazine (e.g., creative interviews, beautiful artistry, etc.) with the possibilities of the internet (e.g., photo galleries, short movies, audio interviews, interactive advertising, social media sharing features, etc.).
It is fun to read an article and then toggle off the text to enjoy the photos. In another case you can read interview questions and listen to the interviewees response via embedded audio. The possibilities are endless! Kudos Relevant Mag team.
In view of John Piper’s newest book, Desiring God has produced a short documentary cataloguing his growth from a full-fledged racist to the father of an African-American daughter. It is worth your time to watch because it very concretely details the implications of the gospel in all areas.
As someone with a background in history at a secular university as well as a Christian seminary I have lived between two worlds. I noticed a recent article on the use of CE (e.g., Common Era) versus AD (i.e., Anno Domini, Latin for “in the year of our Lord”) in regard to describing the dates of historical events. Scot McKnight also mentioned this issue on his popular blog and I was asked this same question by the parent of a teenager after her son was instructed to use BCE/CE in all of his papers at a local public school.
In my undergraduate training it was clear that I was to strive for objectivity. Though I am a Christian and cannot divorce my personal faith and worldview from my historical inquiry, it would be inappropriate to advocate a particular faith position in my writing. I must attempt to understand my biases and, to the best of my ability, allow the evidence to lead me to appropriate conclusions. Though the legacy of Christianity is still implicit in the BCE/CE dating system (what do you think we are counting from?), it is less overt in its advocacy of Christianity. It is no more accurate to say 40 CE than 40 AD. However, CE claims no reference to faith and, therefore, is more appropriate for a pluralistic environment.
There is nothing Biblical about counting from the point of Jesus’ inaccurately dated birth. We don’t even want to get started on trying to date from the point of creation (settle down you young-earthers).
I’m beginning a new series on common myths about culture, Christianity, history, and more. I’ve dabbled in this concept from time to time. In addition, I’ve always had a soft spot for the popular Mythbusters television show (FYI, my favorite episode is “Phonebook Friction“).
We’ll start off this simple series by busting the old “myth of talent.”
First off, I’m not trying to argue that talent is not real or that some people are not more naturally talented at some things than others. I’m mainly voicing frustration with those who say they can’t do something purely because they aren’t talented enough.
For example, I know some people that are phenomenally talented musicians. That is, they have a natural ear for pitch and tone. That being said, even the one’s that don’t read music have spent countless hours honing their ability to play their instrument of choice (e.g., guitar, piano, voice, etc.). Ultimately, anyone can learn to sing or play an instrument if they are willing to work.
This goes for things like foreign languages as well. Though not all of us can be linguistic savants, a language can be learned with diligence and perseverance.
I find sports to be the same way. The best athletes will (most likely) possess a good deal of raw talent but they will never rise to an elite level (e.g., NFL, etc.) without combining that talent with skills that can only be acquired by years of practice. Talent is not the same thing as technique. This gives hope to those of us who have certain height and speed deficiencies. While my natural abilities are often lacking I can still gain proficiency in a sport through practice.
A similar phenomenon has crept into Christian circles. I notice a lot of Christians avoiding things that they are not naturally good at. Some people don’t share their faith because they think they are not smart or good at meeting people. Others avoid teaching because they are not extroverted and outgoing. Some don’t serve others because they don’t have the gift of compassion or mercy. The examples could go on and on.
The main problem with these objections is that the Scriptures command all of us to do all of these things. Sure, some people are more naturally inclined toward these activities but, as I’ve heard it said, “God doesn’t call the equipped He equips the called.” God will never command you to do something that He won’t also empower you to do. I think it is short sighted and faithless to think that God can and will only use those of natural ability.
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standard; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the way things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:26–30)