- Deliberate engagement: One of the trends in modern evangelicalism that bothers me most is the tendency to isolate ourselves from the world. Where the old-style fundamentalists made deliberate choices to separate themselves from "the world" (don't smoke, drink, chew, go to movies, play cards, and so legalistically on...), modern evangelicals are content to do so without the recognition that this is the effect achieved. So, instead of deciding not to wear make-up or ever drink a beer, modern evangelicals simply built an alternative culture and live exclusively in it. So we now have Christian music, Christian movies, Christian coffeehouses, Christian schools, Christian businessman clubs, Christian phone books, Christian bookstores, Christian candy, Christian clothing and on and on. As a Christian, you don't have to engage the world much at all. And it shows in the fact that despite all of the above, our country has never had fewer authentic Christian people. If we want to reach the world with Gospel, we have to be in it, but not of it just like Jesus said we should be.
- Intentional relationships: One of the great tragedies of Christianity in America is that, five years post-conversion, the average Christian has zero friends who aren't Christians. A real Christian needs real relationships with people who are really lost and therefore really going to Hell. We need to intentionally put ourselves into situations where we can do this. This means not just involving ourselves in the world with all of its mess, but also building connections with sinners, wherever we find them.
- Loving interaction: It isn't enough to simply know some non-Christians though. One has to engage with them in a loving way. We need to be willing to love them enough not to make a big deal out of their sin before they have the power of the Holy Spirit within them to change. We need to participate with them in activities they enjoy. We need to know them well and be vulnerable about what our lives are really like, so they don't form a false impression of Christians as "shiny happy people holding hands" (like REM sang year ago).
- Thoughtful explanation: Very often, Christians present their faith in a way that is hard for others to accept. They can't answer tough questions or give flippant answers to things that the person is genuinely struggling to think through. There are good answers to every intellectual challenge to the Christian faith, and I believe that every Christian should know what at least some of those answers are so that they can explain the Gospel in a way that makes sense. Christianity is the only solid basis for understanding the world and our place in it, but far too many Christians neither understand that nor can explain why.
- Compelling character: The Gospel only makes sense if the truths we espouse line up with the lives that we live. I have grown tired of hearing of Christian leader after Christian leader whose private life was virtually the mirror image of his public persona. But average Christians, no less than the public figures, need godly character too. The Gospel is mocked, not because it is not true, but because the lives of many Christians make it unbelievable.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
If you ever want to feel like you have the intelligence of a NASCAR fan that just finished off a six-pack (I think it's a Red Neck law), then listen to D.A. Carson talk about, well, anything. Don is fluent in something like 7 languages and has written over 45 books. He is the esteemed Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School near Chicago. For instance, Carson said in his talk to us, "To be a non-perspectivalist is to be omniscient." Nobody in the room was smart enough to argue with him over that.
Don spoke at a luncheon at Bethlehem Baptist Church (John Piper) on Friday September 26, 2008 just before the Desiring God Conference. I attended this lunch with about 40 other church leaders. Don spoke for an hour about five trends in the American church that are troubling to him.
Five Trends in the Church Today
By D A Carson, September 26, 2008
1. It is important to observe contradictory trends. Interestingly, Don encouraged us to recognize the good things in our current culture. He said we have a lot more good commentaries available to us than we did fifty years ago. Yet, mainline churches have fewer conversions than ever before. This is a contradictory trend, according to Carson.
I understand this to mean that we know more and have access to more information, but it is not resulting in more conversions. We apparently know more about God, but less about His mission to seek and to save those who are lost. Our mainline churches are focusing on the minutia difference between supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism, for example, but are ignoring the call to both know God and to follow his sending us to our neighbor's house. There should be a constant tension between group Bible studies and sharing of one's faith. Otherwise we end up in a holy huddle somewhere arguing about non-essentials.
2. Current evangelical fragments are moving into a new phase -- into polarized "clumps." Don said evangelicals are identifying themselves in clump-like expressions of evangelicalism (Health/Wealth clump, Openness clump, Arminian clump, etc.). Carson said the National Pastor's Conference (NPC) is as inclusive as possible -- some speakers are stellar while others are simply heretical -- but they include as many unique tribal representatives as possible. "Even Reformed circles are clumping," said Carson, "and the center is emptying out in favor of vague, dilute evangelicalism."
Carson astutely said that old-time gospel would be around until Jesus comes while he believes (as Don humorously put it, "not as a prophet or the son of a prophet, but one who works for a non-profit") that in 25 years nobody will be calling themselves "emergent" but many will still be centralized in the gospel.
I wonder what will replace the center as the varied subcultures of evangelicalism move to the fringes. For orthodox confessionalists, the center is the perfect place for the gospel. We need pastors who call their people "back" to the inner city of the gospel without relenting to the flight to the suburbs of dilute evangelicalism, as Carson put it.
3. The most dangerous trends in any age are the trends that most people do not see. Orthodoxy is always focused on the past but the new expressions of evangelicalism are the most dangerous. Carson recalled the once Christian colleges like Princeton and Yale that were led by pastor/theologians but became so big that they hired administrators who were not as discerning of current trends; only of past. A formally orthodox leader will head into trouble if he is not astute toward current trends in evangelicalism.
Carson made the case that 1920's liberalism is no longer the issue-even though some churches are still fighting that shadow. Today's issues like justification, inerrancy, primacy of family, gender roles, sexuality, pornography, modesty, race relations (very few race-integrated churches), tolerance, consumerism and human flourishing are the current issues at hand.
I think most church planters are men who grew tired of fighting for bygone issues in their churches while people are losing the wars against the current issues of today. In my opinion, mainline churches will continue to lose their best men who want to be warriors in a real war, not in the reenactments of the religious wars of the last forty years. As long as we continue to address these modernist battles, Satan and his demonic force will rule the ground in our churches with diversion tactics that consume our energy.
4. There is a trend in our churches to be consumed by social concern. In the most intriguing point of his talk, Don said that the Gospel plus caring for the poor was an inseparable couplet. He cautioned that if the gospel was merely assumed (and not clearly articulated), our passion for social justice would overshadow the gospel. While we are not intentionally exalting social concern over the gospel, people learn what we are excited about (gospel over caring for the poor). Carson warned, "Our passion must first be the gospel and not assume it to be understood." He continued, "We must be careful to keep the gospel central and not turn our responses to the gospel as the main target."
Furthermore, Carson exhorted these Christian leaders to spend our time on prayer and the ministry of the Word and allow our people to begin and maintain efforts in social concern. He said we must distinguish between what the church as church must do and what the community of believers in the church must do (I did not personally see the difference but it seemed to suggest that the pastor was exempt from exemplifying an outpouring of the gospel into the community through social efforts).
Our calling, Carson said is to do good in the city (Jer. 29), because the person has an eternal destiny and we care for them. We are all poor beggars telling other poor beggars where they can find bread. Don concluded this section by warning us not to make the issues of gospel and social concern antithetical.
5. There is a trend in our churches to emphasize discipleship over the gospel. It is crucial to teach the whole council of God centering on Christ crucified as the power of the gospel and salvation. If we see the gospel as what "saves" us and if we see discipleship as the actual place where real transformation takes place, it is not a biblical approach. Carson said this trend has a tendency to lead us to see discipleship as legalism; as what pleases God.
It is disturbing to me that some churches see discipleship as a formulaic course of study instead of a lifelong journey as a sinner saved by grace. Following Jesus is not accomplished by completing 8 classes in the basement of a church. It is a complete abandonment of our self in favor of the person, work and mission of Jesus.
We need to be aware of the current trends in the church today and pastor our church with an emphasis on the gospel. Anything less leads to narcissistic religion and away from Jesus.
Friday, September 26, 2008
I know. I know. We face economic collapse and Depression-like circumstances if we do not. And perhaps a case can be made that Christian compassion demands we help "the least of these." But isn't it the case that good intentions and an excess of "compassion" (in the form of making loans to those who lacked good credit histories) what got us into this mess to start with?
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Because after all, the game of life is played for keeps. God respects human freedom enough to allow every person to experience the full glory or agony of the consequences of their choices, both in this life and the next. And that very freedom leads to the very frightening possibility that some will spend their eternity separated from God. Don't we therefore owe it to those we know to share with them how to escape from that terrifying conclusion and to find eternal life in Christ?
At any rate, our boys had a great time with us as dads and we men had a ball re-connecting with each other. There was a bear show, a tiger show (8 tigers up close!), a trick roper, rodeo clowns, bull-riding, bronc-busting, steer wrestling, barrel racing, calf-roping (both team and individual), and, perhaps most important carny food-$3 pizza slices, $4 lemonade, $5 funnel cakes, etc. So we ate junk food, took the boys for pony rides, let them see all the entertainment, and took them back to Cedar Rapids exhausted. A good time was had by all.
I was reminded too how good friends don't take a lot of time to catch up with. Within a couple hours, it's almost as if it hasn't been months since you last saw them. I also saw my good friend and former boss, Steve. His years of experience in ministry and deep devotion to Christ always make him a good sounding board for me as I find my way in ministry and life.
As I get older (not that I'm an old man yet), I realize what a privilege and blessing it is to have good men to share the journey with. In fact, more and more, I'm realizing the wisdom in a statement I heard an old pastor make years ago, "If you finish life with six good friends to carry your casket, you're a very fortunate person." I agree. Rich friendships are rare and greatly to be treasured when they are found.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Which caught me completely off guard, and made me laugh. It was as completely unexpected as suddenly hearing my very proper grandmother start cussing. Which made me think about the Lord's anointing of David in 1 Samuel (which I taught in Sunday School last week), and how much our perceptions of people that we gather from the outside don't usually align with who they really are. External appearance is always a lie to one degree or another. What counts is what's in our hearts because, as Jesus said, "From the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks."
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
An elderly Florida lady did her shopping and, upon returning to her car, found four males in the acto of leaving with her vehicle. She dropped her shopping bags and drew her handgun, proceeding to scream at the top of her voice, "I have a gun and I know how to use it! Get out of the car!"Which just goes to show, people really should stay away from the Nutra-Sweet. It will rot your brain...
The four men didn't wait for a second invitation. They got out and ran like mad. The lady, somewhat shaken, then proceeded to load her shopping bags into the back of the car and got into the driver's seat. She was so shaken she could not get her key into the ignition.
After multiple attempts, it dawned on her why her key did not fit. It was the same reason there was a football, a frisbee, and two 12 packs of beer in the front seat! A few minutes later, she found her own car parked 4 or 5 spaces down. She loaded her bags into her car and drove to the police station to report her mistake.
The sergeant to whom she told her story couldn't stop laughing. He pointed to the other end of the counter, where four pale young men were reporting a carjacking by a mad elderly woman described as white, less than five feet tall, glasses, curly white hair and carrying a large handgun. No charges were filed.
Friday, September 5, 2008
[Leaders] fix their gaze on the holiness of Christ and seek to reflect this holiness in the character and conduct of their own lives. This holiness is a blend of moral purity, spiritual produce, sacred purpose and transcendent power.That's good enough for me. Now, if I could only figure out how to do it all day, every day.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
I've always bought brown sugar
in brown boxes
with brow letters on the box.
I saw the plastic bags of sugar in the grocery store yesterday
I could tell by looking that this was a better way
The strong, air-tight bags would keep the sugar soft and usable.
But I've always bought brown sugar in a box
And I reached for the box.
Now, back at home, I wondered why.
Lord, why are we...
Why am I...
so reluctant to change old ways?
Some old ways are valid,
but some need changing.
And I cling to square boxes with unthinking tenacity,
just because I've always bought square boxes.
That is not reason enough,
Times have changed—and are changing
so fast it makes my head swim.
I am obligated to face my days intentionally!
The container that brown sugar comes in is no great thing.
But there are other, weightier matters
that require rethinking—and perhaps revising.
If I am going to live significantly,
I must make my big decisions purposefully,
“New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth. They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth.”
Forgive my square boxes. Amen.
-From Bless this Mess and Other Prayers, by Jo Carr and Imogene Sorley
- Uber-feminists describing why a woman who governs America's largest state is unqualified to be vice-president, while a man whose longest term at a full-time job will be when he finishes his first term as president is the most eminently qualified individual since George Washington.
- The man who ran with Al Gore eight years ago (Sen. Lieberman) explaining last night why the Republican ticket is worth supporting, but the Democratic one is not.
- The HISTORIC, UNIQUE, AMAZING Sen. Obama, who represents a supposedly "new kind of politics" nominated as his running mate a man who started serving as a Democratic Senator when Obama was 11 years old.