Thinking Out Loud

June 30, 2011

When 40 is Too Old to Serve Your Church

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:07 am

In today’s worship-team driven, seeker sensitive, multi-site, mega-churches, participation is increasingly a young man’s game.  Relevance is achieved through having relevant communicators, so those of us who’ve been around a bit longer are often forced to listen to sermons being taught by speakers who seem to be barely out of high school; speakers whose primary qualification seems to be that they are standing at the front of the room.

Two days ago, I wrote about supporting the youth in your church in their various endeavors.  Today I want to write about supporting the middle aged in your church; the people who have suddenly become excluded from any ministry that is high profile simply because one week they forgot to touch up the single gray hair that has emerged just above the temple on their right side. 

For Logan, 30 was the cutoff year. A crystal system like this was proposed for church worship leaders, but it interfered with guitar chording

In many of today’s modern churches, those in their mid-forties are senior citizens, at least in terms of public ministry.  Which is a real shame on so many levels; but mostly because, given the chance, many of these people have something to say.  I really applaud some of the next generation people who are stepping up and demonstrating real spiritual maturity when thrust into a teaching or worship-leading role.  But for each one of those, there are just as many who, while they can wear the clothes, assemble the accompanying slides, and open with the right stories; they simply don’t have the necessary content to justify the 30-35 minutes they are usually given.

So what can your church do to keep middle aged people active?  In the item I wrote two days ago about empowering your youth in ministry, it was a simple matter of looking at a problem and throwing some money at it.  In other words; the greatest need of teenagers for mission projects — either global or domestic — is for financial underwriting.  That’s not the solution needed to affirm your middle-aged leaders.

You need to be intentionally multi-generational.

Robert Webber had it half right when he wrote of “blended worship.” But beyond the what of a given church service, the blendedness (a word I just made up) must also involve who is at the front of the room as well as who is at the back of the room giving direction. In fact, I would argue that you can’t achieve Webber’s blended ideal unless you have people representing different constituencies in the church providing input to the worship team.

Today’s church is so totally youth cultured, that it’s not hard to imagine the following:

“As we sing the next verse, we’ll invite everyone over 55 to come to the front; we have a special story for you; and then we’ll have a word of prayer and dismiss you to your own service in the church basement, where we have milk and cookies just for you.”

High fiber cookies, presumably.

No, that would be wrong.  The capital-C Church of Jesus Christ is an equalizer.  Rich and poor.  Male and female.  Labor class and management class.  AND: Old and young.  The target demographic should be defined as “anyone with a pulse.” The message of the gospel is a call to each and everyone.

Because the pastors and leaders who operate under a youth culture paradigm are going to find themselves — in just a year or two — suddenly out of a job.  In fact the crystal on the inside palm of their hands is getting ready to turn red right now.

= = =

There’s more on this in a Spring, 2009 piece I wrote called The Growing Easter Void.


1600th post coming on Saturday

SATURDAY will mark 1,600 published posts here at Thinking Out Loud.  If it were number 1611, then perhaps the theme would suggest itself, but for number 1,600, I keep thinking we should do something special, especially since we didn’t do anything for number 1,500 or number 1,273 for that matter.  Your suggestions, complaints, encouragement, criticisms are all appreciated. Or we might just pretend it’s just another day…


For my Canadian readers, as you know I fought bravely in the early days of this blog to promote the British spelling of certain words.  But with a dominantly U.S. readership, I was forced to surrender to my American-based spell checker.  But this particular piece shattered my previous record, so here are the conversions you need to translate this article to Canadian:

endeavor = endeavour
gray hair = grey hair
high fiber = high fibre
labor class = labour class

Unfortunately, I can’t help you with blendedness; it doesn’t exist on either side of the 49th parallel.

June 29, 2011

Wednesday Link List

Wednesday list lynx

Christianity Today magazine has found that recent articles on worship resonate with people, and that’s reflected in the first two links this week:

  • People want services to be accessible, but D. H. Williams asks the question, ‘Are there limits to this strategy?’
  • Why did the church embrace the pop/rock style found in today’s modern worship, but not utilize jazz or big band in its day?  Lawrence Mumford looks at the diversity of worship styles.
  • And over at Relevant Magazine — which we’ll return to later here — Adam Wood reminds us that worship involves the participation of both leader and congregant.
  • Ever been stuck in a checkout line where the person in front of you seems to be buying out the whole store?  Pete Wilson was, and he was anxious to get on his way, until he suddenly saw the person ahead of him in a different perspective.
  • I understand a little of where John Shore is coming from.  He’s certainly sympathetic to people who are both gay and professing Christians. [Example]  But does he go too far in one direction?  The blogger known as The Son He Loves thinks so and calls him on it.
  • Castanea, a word meaning ‘Chestnut tree,’ is also the name of a tribal community living together in Chestnut Hill, Tenn, which serves in this USAToday story as an example of what is called The New Monasticism.
  • Dan Kimball writes about Francis Chan‘s Erasing Hell with words like these: “It comes from a heart that is broken about hell. The pages themselves almost weep it is so heartfelt written. I know that sounds kind of corny, but it is true. This is written from a broken heart on the topic and that makes all the difference.”
  • If you’ve got Adobe, here’s the link to the .pdf with the Committee on Bible Translation’s response to the Southern Baptist resolution regarding the updated NIV Bible translation.
  • Also lining up to take a shot at the new NIV — with the accompanying fifteen minutes of fame — is the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.  You can read the .pdf containing the CBT’s response to the CBMW. This best addresses the so-called ‘gender issues’ in the new translation, though it won’t satisfy people who already have their minds made up.
  • Discovered a new blog this week for our “If You Want Deep, We’ll Give You Deep” department.  Check out this treatment of the subject of atonement.  (Full title: …Without the Theoretical Nonsense.)
  • With two potential Mormon Republican presidential candidates, not to mention a Broadway play, here’s ten things you may or may not know about the faith of your LDS friends.
  • And speaking of cults, Darrell at Stuff Fundies Like thinks that the proponents of the kind of faith he blogs about are actually a bit of a contradiction.
  • There’s a Christian Game Development Conference.  Who knew?  But never underestimate the popularity of computer gaming.  By the way, for bonus points, visit their site and try to find clues as to where the conference is taking place.
  • Yet another CT piece; this one on how in their zeal to expand, multi-site churches with satellite campuses are now crossing state lines
  • A Pew Forum survey shows that Evangelical leaders are less concerned about Islam and more concerned about creeping secularism.
  • Jon Acuff has four reasons why people ditch church in the summer.  (Reasons not really good enough.)
  • Finally one more from Jon Acuff and his article on Christian satire for Relevant magazine, where we find today’s closing image:

June 28, 2011

Support Your Church’s Students Doing Summer Missions

I wish I could go into detail here, but unfortunately, I can’t.  Maybe some day, but not now.  But this is what is burning in my heart to publish today…

All I want to say is this:  If God has blessed you financially and you have young people in your church who are doing a summer missions project, then find a way to offer them encouragement. 

  • If you church doesn’t “commend” summer students with prayer, then pull the student of your choice aside and offer to pray for them.  AND:
  • If your church does do a blanket financial donation, then slip the kid an extra $5 or a $10 bill and say, “This is for some need that may arise when you’re in the middle of the project.”  Or, “This is for you to spend on something for yourself that you would have bought if you had stayed home working at a regular summer job.”
  • If you church doesn’t do financial support for the student(s) then offer to make a more significant contribution to their airfare or field expenses through the mission agency involved.
  • If that isn’t possible, offer to purchase something that the student needs for the following school year.  This way you know exactly where your money went.

Your financial support, prayer support, overall interest and sincere encouragement would mean so much; and students are very aware when the older generation in the church isn’t aware or supportive of what they’re trying to do.  Which can be somewhat bewildering.  You don’t have to be a “youth culture” church to show that you value the young people in your congregation.

By doing this, you are investing in the lives of future Christian leaders, and are also breaking down the inter-generational walls that exist like a plague in so many churches.  The money may not get spent in exactly the way it might have if you gave to a traditional missions project.  But the encouragement factor will be 100% effective in the spiritual formation of a young person.

June 27, 2011

When Christian Leadership is Equated with Privilege

Several years ago I had a recurring gig as a guest speaker with a large international Christian organization.  I got to stay in the “Hospitality Suite,” which represented the finest accommodation this organization had to offer, and was literally treated like a king, which only served to make me want to do an exceptional job as a lecturer.  However, throughout each visit, I was acutely aware and increasingly uncomfortable with the fact that my situation was quite distanced from what the students I was teaching were experiencing in the dorms.

In the years that followed, I would see this played out many times, and find myself on both sides of the great divide.  I think because I’d experienced life in the guest suite, I sort of knew what to look for. I knew it was there; I knew how these things work.

For at least the past decade, I have not found myself staying in the hospitality area, or anything close to it.  Add in my wife’s years working with people who are decidedly economically disadvantaged, and I probably now have a low tolerance for exclusivity or elitism. I like my Christian organizations to operate on a level playing field, with liberty and justice for all.

…This week I got to see the inside of a recently opened facility which is dedicated to fostering Christian leadership.  It incorporates a number of architectural features designed for both form and function.  However, I wasn’t actually tracking the issue of who gets to use this particular place, or who doesn’t, until Mrs. W. pointed out that the facility is so very nice that it is unintentionally — at least we hope it is unintentional — sending the message that leadership equates with privilege.

Don’t get me wrong. I celebrate that the people in charge have put together something creative and unique. But then I read this description of where the users of this facility get to stay:

Each of the … units is equipped with a pair of duvet-covered twin beds, a mini-fridge, a coffeemaker, a kettle, a toaster, a microwave, and dishes, so guests can make themselves at home… All rooms have en suite bathrooms, and we provide all bath and bed linens… Rooms all have cozy throws, chess-sets, and rustic … decor… surrounding trees and lake views. The rooms all overlook a communal campfire where guests come together to roast marshmallows, tell stories, sing songs, or just simply unplug.

I recognize that the people who put this together have to compete with other conference facilities.  I recognize that they are committed to excellence. I recognize that they want their guests to have a memorable experience.  I recognize that — oh my goodness — in the dining area there is a four-slice toaster and a 32″ monitor at every table

If their guests are paying their own way for this, that’s fine.  If their guests’ seminar and conference costs are coming out of the regular budgets of Christian parachurch organizations or churches — representing peoples’ tithes and offerings — I have a problem with that.  If the organization’s internal use of the facility is such that it creates a two-tiered dichotomy between the leadership and the peons in the trenches, then I have a major problem with that.

The Bible I own teaches humility; teaches putting others ahead of yourself; teaches servant leadership. 

All other models are somewhat flawed.

~Paul Wilkinson

Image: From an article at Lamar Hernden’s blog, Are You 21st Century Servant Leadership Literate?

June 26, 2011

Classic Reading: Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby

While the Christian blogosphere tends to focus on the latest author and the latest book, I’ve always believed you should read a current book and then read a classic, or in this case, a modern classic:  Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God by Henry Blackaby (B&H Publishing Group, revised edition 2008).  The foundation of the book is what he calls “The Seven Realities of Experiencing God;” and everything else in the book — and the related study Bible — flows out of those realities. 

I thought it would be great to have them be part of this blog, and I’m grateful to the blog A Cup of Joy for already having these typed out.  The realities are listed with accompanying scriptures that should quickly indicate that the book is also a study on the life of Moses. 

7 Realities of Experiencing God

(From Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby)

1. God is always working around you (Exodus 2:23-25)

“And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of bondage. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them.”

2. God pursues a continuing personal love relationship with you that is real and personal (Exodus 3:1)

“Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.”

3. God invites you to be come involved with Him in His work (Exodus 3:8, 10)

“And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites…Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring fouth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.”

4. God speaks by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances and the church to reveal Himself, His purposes and His ways (Exodus 3:2-8)

“And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses, said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites.”

5. God’s invitation for you to work with Him always leads you to a crisis of belief that requires faith and action (Exodus 3:11, 13; 4:1, 10, 13)

“And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?…And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?…And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The LORD hath not appeared unto thee…And Moses said unto the LORD, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue…And he said, O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send.”

6. You must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing (Exodus 4:19-20)

“And the LORD said unto Moses in Midian, Go, return into Egypt: for all the men are dead which sought thy life. And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand.”

7. You come to know God by experience as you obey Him and He accomplishes His work through you (Exodus 6:1-8)

“Then the LORD said unto Moses, Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh: for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land. And God spake unto Moses and said unto him, I am the LORD: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them. And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, wherein they were strangers. And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered my covenant. Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the LORD.”

June 25, 2011

When We Allow Our Instincts to Inform Our Theology

Tucked away on Rachel Held Evans’ blog is a rather landmark post which is worthy of greater attention than it is already receiving; and it is actually receiving a lot.

She brings together three seemingly disconnected elements:  Rob Bell’s Love Wins, the Southern Baptist Convention, babies and toddlers.  I know, it’s like a gag on a late night talk show, and you’re waiting for the punchline.  There isn’t one.

Basically, the recent SBC convention, in its predictable denunciation of Bell’s controversial book, birthed this comment from Rustin J. Umstattd, assistant professor of theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary: “The majority of evangelicals who hold to the orthodox understanding of hell…are troubled by its implications. But being troubled, even deeply troubled, by the implications of the biblical text does not give us a reason to abandon the text or force it into a mold that rests comfortably with us. It should be our goal to let the Bible be the source and shaper of our doctrine.”

And then, out of left field comes the zinger: The doctrine of the “age of accountability.”  Except that it’s not Biblical doctrine.  Hmmmm.  The idea that kids of a certain age are “safe” if they die without having made a profession of faith is in Rachel’s mind what Bell’s book is to adults who die outside of the faith.  In her view, you can’t have this both ways.

But she says it better than I can repeat it here

You really need to read this.  (It’s actually the same link.  I really want you guys to click through on this one.)

And then, for a variety of reasons, you really need to read the comments, most of which are in agreement with her. (Yes, it’s the same link; you should be there right now, not here!)

Apologies ahead of time I’m sure to people who have or have had small children who have wrestled with this.  That’s always the risk with a topic like this one.

June 24, 2011

A Good News Story about the Crystal Cathedral

Things are not all gloom and doom at the big glass church at 12141 Lewis Street in Garden Grove, California.  There is a very positive Crystal Cathedral story bubbling under the headlines, but you’d be more accurate in describing it as a Catedral de Cristal story.  The church’s Hispanic service, pastored by Argentinian Dante Gebel, has grown from 300 to 3,000 with no signs of stopping.  The pastor is seen on television in 70 countries and has 800,000 ‘likes’ on his Facebook page.

The service happens at 1:00 PM, after English language worshipers have left the service that forms the basis of the Hour of Power telecast.  As the Los Angeles Times describes it, in an article appropriately titled, “A Tale of Two Ministries;” while older patrons of the English services have resisted attempts to make the service more contemporary in a failed attempt to attract a younger demographic;

Nobody complains about the music at the Spanish service. It is pulsing and loud, driven by bass and drums, and it sets a tone: From the outset, the crowd is on its feet, swaying and singing, arms and eyes raised heavenward. Even the ushers dance in the aisles.

The Times article describes something that more resembles the early days of Garden Grove Community Church:

The success of the service reflects the increasingly Latino demographics of central Orange County. But like Schuller in his prime, Gebel casts a wider net, drawing regular visitors from Bakersfield to Tijuana. He hopes to add a second service this summer, and few doubt his ability to fill it.

His goal: 10,000 people a week by January.

Like Schuller and his daughter, Gebel focuses his sermons on motivational topics, but his style is otherwise very different. His Christianity is far more mystical and overtly spiritual, his sermons deeply rooted in the Bible. It is not uncommon to see people collapse in an ecstatic trance after Gebel has laid hands on them.

Numerically, the Spanish-language service is already the dominant one.  The article engages the obvious question:

[Cathedral lead pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman] asked if she’d give up one of her two Sunday morning services so that Gebel could expand, she said it would be difficult, because the “Hour of Power” depends on two tapings. But she didn’t rule it out. Much speculation rests on whether the church might do that, in effect recognizing that its future has a Spanish accent.

For Gebel, his focus is on preaching to his own congregation, though he certainly enjoys the ambience of the building where he gets to do that:

“I haven’t been called to save the Crystal Cathedral, so that isn’t my goal,” he said in an interview in his office on the cathedral grounds. He thinks about just one thing, he said: “Preaching to the Hispanic people.”

He likens the cathedral, with its soaring, light-filled vault, to a borrowed tuxedo. “I would say the same thing here as in Bolivia or Argentina,” he said, “but here, I have a better suit.”

The big glass church may ultimately have a different future than anyone presently envisions.

Read the entire L.A. Times article here.

Watch a Dante Gebel 28 minute sermon dubbed into English.

Story HT: Get Religion – A blog about Religious Journalism.

June 23, 2011

Fundamentalist I Cor: 13 — “Love Believes The Worst About Everyone”

My name is Paul and I live in Canada.  Here are some things you might infer:

  1. Paul is a Canadian
  2. Canadians have a love affair with the game of hockey
  3. Therefore, Paul loves hockey.

In actual fact, my affiliation with the game is something that kicks in around playoff time, and like NBC Sports, my full attention isn’t really there unless it’s a deciding game.  I guess when it comes to sports, I’m not much of an athletic supporter.

Now here’s the same kind of logic at work:

  1. Rick Warren condemns the narrow mindedness and legalism of fundamentalists.
  2. Fundamentalists believe in the five fundamentals: The inerrancy of scripture, the virgin birth of Jesus Christ…
  3. Therefore, Rick Warren does not believe in the inerrancy of scripture, the virgin birth…

Do you see the absolute absurdity of this?  Fundamentalists don’t.  They gravitate toward books which condemn anything and anybody which isn’t part of their tightly knit club.  But here’s the thing:

They want the rumors about the apostasy of others to be true.

It gives them a reason to get up in the morning; a reason to eat breakfast and brush their teeth. They thrive on the discovery that any successful Christian author, any prominent Christian broadcaster, any popular Christian pastor may in fact be full of doctrinal error, which is defined by the phrase, “doesn’t believe the same as we do.”  Even if they have to use flawed logic in order to infer it.

In fact, even though I have no problem with God enacting incarnation through virgin birth; even though I trust the inspiration of scripture… etc.; just by writing this I am written off.

Their doctrine is: Love believes the worst about everyone.

Obviously too scary for kids

And of course it truly is love if you are pointing out the error of someone’s ways, right?   I write all this because the January, 2007 book, Dark Side of the Purpose Driven Church by Noah W. Hutchings (Bible Belt Publishing) is about to be reissued by Defender Publishing.  Ultra-conservatives actually love this sort of thing, they never consider the possibility that the reports may be sensationalized or blatantly false or logically flawed.

And who is behind the promotion of Mr. Hutchings book?  None other than televangelist Jack Van Impe, the Michigan pastor whose recent rant against Warren and Robert Schuller got a repeat broadcast of his TV program censored by TBN’s Matt Crouch, resulting in JVI pulling the program and its related financial input from the TBN schedule. Highlights from the Beliefnet story:

…Earlier this month, Van Impe named California megachurch founders Rick Warren and Robert H. Schuller as proponents of “Chrislam,” which he defined as “a uniting of Christianity with Islam.” TBN pulled the episode before a repeat broadcast could air…
…“Although I understand, and actually agree with, your position that you ‘will not allow anyone to tell me what I can and cannot preach,’ I trust you understand that TBN takes the same position with its broadcast air time as well,”[TBN president and founder Paul]Crouch wrote in a letter to Van Impe…

I relate all this today because I think it’s important for people in the Evangelical mainstream to recognize that we cannot allow the fundamentalist fringe to set the agenda moving forward.  Van Impe starts to make outrageous statements and support authors who write books which are devoid of logic, and it just diminishes him, putting him in a category with Harold Camping, Terry Jones and even Fred Phelps.

Plus, we’ve got to stop bashing each other and start worrying about our common enemy.  For years, Canada had no Christian radio stations because of a feud that erupted nearly a century ago where early Christian radio pioneers devoted all their airtime to contracting and condemning each other.  Or maybe just stop bashing, period, and simply use the airtime to tell people about Jesus, and allow his words and story to draw people to Himself.

Furthermore, perhaps it’s time the U.S. adopted some of the Canadian understanding that radio frequencies are public property and are to be used responsibly. TBN acted well in this instance and put principle over profit.

June 22, 2011

Wednesday Link List

To link or not to link, that is the question…

  • This is a real masterpiece, and if I could, I would steal the whole thing and post it here.  Perry Noble has written a list of ten things he desires for each and every person who calls NewSpring Church home.  Follow the link to the first one, watch any related video, and then click the arrows for each of the other nine.  Sample: ” #6 – I want every owner of NewSpring Church to know how to lead someone to Christ and feel the calling/responsibility to do so.”
  • TBN refused to air an episode of Jack Van Impe‘s weekly rant because it slammed Robert Schuller and Rick Warren, so Van Impe has decided to take his ball and his bat and go home, and has pulled his programs from the TBN schedule. “Although I understand, and actually agree with, your position that you ‘will not allow anyone to tell me what I can and cannot preach,’ I trust you understand that TBN takes the same position with its broadcast air time as well,” TBN President Paul Crouch wrote in a letter to Van Impe. More on this here tomorrow from a different perspective…
  • Here’s a great article for this time of year published a month ago at Leadership Journal, for people involved in ministry to young people who are leaving the local (church) area to go on to college.  Love what this Texas pastor says, “Our job doesn’t end at graduation, we call that ‘Day One.’  Each graduate leaving for college receives a $10 Starbucks gift card with the following instructions: go find a spiritual mentor on campus to take out for coffee.”
  • “Something good is going to happen to you.”  Remember that phrase?  I found this tucked away in a remote corner of the net, and even though it’s a full year old, someone here might like to have a look.  Randy R. Potts is now in his mid-thirties, he’s the grandson of Oral and Evelyn Roberts and he’s gay and estranged from the church.  If you’ve got 8-10 minutes take a look at life from his perspective.
  • The whole Xtra Normal text-to-animation method of making a point is awesome.  My son made one for a school presentation that he did, and here’s one I found on How to Be Really Terrible at Interpreting the Bible, aka “How To Show”  part two.
  • Two Perry Noble posts in one link list?  This is a must for singles; some of you may want to cut/paste and send this out as a FWD.  Check out Ten Reasons I Should Not Be Dating Him/Her.
  • On the one hand, I can’t believe Pete Wilson posted this video of a mother/daughter discussion on heaven and hell and religion in general; on the other hand, it’s probably more true to life than we realize.
  • On the weekend’s U.S. Open golf tournament, NBC-TV ran a video of a somewhat edited U.S. Pledge of Allegiance with the phrase “under God” edited out.  Twice.  What were thinking?  Apparently they are ready to admit they weren’t. Meanwhile the Supreme Court has decided not to hear another appeal to delete the clause from the pledge.
  • Canadian Anglicans in four churches that split from the apostate Anglican Church of Canada have decided to give up the fight to keep their buildings.  They will revert to the denomination which in fact is one of the largest holders of real estate in the country.  Legally legit I suppose, but morally wrong.
  • And speaking of Canadians, here’s a cold and snowy edition of one of the classic “religious” Peanuts comic strip — featuring Linus, of course — which actually isn’t the first time we’ve included Peanuts here in a Wednesday Link List.

June 21, 2011

God Wins: A Preview of Mark Galli’s Response to Love Wins

[Job: ]
You [God] asked, “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?”
It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about,
things far too wonderful for me. …
I take back everything I said,
and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.
(Job 42:3, 6)

Yesterday Christianity Today published a preview excerpt from the forthcoming book by it senior editor, Mark Galli, written in response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins to be published in July under the title God Wins: Heaven, Hell and Why The Good News is Better Than Love Wins.   Having only this small section to work with, I couldn’t help but read it with my brain echoing the cadence of Bell himself.   If you read it that way, you’ll see the similarity.  What follows is an excerpt of an excerpt, so you may wish to click the link now; otherwise when you arrive, what follows actually takes you into the second page…

There are questions, and then there are questions.

In Love Wins, there are lots of questions—eighty-six in the first chapter alone. The book you are currently reading will address a number of them, because they are good questions. But before that, the first thing we need to do is think about the very nature of questions. Because there are questions, and then there are questions.

There are questions like the one Mary, the mother of Jesus, asked the angel when he told her some astounding news. Mary was a young woman engaged to marry Joseph when the angel Gabriel appeared to her. “Greetings, favored woman!” he bursts out. “The Lord is with you!”

Suddenly finding herself in the presence of a messenger of God, Mary is naturally “confused and disturbed.”

“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” Gabriel reassures her, “for you have found favor with God!”

And then he drops the bombshell: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.” This Jesus, he says, will be very great, will be called the Son of the Most High, will be given the throne of his ancestor David, and will reign over Israel forever in a Kingdom that will never end.

That’s a lot to take in. Most mothers just want to know they’ll have a baby with all ten fingers and ten toes. But what exactly all this means—Son of the Most High? ruler like King David? reign forever?—seems not as perplexing to Mary as one other detail. “But how can this happen?” she asks. “I am a virgin.”

Mark Galli

That’s her question, and it’s a good one. A virgin getting pregnant without the help of a man—well, this sort of thing doesn’t happen every day. It’s an honest question, prompted by natural curiosity and driven, not by fear and doubt, but by wonder: how is God going to pull this off?

Mary asks one type of question; the other type was posed by Zechariah a few months earlier. He was a priest married to Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, an old man at the other end of life and the reproduction cycle, when the angel Gabriel appeared to him.

It happened in the Temple, as Zechariah burned incense in the sanctuary. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared before him. “Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear,” Luke’s Gospel says.

“Don’t be afraid, Zechariah!” Gabriel reassures. “God has heard your prayer.”

What prayer? For a son? For Elijah to come to herald the Messiah? For the Messiah to come? We’re not told what Zechariah’s prayer had been, only that it has been heard. This is what Gabriel told him: Zechariah and Elizabeth would have a son whom they were to name John, and this John would be an extraordinary man.

Again, Gabriel piles on the attributes. John will be great in the eyes of the Lord, will be filled with the Holy Spirit—even before his birth—will turn many Israelites to the Lord, will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah, will prepare people for the coming of the Lord, will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and will cause the rebellious to accept godly wisdom.

 Again, that’s a lot to take in. And the thing that bothers Zechariah is the thing that bothers Mary: biology. “How can I be sure this will happen?” he asks the angel. “I am an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”

His question seems like a logical one. But it is not a good question. Gabriel chastises Zechariah, telling him in no uncertain terms that he, Gabriel, stands in the very presence of God. Of course he can deliver on this promise of good news!

“Since you didn’t believe what I said,” Gabriel continues, “you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born.” The consequence for asking a bad question: Zechariah is made mute. No more questions. Only silence.

So what’s the difference here? The questions are so similar. Why is Mary’s treated with respect while Zechariah’s is an occasion for spiritual discipline? Why does the angel seem indifferent to Mary’s natural curiosity and angry about Zechariah’s?

 The difference appears in one little additional clause Zechariah adds to his question. Mary simply asks, “How can this happen?” Zechariah asks, “How can I be sure this will happen?”

Mary’s question is about God. Zechariah’s question is about himself.

Mary’s question assumes God will do something good and great, and seeks to know how it will unfold. Zechariah is not at all sure that God is good and great, and seeks proof.

Mary wants to learn more about the goodness of God. Zechariah mostly wants to be self-assured.

As I said, there are questions, and then there are questions…

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Related on this blog: Francis Chan’s response to Love Wins

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