Thinking Out Loud

January 6, 2014

We Track a Story People Were Willing to Die For

Crucifixion of St. Peter (Wikipedia Commons) Click image for link

Crucifixion of St. Peter (Wikipedia Commons) Click image for link

This appeared back in August — that’s forever ago in blog years — at Nailing It To The Door, a blog by Dan Martin. It was the eighth in a series of posts titled, Why I Believe; this one being The Testimony of Witnesses. To read this at source and then navigate to find the other parts, click this link.

There is no question in my mind that one of the most compelling reasons to believe specifically the accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings is the testimony of those who were there.  This is, I’m quite sure, a problematic claim for those who object to faith; I’ve encountered many rants on the unreliability of the gospel accounts, though I find that the same people who protest about the unreliability of the gospels tend to be far more credulous when looking at any other ancient written histories.  But there are two particular things about the Apostles and other first-century Christians that I find highly compelling.

The first is specific to the Evangelists who wrote the four canonical gospels (and I really do mean the canonical ones; I’ve read a number of the others and they differ so much in character that the judgment of the councils in rejecting them seems to me quite sound).  C.S. Lewis probably said it best in his 1959 lecture “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism:”

“I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one [of the stories in the Gospel of John, for example] is like this… Either this is reportage – though it may no doubt contain errors – pretty close up to the facts; nearly as close as Boswell. Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative.” (see the full essay here; quote on p. 155)

Put perhaps a little more simply, the gospels just don’t look like anybody else’s idea of what mythical or divine characters ought to be, do, or say.  Weird and off-center as they might seem now, they were even weirder and less-probable in the time they were written.  Things only turn out that oddly if they’re either real (truth really is stranger than fiction) or very creatively written.

But even more compelling to me is the fact that the authors and their other compatriots were willing to die for the truth of what they had written or said.  And die they did, in some pretty horrible ways.  According to tradition and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563):

  • Philip was crucified
  • Matthew was “slain with a halberd”
  • James the brother of Jesus was beaten, stoned, and clubbed to death
  • Matthias (elected to replace Judas) was stoned and beheaded
  • Andrew was crucified
  • Mark was “dragged to pieces”
  • Peter was crucified upside-down
  • Paul was beheaded
  • Jude was crucified
  • Bartholomew was beaten and then crucified
  • Thomas was speared
  • Simon the Zealot was crucified
  • John was “cast into a cauldron of boiling oil,” survived, and was later exiled to the island of Patmos; “He was the only apostle who escaped a violent death.”
  • Barnabas is said to be martyred, though the means of his death is not reported.

These guys, unlike later generations of Christians killed by the thousands under various rulers, knew exactly what they were dying for.  They claimed to have seen and heard it themselves.  If they were faking it, they sure were willing to take their deception to a really crazy, extreme end.

I’m not saying that death alone testifies to truth.  Many hundreds and thousands have died for falsehoods throughout history … I think of the infamous Jonestown mass suicide in the 70s … but the difference, at least as I see it, is that these people were deluded by a charismatic leader who ordered them to their deaths.  Jesus did no such thing, and in fact he was already dead and gone (if we presume fakery) or dead and raised (if we accept the Gospels) before any of the apostles faced their deaths.  These men went willingly to gruesome deaths because they couldn’t recant the truth of what they’d spent their lives teaching.

There are, of course, many more martyrs since the first century.  While I have no desire to diminish their testimony, it seems to me that it’s of a different category.  Except for however they may have experienced the Holy Spirit in their own lives, the thing for which they died was removed from them in that they no longer could testify to having seen Jesus with their eyes, heard his teachings from his very lips with their own ears, and even sat and broken bread with him.  No one, however intense their experience, has had the same level of personal, experiential linkage to Jesus Christ that those first-century apostles had.  And when they were invited to either confess to their lie or die in pain, they insisted it was no lie and accepted the consequences.  Two millenia later, that testimony remains, to me, difficult to refute.

October 16, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Follow Me

Sometimes people say I don’t share enough personal stuff on my blog. Fine. Here we go.  As I compile this link list, my wife is frying fish in the kitchen. There. Is that the kind of thing you mean?  For the link list with the actual links in them, click over to the Wednesday Link List’s new owner, Leadership Today’s blog Out of Ur.

  • Ever wondered how the Catholic Church ended up with an amended Ten Commandments? Maybe there were Fourteen Commandments to begin with.
  • Think it’s bad where Malala Yousafzai is from? One writer thinks it’s just as bad in the United States where the daughters of homeschooling parents are being held captive and denied higher education.
  • Is it possible that we’ve missed a major nuance of a most-familiar story because of the placement of the chapter division?
  • Because it would be nice to know ahead of time, here’s six signs you’re dealing with a toxic person.
  • Programs, growth strategies, and ministry tools can all be helpful, but in this piece, a well-respected church blogger apologizes for seven years of misplaced emphasis.
  • The Hour of Power telecast is now airing fresh programs from their new home at Shepherd’s Grove, with pastor Bobby Schuller.
  • Facebook isn’t just posting your cat pictures, they’re also running the stats on info you provide, including your odds of getting engaged at a Christian college…
  • …But from a pastor’s viewpoint, what does a wedding ceremony look like when God isn’t invited?
  • CNN doesn’t so much interview Sarcastic Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Webber as it does ask for a guided tour of her various tattoos.
  • Stop the Presses! It’s a Justin Bieber photo album with pics of  J.B. with Pentecostal and Charismatic pastor friends.
  • Most Concise Reponse: Shane Claiborne on Texas’ capital punishment record.
  • September’s Best Object Lesson: Spiritual Warfare: What To Do When You Encounter a Lion. (Don’t miss page two!)
  • Essay of the Week: This week it’s another look at the (sometimes contentious) issue of infant baptism…
  • …while another writer suggests that errant doctrinal positions that led to the Protestant Reformation are slowly creeping back into Protestantism.
  • Most Linked-To Everywhere Else: An interview with Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell on the reigniting of his faith while working on David and Goliath.
  • From the Land of Unusual Allegories: Preaching is Basically a Hail Storm. (Are you making a dent?)
  • “Are we doing the right thing?” A prolific Canadian Christian author and mom to four boys on refusing to feel guilty in six different parenting departments.
  • Open Letter Department: Tony Jones to Marcus Borg: Jesus rose from the dead.
  • When writers Tweet older blog pieces: Michael Patton on reasons for and against the inclusion of the Apocrypha. (December, 2012)
  • And it came to pass that See You At The Pole begat Fields of Faith.
  • 25 Years Ago on this date (give or take several months) before we had the word ‘tween,’ the children’s music sounds of Prism Red.
  • Does your church dim the lights when the worship time begins? Lee Grady wishes you would leave the lighting alone.
  • If you’re in Atlanta on Thursday night, you can always catch the pairing of Ravi Zacharias with Jeff Foxworthy (and radio host Dennis Prager) but you’ll need tickets.  (Can’t wait to see if the next one is Hank Hanegraaff and Billy Ray Cyrus.)
  • When I say “Darlene Zschech” you say “Hillsong,” but more recently the word you want to remember is hope.
  • As wooden pews are slowly facing extinction in favor of chairs, this trend in church furniture has attracted the attention of The Wall Street Journal.
  • Married? Here’s a great checklist: Five Questions to Ask Your Spouse Every Week.  (Okay, I added the italics.)
  • Magic Musical Moment: Sam Robson’s acapella O Love That Will Not Let Me Go. Like that? Here’s a bonus: It is Well With My Soul.
  • Weird Video of the Week: Hosanna by Hillsong for Synthesia (Don’t think Michael W. Smith learned piano this way.)
  • Those “Get Inside Rob Bell’s Brain” mini conferences (my title, not his) must be going well, since there are two more events scheduled.
  • Last week was the 1,700th anniversary of the Edict of Tolerance aka the Edict of Milan. (Sorry I didn’t get you anything.)
  • Before you click the link, take a guess as to the Top 5 Bible translations in the U.S.
  • The Boy Scouts in the UK now have an alternative pledge for atheists.
  • King James Only advocates have a problem with the fact that HarperCollins publishes both the NIV and The Satanic Bible. So whatever you do, don’t show them this page.

Without giving away his age; Paul Wilkinson spent his formative years in Toronto’s Peoples Church at a time when it was Canada’s only megachurch, and attended their horse ranch, where one of the beasts once stepped on his foot. (More amazing personal details to follow…)

The upper image is from Church Funnies where it got 1,000 likes.  The lower image is from Christian Funny Pictures, where they’re trying to locate the artist.

vegan feeding 5000

October 5, 2013

Remembering Chuck Smith

Time Magazine June 21 1971

“Little country church on the edge of town
People comin’ every day from miles around
For meetings and for Sunday School
And it’s very plain to see
It’s not the way it used to be”

The first time I saw the sprawling campus of Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa was November, 1979. We didn’t have the term ‘megachurch’ then, nor was I prepared for a style of church architecture which, owing to the California climate, didn’t require indoor hallways to connect the various classrooms, departments, and offices.

The first service I attended there featured Chuck Smith doing what he did every single Sunday without exception: Preaching consecutively through the Bible, verse-by-verse, with that deep voice that transmitted much Biblical authority, but also much peace and calm. Thus, it was your choice to become engaged in the exposition or to fall asleep; either was possible, the latter was not encouraged.

Chuck Smith died this week at age 86. Many of the tributes have mentioned Calvary’s most renowned spinoff, Maranatha! Music and its related Maranatha Studios and the Ministry Resource Center (MRC); the Saturday night concerts; or the baptisms at Pirate’s Cove which made the cover of Time Magazine.

Baptism at Pirate's Cove

Baptism at Pirate’s Cove

The story has it that when the church occupied a smaller building — that later became a bookstore — studded jeans were popular and the older members were concerned that the studs were scratching the church pews. So Chuck ordered the pews removed. By the time I arrived in the late ’70s, there was still floor seating available at the front — a tribute to those days, perhaps — and one week I spent a Sunday morning service sitting on the floor, partly to have that experience and partly to release a scarce seat to someone who might need it more. The place was packed. 

If you attend a church that uses contemporary music or modern worship, you are, as I wrote here, a direct product of those early Jesus Movement days on the American west coast. Even if your church is more conservative and uses a hymnbook on a Sunday morning, odds are it contains a few Maranatha! Music copyrights.

But Chuck’s greatest legacy was Calvary Chapel, the denomination.

It is said that back then you didn’t need theological degrees to plant a Calvary, rather they were looking for individuals who already had a “proven ministry.” I don’t know how it works today, but I love that concept. A few of the pastors came out of the bands that played at the original Calvary at those Saturday night concerts. Today, Calvary Chapel churches in Fort Lauderdale, FL, Albuquerque, NM, Philadelphia, PA, Phoenix, AZ, Diamond Bar, CA, Chino, CA, Downey, CA, West Melbourne, FL, Jacksonville FL, and a handful of others are among the top megachurches in the US.

One generation megachurch pastor to another: Chuck Smith and Rick Warren

One generation megachurch pastor to another: Chuck Smith and Rick Warren

Some of the other musicians from those early days, such as Chuck Girard from Love Song, continue to bless us with worship leadership; while the spirit of Calvary Chapel lives on in other churches that sprang from that era, such as Harvest Church in Riverside, CA. Harvest pastor Greg Laurie paid tribute to Chuck Smith this week.

Chuck Smith’s ministry in California was an example of the right man, in the right place, at the right time, with the right vision.

He will be missed.

…The song lyrics which began this article are from “Little Country Church” by LoveSong, written about those early days at Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa. The file is audio-only.

September 6, 2013

The All-Time Most Influencial Christian Books

I had this all set up to post on my book industry blog, but felt it really deserved the wider readership here also…

I found this rather awesome list at the blog James’ Mirror – Christian Discipleship Guide. I’d like to think that if I posted the link most of you would click through, but experience teaches me it’s better to reblog the item; however, I hope a few of you will give the author some traffic, and click through (click the title below) to read this at source.

Most Influential Christian Books

After a search across the internet for the most influential texts in Christian history came up empty, I decided to create my own. It is admittedly biased toward western, evangelical, Protestant books with a skew toward more recent publications. I’m sure there are a lot of gaps, so I’d love your ideas for how to improve the list. It’s ordered by date and includes texts such as creeds and Bible translations.

  • Antiquities of the Jews (94) – Josephus
  • The Didiche (~100)
  • Against Heresies (180) – Irenaeus
  • On the Incarnation (318) – Athanasius
  • Nicean Creed (325)
  • Life of Antony (360) – Athanasius
  • Confessions (400) – Augustine
  • Latin Vulgate (405) – Jerome
  • City of God (413-426) – Augustine
  • Creed of Chacedon (451)
  • The Rule of St Benedict (530) – Benedict
  • The Philokalia (400-1500) – Various
  • On Loving God (1128) – Bernard
  • Book of Sentences (1150) – Peter Lombard
  • Summa Theoligica (1273) – Thomas Aquinas
  • Revelations of Love – Julian of Norwich
  • Imitation of Christ (1418-1427) – Thomas a Kempis
  • Gutenberg Bible (1456)
  • 95 Theses (1517) – Martin Luther
  • Bondage of the Will (1525) – Martin Luther
  • German Bible translation (1522, 1534) – Martin Luther
  • Commentary on Galatians (1535) – Luther
  • Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536) – John Calvin
  • The Divine Comedy (1555) – Dante Alighieri
  • Acts and Monuments (aka Foxe’s Book of Martyrs) (1563) – John Fox
  • Dark Night of the Soul (1584) – John of the Cross
  • Spiritual Exercises (1522-1524) – Ignatius
  • Book of Common Prayer (1549) – Thomas Cranmer
  • Heidelberg Catechism (1563)
  • King James Bible (1611)
  • Westminster Confession (1646)
  • Death of Death (1647) – John Owen
  • Reformed Pastor (1657) – Richard Baxter
  • Pensees (1669) – Blaise Pascal
  • Pia Desideria (1675) – Philip Jacob Spener
  • Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) – John Bunyan
  • Institutes of Elenctic Theology (1679-1685) – Francis Turretin
  • Attributes of God (1682) – Stephen Charnock
  • New England Primer (1687)
  • Body of Divinity (1692) – Thomas Watson
  • Practice of the Presence of God (~1700) – Brother Lawrence/Joseph de Beaufont
  • Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1728) – William Law
  • Religious Affections (1746) – Jonathan Edwards
  • Diary of David Brainerd (1749) – Jonathan Edwards
  • Plain Account of Christian Perfection (1766) – John Wesley
  • Missionary Travels (1857) – David Livingstone
  • Holiness (1877) – JC Ryle
  • Systematic Theology (1871) – Charles Hodge
  • Diary of George Muller – George Muller
  • In His Steps (1897) – Charles Sheldon
  • Lectures on Calvinism (1898) – Abraham Kuyper
  • Orthodoxy (1908) – GK Chesterton
  • The Scofield Study Bible (1909) – Cyrus Scofield
  • The Fundamentals (1910-1915) – RA Torrey
  • Christianity and Liberalism (1923) – J Gresham Machen
  • My Utmost for His Highest (1924) – Oswald Chambers
  • Church Dogmatics (1932 – 1967) – Karl Barth
  • Cost of Discipleship (1937) – Dietrich Bonheoffer
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950) – CS Lewis
  • Christ and Culture (1951) – Richard Neibuhr
  • Mere Christianity (1952) – CS Lewis
  • Late Great Planet Earth (1970) – Hal Lindsey
  • Knowing God (1973) – JI Packer
  • The Celebration of Discipline (1978) – Richard Foster
  • Desiring God (1986) – John Piper
  • The Purpose Driven Life (2002) – Rick Warren

…So what did you think? Anything you would want to add? How many of these have you read?

August 21, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Foxtrot Nov 11 2003Foxtrot circa 2003

Been away all summer? In July the Wednesday Link List was the victim of a corporate takeover…. to see the version of this containing the links, you have to click over to Out of Ur, a blog of Leadership Journal, a division of Christianity Today.

  • Why should the devil have all the good parties? An expert in block parties suggests that Christians should host the best street events.
  • It’s hard to find a place where fracking isn’t a hot environmental issue. What if your church could register claim to the mineral rights underneath the church building?
  • Duck Dynasty star Jase Robertson is kicked out of the Trump hotel when it’s assumed he is a homeless man, in another case of “facial profiling.”
  • Dara Maclean’s video for “Wanted” is powerful both musically and lyrically, but the critics think the glamor/fashion element is overplayed.
  • We’re not sure if it’s a King James Bible or just a generic Bible, but by 2015 you’ll be seeing .bible as an internet domain name.
  • Last year over 13,100 churches participated in a growing national movement and on average saw a 38% increase in their attendance on Back to Church Sunday.
  • Much of the week’s news focus was on Egypt, where the Defense Minister vows to rebuild damaged churches.
  • What if we saw the Bible less as a prison sentence and more like a permission slip? Check out a 2-minute sermon highlights video where Steven Furtick takes a fresh approach to financial giving.
  • When it comes to role of women in the early church, one author believes that part of the story has been “airbrushed from history.”
  • What’s a former Saddleback worship leader doing in a Canadian jail? It could have something to do with things allegedly found in his luggage.
  • Alise Wright drives nearly an hour to attend a church where, by her own admission, she doesn’t fit in.
  • With great regret, in the wake of the loss of his wife and publishing ministry partner on May 8th, Keith Brenton announces the shuttering of Wineskins Magazine.
  • Rick Warren is raising awareness, but one Canadian blogger thinks the church is generally skittish when it comes to mental health issues.
  • A popular devotional blog provides some background to the forthcoming book Dying Out Loud by Shawn Smucker, the story of missionaries Stan and Ann Steward.
  • When viewers phone in to respond to a Billy Graham television program, they don’t know where the calls are being answered. A call center might actually be a transformed Savannah, Georgia chiropractic clinic.
  • The former Crystal Cathedral, now Christ Cathedral — home of the world’s 4th largest church organ — begins $53 million in renovations to bring it up to Catholic standards, I’m guessing.
  • You may call them board members, or even, as one church in my area does “The Directorate.” But there’s still good application in this article about the ordination of elders.
  • On the other side of the pond, it’s not just Presbyterians, but Anglicans who have trouble with that verse in In Christ Alone. [Note: BCP = Book of Common Prayer]
  • The more the merrier: By the time you read this it’s already eight days old, but Phil Vischer Podcast #64 with Sara Groves and Todd Groves ranks as one my favorites.
  • Worship Department: First, we followed the CCLI Top 25 song charts by country; but now there’s also the Praise Charts chart. (Not a typo!)
  • A Chattanooga, Tennessee pastor offers five reasons why discipleship should take place in small groups.
  • Not sure how long this will be there, but the full 70-minutes of Nick Vujicic’s Life Without Limbs video is currently available to watch online.
  • Church History Department: Yes it was his real name. Pentecostal pioneer Smith Wigglesworth passed away in 1947, but like many classic authors his books still sell and he is still tweeting.   (C. S. Lewis tweets several times a day!)
  • Ask the Doctor: A flashback to last year, where Dr. Russell Moore answered, Should a Christian wedding photographer shoot a same-sex marriage ceremony?
  • Who needs videos of cute cats when you can join 600,000 people online and watch an Oklahoma pastor’s sermon where he takes a strip off some of his congregants by name.

Well, we could just keep on going, but we might lose some of you around link #50. The action stays here at Thinking Out Loud the rest of the week, or you can always join my rather anemic group of followers on Twitter.  And again, in case you missed it, the links are active at Out of Ur.  A final graphic — one of last week’s links — from Sacred Sandwich:

faith_mounties

July 17, 2013

Wednesday Link List

noah-called

Actually, a little rain would be nice.

Week three of our Wednesday Link List adventure at Out of Ur, a blog of Leadership Journal which is a ministry of Christianity Today.  Just under 30 links this week…

Click here to read the list.

Given the weather system that has blanketed much of the Midwest and the northeastern States and adjoining provinces we thought this doctrinal outline from the Twitter feed of Church Curmudgeon was most appropriate, though we think the original was TULIP not TALIP:

Total Humidity
AirConditional Malfunction
Limited Grace
Irresistible Temper
Perspiration of the Saints

Maybe that describes where you live.

And just before you click over to Out of Ur, take a glance at this Bible app infographic from YouVersion:

youversion-app

June 25, 2013

In The Days of King James

I have never been a reader of history books, be they Canadian or American history, or even world history. The middle and high schools I attended were the product of experimental education theories, and I actually have no history credits in high school itself, and my middle school history notes would fill about 16 notebook pages. As a result I have a reading deficiency which fortunately does not extend to fiction or biography, but does impair my knowledge of church history.

God's SecretariesSo when I picked up the book God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible a 2005 HarperCollins title by Adam Nicholson a few days ago, I didn’t realize I was going to finish it, or I might have made more notes.  Still there are few things I remember the next morning worth noting, especially given the strange Bibliolatry which surrounds this version in the 21st century.

The Translators were highly motivated by the prestige the project would bring. Climbing the ecclesiastical ladder was as important then as now, and also brought with it political ramifications to more than a few of them. Being a Translator (always spelled with a capital T) meant being part of an exclusive echelon of pastors and theological professors. Like today’s megachurch pastors, they were religious superstars.

Politics guided certain aspects of the translation and what did — or in this case what mostly didn’t — get included in marginal notes.

The Christian community included several different streams. Although the Translators were ostensibly working for the state church, the Church of England, it was against a backdrop which included Roman Catholics and Puritans.

The King, for all his failings, was astute theologically. There was more Biblical literacy back then, and the King was capable of engaging a variety of Bible themes. When was the last time you heard Queen Elizabeth discuss doctrine? Perhaps today advisors to the monarch encourage keeping a safe distance from topics that could be divisive.

However, once it was initiated, the King distanced himself from the day to day workings of the project.  There is no evidence that the King interfered once the work was underway.

There is no hint of inspiration included in the mandate given to the Translators. This is important because today there are some marginal groups that use the KJV exclusively and insist that the translation team rested on an inspiration that was secondary or even equal to the original Biblical writers. “There is no hint of inspiration, or even of prayerfulness, no idea that the Translators are to be in the right frame of mind. [Instead] There are exact directions, state orders, not literary or theological suggestions…This is a job to be done…” (p.72)

While literacy increased greatly in the 17th century, priority was given to how the Bible sounded when spoken aloud, not how it communicated when read quietly to oneself. They prized ornamental language, however this had one drawback…

The King James Bible was considered outdated on the day it was published. We often complain about the older language of the KJV being difficult to follow, but from day one the same complaint was heard; the Bible was considered to be using language that was 60-70 years out of date.

The preface to the original KJV doesn’t quote itself. It’s interesting that there are references in the preface to verses from other translations. In one spot, this affected the verse numbering system used, which means the citation referred to in the introduction is very difficult to find in the Bible it is introducing. It is as though the translation team did not have confidence in the product on offer, a fact confirmed by the following…

Many of the Translators continued to preach from existing versions after completion of the project.  Initial acceptance of the project was minimal to say the least.

Nonetheless, the King James Bible was considered a great achievement for both the 17th century church and the nation itself. “…It is easy to see it as England’s equivalent to the great baroque cathedral it never built…”

The King James edition of the Bible was published containing the Apocrypha. I know this is old news to some of you, but it’s interesting to mention it again in light of who currently most uses and reveres the KJV today.

The Translators did not view the KJV as guided by the principles of formal correspondence. They would be very surprised to see the current classification of their work among formal equivalence translations since their goal was dynamic equivalence. What we call formal equivalence was a Puritan value they were seeking to avoid.

The King James Bible of 1611 was, depending on who you ask, about 80% identical to the Tyndale Bible. Although the Lutheran pastor was unable to finish his Old Testament, and worked in exile and was eventually martyred, it’s clear the Translators held William Tyndale’s work in high esteem as they drafted the KJV.

Because of the original KJV was consider an update of an existing work, there is nothing of what we would call today “Library of Congress Publication Data.”  This means there isn’t an official record of its publication since it was considered an update of an existing work. Today, that’s almost — but not quite — like saying the book wouldn’t have been assigned an ISBN.

The authority of scripture did not negate the need to work out the details of ordinary living. “The difference came in deciding on the lawfulness of religious behavior and belief that were not mentioned in the Bible. If something wasn’t mentioned, did that mean God had no view on it? Or if it wasn’t mentioned, did that mean that God did not approve of it?” (p. 123)

Would the Translators be surprised to see their edition still on bookstore shelves today? Yes and no. I think they would be surprised to see the extreme cult following that has surrounded it, especially among those who claim that salvation cannot be found in any other translation.

It’s also doubtful that those same KJV-Only leaders would be aware of the history I just finished reading. The story frequently refers to Lancelot Andrewes, director of The First Westminister Company (one of six translation teams) who ought then to be revered as a saint by those who hold the KJV in such high esteem. But how many of those who claim the King James edition’s exclusivity have ever heard his name? Perhaps the truth would get in the way of the agenda.

The beauty and majesty of the KJV are unique. It has served us well enough for 402 years. For this writer however, perhaps it’s time now to move on…

May 2, 2013

Reblogging: Salvation Army Invented Missional

It’s only been a year since I posted this, but this had a profound affect on me, and I hope you enjoy reading it for the first time, or reading it again.

I’m currently reading The General Next To God: The Story of William Booth and the Salvation Army by Richard Collier. Don’t go looking for this, I’m reading a used copy of the book published in 1965 by Collins Publishing that was left unsold at a recent fundraising event.

Although I’m only at the half-way mark, I am amazed at the degree to which William Booth carved entirely new ministry territory. I am now convinced that if anyone wants to understand the missional ministry philosophy that rose to prominence on a parallel track with the emerging church or Emergent Church movements of the last decade, they really need to begin by reading a history of the Salvation Army.

The thing that is most striking in what I’ve read so far is the contrast between what William Booth created and the revivalist movement of the day. While Wesleyan and Methodist meetings encouraged personal repentance and turning from sin, it was generally among the church people that such penitence took place. When it came to world at large, nobody wanted to get their hands dirty. Or their church building dirty, for that matter.

Booth was forced to go it alone. Here are some of the things that made what became known as The Salvation Army stand out:

  • Street Theater — The street preachers did whatever it took to draw a crowd: Counting on the curiosity of onlookers, outrageous stunts and costumes, the use of signs and banners, etc.
  • Connecting With Popular Culture — The early history of the Salvation Army — though the book doesn’t use this term — really defines what it means to be “in but not of.” Army volunteers stood apart and yet dwelt among.
  • Use of Secular Spaces — The book credits Booth with being the first to rent space in public and private buildings for his meetings, transforming those secular spaces into sacred spaces. Heretofore, in order to hear the gospel, you had to “come inside our church.” (I’ve phrased it that way because it should sound all too familiar.)
  • Celebrity Fascination — Booth’s meetings would include conversion testimonies by both the famous and the infamous.
  • Music — The brass band had never been part of the sacred music genre; it was therefore distinctive among religious sects, it was bright and lively, it worked well in outdoor settings. Salvationists also adapted popular pub tunes, giving them Christian lyrics; Booth originated the phrase, “Why should the Devil have all the music?”
  • Press and Publicity — Booth’s edict was that the emerging organization should get as much space in the pages of the newspapers as often as possible to keep awareness high.
  • Uniforms — While undergoing re-examination constantly in today’s environment, theirs was a culture of uniforms, so it simply made sense. One officer slept with his “S” pinned on his nightclothes to indicate that he was on call 24/7. Today, identification in the larger community remains a key value.
  • Attitude — Booth’s followers believed that as an army, they were triumphant. To the date the book was written, the Salvation Army flag had never been flown at half mast, because Christ was ever victorious.
  • Partnerships — From the outset, Booth was never trying to form another sect, but originally envisioned a ministry that work in tandem with existing denominations; and although he did in fact create a new church, his ethic of parallel ministry continues to this day.
  • Women in Ministry — From the first Sunday that Catherine Booth made her way to the pulpit and told her surprised husband that she had something God had given her to share, The Salvation Army has celebrated the role of women, and elevated women to the place where they can enjoy any rank in the organization available to a man.
  • Patronage — Booth realized from the outset that the very people he was reaching would not be able to financially support the ministry, so he sought to enlist from among the wealthy, people who would be patrons of the new work, not all of whom were necessarily believers.
  • Meeting Needs — Of course, the list would be incomplete without mention of the social services ministry which earned the street preachers the right to be heard. Food, clothing, shelter and health care (and health education) were all provided.

This list is far from complete; just a few things I scribbled before sitting at the computer to prepare this. But I have to ask myself and my readers:

  1. How close does our/my church come to reaching out to “the least of these” in our community and our world?
  2. What are we/What am I doing to be part of taking the gospel beyond the church walls?
  3. Money talks. What is my church doing with our budget to reach out? What am I doing with my personal giving that goes beyond benefit to other Christians, or merely pays for the programs our family utilizes?

Again, for those who believe in missional community, for those who strive for social justice, for those who prioritize world evangelization; a history of The Salvation Army is must reading.

And nearly 150 years later, the story of the Salvation Army is still being told.

Update: More on this book published on June 8th here at Thinking Out Loud.

Related post at Christianity 201: William Booth Quotations

April 6, 2013

Timing Is Everything for Zondervan Author

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:05 am

When Ian Morgan Cron, author of Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me: A Memoir…of Sorts (and yes, that’s all one title) was preparing his latest work Chasing Francis, A Pilgrim’s Tale (much shorter title) for spring release, he probably never imagined that a book which deals with the life of St. Francis of Assisi would coincide with the name chosen by the Roman Catholic Church’s new Pope.

Chasing FrancisBut what is Chasing Francis? Since the book is several titles back in my review pile, I can only say I’m not sure. Everything about the book screams fiction, but the category on the advance copy, with which the listing at Ingram/Spring Arbor agrees, indicates Religion or Christian living. A contemporary fictional story about a burned out pastor is used to present the story of the 12th Century friar and founder of the Franciscan order.

Previous authors have used a fiction platform to deliver theological, doctrinal and apologetics content, but the books have always ended up shelved in the fiction section. This one strikes me as, if anything, a title that might belong in the church history section, or, as it turns out, Catholic interest section; but one that might introduce more readers to the story of Francis were it allowed to stay true to itself, that is, a book written in the fiction genre. Regardless, you can’t beat the way the timing worked out.

The book is scheduled for May 7th release in paperback from Zondervan, who will hopefully recognize they have a hotter title on their hands than they imagined, and move that date up as much as possible.

Publisher marketing:

Pastor Chase Falson has lost his faith-and he did it right in front of the congregation of his megachurch. Now the elders want him to take some time away. Far away. So Chase crosses the Atlantic to Italy to visit his uncle, a Franciscan priest, where he encounters the teachings of Francis of Assisi and rediscovers his ancient faith.

Chase Falson’s spiritual struggle rings so close to the truth that, at times, you’ll swear you’re reading a memoir rather than fiction; a memoir that mirrors the searching heart of a large movement within evangelicalism today.

Author, musician, and speaker Ian Morgan Cron sheds new light on the legacy of St. Francis of Assisi as he masterfully weaves actual accounts from the life of Francis into the fictional story of Chase Falson. It’s an amazing story with profound implications for the contemporary church today.

March 12, 2013

“He said the prayer, that’s enough.”

Altar Call 1

The sinner’s prayer produces false converts.

I was going to use this as an item in tomorrow’s link list, but it truly deserves a much larger audience. This appeared at Arminian Today.

I remember once attending a Baptist church with a buddy of mine.  At the end of the meeting, the Baptist preacher gave a typical, “bow your head and close your eyes” type of altar call in which he asked people to “accept Christ into your heart today, before it’s too late.”  A young teenager “came forward to receive Christ.”  The preacher spoke to the lad, prayed with him, and then announced that the teenager was saved and was a candidate for baptism to which they had a quick congregational vote on the matter and a man raised his hand to second the pastor’s vote for the teen’s baptism.  They then asked us to come up and shake hands with the teenager and welcome him into the family of God.

When I got to the teen, I could tell that he really had no clue what was going on.  So I quickly said to him, “Do you understand what it means to repent of your sins?”  To which he said no.  I was just starting to explain to him what it means to repent when a woman pushed me out of the way and said loudly, “He said the prayer, that’s enough now move on.”

The teenager never came back again.

“The prayer.”  That is how many see salvation.  Just say this prayer and you are in.  Repeat these magic words and you’re in the kingdom of God.  Despite not one example of anyone “praying to receive Christ” in the New Testament and despite not one example from the ministry of Jesus where He instructed His disciples to do this, the modern evangelical church seems fixed on practicing this unbiblical practice.  One large church in Charlotte, NC likes to boast about how many “prayed to receive Christ” and they boast that thousands upon thousands have asked Jesus into their hearts for the first time through this church.  Yet not one New Testament passage is offered for such a practice.

Furthermore, compare the ministries of the great saints of God in Church History.  John Knox.  William Tyndale. William Carey. John Calvin.  James Arminius.  John Wesley.  George Whitefield.  Peter Cartwright.  Charles Spurgeon.  Jonathan Edwards. Not one of these men of God used the “sinner’s prayer” or exhorted sinners to pray to receive Christ.  They certainly used John 1:12-13 and called sinners to look to Christ alone to be saved but none of them had modern altar calls.  The modern altar call does not even appear until the late 1800′s and was especially used by men such as D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and of course, Billy Graham. Charles Finney seems to be the first to introduce what he called, “the anxious bench” where seekers could come and hear more about how to be saved.  From here came the modern practice of “coming down front to receive Christ.”  Spurgeon would call his hearers to receive Christ but he would exhort them to go to a prayer room where a waiting Christian would instruct them on what it means to truly be saved.  This is also the practice of John MacArthur today.

I believe the modern altar call has produced countless false converts.  Since sin is rarely preached against or at least is not even biblically defined (1 John 3:4), many also don’t understand what it means to be saved in the first place.  Saved from what? Saved from whom?  Why must we repent of our sins?  Why does God require repentance?  The modern church seems to have forgotten also that salvation is a work of God (1 Peter 1:3). Regeneration is not a work of the flesh that comes from praying a prayer or saying words or raising a hand. Regeneration is a divine work of God (John 3:3; Titus 3:5-7).  We cannot save ourselves.  We must cast ourselves completely upon the Lord Jesus to deliver us from God’s just wrath (Romans 5:8-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10).  To be honest, too often gospel messages spend too much time focused on our sin instead of the holiness and justice of God.  It is God whom we should fear and it is His laws that we have violated (Luke 12:4-5).  We should be preaching the justice of God in regard to sinning (Hebrews 10:31).

I do praise God that more and more are realizing after studying both the Word of God and Church History that the sinner’s prayer is not a biblical nor historical practice. It is not based on the clear examples of the New Testament nor upon the examples of great church leaders.  We find nothing in the early Church Fathers to suggest that they used a practice of altar calls.  The Church has preached salvation through Christ for 2000 years and this must be our message again if we are to see the lost saved (Romans 1:16-17). Salvation does not come by the tools of the flesh (1 Corinthians 2:1-5) but the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). Let us trust again in the power of the Holy Spirit to convict and save the lost (John 16:8-11).

…In sourcing the image that appears below, I ended up at an article by Caribbean pastor Thabiti Anyabwile.  Since I believe we linked to it back in 2011 when it was published, I’ll just include the numbered points in the middle of the piece, but you can read it all at this link.

1. The altar call is simply and completely absent from the pages of the N.T.

2. The altar call is historically absent until the 19th century, and its use at that time (via Charles Finney) was directly based upon bad theology and a man-centered, manipulative methodology.

3. The altar call very easily confuses the physical act of “coming forward” with the spiritual act of “coming to Christ.” These two can happen simultaneously, but too often people believe that coming to Christ is going forward (and vice-versa).

4. The altar call can easily deceive people about the reality of their spiritual state and the biblical basis for assurance. The Bible never offers us assurance on the ground that we “went forward.”

5. The altar call partially replaces baptism as the means of public profession of faith.

6. The altar call can mislead us to think that salvation (or any official response to God’s Word) happens primarily on Sundays, only at the end of the service, and only “up front.”

7. The altar call can confuse people regarding “sacred” things and “sacred” places, as the name “altar call” suggests.

8. The altar call is not sensitive to our cautious and relational age where most people come to faith over a period of time and often with the interaction of a good friend.

9. The altar call is often seen as “the most important part of the service”, and this de-emphasizes the truly more important parts of corporate worship which God has prescribed (preaching, prayer, fellowship, singing).

10. God is glorified to powerfully bless the things He has prescribed (preaching, prayer, fellowship, singing), not the things we have invented. We should always be leery of adding to God’s prescriptions for His corporate worship.

Altar Call 2

Upper image source  Lower image source via source

Related item here at Thinking Out Loud

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