Thinking Out Loud

March 27, 2015

Currently Reading: Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby

I’ve written before that I like to alternate the books I am given to review — and book reviews here are very much down in quantity from a year ago — with older books or even classic Christian titles by authors now deceased.

I’m currently reading Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God by Henry Blackaby. The book I’m reading was first published in 1994; the edition now sold is a revised and expanded edition from 2008.

Although I’ve recommended the book here before, I had never actually sat down and read it page-by-page. The reason is I could recommend it is that the book is a kind of “Snakes on a Plane” title inasmuch as once you’ve seen the chart listing the book’s “Seven Realities,” you’ve grabbed the essence of the whole.

Experiencing God Seven Realities

Perhaps that’s not enough to go on.  The seven realities are:

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

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

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

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)

 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)

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

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

Still it’s not enough to just speed-read through those, it’s more helpful to read the book — which doesn’t take long — and also to explore the ongoing parallels to the life of Moses, which is why the scripture references are all from Exodus. (The first time I saw the book, not knowing its basis in the Old Testament, I honestly thought the picture of Moses on what was then the back cover was Henry Blackaby.)

I also mentioned this book yesterday because I believe it to be one of a select handful of foundational titles every new and veteran Christian should read. As I said, I’ve been recommending it for years — because of the chart above which condenses the teaching points — but it’s another thing to actually go through chapter by chapter.

There’s also a large format workbook that can be purchased separately if someone wants to dig deeper. It’s published by LifeWay which doesn’t give bookstores much of a discount on it because it’s considered curriculum, albeit undated. It was one of their first successes with workbooks (now called Member Books) in a time before Beth Moore had achieved her present fame. I haven’t checked one out recently, but it’s packed with details and would make a great personal Bible study for someone not connected to a small group or just preferring to work on their own.

Finally, if you’re at a crisis point of wondering what God has for you, the book subtitle is, after all, about finding and doing God’s will.

Experiencing God is, in my opinion, destined to remain in print for a long time yet. It is truly a modern classic Christian book that should be on everyone’s reading list.

 

That's Moses, not Henry Blackaby on the workbook's cover

That’s Moses, not Henry Blackaby on the workbook’s cover

March 26, 2015

Big Box Book Stores’ Christian Shelves Lack Essentials

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Saturday night around 6:30 PM we dropped into a Chapters store. The Chapters and Indigo stores are the Canadian equivalent to Barnes and Noble, and whether I’m in Canada or checking out B&N on holidays, I love to hang out in the Religion section and see what conversations I can initiate.

This time it was a couple whose son was being baptized the very next day in the church where I was baptized many years earlier. They were looking at a couple of Joel Osteen books and when I tried to steer them away from those, they didn’t actually need much convincing. They immediately commented on the somewhat random assortment listed under ‘Christianity.’

“Why is Deepak Chopra here?” they asked.

“You could always move them around the corner;” I offered. I like to keep my options in these stores open, so re-shelving books isn’t in my repertoire.

Anyway, instead of just scanning the shelves out of personal interest, I tried to see it from their perspective and said to myself, “Okay, if we were standing in a Christian bookstore right now, what would I suggest to them?”

And then I hit the wall.

First, so much of the inventory on these shelves was new releases. There wasn’t much in the way of recurrent, perennial Christian books. The strength of the Christian book market has largely rested in the strength of what is called its ‘back-list’ titles. By this I don’t mean the classic writers who are now deceased, but rather simply the best books of the last 25 years. Some earlier Yancey titles. Experiencing God by Blackaby. The Lucado series on the crucifixion and resurrection. Even more recent stuff like Joyce Meyer’s Battlefield and the first two Case for… books by Lee Strobel were missing. (Having the classic writings of Andrew Murray, A. W. Tozer, Spurgeon, etc. isn’t a bad idea, either. The Lumen Classics series would be a good fit at low price points.)

Second, there are so many books which simply did not belong in that section at all. I saw title after title that was completely foreign to me. To sort this out you need two things. One would be an awareness of the publisher imprints on each book and a knowledge of who’s who. The other would be a combination of discernment and plenty of time to study each book carefully. Obviously trusting the publisher imprints is faster, but if it’s a truly special occasion — say a Baptism gift — you do really want to take the time to get the best book.

Given their son’s age, I decided to go for younger authors. I’d just watched the live stream release party for Judah Smith’s newest, Life Is _____; and then they had Jefferson Bethke, the guy whose launch was tied to a YouTube video, “Why I Hate Religion.” But then, a book that seemed almost out of context: Radical by David Platt. I told them a bit about the book, and Platt and the Secret Church movement, and even though I don’t usually align with Calvinists, I said I thought this was the best choice overall. I left before they made their final decision.

…The reason this family was in the store at all was because the nearby Christian bookstore had just closed permanently. A friend of a friend was supposed to do a book signing and release party that day and had arrived to find the doors padlocked. These (for lack of a better word) “secular” bookstores are all that many communities have now, but finding the book you need is a major challenge.

The publisher reps who visit these stores are no doubt aware of strong back-list titles that would work, but the bookstore chains’ buyers are under orders to buy only the newest titles. To get their foot in the door, publishers need to be constantly re-issuing the older titles in new formats, but it’s hard when their orientation is to what’s new and forthcoming.

March 15, 2015

Luke: The Gospel of Amazement

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:20 am

Michael Card - Biblical Imagination Series - IVPI just finished reading what is for me, the second book in a series I hope to complete over the rest of the year. Luke: The Gospel of Amazement by Michael Card is part of the Biblical Imagination series. Since I’ve already devoted some space to it after I read and reviewed Mark: The Gospel of Passionclick here to read — I won’t go into great detail, since the format of all four books in the series is the same.

In this volume, Card points out certain recurring themes in Luke that aren’t present (or as noticeable) in the other gospels including the attention to detail and the observations on the role of women in the narrative, and we also come to understand how it is that Luke got the information that is unique to his story.

I wasn’t really taking notes on this one, but one takeaway — which applies to the whole series — is that the speculative, imagination-based things Card points out are not things being extrapolated without other Biblical support, but rather, the text bids us or begs us to make certain connections.

Honestly, completing the book only makes me want to read more Luke commentaries. There is so much going on in these gospels that we miss completely.


To my friends at InterVarsity / IVP Books in Illinois: I had to buy this one. Next one is your turn, okay?

February 26, 2015

Destiny Image Publishing Cancels Book by Progressive Christian Writer

I thought it was strange that the first I heard that blogger Brandan Robertson had become the Christian publishing news-maker of the week, it was a story at the online page of TIME Magazine, not my usual Christian information channels. The book in question was Nomad: Not-So-Religious Thoughts on Faith, Doubt, and the Journey In Between, scheduled for release October 20, 2015 by Charismatic publisher Destiny Image.

Brandan RobertsonThe article begins,

A prominent Christian publisher canceled a book project this week after the author refused to say that he did “not condone, encourage or accept the homosexual lifestyle,” the author told TIME.

Okay, so it was the gay thing again. End of story, right?

For its part, Destiny Image was dodging the issue:

When TIME asked [Don] Nori why Destiny pulled the book, Nori did not address the role that Robertson’s position on sexuality played in their decision: “There is nothing significant to report,” Nori says. “We did not reject or refuse. As with all books, a publisher decides what is financially viable. We released the book back to the author with our sincere prayers for his success. This occurrence happens every season.”

The implication is that here, in the first quarter of 2015, the sales force had already determined that there wasn’t enough interest in a book scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2015. Seems a bit far off, doesn’t it?

Furthermore, there was one report that the word gay only occurred one time in the final manuscript which the publisher had received only hours before.

The more I thought about this, the more weird it seemed that Destiny Image had tapped Robertson for a book at all. Destiny Image is a publisher of Charismatic books. Their top titles at Spring Arbor Distributors and Send the Light Distribution include The Maker’s Diet, When Heaven Invades Earth, The Lady in Waiting, Hosting the Presence, The Supernatural Ways of Royalty, The 40-Day Soul Fast, and God’s Armor Bearer and they have been home to authors such as Myles Munroe, Bill Johnson and T. D. Jakes.  Knowing that, I reached out to Brandan on Twitter:

Brandan, As a longtime veteran of the Christian bookstore business, I don’t know how the heck you ended up with Destiny Image in the first place.

But then two days ago Brandan wrote a blog post which got picked up by Huffington Post yesterday which sets the scene a little clearer:

…My former publisher, Destiny Image, signed me in March 2014 to be one of the first in their new “progressive” line of books along with books by my friend Benjamin L. Corey (who blogs at Patheos Progressive). As a then 21 year old senior in college, I was excited at the opportunity to turn so many of the thoughts that I had been sharing through my blog Revangelical into a book, a dream that I have had since I was a child. My book was to be a collection of memoir-essays that outlined some of the most important lessons that I have learned over the course of my spiritual journey thus far. I would be raw and honest, but also seek to write from an evangelical perspective to evangelicals. In order to do that, I intentionally kept out a chapter on sexuality, hoping to not detract from the broader message I was trying to communicate…

Okay, so it’s the progressive publishing imprint thing again. End of story, right?

Don’t they ever learn?

This is so reminiscent of the situation with Waterbrook. If you’ve forgotten, they published a book — God and the Gay Christian – which also caught some flak because of sexuality issues. But then, they argued that the book was issued under the Convergent imprint, not Waterbrook per se. That didn’t fly with anyone, since the other imprint shared the same acquisitions and editorial staff. So the company severed the two divisions, as they should have from the outset.

Destiny Image had not announced a different imprint. The book was listed at two industry sites as being issued under the parent label.

Like Rob Bell, Robertson’s book was not afraid to ask questions. The author is quoted on the book’s page at Ingram Book Company of which Spring Arbor Distributors is the Christian distribution arm:

Nomad - Brandan RobertsonToo often in Christianity we equate wandering with negative categories like eternal damnation, deception, and going “astray.” We have often stigmatized those who wander from our group as weak and easily deceived. But what if we’ve been wrong? What if ones tendency to go wander off is truly a gift? What if the driving force beneath the curiosity that leads a person to wander off the beaten path is not immaturity, but the wild, untamable Spirit of God, drawing them into the foliage to be refined, to discover fresh insights, and pioneer a new way forward for a new group of people?

That’s how I have come to understand my life and my calling. I have come to appreciate and not fear getting myself lost. In my disorientation, I am forced to attune myself to the gentle breeze of God’s Spirit and allow myself to be moved into new, unexplored territories. Sure, it’s scary sometimes. Uncomfortable most of the time. But it’s always rewarding.

So here’s my advice to Christian publishers: You want to attract an edgier type of reader? Fine. But if you’re playing with fire, be prepared to get burned. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have controversy without… controversy. Make up your mind to just go for it, and then be all in, or find a different avenue that will help you make your sales targets.

The book has been released back to the author, and after the publicity that has been generated, Brandan should have no problem getting it published, and may not have to wait until October if the new publisher decides to fast-track it to take advantage of the newly-generated interest.

Finally, if you think this is just desserts for an author that was probably too young to have this publishing opportunity bestowed on him in the first place, you might want to hold back that thought; his resumé is impressive. The information Destiny Image supplied to Ingram notes:

Brandan Robertson is a writer, speaker, activist, and the dreamer behind the Revangelical Movement. Brandan has a B.A. in Pastoral Studies and Bible from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago (as of May 2014) and is pursuing his M.Div. Degree from Wesley Theological Seminary (August 2014). Brandan writes for Revangelical, Red Letter Christians, Sojourners, and IMPACT Magazine and has been a featured contributor to a number of well-read blogs and news outlets. Brandan is also the host of the Revangelical Podcast and the director of an action-oriented social justice initiative called “Revangelicals for a Better Tomorrow.” He is also a sought after consultant to churches, denominations, and faith-based organizations on issues of the faith of the millennial generation and issues surrounding building bridges across religious, cultural, and political divides.

In other words, while I’m sure the offer was flattering at the time, he doesn’t need Destiny Image to get his message out.

February 17, 2015

Book Review: The Happy Christian

In November of 2013, I reviewed a book by David Murray, Jesus on Every Page. When I was contacted about reviewing a new book by David, I immediately replied in the affirmative, only to receive an email that The Happy Christian was on its way. Wait, what? All I could think of was all my online friends who would cringe at the idea of reviewing something like “10 Ways to be a Happy Christian;” and then the book arrived and I was horrified to see that there were indeed ten sections, and the book’s cover art certainly alluded to a smiley face. Surely, I must find a way, to ditch this review obligation, right?

Happy ChristianI decided to read a few pages and before long, David Murray won me over. If anyone picks up this title looking for something trite or pithy, they are going to be ambushed.

If anything, I would call this book “An Encyclopedia of Fulfillment.” It looks at the things people crave and were made for and how society at large tries to find that satisfaction, but then shows how acknowledging Biblical principles where were there all along is the only way to find that satisfaction in life.

Each of the chapters also uses a cute mathematical formula, but the book is anything but formulaic. There’s also a healthy dose of reality in each chapter which eliminates any chance of this being characterized as a tome on positive thinking.

I hope I don’t offend the author or editorial team by saying this, but The Happy Christian is a book that pretends to be shallow but isn’t! In other words, it’s constructed along the lines of one of those “ten things” listicles but turns out to be much deeper.  There is an examination in each chapter to the writings of a secular psychologist (or similar) but they are used as a motif for deeper consideration. The book is highly footnoted — 381 end-notes, I counted them — and many of these are scripture references.

A few days ago I ran an overview of the second chapter, which looks at our media diet and how that shapes us. You can read that short excerpt by clicking here.

The type of happiness David Murray is describing here isn’t a passive thing that happens to you, but rather more of an activist happiness, a state of satisfaction and fulfillment in life that comes from entering into the life Christ offers, rather than sitting back waiting for happiness to arrive like a check in the mail. 

There are also a number of unexpected issues that the author raises which might challenge the reader, such as the idea that if the situation allows for it, Christians should select retailers or tradespeople from among fellow Christians. In the chapter on grace, he writes:

God blesses the world for the benefit of the church and every Christian in it.  His multiple varied blessings of industry, business, government, science, friendship, art, food, music, water, seasons, talents and gifts, conscience, courts, medication, air conditioning, and more are ultimately working together for the good of those who love Him.

That’s why we shouldn’t be ashamed to use non-Christians for goods and services.  Sometimes Christians and churches may decide to buy a certain good or service from a company simply because it is a Christian company.  The product or service may not be the best, but it has a Christian owner.  That’s faulty thinking, thinking that results from failing to understand God’s everywhere grace.  If God has enabled a non-Christian to make the best product or provide the most efficient service, we should gladly buy from him or her and regard it as God’s grace to that person and to us.  (p.112-3)

My only criticism is that perhaps in an effort to shape the book into a “top ten” format, the teaching on generosity and forgiveness were combined; I think each really deserved its own chapter.

The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to Be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World releases February 24th in paperback from Thomas Nelson. Look for the somewhat smiling cover where you buy quality books.

February 13, 2015

Family Christian Stores Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection

The management team at Family Christian Stores — the largest chain in the United States — believes that its best option to keep the stores open is to file for Chapter 11 protection.  Here’s the first few paragraphs on the story from Christianity Today:

Family Christian Stores (FCS) has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Yet the ministry assured customers yesterday that it “does not expect” to close any of its more than 250 stores or lay off any of its approximately 4,000 employees.

“We strive to serve God in all that we do and trust His guidance in all our decisions, especially this very important one,” stated FCS president and CEO Chuck Bengochea. “We have carefully and prayerfully considered every option. This action allows us to stay in business and continue to serve our customers, our associates, our vendors and charities around the world.” …

With 266 stores in 36 states, FCS is the nation’s largest chain of Christian stores as measured by locations, not sales…

Continue reading at CT Gleanings (news page).

The CT story also links to this FAQ page concerning the filing.

An article at Publishers Weekly itemizes the major creditors:

Publishers are on the hook for millions of dollars led by HarperCollins Christian Publishers [Thomas Nelson and Zondervan] which is owed $7.5 million. Other publishers owed large sums include Tyndale House ($1.7 million), B&H Publishing Group ($516,414), FaithWords [Hachette Book Group] ($537,374), and Barbour Publishing ($572,002). Ingram’s Spring Arbor distribution arm is owed $689,533.

While the video is very optimistic, this development highlights the seriousness of the state of the Christian publishing industry. The amount of exposure that HarperCollins has in this means that it and other creditors will be watching closely to see what they can expect to get out of the restructuring.

February 5, 2015

A Fresh Take on “Whatsoever Things Are True…”

NLT Phil 4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

KJV Phil 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Happy ChristianI’m currently reading a forthcoming book by David Murray titled The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to Be a Joyful Christian in a Gloomy World. In the second chapter he takes the familiar scripture above, and turns it on his head by looking at the opposite of the things named in the verse…

…our educational, political, and business culture rewards negativity experts, those who can pick out a single negative in a sea of positives.

We ask our children, “What’s wrong with this picture?” We set class assignments, “Critique this passage,” or “Find the flaws in this article.” We mark mistakes with red ink but don’t waste blue ink on the correct answers. We scan our garden for weeds. We admire politicians and debaters who can punch holes in their opponents’ arguments. We promote lawyers who can detect a loophole from a hundred miles away. We love journalists exposés. We are drawn to watchdogs and discernment ministries. We honor theologians who can destroy a heretic with one devastating put down.” (p. 25)

It’s into that environment that Murray offers a response. To do justice to this would mean excerpting the entire chapter, but I want to share his outline in this chapter.  The first section that he calls “Media Diet” simply looks at the opposite of each of the things named in Phil. 4:8. (Eugene Peterson is on the same track with the translation of this verse in The Message.)  The second section, he calls “Ministry Diet” and follows the same pattern.

Media Diet

  • True, Not False:”Whatever things are true”
  • Noble, Not Base: “Whatever things are noble”
  • Right, Not Wrong: “Whatever things are just”
  • Purity, Not Filth: “Whatever things are pure”
  • Beautiful, Not Ugly: “Whatever things are lovely”
  • Praise, Not Complaint: “Whatever things are of good report”

Ministry Diet

  • More Salvation Than Sin
  • More Truth Than Falsehood
  • More Wooing Than Warning
  • More Victory Than Struggle
  • More Celebration Than Lamentation
  • More Life Than Death
  • More Strengths Than Weaknesses

I hope that outline leaves you wanting to read the book, which releases February 24th in paperback from Thomas Nelson. (I’ll have a review later on!)

You can do a similar study by looking at I Cor 13, what we call the love chapter, and from each of the things listed, you can compose a picture of “love’s opposites.” If I were to combine these together and incorporate it into your character not to manifest each of these negative traits, I would certainly be a much better person… and so would you.

February 2, 2015

David The Shepherd King: Bible’s Most Detailed Narrative

Leap Over a WallI’m trying to continue my routine of alternating between reading a currently-published book — the ones publishers send to me — and a previously published title.  Two weeks ago I was encouraged to look at Leap Over a Wall by Eugene Peterson, an author who I am increasingly drawn to read more of.

The book would fit in well to what is described as an “application commentary,” though I suspect one publisher may have a copyright on that phrase. He looks at the life of David in the Old Testament books that are named after Samuel and provides insights for the modern reader from the Bible’s most-covered character.

But Peterson also provides insights from his own career as a pastor.  He knows people, what motivates them, what frustrates them; and he knows church life intimately. The subtitle, Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians is most appropriate.

There are 20 chapters each going several directions at once.

First we see each part of the narrative involving David’s interaction with another person (Doeg, Abagail, Mephibosheth, plus the expected ones) or place (Brook Besor, En-Gedi, Ziklag, Jerusalem) and having a theme (Imagination, Sanctuary, Wilderness, Suffering, etc.)

Second, each begins with a quotation from the New Testament. Although this is a First Testament story, it has links to the Second Testament gospel, with a number of parallels to the life of Christ.

Third, I believe each chapter has a link to one of the Davidic Psalms that was written around the same time as the narrative, poetry which gives us a great window into David’s heart. So the book can be seen as a limited commentary on the Psalms as well as on I Samuel or II Samuel.

Fourth, each chapter very much relates to the human condition; to the state we find ourselves occupying in the 21st Century. There is a lot of David in each of us, we are perhaps most acquainted with our failures, our brokenness; but there is also the resident potential for much achievement as we allow God to be reflected in and through us.  

This book can be read in one or two sittings, or as I did, you can read a chapter-a-day devotionally. This is a book I would also want to return to a second time.  

Also, I want to especially recommend this to people who are familiar with Peterson’s work with The Message translation but like me a few years back, hadn’t checked out his other writing.

David is proof that God can use us in our weakness, in our broken condition perhaps we are more attuned to him than at times we would think we had it all together.


Note: A study guide for the book is published separately.


 

 

 

January 31, 2015

A Book from the First Century Church, Discovered in 1873

There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways.

~Didache 1:1

While New Testament scholars always knew it existed, it was not until 1873 when a dusty, worn copy was pulled off an Istanbul library shelf by an Archbishop who promptly left it on his desk to attend to other matters, where it sat for months before he finally grasped what it is he had discovered. In fact, the document whose lost text he had discovered was once considered for inclusion in the Biblical canon.

The Didache (pronounced DID-ah-kay) is only about half the length of the Gospel of Mark, but it provides an intimate view of Christian life and Christian community for the early church. There are many books on the subject, but a simple introduction — along with a copy of the complete text — is Tony Jones’ The Teaching of the 12 (Paraclete Press, 2009).

(Random) Highlights:

  • Let your alms sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give them. (1:6)
  • Do not be one who opens his hands to receive, or closes them when it is time to give. (4:5)
  • Do not give orders to your servants when you are angry, for they hope in the same God… (4:10)
  • Your fasts should not be with the hypocrites, for they fast on Mondays and Thursdays. You should fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. (8:1)
  • [Concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way] “Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills and was gathered together and became one, so let your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom…” (9:4)
  • Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he must not remain more than one day, or two, if there’s a need. If he stays three days he is a false prophet. (11:4,5)
  • Concerning Baptism, you should baptize this way: After first explaining all things, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit in flowing water. (7:1, italics added)
  • Hate no one; correct some, pray for others, and some you should love more than your own life. (2:7)

The early Christians were also told to pray the Lord’s Prayer three times daily (8:3) and if they baked bread, to give the first loaf to the prophets (13;5). The translation above is from Tony Jones’ book, and seems to be closest to one online by Charles Hoole.

So in a post-DaVinci Code climate, where does a document like this fit in?

First of all, we have all we need in the Bible, and no one should feel compelled to read extra-Biblical writings like this, much less those on the periphery such as The Gospel of Thomas.

But for those who want a snapshot of New-Testament life, this document has the recommendation of many respected pastors, though don’t expect a movie anytime soon.

DVD: There is a 6-week curriculum DVD available based on Tony Jones’ book. Here’s some info — and a 2-minute promo video — from Tony’s blog, Theoblogy.

This post first appeared on Jan 26/11 at Christianity 201


When first published at Thinking Out Loud, this article attracted several comments; one that we’ll repeat here as well…

One gentle word of correction is that the Didache does not hail from the age after the apostles, but the age of the apostles. The Didache is actually older than most of the books of the New Testament, especially all the Gospels with the possible exception of Mark. Aaron Milavec who is one of the foremost authorities on it places its date between 50 & 70 AD! Yes that is 15 to 35 years after the resurrection. A dating this early means most of the apostles are still alive. Another authoritative voice is Thomas O.Laughlin, who though not as dogmatic, still takes it around that time. The last of the Apostles, John, was still alive in 98 AD when Trajan came to power. From a scholarly standpoint, this era from the resurrection up to the death of John is roundly considered the “apostolic age” and so documents like the Didache, Barnabas, and the Shepherd of Hermas are generally considered the “apostolic fathers” as compared with the documents of the post apostolic age which is generally considered the Ante-Nicene Fathers. On top of all this, the Didache almost made it into the canon. It was widely used among the Fathers and Origin referred to it as “scripture.” I whole heartedly agree with you that Scripture as we have it is sufficient. But I personally still feel that Didache is in a class by itself. I was recently interviewed on a popular podcast about it which can be found here: http://sjchurch.org/media-library/details/reformedcast-61

In regards to Tony Jones, I have to say while well written and having some good insights, his introduction is the most deficient I have read. His interpretation of the Didache really far more reflects his (and Trucker Frank’s) emergent agenda than Apostolic era Christianity of Syria Palestine. For far more historically and scholarly informed (but readable) introductions to the Didache I recommend either Thomas O’Laughlin’s The Didache or Aaron Milavec’s The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary. This one by Milavec is his short introduction of only 114 pages. He also has a 1000 pages scholarly commentary by almost the same name. So just make sure you pay attention to the title.

 

Nothing Matters But The Weekend…
Some blogs pretty well shut down on Saturdays and Sundays, but weekends can be a rather quiet time for those who miss the pace of work or school; so Thinking Out Loud occasionally ramps it up with extra weekend posts.You can be a part of doing something similar. Find a need that’s not being met. Find a group of people who need connection. Find a place where every sign says ‘closed.’ And then step up. Make a difference. Swim upstream. You can have a part in changing lives. Know somebody who could use some people contact today? Maybe that’s you. Get in touch. Reach out.

January 26, 2015

Encyclopedia of Modern Churches is Difficult to Read

Yesterday at Christianity 201, instead of using an excerpt from a book, I drew the day’s thoughts from a table of contents. I wasn’t given a review edition of the book anyway and was using a borrowed copy, and second, I had not looked at the individual chapters at that point. The table of contents is impressive supported our theme verse for the day

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. I Cor 12:4-7

We had a pastor who repeatedly said “It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.” Every church has something special to offer. The parish system — where you simply attend the church located closest to where you live — has some things in its favor, but for centuries now, Protestants have chosen their place of worship based on a variety of factors, some doctrinal and some, if we’re honest, that are totally superficial.

I also had a missionary friend who said, “Every denomination is an overstatement.” What he meant was that if you have a particular distinctive, you are going to emphasize that above everything else, which means that sometimes other priorities will fade into the background. So our churches often feature a particular facet of ministry life, but may do so at the expense of something else. Hopefully nothing that should be absolutely central is diminished beyond recognition.

Ten Most Influential Churches - Elmer TownsThe book is, The Ten Most Influential Churches of the Past Century: How They Impact You Today by Elmer L. Towns, published by Destiny Image. I did not quote index verbatim here, I just wanted to give readers there an overview. And it turned out there were more than ten churches covered; there are more than ten chapters! I combined a few, and warned my readers that listing does not imply endorsement.

  • The worldwide Pentecostal movement
  • House church / Home church movement
  • Churches at the forefront of racial integration
  • Church structures using a network of cell groups under a central administration
  • Churches built on Christian Education / Sunday School outreach
  • Churches using non-traditional teaching methods
  • Churches targeting seekers, skeptics; the non-churched
  • Baby Boomer churches
  • Worship/Praise driven churches
  • Integrated media, or internet-based churches
  • Churches promoting multi-generational appeal and programs
  • Positive-thinking or prosperity teaching churches
  • Churches built on personal evangelism
  • Churches focused on foreign missions
  • Multi-site churches with video teaching
  • Churches modeled after the concept of using church plants to evangelize

Now remember, with a couple of exceptions above, this has nothing to do with doctrine or teaching. You could map this on to a variety of denominations and many of the models would fit.

What’s your reaction to this?

Mine was generally positive. God us using many people in many different ways to accomplish his Kingdom Purposes. Yes, some of these have emerged more driven by the culture than by anything the First Century Church knew and some of these styles may be unknown a generation from now. Some are more likely to lead people into a deeper walk with God, and some are more entry-level; their converts will eventually feel the need to settle in another congregation.

But instead of bemoaning the particular styles you personally don’t care for, I think we need to celebrate what God is doing around the world. There are a few styles listed there that I know will cause eye rolls, but I’ve been to some of these and have found a depth of devotion and Bible knowledge among some adherents beyond the stereotypes.

If the gospel is presented clearly and is unobstructed by distractions, people will come to Christ through all types of churches, and those already in the fold will find avenues for greater growth and discipleship.

But let’s talk about the book itself.

I found this deeply disappointing on a variety of levels. Because I attended The Peoples Church in Toronto during some very formative years, I was looking forward to reading its listing in the section that goes beyond the author’s top ten choice, but after reading the first paragraph and turning the page, I discovered there was only a cursory listing for the additional churches.

Large sections of the book are copied directly from Wikipedia. While attribution is made for these, they appear in isolation, so the author then is forced to backtrack to give some of the chronology all over again. I guess if you don’t have internet…

Inexplicably, there are a large number of blank or mostly blank pages. At one point I checked to see if I was actually reading an advance reader copy (ARC) where information was waiting to be dropped in later. I was not. This was the finished book. I can see this as a style thing with the first ten chapters, after that it was basically a waste of good trees.

The book is very U.S.-centered. While there is mention of Peoples and four churches overseas, I can’t imagine a list of this nature, purporting to represent the most influential churches of the past 100 years not including Holy Trinity Brompton, which brought the world The Alpha Course.

There’s no mention of several prevalent styles. Because there isn’t a single church to represent them, a number of things are skipped over. One is the alternative, counter-cultural type of church like House For All Sinners and Saints in Denver. Or arts-based churches like (I believe) Mosaic Church in Hollywood. Another I would call prayer-based (or better, prayer-bathed) churches like the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City. A third would be the New Calvinist type of churches such as the Sovereign Grace churches with their deep teaching and modern hymns. And finally, if you want an anti-role model, if you’re talking churches of influence, you might even mention Westboro Baptist.

Because of the liberality of the mostly blank pages, churches like Peoples and the Crystal Cathedral could have and should have had their section extended. I should also mention that I have attended some of the churches covered here on more than a single occasion, and thought the chapters on Willow Creek and Calvary Chapel would present this history well to those unfamiliar.

Elmer Towns is no novice on this topic. Although the book is well footnoted, he also drew on his own memories of these churches including interviews he did with the major players during times of explosive growth. I just think the book suffered more in the planning, editing and layout stages; the transition from concept to finished product could have been refined to give interested readers more information and better flow.

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