Thinking Out Loud

October 10, 2017

The Question to Ask: A Gauge to Measuring Understanding

Filed under: Christianity, doctrine, evangelism — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:10 am

Longtime readers here may recognize the story I’m about to tell, which I shared here 3½ years ago, though this is a complete rewrite.

I love hanging out in the religious books section at larger bookstores like Barnes and Noble or Chapters in Canada. You’ll see people — especially in cities where there are no longer Christian bookstores — looking at books and Bibles and are sometimes perplexed as they pick up a copy of something the store shelved in what they see as the catch-all category of Christianity. If it’s not going to come across as creepy, I’ll let them know that I work in the field or offer a comment on what they’re holding at a particular moment. (“That’s a great book, I just finished it.” or “If you’re interested in that subject, I know a better book that you might enjoy.”)

But one day I had a guy totally turn the tables on me. He let me know, rather arrogantly, that he had a Doctorate in Divinity and it was his intention to set the agenda for the rest of the conversation. I decided to simply roll with it and see what I could learn from him.

“When did you become a Christian?” he asked.

Growing up in church, by age 6 I knew the need to pray the prayer, or make a decision or accept Jesus, but I think that my faith solidified more at age 17. Depending on when and where you catch me, you might get a slightly different answer. The mercies of God are new every morning and hopefully each and every day I am reaffirming my commitment to follow and walk under Christ’s Lordship.

“How did you become a Christian?” he continued.

To answer the second question, I told him an analogy I often share with others; that of “taking delivery” of the salvation that God was “holding” for me.  I explained that often one receives a parcel-delivery card in the mail; the card says that someone has sent something, it’s got my name on it, but I need to drive to pick it up. I don’t possess it until I reach out and take it. Other times I’ll talk about the pastor of the church I attended throughout my teens, who would ask people to raise their hands if they wanted to be “included in the closing prayer” and how in prayer we ask God to include us under the covering the Cross provided.

But then he went for the third and final question.

“How does someone become a Christian?” he asked.

In a way I had already answered this, For the last question, I said that the act of accepting Christ’s offer of salvation is an invisible transaction that one makes on faith, trusting His promise that if I tell Him through prayer that I want the covering He offers, He will do His part. (You could break this down into the ABC process: Acknowledging, believing, confessing.) But beyond receiving the offer of salvation, I am giving myself to live for him and serve him. I defer decision-making to what is according to how he desires for me to live on his terms and not my own…

…I think this particular question can be really central to conversations we have with people both inside and outside the fold. In other words, while this can be useful in the context in which he spoke with me, it would also make a great opening a question for your next small group meeting. “How does one become a Christian?”

My guess is you would hear a variety of responses even from your closest church friends.


An extra thought to consider: Just because he had a graduate degree in Divinity does not in any respect guarantee that he himself was what some would call saved. There are a number of people taking advanced education programs for whom doctrine and theology are merely academic exercises. I always want to ask these people why bother to study something at a distance that is not a living reality in their lives, but I don’t want to presume too much, or ignore the possibility that God is still at work in their lives, inching them closer to the thing which fascinates their intellect. 

This story could have easily been different had I chosen to turn the tables on him and inquire as to his personal spirituality. Perhaps I was intimidated or perhaps I was confident in the moment that he really knew Christ and really cared. But a discussion like this can go either way. Noel Paul Stookey told a story where a young kid came up to him after a concert and started a conversation that would change his life forever.

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September 28, 2017

Kids Who Don’t Need Convincing Can Convince Others

I use the word a lot. Perhaps even overuse it. The word? Apologetics. I’m a fan. A huge fan.

Apologetics isn’t a necessarily an element of systematic theology. I way that because it’s been noted that the word doesn’t appear in many theological texts. But it’s definitely a branch of evangelism, and some would argue it’s at the core of Christian outreach. Relying heavily on logic, it defends Christian belief from detractors and skeptics.

But it’s not child’s play, right? Or is it?

J. Warner Wallace, author of Cold Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene would have you think differently. The former book was spun off into a kids edition and earlier in the year, some friends surprised me with the news that they were suspending their usual Sunday School curriculum for one quarter, and instead take the 13 weeks to look at Cold Case Christianity for Kids.

So I was delighted the other day to receive a sample copy of the kids edition of the second book in the series, in the form of God’s Crime Scene for Kids.

While the first book (in either the adult or children’s series) looks at the evidence for the resurrection, the second looks at creation, or the evidence for what some call intelligent design. Can my friends’ 9-12 year olds absorb that?

With his trademark illustrations, J. Warner Wallace offers entirely new analogies to help kids see the trail of evidence leading to a creator. There are more pictures than the adult edition, but these images help bridge the distance between ostensibly difficult content and a child’s imagination. There is also a website with supporting videos for each chapter hosted by the author.

Let me suggest an analogy of my own. Parents often ask me about the difference between the NIV Bible and the NIrV Bible for children. I explain that for easy readability, the latter uses shorter sentences and a reduced vocabulary, but when it comes to people names, place names and the storyline itself, there are some things that can’t be dumbed down or tampered with.

Similarly, Wallace tosses out terms like causation and reasonable inference like they were after-school snacks, but only because he’s convinced that in the context of the book they’re holding in their hands kids can grasp these concepts. (A cat named Simba bears some of the responsibility for keeping the story accessible to young minds.) He gives kids credit for being able to understand more than we might estimate.

Which brings me to my conclusion: I think God’s Crime Scene for Kids isn’t just for kids. I think there are adults who struggle with the idea of understanding apologetics who would never read Wallace’s longer, adult book. Furthermore, I think there are people reading this who can think of one friend to whom they could say, “I got this book for your kids, but I want you to read it before you pass it on to them.”

I think the presence of a book like this could open a lot of doors to discussion that would cut across all age lines.


Related:


The full title is God’s Crime Scene: Investigate Creation with a Real Detective, David C. Cook, 2017; 144 pages, paperback.

A copy of the book was provided by the publisher.

September 16, 2017

Reaching Outside Your Megachurch’s Bubble

So let’s pretend that you go to a megachurch in a large urban area. Oh wait, that’s not a ‘pretend’ for many of you. Now let’s pretend that your church is one of the really “hot” churches in town; you’ve got a great children’s, youth and college and career program; the type of church where nobody would consider missing a single weekend service if at all possible.

But let’s pretend — and it’s not a stretch at all — that if you were to take a drive and head about an hour out of town, you would find people in a small town or village who simply didn’t have the same exposure to an urban church like yours. And let’s pretend that you took some other people with you, and also took some of the passion and excitement you have about your faith.

Maybe your end product would look different than the kind of “road show” that the man pictured at right was part of. Russell Wilkinson lived in a different era to be sure, but his weekly trips to the little town of Mount Albert were no small adventure. It was a long, long drive northeast from the city of Toronto; especially on the rare occasions where they picked up children and teens there, drove them to a special service in Toronto, drove them home to Mount Albert and then drove back again. In a post-war time before freeways or even good roads.

I like that they (a) identified a group of people who were unable to connect with the church ministry programs going on in the city, and (b) did something about it. The term “missional” may not have existed back then, but this was textbook “missional” thinking. I am sure that their willingness to do this also had some measurable impact on the parents of the youth they got to know.

They didn’t just absorb all the great music and teaching that went on at their big-city church, but they shared the gospel of Jesus Christ out of the overflow of all they had received.

And here’s a big component of this: Churches of all size would do this. They would send teams out to bless both rural and inner-city small(er) churches. Or even unaffiliated people — in this case youth — in small(er) communities. Instead of being focused inward, part of their church culture involved being focused outward. Not in a one-week mission trip to an exotic destination sense (which requires extensive fundraising) but in an ongoing, low-key manner.

I still have the trumpet in the picture. Until today, I’ve always thought of it as a musical instrument, but it was an instrument of ministry, too.

What are you doing this Fall to connect people with Jesus?

July 21, 2017

Getting to Know People in a Godless Society

Filed under: Christianity, evangelism, Faith, ministry, parenting — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:54 am

I like to talk.

I don’t have a lot of hobbies, so I thrive on faith-focused conversations.  These usually take two forms.

The first is conversations with those outside the faith. I’ve learned a few things over the years about theodicy, that branch of apologetics which attempts to explain the nuances of Christianity to outsiders. I thrive on this. Just hours before writing this, I was talking to a pastor about a church we visited when our kids were small which had a staff member designated as “Minister of Assimilation.” Aside from any weird science-fiction imagery, I liked the idea of integrating new people into the family and explaining how the family operates, our traditions and our key values.

The second is conversations with brothers and sisters. Considering a doctrinal idea. Encouraging one another with a particular verse or Bible passage. Networking to connect someone with a particular individual or resource which can potentially make a difference in their life, or having them do the same for me. Praying together. Singing together. Sharing our faith stories…

…What was unusual about the trip Europe was that I couldn’t get the conversation going. At the end of Day Four, in desperation, I emailed eight friends back home:

I know I live a lot of my life in the Evangelical bubble but it is strange to be in an environment where a faith-focused conversation is elusive.

We met some people from Sydney so I asked them if they had heard of Hillsong. They had but that was the end of it. This has happened many times. I toss out key words. I quote Jesus as casually as if I’m quoting Mark Twain. The conversation shuts down. No one takes the bait.

I did get to talk to one guy & shared the idea that to make the claims he made Jesus had to be deranged, deceptive or divine. On the 3rd possibility he just shut it down with “But there is no God.”

Now I know why Missionaries work so long before they see results.

Otherwise things going well.

So aside from noting my brilliant alliterative update to the “Liar, Lunatic or Lord” apologetic, I think you can see the frustration that I was experiencing. I really, really wanted to find someone to connect with over the thing that most excites me (church, Bible, worship, teaching). Or the One (Jesus).

The conversations never happened. Not in the dining room. Not on the sun deck. Not in the buses. Not on the streets. Perhaps God was telling me, ‘I don’t need you to be working for me all the time; kick back and have a vacation.’

It was bad enough touring through a very post-Christian society without having to face it on the boat. Supposedly about 37% of my fellow travelers were American. So where were the Southern Baptist Republicans I’ve heard so much about?

Not, as it turns out, on an expensive river cruise with an open bar.


Four days later we discovered over lunch that one of the four people from Sydney was a Christian. Same denomination as I am, in fact. I looked forward to continuing the conversation and learning more about her church, but we never actually connected past that point in the trip.  


Sidebar: Be prepared. I packed three (different) Bibles to give away to people I met on the trip… and I brought three Bibles home with me. Just never had that sense to go ahead and give one. That’s a first.

June 12, 2017

You Are Loved

Filed under: Christianity, evangelism — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:26 am

As we sat down in the town park on Sunday for our church’s annual outreach service to the broader community, I asked myself, “What would you say if it was your turn to get up to speak; not knowing who is out on the fringes of the crowd?”

I think first-and-foremost I would tell them that God loves them. No matter how I try, I can never get too far from this song by The Altar Boys, a 80s-era Christian rock band:

To all the hearts that have been broken,
To all the dreamers with abandoned dreams,
To everyone in need of a friend,
— You are loved, You are loved;
To all the rebels wounded in battle
To all the rockers that have lost that beat
To all the users who are all used up now
— You are loved, You are loved.

I would tell them the reason people in our church were on duty setting up the sound system and the barbecue and the games for the kids is because we want our community to know the love of God as expressed in Jesus Christ.

Then I would tell them that just as the town employs lifeguards at the nearby beach is because we live in a world where people need to be rescued. But I’d tell them it’s more than just a rescue from hell.

I always wanted to be a voice-over announcer. The guy who records the tags at the end of the movie trailer that says, “Starts Friday at a theater near you; check local listings.” Or at the end of the product commercial, “Available at K-Mart, Target, Kohl’s, Burlington, and Lowes.” Or my personal favorite, “Must-see TV starts now.” I love the authority of that. Nobody can say, “Maybe the movie isn’t opening on Friday, because you have declared that it “Opens in Theaters on Friday.”

I remember the Must-see TV announcement coming on just before the Thursday night lineup on NBC. “Must-see TV starts now.” Not, ‘stay tuned;’ or ‘this time tomorrow;’ but “starts now.”

And that’s how I feel about what we offer the world. Not avoidance of damnation and destruction — though that’s thrown in — but rather, “Eternal life starts now.” Look at your screen and — regardless of who else is in the room or on the bus with you — say that out loud: “Eternal life starts now.”

That it was it means to experience the love of God.

To all the rebels wounded in battle
To all the rockers that have lost that beat
To all the users who are all used up now
— You are loved, You are loved.

I’d tell them that if they want to opt in, they simply say to God, “I want to opt in. I know I don’t deserve it. I know I can’t meet the standard; the bar is too high for any of us. But I believe you, in your grace and mercy have found a way that anyone who wants to is included. And in gratitude, I want to find a way for my life to reflect what you’ve offered and I’ve received.”

Having sincerely said that to God, “You’re in.”

“Eternal life starts now.”

 

May 27, 2017

The Grilling that Missionaries Get When Trying to Maintain their Funding

This is about one-tenth of a larger 2014 article that a friend sent my wife. I just about wept reading this particular section.  The article is titled Ten Things That Your Missionary Will Not Tell You and the author is Joe Holman. Joe and his wife Denise have 11 children and serve in Cochabamba, Bolivia with Ripe for Harvest World Evangelism.

…When we meet with mission committees, churches, sending groups and donors they always ask us very specific questions. I have NO problem with that. What drives me bonkers is when someone NOT doing what I AM DOING judges me because they don’t think that I am doing enough of what they are not doing.

The best example of this is when you meet with a missions committee and they ask us about our evangelism. I share how, this year alone, we have shared the gospel with over 2,000 people (true story) outside of the church walls and have baptized 35 adults. The committee talks a little and then says something like, “We are concerned about the follow up of the converts and why so few have been baptized. We would also like to hear more about your evangelistic endeavors. What do you do and how do you do it?” Then, after sharing what you do and how you do it, they have critical comments and corrections about methodology.

The problem is this. The church that this mission committee is a part of hasn’t baptized 35 adults in the last 10 years and does not have a single planned evangelistic event on their church calendar. I often want to say, “We have baptized 35 adults and shared Christ with over 2,000 people…what have you done?” Or, “That is a great idea on evangelism, help me put some flesh on it. How did you guys implement this in your church?’ Or, “What do you do for follow up after your community evangelistic event?” I can’t, but I really want to. It is honestly difficult to listen to armchair quarterbacks who have never suited up critique the game that I am participating in.

Another example of this is how people who are doing nothing to help the poor criticize us for how we help the poor. They tell us what we should do, what we should not do, how and when and to whom we should do it. They tell us of the latest book that they have read and/or the latest sermon that they heard. They do nothing themselves, but they know exactly what we should do and if we don’t do it their way, then the threat of cutting support is dangling over our head.

If someone who is actually doing the ministry has advice, input or corrections then it is infinitely easier to accept. It is when we are told what to do by someone not doing anything that we have to constantly check our hearts and put a guard on our lips.

May 12, 2017

Apologetics: The Case for Making the Case

Probably the most disturbing thing about the newest title from J. Warner Wallace, Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes the Case for a More Reasonable, Evidential Christian Faith (David C. Cook) came in the preface where he noted that this is “the final installment in a trilogy.” Say it isn’t so!

Since arriving on the scene in 2013 with Cold Case Christianity and then 2015’s God’s Crime Scene, Wallace has rocked the world of evidential apologetics by applying his background as a cold case crime-solver to the issues of the death and resurrection of Christ and intelligent design respectively. (I recently combined both of my reviews into one at this link.)

Some might say that this book is guilty of repeating much material from the previous two volumes. Instead, I would argue that this is more like the director’s cut providing background information for hardcore followers. That said, I would suggest that you want to read Cold Case Christianity first to get maximum benefit from the new title.

The book is organized into four main chapters, each containing five sub-points. I found the first and fourth sections especially helpful. The first tracks a history of those who contended for the faith — a history of apologetics — starting with Christ himself, then The Commissioned, then the group he calls The Canonical, next The Continuing and last The Contemporary. (see illustration below)

The fourth section compares the way in which we communicate our message to the prosecutor in a trial. Opening statements, presentation of evidence and closing statements are important, but so is the selection of our audience — jurors in the analogy — and this is an area where we often expend much energy trying to convert those who are simply not prepared to hear what we have to offer.

But the best insights from the book are encountered along the reading journey, and these will probably be different for each reader. Example: Ever heard someone suggest that the Jesus narrative is a copy of earlier mythology? I have. But Wallace points out that the similarities between Jesus and Mithras, an ancient Persian mythological figure were “actually due to the borrowing on the part of Mithraic followers after they were exposed to Christianity.” (p. 90) (see video below)

He again in this books speaks of cumulative evidence, but later in the book suggests something different, “incremental decision making” on the part of the not-yet converted. He compares this to baseball; the idea is that we don’t necessarily know which base (1st, 2nd, 3rd) the person is standing on. We don’t have to hit a home run; if the person is standing on 3rd, we can hit a single and that might be enough to bring the person to home plate. (p. 197)

The groundwork for this book, and the thing I believe distinguishes it from the other two titles, is laid early on when he suggests that many are what he calls “California Christians.” We’re in the right place, but “accidentally” so. “Now, more than ever, Christians must shift from accidental belief to evidential trust. It’s time to know why you believe what you believe. Christians must embrace a forensic faith.” (p. 23)

The real high point for me however was a smaller section in the third chapter. Wallace quotes from ancient authors who were actually antagonistic toward Christians and Christianity. But in each of these there are little kernels of historical information about Jesus himself. After several pages of this, he finally combines all of these into a single summary paragraph that tells the Jesus story using the words of writers hostile to Christianity noting that it’s “a lot of information from ancient non-Christian sources, and it happens to agree with what the Bible says about Jesus.” (pp 136-7)

I could go on. There is much here, both in the text, the boxed sidebars and the two appendices. Also, in case you are wondering, Wallace also comes through with his signature diagrams.

As with the first two books, this is one that needs to be kept close by to refer to often.

Note: This time around there is also an 8-week, DVD-driven curriculum kit available with participant guides. 

For more information on J. Warner Wallace visit ColdCaseChristianity.com


A review copy of Forensic Faith was provided to Thinking Out Loud by David C. Cook Publishing. All three books are in paperback at $18.99 US retail each.

February 21, 2017

Christianity in 30 Seconds

God Enters Stage Left - Tim Day

Three years ago, we introduced you to Tim Day’s book God Enters Stage Left. At the time it was published, it was part of a movement wherein many authors and publishers were looking for ways to express the Biblical narrative as a single story, unfettered by the divisions between its various books in general and the line of separation between the first and second testaments in particular. Today that sentiment among writers and Bible edition creators is, if anything, continuing to grow.

The thing I especially liked about God Enters Stage Left — and mentioned in the review — was that “everything is written with the non-churched, not-Bible-literate reader in mind. The pass-along potential here is huge…”

That was then. Very recently I was alerted to an interview that Tim Day did a few months ago on the program Context with Lorna Dueck on the power of story. (See below.) That got me thinking. The book is already very concise, but what if Tim had to reduce the story arc of the Bible’s 66 books to a 30-second elevator pitch? What would that look like? I got in touch with Tim through Twitter and what follows was his response. Note that the book and the core message of Christianity’s sacred text are somewhat synonymous; so this is also an elevator pitch for the book itself.

God Enters Stage Left is a creative retelling of the Biblical story as a six-act play.

Through history, the Bible has been used to support war, oppression and religious legalism, leading many people to question belief in God. God Enters Stage Left walks through the unfolding Biblical narrative to show that the actual meaning of this story is quite the opposite of popular belief.

God’s approach to transforming the human heart is not outside in – having the right rules, getting rid of bad people, following strong leaders and facing harsh accountability. Rather, Jesus shows us that God’s approach is quite the opposite. God changes the human heart inside out. As we experience deep love from a close friendship with God, this enables us to live a life of love. We are freed from a life governed by rules, top-down leadership, and harsh accountability. We can experience peace within and peace with others. We are freed us to serve others compassionately, even those we may consider our enemies.

God Enters Stage Left ends with a Q & A section that provides concise answers to many of the common questions people have about the Bible.

Tim Day is the Director of City Movement. He previously served for 14 years as Senior Pastor of The Meeting House. He lives in Burlington, Ontario, Canada with his family. He is married to Liz and they have three children, Nathan, Rachel and Josh.

Learn more about Tim and City Movement at his website.

Order the book at this link

What would your version “Christianity in 30 seconds” or “The Bible in 30 seconds” look like?


Watch the interview with Lorna Dueck: Fast forward to 17:23

January 27, 2017

Contextualizing Your Message for Different Worldviews

GoodseedMany years ago at the MissionFest event in Toronto — a sort of trade fair for domestic and foreign mission agencies — we encountered representatives from GoodSeed Canada’s Quebec branch, who introduced us to four rather unique products. They were essentially the same book but each edition was tailored to a particular audience: People who grew up aware of traditional Christianity; people whose influences were largely Eastern; people whose background was more atheist, agnostic, pantheist or New Age; and children. As a lover of apologetics, I probably would have bought just about anything they offered, but the shared characteristics of all four books intrigued me.

the-stranger-from-goodseedThe Stranger on the Road to Emmaus is aimed at adults and teens who have been primarily influenced by Christianity, whether Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox, but are not necessarily believers. It’s published in ten languages, with optional workbooks available in six languages. There’s also an audio book available in English and Spanish, and an interactive DVD curriculum.

All That the Prophets Have Spoken is aimed at adults and teens who have been primarily influenced by Islam, but are not necessarily Muslim in belief.  It has 25% different content than The Stranger and is available in five languages with workbooks in two.

By The Name is aimed at adults and teens who have been primarily influenced by polytheism, pantheism, atheism, agnosticism or animism; or see themselves as a post-modern, post-Christian or secularist.  It is available in English and French.

The Lamb Story is a picture book hardcover is aimed at children age four and up from different backgrounds. It is available seven languages, with PowerPoint and DVD, CD audio, and DVD versions in English.

These aren’t new titles. So why share them here today? I think the idea behind this set of books is exactly what’s missing right now in Christian publishing. We generally publish books for Christians. The already on-side. Preaching to the choir. Imagine having a resource that you could place in the hands of two vastly different acquaintances which was written specifically for each of them. Consider the idea that instead of publishers establishing a brand through doing regular, large print, student versions and study guides, they pursue the title along the lines of different worldviews. Everybody in Christian publishing should be copying this concept to some degree.

Check out the graphic image below which also lists the various languages in which each is published. GoodSeed has branches in Canada, Australia, Scotland, Germany and the U.S.  You can learn more at the ministry headquarters home page, or link to find the store in the country nearest you. Even if you’re not in the market for this right now, take a look at the concept and remember these the next time you encounter that person for whom the existing catalog of Christian products is insufficient.

good-seed-titles

 

November 8, 2016

Immunity to Christianity

Filed under: apologetics, Christianity, evangelism, Jesus — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:08 am

immunityBecause of the various types of interactions I have with people, I have some things that I find myself constantly saying, some of which are analogies, to help clarify things spiritually. Every once in awhile I will discover that as much as these make up the core of the material that I use, some of them have never appeared on the blog.

I asked my wife what I should write about today, and she said, “Flu shots;” because minutes earlier we had just received ours for this season. It reminded me of what follows, and when I started searching here, I was amazed that this has never appeared because it fits the condition of so many different people, some of which are probably in your school, workplace, neighborhood, or even your extended family.

Did you get a flu shot? What was in it? Basically you got a small dose — albeit inactive — of the disease you want to avoid. You’re getting an artificial version of the illness to kick-start your immune system.

I don’t know who it was that first said this, but the substance (which you should see coming) is this:

When it comes to Christianity most people have been inoculated with just enough of the artificial that they are immune to the authentic.

Just enough Bible stories.
Just enough ritual.
Just enough preaching
Just enough Christian television
Just enough focus on works; doing good
Just enough emphasis on giving money
Just enough hypocrisy…
…Just enough religion.

Most people in the world at large — and I’m speaking here as someone part of what I consider a minority — have had just enough that now, the authentic elements of what it means to know Christ and follow him are rejected.

They’re immune now, and that no matter how passionate you are about your faith, they have a built-in resistance.

Maybe they haven’t really met Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

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