Thinking Out Loud

May 20, 2018

The Original Day of Pentecost United; Present-Day Responses to Pentecost Divide

As I considered options for Pentecost Sunday here on the blog, I re-discovered this article from 2013. I don’t usually repeat the non-original items which have appeared here, but the idea of doing that with this kept gaining traction in my mind…

A Prominent Pentecostal Responds to John MacArthur

J. Lee Grady (pictured below) epitomizes, for me at least, the phrase “balanced Charismatic.”  Here’s the opening to his article, To My Fundamentalist Brother John MacArthur: Grace to You Too

J. Lee Grady 2Fundamentalist pastor John MacArthur is a gifted preacher, author and lover of Scripture. His Grace to You radio program points countless people to the Bible, and his Master’s Seminary trains hundreds of ministry leaders. He’s a staunch Calvinist, but that doesn’t make him any less my brother in Christ.

Unfortunately, MacArthur can’t say the same about me—and that’s sad. In his new book Strange Fire, he declares in no uncertain terms that anyone who embraces any form of charismatic or Pentecostal theology does not worship the true God.

My brother in Christ has written me off.

In John MacArthur’s rigid world, anybody who has sought prayer for healing, claimed a miracle, received a prayer language, prophesied, sensed God speaking to them, felt God’s presence in an emotional way or fallen down on the floor after receiving prayer has already stepped out of the bounds of orthodoxy.

MacArthur says charismatics think they worship God but that actually we are worshipping a golden calf. “Every day millions of charismatics offer praise to a patently false image of the  Holy Spirit,” MacArthur says early in the book. “No other movement has done more damage to the cause of the gospel.”

He doesn’t just write off fringe elements of our movement; he skewers the original founders of Pentecostalism and even goes after Baptist author Henry Blackaby for teaching that God can speak to people today.

MacArthur, who is 74, urges evangelical Christians to engage in a “collective war” to stop the spread of the charismatic movement, which he describes as a “deadly virus,” a “deviant mutation of the truth” and a “Trojan horse” that has infiltrated mainstream Christianity…

Continue reading here

Perhaps we can paraphrase MacArthur’s statement — quoted in the 5th paragraph above — and say that, “No other individual has caused more potential for dividing the Body of Christ in 2013 than John MacArthur.”

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April 30, 2018

Evangelical Assimilation: A Review of the Babylon Bee Book

The year was 2010, and a popular Christian humor and satire blog, Stuff Christians Like by Jon Acuff was a must read on a daily basis when a book of the same name released, Stuff Christians Like. Today the satire site of choice is The Babylon Bee, and it was only a few weeks in that we finally learned that the creator of the site was Adam Ford, known to that point as the artist behind the Adam4D comic.

Cracking the pages open of How to be The Perfect Christian: Your Comprehensive Guide to Flawless Spiritual Living, it was hard not to make comparisons to Stuff Christians Like, although about halfway through I had bought in to the premise of How to be… enough to enjoy it on its own merit.

For the record however, Stuff… took material from the daily blog and incorporated it into a collection of columns, whereas How to be… offers all-original material which has not appeared on the blog, in this form, to this point. So to get the comparison out of the way, I think the Babylon Bee material, like Jon Acuff’s blog before it, has more bite to it in the short-form rather than long-form format, and I also think the How to be…’s long-form moved it away from some of the references de jour, which make it so amusing. Ford, and (we’re told) a team of writers scour the Christian headlines, all too familiar to Wednesday readers here, and extrapolate fictional (i.e. fake) news stories taking those headlines to extremes.

The book instead tries to be more timeless though names are named. For the first few chapters, I pictured this book falling into the wrong hands, such as some neophyte convert in a Third World country where satire doesn’t exist. I longed for a page at the front, blank except for the words, ‘Warning: This book is satirical and should not be taken seriously.’ Now we might have to wait a year or two for some missionary to return with stories of a tribe where the book is being followed to the letter.

The book is published in hardcover in North America; 193 pages, of which 19 are blank, 12 are simply chapter titles and 12 are half-blank by virtue of the page formatting. So more like 156 digest-sized pages for $20 US or $26 Canadian. Forgive me for saying the book would be funnier in paperback.

What I did especially like is that Ford and co-author Kyle Mann offer some solid Biblical quotations to offset the farce, including an entire page (8 verses) from The Sermon on The Mount. This, plus allusions to other scriptures stand in contrast to the way they can be misused by churches (and satire writers) to produce unintended interpretations.

This is a book about learning how to assimilate into Evangelical culture. Like the Acuff book, it also reminded me of Games Christians Play which was published in the 1940s by Harper & Row, which we mentioned a few months ago in a general article on the Christian use of humor.

The Babylon Bee has an enormous online following. This book will resonate well with people who are informed as to the people, places and things which make up Evangelicalism. (Though one review suggests some names in the advance copy were excised from the final printing.) There were a few laugh-out-loud moments for this reader, but often what comes across isn’t satire, but rather sarcasm, and there is a difference.

On the other hand, if you decide to fully buy-in — if you live in the aforementioned Third World country, for example — there is a Holiness Tracker at the end of each chapter by which you can gauge your spiritual progress. Reading those brief sections, I do get the feeling that some will try to take the book literally, or, that many are already following the same steps to Evangelical conformity.

February 15, 2016

The Changing Face of the Global Church

“The Meeting of the Waters” in Manaus, Brazil: Two visually distinct rivers converge to form the Amazon River

I am no doubt a better person for the various books I have reviewed here over the years., but honestly, I’ve probably forgotten some of them. There is however one title that I still find myself quoting in discussions, particularly on the subject of missions, but often about the global church in general. 

Two very different missionaries are presented, one the author calls “Mission Marm,” the other is “Apple Guy.” Two vastly different mindsets having to join together not unlike the branches of the river above referenced in the book’s title. Reading that analogy alone is worth the price of admission.

This was the second half of a two part review I did  — here’s a link to  the original first part — of a 2010 book by Fritz Kling, The Meeting of the Waters: 7 Global Currents That Will Propel the Future Church (David C. Cook, still in print). The book is based on what the author calls “The Global Church Listening Tour;” one-hour interviews with 151 church leaders in nineteen countries.



As Canadians, we often find ourselves despairing over the USA-centric approach of many popular Christian books. So one expects a book with a ‘global’ perspective to transcend any particular nation. However, in some chapters more than others, Kling would relate his findings to the church in America. In this case that’s a good thing. If the book were just theoretical it would not accomplish much. Some of the real value here — although it’s never truly spelled out in ‘macro versus micro’ terms — is the application of what’s happening globally to the local church; the church you and I attend on weekends. But then again, this is a very, very ‘macro’ kind of book.

So what are the seven currents? There’s a great economy of language in Fritz Kling’s writing style, so I can’t do this adequately, but here’s a few things that stood out:

  1. Mercy — Kling uses an anecdotal approach in this social justice section: a young woman who gives up a promising law career to work with oppressed people in India; a young man who is a native of India who operates a technology firm guided by Sermon-on-the-Mount principles.
  2. Mutuality — It’s hard to function in the global church if you think you or the country you come from has all the answers; and that bias leads to further believing that you (or we) should be the ones in charge. He also suggests that people in other parts of the world don’t understand our various debates about practices or behaviors or doctrines, since they simply take the Bible at literal face value.
  3. Migration — There are three issues here: Worldwide migration patterns in general; the migration taking place from rural areas to cities at a time when churches are fleeing the urban core for the suburbs; and the ministry opportunities that exist when you have displaced, and therefore lonely people all around.
  4. Monoculture — This chapter looks at the dominance of the English language as a symptom of the much larger, accelerating spread of Western culture, and in particular, Western youth culture.
  5. Machines — Kling begins with a look at technology as a tool in disaster relief. (He mentions a 2008 cyclone that hit Burma. As the book was being published a major earthquake struck Haiti.) He moves on to discuss the role of technology in evangelism, and backtracks to show how that motive led to some other technological applications now enjoyed worldwide.
  6. Mediation — Kling delineates several areas where there is a need for reconciliation and mediation. He notes this will be a challenge for Westerners to function in a world that has become, in particular, very anti-American. He speaks in detail of the conflicts that exist, “not between Muslims and Christians, but between Muslims and other [more militant] Muslims.” Kling believes Christians should be leading the way toward reconciliation on all fronts.
  7. Memory — Knowing the past can be a blessing and a curse, but in many places, Kling sees more downside than upside, with entire cultures having a depreciated view of themselves. Still, Christians need to fully enter into, understand and even embrace the history of the place where they serve, and from there aim to bring hope and wholeness.

As I originally stated, I still hope this book finds the wider audience it is deserving of. This is a book for pastors and missiologists for sure, but I think it’s also a title that business leaders, church board members and people who simply care about the future of the church should want to study.

October 24, 2013

A Prominent Pentecostal Responds to John MacArthur

Filed under: books, theology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:07 am

J. Lee Grady (pictured below) epitomizes, for me at least, the phrase “balanced Charismatic.”  Here’s the opening to his article, To My Fundamentalist Brother John MacArthur: Grace to You Too

J. Lee Grady 2Fundamentalist pastor John MacArthur is a gifted preacher, author and lover of Scripture. His Grace to You radio program points countless people to the Bible, and his Master’s Seminary trains hundreds of ministry leaders. He’s a staunch Calvinist, but that doesn’t make him any less my brother in Christ.

Unfortunately, MacArthur can’t say the same about me—and that’s sad. In his new book Strange Fire, he declares in no uncertain terms that anyone who embraces any form of charismatic or Pentecostal theology does not worship the true God.

My brother in Christ has written me off.

In John MacArthur’s rigid world, anybody who has sought prayer for healing, claimed a miracle, received a prayer language, prophesied, sensed God speaking to them, felt God’s presence in an emotional way or fallen down on the floor after receiving prayer has already stepped out of the bounds of orthodoxy.

MacArthur says charismatics think they worship God but that actually we are worshipping a golden calf. “Every day millions of charismatics offer praise to a patently false image of the  Holy Spirit,” MacArthur says early in the book. “No other movement has done more damage to the cause of the gospel.”

He doesn’t just write off fringe elements of our movement; he skewers the original founders of Pentecostalism and even goes after Baptist author Henry Blackaby for teaching that God can speak to people today.

MacArthur, who is 74, urges evangelical Christians to engage in a “collective war” to stop the spread of the charismatic movement, which he describes as a “deadly virus,” a “deviant mutation of the truth” and a “Trojan horse” that has infiltrated mainstream Christianity…

Continue reading here

Perhaps we can paraphrase MacArthur’s statement and say that, “No other individual has caused more potential for dividing the Body of Christ in 2013 than John MacArthur.”

September 10, 2013

Christianity: What Have I Got Myself Into?

Another lifetime ago, I could have recited the titles of all the appropriate follow-up materials for people who had ‘made a decision,’ ‘committed themselves to Christ,’ or ‘crossed the line of faith.’ There were booklets like Now, What? (not to be confused with What Now?) and The First 30 Days of Your Christian Life and a handful of great study booklets by The Navigators (which is not the name of a Christian rock band or gospel quartet, so far.)

Adventures in ChurchlandBut you could do a lot worse than simply handing someone a copy of Adventures in Churchland: Finding Jesus in the Mess of Organized Religion by Dan Kimball; in fact you could give someone this book before they decided, committed or crossed, especially if they present themselves as even the least counter-cultural. The book covers the waterfront of challenges anyone might face being a newbie at the whole Christ-following thing.

Which brings me to saying that now I finally understand Kimball’s pompadour-coiffed looks; it’s a tribute to his love of all things 1950s, especially the music described as rockabilly. It’s hard today to imagine a senior pastor telling him that this type of haircut was inappropriate for youth ministry, but it helps you to appreciate the culture shock he experienced entering Churchland (the world of both mainline Protestantism and Evangelicalism) for the first time. His hilarious description of his first Anglican/Catholic-styled communion service is alone worth the price of admission (and the fact he shares the experience with a guy named Randy makes the whole episode sound like a scene in My Name Is Earl.)

Because I spent the summer defying the publishing establishment and simply reading books I wanted to instead of books currently being promoted (though Churchland is a 2012 title), I approached some of them differently and must confess that I read some of this one out of chapter sequence. This turned out to be a viable method, as the book is very much a series of essays and some of the biographical information is repeated, even in chapters that follow consecutively.

The book is really equal parts biography, basic doctrine, and apologetics. In a casual, offhand manner, he covers most of the essentials; and if all you knew of the belief system was what you read in newspapers, saw on television, or learned from blogs and websites; this would set you straight as far as confronting the things that tend to make headlines and tend to be an embarrassment to those of us on the inside.

Only weeks earlier, I had read Kimball’s They Like Jesus But Not The Church. He is currently working on a book with an eerily similar title. When it comes to presenting Christianity to those without a church background, Kimball gets his audience.  He was once one of them.

…If you missed it two weeks ago, here is an excerpt.

(Note to Zondervan: That’s two blog posts on a book I bought. You guys owe me!)

May 25, 2012

Rachel Held Evans’ Monkey Town

I know it’s generally uncool for a blogger to review a book that’s two years old, but then again, I actually paid for my copy, so technically this isn’t a review review; whatever that means. I was more overcome with curiosity, having become a regular reader of Rachel’s blog.

Sometimes a great blogger does not a great book author make, but in this case — sorry, Rachel if this seems uncomplimentary — the book was far better than what I’m accustomed to reading each day in blogland. The thing that struck me was that the book was so readable; the first hundred pages flew by in a single sitting.

Rachel Held Evans’ title refers to growing up in the town that was the venue for the Scopes Monkey Trial, the trail concerning the teaching of evolution and creation in public schools that some Christians see as having been as pivotal as Roe v Wade. I’d love to say that it ends there, that Rachel isn’t personally a proponent of some kind of theistic evolution, but in fact, this is one of the issues she deals with.

And Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All The Answers Learned to Ask the Questions (Zondervan, paperback, June 2010) is definitely about raising the tough questions and allowing doubts to nurture somewhat without ending with a total abandonment of either God or some of the primary fundamentals of the conservative faith in which she was raised.  To that end, this is a book that will appeal to readers of authors like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren.

It’s also a ‘growing up Christian’ type of memoir, and as Rachel herself admits, to do something of that nature while still in one’s twenties, is a bit of daunting task. This book will certainly resonate with anyone in Rachel’s demographic, or who identifies with postmodern culture.

While the book is edgy, it didn’t stir up the hornets’ nest that her next book — A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master — is bound to when it releases in late October. (See an article on this subject here at TOL.)

In the meantime, you’ve got Rachel’s blog to enjoy if you’re looking for more.

April 30, 2012

God Meets a Family in the Midst of Crippling Loss

After my time serving on staff at a local church came to an end, we took a two-year break from that church and attended another in town, somewhat renown for its children’s ministry and Bible teaching. The pastor at the time was an excellent speaker, and his oldest son, Benjamin, was in a Sunday School class with our oldest.

Flash forward more than a decade and we learned that Ben had been diagnosed with a form of leukemia. To say this seemed to hit close to home was more than an understatement. It seemed to me like only yesterday the kids were saving seats for their dads at a Sunday School Father’s Day party by crossing their legs over the empty chairs next to theirs. My wife heard about a Facebook group, Pray for Benjamin Elliott, and as new feeds came in, she would forward them to me by email. Praying for Ben became part of our nightly prayer routine as a family.

After it looked like Ben had triumphed over the disease, sadly he relapsed; and not longer after, the Facebook group was renamed, The Ben Ripple; mostly because it appeared that the stories which rippled out from Ben’s life and death were impacting so many lives both near and far. Ben’s mom, Lisa Elliott carefully crafted each post, and the thought did occur to me that someday, this material might benefit a greater readership, and sure enough, much of the material from those Facebook posts have been gathered together into a book of the same name, The Ben Ripple.  (I suspect this will not be her last book.)

I asked my wife to take another look at those Facebook entries through the book, and share a few thoughts from a mother’s perspective.

The Ben Ripple is a challenging read.  Walking through another person’s pain and loss, even in retrospect, takes some doing, especially having been one of the followers of the ‘real time’ Facebook updates, which comprised an honest, hopeful and wounded journaling from a woman of faith and intelligence whose life was suddenly shaken loose.

In this book, Elliott brings back those first raw outpourings, ties them together with some more objective reflections on what was happening in the family’s lives at the time and closes each chapter with practical suggestions for those dealing immediately with cancer, and for those on the periphery who just want to not say or do the wrong thing.

Her writing is both skilled and passionate, drawing the reader closer to understanding and empathy with a situation that most of us will never experience –  the loss of a child –  and one that more and more of us live through – fighting cancer.  She takes time to explain the treatments, with their setbacks and successes, and to appreciate the medical professionals who were involved in her family’s lives.

All in all, it is important for us to know stories like Ben’s.  The places where God meets us face to face, and the places where he stands quietly behind us.  What the family next door might be going through and what they may deal with from one day to the next.  It’s been said that we live in a world that has forgotten how to lament — to cry out to God our pain and fear and loss.  This book is just such a thing, but like so many of the laments in Scripture, it ends on a note of “nevertheless…”  The possibility of healing, the value of trusting, the necessity of faith in one who loves us.

The Ben Ripple is a remembered and continuing journey well worth walking.

~Ruth Wilkinson

The Ben Ripple is published in paperback by Word Alive Press and available through them in Canada and through Ingram and Spring Arbor in the U.S.   A copy was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Graf-Martin, a Kitchener, Ontario based promotion and publicity agency which comes alongside Christian publishers to provide key titles with enhanced visibility.

October 4, 2010

The Misunderstood God Revisited

I sometimes repeat posts here, and I sometimes do book reviews, but the two never mix.   I’ve never repeated a book review.   But every once in awhile there’s a book that gets lost in the shuffle, and while reviewers love to write about books that aren’t even released yet, there’s nothing wrong with mining the shelves for things others may have missed…

So partly because The Shack publishers are weighed down in a legal quagmire and not doing anything new, and partly because I think it raises other issues, let’s take a look at this title reviewed one year ago…

God Is Not Self-Seeking

God did not send his only son to die because God was so offended by sin that he needed to whack somebody in order to feel better. A “sin offering” is not made to God. A sin offering is an offering made to sin. Sin is a beast that wants to devour us. Imagine you are camping in the wilderness alone and you come upon a grizzly. The moment that bear sees you and begins running toward you, I promise you this: you had better come bearing gifts! If you have nothing to offer that beast he will devour you. The sacrifice on the cross was essentially Christ throwing himself in front of the beast on your behalf and allowing it to consume Him while you escaped. Jesus did not die on the cross to satisfy God’s moral rage at your sin. He died to save you from the beast of sin. The death he died to sin once for all.

~Darin Hufford, The Misunderstood God (Windblown Media, November 2009) pp 97-98

In a world where we often speak of “brands” in Christian publishing, it’s unusual to see a publishing imprint where many different voices seem to speaking to one central mission or sharing one common voice. Windblown Media has managed to do just that, pushing a giant “pause” button on some of our nearest and dearest views on both the Godhead; and our views on the church — us — the way we interact together as the body, as well as within our families or mariages.

As with He Loves Me, The Shack, So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore, Bo’s Café, and now The Misunderstood God by Darin Hufford, readers are treated to a fresh perspective, one that is sure to bring about some agitation by those who would have us follow a God that is not a kindler, gentler deity.

The Misunderstood GodWhen I first flipped through the pages of The Misunderstood God, I was expecting something similar to the first half of Your God Is Too Small by J. B. Phillips. I came to that book about a dozen years ago for the first time, and was astounded by how much my own God perspective was informed more by comparisons to other authority figures than informed by scripture itself.

While some people might see books like this as a giant piece of chalk (or marker) about to write on the giant blackboard (or whiteboard) everything one needs to know in terms of their doctrine of God, I prefer to see this kind of book as a giant eraser, cleaning off all those false doctrines and wrong views we’ve collected over the years. Sometimes, such an eraser has to scrub a little bit harder to get some of those off the board so we can start fresh.

In fact, the first half of Your God Is Too Small by Phillips does just that type of deconstruction — in only about 60 pages of this rather small book — before reconstructing in the second half; but it’s the first half of the book that really packs the greatest punch.

darin huffordBut a few chapters into The Misunderstood God I finally figured out that the deconstruction and reconstruction takes place here on a chapter-by-chapter basis, using as its motif, I Corinthians 13. I’ve heard people speak before on how the “Love is patient, love is kind…” passage can, if it’s true that ‘God is love,’ be read as, “God is patient, God is kind…” I had just never seen it before as the key to healing misunderstandings we have about the nature of God.

The problem compounds for those who — in either J. B. Phillips’ generation or Darin Hufford’s generation — can’t embrace the idea of a kinder, gentler God because it would mean unsubscribing from all the lifelong beliefs they have held. Many people are predisposed to being angry because their God is angry. Actually, I heard that years ago at a music festival where a speaker suggested — in jest — the following worship lyrics:

He is Lord!
He is Lord!
He has risen from the dead
And blown his stack!

I remember everyone laughing at the absurdity of those lyrics, but really, that’s the God-picture that’s more dominant in our minds. Which is why the Windblown books, particular He Loves Me by Wayne Jacobsen and The Misunderstood God are so badly needed.

I do think there are some rough edges in the writing. A few sentences left me wide-eyed wondering, “Did he really mean to say that?” I thought of marking pages as I was reading, but then I figured the critics will find these soon enough.

What matters most here is that books like this are refreshing to the soul. Maybe the chalk (or the marker) is needed, but the eraser first has to get rid of everything previously written. Books like this are rare, which makes them a breath of fresh air.

God loves you. God is love. He is a loving God. Yes, he is a God of justice and yes, he has shown his judgment of sin in the past and will do so again. But the latter has been inscribed on our minds much more than the former, which needs to be said again and again, if only to be given equal time.

God loves you. God is love. He is a loving God. Just say that out loud a few times.

God loves me. God is love. He is my loving God.

For He Loves Me, here’s my review from December 16, 2008, a remix review from May 3rd.

For So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore, here’s my review from April 19, 2008.

For Bo’s Café, here’s my recent review from September 14, 2009.

he loves methe shackSo You Don't Want To GoBo's CaféThe Misunderstood God

Pictured: book cover, Darin Hufford, Windblown Media family of titles.

September 30, 2010

The Strategically Small Church: Small is the new Mega

Less than 1% of the total number of churches in the U.S. are what are considered mega-churches, yet in book after book, conference after conference, it is those churches and their leaders who are setting the agenda and the criteria for what constitutes success in ministry.

It can be disheartening for smaller churches faced with the impossible task of trying to keep up when the larger ‘successes’ seem to dictate the programming one needs to have, and even the language used to discuss it.

Brandon J. Obrien, an editor at large for Leadership magazine is figuratively spitting into the wind of conventional wisdom with his new book, The Strategically Small Church.

…If we could just silence the experts for a few hours, we might have the time and imagination to begin thinking about our ministries in a new way.  (p. 156)

He gives example after example of small(er) churches which are able to excel in areas such as authenticity, flexibility, training and equipping; not to mention the growing awareness that new priority needs to be placed on inter-generational ministry, something small churches do well.

But probably his best illustration is one of the two only non-church oriented ones he uses: The example of a small west coast newspaper who are gaining readers at a time that print newspaper readership is in rapid decline by simply refusing to publish anything unless their ‘take’ on the story is unique or nobody else is covering it.

This provides a metaphor for how he perceives American churches are tripping over themselves trying to duplicate services, because the perception is that these programs (and, one assumes, attendant staff members) are the measure of success in ministry.

As I finished the book this morning, I couldn’t help but think of next week’s Catalyst Conference in Atlanta.   A quick look at the list of speakers who come from the world of vocational pastoral ministry bears out O’Brien’s hypotheses.   All of the primary speakers represent the largest U.S. churches, and the same is true for tw0-thirds of the breakout group speakers.

An inspiring group of key speakers?   I’m sure they are, but how do you take what you’ve heard and apply it when you’re back home in your church of 100 members?

O’Brien also — and I wish he had fleshed this out a little more — hints that the mega-church pastors and leaders know that the current model has its flaws.     While some things, like worship and drama, happen with great efficiency and excellence in the larger congregations, the lack of inter-generational contact may signal some long-term problems for those who have never learned to integrate with the larger body.

Though it’s not in the text, I love these words from the back cover blurb:  “Blessed are the small.”    Indeed.

The Strategically Small Church is published by Bethany House; 168 pages; $15.99 U.S.

Other excerpts from the book on my other blogs:

Comparing the small church to the small retail store versus the giant big-box store at Christian Book Shop Talk.  (Brandon’s other non-church metaphor.)

A quotation from Bonhoeffer on the pressures placed on the church by “big vision” leaders at Christianity 201.  (Not limited to big church pastors, but also including those with big church aspirations.)


August 12, 2010

Steven Furtick: Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me

I’ve just finished reading an advance copy of Sun Stand Still: What Happens When You Dare to Ask God For the Impossible by Steven Furtick, the pastor of the rapidly growing Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC.   The title, releasing another “sun significant” day, September 21st from Multnomah Books,  is based on Joshua’s prayer in Joshua chapter 10.  “There has never been a day like it before…” (vs 13 NIV)

This is a book about prayer, and it’s a book about faith, and mostly, it’s a book about praying prayers of faith, or what he calls audacious prayers.   As such it’s a title that will inspire next-generation Christ-followers to stretch their faith in prayer; a book that might be given to a teen or twenty-something and/or someone who is new to the family of faith.

The author quotes Jim Cymbala’s Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire early on and in many ways this book stands in that tradition of — and I hate to use this word because it can diminish the impact — books on prayer that are truly inspiring.

But beyond the reading process which I began several days ago, I decided to dig a little deeper to, if you’ll forgive the nameplay, see what makes Steven Furtick tick.

The book begins with the story of Elevation Church filling the Time Warner Arena in Charlotte the year on Easter Sunday; a dream planted in Steven Furtick’s heart just four years earlier.     Reports ranged from attendance figures of 10,000 to the figure on the Elevation Worship Blog, 11,600.   (It also lists the worship pieces that morning; of the eleven, six were from Hillsongs.)

I decided to watch the service online, but presented with a range of sermons, decided to jump into something else, only to find myself watching a guest speaker, North Point’s Andy Stanley.   In the process of trying to ascertain where Furtick and Elevation fit into the larger map of American Christianity, Andy Stanley came as a bit of a surprise.

That’s because — as my reading of the book and eventual viewing of the Easter sermon and two other sermons convinced me — Furtick’s message and style seems to fit into a long line of Pentecostal or Charismatic tradition.  For the Time Warner Arena occasion, he donned a suit which, combined with the dynamics of the arena, couldn’t help remind me of Joel Osteen.

But I’m not sure that Furtick would welcome the comparison.   I decided to dig into his blog; not just current entries, but ones from its beginnings in the fall of 2006.    He considers Craig Groeschel and Perry Noble mentors, and there’s nothing in his church’s core beliefs that hints of Pentecostalism.

Maybe it was just the Easter suit thing.   Or the traditional invitation at the end of the messages.  Or having the congregation stand for scripture readings. Or the “Amen Corner” on the website.

…Or maybe it’s part of our fallen nature that anytime someone has a faith-stretching, big-believing message we want to categorize or pigeon-hole that person with a “Charismatic” label, instead of recognizing that this is what it means to follow Christ as the early disciples understood it, and as we’re reminded in a story early in the book, Christians in the third world or persecuted church understand it today.   In fact, in some places Furtick would challenge the prosperity or claim-it message of hardcore Charismatics.

In the end, I have to conclude that Steven Furtick is a hybrid.   His next-generation appeal might earn him the label Emergent Charismatic.   Neither adjective is fully accurate here — how about Missional Pentecostalbut it’s the best I got because Sun Stand Still is a Spirit-filled message of classical Biblical faith, but it’s a 30-year-old’s fresh take on a classic Old Testament passage that any young person should enjoy reading.

The book will energize your prayer life no matter where you are on your journey with Christ.   If you want to dig in to more of Elevation online, you’ll find some powerful and passionate preaching with a wisdom beyond Steven Furtick’s years.

Reviewer’s Notes:

  1. Thanks to Norm at Augsburg Canada (Multnomah’s up-North distributor) for the advance copy.
  2. Elevation’s online sermon server gets you a full-screen, high-def video sermon every time, that downloads quickly provided you’ve got the bandwidth. Clearly among the best I’ve seen.   I don’t see an audio option.
  3. Given the aforementioned appeal to younger readers, I gotta seriously question Multnomah’s decision to release this in hardcover at $20 U.S. ($23 CDN)   I hope initial sales don’t discourage those involved, because this is a natural title for paperback first edition. UPDATE:  This will release in paperback at $14.99 US/$16.99 CDN.  They must have been reading this blog!!
  4. If you click on the “comments” section for this post (below) you can watch the promotional video for the book featuring Steven’s ever-changing hairstyles!

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