Thinking Out Loud

October 18, 2013

Adding Fuel to the Strange Fire


I told her that during the 18 days I would be in Southern California, I wanted to visit some churches. She recommended a few — some of which I later wished I had not skipped — but seemed adamant as to the one I should not bother with, mentioning the name of a pastor, John MacArthur who I had never heard of. The woman had grown up Pentecostal, and noted that the man, in her words, “has not been very kind to us.”

John MacArthurThat was a long, long time ago. Fast forward a few more years, and I heard the same pastor’s name mentioned in terms of “dispensational theology” (a term I was yet to fully grasp) and again, his antagonism toward the Charismatic movement in general.

All this to say, by way of introduction, that this week’s Strange Fire Conference comes as no surprise, either to me or to many others. This is, in every sense, the conference John MacArthur has been building toward for a lifetime; it is his legacy culminating 50 years of ministry.

Hyperbole has its place, and Jesus Himself used a variety of rhetorical devices to get His hearers’ attention. But according to the tone and tenor of the conference we’ve been hearing about this week, and in prior promotional videos, this is a slap in the face to each and every one of our Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers and sisters. As one writer stated, with broad brush strokes, MacArthur paints a picture of Charismatics that is as anchored in reality as it is to state that the Westboro folks are representative of all things Baptist.

Rather than continue to write further about a conference I didn’t attend or watch, I want to give you some links to articles written by those who, either in person or through the internet, had front row seats. These represent some of the Christian blogosphere’s top writers:

Patton:  John MacArthur is losing his voice, and I don’t want him to. His reputation dismantles his platform to speak at just about any conference. He has worked himself into a corner where every time he writes a book or opens his mouth, many of us say, “Oh no!” before anything else. His radio program is called “Grace to You” and we are often left thinking “grace to who?”

I should say that not everything online presupposes MacArthur’s error in promoting and presenting this conference.  Frank Turk at Team Pyro comes off his hiatus to basically challenge any and all among the Charismatic community to a spiritual duel of sorts, to take place on the field of podcast audio.

And if you want balance, I find Tim Challies gets into great detail with his live blogging of each speaker.

I have to confess I have not read all Tims Challies’ exhaustive articles in full, but with him and the other writers linked here, I would encourage you to read the comments as well as the articles.

There will be more. The conference runs all day today, 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM.  You can watch some of the live stream at this link.


September 16, 2013

Destroying the Idol of Absolute Certainty

…each one of us needs to be developing a personal, systematic theology so that we can respond when asked what we believe. We should know the ways of God; truly know what Jesus would do. But we should write our theology in pencil, not pen; remaining open to the possibility that what we see as through frosted glass will become clearer over time and therefore subject to change…

– me, Thinking Out Loud, 2/24/13

There are going to be those, on seeing this is a review of a Greg Boyd book, who will immediately dismiss everything that follows. While perhaps not as high on the controversy scale as Rob Bell, Boyd’s writings, sermons, and YouTube videos posted on his blog often reference the radical pacifism of his Anabaptist leanings; his belief that the American Church should be apolitical, not seen to be supporting candidates of either major party; and his teaching of ‘open theology,’ which offers the idea that for any given persons or group, the future could contain a range of possible outcomes among which God has not committed himself to knowing the final choice in advance.

Benefit of the Doubt - Greg BoydWith his newest book, Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty (Baker Books), Gregory Boyd presents the thesis that far too many Christians — at least in North America and western Europe — are committed to a set of spiritual propositions more than they are committed to Christ; and that in fact the thing they worship and place their faith in are these ‘certainties,’ far more than they worship and have their faith secured in “Christ, and Him crucified.”

At this point, I want to step out and say that I while I believe this book has great potential for both seekers and skeptics, this is must-reading for every seasoned or veteran Christ-follower. Furthermore, I want also step out and, to use a cliché, that if the Lord tarries, I think Greg Boyd will be remembered as one of the great thinkers of our generation, even if he is not heretofore accorded such honor.

While the book clearly intends to shatter the idol of theological over-confidence, its equal purpose is to give some peace and comfort to people who, although they are long on the journey with Jesus, still don’t feel they have all the details of the contract worked out. He is writing to those of us who perhaps know people for whom all doctrinal and theological matters are settled once and for all, while we ourselves, as in the above quotation from a previous column here, feel our theological understanding is better jotted down in pencil rather than indelible ink and therefore feel our relationship with God is somewhat lacking.  He writes,

Think about it. If I was confident that God unconditionally loves me because of what he did for me on Calvary, then wouldn’t I be confident that his love for me does not increase or decrease based on how accurate or inaccurate my other beliefs are? So too, if I was confident God ascribes unsurpassable worth to me on the basis of Calvary, then wouldn’t I be confident that my worth can’t be increased because I hold correct beliefs and can’t be decreased because I hold mistaken beliefs? These questions answer themselves.

Unlike other books I review here, the chapters of Benefit of the Doubt must be considered sequentially, not only for the progression of thought the book entails, but also because of the many autobiographical sections that are introduced then later referenced. This book is Greg Boyd at his most personal, most transparent; even as he writes of weightier things.

While Boyd admits in a couple of places that he tends overall to lean to the conservative position on many doctrinal issues; and that he believes in the inspiration of scripture and even a version of inerrency; the book will resonate with people who wrestle with many of the more difficult parts of the Bible, or those who are stuck in a place overshadowed by past unanswered prayers. He gets into this in describing an upcoming conference based on the book:

There are those who might falsely infer that with a title such as this, the pastor of Minneapolis megachurch Woodland Hills is slowly moving away from orthodoxy. Based on my reading, I would say with deep conviction, don’t think that for a minute. This is a book about the value of doubt; a book that espouses the concept that perhaps in an atmosphere of doctrinal fragility, our ultimate faith in Christ is perhaps stronger, more enriched, and more able to withstand the realities of life. As the publisher blurb suggestions, “Let your questions lead you to a stronger faith.”

September 13, 2012

Complete Links To Christian Century’s “Gospel in Seven Words”

So what if someone asked you to summarize your faith in seven words (or less)? That was the challenged faced by 23 writers at Christian Century. So… why bother listing all the articles here? Why not just link to the page? Because statistically, you guys drop by here — by the hundreds daily — but don’t click. (You don’t want to know what’s on, you want to know what else is on!) So I’m hoping a few of the answers here entice you to at least read a couple of the original articles. Or perhaps you’ll recognize a familiar name.  As to subscribers, I apologize; I don’t have a clue what you’ll get today.  Continue reading after the break.  You can at least click that, right?  As for the formatting, sometimes WordPress doesn’t play nice with other platforms…


January 21, 2011

On March 29th, 2011, It All Gets A Little Crazy

Christians who talk the most about going to heaven while everybody else goes to hell don’t throw very good parties. ~ Rob Bell, Love Wins

On March 29th; just a few weeks from now, you can count on various forms of social media to be all about Rob Bell’s newest book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.

‘In the first chapter alone,’  the Tweets, Facebook updates, and blog posts will read, ‘Bell clearly and finally defines his departure from Christian orthodoxy.’

Well, at least orthodoxy as we knew it; so detailed and convincing as some of his lines of thought are drawn.  Whether you agree or not at the end, you will definitely find yourself saying, “I never thought of it quite like that.”

I’m just a few pages from the end of an advance copy, and, well, this wouldn’t be a teaser if I said more right now would it?  You’ll have to wait a few more weeks for the book that Bell’s former publisher Zondervan no doubt figured was too hot to handle.

As the voice-over announcer said, “Coming Tuesday, March 29th to a bookstore near you from HarperCollins.”

…With more teasers to follow here at Thinking Out Loud.  Let the speculation begin!

January 10, 2009

H2O: An Alternative to the Alpha Course for a New Generation

Filed under: bible, Christian, Christianity, Faith, Jesus, theology — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:37 pm

This post was originally written in late February. This week, Thomas Nelson Publishing is re-launching the H20 course described here, for which it purchased the rights from Standard Publishing, so it seemed like a good time to compare the course with Alpha, a commodity with which most of you are familiar…

h2oAs a general rule, resources come and go, so we’re always looking for new things to recommend to people. A couple of years back we were sent a demo DVD in a plain cardboard package from Standard Publishing of Ohio, promoting a new evangelism course called H20. Right away I knew we were on to something good. The best way to define the program is to compare it another evangelism course, The Alpha Course with Nicky Gumbel.


* Both deal with the core doctrines of Christianity
* Both use a 20-30 minute DVD clip as the centerpiece
* Both are designed to be best presented around the fellowship of a meal over a ten week (H2O) or twelve week (Alpha) period
* Both recommended a couple of episodes towards the end be presented around a retreat weekend


* While Alpha features Nicky Gumbel in a kind of “talking head” lecture format, H20 scripts are presented against the background of dramatic, feature film quality narratives
* H20 host Kyle Idleman, teaching pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY definitely skews to a younger audience

* A supplemental video series called Storm is available for loan out for people who want more depth and is presented in a form more similar to Alpha, but isn’t part of the H20 weekly presentations
* While they are available, H20 doesn’t lend it self as strongly towards the use of study workbooks; in fact it might appeal best to a generation that would be turned off by that approach.

The person who gave me the original demo disc suggested that H20 could best be described as “Alpha meets Nooma” referring to the series of 18 or so teaching clips featuring Rob Bell. The comparison is certainly valid.

In the two years since however, we’ve only recently been able to get a church in our local area to sponsor a showing of H20. It’s a shame that such a quality resource — each episode would have cost ten to twenty times the cost of an Alpha episode — continues to be relatively unknown in the Christian community. No wonder they say that a high percentage of the cost of books and CDs is marketing. (And no wonder that so many authors eventually gravitate to companies like Thomas Nelson, who can force product sales through the pipeline.)

We hosted a media day for pastors and leaders in January of 2007. Many of the people came from greater distances (one of whom bought the course) but few people from our own county showed up. Then this fall, we did a leadership track presentation, showing 2-3 episodes per night over four Mondays. There was a great response among those present, but we’ve resigned ourselves to the idea that when it comes to new innovations, our influence is extremely limited. Just as parishioners won’t read anything their pastor (or Benny Hinn or James Robison) doesn’t tell them to; so also are pastors and leaders reluctant to try anything that doesn’t have momentum or isn’t sanctioned by their denominational headquarters. Sigh!

This is a quality resource that a forward-thinking church simply can’t afford not to look at. It holds the highest likelihood for connecting with a seeking person in their 30s, 20s or even teens.


UPDATE:  Thanks to Tim for giving us this YouTube link in the comments section.

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