Thinking Out Loud

September 15, 2018

Weekend Archives: Best of the Early Years

Three posts, with some updating, from our very first year…

My Paraphrase of II Tim 3:16 – The Purpose of the Bible:


Today’s New International Version (TNIV)

All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for

  • teaching
  • rebuking
  • correcting…
  • training in righteousness

The Message

Every part of scripture is God-breathed and is useful one way or another —

  • showing us truth
  • exposing our rebellion
  • correcting our mistakes
  • training us to live God’s way

New Living Translation (NLT)

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful to

  • teach us what is true…
  • make us realize what is wrong in our lives…
  • correct us when we are wrong…
  • teach us to do what is right

My very loose paraphrase

All scripture has its point of origin in God’s mind, and

  • shows us the path God would have us walk
  • highlights when and where we’ve gotten off the path
  • points the way back to the path
  • gives us the advice we need to keep from wandering off the path in future

What Your Library Says About You:

Several years ago we were asked to stop in at the home of man who was well known in the Christian music community here in the 1980s. He passed away on the last day of August, and because he had some books and Bibles, and because we’re in the book and Bible business, we were asked to help find a home for some things.

We were only there an hour, but it got me thinking about the stuff we own, the stuff we collect, the stuff we purchase, the stuff we save and the stuff we leave behind. Someday, everyone reading this will be gone and perhaps someone else will be going through their stuff trying to decide was is valuable and what is not; what is worth keeping, what is worth selling and what is worth giving away; what ought to go where and to whom.

I have always believed that a man consists of more than the abundance of his possessions. But the things we hold on to, the things we value, say a lot about the people we are. It tells those who follow after us what our priorities were. I remember visiting an artist once who had a vast collection of what artists and printers refer to as paper stock samples. He then — somewhat tongue in cheek, because he was a Christian — said, “These are my gods.” Others would not say this as humorously.

The man whose library we went through today was different. He didn’t really own much in the sense of having stuff that was marked for long-term ownership. His name wasn’t written in the front of a lot of books. Instead, he had temporary ownership of things he wanted to give away. Books, booklets, Bibles, sermon audio discs, sermon DVD discs. It’s a nice legacy to leave.

His ‘giving away’ ministry was much a big part of who he was, though. I said to a visiting missionary yesterday, that in our local area, after years of meeting with the broadest assortment of the Christian community, I have only met about six people who are truly passionately committed to evangelism. This man was one of them. Finding someone to fill his shoes was quite a challenge, but as I write this, years later, 90% of his materials found a home.

The Mystery Man and His Gift of Encouragement:

For over twenty years now, I’ve carried a secret that is only known to my wife and two kids. The secret concerns the identity of a guy who was used in our lives to be an encouragement to us at a time when no one else filled that role.

We had been several months into our retail store in a market where three previous stores had failed over the past six years. In fact, we were the fourth Christian bookstore and the sixth location in six years. The first and last of these were “second” stores for established retailers, the middle one was a family with a strong retail history. We figured we didn’t stand a chance. Heck, we didn’t even bother installing a telephone. I figured three to six months and it would be over; but the pre-existing business would at least have a chance to blow out some inventory in the process.

And then Mr. ___ walked in. Carrying about six bags of groceries. Interesting groceries, too; stuff we didn’t know what to do with. Lots of pork. And cabbage. And those little cubes you put in water to make beef broth. But it was all so very encouraging. A week later Mr. ___ showed up again, with more cabbage and more broth cubes. And the next week, too. And so on for about six months, and then later it switched to a weekly thing with a little bit of cash here and there to buy similar amounts of groceries.

When we finally realized why the other three Christian retailers had failed in this particular small town, we decided to wrap it up. The problem? How to tell Mr. ___ that it wasn’t working. I did not want to break his heart or make him feel like he’d been used, or that he’d contributed to something that wasn’t going to last. So we deferred the decision another week. And kept deferring it.

Not many years later, we were a chain of three stores in three cities. All because we didn’t quit. Or more accurately, because we were so surrounded by encouragement, so pumped by someone cheering us on in the stands, that we just kept running the race.

His weekly visits lasted over a year. I learned later that he could ill afford to be buying us groceries. He said that God would tell him when it was time to quit, and once we rounded the corner financially, his visits stopped. I only ever saw him two or three times after that.

This guy did not want to be known. This was our secret. He was quite clear on that. It reminded me of Jesus performing a miracle and then telling the recipient to say nothing about it. (But wait; it was a miracle!) The man in our story and his wife may have been the last people on earth that you would guess would play a pivotal role in a ministry that would bless the entire Christian community in three towns. But my wife and kids know differently. God used this couple to get us to keep going when everything around said it was time to pack it in.

The world needs a lot more people like Mr. ___ .

Advertisements

September 4, 2018

Abdu Murray: Contending for Clarity in a World of Noise

Although the book, Saving Truth was released back May of this year, people in my part of the world are just now becoming aware of it. Abdu Murray is the North American Director for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM); it’s actually his third book; and like the late Nabeel Quereshi, Murray is a convert to Christianity from Islam.

Saving Truth: Finding Meaning and Clarity in a Post-Truth World (Zondervan) begins with the announcement from the compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary that “post-truth” was their word of the year in 2016. Since the book was published, we had the statement from Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s attorney, who famously said in mid-August that “truth isn’t truth.” It’s into that chaos that this book steps.

I can’t really review this book without noting a key comparison to another we reviewed here almost exactly a year ago. Like The Problem of God by Mark Clark (also Zondervan) this book is arranged to deal with factors which can crop up in a faith-focused discussion with an unbeliever. While Clark sees his ten as problems to be addressed, Murray sees seven areas — and some of them are the same ones — as subjects where the core issues have been lost in confusion and clutter. While we may bristle at the expression “post-truth;” one can’t be reminded of the conditions a generation ago where the word was “post-modern.”

In terms of how the world responds to the premise of there being absolute truth, the situation today is quite similar and the old arguments have simply been recycled.

Specifically he looks at:

  1. The post-truth mindset
  2. The notion of freedom
  3. Human dignity
  4. Sexuality, gender and identity (the lengthiest chapter; 44 pages)
  5. Science, Scientism and faith
  6. Religious pluralism (all roads start at the same place; end differently)

The end result is what Murray terms a “culture of confusion” a world where the rug of truth has been pulled out from under everyone, including people on either side of any given issue.

As with the writing of Ravi Zacharias, without being an academic title, this book will appeal to the more informed reader; and like Zacharias, broadens its appeal with humor and by mixing quotations from key philosophers and scientists with lyrics from modern music. Many of the anecdotes in the book are based on recordings of the interactions that RZIM presenters have with skeptical audience members at colleges and universities. In other words, this is not “lite” reading, but it does contain practical responses to objections to Christianity that can be filed away for future use.

One inescapable takeaway is that everybody believes something, or to put it differently, everyone has faith in something. Atheism, as an example is very much a belief system, one that demands the faith of its adherents.

This is a book to read with pen in hand in order to go back to underlined sections for reference.


256 pages | US ISBN: 9780310562047 | International Edition: 9780310599838

For my Canadian readers, Abdu Murray will be featured throughout September on Canada’s national Christian television talk show, 100 Huntley Street.


A review copy of Saving Truth was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Graf-Martin Communications; providing Brand Strategy, Publicity and Integrated Marketing in Canada.


DOWNLOAD A FREE .pdf OF THE FIRST CHAPTER OF SAVING TRUTH AT THIS LINK
You will be asked to provide your email address, but can then unsubscribe from the newsletter you are sent.

August 4, 2018

Secularization in Europe: Where it Begins

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:05 am

You won’t see a picture like this often: Just 5 minutes earlier this Cathedral in Strasbourg was teeming with tourists, but they shut it down at 11:15 AM every day, evacuating all the guests. Empty churches is the theme of my writing on our concerns for Christianity in Europe.

I’m not a social scientist, though I play one on television.

However, in the informal interviews we had with people in July (and the year before) there is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that the secularization taking place in Europe has two very strong nodes; two places where it begins from which the ripple effects spread out throughout each respective country. Furthermore, I’m predicting that in the future, things won’t be much different in Canada and the United States.

One is cities. I know the stereotype. Country people are closer to the land, and it better lends itself to worshiping God in creation. But so many things reinforced the continued devoutness of the people in the smaller communities, as opposed to the secularized society we witnessed in the urban environments. Rural values are more spiritual.

For now.

The second is the young. Even as secularization spreads from the cities to the towns, it spreads as those in their teens advance into their twenties, have their own families for which church attendance is not a part of normal life.

We used to say, “Just wait until they have children.” The theory was that the children would ask questions that would force the parents to provide a structure to help them answer the metaphysical, philosophical, and spiritual questions of life.

Then studies proved that didn’t happen.

I’ve quoted this (source unknown) before:

A faith community that does not impart its sacred writings to its young people is one generation away from extinction.

I would add another today:

A faith community which has lost its children and teens is one generation away from extinction.

…and all the organ concerts and gift shop sales won’t be enough to stop that.

August 3, 2018

Secularism: Coming Soon to a Continent Near You

Tourists appreciate the stained glass in general, but often breeze by without looking at the details. “The Poor Man’s Bible” offered the Biblical narrative to those too illiterate to read the story for themselves, and too poor to ever afford a Bible. Cathedral in this picture was in Strasbourg, France.

If you Google the phrase, “The secularization of Europe;” you’ll get over 50,000 results. I am quite sure that many of those can say better what I’m about to say here.

As some of you know, we just returned from 14 days. Last year it was Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Germany and the Czech Republic. This year it was Holland, Germany, France (for 5 hours anyway), and Switzerland. During both trips, I interviewed tour guides, bookstore staff, hotel workers, and anyone else who didn’t sprint away when I brought the subjects of faith, church, religion or Christianity.

“We tried religion and it didn’t work;” one of the tour guides in Prague said to me last year. This time, when I asked about church attendance it was, “Why would they go?”

My usual question was, “Out of the people in your immediate social circle, how many would attend church?” One person made a point of telling me the answer was 2-3%, but that strangely the brother’s wife’s cousin of his husband was studying to be a priest (pausing to make sure the his husband part fully registered with me.)

The historic churches and cathedrals seem to survive on a blend of tourism and mid-week organ concerts. Because of the architecture, these buildings are museum-like in their connection to the past, but not the present. Their relevance or impact on day-to-day life for Europeans is minimal, except as a geographical point of reference, hence, “Meet me in front of the cathedral.” 

Most of the bookstores I visited either didn’t have a religion section at all, or if they did, the Christian section consisted of church history and related biographies. There were some stores which offered theology as a category, but it was mostly scholarly and academic texts; there was nothing that would attract a seeker investigating Christianity for the first time, and certainly nothing resembling apologetics. 

Holland does have a Christian bookstore chain, De Fakkel — I’m told it means ‘The Torch’ — but in a situation similar to Canada, it is the big cities which are taking the hit, and the Amsterdam store has closed. This led the sales associate in Scheltema, a five story bookstore, to point out that he really wouldn’t know where to begin picking up the slack. He was smart enough to recognize the various denominations each have their own particular interests, and that De Fakkel can do a better job of this as insiders, so he’s chosen not to expand the Christian books on offer.  

I can’t imagine living in a society where church is so strongly rooted in the past; not the present. As I reflect on this next week, I’ll share about our visits — 3 of them actually — to Amsterdam’s Red Light District, and the whole idea of taking vacations like this versus doing the Christian retreat center thing. 

To conclude: I haven’t fleshed this out as fully as I wanted (tomorrow I’ll discuss the two nodes of secularization) but as I wrote the title what I was thinking was that the secularization we saw in Europe is coming rapidly to Canada. About the U.S., I’m not sure. America is rooted in a nominal Christianity and a political Christianity which appears pervasive. Church attendance is dropping off, and the U.S. pales in comparison to the church growth taking place in some South American countries, but the country of “In God We Trust” is presently an exception to what we see in Canada, the UK, Europe and Australia. It will be interesting to see the religious face of America ten years from now.

This cathedral in Cologne (aka Köln) Germany is so intricate, so massive; and yet so irrelevant to the daily life of anyone under a certain age.

April 8, 2018

Two Kingdoms in Conflict

The world says ‘seeing is believing.’

Jesus teaches ‘believing is seeing.’

The world says attain wisdom

The Bible teaches we should be willing to become a fool

The world says ‘be a survivor’

Jesus taught we should be willing to lose our lives

The world says ‘go for the gold,’ achieve greatness

Jesus taught us to be willing to be the last, the least

The world exalts leaders

Jesus said we should make ourselves servants

The world exalts human potential and greatness

Jesus said we should humble ourselves

The world says ‘look out for number one’

The Bible teaches we should look out for the interests of others and count others better than ourselves

The world says ‘get all you can’

Jesus says ‘give all you can’

The world says we should make our good deeds known

Jesus taught we should keep our good deeds secret

The world says love is a feeling, it’s conditional and it will grow old

The Bible teaches the love is a lasting, unconditional commitment; love never fails

The world says we should hate our enemies

Jesus taught us to love our enemies

The world says ‘get even,’ retaliate

Jesus taught forgiveness

The world puts spin on events to cover up mistakes

Proverbs teaches us to confess our mistakes

The world emphasizes the great things human can accomplish

The prophets taught things happen ‘not by might, nor by power,’ but by God’s Spirit

The world says ‘drown your sorrows’

The Bible contrasts that with ‘be filled with the Spirit

The world operates on cynicism and skepticism

Jesus taught that all things are possible to those who believe

The world says you should consult your horoscope

Jesus talked about searching the scriptures

The world says the Bible was written by human agency only

The Bible itself claims that all Scripture is God breathed

The world says the Bible is old-fashioned and out-of-date

Jesus said that heaven and earth will pass away, but not his truths

The world thinks Jesus was a good man

The early church confession was that Jesus is Lord

The world says Jesus is not coming back

Jesus promised ‘I will come and receive you to myself’

The world concludes, ‘I’ll never worship Jesus Christ’

The Bible says that someday every knee will bow and every voice will admit that Jesus Christ is Lord.


~adapted from Straightforward by Larry Tomczak, a classic book from the Jesus movement of the late 1970s.  Italicized sections allude to or quote scripture passages unless otherwise indicated.

March 31, 2018

The Cross: A Story to which Everyone Must Respond

Filed under: Christianity, Jesus — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:22 am

This will be the 4th time I’ve included or alluded to the powerful song below. Please take the time, close your eyes and listen through.

John 14 (The Voice):

Philip: 8 Lord, all I am asking is that You show us the Father.

Jesus (to Philip): 9 I have lived with you all this time, and you still don’t know who I am? If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father. How can you keep asking to see the Father? 10 Don’t you believe Me when I say I abide in the Father and the Father dwells in Me? I’m not making this up as I go along. The Father has given Me these truths that I have been speaking to you, and He empowers all My actions. 11 Accept these truths: I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me. If you have trouble believing based on My words, believe because of the things I have done. 12 I tell you the truth: whoever believes in Me will be able to do what I have done, but they will do even greater things, because I will return to be with the Father. 13 Whatever you ask for in My name, I will do it so that the Father will get glory from the Son.

Everyone we meet needs to respond to the story that crossed our path last week: The Passion Week narrative. That includes you me. I love the way this song asks the question — it’s one of the most powerful songs I’ve come across.

As any worship leader will tell you, Easter offers us music which best captures the essence of our faith; best captures the essence of the gospel. All worship should be ‘Christo-centric,’ but at this time of year the intensity of our worship seems so much focused.

One of my personal favorite pieces this time of year is not a congregational song, but a performance piece called “How Could You Say ‘No?'” written by Mickey Cates and performed by Julie Miller. When my wife had a soundtrack for this, we were repeatedly asked to do it each year at the church we were attending; later on we did it with live music.

christoncross

The song asks the question: How can you see what Christ did for us on the cross and then just walk away, knowing it was your sin that put him there; knowing that he did this for you? Indeed, can a person meet Christ through the gospel narrative and not be changed? Can you simply walk away? I’ve read stories of even the most ardent atheists deciding not to follow but still claiming the story is deeply moving. If you will, It’s a Wonderful Life is deeply moving; so is The Sound of Music and Old Yeller, but they don’t demand a life-changing response. They’re just movies. The Christ-account demands we do something.

Take the next four minutes just to focus on this song and all that it means. (Click the play button below.)

Thorns on His head, spear in His side
Yet it was a heartache that made Him cry
He gave His life so you would understand
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

If Christ Himself were standing here
Face full of glory and eyes full tears
And he held out His arms and His nail-printed hands
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

How could you look in His tear-stained eyes
Knowing it’s you He’s thinking of?
Could you tell Him you’re not ready to give Him your life?
Could you say you don’t think you need His love?

Jesus is here with His arms open wide
You can see with your heart
If you’ll stop looking with your eyes
He’s left it up to you, He’s done all He can
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

How could you look in His tear-stained eyes
Knowing it’s you He’s thinking of?
Could you tell Him you’re not ready to give Him your life?
Could you say you don’t think you need His love?

Thorns on His head, your life is in His hands
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

Oh, is there any way you could say no to this Man?

February 23, 2018

Ten Years of Thinking Out Loud

Today and tomorrow we’re celebrating ten years of this blog’s existence; ten years without missing a single day, as far as I can remember. Because the anniversary falls on a Saturday, I thought we’d spread this out over two days, but then again, we might take our cue from the wedding at Cana, and just let things go on for a week. Here’s some things gleaned from earlier anniversary notes.

Year Zero – The blog began in 2008 by accident. It was a continuation of a newsletter I was sending to a rather limited number (about 250) of people. Someone commented that they really didn’t like the newsletter itself, but they liked the little editorials I would add to it. I had a huge catalog of material to post so there were at least two items daily. In December, 2008, there were 70 posts. Not sure I could do that now.

Year One – Blogging was a big thing in within the Christian community in 2009. People were actively leaving comments all over each other’s pages and there were fewer trolls. Much of my best material was posted as comments on other blogs. There was a huge connection to whatever Christian publishing was releasing. Bloggers made many Christian bestsellers happen. As a book guy, I was now being flooded with review copies that had never happened in Christian retail, even though the stores need to sell the product for the system not to collapse.

Year Two On that anniversary I wrote, “I also want to continue to make this a blog for the ‘spiritual commoner.’ That’s the person who feels he or she has a real contribution to make to the life of their church, Christian fellowship or broader community, but isn’t as resourced as today’s modern pastor who, already equipped with both an undergrad and graduate degree, is still taking courses and jetting off to conferences.” In 2010 a lot of people were still on dial-up internet, so we were the blog that was kind to them and didn’t embed videos. We made up for it later.

Year Three – I began with, “I remember years ago participating in a discussion about the ’emerging’ internet where the main concern ran something like this, ‘How are they ever going to get enough content to keep those websites supplied with fresh material?'” I guess that problem solved itself. Thinking Out Loud enjoyed a good run in terms of blog stats due to posting things about the financial problems at The Crystal Cathedral and pictures of televangelists homes. No other blog writers found either interesting at the time, but if you needed to know Google was quite happy to send you here. Also noted, “Some of the best things that happen as a result of all this online activity are never seen online.” So true today as well.

Year Four – Blog anniversaries were routine by then, so I could be more whimsical: “On our stats page, ‘Akismet has protected your site from 294,600 spam comments already.’ I don’t know how that compares with the big boys, but I’m honored just to think that on 294,600 occasions Russian models and manufacturers of imitation European handbags found this particular blog so worth spamming. And while the rest of the blog stats may pale in comparison, just think how quickly they are about to rise now that we’ve used the phrase ‘Russian models.’”

Year Five – At the 2013 anniversary mark, I took time to mention the blog’s greatest spinoff effect: “And then there’s Christianity 201, which is very much a part of the Thinking Out Loud story. If you have trouble maintaining a steady Bible study and devotional habit, then start a Bible study and devotional blog. Seriously. Even if nobody shows up to read, it is its own reward…” I’m not the poster child for spiritual discipline, so doing this blog’s ‘little sister’ faithfully every day — even if some days I work on three articles at once — since April, 2010 has probably contributed to my own spiritual walk and, dare I say it, preservation. Christianity 201 is something I needed to force myself to do. A few days after that anniversary, I also joined Twitter.

At one time, blog counters were quite the rage, but you could rig the starting number before it kicked in.

Year Six – For 22 months, the Wednesday Link List became part of the Christianity Today family. I will always be grateful for that opportunity; it has always had, and still has, a stellar group of writers associated with it. In 2014, I wrote,”I still believe it’s a greater thing to make the news (in a good way, not the weird stories) than it is to simply write the news. But I don’t mind playing scribe if it means I get to choose some things I think are worth noting as part of each week’s passing scene… I enjoy simply giving away content here each day as long as people come by even though this, combined with my equally non-remunerative vocation was recently calculated to represent a loss of income over the past 20 years in the neighborhood of $1,000,000.00; The phrase “Do Not Attempt” should be at the bottom of each page.” This was one of my most candid posts, and one where I began to lament the situation whereby the blog has visibility and is read by people in many different countries, but in terms of local churches here, I’ve never been invited to the ministerial table. I still don’t get that.

Year Seven – I was becoming increasingly aware of the tribalism in Christianity at the same time I noted that, with some exceptions, blog platforms like WordPress were losing readers to short-form platforms like Facebook and Twitter. I also noted that, “I am forced to read the widest variety of Christian news and opinion pieces from a vast field of writers I might not otherwise consider. I may disagree totally with what they wrote Thursday and Saturday, but if they make some good points on Friday, I want to be able to celebrate that. I’d like to think that I am capable of sitting down for coffee with any writer who has trusted in the atoning work of Christ on Calvary for salvation. I do know that some of them might not want to reciprocate that. That is unfortunate and I believe grieves the Holy Spirit… I guess I’m just grateful for what this writing platform had done for my own Christian growth and understanding of the Church, the body of Christ. I’m also thankful for the books it compels me to read which enhance my understanding of God and His ways. And last, I’m thankful for you, the faithful readers whose page views and link clicks demonstrate a shared interest in these things.” That’s true today as well.

Year Eight – By design, I don’t talk much about my personal life or include pictures of myself here. Two years ago, I did a Q&A format anniversary article and attempted to fill in some blanks: “My beliefs are each rather hybrid in nature. On church government, I’m congregational but I believe in structure and accountability. On women in ministry, I am more sympathetic to the egalitarian position, but with a recognition of God-ordained differences between men and women. On eschatology, I believe ‘we see in part and we prophesy in part’ and that many of the models currently taught are still somewhat insufficient. On worship, I prefer doctrinal substance over empty emotion, but at the same time think that we can be passionate about God, about Jesus and about theology in general. On supernatural spiritual gifts such as miracles and tongues, I calculate that if 50% of the people are faking it, that means that 50% are having some type of genuine experience… Some doctrinal issues are above my pay grade. This is one of the few blogs that has risen to prominence that is written by someone who is not a pastor, not a seminary professor, not a local church pastor. I believe we can appreciate the complexity of a subject like substitutionary atonement or divine foreknowledge without having to dissect it, just as one can be a connoisseur of fine foods without necessarily being a great cook. If I can, in my lifetime, fully master just two things — incarnation and atonement — then I will have accomplished much.”

Most of our readers either love or hate the Wednesday List Lynx, Thinking Out Loud’s most recurring character. But he (or she; we’re not sure) wanted to wish us a Happy Anniversary.

Year Nine – Eventually you start repeating material, so last year I mentioned the value of all the books I have been privileged to review; the off-the-blog interactions; the development of the C201 blog project; but I began with, “First you guys have forced me to discover who I am. Yes, the various labels are annoying sometimes or a caricature of what people truly believe, but writing every day and interacting with such a broad base of news stories and opinion pieces have helped me clarify my positions on a variety of doctrinal subjects and crafting a personal theology. Thank you for keeping us among the top Christian blogs in North America.” (The anniversary post last year was a day late, because of the sudden impact of the Family Christian Stores closing. I do try to respond to breaking news, though not each and every story.)

Year Ten – Which brings us to today, or more accurately, tomorrow. Not sure what we’ll do. I would have liked to include some quotations, but most of what appears here only works well in its full, original context. Besides, that would be a bit narcissistic. If you’re away tomorrow, don’t forget March 7th is the 400th edition of the Wednesday Link List.

February 10, 2018

Testing for Christianity

Several years ago my doctor sent me for a particular test. He told me upfront that this test can be inconclusive but added, “Right now, it’s the only test we have.” (Everything turned out okay, in case you’re wondering.)

I was thinking about that this morning in terms of church attendance as a test of Christian faith. This particular test can be inconclusive for a variety of reasons.

I know people whose spirituality runs deep. They pray and meditate on the scriptures, they read Christian books, they give to Christian causes, and their faith graph continues to move up and to the right. But they have no connection at all to a local church. For some of them it’s been 3-4 years, for others 8-10, and yet others much, much longer.

Going to church does not make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.

However…

There are eight things you can’t do when you (or you and your spouse, or you and your entire family) exist as isolated Christians.

  1. Corporate worship
  2. Corporate local/world intercession (and being made aware of these needs)
  3. Corporate liturgy (hearing the word read out loud and speaking it out loud yourself)
  4. Corporate prayer covering (this, for when it’s you that needs prayer, your faith community steps in)
  5. Corporate giving (and being made aware of special needs)
  6. Fellowship (everything from asking, “How’s it going spiritually” to talking about yesterday’s game)
  7. Communion / Lord’s Table / Eucharist
  8. Sitting under a teaching you did not choose (or in a Lectionary church, the pastor him self did not select specifically)

But there is an ninth thing that happens when you are part of a body and that is

  • Identification as a member of the local church

It’s this last thing I was headed toward today specifically with the medical test analogy. It’s the only test we have. Without participation in a local church there is both the perception and the possibility that your doctrine has moved away from orthodoxy. There isn’t a church locally which satisfies your needs, therefore your beliefs must be somehow different. Or worse, that your beliefs have simply migrated to some other faith system, or just plain died.

Listen…I have heard the stories. I know you may have been hurt. I know the preacher on the TV/podcast is such a great speaker. I know the bed never feels more comfortable than it does on Sunday morning. I know there are people in the church who are just taking up space; some who don’t believe any of it. I know the people in your local church are jerks because I am one of them.

But without identification among the numbers of people who publicly identify with the crucified and risen Christ, you’re simply part of the crowd. You may have been part of a church 25 years ago that was committed to reaching “unchurched Harry and unchurched Mary,” but over time, you’ve become unchurched Harry or unchurched Mary.

I’ll leave the last word to The Beatles:

Get back, get back
Get back to where you once belonged

 

 

January 29, 2018

What Does American Evangelicals Electing Trump Say About the Movement?

In Canada we have no fixed Evangelical voting block. Consensus from my church peers on any candidate — municipal, provincial or federal — might be hard to come by.

But if Evangelicals in the U.S. could elect one such as Donald Trump, what does that say about the movement as a whole? Could it happen with Canadian Evangelicals, or Australian Evangelicals?

Skye Jethani probes the fallout from the November, 2017 election in an article too long to print in full here. But I want to share some highlights while strongly encouraging you to click the title below.

Who’s Really Leading Evangelicalism, the Shepherds or the Sheep? (Hint: it’s not the shepherds)

by Skye Jethani

Twenty years ago, when I was engaged to my future wife, a counselor told me, “The key to a successful marriage is not who you are on your wedding day, but who you are becoming. Healthy couples grow together over time, not apart.”

Based on that wisdom, the marriage between American evangelicals and their leaders is heading for divorce. What began following World War II as a marriage between evangelical leaders like Graham, Ockenga, and Henry seeking a biblical form of culturally-engaged Christianity and ordinary Christians tired of fundamentalism’s strident separatism, has now splintered into a house divided.

Since 81 percent of white evangelical voters lifted Donald Trump to the presidency, many of evangelicalism’s leaders are wondering what’s happened to the movement they are supposed to be guiding but hardly recognize anymore. For the last year they’ve been asking tough questions: Can evangelicals support immoral candidates and not lose their moral authority? How did “evangelical” go from a theological label to a political one? And, Who’s a real evangelical anyway? 

These questions have flooded blogs, editorials, and even the mainstream media via articles by luminaries like Tim KellerMark Galli, and Russell Moore

All of this soul searching and hand wringing, however, is unlikely to have much impact because, as Michael Lindsay has observed, “There is a growing divide between ordinary evangelicals and evangelical leaders.”…Those evangelicals who lead denominations, para-church organizations, relief and mission agencies, who write well researched books, and publish editorials in The New Yorker may walk the halls of power but they are not the voices actually shaping popular evangelicalism. In fact, there’s growing evidence that even local pastors are having less influence on the evangelicals filling their churches.

During the 2016 election, for example, polls found evangelical pastors ranked Mr. Trump last among Republican candidates while ordinary evangelicals consistently put the malcontent mogul at the top of their lists…

A 2016 survey by LifeWay Research found that despite claiming to be Christians, most Americans hold unorthodox and even heretical beliefs. That’s not very surprising. What is surprising, however, were the findings when LifeWay used strict criteria to isolate the responses of committed evangelicals. As reported by G. Shane Morris, “Everyone expected [evangelicals] to perform better than most Americans. No one expected them to perform worse.” LifeWay found that evangelicals were more likely than Americans in general to hold heretical beliefs about Jesus, the Trinity, and salvation. Based on the survey, if you’re curious about the Bible and Christian faith you’re better off asking a stranger on the street than the average churchgoing evangelical.

Despite an emphasis on the Bible and teaching in most evangelical churches, and despite the avalanche of resources offered via evangelical media and publishing, ordinary evangelicals are not being shaped by the orthodox views held by the elite evangelicals producing this content.

Furthermore, there’s evidence to suggest ordinary evangelicals are not adopting the views of their own pastors on key matters of doctrine either. Roughly half of evangelicals have dispensational beliefs about the end times. (Think Left Behind, the rapture, antichrist, etc.) While a much smaller percentage of evangelical pastors hold these views, and among pastors with seminary and theological training—the evangelical elites—the number drops even lower.

So, the data suggests there are dramatically different sets of theological, cultural, and political views held by those leading evangelical institutions and those populating them. Of course, one should expect some distance between the views of leaders and followers within any group. After all, without a gap there is no where for leaders to lead.

However, the dramatic disparities now evident between elite and average evangelicals on politics, social issues, public policies, and even doctrine is alarming. It signals something much more disturbing and, I fear, unsustainable. It verifies the divide Michael Lindsay identified a decade ago, now, however, the gap may be so wide that it may be incorrect to call elite evangelicals “leaders” at all, because if no one is following are they really leading?…

…I’ve also spoken to administrators at evangelical colleges navigating increasingly frequent conflicts between faculty (elite evangelical) and the parents of students (ordinary evangelicals) who are distrustful of campuses that affirm political, cultural, and intellectual diversity. The “big tent” evangelicalism championed by Billy Graham 70 years ago and embraced by institutions like Fuller, Wheaton, and Gordon is being challenged by siege-mentality evangelicals wanting a safe place for their kids to avoid liberals and their ideas. “We haven’t moved one inch from our evangelical convictions,” one exasperated university official told me. “It’s the people in the churches who’ve changed.”

I suspect in the coming years there will be a reckoning. Apart from a dramatic realignment or unforeseen intervention, the center will not hold and the divide between elite and ordinary evangelicals will become an irreparable breach. Evangelical’s elites will find themselves having to choose between finding new pastures or maintaining their institutions by falling in line with, rather than shepherding, the sheep.

As the divorce between elite and ordinary evangelicals becomes more likely, one question remains unanswered. Who will get the kids?


Again, that was highlights; you’re encouraged to scroll back up and click on the title to read it all. You might want to send the link to friends as well. I received a copy of this in email this morning because I’m subscribed to Skye’s newsletter.

 

December 3, 2017

Short Takes (7): Flying Elephants

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:27 am

As a younger person, I frequently traveled to those large summer outdoor youth festivals which, for some reason, all seemed to take place in Pennsylvania. I remember one of the speakers talking about II Cor. 5:17

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (NASB)

What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun! (NLT)

The speaker said that most people think of “becoming a new creature” as referring to something like the proverbial caterpillar who becomes a butterfly; but it’s not talking about that kind of metamorphosis.

Rather, he said, the Greek means that “anyone in Christ” is actually “a species of being that never existed before;” adding “More like a winged elephant than a winged butterfly.”

I’ve never seen a winged elephant, though in the early days of Microsoft, I saw some flying toasters.

The thing about a flying elephant is this: It gets peoples’ attention. If anyone is in Christ, the world is going to notice the change from what we once were, but also the uniqueness of what we have become. We’re going to stand out like a city on a hill that no one can hide; like the light of the world.

There’s a song we sang at camp a lot of years ago:

Little by little, every day
Little by little in every way
My Jesus is changing me

Since I made a turnabout face
I’ve been growing in His grace
My Jesus is changing me

He’s changing me, my precious Jesus
I’m not the same person that I used to be

Sometimes it’s slow going
But there’s a knowing
That someday, perfect I will be

If someone walks up to you and says, “Hey, you haven’t changed a bit;” and you’re a Christian and they’re not talking about physical appearance like your hair color or your weight; then something is seriously wrong.

2 Corinthians 5:17 (New Living Translation):
17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

Breaking it down by subjects, as on a child’s report card, it might look like this, with two subjects:

2 Peter 3:18 (New Living Translation):
18 Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I gotta be honest; some days I do well in the knowledge department and not so well in the grace department. But there are days where the reverse is true as well.

Need a more complex report card with more than just two subjects? Here’s the next level version:

Colossians 1:9-12 (New Living Translation)
9 … We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. 11 We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, 12 always thanking the Father…

Here’s to change; personal change that you know inwardly and others see outwardly.

 

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.