Thinking Out Loud

August 16, 2021

8 Things Calvinists Stole from Evangelicals

A few of our favorite things seem to be in the process of becoming private property. This is a look at eight of them.

First of all, the title is deliberately provocative. When I say “stole” I mean something closer to “co-opted.” For example, I would argue that Jehovah’s Witnesses and Latter Day Saints co-opted the idea of doing door-to-door visitation in pairs. When Suburban Sam is getting ready to cut the grass on Saturday morning, and two people carrying literature walk toward his door, he doesn’t think. ‘Oh, look! It’s the Baptists’ annual visitation drive;’ even though that might possibly be true. He thinks, ‘Oh, it’s either JWs or Mormons.’

However, also true is that when I say ‘stole’ there is a sense in which I mean, ‘and we would like to have these things back.’ In most cases, anyway.

Finally, I need to say that this is reflective of the modern, internet-driven, modern Neo-Reformed or YRR (Young Restless & Reformed) movement of the past 20 years. This does not apply to members of more classical Reformed denominations such as the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) or Reformed Church of America (RCA), etc.

The Word “Gospel”

This one is a no-brainer. Think “The Gospel Coalition” or the “Together for the Gospel (T4G)” conferences. It is also increasingly used as an adjective. If you are part of the movement it is de rigueur that the term occur at least once per paragraph in your blog posts and if you get a book deal, it needs to be somewhere in the subtitle.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

It only stands to reason that people in the movement are going to latch on to the compatible writing of some classic authors who are no longer with us. But the situation with Spurgeon is somewhat unique in that, like the word “gospel,” familiarity with Spurgeon’s writing is necessary for the modern Reformed equivalent of cocktail party conversation. If you’re doing a podcast with video, the 5-volume set of Spurgeon’s Sermons should be visible on your bookshelf, or better yet, a hand-bronzed seven-inch (18 cm) bust of the man available from the website missionware.com.

The ESV

When the ESV was released in 2001, most of us knew Crossway Publishing of Wheaton, Illinois as the foremost producer of evangelistic tracts, sold in packs of 25; or as the go-to source for Max Lucado’s children’s book about wemmicks, the popular You Are Special. But they had strong Reformed roots, publishing works by Martin Lloyd Jones and the ever-prolific John MacArthur. When the ESV emerged, with endorsements from John Piper, Wayne Grudem, R. C. Sproul and Kevin DeYoung, it was clear that this tribe had their Bible, and if you were quoting a scripture passage in your blog, or getting a book deal, this was the version to use. Of course, the signature product is the ESV Study Bible and in the notes, you do see the doctrinal bias. I noticed it especially in the Olivet Discourse in John, and I’m willing to concede that the ESV was never ours to begin with, and was always intended as a denominational translation for the modern Reformed movement.

The SBC

Many articles have appeared over the past decade either celebrating or lamenting the fact that in many churches in the Southern Baptist Convention, the modern Reformed doctrine has become the default doctrine. With some churches, this is nothing new, and we have a number of Baptist groups (going back to the 17th Century) who felt the need to designate themselves as Free Will Baptists, in contrast to the idea of divine election or predestination. If a person is going to conflate SBC churches with modern Reformed doctrine and also conflate SBC churches with the current conservative political movement, then one might jump to conclusions which, even in an article like this one, might be a bit over-the-top. I’ll leave that one to Barna Research.

The Word “Grace”

In a meeting of The Inklings, C. S. Lewis is said to have arrived late, and asked what was being discussed. Told it was, “what separates Christianity from other religions,” he supposedly answered, without taking a breath, “Oh that’s easy, it’s grace.” Grace was already a popular name for some CRC churches, and it is a central Christian concept, but like the word “gospel” it’s been highly subscribed to by the modern Reformers and the phrase “doctrines of grace” is used in reference to 5-point Calvinism, as outlined in the acronym TULIP. Asking someone if a church teaches “the doctrines of grace,” is the equivalent to the Pentecostal question as to whether a church is a “full gospel church.” (If people in this movement could register both “gospel’ and ‘grace’ as trademarks, I’m sure they would.)

“In Christ Alone”

Most of us who grew up in the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) movement were, if we had a knowledge of what was going on in the UK, aware of Stuart Townend who, like Graham Kendrick, was a major force there in what became modern worship, and particular what we now call “the modern hymns movement.” Stuart teamed up with Keith and Kristyn Getty to write what is undoubted the signature song in the genre, “In Christ Alone.” Most churches embraced the song on its initial release, with some quickly skating past the line, “the wrath of God was satisified;” even as in 2013 the PCUSA requested a lyric change (to “the love of God was magnified”) for its hymnal. The request was denied and the song doesn’t appear. Eventually, the Getty’s position in the movement was clarified by other writing and speaking and elsewhere the song is now bypassed in creating set lists for weekend services.

John Calvin

If you separate out the five doctrines of TULIP, and type ‘Did John Calvin believe in ______’ into a search engine, you get articles which clarify that the beliefs held by the 16th Century French theologian were quite different that the Neo-Reformed movement we find in 2021. Not only are the nuances of each unique, but he faced great criticism on other matters, such as his attitude toward the Jews. Some have been bold to suggest that Calvin would not identify with the modern movement which bears his name. Still, in the aforementioned hypothetical podcast, you’d also want a copy of his Institutes of the Christian Religion visible on the shelf. Which brings us to…

The Word “Reformed”

In the introduction, I mentioned groups such as the CRC or RCA, and where I live, the CRC congregation has a female pastor, whereas one need only spend a few minutes looking at the writing of John Piper to know that people in this movement are fiercely complementarian. I am confident in saying that I expect people in classical reformed denominations cringe when they hear the word used in reference to doctrines which simply don’t apply to them. (This does not eliminate the possibility that some people within the modern Reformed movement cringe when they read Piper’s writing or social media output.) While I’m thankful for the Protestant Reformation and Luther’s courage, there is no doubt that today, the word ‘reformed’ has taken on entirely new meaning which limits its broader use. 

That’s my list. If you think of anything else I should have included, let me know, or better yet, if you have stories of trying to connect with someone who has already been influenced by the movement’s particular use of certain forms or terminology, feel free to share.

 

December 28, 2020

In The Days Before Contemporary Christian Music (CCM)

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:11 pm

Today on Christianity 201, I used a very, very old song as a springboard for the discussion which followed. I’ve left some of the introduction intact below, but this won’t be a mirror of what appears there later today. [Ed. note: He changed his mind on that!]

The song was written by Ralph Carmichael. It’s called “A Quiet Place” Below is the original, though I used a different group at C201 today because the volume seemed low on this one.

Musically it’s almost elevator music by today’s standards. But then, it was the beginning of something new. Released through Light Records there was a small advertisement on the back if you wanted to buy the music book. No, not that kind of music book with the melody line and guitar chords. This was the music book for your choir, with the pieces charted in SATB 4-part choral notation.

CCM was still a long way off.

Larry Norman may have been asking ‘Why should Satan have all the great tunes’ — that’s exactly how he said it, right? — and Andrae Crouch and the Disciples may have been jamming in his dad’s church auditorium, but when it came to mainstream, Ralph Carmichael officially gave the church permission to take a big tiny step towards the Top 40.

I’m fairly certain you could get the album free with a 2-year subscription to Campus Life magazine.

If you want to experience the whole album, here’s the link:

…At C201 today, the reason I chose the song “A Quiet Place” is because I think most Evangelicals think of their daily Bible reading as devotions and not so much quiet time. Perhaps I’m wrong vis-a-vis the local church community where you find yourself right now. But you can read all that in the intro below, and catch the remainder of the reading at 5:30 PM EST at C201…


On second thought, once I started posting this, I decided to just share the whole thing after all. There are a couple of really good links I didn’t want Thinking Out Loud readers to miss.


For most readers here, the content would be described as devotionals or devotional readings. I have always taken the meaning to refer to this practice or spiritual discipline that we do out of devotion to God.

Working in the world of Christian publishing however, I frequently encounter people — a large number from a Catholic background or people who have had exposure to recovery programs — who refer to devotional books as meditations or meditational readings. I do like the idea that one doesn’t just read the words and close the book and walk away. Rather one ruminates or chews the text in their mind.

There is however a third term which, although I am very familiar with it, isn’t something we’ve used here: quiet time.

This song, written by Ralph Carmichael, was part of a collection that for many people mark the beginning of what we call Contemporary Christian Music. But we’re here to look at the lyrics.

There is a quiet place
Far from the rapid pace
Where God can soothe my troubled mind

Sheltered by tree and flower
There in that quiet hour
With him my cares are left behind

Whether a garden small
Or on a mountain tall
New strength and courage there I find

Then from this quiet place
I go prepared to face
A new day with love for all mankind

A search for scripture verses about having a quiet time takes us to these:

…he delights in the teachings of the LORD and reflects on his teachings day and night. – Psalm 1:2 GW

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. – Matthew 6:6 NIV

…Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. – Mathew 14:22-23 NLT

Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. – Mark 1:35 CEB

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. – Joshua 1:8a NLT

and finally

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. – Luke 5:16 NIV

UK writer Daisy Logan has offered sixteen different ways we can improve our quiet time. Not all of these may work for you, but I encourage you to click here to read her suggestions.

The website for CRU (formerly Campus Crusade) looks at several different elements your quiet time can contain, including opening your Bible and methodically studying a section of text, followed by four types of prayer. Click here to read their template for quiet times.

The website GotQuestions.org reminds us that,

Every believer needs a quiet time with the Lord. If Jesus Himself needed it, how much more do we? Jesus frequently moved away from the others in order to commune with His Father regularly…

The length of the quiet time does not matter, but it should be enough time to meditate on what was read and then pray about it or anything else that comes to mind. Drawing near to God is a rewarding experience, and once a regular habit of quiet time is created, a specific time for study and prayer is eagerly looked forward to. If our schedules are so full and pressing that we feel we cannot carve out some time daily to meet with our heavenly Father, then a revision of our schedules to weed out the “busyness” is in order.

I realize that for some people, the thought of pausing at a certain time each day, or even the use of the word meditation triggers thoughts of Eastern religions. Got Questions addresses this:

A note of caution: some Eastern religions that teach the principles of meditation include instructions on “emptying the mind” by concentrating on repeating a sound or a particular word over and over. Doing so leaves room for Satan to enter and to wreak havoc in our minds. Instead, Christians should follow the advice of the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Filling one’s mind with these beautiful thoughts cannot help but bring peace and please God. Our quiet time should be a time of transformation through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2), not through the emptying of them.

I want to invite you to listen to the short song one more time. This time think about what ought to be the result of our quiet time with God:

Then from this quiet place
I go prepared to face
A new day with love for all mankind

The fruit or benefit of time spent in study and prayer will come out in our lives in ways that will affect others as well as ourselves.

May 7, 2020

An Evangelical Look at Christian Relics and the History They Teach

Filed under: books, Christianity, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:18 am

Blogger Tim Challies has produced a book which truly does go where no man has gone before. Epic: An Around-the-World Journey Through Christian History (Zondervan) is equal parts travelog and overview of church history. Although the approach of this book is radically different than his two previous works for Zondervan (A Visual Guide to the Bible and Visual Theology) the size and shape of the book, as well as the dependence on visual imagery does, for now at least, complete the hat trick of books for visual learners.  (As a Canadian, Challies should appreciate the hockey reference.)

The goal was to look at objects rather than birthplaces, or memorial statues or plaques. As the intended reader is probably more Evangelical than not, this includes artifacts which are as much important to modern Evangelicals as relics are to Roman Catholics. It’s an approach not usually considered. When an ossuary dating back to the early Church was featured at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, I was not in line. It’s not something we do. Especially those of us who had a rather cursory high school education in history.

Instead, plotting an awkward course geographically, but a rather logical course chronologically, Tim Challies brought these bones to life.

Okay, there were no bones. But there was a jug, a hexagonal reading desk, a pulpit or two, several books and Bibles, and a small hydro-electric dam high in the Andes mountain range. Often the items featured were found in a collection of other related items, and the ones becoming the focus of the author’s close examination were not the most popular or most viewed by tourists, but ones which he allowed to speak to him. Considering his Reformed background, I was rather impressed by this revelation of his process.

The book was made possible by a group of patrons Tim Challies had never met, nor was he seeking sponsorship of this project, an idea he says only crystallized one day prior. Over a span of three years, he traveled by planes, trains and automobiles to 24 countries on six continents, and estimates the overall journey to be 180,000 miles. As with many tourists, he encountered sites that were closed — usually finding a way in — and curators that were late for appointments. With a knowledge of keyboard, he might have been able to play Charles Wesley’s organ. (For me that would have been the grand prize!) However any setbacks were made up for by serendipitous discoveries which weren’t part of the original script. This was indeed, an epic project.

Accompanying him on the journey was film director Stephen McCaskell who has created a companion documentary available on DVD. The book definitely whetted my appetite to experience the backstory to finding and visiting the various sites featured. Unlike the book, the film is divided geographically and contains ten episodes running 21-26 minutes each.

Tim Challies’ Calvinist leanings are present, even though he has tried to produce something of interest to all Evangelicals. I could have lived without Spurgeon’s cheap shot at an Arminian Bible commentary or the rather protracted explanation of how Pentecostalism is a latecomer to the Church history party. And there was the obligatory quote from John Piper. Sigh! 

The book is definitely personal and by incorporating details of the steps involved in reaching each destination, I was reminded of my all-time favorite author, Philip Yancey, whose writing is always partly subjective. I expect the DVD would yield more of this aspect of the journey.

There were also three areas where the book overlapped on one we very recently reviewed here, Eric Mataxas’ Seven More Men; those being George Whitefield, Martin Luther and Billy Graham. I didn’t mind the duplication, except that it served to alert me to the omission of anything related to The Salvation Army. Surely a mourner’s bench or a tambourine could have been dusted off for the occasion.

One feature I really appreciated was the flow between chapters. The concluding paragraph of each section — and none are more than five pages — is really a teaser for the chapter to follow. The book is about 170 pages including notes, and because of the presence of visual images, I did speed through it quickly and regretted reaching the end so soon.

This isn’t an exhaustive coverage of Christian history, but for those relatively new to the Church, it would be a great place to start. If you’re a reader of Christian literature, Epic is like nothing else in your library.


Again, thanks to Mark Hildebrand at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for this unique reading opportunity. Read more about the book and the DVD at Zondervan’s website.

 

February 4, 2020

Mass Appeal

guest post by Aaron Wilkinson

I am a Protestant. I grew up in Evangelical circles, went to a Pentecostal church in high school, worked at an interdenominational summer camp, and attended a Reformed university where I sang some Anglican evensongs; then I went to an Anglican church for a while after graduating. There are bits and bursts of Baptist mixed in there and I currently go to an Anabaptist home church during the week.

In each of these churches, I found things I liked and didn’t like. I prefer to focus on the things I like because it’s more enjoyable and more useful. This was my attitude when I took my first tentative steps into the Roman Catholic church choir that I have been singing with for two years.

This past Christmas my father asked me if there were any aspects of the Roman service which I would commend to fellow Protestants. I figured I’d give my answer in the more organized form of a blog post. I do also have my criticisms, and there are Catholic things outside the Mass that I also appreciate, and furthermore there are other traditions and denominations which may capitalize on these traits – But these are what I personally experienced first or best while sitting in a Catholic pew.

1. Textual History (Or “There were Christians between Paul and Luther?”)

The churches I grew up in derived most of their prayers and lyrics either from adapted Bible passages, or else they were entirely the writer’s own words. One time in the Pentecostal church we recited the Apostles’ Creed, but most of what we said or sang was new and original.

The Catholic services have introduced me to texts and lyrics which are an unappreciated treasure trove of inspirations. I never knew growing up that All Creatures Of Our God And King had a grandparent in Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun, nor did I know that O Come O Come Emmanuel was adapted from the O Antiphons. Ave Verum, O Magnum Mysterium, and Pange Lingua (both of them) are all quite deserving of further attention and Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence has become a favourite of mine.

Some texts may be doctrinally improper for a Protestant service but it’s at least worth appreciating that Jesus-loving people in our shared spiritual history have valued the Ave Maria or Adam Lay Ybounden. Lyrics and prayers that are complete innovations often feel egocentric, intellectually stale, and full of vague sentiment. Not always, of course. I rather like Oceans. But if we are striving to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths then this should be reflected in our art and good artists study the history of their craft. Richer lyrics will be more transformative and engaging than shallow ones.

1 2CrVGii17wwZmarV35VvBQ

David Wesley is a great musician who deserves nothing but praise, but to illustrate my point here’s his Evolution of Worship Music which gives less than 60 seconds to 1500 years of church music. It’s not his fault, it’s just our worship climate. On a hopeful note, Be Thou My Vision is a great example of a rich old text enduring.

2. Dialogue (Or “Can I do something?”)

We all know that when the preacher says “In closing” or “My final point” we’re about 15 minutes away from the end of the sermon. And I can’t be the only one who has thought “Is this the 4th song in the set or the 5th? Haven’t we done this verse already? Can I sit down now?”

Ecce_Agnus_Dei

A missal I was reading once described the structure of the Mass as a sort of dialogue. What happens on the platform represents the work of God and what happens in the pews is the work of His people, and the two respond to one another. We sing praises to God and He, by the priest, gives us His blessing. We speak to Him by our prayers and songs and He speaks to us by the reading of His word. We give gifts to God in the offering and He gifts us with His own body and blood in the Eucharist.

And speaking of the offering, our choir director has started calling the offertory music “The Musical Offering.” I like that. It’s like the music itself is a gift to God and not just background music while you fish out your loose change.

Add to this structure the lay-roles of eucharistic ministers, altar servers, lectors, cantors, etc., and you get a service where A) You get to do something, and B) Your actions have a more defined purpose. Some people can sit passively through a 90+ minute service. I cannot. I like having a role to play.

3. Solemnity (Or “Can we all just calm down?”)

I have occasionally heard it implied or stated that the summit of Christian spirituality is being passionate and excited about Jesus. I love seeing charismatic churches thriving, but I personally am in more need of a God who can calm me down.

The structure and routine of a liturgical service lets a person put aside their personal feelings and circumstances to participate in something bigger than themselves. Many Protestant churches have the ideal of ‘laying everything at the feet of Jesus’ but ritual and routine make that ideal practicable. It’s a lot like acting in a play and reciting the lines of your character. It lets you experience and participate in something bigger than, and outside of, yourself. That often leaves me with my personal struggles seeming smaller afterwards.

Some Protestants worry that doing the same thing every week becomes mindless and robotic, and that is a possible danger. However, the other possibility is that the consistency of the service starts to reflect and represent God’s eternality and dependability, even as we encounter him in our many various changeable moods. And similarly, I think we find that one prayer or song can have many different nuances that emerge as we encounter them in different states.

church

In all three of these areas, my intent is not to throw shade at protestant services or to elevate the Mass as the ideal service. I do find it refreshing to go to a more familiar kind of service after being at the Catholic church for a stretch. Nevertheless, I’ve gained quite a bit from my experience in the Mass so far and I would love to share what I’ve learned.

I could say more but I’ll have to end it there because, as I write this, it’s time to go to choir practice.


Aaron is an English and Theatre graduate of Redeemer University in Ancaster, Ontario and blogs occasionally at The Voice of One Whispering. He is a tea connoisseur, actor, student of Norse poetry, and Uncle to his roommate’s three chihuahuas.

October 4, 2019

The Acts of the Apostles: What Were Those Acts?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:12 am

As an information guy, I really love those books which present a complete harmony of the gospels. If you can’t afford to buy one, have a peek at any Bible version’s edition of the Life Application Study Bible and at the end of John’s gospel, you’ll see a list version summarizing 250 events in the life and teaching of Jesus gathered from all four gospel accounts.

It occurred to me this week that I personally (see below) know of no such list that would relate to the book of Acts since there are no other books with which to harmonize. (I say that loosely however, because the corroborations between Acts and the Epistles are the object of frequent study.)

I decided to pick up a copy of the NIV 2011 and simply copy out the section headers from all 28 chapters of Acts. (Which is why the words are all capitalized.)

Having said (see above) that I know of no such list, with the thousands of Bible-related things that are uploaded to the internet each day, I am sure there are dozens of these lists, but for me, the value was in the doing of this; taking time to look at the Acts story arc (compared to the Gospels story arc) and then my wife reading these back to me as we both shared a different type of discovery process in this account of the first generation church.


1. Jesus Taken Up Into Heaven
2. Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas
3. The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost
4. Peter Addresses the Crowd
5. The Fellowship of the Believers
6. Peter Heals a Lame Beggar
7. Peter Speaks to the Onlookers
8. Peter and John Before the Sanhedrin
9. The Believers Pray
10. The Believers Share Their Possessions
11. Ananias and Sapphira
12. The Apostles Heal Many
13. The Apostles Persecuted
14. The Choosing of the Seven
15. Stephen Seized
16. Stephen’s Speech to the Sanhedrin
17. The Stoning of Stephen
18. The Church Persecuted and Scattered
19. Philip in Samaria
20. Simon the Sorcerer
21. Philip and the Ethiopian
22. Saul’s Conversion
23. Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem
24. Aeneas and Dorcas
25. Cornelius Calls for Peter
26. Peter’s Vision
27. Peter at Cornelius’s House
28. Peter Explains His Actions
29. The Church in Antioch
30. Peter’s Miraculous Escape From Prison
31. Herod’s Death
32. Barnabas and Saul Sent Off
33. On Cyprus
34. In Pisidian Antioch
35. In Iconium
36. In Lystra and Derbe
37. The Return to Antioch in Syria
38. The Council at Jerusalem
39. The Council’s Letter to Gentile Believers
40. Disagreement Between Paul and Barnabas
41. Timothy Joins Paul and Silas
42. Paul’s Vision of the Man of Macedonia
43. Lydia’s Conversion in Philippi
44. Paul and Silas in Prison
45. In Thessalonica
46. In Berea
47. In Athens
48. In Corinth
49. Priscilla, Aquila and Apollos
50. Paul in Ephesus
51. The Riot in Ephesus
52. Through Macedonia and Greece
53. Eutychus Raised From the Dead at Troas
54. Paul’s Farewell to the Ephesian Elders
55. On to Jerusalem
56. Paul’s Arrival at Jerusalem
57. Paul Arrested
58. Paul Speaks to the Crowd
59. Paul the Roman Citizen
60. Paul Before the Sanhedrin
61. The Plot to Kill Paul
62. Paul Transferred to Caesarea
63. Paul’s Trial Before Felix
64. Paul’s Trial Before Festus
65. Festus Consults King Agrippa
66. Paul Before Agrippa
67. Paul Sails for Rome
68. The Storm
69. The Shipwreck
70. Paul Ashore on Malta
71. Paul’s Arrival at Rome
72. Paul Preaches at Rome Under Guard


The section headers are part of the NIV core text, so it’s probably helpful that we mention that this was prepared using Bible Gateway. Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. 

Image: Adapted from the cover of a book by William A Anderson, Liguori Publishing.

February 7, 2019

Theology Resource Aims to Make Us Better Informed

You’re wading through a thread of online comments when you realize that you’re being inundated with terminology you don’t quite get. As one of the not-formally-trained, you really want to understand what’s under discussion but the use of certain words either leaves you in the dust or leaves you scrambling to secondary sources to see what’s at stake.

There’s nothing truly “contemporary” about theology. The roots of the subject are the individual doctrines which are, in one sense, unchanged since the resurrection. That foundation was laid a long, long time ago. But over history there have been movements, and changes in emphases, that have resulted in many different ideas about how we understand God and his ways.

That’s where the book Contemporary Theology: An Introduction (Zondervan) enters. The full title is Contemporary Theology: An Introduction – Classical, Evangelical, Philosophical and Global Perspectives and is described as “a new 412-page collection of names, movements, and methods found in theological and biblical discussions that are never fully discussed or explained in the books one reads.”

That’s true. If you find yourself constantly looking up theological references online, this print resource might prove to be handier. If you want to know about the basic doctrines of Christianity, you need a different book. Instead, author Kirk MacGregor wants you to be better informed about the things which crop up in blogs, forums and other venues for heated discussion.

Consider the list. Each one of these gets about eight pages plus two pages of bibliography. This chapter list has been edited to show you what I considered the highlights:

4. Existentialism
5. Dispensationalism
7. Spurgeon’s Biblical Theology
8. Vatican I and Neo-Thomism
9. Revivalist Theology
10. The Social Gospel
11. Christian Fundamentalism
12. Karl Barth and Neo-Orthodoxy
14. Pentecostalism & Pneumatology
16. Contemporary Evangelicalism
20. Catholic Theology: Vatican II to today
23. Current Anabaptist Theology
24. Liberation Theology
25. Feminist Theology
26  Complementarianism / Egalitarianism
27. Reformed Epistemology
29. Postmodern Theology
30. Open Theism
34. Theology and the Arts
35. Paul and Justification
37. Evolutionary Creation

With an academic text like this, I haven’t read each individual entry, but focused initially on those movements I was already familiar with. It left me wanting to get the word about this great resource out there. The ones I did read I thought were fair and balanced, and unlike other books of this nature where different writers contribute different chapters, I was impressed that an individual author could be so well-versed on such a diverse group of theological perspectives.


Zondervan Hardcover | 412 pages | 9780310534532 | $34.99 US

Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for arranging for me to get a closer look at this book.

January 15, 2019

It’s Older than Most New Testament Books, But Not Part of the Canon

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

~Didache 1:1

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

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

(Random) Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

One gentle word of correction is that the Didache does not hail from the age after the apostles, but the age of the apostles. The Didache is actually older than most of the books of the New Testament, especially all the Gospels with the possible exception of Mark. Aaron Milavec who is one of the foremost authorities on it places its date between 50 & 70 AD! Yes that is 15 to 35 years after the resurrection. A dating this early means most of the apostles are still alive. Another authoritative voice is Thomas O.Laughlin, who though not as dogmatic, still takes it around that time. The last of the Apostles, John, was still alive in 98 AD when Trajan came to power. From a scholarly standpoint, this era from the resurrection up to the death of John is roundly considered the “apostolic age” and so documents like the Didache, Barnabas, and the Shepherd of Hermas are generally considered the “apostolic fathers” as compared with the documents of the post apostolic age which is generally considered the Ante-Nicene Fathers. On top of all this, the Didache almost made it into the canon. It was widely used among the Fathers and Origin referred to it as “scripture.” I whole heartedly agree with you that Scripture as we have it is sufficient. But I personally still feel that Didache is in a class by itself. [At this point the comment continued to a podcast link which is no longer valid.]

September 23, 2018

Christianity on the Move: When He Said Timbuktu, He Really Meant Timbuktu

Brian Stiller, Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance on the expansion of the Christian church worldwide.

Part One: 4 Minutes

Part Two: 5½ Minutes


Link to the World Evangelical Alliance

Brian is also the author of An Insider’s Guide to Praying for the World (Baker) which we reviewed here recently.

My review of Brian’s Evangelicals Around the World (Thomas Nelson) (an encyclopedia of all things Evangelical).

My review of From Jerusalem to Timbuktu (InterVarsity).

April 24, 2018

Evangelicals: A Guided World Tour

As Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), Brian Stiller has a big-picture perspective unlike anyone else on the planet. His two most recent books have confirmed this: Evangelicals Around the World: A Global Handbook for the 21st Century (Zondervan, 2015) and An Insider’s Guide to Praying for the World (Baker, 2016). Simply put, Brian Stiller is a walking encyclopedia on all things Evangelical and he gains his information not from typical research but through firsthand, on-the-ground observation and involvement. We’re talking both frequent flyer miles, and the recognition of Christian leaders on every continent.

This time around he’s with InterVarsity Press (IVP) for From Jerusalem to Timbuktu: A World Tour of the Spread of Christianity (248 pages, paperback).

So…about that title. Brian Stiller argues that if we see Jerusalem as the birthplace, and thereby global center of Christianity, that center point moved up into Europe and then back down and then, around 1970 that center started shifting to the global south. The impact of this is huge; it means that North American and Western Europe are no longer setting the agenda for Christianity. It also means that one particular nation, rocked by the link between Evangelicalism and the election of a particular leader and now trying to consider if it’s time to rename the group entirely, simply cannot be allowed to dictate that change when one considers all that Evangelicals, quite happy with the term, are doing in the rest of the world.

Disclaimer: I am blessed to know Brian personally. His wealth of knowledge impacted me when I sat in the offices of Faith Today magazine, and Brian rhymed off the names of organizations founded in the years immediately following World War II, and then how, as these maverick, dynamic leaders passed the baton to the next generation, these organizations entered a type of maintenance mode, with lessened radical initiative. As Director of Youth for Christ Canada, President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (this country’s counterpart to the NAE), President of Tyndale University College and Seminary and now Global World Ambassador for the WEA, he has truly lived four distinct lifetimes.

But that’s not the topic for this book. Rather he looks at five drivers which have characterized the growth of Evangelicalism globally. These are:

  1. An undeniable increase in emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit.
  2. The fruit of years of work by Bible translators.
  3. A shift towards using national (indigenous) workers to lead.
  4. A greater engagement with legislators and governments.
  5. A return to the teachings of Jesus regarding compassion and justice.

Beginning with the first of these, Brian doesn’t hide his own Pentecostal/Charismatic roots, something I haven’t seen as much in his earlier books. A final chapter looks at the influence of prayer movements, the role of women in ministry, the trend in praise and worship music, the challenge of welcoming refugees, and the constant spectre of persecution.

The book compresses decades of modern church history into a concise collection of data and analysis.  It is an answer to the question, “What in the world is God doing?”

I know of no better title on the subject simply because I know of no one more qualified to write it. This is an excellent overview for the person wanting to see the arc of Evangelicalism since its inception or the person who is new to this aspect of faith and wants to catch up on what they’ve missed.

For both types of people, this is a great book to own.

► See the book’s page at the IVP website.

January 8, 2018

What is a Charismatic? Two Sets of Characteristics

A few years ago, I ran a post at Christianity 201 where the author Michael Patton gave seven reasons why he believes that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have not ceased to operate. This is known as the continualist position or continuism. The opposite is the cessationist position or cessationism.

Patton had blogged just the day before at Parchment and Pen about six characteristics he believes identifies Charismatic Christians. (He used a lower case ‘c’ but I have chosen to capitalize this where it refers to an admittedly diverse denomination, in the same way some are now arguing that Evangelical needs to be capitalized.) Update (12:30 PM EST): That article is now available at this link.

1. Unusual attention given to the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer

2. The tendency to seek and expect miraculous healings

3. The tendency to seek and expect God’s direct communication (dreams, visions, experiences, personal encounters, etc.)

4. Unusual attention given to the presence of demonic activity in the world

5. Very expressive worship

6. Belief in the continuation of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit

He spells out each of these, and then describes the entire spectrum of belief as to the gifts of the Spirit, ending up with this chart. (I do appreciate his calling both extremes as unorthodox; you can tell me that the tongues and interpretation aren’t for today, but don’t try to tell me they never happened!)

Belief Spectrum - Gifts of the Holy Spirit

At this point I would link, but unfortunately the website is no longer in service.

I think his analysis is good, though his terminology is a bit intense. Perhaps the charismatics I know are more conservative, or possibly he is envisioning charismatic believers in Africa or South America. I would rephrase his six points this way:

1. A distinct emphasis on the limitless power and work of the Holy Spirit in the world today

2. Expectant, faith-consumed prayer even in the face of great odds and obstacles

3. A belief that God speaks into the hearts and minds of his people through dreams, visions, circumstances and a ‘still small voice’

4. An acknowledgement that the Christian is always embroiled in spiritual warfare

5. Passionate worship

6. Belief in the continuation of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit

The problem with any doctrinal emphasis is that it always takes place at the expense of something else. So if you speak of an “unusual emphasis” on the Holy Spirit, or on demonic activity, are you doing so at the cost of not emphasizing the work of redemption on the cross, or the call to love our neighbors, or the priority of world missions? (Points 1 and 4) The Charismatics — albeit with a few exceptions — that I know haven’t thrown the baby out with the bath water.

And if you believe that God is still in the business of impressing things on his people (Point 3) that doesn’t mean it is at the expense of not prioritizing the role of scripture. Most of the Charismatics I know have a good working knowledge of scripture.

I did leave one (Point 6) intact. Update: The original article with about 90 insightful comments is available at this link.

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