Thinking Out Loud

May 25, 2017

The Quest for the Holy Grail of Worship Community

Filed under: Christianity, Church, reviews — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:21 am

Book Review: Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans

Searching for Sunday is the story of Rachel Held Evans and her husband Dan and their meanderings in being sometimes drawn towards and sometimes repelled from a place of weekend worship. Far from the usual oft-seen rant on this subjective, the book is very redemptive in tone and is in part a cautionary tale and in part of celebration of the great things the capital-C Church can do through the ministry of the small-c local church.

This book was actually published in 2015. A copy landed accidentally from the publisher; in other words I was under no requirement to read the book at all, much less write about it. My intention was to read a few chapters and then possibly give the copy away. Instead, I worked my way through eventually missing nothing from the copyright page to footnote #93. And also, it appears, wrote a review.

Rachel Held Evans is often seen as a poster girl for the progressive Evangelical movement. Her name is — and this is to be taken quite literally — used as a swear word on a popular Reformed podcast. Her roots are conservative and she describes her relationship to those days as analogous to someone who has broken up with their boyfriend, but continues to check their Facebook page every few days. She walks a tension between  traditional Evangelicalism and its more modern expressions.

My first exposure to her was on her blog, RachelHeldEvans.com, where she no longer posts as frequently, but back in the day, it was the springboard to my second exposure to her, the book Evolving in Monkey Town, the story of growing up in Dayton, the epicenter of the Scopes Monkey Trial. Searching for Sunday is relatively similar in the weight of its autobiographical content, but is also as informative as Evolving, if not more so. There is a commonality to the personal sections however. The book contains an ever-present tension between her story and my story; or yours.

The book is organized in seven groups of chapters (3-6 per group) each of which could be viable as a stand-alone essay. The groups themselves represent seven sacraments: Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Marriage. The perspective of the author varies. Sometimes she is a congregant; a parishioner just like many of us. At other times, she finds herself on the platform; the result of speaking engagements brought about through the popularity of her blog, and later her books. So there is another tension here, between disciple, earnestly seeking after God, and church leader, the one at the front of the room holding the microphone.

Finally, her journey represents a constant vacillation — in a good way, mind you — between historical, liturgical denominations and upstart, informal church communities. Personal familiarity with both is helpful here, but not required. Let me rephrase that: Personal familiarity with both is probably recommended here; the book exposes the value of both types of Christian community. 

One last thing: Rachel is an awesome writer, no surprise given she was a literature major. Even if you don’t agree with her take on everything, I think you can still enjoy the reading of it, and come away informed and enriched.


Learn more at ThomasNelson.com

Follow her @rachelheldevans

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September 2, 2016

Doing the Church Hop: The How and the Why

Doing the Church Tour

church-hopping bunny 2

Think church-hopping is just a summer thing? Do your hopping off-season and blend in with the natives.

This is a 2014 article by Peter Chin on the blog Third Culture, a webpage launched that year by Christianity Today. He called it,

Why A Little Denomination Hopping Is Not A Bad Thing

Sometimes, I’m a little embarrassed to be identified as an American Christian because it feels like we fall into one of two camps: either we hate everything that we are not familiar with, or hate everything that we used to like.

A good example of the former is a controversy that recently sprang up at Gordon College, where undergraduates were scandalized at the introduction of a strange and foreign type of worship experience during their chapel services: gospel music. Yes, GOSPEL MUSIC, one of the oldest and richest liturgical traditions in American faith.

Examples of the latter are too numerous to count. The Christian blogosphere and publishing industry are filled with memoirs of people ranting about how terrible their church experience was growing up, and how their current place and style of worship is what Jesus had in mind all along. When cast in this adversarial light, what should have been personal stories of finding one’s home in faith instead read like a harrowing escape from a doomsday cult, and serve as yet another salvo in our nation’s already raging cultural wars.

These two tendencies have unfortunately come to define Christians in this country, that we either despise everything with which we are unfamiliar, or the exact opposite…

church hopperThere are some great Tweetable moments in the article:

  • It is this exposure that allows me, and others who share my background, to avoid that terrible tendency to either despise other Christian traditions, or despise one’s own.
  • [D]o any of us willingly and easily engage with things with which we have no exposure?
  • I don’t believe in a denominational promised land, just an eternal one.

To read the full article, click the title above or click here.


I started to write this as a comment, but it got lost in the ether. So I’ll share it here.

In my local community, I tell people they need to “do the tour.” I recommend taking four weeks. If you’re Evangelical do the high church tour. If you’re Mainline Protestant check out the Pentecostals and the Wesleyans. These days, with multiple services, you can do this and still not miss anything back home.

I also tell them that the point isn’t to consider making a switch, but to return with a richer understand of your own denomination’s place in the broader spectrum.


Five Reasons to Church Hop This Week

church-hopping bunny 2I didn’t write this one either. Maybe I wish I had. Credit goes to Kirra at the blog Thoughtful. (Click the title below to link.) While some people consider church-hopping to be some type of rampant plague or scourge, the point is that most people are very faithful to their faith family week-in, week-out. This was written to encourage them just to one-time consider a one-off visit somewhere else. Is that such a bad thing?

5 Reasons Why You Should Attend a Different Church Next Week

If you’ve been attending the same church for more than a year or two, it might be time to visit another church next Sunday. This isn’t a permanent change but just one Sunday to do something different.

When we go to the same church for years, we get comfortable. We know the people, we know the songs, and we know the church. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is good for us to leave what makes us comfortable once in a while. There are many good reasons to visit a different church once in a while. Here are five.

1. Remember what it was like to be a guest.
If you’ve been attending the same church for a long time, you may not remember well what it is like to attend a church for the first time. You don’t know anyone. You don’t know if the place you chose to sit if that space is someone’s “spot.” Will they serve communion? How will they serve communion? Will you know any of the songs they sing? When you visit a new church and then come back to your home church, hopefully you will find yourself more sensitive to those who are attending your church for the first time.

2. Appreciate a different style of worship. If your church sings hymns, try one that has a praise band. This is not just about music; if your home church is casual, try out a church that is a little more formal or liturgical. Put on a tie or a dress. Church can be done in many different ways; you don’t have to love the new style, but learn to appreciate the different ways the church worships.

3. Get a different perspective. If you’ve been listening to the same one or two preachers for a while, listen to someone else’s teaching. You might not agree with everything they say, but sometimes the best way to sharpen your beliefs is to consider the ideas that you disagree with. On the other hand, you might learn something that you find rings true that you’ve not heard taught before. Just be sure to weigh carefully what you hear, whether at new churches or your home church.

4. See what other churches are doing. Observe their methods, programs, and activities. How do they do Sunday School? Do they order the service in a way that seems more conducive to worship? If you see something you especially like that you think could work at your church, approach the leadership and humbly offer your suggestion.

5. Recognize the body of Christ is all over the world and all over your city. The people at the church you choose to visit may be strangers, but we are all going to be sharing heaven together. Christ only has one body.

September 25, 2014

Doing the Church Tour

church-hopping bunny 2

I’ve written about this before, but was reminded again after reading an article by Peter Chin on the blog Third Culture, the newest page launched a few days ago by Christianity Today. He called it, Why A Little Denomination Hopping Is Not A Bad Thing

It begins:

Sometimes, I’m a little embarrassed to be identified as an American Christian because it feels like we fall into one of two camps: either we hate everything that we are not familiar with, or hate everything that we used to like.

A good example of the former is a controversy that recently sprang up at Gordon College, where undergraduates were scandalized at the introduction of a strange and foreign type of worship experience during their chapel services: gospel music. Yes, GOSPEL MUSIC, one of the oldest and richest liturgical traditions in American faith.

Examples of the latter are too numerous to count. The Christian blogosphere and publishing industry are filled with memoirs of people ranting about how terrible their church experience was growing up, and how their current place and style of worship is what Jesus had in mind all along. When cast in this adversarial light, what should have been personal stories of finding one’s home in faith instead read like a harrowing escape from a doomsday cult, and serve as yet another salvo in our nation’s already raging cultural wars.

These two tendencies have unfortunately come to define Christians in this country, that we either despise everything with which we are unfamiliar, or the exact opposite…

church hopperThere are some great Tweetable moments in the article:

  • It is this exposure that allows me, and others who share my background, to avoid that terrible tendency to either despise other Christian traditions, or despise one’s own.
  • [D]o any of us willingly and easily engage with things with which we have no exposure?
  • I don’t believe in a denominational promised land, just an eternal one.

To read the full article, click the title above or click here.


I started to write this as a comment, but it got lost in the ether. So I’ll share it here.

In my local community, I tell people they need to “do the tour.” I recommend taking four weeks. If you’re Evangelical do the high church tour. If you’re Mainline Protestant check out the Pentecostals and the Wesleyans. These days, with multiple services, you can do this and still not miss anything back home.

I also tell them that the point isn’t to consider making a switch, but to return with a richer understand of your own denomination’s place in the broader spectrum.


Related:

October 5, 2011

Wednesday Link List

More newsy stuff this week, rather than blog links per se…I get to play news anchor…

  • Tennessee teachers supervising students at the annual See You At The Pole events are in trouble for praying along with the students at the event. “Teachers have not been banned from praying, but if they do – it must be done out of sight and earshot of students, the newspaper reported.”  Read more on this confusing development at The Tennessean.
  • Young abolitionist Zach Hunter is now 19, and his three books, including the popular Be the Change have been reissued by Zondervan to reflect his current look.  He recently did a guest post at Huffington Post. “When I was 12 I started a campaign to end modern-day slavery. I wasn’t a theological prodigy. I was just an awkward, pre-adolescent kid trying to follow Jesus. I heard about people being bought and sold and abused day in and day out and I couldn’t imagine Jesus being O.K. with it…. Occasionally, I’ve received some criticism about encouraging this kind of passion in my generation. Mostly, it comes from people who share my faith — I’ve even been told, ‘It’s great what you and your friends are doing, but why aren’t you just preaching the gospel when your whole generation is going to hell?…Continue reading at Huff Post…
  • Never was an event so well-named

    James MacDonald finds himself defending the decision to include T.D. Jakes in next year’s sequel to the one-day Elephant Room Conference.  “I believe modalism is unbiblical and clearly outside confessionalism, but I do not believe it represents Bishop T.D. Jakes’ current thinking. Whether I am right or wrong is something that will be discovered in the Elephant Room where our purpose is, as Pastor Mark [Driscoll] posted, ‘to talk to people rather than about them.'” Read more at James’ blog, Vertical Church.
  • Oh, and here’s a recent sample of what he’s defending himself against.  Thabiti Anyabwyle writes, “This isn’t on the scale of [John] Piper inviting [Rick] Warren. This is more akin to Augustine inviting Muhammad. This invitation gives a platform to a heretic… Can the Lord squeeze lemonade out of this lemon? Absolutely. I pray He does… What should MacDonald do now? I’m not even sure.” Read more of this at TGC.
  • If the above word, modalism, is new to you, it was covered on this blog in a lengthy article back in February, Why Are Non-Trinitarians Included Among ‘Christians’?
  • Mexico considers solving the divorce problem by issuing a marriage license that expires in 24 months. ” Mexico City lawmakers want to help newlyweds avoid the hassle of divorce by giving them an easy exit strategy: temporary marriage licenses… that would allow couples to decide on the length of their commitment, opting out of a lifetime. The minimum marriage contract… could be renewed if the couple stays happy. The contracts would include provisions on how children and property would be handled if the couple splits. ‘The proposal is, when the two-year period is up, if the relationship is not stable or harmonious, the contract simply ends,’ said Leonel Luna, the Mexico City assemblyman who co-authored the bill.” Read the full article at Reuters Faith World.
  • Another news story from Reuters Faith World…  A few years back, this was one of the few Christian blogs to look at the ban on minarets (Muslim prayer towers) in Switzerland.  Now the country’s lower parliament has voted to ban face veils as well. “By enacting a ban, Switzerland would follow other European countries such as France, the Netherlands and Belgium which have either already proscribed veils or are debating such measures, sometimes encountering sharp condemnation from civil rights and Islamic groups.”
  • The supreme court will not hear a case brought against World Vision in regard to hiring practices.  “The Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari lets stand an August 2010 decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of World Vision and against three employees who were fired after the organization concluded that they did not believe that Jesus Christ is fully God.” More details at Christianity Today.
  • A Texas oil change shop will service your car for only $19.99 if you will quote John 3:16 from memory.  Legal experts in the state can’t find the owner is in violation of anything from a consumer retail business standpoint.  But one customer didn’t recite the verse and got billed for over $46.  Is this a positive move for the business owner or a liability?  And is it a definite liability for Christians who abhor this evangelism methodology.  Dallas attorney Andy Siegel said,    “The study of Bible has many rewards, [but] I’m not sure if God intended for a lube discount to be among its many riches.”  More, with video at CNN Religion.
  • Also at CNN, an in-depth review of Belieber, the book examining the faith factor in the life of pop star Justin Bieber.  The star told Rolling Stone, “I feel I have an obligation to plant little seeds with my fans. I’m not going to tell them, ‘You need Jesus,’ but I will say at the end of my show, ‘God loves you.’ ”  Read more at CNN.
  • Time Travel Piece of the Week:  A short word bite from Steven Furtick on Church Hopping, It’s Time to Stop The Hop. “If you’ve fallen into the trap of church hopping, let me encourage you: embrace your place somewhere where God can use you. At the end of your life, God’s not going to be impressed or pleased that you saw what He was doing at ten different churches. He’s going be more pleased that you were a part of what He was doing at one church.”
  • If you think all the great ministry ideas have been covered, you could always start an underwear ministry.  No, it’s not a reference to Mormon underwear, rather: “Every day with no fanfare, the Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver… receives all kinds of donations… But one recent drop-off was so unique it could not go unnoticed — a donation of 3,500 pairs of men’s underwear. Calgary residents Robb Price and Brent King delivered the gift…the first of 10 deliveries they plan to make at homeless shelters between Vancouver and Halifax. Read more at Christian Week.
  • Wrapping it up this week with the graphic that’s been on so many blogs; How The Denominations See Each Other.  The bottom right corner credits this to ThomasTheDoubter.com where it was posted on September 15th, and also to the Subtle Designer blog, where it’s described as being a copy of a similar infographic done about higher education.  (You might need to switch to full screen.) Enjoy!

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