Thinking Out Loud

May 24, 2018

Review: Christianity in an Age of Skepticism

Filed under: books, Christianity, Faith, reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:28 am

In the past few days I’ve shared excerpts from Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News about Jesus More Believable by Sam Chan (Zondervan) but I feel this book is important enough to merit a formal review.

Someone long forgotten told me that this was a must-read book for 2018, but although I can’t place who it was, I know it was someone I respected so I decided to investigate further. I know the word Evangelism scares many of you, but this is how-to book on a whole other level. Whereas Mark Clark’s The Problem of God is concerned with the particular arguments people will use against the existence of God or the deity of Christ, Sam Chan is concerned with how we craft our various types of presentations, be they a one-on-one story of God’s presence in our lives, or a one-to-many presentation in the style of a sermon.

The latter type of information might be helpful for those starting down the road of becoming preachers. I can see this book easily fitting into a first year Homiletics class in a Bible college. There are also online resource links which take the reader to the academic section of the Zondervan website. But in terms of its overall intent, its pricing, and the fact it doesn’t appear under the Zondervan Academic imprint, this is a book for everyone who wants to be better at our calling to be the life and witness of Christ in this world.

I have some favorite chapters. Chapter two deals with introducing Jesus into casual conversation with our friends and the different approaches we can take.

…our community has a powerful role in forming our beliefs. Different communities with some of the same experiences will interpret them in different ways. Different communities with the same facts, evidence and data will interpret them in different ways.  ~p43

Chapter three deals with assembling a response to the needs of people around us, and looks at the various metaphors in the Gospel narratives in a way that this reader had never seen them presented. I’m a huge believer in using charts and diagrams and this book is generous with both.


~p71

Those unfamiliar with the challenge of using traditional means to try to reach Postmoderns will find the situation well-defined in the fourth chapter.

…the gospel will remain unbelievable as long as our non-Christian friends don’t have many Christian friends, because we tend to adopt the plausibility structures of those we know and trust. ~p117

For those who haven’t studied the challenges of world missions, the fifth chapter deals with contextualization.

To the crowd, John told them to share food and clothing. To the tax collectors, John told them to stop cheating. to the soldiers, John told them to stop extorting money and to stop accusing people falsely ~p135

I don’t agree with Sam Chan on everything. (This is the probably the only book in my collection that says, “Foreword by D.A. Carson.) There were some early chapters where I thought I better subtitle might be, The Evangelism Methodology of Timothy Keller, since Chan gushes about Keller’s writing repeatedly. (Doing this with the audio book would make a great drinking game.)

The chapters on preaching topical and exegetical sermons would probably be of greater interest to… well, preachers. Though I must add that I did appreciate the idea that it’s not a case of either topical or exegetical. Both approaches borrow from the other, even if some won’t admit that. 

That Sam Chan is of Asian descent would give this book appeal to anyone who is part of a minority where Christianity also has minority status. That, plus his Australian origins play into the book many times where he argues that the Bible is not interpreted the same all over the world. (A great example is the inclusion of Don Richardson’s account that in presenting the gospel to a particular tribe, they were cheering Judas because treachery is honored in that tribe.) Because I live just an hour east of Toronto, which has a very high Asian population those stories really resonated.

Again, I view this as part of a limited collection of must-read books for this year. Everyone from the zealous, new convert who wants to reach out to his work, neighborhood or social network; or the seasoned, veteran believer who wants to reminded of the evangelism fundamentals will find this beneficial and will, like me find themselves returning to re-examine several key chapters.


Excerpts appearing here previously:

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May 9, 2017

Making Deuteronomy 24 Personal

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:41 am

I’ve been really enjoying catching sermons from Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Often when a new pastor comes to a church — especially one founded by a larger-than-life personality such as Rob Bell — their gut instinct is to put their own personal stamp on everything. I’ve seen purpose statements rewritten. I’ve seen new staff hired. I’ve seen offices moved relocated. I’ve even seen the church logo recommissioned.

But A.J. Sherrill seems to consider it an honor to fill the church founder’s shoes; even with there having been two pastors in-between. He’s kept a significantly large amount of things intact, not so much out of admiration for Bell as for what he sees as the essential, unique part of the church’s DNA.

Everything You Have is Graced…

…Remember from Where You Came

Listening to an April 30th sermon, he launched into a targum of Deuteronomy 24, verse 18 and following. This is a Hebrew re-contextualization of a passage. Imagine if Eugene Peterson redid the Pentateuch (which, I fully realize, he did.) Many of the online definitions refer to targum as paraphrase but this one is personal.

The text which follows can be found at the sermon Isn’t She (Still) Beautiful – Part Two; a sermon on the capital-C Church and the local church, and runs from 17:50 (he reads the original first) to 18:40 (where he introduces his own version) to  21:30. I simply did screen captures of the graphics and pasted them all together. (Gotta get me a phone app that will take dictation from my desktop speakers.) That way I got to hear this a few times.

January 27, 2017

Contextualizing Your Message for Different Worldviews

GoodseedMany years ago at the MissionFest event in Toronto — a sort of trade fair for domestic and foreign mission agencies — we encountered representatives from GoodSeed Canada’s Quebec branch, who introduced us to four rather unique products. They were essentially the same book but each edition was tailored to a particular audience: People who grew up aware of traditional Christianity; people whose influences were largely Eastern; people whose background was more atheist, agnostic, pantheist or New Age; and children. As a lover of apologetics, I probably would have bought just about anything they offered, but the shared characteristics of all four books intrigued me.

the-stranger-from-goodseedThe Stranger on the Road to Emmaus is aimed at adults and teens who have been primarily influenced by Christianity, whether Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox, but are not necessarily believers. It’s published in ten languages, with optional workbooks available in six languages. There’s also an audio book available in English and Spanish, and an interactive DVD curriculum.

All That the Prophets Have Spoken is aimed at adults and teens who have been primarily influenced by Islam, but are not necessarily Muslim in belief.  It has 25% different content than The Stranger and is available in five languages with workbooks in two.

By The Name is aimed at adults and teens who have been primarily influenced by polytheism, pantheism, atheism, agnosticism or animism; or see themselves as a post-modern, post-Christian or secularist.  It is available in English and French.

The Lamb Story is a picture book hardcover is aimed at children age four and up from different backgrounds. It is available seven languages, with PowerPoint and DVD, CD audio, and DVD versions in English.

These aren’t new titles. So why share them here today? I think the idea behind this set of books is exactly what’s missing right now in Christian publishing. We generally publish books for Christians. The already on-side. Preaching to the choir. Imagine having a resource that you could place in the hands of two vastly different acquaintances which was written specifically for each of them. Consider the idea that instead of publishers establishing a brand through doing regular, large print, student versions and study guides, they pursue the title along the lines of different worldviews. Everybody in Christian publishing should be copying this concept to some degree.

Check out the graphic image below which also lists the various languages in which each is published. GoodSeed has branches in Canada, Australia, Scotland, Germany and the U.S.  You can learn more at the ministry headquarters home page, or link to find the store in the country nearest you. Even if you’re not in the market for this right now, take a look at the concept and remember these the next time you encounter that person for whom the existing catalog of Christian products is insufficient.

good-seed-titles

 

May 2, 2013

Reblogging: Salvation Army Invented Missional

It’s only been a year since I posted this, but this had a profound affect on me, and I hope you enjoy reading it for the first time, or reading it again.

I’m currently reading The General Next To God: The Story of William Booth and the Salvation Army by Richard Collier. Don’t go looking for this, I’m reading a used copy of the book published in 1965 by Collins Publishing that was left unsold at a recent fundraising event.

Although I’m only at the half-way mark, I am amazed at the degree to which William Booth carved entirely new ministry territory. I am now convinced that if anyone wants to understand the missional ministry philosophy that rose to prominence on a parallel track with the emerging church or Emergent Church movements of the last decade, they really need to begin by reading a history of the Salvation Army.

The thing that is most striking in what I’ve read so far is the contrast between what William Booth created and the revivalist movement of the day. While Wesleyan and Methodist meetings encouraged personal repentance and turning from sin, it was generally among the church people that such penitence took place. When it came to world at large, nobody wanted to get their hands dirty. Or their church building dirty, for that matter.

Booth was forced to go it alone. Here are some of the things that made what became known as The Salvation Army stand out:

  • Street Theater — The street preachers did whatever it took to draw a crowd: Counting on the curiosity of onlookers, outrageous stunts and costumes, the use of signs and banners, etc.
  • Connecting With Popular Culture — The early history of the Salvation Army — though the book doesn’t use this term — really defines what it means to be “in but not of.” Army volunteers stood apart and yet dwelt among.
  • Use of Secular Spaces — The book credits Booth with being the first to rent space in public and private buildings for his meetings, transforming those secular spaces into sacred spaces. Heretofore, in order to hear the gospel, you had to “come inside our church.” (I’ve phrased it that way because it should sound all too familiar.)
  • Celebrity Fascination — Booth’s meetings would include conversion testimonies by both the famous and the infamous.
  • Music — The brass band had never been part of the sacred music genre; it was therefore distinctive among religious sects, it was bright and lively, it worked well in outdoor settings. Salvationists also adapted popular pub tunes, giving them Christian lyrics; Booth originated the phrase, “Why should the Devil have all the music?”
  • Press and Publicity — Booth’s edict was that the emerging organization should get as much space in the pages of the newspapers as often as possible to keep awareness high.
  • Uniforms — While undergoing re-examination constantly in today’s environment, theirs was a culture of uniforms, so it simply made sense. One officer slept with his “S” pinned on his nightclothes to indicate that he was on call 24/7. Today, identification in the larger community remains a key value.
  • Attitude — Booth’s followers believed that as an army, they were triumphant. To the date the book was written, the Salvation Army flag had never been flown at half mast, because Christ was ever victorious.
  • Partnerships — From the outset, Booth was never trying to form another sect, but originally envisioned a ministry that work in tandem with existing denominations; and although he did in fact create a new church, his ethic of parallel ministry continues to this day.
  • Women in Ministry — From the first Sunday that Catherine Booth made her way to the pulpit and told her surprised husband that she had something God had given her to share, The Salvation Army has celebrated the role of women, and elevated women to the place where they can enjoy any rank in the organization available to a man.
  • Patronage — Booth realized from the outset that the very people he was reaching would not be able to financially support the ministry, so he sought to enlist from among the wealthy, people who would be patrons of the new work, not all of whom were necessarily believers.
  • Meeting Needs — Of course, the list would be incomplete without mention of the social services ministry which earned the street preachers the right to be heard. Food, clothing, shelter and health care (and health education) were all provided.

This list is far from complete; just a few things I scribbled before sitting at the computer to prepare this. But I have to ask myself and my readers:

  1. How close does our/my church come to reaching out to “the least of these” in our community and our world?
  2. What are we/What am I doing to be part of taking the gospel beyond the church walls?
  3. Money talks. What is my church doing with our budget to reach out? What am I doing with my personal giving that goes beyond benefit to other Christians, or merely pays for the programs our family utilizes?

Again, for those who believe in missional community, for those who strive for social justice, for those who prioritize world evangelization; a history of The Salvation Army is must reading.

And nearly 150 years later, the story of the Salvation Army is still being told.

Update: More on this book published on June 8th here at Thinking Out Loud.

Related post at Christianity 201: William Booth Quotations

February 27, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Bart Simpson - Love Wins

Link and the world links with you…  The cartoon? See item 4 below:

For Heaven's Sake - Feb 4 2013

January 23, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Christmas production at  First Baptist Church in Curitiba, Brazil as seen at Church Stage Design Blog.

Christmas production at First Baptist Church in Curitiba, Brazil as seen at Church Stage Design Ideas Blog. That’s one huge choir.

It all begins with a design template that looks like this.

It all begins with a design template that looks like this.

Lloyd the Llink Llist Llama Crashes the Party Exactly One Year After His First Visit Here

Lloyd the Llink Llist Llama crashes the party exactly one year after his first visit here

For the last couple of weeks there has been a weekend link list here. Some of the most interesting articles this month have been listed in those two editions.  So be sure to check them out.

  • I never know for sure when I check out new blogs if the writer is on our side or not, especially when the first post I see looks like this one at Loon Watchman.
  • Deans at other schools are fighting the possibility of accreditation for what would be Canada’s first Christian law school at Trinity Western. 
  • Why swear an oath on one Bible when you can swear an oath on two?  A writer at Think Christian notes: “What I like about these [Bible] selections is the way they point to public and private figures who influence or inspire President Obama, and whose faith probably all shape the way he approaches his faith and his work.”
  • You’ve heard of the dog who shows up for daily for a church service its late owner regularly attended. If not Fr. Z blogs the story, but notes that the dog’s appearance at the altar risks affecting the church’s ‘sacral character.’ 
  • Sometimes it’s hard to become a Christian knowing that, if you do, someone is going to starve to death. Here’s a dilemma for missiologists.
  • Don’t miss this one: J. R. Briggs gets an inspiring lesson on grace when he has to ask his 6-year-old son for forgiveness.
  • Tyler Braun notes that summing up the gospel as “Jesus Loves Me” is too me-centered, unless we include spreading that love as part of the gospel mandate. 
  • Zac Hicks has an interesting article about the role of Worship Pastor as Emotional Shepherd and the dangers of manipulating the congregation.
  • A central Pennsylvania Wesleyan church officially opens a $4M expansion including a fitness center, jungle gym, café restaurant and Christian bookstore.
  • So what exactly does it mean when you find a dead bird on the steps leading to your workplace?  Especially when you’re looking for more than, ““A dead bird on the step means either a cat loves you and has brought you an offering of food, or it means a bird flew into the window/door and killed itself…” 
  • By now you’ve probably had occasion to look up a favorite TV show, movie or actor at IBDb, but did you now there’s now a Christian Film Data Base (CFDb)? The site also has a blog that’s updated daily with reviews and interviews.
  • I’m writing this listening to an at least five year old song by Starfield – Reign In Us. Just clicked replay for the fourth time. 
  • And news last week that Jason Dunn from Hawk Nelson has a solo album releasing in May.
  • Meanwhile at American Idol auditions in Chicago Curtis Finch, Jr. impresses the judges with a brief gospel performance.
  • For church leaders and pastors, Dave Kraft’s website, Leadership from the Heart is must reading. Here’s a piece outlining three temptations that can undo you and your leadership
  • And here’s more good leadership advice from 9Marks on counseling people who haven’t crossed the line of faith.
  • Looking for a career in ministry? Check out ChurchJobs.tv
  • I suspect that Christian bands like Sidewalk Prophets love it when bloggers take one of their songs and use it as springboard for a devotional piece; like the writer at Journey of a God-Follower does with their song, He Loves Us Anyway.
  • Not So 31 is the name of a blog based on a reference to “the Proverbs 31 woman.” She does a lot of book reviews and book excerpts in particular, including some recent ones by Steven Furtick and Chris and Kerry Shook.
  • We linked to this picture — one of my favorite images of 2012 — late last year but never included it. Until today.  It was taken by Andreas Solaro for the Getty wire service and is captioned: Pope Benedict XVI caresses a lion cub as thousands of participants in the “Pilgrimage to Rome” festival – circus professionals, carnival people, street artists, pavement artists, bands and folk groups – gather at the Vatican on Dec. 1, 2012.  We think the Pope should have a few kittycats running around the Vatican the way the Queen has her Corgis at Buckingham.

Pope Benedict XVI - With Very Large Cat

May 21, 2012

Salvation Army Invented “Missional” Nearly 150 Years Ago

I’m currently reading The General Next To God: The Story of William Booth and the Salvation Army by Richard Collier.  Don’t go looking for this, I’m reading a used copy of the book published in 1965 by Collins Publishing that was left unsold at a recent fundraising event.

Although I’m only at the half-way mark, I am amazed at the degree to which William Booth carved entirely new ministry territory. I am now convinced that if anyone wants to understand the missional ministry philosophy that rose to prominence on a parallel track with the emerging church or Emergent Church movements of the last decade, they really need to begin by reading a history of the Salvation Army.

The thing that is most striking in what I’ve read so far is the contrast between what William Booth created and the revivalist movement of the day. While Wesleyan and Methodist meetings encouraged personal repentance and turning from sin, it was generally among the church people that such penitence took place. When it came to world at large, nobody wanted to get their hands dirty. Or their church building dirty, for that matter. 

Booth was forced to go it alone. Here are some of the things that made what became known as The Salvation Army stand out:

  • Street Theater — The street preachers did whatever it took to draw a crowd: Counting on the curiosity of onlookers, outrageous stunts and costumes, the use of signs and banners, etc.
  • Connecting With Popular Culture — The early history of the Salvation Army — though the book doesn’t use this term — really defines what it means to be “in but not of.”  Army volunteers stood apart and yet dwelt among.
  • Use of Secular Spaces — The book credits Booth with being the first to rent space in public and private buildings for his meetings, transforming those secular spaces into sacred spaces. Heretofore, in order to hear the gospel, you had to “come inside our church.” (I’ve phrased it that way because it should sound all too familiar.)
  • Celebrity Fascination — Booth’s meetings would include conversion testimonies by both the famous and the infamous.
  • Music — The brass band had never been part of the sacred music genre; it was therefore distinctive among religious sects, it was bright and lively, it worked well in outdoor settings.  Salvationists also adapted popular pub tunes, giving them Christian lyrics; Booth originated the phrase, “Why should the Devil have all the music?”
  • Press and Publicity — Booth’s edict was that the emerging organization should get as much space in the pages of the newspapers as often as possible to keep awareness high.
  • Uniforms — While undergoing re-examination constantly in today’s environment, theirs was a culture of uniforms, so it simply made sense. One officer slept with his “S” pinned on his nightclothes to indicate that he was on call 24/7. Today, identification in the larger community remains a key value.
  • Attitude — Booth’s followers believed that as an army, they were triumphant. To the date the book was written, the Salvation Army flag had never been flown at half mast, because Christ was ever victorious.
  • Partnerships — From the outset, Booth was never trying to form another sect, but originally envisioned a ministry that work in tandem with existing denominations; and although he did in fact create a new church, his ethic of parallel ministry continues to this day.
  • Women in Ministry — From the first Sunday that Catherine Booth made her way to the pulpit and told her surprised husband that she had something God had given her to share, The Salvation Army has celebrated the role of women, and elevated women to the place where they can enjoy any rank in the organization available to a man.
  • Patronage — Booth realized from the outset that the very people he was reaching would not be able to financially support the ministry, so he sought to enlist from among the wealthy, people who would be patrons of the new work, not all of whom were necessarily believers.
  • Meeting Needs — Of course, the list would be incomplete without mention of the social services ministry which earned the street preachers the right to be heard. Food, clothing, shelter and health care (and health education) were all provided.

This list is far from complete; just a few things I scribbled before sitting at the computer to prepare this. But I have to ask myself and my readers:

  1. How close does our/my church come to reaching out to “the least of these” in our community and our world?
  2. What are we/What am I doing to be part of taking the gospel beyond the church walls?
  3. Money talks. What is my church doing with our budget to reach out? What am I doing with my personal giving that goes beyond benefit to other Christians, or merely pays for the programs our family utilizes?

Again, for those who believe in missional community, for those who strive for social justice, for those who prioritize world evangelization; a history of The Salvation Army is must reading.

And nearly 150 years later, the story of the Salvation Army is still being told.

Update: More on this book published on June 8th here at Thinking Out Loud.

Related post at Christianity 201: William Booth Quotations

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