Thinking Out Loud

April 15, 2016

Believe in Free Will? T4G Says You Can’t Worship

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:45 am

Together for the Gospel - ConstituenciesI screamed so loud when this came up in the Together for the Gospel (T4G) feed yesterday, that I’m surprised if you didn’t hear it where you live.

The comment was that if you believe in free will (the term used was Semi-Pelagianism) then you can’t really worship because “you’re giving the credit to yourself.”

Yes. Someone actually said that.

The Wikipedia article linked above says,

The Roman Catholic Church condemns Semipelagianism but affirms that the beginning of faith involves an act of free will. It teaches that the initiative comes from God, but requires free synergy (collaboration) on the part of man: “God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration”

Of course many consider Semi-P. to be a heretical doctrine, including Christian Research & Apologetics Ministry, but while the term is pejorative, the doctrine underlying it — dealing with the tension between who is working in the salvation process, or whether we are, as Bruxy Cavey calls it, “chosen and choosing” — is common to many including Free Will Baptists, Arminians, Charismatics, Pentecostals, Holiness Denominations, Catholics, etc., just to name a few.

Calvinists call this free will view Synergism, as opposed to their belief of Monergism, the idea that is somewhat of an anti-free-will view; the idea that election is unconditional and irresistible; the implication that ‘God is going to make you an offer you can’t refuse.’ (Okay, that’s a bit of mis-characterization, but it was… irresistible.) While Monergism might be seen as a tidy fit with sola gratia, that doctrine is more of an extension of sola fide, and has more to do with the contrast between works-based and grace-based salvation than about the idea of how we come to Christ or how the Holy Spirit might draw a person toward Christ. You can read more about the five sola doctrines at this link. (I apologize for using Wikipedia, but it was late last night, and the articles are reasonably good.)

…So back to our topic. The T4G people are making the rather absurd statement that, for example, Pentecostals cannot fully be worshiping God. That when they’re singing, “How Great is our God,” they are somehow extolling themselves; that their worship is not Christ-centered because they dared to choose to follow Jesus, and messed up all of His predestinating. (I just made that word up, but I really like it.) 

Equally baffling is the concept that when we worship, we only worship God for saving us (which is really praise, not worship) and not for his majesty, power, love and holiness…

…Worse however, is that they can’t simply sit back and have their conference without taking a shot at those outside their walls.

This is simply unconscionable


Of course, this may not have been the worst thing that happened yesterday at T4G. Also echoed here.


I’m away most of the daytime today, but will eventually post any comments received. I realize some may disagree, and that it is their duty to do so.

 

 

April 7, 2016

Every Generation Has its Tree in the Garden

After writing on Tuesday morning about the Set Free Summit taking place in North Carolina, I got to scrolling through old posts here and discovered one from six years ago which has never re-run.

If you know what the conference is about, you’ll read what follows through that lens, which is what I believe I had in mind when I wrote it. The idea that right now, thanks to the same wonderful technology which is allowing people all over the world to read my words, an entire generation is captivated by the empty yet addictive appeal of the latest iteration of the Temptation Tree.

Or maybe there are several…

It was a simple test. Other than this, you can do anything you want to, just don’t touch that tree over there. Yeah, that one.

Adam and Eve lived in less complex times. It was a good time to be alive if you were bad at remembering peoples’ names. Or not so good at history. And the only moral law they had was “The One Commandments.” Thou shalt not touch the fruit of the tree in the middle.

You know the tree. The one that looks so inviting. The one thing you can’t have. The big fluffy tree that’s like a giant “Wet Paint” sign that’s just begging you to touch your finger to it. Except they didn’t have paint back then.

Anyway, you know how that story ended.

I believe that throughout history there has always been a tree in the middle of the garden. It’s there in the garden of our world. In the garden of our society. In the garden of our nation. In the garden of our community. In the garden of our families. In the garden of our hearts.

There’s always a tree.

The warning not to touch its fruit is given to some by direct command, though others believe that the idea of not tasting of its bounty is written on the hearts of people; they simply know.

Some people say that everyone knows this, some people think people do need to be commanded, to have it spelled out for them; while others spend long hours drinking hot beverages wondering what then of the people who haven’t heard of the command.

In some cases, there is always one large tree to confront. In other cases there are several trees which must be avoided. Some reach a point where they simply lose interest in the forbidden fruit, it no longer tempts them, only to find themselves looking squarely at another tree, which holds a similar prohibition.

“Why, when I have lived my whole life never having been tempted to touch the tree in the middle of the garden, do I find myself now, at this stage of life, looking squarely at another tree in another part of the garden which is so very captivating, but apparently so equally off limits?”

Many, therefore, succumb.

Meanwhile others say there are no trees that are verboten. The time of such restrictions has passed, and one is free to enjoy all the fruit of all the trees. They entice others to eat, and the penalty for such as trespass doesn’t seem to befall these, though the eating of the fruit does leave a kind of stomach ache that lasts for a long, long, long, time.

At the other extreme are those who manage to transcend all of the temptations and all of the trees. These people enjoy a kind of regret-free, stomach-ache free existence. They are above such weaknesses. They don’t eat the fruit. They don’t touch the tree. They stay away from all the trees in all the gardens that might be simply wrong to taste, touch or even look back on.

They are however, rather quick to condemn those who who do succumb. “We warned them;” they say. “We put up signs that pointed people to the other trees; the safe, practical trees; the open spaces free of vegetation.”

They do this, not realizing, that their response is their tree.

Their careful analysis of the condition of gardens inhabited by weak people who do in fact stumble, who do in fact fail; their commentary on the nature of human weakness; their lack of compassion for those who have been unable to resist the appeal of the tree and its fruit… somehow… in some way… that became their tree.

They have gazed at it. They have touched its trunk, its branches and its leaves. They have tasted its fruit.

They are really no different.

For all have missed it; coming up short in understanding of the true nature of the creator and his expectations.

They forgot to look at the tree they were standing next to all along.

February 15, 2016

The Changing Face of the Global Church

“The Meeting of the Waters” in Manaus, Brazil: Two visually distinct rivers converge to form the Amazon River

I am no doubt a better person for the various books I have reviewed here over the years., but honestly, I’ve probably forgotten some of them. There is however one title that I still find myself quoting in discussions, particularly on the subject of missions, but often about the global church in general. 

Two very different missionaries are presented, one the author calls “Mission Marm,” the other is “Apple Guy.” Two vastly different mindsets having to join together not unlike the branches of the river above referenced in the book’s title. Reading that analogy alone is worth the price of admission.

This was the second half of a two part review I did  — here’s a link to  the original first part — of a 2010 book by Fritz Kling, The Meeting of the Waters: 7 Global Currents That Will Propel the Future Church (David C. Cook, still in print). The book is based on what the author calls “The Global Church Listening Tour;” one-hour interviews with 151 church leaders in nineteen countries.



As Canadians, we often find ourselves despairing over the USA-centric approach of many popular Christian books. So one expects a book with a ‘global’ perspective to transcend any particular nation. However, in some chapters more than others, Kling would relate his findings to the church in America. In this case that’s a good thing. If the book were just theoretical it would not accomplish much. Some of the real value here — although it’s never truly spelled out in ‘macro versus micro’ terms — is the application of what’s happening globally to the local church; the church you and I attend on weekends. But then again, this is a very, very ‘macro’ kind of book.

So what are the seven currents? There’s a great economy of language in Fritz Kling’s writing style, so I can’t do this adequately, but here’s a few things that stood out:

  1. Mercy — Kling uses an anecdotal approach in this social justice section: a young woman who gives up a promising law career to work with oppressed people in India; a young man who is a native of India who operates a technology firm guided by Sermon-on-the-Mount principles.
  2. Mutuality — It’s hard to function in the global church if you think you or the country you come from has all the answers; and that bias leads to further believing that you (or we) should be the ones in charge. He also suggests that people in other parts of the world don’t understand our various debates about practices or behaviors or doctrines, since they simply take the Bible at literal face value.
  3. Migration — There are three issues here: Worldwide migration patterns in general; the migration taking place from rural areas to cities at a time when churches are fleeing the urban core for the suburbs; and the ministry opportunities that exist when you have displaced, and therefore lonely people all around.
  4. Monoculture — This chapter looks at the dominance of the English language as a symptom of the much larger, accelerating spread of Western culture, and in particular, Western youth culture.
  5. Machines — Kling begins with a look at technology as a tool in disaster relief. (He mentions a 2008 cyclone that hit Burma. As the book was being published a major earthquake struck Haiti.) He moves on to discuss the role of technology in evangelism, and backtracks to show how that motive led to some other technological applications now enjoyed worldwide.
  6. Mediation — Kling delineates several areas where there is a need for reconciliation and mediation. He notes this will be a challenge for Westerners to function in a world that has become, in particular, very anti-American. He speaks in detail of the conflicts that exist, “not between Muslims and Christians, but between Muslims and other [more militant] Muslims.” Kling believes Christians should be leading the way toward reconciliation on all fronts.
  7. Memory — Knowing the past can be a blessing and a curse, but in many places, Kling sees more downside than upside, with entire cultures having a depreciated view of themselves. Still, Christians need to fully enter into, understand and even embrace the history of the place where they serve, and from there aim to bring hope and wholeness.

As I originally stated, I still hope this book finds the wider audience it is deserving of. This is a book for pastors and missiologists for sure, but I think it’s also a title that business leaders, church board members and people who simply care about the future of the church should want to study.

November 22, 2015

Door to Door Evangelism: Marginal Groups Willing to Invest the Time

Several years ago I met with a man who was a somewhat lapsed Episcopalian (or Anglican as we say here) who had been meeting on a monthly basis with some Jehovah’s Witnesses. He had a lot of questions about various issues, and so he invited them into his home and they returned regularly, staying about an hour each time.

There was a time when Evangelicals were very big on the concept of door-to-door outreach and visitation. Many a Saturday morning in the 1950s and 1960s might be spent in twos or threes ringing doorbells in a local neighborhood.

But as time went by, people tended to associate the “two by two” approach with only two groups: Mormons (LDS) and Jehovah’s Witnesses. These two groups took ownership of this method of proselytizing, with the result that today it’s not widely used by others.

Before anyone starts dismissing these groups out of hand, I want to commend the approach for the following reasons:

  1. It’s Biblical. The disciples were sent out in this manner. I’m not sure that by concluding that certain groups had taken over this approach and the simply giving up, Evangelical Christians did the right thing. What contact do we now make with our surrounding neighbors?
  2. They deliver. If the last few years of Missional Church has taught us anything, it’s taught us the importance of being sent. So much of what the church calls “outreach” is really “in-drag.” Millions of people are falling through the cracks of printed brochure distribution or mall campaigns or e-mail invites. But it’s harder — though not impossible — for them to ignore a knock at the door.
  3. The people who this man met at his front door were willing to invest the time with him. On hearing that, I made sure that I took out as much time as he wanted. Fortunately, the phone at my workplace didn’t ring and no one else needed to see me. I would have given him all day.
  4. They knew their subject matter cold. He was impressed with both their depth and their passion as they presented answers to his questions and introduced their beliefs, and also how their various doctrines fit together. It’s important that we are able to do the same. It has been said that of all the religions on earth, Christians are the least acquainted with their own sacred writings.
  5. They are optimistic about the results. I asked one Mormon missionary what would constitute the ideal “at the door” contact. He replied, “Someone who hears the message, receives the message, and commits to be baptized.” I asked if he’d ever heard of that happening all in the very first visit, and he said, “Yes, for sure.”
  6. They followed up. They returned to see him several times.

Hopefully through meeting with me he met someone with an equal passion for and knowledge of the true Christian faith. I encouraged him not to seek answers from the single source he has been using, and told him about a variety of resources available online. We continued meeting and while in recent years the contact has been somewhat fleeting, he always knows where to find me.

October 13, 2015

My C201 Blog Post About Conviction (Not That I Was Feeling Convicted or Anything)

Filed under: bible, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:22 am

Isaiah 6:5 -Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”

Acts 2:37 -Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?”

Is it just me, or is conviction of sin a topic that you don’t hear preached as often as it once was? Apparently we’ve only looked at this topic at Christianity 201 once before. Another one, which I see we’ve covered more frequently there is assurance of salvation. Still, I find certain themes are just not heard so often in the modern church. When was the last time you saw an altar call for people wanting assurance?

But back to conviction. A few weeks ago a friend shared with me after church that he felt God was impressing something on his heart. As he talked, I was reminded of the movie The Color Purple (which I haven’t seen and I’m not necessarily recommending) and the song, “Maybe God is Trying to Tell You Something.”

Can’t sleep at night and you wonder why
Maybe God is trying to tell you something
Crying all night long, something’s gone wrong
Maybe God is trying to tell you something

Have you ever felt conviction? At Acts 17:11 Bible Studies we read,

The first work of the Holy Spirit is the conviction of sin. If we are temples of the Spirit, His presence, His name in us will convict us, and others, of sin. We will feel more affinity towards those who, like us, long for more conviction, repentance, and the power of God to live a life that will stand the test of fire.

Often there is confusion between the work of the Holy Spirit in convicting us, and work of the enemy in condemning us. This is from the website of Marriage Missions International:

It is important for those of us who are born again Christians, to know that there is a huge difference between the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the condemnation of the enemy of our faith, because it can affect how we approach life.

Please, let there be no confusion. The Holy Spirit works to convict us to push away from the ensnarement of sin (doing that which is wrong) and towards God in freedom. The condemning spirit of the enemy of our faith works to push us away from God in shame and condemnation, so we are more prone in hopelessness, to continue to do what we should NOT. (emphasis added)

In researching this topic, I found a very lengthy article at the website Outside the Camp. In a list of the various roles the Holy Spirit plays in our lives, one stood out:

  • The Holy Spirit sanctifies

So the sanctifying work of God’s Spirit is just one of many things He brings. Paul writes to Titus:

3:5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit (emphasis added)

But the initial repentance and confession at the moment of salvation is not the end. Sanctification is a process; a life-long process. In 2 Corinthians 7:1 Paul says,

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

Nathan Bingham writes:

Regeneration is a momentary act, bringing a person from spiritual death to life. It is exclusively God’s work. Sanctification is an ongoing process, dependent on God’s continuing action in the believer, and consisting of the believer’s continuous struggle against sin.

Different denominations teach different things about how and when this works. In one church I attended, they spoke of “Saved, sanctified and filled with the spirit.” Was that the order in which these occur? The phrase “second blessing” or “second work of grace” is often used. But in other churches, the gift of tongues (or more generally, the filling of the Spirit) is called the second blessing. For this, we turn to that great theological source (!) that is Wikipedia:

According to some Christian traditions, a second work of grace is a transforming interaction with God which may occur in the life of a Christian. The defining characteristics of this event are that it is separate from and subsequent to salvation (the first work of grace), and that it brings about significant changes in the life of the believer.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, taught that there were two distinct phases in the Christian experience. During the first phase, conversion, the believer received forgiveness and became a Christian. During the second phase, sanctification, the believer was purified and made holy. Wesley taught both that sanctification could be an instantaneous experience, and that it could be a gradual process.

Regardless of your theological take on the subject of sanctification, I hope and pray you have moments where you are open to the voice of God speaking to you about sin in your life. This conviction is a gift from God, though often we don’t see it as such. Maybe God is trying to tell you something.

2 Cor 7 “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. 8“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”


Go Deeper: The opening verses are from 22 Bible Verses about Conviction of Sin.

September 26, 2015

Some People Want Their Gospel Served A Certain Way

So it all started when our friends at Flagrant Regard posted this graphic image on Facebook.

Ligon Duncan on Preaching the Gospel

At first, I kinda tensed up because Ligon Duncan is very highly revered among traditional Reformers and New Calvinists alike. You’re very likely to see him speaking at things like the Together for the Gospel Conference. So my immediate reaction was, if he hates it, I’m probably for it.

So I was pleased when some people I know immediately weighed in, the first being my wife:

There are a few places in the Bible where God says he reveals himself, wordlessly, through creation. If he can do that, he can certainly show who he is through our grace and love and giving. It’s our job to then answer when asked, and to speak when the opportunities arise. Maybe the problem is the word ‘preach’, which can be narrowly interpreted by some. It might be better to ‘live’ the gospel. This quote strikes me as being a melodramatic over-correction to people who never speak Jesus at all.

The next was our friend Carol:

It seems, understanding the Biblical intent initiated by St.Francis d’Assisi in the top statement, one would see the incongruity of the the second. When Jesus said to Peter “Feed my sheep”, he did not expect Peter to run out and give hay to a flock of sheep. His intention was more inclining to nurture persons to learn of God’s love through actions and example. “Nurture” and “Nourish” come from the same Latin verb root “nutrire” so actual giving of food is not excluded But St.Francis seemed to be alluding to the spiritual side. We can “preach” the Gospel without words by our actions and attitudes toward others. Matt.5:16 “Let your light so shine……..”. Mark 12:31 “Love thy neighbor…..”. Matt. 6:14-15 “For if you forgive…..”. + many many more examples. These, to me, seem to portray the concept to which St. Francis was alluding.

These 2 statements do not belong together !!!

To that, I say a hearty “Amen.” (We’re not sure if St. Francis of Assisi gets the credit for this, though; but that detail is trivial.)

But on the FB page from which my friends at FR obtained the graphic, there was some support.

I’ve heard the above-the-plate nonsense spewed by evangelicals. You have to wonder just how this anti-biblical Pabulum made it into the mainstream?

Notice the difference in the tone of that remark versus the two above. But even there, this comment:

…The meaning though isn’t that you should never preach, but that your actions toward others should be consistent with the Gospel. It’s a paradoxical statement meant to make a deeper point.

For my part, the quotation appeared in my Twitter feed:

Ligon Duncan quote exchange with Eric Carpenter
I suggested reading the two responses at Flagrant Regard, and got the answer you see above. I looked up the person with whom I found myself in this rather heated exchange (that’s not my usual style) and noted that they seemed to have an affinity to other writers that would tend to want to support Ligon Duncan at all costs. We have an earlier blog post here devoted to the fact it is in the nature of people within a certain doctrinal strand to protect the brand at all costs.

But alas, the doctrinal strand to which I refer is a version of Christianity that is all about words, and words only. To their credit, these are the people who founded many Christian publishing companies. To their detriment, these are the people who dominate the Christian internet with their cheering for the home team and endless re-blogging of articles written by their heroes in that movement.

For me it always comes back to the rhetorical question, “Why are there no Salvation Army bloggers?” (Actually there are a small few.) The answer to the question is, “While everybody else is writing about it, they’re out doing it.” I raised that point in this post, where I also noted that those on one particular side of the fence seem to have a militant wing that doesn’t exist on the other side. Worse, this internet domination and barrage of words often becomes the only thing people see.

I guess the thing that ticked me off the most, was the guy in the above exchange on Twitter saying, “Sorry, but I don’t have time to read rebuttals.” Reminds me of the number of bloggers in that same doctrinal system who no longer accept comments.

I just fail to see anyone would be attracted to that brand of Christianity.

Ligon Duncan is not one of my spiritual heroes. I’m not part of that movement, he doesn’t speak for me, though I did take some time to listen to him in one of the T4G live feeds in the interest of open-mindedness. His remark may make for a nice Twitter or Facebook graphic, but it’s a great adventure in missing the point. It has an air of logic and spirituality but is actually a giant put-down of people who don’t fit his extremely narrow view of who God is and what God can use.

To which I say, “Preach the gospel, and then if necessary, know when to shut up.”

August 31, 2015

Homeschooling: Protecting Your Kids from The World and Other Christians

We have had contact with a number of people over the years who did homeschooling, including a former employee at the local Christian bookstore who, with her husband, became close friends. Heck, we even jumped into the homeschool pond ourselves once, for almost a full school year. But you do meet some interesting people in the homeschool movement. Recently, while looking up some past blog articles, I came upon two which I had completely forgotten, which will run here today and tomorrow; I apparently spelled homeschool differently back then…

My job necessitates a certain amount of interaction with what I would call the widest possible variety of people who consider themselves Christ followers. If someone is new to the community, I try to find them a place to connect with like-minded believers. This can take a great many forms, and I always try to leave the person with a choice of two or three possibilities, so it doesn’t look like I’m promoting one group over another.

I’m actually quite good at this. I say that honestly because I’ve identified about 35 worshiping ‘bodies’ in the part of the world where I live, and I’ve attended “main event” services at 31 out of the 35. So I think I know where a person is going to fit in.

The family that came in today would prove to be more difficult. After making it instantly clear that they were not interested in your standard, brick-and-mortar church, I quickly adjusted my pitch and told them about a couple of home church groups I’m familiar with; groups I am allowed to refer new people to.

This wasn’t good enough. Apparently, these people receive their teaching straight from the Word of God, and they receive their fellowship from each other. (My goodness, Mrs. W. and I would say it’s challenging enough when couples work together; where does this leave you if your total fellowship is your spouse and kids?)

The problem is that nobody is good enough. This man told me that he finds many church people to be lacking in personal holiness. No argument there. I again adjusted my pitch, to try to see where I could encourage this guy that there indeed ARE people out there who are striving to live and walk in holiness; keeping in mind that God’s demands for each of us may be different.

But once started on this theme, there was no stopping him. Like the proverbial freight train heading downhill, he attacked people who celebrate Christmas, people who don’t follow the ten commandments, and on it went. I tried to interject Paul’s bit from Romans about how one man says its okay to eat meat offered to idols while another chooses not to. Didn’t help. He then attacked me for having absolutely no fruit in my life. (He had known me for about five minutes at that point.) To wrap things up, he informed me Saturday is the only sabbath we should observe.

Well, actually, just before he got to that point, there was this big giant sign that lit up in my brain that said “CULT.” Instead of finding the perfect environment in which to advance Biblical faith, he had basically founded his own false cult, even if it did resemble a few others you may be familiar with.

And to think, all I was trying to do was welcome this guy to our town and make him feel that there were potential points of connection if he and his family so chose.

scared-kids-1Just before he finished boiling over, and while the neon “CULT” light was flickering on, he said to me, “Look, you’re scaring my kids; they had to go back to the van.”

Of all the parts of this conversation, “You’re scaring my kids;” was probably the one I’ll remember a week from now. It occurred to me later that this was a school day, and that these people were obviously home schoolers. Absolute, complete, total isolation of their kids from the world, and also, apparently from other segments of the Christian world.

Had these kids never been exposed to any real “discussion” of Christian doctrine? Had they never heard an opposing point of view? I was actually enjoying the discussion. I felt that the Lord brought to mind some key scriptures that spoke to some things he was saying, and at least three times his wife silenced him so I could get them out. This is the stuff that good small group meetings are made of; and had you been there, you probably would have been itching to add something to the thoughts that were already on the table.

scared_kids-2I was calm, I was relaxed, I was peaceful, I was asking God all the while to give me some love for this guy, and … also … I was scaring his kids.

If you read my post a few days ago about the worship gala we attended, you’ll see a comment posted followed by a very long defense of my desire to ‘critique’ the event. It seems though, that in some parts of the Christian world, there is a strong desire to shut down debate, discussion and differences of opinion.

These kids have probably grown up thinking that their dad is an ‘expert’ on all things spiritual, and have probably never heard anyone challenge his opinion. Well, today they did. Part of the “working out” of our salvation is “working out” our doctrines. As iron sharpens iron, in the course of give and take, we share our various “God pictures” and so better understand the ways of God.

I have personal doctrines that are written in pen and ink, but I have other beliefs that are written in pencil. I’m still working them out. Someday, perhaps soon, perhaps later, this couples’ kids are going to have to work out their beliefs; because each of us stands before God individually. My own kids have learned that there are a variety of doctrinal belief out there; they have the freedom to challenge my take on certain scriptures; they have visited a wide variety of church situations, have sat under DVD and audio teaching of the widest variety of speakers; they are in every respect shaping their personal spiritual future before the eyes of a loving God.

By the way, I’m not trying to make a stereotypical example of home schoolers. Please don’t write; it will just force me to post back something lame like, “Some of my best friends are home schoolers.” Instead, I’m just noting that these people reinforce that very stereotype. The home schooled kids I know are part of church kids or youth groups. They attend regional conferences or rallies or festivals. Some of them are also part of house churches, but they are house churches that are attended by several families. Not just their own family.

If you want to separate yourself entirely from the world; if you want to think that nobody can match you for personal holiness; if you want to ignore the verse in Hebrews about fellowship; that’s fine. Just don’t put your kids in that same spiritual bubble and think there won’t be a price to pay down the road.

It’s a real pity when a healthy exchange about doctrine frightens kids.

August 9, 2015

The Strange Case of Rev. Gretta Vosper

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:22 am
Gretta Vosper, John Suk: Birds of a feather

Gretta Vosper, John Suk: Birds of a feather

I don’t stress the Canadian origins of this blog. I did when I started, but as the stats started coming in, I realized that both my readership and my subject matter were dominantly American, and it was easier just to blend.

So it’s always interesting to me when something taking place in your own backyard turns up as the subject matter on U.S. websites. Such was the case yesterday at Internet Monk.  Daniel Jepsen wrote:

I don’t know much about the Canadian religious scene. Perhaps some of our northern readers can weigh in on this. Apparently the largest denomination, the United Church, has been long known for its liberal leanings and inclusiveness. But one minister is testing the boundaries: The Rev. Gretta Vosper, spiritual leader of West Hill United Church in suburban Toronto, is an avowed atheist. Vosper has been upfront about this since 2001, but things came to a head earlier this year after she wrote an open letter objecting to a prayer a fellow minister had written following the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. Vosper said the prayer should have acknowledged that belief in God could trigger extremism [because, ya know, all the great massacres of the 20th century (the Cultural Revolution, the Stalinist purges, the Khmer Rouge) were led by Billy Bibles]. Rev. Vosper will face a church hearing to determine whether she is upholding her ordination vows, which included affirming a belief in “God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” One proposal on the table is to trade her to the Unitarians for cash and two seminary prospects.

This is a subject close to my heart, as my vocation allows me to see the entire spectrum of United Church ministers, members and adherents; from the extreme liberals, to the churches which are very evangelical. I felt a certain responsibility to add to the comments at iMonk.

Gretta Vosper is currently grabbing headlines in Canada, but I don’t believe her situation is entirely unique. Rev. John Suk is another example. In a November, 2014 interview in the United Church Observer, the pastor of Toronto’s Lawrence Park Community Church said,

I think it’s ridiculous to talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus…All religions of the world are hopeful that this life is not all there is, and so am I. I don’t believe in heaven as it is described mythically in scripture. I hope for some kind of spiritual consciousness after I die that is loving. I’m not afraid of death; it feels like whatever happens next will be good. Even if it’s only a forever sleep, it will be a good rest.

A July article on Vosper in the Vancouver Sun states,

One of the things the Vosper case strongly suggests is the United Church has become so freedom-fixated and inclusive — often boasting “We Welcome Everyone” — that it has lost its boundaries…There is a deep spiritual issue at play here if it’s true many closet atheists toil among the United Church’s more than 3,000 clergy…

The article linked at Internet Monk’s Ramblings [akin to our Wednesday Link List] says that Vosper will be held to account as to her faithfulness to her ordination vows, “which included affirming a belief in ‘God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’” However, a visit to the denomination’s ‘Beliefs: Overview’ page on its website contains references to the teachings of Jesus, but not his divinity; there is no mention of sin, no mention of salvation.

In balance, it must be said that for every local UCC church headed by a Vosper or a Suk, there are indeed some evangelical United Church congregations. Overall however, this is a denomination that has clearly lost its way, but is no doubt capable of hanging on for another fifty years because of its vast real estate holdings and income from estates.

 

May 7, 2015

Thursday Link List

Monday night we went to see Do You Believe? but it’s so late into the theatrical run, that I decided to hold comments until the week the DVD releases. For now, suffice it to say I think that in many ways it improves on God’s Not Dead which is by, I think, the same producers.

So there was no blog post scheduled for today, and rather than a re-run, I thought we’d just do what we do best, with some material that didn’t make it in time for yesterday.  But first, a random page from The Brick Bible:

Brick Bible

Amy Julia Becker at the Washington Post on the National Day of Prayer:

But if Christians want a National Day of Prayer that invites people from various faith traditions to join together in what we hold in common — a belief in a good, active, creator God — and implore that God to work through us and in us for the good of our nation and our world, then we need to do so in a way that creates common ground rather than reinforcing the theological points that divide us.

Thom Rainer’s list of 10 Things Never to Say to a Guest at a Worship Service:

“That’s not the way we do it here.”Of course, you can’t have a worship service where any behavior is acceptable. Most of the time, however, the varieties of worship expressions are absolutely fine. I heard from a lay leader recently who witnessed that sentence spoken to a guest who raised her hand during the worship music. She never returned.

Pete Wilson’s 4th book launched Tuesday, What Keeps You Up at Night?

It’s easy to feel paralyzed by uncertainty.  We want our questions answered, our decisions affirmed, and our plans applauded.  But life doesn’t come with an instruction manual and rarely follows a straight path. How would your life change if you learned to lean into uncertainty instead of waiting on the sidelines for just the right moment or opportunity?

For an international body concerned with religious freedom, Russia is now on their watch list.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom reports Russia is now a country to watch. The USCIRF issued their report April 30. According to the 232-page document, there are 17 nations listed at Tier 1 abusers of religious freedom. There are 10 on the Tier 2 list, including Russia. Mission Eurasia Director of Religious Freedom Issues, Wade Kusack, says Russia being on the list is a big deal. “This is a first official announcement, or recognition, of the persecution from the U.S. government’s side.”

Purposeful Parenting: 5 ways to avoid raising ‘It’s all about me’ children.

A recent study on the origins of narcissism in children concluded, “narcissism in children is cultivated by parental overvaluation: parents believing their child to be more special and more entitled than others.” The abstract of the study further explains, “children seem to acquire narcissism, in part, by internalizing parents’ inflated views of them.” Unfortunately, the “you are so special, so smart, so beautiful, so talented, so gifted—you can do anything you want to do and be anything you want to be—mantra” is often believed, and our children suffer because of it.

“I’m into Jesus, but not all the technical, big-words stuff.” Sorry, but in many circles,doctrine really matters.

Indifference about doctrine is the mother of every heresy in all of history, and in our day indifference about doctrine is spreading like wildfire in the pulpits and pews of our churches. Ironically, the assertion that doctrine doesn’t matter is in fact a doctrine in itself. When people tell me they are into Jesus but not into doctrine, I tell them that if they are not into doctrine, they are, in fact, not into Jesus. We cannot know Jesus without knowing doctrine, and we cannot love God without knowing God, and the way we know God is by studying His Word.

 

 

Songs with substance
If you check the right hand margin over at Christianity 201, you’ll see that all of the various music resources that have appeared there are listed and linked alphabetically. Take a moment to discover — or re-discover — some worship songs and modern hymns from different genres.

 

 

 

April 13, 2015

Book Review: Did God Kill Jesus?

Did God Kill JesusThere was something almost eerie about reading this book over the Easter season. I took a rather slow, almost plodding pace in order to absorb the material and then have a day to digest it before moving on, some of the events described paralleling narratives being brought to mind at Holy Week.

In Did God Kill Jesus? Searching for Love in History’s Most Famous Execution, author Tony Jones looks at the central element of the Christian faith — the death and resurrection of Jesus — though his focus is clearly on the crucifixion and all of its ramifications for doctrine and theology. Over the years, writers and teachers have processed a handful of dominant models of what all is taking place — what we call atonement — as Christ yields his life to the religious and political powers of Jewish authorities and Roman soldiers; and Jones considers these as well as a few of the lesser-known theories.

At the very core of his analysis is Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God, my God; why have you forsaken me?” He veers strongly toward the view that at that moment Jesus sees the Father as absent and dares to suggest that right then, right there, Jesus experiences something akin to atheism; life in a world without God. This is presented alongside the notion that while positionally God’s omniscience is a given, there are things that could only be known incarnationally.

This is a book for people willing to risk actually doing some thinking. Many of us have grown up in environments where we were taught that “Jesus died on the cross for our sins;” but would be lacking clarity in explaining exactly how the violent, death of this One accomplished this. He notes that if a sacrifice were all that was required, a child sacrifice at the Bethlehem manger would have sufficed. He also forces the reader to consider why a violent death was necessary.

I had been aware of Tony Jones through his blogging activity at Theoblogy, and knew that because of his co-authorship of The Emergent Manifesto, some readers here might question his orthodoxy. My thoughts ran somewhat the other way; reading through I asked myself if the book could not have appeared under HarperCollins’ more Evangelical imprints such as Zondervan, instead of HarperOne. (There were a couple of language issues early on, which are, in balance, unfortunate.) Jones is simply a nice guy, charitable to people whose views on Calvary are different because they are Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic, Progressive or even Pentecostal. By this I mean, the book accounts for all tastes.

Perhaps it is my own perspective, but my takeaway — and I mean this as high praise — is that I found myself thinking about Jesus and what would be going through his mind throughout all aspects of his final words to his disciples, his betrayal, his beating, his trial before Pilate and the agony of the crucifixion itself. Could there be any higher benefit to the reader of a Christian book?

Click here to read sample pages of Did God Kill Jesus?.

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