Thinking Out Loud

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?.

March 6, 2015

Compassion for Calvinists

Soteriology 101

For several months now I’ve been following the Twitter feed Soteriology 101. For those who don’t know the term, soteriology is one of the necessary doctrines which combine to form a whole, systematic theology; and deals with the means and understanding of salvation. I had listened to one of the podcasts but obviously wasn’t paying attention as fully as I did last night as we listened to this particular one. For example, I didn’t know who it was I was listening to, but earlier this morning a quick trip to the related website revealed this:

Leighton FlowersLeighton Flowers is a teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology at Dallas Baptist University, and the Youth Evangelism Director for TEXAS BAPTISTS. In this position he directs a statewide youth leadership training camp called Super Summer, impacting thousands of Christian teenagers with in depth Bible study and discipleship training. Leighton also directs the Youth Evangelism Conference, reaching anywhere between 3 to 5 thousand Texas teenagers with the gospel of Christ each year.

The March 3rd podcast we listened to started off with a song, directed at Calvinists called “Why Do You Have to be So Rude?” While I identified with the sentiment, I wondered if this podcast would be dealing in caricatures, or acting as a response to some of the various (and numerous) anti-Arminian websites, blogs and Twitter feeds.

Instead, the approach was much more compassionate, and in fact Flowers has a very high respect for some of Calvinism’s most known voices, this particular edition including much praise for John Piper.

I wish I had been taking notes, but on reflection, four things stood out. One was the place of Calvinism in the historical flow of what is now Evangelicalism. Flowers notes the trending nature of this doctrinal system, but clearly believes it is about to ebb. At a more micro level, he also dealt with the Reformed position within the Southern Baptist Convention, which some SBC pastors would like to see as the default doctrine.

The second thing was that militant Calvinism’s counterpart — call it militant Arminianism — is rather non-existent. That resonated with my own experience in the Christian blogosphere. (My running joke is that there are no Salvation Army bloggers because while everybody else is writing about it, they’re out there doing it.) On the Arminian side of things, the distinctions are simply not as magnified, and I would argue that most Arminians probably don’t know that they wear that label (or could if they wished).

The third thing was the compassion of the approach toward a young woman who had written in a story of her personal experience, and the compassion and empathy toward people in the Reformed camp in general. While the opening song was a bit extreme, it did serve to set up a contrast between the venom and anger one experiences online and Flowers’ more gentle approach. (For this reason, many confuse militant Calvinists with ultra-conservative Fundamentalists because the tenor of their writing is often so similar.) 

Lastly, Flowers seemed to tend toward grounding his position in terms of an understanding of the ways and nature of God.

Leighton Flowers landed on my radar a few months with a link to a 64-minute podcast, “Why I Am No Longer a Calvinist” which might also serve as an introduction to his perspective. (The podcast page on the website lists about ten different choices, all of which look interesting.) The one discussed here, at 52-minutes, is also reflective of his heart and I would say that overall, this is a most refreshing and balanced look at the two doctrinal patterns.

 

 

February 15, 2015

Weekend Link List

Crossing the Red Sea - 21st Century Edition

Crossing the Red Sea – 21st Century Edition

Some really good story teasers here; pick a few and click through to read…

  • Paying the Price of Criticizing Your Church – Byron King, who is what we would call a district superintendent in the Mormon Church, has informed popular Mormon podcast John Dehlin that he is no longer part of the LDS church: “‘I acknowledge your right to criticize the Church and its doctrines and to try to persuade others to your cause,’ King writes in the letter. ‘But you do not have the right to remain a member of the Church in good standing while openly and publicly trying to convince others that Church teachings are in error.’ In addition to the charges listed in the letter, Dehlin claims he’s being targeted for expressing public support for same-sex marriages, and the ordination of women.”
  • Sermon Feedback in Real Time – “Whatever your background, most communicators…enjoy having people in the audience provide feedback… Verbal call and response feedback. Responding in the moment… [S]ome of you that are immediately thinking if anyone spoke up during our Sunday services that they would be immediately removed… Now in the church I group up in, there were only a few folks who had ‘permission’ to respond to the sermon on a Sunday morning, and they usually went with the traditional  ‘Amen’ or ‘Hallelujah…'” What follows this introduction is a wild and wacky list of 50 alternative words or phrases you can use to encourage the person up front. (Or throw him or her completely off their game.)
  • The Pendulum Swing of Ministry – “1. I’m doing an awesome job vs. I’m doing an awful job. 2. I’m completely overwhelmed vs. I’m so bored 3. Things are going great personally vs. I’m in the ditch. 4. I love the church vs. I’m so frustrated with the church. 5. Micromanagement vs. Abdication.” “Knowing the pendulum swings of ministry and leadership can help you manage the pendulum swings of ministry and leadership.”
  • Proof-texting the Quran – “Instead of taking the time to actually read the Quran ourselves and listen to faithful Muslims tell us what their faith is actually about, we’ve allowed ourselves to buy into the hate-filled lies of fear-mongers on the Internet, cable news, talk radio, and even the pulpit. We cling to the cherry picked verses they throw out from a book they’ve never read and rally around the converted outliers they parade out to confirm our suspicions of a secret Muslim conspiracy to take over the world.”
  • Anatomy of a Transition – “…The all-white church moved to its current location in a mostly white neighborhood in the early 80s — and its new neighborhood began to change. In addition to a racial change, the neighborhood’s major employers moved to other places. And we realized we needed to bring in younger, more diverse members to help our church thrive. Our church had to make big changes or die…While our diversity is increasing, we must continue efforts to reflect the racial makeup of our neighborhood. But after much prayer, strong lay leadership and a willingness by many to be courageous, change has come… We have made the change from survival mode to the hope of thriving.”
  • A Different Take on Free Will – A book review: “I also wonder if [author Vincent] Bugliosi has thought about what the elimination of free will would accomplish. This of course would not be difficult for God to do. He would simply reoccupy the space He has created between us and Him and would force us to do His will. Whatever God wished to do with us, whatever task He had in mind, we would simply do – without complaining, without resisting, without evading. We would be, in effect, machines. If God ever does listen to Bugliosi and grants this wish, I certainly hope that He also eliminates our self-awareness. I can think of no worse fate than to spend endless time being controlled, directed, adjusted, worked – totally devoid of any ability to plan or to choose or to accomplish.”
  • Christian Fiction Sales Down 15% – Publishers Weekly reports the drop in one particular category of Christian book sales, “Many see what [Tyndale’s Karen] Watson calls ‘a winnowing away’ of Christian houses publishing fiction as part of the reason for the drop in sales. Moody Publishing’s River North imprint moved from 8-12 releases in 2013 to 3-5 in 2014. Abingdon Press ‘paused’ in acquiring fiction in August 2014, pulling back from its 25-35 fiction titles per year; and B&H Publishing Group ‘realigned’ its fiction strategy to only publish novels tied to brands such as B&H Films or other cross-platform initiatives.” But the article stresses that the publishers are “not in panic mode.”
  • Describing Your Dream Church – “Talking about one’s “dream church” is–increasingly, I’ve come to think–an exercise in not only futility but flat-out gospel denial. The church does not exist to meet our every need and satisfy our various checklists of tastes and “comfort zone” preferences. If anything it exists to destabilize such things. The church should draw us out of the dead-eye stupor of a culture of comfort-worship. It should jostle us awake to the reality that comfort is one of the greatest obstacles to growth. The two years I’ve attended my current church have been difficult and full of discomfort, but also probably the most spiritually enriching two years of my life.”
  • When a Social Media ‘Friend’ DiesHow do you mourn someone you only knew as an idea?” Right there, you may disagree with the premise. The article continues, “I will experience more death than my parents, because I know more people than my parents. People I haven’t given any thought to in years, people who – for all generations before mine – would have simply slipped out of mind, can remain on my social radar simply because there they are, archived. Here, look: a wedding album. There: a birthday reminder. And inevitably, at some point: a death.”
  • Atheist Reaps Huge Profit from Bible App – “A self-professed atheist is reportedly making over $100,000 a year selling a Bible app that he designed… Trevor McKendrick found a gap in the app market for a Spanish translation of the Bible and made the app for about $500. He now makes about $6,000 a month for his app and has added an audio version as well. The Mormon-raised app designer said that he feels guilty about profiting from a book that he believes to be a work of fiction.”

Short Takes

 

Literal Bible

 

Inclusion of stories here does not imply endorsement.

January 31, 2015

Faith Itself is Not a Destination

Bruxy Cavey:

“We treat faith in our culture much like a painting that you hang on the wall. It’s something you go and look at. Look at my faith. Faith is a beautiful thing. But biblically faith is a connecting concept to connect you with something else. It’s not an end point destination that you stare at but it’s something you stare through. In other words, faith is more like a window that you install in a wall, not a painting you hang on a wall. It is something designed to help you see through the wall or whatever barrier is there to see … the outside of your particular world.”


~Bruxy Cavey, author of The End of Religion and Teaching Pastor of The Meeting House, an eightteen-site church in Ontario, Canada from the series Get Over Yourself, part six, December 13, 2009

January 30, 2015

Getting the Gospel Right

Christianity in a single sentence

Four years ago I ran a piece here that began with Dane Ortland, a senior editor at Crossway Books, who asked some people in his Rolodex to summarize the gospel in a single sentence. (Does he still use a Rolodex?) At the time, I was reading all Christian bloggers somewhat equally, but today with the dominance of Calvinist/Reformed voices at Crossway, I probably would have tempered my introduction with a warning that many of the responses probably emanate from people in the same doctrinal stream.

To be fair, the question asked was to summarize The Bible in a single sentence. But it’s a re-hash of a familiar theme among certain blogs were repeating over and over and over and over and over and over and over again: What is the gospel?

I remain perplexed by this preoccupation, this obsession that certain people in the Reformed tradition have with trying to formulate the ultimate definition of the evangel; the good news. Without being flippant, I think that, like pornography, you know it when you see it; or in this case hear it or read it.

Mylon LeFevre, the musician from the early days of CCM put it this way, “If it didn’t sound like good news, you haven’t heard the gospel.”

I also think that, when considered in the light of the Jewish appreciation of the scriptures as a great jewel that reflects and refracts the light in infinite ways each time we look at it, the idea of trying to formulate a precis of the Bible is to venture into an endless and perhaps even frustrating mission. What would Jesus think of trying to consolidate something so great, so wide, so high, so deep into a finite number of words?  Concision is great, but maybe it doesn’t work here.

That God loves us and cares for us enough to intervene — that incarnation should ever take place at all — is such a mystery. Why mess it up with over-analysis? Instead of reading about the gospel, and writing about the gospel, and — oh my goodness! — blogging endlessly about the gospel; would it not be better to get out into the streets and be living the gospel? I said at the time that my answer would simply be:

  • It’s the story of the history between God and humankind.

Is that not sufficient?  Maybe today I would add, ‘and God’s workings to repair that relationship where it has been broken.’ But already I’m making it longer where I think such a statement needs to be concise.

But why? Why? Why? Would someone from within the Reformed tradition be so kind as to give me a reasonable solution to this riddle: Why so much time, so much energy, so much angst over trying to answer a question that never seems to be answered to everyone’s satisfaction?

Nonetheless, here are few answers to Dane’s question:

  • God is in the process of recreating the universe which has been corrupted by sin and has made it possible for all those and only those who follow Jesus to be a part of the magnificent, eternal community that will result. (Craig Bloomberg)
  • The movement in history from creation to new creation through the redemptive work of Father, Son, and Spirit who saves and changes corrupted people and places for his glory and their good. (Paul House)
  • The message of the Bible is twofold: to show how people can be saved from their sins through faith in Christ’s atonement AND how to live all of life as a follower of God. (Leland Ryken)
  • God reigns over all things for his glory, but we will only enjoy his saving reign in the new heavens and the new earth if we repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the crucified and risen Lord and who gave himself on the cross for our salvation. (Tom Schreiner)
  • God made it, we broke it, Jesus fixes it! (Jay Sklar attributed to Michael D. Williams)

Two of the authors merely paraphrased a familiar verse in John 3:

  • God created mankind in order to love them, but we all rejected his love, so God sent His Son to bear our sins on the cross in order that by believing in His sacrificial atonement, we might have life. (Grant Osborne)
  • God was so covenantally committed to the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him may have eternal life! (Dan Block)

I thought there was actually more life in the answers given in the comments section:

  • God chose one man (Abraham) in order to make of him one great nation (Israel) so that through it He might bring forth the one great Savior (Jesus) and through Him demonstrate God’s glory and extend God’s grace to all creation. (John Kitchen)
  • The good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that provides full and free deliverance from the penalty and power of sin, by the grace of God alone, through faith in Christ alone, plus nothing – all to the praise of His glorious name. (Seth from Lynchburg)
  • Jesus, God’s promised Rescuer and Ruler, lived our life, died our death and rose again in triumphant vindication as the first fruits of the new creation to bring forgiven sinners together under his gracious reign. (attributed to Steve Timmis)
  • Why try and better John the Baptist? He succintly summarizes the Bible: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”(John 1:29). It’s all there – epiphany, sin, sacrifice, salvation, redemption, justification, forgiveness, release, freedom and victory. (Michael Zarling)
  • The Triune God of Eternity restoring the demonstration of His glory in that which He has created by the redemption of creation through God-man, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rick from Dallas)

But at the end of the day — if you haven’t already spotted the pattern here — my favorite item in the comment section is this one:

  • Why didn’t you ask any women to contribute? (Gillian)

To read many of the other featured definitions; and dozens of other comments; click over to the original article at Strawberry Rhubarb

Looking back four years later… In an environment where so many churches spend so much time and energy trying to draft mission statements and tag lines to put under the church logo, it’s interesting that our perspectives vary enough that we don’t emerge with something more common to all.  However, we do have a common symbol, the cross

Maybe we should start there and work backwards to a core statement.

January 8, 2015

They Like Her, But Why?

Last week we looked at the issues raised by the group calling itself #the15 in reference to the books that get sold in Christian bookstores and their online equivalents. I want to focus on one in particular today.

Google the phrases “Joyce Meyer” and “false teacher” and you’ll probably get, as I did, over 91,000 results. That’s a lot of discontented people posting an opinion online. Many of these people would hard to please. I always thought that if I could ask the head of one particular watchdog organization who he really likes, he’d probably say, “I really like my pastor, but he gets it wrong a few times a year, too.”

Still, as someone who spends several hours a week in Christian retail, I do try to take these comments to heart and re-examine the products we carry. Even if many of the 91,000 web pages represent those who make it their business to put every word spoken or written by every Christian under the microscope to find fault, some of those criticisms have merit when the author’s opinions or interpretations are examined in the light of scripture.

So of course, I took particular note when one of the first phone calls of the year was an inquiry if the store carried Joyce Meyer. There are thousands of authors in the store, but this person’s judgement of whether it was worth a first-time visit to our store would be made or broken by the carrying of this one author. Interesting.

Joyce MeyerI got to thinking even as the conversation continued:

They really like her.

Followed by:

They really like her, but why?

Leading to:

They really like her, but why her?

Ms. Meyer is probably the top-selling non-fiction female author in most Christian book shops. Current runners-up would include Beth Moore, Lysa TerKeurst, Ann Voskamp, Stormie Omartian, Stasi Eldredge, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Sheila Walsh and Elizabeth George. For each of those, there are dozens of other women aspiring to be part of that elite Top Ten list. Despite the advances they may feel they have made in The Church over the last few decades, women have always played key roles in the history of Christian publishing.

So the cream always rises to the top, right?

Well, no. Christian book critics frequently note doctrinal concerns in the writings of some bestselling authors, many of whom also happen to have a Charismatic bent. (I’m referring to the denomination here, as in ‘Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics.’) So over the years we’ve seen Benny Hinn, T. D. Jakes and Joel Osteen under fire, and yes, rightly so. Osteen simply can’t hold his own in television interviews when the doctrinal questions are more than an inch deep. Conservative Baptists and Calvinists bring all of this down to a lack of academics, a lack of scholarship, or more simply put, a lack of study. And here there many times I might have to concede to them.

Joyce Meyer is undoubtedly the leading woman author in the Charismatic camp, but her appeal is even broader Hinn, Jakes or even Osteen. There are Presbyterian women who watch her. There are Baptist women who purchase her books. Heck, there are even some Reformed women who listen to her online.

So 91,000 internet pages of doctrinal concerns notwithstanding — and do, as I did, take some time read a few — she continues to outsell the other members of the Top Ten. They like her; they really, really like her.

In 2002, Hachette Book Group paid Meyer  more than $10,000,000 US for her backlist catalog of what had been formerly independent books. (See a recent article in Publisher’s Weekly.) They have no doubt experienced a significant return on that investment.

What would it take for someone to reach her sales pinnacle, and yet still be able to satisfy the critics? Of the women in our Top Ten list, two others, Voskamp and Moore are constantly under fire online as well. My feelings on this are similar to my feelings about Christian television: It’s a certain type of person who wants to be on television. That’s why we see the programs we see.

And maybe it’s no different in the world of publishing. Perhaps we get the books and TV we deserve. I don’t know. And I’m not sure how some Christian bookstores would survive without some of these controversial people.

As I wrote a few days ago, in my piece on Christian television, there are certain voices we seem to simply never get to hear from. I really wish we did, and I wish those mainstream Evangelical voices would rise to the top.

Update: I just want to reiterate here that popularity is no measure of orthodoxy. Sometimes the opposite is true. I’m just taking what is for others a criticism and turning into more of a lament; wishing that those who command a top position on the charts were more decidedly mainstream in their doctrines. This is also true of male authors, it is by no means limited to women.


Feelings about Joyce Meyer run strong, as I found out when I wrote this article many years ago. Please limit comments to why you feel Joyce resonates with so many readers and TV viewers.

 

January 2, 2015

#the15 and Calvinist Hate Speech for Children

First of all, I promise we’ll do our best to move away from #the15 as a topic tomorrow and look at something else. I also modified yesterday’s post mid-afternoon yesterday slightly so as to not characterize the whole thing as a Reformed-based or Reformed-centered. More blurry lines. But you don’t have to follow TULIP to have that spirit, but again, as I said, the issue here was LifeWay, not who specifically was calling them out. The nuances to this story are endless…

However, from the beginning, I kept thinking I’d seen the name J.D. Hall somewhere*, and then I found this on my own blog, from Summer, 2013. The books in question indoctrinate children to fear Arminians (i.e. in this case, people who believe a different ‘religion’) so I wonder if a good lawyer here could prove that under Canadian law, they constitute hate speech, and it could actually be illegal to bring them across the border. I’m not about to find out.

Tag this “grieving the Holy Spirit…”


Help Arminians Are Giving Me Nightmares Again - Sample

Help Arminians Are Giving Me Nightmares AgainI hate it when I hear of children waking up with Arminian nightmares. Yes, seriously. Do I look like the kind of person who would make this up? From the description at Amazon:

Book Description
Publication Date: April 15, 2013

Come along on a journey with Mitchell, as he recalls his nightmare for his mother. Mitchell was in a land of darkness and gloom, when due to no cooperation of his own, a Knight in shining armor saved him and all the other captives He intended to save. “Help! Arminians are Giving Me Nightmares Again!” is a children’s allegory designed to teach your kids the Doctrines of Grace through the use of creative story-telling.

About the Author:

Hall is the pastor of Fellowship Church in Eastern Montana, where he lives with his wife, Mandy, and three children. JD is a co-founder of Reformation Montana, a network and mission society consisting of Reformed Baptist churches in Montana and the surrounding region. He is a columnist for the Intermountain Christian News, and operates the Pulpit and Pen website. JD received his B.A. in Christian Education from Williams Baptist College and M.A. in History from Arkansas State University.

Help Mom There Are Arminians Under My BedOh no! It’s part of a series of books…

We heard about this at the blog Spiritual Sounding Board which did an analysis of the doctrinal war going on in the comments section — and remember this is for a children’s book — at Amazon.

…We’ve talked about the idolatry of doctrine before. I believe the idolatry of doctrine can create an environment in which abuse is allowed to continue in churches. The obsessive focus on doctrine can become a distraction to the message of Christ and what it really means to live out the life Christ intended: loving God and loving others.

I have a problem with training children (sic) this stuff at such a young age. What is the purpose? To raise up little like-minded warriors to defend your brand of Christianity?…

…LDS carry their Bibles, too, along with the Book of Mormon when they go to their wards to worship. I have seen some combo versions that include the Pearl of Great Price and The Doctrines and Covenants. These are all part and parcel of LDS.

The way I’m seeing it, there are some Christians who behave the same way as Mormons. They have their Bible along with the Institutes of Calvin. I wonder if there is a combo Calvin Institutes/Bible in publication yet?…

Staging this doctrinal battle in the pages of a children’s book is indoctrinating kids at the earliest against anyone who is part of the Arminian tradition. It’s almost what we in Canada would call hate speech (which is illegal here) against groups such as the Wesleyan, Free Methodist, Anabaptist, Salvation Army, Church of the Nazarene, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Four Square, Pentecostals, Assemblies of God, Free Will Baptist, Charismatic, and many, many others.

Sadly, while the blog post at Spiritual Sounding Board — who is now over 450 comments since Saturday — gets a little worked up on this, we have to agree with her. The Reformed movement just sunk to a new low. This is unconscionable. This type of book is simply not of God.

The fracturing of the body of Christ continues…stay tuned.


* [Update] It turns out that was the only place I knew the name from. (Remember, I track about a hundred stories weekly.)  It gets worse: read more about him at this story.  This guy is a menace.


 

Related post: Drawing the Body Together, Tearing the Body Apart

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