Thinking Out Loud

January 8, 2019

Melding the Church Categories

Last year the academic books division of InterVarsity Press (IVP) released a title which intrigued me.  Gordon T. Smith is the President of Ambrose University in Calgary. Evangelical, Sacramental, Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three struck me as an ecclesiastic and doctrinal equivalent to what the late Robert Webber was trying to move us toward; the idea of blended worship. The idea is to move from a polarized, either/or approach to incorporating the best from different traditions.

At least I think that’s what it’s about. I don’t, after many attempts, get review books from IVP, be they academic or otherwise. (I’ll admit a lack of full qualification to review scholarly titles, but at 160 pages, I’d be willing to look up the big words!) For that reason, I’ll default to the publisher’s summary:

Evangelical. Sacramental. Pentecostal. Christian communities tend to identify with one of these labels over the other two. Evangelical churches emphasize the importance of Scripture and preaching. Sacramental churches emphasize the importance of the eucharistic table. And pentecostal churches emphasize the immediate presence and power of the Holy Spirit. But must we choose between them? Could the church be all three?

Drawing on his reading of the New Testament, the witness of Christian history, and years of experience in Christian ministry and leadership, Gordon T. Smith argues that the church not only can be all three, but in fact must be all three in order to truly be the church. As the church navigates the unique global challenges of pluralism, secularism, and fundamentalism, the need for an integrated vision of the community as evangelical, sacramental, and pentecostal becomes ever more pressing. If Jesus and the apostles saw no tension between these characteristics, why should we?

I mention the book now only because today is the release day for another book that I think offers a similar challenge and has a similar title.

Andrew Wilson is teaching pastor of King’s Church in London, part of the Newfrontiers network of churches. His book is titled: Spirit and Sacrament: An Invitation to Eucharismatic Worship (Zondervan). Full marks for the adjective — eucharismatic — which I’d never heard before. (Google produced 5,700 results, but the first page results were all for this book.)

Even though it’s only 140 pages, because the book just arrived late yesterday afternoon, I’ll again refer to the publisher summary:

Spirit and Sacrament by pastor and author Andrew Wilson is an impassioned call to join together two traditions that are frequently and unnecessarily kept separate. It is an invitation to pursue the best of both worlds in worship, the Eucharistic and the charismatic, with the grace of God at the center.

Wilson envisions church services in which healing testimonies and prayers of confession coexist, the congregation sings When I Survey the Wondrous Cross followed by Happy Day, and creeds move the soul while singing moves the body. He imagines a worship service that could come out of the book of Acts: Young men see visions, old men dream dreams, sons and daughters prophesy, and they all come together to the same Table and go on their way rejoicing.

Two sentences from the précis of both books:

  • “..the church not only can be all three, but in fact must be all three in order to truly be the church.” 
  • “…an impassioned call to join together two traditions that are frequently and unnecessarily kept separate. It is an invitation to pursue the best of both worlds in worship.”

Hopefully people are listening.


Read an excerpt from Andrew Wilson’s book at this link.

 

 

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October 16, 2017

Skye Jethani’s State of the Modern Church Address

Those of have heard Skye Jethani speak, be it a sermon, conference message, or podcast conversation, know him to both extremely forthright and wonderfully articulate on matters related to church and culture. He brings this gift to a new book, Immeasurable: Reflections on the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church, Inc. released last week by Moody Press.

The book is a series of 24 short essays on various aspects of church and ministry leadership; interconnected, but presented such they can be studied in any order. While I have heard him touch on many of these before, as assembled here, much of this material was new to me.

Skye Jethani’s forté is analysis, and a major part of his analytical toolkit is a knowledge of the broader sweep of modern church history, some of this no doubt afforded by his years serving in various departments of Christianity Today, Inc. and as a local church pastor. While much ink has been spilled over the last 20 years lamenting the state of the modern church in North America, Australia/New Zealand and Western Europe, the words here are more prescriptive; a look at where the church may have lost its way presented alongside healthy doses of routes we might take to get back on track. Each essay ends with two or three “next step” questions or applications.

Some standout chapters for me — many of which were brought to life through some clever analogies — included:

1. Ambition (and motivation; always a good place to start)
3. Wastefulness (versus efficiency which can enslave us)
6. Dramas (there are three playing out in church leadership)
8. Simplicity (versus the complexity we see everywhere else, discussed in chapter 9)
9. Complexity (the longest chapter in the book; Jethani at his best)
10. Redundancy (an interesting approach to the matter of pastoral succession)
12. Illumination (another longer chapter; on sermon expectation and who might preach)
15. Platform (this chapter is gold; a look at how we confer authority in the local church)
16. Celebrity (analysis of the rise of the “Evangelical Industrial Complex”)
18. Consumers (again, I preferred the longer chapters; this one is about church choices; some of the other chapters not listed I would like to have seen fleshed out in greater detail.)

And then there was chapter 24, an even more autobiographical essay which strikes at the heart of ministry from the author’s early experiences as a hospital chaplain. A fitting ending in so many respects.

On a personal level, if I’ve learned nothing else in the last 20 years, I’ve learned that while ecclesiology is by definition the domain of pastors, books about ecclesiology are widely read by a variety of lay-people who who feel a sense of ownership in the local churches in their community. With so much reconstruction taking place in the look, feel and purpose of weekend gatherings; many want to champion these changes while others are fearful of going too far and thereby losing the plot. So while the book is being marketed more as an academic title for Bible college or classroom discussion, I think the finished product is something I would encourage many of my friends to read.

 


Read a short sample from Immeasurable at this link

Related: Skye Jethani on news and media

Related: A review of the 2012 title, With.


Photo: Skye Jethani on the weekly Phil Vischer podcast.


Thanks to Martin Smith at Parasource Distribution & Marketing for a review copy of Immeasurable.

September 26, 2016

Hitchhiker’s Guide to Evangelicalism

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

If you have a copy of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, you’re probably familiar with the quote which follows:

hitchhikers-guide

I decided to put a bit of soteriological spin on this.

hitchhikers-parody

July 12, 2016

Retro Reviewing: Pagan by Frank Viola and George Barna

Filed under: books, Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:15 am

In 2008, books about ecclesiology were selling briskly. Bloggers were consuming and recommending books about the church and church planting at rates never before seen, and the market included both clergy and laity, with the latter group feeling empowered to take an interest in a subject previously left to the professionals. (Historically in North America, while you might need theological degrees to be the pastor of a church, the work of planting includes colorful stories involving all types of people.)

paganPagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices was an important book during this time. The Tyndale House-distributed title with the bright red cover was presumably an update of a previous edition in 2002. According to what I wrote at the time, George Barna’s contribution was added for the revised edition. I have to assume that included much of the research; up to 25% of each page contains exhaustive footnotes. Those notes give the book an academic air, but in the end, especially re-reading this today as I’ve been doing, you realize that some of what is being offered up is based in opinion; specifically a preference for less-institutional, more organic worship setting, specifically the house church type of gathering. The book seems to want to call for a more radical paradigm shift than is realistically possible across the entire spectrum of churches.

In 2008, the market was ripe for a book like this. It was a time for deconstruction, and many were re-inventing the wheel. The terms emergent church and emerging church were on everyone’s lips, as was the idea of being missional, but this book doesn’t necessarily go there, since many emergent forms consisted of a blended worship which continued to incorporate the very traditional elements the book decries as rooted in medieval Catholicism, academia and even forms from other religions.

Where the book shines however is in terms of giving us an historical understanding of why we do the things we do.  The use of church buildings. The sermon form. The robes and vestments. The clergy. The paid church staff. The Choir. Our expression of Baptism and Communion. Christian Education.

In 2016, as I’ve gone through it again, I believe the book continues to speak into our tendency to do church as it has always been done. Reading it eight years later provides a different lens however; many models were considered and not those churches which were implemented succeeded. Rather, the book inspired church planters to take a salad bar approach, to pick and choose which elements they wished to refine or delete altogether. 

However, this time around, I also got more of the sense of walking in on a heated argument; a reminder that there are two sides in a debate, the other being traditionalists. It could be argued that we came through this micro-period in church history and not much changed. Or, it could equally be argued that in 2016 we have a much greater variety of churches doing very different types of things, and giving expression to their worship in unique ways. 

For the latter group, the book Pagan may have been a big part of that.

 

June 3, 2011

Elephant Room Conference: The DVD

If you missed the Woodstock music festival in 1969, you had to wait a full year for the movie; but just weeks after James MacDonald convened the Elephant Room one day seminar which was simulcast to two dozen cities, the DVD is already available for purchase, so we decided to jump in and bought one for ourselves and a couple of extras.

The phrase, “the elephant in the room” is used to denote the thing that is hovering over a discussion, but is never mentioned.   The idea here is that pastors have things they wrestle with that are discussed backstage when they meet up at major events, but are never shared with a larger audience.  The goal was to bring those subjects into open discussion.

The seven pastors were MacDonald, Mark Driscoll, Greg Laurie, Perry Noble, David Platt, Mark Chandler and Steven Furtick who was cast as a bit of a newcomer to this “big league” group.  Actually, Furtick came across very well, presenting some very timely insights into the subjects, and the very nature of the debates themselves.  Topics included:

  • Building numerically versus building depth
  • Responding to culture
  • Compassion and social justice
  • Unity and discernment
  • The multi-site church trend
  • Money issues
  • Loving the doctrine of the gospel but not sharing the gospel

An eighth session dealt with questions that had been texted in during the conference and was actually the most interesting in many ways. 

Over the past few years we’ve seen a growing interest in ecclesiology — the study of what constitutes ‘church’ —  among what would have been traditionally called “the laity.”  Books that would have formerly been written for the exclusive reading of pastors and church staff are now being purchased and discussed by the widest range of Evangelicals, many of whom are forging ahead with startups of home churches or alternative churches.  In a sense, the things the pastors discuss quietly backstage at conferences are being discussed in church lobbies, living rooms and over kitchen tables back home. This DVD set, and the topics it discusses are thereby of interest to everyone.

But it’s not the major takeaway from watching the seminar.

What is most striking is the camaraderie that exists between the pastors themselves.  While they do disagree on some minor points, there is a genuine agreement on the things that matter; what Driscoll well-defines as the difference between national borders (which wars are fought over) and state borders (for which wars are not fought.) 

There were some highlights and lowlights in the video.  One highlight was the overall production quality.  Another was the way they kept the discussion moving, with a moderator and two rotating key opponents followed by a more open forum that allowed the other four pastors to contribute.   Another highlight was seeing that with issues such as multi-site — so much on the minds of people as changes take place quickly — the pastors themselves do not undertake moves lightly, but truly agonize over the ramifications of growth.   A lowlight — and it really has to be said — is the way James MacDonald dominates every discussion, rolling over everyone else like a freight train at times.  I guess it was his party, so he got to call the tune.

I do love the concept, however.  This was a great series of conversations and I would hope that either MacDonald’s crew, or somebody else, would put something like this together this time next year, perhaps with a different mix of pastors and church leaders.  Rather than attempting to describe it further, you can watch a few sample clips here and here

What we call church really matters, and you don’t have to be among the ‘professional’ clergy to care.


Read another review of the conference here.

Link here to an index Trevin Wax provided of participants who live-blogged the event.

October 18, 2010

The Place for Christian Critique

If anything characterized the Christian publishing market during the first decade of this new century, it was the glut of books falling under the general category of ecclesiology.     Once the domain of pastors and seminary students, suddenly every Tom, Dick and Harriet was interested in church growth strategy, church planting, home church, organic church, postmodern ministry, et al.

And many of these books were very critical of church as we know it.   Some writers believed it was better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, but others, spared nothing to launch their complaint against the irrelevance of church in the previous century including even tearing down more recent models which were attempting to remedy that very situation.

Can you imagine an author walking into a publishers agent’s office today with a manuscript about church life?   It would be a hard sell with the titles already available.

So what of this particular genre?

I chose the word critique over the word criticism, because most writers self-justified their efforts that they weren’t trying to be “critical,” but were attempting to simply put the church under the microscope in light of contemporary culture and statistical surveys.    But some of the books left you more pessimistic than encouraged.

I also chose this topic in light of the discussion that began Saturday here (two posts back) on the place for Christian humor.   Humor is, in many ways, a form of critique, and the humorists and the critics have a lot in common.   It’s my opinion that we need both, and that overall, the discussions in various books published from 2000 – 2009 have been helpful for refocusing and re-visioning the role of the local church moving forward.

But I learned on the weekend that not everyone is going to agree.

I guess a fuller title for this would be, “The Place for Critique in Christian Writing;” since it’s not Christianity — the doctrine and theology — that’s being reconsidered.   Hopefully.   Although it’s often the doctrine and theology as we came to understand it, or as it was taught to us, or as it was impressed on us that can be the issue.

So here’s what I want you do:   Check out both Saturday’s post and the comments; and then answer the following question which is similar, but different.

What’s your take on books or online media — such as blogs — that are highly critical of traditional church?

And let’s add a question about the issue that was raised on the weekend.

What controls should exist regarding the possibility of new believers or even seekers stumbling over material that was meant for church veterans?

The difference is that here we’re looking at writers who aren’t trying to be funny, though maybe humor might have softened their blows!

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