Thinking Out Loud

May 24, 2018

Review: Christianity in an Age of Skepticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


~p71

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Excerpts appearing here previously:

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May 11, 2018

Dissecting the Evangelism Process

Filed under: books, Christianity, evangelism — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:55 am

They say the problem with trying to dissect a cat and learn how it works is that once you make the first cut, you’ve killed the cat.

Trying to over-analyze the various elements of faith can have the same effect, but as I’ve started reading Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News about Jesus More Believable by Sam Chan (Zondervan, 2018), I’m finding the opposite: Something about this approach really brings the gospel to life.

One of the things which impressed me is the use of charts and diagrams, as in the excerpt below:


1 Thessalonians 1:4–10 reveals six crucial parts that persons play in the symphony of evangelism, which Chan outlines below:

  1. God’s role is to choose people for salvation (v.4). God has a sovereign role in salvation. This is the theological idea of calling, election, and predestination.
  2. Jesus’ role is to save people from wrath (v.10). He is responsible for dying for people and their sins, rising from the dead, and one day coming back to judge people. Jesus’ other role is that the gospel story is about him (v. 8). The gospel is a message about who Jesus is and what he’s done to save people from their sins.
  3. Paul’s role is to communicate the gospel (v. 5). He did this both with words and actions, not just what he said but also how he lived. Paul gives more details about his model life in 1 Thessalonians 2:6–12.
  4. The Holy Spirit’s role is to empower the person who is communicating the gospel (v. 5). Perhaps this means that the Spirit gives the person the gift of effective communication or the words to say. And the Spirit also illuminates the person hearing the gospel by convicting them (v. 5) and opening their heart to receive the gospel with joy (v. 6).
  5. The Thessalonians hear the gospel and welcome it with joy (v. 6b). They respond with faith (v. 8b) by turning from their idols to God (vv. 8b–9). Now they imitate Paul (v. 6a) and are models for other believers (v. 7) while they wait for Jesus to return (v. 10).
  6. The gospel is a message about Jesus (v. 8). It is the means by which the Holy Spirit convicts people of their sins (v. 5) and enables them to welcome God’s salvation with joy (v. 6). (20–21)

This chart further describes these evangelism roles by mapping them along six theological categories:

Like Paul’s role in 1 Thessalonians, “Our role is to communicate the gospel both in words and actions. But our role is not God’s: we are not sovereignly choosing who gets saved. Our role is not Jesus’: we are not saving people from their sins. Our role is not the Holy Spirit’s: we cannot force people to believe. Instead we must stay focused on our role as the evangelist and do it well.”


I’ll definitely have more to say about this book, probably later next week. It’s a great resource for both churches and individuals.  Learn more at this page.

Book excerpt sourced at Zondervan Academic

April 28, 2018

Songs of Mission: Part Two

Guest post by Lorne Anderson 

This is a response to an article we posted yesterday.

Songs of mission? Certainly, you can’t be suggesting that we should be looking beyond our navels? Perish the thought!

If you are want you eat, as the saying goes, are you also what you sing? If so, what do modern worship choruses have to say about English-language Christianity? As music goes, so goes the church in many ways, so if our songs are not missionary, the church probably won’t be either.

I’m old enough to remember the Jesus movement of the early 1970s, when young people caught the vision of the need to spread the gospel, especially given the expected immanence of the return of Christ. That movement was in many ways driven by its music, which was a blend of evangelism and a call to personal holiness.

The late Larry Norman set the tone with “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” a lament that there would be some not prepared for Christ’s return – which was also a call to go out and tell your friends about Jesus. Others followed. The church as a whole may not have understood, but the youth did.

The songs sung in small group meetings may have been worshipful (“Father I Adore You”) but the need to reach the lost was never far from front of consciousness. Young Christians were excited to have discovered Truth; sharing it was an imperative. The spokes-musicians for what would eventually become an industry felt an urgency to share their faith. Worship music as a genre did not yet exist.

Today it seems worship music has become the dominant Christian musical expression, stifling all other forms of musical creativity. A lot of “worship” music isn’t truly about praising God but more expressing our feelings about praising God. Believe me, there is a big difference. We have become inner-directed to the point that we forget the reason for the church’s existence isn’t just to praise God, but to bring others into a relationship where they want to do the same.

But how do we inspire people to care about the spiritual well-being of others when our songs are all about ourselves? We’re so busy contemplating our navels, and how God loves us, right down to our belly button lint, that we’ve missed the point that we are supposed to be passing God’s love on to others. (“It only takes a spark…”

‘Jesus Music’ inspired my generation. We went out into the highways and byways looking for people who hadn’t heard the good news that is Jesus Christ. Our songwriters led the way, framing our zeal for evangelism in music.

We are supposed to praise God. But if that is all we do, if we lose that missionary vision, our praise in many ways become just resounding gongs and clanging cymbals.

It was easier when the mission field was so far away. In my area of a large Canadian city, there are now more mosques than churches – the mission field has come to us. That makes it everyone’s responsibility, not just those who feel an overseas call. That also makes it harder — we have to show love to our neighbor, on a daily basis, and put that love into action.

We no longer need to go to “Greenland’s icy mountains” to reach the lost. They have moved into your neighborhood, into my neighborhood. On the city bus I hear a myriad of tongues and see a variety of skins tones.

Where though are the songs about the spiritual needs of those people on the bus? Who is inspiring the church to leave the comfort of its walls and take the gospel to the nations that have arrived on our doorstep. Who is writing the soundtrack for missionary activity in the 21st century?

“We’ve a story to tell to the nations.” We’re just not singing it right now.


To learn more about Lorne, follow his blog, Random Thoughts from Lorne. We occasionally steal articles from each other but this one was initially written for readers here.

April 27, 2018

Songs of Mission: Part One

Wall maps like this one at Wolverine Baptist Church in Michigan adorned many a church bulletin board with push pins and string highlighting the church’s mission outreach around the world.

We’ve written before about the shift to vertical worship means there are no longer songs of testimony. But also missing are songs of mission, as well as other categories. I realize that it is no longer politically correct to talk about evangelistic crusades and that songs like Onward Christian Soldiers sound different to 2018 ears than it did when the 1865 lyrics were combined with music in 1871. But I thought we’d collect some stanzas from these classics today perhaps for a last look before they disappear into obscurity.

These are hymns, but you could include some 1980s fare like “Shine Jesus Shine” and “We Wanna See Jesus Lifted High” in this list.


We’ve a story to tell to the nations
That shall turn their hearts to the right
A story of truth and mercy
A story of peace and light

For the darkness shall turn to dawning
And the dawning to noon-day bright
And Christ’s great kingdom shall come to earth
The kingdom of love and light


From Greenland’s icy mountains
From India’s coral strand
Where Afric’s sunny fountains
Roll down their golden sand;

From many an ancient river
From many a palmy plain
They call us to deliver
Their land from error’s chain


Far, far away in heathen darkness dwelling
Millions of souls forever may be lost
Who, who will go, salvation’s story telling
Looking to Jesus minding not the cost?

“All power is given unto Me
All power is given unto Me
Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel
And lo, I am with you always.”


There’s a call ringing o’er the restless waves
Send the light! Send the light!
There’s are souls to rescue, there are souls to save
Send the light! Send the light!

Send the light, the blessed gospel light
Let it shine from shore to shore.
Send the light, the blessed gospel light
Let it shine forever more.


Rescue the perishing, care for the dying
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave
Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen
Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.


O, Zion haste! Thy mission high fulfilling
To tell to all the world that God is light
That He who made all nations is not willing
One soul should perish, lost in shades of night

Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace
Tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.


Out in the highways and byways of life
Many are weary and sad
Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife
Making the sorrowing glad

Make me a blessing, make me a blessing
Out of my life may Jesus shine
Make me a blessing, oh Savior, I pray
Make me a blessing to someone today.


A charge to keep have I
A God to glorify
A never-dying soul to save
And fit it for the sky


To the regions beyond, I must go, I must go
Where the story has never been told
To the millions that never have heard of his love
I must tell the sweet story of old

To the regions beyond, I must go, I must go
‘Til the world, all the world His salvation shall know


Hear the Lord of harvest sweetly calling,
“Who will go and work for me today?
Who will bring to Me the lost and dying?
Who will point them to the narrow way?”

Speak my Lord, speak my Lord
Speak and I’ll be quick to answer thee
Speak my Lord, speak my Lord
Speak and I will answer, “Lord send me.”


Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does His successive journey run
His kingdom spread from shore to shore
‘Til moons shall wax and wane no more


Who is on the Lord’s side? Who will serve the King?
Who will be His helpers other lives to bring?
Who will leave the world’s side? Who will face the foe?
Who is on the Lord’s side? Who for Him will go?

By Thy call of mercy, by Thy grace divine
We are on the Lord’s side, Savior we are thine.


So what’s the point of all this? Just a trip down memory lane for some older readers?

No, the issue is that we don’t have anything today — with the exception of the Getty’s revival of Facing a Task Unfinished, which wasn’t entirely new lyrics — that is thematically equivalent. Our songs are all introspective. We don’t challenge each other.

This was the music of the church, until recently. This is the content that Christians sang on Sunday morning. This was the power of music being used to inspire us to think beyond our church walls, beyond our city, beyond our state, beyond our country and to consider our response to the Great Commission. 

We ought to lament this loss.

 

 

December 15, 2017

Making Christian Television Great Again

test pattern

If your background is Anglican or Roman Catholic, you might think that the world of Christian television is dominated by Evangelical voices, but you’d only be partly right. In fact, Christian TV is dominated by a certain type of Evangelical, most of whom, if not Pentecostal or Charismatic, are definitely is leaning in that direction.

And that’s unfortunate because there is a wide swath of Evangelicals that simply aren’t represented in the broadcast medium:

Cerebral Christians – I’ve always wondered what a Christian television program would look like if it was created by InterVarsity. I know I’d watch. N. T. Wright is often a guest on various shows; if he were a host, I wonder who would he invite? This would be to present Christian television what PBS is to ABC.

America’s Best Sermons – There’s a ton of sermon media out there. Why should just internet-connected people get to enjoy it all? A show of best sermons would scan the internet for great material from churches that would never dream of purchasing broadcast airtime.

Christian Talk/Variety in a Live Context – In 2008, I wrote about His Place on Cornerstone Television which was set in a coffee shop but contained characters discussing pertinent issues and challenges, along with guest interviews and musicians. Truly a superior concept. You can read what I wrote at this link.

Socratic Dialog – Think about what people liked about The Shack, or Ian Morgan Cron’s Chasing Francis or the David Gregory Dinner With a Perfect Stranger series or a large number of Andy Andrews titles, and you get where I’m going with this. It would make for great television.

Bible Project – In May of last year we introduced you to two guys from the west coast with a very unique gift for explaining the Bible. Frankly, I think their work is too good to just be on YouTube. It deserves the cachet that goes with broadcast TV. You may read my description at this link.

Progressives – For all the Millennials out there, TV must seem a very old-school medium. Still, what would it take to capture the energy of those edgy podcasts and turn it loose in a more populist medium? 

Apologetics – The “extreme sport” of Christian theology and witness rarely makes it onto TV in its pure form.

Calvinists – I know this one flies in the face of some of my other writing about the dominance of Reformed theology on the internet and in Christian publishing, but the five-point crowd isn’t known for using the visual media. Anyone know a reason for that? 

Drama – Again, another question: Why should all the best examples modelling Christians in their neighborhoods, workplaces and extended families only be seen in movie theaters? Can’t Sherwood Pictures or PureFlix throw some shorter scripts together for broadcast?

Polar Opposites – Television is a great showcase for the dramatic. What if the TULIPs and the DAISYs had it out on a weekly basis? Or pit the egalitarians debating the complementarians. Or the Young Earth Creationists arguing with the Old Earth Creationists. Or the KJV-Only crowd throwing things at the NIV and NLT advocates. Or the watchdog bloggers against just about anyone. I know I’d tune in.

What Christian television that doesn’t exist would you like to see?

November 18, 2017

The Relational Quality of a Personal Relationship

Often I think that those of us who comprise “the Church” suffer greatly because language is often inadequate to describe some of the most elementary principles of faith. Much ink (or in the case of the internet, electrons) is used up trying to describe atonement, salvation, the indwelling presence of Christ, or even the subject which returns on a regular cycle much like certain comets: “What is the Gospel?”

Entering into “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” or “asking Jesus into your heart” or “accepting Jesus as your personal savior” probably means something to most readers here, but we forget how quickly we’re losing our audience if we’re speaking to seekers, skeptics, atheists or agnostics. The quality of “relationship” probably reminds them more of something likely to be encountered on a dating website. (“If you think Jesus would be a good match, swipe right.”)

I believe the idea of relationship serves us better if we think about it visually. Since we can only share with others what we’ve experienced ourselves, let’s aside evangelistic efforts and make this personal. For example…
Relationship between us and God

I am at the front of the room speaking and I invite my wife to come and stand about six feet from me. “What does it mean,” I ask everyone, “to say I am in relationship to Ruth?”

Some of the answers are:

  • “You love each other.”
  • “You have shared history and experiences, that the rest of us don’t know about.”
  • “You are intimate with each other.”

But then I ask her to sit down and invite Mike to come up to the front. Mike and I are not close, I had to ask his permission before this point because we only know each other superficially. I position him in the same spot.

“So again,” I ask, “Where am I in relationship to Mike?”

After a bit of laughter, some dare to come up with something:

  • “You are standing to his right and he is on your left.”

“Let’s go with that,” I respond, “What does that entail?”

  • “He can see you and hear you and knows what you’re doing.”

I start to deliberately creep back from him. “What about now?”

  • “The distance between you can change.”

The first set of answers all have to do with what we normally think of with the word relationship.

The second set of answers could easily involve other words or phrases: Where I am with respect to Mike; Where I am according to Mike.

When we think about our relationship with God, we might want to consider it in terms of love, intimacy and shared history. “And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am His own…

Today I’m proposing we look for ways to expand that and consider the possibilities that:

  • We need to be aware of God’s position in our lives; that he does stand next to us, and our posture should be that of standing next to him. One counselor I know would say we need to visualize this. The example of me standing next to Ruth or Mike can provide the imagery we need to do this.
  • He sees us; he is watching us (“the eyes of the Lord run to and fro”) and this is also true for everyone on earth; whether they acknowledge him as Lord or not, he sees them. But this works both ways; I think we could also include in this an awareness of seeing Him in the everyday routine.
  • We ought to keep close to him; not let ourselves drift away from the awareness of His presence, either on a momentary basis or over a period of time. (For example, I could continue speaking and forget that Mike is still standing there until he asks if he can sit down now!)

In other words, asking the question “Where I am in relationship to God?” is only partly about the nature or quality of the relationship itself, but also about where God is in my life, and where I stand with respect to Him. The focus shifts from the tie that bind us to how I act and live my life according to Him.

The issue is one of proximity or closeness.

God is omnipresent but that sterile piece theological information means, by definition, that He is also present… 

…Only when have this relationship solidly mapped out in our own understanding can we begin to share the dynamics of it with others. If we think in terms of it in terms of physical proximity (as with the example of Mike) we’re on the right track. But hopefully we move on to something that involves more intimacy (as with the example of Ruth.)  

Out of the overflow of that type of relationship is something we will be excited to share with others.

September 21, 2017

Hope for Beachgoers

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:31 am

We worked our way down the trail to the local beach. It was September already, but high water levels earlier in the year meant that we changed our routines a little, and this would be our first trip.

“Isn’t there a bench somewhere here?” I wondered aloud. I remember sitting on it in the late afternoons soaking up the sun.

“There it is;” my wife advised. Only when we got to it we discovered it had been mildly re-purposed. Someone had left a set of gel markers — I guess they don’t dry up in the sun as quickly — and a collection of small rocks and stones, one of which was inscribed with an invitation to write something to share with everyone. I guess they see this as a way of making a difference.

Ruth bought in immediately, choosing a stone and a marker while I continued to make my way down to the water where she joined me two minutes later.

“Did you write ‘Jesus loves you’?” I asked.

“No;” she replied, I wrote, ‘Don’t give up.'” 

“Are you ashamed of your Lord?”

Okay, I didn’t say that last one.

She said she wanted something that would be relatable for most people. She felt ‘Jesus loves you’ would make for a lot of eye rolling. It may be true, but it’s trite. Furthermore, I’m sure that message, ‘Don’t give up,’ is exactly what some broken people need to hear.

Would I have written ‘Jesus loves you?’ Honestly, probably yes. I would have seen this as a ministry opportunity. I would have seized on the time and place to be salt and light. I would have set down the marker and walked away proud of having ‘done my bit’ for the Kingdom of God that day.

And yet… perhaps someone would have picked up that particular stone and tossed it down the hill into the lake. This is Canada after all. We don’t have Chick-fil-a and Hobby Lobby and K-LOVE and the Republican party. We make no pretense to be a Christian nation. 

So isn’t that all the more reason to proclaim Christ’s name? Yes and no.

See, I agree with her, and I agree with me.

It’s complicated…

Just because you can use something as a ministry opportunity doesn’t mean you should.

…Don’t give up.

“I tell you,” [Jesus] replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” – Luke 19:40 NIV

 

August 28, 2017

Media that Wasn’t Meant for Christian Insiders

A typical Friday night or Saturday night at my house might consist of sitting by the computer and spinning the giant YouTube wheel. This past weekend, the wheel spun to songs from the musical Godspell.

When I was very young, myself and my friend Cliff boarded a Toronto city bus and rode for forty minutes to the Bayview Playhouse to see the production that some others at our school were talking about, having seen it on previous nights. Despite growing up in church, I had minimal exposure to live music at a professional level and the quality of the band, the singers, and even the lighting and sound was certainly impressive. It didn’t hurt that the cast and musicians included Victor Garber, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Gilda Radner, Dave Thomas, and Martin Short, and the show’s musical director Paul Shaffer.

But while I wouldn’t have articulated this way at the time, I can also report with great clarity that two things struck me that night.

First was the Jesus story itself. I had never before seen the story arc of the four gospels in a single presentation. Years of Sunday School suddenly came to life! You can’t make this stuff up. It’s awesome. I keep coming back to the phrase “If Jesus had never lived, we would not have been able to invent him.” (Philip Yancey attributes this to Walter Wink; though Voltaire, with an entirely different motive, said something similar.) The life of Christ; the teachings; the miracles; the conversations with seekers and critics; it’s all — if I can be permitted this indulgence — the making of great theater.

Second however was the power of contemporary music to convey the Jesus story. I think that night planted the seeds which would cause me to go on to become an ambassador for what was to be called “Jesus Music” and later became known as “CCM” or “Contemporary Christian Music;” and to want to do this in a country where Christian radio, as well as access to the artists and recordings were basically non-existent.

But Godspell had its critics among Evangelicals.

Problem One: The musical originated outside of the Evangelical bubble. How could Christians support something that wasn’t composed by one of their own. John Michael-Tebelak, who wrote the spoken parts of the play describes being overwhelmed by the joy found in the Gospels and decides to attend an Easter Vigil at a nearby church. “I left with the feeling that, rather than rolling the rock away from the Tomb, they were piling more on. I went home, took out my manuscript, and worked it to completion in a non-stop frenzy.” Jewish composer Stephen Schwartz wrote the music.

Problem Two: Jesus was seen as being portrayed as a clown. This assessment is clearly off-base. If anything, the costume used with most touring companies more resembles the look of Robin Williams as Mork from Ork. The idea was to capture the joy the playwright in the previous quotation found lacking. To this day I have never seen this choice of wardrobe as in any way diminishing the character of Jesus, though if it were historically accurate, Jesus would have stood out in a crowd in ways the texts indicate he did not.

Problem Three: There is no resurrection. Wikipedia elaborates:

The “Finale” begins, loud and in B-minor, with Jesus wailing, “Oh, God, I’m dying,” and the community answers: “Oh, God, You’re dying.” Jesus dies and the music comes to a rest. The women of the company sing “Long Live God”, and the men join in with “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” in counterpoint, as they remove Jesus from the fence and carry him out (either offstage or through the aisles of the auditorium). There is controversy over the fact that there is no obvious resurrection of Jesus present in the show, although it can be interpreted that either the singing of “Prepare Ye” in the finale or the curtain call (where all including Jesus return to the stage) is representative of the resurrection…

Stephen Schwartz notes the following in the script:

Over the years, there has been comment from some about the lack of an apparent Resurrection in the show. Some choose to view the curtain call, in which JESUS appears, as symbolic of the resurrection; others point to the moment when the cast raise JESUS above their heads. While either view is valid, both miss the point. GODSPELL is about the formation of a community which carries on JESUS’ teachings after he has gone. In other words, it is the effect JESUS has on the OTHERS which is the story of the show, not whether or not he himself is resurrected. Therefore, it is very important at the end of the show that it be clear that the OTHERS have come through the violence and pain of the crucifixion sequence and leave with a joyful determination to carry on the ideas and feelings they have learned during the course of the show

(This is also as cited in Wikipedia: CapsLock as in the original)

Again, I can’t say how much the musical means to me on a personal level. On that one night, I saw the power of music to convey the Christian message, and this exposure partly set the trajectory of my entire life. But as I was brushing my teeth on Saturday night, two thoughts hit me.

First: Godspell wasn’t written for Christians. It wasn’t even supposed to be that successful, at least where I live. In Toronto, the plan was to hire local performers and produce a few dozen shows for subscribers. Instead, the show moved up to the Bayview Playhouse where I saw it, setting what was then a record run of nearly 500 performances.

Second: I think this is where I get my love for media that is capable of starting conversations with people in the broader marketplace who would never set foot in a church. Those media vehicles we sometimes describe as “crossover” in nature, even if some of them didn’t originate with us in the first place.

  • This is why I like Godspell.
  • This is why I endorse The Shack.
  • This is why I defend the sermons of Andy Stanley.
  • This is why I review and quote from Rob Bell.
  • This is why I refer people to Bruxy Cavey’s church.

When someone is willing to take the message out there and do it in a way that resonates and find an audience with the secularist, the humanist, the cynic, the skeptic, the critic, the seeker, the sinner; at that point I’m on board. “Go for it;” I’m cheering, “Rough edges and all.”

The video clip below is from a newer cast.

 

 

 

 

August 19, 2017

For nearly an hour we were given answers to questions we weren’t asking

How Preaching Sounds to the Uncommitted

A few years ago we went on a farm tour. We still speak of it whenever we’re driving down the highway and see the sign indicating it as a tourist attraction. I think the purists among the farming community call this ‘agritourism’ or even ‘agritainment.’

The owner guided us around her property consisting entirely of one ‘crop’ a somewhat obscure herb that some reading this might never have had contact with. As we stood in one place in the hot sun for nearly 30 minutes, and in the field for about 60 minutes overall, our guide was oblivious to any potential discomfort. She speaks well and clearly. She is obviously intelligent.

More important are two qualities: She has a passion for what she is doing. It constantly leaks from the overflow of her heart. And she knows her subject down the last detail. I can’t imagine a question she couldn’t answer.

In the church, we generally give high place to those two criteria among the people who act as our guides, particularly those who teach us at weekend services. The formula looks like this:

genuine passion + extensive knowledge = audience engagement

In most cases, the sermons you remember because you’d like to forget them (there’s a phrase!) either lacked passion (a dry monotonous delivery) or lacked substance (the speaker hadn’t studied or had no depth).

The problem was, the farm owner had both, yet in our little group of six, I’m not sure how engaged we were. One person out of the six asked several questions however; this would represent the 15% of people in our local churches that some estimate are really into what is going on and are committed to lifestyle Christianity. In Canada we call them keeners.

Bible teaching and preachingI should also add here that both my wife and I picked up the parallel between what we were experiencing and its application to church life. As soon as we were out of earshot of the rest of the group, it’s the first thing we mentioned.

Now, we knew going in what the subject matter was going to be. We just didn’t know how that would be presented. For nearly an hour in the hot sun, we were offered answers to questions we weren’t asking, details only a solid aficionado of the subject would want to know.

Now I know how preaching sounds to an atheist.

We weren’t dragged to this event against our will; in fact we paid an admission to be there. So there was some interest, but not in the type of things that were presented. My wife noted a couple of things that were absent in the presentation; I’ll let her explain.

If the medium is the message, is the storyteller the story? Our credibility is born out of who we are, and our storyteller told us a story that communicated nothing of herself, or any other people. She shared an expert stream of hows, of dos and don’ts, of whens and wheres and hows, of so many centimeters apart and deep and high, of percentages and techniques, of days and weeks and months and years – but no who.

We were told that the plant was native to the Mediterranean area. So who brought it over here and why?

We were told that there are 57 varieties of the plant, examples of each to be found in a separate plot of soil. Who created them all?

One little nugget that dropped was that her family had, until a few years ago, been market gardeners (implying a varied and multi-seasonal crop). She never explained how they’d made the leap from something so practical and communal to something so esoteric and exclusive. Where did this passion come from?

There was no history, no personality. No identity.

So basically, all of our passion and all of our knowledge does not guarantee that our presentation will become infectious, or frankly, that anyone is listening at all.

I know that some people read blogs who are very distrustful of churches that try to make the gospel relevant. I like what someone once said on this: We need to communicate the relevance the gospel already has. I know in my own life there have been times when I was passionate and detailed about things that my hearers may have had a mild interest in, but I wasn’t addressing their felt needs.

Spiritual passion + Biblical knowledge does not necessarily result in audience receptivity, even if you’re the best orator in the world.

August 13, 2017

For the Grandmas

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:19 am

Her daughter didn’t take the boy to church, so when she heard that he was willing to spend a week with him, she knew that this would be an opportunity to share the Jesus story with him. As an experienced children’s worker, she had no shortage of resources at her disposal to do this.

The boy responded positively, and knowing that her daughter might never give permission for this to take place in a church, she took the boy down to the lake and baptized him, something not entirely unusual in her faith tradition.

The mom was not pleased…

…She never mentioned him again in our subsequent conversations and as it had been at least a year, I got curious this week and asked her how the young boy was doing with his faith.

She said when she saw him recently, he ran toward her and gave her a hug and said, “Hi Grandma. I still have God.”

I still have God.

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