Thinking Out Loud

March 31, 2017

The G-Word

Two quick stories by way of introduction, then the application.

Story #1

There was a time, not so long ago, when Evangelicals would do something each spring called door-to-door visitation. In other words, teams of two people would pick a neighborhood and knock on doors inviting people to come to church. Or to consider the claims of Christ. Or to come to church in order to consider the claims of Christ. Or accept the claims of Christ and then come to church.

Honestly, I’m not sure which was which because I’m pretty sure back then you had to believe to belong, but now you can belong before you believe. But now I’m a thousand miles off course.

The thing I really wanted to say here is this: Going in twos door-to-door was pretty much co-opted by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. They took the form or the methodology and totally dominated. They killed the category.

Today, you can’t go door-to-door without being taken for JWs or Latter Day Saints.

Story #2

A church near where I live did something a few years ago did something I would consider quite wise. They’re part of a Canadian denomination that has both the word Missionary and Evangelical in their name. So emblazoned on their building in rather large letters was the name, Evangelical Missionary Church.

Bob, do we have a picture? No but we have a picture of the church bus.

Anyway, the leadership of a few years back decided the word Evangelical was losing its respect in the broader world. (Think televangelist.) If you follow Christian authors and pastors online, you know this discussion is taking place across Evangelicalism. (Try this article on for size.)

They also felt the word Missionary was somewhat archaic. It conjured up an image of Beulah Baker with her hair in a bun heading off for seven years in the Belgian Congo. Honestly, I agree with the need for change; I accept the Missionary position on this issue. 

So today, the sign reads, Grace Church. Short and simple.

Application

So where are we going with this today? We have a story of a form being co-opted. We have a story of the meaning of words shifting, at least in perception.

The word in question: Gospel.

The Gospel is the good news, the heralding that something of vital importance has taken place. As the great theologian Linus once said, “Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.”

But now it’s a code word. Think “Together for the Gospel.” Or “The Gospel Coalition.” Now you know to whom I refer. The Neo-Reformed. The New Calvinists. (Or as I will often use as alternatives: Militant Calvinists. Internet Calvinists.)

Preparing this, I was reminded of an article I wrote back in 2011, with a screenshot of a note about an upcoming conference and the writer’s joy over how great it was that “three real friends of the gospel” were speaking. This implies that:

  • The others are not real (or true) friends of the gospel
  • Anyone individual or group not part of the YRR (Young, Restless & Reformed) crowd are simply not friends of the gospel

Where does this end?

  • The others don’t like the gospel
  • The others don’t preach the true gospel
  • The others are heretics
  • The others hate the gospel

Yikes; that last one was hard to type, but are we really that far away from a schism of that nature? That’s where this rhetoric is taking us. Words matter. What we say counts. 

Or…the rest of us, who would have been happy continually using those words, have to find new ones.  To the reformers: That wasn’t your word to steal. But now you’ve ruined it for everyone…

…What’s that, Bob? You found the picture? Well, okay:

 

 

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January 12, 2014

Single Story Reaches Two Diverse Audiences

I want us to think today about the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15. I’m assuming the story is somewhat familiar to you. If not, take the time to read it here.

I’ve been reading an advance copy of the book AHA by Kyle Idleman, releasing in the spring, and he noted something that my wife said we’ve heard before, but it struck me rather fresh this time. After completely digesting the story, Kyle returned to the setup that Luke provides in the first two verses:

1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered…  (emphasis added)

There you see two distinct audiences for Jesus’ story: Tax collectors and sinners — interesting distinction, don’t you think? — representing the younger brother in the story who returns to his father at the end to say, “I have sinned…” and Pharisees and teachers of the law represented the older brother in the story. Kyle even hints that finding a way to reach the hearts of that second group may have more to do with how the particular story was crafted.

AHA Kyle IdlemanIn many respects, this represents the two types of people who sit near us at any given weekend church service. If your church is doing it right; you’ve got people from the community who you and your fellow church members are inviting who are on the road to crossing the line of faith, or have recently come into fellowship and are seeing everything for the first time. Then, you’ve got what is probably a majority of people who have been in church since they were minus-nine months; the Sunday School teachers, choir/worship team members, committee members, ushers, elders, deacons, etc.

Is every Sunday’s sermon a Prodigal Son type of story that bridges the two audiences? I can picture myself coming to your church and preaching this story and impressing everyone with how it reaches both types of people, but then what do the following week for an encore?

I was first made to think about this when I had the privilege of hearing Keith Green in concert several times before his death in 1982. (Did I just give away my age?) Keith was one of the most spiritually focused Christian musicians I have ever encountered and he easily bridged the gap between two kinds of audience members by stressing the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

The call that Jesus makes in scripture is a call to people who are (a) hungry and thirsty and (b) people who need to have that hunger and thirst — that desire for God — perpetually stimulated. There is a saying that, ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink, but you can put salt in its oats to make it thirsty.‘ (Okay, you’re probably less familiar with that last bit.)

Psalm 42:1 (NiRV) states:

A deer longs for streams of water.
God, I long for you in the same way.

God wants to cultivate within us a hunger and thirst for Him. The person who has been a Christ-follower for 40-years needs this just as much as the person who has been a Christian for 40 minutes.

I believe it was Keith Green himself who pointed out that the word saviour occurs 37 times in the King James translation, while Lord appears 7836 times. That’s a ratio of nearly 212 to one. Our evangelistic and pre-evangelistic efforts are great as far as they go, but Christ’s intent is nothing less than that we make Him Lord over all our lives. If you ever find yourself facing two spiritually different audiences simultaneously, teach the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Bringing our lives in subjection to him is something the Prodigal Son story teaches both to the younger brothers and older brothers in the crowd; the message cuts across both demographics.


As I approached the end of the book, there were two brief things that also struck me that I wanted to share here.

“Let’s say the Prodigal Son lived in our culture today. He would have run out of money, but then, in order to prolong the pleasure, he would have continued his wild living by racking up credit-card debt. How much more would that have complicated his story? How much worse would it have been for the son to arrive home with looming debt? Picture him saying, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I have no money, and by the way, some creditors are coming, and I owe twice what my inheritance was worth.’ The longer we try and prolong the pleasure, the greater the pain will be.” (pp 168-9)

The other insight was in reference to the older brother:

“This is the problem with confidence in our own goodness. We begin to believe we’re going to earn something from the Father. But the Father’s house is not a house of merit; it is a house of mercy.” (p. 200, emphasis added)

Those of us who have been in the church for awhile need to curb the tendencies to fall into older brother syndrome, because the demand for Lordship that Christ places on us is actually greater than that placed on those who are meeting Him for the first time.

February 7, 2012

Ten Commandments for Pharisees

…plus, in keeping with the Pharisees’ penchant for adding to the law, one extra!  This is from Grace Guy and appeared on his blog as The Pharisees’ 10 (+1) Commandments.

  1. Thou shalt believe that your truth is THE only valid truth.
  2. Thou shalt interpret and judge a man’s heart through those actions you see. Nothing else is to be considered.
  3. Thou shalt use your vast knowledge of God to be right in any and all arguments, especially if others think you should apologize. Use favorite Scripture pieces at will.
  4. Thou shalt debate this vast knowledge vigorously with others. They must understand your truth at all costs. All costs.
  5. Thou shalt seek the approval and admiration of others above all else. They must see you as you think God sees you.
  6. Thou shalt not develop unholy relationships. They cannot love you if they do not agree with your truth.
  7. Thou shalt seek to make others holy through your truth at every occasion. It is your duty as the protector of your truth.
  8. Thou shalt use grace to show the largesse of your heart. Make sure everyone sees it.
  9. Thou shalt exhort others by telling them what you know God wants to tell them. He speaks through you. Make sure they listen and understand. This is especially important during their times of intense suffering.
  10. Thou shalt never question any intent, thought or action you have. Fight mightily or flee swiftly those who do.
  11. Thou shalt never doubt the First Commandment. It is your only rock in a very shifting world.

November 22, 2011

A New Code/Buzzword from a New Calvinist

Of course, he could be an old Calvinist as well, but I’m allowed my own code and here, “New Calvinist” might be translated “militant Calvinist.” 

I’m referring to Adrian Warnock, who in a blog post based on a piece at Church Relevance, notes that the top three churches in a particular list are “real friends of the gospel.”   Yes, he actually said that.  They are real friends of the gospel which means:

  • The others are not real (or true) friends of the gospel
  • Anyone individual or group not part of the YRR (Young, Restless & Reformed) crowd are simply not friends of the gospel

Where does this end?

  • The others don’t like the gospel
  • The others don’t preach the true gospel
  • The others are heretics
  • The others hate the gospel

Yikes; that last one was hard to type, but are we really that far away from a schism of that nature? That’s where this rhetoric is taking us. Words matter. What we say counts.

Shame!

Three real friends of the gospel.  Seven that are not real friends of the gospel.  Is there any way to put some positive spin on this horrible description? I’d be open to hear it.

Footnote: The blog in question limits comments to Twitter and Facebook; and I am not, for good reason, part of either.  So Warnock was contacted directly for a response at 11:02 PM on Sunday night, and at this writing, had not replied.  It should be added that for all I know, this sort of language is employed more frequently by other New Calvinists; I don’t spend a lot of time reading their material.

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