Monthly Archives: September 2009

Missional in the Bible Belt

In The Jollyblogger’s archives is a good post called Eclipse of the Gospel in the Church. In it David Wayne builds off this Marcus Honeysett quote:

“At some point in the life of most local churches a critical point is reached when the core fellowship of those committed to gospel vision are outnumbered by a fringe who are there for quite different reasons, be it spiritual comfort, kids activities, personal support, or whatever. Regardless of the particular type of church government, all fellowships struggle to maintain focus around core vision when the fringe, be they believers or not, outnumber the gospel-oriented core. It is very hard to maintain focus, or alter any aspect of church life to reflect the gospel needs of a fresh generation, when the majority are committed to maintaining their comfort. When this happens “Christians” have been replaced with “churchgoers” who assume they are Christians.”

Um, yep.

Expanding this beyond an individual congregation, I would say this is a predicament for all gospel-centered churches in areas where the inordinately attractional church is king, particularly in the Bible Belt, where Christianity is “cultural” and the church with the most toys wins.

Wayne follows up:

That seems to be the nature of the beast when it comes to the church. The Exodus people of Israel quickly forgot their redemption and pined for their leeks and onions and devolved into complaints and idolatry. So much so that God had to let a generation die out before they could enter the promised land. …

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I Want You to Like Me

Admirers and defenders of Rob Bell, you might appreciate this previous post of mine:

For Whose Name’s Sake?: Thoughts on the Culture War

Or not, I don’t know.

I try to be an equal opportunity offender over here.

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A Rant: Rob Bell and An Evangel-less Evangelicalism

Maybe he didn’t mean to do this. Maybe he was taken out of context. Maybe the interviewer chopped his words up to better reflect a different agenda.

One can hope.

The title of the (very) short interview is “[Rob] Bell aims to restore the true meaning of evangelical.”


Bell’s printed definition is this:

I embrace the term evangelical, if by that we mean a belief that we together can actually work for change in the world, caring for the environment, extending to the poor generosity and kindness, a hopeful outlook. That’s a beautiful sort of thing.

I’d like to buy the world a Coke.

This definition is worthless for evangelical meaning. It could easily be the mission statement of Greenpeace, the United Way, your local vegans’ co-op, or even the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

It is a definition of evangelical that contains zero evangel. If you are unclear on why this is the case, the word “evangel” comes from the Greek word that means “gospel.” An evangelical is a “person of the gospel.” Or should be. Bell’s definition contains no gospel.

“Well, sure it does,” some are arguing in the comments at Out of Ur’s post on the interview. One of the commenters there, in appreciation of Bell’s definition, writes:

We’ve gotten so used to reading the Bible without its historical and cultural context, that we’ve largely ignored its impact on its original hearers

Yes, because when first century readers read Paul’s claim of the gospel’s “first importance” in 1 Corinthians 15 and what …

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Why I Downplay the "Practical" in My Preaching

“I do not aim to be immediately practical but eternally helpful.” — John Piper

Heavy disclaimers needed:First, I’m saying “downplay,” not eliminate. What I’m referring to here is the level of applicational/practical exhortations (ie. “you should”) in a preached message, not whether Christians should apply their faith or what-have-you. If you read this and then suggest in the comments I am against the living out of the gospel, I’m going to ask you if you actually read the post.

Secondly, my messages do contain exhortations to live out faith in Christ, quite strong exhortations actually. I am specific in doing so, as I believe the proclamation of the gospel necessitates a call to repentance. And preaching does not exist in a vacuum, but in the context of a community that eats together, serves together, ministers to its community together, studies the Bible together, and takes care of each other together.

Thirdly, not all preaching is created equal. Congregations are like snowflakes; despite the new push for plug-and-play teaching, no two congregations are alike. So the personality of proclamational preaching can and should be different from community to community, and from preacher to preacher.

I may well have to clarify more in the comments, but here are several reasons why I personally downplay the applicational angle in my messages:

1. I downplay application because the gospel is about Christ’s finished work and our faith in it, not our works contributing to it.

My conviction is that when we focus too heavily on our works, Christ’s finished work …

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What You Can Stake Your Life On

1. God’s words are true.

For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does.– Psalm 33:4

2. Even if you let him down, he will never return the favor.

If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.– 2 Timothy 2:13

3. He is never late.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.– Romans 5:6

4. He is not slow.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.– 2 Peter 3:9a5. He loves you.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.– 1 John 4:16a

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Mind Your Own Business

Yesterday driving home I passed by a yard where a girl who looked to be about 6 was wrestling in the yard with a playful dog who looked to weigh about 80 pounds. It was one of the best things that graced my eyes on an overcast day.

Philip Melancthon once said to his friend Martin Luther, “Today, Martin, you and I will discuss God’s governance of the universe,” to which Luther replied, “No, Philip. Today you and I are going fishing, and we’ll leave the governance of the universe to God.”

I am glad God leaves to us the business of such things as playing with dogs, fishing, skipping rocks, flying kites, watching sunrises, watching sports, swimming in the ocean, drinking beer, making love to our spouses, and making people laugh.

God is good and so is life.

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What Gospel Wakefulness Does to Worship

Jesus healed ten lepers. Only one came back to thank him.

All ten got the healing. But only one “got” it. Only one was awake to the blessed reality of what happened.

Gospel wakefulness is rare among Christians. And, yes, I think you can be a Christian and not experience gospel wakefulness, although it is dangerous. You’ve got the healing; you just don’t walk in thankfulness, but in . . . something else. (And Jesus covers that too; I don’t mean to imply he doesn’t or that some emotional reaction is contingent for salvation.)The older brother was not not a son, after all.

But if you are a Christian who has not experienced gospel wakefulness, you will always struggle more deeply with religion as a cover for your sin. Your worship will be less free. It will always be a bit more like Cain’s offering than Abel’s: the fruit of your labors (acceptable as grain offerings but not faith-full).

The “problem” is that you can’t make yourself awake to the awe of the glory of the gospel. God has to do it for you. But it would be wise to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Press in and don’t stop until you’ve gotten to the “wow” moment.

Previously:Recipe for Gospel WakefulnessWhat Gospel Wakefulness Does to a ChurchWhy Gospel Wakefulness is So Important

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A Ridiculously Short Review of Deep Church by Jim Belcher

First, if this is your sort of thing — and you know if it is — you should read Deep Church by Jim Belcher. Belcher has had his finger on the pulse of contemporary movements in evangelicalism for quite a while, and he knows his stuff.

The Cons:Belcher is a workmanlike writer. I do not think writing is his forte, honestly. This is evident most in the dialogue portions, which he features quite a bit in the recapturing of exchanges with key figures in the emerging and traditional conversations. But they never ring true. They are informational exchanges in dialogue form. I have no doubt he had these conversations with these people about these specific subjects and that he is accurately relaying the content of what was said. But I do doubt people in real life talk like he has them talking in every dialogue portion in the book. They sound like characters in a church skit about evolution in the classroom (for instance :-).So he has no ear for dialogue; let’s just say that. And that’s a minor quibble, but it’s something particular to my taste that really stood out. They just sounded fakey.

The Pros:This is a really, really good book. It is heavier on description than it is prescription, but I don’t think the point of the book is to necessarily tell anyone what to do. It is a forging of the elusive “third way,” and we see that mainly in the stories Belcher tells about his own …

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The Imagination of the Christian World

Searching through some of the church archives today I came across an old postcard from 1945 written to the pastor here at the time. This is what it said:

125 Negro children arriving in state July 5th for two weeks. They’re being entertained in church homes. Some booked to go to your county. If your church too would like to share in this practical, good-will race relations project, write Ritchie Low, Johnson. There is still time to have some come to your parish. R.R. fares paid for. Local homes provide entertainment. Here is a simple practical way to participate in down-to-earth project that has caught the imagination of the Christian world. Children 9-12 years old. Write today to Ritchie Low if interested.

Stanley B. Hyde

This warmed my heart tremendously this morning.

And I really like that phrase “has caught the imagination of the Christian world.” I think of all the things that have caught the imagination of the Christian world today, the things that shape and receive our affections, that reside in our hearts, that occupy our thoughts and concerns. And would a wonderful way to put it: imagination captures the idea of potential, of creative possibility, of dwelt-on hopefulness.

What captures the Christian imagination today? Would that it would be the “entertaining angels” of simple, practical care for those not like us.

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9/11: The Past is Only As Dark as Your Future

This is how I gospel a tragedy.

On September 11, 2001, I was sitting on the bed in our master bedroom, with a sleeping 4 month-old on my chest, watching “The Today Show.” Something had just crashed into the World Trade Center. A helicopter? they wondered. A missile, someone ominously suggested. An airplane, the reports began to say. And as I watched the coverage live, another plane descended into the television frame. “That’s too low,” I said. Matt Lauer basically said the same thing immediately after I did.

You know the rest of that story.

I had a lot of thoughts, most of them guided by the news coverage, which I could not pull myself away from.I was a first-time dad four months into being a stay-at-home dad. Things got a little . .. disconcerting.

Is this the world I was bringing my baby up into?

Macy of course was oblivious. She was a baby. She ate, gurgled, slept, burped, pooped, wiggled around. I loved it when she stretched. Babyfatted arms up, those little fists, a bulldog puppy frown. Stretching babies are too adorable to care much about anything else at the moment.

And a curious thing happened. I tried my darndest to get sucked into the wake of 9/11. I cared deeply. I was glad the President I voted for was at the helm. He seemed suited for a moment like that. I’m sure many of my readers think the man a joke, or even evil. But W. has been good at two things, two …

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