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Worth a Look 5.20.15

May 20, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth6Kindle Deal of the Day: Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas. $1.99.

Seven exquisitely crafted short portraits of widely known but not well understood Christian men, each of whom uniquely showcases a commitment to live by certain virtues in the truth of the gospel.

Last week, I got into a bit of a Twitter tussle (is that a thing?) with some friends over the proper interpretation of Matthew 25. Denny Burk pointed out that, contrary to popular opinion, the “least of these” refers primarily to believers in hardship. He’s right. I don’t agree, however, on excluding “the poor” from that application. Mike Cosper has followed up with a blog post about the issue:

I don’t object to Denny’s exegesis, which is thorough and carefully articulated. I don’t object, either, to the inclusion of Evangelicals whose consciences have prevented them from providing services to same-sex weddings, and who have suffered ridicule for their decision. I object strongly, vehemently, to the phrase, “not the poor.” It is sloppy at best, and cheap political point-scoring at worst.

Really good stuff from Tim Keller on how our view of history and the future shape our vision of the present — “When Hope and History Rhyme.” (For more along these lines, check out my talk at TGC this year on discipleship in a world of false eschatologies.)

The Christian answer to the overly optimistic or overly pessimistic modern views of history is the resurrection. Christianity, paradoxically, is far more pessimistic and far more optimistic than any other worldview—simultaneously.

Wonder what mainline Christians are saying about the Pew survey on America’s religious landscape? Here’s Steve Thorngate’s take for The Christian Century. The fading of denominational affiliation is one of the big takeaways, and it affects all Christians, not just the mainline.

According to Pew, a significant number of current evangelicals used to be Baptists but aren’t anymore; the corresponding gains are in nondenominational churches. The latter are, of course, overwhelmingly evangelical in their theology and outlook. But that’s not the only way they differ from the mainline, which is at least as marked by institutionalism as it is byliberalism. Pew includes data on Christians who are “nondenominational in the mainline tradition.” It’s a small number; it’s also growing.

Some pastors feast on leadership books and apply their insights in their church. Other pastors avoid leadership books like the plague. Eric Geiger believes both extremes are dangerous, but first, he offers three reasons pastors should not read these kinds of books:

I think it is wise to avoid the extremes. We must heed the caution not to compare the bride of Christ to another organization, but there are some helpful insights to be learned. There are reasons, and seasons, that church leaders should avoid leadership books. Here are three (later in the week, I will share reasons pastors should read leadership books).

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The Battle Over How to Interpret Pew’s “Religious Landscape” Survey

May 19, 2015 | Trevin Wax

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From my latest article at RNS:

The survey of America’s religious landscape released by the Pew Research Center last week engendered controversy, with headlines and articles latching onto one aspect of the data (usually the number of self-identifying Christians dropping to 70 percent) and then speeding away to exaggerated conclusions.

What’s the story here? Is it the “demise” of Christianity? Or the steadiness of religious practice? Is it the accelerating decline of denominational affiliation? Or the slow but upward tick of “evangelicals”?

Like so many surveys, there are different ways one can interpret the data.

Evangelical leaders saw the statistics as vindication: The number of evangelicals has grown, a sign that “true Christianity” is winning the day over the “progressive” mainline denominations or a cultural “Christianity-in-name-only.”

Liberal Christians pushed back against evangelical “triumphalism,” pointing out that some of the worrisome statistics that were once true only of mainline Protestantism are now showing up in evangelical denominations as well.

These divergent perspectives on the Pew survey are connected to larger narratives that frame how conservative and liberal Christians in the United States see themselves. In “The Righteous Mind,” Jonathan Haidt describes the different “stories” that arise, depending on whether you lean to the left or right politically. Though he has written primarily about “liberals” and “conservatives” from a political standpoint, I find his analysis easily applies to “liberals” and “conservatives” within Christianity also.

Haidt describes the liberal narrative as “heroic liberation.” Applied to the church, liberals would say the authoritative and hierarchical structures of the church (not to mention the way the church has wielded power in the past) are elements of tradition that keep people in chains. Liberals want to set people free from outdated or misunderstood dogma.

Haidt summarizes the conservative narrative as the “heroism of defense.” Applied to the church, conservatives are protecting their heritage, much like a home that needs to be reclaimed after significant damage has been done by termites. Loyalty to the church is declining because submission to God’s word is being subverted. Conservatives want to hold tightly to the life-giving truths of Christianity and maintain the church’s distinctiveness, no matter how unpopular it may be.

If you’re examining the Pew survey from the “liberation” narrative, then the solution is for the church to “get with the times.” To wit: If only churches would stop taking backward and damaging social positions, maybe they’d start growing again!

If you’re looking at it from the “defense” narrative, then the solution is for the church to “hold the line” and clarify true Christianity from its counterfeits: If only the “cultural” Christians would disappear altogether, then we’d know who really believes in traditional Christianity!

Which one of these interpretations is right?

CONTINUE READING

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Worth a Look 5.19.15

May 19, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth5Kindle Deal of the Day: Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus by Jonathan Leeman. $4.99.

By offering a brief, straightforward explanation of what church membership is and why it’s important, Leeman gives the local church its proper due and builds a case for committing to the local body. Church Membership is a useful tool for churches to distribute en masse to new and potential members of their congregation.

Abigail Rine explains how thoroughly revisionist her evangelical students are on the meaning of marriage, and how that revisionism was inculcated in conservative churches:

To them, the Christian argument against same-sex marriage is an appeal to the authority of a few disparate Bible verses, and therefore compelling only to those with a literalist hermeneutic. What the article names as a “revisionist” idea of marriage—marriage as an emotional, romantic, sexual bond between two people—does not seem “new” to my students at all, because this is the view of marriage they were raised with, albeit with a scriptural, heterosexual gloss.

In The Week, Pascal Emmanuel-Gobry shows why it is foolish to believe religious adherence will fade in the 21st century. Instead, current trends should lead us to expect religion to dominate:

Religion has been the most intense worldview-shaping phenomenon in history, and it will continue to be the most important worldview-shaping phenomenon of the 21st century.

Ignore this reality at your peril.

This is a fascinating read. It’s a pilot giving you a glimpse of “life in the sky” as he flies from London to Tokyo. The section on “Sky Countries” is interesting.

Since takeoff we’ve been passed from one London controller to another, sharing a few minutes of airtime before we’re handed over to the next as simply as a baton. But now we’re nearing the invisible border of London’s aerial dominion. The last of today’s London controllers says “Contact now Maastricht. Good flight.”

The world’s airspace is divided. There are various sorts of divisions. To the pilots who cross them every day, their borders form what we may regard as the countries of the sky.

Nathan Lino has some good counsel on why and how to be better listeners to sermons:

Get this: If you attend Sunday morning worship 45 out of the next 52 Sundays, that is 45 x 40 minute sermons. That is 1,800 minutes or 30 hours of sermons; a significant amount of your time. If you are an adult that has been in church for many years you have spent hundreds of hours of your life sitting through sermons. Just the sheer amount of time we spend listening to sermons should at least spark curiosity in us about how to listen to a sermon effectively.

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3 Choices in How We Respond to God’s Kingdom Agenda

May 18, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Chris-Esty-Photography-0009What is repentance?

Most people think it has something to do with shedding tears of sorrow for past actions or attitudes. It’s feeling sorry for your sins, combined with a desire to change. There’s no doubt that feeling genuine sorrow for your sins is part of repentance, but what if we’re missing another vitally important aspect?

When Jesus began His ministry, He preached a message of repentance in light of the coming kingdom of God (Mark 1:15):

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

“To repent” means to turn around, to change direction. It includes an element of reversal. It’s impossible to repent and stay the same. It would defy the definition of the word.

So what direction do we take? Notice that the call to repentance comes right after Jesus proclaims something: the arrival of God’s kingdom. God’s rule and reign is breaking into human history, and this kingdom is coming through Jesus – the King. Within this context, repentance doesn’t simply mean weeping over our sins; it means we turn around, abandon our own kingdom agendas, and adopt the kingdom agenda of Jesus Christ. To repent is to sign up for God’s kingdom – to be part of His people who are about His business in the world.

3 Ways We Respond to God’s Kingdom Agenda

There are three ways we respond to God’s kingdom agenda.

Jesus-Continued-219x300The first is to pit our agenda against God’s. This is the posture of the people in Genesis 11, who sought to build a city and a tower up to the sky in order to make a name for themselves. Their desire was to set up a rival kingdom, apart from God and His power. The default position for every human being on earth is to set up a personal kingdom where we are in control of our lives, our choices, and our destiny. Our agenda versus God’s.

The second way we respond to God’s kingdom agenda is by adding it to ours. This is the option many Christians take. We have our own agenda, which is altered by God’s in that we have incorporated some of God’s heartfelt desires into our own. We add God’s kingdom agenda to our own. Or we ask God to bless our own agenda as we adopt bits and pieces of His. Our agenda alongside God’s.

The third way we respond to God’s kingdom agenda is by allowing His to replace ours. His missionary heart is reflected in our missionary heart. His hopes and dreams for the world become ours. This isn’t about adding God’s agenda to our own; it’s about the fusion of God’s heart and ours.

This is what it means to be surrendered to the Spirit. The Spirit is not who we invoke to give power to our own plans. He is the One who introduces us to God’s plans. We look to see where God is working and what God wants to do, and we join Him in fulfilling His mission. God’s agenda becomes our agenda.

This is an excerpt from the eight-week Jesus, Continued Bible Study co-written by me and J. D. Greear. For more information on the books and video, click here.

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Worth a Look 5.18.15

May 18, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth4Kindle Deal of the Day: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems. $0.99.

This Forbes article suggests that within the next decade your online presence will pretty much replace your resume when you’re looking for a job:

A recent study by OfficeTeam shows that more than one-third of companies feel that resumes will be replaced by profiles on social networks. My prediction is that in the next ten years, resumes will be less common, and your online presence will become what your resume is today, at all types and sizes of companies.

Andrew Wilson points out how the word “Amen” is defined by the last question in the Heidelberg catechism. I agree with him. It’s glorious:

Until a few days ago, I had never noticed the beauty, simplicity and pastoral power of the last one. Read this slowly…

Here’s an interview with William D. Gairdner who wants to see people disagreeing better, without anger:

Mr. Gairdner, your book is entitled The Great Divide: Why Liberals and Conservatives Will Never, Ever Agree. That “never ever” is very forceful!

It’s provocative. I don’t think it’s all that negative in the sense that liberal democracy has always managed to find compromises, but a lot of the shouting and the silence between citizens that I have heard in the last 20 years has bothered me a lot. It used to be that I’d attend some gathering like a cocktail party, and I’d walk up to some fellow and say something that I thought was a fact of life. And the fellow would typically look at me and say, “Well, that’s true for you but it’s not true for me.”

This was my moment! So I would say, “It can’t be true and false at the same time; one of us must be wrong.” Meaning, “Why don’t we talk about it and find out which of us it is?”

Inevitably the fellow would go drink with someone else, and I knew the game was over—that this society has been closing down. Instead of feeling an obligation to go to high-minded argument, the idea has been that we go to emotional outrage.

This review of Hitchcock’s Rope may be filled with spoilers, but they’re the kind that make you want to watch the movie, not skip it.

Rope is a movie all about ideas, camera angles, and character development. There are no wasted shots and no wasted lines of dialogue. Counter to almost every aspect of current film, Rope possesses no special effects and no action sequences. Yet, it is absolutely riveting from the moment the credits roll until the final sigh breathed by its characters.

I am not exaggerating when I claim this movie to be one of the greatest works of art ever to emerge out of Hollywood. It certainly competes with The Mission, The Killing Fields, and a few others.

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Lord, You Are Our Faith, Hope, and Love

May 17, 2015 | Trevin Wax

St-FrancisYou are the holy Lord God
Who does wonderful things.
You are strong.
You are great.
You are the most high.
You are the almighty king.
You holy Father,
King of heaven and earth.

You are three and one, the Lord God of gods;
You are the good, all good, the highest good,
Lord God living and true.

You are love, charity;
You are wisdom,
You are humility,
You are patience.
You are beauty,
You are meekness,
You are security,
You are rest,
You are gladness and joy,
You are our hope,
You are justice,
You are moderation,
You are all our riches to sufficiency.

You are beauty,
You are meekness,
You are the protector,
You are our custodian and defender,
You are strength,
You are refreshment,
You are our hope,
You are our faith,
You are our charity,
You are all our sweetness,
You are our eternal life:
Great and wonderful Lord,
Almighty God, Merciful Savior.

a prayer of Francis of Assisi

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The Prayer That Helps Us Ache

May 16, 2015 | Trevin Wax

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Scot McKnight:

The Lord’s Prayer is our teacher; and the Lord’s Prayer teaches us what we are to yearn for…

In the Lord’s prayer our desires are reordered into the ways of God and the ways of the kingdom… His prayer expresses the heart of Jesus’ kingdom vision. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to pray, not to theologize, but there is a theology at work in the Lord’s Prayer, and that theology is the essence of Jesus’ vision.

As such, it reorders our desires. We learn in the recitation, memorization, and repetition of this prayer to yearn for God’s glory and for God’s name to be held in highest honor, and we learn to long for God’s kingdom (not ours) and for God’s will (not ours) to be done.

Then we learn to yearn and ache for the good of others. We yearn that each person will have sufficient food, that each person will find reconciliation with God through forgiveness of sins, and that each person will be protected and preserved by God’s grace from the snares of temptations and the grasps of evil (or the evil one).

When we are done, our desires have been reordered to God and to others, and in having those desires we find ourselves as God made us to be: beings designed to have proper loves, that is, love for God and love for others.

– Scot McKnight, Sermon on the Mount Commentary

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Biblical Preaching: A Discussion Panel at the SBC

May 15, 2015 | Trevin Wax

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Every year, The Gospel Project hosts a breakfast panel discussion that deals with different perspectives on church ministry and theology. Last year, David Platt, Frank Page, Ed Stetzer, and I discussed Calvinism and mission (audio available). Two years ago, we were joined by Eric Hankins and Jon Akin for a discussion on Christ-centered hermeneutics in preaching (audio).

At the SBC this year, The Gospel Project will host a discussion panel on biblical preaching with Ed Stetzer, H.B. Charles Jr., Chip Henderson, and J.D. Greear.

All of us agree that preaching is central to pastoral ministry and the spiritual formation of our local churches. All of would agree that the core message of our preaching should be centered on the biblical text. However, there are disagreements concerning philosophies and styles of preaching.

During this discussion panel we will explore questions such as:

  • Does expository preaching mean that you have to preach through books of the Bible?
  • Where should the preacher start? Start with the text and move towards life application, or start with life application and find a text?
  • Should one ever preach messages that don’t explicitly explain the gospel?
  • How should one’s cultural and ethnic context shape preaching?
  • How should the preacher utilize this personality and emotions in communicating the message?
  • What is the role of apologetics in preaching?
  • Who should the preacher consider as the primary audience for a sermon, the believer or unbeliever?
  • What is the proper way to call for a response to a sermon?
  • What is the relationship between preaching and place, especially when it comes to video venues?

Join us on Tuesday, June 16, 2015 from 6:30-8:00am at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Battelle Grand A/B on Level 3. We only have a limited seating capacity of 400, so sign up now to reserve your seat. We will serve a light breakfast, and every attendee will receive a bag of resources and books worth over $125.

Sign Up Here

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Trevin’s Seven

May 15, 2015 | Trevin Wax

TrevinSeven1webKindle Deal: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown. $2.99.

1. Matt Capps – Our Words Will Be Thunder When Our Life is Like Lightning

2. Huffington Post - The Surprising Sacred Gathering Spaces that are Moving into Your Neighborhood

3. Bryan Chapell and Rick Phillips are discussing (debating) the future of the PCA. See Chapell’s “State of the PCA” and Phillips’ perspective from the “confessionalist” side. Some of these points are similar to conversations in other conservative denominations, including the SBC.

4. Four Words Leaders Must Say on a Regular Basis

5. Charles Camosy – Will the U.S. Congress Enact a Late-Term Abortion Ban?

6. Blessed are Those Not Offended by Christ

7. Zach Lee on the difference between true sin and false guilt

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Refreshed in Repentance

May 14, 2015 | Trevin Wax

The free online conference earlier this week, sponsored by the Gospel Project, was a great encouragement to me!

For the next two weeks, all the speakers’ videos are available live.gospelproject.com. Highlights for me were Derwin Gray, D. A. Horton, Jana Magruder, Louis Giglio, and John Piper. Philip Nation has collected some of his favorite quotes, and Aaron Armstrong also has some takeaways.

If you’re interested, you can access below my talk on the beauty of repentance.

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