Category Archives: Evangelism

Salt and Light vs Cultural Christianity

Below are a couple of intriguing links to religion trends in Great Britain and China.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10770425/David-Cameron-says-Christians-should-be-more-evangelical.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/10776023/China-on-course-to-become-worlds-most-Christian-nation-within-15-years.html

Both stories seem hopeful on the surface. A Prime Minister saying Christians should be more evangelical about their faith. He even says he has felt the “healing power of the church.” Then a trend in China where the Statist nation will soon house the most Christians of any country on earth. Wow, so it’s beautiful irony, right?
But if you read on in both stories you begin to see how hard it is for the church to define success. Turns out David Cameron has been all over the map on his previous public statements about the church. He’s struggling right now and facing a surging, more conservative opposition. So it’s hard not to wonder how politically motivated the comments are. Then if you read more, it really unravels. Good schools, social programs, and just enough faith to keep people from being hopeless seems to be the role of the church. Speaking truth to power? (As long as it’s the other guys…) Bearing witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? (Sort of, but mainly just helping make sure other religions aren’t trampled…) What you end up with is pretty close to what the optimist club could provide.
But surely the China story is good news! Well, there are now mega churches in provinces of China. High walls. Cross on top. One more feature…a closed circuit camera suspended directly in front of the pulpit. This is not for live broadcast. These cameras are controlled by the State. They are to directly monitor sermons for “dangerous” content. “They want the pastor to preach in a Communist way. They want to train people to practice in a communist way…the Old Testament book…Daniel…is seen as “very dangerous”…”
This seems pretty compromised.
To be fair, these must be gut-wrenching decisions for churches and pastors and believers to make. Do we work within the framework allowed by the culture in order to protect our level of “influence”/political freedom? Or, do we preach and live the full truth of the gospel, which challenges any and every political system?
The underground church in China has made their choice. Many Christians have left the Church of England to work more boldly for the Kingdom of God. They don’t want to be the religious arm of the State. But it’s not so easy to say that’s the only right choice.
Oh, for the happy day when those Christians who are fully and sacrificially devoted could win enough hearts and minds to eventually go public, joining those who have kept something going in the public realm. But tough questions remain…
It makes me wonder what John Wesley (kicked out of the Church of England for preaching the truth and challenging social norms) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (founding member of the confessing church of resistance to Nazi Germany, who was killed in prison) would want to tell us…

Prodigal Christianity Blog Tour- Signpost 7

“But all this prompts a very important question: Can we really seek Jesus all by ourselves apart from the practices of the church?”

Fitch, David E.; Holsclaw, Geoff (2013-02-01). Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) (Kindle Locations 3232-3233). Jossey-Bass. Kindle Edition.

I have been challenged, frustrated, and mostly thrilled by David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw’s new book Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier. The book picks up a conversation that has gone on for a decade or more and been brewing for about 2,000 years. You can read other posts in the Blog Tour series which began here and continued here, here, here, here, and here. It has been a great conversation already and I’m excited to join in. I was interested in the early Emergent conversation because key theological themes were actually being discussed in light of ministry today. Ancient sources were being accessed and discussed in dialogue with contemporary theologians, philosophers, and ministry leaders. It was exciting. But I lost interest in Emergent a few years ago when I stopped recognizing the Church as we find it in Scripture, history, and contemporary life in that conversation. Enter Prodigal Christianity. A book that seeks to refresh this conversation on missional terms: terms directly related to building/experiencing the Kingdom of God through the local church.

I’m a local church pastor and teacher of preachers. I find the combination inspiring. One thing I have become convinced of in the last twenty years is that worship (including preaching and the sacraments) is the key focal point for discipleship, evangelism, and mission. In fact, preaching and the sacraments are foundational to what it is to be the church. Forms and styles of worship aren’t really the issue. Worship in community feeds living the missional journey in community. The Communion Table, where we experience the Eucharist (often in response to proclaimed Word and as the culmination of worship) is the place where the Gospel collides with the Church (real people) and Grace empowers our mission. It is where we understand what God has done for us, what God offers us, and the fullness of Kingdom life, which God invites and empowers us to live. This is no place for “me and Jesus” theology or practice. We come to the Table together in obedience to Jesus’ invitation and we receive the Grace of God for mission. We are conscious of each other, our connection to believers around the world, those who have gone before us, those who will follow, and those who are not present but could be.

So for me, any conversation about the Church separated from local church practices, centered in worship, is an adventure in missing the point, to quote an early emergent author. That’s why I’m thrilled that Prodigal Christianity includes Signpost 7!

“The church is not merely the product of mission. Rather, the church is mission. In the same way that Jesus’s incarnation both proclaimed and made present the kingdom of God, so too the church proclaims and makes present the in-breaking of his kingdom. The church is nothing if not local, incarnational communities practicing the kingdom.”

Fitch, David E.; Holsclaw, Geoff (2013-02-01). Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) (Kindle Locations 3257-3259). Jossey-Bass. Kindle Edition.

Another key quote:

“These practices— the Lord’s Table, proclaiming the gospel, reconciliation, being “with” the least of these, being “with” children, the fivefold ministry, and kingdom prayer— have defined the church in the past. Unfortunately the church of the past has sometimes turned them into mere maintenance functions (or programs) for existing Christians. But as we hope to show, these inherently missional practices can be recaptured. In them, the kingdom becomes manifest visibly as a foretaste of the future. They shape us as Jesus’s body in the very middle of his mission.”

Fitch, David E.; Holsclaw, Geoff (2013-02-01). Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series) (Kindle Locations 3266-3270). Jossey-Bass. Kindle Edition.

I encourage you to read this book and dialogue with the authors. More importantly, wrestle with these epic theological questions in our present age. You will not agree with everything you read so you should discern God’s leading in community as always. But the authors point us to the right questions and more sustainable answers for our missional future. There is much at stake, but so much to be gained where we faithfully live our mission together by the Grace of our Ascended Lord.

Prodigal Christianity Part 2

Fitch and Holsclaw seek to describe reality today in North America. One term they talk about a lot is Postmodernity. For 500 years, the West has been fascinated with science and ideas. Logic, proof, and argument have ruled the day. But somewhere along the way people began to tire of this. As I read the early part of the book my memory was jogged. I realized there had been a day I discovered postmodernism. Nobody had ever used that term in my presence. I had never read a book by anyone who knew the term. It was the Spring of 1986 and I was finishing up my freshman philosophy class at the University of Iowa. I was a religion major with vague ministry goals. My own faith was growing quickly after a detour in my middle teen years. Jesus was tremendously real to me. We had to write a final position paper for this philosophy class. Of course, I wrote mine on the “proofs” for the existence of God. I eagerly headed to the Graduate Assistant’s office to pick up my paper and receive my final grade. I was sure I had nailed the paper. Terry smiled and handed me my paper with a B- on it. I frowned. “B-? Why did you give me a B-?”
He said, “I gave you a B- because you didn’t take the other position seriously enough.”
I said, “I don’t take it that seriously because I don’t believe it. I believe God truly exists.”
He said, “Yes, but for the assignment it’s about whether that could be proved.”
“I think I did prove it,” I said. So he took the paper back and looked it over again. He told me that I did as good of a job as anyone has at defending the viewpoint but that the consensus has been that you can’t prove God’s existence. I couldn’t resist, so I asked him if he believed in God. He said, “Not really. I’m sort of an agnostic.” Snappy young fellow as I was, I asked him if his bias might be causing him to downplay my position. Maybe he wasn’t taking ME seriously enough!
Terry smiled again. He said, “I have to admit, I’ve never had a student with such a strong conviction about this before.” And then I knew that our conversation was not an accident. I looked at the clock on the wall. In exactly five minutes the parking meter was going to read: EXPIRED. I also was going to be cutting it close to make it to work on time. But something told me not to go.
Terry, said, “Tim, you have my attention. You seem to have a very deep and personal conviction about God. In the philosophy department they tell us to check our theological hats at the door. (I’ll never forget that phrase.) It’s actually refreshing. Since I haven’t met many people like you, I’d like to hear your story. How are you so certain? How is God so real to you?”
I went down the logical arguments I had covered in the paper. But for each one he was able to come up with some sort of logic that could challenge it. I realized that these answers weren’t all that satisfying to me either. Logic just wasn’t cutting it, but it was mostly what I had heard from others. My mind raced backwards. Although Terry was probably 10 years older than me, just a couple years before I also had been doubting like him. I began to tell him about how things were then.
“Nothing could get through to me for over a year. But along the way I met a girl who had a lot of spiritual questions. Frankly, I found those questions quite irritating at first. She was seeking what I was running away from. But she was so beautiful I wasn’t going anywhere… (Um, shallow, I know but I was 16) Eventually, her seeking awakened my own spiritual center. Something so pure was at work in her. And through her, something began to soften my heart. (By the way she is now my wife!) One night in February 1985, I became aware of a holy presence, something completely “other”. Whatever the past had been, this was the present. I was aware of this holy presence and my own sinful, selfish ways. This holy presence was offering me a fresh start.” I looked Terry right in the eye and said, “I had a personal confrontation with the holiness of God that required a choice.” I could see a path leading toward light if I said yes, but out into darkness if I said, no. I said, yes and my life began to change.

At this point in talking with Terry, I felt like I was on fire. I hadn’t felt so alive since the moment that I was telling him about had first happened. I was now officially late for work but I didn’t care. Terry leaned back and said, “I guess that’s what you’d have to say…”
“Terry, it’s real. Can you feel it? I feel God here  just like I did that day.”
He said, “Tim, I actually believe you. Now that I understand how firmly you believe this I understand what you were saying in the paper. I’m changing your grade to a B+. But more than that you’ve affected me. I shared with you that I’m an agnostic. But I do actually wonder about God. If God is real I’d like to be able to know it like you feel you do. Whenever I get the chance to watch a sunset with my girlfriend, I take a bottle of wine and we think and talk together about ultimate things. I open my heart to the possibility of faith. I promise you that the next time I do that, I’ll be thinking of your story and considering all that you said to me.”
I told him not to wait until then, but to reflect on it anytime it came to mind. He thanked me for taking the time to share my story.
I floated back to my car… I now had two parking tickets and was already 45minutes late for work. I called and explained the odd situation. Miraculously they understood. I couldn’t believe I didn’t lose my job. I was still on fire. At age 18, I knew the purpose of the rest of my life. I also understood that the world had shifted. I wouldn’t know the word postmodern for several years. But I knew people were much more interested in my story than in logical arguments. And I loved hearing more about Terry’s story. Those were precious moments spent with him. I was transformed a bit by the process and Terry was, too. God was at work in a way I hadn’t realized before. And it was more compelling than any religious idea or argument could fully capture. Make no mistake I believe there is truth that will set you free. But from that moment on I knew the truth had to be lived and shared before I could fully know it or be completely free.

This is the cultural landscape I believe Fitch and Holsclaw are talking about in their book- Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier. This post-Christendom Far Country is logically frustrating for Christians. But we can navigate through this territory without losing our way. In fact, as Fitch says, God has already gone before us as we travel. He is already there, already at work in others’ lives. It was good to be reminded of these events as I read these compelling early chapters…

Prodigal Christianity Part 1

The new book by Fitch & Holsclaw is called Prodigal Christianity. It uses Luke’s Prodigal Parables (Luke 15) as a metaphor for Christian ministry in a postmodern world. I attended a conversation about the book at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. The authors presented a brief outline of the text and then took questions from those present. (Yes, I asked a question…)
The book presents 10 Signposts for the Missional Frontier and shares 7 Behaviors the church should engage in as we navigate these signposts. Certain chapters look like they will be very exciting. David Fitch has been part of the missional church conversation for a long time. Like me, he found some really good energy in the early Emergent conversations as well. However, the last several years have seen the Emergent group head off in directions which are no longer satisfying. In so many of those models, the church and the gospel seem to collapse into Postmodernism. There’s no good news and no reason for the church to gather. So Fitch has come back to the Missional term as more descriptive. He believes strongly in the church as the place where the Spirit is most active. The community formed there is God’s agent of change in our world. I couldn’t agree more. Fitch also rejects the extreme neo-reformed overreaction to Emergent and other groups. These folks have locked down the gospel so tightly, they’ve reduced it to a particular view of the atonement which is a fairly recent arrival in church history. The gospel is bigger than this. It’s more than a set of religious beliefs to be argued. It is an experience, a way of life, a vision of justice, an agent of healing, and a transforming journey. For Fitch, this is a journey into what he calls the Far Country. As best I can tell the Far Country is a metaphor for this postmodern, post-Christendom world many North Americans find ourselves in. A world where fewer and fewer people give automatic authority to the Bible, to the Church, or to Christian positions on social issues. Christians have tended to just get absorbed into the Far Country, leaving the gospel behind, or have built enclaves where we hide out from the world until Jesus shows up to beam us up.
I like how Fitch doesn’t want us to accept either one of those. Like the Prodigal God who leaves the 99 sheep, sweeps the whole house, and looks longingly for the return of his son, we can choose to “Go” like Jesus taught us to. But our “going” will look differently since we’re in the Far Country and not 1957 Churched America. I like the questions Fitch is asking at the beginning of this book. I like that Ecclesiology (what we think about the Church) is at the forefront of how he’s doing theology. It’s the lens through which he understands the gospel and how to live it out. So, preaching and the sacraments are central to his theology and missional outlook. I love great theological conversations. But this is a piece that has been absent for some time… I’m excited to dive in, with no imagination that I won’t find lots to disagree with along the way. But the Holy Spirit spoke to me at that gathering that there are some important things in this conversation which will speak directly to me and my church community as we also navigate uncharted territory in our culture…
Fitch is a CMA pastor (Wesleyan denomination similar to my own Nazarenes) teaching at a Baptist Seminary, who has Anabaptist leanings in how he views community, justice, and discernment. Now that’s a lively mix. I’m also a pastor who teaches at a Christian university and enjoys dialogue. I’m intrigued to read on…

Ashes2FireCover

http://www.discovernewhope.org/3-31-13-easter-sunday-go-in-3d/

Ashes to Fire series continues as Tim preaches on John 20:1-18 about living the resurrection reality in our world today.

(one correction: Rabbouni is, of course an Aramaic word, NOT traditional Hebrew)

A new kind of love…

I feel challenged to continue to understand and live out our ministry in the world as defined by the Gospel and the Missio Dei (mission of God), not by every cultural debate and divide. Regardless of any Supreme Court decision, how will the church embody God’s righteous reign in and for the world? Jesus is Lord, not any political or cultural mindset. Both justice and righteousness matter intensely to God. Like Jesus we take our stand with and among real people where they live. But we actually kneel, submitting to God’s kingdom, confessing our own shortcomings as we profess a clear faith in God and enter into loving relationship with our neighbor. We cannot compromise God’s revealed vision of morality (but must confess that we, too, have failed) and we dare not compromise God’s revealed vision of love (even as we admit that we have in the past).
Jesus on the cross was demonstrating the incredible power of a new kind of love. Violently abused, he suffered for the sins of others. Tortured by an ancient military Empire, he suffered with conquered and marginalized people everywhere. Hanging on the cross he asked the Father God to forgive his enemies, for they did not understand what they were doing. Can we rightly live with anything else in our hearts?
In this week Christians call Holy, as we remember Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, may we join Jesus’ continuing mission to embody the righteous rule of our loving God. May that be a surprising sign in our world of something better yet to come…
www.discovernewhope.org

Update: Deep & Wide

The 2nd 50 pages have been full of surprises as well, but I’ve found more common ground with Stanley.
I like and have used the image he borrows from The Gospel of John “full of grace and truth.” John uses it in chapter one to wrap up the Logos passage in describing the essence of Jesus. Stanley uses it as a mantra for ministry decisions. He says they are not driven by policies. Instead they have nearly endless conversations with people and make decisions. I have to say that those who advised me to setup policies so we don’t get bogged down and criticized for decisions were not as “right” as I thought. Often the broken and messy situations in the lives of real people are our best opportunities for ministry. We need to get bogged down in the details. We need to engage with them where they are. I used to go by policies. Now I get involved.
I’ve gone to court to get someone released without bail. I’ve listened to couples describe situations they never taught me about in school. I’ve been lied to, used, rejected, and blamed. I’ve also been loved. Most importantly I’ve learned to do better at making sure people see the fullness of grace and truth as we understand it. I’ve tried to teach our leaders the same and they’ve reminded, challenged and taught me as well. And this was quite a process o transformation. It’s still a work in progress.
So I really resonated with Stanley’s big picture here. He’s done a far better job on a bigger scale of developing a place that lives with these real ministry tensions, especially on issues of homosexuality and divorce.
But then he throws out his procedure on baptism and frankly it’s just wrong. He says on page 81: “You have to allow us to video record a three-minute version of your story to be shown on Sunday morning in order to be baptized. No video, no baptism. We don’t have any verses to support that. But baptism is central to our worship and arguably our most powerful evangelism tool.”
It’s this kind of stuff that keeps popping up. Stuff where even the sacraments must submit to promotional convenience. And all his talk of messy truth gets undermined. I’ve done video, audio, written and live testimonies. We’ve worked hard to let the reality of the person’s story and of the gospel dictate the format. Public? Yes. Profession of faith? You better believe it. But some people have aspects of their journey which make video a personal challenge too great to overcome. And it basically weds baptism to a certain technology. I’m an early adopter of tech, but I can’t swallow this one. I loved his example stories. Some of them were incredibly similar to ones I’ve had the joy of participating in. But too many stories are edited out for non-biblical reasons. This causes me to question a lot. Can you tell I’m stoked by this one?
But…still it’s only 100 pages in. Now we’re arriving on the doorstep of Spiritual Formation. This is what I came for. I’ll extend grace and get off my high horse to see what I can learn in Section Three: Going Deep. Rethinking Spiritual Formation.
Thanks for reading.

Aw, shucks…Neutrinos now respecting the speed limit!

Just another reason we can’t hitch our faith to0 tightly the posts of archaeology or science. Last year, scientists reported that tiny neutrinos (sub-atomic particles) sent from CERN to Gran Sasso had arrived faster than the speed of light! This implied all kinds of mind-blowing possibilities about the universe. I even thought it might have some relevance toward N.T. Wright’s view of eschatology (described in Surprised by Hope) and the body of the Risen Jesus passing through walls, etc…
They presented the research, which has been peer reviewed and not duplicated. The differences have been attributed to not plugging in a cable properly. (Isn’t that always the problem?) I still think we may some day make amazing discoveries along the lines of Colossians 1:15-20 “…in Him all things hold together…” But that day will have to wait. And truth is, science is not capable of proving faith at all. A saving relationship with the divine will always require a leap of faith! To be changed, we must trust. And we can only come to trust by the Grace of a loving God empowering us to do so.
For those who haven’t already read the Press Release from this summer, I have included the text below…

Neutrinos sent from CERN to Gran Sasso respect the cosmic speed limit

At the 25th International Conference on Neutrino Physics and Astrophysics in Kyoto today, CERN Research Director Sergio Bertolucci presented results on the time of flight of neutrinos from CERN to the INFN Gran Sasso Laboratory on behalf of four experiments situated at Gran Sasso. The four, Borexino, ICARUS, LVD and OPERA all measure a neutrino time of flight consistent with the speed of light. This is at odds with a measurement that the OPERA collaboration put up for scrutiny last September, indicating that the original OPERA measurement can be attributed to a faulty element of the experiment’s fibre optic timing system.

“Although this result isn’t as exciting as some would have liked,” said Bertolucci, “it is what we all expected deep down. The story captured the public imagination, and has given people the opportunity to see the scientific method in action – an unexpected result was put up for scrutiny, thoroughly investigated and resolved in part thanks to collaboration between normally competing experiments. That’s how science moves forward.”

In another development reported in Kyoto, the OPERA experiment showed evidence for the appearance of a second tau-neutrino in the CERN muon-neutrino beam, this is an important step towards understanding the science of neutrino oscillations.

Contact:

CERN Press Office, press.office@cern.ch

via CERN Press Release.

Tim:

This is a post from my friend and fellow pastor, Greg Arthur. It links to a great article http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/revolt-of-the-rich/ in the American Conservative. The article makes you think. It does seem that our nation is systematically being gutted of its strongest spiritual and intellectual resources. Neither party seems poised to actually do much about it…

Originally posted on Holiness Reeducation:

I just came across this article in The American Conservative by Mike Lofgren. It is entitled Revolt of the Rich and it looks at the history of super-rich Americans and their politics today and throughout history. There are even some interesting theological perspectives about American Christianity. It is well written and well worth the read. Feel free to stop back by and offer some thoughts.

Here is an interesting section.

If a morally acceptable American conservatism is ever to extricate itself from a pseudo-scientific inverted Marxist economic theory, it must grasp that order, tradition, and stability are not coterminous with an uncritical worship of the Almighty Dollar, nor with obeisance to the demands of the wealthy. Conservatives need to think about the world they want: do they really desire a social Darwinist dystopia?

The objective of the predatory super-rich and their political handmaidens is to discredit and destroy the traditional…

View original 91 more words

VBS, yes!

This was just a great week of ministry. I’m so glad our church still does VBS. Kids are dealing with so many heavy concerns these days. And their parents have less time to help them sort it out. A whole week of many caring people surrounding them with support and faith does a world of kingdom good. It reminds the church just how much life change is possible when we come together to focus on the next generation. We get a clearer picture of our community as well. Everything else we do this year will be better because of this focused ministry week. It’s that important. Other stuff is important too, even more important. But this was a very good thing once again.

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