Jared C. Wilson|8:38 am CT

What’s Wrong With Producing a “Worship Experience”?

In his invaluable book The Divine Commodity, Skye Jethani reproduces a conversation between economist James Gilmore (author of The Experience Economy) and Leadership Journal staffers Marshall Shelley (MS), Eric Reed (ER), and Kevin Miller (KM) that gets to the problematic heart of some evangelical churches’ drive toward producing a “worship experience.” I excerpted it in my current book project (on the attractional church model), and thought it might be of interest to blog readers:

MS: So how does all this “experience providing” apply to the church?

Gilmore: It doesn’t. When the church gets into the business of staging experiences, that quickly becomes idolatry.

MS: I’m stunned. So you don’t encourage churches to use your elements of marketable experiences to create attractive experiences for their attenders?

Gilmore: No. The organized church should never try to stage a God experience.

KM: When people come to church, don’t they expect an experience of some kind? Consumers approach the worship service with the same mindset as they do a purchase.

Gilmore: Increasingly you find people talking about the worship experience rather than the worship service. That reflects what’s happening in the outside world. I’m dismayed to see churches abandon the means of grace that God ordains simply to conform to the patterns of the world.

KM: So what happens in church? Are people getting a service, because they’re helped to do something they couldn’t do on their own, that is, get closer to God? Or are they getting an experience, the encounter with God through worship?

Gilmore: The word “getting” is, I think, the problem with contemporary Christianity. God is the audience of worship. What you get is, quite frankly, irrelevant as a starting point.

ER: But people, especially unchurched people, don’t perceive it that way. They’re expecting some return.

Gilmore: They come that way at first: “Give me, feed me, make me feel good.” But they should be led to say, “Hey, this is not about me, God. Worship is to glorify you.”

KM: But if my mission is to reach a consumerist culture—if I’m going to get a hearing for my message—then I’m going to have to provide something that the consumer considers of value.

Gilmore: That is the argument. But the only thing of value the church has to offer is the gospel. I believe that one result of the emerging Experience Economy will be a longing for authenticity. To the extent that the church stages worldly experiences, it will lose its effectiveness

– Skye Jethani, The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2009), 72-73.






Jared C. Wilson|12:00 pm CT

What Evangelism Isn’t

From Reaching the Lost: Evangelism, the Bible study guide from 9Marks.

Evangelism is not:

Personal testimony. Talking about what God has done in your life may encourage Christians and intrigue non-Christians. And there’s certainly a place for this in evangelism. But simply sharing about what God has done in your life isn’t necessarily evangelism. Evangelism is telling others about what Jesus Christ has done to save every sinner who will ever turn from their sin and trust in Jesus.

Social action. When we care for the poor, defend the defenseless, and work for a more just society we may commend the gospel, but we haven’t shared it. Evangelism is telling others the gospel. Contrary to the opinion of some, that can’t be done without words!

Apologetics. Defending the faith against unbelievers’ objections can lead to evangelism, but apologetics is not evangelism. Apologetics is a useful tool, but if we’re not careful it can actually distract us from evangelism, which is telling the good news about Jesus Christ.

The results of evangelism. We can share the gospel. We can’t make anyone believe it. Thinking that we haven’t evangelized unless people have been converted is a serious error that can cripple Christians with a sense of failure and guilt. But if we recognize that our job is merely to tell others the good news about Christ and call them to repent and believe, we are liberated to simply preach the gospel and pray for God to change hearts.






Jared C. Wilson|11:07 am CT

10 Reasons Big Easter Giveaways are Unwise

We are nearing the day many Christians look forward to all year. Yes, there’s the somber reflection and penitence of the Passion week, culminating in the resurrection of Jesus to celebrate on Easter Sunday, but there’s also some fabulous cash and prizes. Every year some churches seek to outdo themselves — and their local competition — by luring unbelievers (and I suppose interested believers) to their Easter service(s) with the promise of big shows and in some cases big giveaways. One guy in Texas made national news for giving away new cars. Another church has dropped prize-filled Easter eggs out of helicopters to gathered crowds below. Local churches with more modest budgets sometimes promise door prizes like iPods or iPads or gift certificates to local restaurants.

I think this is profoundly unwise and in many cases very, very silly. I want to offer ten general reasons why, but first some caveats: I’m not talking about a church giving out gifts to visitors. Gift cards, books, etc. to guests can be a sweet form of church hospitality. What I’m criticizing is the advertised promise of “cash and prizes” to attract people to the church service. Secondly, I know the folks doing these sorts of things are, for the most part, sincere believers who want people to know Jesus. But I don’t think good intentions authorizes bad methods. So:

Ten reasons luring people in with cash and prizes is not a good idea.

1. It creates buzz about cash and prizes, not the Easter event. When the media takes notice, nobody wants to interview these pastors about the resurrection. They want them to talk about the loot.

2. It identifies the church not with the resurrection, but with giving toys away. It makes us look like entertainment centers or providers of goods and services, not people of the Way who are centered on Christ.

3. Contrary to some offered justifications, giving prizes away is not parallel to Jesus’ providing for the crowds. Jesus healed people and fed them. This is not the same as giving un-poor people an iPod.

4. It appeals to greed and consumerism. There is no biblical precedent for appealing to one’s sin before telling them to repent of it. This is a nonsensical appeal.

5. Yes, Jesus said he would make us fishers of men, but extrapolating from this to devise all means of bait is not only unwarranted, it’s exegetically ignorant. The metaphor Jesus is offering here is just of people moving from the business of fishing to the business of the kingdom. There is no methodology being demonstrated here. (But the most common one would have been throwing out nets anyway, not baiting a hook.)

6. It is dishonest “bait and switch” methodology. Sure, the people coming for the goodies know they’re coming to church. But it’s still a disingenuous offer. The message of the gospel is not made for Trojan horses.

7. It demonstrates distrust in the compelling news that a man came back from the dead!! I mean, if nobody’s buying that amazing news, we can’t sell it to them with cheap gadgets.

8. It demonstrates distrust in the power of the gospel when we think we have to put it inside something more appealing to be effective. What the giveaways really communicate is that we think the gospel needs our help, and that our own community is not attractive enough in our living out of the implications of the gospel.

9. The emerging data from years of research into this kind of practice of marketing/evangelism attractional church stuff shows the kind of disciples it produces are not strong. I have no doubt these churches are going to see decisions Easter weekend. They’ll herald them on Twitter and on the blogs. As questionable a practice as that can be, I’d be extra interested in how discipled these folks are in a year or two years or three. Hype has always produced “decisions.” Would anyone argue that after 30 years or so of the attractional approach to evangelism the evangelical church is better off, more Christ-centered, more biblically mature?

10. What you win them with is what you win them to.






Jared C. Wilson|10:27 am CT

Your Best Links Now – 4/2/14

Evangelicals Opposed Abortion Much Earlier Than You Think by Dale Coulter
“More and more writers—most recently Jamelle Bouie—are confidently asserting that Evangelicals were once pro-choice, but under the influence of Religious-Right organizations like Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority became prolife. This interpretation of the Evangelical position largely stems from Jonathan Dudley’s memoir of his own journey as an evangelical in the Midwest. The book led to a brief exchange between Dudley and Mark Galli at Christianity Today (see here, here, and here). An accurate reading of history tells a different tale—one of longstanding (though not exceptionless) Evangelical opposition to abortion . . .”

Aged Out of Church by Michelle Van Loon
This is an important article for church leaders to consider. Van Loon writes, “Church should be a place of meaningful connection with God and others at every stage of our lives, but nearly half of more than 450 people who participated in an informal and completely unscientific survey I hosted on my blog last year told me that their local church had in some painful ways exacerbated the challenges they faced at midlife.”

Teen Proves the US Could Save Millions If We Just Changed Our Font
I’ve already changed my own typeface for the writing I print from Times New Roman to Garamond.

A Woman Who Was Born and Abandoned in a Bathroom at Burger King Finds Her Mother
“Katheryn Deprill’s journey to finding her biological mother, who abandoned her in a Burger King bathroom 28 years ago, has come to an end. Three weeks after publishing a Facebook post asking for help finding the woman who left her in the fast food restaurant’s bathroom, Deprill was reunited with her mom on Monday, ending the viral search for the woman . . .”

The Theology of Homestar Runner by Fred Sanders
“Like the Peanuts gang, Homestar characters wander around a minimalist landscape in a perpetual after-school zone, but in this case it’s a kind of Twilight of the Fhqwgads . . .”

Baby Walks on Patch of Ice
You get what you click for.






Jared C. Wilson|11:26 am CT

Your Best Links Now – 4/1/14

The Christian Penumbra by Ross Douthat
For the New York Times, Douthat writes, “The social goods associated with faith flow almost exclusively from religious participation, not from affiliation or nominal belief. And where practice ceases or diminishes, in what you might call America’s ‘Christian penumbra,’ the remaining residue of religion can be socially damaging instead.”

They Labor in Vain, Or A Funny Thing Happened While I Preached My Daughter’s Wedding by R.C. Sproul, Jr.
“Starting a family is scary business. Of all the major life decisions we make, this one is the most irrevocable. Of all the life circumstances we find ourselves in, this one is the most all-inclusive. Of all the pain we are in danger of, this one cuts the deepest. Of all the arenas in which we do battle, this is the one where sin is most destructive. The solution, however, isn’t to steel ourselves against the dangers, to bow down and grab our bootstraps to lift ourselves to higher ground.”

The Mystery of a Fake New York Town Obliterated by Google
“As recently as last Sunday, day-trippers looking to take a scenic drive through upstate New York were able to pull up directions on Google Maps to a tiny hamlet called Agloe nestled in the Catskills. The distant, virtually unknown locale has since been wiped off the map, but the real kicker to this story is that Algoe never really existed . . .”

Honest Toddler Reviews Frozen
Hilarious. A snippet: “A little known rule about infant siblings is that only you, the original toddler, are allowed to harm them. When Elsa finds out that a bad guy made Anna sad she is furious. ‘Hey! Nobody messes with my sister. If anyone is going to ruin her life and put her in critical condition, it’s going to be me!’ screams Elsa (I think she said that) and she leaps into action. ‘HT, are you saying kids can love their infant siblings?’ I didn’t say that. Please don’t put thoughts or emotions into my head. This is about property law.”

Joe Carter and John Starke Argue About The Last Temptation of Christ
It’s exactly what it says it is.

The Spaghetti Harvest
In honor of today’s date, a now-classic hoax that fooled a lot of Brits. “On April 1, 1957 the British television programme Panorama broadcast a three-minute segment about a bumper spaghetti harvest in southern Switzerland. The success of the crop was attributed both to an unusually mild winter and to the virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil. The audience heard Richard Dimbleby, the shows highly respected anchor, discussing the details of the spaghetti crop as they watched video footage of a Swiss family pulling pasta off spaghetti trees and placing it into baskets. The segment concluded with the assurance that, For those who love this dish, theres nothing like real, home-grown spaghetti. The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest hoax generated an enormous response. Hundreds of people phoned the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. To this query the BBC diplomatically replied, Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”






Jared C. Wilson|1:00 pm CT

Please God, Send Us No Small Disturbance

About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way.
– Acts 19:23

That is what we long for, deep down. That the Spirit of God would move afresh in our day with wonderful, healing disruptive force — that he would upend our self-regard and self-sovereignty, that he would come into our temples where we trade the currency of excuses for our sins and present such tidiness in our self-righteousness and turn over all the tables. That he would come with no little disturbance but with great wind and fire of holy love, shaking the nations, the churches, our homes.

Let’s share the powerful revival prayer of Charles Spurgeon:

“O God, send us the Holy Ghost! Give us both the breath of spiritual life and the fire of unconquerable zeal! O Thou who art our God, answer us both by wind and fire, and then we shall see Thee to be God indeed. The kingdom comes not, and the work is flagging. Oh, that Thou wouldst send the wind and the fire! Thou wilt do this when we are all of one accord, all believing, all expecting, all prepared by prayer. Lord, bring us to this waiting state! God, send us a season of glorious disorder. Oh, for a sweep of the wind that will set the seas in motion, and make our ironclad brethren, now lying so quietly at anchor, to roll from stem to stem. Oh, for the fire to fall again-fire which shall affect the most stolid! Oh, that such fire might first sit upon the disciples and then fall all around! O God, Thou art ready to work with us today even as Thou didst then. Stay not, we beseech Thee, but work at once. Break down every barrier that hinders the incoming of Thy might! Give us both hearts of flame and tongues of fire to preach Thy reconciling Word, for Jesus’ sake!”






Jared C. Wilson|11:12 am CT

Your Best Links Now – 3/31/14

Are Spontaneous Baptisms Healthy for the Church? at Christianity Today
Ruth Moon compiles several leaders’ weighing in.

Keller, Evangelical Polarization, and the Folly of Measuring Coffins by Derek Rishmawy
“[I]f Church history teaches us anything, it’s that measuring coffins is an ugly business and an unpredictable one. All you have to do is study the ebb and flow of the Trinitarian controversies in the 4th century to know what I mean. A lot happened between the First and the Second councils of Nicaea. Which is why I’ll admit that I kind of cringe when some Reformed types talk in self-assured tones about the “death” of the emergent movement. The name died, sure, and Brian McClaren books maybe don’t have the sex-factor they used to, but evaluations like that still underestimate the movement’s long-term impact, and metamorphosis into the Post-Evangelicalisms of various sorts we’re seeing . . .”

Most Recent Loch Ness Monster Sighting
“I’m convinced this was caused by a solid black object under the water. The water was very still at the time and there were no ripples coming off the wave and no other activity on the water.”

1300 Year-Old Egyptian Mummy With a Tattoo of Michael the Archangel
“The British Museum announced its discovery earlier this week, saying that the female mummy was from 700 A.D. and discovered in 2005 on the banks of the Nile, in what is now Sudan. The female, suspected to be aged 20 to 35 at the time of her death, was wrapped in linen and woolen cloth at the time of her burial. After conducting advanced Computed Tomography (CT) scans, researchers discovered a tattoo on the mummy’s upper right inner thigh with the letters “M-I-X-A-H-A” spelled out, meaning “Michael” in Ancient Greek. It is suspected that the women lived in one of the many Christian communities that dotted the Nile, and perhaps had the tattoo as a form of protection, either from sexual attacks or to protect a pregnancy.”

A Prayer for a Renewed Thirst for Jesus by Scotty Smith
“Dear Lord Jesus, we want what David had—an intense yearning and craving for you. Make us so thirsty that we’ll remain insatiable until you hydrate our hearts with the gospel; satiate us with your steadfast love; quench us with fresh grace . . .”

Beastie Boys and Elvis Costello Play Costello’s “Radio Radio” on SNL
The backstory to this performance is great. Back in 1977, this is the song that got Costello banned from Saturday Night Live for over a decade. He was supposed to have sung his song “Less Than Zero” on the show, presumably because “Radio Radio” was seen as a rant against corporate interests in the music industry and his label thought “Zero” would make better hype for his upcoming US album release. Instead, the band began “Zero” but a few seconds in, Costello stopped them and said, “I’m sorry ladies and gentlemen, there’s really no reason to be playing this song here,” followed by leading up to the forbidden “Radio Radio.” (You can watch that original moment on Hulu Plus.) The defiance seems so quaint now. But when Beastie Boys were performing on SNL twenty-some years later, Costello walked out to interrupt their song “Sabotage,” re-created his now iconic line, and led the band in a sweet performance of “Radio Radio.” Enjoy:






Jared C. Wilson|3:00 pm CT

Christ as Radiance

“He is the radiance of the glory of God . . .”
– Hebrews 1:3a

All that God is — the measureless sum of his eternal and eternally rich attributes — shines forth in Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son. Jesus is supremely radiant.

What does this mean? It means that this Bright Morning Star (Rev. 22:16) will be the sun of the new heavens and the new earth. We won’t need this old sun, we will have the Lamb as our Lamp (Rev. 21:23). And it means that even now, the sun of righteousness who has risen with healing in his wings (Mal. 4:2) must be the center of our spiritual solar system or everything else goes out of whack. Indeed, if we were to kick our sun out from the center of our system, we wouldn’t just have chaos, but death. Life would be unsustainable. So it is with Jesus. If he is not the center, we die.

Also like the sun’s beams, the radiating lines of the Son’s glory are too numerous to count. Ever tried counting sunbeams? You can’t do it. It’s like counting airwaves in the wind. Jonathan Edwards says that in Christ we find an “admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies.” These diverse excellencies are the sunbeams of his magnificence, finding their unity in him, as they — though disparate — converge and emanate back out to reflect the imprinting of the nature of God.

He is the Lion and the Lamb. He is the Lamb and the Shepherd. He is the Shepherd and the Warrior. He is the Warrior and the Priest. He is the Priest and the Sacrifice. He is the Sacrifice and the Victor. He is the Victor and the Servant. He is the Servant and the King. He is the King and the Convicted. He is the Convicted and the Judge. He is the Judge and the Advocate. Diverse excellencies, each pair juxtaposed yet complementary, finding their admirable conjunction in him.

And there’s so much more. John says if all the things Jesus did during his earthly ministry were written down all the books on earth could not contain them all (John 21:25). Is it any wonder, then, that we will take all eternity to bask in the radiance of his glory?






Jared C. Wilson|1:00 pm CT

The Fountain

“To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives or children or the company of earthly friends are but shadows; but the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but the scattered beams; but God is the sun. These are but the streams; but God is the fountain. These are but drops; but God is the ocean.
– Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh, 1979), II:244.

“We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is of him. If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth. For by his birth he was made like us in all respects, that he might learn to feel our pain. If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross; if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other.”
- John Calvin, Institutes, 2.16.19.






Jared C. Wilson|10:00 am CT

Be Bold Enough to Follow The Truth As Far as It Takes You

The world needs Christians bold enough to follow the truth wherever it may take them.

Weirdo fundamentalist John the Baptist was imprisoned. We know that the Romans did not have a reputation for putting up with large Jewish followings for very long. It’s possible that John’s leadership was so attractive, his baptism ministry and his prophetic truth so popular among the spiritually hungry, that the regional magistrates thought of him as a threat. Whenever any Jew seemed to get too big for their britches, the Romans would hang them on a cross.

But in this particular case, Matthew 14 says that John was put in prison because he criticized Herod for having his brother’s wife. He had the audacity to not just preach against sin, but to say to a sinner in need of repentance, “You’re a sinner in need of repentance.” John was not interested in following a theoretical God and engaging in academic spirituality. He followed the personal God whose word of truth matters.

Some who profess the faith today are refusing to do the same for much less severe consequences. They fear insults, marginalization, the judgment of the world. Some depart from the great tradition not out of fear of the world but because they love the world (and not in the way God does).

Given what is taking place in the world today, do we have any indications that to follow Christ will become more and more comfortable? The Bible Belt, long the cultural bastion of “biblical values,” has long been heading toward the spiritual ruins of post-Christendom. Cultural Christianity is wasting away. And the outside world is becoming more and more hostile to the things of faith. Even some professing Christians are becoming hostile to those who will not move according to the shifting winds of the culture. And if God is doing anything in ordaining these cultural shifts to come to pass, it may be this: We are finding out who the real Christians are. (Even today, some are announcing in anger and embarrassment that they will never again call themselves evangelical, to which we must respond with all sincerity and soberness, “Thank you.”)

Maybe he is sifting out his churches that his Church might rise up.

John the Baptist had said to Herod, “It isn’t right that you have your brother’s wife!” He spoke truth to power about sexual immorality. Which is not a very popular subject today either. The bloggers would pontificate on John’s missing the point of God’s love; the tweeters would quote him and hashtag “wow.”

Eventually John is executed in prison. Why? Because as the sexualization of the power center increased — Herod’s later watching his niece dance seductively, and overcome by lust, he promises her anything, and prompted by her mother, Herod’s sister-in-law and mistress, she asks for John the Baptist’s head — the righteous indignation of the faithful seemed more and more egregious. Not just fundamentalist but fascist. What is good is now considered evil, what is evil now good. And Herod, though he sort of admires John and thinks there’s some truth to John, complies and has John executed.

So. How far was John willing to go? While things were heating up, getting worse, John was not backing down. He was willing to follow the truth no matter where it took him, even to his death. Faithful Christians in the West do not face death but hatred, perhaps simply the death of esteem, respect. Okay, then. Gird your emotional loins, then.

What we need are bold Christians — Christians bold enough to disappoint anybody necessary for the contending of the faith. What we need are Christians so in worshipful awe of Jesus Christ, that they can spot counterfeit gospels (and counterfeit arguments) in seconds and call them out. What the world needs are Christians who love their reputations not, even unto derision. What we need are Christians so committed to Christ, that they will go to their crosses to affirm all that he said, not just the popular parts.