Monthly Archives: April 2009

 

Apr

16

2009

Jared C. Wilson|2:34 pm CT

Divine Commodity Blog Tour


Today is the blog tour for Skye Jethani’s new book The Divine Commodity. Jethani is managing editor of Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal, which, depending upon your impression of LJ, may belie just how counter-cultural to the consumeristic church the spirit of his book really is. The book, simply put, is phenomenal. Jethani does an excellent job of merging matters of practicality and contemporary church culture with an imaginative aesthetic missing in a lot of ecclesiological diagnostics. The book is artful, penetrating, and important. (I recommend it as a companion piece to Michael Horton’s Christless Christianity. Read the two together and get a firm grasp on the problems facing the flashy yet impotent American church.)

Those of us participating in the blog tour each submitted a question to Jethani inspired by our reading. Here’s mine and his response:

JW: What specific advice would you give the churchgoer who is growing more disillusioned by the moment with the deadening consumerism of his or her church? The closest you come to prescription in the book is saying it is about personal transformation as seed-planting, but imagine someone is telling you personally that their church has lost all sense of the gospel and discipleship in community and that they don’t know what to do about it. What would you say to them?

SJ: This is a potent question, and the last thing I want to do is enflame someone who is already about to storm out of the church. First of all, if you believe the church has “lost all sense of the gospel and discipleship” then it isn’t merely a lukewarm community needing to be spit out—it is acidic. For the sake of constructive conversation, let’s assume the church isn’t completely heretical.

You are right that my book does not advocate a radical coup within the church or call for a revolution in the church’s structure. It’s not about strategy, systems, or programs. In fact, if nothing ever changes about the way your church operates, you are still able to engage and employ the lessons within The Divine Commodity. I don’t believe we can (or should) overturn our consumer culture. Nor do I believe churches (from the mini to the mega) should just radically revamp their structures. That wouldn’t solve the threat posed by consumerism—it’s a far more elusive foe because the battlefield between consumerism and the Kingdom of God is not external, but within the heart and imagination of every believer.

As consumerism’s grip over you begins to loosen, and you experience the transforming reality of “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” the way you worship, serve, and relate will begin to change. In time, through resources like The Divine Commodity and others, perhaps others will join you in your quest for a richer Christian life. The gospel has always been an incarnate reality, transmitted life to life across the medium of relationship. As this begins to take root within your church, regardless of what the leadership or programming is doing, the message of hope, liberty, and fullness in Christ will spread like yeast through a lump of dough. So, rather than criticizing those still enraptured with Consumer Christianity, save your energy and simply let your life reveal a fuller glory which does not fade.

If, over time, it becomes apparent that there truly is no one within your existing community that desires this deeper life, I would seek another place where the encouragement of fellowship where believers spur one another on toward love and good deeds may be found. But this would be my last, rather than first, choice. Believing a change of circumstances or setting will deliver us from consumerism is a deception. It is a deliverance that must come, by God’s grace, from within.

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Apr

15

2009

Jared C. Wilson|3:20 pm CT

Worship Spectacles Produce Spectators, Not Worshipers

One forgets how refreshing engaged congregational worship is after years of immersion in a passive crowd watching the show. No matter how many times the cheerleader worship leader urges response, most everyone knows they are there to watch, consume, maybe clap hands and sing along, but mostly to be impressed or entertained or moved. The “worship” is for us, not God, which is why we pick churches based on how good (or “rockin’”) the music is.

Another good passage from Skye Jethani’s great book The Divine Commodity:

This philosophy of spiritual formation through the consumption of external experiences creates worship junkies — Christians who leap from one mountaintop to another, one spiritual high to another, in search of a glory that does not fade. In response, churches and Christians conferences are driven to create ever-grander experiences and more elaborate productions to satisfy expectations. Ironically, these worship spectacles, according to Sally Morgenthaler, are failing to produce real worshipers. She writes:
We are not producing worshippers in this country. Rather we are producing a generation of spectators, religious onlookers lacking, in many cases, any memory of a true encounter with Gd, deprived of both the tangible sense of God’s presence and the supernatural relationship their inmost spirits crave.

Ministries that focus on manufacturing spiritual experiences, despite their laudable intentions, may actually be retarding spiritual growth by making people experience-dependent.

Tomorrow, btw, I’ll be participating in Zondervan’s blog tour for Jethani’s book. I’ll have a brief review, plus a one-question interview with him featured in this space, as will the other participating blogs. They are:

Out of Ur (OutofUr.com)

Flowerdust.net (http://www.flowerdust.net/)

Stuff Christians Like (http://stufffchristianslike.blogspot.com/)

Ragamuffin Soul (www.ragamuffinsoul.com)

Monday Morning Insight (http://www.mondaymorninginsight.com/)

Mark D Roberts (http://www.markdroberts.com/)

Ben Arment (www.benarment.com)

Church Relevance (http://churchrelevance.com/)

Bob Franquiz (http://bobfranquiz.typepad.com/)

Bob Hyatt (http://bobhyatt.typepad.com/)

Cole-Slaw (http://cole-slaw.blogspot.com/)

The Forgotten Ways (www.theforgottenways.org)

Reclaiming the Mission (http://www.reclaimingthemission.com/)

The Shlog (http://www.shaungroves.com/shlog)

Frank Viola (www.frankviola.wordpress.com/)

The Gospel-Driven Church (http://www.gospeldrivenchurch.blogspot.com/)

Christina Meyer (http://w2christina.blogspot.com/)

Lee Coate (http://leecoate.wordpress.com/)

Preaching Today (http://blog.preachingtoday.com/)

Gathering In Light (http://gatheringinlight.com/)

Off the Agenda (http://blog.BuildingChurchLeaders.com)

Take Your Vitamin Z (www.takeyourvitaminz.blogspot.com)

Staying Focused (http://kimmartinezstayingfocused.wordpress.com/)

ZonderFann (http://zonderfann.com/)

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Apr

15

2009

Jared C. Wilson|3:19 pm CT

Adventures in the Bible Belt

This from Shaun Groves is all kinds of excellent.

She cut me off. She made a left right in front of me. I was leaving Lowe’s – the home repair store – trying to get home in time for my niece’s birthday party. She was trying to get her Burger King fix faster.

I slammed on the brakes and skid and honked the horn. I may have said a singular bad word i hopes that the Holy Spirit can not only interpret “groanings” but also profanity to be a cry for immediate assistance, please. I was scared. I wasn’t angry. Yet.

Then she moved the phone from her hand to her neck, cocked her head to hold it in place, and flipped me off with her now free hand. I came to a stop in the road – and also a metaphorical fork. And I chose to follow her into the Burger King drive-thru line.

I pulled up beside her. She rolled up her windows without looking my way. So I screamed at her about how I have three kids and a wife who could have lost a father and husband because she was really hungry for a Whopper and couldn’t wait two seconds for me to pass by before turning. I told her she wasn’t important enough to endlessly be on her cell phone. I informed her that I’m not sixteen, I’m an adult like she’s dressed up to be, and adults talk about their problems…with words not hand signals.

I told her all that. In my head. As I was rolling down my window. But when she turned toward me and waved me away as if I were nothing more than a circling fly I had a better idea. I smiled.

“Heeeey,” I said, “I thought I recognized you!”

She took her sun glasses off to get a better look at me.

“We go to the same church don’t we?” I asked.

I wish you could have seen the blood drain from her face as she rolled down her window and forced a smile.

Of course, I was telling a lie – predicated on a safe bet here in a town where almost everyone goes to church at some point in the year. And, sure, I guess that no more moral of me than if I’d shouted all those nasty things at her. But it was more fun.

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Apr

14

2009

Jared C. Wilson|10:31 pm CT

Maybe Redemption is Stories to Tell

This is a must-watch video (from the folks at The Austin Stone Church).

Cardboard Stories from The Austin Stone on Vimeo.

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Apr

14

2009

Jared C. Wilson|4:44 pm CT

The Consumer Church

One of the most resonant sections (to me anyway) of Skye Jethani’s excellent The Divine Commodity (more on this book in this pace on Thursday) is in his personal recounting of friends switching churches.

While enjoying our drinks of choice, Greg and Margaret proceeded to explain why they were leaving our church to attend another congregation in a nearby town. The new church, they said, had multiple services on Saturday and Sunday so they could choose to worship at a time that fit their busy schedules. (Our church had only three services — all on Sunday morning.) The youth group had multiple worship teams for their daughter to serve on. (Our student ministry had only one worship team.) And, because it was “way bigger” than our church, it had more to offer Greg and Margaret too. They could find a class or small group that perfectly fit their needs. Despite making a public commitment as members a few years earlier, Greg and Margaret’s commitment to our church had ended. A more comfortable ship had sailed into port — one that offered more choices.

A core characteristic of consumerism is freedom of choice. Customization, creating a product that conforms to my particular desires, has driven businesses to offer an ever-increasing number of choices to consumers. Nothing represents this trend better than the iPod. No longer must a listener commit to buy an entire album to enjoy one song. She now has instant access to millions of songs, and may choose to download them individually to create a personalized playlist. The consumer chooses precisely what she likes, and dismisses what she doesn’t . . .

As we’ve seen repeatedly, the values of consumerism always leak into the church . . . Worshipers no longer have to tolerate music, prayers, or people they don’t like . . .

Greg and Margaret were relatively comfortable at my church. They connected with the people — mostly. And they like the music — usually. But when a larger church presented more options to satisfy the diverse interests of their family, and the possibility of choosing a community group that would more perfectly fit their individual identities, they jumped ship. Whatever diversity they had experienced in our community was abandoned for the chance to have a more homogenous and customized spiritual experience. Choice trumped commitment. Comfort trumped community.

Churches capitulating to and operating by consumerist values are abundant, especially here in the Bible Belt.

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Apr

14

2009

Jared C. Wilson|4:36 pm CT

Four Important Changes for Churches

David Fitch was asked, “If you had to list 5 of the most important elements that you would like to see changed in local churches across America, what would those 5 things be?”

OK here’s 4 off the top of my head:

1.) Less emphasis on success and growth, more on authentic Christian living and discipleship. This is the obedience God is looking for.

2.) Less on pandering to Christians who have little time but more money, and more pandering to the poor who have more time and less money

3.) Concentrate more on the simple stuff where one encounters the transcendent living God, less on programming.

4.) Leadership that listens and responds to what God is doing, not orchestrating the future they learned at business school.

Whether one agrees with these or not (and I do, for what it’s worth), I think it’s at least refreshing to see a request for a “What do we do?” and a response. Lots of critics are long on diagnoses, short on prescriptions, and that just ain’t helpful.

(HT: Dash)

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Apr

13

2009

Jared C. Wilson|9:37 pm CT

The Worship Gathering is for Beholding

He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
– Ecclesiastes 3:11b

The gospel must be central because nothing else even comes close to filling the eternal gap.
We all agree that fallen man has a “God-shaped hole,” but then we go on to suggest all kinds of fillers that are not God — financial success, good sex, promotions at work, healthy relationships, happy spouses and children, community service, outlets for our creativity, etc. All good things but all things you can have and do and still be eternally bankrupt.

Our scale is far too small. The Bible speaks to all manner of good things useful to all men, but the Church is starving (starving!) for the glory of God. We too easily forget that the gospel covers the scale of eternity, that it is the division between real life and death, that God is infinite and our sin is a condemnation-worthy offense against an eternally holy God. We preach and we settle for much less than, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!”

Every week people file into our church services aching for eternity; in our zeal to provide something they may find comfortable and useful and inoffensive, are we offending the God who wishes to offend us in awe of his glory? Are we dismissing our brother Jesus whose formula for victory includes crucifixion?

The scale is enormous, the stakes are high. Instead of spiritually dressing up the idols we know people want, let’s give them what they need — God all in all, the filling of the Spirit, the exaltation of the risen Lord.

Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the sons of God!
– 1 John 3:1a

That should be the chief service of our worship services — beholding. Behold our glorious God and his lavishing of grace on us in his precious Son.

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
– Romans 11:36

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Apr

13

2009

Jared C. Wilson|4:00 pm CT

Colbert Owns Ehrman

Yeah, he’s a parody, but Stephen Colbert’s jousting with renowned Christ-denier Bart Ehrman (who has a new book called Jesus Interrupted) is pretty sweet.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Bart Ehrman
colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor NASA Name Contest

There are actually some better arguments against Ehrman’s errors (for instance, Ehrman is right that “Son of God” wasn’t originally a term of divinity; N.T. Wright barks up that tree better than Colbert does with his riposte), but it’s still neat to watch Colbert’s exaggerated incredulity.

HT: Lots of places, but saw it last at Frank Turk‘s blog

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Apr

13

2009

Jared C. Wilson|3:56 pm CT

New Life from the Man Who Cannot Be Killed

Imagine you are one of Jesus’ devoted followers grieving his execution. A couple of days have passed. You are dejected, bewildered, perhaps scared of the repercussions. You are, of course, totally devastated that your friend, the kindest, gentlest, most faithful friend you’ve ever had has been executed for a crime he didn’t commit. There is at this time no celebration that Jesus had finally achieved victory on the cross. You and the other disciples aren’t partying, overjoyed that Jesus has died to forgive your sins. In your minds, your friend is gone, and since messiahs weren’t expected to die before establishing a restored kingdom of Israel , seeds of doubt begin to sprout. Maybe you begin to wonder if he was who he said he was. You begin to think the cause has been defeated.

In grieving the loss of your friend and rabbi, you are beginning to wrestle with grieving the loss of the meaning he gave to life and to the incredible promise of God’s return to his people he represented. At some point, a dangerous despair could kick in.

That is how Christianity would have stalled before it could even get started, were it not for one shining moment in the history of the world.
The resurrection.

As Christians, we believe that Jesus not only died for our sins, but that he rose from the dead three days later to conquer death. And that glorious event is when all heaven broke loose.

For the disciples, the sacrificial death of Jesus must have been emotionally and spiritually moving, but imagine the physical effect, the palpable disturbance under the skin the rumors of his return might provoke. Word is spreading. The gossips are talking. Good news travels fast, and even though you are skeptical, you have seen some amazing things in the last three years. Including the dead coming to life.
Sitting in a quiet room with your compatriots, everyone silent, everyone thinking the same thing, hoping the same thing, but everyone too frightened to say it lest they raise the ire of the grieving.

Then . . . you sense a stirring in the air. The air feels different. Something is happening. Your flesh gets tingly, the hair on the back of your neck sticks up, your soul shakes. And then he’s standing before you. Jesus himself. Not a ghost, not a vision. He is the same Jesus, in a new body to be sure, but it’s him. New flesh, changed flesh, but flesh nonetheless. And seeing him again restores your joy, inflames your dwindling hopes. You would die for a man who cannot be killed.

The death of Jesus is not period marking the end of his life, but a hyphen—it opens up into something more, it marks the beginning of a new way, a new day.

(From the chapter “Jesus the Savior” in my book Your Jesus is Too Safe, coming July from Kregel)

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Apr

03

2009

Jared C. Wilson|3:17 pm CT

Vacay

Catch you on the flipside.

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