Monthly Archives: September 2009





Jared C. Wilson|7:45 pm CT

Missional in the Bible Belt

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

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

Um, yep.

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

Wayne follows up:

That seems to be the nature of the beast when it comes to the church. The Exodus people of Israel quickly forgot their redemption and pined for their leeks and onions and devolved into complaints and idolatry. So much so that God had to let a generation die out before they could enter the promised land. And, if you read through the history of Israel it’s easy to see how quickly the pattern that Honeysett describes here happens. The people of God forget or jettison their identity as redeemed people, and they jettison a redemption-driven agenda for other agendas. The church in Corinth is a good New Testament example of this.

It’s probably just something we have to accept and accept that getting the gospel into the church is an even greater priority than getting it into the world. I remember vaguely hearing Tim Keller talk about Redeemer in Manhattan. Redeemer is well known around the world as a leading light in gospel based, missionally driven ministry, yet if I remember correctly Keller said there were probably only a third or a little more at his church who were really getting the whole gospel-missional thing . . .

So the point is that our first and greatest battle is to gospelize the church.

We are in a weird — but frequently exhilarating — position where the gospel is scandalous even to Christians.

So many of our brothers and sisters want the compartmentalized spirituality (putting in their religious time on Sunday mornings), the six steps to such-and-such messages, and the superficiality of apathy towards real community, that missional thinking and living, gospel-saturated and Jesus-centered messages, and the demands of relational intimacy freak them out. This stuff is a foreign language to them, and I see it constantly in the so-called “Christian South,” where “everyone” is a Christian, “everyone” goes to church.

Once upon a time, reading on a Nashville church shopper’s blog, I noticed a commenter urging her to look for a church that focused on Jesus. Her reply was, “I’ve already found Jesus.”

This is the default mode of Bible Belt Christianity. I’ve got my ticket punched, just give me the show now. I need a dynamic speaker on Sunday mornings, a rockin’ band on the stage, a full service childcare facility, a big youth group, a coffee bar near the sanctuary, etc.
I’ve got Jesus already; give me something that matters to me now, something “relevant,” something applicable.

And there is a never-ending appetite for this stuff because this stuff doesn’t fix or fulfill anything. Seven steps to conquering conflict in your marriage won’t eradicate conflict. So there’s always demand for seven more steps next time around.

What I find especially ironic about the churches catering to gospel-unawakened Christians is that they claim they exist for the unchurched. They are the ones actually reaching lost people, they say.
The data does not support this, of course. The number of megachurches has increased; the number of Christians has decreased. This does not compute. And when folks like Sally Morgenthaler start looking at the research, what they find is that the attractional machine, which purports to be for the lost and unchurched, basically just ends up attracting Christians from smaller or less “exciting” churches.

Should missional church pastors care? Do we want these folks?

Speaking for myself, yes. Except, I want to win them. They’re no fun as they are. ;-) But frankly, as they are, they don’t want what we’ve got anyway. To the cultural Christian, there is nothing attractive about a small church that expects relational community, practices regular neighborhood service, highlights the cost of discipleship in every message, has a minimalist menu of programs to partake from, and gives most of its money away (precluding a “nice” facility and assorted bells and whistles). But I want to reach them. All Christians are family. I love the big-C Church dearly.

There are some who would say the missional communities should just write off their attractional brothers and sisters and focus on reaching the lost. I defy false dichotomies. And while I never poach (I’ve never invited members of other churches to mine before they themselves have first expressed interest in visiting), I pray and preach AND BLOG and try to live a life of witness so that my churched brothers and sisters will begin to crave the gospel and gospel-centrism in their congregations.

The more churched converts gospel-centrism receives — we’re talking about revival here, by the way — the greater impact for the kingdom among the lost and “least of these” there will be, in the Bible Belt and beyond.

If indeed cultural evangelicalism in the Bible Belt is dying, what do we do about it?






Jared C. Wilson|7:39 pm CT

I Want You to Like Me

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

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

Or not, I don’t know.

I try to be an equal opportunity offender over here. ;-)






Jared C. Wilson|8:29 pm CT

A Rant: Rob Bell and An Evangel-less Evangelicalism

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

One can hope.

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


Bell’s printed definition is this:

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

I’d like to buy the world a Coke.

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

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

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

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

Yes, because when first century readers read Paul’s claim of the gospel’s “first importance” in 1 Corinthians 15 and what comes after, they heard in their original context and culture that they really should recycle more.

That was sarcasm.

The problem with Bell’s definition is not that it outlines a practical faith or that anything he’s highlighting is bad or wrong, only that what he outlines contains no object of faith and highlights work to do rather than work completed. And I don’t know about you, but work completed is always better news than work undone.

His definition of “good news people” lacks two very important good news ingredients: News and a Good Person.

Keller and Carson remind us to not speak of the gospel as if it is advice. That’s good advice.

And there is no Jesus in Bell’s evangelical outline. No work of Jesus. Just us bein’ awesome.
Here’s some bad news: we are not awesome.

The good news is that Jesus is.

At this point someone always wants to get to gospel definitions. Doesn’t the gospel entail renewal of creation, etc.?
Yes, but it necessarily entails the announcement that it is being done by the great Renewer.
We’re not seriously going to debate about whether Jesus’ name and his finished work on the cross and out of the tomb should be in our definition of the gospel, are we? Is that where we are in evangelicalism? The cross and tomb are part of a “yes, but”?

The interviewer asks Bell about Jesus: “I’m struck by the fact that I don’t hear a lot of explicitly religious language, or mentions of Jesus, from you.”

(Just to interject here, but this should always be a huge stinking red flag. People, if your preacher rarely mentions Jesus, ask him why. A preacher who does not preach Jesus is not a Christian preacher. By definition. I don’t mean he isn’t a Christian. I’m just saying he’s not a “Christian preacher.” He’s probably a great motivational speaker or spirituality coach or something, though.)

Here is Bell’s response to the interviewer’s keen observation of Jesuslessness:

I don’t have any embarrassment about my religion, and it’s not that I’m too cool, but I would hope that the Jesus message would come through, hopefully through a full humanity.

I really don’t even know what this means, but I think it means this:
a. You’re right, I don’t use Jesus’ name that much.
b. That’s okay because that can turn people off.
c. Nevertheless I still hope that somehow the Jesus message slips through.

Hey, how about we don’t “hope” that to happen, but we just actually do it? If the Jesus in your preaching is subliminal, you’re failing. I don’t care how many people are in your church or buy your books or watch your videos. An implied Jesus is a FAIL.

And this is why this shade of the emerging thing — and I know I can’t lump them all in together; in some eyes, I’m a part of the emerging church and so is Mark Driscoll and so are McCoy and Thorn up there in Chi-town and so is Neil Cole, — is really just our Boomers’ seeker church metrosexualized. And why many of the seeker church guys are now embracing this shade of the emerging thing. It’s their deal, only cooler. The feel-good legalism is still there and Jesus makes cameo appearances. That’s an ecclesiological reconstruction FAIL. (Thank you, Jim Belcher.)

Jesus doesn’t need you or me to be embarrassed for him or his followers. He doesn’t need our help. We don’t have to butter people up before we bring him out. He’s not a time share or Amway or something.

If I get hit by a bus just after preaching a Jesusless exhortation to hold hands and be sweet to change the world with positivity, you have my permission to wish the bus had hit me before I preached.

Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! And woe to you too, Rob Bell.






Jared C. Wilson|8:16 pm CT

Why I Downplay the "Practical" in My Preaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

My conviction is that when we focus too heavily on our works, Christ’s finished work appears less valuable and the hearers may leave more with a sense of having to perform than with the satisfaction of knowing they don’t have to.

2. I downplay application because application has predominated the evangelical Church’s message for decades and we are not better off for it.

From the Pharisaical legalism of the traditionalist/fundamentalist church to the therapeutic legalism of the seeker-driven movement, we have been inundated with homework for a very long time. Consequently we are collectively unfamiliar with the gospel. And if you’re following the data, Christians are less biblically literate and more inwardly focused than ever before. Years and years of “up-playing” the practical has not created a vast movement of church communities radically devoted to discipleship to Jesus.

3. I downplay application because people basically know what they should be doing.

I say this in direct disagreement to the common claim that if you don’t make something practical people won’t know what to do. I just don’t buy at all the notion that people don’t know what to do. Apart from decades of “thou shalt” sermons, even the immature Christian knows the golden rule and other basics of obedience. Even lost people know how to be good to others. Everyone knows some good things they can do. They just don’t do them, either out of willful disobedience or lack of the Spirit’s power.

This is also in direct rebellion against the Osteen-esque approach to preaching. Basically, Osteen and his homiletical compatriots argue that people already know they’re sinners and know they’ve done things wrong, so why beat them up about it? Why not tell them what to do now instead?

I believe the opposite. I believe our flesh cries out for works, we are wired to worship, and we want to earn salvation, so we know what deeds are good deeds. And we need to be helped with specific advice in specific situations and we need to be reminded to do good, but our most pressing need is to be challenged on that which we forget most easily, which is not more tips for a successful life, but that we are sinners who need grace to have life in the first place.

We all know what good works look like. We just don’t want to do them. And that is a spiritual problem exhortations to good behavior cannot solve. The clearly proclaimed gospel is God’s prescription for breaking a hardened heart.

4. Downplaying application places trust in the Holy Spirit to produce fruit.

Living out the gospel, applying it to our daily life in practical ways, is not part of the gospel. It is the fruit of the gospel, the fruit the Spirit produces in those who have been born again. When we spend an inordinate amount of time in a message compelling listeners to “do stuff,” we begin to distrust the Spirit’s promise to produce good works out of the abundance of a changed heart and we begin to trust our inspirational advice and motivational challenges.

When I downplay application I do not do so out of a conviction that Christians don’t need to obey the spirit of the Law or follow Jesus — I just preached a whole message on repentance last weekend, actually — but out of a conviction that they can only do so by the power of the Holy Spirit anyway, and that those who have been justified will be sanctified. I trust that God uses the foolishness of preaching the foolish message of the cross to regenerate hearts and that He will be faithful to complete the good work He began in those hearts.

What I strive for (imperfectly, fallibly) in my teaching is to uphold Jesus and his atoning work as all satisfying, all sufficient, all powerful, all encompassing, and call others to uphold it as such in their hearts. My belief is that when someone really loves Jesus and has been scandalized by God’s grace, they will really follow Him into a life of scandalizing others.

Some will contend that spending most preaching time calling for listeners to savor the work of Christ, cling to the cross, find satisfaction in Christ’s work alone, and trust His grace for salvation does not offer real help because it doesn’t give a “takeaway,” it doesn’t tell people what to do. I say it does tell people what to do: it tells them to savor, cling, find satisfaction, and trust. That is real help. And that’s what I want people to take away. And my trust is that if people are actually doing that, because their affections have been transferred in repentance from self to Christ, their repentant hearts will bear the fruit of a living faith, by which I mean a faith that proves itself with works.

Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
– 1 Corinthians 9:16

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

– 1 Thessalonians 1:4-6






Jared C. Wilson|1:42 pm CT

What You Can Stake Your Life On

1. God’s words are true.

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

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

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

3. He is never late.

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

4. He is not slow.

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

5. He loves you.

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






Jared C. Wilson|3:17 pm CT

Mind Your Own Business

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

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

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

God is good and so is life.






Jared C. Wilson|1:26 pm CT

What Gospel Wakefulness Does to Worship

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

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

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

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

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

Recipe for Gospel Wakefulness
What Gospel Wakefulness Does to a Church
Why Gospel Wakefulness is So Important






Jared C. Wilson|1:01 pm CT

A Ridiculously Short Review of Deep Church by Jim Belcher

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

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

The Pros:
This is a really, really good book. It is heavier on description than it is prescription, but I don’t think the point of the book is to necessarily tell anyone what to do. It is a forging of the elusive “third way,” and we see that mainly in the stories Belcher tells about his own life and ministry and the lives and ministries of others.
It is also a devastating critique of the emergent church without ever looking like one. Kudos to Belcher for managing that feat without polemic or fixation. He is skillful and “silent” like a ninja. :-)
If you’re looking for “How to do deep church” this may not be the book for you (but you should read it anyway), but if you’re looking for “Why do deep church?” it is definitely something you should pick up.

My grade: B+

The iMonk’s review is longer and more thoughtful.






Jared C. Wilson|12:38 pm CT

Is a 2/3 Vote a Win?: The Conflict at Coral Ridge

I have watched from a distance, mostly with occasional curiosity as I have not had the time for fascination, the goings on at the newly rebooted Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

If the name of the church sounds familiar, it probably should. It is the megachurch formerly pastored by the late D. James Kennedy, who you’ve probably seen on television at some point. He also authored the Evangelism Explosion material.

The short version of the story ongoing is this:
Kennedy passed away, leaving Coral Ridge without a pastor. They moved to merge with New City Presbyterian, an innovative and growing young church pastored by Tullian Tchividjian, a relatively young guy (he’s early 40′s, so he’s not exactly a whippersnapper, but “young” compared to Kennedy) with connections to Tim Keller and other respected guys in the Reformed and evangelical world. (His first book Unfashionable bowed late last year, I believe.)

Let me put the conflict in this frame: D. James Kennedy preached the gospel of America. Rarely did I turn on one of his sermons and not see him preaching against liberalism or some such thing. He was one of the founding members of the Moral Majority and was a leading voice in the Christian war on culture.

Tullian is . . . well, not that guy. And he began preaching the gospel.
He also did some irksome things like stop producing new episodes of Coral Ridge’s television show and stop issuing invitations at the end of sermons.

And as can happen when a younger church merges with an older, more established church, conflicts arose. The specific conflicts centered on a group pretty much led by Kennedy’s daughter who began pushing for Tullian’s ouster from the church.

Here is an excerpt from the news story linked at top to give you a sense of the flavor of the conflict:

Dissidents such as Jim Fisola, who is banned from the church, said they feared that longtime members such as himself were losing influence among the community.

“God bless young people that he’s brought over, but you’ve got to understand they’ve been meeting in a cafeteria or the high school,” said Fisola, a Coral Ridge member for 19 years.

“They are now in a [multimillion-] dollar edifice, and they didn’t have to work for it,” Fisola said. “. . . This man doesn’t have the experience or the maturity to lead.”

Kennedy’s daughter and her brigade of rabble rousers were initially banned from church premises after handing out literature criticizing Tullian on church grounds. Classy.

They stand primarily on the shaky ground of “This isn’t how we’ve always done it.”
People who invest time and money and tradition into buildings and programs learn to cherish those buildings and programs very deeply. (Some of us call that idolatry, but what do I know?) And then of course this group has their former pastor’s daughter on their side. And she has been playing the “This isn’t what daddy would have wanted” card.

By the way, Tullian Tchividjian is not without cultural Christian heritage as well. He is the grandson of the one and only Billy Graham. If that ain’t the “My preacher daddy can beat up your preacher daddy” trump card, I don’t know what is.

So it’s just yucky.
And it came to a head yesterday as the church finally got around to voting. Tullian “won” with a 2/3 vote in favor of retaining him as pastor. A few on Twitter were asking if this was really a win. If you were being called to a church, for instance, and 1/3 of the people didn’t want you there, would you go? I wouldn’t.

But Tullian is already there. And there is that tricky thing called a calling.

I’m glad the vote landed in his favor, and I’m praying some people find repentance, that all involved are praying hard, and that Tullian’s life and ministry at Coral Ridge bears nothing but undeniable fruit for the gospel in the years to come.






Jared C. Wilson|12:33 pm CT

The Imagination of the Christian World

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

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

Stanley B. Hyde

This warmed my heart tremendously this morning.

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

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