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Evangelism, Reason, & Faith

Jul 31, 2014 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Evangelism can be scary. And is to most of us. One of the great persistent fears that many of us wrestle with is, “What if I can’t answer all their questions?” There is no need for such fear. My brothers and sisters in Christ, you don’t need to have all the answers. In fact, you won’t have all the answers!

Many of us fear the questions that may be asked because we consciously or subconsciously believe that we can reason people into salvation. But this is something we never do and never can. Anyone who comes to Him, comes to Him by faith. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:20).

However, let’s be clear, Christianity is quite reasonable. As the Apostle Peter said, “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). We know Christ, so we can articulate the truth of Christ. But we did not come to this knowledge by reason and neither will the person we are sharing the gospel with.

Rationalism, not Christianity, believes that reason is the fundamental source for knowing and explaining the world. Descartes, the celebrated rationalist philosopher, famously said, “I think, therefore I am.” Empiricism is not so different. It stresses experience in the quest for certainty in knowledge. John Lock, the famous empiricist, said, “I experience in order to believe.” Both rationalism and empiricism have an overbearing optimism when it comes to reason. The only issue is whether reason is more important than experience or secondary to it. This runaway optimism in reason has no place for revelation. As Christians, we assert that revelation has the primary and principle place.

We do not dismiss reason or experience, but clearly articulate that they are not the gateway to truth. Christianity, says, “I believe so that I may understand.” Thomas Watson, that ever quotable Puritan, once said, “Where reason can only wade, faith swims.” We are a people who have accepted revelation. We believe that God has spoken (John 1) and that what He has spoken is true (Hebrews 6:18). This is our foundation for true and certain knowledge. And this revelation is only accepted by faith, which we only obtain as a gift from God (Eph. 2:20).

Don’t let the fear of not having a ready answer to every question stymie your freedom to share the gospel. You don’t need to have every answer for someone to come to saving faith. Reason won’t win the day. You just have to be willing to share the truth of God’s revelation with them and pray that God grants them the gift of faith. “So faith comes through hearing and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).

Share the truth of God’s Word. This is divine revelation. Trust its efficacy, for it does not return void (Isaiah 55:11). If we know Christ, then we know enough to share Christ. Even if we don’t have all the answers, we can point them to the One who does.

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Book Briefs

Jul 30, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

It’s been awhile since the last Book Briefs. Most of my reading has been PhD related, but I’ve managed to read a few other things. I’ve also included in this list some of the best general history works I’ve read for my studies this summer.

Margo Todd, The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland (Yale 2002). Invaluable (and interesting!) scholarship on the role of the Kirk Session in Scotland from 1560 to 1640. Did you know sermons were usually an hour (and long-winded preachers could be fined)? Did you know sessions often banned babies and young children (sometime up to the age of 8) from attending worship, so as not to disturb the adult hearers? Did you know most churches had a repentance chair situated prominently in the worship service for sinners to sit as an expression of their contrition? Did you know sessions were generally quite fair to men and women in the way they handled divorce and adultery? Todd presents a picture of church life in early modern Scotland that was controlling yet flexible, serious yet not without times of celebration. The secret to Calvinism’s success in Scotland can be found in the indefatigable work of lay elders.

Arthur Fawcett, The Cambuslang Revival: The Scottish Evangelical Revival of the Eighteenth Century (Banner of Truth 1971). Most American evangelicals know little about the Transatlantic nature of the Great Awakening (other than that Wesley and Whitefield came from England). This book is a spiritually edifying and academically helpful look at Scotland’s most famous revival during the Awakening. While Whitefield was the flame that lit the spark of revival, the kindling had been laid in place by older, regular parish ministers. One sad note: the Erskines (famous among evangelicals as pro-gospel Marrow Men) stridently opposed the Cambuslang Wark because Whitefield agreed to work with the established Church of Scotland instead of the Seceders only.

Jonathan M. Yeager, ed., Early Evangelicalism: A Reader (Oxford 2013). A terrific anthology of (mostly) eighteenth century evangelicals. The strength of Yeager’s collection is that he includes not only familiar voices like Whitefield, Wesley, and Edwards, but dozens of oft forgotten evangelical leaders like Philip Doddridge, James Hervey, John Erskine, Isaac Backus, Phillis Wheatley, Richard Allen, and Lemuel Haynes. This would be a great book for a college or seminary professor to assign, or even for a serious Sunday school class.

Mark A. Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys (IVP  Academic 2003). I don’t always agree with Noll’s interpretations, but there is a reason he is one of the most well respected historians in our day. He writes clearly, perceptively, and judiciously. And his mastery of primary sources is impressive. This book can be read profitably by graduate students and by interested Christians wanted to know more about the rise of evangelicalism in the eighteenth century.

Paul Lake, Cry Wolf: A Political Fable (BenBella Books 2008). A fascinating book–one of those books I’d like to read again in a group setting to hear what other people think. In the tradition of Animal Farm, Cry Wolf is a story about the unraveling of the once proud Green Pastures Farm. On the face of it, Lake’s fable may read like an anti-immigration diatribe, but I think there are deeper issues he means to explore, like the importance of remembering our history, the necessity of the rule of law, the meaning of justice, and the nefarious influence of intellectuals.

William Tucker, Marriage and Civilization: How Monogamy Made Us Human (Regnery 2014). An uneven book that is at times brilliant and at other times overly fascinated with the sex lives of monkeys. His conclusion–that we must make sure there is a girl for every boy and a boy for every girl, so that they can start another human family and strengthen the bonds of a prosperous and peaceful society that only marriage can provide–is right on. But the book would be stronger if Tucker’s anchoring truth was something better than evolutionary theory.

Robert R. Reilly, Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything (Ignatius 2014). Here’s a book bound to make people upset. But it is well worth reading. One of the most important books of the year. Looking across a variety of disciplines–from philosophy to biology to education to medicine to law to foreign policy–Reilly argues that we have come to accept homosexual behavior (Reilly says “sodomy”) as okay, not because of new discoveries in any of the disciplines just mentioned, but because the approval of same-sex intercourse must be absolute. The new morality must be rationalized at all costs. It can broker no dissent. As Aristotle said, “Men start revolutionary changes for reasons connected with their private lives.”

 

 

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Two Questions that May Greatly Improve Your Church’s Ministry

Jul 29, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

I’m no management consultant, leadership expert, or church growth guru. But if you love your church and want to see it as effective as possible–for the sake of evangelism, education, exaltation, and whatever other E’s you may have in your mission statement–try asking these two questions. One is from the pastor for his leaders, and the other is from the leaders for his pastor.

Question #1 – Pastor to Leaders: “How can I improve my preaching?”

Most pastors have no mechanism for regular, thoughtful feedback on their preaching. Those laboring on larger church staffs may have a built-in worship review, but most pastors in the country don’t enjoy such a luxury. And even if they do, it would be wise to solicit feedback from lay leaders in the church–the kind that are mature in the faith, have demonstrated longstanding commitment, but don’t live and breath the details of planning and evaluating worship services. I have my annual evaluation coming up in the next month. I plan on asking our elder vice-president how I can improve my preaching.

If preaching is the most important thing we do in ministry, why not be more deliberate about trying to develop new skills, weed out bad habits, and get some much needed fine tuning? For most of us, the feedback on our preaching consists of “Good job, pastor” or “Nice sermon, pastor” as people file out after the service. And when we get criticism it often comes from cranky church members who aren’t happy with much of anything. I think most church members love their pastor and are normally pleased with the preaching (or they wouldn’t stick around). But I also know that every pastor can get better. If Timothy was told to fan into flames the gift he had, shouldn’t we–I’m talking to my fellow pastors–look for ways to blow fresh wind across faint coals?

Obviously, this first question is not one you ask of just anyone. We aren’t looking to poll-test our latest sermon series. We aren’t trying to scratch itching ears. Parishoners may want more of what isn’t good for them in their weekly preaching diet. And yet, your best leaders should be able to give the pastor honest, thoughtful, affirming, constructive feedback. I know it can be scary to even ask the question. But the spread of the gospel and the good of our people are more important than our sensitive psyches.

Over the years I can think of lots of helpful feedback I’ve gotten on my preaching:

  • Your introductions are too long. Don’t be afraid to dive right into the text.
  • Your sermons could be five minutes shorter without losing anything.
  • You seem rushed when you get to your conclusion. That’s often the best, most important part. Think about trimming back earlier in the sermon so you can slow down at the end.
  • Your content is great, but it can be too much.
  • Just be yourself.

Maybe, brother pastor, you need more illustrations, or fewer. Maybe you are going over people’s heads, or leaving the people a bit famished. Maybe you’ve developed a distracting mannerism, gesture, or expression. Maybe you’ve gotten into a rut. Maybe you are trying too hard to be creative. Who knows? Why not ask?

Question #2 – Leaders to Pastor: “How can we better support you and your family?”

Like the first question, this one is dangerous. Pastors can be unrealistic. They can be selfish. They can be lazy. They can be greedy. There is no sin you struggle with that we can’t struggle with too. And yet, just like most churches love their pastor, I believe most pastors love their church. Very likely, your pastor is working hard, doing the best he can, trying to be a faithful preacher, leader, discipler, evangelist, spiritual caregiver, and family man. So why not ask how you can help him?

I can raise this issue because my church cares for me and my family very well. I’m not trying to send subtle hints and suggestions. In fact, it’s because I am treated so well that I’m jealous for my fellow pastors to be cared for equally well. If asked how you can support him and his family, here are some of things you might hear from your pastor.

  • “My wife feels alone.” Our elders formed  “Team Trisha” a few years ago to care for my wife. It’s a few other women in the church who meet with her regularly to hear how she’s doing and find ways to help (especially when I’m busy or out of town).
  • “I could use more vacation time.” I know most people in the church work hard at their jobs, sometimes for little pay and with little vacation. But your bad experience doesn’t have to be the standard for everyone else. For the life of me I don’t know how some pastors survive on two weeks vacation per year. I recommend three weeks as a minimum, preferably four. In Britain, I’m told, six weeks is quite normal. One of the surest ways to decrease the effectiveness of your church’s ministry is to get a burnt out pastor. When churches are sticklers with their pastor’s vacation, they hurt themselves as much as anyone.
  • “I don’t have enough money for books.” Even a modest book allowance would be a tremendous blessing, and could pay big dividends.
  • “I’d like to attend a conference, but it’s far away and kind of expensive.” Find a way to make it happen. There are dozens of good conferences. Your pastors can’t (and shouldn’t) go to all of them, but it would serve his soul and serve your church if he could go to a couple–maybe a smaller local conference each year and one of the big national conferences. These conferences are only partly about the content. They are just as much for the fellowship, the friendships, the road trip, and the time away. Not to mention the free books.
  • “I could use more study time.” This may mean making adjustments to the weekly grind so your pastor can devote himself more fully to the word of God and prayer. This may mean helping your pastor manage his own time better. This may also mean adding one or two weeks of study time to your already generous vacation package. If the pastor actually uses the time to read, write, and reflect, I can’t imagine a church regretting this sort of allowance.
  • “We are barely making ends meet.” That’s a tricky one. At least hear him out. Do what you can to make his service a joy and not a burden.
  • “Pray for me.” Pray for your pastor in private. Pray for him if you have the opportunity to lead in prayer in church. Take time once in awhile to pray for him during your elders’ meeting. See if he’d like a group to regularly meet with him for prayer.

Ministry is hard work. For all of us–pastors, elders, church members, for every Christian. But let’s not make it harder, or less joyful or less effective, than it has to be. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your church is the simplest thing: just ask the right questions. These two are a good place to start.

 

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Monday Morning Humor

Jul 28, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

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Books, Bio, and Such: Ryan Kelly

Jul 25, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

During the summer I’ll be posting micro interviews on Fridays (mostly). I’ve asked some of my friends in ministry–friends you probably already know–to answer questions about “bio, books, and such.” My hope is that you’ll enjoy getting a few more facts about these folks and getting a few good book recommendations.

Today’s interview is with Ryan Kelly, teaching and preaching pastor at Desert Springs Church in Albuquerque, N.M..

1. Where were you born? Like the Journey song says, “born and raised in south Detroit.” Well, actually, it was Allen Park – a quiet little city just south of Detroit.

2. When did you become a Christian? I professed faith for many years before, but I believe it was at the age of 17 that the Lord gave saving faith.

3. Who is one well known pastor/author/leader who has shaped you as a Christian and teacher? John Owen. Among the living, I’d say John Piper and Don Carson are tied for their influence.

4. Who is one lesser known pastor/friend/mentor who has shaped you? Well, this person is certainly not unknown to many, but is lesser known than Piper or Carson. Fred Zaspel has been a dear friend and mentor for many years, especially in my early (and lonely) days of pastoral ministry.

5. What’s one hymn you want sung at your funeral? Friends are Friends Forever. Just kidding — Crown Him with Many Crowns.

6. What kind of nonfiction do you enjoy reading when you aren’t reading about theology, the Bible, or church history? Mainly secular (non-ecclesiastical) history. I also have a decent collection of books on all things hockey…many of which are very secular history, one might say.

7. Other than Calvin’s Institutes, what systematic theology have you found most helpful? Turretin’s Instititutes of Elenctic Theology…though Charles Hodge is hard to beat for his exegetical vigor.

8. What are one or two of your favorite fiction authors or fiction books? Lewis and Tolkien – predictable, I know. Less predictable perhaps, I’ve read Pride and Prejudice more than once; I’ve even lectured on it! (I should probably mention here that I have three teen/tween girls in my home.)

9. What is one of your favorite non-Christian biographies? Nothing stands out. The vast majority of my biographical reading is of Christians.

10. What is one of your favorite books on preaching? There are so many excellent ones. Dave Helm’s Expositional Preaching is my newest fave. Most of the material won’t be new to anyone who’s done a couple of Simeon Workshops with Dave, but even still, it’s great having that material in tidy print (vs. my own scant and sloppy Simeon notes).

11. What is one of your favorite books on evangelism? It’s hard to beat Will Metzger’s classic, Tell the Truth, since it covers practically all the bases. But Mack Stiles’ Marks of the Messenger is what I give out and recommend most to people in our church since it’s well rounded and more manageable than Metzger’s.

12. What is one of your favorite books on apologetics? I’ve used Frame’s Apologetics to the Glory of God probably more than any other, precisely because it is an intro/101 kind of book. When I’m feeling brave I’ll dip into Van Til or Bahnsen.

13. What is one of your favorite books on prayer? Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformation is tops in my book. Also, though I can’t commend everything in it, I’m often drawn back to Forsythe’s The Soul of Prayer.

14. What is one of your favorite books on marriage? While there are always some federal-vision-y bits (or whole chapters) that I don’t agree with, Doug Wilson’s books on marriage and family have been uniquely insightful, convicting, and helpful – e.g., Reforming Marriage, Praise Her in the Gates, et al.

15. What is one of your favorite books on parenting? As I continue to ignore the word “one” in your questions… I’ll go with the Tripp brothers’ trilogy—Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Instructing a Child’s Heart, and Age of Opportunity.

16. What music do you keep coming back to on your iPhone (or CD player, or tape deck, or gramophone)? My musical tastes are quite diverse, but Bach and Mozart probably get the most playtime. Classical (or less so jazz) is always on in my study.

17. Favorite food? Cheeseburgers. I would have a cheeseburger for dessert if it were culturally acceptable.

18. After the Bible, a hymnal, and a shipbuilding guide, what book would you want with you on a desert island? The Works of John Owen. If that’s cheating, then I guess I’d take Vol. 1 of Owen’s Works (though that’s probably cheating too since it contains a few works itself).

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7 Signs We May Be Worshipping Our Family

Jul 24, 2014 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

I love my family. I love being a husband. We celebrate sixteen years of marriage this week and I can’t imagine living life with anyone else. I love being a father. I have two kids that delight my soul. I can’t wait to see them in the morning before I head off to the church and I am always anxious to see them in the evening when I return. There are few things I enjoy  more in this life than being a father. I love my family. However, having said that, I want to be on guard against loving them inordinately.

I am thankful for the growing emphasis upon the Christian family in evangelical circles. Our two children are home schooled, so I am in no way opposed to homeschooling. We attempt to practice family worship each night of the week, so I am not opposed to family worship. For goodness sakes, I wrote on a book on the subject. I am passionate about it. We have attempted to have our children in corporate worship with us since they were babies. I am working on a book on that subject as well, so I am not opposed to children in worship. However, there does seem to be a tendency with the home school/family worship/children in worship emphasis that can turn this good thing upon its head. If we aren’t careful, instead of encouraging worshipping families, we become family worshippers. The following are possible signs that we have begun worshipping the family rather than encouraging our family to be worshippers:

We Seldom Host Others:  If our home is seen primarily as a citadel set against the world, there is a problem. A home centered upon Christ will be marked by growing hospitality. It is a way station of truth and worship. We gladly invite others into it for rest, encouragement, and strengthening.

We Seldom Reach Out to Others:  If our family is so insular that others don’t know us, there is a problem. A Christian family filled with love and worship should overflow to those around them. Neighbors and co-workers can’t help but be touched by the love that permeates in and cascades from our family.

We Seldom Serve in the Church: If our family is so focused on just being a family that we can’t attend  mid-week bible studies or are so intent on being together Sunday morning that the parents can’t teach Sunday School or assist in the nursery, there is a problem. As a Christian family we are to see ourselves as part of the community. Not separate from it. Not more important than it. But essential to it.

We Seldom Have Time: If our family is always busy with its own activities, whether soccer, piano, ballet, family vacations, or even family worship to the point that we have little time for others, there is a problem. The enrichment and growth of our children, even in spiritual things, is not to pull us away from people but towards them. Yes, we only have so many years to train and teach our children while they are at home. But are we teaching them that they and their activities are the center of life or worshipping Christ and loving others is what is most important?

We Seldom Sacrifice: If our family is reluctant to give generously, because of what it costs our family, there is a problem. We hesitate to give above our tithe to missionaries, the local church, the building fund, or the homeless shelter because our children’s college education comes first. We neglect supporting the church member headed out on a short-term mission’s trip, because our family “educational trip” is more important. We always have an excuse. And it is always our family’s need that provides the ground for that excuse. Rather, the Christian family should be generous in giving—generous to the point of giving sacrificially.

We Seldom Have Flexibility: If others feel like they are always interrupting our family by calling, visiting, or proposing a time to get-together, there is a problem. Others will notice it before us. They begin to feel like our family’s routine cannot be interrupted under any circumstances. We convey this consciously or even subconsciously and others pickup on it. Rather, our family should be noted by its flexibility and joy when others stop by, friendliness when called, and availability when needed.

We Seldom Speak Well of Others: If our family tends to have an arrogant air about it, there is a problem. We have it together. Others don’t quite understand the importance of the family, worship, and our calling as parents. Our conversations are too often critical and judgmental. If only others understood as we do. May it never be! Our families should be filled with thanking God for others. Our children should hear us commending and promoting others. People should find that we are refreshing to their souls, rather than critical of their practices.

By all means, let us enjoy and treasure our families. Let us celebrate the gift they are. Let us pour out our lives and hearts into ministering to our spouse, rearing our children in Christ, and filling our homes with the love and truth of Christ. However, in so doing, let us also be worshippers of the Christ we are seeking to honor. Let us worship Him in our worshipping families, rather than worship our families in the name of worshipping Him.

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What a Difference Six Years Can Make

Jul 23, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Let’s hop in the Wayback Machine and go into the distant past, all the way back to 2008.

Here’s the question from Gwen Ifill during the Vice-Presidential Debate:

Let’s try to avoid nuance, Senator. Do you support gay marriage?

Senator Joe Biden:

No. Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage. We do not support that. That is basically the decision to be able to be able to be left to faiths and people who practice their faiths the determination what you call it.

A month later, Senator soon-to-be-president Obama told MTV:

I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage.

Let’s take the President and Vice-President at their word. They honestly changed their minds on gay marriage. They really were against it in 2008, and their positions shifted over the next few years. Fair enough, but two questions remain.

1. How can it be mindless bigotry to hold to the same position that our President affirmed until a little over two years ago? Almost every single vote cast for President in 2008 went for a candidate who believed in marriage as the union between a man and a woman. Nearly 70 million Americans voted for Barack Obama and millions more celebrated his victory as a proud moment in our nation’s history. Even if scores of these voters wished for Obama to support gay marriage, the fact is that he did not. And a majority of the country still voted for him, finding nothing so despicable about his defense of traditional marriage that disqualified him from public office, let alone that rendered him unfit for public life. If opposition to gay marriage is the sine qua non of unenlightened, intolerant, extremist thinking, then our President was a cretan up until 2012.

2. How can it be discrimination to do what our Vice-President affirmed we should be able to do two elections ago? Again, let’s allow that people can change. Joe Biden now supports gay marriage, when he explicitly did not in 2008. But what about the commitment to let people of faith practice their faith? Religious leaders like Rick Warren of Saddleback and Michael Lindsey of Gordon College are simply asking that faith-based institutions not be punished by the federal government for trying to hire people who affirm and live out their religious principles. Has so much changed in two years or six years that this is now too much to ask?

Of course, the answer to that question may very well be “yes.” Public opinion has shifted. Tolerance has become militantly intolerant. Every institution and every nation has its orthodoxies to enforce, and it looks like conservative religious persons are the new heretics. No debate is necessary. We haven’t lost the argument on marriage as much as arguments are no longer allowed. To say what our President used to say–and said explicitly while running for President–is quickly becoming unacceptable in polite society.

If bigotry is “the stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own” who is the bigot: the one who tries to provide reasons for his views or the one who says there is no reason your views deserve to be heard? If the President’s evolved position proves to be the new mainstream in our culture, is it too much to ask that the position he used to believe in be accorded the protection and freedom the Vice-President once alluded to? Conservative religious persons and conservative religious institutions could be embarrassingly wrong about gay marriage. But if they are, they haven’t been embarrassingly wrong about it for very long.

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Insider Movements: Why Should I Care?

Jul 22, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

If you care about the church and care about missions, you can’t afford to be ignorant about Insider Movements.

That’s why I’m happy to introduce Dave Garner as today’s guest blogger. Besides being a friend and a man I greatly respect, Dave is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary and Pastor of Teaching at Proclamation Presbyterian Church (Bryn Mawr, PA). With a keen theological mind and overseas ministry experience, Dave has been a strong voice in the PCA warning about the dangers of the Insider Movement Paradigm in missions.

The issues are complex, but Dave has provided an outstanding summary of the main concerns. Take a few minutes to read the post, and consider passing it along to your pastor, missionaries, or missions committee. Be sure to look into the links and the resources for further study.

—Guest Post by Dave Garner—

Introduction: The Real Work Begins

Because missions belongs to Christ, missions belongs to the Church. Under Christ’s loving headship, members of Christ’s Church must bear faithful witness to the Lord and Savior. In keeping with that calling, ignorance about missions we supply and support is both dangerous and culpable.

Taking a commendable step forward to greater effectiveness and accountability in worldwide missions, the 42nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, overwhelmingly endorsed the recommendations of the Study Committee on Insider Movements (SCIM). The most critical recommendation calls the Church to study the report on Insider Movements, “SCIM Part 2,”[1] so that congregations can ensure faithful gospel witness.

Now the real work begins. But, some may ask, what is the big deal? Why should we care about Insider Movements (IM) and the Insider Movement Paradigm (IMP) in missions? And what, if anything, should we do?

To fix the problem, we must understand the problem. IM theology and method are admittedly complex, and not all IM looks the same. However, certain shared features consistently bubble to the surface, airing IM’s true character. The following five points expose prevailing problems inside IM theology and method, and should help us to respond wisely to its practice and practitioners.[2]

1. IM calls believers to stay in. God’s Word calls believers to come out.

The goal of impacting one’s network of relationships is surely noble and even biblical. Jesus, after all, did call his followers to powerful influence: “You are the light of the world,” Jesus says. “Let your light shine before others” (Matt 5:14, 16).

Following the trail blazed by twentieth century Fuller Seminary church growth and mission mavericks, many today accuse missionaries of isolating new believers from their families and communities. Not all (not even most) of these gatherings of new believers deserve the ardent criticism. However, wherever ill-conceived insulation into so-called Christian “ghettos” occurs, such practices should stop. Monasticism and enclaving will not produce faithful disciples.

But the IM medicine becomes is worse than disease it diagnoses. IM responds to alleged extrication (withdrawal from one’s familial and social network to join a new community: the visible church) by validating peoples and their religions, and encouraging new Christ followers to stay right where they are – relationships, norms, religious practices, and all. These social and relational spheres of reference are seen as spiritually neutral and locally proprietary.

For IM, whatever impact the gospel produces ought not involve social, relational, or religious changes—or at least not visibly so. IM disciple-making encourages blend-in-and-keep-your-religion. Human diversity in its cultural and religious practices, it is claimed, needs preservation, not repudiation.[3]

Does such blanket affirmation of diversity do justice to the lordship of Christ and his call to his sheep? Is the Christian faith chameleon-like, so that it should blend into its surroundings? Besides the practical questions of its effectiveness, the IM insistence upon staying in meets with powerful biblical resistance. Scripture presents an extraction model of conversion that upholds the comprehensive scope of Christ’s lordship, renounces idolatry in all forms (mind, heart, and practice), and provides outsider apologetic witness for the gospel.

Following Jesus blazes with distinction and consecration. And it is in this out-ness of the faith that the Church grows and effective evangelism takes place.

Yet the IM model of influence combats such outing. In IM, it is more important to stay in—to remain wholly identified with your network and family—than nearly anything else. This stay-in orientation encourages several practices. To name a few,

  • Hide your faith so that you can stay in relationship with your family. Woo them with silence and kindness; do not offend them by your trust in Christ.
  • Avoid participation in visible churches because such participation will alienate you from your family and will be misunderstood by your community.
  • Continue your existing religious practices. Jesus is not concerned with where or how you worship him, but that you worship and trust him.[4]

Such decisions beg the question of how IM faith encourages becoming wholly identified with the Master, and jeopardize any viable meaning of Christ’s resurrected lordship (Eph 1:15-23).

For those who think such a socially alienating demand works at odds with gospel influence, let us not forget that the success of God’s kingdom rides on the shoulders of its King, who is Head of his Church. He neither needs nor solicits “better” ideas, including those of IM-ers. The Church, in fact, has always grown by its radical otherness, not by accommodation.

Accommodation and contextualization are not the same. Faithful contextualization begins with the gospel and then addresses the culture; accommodation starts with the culture and seeks to fit in the gospel. When this critically important orientation gets muddled or reversed, contextualization quickly turns to compromise.[5] Such a modification often goes unnoticed and usually goes unchecked.

Distinction, identity, and even suffering serve as the greatest apologetic for the gospel! Open discipleship creates the gospel’s in-roads. When the Church looks like the world around it, it becomes anemic and shrinks. When the Church looks like her Christ, it suffers and grows.

Demands for localized social and religious retention are completely at odds not only with the message of the gospel, but the expansion of the gospel. Only when the Church stands out can it effect change inside every people and culture.

2. IM makes the old trump the new. God’s Word makes the new trump the old.

IM proponents find certain conclusions of the soft sciences—cultural anthropology and sociology—irresistible and foundational. No matter the theological or practical issue involved, the IM compass stubbornly turns to its own true north: cultural diversity and local autonomy. IM-ers view pre-existing cultural and religious distinctions as the key to gospel diversity, and upholding this diversity ensures that the kingdom of God will prevail.[6]

Whatever the gospel does among peoples around the world then, it does with a view to keeping these people where they were and who they were. If a Jew, always a Jew. If a Muslim, always a Muslim. If a Christian, always a Christian.[7]

To see why this is so, we must drill down to IM’s theological footings. Its anchor-bolts fasten to a theological foundation of cultural and religious immovability. People do not change their identity; they stay who they are. It is impossible to change people in this way and immoral to try. Structured in this way, the Insider Movement suffers insider inertia; in this deeply critical (and spiritual!) sense, the Insider “movement” most ironically stands motionless.

The gospel, so construed by IM, does not call us out from our loves and our lives, making all things new; it adapts to, and then gradually—though imperceptibly to the outsider—transforms what I already know, believe, and practice. Surely aspects of religious habits will (and likely should) change in time, but irrespective of those changes, the shape of the gospel in my life is predetermined by my prior socio-religious context.

Even if we grant any credence to this anemic conception of sanctification, the IM die is cast. The old trumps the new.

By contrast, Scripture absolutizes the new creation, the new community of faith. The starting point for consideration of all thought, speech, and lifestyle changes begins with the comprehensive newness of life in Christ. His voice (John 10), his Headship (Eph 2; 1 Cor 11;), and his resurrection power (Eph 1) redefine everything. The new is not seen in light of the old; the old must be seen in light of the new. Christ’s resurrection authority demands it!

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). Herman Ridderbos captures well the new life in Christ: “The believer has put on Christ (Gal. 3:27), and thus participates in the nullification in Christ of the old mode of existence and in the new creation of God revealed in him.”[8]

The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17).

3. IM claims that identity is a personal decision. God’s Word claims that identity is a divine determination.

Who am I and how do I see myself? The question of personal identity runs front and center in IM conceptions. Hardly an essay exists in IM literature that does not attempt to shed new light on identity questions. Despite the diverse interpretations concerning identity and identity categories, unquestioned in IM literature is the source of authority for such identity questions. Identity (personal, familial, social, professional, etc.) belongs to the human subject. I am who I say I am.

This rebellious commitment is fatally flawed and registers a jarring concern. God determines and declares who I am, even if I reject his Word. In unbelief, I assert the right to choose and relish my identity. In Christ, I discover the lie of such an idolatrous formulation.

Illumined by the Holy Spirit, I discover that I am not bound by my self-perceptions, but am now able to understand the Word of God and what it says about me. The blessed discovery? I am who God says I am. That I was fallen in Adam is a divinely revealed fact; that I am now redeemed in Christ is a divinely revealed fact and gift. This understanding completely and sweetly changes everything.

Muslim converts who reject the self-centered IM paradigm treasure God-given identity. Many refer to themselves as BMBs (Believers of Muslim Background) or CMBs (Christians of Muslim Background) rather than MBBs (Muslim Background Believers). Why? Because the BMB and CMB acronyms put Christ first. The Muslim convert is no longer known by what he was, but what he is. BMB and CMB put up front the new faith, the new identity, the new creation! It makes explicit the comprehensively new nature of the gospel and its grace-filled identity.

According to Scripture, our identity does not derive from what we were, but from what we are now. Our identity does not derive from who we think we are, but who God says we are. God has spoken. God in Christ has worked. He tells us who we were, and he tells us who we are.

Once dead in Adam, now we walk in Christ in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). We are in Christ. So Paul assures believers, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. [4] When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:3-4).

God defines identity. God graciously gives new identity in Christ. To borrow from a sweet gospel line in hymnody, “I am his, and he is mine.”

4. IM extricates the Church from the kingdom of God. God’s Word integrates the Church and the kingdom of God.

IM advocates have no tolerance for extrication. For followers of Christ to identify with a new community and to remove themselves or even distance themselves from their existing network is anathematized (see point #1 above). The problem, according to IM, is that in such a model of missions, evangelism and “salt and light” impact are removed. To be sure, we could find examples of inappropriate extrication, when for comfortsake or other illegitimate reasons, new believers have abandoned homes and relationships.

But IM advocates are guilty of a more sinister form of extrication – a systematic one, which rends the Church from the kingdom of God. Let me explain. Taking on an imaginative reading of Scripture, IM insists that what God is doing extends beyond the Church. Jesus does not turn people to Christianity, so to speak, but to an invisible kingdom. The kingdom of God delivers internal change rather than relational, cultural, and religious change.[9]

In other words, God does not call us to become Christians or to become members of a church; he simply wants our hearts. IM faith is personal and local, not corporate and universal. The kingdom of Christ, so configured, reigns in my socio-religious context and the organized, visible Church becomes optional and unnecessary. IM opens wide its indiscriminate Churchless doors, as it extricates the Church from the kingdom.

Herein lies the theological rub. God’s Word distinguishes Church and kingdom, but it never separates them. There is no gospel or kingdom work of God that is not also churchly work.[10]There is no true faith and no faithful work of missions that separates the believer from the visible Church. There is no biblical salvation that excludes the Church and its means of grace (preaching, sacraments, and prayer); or to put it in theological language, soteriology and ecclesiology function indivisibly. Jesus came and died for his Church.

As Paul states in Col 1:13, “we have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” This transfer moves us from unbelief and disobedience to redeeming faith and obedience; this transfer moves us from the realm of darkness to the realm of light and grace. What is that realm? The body of Christ, the kingdom of Christ, the Church of Christ. Jesus’ kingdom is exhaustively churchly.

So the Westminster Confession of Faith 26.3 reads, “The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion;(1) and of their children:(2) and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, (3) the house and family of God,(4) out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” (emphasis added)

Jesus is King “over all things to the church” (Eph. 1:22). The Church manifests the kingdom of Christ. Kingdom ministry is Church ministry. There is no other kind.

5. IM calls the established Church to stay out. God’s Word calls the established Church to go in.

Few would be brazen enough to demand expressly, “Church, stay out!” But what is not stated overtly appears implicitly nearly everywhere in IM literature. Churches and their historic confessions are intrusions at best, impediments at worst. In any case, the established Church is not welcome to the IM table. Why not?

As leaven in the dough (IM’s most popular metaphor), how the “gospel” grows in one culture will necessarily differ from how it does in any other culture. Theology and practice must grow from within, not be imposed. Theological understanding and confession ought to come from the bottom up and from the inside out. They must never come from the top down or the outside in.

IM “discipleship” effectively substitutes evangelism, preaching and teaching with facilitation (read, “passivity”). The risks of theological/cultural imperialism warrant a hands-off policy in missions, wherein the established Church should stay away and to let the Spirit do what he is doing on the inside. The established Church should not act as a big sister, but as a distant cousin twice removed: the greater the distance, the more effective the Spirit’s “ministry.”

The logic comes with warning. Imposing ecclesial dependence upon insider groups will squelch the Jesus followers from developing their own theology in their own way. Better to let them stumble in unbelieving error than to demand they look like the worldwide confessing Church. Put otherwise, it is better to let those in IM perpetuate idolatry and syncretism, than it is for the established Church to intrude by preaching and teaching biblical truth.

Not a hardy endorsement of the Church for whom Christ died and in which he has enacted his loving purposes! The resounding teaching of Scripture is that the universal Church is one under Christ. Intentional neglect by the established Church or defiant rejection of the established Church by the fledgling groups of believers: both fail to obey Jesus.

When the Church lies in the shadows, it militates against the Spirit of Christ. Why? Because the Spirit works freely by the ordinary means of grace he has given the Church. Rather than nebulous “facilitation,” bold preaching and teaching by the Church advance the gospel around the world. That is Jesus’ and the Spirit’s way.

The Church called out of the world is the Church that goes into the world with the Gospel.

Conclusion: Christianity is an Outsider Movement

The book of Hebrews puts the Church on notice: confess Christ boldly, openly, and uncompromisingly (Heb 4:14; 10:23)! Hebrews 13:13-14 points to the outside character of following Christ in most graphic terms: “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.”

Lip service does not constitute confessing Christ. Faithful confession involves going “outside the camp” and bearing Christ’s “reproach.” True believers are not insiders; they are outsiders. How does such reproach come? By following him outside, and identifying with him sincerely and openly.

So goes Philip Hughes:

For the Christian there must be a real identification with Christ and his shame; he must enter into a genuine ‘fellowship of Christ’s sufferings’ (Phil 3:10), and be willing even, like the first martyr Stephen, to lay down his life for his Lord and Savior ‘outside the city’ (Acts 7:58). The recipients of this letter had gone forth ‘outside the camp’ to associate themselves with Christ and his cross; but now their resolve is weakening and they are being tempted to turn back in the hope of finding an easier and more respectable existence ‘inside the camp.’[11]

The context is clear. Jewish believers in Christ were not to return to the old religious forms, because of the completed work of Jesus, whose perfect finish is attested by his passing through the heavens.[12] To put it more clearly, if the gospel called Jews away from old Temple practices, it surely did not allow Gentile believers to carry on in their religious practices and exercise faith inside their own religions.

Not unlike the tensions in the early Church, the problems with IM are not just theological and methodological, but imminently practical. Let me name some contemporary kerfuffles. Will IM-ers have a Muslim wedding or a Christian one? Whom do the children of IM-ers marry? Muslims or Christians? To my knowledge, the track record indicates that IM-ers’ children marry Muslims. What type of funeral and which burial ground will IM-ers choose? The choices in many contexts are binary – Muslim and Christian. Unlike in the pluralistic west, in many such places, open syncretism has no chapels, chaplains or burial grounds.

Biblical Christianity is an outsider movement. Sincere faith very practically and poignantly calls believers out from the world, repudiates any clinging to the old, celebrates God’s gift of new identity in Christ, relishes the Church as the center of all gospel ministry, and calls the Church to shine boldly from the outside in.

Anything else is not pure gospel and dishonors the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church. Anything else produces colossal chaos, and concocts syncretistic soup. Anything else leads people down their wide roads of unbelief.

Now What?

The Insider Movement rejects core tenets of biblical Christianity and must not be ignored. The “what” of the PCA’s recent actions, therefore, begs the “now what?” How should churches and missions committees address IM? Several steps are necessary.

  1. Get sufficiently educated on the Insider Movement (IM) and the Insider Movement Paradigm (IMP). Read SCIM Part 2 (http://www.pcaac.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/2101-SCIM-2014-ALL-with-MRs-4-30-14.pdf), pp. 2101-2294. Read additional materials from “References for Further Study.”
  2. Create questions for missionaries and mission agencies concerning the theology and practice of Insider Movements. For starters, see SCIM Part 2, p. 2258 and the Affirmations and Denials, pp. 2126-2131.
  3. Pursue these theological and methodological questions with missionaries, who are serving in Muslim contexts or other contexts where the gospel is openly opposed.
  4. Pursue these theological and methodological questions with mission organizations, which serve in contexts hostile to the gospel.
  5. As churches and missionary supporters, make prayerful and careful decisions about any necessary follow up steps.

 

References for Further Study

Garner, David B. “High Stakes: Insider Movement Hermeneutics and the Gospel,” Themelios 37:2 (July 2012): 249-74; http://legacy.thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/article/high_stakes_insider_movement_hermeneutics_and_the_gospel. [This article provides extensive footnoting for reference to original sources by IM advocates.]

Jennings, Nelson and Garner, David B. “Jennings and Garner on the PCA’s Response to Insider Movements, ” Reformation21 (June 2014), http://www.reformation21.org/articles/jennings-and-garner-debate-the-insider-movement.php.

. “Jennings and Garner: First Rejoinders,” Reformation21 (June 2014), http://www.reformation21.org/articles/jennings-and-garner-first-rejoinders.php.

. “Jennings and Garner Final Responses, Reformation21 (June 2014),http://www.reformation21.org/articles/jennings-and-garner-final-responses.php.

Mark, Philip. “Insider Movements Defined . . . Biblically,” Reformation21, http://www.reformation21.org/articles/insider-movements-definedbiblically.php.

Nikides, Bill. “The Emergence of Insider Movements,” World Reformed Fellowship (April 27, 2011), http://wrfnet.org/resources/2011/05/wrf-member-bill-nikides-emergence-insider-movements. [This article helpfully shows the affinity between emergent church theology and IM.]

Schweitzer, Bill. “Is the Insider Movement That Bad?”, Reformation21 (June 2014), http://www.reformation21.org/articles/is-the-insider-movement-really-that-bad.php. [While Medearis, the figure whom Schweitzer's article addresses is not technically a part of Insider Movements, his theological paradigm and missions methods are largely indistinguishable from IM. Schweitzer's article is useful in showing how the IM paradigm exceeds self-identified IM.]

 

Footnotes

[1] The actual recommendation from the Study Committee on Insider Movements (SCIM) states, “That the 42nd General Assembly make available and recommend for study ‘A Call to Faithful Witness, Part Two: Theology, Gospel Missions, and Insider Movements” to its presbyteries, sessions, and missions committees.’” We will label this report, “SCIM Part 2.”

[2] In order to streamline these five points, only essential quotations and footnotes appear. However, each of these summary points is demonstrated in various ways throughout IM literature and published critiques. See a list of “References for Further Study” at the end of this article.

[3] For IM advocates, such retention of social and religious networks is not merely an option, but the only pure manifestation of the gospel. For fuller discussion of this matter, see David B. Garner, “High Stakes: Insider Movement Hermeneutics and the Gospel,” Themelios (July 2012), 253-255. In addition, because following Jesus requires maintainingeach person’s own socio-religious identity and customs, one is hard pressed to find IM confrontation of unbelieving and idolatrous practices.

[4] Of course, this perspective raises several questions. Which “Jesus” do you believe if it is not the One that has called you to reject father, mother, sister and brother on account of him? What is faith in the revealed Christ if it does not demand open allegiance? Didn’t James teach us that faith without visible works is dead? Even the demons believe (James 2:14-26, esp. v. 19)!

[5] See SCIM Part 2, pp. 2156-2181, 2280.

[6] IM, in fact, claims that we only uphold the gospel with integrity by preserving cultural and religious diversity. See Rebecca Lewis, “The Integrity of the Gospel and Insider Movements,” International Journal of Foreign Missiology 27:1 (2010): 41-48, available at http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/27_1_PDFs/27_1_Lewis.pdf (accessed July 7, 2014). In response, see Garner, “High Stakes,” 249-274.

[7] To IM advocates and other students of missions (missiologists), the term “Christian” is a socio-religious category, not an essentially spiritual one. Thus, in a “Christian” culture, a person is a “Christian” whether or not he has believed in Christ for forgiveness of sin.

[8]Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. John Richard De Witt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975),212-13.

[9] For IM argument on kingdom, see, for example, Rebecca Lewis, “Insider Movements: Honoring God-given Identity and Community,” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 26:1 (Spring 2009): 19 (http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/26_1_PDFs/26_1_Lewis.pdf); Rick Brown, “The Kingdom of God and the Mission of God: Part 1,” IJFM 28:1 (Spring 2011): 5-12 (http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/28_1_PDFs/IJFM%2028%201_Brown.pdf); Rick Brown, “The Kingdom of God and the Mission of God: Part 2,” IJFM 28:2 (Summer 2011): 49-59 (http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/28_2_PDFs/IJFM_28_2-BrownPt2.pdf). For popular level resources, encouraging “Muslim followers of Jesus,” see Kingdom Circles (http://kingdomcircles.net/#) and Jesus and the Quran (http://jaq.org/).

[10] IM advocate and author Rick Brown formally makes this point, calling kingdom communities ecclesiae (“churches”). However, Brown’s seemingly acceptable treatment of church and kingdom gets comprehensively compromised by his theology of religions, in which he equalizes Christian and non-Christian “religions” and pits church polity against the kingdom of God. His lack of clarity on the visible church is equally troubling. See SCIM Part 2:2216-2220.

[11] Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 580.

[12] The approach taken here confronts simplistic parallelism drawn between first century Jews/Gentiles and contemporary Christians/Muslim, which IM advocates regularly assume and advance. The author of Hebrews rebukes Christians for returning to the old and familiar is precisely because those old religious and cultural forms have come to an end in the arrival of Christ. Forms of worship and practice are now defined by the lordship of the risen Christ. If return to Jewish practices, as revealed and commanded by God, is disobedient, then perpetuating other non-revealed worship practices could hardly be justified. Jesus does not accommodate himself to former—even God-ordained—religious practices, but replaces them with the explicit means of grace he has given to the Church. The Gospel does not offer adjustments to one’s religious commitments, but presents a comprehensive replacement of them. We will never apply the gospel properly to our lives when we insist upon norms and customs and seek to lay the gospel over them. We only address personal and cultural norms when we begin with the comprehensive demands of the gospel – in our hearts and our practices. Properly employed, J. H. Bavinck’s conception of possessio presupposes and applies the comprehensive lordship of Christ as a confrontation and capture of heart, mind, and life practices before it seeks to take appropriate any familiar habits into Christian living. See J. H. Bavinck, An Introduction to the Science of Missions (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1960), 178-179.

 

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Monday Morning Humor

Jul 21, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Jason Helopoulos suggested we celebrate the church remodel with a real special music number performed by the pastors. Maybe something like this. We still have a few weeks to practice.

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Books, Bio, and Such: Mark Dever

Jul 18, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

During the summer I’ll be posting micro interviews on Fridays (mostly). I’ve asked some of my friends in ministry–friends you probably already know–to answer questions about “bio, books, and such.” My hope is that you’ll enjoy getting a few more facts about these folks and getting a few good book recommendations.

Today’s interview is with Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and president of 9Marks.

1. Where were you born? Madisonville, KY

2. When did you become a Christian? In high school

3. Who is one well known pastor/author/leader who has shaped you as a Christian and teacher? Richard Sibbes

4. Who is one lesser known pastor/friend/mentor who has shaped you? Larry Trotter

5. What’s one hymn you want sung at your funeral? The Sands of Time Are Sinking

6. What kind of nonfiction do you enjoy reading when you aren’t reading about theology, the Bible, or church history? American history

7. Other than Calvin’s Institutes, what systematic theology have you found most helpful? Berkhof (I love its concision!)

8. What are one or two of your favorite fiction authors or fiction books? Tolkien and Twain come to mind (as well other authors one might encounter in the public schools of Kentucky in the 1960s)

9. What is one of your favorite non-Christian biographies? Grant’s Memoirs

10. What is one of your favorite books on preaching? David Helm’s Expositional Preaching

11. What is one of your favorite books on evangelism? Mack Stiles’ Evangelism

12. What is one of your favorite books on apologetics? Stanley Jaki, The Savior of Science

13. What is one of your favorite books on prayer? R.C. Sproul’s book on the Lord’s Prayer, Paul Tautgus’s book Teach Them to Pray

14. What is one of your favorite books on marriage? Not exactly a marriage book, but The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes has helped regard my wife as Christ would.

15. What is one of your favorite books on parenting? Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart

16. What music do you keep coming back to on your iPhone (or CD player, or tape deck, or gramophone)? I have extremely eclectic tastes. I better leave it there.

17. Favorite food? Southern milk chocolate ice cream

18. After the Bible, a hymnal, and a shipbuilding guide, what book would you want with you on a desert island? Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit

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