Monthly Archives: May 2008

Leading a Romanian Teen to Christ

I wrote earlier about the mission team that came to Romania from my home church in January 2001. Hosting 40+ Americans in my own territory was a blessing, but also burdensome, not because of the American team, but because of my struggles with the language. Things weren’t working out. I felt stretched to the max as I tried to help my home church accomplish their mission work in the Romanian villages. But many good things were also taking place.

By far the most important event of the week for my long-term ministry in Romania was a conversation my brother and I had with one of the teenagers in my home village. Valentin was one of the teenagers who had been coming to our services for a while now. He was actively participating in our youth meetings. His dad had just gotten baptized the summer before, and his mom and sister were already believers.

One thing kept Valentin from becoming a Christian: he didn’t think he could give up everything from his old lifestyle. He told my brother and me one that he could give up the parties and drinking and all that went along with that lifestyle. But he didn’t think he could give up a certain vice that had a grip on him.

Valentin was afraid that if he decided to live for Christ and then went back to even just that part of his old lifestyle, he would make his family, his church, and the Lord ashamed. So, he …

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Costly Forgiveness

“The Cross is not simply a lovely example of sacrificial love. Throwing your life away needlessly is not admirable — it is wrong. Jesus’ death was only a good example if it was more than an example, if it was something absolutely necessary to rescue us. And it was. Why did Jesus have to die in order to forgive us? There was a debt to be paid — God himself paid it. There was a penalty to be born — God himself bore it. Forgiveness is always a form of costly suffering.”

- Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (New York, NY; Dutton, 2007), 193. HT – Fred Eaton

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True Story 5: Conclusions

James Choung’s True Story seeks to remedy the incompleteness of traditional presentations of the gospel by filling in the central aspects of the biblical Story (kingdom, mission life, church) that we have tended to leave out. Yet as he takes on this worthy challenge, Choung downplays and minimizes other aspects of the biblical teaching on salvation (atonement, personal sin against God, holiness, Law), omissions that ultimately prove detrimental to his gospel presentation.

One aspect that I do like about this presentation is its invitation to nominal Christians (like people in the Bible Belt) to begin to follow Jesus in his mission in the church. Choung’s outline challenges nominal people to repent, join a church and make Jesus Lord of their purpose and mission. Choung teaches that the church is the vanguard of hope for this broken and damaged world, in Christ, who is making all things new in his Kingdom. Those inside and outside the church need this challenge to align their lives with God’s Kingdom.

As we bring this series to a close, I’d like to speak briefly to the reasons why Choung thinks we need new gospel presentations. (Let me state clearly that I appreciate Choung’s initiative in thinking through these issues. We do need to rethink how we share the gospel. I do not, however, think we need a new gospel.)

Here’s what Choung believes is wrong with the traditional presentations. First, they may cause us to have judgmental attitudes (18). After all, if everything is about who’s in and who’s out, it can cause Christians to …

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In the Blogosphere

Joe Carter has some excellent thoughts on the forgotten vice of gluttony.

Justin Taylor interviews Darrell Bock about his book, Dethroning Jesus.

C.J. Mahaney with some excellent exhortation to fathers on setting the right example on family vacation.

R.C. Sproul has changed his mind. He’s now a six-day Creationist.

Robbie Sagers on how to avoid gossip.

Living in an age of distraction.

Michael Spencer reflects on how God is Jesus.

Tullian on Kingdom Citizenship

Top Post this Week at Kingdom People: Maria Chapman Memorial Service

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True Story 4: The Truncated Cross

As we continue our journey through James Choung’s new book, True Story, we turn to the question of the cross and resurrection. How do the two main events of Christianity fit into Choung’s gospel presentation?

We saw yesterday that Choung leaves out the biblical emphasis on God’s holiness and his righteous Law. Once we eliminate these two aspects of the biblical teaching about God, we are left with a truncated view of Jesus’ death on the cross.

Here is how Choung describes Jesus’ life and death:

“Jesus started his resistance movement to restore the world for better. But he had to do it a certain way. Instead of violent overthrow and killing others, he let his enemies kill him. If this world was diseased by evil and sin, then Jesus went right into the center of it and took it all onto himself. He died brutally. And in death he invited us to put to death the evil in us. All evil and its consequences died with Jesus on the cross. The Bible says we die with Jesus.” (147)

Later, Choung says that “Jesus gets infected and dies on the cross” (211).

Notice that Jesus’ death does not accomplish anything for us; it merely provides us with an invitation to come and die with him. Consider the following statement:

“Everything bent and wrong with us dies with him. That’s what the Bible calls our old selves. But everything that’s right comes back to life in him, our new selves.” (134).

Is Choung saying that there is something …

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True Story 3: Sin, Punishment, and the Long-Lost Law

Yesterday’s lengthy post detailing all the helpful contributions to evangelism from James Choung’s True Story might leave some wondering if there is anything left to say. I commend Choung for much of what he has added to his presentation of the gospel, but I am distressed over what he has omitted in the process. Today and tomorrow, I will address some of the troubling aspects of the book.

First off, in order to make his case for the necessity of a new gospel presentation, Choung creates a caricature of contemporary strategies. He sets up a straw man evangelist who would say something like: “No lives needed to change… Believe in your mind; confess with your lips; accept the truth in your heart – and Jesus would make sure you got into heaven. Such a faith had nothing to do with life here and now but only the life to come” (33). Does such an evangelist exist?

Choung’s “Caleb” wonders if the entire Christian church has been “duped” (51). The current strategies are portrayed as virtually worthless, incomplete, and formulaic. But isn’t Choung advocating a strategy as well? For all of the book’s resistance toward formulas and strategic gospel presentations, it seems ironic to be introduced to a new strategy for presenting the gospel. I agree that the previous gospel presentations are incomplete. But Choung has not yet proven that his own presentation is necessarily better.

Many of our gospel presentations have indeed emphasized the afterlife to the exclusion of the mission life. We need to balance these …

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Maria Chapman Memorial Service

A moving news video featuring Steven Curtis Chapman and family at the memorial service for their daughter, Maria. We grieve with those who are grieving, and yet we grieve with hope.

HT – Zach Nielsen

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True Story 2: What I Liked

There is much to be commended in James Choung’s True Story. Caleb (the young man in the narrative) asks important questions that we would do well to consider.

“What if we don’t have the right gospel? I mean, the complete picture,” he asks his youth pastor. Is the gospel only about being saved from something? What are saved for? (45)

These good questions deserve biblical answers. Choung’s “Caleb” is not the only young person asking these questions, and the pastor in the book is not the only church leader that has so simplified the gospel that he has little to offer in response.

I appreciate the emphasis that Choung places on worldview issues. One of the strong points of True Story is that Choung does not assume that the unsaved have a Christian framework. Whereas previous gospel presentations focused on the Christian message for a nominally religious, loosely Christian society (i.e. “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life), Choung rightly sees that such presentations are no longer as effective when the very identity of “God” is up for grabs!

The emphasis on worldview leads Choung into some good apologetics. When Caleb is conversing with Anna about sinfulness and selfishness, he does so by pointing out the inconsistency of her plea for “justice” in certain areas, while wanting to hold on to a relativistic framework (83). Yet Choung very clearly stresses how important it is for Caleb to remain humble even as he picks apart his friend’s flawed worldview (85).

Choung …

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Gospel Definitions: Rick McKinley

“Sometimes it seems as though we find two gospels in the New Testament-the gospel of Jesus and the gospel about Jesus. The gospel of Jesus is usually taken to mean His announcement of the kingdom and the life He embodied in His loving actions toward the world. The gospel about Jesus refers to his atoning work on the cross and His resurrection, through which we can receieve the forgiveness of sin through our faith and repentance.

“I believe, however, that the two are actually one gospel and that when we lose the tension that comes from holding both together, we experience an unhealthy and unbiblical pendulum swing in our faith.

“If all we value is the salvation gospel, we tend to miss the rest of Christ’s message. Taken out of context of the kingdom, the call to faith in Christ gets reduced to something less than what the New Testament teaches. The reverse is also true: if we value a kingdom gospel at the expense of the liberating message of the Cross and the empty tomb and a call to repentance, we miss a central tenet of kingdom life. Without faith in Jesus, there is no transferring of our lives into the new world of the kingdom.”

- Rick McKinley, This Beautiful Mess 

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LifePath Class in Sunday Newspaper

The Sunday School class for 20- and 30- somethings I lead here in Shelbyville was featured on the front page of the local paper on Sunday! Here’s an excerpt:

“Twenty-somethings are searching for truth,” said the Rev. Trevin Wax, associate pastor at First Baptist Church. “They want to know why Christianity is true, why it matters, and whether it’s really good.”

Wax believes that church should be a place where people can ask questions. Since he started his twenty-somethings Life Path Class in February 2007 he’s tried to answer life questions for the folks to which he ministers.

Read the whole article.

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