Interviews

 

Apr

10

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

Have Evangelicals Inflated the Orphan Crisis?

KnowOrphansRecently I had the chance to catch up with Rick Morton about his latest book on orphans and what churches need to know about the topic. His new book is KnowOrphans: Mobilizing the Church for Global Orphanology.

In the first part of our conversation, Rick discussed where the church has come from in the adoption and orphan care movement and what we need to do now.

Today, he responds to some of the critiques of the evangelical adoption movement and where we go from here.

Trevin: Evangelicals have been criticized for inflating the orphan crisis by increasing the demand for adoptable children in developing nations. Explain this critique a little more and why it doesn’t apply to us.

Rick: The line of logic is this: rich westerners (particularly evangelicals) have caused the orphan crisis to become worse by creating a demand for children through international adoption. Critics point to cases of fraud, child stealing, and child trafficking from within the international adoption community over the past decade or so as a “smoking gun” to give credence to their argument.

Undeniably, there has been unethical and criminal activity in international adoptions. No one would argue that point, but the truth is those cases are in reality a small fraction of the tens of thousands of international adoptions processed by the United States government in the past decade when the evangelical adoption movement took hold.

In fact, as the evangelical orphan care and adoption movement has hit its zenith in the last 6-7 years, there has actually been a precipitous decline in international adoptions. This is a result of more cumbersome policies by the US government and by more restrictive adoption policies from many countries resulting from a UN policy initiative to encourage countries to make international adoption the last resort option for orphan care.

Some of the more virulent critics seem to want to emphasize the bad without regard for the good, and I believe that it comes from a deep place of wanting discredit evangelicals at every turn. A respected voice in evangelicalism reminded me recently, ”These are the same people who would be criticizing us if we were doing nothing to help orphans and weren’t adopting.”

In addition, these same critics minimize the Christian adoption community’s role in advocating for better adoption laws and better adoption policies that protect children against the illegal practices they decry. Organizations like the Congressional Coalition for Adoption and the Christian Alliance for Adoption have been on the front lines of advocacy for laws that protect children and standardize ethical standards for adoption providers.

Ultimately, the critics want to frame this argument as an economic issue. They speak in terms of supply and demand. Their position is that money involved in adoption coupled with the poverty present in many nations causes people to orphan children or steal children en masse for economic gain.

At best they paint us as well-intentioned do-gooders who make a bigger mess by inflating the crisis by flooding money into countries and creating more orphans, or at worst, they portray us as indifferent consumers only interested in pillaging countries of infants for some twisted altruistic delight. I guess that makes for a great tale, but the numbers just don’t support their argument.

There are millions of orphans across the world available for adoption transnationally, and in the past 14 years, Americans have adopted less that 250,000 children. Adoption isn’t making a significant dent in the number of adoptable children.

Coupled with the fact that the greatest period of evangelical attention to the issue has come at a time when the pace of international adoptions by Americans has slowed by more than 50%, the argument falls flat.

Still, we can’t ignore that there is a grain of truth in their charges. People have used adoption for dishonest gain in the name of Christ. We shouldn’t be surprised. There have always been wolves in the church. Paul warned us about them, how to spot them, and how to deal with them.

Neither should we be surprised that there are critics outside the church that lob unfair attacks at the adoption and orphan care movement because they are opposed to the gospel. Our greater task is to remain sensitive and responsive to genuine critics and reformers.

All of the critics are not wrong and all of them do not critique out of a motive to harm Christ or His church. We have to acknowledge that the Christian orphan care and adoption movement is still young and we are still learning some lessons the hard way. We must continue to approach our critics and their criticisms humbly and prayerfully and to change when change is warranted.

Trevin: You write “It takes a village… and a church” to care for orphans and vulnerable children. Aside from financially supporting parents who are seeking to adopt, how can churches support these families long-term?

Rick: I believe that James 1:27 houses a call to every disciple of Jesus to care for vulnerable widows and orphans. Too often we take that call as optional, but it just isn’t.

We would never take the second half of the verse as optional. We think it is obvious that “keeping oneself unstained by the world” or personal holiness is a universal. So why don’t we take the first half of the verse as being as universal?

I think in many cases it is because we think that to care for orphans means that we have to do something like adopt or care for a child in foster care. In reality, only some in the church will actually ever step out to do those things. But there are things that everyone can do.

Many people think that the hard part of an international adoption is getting to a child. It isn’t. The hard part begins when you get home. I can tell you from experience that you will need a great deal of support in even the best situation.

Churches can help by doing simple things like providing meals or even giving a shower for a family even if the child is not an infant. Chances are that the family is going to need referrals to doctors, dentists, counselors, therapists, tutors, language development resources, and so on. The church can be a great wealth of help in providing this information (or even these services) for families.

Even helping with things like transportation as families have to run to appointments with all these professionals while trying to maintain a semblance of normal life for the rest of the family can be a ministry for some people in the church.

Older families can volunteer to be mentor families and extra grandparents for families who need a little extra support. Sunday School classes can adopt families to become consistent prayer supporters for them.

You would be surprised how much even collecting restaurant gift cards to give to adoptive families who may be experiencing tight financial circumstances after paying for an adoption can really be an encouragement. The ways that we can support families are limited only by our creativity and willingness to be engaged.

 
 

Apr

09

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

Learning from Our Mistakes: The Orphan Care Movement Matures

Rick MortonRick Morton is Vice President for Engagement for Lifeline Children’s Services in Birmingham, Alabama. He is an international advocate for adoptions and orphans.

He is the co-author of Orphanology: Awakening to Gospel-Centered Adoption and Orphan Care, which I reviewed here, and he has recently written a new book entitled KnowOrphans: Mobilizing the Church for Global Orphanology.

Rick was kind enough to answer some questions about his book and the way Christians and churches can engage in orphan care.

Trevin: The adoption and orphan care movement in the U.S. has flourished in recent years. You take a look at where we’ve been and where we are today. What are some mistakes we’ve learned from as we’ve promoted adoption and orphan care in the past decade?

Rick: There are several key mistakes we can point to that the evangelical orphan care and adoption movement is rapidly moving past.

1. We have over-romanticized adoption in some ways, particularly in our efforts to draw the connection between spiritual and earthly adoption.

Certainly, there are parallels between God’s adoption of us and our adoption of children, but there are some major differences as well. The analogy breaks down because we are not God, and we live in the presence of sin. We can’t talk about the adoption of our children without entering into a gospel conversation, but in the end, we adopted because we had a desperate desire to be parents.

We have to see adoption as more than missional activity, as we would see having and parenting any child. Although our adoption of children testifies to God’s character being active within us, our reasons for adopting children are not the same as God’s reasons for adopting us. I think we have to be careful not to overdo our theological rhetoric in advocating for adoption in our zeal to do good theology and good ministry.

2. Second, the over-romanticization of adoption may have led some families to fail to count the cost of adoption fully. In our first adoption, we believed that the hard part was getting to a child. In reality the hard part was just beginning.

We have to acknowledge that, before an adoption happens, some brokenness has taken place. That brokenness may or may not carry with it trauma and long-term consequences, but it will always carry adaptation in bonding, and there will be a moment for every family to deal with whatever brokenness is present.

Whether that moment is immediate or whether it comes later as a child sorts out his or her identity in adolescence, you must know that it is coming. I’m not sure we have always prepared people with that part of the story, but I am confident that more and more, we are now.

3. Finally, we have been guilty of oversimplifying the world’s orphan crisis. The orphan crisis is not an adoption crisis, at least not how most people think of it.

The vast majority of orphans and vulnerable children aren’t adoptable to westerners. But according to Scriptures, we are responsible for them. As the Church, we must respond to them in Jesus’ name. That is a big part of what KnowOrphans is about.

Trevin: About the church you write:

“We have the means, the opportunity, and the call from God to ease the suffering of orphaned and vulnerable children around the world in Jesus’ name.”

Which of these three things (means, opportunity, or call) are churches most likely to doubt they have, and how can we convince them otherwise?

Rick: That is an interesting question and a difficult one to answer because at various times churches may doubt all three. Still, I believe understanding the call of God is the key.

In the conservative evangelical church, we have doubted that we actually have a call from God to care for orphans because we haven’t understood how orphan care fits into God’s story of redemption and God’s plan to communicate the gospel.

When we see how orphan care and care for other vulnerable people are living object lessons that God uses to announce His redemptive character to the nations, it changes everything. In the Old Testament, God accomplishes that through His commands to Israel about care for the fatherless.

That care is extended through the New Testament Church by our brother James, and understood this way, we can easily see how orphan care must be part of the natural work of today’s church. When we believe that God has actually called us, we will act.

The means and opportunity have more to do with the scope of the problem. When we look at the magnitude of the needs worldwide, people, local churches and even entire denominations can feel overwhelmed.

I spend a significant amount of time in KnowOrphans detailing what God is doing in His church globally to awaken the church to care for orphans. It is unprecedented in history. God is doing what we cannot do on our own to foster cooperation to care for orphans and extend His gospel.

Our responsibility is to lift our gaze and see the opportunities to join the work among the nations and support it with the wealth of resources that God has given us. Those resources include social work expertise, medical expertise, theological training, discipling training, help with economic sustainability, and so much more.

Trevin: You recommend we be cautious with our statistics and illustrations, since orphans can be defined in different ways. What types of orphans and vulnerable children are there? 

Rick: As I said, I think many evangelicals have been awakened to the world’s orphan crisis, but still see it as an adoption issue. That is far from the truth.

The number that is most often quoted (153 million) as the number of orphans worldwide comes from UNICEF and is meant to demonstrate the vulnerability of the world’s children to HIV/AIDS. In other words, UNICEF is trying to communicate the message that “these children are orphans or could be in danger of becoming orphans because of the AIDS epidemic.”

In actuality, the UNICEF orphan statistic accounts for children who have lost one or both parents to death, but the children counted are actually living in homes. What the UNICEF statistic doesn’t take into account are children living in institutions, street children, stolen and trafficked children, undocumented children who are born without legal identities, and orphans who live in nations where statistics are not reported.

Some of these children have been abandoned or their parents are incapable of caring for them as a result of poverty, disease, addiction, or incarceration, but their parents maintain legal rights to parent them. These “social orphans” are vulnerable children, who fit the biblical concept of being fatherless, and their defense is our responsibility.

Trevin: How do our strategies change based on the type of suffering we intend to alleviate?

Rick: The question of how best to care for them is complex. Adoption is not the answer to their plight because they are not adoptable. We have to seek solutions that provide for their care in a way that best meets their need based upon where they are and how they can be best be transitioned into a loving, Christian home or home-like environment.

Our best hope to accomplish this goal is found in church-to-church partnerships as we work through the local church in other nations to address the orphan crisis in their own midst. Through adoption, foster care, and family-like group homes, indigenous churches have the best opportunity to care for children and to represent the gospel well to their communities.

Further, I believe that as part of the ministry of reconciliation that we are charged with in gospel ministry, we have to seek reunification for a family of origin whenever possible. Local churches are best positioned to do this work as well both geographically and culturally.

To that end, we have to be active in things like creating economic opportunity and addressing public health issues which are at the root of family breakup and the creation of orphans in partnership with local churches.

In seeking justice in these ways, we are able to demonstrate the evidence of gospel transformation like Jesus described in Matthew 25:34-40 and show the gospel to the world as we tell it to them.

There is a role to be played by denominations, parachurch ministries, and NGOs as well in coming alongside the church to help facilitate the cooperation and to provide necessary resources that are beyond the church’s normal reach. Bringing local churches together to cooperate and pool resources multiplies the impact they are able to have with partnering churches across the globe.

Tomorrow, Rick and I will discuss whether evangelicals have unintentionally exacerbated the orphan crisis and what else churches can do outside of adoption.

 
 

Mar

26

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

John Stott’s Godly Ambition: A Conversation with Alister Chapman

Godly AmbitionJohn Stott was one of the most prominent and influential evangelical leaders of the 20th century and remains so even after his death in 2011. Alister Chapman’s biography Godly Ambition: John Stott and the Evangelical Movement is an excellent source for information about the author and theologian.

Previously, I shared one of the more interesting stories from the book (a confrontation between Stott and his friend Billy Graham). I was able to interview Chapman about that incident and more from his biography.

Trevin Wax: Your title implies that Stott combined two things that many believe incongruous: godliness and ambition. Do you believe this was a worthy endeavor and do you believe he succeeded at both?

Alister Chapman: If ambition means seeking one’s own glory, then no, I don’t think it’s a worthy endeavor. If it means seeking to use one’s God-given gifts to the utmost, then yes, absolutely. That is, however, a hazardous pursuit. And that’s what Stott found.

He was motivated by a desire to see the church flourish, but he also knew that human motives are complex at the best of times. Sometimes his ambition was godly, sometimes not.

Was he successful? In the final analysis, that is not for me to judge. But I do think that he is a good model of a person who went after God full-bore, and therefore someone worthy of emulation.

Trevin Wax: Stott is often described as one of the most important church leaders from Great Britain in the past century, and yet many in England have never heard of him. How did Stott go from being a London pastor to a worldwide evangelical leader?

Alister Chapman: There were three keys. The first was his successful evangelistic missions at Oxford and Cambridge, which led to numerous invitations from groups overseas connected with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students.

The second was his relationship with Billy Graham, forged during Graham’s 1954-55 missions in London. Graham came to see Stott as the best intellectual cornerstone for the global evangelical movement he wanted to create, with Stott playing key roles in congresses such as the one at Lausanne in 1974.

Finally, Stott set up a series of trusts designed to serve the church beyond Western Europe and North America, using the royalties from his books to provide books for pastors, education for budding theologians and biblical scholars, and seminars that taught others how to preach the Bible. Those trusts continue their work today as the Langham Partnership.

Trevin Wax: Stott made some shifts in emphasis and position over the length of his career. Why were these shifts important (and strategic) regarding his influence on evangelicalism?

Alister Chapman: The most important shift in Stott’s career was to embrace social action as a legitimate and indeed necessary part of the Great Commission. He was not the first to say this and many evangelicals were unconvinced by his arguments. Nevertheless, his advocacy of this position was important for a developing social conscience in many evangelical churches from the 1970′s.

Trevin Wax: You recount Stott’s interactions/debates with two well-known evangelical leaders: Billy Graham and Martin Lloyd-Jones. What precipitated these discussions, and why were they important?

Alister Chapman: The heated debate with Martyn Lloyd-Jones came first, in 1966. The two men clashed over ecclesiology at a meeting in London when Stott understood Lloyd-Jones to be calling evangelicals to leave theologically mixed denominations such as the Church of England. In a back-handed compliment to Lloyd-Jones, Stott felt the need to state his opposition to Lloyd-Jones’s position right after Lloyd-Jones had spoken.

This was certainly a major, public falling out between two of British evangelicalism’s key leaders. But its significance was minor for everyone apart from those who followed Lloyd-Jones into a separatism that became a theological wilderness. It was certainly not the end of a robust, Reformed voice in mainstream English evangelicalism.

The other disagreement that you mention took place between Stott and Billy Graham in 1975. Evangelical leaders from five continents met in Mexico City to discuss the future of a movement that had begun at the Lausanne congress the preceding year.

Graham opened proceedings saying that he thought the focus should be on evangelism. Stott demurred, saying that because Lausanne had emphasized social action, the new organization should too. He then threatened to quit if Graham’s position prevailed.

Cue lots of agonized discussion and wordsmithing in an attempt to reach a compromise. Graham came out looking gracious and humble; some thought Stott had been manipulative. The result was that social action was part of the Lausanne movement, but Graham eventually tired of the ruminations and declarations that Stott loved so much, and started a rival set of conferences that focused exclusively on evangelism.

Trevin Wax: Imagine a biographer in 2113 writing about John Stott’s life and legacy. What aspects of his legacy do you believe will still be felt a century from now?

Alister Chapman: People will still read his books, in the same way that some still read Handley Moule’s commentaries—a historical treat for the well informed. He will be in the pantheon for groups connected to the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, such as InterVarsity, but his name will have largely faded from view.

Even today, claims for his importance in the development of global Christianity need to be tempered by the sheer diversity of that movement and the way that growth among Pentecostal and charismatic churches has overshadowed the growth of those more closely connected to Stott. His life and ministry have not helped to shape an era in the way that, for example, Charles Finney’s did. Even today, few in the pew know of him.

Every historian knows, however, that the remembered and the influential are not always the same. Most will not know his name, but the enormous inspiration he provided to countless pastors to preach the Bible with great care and attention will continue to touch churches worldwide.

 
 

Mar

19

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

Our Goal is Not Diversity; It’s Love

trillia-newbell-unitedI’m thrilled to have Trillia Newbell on the blog today. Her writing has been published in numerous places including the Knoxville News-Sentinel, Desiring God, True Woman, The Resurgence, and The Gospel Coalition. She currently is the consultant on Women’s Initiatives for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention and the Lead Editor of Karis, the women’s channel for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Trillia is the author of United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity, so today she and I discuss what diversity looks like within the church and why ethnic and cultural diversity in and of itself should not be the goal to which Christians aspire.

Trevin Wax: Your book begins reflectively, first with a celebration of our society’s move toward integration in various aspects of public life, and then with a lament that “separate but equal” continues to exist in our churches. What are some reasons the church’s strides toward ethnic integration have been so slow?

Trillia Newbell: This is something I continue to explore. I spend a chapter in United dedicated to the difficulties most likely associated with the pursuit of diversity. The most obvious hindrance could be a sin of partiality.

James addresses our potential to gravitate towards those we believe are superior or that we would prefer above others (James 2:1-13). He is addressing a preference for the rich over the poor but I believe we can struggle with this tendency as it relates to ethnic diversity as well. We can simply prefer those more culturally like us to the extent of isolating those who are not. So, as a result we have homogenous churches because we aren’t relating to others outside of our own ethnic groups.

As far as other reasons, our history of racial tensions in the United States definitely plays a role. There’s an element of trust and comfortableness that must be established in any congregation and we are still working to apply the gospel to this issue relationally.

In regards to history, churches that have been long established may have a difficult time building diversity if they have been historically homogenous. Other reasons might be: church location, city demographics, and specific neighborhood demographics.

Finally, we might simply be complacent. It takes effort to reach out to neighbors, evangelize, and exercise hospitality.

Trevin Wax: I love how this book includes real-life examples of friendships you’ve developed across ethnic lines. You talk about your friendship with Amy (white) and Lillian (Chinese), and why your friends’ diverse backgrounds and experiences are one of the best parts of your friendship. Why do many Christians assume that it’s best to be “color-blind” rather than celebrate the richness of cultural variety God has given us?

Trillia Newbell: I think people use the term color-blind as a way to say “I’m not a racist.” They may want others to feel welcomed by them. The problem is, unless you are truly color-blind you do see color. What I think people ought to say instead is that they don’t differentiate or discriminate based on ethnicity.

God created us all with a variety of shades and backgrounds. We can celebrate this rather than shying away from it. We are his and his creation. This is a good thing. So I’d encourage us that we don’t need to say we are color-blind and instead get to know the unique ways the Lord has made each of us.

Trevin Wax: One of the most memorable parts of your book is when you say the “diversity” in general terms isn’t what we are supposed to pursue. It’s love. Explain what you mean by this.

Trillia Newbell: I’m so glad that you picked that up, Trevin.  It is the only real motivation for a pursuit of diversity. What I mean is, it would grieve me for the church to pick up yet another trend. Building diversity for diversity sake isn’t the aim of United.

Diversity is about love because diversity is about people. Jesus died for the Church (people). God sent His Son because He loved the world. A Christian approach to diversity is about getting to know and welcoming in brother and sisters in Christ, made in the image of God. So, to put the pursuit of diversity into action requires that we die to self and love our neighbors as ourselves.

Diversity has been made into a political term. But when Christians pursue diversity, it is (or should be) out of a desire to show the love of Christ to others. The gospel compels us to love others and it is the gospel that breaks racial barriers. We are much more the same in Christ than we could ever be different.

Trevin Wax: There are plenty of pastors who read books and interviews like this and say, “Yes, I want my church to be more diverse, but I have no idea where to start!” A recent study from LifeWay Research found 83% of pastors said every church should strive for racial diversity, but only 13% say they actually had a diverse congregation. It’s not as easy as just “welcoming” other ethnicities into a church that is predominantly one culture.

What are some practical things a pastor can do to begin to move his church in this direction, taking into consideration that it’s a long and arduous struggle that will not happen overnight?

Trillia Newbell: This is a great question and one I have received several times. I want to start by saying that I’m glad you acknowledge that it may not be easy. I have spoken with pastors who have had an easier time because they started their church on the onset with a mission to be multiethnic. But most pastors, it seems, develop a desire for diversity after a few years in ministry.

I’m currently running a series on my site, TrilliaNewbell.com, to assist pastors who desire to pursue diversity but don’t know where to start. I’ve asked other pastors to share their unique experiences and perspectives to equip pastors and congregations as they seek to implement strategies.

With that said, a few ways that pastors might begin to pursue diversity would be:

  1. Develop a diverse staff
  2. Share about a theology of race and diversity from the pulpit
  3. Cultivate a love for all nations, tribes and tongues
  4. Begin to invite others into your home
  5. If you don’t have a diverse staff for various reasons, invite speakers that are diverse.

This only scratches the surface but perhaps it will inspire some. I also spend time in United addressing some of the hindrances to the pursuit of diversity. I hope, though, that pastors would take a look at my short series. You never know what the Lord could do if you try. He is faithful.

Trevin Wax: What do you hope your book will accomplish in the church’s ongoing discussion of how best to display our unity in the gospel?

Trillia Newbell: I’m praying that we would no longer fear the conversation. I wanted to make the tough discussion about race and diversity accessible to anyone. Perhaps reading about the experience of another person will help also bring the issue into light. If even a few people begin to ask questions and open up with their friends, I think that would be encouraging and worth the effort to write the book.

I pray United will inspire people to pursue diversity through friendships—it’s doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make it. And I hope that for the person who has never considered how the gospel unites and transforms racial divide, that it would cast a vision for the beauty of diversity in the church and all of life. New convictions, greater awareness, wonderful friendships…that would be amazing.

And finally, local churches catching a vision and beginning to reflect that Last Day when all nations will be rejoicing together.

 
 

Mar

12

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

“The Original Jesus Was Far Better Than Any Image I’d Been Offered”

Original JesusCarl Laferton is the senior editor at The Good Book Company and author of several books as well. Previously, I had the privilege of interviewing Carl about Christmas Uncut. Today, we discuss his latest book Original Jesus, designed to address who exactly Jesus is and how that compares with the way many people view him.

Trevin Wax: The first chapter of Original Jesus includes this confession: “It turned out that Original Jesus – the one who lived in human history, who walked, talked, ate, slept, cried – was far better than any image I’d been offered, even in church. He was more interesting, more controversial, more unpredictable, more relevant, more, well, real.” What’s at stake when people’s views of Jesus are different from the Jesus we read about in Scripture?

Carl Laferton: Everything! First, of course, if you don’t know Jesus as your Lord and Savior—if you’ve reinvented him as only a good teacher, or a religious rule-keeper, and so on—you are outside his kingdom now and eternally. But second, if you do call on him as your Lord and Savior but don’t constantly allow your view of him to be shaped by his self-revelation in Scripture, then you’re robbing him of glory and yourself of blessing.

I know that I constantly make Christ too small, I domesticate him. I can have all my doctrine in place and know how to teach and preach and write—but without treasuring Christ, it’s nothing. I need to keep letting the Jesus of Scripture—”Original Jesus”—blow my mind and thrill my heart.

Trevin Wax: This book takes popular images of Jesus and then compares them to the Jesus of the Gospels – “Good Teacher,” “Distant God,” Freedom Fighter,” etc. How did you determine which popular images of Jesus in our culture you would treat?

Carl Laferton: In some ways, simply by thinking about the various “cultural Christs” I’d come across in witnessing. I wanted to make sure that when a non-believer reads the contents page, they see a view of Jesus that accords with the vague idea of him they already have. That means that if a church gives out Original Jesus to its members to pass on to non-believing friends, most likely that friend, whoever they are, will quickly see their view represented.

But I also wanted to write a book where the chapters weren’t just: “Here’s what you think about Jesus, let me show you you’re wrong.” In some chapters, I wanted to say: “Original Jesus is even better than you think” (Good Teacher, for instance) and in others (like Intolerant Judge): “Original Jesus is like who you think, now here’s why that’s better news than you thought.” I aim to connect with people’s ideas and then point them to how much greater and more exciting Christ is, rather than simply confronting those ideas and pointing out how they’re wrong.

Trevin Wax: In each chapter, you use just one passage, all taken from the Gospel of Luke. So, for instance, as you interact with those popular images of Jesus, you look at his identity from the calming of the storm, and the reality of his judgment from the parable of the tenants. Why did you adopt this approach?

Carl Laferton: There are lots of great books for Christians to give friends and pastors to give out to newcomers, that are apologetics-based, or doctrine-based. I don’t see too many that are narrative-based and take us straight to Christ. And it seems to me that’s a gap, because after all God revealed himself as a person, in history. Truth is fundamentally a Person.

In that sense, the gospel is communicated through and as story. In reading Original Jesus, I want people to meet Jesus—to hear him, see him, be amazed by him. And restricting myself to a single passage in each chapter meant I couldn’t indulge my usual tendency to try to say everything about an aspect of the gospel, rather than being content to say enough to make the gospel sing.

Trevin Wax: The end of this book includes brief historical questions and answers for those who may wonder about the truthfulness of the Gospel accounts. Why is it necessary to be prepared to answer these kinds of questions in our conversations with those who are skeptical toward Christianity?

Carl Laferton: I have a friend whose church answered her questions: “Just believe.” She’s left the faith. If we cannot show that Christianity is credible, why should anyone bother to listen? And if we can’t do it with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15), why would anyone want to listen?

You mention these Q & As come at the end of Original Jesus, and several people have asked me why they’re not at the beginning. My answer is that the gospel is wonderful, it’s true, and it calls for a response. Fifty years ago, evangelism tended to require only calling for a response. Then we learned that we needed to argue for its truth, and then call for a response.

Now, I think we need to show that it’s wonderful, so that people want it to be true; and then show them that it is wonderfully true, and show them how to respond to this wonderful truth. I want people to be beginning their apologetics questions: “OK, I can see that it would be great if Jesus were like this, but…”

Trevin Wax: You emphasize the need to come to Jesus like “little children.” One of the unique aspects of this evangelistic portrayal of Jesus’ life is that you end with Jesus beckoning children to come to Him because the kingdom belongs to such as these. How effective has this approach been in calling people to repent and believe in Christ?

Carl Laferton: I’m not sure I’ve ever used it on its own to explain the gospel in a coffee shop or train journey (though I think I’ve preached it evangelistically in the past). It works as a final chapter for Original Jesus because it brings together the themes of kingdom and humbly coming to Jesus as King to receive a place in it.

And it’s one of those Gospel events that our culture (and church culture) has often been appropriated and misapplied, and so I guess I wanted to surprise people by showing them that Jesus is really talking about how you enter the kingdom, not how lovely children are. I wanted to have a passage for the final chapter that wasn’t predictable, so that the gospel call would be presented in a way that is both faithful and fresh. Humanly speaking, evangelism is at its most effective when it is both.

 
 

Feb

05

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

Communicating Clearly and Creatively

6fdeb40bc4d50a7f023567.L._V161136453_SX200_Stephen Altrogge’s latest book, Untamable God: Encountering the One Who Is Bigger, Better, and More Dangerous Than You Could Possibly Imagine, came out last month. Recently, Stephen and I had a conversation about how to grow in our ability to communicate clearly and creativity.

Stephen: First off, Trevin, do you think Christian writers have a responsibility to write well? Even more than that, should Christian teachers and authors be satisfied with merely communicating truth?

I think most pastors and authors think primarily in terms of communicating information clearly, rather than clearly and with beauty.

Trevin: If we believe that everything we do should be to the glory of God, then of course, someone who takes on the task of writing as a vocation ought to assume the responsibility of doing so with excellence.

You could ask this of any vocation. Do Christian construction workers have a responsibility to do an excellent job? Do Christian servers at a restaurant have a responsibility to take good care of their guests? The list goes on. When a Christian sits down to write, either with a pen in hand or a keyboard beneath our fingers, he or she should work with excellence.

To the second part, clarity is beautiful in and of itself, but clarity isn’t necessarily compelling. I fear that some pastors mimic the kind of speaker who is all flash and no substance, while other pastors mimic the kind of speaker who is substantive but boring.

The first kind of pastor gives too much attention to delivery and not enough to the content. The second kind of pastor thinks his job is done when the right information is transmitted.

We need a balanced approach that takes into consideration the beauty of truth. We’re not making truth beautiful; we are drawing out the beauty that is inherent in God’s truth.

To miss the truth portion is to give people cotton candy. To miss the beauty portion is to give people raw meat and potatoes.

What has helped you, Stephen, grow in your ability to write well?

Stephen: There is no secret formula to good writing. I’ve learned to write well by laying down a lot of real ink and digital ink.

I’ve written a boatload of blog posts – some decent, some mediocre, some just plain awful. I’ve written a number of books. I’ve written articles and tweets and Facebook updates.

Writing is a craft, and like any craft, I’ve gotten better with practice. It’s taken me ten years and thousands of words to to find my “voice.”

When I first started writing, I wanted to be John Piper. But, as most people quickly realize, I’m not in the same ballpark as John Piper. I’ve got my own style and favorite words and writing techniques.

I think I’ve finally learned how to craft a sentence in way that is both true and attractive. Scripture talks repeatedly about the need for diligence and hard work, and these truths apply to writing as much as any other area of life.

I’ve also learned how to write by reading great writers, like Anne Lamott, Stephen King, John Piper, and N.D. Wilson.

What authors have influenced you most as a writer?

Trevin: I love the wit of G. K. Chesterton and the clarity of C. S. Lewis.

I enjoy watching N. T. Wright pen tomes from the ivory tower of academia and simultaneously provide rich devotional material for people without a seminary education. N.D. Wilson is another favorite.

When it comes to ancient authors, I find the sermons of Chrysostom and the confessions of Augustine to be full of good stuff.

Are there any books on writing that you’ve found helpful? Or do you mainly encourage people to read good authors as the best way to improve in writing?

Stephen: There are approximately 84 bajillion books on writing, and, frankly, most of them are pretty bad. I usually recommend that people read four books on writing:

  1. On Writing by Stephen King
  2. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  3. On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  4. Wordsmithy by Douglas Wilson

The reality is, most of us would rather read about writing than actually sit down and do the work of writing. My main encouragement to people would be to read these four books, read a ton of other books, and write a ton of stuff.

Take a lot in, put a lot out, throw a lot away, and repeat.

What kinds of things keep you from writing?

Trevin: Not much keeps me from writing. I don’t write as much as I read, but I always seem to find time for both.

If I go more than five or six days without writing something, my mind begins to flow with ideas, until eventually, I feel like I’m going to explode if I don’t get it out somewhere.

Normal constraints of time, seasons of life, responsibilities at home with family – all these things can keep me from writing. But if you’re passionate about ideas, you’ll find time somewhere in the midst of a busy schedule to make it work.

How are you implementing what you’ve learned about writing in your new book?

Stephen: Writing Christian non-fiction can be tricky when it comes to creativity. The challenge every Christian author faces is trying to communicate well-worn truths in ways that are fresh, arresting, and inspiring, all without verging into heresy (see Rob Bell).

In Untamable God, I made a concerted effort to not just communicate biblical truth, but to communicate the truth in ways that grip the imagination and capture the heart (wow, that sounds really epic).

I also ventured into areas many “inspirational” books tend to avoid, like the fact that throughout Scripture there are numerous examples of God killing people who violate his holiness.

You recently wrote a novel. How was writing a novel different from writing standard Christian non-fiction?

Trevin: Clear Winter Nights is a bit of a hybrid between fiction and non-fiction. It’s a story, but there’s an expressed didactic purpose behind it and the characters’ conversations.

I suppose the biggest difference for me was beginning to realize just how much harder fiction is. Every decision you make regarding a character affects other characters and the story. I didn’t anticipate the level of complexity in doing fiction.

What are some ways you deliberately sought to grip the imagination in Untamable God?

Stephen: I sought to capture the imagination in several different ways. First, I deliberately tried to employ provocative language at points.

Now, I should say, this can be a dangerous tactic if a writer is not careful. In order to stay out of trouble, I only used the provocative language that scripture uses.

For example, in Ezekiel, God repeatedly describes Israel as being a “whore” because of their idolatry. I used the same language in describing our unregenerate state.

Second, I wrote in a conversational, informal tone. It’s difficult for the imagination to engage with dense, academic language. There is most certainly a place for dense language, but I wanted to write in a more conversational, engaging tone.

Finally, I tried to use humor where appropriate. I love humor. When used well, it provides a welcome relief from the constant intensity that some writers use. It also keeps the reader engaged.

Trevin: Thanks for spending some time talking about writing, communicating, and the power of words. Readers, you can check out Stephen’s blog - The Blazing Center - and his book, Untamable God.

 
 

Dec

05

2013

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

Loving Jesus While Leaving the Church: A Conversation with Ken Easley and Chris Morgan (2)

community-of-jesusYesterday, I began a conversation with Ken Easley and Chris Morgan, the editors of a new biblical theology of the church, The Community of Jesus. We talked about the importance of the church in the plan of God to display His glory, and whether or not the vision of the church we find in Acts is descriptive or prescriptive. Today, we continue our discussion.

Trevin: It’s popular nowadays to talk about “loving Jesus” but “leaving the church.” What is it about North American culture that leads us to dichotomize Jesus and the Church, and what are your thoughts on this phenomenon?

Ken: This trend meshes well with the current American notion that we favor spirituality but not religion.

We think that loving Jesus can be done on an individual basis, and there is no accountability to anyone else for our individual spirituality (This, of course, is one reason there are so many different versions of “Jesus” out there: “My Jesus would never condemn you.”). Because spirituality is privatized, there’s no way to judge it true or false, only personally helpful or not.

When we think of “church,” however, we immediately envision structures (both buildings and bureaucracies). Further, “church” implies something public and organized—open to observation and either praise or criticism. In this way church may be compared to government: once it gets big enough to notice, it’s the flaws more than the benefits that get our attention.

Chris: First, I think we have inadvertently been telling people the church does not matter by highlighting “my personal relationship with Jesus.” Of course, salvation is personal and individual, but we have almost privatized it as Ken mentions. Or “it’s about a relationship, not religion.” We all agree in one sense, but Christianity is about a covenantal relationship with God and thus a covenantal relationship with God’s people, too.

Second, a sound theology of sin reminds us that many of these folks really do not like the Jesus of the Bible either. He is much too demanding. They prefer a version that fits well with their sensibilities. But it could also be that we have so packaged the church into dated cultural forms, that people are rejecting the cultural forms but not really the community of Jesus. They could be rejecting us, our culture, not really the church.

Further, your original question might indicate that the church has not been living up to its calling as the display people. Are we marked by love, unity, holiness, truth, and goodness? Jesus is, but are we? Yes and no. Yes, we are these things in Christ (Eph 2:11-22; 4:1-6). And we are also growing in these areas (Eph 4:1-16).

The church, just like the kingdom, exists in the already and not yet. But it seems there is a severe lack of health in some churches, to the point that many feel the need to “detox” from them after the dysfunction they have experienced. It is not hard to understand why many are repulsed by such churches.

Trevin: What is it about the doctrine of the church that has piqued your curiosity and captured your interest? How can we as evangelicals grow in our knowledge of biblical teaching about the church and our love for the local churches we belong to?

Ken: My interest has been recently captured because of the changing landscape in North American evangelical Christianity over the past 40 years (my adult life), and because of the even more rapidly changing political and cultural landscape. When I graduated from seminary in the late 1970s, evangelical Christianity was seemingly “on a roll.”

“Liberal” churches were in decline; conservative churches were growing in numbers and influence. There would be success in eliminating abortion and promoting traditional marriage. Among Southern Baptists, with the “conservative resurgence” and the battle for inerrancy won, it was believed we would become more missionary-minded, give more generously, keep growing rapidly, and exert wider influence. Things haven’t turned out so optimistically.

At the same time, Christianity lost whatever place of prestige and prominence it had had in American society. The churches—especially those of a more conservative or evangelical bent—often did not know how to respond well to this change. Should we retreat into evangelical ghettoes? Should we keep fighting the (apparently lost) culture wars? How do we disengage ourselves from the God-and-Country outlook that was easy for the World War II generation to embrace, but usually makes little sense to millennials?

Our book is a call for us to look at the church as it appears in Scripture and to recapture the biblical vision of church.

Chris: My story is quite different.

As a young pastor and seminary student, I loved the church but hated ecclesiology. Important but not ultimate questions about the church dominated my perception of ecclesiology—the views and arguments related to baptism, Lord’s Supper, Israel and the church, church discipline, foot washing, denominations, ecumenism, and so on.

And it was because my first exposure to discussions of ecclesiology was in a church whose pastor made obscure ecclesiological debates his specialty. His passion and certainty about odd questions astounded me. Should a Southern Baptist church accept the baptism of a person who was immersed as a believer by a non-denominational church whose theology is baptistic? After all, was that really a church, and could that be baptism?

Or consider this scenario: when a missionary Baptist church wanted to join our local Southern Baptist association of churches, my pastor contended that the missionary Baptist pastor and all the members must be baptized (not kidding). As some pastors go overboard with their view of Calvinism or eschatology, some do with their particular ecclesiologies.

But as I had the privilege of serving as the pastor of churches in Catron, Missouri, and Barstow, California, and as I was teaching ministry students courses in systematic theology, pastoral leadership, and preaching at California Baptist University, I found myself drawn to ecclesiology. It was not to the obscure, though. I kept seeing how central the church is to God’s eternal plan.

I began to see the church in conjunction with the glory of God, salvation history, the kingdom of God, the attributes of God, the image of God, the mission of God, and the call to love, holiness, unity, and truth. The Sermon on the Mount, Acts, Ephesians, and James came alive. Seeing the NT as written by church leaders for the sake of helping churches captured me. Seeing how a careful, biblical view of the church drives pastoral leadership, ministry, evangelism, and preaching has clarified my thinking and honed my approach to ministry.

I now see the importance of the disputed questions, but in a healthier theological and pastoral perspective. Baptism, Lord’s Supper, church discipline, the identity of Israel and the church, denominations, ecumenism—their importance, in my experience, is best viewed from a broader, salvation historical lens on the theology of the church framed by a context of the nature and mission of God.

Further, I have found that seeing the church this way recasts our perspective on pastoral ministry, preaching, leadership, worship, evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, youth ministry, counseling, church planting, missiology, social justice, denominations, ecumenism, hermeneutics, theological method, and theology.

Indeed, I am becoming more and more amazed by the astonishing significance of the church in God’s eternal purpose and sensing the great privilege it is to be a part of Christ’s church.

 

 
 

Dec

04

2013

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

The Church as God’s “Display People” – A Conversation with Ken Easley and Chris Morgan (1)

community-of-jesusThe church is not an afterthought in the purposes of God. The glory of God in the formation of a missionary people who show and share the love of God is the goal of the gospel.

In The Community of JesusKendell Easley and Christopher Morgan have brought together a number of scholars whose essays make up a biblical theology of the church. I asked Ken and Chris to join me here for a conversation about the importance of rightly understanding our role as God’s people.

Trevin: Something that has long concerned me about evangelicalism is the tendency to downplay the importance and necessity of the church, to the point the church becomes something of “an afterthought” in the purposes of God. Why do we neglect the church and why is it harmful to do so?

Ken: A good part of the reason may be lingering suspicion about the overreaching development in early medieval (and later) times that “there is no salvation outside the church.” The free church movement (to which evangelicals are largely part) has rightly rejected this notion but may have de-emphasized the church in the process.

Another reason is the evangelical emphasis on a personal experience of salvation—an ongoing impact of the pietistic emphasis on individualism in Christianity.

A third factor is that all of our experiences of local church have been tainted. There is no perfect church, and there are far too few healthy churches. We all know too many examples of pride, greed, racism, etc., in church life. So we neglect the church.

Chris: We have also tended to read the Bible individualistically, rather than collectively as God’s people. We rarely see the Bible as telling our story—the story of God at work in our people, and by extension in us. We rarely consider that the Bible was originally read to the community of faith, not by individuals in their recliner.

Further, we may have downplayed the doctrines related to the church because we were seeking to promote our unity. Let’s face it: evangelicals can agree on many, many truths, but we find different voices on many subjects in ecclesiology: Israel and the church, denominational distinctions, baptism, Lord’s supper, elders, women in ministry, how church relates to culture, and so on.

Trevin: Chris, you contributed a chapter on the church and the glory of God. How do you define the “glory of God” and how does the church accomplish this purpose?

Chris: God’s glory is his ultimate end (for details on glory, see also Morgan and Peterson, The Glory of God, Crossway, 2010). But what does this mean? Ephesians discloses two aspects of this.

  1. God acts unto the praise of his glory, or to the praise of the glory of his grace (1:6,12,14). Thus, God’s glory as his ultimate end means that God acts unto the reception of worship and praise of his creation, especially his people.
  2. God acts to display himself throughout creation. He displays his love, mercy, grace, kindness, creative work, and wisdom (2:4-10; 3:8-10). Thus, God’s glory as his ultimate end also means that God acts to display himself and as he displays himself he communicates his greatness and fullness. That, in and of itself, glorifies him.

So, according to Ephesians, God’s glory as his ultimate end means that he acts to display himself and communicate his greatness, and that he acts unto the reception of worship. This understanding of God’s glory enables us to grasp the nature of the church. The church is has its origin in the eternal purposes of God, its basis in the saving work of Christ, its life from union with Christ, and its end as the glory of God.

The church is God’s showcase for his eternal plan of bringing forth cosmic reconciliation and highlighting Christ as the focal point of all history.

The church is also God’s “display people,” showcasing not only God’s purposes but even God himself. In and through the church, God shows his grace, wisdom, love, unity, and holiness. And as God displays himself, he glorifies himself.

It is no wonder Paul proclaims:

“Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us—to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Trevin: Ken, your chapter is on the church in Acts and Revelation as “New Testament bookends.” Do you see the description of the church in these two books as primarily descriptive or prescriptive? What value is there in being familiar with the portrait of the church in these (very different) books of the Bible?

Ken: I like to think of Luke’s portrait of the church in Acts as “the church’s baby book,” especially chapters 1-7. Many of us had mothers who kept a baby book, recording such items as when our first tooth came in, what our first word was, and so on. Luke does that in Acts: first miracle, first organization, first persecution, first martyr, and so on. So in Acts, Luke is describing more than prescribing.

But just as knowing about an infant’s first years provides important clues to later developmental stages, so knowing about the church’s early years helps us be aware of issues we will continually face, even though we may deal with these issues differently. Thus, the scattering of the Jerusalem church after Stephen’s death illustrates the spread of the gospel involuntarily, but the mission of the church in Antioch, sending out Barnabas and Saul, provides insight into issues related to voluntary cross-cultural mission.

In Revelation, we have a prophetic description of the church’s future—both the church under persecution and the church ultimately victorious as “the wife of the Lamb.” Again, it will help us today as we “do church” and “are the church” if we maintain a clear sense of what our final destination will be like. However one lands on the major eschatology questions, Revelation teaches absolutely that Jesus is lord of history (both of the church and the world) and that faithfulness to him will be rewarded in due season. We all need ongoing confidence in these truths.

Further, there are warnings to saints in Revelation that certainly have direct application to today’s believers. For example, the risen Christ admonished five of the seven churches of Asia to repent of certain sins. Later in the book, saints were warned to “come out” of Babylon, the harlot city. In these ways, Revelation is like an Old Testament prophetic book: there is “forthtelling” to God’s people of their need to change their ways as well as “foretelling” of future events.

Tomorrow, we will talk about the current trend of “loving Jesus” but not the church.

 
 

Nov

14

2013

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

Train Your Leaders: A Conversation with Barnabas Piper

671257d87f23c78ed58ccf97b94da6bbToday, I’m excited to welcome Barnabas Piper to the blog. Barnabas writes weekly for Worldmag.com, regularly reviews books for Leadership Journal, and blogs at BarnabasPiper.com. His first book, The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity will release in the summer of 2014 from David C. Cook. He lives in the Nashville area with his wife and two daughters.

Barnabas recently joined the Ministry Grid team at LifeWay, an online platform that helps churches in the area of leadership. Since Ministry Grid is launching this week, I thought it would be good to have Barnabas join me for a conversation in how churches can improve the development and training of leaders.

Trevin Wax: First off, Barnabas, tell us what your role is with Ministry Grid?

Barnabas Piper: I am the content marketing strategist for the Ministry Grid team. I work under Todd Adkins who is the Director of Leadership Development for Lifeway and the head of our team. My primary responsibilities are social media, the Ministry Grid blog, and developing news ways to use and share the wealth of content (video and written) we have.

Trevin Wax: In my experience, it seems like many pastors and church leaders think in terms of programs, and then they look for volunteers who can run the programs. Why is it important to train the people who serve in our churches, and how can this overcome an overly programmatic mindset for ministry?

Barnabas Piper: Programs can serve as valuable frameworks within churches, creating avenues for people to serve. But just as often they can limit a person’s effectiveness, kind of the way a menu tells what you can order at a restaurant but also limits your choices. Churches that have created a limited “menu” have essentially ruled out many people from using the unique gifts God has given them.

By emphasizing training – the development of gifts and calling to serve – churches are moving toward becoming a healthy body. Instead of having a limited number of pieces doing most of the work, it becomes a healthy whole with each person doing what God designed him or her to do.

Ministry Grid exists to help churches train every person and to do away with that limited menu of ministry options so that the whole church becomes a true body serving one another and ultimately serving Christ.

Banner-MinistryGridLogo-225x126Trevin Wax: One of the aspects of Ministry Grid that encourages me is this idea of equipping people to do the work of the ministry. Too many times, we think of ministry as something the pastor does for the congregation, rather than something the pastor equips the congregation to do. What role does training play in this “equipping” function of the pastor?

Barnabas Piper: Ministry Grid is built with Ephesians 4:11-13 as the foundation. We believe God gave leaders in the church unique gifts and callings so that they could raise up, train, and equip the entire body of the church. That is when the church is healthiest – when everyone is equipped to serve and is doing so rather than standing idly by while the staff, elders, and deacons do all the heavy lifting.

Leaders should always be developing leaders rather than bearing the burden of responsibility on their own. Most leaders likely want to do this, and we are here to give them a means to do it well. The training aspect is putting the tools in the toolboxes and teaching people how to use them.

Many in the church would love to serve but don’t know how. Many aren’t sure what they’re good at. Training gives them the theological and practical resources needed to serve well and grow more.

Trevin Wax: What are the biggest obstacles to training leaders today? Time? Finances?

Barnabas Piper: If you asked pastors this question the majority would rattle off four answers in short order: time, money, lack of a system, or they just don’t know how. In preparing to launch Ministry Grid, our team consulted with hundreds of pastors, and these four obstacles came up over and over again no matter the size of the church, denomination, or demographics.

Trevin Wax: How does Ministry Grid seek to overcome some of these obstacles and assist pastors in training?

Barnabas Piper: Ministry Grid is a platform that is customizable for churches. This means we have eased the burden of creating a system by putting pieces in place that a church can rearrange to their needs without starting from scratch. It allows ministry leaders to assign training, track progress, and interact with trainees about what they’re learning. Since it is web based, users can watch the training videos any time that is convenient for them.

We have engaged hundreds of godly, skilled practitioners to give us training in areas of ministry from the parking lot to the pulpit. Each of them has proven his or ability and faithfulness and offers quality instruction in particular areas of ministry. This means individual churches and church leaders don’t need all the answers. However, if a church has training material they especially like or have developed themselves they can upload that and share or assign it through the Ministry Grid platform.

Cost is based on the average weekly attendance of the church and is an annual subscription. It comes out just a few cents per month per person in the church to make training available to all of them. Our goal is to make this accessible to churches of all sizes, and the pricing is scaled accordingly.

Trevin Wax: What’s the best way to get more information on Ministry Grid and how it might fit into your local congregation?

Barnabas Piper: Visit MinistryGrid.com. You can set up a free account that will allow you to preview the site and see a couple hundred videos for free. If you like what you see you can purchase a subscription for your church and gain access to over 1,800 videos, along with the full platform and learning management system.

 
 

Nov

07

2013

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

Leading a Gospel Advance: A Conversation With Alvin Reid

gospel-advancePart history book and part instruction manual, Alvin Reid’s Gospel Advance: Leading a Movement That Changes the World describes the history of evangelical awakenings and prescribes a way forward for 21st century believers.

Reading this book from the professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is like sitting down across from him and hearing his passion and heart for Christ and the advancement of His kingdom.

Recently, I was able to catch up with Dr. Reid and ask about his latest book, the movement that impacted him personally, what Jesus’ prevalence for choosing outcasts should say to us today, and how our definition of success should be altered.

Trevin: You encourage believers to recapture the sense of Christianity as a movement of gospel advance. One of the problems you see is that followers of Christ lose their vision for advancing a movement and instead become focused on maintaining an institution. How can we take our institutions (churches, seminaries, etc.) and leverage their influence to help fan the flame of a movement?

Alvin: Institutions in and of themselves are not the problem. God gave us such institutions as the home, the local church, and the state. But leaders of institutions must be aware of the pull toward maintenance and the tendency over time to go from visualize (a movement) to institutionalize to fossilize! Leaders of institutions must always be asking how to advance the gospel in our specific time, resisting the urge to confuse tools or preferences with the gospel itself.

Further, regularly bringing new voices into the leadership team to challenge the status quo helps to keep all the leaders thinking about advancing versus maintaining. Also, as Jonathan Edwards noted, the power of testimonies to continue the awakening in New England in his day, sharing stories of those who are busy in gospel advance serves to encourage the institution to do the same.

Trevin: You’ve spent your life studying movements, and you’ve written about how the Jesus Movement changed your life. Can you give us a brief history of the Jesus Movement, how the churches responded, and what you believe to be the lasting fruit from this movement?

Alvin: The Jesus movement refers to a spiritual renewal among (mostly) young adults in the late 1960s and early 1970s. As is often the case in history a tumultuous time among the younger population (think Kent State, college sit ins, controversy surrounding Vietnam, the rise of the drug culture, Woodstock, etc.) had a parallel spiritual movement, in this case involving countercultural youth who met Christ in places like Haight Ashbury and Los Angeles, evangelical youth through such movements as the Asbury College Revival in 1970 and Explo 72, a massive gathering of youth sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ, and Charismatic renewal in many traditions.

The Jesus Movement’s weakness was its lack of focus on doctrine, but it was marked by two key tenets: that Jesus is the only way (hence the “One Way” cry so common in that day), and the soon coming of Jesus, spurred on by books like Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth.

I would argue that we would not have movements today like Passion had there not first been a Jesus Movement. The changes in music and worship were the most lasting features of the Jesus Movement for established church traditions. In addition, youth ministry exploded in churches (with good and bad results) out of this movement.

Many leaders today who have shaped evangelicalism from Billy Graham to the late Chuck Smith and the Calvary Chapel movement (which produced Greg Laurie, to name one of many) were connected closely to the Jesus Movement. For my tradition of Southern Baptists, our greatest years of evangelism in our history were 1971-1975. We reached close to double the number of teens in 1972 that we reached in 2012, although the number of youth in the US is greater today and the number of SBC churches and people has grown dramatically since then.

My favorite story of the Jesus Movement was told by Edward Plowman, a journalist who wrote The Jesus Movement in America: Accounts of Christian Revolutionaries in Action, a fine book on the movement. He described some young hippie-types in D.C. sharing Christ on the street one day in the early 70s. Three pastors – well-groomed and suit-attired – walked by. One of the pastors asked, “What are you young men doing?” One of the young men humbly replied, “Sir, we are doing what you just talk about.”

Trevin: You write that “Jesus didn’t go after the cultural elites, but the outcasts and ordinary.” How does Jesus’ calling of ordinary men to be His disciples impact the way we view our calling today?

Alvin: Movements often begin at the margins and give life to the heart of the institution. Jesus lived and walked in the Jewish culture, but His chosen disciples did not fit into the religious establishment of His day. In this way the Jesus Movement is reminiscent of early awakenings. Wesley and Whitefield reluctantly began preaching in the fields in the 1700s and reached masses of people overlooked by the established church.

We have to be very careful in our day of confusing surface ability with potential for leaderships. After all, even the great Samuel overlooked the shepherd boy David, but God looked at his heart. He still does.

Trevin: You encourage Christians to adopt new measures of success – not to be so focused on seating capacity, but sending capacity. How can we shift our measurements from building an institution to advancing a mission?

Alvin: First, we have to be honest about just what a mammoth undertaking this is in many of our conventional churches. We have mastered the ability to maintain what we have, and by God’s grace we have a lot.

But read the book of Acts and you see a movement of believers always extending, which leads me to the second point: we must not only want to grow and advance the movement, we must be willing to pay the price.

Just this morning I read about Paul. Soon after his conversion he boldly proclaimed Christ, and pretty quickly people wanted to kill him. Movements are exciting, thrilling, and engaging, but a gospel movement in this culture is also costly.

There is much more to say (which is why I wrote the book!), but I would finally add that movements advance by having an idea that the adherents believe to be more important than life itself. We have that in the gospel, so leaders must constantly herald the gospel to believers and unbelievers and show the centrality of the gospel to all of life.

Trevin: What do you hope this book will accomplish?

Alvin: I hope it will encourage pastor, leaders, student ministers and believers in general to see Christianity as more than a factory we check into weekly and something we add on to our already busy lives. I hope the reader will be revived, awakened to the glory and the story of the gospel and will want to advance this great movement of God.

Just imagine, what if every believer awoke daily with this thought: “Today, I get to advance a movement of God as I interact with people, live sensitive to His Spirit, and speak up for Him as I have opportunity both in encouraging believers and in evangelizing unbelievers.” We might see a fresh wind of God’s Spirit in our time.