Apr

07

2014

Trevin Wax|12:05 am CT

Worth a Look 4.7.14

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKindle Deal of the Day: Adoniram Judson by Jason Duesing. $0.99.

This volume seeks to honor the life and mission of Judson while retelling his story for a new generation.

Serving Appetizers – Worship Services That Keep Their Promises:

If we only acknowledge the “already” aspect of the kingdom, then our worship services will become ever-escalating spectacles of excitement, celebrating themes of victory and inevitable success.

Millennials and the False Gospel of “Nice:”

One might argue that young evangelicals aren’t fleeing core conservative institutions, but flooding them.

Perhaps the doom and gloom story seems familiar – if also wrong – because we’ve heard it so many times before. As young scholar Matthew Lee Anderson puts it, the “change or die narrative is presented as a perennial problem.”

From Mozart to Dickens – How History’s Greatest Thinkers Managed Their Time:

The graphics are broken down into 24-hour periods with each person’s various activities color-coded in different categories…

Crimea Adoptions to America Blocked By Russia:

“Hundreds of Ukrainian orphans were in the midst of the adoption process,” Tom Davis, CEO of Launch Hope, wrote for On Faith. “They had their eyes and hearts set on a new family, but thanks to the Russia invasion, those hopes were dashed to pieces—adoptions are on hold.” Davis says a “nationally known leader who has worked with orphans for over 20 years” told him, “There are 4,350 children trapped in Crimea we can do nothing about.”

 
 

Apr

06

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

Hold Not Our Sins Up Against Us

The cross on the grunge background. The biblical concept. SunsetFather in Heaven!
Hold not our sins up against us
but hold us up against our sins,
so that the thought of You when it wakens in our soul,
and each time it wakens,
should not remind us of what we have committed
but of what You have forgiven,
not of how we went astray,
but of how You have saved us.

Soren Kierkegaard, 1813-55

 

 
 

Apr

05

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

The Intoxication of Success

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things the figure of Him who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger and is at best the object of pity. The world will allow itself to be subdued only by success. It is not ideas or opinions which decide, but deeds. Success alone justifies wrongs done….

With a frankness and off-handedness which no other earthly power could permit itself, history appeals in its own cause to the dictum that the end justifies the means…

When a successful figure becomes especially prominent and conspicuous, the majority give way to the idolization of success. They become blind to right and wrong, truth and untruth, fair play and foul play. They have eyes only for the deed, for the successful result. The moral and intellectual critical faculty is blunted. It is dazzled by the brilliance of the successful man and by the longing in some way to share in his success. It is not even seen that success is healing the wounds of guilt, for the guilt itself is no longer recognized. Success is simply identified with good. This attitude is genuine and pardonable only in a state of intoxication. When sobriety returns it can be achieved only at the price of a deep inner untruthfulness and conscious self-deception. This brings with it an inward rottenness from which there is scarcely a possibility of recovery.

The figure of the Crucified invalidates all thought which takes success for its standard.

 
 

Apr

04

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

Know Your Southern Baptists: Ed Stetzer

stetzerName: Ed Stetzer

Age: 47 (born September 2, 1966)

Why you’ve heard of him: Stetzer is an author, speaker, researcher, pastor, church planter and one of the leading missiologists in the country.

Position: He is President of LifeWay Research, pastor of Grace Church and visiting professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Previous: Before LifeWay, Stetzer was the Director of Research and Missiologist-In-Residence at the North American Mission Board. He has also served as a church planter and pastor in several states, primarily in New York and Pennsylvania while a full-time pastor.

Education: Stetzer holds a bachelor’s degree at Shorter University, two master’s degrees (from Liberty Theological Seminary and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), and two earned doctorates (a Doctor of Ministry from Samford University and a Doctor of Philosophy from SBTS).

Books: Stetzer has authored, co-authored or edited over 15 books, including Planting Missional Churches, Comeback Churches, Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches That Reach Them, Subversive Kingdom, and his most recent work, co-authored with Eric Geiger, Transformational Groups: Creating a New Scorecard for Groups. Two of his books have been named to the Golden Canon Book Awards from Leadership Journal.

Why he’s important: Stetzer is recognized as one of the foremost thinkers and important missiologists in Christianity today. From his published works to his conference speaking, Stetzer’s influence spreads across numerous denominations in the U.S. and globally. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents.

Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. He is the General Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than half a million people each week, and Facts & Trends, a Christian leadership magazine with a circulation over 70,000 readers.

His Christianity Today blog, The Exchange, has driven numerous conversations within evangelicalism and beyond. His weekly webshow and regular podcast by the same name features numerous thought leaders, pastors and influential Christian leaders.

Notable Quotes:

“Facts are our friends.”

“You have to contend (Jude 1:3) and contextualize (1 Cor. 9:22-23). Both matter.”

“Being missional means moving intentionally beyond our church preferences, making missional decisions rather than preferential decisions.”

“Don’t let your church be a cul-de-sac on the Great Commission highway.”

“All of God’s people are sent on mission and called to ministry. The only questions are where, among whom, and doing what?”

Others in the “Know Your Southern Baptists” Series:

 
 

Apr

04

2014

 
 

Apr

03

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

Missional Exiles Who Give Joy to the World

JFTWGreg Forster has written a book that names “joy” as the center of Christianity’s unique contribution to society.

What kind of joy? Not just an emotion or sentiment, but “the state of flourishing in mind, heart, and life that Christians experience by the Holy Spirit” (23).

Christianity loses influence in society in proportion to the decrease of opportunities and experiences for people outside the church to encounter the joy of God as expressed by His people.

“If Christianity is going to have a distinct impact, it needs to rely on what truly makes it distinct – the work of the Spirit in our minds, hearts, and lives. That’s what makes Christians unique, and it gives us a unique opportunity to bless our unbelieving neighbors through the way we participate in the civilization we share with them” (18-19).

Working from the outline of Isaac Watts’ well-known hymn, Joy for the World deals with the influence of both organizational and organic Christianity. Forster wants to recapture Christianity’s influence, not in a power-hungry sense that seeks to squelch competing views, but an exuberant confidence that Christianity is best for human flourishing.

Where We Were

Forster begins by tracing the history of how we’ve arrived at our current state. He contrasts two visions of America’s founding: the Christian vs. the secular, and he offers a third explanation that takes into account evidence from both sides. He sees religious freedom at the heart of the American experiment, but recognizes that the idea behind this freedom assumes that societies will “need some level of moral agreement, but don’t need – and shouldn’t expect – agreement on all moral questions” (43). As such, freedom of religion is a “delicate balancing act;” it doesn’t enforce religion, but it requires it in order for the experiment to work. “Only people who have a comprehensive moral and metaphysical view of the universe will actually obey the shared public morality society needs” (46).

Where We Are

For the church to bring joy to society, Christians cannot withdraw. We must maintain the balance between mission and exile, taking care not to reduce the church’s mission to the flourishing of civilization, while still recognizing that if our discipleship is not connected to “seeking the blessedness and flourishing of our neighbors, we aren’t practicing discipleship full time and in all areas of life” (79).

What We Do

What does this cultural involvement look like? Forster utilizes the “prophet, priest and king” analogy to illustrate how Christians must tell the world what God says, offer ourselves up as a sacrifice for the good of our neighbors, and exercise stewardship over the creation order (103-4). We need all three aspects (doctrine, devotion, and stewardship) if we are to display the fullness of Christianity and offer our distinctive joy for the world.

The final part of the book focuses on institutions and how churches can equip Christians to navigate complex issues related to sex and the family, work and the economy, citizenship and community.

Evaluation

Joy for the World is a book that deals with so many ideas it’s hard to know where to start in an analysis. Because discipleship encompasses all the spheres of life, Forster’s vision of Christian joy and cultural engagement is holistic – almost to the point that there’s too much here to chew on.

For the most part, I find Forster’s analysis to be insightful and full of wisdom. He does a noble job of balancing realism with optimism, description of evangelical history with prescription for the future, and faithful presence with social activism. I’m uncomfortable with a few of his analogies, such as the prophet, priest, king motif. Or his use of Christ’s incarnation as an analogy for the mystical union between the Spirit-filled body of Christ within a civilization (80). The conclusions are sound, but some of the analogies he employs as mental hooks are distracting rather than helpful.

Overall, though, this is a thought-provoking book that points us in the right direction, and encourages us to adopt the holistic view of discipleship put forth in the Scriptures.

~~~~~

Check out an excerpt from the book here.

 
 

Apr

03

2014

Trevin Wax|12:05 am CT

Worth a Look 4.3.14

WorthALook1Kindle Deal of the Day: Surprised by Hope by N. T. Wright. $2.99.

N.T. Wright tackles the biblical question of what happens after we die and shows how most Christians get it wrong. We do not “go to” heaven; we are resurrected and heaven comes down to earth–a difference that makes all of the difference to how we live on earth.

Ritual Sacrifice in Silicon Valley:

Grammar and diction unworthy of an editor aside, one of the most striking things about this passage is its tone, or perhaps we should say its genre. The remedies demanded (public recantation, propitiatory sacrifice) are of the sort necessitated by ritual defilement, rather than the giving of offense. It is also clear that Thomas does not merely wish Eich to say that he has changed his views, he truly, sincerely, desperately hopes that Eich be transformed. The key realization is that the howling mob which Thomas has ginned up is only partially an instrument of chastisement. It is also intended to educate. Thomas is in this to save souls.

Michelle Van LoonAged Out of Church:

Church should be a place of meaningful connection with God and others at every stage of our lives, but nearly half of more than 450 people who participated in an informal and completely unscientific survey I hosted on my blog last year told me that their local church had in some painful ways exacerbated the challenges they faced at midlife. As a result, they’d downshifted their involvement in the local church from what it had been a decade ago.

Scot McKnight on the Passover dimension of the atonement:

Why were the Israelites liberated from Egypt? To receive the Torah and to enter the Land and to obey God in covenant faithfulness by worshiping God at the core of life. So, if I may, I suggest that we are liberated in a Passover-ish way by Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection from among the dead so that we might worship God, obey the Lord in the power of the Spirit, and to enter into the fellowship of the church as God’s mission for this world.

The Gendercide of Unwanted Girls:

For females to support the abortion of females is philosophical cannibalism and physical destruction in the name of progress and personal freedom. If one person’s freedom stops where another’s body starts, then abortion is the most heinous behavior ever foisted on a generation. Abortion is no more about a woman’s reproductive rights than Charles Manson’s infatuation with The Beatles was about music appreciation.

I’m excited to see the launch of the new Send North America blog. One of their launch posts is an article of mine on how Tim Keller and Andy Stanley preach with unbelievers in mind.

Whether you are closer to Stanley’s paradigm for ministry or Keller’s, you can benefit from a few suggestions for how to engage the lost people listening to you preach.

 
 

Apr

02

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

The Fault Lines Before the Evangelical Earthquake

SAF-e1346289593322The recent controversy surrounding World Vision USA’s decision to open employment to same-sex couples and the organization’s subsequent reversal reveals the fault lines in evangelicalism today.

For the evangelicals distraught by World Vision’s initial decision, the controversy was never about the legitimacy or worthiness of people with differing views of marriage doing good work around the world. We should applaud good deeds of relief and compassion wherever we see them and wherever they come from. No, this particular controversy was about the meaning of evangelical.

Can an institution with an historic evangelical identity be divided on an issue as central as marriage and family and still be evangelical? Related to this discussion are questions about the authority and interpretation of Scripture, cultural engagement, and institutional power. All sides of the debate recognize that the definition of evangelical is at stake, which is why some are now publicly casting off the term altogether.

The World Vision decision was a tremor that warns us of a coming earthquake in which churches and leaders historically identified with evangelicalism will divide along all-too-familiar fault lines.

Here are the three camps I see right now:

Revisionists 

“The Church’s interpretation of Scripture and our consensus on Christian sexual ethics have been wrong and unjust. Just as we made adjustments in our treatment of women or in our position on slavery, Christians must be willing to revise our beliefs in light of ongoing Scriptural reflection and personal experience. Faithful Christians can and must celebrate and affirm same-sex relationships; otherwise, Christianity will lose its influence in the culture and bring disgrace to Jesus.”

Moderates 

“One’s position on homosexuality or gay marriage is not an essential point of theology. There are faithful Christians who disagree on these matters, just as faithful Christians disagree on baptism, the Holy Spirit, church structure, etc. The gospel is not at stake in whichever position you take. What is at stake is our unity before the world and how we love each other. We can agree to disagree on these issues and still partner in missions and relief work.”

Evangelicals

“The Bible is clear in its teaching that (1) homosexuals are created in the image of God and have innate worth and value and (2) homosexual practice is condemned as sin, one of many sins from which humanity needs deliverance. Marriage is between one man and one woman. Any other arrangement is not marriage at all, but a distortion of one of Scripture’s most beautiful pictures of the gospel. To abandon Christianity’s distinctive sexual ethic is to bow before the prevailing idol of our time and dismiss the authority of Scripture.”

Other Issues 

Same-sex marriage is just the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface are a number of issues related to traditional Christian belief and practice. The same fault lines find people divided over issues such as the authority and interpretation of Scripture, the exclusivity of the gospel, the reality of hell, and the nature of truth.

Sometimes I wonder if we are watching a replay of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy that took place a century ago. Last time, the revisionists wanted to hold on to the essence of Christian morality while minimizing the cultural embarrassment of the Bible’s miracles. The moderates believed they could be personally conservative and yet forge a middle way and partner with people on both sides. The fundamentalists separated and withdrew from Protestant denominations, paving the way for neo-evangelicalism to rise in the middle of the 20th century. This century, the revisionists want to hold on to the essence of Christian miracles while minimizing the cultural embarrassment of the Bible’s morality.

What’s Next

Learning from history, what will be next for each of these groups?

The Revisionists will continue to shrink and lose influence over time. There are three reasons why.

1. The converts to revisionism are typically disaffected evangelical churchgoers who find cultural accommodation appealing, not lost people finding salvation through Christ. Because of this pattern, it will be challenging to sustain consistent growth over time.

2. Those who revise Christianity’s sexual ethics are often the same people who deny that Jesus is the only way to God, that there is a hell, that the Bible is fully inspired and trustworthy, etc. A liberal doctrine is never an only child.

3. Revisionists are culturally captive to the demands of a shrinking subset of affluent, Western churches. Though global evangelicalism is much more united on the authority of Scripture and the distinctiveness of Christianity’s sexual ethic, revisionists lecture global churches on why they should adopt the same beliefs and practices that emptied their own.

The Moderates hold to an unsustainable position. They uphold a traditional understanding of marriage and sexual ethics, and yet they downplay the significance of these issues by taking the “agree to disagree” posture or a quiet agnosticism (“since people disagree on this, who can really know?”). I sympathize with those who feel like the culture has thrust upon us an issue we didn’t ask for and those who are weary of the constant cultural clashes between evangelicals and revisionists. That said, this category will shrink the fastest. The revisionists will challenge moderates to stop linking arms with people who affirm traditional marriage because they are “hateful” and “bigoted.” The evangelicals will challenge moderates to recognize the underlying authority of Scripture issues that accompany this debate. Moderates today will be forced to choose sides tomorrow. Those who remain on the fence will see their children, or the next generation, move steadily into the revisionist camp in response to increasing cultural pressure. “If marriage isn’t a big deal, Mom, then why are we holding the line on this?”

Among Evangelicals we can see two subsets:

  • Combative
    Some evangelicals speak to the issue of homosexuality in ways that are needlessly inflammatory. They look primarily to political action as the strategy for bringing culture change in these areas and overlook the flesh-and-blood people in their congregations who are struggling with this sin. The combatives are the minority, but they routinely make headlines.
  • Conciliatory
    Other evangelicals speak to this issue more pastorally, not shying away from Christianity’s distinctiveness but utilizing a tone that takes into consideration the common sinfulness and brokenness of all humanity. They are often publicly silent on the issue because of their desire to not be lumped in with their combative counterparts.

It is possible that evangelicals could repeat the mistake of last century’s fundamentalists by choosing to withdraw from societal and cultural engagement in order to preserve purity of identity. The result would be the inevitable downplaying of the public implications of the gospel we preach. Our kids will then be the ones with the “uneasy conscience” of last century’s Carl Henry, urging us out of our ghettos and back into the public square.

Another possibility would be that this issue paralyzes the church, leaving people to fear cultural backlash to the point we are silent in our witness.

There is also a third way: as society’s marriage culture crumbles further, we witness to the world, not only in our stated positions but also in our families to the beauty of God’s original design.

Loving People, Not Positions

Twenty years ago, the pro-life movement was derided for caring only about babies and not about women in distress. Since the rise of crisis pregnancy centers, few say such things anymore, and when they do, the slander doesn’t stick. It’s clear that evangelical opposition to abortion is coupled with acts of love and compassion toward women facing an awful choice.

Today, evangelicals are derided for caring more about marriage laws than gay and lesbian people. There’s a kernel of truth in this assertion. Too often, we’ve turned people into positions that volley back and forth as a political football – even sometimes trying to protect our rights so much that we fail to call out true discrimination when we should. We can do better. Indeed, we must not only do better, but be better.

What can evangelicals do to show that our belief in the sanctity of true marriage is just as uncompromising and unwavering as our love for gay and lesbian people created in the image of God? How can we be simultaneously committed to upholding biblical marriage and loving our gay and lesbian neighbors? I don’t know all the answers to that question. Nor am I sure of the best way forward, but I do know that we stand in a long line of Christians who often stood against the world for the good of the world. May it be said of us that our opposition to certain cultural developments is always motivated for the good of the world we’ve been called to reach.

 
 

Apr

02

2014

Trevin Wax|12:05 am CT

Worth a Look 4.2.14

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKindle Deal of the Day: United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity by Trillia Newbell. $2.99.

United will explore the importance of pursuing diversity in the church by sharing the author’s unique experiences growing up in the south and attending a predominately white church.

Well-Oiled Machine or Well-Watered Garden?

Jesus invented the church; let’s allow him to lead it while we cultivate a flourishing well-watered garden first and a well-oiled machine second . Let’s plant more gardens in and around our machines. A church is a living, breathing group of people who have been promised abundant life, not life in a machine. Our structures are needed, but they should serve our mission.

Alex Chediak on how to prepare your teen for college:

How to address sexual purity with your teen, whether to go to a Christian college, financial barriers, and more.

7 Reasons to Slow Down Your Sermon:

Recently, I’ve been working on slowing my preaching down. I’m not a particularly fast speaker, but I often don’t leave intentional spaces and pauses. Normally, this is because I’m nervous. I’m afraid they won’t get the joke, or they’ll think my mind blanked out. But really, space in preaching – slowing down – is a gift. Here are 7 reasons why.

A correction regarding the report about North Korea executing Christians:

Several weeks ago, we told you of reports coming out of North Korea that 33 Christians were awaiting execution for their involvement in planting 500 underground house churches. We cited the Washington Times and the Christian Postand it has since come to our attention that their source may not be entirely accurate.

 
 

Apr

01

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

“God’s Like That” – What My Kids Got From Studying Hosea

mzl.nmwxxnviSome Bible stories seem ready-made for kids:

  • Jonah and the big fish.
  • Daniel in the lion’s den.
  • David and Goliath.

These stories are epic. They’re memorable. The truths translate well to kids.

But what about stories about Achan’s sin, or David’s fall, or strangely-named prophets like Hosea?

When The Gospel Project for Kids team decided to take kids on a chronological journey through the Bible, the team didn’t skip the Minor Prophets. This decision created some headaches for the team, mainly because other children’s Bibles or curriculum generally pass over these stories. There was little help in seeing how other people had handled some of the more obscure Old Testament prophets.

Then there’s the question of suitability. Hosea is a weird story, even for adults. God tells a prophet to marry a prostitute, give their children horrible names, and then go back and purchase his wife after she is unfaithful.

How in the world can we teach our kids the story of Hosea?

I was curious to see how the session would go in our own church. At lunch afterwards, I asked our nine-year-old son to tell us what The Gospel Project was about that morning. (See the video treatment of the story below.) Timothy recounted the story of Hosea marrying a woman who didn’t love him and kept running away. “But Hosea just kept going after her,” he said. “He even paid a price to get her back.” Then, he paused: “God’s like that.”

I could have leaped for joy.

That’s what I want my kids to hear in church. Not to focus only on the sensational miracles or the details of the Bible’s stranger stories, but to get the point and recognize what the Bible is telling us about God – who He is and what He is like.

My son wasn’t the only one who got the story. A pastor from Maryland posted this to my FaceBook page:

“There was a very cool moment when [one of our students] had an “aha” moment. He said something along the lines of – ‘Oh, I get it now, I finally get what my mom and dad mean when they say that Jesus paid the price for us on the cross. It’s like how Hosea paid to get Gomer back. And I think Jesus felt sad on the cross the way that Hosea felt about what Gomer was doing to him.’ His eyes lit up and he just kept saying how he got it now, he understands. “

Recently, I was working through Hosea again for a future Gospel Project session for Adults, and once again I discovered how this book wrecks my soul. The vision of God as the spurned Lover, the great and glorious Husband who pursues His bride and willingly pays the price to win her back… it is such a breathtaking picture of God’s great love.

How could we not teach our kids Hosea?

You can preview a full month of The Gospel Project for kids, students, and adults by signing up here.