Thursday, May 29, 2008

Churches Pursuing Cool

I thought I'd pass along some thought-provoking words I read over at Out of Ur. These are the words of James Gilmore, author of a book called Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want (Harvard Business Press, 2007). The quote comes from an article in Leadership Journal called Keeping It Real.

To me, the church should not aim to be 'real' as an end. The church is there to proclaim truth. Trying to be hip and cool and real does a disservice to the church. We're not called to be successful. We're called to be obedient, even if they don't come.... If somebody doesn't find you objectionable, I wonder if you're preaching the full counsel of God.

Words to ponder. In addition, there was a conversation going on at Church Matters (Nine Marks Blog) about churches trying to be cool. Begin with this post and then read some subsequent ones. It was an interesting read which prompted some reflection for me. Happy reading.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Image Is Everything

I've been working my way through the first chapter of Genesis on Sunday mornings recently. What a rich experience it has been for me personally in study. As I've said to our church, Genesis 1:1 is the first lesson on the first day in the school of life. If we miss this foundational truth, all the big questions of life become hazy and confusing.

Last week, we looked at the sixth day and the creation of man in God's image. Of all the wondrous works of our Creator, only man is said to be made in His image. Only in the creation of man do we find the words of divine deliberation "Let Us make man in our image and our likeness..." How personal! How intentional! Set this personal, intentional design of man over against the prevailing Darwinian view of our origin which is impersonal and mechanistic. The contrast could not be greater.

The fruits of Darwinian thought are evident in our culture. If man is only a higher primate which evolved through random mutations over millions of years, then it is no wonder that many view man with little dignity. The dignity of man is assaulted both in the womb and in the nursing home. At both ends of existence, he or she is not treated as an image-bearer of the God of creation. Rather, unborn children and the aged are looked upon as obstacles to progress, a blob of tissue or a nuisance. Abortion and euthenasia are the logical outcomes of Darwinianism. In the twisted logic of some environmentalists, it is thought acceptable to endanger the lives of other humans by burning their homes as a protest against the way humans treat lower forms of animal life. Clearly, something has gone wrong here. In a world which has lost touch with what it means to be human, is it any wonder that so much inhumanity abounds?

The Bible presents a much different picture. Man is not just a little higher than the primates but a little lower than the angels (Psalm 8). He is crowned with glory and honor. He is the special, personal, intentional creation who bears the image of God. He is made for relationship with God and with fellow human beings. He has the powers of reason and moral judgment. He is a spiritual being with the capacity for intelligent reflection and communion with God. Even after sin enters human existence and damages the image of God in man, that image still remains as a dignifying factor of man's existence. Genesis 9:6 speaks of capital punishment for those who murder as a punishment which fits the crime. Why? Because man bears the image of God.

The good news of the gospel is that by faith in Jesus Christ, there is a restoration of the damaged image of God in man. What sin mars, God restores and renews. By faith in Jesus Christ, man realizes the purpose for which he was made to bear the image - a relationship with His Creator.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What Is the Most Crying Need of the Church in America Today?

Justin Taylor has posted the answers of several prominent evangelical pastors and scholars to this question. These answers are worth reading. These are some of the best and deepest thinkers and preachers of our generation.

I suppose if I had to boil down my thoughts on this question to their briefest form, I would have to say what the church needs is depth. This would certainly be true if I were answering from a strictly SBC perspective. The church growth movement produced a generation of pastors and churches whose primary concern was breadth - how many people can we attract into the church.

This emphasis on breadth produced some serious consequences - whether intended or unintended. Churches became infatuated with methodology which had little theological reflection underneath it. Pragmatic approaches to ministry began to hold sway. Churches began to adopt corporate models rather than biblical ones for structures and practices. Worship began to look more and more like entertainment. Preaching began to sound more like self-help and motivational talks than passionate declaration of God's truth. To borrow a phrase from Barna, the audience became sovereign. Church membership was more socially driven than biblically driven. Discipline disappeared. Phrases like "seeker-friendly" and "non-threatening" took over our evangelistic vocabulary. The church became a mile wide and an inch deep.

Thankfully, the winds of change are blowing. Some of our prominent leaders are beginning to see the failed fruit of this infatuation with "growth." More and more of our younger pastors are men who value biblical exposition and substantial theological reflection. The growth of conferences like the Shepherd's Conference, Together for the Gospel, and Desiring God Conferences are evidence that there is a new desire for depth in the church. The phenomenal growth of ministries such as Desiring God and Nine Marks also demonstrate this hunger for depth in the church.

Yes, the church needs depth. It needs depth in its preaching. It needs depth in its membership process. It needs depth in its leadership. It needs depth in its worship. It needs depth in its witness. It needs depth in its relationships. It needs depth in its ministry to the community and the world.

The emphasis on "growth" produced the result of viewing the church as a company, pastors as CEOs, the gospel as a commodity, worship as rallies, and people as consumers - a shallow view indeed. Depth in the church demonstrates that we take God and His gospel seriously. We take sin and its consequences seriously. We take the church and ministry seriously.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Kingdom Dreams for Our Kids

Imagine you are a mother reading the following letter from a man who is proposing marriage to your daughter.

I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean, to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left is heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteous, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?

That is part of a letter written on June 28, 1810 by Adoniram Judson (famous missionary to Burma) to the parents of Ann Hasseltine asking for their permission to marry their daughter. How does one respond to such a letter? If your dreams for your children are of the standard "American Dream" type, that letter is appalling and horrifying. But if your dreams for your children are shaped by the priorities of Christ's kingdom, the outcome might be different.

None of us would choose hardship and suffering for our kids. We love them and it is natural for us to want to see them comfortable and healthy. But the realities of life in Christ's kingdom must take precedence as we pray and dream about their futures. We must desire that their lives be used for the glory of God in whatever places and ways His providence directs. Oh how hard it is to write "not my will but Thy will be done" across our dreams for our kids!

God give us the grace never to let our desires and plans conflict with Yours in the lives of our children.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Sound Words on Preachers and Congregations

Thabiti Anyabwile over at Pure Church posted some excellent words about preaching and congregations while reflecting on the antics of Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Read the whole article. Here are a couple of my favorite statements.

If we (preachers) entertain rather than edify, we're not far from becoming the little monkey in the red suit that does tricks on the street corner for his owner. And it's awfully difficult to escape that arrangement once you start building the pulpit on an exaggerated personality like that.

If we (preachers) entertain people rather than instruct and edify, we will create a body of people who want the fleeting feelings of a moment rather than the meat of the word. They will want a glitzy god rather than the glorious God of Scripture. They will not think they have "worshipped" or served God until they have felt something or been moved in some way. That's emotionalism, not genuine emotion that comes from the truth.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Paul Tripp: Change Is a Community Project

Paul Tripp writes about the fact that Christian relationships in the body of Christ are essential for the process of change. In his chapter from How People Change entitled Change Is a Community Project, he offers several great insights about how God uses relationships to form us into Christ's image. Here are a few nuggets.

At one level we want friendships. At another level, we don't want them! In creation, we were made to live in community, but because of the fall, we tend to run away from the very friendships we need. Quite often, our longing for them is tainted by sin. We pursue them only as long as they satisfy our own desires and needs. We have a love-hate relationship with relationships! (p. 75)

Human beings long to connect because that is what they were made for. With the entrance of sin, this longing was corrupted and easily becomes idolatrous. Because of sin, we long to find all of our hope for relationship in other human beings. If we don't get what we want out of those relationships, we often do hurtful, sinful things. Our approach to relationships is often self-centered. (p. 78)

Living in community pushes us to die to ourselves. There will be times when loving others and allowing others to serve and love us will feel like death, but this is the pathway to real life in Christ. The more we understand our own hearts, the more we see that it takes a work of God's grace to transform self-absorbed individuals into a community of love. (p. 83)

The things we do to enjoy deep fellowship with God and each other are the very things that make us less self-centered and more like Christ. (p. 85)

Christian friendships do not simply help us bask int he sunshine of God's grace; they also help us to roll up our sleeves and strive after holiness. (p. 86)

It is refreshing to find a book from a Christian counselor which is so theologically sound. This is especially true in relation to the doctrine of the church. These excerpts above help you get a feel for the impact a biblical ecclesiology has on the issue of life transformation.