Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dealing with Judas

Here is a short article called Dealing with Judas: Opportunity for Fear or Invitation to Faith? that has recently been sent to me by several people.  I don't know who wrote it and could not find it on the web.  Here are the main points:
  1. We can expect to find Judas within our inner circle.
  2. We can expect Judas to grow up within the movement-do not import him. 
  3. With God’s help, we can choose to deal with Judas ourselves-do not export him.
  4. We can learn to recognize Judas early.
  5. We can be aware that Judas often has money issues.
  6. Finally, we can reveal Christ in our midst by the way that we deal with Judas.
Read the whole thing (6 pages).

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Praying Life

The Praying Life: "
Bob Thune reviews Paul Miller’s The Praying Life and includes a number of excellent quotes from the book
  • Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart.
  • If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money, and talent are all you need in life.
  • Less mature Christians have little need to pray… there is no complexity to their worlds because the answers are simple.
  • Cynicism is the air we breathe, and it is suffocating our hearts. Our only hope is to follow Jesus as he leads us out of cynicism.
  • The persistent widow and the friend at midnight get access, not because they are strong but because they are desperate. Learned desperation is at the heart of a praying life.
  • I do not understand prayer. Prayer is deeply personal and deeply mysterious. Adults try to figure out causation. Little children don’t. They just ask.
  • Everything you do is connected to who you are as a person and, in turn, creates the person you are becoming. Everything you do affects those you love. All of life is covenant.
  • We think spiritual things – if done right – should just ‘flow.’ But if you have a disability, nothing flows, especially in the beginning.
  • There is a tendency among Christians to get excited about ‘listening to God’ as if they are discovering a hidden way of communicating with God that will revolutionize their prayer lives… This subtly elevates an experience with God instead of God himself. Without realizing it, we can look at the windshield instead of through it.

    How would you love someone without prayer? People are far too complicated; the world is far too evil; and my own heart is too off center to be able to love adequately without praying.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Jim Belcher’s “Third Way” for the Church

I read this book last week and highly recommend it. I couldn't put it down. Below is a review of the book from Kingdom People.

Many of the issues related to church planting in the postmodern West are interestingly echoed in the Muslim world: the contextualization of biblical faith, how the gospel impacts worldview, and the nature of the church. 

As Belcher looks for a "Third Way" between Traditional and Emerging, I feel in many ways that I am also looking for a third way between Rejectionist and Insider.

Jim Belcher’s “Third Way” for the Church: "

Just when you thought the Emerging versus Traditional conversation had arrived at the point where everyone was safely nestled in their own camps and set in their ways, a Presbyterian pastor comes on the scene and challenges our tacit approval of evangelical fragmentation.

In Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional (IVP, 2009), Jim Belcher proposes a ”third way” between Emerging and Traditional. Deep Church is for evangelicals who resonate with much of the Emerging Church’s critique of contemporary evangelicalism, and yet have misgivings about some of the proposed solutions of Emerging advocates. Using the term “deep church” from a 1952 letter written by C.S. Lewis, Jim proposes a way forward that focuses on the strengths of Traditional and Emerging churches.

The book is as much narrative as theological analysis. Jim tells the story of his early involvement in the Emerging conversation. As he evaluates the Emerging critique, he visits actual churches. Far from being an armchair critic, Jim sets out to witness what the Emerging Church is like “on the ground.”

Relying on Ed Stetzer’s division of the Emerging Church into Relevants, Reconstructionists and Revisionists, Jim then considers the validity of Emerging concerns regarding contemporary evangelicalism. In a parenthetical statement near the beginning of the book, he sets the tone of discussion by saying, ”I believe that even when I disagree with others, I can still learn from them.” (36)

The central thrust of Deep Church is a call for unity around the central tenets of the faith. Jim seeks to ground our unity in the central confessions of ancient Christianity:
“We are not ashamed of our tradition; we embrace it and practice it. But at the same time we desire and promote the broader unity of the church.” (65)
Jim’s view has postmodern sensibility, and yet he steps back from fully embracing postmodern philosophy. He critiques Emerging leaders for “jumping on the postmodern bandwagon too quickly.” He sees problems with the idea that the community’s relational hermeneutic should be the final criterion for judging right from wrong. He writes:
“Apart from revelation, there is nothing to hold a particular tradition, community or history accountable. There is no prophetic voice.” (83)
Jim also evaluates the Emerging emphasis on bringing people into relationship with the church before they actually believe. In the Emerging mindset, belonging precedes believing – even on mission trips! Jim carefully considers the Traditional church’s criticism of this idea. In the end, he advocates a nuanced view that portrays the church’s proclamation of the gospel as a well. The well attracts people closer to conversion. But at some point, Jim believes there must be an inside-outside boundary.

The chapter on the “deep gospel” is important. He agrees with Emerging leaders that the traditional understanding of the gospel has been reduced to individual salvation. But Jim ably exposes the reductionism in the Emerging view as well:
“Brian McLaren’s view of the kingdom, which is supposed to be so liberating, tends toward legalism. Without God’s atoning grace, the message of the kingdom sounds like law. and this is, I believe, why so many of my college friends dropped out of Christianity. They could not pull it off.” (119)
Regarding worship, Jim points us back to the ancient church:
“Only the living tradition of the fourth and fifth centuries, passed on through the ages… can help us contextualize the gospel in our worship without it becoming syncretistic or ossified over time.” (134)
Regarding preaching, Jim refuses to pit biblical narrative against systematic theology. He writes:
“The pastors at Redeemer preach sermons rooted in the Bible – both the drama of salvation from each of the Testaments and the wonderful doctrines of Christianity.” (139)
Deep Church is one of the best books to “emerge” about the Emerging Church. I found myself nodding my head in agreement with most of Jim’s critique and proposed solutions. And yet, I have a few misgivings of my own.

First, as a Baptist, I disagree with the idea of setting such a “low bar for membership.” Jim’s church does not require members to subscribe to anything that is outside the bounds of Nicene Christianity:
“Let me provide an example. To become a member of Redeemer Church you must be a Nicene Christian, committed to ‘living as becomes a follower of Christ’ and be willing to submit to the community. What about views on baptism? The Lord’s Supper? Politics? The end times? The anti-Christ? Although important and although we hold views on each of them, holding different views on these topics will not keep you from the Well of Redeemer and belonging to our church.” (158)
I agree that some of the above examples should not be a hindrance to membership. But setting the bar this low appears very invidualistic.

If some in the congregation believe in believer’s baptism by immersion and others believe in baptizing infants, what will take place?

If some believe that women can and should be elders or pastors and others disagree, what will happen?

If some believe in speaking in tongues during worship and others do not, how will that be handled?

My question is this: Is it possible to have a high bar for local church membership (meaning, ask for a certain level of doctrinal unity on some secondary issues) and yet still demonstrate significant appreciation for other churches and denominations that disagree? I think so. I share a certain level of unity with Jim around the central tenets of the gospel and I agree with his “centered-set hermeneutic.”

Regarding fellowship, I can cooperate with Jim as a Nicene Christian. Regarding local church membership, I belong to a Baptist church, which involves an additional level of unity on other issues. Can I still be a Nicene Christian and a convictional Baptist? Can I still be an advocate of “deep church” and have high bars for local church membership? I think so.

On another note, I wonder what the reasons are for Jim’s emphasis on the fourth and fifth centuries. Jim advocates a return to our roots, to the pre-pragmatic era of Christianity. I am glad to see the emphasis on our heritage.

But even as Jim admits “there is not a golden time to return to” (136), it appears that the fourth and fifth centuries serve as a quasi-Golden Age for the book. If we are going back so far, why stop at the fourth century? Why not return to the first?

I like the Robert Webber-influenced “Ancient-Future” emphasis in this book, but I wish that Jim would have made a case for why it is appropriate that we return to the 400’s. Why not return to the 16th century? Or the 900’s? It appears to me that our post-Christian society is becoming more and more like the world before Constantine. I need more reasons for accepting that the Christendom era Jim describes is the most relevant to our day and age.

Overall, Deep Church is a must-read for any pastor or church planter. Jim offers a proposal filled with gentle hope. If you have felt like you are caught in the crossfire between the Emerging and Traditional camps, you will enjoy insights of Jim Belcher and his hope-filled proposal for a united, stronger evangelicalism."

Free book of stories of the Islamic Prophets

Free book of stories of the Islamic Prophets: "Hey guys, here 228 pages: a free book that can be downloaded, on the lives of the Islamic prophets. This helps you understand how Islam views its prophets, and how it views history in general. PBUY. DOWNLOAD HERE.
More info on this book HERE. "

The Demeanor of Humility vs Actual Humility

The Demeanor of Humility vs Actual Humility: "

Ken Sande:

Many leaders conceal a proud attitude under a demeanor of humility, which is not the same as actual humility. One of the many evidences of actual humility is the inclination to “consider others better than yourself,” which results in valuing their thoughts and interests as highly as your own (Phil. 2:3-4). A closely related evidence of humility is to sincerely welcome critique and correction, no matter who brings the “observation” (Prov. 13:10, 17:10). Therefore, wise leaders regularly meditate and pray about the “pride and humility” passages in Scripture (see Prov. 11:2, 19:20; Isa. 66:3; 1 Pet. 5:5-6), asking God to help them put off self-confidence, pride, and every hint of arrogance, and to put on a humility that genuinely welcomes questions, suggestions, criticism, and anything else that might aid us in the process of presenting ourselves before God as empty vessels, so that we might be utterly dependent on and fulfilled in him, which is the essence of true humility.

From Approachability: The Passport to Real Ministry and Leadership.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Gospel Clothing Part II

This quote is awesome because it explains the key to both Islam and contextualization at the same time:

When the church had lost track of an important element in the saving work of Jesus Christ, and was teaching that believers are justified not by faith but by being sanctified, as a result it became very easy for the church to revert to an old covenant lifestyle. Uneasiness about justification by grace alone produced a flowering of asceticism, reflecting an unconscious need for a list of clean and unclean activities and a rebirth of Phariseeism.

Thus, those who are not secure in Christ cast about for spiritual life preservers with which to support their confidence. And in their frantic search they not only cling to the shreds of ability and righteousness they find in themselves, but they fix upon their race, membership in a party, familiar social and ecclesiastic patterns, and their culture as means of self-recommendation. The culture is put on as if it were armor against self-doubt. But it becomes a mental straight-jacked which cleaves to the flesh and can never be removed except through comprehensive faith in the saving work of Christ. Once you understand the gospel, once faith is exercised, a Christian is free to be enculturated- to wear his culture like a comfortable suit of clothes. He can shift to other cultural clothing temporarily if he wishes to do so as Paul suggests in 1 Corinthians 9 and he is released to admire and appreciate the differing expressions of Christ shining through other cultures.

-Richard Lovelace, quoted in Tim Keller's talk on Contextualization in 2004, starting at 53:00

The gospel is the key to contextualization. (And to Islam.)

Related: Gospel Clothing (Part I)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Larson's Top 5 Books on Islam

Warren Larson, director of the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies, Columbia International University, recommends his top 5 books on Islam. Here they are without the pictures:

The Unseen Face Of Islam: Sharing the Gospel with Ordinary Muslims at Street Level By Bill Musk
This, Musk's best book on Islam, uncovers the practical issues most Muslims face—spirits, blessings, curses, saints, amulets, charms, love potions, and lots of fear.

Glad News! God Loves You, My Muslim Friend By Samy Tanagho
Helps readers to understand the religion by urging them to engage in personal conversations with its practitioners.

The Crescent Through The Eyes Of The Cross: Insights from an Arab Christian By Nabeel Jabbour
A helpful reflection on Islam's religious and cultural contexts, understanding the Muslim worldview, and the relationship between East and West.

Muslims, Christians And Jesus: Gaining Understanding and Building Relationships By Carl Medearis
Not a scholarly work and one that contains several errors about Islam, it nonetheless superbly demonstrates how Christians can and must lovingly interact with Muslims.

A Worldview Approach to Ministry Among Muslim Women By Cynthia Strong And Meg Page
Combines the ministry insights of women scholars and fieldworkers serving Muslim women, and explores Muslim-Christian differences and how Christian women can interact with Muslim women.

Imagination and Story in Evangelism

From an interview of Todd Hunter in CT's September 2009 issue:

You write about the evangelistic importance of shaping the imagination. What does that mean?

The average person doesn't live out of data and propositions. They live out of their imaginations. When I almost moved to Washington State to play rookie league baseball, what animated me was my dream of playing in the major leagues. I knew the facts of baseball. I knew the rules. I knew the history and the great players. But what fueled me was my imagination.

Stories create imagination, and imagination creates possibility.

This is where Eugene Peterson's work about the power of story to shape imagination has been so helpful. He says that if you genuinely think Christianity is a story about going to heaven when you die, it is no accident that fostering discipleship is like pulling teeth. I'm trying to get people to switch stories to reshape their imaginations. If we recast the gospel as something that gives us life, not just a secure death, then discipleship and mission become normative because they become more intuitive.

How do people move to the bigger good-life and secure-death story?

In our story, heaven is not the goal; it's the destination. We're going to reign with God forever in the renewed heaven and renewed earth. That's our destination. But the goal of Christianity is spiritual transformation into Christlikeness.

If my dream of playing baseball had come true, I wouldn't have called my dad and said, "I'm going to New York." No, I would have said, "I got drafted by the Yankees." New York is not the goal. It's simply the destination.

When people are on a journey of discovery, at what point do you think, The Spirit of God is now leading me to pose the question that gets them to cross the line?

In much of post-World War II evangelicalism, we asked people to cross a finish line. So it went: apologetics, apologetics, apologetics, then, okay, you get it now, you need to make a decision, and you get to go to heaven when you die. What I'd prefer to see is apologetics, enculturation, saying the prayers, and then you come to a line, but it's a starting line: Are you ready to become a follower of Jesus? Can you now see the big intention of God for the earth and what he was doing through Christ and Pentecost and creating the people of God? Are you willing to join that family and take up that family's cause through following Jesus?