Building Up the Body: Evangelicalism's Failure


From Voice, Nov/Dec 2013. Used by permission.

One of the most insightful of recent books concerning the church is actually written by an unbeliever. Alan Wolfe, a social scientist, has been observing the changing American religious scene for years. A few years ago he shared his research in The Transformation of American Religion (New York: Free Press, 2003). The message of his book is that “religion in the United States is being transformed in radically new directions” (3). Wolfe claims,

Talk of Hell, damnation, and even sin has been replaced by a nonjudgmental language of understanding and empathy. Gone are the arguments over doctrine and theology… More Americans than ever proclaim themselves born again in Christ, but the Lord to whom they turn rarely gets angry and frequently strengthens self-esteem. [As a result] the faithful in the United States are remarkably like everyone else. (3)

If Wolfe’s assessments are on target, what would be the catalyst for this transformation (or better, degeneration)? Wolfe’s thesis is that in an effort to win over American culture, Evangelicalism has stooped so low that it can no longer be distinguished from that culture. Take doctrine for example. Small-group Bible studies avoid theology like the plague, lest it prove divisive. Sermons are no better. Read more about Building Up the Body: Evangelicalism's Failure

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Where Does the Seminary Fit in Relation to the Local Church?


This article discusses the relationship of the seminary to the local church. Specifically it argues for tangible recognition on the part of seminaries that the local church is the biblically designed co-center (along with the family) of biblical education. I advocate that acknowledgment include, wherever possible, a direct local church accountability, and ideally, a posture of working as a ministry of a local church, under that local church’s direct leadership.

On the importance of local church leadership of the seminary

One important reason for the decline of biblical education in the churches has been the seminary’s haste to take on responsibilities that are the jurisdiction of the church. As pastoral roles (regrettably) shift more and more toward corporate leadership, recruitment, and hospitality, and away from exegetical teaching and discipleship, the need for para-church organizations only increases. Local churches become less and less capable of fulfilling their biblical mandates, and thus become increasingly dependent upon seminaries in particular, for doctrinal and functional strategies and for filling their personnel needs. Read more about Where Does the Seminary Fit in Relation to the Local Church?

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My Tribe


If you spend any time around the internet, you’ll probably recognize this word: “tribe.” Now for hundred of years “tribe” was a pretty unassuming member of the English language, content to describe a discrete sociological structure. But over the course of the last five years, it’s had a bit of a growth spurt due in part to a leadership paradigm that Seth Godin popularized in his book (aptly titled) Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.

Since then, it seems that everyone of influence is busy forming a tribe. Even (especially?) among Christians. There is a theologically progressive tribe, a theologically conservative tribe, a missional tribe, a mundane tribe, and of course, a tribe just for those too cool for any of these other tribes.  And in the irony that is the human experience, those of us speaking most loudly against racism and prejudice are often the first to coalesce into tribes to do it.

So that the Tribe intended to trump all others continues to be defined by tribalism.

The other funny thing about all this tribal language is that it often misses the whole point of being a tribe. While today’s tribes form around common interests and common leaders, in the historical sense, a tribe was the result of a common ancestor in a common location. You don’t belong to a tribe because you choose to be in it; you belong to a tribe because you’ve been born into it. And once you are, you remain in it by sharing life with the other members. You live in the same space. Read more about My Tribe

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Early Christian Decision-Making: Where Do We Start?


Also in this series: Part 1, Part 2.

Pick up a book or a magazine article on the subject of church government and most likely you will read a discussion beginning with pastors, elders, ordination, or authority. Others go directly to instances of church order in the New Testament. Since graduating from seminary, my view on where to begin the subject has changed, step by step. Why is it that when we really want to understand the nature of something in Christ’s church we do not first look at Christ Himself and His church? If “a picture is worth a thousand words,” then why can’t we look at pictures of Christ and His church in the New Testament and begin to get our answers? And why can’t we first ask what Jesus said?1 As we read the New Testament and begin to reflect, we will understand that we have a few volumes’ worth of ideas to tell us how the church should govern itself, including the one small element I have chosen to write about: early Christian decision-making. I will focus on two of those ideas.

1. Authority and equality

Christians are followers of Jesus the Messiah. From the very first days of the Jesus movement until today, Jesus is known as the head (kephale) of the church (Eph. 4:15, 5:23, Col. 1:18) and the Lord (kyrios) of His followers (Matt. 8:23; Luke 11:1; Acts 1:21, 5:14, 15:11; Rom. 1:3; 1 Cor. 1:2; etc.). The authority of Jesus in the church is regal, absolute, and unquestioned. And to a certain extent, His authority limits creativity in church government. Read more about Early Christian Decision-Making: Where Do We Start?

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Fomenting a Missional Revolution


A college president recently opened a can of worms in speaking of changing music on a “missional level.” I’m not sure what he meant by that, but “missional” is not going away. It is not easily toppled as some critics have imagined. I have read articles and heard sermons on “missional” which left me puzzled and convinced that many opponents have never been involved with a heterogeneous church or engaged in extensive cross-cultural ministry.

Much time is spent in libraries doing research to find something to use against something disliked. This is especially true when one starts from the perspective that “missional” is bad and needs to be exposed and avoided. The critics then cite sources and employ the worst representatives and distortions to prove their point. For some, “missional” sounds too new age or emergent or associated with the compromise of the social gospel. Surely there is something in “missional” for everyone to dislike, and aberrations can easily be found.

What I hope to accomplish in this brief article is a simple reflection on the validity of churches and Christians adopting a missional stance regarding those who are outside the church and who are in desperate need of an encounter with followers of Jesus Christ. Many churches are mission-minded. They love missions. They support missionaries. They even allow missionaries to plant churches that reflect the culture and community in which missionaries live. Yet often they themselves remain locked in a cultural time-warp, fight battles that were won or lost long ago, debate issues that matter little or matter only to them and their regional or relational sub-culture, and ignore the enormous changes in our society and the challenges we face in reaching people for Christ with the gospel. Disagree if you must with missional churches, but do something to get out of the religious ghetto where you have lost contact with the world and get out of your office occasionally to be on mission rather than on management. Read more about Fomenting a Missional Revolution

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Reflections on the Gospel of the Kingdom


As N. T. Wright observes, “kingdom of God has been a flag of convenience under which all sorts of ships have sailed.”1 These ships are social, political, nationalistic, and theological. Their corresponding agendas often have little to do with the arrival of the kingdom of God announced by Jesus. The kingdom as found and presented in the New Testament will not be pressed into a one-dimensional box. There are passages which indicate a present kingdom aspect (Luke 17:21) and others which indicate a future aspect (Matthew 25:34; Luke 21:17, 31). Multiple texts demonstrate that the gospel of the kingdom was the message of Jesus and the apostles (Luke 4:43; 9:1, 2). Jesus “instructed the seventy to proclaim, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’ ” (Luke 10:1, 9). In Acts we find Philip who “preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ….” (Acts 8:12). The Apostle Paul in Ephesus “entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). Near the end of his ministry, Paul “expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God….” (Acts 28:23).

The opening of the gospel of Mark proclaims the “beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Jesus arrives on the scene, “preaching the gospel [of the kingdom, KJV] of God” (1:14). He announces that “the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe in the gospel” (v. 15). The phrase “is near” can be understood as referring to something still to happen. However, as France comments, “If Jesus is understood to have proclaimed as ‘near’ something which had still not arrived even at the time when Mark wrote his gospel (let alone 2,000 years later), this is hardly less of an embarrassment than if he had claimed that ‘it’ was already present.”2 Read more about Reflections on the Gospel of the Kingdom

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Book Review - Loving the Church


Image of Loving the Church: God's People Flourishing in God's Family
by John Crotts
Shepherd Press 2010
Paperback 140

“I’m a member of the body of Christ. Why should I have to join a church?” In one form or another, this is one of the most common sentiments that I have heard in the past five years of ministry in Colorado Springs. A simple but profound part of the answer to that question can be given in one word—“love.”

It is no secret that American individualism has left its mark on the way we practice our Christianity, particularly with regard to the church. Some have gone so far as to say that American evangelicalism has no ecclesiology. In recent years a loose crowd has coalesced of those who not only tacitly accept churchless Christianity but explicitly promote it. From the vantage point of my little prairie dog mound surrounded by mountainous para-church ministries, it can almost appear that there are few left who believe that the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church is actually something tangible that has biblical shape and includes real commitments to real people. Many love the church like a young girl who has watched too many romantic movies—they are passionate about something that does not exist except in their own fevered imaginations.

In that context, the title of this recent book by John Crotts, a pastor at Faith Bible Church in Sharpsburg, Georgia, caught my attention, and I must say that reading it was refreshing. This is a book designed to woo the believer into loving the actual bride for whom Christ died. In Loving the Church, Pastor Crotts aims “to help you see how glorious God’s family really is, and then to see the countless ways you and your family can flourish within it” (p. 30). Crotts seeks to accomplish this with one section summarizing the Bible’s teaching about the church and a second section applying this teaching to Christians and their families.

The thread that holds the book together is a series of fictional coffee shop conversations among a diverse group of professing Christians who are disaffected with the church for various reasons. In between their encounters, Crotts lays out some simple and clear Scriptural teaching on the nature and function of the local church. With this approach, Crotts gives a gentle rebuke to some common errors regarding the church while maintaining a positive and encouraging tone. For example, he stirs up reflections about the relationship of families vis-à-vis the church, about ministering apart from the church, about moral failures and churches’ responses, and about choosing a church because of its use of technology or its singles’ group. Read more about Book Review - Loving the Church

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