Review: By the Waters of Babylon

aniolScott Aniol’s new book, By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, argues at length against the architects of missional evangelism—not because Aniol thinks the attractional model (of Hybels, Warren, et al.) is better, but because he doesn’t see cultural forms as neutral, suitable for any message including the gospel.

Here’s what I take to be his thesis paragraph for the book:

Although the missional church seems to correctly recognize the nature of the Christendom paradigm in western civilization and in many cases rightly discerns the integral relationship between Christianity and culture during that period, it appears to view this development in the history of the church as entirely negative, with very few positive fruits. At the very least, most missional advocates see what happened as merely neutral contextualization of the church’s worship to culture, yet their very quick dismissal of worship forms coming out of that period as simply antiquated “relics” reveals what may be a simplistic understanding of the impact of the church upon culture during that period. This perspective limits their ability to recognize the strengths of the cultural forms from that period in expressing Christian values and the vast differences that exist today with regard to culture and contextualization in worship.

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Book Review - Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City

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I saw a slight criticism of Tim Keller’s book Center Church about a month after it was released this September, but there was no way that the critic could have read the entire book so fast! The criticism got my attention and after reading what Keller had to say about his own book, I decided to buy it and check it out.  I had my doubts after having read a few comments from people who voiced their reservations about Keller’s direction. So, I want to lay out a report of what the book is about and what some of the key thoughts are that drive the direction of this book.

1. The Gospel

The first and most important issue that Keller addresses is the gospel, it’s content and it’s exclusivity. He also makes it clear that incarnational gospel living isn’t enough, words are necessary! It must be preached verbally. The gospel is a story that begins with creation and ends in the consummation. Different parts of the plot line of the story of the gospel are better starting points to share with unbelievers than others depending on the culture. There is no “one size fits all” presentation of the gospel that fits in every time and place. Neither is the gospel just a hoop we jump through to get converted:

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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.

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Random Thoughts on the Year Ahead

Please consider this post as being intentionally below our usual front page standards. “Intentionally,” because we’re coming off of a holiday and I haven’t completely taken my heels off my desk yet.

What I aim to do here is share some pretty much random thoughts on the year past and the one head from a SharperIron point of view.

The year past

Over all, twenty-ten was not a bad year for SI. Site traffic was down about 3% compared to the year before, but from October 1 on, was higher than the year before by a significant and increasing margin. November increased over October and December increased over November. It’s hard to tell yet whether that represents a trend. But I’m encouraged by the fact that we began 2010 with traffic levels below those of 2009 and finished the year well above them.

Of course, site traffic is kind of like church attendance. It’s just the easiest factor to look at to gauge how you’re doing—not necessarily the most meaningful one.

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