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The Hymns That Keep on Going: Interesting Compilation of the Most Popular Hymns in Hymnals

March 15th, 2011 9 comments

Here you go, interesting article.

Here’s a chart summarizing the findings:

 

 

What is the Heresy of Modernity?

February 8th, 2011 3 comments

A pervasive mindset so aptly described by J. I. Packer—namely, a belief that

the newer is the truer,
only what is recent is decent,
every shift of ground is a step forward,
and every latest word must be hailed as the last word on its subject.

—J. I. Packer, “Is Systematic Theology a Mirage? An Introductory Discussion,” in Doing Theology in Today’s World: Essays in Honor of Kenneth S. Kantzer, ed. John D. Woodbridge and Thomas Edward McComiskey (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1991), 21. HT: Justin Taylor.

Ten Fixtures of American Evangelicalism

November 15th, 2010 13 comments

How many of these “fixtures” do we find creeping into Lutheran congregations? Here is a great blog post by Joe Carter of First Things.

There are two types of evangelicals in America: those who naively embrace whatever trendy items happen to be hot sellers at “Christian” bookstores—WWJD? bracelets, Testamints, prayer of Jabez scented candles—and those who shun such kitsch. I am solidly of the second type. Like a good Pharisee, I thank God every day that I’m not like those people.

But I take comfort in knowing that most of this stuff is rather harmless and nothing more than a passing fad. It is not the dernier cri that will soon be gone that concerns me but the faddage that becomes a fixture. Fads still receive scrutiny; fixtures remain largely unquestioned.

The following are ten fixtures that I find particularly harmful not just to evangelicalism but to evangelism. None of them are inherently pernicious (well, except for #10) but evangelicals use them in ways that do not serve their intended purposes.

#1 Making Converts. I’ve always felt uneasy about the idea that Christians should be seeking to make converts. Am I wrong in thinking that the making of converts is a task associated with Islam, rather than Christianity? Perhaps I have a flawed understanding of the Gospel, but I always thought the purpose of evangelism is not to make converts but to make, as Christ commanded, disciples—and to make disciples of nations, not just individuals. Indeed, my primary complaint against each of the other nine methods on this list is that they are not useful for instigating true conversion, much less make true disciples.

#2 The Sinner’s Prayer. The gates of hell have a special entrance reserved for people who thought that they had a ticket into heaven because someone told them all they needed to do was recite the “sinner’s prayer.” I’ve searched through the entire New Testament and can’t find an example of anyone who was “saved” after reciting such a prayer.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that such prayer is worthless or that it can’t be used by the Holy Spirit. But salvation is not obtained by reciting a magical incantation, as far too many “Christians” will discover after it’s far too late.

#3 ”Do you know Jesus as . . . “. As I’ve said before, this is one question that needs never be asked since it reveals (a) you do not know the person well enough, or (b) the answer is yes and the person is a lousy Christian, or (c) the answer is no, in which case you just activated their fundie-alert system and caused them to switch their brains into “ignore” mode. Instead of asking about a “personal savior” you might want to simply try to get to personally know the person.

#4 Tribulationism. Ask a non-believer to give a rudimentary explanation of the “end times” and chances are he can provide a fairly accurate description of popular eschatology. Ask the same person to give a basic explanation of the Gospel message, though, and he is likely to be stumped.

The reason for this curious state of affairs is that evangelicals have promoted what I would call “Tribulationism”: an overemphasis on pre-millennial dispensational eschatology. I’m sure that somewhere in the three-dozen novels that comprise the Left Behind series the Gospel message is presented. But there is something horribly wrong when the greatest story ever told is buried beneath a third-rate tale of the apocalypse.

#5 Testimonies. Several years ago, during a job interview for a Christian organization, my prospective employer asked me to tell him my “testimony.” The fact that I was a Christian apparently wasn’t enough. I had to have a good conversion story to go along with my faith.

Now you may have a great story about how “the hound of Heaven” chased you down and gnawed on your leg until you surrendered. No doubt your story would make for a gripping movie of the week on Lifetime and lead to the making of numerous converts (see #1). But the harsh truth is that as compelling, and even useful, as your story may be, it is not the most important story you could tell.

You are only a very, very minor character in the narrative; the starring role goes to the Divine Protagonist. In fact, he already has a pretty good story, so why not just tell that one instead?

#6 The Altar Call. In the 1820’s evangelist Charles Finney introduced the “anxious seat,” a front pew left vacant where at the end of the meeting “the anxious may come and be addressed particularly—and sometimes be conversed with individually.” At the end of his sermon, he would say, “There is the anxious seat; come out, and avow determination to be on the Lord’s side.” The problem with this approach, as theologian J.I. Packer, explains is,

The gospel of God requires an immediate response from all; but it does not require the same response from all. The immediate duty of the unprepared sinner is not to try and believe on Christ, which he is not able to do, but to read, enquire, pray, use the means of grace and learn what he needs to be saved from. It is not in his power to accept Christ at any moment, as Finney supposed; and it is God’s prerogative, not the evangelist’s, to fix the time when men shall first savingly believe.

#7 Witnessing. Evangelism isn’t Amway. It is not a form of Multi-Level Marketing in which you get extra credit for the number of people in your network and you don’t get a great commission for the Great Commission. If you want to sell something door-to-door, make it the good products of Avon, not the good news of Jesus.

If you want to be a more effective “witness for Christ” why not start by actively loving our neighbors? Start by loving the unlovable—the smelly, unbathed men down at the mission, the annoying kids at church, the inconsiderate jerk who cuts you off in traffic. Yes, you need to tell people about the Gospel. But that is evangelism, not “witnessing.” In the context of the Christian life, witness should be a noun more often than a verb.

#8 Protestant Prayers. A few years ago a fellow coworker, a young Catholic man, was asked to open a meeting with a prayer. Without hesitation he began reciting the “Lord’s prayer.” Afterward I joked that, having come up with such a fine prayer, he might want to write it down for future use. What I didn’t say was how his recitation of the prayer made me uncomfortable.

First, I’m not used to hearing prayers that don’t contain the word “just” (as in “We just want to thank you Lord. . .”) so it sounded strangely unprayer-like. Second, it seemed to violate the accepted standards for public prayer. I had always assumed that praying in public required being able to interlace some just-want-to’s in with some Lord-thank-you-for’s and be-with-us-as-we’s in a coherent fashion before capping it all with a hearty, but humble, Amen.

Third, I thought that prayers are supposed to be spontaneous—from the heart, off the top of the head—emanations, rather than prepackaged recitations. If it ain’t original, it ain’t prayer, right? Can I get an amen?

But where did that idea come from? We evangelicals have bookshelves filled with tomes to teach us how to pray. Yet somehow Jesus managed to wrap up the lesson in less than forty words. Why isn’t his prayer good enough for evangelicals to use? Why do our prayers sound nothing like his example?

#9 The Church Growth Movement. Sadly, this has moved from fad to fixture. Think I’m wrong? Ask the next evangelical you see to define that phrase. In fact, ask the next hundred evangelicals you see. Let me know if you find anyone that tells you they think the church growth movement is a movement in the church to grow disciples.

#10 Chick Tracts. Chick Tracts are a tool of the devil—pamphlets that provoke fear, pervert the Gospel, and divide the body of Christ. That fact—and yes it is a fact—is not changed just because you know a guy who knows a guy who heard testimony about a guy who said the Sinner’s Prayer after finding Chick’s “The Long Trip” on the floor of a truck stop restroom outside of Tucson.

Am I saying that all of these ten fixtures are worthless? No, I’m not (well, except for #10). I may be pharisaical, but I’m not a complete legalist. All I’m saying is that we evangelicals don’t need these tools of evangelism. We don’t need any fads and fixtures at all. We don’t need anything more than the Gospel. For that is one fixture of our faith that will never go out of style.

Joe Carter is web editor of First Things.

Protestantism Needs Reformation

October 27th, 2010 3 comments

Dr. Gene Edward Veith posted this excellent declaration on his blog site.

The original Reformation, whose anniversary we mark on October 31, began in 1517 as an attempt to bring medieval Catholicism back to the Gospel, the Bible, and Vocation. It has occurred to me that today the various Protestant churches need that same Reformation.

THE GOSPEL.

Luther nailed his theses on the church door to challenge the practice of selling indulgences. In effect, people were told to give their money to the church, whereupon they would get to go straight to eternal happiness in Heaven. Today, in many Protestant churches, people are being told to give their money to the church, whereupon they are told that they will get health, wealth, and temporal happiness in this world. But the Prosperity Gospel is not the Gospel!

Neither is the Social Gospel of the liberal mainline Protestants, which construe the Kingdom of Heaven as an earthly utopia. Neither is the Social Gospel of many conservative churches, which construe the Kingdom of Heaven as an American civil religion.

In sophisticated theological circles, both of mainline Protestants and among a surprising number of evangelicals, the Gospel has to do with inclusion, of being accepted into the church community. The “New Perspective on Paul” says that the Apostle did not teach justification by grace through faith apart from the Law, as Protestants used to all agree. Rather, by “Law,” he just meant the setting aside of the Judaic ceremonial law. He was concerned with inclusiveness, of allowing Gentiles to become full members of the church alongside of Jews. Not salvation from the guilt and sin that comes from violating the moral law. Similarly, the business of the church today should be including everybody, not proclaiming a supernatural salvation grounded in redemption from sin.

The actual Gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ has, through His life, death, and resurrection, atoned for the sins of the world.

The Protestantism that has drifted away from this Gospel is in need of Reformation.

THE BIBLE.

Medieval Catholicism did believe in the Bible. They just didn’t use it much. Today’s mainline Protestants don’t believe in it at all. Many conservative Protestants believe in it–acknowledging its authority, inerrancy and all–but they have stopped reading it in their services and their sermons sometimes have not a shred of Scripture in them. Instead, the preaching is about self-help, pop psychology, politics, or generic inspiration. Sometimes the message is “believe in yourself” or even “have faith in yourself.”

The Reformers taught that the Word of God is not only authoritative, but a means of Grace. They preached the Law, to bring their listeners to repentance, and then they proclaimed the Gospel of free forgiveness in Christ. In the words of Walther, they preached faith into their listeners’ hearts.

The Protestantism that has drifted away from the Word of God is in need of Reformation.

VOCATION.

Medieval Catholicism believed that the highest holiness required rejecting marriage, economic labor, and participation in the state. Instead, they required their clergy to take vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience to church authorities (to whose laws they were subject instead of the laws of the land). The Reformation taught that God calls all Christians to love and serve their neighbors in the vocations of the family, the workplace, the state, and the church. God Himself is present in vocations. Vocation was the Reformation doctrine of the Christian life.

Today, many Protestants are torn between a hyperspirituality that denies the significance of earthly life and a hypermaterialism. They do not know how to express their faith in their vocation as citizens. In their work, they either try to formulate a distinctly Christian way of exercising their professions, or they consider their work to be nothing more than a way to keep themselves alive and prosperous until they can go to church and engage in “church work” through the week. Meanwhile, the Christian family is at risk, as the divorce rate is as bad or even somewhat worse than that for unbelievers, a clear sign that Protestants have forgotten the vocation of the family.

The doctrine of Vocation solves the Christian’s problems of cultural engagement, political involvement, and being “in, but not of” the world. It does so by affirming the spiritual significance of the “secular” order while preventing the Church from being secularized.

The Protestantism that has drifted away from Vocation is in need of Reformation.

Is There a Biblical Reason for There to Be a State of Israel? No. Political? Yes.

October 25th, 2010 1 comment

I picked up this interesting story from Religious News Service, and found myself agreeing completely with the Roman Catholic Archbishop. Many American evangelicals, fundamentalists and well as other well meaning Christians might think that the modern day state of Israel is somehow based on a Biblical foundation for its existence, but it is not. The New Testment makes very clear that there now is only one “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16), and it is not the modern state of Israel: it is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. Having said that, I think there are compelling reasons to support the modern day state of Israel. They are an important ally of the United States, but their existence has nothing to do with Holy Scripture.

SIMON WIESENTHAL CENTER URGES POPE BENEDICT XVI TO DENOUNCE ARCHBISHOP WHO DENIED JEWISH PEOPLE’S LINK TO LAND OF ISRAEL

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is urging Pope Benedict XVI to immediately denounce a statement by Melkite Catholic Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros at a Vatican Synod on the Middle East wherein he asserted that, “We Christians cannot speak about the promised land for the Jewish people. There is no longer a chosen people. All men and women of all countries have become the chosen people. The concept of the promised land cannot be used as a base for the justification of the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of Palestinians.” He added that, “[t]he justification of Israel’s occupation of the land of Palestine cannot be based on sacred scriptures.”
“This political stunt, wrapped in theological garb, not only insults every Jew but flies in the face of the statements and actions of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, both who have visited Israel and expressed solidarity with her people,” charged Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, dean and founder and associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, respectively, who have had audiences with both Pontiffs. “The Archbishop’s statement comes at the end of the conference wherein the so-called “Palestine Kairos Document”—which openly denies the right of Israel to be a Jewish state—was presented at the Vatican for the first time. These developments demand immediate action by the Pope. Hopes for peace in the Middle East will only come when both sides recognize the rights of the others. These latest moves, left unchallenged, will damage interfaith relations and embolden anti-Semites and terrorists,” they concluded.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is one of the largest international Jewish human rights organizations with over 400,000 member families in the United States. It is an NGO at international agencies including the United Nations, UNESCO, the OSCE, the OAS, the Council of Europe and the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino).

For more information, please contact the Center’s Public Relations Department, 310-553-9036, join the Center on Facebook, www.facebook.com/simonwiesenthalcenter, or follow @simonwiesenthal for news updates sent direct to your Twitter page or mobile device.

Beware of Living in Glass Houses: Crystal Cathedral Files for Bankruptcy

October 25th, 2010 3 comments

You may have heard about Robert Schuller’s Chrystal Cathedral having to file bankruptcy. Financial bankruptcy is one thing, but the theological bankruptcy of the Cyrstal Cathedral was something they have been struggling with throughout Schuller and his daughter’s ministry there. Al Mohler had a very perceptive blog post recently setting forth the theological problems. Here is the ENI story about the financial bankruptcy.

California’s Crystal Cathedral files for bankruptcy protection
ENI-10-0716

By Adelle M. Banks
Washington, 25 October (ENI/RNS)–The Crystal Cathedral, the gleaming Southern California megachurch known for its “Hour of Power” television broadcast, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from creditors.

Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman said in an 18 October statement that the decision came after some creditors chose to file lawsuits against the ministry, Religion News Service reports.

“As is often the case, negotiations and decisions do not move fast enough to satisfy all parties,” said Coleman, who succeeded her father, the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, this year. “For these reasons, the ministry now finds it necessary to seek the protection of a Chapter 11.”

The church’s “Hour of Power” broadcast has been described as the most-watched Christian television programme worldwide. The building spans 415-feet (126.5 metres) in length, 207-feet (63 metres) in width and 128-feet (39 metres) in height. It features an all-glass covering that encloses the entire building.

Church officials cited the economy as the main cause for its financial trouble. Revenue dropped 27 percent, to about US$22 million, in 2009. In the last year, its staff was reduced by 140 and now totals about 200 people.

The church owes creditors US$7.5 million, said spokesperson John Charles, including the vendor who provided camels, sheep and horses for its annual “Glory of Christmas” pageant. Also unpaid are expenses for television equipment and bills for airtime on some television stations.

The ministry cut costs by reducing its airtime on domestic stations. It now airs on satellite and cable outlets such as Lifetime and the Trinity Network.

It also sold its Rancho Capistrano retreat property to Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in May for US$22.5 million. But it remains about US$44 million in debt.

The ministry also halted its “Glory of Easter” production, which along with its Christmas pageant have attracted crowds for three decades. “It looks like the ‘Glory of Christmas’ will not happen either,” said Charles. “Every passing day it looks a little more like no.”

Despite the current financial picture, statements from church officials reflected the same positive-thinking mantra the Schullers have been preaching for half a century.

“We know we’ll recover,” said Charles. “We’re very optimistic. This will allow us to get a new beginning.” [379 words]
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“Just me and my Bible” is Not a Biblical Thought

September 12th, 2010 Comments off

Here are some thoughts from non-Lutherans dealing with the idea that the ideal condition for a Christian is “Me and my Bible.” Lutherans would want to add something that is not on the radar screen of these folks, “SACRAMENTS.” But the point here is to refute the notion that the “rugged individualist” is not the vision set forth in the Scriptures themselves. HT to Justin Taylor.

“It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.”

—Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1876), 1.

“Tradition is the fruit of the Spirit’s teaching activity from the ages as God’s people have sought understanding of Scripture. It is not infallible, but neither is it negligible, and we impoverish ourselves if we disregard it.”

—J.I. Packer, “Upholding the Unity of Scripture Today,” JETS 25 (1982): 414

“The best way to guard a true interpretation of Scripture, the Reformers insisted, was neither to naively embrace the infallibility of tradition, or the infallibility of the individual, but to recognize the communal interpretation of Scripture. The best way to ensure faithfulness to the text is to read it together, not only with the churches of our own time and place, but with the wider ‘communion of saints’ down through the age.”

—Michael Horton, “What Still Keeps Us Apart?”

“There is rugged terrain ahead for those who are constitutionally incapable of referring to the paths marked out by wise and spirit-filled cartographers over the centuries.”

—Larry Woiwode, Acts (New York: HarperCollins, 1993).

(HT: Michael Haykin for the first two quotes)

We Lutherans would first put in the hands of a person looking for the Christian consensus about the Faith, a copy of the Book of Concord, and then guide them into reading other helpful church fathers and theologians.

Recipe for Fake Christians: Keep Feeding Them Pablum!

September 9th, 2010 Comments off

Others practice a “gospel of niceness,” where faith is simply doing good and not ruffling feathers. The Christian call to take risks, witness and sacrifice for others is muted, she says. “If teenagers lack an articulate faith, it may be because the faith we show them is too spineless to merit much in the way of conversation,” wrote Dean, a professor of youth and church culture at Princeton Theological Seminary. More teens may be drifting away from conventional Christianity. But their desire to help others has not diminished, another author says.

These words are part of a story I read today, and while it applies to teens, I’m convinced it applies to many Christians today. When we feed people pablum, they remain infants. When all they hear in their Christian congregation is a form of the “Precious Moments” Gospel that is more about feeling all warm and cozy about themselves, than the full-blooded, or should I say, “shed bloodedness” that is the Christian truth, then what results is what this article is talking all about.

Here is the story:

(CNN) — If you’re the parent of a Christian teenager, Kenda Creasy Dean has this warning:

Your child is following a “mutant” form of Christianity, and you may be responsible.

Dean says more American teenagers are embracing what she calls “moralistic therapeutic deism.” Translation: It’s a watered-down faith that portrays God as a “divine therapist” whose chief goal is to boost people’s self-esteem.

Dean is a minister, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and the author of “Almost Christian,” a new book that argues that many parents and pastors are unwittingly passing on this self-serving strain of Christianity.

She says this “imposter” faith is one reason teenagers abandon churches.

“If this is the God they’re seeing in church, they are right to leave us in the dust,” Dean says. “Churches don’t give them enough to be passionate about.”

What traits passionate teens share

Dean drew her conclusions from what she calls one of the most depressing summers of her life. She interviewed teens about their faith after helping conduct research for a controversial study called the National Study of Youth and Religion.

The study, which included in-depth interviews with at least 3,300 American teenagers between 13 and 17, found that most American teens who called themselves Christian were indifferent and inarticulate about their faith.

The study included Christians of all stripes — from Catholics to Protestants of both conservative and liberal denominations. Though three out of four American teenagers claim to be Christian, fewer than half practice their faith, only half deem it important, and most can’t talk coherently about their beliefs, the study found.

Many teenagers thought that God simply wanted them to feel good and do good — what the study’s researchers called “moralistic therapeutic deism.”

Some critics told Dean that most teenagers can’t talk coherently about any deep subject, but Dean says abundant research shows that’s not true.

“They have a lot to say,” Dean says. “They can talk about money, sex and their family relationships with nuance. Most people who work with teenagers know that they are not naturally inarticulate.”

In “Almost Christian,” Dean talks to the teens who are articulate about their faith. Most come from Mormon and evangelical churches, which tend to do a better job of instilling religious passion in teens, she says.

No matter their background, Dean says committed Christian teens share four traits: They have a personal story about God they can share, a deep connection to a faith community, a sense of purpose and a sense of hope about their future.

“There are countless studies that show that religious teenagers do better in school, have better relationships with their parents and engage in less high-risk behavior,” she says. “They do a lot of things that parents pray for.”

Dean, a United Methodist Church minister who says parents are the most important influence on their children’s faith, places the ultimate blame for teens’ religious apathy on adults.

Some adults don’t expect much from youth pastors. They simply want them to keep their children off drugs and away from premarital sex.

Others practice a “gospel of niceness,” where faith is simply doing good and not ruffling feathers. The Christian call to take risks, witness and sacrifice for others is muted, she says.

“If teenagers lack an articulate faith, it may be because the faith we show them is too spineless to merit much in the way of conversation,” wrote Dean, a professor of youth and church culture at Princeton Theological Seminary.

More teens may be drifting away from conventional Christianity. But their desire to help others has not diminished, another author says.

Barbara A. Lewis, author of “The Teen Guide to Global Action,” says Dean is right — more teens are embracing a nebulous belief in God.

Yet there’s been an “explosion” in youth service since 1995 that Lewis attributes to more schools emphasizing community service.

Teens that are less religious aren’t automatically less compassionate, she says.

“I see an increase in youth passion to make the world a better place,” she says. “I see young people reaching out to solve problems. They’re not waiting for adults.”

What religious teens say about their peers

Elizabeth Corrie meets some of these idealistic teens every summer. She has taken on the book’s central challenge: instilling religious passion in teens.

Corrie, who once taught high school religion, now directs a program called YTI — the Youth Theological Initiative at Emory University in Georgia.

YTI operates like a theological boot camp for teens. At least 36 rising high school juniors and seniors from across the country gather for three weeks of Christian training. They worship together, take pilgrimages to varying religious communities and participate in community projects.

Corrie says she sees no shortage of teenagers who want to be inspired and make the world better. But the Christianity some are taught doesn’t inspire them “to change anything that’s broken in the world.”

Teens want to be challenged; they want their tough questions taken on, she says.

“We think that they want cake, but they actually want steak and potatoes, and we keep giving them cake,” Corrie says.

David Wheaton, an Atlanta high school senior, says many of his peers aren’t excited about Christianity because they don’t see the payoff.

“If they can’t see benefits immediately, they stay away from it,” Wheaton says. “They don’t want to make sacrifices.”

How ‘radical’ parents instill religious passion in their children

Churches, not just parents, share some of the blame for teens’ religious apathy as well, says Corrie, the Emory professor.

She says pastors often preach a safe message that can bring in the largest number of congregants. The result: more people and yawning in the pews.

“If your church can’t survive without a certain number of members pledging, you might not want to preach a message that might make people mad,” Corrie says. “We can all agree that we should all be good and that God rewards those who are nice.”

Corrie, echoing the author of “Almost Christian,” says the gospel of niceness can’t teach teens how to confront tragedy.

“It can’t bear the weight of deeper questions: Why are my parents getting a divorce? Why did my best friend commit suicide? Why, in this economy, can’t I get the good job I was promised if I was a good kid?”

What can a parent do then?

Get “radical,” Dean says.

She says parents who perform one act of radical faith in front of their children convey more than a multitude of sermons and mission trips.

A parent’s radical act of faith could involve something as simple as spending a summer in Bolivia working on an agricultural renewal project or turning down a more lucrative job offer to stay at a struggling church, Dean says.

But it’s not enough to be radical — parents must explain “this is how Christians live,” she says.

“If you don’t say you’re doing it because of your faith, kids are going to say my parents are really nice people,” Dean says. “It doesn’t register that faith is supposed to make you live differently unless parents help their kids connect the dots.”

‘They called when all the cards stopped’

Anne Havard, an Atlanta teenager, might be considered radical. She’s a teen whose faith appears to be on fire.

Havard, who participated in the Emory program, bubbles over with energy when she talks about possibly teaching theology in the future and quotes heavy-duty scholars such as theologian Karl Barth.

She’s so fired up about her faith that after one question, Havard goes on a five-minute tear before stopping and chuckling: “Sorry, I just talked a long time.”

Havard says her faith has been nurtured by what Dean, the “Almost Christian” author, would call a significant faith community.

In 2006, Havard lost her father to a rare form of cancer. Then she lost one of her best friends — a young woman in the prime of life — to cancer as well. Her church and her pastor stepped in, she says.

“They called when all the cards stopped,” she says.

When asked how her faith held up after losing her father and friend, Havard didn’t fumble for words like some of the teens in “Almost Christian.”

She says God spoke the most to her when she felt alone — as Jesus must have felt on the cross.

“When Jesus was on the cross crying out, ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’ Jesus was part of God,” she says. “Then God knows what it means to doubt.

“It’s OK to be in a storm, to be in a doubt,” she says, “because God was there, too.”

Find this article at:

http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/08/27/almost.christian/index.html?hpt=C1

The Perils of Wanna-Be-Cool Christianity

August 14th, 2010 4 comments

Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal, here’s a snippet.

As a 27-year-old evangelical myself, I understand the concern. My peers, many of whom grew up in the church, are losing interest in the Christian establishment.

Recent statistics have shown an increasing exodus of young people from churches, especially after they leave home and live on their own. In a 2007 study, Lifeway Research determined that 70% of young Protestant adults between 18-22 stop attending church regularly.

Statistics like these have created something of a mania in recent years, as baby-boomer evangelical leaders frantically assess what they have done wrong (why didn’t megachurches work to attract youth in the long term?) and scramble to figure out a plan to keep young members engaged in the life of the church.

Increasingly, the “plan” has taken the form of a total image overhaul, where efforts are made to rebrand Christianity as hip, countercultural, relevant. As a result, in the early 2000s, we got something called “the emerging church”—a sort of postmodern stab at an evangelical reform movement. Perhaps because it was too “let’s rethink everything” radical, it fizzled quickly. But the impulse behind it—to rehabilitate Christianity’s image and make it “cool”—remains.

There is No Such Thing as Generic Christianity

August 2nd, 2010 14 comments

“The fact is that there simply is no neutral, undogmatic, generic Gospel, which may then be flavored to taste with denominational additives, say a dash of delicate Anglican mint sauce here, and hearty Lutheran sauerkraut or Baptist okra there. Every confession of the Gospel is at once and inevitably dogmatic or ‘denominational.’ For no honest presentation of the Gospel can escape the necessity of saying yes or no to basic evangelical ingredients like the power of Baptism, grace alone, universal grace, the Gospel as means of grace or the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Holy Supper for our salvation.”

Kurt Marquart, “Central Lutheran Thrusts For Today,” Concordia Journal. Vol. 18, Number 3, (May 1982), p. 87.

Your Church May Not Be a Church If . . .

July 24th, 2010 8 comments

A thought-provoking post from “Gospel-Driven Church” blog. I think this is spot-on true. What do you think?

Your Church May Not be A Church If . . .

You rarely, if ever, hear the word “sin” there.

When you do hear the word “sin,” it is only only briefly mentioned, or redefined as “mistakes.”

You can’t remember when you last heard the name of Jesus in a message.

The Easter message isn’t about the resurrection but “new opportunities” in your life or turning over a new leaf.

On patriotic holiday weekends, the message is about how great America is.

On the other weekends, the message is about how great you are.

There are more videos than prayers.

People don’t sing during “worship,” but watch.

The pastors’ chief responsibilities are things foreign to Scripture.

There is more money budgeted for advertising than for mission.

The majority of the small groups are oriented around sports or leisure, not study or service.

You always feel comfortable there.

Church membership just appears to be a recruiting system for volunteers.

You only see other church people on Sunday mornings at church.


WARNING: If your church meets one or more of these, it might be a spiritual pep rally, a religious performance center, a Christian social club, or something else entirely, but it is probably not, biblically speaking, a gathering of the Church.

How Things Have Come to Where They Are in Liberal Lutheranism

June 21st, 2010 3 comments

Dr. Jack Kilcrease, a former member of the ELCA, had a great blog post recently, talking about his reading in the word by Werner Elert titled The Christian Faith. It has never been formally published, but a translation done years ago has been available for quite some time. Dr. Kilcrease makes some great points, well worth pondering. How did liberal Lutheranism in this country reach a point where they eschew Trinitarian language, and embrace deviant human sexuality, all in “light of the Gospel.” Here’s how:

“I’m in the process of re-reading Werner Elert’s The Christian Faith. It’s a bootlegged translation done back in the 70s (I have the manuscript from Luther Seminary, which I still have borrowing rights from). From what I heard (and Pr. McCain can correct me) CPH bought the rights and then found that a lot of it was heretical. So they translated the non-heretical parts and then not the rest. I will grant that a great deal of it is heretical. It is interesting and insightful at certain points though.

“This brings me to one of the points where Elert fails seriously, namely the doctrine of inspiration. He makes a series of weird statements about the authority of the Bible. First, he thinks that all Scriptural authority is based on the gospel. I don’t even know what that means. When I was in the ELCA, I had professors claim this- but I never really bought it. The difficulty with this that the gospel makes no sense if you don’t have the law. Both together don’t make any sense if you don’t have them within the context of salvation history. So, saying “the gospel” is the thing that makes the Scriptures authoritative, doesn’t make any sense, since the gospel makes no sense without things that aren’t gospel. Consequently, they must also be authoritative and then logically a subset of a larger phenomenon known as the “Word of God.”

“What I think is really going on is his existentializing and psychologizing tendency. This leads us into the next weird claim, that it’s the content of the Scriptures, not the Scriptures themselves which are authoritative.

“What? How can the content be authoritative, without the thing itself being authoritative? In other words, are you claiming that the Lutheran scholastic authors claimed that if the Scriptures were stripped of their content their would be something left over which would be authoritative? Certainly not. The content and the thing itself is no different.

“What he’s really getting at is this: he thinks that a person denigrates the authority of the gospel if you ground it in a prior theory of inspiration. In his way of thinking you’re saying “I believe the gospel, because I believe in a theory about inspiration.”

“But of course, not one really says this. David Scaer has consistently pointed to the Christological basis of the doctrine of inspiration particularly in his early work The Apostolic Scriptures. The Scriptures are authoritative because they are inspired. This inspiration is anchored in the authorization of the Old Testament (“the scriptures cannot be broken…) and the authority of the Apostles who wrote the New Testament (“those who hear you, hear me…” “I will send you the comforter, who will lead you into all truth…”) by Jesus.

“If I believe in Jesus, I will believe in the inerrant Biblical Word that he authorized. In fact, I will no other access to his person and work than to that witness. So, by believing in him and his trustworthiness, I will automatically believe in the trustworthiness of his Bible. This is what was often referred to by the Lutheran scholastics as the inner testimony of the Spirit regarding the authority and infallibility of the Scriptures.

“In the end, what Elert wants is to place authority in act of believing in Christ and his gospel and then to exclude a doctrine of inerrancy and Scripture inspiration on this basis. No one is disputing that faith comes first and this faith leads one to acknowledge the Scriptures. What Elert’s move does is in fact internalize authority in a psychological event of coming to faith. It takes the locus of authority away from the external Word and places it within the individual and their faith in Jesus.

“In the end, as we can see, this is a false decision of either/or. Faith in Christ automatically means both/and. Ultimately Elert’s reductionism gives us the current LWF and the ELCA. For this he and his companion at Erlangen have much to account for.”

Church Cancels Sunday Morning Worship in Lieu of Service Projects

May 5th, 2010 9 comments

You’ve got to read/see this one to believe it. What a great example of everything that is so desperately and totally wrong with many Christians’ view of worship, and of what the Church is. Lord, have mercy. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.

 

Lutherans and Evangelism: Have We Lost our Voice?

April 19th, 2010 13 comments

A thought-provoking article by Pastor Peters, for your consideration and reflection.

On another on-line forum is the question “Why Lutherans Can’t Evangelize.” It is a striking question born of a time when Lutherans have borrowed the evangelism methods of others and found themselves without a voice of their own to speak the Gospel to their neighbor. I cannot always have been true because there was a point in the 1950s when Lutherans were growing at astounding rates. TIME magazine noted this in April of 1958 with the prediction that if things continue everyone in America will be Lutheran by 2000. We know how that turned out. Perhaps TIME jinxed our forward momentum since the last year we saw substantial growth in the LCMS was 1963.

I think we lost our voice. The boats stopped coming from Europe, America changed and suburbia brought with it additional cultural changes, our own shift from a largely rural to mostly urban and suburban church body made us turn inward to figure out what this meant for us, and we found ourselves without a voice to speak to those around us.

So we did what Lutherans are wont to do. We went shopping in the religious marketplace. We looked at the denominations that were growing (Southern Baptist) and began shaping our approach in their terminology and from their perspective. But it was a little like those who speak another language from a phrase book. It was not our native tongue.

Then came Evangelism Explosion and D. James Kennedy. We Lutheranized it into Dialog Evangelism (ala BZ) and suddenly there were people showing up on the front porches of America asking “What would happen to you if you died tonight?” Again, with all our tweaking, it was a foreign language to us and the decision theology part of it all left a taste in our mouth that diluted our enthusiasm.

In the end what this did is transfer the responsibility to an Evangelism Committee. Remember that before this Luthern congregational structures did not even have an evangelism group or committee or deacon. Don Abdon came along to help us with this restructuring need and with a list of those who were “evangelists” and we decided that evangelism was best done by those with its gift. All of this distanced the average Lutheran Christian from the task and purpose of sharing the faith.

Advance a few years and we were shopping at Willow Creek or Saddle Creek or CCM radio stations in the hopes that if we looked different and sounded different people would be attracted to us. Never mind the fact that our sanctuaries were architecturally unsuited for this style and our heart was not fully convinced (hence the traditional services that kept us Lutheran in identity at least at 7 am on Sunday morning).

Our mission execs began shopping for those churches that were growing and they shifted our paradigms and made us more missional and insisted that everything we were or did had to be negotiable if we were really to grow. Their hearts were in the right place — they daily faced statistics that most people in the pew choose to ignore… but the result has been a great division between those congregations that are LINO (Lutheran in name only), those who have abandoned even the name but exist within the denomination, AND those who turn to page 151 on LSB on Sunday morning and the worship wars past and pressent.

Now our Lutheran evangelistic zeal is part of the angst of who we are and what we are. If we did bring people to worship, would they feel at home? Would they like it? Would they find us friendly? Would they come back? Can we do this? Will it (giving up who we are) be worth it all in the end? Instead we should have been thinking Isaiah 55 — My Word will not return to me empty handed… Instead we should have been confident that where the Word and Sacraments are and the baptized people gathered around them and their Pastor, there is the Church with the fullness of the Spirit who IS the one who grows the Church.

Our parish grows because the people invite people to come with them. Our outreach is through the people in the pew who daily witness and share their faith and not through an evangelism committee. People hear about our work in the community or find out about us through our highly regarded preschool or come to one of our Music at Grace concerts or are brought by those who have confidence in the Word and Sacraments, the means of grace. We do try to be deliberately welcoming, we have a welcome desk at the door and people stationed to identify and welcome visitors. We have signs and lots of parking. We have a well maintained building. But we sing the liturgy on Sunday morning and use the full resources of the hymnal for the Divine Service. We have good teaching for all ages and good Biblical preaching that keeps the Law and Gospel distinct but together. We do everything wrong in this regard and next week we will receive nearly 40 new members (through baptism, instruction, adult confirmation, affirmation of faith, and transfer). What happens on Sunday morning and who we are during the week is the same. The result is that people know who they are in the pews and feel confident about bringing people with them, sharing the faith with their neighbors and co-workers, and they know what people will experience on Sunday morning. Even kids do this.

We must know who we are before we know our voice in evangelism and outreach. It must be authentic and real, positive and genuine… Identity is what helps us welcome… confidence in that identity gives us confidence to invite and welcome… it really does work.

The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Gospel

March 26th, 2010 8 comments