The one thing that changed how I engage online

heart

Sometimes I wonder if the fastest growing industry on the Internet is slander. It’s not uncommon to see my Twitter feed flooded with updates slamming this person or that—sometimes warranted, but usually not. And it doesn’t take long for it to get ugly.

The Internet seems to bring out the worst in people, simply because of the illusion of anonymity. Behind a screen and in front of a keyboard, the most timid soul can become a raging lion. I know because I’ve been around long enough to have been that guy at least once or twice.

I was heavily active in message board communities for close to ten years, usually related to comic books and music. Some of these had a healthy self-governing aspect to them. But others wound up devolving into chaos. And when the chaos started, it always got personal really, really quickly.

But one of the cool things that happened out of those communities is sometimes a few of us who lived in the same town would—gasp!—get together and have coffee or dinner. And it was always funny to see how much we were like yet not how we portrayed ourselves online.

And that’s what changed everything for me with how I engaged online.

We sat around, shared a meal, made bad jokes, talked about inconsequential things. We were people being real people—something that’s easy to forget when all we see is a 200×200 px avatar.

And although it’s been said many times, we always seem to forget this truth. Our lack of physical proximity, our mediated contact lulls us into a false sense of security and power. So we need to be careful. That’s why when I write, Tweet, or update Facebook, I have to ask: would I say this to someone’s face? Would I be able to look you in the eye and say whatever I’m planning to without flinching?

That’s the rub, isn’t it? If you look at what so many people say and do online, I doubt many of them would be comfortable saying these things out loud, to the person they’re talking about. That’s because when you see a person right in front of you, you’re confronted by the fact that they are made in the image of God, just as you are. They have feelings and family, just as you do.

Let’s not lose sight of that, okay? We will stand before God for every careless word, thought, blogpost and Tweet. Judging with right judgment (John 7:24) means we must not settle for cheap shots, click bait or any of the evil stuff that’s quick and easy (and in some cases, easily disproven), but is damaging and detestable. We should not be cowardly, but we should be marked by charitable spirit. We should be willing to ask hard questions and confront error, but if we’re going to do it, let’s do it while seeking the good of others.

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7 Areas of Unbiblical Conscience Binding

Nick Batzig:

Many times such unbiblical conscience binding occurs in less than explicit ways. The personal applications are subtly presented as the principle. Sometimes they come in the form of an individual setting himself or herself up as the example of piety in application specific ways. You’ve witnessed this sort of thing. One believer tells another believer how often he or she prays every day, or how long he or she spends in the Scriptures each morning. Then, the conversation slides into exhortation without differentiation: “I’ll be glad to hold you accountable to doing this too,” or “I don’t know why more people don’t spend as much time praying…” Such attempts at unbiblical conscience binding occur in every sphere of life and ministry–often resulting in creating undue guilt in the minds and hearts of God’s people. Consider the 7 following areas in which you have most likely witnessed such unbiblical conscience binding.

By This They Will Know

Craig Thompson:

As pastors, we are in the business of preaching. Preaching is necessarily imperative. A sermon without an imperative application is incomplete. Our sermons are often filled with commands to share the good news, to turn from sin, to love our neighbor.

In the politically charged atmosphere of the past few months, I’m certain that many sermons have discussed the necessity of believers to be holy and different from the world. But, Jesus did not say that the world would know his disciples by their evangelistic zeal, their cultural engagement, or even their care for the poor. All of these things are important, but according to Jesus, it was their love for each other that would set the disciples apart before the world.

Why an Eternal Perspective Changes Everything

Randy Alcorn:

Having an eternal perspective is in many ways the key to living a true Christ-following life. Scripture says in 2 Corinthians 4:18, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (NIV). If we let this reality sink in, it will forever change the way we think and live.

Made to share

This year is the 50th anniversary of the NIV translation of the Bible, one of the most widely used English translations of the modern era. Here’s a really nice video on the spread of the translation:

We Don’t Know How to Blush

Erik Raymond:

If there is one thing we can be certain of when we read the news today it is that we should not be surprised. The staggering rate of the moral revolution has conditioned us this way. Each day’s headlines bring with it a sense of moral ascent (or descent, depending upon your perspective). And here I am not simply talking about so-called same-sex marriage and the erosion of religious liberty. Like dropping a line in the water, you often catch more than just a fish. We are pulling a lot into the boat that shapes our experience.

If one were inclined to be objective they might open their eyes and ears and try to pinpoint a root. Walk through the malls, the public square, flip through the TV, read the paper, listen to the chatter, and talk to strangers.

If your goal is to do enough, you’re going to be disappointed

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Every week, I’ll see another email hit my inbox talking about the strides humanity is making in alleviating extreme poverty. And while I’m thankful for all the good work that’s being done, I can’t help but wonder about the message I pick up from many of the communications I receive.

See, most of them, though they are well meaning, have the wrong goal in mind. They’re trying to figure out what “doing enough” means. The only problem is, “doing enough” doesn’t work, as a goal or a reality. Why? Here’s how I put it in Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation and the End of Poverty:

“Doing enough” can be overly simplistic. One problem with “doing enough” is that it tends to focus us on the wrong goal. We pick a dollar amount, or an income percentage, or a number of hours per month. We construct a set of checkboxes to see if we’re meeting the output criteria we have set for ourselves. Some suggest, for example, that if we all give just one percent more financially, global poverty can be wiped out forever. All we have to do, they say, is track the progress, allocate the resources, and we’re set.

When “doing enough” becomes primarily a matter of numbers, we can be sure we are focusing on the wrong thing. Alleviating poverty is about more than a certain amount of giving, whether of time or money.

“Doing enough” is legalism. Worse, this “doing enough” mindset is textbook legalism—the effort to be pleasing to God through our external behavior. And encouraging people to be active in helping the poor can promote legalism like few other activities. Unless God cuts someone to the heart and instills a compassion for the poor, exhortations to “choose your fast” or “just give more money” either will be ignored or will feed one’s “inner legalist.”

If our focus is whether we are doing “enough,” it may be that our hearts are as dead as those to whom Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel preached. “We have all become like one who is unclean,” Isaiah said, “and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6). (58-59)

Doing enough isn’t the point—not even with such a noble cause as caring for those in need. Glorifying God is. This must be our goal, all the time and in all places. It’s the only one that will keep us from being disappointed—and potentially doing more harm than good along the way.

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Here are a couple of new deals for you:

The Other Worldview

Peter Jones’ latest book, The Other Worldview, is now available. Do yourself a favor and grab a copy.

From Depraved to Disciple

Jemar Tisby:

Total depravity describes an extensive reality, rather than an intensive one. It means that sin extends to every aspect of our humanity. Each person’s mind, will, and emotions have been corrupted by sin. No part of any human being has a defense against depravity. But this does not mean that people do as much evil as they possibly could. Total depravity does not speak of the intensity of sin in a person, only that every part of a person has been touched by it.

3 Errors of Musical Style that Stifle Community

Tim Challies shares three errors that can stifle local church community from Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop’s book The Compelling Community.

Christ’s Seven Prayers For His People

David Murray:

Wouldn’t you love to hear Christ prayers for you?

You can.

In John 17 we can eavesdrop on Christ’s prayers for His people. Lean in and you’ll hear five prayers He’s praying for every Christian every day, and then two that He prays on our last day on earth.

Poverty tourism vs pilgrimage

Sidney Muiyso offers a helpful perspective.

On Becoming a Humble Theologian

Brandon Smith:

Working at a Bible college for three years and spending seven years (so far) as a student in biblical and theological training, it’s always said (but not repeated enough) that doing theology is a humble person’s task. Pride puffs up, leaving the theologian with nothing but Spirit-less fodder for intramural debates. Humility, on the other hand, allows for God-exaltation to happen in the life and work of the theologian.

The world needs strange Christians, not relevant ones

rolling-stone

One of the things we Christians tend to make fun of ourselves over is our desire be culturally relevant—to be hip, cool and engaging enough to hold the world’s attention. We know, at least to some degree, that it doesn’t work. We’ve seen what happens when people go too far in their attempts to be like the world (think the former megachurch pastor whose message to the world bears no resemblance to biblical Christianity), and we know that when we do try to be with it and hip, we wind up being neither.

Instead, we get stuff like this:

Russell Moore reminds his readers repeatedly throughout his upcoming book, Onward, that Christians should seem strange to the world—because the gospel itself is strange. Think about it: Christians believe that God became a man, a poor carpenter from Nazareth named Jesus who was crucified, rose from the dead and now rules over the entire universe.

When you actually say it out loud, yeah, it’s kind of strange. But that’s the thing about Christianity: either it’s true or we’re all nuts for believing it.

And this also shouldn’t surprise us. After all, as Martyn Lloyd Jones pointed out in Preaching and Preachers, “Our Lord attracted sinners because He was different. They drew near to Him because they felt that there was something different about Him.”

So for us to go about trying to win the world by being basically like the world is “basically wrong not only theologically but even psychologically,” he wrote. “This idea that you are going to win people to the Christian faith by showing them that after all you are remarkably like them, is theologically and psychologically a profound blunder.” (139, 1972 edition)

What Moore and Lloyd-Jones before him encourage us to do is recognize that trying to be relevant is a lost cause. We can never reconcile Christianity to the culture on its own terms. After all, “culture is a rolling stone, and it waits for no band of Christians seeking to imitate it or exegete it” (Onward, 107 [ARC]). Instead, we need to embrace the strangeness of Christianity—remembering that our “distinctive strangeness,” as Moore puts it, is what the world needs.

 

Links I like (weekend edition)

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

B&H has a number of books on preaching on sale through July 14th including:

Reformation Heritage’s Reformed Historical-Theological Studies series is also on sale:

Today’s the last day to get these two books by Joe Thorn for $3.99:

And finally, you can get Basic Christianity by John Stott for $3.74.

What about Those Who Have Never Heard of Jesus?

Justin Taylor shares a classic illustration from Francis Schaeffer.

A Word on Social Media Civility

Chris Martin:

Christians, we need to be kind on social media. We need to not get angry and rage-tweet as often as we do especially around controversial issues. We have the truth of the gospel, and we need to communicate like we care about its implications.

But God made me this way…didn’t He?

Marty Duren:

We cannot believe The Fall was bad enough to threaten eternal destinies without believing it thoroughly corrupted temporal realities. Hell is not the only concern. Life is, too.

Christian Summer Blockbusters

This is really funny  (and probably a bit sad because I can imagine someone thinking some of these are good ideas).

Seeking Transcendence in the Summer Blockbuster

Andrew Barber:

For the last century mass entertainment has been marked by attempts to present children’s fare for adults. Comics have transitioned into graphic novels that are taught in college courses, gaming has gone from Pac-Man and Mario to riffs on high literature and explorations of philosophy, the space drama of Buck Rogers has become the pseudo-religion of Star Wars. So we have extended adolescence, packed out Comic-Cons, and the summer blockbuster.

Simultaneously, the Christian world has become increasingly adept at cultural awareness and engagement. There are, of course, incredibly strong and diverse feelings about this trend, but the motivation often seems in the right place: while maintaining orthodoxy, Christians want to create a positive, common space with a culture from which we feel more and more disconnected. And Christians also want to encourage each other to consume beneficial art.

20 of my favorite quotes from The Prodigal Church

Recently I’ve shared a couple reflections on, as well as a review of, Jared Wilson’s new book, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo. This was a book that I underlined quite heavily—probably more than I’ve done on any since Keller’s book on prayer. There’s a ton of wisdom found within its pages. So today, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites (some of which have been made into nifty shareable graphics):

“‘Healthy things grow’ sounds right. But cancer grows too.” (40)

“I want to suggest that it’s possible to get big, exciting, and successful while actually failing substantially at what God would have us do with his church. It’s possible to mistake the appearance of success for faithfulness and fruitfulness.” (46)

“Pragmatism is anti-gospel because it treats evangelism as a kind of pyramid scheme aimed at people who have it all together, not discerning that, in the Gospels, those most ripe for the gospel were those at the bottom of the social caste system, the undesirable, the non-influential.” (53)

“Pragmatism is legalistic, because it supposes that evangelism can be turned into a formula for ready results.… The pragmatist has forgotten that Christianity is supernatural, that it is capital-S Spiritual.” (53)
2

“When you try to help the Holy Spirit, you quench him.” (54)

“It is not in the best interest of the very unbelievers we’re trying to reach to appeal to consumerist tastes in the interest of offering them the living water of Christ.” (67-68)

“When we stage a worship experience that hypes up experience, feelings, or achieving certain states of success or victory, we miss the very point of worship itself: God.” (68)

3

“Neither the Spirit nor the gospel needs help from our production values.” (70)

“We have not prospered theologically or spiritually when we emphasize the professionalization of the pastorate.” (75)

“Fortune-cookie preaching will make brittle, hollow, syrupy Christians.” (77)

“We must have a stronger faith to trust that a sermon mainly about Jesus will ‘help people grow’ more than our set of tips will.” (80)

1

“I will go so far as to suggest to you, actually, that not to preach Christ is not to preach a Christian sermon. If you preach from the Bible, but do not proclaim the finished work of Christ, you may as well be preaching in a Jewish synagogue or a Mormon temple.” (80)

“The self-professed ‘culturally relevant’ churches are the chief proponents of legalism in Christianity today.” (84)

“The ‘dos’ can never be detached from the ‘done’ of the finished work of Christ in the gospel, or else we run the risk of preaching the law.” (85)

“When we preach ‘how to’ law sermons instead of the gospel, we may end up with a bunch of well-behaved spiritual corpses.” (89)

“The reality is, worship does not begin with the worshipper. It begins with God. It is a response to God’s calling upon us.” (97)

4“We do not worship the Father, the Son, and The Holy Ingenuity.” (167)

“If you worship God in a less-than-clear or in a doctrine-less sense, you end up worshiping another god. You worship the god made in your image. When we divorce theology from worship, when we fail to cultivate a theology of worship, we compromise our worship. It may look great, but it is hollow and shallow.” (99)

“Part of moving forward and away from the functional ideologies of the attractional church is also abandoning ourselves to the sovereign mercy of the Spirit, who cannot be measured or leveraged or synergized or whatever.” (162)

“The Spirit doesn’t wear the church’s wristwatch. You cannot control him.” (166)

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Over at Ligonier, they are giving away two eBooks about John Calvin for the next 24 hours:

Finally, Crossway is giving away Kevin DeYoung’s Taking God At His Word in exchange for answering a couple questions.

The Incredible Future of the Medium-to-Small-Sized Church

Bob Roberts:

The reality that we have over 400,000 churches in the U.S. and just over 1,600 megachurches (churches of 2,000 or more) means that 398,400 of us are never going to be that! But don’t be discouraged. You can still change your city and the world (and you may actually be better at changing it than a huge church).

8 Signs You Are a Discipleship Bully

Derek Brown:

This kind of bullying, however, does not need to express itself in verbal or physical abuse. It can manifest itself in a subtle form of spiritual tyranny where the teacher, by virtue of his position and self-perceived knowledge, tends to overwhelm and micro-manage his disciple. Sadly, when these kinds of discipleship scenarios progress unchecked, both parties—the discipler and the one being discipled—will find their spiritual life stunted and their relationship with one another in serious jeopardy.

When to Cover, When to Confront

Ray Ortlund:

When should we cover another Christian, and when should we confront another Christian?  The categories that guide me are 1 Peter 4:8 and Titus 1:9.

What Happened to the Emerging Church?

C. Michael Patton offers an answer. A shorter one suggested by my fellow Canadian Joe Boot at TruthXchange in Feburary: It didn’t die, it went mainstream.

Don’t Put God in a Box

Erik Raymond:

As a pastor I have been asked this question more times than I can count, particularly by people who are visiting and considering joining the church. My answer in short is “no”. I do not believe that the gifts of tongues and healing are present today as we saw in the early church. Much of what today gets passed off as tongues and healing are not what the Bible shows, namely known languages spoken and understood; and people being instantaneously (and fully) healed with a word or a touch. I tell them that my position (cessationist) is based upon observation: I see a tapering off of the miraculous gifts (tongues and healing) in the NT with the close of the Apostolic era and I do not see them consistently displayed in church history. Therefore, I don’t believe they are normative in the life of the church today. (note: prophecy is defined in different ways, but I would say that God is not giving new revelation today either. If you want to take prophecy as preaching, admonishing or exhorting-that’s fine.)

What is the response to this? “Don’t put God in a box.”

If you had to rebuild your library, where would you start?

rebuild-library

Imagine for a moment all your books were gone, fellow book hoarders.

Terrifying, I know.

Perhaps some sort of disaster befell your home, leaving everyone in your family perfectly fine, but all your books were destroyed. Or perhaps you were moving a long distance, and the only things lost in the move were your books.

How would you start over? If you had to rebuild your theological library from the ground up, what would be the first books you’d include?

A number of years ago, I was asked this question by an acquaintance online. It’s something I’ve thought about a great deal—and continue to do so—in part because I’ve had to do it. When I became a believer, I rebuilt my library because I found I had far too much that conflicted with my newfound faith and weren’t helpful for me to read any longer. As I developed my theological convictions, I had to rebuild my library again as I increasingly found the books I once enjoyed to be problematic (thankfully at that point my library was still quite small so it didn’t hurt too much to get rid of a number of books).

Today, my library is always in flux. Books are always coming and going. The last time I purged, I found somewhere around 300 books I had to get rid of. And if we ever move houses again (we’ve been in our current rental home for almost four years as of this writing), I’ll probably have to get rid of even more.

So what would I do if I had to start over again? Here’s how I’d probably do include:

Start with a good study Bible. Although they’re limited in terms of depth and focus, study Bibles work well as a commentary in a pinch. And for the average person, really, you don’t need more than that. I’d recommend the HCSB Study Bible, the Reformation Study Bible or the ESV Study Bible.

Add at least one book on Church history. For a single volume edition, I’d go with Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley. However, this is probably the most necessary (yet neglected) category, so it’s unwise to stop with one (I have a few more recommendations here).

Then include a biography. We should have lots of these, but if you’re looking to get started, I’d recommend pretty much anything from Reformation Trust’s Long Line of Godly Men series. Douglas Bond’s volume on John Knox is wonderful.

Follow that up with a classic or three. In my opinion, every Christian should own a copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and Augustine’s Confessions.

Don’t forget a book or two on the disciplines of the faith. Tim Keller’s Prayer would be one I’d want right away, as would Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Finish it off with a systematic theology. These are really helpful tools to have available. Frame’s Systematic Theology is one I’d lean toward adding if I could only include one, though Sproul’s Everyone’s a Theologian is nice for those who want something a little more accessible. Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion is very nice as well if you want to go a little older.

There are lots more I’d add, but if I were starting from scratch, those are the books I’d most likely include right from the get-go. At least this week. Ask me again and you might get completely different answers.

What would you include if you were starting from scratch?

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How the Gospel ended My Same Sex Relationship

This was terrific:

I am a Christian, one who believes that what the Bible says about sexuality is of great importance. I’m also someone who was in a same-sex relationship for many years, even as I claimed Christ. For a long time these were the two things that defined me.

The Image of God In A Gender Neutral World

Stephen Altrogge:

Kathy Witterick and David Stocker have decided to raise their child, named “Storm”, in a gender free environment. In other words, they don’t want Storm to be influenced by cultural stereotypes of what it means to be a boy or a girl. They want Storm to have the freedom to create his/her own gender identity apart from all the cultural ideas of what gender really means. They are taking a bold stand for freedom in an age of gender restriction.

Is this a problem, and if so, why? After all, even most Christians would agree that our culture has unbiblical standards of what it means to be a man or a woman. I don’t want our culture instructing my daughters on the meaning of femininity. So is it really such a bad idea to raise a child in a gender free environment?

20 things you should never say to a graphic designer (but probably do)

I’ve heard all of these, and sadly said a few, too.

Dismantling the Façade of “Authentic Vulnerability”

Chris Martin:

I went to a small Christian liberal arts school, so in the dorms or in school-established small groups, it seemed spiritually cool if you talked about “authenticity,” “vulnerability,” and a host of other such “-ity” words. Maybe you experienced something like this in college—you definitely did if you attended a Christian one.

At my school, “intentional community” was as important as academics, so naturally, there was plenty of talk like this.

The problem was, nobody really meant it.

5 lies preachers believe about preaching

Mary Duren:

Pastors suffer from an abundance of unsolicited advice about their preaching. Many not called to preach think themselves the most gifted to critique. Despite this there are few church members more critical of the preaching than the one who delivers the sermon.

After I have preached my wife usually asks, “How do you think it went?” Most of my responses are in the “I guess it went alright” vein followed by, “How did you think it went?” Assurances of “it was great” or “that was one of the best sermons you’ve ever preached” are mostly doubted. I know the times I’ve lost my place in the notes, become mentally distracted, and realized the second point had too much or too little content. My train of thought has refused to leave the station, or derailed once it did.

A pastor’s normal excessive scrutiny about his preaching is bad enough, but it is made worse when these five lies are believed.

3 reasons why I try to expose my kids to lots of different kinds of books

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Tuesday night, the UPS guy arrived at the door with our latest Amazon order. I secreted away the box as quickly as I could in order to avoid too many “What is it Dads”. (I was only partially successful.) I opened the box, and pulled the two books out. Perfect, I thought, we’re going to have fun reading these.

“Hey, Abigail,” I called into the living room. “Want to see what we got today?”

“YES!”

I presented her with two new comic books: Tales of the Batman: Len Wein and The Mighty Thor by Walter Simonson vol. 1. Abigail went supersonic with delight.

This is one of the things I love about being a dad. I love being able to share the things I loved as a child and youth with them (like comics, which I still enjoy). But more than that, I love being able to expose them to as many different kinds of books as possible (as does Emily). There are a few reasons for this:

1. We want them to find books they like to read. As you can imagine, we place a high value on reading in our home. With certain exceptions—we tend to avoid books that glorify witchcraft and death, and books series where every instalment has literally the exact same plot, for example—we really don’t care what they read as long as it’s close to age-appropriate. So we’ve got superhero comics, we’ve got fantasy novels, we’ve got historical fiction, and classic works all readily available. And because they have a lot of different kinds of books available to them, they tend to read pretty widely, even if some days Abigail simply reads and rereads Bone during resting time.

2. We want to help our kids as they learn to read and develop their vocabulary. Hannah, our middle kid, refuses to let us help her as she reads (unless it’s her idea). In fact, she gets pretty ticked if we notice she’s doing it at all! One of the great things about having comics in the house, though, is we’ve seen Hannah sounding out the onomatopoeias in her quest to master reading. The variety of books also helps the kids develop their vocabularies as they’re exposed to words they may not be otherwise.

3. We want to help our kids understand the world around them. The same night we introduced Abigail to Walter Simonson’s Thor, we also wound up having a discussion about something she read in her book about Princess Isabel of Spain. In that book, a Catholic priest informed the young princess that it was inappropriate for her to learn about math and science because she was a girl. (Abigail was quick to point this out as being wrong, in case you’re wondering.) This allowed us to explain about how God created men and women, the equal value and dignity we all have by virtue of being made in his image, and even talk about how sin causes conflict between us. That’s kind of a big deal, and the type of thing you don’t really get from Walter the Farting Dog (although nothing’s wrong with Walter the Farting Dog… except his horrible flatulence).

That, in a nutshell, is why we try to expose our kids to as many different kinds of books as possible. And it’s pretty exciting to see how they’re developing as little people as a result.

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

B&H has put a number of digital Bibles on sale for the next few days:

Also on sale:

Who is the Most Influential Person in Your Life?

Who’s the person who most influences you? You are.

8 Verses For Christians Who Think Homosexuality And Same-Sex Marriage Are No Big Deal

Jeff Medders:

A low view of scripture doubles down on a low view of God, which results in a low view of sin, which ebbs into accepting and normalizing sin, which dominoes into celebrating sin. For Christians, the Bible isn’t something we can edit, ignore, or tailor to wear another culture’s clothes. It is what it is. Rather, the Bible edits us, showing us our own sin, reminding us how to follow Jesus as new people living from Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.

Titled, Not Entitled

Meghan Rayno:

Everyone is gifted in one way or another. Whether we are called to serve on the mission field, in the ministry, in the workplace or in the home, God has individually gifted us with the skills and knowledge needed to do His work. When we use our gifts wherever He places us, we glorify His name and reflect His character.

However, we all have a sinful tendency to pride ourselves in our title, position and abilities. For those of us who have earned a title by a diligent use of our gifts, this can be an especially difficult spiritual battle. Here are 7 humbling truths that we would do well to remember as we seek to combat pride and continue to honor the Lord with our gift.

Are we preaching Christ or preaching about Christ?

Ray Ortlund shares a doozy.

Cheering Costly Obedience

Lindsey Carlson:

Those of us with easier pasts may not feel as compelled to push back the darkness in such costly ways. We’re happy to serve by putting money into offering plates, bringing a few canned goods to the food drive, or mentioning Jesus if he comes up in conversation. But I wonder if it’s too much of this “safe” service that causes it to be infrequent, passionless, done more out of a sense of obligation than of gospel gratitude. While God certainly uses “safe” endeavors for his eternal purposes, we should desire to carry the cup of living water to those who need it at any cost—and with consistency, passion, and joy.

The Prodigal Church

 

prodigal-church

Years ago I went to a church conference focused on bringing up the level of creativity and the production values of the Sunday morning worship gathering (or experience, as they preferred to call it). As the band turned their amps up to loud enough to make my ears bleed, and lead the group through 13 or 14 rounds of “whoa-oh-oh-oh, whoa-oh-oh-oh-ohs”, I decided it’d be a good time to hang out outside. Not too long after, I was joined by another attendee. We chatted for a while about what we’d been learning at the conference, and this person lamented, “It just seems like a show, not worship.” I agreed. This person was right: it was a show.

And I suspect that’s what’s going on far too often in churches all over North America.

People who know me well (and, let’s be honest, people who don’t know me all that well at all) know I’m not a fan of what’s called the “attractional” approach to church—the big show, felt-needs oriented style of church popularized in the 80s and 90s by the likes of Bill Hybels and Rick Warren. Why am I not a fan? It’s not because I’m grumpy and/or only like hymns. Though the aims of its practitioners are noble, this approach encourages people to act like consumers rather than grow as disciples. And that’s totally antithetical to everything the worship gathering is supposed to be about.

Jared Wilson gets this. He’s served in attractional churches, and seen the fruit of the model. Or, rather, the lack thereof. But rather than spend an entire book railing against everything that’s wrong with attractional churches (because, hey, who doesn’t like hearing how they’re doing everything wrong?), Wilson simply asks, are you sure about that? Are you sure the smoke machines, lasers, sermons on being a better whatchamacallit and skinny jeans are what the world needs? Maybe what we need to do is go back to the Bible, not to do away with innovation, but to recover a sense of wonder and awe at the glory of God—and build our lives and worship around that! That, in a nutshell, is The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo.

And it’s quite spectacular.

The practice of preaching and the priority of people

What will surprise most readers of The Prodigal Church is its tone. Wilson strikes a delicate balance, simultaneously calling us out for acting like pragmatic knuckleheads while making us feel really good about it. There’s no sense of animosity toward practitioners, but great—and I believe warranted—hostility toward the practices themselves.

Take topical preaching, for example. While it isn’t wrong per se, what is questionable is the practice of putting together messages based around ideas I as a preacher might have (with biblical support), rather than preaching the text itself. And to preach in an expository fashion—that is through an entire book, verse by verse or passage by passage—is considered lazy or cheating by some, such as Andy Stanley. Wilson has some harsh words for this criticism, notably asking, what’s the fruit of the topical/applicational focus?

“What is the fruit of having treated the Bible like an instruction manual?” he asks.

[W]hen the church is run as a provider of spiritual goods and services, and slowly stops asking, first, “What glorifies God?” and begins asking more and more, “What do our customers want?” what the customer wants becomes more central to the life of the church. The functional ideologies of pragmatism and consumerism erode our theology, which becomes more flexible and less faithful. (73)

Or, more succinctly, “To teach and preach in this way is implicitly to say that the Bible can’t be trusted to set the agenda, and that my ideas are better than the Bible at driving change in my audience” (72).

This is what we need to understand: Pragmatism puts humans at the forefront, rather than God. They, functionally, become our gods. So you need to resort to more pomp and circumstance to keep them coming back. More programs, flashier gimmicks, bigger, better… whatever.

The only problem is it doesn’t work.

But faithful preaching does. The kind that puts the Bible at the forefront, puts Jesus in the place of greatest prominence, does this. And it isn’t cheating:

It is in fact hard work, at least spiritually, because it always necessitates dying to ourselves. The sermon prep may not take as long—thank God!—but the impulse to go first to Christ can be more difficult, and counterintuitive. We must have a stronger faith, to trust that a sermon mainly about Jesus will “help people grow” more than our set of tips will. (80)

Inviting prodigals home

In every chapter, readers will see Wilson avoiding cheap victories. He doesn’t go for the easy joke (usually). He doesn’t resort to nasty ad hominems, which are the weapon of choice of people with a weak argument. Instead he points out the issues with a deficient view of worship, a weakened approach to preaching, and offering programs as a substitute for shepherding congregations, and says, it doesn’t have to be this way. Things can be different, but it means giving up control:

Part of moving forward and away from the functional ideologies of the attractional church is also abandoning ourselves to the sovereign mercy of the Spirit, who cannot be measured or leveraged or synergized or whatever. (162)

And this is what we all hate, isn’t it? We like to think of ourselves as the masters of our own destiny. That when we hear “There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves,” it might actually be true. And this is where we need the gospel—not simply as an add on at the end of our message, but as part of what we live and breathe as Christians. We need to recognize that we don’t need to make our own fate, God’s got that handled very well, thank you very much. We don’t need to put on a big show to draw people in, Jesus has it covered.

The gospel is not made more powerful by a dynamic preacher or a rockin’ band: those things might adorn the gospel in an excellent way, but the gospel cannot be improved. The message of Christ’s sinless life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection is capital-S Spiritual power all unto itself. (163)

The best way to get it into the hands of others

Since I finished reading The Prodigal Church, I’ve been thinking about how to get it into the hands of those who really need it. And the truth is, we all probably need it, to greater or lesser degrees. Many of us attend churches that have embraced the attractional ethic, if only in part. It’s definitely true of  my own church and the network we’re affiliated with since most of them have embraced the principles of corporate worship espoused in a not very good book. But how helpful would it be for me to hand it to my pastors and say, “Here you go, read this?”

Probably not very. Instead, here’s what I’d recommend: read it for yourself and see what God brings to mind about your own life and attitude. How do you express your worship privately? What does reading the Bible look like for you? How are you seeking to love and serve those around you, beginning with those in your local church? Don’t simply read it to try to determine everything that’s wrong in your church (or the one down the road). Let what you learn change you first. Then you’ll be in a better position to pass it along to others—and they may be more inclined to give its message serious consideration.


Title: The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo 
Author: Jared C. Wilson
Publisher: Crossway (2015)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

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That “Billy Graham” Rule

Appreciated this piece from Sharon Hodde Miller:

What I struggle with is how these rules can make certain people feel–especially single women, who are already a more vulnerable population in our churches. When applied too bluntly, the rules make single women feel like temptations or seductresses, rather than dignified sisters in Christ.

Will the multisite movement grow-up?

As someone with very serious concerns about the multisite approach—particularly in the mode of having a TV screen for your pastor—I am very glad to have read this:

When the multisite model (defined as one church in two or more locations) works, once-empty pews are filled with worshipers and an older church’s legacy lives on while a larger church expands its outreach. But when things go poorly, multisite churches can become another struggling American franchise, precariously built on the brand of a celebrity pastor—and one step away from collapsing like a house of cards.

Posture in Post-Christendom

Tim Brister:

Christendom is dead. For some, this is a time of lament. For others, it is a time of renewal and revival. I want to offer my reflections on the three different phases of Christianity and culture and the corresponding posture for Christian cultural engagement.

Pastors Who Don’t Delegate

Thom Rainer:

Failure to delegate will always limit a pastor. He will not be able to expand the ministry of the church because that ministry is limited to one person.

Often the pastor who does not delegate gets overwhelmed and essentially stops functioning. At other times, he may move toward workaholism until the inevitable burnout takes place.

Controversy or Complacency

Tim Challies:

But as I read 1 Timothy and hear Paul warn about these controversialists, I hear him sound a second warning as well. This is a warning about a second kind of person who sins very differently but no less seriously. If we have controversy on the one side of the equation, we have complacency on the other. This, too, is a sin and it, too, is very dangerous.