March 31, 2006
When Gregory Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, preached about the danger of mingling the mission of the church with conservative politics he ignited passionate responses on both sides, and 1,000 people left the church. In part two of an excerpt from Boyd's new book, The Myth of a Christian Nation (Zondervan 2006), he says much of this passion is fueled by the false belief that America is a Christian nation and that the church's role is to reinforce that belief.
What gives the connection between Christianity and politics such strong emotional force in the U.S.? I believe it is the longstanding myth that America is a Christian nation.
From the start, we have tended to believe that God's will was manifested in the conquest and founding of our country - and that it is still manifested in our actions around the globe. Throughout our history, most Americans have assumed our nation's causes and wars were righteous and just, and that "God is on our side." In our minds - as so often in our sanctuaries - the cross and the American flag stand side by side. Our allegiance to God tends to go hand in hand with our allegiance to country. Consequently, many Christians who take their faith seriously see themselves as the religious guardians of a Christian homeland. America, they believe, is a holy city "set on a hill," and the church's job is to keep it shining.
Continue reading Kingdom Confusion 2: The danger of believing in a Christian America...
March 29, 2006
Midterm elections are heating up across the country, and many analysts expect evangelical voters to remain a potent political force. But not everyone is encouraged by the church's ascent in recent years to political power. Gregory Boyd, senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, has written a new book addressing the dangers of intermingling the gospel and the GOP. The Myth of a Christian Nation (Zondervan, 2006), outlines Boyd's concerns and chronicles his pastoral attempts to extricate the cross from the flag. Below is an excerpt.
Like many evangelical pastors in the months before the 2004 election, I felt pressure from a number of right-wing political and religious sources, as well as from some people in my own congregation, to "shepherd my flock" into voting for "the right candidate" and "the right position." Among other things, I was asked to hand out leaflets, to draw attention to various political events, and to have our church members sign petitions, make pledges, and so on. Increasingly, some in our church grew irate because of my refusal (supported by the church board) to have the church participate in these activities.
In April of 2004, as the religious buzz was escalating, I felt it necessary to preach a series of sermons that would provide a biblical explanation for why our church should not join the rising chorus of right-wing political activity. I also decided this would be a good opportunity to expose the danger of associating the Christian faith too closely with any political point of view, whether conservative or liberal. The series was entitled, "The Cross and the Sword."
The response surprised me.
Continue reading Kingdom Confusion: Is the quest for political power destroying the church?...
March 28, 2006
In January, Out of Ur ran an editorial written by Brian McLaren on a pastoral response to homosexuality. Hundreds of readers posted comments either supporting or condemning McLaren's perspective. But none caused as much uproar as the rant written by Mark Driscoll.
Driscoll, who is pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, now regrets the tone of his remarks as well as taking what he calls "cheap shots" at Brian McLaren and Emergent pastor Doug Pagitt. On Monday, Mark Driscoll issued an apology to McLaren, Pagitt, and readers offended by his comments. You may read his full apology at his blog, Resurgence. Driscoll writes:
And after listening to the concerns of the board members of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network that I lead, and of some of the elders and deacons at Mars Hill Church that I pastor, I have come to see that my comments were sinful and in poor taste.
Continue reading Mark Driscoll's Apology: Blogging means sometimes having to say "I'm sorry"...
March 27, 2006
How is ministry leadership different from other kinds of leadership? In the next exciting issue of Leadership, Pastor Andy Stanley and business expert and author Jim Collins (Built to Last, Good to Great) offered answers that left me scratching my head. Can they both be right? Read some excerpts below.
"What is distinctly spiritual about the kind of leadership you do?" I asked Andy Stanley. Nothing, he said. "There's nothing distinctly spiritual. I think a big problem in the church has been the dichotomy between spirituality and leadership."
His answer surprised me.
As pastor of a thriving megachurch north of Atlanta, with an additional ten satellite locations fed his sermons by video, Stanley is becoming the model for the next generation of large church pastors.
Continue reading Is Ministry Leadership Different? Andy Stanley and Jim Collins in an unexpected point-counterpoint...
March 24, 2006
The song "Personal Jesus" by Depeche Mode describes the faith of many: "Your own personal Jesus. Someone to hear your prayers. Someone who cares." In this post, John Suk, a professor of homiletics at Asian Theological Seminary in Manila, The Philippines, challenges popular evangelical jargon by questioning whether having a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" is poor theology or, worse, a capitulation to theraputic secular values? Below is an excerpt. You may read Suk's full article at Perspectives Journal's website.
Evangelicals generally insist that "the meaning and purpose of life is to have a personal relationship with Jesus." That's how a Methodist pastor I was listening to a few months ago put it. Philip Yancey says it another way in his Reaching for the Invisible God (Zondervan, 2000): "getting to know God is a lot like getting to know a person. You spend time together, whether happy or sad. You laugh together. You weep together. You fight and argue, then reconcile."
But we also confess that Jesus is not physically present on earth. So how does one have a personal relationship with someone you can't talk to, share a glass of wine with, or even email? We need to do some fundamental reflection on the whole notion of having a "personal relationship" with Jesus Christ. While, on the one hand, I respect the longing for intimacy with God that these words reflect, they also concern me because they betray a creeping sort of secularization of our language about God.
Continue reading Your Own Personal Jesus: Is the language of "a personal relationship" biblical?...
March 21, 2006
In February last year, my best friend flew down from the Midwest for a delightful, week-long visit. While she was here in the Carolinas, I introduced her to one of my most favorite experiences in the world: a Division I college basketball game. The home team shall remain nameless, except to say that its arena now features a 2005 NCAA Championship banner.
Anyway, I was thrilled to have my friend join me and share my passion for an evening. It was her first major college game, so I made sure I explained as much as I could beforehand about what she could expect from the experience.
Continue reading March Madness: What a fan and a foreigner learned from a basketball liturgy...
March 17, 2006
Jesus' image can now be found on every imaginable commodity from t-shirts to poker chips. But has our material culture made Jesus' invitation to "new life" itself into a consumable product? Jonathan Yarboro, a church planter from Boone, North Carolina, explores the influence of consumerism on our understanding of the gospel and conversion.
I was standing before 200 people at church when I said it: "Salvation is not a walk down the aisle, a prayer, and wham bam, thank you ma'am, you're done." Jaws dropped; some faces turned white; some turned red. I was clueless, so I just kept teaching. It turns out that the phrase, "wham bam, thank you ma'am," meant something different to me than it did to the rest of the world. Afterward some of my listeners enlightened me. I was embarrassed. I didn't intend to equate one's conversion experience to some sort of sexual encounter in the red light district.
Over the last few years, I have pondered the statement, and despite the fact that I originally meant nothing so profound, I believe the statement to be true - we are tempted to turn conversion into something of an act of prostitution. We are the consumers, and we might as well say it - we've turned Jesus' invitation into a seductive, greasy, trick-turning lifestyle. Doesn't that make your blood boil?
Continue reading Pimping Jesus: consumerism and the red-light gospel...
March 14, 2006
Some congregations experience doctrinal divides. Others wage worship wars. But an increasing number are experiencing schooling squalls. Public school, private school, or home school - how should followers of Christ educate their children? And what does the answer reveal about our belief in mission, culture, and the nature of the gospel? Dave Terpstra, pastor of The Next Level Church in Denver and the father of young children, has been wrestling with these questions and looking to an unlikely source for clarity - first century Judaism.
My oldest child is only two and half, but already my wife and I are having conversations about where we will send our kids to school. The more we discuss the issue the more I realize that where followers of Christ send their children to school says more about their perspective on the interaction of Christianity and culture than any other issue I've encountered.
Where I live, the Denver metro area, there is a full spectrum of educational options for my family: public, private, charter, homeschool, Protestant, Catholic, etc. There are certainly varying degrees of excellence among the teachers and administrations of these schools; but for the sake of argument, let's say all things are equal as far as talent is concerned. How is a Christian parent to choose?
Continue reading Really Old School: What 1st Century Judaism Says About the Public/Private/Home School Dilemma...
March 10, 2006
In recent months the conversation on Out of Ur has explored why increasing numbers of Christians are opting to pursue Christ apart from a local church. The discussion began with Kevin Miller's review of George Barna's new book, Revolution. And, similar themes were addressed by Dave Terpstra in his post on why the spiritually mature leave the church. Church leaders; however, are no longer the only ones interested in this issue. Time Magazine ran a story on March 6 titled "There's No Pulpit Like Home" discussing the changes occurring in American Christianity and the rise of house churches.
Interestingly, the authors suggest it may be the megachurch advocacy of small groups that has fueled the house church trend:
[The megachurch] is made possible by hundreds of smaller "cell groups" that meet off-nights and provide a humanly scaled framework for scriptural exploration, spiritual mentoring and emotional support. Now, however, some experts look at [small groups]--spreading in parts of Colorado, Southern California, Texas and probably elsewhere--and muse, What if the cell groups decided to lose the mother church?
Continue reading Cutting the Cord: Are Megachurches Birthing the House Church Movement?...
March 7, 2006
How do we organize a church without becoming "organized religion"? Dan Kimball, author of The Emerging Church and pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, wrestles with this paradox in the upcoming Spring issue of Leadership. Here is a preview.
Leadership in the emerging church is a paradox. I am someone who fully sees the need and value of mission statements, organizational charts, and a strategic approach to leading. I read everything John Maxwell, Bill Hybels and Jim Collins write, and they really do fuel my heart and passion for leadership. The irony however, is that most growing up in our emerging culture are fairly critical of anything that looks like "organized religion." So when it comes to developing a leadership culture, there is great suspicion of anything that seems to be "business" oriented or too structured, since that feels like a reinforcement of the exact thing they are critical of.
Continue reading The Paradox of Emerging Leadership...