"Too many Christians today are trying to improve on the gospel. The gospel is what it is: the Cross of Christ. Christians on both the political right and the left are downplaying the effects of the Fall, and instead buying into a secular myth of progress through market economics or socialism."
-Mark Deveris pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Taken from "Does Your Preaching Touch Politics?" in the Summer 2008 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
What is the role of real Christians in a virtual world?
by Angie Ward
There is another life beyond this one: a realm where one's role on earth is a distant memory, where inhabitants have new bodies and can fly anywhere they like. It sounds a bit like heaven. But it's not. It's cyberspace.
Second Life is - well, for the uninitiated, it is hard to explain. Some call it a game, but in reality it is ultimate virtuality: a virtual, 3D, online world that is continually created and updated by its residents. Originally introduced to the public in 2003 by the company Linden Lab, Second Life now boasts over a million members from around the world.
These members, 50,000 or more of whom are online and "in-world" at any given time, create their own names and "avatars" (virtual identities with infinite combinations of customizable human and nonhuman "looks") that can own merchandise and property (bought with real U.S. dollars) and interact with any anyone else in-world via Second Life chat or instant messenger. Residents can walk, fly, or teleport to various destinations, including lush beaches, raucous dance clubs, trendy restaurants, seedy strip joints, bustling malls - and churches.
Ur's O'Brien featured in USA Today regarding men in church.
Today you can read Leadership's own assistant editor, Brandon O'Brien, was in USA Today. The report by Cathy Lynn Grossman highlights the lengths churches are going to reach men. O'Brien wrote an article last spring for Christianity Today on the errors that plague some of these Christian masculinity movements. He was tapped by USA Today to comment on the trend. Here's an excerpt from the piece:
O'Brien says most of the "guy churches" don't go to the degree 121 has, "but much more prevalent and more alarming is the number of churches that promote a stereotype of muscular male behavior as the only correct godly way to be."
He describes a 2002 gathering of comedian Brad Stine's GodMen ministry, featuring videos of karate fights, car chases and a song with lyrics urging, "No more nice guy, timid and ashamed ? Grab a sword, don't be scared - be a man, grow a pair!"
O'Brien counter-punches that those who prefer lattes and books to bows and arrows are equally able to embody Christ-like qualities. "Guy church" pastors should not forget that "humanity in the image of Christ is not aggressive and combative; it is humble and poor."
A number of churches are now preaching a message I never heard from the pulpit growing up: God wants you to have sex. Lots of sex. Great sex. All for his glory, of course.
In February 2008, Relevant Church of Tampa, Florida, issued a "30-Day Sex Challenge" during their sermon series on relationships. Married couples were exhorted to have some form of intercourse - and singles to abstain - every day for a month.
Last month, New Direction Christian Church (Memphis, Tennessee) conducted its own "40 Nights of Grrreat Sex" program. The pastoral staff handed out daily planners with suggestions for mixing things up. They set up a blog so members could ask questions - and presumably offer advice - anonymously. I hope they also have plans to increase their children's ministry budget in the coming months.
First, the accusation that I am humble is scandalous. I have said some things over the years that I regret. Meditating on the fact that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble, God shook me deeply. Today I am, as a friend says, a proud man pursuing humility by the grace of God. I appreciate Chad's insight that humility is knowing one's place in God's plan because I find it helpful and truthful.
Second, as a loving push back, I would say that my goal in the book was not to say anything new, but rather to say things that are timeless in timely ways. Admittedly, the person who graduated from seminary ten years ago and is now in ministry like Chad, might not resonate as deeply with Vintage Jesus as the twenty-something who is as lost as Dick Cheney in the woods - which was the primary audience I had in mind when I wrote. The feedback I am getting from younger, less theologically trained people is very encouraging and the sales of the book to young folks have remained strong by God's grace.
Firstly, I clearly do not write that the emergent movement is the exclusive purveyor of the reformation that is currently underway in Christianity. I make it clear in the pages that Mr. Hall cites that it is the gospel that is red-hot lava, bursting through the centuries of accoutrements that have been collected by the church. It would, indeed, be the height of arrogance to suggest that the emergent movement and the gospel are one-and-the-same, but I do no such thing. Instead, I write (and believe) that there are major, tectonic shifts taking place in the church, and the emergent movement is part of that landscape.
Next, to caricature my treatment of convention and traditional Christian worshippers as "crusty old Christians" is, of course, Mr. Hall's right, but it does not accurately reflect my feelings or my writing on the subject. I am frustrated by the reified theologies of the Protestant right and the reified bureaucracies of the Protestant left - and I make no bones about that - but I refer throughout the book to my own journey through those systems and with those people. Indeed, my parents are among those people.
Chad Hall reviews the latest books by Tony Jones and Mark Driscoll.
If you'd asked me two years ago if I was part of the emerging church movement, I would have thought for a second and said, "Yes." When asked today, I pause for half a second before saying, "No." The New Christians and Vintage Jesus helped me clarify my journey from Yes to No.
I found one book insignificant and the other inflated.
Let's start with the insignificant. I admire Mark Driscoll for doing significant stuff. He's planted a thriving church in a place where it's tough to do ministry and helps lead one of the more successful church planting networks around (Acts 29). I cracked open Vintage Jesus anticipating something important. Based on the title, I expected Driscoll to pop the cork on an enduring theology that over time increases in flavor and potency. But the book was more flat Coke than fine wine.
I did not find Driscoll's book very interesting. About a third of the way through the book, my mind traveled back a decade to my first week of seminary. As a preaching newbie in need of guidance, I checked out an old, small book on preaching that started by saying something like, "If your sermons are not interesting, you're missing something because God is infinitely interesting." The notion that conversations about God should be interesting resurfaced as I read Vintage Jesus and caught myself muttering, "Yeah, yeah, yeah? so what?"
A fresh look at Jesus’ miracles may change the way we do outreach.
Conventional ministry wisdom goes something like this: When launching a new church, first analyze the felt-needs within the target area or population. Then construct ministries to address those felt-needs. Felt-needs based ministries will draw people to your church, and simultaneously positively predispose seekers to the gospel message. In this scenario, caring for peoples' felt-needs plays a supporting role in the mission.
What if this conventional wisdom is wrong?
The idea outlined above is what I was taught in seminary, it's what I read frequently in ministry books, and it's what I see practiced virtually everywhere I go. But I increasingly suspect that the theological foundation for felt-needs based ministry may be sand rather than stone.
The biblical rationale comes primarily from the gospels. Jesus, it is thought, performed miracles in order to confirm the content of his preaching. His "acts of power" (the word "miracle" is rarely used in the Greek-language gospels) function as validation for his verbal proclamation. In other words, you should believe what Jesus says because look at what he can do.
Translating this principle into contemporary ministry, we are told that identifying and satisfying felt-needs will confirm and validate the gospel we preach - and hopefully draw a crowd the way Jesus' miracles did. But there are a few problems with this understanding.
One megachurch pastor believes small is the new big.
"I love the church. It's God's vehicle for transformation. But I don't want the church to become so centralized that it can't reproduce, can't adopt multiple forms. And that works better when you're small, when you're on the verge, on the edge. Small is the new big. Big isn't bad, but it's overrated."
-Dave Gibbonsis pastor of NewSong Church in Irvine, California. Taken from "On the Verge" in the Summer 2008 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
What will California's controversial ruling mean for your church?
Last month the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. Some are predicting that the California ruling will open the door to gay marriage throughout the country. How should church leaders respond? Skye Jethani, managing editor of Leadership, recently spoke with Dan Kimball, pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, about how his congregation is handling the controversial decision.
This is a highly unscientific observation, but I stand by it: In my scouring of bookshelves in pastor's studies and church libraries, I regularly find volumes from the corporate world about how to be an effective leader and efficient administrator; studies from the humanities about human psychology and sexuality; and manuals from the financial and legal sectors about budgeting, zoning, and liability issues. What I seldom, if ever, find is fiction. And I think that's a shame.
For much of their history, many evangelicals have considered novels to be either immoral or simply a waste of time. (To be fair, there are a good many novels that are both.) But good fiction (an entirely subjective category, I admit) can help a minister better understand the people to whom he or she is ministering - people struggling with doubt, addictions, or questions about calling and vocation. Here's a list of a few novels I think every minister should read, along with a few reasons why.
I've got a special treat for you to commemorate Independence Day - a preview of the summer issue of Leadership due out later this month. The issue focuses on the intersection of church ministry and politics (not an irrelevant subject this year). Here is a snippet featuring Charles Colson and Gregory Boyd debating the biblical basis for loving one's country:
Charles Colson: I don't think that you can simply forget the fact that we live in a kingdom and a state. Our job is to make the state as righteous and conformed to God's standards as possible. But you can love the Lord your God with your heart, mind, and soul and also love your country as a way of loving your neighbor.
Gregory Boyd: This is the fundamental difference between us. In your book you speak a lot about our dual commitments, our dual allegiances to God and country. I just don't know where in the New Testament you get that. I can't imagine Jesus or Paul saying such a thing. God tells us to obey the laws of the land and to pray for peace. Those are our two engagements. But I don't feel we have any kind of duty to love or defend our country.
As you can see, this issue is sure to spark some debate. Share your thoughts here, and look for more thought provoking discussion on Out of Ur in the coming weeks.
A competition to create an Out of Ur lexicon full of wit and humor.
Regular readers of Out of Ur know that new words and phrases are often coined and disseminated on this blog. ("Church pirate" may be the most recent example thanks to Ed Young Jr.) We'd like to assemble an Out of Ur lexicon that records the definitions of these new words and phrases. This endeavor involves your help.
Send us your ideas for newly invented words that should be included in the Ur lexicon along with a definition and example of the word in use. Entries should follow a dictionary format. Here are two examples:
Pomosapian (n). A person so utterly entrenched in postmodernity they have totally lost touch with reality. They are often found at coffee shops and used book stores. "Bill thinks the law of gravity is a Euro-centric truth imposed upon indigenous peoples to prevent them from pursuing flight. He's a total pomosapian."
Calvinistas (n). Those who believe Calvin wasn't Calvinist enough and revel in belligerent theological discussions. They are easily diagnosed with an MRI scan because they completely lack a right hemisphere to thier brain. "When the Calvinistas arrived the pomosapians fled for their lives."
Entries may be nouns, verbs, adjectives, or adverbs, and may have more than one definition. You may submit as many words as you like. We'll be judging the entries based on creativity, originality, and hilarity. The words deemed to be most urthy (adj., that which is deemed worthy of Ur), will not be posted in the comments section. They will be published each week in the Out of Ur e-newsletter. (You may subscribe to the e-newsletter on the right.)
The person who submits the single entry judged to be the best by our editors will receive a free one-year subscription to Leadership journal. Good luck!