How effective will The Gospel Coalition be in post-Christendom?
by David Fitch
The Gospel Coalition (TGC) has been galvanizing many younger evangelicals to re-think their theology and practice. I applaud this new theological energy. But I wonder (given its moniker) whether TGC will be a force for coalition or expedition.
"Coalition" describes the coalescing of a group of people or nations in order to defend some boundary or prepare for war (think Pres. Bush's "coalition of the willing"). "Expedition," on the other hand, is the organizing of a group to prepare for an adventure into unknown territory. Will TGC be a coalition for hardening doctrinal lines to defend boundaries and/or launch an attack against those who don't agree with its take on Reformed theology? Or will TGC be a force for preparing missionaries (in doctrine and practice) to engage the unknown territories of post Christendom?
Let me be explicit that I value and have learned much from each of the TGC writers/thinkers/preachers, and that I do not disavow the Reformation. Nevertheless, I am concerned that TGC's approach is ill-suited to engage the cultural challenges of post-Christendom.
Here are five statements that encapsulate what I think TGC is implying in their work so far. If true, each of these positions will inhibit, if not prohibit, TGC from being a cause for Christ in the engagement of the new post Christendom cultures of the West.
At the end of his lecture and after answering a smattering of questions, the pristine and aged New Testament scholar, Bruce Metzger, asked Doug Moo if he could share something on his heart to the seminary students gathered that day.
With the moral vigor and verbal clarity Metzger was known for, he looked at his audience and simply said, "Stay married."
I can't remember the last time I heard a sermon called "Stay Married," or even a sermon that dealt with reasons to stay married. I suppose we can guess why this is so. At the top of my reasons would be a fear to offend the many - some say as many as 50 percent of evangelical Christians - who are giving money and serving in the church who are already divorced.
Next on my list would be our awareness of those listening to the sermons who are struggling with a spouse who is borderline abusive, or at least a creep. We know well that such marriages will likely dissolve.
Probably next would be that we have family and friends, some of whom are leaders and pastors themselves, who are divorced. I'm thinking we might come up with a half dozen or more other reasons that make us cautious about preaching on staying married. I hope not to offend this audience in what follows but, for the sake of the holiness of the church and the potent witness of a good marriage, I want to offer a pragmatic reason for staying married.
Does all our online chatter about being missional keep us from being missional?
by Dan Kimball
I was a guest speaker at a church, waiting for my time to go up to the platform. That's when I saw something curious. The staff person responsible for coordinating the worship service was busy typing away on her laptop. Perhaps a last minute change to the PowerPoint, I thought. But as I walked behind her, I saw that she was consumed with typing a message on someone's Facebook wall. It felt out of place to me, given that she was the person responsible for leading God's people in worship but she seemed mentally someplace else.
I had a similar experience while visiting a Christian college. Sitting in the back of the classroom, I noticed that about a third of the students were surfing Facebook or MySpace while the professor was passionately teaching the New Testament. He probably assumed they were busy taking notes.
In some circles, the term "church programs" has become an epithet for all that is wrong with the institutional church. For a generation hungry for authenticity and community, "programs" feel staged, impersonal, and cold. For a generation increasingly skeptical of government, big business, and corporate machinery in general, "programs" reek of institutionalism, bureaucracy, and insensitivity to human need. Programs may not be the problem, but they are certainly a symptom. They give us something to throw stones at.
To a certain extent, these feelings are justified. After all, programs are the means by which we draw people into our churches. Once they're in, we get them involved by participating in or leading our programs. Participation in programs becomes the way we judge how "involved" people are - if they're engaged in our programs, we call them "committed." Programs become a means by which we judge our effectiveness as ministers - we can know we're doing a lot for Jesus, because we're running so many successful programs. In some churches, it appears the congregation exists to serve the church's programming.
No, this post isn't about growing pains as your church gets bigger and bigger or what to do with the budget surplus all that extra tithing is leaving you with (though if your problem is the latter, email me).
I've been thinking this week about the cost we pastors and our communities pay when people actually begin to do what we're asking them do to: "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord."
So far this year, we've had a hard time making budget just about every month. And as a smaller church, that matters. As I looked at the numbers, I began to wonder what was happening. Were people giving less because of the financial crisis? Were we angering people and provoking a "hold back" response in giving?
But as I tried to see the big picture of where our community is, I realized we're actually just paying the price of success.
Recently we've sent some wonderful folks around the world - One family to Glasgow, Scotland, for church planting. One couple to Sudan to do medical and relief work for some of the poorest of the poor. Another couple to Bangladesh to rescue women from the sex trade and to help people begin businesses that will enable them to pull themselves out of poverty.
All these people have taken with them not just the hearts and prayers of our community. They've taken our financial support and the financial support of many members of our community.
In other words, giving isn't down. I have a feeling that, on the whole, we're actually giving more. It just doesn't show up on our books.
Clint Eastwood taught me something the other day. The veteran actor and director's latest film sheds light on the tendency by many of us to seek the cultural values of homogeneity, stability, and comfort rather than finding God in the midst of our confusing, painful, and volatile circumstances.
In Gran Torino the 79-year-old actor and director plays a newly widowed retiree. A veteran of the Korean War, Walt Kowalski has spent his life in the same Michigan town, raising a family and working for the Ford plant. Surveying the neighborhood from his front porch, it's clear that much in Kowalski's life has changed. His neighbors are recent Hmong immigrants, people whose language and customs incur Kowalski's derision. Crime has become commonplace and rival gangs cruise the streets staring menacingly at Walt who, while drinking beers from his front porch, is all too happy to glare right back. The neighborhood is not what it used to be and the old man's sons repeatedly try to convince their father to leave it behind and join them in the suburbs.
The editors of Leadership are finishing the summer issue due out in July. Here's a preview excerpt from John Peacock found in a report by Collin Hansen, "The X Factor: Most of the highly celebrated, experimental worship services launched in the Nineties to reach 'Gen-X' are now gone. What have we learned from the rise, decline, and renewal of next generation ministries?"
"Your staff culture has to represent the culture you're trying to create in the wider church. That's one of the biggest misses in contemporary church work. You have a business-run, top-down, bottom-line culture yet you're trying to bring around a loving, transformative culture in your community. It just doesn't work."
-John Peacockleads the Axis ministry at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. Read more in the Summer 2009 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.
The debate over guns at church. A ready defense or an overreaction?
Two weeks ago an armed man entered Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas, and shot Dr. George Tiller. On March 8, a gunman walked into the sanctuary of First Baptist Church of Maryville, Illinois, and killed senior pastor Fred Winters. Last summer a man walked into a church in Knoxville, Tennessee, pulled a shotgun from his guitar case, and opened fire on a children's performance. Two people were killed.
The news reports are horrifying, but despite the wide publicity these crimes garner, there have been less than a dozen church shootings in the U.S. in the last decade. But that is little comfort for some church leaders who are seeking new security measures to protect their flocks
Pastor Ken Pagano from New Bethel Church in Kentucky is encouraging his parishioners to bring their guns to church for an "Open Carry Celebration" to celebrate the Fourth of July and the Second Amendment. "We're not ashamed to say that there was a strong belief in God and firearms," says Pagano. "Without that this country wouldn't be here."
Other churches are hiring armed security to patrol their property on Sunday mornings to create an atmosphere of safety. But there is an increasing number of churches using armed vigilantes--volunteers with nothing more than a concealed weapon permit--to deter any assailant. These people are the ecclesiastical equivalent of the air marshals who anonymously fly commercial airliners.
But are these security measures warranted? And are churches unknowingly creating more risk, not less, by encouraging members to carry concealed weapons?
The final day and a half of Advance 09 built upon the themes started on the first day, brought another talk from Mark Driscoll, and marked the arrival of the Baptists - researcher and author Ed Stetzer, local Durham pastor J.D. Greer, the one and only John Piper, and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary president Daniel Aiken.
I'm still not entirely sure what to make of the Acts 29/Southern Baptist connection. I know there's a Calvinist resurgence among Southern Baptists, but they still seem like strange bedfellows to me.
The juxtaposition was clear on Saturday morning. When the worship team from Mars Hill Seattle gave the platform over to Daniel Aiken, I experienced some mental whiplash. The group from Mars Hill offered a loud mixture of Green Day and the David Crowder Band. Then Aiken offered a fine sermon, but in a style and substance straight from an old-school Baptist revival or pastors' conference - complete with the voice inflections that southern preachers have been perfecting for going on a century now. Having served the North Carolina Baptist Convention for nearly a decade, I can understand a fringe of Southern Baptists overlapping with Acts 29, but Aiken is at the center of Southern Baptist life and didn't seem to fit the conference.
A few months back, I noticed that a big conference featuring John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Ed Stetzer and others, and sponsored by the Acts 29 Network, was coming to a neighboring city. I don't quite consider myself Reformed enough to be a part of Acts 29, but I signed up for Advance 09: Resurgence of the Local Church anyway. Thursday was the first half day, and here are some highlights and reflections.
Speaker # 1 Mark Driscoll
I guess the way to get a few thousand conference attendees to show up on time is to have Driscoll kickoff the conference exploring the question "What is the church?" He threw a few jabs at emerging church folks, and poked fun at some virtual church, pajama wearing pastors (nothing too serious) before settling down to explore eight aspects of a true church: 1) regenerated church membership; 2) qualified leadership; 3) gather for preaching and worship; 4) sacraments rightly administered; 5) unified by the Holy Spirit; 6) discipline for holiness; 7) obey the great commandment to love; 8) obey the great commission to evangelize. (These points may be covered in Vintage Church.)
Driscoll said that preaching is first priority for a church, and too many preachers are cowards who offer suggestions rather than commands. He noted that the church was birthed with a man yelling and still requires a man yelling. He also quipped that churches should drop Sunday school because it keeps unchurched people away. He got a boo or two, but I couldn't agree more.
Another good line was a warning: "Don't be so creative that you become a heretic. If you have to choose between faithful and cool, choose faithful."
And I cannot remember exactly how he said it, but he said something akin to "leadership without control is not leadership." Still chewing on that one.
The debate over profanity in the pulpit. Is Mark Driscoll being relevant or reckless?
For a couple of years now, long-time pastor and theologian John MacArthur has been critical of Mark Driscoll's use of crude language in the pulpit. In the end, MacArthur believes Driscoll has crossed a line, and it's time for him to step down from ministry. MacArthur's comments have ignited a heated debate in the blogosphere (as you might suspect).
At the 2009 Basics Conference last month, another long-time pastor and theologian, John Piper, fielded a question about this debate. Piper, who along with Driscoll, is a card carrying Calvinista, offered a measured and thoughtful response. While strongly disagreeing with Driscoll's language and dismissing the necessity of swearing to be relevant, he does not believe the Mars Hill pastor needs to resign. You can listen to Piper's response here.
In related news, Ed Young posted a video on his blog yesterday about pastors using profanity.