Both conservatives and liberals have had their views of sexuality shaped by the culture.
by David Swanson
The title caught my eye: “Reverend reconciles sex and religion.” Was another church challenging married couples to make time for sexual intimacy for seven days straight? A pastor making headlines for an edgy sermon about the goodness of sex? A review of the latest book from a Christian relationship expert with new statistics about Christians’ sex lives?
Actually, the article was much less predictable than any of my guesses. The story’s focus, Debra Haffner, has the distinction of being both a reverend and a sexologist who believes her two professions “offer a unique insight into modern sexuality.” The Revered Haffner—who, by the way, won’t marry people who are virgins—thinks it necessary for “conservative religious leaders to reform their doctrines to fit modern times.” Such a shift includes focusing on the “quality of relationships” rather than on the morality of sexual practices.
As someone who falls within Haffner’s “conservative religious leader” category, it’s tempting to write her off. There’s little new in her claim that our sexual ethics need updating for a new day. Her reading of the Bible (“Genesis is full of affirmations of humans as sexual beings”) is certainly culturally bound and would likely confuse the Bible’s early interpreters. Frankly, it’s hard for me to take seriously any expert who doesn’t strongly consider the historic claims and traditions of the Church.
That’s why I also have trouble with much of the teaching and preaching about sexuality that originates closer to home.
"Souls in Transition" offers cause for congratulations and consternation
by Collin Hansen
If you want to rile up the evangelical masses, drag out dubious statistics about how many Christians fall away from the faith after high school. We fear for our youth, that they’ll rebel against what their parents and churches taught when they leave home and the youth group.
Young adults undergo intense transitions during these tumultuous years. And broader social forces have reshaped this expanding interim between adolescence and full adulthood. Emerging adults are delaying marriage, enrolling in college and graduate school in record numbers, hopping from career to career amid economic instability, and relying on financial support from their parents. Such trends have been well documented. Yet several myths about these adults’ spiritual lives persist.
Myth #1: Emerging adults serve out of concern for the common good.
College campuses are wallpapered with fliers promoting service opportunities. Churches send their youth on local and foreign mission projects. Political analysts credit youth volunteers and voters with helping to elect President Obama in 2008.
Ed Young Jr., the eccentric pastor from Fellowship Church in Dallas (remember the "7 Day Sex Challenge" sermon he preached from a bed rather than a pulpit?), is reaching out to other pastors with a message on the dangers of imitation. Young practices what he preaches by presenting the message in a form no other pastor (that I know) would dare attempt.
We've heard from N.T. Wright, John Piper, and Tim Keller about the doctrine of hell. What do you make of McManus' understanding of hell and God's character? He seems to echo the perspective of C.S. Lewis who wrote that "The doors of hell are locked from the inside." That's certainly more palatable in our anti-damnation culture, but do you think it's right?
What a not-so-Christian movie says about the goal of the Christian life.
by John Ortberg
I have been thinking a lot lately about Colossians 1, where Paul writes: "We proclaim Christ, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this reason I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me." It strikes me that this comes close to a creedal text for those of us involved in church ministry. Sometimes we get so immersed in the X's and O's of church work that we forget to step back and ask what 's the real reason we're doing all this. Paul has great clarity on it, and is more concise than usual: "so that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
If your church is looking for a big hairy audacious goal, this will do for starters.
The scale: everyone.
The outcome: mature in Christ.
That's not common language in our day. So recently I have asked church leaders in a number of settings to take a few moments to describe what someone who is "mature in Christ" looks like. Certain words always make the list: loving, joyful, peaceful, forgiving, serving, courageous, loyal, humble, generous.
And when "mature in Christ" is explained in those terms, there are not many people who are uninterested. This offer has remarkably broad appeal. I went with a friend to see Avatar last week. The 3-D thing is pretty cool. The writer does not actually attach a denominational label to the script, but it was pretty obviously not produced by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. However, the qualities in the heroes are remarkably consistent with many of the words listed by church leaders: courageous, loving, giving, loyal, generous. What it means to be a good person has been embedded by God pretty deeply into human consciousness.
Video preaching is popular and effective, but is there a better alternative?
A Leadership interview
He once planted a church by teaching through Leviticus. He can use a rabbit carved from a bar of soap to illustrate the nature of suffering. Google his name and the term "Sex God" will appear among the top entries.
Rob Bell is the most interesting preacher in the world.
The winter issue of Leadership features a wide-ranging interview with Rob Bell on the art and impact of preaching. His candid answers and down to earth advice for pastors may surprise you. Check out the entire interview at LeadershipJournal.net. Below is an excerpt where Bell discusses the unknown dangers of video preaching.
Your NOOMA video series has been popular. What do you think about the increasing number of preachers and churches using video technology to expand their reach?
It's powerful but there's also a dark side. Video is not church. You put images and music on a screen, and people will listen. But it's also dangerous. You're playing with fire. I think video technology deserves to be scrutinized heavily.
Go a little deeper. What makes video dangerous?
I don't think we know yet what the long-term impact will be on disciple-making. In 10 years we may discover what particular kind of Christ follower is formed by video preaching. I see warning lights on my dashboard. It's unclear what video may do to the ways we conceive of life together.
In the New Testament, there are 43 "one another" passages, and during a Sunday morning service you might be able to practice three or four of them. And as the service gets large, you can probably do fewer. A massive group setting is also dangerous. You can come, sit, listen, and go home and think, I've been to church, even if you haven't practiced any "one anothers." And with video that only gets more intense. I'm not sure that's the direction we want to be heading.
What do people in a post-Christian society really believe?
In October 2010 the Lausanne Movement will convene the Third Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa. In preparation for that gathering, Lausanne and Christianity Today are developing a "Global Conversation" around the issue to be discussed in Cape Town.
In February 2010 the Global Conversation tackles truth—and the reluctance of post-Christian societies in the West to trust claims of absolute truth. We asked residents of a secular university city whether there was anything they were still absolutely sure of. Their answers suggest bridges as well as barriers for dialogue between Christian and secular neighbors.
Are you unknowingly encouraging your attenders to commit "spiritual adultery"?
by Skye Jethani
Does your church emphasize, encourage, and value membership? In many places the notion of church membership has fallen out of favor. Rick Warren thinks that is a “serious mistake.”
Speaking this morning at the Radicalis conference at Saddleback Church, Pastor Rick challenged pastors to rediscover the importance of commitment to a local church through radical membership. “Membership is a word that has been perverted and abused,” said Warren. “It’s not putting your name on a roll. It’s not about knowing the insider lingo. That’s not what membership is all about.”
Using Scripture to show the importance of commitment to a local congregation, Warren said membership was about being “a member in the Body of Christ.” And therefore membership is “organic not organizational.”
Research shows most pastors think significant changes are coming in the next 10 years.
by Ed Stetzer
Ed Stetzer recently presented data to the attendees of the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta. Much of that data was shared in the Winter issue of Leadership journal. In this post, Ed Stetzer explores additional information that was, until now, only available to the attendees at Catalyst.
Change. It’s happening at such a pace it has become cliché.
Joel Barker is so 80’s. Yet Barker is still around. A self-described “futurist,” Baker popularized the term, “paradigm” to describe our behavior patterns. Our recent Lifeway Research findings inspired us to go back and consider one of his most famous warnings:
"You can and should shape your own future; because if you don't someone else surely will."
Influencing the future begins with assessing our current realities. Predictions of radical change are nothing new. Walt Disney made a nice living imagining the future since the mid-1900’s. Two futures are critical for the church to understand and embrace. Although our ability to control the future is questionable, our influence and response to the future is critical to our effectiveness in God’s mission.
The first future is “inside” the church.In most churches, Boomers will continue to be firmly in leadership.They will work longer and live longer (including pastors, staff, and lay leaders). As difficult as it seemed for previous generations to pass on leadership in the local church (still in process), Boomers may find it more difficult.
Boomers are the “better idea” generation. The technology revolution was spearheaded by Steve Jobs (born 1955) co-founder of Apple and Bill Gates founder of Microsoft (born 1955). The contemporary church movement led by Rick Warren (born 1954) and Bill Hybels (born 1951) inspired a generation of church leaders. Dissatisfied Boomers decided to “go west” to a new contemporary church world. Now, subsequent generations have gone in new directions—too numerous to list here. Things in the church change.
At the same time that many evangelical leaders lament the sin in our midst, talk of transforming the world for Christ rallies big crowds to action. We bemoan the present world as we long for Christ to return and make all things new. Somewhere in between, we eventually realize that we can accomplish more for the cause of Christ than we have so far, but not so much as our rhetoric sometimes suggests. Trevin Wax, author of Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, offers pastoral wisdom on living according to the next world’s values even now.
You pastor a Southern Baptist church in Tennessee. How has your experience as a pastor shaped your desire to write Holy Subversion?
For five years I served in Romania, a formerly Communist country where evangelicals were the minority. The majority of Romanians were Orthodox, but most were Christian in name only. So there were clear lines of distinction between evangelicals and the rest of society. Once we returned to the American South, we discovered the situation was completely reversed. I was ministering in a context in which everyone seemed to be Baptist, but the name was just a name.
So living in one context as part of a beleaguered minority and then being thrust into a different context where we were part of the “majority” opened our eyes to the way evangelicalism mirrors the world in the West. Holy Subversion is an attempt to call the Western church away from cultural captivity, and to shine light on the blind spots that we often miss.
What are the key threats to the church that you believe Christians need to subvert?
1. A self-centered understanding of salvation that centers solely on personal benefit at the expense of radical grace that transforms our hearts and lives.
2. A church-less gospel that individualizes the Christian life to the point where there is no longer any real reason for a Christian to be part of a church.
3. A worldly understanding of success.
4. A slavish addiction to work, wealth-accumulation, and entertainment.
Why we're worrying too much about Emergent, Organic, and Missional Church.
by David Fitch
The difference between a fad and a movement is that a movement produces long term enduring change. A fad, on the other hand, feeds off something that already exists: a cultural awareness, a disenchantment, or even a novel idea and expands on it. Through media, publishing, and viral exchange, it becomes a sensation that sells books, creates a lot of activity, makes people feel something exciting—but in the end it doesn’t produce enough substance to sustain lasting change in history.
Often, in the midst of something new, we can not tell the difference. Whether it is a fad or a movement won’t be known for many years. I am sure many thought John Wesley and what was derisively called “Methodism” was just a fad. It turned out to change the landscape of protestant Christianity (especially in North America) for all time. Anyone who is an evangelical lives beneath its shadow to this day.
In the last 10 to 15 years there have been a few tidal waves of reaction to North American evangelical Christianity: Emerging Church and its founding Emergent Village, the Organic (or Simple or House) Church movement, and of course Missional Church. There has been a lot of blog commotion recently over their demise or decline of these expressions. In each case I suggest we are worrying too much.