a review of 'Sticky Faith,' by Kara Powell and Chap Clark
By Brandon O'Brien
“My parents were very religious when I was young. We went to church (or temple or whatever) every week. My parents never, or seldom, prayed or talked about faith at home. As I got older and things got busier, we started attending only at holidays. I do not consider myself religious today.”
This is a good summary of about 80 percent of the personal reflection essays my Intro to World Religions students handed in last week. I asked them to describe their experience with religion to date. I was surprised (and pleased) by their candor. I was surprised that their accounts were so similar. I was surprised, too, by how clear the correlation was between the importance of religion in the parents’ lives over time and the importance of religion in my students’ lives as they enter adulthood.
I know I shouldn’t be surprised. Like everyone else, I’ve heard all about the dismal attrition rates among Christian young people, who are active through their teen years only to leave the church--and very often the faith--when they head to college. And I think deep down we all suspect that parents play an important role in making sure their kids’ develop lasting faith. But I was surprised by how conscious my students--and not just Christian students, but Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist students--are about the role their parents play in their faith.
Are seeker churches shallow? Are Reformed pastors doctrine snobs? Two young church leaders voice their differences.
by Url Scaramanga
Everyone in pastoral ministry has a bias. Some of us prefer deep doctrinal teaching. Others value ministry that is practical and immediately applicable. Others are all about reaching those far from God. And while there is nothing wrong with those different approaches, let's be honest--many of us hold judgments and feed stereotypes about ministers in other camps.
In this video from The Elephant Room event featuring Matt Chandler and Steven Furtick, they openly admit their judgments about each others' ministries. The tension is evident, but the honesty is refreshing.
The latest issue of our free digizine, Catalyst Leadership, is now available online. This time we're covering "Authority Issues." You'll hear from authors like Eugene Peterson, Richard Foster, Charles Swindoll, Andy Stanley, and Skye Jethani. As always, we've included some great clips from talks at recent Catalyst conferences.
An excerpt from my new book. Are we desiring God or just using him?
by Skye Jethani
To celebrate the release of my new book,WITH: Reimagining The Way You Relate To God (Nelson, 2011), I wanted to share with you a brief excerpt. In case you're not familiar with the premise of the book, and how could you be if it's just been released, I explore five "postures" of relating to God: Life UNDER God, Life OVER God, Life FROM God, Life FOR God, and Life WITH God. The book explains why the first four are very popular, including within evangelical churches, but how each fails to deliver us from fear or generate lives of faith, hope, and love. Life WITH God, however, stands at the heart of the gospel. Below is a brief excerpt.
Thanks to everyone who helped me with this project, including my colleagues at Leadership Journal and all the Urbanites who've read my posts over the years. Your comments and engagement with my writing definitely contributed to this book.
To begin we must understand how the life with God posture differs from the other four. Life under, over, from and for God each seeks to use God to achieve some other goal. God is seen as a means to an end. For example, life from God uses him to supply our material desires. Life over God uses him as the source of principles or laws. Life under God tries to manipulate God through obedience to secure blessings and avoid calamity. And life for God uses him and his mission to gain a sense of direction and purpose.
But life with God is different because it’s goal is not to use God; it’s goal is God. He ceases to be a device we employ or a commodity we consume. Instead God himself becomes the focus of our desire. But before we can really desire God we must have a clear understanding of who he is and what he is like. The reason most people gravitate to one of the other four postures is because they’ve never received a clear vision of who God is, and so they settle for something less.
My 6 year old son has a serious sugar addiction. I came to this realization when as a toddler he spotted a blotch of powdered sugar on the floor near a funnel cake stand at a minor league baseball stadium. He dropped to his knees and proceeded to lick the concrete. (His mother needed resuscitation.) Despite his obvious passion for sucrose, if I said to Isaac, “Would you like to try some creme brulee?” he would immediately decline. The words “creme brulee” might conjure images of vegetables or some other unappetizing adult cuisine in his imagination. But I know he would respond differently if I said, “Would you like some vanilla pudding, covered in sugar, and cooked with a blowtorch?” The idea of combining large quantities of sugar with the forbidden danger of open flames is too much for any boy to resist. Even more compelling than my description would be actually seeing the dessert and it’s preparation. I would have to bind him to his chair to keep him from leaping at it.
Is the church proclaiming the same Gospel preached by Jesus and the Apostles?
by Url Scaramanga
It seems everyone has an answer for the exodus of young people from the church. We're too homophobic, too irrelevant, too age-segmented, too boring, or too consumerist. But Scot McKnight's explanation goes far deeper. He thinks we have fundamentally misunderstood the gospel. His new book, The King Jesus Gospel, seeks to explain where we went off course, and then define the gospel that Jesus proclaimed. Here's a video preview of his book:
Prayer, like so many doctrines of Christianity, is a paradox.
by Url Scaramanga
As the summer comes to an end and a new ministry season launches in many congregation, I thought we should start a new segment on Out of Ur. So every Friday we will have a post about prayer called "Praying for the Weekend." What exactly is prayer? How should we think about it theologically? And how do we reconcile prayer with the sovereignty of God?
We begin with a bit of audio by Tim Keller as he reflect on the paradox of prayer. Enjoy, and have a great weekend.
Can we imagine a world with fewer bombs and more ice cream?
by Shane Claiborne
I was in Baghdad in March 2003, where I lived as a Christian and as a peacemaker during the “shock-and-awe” bombing. I spent time with families, volunteered in hospitals, and learned to sing “Amazing Grace”… in Arabic.
There is one image of the time in Baghdad that will never leave me. As the bombs fell from the sky and smoke filled the air, one of the doctors in the hospital held a little girl whose body was riddled with missile fragments. He threw his hands in the air and said, “This violence is for a world that has lost its imagination.” Then he looked square into my eyes, with tears pouring from his, and said, “Has your country lost its imagination?”
That doctor’s words have stayed with me.
In a country that is going bankrupt as it continues to spend $250,000 a minute on war, it is clear that it is time to re-imagine things. That doctor’s words have inspired a little something.
On the eve of the 10th anniversary of September 11, Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, and I are teaming up. And we have rallied a bunch of other artists and storytellers to create a 90-minute variety show and multimedia presentation to raise questions about violence and militarism and share stories of reconciliation and grace.
Bill Hybels’ response to gay activists and Starbucks’ Howard Schultz.
by Skye Jethani
Last week was the Willow Creek Association’s Global Leadership Summit. The annual conference is a convergence of business, government, social, and church leaders curated by the WCA and headlined by Bill Hybels. Past Summits have featured speakers like Bill Clinton, Jack Welch, and Bono. But the buzz surrounding this year’s lineup (or “faculty” as the WCA likes to call them) was focused on who would not be there.
Days before the event Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz withdrew because of an online petition launched by Change.org. The gay-advocacy group accused Willow Creek of being anti-gay and threatened to boycott Starbucks if Schultz spoke at the Leadership Summit. The controversy was widely reported in the press, and as 165,000 people gathered at 450 locations around the world for the WCA conference, many wondered how Willow would respond.
New Welcome Baptist Church in Grand Bay, Alabama, was the scene of a violent church conflict on August 7. Details are still coming out, but it seems to involved the pastor, worship leader, a few deacons, knives, and at least one taser gun. Check out the video report:
So many of our church gatherings are amusing, but are they arresting?
"To 'muse' means to reflect and ponder; put an 'a' in front of it and you have the absence of reflection. Amusement is a way of boredom-avoidance through external stimulation that fails to exercise our minds. It's mere diversion. It is a kind of performance-enhancing drug for an attention-deficit society. 'Amusement' is appealing because we don't have to think; it spares us the fear and anxiety that might otherwise prey on our thoughts.
"In the context of worship, amusement is a waste of time and a waste of life, and therefore a form of sin.
"To arrest someone's attention, on the other hand, is to cause them to sit up and take notice."
Excerpted from "What Does God Think of Entertainment?" in the Spring 2011 issue of Leadership Journal. To read the full quote IN context be sure to subscribe to Leadership today by clicking on the LJ cover in the left column.
John Ortberg is pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California.
Why right thinking and right doing are not enough.
By Brandon O'Brien
In 1995, Mark Noll argued in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind that the problem with evangelicalism is “that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” His solution was to take scholarship more seriously. A decade later, Ron Sider argued in The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience (2005) that the problem with evangelicalism is that Christians live just like nonChristians. His solution was to take the social and corporate implications of the gospel more seriously.
Whether or not these books can be credited with sparking current trends, it’s clear the spirit of both of them is alive and well in American Christianity. The so-called “New Reformed” movement is living out Noll’s call for greater intellectual engagement and doctrinal sophistication. And legions of younger Christians are taking up Sider’s vision to seek social justice in Jesus’ name. I support both of these relatively recent developments, more or less. But I think they have the same shortcoming in common. As different as they are, they both appeal to the intellect in one way or another. They both seem to assume that if we simply believe the right things (whether it’s the doctrine of atonement or the Christian’s moral responsibility in the world) then we’ll behave the right way.
I’m not convinced.
I think there’s another, deeper problem in evangelicalism, what I’ll call (for consistency’s sake) the scandal of the evangelical imagination.
What does the "smokin' hot wife" prayer teach us about praying in public?
Pastors are often asked to offer a prayer at public events. But what sort of prayer is best for these gatherings outside the church? Pastor Joe Nelms has been getting a lot of press for the opening prayer he offered at a NASCAR event recently. Along with thanking God for his "smokin' hot wife," he also thanked the Almighty for Toyota, Ford, and Goodyear Tires--remarks that have led critics to accuse him of prayer product placement.
What do you think of Pastor Nelms's prayer? Was it appropriate, over the line, a good way to show non-believers that not all Christians are "sticks in the mud," or just painful? And are there any lessons here for the rest of us?
Scot McKnight's new book will comfort some and confound others.
Prepare yourselves for the onslaught. Scot McKnight is venturing into the "What Is the Gospel?" war that's been waging between the Neo-Calvinists and...well, everyone else. McKnight's new book, due out later this month, is The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. We will have a full review of the book in due course, but a preview is worth our time.
McKnight is concerned that we have confused "Gospel" with "Plan of Salvation," and rather than being true evangelicals (a word rooted in the Greek euangelion meaning "good news" or "gospel"), contemporary Western Christians might be better identified as soterians because we have built our whole church culture around one thing- salvation, who is saved and who is damned.
While not disagreeing with the theology espoused by those on the Neo-Reformed side, and affirming the "Romans Road" presentation of salvation, McKnight says their error is calling this "the Gospel." Equating the plan of salvation with gospel means Jesus could not have preached the Good News. Only the Apostles, like Paul, who preached after Jesus' death and resurrection could possibly present this message. McKnight believes this is an error rooted in a false understanding of what the Gospel is.