Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Zondervan sent me a free copy of Jonathan Morrow’s Think Christianly for review.  The book can be purchased here.  Any parenthetical page numbers refer to this book unless otherwise noted.

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For my first term paper in seminary, I wrote a strategy paper for planting a church in Stockholm, Sweden.  I hand-picked this city because it is one of the most secular in the world.  I focused my paper on the concept of the church actively engaging the cultural worldview of the Swedish people.  Looking back, I wish Think Christianly had been available to me as I wrote that paper.

The major premise of the book is that if Christianity is true then it impacts every single area of life without exception.  This is a theme I have emphasized often, and I am very glad a major Evangelical publisher has undertaken a project like this.  Nietzsche presented a systematic view of atheistic nihilism.  Morrow argues Christians must present a systematic view of life in the City of God.

The book kicks off by explaining the current situation.  We live in a day when humanists are becoming active evangelists.  Media and technology and increasingly influential and consume larger portions of our lives (ironic to write that on a blog, I know).  34% of American teenagers are “religiously disconnected,” while another 33% are “sporadically religious” (19).  People increasingly view “science” as the only source of true knowledge.  Our engagement, or failure to engage, will determine the success or failure of the church for the current and future generations.

In light of this, the time is past for us as Christians to ignore culture.  We have to actively engage it, and “engage” means neither marriage to it nor an assault upon it.  Our culture centers around ideas, and those ideas are conducive or contradictory to the Gospel.  As Morrow notes, “Ideas have always been and continue to be our Enemy’s favorite method of undermining the work of God” (34).

But there is a catch.  Our churches are not engaging culture effectively because they are currently nor prepared or equipped to do so.  I don’t mean for that to be a blanket statement, but as a general rule it is true.  As citizens of the Kingdom of God, tasked with bearing His image and demonstrating His love (44-45), we have dropped the ball.  We have to pick it up and answer the opportunities and challenges of our modern culture.

The second major section of the book focuses on preparing for such engagement.  We have to have the intellectual, spiritual, and relational resources to engage well.  Morrow discusses these in various chapters, focusing first on how Christianity constitutes objective knowledge, second on how lifestyle change is brought about through spiritual disciplines, and finally on how the church can address culture as a community.

The final section takes the foundational ideas of the first two sections and begins applying them to various modern issues.  Morrow addresses such things as the reliability of the Bible, sexuality, social justice, and bioethics.  The topics here are wide-ranging, but appropriately demonstrate how Christianity can address every aspect of life.

Having (very!) briefly summarized the book, we can now turn to more specific critiques.  First, I know some people will fear this is merely another book on apologetics and is only for the intellectual elite.  This dear friends, is not at all true.  Yes, Morrow is a very smart person.  But this book is written for all Christians, and deals with obligations regarding evangelism and outreach that all Christians share.  If you take the Gospel seriously and think that it should impact how you live, this book is for you.

Second, I learned a great deal.  The work is intensely practical, as Morrow lays out specific plans for transformation and strategies for application (a whole appendix is devoted to this, in fact).  For those of us accustomed to ivory towers (I’m a seminary student), it’s nice to step down and actually feel the grass and breath fresh air.

Third, Morrow presents good apologetic answers to serious questions of our day.  Let’s be honest, most apologists are not addressing issues of human sexuality and “God’s design for sex” (175).  But good apologetics responds to the objections actually being raised against Christianity.  One of the primary objections in our culture is that of sexual freedom.  Shouldn’t we be addressing it?  Of course.  And we should do so winsomely and strategically, even as we refuse to compromise biblical truth.

Fourth, after each chapter Morrow has an interview with a scholar/activist on a given topic.  These are wide-ranging, but very interesting.  My only complaint is that some of these could have corresponded more appropriately with given chapters (the interview on “Making the Case for Life” would have gone well with the chapter after bioethics).  But this is merely a formatting issue and did not detract from the work itself or the ideas presented.

Last, the recommended resources at the end of each chapter are incredibly useful.  There are many chapters that showed weaknesses I have in my own studies, and so I found these recommendations helpful and a great resource.

On the whole, Morrow’s book is excellent.  I highly recommend it.  We in the church have to recognize that the Gospel impacts everything we do.  Morrow drives this point home, and makes good strides in applying the Gospel to all of life.  We’d greatly benefit from further dialogue in this regard.

The only question we need to answer is how will we apply this?  What will we do differently as a result of the Gospel impacting everything?  I would love to know what Morrow would suggest for engaging an older audience/congregation that might not see the value in some of these issues.  But how we apply this is a question we all must answer for ourselves.

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As I have made very clear many times, I am not supportive of the Emergent Church in regards to their attempts at remaking Christian doctrine.  Even so, I try very hard to read books by the leaders of the movement so I can fully understand it. 

Rob Bell isn’t truly Emergent, but he is incredibly influential within it.  By that I mean he is often referenced and cited as an authoritiative voice by Emergents.

I don’t dislike Rob Bell, though as I’ve said in the past I think he has some cooky ideas (which he may be backing away from, much to my delight).  Even so in <i>Velvet Elvis</i>, Bell presents this idea that we treat theology like a brick wall when it should be treated like a trampoline.  This is a type of analogical reasoning (indeed, analogical reasoning from the work of an artist to the work of the church inspired the whole book), that is, Bell is saying theology and doctrine are relevantly similar to both brick walls and trampolines.  And as such these relevently similar aspects of trampolines and brick walls can be extrapolated and used to draw conclusions about theology.

Bell’s basic extrapolation is this:  Brick walls are basically defensive and used to protect us, if even one brick is missing, the whole wall will collapse.  And again, trampolines are flexible, they bend and stretch and each spring supporting the trampoline may be removed without much consequence on the trampoline and its function.  Thus, there are people with theology like a brick wall, it’s neat and organized and systematic, and if even one doctrine is compromised the whole wall collapses.  Likewise, Bell says our theology should be like a trampoline.  It should be flexible, questionable, we should be able to remove some doctrines without much consequence. 

At face value this seems like a good idea.  But upon examination the flaws of this type of analogical reasoning are readily apparent.  First, the idea that a brick wall will collapse with even one missing block is absurd.  Bell must have never played with Tinker Toys or Lincoln Logs or Jenga Blocks.  While it is true with certain structures that a specific piece will be so important that the whole structure collapses without it, it isn’t true with every structure.  I’ve built many things out of Legos and blocks that could survive quite well even if several pieces were missing.  In fact, I can design Lego and block structures to have gaps in them. 

The point is, our theology and doctrine isn’t exactly like a brick wall, and even if it were we wouldn’t be permitted to draw the conclusions Bell draws.  There are certain things in my theology I could lose, middle knowledge, for example.  If the doctrine of middle knowledge were shown to be false it would have a very minimal impact on my theology.  Other doctrines, like the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, would cause the complete collapse of my theology if it were false.  Not every “brick” in my wall is as important as the other, and not every one occupies a strategic location that could cause the collapse of the whole structure.  At the same time, some beliefs are the very foundation of my faith, and without those beliefs my faith does not exist in any recognizable way. 

I also want to address the idea that a trampoline insolates us from what Bell views as the weaknesses of the wall.  Bell says that doctrines are the springs of the trampoline, and that some of them are expendable and all of them are stretchable.  They allow us to jump high and have fun while not being too restrictive. 

There are several problems with this analogy.  First, the springs on a trampoline are all of equal importance (or roughly equal importance).  For the most part they all bear the same amount of weight and undergo the same amount of stress with each jump.  This is not the case with doctrine.  There are clearly doctrines that are more important then other doctrines.  The two analogies are not relevantly similar.  Secondly, the idea that certain doctrines (springs) can be eliminated without consequence is false.  If a spring breaks, the trampoline is not safe.  It may still work as long as you stay away from the exposed area, but if you go too close to the spot without a spring you can fall through and break your leg.  Unlike a wall, a spring on a trampoline is vital, because all springs are of equal importance.  Secondly, while it may be possible to survive with the loss of one spring, the cumulative effect of the lose of many springs would impair the ability of the trampoline to function at all.  Maybe one or two springs can be lost; but if several are lost then the trampoline is not only dangerous but ineffective.  The springs hold the trampoline up and are vital to its function. 

Now there is an exception to what I said, namely, if a trampoline had many more springs then a traditional trampoline.  If a trampoline had say, 100 springs, instead of 50 (without an increase in the size or diameter of the trampoline), then more springs would be expendable.  But if the trampoline and doctrine are relevently similar then Bell would have to accept many more doctrines then he presently does and to hold that all of them are of equal importance.  This would be an absurd position, no body thinks that being premillennial or amillennial in eschatology is of equal importance to belief in the Resurrection of Christ.  Not to mention, if too many springs are added they will require more force to make them all budge and expand and as such Bell is stuck with the very rigid doctrine that he is trying to avoid. 

Given this I think it’s safe to conclude that Bell’s analogy of the trampoline is not relevantly similar to doctrine.  If this is the best argument advocates of post-modernism have for adopting their views and applying them to theology then I’m not concerned in the least.  The problem is not close-mindedness among orthodox Evangelicals, but absurdities in reasoning among those advocating major revisions of our doctrine. 

God bless!
Joey

It would be possible for me to list several books that have dramatically shaped me, especially as it relates to my spiritual development and growth. Some people say, “Well we only need the Bible, why read anything else?” To that I would reply the Bible tells us God has given teachers to the Church so that we can grow into perfection in Christ, and the written word is a means of instruction used in the earliest days of the Church and before. Yes, the Bible is the only inspired and inerrant Word of God; and it is completely sufficient for all spiritual needs. But some people know more about the Bible and life in Christ than we do, and from those people we can learn. This certainly doesn’t replace studying the Bible for ourselves; rather, it supplements and enhances our personal Bible study.

At any rate, it’s often hard to say what books have most impacted me. I certainly was shaped by works such as Brother Andrew’s God’s Smuggler in my earlier years. Being home schooled I read biographies of David, Daniel, John Wycliffe, and other famous spiritual leaders. These books too helped shape me. But undoubtedly the time period of the greatest and most rapid spiritual growth in my life has been the 5 year period beginning in 2005.

Since 2005 I’ve been introduced to many phenomenal pastors, theologians, philosophers, and authors. And among those a few have stood out more than others. As it relates to the deeper life I have been especially influenced by A.W. Tozer, Leonard Ravenhill, Andrew Murray, A.B. Simpson, and Charles Finney.

In the future I will likely review books by all of those authors. But for now I want to direct your attention to just one: Leonard Ravenhill. Of Ravenhill’s book Why Revival Tarries, Ravi Zacharias said it was “The book that shaped me probably more dramatically than any other book that I have read.”

In writing the Forward to the book A.W. Tozer said: “Toward Leonard Ravenhill it is impossible to be neutral. His acquaintances are divided pretty neatly into two classes, those who love and admire him out of all proportion and those who hate him with perfect hatred. And what is true of the man is sure to be true of his books, of this book. The reader will either close its pages to seek a place of prayer or he will toss it away in anger, his heart closed to its warnings and appeals. Not all books, not even all good books come as a voice from above, but I feel that this one does. It does because its author does, and the spirit of the author breathes through his book.”

In trying to summarize this book I would say it is a rebuke to the Church, a charge against spiritual complacency, and an exhortation to give all in the pursuit of obedience to Christ. Ravenhill issues a call to live beyond the status quo of Christianity in the modern day. In many ways we might say Ravenhill is urging us to “Get on my level!”, yet we realize that rising to that level will make us incredibly uncomfortable and require great sacrifice on our part.

Ravenhill says “There are two indispensable factors to successful Christian living. They are vision and passion. Men battle mountainous seas of human, carnal criticism and storm the flinty heights of devilish opposition to plant the cross of Christ amidst the habitations of cruelty. Why? Because they have caught a vision and contracted a passion.”

However, Ravenhill is concerned that we have very little vision or passion today. The remedy he suggests has been effectively used for several thousand years. That remedy is God-inspired, sincere repentance and Spirit-led intercession (I will freely use Christianese in this note, because the target audience is those who already believe).

The fact is we need prophets today, Elijahs and Ezekiels who will challenge our institutions, question our presuppositions, rebuke our complacency, and exhort us to walk righteously before God as His holy people. Such a prophet will risk offending a great deal of modern-day Christendom, but will persist because of the inner conviction of the Holy Spirit upon the heart.

In a day when we have more methodologies and strategies and programs that at any other time in the history of the Church, yet we’re still declining in the Western world, we genuinely need to ask where the problem lays. In a day when so much is at stake, when the risk of failure is too high to be considered by spiritually reasonable people, I think it’s necessary to get back to the basics: Prayer, anointing, vision, conviction, holiness. With painstaking clarity Ravenhill calls us back to such basics.

God has promised a great deal to this generation. I think we’ve tried doing things our way for quite long enough to show that it’s utterly and entirely insufficient. Back to the basics, brothers and sisters. The shapers of history in the realm of the spiritual have always been those who desperately sought God, heard His voice and experienced His presence, and allowed their lives to be defined by obedience to the King above all kings. Will we be such a people?

With my prayers,
Josiah

[All quotations, unless otherwise noted, are taken from Leonard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries, Bethany House Publishers, 2004.]

Imagine if upon completion of the Mona Lisa everyone just decided art was finished. Imagine if we said “this is the best painting ever, so we’re just going to stop here”. Obviously that would be absurd. In the world of art we have to keep creating, keep stroking, keep mixing colors.

So, says Rob Bell, it is with Christianity. As Christians we can’t just stop, we can’t say “this is how Christianity is supposed to look, let’s stop innovating and thinking and imagining”. Bell boldly asserts:

“As a part of this [Christian] tradition, I embrace the need to keep painting, to keep reforming. By this I do not mean cosmetic, superficial changes like better lights and music, sharper graphics, and new methods with easy-to-follow steps. I mean theology: the beliefs about God, Jesus, the Bible, salvation, the future. We must keep reforming the way the Christian faith is defined, lived, and explained”. (Bell, Velvet Elvis, Page 12).

I’ll admit when I first read this I thought “Oh great, another Matthew Fox-style nut”. But Bell’s bold claim is tampered by his admission that If it is true, then it isn’t new. (Page 14). That is, Bell believes (as do I) that the essential truths of what we need to know about Christianity were discovered a long time ago by the Biblical authors, and they have been expounded on and wrestled with for thousands of years since that time.

We’re not painting a new Christianity, we’re taking a canvas that has been there for two thousand years and adding a few simple strokes that are built upon the previous strokes. We’re learning what new strokes Jesus wanted us to add, we’re not making a new painting altogether. This calmed me a little bit. The basic teachings of the Bible are the canvas, and as long as we stay on that canvas we’re free to paint and add strokes. Once we leave that canvas we’re not repainting Christianity but making a new painting entirely; one that may be influenced by but is ultimately divorced from the previous one.

Overall I think Rob Bell has it right. He’s made some marvelous assertions about the need for us to really find what it means to live the Christian life at the present time. He doesn’t question the existence of truth, which many of his contemporary pastors do; and admittedly I feared he would join them. But my fears were unfounded, Bell is dead on in asserting that “God is the ultimate reality. There is nothing more beyond God” (Page 21). Honestly I love that Bell takes the time to talk about this. If we get the truth issue wrong we’ll get every subsequent issue wrong. But there is an objective reality rooted in the very nature of the unchanging God revealed to us in Christ.

Now there are a few issues upon which I disagree with Bell. He asserts that many pagan religions also claimed their gods had virgin births. In reality this is not true, most pagan religions copied Christian doctrines like the virgin birth and resurrection, not the other way around. Bell does not understand the Mithra cult which he uses as an example. He carelessly asserts that worshipers of Mithra claimed he had a virgin birth, when in actuality they believed he was born out of stone.

But Bell raises a more important question then some historical oddity. He asks if the virgin birth is really that important, would it matter if Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin? Honestly, yes, it would. Bell is wrong to assert that it wouldn’t. First if the virgin birth isn’t true this raises some serious credibility issues with the Gospel authors. Second this raises some questions about Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. Third this has serious implications regarding whether man’s sin nature would have been passed on to Christ through an earthly father (see Romans 5:12).

Bell also seems to be a little off when he talks about Biblical interpretation. Bell says “Everybody’s interpretation is essentially his or her own opinion. Nobody is objective.” (Page 53). Now honestly Bell doesn’t really believe that, because he often claims he has been mis-interpreted (just watch some of his youtubes). In fact, throughout the book Bell interprets the Bible and compares his interpretation to others, implying that his interpretation is more objective. In fact, if Bell really believed that interpretations are subjective then he wouldn’t have written a book to convey his ideas.

Let me just give you an example of how absurd this idea is. I interpret Rob Bell’s book to assert we should drown puppies. “Joey, that’s aburd, Bell never says that!” you may say. But if Bell is right no body, not you or I, is objective. So it’s just my subjective opinion that Rob Bell wants me to drown puppies and, according to Bell, your interpretation is no more objective then mine. Do you still believe interpretations are subjective? Do we really want to become relativists in this area? Surely not, it would be insane to do this. Interpretations can be objective, and they can be right or wrong.

On Page 67 Bell talks about the formation of the Bible, and he says that the 66 books of the Bible were not agreed upon until 300 years A.D. This is not true. Even if the 66 books weren’t formally recognized until the 300’s, very early on in the church there was wide-spread agreement about what qualified as Scripture. In fact, the early church fathers quoted what we call the New Testament quite often, and based on their quotations alone we could reconstruct the entire New Testament save a few verses.

Now Bell makes a big deal about everything being sacred. And I understand his primary assertion, after all in I Corinthians 10:31 we are told to do EVERYTHING for the glory of God. And in that sense everything is sacred. At the same time, we can’t use this to justify doing things that are explicitly wrong. Having sex is sacred only to the extent that we obey God’s sexual standards. Eating is sacred only to the extent that we thank God for the blessing of food He has given us and to the extent that we don’t abuse ourselves in eating. Watching television is sacred only to the extent that we don’t watch things God would disapprove of and to the extent that we never place entertainment higher then God in value.

The very last thing I want to take issue with Bell about is his assertion on Page 164 that the early Christians never tried to prove the resurrection and that a resurrection claim wasn’t a big deal in Roman culture. The Gospel authors went to great pains to record in a historically reliable way that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. In I Corinthians 15 Paul, after citing many eyewitnesses of the resurrection, asserts that if there isn’t a resurrection then our faith is in vain.

The Apostles’ teaching centered on the resurrection, the Good News centers on the resurrection, the proof of what Christ said about Himself is the resurrection. Rob Bell, you are a good author, but you can’t just brush something like the resurrection off. It was essential to the early church, and it is essential to us today. Not only did the Apostles attempt to prove Jesus rose from the dead, but they died for that assertion.

In all I have to say Bell brings up many really good points, but there are these big assertions that he just gets totally wrong. On a scale of 1-10 I’d give Velvet Elvis a 7. If you read the book you’ll probably glean some very good points from it. But none that you couldn’t find in a book by an old dead guy with far fewer mistakes in his assertions. If you’re really looking for a spiritually rejuvenating read I’d recommend several books: The Bible (obvious), Man: The Dwelling Place of God by A.W. Tozer, The Radical Cross by A.W. Tozer, Revival God’s Way by Leonard Ravenhill, The Way I was Made by Chris Tomlin, and Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper (BTW, Rob Bell agrees with me on this one, see End Note 24 on page 182; Bell recommends reading everything John Piper has ever written).

I’m not going to go as far as some do and label Bell an emergent. Bell’s zeal for conveying the necessity of a vibrant community of believers who live the way of Christ in the world is commendable. It’s just at times his assertions undermine not only this goal, but his other assertions. Read it, engage it, think about it, but use discernment (as you should with any book).

God bless!

Joey

Before I deal with the content of the next chapter of  Stories of Emergence, I want to voice a complaint I have with the emergent church as a whole.  I’m sure we’ve all heard exaggerated stories about spiritual happenings in the mainline Evangelical church… to borrow from Steve Furtick those stories that are like “I sat down by a lesbian wiccan on a plane, and she said to me ‘Sir, does thou readest the Holy Scriptures?’…”  Now my emergent counterparts rightly point out that such exaggerated stories are not authentic (assuming, of course, they are exaggerated and not true).  I will even cede that these stories often sound cliche (even though calling something “cliche” today is very cliche), and create a culture of fakeness in the church.

However, I don’t think the emergent alternative is any better.  Emergents seem to base their theology on miniscule absurdities of life, it often sounds like “I bit into a frosted pumpkin cookie and realized it was turning bad, at that point it occurred to me that the church is a lot like that cookie…”  It’s just so annoying.  Far from being “authentic”, it leaves one believing that emergents just go through their day looking for ridiculous analogies, trying to capture the “essence” of a “story” that “can’t be reduced to principles and formulas”.

At any rate, that is simply a pet peeve of mine, it has no substantive value in the “conversation” emergents are trying to create.

I read Spencer Burke’s chapter titled “From the Third Floor to the Garage”.  It details his move from working on the third floor at a megachurch to creating TheOoze.com from his garage turned office.  Given how much emergents love “stories” one would think their tellings in this book would be remarkable, but Mr. Burke (who would probably be annoyed that I called him “Mr.” since that sounds too business-like and CEO-ish) does not tell a great story, though he makes some good points.

Of course, to start Spencer’s move from megachurch pastor to his garage must be incredibly “authentic” and “real”, or so the post-moderns tell me.  Though I don’t see how a garage is any more real then a third-story office in a megachurch.  I guess the “real” part deals with three things Spencer points out in the Evangelical church:

1.  Spiritual McCarthyism.  Spencer rightly points out that churches today are often business-like.  I agree.  This pastor-as-CEO model, Spencer claims, can go bad and lead to spiritual McCarthyism; this McCarthyism doesn’t allow for Christians to question things like homosexuality as a Biblically condemned sin, in essence it encourages everyone to remain orthodox and stick with the mainline so as to avoid ostracism.  And apparently the ostracized are the “liberals”, which Burke says is the worst thing you can be called in the Evangelical community today.  I sometimes wonder if the emergents realize theological liberalism and political liberalism are two seperate things, I don’t think they do, but they would do well to.

That the Evangelical Church today encourages people to wear masks and not to question certain things is very true.  While I agree “fear, intimidation and control shouldn’t be the defining hallmarks of Christianity”, I also believe certain things, like belief in the fall of man, the life and resurrection of Christ, and the Bible as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, should be.  The defining hallmark of New Testament Christianity is belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.  If that is not what defines us, then we are talking not about the Church, but about something else entirely.  If Jesus is not Lord, then I have no reason to love my neighbor.  If the people around me are not created imago Dei then I have no motivation to alleviate human suffering.  Emergents want all the benefits of Christianity without understanding the foundation of those benefits.

That leads us to Burke’s next point, the church today suffers from 2.  Spiritual isolationism.  Like every other emergent on the planet, Burke doesn’t believe the church has “engaged” the culture, especially in the area of fine arts.  Our McCarthyism has lead us to be spiritual isolationists.  My frustration here is that emergents equate “engaging” culture as “conforming” to culture.  I believe “engaging” is more related to “undermining”, and is very far from “conforming”.

Emergents believe just because a culture is going one particular direction we need to jump on board and adapt every aspect of church to accommodate that cultural shift, this they call “engaging”.  I think that when the church sees culture going a particular direction, rather then jumping on board with it we need to evaluate it, to analyze it according to Biblical truth.  Generally, the culture seems to be moving away from Biblical truth (even the belief that there is such a thing as truth).  Our job here is to demonstrate by our lives, by our mental reasoning, and by the power of God released  through His Spirit, that such a shift is detrimental.

For example, take the issue of dating.  Culture has shifted towards very recreational relationships.  They encourage one-night hookups, friends-with-benefits relationships, etc…  Our job as the church is not to change our standard or to compromise and say “well, the Bible doesn’t really condemn sex before marriage”.  Our job is to undermine this wicked system by how we date, and what we propose about dating (based on solid evidence that demonstrates how horrible relationships based on society’s methods are).  We engage by undermining the cultural system, not conforming to it.  We need to challenge these assumed standards and engage our culture by showing them a better way.

In his third point, Burke says we suffer from 3.  Spiritual darwinism, the belief that bigger is better.  His proposition is that we teach all churches should grow, use the “new programs”, pastors should advance up the food chain, etc…  I don’t doubt that many churches assume that position, but not all do.

To conclude his chapter, Burke talks about authenticity, particularly on his website.  He says the essence of the emerging church is treating those who hold opposing views with great dignity.  Unless of course, that person is a fundamentalist, or a spiritual darwinist, or something like that.  It seems there is little tolerance for those people.  And that’s my last point; for all the hypocrisy emergents point out in the mainline church, they are full of it themselves.  You may say I’m not treating Burke with dignity by challenging his ideas as I do, at the very least I’m taking his ideas seriously and I would never question his right to hold to these ideas.  On the other hand, emergents are notorious for simply dismissing their critics as any number of things.  But in the end that’s what they do, they simply dismiss them.  The only story they want to hear is their own and the only books they take seriously are their own (these last comments are said generally, not necessarily in reference to Burke… even though all the blogs on TheOoze.com that I’ve seen affirm one position).

Question 1:  Spencer experienced seminary as a place that squelched differing viewpoints.  What has been your experience with seminary, Bible college, or the church?

Absolutism provides an underlying precondition for open and free thought.  If one position is right and another wrong, I have good reason to listen to those with whom I disagree to determine if they are right.  However, if we hold that no position is necessarily right and that most things are relative, then I can simply ignore and dismiss whomever I disagree with on the basis that their ideas are just subjective.  In this sense, because I’ve been raised among absolutists, my experience has helped me to gain a more full understanding of differing viewpoints.

Question 2:  Give some thought to your experiences with contemporary Christian culture.  Have you been content?  Discontent?  What changes do you anticipate?

In some ways I’ve been content.  However, I think we’ve conformed way too much to the secular culture around us, especially in terms of our ability to know moral and religious truth, in our present dating and marriage practices, in our leadership structures, and in how we engage culture.  I anticipate we’ll get this straightened out, though we may have to leave a great deal of the “church” behind to do it.

Question 3:  Spencer describes Spiritual McCarthyism as idolatry, “finding righteousness in something other than Christ.”  Do you agree or disagree with his assessment?  How big a temptation is this in our culture?

I agree, but I don’t think the assessment goes far enough.  Idolatry also includes valuing things more then we value God, and I have to ask if people like Burke value the approval of a secular culture on an issue like homosexuality more then they value God’s statement of fact on the matter.  In all, idolatry of all forms is a major tempation.

Question 4:  Spencer says he believed in spiritual isolationism during his growing up years.  What is your take on spiritual isolationism?  Is it always bad?

My take is that we need to be in the world but not of the world.  If we talk about spiritual isolation in a physical sense where Christians live in one city and non-Christians in another then yes, that’s bad.  If we talk about spiritual isolationism in terms of resisting secular philosophies and developing a truly Christian mind then that’s good and even commanded.

Question 5:  Is it possible to practice Spiritual Darwinism with integrity?  Does God want you to pursue “big”?  If not, what does he want you to pursue?  Explain your thinking.

Yes it is possible to practice “spiritual darwinism” with integrity if our practice is a “holy ambition”.  As John Piper explains, a holy ambition is something we really, really, really, really, really want to do that God wants us to do also.  I think there are big God-given visions, but ultimately our pursuit is not a vision, but God Himself.  Outside of our pursuit of God we can have no passion to do His work, no vision to know what His work is, and no stamina to carry it out.

Question 6:  What issues in your life do you need to hand over to God in “severe honesty” and with “authenticity, in all its messiness”?  Are you willing to hand them over?

I have to be vague here, since this is  a public blog.  One issue for me is my tendency to rationalize things and try and figure them out myself, ultimately I need to just seek God on the matter.  Yes,I am in the process of handing this over.

Question 7:  TheOoze and other organizations tolerate “differences and treats people who hold opposing views with great dignity.”  Is that helpful to the church?  Threatening?

It’s every helpful to the church.  In demonstrating the truth of the Gospel we must treat people with all the love and respect inherent in carrying the message of reconciliation to beings created imago Dei.

God bless!

Josiah

As the Facebook fast goes on, I find myself less motivated to write.  It’s easier to write on Facebook when I know I can garner a specific audience.  With this, however, I’m throwing my thoughts out there not knowing if anybody at all will read.

At any rate, today I began reading Stories of Emergence, edited by Mike Yaconelli.  It’s a book of stories from different figures in the Emergent Church, including Spencer Burke, Tony Jones, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Earl Creps, and of course, Brian McLaren.  That’s a pretty steller list of emerging/emergent authors and personalities.  The book was published in 2003, but as far as I can tell emergent ideas haven’t progressed much since that time; they’re still asking the same questions, trying to be authentic, and doing whatever it is that emergents do (or don’t do, in many cases).

To be honest, this is my first serious attempt to engage emergent literature (I just finished reading Why We’re Not Emergent by Two Guys Who Should Be).  I’ve read articles, critiques, watched youtubes, and I suppose Blue Like Jazz, Pagan Christianity and some Brennan Manning books may also count, but those represent a very different type of emergent then what I’m reading here (with the exception of Yaconelli, who seems like he would thoroughly enjoy Pagan Christianity).

Though I’m only two chapters in (technically one chapter, but the introduction is very much like a chapter, even has discussion questions at the end like every other chapter) I already have my critiques of ideas being proposed.  At the same time, these people make some legitimately good points.  There have most definitely been abuses in the “traditional” or “institutional” church, and those things need to be corrected.  I must cede the point to Spencer Burke that the church is not always a safe place to ask questions.  I must also agree with Mike Yaconelli who points out the “cultural worship of power and money” gripping the American church.

However, I find many things frustrating.  In the introduction, after proposing that there are many things wrong with institutional Christianity, Yaconelli then says “we don’t talk in propositions” as he describes his church.  Apparently it’s all about stories.  Unfortunately Yaconelli doesn’t realize how he uses stories as the conveyors of his propositions.  I’m tired of this superficial idea that propositions are somehow evil.  The very title of the book is a proposition:  Stories of Emergence:  Moving from Absolute to Authentic.  Does this not propose first that authenticity is opposed to absolutism, and second that authenticity is better and the route we should pursue?

Now Spencer Burke brings up more points that I can reasonably address at the moment.  However, there is an underlying methodlogy here that I think is worth considering.  As Burke speaks, he talks about how mega-churches didn’t work for him, how they made him feel like something is off, they just seemed wrong or to be on the wrong track.  And Burke brings up many good points, but everything seems to be based on how he feels at the moment, or on what disturbs him at the moment.  To an extent we need to trust our feelings, but at the same time, feelings can be wrong.  And sometimes we don’t feel right not because the circumstances are wrong, but because we’re internally wrong.  Sometimes church doesn’t feel good because I’m convicted, not because the pastor is wrong to preach about sin.

This is taken to such an extreme that these guys reinterpret history through this lens.  Burke points out that in the past there were theological arguments for slavery, and for the supression of women.  He then states that, based on this, the church doesn’t have a “stellar” record and therefore could be wrong on an issue like homosexuality.  For some reason Burke ignores the fact that slave owners who treated their slaves horribly did so in flat contradiction of Biblical mandate, and that women were found at various levels of leadership in the New Testament church.  He also ignores the fact that it’s generally been the presence of Christianity that paved the way for the better treatment of people, especially slaves in the case of William Wilberforce.  This isn’t to say the church has always behaved perfectly, I can say more then most it has not.  However, the driver of our reforms must be God’s standard for the church, not cultural climate.  What we must remember about things like slavery is the church fought to change society; when the Gospel authors recorded female witnesses of the resurrection they bucked social norms.  The emergent church isn’t as much interested in changing society as it is in changing to society.  Rather then bucking society to obey God, I fear they may be bucking God to align with society.  We’ve ceased to be a thermostat setting the cultural climate and we’ve begun to be a thermometer that simply reflects it (ironically, theooze.com, founded by Spencer Burke, had mercury as the inspiration for it’s name).

At any rate, I digress from my purpose in writing this blog.  My goal is not simply to critique the emergent church, but to engage it.  Every chapter in this book has questions at the end, and when I noticed this I thought “what better way to engage my friends and readers then by sharing these questions and my answers?”  This way, as I read through the book you can follow along with me, you can learn more about where I’m coming from and see why I respond the way I do.

Introduction:  The Illegitimate Church by Mike Yaconelli

Question 1:  “Mike describes being ‘appalled, embarrassed, depressed, angry, frustrated, and grieved’ with the institutional church.  What has your experience been like?  What struggles, if any, do you have with the institutional church?

I agree with Mike here, I’ve felt those same things regarding the instutional church.  I’m afraid in many cases we’ve abandoned Biblical practice, and I fear that materialism and the prevailing philosophies of the day are too heavily influencing us.  I struggle with the fact that I can get 12 friends to come play volleyball, but only 2-3 to come to a prayer meeting (unless it’s an emergency).  I struggle with the fact that worship is done almost as if we’re nothing more then spiritual consumers.  I struggle with the fact that many of the people who claim the Bible is the sole guide for faith and practice rely more on tradition then on God’s Word.

2.  How often do you frolic in God’s presence?  What does frolicking with God look like?  If you seldom or never frolic with God, how can you begin?

I’m experiencing some ambiguity about what “frolicking” with God means, the example Yaconelli describes doesn’t help.  I think frolicking involves a day by day relationship with God, cultivated by proper conceptions of Him and the realization of what that means in our lives.  This of course, is cultivated by prayer, worship, and other spiritual disciplines.  How often?  I don’t know for certain, I could handle more though 🙂

3.  What would it feel like to be spontaneous in worship on Sunday mornings?  To follow the Holy Spirit’s leading?  Is that scary is that [typo?] for you and for others in your church?

-What an interesting question.  To be honest, it feels incredible, I’ve done it before.  When God’s presence is so tangible that you can feel Him telling you specifically to do something it’s absolutely amazing.  Of course, it is incredibly scary, if you do this and it flops then you just look like an idiot.  But not obeying results in more guilt and sense of lost opportunity then flopping would in pain.

4.  Mike speaks of the power of our individual stories.  Are there barriers at your church to sharing personal stories?  What can you do to foster storytelling?

Well anytime we organize to accomodate one thing, we set up barriers to another thing.  Deciding to worship bars me from playing volleyball at that particular time.  So yes, there are barriers to storytelling.  To be honest I’m not sure I want to foster the type of storytelling Mike talks about.  I want people to be authentic, I want them to pray with one another, I want people to share testimonies and to speak as the Spirit leads; but Mike pins stories against proposition, so I’m not sure of my opinion of his type of “storytelling” yet.

God bless!

Josiah

As my frequent readers know, I support many reforms in our present-day Church.  Thus, when a professor lent me a copy of “A New Reformation” by Matthew Fox I was very interested.  Fox is an Episcopalean priest, and was a Dominican for 34 years prior to being expelled by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI).

In Chapter 1 Fox details why he believes we need a new reformation; he draws many parallels to what drove the Reformation under Luther and what he believes is driving a new reformation today.  He rightly points out that much of the modern Church is disengaged.  He also claims there is no energy or ability in our present day Church to handle these issues.

In Chapters 2 and 3 Fox says that it’s time for a divorce.  A divorce with whom, you might ask?  The fundamentalists:  Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ann Coulter, etc…  Fox creates an overly-simplistic view of things where you have the raging fundamentalists dominating America on one side, and the righteous and moral “creation spirituality” people like Fox on the other side.  Fox presents no middle-road (as in the theologically conservative but socially engaged position we’ve often presented on this blog).  Fox presents just two versions of Christianity, showing he is very out of touch with present day movements.

Granted, the Church needs to distance itself from political allegiances.  We do need to get away from being a museum Church where people are more interested in taking pictures of the door at Wittenburg then they are about making history.  However, promoting ecological and social justice is possible in today’s Evangelical movements without abandoning essential doctrines.

As grand as a sustainable earth is, we can’t abandon truth for the sake of popularity.  As the Christian Church we must affirm that Jesus is the Way, Truth, and Life and that no man comes to the Father but by Him (John 14:6).  Fox, however, asserts that no one way is “the path to the Source” (Pg 22).  If Jesus is not the path, the only path, then His death was meaningless, His resurrection pointless, and our faith in vain.  Fox wants to avoid being “irrelevant” but in doing so makes such compromises as to cause Jesus to be a nice but fairly inconsequential figure.  If Jesus is not the Son of God and the only means by which we are saved then the Christian Church must admit it’s complete irrelevance or convert to a Rotary Club.

Fox goes on to criticize morally bankrupt leaders in today’s Church, especially Pope John Paul II and former Cardinal Ratzinger for their lack of courage in dealing with pedophiles in the Church.  Certainly that is a very serious issue, but can we say Fox is morally courageous when he is willing to pander on the issue of homosexuality?

There are many just criticisms Fox brings out, among which stands the focus on control in today’s Church.  As I have said before, we have Rulers of the Synagogue; far cries from the servant leadership of Christ.  We can’t plead “obedience” or “loyalty” to the point we’ll make moral compromises.

Finally, Fox presents his new “95 Theses”; which are over-all thoroughly unimpressive and completely unworthy of note aside from heresies like denial of original sin, Christian particularism, the Biblical stance on homosexuality, Jesus as the Messiah etc…

Overall Fox simply presents a theologically liberal agenda and demonstrates complete ignorance of current trends among young people, especially young Evangelicals.  He seems to simply ignore the fact that people like Mark Batterson, Craig Groeschel, Matt Chandler, and others are doing Church in a new way without compromising the way he does.

The fact is there is energy in the Evangelical movement today, and while there’s certainly room for change, the things Fox proposes are either so inconsequential as to be unworthy of note (e.g. -dancing and using new instruments in worship) or so unBiblical they can’t possibly be accomodated by any morally courageous Christian.

We don’t need to find new ways of reaching God, we need to actually try God’s way as presented in the Bible.  No amount of passionate progressive spew will rival a dedicated and truly Biblical Church.  Though we certainly need a new conception of what it means to be a Biblical Church, and that is why this blog is here.

God bless!

Josiah