Archive for the ‘Reform’ Category

There has been something of a kerfuffle regarding certain contributors over at The Gospel Coalition lately.  Tullian Tchividjian was planning on leaving TGC in August, but his departure is being hastened.  I am in no position to speak about individuals or ministries involved.  I simply do not know enough about what is happening or why, and I’d rather not wildly speculate at this point.  However, Tchividjian has made some comments that are worth reflecting on.

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The issue of John MacArthur’s recent Strange Fire Conference (and forthcoming book) is all the rage in the Evangelical blogosphere right now. Truth be told, I’m impressed by the attention the whole thing is drawing. If you know anything about MacArthur you know he is a cessationist, and that he has promoted cessationism publicly for quite some time.

I gather the issue is not MacArthur’s cessationism, which is well-known. The issue is that MacArthur has thrown down the theological gauntlet. He’s not merely saying continuationism is wrong, he’s saying it’s wrong and dangerous. While I was not at the conference, reports I read had MacArthur likening Charismatics to Mormonism, saying that Evangelicals will challenge 14 million Mormons, but are silent in the face of half a billion Charismatics. This is inflammatory, perhaps even reckless, speech.

But as you may have gathered from the title, I’m not writing this post to point out MacArthur’s errors or where I disagree with him (though such disagreements do exist). That I’m writing in general support of Strange Fire implies I have particular differences with the conference and some of its themes. This post is about my support of the conference, not my differences with it.

You might be curious about how I, as a Pentecostal pastor, could possibly support any conference that fundamentally challenges the theological foundation  of my movement and condemns many of its practices. My reasons are simple:

1. Any error John MacArthur espoused at the conference, and any recklessness he demonstrated, is far less than the errors and recklessness we see in much of the modern Charismatic movement.

We may say that things like barking in the Spirit represent the fringe of the Pentecostal Charismatic movement. In some cases, this is true. I have no doubt that if the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God (George O. Wood) saw a congregant doing this that he would confront them about it. But George O. Wood is, unfortunately, NOT the public face of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. The most prominent and popular Pentecostal/Charismatic pastors tend to be TBN broadcasters. And what we get from TBN is error after error, from false prophecies galore to Prosperity “Gospel” nonsense. People hear “Charismatic” and they think “Todd Bentley” or “Bethel Church, Redding.”

I know many Charistmatic/Pentecostal leaders have responded to Strange Fire with calls for distinction. We want a distinction between those with common sense and Biblical fidelity in our movement and those who lack this (like Todd Bentley, Benny Hinn, and nearly every other pastor on TBN). But let’s be honest here, we Pentecostals have failed to make such a distinction, and that brings me to my second point.

2. Pentecostals and Charismatics are allergic to doctrinal distinction and discernment.

I wish I could say I was lying about the sentence I just wrote, but I am not. We want cessationists like John MacArthur to draw careful distinctions between different groups in our movement, but we ourselves refuse to draw such distinctions. This refusal has primarily come in the form of SILENCE regarding false teachers and false prophecies. While we Pentecostal pastors and academics often do not buy the Prosperity nonsense, we refuse to condemn those who teach it.

A few years ago, as an undergraduate student, I attempted to publish a paper in a peer-reviewed Pentecostal/Charismatic journal. In retrospect, my article was probably not up to academic par (I was an undergraduate student, mind you). The basic idea behind the article was to point out certain denials of the sufficiency of Scripture within some of the more popular teachings in our movement. I went after, for example, C. Peter Wagner and his book 7 Power Principles I learned After Seminary. I also challenged Prosperity teaching and one or two other things. My article was rejected for publication, but the editors of the journal did not cite academic quality (which could have been amended by adding a few more sources and revising a few footnotes) as the reason for the refusal. Instead, they said while they agreed with much of the content of my article it was too divisive and would not be published. I could have accepted something like “You don’t have the academic credentials we want” or “You need to add additional sources” or something like that. But no, the stated reason for the refusal was divisiveness.

I recognize the value of unity, but a unity not grounded in and centered on the truth is merely a superficial unity. If we Pentecostals want John MacArthur to make distinctions when he calls out the Charismatic movement for its abuses, then maybe we should be the first ones making distinctions and calling out heresy and excess where we find it.

Where are the orthodox Pentecostals condemning Oneness Pentecostalism (modalism)? Do we hold the nature and character of the Triune God in such low esteem? Where is the unified front of Pentecostal and Charismatic pastors speaking out against the Prosperity Gospel? Where are the Pentecostals warning about the creeping influence of Open Theism in our movement? Where are the Pentecostals upholding and demanding the regulative principle of worship in our services?

The answer is, sadly, that the Pentecostals/Charismatics speaking out on such issues are the real fringe. We put ourselves in the difficult position of upholding truth and doctrine in the midst of a movement that tends to value experience. When we do speak out against abuses and false teachings, even our brothers who agree with us tend to warn us about being too “divisive” and not being “sensitive to the Holy Spirit.” Perhaps those who are truly sensitive to the Holy Spirit are those offended by the abuses and lies taught in His Name. If we fail to expose known lies we become implicated in their continuation.

3. The false teachers have more influence than we think or admit.

While we’re on this topic, the abuses and excesses of the Charismatic movement are often rejected by certain pastors (though they are accepted and promoted by others) and denominational leaders. But let’s not forget the people in the pew. As an associate pastor, I often speak out against the Prosperity Gospel. But I know, despite this fact, that there are certain congregants who continue to believe it. In my involvement with Chi Alpha I’ve often spoken out against Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, and T.D. Jakes. It seldom fails that I offend a brother or sister when I do so.

Why does this matter? Because I’m on staff at a small church. I’m around average Pentecostals in my congregation and campus ministry. I’m not constantly around denominational leaders or scholars. And among most congregants the likes of Osteen, Meyer, Copeland, and Shuttlesworth are incredibly popular.

I’ve heard demands for MacArthur to evaluate us by looking at French Arrington or Stanley Horton. To be completely honest, my congregants have no clue who those men are (apart from perhaps a vague familiarity established by sermon references). My congregants do know who Kenneth Hagin is, or who T.D. Jakes is. I don’t think MacArthur’s concern is primarily with the Pentecostals who hold Horton in high esteem. It’s with the congregants who hold Jakes and Copeland in high esteem, and given that priority, MacArthur’s approach makes more sense.

MacArthur wasn’t looking to spark a debate in peer-reviewed literature. He was looking to engage at the popular level, and he has been wildly successful at this. It’s the popular level where the false teachers and excesses are often a problem, and it makes sense to aim there.

It should also be noted that TBN is exported to other countries. They broadcast all over the world. They broadcast to Christians who don’t have the benefit of owning their own Bibles. The incredible damage of Prosperity teaching in world missions must be carefully observed.

4. We routinely ignore the regulative principle of worship.

Much of MacArthur’s criticism has been aimed not merely at doctrinal issues like the Prosperity Gospel, but at practical issues like what is allowed in worship. If you’re Todd Bentley, you say the Holy Spirit demands things like kicking women in the face. If you’re like most Pentecostals/Charismatics, you permit being “slain in the Spirit” despite the fact there’s scant Biblical evidence for such a practice. If you’re like me, you think we should only promote and permit that which can rightly be found to be the normative practice of Scripture.

Honestly, this puts me at odds with many fellow Pentecostals/Charismatics. The people promoting the really strange practices, people like C. Peter Wagner and his “power principles,” and their followers are incorrigible. They are not open to rebuke, even if that rebuke comes from the Bible. I speak from experience as a Pentecostal. But we Pentecostals have allowed things that seemed harmless, even though they don’t seem to come from Scripture, and now we are increasingly seeing things that are harmful and that still don’t come from Scripture. But we have no experience saying “no” to anything in worship, so we implicitly or explicitly say “yes” to everything.

What’s really concerning about the whole thing in most Pentecostal/Charismatic circles a debate about the regulative principle of worship is not even underway. We just don’t care about it. We’re at risk of nullifying the commands of God for the sake of our traditions. We need to rigorously Biblically evaluate our movement’s practices in worship.

5. We functionally ignore Sola Scriptura.

This point follows from the last one. While we tend to uphold Sola Scriptura intellectually and verbally, we tend to ignore it functionally. This is true not only in worship, but in evangelism, church growth, counseling, and church government. Let’s be honest, most of our Pentecostal churches (mine included) are run by boards of trustees that have more in common with corporate America than anything we find in the Bible.

We want to grow our churches by applying the marketing strategies of corporate America. We, a movement dedicated to the work of the Holy Spirit, consistently outsource our counseling to bloody secularists. We buy into pop-psychology about love languages.

If what I’ve just said sounds like Evangelicalism as a whole, you can probably understand why John MacArthur is so upset. I don’t think all (or even most) of the above problems originated in our movement, but our movement’s adoption of the above practices along with it’s explosive growth has gone a long way to carry these things further into the identity of the broader Evangelical movement. We Pentecostals and Charismatics are now very influential, and we haven’t always used our influence intentionally or responsibly.

We need to recapture our dedication to the sufficiency of Scripture and the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. We need to articulate our understanding of spiritual gifts in such a way as to not conflict with the sufficiency of Scripture. If the effect of our teaching is that people look to a subjective experience for guidance and assurance before they look to Scripture for those things then our teaching is dangerous and needs to be corrected.

Conclusion

I know in what I’ve said I probably have not sounded much like a Pentecostal. But it is because I love my heritage and my movement that I grieve deeply for it. What we love greatly is capable of hurting us deeply. And I have been hurt by the abuses and lack of Biblical fidelity in my own movement.

This doesn’t mean I agree with everything John MacArthur says. I remain a continuationist, he a cessationist. We have some real differences. This doesn’t mean I always agree with the way John MacArthur stated his rebukes, some of them were too general and lacked necessary distinction.

But an overly broad condemnation of real problems is better than no condemnation of the problems at all. We Pentecostals and Charismatics needed to be offended, I’m afraid it may be the only thing that will make us think critically and Biblically about ourselves as a movement. And for this offense I want to thank John MacArthur and the participants in the Strange Fire Conference. The most hurtful thing about that conference is not the broad generalizations, sweeping condemnations, or lack of distinctions. For me as a Pentecostal the most hurtful thing about the Strange Fire Conference is my knowledge that far too many of the criticisms are true.

Read more on this topic, and learn about a book I have co-authored on it, by following this link.

God bless,

Joey

On this fine snowy evening, I have come across Dr. Eric Seibert’s article titled “When the “Good Book” is Bad: Challenging the Bible’s Violent Portrayals of God.”  You can access it and Dr. Owen Strachan’s response to this foolishness via the links at the bottom of this post.

In respectable dialogue, it is characteristic to be friendly, courteous, and generous.  But this is the type of dialogue that takes place in peer-reviewed journals or over a drink at Starbucks.  When someone kicks in my front door and is threatening the welfare of small children, or when a wolf has entered the pasture and is not exactly considering a respectful dialogue with the sheep, our mode of engagement must be different.  We don’t at that moment start making coffee, we cock the Remington.  We land staff blows to the head.  To employ respectable discourse at this stage would be an act of surrender akin to parleying while Sauron’s army stands in the Pelennor Fields (see Douglas Wilson, “A Serrated Edge,” p. 11).

Some well-meaning but strategically challenged Christians will, no doubt, treat this as a tactical battle about how we interpret Scripture.  But this is no tactical battle at all.  It is a strategic one not about how we interpret Scripture (as important as that is), but about what Scripture itself is.  Seibert has left the Evangelical camp and is now lined up with the Philistines.  We Evangelicals take the Bible to be God’s inspired Word, and therefore to be inerrant.  Seibert takes the Bible to be a book that can be judged false by the standards of fallen man.

Of course, I should be thankful that unlike other theological liberals Seibert doesn’t actually pretend to esteem the Bible.  At least he is honest when he says “To put it bluntly: not everything in the “good book” is either good, or good for us” (Emphasis original).  If not everything in the “good book” is good, we can discern quite easily that it’s not exactly the “good book” (Seibert’s quotation marks here a good hint to his view on this as well).  But if the Bible is not the “good book,” what is it?  If it is not the very inspired and inerrant Word of God, what claim can it possibly make to our allegiance and trust?

Certainly Seibert does not look to the Bible as the source of his ethical standards.  In fact, it is the ethical teachings of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, with which Seibert has a problem.  So he does not take it as a valuable source of man’s moral duties.  Nor does he accept it as a source of truth about God’s character, for he says it portrays God in unacceptable ways.  I should certainly like to know the source of Seibert’s revelation about the nature of God.  If he rejects the Bible, which he obviously does, he is left without any standard for learning who God is and what He is like.

One might here say that Seibert doesn’t reject the whole Bible, but only parts of it (as it turns out, all the parts he happens not to like).  But the Bible is not the sort of book we can sever into distinct parts, some of which we accept while others of which we do not.  The claims and teachings of Scripture are an integrated and cohesive whole.  To reject the commands of God in the Old Testament as immoral is to reject the very God of Scripture Himself.  To say God is not able to command a life be taken is to say that God is not God at all, but a weak, ineffective sort of being held in check by a standard above Himself.  And if the commands of the Old Testament are rejected, the very need for a Savior is also rejected.  If God is not the source of morality, if we have not offended our Creator by our sins and disobedience to His commands, then the sending of His Son is an entirely pointless affair.  In short, we can’t reject the Old Testament commands without also rejecting the New Testament Savior.  And once we have done both of those, we have robbed Christianity of its core.

Some might here claim that it is just about believing in Jesus and the moral example He set, not about any other doctrinal baggage.  But  here again, Seibert does not have this road open to him.  If the Old Testament is as bad as Seibert claims, then Jesus was no moral example.  Jesus esteemed the Old Testament in the highest regard, living His entire life in light of its commands and claiming that not one iota would pass from the law and prophets until the end of all things (Matthew 5:17-20, an “iota” is the smallest written letter of the Greek alphabet).  If the Old Testament is immoral and teaches us bad things about God, but Jesus came to fulfill it and taught that it is completely true and the law is good, then Jesus Himself is implicated as a propagator of immorality and falsehood.

It is often said that God made man in His image, and man has been making God in his image ever since.  This is, unfortunately, a basically true statement.  As fallen men, we tend to paint a God who looks just like we do.  Theological liberals often say “Your God seems to hate all the same things you do.”  But the opposite is also true.  It’s funny how Seibert’s god tends to sound a lot like a 21st Century theological liberal.  Historically speaking, it is the conservative view of God that has always challenged the broader culture on issues like homosexuality, gender roles, the ownership and treatment of slaves, etc.  The liberal view of god has always matched the culture perfectly on these things.  The conservative view has been steady and consistent over millennia.  The liberal view varies in accordance with the polls.  Conservatism, by its nature, hasn’t done much in terms of changing its perceptions of and teachings about God.  Liberalism has changed and, by its nature, is always changing what it teaches about god(s).  Liberals are a thermometer that tells us what the cultural temperature is like.  Conservatives are a thermostat that sets the cultural temperature itself.

Ultimately, we must ask ourselves whether the Bible is revealed truth about God.  If we answer yes, our duty is to discern that truth, but never to sit in judgment upon it.  We, by the power of the Spirit, interpret what is said and apply it, but our job stops there.  The finite and limited must not attempt to correct the infinite and unlimited God.  If, however, we answer no, then we are left to despair in our meaningless state.  We will never be able to make sense of things, being ruled only by our own desires, impulses and arbitrary whims.  We will be able to make a god in our own image, but he will be a weak, powerless idol.

My message to Seibert is to repent of his idolatry and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  God abounds in mercy, despite the fact that Seibert argues otherwise.  His blasphemies against the character of God can be forgiven.

My message to my Christian brothers and sisters, perhaps confused and fearful about this whole fracas, is to learn how to better defend your faith.  An excellent book on this topic is Paul Copan’s “Is God a Moral Monster?”.  Additionally, we must always exercise great discernment.  There is no lack of wolves in sheep’s clothing, even at supposedly Christian colleges and even in Biblical studies departments.  Stand firm in your faith by the power of the Spirit, and learn to recognize the strategies and tactics of the enemy for what they are.  Expose the unfruitful works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11).  Grow in the Lord and in the knowledge of the truth.

Sincerely,

Joey

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2013/02/when-the-good-book-is-bad-challenging-the-bibles-violent-portrayals-of-god/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thoughtlife/2013/02/can-a-messiah-college-ot-professor-really-teach-the-bibles-immoral/

Growing up Pentecostal I always held intellectually to various aspects of Pentecostal doctrine. Of course most notably were the doctrines that distinguish Pentecostalism from other theological camps. Among these doctrines are our beliefs about Baptism in the Holy Spirit (BHS) with initial physical evidence (IPE) of speaking in tongues (SIT). And of course this leads to the belief that the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit through the Church at large and individual believers in particular did not cease, but instead has continued to the present time and will continue until the return of Christ.

It’s a fine set of doctrine that I hold to today. But over the years I have grown concerned about the discrepancy between our doctrine and our practice. That is, our orthodoxy is not translating to sound orthopraxy.

It does precious little good to believe intellectually that the Holy Spirit works today in a way parallel with His work in the book of Acts unless that intellectual belief is translated into practical application. As debate about the nature of the work of the Holy Spirit increases, even in some of our most dedicated Pentecostal fellowships, I am led the the belief that the cause of many’s doubt about the present-day work of the Holy Spirit is rooted in being told they should expect to see Him move but never actually seeing it happen.

In such a circumstance one is led to believe that either the doctrine itself was wrong, or one’s experience is wrong. Given the vividness of personal experience, it is generally the doctrine that is discarded.

But this has led me to a problem. For I believe the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and infallible. What it teaches is true. And having considered arguments from every perspective, and doing much study on my own, I’m led to the conviction that the Bible teaches the Holy Spirit should be just as active in the Church today as He was in the first century. Thus the problem lies not with our doctrine of the Holy Spirit, but with our ability to live it out in practicality.

Leonard Ravenhill once commented that one of these days somebody is going to pick up the Bible, believe it, act on it, and put the rest of us to shame. I have often wondered what the result would be if we simply acted in faith on God’s Word.

Having read the history of my beloved Pentecostal movement I believe such a conviction is what led Charles Parham to challenge his students in Topeka to search the Scriptures regarding evidence for Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Surely we cannot believe that the Holy Spirit moved so powerfully just one hundred years ago only to let the Church wallow in spiritual stagnancy in the present time. Surely we cannot believe that God has stopped working.

Yet we will continue to go to services, simply going through the motions ritualistically while we generally lack the supernatural and transformative work of the Holy Spirit. I’m afraid that most people claiming to be believers have very low expectations regarding the Church, and outside of the work of the Holy Spirit it is only logical to expect this. Without the Holy Spirit the Church is not a living entity, but is instead a corpse of spiritual deadness.

At any given point I believe we are just one prayer and one act of faith away from seeing the Church rise from it’s dullness into the vibrant Body of Christ it is meant to be. The time is now for us to act by the authority of Christ, to believe that we can and must do what He says we can do, that we can the Body He has called us to be. We cannot put our faith in new strategies or methodologies. These are but tools to be used by a living Body, they cannot bring such a Body to life. For that we need the Holy Spirit working through Spirit-filled men and women.

With love,
Josiah

Yesterday my mother was helping my little sister tune a guitar. I know very little about tuning instruments. I know there are knobs you twist on the top of a guitar, but beyond that I’m pretty useless. There’s also a key, not a literal key. But a key that sort of sets the standard for how the instrument should sound. The key tells us what A, B, C, D, etc… as individual notes ought to sound like. It could be another instrument that we know is well-tuned. But to be more accurate we could use some sort of digital key that always produces the same sound, because other instruments can get out of tune. If you try to tune your instrument according to one that is out of tune you’ll just standardize the out-of-key sound, you won’t actually get rid of it. As it turns out, my mother was using a piano to help tune the guitar. But our piano is really out of tune.

In the spiritual classic The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer utilizes this analogy in discussing unity in the Church. If we as Christians try to constantly tune ourselves to one another, we risk being off-key in any area in which our friends are off-key. We may try to achieve unity by more and more fellowship, but there’s the risk that in doing so we’ll simply risk conformity. Conformity isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s a great thing as long as we’re conforming to the right standards. The thing is we can’t rely 100% on others to live by the right standard.

The solution is quite simple: We have to be tuned to God, not to each other. This isn’t to say we can’t learn from each other, nor is it to advocate a rugged individualistic Christianity. It’s simply to say that true unity is most effectively achieved when all of us as individual believers decide to pursue God and tune ourselves to Him rather then to just tune ourselves to each other.

Consider that in tuning to each other we’ll inevitably have differences of opinion and preference. It’s a recipe for disunity. But in tuning to God we have no option of having a different opinion, He’s right and we can either align ourselves with Him or be wrong. But in that case there is no room for opinion or subjective preference.

God doesn’t give us the option of loving one another. It is something we must do, to not do it would be to walk in disobedience to our Lord and Savior. Likewise gossip is a matter in which our opinion doesn’t matter. We’ll either live up to God’s standard, or we won’t; but in either case let’s not come with some false pretense of it simply being a matter of opinion.

Dear Friends, I am bold when I say these things because I know you have seen my life. You have seen my failures as well as my successes. I don’t say this with any air of superiority, I say it as one who fights in this same battle every single day.

I believe one of the great dangers facing us today is a willingness to affirm sound doctrine mentally, but to ignore it practically. The Bible is the inerrant and inspired Word of God, our sole guide for faith and practice. Mentally I think most of my readers will agree with that. But what about practically? Is the Bible really our sole guide for practice when it comes to loving people we find personally annoying? We claim to want unity in our fellowships, but we’re unwilling to get over our trifling disagreements and grudges. How can God take our prayers for “unity” seriously under such circumstances? We claim we want to “be real”, but we constantly put on a grand cinematic display of religiosity not matched in any theater in America. We want to “be real”, but we won’t align ourselves with God in Who the very nature of reality is rooted. My good friend, AZ, has frequently pointed out to me that the cry to be real is a cry for God, because God is reality!

I’ll admit I find it very odd that when I talk to someone individually about these things there will be unanimous consensus, but when we get into groups everything falls apart. It becomes very apparent that we weren’t really serious about seeking God. But in the heart I know I was serious, and I know those I talk to were as well. What happened? We tried to tune ourselves with the wrong key.

In Acts 19:13-20 we read about people who were sorcerers that have come to believe in Christ. In obedience to God they bring their scrolls of sorcery and burn them, completely ridding themselves of the evil thing. The scrolls they burned totaled about 137 years worth of an individual’s wages in that day. Given a yearly salary of $30,000, that means they burned what we would value as $4,110,000 worth of scrolls.

I can’t help but think a similar demonstration of sacrifice might help us in the present day. Granted, we don’t have sorcery books (I hope!). But most of us have something that keeps us occupied enough to keep us away from God; or we have a favorite activity that consumes enough time so that we’re not focused on eternal purposes; or when we get together with friends we just suppress our desire to engage in truly spiritual things, and we do so in the name of “fellowship.”

It’s such an easy trap to fall into. I fall into it frequently, and based on my conversations I think most of my readers will admit they do too. But the fact that it’s mutually committed doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable, and we’ve got to tune ourselves to God and not each other if we really desire to see any improvement in this regard.

I’m not entirely sure where this is going to lead. Personally, I think over this summer I’m going to be kissing video games goodbye. I’ll have to attack other things as I see them.

With love,
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

Reformation Polka

Posted: May 29, 2009 by Josiah Batten in Reform

This video was sent to me from my friend over at Unquantified (see links on Right).  It’s definitely worth watching.