Saturday, January 23, 2016

Review of Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus by J. Mack Stiles

I've been a student of evangelism for years. I've taken multiple college and seminary courses. I've been trained in church based programs. The motivation and theological reasons to do evangelism are often addressed. Sometimes these are the only issues of evangelism addressed because we are more comfortable with theological reflection than meeting people. At other times the techniques of evangelism get addressed. As one explores techniques, it is often the same as general persuasive communication used in business decisions, sales, policy debates, and public speaking...but watered down to one sales pitch which addresses one dimension. Often one sales pitch takes into account all the great public speaking techniques, but the techniques are usually not taught explicitly. These techniques of persuasive speech are incorporated into the structure of the canned presentation, but not taught explicitly. This would be indicative of training, not education. It is my observation that there is theology and techniques, but there is not much robust praxis. What is the difference between praxis and technique? I would say praxis is what we do in the Christian faith that has theological reflection as to why we do it. Technique on the other hand does not assume Christian theology so much as pragmatic outcomes as its rational. Praxis is more global in the issues addressed and multi-layered in issues addressed. Often the techniques of evangelism looks at what worked for one person and tries to teach other people to do the same. This often works but it often does not work. When it works we rejoice and use it as a reason everyone should adopt the technique. When it does not work we hide it and blame the one who did not follow the technique faithfully. I remember no indications that Mack Stiles intended to write a book about the praxis of evangelism, but it seems to me he did. He sees the persuading as a patient retelling of the gospel message multiple times in many contexts. The core of the gospel message is constant, but the individual stories of how one moves from rejection to consideration, from consideration to acceptance is a non-linear story in real life. Stiles seems to know this from experience. He understands that a culture of evangelism as a team is important. His book is one of the best on this topic.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Prayer of Repentance

Dear Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,

               We praise you and thank you that you did not just die for some of our sins but you took away completely our sin if we trust in you.  Lord as a body of evangelicals we are guilty of often confessing our personal faults and our sins as an individual and though our individual sins create disharmony, suffering, disorder, and cut off our relationship with you, we recognize particularly our corporate sins as a church, as a nation, and as a people today. We also realize that through our corporate sins we have created unjust systems, unjust advantages, and suffering not just those in our immediate social circle but upon many in far reaching corners that we cannot seeing.  Forgive us where we have not taught against and opposed racism.  Forgive us where we have not sought peaceful protection of the unborn.  Forgive us where we have not given an uplifting hand to those burdened with systemic disadvantage.  Forgive us where we have had no concern for the stewardship of your creation, sometimes call our environment.  For these and other corporate sins we ask your forgiveness. 


Saturday, March 07, 2015

Changing Church in the USA

I'm told that the church in the USA is becoming more ethnic and less white.  I go to a church that is predominately white but welcomes other ethnic groups.  We have some African, Hispanic and Filipino backgrounds among our usual gatherings for Sunday morning worship.  At work I find that most people who are dedicated Christians are people who are not white.  I find more in common with my African-american co-worker because of our unity in Christ than I do in my co-workers who identify as white but do not identify as Christian.  I welcome the church being diverse and welcoming not because we are trying to mimic the USA culture on the issue but God is glorified as we have every nation, tribe and tongue worship him.  Sometimes that is in congregations that are culturally and ethnically diverse.  The article on the Association of Religion Data Archive called "Are Black Americans the Most Religious - and Virtuous - of all?" shows how African-american Christians have many of the marks of true discipleship. I recommend it for your consideration.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Review of the Book "The Reformed Pastor" by Richard Baxter

Richard Baxter's book is considered a classic by many, but I found it a bit long winded for the content and on the side of moralistic teaching.  The book does not fit our modern disposition for techniques and effectiveness.  It is my understanding that Richard Baxter was quite the effective pastor however, he begins with and dwells for quite some time on the topic of self-examination of the pastor.  This self-examination does not let up but he makes sure that one has sensed one's sin as a pastor.  While it may appear heavy handed by modern measurements, it would be a mistake to dismiss the book.  His point of view from where he sits in church history is instructive to those of us in 2015 and beyond.  Basically, his advice is simple:

1.  Walk with the Lord God yourself
2.  Be diligent in seeking the Lord God
3.  Work hard as a pastor to study
4.  Work hard as a pastor to teach everyone in your care with personal instruction
5.  Do not think the office of the pastor is a job to keep one from hard work
6.  Teach a good catechism to your people

It may not have come in that order, but that is about the gist of it.  The emphasis on self-examination dwells and stays there for quite sometime so that if one completes that book, one cannot escape the emotional impact of his call.  The emphasis is addresses issues of the heart than any particular technique to be used for action.  Where he does talk about technique is on the area of pastoral visitation.  He emphasizes that one should do personal visitation of each and every member under pastoral care.  I was anxious to receive his instruction on this, however, the instruction is quite light in comparison with the challenge to examine one's self.  I read the whole thing to get to some fairly light things said about how to conduct visitation in the home.  Baxter had his cleric arrange the times to visit.  He wanted to talk with all in the home but focus on the heads of the household.  He encourages a proper tone and attitude with whom one speaks.

A benefit of Baxter's book to me personally was his brief discussion of the use of the catechism.  I was raised some of my youth in the Cumberland Presbyterian (CP) church.  While that denomination has many fond memories for me, and I studied diligently the teachings of the CP church, I did not observe anyone teach the catechism of the CP church.  We did study the Confession of Faith, but never the catechism.  As a middle aged adult I have found a denominational home in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).  I identify more closely with the PCA's fondness for Bible believing academics and rigorous teaching of the Bible.  However, I have found the only examples of catechism teaching in the PCA is that of self-study of those who are preparing for ministry or one example of a man raised in a pastor's home who dearly loves the teaching of Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms.  Outside of that, I've wondered how to properly employ the catechisms.  What are their places in our teaching, doctrinal understanding and Christian Education?  Baxter's work helped me to understand the right use of a catechism.  Baxter uses it as a basic Christian Education curriculum.  Baxter does not so much want one to use "THE" catechism so much as use "a" catechism.  He says that the main questions in a catechism should be focused on the most crucial and basic questions.  This was helpful to me to view the catechism as a focused Christian Education curriculum.  This view of the catechism helps me understand how I would use it.  I am hesitant to ask people to memorize anything but Bible verses. I want as many Bible verses memorized as possible and I'm concerned that if I ask people to memorize the catechism they will not get to the Bible memory discipline.  I'm also concerned that we might consider memorization of the catechism would replace constant searching out of the Scriptures in an in depth fashion, that pat answers could replace a deep devotional reading and rigorous study of the Bible.  However, seeing that a catechism as a Christian Education resource helps me.  I have become frustrated with curriculum that is build more for its selling value than for a richer understanding of God's Word and a walk with him.  Topics chosen are often suited for answering modern temporal concerns than answering transcendent questions that are timeless.  The catechisms I've read do a good job of focusing on the major issues in the Christian life.  Baxter's discussion of the catechism helped me place the catechism in a place that has less tensions for me.  I do question how we make the catechism teachable, but its place in our Christian community is more clear for me.

Overall, I would only recommend the book for those who need stirred to do the work of the ministry. I've heard it said that pastors tend to either overwork themselves or toward laziness.  This is a book to urge those who make constant soft choices to push themselves toward deep devotional life, a self-examined life, and invest themselves into the lives of their flock.  The overworked might better look elsewhere for their balance to their disposition.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Embracing the Tension of Being in the Middle By Terry Pruitt

When I claim to be a moderate, may I never do so as an act of cowardice where I refuse to take a risk. 

I desire to be open minded like a true liberal. 

When I claim to be a moderate, may I never do so as an act of cowardice where I refuse to take a stand on the truth. 

I desire to be respectful of the wisdom of the past like a true conservative.

When I claim to be a moderate,  I never want avoid the hard, painful intellectual rigor of grappling with the truth.

I desire to read, listen, and study broadly like a true liberal. 

When I claim to be a moderate, I never want to consider myself better than others by the false thought that I have somehow risen above the debate to a higher plane.

I desire to bring the self awareness that I indeed have a world-view that I implicitly believe when weighing all others like a true conservative. 

When I claim to be a moderate, may I never do so as an act of distancing myself from my sisters and brothers in the faith, nor distancing myself from friends of other faiths, nor distancing myself from the friction and hurt that commonly accompanies human interaction in general. 

I desire to be compassionate towards all mankind like a true liberal.

When I claim to be a moderate, let me suffer gladly the rejection of both the right and the left. 

I desire to be steadfast when mocked to stand for the truth like a true conservative.

I desire to critically read both conservative thinkers and liberal thinkers in order to understand the next step in their train of thought and to act on the best wisdom possible. 

I desire that my character embrace the best of the left and the right. 

Monday, September 08, 2014

Baptism for the Dead

The idea for "baptism for the dead" from 1 Corinthians 15:29 is probably a lot simpler than we make it out to be. First we should recognize that there was a variety of reasons someone would perform a ceremonial washing besides Christian baptism. Hebrews tells us that there were a lot of ceremonies in the Old Testament that used washings. It says, "According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation." (Heb 9:9b-10 ESV) We often just think of Christian baptism as the only washing, but there were other washings as well. That brings us to the second fact for consideration. If someone was to touch a body in the process of caring for a person, or burial of a person, a washing was required afterwards. Numbers 11 tells us, "Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days. He shall cleanse himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, and so be clean. But if he does not cleanse himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not become clean. Whoever touches a dead person, the body of anyone who has died, and does not cleanse himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from Israel; because the water for impurity was not thrown on him, he shall be unclean. His uncleanness is still on him. This is the law when someone dies in a tent: everyone who comes into the tent and everyone who is in the tent shall be unclean seven days. And every open vessel that has no cover fastened on it is unclean. Whoever in the open field touches someone who was killed with a sword or who died naturally, or touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean seven days." (Num 19:11-16 ESV) I may be wrong, but I believe Paul to be saying, if there is no resurrection of the dead why would one defile himself and have to go through the cleansing ceremony? We respect the dead person and believe in the resurrection, that is why we go ahead and prepare the body for burial. We carry the body to the grave. We do this out of love and respect for the person because we know their body is special and it will rise again. In our modern setting we do not prepare our loved ones ourselves. We hire others to do it. Even though our emphasis for cleanliness is biological and not ceremonial, we still emphasize the need for those who handle the dead to be clean. We also go to great length to prepare and bury the body in a respectful way. If we are theologically Christian about it, we do it because we know our loved one will rise again.

Friday, August 22, 2014

I Asked The Lord - Indelible Grace

This song is so sad but reflects the sadness of real spiritual walk. It is not the triumphant song a muscular Christianity but reflects how real spiritual walk really feels. May my spiritual walk be genuine and not a show of human strength.