And the Church must be forever building, and always decaying,
…..and always being restored.
For every ill deed in the past we suffer the consequence:
For sloth, for avarice, gluttony, neglect of the Word of God,
For pride, for lechery, treachery, for every act of sin.
And of all that was done that was good, you have the inheritance.
For good and ill deeds belong to a man alone, when he stands
…..alone on the other side of death,
But here upon earth you have the reward of the good and ill that
…..was done by those who have gone before you.
And all that is ill you may repair if you walk together in humble
…..repentance, expiating the sins of your fathers;
And all that was good you must fight to keep with hearts as
…..devoted as those of your fathers who fought to gain it.
The Church must be forever building, for it is forever decaying
…..within and attacked from without;
For this is the law of life; and you must remember that while
…..there is time of prosperity
The people will neglect the Temple, and in time of adversity
…..they will decry it.
~T. S. Eliot, “Choruses from ‘The Rock'” (1934)
- Kevin DeYoung offers a list of twenty things he wishes he knew when he started ministry.
- Roger Olson explains why he is a (historic) premillennialist.
- Tim Challies has a nice review of Rhonda Byrne’s The Power. Sadly, if you haven’t already, you’re probably going to start running into lots of people who have read or are talking about this one. Please make them stop.
- Peter Leithart explains why he doesn’t find the “functional” account of creation convincing (at least with respect to Sailhammer’s functional interpretation of Day 4).
- And, Matt Dabbs explains how Bonhoeffer got him to give up on creating community.
- C. Michael Patton asks “How Theologically Diverse Should Your Church Be?” Specifically, he’s asking his readers to consider not just what should be included in a church doctrinal statement, though that’s related, but more specifically, how much theological diversity we should intentionally strive for in our churches.
- Inhabitatio Dei features a multi-authored post on the Kingdom-World-Church relationship. The general argument is that we need abandon ecclesiocentric models that prioritize the church over the world, but should instead see the church as an aspect of God’s eschatological purposes for the world. There’s been quite a bit of discussion on this one that is also worth reading.
- Colin Hansen explains his concerns about comedy in the pulpit. If nothing else, this one is good for pointing out that someone actually gave a seminar for preachers on “Ten Commandments of stand-up comedy.”
- Allen Yeh offers a nice epilogue on the Edinburgh 2010 conference. Most helpful were his comments on some of the “glaring gaps” in the conference and a couple of “prophetic” moments.
- And, I’m sure that Galileo will be very happy to hear that his fingers are now on display in Florence.
In keeping with our recent discussion of Imaginary Jesus and its look into the world of American evangelicalism, I thought it would be fitting to note Andy Holt’s review of In the Land of Believers: An Outsider’s Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church. In this book, the author, Gina Welch, pretends to become a Christian so that she can explore and experience what it’s like to be an evangelical Christian in Virginia. In the process she comes to appreciate the sincerity and strength of conviction evidenced by these believers, while remaining spiritually uncommitted.
Andy summarizes what he likes about the book as follows:
The most rewarding development of her journey was her newfound understanding of evangelism. She had always thought of evangelism as an exercise of religious imperialism designed to subdue every soul in the world and force them to believe precisely the way the evangelist believes. For her, and for many liberals, it is solely about power. But she came to understand that evangelism is rooted in empathy. Because evangelicals sincerely believe people are lost and doomed to hell without Jesus, evangelism is an exercise of love and hopeful rescue from the worst fate that could befall a person. After watching her friend Alice led a couple to the Lord in Alaska, Gina writes, “Giddy tears were filling my eyes. …I was wired with delight, and I wasn’t even a believer. But one didn’t have to believe to see that this was indeed the birthing room, and if it wasn’t the birthing room of God in that moment, it seemed to be the birthing room of fresh possibility.” (244)
The review concludes by asking the obvious questions about the ethics involved in deceiving people like this just so you can get an apparently unaffected view of their spiritual lives. I also found myself wondering about the issue of accuracy and bias in a work like this. In some ways, I sure that the author managed to present a more “accurate” picture than a committed evangelical would have. Being an “outsider” like this would have allowed Welch to see things from a fresh perspective, uncolored by her earlier experiences with similar people/churches.
But, I also believe that many aspects of the church simply cannot be objectively observed like this. Insofar as we see the church as living a graced existence grounded in its union with Christ through the power of the Spirit, there will always be more about the church than can be captured through sociological analyses like this.
So, in many ways, books like this help demonstrate the complicated nature of the church. As a creaturely entity, the church can and should be observed and assessed through sociological analysis. But, as a divine reality, there must always be more to the story. Sociology cannot have the last, or even the first, word on the subject.
Pat found some more good resources on James Davison Hunter’s book To Change the World that should be helpful if you’re trying to figure out what all the talk is about. And, if you’re a ThM student and you want to attend the discussion on Hunter’s book at Pat’s house coming up on May 27th, these will be helpful as well. (Remember to email Billy and let him know if you’re planning to attend.)
- Here’s an eleven page distillation by Hunter of his book that he presented to the Trinity Forum in 2002.
- Here is a lecture that Hunter gave at the University of Montana titled “Public Service and the Idea of a Changing World,” and a seminar that he led there on “On the Priority of Culture to Politics.
- And, here’s Hunter’s response in CT to Colson’s and Crouch’s interaction with his book.
In a class this morning, we were discussing the challenge of giving in the evangelical church. You are probably aware that the average giving of an evangelical in America is around 2.5%. You may not be aware that there are significant generational differences within that number. Older evangelicals give a decidedly higher percentage of their income than do younger ones. So, we got into an interesting discussion of why this was and what we can and should do about it.
Now at least some of this may have to do with the soccial demographics of affluence in this country. It’s entirely possible that older Christians are simply better off financially than younger ones. I don’t know that this is the case, but it’s possible. And, I’m sure that this is a complex issue with multiple contributing factors. But I wanted to highlight a couple of things that I think are at work here.
First, the younger generations, as we all know, are significantly less driven by duty and institution. Indeed, institutional loyalty is, for many, virtually non-existent. Unlike previous generations, the younger generations won’t give just because they’re supposed to. But, that doesn’t mean that they won’t give. Actually, when these younger Christians find something that they resonate with, they can be exceedingly generous. So, the question is, how do we help them resonate with the church?
That leads me to my second point. The younger generations want to give to mission, not institution. They want to know that their offerings (nad their lives) are making a difference. If we want them to step up to the plate financially, we need to convince them that the church (your church) really has a mission worth investing in. If we find that these younger Christians are not resonating with the church, and consequently are not giving, it may be because we have not succeeded in convincing them that our churches really are missional.
Finally, in many of the evangelical churches I’ve attended, we’re doing a terrible job celebrating giving as worship. Instead of seeing giving as inherently connected to a lifestyle of praise, it feels more like and intermission or addendum to the real task of worship. I find it interesting that many churches sound almost apologetic when it comes time to take the offering. We make it very clear that we don’t want this to be a burden, we don’t want visitors to feel obligated, etc. What we often don’t make clear is that this is an expression of worship. This should be a time of joyous celebration, glorifying in the bountiful goodness of God’s grace. Even for those who lack financial resources, it can be a time of gratitude for the gifts we have received and a renewed awareness of how much we do have to offer back in gratitude. Instead, the “offering” sometimes feel s more like paying a bill than worshiping the King. We need to teach this generation to worship.
I’m sure there’s more. But those were the issues that immediately jumped to my mind.