Monday, June 26, 2017

What is a church if not the family of God? The common story of our heritage, our roots, our failures and successes – all of these elements have an identify-forging effect on God’s people. Our frequent celebrations of the Lord’s Supper reinforce our identity as followers of Jesus. A common story enables us to thrive in the midst of cultural challenges.

So how do we fight against the “tyranny of the now” that leads us to focus on the present that we forget our past and why it is important?

I see three strands in your church’s history, and each can help the church be a community of memory.
3 STRANDS OF YOUR CHURCH’S HISTORY

The first strand is the most important.

1. We are part of the people of God, who bear witness to the great story of our world.

As believers, we are children of Abraham; we have been grafted into Israel. So when we read biblical accounts, we are not merely reading about people as examples for us today; we are reading about Grandma and Grandpa. These are our fathers and mothers in the faith. When we read about the people of “the Way” in the New Testament, we are encountering the origin of the movement to which we belong.

Bearing witness to the great story of our world means we believe in God the good Creator, our rebellious descent into sin, God’s commitment to bring salvation, His choice of a holy people to be the vehicle for His good purposes in the world, His sending of the Messiah to die for our sin and launch new creation, and His commissioning of the Church to carry His gospel of love to the ends of the earth. Unless we are telling that story over and over again, our Church experience will shrivel up until it merely incorporates a religious aspect into an essentially secular life.

The second strand follows from the first.

2. We stand in a long line of saints who have sought to be faithful to Jesus.

American Christianity leans toward innovation and originality, which is why some of us try to leap over 2000 years of church history in an attempt to reach the pristine faithfulness of the New Testament church. But the New Testament churches were not exactly pristine, and neither is all of church history worthy of being discarded. Rooting our churches in 2000 years of church history (through biographical studies, quotes from important theologians, readings from the church fathers) reminds us that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before.

It’s true that the Church has gotten things wrong, and the Church’s heroes are, like the main characters in the Bible, flawed. For these reasons, we must not glorify the past or seek to conjure up a “golden age;” we should instead give people hope that just as God has used broken vessels and sinful people in the past, He can continue to do so with us in the present.

We are bound to repeat the mistakes of our spiritual ancestors if we are unfamiliar with the temptations they succumbed to. Likewise, we are likely to fall into cultural captivity without the witness of ancient Christianity alerting us to our own cultural blinders.

The first two strands are important for all Christians. The third is important for a local church.

3. We belong to this particular people for this particular time.

Here are the questions that arise from this strand of church history:
How did your church begin?
What movement was it a part of?
What is your church’s purpose?
What are your denomination’s distinctive beliefs?

I know of a church that recently went through a revitalization process. The church’s style today is contemporary, and yet the congregation lauds the founder of the church and the leaders demonstrate how the present state of the church maintains the original mission in its DNA. The shared story that emphasizes the original purpose is what pushes the church forward, as part of a movement that has continuity with the past.
KINGDOM OUTPOSTS, NOT LIFESTYLE ENCLAVES

The authors of Habits of the Heart warn against the dissolution of communities of memory. “Where history and hope are forgotten and the community means only the gathering of the similar, community degenerates into lifestyle enclave,” they write.

Too many of our churches tend to be “gatherings of the similar” rather than, as in Scot McKnight’s terminology, “a fellowship of differents.” The Church should be refreshed in remembering our identity is rooted in the Scriptural story of our world, in line with the faithful saints of God through the ages, and embodied in particular congregations that serve as outposts of God’s kingdom.


Trevin Wax photo

TREVIN WAX



Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via emailClick here for Trevin’s full bio.

Monday, June 19, 2017

You will never leave me -


My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. 
Thomas Merton

Benedictus (Karl Jenkins)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

WHY C. S. LEWIS’ ‘MERE CHRISTIANITY’ RECEIVED BAD REVIEWS

The photo is from Harry Poe’s Inklings collection which is available for exhibitions designed to introduce Lewis and his friends to the wider public. www.inklingsfellowship.org.

Mere Christianity is a strange book to become a modern Christian classic, partly because it wasn't intended to be a book in the first place.

The work began as a series of radio addresses Lewis delivered during WWII. Next, these "broadcast talks" were printed as small pamphlets. A decade later, they were compiled into the book we know it as today. (What's more, it wasn't Mere Christianity that put Lewis on the map; The Screwtape Letters propelled Lewis forward in both the UK and the United States, eventually landing him on the cover of Time magazine.)

Still, few books in the 20th century have cast such a long shadow as Mere Christianity. I have multiple books on my shelf that give a nod to Lewis when making a case for Christianity in the 21st century: from N. T. Wright's Simply Christian to Tim Keller's The Reason for God. Today, Lewis's book has its own biography--written by George Marsden--as one volume in a series on influential Christian books!

But despite the book's influence today (more than 70 years after the talks were delivered and 65 years since it first showed up in print), early reviewers felt little fondness for Lewis's work or his vision of Christianity. Some of the initial feedback was negative.

You may have come across articles online that quote various criticisms of books that would later be considered "classics." Of The Great Gatsby, one critic said:
"Mr. Scott Fitzgerald deserves a good shaking. Here is an unmistakable talent unashamed of making itself a motley to the view."

Of Moby Dick, what many consider to be the greatest American novel, one critic said:
"Mr. Melville is evidently trying to ascertain how far the public will consent to be imposed upon. He is gauging, at once, our gullibility and our patience."
The early reviews of Mere Christianity weren't as savage as those. Traditional Christians (over against those who identified as modernists) were enthusiastic about the book because of the winsome way it made a case for Christianity. But "Progressive Protestants," Marsden writes, "were alarmed at 'backward-looking Christianity.'" They took aim at Lewis for making a winsome case that undid "centuries of theological progress."

Here are a few examples that Marsden points out in his book.
Theology for Comfort
In 1944, E. George Lee wrote a review called "C. S. Lewis and Some Modern Theologians." He claimed that, due to the war, Anglican churchmen had slipped back into the comfort of traditional views instead of setting forth an honest articulation of modern scholarship--research that rendered obsolete any exclusive Christian claims on the basis of divine revelation. Lewis was committing "treachery of the intellect in order to try to find repose in the emotions."

Not Focused on Serious Seekers
Other waves of criticism followed. In 1945, E. L. Allen in Modern Churchman accused Lewis of preaching to those who were already converted ("playing to the gallery") instead of focusing on serious seekers "dissatisfied with traditional presentations of Christianity." Allen was upset by Lewis's traditionalism ("the Middle Ages in its most superstitious phases") and what he saw as an authoritarian gospel ("the temptation to oppose dogmatism with dogmatism rather than with freedom"). He also complained that Lewis hadn't done his homework, because he failed to quote from recent work on the subject of the divinity of Christ.

Failing to Engage Modern Thought
A year later, literary scholar R. C. Churchill dismissed the idea that The Screwtape Letters would become "a great religious classic." Churchill was offended by Lewis's lack of engagement with major trends in modern thought, his "preposterous" affirmation of the reality of Satan, and his old-fashioned case for the divinity of Christ. Churchill claimed the work had done "a grave disservice to European civilization."

Conventional Views on Sexuality
Alistair Cooke, writing for the New Republic, denounced Lewis for his conventional views of sexual morality, especially Lewis's contention that extramarital sex is sinful. Cooke did not stoop to engage Lewis's arguments, but instead suggested that because Lewis was a bachelor, he was simply afraid to talk about sexuality!

Lewis vs. the Chronological Snobs
Looking back at these reviews, there is a delicious irony in the fact that Lewis and Mere Christianity are still read today, while most of his critics who charged him of being "out of date" are forgotten. Those who believed they were at the vanguard of newest biblical scholarship and modernist trends in theology have now been surpassed by other movements and are largely ignored by most churches throughout the world.

Meanwhile, Lewis's legacy lives on. Why? Because Lewis had learned to see through the "chronological snobbery" that overtakes so many scholars. Marsden writes:
"Lewis defined chronological snobbery as 'the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.' That insight helped Lewis overcome his naïve acceptance of the latest naturalistic scientific pronouncements that led intellectual snobs such as he had been to dismiss beliefs in spiritual realities as merely 'romantic' or 'medieval.' He saw, rather, that 'our own age is also 'a period,' and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions."

Lewis' friendship with Owen Barfield, J. R. R. Tolkien, and his fondness for the writings of G. K. Chesterton inoculated him to the disease of chronological snobbery. Here is some of Chesterton's medicine for treating the chronological snob:
"It is incomprehensible to me that any thinker can calmly call himself a modernist; he might as well call himself a Thursdayite. But apart altogether from that particular disturbance, I am conscious of a general irritation expressed against the people who boast of their advancement and modernity in the discussion of religion. But I never succeeded in saying the quite clear and obvious thing that is really the matter with modernism. The real objection to modernism is simply that it is a form of snobbishness. It is an attempt to crush a rational opponent not by reason, but by some mystery of superiority, by hinting that one is specially up to date or particularly 'in the know.' To flaunt the fact that we have had all the last books from Germany is simply vulgar; like flaunting the fact that we have had all the last bonnets from Paris. To introduce into philosophical discussions a sneer at a creed's antiquity is like introducing a sneer at a lady's age. It is caddish because it is irrelevant. The pure modernist is merely a snob; he cannot bear to be a month behind the fashion."

True to form, the chronological snobs sneered at Mere Christianity, just like their descendants sneer at traditional Christian beliefs today--everything from our belief in miracles to our reaffirmation of Christianity's distinctive sexual ethic. But, as Dean Inge has said, those who marry the spirit of one age are always widowed in the next.

That's why we, like Lewis, don't have to "dig in." We can simply stand, smiling, trusting in the power of truths that have stood the test of time, knowing the gospel will go forward in faith while the heresies will go out of fashion.


June 6 - Trevin Wax   

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Christian Soccer Player Jaelene Hinkle Withdraws From Friendlies as US Team Is Set to Wear Gay Pride Jerseys
Image:
BY LEONARDO BLAIR , CHRISTIAN POST REPORTER
Jun 7, 2017 | 11:17 AM

Two weeks after U.S. Soccer announced that both their men's and women's national teams will be wearing rainbow-colored jerseys in support of gay pride in June, Christian soccer player Jaelene Hinkle has withdrawn herself from the U.S. roster for two international friendlies this month, citing "personal reasons."


(PHOTOS: INSTAGRAM; U.S. SOCCER)
Christian soccer player Jaelene Hinkle, 24, has withdrawn herself from the roster of the national U.S. Soccer team for two international friendlies this month citing "personal reasons" after it was revealed that players will have to wear gay pride jerseys (inset).

A release from U.S. Soccer said Hinkle, 24, who is a defender for the North Carolina Courage, was called into the national camp to play international friendlies against Sweden and Norway this month. She was not replaced on the roster after her withdrawal.

It is unclear if U.S. Soccer's celebration of gay pride this month is related to Hinkle's withdrawal but she wears her faith proudly on social media.

She proudly boasts Colossians 3:23 on Twitter which says: "And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men."
"If you live for people's acceptance, you'll die from their rejection," the tagline also notes.

She also converted a gay pride logo into a celebration of the cross on Instagram the same day the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in 2015 while sharing her thoughts on the decision.
"Jesus didn't come to save those who already believed in Him. He came so that the lost, rejected, and abandoned men and women would find Him and believe. I believe with every fiber in my body that what was written 2,000 years ago in the Bible is undoubtedly true. It's not a fictional book. It's not a pick and choose what you want to believe. You either believe it, or you don't. This world may change, but Christ and His Word NEVER will," she said.

"My heart is that as Christians we don't begin to throw a tantrum over what has been brought into law today, but we become that much more loving. That through our love, the lost, rejected, and abandoned find Christ."

Hinkle went on to declare that the rainbow, despite its current affiliation with the gay pride movement, is a symbol of God's promise to mankind.
"The rainbow was a convent (sic) made between God and all his creation that never again would the world be flooded as it was when He destroyed the world during Noah's time. It's a constant reminder that no matter how corrupt this world becomes, He will never leave us or forsake us. Thank you Lord for your amazing grace, even during times of trial and confusion," she said. "Love won over 2,000 years ago when the greatest sacrifice of all time was made for ALL mankind."

LGBT advocates who later chastised her online for stating her Christian beliefs said they were looking forward to her wearing the gay pride jerseys.

U.S. Soccer is undertaking a number of initiatives in partnership with the LGBTQ advocacy group You Can Play Project to celebrate gay pride month.


"As the highlight, the U.S. Men's and Women's National Teams will wear pride-inspired rainbow numbers during the June friendlies. The MNT will debut the look for the World Cup Qualifying tune-up against Venezuela on June 3 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. The WNT will wear the kits in away friendlies against Sweden on June 8, and Norway three days later," U.S. Soccer said.

Friday, June 9, 2017

In Christ Alone: Bernie Sanders Attacks Wheaton Grad’s Stance on Salvation

KATE SHELLNUTT
In Christ Alone: Bernie Sanders Attacks Wheaton Grad’s Stance on Salvation 
Image: Win McNamee / Getty
The controversy over a former Wheaton College professor’s theological explanation for wearing a hijab in solidarity with Muslims during Advent was one of the biggest religion news stories of last year. Still, nobody expected Larycia Hawkins to come up in a Senate confirmation hearing for a new Trump administration nominee.

While Sanders accused Vought of being Islamophobic and making statements that are “indefensible” and “hateful,” Christian onlookers saw the senator applying a religious test to deem an orthodox evangelical unfit for office.

Sanders’s line of questioning was different than the initial debate launched by the Wheaton-Hawkins situation, which focused on whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. (Americans are evenly split.) Instead, Sanders pushed back against a principle that is not up for debate within the realm of Christian orthodoxy: the belief that salvation is only secured through Christ.

“I don’t know how many Muslims there are in America. I really don’t know, probably a couple million. Are you suggesting that all of those people stand condemned? What about Jews? Do they stand condemned too?” demanded Sanders, himself a secular Jew. “I understand that Christianity is the majority religion. But there are other people who have different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?”

Evangelicals affirm salvation through faith in Christ alone. This principle is the basis of everything they believe. It comes up in three out of four measures that the National Association of Evangelicals uses to label evangelicals: salvation through Christ alone; his death as the only way to remove sin; the importance of encouraging non-Christians to trust him as Savior.

“Even if one were to excuse Senator Sanders for not realizing that all Christians of every age have insisted that faith in Jesus Christ is the only pathway to salvation, it is inconceivable that Senator Sanders would cite religious beliefs as disqualifying an individual for public office,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

As Vought stated during his hearing, “I’m a Christian, and I believe in a Christian set of principles based on my faith.”

Yet, these distinctive beliefs—and any claim of exclusive salvation—are increasingly viewed as offensive or problematic. In America’s pluralist landscape, even Christians are shifting away from such views.

“When it comes to religion, the word exclusive is synonymous with bigot. Even worse, Christians who communicate the exclusivity of their faith are castigated and dismissed,” wrote John C. Richards, who directs the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton.

According to a LifeWay Research survey conducted last year, only half of Americans agree that eternal salvation only comes to those who trust Christ alone. Earlier research from LifeWay found that Protestant pastors (77%) are far more likely than their congregants (48%) to oppose the idea that people can obtain eternal life through other faiths.

Still, a 2013 YouGov poll found just 3 percent of the population believes in universal salvation, that all people will go to heaven. A plurality (33%) believe that “some” will to go heaven, yet most don’t make distinctions on religious lines. Instead, nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that people who don’t follow the same faith as they do will still make it to heaven.

But for evangelicals, the exclusivity of their faith—Christ as the way, the truth, and the life—in many ways fuels their practice and their desire to share their beliefs with others. Amid changing social norms regarding religion, evangelicals have moved toward a sense of principled pluralism: a kind of religious freedom that allows for people of various faiths—or no faiths—to live out their views in the public square.

“We don’t imagine that all moral views are equally valid or that all roads lead to God. Pluralism isn’t relativism,” said Stanley Carlson-Thies, co-author of Free to Serve. “Ideally, we’ll continue to argue vigorously about different principles and work on persuading each other to try a different path. But when we haven’t persuaded each other, we need space to live out our convictions.”

It’s a tricky balance, as people falsely infer that claims of exclusive salvation dictate how another faith should be treated in the public square. The American Civil Liberties Union, following Sanders’ criticism, stated that Vought’s views “threaten” fundamental religious freedoms.

As Emma Green wrote for The Atlantic:

It’s one thing to take issue with bigotry. It’s another to try to exclude people from office based on their theological convictions. Sanders used the term “Islamophobia” to suggest that Vought fears Muslims for who they are. But in his writing, Vought was contesting something different: He disagrees with what Muslims believe, and does not think their faith is satisfactory for salvation. Right or wrong, this is a conviction held by millions of Americans—and many Muslims might say the same thing about Christianity.

Several pastors chimed in on the Vought hearing on Twitter. One pastor suggested that without believing in an objective truth outside of the individual, people will tend to make such claims personal and take offense. “Disagreement is always and only construed as bigotry,” tweeted Washington DC pastor Duke Kwon. “Our moral discourse problem is an epistemological problem.”

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Actions Speak, but Words Do Help

I'm sure you've heard it. That famous quote that is a source of equal parts comfort and derision: "Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary." The quote gets at a powerful truth that faithful presence is often a more effective tool for sharing the gospel than mere words. But like any pithy quote, it can be taken to an extreme and used as a rationale for putting off speaking up. There are times when words are absolutely necessary.

I've had a couple relationships with non-Christians that revolved around fantasy football. We would watch games and talk football. They knew I was a Christian, and even tried to start a spiritual conversation (could you ask for an easier gimme?), but I was too scared to speak up. I had joined them to watch football with every intention of being a light, but when the time came to speak up I clammed up. There are times when you've just got to speak up.

But what about the opposite situation? You're serving with a secular organization where the expectation is that you will serve but you're notallowed to proselytize. Former Leadership Journal associate editor Tim Avery explores this very dilemma in Is Jesus Welcome in Justice Efforts?
Keep reaching out,
Editor