Incarnational Christianity

You say your church is doctrinally orthodox, and you recite the Nicene Creed every week? I don’t care.

You say that, in your church, people speak in tongues, make prophetic pronouncements, and experience other manifestations of supernatural power? I don’t care.

IchthusYou say your pastor is a brilliant orator, an exciting motivator, and a wonderful teacher? I don’t care.

I don’t care how many members are on your roll or how much your congregation has grown in the past year. I don’t care how many were “saved,” sanctified, filled with the Spirit, baptized, confirmed, commissioned, or ordained in your services last week. Continue reading

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The Future Starts Today

I am a Christian who also happens to be an American. As such, a few observations.day-7

I am not threatened by immigrants. Although my parents were born in the US, I am, like all of us except our Native American brothers and sisters, a descendant of immigrants. Some of us are descended from those forced to immigrate to America against their will. To them we owe a debt we have hardly begun to repay.

I do not fear persecution for my faith at the hands of a godless government. Conservative Christians seem to require a perception of victimhood in order to stay relevant in the current culture. We are not victims. Our religious freedom is not at risk. Any “persecution” we are suffering is self-inflicted, owing to our arrogance and intransigence. We need to repent. Continue reading

Why New Churches Will Always Be Needed

As I noted in my last post, Christianity took first century Europe, Asia Minor, and Palestine by storm. That is not the way I would describe the impact of Christianity on twenty-first century America. The Christian community has now been around for two thousand years, and its testimony hasn’t always been upright and noble. It has failed to emulate the character of its Lord, and familiarity with the history of the church has bred contempt for its message in many quarters.

The teachings of Jesus are still true and life-transforming, however, even if those who purport to follow Him have not always been faithful and consistent. The message of hope and forgiveness and a new kind of life made possible by the life and death and resurrection of Jesus is still the best news the world could hear, even if the messengers have not always borne it with grace and dignity. And yet the fact remains that, as long as Christians need to relate redemptively to a culture that may be apathetic or even hostile, there will be a need for churches where they can be equipped and encouraged, find healing and strength, share burdens, regain perspective, and renew their hope. Continue reading

Advent and the Church’s Mission

If the story of Jesus teaches us anything it is that God is on a mission. The gospel record of Jesus’ coming is simply a continuation of the Old Testament story of God at work, through his chosen instruments—Abraham and the nation that arose out of his descendants—to bring adventskranzredemption to the world and to set right the creation which has been damaged and corrupted by human sin.

After his baptism and temptation, which took place in the southern part of the Jewish homeland, the area known as Judea, Jesus chose to begin his formal and public ministry in the north, where he had grown up, in the region known as Galilee.

Here is the way Mark describes it in chapter one of his Gospel.

Now… Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ (Mark 1:14)

It’s interesting that Mark, who records very little of the teaching of Jesus, preferring to concentrate on his actions—his miracles and works of power—nevertheless begins his account of Jesus’ ministry, after briefly mentioning the baptism and temptation, with a reference to something Jesus said. Continue reading

On Being a Pastor: A Letter to Myself

During the month of October, I have taken up the challenge to publish a blog post every day. I have worked hard to avoid a negative or critical tone in what I have written. True, I did defend the role of the critic, especially when it is clear that the focus of criticism—as, for example, the church—is so clearly an object of the critic’s love and affection.

Still, knowing my tendency to embrace the critic’s task with excessive enthusiasm from time to time, I have tried to make my posts this month as positive and informative as possible. Only my readers can judge my success in that endeavor. Continue reading

On The Cusp of a New Reformation

The church is unique among human institutions. It is composed of flawed and fallible people, but it serves a divine purpose in a way that nothing else can. The former reality means that it will, over time, suffer the consequences of human fallibility. It will experience imbalance, misdirection, and, sometimes, intentional corruption.

Because it serves a divine purpose, however, we have reason to hope that, when necessary, it can be purged of its excesses and reformed so that it once again serves the purpose of God more faithfully. Continue reading

In Defense of the Critics of the Church

The late Roger Ebert (1942-2013) was something of a hero of mine. In some ways, I identified with him. Like me, he was a portly writer with a good sense of humor who lived in Chicago, my second-favorite city. Mostly, though, I respected him, especially for the Roger Ebertcourage and fortitude he showed while suffering a debilitating and disfiguring cancer which ultimately took his life.

Roger Ebert was a professional critic. He criticized movies for a living, and he was good at it. He was the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. Continue reading