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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I Don’t Want to Be a Prophet, I Just Want to Go Home

A friend once described my perception of Christian discipleship as eclectic, and he wasn’t paying me a compliment. He believed that I had drunk from too many different wells, had Rube Goldberg inventiondabbled in too many different traditions, and the result was a sort of “Rube Goldberg” contraption that made Christian life far more complicated than it needed to be.

In response, I suggested that his perception of Christian faith, arising as it did from the tradition into which he had been born, was far simpler than it ought to be. By that I meant that his restricted exposure to traditions outside his own and his limited experience with approaches to Christian faith and practice other than in the community of his birth left him with a myopic perspective. His view of Christianity, I believe, is not merely more simple than mine, it is simplistic. 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

Why Would Anybody Want to Plant a Church?

A lot of the rhetoric coming from proponents of church planting these days is ill-conceived and theologically inaccurate. For example, nobody is going to die and go out into a godless eternity just because a new church wasn’t planted in a particular neighborhood. Churches should not be planted out of the fear that, if we don’t raise up an institution of this sort, the work of God will not get done and the plan of God will somehow be thwarted.

Furthermore, it is inaccurate to compare the political, social, and religious culture of twenty-first century America to that of Asia Minor and Europe in the first century. The Roman Empire in the first century was characterized by a hodgepodge of belief systems ranging from mythological polytheism to philosophical agnosticism. While monotheistic Judaism existed, it was not an aggressively evangelistic movement. The number of Jews outside of Palestine was small, relative to the population at large, and the influence of Jewish faith and culture was limited. Continue reading

The Role of the Bible in the Church of the Future (On the Road to Easter, #7)

Dear Kathryn:

I know you are eager to explore some of the specific topics and issues where my current thinking shows marked change from the positions I held a few years ago. I am too. Before we go there, however, just a bit more about the change in my attitude toward the Bible.

The Bible, especially the New Testament, is really the church’s book. The church produced it, in the sense that real human beings, presumably active in the life of the early church, wrote the documents that have been compiled into the form we have today. They each wrote at a particular moment in history, and their thinking was shaped by the political, religious, and cultural influences of their day. 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