Who Needs Evangelism?

nt church books(This continues a series that started here, and continues with part 2 and part 3.)

Dave’s first mark of a New Testament church is evangelistic preaching. (Book: Seven Marks of a New Testament Church.) I’m a member of a church that’s part of a mainline denomination. I’m a mainliner. In general, we don’t like the word “evangelism” or related terms like “evangelistic.” You can watch Dave’s remarks starting about about 4:45 in the video and runs for about 4 minutes.

In the book Dave calls this sign “evangelistic preaching.” The word “evangelism” here is used to emphasize that this is not the kind of preaching we normally think of when we hear the word “preach” in modern English. The preacher preaches and sermon and the congregation says “Preach it, brother!” This, on the other hand, is not speaking to the congregation in order to teach them about the faith of which they are already a part. Rather, this is proclamation of the message to those who haven’t heard it before.

The word “evangelism,” and of course the related word “evangelistic” has a bad reputation in mainline circles. (Remember that I’m thinking about this in the context of being a member of and working in a United Methodist congregation.) I don’t particularly mind if people want to avoid the word, just so long as we don’t avoid the activity. Mainliners have an excellent way of avoiding ineffective or offensive methods of evangelism: We just do no evangelism at all. By offensive I don’t mean offense at the gospel itself. There are those who are offended, for example, if I say that Jesus loves even terrorists. That’s fine. I’m still going to say it. Jesus does love them. On the other hand if I say, “You bigoted moron, Jesus loves terrorists as much as he loves you,” it’s quite possible the hearer will be offended (quite justifiably) at being called a bigoted moron and may never even hear the second part.

It’s especially important to realize that people can disagree with you without being bigots or morons. It’s even more important to remember that Jesus loves everybody, and that includes bigots as well. In fact, it would be really great if we quit thinking of people in those categories. Challenge their ideas or their actions as dangerous, but value everyone as a person, especially those you find hard to value.

9781631990465mDave used one way to say “evangelize” in the video when he said “share the love of Jesus with them.” How do I do that? Well, it starts with learning to love them myself. It’s much easier to act from love if you do actually love. Then fit your proclamation, whether in actions, words, or any combination of them, to the particular situation.

We’re going to share the love of Jesus much more effectively when we do it because we are loving like Jesus, rather than doing it in order to build church membership, build up our personal count of people saved, or justify ourselves and our way of life. If we thought of evangelism as “sharing the love of Jesus” I think we would find that easier to remember.

Dave starts with this point because that’s where the passage he’s using, Acts 2:37-47, starts. The passage starts there because this is the historic moment. We won’t always find ourselves with an audience that needs to hear words.

Bruce Epperly, in Transforming Acts: Acts of the Apostles as a 21st Century Gospel, also presents proclamation in his first chapter. The details are different, the text is different (Acts 17), but I think you’ll see the connection (pp. 13-14):

9781938434648sThe description of Paul’s message at the Areopagus rings a familiar bell for twenty-first century North Americans. Paul is sauntering through the marketplace of spiritualities – it could be Cambridge, Ann Arbor, Berkeley, Madison, or Washington DC where I live. He is gazing at the seat of intellectual, political, and spiritual power and prestige. Statues are everywhere, not unlike Washington DC, London, Paris, or Beijing – to gods and heroes, sacred and secular, known and unknown – each portraying a certain vision of human life and ultimate reality. Paul is both amazed and scandalized at the panorama of diverse and conflicting spiritualities.

Jewish by upbringing and theology, Paul is overwhelmed by the thought of people worshiping objects that are less alive than themselves. Perhaps, he is amazed that people still worship gods such as Zeus who are not only promiscuous in their dalliances with human beings but also vindictive, angry, and punitive. Why would anyone worship raw power when you can experience God’s love? Why would anyone follow a religion of fear when he or she could experience God’s loving acceptance, grace, and companionship? Why would anyone exalt the gods of violence when the prince of peace welcomed them with open arms?

He engages in conversation with some of the local spiritual leaders and philosophers of the city. They don’t know quite what to make of his vision of a universal God, whose life cannot be contained by statues or institutions, and whose love was manifest in a suffering savior. “Tell us more,” they ask, because like our culture, they lived with gods aplenty – there as many religious options as there are cable or dish television stations.

Paul enters into dialogue, honoring their religiosity, affirming their quest, but suggesting another better alternative, the path of salvation and wholeness pioneered by Jesus of Nazareth who was unjustly crucified, but miraculously resurrected to bring healing and wholeness, transformation, and love to all creation. There is an “unknown God,” whose wisdom is luring us forward even when we are unaware of it, and this is the God Paul has experienced through his encounters with Jesus Christ.

Here we tie a different portion of our modern experience to a different portion of the book of Acts. Does the book of Acts seem more relevant to you with either of these approaches?

Now let’s get a taste of how Ruth Fletcher talks about this. Remember that she starts from looking at thriving churches and asking: “How did it happen?” The following is from pages 53-54 of Thrive: Spiritual Habits of Transforming Congregations, which talks about Spiritual Habit 5 – Engaging:

9781631992070sEvery once in a while, those foreign missionaries would visit the congregation, telling tales of difficult living conditions and cultural challenges they had encountered while trying to share the good news of Jesus Christ in some exotic location. Some were doctors who brought healing to those who were sick. Some were teachers who helped young people learn and grow. Some were engineers who helped villages dig wells and install sewer systems. Some were evangelists who established new churches.

I remember listening to their presentations, being impressed by their stories, and feeling just a little bit glad that they would be returning to the dangers of the mission field while I would go back to putting my change in the offering box in the safety of my own home. Of course, I was not the only one who took comfort in being able to leave the mission work to the professionals; in those days, most members of historic Protestant churches were content to offer their monetary support and prayers for others who would travel to the mission field, out there, over there, while they stayed within the familiar circle of congregational life.

Yet transforming congregations do not just play a supportive role in the mission of the church; they actively participate in that mission. They see that the mission field of the 21 st Century begins at the church’s doorstep and stretches out into the neighborhood and into an interconnected, interdependent world. They understand themselves to be the missionaries who are called and sent, ready or not, to engage in making real God’s New Creation. [emphasis mine]

Now Dr. Fletcher is going to get involved in scripture in the next few paragraphs, but again, look at the starting point.

Also, while the position is different, some focus on mission, evangelism, proclamation, or perhaps we should just say “sharing the love of Jesus” is part of this basic approach for all three authors.

Now you’ll find differences in many areas. That’s part of what I want to celebrate. I believe that as I move to a new congregation (no, I’m not a church professional, just a member), and try to work with my fellow-members of the body of Christ, the ideas of gotten from learning from these three different authors are going to help. What is it that God is calling me to do to share his love in and with this new church community? I’m sure I’ll be finding out soon!

I’m embedding below my interview with Dr. Ruth Fletcher. I don’t have a full interview with Bruce Epperly on this topic, though we’ve discussed a number of his other books in various interviews. Just press “Play” to get rid of my picture and see and listen to Dr. Fletcher!

Different People See Different Things in Acts

nt church booksIn my current series on the church, starting from my interview with Dr. David Alan Black about his book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, I’m bringing in material from two other authors: Bruce Epperly (Transforming Acts: Acts of the Apostles as a 21st Century Gospel) and Ruth Fletcher (Thrive: Spiritual Habits of Transforming Congregations). There are three major reasons (other than that I like and publish both books) that I’m using these two books.

  1. These two additional books show significant similarities in what they recommend for 21st century churches.
  2. These two additional books show significant differences in their recommendations.
  3. These two books show significant differences in the approach to finding the answers.

I want all of these differences and similarities to help stimulate people to their own study. I want to emphasize that though I’m friends with Dave Black and appreciate his work tremendously, I’m not trying to speak for him, nor am I simply trying to reiterate what he has to say in his book. What I’m doing is approaching his book as a member of a mainline congregation (I’m United Methodist), and asking what I should apply to my local congregation and how I should go about doing so. In fact, I hope that as I do this I’ll see more avenues for building up the spiritual life and discipleship of the church community I’m part of.

I’m not seeking uniformity, and I don’t think Dave is either. Two days after we taped that interview, he was preaching at the United Methodist church I now attend. He never asked any of us to become Baptists. But I’m not going to try to speak for him on any details. Uniformity is, I believe, one of the problems we have in the church. One of the mechanisms of uniformity is the church program. Repeatedly I have seen church members go out and learn about some program and then bring it back to their church. When they get back they are filled with the recommendations of the speaker, which often include the warning that if they don’t follow the program precisely things will go off the rails. So if a church already has an effective ministry to needy people, for example, there’s no option for combining the new things learned at the conference with what is already happening. We have to carry out the program.

I recall the introduction of a small group related program to a church that already had two different types of small groups. Over a period of years there was constant complaining that the church couldn’t get enough people involved in this new program to make it work. Nobody was willing to consider combining the new program with what was already going on. So people who were leading in small groups felt overwhelmed by the requirement to attend classes, carry out specific activities that didn’t mesh with what they were already doing, fill out reports, and attend administrative meetings. That’s one form of the effort to enforce uniformity. Uniformity can be of practice, of doctrine, of polity, and so forth.

I’ll outline the differences in recommendations as I go through my series, though I certainly won’t be able to cover all three books. I’ll recommend reading all three, then, as I think all three authors would recommend, prayerfully studying and discerning for yourself and for your community what God’s leading is in your particular case. Then don’t feel the need of reinventing the wheel because you have suddenly become one of the enlightened ones.

I do want to point out differences in approach. None of this is intended as a critique of any of the authors. These are, in fact, the strengths of each that led me to want to write a blog series based on these books.

Dr. Black is a biblical scholar, and he is not a pastor, nor does he plan to be. He will tell you that he’s a full time missionary. In churchese, one could say full-time minister of the gospel. In his book you’ll find primarily a study of the text on which the book is based, Acts 2:37-47. For those of us whose thinking is seasoned by the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, he’s on the scripture line and it’s foundational. It’s seasoned by experience, tradition is acknowledged, it’s tied together with reasoning, but it is always scripturally rooted.

Dr. Epperly is a former seminary professor and a church pastor. He works from the biblical text but spends more time both on theology and sociology. His book is liberally sprinkled with his personal experiences which he ties to the experiences he’s using from the book of Acts. You’ll read lots of texts in his book, but you’ll be asked to think about those text in a much broader context.

Dr. Fletcher started from the other direction. She looked at churches that were successfully ministering to their communities, churches that were thriving, and asked what were the things they had in common. Her spiritual practices are derived from that. But don’t imagine that there is no theological reflection or scripture involved in the final result.

I found great joy in publishing all three books and I invite you to reflect on these issues for a few posts. I hope this explains what I’m trying to accomplish.

When to Cut Off Dialogue

I’ve read recently about people cutting off dialogue because of certain behaviors of those on the other side. And indeed, there are times when dialogue becomes futile because someone else refuses to be honest or refuses to engage.

I’m writing this simply to appeal to those who want to see more dialogue, more working together, more actual exchange of ideas, and more true debate in which we actually engage one another’s thinking to be the good guys. Just that. You can respond to another person rationally and with sanity even if they are not likely to do the same thing. If this is done in a public forum, neutral parties who may be influenced will see what you do and be positively influenced by the way you debate as well as by the point you make.

This can involve the determination that you’ve said enough on a subject and are going to just sit back while someone else raves. If they bring nothing new to the debate, you don’t have to answer.

Dialogue will not prosper when we place too many preconditions on starting it. Be willing to let the other guy argue badly. The benefits of true dialogue are simply too great for us to allow obnoxious people to stop it.

Experience, Belief, Action: An Exercise from Bruce Epperly

9781938434648sI will be putting more material from Bruce Epperly in as I post more on the church, but here’s an exercise he suggests in his book Transforming Acts, pp. 19-20.

Acts of the Apostles is clear that doctrines are symbiotically related to behavior. Our doctrines emerge from spirit-centered experiences. Our experiences are clarified by our beliefs and take shape in practical application. Accordingly, what behaviors might your beliefs inspire in the areas of:
»» Personal stewardship
»» Care of family and children
»» Marriage and other significant relationships
»» Community involvement
»» Political involvement
»» Care of the Earth
»» Response to diverse opinions
»» Ways we respond to personal or global conflict (violence, reconciliation, consensus, peace-seeking balanced by appropriate protection).
»» Involvement in justice issues – first-hand support of vulnerable people and/or political involvement to achieve a social order more reflective of Jesus’ values.

One of the great strengths of Bruce’s book is that he challenges us at the end of each chapter to thoughtfully and prayerfully move to action.

Moving to a New Church

Dave Black preaching at Chumuckla Community ChurchWell, the church isn’t new, except to us. We’re changing our church membership from First United Methodist Church of Pensacola to Chumuckla Community Church (a United Methodst congregation). I want to make sure you know that this is a move to, not a move from. First UMC is doing many things to be a witness to Jesus in their community and to serve others. I have enjoyed my many opportunities to teach while I was there.

Recently I was invited to teach a Sunday School series at Chumuckla Community Church. The first day I was there I started to feel that there was something there that I should try to be a part of. Over the course of the five weeks I taught (and I preached once), this feeling got stronger. I also found that Jody was feeling the same thing.

The problem for me was that there are some things happening in the education department at First UMC that I have hoped to see for a long time. Was this the time to be moving on? Then in succession I found that my very small regular Sunday School class (I’m absent guest teaching frequently, and they don’t meet when I’m gone) would very quickly find roles in the new programs. I also received a fall schedule which showed the abundance of resources at First UMC and how well they were being deployed by the new education chair (Joe Taylor) and the new Director of Christian Education, Lisa Bond.

I hadn’t imagined that I was essential to the new programs, but I had felt that I should support things that I had talked about and prayed for over the years I’ve been there.

So Jody and I are now attending a new church, and we’re hoping to be very active participants in ministry there. This church is about the same distance from us north as First UMC was south, so we still have a bit over a half hour drive.

I had thought that I was unlikely to transfer to another United Methodist congregation. This is not due to the various doctrinal controversies that are occupying everyone’s attention right now. Rather, it is due to polity. If I had my own way, I’d probably join or start a house church and meet with a smaller number of people. But unless I discern very poorly (always a possibility), God has other plans right now.

There are enormous opportunities to be the Body of Christ in the community of Chumuckla and the surrounding area. Pray for Jody and for me that we will find and answer God’s call for us in this church.

Why I Believe Church Pews Are Unbiblical

9781631990465mI’m starting a series of posts inspired by my recent interview with Dr. David Alan Black regarding his book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. He bases this book and the seven marks on Acts 2:37-47. You can see a video of that interview below.

I had the privilege of interviewing Dave while he was visiting Pensacola the weekend of September 6. The interview was recorded by Kyle Hall in the library at First United Methodist Church here in Pensacola. I want to thank Dave for visiting and Kyle for recording the video.

I have several goals in this series, including discussing how we can learn from people from other tradition streams. I intend to bring in quotes and ideas derived from two other books I publish, Thrive: Spiritual Habits of Transforming Congregations by Ruth Fletcher, a Disciples of Christ regional minister and Transforming Acts: Acts of the Apostles as a 21st Century Gospel by Bruce Epperly, a United Church of Christ pastor.

But what does all this have to do with my belief that church pews are unbiblical?

The starting point for Dave’s book is that you can look at the book of Acts, and the activities of the early Christian church, and find things that are normative, or at least very valuable, to modern Christians. Dave isn’t alone in this conviction, but I want to start with the question of how we move from what we find in Acts to what we should do in modern churches. This topic is discussed in the first 4.5 minutes of the video.

We don’t find sound systems or their use in the New Testament. Neither do we find hymnals, organs, pianos, praise bands, orders of service, parking lots, or many other things that are automatically part of our modern life, and often of our church activities. Is it wrong to have something in church that isn’t actually mentioned in the New Testament? There are those who would think so.

On the other hand there are those who would say that church has changed so much that we need to come up with our own unique ways of doing things, that looking back to the early church isn’t going to be enough to deal with our complex world of the 21st century.

I think there is some truth in both points. There are, in fact, critical principles in the New Testament that need to be part of any church that wants to label itself Christian, or more important wants to consider itself a community of disciples of Jesus. (I’d prefer the latter personally.) On the other hand we have situations in the modern world that weren’t a part of the world of the New Testament.

The question is whether the way we choose to meet the challenges of the 21st century is worthy of the good news about Jesus. Do our solutions to modern problems, even when those problems are not directly reflected in some New Testament story or statement, fulfill the principles that Jesus taught? When we make a change does it help us love God and one another? Does it help us to make disciples wherever we go?

So I come to church pews. They aren’t mentioned in the New Testament. They wouldn’t have been needed, though doubtless the various Christian homes that hosted meetings had chairs of some sort. I have a problem with church pews.

Now my problem is that we can’t develop new tools and new practices to meet 21st century demands. The problem is that I don’t think church pews help us love God or one another more and I think they tend to prevent us from fulfilling the gospel commission.

Bicycles are also not mentioned in the New Testament. They’re really good and very helpful in many places. Neither are motorcycles mentioned, but what a blessing they are. I can’t count the number of times I’d head out as a teenager, living with my parents in Guyana, South America, riding on the back of a motorcycle behind an evangelist, holding my trumpet case in one hand. It was the 20th century, true, but it was a very non-1st-century scene. Well, in one way, not 1st century. But in another, the young person heading out to help the evangelist do his work is a very 1st century scene. The tools changed, but the mission didn’t.

But what about those pews? Yes, back to pews. What do pews do for the work of ministry. The very arrangement of our sanctuaries with pews lined up facing a platform where the more important people sit and from which they tell the less knowledgeable what to think tends toward hierarchy. If we’re going to fulfill the hope of Jeremiah 31:34, we need to get more people involved. Our problem is not that our churches don’t have enough order it’s that we don’t have the problems of 1 Corinthians 14. Too many people wanting to speak? On the contrary, just try to get them to do so.

The pews enable this bad behavior and congregational laziness. The people in the pews are there to listen, to receive, not to share and participate.

And then there’s the matter of stewardship. A church “sanctuary” (and what happened to worshiping in spirit and in truth?) is by nature going to be wasted space. There are so many things you can’t do there, because there are very few meetings, other than a totally platform-centered church “service” (who is getting served?), that can take place there.

The same space, made level and filled with movable chairs would be of value for many other purposes. Children could play games. Groups could meet and discuss, putting the chairs in a circle. One might even celebrate communion as a full meal. Yes, I know, we probably have a fellowship hall for that. But why do we do that? Probably because sitting down together and eating isn’t sacred enough to happen in the holy space filled with holy pews.

After we take the pews out, I wouldn’t mind having musical instruments, video, and plenty of parking for those who meet there, none of which are mentioned in the New Testament.

It’s not what’s mentioned and what’s not, but the type of people we are to be and the way we are to behave as disciples of Jesus.

Oh, we could also offer meals to those in need using that space. If it didn’t have pews, that is.

Nurses, The View, and Confused Values

I’m married to a nurse, my mother is a retired nurse, my sister is a nurse (NICU, which puts me in awe of her), and my daughter is in nursing school. It was unlikely I’d miss the discussion of Joy Behar’s comments and the resulting, entirely deserved firestorm, not to mention the failure of efforts to apologize.

I’m going to say very little about nursing. It’s a job I would be totally incapable of doing. I wouldn’t want to. The work is too hard, the sacrifice is too great, the pay is too bad, and the treatment they receive often leaves something to be desired. We need them badly, but we don’t generally realize it.

But the way in which one contestant for Miss America was treated is not some kind of accident. It is not just that someone misspoke or had a stupid moment. We can all have stupid moments when something comes out of our mouth that we didn’t really want to say. Many times, however, what comes out of our mouth at such moments reflects who we are and what we value more accurately than our carefully planned and nuanced statements.

Let me get one thing out of the way. I don’t like our media. I don’t like our entertainment industry. There are remarkable few things produced by it that I will watch. So yes, I am very biased. If I didn’t say it now you’d guess from what I’m about to say. I think our media is shallow. I think our entertainment is designed for the raising of non-thinkers who don’t merely have bad values; rather, they have no real system of values at all, unless we count mental (and physical) laziness. Parents who leave your kids to be raised by your TV: That’s what you’re asking for and it’s what you’re likely to get.

It isn’t that I’m extremely prudish. At least I don’t think so. I don’t even mind the portrayal of nudity and of sex in the media—where it is artistically appropriate. What I object to is the feeling that none of this matters. That sex, violence, indolence, irresponsibility, drunkenness, ignorance, and stupidity are so unimportant as to be routine. It’s not that sex before marriage is portrayed or implied in the shows. It is that it is assumed. You go on a date. You have sex. It doesn’t matter.

But I don’t blame this mythical engine called “the media” for this problem. No! I blame us.

One of the things I learned in economics that I’ve observed in real life is that prices are determined by supply and demand. There’s a corollary that supply will increase to meet demand. Even where governments have attempted to suppress the freedom of the economy, there is a limit on how much one can buck this one rule.

Now get this: The media doesn’t want to. Why do we see what we do on television? Because that is what we watch. We may talk about higher values and a desire to see good, wholesome, edifying content (no, I don’t mean just religious), but what we actually watch is not what we claim to want. The folks in Hollywood and in the executive offices of TV and Cable networks know that. They’re going to provide what you actually watch, not what you like to pretend—in church and in blog posts that others will read—that you want to watch. Yes, I know, some of us don’t watch that sort of thing. Some of us do look for better fare. But that is not where our culture is right now, and that is the problem.

I recall my hopes when I first got cable. I made sure the History Channel would be in my package. I planned to get all that interesting documentary material. And there are occasionally, very occasionally, things to watch. But most of it is not that helpful. My wife and I turned off cable some time ago. I admit we miss baseball, which is hard to get live, especially in the post season, but that and “A Capitol Fourth” are the only things I recall us saying we wished we had.

But this isn’t really about TV or the media, though those tend to reflect our values as a society. There’s another reflection of our values, the amount we are willing to pay for things.

I encounter this in working on computers. I’ll get called out to someone’s home or office to help them with their computer and they’ll complain to me about the lack of service provided by the manufacturer or retailer for their PC. But it often turns out that they have purchased the lowest cost discount PC from the largest discount organization possible. I don’t have a problem with that as such. But if you buy discount hardware from a discount retailer and then have trouble, it’s going to cost you. Just as we claim to want one sort of material in media but actually watch something different, we claim to want a certain level of service, but we give our money to businesses that don’t provide it. Guess what? Their prices are set with the intention of not providing that sort of service.

It carries over to churches. It’s very interesting to compare a church’s claims regarding its mission and priorities and then look at the church budget. A mission oriented church will turn out to spend 1% or less of its budget on missions. Churches that claim their priority is to “reach the lost for Christ” spend more on their softball fields, cemeteries, or recreational facilities than on their claimed mission. And yes, I know that the softball field and recreational facilities can be a venue for missions. But are they? Really? Or was that just the excuse given to the church board to justify the money spent. I’ve known churches who were quite willing to spend money on the facilities and who claimed that those facilities were there so the church could better serve Jesus, but who then refused to spend the utility money to keep the building open for young people who weren’t church members.

We may not want to talk about money, but money, in my view, is the surest way to tell what one’s values actually are. That goes for individuals as well as churches.

And if you look at the numbers, we don’t really value nurses all that much. To some extent we value doctors, unless you bother to consider the student loans they’re busy paying off. (Some of those nurses have a stack of those too. Settle that against the amount they earn!)

I don’t begrudge good money to sports figures and entertainers. A great baseball player is a percentage of a percentage of a percentage of an already fairly elite group. He works hard to get there, and he’s fun to watch. But the proportions of what we pay for stars? It’s not explained by all that effort or even by the numbers. Not unless you include our value system as a society. We’ll complain about Joy Behar and The View today, but tomorrow she’ll still be making more money than dozens of nurses combined, even with the way advertising is being pulled form the show.

We’ll complain that the electrician, the construction worker, the checker at the nearest box store, or the receptionist in an office don’t do their jobs well enough, but do we treat them with respect? If they do their jobs well, do we say something? If we’re their employer, do we pay them as valued people? We need all those people along with the doctors, nurses, lab technicians, radiology techs, and so many others, but despite anything we say when we have an incident like this, many of us are going to say “Wow!” when we see the celebrity and “just another nurse” when we see the nurse. In our heads, I mean. Part of it’s the routine. We see more nurses than famous actors or actresses. We like to see people who have a gig that’s better than we expect. Sure. And that right there reflects our real values.

So I think we should complain when someone says something stupid and demeaning about an entire profession. That’s good. Let’s have plenty of letters, stories, essays, and tributes about/to nurses. They deserve every bit of it.

But let’s go a step further. Let’s reorder our values. Our children who are in football are not more important than those in music, or those in science programs, or those who are preparing to be excellent construction workers. We want those jobs done well. How about starting by reflecting in words and actions every day how much we value them?

Eschatology: New Testament Eschatology

9781938434105sTonight I’ll be basing my presentation on Chapter 3 of Eschatology: A Participatory Study Guide by Dr. Edward W. H. Vick. The event description can be found on Google+.

I’m embedded a YouTube viewer below.

This will be on my YouTube channel and Google+ at 7 pm central time tonight.

I’m actually going to start from what I left off last week and talk about “this generation shall not pass,” which will require me to talk a bit about biblical inspiration. Following that I plan to introduce my (not so original) simple view of eschatology and then look at Mark 13 and how it might fit in.

Next week I’ll be looking at the variety, and some history of prophecy in Old Testament times, and then next week we’ll tackle chapter 4 of Dr. Vick’s book, Prophecy and Apocalyptic.

As I work on these, I’m also working on a series of four talks on Revelation to be presented to some teenagers during the month of October. That may be more challenging than these presentations.

What Creationists Could Learn from Herold Weiss

creation-5We’re starting a new series of posts on the Energion Discussion Network and the current author is my friend and Energion author Dr. Herold Weiss. He’s the author of the book Creation in Scripture, the first in a series discussing creation from the point of view of those who accept the theory of evolution. That note should tell you that Dr. Weiss’s work can be controversial, as are all discussions of this topic.

I don’t happen to like the terms generally used, but it is generally somewhere between frustrating and futile to try to change language. “Creationist” has become the label of those who believe in a recent (read 6 to 10 thousand years) creation in a literal week, while “theistic evolutionist” labels those who believe God is creator but that the process of evolution is how he has chosen to diversify life here on this planet.

Dr. Weiss does something in his first post in this series that tends to annoy creationists (using the definition above). He calls their view unscriptural. The typical view of a creationist is that their view is scriptural while the theistic evolutionist has chosen to ignore the Bible in favor of evolutionary theory. No matter how strong the evidence for evolution (and they will, with few exceptions, maintain that it is weak), they would not see how it could override the Word of God. So the argument, at least as they generally present it to me, should be couched in terms of their strong convictions about scripture and the weak convictions of the theistic evolutionists, which are to be defended.

But neither I nor Dr. Weiss thinks our position is biblically weak. In fact, I did not change my view from a young earth creationist, which I was until some time during my third year in college, because I had studied evolutionary science. My science requirement was fulfilled in a chemistry class, taught, by the way, by a young earth creationist. It was in doing research for a paper that I found that I could not reconcile the biblical texts on the basis required for young earth creationism. The starting point was chronology, and it wasn’t even comparisons with archeology. It was simply looking at what must have happened between two points in the biblical story, and determining that it was beyond extremely improbable; it was impossible. And further, there was no report of some sort of miracle to connect the dots.

From there the question changed for me. Why is God presenting the story in this manner? (I’m ignoring here all the things I have come to believe about biblical inspiration over the years and discussing my thinking at age 20.) From there I started to ask just what it means to me that God is the creator and how that doctrine reverberates through scripture.

And this is what I think creationists can learn from Dr. Weiss. No, I’m not suggesting they will all read his book and decide to become theistic evolutionists. He isn’t even trying to make that case in the book, and I know my own views would be unlikely to change in reading one book. What he does that is important is look at how creation, and its implications, is presented in various parts of the Bible. Creationists seem to me to be hung up in Genesis 1-3, important chapters to be sure, but not the only thing in scripture on the topic. And yes, I do think these chapters are important, even foundational, even though I read them differently. And no, I’m not claiming that creationists are ignorant of all other passages. What I’m suggesting is that they are not brought into the discussion enough.

Too much of the debate about creation and evolution is concentrated on when and how and too little is focused on so what now?.

I think it would be great if we spent more time on the third question. Yes, we’d still disagree on when and how, and we’d still argue that both of those questions impact the answer to the third, but we might have a chance to shed a bit more light. I think Dr. Weiss has facilitated that.

Pathways to Prayer Interview

The Spirits FruitConsidering my recent posts, I wanted to call attention to my interview last night with Dr. David Moffett-Moore, pastor and author of five Energion titles: Life as Pilgrimage, The Spirit’s Fruit: A Participatory Study Guide, Creation in Contemporary Experience, Wind and Whirlwind, and of course Pathways to Prayer (in the Topical Line Drives series).

I asked Dave about going into prayer in such a way as to simply reinforce what I already think and want. He talks about how important listening is as part of prayer. It’s not a catalog of our desires sent to God. It’s a time of listening and learning.

I also asked him what to do if one wanted to improve the prayer life of a church congregation or community, and how one proceeds when someone asks for prayer for a specific purpose.

Dave is practical and down to earth. I really enjoyed the conversation and learned from it.

The interview is embedded below.