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Why I Believe in Dialogue, Respect, and the Gospel Commission

Why I Believe in Dialogue, Respect, and the Gospel Commission

angrymanfist-300px_redI’ve recently said and written a few things about the gospel commission, including my claim in my concluding presentation for my video series on eschatology that eschatology is all about the gospel commission. You’ll hear more about this in my foreword to Dave Black’s new book Running My Race. It’s in the final stages of production and should be available soon.

This isn’t a new perspective on my part, but as soon as I start using words like “evangelism,” “mission,” or “the Great Commission,” I start getting questions about whether I believe in dialogue or whether I’ve started to think that all non-Christians are horrible people.

On the other hand, each time I start talking about respect, interfaith dialogue, inclusion, and similar topics, someone is bound to ask me whether I’ve given up on evangelism and mission. Perhaps I no longer think Jesus is important.

So let me put both of these things together. First, I am never going to abandon the Gospel Commission. It’s what being a Christian is about. I follow Jesus and I help others follow Jesus. I am a witness to Jesus as I follow Him. I proclaim his good news, and that good news is the central fact of my life. If I didn’t believe that, I would not be a Christian publisher. Frankly, while there are many things I enjoy about publishing, it’s hard work, the pay isn’t as good as it is for my other occupation (small network technical support), and I’d hardly keep at it without this greater “joy set before me.”

Second, I believe that respect and love for one’s neighbor are central to the gospel. If I don’t love my neighbor as myself, I am not following Jesus Christ, and in turn I can hardly be effective in making other disciples, who would, in turn, be expected to love their neighbors as they love themselves. (There’s a “loving God” thing in there too, but see 1 John 4:20 for my emphasis in this case.)

Contrary to the perception of many Christians, not only is respectful dialogue not opposed to carrying out of the gospel commission, it’s essential to it. But there are reasons it so commonly doesn’t seem so.

Evangelism is tainted, I believe, by two false directions, each of which bears an abundance of poisonous and rotting fruit.

The first false direction is the idea that evangelism is about giving the maximum possible number of people their “get out of hell free” card or, seen more positively, getting them their ticket to heaven. In this diversion from the gospel message we look for ways to get people to say the right prayer, then wipe the sweat from our brows (evangelism is hard work!), and say, “One more person saved.”

This leads to other spiritually dangerous activities, such as promising people prosperity if they accept Jesus, emotionally manipulating them, or even converting them at sword point or gun muzzle. We can justify whatever behavior we might engage in on the grounds that even if we did use underhanded methods, the person should thank us for not burning in hell forever.

This can also (or even in turn) lead to other shallow approaches to faith, such as the meme I saw on Facebook today built around the old idea of the wager of faith. As I understand faith, the wager simply isn’t—it isn’t faith and it isn’t even a wager, since there’s nothing of value on either side. Believing in Jesus isn’t an “in case” sort of thing. It’s not a wager, it’s a total commitment. Pascal’s Wager is an intellectual approach to a spiritual problem.prohibitionsign2-300px

Further, this sort of evangelism doesn’t actually represent love for one’s neighbor. It’s a sort of concern, but it’s more like the hunter has concern for the deer. No, I don’t mean the killing part, though that can happen as well, but rather the concern is for how the deer will fill the hunter’s needs.

The second false direction is one of church growth. In this case, evangelism is simply the process of adding members to the church, and more specifically your church. At least this has a longer term goal, i.e., to get the person into a church community. But far too often, this simply feeds into another selfish numbers game. The value of the person is not in who they are or who they can be, or even what God wants them to be, but rather on church statistics. While evangelicals are more likely to go for the first diversion, even progressive churches can fall for this second one.

As the saying goes, however, sitting in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car. I think we can identify what’s really important to us by what we pay for and what we report on, and in many of our churches I’m afraid that the concern is increasing membership, which, in turn, is to produce increasing financial support, which will allow us to get more members.

What I believe about evangelism is this: It’s a lifestyle. You live as a disciple of Jesus, and you will, in turn, make disciples. I don’t mean that we should all shut up. Of course you talk about your faith because it’s not just important it’s fundamental. There’s another dichotomy between living our faith and proclaiming our faith, but I think it’s also false. Talking about our faith is one way we live it. If we’re talking too much, that’s ineffective living of our faith. I do not keep silent about something that is fundamental.

In looking at motivation, I can say that it is a command, and it is. But at the same time it simply follows essentially from what Jesus has done for me. I will share a good thing. Sharing a good thing doesn’t mean forcing others. It’s a natural and friendly thing to share, just as it’s a natural and friendly thing—not to mention loving—to let the other person make their own decisions, including about how long they want to listen.

Conversion, in turn, is something between God and the person converted. It’s gotten almost cliched to say that I can’t convert anyone; God does. But unfortunately we turn right back around and pretend it’s all about us. Grab hold of that mustard-seed of faith (I usually feel that I have somewhat less than that, but whatever) and trust God with salvation, conversion, and the spiritual health of others.

Further, however, trust God to let you know how you need to be involved, and listen. Listen to God. Listen to other people. God loves each person involved more than you do. He even loves you more than you do.

In studying eschatology (and I just completed a video series), I’ve found that God is deeply concerned about the spiritual health of God’s earthly children. I see the story of Revelation as being one of repeated opportunities, with the bottom line message that God does have this under control. Our part is to follow Jesus and make disciples.

That doesn’t require being rude, obnoxious, manipulative, violent, or disrespectful. It requires love, and love values the other person, not some imaginary thing I think that person should be.

Who Needs Evangelism?

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!

Some Lessons from Tilling My Garden

Some Lessons from Tilling My Garden

Well, my prospective, perhaps presumptive garden, that is.

One of the important elements to understanding stories in the Bible, parables included, is our perspective. In Christian circles, when we hear “the sower went forth to sow,” (Matthew 13:3), or perhaps “a farmer went out to sow his seed,” we generally see ourselves in the role of the one doing the planting. We are evangelising, and people have different kinds of hearts. Have you ever heard someone describe another person as being rocky ground? Or perhaps someone has said, “He’s trying to dig some hard ground there!” Usually these expressions are used regarding targets of evangelism.

garden and tillerI’ll mention evangelism later, but first, let me place myself in the role of one receiving the seed. Is that not what I do when I pray and hope to hear from the Lord? Is that also not what I do when I open my Bible and hope to be changed by God’s message? So I am the ground, not the sower.

But let me tell you the story of my garden thus far. Fortunately for me, I have few plans that involve saving money on food, supplementing my diet, or saving on the food budget. I had one purpose in starting a garden: I need to spend more time in physical activity. Now I’m a bit of a workaholic. I have a hard time not doing anything. The easiest way to get myself to do what I need to do was to make it into work. Then I can feel good while I do it.

So I picked a plot on our little place out here and started to work on it. It has gone through being broken up with an excavator (at which time I killed power to my office and broke our water line, but that’s another story), lots of hoeing and raking, and digging up of roots and rocks. This morning I finally got to the point of being ready to actually till the plot. My previous work had been aimed, not at getting the soil ready for actual planting, but at removing obstacles. I have a large pile of brush, roots, and rocks at either end of the plot, things I have removed as I worked.

Then I had a period of time when I was just too busy with work. Between my work with computers and computer networks and my publishing work, I was simply overwhelmed. The phone would ring by 8 am and I wouldn’t get that much done outside. What do you suppose happened? Well, the plot got some new growth, but not the stuff I want to grow, of course, since I hadn’t yet planted. So out came the weedwacker, the hoe, and finally the rake.

Today I finally got to the tiller. That’s the tiller, in the picture to the left. I borrowed it from my friend Tom Hunt. If you need a floorplan done for a new house, he’s the one to go to.

There were some interesting things about using the tiller as well. Weeds leave behind small roots that tend to wrap themselves around anything available. No matter how may rocks you’ve removed there may be a few more. Run the tiller in a couple of directions. The pile of dirt from one pass may hide some hard soil. Power tools are great, but I ended my morning session more tired than when I worked with the hoe. The tool helps, but the human still better put heart and back into the effort.

Let me apply these to Bible study just a bit. You might want to reference my post from yesterday. Here are some thoughts I had while listening to that wonderful purr (or roar) of the tiller motor.

  1. Different tools accomplish different things. No matter how much you may have gotten with one approach, try taking another look from another angle or with some different help.
  2. Weeds don’t stay dead. You’re never really done. It’s easy to get complacent and think you already have it covered. Now it’s all about telling other people. Don’t get in that place. If you neglect your heart garden for a while, you may find the ground hardening and the weeds getting tall.
  3. Don’t imagine that a period of neglect is the end. That’s what weedwackers, hoes, shovels, rakes, and tillers are for. Those of you who have forgotten your biblical languages after seminary, consider this as well. How about working on reviving them? Yes, I believe you can study the Bible effectively without the biblical languages, but after investing all that time and effort wouldn’t you like the benefit of that tool?
  4. Don’t be blind to the rocks that are still there. You may have removed bunches of rocks, yet there are still some to find and remove. I often joke with Jody that it would be nice if I could measure the quality of my cleaning by the quantity of dirt I removed and not by what was left. Read 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 if you’re thinking you’re good!
  5. Tools help but they don’t do the job. I love Logos Bible software. I love sites that let me compare versions (BibleGateway.com, for example). But these things don’t do your studying for you. They will make you more efficient. Many Bible students amass information and yet don’t get to what the text is saying to them. I was reminded of that forcefully as I moved the tiller through my prospective garden. It did more work than I could have accomplished with the hoe, but it still required me to make the application!
  6. Sometimes you get so tangled with the weeds that you can’t really go on clearing and tilling. I experienced this as left-over weeds and roots tangled up the tiller. I had to stop and clear the blades so the tiller could work efficiently. I’ve experienced this in preparation for teaching my Eschatology series on Google Hangouts on Air (link to next session, Thurs. night at 7 pm central time). Eschatological views are based on many, many texts, and there are many, many views on each of these texts, plus mountains of theology done to tie them together or explain them away. It’s very easy to get so tangled in the details that you can’t see the actual text in front of you. I bounced this off my wife Jody, who has a practical mind set. I asked her to read Mark 13 the other day and then question me about it. She had a set of questions that helped clarify the chapter.

I’m sure there are many more lessons, but those are the ones that occurred to me as I worked this morning. But does any of this apply to evangelism?

  1. Quit trying to judge the people you witness to. You can’t see what’s under the ground.
  2. The best way to witness is to till your own heart. I can’t emphasize this enough. Most people can tell very quickly if you’re trying to use them for something else. So if you are making relationships with other people in order to convert them or make them into church members, they’re going to get that feeling. But if you are genuine and genuinely care about them, they will also know that.
  3. The Christian life and Christian witness isn’t a strategy. See #2. Enough said!
  4. God is the one who changes people. You witness. God acts. Be humble enough to give God the credit. Be humble enough to let God take the responsibility.

Do you see what happened? Quite frankly, all the lessons but one applied to me. As for reaching others, I have one duty: plant the seed. Now planting the seed can be complex, but I suggest that it starts with some of the points I made above. Let God’s word impact your life. Continue to let God’s word impact your life. Continue some more letting God’s word impact your life. Continue yet much more letting God’s word impact your life.

You’ll impact the lives of others.

 

Book Note: Turning to God

Book Note: Turning to God

I asked my pastor for a good book on the basics of Christian conversion and he handed me William Barclay’s little book Turning to God.

It’s a small book, with just 103 pages of reasonable size text. It’s not complex. The vocabulary is straightforward. I wouldn’t recommend it for speed reading, but you don’t need any strong theological background to follow the discussion.

Barclay works from the conversion stories and evangelistic methods presented in the book of Acts to develop both an understanding of what conversion means and the approaches to evangelization that will produce conversion.

This is an exceptionally good book. It appears to be out of print, but there are quite a number of used copies available online.

I give this a definite five bright stars!

On Publishing a Calvinist Book

On Publishing a Calvinist Book

Gods Desire for the Nations: The Missionary Theology of John Piper

Well, not exactly a Calvinist book, but a book about a Calvinist, in this case John Piper. This is another of my posts giving my thoughts on publishing a new title. It’s a couple of months late, but I think it’s still quite relevant. Be aware, of course, that I may be advocating buying this book, so if you object, you can wait for the next non-commercial post. In connection with this post, God’s Desire for the Nations will be on sale at Energion Direct for $13.99.

The book in question is God’s Desire for the Nations: The Missionary Theology of John Piper, by Philip O. Hopkins. The reason I say it’s not a Calvinist book, but rather a book about a Calvinist, is that it examines John Piper’s doctrinal teaching and whether that teaching is consistent with his missiology. It does not seek to defend or advocate the particular doctrinal positions. As Hopkins notes in the 5th and final chapter:

This work also did not examine whether Piper’s thought is correct; it sought to determine if it is consistent. Determining the “correctness” of Piper’s theology was not the goal. The goal was to see if Piper’s understanding of the glory of God, seen through his understanding of the Two Wills of God Thesis, motivated his missiology. Arguing whether Piper is correct is not relevant to the focus of this book. Instead, the purpose was to connect his theology with his missiology and must come first before defending or arguing for or against it …  (176).

Indeed, it would be quite a daunting task to both examine these doctrinal positions carefully and to advocate them at the same time.

Now my regular readers and those who know me will realize that I’m not a Calvinist, and that I’m likely to disagree with John Piper on many, many issues. Let me just say here in passing that the range of ideas that fall within the publishing mission of my company, Energion Publications, does indeed include both Calvinism and Arminianism. One of the problems I see in the church is that we tend to look largely at ideas we find agreeable, and to the extent that we look at other ideas, we look to variations within our own tradition streams.

There is value in listening to those who agree with us on many things, and disagree on minor points, but there is greater value, I believe, in taking a close look at ideas that are more radically opposed. I can find many variations in soteriology amongst people who claim the label “Arminian,” yet they do not challenge me to the extent that reading Reformed theology does.

Even when I continue to disagree I can disagree with the actual position. Let me illustrate. One of the most frequent questions I hear from Methodists regarding Calvinists is why Calvinists would do missions. Since they believe that people are predestined to either salvation or damnation, what difference does evangelism make? Some assume that Calvinists won’t be interested in missions or evangelism.

But observation of actual Calvinists proves this isn’t the case. The Calvinists in my head aren’t necessarily the same as the Calvinists in the real world. One finds Calvinists involved in missions every bit as much as (and possibly more than) their Arminian brethren. I recall hearing John Blanchard, a Presbyterian evangelist, speak at a conference here in Pensacola. One of the questions he was asked was: “If you believe in predestination why would you be an evangelist? How can you accept both?”

His answer? “Predestination is a doctrine, and I believe it. Evangelism is a command, and I obey it.” I can appreciate that simple and straightforward answer.

But what attracted me to the current volume in particular was a much more detailed look at how these doctrines interact in John Piper’s Reformed theology.

Now don’t get me wrong. This book is some serious reading. It’s not a simple primer to get you through the basics, though it does cover the basics. It’s a comprehensive look first at the foundational positions taught by Piper, and then at the missiology that results from that. Piper makes an excellent subject here because of his very firm commitment to missions in the church.
The text occupies only about 112 pages with about 80 pages of notes, presented as chapter endnotes, and about 31 pages of bibliography. You can read just the text and follow the argument. The notes provide extensive documentation for any point you want to follow further, and include references to a great deal of information available on the web. Thus this book could provide you with a guide to an extended study of John Piper’s theology.

In structure, the book has five chapters. The first introduces us to John Piper and the roots of his theology, including his family background and major theologians who influenced his thinking. The second chapter discusses Piper’s theology in general, and gives us an outline of the five points of Calvinism as understood by Piper, and several other elements of his theology. I was especially interested in the succinct definition of Christian Hedonism.

In chapter 3 we get to the meat of the book, as Hopkins discusses Piper’s missiology and then clarifies his picture by comparing it to that of Bosch and McGavran. I was actually not acquainted with the latter two theologians before reading this book, but the comparison does help clarify key points of Piper’s missiology. For those interested, it is also in chapter 3 that we have an extensive discussion of Piper’s view of hell, compared to that of others, including Pinnock (73ff).

The fourth chapter focuses in on the “two wills of God” thesis and specifically how this relates to the connection between God’s glory and missions. It is in this chapter, I think, that missiologists of the Arminian persuasion will get the most benefit, as well as find the most to disagree with (in Piper’s theology, not the presentation).

The fifth chapter summarizes and presents questions and ideas for further discussion. Should the reader choose to pursue those questions, both the notes (841 of them), and the 31 page bibliography will point the way.

I was discussing this book with my wife and partner in this business while I was thinking of writing this post. I mentioned that this was a hard book to hype. It’s solid. It does what it’s supposed to do, but what single paragraph can I present that has zing? She commented that for the person who has an interest in the topic, the very things I have just mentioned will be the real selling point, and she’s probably right.

So the bottom line selling point on this book is that it is a thorough treatment of the topic at hand. I think there are a few other reasons to take a look, but if you’re interested in John Piper and also interested in missions, you’ll find this book very useful.

I do have an additional hope, that Arminians, and particularly United Methodists will take the opportunity to look at this material and use it to hone their own missiology. The problem I see is that while I believe we have a very sound basis for missions, it has not been communicated to those in the pews as well as it might have been. We often wonder why Calvinists would pursue missions, but at the same time we often aren’t doing much to pursue them ourselves. What is it about our theology that we aren’t communicating? What is keeping us from acting on the very good reasons we have for missions?

That the notion that Calvinists don’t do missions is contradicted by some statistics cited in the book:

… Since then, Piper’s passion for God’s glory and missions have been inseparable. This can be seen in some statistics concerning missions emphasis and Bethlehem Baptist Church. For example, from 1987 to 2000 Bethlehem gave over $6.6 million towards missions. As well, in 1981, the missions budget was $62,270, 22% of the total budget, or $2.50 each week per Sunday morning attendee. In 1996, the missions budget increased to $439,661, 32% of the total budget, or $8.90 each week per Sunday morning attendee; a 356% increase in fifteen years. By 2005, Bethlehem’s missions budget was still about the same percentage of the total church budget, which had grown to approximately $2 million.

Yet I have been told that a United Methodist congregation that place 5% of its budget on missions is regarded as “missions oriented.” Typically the number is smaller. I served as missions chairperson for a church that had no budget for missions, and was also concerned with fundraising for separate mission money because the church itself needed to meet budgetary requirements. So perhaps a theological basis doesn’t necessarily result in action.

There are several things I’d like to see this book accomplish:

  1. Challenge all of us to greater support for the mission of the church, however we define and accomplish it. Too often we debate “how” while actually doing nothing concrete.
  2. Give us all a better understanding of Reformed theology and how it relates to the mission of the church.
  3. Contribute to the discussion of soteriology and particular of hell and its relationship to mission.
  4. Encourage all of us to think more deeply about our theology and the actions to which it should or does lead.
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A Snake-Handling Baptist?

A Snake-Handling Baptist?

Dave Black posts a picture of his colleague Alvin Reid (look for 6:56 AM, Thursday, January 21), who appears with Dave’s favorite reptile (and I assume Alvin’s as well, but what do I know?) It looks to me like the Baptists are descending into snake handling. Who could have predicted that?

Actually, the occasion is the release of Dr. Reid’s first ebook, ADVANCE! – Gospel-Centered Movements Change the World (PDF). I have only had time to glance through the table of contents and read a few paragraphs, but it’s on my reading list already. It’s about time we realized as Christians just how important “gospel-centered” really is!

Just as a precaution, however, I did a search for the word “snake” in the ebook, and it does turn up–three times on page 10. So watch out!

Evangelism from an Atheist Perspective

Evangelism from an Atheist Perspective

I tend to talk a great deal about how we should approach those of other faiths. It’s something that interests me a great deal. Going way back to the early days of this blog, I find the post Witnessing without being a Pest.

Let me note here, however, that I’m not calling on any of us, of any faith or none, to homogenize or compromise what we believe. I think it’s important to express one’s actual beliefs honestly and clearly. The trouble is, it’s often the behavior of the messenger much more than the honesty of the beliefs that often offends other people.

Of course what I write is from a Christian perspective, and one may question whether I have a good idea how non-Christians may feel. Thus I think that three recent blog posts on the blog Caraleisa are quite useful. She has encountered Christians whose obvious goal is to convert her, and to do it as quickly as possible.

The posts are:

Check it out!