Friday, September 30, 2016

A summary of the New Perspective on Paul . . .

Four Kinds of Churches on the Attractional Spectrum (Where Does Yours Land?)

This is a helpful blog to think through the way you structure your church services.  I have held different views at different times in my life and presently land toward the attractive church.  From Pastoralized blog. 
You may have noticed that there has been a bit of conversation around the web about “attractional” churches. The question is often posed as to whether your church is attractional or missional in regard to its approach to reaching the lost.
Rather than discuss that polarization, I’d like to take a moment to look at the four places churches land with respect to attractionalism. Most articles ask, “Are you attractional, or not?” I’d like to ask, “Since every church is attracting someone, do you know who you’re attracting and why?” I suspect that most churches (in the US at least), fall into one of the following four categories.

Four churches on the attractional spectrum

1. At one end of the spectrum, you have anti-attractional churches. They are explicitly against anything that would smack of production. These churches avoid excellence on principle, arguing that worship is more authentic when there is a homespun feel to it. The irony is that this attracts other anti-attractionally minded people (also known as “grumpy legalists”) to their church.
2. There are two kinds of churches toward the middle. One is the non-attractional church. This could feel like the anti-attractional church if you visited on a Sunday, just without the vitriol behind the scenes. They are not non-attractional on principle, like the first group. It’s unintentional for them.
Small churches that lack resources – budget, musicians, current technology – can fall into this category. But big churches that have lots of resources, but get stuck in a certain decade stylistically, can end up in this category, too.
3. The other church in the middle is the attractive church. This church brings an intentional thought process to its service – sermon, music, production, print materials – with an effort the service itself to be appealing to believer and unbeliever alike. The production of the service is not the main draw for an unbeliever, but thought goes into making sure the service doesn’t unnecessarily repel an unbeliever.
4. At the other end of the spectrum are attractional churches. In this case, the service itself is the draw, so a lot of energy, time, money, and talent go into making Sunday morning as exciting as possible.

The temptations that each of these churches face

It’s probably clear enough that I recommend the third option above. But each of these churches, even those that seek to be attractive while preaching a foolish, stumbling block of a gospel, face temptations.
Anti-attractional churches need to repent of pride and Phariseeism. Indeed, it is legalism that lands them in the anti-attractional camp in the first place.
Non-attractional churches need to beware of contentment with mediocrity. The status quo is working for them for now. But if they are stuck in a certain decade stylistically, the pool of people they are likely to reach is ever shrinking, since most of the world is moving on. Also, perhaps they wish they could be more attractive, but they just don’t have the resources. In this case they need to watch out for envy.
Attractive churches, because of their appreciation for aesthetics and ability to pursue them, can be drawn toward becoming attractional. They have to watch out that they don’t slip down the attractional slope. They also need to watch out for pride (“We’re the balanced ones!”).
Attractional churches — and this not a new insight — are tempted to marginalize the gospel and define success with standards that are according to the flesh.

So what?

Are you self-aware enough to know which category you are in? Have you chosen to be in that category, or have you drifted into it? Are you succumbing to the temptations of unique to where you land on the spectrum, or are you fighting against them in order to be as thoroughly biblical a minister of the gospel as you can, for God’s glory?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Key to Effectiveness in Ministry

“It seems to me that the key to an effective ministry is our own personal walk with God, our consistent closeness to Him or, as I once heard it put, ‘We are blessed not for what we do but for the direction in which we are moving’. In other words, if we are consistently making our own spiritual progress, advancing in Christlikeness, growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18), we will find that blessing follows.
It is not the most able who are blessed in their ministry, but the most holy. I recall a colleague who, humanly speaking, had very little going for him as far as ministry was concerned. He had not been blessed with brains; he couldn’t preach for toffee. Yet as I look back over his long ministry in four different places, I see a constant trail of blessing, of churches transformed and still growing to this day, of people drawn to Christ, of new ventures called into being and still flourishing. To the end he was still undersupplied with brains, still an indifferent preacher, but he was a man of transparent integrity who lived close to God. People could see it, and God blessed it.”  Alec Motyer

The Love of God within the Trinity

The apostle John tells us that God is love (1 Jn 4:8)  and thus The life within the Godhead is love.  I came across this quote of an old Scottish theologian:

Our salvation is not the business of Christ alone but the whole Godhead is interested in it deeply, so deeply, that you cannot say, who loves it most, or likes it most. The Father is the very fountain of it, his love is the spring of all—“God so loved the world that he hath sent his Son.” Christ hath not purchased that eternal love to us, but it is rather the gift of eternal love . . . Whoever thou be that wouldst flee to God for mercy, do it in confidence. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, are ready to welcome thee, all of one mind to shut out none, to cast out none. But to speak properly, it is but one love, one will, one council, and purpose in the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, for these Three are One, and not only agree in One, they are One, and what one loves and purposes, all love and purpose. ~ Hugh Binning

Monday, September 26, 2016


The continuation of Trevin Wax's series on cultural engagement . . .
In my previous post, I gave two reasons why some Christians resist the term “cultural engagement.”
For some, the term is too broad to be effective. There isn’t an overarching ‘culture’ for us to engage. (I affirmed yet questioned that objection in the previous post.)
For others, the term is a slippery slope to worldliness because we are tempted to water down the distinctive doctrines of Christianity in order to become more palatable to society. Or, we are tempted to replace the message of a shameful and bloody cross with activity around a noble and popular cause.
This objection deserves further attention, and I want to respond to it in greater detail in this post.
How do we avoid mission drift as we seek to “engage the culture” or “serve the world” in which God has placed us?

1. Connect Cultural Engagement to the Great Commission.

First, we need to make sure that our cultural activity is connected to the overarching mission of God and the task He has given His church. We care about cultures because we care about people—all kinds of people.
When set within the context of the Great Commission, cultural engagement is motivated by missionary effectiveness. When divorced from the Great Commission, cultural engagement is motivated by worldly acceptance.
So, let’s be clear. Cultural engagement must never be driven by the desire to be seen as “cool,” or to prove to the world that we are different from our parents and grandparents who might not be aware of the latest cultural trends or pop culture references.
Jesus came for the uncool.
Instead, cultural engagement in your neck of the woods may mean spending time at the local McDonald’s, not the trendy, upscale coffee shop. Perhaps the best way for your church to serve your neighborhood is to minister to a single mom who lives across the street from your church, instead of courting the flashy business owner who lives in a mansion across town.
When one kind of “cultural engagement” excites you more than another, it says more about you than the culture or the neighbors you’re called to love.

2. Prioritize God’s Word Over God’s World.

Second, if we are to be faithful in how we engage the people around us, we need to be Christians with Scripture-soaked imaginations. This means we need full and regular immersion into God’s Word as the great story of our world.
If you know the songs of the world better than you know the great hymns of our faith, then the world’s soundtrack will have a greater effect on you than the church’s. If you’ve seen certain movies or shows so many times you can quote from them, but have not committed to memory passages of Scripture, such as the prayer Jesus told us to pray (Mt. 6:9-13), or the psalms that served as Jesus’s prayer book, or the sermon that describes Jesus’s kingdom manifesto (Mt. 5-7), then the sermons of the world will be closer to your heart than Scripture.
Culture engagement doesn’t start with the desire to be better interpreters of the world’s stories; it starts with the desire to better know God’s story.
There are no shortcuts. We cannot grasp the longings or see through the lies of the world if we do not first see all of history as part of the unfolding Story that Scripture tells. Unless we inhabit the strange world of the Bible, with God’s Word on our lips and His stories planted in our hearts, we will not be faithful. Faithfully engaging the culture doesn’t start with cinema, but with Scripture.

3. Remember the Reality of Hell.

A third way of making sure that our cultural engagement doesn’t lead us away from the Great Commission is to continually remind ourselves of what the Bible teaches about eternity. There are eternal, not just temporal consequences to sin.
Here’s where hell comes in. Literally.
The biblical teaching about eternal judgment serves as gravity that pulls you back to the mission of God, who seeks and saves the lost through the atoning sacrifice of his Son. The reality of hell reminds us of the ultimate “social justice” of God, in a way that raises the stakes and gives us an eternal purpose when we engage the culture, serve the poor, love the stranger, and stand against the world’s rebellion against God.
Here’s how one pastor lays out the practical consequences of speaking about hell:
“As long as you are still preaching the wrath of God against all rebellion and all sin, then you are preserving in your own mind and in the consciousness of believers in the church, that you are interested in the relief of suffering both in time and eternity. You start fudging on that corner and you lose that eternal dimension.”
“As long as you are preaching hell and the way to escape hell through responding by the strength that God gives through the Spirit to the gospel, to what God has done in the person of his Son, in repentance and faith. . . . As long as you are still preaching hell and the need to be saved from hell, then a lot of the broader, quasi-liberal social justice crowd don’t want anything to do with you. And that preserves you as well.”


Cultural engagement can lead to mission drift, that’s true. But rejecting cultural engagement can lead to mission apathy.
We are called to preach the gospel and love our neighbor. Let’s not choose the easy path of compromise or complacency. Engaging the culture is one of the ways we can more effectively deliver the good news.

Friday, September 23, 2016

George Muller on Prayer

The great fault of the children of God is, they do not continue in prayer; they do not go on praying; they do not persevere.  If they desire anything for God's
glory, they should pray until they get it.  George Muller

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Multifaceted Perspective on Biblical Love

The apostles were far more concerned about love than we tend to be.  The New Testament shows us that they taught the believers what Christ taught on love; exhorted their readers to practice Christ's love; modeled Christ's love for their converts to follow; warned about loving this present world more than Christ; and prayed for their converts to grow in Christlike love.  Alexander Strauch, Love or Die, p. 33.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


Another thought provoking article from Trevin Wax . . . 

“Cultural engagement” – as inengaging the culture – is an evangelical catchphrase that demands some attention. Just what does it mean to “engage the culture?” And should we?
There are two reasons why some Christians don’t like this terminology.
Reason #1: The Term Is Meaningless
Andy Crouch says the term is flawed. We can make culture (hence the title of his important book, Culture Making), but “engaging the culture” suffers from being too broad.
First, there isn’t one culture in the United States to engage. What’s more, our national ethos is always changing. So when we imagine “culture” as an amorphous, vague atmosphere “out there,” we find it nearly impossible to “engage” such a thing effectively.
Is there a better way? Andy says we need to focus on loving our neighbors – “real people in a real place” as we seek to live faithfully “within our particular cultures” (note the plural!) and trust that God will use our obedience for His redemptive purposes.
Yes (and No) to Crouch’s Caveat
I agree that it’s problematic to use “culture” too broadly. For example, my next book (which easily fits the category of “cultural engagement”) does not use either word: culture or engagement. Instead, I offer several “snapshots” of life this particular moment in North American society.
Still, we may need to push back a little at Andy’s pushback. We can’t really love our neighbors (“real people in real places”) if we don’t care about the cultural influences and artifacts that impact “real people” or distinguish one “real place” from another. We can’t love our neighbor without having some idea of our neighborhood.
One way we learn to love our neighbors effectively is to seek to understand them – what makes them tick, what hopes they harbor, what they think about the world, and what they want the world to be. I’m sure Andy would agree.
So yes, “culture” is problematic as a catchall term that fails to consider the multiplicity of cultures in North America. But the neighborhood still matters if you want to reach your neighbor. The neighborhood provides a commonality, a connection point, something you can assume as you build a relationship.
Call it “understanding your neighborhood” or “serving your community” rather than “engaging your culture” if you prefer. But at the end of the day, you are engaging culture, even if the emphasis is (rightly) more local than national.
Reason #2: The Trajectory is Dangerous
Other Christians oppose “cultural engagement” because they see it as a slippery slope toward losing Christian distinctiveness. “Engaging the culture” is code for making the gospel relevant or practical or something more acceptable to a lost world, and this tendency leads us astray.
These Christians have a point. You can see mission drift take place in churches that focus heavily on politics – both on the right and the left.
At first, the church gets behind a good cause, a way of loving neighbors and serving the neighborhood. But over time, the cause becomes the Cause and slowly crowds out the distinctiveness of Christianity. When the Cause replaces the cross, the church morphs into just another activist organization, with a religious banner. We wind up with culture warriors for conservatism on the right, and errand runners for liberalism on the left.
(Russell Moore’s book Onward has the subtitle “engaging the culture without losing the gospel,” which implies that “losing the gospel” frequently follows “engaging the culture,” if not done carefully. So, even though Moore uses the term “engaging the culture,” he recognizes the danger of churches doing so at the expense of the gospel.)
How To Avoid the Dangerous Trajectory

This objection demands a lengthier response. So let me press pause for now and then I’ll come back to this objection in a later post on how we can avoid these errors while engaging the world around us. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Clearer Understanding of Jacob's Ladder

I recently preached through Genesis 28 and interpreted the meaning of Jacob's ladder as: 

The ladder is a visual picture of the words of the dream.  The dream is about the Abrahamic covenant by which God is reversing the curse of sin, reconciling humanity to himself.  The Lord is standing at the top of the ladder, above it as the Sovereign One who is over his creation yet guides and directs everything for his own purposes, even Jacob's life.  The angels are the messengers or mediators of the covenant.  Jesus tells us that he is the fulfillment of this ladder as the greater mediator of the covenant (Jn 1:51).  Jesus is the ‘new bethel,’ the house of God, as he now mediates the presence of God.  There is one way by which humanity is reconciled to God, the mediator Jesus Christ ((Jn 14:6).  
At the time, I was not as clear as I wanted to be.  Then this morning, a couple of weeks later, I picked up a book off my nightstand as I was straightening it up.  I had put it there to read as I was preaching through Genesis to help me understand the theology of Genesis better.  Apparently, I have not been keeping up with it!  The book it Dominion and Dynasty by Stephen Dempster, "a theology of the  Hebrew Bible."  I looked at where I had left off reading and it was bookmarked at the section where he discusses Jacob.  This is what he had to say about the ladder.:
The vision is interpreted by the words.  The ramp connecting earth and heaven geographically links the unity of heaven and earth with the sleeping Jacob.  Geography and genealogy coalesce on a rock in a field.  God will build his tower through a seed found in this land,.  Or, in the language of the text, the blessing (read the blessing) will come through Jacob and his seed (pgs. 86-87).

At the time, I understood that the ladder was a reversal of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11) and that the words in the context must interpret the dream vision.  But what became much more clear is that Jacob's seed, Jesus Christ (Gal 3:16) will be the mediator of the blessing.  The connection between heaven and earth is made possible not by human mens but God's own means, Jesus Christ.  It became crystal clear that the vision of the ladder advances the mission of God in the book of Genesis!