Rethinking Galatians: Perhaps Those Judaizers Were Onto Something?

Several years ago the Brazilian soccer team was in the World Cup.  Now I’m sure you’re aware that soccer is very big down in Brazil, just like college football is big here in the South and professional football is big in other parts of the country (but for those of you who weren’t–you are now).  And I’m sure you’re also aware that Brazil is a heavily Catholic country (again, if you weren’t–you are now).  Well, a key World Cup match for Brazil just happened to fall on Good Friday that year.  The Catholic bishops in Brazil knew how big soccer is there, and they were afraid that church attendance would be low because of the soccer match, so they got on the radio and issued bulletins throughout the country that anyone who missed Mass on Good Friday would be committing a very serious sin.  (The Catholic bishops were not making this up.  It is an actual part of Catholic belief that church attendance on Sunday and certain other days of the year is compulsory.)

At any rate, my first reaction upon hearing this was, “Thank God I’m not Catholic.  I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that.”  Now I get that there is a lot of rigor and structure in the Catholic system of things–that they are strict about such things as when you must attend church, the conditions under which you may receive Communion, and when you must sit/stand/kneel during the course of the service.  And I respect that.  But I find it hard to believe that in the final analysis Jesus cares about such things.  That is a significant part of the reason why I am now Protestant.

And then I find the same thing happening here, right smack in the heart of evangelical Protestant-dom.  One of the discernment watchblogs castigated a church in Arizona and a church in South Carolina for canceling Sunday evening services on the weekend of the Super Bowl, saying that “the gods of the NFL take precedence over the God of the Bible” and “man-centered churches worship man!”  Other discernment watchblogs are saying similar things; here is an example.  As I scroll down through the comments on this one, I see that these churches “don’t follow the true Jesus anyway (as much as they think they do)”, that they are “treating His Word, His Son, and His House with…contempt”, “servants of the Word [who] are submitting to their own will to fill a fleshly desire.”  You should read these for yourself; there is plenty of juicy material here. Continue reading “Rethinking Galatians: Perhaps Those Judaizers Were Onto Something?”

I’m Having a Moment Here…

Give me one pure and holy passion
Give me one magnificent obsession
Give me one glorious ambition for my life
To know and follow hard after You.

To know and follow hard after You
To grow as Your disciple in the truth
This world is empty pale and poor
Compared to knowing You my Lord
Lead me on and I will run after You
Lead me on and I will run after You.

I’m having a moment here.

Actually I’ve been having a moment for the last few years now–certainly for as long as I’ve had this blog.

I am not sure what has brought this on.  It may be the result of changes and challenges in my life over the last few years–failed romantic pursuits, changes in my professional status, coming to terms with certain developmental issues in my life.  It may be simply part and parcel of growing up and then just growing older.  Or maybe it is a combination of all of the above.

At any rate, the upshot is that I am most certainly not the same person that I was when I first heard the worship song quoted above.

The song is entitled “One Pure and Holy Passion”.  It was originally penned in 1992 by a fellow named Mark Altrogge.  I first heard it performed by Steve Fee and Candi Pearson (now Mrs. Jonathan Shelton) at OneDay, a gathering of college students in the Memphis area which took place in summer 2000.  The writeup from the back of the CD which was recorded at this event will give you an idea of what took place here:

On May 20, 2000, tens of thousands of college students gathered from across the nation and around the globe for a sacred assembly simply known as OneDay.  Converging on the vast expanse of Shelby Farms, just outside of Memphis, TN, they came to pray, seeking the face of God for awakening in this generation.  Yet, they came not just to pray prayers, but to offer their lives as worship before the living God, yielding gladly to the all-consuming purpose of making the name and renown of Jesus Christ known throughout the earth.

Some of you were present at this event, whether as a volunteer (as I was) or as a straight-up attendee.  For me, this song was one of the high points of the entire event.  It is a very short, sweet, and simple song, and I loved the idea of it–that I could know and follow hard after Christ, that if He would just lead me then I would run after Him.  At the time I was taken with the idea that I would follow hard after Him, and that wherever He led I would run after Him with everything in me–in my youthful presumption I believed myself fully capable of pulling something like that off.

Now, however, I am a profoundly different person.  I now see things in the cold light of the reality that I am a cripple who is incapable of running hard after Christ.  Indeed I would not know anything of Christ at all if He did not take the initiative to reveal Himself to me, and I cannot follow after Christ unless He moves me Himself in the direction where He is going.

And I think that if we were all gut-level honest with ourselves, we would acknowledge that none of us is capable of knowing Christ apart from the revelation which He Himself has taken the initiative to give us, or of following Christ unless He moves us Himself.

I think that instead of saying that we will follow hard after Christ, we need to pray that He would take the initiative to move us where He wants us to go.  We can’t do this thing on our own, as if He is out there somewhere and we are following after Him.  We desperately need for Him to come to us and move us Himself.

So let us abandon the hubris of our youth that says we can live this Christian life on our own, that we can follow Christ in our own strength.  Instead, let us acknowledge our brokenness.  Let us acknowledge that we cannot follow Christ on our own, and let us pray that He would move us Himself, just as He has taken the initiative to reveal Himself to us.

Michael Spencer: The Unresolved Tensions of Evangelicalism

Today I would like to direct your attention to a series of posts over at Michael Spencer’s blog, in which he looks at unresolved tensions in evangelicalism.

In the first post of the series, he looks at that mostrosity known as the Christian worldview (some of us might call it the Biblical worldview or other things).  Basically, the Christian worldview is the idea that when you accept the Bible as true you accept a whole host of things which go monumentally far beyond what the Bible actually says, including (for instance) but by no means limited to the following:  that the earth was created in six actual, literal days; that there was an actual flood covering the entire surface of planet Earth about four thousand years ago; that the sun actually stood still as described in Joshua 10:13-14; that everything the Israelites did to the children of the Canaanites was right because God ordered it; that Saul’s exhibition of what we in modern times would describe as mental illness was in fact the result of an evil spirit sent by God and that most if not all mental illness is the result of demonic activity; that abortion is wrong in all circumstances and anyone who supports it in any instance for any reason whatsoever is an evil murderer with the blood of millions of innocent unborn children on his/her hands; that the only place for a woman in society is in the home; that there will be an actual literal Rapture where all the true believers will be taken away before the second coming of Christ…you get the idea.  Disagreement with any of these, either in whole or in part, to any extent whatsoever, is a rejection of the Bible as authoritatively true, and therefore a rejection of the Christian faith. Continue reading “Michael Spencer: The Unresolved Tensions of Evangelicalism”

Julie Nedlinger: Why I Walked Out of Church

Today I would like to direct your attention to a post by Julie Nedlinger about her frustrations with evangelical ways of doing church and how they fail to connect with her.  If you are someone who is concerned for the church and wants to know why it is not reaching the people in our generation who most need to be reached, then this post is required reading.  She gives voice to a lot of what I tried to express in the Fight Club series last year, and I would be willing to bet that there are a whole lot of people running around out there who are feeling the exact same thing that she is expressing in this post.

Read Julie Nedlinger’s “Why I Walked Out of Church”

While you’re at it, read this interview that she did over at Michael Spencer’s site.

Also, check out Julie Nedlinger’s site  She has lots of stuff on singleness, marriage, relationships, etc. which I might be coming back to later.

Alastair on Preaching

You all need to go over to Alastair at Adversaria’s blog and check out this post on preaching.  Alastair makes the case that the evangelical emphasis on preaching as the central event of the service has affected the church in many ways that are not good.  Church is no longer a place where we engage in community with our fellow believers before Christ, it is now a place where we go to hear fine biblical preaching and learn from it.  We no longer hear the word of God, instead we hear the words of men teaching and explaining the word of God to us.

Read it, people.  Prepare to be challenged, and to wonder if maybe we’re doing it all wrong.

The Real Fight Club

I just found out what “Fight Club” is really all about.

It’s a movie based on a book by Chuck Palahniuk about a thirtysomething man who is disenchanted with his life as a pawn of corporate America.  So he forms an underground fight club where other disenchanted young men take out their aggression through boxing matches and harmless pranks.  It grows, with other fight clubs springing up in cities all over the country, and the whole thing spirals out of control as the pranks grow more and more destructive.  The movie came out in 1999 and did terribly at the box office, though it was nominated for several awards.  It was released on DVD and since then has grown into an underground cult classic.

This seems to me to be an intriguing idea for what I’ve been trying to do with this series, namely to take down the most deep-seated and essential ills of evangelicalism through excruciatingly potent diatribes.  (Although I must confess that I am a bit intrigued by the idea of starting fight clubs to vent frustration with evangelicalism.)

RLP: The Disillusionment Chronicles

Today I would like to offer you a series of posts from Real Live Preacher.  In these posts, RLP starts with the premise that enlightenment and disillusionment are both necessary components of spiritual growth, then goes on to recount an experience from his college days which was quite disillusioning for him.

We in evangelical Protestant-dom believe that becoming a Christian is a thing which happens at a specific point in time.  It usually consists of praying a prayer, raising a hand, walking an aisle, etc.  but the upshot is that everyone who is a Christian has one specific instance in their life that they can point to and say “Up until this moment I was not a Christian, after this moment I was.  Up until this moment I was spiritually dead, after this moment I was spiritually alive.”  Anyone who does not have such an instance that they can point to is widely considered to not be a Christian.

Now it may be true that a lot of people who become Christians, especially during their adult lives, have such a moment that they can point to, but think what it means if this is the only way, or even the principal way, that people become Christians.  If becoming a Christian is something which happens at a single moment in time, that’s something which can be counted.  And we love numbers, so we will count it.  And if the numbers look good, then we will pat ourselves on the back and say what a good job we are doing, or praise God for the mighty work that He is doing.

Another consideration:  We as evangelicals believe that everyone spends eternity in one of two places.  The vast majority of people are going to spend eternity in the less desirable of these locations.  If you want to escape hell (the less desirable place) and spend eternity in heaven, all you have to do is say a prayer to confess your belief in Jesus Christ.  This means that if you truly love Jesus, then it is your duty to tell as many people as possible about Jesus so that they can believe and go to heaven as well.  Kind of a daunting task, especially when you consider that you will pass by lots and lots of hellbound people as you move through life.

All of these considerations come together in the disillusionment which RLP recounts in these posts.  Read them, and prepare to wonder if all that you’ve believed about eternity, about becoming a Christian, and about our supposed mandate to tell everyone we come into contact with about Jesus are really worth believing.

Read RLP’s The Disillusionment ChroniclesPart 1, Part 2, Part 3

Is There a Gospel for Those Who Are Already Saved?

Today I would like to commend to your attention a resource from Dr. Rod Rosenbladt entitled “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church”.  This is a 45-minute talk which is available from New Reformation Press.  You can download it in MP3 format for only $3.45.  Or, if you are a college student like myself and seeking to live resourcefully with limited means, you can save a dollar and download the text in PDF format.

I am sure that many of you who are Christians have wrestled with the question of “What does the Gospel mean for me now?”  As unbelievers, we got that we were sinners who were completely, utterly, hopelessly incapable of living up to the requirements of an infinitely holy God.  We were condemned to death followed by an eternity of separation from God and all the misery entailed in that–and justly so.  And then we heard and believed the Gospel message that Christ had died for our sin and made a way for us to enter into relationship with God, that He had satisfied the requirements of a holy God and that this righteousness would be credited to us if we just believed. Continue reading “Is There a Gospel for Those Who Are Already Saved?”

Told Ya: Interesting Developments at Willow Creek

I am not one who gets much pleasure out of habitually saying “See?  Told ya so”.  (Those of you who have been tracking with me for a while can feel free to draw your own conclusions about the veracity of that statement.)  But when this interesting little news item came out of Willow Creek last week, I couldn’t help it because it goes right along with what I’ve been saying in the Fight Club series, especially the piece on spiritual formation.

Willow Creek did a multi-year study a couple of years back because they wanted to find out which of their programs were the most effective in leading people to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ.  The findings from this study just came out not too long ago, and boy were they ever surprised!!!!!

You see, Willow Creek’s approach to discipleship all along–and the approach now utilized by almost all of evangelical Protestant-dom–has been:  We put on the programs.  People participate.  They mature spiritually as a result.

Of course, it is questionable to assume that spiritual formation and spiritual maturity will be automatic as a result of participation in a church program.  And now there is empirical research which shows that this is not the case; that spiritual maturity is not an automatic result of program participation.

There is a human component to the process of spiritual formation.  There are things which God has promised to do for us, and there are things which we must do for ourselves.  Our spiritual development is largely determined by the degree to which we attend to those things which are in our power to control; particularly the degree to which we take responsibility for who and what we allow to influence us.

Yet we as evangelicals are notorious for projecting the message that spiritual formation is all about what God does on the inside of you.  That all you have to do is accept Jesus Christ into your heart, and He does all the rest.  In light of this, it is not surprising that we have drifted toward the mindset that if we create programs and people participate in them, then spiritual maturity and life change are automatic.

Told ya, people.  And now I’ve got the empirical evidence to back me up.

Further reading for those who are interested:  Michael Spencer talks about his take on discipleship from his experience in Southern Baptist discipleship programs.  And Amy Welborn gives her take on the issue as a Catholic.

Fight Club 11: The Heart of It All–Who and What Are Forming You?

I think it is about time to start making a move toward shutting down the Fight Club series.  (Won’t Michael Vick be disappointed?  Oh wait.  We don’t do dogfighting here at the Fight Club, so what does he care?)

This time I would like to address the issue of spiritual formation.

I waited until the end of the series to address this because I believe that spiritual formation is the most fundamental of all the issues that I wanted to address.  An awful lot of the trouble that I see in the world of evangelical Protestant-dom has to do with the kind of believers and disciples that we are, and the forces and influences within our evangelical culture that make us into the kind of disciples that we are.

So what is spiritual formation?  Spiritual formation is the process by which we develop as believers and disciples over the course of our Christian lives.  Now, a lot of this is the work of God inside of us as He directs our lives and experiences in order to transform us into the image of Christ.  As you read the Bible, you will see quite clearly that there are certain things which God has promised to do for us in order to affect this transformation inside of us.

But there is a human component to the process of spiritual formation as well.  This is clear when you see that different believers progress spiritually at different rates.  Some will show incredible growth in a short amount of time, while others will go for long stretches of time with no apparent signs of growth at all.

This is also clear to see when you look at how different believers respond to similar situations in life.  Notice, for instance, the difference in how a Catholic and a Baptist would react to the prospect of a night at the theater with dinner and drinks beforehand.  Or the difference in how a charismatic of the health-and-wealth variety and a hard-core Calvinist would react if a close family member were to become critically ill. Continue reading “Fight Club 11: The Heart of It All–Who and What Are Forming You?”