Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What Does It Profit a Church If It Gains the Whole World and Loses Its Soul?

"The preacher, instead of looking out upon the world, looks
out upon public opinion, trying to find out what the public would like to hear.
Then he tries his best to duplicate that, and bring his finished product into a
marketplace in which others are trying to do the same. The public, turning to
our culture to find out about the world, discovers there is nothing but its own
reflection. The unexamined world, meanwhile, drifts blindly in the future."

--Dining With the Devil, by Os Guinness p.59 citing a quote from Context, 15 April 1991, p.4

This quote strikes me as true. It's a symptom of the attractional model church that peddles the "gospel" for it's own self-serving aims: growth, popularity, power. Churches have turned people into numbers. We want to get butts in the seats and keep them there...and if we have to take the sting out of the gospel to do it--then so be it. We tweak the music and our dress codes. We build gyms to make our facilities more appealing. We modernize the children's programs. We want to be accepted in the community. But where is the substance? Where is the awe of God? Where is the power?

For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.
Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number
of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.   --2 Timothy 4:3

What is the purpose of the church? According to Revelation 5:10, we are "a kingdom and priests to our God." We can't cater to the "needs" of some people at the cost of the church's holiness or the gospel message of repentance from sin and toward discipleship.

The interesting thing is that we have tried to make the church so palatable to the world that we have lost our uniqueness. In his book, Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?, James K. A. Smith states this well:

Worship, then, needs to be characterized by hospitality; it needs to be
inviting. But at the same time, it should be inviting seekers into the church
and its unique story and language. Worship should be an occasion of
cross-cultural hospitality. Consider and analogy: When I travel to France, I
hope to be made to feel welcome. However, I don't expect my French hosts
to become Americans in order to make me feel at home. I don't expect them to
start speaking English, ordering pizza, talking about the New York Yankees, and
so on. Indeed, if I wanted that, I would have just stayed at home! Instead, what
I'm hoping for is to be welcomed into their French culture; that's why I've come
to France in the first place. And I know that this will take some work on my
part. I'm expecting things to be different; indeed, I'm looking for just this
difference. So also, I think, with hospitable worship: seekers are looking for
something our culture can't provide. Many don't want a religious version of what
they can already get at the mall. And this is especially true of postmodern or
Gen X seekers: they are looking for elements of transcendence and challenge that
MTV could never give them. Rather that an MTVized version of the gospel, they
are searching for the mysterious practices of the ancient gospel" (78).

Here's a unique attractional model for us:

"But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."--John 12:32

It's easy for us to point fingers at our churches, ministers and elders, but let us not forget that the Church is made up of people, people who are buying into this mode of being, as well. We have to be different. We can't be afraid to stand out. If we look like the world, talk like the world, think like the world and live like the world then what in the world is there for the world to see in us? The salt has lost it's saltiness.

It's time for us to be different--be godly. It's time for us to have a sense of Awe in worship. A.W. Tozer nails this on the head in The Knowledge of the Holy.

"The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen
above its religion, and man's spiritual history will positively demonstrate
that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or
base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God" (1).

In a world full of talk--the world wants to see action. But not mindless action. They want to see God in action. They want to see His people in action and acting as if they believe that He is truly there. What do people see in us?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Making Sense of 3 John: A Proposal

A couple of years ago a friend and I were talking about reading the Bible, when he admitted that he struggled with where to start. Not knowing where to begin, he began with one of the shortest books of the Bible he could find--3 John. He didn't get much out of it and was curious to know what in the world he was supposed to make of it. What he didn't know is that there are many people in the course of studying the Scriptures who have asked that very same question.

The letter of 3 John is a personal letter written to Gaius. By and large it covers personal and church business--"I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health...I have written something to the church but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority..."(vv. 2, 9). In other words, there's not a lot of meat on the bones for "daily devotions." You don't see many t-shirts or coffee mugs with verses from 3 John. Why is it in the New Testament? How are we supposed to read it?

While studying Introduction to the New Testament, I found a helpful solution in the work of Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson. Johnson has written a helpful book--The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation. He proposes a theory that all three Johannine letters were written as a packet.

"3 John was most likely a letter of recommendation from the elder to Gaius, certifying that the carrier of the other two letters, Demetrius, was to be received with open arms. Second John was to be read to the entire assembly as an introduction and cover letter for 1 John, which is not really a letter at all but an exhortation, closer in nature to a homily. The Johannine letters thus make most sense when viewed as parts of the same epistolary package" (562).
Based on this this theory, read the letters in reverse order and see if 2 and 3 John make more sense. Personally, I have found this method helpful and believe that it is a solid theory. It explains why the two shorter letters would have been collected into the New Testament and it gives a context for understanding 1 John.

You may be like me and wonder, "Why, then, would these letters be placed in reverse order within the canon?" The answer may be found in the fact that the epistolary material in the New Testament is arranged by length. Paul's letters start with the longest (Romans) and end with the shortest (Philemon), Hebrews is anonymous, but is associated with the Pauline circle, so it stands alone after Paul's letters. None of this arrangement is based on chronology. It is arranged by length. The Johannine letters most probably were arranged in the same way for the same reason.

I encourage you to try the theory for yourself and see if it yields any insights or if it holds up to scrutiny. Please let me know what you find.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Is Jonathan K. Dodson's Book "The Unbelievable Gospel" Really That Great?

"I am not an evagelist. I haven't led thousands to Christ. There won't be a long receiving line of eternal souls waiting to thank me at the golden gates of the New Jerusalem" (17). Thus Dodson begins his book on evangelism. What could he possible have to say about the topic after making this claim?

Christianity Today selected Jonathan K. Dodson's book, The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing, as their 2015 book of the year in the apologetics/evangelism category. Robert E. Coleman, author of The Master Plan of Evangelism, lauds the book, saying, "This is evangelism for the 21st century." These were high praises, but when I saw my professor and President of Asbury Theological Seminary, Timothy C. Tennent's, write up I took note. "Jonathan Dodson in The Unbelievable Gospel demonstrates, once again, that he is one of the church's leading thinkers in knowing how to present the gospel effectively in an increasingly postmodern world."

I read it for myself and loved it for several reasons.

1. He can write clear, entertaining prose without resorting to the antics of some hip, "relevant" types. I hate it when writers try to pretend that they are not writing but, rather, simply talking with you. Their writing is riddled with fragments and ill-conceived punctuation. It makes me wonder if they should really say, "I didn't write it. I dictated it. I shouted it into a tape recorder over the Columbus Day weekend, then handed it to my agent and said, 'Sell this.' He's the one who turned it into a book" [Stephen Colbert, I Am America (and So Can You)]. However, that cannot be said of this book in the least. Dodson can clearly write--and well at that. I found it a pleasure to read several chapters at a time.

2. He is upfront about his own struggle and weakness when it comes to evangelism. He doesn't try to come off as some pro that will teach you all the tips and tricks. Because of this authenticity, he also emphasizes that...

3. Not all of his stories have happy endings. Some of them are unfinished. Dodson stresses that we don't need to see these examples of rejection or back-sliding as failures because it is up to God. We are called to work with God, but the weight of the task is not on us.

4. He understands the need for apologetics in evangelism. There are many people in our country right now who do not have a basic Christian framework from which we, as evangelists, can draw. Not everyone feels the need for the forgiveness of their sins. Not everyone is geared towards cookie-cutter gospel presentations. In fact, many people have serious questions about Christianity, God, and the Bible. They are looking for serious answers. Dodson writes, "Thinking faith isn't a matter of rehearsing canned apologetic defenses; it's a commitment to thinking deeply about the implications of the gospel in various cultures and then working to communicate that to people in those contexts" (88).

5. He doesn't offer a script. He holds up a simple, yet multifaceted, gospel.
A few years back my wife and I were in a class at church that studied Evangelism Explosion. It set our teeth on edge. None of the young people in the class connected with the approach. It was too formulaic. What's more we found that it tended to push for a "sale" based on how satisfied or happy the target was with their life. This book will have none of that. Dodson shows that canned formulas and rehearsed speeches are the kind of stuff that makes the gospel unbelievable to non-Christians.

Dodson understands that we can't approach different people with a one-size-fits-all method. He displays that the New Testament shows people engaging the gospel from different angles. He highlights the five "gospel metaphors" that he finds in the NT and shows how they maybe the entry point in connecting someone with Jesus: justification, redemption, adoption, New Creation, and union with Christ. For each of these "metaphors" he shares a story of how he has used it to share the gospel. I found this approach helpful.

All in all, this book is the best take on evangelism that I have read (or heard or even seen). It is easy to read yet intellectual. It is serious but unpretentious.  So, to answer the question: Yes, Jonathan K. Dodson's book The Unbelievable Gospel really is that great! I highly recommend it.

Disclaimer: This book was provided by Gospelcentereddiscipleship.com in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. The reviewer was under no obligation to offer a positive review.