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Another quarter, and another volume of Nick Needham’s church history set, 2,000 Years of Church History. The second volume covers The Middle Ages. I mentioned the layout of the books in discussing volume 1. This volume is about 440 pages long. Reading about 10 pages per day, I was able to read a chapter a week and be done in 10 weeks. This makes for a very doable project, and you aren’t overwhelmed with all the information that is found in this thus far excellent series.

He  begins this volume with Islam and the Church. We’d join Paul in saying that even if an angel preaches another gospel to you, they are to be anathematized (Gal. 1). While Mohammad claims to have received a vision from an angel, his message is very different from Paul’s gospel and therefore to be rejected.

Islam did spread through military conquest. Some of the churches in conquered lands were treated fairly well, particularly the Arian and monophysite churches. He distinguishes between the Sunni and Shia muslims in addressing their first “civil war”. Most Christians were placed in segregated communities and treated as second-class citizens, often with a heavy tax. At times they benefited from the Christian community. Nestorian Christians in Persia translated the great Greek philosophers into Arabic. Generally “Christian governments” waged defensive wars against Islam. A few people like Francis of Assisi preached the gospel to them. Some of the crusades seem far less interested in protecting pilgrims and freeing conquered Christians than gaining fame, power and wealth.

Needham then discusses Charlemange and the Holy Roman Empire. The struggle between civil and religious authorities would take up much of the Middle Ages. This was not limited to the Pope, but we also see the Eastern Patriarchs, at times, seeking to bring the civil authority to heel. It was a back and forth. He also addresses developments in theology and worship in both the Eastern and Western Church.

This volume continues Needham’s broader than usual focus. This is not a Eurocentric approach to church history. For that I am thankful. For instance, much is said about the development of both Eastern and Western monasticism. We see the repeated influence of Augustine in controversies involving predestination and the Lord’s Supper. Communion controversies appear at least 3 times in this volume.

The third chapter focuses on the Byzantine Empire and brings us to the Great Schism. The iconoclastic controversy takes up a bit of space. It was a ruthless controversy with Emperors deposing Patriarchs; Patriarchs excommunicating Emperors, exiles and cruel punishments. Church history is not pretty! This should put to rest any mistaken notion about the consensus of the Patriarchs as preferable to “sola Scriptura”, but sadly it won’t. The filioque controversy regarding the Nicene Creed is discussed.

“Following the Cappadocian Fathers, the East tended to being with the persons of the Trinity, and saw their unity as lying in the person of God the Father. For Eastern theologians, the Father guarantees that the three persons are only one God, because the Father alone is the “fountain of deity”, the one source of the Son and the Spirit, … By contrast, the West began, not with the persons, but with the nature of God. Following Augustine of Hippo, Western theologians tended to think of God’s nature or essence before the three person of the Trinity, and to see the oneness of the Trinity as lying in the one common nature shared by Father, Son and Spirit”

In the east, you had some dissenting movements: the Manichees, Paulicians and Bogomils. All three were connected to Gnosticism. Paulicians often allied themselves with Muslim Arabs against Byzantium, whom they saw as oppressors. The Bogomils were in Bulgaria, which was a region over which the Eastern and Western Churches struggled. They would not survive the conquest by the Muslim Turks in the late 14th century.

Needham then moves back West for the Cluniac Revival, influence of Hildebrand and the Investiture Controversy. The Norsemen proved to be a problem for much of the Western church. But eventually they were converted to Christianity. Over the course of about 100 years the gospel spread from the lands the Norseman conquered to the lands they came from (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland). The gospel also made headway into eastern Europe as the Bohemians, Poles and Croats were converted. Alone with this was a reformation of Western monasticism aka the Cluniac Revival. They also sought purification in the leadership of the church. Hildebrand led the efforts to reform the papacy. He wanted it to be independent of the state in order to pursue its spiritual purposes. This would lead to the Pope investing kings with power. Popes, for a time, were king makers. One unfortunate side effect was that ecclesiastical officers were freed from prosecution from the state. Their crimes were considered sins and subject to the discipline of the church- a practice that helped produce the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the American Roman Catholic Church, particularly in Boston (don’t worry, I don’t deny that Protestants like to cover up a “good” scandal too).

The fifth chapter examines that less than period of time covering the Crusades. He looks at the causes and history of the Crusades. Not all crusades were created equal. Some were worse than others as the trade cities exerted their power.

Needham then moves into the manner in which the gospel came to the Rus, how they had their own patriarch and became an independent Eastern Church. The Mongols factor heavily in this. After the defeat and removal of Mongol control, many Russian Orthodox began to think of themselves as the “third Rome”. Because Byzantium had “sold its soul” in the Union of Florence (in order to receive military assistance against the Turks) Russia saw itself as the heir of orthodoxy.

Back to the West, the book then delves into the rise of the universities and scholasticism. Aristotle “came west” and exerted great influence on the theology of the Church at this time. Needham gives summaries of Anselm, Peter Abelard, Peter Lombard, Bonaventura and Aquinas among others.

The Papacy reached its height in the time of Innocent III. There were a number of theological developments (transubstantiation was made dogma), new monastic orders (Franciscans and Dominicans) and humbling of kings. There was also the crusades against dissenters like the Albigensians and Waldensians.

Back to the Eastern Church he develops the fall of Constantinople. The battles with the Muslims, particular the Turks, continued to take their toll. There were also controversies like the hesychastic controversy involving Gregory Palamas. He relates the various attempts to heal the Great Schism, all of what came to nothing since they were mostly about receiving military aid than uniting the Church.

The decline of the Eastern Church was matched in the West by the decline of the Papacy, particularly in the Avignonese Captivity (the Papacy was controlled by French nobility and seated in France). At times there were two or three Popes. Proto-Reformers like Wycliffe and Hus arose. The church East and West was in sad shape at the end of the Middle Ages.

This is another insightful and interesting volume. It has good balance between East and West. It deserves a reading by all interested in church history.

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Much of the music of my youth was the music my brothers listened to. When I got older, I often plundered their record collections to make tapes.

One of my brother John’s favorite bands was The Beatles. He was not alone, to say the least. listened to lots of music by The Beatles in the basement with my cousin (along with plenty of Elvis).

TThe words "The Beatles" embossed on a plain white background, with a serial number in the lower righthere are too many good songs, and good albums. Trapped in a corner, under threat of death I’d likely say my favorite album is The Beatles aka The White Album. The LSD period was over. The songwriting for this album took place in India. There was plenty of meditation, some marijuana and upset stomachs, primarily Ringo’s. It was a period of turmoil in the band. Ringo had to be talked into recording. George’s songwriting was limited. And Yoko Ono showed up.

This album reduced the psychedelic influence and technological innovation that dominated albums like Rubber Soul, St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Some of the highlights for me are:

Back in the U.S.S.R. which is a parody of a Chuck Berry song. It has an R & B feel with Beach Boy-like harmonies. Dear Prudence is an acoustic guitar song about Mia Farrow’s sister Prudence who accompanied them on the trip to India. She rarely left her room during their stay. The song

My favorite is Glass Onion, which does have a strong psychedelic feel to it. John wrote the silly lyrics to tease those who thought there were secret messages in the songs. I can’t really explain why I like this song so much, but I do.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps is another fantastic song. George was unhappy with how the group played it at first and invited his friend Eric Clapton to play on it. This song has stood the test of time. I love the guitar work. The piano accompanies it well. This is probably the best song that George wrote.

Helter Skelter, about a spiral slide at playgrounds, is a playful romp that was originally a longer blues rock jam. Their shorter attempt was a bit more chaotic, which seems to be appropriate. You can’t plan that. Too bad Charles Manson gave this song a somber note as the inspiration for his mass murder.

Musically this is a very diverse album. That was one of the strengths of The Beatles. They had no identifiable sound. They started singing pop songs, silly little love songs. As they matured the explored more subjects. They struggled with fame and that shows up in their songs. They used technology as an instrument pioneering the way for bands like Pink Floyd. Their experimentation with drugs created a distinctive second phase in their career paralleling the expanded subject matter.

Their storied career is what makes picking just one album from that decade so difficult. I could easily have chosen Rubber Soul, Revolver, or Help! I went with the White Album.

 


The controversy over the Revoice Conference is producing plenty of heat. For me it is a frustrating conversation because of the heightened emotions, quotes that may or may not be taken out of context, a lack of civility and the presence of shibboleths. It is hard to work through the maze of opinions to identify actual facts.

One of the key note speakers is Wesley Hill. This seemed like a good time to take his book Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality off of my shelf and read it. It is only about 150 pages, and slightly larger than mass market paperback pages at that. Therefore the book reads quickly. I read it in my spare time over about 3 days.

He lays out the book like this:

Prelude: Washed and Waiting

1. A Story-Shaped Life

Interlude: The Beautiful Incision

2. The End of Loneliness

Postlude: “Thou Art Lightning and Love”

3. The Divine Accolade

Wesley grew up in the Church. As a member of the Anglican communion, he holds to general biblical orthodoxy. Wesley also struggles with same sex attraction, and has as long as he remembers.

“I have never found a book I could resonate with that tries to put into words some of the confusion and sorrow and triumph and grief and joy of the struggle to live faithfully before God, in Christ, with others, as a gay person.”

Wesley notes that his homosexuality has hindered his life and flourishing spiritually. It has not helped him. If I could put words into his mouth, he wishes God would flip a switch so he would no longer be a homosexual. Homosexuality is one of the many ways human nature has been distorted by sin “and therefore that homosexual practice goes against God’s express will for all human beings, especially for those who trust in Christ.”

“So this book is neither about how to live faithfully as a practicing homosexual person nor about how to live faithfully as a fully healed or former homosexual man or woman.”

He has concluded that it is healthier to live as one whose struggles are known to close friends than to live in the dark. He admits that he is young (late twenties at the time of writing it). He is in need of growth, knowledge and wisdom. He is writing as a homosexual Christian to homosexual Christians about being a homosexual Christian.

And here we come to one of the shibboleths! Some disagree with the use of that term. Rosaria Butterfield, for instances, argues against using it in her book on the basis of the fact that our identity is in Christ. Our identity shouldn’t be in our sin. Others have put for “sexual sufferers” as a suitable option in light of that. This too, however, focuses on our sin or at least the thorn in our side.

A novel idea might be to ask people what they mean by the phrase before we jump to conclusions and indicate we are not a safe person to talk to. Hill offers what he means by this phrase. In the introduction he mentions that “gay” or “homosexual” is an adjective because the main idea is the noun, Christian. That is his identity. Homosexuality is part of his life. A stubborn, painful part of his life.

In his prelude he focuses on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6.

“Washed and waiting. That is my life- my identity as one who is forgiven and spiritually cleansed and my struggle as one who perseveres with a frustrating thorn in the flesh, looking forward to what God has promised to do.”

He’s a Christian with a struggle. We all have a struggle. His makes him feel like “damaged goods”, something he mentions periodically in this book. I want to take this seriously as a pastor. To continually remind someone who feels like damaged goods that they need to repent for this disordered desires is like rubbing salt in the wound. They already feel damaged, broken, like a misfit. Some seem to want to exacerbate this loneliness and isolation even more. They know they are messed up- they need to know they are loved by a holy God.

It is hard to think that all your life will be an attempt to struggle well, not to actually succeed. Most homosexuals don’t experience a change of sexual attraction. This is due to the remnant of sin. Hill paints a picture of this struggle as he tells his story throughout the book. Many of us conservative Christians would be wise to listen. Not to excuse, but to exercise empathy. Too often we act like we’ll catch a disease.

Image result for island of misfit toysAt times it would be easy to dismiss him. Some of us have also felt profound loneliness for extended periods of time. Some of us have felt like misfits for most of our lives. We identify with the Island of Misfit Toys. He’s not saying only homosexuals experience this profound loneliness. Only that they do in fact experience it.

In A Story-Shaped Life he explains why he resists his same sex desires. He accepts the Story, not just some texts. I mean the story of creation, fall, redemption and consummation. Those texts reflect the creation. We were not designed for same sex relationships. They are part of the fall brought about by sin. We all have disordered desires, and disordered sexual desires. Sin is living out of accord with how God made us to live. The Story includes redemption too. He’s a forgiven sinner, not a condemned sinner. He was washed, justified as Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 6. It is not our sin that defines us, but Christ in our justification.

“I abstain from homosexual behavior because of the power of that scriptural story.”

And so should we abstain from our deviant sexual desires. This story is a balm for our often raw soul.

“The gospel resists the fallen inclinations of Christian believers.”

While not explicitly calling his same sex desires sin, he frequently uses similar phrases. He doesn’t delight in them, or ask others to delight in them. He groans because it is difficult to be faithful in the face of such desires. But this is his goal, and the purpose of the community. These desires are an unwanted burden.

He explores Lewis’ comments on temptation from Mere Christianity.

“Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. … A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know that it would have been like an hour later.” C.S. Lewis

Before his extended reflection on loneliness, he has an intermission focused on Henri Nouwen. He kept his homosexuality a secret shared only with a few of his closest friends. He lived faithfully to the biblical sexual ethic. He was wracked with self-doubt, despair, loneliness and insecurity. In desperate need of intimate relationships, he seemed to also keep them at arms length fearing they would turn into something they shouldn’t. Here is one of the push-pulls of homosexuality: the need for healthy same sex relationships but the fear of sinful attraction. Like Nouwen, Hill longs to feel at home in the Father’s embrace.

In The End of Loneliness Hill focuses on the need for community. This is the very thing most people with sexual disorders fear. They don’t want to be exposed, revealed. In the gay community there is no need to keep your attractions and desires secret. This is part of the big attraction- feeling like you fit in. The Christian community feels threatening to homosexuals, and I fear we don’t help ease this fear. It is often a place of hardship, particularly since you likely can’t find someone to share the rest of your life with. It’s not just that you haven’t found a spouse, but that your desires run in the wrong direction.

The longing for love is human. But in this case it is disordered, bent and twisted. One can begin to curse the longing that reflects our humanity.

“They are trading what seems to be the only satisfying relationships they have or could have for ones that will prove to be at once more painful (because of all the myriad effects of sin) and most life giving.”

In Thou Art Lightning and Love Hill introduces us to Gerard Manley Hopkins. This section included a rather uncomfortable quote from Frederick Buechner about Hopkins. A quote about “a beautiful boy in the choir” and “some street child” when moves closer to pedophilia. Yet Hopkins struggled to remain faithful despite his isolation and despair. Hopkins eventually saw this struggle as part of God’s loving purposes.

There is also a quote from Dallas Willard which distinguishes between temptation and sin: “But temptation also is not wrong, though it should not be willfully entered.” This seems out of place with the rest of his comments on same sex desire, so I’m a bit confused. It is temptation to sin, and must be rejected. We are tempted by our inordinate desire, or desire for something inherently sinful. Jesus was also tempted, though not by inordinate desire. He was tempted by others to commit sin. This the splitting of a theological hair: is it sinful to have a sinful desire? Or is the sin in letting the desire bear fruit? This is not a topic Hill takes up, which is unfortunate.

At the end he refers to Martin Hallett, a celibate homosexual Christian. Hallett speaks of his sexual orientation as a “gift”. Not that homosexual is a gift in itself, but that the struggle was a gift “because, under God’s sovereignty, it can lead to blessings.” In other words, God works good out of it that He couldn’t work in any other way. As John Newton noted, there is nothing given that is not needful and nothing needful that is withheld. God uses this struggle to humble, and to reveal the greatness of His grace and redemption.

67 Before I was afflicted I went astray,
    but now I keep your word.

75 I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous,
    and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Ps. 119

Because this is a book, and a short one, of reflections it is not a book of theological exposition. Some may criticize it for that. There are other books for that. This is a book explaining why & how Wesley Hill struggles with his desire rather than following his desire. It is a window into the struggle for those of us who are heterosexual. You could treat this as the conversation you need to have but don’t have a friend with whom you feel comfortable having it.

CavWife and I both have had friends who punted on the faith to live in homosexual relationships. We have friends who left families too, to satisfy the sexual desire they told practically no one about. Some of us may have suspected, but there were no conversations about the struggle until they gave it up. I wish they’d shared this with friends. Maybe it would have turned out differently. But maybe it isn’t too late, God may grant repentance.

 


Rosaria Butterfield has written two quite different books so far. Her first, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, was largely narrative with some extended musings. It was easy to read and quite interesting. It allowed her gifts as a story-teller and writer to come out and play. Her second, Openness Unhindered, exhibited her gifts as a teacher. Far more didactic, it also drew on her past life as an academic who was a lesbian activist teaching queer theory at Syracuse University in NY. She wrote to interact with the controversial subjects regarding sex and gender of our day from the perspective of a Christian who used to be an activist.

Both books were representative of who Rosaria is. Her third book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, is also representative of who Rosaria is. Her first book talked about the key role hospitality played in her life as part of the homosexual community, her conversion and then as a Christian. The book wasn’t really about that subject but you recognized this was an important topic to her. It would be natural for her, and desired by her audience, for her to write a book on the subject that seems to so permeate her experience.

It is written in a style quite like Secret Thoughts. It is narrative used to communicate a lesson. The main narrative is the story of a neighbor, Hank. She and her family slowly pursue the reclusive war vet and build a friendship which has survived some major trauma. She also includes the story of her life with her mother after her conversion.

For Rosaria, hospitality isn’t a faceless practice. It is the long-term investment in particular people through hills and valleys. This investment is understood in terms of the gospel. First, God has welcomed us through His Son. That doesn’t seem like a big deal until you realize we were ungodly, helpless sinners and therefore His enemies. She isn’t as explicit about this as she could be, but it is there. Second, He sends us out to welcome others in the hopes of their coming to faith as we meet tangible needs. It is a form of mercy ministry that takes place in the home, not on church property.

The subtitle, Practicing Radially Ordinary Hospitality in our Post-Christian World, helps set some of the boundaries. This is some thing to be practiced. When we practice we start off rather poorly but continue to get better if we continue to invest the time and energy needed. This is something we may not be great at but can and should become better at with time because we continue to invest ourselves into it.

It is from the root, or radical. We are sharing ourselves, and not just the good part. We are full people and she notes that true hospitality receives too. We are not to be like Martha, ever the good host, but some of Mary who is truly interested in her Guest and needs Him. The hospitality she has in mind is reciprocal in nature: not paternalistic. It is radical in terms of being sacrificial as well. It is a big part of her family budget, and that means there are things they do without.

It is ordinary. She’s not talking about fancy dinner parties with the fine china and special silverware. She’s talking burgers on a picnic table, Thanksgiving turkey seated on the coach or folding chairs, soup and bread before reading the Bible and singing Psalms. She’s talking about inviting people in for community, not a state dinner at the White House.

It is ordinary in that it is for ordinary people, not elite Christians. Anyone can do this because it is simply about loving people.

The context of hospitality for the American Christian is changing too. We are in a post-Christian society. The influence of the gospel is waning, not growing. Disdain for Christianity is growing. We can no longer assume people have a basic understanding of the Bible. Many know only what they’ve been told on TV or the radio. Post-Christian America has a hunger for community. Much like pre-Christian Rome, hospitality is our way to gain an ear by granting a seat at the table with give and take.

Image result for meal togetherThis makes for an interesting, challenging book that is both easy and difficult to read at the same time but in different senses. It is a book that can make you laugh and cry. Her gifts as a story-teller (or teller of the Story) are on display in the course of the many narratives. She does provide a few sections on “nuts and bolts” of hospitality. This could be expanded and moved up in the material. It seems almost an afterthought. As a result she may have lost some people earlier; people who think she wants them to practice hospitality just like she does. Some in the conclusion deal with temperament and marriage roles in hospitality.

Caveats and Impressions

I should give a little personal background so you, dear reader, don’t think I’m simply reactionary. As a kid it was normal for friends to “stay for dinner” or me to stay there for dinner last minute. The families who “raised” me as a new convert in my early 20’s practiced hospitality. Their doors were open and I was often there on Friday nights or Saturdays. I helped them with projects and they fed me with conversation and meals.

My wife’s family routinely took in strays: animals and then people. They still do.

When we lived in Florida we knew many of our neighbors and had been in many of their homes. They had been in ours. At times we had to eat in our garage because the kitchen/dining area was so small and there were so many toddlers toddling about.

Since moving to Arizona we had a young man live with us for 18 months because he was struggling spiritually & relationally. We frequently have people in our home. But now we pretty much know 3 neighbors. Arizona is not Florida or the Christ-haunted North Carolina where Rosaria resides. The relationships seem limited to the Next Door app, rather than using it to get together in person.

It would be easy to feel like an inhospitable person reading this book. That is not her intention, but know yourself. Will you compare yourself to her example? Or are you able to simply take her example as an encouragement to be more hospitable in your particular setting? There is a part of me that longs to be in a neighborhood like hers, where my kids have heaps of friends (it is MUCH larger than our subdivision), where people are open, even if opinionated, instead of driving directly into their garage closing the door before they even get out of the car. Some people may confuse such longing with condemnation.

Image result for soup and breadRosaria usually has a soapbox topic in each book. She goes on a bit of a rabbit trail on a controversial subject. For instance, in Secret Thoughts she spent a few pages on Exclusive Psalmody. Her it is “biblical patriarchy”. It is introduced when a friend asks her “how the magic happens”. Her answer was a husband who leads and a wife who submits herself to her calling as wife and mother. She has chosen not to pursue a career as a teacher at this time. She is a writer, which happens in the quiet mornings before the kids bring their chaos.

I wish she had actually spent a little more time on this one so I knew more of what she is talking about. Patriarchy is a loaded term in my theological circles. She may be using the term in a way I could agree with, but often this term is used in  a way I don’t agree with and many will find unnecessarily offensive. If she’s using it for complementarianism (wives submitting to their husbands who love them like Christ loved the church, and male leadership in the church) then I’m onboard. Patriarchy is often used for the view that women submit to men, thereby granting women an inferior status rather than role. I do not find that position to be biblical. Since she doesn’t clarify, it causes needless confusion and possible stumbling blocks.

Rosaria is honest about her life, and her sins. Therefore she is honest about her rather dysfunctional relationship with her mother. At times I sensed a dysfunctional relationship with her neighbors. I wasn’t sure if the co-dependency she had with her mother transferred to others. There was a lot of community processing of community events. In some ways commendable.

A few years ago the house across the street from us was raid by a number of law enforcement agencies. My wife was out on her walk when it started. She got permission to come home, but was initially told to stay on the other side of the house, just in case. We did some watching from the window. But there was no gathering of neighbors (as their was in FL after a resident committed suicide by cop). There was no community processing of the arrest, and aside from his friend down the street it wasn’t perceived as a tragedy. As a member of the HOA, I got no rants about property values.

Therefore it is hard to discern where her concern for others crossed into perceived responsibility or unhealthy response. Healthy hospitality respects that boundary. She does mention boundaries, but that is an area that needed more attention.

The last issue is kids. Contemporary culture wants to protect kids from real life. As a pastor my kids are protected from some things, but give a big dose of other things. Our hospitality has introduced them to couples who live together before getting married, among other things. So, I’m not approaching this from an overly protective posture.

The flip side is I’ve been a pastor to people whose parents had time for everyone’s problems but their children’s. They were neglected by “good Christian parents” out to save the world who forgot their kids needed nurture and care. This is one of those boundaries that didn’t get nearly enough attention in the book. I’m not going to pretend to know enough about how this plays out in the Butterfield home, but more attention should have been paid to this subject in the book. There has to be something between over-protective helicopter parents and bringing your kids to the front lines of ministry by bringing it all in the home. I have had some difficult conversations with people on my front porch. Hospitality with boundaries because my kids were inside or out back. We can’t be paranoid and overprotective, but neither should we be clueless.

These are some of the gaps I noticed in this otherwise excellent book. You can’t say everything anytime you say anything, but these seemed like important things to say.

 

 


Kevin Harney concludes his book, Organic Outreach for Churches, with discussing the Mouth of the Church. He previously addressed our heart (love for God, the world & our congregation), our mind (strategy for outreach), our hands (serving others), and now evangelism proper.

“The heart of your church is beating for Jesus and ready to reach out with love to the people of your community. The mind of your church is thinking strategically and planning to reach out with the good news of God’s salvation. The hands of your church are working, serving and showing the world that Jesus is alive. Now the fun starts. It’s time to open your mouth!”

It is one chapter. One. Short. Chapter.

As we grow in our faith, it should be easier to share the simple story of the gospel. We are more mature, trusting God more deeply. Unfortunately, we frequently have fewer opportunities because many of us have fewer relationships with non-Christians.

Faith comes from hearing, and that means someone has to actually speak. Harney wisely notes that no one size fits all. We each will gravitate to a different style of evangelism. He unwisely connects a more confrontational style to extroverted people. Extroverts aren’t necessarily confrontation. Prophetic personalities, however, are.

He recommends a book I used in FL to train in evangelism, Becoming a Contagious Christian by Hybels and Mittelburg. Yes, there may be some personal issues with Bill Hybels. There are some theological issues too. But I don’t recall the latter affecting the book at all. The former doesn’t. You aren’t recommending the book based on his character, but it’s ability to prepare people to evangelize. It does that well, offering 6 different styles of evangelism.

Harney also distinguishes 4 outreach intensity levels for events. Low intensity events focus on meeting basic needs, displaying the love of Christ in tangible ways. The highest intensity events clearly articulate the gospel AND calling people to commit (perhaps having an altar call). This means we should be thoughtful about our events. Low intensity, medium or going for broke? Similarly, some sermons are low intensity in terms of their gospel-focus, while others are very intense in calling people to faith and repentance.

This means training is necessary. He cycled back to this. Too often we fail to train people in evangelism.

In our congregation, I’ve been preaching to stir up people’s hearts. We’ve been trying to strategize, particularly with a new community being built next door. We also plan on doing some evangelism training. It will not focus on just one style. I also hope we will do some work with relational wisdom, which should help us build healthier relationships and understand the people we share our faith with better.

We haven’t applied everything but we are moving in the right direction. There are aspects we won’t due to differences in our theological underpinnings from his. This book had some bones, but also some meat. Most congregations can benefit from talking through this material. They do have to be discerning as they do.

[An enlarged, 2nd edition, is due for release in late May, 2018.]

 


I woke up this morning thinking about my new sermon series and text. I begin a series on Philippians called Partners in the Gospel with the first two verses. Theoretically I’ve begun this series by looking at Acts 16 for the last four weeks to see the beginning of the church in Philippi through the ministry of Paul and Silas (and Timothy).

Image result for huddleJesus made each of those three men His partners in the gospel. He also made them one another’s partner for the gospel. We see Jesus then forming a partnership with Lydia and the jailer. These new Christians are not only partners with the church planting team, but one another particularly as Paul & Silas are shown the door by the city leaders.

I’ll be exploring this theme of being partners with Jesus and one another for the gospel in Tucson.

The resources I’ll be using are on the shorter side of things. The Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series I’ve grown to appreciate recently does not have a volume on Philippians. I almost picked up the Baker Exegetical Commentary by Moises Silva.

Rather than get the larger, more technical Ralph Martin volume on Philippians in the Word Biblical Commentary Series, I decided to settle for his volume in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary Series. It should hit the highlights of his more technical commentary.

I like the practical nature of the Let’s Study series. The Philippians volume is written by Sinclair Ferguson. It only makes sense that I use that one.

I’ve had the D.A. Carson volume Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians collecting dust for awhile. Time to read it.

I often use the Bible Speaks Today Series, and this will be no exception. Alec Motyer is the author of The Message of Philippians.

Lately I’ve enjoyed some of the volumes in the Focus on the Bible Series, so I’ll be reading David Chapman’s volume on Philippians.

For the Dead Guys, I’ll be reading Calvin’s Commentary on Philippians.

I will be trying a new series called Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Philippians. The authors are Tony Merida and Francis Chan. Merida, along with David Platt and Daniel Akin, is a series editor. I’m not sure if Chan is a plus or a minus at this point. But I want to make sure I’m keeping the focus on Jesus.

It sure sounds like a lot of reading but none of these books is big. If I don’t find particular volumes helpful, I can drop them easily. Overall, I’m looking forward to Philippians. I hope it will be encouraging, challenging and keep pointing people to Jesus, our partner in the gospel.


The third part of Organic Outreach for Churches by Kevin Harney is called The Hands of Your Congregation. It is only two chapters long.

“As our hearts grow healthy, we can engage our minds and think deeply about ways that a church can take the good news of Jesus to the world. … Once our hearts and minds have connected with the outreach vision of God, it’s now time for our hands to get active.”

He begins the section with the “The Two-Degree Rule” or The Power of Vectoring. He points out that most churches, if left to themselves, will focus on themselves. The resources of time, money, gifts and abilities will be invested in those who are already part of the congregation. People want their needs met. I don’t blame them. The problem is that people often confuse wants with needs. American Christians struggle with consumerism. They shop for churches that meet their needs rather than being concerned with faithfulness to the Scriptures in teaching (orthodoxy) and practice (orthopraxy) as well as love. Since we are still sinners, we will struggle with selfishness.

The Two-Degree Rule comes into play in light of this.

“The Two-Degree Rule involves identifying what we are already doing for those who are a part of the church and then finding creative ways to vector this activity into our community to engage unbelievers. It’s taking what we are already doing to care for, equip, and minister to our church family and giving it an evangelistic focus.”

Fellow RTS grad Ken Priddy advocated for something similar in his Turn Around Churches material for revitalization. For him it was making sure the gospel is a part of everything you do. If your church has a marriage seminar, you invite non-Christians. You don’t have to dumb it down, but you need to acknowledge that not everyone present may believe. They now have an opportunity to engage and be engaged by Christianity.

This means that not only should each ministry have an outward focus, but all activities should have an outward focus. You aren’t necessarily adding activities, but you are seeing them as part of the outreach strategy. But sometimes this means taking our activities outside of our space, our facilities.

Harney gives an example of a church expanding its meals ministry to people outside the church. They began to serve the people they knew who had health issues, or new babies etc. They brought meals to unchurched people as signs of the love of Christ for sinners.

“It is not about starting new ministries with new volunteers and additional resources. It’s simply taking what you’re already doing, something that is natural and normal, organic to the life of your church, and extending it to the people in your community.”

He encourages churches to think bigger, promote more widely and take action. This can be challenging for churches of 100 or under people. But it is worth considering or you will stay stuck.

The second chapter is the Value of Innovation. I was not as wild about this chapter. It seemed to prize (exalt?) innovation. I guess the question is, what is innovation? If it is a new way to fulfill a biblical mandate, I am good with it. We can get set in our ways. But sometimes we can also make an idol of being on the cutting edge and feel the need to “fit in” or keep up with culture.

This is a hard balance. We are to be different than the culture around us. I’m of the opinion that our worship services shouldn’t be confused with rock concerts. That’s actually not innovation but mimicry.

One of his examples was interrupting the worship service for time to mingle and grab coffee, and extended form of “Greet the family” or “pass the peace”. This church loved it. I’ve spoken to others who visited churches that did this and hated it. This innovation helped them grow numerically, but does that alone make it a good innovation? The standard isn’t “does it work?” which is pragmatism. We have a responsibility to measure things by the Scriptures, particularly if we embrace the Regulative Principle of Worship. Harney mentions biblical norms earlier in the book, but it would be great if he brought that back to have appropriate boundaries for innovation.

“Innovation involves trying things. It also means there are times for certain programs, events, and activities to end.”

There is some wisdom here. Some programs, events or activities have a shelf life. That same church ended up ending their extended break during worship to have a continental breakfast before worship each week. Programs, events and activities can become ineffective in fulfilling biblical mandates. Perhaps they are an inefficient use of resources (which can change over time). Churches do tend to stick with things that are perceived to be successful. They become “tradition”. And traditions die hard. A helpful question he didn’t ask was “how can we fulfill this biblical mandate better?” This helps us to see what we should be doing, and finding the best legitimate way for us to do it. Too often the conversation becomes “what do we want to do.”

Bottom line is that this was another mixed section. There were some helpful thoughts and some that needed clarification and qualification at the bare minimum.