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Sometimes you read a book that has been sitting on your shelf for years and think, “I wish I’d read this years ago.”

Making Kingdom Disciples: A New Framework by Charles Dunahoo is one of those books, at least for me.

I can’t remember how I got my copy. Someone else had read it so it was highlighted and underlined with black ink. I might be the third person to read it. I use red ink when I read a book. Now the book is quite colorful.

Dunahoo is the either retiring or now-retired coordinator for the PCA Committee for Christian Education and Publications (I can’t remember). He served on a variety of committees in the early and formative days of the PCA. He’s been a pastor and taught systematic theology and apologetics at the Atlanta School of Biblical Studies. The fruit of much of that work is displayed in this book. You can see the influence of Francis Shaeffer, Cornelius Van Til and John Frame in this volume. There is plenty of  interaction with postmodernism (as well as modernism).

This is not a nuts and bolts kind of book, as he admits. It is a framework. That framework will need to be filled out in ways appropriate to your particular context and strengths. This means the book is not about the acts of discipleship (reading plans, planning prayer and other practices we think of when we think about discipleship). His focus is on the big picture.

This book has three parts: Knowing the Word, Knowing the World and Biblical Models for Applying the Word to the World.

Knowing the Word

The first section is by far the longest at around 120 pages. Knowing the Word is the Framework for Discipleship. that Dunahoo is talking about. He calls this a kingdom model. Discipleship is about reordering a life around the realities of the kingdom of Jesus. That means not simply new practices but a new way of thinking.

“Generic definition: A disciple is someone who accepts a set of beliefs, and embraces a holistic, total, and intentional approach to life based on those beliefs.

“Kingdom definition: a kingdom disciple is someone who thinks God’s thoughts after him and applies them to all of life.”

This involves a brand new way of thinking as Paul repeatedly asserts in his epistles. We are, after all, transformed by the renewing of our minds. That means not simply new beliefs (it includes that) but new ways of viewing and thinking about everything. He differentiates between a program-based model, an individual (often parachurch) model, the small group model and his kingdom model. The kingdom model incorporates the other models but “places them in the context of God’s kingdom. It is informational, formational, and transformational!” There is content, it forms a worldview and transforms lives.

Dunahoo then dives into how we think and know. This has been complicated by neo-orthodoxy and postmodernism. He wants us to be “epistemologically self-conscious” which he defines as “being aware of what we know and how we know what we know.” This includes knowing what we don’t know. He describes the shift in authority from the premodern (revelation) to the modern (reason) and the postmodern (self & community). Since the premodern era “truth and knowledge have been divorced from the person of God.” He stresses that true knowledge comes in relationship with the God who made us and everything else. This God can reveal our biases and filters that so often color our judgments and make our thinking and conclusions distorted. Here his dependence on Schaeffer becomes clear as he develops a “checks-and-balances approach” that helps us identify our biases. One of the problems he identifies with a postmodern approach is “a knowing process wherein truth is relatively determined from moment to moment, form place to place” rather than in an observable process. Tik Tok is an example of this as many young people seem to think they can process politics and society from 30 second videos of people dancing to bad music.

From knowing, Dunahoo returns to the Kingdom and its implications for theology, mission and ministry. The kingdom is larger than the Church, encompassing the whole of creation and therefore determines how we live in all of life (not just at home or in church). Kingdom refers to the realm (creation) and his reign (providence and revealed will). This implies the limitations of the Church’s role in the world which individual Christians don’t share. The Church proclaims the good news and disciples Christians about what to believe and how to live. In the world, as part of the kingdom, Christians work for justice as well as proclaim the good news. The Church has no role in politics, but Christians certainly do as citizens of two kingdoms. We act in the name of Christ under His authority, but not in the name of the Church. Christians vote, but not the Church (nor should it bind your conscience in voting).

“… it helps the Christian know how to live as a member of Christ’s body, the church, but also how to live in the broader kingdom realm.”

From there, he gets into a Christian World-and-Life view. This builds on the previous chapters and is the logical conclusion. As the kingdom shapes our thinking & knowing we develop a Christian world-and-life view. He engages with how our world-and-life views are shaped (and re-shaped) and why it is important. There is a good caution that our world-and-life view is continually being reformed so be humble and don’t think you have it all figured out. You don’t.

The next two chapters cover the Reformed Faith and the Covenant. Discipleship, for him and other Reformed people, happens within the context of our theological heritage and the covenant by which God regulates His relationship with His people. They are essential rather than optional aspects of discipleship for a kingdom model. Discipleship is not atheological. He addresses some misconceptions of theology and then summarizes key doctrines in the Reformed heritage.

Covenant is a key aspect of Reformed Theology. Reformed Theology is covenantal theology, but covers more than covenant theology. Discipleship takes place within and should recognize certain covenantal realities. It shapes how we think of family and God’s work in and through families (you and your seed), as an example. In covenant theology grace precedes obedience. This logic of grace (as Ferguson calls it) is to be an important part of discipleship. Obedience is taught, but not as a way of meriting grace. It is a response to grace and flows out of faith expressing itself in love.

Knowing the World

The second section of Dunahoo’s book deals with the context of discipleship. Discipleship occurs in a context just as it also involves addressing how we know what we know and what we are supposed to know.

“We have to teach people to think biblically, and that requires more than simple Bible study. … We must understand God’s revelation, particularly his inscripturated Word, in our particular circumstance to know how to apply that Word and think biblically about life and reality.”

Dunahoo begins with Modernity. He views it as a threat IF it is allowed to “control our lifestyles consciously, subconsciously, or unconsciously.” It can be an opportunity IF “we understand it and its influence, and know how to use it in proper ways.” In this context he defines premodern, modernity and postmodernism as he did earlier in terms of sources of authority for knowledge and true.

Then he moves into modernity’s influence on (American) Christianity. We see it’s influence in pluralism which offers people choices and allows for change. It can make Christianity seemingly irrelevant in the marketplace of ideas. It leads to privatism which also relegates faith to the private sphere of one’s life. This seeks to limit faiths influence on the public sphere so that laws don’t reflect one’s moral views but lack a fixed reference point. He also examines individualism in which my reason (not ours) is the measure of truth. There is a lack of community since life is about me. This also leads us to relativism so there is no standard to measure cultures.

“As Francis Schaeffer often said in his lectures and writings, if there are no absolutes by which to judge society, then society itself becomes absolute.”

He also addresses, briefly, techism. We tend to think newer is better. People become a commodity even as we try to extend life (with medicine) without creating proper financial support systems for those longer lives. Tied to this is the rise of pop culture and immediacy.

The next chapter address the postmodern paradigm. Postmodernism takes pluralism to new heights, or possibly depths. Postmodernism is existentialism and nihilism in more concrete forms. Absolute truth becomes a meaningless concept since we can’t define truth. We look to ourselves to create meaning.

He briefly examines four key postmodernists: Jean Francois Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Richard Rorty. He then examines the key terms of postmodernism: Foundationalism, Pragmatism (Utilitarianism), Relativism and Structuralism. In evaluating postmodernism he asserts that it is not a reaction to modernism but rather the collapse of modernism which couldn’t bear the weight of its beliefs. Postmodernism can’t bear its own weight either. Long term communities can’t exist when they leave God out as a reference point. Otherwise self-interest and extremism rip them apart.

Both modernism and postmodernism are present in our culture. This is a function of the generational context. Older generations still operate in a modernist mindset (generally) and younger generations are more influenced by postmodernism. Discipleship can’t ignore modernism and postmodernism, and can’t ignore the generational context either.

He explores the Traditionalist, In Betweener, Boomer, Gen X and Millennial generations. He looks at the context in which they grew and their commitments (or lack thereof).

“We need all the generations coming together to produce the kind of covenant family that will survive the pressures, dangers, and consequences of today’s often degenerate and demoralizing world.”

Dunahoo is not trying to pit one generation against the other. He does note their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their general outlooks which can complement one another. Multi-generational ministries will balance the concerns of the various generations and help them humbly offer their strengths.

Applying the Word to the World

The third section applies the Word we’ve come to know to the world in which we live. This is the crux of discipleship because theology is meant to be lived, not simply asserted and assented.

He provides three biblical models or examples of how to do this. The first is Paul in Athens (Acts 17). Paul gains a hearing by building bridges through points of contact. Our message has to have some meaning to those who listen. In many cases this means first listening to the concerns and questions of those to whom we speak. This doesn’t mean that Paul was a relativist. He had a fixed reference point. He didn’t compromise his worldview but built on common concerns to then communicate his worldview. In this Dunahoo distinguishes between actual relevance (what it means for our lives) and functional relevance (whether or not we see that relevance).

The second model is Ecclesiastes which examines various worldviews to reveal their inadequacies. He notes that many Muslims criticize Christianity because western Christians have ceased to see it as a worldview, a system of thinking and doing. The topics he relates through Ecclesiastes are life, pleasure, happiness, wisdom, work, possessions, man and eternity. These are viewed from “under the sun” or from a human perspective and “above the sun” the view from above otherwise known as a Christian worldview.

In this context Dunahoo approaches the problem of legalism. We have liberties that we can enjoy in this life. We don’t avoid pleasure, happiness, wisdom etc. but seek them in God-honoring ways. This means in their proper place so they are not what we are living for but rather enjoying them as gifts from God to be used for His glory.

The third example is a covenantal reading of Genesis 13. We have to place texts within their context of the rest of Scripture and therefore the covenants. Dunahoo is getting at the gospel logic of indicative-imperative, moving from God’s grace to gospel implications. This rescues us from trying to merit God’s favor. The successes and failures of Abram must be viewed within the context of the covenant in which God gave grace to pagan Abram.

“That is the heart of discipleship: knowing about God in a way that transforms our lives by making us more like him, loving and caring for what he love and cares for.”

He is highly dependent upon S.G. DeGraaf’s Promise and Deliverance which seems to be out of print now. The life of a disciple is fundamentally a life of faith in the promises of God. As we see in Hebrews 11 faith acts on the promises of God. Our faith is “truths fleshed out in vertical and horizontal relationships.”

As I noted, this is a book I wish I had read years ago. It is a more theological, abstract book. It does get at the presuppositions of discipleship and that is a necessary endeavor. I may try to communicate this material in a SS class or in teacher training. It will inform what I’m looking to do going forward.

Providing a framework, Dunahoo does not exhaustively examine his topics. He summarizes quite a bit, and necessarily so. In other words, this is not a book on postmodernism but summarizes the high points pertaining to kingdom discipleship. He then provides some resources to better understand postmodernism (or Reformed Theology or generational differences etc.).

One of my takeaways, for instance, came from the chapter on generations. Boomers tend to look for a “how to” in sermons. One older elder I knew used to write YBH in outlines, meaning “Yes, but how”. Busters/Xers like myself tend to look for “Why” in a sermon. Those are the two that I’m used to addressing. The one I need to add more consciously is the Millennial focus on the “so what”. Hopefully this will improve my preaching as a result, and preaching is a key component of discipleship.

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I’ve been swamped with reading lately, and this has meant too many books in process. My brain has been pulled in too many directions. To top it off I decided to preach on a series of “hot button” issues from Genesis. This meant reading a bunch of new books to prepare for these varied subjects.

IGod and the Transgender Debaten one case it meant picking up one of those books that I had started but had been languishing in the cabinet in our kitchen in which I keep my Bible and the books I’m currently reading at home. When God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say about Gender Identity? (GTD) by Andrew T. Walker came out I bought it and started to read it. After a few chapters, it sat there waiting while I focused on other reading that was more pressing.

Since I was preaching on gender last Sunday, I resumed my reading of GTD.

The book has evangelical & Reformed street cred with a forward by Al Mohler and book cover blurbs by Rosaria Butterfield, Russell Moore, Sam Allberry, Trevin Wax and (oddly) Rod Dreher. Walker will express a conservative and compassionate perspective on this issue. He avoids extremes that can so often be a trap for us. We tend to pit truth against love. He wants to uphold truth AND express love toward people who experience gender dysphoria.

He begins with Compassion and refers to Jesus’ quotation from Isaiah: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench.” Jesus is the Truth and therefore spoke the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Yet, Jesus was also compassionate toward the suffering. His is the example for ministry we should follow, but often don’t. In the Gospels we see Jesus healing people with no hope for healing, giving strength to burdened people, and engaging with the outcasts of society (due to disease or sin).

Walker wrote this book because of the cultural changes in the West. “Society is now attempting to help people who experience doubts and struggles with their gender identity, rather than push those people to the margins.” I’d go farther- they are pushing those people to the center. But I won’t quibble too much. He wants to help us think through these issues biblically, and love our friends, children or neighbors who experience these doubts and struggles.

“… remember that the God who speaks to you in the Bible is the same God who loves you so much that he came, lived, and even died to strengthen bruised reeds and fan flickering flames.”

Image result for bruce jennerBringing up Bruce Jenner, Walker then addresses How We Got Where We Are. Due to his cultural & historical stature, you couldn’t avoid media coverage of his dysphoria and going further to transgender. A public discussion ensued that was not limited to adults. Children, thru bathroom laws and sex ed courses, were being dragged into a discussion they are not able to process intellectually and ethically. Relativism has burrowed deep into our cultural understanding so that people with “narrow views” are pushed to the margins. Ours is now a post-Christian culture that doesn’t understand the Scriptures and wants to marginalize those who are still connected with this former majority worldview. Radical individualism and the sexual revolution are turning ethics upside down. We also see the influence of Gnosticism as the body becomes meaningless both in what it says (as part of the Book of Creation) and what we do to it. The person, their feelings or sense of self, matter more than the body (Nancy Pearcey explores this Cartesian dualism in post-modernism in her recent book Love Thy Body).

He then moves to The Language. He provides the working definitions he will use in the book for:

  • sex
  • gender
  • gender identity
  • gender dysphoria
  • transgender

This helps dispel any confusion about what he means going forward. I wish more people would do this. I was frustrated yesterday with a page in Rosaria Butterfield’s Openness Unhindered where she didn’t define a key term in a discussion of temptation & sin.

The next chapter, On Making a Decision, focuses on how we can or should sort thru these issues by asking three important questions.

  • Authority: who has the right to tell me what to do?
  • Knowledge: who knows what is best for me to do?
  • Trustworthiness: who loves me and wants what is best for me?

Relying on ourselves is not the best answer to these questions. We have all followed our hearts (desires, feelings, great ideas) into disaster. He points us to the Bible which tells us a different, better, all encompassing Story that makes sense of our stories.

“A crucified Creator is a God who has the authority to tell us what to do, who has the wisdom to know what is best for us, and who has proved that he can be trusted to tell us what is best for us.”

He then discusses creation in Well-Designed. He covers the Story in declaring us made in God’s image, made with care. The blueprint for humanity is two complementary genders. God had a good purpose in created humanity this way. Our bodies, as part of creation, declare His praises (Ps. 19). He does caution us against baptizing cultural stereotypes in our discussion of gender. Sometimes we create dysphoria because of extreme views of masculinity and femininity. There will always be outliers. They don’t cease to be their biological gender. Jesus affirmed the creational design in a discussion of divorce in Matthew 19.

DRelated imageue to the fall & curse we see Beauty and Brokenness. We are glorious ruins, as Francis Schaeffer said. All of creation is a glorious ruin. Therefore we are beautiful but also broken. Adam & Eve’s Story is ours as well. We suffer from darkened understanding, futile thinking and disordered desires. We also suffer from broken bodies. There are people with genetic disorders. There are also people who due to darkened understanding experience real distress about their gender identity. “But experiencing that feeling does not mean that feeding it and acting on it is best, or right.” (pp. 67) In other words, some experience dysphoria, but some who experience it also act on it and try to live as the opposite of their biological sex. Dysphoria is a manifestation of our brokenness just like the rest of creation. We leave out God and creation from our thinking and people can live as if the dysphoria is speaking truth instead of lies to us.

Jesus offers us A Better Future than following our sometimes shifting and creation denying feelings and thoughts. Faith in Christ as our Savior unites us with Jesus who makes us a new creation. In sanctification we are renewed in God’s image, a process which is not completed in this earthly existence. Therefore we all wait for freedom, including many who struggle with gender dysphoria. With all of creation, we all groan. In Romans 8 the Spirit of Jesus groans with us in prayer as we struggle with the futility of creation due to the curse. We have the hope of the resurrection, the redemption of our bodies, when the futility will be removed from creation and our  bodies.

He then shifts to Love Your Neighbor. We should not use the truth as a club. Our attitude toward those who experience dysphoria or are transgender matters. Just like us, those people are made in God’s image and have dignity. We are therefore called to love both our neighbors and our enemies. We are to love truth and people. Often we love truth but are motivated by self-righteousness, pride, fear or a desire to win.

Walker admits that there are No Easy Paths for those who are transgender or experience gender dysphoria. The more boundaries you’ve broken, the more difficult it will be. Some are content to change clothing and names. Some use hormones to change themselves. Others change their body with surgery. Coming to faith and sorting out what next becomes increasingly complex. They require great wisdom and a loving community of faith. There are two aspects to this. First, all Christians will bear crosses. Some are heavier than others, but all are to deny themselves as part of the ordinary Christian life. Second, this cross bearing is not forever. The resurrection will resolve all these outstanding issues we experience in an already/not yet salvation.

This is Challenging to the Church. We will need to face our own self-righteousness and fear to become welcoming toward people who believe but still struggle. They don’t want to. Just like we may not want to struggle with anger, pride, passivity, pornography etc. While set apart and devoted to Christ, we are not perfectly sanctified. We will need to listen to other people’s struggles and groan with them. We bear their burdens with them.

Walker continues with Speaking to Children, and then Tough Questions to wrap up the book.

This is a readable book. It is not overly technical but accessible to people who aren’t scientists or doctors. He offers clear, biblical truth. He also calls us to compassion in how we speak to people. This is not a “these people are bad” book. But one that wrestles with the reality of our fallenness (original sin), and the sufficiency of Christ. He unfolds this in a Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation paradigm. This is a book deserving to be read by pastors and laypeople alike. I bought an additional copy for our library. Perhaps you should too.

Here is the sermon on the subject.

 

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The next subject McHugh covers in Introverts in the Church is that of community and relationships. He notes that this is the chapter he didn’t want to write. Contrary to some people’s opinions, introverts have relationships. They participate in community. They often feel the burdens of community, pressure to engage early and often.

“I cannot escape the fact that growth inevitably involves the messiness of genuine human contact and the struggles of intimacy.”

The goal is love because God is love. The commandments hang on the frame of love: love to God and love to one another. Love requires relationships. Many of the fruit of the Spirit require relationships because they are aspects of love. For humans like us, this means relational struggles so we can learn how to forgive, be patient, long-suffering, perseverance etc.

Different cultures have different understandings of the individual and the community. In modern western culture we focus on the individual: self-identity, self-actualization, self-fulfillment. In Ancient Near East cultures, the community took precedence. The individual didn’t cease to exist, but understood himself within the context of community and the roles & responsibilities they had as a result. We misunderstand the Bible if we try to interpret it from our American individualistic point of view. Why? We misunderstand the author’s intention and original meaning since they weren’t writing to “me” so much as “us” (contemporary English obscures this by not differentiating between the 2nd person singular & plural).

This means that much of Evangelical Theology and practice has been shaped by individualism. We neglect the communal emphasis of the Bible. This is one of the presuppositions that drives many people’s understanding of baptism. The New Covenant didn’t do away with “you and your children” (see Acts 2 for instance) or a focus on the people of God. We see it with Good Shepherd having a flock, the church as the Body of Christ, and a living temple. The Bible isn’t just about you & Jesus but about you, Jesus and everyone else united to Jesus (commonly called the communion of saints in older creeds and confessions).

This means there will necessarily be a culture clash between western society and the church (if we are faithful to Scripture). We will be counter-culture to modernist individualism and post-modern communalism. We see unity and diversity in the Body of Christ!

In terms of introverts, they often belong to churches that view belonging in external ways: attendance at corporate  worship, small group etc. Those can be manifestations of belonging and maturity. But they aren’t absolute manifestations. You can attend lots of things but really not belong or really not be mature. Your reason for attending can be erroneous- social or business- rather than an expression of your union with Christ.

The converse can be true too. You can belong and/or be mature in Christ even if you aren’t there every time the doors are open. As a pastor, I confess I want measurable things to know if I’m doing my job. It can be difficult to trust God is at work in ways you cannot see.

“Too often churches ask introverts to change, rather than stretching their own understandings of participation.”

Another way churches can measure belonging is “vulnerability”. Usually that is in a particular setting, like small group. In an earlier post I noted that for introverts there is a smaller circle of people with whom they are vulnerable. We can’t expect people (introvert or extrovert) to be vulnerable in the settings we want them to be vulnerable.

I think I’m pretty vulnerable. A friend calls me “King of the Over-share” and teases me that I wear this moniker with pride. But there are things about me I don’t share with just anyone. It’s my story to tell, and I don’t tell many people. Need to know basis stuff. I should get all this. But sometimes I struggle with the vulnerability or lack thereof in our small group. I need to remind myself they won’t share their secret sins unless this group is their closest group of friends. You can’t demand it. But some churches essentially do.

Introverts share like I get into a swimming pool. One step at a time, slowly. I don’t like cold water. Introverts often gauge how you handle information to see if you are safe. If you are, they will trust you with a little more. Little by little they reveal themselves to you. If they sense danger, they will pull back.

McHugh notes the “introvert spiral”. I’ve seen this in some people, but certainly not all introverts. They spiral in and out of the community depending on whether or not they are overloaded. This dynamic is about trust and their personal limits. They move in and pull back, rather than slowly moving in. To others it may look like they are double-minded.

“Sometimes introverts need to step outside of a community for a period of time, even after years of faithful participation.”

This can also be described as a rhythm in which they engage and then retreat. Like a dance. For the more pronounced introverts “too much time in social interaction, no matter how satisfying, is disruptive and disorienting”. They need to get some space to “rediscover a sense of identity.” Every relationship includes togetherness and apartness. Each person has a different blend that works. Introverts need more apartness. Sometimes they can lose their sense of self in community and need time to regain it so they can reengage.

Like extroverts, introverts have gifts to offer. God has gifted them. How they utilize or offer those gifts will look different. They are likely to be used behind the scenes, and they won’t necessarily tell others when making small talk. Ironically, some of those gifts are born out of their self-awareness: compassion and insight, for instance. Instead of acting, they may be observing and have a better idea of what is going on.

Introverts, who like space, are more likely to give space to others. This shows up in conflict, where they don’t press in hard but give others room to think (whether they want it or not, or know how to use it). I wonder if this fits in with my distaste for micromanagement as both employee and supervisor. If I need direction I’ll ask, and expect employees to do the same. I want space to work, and give space to others to work.

Space is also given to people to talk. Since they take time to formulate thoughts, they don’t fill every opening because the other person may be formulating a thought. This means that an introvert among extroverts can feel left out since they may not leave room for him/her to think and speak.

He offers a few ways in which introverts can find their way into community easier. I’ve discovered some of them on my own. But one is to identify the influential people. This is not to gain influence for yourself, but this person will connect you to others. They network for you. It is also helpful to identify a role you can play. You have a sense of responsibility within the community which also enable interaction with others.

“While some introverts are attracted to smaller communities, others are drawn to the resources and anonymity of larger churches.”

In those larger communities, it is helpful to join a group. This regular interaction with a smaller pool of people helps build relationships. This can be a SS class, small group, ministry team etc. When working with others, talk through your process and not just your conclusions. This may feel pointless or boring (and at times it may be) but it helps others see how you arrived there and may increase buy in.

He then notes some relational challenges. Introverts are prone toward enmeshment- when your identity gets intertwined with another person. We can become overly dependent on them, or surrender our interests to theirs. Introverts can also fall prey, so to speak, to relational parasites who take and don’t give. All of the relational energy flows in one direction. Many introverts struggle to think on their feet (not so good in interviews!) which makes conflict difficult when it involves quick-thinking extroverts. Introverts are better at replaying the conflict and realizing what they should have done than actually doing it.

Most introverts need to remember that extroverts prone to speak first and think later. They regret more of what they say (introverts regret more of what they failed to say). Give them room to back up, and forgiveness when they realize what they said was hurtful.

Introverts were made for community. This is because they are made in the image of God too. How they experience and engage in community will be different. This provides challenges for both introverts and extroverts. Love doesn’t avoid these challenges but presses on despite them. Both introverts and extroverts needs to flex. It is not just one or the other. Whenever we think only one side must flex, conflict will destroy both parties.

 

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If you are looking for the definitive description of how Pentecostals view and approach sanctification you may want to keep looking. Or maybe this is right on the mark. I hope not.

Russell Spittler’s chapter in Christian Spirituality is largely descriptive, not prescriptive. By this I mean he describes a number of common Pentecostal practices that are viewed as manifestations of the Spirit which have no apparent connection to sanctification (as far as I can tell). He doesn’t mention how they further the sanctification process. I have had Pentecostals tell me that speaking in tongues helps them avoid sin, but never how.

He begins by noting historical developments and their roots in a second blessing theology similar to Methodism. Instead of entire sanctification this is viewed as baptism in the Spirit. It is rooted, again, in a two-stage understanding of Christian experience. This takes the progress of redemptive-history as normative for us. Not in the sense that we should receive the baptism in the Spirit, but that it lags after justification/conversion and is necessarily accompanied by speaking in tongues. He provides very little theological justification for this view or the various manifestations he will describe beyond a few proof-texts. There is no attempt at any systematic understanding of anything.

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For the past few months I’ve been working on a seminar presentation about gospel-centered discipleship. It is part of a series of seminars some local churches are doing on the Great Commission.

In my preaching I’ve been addressing sanctification in the epistle of the Colossians. But with April here, our congregation is having a Missions Month. So I won’t be preaching. I am praying that God will stir up our hearts for missions.

Sometimes we struggle with putting these two things together. Some focus on mission as ultimate. Others see sanctification as ultimate. Obviously, some people have other views of what is ultimate (theological purity, worship, social justice etc.).

God’s glory is ultimate. God’s glory is to be revealed in sanctification (being conformed to Christ!), mission (seeing people come to faith in Christ), worship (worshiping Christ), social justice and theological purity. When we make one (or more) of them ultimate we get into the petty bickering that distracts us from doing what we ought to be doing in all its fulness.

For my seminar, I’ve been reading Following Jesus, The Servant King: A Biblical Theology of Covenantal Discipleship by Jonathan Lunde. Overall it has been a good read (I’m about 2/3rds thru it). I was intrigued by that “covenantal discipleship” idea. There are many good things about the book. One critique I have is that he makes mission ultimate.

But he rightfully sees a relationship between sanctification and mission. He points out how they were related in the OT such that Israel’s holiness was intended to make here a light to draw others to faith in the one, true God.

Obviously we see them joined in the Great Commission- which must be seen within a covenantal context (the whole point of Matthew is to see Jesus, the son of Abraham and the son of David, as the fulfillment of God’s covenants with Abraham and David). Mission is intended to produce obedient Christians. Obedient Christians are on mission as salt and light. They are inter-related instead of one having priority over another.

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I read Reconciliation Blues to better understand the tension between the races that exists in the American Church. I had the blues. After reading this book, I feel even more blue.

I’ve been wanting to read this book since it first came out in 2006. Since it is 7 years old, some of the material is a bit outdated. But many of the issues still ring true- progress is so slow as Edward Gilbreath notes late in the book.

As one chapter notes, the barriers still exist on “Christian radio”. He brings up an interview with Nicole Mullen, whose award winning music was not played much on “Christian radio.” Neither was GRITS, whose member Teron Carter said, “They feel safer with a white face promoting that kind of music than with a black face.” Christian radio still struggles with this. You will hear Toby Mac, but not Lecrae. The names have changed, but not the circumstances.

He knows the blues of being often misunderstood, left out, dismissed and more. He knows the frustration of being the “first black.” Many of the people he interviewed or discusses were older and experienced the bitter sting of racism (hearing white students at school cheering when Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered).  Many other stories seem more mundane, unless you are in their shoes of course.

“… it took me awhile to shake the white off I got there- the stiffness, the narrow theological perspectives.” Chris Williamson

There was a provocative chapter on Jesse Jackson. He is a polarizing figure on the national landscape. Gilbreath himself wrestles with how to understand Jackson, as do many black evangelicals.

Much of the book frustrated me, honestly. I felt misunderstood because he (and those he quoted) refer to “whiteness”. It is a subject I struggle with. If whites voted as a block like blacks, I could see this “white mentality”. Even among evangelicals, there is a fair amount of disagreement on issues theological, social and cultural. I more understand what it means to be white by what it means to not be black. And that isn’t very helpful.

“I grew up around whites. I know how they think …” Chanel Graham

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Ayn Rand has become popular in some circles recently. I can understand that. She pushed back against socialism as an expression of “altruism”. We see similar “altruism” expressed by one political party, and members of the other pushing back with Rand’s ideas- rational individualism, or objectivism. Her philosophy is foundational to the Libertarian Party. Some in the Tea Party have been influenced by it as well.

I did a class on worldviews while pastor of Cornerstone Community Church. I’m plundering it for this post. The books I used included The Universe Next Door by James Sire, Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics by Steve Wilkens and Worldviews in Conflict by Ron Nash (as well as ideas taught in his class on apologetics). While some of what she taught can be attractive to Christians, I believe it is a faulty worldview. In other words, there may be overlap with a Christian worldview but it should not be confused with one. This is an offer to Christians enamored with Rand’s thought to consider how this opposed to Christianity, even though we agree about personal responsibility. The same goes for altruism, which encourages charity but undermines personal responsibility.

Elements in Modernism: Individualism

“Look Out For #1”                      “Every Man for Himself”

Individualism as a system of thought is based upon the thought of Ayn Rand.  It is an extension of some of Epicurus’ ideas.  She rejects altruism, which seeks the good of others.  It sounds much like justified selfishness.  She does take the long-range approach so we must be concerned primarily with our broad-based and life-long interests.  I might forsake something I want now in order to achieve a better long term goal.  She focused on rational individualism- seeing this as what made America great.  She left Russia in the 1920’s distraught over what ‘altruism’ had done to that nation.

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I’m working my way through the 3 main sections of Baptism: Three Views.  In my previous post, I worked through the essay by Dr. Bruce Ware on Believers’ Baptism (aka credobaptism) and the responses by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson and Dr. Anthony Lane.  This time through I’ll be working through the essay by Ferguson on infant baptism (paedobaptism) and the responses.

Previously I talked about the power (for good or ill) of presuppositions.  If Ferguson’s presentation in Systematic Theology II (Ecclessiology and Sacraments) was anything near as compelling as this essay, my presuppositions were working for ill that day in 1993.

Presuppositions become far clearer in the responses of Ware and Lane.  But I found Ferguson’s essay an incredible example of how great theologizing is to be done.  Instead of expecting explicit statements as if we are all 6 years old, Ferguson thinks through biblical data to see connections and “good and necessary consequences.”  Not all things are clear (as we might like) in Scripture, but they are addressed in just this way.

Ferguson starts with a caution based on 1 Corinthians 1:17 in which Paul “prioritized gospel preaching over baptismal administration without thereby minimizing the important role of the latter.”  A different approach from Ware who warned of disobedience in the matter of baptism (though that is true).

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My journey on the doctrine of baptism was long and at times arduous.  I think it may be pertinent as I review this book about baptism.  I was raised Roman Catholic, and was “baptized” as an infant (I say “baptized” since my parents are nominally Catholic and I question whether I had a right to baptism).  As a new convert, I unknowingly fell into a campus cult that taught you needed to be baptized to be saved.  I knew I was already saved by grace thru faith, but believed I should be baptized so I was.  Soon I was engaging my “discipler” on the issue, driven to better understand Scripture and leave that “ministry”.  I found a Conservative Baptist church in my hometown and enjoyed my new life as a Christian there until I left for Seminary 5 years later.  At seminary I was a credobaptist among paedobaptists, and I was thankful for Dr. Nicole as I also read Kingdon & Jewette to defend my credobaptism from a covenantal perspective.

Finally, 2 years after I graduated from seminary (the first time), the light bulb went on.  A friend jokingly challenged me that my resistance was a reaction to growing up Catholic.  I re-entered my study with “Lord, if this is true help me to see it.”  I saw that I had erroneous presuppositions that led to my resistance of a fully biblical view of baptism.  I had it partially right, but not wholly right.

So, my cards are on the table- are yours?  The power of presuppositions is one of the reasons this discussion is so difficult.  We are not just dealing with biblical texts, but all the presuppositions about Scripture we bring to the table.  This is true about all doctrinal discussions, but this discussion is particularly laden with landmines.  Baptism: Three Views brings three respected theologians together to work through it.

The introduction quotes from Barth, who after writing the quote moved from a paedobaptist position to credobaptist position, about how your anger reveals a vulnerable point in your position.  Could be.  Or it could also be that your sanctification has not sufficiently progressed to patiently deal with a person who is either unteachable or utterly blind of the presuppositions he or she brings to the table.  So be careful about using that quote, folks.

Dr. Bruce Ware, a self-described Progressive Dispensationalist (footnote, pp. 42), is the first to present his view.  He has written many books I’ve found edifying, including God’s Lessor Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism and the books he edited defending the 5 Points of Calvinism.   He is no theological slouch, which is what makes his presentation all the more disappointing.  I see within it the power of his presuppositions, to it’s detriment.

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The Reformed heritage has a long history of a 2nd service.  In the Westminster Directory of Public Worship it uses the term “meetings”, implying both a morning and evening service (sometimes practiced as the afternoon service).  This is the topic for the last chapter of Recovering the Reformed Confession by R. Scott Clark.

My Ace Button

He begins with a good illustration of a family owned restaurant that must compete with the chain.  Will they continue to focus on quality and service, or will they focus on price and efficiency?  I saw this played out while working in an Ace Hardware store.  We competed against the newer, big box stores that moved into the area.  Ace focused on customer service.  This, not price, was going to be our advantage.  It would not take you 5 minutes to find a living, breathing person wearing the right colored shirt to help you.

As a smaller church, we have to focus on something different than the larger churches around us do.  We can’t have a zillion programs.  We have limited human and financial resources.  We have different “selling” points.  We offer community- knowing and being known.  We offer an opportunity to see the gospel go down deep, in part, through interaction with others.

Back to the 2nd service.  In the Dutch Reformed churches, it was usually a time to preach on the Heidelberg Catechism, or Scriptures using the Catechism as a guide.  They wanted people to get a balanced diet of exposition and systematic theology.

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After the introductory chapters on gospel and community, Total Church authors Chester and Timmis begin to practically work them out in a variety of important areas.  They start with evangelism and social involvement.

“Our conviction is that Christian are called to a dual fideltiy- fidelity to the core content of the gospel accompanied by fidelity to the primary context of a believing community.  To ignore or minimize either is not merely to hamstring the task of evangelism; it is effectively to deconstruct it.”

Their thesis is that evangelism focuses on the gospel word within the gospel community.  A phrase often attributed to Francis of Assisi, (apparently falsely) “Preach the gospel; use words if necessary” has wrongly separated gospel preaching and words.  The gospel is a message, so words are necessary.  Sometimes actions are too!

Too often we think of our need to do evangelism individually.  We all have a personal responsibility.  But we all have strengths and weaknesses that should be balanced out in the context of the community.  Not only that, but as the gospel community “incarnates” the gospel, people have an easier time grasping the power of the gospel.

Their vision is to have people bringing people to social events where the gospel is lived and proclaimed by the community.  This takes some of the burden off of us to think we have to answer all questions, address every concern and close the deal like some cold call salesman.  Some are better at building relationships with others and inviting them into the community.  Others are better at discerning the particular gospel issues that need to be addressed.

Does this happen automatically?  No, but the goal is to create a culture of gospel intentionality where the community works together to proclaim the gospel.

“If church and mission are redefined in relational terms, then work, leisure, and family time can all be viewed as gospel activities.  Ordinary life becomes pastoral and missional if we have gospel intentionality.  Watching a film with friends or looking after a burdened mother’s children can simultaneously be family time, leisure, mission, and church.”

The gospel is also about the marginalized (economically, socially, racially etc) experiencing acceptance in the community because of the gospel.  This means that the gospel community is involved in society’s problems.  It does not merely do good, but connects it with the gospel.  We show love because God is love.  We show compassion because God is compassionate.  We offer acceptance because Christ has torn down all dividing walls to create a new living temple.  The grace of God is at stake, as we see in places like James 2.  The church is to be an economically, socially and racially diverse community.

“If our congregations are full of respectable people, then it may be that we have not truly grasped the radical grace of God.”

They make three assertions:

  1. Evangelism and social action are distinct activities.
  2. Proclamation is central.
  3. Evangelism and social action are inseparable.

As with evangelism, Chester and Timmis advocate a healthier, more biblical approach to social action.  We act together, rather than as individuals.  In this way people are connected to the community, and not just an individual.  As a result, the full reality of the gospel is make known from the outset- God saves us into community.  This also protects us from creating a disconnect between evangelism and social action.  The social gospel movement merged the two, losing the distinction and usually the gospel.  Fundamentalism separated the two, often abandoning social involvement in a knee jerk reaction to the social gospel.  We are to distinguish them, but ultimately not separate them as we do the 2 natures of Messiah as well justification and sanctification.

Total church is on the right track here.  It is here they lean on their Reformed heritage rather than the Anabaptist influence which has been more characterized by retreat from society (understandable since they were persecuted greatly in Europe).

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I’ve gotten some time to read my copy of The Briefing.  It is an evangelical magazine from Australia (Good Day, all).  It is refreshing to read something that is not wrapped up in the American evangelical scene. 

William Philip had a nice little article on The Dangers of Value Preaching.  It was not what I thought it would be, though that would have been a good article too.  I thought it would be on the movement, at least here, to preach moralism.  You know, how to have a better marriage, or be a better employee.  That kind of stuff.

He pondered “how could a zealous focus on expository preaching ministry lead us astray?”  He mentions three things which are all the result of our sinfulness.

“But the danger is that because we are still sinful people, we are constantly (albeit unconsciously) caught in a drift that seeks to re-orient our focus away from the divine and onto the human.”

He says this under his first area or threat.  I think this serves as the foundation for all three areas.  We are prone to drift due to our depravity.  We don’t realize we are drifting, and therefore it is all the more dangerous.  We need others to help us evaluate our preaching at times to see if we have drifted in one of these areas.

1. Drifting from Content to Form.  Here we begin to focus more on how we present truth than what the text is actually saying.  We are caught up in the art form of preaching, if that makes sense.  It does to me.  I’ve found myself doing that at times.  I was so focused on the method that I lost sight of the message.

“We can inadvertently find ourselves stepping back from the text- talking a lot about ministry, the gospel and the text before us, rather than actually spending our time in the text (and therefore on the gospel), opening it up, unwrapping it, expounding its meaning, and showing it in all its fullness and richness so that it can be taken in by the hearer, not as the words of man, but as it really is- the word of God.”

2. Drifting from the Vertical to the Horizontal.  We begin to focus more on us than on him.  We think that we are doing the ministry rather than God is ministering to us.  We forget he is present by the Spirit to cut us to the heart and bind up our wounds.  It is more than just God speaking, he is also revealing himself.  We drift to the place where we gather more information instead of encountering God (they are not mutually exclusive, but we tend to focus on the first).

3. Drifting from the Corporate to the Individual.  We lose the context of Scripture as written primarily to the people of God to think it is addressing me, not us.  Truth becomes personal.  Application becomes personal, not corporate.

“In essence, of course, this is just another expression of the general drift from a God-centered, Kingdom-oriented mentality to the man-centered, self-preoccupation that is the hallmark of our natural condition, and to wehich we constantly naturally regress if left unchecked by the correction of God’s word.  This same basic root of idolatry always puts man in the centre of the picture and pushes God to the circumference, and is behind the two shifts we have already discussed.  But in our post-enlightenment, highly individualized western culture today, it is particularly important that we realize just how easily we have become children of our age.”

One of the weaknesses of the English language is that “you” can be either singular or plural.  In Greek and Hebrew it is clear whether the singular or plural is meant.  Our sinful default is to think singular when the Bible (the Epistles in particular) thinking plural.  We need the word of God to restructure our thinking from individualism to a corporate view of Christianity.  We don’t neglect the individual need to repent from our own sins, and believe Jesus is our Salvation, but we need to spend time working out how truth is meant to be lived in community too.  Sin is relational at its core.  It is the failure to love God with all we are, and our neighbor as ourself.  So, obviously, right living is relational at its core: loving God with all we are, and our neighbor as ourself.

The weakness of the article is that it is mostly diagnosis, there is one paragraph under the heading Arresting the Drift.  I think we can arrest the drift as we deal with the content of Scripture together, and call one another back to the vertical dimension.  It is not an individual solution, but a corporate solution.  Together we respond to God’s word, encouraging one another to faithfulness in handling and applying the Scriptures.  Perhaps is this one of the reasons Jesus sent out the disciples in pairs.  Perhaps this is why Paul went out in ministry teams.  This is why Scripture teaches in the plurality of elders.  Left to ourselves we will drift.

More importantly it is God working by His Spirit among us that arrests the drift.  We cannot do it alone.  We need grace, and that grace comes as we study Scripture (and pray) in dependence on the illumination of the Spirit.  He must work in us to keep us on track.  And he does, for God is the Good Shepherd and keeps his sheep from straying.

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The fourth chapter of Velvet Elvis is called Tassels.  Rob is referring to the tassels on a prayer shawl.  He connects this with the passage in Malachi about Messiah coming with healing in his wings (referring to the shawl).

Rob tells the story about the beginning of Mars Hill and how success almost killed him.  He had to come face-to-face with who he was and the things that were really driving him.

As an aside- it was great to hear that they had no vision, no marketing, he’d read no books on church planting, no 5-year plan, no demographic.

Where Rob Bell goes with this is to actually recapture a more biblical understanding of salvation.  The doctrine of salvation has been reduced in many circles to encompass forgiveness, and a ticket to heaven.  Christianity then becomes about following some rules.

He puts it this way: “When we understand salvation from a legal-transaction perspective, then the point of the cross becomes what it has done for us.”  I don’t think this is a necessary conclusion.  Many who embrace the substitutionary atonement as (in part) a legal-transaction (as Paul does in Romans) recognize that the point is the glory of God in the salvation of sinners.  But, yes, many Christians have been influenced by individualism and sinfully make themselves the center of the universe even in salvation.

Our salvation is not less than justification (the pardon of our sins, and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness so we are accepted by God).  But we must include sanctification (the transformation of the character so that we are like Jesus).  This is more than following a ethical code.  It is the transformation of the heart- meaning we begin to dig up our idols.

Rob reminds that our individual salvation is part of the renewal of the entire cosmos that will occur when Jesus returns.  It is important to remember this when individualism runs rampant in our culture and churches.  It does not deny the salvation of individuals, but recognizes that they are brought into the holy community, the Body of Christ, and receive the renewed heaven and earth.

Where Rob loses me is the end, or rather his process- “go to a counselor”.  Okay, I’ve got a degree in counseling, so I don’t think that biblical counselors are wrong.  But he seems to view sanctification as therapy.  He does also say “Go on a retreat.  Spend a couple of days in silence.  Do whatever it takes.”  He advises things that remove you from community to find healing or restoration.  He does not point you back to the community of faith, say like James 5 does.  Or Ephesians 4-6.  Odd for a guy who beats the drum of community.  Sanctification is a community project, not an individual affair.  It is more than therapy, but a putting to death of the sin that seeks to take my captive.

Repainting sanctification from total transformation via the means of grace => transformation via therapy.  Man, he got so close in this chapter.

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