Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Mission’


In January I’ll be starting a sermon series on 1 Peter currently entitled “Living Faithfully in Babylon.” Recently Daniel Wells mentioned a book by David Fitch called Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines that Shape the Church for Mission. It looked like something that may help me think through some things as I preach through 1 Peter. In 2010 James Davidson Hunter released a book called To Change the World, in which he talks about the church maintaining a faithful presence. Dr. Anthony Bradley, before he dropped off Facebook, was highly critical of the book. Having not actually read it, his point seemed to be a lack of missional presence by the church but rather a retreat to a ghetto. Fitch refers to Hunter’s book in the introduction:

“Hunter proposes that Christians changes their tactics for engaging culture and changing the world. He asks Christians to turn away from grabbing power in the broader culture through traditional political means. Quit trying to win the battle of ideas through political rallies, voting schemes, cultural confrontations, and campaigns of persuasion in churches and political forums. Instead let Christians commit to a “new city commons” free from the power struggles and culture wars. He calls for Christians, shaped by an alternative covenant community of the kingdom, to humbly inhabit the places where they live and work with a new on-the-ground presence that dialogues and interacts with those around us and the institutions we are a part of.” (pp. 12-13)

Fitch seeks to flesh out more of what this looks like. Anthony Bradley did a blurb for this book, so I thought I’d read it. I’ll confess I can struggle with reading more “broadly evangelical” books. They often lack a sense of history and theological depth that leads them into trendy ideas that are often gone in a few years, as well as a rather shallow understanding of things. But I don’t want to live in a Reformed echo chamber either. This was one of the times I ventured out.

I think I found some helpful ideas in the midst of the trendiness. There were some challenging thoughts in the midst of the, from my perspective, theological weaknesses and problems in the book.

David Fitch is a professor at Northern Seminary (an American Baptist Seminary) and pastor of Vine Christian Community (affiliated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance) and Peace of Christ Church in Illinois. I did not know of his denominational affiliations until I just looked it up seconds ago. Reading the book I thought he came from a more Anabaptist or Brethren background. He frequent refers to John Howard Yoder, for instance. There is also an emergent, or whatever it is called now, influence with guys like Scott McKnight and Leonard Sweet. To make matters interesting he tosses in some Herman Ridderbos. In other words, Fitch is kinda broadly evangelical with some Anabaptist leanings.

So, where to begin?

He wants us to practice 7 disciplines, as the subtitle notes, to shape the church for mission. He looks at each of these 7 disciplines in 3 contexts. His terminology is fairly idiosyncratic at this point so I’ll use more common terminology. First is the church gathered or public worship. Second is essentially missional communities where Christians are gathered but expect to invite non-Christians to join them on “our territory” for lack of a better term. Third is outreach where we enter “their territory” in the hopes of dialoguing, discussing and building relationships that may or may not result in them eventually being part of the church gathered.

He notes that often churches can focus primarily on the church gathered and fall into maintenance ministry. In reaction to this, they can focus primarily on outreach and fall into exhaustion. Churches should be committed to all three.

The 7 disciplines are: The Lord’s Table, Reconciliation, Proclaiming the Gospel, Being with “the Least of These”, Being with Children, the Fivefold Gifting (Eph. 4) and Kingdom Prayer. Nothing terribly novel here. Sadly, many churches have lost sight of these disciplines. When we lose sight of them, our churches become unhealthy and eventually die. For instance, too few churches seem actually committed to practicing reconciliation. Members just leave in a huff or conflict spirals into church splits. It starts with the little things, and so should reconciliation. We don’t just practice it among the church gathered, but in our missional communities and relationships outside of the church with neighbors, co-workers and people who share our hobbies and interests. I agree we should value children, and avoid the lure of glitzy programs in place of actually spending time with them.

So, in terms of big picture as well as some cultural critique there are some positives here. There were some good challenges.

But I also struggled while I read this book, largely because it was “broadly evangelical.”

It was trendy, and annoyingly so. Since the book is about presence, I can understand the very frequent use of the term. “Space” on the other hand…. It was nearly as frequent as the very “to be” (yes, some hyperbole). In one paragraph it was used 5 times, and frequently used 3 or 4 in a paragraph. I started circling it. Often the sentence was quite understandable if you removed the word or the clause around it. I feel like the Knights Who Til Recently Said Ni- “Stop saying the word!” As we will see in a moment, there were also some theological concerns connected to it.

His ecclesiology and sacramental theology were problematic. He speaks as if these disciplines are a set of new post-Christian sacraments. He uses the term sacraments in connection with them. My inner Inigo Montoya kept saying “I do not think it means what you think means.” Taking the concept of the Lord’s Table to missional communities and outreach is difficult for me to process. We should take hospitality into those arenas, but not an actual sacrament. I see a similar issue with the Fivefold Gifting. Does every missional group need each of the 5 gifts to work effectively? How does this work in terms of outreach? In his stories of sitting a McDonald’s it is just him, not with 4 other people exhibiting the other gifts. So this was confusing.

“The sacrament of being with children is a social sacrament that brings together the community in its withness with the child.” (pp. 139)

He repeatedly talked about miracles happening. Here comes Inigo again. As a seminary professor I expect him to use this loaded term technically, not simply for unexpected and extraordinary events that took place. In Scripture it is used to refer to healing of prolonged and disabling medical conditions without ordinary means (medicine), raising the dead, walking on water etc. It is not used of reconciling long-broken relationships or a homeless guy getting a job.

His view of God’s sovereignty is problematic. He says, in one place, that God is sovereign over all. But he sounds very much like an Arminian throughout the book. Often he notes God does not coerce or force his way. He may be arguing against a Calvinist strawman here since the Westminster Confession (and London Baptist Confession) affirm that while God ordains whatsoever comes to pass, he also does “no violence to the will of the creature.” Fitch does more than maintain human responsibility. He frequently speaks of “creating space” for God to work. That sounds like more than human responsibility to me, but that we really control whether God is at work or not. There is no sense of Him working with, without, above or against means. There is no sense of God initiating all this as the One who “works in us so we will and work according to His good purpose” (Phil. 2:11).

“He is still ultimately sovereign and in control of the world. But as for actually using his power and authority, he will not oppose our grabbing and pushing for control. He refuses to steamroll our wills in order to dictate his will in our lives and in the world. … God’s power can only work through us as we submit to him, let him work, open up space for him.” (pp. 168)

A text from Proverbs comes to mind, one that is quoted by both James and Peter in the context of our grabbing and pushing for control: God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. God does use his power and authority to actively oppose the proud. Yes, He is love and is patient but He’s also righteous and wise.

His polity is rather vague. He is clearly against hierarchy. This is good to a degree. But his ideas of mutual submission, particularly in the discipline of the Fivefold ministry, is quite unclear. Here is where Presbyterianism is a really good thing. We don’t believe in pastor as “pope” or bishop. We believe in the plurality of elders leading together in submission to Christ through His Word, and summarized in our Confession, in mutual submission to other churches in our presbytery. While not perfectly lived out (we are sinners!) is seems to be a good and biblical model based not just on an isolated proof-text but the whole of Scripture.

“For Jesus, authority in the kingdom would be exercised in no other way. There would be no hierarchy, no coercive power, no one person ruling over and above another person. His model, as we will discover, is mutual, shared leadership under one Lord.” (pp. 152)

Jesus’ point is not simply hierarchy, but motive. Church leaders are to be about Christ’s kingdom, not their own. Yes, there power is limited and there authority is to be exercised in love. But we see hierarchy in Heb. 13, 1 Peter 5, 1 Tim. 3, Titus 1 and Acts 15 among other places. Christians are told to obey their church leaders. Church leaders are overseers. It is how they fulfill this that is the issue.

As a result, this really is a book for mature leaders who can pick through the book, tossing out the suspect theology and trends while retrieving the good ideas that are present (and they are there). We should consciously work to maintain not only the church gathered, but missional communities of some sort and recall God’s presence with us even as we are present to the world in outreach. We should be committed to the Lord’s Table and hospitality, prayer, biblical leadership with stewardship, children (not just children’s programs that entertain), relationships beyond our socio-economic class, reconciliation, and gospel proclamation. When we do we are engaging the world, and engaging it positively, not just as a critic.

I will add that reviews say something not just about the book, but also the reviewer. While I can learn from broader evangelicalism (some Reformed people fall into the stereotypical arrogance and think they have nothing to learn from other parts of the church), I do evaluate it from my theological heritage rather than just accept whatever is said. I hope I am being fair in my criticisms.

Read Full Post »


The subtitle to Recovering Redemption is A Gospel-Saturated Perspective on How to Change. It was written by pastor Matt Chandler and counselour Michael Snetzer. I have some mixed feelings about this book. It says some good things, and makes some good points. On the other hand there are some theological weaknesses and a writing style that seemed far more conversational than well-thought out.

The Good Points

The books starts with creation and the fall to set the proper theological stage for talking about redemption. They also spend a chapter on our own lame attempts at redemption apart from Christ. It is important that we understand some of the ways the flesh seeks redemption without going to God. We tend to look to ourselves, other people, the world and religion (viewed here at simply religiosity w/out regard to faith in Christ in contrast to biblical religion).

They address the concept of “struggling well”. It is helpful to remember that we don’t arrive in this life. Our sanctification will experience many peaks and valleys. In this context they address the right and wrong kinds of grief.

They then have a too short chapter on “The Benefits of Belief” which covers justification and adoption. It is important that we grasp these as foundational to our sanctification.

They, I think rightly, view sanctification as synergistic. God works (first and effectively) and we work (in response and imperfectly). God is more fully vested in our sanctification than we are, but we are not passive in this process. We are to engage. They address mortification and vivification as the two essential aspects of sanctification. We put sin to death in the power of the Spirit, and the Spirit also brings fruit to life as we rely on Him. Paul puts this a taking off and putting on. Matt and Michael re-frame it in terms of renouncing and re-rooting.

They spend a chapter talking about issues of guilt and shame which can hamper our growth in Christ. Matt, due to his experience with cancer, talks about fear and anxiety next.

There are 2 good chapters focusing on relational issues of forgiveness and conflict resolution. Sin is relational, and when we fail to restore our relationships our sanctification is essentially sunk. We somehow think that holiness is separate from our relationships instead of lived out in our relationships. This is probably one of the more important contributions of the book.

They end the book with a chapter on seeking our pleasure in Christ instead of ourselves, others and the world. There is a brief epilogue on making much of Jesus.

“Our reconnection with God, so unquestionably strong and secure, means we can now reach toward others without needing the acceptance and approval we’ve already received from the Lord, but rather with the freedom to pour out into their lives the forgiveness and peace of Christ.”

The Weaknesses

They try to say too much in too short of a period of time. As a result they don’t really dig into many of these topics. It seems rather cursory at times. It would be a good introduction for newer Christians, but more mature people will not be very satisfied.

More problematic is the formulation of justification. The focus seems to be innocence instead of righteousness.

  • “declared innocent” pp. 86
  • “on the sacrifice and willing substitution of the innocent, crucified Christ.” pp. 86
  • “God has imputed to us all the innocence and righteousness and perfection of Christ.” pp. 86.
  • “pardoned and ascribed righteousness.” pp. 87
  • “We’re given innocence.” pp. 206.

Innocence is good, but no one is saved because they are innocent. We must be righteous. Christ’s satisfaction is effective because He was righteous. The lack of clarity annoyed me precisely because this is such an important doctrine. Particularly when dealing with younger Christians we should be clear, and not confusing.

There was also very little about union with Christ. Yes, that is a fairly abstract concept for people but it is really that by which we gain all that Christ is for us.

Stylistically I was not really enjoying the read. I noted early on that there were way too many one sentence paragraphs. There were also sentences what were not complete. It comes off either as an unedited sermon or quite poorly written (or written for nearly illiterate people).

Why does this matter to me? My publisher challenged me: did I want to simply get a book published or write a book that would still be read in 100 years. This reads like the former. That may be a result of the uncertainty regarding Matt’s cancer. He has already exceeded the doctor’s best guesses. He is living on borrowed time, from a worldly perspective.

“Gospel-motivated worship leads to gospel-empowered ministry and mission. Being gospel-centered and saturated leads to a joy-filled submission toward all that He calls us to do, based on all we’ve been given.”

As a result, this is a book I might recommend to some people. But it is not a book I would unreservedly recommend. I am iffy on it, which is unfortunate.

Read Full Post »


Christians often have a very confused relationship with money. Many seek financial help due to indebtedness. Many more should.

All Christians, however, should clarify their relationship with money in a proactive rather than reactive way. PCA elder and community bank CEO Joe Kesler has given us a book for that very purpose in Smart Money with Purpose: Liberating the Goodness of Money in Your Life. His book is for a broader audience instead of positioned for those struggling with debt. As a result, he helps all of us think through the many issues surrounding our relationship with money. It is set up with discussion questions at the end of each chapter  to help you process not just the information but also your life.

Kesler starts with the goodness of wealth, from God’s perspective. It is common for Christians to focus on the negative side of money. The Scriptures don’t condemn money, or wealth, but the love of money. Many of the significant figures of the Bible were rich, and enriched by God. It is God who gives us the power to create wealth (Deut. 8). One iof the benefits of the Reformation was setting the church free from the idolatry of poverty, calling people to spend and create wealth which helped spawn the industrial revolution which significantly increased the standard of living for the western world.

“The human heart without grace will create havoc in any environment. The heart transformed by grace can, on the other hand, bring healing to either type of institution.”

In his second chapter he addresses the Deceitfulness of Money. It makes a good tool, but not a good master. Money as a source of security is a deceitful idol. Our greed and envy of others’ wealth is common fodder for politicians. Wealth is a product of many possibly factors. Not all who have accumulated wealth did it by exploitation or cheating. Acting like it can get you votes though. The answer the Kesler offers is that of stewardship- recognizing that God is in charge and gives us resources to take care of to accomplish His purposes and not just our own.

“Personally, I would much rather have some income inequality, but access to all the services that have been created by tremendous wealth creation, than a situation where we are all equally in misery. But the real point is not political, but spiritual. Envy of others’ wealth may feel good for a time, but in the end it rots the bones.”

The third chapter is pivotal: Putting the Power of Purpose in Your Financial Plan. He argues for gaining an understanding of God’s purpose for your life to drive your financial decisions. What you think you should be doing now and in the future should determine what you do with your money in the present. There is no one answer for this question. It is a question that many financial advisers ignore, or twist into a selfish purpose. As I read this I realized that most of a married couple’s fights about money and time are really a fight about mission. They either have no sense of mission to guide them, or they have conflicting missions that have not been reconciled or aligned. He provides some practical advice for career change and transitions.

He then moves toward the heart in focusing on your history with money. We all have a standard operating procedure with regard to money that has been shaped by our personal histories. He references Brent Kessel’s 8 financial archetypes, and sends you to take a quiz to identify which fits you. This does not mean you are stuck there. He provides the positives of most archetypes, as well as the weaknesses that should be addressed.

He then seeks to increase our money awareness: how much money flows through our lives and how to utilize that knowledge to make better financial decisions. From there he moves to the BIG financial decisions that take up most of the money that flows through our lives: homes, children, cars. Many couples don’t think about these decisions in light of God’s mission for them and the flow of money in their lives. They often receive counsel from those who benefit from their decisions: real estate agents, financial advisers etc.

He then talks about building wealth which starts with debt. Some debt is good, or productive, because it is an investment in the future and our mission. Some debt is regrettable or unwise. This is largely, but not exclusively, consumer debt. It may make us feel better, in the short run, but eventually we see that we have squandered money we could have used better because it is not productive. Some debt is immoral. Borrowing from the Old Testament he notes that we should not charge the poor interest so they can survive. Interest free loans to have a business is a good thing for the poor. Loans for rent don’t really help anyone get ahead. He helps us to understand the types of debt so we can evaluate past decisions, make changes and make better future decisions.

He then moves into investing, providing 9 habits for successful investing. What makes for successful investing for you may not make for successful investing for me. This is because our goals, experience, strengths etc are different. There is therefore, not one investment plan but these “habits” help us build a plan to invest.

It is not about just debt and investing. Giving matters in the present and the future. He notes the three kinds of tithes from the Old Testament which should guide how we think about giving. One of them is for celebrating God’s goodness to us. Some of their giving was spent on a party- think Thanksgiving on steroids. We should celebrate God’s goodness to us. This “tithe” can be used for parties, vacations, treating others etc. The second was the tithe for the poor. It was 10% every 3rd year. God gives us money that should be used to care for the poor. We should give to our deacons’ funds at church, local ministries to the poor, sponsoring orphanages or children in under-developed countries etc. There is also the Levitical tithe which provided for the Levites, priests and the worship of the people. The OT instructs us on the type of giving that should find a place in our lives.

The last chapter is on passing on an inheritance. He expands that to a spiritual inheritance. But he provides some helpful advice in thinking through the questions surrounding this issue.

Kesler’s book is a very helpful book filled with wisdom for a variety of people. It would be a valuable tool for any deacon’s toolbox as he comes alongside members with financial issues. It would be helpful for financial advisers to provide a more holistic approach to helping customers. I think it is good enough to get copies for all our church officers.

Read Full Post »


It has been crazy busy around here this Fall. In addition to normal pastoral duties I’ve been running a New Members’ Class and Officer Training on Saturdays. This means that the Session has to spend time interviewing new members, and soon will examine officer candidates. As a Session we’ve finally finished our revised By Laws and new Manual of Procedure (I can really hate trellis work), and we are getting ready to present a Master Site plan and “Bridge” Plan to renovate and expand our current facilities. Our music director took an unexpected leave of absence for a month so I had to provide additional leadership to our music ministry. There were also a few unexpected “crisis” that ate up time and energy. You know they will happen, but you don’t know when and they seem to come in bunches.

As if that wasn’t enough, in addition to normal Dad and Husband duties, two kids and CavWife had surgery this Fall. We had family in town for about 2 weeks and missionaries stayed with us back in September. I’ve also been editing a book in the hopes of publishing. Part of that has included some structural changes in chapters.

So obviously I should read Kevin DeYoung’s latest book Crazy Busy. Just makes sense, right?

Absolutely! The subtitle is A Mercifully Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem. The book really is short- 117 smallish sized pages that make it easy to  read in short blocks of time.

“If you have creativity, ambition, and love, you will be busy.”

In terms of material he covers, I’ll start with the end. He admits that we should be busy because God has given us plenty to do to fulfill our calling. The problem is not being busy, but often we are busy with the wrong things. As a result we are often unproductive. This is not a call to the life of leisure, but wisdom: choosing the best instead of the good or the not-so-good. The reason we in the West tend to suffer, so to speak, in our busyness is that we don’t expect to be busy (and suffer) in addition to an unwillingness to make difficult choices.

“Paul had pressure. You have pressure too. But God can handle the pressure. Do not be surprised when you face crazy weeks of all kinds. And do not be surprised when God sustains you in the midst of them.”

Kevin writes the book from the perspective of a man who struggles with busyness. He is crazy busy himself and much of what he writes is what he is trying to implement. He hasn’t arrived at the perfect point of balance in his life. He is not making promises either as if he’s offering a 7-step plan to achieve bliss.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


Vacation is a time to be refreshed. One way I get refreshed is by reading some of those books I’ve been wanting to read but haven’t had the time to read. One of those books is Tim Chester’s Delighting in the Trinity. As I have mentioned in other places, there are far too few books on the subjects of the Trinity and Union with Christ. Those books have taken up a fair amount of my free time in the last few years.

“The root of sin is always idolatry. We turn from the true God to find satisfaction in other things and other ways of life.”

Chester’s book is one of the shorter books on the Trinity. He, I think, is shooting for a different audience than either Saunders or Letham. This is intended to be a more accessible book, and it draws on his experiences and concerns as a faithful Christian living in an increasingly secularized England. He sets up the book, in chapter 1, by mentioning conversations he’s been having with Muslim friends. The Trinity is a huge stumbling block for them. We come to a cross roads. Should we not really focus on this, perhaps even ignoring it (like the Insider Movements) or do we recognize this as an essential part of our theology, the very foundation of the gospel? He chooses wisely and picks the latter.

“It is rooted in the electing love of the Father, the finished work of the Son and the present witness of the Spirit.”

So, he argues that the doctrine of the Trinity is not only foundational, but also practical. That does not mean it is easy to understand. I would remind you of Augustine’s statement, picked up by Anselm, that “we  believe to gain understanding.” It is not the other way around.

“But God always speaks with one voice. Father, Son and Spirit speak with one voice because they are one.”

So he starts with Biblical Foundations. The first foundation is the unity of God in the Bible. He starts with the Shema, the confession that “the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” He then brings us to 1 Corinthians 8:6, and sees this as an expression of the Shema in light of the progress of revelation. To claim that Jesus is Lord (kuyrios is used in the LXX to translate YHWH) is to claim that Jesus is the LORD our God. Jesus’ statement that the “Father and I are one” helps us to see both the differentiation and unity within God. The unity of God keeps us from tritheism.

He then shifts to the plurality of God in the Bible. He brings us to creation and back to the Shema before going to the gospels to see the Incarnation of Jesus. One cannot escape the divinity of Jesus in the Gospel of John (which I happening to be preparing for a sermon series).  In the opening verses of John we see both the differentiation (with God), and identification (was God). God lives forever in fellowship with Himself, realizing the priestly blessing so to speak, as the Father and Son are “face to face” until that moment on the Cross when Jesus experiences the curse as the Father looks away.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


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.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


One of the things I don’t like about buying books on line is that you really can’t flip through it (Amazon is trying) and see if it is what you are looking for in the first place. The Walk by Stephen Smallman is one of the books I wish I’d been able to flip through. It was recommended in another book about discipleship. Since he’s in the same denomination in which I serve it, unlike the book I had read, would come from a more consistently covenantal perspective. This is not to say this is a bad book, because it isn’t. It just isn’t the book I had thought it would be. I was looking for a more theoretical book that had application. This is a book intended to actually be used to disciple new and renewed followers of Jesus. I guess I should have noticed that subtitle. But I do have a good resource to recommend to those, or use with those, who want or need to be discipled. One of the strengths is the progression that he uses from basics to discipleship thru the gospel on to mission. The goal is not information accumulation, but growth in grace, sanctification into greater obedience and maturity to disciple others and join Jesus in His mission (2 Cor. 5).

“If ‘going to heaven’ is the key objective of evangelism, perhaps that begins to tell us why discipleship is viewed as optional by so many ‘converts.'”

It is a 12 lesson course that could be used in SS, or throughout a year in a small group. He has a reading plan that goes with each lesson which he refers to often (largely Mark and Romans). He also has a reading plan in an appendix that can be used afterwards. We aren’t talking a verse to proof text. These are longer chunks that coincide with the material in the chapter. They build on one another to develop the context of the larger text. It gets people reading the Bible, since this is a large part of discipleship. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »