Archive for evangelicals – Page 3

Seminary as a Cemetery

One of the nicknames college students have for the seminary is “cemetery.”

“It’s always so quiet in the seminary wing.”

“Seminary is where passion and fire for Jesus get extinguished.”


I’ve come to realize that these college students are right: seminary is a cemetery, just not in the way they think it is.

Seminary is a cemetery because it is a place where pride goes to die and be buried. Attitudes of “I’m going to change the church single-handily” quickly disappear as the student learns that pastoral ministry is hard work that very often has little earthly payoff. The reality is that the pastor-celebrity who has podcasts, books, and 10,000 followers is the exception and not the norm.

Seminary is a cemetery because it is where we learn to die to ourselves. This calling, this mission, this following-Jesus is hard work. It requires sacrifice of time and money and desire. Even just being in seminary for two or three years often means taking a pay-cut and living lean while attending school. For some it means moving hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from family and friends.

Seminary is a cemetery because it is a place of stillness and quiet. Away from the traffic and business of “regular life”, of “ministry obligations”, of “the rat race”, pastors come and whether it’s only for a week-long mod, a semester or a couple of years, they find rest and quiet and stillness.

Seminary is a cemetery because it is marked with the gravestones and memorials of those who have gone before. It is where we sit and listen to those now long dead and gone. We read deeply of the heroes and martyrs, of saints and sinners. Their lives are testimonies to the awesome power of the risen Saviour. Their books, their letters and their lives are the grave markers, row upon row, that stretch upon the horizon. Some of the tombstones are shiny and new. Some are so old that they are crumbling and the inscriptions can barely be read. Some are in English. Most are in other languages. And some have no markings other than a crudely etched cross or fish.

Seminary is a cemetery because it is a place that points to the future. Death is not the end. Those who are laid to rest will not stay in the ground. One day there will be resurrection. One day Christians who are living and those who have died will be gathered together before the great throne of the Lamb. Everything we do at seminary, whether it’s writing papers, labouring through Greek Exegesis, doing a counseling practicum, or learning about pastoral care, points to and contains glimpses of the future, perfect, white-robed reality of the New Jerusalem.

Theology Round-Up February

Barth, Barth and more Barth:

Travis McMaken reflects on his experience of teaching Karl Barth to undergrads.

Rick Wadholm looks at Barth’s take on pistis Christou.

The schedule for the 2013 Karl Barth Conference has been announced. The theme is Karl Barth in Dialogue: Encounters with Major Figures. Presenters include: Cherith Fee Nordling, George Hunsinger, Paul Molnar, and more!



Check out the Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award for Theological Promise which will be awarded to 10 young theologians from around the world.

Marc Cortez has announced that he is leaving Western Seminary and accepting a position at Wheaton College.

Women in Theology is looking for a few more contributors.

The Sententias journal has an open call for papers for topics related to theology, philosophy and science.

The Christian Theology and the Bible section at SBL is looking for a few more proposals.



Nijay Gupta looks at Constantine Campbell’s Paul and Union with Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study.

Travis McMacken lists all the books he read in 2012.

Brian LePort reviews David Wenham’s Did St Paul Get Jesus Right? and Stephen Holmes’ The Quest for the Trinity.

Stephanie Lowery looks at the Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters.


Gender, Sex, and Women in Ministry:

Ken Schenck takes a look at 1 Cor 14:34 and the issue of women in ministry.

The end of the month saw controversy over gender roles when Owen Strachan suggested that boys should not be told that it is ok to play with dolls. Check out a few responses to the original post, including — Hermeneutics , Matt Emerson, and Jason Morehead.


Church History:

Phillip Jenkins looks at the parallels between today and the “Dark Ages” in relation to church growth.

Rod ponders John Millbank’s use of Patristic theology.

Aidan Kimel looks at Gregory’s Oration on the deity of the Holy Spirit.

Thomas Kidd looks at the influence of George Whitefield on Protestantism (and evangelicalism).


Scripture, Hermeneutics, Methodology:

Eleanor Pettus looks at Protestant reactions to the NAB (a Catholic translation of Scripture).

Michael Bird explores what is wrong with Queer Theology.

Mike Wittmer talks about Divine Mystery as Theological Method.

Kevin Vanhoozer on the Inerrancy of Scripture.


Life of a Student; Life of an Academic:

John Mark Reynolds’ offers advice on what Christians should look for in a college.

Should students and pre-tenure profs blog?



Brian LePort tells us about Candida Moss’ lecture on Resurrection.

Monica Coleman answers questions over at RHE’s Ask a Liberation Theologian.

Collin Hansen looks at the issue of infant baptism.

Suzanne McCarthy considers a theology of disability.

What is the greatest of all Protestant heresies?

There’s a new online collection of some of the great Christian theologians of the 20th century.

Peter Enns offers 5 reasons from the OT to reconsider the doctrine of original sin.

We are all theologians whether we like it or not.

Ben Myers gave a lecture on theology in the public square.


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Putting Barth in His Place

A friend asked me on Facebook how Barth and I are making out. For the record, the only one I make out with is my husband.  :)

That being said, my full thesis proposal is being submitted this week. Once it gets approved my life will be consumed by Barth, John 1:14, and more Barth.

Shame, Guilt, and an Evangelical Sexual Ethic

Is there a difference between shame and guilt? Are both bad? How do we talk about sin and the consequences of sin in a way that is both preventative and grace-filled?

These are some of the questions I’ve been pondering in light of all the discussions about sexual purity and the evangelical culture.

To put it simply, shame is bad; guilt is good. (I’m working with June Price Tangney’s research here, which I highly recommend).

Shame is about loss of status; guilt is awareness that one has behaved badly.

Shame is inherently egocentric because the focus is not on the harm a person has done against another (or God) but about harm against their own personal self-concept or self-worth.

Thus, shame says “I am something bad;” guilt says “I did something bad.”

Shame leads to aggression, avoidance and even procrastination. On the other hand, guilt leads to acceptance of individual responsibility, a decrease in aggression, and a better ability to empathize.

The problem with much of the discussion that has been taking place is that there has been a conflation of shame and guilt, and the result is that the discussions about the shame/guilt that has been felt or inflicted have fed the egocentrism. In some cases the comments arising from the original posts spend little time on the consequences of sin but instead become nothing more than grandstanding: “woe is me, look at me, please stroke my ego and affirm me as a person.”

I would suggest that the collapse of shame and guilt into one concept, wherein both are equally bad and the person is told that they are worthless, broken or irredeemable, is the result of an insufficient theology and practice of confession.

Confession and absolution

By having space and time for regular confession and the verbal reassurance that God not only invites sinners to his table but also extends forgiveness, the church provides a way to deal with the guilt of sin, and creates space to talk about the very real fallout from the sin without embracing a “your life is over”, apocalyptic, over-exaggeration that leads to nothing more than fear-mongering and shaming.

But there also needs to be followup, a space to talk frankly and realistically about consequences. To embrace confession (and absolution) but exclude later discussion about the effects of sin leads to a cheap grace that downplays the seriousness of sin.

An example of this cheap grace is the attempts to mitigate the guilt by pointing to statistics that show that lots of Christians are committing the same sin. Commonality/regularity of sin does not lessen the gravity of sin, but simply demonstrates that this is obviously an area that needs to be dealt with in the broader Christian culture.

Calls for a new sexual ethic are premature. Instead, the problem is that evangelicalism has abandoned theology for pragmatism. That is, it has retained the “don’t do this” without retaining the “why.” The theological “why” gives nuance, depth, and grace, things that are lost in a straight-forward practical approach.

Re-opening or rediscovering the discussion around evangelical sexual ethics should be encouraged. In fact the discussion should never be closed or settled, but should be instead part of a renewed discussion of Christian anthropology and ecclesiology.


Baumeister, R. F., Stillwell, A. M., & Heatherton, T. F. (1994). “Guilt: An interpersonal approach.” Psychological Bulletin, 115, 243-267.

Tangney, J. P., & Dearing, R. L. Shame and guilt. New York: The Guilford Press.

Hackney, C.H. “Sanctification as a Source of Theological Guidance in the Construction of a Christian Positive Psychology.” Journal of Psychology and Christianity 2010, Vol. 29, 195-207.


Sunday Worship is a Celebration

It’s not very often that a sermon stays with me for an entire week. But for some reason the sermon I heard last week keeps popping back into my thoughts. For the past two weeks our pastor has been explaining the “why” behind our service. The first week he talked about the first half of our service (liturgy of the Word), and last week he talked about the second half (liturgy of the Table). He made this observation: Everything we do on Sunday morning in the service is a celebration. It’s a party. It’s time to bring out the best linen and the best plates  because it is no ordinary day, but a celebration day.

Sunday worship is a celebration. So simple, yet so profound.

And yet, if this is the case, why do our church services feel more like funerals? I get that there is a goal of being reverent, but too often, the attempt to be reverent misses and it becomes depressing instead.

Hymns that are played a half a beat (or even more) too slow.

Songs that have no joy.

Songs that are not singable by the congregation.

Songs that are theologically correct but have no heart, no depth, and no emotion.

There’s been a lot of bashing of evangelicalism lately on the blogosphere, with lots of talk of how evangelical churches do things wrong, even how they do worship wrong by dumbing it down.

And yet, I’m finding myself more and more appreciative of evangelical worship. Good evangelical worship has heart.

There are songs that are happy-clappy.

There are songs that you can’t help but tap your toes to, and you leave church still humming.

Yes there are fluffy songs, but there are also songs that are theologically profound.

There are songs that cause me to throw my hands up in praise and surrender at the majesty of the Risen King.

There are songs that touch my heart and cause me to cry tears of joy.

There are songs where the only proper response afterwards is a sanctuary-filling “AMEN!”

And so I find myself trying to figure out how to marry the best of both worlds. How do I embrace the liturgy and tradition of the church that I’m attending and yet still nurture that need for joyful worship that is found in the evangelical tradition? As much as I can put Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, and Paul Baloche on my playlist and plug in my earphones, it’s not the same as corporate worship.

Maybe this is just evidence that I’m not as far down the Canterbury Trail as I had assumed.


Review: Paul In Fresh Perspective

Paul: In Fresh Perspective by N.T. Wright is based on a series of lectures delivered between 2004 and 2005. His aim, through these lectures, is “to let in some new shafts of light on Paul” (p. ix). He does this by dividing his lectures into two sections: themes found in Paul’s writing, and structures of Paul’s theology. While this book, in part, builds on his previous work on Paul, (notably, What St. Paul Really Said, Climax of the Covenant, and his commentary on Romans), it also points to Wright’s next project, namely the fourth volume in his series, Christian Origins and the Question of God.

In chapter one, Wright introduces the world, or more specifically the worlds, of Paul: Judaism, Hellinism, Rome, and the ekklesia. Wright argues that the narratives of these different worldviews all influenced Paul’s theology and thought, and that the focus in Pauline studies on narrative structures “is one of the most significant developments which the ‘new perspective’ revolution has precipitated” (p.8). Wright briefly outlines the shift from the “old perspective” to the “new perspective” and argues that many of the ideas in modern Pauline scholarship were/are born out of specific cultural and interpretative contexts that are now being evaluated and brought to light. (For example, he talks about how Ephesians and Colossians being seen as pseudo-Pauline arose out of a very specific context: German existentialism).

In chapter two, Wright explores the interconnectedness of the themes of creation and covenant. Building off of Psalms 19 and 74, Wright presents three Pauline texts (Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Cor 15; Romans 1-11) that display the same pattern of fusing creation and covenant together, even when the terms “creation” and “covenant” aren’t specifically referenced in the text. Wright’s thesis is that the Old Testament, and thus Paul in retelling the narrative in light of the work of Christ, portrays God as the creator God who is the covenanting God, and vice versa (p.24).

In chapter three, Wright focuses on the themes of Messiah and the Apocalyptic. He argues that this pairing of themes demonstrates that for Paul, the “apocalypse of the Messiah as Israel’s king and therefore the world’s true Lord challenges…the grand claims of the pagan empire” (p.40). Wright rightly challenges the modern misunderstandings of “Christ” that downplay the Jewishness of Jesus’ title. Wright then looks at the themes of Gospel and Empire in chapter four. Wright argues that not only was Paul discussing the Gospel as fulfillment of Israel’s narrative, but he was also subverting (implicitly and explicitly) the ideology of the Roman Empire (pg. 59).

Wright then shifts from themes in Paul’s writings to the structure or shape of Paul’s theology. Wright critiques previous attempts to structure Paul’s theology, because they ended up emphasizing certain doctrines at the expense (or outright dismissal) of other doctrines. Wright suggests the adoption of a three-fold Jewish framework that would categorize Paul’s theology under “one God,” “one people of God,” and “one future for God’s world”, and then tweaking it to focus on the Messiah and the Holy Spirit (p.84). Chapters five, six and seven look at each of the three aspects in turn, and these chapters form the beginning sketches of Paul’s exploration of the Christological and pneumatological foci of each category.

In his concluding chapter, Wright looks at some of the corollary questions that arise from his proposed restructuring of Paul’s theology. First, Wright examines the supposed dichotomy or polarization between Jesus’ message and Paul’s message. Wright argues that both Jesus and Paul saw the world through the same set of themes (as explored in chapters two through four), but their functions were different.  Paul was not attempting to modify or better Jesus’ theology, instead Paul saw his role as being the conductor who simply conducts the music written by the composer, that is, Jesus (p.155). But, if this is the case, Wright asks, what should be done about the apparent discrepancies between Jesus and Paul, in areas like teachings on the Kingdom of God, justification by faith, and Christian ethics? Wright, briefly explores each of the issues and concludes that the solution lies in understanding that Jesus and Paul had two different vocations that served the same over-arching vision (p.161).

While this book has a very conversational tone, and is aimed at more of a general rather than an academic audience, Wright would have been better to have offered more endnotes with references and clarifications to help the reader along. As well, the endnotes that merely reference Scripture should have been changed to parenthetical references to make it easier for the reader who has to continuously flip from the chapter to the endnotes at the back of the book. In terms of Wright’s overall presentation of his perspective on Paul, a reader who is familiar with Wright’s more academic works would understand the summaries and overviews that he gives, but for the reader who is unfamiliar with Wright, the summary nature of Wright’s arguments may actually be overwhelming and disorienting.  As someone who has read Wright, I found his chapter on messiahship to be a good review of his fuller discussions of messiahship as found in Jesus and the Victory of God. On the other hand, his chapter on Paul and Empire was actually confusing instead of clarifying, and as such readers would be better off reading his essay “Paul’s Gospel and Caesar’s Empire.” That being said, this book serves as a way for evangelicals to re-read Paul with new insights, and to understand the narratives that Paul is using and retelling in his presentation of the Gospel.

Given the introductory nature of these “shafts of light,” and given that the book is written to a general, rather than academic audience, I would suggest that judgment and evaluation of Wright’s re-thinking of Paul be held in reserve until the more complete volume is released. The danger in critiquing Wright at this stage is that, because Wright does not set out to “prove” his re-thinking but rather to gather people together to begin to re-think with him, the reader is in danger of attributing issues or implications to Wright that may or not actually be indicative of Wright’s thought.

As a theologian, I find Wright’s suggested structure for exploring Paul’s theology to be both intriguing and useful, especially in a post-modern context that has moved, and is moving, away from the modernistic structures of systematic (particularly Reformed) theologies. I would suggest that Wright’s proposal could be the beginning of a bridge between biblical studies and theology, and specifically between the fields of biblical theology and systematic theology, especially if there was a way to subsume the systematic categories under the broader structure that Wright proposes.

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Theology Round-Up January 2013

Barth, Barth and More Barth:

Marc Cortez reminds us that theology is not a leisure activity, by pointing us to the wise words of Karl Barth.

Roger Olson’s quest to find out if Barth summed up the Gospel with “Jesus loves me this I know…” has possibly found fulfillment.

And check out the great posts this month over at Barthian Pentecostal.

oprah_theologyGender, Women in Ministry, Christian Sexual Ethics:

Kevin Davis is doing a series on gender and theology:

1. Introduction

2. Serene Jones and Feminist Theory

3. Karl Barth on Man and Woman

4. Implications for the Homosexuality Debate

Brian points us to a couple of podcast series regarding homosexuality and Christian sexual ethics, including a series being done through Dallas Theological Seminary.

Owen Strachan has been named the new executive director of CBMW.

Sarah Moon looks at equality and gender roles.

Leslie asks if men and women approach apologetics differently.

The Heretic Husband takes on John Piper’s understanding of complementarianism.

Kristen Rosser ponders the idea of marriage being an illustration of Christ and the Church in Ephesians 5.



Nick Phillips reviews Phyllis Tickle’s Emergence Christianity.

Leslie reviews A Jigsaw Guide to Making Sense of the World and Imaginative Apologetics.

Paul Miller reviews Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling, by James W. Sire.

Kait Dugan asks several critical questions of George Lindbeck’s The Nature of Doctrine.

Laura reviews The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung.


Ecclesiology, Life of the Church, Evangelism, and Culture:

Scot McKnight continues his series looking whether or not evangelicalism is coming to an end.

Michael Halcomb did a series on a Christian theology of guns.


Calvinism and Arminianism:

Roger Olson is frustrated with Calvinist theologians who a) misrepresent Arminianism, and b) don’t engage with Arminian literature in their critique of Arminianism. In this post, he takes a look at A. T. B. McGowan’s treatment of Arminianism.

Ken Schenck looks at the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism, and at Wesleyans and the doctrine of inerrancy.


Life of a Grad Student; Life of an Academic:

Can evangelical colleges and seminaries be truly academic institutions?

John Hawthorne, professor of Sociology, has started a blog to look at Christian higher education. In his first post he suggests that Christian schools “run the risk of making Christian Higher Ed increasingly irrelevant to larger and larger numbers of young people.”

Darren offers his thoughts, based on his experience this semester teaching intro to theology, on teaching about the doctrine of Scripture.

What makes a scholar?

Advice on writing seminary papers.

John Stackhouse’s top 10 rules for reading course evaluations.

How blogging helped me write my dissertation by Maxime Larivé.


Conferences, Call For Papers and Announcements:

The first annual LA Theology Conference was a success. They have announced the themes for the next four years’ worth of conferences.

Registration for the April 2013 Open Theology conference is now open.

Call for papers for the Relational Theologies/Emerging Church section of the AAR meeting.

Calvin College is hosting a conference on Virtues, Vices, and Teaching. The call for papers is out, and abstracts are due in May.


Paul Copan talks about cultural emotivism, or the tendency to prize “I feel” over “I think”.

Eric Ortlund spends some time thinking about sanctification.

Sam Storm talks about how and why he moved from pre-millenialism to amillenialism.

Rod has a roundup of posts looking at African Americans Christians and Calvinism, and Jemar Tisby looks at 5 factors in the rise of Reformed theology among African Americans. Anthony Bradley argues that it is a myth that there is only one type of Reformed African American Christian, and that there are broadly three types.

Bo Sanders examines Radical Orthodoxy’s fatal flaw.

Was Jesus omniscient?

Kevin writes about the self-imposed suffering of God.

Steve DeWitt looks at the meaning of propitiation.



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A Waste of Time

I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date. No time to say “Hello, Goodbye”.  I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!

We live in a world that has a hurried sense of time.

It’s always a rush to get out the door.

There are always looming deadlines.

There are always too few hours in the day to get everything done.

I think that is one of the reasons I find myself attracted the use of liturgy, the Christian calendar, and of structured prayer times as found in the Anglican Prayer book (BAS), for example. For just a brief time, I am transported away from a view of time that is pressed, hurried, and haggard. I enter into a space, where I am reminded that God’s time is so infinitely different from our sense of time.

In fact, liturgy wastes time on purpose. It is repetitive and reflective and does not just “cut to the chase.” It builds, slowly and patiently, to the goal of bringing us into the throne room of grace, even if only for 20 minutes, or an hour. It allows space for meditation and reflection. It pushes away the noisy calls for “relevance” and “pragmatism” and “purposefulness”.

Paul Griffiths says it this way:

Wasting time is, in ordinary English, a bad thing: want, we think, to make the best use possible of it. But in liturgical terms, time, considered as linear time that can be scheduled, divided into minutes and hours, filled up, deployed, and measured by chronometers, is exactly what should be laid waste, and effectively is….To enter into the repetitive patterns of the liturgy is to lay waste linear time with the radiance of eternity, and in that way to provide a foretaste of heaven.

And yet, even though I am being shaped by this “otherness” of time, it’s a constant battle to ignore the drum of our culture’s sense of “hurry up.” James K.A. Smith writes of his attempt to incorporate Christian practices into his pedagogy, and tells of his experience in his 200-level philosophy class. Because the class met twice a week during the lunch hour timeslot, he decided to start each class off with “Mid-day Prayer.”

A noble endeavour. I said to myself, thinking about how that would be such a powerful practice to include in a theology class one day. And then the pragmatist (given that I’m reading this book in order to think through educational pedagogy, pragmatic thinking is obviously going to occur) in me said, “but how much time does that take away from the allotted 75 minutes of lecture time?”

There it was: the pressure of our culture’s sense of time. That time devoted to mid-day prayer would take away precious time from lecturing on the actual course content.  It didn’t matter that the students reacted positively to this practice of starting the class with the Divine Hours. My brain automatically began calculating how much time was lost; how much time was wasted by starting the class with the liturgy of prayer.

I stepped back from the book, realizing the conflict I was having over the sense of time. I opened my prayer book, and spent some time praying through the Mid-day prayer. And then, in the quiet, in the stillness, I thought about a possible bridge. What if built into Christian educational institutions class time was 10-15 minutes added specifically for prayer? That way instructional time wasn’t “lost” and at the same time the formative Christian practice was kept.

Until the new heavens and new earth, there will probably always be a battle between our culture’s sense of time and the eternity of time.

I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date. No time to say “Hello, Goodbye”.  I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!

 That’s okay, White Rabbit, this time, you can run ahead without me.

I Don’t Want to Be Just As I Am

Sometimes I miss the pentecostal tradition. I miss the fire and enthusiasm. But most importantly I miss the theology that God changes us. I miss the belief and practice that when we encounter the Holy Trinity through the power of the Holy Spirit we are not the same person we were when we walked in the door. I miss the testimonies of lives being radically changed. I miss worshipping and celebrating the God who heals.

I say this because I’m finding myself growing frustrated with the theology I am seeing in North American Christianity. It’s the “Just As I Am” theology. Yes it is true that we can come to God just as we are, but “Just As I Am” theology goes a step farther and advocates that we stay just the way we are.

This theology makes us dictate what God can and can’t do.

It makes us the boss over God. Here I am God, just as I am, I like it, you can’t change me, you just have to accept me as I am, because I am fine the way I am, and You love me just the way I am.

We not only tell the Church (pastors, elders, official church teaching) that they can’t tell us that we’re wrong, that we’re broken, (who are you to judge? we tell them), but we also tell God that He can’t tell us we’re wrong, we’re broken.

Where does this come from? Does it come from our doctrine of making a decision for Christ? Do you believe? Say this prayer, say these words. Now you’re in. That’s all that matters. It’s a head thing, and an emotional heart thing. But it’s not a life-changing thing.

Does it come from an overemphasis on justification by faith? We are justified by faith, Jesus’ blood covers over us but doesn’t change us, because what matters is that his blood just covers. We are sinners, we always will be sinners, now we’re just justified sinners.

Where is our doctrine of sanctification? Where are our celebrations of how God has changed us, how he is still changing us, and how he will change us? Where is our proclamation that the Holy Spirit indwells us, that the new is come, the old has passed away? Where is our robust doctrine of baptism, that proclaims that through the waters of baptism we have died to our old selves, died to sin, and are raised to new life through Christ?

What happens when we say to God, come in and do what you need to do? Will it hurt? Probably. Will it be a struggle? Sure. But by not opening ourselves to God’s cleansing fire we’re also missing out on the incredible blessing, the incredible intimacy that comes from the Holy Spirit washing us through and through.

I remember who I was and what I was like before Jesus got a hold of my life. I don’t want that. If I had said “Just as I am and you can’t change me” to him 16 years ago, two things are certain: One, I’d be a very different person today. And two, I probably wouldn’t have stayed in the Church, I wouldn’t have stayed a Christian. I am a Christian because I am a new creation. I am a Christian because the God of the Universe loved me so much to not leave me “just as I am.” And he continues to love me and not leave me “just as I am.”

God heals.

God transforms.

God renews.

I don’t want to be just as I am.


This post was originally written March 21, 2012.


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The Danger in Talking About Why We Should be Involved in a Church

In Desiring the Kingdom, James K.A. Smith argues that too often we come at an understanding of the church from a consumerist mentality. We are shaped by the shopping mall, and that in turn affects how we approach church and the Christian life. That is:

“I go to church because it fits what I need.”

“I go to church to feel this…”

“I go to church to receive that…”

“I go to this church for this ministry, and this church for that ministry…”

“I go to church because it’s all about me.”

“I don’t need to go to church, I can just listen to a podcast of xyz mega pastor.”

Too often our arguments for why someone should go to church don’t counter this, but instead feed it. Take for example this recent list of 10 Reasons to Be Involved in a Church. The author, David Roach, is writing to those who used to go to church but don’t anymore. He exhorts them to give church a second chance, and then offers his reasons why:

If you’re among these millions, please give church another chance.  By getting involved, you’ll discover that what you once viewed as a chore is actually a blessing. Here are 10 reasons why:

1. Gathering with a church encourages believers to love others and do good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25).

2. A church is the main venue for using your spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1-31). God has given you abilities and talents intended to help other Christians. If you’re not involved in a church, others are being deprived of what you have to offer.

3. A church helps keep you from abandoning the faith. According to the author of Hebrews, the antidote to developing an “unbelieving heart” that leads you “to fall away from the living God” is to “exhort one another” (Hebrews 3:12-13)—an activity that occurs most prominently in the church.

4. A church helps you defend Christianity against those who attack it. When Jude told the early Christians to “contend for the faith” (Jude 3), he directed his instruction toward a group of believers, not a scattering of lone-ranger Christians. Answering challenges from coworkers, friends, and family members is always easier when you can ask fellow church members for help and wisdom.

5. A church is a great venue for pooling resources to support missions and benevolent works (2 Corinthians 8:1-7; 3 John 5-8). Your money combined with that of fellow church members can do a lot for Christ.

6. A church helps its members maintain correct doctrine (1 Timothy 3:15). You might begin to adopt unbiblical ideas without realizing it yourself. But you probably won’t adopt unbiblical ideas without someone at your church realizing it, and they can help you get back to the truth.

7. After your family, a church is the best group of people to meet your physical needs in an emergency (1 John 3:16-17; 1 Timothy 5:3-16).

8. A church supports you when you face persecution (Acts 4:23-31; 12:12-17). You may not be imprisoned for your Christian beliefs like the apostles were, but a church family is still a great source of comfort when you face stinging words or unfair treatment.

9. A church is where you can be baptized and take part in the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34; Ephesians 4:4-6). These two ordinances are a vital part of any believer’s walk with Jesus.

10. A church provides the setting for corporate worship (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). Though it’s a blessing to praise God alone, there is a unique joy that accompanies singing God’s praises with an entire congregation of Christ followers.

The list, as presented by Roach, starts with the individual, and makes them the consumer. It’s all about “me” and anything external to “me” is secondary. This list is a perfect example of the consumer mentality that is overtaking North American Christianity.

Are there benefits to being involved in a church? Absolutely. But these benefits should be secondary to the real reason we go to church. We go to church because we are the church. We go to church because God, through Christ, has called a body of believers and not a group of individual Christians. We go to church even when, and precisely because, it’s not all about us. It’s about Jesus, who laid down his life and calls us to lay down our lives (and desires, and possessions, and feelings) for the sake of the Gospel.

Unfortunately, the way this list reads, if I replaced the word “church” with “community group” or “parachurch organization” or “group of Christians meeting weekly at the pub” the same benefits would still apply to most of the list. This list is more accurately “10 reasons to be connected with other Christians” and not necessarily specific to the church.

(And that’s not even taking into account the justifications Roach that gives for each of the reasons, which are either very superficial theology or in some cases really really bad theology. While Roach does provide proof-texts, some of the proof-texts actually betray his very own explanations.)


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