Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Mark Driscoll & Evangelism

Reading Mark Driscoll is like reading some sort of blend between John Calvin and George Carlin. That is to say, he seems pretty solid theologically but he is radical and funny and creative and surprising and refreshing and insightful and sometimes shocking in his presentation. I learned a lot from reading his book, and I was also entertained.

In particular, the way Driscoll thinks about evangelism and church planting really grabbed hold of me and I think this will greatly affect the way we go about ministry in Rogers, Minnesota. On page 66 of his book Radical Reformission (Zondervan, 2004) he writes,

"After some Bible teaching on the principles I write about in this book, people in our church began seeing themselves as missionaries in the culture, building friendships for the purpose of showing and sharing the love of Jesus with lost people. Our church continued to grow, and today it is one of the largest in Seattle, having grown at an average of nearly 60 percent each year since its inception. As our people function as missionaries, evangelism is done by the whole church instead of through the dated evangelistic routine of relying on the ministries of professionals, programs, or large formal events. Reformission requires that every Christian and church realize that missions is about not something they do but something they are. We are all on a mission with Jesus every day, and we are either good missionaries or bad." (emphasis added)

Wow. I am not a gifted evangelist, by which I mean that I’m not the type of guy who walks into a Starbucks and walks out thirty minutes later with a double, no-fat, no-whip latte and fourteen new brothers and sisters in Christ. So, as I’ve prepared to plant another church over the last couple of years, I’ve thought and prayed about bringing a gifted evangelist alongside me who could help shore up this weakness. But Driscoll has challenged me to think and pray in a completely different way.

A few years ago I had the privilege of meeting Lee Strobel at the Hawaiian Islands Ministries’ Bay Area Conference. I asked him if he would lay his hands on me and pray that I would receive the gift of evangelism. After all, reaching the lost for the glory of God is the only biblical reason to start a church, as far as I can tell, and I really felt the pain of my lack in this area. He answered that he would pray, but not in that way, and then told me that my lack of “gifting” in this area had the potential of being a great blessing to the church because, without it, I would an example for the people of what evangelism can look like in their lives.

This really encouraged me, but I still thought it would be a good idea to have an evangelist around. Now, Driscoll has helped me see that if I use my gift of teaching to equip the people to be missionaries wherever they are, I’ll probably have the privilege of living in the midst of many gifted evangelists who will help me find people to teach and who will teach and stretch me with regard to evangelism. Sounds an awful lot like Ephesians 4, doesn’t it?

Practically, here’s how I think Driscoll’s work will give shape to our ministry. First, if God brings us an elder-qualified evangelist, I’m not going to say no, but neither am I going to spend time and energy looking for one. Rather, I’m going to trust that God will have gifted some of us in this area, and as we “take it to the streets” he’ll make plain which ones of us that is.

Second, I’m going to pour a lot of time and energy into teaching our people that they are missionaries, and that one of the callings on their lives is to offer their weakness to Christ in an effort to reach their world. I think Driscoll is right to say that it’s better to train an army of missionaries than to employ a “hired gun.” And I think he’s more biblical in this as well.

Third, I’m going to throw as much energy as I can into reaching my world through Christ, and pray that God uses this bumbling idiot to save some. Specifically, Kim and I plan on throwing a “Matthew party” for our neighborhood on October 8, where we’ll invite our core group, our family, and all our neighbors over with no particular agenda except to sow the seeds of friendship. Further, I will continue to participate in the Twin Cities Bike Club, seeking to make friends and meet needs and share the gospel when I can. Finally, I will continue to look for ways to take my main gift, teaching, and use it as a tool for sharing the gospel. For instance, I’m developing a course on marriage that I would love to offer to the public, in a non-threatening, public atmosphere.

In these ways I think I can set an example for our people of what a passion for the lost looks like in the life of one who does not have the “gift” of evangelism. And by being open and honest with the church about my weakness in this area I will encourage them to offer their weakness to Christ in order to reach their world.

And I’m sure that every so often the Lord will bless us with someone who truly has the gift of evangelism—when that happens I’ll make it my job to pour as much fuel on that fire as I can.

Thanks, Mark.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Storms & the Rock

Every so often I think of the top ten things I want to do before I die, but one thing that’s never made the list is huddling in a small closet with my family and dog, praying that God will spare our home, our lives, and more importantly, our faith and joy in him no matter what the outcome. But that’s exactly what happened Saturday night.

That night a violent storm hit the Rogers area. It pushed over power-poles, snapped trees like they were twigs, and damaged or destroyed around 100 homes. In fact, one of the families on our church planting team sustained severe damage to their home—about half the roof and a portion of the back of it are now gone. Tomorrow they’ll find out if the house is a total loss.

As hard as that was and will be for them to go through, another family from the same neighborhood was hit even harder by the news that their ten-year-old daughter died when their house collapsed.

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that the text that has been foremost on my mind today is Matthew 7:24-27--“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Earlier this week, I read the words of a pastor who said, “I believe in inerrancy, I just don’t think about it in the same way fundamentalists do. For instance, I don’t believe that the creation stories in Genesis are literal, and I think that most of the Old Testament is metaphorical.” (Translated meaning, “When the Old Testament purports to be historical, it’s lying—but I believe that the lies are without error.”)

This kind of thinking will not endure the storms of life. Non-historical metaphors will not sustain you when straight-line winds drive you into the closet, or tear the roof off your home, or kill your daughter. What you need in times like this is a rock for your soul that will not give way.

And Matthew 7:24-27 is not at all ambiguous about what that rock is—it is the words of Jesus Christ, taken literally, taken seriously, and applied to life over a long period of time—“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them…” The words and ways of Jesus are the only rock, and without that rock someday there will come a storm that will blow the house of your soul away.

Today I spent some time thinking about which of Jesus’ words would particularly comfort and sustain and stretch me if it was my home that had been destroyed or my daughter who had died. Here are several that immediately came to mind:

Matthew 11:28-30—“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 6:31-34—“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Mark 10:14—“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:23-25—“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”

John 11:35—“Jesus wept.”

It’s more crucial than we know to build our lives daily on the rock of Jesus’ words. For then we will be “like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” I pray that you will, along with me, strive to found your life on the rock.

I close with the words to one of my favorite hymns; I hope they comfort and help you:

My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus blood and righteousness,
I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ name,
On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness seems to hide his face, I rest on his unchanging grace,
On every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil,
On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, his covenant, his blood, support me in the whelming flood,
When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay,
On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

When he shall come with trumpet sound, oh may I then in him be found,
Dressed in his righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne,
On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

D. A. Carson and the Emergents

I first heard of the emerging movement in the summer of 2000, and to be honest I did not take it very seriously. I had spent several years of my life studying the philosophies of Derrida, Lyotard, Fucoult, Habermas and the Frankfurt School, Locke, Rousseau, Descartes, Spinoza, and others, and I thought the emergents were applying the implications of philosophical systems they did not understand. Or to put it another way, I thought the emergent movement was more an example of evangelical entrepreneurialism than of the practical application of an intellectual revolution. I thought it would pass off the scene in due time, but I no longer think that way and here’s why.

First, about a year ago I heard one of the foremost spokesmen of the movement, Brian McLaren, express his views on the atonement, on hell, and on homosexuality. I must admit that I was surprised by the intellectual force with which he articulated his views, even if I disagreed with just about everything he said. From that time forward I began to think of the emergents as more than entrepreneurs, but also as intellectuals whose ideas have to be reckoned with.

Second, I recently had lunch with Tony Jones and Doug Padgitt, two of the originators of the movement, and as I prepared for the meeting I thought more and more, “I smell Jacques Derrida—and not distantly.” Sure enough, in our meeting I discovered that as these leaders were developing their movement they traveled to Villanova University to sit at the feet of Derrida, and in various other ways sat at the feet of those like him. I was not encouraged by this, but I was more convinced than ever that these guys are not superficially applying postmodernist ideology, but are themselves enmeshed in the thought and implications of it.

Finally, at the end of September, Desiring God (John Piper’s teaching ministry) is hosting a conference called The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World. One of the speakers is D. A. Carson who wrote the book, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, and so in preparation for the conference I read the book. I was greatly helped by the first and sixth chapters, and more convinced than ever that the ideas of this movement have to be dealt with seriously.

In the first chapter, Carson introduces the movement in an admittedly cursory fashion. “Nevertheless, the diversity of the movement, as well as its porous borders, ensure that I have not found it easy to portray it fairly” (pg. 9). While I’m sure he did not find it easy, he did in the end do a good job of it and, from my own reading of the movement, I think he got it right. Or as I said to Tony Jones in an e-mail, “I didn’t get the feeling that he was describing someone other than the guys I just had lunch with.” Of everything I’ve read over the last few months, Carson’s introduction to the movement has been most helpful.

In the sixth chapter he deals more directly with two leaders of the movement, Brian McLaren and Steve Chalke. Specifically, he critiques McLaren’s book Generous Orthodoxy and Chalke’s book The Lost Message of Jesus. I’ll leave the details for you to read on your own, but let me quote some of his concluding remarks:

“I have to say, as kindly but as forcefully as I can, that to my mind, if words mean anything, both McLaren and Chalke have largely abandoned the gospel. Perhaps their rhetoric and enthusiasm have led them astray and they will prove willing to reconsider their published judgments on these matters and embrace biblical truth more holistically than they have been doing in their most recent works. But if not, I cannot see how their own words constitute anything less than a drift toward abandoning the gospel itself” (pgs. 186-87).

Those are very strong and serious words, but I have to admit that I agree with them. You simply cannot deny certain key aspects of the atonement, deny the existence of hell, waffle on ethical issues that are clear in the Bible, and say that you’re preaching the gospel.

Far from being a fad that will quickly fade, the emergent movement, I think, will have a tremendous impact on evangelicalism and will, in fact, split it right down the middle. On the left will be the neo-liberals who will not in ten-years-time be distinguishable from main-line liberals. And on the right will be neo-fundamentalists who passionately cling to the Bible and absolute truth and the communicability of specific truth and the comprehensibility of specific truth. They will argue that the emergent movement has not really said anything new, for “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

And they will flee from the wisdom of this world, in favor of the rock-solid foundation of the Word of God—“For the wisdom of this world is folly with God,” and “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (1 Corinthians 3:19 and Matthew 7:24-25).

I choose the Rock. And I pray that the left-wing of the emergent movement will, by the grace of God, wake up and choose the Rock as well. I will be overjoyed if my prediction proves to be completely false.

Trusting in the Rock,

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Proliferation of the Prosperity Gospel

I came across an interesting article this morning by John Frankel about Joel Osteen, his retail success, and the prosperity gospel in America. It says of Osteen, "As pastor of Lakewood Church, Osteen has attracted one of the nation's biggest congregations. And with his best-selling book and regular appearances on religious broadcasts, Osteen is considered the 'most watched preacher' in America." That sentence should give you great pause for concern.

You can read the whole article here, but in case you don't have time, here's a quote from David Van Biema, co-author of an up-coming Time article on Osteen:

"That really is not part of standard, orthodox Christianity...There had been some brakes on (Christianity) moving toward materialism, but those brakes are gradually being released and you're seeing more and more people saying 'Well, why wouldn't God want us to be rich in this lifetime.'"

He may well want that for some, but even then the Bible is pretty clear in its warnings about wealth. Consider this quote, for instance, from 1 Timothy 6:9-10 & 17-19:

"[9] But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. [10] For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs...[17] As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. [18] They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, [19] thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life."

And even if God wants some to be rich, this command confronts us all: "And he [Jesus] said to all, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross [instrument of suffering and death, not health and prosperity] daily, and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?'" (Luke 9:23-25, ESV)

Why the Name?

Welcome to my new blog! I took the name "Born of the Word" from the 1528 document, The Ten Conclusions of Berne, written by the Swiss reformers Berthold Haller, Francis Kold, and Ulrich Zwingli. Here is the full text of the first of their conclusions:

"The holy Christian Church, whose only Head is Christ, is born of the Word of God, and abides in the same, and listens not to the voice of a stranger" (Creeds of the Church, John H. Leith, ed., John Knox Press, 1982, pg. 129).

This sentence sets my heart to worship for at least three reasons. First, I was saved as I read 1 John, particularly 1:5-6 and 3:4-10:

"[1:5] This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. [6] If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth...[3:4] Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. [5] You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. [6] No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. [7] Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righ teousness is righteous, as he is righ teous. [8] Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. [9] No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. [10] By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother."

Thus, the theological formulation, “The holy Christian Church, whose only Head is Christ, is born of the Word of God…” is not merely a formulation to me, it is descriptive of the story of my life. And it does indeed set my heart to worship!

Second, my life in Christ has ever been sustained and nourished by the Word of God, in fact, the more prominent the Word the more pronounced the growth. I cannot tell you how these words from Deuteronomy 31:6 and Hebrews 13:5 held me when my mother died and it seemed that my whole world was falling apart: "I will never leave you or forsake you." Or how these words from Hebrews 13:8 sustained my faith in the midst of deep intellectual crises: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." Or how these words from Matthew 28:20 humbly emboldened me in the fires of church planting: "And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Indeed, my journals testify abundantly to the fact that, by the mercies of God, I have been sustained and nourished by the Word of God in triumph and trial, in health and sickness, in strength and weakness. And this does indeed set my heart to worship!

Finally, I love living in that truth that “The holy Christian Church…listens not to the voice of a stranger.” Consider the wisdom expressed in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25:

“[18] For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. [19] For it is written,

‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’

[20] Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? [21] For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. [22] For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, [23] but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, [24] but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. [25] For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

A few weeks ago I was with a group of church planters in Dallas, Texas. During a "paradigm stretching exercise," a few of the planters expressed that they would love to expose their church planting protégés to the greatest leaders in the world, one of whom was Donald Trump.

I must admit that I did not handle myself as well as I could have, but rather blurted out, "Who in the world is Donald Trump when we have access to God Almighty, through the Lord Jesus Christ, by the grace and power of the Spirit?" I cannot imagine Jesus or the apostles or the early church consulting the likes of Donald Trump concerning corporate growth or leadership development.

And just this week, I had the privilege of having lunch with Tony Jones, Doug Padgitt, and John Piper. While I appreciated and learned from some of what the former two shared in the conversation, I wondered what will be the implications of the fact that from the earliest days of their movement (the Emergent Church), they spent a lot of time, energy, and resources consulting the likes of Jacques Derrida.

Now, I spent several years of my life grappling with the work of Derrida and others, and I do have a certain kind of respect for them and their work. But in the end, “…the wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1 Corinthians 3:19), and thus it is not wise to build our house on that wisdom. (Additionally, I fear that these men are repeating the mistakes of others like Paul Tillich, John Cobb, and liberation theologians who took as their points of departure existentialism, process philosophy, and Marxism, respectively. The Word of God is able to stand on its own, both in terms of its analysis of and solutions for the human condition, and it does not need the buttress of the wisdom of the world.)

There is great joy and freedom and power in forsaking the wisdom and ways of the world in favor of the wisdom and ways of God, and therefore I delight to embrace the language and spirit of the early reformers: “The holy Christian Church…listens not to the voice of a stranger.” And this does indeed set my heart to worship.

My hope for this lengthy explanation is not primarily that you'll understand why I named my blog, "Born of the Word," but that your heart will, like mine, be set to worship as you ponder the mercies and wisdom and power of God, displayed in the Word of God. I look forward to reading your comments.

For the glory of Christ, and the upbuilding of His church,