OUTREACH & A book review of Rebecca Manley Pippert’s follow-up to “Out of the Saltshaker” titled “Stay Salt.” #MustRead #ShareYourFaith

Book review by Sam Chan, Christianity Today, 6/29/20.

… Pippert, of course, is best known for her classic book on evangelism, Out of the Saltshaker and Into the World: Evangelism as a Way of Life. First published in 1979, Out of the Saltshaker was written to equip believers for evangelism in a culture that was drifting in post-Christian directions. Four decades later, those forces have only accelerated, but Pippert hasn’t lost any confidence that the gospel message can break through walls of hostility and indifference, even in the context of everyday conversations. As the subtitle of Stay Salt puts it, “The World Has Changed: Our Message Must Not.”

A Multi-Pronged Approach

There are three sections in Stay Salt. In the first, Pippert looks at what she calls the means of evangelism—in other words, you and me, the “evangelists.” None of us feels adequate when confronted with the juggernaut of hostile Western secularism. But Pippert reassures us that this is precisely how God works our circumstances. God uses us not despite but because of our smallness, weaknesses, and inadequacies. We are supposed to depend upon God for the courage and strength to evangelize.

In the second section, Pippert takes us through the message of evangelism—the gospel. Here we might roll our eyes. Don’t we already know this stuff? But Pippert got me excited about the gospel with the fresh language she uses. She skillfully presents the gospel as both a rebuttal to the accepted doctrines of secularism and a positive message our friends will want to hear.

In the final section, Pippert outlines the method of evangelism. This might seem like another occasion for eye-rolling. Surely not another formulaic technique! But Pippert instead motivates us to love our friends and to “proclaim” the message through questions and conversations rather than a pre-rehearsed monologue.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/june-web-only/rebecca-manley-pippert-stay-salt-evangelism.html

CHURCH HISTORY & Christianity has been a multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic movement since its inception. #CT #RebeccaMcLaughlin

The Most Diverse Movement in History

Christianity has been a multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic movement since its inception.

by Rebecca McLaughlin, Christianity Today, 6/14/20.

…The Diversity of the Early Church

It is a common misconception that Christianity first came to Africa via white missionaries in the colonial era. In the New Testament, we meet a highly educated African man who became a follower of Jesus centuries before Christianity penetrated Britain or America. In Acts 8, God directs the apostle Philip to the chariot of an Ethiopian eunuch. The man was “a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure” (Acts 8:27, ESV). Philip hears the Ethiopian reading from the Book of Isaiah and explains that Isaiah was prophesying about Jesus. The Ethiopian immediately embraces Christ and asks to be baptized (Acts 8:26–40).

We don’t know how people responded when the Ethiopian eunuch took the gospel home. But we do know that in the fourth century, two slave brothers precipitated the Christianization of Ethiopia and Eritrea, which led to the founding of the second officially Christian state in the world. We also know that Christianity took root in Egypt in the first century and spread by the second century to Tunisia, the Sudan, and other parts of Africa.

Furthermore, Africa spawned several of the early church fathers, including one of the most influential theologians in Christian history: the fourth-century scholar Augustine of Hippo. Likewise, until they were all but decimated by persecution, Iraq was home to one of the oldest continuous Christian communities in the world. And returning to Sengmei’s homeland, far from only being reached in the colonial era, the church in India claims a lineage going back to the first century. While this is impossible to verify, leading scholar Robert Eric Frykenberg concludes, “It seems certain that there were well-established communities of Christians in South India no later than the third and fourth centuries, and perhaps much earlier.” Thus, Christianity likely took root in India centuries before the Christianization of Britain.

Every Tribe, Tongue, and Nation

Many of us associate Christianity with white, Western imperialism. There are reasons for this—some quite ugly, regrettable reasons. But most of the world’s Christians are neither white nor Western, and Christianity is getting less white and less Western by the day.

Today, Christianity is the largest and most diverse belief system in the world, representing the most even racial and cultural spread, with roughly equal numbers of self-identifying Christians living in Europe, North America, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa. Over 60 percent of Christians live in the Global South, and the center of gravity for Christianity in the coming decades will likely be increasingly non-Western.

According to Pew Reseach Center, by 2060, sub-Saharan Africa could be home to 40 percent of the world’s self-identifying Christians. And while China is currently the global center of atheism, Christianity is spreading there so quickly that China could have the largest Christian population in the world by 2025 and could be a majority-Christian country by 2050, according to Purdue University sociologist Fenggang Yang.

To be clear: The fact that Christianity has been a multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic movement since its inception does not excuse the ways in which Westerners have abused Christian identity to crush other cultures. After the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine in the fourth century, Western Christianity went from being the faith of a persecuted minority to being linked with the political power of an empire—and power is perhaps humanity’s most dangerous drug.

But, ironically, our habit of equating Christianity with Western culture is itself an act of Western bias. The last book of the Bible paints a picture of the end of time, when “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” will worship Jesus (Rev. 7:9). This was the multicultural vision of Christianity in the beginning. For all the wrong turns made by Western Christians in the last 2,000 years, when we look at church growth globally today, it is not crazy to think that this vision could ultimately be realized. So let’s attend to biblical theology, church history, and contemporary sociology of religion and, as my friend Kanato Chopi put it, let’s abandon this absurd idea that Christianity is a Western religion.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2019/october/most-diverse-movement-history-mclaughlin-confronting.html

GOOD NEWS & Matthew Bates explains why this means: “Jesus has become the saving king.”

By Matthew Bates, Christianity Today, 4/21/20.

… 1. Basic fallacies of biblical interpretation regarding “gospel” (euangelion). Greg Gilbert, John Piper (The Future of Justification, p. 86-91), and those who follow their line of thought combine two well-known errors of biblical interpretation. A simplistic treatment of roots (the “root fallacy” or etymological error) causes them to pay insufficient attention to the ancient context. Because the word euangelion comes from eu- (“good”) and angelion (“tidings” or “message”), they assume that it must mean good news for you and me personally or it simply can’t mean “good news.” Yet in the NT and its world euangelion frequently refers to a royal announcement, such as news of a new king, for the general public quite apart from whether that announcement would result in good for you or me personally. That is, the good in good news is not intrinsically a personal good.

For example, when Vespasian became Caesar, this was heralded as good news (euangelia) for the empire before he had done anything good or bad, without regard for his intentions toward specific individuals (Josephus, Jewish War 4.618, 4.656). Everyone knew Vespasian’s ascension meant that some specific individuals would benefit and others would be condemned. Yet in the ancient world it was still appropriate to call such events “good news” for the empire as a whole irrespective of individual outcomes. Accordingly, Gilbert’s claim, “For it to be good news, we have to know what this king intends to do—whether he intends to crush or to save, to condemn or to forgive,” is not based on accurate research.

In fact, the first time this word euangelion appears in the Bible, we see why. A herald brought what he considered to be “good news” of Saul’s defeat and death to David, but David had the man put to death (2 Sam 4:10). It is still called “good news” in Scripture even though David had the man killed for delivering it! Since an individual is crushed and condemned by the king, this is precisely the opposite of what Gilbert says must define the essence of good news. It proved to be supremely bad news for this man; yet the herald’s message is called “good news” in Scripture because the herald was referring to events of kingdom-wide significance that he considered good news. And this was ordinary usage. This is but one of many examples that shows that Gilbert’s argument is invalid.

Yes, Jesus is a supremely good king (on which, see Joshua Jipp, Christ Is King). But the kindness or malice of the king toward specific individuals did not control how the word euangelion referred in the New Testament’s world. It referred to empire-wide good news apart from what that news might mean for this or that specific citizen. Gilbert’s and Piper’s conclusion otherwise is based on a simplistic construal of the word roots as that is combined with a failure to take into account the ancient context sufficiently.

2. “Gospel” reference failure. But the problem for Gilbert’s and other T4G/TGC leaders’ version of the gospel is even more severe. The word “gospel” cannot successfully refer at all in the New Testament if it means what they think it means. Gilbert’s definition of the gospel makes each individual’s own personal justification intrinsic to the gospel itself rather than a benefit that derives from it.

I think I am summarizing him fairly when I say that for Gilbert, the gospel is God is righteous, you (inclusive of each individual) are a sinner, but by dying an atoning death for your sins Jesus Christ has justified you, so you must respond with faith and repentance (see Gilbert, What Is the Gospel?). The justification of each unsaved “you” is intrinsically part of the gospel for Gilbert. But that would mean that when Jesus is proclaiming the gospel in the NT, then each future unsaved Christian’s unique justification is being proclaimed as part of the referent within his message. So if I you or I am not yet “saved,” it refers to “you” and to “me” even though we haven’t yet been born. But that doesn’t make sense, does it?

The truth is this: when we find the word “gospel” in the New Testament, the gospel is not about me (it does not refer to me), but the gospel’s promises are for everyone, including me. If I choose to accept the gospel, its benefits, like justification, adoption, and forgiveness, are applied to me by the Holy Spirit.

3. Failure to distinguish the objective work of the Christ for a group from its subjective appropriation by an individual. Here I am speaking only to Gilbert rather than the other T4G/TGC leaders I’ve mentioned, as this is a problem with his analysis, but I don’t know how far it extends. Part of the gospel is that “the Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). The saving work of the king has been decisively accomplished on behalf of his people. But that doesn’t mean each individual who will become a Christian has yet experienced it.

Salvation is about a group of people first, individuals second. The clearest statements describing the purpose of the gospel in Scripture indicate that it is “for the obedience of pistis in all the nations.” This is best understood as loyal obedience or allegiance to Jesus as the Messiah, the lord, the king (see Rom. 1:2-5, 16:25-26; Bates, Gospel Allegiance, p. 68-73). God’s purpose is to create a people for himself. After his enthronement as king, Jesus pours out the Spirit on a group, filling each individual. When each person initially enters salvation, she or he does not enter in isolation. The justified church always exists prior. As the Father and Son send the Spirit to the church, upon our declaration of allegiance (ordinarily at baptism) we are enveloped into the justified Spirit-filled community in such a way that we are justified and have the Spirit too. There is an objective/corporate dimension (the church exists as a justified community) and subjective/individual dimension (a person is not justified until they enter it).

Here’s another way to look at it. The classic theological distinction is between the historia salutis (God’s saving deeds in history) and the ordo salutis (the sequence by which an individual comes to experience salvation). Even though some versions of the ordo salutisare problematic (see Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone, p. 166-75 for discussion), nevertheless one can say that on the cross Jesus won justification objectively through his accomplished work as part of salvation history for whoever ultimately comes to be found “in him.” That can never change. The possibilityand promise that we can be justified by faith is part of the gospel in this sense. Yet an individual does not experience the saving benefit of justification until she or he gives trusting loyalty to Jesus as king. That is, subjective personal appropriation of salvation is not part of the gospel proper, but rather one of its applied benefits. An individual’s justification is part of the gospel as a potentiality, but not as a realized actuality.

4. Faulty method leads to a faulty frame and center. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, since McKnight has already taken Gilbert to task over this here and here (and in The King Jesus Gospel). The best method for defining the gospel is to look at the passages of Scripture that give explicit gospel content as well as the overall structure of the Four Gospels (e.g., Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:18-19; Rom. 1:2-4, 1 Cor. 15:3-5; 2 Tim. 2:8; the sermons in Acts). This is what I do in Gospel Allegiance. When we do this, we find that it is a narrative about how Jesus became the saving king.

The gospel is that Jesus the king:

1. preexisted as God the Son,

2. was sent by the Father,

3. took on human flesh in fulfillment of God’s promises to David,

4. died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,

5. was buried,

6. was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

7. appeared to many witnesses,

8. is enthroned at the right hand of God as the ruling Christ,

9. has sent the Holy Spirit to his people to effect his rule, and

10. will come again as final judge to rule.

(Bates, Gospel Allegiance, p. 86-87)

This narrative has a climax rather than a center: Jesus has become the saving king.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/scot-mcknight/2020/april/why-t4gtgc-leaders-must-fix-their-gospel.html

RESURRECTION & ‪“Easter—Myth, Hallucination, or History?” A powerful & classic article by #EdwinYamuchi via @CTmagazine

‪Commentary by Dr. Whitesel. This is an insightful article by a renowned scholar on the reality of the resurrection, via @CTmagazine archives.

Read the article (with a subscription) here … https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1974/march-15/eastermyth-hallucination-or-history.html?visit_source=twitter‬

BORN-AGAIN & Across segments of Christianity—not just evangelical Protestants—Americans are heeding the scriptural call that “you must be born again” (John 3:7).

by Ryan Burge, Christianity Today, 1/22/29.

…. In the last 14 years, the share of born-again Americans has risen to 41 percent, and much higher (54%) among people of color. Since 2010, at least half of people of color say that they have had a “turning point in their life” when they committed themselves to Christ.

Slideshow

Some might assume the continued rise of born-again Christians reflects the steady portion of evangelical Protestants in America, while mainline Protestants, who are less likely to call themselves born again, have undergone more rapid decline. But actually, across all Christian traditions—even mainline denominations and Catholics—born-again identity is trending up.

ARCHEOLOGY & Biblical Archaeology’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2019. #CT

by Gordon Govier, Christianity Today, 12/27/19.

…10) Philistines had European ancestry

DNA extracted from skeletons excavated from burials at the Philistine city of Ashkelon in modern-day Israel showed European ancestry. This confirms what has long been believed and what the Bible says about the Philistines. Jeremiah 47:4 and Amos 9:7 connect the Philistines with Caphtor, which has been identified as Crete, the home of the Minoan civilization…

9) Genesis was correct on Edomites

Archaeologists studying copper slag deposits from Timna in Israel and Faynan in Jordan (two sites south of the Dead Sea) found that Edomites used advanced, standardized techniques more than 3,000 years ago to mine copper. In light of this discovery, they concluded that the Edomite kingdom was formed by the middle of the 11th century BC, about 300 years earlier than previously thought. Genesis 36:31 says there were kings in Edom before there were any Israelite kings.

8) The horn of an altar

The 2019 excavation at Tel Shiloh, the site where the Israelite tabernacle stood for several centuries, turned up what appears to be the corner of an altar. The discovery illustrates 1 Kings 2:28: Joab “fled to the tent of the Lord and took hold of the horns of the altar.”

7) Goliath wall at Gath

This year’s excavation at Tel es-Safi (the Philistine city of Gath) reached a layer that dates to the 11th century BC, the time of King David. The walls of this layer are 13 feet thick, twice as thick as previously excavated walls from the 10th and 9th centuries. Archaeologist Aren Maier called it the “Goliath layer,” after the city’s most famous resident of the time.

6) Loaves and fishes mosaic

Archeologists uncovered a mosaic in the ruins of a Byzantine church, built around AD 450 in the Decapolis city of Hippos Sussita. The church, overlooking the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, was destroyed by invaders in AD 614. This scene of Jesus feeding the 5,000, found in an unexpected location, may have something to say about where that miracle took place. The traditional site of the feeding of the 5,000 is further north.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/december/biblical-archaeologys-top-10-discoveries-of-2019.html

GEN Z & 7 Helpful Insights from Recent Research.

Another Look at the ‘Least Religious Generation’

by Drew Moser, Christianity Today, 9/25/19.

The Twentysomething Soul: Understanding the Religious and Secular Lives of American Young Adults, by Tim Clydesdale and Kathleen Garces-Foley… the authors’ original research, which draws from hundreds of interviews and thousands of surveys of twentysomethings across the nation. Their analysis focuses on the 91 percent of American twentysomethings who identify as either Christian (Catholic, evangelical, or mainline Protestant) or “religiously unaffiliated.” (Twentysomethings of other faith traditions are not considered in this book.) Clydesdale and Garces-Foley distill their work into seven major claims:

  • Contrary to popular opinion, the beliefs and practices of American twentysomethings reveal far more continuity than decline.
  • One in three twentysomethings attend worship regularly, but they cluster within young-adult friendly congregations.
  • The religiously unaffiliated are a diverse group, consisting of atheists, agnostics, and believers.
  • Today’s American twentysomethings adopt one of four approaches to faith: They prioritize it, they reject it, they sideline it, or they practice an “eclectic spirituality.”
  • American twentysomething spirituality groups into two camps: traditionally religious and nontraditional.
  • Those American twentysomethings who prioritize religious and spiritual life are more likely to engage in a certain set of practices: marriage, parenthood, college graduation, employment, voting, community engagement, and social involvement.
  • American twentysomethings view institutions differently than their elders: As the authors explain, “Today’s twentysomethings experience the world less as sets of institutions prescribing standard life scripts and more as nodes on a network from which they can freely choose cultural symbols, strategies, and interpretations.”

TRANSFOR•MISSION & #EdStetzer overview regarding how #CraigOtt describes a transformational church.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I teach my students that to understand transformational leadership they must first understand the transformational aspects of that which they lead, the Church (because of its supernatural, directional and eternal synergies). Here is a thoughtful analysis by a friend on Craig Ott’s important new book on mission and the church.

“20 Truths from ‘The Church on Mission”

by Ed Stetzer, Christianity Today, 9/28/19.

Below are 20 Truths from Dr. Craig Ott’s new book, The Church on Mission: A Biblical Vision for Transformation among All People. Craig is Professor of Mission and Intercultural studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, where he occupies the ReachGlobal Chair of Mission

2. “Transformation always has to do with change from something to something else, whereby the change is substantive and affecting the very essence or nature of the object” (Page 5).

3. “A transformational church is a church that becomes God’s instrument of such personal transformation through evangelism and discipleship” (Page 13).

4. “If transformation is the dynamic of our mission, and God’s glory is both the source and goal of our mission, then the church in the power of the Spirit is God’s primary instrument of mission in this age. The church is the only institution on earth entrusted with the message of transformation—the gospel—and the only community that is a living demonstration of that transformation” (Page 19).

5. “Without the gospel there is no forgiveness, no new creation, no church, no transformation” (Page 23)...

7. “A missional ecclesiology emphasizes that the church does not merely send missionaries (as important as that is), but the church itself is God’s missionary, sent into the world as Jesus was sent into the world (John 20:21). In this sense the mission of the church is not merely a task or project that the church is to carry out, but rather is participation in God’s own mission in the world, the missio Dei” (Page 35).

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2019/september/20-truths-from-church-on-mission.html

APOLOGETICS & Norman Geisler, who “didn’t have enough faith to be an atheist,” does not want us to be uninformed about those who are asleep. #obituary

by Kate Shellnut, Christianity Today, 7/1/19.

Just two months after his retirement from public ministry, evangelical theologian Norman Geisler died Monday at age 86. He had been hospitalized over the weekend after suffering a blood clot in his brain…

(He) co-wrote the popular book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist in 2004… He is the author, co-author, or editor of 127 titles, including a book on transhumanism due out next year. His book The Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics was named by CT among the top religion reference books by living theologians in 2002.

Geisler’s works had been translated into more than a dozen languages, and online tributes for spanned the globe, from Kenyato Brazil. Brazilian theologian Roney Cozzer wrote, “I often say that Geisler was ‘a source from which I drank too much’” and praised God for his legacy.

The Michigan-born scholar received degrees from Wheaton College, William Tyndale College, and Loyola University.

William C. Roach, president of the International Society of Apologetics (which Geisler founded in 2007), was mentored by Geisler and shared details in a tribute today:

Both of us were raised in non-Christian homes, our mother’s would not allow us to play football as kids, we both had alcoholic parents, struggled significantly in school, and most importantly—after our conversion to Christ we both had to face objections to the Christian faith.

Dr. Geisler used to say he got into apologetics because he was stumped by a drunk on the streets of Detroit who claimed to be a graduate of “Moody Instita Bibiltute.” Dr. Geisler knew that he either had to find answers to people’s objections or he must stop sharing his faith. Since the latter is not an option, Dr. Geisler dedicated his life to defending the historic Christian faith.

Following the news of his passing, his ministry posted 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (ESV), one of his favorite passages to quote when he learned of a death in the body of Christ: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/july/died-apologist-norman-geisler-apologist-seminary-ses-theolo.html

ALTRUISM & Are Evangelicals More Altruistic than Other Groups? Research shows …

by Ryan Burge, The Exchange, Christianity Today, 4/26/19.

… The General Social Survey asked respondents about acting in selfless ways in a number of scenarios both in 2012 and 2014. Here are the eleven situations that were asked about on the GSS: gave blood, gave food or money to a homeless person, returned money after getting too much change, allowed a stranger to go ahead of you in line, volunteered for a nonprofit, gave money to a charity, offered a seat to a stranger, looked after plants/pets for others while they are away, carried a stranger’s belongings, gave directions to a stranger, and let someone borrow an item of value.

Some of these actions are obviously more costly than other ones, but they all speak to a sense of genuine kindness and care for other people, which is something we should expect to see from Christians. So, how often do various religious traditions engage in each of these acts? The figure below tells an interesting story.

Note that there is not a lot of variation between the religious traditions.

…It may be helpful to look at places where evangelicals seem to do better than average. For instance, evangelicals are more likely to give money to charity than those who have no religious faith, but that seems like a somewhat unfair comparison because the offering plate is passed every week, while the nones have to take some initiative to make a donation.

This same is true for volunteering for a nonprofit. A significant departure also appears on the issue of giving extra money back to a cashier, where evangelicals are ten percent more likely to do so than religious nones.

There are other instances in which the nones are more likely to engage in altruism than evangelicals, though. For instance, nones are more likely to give up their seat to a stranger, as well as giving directions to someone. Taken together, it doesn’t look like people of faith significantly differentiate themselves from those who claim no religious affiliation.

To further test this, I compiled an altruism scale by adding up all 11 items and scaling them from 0 (meaning engaging in zero altruistic activities) and 100 (engaging in each of these activities multiple times a week).

…The biggest takeaway from this graph is what is not here: there is no real difference in how many acts of altruisms occur among people of faith versus those who have no religious affiliation.

I was thinking that maybe what is happening here is that nominal Catholics are being lumped in with faithfully attending Catholics or that evangelicals who go once a year to church are being grouped together with those who attend multiple times a week.

So, I had to test that idea: the more devoted one is to religious faith, the more likely one is to engage in acts of kindness to other people. The graph below splits each tradition into low-income and high-income groups because some of the acts would obviously be less costly to people who make more money (donating money, etc.).

As one moves from left to right we should expect to the line rise up, which would indicate higher scores on the altruism scale. That’s what we generally find—the more people attend services, the more altruism they engage in.

…However, the bottom right panel, which is those of no religion provides a startling result. First, note that for those nones who never attend, they act altruistically just as frequently as other Christian groups.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2019/april/are-evangelicals-more-altruistic-than-other-groups.html

ENGLAND & Churches Outnumber Pubs in the UK

This is effectively the principle first enunciated by Donald McGavran, the church growth guru, who said, “People like to stay with their own people,” the so-called homogeneous unit principle.”

by Peter Brierley, Christianity Today, 5/31/19.

Every village in the United Kingdom used to have a pub, a church, and a general store. Today, pubs (short for “public houses”) have become iconic, a popular destination for visitors to try drinks, traditional pub meals, and the cultural ambiance.

But these local landmarks are closing quickly; only 39,000 are left in England, down a quarter from 20 or so years ago. There are now more church buildings than pubs, according to recent figures announced last month by the National Churches Trust.

But the number of churches overall is falling too, just not as fast. The share of Christians in the UK is declining, as in America and other parts of the Western world. Total secularization isn’t inevitably around the corner for at least two reasons. First, surveys show that many who say they have “no religion” still believe in God, pray, say they have a soul, or even read the Bible. Second, there is actually substantial growth among certain types of churches in the UK, all in the context of God’s promise to build his church.

2017 p.1 WHITESEL WESLEY LAND & LEADERSHIP TOUR

The three biggest UK denominations—Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and Presbyterians—are all declining quite quickly. Overall, their numbers have gone down 16 percent in just the last five years, Presbyterians the fastest (down 19%). Two other major groups are also declining, Baptists and Methodists, but they are much smaller in size.

The three major denominations form 60 percent of church members, and the smaller two another 16 percent. The remaining members often belong to the types of churches that are seeing the most growth right now—many of which have a Pentecostal bent, ranging from immigrant-founded denominations to Hillsong campuses.

Their increase, although significant, is unfortunately not enough to compensate for the drop among the bigger churches, but has moderated the overall decline. I’ll share below which kinds of churches are growing the fastest amid demographic shifts in the UK.

Immigrant churches, black majority churches, and reverse mission churches

London is the epicenter for growing churches. Between 2005 and 2012, overall church attendance (not membership) in London went from 620,000 people to 720,000, a 16 percent increase. The number of churches increased by two a week, from 4,100 to 4,800. During this time, the city welcomed immigrants both from Europe and the rest of the world, its population growing from 7 million to 8 million in 10 years.

Many of those newcomers were Christians and sought a church that spoke their language. More than 50 different languages are spoken in London’s churches; 14 percent of all the services held in the city are not in English.

The trend has since spread into other major urban areas, where churches draw in fellow believers who share the same language, outlook, culture, and so on. This is effectively the principle first enunciated by Donald McGavran, the church growth guru, who said, “People like to stay with their own people,” the so-called homogeneous unit principle.

Many of these churches conducting worship in other languages are Roman Catholic. Others are “black” churches, also called Black Majority Churches (BMCs). They too are immigrants but have been in the UK for much longer, often now in their third or fourth generation.

They first came as part of the Windrush generation, named for the ship that berthed in 1948 with many from the West Indies (the Caribbean). Rejected initially by the native white churches, they formed their own groups, like the New Testament Church of God, Elim Pentecostal Church, Apostolic Church, Assemblies of God, and others.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/may/churches-outnumber-pubs-in-uk-london-attendance-pentecostal.html

THEOLOGY & Is modern Christianity not preparing people for a judgement day? One well respected theologian thinks so.

Interview with Michael McClymond by Paul Copen, Christianity Today, 3/11/19.

… When Jesus spoke to his disciples on the Mount of Olives (Matt. 24), he combined discussion of the End Times with a call to “keep watch” and a warning regarding the unfaithful servant who is caught off guard by the master’s return (Matt. 24:42–51). This chapter links Jesus’ return not only to the theme of moral and spiritual preparation but also to the theme of evangelism: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached to the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (v. 14). Likewise, the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matt. 25:1–13) likewise stresses the need to be prepared for Jesus’ return. When the apostles ask Jesus after the Resurrection whether he will “restore the kingdom,” he directs them to evangelize, once again linking his return to the present mission of the church (Acts 1:6–8).

The Book of Revelation represents God’s people as the “bride” to be joined to Christ as the “bridegroom.” It states that “his bride has made herself ready” with “fine linen, bright and clean,” which is “the righteous acts of God’s holy people” (Rev. 19:7–8). The Book of 1 John connects eschatological hope with moral and spiritual purification: “But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2–3). In light of the world’s coming dissolution, 2 Peter exclaims, “You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (3:11–12). And Paul’s letter to Titus connects our “blessed hope” (2:13) with a summons “to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (2:12).

From a pastoral standpoint, the passages surveyed suggest that one might evaluate eschatological teachings in terms of their practical effects. And it is exceedingly difficult to see how the biblical call to self-denial and godly living can flourish on the basis of universalist theology. Who would need to work at being alert or prepared if a universalist outcome were already known in advance? (Some Christian universalists, including Origen, acknowledged this problem and suggested that universalism should be kept secret from the masses and disseminated among only a select few.)

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/march-web-only/michael-mcclymond-devils-redemption-universalism.html

TRENDS & Graphs Reveal Evangelicals Show No Decline, Despite Trump and Nones (but mainline church affiliation is declining)

by Ryan Burge, Christianity Today, 3/21/19.

… As Tobin Grant, editor of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, pointed out: “Changes in religion are slow. No group gains or loses quickly.” (The “nones,” a popular term for the religiously unaffiliated, being an exception—gaining faster than other affiliations tend to because they pull from multiple faith groups.)

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That’s mostly what the 2018 GSS results show us. Evangelicals—grouped in this survey by church affiliation—continue to make up around 22.5 percent of the population as they have for much of the past decade, while the nones, now up to 23.1 percent themselves, keep growing. (For comparison, the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Survey put evangelicals at 25.4 percent and the religious nones at 22.8 percent.)

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Other than one outlier—a slight peak of 24.7 percent in 2012—evangelicals have ranged from 22.5 percent to 24 percent of the US population over the past 10 years. Still, this steadiness doesn’t mean “no change” among the evangelical population. There is always a “churn” occurring within any religious group. People leave the group because of death or defection, while new members either grow up in the faith or convert as adults.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/march/evangelical-nones-mainline-us-general-social-survey-gss.html

EDUCATION & Least educated are most likely to identify as religiously unaffiliated … those with a graduate level education are almost always the group that is the most likely to be religiously affiliated.

by Ryan Burge, Christianity Today, 4/19/19.

…the bar graph below displays the percentage of each educational group that identifies as a religious “none” (atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular).

Educational attainment serves as a very good proxy for economic prosperity and provides a solid test of secularization theory. Note that each of the six waves of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study contain between 30,000 and 65,000 respondents.

The results are unambiguous: those with the least amount of education are consistently the most likely to identify as religiously unaffiliated. The far right bar in the graph, indicating those with a graduate level education are almost always the group that is the most likely to be religiously affiliated.

If one would like to argue that education is related to secularization, there is no evidence to support that conclusion to be found here.

However, there is a more specific way to approach this problem. The above graph lumps the entire sample into six education categories with little regard for whether they obtained their high school diploma in 1968 to 2008.

If secularization was a constantly accelerating process, we would expect to see younger people with graduate degrees unaffiliate at higher rates than their older counterparts with high levels of education. In order to test this, I broke the CCES 2018 sample into birth cohorts, which are created based on five year intervals.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2019/april/is-religious-decline-inevitable-in-united-states.html

ECONOMIC PROSPERITY & The more economic prosperity a nation enjoys, the fewer citizens of that country say that religion is very important.

by Ryan Burge, Christianity Today, 4/19/19.

…The horizontal axis provides a good proxy for economic prosperity (gross national product per capita), while the vertical axis represents the overall level of religiosity in a nation.

The conclusion from this graph is clear: the more economic prosperity a nation enjoys, the fewer citizens of that country say that religion is very important. There are a few outliers, however. China is in the bottom left portion of the graph, which means that based on the country’s economic output it should be more religious than it currently is, with the same occurring in Hungary.

Obviously, both of those countries have a history that is closely associated with communism, which is the likely cause of their low levels of religiosity. On the other hand, the United States is clearly an outlier on this graph. It ranks as the most economically prosperous country in the dataset, but if it were going to be in the middle of the trend line, the overall level of religiosity should be very close to zero.

Instead, just over half of Americans think that religion is very important. The United States clearly bucks the trend of secularization when looked at from this angle.

There are two possible thoughts that emerge from this. One is that secularization is coming to the United States, it’s just moving a little slower. The other is that somehow the U.S. is different and is the exception to secularization. Recent data on America’s religious behaviors can help us understand what is really occurring.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2019/april/is-religious-decline-inevitable-in-united-states.html

ONE WAY & “Truth by definition is exclusive. If truth were all-inclusive, nothing would be false.” -Walter Martin

Read more here … https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2017/may/one-path-evangelism-scandalizing-exclusivity-of-jesus.html

ONE WAY & The Scandalizing Exclusivity of Jesus #ChristianityToday

by John C. Richards, 5/12/17.

In today’s culture, claims of exclusivity are met with the resistance of a tired toddler pushing back a plate of broccoli. This is especially true of religious claims. Religious pluralism is more palatable for Western society and this worldview rules the day.

Pluralism posits that there is more than one valid religion and that no single religion has a monopoly on truth. It asserts that there are many paths up the same mountain. Ultimately, so the claim goes, we’ll all meet at the top in our respective spiritual journeys.

When it comes to religion, the word exclusive is synonymous with bigot. Even worse, Christians who communicate the exclusivity of their faith are castigated and dismissed.

When a religion claims to have the market cornered on divine inspiration, its disconcerting. Our culture is more comfortable with the blind men and the elephant analogy—where each religion represents a blind man touching a different part of an elephant, never having the whole picture. This analogy positions those who take the pluralist position as having the full view of the “elephant.” Ironically, this position leads to its own truth claims. In fact, the pluralism perspective finds itself steeped in the same intolerance and exclusivity that it despises and rejects. We know the truth…and it is found in a little bit of every religion. Embrace it. Live it.

Sharing the Exclusive Jesus

Anyone who thinks differently is closed-minded. And Christianity finds itself in the dead center of religious critics’ bullseyes. Why so much antagonism toward the Christian faith? It may stem from the words of Christ. Perhaps the nine most disorientating words in Scripture are found in Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel: “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Jesus makes a no-doubt statement about His position and role in God’s redemptive story. “I’m the only shot you’ve got,” he is essentially saying. We like choices, but when it comes to our redemption, Jesus doesn’t give us any. The gospel is an exclusive message in an inclusive world. And we’re called to share that exclusive Jesus with others. Truth and exclusivity are not mutually exclusive. As Walter Martin notes in his seminal work The Kingdom of Cults, “Truth by definition is exclusive. If truth were all-inclusive, nothing would be false.”

How might Christians best communicate this exclusivity in our religiously pluralistic context?

First, we must embrace the scandal of the gospel. The gospel is scandalous. There’s no getting around it. In fact, Paul talks about this scandal in his letter to the Corinthian church. He uses the Greek word that we derive the English word scandal from in writing to the Corinthian church. He writes, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block [Greek scandalize] to Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Every Christian must embrace this truth to effectively witness to others. The gospel will offend. There’s no need to apologize about that or deviate from sharing the gospel in its entirety.

Because of the scandalous nature of the gospel, some of our faith conversations with others won’t go so well. And that’s okay. Or role in the process is the plant and water gospel seeds, trusting God with the results (see 1 Corinthians 3:6).

Second, we must serve the gospel on a full platter. Truth is always best served with a side of grace. Our culture grants exclusivity where it sees value. Apologetics—a systematic defense of one’s faith—isn’t about winning an argument; it’s about winning hearts. If that’s the case, then asserting Jesus’ exclusivity might begin at the head, but it should always end at the heart. Our goal should always be to look for winsome ways to share the scandalizing truth of the gospel with a broken and hurting world.

Start with listening. The old axiom is true. There’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth. Listen carefully to people’s reasons for rejecting the Christian faith. Listen attentively—without formulating your response in your head as they speak. Only then will you respond with the grace necessary to share the gospel effectively.

The Beauty of Jesus’ Exclusivity

Ultimately, our role in sharing the gospel is showing the beauty of Jesus’ exclusivity…

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2017/may/one-path-evangelism-scandalizing-exclusivity-of-jesus.html

SLAVERY & Comparing the Wesleys’ experiences w/ slavery (resulting in them being against slavery) to George Whitefield’s experiences (resulting in his owning slaves to support [sic] ministry).

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: As a Wesley scholar I have appreciated the differences between John and Charles Wesley and their colleague George Whitfield. One of these differences is their attitudes towards slavery.

Here’s a story about on how John and Charles Wesley came to feel so strongly against slavery. Read this short daily devotional from my recent book Enthusiast.life – Finding a Faith That Fills.

Historian Peter Choi argues that the Wesleys looked on the spiritual (Choi would say utopian) side of an issue, while Whitefield looked on the pragmatic side.  This can be a warning for leaders today.

  1. First, read this excerpt (immediately below or click here > BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – ENTHUSIAST Day 26 Human Trafficking ) on the Wesleys’ view of slavery.
  2. Then read the second article (further below) that reviews Whitefield’s perspective.

Week 6, Day 1 – Christians Have a Duty to Stand Up Against Human Trafficking

by Bob Whitesel, 2017, excerpted from Enthusiast.life – Finding a Faith That Fills, pp. 189-194.

Charles watched in horror as a child was given “a slave of its own age to tyrannize over, to beat and abuse out of sport… a common practice.” The youth’s haughtiness and condescension to his human gift sickened Charles. “One Colonel Lynch is universally know to have cut off a poor Negro’s legs,” wrote Charles, “and to kill several of them every year by his barbarities.” Charles described how another slave owner boasted of whipping a female slave until she appeared dead. Then after summoning a doctor who revived her, the slave owner whipped her again and concluded by pouring hot sealing wax upon her.

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Read more at Enthusiast.life

 

Such were the experiences the Wesleys encountered while on their church planting expedition to Georgia (Week 2, Day 1). Charles summarized their abhorrence: “It were endless to recount all the shocking instances of diabolical cruelty which these men (as they called themselves) daily produce upon their fellow-creatures; and that on the most trivial occasions.” 

In response, John infused into the emerging method a process to address, not ignore, such controversial topics.

 

Lesson 1: Begin by examining a controversial topic through a Biblical lens.

John concluded that the Bible did not condone slavery and neither should Christians who follow the Scriptures. He cited Paul’s writings to a similar era (Eph. 6:9, Col. 4:1) as well as Paul’s declaration that, “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28). John then wrote powerful books decrying the practice, including: “Thoughts About Slavery” and “A Serious Address to the People of England with Regard to the State of the Nation.”

Lesson 2: Love of money, and not the love of God, is behind many heinous sins

While the Wesleys were in Georgia, the colony did not permit slavery. Soon Georgia permitted slavery because of perceived economic gain. John never stopped pointing out that the worship of money was behind this, writing: “But at length (in Georgia) the voice of those villains prevailed who sell their country and their God for gold, who laugh that human nature and compassion, and who defy all religion, but that getting money. It is certainly our duty to do all in our power to check this growing evil.”

Lesson 3: Abused and molested people are every Christian’s brothers and sisters

The “faith of a son/daughter” meant these abused and molested people were God’s children too … and every Christian’s brothers and sisters.  Not only would John work to see slavery ended, but at the same time he would work to get the Good News to them. It was a two-pronged approach: a political effort to end slavery and a spiritual effort to provide slaves with Biblical teaching.  

Lesson 4: Take your message to where those who need it assemble

Slaves were captured in Africa and resold to American shippers in the English city of Bristol. Bristol was one of the centers of Methodism. The city’s first preaching house was positioned in the market area, nearby to where slaves would be bought and sold. The presence of this preaching house allowed the message to be heard among both the oppressors and those oppressed.

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Exhibit from The New Room, Bristol UK (first Wesleyan preaching house built adjacent to the slave market)

Lesson 5: Do all in your power to check a growing evil

John ensured that the emerging method had rules against such abhorrent behavior, such as owning slaves. John declared the owning of slaves was cause for expulsion from the method. However, in America where slavery was often legal, some in the Methodist movement distanced themselves from Wesley and his stance. In his book, “Calm Address to our American Colonies,” John argued that the wild nature of America’s frontier did not allow Christians to bend or break God’s laws.

One week before John died, he wrote his last letter. It was addressed to anti-slavery crusader William Wilberforce, whom Wesley encouraged to fight on, saying, “O be not weary in well doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery the vilest that ever saw the sun shall vanish before it.” Today, human trafficking in the form of sexual exploitation, forced labor, etc. continues, but we must not grow weary in opposing it.

Application of the Lessons

For personal devotion, read the questions, meditate upon each and write down your responses. For group discussion, share as appropriate your answers with your group and then discuss the application.

(Lessons 1-5) Ask yourself, “Are there any moral issues which intimidate me and on which I remain silent, though the Word of God calls me to address it?”  Write a paragraph about what you will do to address it with each of these steps:

  • Begin by examining a controversial topic through a Biblical lens
  • Love of money, and not the love of God, is behind the sin
  • Needy people are my brothers and sisters
  • Take your message to where those who need it assemble
  • We should “do all in our power to check this growing evil”

Now, compare the faith that filled John and Charles Wesley to that of their colleague George Whitfield as reflected in this article below.

Did George Whitefield Serve Two Masters?

by Rick Kennedy, Christianity Today, 2/22/19.

… Peter Choi’s biography, George Whitefield: Evangelist for God and Empire, explores various ways that Whitefield’s zeal for good works not only put him on a pedestal but also entangled him in a war against Catholicism and the promotion of race-based slavery. By exposing less-than-uplifting facts about Whitefield, the book illuminates unhealthy aspects of 18th-century evangelicalism’s intimate relationship with the British Empire.

… Choi describes how missionary zeal, Christian philanthropy, utopian social engineering, and bold military strategy came together in the creation of Georgia. In England, he observes, the founding trustees of Georgia “fanned the flames of euphoria in the early 1730s by hiring publicists to write about their cause across the empire.” Freedom, racial equality before God, respect for Native American rights, and all the rights and privileges of republican government were to flourish in a new colony named for King George II, leader of the Protestant world. As young men, the Wesley brothers and George Whitefield were swept up in the euphoria and traveled to Georgia as celebrity missionaries.

John Wesley went there unprepared, inspired by ideals too high to achieve. He then allowed himself to be distracted by romantic love before devoting time to evangelism among Native Americans. In Wesley’s failure, Choi sees the heights of British utopianism (a perspective he shares with the historian Geordan Hammond, author of John Wesley in America: Restoring Primitive Christianity).

Whitefield, on the other hand, arrived in Georgia well prepared and without utopian delusions. Choi points out that the Georgia frontier offered Whitefield the freedom to experiment with his calling to preach about the “new birth.” It “represented a strategic location where he was free to nurture a form of religion that was experimental and entrepreneurial.” In Whitefield’s pragmatism, Choi sees the seeds of both his success and his failure. The evangelist established a philanthropic institution (the Bethesda orphanage), but he was not committed to upholding Georgia’s anti-slavery ideals, and he neglected the Georgia Trustees’ call for evangelistic work among Native Americans.

Bethesda-Orphanage-Georgia-founded-by-George-Whitefield-Internet-ArchiveThe orphanage was key to Whitefield’s role as “evangelist for God and Empire.” Established near Savannah, Georgia, it began as a hybrid of a trade school and a plantation. As Choi explains, “It mixed moral and religious goals with imperial and mercantile aims.” The orphans served as both laborers and students. Money was needed, which prompted Whitefield to become a traveling revivalist and fundraiser all at once. In this role, he sparked and gave direction to a transatlantic Great Awakening.

Fundraising for the orphanage was highly successful, but the flow of money eventually slowed when the revivals began to wane. Unwanted orphans were numerous when Georgia was growing fast, but their numbers also went into decline. At a time when Whitefield should have downsized his orphanage, he aspired to grow it into a university along the lines of the pietist institution that flourished at the time in Halle, Germany. Choi carefully follows Whitfield into Dickensian situations in which the preacher forcibly removed “prospective orphans” from their siblings and/or guardians.

Never an abolitionist, Whitefield bought a plantation in North Carolina and became a slave owner as a means to help fund his plans for Bethesda. Economic exigencies spurred his increasingly ardent calls for the Georgia Trustees to lift their ban on slavery. The economy of Georgia, he declared, would be strengthened by abandoning the colony’s anti-slavery ideals. “If any one person can be credited with responsibility for the introduction of black slavery in Georgia,” Choi writes, it should be Whitefield.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/february-web-only/george-whitefield-peter-choi-evangelist-god-empire.html

SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION & Do 47 Percent of Christian Millennials Think Evangelism Is Wrong? – Part 1 #RickRichardson

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: My friend and colleague Dr. Rich Richardson of Wheaton College has penned an excellent analysis of recent data regarding the millennial generation’s uncomfortable relationship with conversion and spiritual transformation. To understand their quandary, read this important article.

by Rick Richardson, Christianity Today, 3/13/19.

…So it’s not surprising that a new statistic is making the rounds on social media and in church board rooms across the United States. A new research study out of Barna found that “47% of Millennial practicing Christians think it is wrong to share one’s beliefs with a person of another faith in hopes that the person will come to share one’s beliefs.”

Moreover, 40 percent of practicing Millennial Christians believe that “if someone disagrees with you, they are judging you.” More concerning, these are not nominal or cultural Christians that we can dismiss as not the real deal. These are “practicing Millennial Christians” by which Barna means they, “identify as Christian, agree strongly that faith is very important in their lives and have attended church within the past month.”

While the first stat is garnering the majority of the headlines, the combined message is that many young Christians hold a clearly negative view of evangelism.

Yet with this statistic—like every startling number that reinforces a bias or stirs up controversy—we need to look beyond the number to consider the causes and our reactions. Barna has given the church a much-needed wake-up call to the state of evangelism in the church, particularly among its younger adults. However, it is up to us to interpret what this means and to chart a pathway forward to greater gospel effectiveness.

Over the course of two articles, I want to do just this. In Part Two, I’m going to outline four principles of evangelism that we need to drill down on in light of the fact that many young believers have strong reservations. But first, I want to explore the Barna study itself and provide some greater context and clarity.

Millennial attitudes toward evangelism are complex

While many of the articles responding to the Barna study focused on the 47 percent, it is crucial to note that other findings in the same study seem to contradict or at minimum offer a more complex picture of millennial evangelism. Delving deeper into the study, three statistics jump out that should give academics, pastors, and everyday Christians pause in jumping to a conclusion.

1 – Millennial practicing Christians feel as strongly as other generations that being a witness is part of faith, at a rate of 96 percent

2 – Millennial practicing Christians feel just about as strongly that the best thing that could ever happen to others is to come to know Jesus, at a rate of 94 percent.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2019/march/47-christian-millennials-think-evangelism-wrong-part-1.html

SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION & Statistics on the Decline in Conversions in Churches.

by Aaron Earls, LifeWay, Christianity Today, 3/6/19.

…Church conversions

The lack of growth in worship attendance in most churches is matched by a lack of new commitments to Christ last year.

Fifty-four percent of pastors say fewer than 10 people indicated a new commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior in 2018, including 8 percent who had none.

In some ways, however, those numbers mask deeper evangelistic issues. When evaluating churches based on the number of conversions per 100 attendees, 67 percent had fewer than 10 per 100 people attending their church. Around a third (35%) had fewer than five new commitments for every 100 people attending their worship services.

Forty-six percent of smaller churches (fewer than 50 in worship services) say they had 10 conversions or more for every 100 in attendance, while only 18 percent of churches 250 and above meet that benchmark.

While there are no major differences between evangelical and mainline churches in terms of new converts, denominational differences do exist.

A majority of Pentecostal pastors (57%) say they saw 10 or more new commitments to Christ in their church last year per 100 attendees. The next closest denominations are Lutherans (39%), Holiness (38%), and Baptists (35%).

A quarter of Methodist (25%) and Presbyterian or Reformed pastors (23%) say they had 10 or more new commitments to Jesus in 2018 per 100 attendees. Half of Methodist pastors (50%) had fewer than five new commitments last year.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/march/lifeway-research-church-growth-attendance-size.html