THEOLOGY & Comparing two dominant theological views of racism as sin.

“Evangelical Christians grapple with racism as sin,” by Tom Gjelten, NPR, National Public Radio, 6/7/20.

… For evangelical Christian leaders, however, crafting a response to Floyd’s killing is complicated by their view of sin in individual, not societal, terms and their belief in the need for personal salvation above all. Evangelical theologians have long rejected the idea of a “social gospel,” which holds that the kingdom of God should be pursued by making life better here on earth.

Among African American evangelicals, one theologian who has vigorously challenged such views is Darrell Harrison, an ordained Baptist deacon and co-host of the Just Thinking podcast.

“One way to distinguish the biblical gospel from the ‘social gospel,’ ” Harrison tweeted last week, “is that the social gospel preaches structural transformation that works in society from the outside-in, whereas the biblical gospel preaches spiritual transformation that works in society from the inside-out.”

Racism, in Harrison’s view, is often misunderstood. “Biblically, ethnic prejudice is not an ‘ism,’ ” he argued in response to George Floyd’s killing. “It is hate —period. … You end hatred by repenting and believing the gospel.”

Other evangelicals take a more nuanced view of a Christian obligation to work for social justice.

“The way that we live and work in the world, how we care for our communities, how we care for our neighbors. Those are all things that the Bible speaks really clearly about,” says Alan Cross, a white Southern Baptist pastor now leading a congregation in northern California. “Somebody who is transformed from their relationship with Christ should have a transformed view of how they see their neighbor or how they perceive issues of life and justice. That’s the situation we’re in right now.”

For Cross, whose book When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus is in part a memoir of his 15 years leading a Southern Baptist congregation in Montgomery, Ala., the opposition of biblical and social gospel is a “false dichotomy.”

“We don’t believe that people are saved by restructuring society,” Cross says. “But if you do know Christ, if you have a relationship with him, you should see the pain of people around you, and you should say, ‘What can I do?’ ”

Read more at … https://whyy.org/npr_story_post/evangelical-christians-grapple-with-racism-as-sin/

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

Recently picked “Resources of the Year” in the church category for @OutreachMag. So many good books! But here are my picks.

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 3/2/2020.

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This year’s winner in the “Church Category” is …

Taking it to the streets: Lessons from a life of urban ministry by Harry Louis Williams II, aka OG Rev., a street term for “respected veteran of the block” (InterVarsity Press, 2019). This veteran minister and budding academic weaves together stories from the inner city with biblical narratives to demonstrate what every chruch, suburban, rural, micro- or mega-, can do to missionally heal the divisions in society. He covers it all, commuter churches, aging churches, wealthy churches, church planting, gentrification, prosperity gospel, racism, slavery, radicalism and reconciliation. To each problem he suggests practical and biblical steps almost any church can undertake to rethink urban partnerships and begin to heal American’s divisions. To understand a culture, you need a guide. And OG Rev is one of the best I’ve encountered. If you are not from an urban culture and before you launch a ministry to it, absorb the stories contained in this book.

Additional Recommendations:  

Why church? A basic introduction by Scott W. Sunquist (InterVarsity Press, 2019). To the question, “Is the church losing its relevance?” the author offers a well-thought-out critique, believing the church has lost its focus on its “only two purposes”: worship & witness, and suggesting a practical five-step solution.

The church of US versus them: Freedom from a faith that feeds on making enemies, David E. Fitch (Brazos Press, 2019). While OG Rev approaches America’s divisions from his street-level view, David Fitch uses his well-honed skills as a theologian to address the divisions in America from a clear and biblical theological perspective.

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Read more at … https://outreachmagazine.com/resources/books/church-books/52777-harry-louis-williams-ii-taking-it-to-the-streets.html

THEOLOGY & Is COVID-19 God’s Judgment? Helpful Insights by @KenSchenck @HoughtonCollege @WesleySeminary

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: About this time last year at two of my client churches, the lectionary required that I speak on the Book of Job. Subsequently, I preached a sermon titled, “Why bad things happen to good people.” My friend and colleague, Dr. Ken Schenck, delves into this topic deeper, but clearly, in his post today. For an introduction to the differences between God’s permissive will and God‘s directive will, take a look at his article.

by Ken Schenck, The Common Denominator, 3/22/20.

…Here is a good illustration of growing precision within the pages of the Old Testament. “God has no grandchildren”–our eternal fate is a matter of our individual relationship to God, not that of our parents. It goes the other way as well–our eternal judgment is not a matter of our parents either.

There are still consequences to sin in this life, of course. If a mother takes drugs while pregnant, God may not intervene to protect the unborn child from the consequences. The child of an alcoholic parent may still have to deal with the psychological consequences of growing up in that environment.

The book of Job brings out the complexity of the situation. Job suffers even though he has not sinned. He never finds out why in the pages of the book. God comes to him at the end and basically tells him that understanding the situation is above his pay grade. Here is the final answer to the problem of suffering. God is in control. God is good and knows what is happening. We will never fully understand. We must simply have faith that “the judge of all the earth will do what is right” (Gen. 18:25).

Of course we know that Satan has made a wager with God from Job 1-2. Job never finds this out. In my Wesleyan theology, this is a good example of the fact that much of the suffering that happens in the world is a matter of God’s permissive will rather than his directive will. That is to say, God does not directly order everything that happens.

God is sovereign. Nothing happens without God’s permission. God is in control. God signs off on everything. But God gives some degree of freedom to the creation. God gives some degree of freedom to humanity and to the natural order. God knows what will happen, but he does not dictate everything that will happen.

There is of course a competing view, the idea that “everything happens for a reason.” There is the Calvinist view that God specifically directs everything that happens. In my view, this makes God the author of evil. It makes the statement that God is love meaningless.

… In all this I remember that death is not so powerful in the face of Christ. Death has no victory over us! In my own journey with the problem of evil and suffering, a key conclusion has been that I give too much credit to death and suffering, as if they are a big deal.

God is a big deal. I am only a big deal because God loves me. My death is only a big deal because I am one of the sparrows God watches over.

So I will take precautions. I will be vigilant. I will heed the advice of experts. I will pray for my leaders. I will pray for others.

But in the end, “The LORD is with me. I will not be afraid what a mortal [or a virus] might do to me.”

Read Dr. Schenck’s three more points at … https://kenschenck.blogspot.com/2020/03/is-covid-19-gods-judgment.html?m=1

THEOLOGY & Ken Schenck explains for Reformation Day how Wesleyan theology is a “middle-ground” between Catholic & Lutheran theologies.

by Ken Schenck PhD, 10/31/19.

Happy Reformation Day!

I like to remember today that the Wesleyan tradition comes from the Church of England rather than the high Reformation path of the Lutherans and the Reformed. The Anglican tradition has often viewed itself as somewhat of a “via media” or middle way.

1. So with regard to sola fide, we are often accused of believing in works because we believe you can fall away. We are both James and Paul. (which fits with recent scholarship)

2. With regard to sola scriptura, we often speak of a quadrilateral, where some would say prima scriptura is a better description of us. (which fits with recent hermeneutics)

3. With regard to sola gratia, we fit well with recent scholarship suggesting that grace involved a reciprocal, even if disproportionate relationship between giver and receiver.

4. With regard to solus Christus, we are in agreement, but we recognize that the way of Christ is more a confession of the heart than a mere cognitive assent with the head.

5. With regard to soli Dei gloria, it is technically true, but we would emphasize God’s response that we mean everything to

– Ken Schenck

THEOLOGY & Ben Witherington’s 7 Conclusions from his new book: “Biblical Theology: The Convergence of the Canon.”

What are some of the positive major insights or conclusions of this study? We may list the following:

(1) without a deep concern for careful contextual interpretation and the historical givenness of the text, much can go wrong when one attempts to do biblical theology. In particular, the OT must be allowed to have its own say, its own contribution to biblical theology, which is chiefly to provide us with a portrait of Yahweh, the creator God, and how he called and formed a people which came to be called Israel.

(2) Biblical theology also requires a commitment to a theology of progressive revelation. Really, protoTrinitarian and then Trinitarian thinking does not begin before the Christ event, and then only gradually does it become clear that even Binitarian thinking (a Godhead involving the Father and the Son) will not be adequate. The NT canon is progressively more Trinitarian the further one goes in the canon. This is not simply an evolutionary or chronological development, because some of the highest Christology is some of the earliest – for instance in Paul’s letters and perhaps in Hebrews as well.

(3) While covenantal theology is a very important part of biblical theology, it is critical to realize that with the exception of the New Covenant, none of those covenants were everlasting or permanent covenants, and it is incorrect to say that there has just been one covenant between God and his people, in many administrations. Furthermore, there are no unilateral or unconditional covenants in the Bible, either. Furthermore, HESED means mercy, not God’s tenacious loyalty to a particular covenant, say the Mosaic covenant. God is faithful to his character, and to his promises based on his character, but covenants come and go, are fulfilled or become obsolete until the new Christ-inaugurated and Christ-centered covenant appears.

(4) God’s grace, like God’s love, is not given with no thought of return. On the contrary it is intended to start an ongoing relationship and the recipient is expected to love God with his or her whole heart. Nor is grace, even in the NT, “perfected” in such a way that it becomes totally ‘perfected” in such a way that it becomes totally irresistible, such that we can deny there actually are apostasy texts in the Bible. This is not  even true of Pauline or Johannine theology, never mind biblical theology.

(5) Election and salvation, though interrelated matters, are not identical matters. For example, Christ is God’s chosen one, his anointed Elect One, but he does not need to be saved. Furthermore, in both the OT and the NT one can be among or a part of the elect people, and in the end not be saved. Furthermore, as we noted repeatedly, salvation in the OT does not refer to “salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.” Indeed, it often refers simply to God rescuing, redeeming from bondage, or healing some OT figure or group. One has to have an understanding of how the concept of salvation grew and developed as time went on and the canon grew larger.

(6) While covenantal nomism is an adequate way to speak about the Mosaic covenant, which was indeed inaugurated and sustained by God s grace, the New Covenant does not lack commandments or law, called the Law of Christ, so the old Protestant contrast between a law covenant and a grace covenant, or worse a God of law and judgment in the OT pitted over against a God of grace and redemption in the New Covenant, does no justice to either the OT or the NT, to either the Mosaic or the New Covenant.

(7) Finally, we used the word “convergence” in the subtitle precisely because all the pieces of a necessary full-fledged biblical theology do not emerge until all the lines of development about the Father, Son, and Spirit and redemption converge in the NT, and in particular from about the Gospel of John on in the NT, reading progressively through the canonical witness rather than just chronologically.

From : Biblical Theology: The Convergence of the Canon

THEOLOGY & A Biblical Theology of Change & Changing by Bob Whitesel PhD, excerpted from the book, “Preparing for Change Reaction.”

Excerpted from Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2008).

Below are links to what I believe is a holistic and biblically faithful theology of change. These theological suppositions emerged from my Ph.D. work at Fuller Theological Seminary, 2005-2007.


God is Unchanging In Four Areas

Change Reaction 4: If God doesn’t change, why should we?” Congregations are leery of church change … because they know God is unchanging in His character.

Download the chapter here: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – CHANGE REACTION Chpt. 4 Unchanging

One of the most widely accepted Biblical understandings is that God does not change.  There are many passages that attest to this (some are listed in the Questions for Group Study at the end of this chapter).  But, let us focus on the three most popular.  However, first we must tackle an unusual, yet increasingly important word: immutable.

Immutable – What Does It Mean?

There is an curious, yet common word that describes God’s unchangeable character: immutable.  The term, widely used in theological circles, comes from combining two ancient words.  The Latin word, mutabilis carries the meaning of “changeable.”  When the Latin prefix im- is added, it negates the word that follows and elicits the meaning “not-changeable” or immutable.  Millard Erickson offers a concise definition.

“Divine immutability … by this is meant that although everything else in the universe appears to undergo change, God does not.  He is the unchanging eternal one.”

We shall see shortly that this definition may be lacking in precision.  However, it is interesting to note that computer programmers use the terms mutable and immutable as well.  In computer programming an immutable object is an object that cannot be modified once it is created.  And, a mutable object is one that can be modified once it is fashioned.  

Subsequently, because of an increasing use by software programmers and a continued use in theological circles, immutable is an increasingly helpful term for describing things that do not change.

3 Biblical Passages Stating That God Does Not Change… 

Read more by downloading the chapter here: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – CHANGE REACTION Chpt. 4 Unchanging


When God Changes

Change Reaction 5: “What does the Bible says about change?”

Download the chapter here: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – CHANGE REACTION Chpt. 5 When God Changes

8-Types of Biblical Change

Theologians have pointed out that there are several types of change in the Bible.  I have codified them into a list of eight.  Let us describe each, and add a brief commentary.

  1. Change due to decline or deterioration.  This is the change we referred to in Chapter 3 as change in permanence or life.  In the previous chapter we saw that God does not change in His duration or eternalness.  However, humans do undergo this type of change, for as the writer of Psalm 102:3 says, his “days vanish like smoke.”
  2. Change in location, i.e. the movement from one place to another.  Millard Erickson comments, “Since God presumably is not … spatially located, the sense of change as movement from one place to another does not apply.”
  3. Changes in quality.  When the Old Testament Temple replaced the make-shift Tabernacle for Jewish worship, Exodus 25, 36 and 2 Chronicles 3 and 4 describe an enhancement in quality.  In a similar manner quality can lessen, for example when the Temple was rebuilt after its destruction by the Babylonians (see Haggai).  But, changes in quality do not apply to God, for the Scriptures depict God as being all-powerful (Genesis 18:14, Job 42:2, Matthew 19:26) and thus having more power would be impossible.
  4. Change due to growth or improvement.  The Bible states that God is all good (Exodus 34:6, 1 Chronicles 16:34) and thus improvement would be impossible.
  5. Change of knowledge means gaining knowledge that one that did possess before.  Again, because God is all knowing (1 Samuel 2:3, 1 Chronicles 28:9, John 16:30) additional or better knowledge is impossible.
  6. Change in beliefs “involves coming to hold different beliefs of attitudes.”  We saw in Chapter 3 that God is unchangeable in the essential nature of whom He is (Psalm 102:27, Malachi 3:6, James 1:17) and that God’s will is unchangeable (James 1:18).  Thus God does not come to hold different beliefs nor attitudes.
  7. Relational change “involves not change in the thing itself, but in the relationship to another object or person.”  This is an interesting thought.  As we shall see shortly, the Biblical record tells us God does relate to us in different ways, depending upon our reactions to Him.  Note, God is not changing, but the relationship between Him and us does change.  Thus, this type of change is found in the Bible.
  8. Change by taking different action than previously.  We see many times in the Bible where God takes a different action than He did previously.  For example, when humans ask forgiveness, turn from their sins and accept Jesus as their Savior, God takes different action (salvation, John 6:23, 10:9) than He had previously warned (damnation, Romans 3:10, 23; 6:23; Revelation 21:8).

Looking at the varying types of change found in the Bible, it becomes clear that in most of these areas God does not change.  Now, let’s look at each of these 8-types of change and see how they relate to God’s unchangeableness in permanence, nature, will and character. 

God and the 8-Types of Biblical Change

Because God is unchangeable in His permanence and lifeGod Does Not Experience Type-1 Change: Change Due to Deterioration,

God is unchangeable in His permanence and life, was a conclusion we discovered in our previous chapter.  We noted that this indicates that God does not change in His or eternalness.  He does not “wear out like a garment” (Psalm 102:26), and though our “days vanish like smoke … your (God’s) years will never end” (Psalm 102:3, 27). 

Therefore, Type-1 Change does not apply to God, for He does not decline nor deteriorate. 

Congregations know that some church change has been good…especially when it increases a church’s effectiveness at sharing the Good News.

Read more by downloading the chapter here: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – CHANGE REACTION Chpt. 5 When God Changes


Unchanging Character … Changing Methods: The Pattern of Parenting

Change Reaction 6: Let’s not talk about change, I need a break.” Leaders are tired of administrative unproductiveness and disorder … and want a break from volunteering.  After all, isn’t church more than administration?

Read more by downloading the chapter here: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – CHANGE REACTION Chpt. 6 Unchanging Character Changing Methods.

God’s Pattern of Parenting

The bible is rife with the pattern of parenting as reflected in God’s relationship to His offspring.  Let us look at a few examples of God’s parenting principles and see what lessons they can engender for church leaders who are tackling church change.

God as Mother?

Though often overlooked, at times the Scriptures describe God as having the best attributes of both father and mother.  And since the attributes of a mother are often the most overlooked, let’s begin our inquiry with several motherly attributes of God. 

God has an enduring motherly relationship.  Isaiah 49:15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”

God comforts, as a mother comforts a child.  Isaiah 66:13 “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.”

God yearns like a woman in childbirth, God yearns for the growth and maturity of His people.  Isaiah 42:14-15 says, “For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant. I will lay waste the mountains and hills and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn rivers into islands and dry up the pools.”  Also, James 1:18 “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”

To protect and nurture resistant offspring.  In Matthew 23:37 Jesus uses the imagery of a mother hen and her chicks, avowing, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

God as Father

Here Scriptures abound.  The following are just a few examples.  Many more scriptures will be discussed in the following section, “God as Parent.”

God loves us as a father loves his children.  1 John 3:1
 says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!”

God is “Abba, Father.”  One of the most remarkable New Testament passages is Romans 8:15:  “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”  Another is Galatians 4:6 “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’.”  See also how Jesus uses the expression “abba” when referring to His heavenly in Mark 14:36.  The term abba is a Aramaic expression of endearment and familiarity customarily used by a very young child.  As such, it is usually the first word from a child’s mouth.  While some translate this “daddy,” this may still be too formal.  A better term might be “dada,” an expression connoting dependence, endearment, commencement and closeness.  This intimate, reliant and cherished term gives new insight to how God longs for us to return to Him and recapture that early father-child connection and love.

God must discipline us at times, as a loving father.  Solomon warns in Proverbs 3:11-12: “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”  Also, Hebrews 12: 9-10 states, “Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!
Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”

Alister McGrath has said, “to speak of God as father is to say that the role of the father in ancient Israel allows us insights into the nature of God.”  Thus, from the above we can catch a glimpse into God’s loving, preserving, just and devoted nature.

God as Father and Mother

Sometimes God appears in the role of both parents.  For example, in Psalm 27:10 we see, “Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.” 

In Moses’ song of adoration (Deuteronomy 32) he characterizes God’s love toward His children as that of a paternal eagle, hovering over its young and protecting them.  The tasks outlined, hovering over the young, catching them and carrying them describes female eagle attributes, but at times can also describe male eagles.  Thus, both roles can be inferred.  The full passage reads, “In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye.  Like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions” Deuteronomy 32:10-11.

And in Deuteronomy 32:18 both maternal and paternal roles of God are described in the same sentence: “You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.” 

Sallie McFaque gives a helpful summation of God as father and mother stating “God as mother does not mean that God is mother (or father).  We imagine God as both mother and father, but we realize how inadequate these and any other metaphors are to express the creative love of God …. Nevertheless, we speak of this love in language that is familiar and dear to us, the language of mother and fathers who give us life, from whose bodies we come, and upon whose care we depend.”

And thus God’s parental love is so deep, it is almost unfathomable in magnitude, scale and reach.  There is little surprise that both motherhood and fatherhood expressions are needed to describe such love.  Ephesians 3:17-19 puts it this way, “. . . And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Yet, fatherhood certainly occurs with more frequency in Biblical passages.  This may be due to the patriarchal culture of ancient times.  However, that in such highly patriarchal times the writers of the Scriptures would not flinch at describing God’s motherly attributes, indicates that God has no opposition to using the best attributes of fatherhood … and motherhood to describe His character.

And, fatherhood and motherhood can be defined in various ways depending upon the relationship.  For example, fatherhood can describe the establishing a household, the headship of that household, and of the provision, care and feeding of that household.  As we saw above, motherhood can describe birthing, nurturing, cherishing, etc.

However, to keep this present study from becoming too lengthy, let us look at how the fatherhood and motherhood of God relates to parenting.  And, in the process let us see if this doesn’t offer some strategic guidelines for dealing with change in churches.

God as Parent …

Read more by downloading the chapter here: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – CHANGE REACTION Chpt. 6 Unchanging Character Changing Methods.

#OD723

THEOLOGY & What Exactly Solomon Meant When He Wrote: “to every thing there is a season.”

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: During the social upheavals of the 60s and 70s, a song by The Byrds titled “Turn, Turn, Turn” (based upon Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 3) had a deep, yet complicated, influence upon young people like me. As I matured in my understanding of Scripture and theology, I came to understand this scripture is much more profound than I had thought. And I discovered it points to something even more exciting! Here LifeWay writer Aaron Wilson succinctly points out what that future is.

“The Bible passage people mistake for good news,”

by Aaron Wilson, LifeWay, 6/22/19.

…despite its popularity, Ecclesiastes 3 may also be one of the most misunderstood sections of the Bible. This is because people often interpret the chapter as containing reassuring news about the balanced nature of the universe. But really, the chapter is more of a lament, one that points to the need for Christ.

SOLOMON’S GRIEVANCE WITH LIFE

At its core, Ecclesiastes describes the brutal reality of life under the curse. It’s strange therefore, when people describe chapter 3 as comforting and uplifting when Solomon says in the same book that life is wearisome (1:8), miserable (1:13), and distressing (2:17).

Given these gloomy descriptors, why is Ecclesiastes 3 so popular? Part of it likely comes from the poetic beauty Solomon uses in the first half of the chapter to juxtapose life circumstances. “There’s a time to give birth and a time to die,” he writes, “a time to plant and a time to uproot.”

Solomon goes on to pair other activities such as weeping and laughing, mourning and dancing, and war and peace. He then summarizes the list by writing, “He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time.”

People often quote this chapter of Ecclesiastes at funerals and memorial services. But while it’s true God sovereignly works all things together for the good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28), people who seek to find solace from Ecclesiastes 3 are missing the author’s point.

Solomon didn’t pen the words, “to everything there is a season,” to provide a grateful tribute to a balanced universe—a philosophy that more closely resembles some eastern religions or “the force” from Star Wars than it does Scripture. No, Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes 3 to lodge a complaint he had with a world he saw as meaningless.

VANITY UNDER THE SUN

Solomon begins Ecclesiastes with the blunt statement, “Absolute futility! Everything is futile.” He then spends the next 12 chapters of his book systematically unpacking the meaninglessness of life under the sun.

One of Solomon’s greatest frustrations with the world is the prevalence of death and how it infuses vanity into life’s pursuits and activities. His goal therefore in writing, “there’s a time to die” isn’t to inspire comfort. Instead, he’s declaring death a plague—a fate no person escapes because, under the curse, there’s sadly a time for it.

…Given the reality of such brokenness, Christians should be leery of using the phrase, “there’s a time for everything” as encouragement. Instead, they should read Solomon’s words and respond, “Oh man, there really is a time for sin and suffering in this world. Who can save us from this futile way of living?”

The answer, of course, is Christ.

TWO KINGS—TWO STATEMENTS

One of the most beautiful promises in the Bible comes in Revelation 21:4 which speaks of Christ wiping away every tear from the eyes of the saints. John describes this future moment of restoration by writing, “Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.”

Read more at … https://factsandtrends.net/2019/06/07/the-bible-passage-people-mistake-for-good-news/

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

THEOLOGY & What to Say When Someone Says Women Are Not Permitted to Teach

by Chesna Hinkley, CBE International, 2/18/19.

1 Timothy 2 is a tricky passage to interpret well. Verses 11-15 alone contain four biblical “buzz phrases” often employed by those who oppose women’s equality in the church. Paul writes:[1]

1. Women should learn in silence (2:11).
2. I do not permit a woman to teach or dominate a man (2:12).
3. The woman was decieved and became a sinner (2:14).
4. Women will be saved through childbearing (2:15).

These troubling verses form, for many, the foundation of the case for women’s submission to men and against the legitimacy of women’s preaching and teaching in church and/or to men. Though it would appear those opposed to women’s equality in the church have the upper hand in interpreting “problem passages” like 1 Timothy, egalitarians are actually better equipped to explain why Paul, normally a strong supporter of his female ministry colleagues, would seemingly prohibit those same coworkers from carrying out gospel work. So the next time someone cites 1 Timothy to obstruct women’s gifts and leadership, here’s what you can say:

The Purpose of 1 Timothy

The major crisis in 1 Timothy is false teaching. This takes up most of the content of the letter, and 1:3 says that Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to “command certain people” not to teach falsely or continue in “myths and endless genealogies.” Some people have “turned to meaningless talk.” They want to be teachers, “but they do not know what they are talking about” (1:7).

So, what is false teaching? We know not all the apostles had exactly the same ideas. We also know that Paul didn’t want people fighting about less central ideas, because his primary concern was that the “one faith” be preached (1 Cor. 1:12-13). That means that the “false teachings” referenced here were outside the bounds of Christianity.

The Artemis Cult and Other False Teachings

Artemis of the Ephesians (see Acts 19) was the goddess who kept women safe in childbirth (2:15). If she wasn’t appeased, many Ephesians believed mother or baby would die. In Ephesus, Artemis worship was everywhere. There was an extraordinary temple to her there. Her cult was so deep in the Ephesian worldview that it would have been terrifying for women to give birth without offering sacrifices. The easiest way to soothe this fear would’ve been for women to continue worshipping Artemis on the side. They might’ve also brought elements of Artemis worship into Jesus worship.[2]

Further, some of the church fathers believed that an early form of Gnosticism was being taught at Ephesus. Later on, Gnosticism was a widespread heresy that preached “endless genealogies” of demigods and demons (1:4). It also taught that salvation came through “secret knowledge” (gnosis).

The Gnostics liked Eve because, as they saw it, she wanted to gain wisdom by eating the forbidden fruit. Sometimes, she took on a mysterious power as the spiritual Feminine. In some Gnostic creation myths, Eve was created first. According to church father Irenaeus, Gnostics taught that Eve brought “what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Tim 6:20-21) into the world.[3]

This context is crucial to interpreting this passage as modern believers. Knowing that Ephesian Christians were receiving false teaching, perhaps especially from women who would benefit from Eve’s high status, helps to explain why Paul is so concerned about how women were leading and teaching in church. Now, let’s look at Paul’s message to women within this context:

Read more at … https://www.cbeinternational.org/blogs/what-say-when-someone-says-women-are-not-permitted-teach?

THEOLOGY & Book of Revelation: What Most Evangelicals Entirely Miss #ScotMcKnight

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I studied under George Elton Ladd at Fuller Theological Seminary NT theology and the book of Revelation. And, I found Revelation to be extremely helpful and insightful … if you take time to dig into it. Several authors since the time of Ladd have analyzed it with his same level of validity and reliability. Here is Scot McKnight discussing several who embrace that same level of Ladd’s systematic theology when analyzing the book of Revelation.

Book of Revelation: What most evangelicals entirely miss” by Scot McKnight, Pathos, 10/28/18.

…A good book on how theologians and others in the history of the church have read Revelation is called The Book of Revelation and is by Timothy Beal, and it’s a good and easy read.

But what most evangelicals (of this kind of reading) entirely miss is what Craig Koester, in Revelation and the End of All Things, sketches with utter clarity. (Check out also Ian Paul, Revelation.)

What’s that? Revelation is about the reality of evil, the war with evil, and the defeat of evil, and the eradication of evil. Evangelicals have made this about gruesome end time scenarios filled with Who is Who? questions and answers and speculations (that inevitably prove to be wrong — no the Antichrist is not Henry Kissinger, no Gog and Magog are not communist Russia, no, no, and no). Wrapped up in those scenarios is a lurking “Sure glad I won’t be there because I’m a Christian and will be raptured,” which rapture isn’t even mentioned in Revelation.

No, 1000x No, that’s not what Revelation is about. Revelation is about the reality of evil, the war with evil, and the defeat of evil, and the eradication of evil. Craig Koester totally gets it.

Here’s the assumption that is where Revelation starts as a cosmic narrative:

A basic assumption is that God is the Creator of the world and the source of life (4:11; 10:6). Gods opponents are the destroyers of the earth (11:18).

The narrative focuses on evil and its defeat.

Revelation regards evil as a kind of cancer that has invaded God s world. Cancer cells are malignant, and as they grow, they destroy the healthy tissue around them. As the disease spreads, life is diminished as more healthy tissue is destroyed, and if the cancer is left unchecked, death will result. Accordingly, treating the disease means destroying the malignant cells that destroy life—and the goal is that life might thrive. This is the drama that unfolds on a cosmic scale in the last half of Revelation, where the Creator and his allies set out with the goal of “destroying those who destroy the earth” (11:18), so that the victory will be life for the world.

Evil has Agency.

The plotline traces the defeat of Satan, who is cast down from heaven to earth, and from earth to the abyss…

Read more at … http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2018/10/29/book-of-revelation-what-most-evangelicals-entirely-miss/

THEOLOGY & Pope Francis warns about divisive falsehoods.

.-

During his Angelus address on Sunday, Pope Francis discussed the incomprehension Christ faced during his earthly ministry, from both the scribes and his own family.

The scribes’ assertion that Christ drove out demons by the power of demons led him to “react with strong and clear words, he does not tolerate this, because those scribes, perhaps without realizing it, are falling into the gravest sin: negating and blaspheming the Love of God which is present and working in Jesus.”

“…falling into the gravest sin: negating and blaspheming the Love of God which is present and working in Jesus.”

“And blasphemy, the sin against the Holy Spirit, is the only unpardonable sin – so Jesus says – because it starts from a closure of the heart to the mercy of God acting in Jesus,” the pope said June 10 in St. Peter’s Square.

“… because it starts from a closure of the heart to the mercy of God acting in Jesus,”

The scribes who blasphemed were sent from Jerusalem to discredit Christ, Francis said, “to make the office of talkers, discredit the other, remove authority, this ugly thing.”

“This episode contains a warning that serves all of us,” he reflected. “It may happen that a strong envy for the goodness and for the good works of a person can lead one to accuse it falsely. Here there is truly a deadly poison: the malice with which, in a premeditated way, one wants to destroy the good reputation of the other.”

Here there is truly a deadly poison: the malice with which, in a premeditated way, one wants to destroy the good reputation of the other.”

If we find this envy in us during our examination of conscience, “let us immediately go to confession,” he advised, “before it develops and produces its evil effects, which are incurable. Be careful, because this attitude destroys families, friendships, communities, and even society.”

Read more of “Blasphemy is the gravest sin, Pope Francis saysat … https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/blasphemy-is-the-gravest-sin-pope-francis-says-34265

THEOLOGY & #ScotMcKnight on the Book of Revelation’s Trumpets Of Terror

by Scot McKnight, Pathos, 10/24/18.

What about those trumpets of terror that unfold in Revelation 8-11?  For our posts on Revelation we are reading Craig Koester Revelation and the End of All Things and Ian Paul, Revelation.

I have reformatted Koester’s wonderful summary into separable points:

First, Context:

Seven trumpets are blown in succession, creating the third cycle of visions in Revelation. At the conclusion of the previous cycle, a graceful silence lingered in heavens chambers after the voices in the celestial chorus had sounded the “Amen” in their praises of God and the Lamb (7:12; 8:1). Rather than allowing readers to bask in quietude, however, John directs attention to seven angels, who are given seven trumpets, whose sound will break the stillness and signal an onslaught of new visions even more terrible than those that have gone before (8:2).

Big idea

This section plays a major role in showing how God s purposes are to be understood.

What if God responds with wrath?

The opening scene in which prayers rise from the altar (8:3-5) recalls how the martyrs under the altar had demanded to know how long God would delay in bringing justice against those who had shed their blood (6:9-11). The trumpet visions now reply to the prayers by implicitly raising a question: What if God responds to the prayers by sending wrath on the unrepentant world? What will that accomplish? Readers are shown the horror of pitiless wrath as disasters strike earth, sea, and sky, and demonic hordes of locusts and cavalry torment humanity amid clouds of fire, smoke, and sulfur (8:7-9:21).

Wrath accomplishes what?

Yet the wrath accomplishes nothing. The wicked simply persist in their refusal to repent (9:20-21). At this point readers might well expect the seventh trumpet to signal the arrival of God’s catastrophic judgment with earsplitting finality. But the last trumpet does not sound and the end does not come.

Read more at … http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2018/10/24/the-book-of-revelations-trumpets-of-terror/

THEOLOGY & Can the church be both holy and sinful?

by Brian P. Flanagan, America: The Jesuit Review, 10/22/18 and author of Stumbling in Holiness: Sin and Sanctity in the Church (Liturgical Press, 2018).

The Holy and Sinful Church

Catholics in earlier centuries, while maintaining faith in the holiness of the church affirmed in our creeds, were willing to name its failings, including those of its members, its leaders and its communities as a whole. In the midst of the Pelagian controversies of the fifth century, for example, the Council of Carthage in 418 (attended by St. Augustine) taught that when Christians pray the Lord’s Prayer, all Christians—without exception—had to ask God “to forgive us our trespasses” in their own voice and not on behalf of some other people, as though they were sinless themselves.

… when Christians pray the Lord’s Prayer, all Christians—without exception—had to ask God “to forgive us our trespasses” in their own voice and not on behalf of some other people, as though they were sinless themselves.

Christians did not hesitate to call out the sinfulness of their leaders, as in the quote attributed variously (though likely erroneously) to St. Athanasius, St. John Chrysostom and others that “the road to hell is paved with the skulls of erring bishops.” Even cardinals were not exempt; according to one medieval folk tradition, a cardinal’s soul was released from purgatory only when his galero, the wide-brimmed red hat hung from the ceiling of the cardinal’s church after his death, finally rotted enough to fall to the floor.

Why, then, in recent years have Catholics been so hesitant to speak clearly and candidly about the church as sinful? For a few reasons—some praiseworthy, some problematic. The first is our firm belief in the holiness of the church. On the surface, it seems that ecclesial sanctity and sinfulness are mutually exclusive—and, in important ways, that is true. The participation in the life of God that we call “holiness” precludes sin, and in the fullness of life that we can look forward to in the reign of God we will be freed from every stain of sin and every shadow of death.

Yet, as St. Augustine taught so well, in our current time between the ascension of Christ and his return in glory, the church is always a “corpus permixtum,” a mixed body of saints and sinners, including serious sinners who remain part of the church even in a limited way. The struggle for greater transparency to God’s grace and greater freedom from sin also goes on in each one of us who prays the Our Father daily; each of us is aware of our need for forgiveness to live a more holy and free way of life. That experience of the church as a mixed body and of ourselves as sinners who are already holy yet still saints-in-progress is part of the reality of a holy and sinful church.

… the church is always a “corpus permixtum,”  – St. Augustine

Read more at … Can the church be both holy and sinful?

THEOLOGY & 5 Five observations and a summary definition of what Matthew (Jesus) meant by “hypocrisy.” #ScotMcKnight

by Scot McKnight, Pathos, 8/8/18.

…Hypocrisy is:

1. Inconsistency between what one teaches and what one does (23:3-4)

2. Desire for prestige and power and congratulation (23:5-12)

3. Abuse of teaching authority through both false teachings and false practices (23:13, 15, 16-22, 23-24, 25-26, 27-28).

4. Overconcern with minutiae and lack of focus on the major issues (23:23-24, 25-26, 27-28): that is, moral myopia.

5. Inconsistency between appearance and practice (23:27-28).

Put together, Jesus accuses the Pharisees for “hypocrisy” because (1) they had abused their teaching authority by teaching false things, (2) not living according to what they taught, and for (3) their desire for power and control. In addition, (4) their teaching was a focus on minor issues to the neglect of major issues.

They flattened the Torah into a listing of God’s will while Jesus saw love of God and love of others as the center of that Torah. If the Pharisees saw love as one of the commandments, however important, Jesus saw love as central and everything as expressive of that love. This reorients all of the Torah, all of teaching, and therefore all of praxis.

To be “hypocrite” is to be a false teacher who leads both self and others astray from the will of God. The term should not be limited to “contradiction between appearance and reality” (the classic definition of hypocrisy)…

Read more at … http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/05/26/heretic-vs-hypocrite/

 

HALLOWEEN CAVEAT: How CS Lewis and Harry Potter view evil differently.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Popularity of “evil characters” (e.g. “anti-heroes“) in movies, books, media, etc. coincides with the increasing popularity of Halloween. In such instances, popular entertainment often frames evil as some thing or some being “outside of yourself.”  You must react to this evil outside of yourself and you must defeat it (e.g. Harry Potter saga, fright houses, horror movies, etc.).

Yet, the scriptures portray evil as more often something within ourselves.  It is an “inner danger” which will be overcome only if we act rightly.

Jeremiah 17:9-10 The Message (MSG)

9-10 “The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful,
    a puzzle that no one can figure out.
But I, God, search the heart
    and examine the mind.
I get to the heart of the human.
    I get to the root of things.
I treat them as they really are,
    not as they pretend to be.”

we are born with.

Galatians 5:17-18 The Message (MSG)

16-18 My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?

CS Lewis got this. Note this comparison between Lewis’ view (which I view as a more biblically valid view) and the outlook in Harry Potter books:

Harry Potter books … If you compare them with the Narnia books of CS Lewis it is very notable that the Potter books are much more dangerous for the heroes. Lewis is far more concerned with inner danger. His heroes know they will be victorious if they only act rightly…  –Andrew Brown, The Church of England should learn from Harry Potter this Halloween, The London Guardian, 10/31/18.

CHURCH EXIT & New Research: Churchgoers Stick Around for Theology, Not Music or Preachers #LifeWay

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: In my consulting on church change and church revitalization, I sometimes encounter a judicatory leader or a parent church that will want to change another church’s theology. But, research indicates that you must be very careful in doing so.

I have observed that churches many times grow around a specific theological viewpoint. Sometimes that theological view is in error, unorthodox, schismatic or heretical. In those circumstances it must be changed.

But in my experience I have also seen churches that, while they may have primarily orthodox beliefs, have a unique view on (what John Wesley would call) nonessential theological points. These might include issues such as charismatic gifts, healing, modes of baptism, etc.

In such latter circumstances, the research cited below indicates that we should move cautiously when changing a theological perspective if it is not an essential orthodox belief … or church exit might occur.

Churchgoers Stick Around for Theology, Not Music or Preachers

Don’t mess with a church’s beliefs or there may be an exodus, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

New Research: Churchgoers Stick Around for Theology, Not Music or Preachers
Image: via LifeWay Research

… Most churchgoers will put up with a change in music style or a different preacher.

But don’t mess with a church’s beliefs or there may be an exodus, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

The study of Protestant churchgoers found most are committed to staying at their church over the long haul. But more than half say they would strongly consider leaving if the church’s beliefs changed.

Pastors often worry about changing church music and setting off a “worship war,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. But few say they would leave over music.

Churchgoers are much more concerned about their church’s beliefs.

“Mess with the music and people may grumble,” he said. “Mess with theology and they’re out the door.”

Churchgoers stay put

LifeWay Research surveyed 1,010 Protestant churchgoers—those who attend services at least once a month—to see how strongly they are tied to their local congregations.

Researchers found most churchgoers stay put.

Thirty-five percent have been at their church between 10 and 24 years. Twenty-seven percent have been there for 25 years or more. Twenty-one percent have been there less than five years, while 17 percent have been at the same church for between five and nine years.

Lutherans (52 percent), Methodists (40 percent) and Baptists (31 percent) are most likely to have been at their church for 25 years or more. Fewer nondenominational (11 percent) or Assemblies of God/Pentecostal churchgoers (13 percent) have such long tenure.

“Most church members have been at their church longer than their pastor,” said McConnell.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2018/july/churchgoers-stick-around-for-theology-not-music-or-preacher

SOCIAL MEDIA & How, in the words of #Luther, it increasingly “curves us inward on ourselves.”

“Social Media and Sin” by A. Trevor Sutton, The Martin Marty Center, University of Chicago Divinity School, 4/4/18.

…Religion may offer an important explanation as to why this social media platform is so problematic both for society and for individual well-being. Human depravity, original sin, and concupiscence are perennial themes, for example, within the discipline of Christian theology. Augustine and Martin Luther are known for describing the human condition as incurvatus in se (“curved inward on oneself”). Rather than living a life that is aligned toward God and others, human sinfulness directs our life inward, toward self-justification, self-gratification, and self-aggrandizement. The notion that sin has warped, twisted, maimed, and ruined human goodness is as ubiquitous in theology as Facebook is in modern life.

The burgeoning field of user experience design (UX), when put in conversation with the theological notion of human depravity, helps to put the problematic nature of social media into sharp relief. A central concern within UX is user-centered design. As the name suggests, user-centered design advocates for designing with end users in mind. That is to say, technology is designed to acknowledge and accommodate the needs and wants of the user, as designers seek to maximize user experience by creating products that are built around the user’s desires. User research is responsible for nearly all the design decisions at Facebook. In fact, there is an entire department at Facebook dedicated to Human Computer Interaction and UX. Teams of people at Facebook are thus dedicated to researching, and finding ways to capitalize on, the individual behaviors, thoughts, and impulses of users.

Donald Norman, a formative figure in user-centered design, has recognized how designers actually aim to facilitate human sinfulness through that which they design. In the foreword to a book by Chris Nodder, Evil by Design: Interaction Design to Lead Us into Temptation, Norman writes: “But why should design be based on evil? Simple: Starting with evil means starting with real human behavior … And good design results from good understanding.” Norman’s point is rather simple: good design understands users, and it must therefore also consider the depravity of users.

This means that, according to user-centered design, human sinfulness ought to be accounted for and perhaps even exploited when creating products for the digital age. According to Nodder, designers must ask themselves the question: “how do we influence behavior through the medium of software?”

Theology recognizes that human hearts are curved inward, inclined to boast, and always looking for opportunities to prove their own self-righteousness. Human-computer interaction, UX, and user-centered design recognize that social media platforms should be designed to meet the wants and needs of real human users. Putting these two concepts in conversation with one another reveals why Facebook can be so dangerous. Facebook’s technology is designed to accommodate, encourage, and exploit human depravity. The “Like” button on Facebook is not there by chance; the “Like” button was created to satisfy our deep longing to be liked by others, lauded for our accomplishments, and acknowledged for our righteousness…

Resources

– Allen, Mike. “Sean Parker unloads on Facebook: ‘God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains’.” Axios. November 9, 2017.

– Murphy, Mike. “Why Apple’s Tim Cook doesn’t want his nephew to use social networks.” MarketWatch. January 22, 2018.

– Nodder, Chris. Evil by Design: Interaction Design to Lead Us into Temptation. Wiley, 2013.

– Wong, Julia Carrie. “Former Facebook executive: social media is ripping society apart.” The Guardian. December 12, 2017.

Read more at … https://divinity.uchicago.edu/sightings/social-media-and-sin

#GCRN2018 #GreatCommissionResearchNetwork

 

THEOLOGY & The “quadrilateral” … What it means and how its 4 distinctive qualities define “evangelical.” #Bebbington #AlanYeh

by Emma Green, The Atlantic Monthly, 3/12/18.

… Most of the writers in “Still Evangelical?” (ed. Alan Yeh, Biola Univ.) rely on a definition first published by the scholar David Bebbington in 1989, called a “quadrilateral” for its four distinctive qualities. According to Bebbington,

  • evangelicals place the truth of the Bible at the center of their faith;
  • they focus on Jesus’s atonement for sins on the cross;
  • they emphasize a personal experience of conversion or salvation;
  • and they believe they must actively share the gospel and do good in the world.

Read more at … https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/03/still-evangelical-trump/554831/

MOVIES & How a Hollywood producer uses Oscar season to teach theology

by Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends, LifeWay, 2/15/2015

As a producer for blockbuster films in both the X-Men and Star Trek franchises, Ralph Winter is no stranger to the world of movies. As a devout Christian who once considered going to seminary and becoming a pastor, Winter also knows about teaching theology. It’s no wonder he has combined both…

During Oscar season, Winter often teaches a class at his church on some of the nominated films. “When I am in town, I love doing my class on the best picture nominees and how they match up with what we believe,” he says. “Much like a Bible study, you are simply asking what does it say, what does it mean, and what does it mean to me.”

…Using the same questions he asks as a producer to decide if a story needs to be told, he develops discussions that will help those in the class better understand and examine the meaning of the movie.

“Don’t get me wrong, the audience is very smart,” he told CT (Christianity Today). “They know intuitively if a movie is good or not; they just aren’t able to always articulate why. So the class is first about understanding and learning how to ‘read’ a movie. Then we can thoughtfully analyze each one.”

With the Oscars approaching, Winter gives three suggestions for the pastor or church leader who would like to better understand movies and equip their churches to do the same.

  1. Learn how to read movies, understand what is being said, and how movies can push our “buttons.”
  2. Dig a little deeper to see what the cultural significance might be with the story or similar stories being told.
  3. Develop discerning consumers in our church community, to see what movies connect us to the surrounding community, what challenges there might be to our faith beliefs, and ways to engage in dialogue and action in the community as a result—showing the world who we are…

Additional resources for understanding entertainment through a biblical lens:

The Stories We Tell—Mike Cosper
Hollywood Worldviews—Brian Godawa
Eyes Wide Open—William Romanowski

Read more at … https://factsandtrends.net/2015/02/20/hollywood-producer-uses-oscar-season-to-teach-theology/