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

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

RECONCILIATION & Billy Graham on his friendship/methods with Martin Luther King Jr.:

“Dr. King was a social reformer, we were personal friends and he understood my position completely – – That I was using one type of method to accomplish the same thing and he was using another type of method.” (Read the context and Dr. King’s comments below.)

WHEATON Archives Billy Graham on MLK 1.jpg

WHEATON Archives Billy Graham on MLK 2.jpgAccess the complete documents at http://www2.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/bulletin/bu1402c.htm

CONVERSION & Churches don’t need to be “seeker churches” they need to return to an emphasis upon conversion #WheatonCollege @RickRichardson

QUOTE:

“Churches don’t need to be ‘seeker churches’ they need to return to an emphasis upon conversion.”

– Rick Richardson, Ph.D., Wheaton College, presentation to the Fellows of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, 12/19/17.

MENTORING & We grow from imitation, not just from information and exhortation.

“We grow from imitation, not just from information and exhortation.”

– Rick Richardson, Wheaton College professor to the Academy for Evangelism in Theological Education, Univ. of Northwestern, St. Paul, MN, 6/17/16.

EVANGELISM & Colleague Stetzer Joins Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at #Wheaton #PerfectFit

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel:  Below is an article about an exciting new role for my friend Ed. In this new capacity he will be spearheading a needed re-emphasis upon spiritual transformation.

It is good to see the word is getting out. I have been encouraging him for years to go into academia, because it is a strategic fit for Ed’s gifts. And, I encouraged him to take the job.  He and I will continue to work together. In fact, he recently invited me to join him as one of the first fellows of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.

Below is the press release followed by Ed’s story of what led to what I believe will be expanded ministry impact.

Dr. Ed Stetzer Named To New Billy Graham Chair and as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College (Ill.)

Ed Stetzer Wheaton College

Dr. Ed Stetzer has been appointed to a newly created chair, The Billy Graham Distinguished Endowed Chair for Church, Mission, and Evangelism. In this role, he has been named Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College (BGCE).

Stetzer will serve as chair of the Evangelism & Leadership Program in the Wheaton College Graduate School and as publisher of Evangelical Missions Quarterly. He will also provide vision-casting and leadership to existing BGCE initiatives, and will spearhead new initiatives that include the creation of a National Evangelism Leaders Fellowship.

“Ed Stetzer is a dynamic communicator and brilliant researcher who brings a genuine knowledge of the gospel and a deep understanding of contemporary culture to his new place of service,” says Wheaton College President Philip Ryken. “His work at Wheaton College will help raise up a new generation of passionate, generous-hearted evangelists who make a difference in the world for Jesus Christ. It will also help Wheaton build stronger networks with churches across America and around the world.”

Stetzer served most recently as Executive Director of LifeWay Research and Executive Editor of The Gospel Project and Facts & Trends Magazine. He is a prolific author and well-known conference and seminar leader. Stetzer has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches; trained pastors and church planters on six continents; and held visiting professorships at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. During the 2015-2016 academic year, he was an Adjunct Professor of Evangelism for Wheaton College Graduate School and Senior Fellow of the BGCE.

Stetzer has also been serving as Teaching Pastor of Grace Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, a church he founded in 2011.

He is a contributing editor for Christianity Today magazine, a columnist for Outreach magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. In 2015, he became a co-host of the BreakPoint This Week radio program.

Stetzer holds a Ph.D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from Beeson Divinity School.

“It is a distinct privilege to be part of the Wheaton team,” Stetzer says. “This newly created Billy Graham Chair, combined with the convening power of the Billy Graham Center, will provide us a unique opportunity to serve the Church, helping Christians know and engage their culture in the name of Christ. I look forward to being part of this family and serving the Church together.”

Stetzer’s appointment begins July 1 (2016).

The Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College exists to lead the conversation on evangelism by training, resourcing, and mobilizing followers of Jesus to share their faith; networking leaders; researching best practices; engaging thought leaders; and launching strategic ministry initiatives. More information about the BGCE is available at wheaton.edu/bgce.

Wheaton College (Wheaton, Ill.) is a coeducational Christian liberal arts college noted for its rigorous academics, integration of faith and learning, and consistent ranking among the top liberal arts colleges in the country. For more information, visit wheaton.edu.

Read Ed’s story of what led to this ministry change here … http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/57204-why-ed-stetzer-suddenly-quit-his-job-and-resigned-his-church

RELIGION & Here’s What Evangelical Experts on Missions & Muslims Think of Wheaton’s ‘Same Go d’ Debate

by Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, Christianity Today, 1/22/16.

Nearly two dozen evangelical experts on missions and Muslims have compiled their thoughts on how the answer affects Muslim missions, why it’s a bad question to begin with, and propose better questions to ask instead.

A 32-page, special edition of the Occasional Bulletin from the Evangelical Missiological Society (EMS) seeks to constructively contribute to the highly publicized dispute over whether Wheaton College should discipline professor Larycia Hawkins for stating in a Facebook post that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.” [Arab evangelical scholars weighed in last week.]…

Robert Priest, a mission and anthropology professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) and current EMS president, has “watched with interest” the unfolding Wheaton-Hawkins debate because, for evangelicals worldwide, “what Wheaton does affects us all.”

“As I’ve observed the unfolding drama, I’ve had concerns over the way Wheaton has framed the issues, over the repercussions of this for Christian witness, and over the failure to include missiologists and missionaries as interlocutors,” wrote Priest. “That is, for most evangelicals in America, our encounter with people who are Muslim is relatively recent, relatively superficial, and all-too-often infected by American culture-war impulses.

“The one category of American evangelical that has long nurtured close relationships with people who are Muslim is missionaries and mission professors (missiologists)—many of them Wheaton graduates,” he continued. “However, these individuals, who represent the heart of evangelical gospel concern, and who represent a unique mix of professional expertise and accumulated wisdom acquired over decades of study and ministry experience, do not appear to have been adequately consulted.”

… For Priest, it was an opportunity to ask 21 missiologists and missionaries: “What are the missiological implications of affirming, or denying, that Muslims and Christians worship the same God?”

Their answers—which intentionally do not comment on the Wheaton-Hawkins situation directly—were published by EMS this month. (Most respondents are evangelicals, while one is Eastern Orthodox and one is Roman Catholic.)

In short: the answer is both simple and complicated.

“What other God is there?” asked Miriam Adeney, a world Christian studies professor at Seattle Pacific University. “In all the universe, there is only one God.”

Paul Martindale, a professor of Islamic studies and cross-cultural ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, agreed. “There is only one, true, creator God. The Bible is clear there is no other God.”

However, the experts agree that there are fundamental differences in the way that Christians and Muslims understand God.

“In contrast to Buddhism and Confucianism, for example, the Abrahamic faiths affirm God’s mercy expressed through his gifts in nature, human community, and scriptural wisdom and ethics and general guidance,” wrote Adeney. “Yet such mercy is a pale shadow of the shocking mercy that propelled Jesus to earth and to the cross. That radical mercy we call grace. If indeed the incarnation and death of Jesus are essential expressions of God’s nature, then Muslim and Christian understandings of God are truly very different.”

Acknowledging those differences is key, wrote David Cashin, an intercultural and Islamic studies professor at Columbia International University. “If there are no differences, then there is nothing to be learned and nothing to convert to.”

Understanding the differences—having a solid theology—must come before missiology, wrote Fred Farrokh, an international trainer with Global Initiative: Reaching Muslim Peoples, who was raised as a Muslim. “If we conform our theology to a pre-determined missiology, then we get the paradigm backward. Error will ensue, and we actually become incapable of missionally assisting those whom we yearn to help—in this case Muslims.”

Equating the way Christianity and Islam view God opens up other questions, wrote Sarita Gallagher, a religion professor at George Fox University. “For example, if Allah is God, then is the Islamic religion from God? Did Yahweh speak to Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullāh through the angel Gabriel in the Cave of Hira in 610 C.E.? If so, does the Quran contain new revelations from God?”

Different understandings of God might be compared to different understandings of Jesus, wrote Mark Hausfeld, president of Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and professor of urban and Islamic studies.

“Is the Jesus of the Church of Latter Day Saints’ Book of Mormon and Doctrines and Covenants the same Jesus of the Bible? How about the Jesus of the Jehovah’s Witness New World Translation of the New Testament?” he wrote. “Both books spell the name of Jesus the same, but the person and work of Jesus, as He [is] known in the Bible, is heretical. The use of the word Jesus is not wrong, but the context of the word Jesus is corrupted by the error of the context and meaning that defines the Person and work of Jesus as revealed in the Bible.”

The same is true for God, he said. “The word God is not misleading in itself, but the context of the Qur‘an defines a different God in nature and character.”

Practically speaking, though, it can be easier to reach out to Muslims if there is some common ground.

“Conversion studies have shown that the greater the degree of congruence between Islam and Christianity that is perceived by the Muslim inquirer, the more likely it is that he or she will seriously consider Christianity as a viable alternative to Islam,” Martindale wrote. If differences between the two are emphasized, the barrier to conversion grows.

Read more at … http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/january/do-muslims-christians-worship-same-god-wheaton-hawkins-ems.html?paging=off

PRAYER & Listen To the Founder of the Church Growth Movement, Donald McGavran, Praying

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/27/15.

Whey my students study the importance of measurement they often notice that a champion of measurement was Donald McGavran, the founder of Fuller Seminary’s School of World Mission (now School of Intercultural Studies).

Yet most people don’t know that McGavran was also a strong proponent of prayer and its impact upon effective evangelism.

A student came across a Wheaton College website that included sound clips of Donald McGavran praying before he teaches on church growth.  I thought it might be an interesting addendum to this discussion.

http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/docs/mcgpra.htm

Here are a few transcripts from this archive, to give you a glimpse inside of this man’s heart.

(PS  I am a guest professor for Wheaton College.  I toured the Billy Graham Museum and it is an amazing history of evangelism in North America.  If any of you are near the northwest side of Chicago, you must visit the powerful (and free 🙂 Billy Graham Museum at Wheaton College.)

Collection 178, T32 – January 3, 1979 (81 seconds)

[Tape begins in the midst of the prayer]…growth of Your church our first act is to give thanks to Your for the church, the body our Christ, Your household, a sure refuge in the midst of storms, a mighty instrument Lord in Your hand for the reformation of men and societies. We thank You for what each one of us owes to the church. None of us would be here, would be saved, would have hope of heaven or power on earth but for the church. We thank You for the tremendous extension of the church throughout the earth and for the army of missionaries for the gospel, who generation after generation have gone out to proclaim the Good News and disciple the nations. Most of all, good Lord, we thank You for Jesus Christ, the head of the church, our savior and our Lord. Grant, we beseech You, to each of us Your special blessing as we study how to extend the church, how to multiply congregations, how to increase units of the redeemed, units of peace and justice in all peoples, all tribes, all casts. all classes of society that praise and thanksgiving to Your glory may resound from every city and hamlet throughout the earth. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Collection 178, Tape T34 – January 8, 1979 [98 seconds]

[Audio of the first half of the prayer badly distorted on the original recording] Let us pray. Gracious God, You are all pervading love enfolds us. Your salvation, made known of old through Your prophets and made operational in the life and death of our savior, flows fast and wide throughout the earth. You send forth a constant stream of missionaries of the Gospel, that those who live in darkness may know the light of the world, even our Lord Jesus Christ. We stand amazed, Lord, at the extent and diversity of the missionary laborers of Your household. We stand even more amazed and humbled and affrighted at the enormous numbers of those who have not yet heard that there is a savior and that by belief in Him sinful men may become righteous and [words unclear] blind men may receive eternal life. [Brief section missing] through the expansion of Christianity, and the advance of the Gospel, and plan for the birth of multitudes of new congregations of the redeemed. Among all the thousands of pieces of the human mosaic, touch our eyes that we may see the truth, and touch our hearts that we may burn with compassion, and steel our wills, good Lord, that we may do those things that we know we ought to do. This we ask in Christ’s blessed name. Amen.

Collection 178, T51 – February 16, 1979 (107 seconds)

Let us pray together. We gather before You, O Lord our God, as men whom You have called, called to be Your ministers and missionaries and administrators. Into our hands ,good Lord, You have delivered considerable ability and resources. You have appointed us as stewards. And You have given us responsibilities and from us You will require an accounting. And we are told that it is required of a steward that he be found faithful. We discharge our duties, O Lord, in a very complex world where many priorities war within us and without us. We live in such a welter of demands. So many people are shouting that we should follow what they think is important, and our own hearts, Lord, are pulled this way and that. And so we cry to You our compassionate God, send out Your light and Your truth. Let them lead us. In this class and in every class help us discern what is Your clear command and where we are left to do what we think best. Help us weigh most carefully between two appealing courses of action. Show Your clear light of Your revelation on our pathway. And above all, O God, give us the courage to walk the paths which You show to us. In Christ’s name. Amen.