In Case You Missed It

In a recent post at the Intersect Project, Dayton Hartman shared the cure for a hopeless Christmas.

The Christmas season is marked by hope. Well, at least it is supposed to be. But instead of decorating their homes a la Clark Griswold, enjoying Christmas parties and watching cheesy Christmas movies, I’ve noticed among many believers a pervasive pessimism regarding the present and the future.

 

Yes, we live in difficult times culturally and politically. However, our celebration of the incarnation (Jesus’ first coming) ought to drive us toward hopeful anticipation of the consummation (Jesus’ second coming). In short, our eschatology ought to bring hope, not despair.

 

At the Center for Great Commission Studies, Dr. Alvin Reid shared about how to teach believers to share Jesus using the Sharing Jesus book.

This past April my book Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out: Evangelism the Way You Were Born to Do It was released by B&H Academic. Response has been amazing. So many pastors, students pastors, college and small group leaders have used it.

 

It’s designed to help everyday believers share Christ naturally through everyday conversations. B&H also made an incredible landing page that features an 8-week challenge to help the reader grow in their witness, free videos for each chapter and some role-playing videos as well.

 

In a recent talk at Southeastern Seminary both Michael Bird and Bruce Ashford shared responses to the Benedict Option. In this post, Alysha Clark shares a recap.

Christians can be peaceful public nuisances or counter-cultural practitioners for the common good, argued Michael Bird and Bruce Ashford in a recent Southeastern Seminary event.

 

Christianity has long held a position of privilege in the West. For a long time in Europe and the United States, Judeo-Christian values formed the normative framework for ethics and morality, and belief in God (even merely nominal belief) served as an asset for advancement in society and securing public favor.

 

Suddenly, it seems, this is no longer the case. Over the last 50 years, and especially the last 25, the West has become increasingly post-Christian and marches toward militant secularism, where belief in God is synonymous with immorality, where religious language has become flagged as hate speech and where the phrase “religious freedom” has become code for bigotry. Christians may feel the earth has given way under them and fear they will be swallowed up by the increasingly emboldened progressive secularism.

 

Numerous cultural thinkers have offered their analysis of the religious situation in the West and proposed a wide array of solutions. Some seek to dive into national politics and try to effect change and restore Christian morality through legislation and the judiciary. Some live as spiritual exiles in a foreign secular culture and want to preserve Christian culture through individual practice. Others, in the words of James Davison Hunter, aim to create a faithful presence of Christian disciples who seek to work for the common good of society and serve as a witness of the kingdom of God.

 

In a post at The Gospel Coalition, Trevin Wax shared about sexual assault and the scandal of repentance.

During his lengthy tenure as an evening commentator on CNN, Larry King often posed two questions to pastors and theologians who came on as guests.

 

First, is Jesus the only way to God? This was Larry’s way of seeing if the Christian representative would insist on the uniqueness of Jesus no matter how offensive that claim might come across in a pluralistic world. You mean good people from other religions might be condemned?

 

The second question came from a different angle. Could a serial killer, or someone like Hitler, or a rapist, or a pedophile receive forgiveness and wind up in heaven? This was Larry’s way of seeing if the Christian representative would insist on the offer of grace, no matter how offensive that pronouncement might come across in a world that demands justice. You mean abhorrently wicked people might repent and be saved?

 

Larry King is not a Christian. But he knows where the scandalous power of Christianity is found. It’s in the narrowness of insisting on universal, eternal condemnation for all sinners who fall short of God’s glory, and in the broadness of calling everyone to repent of their sins, trust in Christ and be saved. Everyone, even the “vilest offender,” in the words of the old Isaac Watts hymn.

 

The “vilest offender” today is the person who engages in sexual assault and abuse.

 

At his personal blog, Chuck Lawless shared eight reasons why he chooses to be a friend to his pastor.

I’m excited to be a part of our church in Wake Forest, Restoration Church, and I love my pastor. I’m proud of him and enjoy working beside him. I’m also honored to carry some of his burdens for him. Here’s why all of us need to be a friend to our pastors.

 

In Case You Missed It

In a recent article at the Intersect Project, Dayton Hartman shared how God can use heresy for our good.

Survey the evangelical landscape, and you’ll find a lot to be depressed about. Self-professed Christians are compromising on moral convictions for political expediency. Some are denying essentials of the faith to embrace political correctness. And then others are pandering a kind of theological ambiguity that speaks much and says nothing.

 

I recently heard someone say, “What a depressing time to be a Christian!” Well, I guess that’s true — especially with so many megachurch pastors wearing the ironically large hipster glasses. But it’s also entirely untrue. This particular Christian was lamenting what they classified as the rush toward heresy among once faithful evangelicals. In their estimation, these trends must mean the end of the church in America is drawing near. Two things are worth noting.

 

At the People’s Next Door Keelan Cook reminds us that “gospel-centered” must mean more than just the preaching.

Gospel-centered is one of those buzzwords today in evangelical Christianity. It, like so many others, has a great origin and a significant purpose. In a day when mission drift threatens to pull us away from our core purpose as Christian churches, terms like “gospel-centered”  (or “missional”) are calls back to our biblical foundations. However, when they stick, they soon become victims of their own popularity. In many ways, I fear this is happening to the idea of being gospel-centered as well. The term now falls into the foggy words category. Foggy words are those words we use in ministry circles that sound good but when pressed no one can really give you a clear definition. They often help more than they hurt for that reason. When it comes to gospel-centered, I think there are two ways that this term seems to shift in meaning.

 

Bruce Ashford posted an article at his personal blog with five ways to save free speech on college campuses.

During the past 18 months, college students have engaged in disruptive and even violent activities toward guest speakers whose ideas they considered offensive.

 

In response, college administrators have tended to capitulate to—or collaborate with—the demonstrators by disinviting scheduled speakers and disciplining students or professors whose views were considered offensive.

 

In fact, recent studies by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the National Science Foundation together reveal that approximately 90 percentof colleges and universities have policies that either prohibit or substantially restrict free speech that is constitutionally protected.

 

Americans should beware. Unless we act to safeguard free speech on campuses, this depressing trend will continue indefinitely until the censors have gained control not only of universities, but coffee shops, churches, and public squares.

 

What can we do to safeguard free speech on college and university campuses? Here are five ways that all of us can play our own unique role.

 

“To Tithe or Not to Tithe?” At the Intersect Project David Jones shared a New Testament guide to generous giving.

To tithe or not to tithe?

 

This simple question has been debated in small groups, in Sunday school rooms, over kitchen tables and in textbooks for decades. In my new book Every Good Thing, I address it at length.

 

We don’t have the space to address the question in detail here, but I’ll simply say this: It is difficult to apply Old Testament tithing laws in our own context. In fact, if we survey the New Testament, we’ll find that it does not prescribe a formal method or fixed amount for believers’ giving at all.

 

Nevertheless, the New Testament does provide several examples and principles of giving that can guide us in our stewardship and giving. These principles ought to encourage many (if not most) Christians to give far more than 10 percent to kingdom work.

 

In a post at The Gospel Coalition, Trevin Wax shared why Netflix thinks you’re bored and lonely.

This is for all the lonely people
Thinking that life has passed them by . . . 

 

So sang the rock band America in 1974. Forty years later, lonely people are probably streaming Stranger Things.

 

At a conference sponsored by the Wall Street Journal last year, Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, offered a purpose statement for his entertainment juggernaut: “Fundamentally, we’re about eliminating loneliness and boredom. . . . That’s what entertainment does.”

 

Eliminating boredom and loneliness. Chew on that for a while, and you’ll realize that only one of these issues is truly a problem, while the other is actually an opportunity.

 

At his personal blog, Chuck Lawless shared an open “thank you” letter to Southern Baptists.

I don’t typically write a post specifically for my denomination, but I’m making an exception today. In the past few weeks, I’ve been with Southern Baptists in Maryland, California, Ohio, North Carolina, and Virginia. They’ve been college students, pastors, church planters, laypersons, and denominational leaders. I’ve been reminded in these weeks of how much Southern Baptists mean to me, so I’m writing this thank you note to you.

Five Reasons Pastors Should Know Church History

By: Dayton Hartman

Why should we care about “church history?”

For me, the answer came early in my ministry. As I entered my second year in ministry, I was inundated with inquiries that required me to look to the past. Members of my church were asking questions like, “Did Constantine invent the Trinity and the deity of Christ?” and “What really happened at the Council of Nicaea?” At the time, I didn’t really care about the answers to these questions. I was suffering from a horrible case of what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery,” a tendency to elevate contemporary ideas over ones from the musty, dusty past.

Nevertheless, I had questions to answer. And finding the answers launched me into multi-year journey through church history that eventually changed my view of the creeds, preaching, discipleship, pastoral care, and cultural engagement. I am a different and, I believe, better pastor because of my study of church history. Now, more than a decade since my first foray into the subject, I am a church planter. I also teach church history and historical theology to seminary students.

I’ve learned that there are dangers inherent in ignoring the past, as well as many benefits to knowing what has come before us. These benefits have convinced me that pastoral ministry is most effective when carried out in light of lessons from our history. Here are just a few beneficial reasons why pastors should seriously engage with the history. Drumroll please …

Church history equips us to address current issues.

Take, for instance, issues of racial reconciliation. History enables us to view ourselves as part of a large, ethnically diverse family. As our nation continues to wrestle with the scars left by our history of racism and slavery, the church can lead in casting a vision for an ethnically diverse and harmonious future.

We have a rock solid basis for genuine racial diversity: the gospel. Through Christ, we are reconciled to God and with each other. We are unified, but not uniform. Church history tells us a sprawling story of a many-colored family.  We encounter people in various cultures in various places at various times: 4th- and 5th-century North African bishops, 12th-century French preachers, 16th-century German monks, 18th-century Anglo-American theologians, 20-century African-American, and Latino social activists. This is strong medicine against chronological and cultural snobbery.

Church history supplies the tools for discipleship.

Christians, and specifically pastors, have always been concerned with making disciples. However, many evangelical churches in America fail to disciple children as well as new believers. Following the patterns of those who have come before us, we and our congregations can regain a biblical vision for making disciples. For example, we must reclaim the practice of Catechizing children. Recognizing that this practice was standard in the early church, John Calvin exhorted all churches to reclaim this ancient practice. “How I wish that we might have kept the custom which … existed among the ancient Christians!” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.19.13) Calvin saw catechesis as an opportunity for congregations to inculcate the one true faith, to help clarify and correct any misunderstandings among their youth. Additionally, I’ve personally learned a lot about discipling from church history, particularly from Augustine. He emphasized that discipleship requires an intense one-on-one relationship within the context of the community at large; focusing especially on teachable believers who would in turn disciple others (Ed Smither explores this at length in his excellent work Augustine as Mentor).

Church history shows us how to proclaim the gospel in a hostile culture.

Our generation is not the first to wrestle with the complexities of linguistic relevancy and cultural engagement. We would do well to draw from the deep 2,000-year-old well of wisdom. Our forebearers were master expositors, cultural exegetes, and gifted orators. Augustine of Hippo wrote one of the first textbooks for young preachers. This influential theologian communicated skillfully; he masterfully employed analogies and illustrations. Augustine encouraged his students to study famous pagan orators to learn effective communication styles and language patterns (On Christian Doctrine, 4.2) Augustine did not intend for his students to minimize Scripture or to dismiss its claims—that is, he didn’t mean that pastors should merely be sanctified Jim Gaffigans or Jon Stewarts—but that they should communicate in a manner that was understandable to their audience. During the Reformation, Luther became the standard-bearer for the power and clarity of Protestant preaching. Luther was known for his bluntness, accessibility, and linguistic relevance in the pulpit. Luther directly interacted with his culture: He used familiar language and illustrations while remaining faithful to the content of Scripture. The wisdom they have handed down is of great value.

Church history enables us to critique—and create—culture.

Throughout history, Christianity has been seen as subversive and threatening to emperors and empires. We profess citizenship in a heavenly kingdom, we see our churches as outposts of a that kingdom, and we declare allegiance to a heavenly King. The Christian claim that “Jesus is Lord” struck at the heart of Roman identity. Romans believed that the health of their society—politically and economically— depended heavily on reverencing and appeasing the Roman pantheon. Nevertheless, the first believers continued to consider themselves an outpost of this otherworldly kingdom that would one day replace every kingdom of the world. Why, then, do we perpetuate Christian subcultures that repackage sanitized versions of what the prevailing culture of our day produces? Why do we not produce cultural products that reflect a kingdom culture? Is this what Christians have always done? Have we always preached a gospel that can redeem the world, but failed to produce redemptive culture that is good and worthwhile? There is a better way forward, and we see that way forward by looking to our past.

Church history gives us perspective and humility.

Pastor, one of the greatest gifts you can receive from the study of church history is humility. We are not writing our own story; we are part of the great story of redemption in which Christ is building his Church. Pastor, Christ has called you to humbly and faithfully serve his Bride as he writes her story. You and I get to be part of that story, but it’s not our story. Shepherd in humility by looking to the faithfulness of those who have come before you.

Conclusion

Shepherding the church for which Jesus bled and died is a high and holy calling. Our task is immense, but we have Scripture as our authority and 2,000 years of wisdom from those who have faithfully served, suffered, and persevered before us. Those who have come and gone over the past two millennia have changed the way I do pastoral ministry today. In a sense, the dead discipled me and made me a better pastor. I pray you let them do the same for you.

Dr. Dayton Hartman holds a M.A. in Global Apologetics from Liberty University and a Ph.D. in Church and Dogma History from North-West University.  He serves as the lead pastor at Redeemer Church in Rocky Mount, NC and as an Adjunct Professor of Church History at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.