Tag Archives: Theology

Top Ten Countdown of Cultural Lessons (1-2)

Jarrod Haas is a student in the Cross-cultural Leadership Training Program, CLTP @ Northwest, working towards an undergrad level diploma in preparation for cross-cultural ministry among Asians. [singlepic=163,320,240,,right] CLTP is a one year, mentored, experienced based program that prepares the student for Master’s level seminary studies as well as equips them for ministry either internationally or in Canada. He is currently on a short-term missions trip in Korea to complete his year of studies. This series of blogs are sections taken from one of his papers (edited with permission) entitled 10 Lessons in Crossing Culture. These ten points outline the major cross-cultural lessons that Jarrod has learned through the CLTP program, which, along with his academic studies, included involvement with International Students Ministries Canada, Gateway and a local Korean Church.

2. In order to successfully plug in to a culture, I must spend time to get to know people

bridging a culture is the depth of relationships with people in that culture

This seems obvious. However, I have learned that the deception surrounding this issue can be subtle. Although I spent time around people at the Korean church, I needed to expend more prayer, energy, and intention being with people. My time at this church has connected me more solidly with the principle that success at bridging a culture is the depth of relationships with people in that culture. This means not just spending time doing church ministry together, but spending time together doing other things as well. Lingenfelter states:

We cannot hold office hours for the people to whom Christ has called us to minister. We must adjust our time schedules, meeting them whenever they have need and turning to our own tasks only after we have completed our ministry to them…1

One important key here, I believe, is the discipline it takes to get the work done efficiently and at the times God gives. Thus I have been convicted of the importance of time management. Disciplined time management ensures that the windows needed to spend time with people are available and stress-free. In addition to this, prayer combined with focused intent to build relationships provides the means to dig into culture and become a part of it. I think Paul was quite familiar with all of this. He wrote to the Thessalonians (2:8,11-12):

We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us…we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God…

and he also said to the Ephesians (5:14-15): “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

1. The most important lessons in cross-cultural ministry are still the most basic lessons.

While knowledge regarding contextualization, cultural practices, and language acquisition skills is essential, the real heart of cross-cultural ministry remains the same in any situation. I would argue that there are 3 interrelated values that form this core. First, we are called to walk by the Spirit, and not by the flesh (Galatians 5:16-26). This overcoming of sin and Satan in our lives is fundamental to the effective witness of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:27). Overcoming sin is also essential to the second value: our capacity to love and serve others. Third, as we love and serve others and overcome sin, our obedience to God proceeds towards fullness.

the foundation of missions: Christian unity

Philippians 2:1-8 reveals that this fullness of obedience to Christ characterizes our unity. In turn, Christ emphasized unity is essential to our mission in John 17:21: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” and also in John 13:35: “by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Together, these principles of victory over sin, love and submission to each other, and submission to Christ form the foundation of missions: Christian unity. I do not recall encountering teaching that integrated the concepts of missions in this way.2 It was in the absence of emphasis on the connectedness of these topics this semester that prompted me to think about how basic Scriptural teaching impacts the missionary endeavour. This has been very beneficial to me, because I believe that I can now better integrate these concepts with the other missions theology and concepts I am learning.


  • 1Lingenfelter & Mayers, Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships 88.
  • 2However see A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. Darrell L. Guder, ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998 and Van Gelder, C. The Essence of the Church. Grand Rapids: Baker Press, 2001

Top Ten Countdown of Cultural Lessons (5-6)

Jarrod Haas is a student in the Cross-cultural Leadership Training Program, CLTP @ Northwest, working towards an undergrad level diploma in preparation for cross-cultural ministry among Asians. [singlepic=163,320,240,,right] CLTP is a one year, mentored, experienced based program that prepares the student for Master’s level seminary studies as well as equips them for ministry either internationally or in Canada. He is currently on a short-term missions trip in Korea to complete his year of studies.

This series of blogs are sections taken from one of his papers (edited with permission) entitled 10 Lessons in Crossing Culture. These ten points outline the major cross-cultural lessons that Jarrod has learned through the CLTP program, which, along with his academic studies, included involvement with International Students Ministries Canada, Gateway and a local Korean Church.

6. Failure to learn and understand a foreign culture can incapacitate the credibility of the missionary

In Islam, the Qur’an itself is considered a Holy Artifact. It is never allowed to rest directly on the ground, but must be placed on a special stand. Western Christianity, on the other hand, often downplays the significance of any object or ritual. This is usually done in order to avoid idolatry, and to place emphasis on the holiness of God. Thus for Westerners, the Bible is often perceived as ‘another book.’ We often have no trouble using the Bible in less than ‘holy’ ways such as placing it on the floor. Should Muslims observe a Christian missionary treating the word of God in our usual fashion, they could consider Christians as having no reverence toward God. The Christian would lose his or her credibility as a messenger of the Gospel.

people from cultures with a high reverence for spiritual things may perceive my prayers as irreverent

I can relate to this experience somewhat. During the semester I developed a relationship with a man from Iran. On one occasion, I offered to pray for his business, which was having trouble hiring an employee. After the prayer I realized that I often use very casual and informal language when praying, especially with those who are not Christians. While this may work in a Canadian context, people from cultures with a high reverence for spiritual things may perceive my prayers as irreverent. This could cause me to lose credibility as a messenger of God. I need to be cautious of this dynamic in cross-cultural ministry situations. Paul noted his own desire to remain credible in 1 Corinthians 19-22.

5. Be aware of the tendency towards ‘cultural imperialism.’

The tendency for missionaries (and humans in general) is to perceive their own culture as the ‘right way’ of doing things .1 There have been many examples of Western missionaries who insisted that planted churches mirror those in from the West. This imposition of Western culture makes evangelism less effective, and limits the relevance of the Gospel message. There is a bigger picture here as well. As noted by Alister E. McGrath, theologies allowed to grow “organically” in a foreign culture add creative insight to the global theological spectrum that Western theology, on its own, cannot produce.2

[There is a] need to discern the interaction between the authority of Scripture and culture

This has made me more aware of the need to discern the interaction between the authority of Scripture and culture. When teaching Biblical principles in a multi-ethnic setting (or any setting for that matter), I need to be conscious of how my own cultural lens may be affecting what I am presenting. Additionally, I will need to be sensitive of my fleshly tendency to judge other culture practices according to my culture, and not according to Scripture.


  • 1Sherwood G. Lingenfelter & Marvin K. Mayers, Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships (Michigan: Baker Academic, 2006), 22.
  • 2Alister E. McGrath, The Future of Christianity (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2002), 140-144.

Top Ten Countdown of Cultural Lessons (7-8)

Jarrod Haas is a student in the Cross-cultural Leadership Training Program, CLTP @ Northwest, working towards an undergrad level diploma in preparation for cross-cultural ministry among Asians. [singlepic=163,320,240,,right] CLTP is a one year, mentored, experienced based program that prepares the student for Master’s level seminary studies as well as equips them for ministry either internationally or in Canada. He is currently on a short-term missions trip in Korea to complete his year of studies.

This series of blogs are sections taken from one of his papers (edited with permission) entitled 10 Lessons in Crossing Culture. These ten points outline the major cross-cultural lessons that Jarrod has learned through the CLTP program, which, along with his academic studies, included involvement with International Students Ministries Canada, Gateway and a local Korean Church.

8. Becoming engaged in a foreign culture requires a balance of sensitivity and boldness

Engaging a foreign culture requires courage

Engaging a foreign culture requires courage. Only one who is willing to take risks and try uncomfortable new things will effectively engage a culture. Cowardice results in missed opportunities. However, boldness needs to be balanced with sensitivity. A lack of humility and sensitivity will result in the offense of the other culture and create obstacles to building relationships. I have erred in both extremes. For example, I found myself in appointed to a position of leadership over some of the other young adult leaders after only a short time. I feel that some of my actions and attitudes in this position were too bold. From this experience, I have learned that it is very important to go into such situations humbly and with a servant heart. It takes time and sensitivity to gain the respect of others, especially if I am ‘stepping on their turf.’

In another case, I was not bold enough to follow up on a ministry opportunity. One woman asked, in the first week I was at the church, if I would come to her house for dinner and encourage her kids towards Christ. I hesitated to follow this up, because it seemed like such an unusual request. Several weeks later, the spirit convicted me that I should respond. I did, and the results were fruitful. However, I did miss some opportunity to speak into the women’s son’s lives because of my delay.

A balance of sensitivity and boldness is found throughout the New Testament. Both Jesus and Paul, for example, strongly challenged those around them, but were also very sensitive to personal needs and cultural practice. Paul both engaged Athenian culture and challenged them to repentance in Acts 17. Christ said in Matt 10:16: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

7. Raising support for missions is much more than asking for money.

Missionary work requires that the missionary raise financial support. However, I am learning both through personal fund raising experiences, and through my readings, that this process involves much more than just obtaining money. The “Raising and Keeping Ministry Partners” module at Gateway, as well as the “Teamwork and Partnership for World Mission”1 course with Mark Orr have been instrumental in this learning process in several ways.

First, in addition to raising financial support, I have learned it is also important to raise prayer support.

Second, those who become engaged financially or prayerfully in the mission become partners of the ministry. These people do not just provide for the ‘needy’ missionary, but also gain an opportunity to serve the body (3 John 1:8; Phil 4:18), develop their stewardship character (Mark 12:41-44; Matt 6:2-4), worship God (Phil 4:18), and receive blessings from God (Phil 4:17; Matt 6:4). They also (hopefully) become more aware of the greater work that God is doing in the church body to fulfill the great commission through prayer letters, prayer, or hearing teaching about missions theology from the support raiser.

the missionary comes to know God as provider

Lastly, the process of support raising provides an opportunity for the missionary to grow in faith. Through trust in God, the missionary comes to know God as provider as support emerges through providential circumstances (Matt 6:25-34).

Though my fund raising process went reasonably well this time, next time I hope to speak more about the emphasis of missions partnering. I have also learned that fund raising requires much prayer. The process of getting the money from donor to agency can be arduous at times and needs to be covered in prayer.


  • 1Lausanne Committee for World Evangelisation, “Funding for Evangelism and Mission,” Lausanne Occasional Paper No. 56 (2004), under “Lausanne committee for World Evangelisation – Lausanne Documents,” http://www.lausanne.org/documents/2004forum/LOP56_IG27.pdf (accessed March 3, 2008).

The Prayer That Never Fails…

In February I wrote a posting about the book series Home To Harmony by Philip Gulley. My suspicion is that just about every pastor I know has enough material to write their own series of stories. A theological version of All Creatures Great and Small, if you will. While few of us pastors who will actually sit down and do the hard work of writing “memoirs” whether fictionalized or not, there are a few out there that have written stories that bring ministry to life.
One well-meaning friend sniffed at my suggestion that “as much could be learned about pastoral theology by reading such books as by reading a Systematic theology.” It was as if human tales were too base or crass for the elevated vocation of the pastorate. I begged to differ. If anything, my experience is that it’s in the simple corners of life where theology comes alive. It’s where I’ve learned my most enduring lessons of what there is about God that is true, and there is about the Gospel that endures.
It’s with that thought that I add another series of stories for the record. For many, the name is so familiar: The Mitford Years and The Father Tim novels  by Jan Karon [http://www.mitfordbooks.com/] Once again, the stories are drawn from a small town, this time in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The pastor, an Episcopalian [Anglican for Canadians] priest named Father Tim lives out a ministry among a “crazy quilt of saints and sinners – lovable eccentrics all.” It’s a faith that is simple, daily, gentle and routine. His life isn’t driven by growth statistics. Instead, it’s the sum of an abundance of subtle mysteries and tender miracles.
Throughout the stories, there is a reference made to “the prayer that never fails.” It seems that whenever Father Tim or someone close is facing an insurmountable situation, the phrase is used. In her book Out To Canaan, I finally found out what that prayer was. The only prayer that never fails? Thy will be done… Simple words, yet utterly profound. And, today, Maundy Thursday – a date on the liturgical calendar largely lost to too many – there’s an echo, not just of the Lord’s Prayer which we should all be praying … but the Lord as He prayed with His own unique introduction: nevertheless, not my will … but Thine be done.

Cross-cultural ministry classic

The Christ of the Indian Road by E. Stanley Jones, 1925. Abington Press

E. Stanley Jones was a highly influential missionary who worked in India during the time of Gandhi.  The principles for cross-cultural ministry presented in this classic are as valid today and in any context as they were when this book was written.  His understanding of contextual theology is profound as he seeks for an Indian interpretation of Jesus.  His confidence in the supremacy of Christ is evident in his practice of conducting round table dialogues in which each participant explains how their particular faith has impacted their lives spiritually. Consider this following excerpt concerning the transforming power of Christ:

There is no real danger lest Jesus be lost among the many in all this, that it may end up in his being put in the Pantheon of Hinduism.  Greece and Rome tried that and the pantheons amid which he was placed are gone – Jesus lives on.  He is dynamic, disruptive, explosive like the soft tiny rootlets that rend the monuments of man’s pride.  Like the rootlets he quietly and unobtrusively goes down into the crannies of men’s thinking, and lo, old forms and customs are broken up.  Absorb him?  You may as well talk about the moist earth in springtime absorbing the seed!  The seed absorbs it, for it is life.  Jesus is Life.  He will take care of himself.

‘Give us Jesus,’ said a Hindu to me, ‘just Jesus.  Do not be afraid that we will make a human Jesus out of him, for his divinity will shine out of its own accord.’ (pp 167-168)

Home to Harmony

One of my greater joys comes from time shared with my “A-Team” which I affectionately call the tiny band of brothers and sisters in our CLD Affinity Group. The group has grown over the years to several dozen, each called by God into a wide array of ministry in the church. They study hard. The course material is intense and demanding. But, I guess that my job is make it real. After all, ministry is much more than the formulas taught in books. The reality is that theories dissolve into the fabric of human life.

The subject of study this semester is Power, Change, and Conflict. To be honest, I am impressed with the material that the students are expected to read. But, if it were up to me, I’d add a few books to the list. And, I’d probably start with one – Home to Harmony by Philip Gulley.

Philip is a simple, Quaker pastor in Danville, Indiana – gifted with the grace of story. He has written what has become a series of books about a simple, Quaker pastor in the fictional village of Harmony, Indiana. Some have likened his stories to James Harriott’s All Creatures Great and Small or Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegon tales. will probably never be compared to Lyle Schaller or John Maxwell or any other authority in Leadership studies – but, it’s evident, he knows the life of pastoral leadership with an intimacy that befits ministry.

His stories include an array of characters all too familiar to too many pastors: petty “dictators” like Dale Hinshaw, congregational “queens” like Fern Hampton, wizened saints like Miriam Hodge. There are theories that help discern the dynamics of power, change and conflict – but somehow finding them come alive in a story makes it so much more human. And, I have to believe that when pastoral ministry is seen in humanity, it becomes much more divine.

So, for just a moment, allow me the heresy of suggesting that you set aside Barth’s Theology, or Maxwell’s Leadership or even Anderson’s Preaching [forgive me!] for just a moment – and read what happens when people become church, and pastors become people. For a sample, give it a try: http://www.beliefnet.com/story/151/story_15151_1.html

Top Ten Reasons Why You Should Read Theology #3

Reason #3.

Philosophy Needs Theology

Why do we need theology when we already have philosophy? Precisely the reason we need theology! Theology, at a minimum, is a constant reminder to human wisdom that a transcendent judgment stands over all human attempts to arrive at God through pure human sapentia alone. God’s wisdom stands over against human wisdom. The real basis of human wisdom as such must be found in God’s own self-revelation. Thus theology must be the real ground of all love of wisdom.

Snowflake Prayer

I was intrigued by a comment that I overheard some time ago to the effect that “prior to the age of Sunday School, the most influential instrument used to instruct Christians was Worship.” It was through the liturgy of worship that people learned theology – as they recited the Apostle’s Creed or Nicene Creed from week to week. It was through the liturgy of worship that people learned to read and make sense of the Scripture as it was read, week to week. And, it was through the liturgy of worship that people learned the language of prayer as together they prayed prayers of confession and shared litany’s of request and thanksgiving.

In recent years, as I’ve sensed a decline in Sunday School for adult education, I suspect that we have returned to the place where the burden of instruction is to be found in worship. And that troubles me, especially when it comes to prayer. Too often the prayers I’ve experienced in evangelical worship have not reflected careful thought, nor have they drawn out the voice of God’s people – which only makes me value the treasury of prayer that I’ve been collecting over the years.

Years ago, I began to collect what I discovered to be significant prayers. A significant prayer being one crafted with care, able to give voice to the depth of heart, and one that stimulates even greater expression of prayer as it is prayed again and again and again.

Some of the prayers are quite simple. One that I’ve included in my cycle of daily devotion I discovered in an old tattered used book simply titled Pray by Charles Francis Whiston. It was called the “snowflake” prayer, a title just odd enough to capture my imagination. As Whiston explained, an isolated snowflake melts quickly. But, when joined by other snowflakes over time, a snowflake becomes a glacier – able to carve channels through the hardest rock. It was a way to describe the discipline of prayer, especially commending the practice of using the outline of one prayer as a template for each day. The outline of this prayer has, over time, gained a glacial weight in my life. And, for that reason, I find my self commending it to anyone who wants it. It’s my adaptation:

Gracious Heavenly Father, in obedience to Your claim on my life, I surrender myself to You this day. All that I am, all that I have, to be wholly and unconditionally to You and for Your using. Take me away from myself, and my sinful preoccupation with self, and use me as You will, when You will, and with whom You will. Take away by loving force all that I will not give to You. And help me to know that having been crucified with Christ, I no longer live but that He lives in me, so that the life I love today, I would live by faith in the One who loved me and gave Himself for me. This I pray in His name, and for His sake. Amen

Everyday Theology

Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends
Edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Charles A. Anderson, Michael J. Sleasman. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007. 285 pages, $29.99, paperback.

Most of our churches in the Fellowship are not missional, but communal in orientation.  That is, their primary orientation towards the community in which they are placed is inward focused, seeking to draw people into the programs of the church.  On the other hand, the primary goal of a missional church with respect to their broader context is to seek relevant and impacting involvement outside of the programs of the church.  The communal oriented church addresses the surrounding community with approval, caution or rebuke through the stance of an outsider.  The missional church seeks significant involvement with the community in order to speak as an insider.  Such a church takes a missionary stance of seeking understanding, involvement and acceptance with people outside of the church in order to speak with relevance to them.  

Most of our churches in the Fellowship are not missional, but communal in orientation

A missional stance requires skill to recognize, interpret and respond to the concerns of people who do not believe church is relevant to their lives.  Kevin J. Vanhoozer, a research professor of systematic theology at Trinity Theological Divinity School, has made an important contribution to this end through the recent book, Everyday Theology.  The book is designed to provide guidance on “how to read cultural texts and interpret trends” as the book’s subtitle states.  By “texts” Vanhoozer does not mean merely written texts, but all aspects of culture, including music, art, and architecture, that communicate a message.  By interpreting these messages correctly we gain a window onto the yearnings of the human heart. Vanhoozer provides an introductory essay explaining “the Method” for successful interpretation.  The remaining chapters, which include an analysis of Eminem’s music, the grocery checkout line and mega-church architecture, are products of his students that provide insight into how understanding culture allows us to shape the gospel message in such a way that it speaks to the people who need to hear the message of life.

Click to discover a workshop on how to make missional a part of your church’s agenda

Disillusioned with the Sunday meeting expression of church

The following is a response from my wife, Karen, to a couple of recent blogs found on this site:

In his Oct 17 blog "The Foundation for Hearing God," Loren Warkentin wrote:

We Christians have become acculturated to this [fast-paced] style of living and I believe it has affected our spiritual lives. We are easily bored. If a “worship service” doesn’t entertain us sufficiently we move elsewhere. Long sermons and church services tire us. But maybe more deadly is the effect this lifestyle has on our personal, devotional relationship with God – it has become fragmented, stretched thin, missing even – and so we look for a fix. We still want to hear from Him, but….

YES! We desperately want to hear from Him!! But maybe the problem is not our expectation but the "worship service."

I don’t believe most Christians go to a church service looking to be entertained. We go seeking God. My great desire is to be engaged – my mind, heart, will and spirit – but when it comes to church services, I have all but given up. Most often I come home from a service knowing that I have (yet again) missed God.

My great desire is to be engaged – my mind, heart, will and spirit

Music moves me so if the "worship team" is decent and the songs are good (by that I mean there is some substance and content to the lyrics), then I can worship.

But the vast majority of sermons I hear do not engage me. I recently attended a friend’s very charismatic church. I am not a charismatic by theology, preference, experience, desire, personality or history, but if I lived in that town, that’s the church I would go to.

the vast majority of sermons I hear do not engage me

Why? Because I met God there. It was clear that the leaders were communicating their heart and more importantly, God’s heart. The sermons (I heard 3 over the weekend) came out of their lives and what God was teaching them, not from a commentary.

I find that in sermons the grand themes in the Bible are often reduced to the bottom line "be nice" and so much of what I hear is the "same, old, same, old." I love the "old, old story," don’t get me wrong. But the way it is presented is like eating dusty, stale crackers.

I have met numerous people who no longer attend church, not because they aren’t entertained, but because they miss God when they go.  Initially they think the problem is with them, that somehow their expectations are out of line. Some of them keep going out of habit, others keep attending because they have kids and others just give up (I have talked to all of the above).

I have so many questions but have no place to ask them

Although evangelicals say we base our lives and beliefs on the Bible, there is little Bible reading. At one service I attended the preacher read 1.5 verses and then told us that even though the verses meant something different, he would still use those verses to preach on his chosen subject. At such services I look around at the people and think – Do they really find these words a life giving message? or is coming to church a habit and good way to see friends?

I have so many questions but have no place to ask them. Most of them start with "yes, I see what you’re saying…but what about this? and this? and this?” Does the preacher not have the same questions? If he (most are men) doesn’t, why not? Am I that off the charts? Do the people around me not have similar questions?

In Kent Anderson’s Oct 19 blog, "Apologetic Preaching," he writes in reference to J.P. Moreland:

People, he said, need more than just to hear what the Bible says and how to apply it, because people don’t actually believe the Bible very strongly. People today are looking for passion and some sense that the preacher knows what she or he is talking about. Pastors need to be brokers of knowledge just like doctors.

[The problem with church services is not] the lack of entertainment, but the lack of substance

I believe that passion comes not just from knowing God, but from knowing God this past week; from working through doubts, questions, injustices and opportunities. I don’t think we need to develop a database of God’s miraculous interventions (Moreland’s suggestion as reported in Kent’s blog) because most people don’t live life like that. But we do want to know how to meet God in our ordinary, every day life.

Church services are a prime opportunity to bring people into God’s presence so they can hear from Him. At least the vast majority of resources are geared towards constructing and maintaining very expensive buildings so there can be a corporate gathering. But when that doesn’t happen the discouragement can lead to disillusionment. It is not about the lack of entertainment, but the lack of substance.

maybe church is just (mediocre) entertainment and isn’t meant to be a place where life and the gospel come together

 Coincidentally, I am reading about the Veritas Forum, a movement in universities that faces the hard questions of life in the light of who Jesus is. Experts in many different fields offer expertise to students who can respond and interact. Their messages do not reduce the gospel to a trite "be nice," but honestly grapple with the relevance of God’s revelation in the context of a secularized worldview.

I find the Sunday meeting expression of church to be very unsatisfying because it is one dimensional. Much time and effort is put into this one expression and yet it falls short of what it could be: a gathering of people who need and want to meet with God, who have come to worship and to be in God’s presence. Yet week after week some of us leave so frustrated. Eventually we learn that maybe church is just (mediocre) entertainment and isn’t meant to be a place where life and the gospel come together.


Apologetic Preaching

J. P. Moreland of Talbot Seminary was the keynote speaker at this year’s meetings of the Evangelical Homiletics Society. He took the opportunity to offer a proposal for “apologetic preaching.” While such an approach is not new, Moreland seemed to suggest that apologetics could and should take a much higher place in our thinking about preaching in this highly-secularized period.

This is, he said, the most divided time in American history since the civil war. On the secular side are the media, the universities, and the entertainment industry. On the the other side (according to USA Today) the leaders are the evangelical churches. It scarcely seems a fair fight.

It is out of this millieu, Moreland says, that the current evangelical church has been formed. We have, he said, felt forced to retreat to a largely privatized faith. We have conceived of our beliefs as matters of faith and not of knowledge, thus ceding the realm of knowledge to the scientists. It is the doctors and scientists who are the keepers of empirical knowledge. Truth is no longer adequate. It is knowledge of truth that reigns supreme. Because preachers trade in truths that can’t be known, we have been marginalized to the realm of private belief.

Moreland offered Oprah as an example. She can wax eloquent about theology without any expertise, he said, because she understands that there is no hard knowledge available this kind of truth. She tells people that they can pray in any manner that they want and to any God whom they might see as helpful. Of course, she wouldn’t dream of offering such counsel with respect to something like smallpox, because we have hard scientific knowledge about smallpox. We know that you cannot vaccinate yourself effectively with coffee or with chocolate. When it comes to faith, however, we think that no such conviction is possible and so we relegate it to the realm of individual discernment and desire.

This, Moreland suggests, is unnecessary and ultimately untenable. The Bible, he says, is a source of hard knowledge. Paul, for example, spoke about the power of thinking rightly (Phil. 4:8,9) long before Sigmund Freud ever thought it was a good idea. We need, he said, to build faith in listeners by preaching such that they increase their confidence in the ability to know things about God and about eternity based on the teachings of the Scriptures.

Belief, he said, is a “degreed property,” which is to say that belief happens whenever we are between 51 and 100% certain of the truth of a thing. Belief is like ‘cloudiness’. A dog is a dog is a dog. But cloudiness can exist to a greater or lesser degree. The same is true with beliefs. I believe in my own existence, more strongly than I believe in the existence of God, he said, though the two are very close. The task of the preacher, then, is to bump people up so that they believe the right things and that they hold them more strongly than they previously did. As preachers, we ought to assume that people don’t believe the things they believe with a great deal of strength and that it is our task to help them believe more strongly.

People, he said, need more than just to hear what the Bible says and how to apply it, because people don’t actually believe the Bible very strongly. People today are looking for passion and some sense that the preacher knows what she or he is talking about. Pastors need to be brokers of knowledge just like doctors.

Thus, he said, we need to be developing two skills in preachers: (1) to develop a habit of reading worldview in culture, and (2) to communicate what the Bible has to say on public issues – to show, that the Bible is an intelligent book written by thoughtful people. Specifically, and more controversially, he suggested that we develop a database of experiences of God breaking into the world, like undeniable instances of God speaking in the world, miraculous circumstances, healings, and even encounters with angels and demons.

Personally, I found myself challenged and interested in Moreland’s ideas about working deliberately to build faith in the people who listen to my preaching. I even found myself appreciating the idea that I should catalog the instances in my own experience where God has made himself evident.

That being said, I think that perhaps Moreland underplayed the nature of faith in preaching and in the life of those we speak to. My sense is that we need to integrate both faith and reason such that our experience of God’s working finds its place alongside a reasoned appreciation of the truths that Scripture teaches. I once suggested that this is akin to aligning the two gospel songs, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so”, and “you ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.

Further, while I appreciate that the Bible is a source of knowledge, I think it also fair to say that as human subjects, our ability to know truth is limited by our finitude and fallenness. We are dependent, then, on God to reveal truth to us by his Spirit. I don’t despair that this overly privatizes my access to faith, because I believe that God is active by his Spirit, throughout the world, to build faith in the people he is reaching. It encourages me that he often uses preachers in that task.

Top Ten Reasons Why You Should Read Theology #4

Reason #4.

Simply put, neither science nor philosophy can supply all the answers to some of life’s most perplexing questions. Where did we come from? Why are we here? and whither are we going? Where they draw a blank on these questions theology comes in with solid answers that give hope and explain an otherwise inexplicable universe. To be sure these answers do not always coincide with scientific answers, but where science and philosophy are silent, theology can and does speak. Don’t you want more than just “we don’t know?” For more see John Polkinghorn’s book, Belief in God in an Age of Science.

Translation Theology

No, this is not an attack on any Bible translation. But it is a serious question — how do our translations of the Bible  influence the forming of our Christian worldview? We believe that God intended his Word to be translated into every language. Yet as we make the transition from Greek or Hebrew text to English or some other language, meaning is modified, often in subtle ways and without intention. The trust that Bible translators carry is immense, to say the least.

Does it make a difference whether we call John "the baptizer" or "the immerser" (Mark 1:4)? After all, the term "baptize" is a transliteration of the Greek, not a translation. And what has been the effect of using "Christ" (Mark 1:1) to render the Greek word for Messiah, i.e. anointed one? Or what image is created in our minds when we read the Jesus "preached the word"  (Mark 2:2)to the crowds gathered at his house in Capernaum? Was it a three pointer? Topical or expository? Or one wonders why the New International Version (NIV) translates euaggelion as "gospel" in Mark 1:1 and then "good news" in Mark 1:14-15, and then reverts to "gospel" in all the other occurrences in Mark until Mark 16:15 when suddenly it is "good news" again. What contextual factors would lead to such variance? Does this kind of alternation affect how we understand God’s Word and influence the theology that we formulate?

In Mark 2:15-17 the word hamartoloi is translated "sinners". It is placed in quotation marks in verses 15-16, but not in verse 17. In the Markan text "sinners" is differentiated from tax-collectors in 2:15-16. But when we hear the word, our grid tends to be formed by the Pauline understanding, i.e. "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." But obviously this is not the kind of "sinner" that the Greek text of Mark 2:15-16 is  describing. But then in 2:17 we suddenly find the word "sinner" used in Jesus’ response, but without any quotation marks around it.  Presumably the contrast in his words between "righteous" and "sinner" changes the nuance of the term in the mind of the translator, from describing a social category, to describing a spiritual category.  When we come to the story of Jesus’ betrayal in Mark 14:41, Jesus says that "the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners." The NIV does not place any quotation marks around the word "sinners" in this context. But what did Jesus mean by using this term in 14:41? Is he placing his betrayers in the social category defined by the scribes in Mark 2:15-16 or is he defining them as "sinners", i.e. sinful human beings?

Examples could be multiplied and while the NIV is used as an example here, all translations struggle with this problem. But these instances beg the question about the way these renderings, read by millions of people and liturgically intoned countless times in the hearing of the faithful, shape or perhaps mis-shape the theology of the average believer.

I do not raise this question to create doubt about the trustworthiness of good Bible translations. Rather, I draw attention to this reality — our theology does get shaped by how we read these translations, whether we like it or not. Frequent reference to the Greek or Hebrew text becomes more important, not less, as the number, type and quality of English Bible translations continues to multiply. Preachers and teachers have a significant responsibility to make sure they "divide the Word of God rightly." Perhaps competence in New Testament Greek or biblical Hebrew is becoming more important, not less, so that ministry leaders guide and form God’s people as diligently as possible. If we take short cuts here, what might be the unintended consequences?

Theology and photography

It was while Karen and I were visiting the Bridal Veil waterfall outside of Hope that we discovered that we had neglected to bring our camera. For some people I know, this would have been reason to travel the 5 hours back home to get it. However, we have always been apathetic (or just pathetic) photographers and so we shrugged and continued on with the important issue of experiencing the beauty of the falls. We tend to have a skeptical attitude towards cameras. They never seem to capture the beauty and fullness of the experience. The result is only a narrow window, a moment, that was so much more at the time, but now is reduced to a flash of color. It remains a true picture, but a picture that is so much less than the reality of the experience.

This is a metaphor for theology. Theology is a human attempt to describe, systematize and analyze the vast reality of God as he has revealed himself and relates to the world. However true and accurate the description, it will always fall short of the reality, even as a photo fails to capture the fullness that exists in the drama of our lives. Theological descriptions are good, even as photos are good. But they are no substitute to living the moment and experiencing the overwhelming beauty that gives us life.

Of Collapsed Bridges and Bad Theology

Minneapolis Bridge Collapse

Yesterday, August 1st at 6:05 pm, an extended section of the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota suddenly collapsed, sending dozens of vehicles, together with their drivers and passengers, plunging into the Mississippi River.  The images yesterday were of emergency personnel and citizens on the scene scrambling amid the tons of twisted metal and broken concrete to rescue survivors.

Today, the images and commentary in the news are different.  Various local, state and federal officials are appearing on camera to pledge material support and vowing to find answers to the engineering and administrative questions.  Anguished family members are being interviewed as they wait for word on loved ones who did not return home last night and have not called.  Reporters’ commentary has shifted from rescue to talk of safe recovery of bodies and there is a general dread that the victim count–remarkably low to this point–is poised to rise.

Invariably, amid the words and images of the media, a few sound bites will be given over to theological reflection. Much of the theology will be, at best, unhelpful and some of it will be downright bad.

Some pundits will challenge God’s greatness–where was He when the bridge went down, claiming the innocents? They will accuse God of either sleeping on the job or not really being in charge.  Others will challenge God’s goodness, concluding from the collapse and a superabundance of other tragedies the world over that such a malignant world must be overseen by an equally malignant God. Yet others will risk accusations of callous heartlessness by exploring the dangerous territory of particular human deserving. Far too many, sadly, will simply dismiss the God question as antiquated, naive and irrelevant.

Jesus was pressed by contemporaries in his day for a theological sound bite in a similar situation (Luke 13:1-9). His response was interesting.  He questioned neither the goodness nor the greatness of God. These were givens. While He forcefully resisted the notion of being able to assign greater or lesser guilt to individuals on the basis of what happened to them, he was equally adamant that there are no innocents on the road, notwithstanding human assessments. Everyone is a sinner, he asserted.

What was Jesus’ advice? The structure will eventually collapse for everyone and particular collapses are a warning of the breathtaking shortness of human life. Smooth crossings presently are a divine grace against our deserving.  Therefore, we should take them as our opportunity to humbly draw close to God and honour him through a generous, well-lived life.


The “Ministry Leadership Team” – the Best Model?

George Cladis, Leading the Team-Based Church. San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1999. vii-xv, 1-189.

According to Cladis the best of kind of leadership model for the North American church in this postmodern era is the ministry leadership team. He begins by grounding his model in Trinitarian theology. Then he defines seven specific characteristics, based on his understanding of the Trinity, that such a team should cultivate and exhibit, discerning along the way connections between these characteristics and the contours of postmodernism. Effective ministry teams will be covenanting, visionary, culture-creating, collaborative, trusting, empowering, and learning. In the second section of his book Cladis treats each of these elements in detail, providing examples of their effectiveness and importance to the success of a ministry team leadership model.

When I saw that his first chapter would establish a theological foundation for ministry leadership teams in the way the Trinity operates, I was eager engage his ideas. He makes reference to Rublev’s Icon of the Holy Trinity, with the three persons pictured as sitting, perhaps on thrones, around a central table. Intense, intimate, but calm discussion seems to be occurring among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Cladis correctly discerns that Rublev was expressing the concept of perichoresis, the interpenetration of the persons of the Trinity. Continue reading

Top Ten Reasons Why You Should Read Theology – #5

Reason #5.

The fact is, much of what remains of western culture can be traced back to the philosophical and theological roots of the early Church and its encounter with Greeco-Roman culture. To not know the theological aspect of what has been the predominant source of culture is to be only half educated in respect to it. Thus, we need to fill up the missing chunk of our education by reading theology.

Top Ten Reasons Why You Should Read Theology – #6

Reason #6.

Simply put, liturgy lives from its theology and dies for lack of it. With out a solid grounding in theology those who perform and participate in the church’s worship neither are capable of bringing the church fully into the presence of God, nor make participants fully realize the eternal weight of Glory that grounds proper liturgy. As the church, and its participants, learn and recite the church’s theology in song, creed and ordinance it gains a proper sense of the enormous proportions of its witness to the reality of God. Indeed, without theology we worship a mere phantom of our ourselves, unaware!

Top Ten Reasons Why You Should Read Theology – #7

Reason #7.

Evangelism: Properly understood and carefully learned theology enables you to be more articulate when expressing your faith. The scriptures tell us to ‘always be ready to give a reason for our faith.’ In the long run theology is precisely this; I believe Christ is my savior because… . It is critical to be clear, concise and reasonable when answering this and all the related questions that go along with it. To be sure, witnessing to Christ is more than having a set of organized beliefs. Genuine witness requires actions as well as words, and actions that are congruent with words. But words are still and will always be necessary. Why not have them ready to hand and clearly understood. Good theology equips us to do this.

Top Ten Reasons Why You Should Read Theology – #8

Reason #8.

Theology has great potential as a teaching tool for the church. In fact the whole concept of systematic theology was not just about trying to describe the whole of reality in systematic terms but about the orderly catechesis of the faithful. As a teaching tool it enables you to think more clearly about the nature of the God-human relationship and make better sense of it all.

Top Ten Reasons Why You Should Read Theology – #9

Reason #9.

You need theology because, lets face it, we all talk about God at some point in time. Wouldn’t you want to speak about God intelligently, with at least a basic idea of who, and what we are talking about? We are all theologians of sorts, why not be an informed one? Even atheists need some knowledge of theology or their arguments make no sense, (not that they ever do fully make sense). But then again, “only a fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God'”. On the other hand, if we have no knowledge of our theological tradition we could end up saying other things just as foolish. Other than the indispensible Bible, you could start with a very good book like Alister McGrath’s Introduction to Theology.

The Dance is Not Perichōrēsis

In several recent publications various authors have sought to support arguments related to the understanding of the Trinity by stating that the Greek noun perichōrēsis (cognate verb perichōreō) signifies dance or dancing. For example, George Cladis states that “Perichoresis means literally ‘circle dance’.”[1] Eugene Peterson concurs: “The dance is perichoresis, the Greek word for dance.”[2] In her discussion about the Trinity, Catharine LaCugna discusses various analogies “used to depict perichōrēsis.” But she finds them too limiting. Instead she suggests “this is why the image of ‘the divine dance’ has been used to translate perichōrēsis. Even if the philological warrant for this is scant, the metaphor of dance is effective. Choreography suggests the partnership of movement,…”[3]

But does perichōrēsis mean “a circle dance” and does the cognate verb mean “to dance”? The fact is that these terms have nothing to do with dancing. Liddell and Scott indicate that there are two distinct Greek verbs:

perichōreō means to go around. perichōrēsis is defined as ‘rotation’.[4]

perichoreuō means to dance around.[5] No cognate noun is listed.

So there is no warrant for suggesting that perichōrēsis has any connection with dancing in Greek Classical Literature.

Perhaps, though, it may have come to mean this and so the church fathers had this sense in mind when they applied it to the Trinity? A scan of the information revealed in Lampe’s A Patristic Greek Lexicon, however, is not encouraging:

perichōreō means “interchange” when used in reference to the two natures of Christ and “interpenetrate” when it describes the actions of the members of the Trinity. A similar range of meaning is found for the cognate noun.[6]

perichoreuō is also listed with the meaning “dance round”, but the primary references are found in Pseudo-Dionysius Aeropagita (5th century) and these uses are not related to the Trinity per se. Also, Lampe only lists three occurrences, whereas for perichōreō he lists many occurrences, both Christologically and in relation to Trinitarian discussions.

Again, we find no evidence that suggests perichōreō has anything to do with dancing.

St. John of Damascus (8th century) used perichōrēsis in his Exposition of the Orthodox Faith to describe how the members of the Trinity relate to one another. For example, he says “they are made one not so as to commingle, but so as to cleave to each other and they have their being in each other [kai tēn en allēlais perichōrēsin echousi] without any coalescence or commingling.” However in this context he makes no use of the analogy of dancing to explain this relationship. Augustus Strong indicates that “theologians have designated this intercommunion by the terms perichōrēsis, circumincessio, intercommunication, circulation, inexistentia.”[7]

What can we conclude from this? It seems that some writers have confused perichoreuō (dance round) with perichōreō (interpenetrate). Although the verbs sound similar and are spelled somewhat similarly, they have two quite different meanings. The primary lexica for Classical and Patristic Greek give no indication that perichōreō was ever used to describe the motions of dancing. Catharine LaCugna is right so far as she goes to say that “the philological warrant for this is scant.”[8] It is in fact non-existent.

If a person desires to use the metaphor of dance to describe the mutual interactions of the persons of the Trinity that might be useful and appropriate. However, one cannot justify the use of such a metaphor by trying to connect it with perichōreō. That tune will not play. Nor should one pretend that the term “choreography” in some sense relates to perichōreō. Again, there is no etymological relationship whatsoever. Perichoretic dancing is a modern invention that does not come from the meaning of the underlying Greek term or its use in the Church Fathers.


Larry Perkins, Ph.D.

December 8, 2006.

[1] George Cladis, Leading the Team-Based Church (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999):4.

[2] Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eedrmans, 2005): 44-45

[3] Catharine LaCugna, God For us: The Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco: Harper-San Francisco, 1973): 271. Peterson refers to her publication in footnote 15 of his volume and quotes from page 272 as support for his understanding.

[4] Henry G. Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966):1394

[5] Ibid., 1393.

[6] G.W.H. Lampe, editor, A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968):1077-1078.

[7] Augustus Strong, Systematic Theology (Valley Forge, Penn.: Judson Press, 1974):333.

[8] Op. cit., 271.

Removing Shame Through the Cross

The prodigal son had shamed his father, shamed his family and shamed his religion. As the crowd listened to Jesus reach the climax of the story with the father running towards the son, some of the listeners – Prodigal Sonthose who had shamed their religion through compromise with the Romans, those who had shamed their families through prostitution, those who had shamed their fathers through neglect and rebellion – winced as they waited for the inevitable punishment to fall. What other action could a just, holy and righteous father take? Other listeners – the Pharisees who deeply felt the dishonor borne by father – anticipated with satisfaction the blow to fall on the son. How else could the shame be purged from the family name?

"…the father is not tainted by the impurity of the son but instead transforms the son once again into his image with a robe, shoes and a ring symbolizing an astounding renewed identity as an honored child."

In Pakistan there exists an infamous tradition of Karo Kari – black boy, black girl – the killing of the defiled daughter. A few years ago at a wedding a teenage girl was dancing and celebrating with other girls when a young man came up and grabbed her hand. She snatched her hand away, but it was too late, an uncle from the balcony had seen this exchange take place. The girl was dragged from the celebration, taken outside and stoned to death. There can be only one answer to shame: to purge it through death. In the story the father reaches the son but instead of the anticipated blow, his arms open and he draws the son into a strong, accepting embrace. The crowd is stunned as they realize what has taken place. The father has taken the shame upon his own self, he has embraced and absorbed the dishonor. As this totally unexpected story unfolds the father is not tainted by the impurity of the son but instead transforms the son once again into his image with a robe, shoes and a ring symbolizing an astounding renewed identity as an honored child. Can it be that there is redemption for shame? This is a theology of the cross for an honor – shame culture: ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole”’ (Gal 3:13 TNIV). The cross is the act of the father to those of us living in shame. “I am not worthy!” and we wait for the blow to fall, only to be surprised by the grace of the Father’s embrace. There is a deeper and more profound answer to shame. The cross of Jesus is God’s embrace of humanity, taking our shame and bringing transformation.

Read more of Mark’s articles at Cross-Cultural Impact in the 21st Century

The Tomb of Jesus – Empty or Still Occupied?

Has all the hype surrounding the "documentary" film The Lost Tomb of Jesus caught you off guard? The film’s website proclaims, “An incredible archaeological discovery in Israel changes history and shocks the world.” Well, what about it? The website contains a "proviso" stating that they are not disputing the resurrection of Jesus. The film makers claim, “Even if Jesus were moved from one tomb to another, this does not negate the possibility that he was resurrected from the second tomb” and then add in relation to the ascension: “If Jesus’ mortal remains have indeed been found, this would contradict only the idea of a physical ascension. However, it says nothing against the possibility of a spiritual one nor does it dispute the idea of the Ascension.” The fact remains that, if it is true that Jesus’ bones are contained in an ossuary somewhere in present day Jerusalem, then Peter’s statement in Acts 2:22-24* "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him." (emphasis added); and Paul’s declaration in Acts 13:34 "… God raised him from the dead, never to decay…", are nothing but empty lies! If, in fact, Jesus did not rise from the dead, victorious over sin and the curse, death and the grave, then in Paul’s words, we have believed in vain! But have we? What does the New Testament record tell us? Here is what Paul wrote to the church in the city of Corinth – countering the claims of some, who even in that day were disputing the possibility of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-25 – headings and emphasis added).

The Case: (1) Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. (2) By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. The Claim: (3) For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, (4) that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, The Evidence: (5)and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. (6) After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. (7) Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, (8)and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. The Summary: (9) For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (10) But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them-yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (11) Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. The Question: (12)But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? The Stakes: (13) If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. (14) And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. (15) More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. (16) For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. (17) And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (18) Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. (19) If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. The Fact: (20) But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. The Theology: (21) For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. (22) For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (23) But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. (24) Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. (25) For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The apostle Paul continues in Acts 13:37 “… the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay” and in Romans 6:9-10 he declares, “For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” Allow the import of the necessity of the bodily resurrection, ascension and imminent return of Jesus penetrate deeply into your soul. The New Testament is replete with eye-witness accounts and public declarations of the physical resurrection of Jesus. When the disciples first saw Jesus after the resurrection they wondered if he were a ghost. Jesus told them to both look at him and touch him to assure themselves that he was the flesh and blood Jesus – and if that were not enough he asked for some food to eat in their presence (Luke 24:36-43). Later when Thomas doubted, Jesus urged him to touch the very scars and believe (John 20:27). It was Jesus’ intention that his followers have full assurance that he was physically alive. Now listen to the words of the two men to the watching disciples on the morning of the Ascension, “ ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’ ” (Acts 1:11) This same physically alive Jesus has promised to return and take us to be with him (John 14) Here is the hope we have; "And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you." (Romans 8:11) Let us rejoice together with all Christians everywhere that “He is risen indeed!” *All Scripture quotations are from the NIV Bible

What’s In a Name?

A recent email from a colleague describes a decision made at his church regarding their Baptist identity. It begged a response and so I have followed this quote from the email with my own response. The email states as follows:

"We have stopped making reference to being "Baptist" for a few reasons. First, the denominational distinctives are often based on spurious biblical arguments which have nothing to do with the heart of the biblical theology. Thus, adding denominational qualifiers often disqualifies people who come from other labels. Secondly, we aspire to be a Christian, Bible based church, where people who seek to purse God under the authority of God’s Word can worship together without artificial barriers. Thirdly, our congregation at the present is made up of people from all Christian traditions like Baptists, Mennonites, Brethren, Pentecostals, Anglicans and others. We are a mosaic of Christians going well beyond Baptist distinctives. Thus, while there are many claims which make Christianity exclusive. Our name, while helping people to identify us and find us, should be as inclusive as we can make it without erecting unnecessary barriers and divisions. For accountability, and in order not to multiply the denominational fragmentation, we still remain a part of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Canada."

Now, this sounds to me like another effort at, "lets return to the pure form of the church" that gave rise to "Baptists" in the first place. At some point all churches have to establish a set of doctrines, even if one of them is, ‘we have no set doctrines.’ The moment they do that they will form a new denomination, of sorts. Call it the ‘non-denominational-non-doctrinaire church of Christ’ if you will but they will have to teach their beliefs, train others in them and then ensure structures are in place to continue the process. That is essentially what a denomination is. Every church has standards of membership. What are they going to say to people who want to retain the Baptist identity? "You no longer belong!?" Labels are inevitable because it is part of human nature. So they are deluding themselves if by denying their Baptist heritage they think they will succeed in alienating less people. That’s my belief anyhow!

At the Origins of the Christian Claim – Luigi Giussani

Luigi Giussani, At the Origins of the Christian Claim Trans. V. Hewitt; Montreal & Kingston:  McGill-Queens University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-7735-1714-6 (Cloth): ISBN 0-7735-1627-1 (Paper)

In his “Religious Sense”, Luigi Giussani laid the foundations for a defense of the inherent religious impulse of the human that requires a totalizing answer to the “utmost questions” of human life and existence.  Giussani is now prepared to offer an initial answer to the question laid bare at the end of his first enterprise, namely, does the Christian God, understood as Father, provide the most reasonable solution to this human religious dilemma?  The answer lies, as the title suggests, At the Origins of the Christian Claim.

This second part of Giussani’s trilogy amounts to an investigation into how the ultimate questions of the earliest disciples were decisively answered by the totalizing message of Jesus Christ the risen Lord.  This was a conclusion at which they arrived simply because life “spurs reason to search for a solution.  Indeed reason’s very nature implies that a solution exists.” (Introduction, p. 9)  The “religious creativity of man” [sic], which is the “entire expression” of human imaginative efforts to “possess the mysterium tremendum” has left us with a “spectrum of hypothesis” regarding the “truth” of any one religion.  1)  Either we must know all religions in order to make a rational and dignified choice or; 2)  Know at least the major religions and risk the loss of any truth in minority religions.  3) Perhaps we should aim at a form of enlightenment syncretism which synthesizes the best of all religious truths or still; 4) Allow for the truthfulness of all religious on an empirical basis, requiring adherence to ones native religion only.  All of these options, which express our human imaginative attempts at grasping the divine, require us to posit a freedom on the part of the “mysterium tremendum” which transcends, interrupts and challenges our “religious imaginations”.  That is, human reason must be “confirmed by revelation”.  Reason cries out for it and launches itself toward this hypothesis, “which is so rational and so much part of our nature that, to some degree, it always emerges.” [p. 21]  This impulse toward revelation is inherent in our drive for knowledge, our need for mediators of knowledge, our experience of proximity to God, our common appeal to revelation, and our western appeal to the faith of Israel.  If there is a crime that can be leveled at this universal religious impulse, as conceived by culture today, it would be that of the claim to “exclusive truth.”  Yet, Christianity does just this.  For Giussani this is a claim that can only be justified or not, when we return to the “origins of the Christian claim.”

Considered on its own merits as a human construct, Christianity would certainly be wrong to make such a claim in the face of other religions.  If, however, we understand the Christian claim to be an expression of the “enigma” as a fact within the history of this human religious trajectory, then this fact must be regarded or examined on its own merits.  Were we to suppose that the enigma (mystery, God) became flesh then this “supposition would correspond to the need for revelation”.  To deny this would be irrational and contrary to the human religious sense.  Were this to be the case then could not Christianity prove to be “a more human synthesis, a more complete way of valuing the factors at play.” [p. 30]  Taken in this way the Christian claim is no longer an hypothesis but a problem that must be solved.  Announced as a fact of history, the Christian claim must be taken seriously as a problem to be solved, not as a “despotic irrational claim”.  It concerns a question of fact, i.e. incarnation, not opinion.

Given that Christianity, as a factual problem, has a history, the place to begin solving the problem is with an attuning to the singular event of Christianity, the Incarnation.  “The mystery chose to enter the history of man through a life story identical to that of any other man.”  As imperceptible as this divine entry into time was in terms of recorded history, nevertheless history records a certainty on the part of the disciples of having found the Messiah.  The imperceptible became perceptible as a conviction among a few which produced a “profound certainty over time.”  If one follows faithfully the “itinerary” of their conviction one comes to the certainty that this incomparably great man of power and goodness was a master to be followed in freedom as the Messiah, indeed as the forgiving one whose new ethic inaugurates a new kingdom.

So the origin of the problem as a fact of history lies not so much in the event itself as in the “perceptive experience of the earliest disciples” and their careful formulation of the primitive “Christology” or Messianism.  While the event is a mystery, almost imperceptible, the conviction is the fulfillment of humanities deepest longings, needs and questions.  It was, as such, a totalizing event.

But Giussani is not satisfied to lay all the weight of the exclusive claims of Christianity on the basis of the experience of the earliest disciples.  He takes great pains to point out that Christ himself, through a “slow pedagogy”, taught his disciples to think of him as “God”.  Jesus’ claim is simply a fact that lays bare “the basic position of the human heart – whether closed or open – to the mystery of being.” [p. 79]  As such the Christian problem is resolved in the same terms in which it presents itself:  “either we are dealing with madness or this man, who says he is God, really is God.” [p. 79]  Our free decision to penetrate this mystery “is a decision with hidden roots bound to our attitude to reality as a whole.”  It is that “supreme something” which sees Jesus as the ultimate good and worth our free commitment.

To understand this Christian claim we must be educated into “Christ’s conception of life” which is an education in “morality for understanding”.  What is at stake is the “correspondence of human existence as a whole to the form of Christ.” [p. 83]  Jesus own outlook on the value of humanity, dependence on the Divine, self existence, sin and human freedom answers the ultimate questions about these core human realities in a definitive way.  “Following Christ (faith) thus generates a characteristic existential attitude by which man walks upright and untiring towards a destination not yet reached although sure (hope).” [p. 83]  Thus, the event of the Incarnation, as mystery, is an “ethical urgency”, and an “education to the ideal”.  It was “an extra ordinary historical reality” in which Jesus moved his disciples from “awe to conviction” because the answers he gave to the questions of ultimate concern convinced them that he was the “God-man”.  The greatest task of Christianity is to announce, with the same conviction that was present “at the origins of the Christian claim”, that Jesus of Nazareth is God.  Furthermore;

“The task of the Christian is not only the greatest, but also the most tremendous in history because it is destined to provoke unreasonable reactions; yet it is supremely reasonable to face and to verify an hypothesis on its own terms, and here is precisely an event which happened in history.”

This task is the reason for the Church’s existence, from which place the message will be proclaimed and worked out in society.

Some Reflections

Once again Giussani has surprised us with his unique ability to combine profound concepts with a well illustrated and very readable style.  As with The Religious Sense, one has the feeling of not being in the classroom but rather sitting by the fire listening to the sage expound on the most important events in life with story, poem and prose.  Catholics, whether clergy or laity, should embrace this almost folksy rendition of contemporary Catholic Christianity with enthusiasm and a desire to go deeper with Giussani.  Though this work is shorter and less detailed than the previous volume, The Religious Sense, it is no less a serious call to reconsider the Incarnation as a natural, historical event that gave rise to an historical consciousness of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.  Similar treatments in the history of Christian theology from Schleiermacher to Schillebeeckx have taken many more pages and done it less justice than Giussani’s brevity.  As with the previous volume, this one will have to be reckoned with by Protestants and Catholics alike; whether scholar, clergy or lay person.  It will be intriguing to see how such a religious sense is worked out in the Church, the bearer of the historical claim to answers of ultimate concern.

A serious question remains, however.  Despite his brevity, clarity and intellectual power, Giussani has still failed to answer the question of the relationship between revelation and experience.  The Incarnation as event is almost eclipsed by the disciples experience of it.  The attempt to uncover the “religious sense” of today will always be a dubious exercise because of the gulf between our time and theirs.  Without a clear starting point in revelation as the event of the Word of God, we are left with only a surmising of how that event affected the first followers.  Their experience must be secondary to the event and not constitutive of it.  Giussani needs to be clear on this.

Home Grown Ministers

In the May/June 2005 issue of the Evangelical Baptist magazine [p. 16], I wrote of the new trends in leadership development that demand attention. In it were themes that have I’ve echoed at the FEBBCY association meeting in Vernon, in conversations with pastors and leaders. The message has, for me, almost become a mantra.

Quick review: surveys reported in 1999 that 4% of people in ministry were "home-grown" ministers. By 2003, the number had doubled to 8%, and estimates [which are proving already to be low] were that by the year 2010 30% of people in ministry would have emerged into mature ministry from within the fellowship of the local congregation. The Church is proving to be God’s chosen source for a new generation of ministers.

Over time I have noticed two general responses to this news:

1. A few people find this to be a bit disturbing. Just a few. For at least 50 years the standard conduit for leadership development has been a fairly direct academic route. The path to ministry led from Secondary School graduation to Bible School/University to Seminary.directly into Ministry as a final career. While there still are good numbers of people who follow that direct path, it is in decline [the average age of students in Seminary is in the mid-30’s.] This decline disturbs some people who possess a number of fears including a question over the survival of precious institutions [like Bible Schools.] The fact is, these institutions are working hard to refocus their efforts to target an older, church-based audience.

2. Most people celebrate the news with the comment that "it sounds so Biblical." After all, the Church has, from the beginning, been the environment where leaders have emerged into mature ministry. The assumption was made in the book of Ephesians that a spirit-led fellowship would "prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up and we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ [4:12-13]"  In the Pastoral Epistles, Timothy and Titus were directed to identify leaders from within congregations and empower them into mature ministry. When most people hear about the trend of "home-grown" leaders, they see a return to a Biblical pattern.

One pastor added a further reflection. He shared his reflections on how people like John Maxwell have identified the pastorate as a "toxic profession" in light of what appears to be growing numbers of conflicts between pastors and churches. One of the reasons he identified was that the conventional route to ministry created distance between pastors and churches. Churches sent emerging leaders away to get trained, and then imported other leaders in to serve. "No wonder there’s a disconnect," he said. Good point.

My reaction to this is mixed. On one hand, I am thrilled to see the "leadership culture" of the local church strengthened. It is a sign of health, and an indication that Ministry is a natural expression of the whole process of Spiritual development. People are growing into ministry, and God is guiding them all the way.

On the other hand, I am concerned that we may cut the development process short. Home-grown leaders are moving into mature ministry, and they are being discovered primarily because of their ability to run programs well. But, being a mature minister is more than being a good mechanic.

I continue to find Paul’s orders to Titus to be a challenge. In Titus 1:5, Titus was ordered to appoint elders to lead the churches in Crete. Nowhere in those orders do I find: "an elder must be one who can run a good program, an elder must be one who preaches a powerful sermon, an elder must be one who can chair an efficient board meeting." The criterion given Titus go deeper. The qualifications of a mature minister are largely a matter of character.

Not long ago, I was reviewing a list of competencies that would guide the training of a mature minister. It caused me to think of the distinctive marks I’ve seen in those who have influenced my life, those who have lived lives of profound impact in ministry. Three phrases began to form in my mind. They were people possessed of: a greatness of soul, a depth of perspective, and a breadth of wisdom.

They were also people who were also able to perform with excellence. But the weight of their character went far beyond the programs they ran. And, I suppose the focus of training that we would design for the "home-grown ministers" would have to center on these profound dimensions of inner character.

During this next year, I hope to galvanize a plan for churches to design a program of development for their emerging leaders. I’ve already discovered that some people discount some of the offerings available from academic institutions as irrelevant. Fields of study like Theology or Spiritual Formation pale in comparison to what are viewed as practical "how-to" courses. While such courses appear irrelevant, they demand reflection – and produce such things as "greatness of soul."


I would appreciate your response. As I seek to catalog the competencies that would go into Leadership Development, what would you identify? As you have been engaged in ministry, what are the resources of character you have had to draw on? As you have learned dependence on God, what competencies has the Holy Spirit brought to life in you? As you think of those who God has used in profound ministry – what is it that allowed them to serve so well?

Key principles that God uses to get our attention

God’s Calling – Next Step. Identifying key principles that God uses to get our attention.

In the Bible, the term "call" does not simply describe God’s invitation for an elite few who might enter full-time ministry. In the last issue of Leadership Connection, ALL BELIEVERS were identified as "called people." Calling describes the way God expresses His will for Human lives: Believers are "called" to salvation – because it is God’s desire "that anyone perish, but everyone come to repentance" [II Peter 3:9]. When God expresses His will, you could say that the "voice" He uses issues a "Call." For whatever reason, whether it’s His will for people to find Him in salvation, grow in discipleship, or serve in ministry, when people respond to His call they do it is an act of faith, belief, and obedience. In essence, they become "bodies in motion." Each step they take in obedience creates a sense of momentum that God is able to direct and lead their lives.

That’s an important principle for believer’s to grasp. Not only because it extends the dignity of "calling" to all believers, but because it activates God’s presence into every corner of a believer’s life. It is this sense of Calling that makes all the difference in a believer’s life.

Not too long ago, I read what appeared to be a remarkable insightful assessment of North American Christianity written by the Swiss Theologian, Philip Schaff: [it is] more Petrine than Johannean; more like busy Martha than like the pensive Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus. It expands more in breadth than in depth. It is often carried on like a secular business, and in a mechanical or utilitarian spirit. It lacks the beautiful enamel of deep fervor and heartiness, the true mysticism, an appreciation of history and the church; it wants the substratum of a profound and spiritual theology; and under the mask of orthodoxy it not infrequently conceals, without intending or knowing it, the tendency to abstract intellectualism and superficial rationalism. This is especially evident in the doctrine of the church and of the Sacraments, and in the meagerness of the worship … (wherein) nothing is left but preaching, free prayer, and singing.

Would it surprise anyone that Dr. Schaff wrote this assessment in 1854? In a century and a half, it doesn’t appear that much has changed. If anything, the spirit of "mechanical utilitarianism" [I  love the richness of that phrase] has become the hallmark of Church life and ministry. We don’t lack for an abundance of business or busyness in our fellowship. What we lack is a thorough sense of "calling" that enlivens every moment of life, including the moments invested in Kingdom service. Without the profound sense of God’s presence – of God’s involvement in every corner of life, ministry can become just another job, a sterile responsibility.and occupational drudgery.

That’s not the heritage God intended for His people. The most powerful voices of the Reformation, Calvin and Martin Luther rightfully identified the Biblical teaching that included ordinary work, ordinary life, as a matter of  spiritual "Calling." In 1520, Martin Luther put forth the case in The Babylonian Captivity – that the farmer in the field, or the farmer’s wife in the farmhouse, if they are doing their work by faith for the glory of God, are fulfilling as high and holy a calling as the pastor in the pulpit. The whole of life, lived in obedience to God’s will, becomes a matter of dignity and honor.

In his wonderful book The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life, Os Guinness writes If there is no Caller, there are no callings, only work. I have to think that every believer has the responsibility to recognize God’s interest in every corner of life. To deny His ability to "make the call" in simple things is a tragic mistake. It mutes His ability to speak in strategic ways at crucial moments.

We have the choice to make a critical decision with our life. We can choose to live ordinary lives doing ordinary things in ordinary ways without any extraordinary sense of purpose. Or, we can choose to invest time, talent, and treasure in obedience to God’s will and direction, no matter how simple it may seem, knowing that even the most simple investment welcomes the God who Speaks, who Calls, who Directs.

There is a word for the first choice, the ordinary option. It’s a life as Occupation. For too many, that’s about all there. Occupy, occupy a spot, a place, for a period of time. God intends so much more for all His people. For those who deliberately make the first choice, there is another, a treasured word that describes each moment of their day. Vocation. Whether it is washing dishes or composing sermons, their labor possesses the dignity that comes from purpose and meaning. It is an expression of obedience, it is Vocation.

Vocation is rooted in the Latin word vocare, [rooted in the Latin word vox – voice] which is exactly the same word call, which has an Anglo-Saxon root. If we were to be painstaking in our theology, the word Vocare would appear on the list of God’s attributes as one of His imminent qualities. He is a Calling God, one who speaks with clarity. When He speaks with a Vox and we respond with obedience, we discover Vocation, a life of divine presence and personal purpose and.

When it comes to discerning God’s Call, the most obvious questions tend to measure a sensitivity to God’s Work and Ministry needs: Is this a work God wants me to do? Is it a work that I am able to do? In reality, there are a deeper set of questions that measure that assess the quality of the human heart: Have I become a person able to find God present in all areas of life? Have I been faithful in even little things? What areas of my life have been reserved for God and His purpose? How could the rest of my life been lived to His service? Do I rely on His resources for only certain actions, or have I learned to depend on Him for it all? If I were to look in the quiet corners of life, do I sense the presence of God? What lessons has He taught me in those corners?

In an earlier generation, Brother Lawrence learned the nature and value of such discipline. His book, The Practice of the Presence of God, he refused to discriminate between the chores of life and the labor of ministry. He was determined to find the presence of God whether he was working in his kitchen or worshipping in his church. He had a simple daily prayer that opened a whole new realm of understanding, Lord of all pots and pans and things.make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates.

It’s a curious thing to think that God would "make a saint" using simple chores. And, yet, that’s where the important lessons of ministry are learned.and discerned. Are you capable of faithfulness? Do you live in reliance upon God? Are you humble at heart? Are you able to serve? Are you willing to move according to His leading? [Next issue: 8 Heart-felt lessons that Measure God’s greater call.]