Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Coming Collapse of Evangelicalism

I read a very interesting post over on the Culture Campaign's blog regarding a book by Michael Spencer called The Coming Evangelical Collapse.

Here's the snippet from their post:

We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.

-- From "
The coming evangelical collapse" by Michael Spencer, posted on The Christian Science Monitor 3/10/09 edition

Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the "Protestant" 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.

Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I'm convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.

Why is this going to happen?

* We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. . . .

* There are three kinds of evangelical churches today: consumer-driven megachurches, dying churches, and new churches whose future is fragile. Denominations will shrink, even vanish, while fewer and fewer evangelical churches will survive and thrive.

* Despite some very successful developments in the past 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism. Evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself.

* Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.

* The evangelical investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can't articulate the Gospel with any coherence.

We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.

To read the entire article, CLICK HERE.

Also available is the full (original) writing by Michael Spencer

Even as pointed (and accurate) as this assessment is, it is still missing a critical piece – namely that not only are the majority of Evangelicals no longer able to articulate the gospel, but also that for some time we (especially whites) have put comfort over power and security over radical faith, and so we are both powerless and irrelevant to lost people.

For those of you who might be wondering what I’m thinking (… is the theology the problem?) I would say definitely not – essential Evangelical theology is very biblical, in my humble opinion. Besides, Mainline Protestants (of the conservative variety) as well as Catholics are experiencing many of the same problems.

We lost our way long ago when we began to love our lives here too much. The best doctrinal statement in the world is useless if at the end of the day we’re living for ourselves. Prosperity breeds complacency far too often. Loving my life is the death stroke of healthy discipleship and powerful witness.

The lesson in this is that the gospel itself is what once defined Evangelicals, and we have muddied it and co-opted the mission of spreading it so much in the last three generations that we no longer have either an identity or a mission.

There was a time when Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Mennonites, Baptists, Evangelical Free members, Wesleyans, and many others would work together for the gospel despite their differences on other issues. Diffusing our energy to various causes and focusing on filling pews rather than preaching the gospel has done untold harm.

Fortunately, the gates of Hell will, in the end, not prevail against the Church of Jesus Christ. The Church will continue to advance, but the once-great Evangelical movement may no longer be a part of that advance. It is a shame that so many will miss out on all God intended because we were not faithful.

BTW - there are more than three kinds of Evangelical churches. There are the ones who are faithful to the gospel. The problem is that they are the exception, it seems.

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Strong Word for the President

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Thought of the Day

Mercy is hollow unless God is sparing you from something real.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Memorizing Scripture

Got a GREAT post from a blog called Fallen and Flawed.

Check this out:

18 Tricks to Memorize More Scripture
Friday, March 20th, 2009 Christian Living

Can’t remember where you put your keys? Blanked on your child’s name and the church you go to? This isn’t a sign that you’re getting old.

Zaldy S. Tan, MD, director of the Memory Disorders Clinic at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, says it’s a sign of how busy we are: “When we’re not paying good attention, the memories we form aren’t very robust, and we have a problem retrieving the information later.”

If you struggle with the simple things of life, then memorizing John 3:16 probably seems intimidating. And putting away Romans 8 sounds down right impossible.

In truth, it’s not as hard as you think. Yes, it takes effort and time. But there are some simple strategies to help you.

Why Even Memorize Scripture?

Lately I’ve seen a lot of interest in memorizing Scripture. Tim Challies hosts his own Bible memory series. And Ryan Ferguson awes audiences with his dramatic recitation of Scripture.
But one of the most compelling reasons for memorizing Scripture I found in John Piper’s sermon
If My Words Abide in You: memorizing Scripture shapes the way I view the world by conforming to God’s viewpoint.

So, whether you want to memorize one verse or an entire book, try these strategies to help you remember more.

1. Read it repeatedly. Did you know you can memorize Scripture during your morning devotion? Instead of zipping through your reading for the day, pause and camp on one verse for a long time. You won’t regret it.

2. Pay attention. Sounds obvious, but often ignored. Simply forcing yourself to be aware of what you are reading can help you internalize the words. Repetition will make the mind wander. What you have to do is bring it back.

3. Visualize what you are reading. Take
Psalm 1:1 for example. “Blessed is the man who does not walk with the wicked nor stand in the way of the sinner nor sit in the seat of the mocker.” Your first tasks is to see the three actions here: walking, standing and sitting. If you can see the three main actions, then you can start to memorize the surrounding words.

4. Create anchor words. In the above example, your anchor words are “walking,” “standing” and “seating.” In
Colossians 1:15, my anchor words are image, invisible and firstborn. Whenever I get lost while reciting a passage I look for my anchor words to orient myself.

5. Recognize patterns. In Psalm 1:1, after the first line, the next three sentences follow this pattern: a verb, a noun and a modifier. Think of each of these as a bucket you drop the appropriate word into.

6. Start with the easy. Now, some passages are easier to remember than others. Psalm 1, easy. A page from Romans, hard. On your first effort at memorizing large chunks of Scriptures, don’t tackle Romans. Build some confidence first by memorizing Psalm 1 or the Sermon on the Mount.

7. Stagger. Sorry, not like you were drunk. What I mean is memorize an easy passage then a hard passage then an easy. Give your brain a break. This way you’ll avoid burnout.

8. Build memorable associations. If you want to remember difficult section of scripture like Romans 1:18-20, it helps to imagine God hovering like a brooding mountain over the world to represent all three verses. This is a robust picture hard to forget.

9. Anchor memorable associations in chapters. These rich word pictures can also help you when you’re trying to memorize entire chapters of the Bible. They orient you on a larger scale.

10. Cheat a little. Once you’ve absorbed a hunk of Scripture, don’t be afraid to keep a sheet of paper nearby with keywords or section headings to help you out when you need a reminder.

11. Narrate. Sometimes it helps to describe in your own words what you are trying to memorize. This will also help you build memorable associations, spot keywords and develop anchor words.

12. Stick to a ritual. I find it easier to memorize Scripture in my car–I have a long commute–and before I sleep. Especially early on in the process of memorizing, I can’t remember my passage as easily anywhere else except these places. So, until I gain more confidence, I stick to this ritual.

13. Sing it. Try opera. Or a musical. The point is to be dramatic. As if you were in a play. [This is my favorite trick, by the way.]

14. Try mnemonic devices. Many of us learned ROY G BIV to remember the colors of the rainbow. Make up your own device to memorize anchor words or more. In Psalm 1:1, your device would be WSS, or walk, stand and sit.

15. Enlist your body. If mnemonic devices aren’t your cup of tea, use body parts. Classic example of this is
Ephesians 6:10-18, the armor of God. Waist, chest, feet, forearm and head complete the armor and can help you navigate through this lengthy passage.

16. Repeat the alphabet. Say you just can’t remember that big word in
1 John 2:2. Run through your ABCs. When you get to P, it should trigger the word escaping you: propitiation.

17. Type it. One way to memorize something like
John 1:1-3 is to type it into your computer. Not once. Not twice. But ten times. Maybe more. Your call.

18. Hear it. After you’ve typed it, next, read it aloud and record it. Then listen to the recording several times.

Don’t forget: As you work on memorizing, turn off the TV, unplug your iPod and shut down your computer. You’ll retain more.

BY THE WAY: April marks my two-year anniversary of staring this blog, and this post is my 100th post!

Labels: , ,

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Faith, Context and Blindness

The other night my 8 year old son was reading his “Pathway Reader” a really effective book published by the Anabaptists for the purpose of teaching reading to younger children. My wife, being a professional educator and a reading specialist, chose these books simply because their approach to teaching reading is excellent. We use them in addition to what our kids are learning at school and between them and my wife’s hard work, my sons are both reading at least three years ahead of their grade level. Yes, I’m proud of that…

But I digress…

My son was reading the 8th grade book, which includes a great deal of Christian history and specifically Anabaptist history which, as you may know, is full of stories of martyrdom at the hands of other Christians in Europe back in the 16th and 17th Centuries. He said to me, “Dad, I thought Martin Luther was saved!” I said that he was… or is.

“Why do you ask?” I asked.

He was reading about how there was organized Protestant persecution of the Anabaptists (from an Anabaptist perspective, obviously) and Martin Luther was not being painted in a very positive light.

It raised a very poignant question: How could Christians kill other Christians? Was one group not really saved? Were they both good illustrations of why religion is a problem? Was it an issue of blindness or blind spots? It reminded me of my own, similar questions regarding the execution by drowning of Felix Manz at the hands of Ulrich Zwingli…

I considered Zwingli a great reformer and almost certainly regenerate. And then I read my Christian History book. But does his role in the death of another Christian negate all he did for the Kingdom? Maybe it does…

This very paradigm brings me to today’s post. Essentially, if a Christian or someone else from history who was famous for great things is found to have done something we now see is horrible, do we dismiss that person completely? Does the bad not only outweigh the good as far as our historical assessment, but does it cancel it out completely?

I thought of this in relation to another historical figure of enormous proportion – Stonewall Jackson. Considered a hero by many, both north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line, Jackson owned slaves. White people cannot fathom how painful it is for African-Americans to sit in school and hear about heroes like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, etc. knowing that these men, on their best day, saw Black people as less than human and as mere property.

So do we discard these men – the Founding Fathers? Do we discard men like Jackson, who by all accounts was a devout Christian?

Consider these accounts:

"Stonewall" Jackson (1824-1863)

Both in faith and in battle, he would not be moved.
Thomas Jonathan Jackson was as thorough a Christian as he was a soldier. One writer described him: "He lives by the New Testament and fights by the Old." Orphaned at age 6, Jackson grew up poor and uneducated in foster homes. He entered West Point near the bottom of his class, but he graduated seventeenth. The second lieutenant then served in the Mexican-American war. Following the war, while Jackson was in the occupation force, his superior challenged him to study Christianity. He did, all the while struggling with intestinal problems. He wrote his sister that his digestive problems "were decreed by Heaven's sovereign, as a punishment for my offenses against his Holy Laws and have probably been the instrument of turning me from the path of eternal death, to that of everlasting life." He was baptized at age 25.

Five years later, his young wife and unborn child died, which devastated him but ultimately strengthened his faith. He remarried, and his second wife, Mary Anna Morrison, lived until 1915. Though baptized an Episcopalian, Jackson became a Presbyterian, and he was a noted tither to his home church. The Jackson family held prayers at seven A.M., and even servants were required to attend. Jackson never waited for anyone, not even his wife, to begin prayers. Following breakfast, Jackson would leave for his teaching duties at Virginia Military Institute (where his students called him "Tom Fool Jackson"). Jackson would return home for Bible study, which he did using a commentary.

Jackson believed that slavery was ordained of God. Strict but kind with his own slaves, he asked his wife to teach two slave boys to read. He even organized a Sabbath school for African-Americans in Lexington and taught a class for five or six years. "My Heavenly Father has condescended to use me as an instrument in getting up a large Sabbath school for the Negroes here," he wrote. "He has greatly blessed it."

In April 1861, Jackson prayed with his wife and his cadets, and then left for Richmond to assume his command. At the Battle of Manassas in July 1861, he took a green infantry brigade and turned the tide of the battle. During the fighting, Brigadier General Barnard E. Bee instructed his men: "There stands Jackson like a stone wall. Rally behind the Virginians!" The name stuck, and "Stonewall" Jackson soon became Lee's right arm in battle. He daringly moved large numbers of men quickly (some say too recklessly). In one sixty-day period, his troops marched over six hundred miles and fought five major battles and numerous skirmishes.

His military prowess earned him the fear of northerners, who regarded him as "a species of demon," "a fallen angel," and "a cold-blooded rascal." But Jackson never forgot where his abilities came from. After Lee commended his performance at Chancellorsville, Stonewall replied: "General Lee is very kind, but he should give the praise to God." On the battlefield, Stonewall Jackson maintained his devotional life. According to historian John W. Schildt, "His men saw him stumbling and falling over trees and rocks. They almost thought he had too much to drink. That was not the problem. He was praying with his eyes closed while he walked." Following every victory, Jackson ordered his chaplains to hold thanksgiving services. He was known to ride through the camps distributing tracts to his soldiers, and he often took part in his troops' religious meetings. Wrote Henry Kyd Douglas in I Rode with Stonewall: "And when he had reached the place of prayer, lo, the camp was there. Bowed heads, bent knees, hats off, silence! Stonewall Jackson was kneeling to the Lord of Hosts, in prayer for his people!"

Sundays were generally a day of rest. "Deacon Jackson," as his men sometimes called him, hated doing battle on Sunday. Jackson was rigid and stern, and he fought intensely with his subordinates. Some thought he was insane. But despite the way some writers have portrayed him, Jackson was not a fanatic. It's simply that, in one historian's words, his "primary interests" were "Biblical theology and Christian discipleship." Because of this, he could declare: "My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time of my death." After being accidentally shot by his own forces, he died on Sunday, May 10, 1863. "I always wanted to die on a Sunday," he said.

From Wikipedia:
Little as he was known to the white inhabitants of Lexington, Jackson was revered by many of the African-Americans in town, both slaves and free blacks. He was instrumental in the organization in 1855 of Sunday school classes for blacks at the Presbyterian Church. His second wife, Mary Anna Jackson, taught with Jackson, as "he preferred that my labors should be given to the colored children, believing that it was more important and useful to put the strong hand of the Gospel under the ignorant African race, to lift them up." [15]

The pastor, Dr. William Spottswood White, described the relationship between Jackson and his Sunday afternoon students: "In their religious instruction he succeeded wonderfully. His discipline was systematic and firm, but very kind. ... His servants reverenced and loved him, as they would have done a brother or father. ... He was emphatically the black man's friend." He addressed his students by name and they in turn referred to him affectionately as "Marse Major."[16] Jackson's family owned six slaves in the late 1850s. Three (Hetty, Cyrus, and George, a mother and two teenage sons) were received as a wedding present. Another, Albert, requested that Jackson purchase him and allow him to work for his freedom; he was employed as a waiter in one of the Lexington hotels and Jackson rented him to VMI. Amy also requested that Jackson purchase her from a public auction and she served the family as a cook and housekeeper. The sixth, Emma, was a four-year-old orphan with a learning disability, accepted by Jackson from an aged widow and presented to his second wife, Mary Anna, as a welcome-home gift.[17]

After the American Civil War began, he appears to have hired out or sold his slaves. Mary Anna Jackson, in her 1895 memoir, said, "our servants ... without the firm guidance and restraint of their master, the excitement of the times proved so demoralizing to them that he deemed it best for me to provide them with good homes among the permanent residents." [18]

James Robertson wrote about Jackson's view on slavery:[19]
“Jackson neither apologized for nor spoke in favor of the practice of slavery. He probably opposed the institution. Yet in his mind the Creator had sanctioned slavery, and man had no moral right to challenge its existence. The good Christian slaveholder was one who treated his servants fairly and humanely at all times.”

Let me put it another way: A friend of mine was interacting with me on the issue of abortion during the 2008 campaign and indirectly agreed with me that Abortion is genocide. He stated it this way: “Abortion amounts to genocide.” In other words, the abortion doctor or the pro-choice people are not setting out to kill babies, though that is in fact what happens.

I understood his meaning, and he unknowingly helped me clarify my thoughts on Zwingli, Jackson, and other historical figures. They saw themselves as doing something good, even though in fact it was not something good.

The vast majority of abortionists and pro-choice activists really, truly do not see abortion as murder. That’s why it does not help us to call them “pro-death” any more than it does for them to call us “anti-choice” (or misogynists or bigots or whatever else they like to call us). They truly believe a baby is no more that a piece of tissue. They are wrong. So while they are still murderers in the sense that their direct, intentional actions lead to the death of other human beings, they are not murderers in the same way that Saddam Hussein or Adolf Hitler were.

But my question is, does their understanding of what they’re doing (or lack of it) mitigate how we assess them? The same principle and question apply to people like Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli and yes, Stonewall Jackson.

If you view the world through the lenses they had, just like if you view abortion through the abortionist’s lens, it helps you see things a bit clearer. Jackson, for instance, grew up in a world where slavery was a way of life and had been for hundreds of years. It was “normal”. In spite of this, he broke the law to teach his slaves to read and to evangelize them. He loved them and they loved him. How should that impact the way we look at him? Slavery and its long-lingering effects have been beyond horrific. Can there be any "buts"?

Think of Zwingli. His convictions were that the Anabaptists were imperiling the souls of innocent children. He was wrong. But if you could stand in his shoes, in a mindset that was just emerging from Medieval thought where everything was absolutely absolute, might you do the same thing? Or at least feel the same way?

Of course, I’m with the Anabaptists. They got it right – the Bible clearly portrays believer’s baptism if it portrays anything, and the Anabaptists were acting on their biblical convictions. They were truly martyrs. But looking through different lenses helps me see how one Christian could kill another, unjustified as it was. They were blinded by culture, bad theology and Medieval thought.

The list could go on… Luther, Thomas Jefferson, some of the Popes. You see what I mean. I feel we cannot dismiss historical figures because we now see certain things so much clearer.

Did they sin? YES! Will they answer to God? God is both just and impartial. They will certainly answer. But my guess is that the righteous Judge will take things into account that we cannot know. We may be surprised at some verdicts that are handed down on that Day.

Q: What do you think of historical figures that are regarded as heroes by many but got some things inexplicably and terribly wrong? Do we dismiss them in our “superior” moral perspective? Do we blindly praise their accolades while ignoring their evil? How do we process this?

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Church Discipline

This is a summary of our actual church discipline policy...

Our church has practiced church discipline for over 30 years, and I would argue with good results. Many more pros than cons. I also know that it's increasingly rare, and I wonder whether it's for theological reasons, philosophical reasons, or that our culture has lost its mind and even the church cannot confront problems in a biblical way among its own members for fear of offending someone.

Okay, so I'm opinionated.

I'm curious to hear what you all think...

Armitage Church Discipline
- Summary -

Definition and Purpose of Church Discipline:
As in any family, discipline in a church family that is done the right way can be an effective tool to help people grow into maturity. The Scriptural basis for this can be found in passages such as Matt. 18:15-20, 1 Cor. 5:1-13 and 2 Cor. 2:5-11. “Discipline” is a word that makes people nervous in contemporary culture, but in a biblical context it is rich with good meaning and is life giving. For our purposes, it denotes one of the significant processes by which disciples of Jesus are made. So in other words, discipline does not equal punishment. “Discipline” encompasses all the church does in regard to “teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (1 Tim. 3:16 NIV). So that includes everything from Bible Study, encouragement and accountability to confrontation and exclusion.

Goal of Church Discipline
The goal of discipline is ALWAYS Christlikeness. Consequently, even something as serious as exclusion is always done with restoration in view – never as punishment.

Means of Church Discipline
The concept of church discipline can be divided into two broad categories: Proactive and Responsive. The proactive side encompasses all the church does to grow disciples: Bible Study, Grow Groups, accountability, counseling, prayer, encouragement, mentoring, service opportunities, etc. The responsive side involves such actions as personal exhortation and confrontation, personal and/or pastoral rebuke, public rebuke, official warnings (usually through a letter), and removal from the church membership by exclusion.

Reasons for Church Discipline
The reasons for proactive discipline are fairly obvious: To equip the body to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12) so that the church can function in its biblical role. Responsive discipline takes place when a church member begins to pursue a course of action that is detrimental to his or her spiritual health and consequently the health of the church body. In such cases, all the means available for correction will be used, starting with the more basic, but all the way to exclusion if the member refuses to repent.

Ultimately, church discipline exists for these two reasons: 1) To protect and maintain the health of the church body and 2) To work restoration (sometimes through severe means) in a member engaged in sin. If we are to be serious about the idea of community and the charge to make disciples of all nations, then the health of the body is paramount.

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Surefire Way to Build Your Church...

And we wonder why things are the way they are...

Labels: , ,

Rat Report

I killed them. All of them.

Unfortunately, I have no pictures to share. These particular rats were wary of traps - probably because the first few traps got sprung without a kill. Of course the rats from last fall were not as smart and I got them all with traps, and thus the lovely pictures from that post.

So once traps became a bust, I switched strategies and went to POISON!

It took awhile, but they eventually disappeared.

How do I know?

No more little tracks in the snow was one clue, but the acid test was putting chicken bones in my bait station. When those went untouched, I knew success was mine.


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Check This OUT!