Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Last Things

No, this isn't a post about the Tribulation, the Rapture, or even eschatology in general!

I'm writing this post from the computer lab at Grace Theological Seminary... and this will be my final day on campus as a student. I'll be back here next week to graduate, but today is my last class. I still have course work to do, but this is the last day I'll actually be here on the grounds as a student.

I thought I'd reflect on Grace a bit...

I've enjoyed my time at Grace. I know I don't always act like it, but I really have. Those of you that know me know that I love being a student in general. I have a passion for reading - you can thank my Mom for that. But there are some specific things I've appreciated about Grace over the (now 8) years I've been here:

1. The campus. It's beautiful. The whole Winona Lake area is.

2. The library. It's easy to get lost in a book at the library. But it's just as easy to run into a friend and have a good conversation (as long as you're not on the top floor!).

3. The staff. There are some I've really loved that are no longer here at Grace - particularly Dr. Davis (retired) and Dr. Bateman (now at Moody). There are also some present staffers I've come to really appreciate. Deea is great - always getting me the information I need about this or that. Jessie has been particularly helpful this semester in getting together everything I need to graduate. Ryan has been a good friend and listener. Dr. Gill - for all the anti-Michigan stuff he gives me (okay, I usually start it!) I really appreciate his attitude and convictions about what seminary should be. I haven't always agreed with the direction he's provided, but I know his heart to be a good one. Dr. Bickel - what can I say, he's one of the only ones that's been here longer than me! He's been a great friend, a trusted counsellor, and a source of much wisdom and encouragement. There are more - profs that I've only just recently met and some that I've only ever passed in the hallway. But they've all been kind and caring.

4. The students. There are too many to name (that's what happens when you've been here 8 years!). I've met so many great guys here. Many of them have come from backgrounds very different than mine, but they've all shared a commitment to the Word of God and ministering for His glory. They've been a great encouragement to me. Hopefully as I've had the opportunity I've returned the favour.

I've got to admit it - this whole graduation thing is finally starting to sink in. I really haven't completely wrapped my head around it, but days like today are forcing me to face it.

I'm graduating.

I'm not "done", nor am I "ready". But I'm following His leading to ... where ever.

I'll go where you want me to go, dear Lord.


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Monday, April 23, 2007

More on the Balancing Act

Near the end of this, my last post, I said:

And I have to believe that missional model churches can find sound doctrine. But that's all it is for me right now, one of those "I choose to believe it" things. A leap of faith, if you will.

I have some further thoughts...

There is a time-honoured debate over faith and practice. Orthodoxy and orthopraxis. Which comes first? Which is more important? For generations, the answer was almost always orthodoxy - right doctrine. More recently, the emerging church (EC) folk are saying that orthopraxis - right practice - is in fact the more important.

I think the NT take would have both these parties wrong. Which is more important, orthodoxy or orthopraxis?


I know, you can't really answer 'yes' to a question like that. But you get the point - both are critically important. To be nit-picky, I suppose it could be argued that one is the motivator of the other - though which is which still wouldn't be clear!

Since I'm taking a middle-road position, why even bother with this post, right? Because I think the EC folk need to hear this:

Doctrine is important.

Not just the very, very basics of the faith. There's more to it than that.

Take a brief look at Hebrews 6:1-2:

Therefore we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, teaching about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. [NET translation - from this free and great online tool.]

Here's my brief breakdown - there are certain doctrines that are "elementary" and a "foundation". In context, Paul (or whomever wrote Hebrews) is clearly frustrated that he can't teach these believers the "solid food" doctrines that he wants to because they still haven't nailed down the "elementary" stuff.

I think we'd all agree - whether EC, mainline, or otherwise - that some Christian doctrines are "elementary" and "foundation"al. But look at what kind of teaching is labelled this way and you may be shocked.

1. Repentance from dead works - this probably includes more than just basic salvific teachings, to likely include things like Romans 6 (no longer slaves to sin) and putting off the old self. It includes things like the nature of works and faith, otherwise what's a "dead" work? More could be said, but you get the point.

2. Faith in God - again, probably more is in mind here than just the 'basics' of salvation. The whole 'show my your good works to show me your faith' thing may be embodied here, for example.

3. Teachings about baptism - Is it immersion or sprinkling? Infants or adults? Redemptive or demonstrative? This and more is considered "elementary".

4. Laying on of hands - most in my circles don't even have a clue what the Bible means on this subject, yet it's "elementary"! Is it for empowerment? Is it to acknowledge authority? What's the source of divine healing? Lots of questions are tied up in this statement.

5. Resurrection of the dead - the nature of resurrection is included, as are the recipients of said. Eschatology must be involved here in at least a cursory way. And more; so much more.

6. Eternal judgement - The final state of all mankind, whether saved or not. The nature of Hell and Heaven. The final state of Satan and the angels. Good works born of faith (precious gold) versus 'good' works born of the flesh (wood, hay, stubble). And lots more.

Don't get me wrong - I agree with a fundamental EC complaint that Evangelicals have long held checklists of doctrine that are too long. We lost the ability to agree to disagree, and that's a sad thing. We separated over fine points or personal conviction. None of this was good; all of it must be challenged.

But that doesn't mean we toss doctrine in general! Why can't we agree to disagree on minor points without tossing major points out the window?

I know, I know... 'Who gets to decide which points are minor and which major, Nathan?'.

Can we at least start with Hebrews 6:1-2?


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Friday, April 20, 2007

Where's the balance?

I've been chewing on an interesting dilemma lately. In seminary circles, one of the great challenges of the day is to persuade local churches to adopt a missional stance toward ministry. For many churches, this is very hard. It's simply so different from what people are comfortable with... I don't like that word much, you know...

Comfortable. It just rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it? When Traditional model churches get comfortable, they also become (largely) immovable.

And then they die.

So, as you can imagine, changing this paradigm of thinking is considered a top priority for many of today's seminary grads (and many current pastors, too). But there's another dynamic in play in this discussion.

One of the most serious criticisms of the emerging church movement (I know, it's not really a 'movement', but the label works right now)... What was I saying? Oh yes. One of the most serious criticisms of the EC movement is that they are often so very light on doctrine. Some are worse - they are bordering on heretical when it comes to doctrine. But does this need to be the case?

Mark Driscoll would emphatically say, 'No!'. So would others, and I agree. But mere agreement isn't getting me anywhere in my thinking. I need to think this through. What might such a balanced ministry look like? Is it really possible?

My mind wanders back to the late 1980s. At that time, I was involved in an IFCA church that was not nearly as legalistic as many I've stumbled across. But nevertheless, it was an IFCA church. Traditional model. Hymn books and an organ. Ties and dresses. I often found myself wondering (sometimes out loud, but that's another story!) why churches with strong and solid doctrinal positions (such as the IFCA church I attended) couldn't also have more emotionally meaningful corporate worship. Not that there's anything wrong with hymns - please don't think that's what I'm saying. It's just that when churches refuse to sing anything but hymns it often leads to a cold ritualism for most participants - a rut, if you will.

Anyway ... back to the topic. I wondered why it seemed that the churches with the most vibrant corporate worship were the weakest on doctrine, while the churches strongest on doctrine were weakest on corporate worship. At the time, I was told that seeking "emotionalism" (which, as it turns out, was code for 'a meaningful experience of worship') was unwise and spiritually dangerous. We didn't want to be labelled as charis-maniacs, you know!

How sad. It's the same reason I don't think anyone in the IFCA ever preached a message on the Holy Spirit during the entire 1980s... but again, I digress.

In that context, it was with great joy that I discovered (in the 1990s) churches that actually had both: great corporate worship and sound doctrine. [Note: I understand that "sound doctrine" is a subjective category, and I do not take it to mean "doctrine that matches mine". To take this further would take me even further afield... Like that ever happens!]

So I began to study this phenomenon - how did these churches come to have both? What I found was that the problem all along had been almost strictly an issue of making one's personal preference a dogmatic issue. I hesitate to say these words, to be honest. But I genuinely think that the cold hard truth is this: churches that refused to sing anything but "the great hymns of the faith" were basically saying...

If you don't agree with my personal taste in music, you're not truly spiritual.

Do you hear the ridiculousness of that statement? The sad part is that this thinking became so common and so ingrained that there are still people today that seriously believe only hymns glorify God. I feel myself venturing off topic again...

Focus, grasshopper. Focus.

OK. So in this context, I've been thinking through the current version of the same paradigm. Churches today find themselves (often) choosing to be either missional or sound and solid in doctrine. But both are important things to be. The simpleton within me says "just do both". Could it really be that simple?

In this juxtaposition, the 1980s worship music has to correspond to the 2000s missional thinking; the 1980s doctrine to the 2000s doctrine. So what was the hang-up in the 1980s? Personal preference for musical style. If the analogy holds, the problem today, then, would be ...

Personal preference for traditional (read: 1950s) ministry models.

778 words into this post and I'm no closer to anything truly helpful.

This gets me nowhere in the situation I described to start this post. The EC movement has a good grasp on missional thinking; what they often lack is sound doctrine. So really, the key to making this juxtaposition valuable has to be the churches in the 1980s that had vibrant corporate worship but poor doctrine. What of them? Did they get things worked out in the 1990s?

Here's where I get depressed. No; they didn't. And they haven't. These churches still have vibrant corporate worship but shaky (at best) doctrine. Too many of them fell victim to Prosperity Gospel. Too many were won over by Word of Faith teaching.

But there's hope. I have to believe that traditional model churches with sound doctrine can become missional. I've seen it happen. I have friends who can give first-hand accounts.

And I have to believe that missional model churches can find sound doctrine. But that's all it is for me right now, one of those "I choose to believe it" things. A leap of faith, if you will.

But what if I'm wrong?


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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Men on the Edge

I had the same conversation with both a fellow seminary student and the Dean of the seminary today. The subject was one very near and dear to my heart, because it specifically involves people like me.

By now you are perhaps wondering what quirky attribute I'm talking about...

No - not an attribute; a position in history. At the risk of sounding grandiose, I am increasingly convinced that God has specifically raised up a generation of pastors and leaders who have one foot in modernity and the other in postmodernity. I find myself one of those people.

Truth be told, I'm more postmodern than modern. But I was churched in a modern environment, and most of my education has been decidedly modern as well. Yet I can't escape the fact that the gears in my head turn in ways different than modernity. This is not the place to discuss exactly what that means, but I just wanted to give a bit of context to what I'm about to say.

Those in the world of emerging church, postmodernity, Brian McLaren, etc... sometimes act as if modernity is the root of all evil. They often give one the impression that we need a revolution in the way we do church. I agree - sort of.

Those in the world of traditional church, modernity, John McArthur, etc... sometimes act as if postmodernity is the root of all evil. They often give on the impression that we need to suppress this attack against the way we do church. I agree - sort of.

Both camps make some valid points. [Incidentally, if you have no idea what I'm talking about at this point, this post isn't really a good place to start chewing on the subject.] More to the point of this post, both camps will continue to exist for some time yet. While I do think that postmodernity will be the vast majority in the next few generations (and for many generations to come after that), the fact remains that for right now both groups of people exist simultaneously.

Think of the situation as cross-cultural, if that helps. Moderns and postmoderns share much in common here in America, but there are serious differences in very important areas of thought. So - just like a missionary overseas has to learn another culture as well as his own - what we need is people versed in both cultures that can shepherd God's people in this time in between - in between the time now and the time postmodernity will be the norm.

I know of such men. I share classrooms and lecture halls with some of them. I am one of them.

In His infinite wisdom, God has created people like me: steeped in modernity, yet wired for postmodernity. Don't get me wrong - I'm not claiming any sort of special status for myself. I'm not saying I'm better than anybody else. I just find it too coincidental to be coincidental that God has made people like me and then gifted and called them to vocational ministry.

I've got lots of thoughts on how this cross-cultural modern/postmodern ministry can actually take place, but those are thoughts for another day. Right now I just wanted to expose you guys to the concept:

Maybe God has placed specific men in this time and place to shepherd both His modern and His postmodern children as one loving flock.

Maybe those that insist on a revolutionary break are wrong-headed. Maybe those that see the inevitable tidal wave of postmodernity as a fundamental threat to Christianity are wrong-headed. Maybe there is a sense in which we can get along. Not with the ministry models we've gotten used to, I think. But maybe, just maybe it's possible.


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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Missio-ditional thoughts

Yes, I know that's not a word. It's barely pronounceable, to be honest. But it fits, for the moment. If you think of something better, let me know.

Anyway, on to what I'm talking about...

I've been asked a couple of times recently about my thoughts on how Traditional model churches can be more effective at reaching postmodern people. [See some of my ramblings on postmodernity here.] I won't pretend to have real answers, but I do have some thoughts.

One of the biggest problems I think many Traditional model churches have is their definition of 'friendly'. Specifically, the way they understand the Biblical concept of 'welcoming the stranger' (see Matt 25:35, for example). In the past, being 'friendly' meant making your church building inviting. There was a time when unchurched people in a given local community might simply wake up one morning and decide to "go to church". If and when these people came to visit your facility, it was important to have a nursery, signs identifying the restrooms, bulletins to tell people what to sing and when to stand, etc... So Traditional churches (which were more or less the only model then) could honestly keep the commandment to welcome strangers by doing these things.

But times have changed. The odds of any unchurched person waking up and simply deciding to "go to church" on a whim are slim to nil. Instead, these people will never even consider going to a church - unless we welcome them in. This means we have to be where they are on a regular basis, involved in their lives, living the gospel before them. We must be asking them into the life of the church, whether through small groups, a social event, a holiday, etc... I'm convinced that this is the way we obey the command to welcome strangers today.

Sadly, many Traditional model churches have not made this switch in their thinking. They still see themselves as 'welcoming' because they are committed to smiling and shaking hands with any visitor who happens to come into the building.

But people aren't coming into the buildings much anymore.

And it's because we aren't really welcoming them anymore.

What I'm saying has a label - it's called Missional thinking. I am convinced that Missional thinking can be relevant to the Traditional model. I'll leave you to argue whether doing so would, in fact, make a Traditional model no longer a truly Traditional model.

If this has piqued your curiosity, I'd encourage you to visit Friend of Missional - just click the red logo on this page. There you'll find loads of information and lots of food for thought.

There's more that could be said on this subject - more that needs to be said, to be frank. And not just by me...

Any Christ-follower concerned about fulfilling the Great Commission in this present age should at least be conversant with this concept.

Not that I have an opinion about this or anything...

What do you think, though?


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My Big Announcement

As promised, I've got a fairly major announcement to make. But first, some context...

Good News Baptist Church (GNBC) is the assembly my family has called 'home' for the last eight years. It is what I have called a Tradition model church, and one that we've really enjoyed over the years. I haven't always personally agreed with everything that's gone on there, but who's ever agreed with everything their church family did?

As you know if you've read much of my blog, I'm not quite a Traditional model kind of guy. I'm not saying the Traditional model is bad; just that it doesn't normally fit the way I personally think ministry and church should be done.

If all this is true, then the obvious question you're likely asking is, 'Why have you attended such a church for eight years?'. There are lots of answers; let me give you a few of the biggest:

My Sunday School class. I love my Sunday School class members. I love the dynamic of the class. I love the attitude they have toward one another and toward God's Word. I love the fact that they actually listen to me!

My children. They love the AWANA ministry. They love many of the people there. Noah, my oldest, is his Sunday School teacher's (Rich Baughman) biggest fan. Rebekah, my eight year old, loves her Sparks leader (Judy Hephner). All of my children adore the Pastor.

The LORD's leading. I've long maintained that a person ought to attend the church that the LORD leads them to, and that they ought not leave that church unless the LORD specifically leads them away. It's a conviction - I can't really prove it from Scripture. But it's a personal conviction I've held for many, many years.

There are lots of additional reasons. Lots of them. But ... as you've likely guessed by now ...

... we've officially left this church.

Why? As I prepare for full-time vocational ministry myself, it's important to me to return to my roots, as it were. I need to involve myself in the ministry of a local church that more precisely fits my personal vision for how church should be done. That does not mean that I think GNBC is bad or wrong. It's just different.

I feel led by God Almighty in this direction. I had not felt this leading before, despite my differences of opinion. The LORD had things for me to learn there, and I suppose I've learned them (since He's leading me away now).

It's been a difficult and sad decision, to be honest. But at the same time it's been exciting to see God work and move in this (and so many other) way lately.

That's about all I want to say on the subject, at least for now. If you want to comment, feel free. But if you want to know more information, you'll have to email or call me personally. I welcome your continued prayers for my family as we seek His leading for the present, as well as His direction into vocational ministry.


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Monday, April 9, 2007

Poll Update

In case anyone is curious, 'Chicken' dominated the last poll, making it officially the most popular barnyard critter! It should come as no surprise that each of our nine chickens voted, perhaps thereby skewing the results...


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Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Big Push

Just a brief update today, folks.

I just wanted to let you know that this blog will largely sit silently for the next 10 days. I'm in the midst of my big push toward finishing the semester. I have one class officially in the books, one with virtually everything done, and two others that are requiring a significant amount of my attention right now.

Also, I'm working on the house again (mudroom, mostly) since my back is much more cooperative lately. On top of that, spring has sprung (though you wouldn't know it today - it's been in the low 30s all day!) and therefore things have been very busy at the shop. Lawnmower sales and service are going strong!

Anyway, I will monitor my blog and interact with any comments ya'll leave, so if something's been eating at you then by all means feel free to engage the conversation. I'm sure I'll have a post or two, but if you find few changes on a regular basis you'll understand why.

I thoroughly enjoy blogging and look forward to things cooling down a tad in my life so that I can devote a bit more time to the conversation. In the meantime, I'd encourage you to revisit and interact with the Divorce post (some new comments of interest recently), the Entertaining Angels post (an anonymous comment about how friendly our church meetings are or aren't), and/or the Theology of Community conversation (since it's near and dear to my heart).

Previews of coming attractions: More on Theology of Community, the first in a series of posts about McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy, a few more book reviews, and a post about an upcoming change in my family's life (no, we're not pregnant!).


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