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Moralistic Therapeutic Deism or Christian?
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So if the Christian church is “advertising” the gospel is it the best approach to push the “buying point” as saying a prayer of repentance and belief, and then follow that up with the “now you are in the family of God” proof-texting? Trust me, this is an honest question and not a leading question. And I don’t want to make it “hard” to believe in Christ. And as Mike said on Wednesday, I do not see any evidence in scripture that there is anything other than Christ’s death and resurrection which accomplishes salvation, which is attained by faith, and that there is not some separate step of “Lordship” that goes after salvation, etc. But I, along with scores of others, have led many in the process and have often ended with something like:

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” –John 10.27-29

or, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” –Romans 8.16

Not only have I led people in this, I have trained hundreds of teens and adults to share their faith in this way.

Then I read a very well done study and well written synopsis of the culture of Christianity in American teenagers by Christian Smith and Melina Lundquist Denton, titled . Through their study they write a strikingly precise summation of what I have observed in the general culture of teens and what I think can be applied to age groups much older and still be on target with reality:

“in the ecology of American adolescents’ lives, religion clearly operates in a social-structurally weak position, competing for time, energy, and attention and often losing against other, more dominant demands and commitments, particularly school, sports, television, and other electronic media.” (p161)
“…we suggest that the defacto dominant religion among contemporary U.S. teenagers is what we might well call ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.’ The creed of this religion…sounds something like this:

  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about onesself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
    (p162-163)

How is the good news of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God ending up with a result like this!? I know there are various contributors, some of which I have already talked about in the faith-science dichotomy and truth approach. But a large contributor is our focus on a one-time decision prayer, life insurance policy type salvation experience. If you are a Christian today and someone asks you how you know or why you are a Christian, please don’t say “because when I was 5 (or 25) I prayed a prayer…” or if you do say something like that it is only the first half of the first sentence which then goes on to talk about how the living Spirit of God is at work in your life yesterday and TODAY. (Oh, and doubts are fine! I think that is one of the greatest things about faith, doubts can be and should be aired out and wrestled with)

I don’t find a story in the Bible where a person is given assurance of their salvation based on a prayer they prayed in the past. I find reminders of individuals belief of the belief of a community of people, but no assurance. In fact when these reminders of belief are given it is often followed up with the telling of how they are still being “faithful” or “fruitful” in their belief. Additionally, Paul urges us to live, “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” (Colossians 2.6) It seems that the greater biblical support refers to a continual faith-living, believing, or fruitful life as assurance of our salvation.

So I don’t think it is wrong to encourage that one-time prayer of salvation, and the followup “family of God” / “Now you’re ‘in'” encouragement, I just think it is incomplete. But I want to be careful, because I don’t think the “completeness” of it is to then say, “now you need to obey the law…” which will tend to be a legalistic earn your salvation approach. I do think we need to follow that up with something like, “now, daily, allow this faith to be worked into every area of your being, to the very core of yourself. You will find new ways that your faith applies to your life and community. You will be continually transformed and you must allow the Spirit of God in you to change you and display God’s character through you.”

Finally, I leave you with an approach that we take with our children (which I learned in part through some great conversations with a great reformed theology friend and is really pretty basic to scripture teaching) As our children are growing up we have treated, talked with, taught them that they are part of a believing community, the Church. As they are growing up they can choose to believe (accept) or reject that. I recognize that a child doesn’t express much independent faith when they are young and therefore are heavily influenced by our belief (this is actually the beauty of family as God designed). As each one has expressed faith in Jesus Christ for salvation we celebrated! They were born again! (The kind of beginning that John commented about yesterday) But we then watch and continually look for opportunities to encourage them to affirm their faith and express belief in new ways. Two of ours have expressed enough independent faith for us to encourage them to be baptized. As the grow and in these reaffirmations they will mature in their faith and our prayer is they will grow beyond Mom and Dad’s faith holding them up to understand the even greater cloud of those who have gone before, test their doubts, strengthen their faith and bring others along with them. We certainly share with them about a future of eternity in God’s full presence, but we more often talk about what it means for them to have faith today and how that can change their character (at Tommy commented earlier this evening) and make a difference in the community in which God has put them.

Well, a much longer conclusion that I intended, and a little different ending point than I set out toward 10 days ago. I still would like to come back to the faith-science discussion as I have many more thoughts related to that; but it will wait for another day (probably not tomorrow 🙂 )

BookSneeze: The Search for God and Guinness
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Last year I came across a program through Thomas Nelson Publishers called BookSneeze.  This is where they send books to bloggers (me) and in return I write a blog with my thoughts on the book.  I got to choose from a list of available books at the time and so I chose one that looked interesting and out of my norm of reading, The Search for God and Guinness by Stephen Mansfield.  When I started reading it I realized that this could cause some division with those who read this blog because of differing opinions about drinking alcohol and differing life experiences involving alcohol.  Even so, I feel that I need to complete my review and actually encourage readers to check this book out because it is very well written, thoroughly researched, and inspires a life lived in all areas of life to glorify God, regardless of your stand on alcohol. (This is not a blog to encourage drinking!)

Stephen Mansfield’s quest to understand the fact and fiction behind the stories and legacy of the Guinness family yielded a fascinating story of a family who sought to honor God through living with a sense of calling and do good for their community.  Arthur Guinness who began the Guinness brewery in Dublin in 1759 also founded the first Sunday schools in Ireland.  I was inspired to see how many vocational ministers came through the Guinness line through history.  “What distinguishes his story is that he understood his success as forming a kind of mandate, a kind of calling to a purpose of God beyond just himself and his family to the broader good he could do in the world.”(59)  Of course, when you trace a family through that many generations you get all sorts of people who make all sorts of life choices, good and bad.  It was fascinating to read how the Guinness brewery responded to local and international times of crisis and how pivotal choices affected the long term success of the company.

An equally interesting part of Mansfield’s book was his history on the origin of beer and tracing the uses of it through history.  I learned that “Clearly, beer and wine used in moderation were welcomed by the early Christians and were taken as a matter of course.”(20)  And, “The popular attitude toward drink was that of earlier generations of Christians: alcohol in moderation is a grace of life but drunkenness is both sin and a plague upon society.”(217)  I also read about many a negative consequences of abuses of alcohol, something of which many of us in our current day society know from family or friends whose lives have been wrecked with substance abuse.  Mansfield dips into some of Martin Luther’s thoughts concerning alcohol:  “‘Do not suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object which is abused,’ he once wrote.  ‘Men can go wrong with wine and women.  Shall we then prohibit and abolish women?'”(29)  I am thankful for those in my life who have displayed healthy uses of alcohol and those who have sought health by overcoming past abuses.

Bottom line…I enjoyed reading this book, learning through history, and considering the legacy that we all have through the small daily decisions we make.

Incidentally, our Pastor of Adult Ministries, Steve, recently preached a solid sermon about Jesus’ first miracle of turning water to wine…although the point of the message was not about drinking, he had a nice caveat addressing issues on both sides, you might want to check it out.

What is Christianity All About?
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Simply Christian Book Cover“Christianity is not about a new moral teaching – as though we were morally clueless and in need of some fresh or clearer guidelines…Christianity isn’t about Jesus offering a wonderful moral example, as though our principal need was to see what a life of utter love and devotion to God and to other people would look like, so that we could try to copy it…Nor is Christianity about Jesus offering, demonstrating, or even accomplishing a new route by which people can ‘go to heaven when they die.’…Christianity isn’t about giving the world fresh teaching about God himself…Christianity is all about the belief that the living God, in fulfillment of his promises and as the climax of the story of Israel, has accomplished all this – the finding, the saving, the giving of new life – in Jesus.  He has done it.  With Jesus, God’s rescue operation has been put into effect once and for all.” (N.T. Wright Simply Christian)

That is the story of the whole of scripture…God’s Epic Rescue of his creation, heaven and earth colliding and the power of grace and mercy triumphing over the power of the law.  We are to daily experience the rescue of God in our lives and be the rescue of God in others’ lives!  David Crowder’s song Remedy constantly pours through my head…

Oh, I can’t comprehendDavid Crowder Remedy Album cover
I can’t take it all in
Never understand
Such perfect love come
For the broken and beat
For the wounded and weak
Oh, come fall at His feet
He’s the remedy
He’s the remedy

He is the one who has saved us
He is the one who forgave us
He is the one who has come
and is coming again

The Epic Rescue Title ImageWe are currently teaching an 8 week series through the story of all of scripture and making sure we don’t lose or cut up our scriptures into unrelated parts, resulting in just a collection of stories and truths.  I am rediscovering how by keeping the whole in perspective, it brings out the richness of the details and specifics of scripture AND how my life is still part of this great rescue story.  This isn’t something that has merely taken place thousands of years ago, but a new-life story that is played out over and over through the days that you and I live!

If you are interested, I am posting the audio recordings of each week in my podcast media tab of this site.
(We have had some problems with some of the recordings that we hope to have worked out in the future.)

Change…Inside…Outside
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Addie_Fall_2008Fall is just around the corner and with that season come winds of change.  An exciting time, yet for many a time that represents the dying of the summer, and a movement into the dormancy of winter.  Each season brings profound change (especially living in the Northern part of the country) but each change of the season that is seen on the outside of creation is as a result of what is going on on the inside.  Leaves will chage colors as the tree internally prepares for winter.

In the Bible, God challenges us with these words through the writer Paul:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12.2)

Conformation or Transformation are both something that happens TO us.  Something that we can choose, but can’t completely direct.  Something that we can seek after, but can’t control exactly how either happens.  We can actively resist one, which ultimately leads us toward the path of the other.  Returning to the thoughts of the season’s change…a tree could resist the Fall transformation (if it could) but soon it would find itself conforming to the death that the climate that the winter freeze will bring.

I want to choose the path of transformation in my life!  This is the more difficult path immediately…it is so much easier to stay in what I know, in what is comfortable, in what is the norm that I see around me.  But in the end the more difficult path is truly the path of conformity as it leaves us barren, lifeless, stripped of true fulfillment of the deep desires God has put in us.

“…this is fundamentally what spiritual transformation is all about: choosing a way of life that opens us to the presence of God in the places of our being where our truest desires and deepest longings stir.  These discoveries are available to all of us as we become more honest in naming what isn’t working so that we can craft a way of life that is more congruent with our deepest desires.” (Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms)

If you are involved in my life, in my journey through this land, please ask me how I am putting myself in places of transformation!  Sometimes you will ask me at just the right time when I am drifting into conformity and away from true inner renewal transformation.

Also, share ways that you have experienced God’s transformation in your life so that we can encourage one another to live in and embrace “what is good and acceptable, and perfect.”!

Shepherding/Coaching The Inside
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“…life will present us with hundreds of opportunities in a single week to take a look at our internal world, to walk with God there, to become more fully his.  Don’t let your internal life go unshepherded.” – John Eldredge, Walking With God (p. 192)

The tendancy in our society/lifestyles is to only check the internal world when something is seriously wrong, but whatever is going on in the internal world is what drives or controls that which we do on the outside.  How I deal with my kids is a result of what’s going on inside, how I respond to the “idiot” driver at the intersection is a result of what is going on inside, what I say when I feel threatened by someone is a result of what’s going on inside, and how I plan my schedule is a result of what’s going on inside.  As Eldredge said so well, we have so many opportunities daily to do a quick or deep internal check.

I have realized that the analogy of shepherding doesn’t really help most of us, because we have never had sheep, been on a sheep farm, been to a petting zoo, or even worn wool!  BUT we have all had or been coaches…a coach seems to be the closest common analogy to a shepherd.  A coach encourages, resources, challenges, celebrates, and even gets in our faces from time to time.  A coach identifies things that we need to do differently as well as put us in positions to let our strengths shine and be used for the greater good.

Are you coaching your inner life on a daily/weekly basis?  I am so thankful for friends of mine who help me coach my inner world, who push me to make the hard decisions and celebrate the strengths God has put in me.  Let me encourage you to not let your inner life go UNCOACHED so that you are more fully his, for the greater good!

Assumptions
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“Our assumptions control our interpretation of events, and they supply a great deal of momentum and direction for our lives.” (John EldredgeWalking With God)

It is amazing how many times recently the realization of mine or someone else’s assumptions has been part of conversations.  We each see life in very different ways than others simply because we come to the exact same situations with a whole different set of assumptions.  This can get you going down the wrong path very quickly and lead to conclusions that are WAY off and dangerous.

One of the biggest of these assumption categories is making assumptions of other people.  Whether it is their motives, desires, or beliefs, they are coming with assumptions and we are making our own assumptions.  To complicate things more we communicate a lot these days through more impersonal ways like email, blogs, facebook, twitter, IM, etc.  This is why I think the best policy is to always assume the BEST of other people.  Mandy and I seek to do this in our marriage, and have to sometimes ask each other, “are you assuming the best of me?”  Our staff team at work has a covenant with each other to always assume the best of each other.  When people criticize me, I dig deep inside and ask God to give me the ability to assume the best motives and intentions…and when I do that, it usually is right AND I learn a whole lot more from the experience.

Thinking about it, I realized that our justice system is based on assuming the best. “Innocent until proven guilty”  Some might say that this is a naieve approach which sets people up for being taken advantage of.  And there are certainly people who, knowing I try to think the best, will seek to take advantage of a situation.  But assuming the best doesn’t mean that you don’t gather the facts and seek the truth about a situation.  And it is key to always be ready to have your assumptions corrected and act accordingly.

So, our assumptions range from what we think about God, to our life, to other people, to the mundane…but these assumptions all have a profound effect on the outcome in a given situation!

It may be difficult, but try it to have your assumptions challenged or extend an “assume the best” attitude toward a coworker, spouse, or friend, and see how many problems are solved!

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