Archive for the ‘Culture’ category

The Church Consumer

March 23, 2010

Now I know this video is somewhat silly, and I assume intentionally so (to make the point).  The question I think worth asking is, “Does the culture in my church accommodate, encourage, or tolerate this kind of perspective about the church?”

HT :: Phil Awtry

Obama, Community, and Technology

January 30, 2010

Yesterday, Devin Dwyer from ABC News reported on the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency from the religious perspective.  In his opening paragraph, Dwyer stated that the Obama attended church only three times during his first year.  Obviously, as the article later explains, it is quite difficult for the President to attend a gathering without causing great disruption and difficulty with the security and additional personnel.  In any case, what intrigued me the most was what followed.  Dywer writes:

But sources familiar with the president’s personal life say Obama remains a faithful Christian while in the White House, practicing his beliefs regularly in private with family and the aid of his BlackBerry.

This sentence, while intending to bolster confidence in Obama’s religious devotion, says something quite alarming about the day in which we live, specifically in two areas: the privatization of spirituality and the advent of mobile technology. It appears that the latter has been used to facilitate the former.

Just this past week, I led a breakout session at the Global Church Advancement (GCA) National Church Planting Seminar on technology, the new media, and the church during which we addressed the influence of technology on the church, not the least of which is the “luxury” of privatized spiritual experience apart from a covenanted community to which you share live and find your identity.  Ironically, in the case of Obama who is well-known for his practice as a community organizer, is deprived from the very community that is expressed and demonstrated among professing Christians.

But I wonder how much of this is true in the world around us at large?  How many people are seeking a more privatized spiritual experience not requiring them to live in community with other people and yet find greater access to “practice their beliefs” through mobile technology?  The rise of internet “churches,” live-streaming services on smart phones, and the readily accessible sermons on iTunes move the emphasis on the local expression of the body of Christ from being the church (as expressed in Scripture) to “going to church” (as expressed in Christendom) to having a downloadable religious experience at the comfort and confines of one’s own choosing (as expressed in postmodernism).

We need to answer the question whether it is possible to be a “faithful Christian” (as quoted above) in the absence of biblical community that is being circumvented through technology and a privation that says my spirituality is “between me and God.”  So I want to pose it to you in closing . . .

Is it possible to be a faithful Christian without regularly participating in biblical community?  Why or why not?

As a follow-up to that question, how should we think about the role of technology?  How can the advance of technology work for the advance of the local church, not the substitution of it?

Exegeting the Context

January 19, 2010

As someone who is still relatively new to preaching, I am finding myself given more and more to not only the content and delivery but also reception.  In other words, I am giving myself not only to rightly understanding the text of Scripture but also the context of people’s lives.  We often stress the importance of faithfulness to the biblical text (and rightly so), but as pastors there is a call to faithfulness regarding to the context as well.

One of the reasons why I love the Puritans so much is because they were to “earthy”.  As Phil Ryken puts it in his book, they were “Worldly Saints.”  In his excellent little book on preaching, William Perkins displays this in giving multiple categories of hearers, such as unbelievers who are ignorant and unteachable, unbelievers who are teachable but ignorant, unbelievers who have knowledge but have never been humbled, those who believe but have fallen back, and those who believe and are growing in their faith.  For those of you prepare messages on a weekly basis, a large majority of your time is in the text with very little time left over to working through the context of people’s lives.  But it is here where we learn that faithful expository preaching is inadequate apart from ongoing pastoral ministry.


Christ the Builder, Christ the Perfecter

December 1, 2009

The church is a people who are called out and set apart from the world who are also called and sent into the world.  The goal of the Christian life is complete conformity to Christ, and such conformity is both in character and in mission.  In other words, the church is to be both a holy people (set apart) and missionary people (sent) at the same time, all the time.

I come away with this when considering the promise that Jesus will build His church and the purchased goal that Jesus will perfect His church.


Gospel Workshops – An Idea for Consideration

September 29, 2009

I have argued for several years now that the greatest need for our churches today is the recovery of the gospel.  Some people have concluded that what I mean by that is everyone embracing the doctrines of grace; however, a casual observer of my blog could able to discern that is not the case.  What I mean is understanding the functional centrality of the gospel and its sufficiency in every aspect of the church.

I have become more and more aware of this need when I talk to, for instance, seminary-trained Christian counselors who have never heard or been trained in how to apply the gospel to situations in life involving believers and conflict of any sort or a leadership style that reflects more of corporate one-upmanship rather than the gospel style of decreasing to serve others.  I have grown up in the county-seat First Baptist Church and heard how the gospel of Matthew was a how-to manual to overcome stress, worry, fear, and so on and also been in the seeker-sensitive megachurch where the stories are gripping but the gospel missing.  I have been in the smaller, more rural church where the preacher is excited and earnest as in the tradition of revivalism but the gospel is reduced to a few points and a prayer.  Reflecting and experiencing these realities have served to increase the burden in my heart for the gospel to be preached, lived, and result in truly transformed lives.


Evangelism in Every “Place”

September 22, 2009

This past week, we at Grace “parked the Great Commission” again, and included in that effort was going door-to-door, inviting neighbors to join us for a picnic and games in the park.  When I got back, I tweeted:

For those who don’t believe in going door-to-door, 2nite my group was 19 for 19 in engaging folks w/ invitations. Don’t abandon 1st spaces.

What happened after that was about a dozen conversations debating the merits of door-to-door evangelism in a post-Christian culture and what in the world I meant by “1st spaces.” What I would like to do is explain the thinking behind the places/spaces and how we can think intentionally/missionally in redeeming each place for the advancement of the gospel.

What Is a “Third Place”?

As I understand it, Ray Oldenberg developed the idea of “third places” in his book The Great Good Place. Third places are places or environments where people in the community interact with one another outside the first and second places.  The first place is that of the home, and the second place is that of a person’s workplace.  Oldenberg explains that “third places” are

“anchors” of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction. All societies already have informal meeting places; what is new in modern times is the intentionality of seeking them out as vital to current societal needs. . . .  These hallmarks of a true “third place”: free or inexpensive; food and drink, while not essential, are important; highly accessible: proximate for many (walking distance); involve regulars – those who habitually congregate there; welcoming and comfortable; both new friends and old should be found there.

Popular “third places” include coffee shops (such as Starbucks), malls, city parks, exercise facilities, restaurants/pubs, and venues for the arts/entertainment.  Personally speaking, Panera Bread has become my dominant “third place” as I spend approximately 15-20 hours of my work week there.


Check Out Rethink Mission

August 23, 2009

Rethink MissionA great new website was launched last week geared towards inspiring gospel-centered, missional churches by Jonathan McIntosh called Rethink Mission.  If you don’t know Jonathan, you need to, and if you haven’t bookmarked Rethink Mission, you’ll want to.  For a good introduction to what this site is all about, be sure to read Jonathan’s answers to what is a gospel-centered church and what is a missional churchOn the blog, Jonathan has begun a three-part interview with Darrin Patrick, lead pastor of The Journey (St. Louis) about missional preaching (read part 1 here).

Jonathan has been instrumental in the development of solid missional DNA at The Journey with a passion for church planting and gospel-centered living.  I’m grateful to see a resource-rich websites like this coming out that focuses on the matrix of the local church, the mission of God, the centrality of the gospel, and engagement of culture.

Check it out.

Insight Podcast: Interview with Tullian Tchividjian on Gospel, Church, and Culture

April 9, 2009

My good friend Doug Baker has continued his long list of excellent podcasts with his most recent addition – Tullian Tchividjian.  It was recently announced that Tullian accepted the position of pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, suceeding Dr. D. James Kennedy.  Tullian is the author of several books, most recently Unfashionable: Making a Difference in the World by Being Different (which we will be giving away at this year’s Band of Bloggers fellowship).

The podcast is broken down in two segments, and the flow of the interview is listed below. To download, click on MP3 next to each part.


A Church Like the World – What We Need?; Wanted:  Servants not Celebrities; The Big Business of Evangelicalism; “Christians make a difference in this world by being different from this world; they don’t make a difference by being the same”; Relevance – What is It?; The Irrelevance of Relevance; Against the World for the World; The Bible as God’s Listening Post; An “Emergent” Humility?; Evangelism – God’s One Great Work?


Culture – What is it?; Sola Scriptura or Sola Cultura?; Jesus and Cosmic Renewal; The Cultural Mandate – What and Why?; What is the Kingdom of God?; Contextualization – What is It?  Do We Need it?; The Church as God’s Greatest Evangelistic Tool.

I’m grateful for Doug continuing to offer informative and engaging discussions on topics that matter from some of the most respected voices in Baptist and evangelical circles.  To subscribe to the Insight Podcast on iTunes, go here.

Carl Trueman on American Celebrity Culture

March 11, 2009

Back in May of 2007, I asked the question, “Are We Creating a Reformed Celebrity Culture?” which, at the time, gained considerable traction.  A year later, Carl Trueman shared some of his concerns about the celebrity culture while reflecting on Collin Hansen’s book Young, Restless, Reformed. Most recently, Trueman again picked up on the cult of personality and celebrity culture in America.  Here’s an excerpt:

I had often wondered why certain British figures – Jim Packer, N.T. Wright, Alister McGrath etc., were much bigger this side of the Atlantic than back home in their native country.  Was it just the accent?  Surely it couldn’t be the dentistry…..?  Maybe the dress sense? No.  It is all to do with the way America is a personality/celebrity oriented culture in a way that Britain, while she may well be catching up, has historically not been.   The American church reflects the culture: ministries built around individuals, around big shots, churches that focus on god-like guru figures, all of them pointing to one door.  I have lost count of the conversations I have had with church people anxious to tell of who they heard at this conference, of which person they corresponded with, of how this opinion or that opinion would not sit well with this demi-god and is therefore of little value; and, of course, of how anyone who disagrees with, or criticizes, this chosen hero must, of necessity be morally depraved and wicked.  People want the gods to do their thinking for them.  All of the Pelagian, Manichean celebrity malarkey of the American political process is alive and well in the church as well.  The question is: when it comes to churches and ministries built around messiahs who are supposed to point not to themselves but to the true door, who is going to have the guts to leave the temple?

My good friend Owen Strachan has interacted with Trueman’s article, and offers these thoughts:

Our culture can leave us susceptible to the vicissitudes of a personality-driven atmosphere, causing us to trust more in the speaker at the conference, perhaps, than in the Lord of the church. Trueman is right about the way some Christians lean too strongly on certain leaders, seemingly aligning themselves more with earthly leaders than the Lord of the church.  The same is true of contempoary political leaders, not least among them our current President.  In sum, his political analysis is generally on target, and he gives some needed cautions about a celebrity church culture.

[ . . .] At the end of the day, I’m sure that I have a great deal of agreement with Trueman.  I would love for American Christians to put way more trust in the church–and more than this, the Lord of the church–than in conferences, speakers, big-name organizations, and the like.  More of us everyday Christians need to invest in the local work of God and give a little less devotion, perhaps, to big-name Christians.

We could all do a little self-examination on this point and consider whether we’ve bought into celebrity Christian culture and how it might be affecting our view of the church and its mission.  But don’t take my word for it–take Carl Trueman’s.

Good words, both from Trueman and Owen, words we need to hear more than just once, or twice.

Cultural Exegesis and Contextual Research

September 17, 2008

I am curious to know if any of you have done the work of exegeting culture, especially in regards to church planting.  If you have, I would like to know what questions you asked and what methods you implemented in the process. I know that good exegesis requires current and accurate demographic and ethnographic research as well as field surveying, and I am hoping learn more about how to gather, interpret, and come away with helpful implications for strategy and design for the indigenization of the plant.

Here’s some stuff I am currently working on regarding a new church plant:

Demographic Research

This is a graph of some demographics I pulled on the area which I found quite telling:

While there has been exponential growth in population, the ethnic groups have grown at an even faster rate.  Given their education and work force, the population is comprised of blue-collar workers who commute on average 35-40 minutes to their jobs (which in turn affect the usability of work environment for target purposes).  The commute is mostly due to housing options and cost-of-living (affordability).

The second chart deals with the number of unchurched in the area:

What I did was gather the total attendance of all Southern Baptist churches according to the 2007 Annual Church Profile, and the number came to just under 1,800 people.  Then, having gathered information from other denominations, I came up with a close proximate number of 2,900 people in a population of over 67,000 residents.  Granted, there are residents who may attend church outside the city (as some of our members do), but I can safely say that 60,000+ residents are unchurched–9 out of 10.  And this in the Bible belt of the South.  There are other charts and graphs, but I will spare you all the details.

Field Survey

I am currently working on learning the culture and helping the core group better understand and apply their knowledge to the mission at hand. While it is tempting to rely solely on hard statistics, such information needs to be validated and/or challenged.  Fortunately within our core group, there are families who have lived in this area since the early 1900’s and know the culture very well.  Yet, I am hoping to dig deeper, looking for the following information from the culture:

* Determine worldviews and religious beliefs
* Discover community and culture centers
* Discern idols of the city and idols of the heart
* Draw from customs, traditions, and other socially shared ideas
* Delineate between the biggest changes, challenges, and needs of community

These aspects are important for the purposes of being conversant with the culture, confronting its idols, communicating the gospel, and connecting with others with the love and compassion of Christ.  Having laid out the context, one can connect the text with the context with a philosophy of mission and design of ministry that is unashamedly biblical and unrelentingly intentional.

Doing good cultural exegesis is something that requires considerable time and attention, listening and learning.  Paul certainly knew that to be true.  He knew the culture of the Jews and the Greeks, the way of life for those under the law and those without the law.  He was able to connect with the religious folks in the synagogue and the secular folks in the marketplace.  The culture did not dictate his message, but neither did he deny its existence.  Within the missional matrix of God, gospel, mission, and church, the culture should be understood and interpreted so that we communicate Christ effectively in our own neighborhood.  And this is where I am finding myself as we aggressively pursue the 90+ percent of unchurched across the street.

One of the questions I am thinking about asking the core group in this area is, “If your job was to be a tour guide around your city and neighborhood, what would you show me, and where would you take me?” If you’ve got any observations or good questions to ask regarding cultural exegesis, please pass them on.

Oprah the Pluralist

July 10, 2008

This is one of many reasons why in seminary I have devoted my studies to critiquing philosophical pluralism and soteriological inclusivism. Oprah’s pluralism is answered by the good intentions of inclusivism (which I disagree with as well), and while academia is responding to John Hick’s Copernican revolution and Clark Pinnock’s “faith principle,” the everyday person is responding to Oprah Winfrey and the neighbor next door.

Again, I don’t endorse the answer or the attitude in which the lady responds to Oprah, but this shows the need for Blue Collar Theology in defense of the faith once for all handed down to the saints.

New Books in April

April 12, 2008

I’ve been really slacking with my “book alerts” this year, so I thought I’d point you to some posts by JT on recent releases in April that I am really jazzed about.  Here are his posts on the books:

* Christ and Culture Revisited (by D.A. Carson)

* The Courage to Be Protestant (by David Wells)

* In My Placed Condemned He Stood (by J.I. Packer and Mark Dever)

* Worship Matters (by Bob Kauflin)

* Twelve Challenges Churches Face (by Mark Dever)

* Engaging with the Holy Spirit (by Graham Cole)

NPR, Child’s Play, and the Importance of the Imagination

February 27, 2008

[by Owen Strachan] 

A friend recently tipped me off to a great NPR article on the importance of child’s play. Here’s a key quotation on how child’s play has changed in the last half-century:

“Instead of spending their time in autonomous shifting make-believe, children were supplied with ever more specific toys for play and predetermined scripts. Essentially, instead of playing pirate with a tree branch they played Star Wars with a toy light saber. Chudacoff calls this the commercialization and co-optation of child’s play — a trend which begins to shrink the size of children’s imaginative space.”

Aside from the clearly unfortunate nature of this development from an “enriched life” standpoint, the loss of imaginative, undirected play has had quantifiably negative effects in the physiology of children. Here’s a very telling quotation:

“A recent study replicated a study of self-regulation first done in the late 1940s, in which psychological researchers asked kids ages 3, 5 and 7 to do a number of exercises. One of those exercises included standing perfectly still without moving. The 3-year-olds couldn’t stand still at all, the 5-year-olds could do it for about three minutes, and the 7-year-olds could stand pretty much as long as the researchers asked. In 2001, researchers repeated this experiment. But, psychologist Elena Bodrova at the National Institute for Early Education Research says, the results were very different.

“Today’s 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today’s 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago,” Bodrova explains. “So the results were very sad.””

The loss of self-regulation is, perhaps surprisingly, intimately connected with the loss of spontaneous, child-directed play that nurtures the imagination. Thus, when one loses a connection with the imagination, and when one couples this loss with a permissive society, one is left with a generation of children who have little self-control and a host of corresponding personal problems. What, after all, is more integral to maturity than self-control?

I would encourage you to read the whole article–it’s worth it, as it will stimulate much thought among Christians. If the studies mentioned in the piece are true, and they certainly seem to be, then we Christians will need to make sure that we reserve a substantial place in our child-raising for the cultivation of the imagination. Furthermore, we will need to make sure that we do so not primarily by placing toys with preprogrammed stories in the hands of our children, but by thrusting our children out the back door with the lively admonition to, well, “Play!” That is to say, articles like the one cited in this post only encourage us to do what many parents, following their common sense intuition, have been doing for many hundreds of years: encouraging kids to be kids. This is not to say that such parents do not push their children on to maturity and seek to develop them in spiritual and social terms such that they become God-fearing men and women capable of contributing to home, church, society, and the broader kingdom. No, they do. But good parents do so while realizing that the seasons of life are precious and that a key part of the season of childhood is the development and exercise of the imagination.

I am not yet a father. I cannot wait to be (and my wife, praise God, is fourteen weeks along!). I do not speak, then, as an authority, but as one who was blessed to be raised in a home where the imagination was not simply tolerated but was stimulated and allowed to develop. To this day, one of my favorite things to do is to engage in creative exercise through basketball games. I may not invent tales of knightly heroism or dashing rescue anymore, but I do still allow my fun side to run wild, quite literally, on the court. That’s a gift that my parents gave me–and that I hope many Christian parents will continue to give in days to come. What’s at stake, after all, is not simply well-rounded children, but children who understand and delight in the gift of imagination and then go on to live self-controlled lives while glorying in the message of the Bible, the story that in its incredible genesis, action-packed body, and fantastic resolution crests all other tales in majesty and truth.

Is Relevance a Liberal Assumption?

November 9, 2007

While the Board of Trustees were in town for the SBTS Heritage Week, Mark Dever held a IX Marks lecture in Broadus chapel in which he opened up by speaking to the issue of relevance in gospel ministry (I was in attendance). Writing for Baptist Press, Garrett Wishall quotes Dever who said,

“I would like to suggest that the most fundamental problem in the church is not that we are not relevant enough in relation to the world, but that the church is not distinct enough from the world. Our churches must reflect the character of God.”

I remember Dever also arguing that churches are becoming “culturally determined.” In light of this, Wishall notes,

The idea that the Gospel must be made relevant is a liberal assumption which, if taken to its end, can result in the theological liberalism of Friedreich Schleiermacher, the father of Protestant liberalism, Dever said, adding that numerous church models seek to be relevant and do not reach the unorthodox conclusions of liberalism but remain unhealthy because they are based on an unbiblical definition of success.

Dever then goes on to explain a little of what he means by “an unbiblical definition of success.”

“The problem with the seeker-sensitive model, emerging church model and even the traditional model that say, ‘Get as many people into a room as possible and share the Gospel with them,’ is that they view success in light of visible fruit,” he said. “All three of these approaches say, ‘Change your techniques and let’s get some numbers.’

“Instead of being directed by [visible] success, we should be directed by faithfulness. We should say, ‘If the Lord doesn’t like our product, we will change the product.’ We shouldn’t take the idea that if we don’t have X number of conversions in our church, then we must be doing something wrong. I am glad Jeremiah didn’t think that. And I am glad that Jesus Christ didn’t think that. Let us remember that we are following the One who was crucified as a revolutionary.”

So I am curious as to what you think. Is relevance inherently a theologically liberal idea? Is it possible to reflect both the character of God and the culture in which you live? Can churches be culturally engaging without being culturally determined? Biblically faithful and culturally fruitful?