Archive for the ‘evangelism’ Category

Keller’s Reason

October 14, 2008

I’ve just finished reading Tim Keller’s Reason for God. I enjoyed it greatly, found it encouraging and also a challenge to engage others with the great gospel in a world that is tossed about with all kinds of ideas. It’s always difficult when you’re already persuaded to weigh the arguments made in an apologetic work. But Keller’s work is helpful on a number of levels.

First of all, the arguments he is dealing with are contemporary arguments and how they are put in the contemporary world. He does not try to engage with straw men as some apologists seem to do. Secondly, there is much to learn from the clear yet irenic tone of his work. I’m reminded of Francis Schaeffer’s words that the aim is to win a  convert not an argument. His tone is very different from the virulent tone of Dawkins, Hitchens et al. Thirdly, he deals very well with the whole demand for ‘cast iron certainty’ that many seem to seek today. His approach that in building the case for Christianity we are not trying to make the whole case rest on our ability to make watertight arguments but to encourage others to weight the overall evidence is a useful approach. Fourth, and perhaps above all, Keller is writing from his own experience. These are the arguments he has engaged in and with as he has engaged New Yorkers as he has seen the church grow in the city.

My biggest problem with Keller’s work, and it’s my problem rather than his, is how we deal with these arguments not with the intelligentsia of New York but the middle class, apathetic materialists I encounter. A book about that is one I would really like to read.

Getting the Message Across

August 23, 2008

I remain slightly bemused about the level of interest there is on this side of the Atlantic about the US presidential race. Somehow I can’t think that the Americans will get that excited about our next election. Part of the wild excitement has been over Barack Obama (or should it be O’Bama now that his Irish roots have been revealed). He certainly is a crowd pleaser and I see that in the US some even speak of him in messianic terms.

Yet despite all the brouhaha surrounding Obama and the general sense that the Republicans are in trouble this has not seemingly been reflected in the polls. There it appears the two candidates neck in neck.  An interesting piece in the TImes reflects on why Obama is not way out ahead. It offers a fews suggestions including a holiday which allowed McCain to regain momentum, racial issues and the fact that people are a bit weary of him already- anyone for a chorus of ‘four more years?’ But it suggests that one of the key weaknesses of Obama’s campaign has been that no-one is completely certain of what he stands for. At the minute McCain’s answers are clear and concise, while Obama’s nuanced answers leave the public uncertain of what he stands for- witness the question on abortion at the Saddleback forum.

It left me reflecting not on politics but the gospel. That where the gospel gets a grip upon people’s lives is where it is clearly proclaimed. Sadly today the inability of churches to declare the gospel boldly and to vacillate in its answers to many pressing questions has left society confused. Many people are left to today unclear what the gospel is and what the church stands for. Whilst the church in its ongoing quest for ‘relevance’ has created simply a fog of misunderstanding.

Obama’s campaign might yet lose its way in a fog of confusion- as John Kerry’s did last time. His current predictament should serve as a warning to the church in our day. If we want to speak to our society then we must speak clearly so that people might firmly grasp the gospel and see clearly what the church stands for. If not our campaign too will continue to lose its way.

Breaking into Suburbia

November 28, 2007

It is a question that I have often wrestled with- although not often enough. It is the question of how as Christians we break into suburbia.

Our church worships in a quiet suburban area. For many people it is the ideal place to live. Good housing, few obvious social problems, respectable church-going people, good schools, nice local shops, easy commuting distance to the city centre etc. Any attempts to engage the locals on Christian matters are likely to be met with the response, ‘we belong to church x, y or z.’ It is an attempt to ward off those who might pry or who might be too enthusiastic about their religion. People are happy to tick their church box but are suspicious of those Christians who talk the language of salvation. To use that painful expression of RC Sproul they believe that good respectable people that they are they will obtain ‘justification by death.’ I see them Sunday by Sunday. As I travel to church they go to the golf club, or the newspaper shop, or go jogging or out for a walk with the kids.

Nonetheless the issues are there when occasionally one glimpses behind the net curtain. There are the broken marriages, the lonely people, the debt, the dysfunctional families, the underage drinking, the pornographic addiction, the stress of working to fuel the perfect lifestyle. Not least the emptiness that no amount of money can fill.

The great question is how we break into that suburban world. A world rife with individualism that shuts its double-glazed doors to the outsider. A world which we as middle-class Christians have bought into at least in part. Perhaps we have bought into so much that we can no longer recognise the spiritual vacuum at the heart of the materially comfortable lifestyle.

So how do we break into the suburban world? A world in the grip of the spiritual poverty that the rich young man knew. We cannot I have discovered engage suburbia through our programmes- suburbia is too self-sufficient for that. We cannot meet them on their own ground because everyone’s home is his castle. Individuals in an individualistic world are suspicious of our community. We cannot even ask them to church because we are a small church and the consumer mentality rules church as it does everything else. The consumer looks and asks, what do they have to offer my family?

I have many more questions than answers. And would welcome hearing from anyone who is ministering in such a context.  Most ‘successful’ attempts to minister in this context, as far as I can see, simply reaffirm the suburban mindset rather than seeking to transform it through the gospel.

I’m glad to see some folk on the web who are tackling this issue- even if it relates to the American context. If this issue concerns you click the link below and consider the resources. At the minute it is stronger on analysis than answers. But it is a first step on a long journey.

Onward Christian Soldier

October 18, 2007

General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff of the British army is reported in today’s Times newspaper as speaking on the need for soldiers to be better spiritually prepared for death. Sir Richard, a Christian, said that death is not the end and that as a leader he had a responsibility to look after his soldiers’ spiritual welfare.

It is encouraging to see such a high profile figure speaking out publicly about how his Christian faith effects his role. He of course knows that this is not how British general’s speak and that it will bring public ridicule. His faithful testimony is to be admired. But he also highlights the spiritual need of soldiers. Far from home and facing death they are in need of our prayers and also we ought to pray that God would raise up faithful ministers of Christ in their midst. Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are forgotten by many, their wars a political embarrassment to many. But the church should not forget them and their needs. Especially the great need.

How the British Become Christians

October 4, 2007

In a recent sermon Melvin Tinker quotes the following statistics for the single most decisive factor in people becoming Christians in Britain today.

  1. The influence of a particular church over a period of time -27.8%
  2. The influence of other members of one’s own family- 25.8%
  3. The influence of a Christian friend or friends- 19.9%
  4. A specific evangelistic event or activity-13.2%

I’m not sure what happens the other 13.3%! The figures seem to reflect what others are saying that reaching our post-modern generation with the gospel is a long process, where people are influenced not only by the gospel message but by the integrity of Christian living. It perhaps also backs up another statistic I have heard that from a person first hears the gospel until they become a Christian is on average 4 years.

I also found statistic 4 interesting with regard to the huge claims that some are making for the Alpha course. Might it not be making the impact that some claim- assuming it is incorporated in this fourth figure.

Mark Dever and Evangelism

September 14, 2007

I just had my first look at Mark Dever’s new book The Gospel and Personal Evangelism. It is an honest look at the problems both we and the author often share in personal evangelism. As you would expect from Dever there is also some- at times painfully so- straight- talking. From what I’ve read it looks to be a book all we well-intentioned evangelists should take time to read.

When Worship Evangelism Doesn’t Worship- Or Evangelise

August 29, 2007

I came across a link to an article written by Sally Morganthaler on Justin Taylor’s Between Two World’s blog. It is I think a must read for every Evangelical. Morganthaler wrote a book in the 90’s called ‘Worship Evangelism’. The title is self-explanatory and in the article Morganthaler accepts that her book helped to create ‘a worship driven sub-culture.’ The worship driven church she now freely admits was not, as she had hoped, a means to reach the unchurched but ‘unabashed self-absorption, a worship culture that screamed, “It’s all about us” so loudly that I wondered how any visitor could stand to endure the rest of the hour.’ As this church culture flourished so the unchurched stayed away. Yes, mega churches grew, they almost doubled their numbers in a decade. At the same time the numbers of those staying away from church doubled as well. Mega churches were growing as a result it seems not of evangelism but ecclesiastical musical chairs. Morgenthaler’s article is a painful one both for her and any concerned Evangelical reader.

A number of observations-

  • Morgenthaler’s article raises key questions for the mega church movement and the emergent church movement. It demonstrates to us the problems that are created whenever the church is driven by the surrounding culture. The observation of the Bishop who observed that whoever is wedded to the spirit of the age will become a widow in the next.
  • It also raises issues about the understanding of worship in contemporary evangelicalism. It has seemed to me for some time we are being driven by an understanding of worship that equates with praise. The idea that worship is a matter in which we engage in with our whole self as we give ourselves to God as living sacrifices and where the pinnacle of that obedience is our submission to His word has largely been lost. It is sad that in Morgenthaler’s article she is only now acknowledging worship as defined by Paul in Romans 12:2.
  • I also hope that Morgenthaler’s reflections are heard on this side of the pond where churches are in such a rush to ape mega churches believing that they have the golden key. We too run the risk of being obsessed by numbers. We used to be driven by a concern for the lost. Now it seems we are driven too often simply by a desire to be big.
  • The issue of the unchurched is one of concern. It has concerned me for some time the disconnection that there is between the church- which seems increasingly middle class and at ease with itself- and the unchurched, who are often very ordinary people who are increasingly disconnected from the church. I grew up in a very ordinary home where money was often tight and it grieves me that the church has lost its connection with such ordinary people. The self-absorbed church will never impact the lost world.

Morgenthaler’s article ends on a sad personal note. She writes,I am taking time for the preacher to heal herself. As I exit the world of corporate worship.’ It is a comment which reflects the very narcissism that Morgenthaler claims is afflicting the contemporary church.