Monthly Archives: January 2007

A Recovering Evangelical


(Originally posted on Jan 20, 2007 at I have at times described myself as a “recovering evangelical”. Recently I was asked what I meant by that, so I will take some space here to answer that question. First, however, I need to give credit where it is due. Roger Hedgecock, a conservative radio talk show host and former mayor of San Diego, describes himself as a “recovering politician”; I adapted the term for my own use.

So just what is a “recovering evangelical”? It is a person seeking to recover what is good in evangelicalism – primarily its essential doctrines – and recover from those aspects where evangelicalism has perhaps gone astray.

Recovering What Is Good – Doctrine
There is much that is good in evangelical doctrine, yet it is being called into question by some in the church today. Specifically, significant voices in the emerging church “conversation” are reevaluating their own roots and delving deeply into scripture in their search. This is certainly not a bad thing, but can become dangerous when these voices are taking with them less-well-rooted followers – or when they steer away from orthodox beliefs for fear of possibly “being wrong”.

I find three evangelical strengths in particular that need to be recovered:

  • Evangelicals have generally placed an appropriate emphasis on the rightness of scripture – a perhaps-less-divisive term than either inerrancy or infallibility. Evangelicals understand scripture to be right, true, and, as Paul wrote to Timothy, “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”. Without this base, Christianity is all but lost.
  • Evangelicals correctly hold to the paradoxical identity of Jesus as both all man and all God…even if we don’t always live out the impact of that belief (more on this below). Again, without conviction about the person of Jesus, we can neither have nor proclaim hope for the world.
  • Evangelicals understand the imperative of spreading the message of Jesus (specifically, of salvation in and through Jesus) to a world that according to scripture is lost without him.

Recovering From Going Astray – Practice
As is true of every religion at every point in history, what we believe (doctrine) is sometimes not well worked out in what we do (practice). Such is the case with evangelicalism. In two specific areas I think evangelical practice has gone off course, even if only slightly.

  • First, we have focused on conversion as a point-in-time experience, a “profession (or confession) of faith”, rather than recognizing that coming to faith is a process. Our evangelistic efforts (“spreading the message”) have not kept pace with the changing culture around us. Whereas not many decades ago even non-believers believed the Bible and what it taught about Jesus – even if they didn’t adhere to those truths in their hearts and lives – today there is a great ignorance of the Bible and an acceptance of a less-than-divine Jesus; while those of the former persuasion may respond to a four-step gospel presentation concluding with “the sinner’s prayer”, the latter need to be drawn toward a relationship with Jesus in which they will eventually place their faith in him. In many respects, this is the difference between “becoming a Christian” and “becoming a disciple.”
  • Second, we have unduly emphasized separation, expressed through a rejection of both activities (e.g., drinking, dancing, movies, etc.) and those who engage in them. Like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, we seem to be afraid that merely associating with “sinners” will make us unclean. Of course, this was what they had been taught; it grew out of the Mosaic Law with its strict definitions of clean and unclean. In our day, we read James’ counsel that pure religion is “…to keep oneself unstained by the world” and understand that to mean just this separation.

As for what a recovering evangelical should do, I think I will leave that question for another post….

Understanding Worship


(Originally posted on Jan 18, 2007 at Why has worship been at the core of so many divisions both within and between churches for the better part of four decades (if not longer)? Perhaps a significant reason is that we do not have a clearly-defined understanding of what worship is. In Worship by the Book, D.A. Carson accurately presents worship as far broader than either music or corporate worship.

He begins by noting the difficulty we will have in constructing a theology of worship. Indeed, he takes a full eight pages out of his 52-page first chapter just to explain why an agreeable definition of worship is difficult to come by. And when he does present his definition, he takes 16 lines to do it! Here is the first sentence Carson offers, which I believe is an accurate summary of biblical worship: Worship is the proper response of all moral, sentient beings to God, ascribing all honor and worth to their Creator-God precisely because he is worthy, delightfully so.” (The balance of his paragraph adds a number of nuances to this summary.)

If it is so hard to come to a definition of worship, and harder still to develop a solid theology of worship, it should be no wonder that so much division has arisen over this one topic. So what are we to do? As church leaders, a big part of our task is to educate the church body (cf Ro 12:7, 1 Co 12:28, Ep 4:11, Co 1:28, 3:16). If worship is to be a significant focus of our corporate gatherings, should we not teach about worship?

Here are some points Carson makes:

  • If worship is a “proper response” to God, then we need to consider how God wants his people to responds to him. We need only look at Cain and Abel to recognize that God may actually have his own worship preferences – and that ours may not line up with his.
  • Worship involves (though not exclusively) remembering and retelling. This is at the heart of the Lord’s Supper, and is a theme prevalent throughout the Old Testament, as well.
  • “Worship is no longer primarily focused in [religious action and ritual] shaped by a liturgical calendar, but it is something in which we are continuously engaged.” (p. 38) In other words, we don’t go to church to worship; rather, when we go to church, we continue to worship, now as a body.
  • Worship is both adoration and action. That is, we delight in God (adoration), but we also serve his people (action). These are not sequential or mutually exclusive, but rather concurrent. We are to do everything to the glory of God, as Paul admonished. In our actions, God may be adored. In our adoration of God, we may also serve others.
  • Worship is both individual and corporate.
  • While a thorough study of scripture will show us many elements of worship, “there is no explicit mandate or model of a particular order or arrangement of these elements.” (p. 51) Let us not be too eager, then, to over-promote our own preferences or denigrate another’s.

Carson also states that “it is folly to think that only part of the ‘service’ is worship” and continues by saying that “the notion of a ‘worship leader’ who leads the ‘worship’ part of the service before the sermon (which, then, is no part of worship!) is so bizarre, from a New Testament perspective, as to be embarrassing.” (p. 47) In a footnote on the same page, he comments about “the fact that many contemporary ‘worship leaders’ have training in music but none in Bible, theology, history, or the like.”

Carson concludes his chapter with this wise counsel: “Somewhere along the line it is important not only to explain that genuine worship is nothing more than loving God with heart and soul and mind and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves, but also to show what a statement like that means in the concrete decisions of life.” (p. 63)

Do you have a clear definition of worship? Do the people in your church know that definition? When was the last time you spent significant time teaching and/or preaching about worship (i.e., a series of messages)? Worship leaders: In what ways might your leadership be enhanced by pursuing more theological training? Senior/lead pastors: Do you need to encourage and enable your worship leader to deepen their theological training?

The American Dream


(Originally posted Jan 4, 2007 on What is the American dream? While the term may mean very different things to different people, it usually conjures up images of material success: home, car, family, financial security, independence. For many, The Dream is associated with immigration and what America offered: religious freedom, economic prosperity, limitless opportunity. For most, perhaps, the dream is centered on freedom of some sort – religious, financial, geographic, etc.

I wonder, though, if the American dream lines up with God’s dream for his people? Certainly freedom is a central aspect of Biblical truth, but perhaps not the type of freedom we hold so dearly in this country.

Sadly, I think, the church in America – under the burden of freedom – has bought into the American dream … and in so doing has become drunk on its own success. In a big country where bigger is better, the church has enjoyed an extended period of growth both locally and nationally; we have more churches and bigger churches. At the same time, we have promoted – sometimes actively, sometimes passively – the American dream. We explain church growth in terms of God’s blessing and equate personal faithfulness with the same: if the church is growing, it must be because God is pleased; if a family experiences material “blessing” (i.e., lots of stuff), then God must be pleased. The same theology says that hard times show God’s displeasure.

I don’t think that’s true, though, and there’s a lot of evidence in scripture to back me up. Just look at Joseph’s life – beaten up by his brothers, sold into slavery, thrown in jail for a rape he didn’t commit…hardly a “blessed” life! Yet he himself acknowledged to his brothers that “God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20) Job’s counselors came to him with a similar message, yet listen to God’s rebuke: “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7)

God has been working in my wife’s and my hearts in this area; we see him striking down much of what we have grown up with in the American Evangelical church. It’s not that what we grew up with was wrong; but it seems to me that somehow, over the past couple centuries, the line between “Christian” and “American” has been worn thin. Unfortunately, it has been “American” values that have gained prominence over “Christian” values, rather than vice versa.

This week my wife started reading a new book, This Beautiful Mess, by Pastor Rick McKinley of the Imago Dei community in Portland, Oregon. In at least one of the chapters, Rick talks about some of these kinds things, and the message is very much at the core of what Imago Dei is about as a body. My wife and I are wondering where and how God will lead us in this new adventure of faith, of striving after the true freedom he offers rather than the false freedoms of financial security, independence, and material things.