Great Explanations

I don't know who Jonathon Jarvis is. But sometimes a picture (or video) is worth a thousand words, and this is worth a couple thousand at least. Anyone who'd like to better understand the current credit crisis will find the 11 minutes it takes to watch this well worth the time.

Book Review - The Courage to be Protestant

Sometimes you hear a speaker or read an author who's saying all the things you've always believed, but they're stating things so well that your whole heart just screams "yes!" the whole time. Such was my experience reading this curiously titled book by David Wells. If anyone ever wanted to know how I believe church should be done or gain insight into my philosophy of ministry as a pastor, this book effectively states it all.

In the first part of the book Wells succinctly describes how the evangelical movement began back in the 1930s with a simplified dual commitment to Biblical inerrancy and the cross of Christ. This simple core had advantages, like allowing Christians from different traditions (such as charismatics and non-charismatics) to join the movement. But it had two key weaknesses: the importance of doctrine was diminished, as was the role of the church. This lead to a fracture in evangelicalism - a trend that very quickly became all the rage in the 1980s and 1990s, which Wells calls the Marketing trend.

I've blogged about the Marketing trend before, but in a nutshell it is this: following the lead of the Willow Creeks and Saddlebacks of the world, evangelical leaders began approaching the task of the church the same way a business approaches the sale of a product. The gospel is the product, the unchurched are the target demographic, and the question is "how do you get them to buy?" Employing all the latest know-how from the world of marketing, these churches started looking less and less like churches and more and more like bookstores, coffee shops, concerts, and other successful retail operations. The original weaknesses became glaring: both the role of church as an authentically spiritual and other-worldly community and the prominent role of doctrine in the life of the church became virtually nonexistent.

This Marketing trend gave rise to another major fracture: the Emergent trend (which I also blogged about before). Emergents recognize many of the shallow faults of Marketing evangelicalism, but their corrective measures often fall far short improvement because they're too wed to postmodern thinking. The role of the church as an authoritative community in the life of the believer is lost in the postmodern malaise of "journey" and "conversation." And doctrine? Few things are met with more disdain in postmodern thinking than doctrine, with all its arrogant self-assurance about being right.

In both cases the heart of what the church is, and what it believes, are lost. Marketing churches often put all this is the "back room" so to speak where few find it, whereas Emergent churches dismiss it altogether and replace it with a vague, self-oriented spirituality that's more about journey than destination.

So here we are, with evangelicalism fragmented into three major camps (with lots of nuance and detail in between, of course). Wells proceeds to accurately diagnose and expound why these current trends are missing the core of Biblical Protestant Christianity - information I think every Christian, and especially every church leader, needs to know.

Where do we go from here? Wells wisely recognizes that evangelicalism cannot be "un-fractured." Humpty Dumpty will never be put together again. However, and this is where my heart really resonates with this book, he urges us to move forward with the core of what Biblical Christianity has always been at the forefront of our minds. Whatever the details of church life end up looking like, he urges us to forge them out of the truths that have always defined Biblical Protestantism. He challenges us to have the courage of our convictions, the courage to buck the tides of our surrounding postmodern culture and adhere to Christian orthodoxy as taught in the Bible. In other words, as he puts it in the book's title, The Courage to Be Protestant.

I do not think Wells could be much more right than he is in this book. And I think every Christian will find his descriptions of current church trends eye-opening and extremely helpful. I highly recommend this book, and it's the first book in over a year that I've added to my blog's Bookshelf as a book I think every Christian should read. I'm that high on it. And if you consider Harvest your church home, I'm all the more asking you to make some time soon to read and digest Wells' message, because it's at the heart of where we're going as a church body.

Soul Breathing

Have you ever inhaled deeply -- at the soul level? Ever felt the fresh air of life fill your psyche, rather than just your lungs?

I have. Many times. I've breathed in rejuvenating energy, inhaling fully so it reaches all the way to the core of my being. And there's one ingredient I've found that's essential to me being able to do this: nature. Specifically the mountains, and to a slightly lesser extent the coast.

None of that surprises regular readers of this blog, I know. But I'm always amazed at how dramatically a day in the mountains affects me. They say that the physical act of deep breathing expels impurities and has a cleansing effect on the body. A day in the outdoors has a similar effect on my soul, purging stress, relaxing the heart, and restoring perspective.

I recently took another such exploratory jaunt into the Tillamook State Forest in Oregon's Coast Range, which is my usual destination since it's so close to home (about 40 minute's drive from my front door). The Coast Range isn't as high and dramatic as the Cascades on the other side of town, but the TSF is a great day-trip destination because of a vast network of 4WD trails and logging roads that can get you miles and miles up into the rough country... and away from city life hubbub.

Each time I go up there I scout out a different location. This time my day trip was a combo 4WD Scout exploration followed by a riverside hike. My 1974 IH Scout is an absolute blast on these backcountry trails. No matter how muddy, slippery, or steep the incline is I can get it pretty much anywhere I want to go. At the end of my exploring I churned up a long, steep gravel incline and ended up at a dead end on the point of a small ridge. I was basically on a "peninsula" about 1,600 feet up, with stunning views surrounding me wherever I turned. The slide show below is a sequence of photos I took as I turned a full 360 degrees clockwise:

I pulled out my camp chair and sat facing King's Mountain, one of the TSF's higher peaks at almost 3,500 feet. There's a fairly challenging hiking trail that goes to the top of King's Mountain which I plan to hike sometime this summer. For now, I was content with a chair, a thermal mug of fresh Peet's coffee, lunch, and a Tom Clancy novel.

To top the day off, I came back down out of the highlands to hike a 3-mile round trip along the Wilson River. My destination/turnaround point was Wilson Falls, a small but pretty waterfall that splashes across the trail itself:

Notice the downed trees. There was actually a ton of storm damage below the 1,000 foot level, from last winter's snow & ice:

Still, it's a beautiful hike even with the reminders of nature's power scattered all around you. And my soul is rejuvenated... until next time!

Another Good Question - Prophecies of Doom

So what's up with the dour mood amongst theologically conservative Christians these days? Sure, circumstances could be better. Almost everyone is feeling the economy right now. Iran seems on the brink of building a nuke, and would be more than happy to point it at Israel or (better yet) Washington DC. And speaking of Washington, the president and his colleagues in the Cabinet and on the Hill have wasted little time turning this great ship of state hard to port. But still, despite all this and a hundred other things life throws at us to fret about, God is an awesome God, we're his unbelievably (and undeservedly) privileged kids, and our hope is secure in Christ!

Nonetheless, gloom seems to be chic right now. For example, take the recent well-publicized prophecy from pastor David Wilkerson (of Teen Challenge and The Cross And The Switchblade fame), in which he says the Holy Spirit has told him that there will be massive calamity in multiple American cities soon. Wilkerson's only advice: store up 30 days of emergency supplies.

I was r
ecently asked for my opinion of this message, which I thought was another good question and worth posting here too. Basically, while I have a lot of respect for Wilkerson's history of ministering to people influenced by drug infested streets, my response boils down to two major issues: validity and focus

By validity I mean asking the question, is he right? Is his “word from the Holy Spirit” really a word from the Holy Spirit, or just a word from his own over-active imagination? Truth is, I have no idea, and no way of knowing for sure at this point. So I don’t really worry about it much, to be honest. There are always people who say “something catastrophic is going to happen soon” in the na
me of God. Usually they’re wrong. Sometimes catastrophic things do happen, but even then it’s not always clear to me that the event was the fulfillment of an individual person’s prophecy.

Now, I’m not saying his statement definitely didn't come from God – it might well have. I’m just saying that even if he has truly received a word from God, a) it’s hard to tell ahead of time, especially with the vagueness of his language, and b) it’s not at all clear to me what the purpose of this “word” is. In other words, even if he’s right and there’s going to be some huge calamity in American cities soon, so what? How does that change my life or my priorities as a Christian? What exactly am I supposed to do with this information, other than stock 30 days of emergency supplies (which
is probably just good practice in case of emergencies anyway, even when there’s no prophecy)? All of which leads me to the other issue…

By focus I mean asking what is consuming our thinking; what are we focused on? Too many people today, in my opinion, who claim to have prophetic gifts talk so much about their prophecies that those prophecies are all their followers think about. They invest themselves in trying to figure out various prophecies (which might be words from God) instead of spending serious, disciplined time studying the Bible (which is undoubtedly a Word from God). In other words, they aren’t consumed with the things the pages of Scripture are consumed with, they’re consumed with the latest prophecy from a big-name Christian leader. This is a major problem in my view whether the prophecy is legitimate or
not. We are to fill our hearts and minds with God’s truth as revealed in Scripture and brought to memory by the Holy Spirit.

So the bottom line for me is this: Wilkerson might be right and he might not be. I don't know. And I don't much care either way. Because regardless of what calamities do or don't come I know for a fact what I'm supposed to be doing with my life: building authentic biblical community, learning and becoming more like Jesus, and being a conduit of his grace and truth to everyone I meet.

And I'm 100% sure that's a word from the Holy Spirit.

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