Children asking awesomely awkward questions about Jesus

Apparently this is from the show Outnumbered, which I know absolutely nothing about except that it has some terrificly obnoxious kids asking some weird questions about Jesus. (HT 22 Words)

My favorite comes right at the end: “What would Jesus do if he were attacked by a polar bear?”

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQak6ng0RXQ&feature=player_embedded

A call for renewal in the Presbyterian Church (USA)

A number of pastors in the Presbyterian Church (USA) have joined together to issue a call for renewal in the denomination. Scot McKnight posted the letter this morning on his blog, and it has sparked some interesting discussion. The letter itself offers an outline for denominational renewal in general, though some of it is specific to its Presbyterian context.

I’ve posted the full text of the letter below (minus signatories). What do you think? Are “denominations” worth renewing? Can they be renewed like this? Is the letter missing anything necessary for such a renewal?

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A Letter to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

February 2, 2011

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

To say the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is deathly ill is not editorializing but acknowledging reality.  Over the past year, a group of PC(USA) pastors has become convinced that to remain locked in unending controversy will only continue a slow demise, dishonor our calling, and offer a poor legacy to those we hope will follow us. We recently met in Phoenix, and have grown in number and commitment. We humbly share responsibility for the failure of our common life, and are no better as pastors nor more righteous than anyone on other sides of tough issues.

Our denomination has been in steady decline for 45 years, now literally half the size of a generation ago.  Most congregations see far more funerals than infant baptisms because we are an aging denomination. Only 1,500 of our 5,439 smallest churches have an installed pastor, putting their future viability as congregations in doubt. Even many larger congregations, which grew well for decades, have hit a season of plateau or decline.  Our governing bodies reflect these trends, losing financial strength, staffing, and viability as presbyteries, synods, and national offices.

How we got to this place is less important than how to move forward. We are determined to get past rancorous, draining internal disputes that paralyze our common life and ministry. We believe the PC(USA) will not survive without drastic intervention, and stand ready to DO something different, to thrive as the Body of Christ. We call others of like mind to envision a new future for congregations that share our Presbyterian, Reformed, Evangelical heritage. If the denomination has the ability and will to move in this new direction, we will rejoice.  Regardless, a group of us will change course, forming a new way for our congregations to relate.  We hate the appearance of schism – but the PC(USA) is divided already. Our proposal only acknowledges the fractured denomination we have become.

Homosexual ordination has been the flashpoint of controversy for the last 35 years.  Yet, that issue – with endless, contentious “yes” and “no” votes – masks deeper, more important divisions within the PC(USA).  Our divisions revolve around differing understandings of Scripture, authority, Christology, the extent of salvation amidst creeping universalism, and a broader set of moral issues. Outside of presbytery meetings, we mostly exist in separate worlds, with opposing sides reading different books and journals, attending different conferences, and supporting different causes. There is no longer common understanding of what is meant by being “Reformed.”  Indeed, many sense that the only unity we have left is contained in the property clause and the pension plan; some feel like withholding per capita is a club used against them, while others feel locked into institutional captivity by property. While everyone wearies of battles over ordination, these battles divert us from a host of issues that affect the way our congregations fail to attract either young believers or those outside the faith. Thus, we age, shrink, and become increasingly irrelevant.  Is it time to acknowledge that traditional denominations like the PC(USA) have served in their day but now must be radically transformed?

We need something new, characterized by:

  1. A clear, concise theological core to which we subscribe, within classic biblical, Reformed/Evangelical traditions, and a pledge to live according to those beliefs, regardless of cultural pressures to conform;
  2. A commitment to nurture leadership in local congregations, which we believe is a primary expression of the Kingdom of God.  We will identify, develop, and train a new generation of leaders – clergy and laity;
  3. A passion to share in the larger mission of the people of God around the world, especially among the least, the lost, and the left behind;
  4. A dream of multiplying healthy, missional communities throughout North America;
  5. A pattern of fellowship reflecting the realities of our scattered life and joint mission, with regular gatherings locally, regionally, and nationally to excite our ability to dream together.

Our values include:

  1. A minimalist structure, replacing bureaucracy and most rules with relational networks of common purpose;
  2. Property and assets under stewardship of the local Session.  Dues/Gifts for common administration should only allow and enable continued affiliation among these congregations;
  3. Rather than large institutions, joint ventures with specialized ministries as congregations deem helpful [PC(USA) World Mission may be a source of joint support, aspects of the Board of Pensions, Presbyterian Foundation, Presbyterian Global Fellowship, Presbyterians for Renewal conferences, Outreach Foundation, etc.];
  4. An atmosphere of support for congregations both within and outside of the PC(USA).

We invite like-minded pastors and elders to a gathering on August 25-27 in Minneapolis to explore joining this movement and help shape its character.  Our purpose is to LIVE INTO new patterns as they are created, modeling a way of faith: the worship, supportive fellowship, sharing of best practices, and accessible theology that brings unity and the Spirit’s vitality.

OUR PROPOSAL:

  1. A Fellowship: The most immediate change we intend is creating a new way of relating in common faith, a Fellowship (name to be determined). The primary purpose of this Fellowship will be the encouragement of local congregations to live out the Good News proclaimed by our Savior, increasing the impact of the Kingdom of Heaven.   This Fellowship will exist within current presbyteries for the time being, but energies and resources will flow in new directions.  It is an intermediate tool to bring together like-minded congregations and pastors, to enable us to build a future different than our fractured present.
  2. New Synod/Presbyteries: In the near future we will need “middle bodies” that offer freedom to express historical, biblical values amid ordination changes in the PC(USA).  More importantly, we long for presbytery-like bodies with theological and missional consensus rather than fundamental disagreement over so many core issues.  We need new processes that identify and support the next generation of leadership differently than the current model, which unintentionally weeds out the entrepreneurial persons we so desperately need in our congregations.  Many current functions should be removed; some, like curriculum and mission relationships, have become less centralized already.  We will work with the Middle Governing Bodies Commission since changes to The Book of Order will be needed to step fully into this reality.
  3. Possible New Reformed Body: Congregations and presbyteries that remain in a denomination that fundamentally changes will become an insurmountable problem for many. Some members of the Fellowship will need an entity apart from the current PC(USA). It is likely that a new body will need to be created, beyond the boundary of the current PC(USA), while remaining in correspondence with its congregations.  The wall between these partner Reformed bodies will be permeable, allowing congregations and pastors to be members in the Fellowship regardless of denominational affiliation.  All kinds of possibilities exist, and much will depend on how supportive the PC(USA) can be in allowing something new to flourish.
  4. Possible Reconfiguration of the PC(USA): We intend to continue conversations within the PC(USA), and have met with both Louisville’s leadership and that of the Covenant Network in the past few months.  We believe the denomination no longer provides a viable future and perceive that the Covenant Network also sees a broken system.  We hope to work together to see if some new alignment might serve the whole Church.

Any model that includes an entity outside the PC(USA) does mean fewer remaining congregations, pastors, and elders to fight the challenges of the current PC(USA).  Votes will swing in directions that had not been desirable before.  For many this outcome simply acknowledges that fighting is not the way we choose to proceed; our goal is not institutional survival but effective faithfulness as full participants in the worldwide Church.  We hope to discover and model what a new “Reformed body” looks like in the coming years, and we invite you to join us, stepping faithfully, boldly, and joyfully into the work for which God has called us.

The importance of reading strategically

One of the greatest frustrations many students have is the overwhelming feeling that they have more to read than could possibly be digested in a single, human lifespan. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but it feels like that at times. How do you work your way through that stack of books, articles, and handouts while retaining some small shred of sanity?

Fred Sanders was recently interviewed about his reading habits, and in his response he offered some good advice for dealing with this very challenge – read strategically.

The most important advice I can give about reading is to make decisions in advance about what you want from the book you’re about to read. You’ve got to stay in charge, and not just let yourself accidentally fall into the reading experience. Before you really engage the book, decide if it’s the kind of book you need to read slowly, repeatedly, taking notes, and pondering. Or is it the kind of book that covers familiar territory and will only offer a few new details? Is it a book you want to immerse yourself in and get lost in, or the kind you want to dip into for bits of information? Or is it a book that you need to figure out so you can put it on your shelf and know how to use it for reference later on? Some books contain analysis and perspectives that are brand new for you, and require slow assimilation. But others just confirm, deepen, or extend things you already know. And it’s fine to read for fun and entertainment, or even to read haphazardly. But you need to have made a decision that you’re going to do so. There are some books that I’m done with in 90 minutes, because I already knew what was in them before I picked them up, and I got everything I needed from them in a short encounter. I’m not an especially fast reader, but I do read strategically.

Flotsam and jetsam (2/9)

These four qualities are indispensable to good preaching, but some are more indispensable than others. The farther you go down the list, the harder the traits come. But the good news is it’s the top of the list that matter most.

To say the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is deathly ill is not editorializing but acknowledging reality.

If the phrase “son of God” is tantamount to blasphemy to Muslims, is it acceptable to translate the phrase differently into Arabic in the name of making the gospel known?

  • Patheos is adding another new blog, and this one looks like it could be very interesting. Evangelical Crossroads features Mark Russell (Asbury), Allen Yeh (Biola), Michelle Sanchez, Michelle Stearns (Mars Hill), and Dwight Friesen (Mars Hill). (HT)

How to Placate the Typography Gods

Here are some good tips for keeping an editor (or picky professor) happy with your writing projects. (HT 22 Words)

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2011 Desiring God Conference sessions online

Speak with conviction – a visual poem

Here’s a great visual poem from Taylor Mali on the importance of speaking with conviction. He challenges the modern notion that it’s a virtue to hold beliefs tentatively and speak with uncertainty. It’s like we want to say,

I have nothing personally invested in my own opinions, I’m just like inviting you to join me on the bandwagon of my own uncertainty.

Instead, he calls for conviction. As he says toward the end:

So, I implore you, I entreat you, and I challenge you to speak with conviction, to say what you believe in a manner that bespeaks the determination with which you believe it.

Thanks to Brian Fulthorp for pointing this one out.

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The Messiah of the Month Club

You’re standing in front of a long row of pictures. Each presents the image of a man, and from the look of their clothes they all lived a long time ago. Underneath each picture is a brief bio. Intrigued, you lead closer and read about the first person.

Simon claimed to be the Messiah. He lived in first-century Palestine. Convinced that he’d been called by God to lead God’s people out of their Roman captivity and into the promised Kingdom, Simon raised an army in open rebellion against the Romans. He was captured and killed.

Hmmm. That doesn’t sound like a very promising beginning for a Messiah. So, you move on to the next one.

The Teacher of Righteousness was believed by many to be the Messiah. He lived in first-century Palestine. Convinced that he’d been called by God to lead Israel to a true knowledge of God, he led a group of followers into the desert and established a separatist group committed to personal and corporate holiness. He died and the community eventually dispersed.

Well, at least he wasn’t captured and killed by the Romans. That’s a little better. But, you’d still expect a little more from God’s anointed one.

Judas of Galilee claimed to be the Messiah. He lived first-century Palestine. Also convinced that he’d been called by God to lead God’s people out of their Roman captivity and into the promised Kingdom, Simon raised an army in open rebellion against the Romans. He was captured and killed.

That sounds rather familiar. You’re beginning to wonder how many of these Messiahs were wandering around in first-century Palestine. Was there a Messiah of the Month club? Could you check out a Messiah for a few weeks and see if he was really going to live up to all the hype before the grace period expired and you had to keep him or send him back? I wonder who paid for the shipping.

Jesus of Nazareth was believed to be the Messiah. He lived in first-century Palestine. Convinced that he’d been called by God to lead Israel out of their bondage and brokenness, he gathered a small group of followers and proclaimed that God’s kingdom was at hand. He was arrested and killed.

Okay, this is starting to get a little repetitive. If they’re going to have a Messiah of the Month club, they really should mix things up a bit more. How about a barbarian Messiah who leads his savage hordes on a rampage through Rome? That would be cool. Or at least have a Messiah who actually wins. Otherwise, it just gets depressing.

[You can read the rest of the posts from this series on the Gospel book page.]

Flotsam and jetsam (2/8)

HT James McGrath

Motivation matters here. Yes, personal blogs may be a tool of self-promotion. That’s a given. But if the blogger is motivated solely by the desire to self-promote, then the blog is about building a readership for the blogger’s benefit rather than for the reader’s benefit.

For some, the term “apologetics” has taken on too many negative connotations to continue to be useful. They believe it is time to dispense with the term altogether. I am not convinced. Saving the term, however, is less important than revitalizing and re-contextualizing the concept. Christians need to continue to talk about the best way to communicate the heart of the gospel and the saving message of Christ in compelling and coherent ways. To that end, apologetics (or whatever one may call it) should be evangelistic, integrative, holistic, communal, and contextual.

Because we worship our way into sin, ultimately we need toworship our way out.

Writing tip of the day: In defense of Strunk and White

Boston.com has an excellent article in defense of Strunk and White’s classic writing text, Elements of Style (read it on Scribd here). After surveying its influence and some key critiques, the author concludes:

Meanwhile, as far as everyday, non-literary writing goes, the book is tremendously useful, especially for writers who are just starting out. If you are still struggling to put your thoughts into words, then The Elements of Style is a godsend. Strunk and White take the same tack as E.L. Doctorow, who wrote that “writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Simple sentences get you where you want to go, one mile at a time. Haslett suggests, as an alternative, Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One; Fish, he explains, is a world-class literary critic, “a sentence connoisseur” who offers “a far richer introduction to the capacities of English language sentences.” But beginning writers often find simplicity more helpful than sinuosity.