Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What are the 10 most important events in Church history?

What made this difficult (aside from my general ignorance) is how to deal with historical events that profoundly shaped Church history, but aren't distinctly Christian (Gutenberg's printing press, destruction of the Spanish Armada, invention of Twitter...). Another question is how to deal with major events that fall within the scope of the "Church," but had relatively little impact on the trajectory of the gospel. The Great Schism strikes me as the prime example.

I decided to narrow my list to explicitly Church-related events that affected the trajectory of the evangelical faith. And I'm not cheating off someone else's list (except for Wiki's help on dates), so I probably brain cramped and left out something big. Oh, and I'm starting with the close of the canon. Here goes...
  1. Constantine's Edict of Milan legalizes Christianity (313)
  2. Council of Nicea articulates biblical Christology (325)
  3. Conversion of Augustine (387)
  4. Publication of Luther's "95 Theses" (1517)
  5. Conrad Grebel ("re-")baptizes George Blaurock in Zwingli's Z├╝rich (1525)
  6. Publication of Luther's German translation of the Bible (1534)
  7. Council of Trent formalizes the RCC's rejection of the Reformation doctrine of justification (1547)
  8. Publication of Calvin's Institutes (definitive Latin edition, 1559)
  9. Separation of church/state and freedom of religion in Rhode Island (1637)
  10. William Carey initiates the modern missions movement (1792)
Obviously, there's a big gap in the middle, and nothing from the past two+ centuries, though the next five that I left out would shift that a bit. It's probably difficult at this point to evaluate any event from the 20th century objectively, but which do you think is most likely to be included by a 23rd century evangelical historian?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

What are the 10 most important events in the Bible?

I've tossed that question out in a couple different pastoral contexts over the course of the last few months as an introduction to discussions of biblical theology. Obviously, one of the first questions you have to answer is, "What makes one event more important than another?"

The way I've chosen to answer that, at this point anyway, is that some events have broader implications on or stronger interrelationships with the rest of the Bible than others. Some events are also more pivotal in the development of God's purposes and with mankind.

So just for fun, here are my top ten (chronological order), with limited explanation. I'll save the supporting arguments for when y'all start shooting back.
  1. Creation
  2. Fall
  3. Flood
  4. Establishment and reiteration of the Abrahamic Covenant
  5. Exodus
  6. Establishment of the Davidic Covenant
  7. Incarnation of Christ
  8. Death and resurrection of Christ (I realize I'm cheating pretty badly here so I don't have to cut elsewhere.)
  9. Pentecost
  10. Second coming/final judgment/New Heavens & New Earth (Cheating again, though it wouldn't be quite so egregious if I were Amillennial.)
For what it's worth, the next five or so after these strike me seem fairly clear, but after that it gets quite a bit more fuzzy. Feel free to post your own list and make the case for why you'd include something I omitted.

Friday, January 20, 2012

America's Unique Climate for Exotic, Poisonous Hybrids of Christianity with Other Gods

I just started reading a fun little book by Os Guinness, The Gravedigger File. I assume I must've heard about it in this interview (which is worth a listen just for Guinness' unedited comments on Franky Schaeffer), but I haven't reviewed it to confirm.

This is a fiction work—sort of a cross between something by Lewis and just about anything by Wells (start here or here). The basic idea is that Christianity has dug its own grave by contributing to the rise of secularization, which will ultimately doom the church. Or so the "Deputy Director of the Central Security Council" believes, as expressed in a series of memos to the newly-designated director of the Los Angeles Bureau.

It's outstandingly quotable—a Twitter treasure trove. But the passage that's most stuck out to me is a bit longer than 140 characters. (Apologies in advance for the dreadful length.) Outlining strategies to raise America's level of secularization to that achieved in Europe, the CSC deputy director writes:
Certainly we have already cooled the spiritual temperature in Europe to an Arctic level where only the hardiest of believers can survive, and then only by huddling together in their spiritual igloos. ("Always winter, never Christmas," as one of their agents laments.) But, as you will soon discover [when you begin your post in Los Angeles], the steamy, equatorial spiritual heat of the United States has its advantages—not least in allowing us to cultivate exotic, poisonous hybrids which would thrive in no other climate.
If we tried to list them all, how much time could we spend?

Christianity Today Is Making More and More Sense.

Though some of these articles don't quite go far enough, and I wouldn't associate myself with everything that actually is said, I thought these observations were worth some attention:

A Spanish Service Is Not Enough: It's Time to Feed the 'Hellenized Latinos':
The church's mission is to preach the gospel to all people. It is not to preserve the language and cultural preferences of any generation, whether foreign or native born. As God's missionary people, we have been sent into the world just as Jesus Christ was sent into the world by the Father (John 20:21). We cannot allow our ethnocentrism to blind us to the prisons of disobedience evident in every culture, including our own.
How the Physical Form of a Bible Shapes Us:
Will this digital revolution cement the decline of family spirituality that was once fostered by the family Bible? God knows.
This article caught my eye because I'd just had this conversation with a couple guys from church. To me, there's an inevitable trade-off between proliferation and evanescence. Bibles and even theological libraries are now in countless places they'd have never gone before—or only with great difficulty—from cockpits to Cuba. But will the Millennials be able to distinguish the Word of God from some yayhoo's blog? God knows. But this we also know: The Church advances, and God wins.

Why Last Saturday's Political Conclave of Evangelical Leaders Was Dangerous:
When evangelicals are confined to a partisan kennel, it is easy to think we are exercising real power. In fact we are, to use the old Soviet phrase, serving as "useful idiots."
The Trouble with Ed Young's Rooftop Sexperiment:
In short, if there were more talk about sex elsewhere in the church, perhaps in the privacy of our communities and classrooms, we might get away with a good deal less of it from our pulpits and our publishing houses. Until then, the message will continue to get drowned out amidst the bombardment of infotainment that our evangelical world suffers from. In other words, if the message is not getting through, we might think about changing the messenger and method. Otherwise, the sensationalistic path of least resistance inevitably comes to the fore.
I want to say one thing quickly, since the article doesn't really say enough. I'd like to hear what generations of faithful believers living before the age of 2,500 square foot, 4-bedroom single-family homes would say about the preposterous notion that a healthy marriage is contingent on a dynamic sex life.

Clothing Matters: What We Wear to Church:
But all of the above should at least warn us away from the glib assumption that God does not care about what we wear to church; or that what I choose to wear for worship doesn't matter; or that how I dress for church is a purely personal affair; or that my own convenience and comfort are all that need concern me. The truth is, one of the ways we express ourselves as human beings is by the way we dress. Wittingly or unwittingly, our clothing gives us away. God certainly does not need this expression to know our hearts. But as for the rest of us, we do indeed look on the outward appearance, even when peering into our own mirrors. In this way the clothes we choose for church may have things to tell us about our hearts that God already knows, but that we need to hear.
Now, just to prove I'm not going all squishy, let me just ask something: Do any of CT's ten most redeeming films of 2011 actually depict biblical redemption, or merely moral transformation rooted in unusual resolve? (I haven't seen any of them.) I'm guessing maybe "Courageous," but I'll let y'all fill me in. In any case, I get the fact that redemption has multiple meanings in our vernacular, but in our headlong rush to embrace the arts, let's not define down foundational elements of the gospel. Perhaps a Christian publication might skew toward the distinctly Christian meaning.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sequential Expository Preaching and the Holiday Calendar

Lots of expositional preachers depart from their normal practice of preaching through books of the Bible around Christmas and Easter, and maybe a few other times of year. I don't intend to dump on that practice, but I want to argue that it's often unnecessary.

In God's king providence, our church's series through Leviticus lined up remarkably well with the calendar over the past few weeks:

12/25: Leviticus 16 (the Day of Atonement). If you can't think of an appropriate way to handle that text on Christmas morning, you probably shouldn't be preaching.

1/1: Leviticus 17 (guilt, blood, life, and cleansing). Maybe a bit of a reach, but it's not too hard to see how some of those themes relate to the first day of a new year.

1/8: Leviticus 18 (laws concerning sexual immorality). I don't see any particular connection between the text and the calendar here. In fact, for awhile it looked like our pastor would land on this text on 12/25. And even I would argue against the prudence of sequential exposition in that event.

1/15: Leviticus 19 (a bit of a grab bag of laws related to holiness, but with a particular emphasis on justice and oppression in relationship to foreigners). And today we remember Martin Luther King's birthday.

1/22: Leviticus 20 (opens with condemnation of child sacrifice to idols). On the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Look, I realize that the anti-sovereigntists may argue that this is coincidence, or we just got lucky. But I actually want to suggest that you don't really need texts to line up this neatly in order to make sequential exposition connect with major holidays.

Think for a second about how many holidays relate to freedom, sacrifice, gratitude, and grace. Is it not fairly obvious how each of those themes relates directly to the over-arching message of Scripture? Or even more directly, aren't each of these themes foundational to the gospel?

Let me put all my cards on the table. I think you ought to explain what every text you preach has to do with the gospel and the big story of the Bible. And if you're doing that, it really may not be so difficult to explain to your congregation how just about any text relates to the major cultural observation that everyone has, at the very least, in the back of their minds when they walk in your church's doors.