Saturday, August 30, 2008

Building Healthy Multi-Ethnic Churches: A Review

Here's a review I wrote for the 9Marks E-Journal on Mark DeYmaz' Building Healthy Multi-Ethnic Churches.

As I noted in the review, I would have some reservations with some of the methodologies DeYmaz describes. He also goes looking a bit too hard for a biblical rationale for pursuing ethnic diversity in a local church—harder than is necessary to make his case, in my opinion.

Nevertheless, it's worth reading if for no other reason than the fact that so many conservative evangelical-fundamentalist churches are so lily-white and never think much at all about how to cross entrenched ethnic divides. It was relatively easy to sift through the ideas I disagreed with on biblical bounds, while still profiting substantially from the exercise of thinking outside my comfortable position of the ethnic majority. On top of that, DeYmaz was clear on the priority of the gospel and the fact that pursuing ethnic diversity or harmony is not in any way the sum of the gospel message.

So here's my conclusion:
If you're pastoring or church planting in a context in which your church is less ethnically diverse than your community, or if you hope that God will raise within your congregation people who will pursue ministry in a multi-ethnic setting, DeYmaz' book is a worthwhile read. But absorb its biblical-theological argumentation with a discerning eye. That is, read DeYmaz' Scripture citations in their biblical context to confirm that the emphasis of the text is consistent with his argument. Consider the ecclesiological implications of prioritizing multi-ethnicity. The church is a body. It shouldn't be surprising if increased attention to one aspect of the body's life has effects, whether positive or negative, on the rest of the body

Also, read its methodology as description, not prescription. In other words, DeYmaz offers us one account of what worked well in one church in one context. But what worked in that context may not apply equally well in differing situations.

DeYmaz seems to recognize this, and he speaks of general principles as well as specific strategies. These general principles constitute a broad framework for the kinds of questions churches will need to consider as they pursue healthy multi-ethnicity. Whether those churches reach all DeYmaz's conclusions is probably not that important.

But two priorities are essential for every church that hopes to grow towards healthy multi-ethnicity. First, these churches should draw on DeYmaz' practical insight. Don't discard his advice lightly without a clear, biblical argument to the contrary.

Even more importantly, they should recognize that the power of the gospel is creating an eternal, universal, multi-ethnic community. No church that desires to reflect an accurate picture of how Christ's kingdom has broken into this age should be satisfied to display merely a monochromatic image.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The SBC and the Authority of Scripture: SharperIron Buries the Lead

The SharperIron headline that, according to a new LifeWay survey, just 69% of SBC church members affirm the authority of Scripture caught my eye. Sounds kind of discouraging, right? Cause to skewer the SBC? No doubt.

But what the lead misses is that 100% of the SBC pastors surveyed affirmed the inspiration of Scripture, and 97% unequivocally affirmed its inerrancy. Though I have no doubt (and am grateful for the fact) that the latter figure would be even higher among independent, fundamental Baptist churches, it should be neither surprising nor substantially discouraging for two reasons. First, thirty years ago the SBC was on the brink of theological disaster. That 100% of pastors affirm inspiration and 97% affirm inerrancy surely reflects a positive trend over the past thirty years.

Second, the pastors who would have been trained in the darkest days of the SBC seminaries—the 1970s and 1980s—would be largely in their 40s–60s today. I'm guessing that demographic comprises the bulk of men serving as senior pastors of SBC churches. Given the training they received in seminary, that 69% figure doesn't sound so bad, and the 100%/97% numbers are a bit more encouraging.

But let's put that 69% statistic in context. On any given Sunday, only about 6 million out of 16 million SBC church members even show up in church (PDF). So that means that about 5 million SBC church members who don't even attend church faithfully actually believe in inerrancy! So almost as many who DON'T attend church believe in inerrancy as DO. Not bad, huh?

Of course, that assumes a couple things. First, it assumes that all the members who DO attend church are the same people who believe in inerrancy. (No doubt, millions of that 69% who affirm inerrancy left the SBC years ago for IFB churches years ago and just forgot to resign their membership.)

Don't get me wrong. There's obviously still a massive problem when 10 million out of 16 million members don't show up for church. It's too bad there are no such statistics for IFB churches. It'd be interesting to compare. I really wouldn't know what to expect. But I suspect the problem is one of church membership and discipline much more than it's a problem of pastors teaching faithful attenders false things about Scripture. So let's get the story straight.

But I wonder if anyone's ever written anything on membership and discipline . . .

Or were you looking for something written by a fundamentalist rather than one of those Southern Baptists?

Friday, August 22, 2008

If you had the chance to lead in prayer at a national party convention, would you do it?

This pastor would.

I have no idea how much freedom of prayer this pastor possesses, but assuming you could pray whatever you wanted to pray, what would you do? Would it make a difference if you were a pastor or a layman? Or which party it was?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How Silly Youth Groups Create Calvinists

Jesse Johnson makes the case in his review of Colin Hansen's Young, Restless, and Reformed, available at the Shepherd's Fellowship blog.

According to Johnson, Hansen's argument is that . . .
cheesy youth groups realize very quickly that they do not have adequate answers to explain the basics of their faith, much less to stand up to their secular professors. When they reach the point of realizing they don’t have the answers, they generally find someone who does, and this person (or book, or CD) is usually unashamedly Reformed.
Here's Johnson's inference:
The more silly youth groups are, the more people will be driven to reformed circles upon graduation.
Of course that analysis is wildly optimistic. Anyone who's spent any substantial time around young people who grew up in silly youth groups knows that the number who are driven to reformed circles years later is a tiny sliver of the pie. The vast majority reach the conclusion (quite rationally) that the same tastes for entertainment, amusement, and shallow Christianity that were indulged in their youth groups should be similarly available in their churches. When they don't get what they want in the church where they grew up, they look for it elsewhere. And they find it. Or perhaps just as commonly, they stay home, where more professional entertainers deliver it to them via satellite or a DSL connection.

One Hundred Sixty-Five Years Ago Today . . .

. . . C.I. Scofield was born!!!

I have to admit that Scofield's Wikepedia entry opened up a whole world of surprising biographical information on the man that I'd never encountered before. You know, the kind of information that would prompt a KJVO'er to attack a "New Age PerVersion." Go figure. And if it's on Wikipedia, it must be true, right?

And as long as we're talking Scofield, I have a couple questions for the folks out there. If you're a dispensationalist, I'm assuming that the "day of the Lord" in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 is something of an umbrella term referring to the last days in general--from the Rapture to the Second Coming. Correct?

And if you're an amillennialist and you believe Christ could return at any moment, how do you sustain that conviction in light of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4, where the man of lawlessness is revealed prior to the return of Christ?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Christianity and Liberalism

A better articulation of the fundamentalist idea you will not find than J. Gresham Machen's Christianity and Liberalism.

A better deal you will not find than Westminster Bookstore's Classic of the Month special.

If you're a pastor and you haven't read it, you should. Chances are it'll change your mind or give you better arguments for what you already believe. If the next generations are to be persuaded of the historic, biblical idea of fundamentalism, it will be through this kind of argument.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Does John Piper Teach Separation?

You be the judge.

Here's just one relevant quote among many from today's radio program:
When a person departs from the doctrine that the apostles had taught, Paul sees this as a greater threat to unity than the disunity caused by avoiding such people. If we say: How can that be? How can dividing from a false teacher who rises up in the church promote unity in the church? The answer is that the only unity that counts for unity in the church is rooted in a common apostolic teaching. Isolating false teachers—avoiding them—is Paul’s strategy for preserving unity that is based on true teaching.
You can see the whole manuscript here or download an MP3 here.

The bottom line? Unity is a sham unless it's unity around truth. Piper discusses loving people and loving truth, purity for the sake of unity, a defined body of doctrine, and truth-based division for the sake of truth-based unity.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Spurgeon: Why Many Gifted Preachers Have Little Impact

This morning a bunch of friends from church were listening to and discussing a chunk of Spurgeon's autobiography. Spurgeon described the kind of talented, gifted preachers in England who pastored small churches and saw little fruit from their ministries. Spurgeon argued that these men had little impact because they had lost the gospel. Here's the climax of his conclusion:
They are afraid of real gospel Calvinism.
Amid all the talk among contemporary Southern Baptists and independent fundamentalists that the doctrines of grace are not a matter that demand division, I find myself wondering what Spurgeon would say were he around to see the things that masquerade as the gospel these days.

Now, of course, what Spurgeon would do doesn't make a thing right. But neither do contrary arguments from SBC and IFB history. What makes a thing right is ultimately whether that thing conforms to Scripture. How man-centered or repentance-bankrupt can a gospel be before it ceases to be the gospel? And how much cooperation or fellowship can take place when there's disagreement over the gospel? Perhaps that is a question the churches of this generation will need to determine.