Thursday, April 30, 2009

George Barna as Pastor and Theologian (Part 2)

We continue with the review of George Barna's book Revolution.

Direction Box
The Direction Box is where we come up with ideas and plans of how we will synthesize the Ultimate Box and Nature Box into daily life. Here we list ideas of what we plan on doing to make this philosophy of ministry happen. George gives the following direction:
- Participate in the spiritual practices, personal faith in God, a focused outlook on life, a righteous and upbeat attitude, good character, excessive love of God and people, holy and productive lives.
- Revolutionaries will be involved in community service projects, grow faith in their family, worship God regularly, understand and apply Scripture.
- Get back to a simple First Century lifestyle.
In passing George mentions that Revolutionaries can attend a local church if it helps them grow but they can obliterate it if it does not.

Routine Box
Routine is the prescribed methods you want to put into place to see your ultimate happen. This is where you get as specific as possible in how to implement your methods. It was hard to pull out specific routines in this book. George tried very hard to not be prescriptive. I thought this was a noble thing but if you read carefully you can catch a few general prescribed routines/methods. Here are several from pp. 22-25, 81-84:
- Commit to feeling the awe (worship) of God’s magnificence.
- Intentionally talk to others about Christ and our relationship with Him.
- Serve others.
- Share everything we have with those in need.
- Become friends with others.
- Meet in houses for church.
- Daily demonstrate faith.
- Be a revolutionary every moment of every day.
- Do whatever is right all the time.
- Be willing to listen for God’s voice and orders.
- Have a total disregard for all worldly things such as leadership roles, titles, and benefits.

Education Box
Education is done by the continual renewing and reshaping of the Spirit (p.52). This practice must be intentional and it will alter our daily routines (p.41). I would agree with this. People learn best by experience or putting the Word into practice. I agree with that too. I think George’s beliefs about how we learn are right on track. To his credit, George was adamant throughout the book about living and being a Christian first and foremost. He was big on modeling Christianity; in order to do that properly you have to have a relationship with Him. I could not agree more. I got a sense that he strongly favors the more informal learning environments (e.g., a home, golf course, over a meal). I do not totally disagree with this but I think formal learning and being taught in a classroom type setting is a vital part of how we learn.

Reader beware!
So, in summary, George’s philosophy of ministry sounds great (love God, love others, and don’t let anything get in the way of this), but it must be explored and studied to really get at what he is trying to say. The places of weakness were in his nature box. His beliefs about the Church/church were what led him to dangerous ideas in the direction box. So if you read this book be cautious, be alert, and remember that God is responsible for the creation of the local church (all its spots and wrinkles too!) and wants you to join His Body right where you are at.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

George Barna as pastor and theologian (Part 1)

A big thanks to Brad Buhro who gave me a link to Dr. Oord’s article (click to read it) on entire sanctification that helps one understand Dr. Leth’s article and what he is trying to do and say. Sounds like a battle of the theologians is brewing in our Denomination over this. Assembly this summer could be interesting.

I had a chance a month ago to sit down and read Revolution by George Barna (It's a pretty popular book on Amazon and readers think pretty positively about it). You are probably familiar with the many stats you hear from George Barna's research group. So, what happens when Barna stops surveying churches and becomes pastor and theologian?

I just finished learning about something in education known as Frankena’s Boxes (click to see a list of his books). It’s a great tool for evaluating the content and message of a book. Frankena set these five boxes up as a visual way to explain why we do what we do (our philosophy). You start with the Ultimate Box (your goal/mission/vision go here) and move to the Direction Box (what you will do because of what your goal/mission/vision) to the Routine Box (specific things you will do). Along with this you have the Nature Box (what you believe the nature of things to be) and Education Box (how you believe people learna and grow). I’m going to use Frankena's Boxes here to evaluate and critique the philosophy of ministry in this book (I’ve divided this critique up into 2 parts so it won’t be quite as long).

Book Summary
In a nutshell, the book describes a coming revolution, something as great at the Reformation (according to Barna), that will forever change the Church and the church. Barna defines the Church (capital C) as all believers in Jesus Christ, including those that don’t attend or participate in a local church. He defines the church (small c) as the local congregation-based faith experiences which involve formal structure, a hierarchy of leadership, and a specific group of believers. This revolution, according to Barna, is coming to both the Church and church whether we like it or not. We can either change our local churches to adapt to it or we can resist it and watch our local churches whither and die.

Ultimate Box
What is driving George to write a book like this? Every philosophy of ministry has an ultimate that is directing and guiding it. For George, that ultimate is found on page 30, “Every human being was created by God primarily to know Him, love Him, and serve Him. All other activity is superfluous.” This sounds good, right? I mean who wouldn’t say a loud, “Amen!” to this if they heard it from the mouth of their preacher? Barna continues on page 39, “Do whatever it takes to get closer to God and to help others do the same. Obliterate any obstacle that prevents you from honoring God with every breath you take.” We would probably say an even louder, “Amen!!!” to this and maybe cheer. However, a closer examination at where this philosophy leads reveals the cake isn’t as good as the colorful and pretty icing.

Nature Box
The nature box is what we believe about certain things (e.g., what is the nature of the church? Man? The Gospel?). It also includes the cultural and social influences and settings. In this book the nature of the church (both capital C and small c) is greatly expounded upon. I believe that it is here, the nature box, that George makes his greatest mistakes. To help clarify my reasoning for believing that, here is what George believes about the nature of the Church and church:

Nature of the church
- The church (small c) is man-made and unnecessary for believers. It was created not by God, but by religious leaders centuries ago.
- Only one of God’s many instruments, a mechanism according to Barna (p.36), to bring us closer to Him.
- An abiblical idea (not addressed in Scripture) according to Barna (p.37).
- Nature of the Church
- The Church (capital C) consists of all believers in Jesus Christ who have professed Him as Christ and have a lifestyle to back it up.

Barna suggest looking to the book of Acts (2:42-47, 4:31-35, Acts 5) for answers to this question. In summary there are seven characteristics George gives to the First Century Church: Intimate Worship, Faith-based Conversations, Intentional Spiritual Growth, Servanthood, Resource Investment, Spiritual Friendships, and Family Faith.

Nature of humans
- In need of Christ and others to hold them accountable and help spur on growth.
- Not made to do this alone.
- Possess a sinful nature and will be sinners until death.

I thought George did a terrible job of trying to be discrete in his overtly obvious attempts to bash the local church and get us to drift away from it to something better. I thought his beliefs about the nature of the church were confusing at best and heresy at worst. Believing that our local churches are just man-made institutions leads to horrible conclusions (i.e., you don’t need it to grow spiritually or to mature in the faith; you’re ok if you don’t attend). As a matter of fact, George seems to indicate you are probably better off without the local church.

George seems to have missed the rest of the New Testament’s teachings on the local church and the role it played in shaping believers. The local church is the Body of Christ on Earth. It’s not the entire Body, but it is His manifestation of it in a particular town/city. George does not get this, but sees the church as an obstacle to true growth in Christ. Even the apostle Paul, on his many missionary journeys, was trying as hard as he could to establish local churches in the cities he visited. He even wanted them to contribute to each other (i.e. Ephesus) and hold each other accountable for meeting together on a regular basis.

This is where George’s philosophy of ministry gets dangerous. He says he has studied the Church of the New Testament but his presuppositions regarding the local church have tainted his findings. Instead of seeing local churches being established by Christians all over the Roman Empire, he shuts his eyes to this tedious work and concentrates on just the characteristics of believers.

Next week we'll examine his direction, routines, and education boxes.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Entire Sanctification Part 2

Part 2
I apologize to those of you who would like to read this article. I tried finding it online to put in a link to it and couldn’t. If you are interested in reading it I can email it to you. Below is part 2 to the article. In this section Dr. Leth covers holiness and “secondness,” holiness and love, and responsible grace.

4) Holiness and “Secondness”
We should understand entire sanctification as “theologically normative rather than experientially normative.” Theologically normative means this is what happens. Experientially normative explains how we may experience it. The problem with the latter, as Dr. Leth points out, is that people make their experiences the norm for everyone else. If someone didn’t experience it in the way you did then they didn’t really experience it at all. This should be avoided and we should have some room to wiggle around within the various ways a person can experience entire sanctification. Because we don’t all experience it in the same way.

5) Holiness and Love
Really being able to love means first of all that we love God. This is what we were primarily created for. I would agree.

This section was where I felt a little confused. I don’t think Augustine had it right when he said the fundamental human problem is that our love is misdirected. Isn’t the fundamental human problem the lack, or loss, of love in us that vanished after the Fall? I’m not one to argue with Augustine (because our mere human love is misdirected from God and others to only ourselves), but isn’t it hard to misdirect something you don’t possess?

Paul writes in Romans 5, “God has poured out his love (agape) into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” This love is not from us, it is from God. Isn’t this why the writers of the New Testament used the noun agape to describe Godly love? They had to come up with a totally different word for God’s love. Isn’t there a distinction between human love and the love of God? Isn’t this what entire sanctification is all about? Our love does become ‘perfect love’ (to borrow from Wesley) in entire sanctification because God fills us with His love. Harald Lindstrom points out that this is the chief mark of John Wesley’s view of entire sanctification (from his book Wesley & Sanctification, p 139). This is how we fulfill Jesus’ words to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:48).

This section was fuzzy and confusing. Maybe I was misinterpreting the message here, my ignorance makes that a frequent occurrence, but there was no talk at all about the distinctiveness of God’s love and the role it plays in entire sanctification. On a similar side note there isn’t really any mention in the 2005-2009 Nazarene Manual of entire sanctification being all about God filling us with His love. Why is that? How could we change and communicate that better?

6) Responsible grace
Dr. Leth believes in the believer working with the Holy Spirit but he affirms that spiritual formation is, “first and finally, God’s work.” I don’t believe practicing the spiritual disciplines will entirely sanctify us (neither does Leth) but they may help a person get closer to that crisis moment. I think Dr. Leth agreed with this. This is the amazing thing about grace. If God’s Spirit is working in us, all things will be worked together for the good of those who love Him.

What are your thoughts on this?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

New Baby & Entire Sanctification part 1

Thursday Thinking is back! My wife and I had our second child this week. What a beautiful thing! This was my first time to experience a C-section (hers too!). We both survived. A beautiful baby girl was the result; she was a bit on the heavy side, 9 lbs. 1oz.

This summer Nazarenes from around the world will be gathering for General Assembly in Orlando, FL. One of the big issues to be discussed will be Article X on entire sanctification. Comments and whispers have been popping up over the possible changes to this second work of grace that might or might not happen. Dean of the School of Theology at Olivet Nazarene University, Dr. Carl Leth, has written an article to prepare us for what’s possibly in store at General Assembly.

So, here is one measly little associate pastor’s thoughts on Carl M. Leth’s article titled Trajectories: Identifying Key Issues for Article X (Article 10 which is Entire Sanctification). This paper was emailed out to all pastors on my District (NEI). As I read through it several times some thoughts came to my head. There will be two parts to this, so come back next week for part 2.

Overall, Dr. Leth made some great points. Here’s a recap:

Intro and why language matters
- Language matters. Language does matter and Dr. Leth was right on the money when he said, “language conveys meaning and, inescapably, values.” I think Nietzsche himself said the only way we could ever get rid of God in our society is to get rid of language. Language sets boundaries and helps us explain truths. We need it! I agree.

Section 1) Our distinct Understanding of Holiness
- I would agree that our understanding of what entire sanctification does in a person is crucial and the place to start. If we are not clear here, we will have all kinds of problems. Though we may explain to each other in different terms (e.g., sanctified, entirely sanctified, filled with the Spirit, baptized with the Spirit, fully surrendered, etc.) we have to be crystal clear in our understanding of just what it is we are talking about. We need a solid, consistent, and precise definition to help us understand entire sanctification. We need something in place we can keep coming back to that is unique and distinct in its definition of entire sanctification. What do you mean when you tell me you were, “filled with the Spirit”? Is that the same thing as “entirely sanctified,” or “baptized with the Spirit”? Is your understanding the same as my understanding? If so, we can move forward. I think this was the point Dr. Leth was making.

2) Baptism of the Holy Spirit
- Entire sanctification is not the starting point for when we receive the Spirit. This happened when we began our life with the Spirit, when we first confessed, repented, and believed in Jesus Christ as God’s Son and Savior.
- Entire sanctification is the point where we have the fullness of the Holy Spirit in us.

3) Trinitarian Language
- I think Dr. Leth makes a good argument for why we need to talk about the Holy Spirit’s role in the sanctification process and not refer to it in generic Trinitarian language. It seems most people have a hard enough time believing in the Person Jesus Christ who took on human flesh and dwelt among us. How much harder it is to believe in a Person like the Holy Spirit whom we cannot see. We do not want to diminish the role of the third Person of the Trinity by excluding Him in our conversations about His work in our lives. If we talk of the process of sanctification in terms of the work of the Trinity as a whole, we diminish the role of the Spirit and His personhood.

Any thoughts on this?

Parts 4, 5, 6 will be next week.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Happy Palm Sunday!

Luke 19:28-48

Today is Palm Sunday. This marks the end of the Lenten season; our prayers, meditations, and fasting has come to a close.

This morning I’m reading Luke 19:28-48. This is one of the classic Palm Sunday passages. Verse 28-40 describes Jesus’ donkey ride to Jerusalem. He rides in on a colt (a young donkey). This had to be a surprise to everyone. Why? Messiahs don’t ride in on measly donkeys! They come galloping in on a mighty horse waving a sword! Jesus shatters their expectations of the Messiah again. The reaction is quite a scene. All Jesus’ disciples lay the garments down and shout and sing praises to God. Were they really worshipping Him for the right reasons? Did they think He was coming to die? Did they think God’s Son would save them by dying on a cross?

The Pharisees get pretty bothered by all this singing and shouting. Maybe it was too loud for them? They ask Jesus to tell his disciples to shut-up. I love Jesus’ response, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!” In other words, somebody is going to be praising God today. Along with this story is the passage of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem for not believing in Him (vv.41-44) and Jesus clearing the temple and reminding the people that God’s house is a house of prayer (45-48).

I hope you remember and think about Jesus today and the rest of the week as we approach Good Friday and Easter. May this be a special time of reflection and meditation for you upon God the Father, Son, and Spirit.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Day 23/Chapter 23

I was hoping to be done with my study and reading of Deuteronomy by tomorrow (Palm Sunday). This was a part of my fasting and meditating upon Christ for the 40 days of Lent. I’m obviously not going to finish. Not that I won’t finish reading Deuteronomy, but I am going to take a break from hacking and slashing my way through this wonderful book. Plus, my wife and I will be having our second child on Monday. Can't wait! She migt be a little upset if she finds me blogging! This next week I’m going to go back to the normal Thursday posting.

(23:1-8) This section continues the regulations concerning worship. In this section God deals with men who are emasculated. One thing I wasn’t sure of was if this for men who intentionally did this or it happened accidentally? The NLT uses some pretty bold and clear language here in regards to this verse and what it is trying to say. I’ve been enjoying the NLT translation of Deuteronomy. I would recommend anyone wanting to read through this book to do it in the NLT. It makes a complex book a lot more clear and easy to read. God gives specific names of groups of people he does not want the Israelites worshipping with. Maybe I should say these people are not to be admitted to the “assembly of the LORD.” Why is this so? Because these nations did not help Israel after they left Egypt. Instead they cursed them.

(9-25) This section is titled “Miscellaneous Regulations” in the NLT. It deals with various other rule and regulations God wants the Israelites to follow. The crux of the matter is in verse 9. God wants the Israelites to stay away from anything that would cause them to become impure. God is giving the Israelites every possible chance (He’s covering all the different things they would need rule and laws in) to follow Him and His regulations. He does not want them to miss out on the quality of life they are to live. It would be interesting to explore in more detail each of these regulations and why they were so important. That may be a future project. We will see.

I hope you continue reading God’s Word daily and soak up His words for your life.