GLBT Evangelism

Last week, President Obama revealed a somewhat surprising statement: “I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama said in an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC News.
Continue reading →

The Way of the Cross is Dialogue

Bowing to alternative views that appeal to us has always been a temptation. We refuse to believe there is only one way of salvation, only one way to the Father. We choose to believe there are many paths to God.

Why? Because if there are many paths to God instead of just one, then we can willfully and selfishly choose the path we want. We can live the way we want, and never be held accountable by God. We can choose a religion that appeals to our own pride and vanity.

This quotation by evangelist Michael Youssef recently appeared in a friend’s Facebook post, and when I saw it, I instinctively felt a negative reaction. I hope you don’t mind humoring me as I try to explain myself, because this matters to me. I am not objecting to the content of Dr. Youssef’s words, but to the tone and attitude behind them as they are likely to be perceived in our present historical context. I think that his words are unlikely to accomplish what he hopes they will, which is to bring sinners to repentance.

Continue reading →

Tim Tebow and Paul's Sport's Imagery

Let me first explain to those who are not living in the U.S. and who are not fans of the NFL (National Football League), because you may not know who Tim Tebow is. Tebow is one of the biggest stories in the NFL at present, especially after a spectacular overtime win against the highly favored Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday. This game has been called one of the most remarkable performances by an athlete and one of the most remarkable finishes to any game in sports history.

To those who have not heard of him, Tebow is the quaterback of the Denver Broncos, and he is perhaps the most well known Christian in the U.S. today because he always professes his faith publicly whenever he scores a touchdown and whenever he speaks. (At the time of this writing he has over 800,000 followers on Twitter and over 1.3 million subscribers on Facebook.) After a score, he would bow on one knee in prayer, which has been nick-named “Tebowing.” After every game, whenever he is interviewed he always says, “First I thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…” Continue reading →

Midweek Question: Different Ways to Present the Gospel

For a long time now, I have been thinking about the various ways that Christians evangelize. More specifically, about how Christians frame the gospel and present the gospel message to nonbelievers. This is a huge topic, and there are many schools of thought on it. For this present discussion, I am going to grossly oversimplify. Let’s suppose that Christians are divided into two different camps with opposing opinions about how a gospel presentation should begin.

Continue reading →

The Myth of Multiplication, Part 3

In Matthew’s version of the Great Commission, Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19, NIV). For most of my life, I interpreted the phrase “make disciples of all nations” as “create individual disciples within every nation.” With a mindset shaped by modern western individualism, it is natural for me to think of discipleship in terms of individual persons. But a more literal translation of this phrase from the original Greek is “disciple all the nations.” Is it possible that the intended targets of Christian discipleship are not individuals but nations? Does Jesus intend to transform whole communities, people groups, and social networks?

Yes, I believe that this is what Jesus meant. In the Old Testament period, God worked out his special purposes within the nation of Israel. But the change from B.C. to A.D. was accompanied by a huge paradigm shift in the way God would continue his salvation plan. The good news of Jesus was to be proclaimed to the nations and take on a new life within each of those nations. A nation is not a collection of isolated individuals. It is an organism, a living system, with a unique God-given character and identity. When the gospel is implanted into a complex living system, it can be transformed into something new and beautiful without sacrificing its special identity and vitality. Implanting a gospel into a complex living system is tricky business. God knows exactly how to do it, but usually we do not.

Continue reading →

The Myth of Multiplication, Part 2

In the first installment of this series, I challenged the popular notion that the church expands primarily through multiplication. Multiplication is the exponential growth that would be generated by highly committed, self-replicating followers of Christ. If every disciple were rigorously trained to make two or more disciples every few years, then the whole world could be evangelized in a few decades. Multiplication is a nice theory, but it doesn’t seem to work in practice. After a few years, the zeal for disciplemaking wanes; the enterprise sputters and runs out of gas. It is very difficult to find historical examples of intentional, self-replicating Christian discipleship successfully converting a city, generation, or culture.

If multiplication through discipleship training is not the primary engine of church growth, then what is?

Continue reading →

The Myth of Multiplication, Part 1

If you’re as old as I am, you might remember this annoying TV commercial from the 1970’s.The executives who came up with this ad imagined that, if each satisfied customer convinced two of her friends to try the product, then sales would go viral, and soon every woman on the planet would be using Fabergé Organics shampoo.

Did that happen? Of course not. In retrospect, the idea that consumers would, simply by viewing this commercial, be transformed into an aggressive and unpaid sales force was preposterous. This ad may have sold a few bottles of shampoo to desperate young women who were willing to try anything to have hair like Farah Fawcett and Heather Locklear. But the brand didn’t experience anything like the exponential growth in sales that this commercial envisions.

Continue reading →

Word, Spirit, Gospel and Mission (Part 12)

In the last installment, I argued that a major theme of Paul’s epistle to the Romans is divine election. Paul didn’t answer all the questions that people have about Calvinism versus Arminianism. His writings are less about theology than they are about history.

In a nutshell, Paul says that God hardened the hearts of most first-century Jews to reject the gospel message of righteousness by faith. The remnant who accepted the gospel did so by the grace of God alone. And the Gentiles who accepted the message did so by the grace of God alone. Paul also expressed his hope that someday the Jews, seeing God’s work among the Gentiles, would be aroused to envy, believe the gospel and be saved.

Continue reading →

Word, Spirit, Gospel and Mission (Part 8)

Many Christians have characterized the mission of the church only as winning individual souls. I argued in the last installment that this view of the gospel misunderstands the nature of the human person. People are relational beings made in the image of the Triune God. We find meaning and purpose in loving relationships with God, with other people, and with the created world. A gospel of individual rescue is a reduction of what the Bible actually teaches and misses much of what God wants to accomplish in us.

God cares about relationships. When Jesus ascended to heaven, he didn’t leave behind a book of writings. He left behind a community of witnesses who were filled with the Holy Spirit and entrusted the preaching of the gospel to them (Acts 1:8). As members of this community proclaim the gospel, they invite others to become part of God’s family where their true personhood will be realized. That family is not equivalent to a church organization. It is the body of all people who belong to Christ, the “communion of saints” that is mentioned in the Apostles’ Creed. Evangelism that fails to call people to join this body is alien to the New Testament. Jesus never intended his disciples to be lone wolves. Nor did he intend them to live in small, isolated, parochial clans whose members remain suspicious of everyone on the outside (Mk 9:38-40). He prayed for all his followers to be one, to experience among themselves the loving oneness that has with his own Father in a highly visible way, so that the whole world would see that the gospel is true (John 17:20-23).

Continue reading →

Word, Spirit, Gospel and Mission (Part 7)

At the end of the last installment, I mentioned the doctrine of election. When we hear that word “election,” our minds immediately turn to the 400 year-old debate between Calvin and Arminius. That debate helps us to wrestle with some of the deepest mysteries of our faith, especially the tension between human freedom and God’s sovereignty. But that debate misses a great deal of what I want to talk about here.

Here I want to focus on some aspects of election found in Romans chapters 9-11. Paul didn’t write those chapters to settle modern theological debates. He was expounding on the relationship between the Gentiles and Jews. He was trying to explain why the nation of Israel, which had been created and chosen by God to receive the gospel and carry it to the world, rejected Christ and failed to carry out its mission. And he was relating that explanation to his teaching that righteousness must always come by faith alone, not by observing the law. I imagine that if we could ask the Apostle Paul about the merits of Calvinism versus Arminianism, he would respond with a very puzzled look, not because he never heard of Calvin or Arminius, but because to him this debate would sound very odd.

Continue reading →