28 May 2008

Book Review Smackdown

by Frank Turk

Well, here we are. On the one hand, I have Tim Stevens' Pop goes the Church, which Pastor Stevens wrote, as he says, because "I think that, just as he did in the first century, Jesus would disciple a small team of leaders while at the same time looking for opportunities to attract and influence large crowds."

On the other hand, we have David F. Wells' The Courage to be Protestant, in which Professor Wells asks, "But what happens when the middle class -- or worse yet, the middle aged -- also begin to sport tattoos on their sagging skin, let their pants sag halfway down their thighs, and sport hoodies as well?"

Indeed. That's the contrast between these two books -- and I want to be as fair as possible in contrasting them because, at the very least, we're talking about the contrasting opinions of two men who are pastors.

So first -- why bother to contrast these two books? The answer is utterly obvious: they are both written to the larger Christian community with the health and mission of the church at large in mind. Pastor Stevens says explicitly, "It has been encouraging to see a segment of the church wake up to the potential of leveraging the culture to reach our friends. These writings are helping us learn how to negotiate relationships with the unchurched, utilize pop culture to start spiritual conversations, and be discerning so as not to pollute our own souls in the process." It's sort of ironic that what Pastor Stevens recognizes in the next paragraph on page 32 is that these books have mostly abandoned the necessity of the local church -- which I would argue demonstrates whether or not these books are capable of teaching how to "be discerning".

On the other hand, Professor Wells says this: "But if the traditional church is so inept, ... so painful, and so boring, why not let it die peacefully? Why keep kicking it? Because the real target is not the traditional church but the traditional theology it lives by." (39)

Now, because Tim Stevens is not a new kid on the block -- he's at least in the third generation of Hybels-esque pastors to write books on this subject -- he has a whole chapter (Chpt 8) dedicated to the theology behind his idea that, as he frankly says, "you have to scratch people where they itch". (Chpt 7, and especially pg 121) His review team of over 50 seminary-trained men and women (I assume this is the list of people listed in the back of the book, pp. 251-253) has gone over Chapter 8, so it must be theology. And in that chapter, he says the following passages relate these truths:
  • Acts 17 (cited from the Message) indicates that Paul used Athenian culture to reach the Athenians because that's what he always did
  • Paul "[quoted] the first-century version of Dave Mathews"
  • Paul quoted Greek philosophers in Titus and 1 Corinthians to admonish Christians
  • Jesus was the only person in the NT to use the word "hypocrite", but this then proves Jesus was "redeeming the culture"
  • Because a non-Jew wrote Prov 31, apparently all secular lyrics have the potential to be the Word of God
  • Jesus did not invent the genre of parables, but instead employed a common literary device -- apparently endorsing the use of all common literary devices including "YouTube"
  • Because Jesus mentions two "current events" in the NT, "topical" teaching therefore has an open door
  • Jesus didn't live in a hole but actually met people like prostitutes and adulterous women -- though Pastor Stevens is clear to point out "Jesus never sinned"
  • Paul was "all things to all people"
  • And Paul exorted Christians to live "an everyday, ordinary life" (again with the Message, Romans 12)
And while I might disagree with the sort of parallels Pastor Stevens has made here (for example, comparing Dave Mathews to Cleanthes or Epimenides, or his, um, selective and atheological understanding of Prov 31's origin) I'd grant him the general facts of his examples.

The problem is that they don't hardly make the point he is seeking to make. His point is that if you don't serve the immediate needs of people ... wait -- let me quote him for you from Chapter 7:
You see, if you don't offer people something they need, they won't come. If people don't come, you can't teach them the truth. So an effective church is busy identifying people's needs and letting the community know you have some help they should consider.
His point is not that we are, for better or worse, a church in an American landscape and society in which we have to speak in words and idioms people will grasp: the "scratch their itch" purpose is not merely to communicate but to commoditize the church into something which works for people better than whatever it is they are trying now.

I have my own opinions about that, but here's what Pastor Wells says about such a thing:
The church is not our creation. It is not our business. We are not called upon to manage it. It is not there for us to advance our careers in it. It is not there for our own success. It is not a business. The church, in fact, was never our idea in the first place. (222-223)
And again:
Organizations are everywhere in the Western world, andn there is nothing unique about an organization. The church is utterly unlike any other organization in the world. In the church are those who belong to another world. ... Because when it gathers, it is hearing a summons to stand before the God os all eternity, to worship in awe before him, to acknowledge his greatness, to humble itself, to learn to live in this world on his terms, and to do its business as his. (223-224, italics in original)
These are the two conflicting opinions, dear readers. If you have read both of these books, you are welcome to comment here regarding which one offers the more compelling vision of the church and its mission.

If you have not read both books, feel free to read along and lurk -- but people simply looking to voice uninformed opinions need to keep those opinions to themselves. If I think you haven't read both books, I'll ask you once for some proof, and if it doesn't come I'll delete your comments.

Because that's how I roll.

Play on.







75 comments:

Berny said...

Here is my chapter-by-chapter rundown of the Wells book, along with a final review of the whole book.

MTR said...

What do baggy pants, hoodies and tattoos have to do with being or not being a Christian?

greglong said...

As I read these two books, I see that in some ways Wells and Stevens agree—primarily on the deconstruction of the current cultural situation.

For example, Stevens writes:

The first five words of the book unChristian sum it up quite succinctly, “Christianity has an image problem.” The respect in the community that was prevalent for men of the cloth for decades is nothing but a memory. It may be present in reruns of Little House on the Prairie, but it has no foundation in our current reality.

At the same time, people haven’t stopped pursuing the God-shaped void in their lives. They haven’t stopped asking questions or groping for answers. Most of them just don’t go to pastors, priests, and churches for help anymore. Instead, they go to the First Church of the Open Cinema to watch and hear the latest message by Steven Spielberg or Oliver Stone. Rather than call their pastor, they flip on afternoon television and catch America’s favorite spiritualist, Oprah Winfrey, or they develop their theology based on the lyrics of artists such as U2, Coldplay, and Carrie Underwood.

George Barna says, “A growing number of Americans are shifting away from conventional church experiences and gravitating toward alternative expressions of faith.” (p. 58).


Wells agrees:

We are spiritual. We want relationships, but we do not want to be religious. (p. 60)

[...]

In America, 78 percent of people say they are spiritual. When solving life’s dilemmas, 56 percent say they are more likely to rely on themselves than on an outside power like the God of the Bible. And 40 percent claim specifically to be spiritual but not religious. The same change has occurred in Britain. A study looking at the decade from 1990 to 2000 found that during this weekly church attendance dropped from 28 percent to 8 percent but those who said they had spiritual experiences rose from 48 percent to 76 percent. There clearly has been a surge in spiritual appetite that is either hostile to religion or, at least, has lost confidence in institutionalized religion.

Religion as we typically understand it is a
publicly practiced matter...This new spirituality is about the private search for meaning, a search for connection to something larger than the self. It is in fact a self-constructed spirituality. (p. 179)

[...]

In the United States, 80 percent believe that a person should arrive at his or her own beliefs independent of any external authority such as a church. Indeed, 60 percent say that since we all have God within us, churches are unnecessary. (p. 180)

[...]

Those who are on a spiritual journey – and that is the most popular metaphor – have no destination in mind. (p. 183)


The difference between the two books, I believe, is primarily in the reconstruction. In other words, given the current cultural situation, how do we “do church”?

MTR said...

Sounds to me (and I haven't read it) like Stevens is talking about the same things emergents have been talking about for a long time now, no?

Frank Turk said...

Greg:

That is an -excellent- observation.

Top-notch. Tell me -- which one do you think is more compelling a reconstruction?

Frank Turk said...

mtr:

to your first comment, I think that is exactly the point.

to your second comment, you have to read both books.

Phil Johnson said...

MTR:

You got yourself permanently banned here for using inappropriate language. As far as I know, that ban is still in effect. Before I would consider lifting it I would need to see an apology from you that is commensurate with the offense. If you want to come back and play nice, you at least need to say so.

MTR said...

Phil--
While I'm all about playing nice, I'm not about to apologize for potty mouth.

Phil Johnson said...

MTR:

Fine. But it means you don't get to comment here.

greglong said...

frank turk writes:

Greg:

That is an -excellent- observation.

Top-notch. Tell me -- which one do you think is more compelling a reconstruction?


Frank,

Let me say first of all that I do not in any way doubt either author’s love for the Lord and their desire to see people come to know Him. In fact, as I read both books I was challenged in some ways to consider my own desire to reach people for Christ. I will also not make any judgments about any church and the people in it—only God can do that.

But to answer your question in a word…Wells’.

Why? Well, it’s not that I’m opposed to using illustrations from culture, as Paul did on Mars Hill in Acts 17. (BTW, I thought Phil’s posts were very helpful in addressing that passage.)

There are two things primarily.

1) I am concerned with the idea that God “speaks through culture.” Tim writes:

Somehow, our theology has taught us that God speaks only at church. He only talks to us through his written word or through individual (aka pastor or priest) who has been trained. That belief is very confusing to us when we feel God tugging at our heart through the culture.

Yes, we’ve been taught about the power of the Holy Spirit and about how he can prompt you 24/7. But in reality, many of us were never given any context for God speaking to us through a secular song, a blockbuster movie, or a graphic novel. (p. 60-61)

[…]

So we can celebrate the art—knowing it came from the skills, intelligence, and creativity of a being fashioned by God himself. We can also celebrate the content of much of the art in the world today—art that reflects a real search and longing for that which is right and true. Like Paul speaking to the Athenians, we can say, “I see you are seeking God. Let me tell you more about this God you seek.” […]

What does make my heart beat fast, however, is to see how God is alive and well in today’s pop culture. You cannot turn on the TV, listen to the radio, watch a movie, or browse the shelves for a bestseller without seeing evidence of God speaking through our culture.

The Bible is clear that all truth is God’s truth, regardless of the source. (p. 86-87)
Tim goes on to cite examples from the band Linkin’ Park and the TV shows Shark, and Desperate Housewives that challenged him personally.

How does God reveal Himself? Clearly He does through the general revelation of Creation (Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:18-20) and through the specific or direct revelation of visions and dreams, through audible communication, and through His Son (Jn. 1:1-18; Heb. 1:1-3). Of course, the ultimate means of revelation is through His Word. I do not see any evidence in Scripture that God “speaks through” the culture in the same sense that He does through His Word. And even if this were true in a general sense, it must always be interpreted in light of His Word.

This leads me to the second primary problem with the culture-driven approach: 2) It isn’t Scriptural.

Tim gives five ways each church can choose to respond to the culture, “and the choice [each church] makes determines how much of an impact it will have on its community” (p. 67). The five options are: 1) Condemn it; 2) Separate from it; 3) Embrace it; 4) Ignore it; and 5) Leverage it (p. 68-81). Tim’s choice is to leverage the culture. What does this mean?

You have to help meet those needs first. And so you scratch them where they itch. You identify people’s needs and let them know you have some answers they should consider. You are still teaching the Bible. You are just initially choosing to teach the portions of the Bible that address the in-front-of-the-face needs of the people in your community. And you don’t just teach truths or quote Bible verses, but you come along beside them and show them the love of Jesus.

You see, if you don’t offer something people need, they won’t come. If the people don’t come, you can’t teach them the truth. So an effective church is busy identifying people’s needs and letting the community know you have some help they should consider. If you speak their language, there is a better chance they will come to a service. If they do that, the odds increase significantly that they will hear how much they matter to God, and they just might respond. (p. 120-121)


Here’s the problem: If it were so important for churches to “leverage the culture”, why don’t we see any hint of it whatsoever in the majority of the New Testament? The only clear example that might be relevant is that of Paul in Acts 17. But what about all the other sermons in Acts? What about Paul’s letters? And most telling, what about the Pastoral Epistles? These letters were written by Paul to Timothy to specifically address how Timothy was to lead his church(es), and yet there is absolutely no mention of the idea of “leveraging the culture” to reach people for Christ. But over and over and over again Paul tells Timothy to guard, fight for, teach, explain, preach sound doctrine. The focus is doctrinal, not cultural. “Doctrine” is mentioned 15 times and “preach/teach/teaching” 11 times.

This is where I think Wells’ book is so helpful. He (borrowing from Os Guinness) asks if we will be sola Scriptura or sola cultural? Do we start with Scripture and then look to culture, or do we start with culture (or with the customer) and then look to Scripture?

One way this manifests itself is through preaching. Is it expository, based primarily on preaching through books of the Bible (although perhaps not exclusively), allowing God to dictate what should be communicated? Or is it topical, looking to culture to dictate what should be communicated?

And what are the consequences of the seeker-driven/culture-driven approach? Wells writes:

A methodology for success that circumvents issues of truth is one that will rapidly emancipate itself from biblical Christianity or, to put it differently, will rapidly eviscerate biblical faith.

That, indeed, is what is happening because the marketing model, if followed, empties the truth out of the gospel. First, the needs consumers have are needs
they identify for themselves. The needs sinners have are needsGod identifies for us, and the way we see our needs is rather different from the way he sees them. (p. 52)

[…]

What is of first importance to the church is not that it learn to mimic the culture but that it learn to think God’s thoughts after him. (p. 98)

~Mark said...

I have not read the books and I beg your forgiveness if this goes too far off-topic, but I am currently in an increasingly painful debate with my senior pastor over the condition of our church body, and your quotes from pastor Wells at the end of the post are the same things I spoke last night.

Sometimes I really don't want confirmation, y'know?

Frank Turk said...

Greg:

I could not have said it better myself.

I am curious if anyone who would give a different opinion about the more-compelling reconstruction (that is, they would choose Pastor Stevens') would give a defense of their opinion.
______________________________

Phil:

obviously, I'm out of the loop on MTR. SOrry 'bout that.

Frank Turk said...

~mark:

I know -exactly- what you're saying.

I have no idea how far into the discussion you are with you pastor, but I suggest that you get copies of these two books and ask him to read -both- of them with you, and discuss -both- of them together.

I think that approach at least takes the problem out of the realm of personalities and into the realm of theology, philosophy and biblical anthropology.

greglong said...

By the way, Frank, is there room for others to weigh in on what we've posted, even if they haven't read both books?

Frank Turk said...

As long as people stay away from slandering either author, I'd be open to hearing comments on our discussion.

Jason Moffitt said...

Just a quick note to Greg's comments...I think you make some excellent points, however, one thing strikes me which I think is what Steven's is relating...
You can be of scripture and still choose topics that address what is going on in people's lives that will "scratch that itch"...
If people are having money issues but the message that person hears is on not sleeping around or other biblical counsel on the benefits of marriage...has that person been fed from the word of God? You can say yes, because it was still truth and is still of value...but, if you are missing that which is burdening them and causing them to seek out God...you may miss the God given appointment that has been prepared for us to minister to them.
Now, I certainly appreciate the concern around our taking control of the church and turning it into what we want...however, I do think God provides for us to make decisions on what that means...
are we, the church, going to sit here waiting while our lamp oil is consumed because we know that we could miss him...or are we going to risk it and use the oil that we have available to ensure that we are visible to the bridegroom will see us when he arrives?

Frank Turk said...

Jason:

I think your thesis statement is true, but you spoil it with your examples.

You say this:

[QUOTE]
If people are having money issues but the message that person hears is on not sleeping around or other biblical counsel on the benefits of marriage...has that person been fed from the word of God?
[/QUOTE]

In fact, that person -has- been given the word of God, but not hardly the -whole- word of God. See: the message is not "obey the law" but "because you -cannot- obey the Law, you need a savior". The only way, for example, to stop sleeping around is to look to Christ's righteousness as a guarantee of your own sanctification.

And let me say this plainly: while we are called to be good stewards of what God has given us, that's not a call to be rich. That's a call to spend what we have on lives which reflect oiur savior, which is a sacrificial view of wealth rather than a consumer view of wealth.

Carol Jean said...

Frank said, "In fact, that person -has- been given the word of God, but not hardly the -whole- word of God."

Which is why the whole 'topical-mental-health-problem/sermon-of the-month' club doesn't work so well. It's like playing Russian Roulette hoping you get there on the right day for "Porn Week." If you miss that week, you've got to wait a whole 'nother year to figure out what to do for your porn problem.

Chris Freeland said...
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Chris Freeland said...

Carol Jean,

I don't think that's entirely fair. No pastor can give the "whole word of God" on a single Sunday. It's not fair to say that more topical preaching philosophies don't allow people to deal with their "need" but once a year.

You might be surprised to listen to a few of Tim's pastor's sermons. Pick a particular "need" and listen to a few of his sermons with that "need" in mind. You'll be surprised how close he gets in just a couple of sermons. You won't agree with everything he says, but I don't think your accusation is fair.

What irks me about the book comparison is this: I'm probably closer to Dr. Wells philosophically, but found him awfully bad about (1) knocking down straw men, and (2) mixing issues to make his point. I get the distinct impression from him that all churches who don't use organs, pulpits, or hymns are "business enterprises" who compromise traditional Truth (p. 39), and that all churches who pursue contemporary means for responding to God will end with a pastor dressed up like Superman on Easter. That's not helpful, and it's ultimately not true.

corbett said...

[greglong writes (and quotes):]

And what are the consequences of the seeker-driven/culture-driven approach? Wells writes:

A methodology for success that circumvents issues of truth is one that will rapidly emancipate itself from biblical Christianity or, to put it differently, will rapidly eviscerate biblical faith.

[end quote]

Your comment assumes that a pastor following the seeker-driven/culture-driven model circumvents issues of truth. That's an awfully big assumption (and you know what they say...) Our church uses a combination of topical and book-of-the-bible preaching strung together in message series that we try to tie to something people can already relate to. There is always the effort to present the whole truth...and as I'm quite familiar with Pastor Stevens church, I can say the exact same about their approach. I'm not putting down Prof. Wells, because I have not yet read his book, but to connect his statement regarding the circumvention of truth to simply being topical in preaching style is a mistake.

greglong said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
greglong said...

I have personally emailed the essence of my comments to Pastor Stevens, and he graciously responded. He has given permission for me to post some of those comments here.

My original comments will be in italics, with his response following.

1) I am concerned with the idea that God “speaks through culture.”

How does God reveal Himself? Clearly He does through the general revelation of Creation (Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:18-20) and through the specific or direct revelation of visions and dreams, through audible communication, and through His Son (Jn. 1:1-18; Heb. 1:1-3). Of course, the ultimate means of revelation is through His Word. I do not see any evidence in Scripture that God “speaks through” the culture in the same sense that He does through His Word. And even if this were true in a general sense, it must always be interpreted in light of His Word.


I agree with that. The Bible is the inspired Word of God. But I do think truth is truth, wherever it is found. Of course, truth can only be validated when compared with Scripture…but it is truth none-the-less.

This leads me to the second primary problem with the culture-driven approach: 2) It isn’t Scriptural.

Here’s the problem: If it were so important for churches to “leverage the culture”, why don’t we see any hint of it whatsoever in the majority of the New Testament? The only clear example that might be relevant is that of Paul in Acts 17. But what about all the other sermons in Acts? What about Paul’s letters? And most telling, what about the Pastoral Epistles? These letters were written by Paul to Timothy to specifically address how Timothy was to lead his church(es), and yet there is absolutely no mention of the idea of “leveraging the culture” to reach people for Christ. But over and over and over again Paul tells Timothy to guard, fight for, teach, explain, preach sound doctrine. The focus is doctrinal, not cultural. “Doctrine” is mentioned 15 times and “preach/teach/teaching” 11 times.


I don’t think it is the one and only way. Expository preaching definitely has its place in the church. But the Bible doesn’t prohibit cultural relevance, actually gives us lots of examples of Jesus being culturally relevant (i.e. parables), and is a method we use to reach the unchurched. Even if [Acts 17] is the only clear example, as you say, what’s wrong with it as an example? It is a clear example of Paul talking to unbelievers. Most of [the Pastoral Epistles] were written to the church about and for believers. I have no problem with that. In our service designed for believers, it is very much like you describe. But when Paul talks to unbelievers (Acts 17), he leverages the culture. I contend it is possible to leverage culture and preach sound doctrine. I see it done every week! Hop on our website and watch any recent weekend service and tell me you don’t see the same thing. Again, doctrine is huge! But it is wrapped in cultural packaging so as to make it understood. It’s like speaking English. Some could say that speaking English instead of Latin is being culturally relevant, right? Using the language of pop culture is the same thing.

This is where I think Wells’ book is so helpful. He (borrowing from Os Guinness) asks if we will be sola Scriptura or sola cultural? Do we start with Scripture and then look to culture, or do we start with culture (or with the customer) and then look to Scripture?

Yes [we start with culture], but only for the service that is designed to reach the lost. That philosophy does not define the entire church, just a method to engage the unchurched in a conversation they can understand.

One way this manifests itself is through preaching. Is it expository, based primarily on preaching through books of the Bible (although perhaps not exclusively), allowing God to dictate what should be communicated? Or is it topical, looking to culture to dictate what should be communicated?

Where is an example of Jesus preaching an expository sermon? Didn’t he always begin with people’s needs?

greglong said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
greglong said...

Chris Freeland wrote:

What irks me about the book comparison is this: I'm probably closer to Dr. Wells philosophically, but found him awfully bad about (1) knocking down straw men, and (2) mixing issues to make his point. I get the distinct impression from him that all churches who don't use organs, pulpits, or hymns are "business enterprises" who compromise traditional Truth (p. 39), and that all churches who pursue contemporary means for responding to God will end with a pastor dressed up like Superman on Easter. That's not helpful, and it's ultimately not true.

Chris,

1) What straw men? I don't think Wells says that all churches who use "contemporary means" have pastors who dress up like Superman. He is addressing a specific philosophy--the seeker/market/culture/consumer-driven philosophy of "doing" church.

(And BTW, if you think a pastor dressing up like Superman is a caricature, may I humbly suggest that you have not been paying attention to what is going on out there in many churches. How about the preaching series "Everything I Need to Know About [Name of Church] Church I Learned From 80s Rock" with the pastor sporting a Def Leppard t-shirt? How about the series on sex with city-wide billboards advertising "mylamesexlife.com"? We could go on and on.)

2) Did you read to the end of Wells' book? Nowhere does he advoctate a necessary return to organs, pulpits, and hymns. He does advocate a return to sola Scriptura rather than sola cultura. He is advocating a return to traditional, Protestant, evangelical theology. He writes:

In gearing church life around the principle (that the gospel is so simple even the simplest could understand it), evangelicals have taken up the gospel's simplicity and, because they affirmed that, have felt that they could walk away from its profundity...

That is what [church] marketing does. It flattens, simplifies, and converts everything into what is appealing...The gospel, understood as a product, loses its depth and cost. (p. 212-213)

[...]

What we need to do, then, first and foremost, is to think God's thoughts after him, think about the church in a way that replicates his thoughts about it. We need to ask ourselves how well, or how badly, we are realizing our life in Christ in the church, how far and how well churches stand as the outposts of the kingdom of God in our particular culture.

It follows fromt his that while the churches are identified with their own cultures, because they are filled with people from those cultures, they also should experience a jarring and internal distance from those cultures...

Churches that want to influence their culture are so often tempted to think that to be effective they must hide their otherworldliness and become slickly this-worldly. They think they must identify with their culture as if they knew nothing but that culture. They imagine that their chief tool, if not their only tool, of influence is friendship with their world.

Churches that actually do influence the culture -- here is the paradox -- distance themselves from it in their internal life. They do not offer what can already be had on secular terms in the culture. They are an alternative to it...

If the church is to be truly successful, it must be unlike anything else we find in life. (p. 223-224)


He advocates a return to the Word of God (it sufficiency, the primacy of doctrine, and the practice of preaching), the sacraments, and discipline.

Let me conclude this post with this quote:

An authentic church is one that is God-centered in its thought and God-honoring in its proclamation and life...

Letting God be God over his church, seeing him as its center and glory, its source and its life, is a truly liberating experience. (p. 242, 247)

Frank Turk said...

Corbett:

I want to suggest something to you that I'd like you to consider and respond to.

My belief -- and I think the Bible teaches this, but I'd be up for correction on that -- is that the church was not established "to tie to something people can already relate to". In fact, I believe it was established to declare something which is both follishness and a stumbling block -- something that sounds stupid unless you are already inside it.

My suggestion is that the church is not tasked with connecting Jesus to your problems: it is tasked with declaring that you should know for certain that Jesus is both Lord and Christ -- a statement which is extremely rich theology and not so much psychology or self-help.

How do you respond to that?

Chris Freeland said...
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Chris Freeland said...

Hey Greg,

(And BTW, if you think a pastor dressing up like Superman is a caricature, may I humbly suggest that you have not been paying attention to what is going on out there in many churches.

I'm not suggesting that it's an untrue caricature of some churches out there - but I am suggesting it's an unfair anecdote to use in reinforcing the point Dr. Wells is attempting to make.

The necessary end of a more attractional philosophy of ministry is not a superman costume and 80s rock sermons devoid of Truth, but Dr. Wells absolutely insinuates otherwise.

2) Did you read to the end of Wells' book? Nowhere does he advoctate a necessary return to organs, pulpits, and hymns. He does advocate a return to sola Scriptura rather than sola cultura.

I absolutely did (I know the rules, and have first-hand experience with the Phil Johnson school of discipline...) Two things here: The very language of a "return" to sola scriptura insinuates a departure, which is to my first point. If Dr. Wells has in mind the churches at the far wacko end of the spectrum, he needs to better specify. The entire book insinuates that an abandonment of the "traditional church" (Dr. Wells' terminology, which he directly relates to the various "form" issues I mentioned - see page 29) leads to an abandonment of traditional theology. He says as much at the bottom of page 39.

He is advocating a return to traditional, Protestant, evangelical theology.

I understand that, but the examples he gives are not examples of a theological departure (and neither are yours... mylamesexlife.com may be a dumb philosophical decision, but it is not necessarily based on or a slippery slope to bad theology). The chapter "Christianity For Sale" identifies who Dr. Wells has in his crosshairs, and sets the stage for the rest of the book. And throughout that chapter, Dr. Wells identifies those churches based on their form, rather than the theological underpinnings of their churches.

The way he sets up his argument, the reader gets the distinct impression that churches who do anything contemporary (cultural) within their services are headed down a road that will necessarily cause them to abandon the conviction of sola scriptura. That's not true.

Even the most conservative, traditional, historical churches of the reformational kind have made certain cultural concessions within their service to make them "marketable" to the people who worship inside their walls. They preach from English Bibles instead of Greek/Hebrew. They sing songs with a piano or organ rather than a lyre. They preach from pulpits standing up rather than boats sitting down. Why? Because they're seeking ways to respond to their Creator in a language and style that is common to them all. Those are cultural decisions, not theological decisions, and everyone makes them. The fact that you've chosen to preach in English rather than Aramaic doesn't lead you down a dangerous theological path any more than the fact that you've chosen to include something else culturally relevant to help you communicate Truth more accurately.

Again, the issue is the function, not the form. But Dr. Wells introduces illustrations to found his argument that confuse the two and give a false impression. That's my point.

Blessings...

Frank Turk said...

Chris:

I would love to be the fly on the wall when you have this discussion with Phil.

That said, I think that in describing Dr. Wells' thesis as somehow throwing the baby out with the bath water, you have yourself tossed out Wells' baby point in the midst of a furor over his presuppositional bath water.

I think that Dr. Wells' is pretty estute -- and recognizes that some churches only make minor accomodations. I don't have the book here in front of me this afternoon, but I think it's clear that throughout the book what he is condemning is a disease in all stages which supplants Law and Gospel with fun and games or you and me.

So in that respect, I think he rightly points a finger at the church which replaces the organ with a 3-piece because the 3-piece sounds like popular music.

You might say, "well, the organ was once to music what the guitar and bass are to music today," to which I say "hogwash". If by "popular" you mean "the property of the rich for the sake of their entertainment", I might be less inclined to say "hogwash" -- and you might review the history of the organ before you compare the use of a hydraulis in the Roman arena to the use of a Silbermann piper organ used in renaissance churches.

The question is only, "are we trying to imitate the world -- to beat it at its own game?" Because if we are, we are not intended to do that at all. In fact, we are intended to be ridiculed by the world, and persecuted by it. We should expect to have to lose our fish-branded arenas becasue they won't come.

Let me say frankly that the church is not intended to be popular, even if it is intened to save the world. We have to get that through our American, sports-and-business, results-measuring brains.

Chris Freeland said...

Frank,

Thanks. I doubt Phil and I will have this conversation. In the rare case that our paths cross, we've got other things to discuss - like why nobody else around ever gets to use the computer! ;)

Even so - I want to be clear. I'm not dismissing everything Dr. Wells says, but I do think it's important to make a distinction he does not make.

You're right - motive is key. If a church attempts to do something solely to identify with the culture, there's an issue. But if it takes products of a culture whose lives have been transformed by the Gospel, and seeks to allow them to respond in worship to ways that are most familiar to them, I fail to see a theological problem.

And I fail to see how the subtraction of hymns, pulpits, or organs necessarily imply the absence of a conviction concerning historical theology, and Dr. Wells absolutely asserts that it does.

I know the history of the church organ too, and wouldn't assert a parallel. However, you would also have to agree that throughout the church's history, it's various forms of worship (music and otherwise) have changed in such a way as to be more culturally relevant. Luther, for example was accused of something akin to what Dr. Wells acuses the church of doing today, and few on this blog would argue that his theology took a hit as a result. Rather, those very songs are the ones we herald today.

And to your point that we're intended to be ridiculed and persecuted by the world - I'm not sure I would agree with your word choice there. Jesus indicated that we should expect to be ridiculed, not that being ridiculed is our purpose. Furthermore, I have a hard time thinking that Jesus had in mind that our music choice and communication style would be the impetus for that ridicule...

greglong said...

Chris Freeland wrote,

You're right - motive is key. If a church attempts to do something solely to identify with the culture, there's an issue. But if it takes products of a culture whose lives have been transformed by the Gospel, and seeks to allow them to respond in worship to ways that are most familiar to them, I fail to see a theological problem.

I would assert that "attempting to do something to identify with the culture" in order to try to reach people for Christ is EXACTLY what the seeker/market/consumer/culture-driven church is doing, and that is exactly what Wells is arguing against.

greglong said...

Chris, I would highly encourage you to watch Ed Stetzer interview Mark Dever on this.

Stetzer Interviews Dever

Frank Turk said...

Chris:

I think Jesus meant something more that "maybe" when he said what he said in John 15:20.

Seriously. That sounds like God's intention to me.

Carol Jean said...

We recently visited a church that was celebrating the pastor's 30th anniversary. Before he began his (expository) sermon he spoke about his very humble beginnings at the church. How the Weds. service often only had 10 people and half were his family members and how he struggled with discouragement as a young pastor.

He eventually came to realize that every sermon he preached was preached before God - the Lord God Almighty was his audience and the One he was striving to please. The numbers were not the measure of his faithfulness. He spoke of the 30+ hours a week of Bible study he would invest in sermons (for 10 people!) through the years and how as the years have gone by he finds himself spending more and more of that time in prayer as "God works on the man."

And what a sermon that man preached! Verse by verse, clearly guided by the Holy Spirit. After 10+ years of sitting through Willow Creek-esque services I literally wept.

So you've gotta wonder...whose sermon will more faithfully proclaim God's word? The pastor who is spending 30 hours of his "work" week in prayer and Bible study, or the pastor who spends that time sifting through dozens of PG-13 & R-rated videos for just the right clip or spending the week planning the 70's disco extravaganza and trying to track down a disco ball? I'm glad I don't have to sort it out : )

God is the audience. God is the audience, God is the audience.

Chris Freeland said...

Frank -

We'll disagree on that then. Fair enough.

Seems to me that Jesus' point in John 15:20 is that the content of our message is counter-cultural - not that we need to be out of touch with the culture, or poke the culture in the eye every chance we get just to make sure they persecute us. Wouldn't you agree that the second half of that verse indicates Jesus is a lot more concerned with form than function?

What's wrong theologically with a church engaging a culture with a language it understands in order to communicate the Word of God?

Dr. Wells lays the table such that the reader is left to believe a church that engages the culture and a church that proclaims the historical message of Reformation Christianity are mutually exclusive. That is the point I'm arguing against.

Chris Freeland said...

Greg,

The word "solely" was key to my quote you referenced. Again, what would be wrong theologically with a pastor/church speaking the language of a culture in order to proclaim Biblical Truth?

I just think Dr. Wells is introducing a false dilemma here. And with regard to your comment - why is Dr. Wells arguing against using the language of the culture to reach people for Christ? Seems to me he ought to be railing against the churches whose motive is not centered around making disciples, and those come in contemporary and traditional packages.

I will absolutely agree that there are seeker driven/market driven/Christianity Lite churches out there. There are also contemporary churches out there who preach the word while using the culture illustratively, and while allowing their congregants to worship in a language/style that is familiar to them.

It's unfair to lump all churches who show movie clips or play secular songs as illustrations in with Robert Schuller, or whomever, just as it would be unfair for me to assail traditional churches because they all end up like that wacko church in Topeka KS.

Anyway... thanks for the discussion. I'm headed out of town for a couple of days so I'll let you guys have the last word.

Frank Turk said...

Chris:

Your equivocation on the use of the word "language" here betrays a lot you don't mean to betray, I am sure. Let's remember that I'm the guy who has a blog which looks like a comic book, and I play on-line games like Team Fortress 2, and I'm the one among the Pyros who is mostly likely to get in trouble over his use of bad language; that is, I "get" the appeal of all that other "stuff", but to call that a "language" is hokey at best.

What it is is pandering to someone's demographical identity -- it's worse than race or ethnic pandering because what it says is that you can't reach people with a common vocabulary but that you have yo make everything into something they already know.

It's exactly like saying that you can't teach a football player how to play basketball unless you can translate/interpret 3-pointers, travelling and man-to-man offense into touchdowns, off-sides, and backfield coverage. In the same way you have to die to football in order to comprehend baseball, it is so much more obvious that you have to die to culture in order to receive the Gospel.

I think it's offensive to say that unless you can translate the Gospel into R-rated movies and trite Emo lyrics you can't reach people into R-rated movies and trite Emo lyrics. And it's offensive for the same reason you would be offended if I told you that you can't play basketball because of your ethnicity or your education (either too high or too low): it's simply a radical bias that is unfounded in facts.

Frank Turk said...

By the way, that "die to culture" thing is what Paul does in Acts 17 -- Paul says to the Athenian philosophers, "fellas, I get it that you are into religion -- so much so that you want to worship things you haven't even thought up yet, so I'm going to tell you about the God you do not know."

And then guess what? He proceeds to tell them about the Creator of the Universe who has made a promise He has sealed in the resurrection.

Listen: that's not a contextualization of anything. That's an intentional contradiction of everything the Epicurians and Stoics thought was true in their philosophy -- and they laughed him out of the place.

The Gospel isn't the accommodation of culture -- political, popular, whatever. The Gospel is the solution to culture, and it tears down the divisions between men to make them one new nation spiritually under Christ. If you miss that about the Gospel, and you think that people sort of have to be eased into it, I think you have to think about how you learned to play any sport. Nobody let you think for a minute that you could run the ball down the middle of the basketball court like a fullback to drive to the basket -- why would we let people think things analogically like that about the Gospel?

faithntim said...

(Tim Stevens)
Frank encouraged me to participate in this conversation. I've been holding out since I haven't had the chance, yet, to read Wells book.

I did dialogue, however, with Greg Long via email, which he posted in a comment above. I find it interesting that no one has commented on any of my responses to Greg (see his comment above, 9:03am, May 29).

Andrew said...

Carol,

In regards to this comment:

"...the pastor who spends that time sifting through dozens of PG-13 & R-rated videos for just the right clip or spending the week planning the 70's disco extravaganza and trying to track down a disco ball?"

Are his efforts in vain if his ability to leverage pop culture reaches the unchurched and wins people to Christ in ways your pastor never could?

Nevergall said...

"...and wins people to Christ in ways your pastor never could?"

Is it really about the pastor & his methods?

Andrew said...

Nevergall...

Is it?

It should be about winning people to Christ...

Greg pointed negatively to the mylamesexlife.com billboards...but that method of leveraging culture led 833 people to Christ according to Tim's book.

Carol Jean said...

Andrew said, "Greg pointed negatively to the mylamesexlife.com billboards...but that method of leveraging culture led 833 people to Christ according to Tim's book."

....implying....that God might not have been able/willing to save them w/o the billboards? Isn't that the underlying premise of pastor-as-leverager-of-culture?

daniel vance said...

Hello,
I'm a long-time lurker, first-time commenter. I have to say, despite the fact that I would come down on the conservative side of 90% of the issues discussed on this site, I'm not really impressed with the defense of the Wells position here.
For instance, Jason Moffat said,

"If people are having money issues but the message that person hears is on not sleeping around or other biblical counsel on the benefits of marriage...has that person been fed from the word of God? You can say yes, because it was still truth and is still of value...but, if you are missing that which is burdening them and causing them to seek out God...you may miss the God given appointment that has been prepared for us to minister to them."

Frank Turk replied, "In fact, that person -has- been given the word of God, but not hardly the -whole- word of God. See: the message is not "obey the law" but "because you -cannot- obey the Law, you need a savior".

This seems to pretty much ignore the second half of Jason's statement. Carol Jean condemned topical preaching by insinuating that they don't offer the whole counsel of God with their sermons...implying that exegetical preaching does. Kudos to Chris Freeland for pointing out this inconsistency.

Again, Carol Jean uses the standard sovereignty defense (God saved those people, not the methods) when the success of mylamesexlife.com was pointed out.
Without trying to sound shrill about the point, of couse God saved those people. No one is denying that, or insinuating that methods override God's sovereign will. This argument is reductionistic, and frankly, off-topic. If the methods don't matter at all (because God's sovereign will is accomplished no matter what) then why even have this conversation? Who cares which methods you use? And lest you think this is all just vain philosophy, I believe it was the apostle Paul who said, "How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?" I think that Paul believed in God's sovereignty, but he still implied that if a preacher wasn't sent, then lives might be lost. I don't think I need to explicate the application to the current discusion here...

Okay, that's enough.
I really do agree with most of this site, and am even blessed when I don't. It's a great ministry y'all have here--I'm currently reading a book you put me onto (Why we're not emergent).
Blessings

Andrew said...

Carol said...

"....implying....that God might not have been able/willing to save them w/o the billboards? Isn't that the underlying premise of pastor-as-leverager-of-culture?"

Carol...how can that be the implication when Tim shows in his book that Jesus himself used pop culture in the parables he used? I am not all the way through his book yet, but Tim has not yet insinuated that this is the ONLY WAY God can reach people. He has shown however, that both Jesus and Paul used pop culture in their teachings.

Nobody is claiming that God could not reach people without leveraging pop culture. God is God. He can reach people in any method He choses to. However, if using such a method was able to reach 833 unchurched people and bring them into a relationship with Christ without compromising the truth of the Gospels, how can you look on this negatively?

833 people committed themselves to Christ thanks to that series at Granger, but another 1,000 or so didn't. Must be that God has other plans, or other ways of reaching them.

Mike Riccardi said...

Do you think we could leave out the whole "Jesus taught in parables" argument. Jesus taught in parables, (I speak as if insane) not to connect with the culture, but to condemn it by not revealing Himself plainly.

And the disciples came and said to Him, "Why do You speak to them in parables?" Jesus answered them, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. ... Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, 'YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES, OTHERWISE THEY WOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES, HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I WOULD HEAL THEM.'

And Acts 17, as Frank has already pointed out, is not an example of 'leveraging' the culture. It's another clear example of condemning it. See Frank's post at 3:18 AM, along with Phil's series on that for more.

And, Andrew, what you're advocating is unadulterated pragmatism. "Whatever gets them in the door, fine with me!" The problem is that God has instructed us about how we are to go about proclaiming His message. I think of Leviticus 10:1-3, where God kills Aaron's sons and gives this rationale: "By those who come near Me I will be treated as Holy." In other words, our methods must be dictated by the message. If our methods communicate something that is false about the Gospel, or about Christ, then we have indeed faltered theologically. The billboard method betrays the character of the Gospel in its irreverence.

"But 833 people got saved!" If that's true, then we know it's in spite of the methods and not thanks to them. In God's plan, He puts the treasure in earthen vessels so that the surpassing greatness of the message might be shown amongst ordinary messengers. When the clay pots try to adorn themselves with jewels to make themselves look treasure-like, it diminishes the contrast. But by God's mercy, the treasure is still treasure. And so some people receive it despite the clay pot who's trying desperately to dress himself up.

david rudd said...

Mike,

If I understand your point, (The problem is that God has instructed us about how we are to go about proclaiming His message.)you are arguing for the regulative principle, right?

Does that move this discussion in a direction neither Wells nor Stevens would have intended?

I think it would be really helpful in this discussion if you unpacked this statement a little more:

The billboard method betrays the character of the Gospel in its irreverence.

I think that is a much better angle from which to discus the "mylamesexlife" (and others which may be like it) campaign.

Phil Johnson said...

Chris Freeland: ". . . a more attractional philosophy of ministry . . ."

I'm curious as to how you would define and defend such a philosophy. Is it possible that there's actually a tincture of doctrinal slippage the philosophy itself? I think that's Wells's point.

Chris Freeland: "In the rare case that our paths cross, we've got other things to discuss - like why nobody else around ever gets to use the computer! ;)"

Patently untrue. I aways bring my own computer.

Sometimes two of them.

Jason Moffitt said...

Mike,
just a question....if I understand your metaphor at the end you are suggesting that for the churches that are worried about adorning themselves, they are trying to put jewels on the clay jar...and agreeably, if any church is making the message MORE about how they deliver it then that would be the case...however, if you are dealing with a church that cares for the message more, just delivers it in a different way, aren't you really condemning another clay vessel that just doesn't look like the kind that would be able to pour out God's message.

Frank Turk said...

Pastor Stevens has been way-generous and kind enough to engage us here, via the e-mail he traded with Greg Long, and I wanted to engage back here as well. Let me first thank him for joining us.

In his e-mail to Greg, he said this:
[QUOTE]
I don’t think [the method Greg describes] is the one and only way. Expository preaching definitely has its place in the church. But the Bible doesn’t prohibit cultural relevance, actually gives us lots of examples of Jesus being culturally relevant (i.e. parables), and is a method we use to reach the unchurched.
[/QUOTE]


I think one important detail which gets left out of what you’re saying here (and in your book), Pastor Tim, is that there’s a difference between evangelism and worship, and there’s a difference between preaching as worship and preaching as evangelism.

You and I would agree on a lot of things, and I think that even David Wells would agree on some of them. For example, the fact that in America, you have generally have to speak in English to be understood: that’s an important context. We also live in a post-Christian world – so, for example, many people might share some moral values with you without having a theological/philosophical basis for their ethos, so you can’t take it for granted that someone who believes that murder is wrong thinks it is wrong because God has said so, or because man is in the image of God.

Those kinds of things are contextual in the sense that you are talking to somebody.

The question is whether or not, for example, making an episode of “LOST” into a sermon or sermon series is on-par with Christ’s use of parables; or, speaking as a member of his fan club, whether Mark Driscoll’s use of off-color humor is a fair translation of Scriptural truth into common terms or a degradation of truth into cheap jokes. (that’s a point Mark Dever made in the YouTube interview he did with brother Stetzer during Whiteboard, btw).

And here’s what I think about that: it’s one thing to be able to give an account of the hope that lies within you at the coffee shop, the gym, the mall, the movies – that’s apologetics and evangelism. You have to live someplace and interact with the people who are there.

It’s another thing altogether to make the pulpit into a sideshow. And by that I mean that when we make worship into a concert that is for the entertainment of the crowd, and we make sermons into comedy routines or self-help motivational talks, and we turn our church into a community center where we can get a haircut, an oil change, take an aerobics class, or whatever it is people do at the mall, we have frankly stopped being the church and have started being something else. Maybe a channel on DiSH network.

Here’s what I think is culturally relevant: God created man in His own image, and while man failed then and fails today to live on the terms God created him to live by, God has worked, is working, and will work to reconcile men to Himself by the precious life and costly sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter if you are a desert-dwelling oil sheik, a European globalist, a Japanese industrial engineer, a Texas hick, an out-of-work Ohio factory worker or a guy (like me) from NY who lives in AR and sells Christian books for a (meager) living: that fact of the life, death and resurrection of Christ – as Paul said, “in accordance with Scripture” – is the most relevant thing in the history of the world. When we stop being about that first in a way which see that message as the exclusive property of Scripture (as special revelation, which is the only place the Gospel resides), we are going off course.

Can you simply recite the Greek over someone and have them hear the Good News? Prolly not – but the least you can do it try a good translation first.

[QUOTE]
Even if [Acts 17] is the only clear example, as you say, what’s wrong with it as an example? It is a clear example of Paul talking to unbelievers.
[/QUOTE]


I have to throw on the brakes on that one, Pastor Tim. “What’s wrong with that example” is that if you interpret that – as you did in your book – as Paul somehow improving on popular culture to somehow reconstruct the Gospel for the sake of the Greeks, I think it ignores at least 3 things about this incident:

- It completely misconstrues Paul’s normal approach to evangelism. What Paul does in Thessalonica is “as was his custom” – which is to reason from the Scripture that Jesus was the Christ. When you say that what Paul did in the Aeropagus was what he always did when he was on the road, I think at best you have taken one incident and over-emphasized its importance in the general practices of Paul.

- It overlooks the context of Paul’s invitation to the Aeropagus by the philosophers. Paul was invited to speak to them because they heard him doing in Athens what he did in Thessalonica. (cf. v. 17-19) Paul didn’t get noticed for talking about Greek poets and the architecture of the city: he got noticed by the philosophers because he was plainly speaking something foreign to them, foreign to their religious beliefs and foreign to their reasoning.

- The pieces of Paul’s discourse there are simple to follow:
++ You have religion, but you don’t know God (v. 22-23)
++ The God who is there doesn’t want a temple, but repentance (v.24-27a, 30)
++ A brief aside on the global nature of the Gospel – that is, it’s for all men and not just the Jews (v. 27b-29)
++ The certainty of coming judgment because of the fact of Christ’s resurrection. (v. 31)
And in that simple outline, what we see is –not- a reconstitution of the Gospel, not a “recontextualization”, but in fact that exact same Gospel delivered by Peter on Pentecost, and by Stephen when he was stoned.

Same Gospel – except in Greek, not Hebrew. To toss this event out as evidence that Paul modeled the Gospel after Greek culture, or sought out Greek idioms which would reinterpret the Gospel for a new people, completely misses how Paul got invited to the Aeropagus and what he actually said when he got there.

[QUOTE]
Most of [the Pastoral Epistles] were written to the church about and for believers. I have no problem with that. In our service designed for believers, it is very much like you describe. But when Paul talks to unbelievers (Acts 17), he leverages the culture.
[/QUOTE]


I disagree with your assessment of Acts 17. See above.

And for what it’s worth, I’d be interested to understand what it means to have a “service” for “unbelievers”. Do you mean a “worship service”?

[QUOTE]
I contend it is possible to leverage culture and preach sound doctrine. I see it done every week! Hop on our website and watch any recent weekend service and tell me you don’t see the same thing. Again, doctrine is huge! But it is wrapped in cultural packaging so as to make it understood.
[/QUOTE]


I honestly don’t want to talk about your church or its services as that discussion is easily – EASILY – translated into personal attacks when none is meant. I’d rather stick to your book and what it says there because I think that it speaks to the broader motivations for the kind of “church” you are envisioning.

In all seriousness, I have no intention of reviewing any of your church’s on-line videos. I have watched two, and I think that discussion would be better exchanged off-line, if at all.

However, this next part needs some serious attention:

[QUOTE]
It’s like speaking English. Some could say that speaking English instead of Latin is being culturally relevant, right? Using the language of pop culture is the same thing.
[/QUOTE]


Pastor Tim, let me tell you what I hear when I read what you just said.

When you say “using the pop culture is the same thing [as speaking English]”, what you’re saying is that there is as great a divide between those who speak Chinese and those who speak English as there is between two people who speak English, but one listens nearly-exclusively to indie garage music and another who listens to Baroque chamber music, or between two English speakers where one is a devotee of reality TV shows and another only watches the History channel.

Before I think out loud about why that’s not very helpful, is that what you mean to say?

Mike Riccardi said...

David Rudd: Does that move this discussion in a direction neither Wells nor Stevens would have intended?

I guess I can't say for sure. I freely admit that I haven't read either of the books, and have refrained from commenting this long because of that. I did comment, though, per Frank's OK (see comment on May 28 at 7:00 AM).

However, I'm not sure how we can discuss the role and method of the church without admitting at the outset that our sole authority for practice is the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God.

I think it would be really helpful in this discussion if you unpacked this statement a little more: The billboard method betrays the character of the Gospel in its irreverence.

What I mean to do by saying that is to show that the notion of methods and doctrine (message) in separate hands, one uninfluenced by the other, is false. The methods not only given to us in many cases in the Word of God, but even when they're not there are principles that we must abide by. If at any time our methods communicate something about our message that's untrue, we have altered the message, and have erred theologically (to address Chris Freeland's point).

The billboard itself is not a problem. I realize that it could have sounded that way. But the advertisement of "mylamesexlife" communicates something about our message that is untrue. And that is: "Our message will transform your lame sex life." Now, will the Gospel have implications for one's sex life? Of course. I don't mean to say different. But, when we say that, all of a sudden the Gospel has not become about God, His holiness and glory, and His getting for Himself what He is worthy of in His creation, but about me, and what Jesus can do for me.

Jason,

Your question presupposes that the alternative method is just as legitimate as the method we've been given. "Same message, just in a different way," assumes that all things are equal. But they aren't, because the implementation of the method in question violates other Scriptural principles clearly laid out for how the church is to proclaim the truth. By not adhering to the plain instructions of how to present the truth to the saints as well as the unbelievers surrounding them, the church that does this has now effectively made "the message MORE about how they deliver it." And so my metaphor fits.

And by the way, after reading Frank's last comment, I toyed with the idea of deleting mine, because he said what I wanted to say, better. Thanks for that Frank. That helped me.

TexasBart said...

The biggest challenge I see in the contrasting opinions is the use of the word "church." Sometimes we see the term used to describe God's people (the Body). More often it's used to define what we do on Sunday mornings.

Wells is right; we didn't invent the church. God did. But we invented the Sunday morning service; with or without His direction.

I believe that both writers have pure motives; they want to see the church healthy and they want to see the church grow.

It's no wonder Jesus prayed for the unity of His followers.

greglong said...

Tim, let me add one thing to Frank's comments. You write:

Most of [the Pastoral Epistles] were written to the church about and for believers. I have no problem with that. In our service designed for believers, it is very much like you describe. But when Paul talks to unbelievers (Acts 17), he leverages the culture. I contend it is possible to leverage culture and preach sound doctrine.

Tim, I don't think you dismiss the Pastoral Epistles quite to easily. When Paul tells Timothy "preach the Word", he doesn't say "preach the Word to believers, but leverage culture to reach unbelievers." There is no such dichotomy.

In the Pastoral Epistles Paul could have very easily said something like, "And by the way, Timothy, make sure you make every effort to get up on the latest in Ephesian pop culture so that you can more effectively reach people", but again we find no hint of that.

It seems that this approach rises and falls on Acts 17. As Frank has pointed out, if Paul's attempt was to leverage culture in order to make the Gospel message more palatable and to "scratch people where they itch", he failed (v. 32-34--only a few believed). See also Phil's posts on Acts 17 here and here and here.

greglong said...

I meant to say "I don't think you can dismiss the Pastoral Epistles quite so easily."

~Mark said...

"I have no idea how far into the discussion you are with you pastor, but I suggest that you get copies of these two books and ask him to read -both- of them with you, and discuss -both- of them together."

~Thanks Frank. It's early on but your idea may help if things don't change soon. I'll let you know.

Frank Turk said...

texasbart:

I'm curious regarding your post here -- where's the "disunity" in disagreeing over the message of a book which is not the Bible?

For the sake of this post and this discussion, I have absolutely foresworn commenting about Pastor Tim Stevens' church -- refuse to do it. I want to discuss the ideas in his book without passing judgment on his church.

In what way does that approach cause or promote "disunity"? I'm curious because I admit it is an adaptation of the way I have handled this kind of discussion in the past, and if it's causing "disunity", I want to stop that.

Alysa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alysa said...

First up, I haven't read both books. Which means you have perfect right to delete this comment.

I just wanted to say that all this reminds me of a sermon I heard ("Not Ashamed of the Scandal" by Paul Washer. http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=1019071819161)

He says, "We live in an age that thinks in order to be relevant, we have to be like our culture. We are relevant not because we are like our culture, but because we are absolutely different."

He's also quoted as saying, "We don't need to be culturally relevant if we are Biblically accurate."

Oh, and I love the double barrel shot gun.

Chris Freeland said...

Phil: Patently untrue. I aways bring my own computer.

Sometimes two of them.


Your anecdotal evidence is not sufficient in making your point. The vast majority of data points in the overal sample size would bury you. Don't make me bring up Kings Quest!

I'm curious as to how you would define and defend [attractional] philosophy. Is it possible that there's actually a tincture of doctrinal slippage the philosophy itself? ...

Yeah, "attractional philosophy" probably wasn't my most careful word choice in this discussion. What I was going for was churches more near the center of the spectrum who attempt to communicate Truth in such a way that it is easily understandable for insiders and outsiders. That way they accept or reject our Message based on its merits, not on the forms the communication of that Message takes.

That's what this whole thing comes down to for me. I wholeheartedly believe that the cross is a stumbling block. I wholeheartedly believe that a significant number of people in the culture will reject the message of the Gospel. But shouldn't they reject us based on our Message rather than the fact that we're weird?

Why not allow the illustrative use of Pop Culture as further demonstration that the Gospel speaks to the needs of our culture? Why would Frank's Pokemon collection be less admissable as an illustration than a story about his kids?

Frank - I chose the word "language" fairly carefully to draw a parallel to something else I argued earlier. We make adaptations in our verbal language to clearly communicate the Gospel so that people can reject it or accept it based on its merits (strictly speaking from the human side), why would we not use the other forms through which our culture communicates to communicate that message as well?

I've asked several times for a theological reason our message has to be detached in form from amoral aspects of our culture. Please recognize I'm asking that in all humility... I'd really like to know. This seems to me to be a preference discussion with theological masks. I'm not arguing that we should quote Eminem's filthy lyrics in church, or look to culture for the source of Truth. I'm arguing that we should look to it as the source of illustrations to help us communicate the contemporary nature of our timeless message. What is theologically wrong with that?

greglong said...

Chris,

Your last sentence, to me, contained the key word...illustrations. If you read Phil's posts on Acts 17 (see links above), you would know that no one on this blog is opposed to using illustrations from culture.

It's just the whole "scratch people where they itch"/meet-felt-needs philosophy that our friend Tim and others espouse that I don't find in Scripture.

Let me repost Wells' quote:

The needs consumers have are needs they identify for themselves. The needs sinners have are needs God identifies for us, and the way we see our needs is rather different from the way he sees them.

Also, the method communicates as well as the message. Do you not think that basing a sermon series (not using illustrations from them, but BASING a sermon series on) Lost, Desparate Housewives, the Wii, Superman, Spiderman, mylamesexlife, 80s Rock, Entourage (which I believe was rated TV-MA), the Beatles, U2, iTunes, the Office (I believe the first primetime sitcom to have an episode rated TV-MA), etc., etc., etc.,...communicates something?

If you want someone who "engages culture" but uses a different approach for preaching, take a look at Mark Driscoll...sermon series based on 1 Corinthians, Ruth, Nehemiah, Philippians, and topical series based on straight-up doctrine and common questions about theological and practical issues.

I contend there is a difference.

I'll leave it at that for now and give Tim a chance to respond if he so desires.

Chris Freeland said...

Greg,

Interesting that you point to Driscoll as an illustration of your point. His very good book "Vintage Jesus" contains at least one South Park (TV-MA) reference.

Would it be possible (in your estimation) for the method of mylamesexlife or Superman to communicate something positive - that the timeless message of Scripture does have a contemporary answer for a lame sex life... i.e. a sex life that isn't built on the foundation of a godly selfless marriage?

If I did a sermon series entitled "Lost," which was an exposition of Romans 1, but contained illustrations from the television show, would you see a theological problem with that?

Frank Turk said...

Chris:

There is a massive difference between saying something like, "When I read this passage, it seems to me like the Pharisees were trying to play 'Stump the Messiah' with Jesus as they kept coming back with their ridiculous questions," which expresses the foolishness of their doubt using a cultural idiom (game shows), and building a sermon series called "Deal or No Deal", using the aspects of the popular game show -- including its logo and visual presentation, not to mention the game itself -- to somehow describe some aspect of the OT or NT.

It is one thing to speak as if you have seen the culture and know something about it, and another entirely to ape the culture for the sake of baiting-and-switching on people where the Gospel is somehow the aspirin buried in the spoon full of sugar.

Listen: this is the TeamPyro blog. There are probably more popular culture references here per capita than in any popular Christian doctrine blog on the internet. Good heavens: look at our graphics. But what we -don't- do is pretend to be talking about the culture when we are in fact about to spring the Gospel and doctrine on people.

The question is not, "are you American? have you not seen?" The question is "Should that be what we are most proud of?"

I am proud of the Gospel. I would wear it on my head like a giant "we're number one" finger hat at the superbowl if I thought it wasn't a diminishing of the metaphysical seriousness of what it represents.

That's what's at stake. As James White once said, what you win them with is what you win them to.

TexasBart said...

Frank,

I didn't mean to insinuate that your postings were reflective of "disunity." Rather, it's the source(s) of the topic itself.

Actually, I've found this string to be less "fiery" than I'd initially expected. It's been good.

Ekklesia said...

A quick observation:

(I'm reading Well's book and heard Tim Stevens speak on the issues he discusses in his book at a conference last week- I hope that qualifies me to comment.)

Listening to Tim share, I would find myself agreeing with him on many points IF he would do what he was claiming to do- follow Paul's example as given to us in Acts 17. Paul was indeed in the marketplace speaking to "whoever happened to be there" and did use their pagan worship as a springboard to share the Gospel. Fair enough. But Paul did it, again, in the marketplace. Not in the synagogue or the church. I don't think we would disagree with Tim if he would say, for example, "take a nonbeliever to see Spider Man 3 and discuss the spiritual issues brought up in it over coffee" rather than suggesting we use Spider Man 3 as a Sunday Morning Sermon Series theme which sets the stage for our worship as he did. He is right about our need to engage the pop culture, he just engages it in the wrong place (I hope a disclaimer is not needed here- I am not suggesting we do not address culture from the pulpit but only that the culture itself need not be imported into our sanctuary- we should go out into it).

It seemed to me, and I could be wrong, that the reason he feels the need to do do this on Sunday mornings is that he believes that if he and his staff don't do it, it will not get done. What I wanted to say while he was speaking was- "What is the role of the congregation in this? Why aren't they engaging the culture in these creative ways Monday through Saturday "in the marketplace" with "whoever happens to be there" rather than you feeling the need to put on a pop show on Sunday mornings?"

BTW, Mark Dever spoke at the conference as well and knocked the ball out of the park. He started by saying: "Brothers we must understand that the church will win. The testimony of Scripture assures us that the church will be triumphant. Those who say that the church is in danger are simply wrong."

greglong said...

Great point, ekklesia.

Frank Turk said...

ekklesia:

Bingo.

And that Dever point cannot be over-emphasized -- the question everyomne should ask of that statement is, "does Pastor Dever mean 'the universal, invisible church' or 'the local churches'?"

Chris Freeland said...

Frank,

I think "bait and switch" is a little strong. The people in question are going to church, after all. It's not as if they saw a church's banner out front and mistakenly thought if they showed up they would watch a live taping of Howie Mandel and the suitcase girls.

Again, if the messages concerning Jesus' dealings with the Pharisees are expositions of the Text, I fail to see a problem with packaging them in a different way. To me, it's a preference issue, like whether or not to have a whurlitzer or a hammond - not necessarily a slippery slope into doctrinal error.

Deborah said...
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Deborah said...

ekklesia said

...."What is the role of the congregation in this? Why aren't they engaging the culture in these creative ways Monday through Saturday "in the marketplace" with "whoever happens to be there" rather than you feeling the need to put on a pop show on Sunday mornings?"



The congregation plays a huge role in engaging the culture in many ways. One is through volunteer outreach to the community at large in ways that help people who are struggling in this world with their struggles. They don’t give a rock when food is what’s needed. The purpose of these efforts is to demonstrate the love of God to people who may not yet know that they are loved by God by meeting their needs.

Another is through the massive volunteer efforts that are aimed at welcoming people into the church from preparing the facilities, greeting people at the door, programs for the children, to direct participation in the worship service. The purpose of these efforts is to let people know that they are wanted and that they have a place there. It is a place that you can feel comfortable inviting your friends.

One of the philosophies of the church is that God loves you were you are, but He loves you too much to want you to stay there. Again, the growth opportunities offered through the church, of which there are many from small group to larger class settings, are staffed by many volunteers. And of course, volunteering itself, either inside or outside of the church is a huge Christian growth opportunity.

The point that I am making, is that this congregation does engage the culture in many ways from outreach to welcoming to walking along side each other in Christian growth. I have personally never seen a congregation so engaged.

Ron S. said...

.

I come from a strong exegetical and traditional-style church background where there was a solo scriptura commitment to truth and sound doctrine. Over 40 of my 50 years were in this environment and I agree that far too many American churches, traditional and contemporary alike, are “bible-lite” in their approach.

Surveys would tend to confirm this viewpoint. As some have noted though, this current state of Bible ignorance can not be laid at the feet of the “marketing” church movement, which seems to be the primary focus of Wells' objections.

Though I have not yet read Tim Steven's book (I will this week) I am very aware of the practical application of his views, as I've been attending his church (Granger Community Church) for the past 17 months. While I have done extensive reading about this church model, pros and cons (including visits to this site), my actual experience is limited to GCC.

Prior to GCC, I was also quite critical of the seeker-friendly/marketing approach and from what I see in my reading, there may indeed be churches that appear to deserve some of the criticisms heaped upon them. From personal experience however, I don't believe that Stevens and GCC are in that category.

Having said that, my comments refer to a statement by Dr. Wells:

“[These approaches to church and to Christianity] is not making serious disciples. It cannot make serious disciples. It brims with success, but it is empty, shallow, and indeed unpardonable.”

“It is time to reach back into the Word of God, as we have not done in a generation, and find again a serious faith for our undoubtedly serious times. It is now time to close the door on this disastrous experiment in retailing faith, to do so politely but nevertheless firmly. It is time to move on. It is time to become Protestant once again”


Even if Wells is totally correct in his view of the intentions behind and the charges against the “marketing” church approach - and I don’t believe he is - his position still raises some concern for me. For example, his blanket statement that “It cannot make serious disciples.” and that it's time to close the door on this "experiment”?

1) As Wells says “Only God can grow the church.” His general argument though seems to be that God in fact, cannot grow the church through certain methods - in essence, limiting what God can and cannot do. Are all things possible with God or not?

2) True Christian maturity is, as far as I can tell, a long-term/life-long process. Neither does “serious” discipleship appear to be a straight line of “up and to the right” continuous growth. How much time should be allowed before judgement is made on whether these approaches will indeed bear good fruit or not? By their fruit you will know whether the tree is good or bad, yet it seems that some trees are being judged by the budding leaves.

I'm not unsympathetic to some of Wells’ concerns about the church, nor his yearning back to a “golden age” of Protestantism (which I suspect was never as good as it might be remembered today) but this wholesale condemnation seems premature and limited.

Acts 5:38-39) “And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; “but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it--lest you even be found to fight against God.”

Mike Riccardi said...

His general argument though seems to be that God in fact, cannot grow the church through certain methods - in essence, limiting what God can and cannot do. Are all things possible with God or not?

Question.

Can God violate His Word?

1. If yes, then God is a liar and hypocrite and no longer God because He's no longer holy.

2. If no, then aren't you limiting God?

Of course not. To say, "All things are possible with God... even His own sinning against Himself," is just folly. To say that it is not possible that God violate Himself as He's revealed Himself in His Word is hardly calling God impotent.

That's Wells' point (I think). This kind of ministry will fail because God "can't" grow the church through these certain methods because He "can't" do anything that is contrary to Himself. Certain methods are contrary to the nature of God, and so will not be blessed by Him (though they may manifest the world's criteria for success).

Ron S. said...

.

Mike

From a David Wells interview:

“We should, of course, be engaging culture but not so that that culture defines who we are and what we want and how we go about our church business. It is “sola Scriptura” not “sola cultura” !”

Wells insistence on contrasting sola Scriptura versus sola cultura runs into a few glaring contradictions when you consider that the Protestantism that he advocates for has a long history of incorporating cultural practices into its worship traditions - especially when it comes to the holidays. Does Wells or anyone else here celebrate Christmas? As we all know, this holiday is found neither in scripture by command or example, nor inferred by Christ or the apostles. The date of its observance and most of its practices are quite plainly pagan. In other words, one of the great days of modern Christian worship is in fact a wholesale adoption of cultural practices by non-Christians!

I would argue that using scenes from “Spiderman” to illustrate a point or make a connection does not come close to this adoption and adaptation of non-Christian culture. There are far more scriptural references that we might use to question Christmas observance than the use of “Spiderman” If Wells is consistent, should he not be arguing against its observance? If not, why? Is it simply a matter that cultural influence is okay if it's 1600 years old, but not 25?

Thats all I have time to post tonight. I hope to have time to address your comments more directly in the near future. BTW, I now have a copy of Tim Steven's book to review.

Ron S. said...

.

Well, the book review smackdown seems to have run its course here. Relatively short and shallow in its exploration of the issues, IMO. Considering the importance of this topic, I had expected more. Oh well...

greglong said...
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greglong said...

ron,

Tim is advocating far more than simply "using scenes from 'Spiderman' to illustrate a point or make a connection". And if you've read Pyromaniacs, you would know that Phil and the others have no problem with using certain things in culture for the purpose of illustration.