The Importance of the Local Church

Bob LaRochelle (Crossing the Street, So Much Older Then …) points us to an interview with Rev. Loren Mead, founder of the Alban Institute, in which he talks about the importance of the local church. Here’s a taste:

What I saw was a church that largely discounted the life of the local congregation. At the time, in the 1960s, clergy were leaving in large numbers to go into all kinds of social work and whatnot. I was clear that that was not the way to go, that we needed strong local churches.

Read the whole interview. What do you think? How important is the local congregation. If it’s important, how do we build it up?

Distracted from Discipleship – Blog from author Allan R. Bevere

Allan in robesEnergion Publications’ author, Allan R. Bevere hit a bullseye today with his blog, Distracted from Discipleship: A Lectionary Reflection on Matthew 22:1-14. Dr Bevere writes:

I am convinced that the number one problem in the Western church today is that we are not very good at making disciples of Jesus Christ. We are too distracted with other things– our hobbies, our jobs, our leisure time, and yes… even our families can distract us from following Jesus in the way of the cross. Jesus calls us into a living and vital relationship with him, but instead we prefer to keep that relationship at a distance, a sort of email pen pal.

Take a few moments and read the blog and then let us all carefully consider what God is calling each of us, and each of our fellowships, to do for his Kingdom.

— Jody Neufeld

Idolatry and Life

book_bannerBruce Epperly comments on the lectionary this week:

… we can recognize that worshipping creatures rather than the Creator leads us from life to death.

What is really important? Do our behaviors follow our values? For example, most parents say that family comes first; but often family and relationships come a distant second to our professional lives. Moreover, though we speak of cultivating positive relationships with our children, we often spend more time on the I-pad or cell phone than playing with them at the local playground. To be whole, our values and behaviors need to be in synch. Practically speaking, the word “god” answers the question, “What is really important to you?” and this can be a matter of life and death, spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

Read the whole thing. Then consider: What kind of idolatry might there be in your life? Might it lead you from life to death?

Learning Evangelism from the Redwoods

Energion author Heath T9781938434037aws, who is also Director of Youth and Children’s ministries at Spring Run Presbyterian Church in Midlothian, VA, challenges us with some thoughts he had while visiting the Redwood trees in California.

When I think about these trees, I think about how we should be doing evangelism. All of us know someone in our Church or in our friend circles who is like a giant redwood. That person stretches their roots out and supports the weaker trees in the Church or in the community. Not only that, but they provide water and nourishment for the trees who are going through dry times in their lives. They seek out the trees who are disconnected from the root system, and they go after them. They keep offering their roots, they keep offering their water, and ultimately, they want to connect them to the source tree.

Read the whole thing. What do you think? Is this a good model for evangelism?

Is Social Justice a Good Thing?

cts_wiwwsjOn April 8, 2014, Energion authors Henry Neufeld, Shauna Hyde, and Chris Surber discussed missions in a Google Hangout on Air. You can see the video (without titles) below.

One of the phrases used frequently in this discussion was “social justice.” Energion author Elgin L. Hushbeck, Jr. was listening, and commented to me that he objected to the term “social justice,” because, he said, once you added the adjective, it was no longer actually justice.

I, in turn, suggested that this sounded like a good topic for a volume in our new Topical Line Drives series, and the result was the book What is Wrong with Social Justice?.

Unsurprisingly, other authors disagree with Elgin’s position, and we’ve started a discussion on the topic. Besides the video above, you can read a review of Elgin’s book by Energion author Bob LaRochelle. Here’s some extracts:

In the interest of full disclosure, it is important that I tell you that over the course of much of my life, I have held the position that social justice is important. In fact, I have long seen the pursuit of social justice as a ‘given’, i.e. as a constitutive aspect of both my religious faith and of my responsibility as an American citizen. I still do!

….

As I read Mr. Hushbeck’s brief work, part of Energion Publication’s Topical Line Drives series, I found myself deeply impressed with the quality of his presentation. His approach to government and his application of Biblical teachings to questions of justice within a society are well thought out and demonstrate strong, heartfelt religious conviction and philosophical consistency. As he notes, some of us who identify as liberals and are Christians all too readily characterize more conservative Christian believers as lacking appropriate compassion for the poor and marginalized. This characterization is often unfair and most certainly does not apply to Mr. Hushbeck.

….

With respect to one of the major social issues of our time, health care, I would contend that there is something UNJUST when one’s health or the health of one’s children might be totally contingent upon one’s income and, in the case of those children, the income of one’s parents.

Read the whole thing.

This discussion should not be just about the terminology we use, but rather about how we deal with significant issues in our society, and what those issues are. Is justice to be applied to groups or to individuals? Can we provide health care to all irrespective of income (as the last extract from Bob’s review suggests) and still be “just,” “fair,” or “equitable” in how we deal with individuals?

Bob LaRochelle and Elgin Hushbeck are going to try to help us work out some of these issues when they discuss this topic in a Google Hangout on Air on October 28, 2014 at 7:00 PM. Don’t miss it!

Marriage and Divorce

by Henry E. Neufeld*

sanctity of marriage church signOne of the more controversial books I publish is titled Except for Fornication: The Teaching of the Lord Jesus on Divorce and Remarriage. (It’s in the Areopagus Critical Christian Issues series)There are a number of people who have asked me why I chose to publish this book. Come to think of it, I’ve had questions about quite a number of books, but those that are anywhere on the outer edges of my triangle (), very conservative, liberal, charismatic, or _______, generate the most puzzled comments.

Here are some excellent reasons (in my opinion):

  1. It passes scholarly muster.
  2. It will challenge the way most of us think about a number of scriptures.
  3. It deals with an issue that should be front and center in the church right now.
  4. It’s clear and concise.

except for fornicationNotice that I left out “I agree with it,” and “you’ll like it.” I suspect most readers won’t. That’s something odd for a publisher to say. But of the goals of ministry—comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable—I tend toward afflicting the comfortable. Whether I agree with it is quite irrelevant.

Today Dave Black, one of the editors of the Areopagus series, posted a note on his blog about this topic. I’m going to quote his post in full (with permission) and invite discussion. (Everything between the horizontal lines is quoted from Dave’s blog.)


9:48 AM Russ Moore asks a very good question: Is Divorce Equivalent to Homosexuality? His answer is both balanced and biblical. Where I might demur is here:

But divorce and remarriage is not, beyond that, applicable to the same-sex marriage debate. First of all, there are arguably some circumstances where divorce and remarriage are biblically permitted. Most evangelical Christians acknowledge that sexual immorality can dissolve a marital union, and that innocent party is then free to remarry (Matt. 5:32). The same is true, for most, for abandonment (1 Cor. 7:11-15). If the church did what we ought, our divorce rate would be astoundingly lowered, since vast numbers of divorces do not fit into these categories. Still, we acknowledge that the category of a remarried person after divorce does not, on its face, indicate sin.

I am curious as to how widely this view represents the thinking of evangelicals on this debated issue. 1) I think a case can be made, scripturally, that even when divorce is justified on biblical grounds, remarriage is still forbidden by Jesus as long as the first spouse is still alive. And 2) an instance of divorce-remarriage (where the first spouse is still living) would, on its face, constitute sin (adultery). The irony is that, while evangelicals are rightly concerned about the homosexual agenda in our society, they are moving away from a high view of marriage, thus leading to what Moore calls “the charge of hypocrisy.”

The preaching on divorce has been muted and hesitating all too often in our midst. Sometimes this is due to what the Bible calls “fear of man,” ministers and leaders afraid of angering divorced people (or their relatives) in power in congregations. Sometimes it’s due to the fact that divorce simply seems all too normal in this culture; it doesn’t shock us anymore.

So, my message to my fellow evangelicals, in a nutshell, is this: cherish your marriage! Not in a sinful or prideful way, of course, but simply as a precious gift from God that needs to be nurtured and protected. Be daringly committed to your spouse, and hold fast to the vows you once took before God and others. Warning: Do not read this is as a screed against divorced or divorced/remarried Christians. I know of two divorce situations involving Christian friends of mine that are ripping my heart out right now. Those who have read my book The Jesus Paradigm will have no trouble understanding why I feel so deeply for Christians who struggle in life. I realize that my view on remarriage is a minority view in Christian circles, but given the overall theological, psychological, and spiritual implications of divorce and remarriage, I think this one point of disagreement is worth registering.

Thanks to Russ for his stimulating and courageous essay. I’m sure those with interest in this topic will read it with great benefit. In the meantime, let’s all keep reading and thinking ….


 

So what do you think? How can we cherish our marriages? How can we be true to the teaching of Jesus?

*I identify myself personally as the author as I express personal opinions. There is a difference, albeit more subtle than average, between my personal views and my company’s policy.

Fourfold Gospel Hypothesis: A Call for Discussion

9781893729872fI have a question for our authors and readers: Is the confidence in Markan priority, generally combined with acceptance of ‘Q’ as a source, justified?

I’m not asking whether you think Markan priority is likely, but rather whether you think the level of confidence in it amongst biblical scholars is justified.

David Alan Black has just posted a blog about it, which I copied to WhyFourGospels.com (allowing me to link to the specific post), discussing this very question. Dave’s position is not in doubt. I publish his book Why Four Gospels? in which he outlines his case for the fourfold gospel hypothesis.

I often avoid giving my opinion in these things, but let me just note that I believe one’s view depends to a large extent on how one weighs external vs. internal evidence, and, of course, your evaluation of particular forms of external evidence. If you favor internal evidence, then you’re likely to support Markan priority. If you think it unlikely that the church fathers either knew or accurately reported information about the authorship of New Testament books, you’ll likely support Markan priority. If not, well, not so much!

I did such study of the New Testament as I did under people who took Markan priority as a given. I was barely aware that there was an alternative, and paid it very little attention. One might think that my mind was changed by publishing a book on the topic, but that actually came second. My belief that Markan priority was essentially a given was shattered by reading William R. Farmer’s The Synoptic Problem. I followed that up with looking at some other material by him and others.

I am not convinced of everything Dave writes in Why Four Gospels?. I’m less concerned with issues of historicity than he is, I believe. (Note please that I did not say “unconcerned with issues of historicity.” I do believe that historical foundations are important.) But despite some remaining issues, such as that I do not see a convincing explanation for the state of the text of Mark, I think Matthean priority is more probable than that there was a hypothetical document ‘Q’.

So what think you all?

Henry Neufeld

Is Something Wrong with Social Justice

9781631990830We recently released a new book in the Topical Line Drives series, What is Wrong with Social Justice?. In it Elgin Hushbeck, Jr. presents his case that “social justice” is not actual justice. In fact, he claims, it is inimical to true justice.

Energion author Bob LaRochelle has  a somewhat different view. While he appreciates the tone and quality of Elgin’s argument, he continues to disagree with the main point.

Join the discussion on Bob’s blog or here.

Also: Watch here for information on a Google Hangout on Air that will feature Elgin and Bob discussing their differences on this issue. The hangout will be on October 28 at 7 pm central time.

What Does Ordination Mean about Church Leadership

9781938434594Bob Cornwall, author of Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakening, has published an extract on ordination (The Biblical Call to Ordained Ministry). I think this would be a good launching pad for a discussion of the nature of ordination and what this means about church polity, if anything.

Read Bob’s post first, but then think about this: Are there any functions of the church that should require the participation of an ordained minister? What are these things? Why does ordination only apply to one called to exercise pastoral gifts? (Does it?)

 

Discussion of issues in society, biblical studies, and religion encouraged by Energion Publications authors