Filling Station Blog

Abandoning Church? Response to Recent Gallup Poll

 The news broke a few days ago about what may seem like a concerning Gallup poll. For the first time since polling began in 1937, Americans reported church attendance dipped below 50%. Declining attendance and Christian affiliation have accelerated since 2000 when 70% reported being associated with a church. As a pastor and a Christian, this news may seem troubling and disturbing. However, I think the news opens doors for revival and renewed interest in evangelism. Please let me explain.

The description of American Christianity has long been described as miles wide but an inch deep. In 1959, Richard Niebuhr described Liberalism as proclaiming, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” The problem has worsened by continuing to water down Christianity into nothing more than moralistic therapeutic deism. Churches have given up on the costly parts of Christianity in favor of commoditized Christianity; it is the McDonaldization of churches.

Over the last two decades, we have witnessed an explosion of the commodity of religion used to entertain customers instead of making and feeding disciples. Miranda Klaver has studied this matter on a global scale. She finds that the international megachurches work to offer “spectacular highly customized multisensory worship events by the employment of digital media. As a result, new styles of Pentecostalism are emerging with a confluence of popular culture, entertainment, and religious renewal.”. Furthermore, the creation of “iconic theatrical spaces cultivates a spiritual imagination of entertainment, excitement, fun, pleasure, leisure, and living the good life. The high quality of the production of the church services supports the narrative of success, the gospel of abundance, and reinforces the overall optimistic message of possibilities and empowerment.”

Put simply, many American churches peddle a message of Gospel-lite. They are attraction churches that offer the flavor of Christianity without the calories. In the long run, when life happens, these attraction complexes leave you anemic and unable to cope with the world at hand. As more people get burned out by these entertainment factories and realize they are no better off in the long run, they will leave them in droves. The feelings of burnout and emptiness are now colliding with a post-post-Christian America, and you arrive at the results we are seeing.

     There are many examples of the boom-and-bust attraction churches. One only needs to look back at Willow Creek, Mars Hill, and many other franchises. Some are hit by gross scandal while others petter from fire to ashes. In Jared Wilson’s book, Gospel Driven Church, there is a background narrative concerning LifePointe church. The attraction church garnered an attendance of over 2000 people. However, once the lead pastor was convicted of the Gospel-lite error, the move to offer some substance in the service, attendance was cut to 25%. The services began to have songs containing a semblance of Christian meaning, and the messages started to point to Christ rather than focusing on creating warm butterfly feelings, and over 1000 people left. Entertainment is a good thing. Movies, theater, and many forms of art of good for the soul, but they are not a replacement for the soul’s need of Christ.

       The entertainment and attraction-church burnout is also presently combined with societal shifts. In America, the social stigma of not attending church has evaporated. In its place is social scoffing at organized, public faith. As it has for the previous thousands of years, there is now a cost of publicly claiming to believe in something that the world does not. Mutter a word against or even a thoughtful hesitation to the dogmas of current movements, and you are attacked, canceled, and shunned. Jesus said this would happen in the world (John 12:42; 16:2), and Paul noted itching ears would not tolerate powerful truth claims from the King (2 Tim 4:3). Therefore, what I am seeing is not shocking. People are not really abandoning the church. Rather they are acknowledging that they never really were a part of it.

 

                What Now? Is there Hope?

As a Christian, these movements are developments that do not shock me. The veneer is removed, and hearts are now exposed. However, I contend this is good for the local church and for evangelism that seeks to create and feed disciples of Christ. The Gallup poll indicates fewer people are standing on false ground. Fewer people are living in a dangerous position of false trust in a Christless Christianity. The poll also shows that many people in America, over 50%, need to hear the Gospel and in need of a church community. This message empowers the local church to renew its commitment to the Great Commission of loving God and loving neighbor.

          Furthermore, the news also indicates that the burned over have tasted but never feasted on the beauty and gifts of Christ. This news means there are souls who are starving for truth, power, comfort, hope, and eternal satisfaction. The news indicates people need the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let Pastors and Christians be encouraged for the grounds are fallow, but we have plenty of seed to spread, water to nourish, and Gospel light to share.

 

Pastor Dr. Chris S. Stevens

John Knox in Ruston

 



https://news.gallup.com/poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-time.aspx

Niebuhr, Richard, The Kingdom of God in America, New York: Harper & Row, 1959 [1937], p. 193.

Klaver, Miranda, 1. In “Global Church Planting in the Media Age: Hillsong Church.” Paper presented at Transnationale Missionarische Bewegingen, Narrative und Akteure, Medien und Öffentlichkeitn. Münster, 2018. Published in 2018 in: Interculturelle Theologie. Zeitschrift für Missionswissenschaft 44(2/3): 234-246.

Klaver, 12.

Wilson, Jared C. The Gospel Driven Church: Uniting Church-Growth Dreams with Metrics of Grace. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019.

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Micah 6:8

 

Philip J. King calls Micah 6:1-8 “the Magna Carta of prophetic religion.”  It is hard to read the passage and not be confronted with its frightening tone. The faithfulness of a perfect God is met by the sinful, mocking tone of the people. Sin is a disease that quickly affects the whole community. Christians today do well to read Micah 6 often and import its ethical and virtue calling to their everyday praxis of faith and prayers. Given the weight of the passage, it is little surprise it attracts so much attention.  

The book is a composite of three papers delivered at a conference in 1983. It is focused on Micah 6 with special emphasis on 6:8. The short book, at sixty-three pages, is beneficial and a thoughtful reflection on the context of Micah and its enduring significance for today’s church. 

         The exegetical work is erudite without the presentation becoming pedantic. Being birthed from a conference gives a texture of conversation. The authors offer insights into the prophets at large and the historical context of Micah. They capture well the voice of lawsuit and deliverance well. All readers will find insights they have not seen before. 

         Brueggemann and the team helpfully offer a provocative book filled with exhortatory calls to Christians, society, and the church. I will highlight one very apt offering that comes from Brueggemann. He makes the distinction between voices of the day and voices of the night. The former is the political policy in the land. Such policies and rulings come from government institutions. However, the voices of the night, a provocative little term, are the more powerful and effective. As Brueggemann contends, “it is the peculiar work of the Church to address these matters because the Church has access to these aspects of life like no one else in our society.”  The church is the present hands and feet of Christ that can promiscuously penetrate society and lives in far better ways than government institutions. The end goal of the church’s mission is the salvation of souls and not just economic and political equality—very important points even thirty-eight years after the conference. 

         While I do not always follow the authors’ precise concluding directions, I recommend the book for all interested in Micah 6, social justice, and the virtuous Christian life. I believe the short read will encourage and challenge many thoughts about the church and one’s Christian, humble walk with God. 

 


Rev. Dr. Chris S. Stevens

John Knox in Ruston



 

   Philip J. King, “Micah,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.) 1968, 1.288.

 Walter Brueggemann, “Voices of the Night—Against Justice,” in To Act Justly, Love Tenderly, Walk Humbly: An Agenda for Ministers (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1997), 18.

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Reacting to Sin with Shock and Awe, or a Biblical Explanation?

As we read the news, we are once again confronted with an atrocity of wanton murder. The world scrambles to point fingers and find blame targets that fit an ever-changing narrative. Their souls’ pain dizzies the mind to find answers and an easy target, which is easier than wrestling with reality. Today American news will highlight a single clear case of chaos and death but will ignore the terrifying fact that such events are happening all the time around the world. If we knew all the horrendous acts violently committed against people each day, we would be slain with soul-crushing despair. Therefore, we need an explanation bigger than 2021 American society.

Should Christians be shocked that the world is in such shock and awe without proper answers? Or, more pointed, can Christians better understand the darkness in this world today? I believe that we highlighted the answer briefly in last Sunday School Class. Sin is the darkness that has brought despair again. Sin is the target of our problems, and the Bible has an explanation and offers a solution.

On Sunday, we briefly discussed the topic of total depravity. While the term is primed for misunderstanding, it is a constructive and robust doctrine for comfort. Herman Bavinck, a Dutch theologian, writing at the beginning of the 20th century, explains total depravity quite well.

Bavinck acknowledges the term can seem problematic, and it grates against our modern (very American) sensibilities. Bavinck explains that “besides the natural aversion that spontaneously arises in the human heart against the doctrine of the total moral depravity of humans, there is undoubtedly also much incomprehension on the part of its opponents. Certainly, if this doctrine is elucidated, it is daily confirmed by everyone’s experience and vindicated by the witness of its opponents themselves.”. However, rightly understanding, Bavinck explains that total depravity means that sin “holds sway over the whole person, over mind and will, heart and conscience, soul and body, over all one’s capacities and powers. A person’s heart is evil from his or her youth and a source of all sorts of evils (Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Ps. 51:5; Jer. 17:9; Ezek. 36:26; Mark 7:21).”          

The scriptural portrayal of total depravity is NOT that every human is evil to the utmost at all times. It is NOT that humans are as bad as they possibly could be. Nor does it contend that humans are incapable of any good, like a mother loving an infant, a husband caring for a sick spouse, or children sharing toys on a playground, or a stranger being compassionate to a person in need. In the fall of humanity, which resulted in total depravity, we have retained the imprint of God’s image on our souls, mind, reason, conscience, and even our wills. This spark of divine life is continually working to burst through in what can be called common good. However, the reality of the human heart is Romans 3:12-18. It is only by the work of God in the world, continuing to impress upon his image-bearers, that these terrible propensities are suppressed, and we sometimes turn to do common good. Sometimes humans don’t, and we get what we see in the world today.

As a pastor, I want to offer two points. First, you need and will flourish at a church that will discipleship you in the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). We will flounder and be hurt by churches with loosey-goosey standards for leadership and education. We don’t turn to brain surgeons who failed out or thought they were too good to go to school. Likewise, don’t entrust your soul to a church that is only sweet when we are to be salt and light. (I do not have a specific target church in mind.)

Second, when the world and seasons cause pain and hurt, turn to the Bible through prayer to find answers. Bring all your emotions to the throne of God and demand an explanation. The extraordinary comfort to the Christian is when we see or hear of heinous sins globally, we do not have to scramble to perform mental and emotional gymnastics to find a target. We do not need ever-changing scapegoats: guns, lousy childhood, alcohol, drugs, music, video games, Freudian thinking, or any other faddish explanation that only seemingly works in the myopic thinking of the moment. Finger-pointing is something Adam and Eve did, but it too was a lie (Gen 3:10-13).

We are not left struggling to explain the darkness. It is Sin. It is Sin bursting from a sinner’s heart. As Christ explained, it is ‘out of hearts, that come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, theft, murder” and the darkness (Mark 7:21).

The Bible also offers the solution. It is Christ and him Crucified. It is Christ offered to his people to be their Savior. It is the grace of God that changes us and brings our image-bearing to a beautiful life. In summary, Paul says it well in Titus 2:11-14: ‘For the grace of God appears to all people, training us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, so that we may live prudent, righteous, and God-ward lives in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Who gave himself for us so that he could redeem us from all lawlessness and purify for himself a people of belonging, zealous for good” (trans. my own). Pray for God's grace for you, your neighbor, your community.

 

Rev. Dr. Chris S. Stevens

John Knox in Ruston


Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3.120.

Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3.119.

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What is Providence, and why should I care?

What is Providence, and why should I care?

 

The snow and ice in Northern Louisiana are once-in-a-generation event. It is dangerous in many ways. In the south, we lack road salt, plows, snow tires, and the skills to navigate the challenges. However, the snow is also gorgeous to take pictures and enjoy as a child.

 

But can this snowstorm make me think of God’s providence? Yes, I believe it should. I believe Northern Louisiana, especially Ruston, should be filled with awe of God’s providence right now. First, let’s get a simple confession of providence, which the Heidelberg Catechism nicely articulates.

 

Question 27 What is the providence of God?

  Providence is the almighty and everywhere present power of God; whereby with his hand, he upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things come, not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.

 

The above is a helpful definition to memorize, and I especially like the part about herbs and grass. It reminds me that all of creation is dependent upon his fatherly hand. But there are great advantages to knowing, trusting, and confessing providence. Again, Heidelberg Catechism nails it.

 

Question 28 What advantage is there in confessing God’s providence?

That we may be patient in adversity; thankful in prosperity; and hope-filled for the future, as we place our firm trust in our faithful God and Father, that nothing shall separate us from his love; since all creatures are so in his hand, that without his will they cannot so much as move.

 

I have drawn much encouragement on a daily and seasonal basis from this truth. It draws me close to the stories of Joseph, Elijah, Paul, Deborah, Dinah, and many saints now in the cloud of witnesses. But I want to draw it to the weather over the past year.

 

The people of Northern Louisiana have had a strange year in many regards. Two hurricanes following on the heels of a tornado, a snowstorm, and now an ice storm. Wow! Alligators and Southerners aren’t ready for such wind and cold. But notice the order of those events. The ice came after the winds. Christians, that is a great reason to rejoice, and do so deeply with great gratitude. Little ole’ Ruston has fared far better than my home country state of Texas.

 

The power lines of Northern Louisiana were cleared by two hurricanes and many workers on account of those storms. In fact, I would dare say, after conversations around town, the power line lanes are more clear than they have been in years. Thanks be to the Lord. When the ice came, there were far fewer limbs in danger of breaking lines than in previous years. Many homes have already had tree limbs fall or trimmed. Homes and the power grid were providentially prepared. For it is one thing to lose power in the summer and an entirely different one to lose in the winter.

 

Thanks be to the Father who controls the storm, the ice, and seasons. Let us continue to pray for municipal authorities and workers to benefit from God's providence and care.

 

Rev. Dr. Chris S. Stevens

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Rebels and Exiles

Harmon, Matthew S. Rebels and Exiles: A Biblical Theology of Sin and Restoration


Do you ever get lost in the details only to miss the big picture? American Christianity can easily be called a community of verse-ologians. Many people cling to a favorite verse or two but are devoid of knowledge, wisdom, or discernment. This attitude breaks my heart. It robs a person of the abundant life Christ offers (John 10:10). It deprives a person of being equipped to know him, enjoy him, and the avenues of being loved by him. Very sad. Christians need to feel the overarching story of God’s plans and work. We will benefit profoundly from knowing his past works to equip us for the present and future. 

Christians should regularly read the whole Bible to immerse themselves in the grand story. While there is no replacement for regular Bible reading, Harmon offers a great book capturing the big picture. Harmon takes readers on a fast-paced walk through the Bible from Genesis in Revelation in his Rebels and Exiles. Yes, he covers the whole Bible in under 150 pages!

Focusing on the grand narrative through the lens of Rebellion and Exiles, Harmon offers Christians a faith-based reading of the Bible. He dives into the story while also drawing out the ramifications for our faith today. I really like this book as it effortlessly draws on rich theological resources to make an approachable and enjoyable book. Harmon also offers some easy to remember pieces. For instance, what are the core elements of the Abrahamic Covenant? Harmon offers the alliteration of people, place, and presence (p. 20). There are many such helpful features.

So if you need a short book about a big story, check out Harmons’ Rebels and Exiles from the library at John Knox. 


Rev. Dr. Chris S. Stevens

John Knox in Ruston

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Telling a Better Story

Chatraw, Joshua D. Telling a Better Story: How to Talk About God in a Skeptical Age. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2020.


Chatraw is not the first to wrestle with an important issue facing the present church, but he does it in a well-organized and helpful manner. In decades and centuries past, the culture in North America was intellectually amiable to Christianity. It shared common beliefs about life, purpose, and logic. Today the stage is radically different. As Chatraw notes, "Now the cultural narratives that seep into our psyches have changed, and with this shift, what people view as 'common sense' has changed as well. The primary categories assumed in the Christian story are no longer taken for granted. And in many cases, this gospel story is presumed to not only be false but an oppressive leftover from the past" (p. 1). The solution is not brute force or armed revolution. We need to "no longer act like we're living in Christendom" and point the hopeless to a better story filled with hope (p. 13). 


In recent history, apologetics was conducted through rationalistic arguments to win a case. However, while such methods have a place in certain circles, there are at least two significant problems. First, most people don't want to or can't engage in an intellectual debate without anger, frustration, or distraction. This leads to the second problem, Christians need to be reminded that no one gets shouted into the kingdom. As Chatraw argues, "we must habituate ourselves to understand foundational questions and assumptions of life and the human experience not before but instead of jumping into 'winner take all' arguments" (p. 41). Most people are also not walking around contemplating the origins of the universe, Hawking radiation, or the Hadron collider. 

Most are trying to remember their grocery list, what to post on social media, and why no one really cares about them.


We are still humans, and humans create (spin?) stories to teach and entertain. The popularity of Netflix only highlights this fact. But the stories being peddled today are leaving people empty and aimless. There is a correlation between entertaining ourselves only with cotton candy for the brain and increasing depression and suicide rates. What is a way forward? 

         The goal of loving our neighbors is to glorify God by providing hope beyond consumerism and moralism's empty payoffs. The goal is to point them to Christ. Chatraw offers the simple steps (p. 70)

Inside their story:

         - what can I affirm?

         - what must I challenge? 

         - Where does their story lead, and is it consistent?

Outside themselves to Jesus:

         - How are they borrowing capital from the Christian hope?

         - How is the Christian story better news for them?


I like Chatraw's book and recommend it to all who are wondering how to love their neighbors. His approach and thinking align with two of my current go-to phrases. First, we need to remember empathy and sympathy before advocacy. We need to hear and hurt with the broken before we really appreciate how to point to Christ rightly. Second, we need to pray that Christ performs soul-therapy to those led astray by harmful passions and false pictures of happiness. 



Rev. Dr. Chris S. Stevens

John Knox in Ruston

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The OT in 7 Sentences? Really?

Wright, Christopher J. H. The Old Testament in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic


The Old Testament is a big book by any means of measuring. The Christian Bible is about 77% Old Testament. It is nearly 900 pages in a thin-line Bible, and in a study Bible is over 1500. But more than page count, the OT (Old Testament, Hebrew Bible, First Testament, etc.) is immense in content, covenants, and theological texture. It can feel foreign, overwhelming, and disorienting. The cultural distance from 2021 to the days of Moses is often discouraging to modern Christians trying to read it. Add to it the contemporary (very modern) idea of ignoring the OT, and it is little surprise that many Christians ignore it at best and are ignorant of it at worst. 


What if there was a book that helped Christians get the big-picture without sacrificing the richness of God’s word? What if I said that such a book could be funny, insightful, approachable, and by a reliable scholar? Well, Christopher Wright has done just that. I think he has written the best introduction to the story of the OT. Period. I have read many books on the OT and many introductions to the OT. But Wright’s is by far my new favorite.  


Wright draws readers into God’s great story without falling into the Charybdis of pedantic details or the Scylla of watering down the message. Wrights easily brings readers into the wonderment “that is essentially what the Old Testament (and indeed the whole Bible) is—the great story of the universe” (p. 2). This wonderment is often lost on readers and books who focus on a particular theme, be it covenant, canon, creation, redemptive history, prophetic background, or otherwise. Wright explains well why the big story is essential:


“it keeps us attached to the way God has chosen to give us the Bible itself—not merely as a book full of promises, rules, or doctrines (there are plenty of these in the Bible, but these are not what the Bible actually is), but in the form of a grand narrative with a beginning and an ending (actually a new beginning) and the whole redemptive plot in the middle … it shows us just how important the Old Testament is and how utterly wrong, misleading, and dangerous are those who tell Christians that they can happily ditch the Old Testament. This idea, which has become popular again (partly through sheer ignorance of the Bible and partly because of some high-profile preachers saying so)” (p. 6).


As a pastor, I highly recommend Seven Sentences. The flow of the writing is excellent, and the message is remarkable. It teaches the OT in ways that I believe it was intended to be taught and is much needed today. Let me end with one more great line. Wright rightly claims, “Looking at the Bible, we could say that Genesis 12–Revelation 22 is God’s long answer to the question set in Genesis 1–11: What can God do about the brokenness of humanity, the earth, and the nations?” (p. 35). If you want God's answer to that question and many more, you need the OT.


Rev. Dr. Chris S. Stevens

John Knox in Ruston

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Anger Much?

Welch, Edward T. A Small Book About a Big Problem: Meditations on Anger, Patience, and Peace. Greensboro, NC: New Growth, 2017.



John Owen is often cited for an essential point about the Christian life, ‘be killing sin, or sin be killing you.’ Christians are to be active and zealous for their growth and maturity, as Paul says, ‘work forward your salvation with fear (of God) and trembling’ (Phil 2:12). One besetting sin that many continue to struggle with is the problem of not being all-powerful demi-gods. We struggle against a world that does not work according to our desires and with people who do not bow to our every whim. In short, we are a people filled with the poison of anger. 

      Ed Welch offers a great little devotional entitled, A Small Book about a Big Problem. I found the book to be an excellent book in every regard. It is a biblically rich, readable, and reliable resource. But I do offer a warning; it is convicting. No reader escapes seeing the scriptures as highlighting their sins and needs for repentance and grace. 

Let me offer just one example. On Day 5 of the 50-day devotional, Welch brings up the matter of murder. No, not murder in physical space, but with our hearts, minds, and tongues. Welch cites the sage wisdom of Prov 12:18: “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” How many times have we torn down neighbors, friends, spouses, and children by rash words that function as sword thrusts to the heart? There are many (MANY) times we wish we could take back the words that crossed our lips, leaped across the room, only to crash down on others. Our tongues are like flaming arrows that shoot others down (James 3:6-16) instead of praising our great God. This manner of life stems from a heart poisoned with unrighteous anger.

      Welch’s 50-day devotional journeys through the sources of our sinful anger and offers resources for repentance, healing, and change. The main lesson I come away with is that I need to reflect and be ever mindful of my failings, see how Christ forgives me, and then ‘exegete*’ the mind of Christ that gives the gift of grace to me (Phil 2:5, 12). I need to bring out Christ’s work by living a cruciform life. M personal anger is antithetical to the humility and work of Christ, the grace of God poured daily on me, and the debt of love I owe to others (Rom 14:8).

      Anger much? Don’t be a slave to sinful passions, but turn to Christ in the hope-filled expectation of healing.



*exegete- to bring out embedded wisdom and truth. To live by exegeting the mind of Christ is to know his work and be conformed to it, i.e., to live cruciform lives.



Rev. Dr. Chris S. Stevens

John Knox in Ruston

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Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World by Tom Holland

 Tom Holland is famous for writing large volumes on history in an age when many people do not read big books or care (ignorant?) about anything before the invention of Facebook. Despite such trends, Holland has found a strong following. In his newest volume, Dominion, Holland covers about three millennia in an engaging style. His thesis and aim catch the eye of any cultural analyst and Christian who likes to read. The premise is that “Time itself has been Christianised,” therefore, Holland’s “ambition is hubristic enough as it is: to explore how we in the West came to be what we are, and to think the way we do” (p. 12). In short, the book attempts to trace the influence Christianity had on Western thought and its embeddedness in Western societal structures.

      I found Holland’s writing very well-researched, engaging, at times humorous, and despite being 543 pages of material, to be a page-turner. While not my favorite style, he writes in circular patterns to display the interconnectedness of events and movements. For those who do not like dull history books, you will find the writing style enjoyable and informative. I want to offer two points; one is the reason for my enjoying the book, and the other is my critic.

      On a positive note, I like many parts of the book. I like that there appears to be an audience in the world that still cares to hear about Christian history. As a Christian with a history degree and serving in scholarly engagement, the book hits a sweet spot for me. But more importantly, I like how Holland looks at Christian history with a different lens than those from within the guild of Theological Studies or as a church historian. He portrays events more bluntly, which I find refreshing. For instance, he colorfully highlights the irony of Roman Catholicism’s tyranny against any who infringed on her authority. Holland says, “Such exclusivity was sternly guarded. Those who disturbed it, and refused to repent, might expect to be silenced, expelled or put to death. A Church that worshipped a God executed by heedless authorities presided over what has aptly been termed ‘a persecuting society’” (p. 11). Holland continues to make pointed and unique observations through the middle-ages, the Reformation, Enlightenment, the rise of modern science, Marx, Lenin and John Lennon, and right up to Pulp Fiction and Donald Trump. Many readers will find lots of facets of the story to enjoy.

       On the flip side, as a Christian pastor-scholar, I was often curious precisely Holland meant by describing something as being very much in the vein of Christianity. For instance, to place Voltaire, the Quakers, the Collegiants, and Spinoza in the same stream as Constantine, John Paul, and Luther does seem rather odd. However, Holland does attempt to make his case that “Voltaire’s dream of a brotherhood of man, even as it cast Christianity as something factious, parochial, murderous, could not help but betray its Christian roots” (p. 392). Holland sees Marx, Lenin, and Lennon as having similar paradoxical roots as Voltaire. To be sure, Holland is not claiming people or movements were Christian, but that what was driving them was the spirit (Geist) of Christianity. 

      In short, what Holland sees as an essential spirit--not Holy Spirit-- of Christianity is an engine for change. For Holland, Christianity functions as a means to criticize the perceived wrongs of society and recast the way society should evolve. However, Holland betrays that his version of Christianity is not the one faith proclaimed around the world for two millennia, but the version of Christianity known in America as Modern Liberalism (note the capitalization). Modern Liberalism attempts to address the felt needs of the present moment with the elements of Jesus believed to be most applicable to evoke change, but it often lacks roots or long-term direction.

      As a Christian pastor, I do not participate in this version of Christianity. While I agree that Christians should call out the ills of society and spread a message of change, it is not a wild free for all to address felt needs. Instead, Biblical Christianity is anchored in the covenant document of the one God who rules over all time and place. The document of the scriptures is a rule-governed basis for Christian thought and practice. It is broad and deep enough to be applicable in different times and places, but there is still a clearly defined basis. Therefore, Biblically-based Christianity can say that Spinoza and Voltaire were not developing in a Christian vein, even if they were influenced by Christianity. Holland’s approach neuters the capacity of Christianity to determine if something is wrong or right, or in other words, if something is orthodox and orthopraxis or not.

      As Christians called to discern rightly, we need to read and think deeply about what is claimed to be a ‘Christian thing.’ We need to think deeply about what it means to change the world, be in the world, and be against the world. These are different things, and Christians are called to engage in all three in different ways.  

In conclusion, I think folks in my circles will enjoy Dominion. They will enjoy reading one perspective on the history of Christianity, even if we may demure if it is authentic Christianity or not.


Rev. Dr. Chris S. Stevens

John Knox in Ruston

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Work Matters

The very notion of work is something that tires Americans. The morning trudge to work is undoubtedly not something that brightens the morning for most people. There are certainly a few matters at play but bearing it with an insufferable attitude is not an appropriate Christian response. After reading Tom Nelson’s light read, Work Matters, I wanted to provide a few briefs thoughts to encourage us to have a better biblical perspective on work.

First, scripture explains our current condition. Reading Genesis 1-3, we find humans were crafted and designed in a manner to work. In the beginning, humans were assigned a profitable workload. Working and keeping the Garden-Temple of God’s holy presence was intrinsically valuable, and the reward of spending time in God’s presence would have been exhilarating. However, the consequences of sin were damaging. Adam and Eve were told at least three consequences: a) being driven from God’s presence robbed us of our daily reward; b) our labors will be toilsome (i.e., thorns and thistles); our labor lost a lot of its intrinsic value as we are striving not for holy presence but daily sustenance.

Second, people do not live for bread (i.e., things of the world), but to commune with God (Matt 4:4). If we think biblically about having j-o-b-s, we find work has value. While that value is not equal to guarding and keeping the holy Garden-Temple, it is valuable. We work not only to have stuff (truck, boat, books, etc.), but more importantly, to provide (food, shelter, education, etc.). Parents work to provide for children and for their own needs (2 Thess 3:12). All Christians work to provide for the outposts of heaven to shine a heavenly light into darkness, aka., the local church. Work has value because it is an instrument to an end, and it also provides a place to carry out a more profound office.

Third, all Christians have the role of the office of believer. We carry this office out in every sphere we live and serve. Having a secular job gives a Christian permission to bring love, mercy, and the gospel into places outside of the church building. As a pastor, I can’t just walk into any workplace, but the Messianic Kingdom Participants who work there do.

Nelson has a good quote, “a proper biblical understanding is that all Christians are called to ‘full-time Christian work,’ doing good work well for the glory of God, regardless of their specific vocation” (p. 45). I think Nelson offers a good reminder. Ultimately, we should consciously be mindful that we take God’s work with us everywhere we go, including our secular vocations.

Fourth, you might not be preaching the gospel during a coffee break, but your conduct at work reflects poorly or appropriately on Christ. If you are an insufferable human, the boss is trying to fire because no one wants to be around, I bet your pastor doesn’t want you to pass our church fliers. But if you are a quality worker, marked by the fruits of the spirit, please pass out fliers for John Knox! A Christian who works with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control is a blessing to the work environment and a positive reflection on Christ and his church (Gal 5:22-23). Likewise, the willingness to apologize when imperfect in these fruits at work also reflects well on Christ.

Fifth, work has a positive end for the world. Martin Luther contended that ‘God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does.’ Work that is not sinful is good for society. Remember that when God’s people were in Babylonian exile, he told them, ‘build houses … plant gardens … have sons and daughters … Pursue the well-being of the city; Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it thrives, you thrive” (Jer 29:5-7). Our good labor is good for society.

So tomorrow, and the next day, when the alarm goes off, know that your work has value both for the present felt needs and for longer-term purposes. If you struggle with work, then give Work Matters a quick glance to encourage you.

 


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