Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Anglicans Ablaze New Year's Eve Special Edition: December 31, 2014

In this New Year's Eve special edition of Anglicans Ablaze:
The next posting on Anglicans Ablaze will be on Friday, January 2, 2015, the day after New Year's Day.

May you have a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year.

Salvation and the Mission of God: John Hammett Part 2

In part two of his thoughts on salvation, Dr. John Hammett focuses on evangelism and ministry.

Salvation and Evangelism

One’s view on the order of salvation should not affect how evangelism is done, or at least not much. A more Arminian order of salvation may give an added urgency to how we do evangelism, and a more Calvinistic order in which one affirms unconditional election and regeneration prior to faith may give added confidence, in that we trust God more than our evangelistic skill or ability to produce the response. But both approaches should urgently seek the lost, and both sides should trust God to bring people to faith.

Compromise and Cooperation
I would say, compromise and cooperation are not mutually exclusive. But I think involvement in any cooperative enterprise that required one to deny the uniqueness of Christ or the necessity of repentance and faith would be a disastrous compromise of a theological essential. But on the matters discussed here, I think I could cooperate with those of a different view on the order of salvation or the extent of the atonement in most situations. I could cooperate even if one requirement was to keep silent on issues like order of salvation or extent of the atonement, because some ministries are not designed to engage such topics. Read more

Justification by Faith NOT Faithfulness

The Australian Church Record has published the latest essay by Rev. Matt Olliffe concerning the nature of justification by faith alone.

From the essay:
‘It is difficult to determine what Dr Bird thinks justifying faith – meaning the aspect of faith that justifies, rather than what justifying faith also entails – actually is, given that he does not spell out a careful definition in his blogpiece. As stated above, in addition to the possibility that Dr Bird does not understand the difference between ‘passive assent’ and ‘fiduciary faith’, it may be that Dr Bird believes that I should include in the aspect of faith that justifies, obedience, faithfulness and love. It is difficult to understand what Dr Bird means by speaking of ‘the organic unity of faith-faithfulness-obedience’. Does that mean that ‘faithfulness’ and ‘obedience’ justify, because faith includes within it faithfulness and obedience? Or is it still only fiduciary faith that justifies, but that such faith always produces faithfulness, obedience and love?’
Also from the essay:
‘… fiduciary faith produces and results in repentance, dread, love, faithfulness and good works. But these fruits of faith must not be included in the justifying aspect of faith. In this way, faith remains the sole instrumentality for justification, in the way the hymn describes, ‘Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling’.
Download the entire essay here as a 0.28 MB file.
Originally posted on the Australian Church Record website.

From 3 of the Top 5 Posts of 2014

The Most Common Factor in Declining Churches

In Wednesday’s post, I focused on seven very practical habits of churches that have an outward focus. I am honored and humbled to be in a place where I get to hear from and study about thousands of churches. The leaders and congregants in those churches provide me with incredible information and data. I am grateful, because I’m not smart enough to understand these issues on my own.

As God has allowed me to study congregations for more than 25 years, I began to see a common pattern in churches that had become outwardly focused. You read some of the practical steps these churches have taken in the earlier post. Read more

Top Ten Ways Churches Drive Away First-time Guests

If you attend a church regularly, you’ve probably noticed the phenomenon. A guest shows up for a worship service, but he or she never returns. It is, unfortunately, a common issue in many churches.

I did a Twitter poll to ask these first-time guests why they chose not to return to a particular church. While some of the responses were anticipated, I admit being a bit surprised with some of them.

Though my poll is not scientific, it is nevertheless fascinating. Here are the top ten responses in order of frequency. Read more

What Worship Style Attracts the Millennials?

My son, Jess Rainer, and I recently spoke in Texas on the topic of the Millennials, America’s largest generation of nearly 79 million persons. Because we co-authored a book entitled The Millennials, we have had the opportunity to speak on the subject on many occasions.

We reminded this audience in Dallas of the birth dates of this generation, 1980 to 2000, and then proceeded to share our research. We had commissioned LifeWay Research to survey 1,200 of the older Millennials; the researchers did an outstanding job. We have thus been able to share incredible amounts of data and insights from these young adults. Read more

From New Small Church: Best of 2014: My Church Is an Endangered Species -- Unless....

My church’s days are numbered.

Churches like mine will not last into the next generation.

At least not looking the way we look today.

There’s a cultural and financial storm underway. Unless we anticipate, acknowledge and respond well to it, churches like mine will be about as rare as printed newspapers, land-line phones and brick-and-mortar bookstores.

So, what do I mean by “churches like mine”? First, here’s what I don’t mean. Read more

Photo: David Chanatry, New York Reporting Project, Utica College

New Year's Resolutions, New Habits, Life Vision Statements, and Simple, Achievable Life Plans: Five Articles

4 New Year’s Resolutions You Should Consider!

It’s inevitable and universal, as soon as Christmas winds down and December 31 appears on our phones, we all face a new year with new opportunities. Many are resolving to lose weight or gain greater income or set some other goal, typically requiring will power and time management skills — both of which often fade within a few weeks.

If God were writing our resolutions, what do you think He would come up with?

I think God wants us to make “time for a change.” Read more

How To Make A New Year's Resolution That Sticks

We have all heard the statistics: 50% of people make some kind of new year’s resolution, but 88% of those resolutions ultimately fail. That is more than a little discouraging. But I still believe in new year’s resolutions. I believe in them as a convenient opportunity to evaluate life and to make choices about living life better. I have done a fair bit of reading on how to make resolutions work, and it turns out that though there are many reasons your resolutions may not work, the most common ones are easy enough to avoid. Here are some tips on making wise resolutions and on making them stick. Read more

Don't Just Make a Resolution--Make a Habit

Making New Years' resolution is one of my favorite end-of-year activities. Every year I'm encouraged by the idea that in a mere 12 months I will have become a (marginally) better person. But every year I'm unable to keep the resolve in my resolutions for more than a few months. I've tried to be more persistent (Resolution #12 - 1988), develop more willpower (Resolution #9 - 1993), and even "resolved" to keep my resolutions (Resolution #1 - 1998). Nothing ever seems to be effective.

This year I'm trying something different. Instead of just making new resolutions, I intend to make new habits. Read more

Crafting a Life Vision Statement

Prepare for the new year with a time of reflection.

As we approach a new year, it is a great time for reflecting on what God has done, is doing, and wants to do in and through us. Over the past few years, I have used a life vision statement as a tool to help me think through what I believe God is asking me to do in my life.

Let’s walk through five questions to craft a vision statement for your life. To help you with this exercise, I will use my life’s vision statement as a template for you to follow. Take time to think about your own answers. As you respond to the questions, also ask yourself, “Is this what God would want for my life? Is this why God made me and put me here?” Read more

5 Step Process to Write a Simple, but Achievable Life Plan

Here’s a simple, step-by-step process to writing a life plan. If you don’t know me, you wouldn’t know that I prefer simple. If it’s complicated or too involved, I’ll opt out quickly. That’s my goal here.

(I actually wrote these posts several years ago and I’ve not updated them — just this summary page. If you find any links that don’t work, let me know.)

I’m praying God allows many of us to realize dreams and goals we never thought possible. Read more

5 Simple But Powerful Ways to Accomplish Far More in 2015

Did you get everything done you wanted to get done this year?

Probably not. Who did?

Making a bigger list probably isn’t going to help you get more done. Often, putting more on your list just leaves you feeling more frustrated.

What most of us need is a new strategy.

Here are 5 things I’ve found have helped me and other leaders get ahead. Read more

CNLP 016: How Anyone Can Become a Better Communicator — An Interview With Jeff Henderson [Podcast]

Can anyone become a better communicator?

Jeff Henderson thinks so.

Whether you speak every weekend or are simply trying to improve your presentations in the boardroom, Jeff shares what will kill your next presentations or talk and what will make it great. Read more

How not to read the Bible in 2015

When it comes to daily (or not-so-daily) Bible reading, January 1 can be a welcome arrival. A new year signals a new start. You’re motivated to freshly commit to what you know is of indispensable importance: the Word of God. Yet this isn’t the first time you’ve felt this way. You were entertaining pretty similar thoughts 365 days ago. And 365 days before that. And 365 days . . . you know how it goes. So what’s going to make 2015 different? What, under God, will keep you plodding along in April this year when staying power has generally vanished in Aprils of yore? From one stumbling pilgrim to another, here are five suggestions for what not to do in 2015. Read more

Albert Mohler: Newsweek on the Bible — So Misrepresented It’s a Sin

Newsweek magazine decided to greet the start of 2015 with a massive cover story on the Bible. For decades now, major news magazines have tended to feature cover articles timed for Christmas and Easter, taking an opportunity to consider some major question about Christianity and the modern world. Leading the journalistic pack for years, both TIME and Newsweek dedicated cover article after article, following a rather predictable format. In the main, scholars or leaders from very liberal quarters commented side-by-side those committed to historic Christianity on questions ranging from the virgin birth to the resurrection of Christ.

When written by journalists like Newsweek‘s former editor Jon Meacham or TIME reporters such as David Van Biema, the articles were often balanced and genuinely insightful. Meacham and Van Biema knew the difference between theological liberals and theological conservatives and they were determined to let both sides speak. I was interviewed several times by both writers, along with others from both magazines. I may not have liked the final version of the article in some cases, but I was treated fairly and with journalistic integrity.

So, when Newsweek, now back in print under new ownership, let loose its first issue of the New Year on the Bible, I held out the hope that the article would be fair, journalistically credible, and interesting, even if written from a more liberal perspective.

But Newsweek‘s cover story is nothing of the sort. It is an irresponsible screed of post-Christian invective leveled against the Bible and, even more to the point, against evangelical Christianity. It is one of the most irresponsible articles ever to appear in a journalistic guise. Read more

A Christmas Gift from the Mainstream Media: Newsweek Takes a Desperate Swipe at the Integrity of the Bible (Part 2)

On Christmas Eve, I wrote part one of my review of Kurt Eichenwald’s piece (see here), and highlighted not only the substantive and inexcusable litany of historical mistakes, but also the overly pejorative and one-sided portrait of Bible-believing Christians. The review was shared by a number of other evangelical sites and thinkers—including the Gospel Coalition, Tim Challies, Denny Burk, Michael Brown, and others—and ever since I have been digging out from under the pile of comments. I appreciate that even Kurt Eichenwald joined the discussion in the comments section.

But the problems in the original Newsweek article were so extensive that I could not cover them in a single post. So, now I offer a second (and hopefully final) installment. Read more

Addressing the Vital Doctrine of Scripture

In various quarters and in myriad ways the Scriptures are being questioned, undermined, reinterpreted, and denied. Many desire to update the Bible to ensure its truth and teachings remain relevant. But to update the Scriptures to ensure they speak “truth” is to step away from the God's authoritative Word.

This assault on God's Word was at the heart of the initial temptation of Satan in Eden, when the serpent asked his question: “Did God actually say?” (Gen. 3:1). This question was the means by which Satan sowed seeds of doubt in the minds and hearts of Adam and Eve. Read more

10 Simple Things You Can Start Doing to Build a Thriving Small Group Ministry

While there is definitely a list of complicated things you can start doing to build a thriving small group ministry, there is a list of simple things you can start doing.

It’s important to remember that simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy. Easy is the opposite of hard or challenging. Simple things are uncomplicated. They can be done without a lot of prerequisite steps. All of us have complicated things that need doing. I call it “joining a game of pick-up-sticks in progress.”

What we’re talking about today are simple, uncomplicated, no excuses things you can start doing to build a thriving small group ministry. Read more

Book Review: Roman Catholic Theology and Practice

Gregg R. Allison. Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. 496 pps. $28.00.

Since Gerrit Berkouwer’s The Conflict with Rome (1948) and Loraine Boettner’s Roman Catholicism (1962), evangelical theology has been lacking a thorough assessment of Roman Catholicism that penetrates the real theological issues at stake. There has been little work on the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), and many evangelicals don’t have the tools to theologically grasp what happened then and how it has been affecting the Roman Church since. Growing numbers of people are impressed by the aggiornamento (update of language and expressions without substantial change) taking place in Rome and are asking whether or not the Reformation is definitely over. Most of these analyses are based on a pick-and-choose approach to Roman Catholicism. Bits of its theology, fragments of its practice, pieces of its history, and sectors of its universe are considered as representing the whole of Roman Catholicism. But when the big picture of the Roman Catholic theological cathedral is lost, interpretations become superficial and patchy.

Gregg Allison’s new book is good news to all who have long desired a reliable theological guide in dealing with Roman Catholicism. Based on a painstaking analysis of the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, it covers the all-embracing trajectory of Roman Catholic theology and practice. Instead of juxtaposing ephemeral impressions and disconnected data, the professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary in Louisville provides a theological framework that accounts for the complexity of the Roman Catholic system and its dynamic unity. Read more

Human Trafficking Prevention Month: Christian Organization Says Sex Slavery Can Happen to Anyone; Some Girls Hold Master's Degrees

A Christian organization that runs a restorative shelter program in the U.S. for women recovering from domestic human trafficking has pointed out ahead of National Human Trafficking Prevention month in January that anyone can be pulled into sex trafficking — its shelter has girls with master's degrees, and those that come from affluent families. The Samaritan Women organization urges churches to offer hands-on engagement and respond not with judgment, but with compassion toward victims.

The Samaritan Women is one if the organizations that appears in the newly released documentary "In Plain Sight," which seeks to raise awareness for National Human Trafficking Prevention month in January.

Jeanne Allert, the group's founder and executive director, told The Christian Post in a phone interview that people often have misconceptions about people who fall into human trafficking, and argued that it can happen to anybody. Read more

How to Host a Screening of 'In Plain Sight'

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

When Someone Mystery-Worships Your Church

A number of years ago, a college classmate contacted me to see if I would be willing to serve as a mystery-shopper for Seiko watches. His marketing firm had with a contract to see that salespeople in jewelry stores put Seiko ahead of the competition. So, I would enter a store and tell the clerk “I’m looking for a man’s watch in a medium price range.” If I was taken immediately to the Seiko display, I’d say, “Congratulations. I’m the Seiko mystery shopper and you just won 10 dollars.” (This was back with 10 dollars was maybe 25.) Then, I’d get their signature and fill out a report. For each store, I was paid 5 dollars.

Mostly I did it for the fun of it.

A few weeks ago, when we mentioned mystery worshipers on this website, a number of readers wondered if I had a list of questions for people enlisted for this role. I didn’t.

But now I do. Read more

Planting a Church? Plant a Teaching Hospital

That phrase – “teaching hospital” – jumped out at me during a recent conversation with Geoff Surratt, Pastor of Church Planting at Saddleback Church. As we discussed the vision of Grace Hills Church over lunch, Geoff helped me put words to the burden I kept feeling to plant more than a church – to plant a multiplying movement of reproducing churches.

I believe in church planting. I believe that the local church is supposed to multiply itself, birthing daughter churches, and that this is not only biblically mandated, but a highly practical way to expand the kingdom of God in our culture. America has seen well over 1,000 new megachurches spring up the last decade, and our actual transforming impact upon America is often difficult to spot. We need more churches. Why? Read more

See also
5 Reasons to Partner With a New Church Plant
Dear Church… Go And Multiply
Planting New Gospel Churches

How Do You Make a Biblical Case for the Trinity? [Video]

Brett Kunkle explains how to make a biblical case for the Trinity. Watch now

5 Steps to Be a Better Listener — And Improve Every Relationship in Your Life

Do you want to improve the relationships of your life?

Tremendously improve them. Every. Single. One.

Whether in business, ministry, marriage or friendships – improve in this one area — and every relationship of your life will improve. Guaranteed.

How, you ask?

I’ll tell you how. Read more

Hindutva Demands Bubble Over into Indian Politics

Hanuman the Monkey God from the Hindu epic Ramanyana
In small-town northern India, Muslims are offered food and money to convert to Hinduism. If that doesn't suffice, they say they're threatened. Across the country, the Christmas holiday is canceled for hundreds of government servants who spend the day publicly extolling the policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Powerful Hindu nationalist leaders — some with close ties to Modi's government — say they intend to ensure India becomes a completely Hindu nation.

But Modi himself? He has remained silent as nationalist demands have bubbled over into day-to-day politics, and amid growing fears among minority religious groups of creeping efforts to shunt them aside.

"We told him we feel insecure and fearful," said the Rev. Dominic Emmanuel, a Roman Catholic priest who was in a delegation of religious leaders who met a few days ago with Modi. "We told him, 'If there were just two words from your side, prime minister, we would feel so much better.'" But according to Emmanuel, Modi dismissed the fears as media exaggeration and told the group it wasn't his role to weigh in on every issue. Read more

See also
Uneasy Christmas for India's Christians
Vishva Hindu Parishad
How movies embraced Hinduism (without you even noticing)

Ganesha the Hindu Elephant God

'This Is Insane' — US Yazidi Activist, NYC Pastor Describe 'Genocidal' Atrocities Committed by ISIS in Iraq (Photos)

A New York City pastor and Texas-based Yazidi activist who flew to Iraq the week before Christmas to assess the humanitarian needs of displaced Yazidis persecuted by the Islamic State have called the present situation of more than 300,000 refugees "genocidal" and "insane."

William Devlin and Murad Ismael connected via phone with a radio show in New York City live from Iraq just days before Christmas to describe the living conditions of distraught Yazidis staying at several refugee camps in Dohak in Kurdistan, in northern Iraq.

"There is no help, absolutely no help has been provided to women who have escaped from ISIS," Ismael, the Texas-based Yazidi activist, told the John Batchelor Show as he spoke, he said, while standing among impoverished children in one camp. Read more

Displaced Iraqi Christians Ponder an Iraq without Christians

A priest conducts mass for displaced people in office complex in Erbil, Iraq

Wait out the bloodbath and return home, or end the church’s historic presence?

As he drove across the bridge, slowly following other cars, the scene unfolding around the pastor was complete chaos.

In the distance he could hear mortar rounds hitting their targets as hundreds of other displaced people streamed by one side of his car with whatever they could carry on their backs and hold in their arms. On the other side, terrified Iraqi soldiers were sprinting across the bridge as they stripped off their uniforms and threw their weapons to the ground.

The Islamic State (ISIS) had taken Mosul, and everyone was fleeing for their lives.

Inside the car, the pastor’s two sons were lying flat on the backseat to avoid being shot. As alternating waves of anger, fear and grief swept over him, the pastor drove on, clutching the steering wheel of his car, tears streaming down his face.

“That night was the most afraid I have ever been in my life,” said the pastor, whose name is withheld for security reasons. “Even now when I remember it, I think, ‘How did I do it?’ Only with the Lord, with His help.” Read more

Photo: Morning Star News

Monday, December 29, 2014

Anglicans Ablaze Monday Special Edition: December 29, 2014

In this Monday special edition of Anglicans Ablaze:
As we head into a new year, let us keep our our eyes and most importantly our hearts open for the opportunities that God is going to give us to spread the Gospel and to reach and engage unchurched people in the new year. 

The Spiritual Openness of the Younger Unchurched

What's the status of the church and how might we share the gospel in this time?

There's an idea that Christianity in America is dying. No serious researcher—not one—thinks that. However, I still am surprised that some people think this. (For a quick analysis, see this article.)

Facts are our friends, in this and in every situation, and what do the facts really show about the situation? Read more

What to Do When Your Church Seems to Be Dying

No church leader I know wants to see another church close its doors. We need every local church, now more than ever, if we’re going to fulfill the Great Commission as soon as possible. I’m a Baptist who still believes in the perpetuity of biblical, local New Testament churches until Jesus comes again. But each local church in history has tended to have its own life cycle. Some are revived and have a whole new life. Others disband and dissolve. And many churches limp along in mere survival mode for a couple of decades until their stalwart generation is gone and then close their doors.

Here’s a hard truth. Sometimes, churches need to die. Sometimes, churches need a miraculous healing and fresh breath of life. God is certainly in the miracle-working business and is alive and well on His throne, but under His sovereign reign, history proves that miracles aren’t always in order from His perspective.

If you think your church might be dying, here are some possible next moves. Read more

See also
Some Churches Should Die and Stay Dead

Pictured: Temple Baptist Church in Sarnia, Ontario – a healthy turn-around church.

Best of 2014: Wanted – New Church Methods for New Church People

There’s nothing wrong with traditional methods of doing church. As long as you want to minister to traditional church members.

People who like traditional styles of church (whatever yours may be) need places to worship, learn and be discipled. Too many of them have felt overlooked, even ridiculed, in recent years as many churches have rushed to make changes.


The traditional church member is dying out.


If we truly want to change the world with the Gospel of Jesus, that is less likely to be done using traditional church methods with every passing year. Read more

See also
How to keep your church young and growing

Is Your Church Functionally Liberal?

“It is one thing to hear God’s Word. It is another to fear it, heeding all God’s warnings, trusting all God’s promises, and obeying all God’s commands.”

Philip Graham Ryken, Jeremiah and Lamentations (Wheaton, 2001), page 551.

The liberal churches I’ve known are not openly hostile to the Bible. They like the Bible. They want their preacher to use the Bible. They have home Bible studies. What makes them “liberal” is that the Bible alone is not what rules them. They allow into their doctrine, their ethos, their decisions, other complicating factors. The Bible is revered, in a way. But it is not the decisive factor. It is only one voice among others. Read more
A number of churches and clergy in the Anglican Church in North America and the Continuing Anglican jurisdictions are classifiable as "liberal" in this sense. They do not fully accept the Bible as canon, that is, as their functional rule of faith and life. 

What Is Your Bible-Reading Plan for 2015?

Tis the season to think about next season. As 2014 draws to a close, our thoughts begin to turn to the new year. Whenever I consider a new year, I think of how I will approach another 365 daily devotions. At this point I am still undecided. There are so many good ways to read the Bible and each one seems better than the last. While I think and pray about it, I thought I’d share what I have found so far.

Here is a round-up of some of the ways you can read the Bible in 2015. Read more

What Kind of Thing Is the Bible? 6 Theses

Sometimes it’s helpful to state the obvious—to step back and remind ourselves of the forest so that we don’t get lost in all the trees. Within academia, hyper-specialization and the tyranny of the pedantic often obscure the obvious; within our everyday life, routine and the tyranny of the mundane often veil the obvious. So we need continual reminders of the obvious—not only in our relationships and everyday life, and also in our theology and spiritual life.

Here I list 6 evangelical theses about the Bible in the spirit of “naming the obvious,” with an implication for each one for how we read and/or preach the Bible. My hope is these might be helpful for those of us choosing and starting in on some kind of Bible reading plan for 2015. What kind of a thing are we planning to read? What is the forest we are about to enter? Read more

Some things the New Testament does not tell us

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable….that the man of God may be complete” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Those who demand a Scripture verse for everything they do place an intolerable burden on the Christian life never intended by the Heavenly Father.

Some among us have all the answers about the Christian life and have solved all the mysteries of doctrine and theology.

Is there a verse of Scripture on that?

Stay tuned. Read more

See also
Does it matter if the pastor is not a tither?
How to teach people to tithe (and why some will resent it)

Don’t Get Too Familiar with the Bible

Beware the deceptive wiles of familiarity — that sweet but double-edged virtue that makes you feel at home in the word of God. Familiarity of the tender variety persists in reminding you of the gospel and deepening your communion with Christ. But if you’re not careful, cold-hearted familiarity will betray you with kisses, poison your wineglass, and watch impassively while your life slips steadily away. You might not even realize it’s happening.

Unexamined familiarity will prevent you from looking at the Book. Because such familiarity crowds out curiosity, it imperceptibly stiffens necks, hardens hearts, and deafens ears. Familiarity may lead us to assume things that are not in the text, and it may blind us to things that are. Read more

Predictable Christmas fare: Newsweek’s Tirade against the Bible

Every year, at Christmas and Easter, several major magazines, television programs, news agencies, and publishing houses love to rattle the faith of Christians by proclaiming loudly and obnoxiously that there are contradictions in the Bible, that Jesus was not conceived by a virgin, that he did not rise from the dead, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. The day before Christmas eve (23 December 2014), Newsweek published a lengthy article by Kurt Eichenwald entitled, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin.” Although the author claims that he is not promoting any particular theology, this wears thin. Eichenwald makes so many outrageous claims, based on a rather slender list of named scholars (three, to be exact), that one has to wonder how this ever passed any editorial review.

My PDF of this article runs 34 pages (!) before the hundreds of comments that are appended. Consequently, I don’t have space to critique everything that is wrong in this article. Just a few comments will have to suffice. But first, I wish to offer it some praise: It’s fair game to raise questions about the Bible’s accuracy concerning sin, salvation, miracles, Jesus, etc. It’s fair game precisely because the Bible makes audacious claims that, if true, change everything. And it’s fair game because the Bible places these claims in history. Indeed, the Bible is the only major sacred text that subjects itself to historical verification. It’s the only major sacred text that puts itself at risk. And Jesus is at the center of those claims and that risk. It’s not the questions that I’m concerned about in Eichenwald’s essay; rather, it’s the rather conservative and self-contradictory approach to the answers that are problematic. Conservative? Yes—methodologically so, although not materially so. That is, Eichenwald is not methodoligically a liberal because he only considers certain, worn-out conclusions without even giving a hint that many well-qualified biblical scholars disagree with those conclusions. Martin Hengel, that towering figure of German biblical scholarship, wrote about the parallel dangers from “an uncritical, sterile apologetic fundamentalism” and “from no less sterile ‘critical ignorance’” on the part of radical liberalism (Studies in Early Christology [1995] 57–58). At bottom, the approaches are the same; the only differences are the presuppositions. A true liberal is one who is open to all the evidence, including the possibility that God has invaded space-time history in the person of Jesus Christ. A true liberal is one who is willing to go where the evidence leads, even if it contradicts his or her cherished beliefs. Read more

'Islamist groups gaining ground in Africa' warns persecution charity

There is a "pressing threat" to Christians in Kenya and Tanzania as a result of "Islamic groups determined to establish their brutal version of Sharia law," a leading persecution charity said today.

"Islamist groups are gaining ground in Africa,' said Chief Executive of Release International, Paul Robinson.

"There is evidence to suggest they will become a growing force for instability in East Africa in 2015. The greatest risk to freedom of faith in the New Year comes from Islamic groups determined to establish their brutal version of Sharia law – whatever the cost to human life."

Robinson said that Iraq, where militant group Islamic State has been gaining ground, was one of the worst places in the world to be a Christian in 2014. "Faced with the stark choice of conversion or beheading, most left everything and fled," he said, adding: "Intolerant extremism poses the greatest threat to Christians in 2015."

Looking ahead to the next year, Kenya and Tanzania in particular have been identified as areas of increasing concern for Christians. Islamists in Somalia are extending their reach and "threaten to destabilise surrounding nations," a statement from Release said, noting that Christians there are "experiencing a new and brutal wave of violence." Read more
What we are seeing is a resurgence of Islam around the world. In some part of the world this resurgence is taking a non-violent form--the proselytization of receptive individuals and groups, the establishment of madrasas, and the construction of mosques. In other parts of the world it has become violent as militant Islamists seek to forcibly impose an extreme brand of Islam and sharia law upon an unwilling population. The extent to which the two forms of this resurgence are tied together varies from region to region. It has exposed and highlighted the divisions within Islam itself and the extremes to which some Muslims are willing to go to make their particular brand of Islam not the just the only form of Islam in the world but the only form of religion. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Anglicans Ablaze Weekend Edition: December 27, 2014

In this weekend edition of Anglicans Ablaze:
Among the things I like about Christmas is that is not just one day but an entire season. May God fill your hearts with joy and peace this Christmastide. 

Eight Things I’m Praying Will Happen in Churches in 2015

On January 3, 2015, I will release my 15 trends for churches in 2015. Before I get to those trends, I want to share with you readers my specific prayers for congregations as we enter a new year. Obviously my prayer requests and trends are not the same. The latter is my assessment of where churches are headed. The former is my heartfelt desire where I pray they will head.

You will likely recognize some of these themes if you read this blog with any regularity. These are my eight prayer requests for churches in 2015.... Read more

Best of 2014: How to Tell If Your Small Church Is Strategic Or Stuck

What if Small Churches aren’t a problem to be fixed, but are part of a strategy God wants to use?

How many of us have even considered that possibility?

And if it is possible, shouldn’t we know that and try to get on board with it?

In a recent post, Is Your Church Stuck Or Just Small? I proposed the idea that just because a church is small doesn’t mean it is stuck.

But the truth is, many Small Churches are stuck.

So let’s take it one step further today.

If Small Churches are a part of God’s strategy, how can we tell the difference between a strategic Small Church and one that’s just stuck?

I’ve been mulling a few ideas about this. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. Read more

See also
Best of 2014: Want a Great Church? Emphasize What You’re For, Not What You’re Against
Best of 2014: We Can Whine About the New Generation Or We Can Minister to Them – But We Can’t Do Both

Welcome To The Christian Attack Culture

There’s no question that the Internet has brought Christianity many wonderful things. Today we have online education available to virtually everyone, social media that encourages people to support great causes, and online communication tools that allow us to connect from the four corners of the earth. But it’s also created something I believe is tearing at the very fabric of our faith. It’s created a culture of attack. Read more

See also
Best of 2014: No More Angry Christians, Please – We’re Full Up

How to Change Your Mind

The beginning of a New Year is an an excellent time to try something new. As you make your list of resolutions and goals I want to recommend adding a simple four step process that could transform your life by, quite literally, changing your mind.

After reading the entire post the vast majority of readers will snicker at such a hyperbolic claim and never implement the method I outline. A smaller number will consider the advice intriguing, my assertion only a slight exaggeration, but will also never implement the method. A tiny minority, however, will recognize the genius behind the process and apply it to their own life. This group will later say that my claim was an understatement.

This post is written for those people. Read more

See also
Your Mind Is a Spin Machine
I Thought I Had Developed Good Habits until I Found Out About This One....

Shipping the Gospel

The relative sophistication of ancient travel is a key to the spread of the gospel.

In the US today, most church planters estimate they need at least five years to establish a new church and perhaps four decades to establish a network like Vineyard or Acts 29. And this in an era of instant communication and rapid transportation.

When Paul and his team of synergos (“co-workers”) spread out across the Roman Empire to share the gospel in the first century, they did not enjoy such advantages. And yet we know that within three decades of the death and resurrection of Christ, groups of believers were firmly settled from Spain to Persia.

How did the early apostles do this? Let’s set aside for the moment the powerful work of the Holy Spirit. What were the means by which the gospel spread across this vast region? Read more
Christianity was very likely introduced into the British Isles during the early expansion of the Church, not over land from Rome but by sea from North Africa and Spain. These two regions of the ancient world traded with the British Isles and ships from the two regions sailed to the British Isles and back again. From Britain Christianity was introduced into Ireland and from Ireland Christianity was introduced to Scotland and reintroduced into what would become England. Irish monks brought the gospel to parts of Northern Europe and even far south as Northern Italy.  

5 Ways to Improve Audience Engagement

Is your audience boring?

Do they respond to your preaching? Do they laugh at jokes? Do they say “Amen.” Do they ever clap their hands? Are they leaning in to listen? Are they taking notes?

You may think the problem is your people, but I want to propose something different here: If your audience is dull, maybe the problem isn’t your audience. Maybe, the problem is how you have engaged with them.

Audience engagement starts with the speaker. People will do what they are taught., Many pastors just don’t encourage engagement.

In my opinion, good preaching sits somewhere in between monologue and dialogue (a lecture and a conversation). The preacher does the talking, but the audience is engaged and gives feedback with their body language and occasional with their mouths.

So how do you help build audience engagement? Here are five ways I have found helpful. Read more

7 Ways to Rethink Your Christmas Services to Engage Unchurched People

Carey Nieuwhof posted this article on his blog on Christmas Eve. It seemed like it was rather late to post such an article for Christmas this year. However, the things that Nieuwhof and his church has done to connect with unchurched people not only can be done at Christmas, Easter, and other special occasions, they can be done all year round--on Sundays or whenever your church meets.

If you’re like many church leaders, you’re probably looking for vvery opportunity to connect with people who don’t normally go to church and who aren’t yet in a relationship with Christ.

At Connexus, the church I lead, we have the privilege of being able to speak to a fairly high percentage of unchurched people every weekend.

As much as we angle every weekend as a great opportunity to bring your unchurched friends, there is simply no other time like Christmas.

People who never go to church will go to church at Christmas.

Connect well with them, and you will see some back in January. Offer up a predictable or uninspiring service, and they will all be gone again until next year (or never come back), unchanged, uninspired and still, unreached.

So here area few things we’ve done to try to connect with unchurched people that have helped.

Of course, there are many other ways to connect with unchurched people by serving in your community, serving the poor, getting out into the neighbourhood and more. But for the purposes of this post, I want to focus on what happens when they come to your church. Read more

Church Bulletin Basics

The legal and philosophical considerations behind your church’s weekly handout.

Even in our digital age of worship projection, church websites, and social media, many churches still use paper bulletins on Sunday mornings. The power of a tangible communication piece that people can hold in their hands and take home with them cannot be underestimated.

However, the bulletin presents many logistical and administrative challenges on both a macro and micro scale. If you’re the person creating the bulletin each week, this task can be equally monotonous and challenging every time you tackle it.

Because bulletins require notable time and resources, and because they represent the church in such a tangible way, churches would be wise to step back and evaluate what they do. Answering the questions below is an important first step, followed by careful content considerations ranging from copyright to privacy. Read more

Bible Reading Plans for 2015

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)

Many Christians take the beginning of a new year to evaluate their Bible reading habits, and then change or begin a Bible reading plan.

For your convenience, we’ve compiled a list of Bible reading plans for you to choose from. Maybe in 2015 you will read more of the Bible each day. Perhaps you’ll slow down your reading and instead spend more time considering what you read. Whatever it is you’re looking for in a reading plan, you should find it below.... Read more

Spreading the Story of Life Change Online

Spiritual growth campaigns have always been a powerful way to move a church forward, and with the rapid adoption of social media by the people in the pews, there has never been a greater opportunity to create, stimulate, and propagate a conversation among your people about what God is doing in their midst. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and a myriad of other online social networks are merely examples of how technology is helping our culture catch back up with God’s original plan for his Good News to be carried via interpersonal communication.

God’s Good News spreads furthest and fastest through personal connections and conversations.

Growth happens with intentional focus, so whether you are simply beginning a new message series or launching a full-blown campaign on the scale of “What on Earth Am I Here For?” you will need a strategy for empowering people to further the conversation with their friends.

Here are some things to consider.... Read more

From 9Marks Journal: Discipling in the Church

With the new year rapidly approaching with its new opportunities for discipling now is a good time to revisit the September-October 2012 issue of 9Marks Journal with its eleven articles on discipling.

The entire issue may be read or downloaded here.

See also
How I Select and Schedule Discipling Relationships
What disciple-making is not

Where Have All The Babies Gone?

As one of their year-end announcements, The Centers for Disease Control reported the U.S. birth rate at 1.86, below the replacement level of 2.1. There have already been grumblings about how a lowered fertility rate nationally will have an adverse impact on American economic growth.

While fertility can indicate social and economic health, it's simply wrong to conclude that economic growth drops in parallel with fertility. Set this CDC data against the Transamerica Research Center (TRC) data that has just come out - which illustrates how the baby boomer generation is revolutionizing retirement. Taken together, one gets a different, more nuanced view of economic growth in our 21st century. It's not just about babies - but adults.

Sustained drops in fertility will indeed create a world with more "old" than "young," but this is a potential level for growth if the oldies are still active, engaged, and productive. Here are seven things the pundits keep missing about "population aging" and economic growth.... Read more

Scientists create artificial human eggs and sperm

A group of scientists has created artificial human sperm and eggs using human embryonic stem cells and skin cells. While researchers have already previously accomplished this using rodents, this is the first time they were able to replicate the process with human cells.

Their final products were not actually working sperm and eggs, but rather germ cells that potentially could mature and become viable for fertility. The study's findings were published Wednesday in the journal Cell.

"Germ cells are 'immortal' in the sense that they provide an enduring link between all generations, carrying genetic information from one generation to the next," Azim Surani, PhD, professor of physiology and reproduction at the University of Cambridge, said in a press release. Read more

ISIS, Boko Haram, and the Growing Role of Human Trafficking in 21st Century Terrorism

The intersection of drugs and terrorism has long been investigated. Now, the recent actions of ISIS and Boko Haram are drawing attention to the role of human trafficking.

The list of atrocities committed by ISIS continues to grow, with the latest being a chilling pamphlet that details the organization’s policy on treating the women they kidnap and then use as sex slaves. This is the latest account of ISIS’s dealings in kidnapping and human trafficking in which they target women and children, often from the minority Yazidi religion, and sell them for as little as $25 or keep them as slaves.

ISIS is not the only terrorist group to engage in kidnapping and trafficking. Just a few days ago, Boko Haram kidnapped 200 villagers and killed dozens more in Nigeria, further terrorizing the already tormented community. Indeed, human trafficking plays a growing role in the operation of 21st-century terrorist organizations. Read more

Photo: The Daily Beast

China announces plan to 'root out illegal religious activities'

China is to publish online details of legal religious venues, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday, apparently in an effort to "root out illegal religious activities".

Names and addresses for "all Buddhist and Taoist venues" would be published within two years, Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, told a conference on Friday, according to the news agency.

Xinhua made no mention of other religions but it quoted Wang as saying the information would help stop illegal religious activity in unauthorised locations. Read more

See also
China tightens church control ahead of Christmas