Sunday, April 27, 2008

Finding the Balance


Note: I wrote this post a little more than a month ago (the week after Easter).  It has sat in my drafts folder for over a month while I tried to decide what I didn't like about it.  It kind of seems like the amalgamation of too many posts into one.  Additionally, there is/was something about the comment on folding my cards that bothered me.  But I am going to just throw the post out there.  Maybe it will be helpful to someone just as it is.  cph.

As a church staff we are reading the Dan Kimball book, "They Like imageJesus, But Not  the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations."  It is a very good look at people, particularly young people who find Jesus attractive, but want nothing to do with organized religion.  In (admittedly unscientific) surveys of young non-believers, Dan Kimball tried to get a picture of how the people in his community (Santa Cruz, CA) felt about Jesus and the church.  He found that overwhelmingly they believed that

  • The church is an organized religion with a political agenda
  • The church is judgmental and negative
  • The church is dominated by males and oppresses females
  • The church is homophobic
  • The church arrogantly claims all other religions are wrong
  • The church is full of fundamentalists who take the whole Bible literally.

I struggle with this because I really find myself caught.  On the one-hand, I am unwilling to go to one extreme depicted by one young woman in the book named Penny: 

Make the gathering a roundtable discussion, an uplifting motivational dialogue.  Meet in people's homes, in coffee shops, places vibrant and alive. I'd like to meet with about twenty people in a bar, drink a few pints, and discuss the Bible.  That would be a church I would go to.  Make it a discussion: What do you understand of this paragraph from the Bible?  What does it mean to you?  Make church a book club with soul.

Maybe I am showing my narrowmindedness and inflexibility, but while that format may have merit in certain contexts (evangelistic week day Bible study?), that is indeed not the preaching or worship that we find in the Bible.  There is objective content to the Word.  There is a declarative aspect to the Word. There are objective things to be taught and obeyed.   People need to hear what the Word of God says and have it opened up to them...explained in a deeper way than most of them have the time or the education to explore. 

A good, albeit short quote from Jay Adams re: Gerhardus Vos and his disciples is helpful re: the fear (or theological opposition) to application is found here at Expository Thoughts.

On the other hand, I refuse to just be so slavishly exegetical that I refuse to seek creative ways to help people interact with the Word of God.  Obviously, the prayer art project we did a couple of weeks back was an example of that.

imageI folded my cards this past Sunday in this regard.  I thought I would be original...and preach on the resurrection of Jesus for Easter. (That is meant as humor....)  And since I am preaching from Acts, I had chosen all along to return back to Peter's sermon in Acts 2, which focuses on Christ's resurrection in a major way. 

And I did. 

Christ's resurrection is used by Peter to show...

  • …how God’s purposes, processes and plans are always perfectly fulfilled.
  • …that God’s Word gives us great insight into his way and his character
  • …God’s focus is on forgiveness, not guilt
  • ...the certainty of resurrection

Now the plan was (as laid out in my notes) at the end of point 2 above, to ask people in the congregation: "What do you learn about God in the resurrection of Jesus?"  I would limit it to 4-5 one sentence or one-word answers, but that is something I occasionally do.  We will have 150-200 people in each of our two services and that size is not too big for me to get some interaction like that.  I always repeat what the person has said into my mc, but it has been fairly well received. 

But I folded my cards on Sunday.  We had a full house first service, two baptisms, the Lord's Supper had taken much longer than planned (due to the number of people), an announcement by one of our elders went on too long and I could tell that people were getting fidgety.  And so I cut that out.  And I wish that I hadn't.  I think that it would have done several things:

  1. It would have helped keep people engaged in the sermon about half-way through it.
  2. It is a way to validate the spiritual experiences of the body without totally subjectifying it. We have the objective Word and we have the historical resurrection, but what it teaches each of us can be different.  I think that it would have been better received by "emerging generations" than what I did. 

But I folded my cards too soon.

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