christianity church theology

The Holy Spirit and the American Church

Just read thought provoking post at Church Planting Novice discussing history of the early church and the comparative deficiency in the American church of demonstrations of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Give it a read and see what I had to say in response.

christianity theology

Old Stuff – Biblical Individualism Redux

Number 7


From Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship, Chapter 5 (Discipleship and the Individual):

“Through the call of Jesus men become individuals…It is no choice of their own that makes them individuals: it is Christ who makes them individuals by calling them. Every man is called separately, and must follow alone.”


“He (Christ) stands between us and God, and for that very reason he stands between us and all other men and things. He is the Mediator, not only between God and man, but between man and man, between man and reality”


“The call of Jesus teaches us that our relation to the world has been built on an illusion…now we learn that in the most intimate relationships of life…direct relationships are impossible…Between father and son, husband and wife, the individual and the nation, stands Christ the Mediator…We cannot establish direct contact outside ourselves except through him, through his word, and through our following of him. To think otherwise is to deceive ourselves.”


Some of my friends responded to the first post by defining individuals in light of how the Godhead expresses individualism — perichoretic harmony.  That is, we are individuals only in the sense that we commune with God and others, much like the expression of perfect union and communion found in the Trinity.  This idea, however, was somewhat lacking for me because I had a hard time understanding how redemption of humans through the atonement of Christ applied to that conception.

Most people with whom I have discussed this topic understand that the community of believers derives the concept of community from the community expressed in the Trinity, but I haven’t ever encountered a serious theological framework which applied the cross to community.  More succintly, how can sinners like us experience the community of the Godhead?  I think Bonhoeffer’s discourse on individualism expounded deeply on the doctrine of Christ mediatoral relationship as the means by which we enter into communion with God as well as other individuals.

I guess what I am thinking is that community cannot be properly seen in any way other than through the lens of Christ the Mediator. The Trinity is indeed a picture of what biblical community ought to look like, but it cannot be experienced outside of the individual redemption of a person. Christ alone is capable of creating the community of believers though His atoning blood on the cross.  Bottom line, our individualism, as I am seeing it, is not defined by relationship to others, but in relationship to Christ, which necessarily translates to others.

Do you think this is too individualistic of a picture? If so, can you give me some help with respect to Atonement theology which provides some explanation for how individualism is defined?

christianity church theology

Cultural Mandate and Renewal

I enjoyed these challenging thoughts from the 9Marks blog on the Cultural Mandate specifically as they pertain to the Christian’s and the Church’s engagement in culture making/redemption.  As a result of The Austin Stone’s Fall 2008 Vision Series, I have been wrestling a lot with these concepts, and have enjoyed learning a variety of different perspectives.

Give it a read:

Thoughts on the Cultural Mandate from 9Marks

On the whole, I think the evangelical “culture” camps tend toward a few different streams of emphasis, all which offer necessary insights:

  1. Cultural Exegesis – Studying and understanding your culture to effective minister in it.  This is what I would consider the hallmark of the Acts 29 types, as well as many people influenced by cross-cultural church planting.
  2. Individual Cultural Engagement – Participating as believers in culture making areas to provide a common ground and avenue for the Gospel.  This seems to be the idea that this particular blog is trying to think through
  3. Holistic Cultural Renewal – Participating as churches and believers in holistic ministry aimed most often at city renewal.  This is expressed in a few different ways through a few different streams of church.  I’ve had the most exposure to the “urban ministry” (social justice focus in the city) and more “emerging” (artistic cultural engagement) type churches.

This is far from a comprehensive list, but I am a categorizer and it helps me to think through things.  Any other thoughts?

books christianity church theology

unChristian 2

Chapter 2 presents some of the research findings about the perceptions of outsiders toward believers (the terms “evangelicals” and “born again Christians” are used), and breaks down the rest of the book on the lines of six general themes:  hypocritical, too concerned with converts, antihomosexual, sheltered, too political, and judgmental.

  1. “The primary reason outsiders feel hostile towards Christians…is our “swagger”, how we go about things and the sense of self-importance we project.” ~Page 26

    Reflecting on this quote is a good exercise for me…the Gospel has no reason for pride whatsoever.  To have an inflated sense of self-importance is to completely misunderstand the Gospel of grace.

  2. “We have become famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are for” ~Page 26

    This quote points at the departure of the church from the Gospel toward cultural battles.  I do not think that this quote tells the whole story, and one must only look to the first chapters of Revelation to understand that cultural engagement is indeed necessary for faithfulness to the mission of God, and we will necessarily become known in some cases for what we oppose.  It is the supercession of religious activism over the core message of the Gospel which will get us into trouble…

  3. The book presents a finding that a significant portion of young people within the church share a similar viewpoint as those outside the church along the six themes presented above.  The insinuation of the authors is that much of the Christian message about absolute truth has been heard, but the message of grace has been lost.

    In my experience in the church, I would say that the opposite is true.  Much of the deficiency in ministries has been the lack in-depth instruction on the biblical Gospel, especially with respect to college ministry.  Most of our students hunger and thirst for Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, challenging truths which demand their very lives.  The answer, in my experience, to what the authors deem “unChristian”, is passionate exposition of Scripture and faithful discipleship to a life of sacrifice.  I am curious to read more…

As a former scientist who recently made the leap into pastoral ministry, I am always thankful for rigorous research and the numbers this books presents.  Many of the conclusions in Chapter 2 I hope are expounded on later in the book with their statistical backing, expecially assertions like that in #1 above.

books christianity church theology

unChristian 1

Just started reading through the book unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons in anticipation of the Q conference here in Austin in April.  Here are my thoughts from Chapter 1:

  1. “We are not responsible for outsiders’ decisions, but we are accountable when our actions and attitudes–misrepresenting a holy, just and loving God–have pushed outsiders away.” ~Page 14

    This book is a research-based analysis of the 16 to 29 year-old generation’s perception of Christianity, and how the church ought to respond.  I agree with the quote above, but my suspicion is that this book will do little to point us to the heart of the Gospel of grace as the solution to our perception.  Much of our “cultural exegesis” in pop-Christianity seems so narcissistic with respect to the church, devoid of any true interaction with a deep and rich Gospel of Christ.  It will be interesting to see how this book compares with David Wells’ Above All Earthly Powr’s, which was one of my favorite books of the last year, and a fantastic study on the actual worldview of whom this book labels “outsiders”, and an appropriate Gospel response to that worldview.

  2. I often wonder about the usefulness of large scale research in American Evangelicalism, and if it isn’t really a cop-out to actually engaging the real people around you.  Although these kinds of books are helpful at diagnosing broad, generational opinions, are they really that effective for shaping ministry?  Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to shape ministry around a more specific calling to minister to those whom God has placed you among?
  3. “Perhaps as you read this book, you will discover a more complete picture of Jesus, a transcendent, yet personal God who loves and accepts you perfectly, who wants to shape you and give your life deep meaning and purpose.” ~Page 20

    This statement echoes the Purpose-driven, seeker-sensitive sentimentality and strategy of ministry, which would make sense considering the two authors’ roots.  My initial impression of this book (which is based on no evidence whatsoever) is that it is simply the research methods of the seeker movement applied to a new generation.  I’ll keep reading to see if my presupposition holds true.

Hopefully blogging through this book will help me to process what I am reading, and be useful to anyone who might be considering reading it.