A Christian education website

Many public schools no longer teach Christian education. It’s good to see a website like this: Request (based in the U.K.) designed to teach basic Christianity in the education system.

Depending on the school system, Christianity is rarely taught or not taught at all.  Personally, I’ve lost hope in the secularized public education system in Canada.  I would rather send my children to a public Catholic school where the Christian faith is still taught. Not every Christian family can afford to send their children to a private Christian school.

What if Prof. Bart Ehrman hadn’t gone to Princeton?

I was just reading a very interesting blog post on Parchment and Pen (HT: TC & Joel) posted by Daniel Wallace (a dispensationalist at Dallas Theological Seminary) where there’s an excellent exchange of ideas and views.  Wallace’s beef is with liberal theologians who regard themselves as open-minded but their behavior is less than open-minded when it comes to how they treat evangelical students. His statement is a little disheartening:

Many of the mainline liberal schools routinely reject applications to their doctoral programs from evangelical students who are more qualified than their liberal counterparts—solely because they’re evangelicals. And Dallas Seminary students especially have a tough time getting into primo institutes because of the stigma of coming from, yes, I’ll say it again—a dispensational school. One of my interns was earning his second master’s degree at a mainline school, even taking doctoral courses. He was head and shoulders above most of the doctoral students there. But when he applied for the PhD at the same school, he was rejected. His Dallas Seminary degree eliminated him.

This can be very infuriating to evangelicals. I agree, I think there is still a lot of prejudice at some or many liberal seminaries; and faculty do make it harder for evangelicals to get through a program at their seminaries. At the same time, there are many liberals who are not prejudiced against evangelicals. In fact, they like the evangelical perspective because it’s fresh and new to them. Evangelicals are able to hold to orthodox theology while being open to  a critical view of biblical scholarship; while some liberals seem to have lost all their theological bearings and thrown out the baby with the bathwater.

Think about Bart Ehrman for a minute. What if his application to Princeton Theo. Seminary was rejected?  Bart Ehrman was a hardcore evangelical who did his theological degree at Moody Bible Institute but later did his PhD at Princeton. Princeton was where his view of the bible changed 180 degrees. He no longer considers himself a Christian. That’s scary. I’ve always wondered what if Prof. Bart Ehrman hadn’t gone to Princeton?

Why learning the catechism and bible is important

These day, I don’t know if many people take the catechism very seriously.  Most Lutherans have heard of Luther’s Large and Small Catechism; some have even heard of the Book of Concord.  Reformed and Presbyterians know of the Geneva, Heidelberg, Larger, Smaller catechisms, including the Westminister Confession of Faith.  But many do not even know what is in them.  A while back, I started reading Luther’s Large Catechism and was blown away by it.  I love it and have come to really appreciate the richness of teaching in the words of Martin Luther.

The Large catechism was intentionally written for pastors and preachers, who he assumes are supposed to be hard working and studious with the scriptures. “It is highly profitable and fruitful to read it daily and make it a subject of meditation and conversation,” says Luther (381).  As I started reading his large catechism, I am always taken aback by his strong language he uses to exhort others to live piously.

Then there are also laypeople who think they can do without pastors. Concerning these people, he lays it on them heavy:

“among the nobility there are also some louts and skinflints (cheapskates) who declare that they can do without pastors and preachers now because we now have everything in books and can learn it all by ourselves.”

So for churches that don’t think they need a pastors: “Eat these words!”

Luther likes to keep everyone on their toes, including pastors. To those who are educated beyond their own good, he pointed exclaims:

“I beg such lazy bellies and presumptuous saints, for God’s sake to let themselves be convinced and believe that they are not really and truly such learned and exalted doctors as they think. I implore them not ever to imagine that they have learned these parts of the catechism perfectly, or that they know them sufficiently, even though they think they know them ever so well.”

So pastors, we have to keep learning the basics.

Luther takes this so seriously that he encourages us to take a hard stance on knowing the catechism. “Anyone who does not know it should not be numbered among Christians nor admitted to any sacrament” (383). This really hurts a lot of Lutherans.

And for young people, he has these tough words to say:

“Young people should be thoroughly taught the parts of the catechism (that is, instruction for children) and diligently drilled in their practice” (383)…. “The children should be taught the habit of reciting them daily, when they arise in the morning, when they go to their meals, and when they go to bed at night. Until they recite them they should be given nothing to eat or drink” (385).

According to this standard, I think more than half of our children would have to starve every night.  This is why I will not take it easy on my confirmation kids.  I am going to do my best to encourage them to learn the bible and the catechism, know it well, and not let them off the hook.

Kolb, Robert and Timothy J. Wengert. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000.

Are pastors an obstacle to the priesthood of believers?

TC Robinson has a post “The Pastor: Obstacle to every member functioning”. He has raised a question in the blogosphere that has more of us thinking.  It provoked something in me that saddens me because I think it is true.  For many of the pastor-centric churches/congregations, the pastor has been an obstacle to a properly functioning congregation.

TC’s quote from Pagan Christianity by Viola and Barna says that the modern day pastor is an easy target—a punching bag, if you will:

THE PASTOR. He is the fundamental figure of the Protestant faith.  So prevailing is the pastor in the minds of most Christians that he is often better known, more highly praised, and more heavily relied upon than Jesus Christ Himself!

Remove the pastor and most Protestant churches would be thrown into a panic.  (pp. 105-6, Pagan Christianity, emphasis mine)

The early church did not have pastors or priests like we do today but the church was able to function.   The people held on to their faith in Christ and died in the name of Jesus Christ.  The church didn’t die but prevailed in the face of persecution, trials and tribulations.  Did the early church have sermons and teaching? Or prayers? Liturgy? Or hymns and songs?  Probably, but they were not officiated by the pastor/priest.   The laity or the people presided over the worship services way before there was ever a pastor as we know today.

The bible mentions shepherds, overseers, elders and deacons, but my question is what positional authority did these positions include?  If we removed the position and authority of the pastor as we know it today, would the church begin to function like it should–as a priesthood of all believers?

Going to Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit

Willow Creek Church is one of the megachurches that understand church growth but sometimes I wonder if this is real evangelism.  Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t.  Some people have a tough time accepting this church-growth movement because they say it really isn’t evangelism. It’s just people moving from one church to another.

Either way, it’s still a good event to learn some leadership skills from established leaders.  I still think it’s good for pastors and anyone involved with church leadership to check out.  Pastor Bill Hybels and his associates at Willow Creek Association seems to have really put together a superb lineup of speakers for this annual conference called the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) that happens in August each year.

Maybe I’ll be blown away?  There’s always something I can learn from other leaders.  Nevertheless, I’m feeling more excited about attending this re-telecasted event of Willow Creek’s annual GLS this Friday and Saturday (Oct. 16-17).    These telecasts have gone worldwide now–even into Africa, Asia, and smaller places in little ol’ Canada.   Once I get back, I’ll blog about what I learned and experienced…but I have to get my work done first.

UnChristian: Change the Perception

UnChristian: Change the Perception (DVD)
Publisher: Baker Books
ISBN: 9780801003172

Based on Barna Group’s research on 16 to 29 year-olds, here’s how people outside the established church perceive Christians:

91%  anti-homosexual
87%  judgmental
85%  hypocritical
78%  old fashioned
75%  too involved with politics
72%  out of touch with reality
70%  insensitive to others

The presentation of their data is rather stinging to traditional conservative evangelicals, including myself.  Based on my own perception of myself, I would never say these things about myself or about some of Christians I personally know or have befriended.  Self-perception of oneself can be powerfully self-deceptive.  Have we deceived ourselves into thinking that we are loving, compassionate, kind and open-minded? Perhaps.  Whether we agree with our own perception or not, this is how the world outside our Christian bubble  perceives us.  Many of the older generations might not see Christians this way, but the younger ones do, so there has been a shift of perception of Christianity.

[added] What seems to be absent in this DVD was any attempt to address the concerns of Christians who hold to a traditional view of heterosexual marriage.  We have to try to soften, and even reverse, the pejorative terms used against those of us who hold to a traditional view of marriage; terms like: homophobic, intolerant, discriminatory, or hate-filled.  We are none of these things; we are loving Christian people who love all people.  There are some Christians who are ignorant and unwise, and who will say the most stupid things that further negative stereotypes rather than change the negative perception to positive ones.

Some people on the outside feel that Christianity is no longer like Jesus intended.  They may like Jesus as a figure/person but they don’t necessarily view Christians in nearly as good of a light as they would in Jesus.  Well, that’s a little more comforting, but I wouldn’t allow that to let us get too comfortable.  There’s lot of work we Christians need to change our image.  The church might return to the pre-Constantine era soon than we think.  If we do not diagnose the problems occurring within our Christian bubble, we will soon find ourselves on the outside of society within one or two generations.  If that took place, we will hurt even more.  So let’s do something today before it’s too late.

The UnChristian curriculum includes a DVD and a small study guide.  The creators of this want to inform the church “what a new generation really thinks about Christianity…and why it matters.”  They want to change the way Christ-followers perceive themselves.  We tend to see ourselves in a positive light, but those outside of the church have a different perception.  That is the thrust of this DVD presentation.

There is also a book co-authored by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons.   This DVD with study guide is part of a series of four categories of DVDs: Culture, Future, Church, and Gospel.  They each take the basic format of four group meetings:  18-minute video talk on the topic, 2) a Fermi Short which is a 5000 word essay to be read ahead of time; 3) a video expression that models the theme, and 4) suggestions for a Culture Shaping Project. Other study guides in this curriculum include:

  • Influence Culture
  • Create the Future
  • Find the Good
  • Unchristian: Change the Perception

The model it takes is based on the Society Room model, which is now simply called Q, which encourages people to participate in group meetings of learning and discussion.  The leader facilitates the group discussion and plays the DVD rather than just talks. In the small booklet provided with the DVD, there are questions for the leader to ask the small group in his/her facilitation of each of the four meetings, which might include a dinner.  This format kind of reminds me a little of the way Alpha group is done.  The leader is encouraged to create conversation, cause people to do some critical thinking, influence and to take action.

By having a group of concerned Christ-followers from your church or fellowship watch this DVD “unchristian: change the perception”, we might be able to take a few first steps to learn about ourselves and see our own problem (or put in positive spin, to see our current situation as a problem).

I would recommend Q for all concerned Christians and church groups. It will definitely make us more self-aware.  Believe me, as Christ-followers, we need to be more self-aware.  Otherwise, we may lose an entire generation of twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings. They are already entire generations missing in many of our churches. We need to turn this tide around before it’s too late.

I wish to thank the good people at Baker Books for sending me a copy to review.

Is rising trend of Calvinism in SBC seminary graduates long-term or just a passing fad?

Why is Calvinism making a comeback?   According to data presented at the opening session of a conference on Reformed theology in the Southern Baptist Convention, a survey found that nearly 30 percent of recent Southern Baptist seminary graduates identify themselves as five-point Calvinists.  This trend is rising.  Most recently, this figure was 34 percent! Full article.  As a Lutheran with Calvinistic tendencies, I find this trend exciting.

That’s an incredible change from Southern Baptists, which are historically known for being dispensationalist and Arminian.  I wonder how this is going to affect the future of the Southern Baptist Convention?  And is this comeback in Calvinism a long-term thing or is it just a passing fad like the Emerging church that is fading away in less than ten years? I think this is still hard to tell because this trend is still on the upswing and in its early stages.

Regardless of where this new Calvinism is going, for me personally, I would say that Calvin and Luther have been my two biggest influences in my Christian life in the last five years. Previous to my seminary education, I felt like I was floating somewhere in evangelical space but after I got a taste of Luther and Calvin, there was no turning back. So what is it that attracts people like others and me to Calvin specifically? I’m not sure and can’t put a finger on it. Maybe it’s all this hype that has been building as we crept up to Calvin’s 500 anniversary? Maybe. But it’s unlikely. It’s probably due to our increased understanding of the depth of Calvinist theology.

Amongst the Calvinists most of us know of are preachers and teachers, R.C. Sproul and John Piper, and academics, J.I. Packer and Alvin Platinga. These people are probably today’s movers and shakers in the world of Calvinism.  They are well-respected  and are making an impact on many evangelical Christians today.