Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice.” Every believer — every person who has the Holy Spirit — hears from the Lord. But it doesn’t take very long on the journey before you discover that some have greater bandwidth!
It literally feels like a mechanical issue – like its encoded in DNA, with no reference to maturity, knowledge, or character. Some people just seem to have larger antennae. I remember seeing a very funny presentation once on gender attributes in communication: the picture was of a broken radio whip antenna vs a satellite dish! You already know which picture was attributed to men, and which to women!
The same principle seems to apply when it comes to listening to God. So the bad news is we seem to be born with a limited bandwidth: limited potential. The good news is that most people don’t use their full potential. Most of us start with only a single watt of power being applied to the system we have: over time and with practice the wattage increases. But as always, there is a sovereignty issue at play: God in his wisdom influences the listening patter and often sovereignly breaks through, moving far beyond our normal limits.
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There is a secondary gospel dimension that works well with this analogy, and that is that the gospel itself fits in a variety of bandwidths. The AM variety is basic and lacks nuance. Try a big band sound, and listen on AM. You can hear all the voices but they are muted, and the instrumentation really lacks depth. Moving up to FM is like uncompressing the signal: a fuller and richer sound, and you can discern instruments you didn’t know were at play. The piece sounds entirely different! Now bring that music home on a CD with a surround sound system. It’s the same piece, remember? But you might not believe it. The music has come to life, and you feel like you are in front of the stage watching the live performance. You feel like you are IN the performance!
Most of us have a habit of compressing the signal. We do it for all kinds of good reasons. The limits of our own time and knowledge. The limits of our conversation partner. The limits of knowledge on a given passage and its translation into a given culture. Compression itself is a problem, but the bigger issue is that we forget that AM is the least desirable medium. When that much information is lost, and we forget that the gospel was designed for live performance, things can go badly wrong. We may find ourselves thinking in black and white terms, feeling we have mastered the music when we are still in grade one.
The best answer, of course, is to learn an instrument and join a band. Become part of the performance by practice and habit: feel the music, let it enter your soul, learn to improvise, learn composition, get together with other players and jam, become the music. It takes a whole community of musicians to perform a complex composition, and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
This new title from IVP (312 pp) looks like a careful survey of the global landscape. The blurb from the IVP website reads as follows:
Evangelicalism is not merely a North American religiously charged ideology that dominates the popular mind. Over the last century, evangelicalism has taken on global proportions. It has spread from its northern heartlands and formed burgeoning new centers of vibrant life in the global South. Alongside Islam, it is now arguably the most important and dynamic religious movement in the world today.
This tectonic shift has been closely watched by some scholars of religion, though it is merely a ghost in our international news stories. Now, in Global Evangelicalism a gathering of front-rank historians of evangelicalism offer conceptual and regional overviews of evangelicalism, as well as probings of its transdenominationalism and views of gender.
The book divisions and chapters are these:
Part I: Theoretical Issues
1. Defining Evangelicalism, Mark Noll
2. The Theological Impulse of Evangelical Expansion, Wilbert R. Shenk
3. Globalization, Religion and Evangelicalism. Donald M. Lewis
Part II: Evangelicalism at Ground Level: Regional Case Studies
4: Europe and North America, John Wolffe and Richard V. Pierard
5: Africa, Ogbu Kalu
6. Latin America, C. René Padilla
7. Asia, Scott Sunquist
8. Australasia and the Pacific Islands, Stuart Piggin and Peter Lineham
Part III: Issues in Evangelical Encounters with Culture
9: Evangelicals and Interdenominationalism, David Thompson
10: Evangelicals and Gender: Critiquing Assumptions, Sarah Williams
Read the rest of this entry »
Around 1865 an Englishman by the name of William Chatterton Dix wrote the beloved hymn, “What Child Is This?” One of the immortal lines from the song advances that in the stable in Bethlehem “the silent word is speaking.”
Jesus entered this world as a helpless infant, as do we all. As an infant, he had no words to offer: he was silent. Near the end of Jesus earthly life we stand with him again in silence before Pilate. When asked, “What is truth,” he doesn’t give the expected answer. He understands the limits of the context, and refuses to take the stance of a philosopher defending a rationalist framework. Instead, he stands in silence.
From the beginning of his life to the end, the word is framed in stillness, recalling the poetic lens of TS Eliot:
At the still point of the turning world.
Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards;
at the still point, there the dance is…
Back in 2009 Roger Helland I began talking about the integration of mission and spirituality: that these were never meant to be two parallel tracks, but a rhythm of life in discipleship. That book came out around 240 pages, and is aimed at college and seminary students and others doing serious theological reflection. It left room for something more integrative in execution, more holistic in ethos, and more introductory in content.
I’ve finished the introductory volume I began working on last summer. It is 80 pages and 12,000 words, with lots of full color images. I approached the subject with an aim to integration – to move beyond abstraction and words alone – and to appeal to both artistic and structural types. The book still leans to the academic side by virtue of many footnotes and by continuing to encourage rich theological reflection. It starts out by considering the connection between Mary and Martha. Links —
“If we are to avoid the legalisms associated with driven activism or the disobedience associated with wimpy passivism we will need to learn how to worship God in the fulness of life. This is no mean feat and in fact requires a serious reorientation from the prevailing evangelical spirituality of quiet times in quiet places. Len has gifted us with precisely such a reorientation in this book. I am grateful.” –Alan Hirsch
Also available for Kindle. Download a sample here —
“A friend of mine, lecturing in a theological college in Kenya introduced his students to “The Quest for the Historical Jesus.” This, he said, was a movement of thought and scholarship that in its earlier forms was carried on largely in Germany in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He had not gone far into his lecture explaining this search for Jesus when one of his students interrupted him. “Teacher,” he said, “if the Germans have lost Jesus, that is their problem. We have not lost him. We know him. We love him.”
“Research into Jesus himself has long been controversial, not least among devout Christians. Several people in the wider Christian world wonder if there is anything new to say about Jesus and if the attempt to say something fresh is not a denial either of the church’s traditional teaching or of the sufficiency of Scripture. I want to grasp this nettle right away and explain why I regard it, not just as permissible but as vitally necessary that we grapple afresh with the question of who Jesus was and therefore who he is. In doing so I in no way want to deny or undermine the knowledge of Jesus of which the Kenyan student spoke and which is the common experience of the church down the centuries and across widely differing cultures. I see the historical task, rather, as part of the appropriate activity of knowledge and love, to get to know even better the one whom we claim to know and follow. If even in a human relationship of knowledge and love there can be misunderstandings, false impressions, wrong assumptions, which need to be teased out and dealt with, how much more when the one to whom we are relating is Jesus himself.
“I believe, in fact, that the historical quest for Jesus is a necessary and nonnegotiable aspect of Christian discipleship and that we in our generation have a chance to be renewed in discipleship and mission precisely by means of this quest. I want to explain and justify these beliefs from the outset.
“The most basic reason for grappling with the historical question of Jesus is that we are made for God: for God’s glory, to worship God and reflect his likeness… and Jesus has revealed God.
“The second reason why I engage in serious historical study of Jesus is out of loyalty to Scripture. This may seem deeply ironic [but] just because our tradition tells us that the Bible says and means one thing or another, does not excuse us from the challenging task of studying it afresh in the light of the best knowledge we have about its world and context, to see whether these things indeed are so… Our traditions have supposed to be ‘biblical’ but are sometimes demonstrably not, and have made us blind.
“The third reason is the Christian imperative to truth.”
NT Wright, The Challenge of Jesus, 13-17
Today’s church is in serious trouble. The crisis we see is a crisis in leadership, because leaders help to shape adaptive responses, like navigators reading the currents to guide a ship to harbor. Leaders cease being navigators when they fear change, or loss of influence, but also when the pressure of leadership tends to create reaction more than reflection. Perhaps Canadian leadership guru Michael Fullan is right when he observes that, “the two greatest failures of leaders are indecisiveness in times of urgent need for action and dead certainty that they are right in times of complexity.”
Thankfully, our dualistic and hierarchical models of leadership are falling in favour of holistic and egalitarian models. The crisis is thus an opportunity to rediscover the vocation of the church as an authentic community, a living priesthood, a missional people in a foreign land. We have the opportunity to move from leadership cults, to leadership cultures; instead of lone rangers, we need meaning makers; instead of the Wiz we need Dorothy.
Many foundational questions surround both theology and practice in relation to Christian leadership at this time in our culture: what does leadership look like in this in-between place? What kinds of structures will facilitate authentic transformation in this community? What sorts of disciplines are necessary to help us prepare for the social changes we will face in the next decade? How can we facilitate the kinds of environments necessary for healthy and sustained growth in the kingdom of God in urban environments? How can we become a people that welcome Spirit?
To develop a broader vision we must be willing to forsake, to kill, our narrower vision. In the short run it is more comfortable not to do this – to stay where we are, to keep using the same microcosmic map, to avoid suffering the death of cherished notions. The road of spiritual growth, however, lies in the opposite direction. We begin by distrusting what we already believe, by actively seeking the threatening and unfamiliar, by deliberately challenging the validity of what we have previously been taught and hold dear. The path to holiness lies through questioning everything. — M. Scott Peck
How does a part of the world leave the world?
How can wetness leave water?
Don’t try to put out a fire
by throwing on more fire!
Don’t wash a wound with blood!
No matter how fast you can run,
your shadow more than keeps up.
Sometimes, it’s out in front!
Only full, overhead sun
diminishes your shadow.
But that shadow has been serving you!
What hurts you, blesses you.
Darkness is your candle.
Your boundaries are your quest.
I can explain this, but it would break
the glass cover on your heart,
and there’s no fixing that.
A few years ago I discovered Ronald Wright. Funny how easy it is to be optimistic while going about daily life in our privileged culture.. and how easy it is to be pessimistic after watching the evening news or reading the Globe and Mail or Time Magazine. In essence, if we look hard at the realities of our world and our way of life, we have good reason to be gloomy. Not coincidentally, Wright notes that Margaret Atwood in her dystopian novel Oryx and Crake, has one of her characters ask, “As a species we’re doomed by hope, then?” Wright continues,
“Hope drives us to invent new fixes for old messes, which in turn create ever more dangerous messes. Hope elects the politician with the biggest empty promise; and as any stockbroker or lottery seller knows, most of us will take a slim hope over prudent and predictable frugality. Hope, like greed, fuels the engine of capitalism. John Steinbeck once said that socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” (124) Read the rest of this entry »
Al Mohler is a great preacher. And he makes his point in this video very, very clear. Using a series of metaphors, he tells us that what we need in unstable times is greater certainty. When things are falling apart, we don’t want more conversations, we want action!
The context of his argument is Scripture. The preacher shouldn’t leave his study until he knows exactly what the text means — in fact, the preacher shouldn’t eat or drink until that happens!
We want desperately to take uncertainty out of the future but when we take it out it isn’t the future. It is the present projected forward.
Contrast this approach with the attitude of NT Wright, arguably the greatest living New Testament scholar. Wright is well known for beginning his preaching with this: “70% of what I am about to tell you is the truth. The problem is, I’m not sure which 70% it is.” Wright explicitly puts the onus on the hearer to do her own homework and not simply defer to his years of scholarship and language study.
But wouldn’t we all love it if the world were really the way Al Mohler says it is? In fact, the more unstable the times, the more we look for strong leaders. Fundamentalisms thrive in uncertain times (Cue Naomi Kline’s “Shock Doctrine.”)
Canadian author Michael Fullan summarizes our current state in terms of leadership in the West, as well as identifying the way forward. He writes, “I have never been fond of distinguishing between management and leadership: they overlap and you need both qualities. But here is a distinction worth making: leadership is needed for problems that do not have easy answers.” (Leading in a Culture of Change, 2)
Similarly, Ron Heifetz accuses us of looking for the wrong kind of leadership when the going gets tough: “in a crisis, we call for someone with answers, decision, strength, and a map of the future — in short, someone who can make hard problems simple.. Instead of looking for saviours, we should be calling for leadership that will challenge us to face problems for which there are no simple, painless solutions — problems that require us to learn new ways ” (Leadership Without Easy Answers, 21)
Fullan summarizes the challenge of these crazy times. “The two greatest failures of leaders are in decisiveness in times of urgent need for action and dead certainty that they are right in times of complexity.”
Elsewhere, Meg Wheatley writes that “Leadership in Turbulent Times is Spiritual.” Hint – that doesn’t necessarily equate with certainty of direction. In fact, faith is often opposed to certainty, since faith requires risk and dependence on a God who reveals himself in his way and at his speed, ie. he is not on call because we have a need to move forward.