Archive for September, 2008

Moth, rust, and thieves…

Matt 6.19-21 (ESV)

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 

 

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John Frame on Cultural Transformation

One of my favorite thinkers and writers is a man named John Frame.  I find almost everything he writes to be both challenging and helpful.  He and another theologian whom I greatly respect, Vern Poythress, have a website on which they make many of there works available for free.  Their site is an incredible resource for biblical and theological study, so I have included a link to their site on our page. 

As we seek to be a transforming community, we have to ask what that means and looks like beyond merely using clever words in a vision statement.  Frame and Poythress have many helpful articles on various aspects of cultural transformation.  In many of these articles, they work through specific issues such as bio-ethics, art, and technology.  The following link is a short article by John Frame titled “The Local Church and Cultural Transformation.”  This concise statement is the very tip of the iceberg, but it is helpful as we start to think through the far-reaching impact of the gospel of Jesus Christ on the world around us. 

http://www.frame-poythress.org/frame_articles/2007LocalChurch.htm

 

 

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What is the Bible all about?

One of the most important questions that Christians ask is, “How do we interpret the Bible?”  Or, “What is the Bible really all about; what is its center?”  Not surprisingly, there have been loads of differing answers given to these questions.  Some say the Bible is chiefly about God.  Some say the Bible is a book of morals, a divine list of do’s and don’ts.  Some say it is all about covenant.  Some say it centers on the church, or the people of God.  Some define the center as Israel.  Some point to grace.  Some say it is all about redemption.  And we could find a countless number of differing answers if we wanted.  Finding so many different opinions regarding what the Bible is all about often leaves us with another question, “Is the Bible really about one thing?”  We may even ask in our despair, “Is the Bible really about anything?”

In one sense, we can understand all of the answers given above to be emphasizing different aspects of a more basic answer to our questions of biblical interpretation; however, to say any one of these things is the core, or center, of the Bible is to say that it is the most basic answer we can give.  On the one hand, we need a very broad answer.  On the other hand, we need an answer that is narrow enough to actually say something.  Part of the problem may be in our attempt to boil the teaching of such a complex book down to just one word, but a bigger part of the problem may be that we have overlooked how the Bible answers our questions of interpretation.  The most important rule of biblical interpretation is, “Let Scripture interpret Scripture,” so let’s look to the Word to find out what it is all about.  Here are seven passages that help answer our questions of interpretation.  There is of course far more that could be said.

Gen 3.14-15 (ESV)

14The LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
     cursed are you above all livestock
     and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
     and dust you shall eat
     all the days of your life.
15I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
     and you shall bruise his heel.”

Genesis 3.15 gives us a promise that the head of the serpent will be crushed by the seed of the woman.  This is a reference to Jesus Christ and his work of redeeming the people of God.  Dr. John Currid sums up this argument as follows, “…contained in Genesis 3 is the prophecy that God will send a Redeemer to crush the enemy.  Jesus is the seed who is descended from Eve and went to do battle against Satan.  The remaineder of Scripture is an unfolding of the prophecy of Genesis 3.15.  Redemption is promised in this one verse, and the Bible traces the development of that redemptive theme.”*  Further, when this idea is traced through to the book of Revelation. we see this story come to a glorious end in the last chapters of Revelation when Jesus Christ comes on his white horse and brings victory for his people.

Deut 30.1-14 (ESV)

1“And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, 2and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, and he will  gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you.  4If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there he will take you.  5And the LORD your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it.  And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers.  6And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.  7And the LORD your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you.  8And you shall again obey the voice of the LORD and keep all his commandments that I command you today.  9The LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground.  For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, 10when you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

11“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.  12It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  13Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  14But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

This passage comes at the end of the giving of the Law.  Just prior to this passage, the covenant blessings and curses are given along with the conditions for receiving blessings rather than curses.  Notice that in this passage there is the promise that God will deliver his people from a future exile.  In other words, this passage has a prophetic element to it.  God is saying to Israel through Moses that they will fail and he will deliver them.  In addition, Paul quotes from this passage in Romans 10.5-13 where he is setting out God’s plan for redemption through Jesus Christ.  That is to say, Paul, an inspired biblical author, interprets this passage, which is one of the key passages for understanding the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament properly, as pointing to the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. 

Matt 11.11-15 (ESV)

11Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.  Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  12From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.  13For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.  15He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Luke 16.16-17 (ESV)

16“The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.  17But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

The passages in Matthew 11 and Luke 16 are clearly very similar.  Both passages teach that the Law served a specific purpose through the time of John the Baptist who came to announce the coming of Jesus Christ.  Some theologians refer to this specific purpose of the law in terms of “planned obsolescence.”  In other words, the Law was intended for a specific and bound purpose.  The specific purpose of the Law is also seen in other passages such as Galatians 3.15-29 (more on that below).

Luke 24.27 (ESV)

27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Jesus is the one doing the interpreting mentioned in this passage, and he is instructing his disciples.  The meaning here is relatively straight forward.  Jesus goes through the Old Testament, summarized here as “Moses and all the Prophets,” and explains to his disciples how they point to himself.  Jesus interpreted the Scriptures as pointing to himself.

Rom 5.12-21 (ESV)

12Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned- 13for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.  14Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

15But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.  16And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin.  For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.  17For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

18Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.  19For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.  20Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 5 is a very helpful passage because it tells us that Adam was a type of Christ.  “A type is a shadow cast on the pages of OT history by a truth whose full embodiment or antitype is found in the NT revelation;”** it is a specific kind of foreshadowing rooted history.  In this passage Adam is a type of Christ in his covenant or federal headship.  This helps us to understand that all of Scripture points to Jesus Christ rather than only that which comes after the fall.  An important conclusion regarding history can be deduced from this passage as well.  Since Adam, the first man, was established as a type of Christ it follows that there is a specific end toward which all of history flows, the consummation of Christ’s kingdom.  This is also seen in passages such as John 1.1-5 and Colossians 1.15-20 where Christ is established as not only active in creating, but also the end or purpose of creation.

Gal 3.15-29 (ESV)

15To give a human example, brothers:  even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified.  16Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one,  “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.  17This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.  18For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

19Why then the law?  It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels  by an intermediary.  20Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

21Is the law then contrary to the promises of God?  Certainly not!  For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.  22But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

23Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.  24So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.  25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.  27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  29And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

While there are many more passages that could be referenced to help make the case for a Christ-centered interpretation of Scripture, Galatians will be the last one considered here.  Galatians 3.15-29 outlines in part the theological system called covenant theology.  Within this rich passage there are a few key phrases regarding the current discussion.  First, verse 18 clearly teaches that the offspring to whom the promises were made and in whom the promises are fulfilled is Jesus Christ.  Second, Paul asks in verse 19, “Why then the law?”  He answers, “It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made.”  Remember, Paul just defined the offspring as Christ.  This affirms the passages in Matthew 11 and Luke 16 mentioned above, as well as the planned obsolescence of the Law mentioned above.  Paul elaborates on this point in verse 24 writing, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.”  Third, in verse 29 Paul states, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”  So, the promises given to Abraham are fulfilled and realized in Christ and extended to those who are united by faith to Christ and thereby made heirs with Christ.

When all of these passages are considered together, it becomes clear that the revelation of Jesus Christ is the point of Scripture.  Right from the beginning, God is working out his plan of salvation for his people through his Son, Jesus Christ.  The Christ-centered nature of Scripture is important to understand.  It helps guard against legalistic, moralistic, and spiritualistic interpretations of Scripture, especially of the Old Testament, and it helps to guard against a formulation of God that leaves him impotent in the salvation of his people.  From beginning to end, when we read the Bible, we are reading the story of our Savior.  Read the Bible, and bow before the King revealed in its pages.

 


*John D. Currid, Genesis: Volume 1 – Genesis 1:1-25:18, EP Study Commentary (Webster: Evangelical Press, 2003), 131.

 

 

**Everett F. Harrison, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Carl F. Henry, ed. Wycliffe Dictionary of Theology (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 533.

 

 

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On Being a Ministering Community

Recently, I was talking with one of the men involved in the church plant.  We were discussing the fact that we all know we have issues, but none of us want to admit our issues or ask about anyone else’s issues.  He gave the illustration of everyone having big flashing lights that we all mutually ignore. One aspect of the vision of Christ Church Conway is to be a ministering community.  This is a particularly messy part of our vision, for being a ministering community requires that we deal with the big flashing lights.  Two things contribute to the messiness of being a ministering community.

First, being a ministering community requires us to admit that we are incredibly needy people.  We need to be loved.  We need to be forgiven.  We need to be held accountable.  And, above all, we need the grace that comes through Jesus Christ.  Admitting need is messy and hard because it squishes our pride, makes us vulnerable, and forces us to admit that we are not the Messiah and do not actually have it all together.

Second, being a ministering community is messy because it requires that we acknowledge and even ask about other people’s big flashing lights.  (The order of these two points is important – remove the plank then ask about the speck.) This is messy because we are delving into dirt, and we are not good at it. We are no good at real accountability, because we are no good at holiness.  We like to give (and receive) accountability that is sarcastic, humorous, passive, based in opinion, open to interpretation, and/or implied.  The problem is we need accountability that is biblical, direct, gracious, loving, and Christ exalting.

All of the messiness of being a ministering community is only compounded when we seek to take this idea beyond our church community and into our civic community.  To say that we are going to minister to and in the civic community is to admit for both the community and the individuals who form that community that they have issues.  Such an admission, on behalf of another, requires more grace and mercy than we are capable of giving on our own. 

There is a Bible verse in 1 Peter 3 that often gets thrown around to encourage us in apologetics, the defense of the faith.  Peter writes, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3.15, ESV).  Many of us are ready to give a defense, and to not stop giving a defense until we see blood.  Immediately following this passage, Peter wrote, “yet do it [that is give a defense] with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3.15b-18, ESV).

Scripture requires us to be a ministering community, and it requires us to be such with gentleness and respect.

 

 

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Fundamentals

This week I received an email from a high school student asking about the fundamentals of the PCA.  As I thought through this answer, it dawned on me that some of you may be asking the same thing, so the email and answer are below with some minor editing that should have been done before I sent it to the student.  Thinking through these issues was very helpful for me, perhaps it will be of help for you as well.

Dear Rev. Kevin Hale, 

My name is _____ and I’m a high school student. In my religions class we are researching different branches of Christianity. I was wondering if you could help us by informing me what the fundamental principles of your branch of Christianity are?

Thank you,
_____

 

Dear _____,

I would be happy to help you out, and I am interested to know how you found us and why you picked us.  Your question is a great one, and there is a lot that I could say to distinguish us against other denominations.  I am not sure how much or how little you want, so I will answer your questions in three ways, biblically, historically, and denominationally.  If I give you more than you want or need you can stop reading when you have what you need.  But, if you need more let me know, and I can fill things out a bit.  

Biblically speaking…

If we are dealing with the fundamentals, those things that cannot be compromised I would turn to I Corinthians 15.1-11 as a good summary statement.  Paul writes, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received,  in which you stand, and by which  you are being saved, if you  hold fast to the word I preached to you- unless you believed in vain.

 ”For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins  in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised  on the third day  in accordance with the Scriptures, and that  he appeared to Cephas, then  to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.  For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.  Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed” (ESV).

This passage is a good summary because it teaches the centrality of the Scriptures and the gospel, the reality of man’s sinfulness, the efficiency of the atoning work of Jesus Christ for the sins of his people, the certainty of the resurrection, the necessity of grace, and the agency of God in the salvation of his people.  

Historically speaking…

The reformed faith, the theological tradition of which I am a part, has been summed up by the five solas (latin for only or alone) of the protestant reformation – Sola gratia (by grace alone), Sola fide (by faith alone), Solus Christus (Christ alone), Sola scriptura (by Scripture alone), Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone).  These are presented in different orders at different times.  Typically, Sola Scriptura is first because of the fight with the Catholic church over where authority lies.  I present them in this order because they sum up the gospel. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone as he is revealed in Scripture alone all for the glory of God alone.  

In the early 20th century, a great controversy boiled over in the US between fundamentalism and liberalism.  This is not fundamentalism or liberalism as we think of it today in terms of a religio-political or socio-political point of view.  Rather this controversy had to do with the “vitals of religion.”  The five fundamentals were defined as (1) the inerrancy of Scripture; (2) the virgin birth of Christ; (3) the substitutionary atonement of Christ; (4) the bodily resurrection of Christ; and (5) the second coming of Christ.  Fundamentalists affirmed these five doctrines as fundamental to the Christian faith while liberals denied their necessity to Christianity.  By this definition, the ministers in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the denomination in which I serve, would be considered fundamentalists, perhaps for clarity we should say we are historic fundamentalists.

Denominationally speaking…

The PCA, affirms the Westminster Confession of Faith together with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms.  If you are interested, you can find a copy of the confession at http://www.pcanet.org/general/cof_contents.htm.  Additionally, the PCA has produced a brief statement of beliefs.  I have included it here for your convenience.

“We believe the Bible is the written word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit and without error in the original manuscripts. The Bible is the revelation of God’s truth and is infallible and authoritative in all matters of faith and practice.

“We believe in the Holy Trinity. There is one God, who exists eternally in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

“We believe that all are sinners and totally unable to save themselves from God’s displeasure, except by His mercy.

“We believe that salvation is by God alone as He sovereignly chooses those He will save. We believe His choice is based on His grace, not on any human individual merit, or foreseen faith.

“We believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, who through His perfect life and sacrificial death atoned for the sins of all who will trust in Him, alone, for salvation.

“We believe that God is gracious and faithful to His people not simply as individuals but as families in successive generations according to His Covenant promises.

“We believe that the Holy Spirit indwells God’s people and gives them the strength and wisdom to trust Christ and follow Him.

“We believe that Jesus will return, bodily and visibly, to judge all mankind and to receive His people to Himself.

“We believe that all aspects of our lives are to be lived to the glory of God under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”

As you can see, there is a lot of overlap between the biblical, historical, and denominational fundamentals.  This reflects the reformed tradition’s faithfulness to Scripture.  If you have further questions, let me know.

 


http://www.pcanet.org/general/beliefs.htm

 

 

 

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Evangelism and Discipleship – Planting and Watering Seeds of the Gospel

The second part of our vision statement, “[to] work to plant and water the seeds of the gospel in the lives of individuals in Conway and all the places where we serve,” can be understood as both the means by which we are made a worshipping, ministering, and transforming community and the necessary product of being a worshipping, ministering, and transforming community.  I want to answer two questions that some may have regarding this aspect of our vision statement.
          1)   How is planting and watering the seeds of the gospel both the means and the product of being a worshipping, ministering, and transforming community?
          2)   Why is the work limited to planting and watering the seeds of the gospel?  Should there not also be an aspect of works of service and mercy?

First, Rom 10.14-17 helps a great deal in understanding how planting and watering can be both the means and the product.  Paul wrote, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’  But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  Notice the progression.  Calling on God requires believing in God.  Believing requires hearing.  Hearing requires preaching.  Preaching requires sending.  Paul then simplifies the progression saying, “So faith comes from hearing and hearing from the word of Christ.”  Whether we are dealing with a non-believer who must believe in Christ to be saved or a believer calling out to God to, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9.24) the word of Christ is what is needed.  While the depth of instruction may vary from a non-believer to believer or from a new believer to a mature believer, the substance of that teaching remains the same.  Therefore, the planting and watering the seeds of the gospel is the means by which we become a worshipping, ministering, and transforming community, but how is it the product?

When the grace of Christ changes our heart, we recognize the greater need in the world for the gospel to go out.  As Paul wrote, preachers must be sent.  That begs the question, “Who sends preachers?” God is the ultimate agent in the sending process, and He normally uses the church as the intermediate agent through which he calls and sends men out to preach the good news of the resurrected Christ.  If we are a community that is ministering and working for transformation, we will be doing the work of sending and going as the Holy Spirit leads us.  Therefore, planting and watering is both the means of becoming and the necessary product of being a worshipping, ministering, and transforming community.

Second, Why is the work limited to planting and watering the seeds of the gospel?  Should there not also be an aspect of works of service and mercy?  To put it simply, the work is not limited to verbal proclamation.  Christ, in His ministry readily met physical needs.  The apostles established Deacons in an official role to oversee the meeting of certain physical needs.  James accepts that it is pointless to tell someone in need to go in peace without giving them a coat and some food.  However, if deeds are not interpreted, explained, and set in the context of the love of Christ, then we are in danger of filling a man’s belly only for him to arrive at the gates of hell and realize his hunger was only a symptom.  As Christians, we should seek to display the love of Christ in tangible ways, but we dare not stop there.

 

 

 

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Marketing and the Gospel, part 2

1 Corinthians 9.19-23   “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”

At first glance, these words of Paul look an awful lot like marketing.  However, right from the beginning Paul makes a very distinguishing remark.  “I have made myself a servant to all.”  Often times in marketing, the goal is to make the product appear better than it actually is in order to get the customer to do what the seller wants.  In other words, the customer is viewed as the servant and worthy of being manipulated (I realize this is a very cynical view of marketing, but let’s be honest – life does not really take Visa and the middle-America farm boy is not actually going to get an Italian supermodel because he learned to speak Italian with Rosetta Stone language software).

Paul’s approach is altogether different.  Rather than looking for ways to make the gospel better than it actually is, which he can’t do, Paul looks for ways to make himself less of an issue.  Paul wanted the gospel alone to be the obstacle for those to whom he preached.  If his freedom in Christ was an issue for someone, then Paul submitted himself to the scruples of the law while still living and preaching the grace of Jesus Christ.  In other words, Paul was meeting non-believers where they were and doing everything within his power not to be an offense to those who would listen.  It seems that Paul’s philosophy was – Take the gospel to the people and do everything you can to leave your own baggage behind. 

Is how you dress, drive, live, act, work, spend, or speak worth a person’s soul? 

Frankly, I don’t even like to ask the question.

 

 

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Marketing and the Gospel, part 1

One of my favorite places in Conway is a little bookstore in downtown called That Bookstore and Café.  The owner and staff are usually up for a good conversation, the coffee is good, and the book selection is unlike anything you will find in big-box type stores.  On a recent trip to this shop, the owner recommended The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.  The Tipping Point is a popular level marketing book, and Gladwell’s basic premise is, “Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.” Gladwell backs up his premise based on “The Law of the Few,”  “The Stickiness Factor,” and “The Power of Context.”

“The Law of the Few” is the idea that a few key people can have far more influence than several non-key people can.  Gladwell points out three types of people that he thinks are important in spreading ideas.  1) Connectors are those people who seem to have endless connections.  They know everybody; however, they often do not know very many people very well.  2) Mavens are people who know about everything.  They are information mongers and they love to help people out with the information they have collected.  These people often know where to get the best deals on the best stuff.  3) Salesmen are people that can sell anything to anyone.  They know how to make virtually anything compelling to anyone, but they can sometimes be manipulative.

“The Stickiness Factor” is the name given for how easily people remember an idea, sound byte, or anything else.  This is what the jingles that appear in many T.V. and radio ads are trying to accomplish.  According to Gladwell, two of the stickiest slogans, if you are old enough to remember them, are “Where’s the beef?” and “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should.”  In my estimation, one of the stickiest bits of advertising in recent years is the Taco Bell commercial with the little dog saying, “Yo quiero Taco Bell.”

“The Power of Context” is the idea that the situation matters.  Gladwell turns to the fall of New York City crime in the early 90′s.  In this time, the city brought in David Gunn and William Bratton as the new Subway Director and head of the Transit Police.  These two men focused on cleaning up graffiti and putting a stop to fair beating (getting free rides on the subway by jumping turnstiles and what not).  These men figured that these two issues alone set the tone for the subway system as a place where criminal activity was tolerated.  By changing the context from one of toleration to one of no tolerance, even of the smallest infraction, Gunn and Bratton restored the safety and order of the New York City subway system.

In the end, Gladwell’s book makes a lot of sense when discussing how one can affect human behavior.  Undoubtedly, through being aware of these three principles and employing them purposefully, one could have a tremendous impact on any number of issues or organizations.  If you want to sell a product, get the right few people involved with some sticky advertising in the right context and your business will explode.

This book is particularly intriguing to me as someone trying to start a new church.  Church leadership can easily apply these principles to growing a new or established church.  Get the right people involved, the culturally and socially influential.  Write up a vision statement that people can identify with and remember, and throw in some amazing worship music that leaves people wanting more.  Identify a social need the church can meet.  If a church does this, a church-like thing will grow.  However, there is a fundamental flaw in applying Gladwell’s theory to church growth.  Neither the gospel nor the power of the Holy Spirit is for sale (Isaiah 55; Acts 8.18-20, Revelation 21.6, 22.18).  The gospel is not an idea or a product that pastors or churches can market without undermining the very gospel they offer.

The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died in the place of His people, who were alienated from God in their sin, to satisfy the wrath of God, and He rose again from the dead.  Jesus did this so that all those united to Jesus Christ by faith have their sins forgiven, will be presented to God as righteous in the final judgment, and will live (Colossians 1.21-23).

When we are talking about the gospel, growing the church, and expanding the kingdom, Gladwell’s factors become secondary at best.  Do not misunderstand what I am saying.  Gladwell makes some brilliant points when it comes to marketing.  Nevertheless, in The Tipping Point Gladwell focuses on interpreting what influences the flesh, and to put it simply appealing to the flesh will never bring spiritual life.  Through marketing, you can undoubtedly build a semi-pious social organization, but Christ alone builds His church (Matthew 16.18).

If Christ Church Conway is to be a worshipping, ministering, and transforming community, if we are to be a true church, then Christ, not our cleverness, must build this church.


Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (New York: Back Bay Books, 2002), 7.

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