Monthly Archives: April 2007

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The Death of My Friend Bob Webber (1933-2007)

Bob Webber (1933-2007) died Friday at 6:10 PM (Eastern time) in his wife Joanne’s arms, after an 8 month battle with pancreatic cancer. Bob is best known for his numerous books published over the past forty years. He touched on so many subjects it is hard to know where to begin to enumerate his contributions as a writer. His more recent call for a positively framed ancient-future faith may have touched more young leaders in the North American Church than the work of any single person. A public memorial service in the Chicago-area is being planned, details will be posted on the Northern Seminary website: www.seminary.edu.

I will not compose a flowery oration about Bob. I would like to tell you why I loved and respected him as my friend and valued his counsel so profoundly. I first got to know Bob while I was a student at Wheaton College in 1969. My first remembrance was actually quite negative. Bob held views that I detested and I was pretty angry about the way he challenged students and faculty. He preached an "infamous"

By |April 30th, 2007|Categories: Personal|

A Visit to a Small Church in Rural Central Illinois

When most Christians in America think about the church they rarely consider local churches of less than 100 people, especially small churches situated in small towns all across the United States. In fact, in most small towns a local church is quite large if it has more than 40 people on a Sunday. There are so many big churches in America that it is easy to forget about these small churches in small towns. We often concentrate only on churches in terms of the urban and suburban context, where the churches exist that get the primary attention in our American culture.

As I drove home today from Waverly, Illinois, where I preached at First Baptist Church (ABC) this morning, I reflected on the values and make-up of healthy churches in small towns. Waverly is a town of less than 1,700 people about twenty-five miles south of Springfield, the state capitol. The town goes back to the 1830s and the original settlers included New England Congregationalists who moved there to begin a church and seminary. (The seminary never made it. The town remained

By |April 29th, 2007|Categories: Personal|

Some Reflections on the Don Imus Debacle

Now that Don Imus, and his racist comments about "nappy-headed hos," is back page news, if it is still news at all, I am ready to comment on this rather amazing episode in pop-cultural blow back. I have listened to the defenders and the detractors and the right and left go back and forth. Frankly the whole matter probably meant very little in the bigger picture. It does indicate, once again, how driven we are by how the news is presented to us in this country.

My comments, therefore, are random and not really original.

1. Was Imus a victim of censorship? It suppose it depends on how you define "censorship." He was employed and his employers decided to fire him for an insensitive comment that was unwisely made. The employer broke no censorship laws.

2. Freedom of speech comes with a price. We cannot say anything we want anywhere we want to say it. We have forgotten this and it harms our culture significantly. Sadly, Christians have often interpreted "free speech" as inviolable and virtually above the

By |April 28th, 2007|Categories: Uncategorized|

My Journey as a Minister of Word & Sacrament

On Tuesday, April 24, I was examined by the Illiana Classis of the Reformed Church in America (RCA) in order to have my ordination, which was originally granted in August of 1970 by the Frist Baptist Church of Lebanon, Tennessee, transfered into the RCA. I was examined in history, sacraments and polity, government and liturgy and theology. This process really began several years ago when I became convinced that the match between my theological beliefs, and the specific way I expressed those beliefs, lined up very well with the RCA. Several people had a major influence upon my direction. The most notable influence has been hat of Dr. I. John Hesselink, professor of theology emeritus at Western Theological Seminary (RCA) in Holland, Michigan. Besides John, two elders, Roger Hommes and Robert Asmus, members of the consistory at First Reformed Church in South Holland played a major role. These two excellent men, who have attended our public ministry events in Chicago for more than a decade, asked me nearly two years ago: "John, why don’t you join the RCA? You really do belong in this

By |April 27th, 2007|Categories: Reformed Christianity|

A Church Rooted in Suffering

Speaking to the Anglican Mission in America’s (AMiA) Northeast Network Mission & Ministry Conference in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, has afforded me a unique opportunity get to know some old friends much better and to make many new friendships as well. Today Mark Rudolph gave a homily before I spoke in the morning conference session. He showed how the AMiA movement is rooted deeply in suffering and death. The reason he could say this is simple—these AMiA pastors submit to the bishop of Rwanda. Even Missionary Bishop Thad Barnum serves under the leadership of the Rwandan Bishop. Indeed, he is a "missionary" bishop within North America serving under the Rwanda Church.

For those of you who do not understand this polity what this means is that the American churches are under the spiritual oversight of a bishop in Africa who oversees their work here in the U. S. as a mission directed from Africa. This, in itself, is remarkable. It is nothing short of a historic turn of events. A church formed by Western missionaries in Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries is

By |April 26th, 2007|Categories: Renewal|

The Anglican Mission

I am spresently speaking to the Anglican Mission and Ministry Conference, April 25-27, in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, held on the campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Church planters, pastors, lay leaders and seminarians are spending three days together for fellowship, teaching and corporate prayer. This evening I began a series of three messages on Acts 3:19-21 regarding "times of refreshing sent from the Lord." What are these seasons, these special times given by God throughout redemptive history to spread the fame and glory of Christ to the nations? They have been called revivals, awakenings or renewals. It matters not what you call them but I do like the term "seasons of refreshing" since this expression best describes the work of the Holy Spirit in conjunction with the sufferings and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. (Read all of Acts 3. By the way, this ministry of ACT 3 is sometimes called Acts 3 and this mistake is a happy one to me in light of this text and how important it has been to my ministry over the course of thirty-five plus years.)

These

By |April 25th, 2007|Categories: Renewal|

Dissatisfaction and Church Switching

A new study, conducted by Lifeway Research (SBC) looked at how and why people change churches in America. My own informal and anecdotal observations tell me that lots and lots of people are "switching churches" more and more often so this survey deeply interested me.

I left the pastorate in 1992 and have been in three churches in fifteen years without leaving my community. (We all have reasons and I am certainly not condemning church switching here at all. "Let the writer without the sin cast the first stone," or something like that.) My interest is not in condemning persons, for reasons vary and are sometimes complicated, but in observing the trend.

Most of those who switched said their old church failed to engage their faith (58%). But 42% said their old church failed to offer them more appealing doctrines and the preacher or church members expression of faith did not seem "authentic." Scot McConnell, associate director of LifeWay, believes the rise of "consumerism and narcissism" is evident in the survey and seen throughout people’s reasons. I have to agree,

By |April 24th, 2007|Categories: American Evangelicalism|

Once Again, Being Born Again Means So Little

It seems that every poll we read these days just reveals even more clearly how totally shallow the spiritual formation of American evangelicalism really is. A new Barna Research Group poll asks for a favorability response for several well-known public figures. On the list are people like George Clooney, Katie Couric, Faith Hill, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey and Bono. What is striking to me is how consistent the favorability and unfavorability rankings were of these personalities among all adults and among those who are "born again." There is virtually no difference at all.

Clooney, Spears and Hilton, for example, were equally favorable with all adults and the "born agains." Katie Couric and Donald Trump were slightly more favored by the "born again" crowd than the general population, but by something like 2%. What stunned me was this: Bono was less favored by the "born again" group (4%) than the general population! What on earth is going on here? Are people of (supposed) faith that ridiculously undiscerning in how they view public people and their importance? Bono is the

By |April 23rd, 2007|Categories: American Evangelicalism|

The Long Process of Becoming a Missional Church

Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) is located in suburban Dallas. Begun some twenty years ago it is not a large church (about 300 attenders) but it has had an effective ministry in several important areas for two decades. John McCracken, a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (PA) ’99, is the senior pastor. John is a Texan, who graduated from Baylor University, and is a man profoundly committed to leading this congregation toward becoming a vital missional church. For this reason I spoke today on: "Christ’s Kingdom and the Missio Dei" and will speak this evening on: "The Church: Not Sending But Sent."

ACT 3 is committed to advancing the missional mandate of Christ into the third millennium. I simply cannot let this theme go. I see this emphasis as directly linked with my theology of revival and reformation, by Word and Spirit. This is also why I have such longings and hopes for what is called the "emergent church." To reject the emergent church outright is a serious mistake I believe. Any new movement will have ups and downs, both excesses and major

By |April 22nd, 2007|Categories: Missional Church|

A 24 Addiction?

I reported several weeks ago that friends convinced me that I needed to watch the popular television series 24, starring Keifer Sutherland as agent Jack Bauer. I think they figured I was much too serious for my own good and that this venture would add a little pop-cultural advancement to my life. Well, it worked. I am not addicted, or so I think, but I have now completed Season Five. (Season Six is presently showing on Fox on Monday evenings at 8:00 p.m. CDT.)

24 is based on the idea that an agency called CTU (Counter Terrorism Unit) is charged with defending the nation against terror threats that are very real. At times the show gets so close to reality that you wonder if they are laying out a vision of the future or just doing some highly creative and exciting fiction. I am told the writers, who are immensely clever to the point of brilliant, represent the two ends of the political spectrum, which makes sense. The show reflects the actual struggles of a left and right approach to balancing both

By |April 21st, 2007|Categories: Film|
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