God is Setting All Things Right. So I am Blogging Through the Bible in a Year.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Book Review: The Theology of the Book of Revelation by Richard Bauckham

In my Introduction to the New Testament 2: Acts to Revelation class we read three books. The last one was Richard Bauckham’s The Theology of the Book of Revelation, part of the New Testament Theology series by James Dunn. I normally would not bother writing a review of a school textbook, but I thought this book would be of interest to Christians struggling with how to read the book of Revelation (Pet peeve alert! There’s only one revelation in the book of Revelation. So it’s Revelation, not RevelationS).
Bauckham was the professor of New Testament Studies at the University of St. Andrews until 2007 where he retired to focus on research and writing. The Theology of the Book of Revelation was written in 1993.
The best thing about this book is that it takes a very scholarly look at the book of Revelation without becoming overburdened with a verse-by-verse commentary. This means it gives a thorough overview without bogging down in the Greek translation. It is organized into seven chapters. Chapter one introduces common problems when reading Revelation. Two through six give a thematic overview of the book, each focusing on a different theme. The final chapter presents (disappointingly, for a book about Revelation) 11 different points for reading Revelation today.
Chapter one, “Reading the book of Revelation,” provides what many forget to do: place Revelation in the context it was written in. Bauckham presents the case that Revelation is both a book about the now (prophecy) and the end times (apocalypse). Understanding that the book is written in both genres helps us avoid many of the pitfalls of interpreting it too close to us (finding prophecies in everyday events) or relegating it to the first century (finding no comparable situations to today).
Chapters 2-6 give four themes: “The One who is and who was and who is to come,” “The Lamb on the throne,” “The victory of the Lamb and his followers,” “The Spirit of prophecy,” and “The New Jerusalem.” The most important and easiest to understand parts of this book are the introduction and conclusion. These chapters become somewhat technical and had a tendency to go over my head. However, they are good for reading through even if you do not understand all that is written.
Chapter 7 “Revelation for today” is Bauckham’s way of encouraging Christians to reopen the book and seek to understand what is there. He gives 11 points as springboards to understand its relevance to today. The best advice is given at the very end, “Revelation can help to inspire the renewal of the doctrine of God which is perhaps the most urgent contemporary theological need” (p. 164).
Overall, the book is interesting due to its ability to take the book of Revelation and allow it to interpret itself. This is something needed by many theologians, especially ones reading the book of Revelation.

Bauckham, Richard. 1993. The theology of the book of Revelation of New Testament theology. Cambridge [England]; New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Book Review 6: Emerging Churches by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger

For my final book review for the Church Planting class, I decided to read the book that first began studying this new expression of Christianity entitled Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures. Also, it was co-written by the professor of the Church Planting class, Ryan Bolger.  Bolger is currently the Associate Professor of Church in Contemporary Culture at Fuller Graduate School of Intercultural Studies. Eddie Gibbs is the Senior Professor of Church Growth at Fuller Graduate School of Intercultural Studies though partially retired.
In Emerging Churches, they attempt to give a snapshot of emerging churches in the USA and England. These two places were chosen based on budgetary issues and a similarity in culture. The book is organized into 11 chapters. The first chapter gives the cultural situation out of which these expressions of church emerged. The second chapter gives an overview of emerging churches and some of their identifying features. Chapters three through five give the theoretical tenants of most emerging churches. Chapters 6-10 describe the more practical and active components of most emerging churches. Chapter 11 serves as a summary of all of their findings and will be skipped in the chapter-by-chapter comments below. There are two appendices giving the story of each of the 50 church founders they contacted and their methodology for the study itself.
The description of the cultural setting for these expressions of church is very rooted in a postmodern mindset, though they would be considered more constructive than deconstructive in their approach to contextualized forms of church. The traditional church structure and mindset is becoming quite foreign when compared to where their cultures have shifted. The emerging churches are attempting to re-contextualize for the new culture by producing a new form of church, mentioned in chapter two.
The emerging church is not a group of young people rebelling against old people. In fact, the thing that surprised me the most about these groups is that they are not attempting to “reach” any group of people. They are Christians who had become strangers to their peers and began to see that their expression of church was the major reason people rejected God. Gibbs and Bolger summarized the principles in this way (each color representing a different aspect of the emerging church, so I have taken out the numbers):
Emerging churches, as they are embodied in postmodern cultures, are those who take the life of Jesus as a model way to live, who transform the secular realm, as they live highly communal lives [essential aspects]. Because of these three activities, they welcome those who are outside, they share generously, they participate, create, they lead without control, and function together in spiritual activities [derivatives of the essential aspects].”  (p. 45)
Chapter 3 “Identify with Jesus” show how they have attempted to return their theology from a Pauline-focused to Christ-centered. This is something that is greatly needed in the church today. The only possible critique of this theology is that it must be balanced so that Paul and the epistles do not become obsolete or minimized. At the same time, this shift is a needed one.
Chapter 4 “Transforming Secular Space” is one I believe is amongst the most important and needed critiques of the church today. Often we stay in our buildings and corners and wonder why the world around us rejects God. Emerging churches take worshiping God in the heart language and in the heart way in a unique way by re-merging the dichotomy of sacred and secular.
Chapter 5 “Living as Community” returns the focus of the church from the institution to a family. This is a needed shift because churches have often become a volunteer organization where people come to socialize and perform rituals and then separate never to see each other again until the next week. Emerging churches live as a community and define their community by the members of their church instead of the other way around.
Chapter 6 “Welcoming the Stranger” describes a shift in evangelism. Instead of going to people and telling them to change their beliefs, they want to focus on becoming intimately involved in their friends’ lives (or inviting outsiders to join their lives) and allowing the Spirit to move them to become Christians. Chapter 7 “Serving with Generosity” presents a similar swing in the rationale behind service. In them, benevolence is less about impressing people to come to their church or giving a handout for the sake of humanity but becoming the gospel to others so they might see our good works and give glory to God. The only possible negative critique of this shift is can they become so open and accepting of all people that the gospel is lost in niceness? For example, if a Buddhist saw their good works and wanted to join them, a balanced approach would be to actively encourage that person to allow the God of creation to lead them though not condemning them and requiring them to forsake their entire Buddhist philosophy of life. I think they are close to this mindset and appreciate their balance so far.
Chapters 8, “Participating as Producers,” and 9, “Creating as Created Beings,” focus on encouraging all Christians to create whether it is in the worship setting and sharing their talents there or outside the corporate setting and creating art, music, dance, etc. for the glory of God. All of this is worship in that it is for the glory of God.
Chapter 10, “Leading as a Body” entails how they have shifted from a hierarchal structure to a flat structure focused on giving all a voice. Of all the principles, this is one I could map directly to the Restoration Movement and find where our tradition and how we have read the Bible helps them as they challenge us. Leadership can become so flat that confusion and anarchy reign. This means there has to be a leader (or leaders) who have the authority to lead. In this way, the Restoration Movement has excelled. At the same time, emerging churches stress leaders who are appointed based on their ability to be spiritual guides for the group. Although the Restoration Movement has stressed this in the past, it is more commonplace that church have appointed elders who were more successful businessmen (in my tradition, only men are appointed by the congregation in the position of elder) or older than the rest. Ministers were brought in from far away because of their resumes instead of their ability to teach the congregation. In this, emerging churches can challenge Churches of Christ to acknowledge men who are currently serving instead of appointing people they think will serve well.
Overall, I believe this book is an excellent study in allowing the leaders of each church describe itself. Their uncritical descriptions allow the reader to decide if these actions are biblical, beneficial or best for their situation. For this, I am grateful for reading Emerging Churches.
Gibbs, Eddie, and Ryan K. Bolger. 2005. Emerging churches : creating Christian community in postmodern cultures. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Class Summary for Dec. 1

Today in class we discussed the attributes of Emerging Churches as described in Gibbs and Bolger’s book Emerging Churches (see my review next week). Here is how they wrote it: “Emerging churches, as they are embodied in postmodern cultures, are those who take the life of Jesus as a model way to live, who transform the secular realm, as they live highly communal lives [essential aspects] Because of these three activities, they welcome those who are outside, they share generously, they participate, create, they lead without control, and function together in spiritual activities [derivatives of the essential aspects].” These aspects are not set in stone and not all churches would agree to them. The most interesting thing is that it looks very similar in theory to the Restoration Movement’s principles. Their theology may not be exactly the same, but I believe churches in the Restoration Movement, if they have an open mind, can actually learn from emerging churches and use our principles to challenge theirs. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Book Review 5: The New Conspirators by Tom Sine

For my next Church Planting book I decided to read The New Conspirators by Tom Sine. Tom is a prolific writer who began the Mustard Seed House in Seattle, Washington, a community of believers who attempt to live the Great Commission together. He is also an adjunct professor at Fuller’s campus in Seattle.
The New Conspirators is a book in which Sine has five “conversations” writing about different aspects of Christian life and new theologians who are challenging traditional churches. Conversation one suggests that Christians take four groups serious: Emerging churches, Missional churches, Mosaics and Monastics. Conversation two critiques modern popular culture. Conversation three looks at the state of the church today. Conversation four speaks about the challenges the globalized world gives to each class of people and the church. Conversation five ends the study by giving practical examples and principles for living out the previous chapters.
Normally I read the assigned books for class and if I like them I’ll put them on my Amazon wish list (http://bit.ly/grahamwishlist). However, this book is difficult for me to decide if I want it or not. On one hand I loved the major sections on contemporary culture, how it influences individuals and the church collective, and his practical advice from conversation five. On the other, his hyperbolic doomsday scenarios are completely devoid of God he also says is all-powerful. These types of worst-case scenarios are extremely naïve and take innovation in production as static, doing exactly what he complains most mission agencies do, “It is rare to find a Christian organization that researches how the context in which they do mission will likely change before it does strategic planning” (p. 130). This is my biggest problem with theologians who write on economic ideas. They often speak negatively about globalization and the free market and then put their foot in their mouth giving simplistic views and faulty logic about economics and how to solve poverty. However, I have previously written about this topic, so I will not belabor the point more.
The opening chapter (after the forward by Shane Claiborne and the acknowledgements) gives an opening shot across the bow. Sine’s writing is very cut and dry. He gets to the point quickly. These are turbulent times (I have yet to read a book that does not start out this way regardless of when it was written) and there are a small group of people who are working to buck the trend. The first conversation gives names to the movements and leaders of each movement. This chapter is a great introduction for anyone looking for a summary of new expressions of Christianity in the Western world.
Conversation two, “Taking the Culture Seriously,” is also a solid piece of writing which describes the major cultural shifts going on. Except for a few places where he makes sure to include the obligatory “the widening gap between the rich and poor” concept, his warning that nothing is spiritually neutral in how it is used is one which should be heeded. The only weakness I can see in this is that he focuses so much effort on the fact that people are going heavily into debt to keep up their lifestyle and yet never blames the people for doing it. This is why I respect people like Dave Ramsey more than most theologians. He at least puts the blame squarely on the person. “The culture may have told you to do it but you went out and bought that car, got that $50,000 education to make $30,000 a year, or went $10,000 in credit card debt. Now get to work or sell everything you can to pay off the loans.”
Conversation three, “Taking the Future of God Seriously,” is an interesting critique of modern culture. Sine’s idea that we have replaced the final coming of Jesus with disembodied spirits going up to meet him in the air is a great critique of Western theology. However, the idea that we can produce heaven on earth before that time reeks of utopianism. Poverty will never be eradicated. To encourage Christians to help as many poor people get on their feet as we can is different than complaining that all Western countries are evil because poverty continues to exist.
Conversation four, “Taking Turbulent Times Seriously,” is basically summed in my previous post and comments above. The only thing I would add is that he does not denigrate the rich but challenges them to offer training and education to those who wish to do more with their lives. This was one of the most refreshing surprises of the entire book.
If I could, I would take conversations one and five (“Taking Our Imaginations Seriously”) and create a great book of wonderful suggestions and people thinking outside the traditional church box. This conversation alone is worth the price of the book. In it he gives great suggestions and practical examples of people taking their spirituality and making it real by loving their neighbor as their self. His suggestion to start really, really small is really, really good. Often I think Christians become so paralyzed by the plight of the poor around the world that they may forget that “the system” is no more than a group of people who need to know God one by one (or the entire group at the same time, if possible). I appreciate everyone who tries to make life easier/better for the world. Interestingly Sine includes a section on entrepreneurship with a mission. This can be where Christians can have the most impact. Encouraging Christians not to be Christians who get stuck with a job because they are unwilling to minister but to how the Good News of Jesus and the salvation of the world can change their coworkers is a shift I love. In times like these I wish I were one of them. Being with theologians all day can wear on a person after a while.
In the end I decided to add the book to my wish list. If I use it in a class, I’ll probably use only the first and fifth conversations completely and use sporadic chapters in the middle. His great suggestions and practical theology are worth enduring the doomsday ideas about economics and what causes people to have high mortgages.
Sine, Tom. 2008. The new conspirators : creating the future one mustard seed at a time. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Class Summary for Nov. 24

Today in class we talked about the declining numbers in mainline churches. I find this discussion interesting and must fight my urge to over generalize the fact that these are denominations and since the Churches of Christ are not a traditional denomination we do not have a similar problem. Although I believe that people leaving denominations may be a good thing in the long run, I understand that if people become overly cynical towards Christians our witness in the world will suffer.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Class Summary for Nov. 17

Today in class we discussed three major themes, how can a church balance evangelism and social justice, how can the church speak of sin and righteousness in a world sick of hearing about them, and leadership which focuses on deeper emotions instead of what is on the surface.
Of all of these, the final one was the most interesting. The idea that most problems are not intrinsically evil but are simply our emotions either running scared or running amok is a great shift in the thinking behind both sides of most arguments. If leaders and churches will focus on keeping their emotions in check and making sure they feel safe even though they "walk through the shadow of death" churches can become a great place for respectful dialogue, peaceful negotiations and reconciliation.

Book Review 4: Organic Church by Neil Cole

Recently I read the book Organic Church: Growing Faith where Life Happens by Neil Cole. Cole is a church planter and one of the cofounders of Church Multiplication Associates. He has been interested in planting churches since the early nineties and has worked for the past 10 years planting churches and encouraging church planters all over the world.
Organic Church is the third book (out of nine) written by Cole and the most popular and controversial one by far. In it he presents his philosophy of church planting, critiques of where the American church has gone wrong and encouragement that normal people can do just what he has done.
After describing a scene from The Matrix and warning people not to read unless they were willing to change their concept of ‘church’ as Neo changed his concept of ‘reality,’ Cole presents a very factual and respectful critique of the American church conscious. I say respectful because his purpose is not to demonize traditional churches, become a sanctuary for evangelical outcasts, or become a new trendy “prophetic” voice. The problem is not that American churches are too culturally bound or removed; it’s because churches have detached themselves from Jesus to the point that the world no longer sees a connection between the two. The rest of the book is his resolution of this problem.
Part one (chs. 1-4) gives his rationale for changing his conception of ‘church.’ Chapter one is a call for the church to leave its place of comfort and, using a metaphor from Lord of the Rings, ride out into the fray of a world thirsting for righteousness but unable to find it. Encouraging churches to get beyond “defending the faith,” he wants them to know that Jesus has already won and they have the right to go on the offensive. He gives an example of his radically changed state of mind by telling a new Christian drug addict to kick the habit by evangelizing to his drug dealer. Cole’s ability to think outside the normal boundaries of “safe church” is amazing and almost always germane to the situation. Chapter two gives his story of being awakened to the ‘organic’ style of planting churches, “to lower the bar of how church is done and raise the bar of what it means to be a disciple” (p. 26). Chapter three provides hope to the church that all is not lost. The church can survive only if it allows the light of Jesus in to revive its “zombie flesh.” Chapter four asks a dangerous question: “Okay, Lord, so what is a church anyway?” (p. 47). This question is very important. First, it invites God as the centerpiece. Second, the question is not, “how do I do church” (neglecting God) or “what is ‘church’” (neglecting man) but gets to the heart of the matter: God, what is a church? This shift is extremely important because it is both emanating out of God and yet remains practical.
Part two (chs. 5-7) gives a biblical basis of organic churches. Chapter five presents a very interesting and thought-provoking extension to the phrase “you reap what you sow” with “you eat what you reap.” If Christians sow nothing they eat nothing. Also, if they spend all of their time tending to the bad soils they may end up with a bad crop: “I am convinced that we have made a serious mistake by accommodating bad soil in our churches” (p. 69). This concept should and could revolutionize the makeup of the church and cause a great repentance and renewal to come upon a multitude of congregations. Chapter six calls the church back to a simplistic view of growth, one that expects yet still is amazed at God’s power to give increase. Chapter seven looks back at the beginning of life to show that a church is at its best when it is only two or three people. This is important because if these two or three people are on fire for God, there can be no opposition to their spiritual growth.
Part three (chs. 8-9) looks at the foundation for an organic church. Cole uses the basic building blocks of all living organisms to form an acrostic of the three irreducible complexities of churches (ch. 8): Divine truth, Nurturing relationships and Apostolic mission (DNA). Any additions, subtractions or relegations of one of these will cause a church to become less than adequate for its mission. Chapter nine gives more specifics on leadership style (diffused), structure (supporting not limiting), and design (fractals, meaning each mimics the others in having DNA unique but similar to all others) of organic churches.
Part four (chs. 10-12) gives encouragement that everyone is capable of planting a church but only if they are willing to fully rely on God, pray, and give Him room to work. He encourages leaders to allow and push new converts to spread their new faith to their acquaintances since they will be the best workers (ch. 10). Chapter 11 expands on the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game to show that everyone has connections to people around the world. If we are willing to use those connections towards expanding the reign of God starting at home and working outwards we could change the world. Chapter 12 is a passionate plea to spread the news the way Jesus tells the apostles to spread the news in Luke 10. Normal door-knocking campaigns focus on hitting every door in the neighborhood. Jesus told the apostles to look for a person of peace and not to leave them. So we should knock on the first door asking if they know who needs the gospel. This simple shift is brilliant.
Part five humanizes the entire book by giving examples of failed attempts (ch. 13) and his final plea to action (ch. 14). I appreciated this chapter greatly because this is where most books fail. They focus so much on getting it done right that one may feel paralyzed with fear and unable to even start. Cole’s mistakes and subsequent successes show that this is not going to be done perfectly at first; however, by learning from their mistakes, Christians can plant churches that reproduce.
Obviously, I have so many great things to say about this book (this review is over twice the assigned size). I suggest that anyone (that is, anyone able to get past his faulty soteriology to see the great strengths in this book) should run and get it. However, heed his warning: “After reading this book, you may not want to go back [to the ordinary church].”
Cole, Neil. 2005. Organic church : growing faith where life happens. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Class Summary for Nov. 10 - God Loves the Rich, Too

In yesterday’s class we went to the annual Missiology Lectures with guest Vinoth Ramachandra. Although I agree with some of his challenges, his lecture is another example of why theologians are incapable of influencing businessmen and economists. The lecture was full rancor and simplistic deductions about such things as capitalism, laissez-faire economics and American culture. After calling Fareed Zakaria (the author of The Post-American World naïve he proceeds to give a completely biased and simplistic view of our culture then has the audacity to encourage us to become more nuanced in our dealings with third-world countries. I do not know if this comes from his British university training or a cynical view of man, but I found it completely insulting to my friends who are in business fields and Ramachandra devoid of love. He complained that although the USA calls itself a “free market” it is not. This I agree with. However, later he complains that the poor are being oppressed by laissez-faire capitalism. Excuse me one moment, there, sir. ‘Free markets’ and ‘laissez-faire’ are basically the same thing (according to Merriam-Webster, laissez faire is “a doctrine opposing governmental interference in economic affairs beyond the minimum necessary for the maintenance of peace and property rights." The USA cannot be anti-free markets and laissez faire at the same time. But to Ramachandra, since laissez-faire is what businesses want, he wants the opposite. What he and other anti-free-market capitalism types attempt to do is shift the blame from what truly causes economic problems, governments creating onerous laws and/or not enforcing the laws equally, to a mystical economic system they cannot control (North Korea has no laissez-faire, free-market capitalism economy yet most people do not want to live there). Unfortunately I find this from many Non-Western theologians that they wish for Americans to understand the intricacies of their culture and be culturally sensitive yet proceed to bash our culture as though it were ruled by the devil himself. It makes me ashamed to call myself a missiologist, attempting to tear down the barriers between the secular and the sacred.

Ramachandra said that Christians should do, “Anything to encourage the rich to part with their money.” This is what God put us here to do? God loves the rich, too. I do believe Jesus’ attitude toward Zacchaeus and his parable in Luke 19.1-27 would challenge Ramachandra. Jesus did not condemn Zacchaeus for being rich. He simply asked to come to his home. The people grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner” (v. 7, ESV). Zacchaeus felt shame for what he had done and repented. Jesus does not begin a lecture on the evils of the Roman economic system. He simply stated “Today salvation has come to his house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (vv. 9-10). This should be the attitude we take towards the rich. Theologians and missiologists should not feel jealous because businessmen have more money and possessions. Theologians and missiologists should challenge them to see beyond the physical and acknowledge the one who blessed them with what they have. By doing this the businessman and the rich will see God’s love for them not as rich or poor but as his creation. Then when they become as Zacchaeus and want to give away their money to the poor cross cultural workers like myself can rejoice with them and help them do the things Ramachandra suggested. Unfortunately none of this will happen until theologians stop grumbling that non-Christians and nominal Christians fail to live by Jesus’ standards (which they outright reject or care little for) and have more than the poor, show little to no understanding of economics and attempt to portray the rich as the enemy instead of someone who needs God.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Book Review 3: Growing Healthy Asian American Churches edited by Cha, Kang and Lee

The third book I read for my Church Planting class was Growing Healthy Asian American Churches edited by Peter Cha, S. Steve Kang and Helen Lee. Cha and Kang are professors at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, respectfully. Lee is the cofounder of Best Christian Workplaces Institute.
The first chapter, “Grace-Filled Households” by Nancy Sigikawa and Steve Wang, provides an excellent opening by distinguishing between an anything-goes grace model and a calling-to-righteousness grace model. Through two examples they show that Asian American churches can show grace by realizing that God’s grace is for all who seek forgiveness and are willing to repent. This model does not overlook sin or relegate the sinner to an outsider’s status. It calls people to righteousness and helps grace flow to situations of hurt, injustice and failure.
“Truth-Embodying Households” by Steve Kang encourages leaders of Asian American Churches to read the Bible unapologetically as Asians but including other perspectives as well. His major thesis is that the most important part of the actions of a church is not whether it is trendy or traditional but because it is either the truth (meaning biblical) or effective (in ministry) to their context. In this way the Word of God becomes the Word of God to the people in that setting. Leaders are encouraged to be discerning when attempting to change what goes on in the church and what is taught.
Helen Lee has two chapters on “Healthy Leaders, Healthy Households” helps leaders see that the most important part of their ministry is to model a healthy household through their leadership team. This is difficult for several reasons, but the major idea is to allow the Bible and American culture to challenge the traditional mindset of Asian leaders to allow them to encourage collaborative leadership, to be humble without going into false humility, to be vulnerable without losing face and allowing disagreements and problems to be dealt with in the open without requiring dissention into the shadows. These two chapters are an excellent primer on Christian leadership and challenges Asian culture without putting it down.
Chapter 5, “Trusting Households: Openness to Change” by Jonathan Wu takes on the task of what change looks like in an Asian American church. He shows how traditional societies need not fear change, especially family-based societies. The difference will be that changes will happen slowly, creating consensus one issue at a time until the desired result is accomplished.
“Hospitable Households: Evangelism” again by Helen Lee comes to very similar conclusions that church planters have been coming to all over the world. Evangelism as done in the past may not be the best way to go forward. The focus of an Asian American church should be less on converting more and more people to their church and more on cultivating disciples of Jesus and allowing that to motivate people into churches. This is an important aspect especially with Asians because the focus on people as rewards for churches instead of followers of God leads churches to become unable to present the gospel to others who are against “church.”
Peter Cha, Paul Kim and Dihan Lee collaborated to write “Multigenerational Households.” As the second generation becomes more Americanized, each generation may see the other as a threat. The key to stopping this is to put each together and encourage each to treat the other with respect and equality.
Peter Cha returns with Grace May to write “Gender Relations in Healthy Households.” In this chapter, they take the thorny issue of women’s roles in the church. I appreciated this chapter as someone who takes Paul’s words serious to all contexts not simply the one he wrote to. Women and men must understand that we should be able to use our spiritual gifts as we are gifted but no one should seek public attention. Neither women nor men should seek a title. Titles should be given to the one who exhibits the qualities of the title. The church would not consider someone who completed Christian training courses without becoming a disciple of Jesus a “Christian.” This often gets lost in this discussion and Cha and May do an adequate but not great job of staying away from this fallacy.
Chapter 9, “Households of Mercy and Justice” focuses on how the church can become good stewards to our neighborhood. This is an important part of our relationship with Jesus. Asian American Christians, who often live in these areas, are encouraged to be more proactive about going to the people in their area. In this way the chapter excels.
Steve Kang ends the discussion with the conclusion: “Measuring the Health of Our Households.” In it he summarizes all of the chapters. He gives a final challenge that although Asian American Christians will forever be foreigners in the USA, they must also remember that they are foreigners on Earth. Through this they must remember to work together for the glory of God.
Overall I found this book refreshing and very important to the ministry to Asians. As someone experienced in working in Mainland China, I found the beginning chapters relevant to that context as well. Unfortunately the book’s beginning half is much stronger than its ending half. However, I would recommend this book to anyone working with Asian Christians either in Asia or the USA.
Cha, Peter, S. Steve Kang, and Helen Lee. 2006. Growing healthy Asian American churches. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Class Summary for Nov. 3

In today's class we talked about several types of cultures, one of which is a sharing culture. Since Blogger and Blogspot began, a multitude of blogs help people stay in contact with their friends. This can be a mixed blessing, though. The danger includes the possibility of an “echo chamber” where people go to read only articles they agree with and anyone who gives a dissenting opinion may get shouted down with cries of “IDIOT! IDIOT! IDIOT!” One way this can be solved is to have great moderators who make sure all comments keep the conversation moving instead of stopping it. What do you think? Leave a comment below or on Facebook.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Class Summary for Oct. 27

Today in class we looked at the church in a network culture and a gaming culture. Dr. Bolger made an interesting connection between how parents are so afraid of allowing their children to play outside alone that they keep them locked inside. Teenagers respond to that by connecting to their friends online through blogs, gaming and social networks. Churches can and should minister to people online not only by having stagnate pages for people to download and read but having places for Bible study through both real-time and threaded conversations, fellowshipping times for people to come together and spend time. People are there. This is a reality. To act like online ministry is not a worthy place for ministry is to say God cannot work in this sphere and to surrender it to evil forces.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Class Summary for Oct. 20

In today's class we had a visitor, Doug Pagitt of Solomon's Porch in Minneapolis. He encouraged us to think outside the denominational box and invent a fresh movement. This was encouraging and interesting to hear him speak in person. His view of the mission of the church is very similar to missiology. He does not wish to take God to another person. He simply wants to tap into that part of the person seeking a god and introduce YHWH, the God of the Bible to him.
The second half of class we spent reading an upcoming chapter in a book he is editing. It was very interesting and I hope to have more to write later.

Book Review 2: Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church by Mark DeYmaz

For my second book, I decided to read Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church by Mark  DeYmaz. DeYmaz is the minister for the Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, a multi-ethnic and multi-economic church he began in 2001. This group has grown to include Christians from over 30 countries spanning the globe. He is also a cofounder of Mosaix Global Network, a group dedicated to planting diverse congregations all over the USA.
Most discussions of integrating churches devolve into arguments about whether racism is prevalent in the USA or not. Surprisingly, this book avoids the taint of racism to the point of eschewing this word all together in favor of ‘ethnicity’ since people are of one race. The major thesis for this book is that churches should become multi-ethnic not for racial reconciliation, to conform to some cultural quota or to reflect the neighborhood. Churches should become multi-ethnic so that the church may fulfill Christ’s prayer in John 17 that we may all be one (p. xxviii). This philosophy is one I can respect greatly because it does not demonize one group or victimizes another. Instead, DeYmaz posits that “separate but equal” does not always mean “separate but unified.”
Part one focused on the Biblical model of multi-ethnic churches. It begins with John 17 and Jesus’ prayer that as God is one the apostles and the church may be one (ch. 1). The reason for this is so the world will see God through it. Next, he studies the first multi-cultural church of the Bible, Antioch (ch. 2). Here both Jews and Gentiles worked together in leadership roles. Since the church in Antioch was a multi-cultural church in a multi-cultural city, it grew in leaps and bounds. Chapter three describes Paul’s use of the word ‘mystery’ to describe the gospel. As one of the few apostles which understood the true nature of the gospel for both Jew and Gentile, Paul uses this word not only to describe Jesus’ resurrection but also that his resurrection meant all people of the world can be his people. This ‘mystery’ eluded even the apostle Peter (see Gal. 2).
The next seven chapters focus on individual characteristics of multi-ethnic churches. Chapter four (Embrace Dependence) encourages church planters to rely on the Holy Spirit and fellow Christians to begin the major transformation to or creation of a multi-ethnic church. This advice is important to all Christians, especially change agents.
The second principle, take intentional steps (ch. 5), provides an interesting observation that most people wish for other ethnicities to join their church but are unwilling to do what it takes to see it through. This is a very strong critique and he gives a great challenge that a church must intentionally become open to other cultures and ethnicities.
Empowering diverse leadership (ch. 6) is a difficult task which is handled well by DeYmaz. Leaders from every ethnicity of the church should not be chosen on the basis of affirmative action. Leaders should be chosen because they are the best ones for the job; however, coupled with the previous principle, including other ethnicities must be intentional, that is, there must be a very good reason not to appoint a minority. This is not to discriminate against the majority culture but is to make sure that all qualified and gifted persons are used where they are gifted.
When separated from evil influences, all people crave relationships from those around them. Cross-cultural relationships (ch. 7) have double meaning for they add a new perspective to people’s lives. By developing these types of relationships people from other ethnicities will feel comfortable around the members of the church.
Each church, each church leader and each church member should develop cultural competence, that is, the ability to adapt and feel comfortable in uncomfortable settings (ch. 8). Simply wishing to understand a different culture is not the same as being comfortable alongside them.
In the chapter on promoting a spirit of inclusion (9) DeYmaz begins to show his church-centric limitation. The entire chapter is focused on making Sunday worship more culturally-sensitive for other cultures. Although this is important, the spirit of inclusion begins the moment Christians meet non-Christians and the worship setting is only a small part of feeling included.
Mobilize for Impact (ch. 10) shows this bias directly. The focus is on the church as a collective going out and doing good things to bless the city, teach the gospel and encourage each other. This should be done by all Christians and not simply churches attempting to be multi-ethnic.
Part three ends with three different settings and how becoming a multi-ethnic church will be different in each: new church plants (ch. 11 by DeYmaz), revitalizing an existing church (ch. 12 by Rodney Woo of Wilcrest Baptist Church in Houston) and transforming a homogenous church (ch. 13 by Kim Greenwood of Village Baptist Church in Beaverton, OR). All three include the same principles stated in different words as the setting dictates. It adds very little to the overall scope of the book except to present two new case studies of the same nature as Mosaic.
Overall I found this book to be refreshing (though not perfect) in its discussion of why churches often become homogenous groups though it remains trapped in a denomination-first model. DeYmaz’s entire experience is within established churches and Mosaic began with the hope of becoming an established church with a different flavor. This limits his outreach to ‘churched’ American citizens or immigrants interested in American culture. Because of this limitation, Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church spends much of its focus on making Sunday worship multi-culturally relevant. Because of this, his critique of McGavran’s People Movements misses the point entirely. McGavran wanted homogenous churches to create a groundswell of people wishing to become disciples of Christ, not comfortable churches. Although Christians should take DeYmaz’s principles to heart for the collective group, he should have focused more on how individual members of churches can reach out to people of different ethnicities. DeYmaz’s multi-ethnic church idea is very important for established churches in immigrant nations, but in the end falls somewhat flat in its inability to think outside the church (building) model.

DeYmaz, Mark, and Network Leadership. 2007. Building a healthy multi-ethnic church : mandate, commitments, and practices of a diverse congregation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/John Wiley.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Class Summary for Oct. 13

The most interesting part of today's class for me was the discussion on how community is defined not by physical space (where people are) but "social space" (not tied to where people are). Although this was true many years ago (think letters), social space has eclipsed physical space and is the most important aspect for younger generations. The interesting and challenging part of this is how to minister to groups of people which are amorphous and changing daily.
The second-most interesting part was the idea of planting churches in "natural social units" (to use a phrase used by Dr. McGavran). If a person's natural social unit is a sci-fi fan base, how does the gospel go into that area? (See my previous book report on Dr. McGavran's book Bridges of God for a possible answer to this question.) These are fascinating questions which can and should be addressed by churches all over the world.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Class Summary for Oct. 6

The class today focused on mission in postmodernity. Being a member of a group from the Restoration movement of the early 1800s, I find their ideas refreshing. Where the beginning of the Restoration Movement was similar to Hezekiah (2 Kings 18-20; 2 Chronicles 29-32), I liken these concepts to the age of Josiah (2 Kings 22:1-23:28; 2 Chronicles 34-35). The church in postmodernity asks questions about traditions and mindsets which are more ingrained into the church than what the Restorationists asked. The idea of a holistic gospel focusing on building a discipling community and allowing for organizational chaos appeals to me. They are on the Restorationist track and go further than we have gone in the past.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Book Review 1: The Bridges of God by Donald McGavran

For my first Church Planting book review, I read Donald McGavran’s book The Bridges of God.

Donald McGavran grew up in India and worked there for 30 years as a missionary. Upon coming home, he began a school in Oregon dedicated to the study of missions. In 1965, he establish the School of World Mission (now the School of Intercultural Studies) at Fuller Theological Seminary. His is best known for his approach to missions called the “Church Growth Movement.”

The major thesis of The Bridges of God is given by McGavran himself, “The era has come when Christian Missions should hold lightly all mission station work, which cannot be proved to nurture growing churches, and should support the Christward movements within Peoples as long as they continue to grow at the rate of 50 per cent per decade or more” (109).

The major problem McGavran sees with the “Mission Station Approach” is that churches near these stations have grown stagnate. The solution to this problem is not to redouble our current (to 1955) efforts, but to learn how people groups are converted to Christianity and adapt to those strategies to create “People Movements” – large numbers of people in a certain tribe, race or community becoming disciples of Jesus.

The most glaring problem is that Westerners often have an ignorance of group dynamics in conversion. Western society stresses individual spirituality in Christianity which produce churches made of individual Christians. In group-based societies becoming a Christian may ostracize the Christian from his/her people group unless the group is converted as a whole.

McGavran sees mission work in Acts as people building “bridges” between Christians in Jerusalem and their family and friends in other cities to convert entire families in preparation for the gospel. Paul’s mission journeys were not to convert random people far away but to cross bridges built by Christians and create a vibrant, growing “People Movement.”

This concept is extremely important to Christian missions today. Missionaries must rely on native Christians to direct their work since they have built the best bridges to their friends and family. This concept has been expanded by David Garrison (Church Planting Movements, 2004) by encouraging missionaries to allow native Christians to not only build bridges but to disciple as well.

Overall, the book is meant to be read by mission organizations and church organizations with hopes of reviewing and re-appropriating their workers and money. This is the dated part of the entire book. His major view is that foreign missionaries should continue to live and work with the people (and grow as the group grows) until the church has reached maximum potential. This attitude continues Western hegemony over mission works instead of focusing on turning over all the work to the people. However, the first half of the book is very interesting and worth reading.

McGavran, Donald A. 1955. The bridges of God; a study in the strategy of missions. New York: Distributed by Friendship Press. (Reprinted 2005 by Wipf & Stock)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Reviving the Blog, Class for Sept. 29

The time has come to revive Random Thoughts from Graham. The blog, that is. Although you might want to revive my random thoughts as well. I can become somewhat zombiefied at times which causes ... sorry, I'm rambling. Back on topic!

This quarter (I'm a student at Fuller Graduate School of Intercultural Studies which still uses the quarter system) I am taking the class Church Planting taught by Dr. Ryan Bolger. We have the choice to either blog our assignments or print them out. Being the cheapskate I am, I decided not to print them out but to let everyone in the world see them through this blog. Thus, Random Thoughts from Graham helps Graham pass his class! I will also post interesting quotes from the class on my Twitter account (or search the hashtags #churchplanting or #mc520).

The assignments are as follows:
Students will write a paragraph per chapter read. Student need not write more than 500 words per book, but must reflect on each chapter read nonetheless. Students are encouraged to read in light of final paper, thus these reflections may serve as notes for the term paper as well (15%). Students may read the six books in any order. The six book reports are due on your blog by the start of class on October 6, October 20, November 3, November 17, December 1, and December 10. Late posts will receive a 50% deduction.

For class participation, students will write, on the average, 50 words for each class session attended. These 50 words are due at the start of the next day of class on your personal blog. There will be no makeups or acceptance of late work, but of the ten assignments, only nine will be counted. So, students may miss two without a penalty. The topic will be, "My thoughts on the last class session." The last class reflection is due December 10th (15%).

So hopefully you will see two posts on this blog a week. This week there will only be one post (unless I really get moving and read the first book this week).

Class for Sept. 29:
This week's class, being the first one, focused on introducing the course's history, workload, and outline. The most important part of this class came while discussing the history of the course.
The course was once called "Church Growth." In the 1960s and 70s, it became the buzz word of growing churches. In the 80s and 90s, the name grew passé and Today the name has changed to "Church Planting." As many popular things go, "Church Planting" has become somewhat of a buzz word amongst new church leaders. In a few years this word, too, will become passé and something new will replace it. The focus of churches today should not be whether they are keeping up with the latest church growth fad but whether they are producing authentic Christianity that fosters communion with God and other disciples of Christ and reaches out to the world to save both body and soul. "If something is real and dynamic, people will come." - Ryan Bolger