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

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.