Archives For Culture

Many say it’s been a tough decade for evangelicals. The media says that Christianity is in great decline. The media, and some Christian authors, predict doom and gloom.

Yet, the actual numbers tell a different story for evangelical Christians. (You can read much more about that in these links.)

Issues in the Future of Evangelicalism

Nominal Nation: The Shift Away from Self-Identified Christianity

The Rapid Rise of Nondenominational Christianity

Yet, that does not mean all is well.

I do think we are in challenging times. The last 10 years have brought us to that reality. There have been a few distractions along the way.

The emerging church came promising answers to evangelicals for a “third way,” but flamed out and now looks more like the avant-garde wing of mainline Protestantism.

Some tried to withdraw from culture, but culture just kept coming.

Some slowly replaced regular Gospel proclamation with moralistic therapeutic deism – being good makes you a better person, and that makes “the man upstairs” happy.

Still others were so driven by pragmatism that they eventually began to…

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Over the past few years, I’ve heard from several pastors and Christian leaders a genuine fear that the rising generation of evangelicals will compromise the faith when it comes to public engagement. But I actually don’t think this will happen, for one reason: The Gospel.

In the rising wave of evangelicals, one hears the constant refrain of “Gospel focus” and “Gospel centrality.” Some might dismiss this as just more evangelical faddishness and sloganeering, and perhaps some of it is. But I think the focus on the Gospel is tied up with the collapse of the Bible Belt. As American culture secularizes, the most basic Christian tenets seem ever more detached from mainstream American culture. There is, for those who came and will come of age in recent years, no social utility to embracing them. Those who identify with Christianity, and who gather with the people of God, have already decided to walk out of step with the culture. These Christians have already embraced strangeness by spending Sunday morning at church rather than at brunch.

Those who were nominally Christian are suddenly vanished from the pews. Those who wanted an almost-Gospel will find that they don’t need it to…

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Not long ago I got an email from a Christian man who asked me, “What can I do to become knowledgable in Christian ethics?” Obviously, I think that’s a good question. Ethics is not, after all, something that only academic types or pastors have to think about. Every Christian has a mandate to be able to articulate the truth of the gospel and to apply it in every season of life.

Here are the three most important things you can do to develop a solid Christian ethic:

1) Know the Bible.

Knowing the Bible goes beyond being able to recite individual verses. There are a lot of Christians who know specific proof texts, but they don’t know how to understand the whole fabric of the Scriptures. They’re unable to inhabit the world of the Bible and see how it applies to ethical and moral issues in their life, especially those that feel new and difficult.

We live in a time when, because of everything from technology to cultural change, there are all sorts of ethical issues that we haven’t had to think about before. But…

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It’s been a terrible couple of weeks for much of the world. And when the world shows its terrible side, the church gets to speak prophetically, with truth, grace, and hope to our communities and to our culture. There’s never been a more appropriate time for us, as Christians, to ask ourselves what Jesus wants his movement, his people, his Kingdom to stand for.

We will never agree on every socio-political issue, and we’ll all interpret the Scriptures and the life of Jesus a little differently. But there are certainly some big themes that we can agree on. Some principles reflect the values of Scripture, as modeled and taught by Jesus, and as exemplified by a freshly commissioned early New Testament church. They are timeless values that have the power to bring redemption and healing to a broken humanity. Here are at least 4…

Equality. Justice. Mercy. Liberty.

These are all good ideas. And they were originally God’s ideas.

We stand for Equality

God thought up humanity. He thought you up, along with every other person on the planet. And because we all bear God’s image – old, young, born, unborn, rich, poor, male, female, slave, free – we possess inherent…

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The past week reeks of blood. We saw the cellphone videos of black men killed by police officers in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights. We saw a terrorist ambush on police in Dallas, killing at least 5 officers and injuring 7. The country reels beneath all this violence. So how should a pastor speak to this on Sunday? Here are a few suggestions.

1) Pray specifically for the families of those killed, by name.

One of the most chilling aspects of the violence we see around us is the attempt at invisibility, as though those who are killed lived lives that didn’t matter. This is not new. After Cain killed Abel, he chafed at even the reminder of his existence (Gen. 4). Read aloud as you pray the names that we have:

Pray not only for their families to be comforted, but also for justice to be served, that others – whether police officers protecting a rally or African-American young men in any given city in America – would no longer be unjustly killed.

2) Lead your congregation in a time of lament.

Too often our worship is discordant from both the example of the Bible and the lived experience…

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By Bob Smietana

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Americans who don’t go to church are happy to talk about religion and often think about the meaning of life.

They’re open to taking part in community service events hosted at a church or going to a church concert.

But only about a third say they’d go to a worship service, if invited by a friend. Few think about what happens after they die.

Those are among the findings of a new online survey of 2,000 unchurched Americans from Nashville-based LifeWay Research. The survey, conducted in partnership with the Wheaton, Illinois-based Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, found more than half of Americans who don’t go to church identify as Christians.

But they are mostly indifferent to organized religion, says Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.

“Unchurched Americans aren’t hostile to faith,” he says. “They just don’t think church is for them.”

Talking about faith isn’t taboo

For this survey, “unchurched” means those who have not attended a worship service in the last six months, outside of a holiday or special occasion like a wedding.

Among their characteristics:

  • Two-thirds (67 percent) are white
  • Just over half (53 percent) are male
  • About half (47 percent) have a…

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I recently told a friend, who happens to be agnostic, that he “shouldn’t” go to church. I know. That was dumb, right? I really didn’t mean that he should avoid attending church. Rather I meant that he, as a non-believer, wasn’t under any particular moral duty to attend church on the weekends.

Instead of feeling as if he should attend church, I wanted him to understand that he could attend. He could freely and he would be welcome. He would be loved. He would be accepted and treated like family. And… it might even be good for him. No, not a good thing for him to do… a good thing for him. See the difference? I don’t embrace moralistic therapeutic deism. I don’t think the weekend worship service is about making people better.

The worship service is all about magnifying the redemptive Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection for sinners and how he is the one and only saving King for all of eternity! But … I still think church can make life better for people, even when they don’t believe the core message of the Gospel.

Why does this matter? It matters because of where our culture is in relationship to the church. There are two primary reasons people have…

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One of the reasons I say that it is good for American Christianity to no longer think of itself as a “moral majority” is that such a mentality obscures the strangeness of the Gospel. When a vision of Christian political engagement hinges on building a politically viable network of ideologically united voters, Christ and him crucified will tend to be a stumbling block, not a rallying point.

Some sectors of religious activism chafe when we say that Christianity has always been and will always be a minority viewpoint in Western culture. Minorities do not exert influence, they will contend, on the culture or the systems around it. The temptation is to pretend to be a majority, even if one is not.

But this is a profoundly Darwinian way of viewing the world, like a frightened animal puffing out its chest in order to seem larger and fiercer, in the hopes of scaring off predators. Such is not the way of Christ.  The church of Jesus Christ is never a majority, in any fallen culture, even if we happen to outnumber…

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Creativity matters in ministry. It matters because God is creative. He’s the most creative being in the entire universe. It only makes sense that we serve God with our creatively.

How do you develop a culture of innovation in your church?

You need a theology of innovation. We are most like our creator when we’re creative. God wired us to be creative. Children are very creative. They are born creative. It’s normal. We get the creativity kicked out of us as time goes by. We learn to be afraid. But a theology of innovation always reminds us that God intends us to be creative.

You need a creative atmosphere. There are certain environments I can be very creative in, and certain environments where I can’t. At Saddleback, we’ve never had a boardroom or the big boardroom-style table that comes with that. We have recliners. Meetings don’t start at Saddleback until we kick our feet up. It’s when I get in a totally prone position that I can be the most creative and can discover what God would have us do.

You need to stay playful. Playfulness stimulates creativity. When you get people laughing, you get the endorphins…

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Foundations

The Bible says, in John 7:13, “No one had the courage to speak favorably about Jesus in public” (NLT). Even some of history’s greatest spokespeople for the gospel have struggled in their resolve to proclaim the truth boldly. The Bible says in Acts 18:9, “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent'” (NIV).

In our current cultural climate, it’s more intimidating than ever to stand up for biblical truths that are seen as politically incorrect. And in order to do so, courageously, believers need a thorough understanding of the world that is framed by Scripture.

Everyone thinks about the world through a particular lens, or filter. We refer to this filter as someone’s “worldview.” And in our post-Christian culture, most Christians have a non-Christian worldview. In other words, a big part of our preaching assignment is helping our listeners to see the world through the lens of a biblical worldview.

Our task is not necessarily to shape the specific opinions that people should have on a particular topic, unless the Bible directly and clearly addresses it. Instead, our job is to present a biblical worldview…

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I often hear from some Christians who argue that we should disengage from social or political issues. Particularly around election season, these Christians will reason that we shouldn’t be speaking to political or cultural topics, since the New Testament seems not to.

These Christians have a point. Unlike the prophets toward both Israel and the surrounding nations, Jesus and the apostles seem relatively unperturbed by the moral climate of the Roman Empire. The New Testament church wasn’t mobilizing for political change on matters like slavery or gladiator-fighting or empire-building wars.

But this is to be expected. The New Testament was written almost exclusively to a group of believers who lacked any social or political power, and who thus bore no accountability for decisions made in the cultural and political spheres. But even though Rome was no democracy and the apostles had no say in what the Emperor decided, we can see the New Testament pointing us to callings informed by the gospel, even in what we might consider “politics.”

John the Baptist called the crowds to repentance. A drunk coming to be baptized would have been told to repent of intoxication. An adulterer would have been…

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Shouting

When it comes to engaging in public policy and challenging today’s culture, one of the least likely strategies is one built around criticism. The growing number of churches and ministries that are constantly “against something” has always been a disturbing trend. On a regular basis, I see an avalanche of direct mail campaigns and magazine articles by organizations upset about the latest movie, court decision, TV show, cartoon series, or mad at the homosexual community or some other special interest group.

But while a healthy debate is the cornerstone of a vibrant democracy, the truth is, just being critical changes very little.  After all, as Christians, we of all people should be known as being for something. We have the greatest story in the world, but instead of focusing on that story, we continually get distracted by turning our focus on issues peripheral to our real calling.

Yes – many of these issues are important. Christians are American citizens, with every right to vote our conscience and speak in the public square. It’s one of the reasons I support My Faith Votes. We also have the right to campaign against candidates or issues…

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