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Tim Challies

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8 years 6 months ago
Women’s Ministry in the Local Church, authored by J. Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt, is a practical book that seeks to provide guidance on how and why a church can and should have an effective women’s ministry. It is a timely book, arriving at a point when the church is in need of this type of biblical guidance. The role of women in the church has been an area of great dispute of late, though thankfully, it seems that Scripture will prevail. However many evangelical women, and even those who may appear to be mature Christians, are functional feminists because, as the authors point out, “the world’s paradigm for womanhood is the only one they have heard.” The church has much ground to make up.

Within this book Duncan and Hunt construct a framework of theology through which a local church will be able to implement a ministry that honors God’s plan and purpose for the church. Rather than moving against or beside the church, the ministry will become one with the church, supporting and complementing other ministries while encouraging and edifying women. According to the authors, the purpose of this book is to strengthen Christ’s church by presenting a practical theology of women’s ministry in the local church. The book answers five questions that are fundamental to a successful, biblical ministry for and by women:

  • Why should a church have a women’s ministry - what is the biblical apologetic?
  • Who is responsible for the women’s ministry in a church?
  • How does a women’s ministry relate to the other ministries in a church?
  • What are the tasks of a women’s ministry?
  • How does a church implement a biblical approach to women’s ministry?

The book presents a covenantal and complementarian approach to womanhood and to women’s ministry in the church. “There is nothing more beautiful, satisfying, delightful, and God-glorifying than when men and women live and work together in complementarity.” Duncan provides five things he feels that each church needs to do in connection with a practical embrace of biblical womanhood:

  • We need to cultivate godly, feminine, Christian women.
  • We need to promote healthy Christian marriages.
  • We need to promote godly, monogamous, heterosexual marriages.
  • We need to cultivate among our Christian women a joyous embrace of godly, healthy, Christian, male spiritual leadership in the church.
  • We need to help Christian women appreciate the manifold areas of service that are open to them in the church and to equip them distinctively as women to fulfill their ministry.

In discussing these areas of service Hunt points out that the primary question should not be what is permissible but what is needful for women to do. And that is the focus of the book: What can women do to fulfill their unique calling and to serve the Lord with their giftedness? The heart of the book is an examination of five reasons why women’s ministry is important to every healthy evangelical church. These reasons are:

  • Submission: Through it we have the opportunity to address helpfully the issue of the nature of manhood and womanhood, an issue that is very much at the heart of the cultural transition that we find ourselves in right now.
  • Compassion: The Bible teaches so much and so clearly on manhood and womanhood. A church that wants to be biblical will want to make sure the women of the congregation embrace and implement this teaching.
  • Community: When biblical manhood and womanhood are denied or altered or unpracticed, that results in disasters for marriages, families, and churches. Women’s ministry provides a safe and secure environment where these issues can be addressed.
  • Discipleship: We ought to have an intentional, deliberate approach to female (and male) discipleship because men and women are different, and these differences need to be recognized, taken into account, and addressed in the course of Christian discipleship.
  • Scripture: The denial or twisting of the Bible’s clear teaching on manhood and womanhood is one of the central ways that biblical authority is being undermined in our times. Women’s ministry provides a forum to understand issues of biblical authority.

While this is not a book I would be likely to buy of my own accord, I am grateful that it was supplied to me and I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed it. On the Reformation21 Blog Philip Ryken recently endorsed the book by saying, “I am not aware of any other resource that so effectively gives a biblical rationale for women’s ministry without distorting the overall shape of the local church — putting women’s ministry in its proper context.” I agree with that statement and, like Dr. Ryken, and glad to recommend this book to pastors, elders or anyone who might be involved in women’s ministry.

8 years 7 months ago
There are few subjects more debated and more hotly debated in the church today than whether or not the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit continue to this day. We have recently seen a great deal of discussion about this issue in the blogosphere. It is an issue which leaves many believers confused, unsure as to what they believe and what they should believe. Cessationists, who believe that the miraculous gifts have ceased, often point to the excesses of the charismatic movement as proof that God surely could not stand behind such manifestations of His Spirit. Many continuationists, who believe the gifts continue to be poured out on the church, suggest that it is unfair to rely on the extremes of the movement and point instead to the more biblical, moderate charismatics, among whom are often cited Sam Storms, John Piper, Wayne Grudem and C.J. Mahaney.

In an attempt to bring clarity to this issue I recently conducted interviews with Dr. Wayne Grudem and Dr. Sam Waldron. Dr. Waldron discussed a defense of cessationism he outlined in his new book To Be Continued.

Dr. Waldron’s argument is simple. If it can be proven that the gift of Apostle is no longer operative in the church today, and this is something that even many continuationists believe, that provides the opportunity to discuss the possibility that other gifts have also ceased. And so he argues from the greater to the lesser. If the gift of Apostle has ceased, so too can it be proven that the other miraculous gifts have ceased - gifts that include speaking in tongues, miracle working and prophecy. His argument naturally cascades from one point to the next.

This is how Dr. Waldron summarized the argument of his book during the interview I conducted with him:

That we must begin as cessationists with what is most clear in Scripture and it is also admitted by many continuationists, and that is that there are no longer “big A” Apostles, or what I might call, strictly speaking, Apostles of Christ or the church. But what I argue is that that is a great or even fatal admission for continuationists to make, and it is also something that’s made plain in the Scriptures. If there are no Apostles of Christ that creates the precedent for saying that, at least in certain respects, the apostolic period and the church today are distinctly different because the absence of Apostles of Christ is a great difference between the apostolic period and today. The first gift, the most important gift, is now missing in the church. I think that exposes a fundamental flaw in continuationist argument and in the mockery of cessationism that you meet in some circles.

Then I argue that if Apostles are no longer in the church that creates a precedent for discussing the issue of whether prophets are in the church. And then I bring, on the basis of the absence of the Apostolic gift, arguments for the absence of the prophetic gift. And then on the basis of those two things I argue that tongues-speaking was a form of prophecy and on the basis of the precedent set by the absence of Apostles and prophets, we may also argue the absence of tongues-speakers. And with those three arguments set and clear I then proceed to say that we can also argue that miracle workers are no longer given to the church. And therefore you have a kind of cascade from Apostles to prophets to tongues-speakers to miracle workers.

 

I found Dr. Waldron’s argument both compelling and forceful. It is infused with Scripture and whether a person agrees or disagrees with it, he will not be able to say that the author has not attempted to be faithful to Scripture. Finally, the book is generous. Dr. Waldron does not argue against worst-case scenarios and does not argue against some of the more bizarre and patently-unbiblical manifestations of the charismatic movement. Instead he seeks to answer the Grudems and Pipers - moderate charismatics who are known more for their love of and respect for Scripture than for believing in the continuing gifts.

It is telling that this book is endorsed by such notable cessationists as John MacArthur, Tom Nettles, and Al Mohler. This is clearly a book that cessationists feel puts forth a convincing argument.

To Be Continued is quite a short book and one does not require a degree in theology to read and understand it. It is adequately supported by Scripture and not merely theological but also deeply practical. I highly recommend it to anyone seeking to understand whether or not the miraculous gifts continue to be operative in the church today.

9 years 1 month ago

Every person knows the difference between pure light and pure darkness. But what is harder to discern is where the light ends and the darkness begins. Where is the point where the light has ended and dark has overtaken? To take this question to a spiritual realm, when has a Christian left the edge of the light of truth and entered the darkness of error? It is this daunting question that Ed Stetzer and Elmer Towns seek to explore in Perimeters of Light: Biblical Boundaries for the Emerging Church.

Before I proceed I would like to point out that throughout this book, “emerging church” is not capitalized. Hence the authors are referring to the evangelical church as it struggles to find its identity in our newly postmodern society (as it emerges from modernism into postmodernism), and are not referring to the subset of this, popularly known as the Emerging (or Emergent) Church. This book contains no references to Brian McLaren, Dan Kimball, Leonard Sweet, or any of the other leaders of the Emergent conversation. Having said all of that, this book is still relevant to that discussion, as the authors seek to define biblical boundaries for what is and what is not Christian. They try to define just how much the church can change and adapt before it is no longer the church.

Woven throughout the text is a parable of two missionaries, which describes two men who are trying to reach an isolated tribe in Papua New Guinea. Their trek through the jungle emphasizes the importance of keeping a light flickering in the darkness, and their struggles in presenting the gospel to the tribesmen describes many of the issues we face in presenting the gospel to our postmodern family, friends and neighbors. The authors correctly believe that in a post-Christian culture like our own, the difficulties we face are much the same as those faced by missionaries taking the good news to cultures that have never known God. There are surprising similarities between a post-Christian culture and a non-Christian culture.

Among the difficult issues the authors wrestle with are: what makes something Christian? (when has a Christian left the light and entered darkness?); the difference between meanings and forms (how and why are decisions in Christian ministry often based on preference and culture instead of the truth of Scripture?); and boundaries in practice (where is the perimeter between true evangelism and unbiblical evangelism?). Following discussion of each of these areas, they seek to apply them to five spheres: church, worship, music, preaching and evangelism.

In discussing the church, Towns and Stetzer define the church and describe the elements that identify a body we can legitimately refer to as a church. They also try to help the reader understand when a church is no longer a church according to biblical standards.

The chapter on worship avoids becoming bogged down in discussions about the “worship wars” which plagued the church until recently (and in many places continue to do so). They talk about the dangers of consumer worship, wherein people attend church in order to have their needs met, rather than to engage in genuine worship of God. They include a helpful section where they try to answer the question of “what makes worship Christian?.”

The discussion then turns to music where the authors again refuse to participate in the worship wars. They teach that God has no stylistic musical preference. They then propose an eight-part test through which we can discern if our music brings glory to God: The message test, the purpose test, the association test, the memories test, the proper association test, the understanding test and the music test.

The following chapter deals with preaching and the authors stress the importance of biblical preaching which is expositional, without committing to traditional expository preaching. They show how in many cases, pastors who seek to be relevant by illustrating their sermons with movies, in reality use the Bible to illustrate their sermons on movies, rather than using movies to illustrate their sermons on the Bible. The balance of the chapter is spent describing different ways of formatting an expositional sermon and ensuring that the listeners will hear and remember it.

Finally the authors turn to evangelism, presenting several of the traditional charts and diagrams used to show the process of evangelism and the way different people respond to the gospel. They propose a new model that takes into account the importance postmoderns place on narrative.

“Christianity in a Postmodern world” seeks to define postmodernism and describe the emphases that are important to people in this society. They show the following shifts: relationship over task; journey over destination; authenticity over excellence; experience over proposition; mystery over solution; diversity over uniformity. The church can react to postmodernism in one of four ways: ignore or dismiss it, attack it, adopt it, or present the truth church. The authors feel that if we can only present the church as God intends it, we have nothing to fear and everything to gain.

The book closes with a chapter discussing the perimeter of truth, suggesting that there are five perimeters to Christianity that cannot be crossed nor tampered with: Jesus, the gospel, biblical doctrine, Christian experience and God’s blessing. They conclude with the well-known creed adopted by many churches: “In essentials, unity. In nonessentials, tolerance. In all things, love.”

Through the book I found that the authors did a better job at asking the questions and providing food-for-thought than in actually answering the questions. But I do not consider this a weakness. They answer the questions that must be answered - the questions of nonnegotiable truth. But they do the best they can to avoid making judgments based on their culturally-conditioned understanding of church or worship.

In the foreword to Perimeters of Light, Paige Patterson writes, “My guess is that few readers will find themselves in agreement with all of the observations of the authors. Not only did I find myself disagreeing, but I also found myself frequently coming to conclusions quite different from those of the authors (page 8).” His predominant concern seems to be an overemphasis on creativity. My experience was much the same. The overemphasis on creativity, especially in worship, leaves unanswered the discussion of the pattern of worship we know as the regulative principle. Are we to worship only in the ways God has commanded or are we free to adapt as we see fit? The authors do not interact with a principle that many believers hold near and dear.

Patterson goes on to say why he felt he could still endorse this book. “[F]irst, there is much with which I do agree and which needs to be said. Second, and more important, the book is one of the few efforts I have seen actually to think through philosophically, exegetically, theologically, and even missiologically an approach to vigorous and successful activity in the church today” (ibid). And he is exactly right. Towns and Stetzer place great emphasis on the unchanging nature of truth and the importance of propositional truth in the areas where the Bible provides no other option. They affirm the predominance of Scripture in all activities of the church. Because of their honesty, sincerity and godly desire to present the truth, I enjoyed this book and am happy to recommend it to others.

  Evaluation Support
Theology/Accuracy
A few weaknesses, but generally the theology is Bible-based.
 
Readability
Quite easy to read and understand.
Uniqueness
Many books address postmodernism, though few as thoroughly or as well as this one.
Importance
An important book that deals with an important topic.
  Overall
I recommend this to anyone concerned about being a biblical church for the 21st century, but with the caveats expressed in the review.
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9 years 2 months ago

Jack Graham is pastor of the massive Prestonwood Baptist Church which boasts a membership of over 23,000 and is thus one of the world’s largest churches. He has written several books, the latest of which is A Man of God (which releases today). To provide a clear idea of the target audience for this book, one does not need to look much farther than the list of endorsers. The list includes Roger Staubach, Gary Carter and Pat Summerall. Neil Clark Warren (founder of the online dating site eHarmony.com) is added for good measure. And Chuck Norris enters the fray to write the foreward. And if you still aren’t sure, perhaps this quote will bring added clarity. “The Christian life is more important than the Super Bowl, the World Series, the NBA Finals, and the Stanley Cup all wrapped together” (page 12).

This book is obviously intended for the American “everyman” - the average guy with average interests who attends the average church. Graham intends this book to be a wake-up call. He tells us early-on that he has always firmly believed that “if revival was to come to the church, and if the Good News of Jesus Christ was to spread to the nations, it would be because men became godly and began living their faith with passion and integrity” (page 13). He seeks to encourage men to step up to the challenges offered to the faith in the twenty-first century and accept responsibility for the church.

The book is divided into four roughly-equal sections, each containing three chapters. The first, “A Man of God and His Master” challenges men to know, understand and commit to God. Graham teaches that men need to commit to maximum discipleship - discipleship that impacts the whole life. The second section, “A Man of God and His Integrity” challenges men to live upright lives marked by moral purity and free from captivity to temporal possessions. The third section, “A Man of God and His Family” speaks of the importance of prioritzing family relationships. The final section, “A Man of God and His Ministry” challenges men about in the areas of mentorship and evangelism.

The book is written in a conversational tone and is simple both to read and understand. Stories and examples abound. Scripture examples and proof-texts are also in abundant supply.

There were a couple of small theological issues I found with the book, but I can see that these arose because of my Reformed understanding of salvation. On page 201 Graham writes, “People are incredibly interested in something that will fill the void in their hearts.” While this may be true, in no way does this indicate, as he seems to indicate, that unbelievers are genuinelly and spiritually interested in the gospel. But beyond such minor concerns, I found the book quite Scriptural.

I am not convinced that Graham says very much in this book that has not been said before by other authors. In fact, there are probably quite literally one hundred books that deal with this same topic in a similar way. However, judging by the churches of today it seems that plenty of men have still not accepted the challenge, so perhaps this book can serve to wake a few more from their spiritual slumber. If a man in your life is not a reader, and has not already read several similar titles, this may be the type of book that will challenge and motivate him. It is certainly more biblical and more challenging than Wild at Heart and so many others.

  Evaluation
Theology/Accuracy
Generally strong and in-line with evangelical Christianity.
Readability
Conversational, fun and easy to read.
Uniqueness
There is lots of competition in this genre, though this book is better than many of the alternatives.
Importance
Most men could benefit by reading a book or two like this.
  Overall
It was an enjoyable book. If you haven’t already read several like it, you will probably enjoy it too.
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9 years 2 months ago

It took me seven years to pick A Journey in Grace from my shelf and finally read it. I so enjoyed it that I immediately turned to the sequel, A Journey in Purity which had been sitting beside it all this time. Where the first title in this series of theological novels addresses the doctrines of grace (ie the 5 Points of Calvinism), the second title examines the purity of the church.

The story of young pastor Ira Pointer picks up precisely where it left off in the final pages of A Journey in Grace. Ira is faced with a church with a huge membership, but with low attendance. The book describes his struggle in attempting to purify the church by making membership meaningful. He leads the deacons of his congregation through the long process of discovering what the Scriptures teach about church membership, responsibilities and discipline and then leads them through a difficult time of change as the leadership attempts to purify the church. There is plenty of intruige and some fun plot twists that keep the book a novel rather than solely theology.

I was delighted to see that A Journey in Purity is better fiction than its predecessor. Richard Belcher is still more a theologian than a story-teller, but this title shows a marked improvement over the first. And as with the first novel, this one presents deep theological truths in a way that is accessible to anyone who enjoys reading a story. I recommend this series.

Having finished this book I did a bit of research and found that there are ten more titles in this series and they cover a wide variety of topics. I doubt I will ever read them all, but I do intend to purchase the next two books at some point so I can at least read that far.

9 years 2 months ago

I remember the first time I became aware of the impact of feminism. My grandmother, a tiny, sweet, woman, told me about working in an office environment. She mentioned how it used to be that when she approached a door, especially if there were lots of people around, someone would always open and hold the door for her. It was just common courtesy. But by the time she was near retirement, this was no longer the case. Men were intimidated by women and had long since given up acts of chivalry. In fact, the only person she could think of who had held a door for her recently was a young, studded punk rocker with a huge pink mohawk. She blamed this on feminism.

She was probably correct in her assessment. The Feminist Mistake, by Mary Kassian traces the rise of feminism through the twentieth century. It shows how a movement at first designed to protect women’s rights, soon morphed into a movement of incredibly destructive power - a movement that has ultimately caused great harm to society and to the church. “Looking back over the past fifty years is a sobering exercise. Feminism was the dream that promised women happiness and fulfillment. But I suspect … we would find that women are unhappier and less fulfilled than ever. The feminist paradigm simply does not match the reality of who God created women and men to be. Hence it cannot deliver on its promise” (page 299).

Kassian traces feminism through three broad stages: naming self, naming the world and naming God. Feminism began as a movement to define and protect the rights of women. Women were naming themselves. As it progressed women demanded the right to name the world, to redefine much more than their own roles. And in the final stage, women have demanded the right to redefine God within the framework of their feminist philosophy.

The book seems to have three goals. The first is to trace feminism through modern history. As someone who has always been fascinated by history and who studied it through college, this had great appeal and I found it very interesting. It was particularly fascinating to see the movement stray farther and farther away from the biblical and societal norms.

The second goal is to prove that Christian feminism and secular feminism are really no different. Kassian shows that what is radical in one generation is mainstream in the next, and then works its way into the church shortly thereafter. At this point in history, feminism has gone mainstream so that most women are feminists without being aware of it. And this includes Christian feminists. The author writes, for example, that in the evangelical church, “the biblical pattern of complementarity is no longer the standard. Whereas in the past, complementarity could generally be “caught,” the new cultural milieu dictates that it must now be “taught.” The default belief of the average churchgoer has changed” (page 288). Christian feminism, at its heart is pluralistic, ecumenical, anti-authority and pro-deviance. The chapter about feminist hermeneutics was startling; showing how feminists hold nothing sacred in their desire to oust any theology they feel contradicts their feminist presuppositions.

Finally, Kassian suggests what the church needs to do and to recover in order to guard against feminism. Unfortunately this constitutes the shortest section in the book, which is a pity since what is there is fascinating.

Kassian concludes that “Feminism has failed miserably, and ironically it has exacerbated the very problem it set out to resolve. Instead of promoting a healthy self-identity for women or contributing to the greater harmony between the sexes, it has resulted in increased gender confusion, increased conflict, and a profound destruction of morality and family” (page 299). Those are strong words, but they are well-proven. While it is simple enough to trace the history of feminism, it is far more difficult to see how what has been lost can be reclaimed. But the book ends optimistically, calling for a new generation to embrace the Gospel and to take God at His word.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who is willing to embark on what is sometimes a difficult read. To truly understand feminism, it is necessary to see it in its historical context both within and outside of the church. Having defined and having come to a greater understanding of it, we will be equipped to guard against it.

  Evaluation
Theology
The book is more historical than theological. But what theology there is seems sound.
Readability
It is not the easiest book you’ll read, but that is due to content more than style.
Uniqueness
There is much more written from theh opposite perspective.
Importance
This is an important book if you want to understand the rise and influence of feminism in the church.
  Overall
Recommended for pastors, church leaders and others who are interested in the subject matter.
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Note: This book was reviewed as part of a book review program coordinated by The Diet of Bookworms. To read reviews of this book written by other bloggers, please visit The Diet of Bookworms.

9 years 3 months ago

Have you ever noticed that when someone says, “Don’t look at that!” you immediately look at it? I remember as a kid I used to delight in finding something gross and rotten and disgusting and showing it off to my friends, seeing who would flinch first as we dug around with sticks inside some rotten carcass. Perhaps I was a disturbed child but I don’t think my experiences were unusual. After all, there are any number of web sites that specialize in showing off the disturbing images of war, violence and stupidity. People have a fascination with spectacle. How else do we account for so-called reality television?

My father loves the spectacle that is TBN (the Trinity Broadcasting Network). He derives some crazy pleasure from watching half-crazed preachers ranting, raving and begging for other people’s money. The programming on TBN and other similar channels has come to highlight spectacle. Many who consider themselves Christian are simply no longer satisfied with the simple Gospel, but feel the need to add to it. The preaching of the Word, a simple message delivered in a foolish way by a foolish person, gives way to outrageous claims of miracles, tongues and supernatural experiences. Hank Hanegraaff calls this Counterfeit Revival and those who practice such things Counterfeit Revivialists.

This book claims to go behind the scenes to uncover the contradictions, false experiences, spiritual deception, and seductive allure of esoteric experience masquerading under the banner of truth. Through almost 300 pages, Hanegraaff exposes this movement for what it is - a fraud and one that is becoming increasingly bold and increasingly dangerous. The book is written around five major headings which form the acronym FLESH: Fabrications, Fantasies and Frauds, Lying Signs and Wonders, Endtime Restorationism, Slain in the Spirit and Hypnotism.

Following a detailed examination of each topic, the author concludes that there is no biblical support for most of what masquerades as the Spirit’s work within these circles. Manipulation, rather than the Spirit and the Word of God, is the primary tool of the Counterfeit Revivalist.

While this book is helpful, I couldn’t help at times but to feel like the boy staring at the rotting insides of a stinking corpse. After a while I felt Hanegraaff had proven his point with sufficient examples that he could have probably left out several of the chapters. On the bright side, the reader is treated to some valuable lessons from history and even receives an overview of true revivals from days past. As an added bonus, the author provides detailed teachings from the writings of Jonathan Edwards.

Long on symptoms, short on diagnosis and shorter still on cure, I still found this a helpful and interesting book. I trust that it will help many from being led astray into the rottenness that is found at the fringes of the charismatic movement.

9 years 3 months ago

I did not know what to expect from Stealing Sheep. The book was recommended to me and I purchased it sight-unseen. All I knew of its content was the subtitle: “The Church’s Hidden Problems with Transfer Growth.” I assumed this was a book written by an author opposed to the church growth movement who would be offering one more proof as to why this movement was unbiblical.

William Chadwick is no opponent of the church growth movement. Instead, he is one of its many advocates and one who proudly admits that he has studied “under the likes of C. Peter Wagner, Lyle Schaller, John Wimber, Rick Warren, Charles Kraft, Eddie Gibbs, Roberta Hestenes and Bill Hybels” (page 9). He writes, “In my pastoral career I have successfully implemented the tools of church growth to help churches grow significantly, and I have been involved with the church growth movement since the late 1970” (page 9). He writes glowingly about Donald McGavran and the other founders of the church growth movement, showing that he has read them in depth and has understood them. He believes in the roots of this movement, stating on page 128, “Make no mistake about it. The church growth movement had one focus: conversion growth.” He does pause to critique three of McGavran’s principles: the Maximization Principle, Transfer of Resources principle and the Numerical Growth principle.

From that insider perspective, Chadwick writes about the dark side of church growth. Having done extensive research and having examined the fruits of his own early ministry, the author came to the startling revelation that the church growth movement has succeeded far better in pulling believers from other, smaller churches than in reaching the lost. “Great effort is being expended, but few are actually turning to Christ for the first time. Instead, the faithful are mostly just changing churches” (from the back cover).

The statistics are startling. It has long since become common knowledge that while there are many more megachurches in the United States than in days past, there are no more Christians. Obviously the only way to account for this is to realize that people are moving from small churches into these megachurches. And why wouldn’t they? Megachurches offer excitement, quality of music and programming depth that small churches can only dream about. The large churches have a great advantage in our consumeristic culture where we demand that our needs be met. Just as WalMart has put far too many mom and pop shops out of business, so megachurches have closed the doors of many small, faithful churches. The author’s research found that over 90 percent of the members at some of the largest churches in America have arrived from other churches. When we consider that some of these churches have 8,000 members and that the average church in America has only 100, we can see how this transfer growth has decimated other bodies.

The real blame for allowing this quantity of transfer growth has to be assigned to the pastors who allow it to happen and who sometimes actively seek it. Chadwick shares some shocking stories about pastors who seem only too content to pad their own church’s membership with people drawn from other churches. He writes about jealousy related to membership numbers. He is frank and honest, sharing many mistakes from his own ministry that must surely cause him great shame.

The book wraps up with criteria for what he considers legitimate reasons to transfer churches. He also encourages churches in the same vicinity to sign covenants with each other that they will not accept members from the other bodies except under certain well-defined circumstances.

There is one strange mis-step in this book. While Chadwick is quite hard on the Roman Catholic Church, considering it one that is no longer biblically orthodox, at the same time he writes about a friend who is a Greek Orthodox pastor and helps this man slow his transfer growth. The very problems he points out with the Roman Catholic Church are the ones he praises with the Greek Orthodox. I would also have liked to see the author spend a bit more time on legitimate reasons to leave churches. For example, what if one feels he is not growing within a church? What if he feels the worship is unbiblical? What about points of doctrine that are “secondary” but still important? Are these legitimate reasons to leave a church? Some more discussion would have been welcome.

This is a very interesting book and one that should be read by all pastors, especially those involved in the church growth movement. This movement places vast importance on numbers and it is important that churches ensure they are doing their best to grow the “kingdom count” rather than simply increase their membership numbers. I give it my recommendation.

9 years 4 months ago

Reformed Christians are increasingly divided over how they ought to worship God. For many Reformed believers, this is an issue of great urgency. D.G. Hart and John R. Muether wrote With Reverence And Awe (Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship) to address this topic. They call the book a primer on worship, “a brief overview of how Reformed theology informs the way we think about, put together, and participate in the worship service. Our aim is to help church officers and members gather corporately for worship and do so in ways appropriate to the God who has revealed himself in Christ Jesus” (page 13). The authors believe that good theology must produce good worship, while poor theology necessarily produces poor worship. This is something the church has understood in the past, but has lost sight of in recent years. Reformed worship, because of its distinctiveness, will worship God in ways that are distinct from other theological traditions.

The first topic the authors address is the relationship of the church to the world. This is a logical place to begin, for many churches today take their cues in worship from unbelievers, deliberately providing a service that will make unbelievers comfortable. But the authors conclude that true worship “will be odd and perhaps even weird to the watching world. This oddness is not lamentable but essential to the church’s faithfulness and witness” (page 34). In fact, the church must take a posture that is antithetical to the world if she is to resist worldliness and idolatry. The clash with church growth principles is further enforced in the next chapter where the authors discuss the purpose of the church. They list three prevailing beliefs about this: the first, that the church is a means of social reform; the second that the church exists primarily to exalt God; and the third that the church exists primarily to evangelize. After examining The Great Commission, Hart and Muether teach that Christ’s primary command to the church is to disciple. A literal rendering of the Great Commission might read, “as you go, disciple, by teaching and baptizing.” Thus the church is primarily a worshipping community. While the authors do not downplay the importance of evangelism and taking the Gospel to the world, they believe that we can only properly understand the church by seeing her as a body meant for worship and discipleship. Worship constitutes the church and the very purpose for which God saves us, is to become worshippers.

There are two principles critical to the author’s argument that must be understood. The first is the Regulative Principle. This principle teaches that we may only worship God in ways expressly stated in Scripture. What is left unstated is as equally forbidden as what God expressly prohibits. The second principle is the Dialogical Principle which teaches that the covenantal pattern of Christian worship takes the form of a dialogue between God and His people. Thus there are two broad categories of elements within worship: those where we speak to God and those where He speaks to us. These principles inform everything that happens in worship, from the elements we allow, to the order the elements appear.

A further important discussion regards the priesthood of believers. This understanding of the laity arose during the Reformation, but has since been extended far beyond the original meaning. The authors believe that the priesthood of believers does not extend to the worship services. Instead, all parts of the worship service should be led by a rightly-ordained and appointed minister of the Word.

As the book nears the conclusion, the authors turn to the subject of reverence, arguing that the proper attitude for worship is reverence, but that this does not preclude emotions such as joy, grief or even anger. We can learn much about this from the Old Testament patterns of worship, which while they have been abolished, are still instructive for us today. Perhaps one of the most shocking statements in the book is this: “Indeed, we do not believe that it is putting it too strongly to suggest that Christians come to worship with the same attitude and demeanor they take to a funeral service for a professing Christian. Such funerals are times of reverence and joy” (page 127).

Surpringly, yet wisely, it is not until the final chapter that the authors contemplate music. They believe that music should inspire reverence, and like the Sabbath day of rest, should be unlike what we hear other days. This, once again, flies in the face of most modern teachings about music which teach that church music should sound similar to what people listen to every day. The songs we sing in church should be as distinctive as the theology we hold dear. Based on the writings of Terry L. Johnson, the authors suggest four criteria for music appropriate for the worship service. First, is it singable? Second, is it biblically and theologically sound? Third, is it biblically and theologically mature? Fourth, is it emotionally balanced? “It is crucial that the church’s songs be substantial enough to express accurately mature Christian belief as well as the subtlety of Christian experience….Simplistic, sentimental, repetitious songs by their very nature cannot carry the weight of Reformed doctrine and will leave the people of God ill-equipped on occasions of great moment” (page 173).

In the end, the authors conclude, “As attractive as contemporary forms of worship might appear, the logic by which they have entered Reformed circles is destructive of the Reformed tradition because it makes theology powerless. It seperates belief from practice” (page 177). And later they say, “In the end, Reformed theology is only as good, only as compelling, only as binding, as Reformed worship. And that is what the fuss is all about” (page 187).

Clearly Hart and Muether represent a conservative tradition, even within Reformed circles. Both are, I believe, members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and their Presbyterian theology forms the basis for this book. There is little doubt that this book will alienate many readers for that very reason, and that is a pity, for it has much to say that is of great value. One of the things I appeciated most in this book was the authors’ desire to be deliberate in examining and structuring worship to remove all horizontal elements, allowing the worship service to be a time of deep, beautiful communion between God and His people. I found myself wishing that I shared their convictions towards the Regulative and Dialogical Principles, for surely the acceptance of these principles makes deciding the “what’s and how’s” of worship much easier. I also appreciated the theme that God-honoring worship must be built on God-honoring theology. But primarily, I appreciated the assertion that much of contemporary worship has entered Reformed circles in a way that is destructive to Reformed worship. Regardless of whether the worship is right or wrong, we have allowed these forms to enter our churches for the wrong reasons. There is much for me to ponder.

While I do not agree with all of the author’s conclusions, I found this a fascinating and challenging book and I highly recommend it for anyone who wishes to examine biblical principles for worshipping God.

9 years 4 months ago

There is little reason to describe the author’s purpose in writing Testing The Claims of Church Growth, for the title makes it self-evident. My initial interest in this book was based on the description which says, “For 13 years prior to entering the ministry, Rev. Rodney E. Zwonitzer was a high-level corporate marketing executive for Westinghouse, Storage Technology, and United Technologies Mostek. Now he lays bare the real basis for Church Growth, finding that it is not in the Bible but in business.” I assumed this book would examine the claims of church growth through the eyes of one who is adept at studying and evaluating marketing.

The book began in a promising fashion with the author providing a primer in marketing; defining it, explaining how it works, and describing his role in it when he was working with large corporations. The most notable information in this initial section is the paradigm shift companies undergo from having the product as the dominant force to the customer being supreme. There were clear reflections of the Church Growth movement in his analysis.

Interestingly, there was very little discussion of marketing beyond the initial section. Instead, the author continually compares and contrasts the claims of Church Growth advocates with claims of Confessional Lutherans and we see that the primary purpose of this book is to address the issues of Church Growth within a specific part of the Lutheran body. While this is not what I had expected, I still found it tremendously helpful. Zwonitzer argues from within the clearly defined, historic, structured framework of conservative Lutheranism. While I have read many evangelical responses to Church Growth, they often reply from within the chaos of evangelicalism. I would also point out that the author has a very strong grasp of the methodology, message and claims of Church Growth. This means that he is not arguing against a mere caricature of a movement, but instead probes to the roots, examining men like McGavaran and spending very little time with the modern-day heroes of church growth such as Rick Warren and Bill Hybels. He also gives credit where credit is due, praising Church Growth advocates for their desire to reach the lost, but at the same time affirming that to do this we do not need to resort to such extreme measures in marketing, theology and ecclesiology.

He writes, “I cannot fault CG [Church Growth] for its fervent desire to seek and save the lost. However, I must ask, Do you give up anything in this rush to grow, to succeed, to be relevant, to please the customer? The evidence convinces me that the answer must be yes. CG gives up the purity of the Gospel and the correct administration of the Sacraments in its zeal to grow.”

In the end, having examined many of the most pressing issues raised by Church Growth, he concludes that the Lutheran Church must respond to this issue and “hammer out a concord through the same means used by our Confessional forefathers.” He goes on to say that “The new controversy of Church Growth has been allowed to spread for more than two decades among our Confessional churches, bringing a scandal from outside our confession. This scandal must be addressed now before it is given more time to spread. It’s time for concord. It’s time to show our allegiance. It’s time to be Lutherans.”

So while I am not in the target demographic for this book, and while I disagree with some of the author’s ardently Lutheran theology, I did find it a helpful read.

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