Month: September 2013

4 Ways to Listen in the Age of Speed

In the age of speed, everything is fast including our listening. One psychologist has described us as having “an inner psychology of speed.” Fast internet, fast food, fast living, but more often than not, we are slow to hear and quick to speak. So while our speed is picking up, so is our relational foolishness. Hurried to get on to the next task, event, or tweet, we ride right over people. If we could reverse this malady, conflict would be less frequent and easier. More importantly, deeper relationships of understanding, love, and trust would emerge. Here are four ways to apply the biblical adage “Be quick to hear, slow to speak.”

1. Make time for relationships and space for questions. When was the last time you had unhurried, open-ended time with someone? A friend of mine recently spent a few open-ended hours downtown with another friend. No agenda other than food and good conversation. When he told me about the evening, it was like he stumbled onto a new drug. Superlatives spilled out of his mouth. When I asked why it was so amazing, he struggled to put his finger on it. We discovered it was mutual question asking and space to just be, unhurried, together. Tolkien often remarked that there’s nothing like good conversation, a pipe, and male company.

2. Look through the problem to hear and understand the person. We often speak too quickly. A lot of speech is reactionary, to a problem, shared interest, or criticism. We speak without thinking, whether we agree or disagree. The tongue can set fires and shower blessings. But when it moves too fast, the sparks of conflict fly. Most conflict arises because people focus on the problem not the person. Either party seeks to defend their rights, refusing to hear or understand one another. Only when we look through the problem and see the person, a real living soul, made in the image of God, with genuine feelings, will we be slow to speak and quick to listen.

3. Let stinging words and bad theology flow past you. I listen to people a lot. When I sit down with people I listen, ask questions, and try to understand, to see and feel what they see and feel. I’m not always good at it, but if Im doing a good job, it means I’ll let a lot of sin and bad theology flow right past me in order to understand what they are going through. When Job’s friend jumped on his wife for her bad counsel, he replied “They are like words to the wind.” When people are hurting, they often say things they don’t really believe. They just need space to get them out. Sure, they believe them for a moment but “Curse God and die” is not really in their catalog of beliefs. If we’ll listen, let words go to the wind, and understand what someone is trying to say, we’ll know what words to keep, to come back to, and which ones to let go.

4. Recognize you do not possess the power to change the person. Truth people are quick to speak because they think that if they “apply the right word” the person will change. But people are more complex than that. People need understanding and truth. Listen well, and you will understand, understand and you will know how to speak. It may turn out that the greatest power you possess is understanding, empathy. After all only Spirit can change us. Walter Chantry applied this to pastors:

“Sometimes ministers of the Word, even in the highest ecclesiastical positions, are nonetheless powerless to put an end to injustice. However, a sympathetic hearing, words of advice, and an assurance of God’s assistance are like cool water poured on the burning sands of persecution.”

Book Review of On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason & Precision

On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision by William Lane Craig (WLC) is a good introduction to evidential apologetics. Evidential apologetics primarily relies upon reason to argue for the truthfulness of the Christian faith through evidence to support its various claims. This is different from the presuppostional approach taken by Van Till, John Frame, and to a degree Tim Keller. Those authors presuppose that everyone starts from a place of faith–in reason, another god, materialism, and that Christianity is unique and more compelling in its overall account of human existence and purpose. WLC takes a different tack, and while within the evidential stream, insists upon “positive apologetics”, meaning that if you can make a sound and persuasive case for Christianity, you don’t need to be an expert in world religions. WLC is a renown apologist who has debated all kinds of worldview thinkers and philosophers around the world. He is widely respected for his commitment to reason and defending the gospel of Christ


WLC doesn’t assume any prior knowledge of apologetics, and provides handy pull out quote boxes to simplify and explain major concepts. This is nice because many apologetic books either assume a working knowledge or have trouble engaging the everyday reader. He uses historic vignettes to introduce the reader to key thought leaders throughout the book.

His logic is steely and his prose is spartan, but he moves deftly through 10 major apologetic topics, equipping the reader to think well about such areas as: atheism, meaning, basis for ethics, problem of evil, the plausibility of the resurrection, and the exclusivity of Christ. These chapters are introductory and do not cover all the objections that could be raised on a given topic. For existence, in the chapter on “Why there is something rather than nothing”, he argues by deduction for the existence of an uncaused, unembodied Mind that transcends space and time, and then makes a leap to call that thing “God.” Could that thing not be an infinite and intelligent version of the president of the United States that we haven’t yet met? What makes that thing God? Moreover, how do we get from there to Jesus? WLC builds his case for Christ as the Son of God in the later chapters, weaving in his personal story of skepticism and faith.

What On Guard lacks in warmth, it makes up for in clarity. This is not a devotional book; it is a introduction to evidential apologetics, and a fine one at that.


Evangelical: Cultural Friend, Foe, Intimate, or Radical?

The current evangelical seems obsessed with social justice. The older evangelical, intent on doctrinal tidiness. What is the appropriate posture toward culture? Should we be friends, foes, intimates, or radicals?

20th Century Evangelicals: From Enemies to Friends

In an article entitled “Where We Are and How We Got Here?” noted historian Mark Noll demonstrates the absence of significant evangelical thought and action in the first half of the 20th century.[1] White American evangelicals abandoned serious engagement with academia, popular culture, and politics. The in-house fundamentalist-modernist controversy left fundamentalist Christians disconnected and quarantined from the ideas of the universities, the burgeoning impact of television, and civil rights legislature. We were enemies of culture.

The second half of the 20th century presented a new evangelical—concerned, engaged, and actively influencing the world. A friend to culture. Noll notes two key developments that contributed to a shift in evangelical posture towards culture. First, immigration reform led to an influx of de-Europeanized Christians, bolstering evangelical numbers. Second, the civil rights movement was launched from the southern African American evangelical church. As a result, American evangelicalism grew in number and influence. Subsequently, three culturally reforming movements followed—volunteer organizations (Young Life, Campus Crusade, Fuller Seminary), charismatic movements, and the Jesus People (Calvary Chapel).

The Jesus People rode the church and culture pendulum from enemy to friend. Without quarantining themselves from hippy fads and music all together, the Jesus People found a way to live out a contextualized 70’s gospel. They didn’t demonize culture. Noll comments: “From the 1920s to the 1950s, American evangelicals had tended to view popular culture as an enemy—to keep the gospel it was necessary to flee the world. In the late 1960s, the Jesus People treated popular culture as a potential friend—to spread the gospel it was necessary to use what the world offered.”

New Evangelicals: Intimates to Radicals

However, the latter thirty years of the 20th century did not chart a delicate course between cultural extremes. Leaping quickly from “enemy” and over “friend,” Evangelicals soon found themselves in bed with cultural compromise. I am shocked by what is considered normative media consumption for this Christian generation. They seem to check their morality at the door of the theatre. I am impressed with the new evangelical deeply concerned for the poor and the marginalized. Sexual ethics seem to be up for grabs, while sex-trafficking is anathema. Freedom to engage the culture goes hand in hand with devotion to inconsistent church participation.

The new evangelical appears to be obsessed with social justice, dismissive of doctrine, technologically baked, and so culturally integrated that the Christians look like loosely organized non-profits. Where is the witness of the church? Syncretism has crippled the church’s witness with Christians and secularists alike. What do we stand for again? Many of the new evangelicals are so un-informed that they confuse the term “evangelical” for “evangelistic, and they want little to with that.

In the latter 20th century, and into the first two decades of the 21st century, ecclesiology was uncritically integrated with business models, discipleship radically individualized, the pulpit turned into a therapeutic platform, and the mission of the church reduced to relevance or social justice. The result is a de-churched generation whose faith has been characterized as moralistic therapeutic Deism at best. This vacuous Christianity lacks appeal to thoughtful onlookers. The emerging evangelicalism seems to take on various dispositions to culture, depending on the issue at hand–friend, foe, radical activist, and unnoticeable intimate. If this cultural savvy or spineless indecision?

Future Evangelicals: To Change the World?

Will the early 21st century continue on in confusion or will we chart a different course? The “gospel-centered” movement seems to be re-centering church around a holistic gospel that addresses personal, communal and cultural life in recognition of Jesus as Christ and Lord. Church planters get a whiff of this theology and off they go to plant a church, meanwhile, they make Sunday attendance, numbers of groups, missional theology, philosophy of ministry, and podcast downloads the measure of success. I’m afraid we’re birthing a bunch of church planters who weren’t first elders with hearts beating for the flock of God. Pastors are more concerned with “platform” than piety. I’m concerned we’ve launched Christian radicals, independent of the church, as the poster-kids of the new generation of evangelicals–who love Jesus’ mission more than his Body and maybe even Christ himself. Should we be out changing the whole world?

That’s the question posed by James Davidson Hunter, “Can or should Christians change the world?” In 1947 Carl F. Henry castigated the fundamentalist gospel: “Whereas once the redemptive gospel was a world-changing message, now it was narrowed to a world-resisting message…”[2] Is a gospel shaped church meant to be world-changing or world-resisting? Perhaps our perspective is too broad, taking the need of the global forest while neglecting the local trees. Hunter suggests the way forward should be patterned after Jesus, who provides an example of “faithful presence” in his time and culture. It is remarkable that Jesus did not travel the world to spread his message; he did not awaken his disciple’s attention to global justice issues, though his gospel message certainly holds the whole globe in view. Is faithful presence, locally engaged mission, the way forward? If so, what postures should we accept? Leslie Newbigin once said that the church should be both for and against the world. Do we accept this, and are we willing to embrace both the cost and theo opportunity? These are important questions that will affect our children and their experience of church. For now, our country watches as we steward our historical and cultural moment. We have a rare opportunity to reshape, or perhaps, recover evangelicalism.

[1] Mark Noll, “Where We Are and How We Got Here?” Sept 29, 2006, Christianity Today. See also George Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991).

[2] Cited in David Bosch, Transforming Mission (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1991, rep. 2003).

How I Prepare a Sermon

It was a lot of fun to sit down with my friend John Chandler & SermonSmith as we discussed how I go about preparing sermons.

In the interview, I kind of sound like I just smoked a joint (although I never have). I’m so relaxed and chill, probably because I’m not passionate about the preaching process, and would rather talk about actual preaching or just preach. I really do like my process, really, and I think there will be some helpful things to others, but in the end everyone has to form their own process. John knows this, and it’s why he is exposing his listeners to so many different types of preachers.

Here are few highlights that John pulled out that we discussed:

  • Weekly rhythms for sermon prep
  • Relational work of a pastor
  • The Value of Reading Fiction for preaching
  • Lectio Divina & Preparation