Thankful for the Fleas

The barracks where Corrie ten Boom and her sister, Betsy, were kept in the Nazi concentration camp, Ravensbruck, were terribly overcrowded and flea-infested.

They had been able to miraculously smuggle a Bible into the camp, and in that Bible they had read that in all things they were to give thanks and that God can use anything for good.

Betsy decided that this meant thanking God for the fleas.

This was too much for Corrie, who said she could do no such thing. Betsy insisted, so Corrie gave in and prayed to God, thanking Him even for the fleas.

Over the next several months a wonderful, but curious, thing happened: They found that the guards never entered their barracks.

This meant that the women were not assaulted.

It also meant that they were able to do the unthinkable, which was to hold open Bible studies and prayer meetings in the heart of a Nazi concentration camp.

Through this, countless numbers of women came to faith in Christ.

Only at the end did they discover why the guards had left them alone and would not enter into their barracks:

It was because of the fleas.

This Thanksgiving, give thanks to God for every good and perfect gift (James 1:17), but also thank Him for how He will use all things for good in the lives of those who trust Him (Romans 8:28).

In this time of declining home values and rising unemployment, in a time when many are facing physical and emotional challenges, there can be little doubt that such a trusting prayer of gratitude will be challenging to consider.

But when you feel that challenge, take a moment and remember the fleas of Ravensbruck.

And thank God anyway.

James Emery White


Sources

Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place.

Editor's Note
This blog is a favorite of the ChurchAndCulture.org team, and has become a Thanksgiving tradition. Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving.

Christmas in Emoji

Lindisfarne Gospels.jpg

As I wrote in The Rise of the Nones, a lesson from history might be in order when it comes to the importance of the visual. The Lindisfarne Gospels, a 1,300-year-old manuscript, is revered to this day as the oldest surviving English version of the Gospels. Lindisfarne is a small island just off the Northumberland coast of England. It is often referred to as Holy Island. Tidal waters cut it off from the rest of the world for several hours every day, adding to its mystique as a spiritual pilgrimage.

Produced around AD 715 in honor of St. Cuthbert, largely by a man named Eadfrith, the Bishop of Lindisfarne, the Lindisfarne Gospels presents a copy of the four Gospels of the New Testament. But it isn't revered simply for its age. Its pages reveal curvy, embellished letters, strange creatures and spiraling symbols of exquisite precision and beauty. During the eighth century, pilgrims flocked to St. Cuthbert's shrine where it was housed, making the Lindisfarne manuscript one of the most visited and seen books of its day. Its artwork and symbols helped convey its message to those who could not read.

Professor Richard Gameson from Durham University sees it as a precursor to modern multimedia because it was designed to be a visual, sensual and artistic experience for its audience. Michelle Brown from the University of London notes that the book's impact was similar to those of films and electronic media today. As Gameson adds, "The emphasis was to reach as many people as possible."

There are many strategies needed for the church to have an open "front door" – to help those who were previously unchurched to come and feel not only welcomed, but connected. In reaching the culture today it is clear that the church needs to be focused on a key element of this:

Be visual.

At Mecklenburg Community Church, the church where I serve as senior pastor, there is very little we don't try to convey visually, whether it's a song during worship or a point during a message. We often convey the "story" across multiple screens in multiple forms. It's simply how people best receive information and meaning, content and context.

But the need for the visual goes beyond something as basic as video. It's reflected in the changing nature of language itself.

The depth of this shift was evident when Oxford Dictionary named its 2015 "Word of the Year." Here's the word:

6-5LaughingWithTearsEmoji.jpg
 

Yes, it is a pictograph or, as it is more commonly called, an emoji. But not just any emoji. It is called the "Face with Tears of Joy" emoji. While emojis have been around since the late 1990s, "2015 saw their use, and use of the word emoji, increase hugely." This particular emoji was selected because it was identified as the most used emoji globally in 2015.

In case you are a closet Luddite, an emoji is "a small digital image or icon used to express an idea or emotion in electronic communication." The term itself is Japanese in origin "and comes from e 'picture' + moji 'letter, character.' The similarity to the English word emoticon has helped its memorability and rise in use." An emoticon, by the way, is a "facial expression composed of keyboard characters, such as :), rather than a stylized image."

This reflects the cultural revolution that has come with technology in general, and the smartphone in particular. It's also the only form of language that can transcend linguistic borders, serving the interconnected world of the internet that knows no geopolitical or language boundaries.

But more than anything, it reflects the changing nature of communication itself.

And when it comes to reaching the latest and largest generation – Generation Z – emojis are part of their language. The research of Sparks and Honey has found that Generation Z "speak in emoticons and emojis. Symbols and glyphs provide context and create subtext so they can have private conversations. Emoji alphabets and icon 'stickers' replace text with pictures."

This is why, during a recent slate of Christmas Eve services, we presented the entire Christmas story through a video of two people texting each other, using emojis, emoticons, and gifs.

In other words, the way people today increasingly communicate.

Take a look here.

And yes, you are free to use this video during your church's Christmas Eve services. No charge, no copyrights.

Just consider it our gift to step into the new language.

James Emery White


Sources

Flavia Di Consiglio, "Lindisfarne Gospels: Why is this book so special?" BBC Religion and Ethics, March 20, 2013, read online.

Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyper Reality: Essays, trans. William Weaver.

The Muslim Woman Who Voted For Trump

The words almost seem comical: "I'm a Muslim, a woman and an immigrant. I voted for Trump."

And she wrote an op-ed about it for the Washington Post.

And through it, a lesson can be learned for all of us – regardless how we voted.

I'll let you read her narrative and the specific reasons for her choice. But the point is that she voiced things that I've been trying to put my finger on throughout this last election cycle. And not just the election cycle, but a year or more of widespread protests and deep set division.

In a nutshell?

We have forgotten how to listen.

Listening, at its most foundational, is being quiet while another person speaks. And then, as they speak, hearing what is being said. Paying attention to words and feelings, facial movements and body language. The goal of listening – real listening – is trying to understand what is being said.

And why.

You don't have to agree, and there can be a time to reply (as opposed to not listening at all but just waiting for your turn to speak; or, more commonly, interrupting to do so)…

… but at the heart of listening is empathy. You want to grasp how they feel, and why they feel it.

It seems we've lost that art.

And with it, common public discourse.

Now it seems as though we instantly revert to whatever it takes to silence the speaker. Mostly by calling them a hater, a bigot, a racist, a homophobe, a liberal, a fundamentalist, a… well, you get the point.

Whatever "label" we want to put on them that we feel will marginalize or demonize them.

Yes, social media is the match that has set fire to this pile of kindling, but you can't simply lay the blame on Twitter or Facebook. Social media has facilitated this dis-ease, but it did not create the disease. If people are not allowed to openly share, to openly discourse, to openly dialogue, they go underground with their feelings.

And seethe.

And then it comes out in very unhealthy ways.

So the next time we find ourselves talking over someone,

… about someone,

… past someone,

... perhaps we should stop for a moment and consider talking…

with someone.

And once we do, engage in the lost art of listening.

It's not about agreeing… it's about understanding.

James Emery White


Sources

Asra Q. Nomani, "I'm a Muslim, a woman and an immigrant. I voted for Trump," The Washington Post, November 10, 2016, read online.

The Old Books

The New York Times recently ran an article on the twelve books everyone should read in their twenties. It was a thoroughly "New York Times" kind of list. As described, "To read them all is to learn about wartime, race in America, growing up feeling like you're different, how cities are built and lived in, the power of imagination and much more."

Yes, that was true and, I might add, "from a very specific angle."

For fiction, they recommended:

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Beloved by Toni Morrison
His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

For non-fiction titles, they suggested:

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
The Power Broker by Robert Caro
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

And then, from the "graphic memoirs" genre:

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Their list, as many lists are, was thought-provoking. There are many good titles on it, having read most of them myself. But I couldn't help but notice a rather glaring editorial decision.

Where were the old books?

When it comes to the actual books we open it is very important to be selective. As Schopenhauer once suggested, "If a man wants to read good books, he must make a point of avoiding bad ones; for life is short, and time and energy limited."

So what are the good books? Let's go further. If you are going to suggest a list of twelve books to be sure to read during one of the more pivotal and developmental decades of anyone's life, what are the great books?

"There never was very much doubt in anybody's mind about which the masterpieces were," wrote Robert Maynard Hutchins. "They were the books that had endured and that the common voice of mankind called the finest creations, in writing, of the Western mind." The great books are those writings that have most shaped history and culture, civilization and science, politics and economics. They prompt us to think about the great issues of life.

C.S. Lewis simply called them the "old" books.

Actual collections of such writings have been attempted. Hutchins, along with Mortimer Adler, compiled a set that went from Homer to Freud, over 25 centuries, including the works of Plato and Aristotle, Virgil and Augustine, Shakespeare and Pascal, Locke and Rousseau, Kant and Hegel, Darwin and Dostoevsky.

Charles W. Eliot, who served as president of Harvard for 40 years, dreamed of a five-foot shelf of books that would provide an education to anyone who would spend even 15 minutes a day reading them. His vision took form when he became the editor of the 50-volume Harvard Classics (1909).

Critiques can be made of such reading programs, both in scope and intent, but at least they propel the reader into what Hutchins calls the "Great Conversation." Or as Descartes would suggest, the reading of such books is like a conversation with the noblest men of past centuries, "nay a carefully studied conversation, in which they reveal to us none but the best of their thoughts."

Lewis went further, arguing that the old books were needed to confront our current age's perspective. "Every age has its own outlook," Lewis contended. "It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books."

I agree.

You can find my own list of books everyone should read in the appendix to my little book, A Mind for God (InterVarsity Press). And one thing you can be assured of: While newer books like Toni Morrison's Beloved are most certainly on the list,

… the vast majority are much, much older.

James Emery White


Sources

"12 Book to Read in Your 20s," The New York Times, October 25, 2016, read online.

Arthur Schopenhauer, "On Some Forms of Literature," The Art of Literature.

Robert Maynard Hutchins, The Great Conversation.

C.S. Lewis, "On the Reading of Old Books," God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics.

Rene Descartes, Discourse on Method, I.

Translating Your Music

My wife and I recently took two of our grandchildren to Disney World. One of the rides we boarded was Mission Earth in the Epcot park. The theme is a journey through the history of communication.

As soon as we boarded our "timecraft," the screen asked us for our preferred narration language. As I reached for "English," my two-year-old granddaughter pushed "Japanese."

Yes, we rode the entire ride listening to the history of communication in Japanese. And even though the ride was visually stunning with incredible sound, it was virtually meaningless to us because the entire story was told in a language we didn't understand.

The experience made me think about one of the least translated aspects of church services. Many pastors work hard at communicating their sermons in language that post-Christian people can understand. Most churches are careful with the language on their websites.

But there's one area that is notoriously overlooked.

The music.

Granted, much of the language is universal. Light, life, love, hope, broken, breath… but all too often Christian lyrics veer into foreign vocabulary. We sing of having all of our "fountains" being in Jesus, "Hosanna" in the highest, or even something as basic to our spiritual life as "grace."

These are foreign terms to most post-Christian people. At the very least, if they share the vocabulary, they have a very different dictionary.

Yes, like my Epcot ride, the music can be visually stunning, performed with excellence, have great melodies… but in the end, nonetheless meaningless.

Why?

They don't understand the language.

And this isn't just with contemporary music. We don't have to bring up the even more distant language of traditional hymnody, do we? As in, "Here I build mine Ebeneezer"?

At Meck, we've become increasingly sensitized to this as we present the gospel to a very un-gospeled world. Increasing numbers of churches are growing in their sensitivity to language and explanation, in messages and websites, signage and announcements, but then seem to throw all sensitivity to the wind when it comes to music.

So how do you translate?

We've started using "explanation videos" for key words as lead-ins to songs. Often these videos have a click-track embedded in the video for our band to allow for effective transitions, or for the song to begin with the video.

They aren't elaborate, which means they also aren't difficult to produce. They also aren't long – most under one minute.

The most obvious time to do this is when you are dusting off an old song, such as "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." A beautiful song that we led in to like this:

"Come Thou Fount" Lead-in Video

But as mentioned, it's increasingly needed for contemporary music. For example, here's a video we did recently for the Chris Tomlin song "All My Fountains."

"All My Fountains" Lead-in Video

Or when we sing Jeremy Riddle's song "Furious," which speaks of God's love being furious (a nod to G.K. Chesterton), we might lead in with something like this:

"Furious" Lead-in Video

Or when we sing about God's love being relentless for us, through "Relentless" by Hillsong United, we might lead in to it like this:

"Relentless" Lead-in Video

Here is a sampling of some other quick introductions we've used to explain key words that appear within songs:

"Sin"

"Glorious"

"Hallelujah"

"Holy"

"Praise"

"Salvation"

The point is simple: No matter how good the ride, Japanese doesn't cut it. Not without translation.

Neither does Christianese.

Even in – perhaps especially in – our music.

James Emery White

A Presidential Prayer

Editor's Note: This letter was first offered in a blog before the 2008 election. The Church & Culture team thought it fitting for today. We made a small modification or two in light of the current election.

Dear Mister or Madame President:

I do not yet know your name, but in a few days you will be elected to our nation's highest office and become the leader of the free world at the end of a long and engaging election season.

I want you to know that I will be praying for you. Not praying against you or about you, but for you. That is both my pledge and my obligation as a follower of Christ. In the Bible, the apostle Paul writes, "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness." (I Timothy 2:1-2, NIV)

And I will do so with a full and undivided heart.

I will be praying for you from my position as a father of four children and "Papa" to four grandchildren, that you will have the foresight to think through what your decisions will mean for them as future generations.

I will be praying for you as a citizen of the United States, that you will seek wisdom from God and humbly submit yourself to His leadership as you lead our nation through economic turbulence, domestic divides and cultural diversities.

I will be praying for you as a member of the global population, that you will work with other well-intentioned leaders from around the world as we face environmental challenges, wars and rumors of wars, and humanitarian crises.

And finally, I will be praying for you as a follower of Christ, that you will encourage faith in God to flourish and never allow deeply held spiritual convictions to become a matter of ridicule, but instead encourage everyone to grant them a respectful hearing, even if they go against the political policy of your party.

It is being widely spoken that the next President will inherit more that needs immediate attention than any other President in recent memory. As a result, it has been a hard-fought and hotly contested election. Yes, I will vote, and I do not know if you will be the one for whom I cast my ballot. But following November 8, all of that must be set aside no matter how deep the divides may be.

So while I do not know if you will be the candidate I voted for, I do know that no matter your name, I will support you in one way without question.

I will be praying for you.

James Emery White

What Really Keeps Pastors Awake at Night

A recent cover story in the Harvard Business Review was titled, "What Really Keeps CEOs Awake at Night." The article explored such things as brand building, executive pay and managing millennials.

It made me wonder about a similar question for my field: "What really keeps pastors awake at night?"

I travel a fair amount speaking at various pastors' gatherings and, as a result, hear from a large cross-section of pastors from across the country. I also am one and have been for nearly thirty years.

So what does seem to keep the majority of us up at night?

At least five things, and I will offer them in ascending order:

#5 Money. As in lack of, raising of and stewarding of. I believe it was R.C. Sproul who once posed the question, "How much ministry can you do for $1?" The answer was, "$1's worth."

That may have been a bit crass, but you get his point.

But even crasser would be, "How much of an electric bill can you pay with $1?" Answer: "$1's worth."

And most pastors are the ones getting the bill and having the responsibility to make sure it's paid.

But it's not just money in regard to the church. It is also money in regard to their personal lives. Most pastors are underpaid. They do not have adequate benefit packages. They do not have a provided retirement plan. And – forgive me for stating the obvious – they don't have end-of-the-year stock options or sales bonuses.

So many pastors I know feel the stress of personal finances and corporate finances.

#4 Staff. I know that many churches are singularly staffed, but a lot of churches have at least a few. That makes hiring and firing, training and managing, a big deal.

But what keeps us up at night the most in relation to staff revolves around staff conflict. Not every church staff is healthy. Not every relationship is a good one. Anyone in the marketplace knows how stressful a bad working relationship with another employee can be. Imagine what it's like in the confines of a church's mission and ministry.

#3 Departing Members/Attenders. Here's a little secret you may not know: Every pastor takes every member departure personally.

They can't help it.

Every pastor worth their salt treats and leads their church like a family. And they are the parent of that family. When someone leaves, it's a knife in their relational heart. It feels like disloyalty, abandonment and relational treason.

It doesn't to the person departing. All too often (sadly) it's a consumer decision, like switching from Costco to Sam's Club. But not to the person who has invested his or her life in building that Costco.

#2 The Needs of Our Members. Most pastors genuinely care about the people they serve. They care about the marriages in crisis, the children who rebel, the cancer being treated and the grief over the loss of a loved one.

They come home at the end of a day prayerfully carrying the weight of many people's lives, and it's not easy to disengage. To be sure, being at the side of someone who just lost a son or daughter is nothing compared to what that mother or father is going through. But when you are at the side of grieving parents week in and week out, the toll is real.

And you lie awake at night overwhelmed at the depth of grief you've experienced.

#1 Feelings of Inadequacy. Yep, you read that right. Most pastors would tell you that they do not feel up to their task. They are only too aware of their sin and shortcomings. They are overwhelmed at a job that never ends, never has a 5 p.m. cut off, never has a finish line.

And then there's that little thing called a "message." Every week, weekends come along with amazing regularity. And pastors are expected to have something helpful, something fresh, something arresting and something encouraging. And too many times, they feel it's all they can do to keep themselves afloat.

Let's be clear.

Almost every pastor I know would say it's a privilege, an honor and the greatest joy of their life to serve in this role. I would add my name to that list. This isn't about enabling collective whining or even engendering sympathy.

It's just to say to other pastors, "You're not alone in how you feel."

And to say to the many attenders of the churches they serve, coming on the heels of October being "Pastor Appreciation Month," the next time you feel led to pray for your pastor, perhaps now you can pray for them a bit more specifically.

James Emery White


Sources

Adi Ignatius, "What CEOs Really Worry About," Harvard Business Review, November 2016, pp. 52-57.

About Today (Halloween)

I grew up in a day when Halloween was little more than pumpkins, fall festivals, hayrides and dressing up as a pirate or a farmer to go trick-or-treating. And that's also what it was like for my (now) very post-Halloween-age children.

I know its history, but few celebrations in our day are free from pagan roots – almost all had a pagan heritage that was later seized and transformed by a Christian culture. So that doesn't matter much to me. On the Christian calendar, October 31 is actually to be celebrated as part of Reformation Day, in remembrance of when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg church, sparking the Protestant Reformation.

So while I still hold to the childlike fun the night can hold, I no longer view the day itself as innocent.

But it's not because of the occult.

It's because of the sex.

In an article in the New York Times titled, "Good Girls Go Bad, For a Day," Stephanie Rosenbloom writes of the changing nature of women's Halloween costumes in the last several years.

Little Red Riding Hood, in her thigh-highs and miniskirt, does not seem en route to her grandmother's house.

Goldilocks, in a snug bodice and platform heels, gives the impression she has been sleeping in everyone's bed.

And then there is the witch wearing little more than a Laker Girl uniform, a fairy who appears to shop at Victoria's Secret, and a cowgirl with a skirt the size of a – well, you get the point. As Rosenbloom notes, the images "are more strip club than storybook."

No wonder Halloween costume stores have signs out front that say: "No one under 18 allowed without a parent."

So my take on it all is pretty simple.

I think Halloween as an American cultural event for kids is no big deal. Dress them up as one of the minions from Despicable Me and have fun. It's just not a big deal from the paranormal or occultic perspective on things. In my opinion, this is an area where a lot of people are majoring on the minors.

It's not the kids and Halloween that are the problem…

… it's the adults.

I think Halloween, as far as the kids go, can still be something innocent. But a word to you adults who have made it "dress like a porn star and act like one" night:

You're the ones making it dark.

James Emery White


Sources

Stephanie Rosenbloom, "Good Girls Go Bad, For a Day," New York Times, Thursday, October 19, 2006, p. E1 and E2.

Michelle Healy, "Sexy teen Halloween costumes: What's a parent to do?," USA Today, October 28, 2013, read online.


Editor's Note
With Halloween falling on a Monday this year, the Church & Culture Team thought it appropriate to release this blog originally published in 2013.

Watershed Moment

My home state of North Carolina and home city of Charlotte have been in the news of late for a number of social and cultural matters.

In relation to one of those, the Charlotte Observer ran a front page story related to HB2 (House Bill 2), often referred to as the "bathroom bill." It is called that because the bill came about as a reaction to a Charlotte city ordinance that protected transgender people who wanted to use the bathroom of their gender "identity."

Popular translation: A man dressed as a woman can use a woman's bathroom if he feels he identifies with being a woman.

A firestorm ensued when HB2 was passed in reaction to overturn the city ordinance, namely because some felt it went beyond a narrow limitation of the city's reach, and restricted LGBTQ rights even further than they had been before.

Much of the ensuing conversation has been whether the LGBTQ community needs expanded protection as outlined in the Charlotte city bill, or whether the state was right in saying that things were already adequately cared for.

Weighing in on the matter, the Charlotte Observer produced a front-page story on the ways the LGBTQ community has faced discrimination; a not-so-veiled attempt for the paper to cast its vote on the matter of whether additional protections are needed.

The title?

"Permission to Hate."

Yes, that was the not-so-subtle title.

It then detailed numerous stories of LGBTQ discrimination. And to be sure, some of the stories were repugnant. True discrimination, much less violence, against the LGBTQ community must be deplored.

Which made it all the more disturbing that one of the primary examples of such discrimination was a story titled, "Her Former Church Told Her to Repent."

A lesbian woman had chosen to marry another woman. After doing so, she was contacted by her church and told that her relationship was outside of the church's beliefs. The church asked her to "display repentance and abandonment of this area of open immorality."

Not for being homosexual in orientation, mind you, but for openly embracing the homosexual lifestyle in violation of the church's stated beliefs, which she had agreed to when she joined as a member.

That was it.

But it was offered as an example of a story of "hate" and discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Yes, the line has finally been brazenly crossed in the most public and mainstream way: A faith community that holds to its beliefs about things as foundational as sexual morality, marriage and family – not to mention upholding the integrity of its membership – can now be charged with perpetuating a hate crime against another person when they take a convictional stand for those beliefs. Even if all they do is say: "We have clearly parted ways in our understanding of faith. So let's part ways."

They didn't try and prevent the marriage. They just wanted to continue to be the faith community they were. They didn't change; the former member changed.

This is precisely what those advocating for gay rights, early on in the debate, said would never happen. They said they simply wanted the right to marry. They wouldn't force their views on anyone else. Of course religious freedom would be protected.

Short-lived promise. And one we know, now, was disingenuous from the start. It is now clear the goal was never simply having "rights" but enforcing cultural affirmation. There is a difference. A deeply disturbing difference.

The stance of the Observer is not an isolated incident.

Consider Watermark Church, a Dallas megachurch, now embroiled in equal media controversy after it "lovingly" ousted a member for being in a gay relationship with another man.

Again, not for being homosexual in orientation, but for openly and unrepentantly embracing the homosexual lifestyle in direct violation of the church's deepest religious convictions. Further, he publicly stated that he no longer embraced the church's beliefs on the matter.

"We are left with no other option but to remove you from our body," their letter states. "We lovingly but firmly call you back to repentance."

Many have observed that this was simply a church being a church. The man did not have to join the church, much less originally agree to embrace its beliefs. But in choosing to depart from them, and also refusing to willingly resign his membership on the front end, he left the church little choice but to maintain the integrity of its faith and practice (and membership) by removing him from that affiliation.

What else would anyone expect?

As the pastor of the church explained in a commentary for the Dallas Morning News, because the man didn't think same-sex activity was "inappropriate for a follower of Jesus Christ, it became appropriate to formally acknowledge his desire to not pursue faithfulness to Christ with us."

"Loving correction (church discipline) can be a difficult idea to understand," the pastor wrote, "but discipline is an act of love, something any parent knows."

Yet it's become the talk of the town, as if Watermark has, in some way, committed an act of legal discrimination, if not a hate crime.

So it's not just about Watermark Church.

It's about a watershed moment.

And one that doesn't bode well for the church, and carries ominous signs of not only the looming loss of religious freedom,

… but even the early signs of future persecution.

James Emery White


Sources

Michael Gordon, Mark S. Price and Katie Peralta, "Understanding HB2: North Carolina's newest law solidifies state's role in defining discrimination," The Charlotte Observer, March 26, 2016, read online.

Elizabeth Leland, "Permission to Hate," The Charlotte Observer, read online.

Todd Wagner, "Watermark Church's 'loving correction' helps members deal with sin," Dallas News, October 16, 2016, read online.

Kimberly Winston, "Dallas church to gay member: 'We lovingly … call you to repentance'," Religion News Service, October 19, 2016, read online

Rethinking Evangelism with C.S. Lewis

Picture an imaginary scale from 1 to 10.

On the left end of the scale, at the "1," we have someone who is completely divorced from a relationship with or knowledge of Christ.

On the other end of the scale, at the "10" mark, is that point in time when the spiritual journey of an individual results in coming to saving faith in and knowledge of Christ.

I know, this is a crude and overly simplistic scale, but let it try to illustrate a point.

Let's begin by using this scale to evaluate yesterday's typical unchurched person. Speaking in broad terms, where on the scale would such a person living in the United States in 1960 have been?

If I had time I think I could make the case that most had the following on their spiritual resume:

  • Acceptance of the deity of Christ
  • Belief that truth existed and that the Bible was trustworthy
  • A positive image of the church and its leaders
  • A relatively healthy church background and experience
  • Foundational knowledge of the essential truths of the Christian faith
  • A built-in sense of guilt or conviction that kicked in when they violated the basic tenets of the Judeo-Christian value system

So, on a scale from 1 to 10, this person would have been placed at "8."

In other words, someone you could just about win to Christ through a well-worded tweet.

The top evangelistic strategies of 1960 — arguably door-to-door visitation, Sunday school, revivals and busing — were well oriented to this context.

And with each of these efforts, a one-time, cold-call presentation of the gospel would have been effective.

After all, they did not need to move very far down the line — just from an "8" to a "10." All it took was a bump.

One of the most pressing questions for the church in today's world is this: Are the conditions and attitudes that created such a successful context for those strategies still in place today? Are the people we are trying to reach today the same as they were in 1960?

Obviously, the answer is no.

So where might the contemporary unchurched person rest on our imaginary scale?

A generous suggestion – very generous – is that they would be placed at a "3."

Headline? It is time to rethink evangelism.

And that begins with capturing a new understanding of evangelism; one that sees evangelism as both process and event.

When someone comes to saving faith in Christ, there is both an adoption process and an actual decision event. For the last several decades, evangelism capitalized on a unique state of affairs: namely, a culture filled with people who were relatively advanced in their spiritual knowledge and, as a result, able to quickly and responsibly consider the event of accepting Christ as Savior and Lord.

In light of today's realities, there must be fresh attention paid to the process that leads people to the event of salvation. The goal is not simply knowing how to articulate the means of coming to Christ (the "10" moment), but how to facilitate and enable the person to progress from a "3" to the point of a "7" or an "8," where they are even able to consider accepting Christ in a responsible fashion.

It reminds me of a rather obscure essay C.S. Lewis once wrote on modern man and his categories of thought. Lewis argued that when the gospel first broke out, the evangelistic task was essentially to one of three groups: Jews, Judaizing Gentiles and Pagans.

All three believed in the supernatural.

All were conscious of sin and feared divine judgment.

Each offered some form of personal purification and release.

They all believed the world had once been better than it now was.

But now, Lewis argued, the average person shares none of those marks.

In fact, he ended the essay by stating, "I sometimes wonder whether we shall not have to re-convert men to real Paganism as a preliminary to converting them to Christianity."

He was, as usual, prescient in this thinking.

James Emery White


Sources

C.S. Lewis, "Modern Man and His Categories of Thought," Present Concerns (London: Fount Paperbacks, 1986).