Gregg Allison at NW ETS

Dr. Gregg Allison was our plenary speaker speaking on “Roman Catholicism Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment” which is also the title of his new book. He is also the author of Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church, and Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine, and How the Bible Was Formed. Dr. Allison worked with Cru at Notre Dame University and in Italy. He is professor of Christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, an elder at Sojourn Community Church, and a theological strategist for Sojourn Network.

His paper, power point and a recording are here: http://1drv.ms/1Bek997 

Lessons from Mars Hill

In twenty years Mars Hill Church (MHCC) went from a new plant out of Antioch Bible Church to a mega church with 15,000 people in 15 locations. Thousands of completely unchurched people received forgiveness and new life from Jesus through the ministry of the church and the leadership of Pastor Mark Driscoll. Many matured amazing leaders both in MHCC and other churches. The Acts 29 church planting network facilitated establishment of many other churches. Then in three months MHCC imploded. In August Paul Tripp announced his resignation from the Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) and Acts 29 delisted MHCC. Twenty one former pastor/elders filed formal charges. They were joined by nine current pastor/elders, all calling for Pastor Mark to step down from all ministry to get help for his self-confessed sins of pride, anger and domineering spirit. Pastor Mark stepped down while the charges were investigated. In September, Pastor Sutton Turner resigned as executive elder. The board of seven elders lead by Pastor Matt Rogers, chair of the BOAA, investigated the charges. In October they presented their findings to Pastor Mark and he resigned. At the end of the month Pastor Dave Bruskas, the remaining Executive Elder, and the BOAA announced that MHCC would dissolve as of the end of the year, leaving assets and operations to the local Mars Hill churches.

What lessons are to be drawn from this astounding saga? What are lessons from the growth and power of MHCC and Pastor Mark?

Early on, Pastor Mark made the choice to distance himself from the emergent church movement, embracing a pulpit philosophy of expositional Bible teaching rather than “relevant” communication. The message of the Word continues to be powerful when taught with Spirit lead authenticity even in a most unchurced city. Those messages found receptive ears far beyond Seattle with astounding numbers of world wide sermon downloads.

Where others were affirming Mike Regele & Mark Schulz or Michael Jinkins in prophesying the death of the church, Pastor Mark and MHCC showed that the church is still the bride of Christ. He and men like Matt Chandler, Tim Keller, and Daniel Montgomery – to mention a few – are leaders of large, high impact multi-site churches. Those who are blogging the end of the mega church need to listen to this lesson. The verdict on multi-site and video venue models of church is still out. Will it prove to be a fad like bus ministries or one effective model of church organization? MHCC theologized that each campus must have its own campus pastors, ministry teams, and community life. Sites cannot be franchises to expand the brand or celebrity speakers or cheap ways to plant churches.

Many asserted that the video venue approach of MHCC replaced preachers and leaders with a video screen. But a more careful look will show that MHCC was exceptional in raising up young leaders, equipping and encouraging them to believe God could use them mightily. Ironically these same men strengthened at MHCC are the ones who refused to tolerate the centralized leadership model, the controversies, and the culture of conflict that brought about the demise of MHCC.

Capitalizing on the resources of the high tech culture of Seattle, MHCC lead the country in effective use of technology both in the church and in the cloud. They explored podcasts, vodcasts, internet resource sites as portals to vast church resources. But one must remember the proper order. Technology is a great servant, but a tyrannical master.

The encouragement of church based bands is a welcome alternative to Contemporary Christian Music and its touring professionals that often are more like Hollywood than Church. MHCC demonstrated that the message of the gospel can be effectively presented in all sorts of musical genre. They led the way in utilizing the evangelistic power of high quality music.

MHCC emphasized the role of a large church as an equipping resource for other churches. Where some built the revenue of the church by charging for downloads, everything on Resurgence was free to the user. As it turned out the donations from the users more than paid for the materials.

There are also lessons from the demise MHCC.

Every leader has a dark side to their character. Regeneration and the new heart imparted by the Spirit of the New Covenant (2 Cor. 5:17-21; Tit. 3:5-8) means that the deepest desires of a Christian are Christlike. Sanctification means that there is a growing Christlikeness and maturity of character necessary for leadership (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Tit. 1:5-9). But Paul teaches that the sarx, the sinful desires or flesh, are a persistent reality (Gal. 5:16-26; Rom. 7:14-25). The brokenness of leaders must never be excused in light of their great strengths. Leaders must know those weaknesses, flaws, and sin things in them and call a team around them to overcome those. Leaders must invite trusted colleagues into the deepest parts of their lives, the slimiest realities, to bring the healing work of the Spirit. Leaders must have people who will listen well to them and invite them to say, "No" to their most cherished ideas and proposals, to alert them to the damage their sarx is threatening.

Power, the capacity to act or get things done, the ability to execute change, is an essential part of leadership. It comes from spiritual, physical, economic, or personal sources. Power, like gasoline, is both advantageous and dangerous. It is beneficial when used biblically, in service of others (Matt. 20:25-28; Acts 20:28 Pet. 5:1-4). But power is also a seductive, addictive, delicious narcotic. The sarx in a leader wants more and more power, resisting checks and balances without which power becomes domineering and abusive in the name of efficiency and results.

That is why ministry and leadership in the New Testament is always a team thing. The charges of favoritism in ministry in Acts 6 went to the Twelve, not to Peter. The huge controversy about the necessity of circumcision for salvation in Acts 15 did not go to Peter or James but to the apostles and elders with the whole church (Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23). Elder is singular only in 1 Tim. 5:19 when it is about an accusation.

MHCC categorized leaders as Prophet, Priest, or King with a clear ordering of King, Prophet and then Priest. But those are not the biblical categories of leadership qualities for the church and certainly not with this ordering. Prioritizing King, the rightly criticized "Moses model" of leadership, often results in a domineering culture where results take priority over the soul care of the Priest. It tends to define unity as loyalty and agreement with the king. If this happens the danger of "group think" increases as disagreements are not stated lest they be judged as lack of submission or cowardice.

The Bible speaks of five types of leadership gifts: apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, and teacher to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:12-14). This APEST model is five dimensions of a team of leaders not the common misinterpretation of five offices. As I understand it, all five dimensions are equally crucial and must be mutually submissive coming together in a true team where disagreement is stated first hand, respectfully, and constructively as in Acts 15 with the whole team or even the whole church coming to unity around the decision. That doesn’t mean there is no disagreement. Real unity comes on in the context of frank constructive disagreement. The few who still disagree submit to the decision of the team, supporting it fully
.

Leaders must be deeply involved in the pastoral life of the church no matter how large the church. The temptation of sarx in powerful leaders of large churches is to isolate from day to day stuff in order to focus on preaching and vision. While leaders cannot be distracted from their personal responsibilities by the pile of details, isolation is deadly. If leaders cannot be pastors to every member of a large church, they must compassionately invest in pastoral realities lest they lose touch with the church Jesus calls them to shepherd. This pastoral work will be with "report to" people but also with some old and new members. Otherwise leadership becomes abstract, policy driven, and in danger of becoming fear based and abusive as decisions become for the good of the organization instead of for the good of the people.

The elder board of a large church must keep close touch with staff morale. This often gets lost in defined channels of communication where top leaders never hear the hearts of lower level staff. Because staff are closest to the life of the church, they are most sensitive to the life of the church. While outsiders see the leader ‘s greatness, the staff often see a darker, more dysfunctional side of things. Leaders must not write off their discouragement or frustrations to Satan’s attack, or simply condemn unhappiness as bad attitudes. The board must remember that the staff/infra-structure is as important as the charismatic leader for the health and effectiveness of the organization, for effective sustainable ministry. To illustrate, isn’t the server at a fine restaurant at least as important as the executive chef and the CEO? When organizational culture begins to go sour, the staff become interchangeable tools for carrying out organizational goals. But especially in a church, staff must be always be valuable persons, whom leaders bless and serve, as well as being employees serving with performance metrics.

Sound theology, effective ministry, good teaching, evangelism do not guarantee Christlike church life. They can never replace love and service, mutual submission and support. Leader must always promote a climate of trust which can only occur in personal vulnerability and compassionate care. Trust is the willingness to risk being vulnerable based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behavior of another. In a climate of distrust communication lines are sewer lines where comments are tainted by the sickness of the culture. But in a climate of trust, communication lines are power lines where even a harsh comment comes in the context of commitment. So instead of retaliating or isolating, the recipient goes graciously to the speaker to see what’s happening.

I think the temptation to virtue is much more dangerous than the temptation to vice. The Devil’s temptations of Jesus were temptations to strengths, not sinful passions. We think of leaders falling to temptation around money, sex, power, and information which are temptations to vice, to lustful passions, to sarx. Wise leaders build accountability provisions around these vices. But the temptations to misuse of virtues often go completely unrecognized and therefore without protections of accountability. I think of many stories of leaders who ended up in sinful relationships – not because they were tempted to indulge sexual lusts but because virtues of pastoral helping were used beyond boundaries of godliness. Caring is expressed in a touch, then in touches, in holding . . . and misused virtue becomes devastating sin.

There are other lessons: Even the most dynamic leader does not build a dysfunctional culture alone. Subordinates cooperate in building the culture which turns on them later. People often make the dynamic leader to BE the church rather than the servant of the church. When leaders buy into the lie, their identity becomes so intertwined with the church that all charges become personal attacks. They become an idol and the worship becomes idolatrous. A church culture based in anger and fear cannot produce life of the Spirit.

A final lesson is being written as I write. Even as MHCC will discontinue operations in a few weeks, the Mars Hill churches are in process of replanting, many with a lot of continuity of their leadership teams and congregations. Many of those leaders have privately pondered and publicly repented. In a context of vulnerability, trust can be rebuilt and the work of the gospel go on. While bloggers continue to build their income with disparaging gossip, the people hope in the power of gospel centered transformation, hoping in the sense of the confident expectation of good based in the character of the God of Exodus 34:6-7.

Spiritual Warfare Resources

I am speaking on Spiritual Warfare today at Living Hope Church, Vancouver, and there are MANY questions that arise. So I am putting a few good resources up for people to look at. The materials are here.

My articles include “Demon Principles”, “Three Models of Spiritual Warfare”, “Rogue Deliverance”, and “Warfare Bibliography,” as well as a list of passages that might be helpful for children.  There is an inductive study for those who want to examine the key Scriptures. There are also three articles by Sam Storms, Pastor at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City and a set of notes from a psychiatrist to help with thinking through demons and mental illness.

I would welcome interaction. You can append public comments or email me at gbreshears@westernseminary.edu

Proclaiming Justice at Cru

I spoke at the Cru conference in Ft. Collins on July 20 on the topic of Proclaiming Justice. It was an amazing experience for me to share with people who were powerfully committed to going with Jesus into the hardest places – beginning with the Campuses of the world.

The notes from the meeting are here, and the power point I used is here. A very helpful chart is here. I will be glad to send you any of these or converse about other resources. My email address is Gbreshears@westernseminary.edu

 

Why Does Religion Survive?

Today’s NY Times opinion piece, The Moral Animal, asks the question of the survival of religion: Why does religion survive — thrive in fact — when it is persistently attacked and ridiculed by naturalism and has been predicted to disappear since the Enlightenment? In a neo-Darwinian world, what makes religion so fit? Rabbi Sacks suggests it because community has higher survivability than individuals. Altruism is fitter than egoism and therefore survives. He notes there is now neurological evidence that we are hard wired for empathy. He argues that religion survives because it binds individuals into groups.

He cites Robert Putnam whose Bowling Alone showed the rising individualism was destroying our ability to form community. More recently his American Grace has chronicled the fact that religious communities still exist. His research showed that frequent church- or synagogue-goers were more likely to give money to charity, do volunteer work, help the homeless, donate blood, help a neighbor with housework, spend time with someone who was feeling depressed, offer a seat to a stranger or help someone find a job. Religiosity as measured by church or synagogue attendance is, he found, a better predictor of altruism than education, age, income, gender or race.

But that doesn’t explain why religion survives. It only shows that it results in altruistic community. Community may be a necessary thing, Darwinistically speaking, but religion isn’t.

It seems to me that religion survives because of what Psalm 19 says:

    The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

     Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.

     There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.

     Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

There is an innate sense of divinity, of justice, beauty, and of community put there by the Living Loving Lord of Advent. It morphs into many different religions which have more or less of the truth. The Word became flesh to reveal the Father (John 1:14, 18), die for our sins and rise to bring newness of life, was exalted above the hostile powers and poured out the Spirit on His Church. We who repent and accept His message and join Him by faith receive forgiveness, new life, join His new community and its mission to bring true shalom to this world.

So at Christmas time, I confidently predict that the worship of the Lord of Creation, the Lord of Advent, the Lord of the community of the Spirit will continue to be worshiped. That worship will be most authentic when it follows the words of our Savior: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. and Love your neighbor as yourself.

This was demonstrated dramatically in Kristina Shevchenko, the 15 year old who was shot at Clackamas Town Center. She “irrationally” forgave the man who shot her and two others. You had to listen carefully to find the reason: she and her Ukrainian immigrant family are strong Christians.

So you will continue to see churches proclaiming Jesus as Lord and doing irrational works of service in our communities . . . and loving, wrestling with, and laughing with atheists who can’t join our worship [yet]

Justice Summary

I will be joining John Mark Comer to teach the foundational concept of Justice at Solid Rock this Sunday. The recording will be here. Since sermons go really quickly, I prepared a summary for further study. You can get it MS Word format here.

1. Dimensions of God’s Righteousness

a. Attribute (Character): God is perfectly pure and righteous Ezra 9:15; Dan. 9:7-11, 14; John 17:25; Rom. 1:17; 3:22

b. Actions: God acts righteously and sacrificially. He not only is good, but does good Gen. 18:25; Psa. 71:15-19; 145:17; Jer. 9:24; Micah 6:5

c. God’s righteousness is a gift He gives to faith. Rom. 1:17; 3:21; 10:3-4; Gal. 5:5; Phil. 3:9

2. Definition of righteousness (Tsedekah) and justice (Mishpat)

a. Righteousness means community life with all relationships – with God, others, self, and the rest of creation – well ordered, full of shalom, all things flourishing as God designed them to be.

b. The righteous person is one who contributes to such life.

c. Doing justice is inconveniencing yourself for the sake of the “worthless person” especially the widow, orphan, stranger, and poor. Injustice is keeping my stuff for my own comfort.

d. The reason for doing justice: loving and being like the LORD who gives Himself in creation and redemption (Psa. 68:4-5; 146:7-9; Jer. 9:23-24).

The righteous are willing to disadvantage themselves to advantage the community. The wicked are willing to disadvantage the community to advantage themselves. . . . Righteousness is a pattern of life, not merely specific acts. What is at stake is personhood, not merely performance, disposition rather than mere deeds; character behind and beyond conduct . . . this kind of life and behavior has a religious dimension as well as an ethical one, since the righteous depend on the LORD. . . . “righteousness” refers to the moral quality that establishes right order and “justice” refers to the moral quality that restores order that order when they are disturbed. (Bruce Waltke, Proverbs, p. 97-98)

Righteousness is not a matter of actions conforming to a given set of absolute legal standards as the Pharisees taught, but of behavior which is in keeping with the two-way relationship between God and man. Thus the righteousness of God appears in his God-like dealings with his people, i.e. in redemption and salvation (Isa. 45:21; 51:5f.; 56:1; 62:1). He who longs for redemption calls upon God’s righteousness, i.e. he pleads for God’s intervention (Pss. 71:2; 143:11). Israel’s enemies, by contrast, find God’s righteousness to be the root of their downfall (Isa. 41:10f.; 54:17; Ps. 129:4f.). For Israel’s sake, even the very land itself may be restored through the gift of God’s righteousness (Hos. 10:2; Joel 2:23; Isa. 32:15ff.; 48:18f.). Dwelling in the land as he does, Israel partakes of God’s righteousness (Ps. 24:5) and such righteousness may actually be referred to in spatial terms (Pss. 89:16; 69:28). (adapted from “Righteousness” in New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology)

The Abraham narrative is the foundational description of righteousness/justice.

Genesis 12 is YHWH calling a guy to be His tribe through whom He will do His divine rescue mission. YHWH calls Abram, follow Me to Eden as it turns out. He blesses him and says, “I will give you a people and a Person through whom all peoples will be blessed in the divine rescue mission.” This promise of the nation through whom all nations will be blessed is a central theme through the rest of the Bible.

Abram is called to go to somewhere. I will make

Nation

Bless to bless

Name great

Bless all peoples/tribes/nations/families = the Gen 11 one turned over to angels

Offspring = descendents = Nation

THE offspring

What must Abram do? Go (trust), receive blessing,

YHWH calls Abram to be loyal to Him rather than the demon gods that are like pimps and drug dealers in the heavenly realm (Psa. 82 is one of the places that speak of them). Abram does sacrifices to YHWH only when he gets to the land despite the fact that he used to worship other gods (Josh. 24:2), the gods of that land.

Genesis 15 YHWH calls Abram to trust that what He says is true. YHWH will arrange for a son even though it has been a long time since the promise was given, despite the physical fact that he is 90 and Sarai is 80. This kind of trust is a primary dimension of righteousness (6)

Genesis 18:18-19 YHWH choose Abraham to teach his household to follow the way of YHWH and teach them righteousness (Tsedekah) and justice (Mishpat)

Genesis 22 Look to the LORD’s provision in Messiah. Isaac = Son/Jesus, the Abraham = Father. This shows us in dramatic prophecy that the Father and the Son would partner together, both agonizing, to perform the propitiatory sacrifice to satisfy the wrath of the Father and the Son.

Here is the outline:

Gen 12 Loyal (Hesed) to YHWH

Gen. 15 Trust (Amen) the LORD’s promise even when it makes no sense. The LORD says this is righteousness. Live as if His promise is true.

Gen 18 Obey (Shema) = do righteousness and justice

American righteous dude is a decent guy who keeps the rules

Justice is bad dudes getting punished

Social justice is giving handouts [food, welfare, clothing, medical care] to poor people, eradicating classism, doing the Robin Hood thing; stopping sex trafficking,

Righteousness and justice is community life with all relationships – God, others, self, and land – well ordered so that life is full of shalom, all things flourishing as God designed them to be. Shalom is God’s intended state of perfect beauty; peace and completion in all things. Righteous dudes work toward righteousness, in fact they like the LORD, disadvantage themselves for the sake of community.

Gen. 22 = Provide (Yireh) Look to the LORD’s provision in Messiah (Gen. 22:1-14) This pictures the Father and Son partnering together agonizingly to perform the propitiatory sacrifice to appease the wrath of the Father and the Son.

Isaiah

1:10-21 shows that the LORD will not honor “church worship” unless it is lived out. He calls them to “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”

Chapter 58 shows the kind of fast YHWH requires

Amos

2:4 = serving other gods = idolatry (4:4-11; 5:26-27)

2:6 = doing injustice

They are addicted to comfort (6:1-13) and callous to hurting people 4:1; 5:11-12; 8:4-6)

Job puts it all together in Job 31.

Jesus

Righteousness is helping people (Luke 3:8ff; Matt. 25:31-46) as well as personal piety and loyalty to the LORD

Paul

Is 2 Cor. 5:21 talking about justification (acceptance as child of God and forgiveness of all sin; imputed righteousness of Christ) or all of the Christlike life (justification + regeneration (new heart and indwelling Spirit + sanctification (become Christlike in character and action)? Gerry thinks the latter. It is in the context of a treatment of the New Covenant, beginning in 2 Cor. 3:3 where indwelling Spirit and new heart (cf. Exek. 36:25ff) are realities from the LORD. 2 Cor. 3:18 speaks of transformation into the image of Christ. This clearly includes both regeneration and sanctification. 2 Cor. 5:10 speaks of the judgment of our deeds as Christians. Verse 15 speaks of living as Christians. Verse 17 speaks of Christians as new creation. All of these make it clear that the righteousness of God in verse 21 must be the full righteousness which includes but is not limited to justification.

This is Ian Nelson’s summary of Jesus and the Gospel:

To sympathize means “to suffer with.” Jesus sympathized — he fought injustice by joining people in the affliction of their injustice. He suffered injustice on the cross (he fought injustice by suffering injustice himself). The only way to fight injustice is to in some way suffer “injustice” yourself. You give away (lose) the possessions that others have lost so that they can benefit. You sacrifice the time that others are in need of. You join people in their pain. You inconvenience yourself in order to help those who have been inconvenienced. You “unjust” yourself for the sake of those who have been treated unjustly.

Some Resources

Sermons on Justice: Blackhawk Church, Madison, WI here and Grace Community Gresham  here

Tim Keller, Generous Justice

Chris Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God

Ken Wytsma, Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things

Jonathan Martin, Giving Wisely: Killing with Kindness or Empowering Lasting Transformation? 

Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts

Robert D. Lupton, Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It)