unity in the truth is more evident in our quarreling about the truth
in our settling for something less than the truth. At the same time
we recognize that, short of the end time, none of us possesses the
truth entirely, exhaustively, and without remainder. Such possession
awaits the consummation when, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, we
know even as we are known. Each of us and each of our traditions
is held accountable to the great Tradition, including the Scriptures,
which is the deposit of the truth. The definitive exegesis of the
Tradition is an eschatological event. Along the way of history we
try to derive from Scripture and the church's reflection upon its
experience the formulae and criteria by which we might better discern
that which is biblical, catholic, and orthodox. Thus, from the apostolic
era onward there have been numerous variations on, for instance,
St. Vincent of Lerin's rule of faith: quod ubique, quod
semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est (what has been believed everywhere,
always, and by all). Such formulae are probably inescapable and just
as probably will always be inadequate.
But we have no choice but to
keep trying. The truth of unity and the unity of truth give us no
New Thing: Ecumenism at the Threshold of the Third
Reclaiming the Great Tradition: Evangelicals, Catholics, and Orthodox
in Dialogue (ed.
James S. Cutsinger), p. 58
To All Men
Did Paul self-consciously adopt a strategy
of flexibility in order to the advance the gospel? Paul's
own statement in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 is commonly understood as the motto
that governed his
missions . . . To modern hearers, the words sound sensitive, cosmopolitan,
. . . The context indicates that Paul is not making
a major point about his flexibility as a missionary. The larger issue is
given up his freedom
in order to be the "slave of all." To be "slave of all" is
not the approach that would have appealed to the Corinthians . . .
He thus speaks the same message to Jews and Greeks, because he is not free to
alter it. Indeed, his message is far more important than his strategy. . .
statement that he is "all things to
all men " is
not meant to encourage the missionary's flexibility, but to describe
his willingness to be the slave
of the gospel and of others. Nevertheless, Paul is a model for missions at
another level. He is the reminder to all missionaries that the gospel
is a trust that
one may not alter to fit the audience.
James Thompson, "All Things To All Men": Paul's Motto For Missions?" Leven
Kind of Religion
There is no great religious leader–from
the Buddha to Moses to Jesus to Mohammed to Luther–who offered people
what they want. Only what they need. But television is not well suited
people what they
need. It is "user friendly." It is too easy to turn off. . .
. As a consequence, what is preached on television is not anything like
the Sermon on the Mount. Religious programs are filled with good cheer.
They celebrate affluence. Their featured players become celebrities. Though
their messages are trivial, the shows have high ratings, or rather, because
their messages are trivial, the shows have high ratings.
I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity
is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing,
it is another
kind of religion
Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of
Authority of Scripture
. . . when we are dealing with the divine
and holy mysteries of the faith, we must not deliver anything whatsoever,
nor let ourselves be misled by mere probability, or by marshalling
of arguments. And do not simply credit me, when I tell you these things,
unless you get proof from the Holy Scriptures of the things set forth
by Me. For this salvation of ours by faith is not by sophistical use
of words, but by proof from the sacred Scriptures.
of Jerusalem (d. 387), Catechetical Lectures 4:17
For Paul, as for all early Christian teachers,
baptism was highly significant as the initiation into the Body of Christ… .
The position was simple: the aura was a society with its own forms of
and it had
always recognized faith by administering baptism, and thereby conferring
membership of the Body. Hence Paul could appeal directly to baptism
as a fact with a generally recognized significance, and draw from it
regarding what entrance into the people of God involved.
C, H. Dodd, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans
I am neither the first nor the only Reformed
theologian to have difficulties with infant baptism. Karl Barth's reservations
about it are well known. I do not think that infant baptism is well supported
either by the New Testament or by theological considerations . . . I
have arrived at my position both on biblical and on theological grounds
. . .
Interview with Miroslav Volf in Christian Century
With baptism the Christian walks "in
newness of life," and
this new life begins in the context of the fellowship of believers (cf.
6:4). Baptism makes the baptized men and women Christ's property and incorporates
them into his body, that is, the church of Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-13)….
Baptism therefore initiates for Christians a status of becoming, and
this status lasts until the parousia (cf. 1 Thess 4:13-18; 1 Cor 15:51).
Peter Stuhlmacher, Revisiting Paul 's Doctrine of Justification
. . . a great deal happened in the church between
200 and about A.D. 500. The church achieved a modus vivendi with the
some of the ceremonies of Caesar into its own rites. Infant baptism became
the sign of the disintegration of our rites as well of our self-respect.
Infant baptism led, almost inevitably, to a reduction of rite so that
the visible word of washing virtually disappeared from the ritual. Sprinkling
virtually silenced the visible word of the bath. The physical inconvenience
of the bath signified so well the renunciation and risk involved in discipleship.
The politics of baptism is a politics of renunciation, and our rites
must be strong enough to signify the cost.
William Willimon, Peculiar Speech
When individuals in the first century heard "Repent
and be baptized" or "Believe
in the Lord Jesus and be baptized," none of them thought, "Can
I do the first but not the second?" No one came to the conversion
experience with questions as to whether baptism was necessary for becoming
a Christian because the apostolic preaching stated that they must be
baptized. Thus the rejection of baptism was a rejection of the divine
program for conversion! To reject baptism was to reject the gospel messaged
preached by Peter, Paul, and the other apostles who spoke of the need
of baptism. Divine provision was made for those who, like the thief on
the cross, could not be baptized, but to refuse the community's baptism
was the same as a rejection of the Christ whom the community preached.
It involved a clear unwillingness to obey the gospel preached by the
apostles. For the New Testament church the statement "Unless you
are baptized, you cannot be saved" was simply another way of saying, "Unless
you believe you cannot be saved."
. . . Decisions concerning baptism today are often made not on the basis
of obedience or disobedience but on the basis of misinformation or confusion.
Lacking the context of the apostolic preaching and teaching, one's understanding
of the biblical data may be "a poor reflection as in a mirror" (1
Cor 13:). Such confusion is clearly not damnable. One is saved not by
perfect knowledge but by faith!
. . . Baptist theology also deviates from
the New Testament pattern. Although repentance, faith, confession, and
with baptism, baptism is separated in time from these four components.
Thus baptism is an act which witnesses to a prior experience of repentance,
faith, confession, and regeneration, As a result such passages as Romans
6:4; 1 Peter 3:21, Titus 3:5, John 3:3f, and others, which associate
baptism with the experience of conversion are embarrassing to many Baptists
and often receive a strained exegesis at their hands.
Robert H. Stein,
Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 2 (Spring 1998)
While we were once seen as more sacramental,
both in regard to baptism and the Lord's Supper, we no longer think
in common with other sacramental fellowships, like the Episcopal
or Catholic churches. For instance, weekly observance of the Lord's Supper
is a distinctive that makes our fellowship very attractive to former
Roman Catholics, but many new churches have minimized their focus
on the Lord's Supper. Some have even made it an addendum to the worship
service, available after the benediction. . . . We are often accepting
of typically Evangelical theology, including many aspects of Calvinism.
That may result from paying little attention to theological formation
among our leaders. It also might be a sign of our tendency to use
the programs of denominational megachurches without paying attention to
all the theological assumptions behind those programs.
Paul S. Williams, "10
Changes in a New Century," Christian
A center without a circumference is just
a dot, nothing more. Without boundaries a circle could not
be a circle. If the circle of faith is seeking to identify its center, it
cannot do so without identifying its margins and perimeters.
Thomas C. Oden,
Christ and Culture
While no Christian tradition can prevent
becoming partly enculturated, the question arises, How much should Christians
to culture in order to speak to that culture? How can one become all things
to all people without becoming no longer oneself? As evangelicalism continues
to lower its doctrinal and ethical “walls” in the name of providing
a user-friendly church, what is it able to offer to those who discover
Christian conversion, not merely through their own experiences of God but
as participants in he historic faith and practice of the church. In short,
what message is evangelicalism able to give society that culture is not
already giving it?
Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early
Church and Society
God help the church
that so blends into society that there is no longer any difference! Such
will produce no quality of behavior other than that which society
in general produces. It will take on the prejudices of society, and even
demand that its gospel support those prejudices. It will make itself
a tool of society whose main business it is to protect and to dignify
with divine support the best interests of its constituents. And
that is stark tragedy! The end of it is a poverty-stricken church which
utters no Word, states no demands, summons to no destiny--but has a host
of activities you would enjoy.
John Bright, The Kingdom of God (1953)
To my mind, the greatest flaw in the church
growth movement is its use of sociological fact as a thermometer for measuring
In the process, calculation is valued as faith and success is valued
as fidelity, and the church is pointed more strongly toward the continuance
of the world than toward its end.
. . . it is dangerous when congregations
are encouraged to justify themselves on the grounds of being sociologically
intelligence to achieve worldly success rather than being led to examine
themselves according to Christ's standards.
What so often happens in the church's experience
is that a technique of worldly effectiveness looks good and is adopted.
success is the only consideration (techniques have no other purpose),
the gospel message is subtly pruned, shaped, and contorted until it fits
Vernard Eller, The Outward Bound
Much Victorian church music, the American gospel
song, and the pop which began to come into the church in the late fifties
speaking, omit the cross. In general, they lack the musical “bite” to
express anything but sentimentalized and romanticized notions of Christianity;
there is no struggle here, no musical wrestling, no humble strength. The whole
impression is one of comfortableness and niceness. While it is necessary to
be understanding of the composing, dissemination, and usage of such music without
being harshly judgmental in attitude, it must be said that it has had and is
having a large part to play in promoting Christian infantilism in which being
a Christian means a life of plenty, freedom from suffering, the use of God
as a personal valet to meet one’s self-wants, a certain status of acceptability,
and a comfortable niche in the world—in short, to have a God whose purpose
is to serve man. Much of this music, in being trite, repetitious, dull, and
musically silly, gives off the general aura of comfortableness of the rocking
chair, not the discipline of the cross. We need to see that the cross and one’s
being crucified daily with Christ as Paul says, musically requires that which
does more than console, lull to sleep, or appear pretty, nice, and entertaining.
Calvin M. Johansson, Music
and Ministry: A Biblical Counterpoint
if anyone who needs a snappy song service can really appreciate the
meaning of the
Reinhold Niebuhr, Leaves
from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic
Marketing savvy demands that the offense
of the cross must be downplayed. Salesmanship requires that negative
wrath be avoided.
Consumer satisfaction means that the standard of righteousness cannot
be raised too high. The seeds of a watered-down gospel are thus sown
in the very philosophy that drives many ministries today.
Jr., Ashamed of the Gospel
The polarization over worship
services . . . is the result of very different understandings of the nature
in planning. What are the guidelines for our satisfying the consumer
demand of people who measure us against other forms of amusement? Is
our service designed for "seekers" who visit the assembly?
With his reminder of the central Christian
convictions in 1 Timothy 2:3-7, Paul intends for Christians to place
of God's plan for the world. The criterion for public worship . .
. is neither the taste of the worshipers nor the demands of outsiders. . ..
Paul challenges us to place Christian worship in the context of God's
plan for the world and its salvation.
James Thompson, Equipped for Change
Evangelical Historian’s Assessment of Evangelicalism
Common, generic Evangelicalism and the
activistic denominations that make up Evangelicalism do not possess
of intellectual practice strong enough, or conceptions of the world
deep enough to sustain a full-scale intellectual revival.
Without strong theological traditions,
most evangelicals lack a critical element required for making intellectual
and properly humble, both critical and committed. In order to advance
responsible Christian learning, the vitality of commitment must be
stabilized by the ballast of traditions. Tradition without life might be barely
Christian, but life without tradition is barely coherent.
Mark Noll, "Lowest
Common Denominator Evangelicalism,"
First Things 38
Evangelical Loss of Coherency
Theological commentators have noted many times that
evangelicalism is suffering from a loss of coherency, as the very content
of the historical
faith no longer
informs the central task of the church. Preaching easily slips into the mode
of moralizing or anecdotal storytelling,a nd eventually the flock of God can
no longer stomach a diet that might cause them to think deeply about the content
of the Christian faith.
. . .Theology is therefore an elective of the Christian
life, not necessary and too divisive for a religion of civility. In their quest
to reach culture,
evangelical congregations have come to reflect the cultural preferences of their
audiences: anti-institutional, informal, nondogmatic, therapeutic, and unaware
of the difference between tolerance an moral confusion.
Yet many evangelicals are discovering that no amount of creative packaging and
marketing of the gospel will rescue church ministry if they lose the theological
center that enables them to define the faith and prescribe the kinds of intellectual
and practical relations it should have in the world.
D.H. Williams, Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the
An Evangelical on Evangelical Captivities
The evangelical Church, whose taste for what
is popular appears to be insatiable, is in danger of being destabilized by the
some of its
popular "thinkers," as well as by the academic captivity of some
of its scholars.
David F. Wells, Losing
An Evangelical on the Temptations of Evangelicals
Today, evangelicals should be concerned not only because the secular
world has opted for the centrality of experience and power over and
above truth, but because some evangelicals are being tempted to do
the same! If we think we can offer an experience that will compete
effectively with other postmodern religious experiences, we tread ground
alien to the New Testament. Paul never argued that Christ could top
the mystery religions and other ecstatic cults in terms of religious
experience. He offered the truth–Jesus Christ and him crucified.
This was the power of God to which he wanted them exposed (1 Cor
in The Death of Truth
Just as the Christian should not be constantly
feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not
to us by
God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully
we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will
fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life
Nothing is easier than to stimulate the glow
of fellowship in a few days of life together, but nothing is more fatal
to the sound,
brotherly fellowship of everyday life. . . . We have no claim on such
experiences, and we do not live with other Christians for the sake of
acquiring them. It is not the experience of Christian brotherhood, but
the solid and certain faith in brotherhood that holds us together. .
. .We are bound together by faith, not by experience.
God In Modern Religiosity
[R]eligion is put into the service not of gratitude,
reverence, and service to God but of human interests, morally both trivial
theologies, its cultic practices, its rhetoric, its symbols, its devotions,
becomes unwittingly justified for its utility value. God is denied as God;
God becomes an instrument in the service of human beings rather than human
beings instruments in the service of God.
James Gustafson, Ethics
From a Theocentric Perspective
The challenge of the gospel is not the
intellectual dilemma of how to make an archaic system of belief compatible
The challenge of Jesus is the political dilemma of how to be faithful
to a strange community, which is shaped by a story of how God is with
and William H. Willimon, Resident
In a time when there is much talk of the need
for more organized and scientifically managed methods of church growth, our
of the conversions
in Acts raises some tough questions for proponents of many of these
methods. If the church is only about the wholesale “winning of
souls” by whatever method is deemed most effective, then conversion
has become the end of faith rather than its beginning. In Luke-Acts
conversion is a by-product of the gospel, the result of one’s
encounter with the power of the Spirit, not the gospel. Luke has no
interest in the utilitarian question of how people become converted
or how the church ought to evangelize, that technique is most effective
or what method yields the most certain results. These are stories about
God’s actions, not the church’s programs.
William H. Willimon, Acts
The Highest Court of Appeal
Reflection upon the Church of the New Testament
will lead us to conclude that not all the subsequent developments
in the Church
by its origins; there have been errors and false developments
in its history. The New Testament message, as the original testimony, is the
highest court to which appeal must be made in all the changes
of history. It is the essential norm against which the Church of every age has
to measure itself. The New Testament Church, which, beginning
its origins in Jesus Christ, is already the Church in the fullness
of its nature, is therefore the original design; we cannot copy
it today, but we can and must translate it into modern terms. The Church
of the New Testament alone can show us what the original design
Hans Küng, The
Jesus' Bad News
Jesus has some bad news for
us. He would seem to criticize what we feel to be our own needs and seek
needs, the preaching
may drive people away. What the "purpose-driven" approach needs
to provide, it seems to me, is a more biblically grounded vision of the
person of Jesus and the work of the church–one that won't necessarily
Jason Byassee, "Re-purposed," Christian
Century, March 9, 2004
Mission by Marketing
Growing churches are creating an atmosphere,
an environment of fun. So fun has replaced holiness as the church's goal.
Having a good
has become the criterion of an excellent, growing church, since fun
and entertainment is what consumers want. Yet Scripture references
encouraging churches to become havens of fun are, as one may suspect,
sadly lacking. John MacArthur observes, "Many Christians have
the misconception that to win the world to Christ we must first win
the world's favor. If we can get the world to like us, they will embrace
our Savior. That is the philosophy behind the user-friendly church
Gary E. Gilley, This
Little Church Went To Market: The Church In The Age Of
Charles Colson tells about an evangelical
church that decided it needed to grow
in membership. The pastor first commissioned a market survey. It found that many
turned off by the term "Baptist." The church changed its name. The
survey showed that people wanted accessibility, so the church put up a new building
off the freeway. It had beamed ceilings, stone fireplaces, and no crosses or
other religious symbols that might make people feel uncomfortable. Then the pastor
decided to stop using theological language. "If we use the words redemption or conversion," he
reasoned, "they think we are talking about bonds." He
stopped preaching about Hell and damnation and shifted to more positive topics.
Sure enough, the church grew. "There's a spirit of putting people over doctrine," gushed
one member. "The church totally accepts people as they are without any sort
of don'ts and dos."
Gene Edward Veith, Jr., Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary
I believe that God can work through any style
of music, but that some styles are more appropriate than others . . .
I want to
our current infatuation
with contemporary Christian music, sacred pop land rock music, signifies the
church's surrender to secular culture. While the tunes are often charming,
they are often poorly constructed, cliched, and shallow. Some of them . . .
are ill-suited to the purpose; they employ awkward leaps and rhythms that are
difficult for congregations to sing. Some of their texts
. . . are bad poetry. Designed for immediate effect, they rarely have the depth
of character or longevity to challenge us to spiritual maturity.
Steven F. Darsey, Connection
Any institution remains “relevant” as
long as it has something distinctive to offer. Religious institutions
institution that becomes indistinguishable from other institutions .
. . in very short order has great difficulties answering the question
of why it should exist as a separate institution at all; at this point
it has become “irrelevant” in the strictest sense of the
word–the sense of redundancy and obsolescence.
Peter Berger, Religion
and Society Report,
Rules of the Tribe
Ours is the only era in the entire history
of human life on this planet in which the "elders" of the
tribe ask its newer members what the tribal rules and standards of
Paul Ramsey, in Theology
Seeker Service Dilemma
Suppose that in your worship planning you try to
seekers in mind, and suppose you assume that these are largely non-religious
that if you are to appeal to these non-religious people, your contemporary services
must also become increasingly non-religious, at least in any traditional way.
Suppose a seeker came away . . . and said to herself,
Now I understand what the Christian faith is all about: it's not about lament,
or repentance, or humbling
oneself before God to receive God's favor. It's got nothing to do with a lot
of boring doctrines. It's not about the hard, disciplined work of mortifying
our old nature and learning to make God's purposes our own. It's not about the
inevitable failures in this project, and the terrible grace of Jesus Christ that
comes so that we may begin again. Not at all! I had it wrong! The Christian faith
is mainly about celebration and fun and personal growth and five ways to boost
Suppose your ten-year-old does not like your heart-healthy
dinner menu, so you arrange a seeker meal for him in which you offer some non-threatening
You do this in order to set up his taste buds for baked potatoes. I wonder how
often that would work.
Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., "The Seeker Service Dilemma," Perspectives
Success is determined by the statistics
regarding such things as membership, attendance, giving, budget, staff,
equals the number of participants multiplied by the degree of their
satisfaction and support. . . . “Fidelity,” on the other
hand, is faithfulness to the gospel, conformity to the mind of Christ,
being what the biblical revelation calls the church to be. . . . The
two are not so nearly alike or so intimately connected that one choice
can include both. No, if the congregation chooses success over fidelity,
then that choice is itself an infidelity, an act of unfaithfulness.
If, on the other hand, the congregation chooses fidelity over success,
success may follow or it man not–there is no guarantee, no
promise, no assurance, and no connection. Success can and does come
that are completely unfaithful, and success can be created through
factors that have nothing to do with fidelity.
Vernard Eller, The Outward Bound
Jesus commanded us not to succeed, but
to obey; not to sell the gospel, but to
proclaim it. Jesus was not found "acceptable"; he was nailed to a cross.
And he told his disciples to expect the same kind of reaction, for human nature
will not change and the proclamation of the gospel should not change. It is not
our job to convert the world or to fill churches; that is God's job. Ours is
to sow the seed, without sugar-coating it; God's is to make it root and grow.
Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue
What so often happens in the church’s
experience is that a technique of worldly effectiveness looks good and
And then, because
success is the only consideration (techniques have no other purpose),
the gospel message is subtly pruned, shaped, and contorted until it fits
the technique. “Please all men in all things,” yes; but if
the gospel is falsified in the process, men will not be saved. It is
quite possible for Christ to be taken captive by a technique rather than
the technique being taken captive for Christ.
Vernard Eller, The
Cultures come and cultures go,
and even the most suspicious student of his culture is a product of that
to some of
faults. The wise Christian will look to the Tradition, and particularly
to that which Christians have together held across many times and cultures,
to keep himself from being seduced by his own culture. As he descends
into the dark cave of contemporary culture, the wise explorer will stay
tied by a thick, strong line to the place from whence he came, which
is lit by a long accumulated stock of candles and torches and lamps.
In Isaiah's day the human crowds were still
present for worship; it was God who had opted out. The problem
for religious leaders
how to get the people to come back to attending worship;
it was how to get God to attend. It might be wise even in the present to look
at worship from that perspective. Perhaps we are spending
too much energy trying to figure out how to adapt worship so as to interest
and attract a disinterested public. Perhaps we might better
spend our time trying to please a potentially disinterested and increasingly
J. J. M.
Worship in Light of Isaiah's Ancient Critique,”
and the Hebrew Bible: Essays in Honour of John T. Willis