Church Growth: False Models vs. Incarnational Evangelism

The most outrageous “false model” I have encountered happens to be the following: A local congregation back home spends about $15,000 dollars to pay preachers for a huge Gospel Crusade for the year and no one does follow up on contacts, or even goes out into the fields to really invite others. Fact is, over 80 % of those in the crusade are already members. The
thought was “If you spend it, they will come”. Not in this case!

Incarnational evangelism involves Spreading the Gospel, by firstly PREPARING-
learning the important matters such as Love, Justice, mercy, and salvation. Secondly, PRACTICING- those things on a day to day basis, by assisting all in need, as best you can, whether in material or spiritual things. And lastly, patiently CONTINUING to be an example by showing fruits that you have read, understand and believe scripture. In time, you will have an audience to read scripture with, or answer questions for. This will be the end result of you taking part in their lives FIRST!

This concept is hard to understand in a society built on overnight success, instant coffee,
microwave meals, or ready-made fast food. We don’t want to wait patiently for
good things, cultivating, learning and maturing as we grow. In Christianity, God has no timeline—his goal has always been to guide the spiritual transformation of “quality” people. So what are we in for these days……Quality or Quantity?

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Book Review : Soul Feast -An Invitation to Christian Spiritual Life By Majorie J. Thompson ;

Book review of: Soul Feast: an invitation to the Christian spiritual life, Knox press, 1995

Author: Marjorie Thompson

Storyline: A
closer look at what it means to be Spiritual and how to develop awareness and
spiritual health, in an attempt to rediscover a Godly self-consciousness, which
filters through all aspects of life.

Thompson’s treatment of the Spiritual Discussion provides another interesting perspective, on the various topics deemed important and worthwhile, by a slue of previous writers. It is
written in simple form and fashion, which makes reading easy and renders topics
well distinguished, yet uncomplicated to follow, with regard to the general
Discussion.

In her introduction, she makes no bold statements of the profound nature of the book, nor expected revolutions in thinking, about spirituality. She confesses that it is written from her own individual perspective, and invites those who are actively searching and hungry
for knowing more, to benefit from this book. So, this is based on some
experience and in her mind, should lead to small, if not great changes, for
anyone who takes the book serious. It is also refreshing to know before hand,
that one has admitted firstly, that there are a lot of books of this nature on
the market, yet seek to address the topic, using a more personal approach,
which seekers could readily relate to.

Regarding structure, we see well envisioned themes heading up each section, setting parameters for ensuing discussion. Much of the material takes into consideration past traditions , in terms of spiritual disciplines and thought, along with how they have changed
and what is the present results, enclothed in our modern day practice. In this
way, the topic of spirituality is not just isolated in a modern framework, but
is considered through the development of time. This has been very helpful in
illustrating past and present ideas, while moving into discussions, on how we
could learn from them, in order to formulate a future picture, of how we want
or need to practice spiritual discipline.

In her discussion, she hardly includes unnecessary information. Most of what she discusses (from prayer, introspective views of self and so on), are pertinent to any discussion on
spirituality. They are also, not just passively, mentioned. For instance, her
treatment of prayer and the approaches thereof, take into consideration our
relationship to God, to ourselves and to each other-thus, Spirituality helps
you get ready to live in complementing relationships, in contrast to
manipulative, contractual based relations, which tarnishes the picture of humans,
formed in the imago dei.

An excellent chapter which further illustrates, this has to do with Hospitality. It seems like such a common and simple theme, yet it is very instrumental, in getting away from the alienating western world, wherein no one has time or space for anyone in their lives. In
this way, her topics bring a touch of reality to the reader, making the information relative and easily identified with.

Another excellent feature of her presentation has to do with the definitions of “spiritual” and “discipline”, she offers. Indeed there are many different types of definitions for spirituality, yet she brings another, which really translates well in a contemporary society .it may seem a bit romanticized, yet it conveys the message in good fashion. Also, in
reference to Discipline, she does well to remind the reader, that discipline
does not conotate punishment, but relates more to the steadfast pursuit of
something good. This also shows that she is aware of the mechanics of
understanding and so, seeks to share information, which communicates well.

In light of negatives, I found treatment of fasting a good portrayal, yet with the benefits of fasting smartly, one does not hear that some, who have serious health issues, might not even be able to try the least actions, under this discipline. She does however; offer other
ways of expression and reflection, by the mention of keeping journals, as your
experience in the disciplines grow.

On a final note, the idea of “spiritual directors” seemed a bit rigid. Maybe another terms such as “mentors’, could be used, which people readily recognize with. That’s understandable, given that many writers seek to be original with concepts and so on.

In a nutshell, a good book, for a beginner, who is inquisitive about the subject of spirituality and a useful supplemental read, for those who seek different perspectives, to broaden their understanding of the disciplines.


Book Review : Blue Like Jazz By Donald Miller

Miller mainly has both the churched (traditionally) and the unchurched, inclusive of the skeptics. On page 30, paragraph 6, he explains his thought and perceptions as he experienced bible stories within Church settings .he uses the third person plural (we /us) to convey that he was part of it. Thus, this example speaks to Christians who might have had the same experience, though not necessarily the same perceptions. He also addresses Non-believers. Pg. 124, Paragraph 2. During the “confessions “ on Reed University campus, this young man accepts Don’s apologies, while relating indirectly that he wasn’t a Christian, because it wasn’t popular.

I perceive that he is seeking to separate the book from a purely Traditional Christian gift-wrap. He highlights a theme that connects Spirituality to a non religious definition. It seems totally unorthodox, because most people tend to think that the non-religious are not capable of ‘spirituality” so to speak.

To Miller, Spirituality exists not just within the framework
of religion, but in the natural man, who seeks something higher than himself
for direction and fulfillment.  He highlights the argument because too his knowledge and experience, Christians in general often equate Spirituality with Church fellowship and ritual. In their eyes, it’s a “them” and “us” issue. This book was totally awesome, minus the
many allusions to non-biblical salvation formulas, for a deliberate lack of a
better word.  However, I endorsed what he said as to why we have problems in life sometimes.   “Your problem is not that God is not fulfilling, your problem is that you are
spoiled”. P.g. 92. p. 2 Also. “Love is both what happens to you and something
you decide upon”   P.g 104. p. 2 .I take these two very personal and they made me think and question certain motives and behavior I sometimes exhibit, which reflect my self-centeredness and pride

I was really concerned as to : a.) an explanation of salvation using examples devoid of a biblical hermeneutic and b) the accepting of all people and their behavior or lifestyle, without really keeping in mind that you are trying to help them overcome things that keep them from God, as you work at it for yourself, personally. He expressed concern for thinking in these terms of general tolerance, on page 216, pg. 1, which was good, yet I
believe he defeated that statement. With the many allusions to praying for
salvation.

The essence of my concern has to do mainly with the fact that some of his thoughts are more of feeling in contrast to reflection on the Bible, which God went to much trouble to allow us to have, for direction and as a guide, to respond to him, in worship and life. Secondly, the many who will read from an ignorant standpoint concerning scripture, will have a hard time to adjust to the truth of the Bible, because his opinion on salvation is nestled among a brilliant story of pursuing faith, developing faith and cultivating
faith ; i.e. paths on which we all are and seek direction.


Book review : Renovation of the Heart: putting on the character of Christianity, By Dallas Willard

Storyline:  a fresh perspective on spiritual reformation, looking at the major principles involved. An introspective view of the self (heart/soul/spirit/will), in relation to society and God, as well as consideration as to how modern society shapes our view and progress, within spiritual formation.

Can an explanation regarding the nature and process of spiritual formation be more clear and much more informed, that this book from Dallas Willard? , If there may be, they exist in few. A lot of material circulating in bookstores and personal libraries, adopt a step by
step module for spiritual growth, as if it can be observed ,analyzed, quantified and set in stages ; as if taking the right and limited steps, will lead to a perfect result every time. Willard does well to stray from this literal utopia, by staying true to the discussion, in the context of personal and social life, a oppose  to exploring mundane and disconnected concepts, with regard to the nature of the subject.

In his introduction, he sets the stage for the discussion. Readers get the sense that the information is both personal and relative. The beginning of the discussions, is entrenched in the “human experience’ as we relate to ourselves honestly, the world around us and
God.

The structure of the book is well chosen. Anticipating a series of movements, within which interrelated yet distinct information is presented, the author uses clear marks of distinction ,to separate discussions and list points and sub points clearly, so as to help the
reader digest information ,as they go and recognize breaks or correlations in
through. For those who are stimulated by visual aids, this is perfect and
suitable. You get some charts and diagrams, without this incessant flow of
information, typified by many scholarly works. The great thing is, Willard
presents his information in a framework that works with anyone; the avid
reader, the scholar, or the impatient ones with regard to tedious reading.

The themes heading up each section, also does well to clarify and steer the discussion. They are simplistic yet informative. I suggest that he does this, to create awareness of what is to
come, instead of allowing the reader to feel as if, he or she has to search out
the writer’s intentions and arguments. Readers actually see themselves in the
discussion, as It relates to things we are familiar with, and things we aught
to be familiar with.

There is the relentless listing of human elements, (Heart/soul/body) and the present state of how we understand those (our interaction of society) and how society has shaped our understanding. Secondly, there is a call to some consciousness within us, to recognize what we are missing and how to begin developing these things. As the author states in
the beginning chapters, there is a view which says that Christians should not
seek to be extraordinary, as Christ was, but to maintain the business as usual
attitude and do the bare minimum –this thought actually sets the tone of the
book and informs its thesis. The goal is to spur people unto becoming better,
challenging them all through the book ,to take a look at things the way the
are, to ask questions of why they exist that way and to seek out ways to
correct what needs correction, with Gods direction.
This can be seen, in his movements of societal awareness Evil for e.g. Willard
states that for many problems in the world, people won’t give a straight
answer. It seems that there is confusion as to the root cause of problems, in
marriage, in relationships and within us. In essence, Willard states they don’t
want to come clean, in agreeing that the problem is with evil; wherein a
degenerated society lives up to the purposes of the flesh and finds every way,
of eluding the head on discussion.
He marvelously calls into consideration history( even with that if
Israel), reminding us that there is nothing new under the sun, with regard to
the fleshly nature ;that  evil and human failure had become accepted ,even within this modern setting. Thus, the only way to break the mold is to recognize ourselves; what drives our desires and longings; what we do, which subject us to burying our identity.
Like any good prescription, Willard addresses the problem, with the
introduction of God. The reason why our relationships are broken and why we are
broken essentially is because we don’t live in community with Gods’ Spirit; we
don’t understand what it is to Love, as he does or value of own self and
others, as he does. This is where the element of hope surfaces relentlessly, in
the book. By the mention of Peter and Paul, he introduces great men, who had
struggles with being formed in the image of God and allow them to give commentary,
as to how they succeeded in the presence of the divine.
Willard challenges our belief systems, our modes of operating within
relationships; the wider society and churches. He speaks clearly, on the
illusions we create for ourselves and show how they have hindered our picture
and pursuit, of spiritual formation. The individual is called to a greater consciousness;
we are challenged to change our thinking, our view of self and others and also,
to better understand God and his will; that we might seek to really do his
will, instead of trying to make our will, his
In conclusion, I must say this book offers a refreshing alternative to
“how to do books” , on spiritual formation. It is personal (addressed to the different
parts of our human self), communal (in hopes of allowing us to interact in
society with true concepts about life and reality), focused on the divine
(allowing us to see that it is only when we try to follow Gods principles for
reformation, that we can truly be successful). At the end of every section,
Willard brings us to the table, with discussion questions that I believe is
geared to allow us to add our own information and experience, with the
material. For the beginner and the experienced, with regard to material on
spiritual formation, Willard’s book is a must read. Good theology and life
application, inviting the reader not just to read, but to reflect on past
actions and make adjustments for the future, built on a true picture of self,
society and God.


Book Review: Shaped By The Word, By M. Robert Mulholland Jr

Literary concept:
an attempt to re-access the way we read the Bible and raise the hard and easy questions and issues, concerning how we now read and what should be different, in light of the intent and power, which inspired the written word, with  its   particular purposes.

 

 

The first striking peace of information concerning this book, is the way in which it developed; not as a consequence of stated objectives, with an idea of writing

‘another book”, but in the avenue of a series of lectures, which were geared to a spiritual formation workshop. The message is not encapsulated by the idea of presenting more methods and steps toward spiritual formation, or full-proof ways to get exactly what you
name, in lieu of Bible reading. It is more dynamic and less of a framework of
remedies.

The writer exemplifies a sober awareness of his subject matter. He makes known that he is not interested in more so called practical lists and also, introduces the ‘hard” areas which will be encountered in the book, as a journey of reflection and consideration, with regard to where we are in the purpose and practice of our reading.
Within the pages, there is a detailed assessment of the problems the
author sees in present Bible reading, along with discourses of how and why we
should seek change. He goes into well known scriptures (2 Timothy 3: 16-17
etc), offering fresh explanations and new light, with regard to initial meaning
and bridging the gap between what these scriptures were meant for and how to
tap into that power ,through humility and observance.

The author does a wonderful job, in outlining his thought. He not only uses scripture, but brings in pictures of activities and situations in general life, to show that even the mundane and repetitious things exist, because of a lack of understanding of the goal of scripture, on
the part of those involved in the ongoing conversation in community called life.
Highlighted in his presentation, are the following; revisiting the ideas
we have, with regard to how and why we read ; how scripture was written and how
is it used ; the idea of being and doing, which indicates some form of interaction with scripture and how a true perspective and practice can lead to true spiritual reformation.

In comparison to others books that come to mind, the writer’s treatment of the subject was very thorough and sober. Holding a doctors degree, he does possess the talent and information to deal with such a subject, and deals with such in both a scholarly way (using
scriptural exegesis) and also, humility, recognizing that his material is not a know all and end all.
Overall, the author has identified clearly, the problem, using not only
scripture, but the result of people reading scripture, in the church and wider
society. He has offered clear suggestions, which would serve to getting nearer
to intended meaning and practice, as time allots in one book.
In connection with his success in meeting stated objectives, there are
also some noteworthy advantages of this book. Firstly, it does not deal with
abstract material. Bible reading is widely done and so, people could relate off
the bat. His observations come not only from arguing scripture, but from
observing the results in the life of those who do read scripture. There is also
a very good treatment of the connection between God and the individual, in
looking at scripture, through historical and textual exegesis.
Overall, a very simple and masterful treatment of the subject. Readers
are made aware of the perceived problems and challenged to change, as their
situations have need for.
With regard to disadvantages, one could argue that the book was maybe
too short. A lot of themes could be developed more, in other to give those who
learn well through repetitive illustrations, more time and, material to grasp
what is argued.
Overall, a very good book, for those who want to begin addressing the subject
and practice of reading the Bible or all it’s worth.