Thursday, March 29, 2007

Chicago: City of the Big Shoulders

The second city is still our favorite big city. We had a great time together. My highlights include:
  • 4 O'Clock Tea at the American Girl Place with Anna, Sophie, Megan, Kit, Nikki, Samantha and Nelly.

  • Singing of God's grace with Dan & Amy Pflug at Rothbury Community Church on Sunday.
  • Being called "Scott'n" and getting goodnight hugs from 3-year-old Maddie Pflug, whose lymphoma is now in remission.

  • Launching ourselves off giant sand dunes along Lake Michigan.

  • Dolphins, Otters and Beluga Whales at the Shedd Aquarium.
  • Visiting the Field Museum and finding the Apatosaurus skeleton which Elmer J. Riggs discovered on a small hill outside Fruita (where we took a family hike 3 years ago).

  • Swimming together at the Historic Palmer House Hotel.

  • Looking down on Chicago from the John Hancock Observatory.
  • Watching Robots make our very own Gravitron Top at the Museum of Science and Industry.
  • Riding the elevated trains around the loop in downtown Chicago.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Art for the Glory of God

The Kelly's have a trip to Chicago planned this weekend. One of the places I'm most looking forward to visiting is the Art Institute of Chicago. Here's a copy of Carl Stam's Worship Quote of the Week that you can subscribe to at

Do you believe that non-Christians can create art that glorifies God? Should a devout Christian painter limit his or her output to works that are explicit in telling the story of God's redeeming purposes? In today's WORSHIP QUOTE, pastor-scholar Philip Ryken clarifies some important issues concerning life, art, and Christian faithfulness.

The doctrine of creation teaches that by God's common grace, the gift of art inevitably declares the praise of its Giver. Thus non-Christian as well as Christian artists can represent virtue, beauty, and truth. It is important to remember, as Nigel Goodwin has said, that "God in His wisdom did not give all His gifts to Christians." But even if God may be glorified by art that is not explicitly offered in his honor, he is most truly praised when his glory is the aim of our art.

This does NOT mean that all our art has to be evangelistic in the sense that it explicitly invites people to believe in Christ. To give an example from another calling, the way in which a Christian who makes cars glorifies God is not by painting "John 3;16" on the hood. Rather, he glorifies God by making a good car. Similarly, the artist glorifies God by making good art, whether or not it contains an explicit gospel message. The sculptor glorifies God in her sculpture; the architect glorifies God in his building; and so forth. Because it works with the materials of creation, the artistry itself is capable of conveying the artist's commitment to a good, loving, and gracious Creator.

Another way to say this is that art can be Christian without serving merely as a vehicle for evangelism, or for other forms of preaching. Such a utilitarian perspective impoverishes the arts. A more complete perspective on Christian art recognizes that a creation always reveals something about its creator. What artists make tells us something about how they view the world. Thus the art of a Christian ought to be consistent with a life of faith in Christ. This is not always the case, of course, because artists struggle with their fallen nature as much as anyone else. Nevertheless, as Francis Schaeffer wrote, "Christian art is the expression of the whole life of the whole person who is a Christian. What a Christian portrays in his art is the totality of life." Johann Sebastian Bach [whose birthday is March 21] is famous for signing his works with the letters "sDg," standing for the Latin phrase SOLI DEO GLORIA-"to God alone be the glory." This was a pious act that indicated the composer's sincere desire to present his art as an offering to God. The important thing, however, was not so much the letters that Bach added to his score, but the music itself, which in its ordered beauty was a testimony to his faith in God. In the same way, every artist whose talents are under the lordship of Jesus Christ will produce art for God's sake.

-Philip Graham Ryken, ART FOR GOD'S SAKE: A CALL TO RECOVER THE ARTS. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006, pp. 50-52. ISBN10: 1-59638-007-1.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Book Review: The Heart of Evangelism

It has been 7 years since I took one of my favorite seminary classes, Apologetics and Outreach to Contemporary Culture, taught by Jerram Barrs at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. I took the class the year before this book, The Heart of Evangelism, was published. My recent reading of the book took me back to some of the most paradigm-busting and helpful lectures I attended while studying theology. What I learned recently from The Heart of Evangelism will follow selected quotes throughout this review.

“Francis Schaeffer used to say that the church in Antioch was his favorite church in the New Testament because of its commitment to overcome cultural and racial barriers. At the beginning of Acts 13 we read about the leaders of the church in Antioch. There were two from Africa, Simeon and Lucius, at least one of whom, Simeon, was black. Two were Jewish, Manaen (“brought up with Herod the tetrarch”) and Saul, a Jew with Pharisee’s training and also with Roman citizenship. It was this church in Antioch from which the first missionaries, Paul and Barnabas, were sent, and thus missions, as we think of them today, began and became a part of the life of the church from that day to this (Acts 13:1-4ff).” (37)

One of the things that most attracted me to the church when I was an young believer in the early 1990’s was observing the power of the gospel to reconcile relationships between people of different races. I’ll never forget standing side-by-side with Mrs. Myrtis Robinson (one of the few African-American women in affluent West St. Louis County at the time) and hundreds of other old white folks who grew up in the racist South, all loudly singing hymns together at First Baptist Church in Ellisville, Missouri. God had given Myrtis a real love for the ex-racist white people in our church, and it was evident that He had also changed the hearts of these Southern transplants who had grown up under segregation. These people loved Jesus and they loved one another. They were also committed to the cause of local and world missions, something I had not yet given much thought to (and now have devoted my life to).

“Sometimes Christians care so much about family and friends that they start questioning God about the fairness of his judgment against those who do not know Christ. It is better to struggle with these questions and doubts than to wall ourselves off from such difficulties. The only alternative to painful struggles is either breaking off close ties with those who are not Christians or refusing to get close to anyone who is not a believer because of the emotional ties that come and the questions that arise with those ties.” (47)

This is excellent pastoral perspective. What Christian has not felt their love for family and friends turn into sorrow over the fact that these loved ones remain alienated from God? What Christian has not faced the temptation to cut-off or avoid close relationships with people who are not believers? Knowing the reality that eternal, conscious torment waits for those who do not repent and believe in Jesus brings pain and sorrow into the hearts of Christians that love non-believers. This is another example of the Christian’s calling “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Avoiding the painful emotional ties that come from relationships with nonbelievers is not an option for Christians called to obey Jesus’ Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

“All truth is God’s truth, and all good human qualities arise from the image of God that is indelibly printed in our human nature.” (107)

“Paul built a bridge to his hearers by searching for aspects of truth in their thinking and of virtue in their lives that could be commended.” (203)

“No man or woman inhabits the world of his or her own belief system. Whether people like it or not, there is only one world, the world that God made, and they have to live in it and function in it as God has made it. In addition, people never escape their own humanity. They are in the image of God because that is the way God made them.” (206)

Oh, how I wish I had reflected more on these truths during my younger days of zealous personal evangelism! I’m confident that I would have had fewer confrontational conversations with family, friends and others. In my middle-age zeal, I’m seeing increased fruitfulness in evangelism as I follow Paul’s example in Acts. Even though every person I meet is thoroughly and radically corrupted by sin, some aspect of truth and virtue still remains in their lives. This is our point of contact with them and the place from which we may most effectively proclaim the gospel to them. Jerram Barrs makes a significant contribution to the church’s understanding of evangelism here.

“The time will come in every contact to make…a challenge. That time comes only when we have earned the right, when we have built a sufficient relationship, so that the wounds we give will be experienced, as Proverbs says, ‘as wounds from a friend’ (27:6).” (210)

While I appreciate this point, I don’t agree with it entirely. The time will come in every contact to make a challenge and that time comes when God gives it to us, not merely because we feel we have somehow “earned” the right to challenge someone else’s beliefs. As we live by the Spirit, He will regularly give us many opportunities to call people to repentance from sin and faith in Jesus. We may have to wait for some of these opportunities for years, but we may also be given many opportunities today. God is the one who gives his evangelists favor in the sight of non-believing people. Christians should be more concerned about the leading of God’s Spirit and his provision of gospel words to speak than they are concerned about their own efforts to “earn” the right to be heard by others. Jesus has given us a commission to make disciples and that commission has a real sense of urgency.

“What is needed is genuine love and concern for the person we are meeting, a readiness to ask questions because we truly desire to know the person, and prayer for the discernment of the Holy Spirit about what to say.” (225)


Thursday, March 8, 2007

Shepherds After His Heart

Have you ever wondered what pastors do between Sundays?

Sometimes I find myself wondering, "What exactly is my job as a pastor?"

Check out this incredibly helpful review of Timothy S. Laniak's recently published Shepherds After My Heart. A classmate of mine at SBTS wrote it. Laniak traces the shepherd metaphor in the Bible and charts a course for all Christian leaders.

I'd love to hear what you think of either Jonathan's review or Laniak's book.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Scott Responds to Scot

I stopped reading Christianity Today several years ago because I grew weary of all the seminary ads. Perhaps more people would be trained for ministry if the seminaries reduced both the ad budgets and the costs per credit hour. But today a friend gave me a copy of this month's issue and asked for my thoughts on Scot McKnight's recent article on the emerging church.

Scot McKnight positions himself as a middle of the road evangelical who has chosen to be a part of the emerging church movement. I think he's sliding off the left side of the road.

After yet another reminder of the important difference between "emerging" and Emergent in this conversation, McKnight highlights five traits of the emerging church. Those five traits are are: Prophetic, Postmodern, Praxis Oriented, Post-Evangelical and Political. (I haven't seen alliteration that good since my last Adrian Rogers sermon.)

  1. Prophetic. McKnight gently chides his emerging friends for their provocative posture, but he doesn't go far enough. "Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits." (Proverbs 18:21 ESV)
  2. Postmodern. I wish McKnight had mentioned the Biblical storyline here. There is an inherited metanarrative that provides an overarching explanation of life. It's called redemptive history. As Schaeffer said, God is the God who is there, and He is not silent. Christians are called to help bring this postmodern world under the Lordship of Christ.
  3. Praxis-oriented. I've got two issues here. First, McKnight raises an important question but doesn't answer it. "Is the sermon the most important thing on Sunday morning?" Yes, it is. And preaching the gospel of God is the most important thing ever other day of the week too. "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17 ESV) God works primarily through the verbal, not the visual. In his providence, what has he left with us today? The Bible, not Solomon's Temple. Secondly, about this new ecclesiology that the emerging movement is attempting to fashion, is it a biblical ecclessiology? Listen again to J.L. Dagg:

    "Our obedience to Christ should be universal. The tithing of mint, anise, and cummin, is of less moment than the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy and faith; but it is not therefore to be disregarded. Christ taught that both were to be observed. 'These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.' (Matt 23:23) Church order and the ceremonials of religion, are less important than a new heart; and in the view of some, any laborious investigation of questions respecting them may appear to be needless and unprofitable. But we know, from the Holy Scriptures, that Christ gave commands on these subjects, and we cannot refuse to obey. Love prompts our obedience; and love prompts also the search which may be necessary to ascertain his will. Let us, therefore, prosecute the investigations which are before us, with a fervent prayer, that the Holy Spirit, who guides into all truth, may assist us to learn the will of him whom we supremely love and adore." (J.L. Dagg, Manual of Church Order, Harrisonburg, VA, Gano Books, 1858/1990, p.12)

    Like our postmodern culture, the emerging church movement tends to marginalize biblical theology. Movements without a biblical ecclesiology have a history of hurting people.
  4. Post-Evangelical. This is where it gets ugly. Three points here. 1) To quote McKnight: "The emerging movement tends to be suspicious of systematic theology. Why? Not because we don't read systematics, but because..." Hold on a minute, Scot. You mean to tell me that all those young adults that are float in and out of my church and the "emerging" service at the church down the street know what a systematic theology is? Give me a break. They may know the artists who write the latest songs that both churches sing and they probably think that ancient forms of worship are cool, but their lives betray their lack of a comprehensive all-of-life theology. My pastoral context is one where Christians are not engaged in the worshipful discipline of either systematic or biblical theology. Have you read Grudem's Systematic Theology? If you don't finish each chapter in worship before God, something is wrong with you. 2) In this culture, if your church doesn't have a statement of faith, you are in for a world of hurt. Your people will pick and choose what they believe from the spiritual smorgasbord that is postmodern America. Contra McKnight, the emerging movement is in no sense "radically Reformed" when it is not willing to articulate the gospel in written form. The emergent movement is running off the left side of the evangelical road when it tries to build churches without statements of faith. Tell us, emerging movement, what is the gospel? Can you affirm this restatement of it? 3) McKnight is right to critique the emerging church's ambivilence about who is in and who is out of the body of Christ. The biblical principle of regenerate church membership is ignored by far too many emerging churches and their corporate witness to the power of the gospel and the kind of love it produces is sadly lacking.
  5. Political. Scot McKnight confesses to voting for Democrats for years. Scott Kelly confesses to voting for Republicans for years. McKnight asks his "fellow emerging Christians to maintain their missional and ecclesial focus, just as [he urges his] fellow evangelicals to engage in the social as well." Frankly, Mr. McKnight, many of your fellow evangelicals do engage in the social components of our faith. You just don't like the way they do it with different degrees of moral conviction than you. Is supporting and staffing pregnancy resources centers and providing housing for single mothers any less significant social ministry than providing shelter for the homeless? Has centralizing government for social justice actually worked in this country? Your Republican brothers in Christ do not think so. Rather than chide us for inaction, engage in more constructive political debate.
I agree with McKnight that the emerging movement may not disappear anytime soon. But I disagree that it posesses a chastened epistemology. It is unwilling to declare the supremacy of scripture in all matters of belief and living. There is a postmodern epistemology driving much of this movement that wants to reform evangelicalism into its own image. If a movement is unwilling to join with other Christians who celebrate the gospel and live it out together in biblical churches, it's not evangelical.