J. I. Packer On Church Numbers

Hey Everyone,

I came across this the other day on Michael Newnham’s blog, and thought I would reprint it here. Here’s a little of the faithful churchman, J. I. Packer for your Monday morning musing.

“I have found that churches, pastors, seminaries, and parachurch agencies throughout North America are mostly playing the numbers game—that is, defining success in terms of numbers of heads counted or added to those that were there before. Church-growth theorists, evangelists, pastors, missionaries, news reporters, and others all speak as if

(1) numerical increase is what matters most;

(2) numerical increase will surely come if our techniques and procedures are right;

(3) numerical increase validates ministries as nothing else does;

(4) numerical increase must be everyone’s main goal. Continue reading

Rabbit Trails (7/27/13)

This week’s WWRT comes to you from the sunny state of Florida. By the time you read this, I hope to be about 25 miles out to sea catching some fish. Of course, I’m a lousy fisherman.

President George H. W. Bush shaved his head in support of the child of one of his Secret Service guards who is undergoing leukemia treatments. I’ve always thought Bush 41 was a genuine and kind man.

Turns out that of the ten cities where people are most likely to have a heart attack, two are in my home state of West Virginia. One is my home town. I guess there’s an upside to moving away almost 20 years ago. I’m less likely to have a heart attack. Continue reading

Soul Searching 11: It Helps Me Do What I Want

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Of all the themes uncovered in Christian Smith’s research, this next one is one of those that seems to me to be a particularly American way of viewing religion. The majority of American teens view religion as something that helps you accomplish your goals. It has a pragmatic value for making you feel good and resolving your problems. Religion does this, according to teens, not by making external moral demands for change, but God is like a cosmic genie that helps you when you ask, and give you comfort when you need it. In this way, it is God’s responsibility to help humans, not humans’ responsibility to respond to their Creator.

I think the most obvious causes for this is what sociologists have identified as the parental use of religion for pro-social outcomes with their children. That is, parents use religion as a way to create desired behaviors in their kids. When I was a youth pastor, I saw this from some parents all the time to help their kids be more healthy, safe, and successful in life. I had one father in particular accuse me of not being supportive of parents because I would not go along with the legalism he wanted to impose on the entire group.  Continue reading

On the Misery of Man

Quote

Living on earth is truly a misery. The more a man desires spiritual life, the more bitter the present becomes to him, because he understands better and sees more clearly the defects, the corruption of human nature. To eat and drink, to watch and sleep, to rest, to labor, and to be bound by other human necessities is certainly a great misery and affliction to the devout man, who would gladly be released from them and be free from all sin. Truly, the inner man is greatly burdened in this world by the necessities of the body, and for this reason the Prophet prayed that he might be as free from them as possible, when he said: “From my necessities, O Lord, deliver me.”6

But woe to those who know not their own misery, and greater woe to those who love this miserable and corruptible life. Some, indeed, can scarcely procure its necessities either by work or by begging; yet they love it so much that, if they could live here always, they would care nothing for the kingdom of God.

Thomas A’Kempis, “Thoughts on the Misery of Man”


6 6. Ps. 25:17.

Alister McGrath on Biblical Spirituality

Alister McGrath on Biblical Spirituality as I found it posted at Metamorpha from 2011.

When I began my life as a Christian, I found my attention focussing on understanding my faith. I continue to regard this as being of the utmost importance. There is a marvellous coherence to Christian doctrine, and wrestling with the great truths of our faith provided me with both spiritual encouragement and intellectual challenge. Yet it often seemed to me that my ‘knowledge’ of the Christian faith was rather dry and cerebral. My faith seemed to lack depth. It was as if my emotions were untouched by what I believed. Sometime, it seemed to me, was wrong.

My realization of the importance of spirituality began about 1989, but really blossomed from about 1992. I was invited to lead a regular summer school course in Oxford on ‘medieval and Reformation spirituality’. This allowed me to engage with some of the great texts of Christian spirituality. As my students and I wrestled with these texts, we found ourselves challenged to deepen the quality of our Christian faith though being more open to God. I found that the quality of my Christian life deepened considerably as a result.

[...]

Enjoyment? Yes! ‘What’, asked the Shorter Westminster Catechism, ‘is the chief end of man?’ The answer given is rightly celebrated as a jewel in Christianity’s doctrinal crown: ‘to glorify God and enjoy him for ever’. This brief statement sets us on a journey of personal exploration – to gain a fresh apprehension of the glory of God, so that we might return that glory to God and have our spiritual lives enrichened by the knowledge of such a God. To catch such a glimpse of the full splendor of God is also a powerful stimulus to evangelism. Was it not by catching a glimpse of the glory of God in the temple that Isaiah reponded to the divine call to go forth in service? Good theology is essential to mission and evangelism! By catching a vision of God in all his radiance and glory, we long to serve him now and finally be with him in the New Jerusalem.

So how can we deepen our faith in this way? As I wrestled with deepening my appreciation of the rich spirituality of the Bible, I found three principles to be helpful:

1.  When dealing with a biblical image, it is essential to pause and allow the passage to generate a mental picture. We have to enter into the world of that image. We need to project ourselves into the image, and become part of it, experiencing its richness and implications. Our faith stimulates our imaginations as well as our minds! One of the reasons why writers such as C S Lewis and George MacDonald enjoy such popularity is that they nourish both reason and imagination.

2.  When dealing with a gospel story, we must enter into it, standing alongside those who witnessed the saviour of the world. We need to meditate on these gospel narratives as though they were happening in the present moment.

3.  When dealing with a biblical idea or theme, it is not enough to understand it. It needs to be applied to our lives, so that it becomes a lived reality, rather than an abstract and lifeless notion. Christianity is not simply about ideas; it is about the transformation of spiritual reality. It needs to become real to us, instead of just rattling round inside our min