The Friday Briefing 13 (3 August 2018)

Why catechesis now? Tim Keller writes, “The more the culture around us becomes post- and anti-Christian the more we discover church members in our midst, sitting under sound preaching, yet nonetheless holding half-pagan views of God, truth, and human nature, and in their daily lives using sex, money, and power in very worldly ways.” He concludes: “Our people desperately need richer, more comprehensive instruction. Returning to catechesis—now—is one important way to give it.”

”Do this in remembrance of Me” Bernard Bell gives us a brilliant overview of the Lord’s Supper.

The beauty of complementarity goes beyond gender Brett McCracken asks, ”What is lost when gender becomes merely a fluid social construct with no ‘compass points’, or simply one among many accoutrements of expressive individualism? What is lost when the idea of ‘complementarity’ is abandoned or demeaned because (like anything good) it can be abused or applied in problematic ways? Among many other things, beauty is lost.”

Aging in hope! Johan Tangelder writes, ”I am 68 years of age and retired, so I suppose I am considered old. In our politically correct times, I am called either a “senior citizen” or “chronologically gifted.” What is aging? How do we react to it? These questions are no longer academic for me.” After surveying the world’s attitude to old age, he asks, “So how do we face the twilight years of life? With feelings of dread… or of hope? Let’s delve further into God’s Word and see.”

The virtue of unread books Scott James writes, “. . . the array of books in our home is intended for ongoing, well-rounded usefulness. They’re there to show us what’ s possible, not venerate what’ s already been.”

Why catechesis now?.

Tim Keller writes, “The more the culture around us becomes post- and anti-Christian the more we discover church members in our midst, sitting under sound preaching, yet nonetheless holding half-pagan views of God, truth, and human nature, and in their daily lives using sex, money, and power in very worldly ways. . . . . This is not the first time the church in the West has lived in such a deeply non-Christian cultural environment. In the first several centuries the church had to form and build new believers from the ground up, teaching them comprehensive new ways to think, feel, and live in every aspect of life. They did this not simply through preaching and lectures, but also through catechesis. . . . . In the heyday of the Reformation, church leaders in Europe again faced a massive pedagogical challenge. How could they re-shape the lives of people who had grown up in the medieval church? The answer was, again, many catechisms produced for all ages and stages of life. . . . . But in the evangelical Christian world today the practice of catechesis, particularly among adults, has been almost completely lost.” Dr Keller concludes: “Our people desperately need richer, more comprehensive instruction. Returning to catechesis—now—is one important way to give it.”

Read the whole article HERE.

For a helpful summary of what catechesis is, read Joe Carter’s article 10 Things You Should Know about Catechesis available HERE.

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”Do this in remembrance of Me”.

Bernard Bell explains the Lord’s Supper clearly, simply and comprehensively in this sermon preached at Peninsula Bible Church, Cupertino. He writes, “We focus our attention today upon Communion. Although the whole Church acknowledges the central importance of communion, there is tremendous confusion over most aspects of the event. . . . . . . . I want to attempt to bring some order and understanding. I will do so in three stages. First we’ll look at the Last Supper which Jesus ate with his disciples, then at how the New Testament shows the early church repeating certain aspects of that meal, and finally at what the Church has done with the meal in the past 2000 years.”

After quoting Matthew 26.17-30, he explains, ”Jesus ate a final meal with his disciples in Jerusalem just hours before he was betrayed into the hands of the Jewish authorities. The meal was significant for three reasons: it was a fellowship meal between a rabbi and his disciples; more specifically, it was a Passover meal; and during the meal a new covenant was inaugurated.”

In his conclusion, Bell sums up what the Lord’s Supper means, ”Communion is a fellowship meal between Christ and his people. We are welcome at the Lord’s Table to eat his Supper. It is not the ‘right people’ that Christ has invited to his table, but us, the last, the least, the lost and the dead. The meal spread by him consists of bread and wine, which symbolize unseen realities with which we identify by faith. They require us to tell a story: why at this table do we eat the bread and drink the cup? Because by the body and blood of his servant Jesus God redeemed his people from bondage, bringing them out into freedom to be his people. With the poured-out blood of Jesus he sealed a covenant with us, and invites us to the table to eat a meal in his presence, a meal which demonstrates the reconciliation between God and man. By drinking the cup we participate vertically in, we have koinonia with, the blood of Christ. By breaking the one loaf we participate horizontally, we have koinonia with, the one body of Christ which is his Church. We have communion with Christ and communion with one another.”

Read the whole article HERE. (Near the top of the page there is a PDF icon – clicking this will download a nicely formatted 4-page printout of this sermon.)

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The beauty of complementarity goes beyond gender.

Brett McCracken writes, ”When God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18), he did not just create a clone of Adam. He created a complement. God’s solution to Adam’s “not good” problem was not two of the same flesh, as if company was all Adam needed. It was a one-flesh union, two distinct halves together making a whole. As much as contemporary Western culture tries to suggest otherwise, the difference of male and female exists and matters. And it is not just random difference, but complementary difference—a difference that indicates the two were made for each other. Woman and man are sort of like a lock and key. A lock and a key are meaninglessly different unless they are made to go together. But when together, their difference opens something up, unlocking something fuller and deeper about the human experience. . . . . We see the beauty of male-female complementarity not only in marriage but also in how the two sexes interact in other relationships, whether in the church, workplace, community, or extended family. As Barth suggested, there is a sense in which the fullness of being ‘male’ is realized only in relationship with ‘female’, and vice versa. Marriage is a powerful way this fullness is manifest, but it is not the only way. Male and female are not fluid, easily interchangeable constructs we fashion from below. Rather, they represent a complementary unity from above: one that goes beyond bodily or even gendered polarity. It is a complementary unity that reflects the structure of the wider world and the God who created it.”

McCracken asks, ”What is lost when gender becomes merely a fluid social construct with no ‘compass points’, or simply one among many accoutrements of expressive individualism? What is lost when the idea of ‘complementarity’ is abandoned or demeaned because (like anything good) it can be abused or applied in problematic ways? Among many other things, beauty is lost.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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Aging in hope!

Johan Tangelder writes, ”I am 68 years of age and retired, so I suppose I am considered old. In our politically correct times, I am called either a “senior citizen” or “chronologically gifted.” What is aging? How do we react to it? These questions are no longer academic for me.” After surveying the world’s attitude to old age, he asks, “So how do we face the twilight years of life? With feelings of dread… or of hope? Let’s delve further into God’s Word and see. In the Old Testament we find that God regards great age as the supreme reward of virtue. The aged were shown respect and honor. Old age is a blessing and not a curse. Scripture says, “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God” (Leviticus 19.32).  . . . . In the New Testament the attitude towards aging is no different from that in the Old Testament. Those who reached an advanced age were honored and esteemed in the community. Aged saints have a significant role in the opening chapter of Luke’s Gospel. The first characters to appear on the stage are the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, who were both “advanced in years” (Luke 1.7). They are the instruments of God’s purposes and the first interpreters of God’s saving acts. Simeon and Anna are the prophetic chorus welcoming the child Jesus on the occasion of his purification in the Temple (Luke 2.22-38). . . . . As people who have clung to God’s promises over many years, they embody the virtues of long-suffering patience and trust in God’s ultimate faithfulness. They also exemplify faith and hope, even when circumstances seem hopeless.”

Tangelder comments, The youth simply cannot do without the older generation. In our culture, for a few years young adults may pretend (egged on by social and cultural forces) that they can live forever as autonomous, self-reliant, self-fulfilling beings. The pretense, however, collapses soon enough. The presence of the visible vulnerable elderly is a reminder that we are not our own creators. All of us will age; dark and blond hair will turn grey. Consequently, young Christians need the elderly so they will not take their lives for granted. I will say it again: the Church cannot be the Church without the elderly. That’s why throughout history the Church has frowned on separating the young from the old through conducting youth services. I have even read about a Church where no older people were expected to attend. But according to Scripture old and young belong together. They are all part of the great family of God.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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The virtue of unread books.

Scott James writes, “My oldest son stood spellbound in front of shelves that must have seemed endlessly high and wide from his small vantage. The Study was a familiar room to him, one he often requisitioned for all manner of creative projects and mischief. The surrounding mass of books had been nothing more than background scenery. I’m not sure what triggered it, but today he took them all in spine by spine. . . . . Just when I began to self-indulge in the sentiment of the moment, he posed the question that had been brewing in his head. “Dad, have you actually read all these?” There was no effort whatsoever to hide his incredulity. . . . . Taking the accusation in stride, I confessed that no, I have not read every book in our library. Sensing his disapproval, I felt the need to defend myself use this as a teachable moment.”

Read the whole article HERE.

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The Friday Briefing 5 (6 April 2018)

Helping our children ask, ‘What’s the worldview? ”. . . we parents need to be hugely intentional about equipping our children to know what they believe and why they believe what they believe.”

How ‘belonging before believing’ redefines the church “If we want to commend the gospel to non-Christians, what could be more effective than inviting them inside, letting them try it on before they commit to buying it? . . . . The idea is that, before they know it, not only will they feel like they belong, they will also believe what they belong to, because belonging has made belief plausible. This is an attractive idea. This is a seemingly effective idea. But it is also a bad idea. Here are three reasons why.”

Holy Trinity Brompton and the new form of British evangelicalism ”Among the most significant signs of a church more adapted to the marketplace will be a careful chamfering of the hard edges of the faith, a studied inoffensiveness, and a desire to avoid positions that might polarize its core market. For a consumer-driven church doctrinal vagueness is a feature, not a bug. . . . .”

How the early Church instructed new believers – and how we do it now. “There was such a rigorous plan and commitment by church leaders in the first four centuries to ground new believers in their Christian lives. The impact of this reading on my thinking led to some significant changes in our new Christians’ ministry, . . . .”

The Writings of C.S. Lewis Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before Watching these videos is rather like attending a talk given by C.S. Lewis in person.

Helping our children ask, ‘What’s the worldview?’

Andrew Carter, lecturer in theology, Bible and worldviews at The African Bible University, Kampala, Uganda, writes, “In August 2016 I was speaking at a Christian conference in Devon, UK. I’d been given the task of saying something about the role of apologetics in the believer’s life. In my talk I touched on the need for Christian parents to train their children in cultural analysis and worldview thinking. To help my audience with this, I listed about ten worldview questions that I teach my students here in Uganda, suggesting that they could use them to teach their children to think better and ask important questions about the world. . . . .”

“The morning after I’d spoken, I met a lady on the campsite who told me that she’d gone back to her tent and put each of my ten questions to her sixteen year old son. To her great dismay – she explained – he’d answered each one of them differently to her. As we chatted it became apparent that her answers were Christian and her son’s secular, or at least he worked with the assumption that God was virtually irrelevant to his life. She said something like this to me, “How can it be that raising my son in a Christian home has had virtually no impact on his worldview, whilst his schooling, peer group and cultural exposure has been so effective in shaping his world and life view?”

Andrew comments, “Perhaps the greatest failure of the church in the West has been the tendency to neglect to train the minds of God’s people; too many have acquired a kind of divided-life spirituality which assumes that the gospel only addresses a ‘spiritual’ realm of life: prayer, church activities, evangelism etc. Thinking is somehow seen as unspiritual and too intellectual. . . . . With our children, it just won’t do to tell them to accept Jesus into their hearts. Of course our children need to receive Christ as their Saviour, but we also need to show them why it makes sense to do so. In other words we need to give our children solid reasons why the Christian faith is true (nothing else explains reality as we find it) and contrast it with the inability of other worldviews to make sense of the world. . . . . . . . we parents need to be hugely intentional about equipping our children to know what they believe and why they believe what they believe.” Andrew gives some practical advice on how to begin.

Read the whole article HERE

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How ‘belonging before believing’ redefines the church

Michael Lawrence writes, ”One of the great insights of the modern world is that John Donne was right and Simon & Garfunkel was wrong: I am not a rock; I am not an island. From who I think I am to what I believe about life and the universe, my beliefs are socially constructed. That doesn’t mean I don’t make independent decisions. It simply means that the social context in which I live largely determines the range of options I can choose from. . . . .”

”What happens when you apply these basic insights to the local church and its task of evangelism? All of a sudden, you realize that the local church is more than a preaching station or venue for evangelistic programs. . . . . . . . the entire community becomes a crucial element in the task of commending the gospel. That community becomes the plausible alternative to unbelief. It becomes a sub-culture that demonstrates what it looks like to love and follow Jesus and so love and serve one another. And it does all this as the church body lives out its life together. . . . .”

“In the last few decades, however, many churches have taken this insight a step further. . . . . If we want to commend the gospel to non-Christians, what could be more effective than inviting them inside, letting them try it on before they commit to buying it? . . . . The result? ‘Unbelievers’ become ‘seekers’, rather than non-Christians. They become fellow travelers on the journey with us, just at a different point. Practically, this means letting unbelievers join everything from the worship band to the after-school tutoring ministry, from ushering to coordinating rides for seniors. Everyone is included; everyone belongs, regardless of belief. The idea is that, before they know it, not only will they feel like they belong, they will also believe what they belong to, because belonging has made belief plausible. This is an attractive idea. This is a seemingly effective idea. But it is also a bad idea. Here are three reasons why.” Read the whole article HERE

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Holy Trinity Brompton and the new form of British evangelicalism

Alastair Roberts comments (writing in 2014) “Andrew Wilson has a fascinating post on his blog on the subject of the ‘new centre of British evangelicalism.’ Within it he argues that, while there are parts of British evangelicalism that are not within the ambit of its direct influence, Holy Trinity Brompton has become by far the most significant player within the UK evangelical world. Andrew defines the ‘centre’ that HTB represents as ‘the reasonably large, obvious bit in the middle, as far away from all extremes as you can get, from which it is possible to influence most of the game, . . . .’”

”. . . . Andrew’s discussion of the character, reach, and effect of HTB’s influence is perceptive and stimulating. He makes a number of interesting observations along the way. One of the most important of these is that ‘contemporary evangelicalism is increasingly becoming aligned by shared conferences, courses and choruses, rather than confessions, creeds or catechisms.’ . . . . In perhaps the most important paragraph in the post, Andrew observes the manner in which HTB’s centrality ‘reflects decreasing levels of doctrinal clarity in British evangelicalism as a whole.’ . . . . ‘How many people who run Alpha or the Marriage Course, I wonder, know what view (if any) HTB have of penal substitution, or hell, or predestination, or gay marriage, or any number of other contentious issues in the contemporary church? (Egalitarianism . . . is probably the exception that proves the rule). Most evangelicals will wonder why it matters: if someone has a good course, or runs a good conference, what difference does it make what they think about penal substitution, hell, gender roles or gay marriage? This, of course, is exactly the point I’m making—that the centrality of HTB reflects the lack of doctrinal clarity in evangelicalism . . . .’”

Alastair comments, “Andrew’s assessment of HTB, while containing a note of caution, is largely favourable. I would be much less sanguine about the scale of HTB’s influence than Andrew seems to be, on account of many of the characteristics that he describes. My concerns are far too broad to be laid wholly at HTB’s door, although HTB does exemplify a number of the developments and trends that evoke some of my deepest reservations about much contemporary evangelicalism. HTB often strikes me as an example of a highly successful ecclesial adaptation to contemporary capitalism. Implicit within its approach are new models of the Church, the world, and the Christian. The Christian is now the religious consumer, to whom the Church must cater. The Alpha Course (whose approach has been imitated by many others) is a polished and franchised showcasing of Christian faith in a manner that minimizes the creative involvement of the local church. It provides a technique of evangelism and discipleship along with a vision of Christianity in which the distinct voice and authority of the local church are downplayed in favour of a predictable, uniform, and airbrushed product. . . . . Among the most significant signs of a church more adapted to the marketplace will be a careful chamfering of the hard edges of the faith, a studied inoffensiveness, and a desire to avoid positions that might polarize its core market. For a consumer-driven church doctrinal vagueness is a feature, not a bug. . . . .”

Read the whole article HERE

Read Andrew Wilson’s article HERE

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How the early Church instructed new believers – and how we do it now.

I published a page with a link to this article, titled Early Church catechesis and new Christians’ classes in contemporary evangelicalism back in late 2013. It remains as relevant now. In this article, Clinton Arnold looks at how the early church trained new believers – and then poses some searching questions about how our present-day evangelical church approaches this task. He writes: “For twelve years my wife and I were deeply involved in a ministry to new believers at our local church. When we began developing this ‘assimilation’ ministry, we started with an eight-week course that covered many of the basics of the Christian life. . . . . The initial idea was for new believers to take the eight-week course as a primer in some of the basics of Christian doctrine and practice and then help them blend into the regular age-graded Sunday School program of the church.”

Dr. Arnold had also been doing some reading in the Church fathers about how new Christians were trained in the early church. He came away “deeply convicted about the superficiality of what we were doing. There was such a rigorous plan and commitment by church leaders in the first four centuries to ground new believers in their Christian lives. The impact of this reading on my thinking led to some significant changes in our new Christians’ ministry, especially the development of a ministry plan and curriculum that would keep them for two to three years.”

In this paper, Dr. Arnold gathers some insights from the Apostolic Tradition, the earliest source providing us with detailed information about how the church trained new believers, together with some other ancient sources that speak about this practice. He offers some thoughts on how the present-day church can learn from their forebears in the early church.

Read the whole article HERE

Read my original summary of the article HERE

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The Writings of C.S. Lewis Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before

There’s a YouTube account CSLewisDoodle that brings the writings of C.S. Lewis to us in a novel form – using animated graphics, or ‘doodles’, to accompany an audio version of his writings.

In his article The writings of C.S. Lewis like you’ve never seen them before, Justin Taylor writes, “The Doodler (we’ll call him) essentially takes Lewis’s writings, adds audio, and then creates a sort of running visual commentary on them. Some people would dismiss such doodling (or even graphic novels) as too low of an art form, but to do something at this pace requires a very deep understanding of the subject matter. And the research behind the doodling is significant. Note his comment on his doodles for [the first chapter of] The Abolition of Man:“ “In order to aid understanding, I have also visited many libraries to collate the more than fifty literary references, in their original context. I provide them for you in a PDF document as endnotes (pg. 26) to the text of the first chapter.” The audiovisual for the first chapter of The Abolition of Man is available HERE, and the PDF document accompanying it is available HERE.

Listening to these videos is the next best thing to listening to C.S. Lewis himself. They are superb, and the ‘doodling’ that takes place on the video as you listen holds your attention and reinforces the message in a remarkable way. The video above, entitled The Invasion, is one of them. It’s an audiovisual presentation of C.S Lewis’ third talk of the third radio series called What Christians Believe. This talk became one of the chapters (chapter 2 of Book 2) in Lewis’s book Mere Christianity. (The Morse code at the very end of this video can be translated by pushing the captions/subtitles button on the video.)

Read Justin Taylor’s article HERE

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