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Nothing on Your Phone (Including TGC) Can Replace the Local Church

Theological content is easier than ever before to find. The internet has made resources for the Christian life ubiquitous—whether it be women’s Bible studies, commentaries, sermon podcasts, books, video summaries of biblical books, video reflections on tough doctrines, documentaries on apologetics questions, entire courses on preaching, or whatever you are looking for. Sure, there is also more bad Christian content than ever before—read the Christian book bestseller lists or top religious podcasts list and weep—but there is also a ton of helpful, trustworthy, doctrinally sound stuff. The world will always need solid theological resources and guidance for Christian living, and technology is making it easier to get these resources out. We should be thankful.

But as much as we should celebrate this age of abundance in Christian resources—what my colleague Sarah Zylstra calls “theological affluence”—I worry about some of its side effects. Namely: why is the rise in access to theological material coinciding with a decline in Christian church attendance? Could it be that our easy access to theological content is, in a twisted way, making us see church as unnecessary? Listening to a Christian podcast or devotional app, after all, is much easier than getting out of bed on Sunday morning and going to a church building. But is it the same?

It is not.

Two Perversions

Just as material affluence can keep us from church on Sunday because we have the means for all manner of distraction (globetrotting vacations, weekends at the lake, NFL games on our 90-inch flatscreen), theological affluence can keep us from church because we have umpteen resources to fill our theological “tank” during the week. Why would we be desperate to attend church regularly, listening to our so-so pastor’s Sunday message, when we can listen to John Stott and John Piper sermons on our commute, five days a week? Doesn’t that check the box?

Part of why this problematic thinking sounds reasonable to many evangelical Christians today is because we have long practiced a faith that is systemically corrupted by (at least) two perversions:

1. Consumer Perversion

We think of faith primarily in terms of “what I get out of it”—whether that’s a feel-good sermon, a “safe” friend group (especially for our kids), or an escape-from-hell ticket. Certainly there are gains in the Christian life (the ultimate gain!), but when we approach it as “what can you do for me?” consumers, our faith is fickle and fragile. What do we do when being a Christian starts costing us, when suffering comes, when church gets . . . uncomfortable? This consumer perversion (amplified by the overly individualistic tendencies of Western culture) makes church-hopping a thing—since there will always be a church with better coffee, better kids’ ministries, less annoying people, and so on. If church, then, is mostly about “getting” the best of whatever spiritual thing you’re looking for, you’ll always be unsatisfied—constantly trying new churches and perhaps eventually giving up or turning online. The “best” preachers and the “best” worship music are on iTunes, after all, not in your local church.

2. Gnostic Perversion

We think of faith mostly as a “content” experience. It’s in our heads and in our hearts: it’s the ideas we pick up from books, podcasts, and sermons that matter. We think of our Christianity mostly as a mental, disembodied experience. And this dovetails with the consumer perversion, since if Christianity is mostly “content,” then we can justify picky standards—demanding that a church’s preaching be intellectually stimulating, doctrinally rigorous (but not too rigorous), culturally contextualized, and so forth; otherwise, we’ll leave and search for better content at another church. You can see how this gnostic perversion might gradually convince someone that physical church (with its subpar “content”) is dispensable in an era where better-quality content is just three taps away on a smartphone.

What Only Church Offers

But Christians are not meant to be consumers; we’re meant to be servants. And Christianity is not merely content; it’s an embodied, lived community. Active, committed participation in the local church reminds us of this.

To be a Christian is to be like Christ: to serve rather than be served (Mark 10:45). You can’t do this by sitting in your car listening to a Christian podcast or gazing at a YouTube video about the Bible. In these activities you are being served. To be sure, you’re being served wonderful things! But it’s not enough. You also need to serve others, and the local church invites you to do this. The church is a place where Christians serve one another (1 Pet. 4:10), encourage one another (Heb. 10:25), love one another with brotherly affection, and outdo one another in showing honor (Rom. 12:10). The church is a community profoundly oriented around loving others and serving the world beyond itself.

The church is also an embodied community, something that cannot be replicated through books and screens. In the disembodied digital age we have the illusion of “connection” with our many social-media followers, but we’re still lonely and unknown behind all the manipulative filters and layers of facade. The local church—an enfleshed community of tangible people in regular contact and close proximity—can be an antidote to our disembodied grief. It grounds us in reality and reminds us that we aren’t just brains on sticks. We were made for physical connection with people, not just informational connection through screens.

In a lonely, disembodied world, the church offers a beautiful alternative: an embodied community where at least once a week you are in physical presence with your church family. It’s a place where the manipulative filters of life online fall away and you can be known in a truer sense, warts and all. It’s a place where our real struggles and weaknesses are harder to hide; a place where healing—emotional, spiritual, physical—can happen. It’s a place where you can do physical things together: sing, stand, sit, kneel, hug, attempt awkward bro handshakes, even eat and drink the communion elements. You can get none of this from podcasts and apps and audiobooks.

No Substitute for Church

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By Megan Briggs

eternal securityWhile at the Sing! Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, John Piper addressed a subject heavy on the minds of many Christians who identify with the reformed part of the evangelical church. Piper spoke to Josh Harris’ announcement that he has “fallen away” from faith. The theologian and pastor, who knows Harris personally, said it’s foolish to think that only some of us are capable of committing apostasy, but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t sovereign and that the doctrine of eternal security isn’t true.

“At 73, I go to my knees almost every single day and say ‘Hold on to me!’” Piper exclaimed during a Q+A session at the conference. “If God doesn’t keep me, if he takes his hand off of me this afternoon, I will commit apostasy,” he said.

What About the Doctrine of Eternal Security, Though?

The doctrine of eternal security essentially says that once a person comes to know and accept the saving grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ, they cannot become “unsaved.” This doctrine is also known as “once saved, always saved,” and Piper says he believes in it. However, he admits saying “I believe in the doctrine of eternal security” and “I could go to hell this afternoon” presents a very troubling juxtaposition. One wonders how both statements could be uttered in the same sentence.

Piper argues the answer lies in another doctrine, one he sees “on every page of the Bible.”  Piper articulates the sovereignty of God this way:

Nothing you do originates the decisive act or impulse that saves you. Nothing you think, nothing you will, nothing you do originates the act of the soul or the act of the body that causes God to elect you, predestine you, call you, keep you, or glorify you. All of it is a free gift.

While this doctrine teaches us there is nothing we can do to save ourselves, it also implies we are ultimately not in control of whether we fall away. When considering whether or not one could commit apostasy, Piper argues that nobody should have the mindset “I could keep this from happening.” The sovereignty of God teaches us that only God can keep us from falling. If this thought is hard to wrap your mind around or shifts your thinking, Piper admits the thought can throw you “really off balance.”

Self-Stability vs. God-Stability

Since we cannot simply will ourselves not to commit apostasy, this is where we need to shift from being self-stable to being God-stable, Piper says. To replace one’s sense of self-stability with God-stability requires some Bible knowledge, prayer, and “some deep soul work.”

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The Rhythm of the Christian Life

Abilene: Leafwood Publishers, 2019.
Available at Amazon.com.

This book by my former PhD student Dr. Brian Wright resources Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together for a pattern of modern discipleship.

The foreword is by Timothy George!

Blurb: Most of us think that if we could simply balance our lives better, we would be happier. But what we actually need is to rediscover the rhythm. As Christians, our whole life consists of loving God and loving others, just like Jesus did. In this book, Wright invites us to find true joy as we embrace these two core realities and discover how they are meant to work in tandem. Explore The Rhythm of Christian Life and recapture the joy of life together as God always intended.

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“By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian,” Harris wrote on his Instagram account.

The author of the best-selling I Kissed Dating Goodbye book (written for Christian singles encouraging them to stop dating, which Harris has since redacted) says he has undergone a “massive shift” in his “faith in Jesus.” Harris refers to the shift as a “deconstruction” of his faith, but translates his words for Christian followers by saying “the biblical phrase is ‘falling away.’”

Josh Harris ‘Repents’ of Teaching on Sexuality, Harming LGBTQ+ Community

Harris articulates he has spent the last several years “repenting of my self-righteousness, my fear-based approach to life, the teaching of my books, my views of women in the church, and my approach to parenting to name a few.” He also “repents” of his teaching concerning homosexuality, saying he’s sorry for the hurt he’s caused the LGBTQ+ community through his teaching.

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During his last days in school his family noticed how much he was looking forward to the study of theology. If he had any doubts about his calling, he did not mention them. He was attracted by the prospect of grappling with the as yet unexplored subject. He was not yet driven by any love of the church or an articulated theological system of beliefs, and certainly by a discovery of the Scriptures and their exegesis. His interest in the discipline of theology was still much more philosophical than religious.

Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 44.

At the time of his confirmation he had started reading his Bible for himself, and did not hide an exciting novel between the black covers! 

Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 37.

The family, including Dietrich’s mother, had its own direct relationship with Bible, and the traditions the church, without feeling a need for any ecclesiastical guidance; thus, any direct connection to the institutional church seemed unnecessary. No church dignitary or minister seems to have played a role in the Bonhoeffer’s social relationships at that time…The impulse (for Dietrich) to become a theologian for the sake of the real church belonged to a later period.

Eberhard BethgeDietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 35.

Popular and prolific Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe died on the evening of May 2, 2019, at the age of 89.

Warren Wendel Wiersbe was born on May 16, 1929, the third child of Fred and Gladys Anna (Forsberg) Wiersbe, in East Chicago, Indiana (25 miles southeast of Chicago). At that time, the steel town of East Chicago was the most industrialized city in the United States. His mother was of Swedish descent, and his father was of German descent. He was a lactose-intolerant milkman.

Wiersbe traced his conversion to May 1945 during high school sophomore. Just before his sixteenth birthday he attended a Youth for Christ rally and heard the ministry’s first full-time evangelist, 26-year-old Billy Graham. Though he was raised in the church and had attended Vacation Bible School, he trusted in Christ for the first time that night in response to Graham’s altar call.

A few years later, the president of Youth for Christ, Torrey Johnson, asked him what he wanted to do with his life. Wiersbe responded, “I wanted to go to school and get some Bible training and then preach the gospel.” Johnson responded: “Young man, find the one thing you do that God blesses, and stick with it! Around that time, Wiersbe later wrote, “I had developed an insatiable appetite for the Word of God, and I wanted to study and understand the Bible more than anything else in all the world.” He began acquiring and using his first books: the Scofield Reference Bible, Strong’s Concordance, Cruden’s Concordance, Smith’s Bible Dictionary, The Christian Worker’s Commentary by James M. Gray, Notes on the Pentateuch by C. H. MacIntosh, using tools from a dispensational perspective.

After attending Indiana University in Indianapolis for a year and then Roosevelt University in Chicago, Wiersbe enrolled at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, a northwest suburb of Chicago. He entered a five-year program that enabled him to get a college degree and seminary degree at the same time. As a seminary student, he was ordained in 1951 and began serving as pastor of Central Baptist Church, a blue-collar, 150-member neighborhood church in East Chicago. In June of 1953, he received his bachelor of divinity degree from Northern and married Betty Warren, whom he had met at Northern. (She was a librarian, and he practically lived in the library.) Together they had four children—two boys (David and Robert) and two girls (Carolyn and Judy). He once said of marriage: “Getting a wife is something like being saved. You make a decision and then you discover you’ve been chosen. And this is what happened. We just knew we were made for each other.”

In 1957, he left his pastorate at Central to become Director of the Literature Division for Youth for Christ International.

From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati, Ohio. A local Cincinnati radio stations broadcast his Sunday sermons as the “Calvary Hour.” His Sunday During his tenure the church grew from a capacity of 800 people to one that could hold 2,000 worshipers.

In 1971 he received a call from the famed Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, succeeding George Sweeting, who became the president of Moody Bible Institute. Wiersbe’s sermons were featured on Moody’s “Songs in the Night” national radio program. Wiersbe served at Moody from 1971 to 1978, during which time he wrote for Moody Monthly, penning the “Insight for the Pastor” column, where he offered not only practical theology counsel but also wrote biographical sketches of noted figures in church history, which formed the basis for his books Listening to the Giants (1976) and Walking with the Giants (1980). Each of the entries included bibliographic information for further reading—a feature that encouraged and guided many pastors to explore primary sources for themselves. Phil Johnson, Executive Director of Grace to You, writes: “The backbone of my library today consists of books he introduced me to. He sparked my interest in Lloyd-Jones, the Puritans, and preaching—among other things.”

During his time in Chicago, Wiersbe also served as board chairman for the Slavic Gospel Association.

The staff at Moody Church quickly discovered Wiersbe’s sense of humor. He recalled:

God has a sense of humor. If you don’t believe that, go to the shopping mall, sit there and look at the people. It will convince you that God has a sense of humor. Humor is based on contradiction, seeing the other side of a situation. In one of the churches I pastored, we would have our staff meeting on Monday morning. We’d spend the first twenty minutes laughing over what happened the day before. Because people are people and situations are situations. I remember the Sunday morning at Moody Church when John the Baptist came in. This guy came in wearing a white robe and carrying a big pole and he said he was John the Baptist. We knew he was a fraud because he had a head.

Beginning in 1978, Wiersbe began teaching practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and authored materials for a DMin course on “Imagination and the Quest for Biblical Preaching,” used at both Trinity and also Dallas.

In 1980 the Wiersbes moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he became Bible teacher at Back to the Bible Radio Ministries. In the course of the move, Mrs. Wiersbe told the real estate agent, “We are looking for a library with a house attached.” Their house would eventually have the entire basement devoted to Warren’s collection of more than 10,000 books. During that time he wrote a bi-weekly column for Christianity Today. From 1984 to 1990 he served as general director of Back to the Bible.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer Quote

03-08-2019
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Dr. Jim Garlow has traveled the world imparting to global leaders the powerful truth that God’s Word provides instructions for every area of life, including government.

In a recent interview with My Faith Votes, Dr. Jim Garlow, Founder and CEO of Well Versed, provided some great takeaways for us to bring biblical change to our spheres of influence.

1. Is America headed in the right direction?

“According to a Barna study from 2013, 90% of pastors acknowledge that the Bible speaks to the cultural, political, and social issues of the day. But ask those same pastors if they have or would speak on those issues, 90% said no. Therein lies the problem.

“It’s really up to the church if the nation heads in the right direction. The problem is not the progressives and the liberals, it’s not the baby killers and it’s not the LGBTQ, the real problem is the pastors of America and the churches of America — will they rise to the occasion? So, I’m answering your question with an ‘if.’ That’s what will determine whether or not this nation can be saved or not.”

2. When you look at the culture and assess where things are headed, what concerns you the most?

“The absence of the understanding of the word of God and the lack of capacity to apply it. 92% of the people in the pew do not have a biblical worldview. What worldview do they have then? They have a secular worldview. If you go to millennials, you are down to only 4% having a biblical worldview.

“Those are really jolting numbers. Everyone is responsible to study the word and become a careful steward of the word, but where is the primary source of the word? It should be from the pulpit, from the church.”

3. We’ve come out of a hyper election season with a record number of dollars spent and record turnout. How can Christians continue to take bold steps to change culture?

“Number one, care. Care about the nation. Care about what’s happening in the community. We operate under this myth that the way things are are the way things are going to stay. That is not true.

“Cultures come and cultures go. Nations come and nations go. All the great nations that once existed never thought they would be done, but they ended, every one of them. America is not going to last forever. And we can bring it to a painstaking close by simply defaulting and not showing up for the game.

“For example, the reason we know the stories of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? They were bold!

“The reason we know the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer? He was bold! Everybody likes to preach about him, it’s time to start acting like him. April 9, 1945, Bonhoeffer was stripped of his clothes in the German cold air and hung by a piano wire — killed. Why do we remember Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Was it because he had the largest church? Was the most popular guy? No. Wrote a bestseller? No. Had a big radio and TV ministry? No. We remember him because he stood for truth.

“Who can name all the other pastors in Berlin at that time who wimped out? We can’t name one.

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