The Checkered Histories of Christiantiy and Atheism

One of the most used arguments against Christianity is that the Church, Christians and Religion in general have done some some terrible things throughout the ages. Unfortunately any honest person would have to agree. Religious people have been involved in some seriously terrible atrocities and scandals that drag religion through the mud.

But if we explore the history of atheism we see that atheism has got it’s own skeletons in it’s closet. But many of the new Atheists are reticent to admit the wrongs of atheism’s past. Paul Copan in his book Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God says this about the New Atheists unwillingness to own up to atheism’s checkered past:

 The New Atheists aren’t willing to own up to atrocities committed in the name of atheism by Stalin, Pol Pot, or Mao Zedong, yet they expect Christians to own up to all barbarous acts performed in Jesus’s name. In one debate, Dennett refused to connect Stalin’s brutality and inhumanity with his hard-core atheism. In fact, he claimed that Stalin was a kind of “religious” figure! In September 2009, I attended a debate between Hitchens and Dinesh D’Souza in Orlando. Hitchens refused to admit that Stalin killed “in the name of atheism.” Somehow Stalin, who had once attended a Russian Orthodox seminary but later came to convincingly repudiate Christianity, was still “religious” after all. Yet Hitchens insisted that a religious residue still stayed with him. So atheism wasn’t the culprit. Yet in another debate, Hitchens was pressed to make the seemingly rare confession: “It has to be said that some of my non-believing forbears seized the opportunity to behave the same way [as immoral religious persons], sure.

Why do the New Atheists find it hard to own up to the atrocities that atheists have committed. Copan offers this analysis:

I think the reason it’s difficult, if not impossible, for these New Atheists to acknowledge immorality in the name of atheism is because it would take much wind out of their sails when criticizing religion. If we’d stop to ask, “Would Jesus approve of the Inquisition or persecuting Jews?” the question answers itself. As a counterillustration, what about serial murderer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer? Dahmer reasoned, “If it all happens naturalistically, what’s the need for a God? Can’t I set my own rules? Who owns me? I own myself.” He wondered, if there’s no God and we all just came “from the slime,” then “what’s the point of trying to modify your behavior to keep it within acceptable ranges?”

What a chilling paragraph!

What can Christians say about the Church and or Christians doing terrible things in the name of Jesus? We can point to numerous things. But I will only give two:

1. God hates hypocritical religion. All through out the Bible there is hypocritical religion and God judges this sin harshly. So when we think of our hatred of the church doing bad things we must remember that Gods hatred burns even hotter than ours and his anger towards these atrocities will one day come to bear on the perpetrators if they haven’t repented.

2. Jesus said there will be wolves among the sheep. There will be people in the church who will look like Christians but really they aren’t and these people may do things that are absolutely unspeakable. This doesn’t mean that the church gets off on a technicality but it does mean that churches should be very careful before putting people into leadership.

Both Atheism and Christianity have a checkered history. This fact points us to the sinfulness of all humanity and our need for a saviour.

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How to Talk About Change in Your Church

People, especially church people, hate change. We don’t like change because we are comfortable with the way things are. But what if what you are doing needs a significant overhaul? What if things are broken and need fixing?

One of the questions leaders have is how do you introduce change especially when people are generally resistant to change. Here is what Andy Stanley has to say about how  to introduce change:

“The most ineffective way to begin a conversation about change is to talk about what needs to change. You should never begin a conversation about change by addressing where you are now. You should always begin with where you want to be. When you begin a conversation about change by discussing what needs to change, you generally begin with something that someone is emotionally invested in. That’s a recipe for failure. Or termination. During my first two years of college, I knew I needed to change my study habits. Actually, I didn’t need to change them; I needed to have some. Anyway. Nothing changed until I decided to go to graduate school. Once I got a clear picture of a preferred future, my behavior changed. That’s what vision does. It allows me to see where I am in relation to where I need to be. Reminding me of where I am and then telling me I need to change is neither compelling nor inspiring. But pointing me toward a preferred future and helping me discover what I need to do now in order to get there … that’s different. So the best place to begin any conversation about change is the future. What could be. What should be. Perhaps what must be!”

Andy Stanley, Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend

What great advice! Make the people taste the vision and point out the things we need to get there!

How will you use in this piece of advice in your church?

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What if I’m not excited about my church’s vision?

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Church culture is more important than strategy or vision.

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What is Your Church Doing to Raise and Train up the Next Generation of Leaders?

Below is a photo of the Catalyst Crew and I taken a few weeks ago. Catalyst is a program that we run at Resolved for university students to train them to be next generation of leaders of the church.

Catalyst started because I was challenged by Mark Dever (sorry to name drop) to start training the next generation of leaders. When He challenged me to start some kind of training program I said “I don’t have time right now.” To which he replied “You’ll never have time.” After this conversation I  felt compelled to start training the next generation of leaders. So I planned out what we were going to do, I got some guys together and we started at the start of this year.
All we do at Catalyst each week  is read a section of the Bible (we went through Romans this year), talk about a section of a book or an article that we have all read during the week and work on a ministry skill i.e. how to have a pastoral conversation. (If you want the program of what we did this year email me at hans@resolved.org.au) There was some legwork in planning all this out and putting it together but I am glad I have done it and I am looking forward to Catalyst starting again next year.
What is your church doing to raise and train up the next generation of leaders? What if you got some young keen beans together for a few hours each week and you read a section of the Bible together, you talked about a section of a great book (maybe Knowing God by Packer)  and you trained them in a ministry skill?
Would it take time? Sure but what are you going to do with your time? Read more blogs?
Would it be hard work? Well if you call reading the Bible and great books with people hard work I guess so.
Would your church reap the benefits in the future? Definitely!
What are you doing to train the next generation of leaders for the church?
This post is dedicated to Rachel, Coen, Hannah, Alie and Steph for being the first Catalyst group. You guys are awesome and I am so looking forward to next year! I can’t wait to see what God is going to do through you both next year and into the future!
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Why you Shouldn’t Tweet During Sermons

It seems like tweeting during sermons is the thing to do these days. On Sunday night my Twitter feed is clogged with the ubiquitous hash tag #sermonhighlights. Usually the tweets are a little quote from the sermon which has hit the tweeter. The tweeter is trying to share what they are learning with their followers. This is a commendable thing.
I used to tweet during sermons until a friend of mine challenged me about it. After his loving challenge I stopped tweeting during sermons.
Here is why I think you shouldn’t tweet during sermons. You shouldn’t tweet during sermons because God is speaking! If God is speaking we shouldn’t be distracted. If God is speaking we should be intently hearing his word and applying it to our lives.
The fact that God is speaking means that we should focus on his word. Come to church, turn off your phone and focus on his life giving word!
Anyway, no one really cares what you put on Twitter.
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What if Everyone Was as Committed to God as You Are?

Have you ever thought about your church and asked the question “What if everyone here was as committed to God and what he is doing as I am?”  If the people at your church were as committed as you are to the church what would your church look like? What if people at your church came as regularly as you what would the attendance look like? What if people at your church prayed as much as you did would you see God work more or less? What if people at your church gave as much as you would your church reach budget or would it be broke? What if people at your church served as much as you would your church be overstocked with people to serve or would there be a few tired people burnt out because they are the only ones serving?

We all want our churches to be better. We all want God to move in our churches. But so many of us talk about the things other people need to do to change our church. We need others to step up, we need others to serve more, we need others to pray more, we need others to care about me more. And the list goes on.

But what if instead of pointing our fingers at others we took a long hard look at ourselves and asked what should I be doing? Am I praying like I should be? Am I giving like should be? Am I serving like I should be? Maybe we should ask the question “If everyone at church was as as committed as I am what would the church look like?”

We serve a great saviour who has done what we couldn’t do. He has rescued us from sin   and now we have a great hope because he raised from the dead. Let’s not be half committed to his cause but let;s radically commit to him and his cause!

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Have Younger Evangelicals Lost What the Mission of the Church is?

I hear and read of so many young evangelicals talk about what the church should be doing. The church should be “making sure our city flourish” or “bringing shalom to our world” or “eradicating injustice, oppression and poverty”. This is all couched in such language that if your church isn’t doing these things your church is not truly living as salt and light in out world or your church doesn’t have a kingdom mentality.

But the question is “What is the mission of the church?” Is the mission of the church narrowly defined or broadly defined? Is everything mission or are only a few things mission?

What does Jesus say that the mission of the church is? In Matthew 28 Jesus says:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

For Jesus, and therefore for us, the mission of the church is to proclaim the gospel to a dying world so that people escape the wrath to come and to grow Christians in their knowledge, love and service of Jesus.  Now does this means that doing social justice is a bad or unbiblical thing? Not at all, in fact the bible says a lot about caring and loving the poor. But we need to be clear and say social justice might be what a church does but it is not the primary thing a church does. Preaching the gospel is the primary thing the church does. Gresham Machen nails what the primary thing a church does is in this quote:

“The responsibility of the church in the new age is the same as its responsibility in every age. It is to testify that this world is lost in sin; that the span of human life–no, all the length of human history–is an infinitesimal island in the awful depths of eternity; that there is a mysterious, holy, living God, Creator of all, Upholder of all, infinitely beyond all; that he has revealed himself to us in his Word and offered us communion with himself through Jesus Christ the Lord; that there is no other salvation, for individuals or for nations, save this, but that this salvation is full and free, and that whoever possesses it has for himself and for all others to whom he may be the instrument of bringing it a treasure compared with which all the kingdoms of the earth–no, all the wonders of the starry heavens–area as the dust of the street.

“An unpopular message it is–an impractical message, we are told. But it is the message of the Christian church. Neglect it, and you will have destruction; heed it, and you will have life”  Gresham Machen in Selected Shorter Writings: J. Gresham Machen, edited by D.G. Hart, 376

 

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Ed Young Jr, Calvinists and truth

The twittersphere has blown up because of a video of Ed Young Jr attacking Calvinists. If you havent seen the video you can view it  here about a quarter down the page.

Pastor Young’s rant leaves me asking a lot of questions:

Why does he think Calvinist are cool? I thought Pastor young’s church would be a ‘cool’ church and by saying this I mean no disrespect. I don’t care whether churches or not are cool but I thought Pastor Young’s church would be like Hillsong which is the ‘cool’ church in Sydney. I also think most Calvinist leaders (John Piper, Mark Dever, Matt Chandler, Albert Mohler) are not cool. This once again is no disrespect to them, I love these men and have been helped by their ministries but I wouldn’t call them cool.

Why did he choose to rant on this issue? Has he lost a bunch of early college age kids to a Calvinistic church nearby?

Who does he talk to in the Calvinist community? In the very small dealings I have had with American Christianity it seems like there are cliques like the Gospel Coalition/ T4G Clique, the Willow Clique, The Emergent Clique etc. So it would seem odd that Pastor Young has had the kind of conversations with Calvinist leaders that he claims he has had.

But questions aside we need to realise that there is is some truth in what he was saying.

  1. We Reformed guys are sometimes angry young and dudes who are super critical of everything. This negative, angry spirit is sin and we do need to work at being more loving and humble all the while holding onto the truth and lovingly pointing error out.
  2. Sometimes Reformed churches  are not evangelistic. The gospel should motivate us to tell people about Jesus especially when we believe God is sovereign over salvation.
  3. Some young Calvinists do emphasize election to the detriment of all other theology and therefore are Hyper-Calvinist and not truly Calvinist. On this point Red Iain Murray’s great book Spurgeon Vs Hyper-Calvinism. True reformed theology holds election and human responsibility in tension. Just like Jesus did. Some young Calvinists have just read one blog or chapter on election and then this becomes the piece of theology which dominates everything else.

But there were some huge issues with Pastor Young’s rant.

  1. It was a rant. This is not how people should be rebuked.
  2. He said he and reformed guys are preaching a different gospels. If that is true what Gospel is he preaching?
  3. He seemed to equate Calvinists with those in the social gospel movement. This is baseless. Calvinists attack the social gospel movement as a derivation from the gospel. He probably should read What is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert.
  4. It showed an insecurity which I found troubling. He mentioned a number of times young people going to reformed churches. I am assuming that people from his church are leaving and going to reformed churches. Young’s church would have to number in the tens of thousands and if this number is accurate why is he caring about a few people from his college ministries going down the road to the local Reformed church? Is it because he finds his identity in his church and when people leave it his identity comes into question?

There will be a lot more responses to Pastor Young’s rant. But please let’s keep it gracious and loving.

 

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Are you a “breakout” leader?

I have been reading Thom Rainer’s book Breakout Churches and it has been a great read. In the book Thom takes inspiration from Jim Collins‘ book Good to Great and tries to work out why some churches go from declining attendance and low to no baptisms to spikes in attendance and high numbers of baptisms.

In Good to great, Collins found that all Good to Great companies had a Level 5 Leader Thom and his team found that the breakout churches had an Acts 6/7 leader. He also found that there were different levels of leadership present in the leaders of churches. He called each of these levels Acts and then a number because he found the levels of leadership in the book of Acts. Here is how Thom defines the different levels of leadership that he and his team found in pastors:

Acts 1: The Acts 1 leaders has a particular call to ministry. They don’t see ministry as a job or a paycheck but they are called by God to ministry.

Acts 2: The Acts 2 leader is the contributing leader. He is a leader who spends a great amount of his time in sermon preparation and prayer. The Breakout leaders spent 20 hours a week in sermon prep and prayer whereas other leaders spent as little as 5 hours per week on these tasks. The key to this kind of leadership is discipline.

Acts 3: The Acts 3 leader is the outwardly focused leader. This leader makes sure his church is focused on reaching the community.

Acts 4: Acts 4 is the passionate leader. These leaders have a passion for their job, the gospel and their people that is evident for all to see.

Acts 5: The Acts 5 leaders is a bold leader. This leader will take steps to realize the vision that God has for the church he leads.

Acts 6/7: The Acts 6/7 leader is a the leader that think beyond his life. He is looking to set up his church for the next generation and the one after that and the one after that.

Rainer and his team saw that the breakout leaders were leaders who encompassed everything from Acts 1- Acts 6/7. But he found that only 1 percent of all the leaders that they surveyed showed all the traits.

Rainer’s book shows that leadership is crucial for the growth of your church. The questions is what kind of leader are you?

Are you a called, disciplined, outward focused, passionate, bold leader that is seeking for your church to cast it’s influence decades into the future?

 

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Why Podcasting Could Destroy your Faith

I was at a good church, the minister was a great man of God. He was godly, humble a good leader and extremely likeable.  He had taken this almost dead church to be a thriving church. Almost everyone loved his preaching. That is almost everyone except me. I had gotten into podcasting great preachers about a year before I started not appreicating this man’s great preaching. I was subscribing to about 40 podcats (yeah you read that right). I was listening to all the big names like Piper, Driscoll, Mahaney, Macarthur, Chandler, etc. When I came to church my pastors preaching wasn’t as dynamic and riveting as the guys I was podcasting. Sure he was faithful but I wanted more. No, I needed more.

What was the issue here? It was me. I was judging the sermon on how much it entertained me. I was listening to Podcasts for entertainment not for spiritual change. The things that I remembered from the podcasts and commented on was the funny/touching/gripping illustration and not how the word through the preacher had changed me. I was hooked to podcasts as entertainment and preaching was primarily a performance. A performance where if the preacher didn’t grip me it was his fault.

Every week God was speaking at my local church through the preacher and I prepared my heart to be entertained and when I wasn’t entertained I grew cold to the preaching. What a sad state I was in!

I was not being fed spiritually because I had the wrong expectations, I was not being fed spiritually because I was judging the preaching rather than sitting under it.

And it all came from listening to podcasts in the wrong way.

I think people being bored with the preaching at our local church is a huge issue today. One that is born out of an entertainment, me first culture combined with a listening to preaching for entertainment.

Should you listen to podcasts of the greats? Sure if you want to.

But why are you listening to them?

And what are you doing after you listen to the podcast?

Are you listening to the podcast because it is fun or because you want to encounter God in his word?

Are you coming away from the podcast and repenting of sin and being inspired to tell the world about Jesus or are you laughing at the joke the guy cracked on the podcast.

If you listen to podcasts for entertainment you will start judging all preaching by whether it is entertaining and you will take this attitude into your local church and you will become like I was, selfish and self centered, thinking the preaching was all about me.

By all means listen to great preaching through podcasts but don’t listen to be entertained listen to be changed.

 

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Is your church successful?

“Thus, when we plan our church life and judge its successes, let us not be guided by management technique or modern theories of presentation and influence. The basic principles of church life and practice are laid down in the Bible and are exemplified in the lives of biblical saints. Is the church weak and despised by society at the moment? Well, that is sad; but on another level, who cares? We are not meant to be respectable, to have political influence, to be an organisation that those outside admire for our slickness and savvy. We are meant to be those who preach Christ to the world around us both in our words and deeds. I find it worrying when evangelical success comes to be measured in the categories of worldly success, for precisely this reason: we are not meant to be successful by worldly standards; we are meant to be faithful by biblical standards; and the example of Christ indicates that these two things are, at the end of the day, implacably opposed to each other.”

Carl Trueman, Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, 55

What do you think?

 

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