Friday, July 22, 2011

Harvey Cox on the False Religion of Today

Many Christians have asked, "What is the most pressing issue facing Christianity?" Harvey Cox, former Harvard Professor of Religion, not only identified a pressing answer to the question, but also brings it to light in a fresh way.

The collection of essays in The Globalization of Pentecostalism examines the changing paradigms of Pentecostalism. Dempster, Klaus, and Peterson have organized the essays around three themes: Changing Paradigms in Pentecostal Scholarly Reflection, Pentecostalism as a Global Culture, and Issues Facing Pentecostalism in a Postmodern World. Each essay is a window into contemporary Pentecostal scholarship that demonstrates vigorous interaction with critical issues.

The final section tackles the issues facing Pentecostalism in culture. Cox provides a provocative and prophetic challenge to the Pentecostal movement. He establishes the premise that the global culture is the form of a false idolatrous religion, which he identifies as consumerism. Consumerism in this context is defined as promoting the interests of self more than God and His priorities. How would you describe consumerism as a false religion? What elements make up a false religion?

This pseudo-religion exhibits all the qualities of a classical religion, Cox says. It has a plan of salvation and an army of missionaries, spreading their gospel by promoting consumer-centered ethics. It has an eschatology, which describes capitalism as the ultimate victor. It even has an invisible hand that guides it, under whose influence "all things work together for the common good."

Cox challenges church leaders to prophetically engage in critiquing this god and its ideology. Christians, however, are not against culture per se, but opposed to the false ethics that dictate the meaning of life. We walk the tension of being "in our culture but not of our culture." We need to recapture our uniqueness as Christians, resist this mainstream god’s values, and renew our commitment to simplicity and communal support, which marked the earliest disciples of Christ.

This issue might not be the most pressing issue of time, but it important to take inventory of what and who centers your life. Is there more to this life than just consuming until the grave? Who is it that orders your priorities?

Monday, July 11, 2011

CARPE DIEM - Nine Essential Preaching Principles

A friend of mine, Nik White, and I recently sat down to evaluate my preaching strengths and areas where I can improve. This is truly a humbling, yet transforming exercise. I initiated the meeting because I was feeling particularly bad for one of the brow beaters I recently delivered to the amazing church I serve. Many pulpits bear an encouragement such as “Preach the Word,” but one pulpit bore an amusing message to the preacher. It was a simple but searching question: “What are you trying to do to these people?”

The evaluation proved incredibly helpful to me. We talked at length about how great sermons marry visceral applications with practical/intellectual applications. This exercise got me thinking about what other authors and teachers have said are the most important preaching principles. What if you could synthesize all the principles down to something memorable?

The 1989 film Dead Poets Society starred Robin Williams as a literature professor and pseudo father at a boy’s boarding school. The movie climaxed when the school administrator dismissed and asked Williams’s character to leave during a class while his students watched. His final words to his passionate students were “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” Popularly translated, the Latin phrase carpe diem, means seize the day.

Because of the cultural tectonic shift happening right now, we must return to God’s Word to seize the day for his glory. Carpe Diem serves me as a memorable outline for the nine essential principles of preaching. I have seen and heard these principles discussed in preaching literature for the last ten years. There are more principles, for sure, but these are the ones that consistently make messages and messengers great.

1. Closeness with God - Power in preaching comes from closeness with God and not from trying to impress people.

2. Authentic Delivery - Be yourself. Confidence in our unique voice is a matter of trust in God.

3. Relevant Application - Relevant preaching requires us to live with the chronic pain of merging reflection and biblical application.

4. Pointed Idea - Pointed preaching is difficult because it requires us to identify a controlling idea.

5. Engaging Curiosity - Preachers must generate curiosity for the sermon to be engaging.

6. Dependable Exegesis - A dependable sermon is founded on an accurate exegesis of Scripture.

7. Integrated Process - “Preaching without notes does not mean preparation without notes. Indeed, carefully constructed notes are the basis of freedom from note in preaching.”

8. Evaluative Feedback - The purpose of evaluation is transformation through true feedback.

9. Memorable Intent - Anything memorable has two distinct qualities: It is worth remembering and it can be easily remembered.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Wounded Healers

I love how Henri Nouwen teaches how the wounds in our lives can be blessings to others.

Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not "How can we hide our wounds?" so we don't have to be embarrassed, but "How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?" When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.

Jesus is God's wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed. Jesus' suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love. As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.

The Wounded Healer - Henri Nouwen