Monthly Archives: July 2009

Are Small Churches Better than Large Churches?

truemanIn the midst of a stimulating article in the new issue of Themelios on how to handle the decision to do a PhD, Westminster’s always provocative Carl Trueman offers a comment about church size that caught my attention:

“Second, church involvement brings with it a natural accountability at a very practical level. Here I guess I show my strong preference for smaller churches. I cannot prove from Scripture that a church should never consist of more than three hundred or so people, but I would argue that a church which is so big that the pastor who preaches cannot know every member by name, and something about their daily lives, needs, and struggles, is a church where the pastor cannot easily fulfill the obligations of a biblical shepherd of God’s flock. Put bluntly, I want to be in a church where my absence on Sunday will soon be noticed and where the pastor or elders can draw alongside me and ask the pertinent questions.

I want to be in a church where the eldership takes note if my behavior towards my wife or children is sub-par on a Sunday (hinting at much worse in private). I want to be in a church where I pray for the leadership and where they pray for me—not just in a generic sense of being part of the membership, but informed prayer based on real relationships. In other words, I want to be in a church where my pastor is, well, my pastor and not just that guy who is preaching over there in the distance on a Sunday morning. Put yourself in a small, faithful church, and the pastor is more than likely to hold you accountable to the basics of Christian belief and practice.”

I would love to hear what readers think of this.  Do you agree with Trueman?  Does your personal experience lead you to think that the theologian is off his rocker?  What arguments would you make either way?

I find myself agreeing with Trueman on a personal–though not necessarily exegetical–level.  I mean this as no rebuke against large churches.  But in my experience, smaller churches seem much more able to perform the ecclesiastical and spiritual duties enjoined upon local churches by the New Testament voices.

This does not mean that I think that big churches are bad or unscriptural.  I would not say that.  But it does seem to me that it is easier in some key ways for smaller churches to hold members accountable, care for one another, and that sort of thing.

What do you think?

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Carl Henry: Ethics Proceed from Atonement

Sometimes we hear Christianity spoken of as a system of salvation, a means by which we find God.  At other times we hear Christianity spoken of as a way of life, a code of conduct.

Carl F. H. Henry, dean of twentieth-century evangelical theologians, shows how the two are bound by a cord that one cannot cut.  Copy and paste this text–you’ll want to save it for future reference.

“Christianity is a religion of redemption, and it is equally an ethics of salvation. Christian salvation is no unmoral and unspiritual scheme. From start to finish, in and through the atonement, its ideal life is a life of vital ethical experience through a living union with Christ.

While it may be true that examples can be found of those who presume on Divine goodness by living a life of unholiness while they fool themselves with the hope that they will escape the consequences of their sins through Christ’s sacrifice, this is not characteristic of the evangelical temper. Note the sobering word of James: “show me your works and I will show you your faith” (Jas. 2:18). The atonement is regarded as God’s counter-stroke to sin. While the penal theory does not start out with the subjective significance of the atonement, nonetheless it firmly insists that the atonement must directly touch and transform the moral life of man.”

From his exceptional essay, “Christian Ethics as Predicated on the Atonement” in Henry, Christian Personal Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), 375.

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Texting While Driving: Dying Made Easy

drivetextingThe NYT reports that, among truckers, texting while driving increased the possibility of an accident by 23 times.  In other words, if you’re texting while you drive, you are 23 times more likely to get into an accident than you are if you do not text while driving.  This according to a new six million dollar study. (Photo: ABC News)

The rate lowered to eight times more likely to crash among college students.  That should give you great confidence.  If driving with a college student who is texting, you are only 800% more likely to crash.  Pity the poor person riding with a trucker–they face a 2300% better chance of crashing (and dying).

Here’s what the article says about those who text while driving:

“In the moments before a crash or near crash, drivers typically spent nearly five seconds looking at their devices — enough time at typical highway speeds to cover more than the length of a football field.

Compared with other sources of driver distraction, “texting is in its own universe of risk,” said Rich Hanowski, who oversaw the study at the institute.”

Gulp.

Also, for those of us who talk on the phone while driving–bad news:

“By comparison, several field and laboratory studies show that drivers talking on cellphones are four times more likely to cause a crash than other drivers. And a previous Virginia institute study videotaping car drivers found that they were three times more likely to crash or come close to a crash when dialing a phone and 1.3 times more likely when talking on it.”

Yikes.  Here’s the whole article.

As your self-appointed health expert, I strenuously encourage you not to text while driving.  Of course, even if you don’t text while operating your vehicle, other people will do so–most often those who have the least cause for multitasking while driving.

This is further proof of the inherent goodness of common-sense thinking.  It makes sense not to send text messages while driving 70 miles per hour down a crowded highway.  This also shows the risks that modern culture poses to us.  A hypertechnological society allows us all kinds of new possibilities.  Many of them, unfortunately, are laced with danger.

One need not swear off text-messaging or other forms of the new technology to live well and wisely.  But one should surely curtail usage when appropriate and teach one’s children to do so the same.  Many of us who talk on the phone while driving should think very seriously about doing so unless absolutely necessary.  Our lives–and our children’s lives–could be at stake.

Texting while driving–a great way to die (or kill someone).  Talking on the phone while driving–a pretty good way to die (or kill someone).

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The Link 7.24.09: Mark Driscoll’s Book, Tim Tebow’s Faith, and Martha’s Vineyard

tebow1. Have you seen the new Sports Illustrated profile of University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow?  If not, here it is.  This guy seems to be the real deal.  An outspoken Christian who loves preaching the gospel.  Encouraging.

2. That street vendor selling hot dogs?  According to the NYT, he’s on Twitter

3. For those of us New Englanders currently living in exile, a brief look at Martha’s Vineyard makes the heart grow fonder

4. The Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma, a Southern Baptist newspaper published since 1912, has just welcomed my friend Doug Baker to its editorship.  Congratulations are in order.

5. Have you heard about the free eBook by Mark Driscoll entitled Pastor Dad?  It looks like a terrific book, especially for men trying to tackle the challenge of spiritual headship of a family.     

–Have a great weekend, all.

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Preaching on Sex: How?

Atlanta pastor Aaron Menikoff has some wise thoughts over at the 9Marks blog on a topic that many of us want to handle well but have little wisdom about:

“I would be quite happy to preach about the purpose of sex in a Sunday morning service. When I say “happy,” I should add that it would be a privilege to address that because Scripture addresses it. Also, specific sexual sins can and should be addressed (thinking about your Proverbs sermons). I recently went to a meeting about fighting sex-trafficking in Atlanta. From the stats I was given, there is more sex-trafficking going on in Atlanta than in any other U.S. city. One detective said it was not uncommon to find “johns” with car seats in their cars–in other words these were everyday dads indulging their sinful desires! A question was asked, “How can we fix this problem?” My first thought was that the Lord has called me a responsibility to shepherd a particular flock. At the very least, I can preach for the sexual purity of those within my congregation and equip us to resist temptation.

My point: There is no easy answer on how frank to be in the pulpit. I think wisdom would dictate sensitivity to children and even to the weaker brother. However, that the topic must be addressed, frankly and graphically in the context of church life is clear.”

As I’ve said, many of us want to be able to preach helpfully about sex, but it’s difficult to know how to do so without offending folks or leading them to stumble.  Today’s sex-saturated culture, however, necessitates that we confront this topic.  As Menikoff says, pastors will differ on how exactly to handle this matter; indeed, different settings and locations require that pastors do so.  Yet this should not mean that we shy away from hard topics.  People today prize honesty and directness, and church members need to have the church, not MTV, shape the way they view sex.

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Carl Henry’s Greatest Failure and Success

henryFound this in a poignant Christianity Today tribute to Henry written by his old friend Kenneth KantzerHenry’s “greatest failure” according to Kantzer, former dean of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, involved a failed plan for a “great Christian university”:

“From his student days, Carl dreamed of a great Christian university modeled after sixteenth-century Wittenberg or Geneva. He dreamed of drawing the best and brightest young minds, preparing them, and sending them out to win the minds and hearts of men and women to the gospel and an unequivocal evangelical faith.

Great ideas die hard, but it was not to be. Perhaps the idea was ill-advised. Augustine taught us a millennium-and-a-half ago that Christianity is best understood not high in an ivory tower, but in the roaring thoroughfares of real life. In the radical pluralism of the modern world, a thousand rays of light may penetrate better than a single beam from a lighthouse.”

In Kantzer’s mind, Henry’s “greatest success” also involved education:

“Carl’s greatest success was in his lifelong battle to demonstrate the inner unity of a coherent world-and-life view to living meaningfully in a world falling apart. He taught, in fact, with great power that the only world-and-life view that can ultimately satisfy the human mind and heart is compatible with, and finds its only rationale in, biblical theism and evangelical Christianity.

I believe that 50 to 100 years from now, if our Lord has not yet returned to usher in his kingdom of righteousness and peace, Carl will be remembered as one person who, in a confusing age, held forth the solid middle of a faith that fortifies the whole human person against the fraying ends of irrationalism and superstition.”

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Here’s the entirety of the Kantzer piece. These comments from Kantzer encourage those of us who are concerned with Christian higher education in both university and seminary form to reflect on the strengths and limitations of our dreams.  Though I do not think it is impossible to hope for an evangelical institution of the size and stature of a Notre Dame, I do think that history shows that many ventures attempting this feat have failed.

Why is this?  Well, there are lots of reasons.  One that I mull over is whether the Lord will allow evangelicalism to establish the kind of academic beachhead so many of would like.  Oftentimes, the Lord frustrates our greatest visions, our most ambitious schemes, only to use smaller, less dramatic, less initially impressive means to accomplish His aims.

It is not wrong to work toward the kind of “great Christian university” spoken of in the above assessment of Henry’s momentous, God-glorifying life.  Eminent Christian leaders like David Dockery, Robert Sloan, and Duane Litfin have given great energy and attention to this effort.  But with that said, those of us who have such hopes and dreams must always remember that while the Lord sometimes grants us such a victory, He is also often pleased to use the local church, the humble, unspectacular outpost of His gospel, to accomplish His purposes.

This need not defer our dreams.  But it should inform our plans.  It should also shape the way we think about Henry’s life, even as we celebrate his incredible accomplishments, his massively beneficial writing ministry, and his legacy of service to schools like TEDS, Southern Seminary, and many more besides.

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Cinnabons, “Conditioned Hypereating”, and Christian Faith

fatwomanNew Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert has just published Why Are Americans Fat?, a fun and somewhat morbid review essay of a number of recent books that tackle the national and international obesity epidemic.  Here are some selections from the essay, followed by a few comments from me. (Picture: New Yorker)

The state of the matter:

“During the nineteen-eighties, the American gut, instead of expanding very gradually, had ballooned: 33.3 per cent of adults now qualified as overweight….she and her colleagues checked and rechecked the figures. There was no problem that they could identify. Finally, in 1994, they published their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In just ten years, they showed, Americans had collectively gained more than a billion pounds. “If this was about tuberculosis, it would be called an epidemic,” another researcher wrote in an editorial accompanying the report.”

Dramatic weight gains in the last thirty years:

“Men are now on average seventeen pounds heavier than they were in the late seventies, and for women that figure is even higher: nineteen pounds. The proportion of overweight children, age six to eleven, has more than doubled, while the proportion of overweight adolescents, age twelve to nineteen, has more than tripled.”

Coke instead of water=15 extra pounds per year:

“For most people, an ice cold Coca-Cola used to be a treat reserved for special occasions,” Finkelstein observes. Today, soft drinks account for about seven per cent of all the calories ingested in the United States, making them “the number one food consumed in the American diet.” If, instead of sweetened beverages, the average American drank water, Finkelstein calculates, he or she would weigh fifteen pounds less.”

Cinnabon and Starbucks breed “conditioned hypereating”:

“Kessler invents his own term—“conditioned hypereating”—to describe how people respond to these laboratory-designed concoctions. Foods like Cinnabons and Starbucks’ Strawberries & Crème Frappuccinos are, he maintains, like drugs: “Conditioned hypereating works the same way as other ‘stimulus response’ disorders in which reward is involved, such as compulsive gambling and substance abuse.” For Kessler, the analogy is not merely rhetorical: research on rats, he maintains, proves that the animals’ brains react to sweet, fatty foods the same way that addicts’ respond to cocaine.”

People foolishly depend on portion sizes to gauge how much to eat:

“The elasticity of the human appetite is the subject of Brian Wansink’s “Mindless Eating” (2006). Wansink is the director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, and he has performed all sorts of experiments to test how much people will eat under varying circumstances. These have convinced him that people are—to put it politely—rather dim. They have no idea how much they want to eat or, once they have eaten, how much they’ve consumed. Instead, they rely on external cues, like portion size, to tell them when to stop. The result is that as French-fry bags get bigger, so, too, do French-fry eaters.”

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Wow.  That’s a lot of information to sift through and think about.  Go ahead and read the whole piece, or The Fattening of America for more depressing and illuminating research.  Here are my quick thoughts on the matter:

1. Obesity and fatness is a spiritual problem.  To speak strongly, there is no good reason to be fat or even overweight.  (Some medical conditions cause weight gain, but I’m not dealing with those, even as the above article is not.)

2. Obesity and fatness relate very closely to discipline.  If you are a disciplined person and thus practice a formative spiritual duty, then you should be able to discipline your appetite.

3. One’s weight and health relate closely to one’s spiritual health.  Lack of control over weight and health (within reason) reveals spiritual weakness and sin.

4. Gluttony is not good.  It is abhorrently evil.  This in contrast to what our culture–especially marketing–tells us.  Gluttony is no small thing.  We should not treat it as such.

5. It makes no sense to treat your body poorly.  There is no good reason to overeat and eat foolishly.  No good argument can be made on this point.  Eating badly and failing to exercise only brings harm.

6. It makes tremendous sense to treat your body well.  Christians have a particular argument here.  We steward all things the Lord gives us.  Our health represents a massive stewardship area (no pun intended, I swear).  If we do not steward our bodies well, we dishonor God.  And we also cut short our opportunities to serve the Lord on this earth.

7. Without being grim, avoid excusing unwise behavior with jokes, cover-ups, and half-hearted arguments.  This is hugely common, and helps to send many of us to an early grave.  Be honest about your weight, just as you would in any area of your life.  Weight/health is not cordoned off from holiness.  It does not get a pass.  It is as involved with your holiness as your media consumption is.  Do not laugh off your gluttony or laziness.  Like all sin, these things aren’t funny–and neither are unnecessary health problems.

8. Guys: eat lots of vegetables and fruit.  Many guys are dumb.  They eat a burger four times a week for lunch and swear off vegetables and fruit.  This is colossally stupid, and it’s a key factor in many heart attacks and serious health problems.  Yes, we all know people who ate horribly and lived to be 100, but we also know many who lived foolishly and died young.  Vegetables and fruits are really good for you.  So don’t be stupid–you’re not metro for eating a salad, you’re wise.  No one is impressed with your excessive burger consumption, least of all the grandchildren who won’t get to see you!

9. Ladies: eat less snacks.  What I’ve just written is way more than most people will say on this point.  We’re all much too polite for our own good.  Ladies, if snacks are a problem, don’t buy them.  If desserts are a problem, don’t make them.  Contra pop culture, you don’t need to look like a model–but neither do you need to struggle for years and years with weight.

10. Don’t treat weight in hyper-sensitive terms. Weight is a tough issue for lots of people.  Work hard not to make it an issue that you’re so sensitive about that people cannot bring spiritual challenge and counsel to you.  That’s a very unhealthy place to be.  No area of our lives should be outside of the bounds of spiritual and theological examination and rebuke.

That’s enough for now.  There are times and exceptions for principles like these (vacation, for example), and one needs to be balanced and not obsessive about body and image.  But if you remember one thing from this piece, remember this: weight is a spiritual issue.  The care of your body is one of the most significant stewardship opportunities given you by the Lord.  In a way that many of us think little about, the way we eat speaks profoundly of the way we think of Christ.

If we think much of the lives He has given us, and much of the opportunity before us to magnify His name, and much of His fundamentally self-sacrificing nature, we can’t help but concern ourselves with our weight and health, even as people everywhere around us eat themselves into the grave.

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The Link 7.17.09: Fetuses Have Memories, Redemption Groups, and Obama on Responsibility

fetus1. This just in: fetuses have memories.  If enough time passes, the personhood of fetuses will be a fact, one demonstrated by science.  What will that mean for the pro-choice movement? (Picture: Gray’s Anatomy)

2. Mars Hill Church of Seattle has a cool program going: Redemption Groups.  Love the attention they give to reaching lost people.  So challenged by it.

3. TheResurgence has a nice series unfolding that features Collin Hansen’s reflections on the young, restless, reformed movement.  This one covers Al Mohler and Southern Seminary.

4. From the NYT, tips for taking photos of babies.  Just thought you might want to know.

5. President Obama just gave a speech to the N.A.A.C.P. that included a rousing challenge to fellow black Americans to repair their social structures and embrace responsibility.

6. Trevin Wax shares why he took a “blog sabbatical”.  Good thoughts.

–Have a great weekend, all.

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“Someone Tweeted”: My (Fake) Day in the Twitterverse

Purely for fun, I decided to do a fake Twitter day.  This is a satire, but it’s not hard-edged.  For fun.

So here goes.  The first and only Twitter entry of “owenstrachan”.  I’m sure that at this point you’re holding your breath.  Some events and persons have been created or edited for comedic effect.

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just kissed my wife and baby goodbye to go to work.  I love them.  8:03am from web

driving in car to work  8:04am from otowntwitter

stop light.  I’m stopped.  8:04:30am from otowntwitter

turning right.  8:04:35am from otowntwitter

this car smells.  someone tweeted  8:05 am from otowntwitter

just had breakfast with @jaredcompton.  I so appreciate that guy.  9:10am from web

just had a conversation with @markrogers.  really appreciate him.  we were in the hall.  9:15am from web

just had a conversation with @andynaselli.  I appreciate him as well.  we talked in my office.  great ministry–so thankful  9:30am from web

heart is full of appreciation.  appreciate you for reading this–grateful for your ministry  9:40am from web

received a funny email.  I laughed.  9:45am from web

just shifted in my chair.  my back hurts.  contemplating another shift–I’ll let you know how it goes  10:00am from web

shifted again  10:01am from web

so you know, the shift worked  10:01:30am from web

started reading Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth.  loved page 17  10:30am from web

loved page 18  10:31am from web

page 19 was particularly stimulating  10:32am from web

page 20 was unsurpassed so far  10:33am from web

change that–page 21 set a new standard  10:34am from web

want to take Twitter seriously.  maybe should stop reading.  10:35am from web

realized that I should keep it up.  then, realized that I should probably twitter about each twitter  10:40am from web

just twittered  10:40:01 from web

just twittered about twittering  10:40:03am from web

just twittered about twittering about twittering  10:40:05am from web

just twittered about twittering about twittering about twittering  10:40:07am from web

new policy–no twittering (about twittering).  10:40:40am from web

just realized you could call twittering about twittering “retwittering”.  or maybe “duplitwittering”.  which reminds me of my favorite Twitterverse saying: someone tweeted.  10:50am from web

just had another conversation with @markrogers.  remembered how much I appreciate that guy.  he is so easy to appreciate.  appreciation tank full to bursting  11:40am from web

take a break to stretch and walk.  over the course of the break, stretch.  then, walk.  12:00pm from web

lunch–Caesar wraps.  chicken, tortilla, lettuce.  and caesar dressing–of course!  ate them slowly, chewing regularly, swallowing when appropriate.  periodically drank water (some ice cubes floating in it–eventually they disappeared, lowering temperature of the water).  when finished, threw away napkin (used about 40% of it).  12:30pm from web

page 22 of Pearcey blew me away  1:00pm from web

another break.  this time, contemplate switching things up–maybe I’ll walk first, then stretch.  2:00pm from web

Yup–that was the perfect equation.  first walked.  then stretched.  brilliant  2:01pm from web

afternoon snack.  snickers.  first bought it (79 cents); then unwrapped it; then ate it.  digestion worked well  4:00pm from web

just saw @AndyNaselli again.  in talking with him, was reminded of how thankful I am of his ministry.  much to appreciate about him.  highly appreciation-worthy  5:00pm from web

heading home for the day.  just pushed in chair  5:30pm from web

driving home.  this car still smells.  <drumroll>  someone tweeted  5:35pm from otowntwitter

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