Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Review of Helmut Thielicke A little exercise for young theologians

Author: Helmut Thielicke

Pages: 41 pgs

Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Price: 8.00

Genre: Theology

Quick Summary:

This small booklet is the compilation of an opening lecture given to Thielicke’s theological students. As the title says it is a little exercise for young theologians. This little booklet is Thielicke’s hope that doctrine will penetrate into the real life. He discusses such things as the “Anxiety of the Ordinary Christian About Theology” as well as the “Theological Change of Voice” that young students often go through. Every chapter is an attempt to ground the student’s doctrinal studies in the “faith at once delivered to the saints.”

What I Like

Thielicke does a wonderful job of grounding the young theologian. He speaks of the “hiatus between the arena of the young theologian’s actual spiritual growth and what he already knows intellectually about [an] arena”. This encourages the student to not settle for a “second hand” faith.

Thielicke also does a tremendous job of grounding theology in faith. As he says at one point, “every theological effort is bound up with the act of faith itself”. Faith (or rather Christ) is the goal and not theology itself. He even makes the bold statement that, “every theological idea which makes an impression upon you must be regarded as a challenge to your faith.”

Thielicke’s attempt in this work is to ground his students in the gospel—he succeeds.

What I Disliked

The book is obviously written to theological students; the language would be quite difficult for the typical beginning learner to swallow. Unfortunately, it is the typical beginning learner that really needs to hear this. Thielicke perhaps would have been better served using less lofty language.

The book first was translated into English in 1962. Some of the theological issues that cropped up in the Thielicke’s time are no longer as pertinent. The book is dated—but if the reader can filter through some of the specific issues and see the heart of the matter he will be blessed.

Should You Buy It:

It depends on who you are. If you plan on reading quite a few theological materials and growing in your knowledge of doctrine then get this little booklet. You can read it in a short setting and will benefit for a lifetime. If you are not going to be diving into many deep issues then your money could be better spent elsewhere.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Principle for Preaching

One of the principles of using an illustration is to serve the text being preached. As Bryan Chapell says, "The proper focus of illustrations lies in presenting biblical truth in such a manner that it can be understood deeply and applied readily, rather than in providing popular enjoyment or pastoral acclaim". Chapell also warns that, "the preacher who constructs sermons to serve illustration rather than solid biblical exposition inevitably drifts from pulpit to stage, from pastor to showman".

I know that I have overused an illustration if somebody remembers the "parakeet story"* without being able to match it to a biblical text or principle. I can remember some of Aesop's Fables--but I also remember the moral of the story. Do your hearers remember the story or do they remember the principle the story tells?

This may be an example of over doing an illustration: Pastor Injured in Dirt Bike Accident During Church Service.

*There is no parakeet story--I just use that as an example.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Principle for Ministry

seWhat you do to hook them is what you will have to do to keep them. Windsor Hills Baptist Church in Oklahoma has made the news by giving away an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle to encourage young people to attend their youth conference. The goal is for "teens to find faith".

My main disagreement with this is not necessarily giving a teenager a gun. That could be done responsibly--many of our teenagers are responsible hunters. My main problem with this is that it rejects the sufficiency of Christ and his Word to bring about "teens finding faith". Apparently God's Word is no longer sufficiently the power of God unto salvation but it now requires giving away semi-automatic rifles.

Remember this; what you do to hook them is what you will have to do to keep them. You cannot slide the gospel in the backdoor--unless you intend to ALWAYS slip the gospel in the back door. Here is a suggestion: believe God enough to draw people to himself--yes even crazy lost teenagers.

I also should mention that my "problem" is not with the people at Windsor Hills Baptist Church, their staff, their people, nor anything of that sort. I wholeheartedly affirm their passion to bring about "teens finding faith". My "problem" is with the theology and dangerous philosophy of ministry that brings about such events. It is unnecessary and actually hinders the glorious gospel, and I hope that they turn from this and find more confidence in the gospel. I say this with much humility.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Interpretive Question on Colossians 3

In Colossians 3:3 Paul says, "you have died with Christ". In Colossians 3:5 Paul says, "Put to death, therefore, what is earthly in you". It is apparent that the death of Christ is what motivates us to "put to death" what is earthly in us. As I have read through commentaries it seems that they are making a much bigger problem out of this than is necessary. Romans 6 gives us a pretty good idea of what Paul is saying in Colossians 3.

Here is my question, for any that have studied Colossians, Romans 6, or the relationship between the New Man and the Old Man:

Would it be appropriate to paraphrase Paul's point as this, "He's dead (the old man) now put him in the morgue so he doesn't stink up the joint? Clean up all the filth that this dead corpse has caused and put to death every remain there is of him."

I am not so much interested in the grammatical structure of my paraphrase--I understand it is rough. I am interested in knowing if you would agree with the theology undergirding such a statement.

A New Strategy for Evangelism

I think I have discovered one of the most effective motivation tools for evangelism. It also seems to be the way that Jesus did it. Tell people to "tell no one" and they will not be able to shut their mouth. Isn't it ironic that in Mark he continously tells people to "tell no one" about what He has done and they cannot seem to keep silent. But, Jesus has done something even greater with us by giving us new life and we cannot muster the courage to tell anyone.

What a sharp rebuke this is to my paltry evangelism:

"But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it." (Mark 7:36)

A Biblical Philosophy of Student Ministry (Part 1)

I have the wonderful opportunity on Tuesday evening to discuss a philosophy of youth ministry with a local church. I am very excited about this opportunity and have discovered in putting this together my passion in developing a biblical approach to student ministry. (Some, I understand would say that biblical and student ministry cannot be in the same sentence--for those of you that this describes, please bear with me). Over the next couple of days I hope to discuss a few of the components that I will be discussing at this church. Today I want to share with you a few statistics and explain why a change in philosophy may be needed.

Before we discuss these statistics let me tell you a little about my "journey" to where I am today in regards to student ministry. Needless to say, my views on youth ministry have changed since I first began doing youth ministry. My philosophy in the beginning was more of a youth focused—program driven ministry. Certainly, Jesus was to be honored, the word was to be proclaimed, parents were to be considered, and all of this was to take place within the context of the local church. Now, I no longer believe that youth ministry should be “youth-focused” nor should any aspect of the local church be program driven. In fact doing such a thing, I have found, will undermine such things as "honoring Jesus", "proclaiming the Word", "considering parents", and it will not fittingly take place within the context of the local church.

Now, how did this change come about in my philosophy of ministry and why do I feel that it would be wise for not only your church but any church to adopt this philosophy of student ministry?

First of all, even though I am going to start by giving you some statistics let me say that this has been driven by a theological/doctrinal change instead of a statistical change. What I mean is that the catalyst for such a change in my philosophy of ministry has not been because I have seen problems, or read books, or read statistics. The locomotive for this change has been the Word of God. Today I want to show you why such a change is needed--then we will look at 5 foundational elements of a biblical philosophy of student ministry.

If you are the typical church my guess is that there is only a handful of people in their 20's. Unless of course you are in a college town and have a "vibrant" college ministry that runs like a glorified student ministry. I would also guess that statistically speaking you have more than a handful of twenty-somethings. There are plenty of twentysomethings in your area--the Church simply is not reaching them. I would almost guess that many of those twentysomethings that you now see in the community were at one point "reached" by your student ministry. But something happened and they stopped coming shortly after their graduation. If this is the case your church is not alone.

Across the board, between 70-88% of Christian teens leave church by their second year of college. If you are in a small community, like myself, I can hear one of your excuses right now. "We do not have enough jobs in our small community and our kids go away to college and get a job elsewhere." And that could very well be why some of the kids that were active in your youth ministry in years past are no longer active. Allow me to reword that previous statistic: 70-88% of Christian teens leave church altogether by their second year of college. It is not just that they move to another town and join another church or hook up with another denomination. No, these teens will leave church altogether and probably not be back.

Now let’s do a little math. Our birth rate is currently around 2 children per family (and decreasing), our biblical worldview rate is below 10%, and roughly 75% of our teens leave church by the end of their freshman year in college. (Most will never come back). That means that it currently takes 2 Christian families in one generation to get a single Christian into the next generation. If we started with 4 million believers then using these statistics we see that in the world that your great grandchildren live in there will only be 62, 500 Christians. Perhaps our evangelistic strategies can over compensate. If we continue following this departure rate and hope to offset it by evangelistic efforts that means that to break even each Christian must reach 3 people. That sounds feasible until you realize that in the SBC we reach 1 lost person per 40 Christians. This is not a new trend or something that will be fixed by new strategies, new methods, new programs, big evangelistic crusades, etc. This will require a complete shift in the philosophy of student ministry in many churches.

Let me share a few very sad statistics about our church; and also say that we are not an anomaly. Churches all across America are experiencing this very thing. In our church we presently have about 450 inactive members. This means that 450 people that at one time professed Christ, we baptized, we agreed with them that they were indeed saved, stood up with them and said that we would support them—are now gone. We do not even know some of their names. Again this is across the board and not just a “youth ministry” issue. The SBC boasts 16 million strong—the truth is we are closer to 6 million. On an average Sunday only 33% of the SBC population will be in church attendance. One of the most foundational elements to the Christian walk is fellowship with other believers. If I can be blunt; more than likely we have 450 people that are convinced that they are right with Jesus but are headed to hell with our baptismal waters on their head. Now where did these 450 members come from?

Let me submit to you that one, again I stress one, of the problems is in the area of children's and student ministry. Of our 450 inactive members 112 joined the church before the age of 18. That sounds like a pretty fair statistic, until I tell you that 150 of those 450, I have no clue of their age when they joined. So a more accurate sampling would be that 112 of 300 (nearly half) of our inactive members professed Christ and were baptized before the age of 18 and currently have nothing to do with our church.

We have a significant problem. And let me humbly submit to you what I believe the problem to be. Youth ministry in its present form is unbiblical. In its present form youth ministry caters to the perceived immaturity of youth. It focuses on students. It attempts to reach them by what attracts them. It often is a separate entity within the local church body, fragmented and separated from parents and other mature believers.

What happens within the current paradigm is that students are fragmented from the overall life of the church and do not make an appropriate assimilation into church. Also, the teaching in many student ministries is so shallow and youth focused that they never catch the big vision of who God is and what He calls all peoples to do. What happens then is that students get a minimum exposure to God and the life of the church. These are only a few of the problems or fruits of the fragmented, youth focused, program driven student ministries.

Why then am I suggesting a change in the typical philosophy of student ministry? One reason is that it is not working. Next time we will see an even more important reason to reshape our philosophy of student ministry. Comments and questions are welcome.

I am indebted to Voddie Baucham in his work Family-Driven Faith for the statistics cited above.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Catching up in Colossians

Again I have fell somewhat behind in posting sermons from Colossians. So, here you go...

In Colossians 2:6-8 we discuss living the "full" Christian life: Walk Like You Talk. It is really rather simple--"be a Christian and live like it". Living the "full" Christian life is found in living out what Christ has already accomplished.

Everyone is either a slave or they are free. In our sermon on Colossians 2:9-15, Slave or Free, we ask 4 Questions to Determine whether or not you are a slave or free. 1) Are you enslaved to deceit or are you made free? 2) Are you enslaved to depravity or has your sin nature been stripped 3) Are you enslaved to death or have you been given new life? 4) Are you enslaved to debt or has your debt been conquered?

Our sermon on Colossians 2:16-23 is controversial. Does that mean that it will get more hits? I hope not--honestly the sermon on Colossians 2:9-15 is better (at least in my opinion). In this sermon we try discover how to make gospel-permeated decisions on areas that are not crystal clear. We do this by discussing the issue of alcohol use: To Drink or Not to Drink.

Finally, the latest sermon was on Colossians 3:1-4: Battling Sin with a Superior Pleasure. The previous sermon helps us to learn how to determine what we should and should not be doing--but it does not give an answer to conquering sin. I am indebted to Sam Storms, Charles Spurgeon, and Thomas Chalmers for the idea behind this sermon. How do you fight sin most effectively? You conquer sin with a superior pleasure. We do this by looking at what Christ has done and what Christ is going to do.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Only Physician for Sin

In Mark 5 we read the story of the "bleeding" woman. Verse 26 reflects my own attempts at self-atonement: "[this woman] had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse". My "physicians" are not actual doctors but rather the numerous disciplines I place in my life to heal the disease of sin. Yet, these (at least when divorced from the Cross) cause me to be worse instead of better. In fact every time that I set up a discipline to "become more holy" it ends up either causing me despair or self-righteousness. The woman spent everything that she had trying to cure this disease but only became worse--I feel her plight.

Our only hope for curing the disease of sin is not spending all we have on expert physicians but rather "touching the hem of His garment". Our only hope is Christ--the Great Physician.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Inconvenience of Availability

"And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him..."

Isn't it astonishing that a hole in the roof does not move Jesus to anger but rather compassion?

Seriously, imagine yourself in this situation. You have been on a business trip (or preaching tour) for weeks on end. Now you are finally at home. (By the way it's probably not Jesus' actual house--more than likely it is Simon Peter's). But the crowd wants more. You know what that feels like; being totally spent with nothing to give--but people still need more. Not only would the crowd be a little draining (and dare I say annoying) but add to all of this some guys climbing on your roof and tearing a whole through the ceiling. (Again, let's not lose the context--this would have been far more "fixable" in Jesus' day, but nonetheless still potentially annoying).
Would you have been annoyed by someone tearing a hole in your roof or would you have been moved with compassion? I would have probably been at least a little annoyed. But then again maybe not, with such an extreme case.

The point is this--being available (as believers should be) is not always convenient. However, if we are to be like Jesus then we cannot afford to be ticked off by large crowds or holes in our roof. The glory of God and the souls of people have to be more important and be our heart's greater affection, or else we will miss opportunities because of the inconvenience of availability.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Why we sin

"...the primary reason people are in bondage to sin is because people are bored with God."
-Sam Storms, Pleasures Evermore, p.108


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