ChurchETHOS

The SBC Name Change

Posted in cultural relevance, southern baptist convention by Nathan Creitz on July 22, 2009
SBC_logo

Does the SBC logo look better in color?

My two previous posts urging the Southern Baptist Convention to change its name were wildly and strangely popular. I have to say this is hardly my most passionate topic. I just think the name is irrelevant and I’ve tried to make that point and let that do it, but since there is such a response to this discussion I wanted to give a few follow up thoughts.

Campus Crusade for Christ is considering a name change.

At their annual staff conference today Steve Sellers, one of the VP’s said, “We’re willing to change anything that hinders us from the goal.” They have even hired a firm to look into changing the name. Obviously, “crusade” is a word that hinders effectiveness because it bears the connotation of THE Crusades. Does the term “Southern” hinder effectiveness? Well, it’s irrelevant and it does bear negative connotations for those of us doing ministry outside of the Bible Belt.

– Thanks @spangoo for the info.

TD Banknorth changed its name to TD Bank.

Sure, this was primarily due to a merger between TD Banknorth and Commerce Bank and the legal battles that kept them from naming it TD Commerce Bank, but notice that now that TD Banknorth has banks as far south as Florida, “north” gets dropped. They dropped “commerce” because of legal issues, but they flat out dropped “north” because it wasn’t worth keeping. There was never a scenario where they were considering keeping “north” in the name. Why do we have “southern” in our name again?

KFC was once Kentucky Fried Chicken

But, they aren’t just in Kentucky and having “fried” in the name of a chicken franchise is almost as bad as having “caged” in the name. This example really breaks down, though, because there was a change in name but there wasn’t much of a change in product. The SBC needs both. Also, simply going to the initials still left open the fact that they were kentucky and fried. For awhile they tried to get people to think that meant “Kountry Fresh Chicken” but I don’t know if that’s the official meaning of “KFC” anymore.

Many other examples

There are many other examples of companies changing their brand. Some are successful. Some are not. The SBC really needs both a new name AND a resurgence, if you will, on Great Commission endeavors. Oh right, we’ve already begun the process of a “Great Commission Resurgence”, now we just need the new name (and logo) to go with it. We need to leave the fundamentalist camp and effectively bridge the gap between the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth and the life and times of 21st century western civ.

So, what are some other companies who successfully changed their names or logos? Why did they do it? Did it help them or hinder them? What lessons can be learned for the SBC?

Related Posts:  32 Reasons (and counting) Why Southern Baptists MUST Change Their Name ::  Giving the SBC a New Name

Want Free Books?

Posted in uncategorized by Nathan Creitz on July 3, 2009

Tobias Stefani is the most recent winner of a free copy of Don’t Stop Believing by Michael Wittmer. This book give-away is for subscribers to ChurchETHOS and thanks to the generosity of Zondervan Publishers. If you want to get a free book, click here.

The Problem of Choosing a Good Bible Translation

Posted in The Bible by Nathan Creitz on July 1, 2009

stats-mapI was reading through my blog subscriptions this morning and one post in particular really stood out and inspired this post. More about that later in the post. For now, I want to discuss the problem of choosing a good Bible translation.

Problem #1

How do you find a good Bible translation? Well, it depends on what language you speak. If you speak English, I recommend the Holman Christian Standard Bible. I’ve written about that here and here. It’s the best of the modern translations because it is accurate, it is readable, and it is not theologically biased like so many translations tend to be.

If you aren’t satisfied with my recommendation then I will happily point you to Douglas Stuart’s book entitled, How to Choose a Translation For All Its Worth.

The problem of choosing a translation in English is a minor problem. If you grab an NIV or an HCSB or an ESV or even the older KJV you will be reading the Truth (just don’t fall into the trap thinking that The Message is a translation!). There are nuances where a word choice could have been more precise or might have captured the original meaning more clearly, but it’s a minor problem.

There are bigger problems to worry about.

Problem #2

But what if you don’t speak English? Well, there are Bible translations in 4,516 languages. There are even some languages that also have numerous versions to select from, though I don’t know if it is to the extent of the selection in the English language.

However, there is a problem here. Some of these languages may only have the New Testament or the Gospels. Other languages may have translations from a translation. Only 438 languages have the entire Bible translated from the original languages. There is a great need for Greek and Hebrew scholars to translate from the original languages into many of these languages that may only have a translation from a translation or a partial copy of the Bible.

There’s lots of work to be done, but even that’s not the biggest problem. If a language only has the New Testament, they can still hear the gospel, but there are some people that don’t even have one verse translated into their heart language.

Problem #3

I like reading Kouya Chronicle which is a blog from Eddie and Sue Arthur. They are Wycliffe Bible Translators and it was his post this morning that encouraged me to write this one. He reminds us that there are 2,393 languages with NO Bible translation. That’s about 200 million people who have no access to the Bible.

This is unacceptable. The English language has plenty of translations to choose from. There shouldn’t be the thought of another translation project in our language until we cut the number of languages with no Bibles in half! And even then it probably wouldn’t be necessary to start another English language translation project. It’s amazing that the KJV has lasted so long with its thees and thous. People still use the KJV as their translation of choice. If the KJV could last so long, couldn’t our modern translations like the NIV or the HCSB tide us over for a while so that we can get as many resources over to these other countries that have nothing?

How do you choose a good Bible translation when there is no translation to choose from? The problem of choosing a good Bible translation is that millions of people don’t have a choice!

Solutions

So what can we do? Not everyone is called to be a Bible translator. Not everyone knows Greek and Hebrew. We are blessed to have so many options in our country but we have grown fat and lazy when it comes to other people around the world. They are our neighbors though they are thousands of miles away.

Here are some things WE can do even if we never become Bible translators ourselves:

1. Pray for the unreached people groups of the world.

2. Adopt a language or an unreached people group or sponsor a verse for $26.

3. Support a Bible translator financially. I recommend my friends Eddie and Sue Arthur.

4. Educate your church or small group. Send them to this blog post and encourage them to watch the following videos:    Video 1Video 2Video 3

Finally, do something now! Our desire to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and shelter the homeless means nothing if we don’t give them the gospel. Making this life more comfortable for a few won’t make the next life any more comfortable. We need to feed and clothe and shelter people and show our love for them in that way, but for every dollar spent meeting a physical need, why not spend two dollars for spiritual needs? In fact, if we put first things first, many times the other needs are met. Give someone the gift of a Bible in their own language and many will learn to read for the first time. The gospel is spiritually AND socially transformative, so by all means, give someone fresh water, but don’t forget about the living water that will quench their thirst forever!

Social Acceptance: A Missional Metric

Posted in cultural relevance, guest post, missiology by Nathan Creitz on June 30, 2009

tape-measure

This is a guest post from Jon Reid. Jon blogs regularly at Blog One Another. He often writes about the intersections between culture, technology, and Jesus-centered spirituality.

__________

What does your church measure, and why?

Evangelicals are fond of metrics. I don’t think the Church Growth Movement started this, but they took it to new levels, looking for ways to measure things that contribute to increased attendance. As a software engineer, I can certainly appreciate this. But I also know a couple of things from my engineering experience:

  • Whatever you measure will be deemed “important,” even if there are other things that are more important.
  • People will “game the system” to improve the numbers, even if it doesn’t have any true benefit.

Some people claim that this makes metrics worthless, but that is throwing out the baby with the bath water. We just need to keep the numbers in perspective. To twist the Master’s words a bit, “Metrics were made for people, not people for metrics.”

So I think metrics are useful. But what do churches generally measure? Worship service attendance, or “number of butts,” is still the a-number-one metric. Why? Partly because it’s so easy. (This certainly predates the Church Growth Movement. Do you remember the sign off to the side showing “Today’s hymns” and “Last week’s attendance”?) Make no mistake, there is nothing wrong with measuring how many people show up to an event. But if we focus on this number, it will drive us to be event-centric rather than relationship-centric.

Counting butts is an attractional metric.
If you want spiritual metrics, I recommend Natural Church Development.
But what about missional metrics?

Hugh Halter of Missio has offered twelve missional metrics they use which I recommend you check out. Today I want to define another missional metric:

Number of invitations from non-Christians

That is, instead of the number of times you’ve invited them to something, how many times have they invited you? Parties, concerts, movies, game nights, sporting events… This is a measure of your social acceptance by any group you are trying to reach. (Another variation to include is the number of times they’ve asked you for a personal favor.)

“Number of invitations” is not a sufficient metric to show well you are communicating the gospel. But by providing a measure of your social acceptance, it can reveal how you are doing at building friendships — which are the single greatest influence in people choosing to follow Jesus Christ. If you are focusing on a particular group and this number is low, try to determine what it means. (Don’t forget to pray for insight and divine appointments.)

So back to the opening question: What does your church measure, and why? Have metrics helped you live missionally, or distracted you? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

[Photo image courtesy of Darren Hester]

Related Post: Checklist Christianity vs. Following Jesus ::  Subscribe

Free Book

Posted in uncategorized by Nathan Creitz on June 26, 2009

This week I have two books to give away (I once again forgot last week. The two subscribers to ChurchETHOS who will be getting a free copy of Don’t Stop Believing by Michael Wittmer are: John Meche and Paul Dawkins!

I still have six more free books so it’s not too late. I will be posting a new question from Wittmer’s book early next week so I look forward to your comments and questions.

32 Reasons (and counting) Why Southern Baptists Must Change Their Name!

Posted in cultural relevance, southern baptist convention by Nathan Creitz on June 22, 2009
I'm starting a rumor that this logo was created from clipart in Word 95!

Starting a rumor that this logo was created from Word 95 clipart!

I wrote a post a couple of days ago about the need for Southern Baptists to change their name. I gave a compelling argument in my opinion. Now, after receiving a flood of comments and responses on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and via email, I want to refine my remarks to reflect some of the follow up thoughts to my previous post.

The Intended Outcome for this Article

I hope two things will happen as a result of this post:

1. You, the reader, will comment on this post and use all the means of communication at your disposal to let delegates at this year’s SBC convention know about this debate. Online social media as well as blog posts, email forwards, phone calls, letters and telegrams are all strongly encouraged!

2. Someone versed in the parliamentary procedure at the SBC will need to draft a proposal that we research a name change. In 2004 such a proposal was voted down but only by 55%. 44.6% of all Southern Baptists at that meeting were in favor of researching a name change! Today, I believe it would be 51% if you act now!

Reasons to Change Our Name This Year!

1. We aren’t all Southern.

2. A new name could be the first step in throwing open doors for new church plants in non-Southern states.

3. Churches seeking a denominational affiliation in areas outside the South might consider affiliating with us if we had a different name.3. A good name reflects a good reputation.

4. Keeping our current name suggests complacency. Changing our name reflects boldness and innovation.

5. A name change might promote innovation and boldness in other needed areas in the convention.

6. Southern Baptist wasn’t a good name to begin with when it was created during the Civil War era.

7. Our culture responds to brands and ‘Southern’ has become irrelevant.

8. Names have to do with reputation and identity. ‘Southern’ doesn’t.

9. There are 6.5 billion people in the world. (that’s “b” as in billions)

10. There are only 105 million people in the South. (that’s “m” as in millions or less than 1% of total world population.)

11. There are 3.8 million square miles in the US and 92 million square miles in the world.

12. There are 905,322 square miles in the South. (that’s “th” as in thousands or less than 1% of the total world land area.)

13. A new name could perpetuate a closer bond in our denomination with sister churches around the world.

14. Most people have a bad perception of what Southern Baptists are about…a new name could refocus our denomination in a positive direction.

15. Thousands of SBC leaders and pastors are in favor of a name change from WA Criswell to Jack Graham and Danny Akin. Ignoring that challenge for the past half century is insulting to SBC leaders who are not currently located in the South.

16. Some true Southern Baptists (those actually located in the South) tend to have an arrogance that they are the decision-makers for the denomination.

17. A new name and branding would help us truly become a denomination for the 21st century.

18. We may disagree on what a new name might actually be, but ANYTHING is better than ‘Southern’.

19. SBC church leaders outside of the Bible Belt often hide the fact that they are SBC.

20. Some non-Southerners wouldn’t attend an SBC church simply because of their perceptions of the SBC. Changing the name would remove that barrier.

21. In most other areas, people are looking for relevant, transformational churches. Based on the media coverage of the SBC, many wouldn’t even think to look at an SBC church no matter how relevant it actually is. It simply wouldn’t cross their mind much like many of us wouldn’t even think to go to a Roman Catholic Church to find solid Bible teaching and an active engagement with the community.

22. Nothing about our name or logo excites our postmodern, post-Christian culture.

23. Would our Southern churches want to be called the Northern Baptist Convention?

24. People have stereotypes about the South (although they are often unfair and misguided). All the negative stereotypes are then glued to our denomination.

25. Many organizations that go through changes over the years adopt a new name to reflect their fresh identity. This is found in the corporate world AND in our own convention (Think Lifeway, NAMB, the IMB, Guidestone Financial etc.)

26. Our current name is based on a location, not on a vision.

27. Our current name reflects who we were, not who we are or who we want to be.

28. Regardless of what we want the SBC to stand for, what it is perceived to stand for is fundamentalism (if you don’t know that’s a negative term today then you probably won’t be voting in favor of a name change will you?)

29. Our name is not a Baptist distinctive. Changing it would not be a departure from our convictions and distinctives..

30. It won’t cost as much to research a new name as it would have in 2004. Through the use of technology we can get thousands of Baptists involved in brainstorming ideas for a new name and its potential impact.

31. No one comes to faith in Christ because our name is Southern Baptist, but how many have refused to even come to an SBC church, much less start an SBC church or affiliate with an SBC church because of the name?

32. There is absolutely no good reason why ‘Southern’ must be in our name. I challenge you to find one!

__________

33. Half of all the Southern Baptists in the world are located in 5 Southern states: TX, GA, NC, TN, AL. Could that have to do with the name?

34. A good name reflects a good reputation.

Some Names to Get Us Thinking

We’ve come a long way since 1845 in how we organize and in how we name our organizations. Our name should be something that everyone in the denomination can be proud of. It should reflect who we are and who we want to be. It should generate excitement.

Think of all the conferences and networks that are cropping up today: Acts29, Resurgence, Elevate, Exponential, Fusion, Catalyst. If we were just starting out would we call it the Southern Baptist Convention? A name should represent something about our vision and not just something about our past.

Great Commission Baptist Convention | Cooperative Baptist Convention | Bible Baptist Convention | Great Commission Baptists | Lottie Moon Baptist Convention 🙂 | North American Baptist Convention | International Baptist Convention | Global Baptist Convention | Missional Baptist Convention | Global Baptist Movement | Immersion Baptist Convention 🙂 |

My personal favorite is the Great Commission Baptist Convention but I’d like to hear your ideas.

I realize that some of these names are already taken. I’m simply providing them here to get us thinking about who we are rather than who we once were. I don’t even like some of the names (indicated by the smileys) but I offer them here as proof that ANYTHING would be better than Southern Baptist Convention.

Take Action NOW!

I want to hear from you! Southern Baptists need to hear from you! What would you call the Southern Baptist Convention? Do you have other reasons why we need to change the name? If you pastor or serve in a church outside the Bible Belt, do you proudly display your Southern Baptist roots or keep it hidden? Have you seen our current name to be a hindrance to your work in the local church? Why or why not?

If you have answers to these questions or if you want to just express your agreement or disagreement, please do so in the comments section below. Let us know who you are (name, church, etc.). Don’t forget to share this today online AND offline. If you link to this post, I will link to yours. If you tweet this post, I will tweet one of yours. Let’s get this name changed once and for all!

Giving the SBC a New Name

Posted in church reform, cultural relevance by Nathan Creitz on June 19, 2009

sbc_logo

[New Post: I’ve written a newer post entitled 32 Reasons (and counting) Why Southern Baptists Must Change Their Name! It builds on this post so once you’ve read this post, I encourage you to check it out.]

I usually don’t say much about the Southern Baptist Convention since I am not in the South. The name means little if anything to New Englanders.

If SBC means anything to anybody here, it usually means “fundamentalist” or “anti-something” (anti-gay, anti-Disney, anti-abortion, anti-fun, anti-reasonable, anti-interesting…emphasis on the “anti-“)

For years now I’ve heard of people wanting to change the name of the SBC, but many in our denomination who are primarily located in the South refuse to think progressively towards the future. Many think that if we lost the brand “SBC” we’d never get back our influence and name recognition (what about the costs of remaining the same?). In their view, people wouldn’t know who we are anymore. There might even be some who decide to split off from the new movement and remain “Southern Baptists” as if that were a hill on which to die.

Would it be so bad if some people got confused as to who we were? We haven’t exactly had a stellar, “reputation with outsiders” over the years.  Wouldn’t this give us a chance to push the reset button on a denomination that can’t seem to keep up with the growth of the society around us?

Would it be so bad if some extreme “Southern Baptist Only” pastors left the newly named convention? Yes, it actually would, but maybe our 16 million member denomination needs some pruning. Get too big and you lose your pioneering edge. The trouble is, our denomination is “mainline” only in the South. Everywhere else it’s emerging. We may lose some people but we need to do the right thing and encourage people to join us rather than do the irrelevant and non-innovative thing and try to please people.

Newsflash: Probably more people are leaving the SBC thanks to our lack of innovation and relevance in a postmodern, post-Christian culture than there ever will be thanks to a simple but necessary name change.

What would a name change do for the SBC?

– A name change would remove a Civil War era title that means nothing to a post-Christian society.

Population %– A name change would remove a regional brand that means nothing to those of us in emerging regions in North America or those planting churches internationally. After all, we are in the South AND the North, South America AND North America, Southern hemisphere AND Northern hemisphere. “Southern” is irrelevant. It means nothing. There are 3.79 million square miles in the US and 306 million people. Those states that could most easily identify with being called Southern only account for 905,322 square miles and 105 million people.

Land Area %– On a related note, currently, only Southern Baptists IN THE SOUTH are proud to be called Southern Baptists. Most people in other areas go by their association name or leave it out altogether. A name change would actually improve our brand, not destroy it.

– A name change gives us a chance to choose a name that focuses on what we stand for rather than what we were once against hundreds of years ago. (We were on the wrong side of the debate when we were anti-abolitionists, and even though we are on the right side of the debate when it comes to abortion and homosexuality, does it improve our chances of being heard to constantly be the “anti-” denomination?)

– A name change would maintain our Biblical convictions and Baptist distinctives but would move us to a new era in Great Commission endeavors.

What Do We Call It?

Building on the momentum that has come (especially among younger Southern Baptists) from Dr. Danny Aiken’s call to a Great Commission Resurgence, I want to propose that we name our convention the Great Commission Baptist Convention (GCBC). Should we be known as Southern Baptists? Or Great Commission Baptists? You decide! I think “the GCBC” has a nice ring to it.

– This name would brand us as the Great Commission denomination (if you care about branding which I don’t).

– This name would give our denomination the ability to get out of the way of the local church and become the supporting structure that it was always meant to be.

– This name places the focus on making disciples of every nation. In other words, it focuses on the positive, not the negative.

– This name gives us a fresh start and a new vision for the future.

Will the denomination split as a result of a name change? If it does then it simply feeds the perception in many people’s minds that SBC churches would split over any issue (how many times have I heard people say they wouldn’t be SBC because they heard of one that split over the color of the carpet). The fact that that’s the perception in many people’s minds should be reason enough to change our identity in the first place. The SBC needs to be stronger than that. We need a new name and we need our churches to come together on this issue – NOW! The SBC is already declining in influence among younger generations and I believe the name and the baggage it carries with it is part of the problem.

A Final Plea

Most people know the SBC based on what they’ve heard publicly (usually from the conventions when we’ve voted on controversial issues). As a result, people will rarely give Southern Baptists a chance on a local, more personal level. Our denomination has a proud history, but our name has nothing to do with that. We aren’t the largest Protestant denomination in the US because our name has Southern in it. We aren’t the largest missions sending agency in North America thanks to someone’s genius idea of calling us Southern in 1845.

When the people who are most involved in the Great Commission in the SBC are serving internationally and in emerging, pioneering regions, why are we stuck with a name that doesn’t reflect our identity? Those of us who are trying to pioneer works in difficult areas feel like the most effective way to be a Southern Baptist is NEVER to let anyone know what denomination you are aligned with. Doesn’t the denomination exist to support the local church? Or just the ones in the South?

We know what we WANT “Southern Baptist” to mean, but no one else does. Instead, “Southern Baptist” means anti-abortion and anti-homosexuality and nothing else. As a local church leader I want to deal with issues like abortion and homosexuality on a local level in a personal and loving and Biblical way. Making resolutions and statements about what we are against is not going to change our culture. If we really believe in the local church, then we need to let the local church lead. Our name hinders us from doing that effectively in MOST areas of the world.

According to the American Religious Identification Survey, the “Nones” (those who have no religious affiliation) have grown from 8.2% in 1990 to 15% in 2008. They are the only group to have seen growth in all 50 states, most other groups are declining. In fact, people identifying themselves as “Christians” shrunk from 86% to 76% in less than 20 years. Massachusetts has seen a 21% increase in “Nones” and Vermont has seen the largest increase with 34% MORE people claiming no religious affiliation. If people in New England had a hard time identifying with “Southern” Baptists before, does anyone seriously think that things are going to improve until we change our name? I have a friend in Chicago who told me that the radio talk show hosts STILL make fun of “the day the Southern Baptists came to town” (referring to our strategic focus city initiative that tanked in Chicago though they have been more successful elsewhere).

What are the arguments against changing our name? I can’t think of a good one so please respond in the comments section if you’ve got one. Our denominations refusal to change our name is one more indication of how we are a denomination that is against and not for. I think “Great Commission Baptist Convention” is a great start to removing this perception. But I’ll let others make the innovative decisions necessary for our future because.

I strongly encourage our convention this year to draft, propose, and vote in favor of a resolution to submit a new name to the convention delegates at next years convention.

Oh, and we need a new logo anyway. Living in a macbook, iPhone, Google sort of world, we don’t need something that looks like it came from Word ’97 … just sayin’.

Next Post in Series: 32 Reasons (and Counting) Why Southern Baptists Must Change Their Name!

Related Post: Are You A Public Christian? Please Say No! ::  Subscribe

Is Jesus Really THE Truth?

Posted in christian thought, theology by Nathan Creitz on June 18, 2009

The ThinkerI am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
Jesus

That statement is one of the most controversial and hated statements that Jesus ever made. This quote, and other statements in the Bible lead followers of Jesus to conclude that He is the ONLY way to know God. His Truth is the ONLY Truth. His Life is the ONLY way to live.

In a day when many people believe that truth cannot even be known in the first place, how can followers of Jesus suggest that they are right and others are wrong? Can they really claim that the Bible contains the Truth that will lead to eternal life with God?

There are three criteria that philosophers use to determine the trustworthiness of a statement or proposition. Since Jesus’ words are recorded in the Bible, it’s important to apply these criteria generally to the book as a whole and then return specifically to the statement Jesus made.

The Correspondence Theory of Truth

The Correspondence Theory of truth asks if a statement (or statements) corresponds to external reality. The Bible passes this first test. The Bible is externally consistent. In other words, there are no existing external realities that contradict any of the Bible’s claims – not one!

For example, for hundreds of years people couldn’t understand how Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldees in ancient times. Apparently, a town called Ur had been found that didn’t correspond to where the Bible seemed to indicate it should be. No problem, wait a couple of hundred years and someone dug up another town known as Ur of the Chaldees that was precisely where the Bible said it would be.

Or what about science. Sure, people got upset with the whole Galileo/Copernicus fiasco. Some had falsely interpreted the Bible and thought the earth was the center of the universe. Science seemed to be saying that the sun was at the center of our galaxy. How would you interpret, “From the rising of the sun, to the going down of the same, the name of the Lord shall be praised.”? Have you ever talked about the sun rising or setting? If you are living in the Dark Ages you might be tempted to think that the sun revolves around the earth, but when you know the truth you see that this verse is written from the author’s perspective and not from a scientific background. Today, we use the same language (does the sun really “set”?) but we know the sun isn’t the one rising or setting, we are the ones revolving around the sun.

The first example from archaeology shows how the Bible has proved accurate through the test of time and supposed inconsistencies have been explained by new discoveries. The second example from astronomy shows how science, archaeology, or history can make our interpretation of Scripture better, but doesn’t contradict anything that has been written. The author wasn’t teaching us a doctrine of geocentricity, he was talking about the worth and glory of God. Again, there is nothing in the Bible that does not correspond to external, tangible reality. Books have been written about the “discoveries” made by the Bible hundreds and thousands of years before geology or astronomy or archaeology got around to officially uncovering them.

The Coherence Theory of Truth

The Coherence Theory of truth asks if the statements being made are internally consistent.

The Bible is a collection of people’s glimpses of God through the ages. It is a compilation of 66 books written by about 40 authors who lived on 3 different continents over a span of about 1600 years using dozens of different literary forms. Somebody is bound to write something that contradicts someone else, right?

However, the Bible passes the coherence theory test. It is breathtakingly consistent internally. Outside of the Bible, I don’t know of TWO people writing in the SAME generation who display the same amount of internal consistency! For example, there’s no debate – by ANY scholar that I’m aware of – that the Old Testament predates the New Testament. Sometimes the books in the OT are over a thousand years older than the NT documents. Yet, the OT contains hundreds of prophecies. If just one of those prophecies proved to be untrue, the reliability of the entire document would be forfeit. Instead, we find that many of those prophecies have been fulfilled and all of them are precise in every way to actual events that happened hundreds of years later. On top of that, the overall theology of the Bible is internally consistent.

As we interpret the Bible, we sometimes disagree with others about various points of doctrine but that’s our fault not the Bible. We look at the Bible with cultural, social, and philosophical lenses that color what’s actually there. Again, our modern mistakes don’t disprove the Bible, it just drives us to be more careful with our interpretation and application of what we’ve been given. Which leads us to the final criteria for determining truth.

The Pragmatic Theory of Truth

Finally, there is the Pragmatic Theory of truth. This theory asks if a certain belief or set of beliefs really work. If you apply the truth to your life will it work for you? Again, the Bible passes the test. Incidentally, it could be argued that the world religions pass this test. People seem to be fulfilled in life when they pray to Mecca or help someone in need. Their religious deeds seem to make them happy.

Of course, followers of Jesus know from personal experience that the Bible passes the test because they are living it. We haven’t just taken it out for a test drive, we’ve invested our lives into owning it and driving it to work and to school and to social gatherings. The Bible is the only sacred writing that passes all three tests and it has been proven over and over again. The message of the Bible corresponds with external reality, it’s message is internally coherent and consistent, and it’s practical application brings contentment and joy to the one who trusts that message.

What about Jesus’ Words?

So that brings us back to what Jesus said. We can apply all three of these tests to the Bible generally but we can also apply it specifically to Jesus. Jesus’ path, message, and victory over death are all internally consistent with the broader theme of the Bible. His way, truth, and life all correspond with reality. Those of us who follow His way, heed His truth, and enjoy the abundant life He offers to everyone, recognize the practical implications of doing so: We now have a relationship with the God who caused the earth to revolve around the sun, who spoke to prophets hundreds of years in advance and told them His Son would be born in Bethlehem, and who has given us meaning and purpose and direction in life and has forgiven us for all the times we rejected Him, blasphemed Him, or ignored Him.

It’s ironic that some of the best news that could be heard is often misconstrued as bad news. Jesus didn’t say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” to stick it in your eye. Instead, Jesus is telling us exactly how we can know God and glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. He came in the flesh to prove God’s love for His creation. Jesus isn’t blocking people from knowing God, He’s showing them how they can. He endured torture, shame, and death so that all who believe in Him could know God and enjoy Him forever.

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Are People Generally Good or Basically Bad?

Posted in book review, christian thought, theology by Nathan Creitz on June 16, 2009
DSB Logo

DSB Question 3 of 10

Michael Wittmer has asked some great questions in his book Don’t Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus is Not Enough. I’ve been reviewing this book chapter by chapter because the book closely identifies with the content of ChurchETHOS. I’ve been able to give away 5 copies of the book already and you can still get one for free here. So far, Wittmer has asked, Must You Believe Something to be Saved? and Do Right Beliefs Get in the Way of Good Works? In my posts I’ve tried to be fair to Wittmer’s thoughts and I’ve sprinkled the posts with some of my own responses to those questions as well. There have been some great comments so I hope you will go back and check out the conversation.

The Next Question

Today, I want to talk about chapter four of DSB. Wittmer asks, “Are people generally good or basically bad?”

The problem with this question is that we want to believe in the innate goodness of people. Since we want to believe it, we often do and we tend to ignore the more important  question of what God thinks about our goodness. This becomes a Big Assumption that holds us and keeps us from recognizing the truth that we are in desperate need of being rescued from ourselves (I don’t care how good you think you are).

There is certainly some goodness in our lives, but there is also some badness. In comparison to Bin Laden I’m a saint. In comparison to Mother Theresa I’m a sinner. But in comparison to God?

Universally Created By God to Enjoy Him Forever

The first question and answer of the Westminster Catechism is:

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

There is something that all of us have in common: we were all created by God to glorify and enjoy Him forever. We were created in His image. Our first parents were placed in a beautiful garden. God looked at all that He had made and it was very good. Our common – and very human – love for life, for beauty, for creation, and for our fellow human are part of what it means to be human. Nothing we’ve ever done can remove those sorts of qualities (and others) from our human nature. I’m confident that I can find something good in ANYONE if I spent enough time looking.

Humans do good things. We write checks to charity. We help old ladies cross streets. We generally try and care for the defenseless, the helpless, the hopeless. People are generally capable of doing good.

Universal Rejection of God

We humans have all been created, therefore we are generally good, but we all have something else in common too. Wittmer writes, “Everyone possesses a relative goodness that enables us to help others. But when we lift our eyes above our natural level and compare our goodness with God, we confront a double problem: God’s higher standard and our sinful brokenness.” We were all created, but we also have ALL rejected God, something the Bible calls sin. Some do it willfully, some do it ignorantly, but the fact remains, we’ve all done it.

For those of us who have turned back to God and asked His forgiveness, we must realize that we are no better than anyone else. Wittmer encourages Christian humility and I strongly agree. Just because I’m forgiven and someone else isn’t doesn’t mean that that same grace and love and forgiveness isn’t extended to them by God too. God loves those He has created. He created all of us and He wants us to enjoy Him forever. He extends His grace to ALL who will receive it. He longs for us to be reconciled to Him.

The Fall is what happened when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Ever since then, humanity is living under a curse. Sure, we can do some good things every once-in-a-while, but we can also do some bad things. Some have more discipline than others and though they don’t know God they are able to listen more attentively to their God-given conscience and they restrain themselves from doing too much evil. But we all do it. We all have hurt someone. We’ve all let someone down. This world may be a better place thanks to you, but just barely. A lot of people feel like they’ve got to do more good to offset the bad that they’ve done. That’s noble and is advisable, but God is more concerned with your relationship with Him. You can make a bigger difference in the world if you obey Him.

Even though “obedience” doesn’t sound good what is God asking us to obey? Jesus summed it up into “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength…and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) If you could do that perfectly, then you would truly be good with no shred of evil in you. Jesus is the only one capable of that kind of obedience. When we confess our disobedience to God and ask His forgiveness, He begins the process of healing us from the evil that permeates our nature. He begins to show us how to be good again.

So What Is Good?

A lot of people don’t want us to bring up sin and the Fall. They want us to simply celebrate the good that we find in others and accept the bad that sometimes happens. This weakens the need for forgiveness and lets us just live our lives however we deem best (and that’s often not as good as we think). That kind of goodness will never measure up.

Wittmer gives a good example of this:

Yesterday my six-year-old pounded out his first recognizable tune on the piano, and I made quite a fuss about it. “Landon, that is ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’! You are playing the piano! Good Job!” And it was – especially good for a beginner and far better than anything I can play. But compared to my wife or a concert pianist, it was not very good at all. Goodness is a relative term. It depends on what we are talking about.

Again, when we talk about good things people do, I think we can all agree that we are generally good, but in comparison with the God who created us, we all fall short. There is a chasm that we ourselves have dug with our sin that separates us from God, not because of God, but because of us! That’s not good.

Picture 1Wittmer quotes Tony Jones, another “postmodern innovator” who said, “a common metaphor showed God on one side of a diagram and a stick figure (you) on the other; the chasm between was labeled ‘Sin,’ and the only bridge across was in the shape of Jesus’ cross. But emergents ask, ‘What kind of God can’t reach across a chasm? Chasms can’t stop God!'” Wittmer replies brilliantly to this naive comment: “I am not sure what Jones is objecting to here, for the metaphor’s point is that while the chasm prevents us from coming to God, it does not stop God from reaching across. Perhaps he means that God should be able to reach us in some other way besides the cross? Or perhaps that our sin does not separate us from God?”

For those of us who believe the truth of the Bible, we can already see how God has reached across the chasm. Hey, I don’t like simplistic, cartoon versions of the gospel either but the basic truth is that we ARE sinful and we ARE separated from God. Thanks be to God that He HAS reached across the chasm to reconcile us to Himself!

Is Our Good, Good Enough?

We have to realize that we may do some good things but when it comes to loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves, we just aren’t cutting it. We are in need of an overhaul of our sinful system and God lovingly provides the answer through His Son Jesus. Our good may help a person in need, or bring a smile to someone’s face, but our eternal relationship with God depends on our willingness to give up and confess that we can’t do it without His help.

Wittmer writes, “People are created, and so we may unreservedly love them. People are fallen, and so there is a difference between those who are running their own lives and those who are striving to follow Jesus. Our common creation enables Christians and non-Christians to cooperate, and our response to the Fall explains why we often compete.” Let’s learn how to love each other God’s way. He is the only One who is ultimately Good. We need to be restored to Him and that relationship with Him will help us love others and enjoy Him forever.

Checklist Christianity vs. Following Jesus

Posted in discipleship, guest post by Nathan Creitz on June 8, 2009

Picture 1 Jeremy is a pastor in Jackson, Michigan and he blogs at jeremyhoover.com. He writes most often about progressive faith and the intersections between faith, culture, and politics. Jeremy and I got connected through conversations on Twitter. Through 140 character conversations or less we found that we sometimes disagree on minor points but often are fighting for the same thing: relevant and authentic followers of Jesus. It has been a productive and ongoing conversation so I’ve asked him to write a guest post here at ChurchETHOS for your benefit:

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My thinking about the topic of following Jesus led to the first real conversation Nathan and I had on Twitter, so I’m thankful for it. I’m also thankful we grow spiritually by a variety of practices. But I’m always afraid of an overemphasis on what I call “Checklist Christianity.” “Checklist Christianity” is that form of religion that teaches, either directly or indirectly, that our spiritual growth, or even our worth as a Christian, is tied up in what we do. Specifically, the more bible studies you attend, the more extra-curricular “Christian” activities you are involved in, the more you read your bible and pray on your own, the more you are growing spiritually.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the forms of Christianity that we teach in the church. Perhaps I’ve given something away even in my description because if the emphasis in “church” is on “teaching” then the primary intent of our form is information transmission. This doesn’t mean we don’t connect with people and other things aren’t done; just that we view the primary reason for gathering as transmitting information about the bible.

The idea is this: The more you know about the bible, the more you will be equipped to live a Christian life. But the result is often very different from this.

I know Christians who have sat through more than 4,000 bible studies and sermons in their lives but who are no different today than they were a decade ago. I know Christian men who have sat through this same number of bible studies but couldn’t teach one even if their life depended on it!

This gives the appearance of the activity itself adding value. Instead, value should come from the transformative change that should occur through the activity.

So there is a clear disconnect (for me, at least) between how much and how often biblical information is transmitted…and how it is received. Instead, the activity serves as a checklist that, once checked off, indicates to us that we have “done our duty.” But the result is far worse: we have fooled ourselves into thinking that spiritual growth is about accomplishing things rather than being changed.

Being a Christian is about following Jesus. It seems to me, then, that a good barometer of our success would be in how well we follow him. Checking things off a list will never bring us close to Jesus, but actually following him, his teaching, and his example, will.

Jesus said, “I did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matt. 20:28). We are called to be followers of Jesus. A follower, well, follows! So we should be doing the same things Jesus did.

But when we treat our Christianity as a checklist rather than as a relationship we view our relationship with God not as a true relationship but as a list of things we must do or a set of requirements we need to fulfill. We wait for others to take the initiative. We don’t connect with each other away from the church building because it’s not on our list.

If Jesus did not seek to be served by others, why do many of us? Why do we criticize the minister or someone else for not visiting us when we never bothered to pick up the phone or make an appointment to spend time with someone else?

Jesus served others. He added value to the lives of others. The best question we can ask ourselves is not how we can fill a building with people, or how we can get others to do what we want them to do, or how we can make sure the minister “does his job.”

The best question we can ask ourselves, to be a true follower of Jesus, is:

Who can I love right now? And how?

That’s what it means to follow Jesus.