Something You Need to Know About Me

I’ve been a Christian all my life. Between 2008 and 2012, however, owing to some difficult personal circumstances, I came within a hair’s breadth of giving up on Christian faith and religion altogether. Instead of that, and with nothing left to lose, I swept all my earlier beliefs and assumptions off the table and asked myself if there were any aspect of my former faith system that I felt I could not, in good conscience, abandon. I found there was one: the historicity of Jesus Christ.

I asked myself if there was any record of his life and teaching that I could depend on, at least rudimentarily. I determined there was no intellectual reason to reject the essence of the testimony of the Gospel writers. I made the subjective decision to regard the Gospels as fundamentally trustworthy records of the life of Jesus. I began to look at all of life, including my assumptions about God, through the lens of the life and teaching of Jesus. Continue reading

Introducing The Community of H-O-P-E

Let me be very clear. The Gathering for Worship in the Liturgical Tradition, which meets every other Saturday night in Plain City, Ohio, is not a church. The people who attend have not been recruited to participate in a church planting effort, nor is their association with an endeavor like that in the future either assumed or expected. Continue reading

Our Debt To St. Patrick

Like most Americans my age, I was introduced to the word Celtic as the name of Boston’s NBA franchise.  About twenty years ago, however, like most Americans my age, I learned two things.  First, the Boston team has been mispronouncing its own name (it should be “Keltic,” not “Seltic”).  And second, whatevCeltic-Tribes-in-Europeer the word Celtic meant, it had gained enormous popularity and commercial success.  Wherever I went, I ran into something Celtic—Celtic music, Celtic crosses, Celtic art and jewelry, Celtic spirituality.  Although the craze is subsiding a bit by now, the past twenty-five years have been mainly a boom time for all things Celtic.

In the centuries before Christ, the Celts occupied much of what is now central Europe, extending into Spain in the west and Turkey in the east. Many scholars believe that the Galatians, to whom Paul addressed his New Testament letter, were a part of this Celtic people group.

Continue reading

Better Together

I’m an introvert. That is not news to anyone who knows me well, but it may surprise many who know me only through my public ministry. As an introvert, I don’t mind spending time alone. Many of those who know me best think that is a good thing. 🙂

Whereas extroverts (also spelled “extraverts”) thrive on social interaction and are energized by being with people, introverts like me find socializing, except with a small Introversion and Extroversionnumber of very close friends, stressful and energy-depleting. And yet it is an absolutely essential element in most public ministry, especially the pastorate.

When I was in seminary, I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator for the first time. The MBTI is a questionnaire which measures personal preferences in the way individuals perceive the world and make decisions. One component of personality type which the instrument evaluates is the propensity toward introversion or extroversion. When my faculty advisor was reviewing with me the assessment of my responses to the MBTI questions, he looked at the results then at me and said, “Hmmm. An introvert in an extrovert’s job. Are you prepared for that?”

Continue reading

The Arthur Chronicles—No. 14

“Except for one thing,” Arthur said, as he sipped from his mug of hot coffee.

“I beg your pardon,” I said in response.

“This article sounds like something Francis would agree with,” Arthur said, waving the sheet of paper from which he had just read. “Except for one thing.”

“And what is that?” I asked.

“The article levels some pointed criticism at the institutional church,” Arthur replied. “From what I’ve read, Francis seems to have criticized the church very little, at least with words. Rather, he seems to have preferred to let his life speak for him.”

Continue reading

But God… (A Blog Post For Lent, Part 2)

In my previous post, I asked you to consider the first two vital truths (of three) from chapelEphesians 2:1-10

  • What we were (that is, the condition of everybody apart from faith in Christ);
  • What we are now (as believers in Christ).

It remains, then, only to consider the third vital truth about the human condition that Paul addresses in this paragraph…

How we got from there to here.  (2:8-10)

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Continue reading

Rethinking Evangelism

Some have asked about the current status of the vision for St. Patrick’s—Grandview, since I am no longer an active Anglican priest, and we originally expected the new church to be an Anglican parish. I will take up that matter in my next post. I’ve already written it, but as I was writing, it occurred to me that it might be helpful to deal with another important issue preliminarily. That subject is evangelism.

I grew up believing that the main reason unbelievers were not Christians was that no one had adequately explained the “plan of salvation” to them. Evangelism, then, was primarily a matter of clarifying terms and providing instruction for what steps to take and in what order. I genuinely believed that the gospel was so logical and so persuasive that anybody who heard it clearly and coherently presented would not be able to resist its logical conclusions.

That’s what I believed, in fact, until, as a Bible college student and then as a young pastor, I met people who listened carefully to my straightforward and passionate presentation and then responded, in effect, with a polite “No, thank you.”

I assumed that my presentation must be flawed. I surely must not be saying what I needed to say, what I meant to say. So I polished my spiel and consulted all the available resources designed to enhance my effectiveness in evangelistic witness. And the results were about the same.

Eventually, I came to realize that evangelism—by which I mean the process of sharing the “good news” of Jesus Christ with nonbelievers in such a way that they can understand what it means to believe in Jesus, experienceSheet of paper with Good news text the grace and love and forgiveness of God, and follow Jesus as the Lord of their lives—includes some truly supernatural dimensions and faces some truly supernatural obstacles.

The Apostle Paul, who knew a little bit about evangelism, observed in chapter four of his second letter to the Corinthians that…

If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (New International Version)

Continue reading

How To Impress God (Part One)

I had the privilege to preach in a worship service yesterday. I’m not a pastor at present, and so I don’t preach regularly in any setting. But since I am a preacher, by calling and gifting, I generally appreciate any opportunity I have to serve the church and the Kingdom by using my gifts in this way. Yesterday was somewhat different in that regard, however, and here’s why.

When I was a pastor in the Free Church tradition, I preached mainly series of sermons drawn from an extended passage of Scripture—an entire book, perhaps, or a portion of a book, such as the Sermon on the Mount or the Upper Room Discourse. There are numerous advantages to that approach to preaching in worship, and if, in the future, I ever preach regularly as a pastor in a congregation, I will likely take up that practice again.

In the meantime, as a once-in-a-while preacher in mostly Anglican settings, I have committed myself to taking as my sermon text one of the lectionary readings for the day. Most Anglican churches use the Revised Common Lectionary which lists four readings—Old Testament, Psalm, NT Epistle, and Gospel—for each Sunday.

Up to now, it has been fairly easy to do that. Each time I’ve had occasion to preach in a worship service, I’ve turned to the lectionary readings for the week, and either the Gospel lesson or the Epistle lesson (and sometimes both) has called out to me, “Preach me! Preach me!”

Not yesterday’s readings, however. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I struggled with the preparation of a sermon the way I did with the one I preached yesterday.

I used to teach homiletics (the art and craft of preparing and delivering sermons) in seminary, and I always told my students: “Preach only because you have something to say, and never just because you have to say something.” Last week I had to work hard not to violate my own counsel.

For a variety of reasons, I was not drawn to yesterday’s Old Testament, Psalm, or Gospel lesson as a possible sermon text. That left, then, only the Epistle lesson as a text for the sermon, if I was to honor the commitment I had made to preach from one of the lectionary readings. And I almost could not do it.

In the case of the Epistle reading, however—from 2 Corinthians 12:2-10—it wasn’t so much the text that posed the problem. It was me. I’ll say more about that later, but once I understood that fact, I knew that I had to give the Spirit of God an opportunity to say something about this important text through me, if He wanted to. And, apparently, He did.

St. Paul, the Apostle, wrote thirteen of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament. They are all letters—eight of them to churches he had planted or at least visited, one (the letter to the Romans) to a church he hoped to visit in the future, and four to individuals (Timothy and Titus, his proteges, and Philemon, a close friend).

Paul first visited the city of Corinth (in Greece) on his second missionary journey (probably 50-52 AD), and Luke records details of that experience in Acts, chapter 18. As a result of his 18-month stay in Corinth, a church developed in that city.

A year or so later, during his third missionary journey, Paul arrived in the city of Ephesus (in what is today’s Turkey) across the Aegean Sea from Greece, and while he was there he got word that there were problems in the church in Corinth. He wrote a letter to the church, our New Testament book of 1 Corinthians, addressing the problems there, sent it off to them, and waited for a reply.

When word came, it appears that the problems in Corinth were still so severe that Paul had to travel from Ephesus to Corinth to make a pastoral call on the church. It apparently did not go well, and after Paul returned to Ephesus, he wrote a letter back to the Corinthians, which has been lost, and then waited for Titus (who had delivered the letter) to return to Ephesus and tell him how the church had reacted to the letter.

When Titus finally returned from Corinth, the news he brought was mixed, at best. The church had responded to Paul’s letter in a good way, but Titus observed that another problem had arisen. The church in Corinth had been invaded, as it were, by false teachers who were attacking Paul’s character and his credibility. Here’s the way he describes them in 2 Corinthians 11…

(I)f someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the (Holy) Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. … 13 (But) such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.  

Our New Testament letter of 2 Corinthians is Paul’s response to these guys who had moved into Corinth and were determined to take control of the church there by attacking Paul and leveling accusations against his character, his integrity, his leadership style, and his authority as an Apostle.

Second Corinthians is the most personal and practical of all of Paul’s letters. It is rock ’em/sock ’em, down ‘n dirty, no-holds-barred Christianity. In that regard, then, it is precisely the kind of message that the twenty-first century American Christian community needs to hear.

But that is just the problem. Just because we need to hear this message does not mean that we are eager to hear it. In fact, much of what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians is framed in language that is foreign, if not offensive, to our twenty-first century American sensibilities. For example…

From chapter four,

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

And from chapter six,

(A)s servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; … through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

And a final example, from chapter eleven,

22 Are they (meaning his accusers) Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ?…  I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.

 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.

27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?  30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

Now I’m fairly sure that you won’t hear too many sermons in twenty-first century American Christian churches based on passages like these. That’s especially true of those churches and preachers who promote something that has come to be called the “prosperity Gospel.”

That is the teaching that, if you are a Christian, and if you have enough faith, God will transform your life, materially and financially as well as emotionally and spiritually, so that you will enjoy financial wealth, physical health, emotional stability, and, in general, a life of abundance and prosperity.

To which I can only respond, “Well, Paul didn’t.”

I’ll take this up further in the next post, where, from 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, we’ll discover how to impress God. Thanks for reading.

More Than You Might Imagine (Part One)

Have you ever been really, really afraid? If you have, you know that fear is a debilitating and potentially lethal emotion. It can produce severe, life-altering consequences. I have a friend in West Virginia who is bald from head to toe… not one hair on his body anywhere. How did that happen? He is convinced it is the consequence of fear.

When he was a boy, his brother, in jest, aimed a loaded revolver at his head, and it accidentally discharged. The bullet missed him by mere inches. Within a short time, his hair began to fall out until his entire body was smooth as an onion. Our friend is convinced he was scared hairless.

I don’t know if that is true, but I do know that fear clouds our thinking and distorts our judgment. It makes us do all sorts of things we would never do if we were functioning rationally and not caught in the grip of mind-numbing, gut-wrenching fear.

The disciples of Jesus, in the episode recorded in Mark 4:35-41, were really, really afraid. And humanly speaking, they had every reason to be. Here’s the way Mark puts it—

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

The Sea of Galilee is really a large freshwater lake in the northern part of Israel. It is seven hundred feel below sea level. Just thirty miles north is Mt. Hermon, which rises to more than 9000 feet above sea level. The clash between the cold air from the mountains and the warm air in the lake basin makes for changeable weather conditions that can produce mean storms in short order.

Several of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen who had worked on that very lake. They were experienced sailors. If the conditions that night were severe enough to scare them, it must have been really bad. So whatever else we might want to say about these men, they were not wusses who were afraid of their own shadows. Their situation was legitimately frightening.

Now you and I may never have faced such an immediate threat to our physical safety, but, as you well know, storms are by no means the only things that can cause us to be afraid.

Do you want to know what scares me these days? It’s not death. When I was thirteen I nearly drowned, and I remember thinking, in that moment, “I’m going to die. This is the end of my life. I’m going to die, and I’m not afraid.” And to this day, whenever I think about dying, I remember that experience, and I am comforted by the fact that, on that day when I really thought I was going to die, I was not afraid.

But here’s what scares me. It’s the thought of living an unproductive, unfulfilled life. It’s the prospect of coming to the end of my life only to find that, somewhere along the line, I took a wrong turn and ended up a failure… not a failure in business or in a profession, but a failure as a man, as a minister, as a provider for my family, and as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

I’m sharing this with you because I want you to know that, under my liturgical vestments and my clerical collar is a man plagued by self-doubt and subject to regret and second-guessing, even though I know how useless and counter-productive those emotions really are.

As a preacher (and a blogger), I have the privilege to put into words the almost unspeakable riches of the Gospel of God. If I do my job right, these words should help you (in the words of the prayer made famous by the musical Godspell) to see Jesus more clearly, to love Him more dearly, and follow Him more nearly… day by day.

I work hard to find just the right words when I write a sermon or a blog post. If I do my job right, you will not think “What a great preacher (or writer),” but “What a great God we serve!”

But I want you to know that I am well aware of the truth of 2 Corinthians 4, where Paul wrote—

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

I am a fellow-traveler with you. I try to hold up the ideal, which is the image of God in Christ, to which we all should aspire, by the power of the Holy Spirit. And I try to be a good example. But there is no aspect of my example that is more inconsistent—no place where my life is more like a jar made of clay—than in the area of being afraid.

Afraid of failure. Afraid that my needs won’t be met. Afraid that my days of productive ministry may be over. Afraid that God, Who has never been unfaithful or untrustworthy in the past, may somehow prove to be unfaithful or untrustworthy in the future. (You see how irrational fear can be!)

Fear is where we are most vulnerable to what Paul calls “the fiery darts of the wicked one.” And the “wicked one” surely knows how to exploit our vulnerability.

He was doing that to these disciples of Jesus in Mark 4. Now, granted this episode took place fairly early in Jesus’ ministry. They had not yet been to Caesarea Philippi where Jesus asked them who they thought He was, and Peter answered, “You are the Messiah (Christ, the Anointed One), the Son of the living God.”

But they had been following Him around for some months, perhaps a year or more. They had seen Him heal sick people—even lepers—and cast out demons. They had seen Him extend forgiveness to a man for sins the man had committed against somebody else. And they had heard Him declare Himself to be Lord even of the Sabbath. These were characteristics that could only be attributed to God.

If they had been thinking clearly, they might have concluded that, if Jesus was really the Messiah, the ship couldn’t possibly sink, because chances were that, if they drowned, He would drown too. And if He had been sent by God to be Israel’s Messiah, then surely God would protect Him from this storm.

But they couldn’t think in those terms. Their boat was filling up with water faster than they could bail it out. It was only a matter of time until the waves would swamp the boat. And the One who had healed lepers and blind men could possibly come to their aid… at least He could help them bail. But no. He was asleep in the stern of the boat.

So they waken Him. And here’s the way Max Lucado describes that encounter.

His (sleeping while they were in danger) troubles the disciples. Mark records their question: “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

They don’t ask about Jesus’ strength: “Can you still the storm?” (Or) His knowledge: “Are you aware of the storm?” Or his (expertise): “Do you have any experience with storms?” But rather, they raise doubts about Jesus’ character: “Don’t you care …?”

Fear does this. (It) corrodes our confidence in God’s goodness. We begin to wonder if love lives in heaven. If God can sleep in our storms, if his eyes stay shut when our eyes grow wide, if he permits storms after we get on his boat, does he really care? Fear unleashes a swarm of doubts, anger-stirring doubts.

And it turns us into control freaks. “Do something about the storm!” is the implicit demand of the question. “Fix it or … or … or else!” Fear…releases the tyrant within and it also deadens our recall. The disciples had good reasons to trust Jesus. By now they’d seen him perform countless miracles! But… fear creates a form of spiritual amnesia. It dulls our miracle memory. It makes us forget what Jesus has done and how good God is.

I believe that fear is so spiritually debilitating because our Adversary convinces us that everything that has happened to us beforehand… all those times that we think we saw God at work… all those prayers that we believe God has answered… all those situations where we thought God stepped in and did something supernatural in our behalf… all those were just coincidence or good luck or situations which, now that they are past, we look back on with rosy-tinted hindsight.

And deep in our hearts our Adversary plants a seed of unbelief. We begin to wonder if our faith has been misguided. We begin to wonder if all these things that are overwhelming us might be overwhelming God too. We begin to question whether God cares about us at all, or even if He does care, does He have the capability to do anything about our situation? In short, does He have any power?

I’ve certainly asked questions like that. And I imagine you have too. Well, that brings us to the second theme that emerges from this short passage from Mark’s Gospel—the power of God. And I’ll take that up in the next post. Thanks for reading.

The Trouble With American Christianity

Contemporary American Christianity is a jumbled mess.  Christian denominations now number in the thousands. This would be bad enough if these disparate groups were simply slight variations on a common theme. In fact, however, many of these groups hold to doctrines so diverse from those of other Christians that it is difficult to believe they could all be adherents of the same religion.

Even within the comparatively homogeneous community of American Evangelicalism, where doctrinal differences are less stark, there is little unity. Evangelical Christians may sing about that day “when we all get to heaven,” but many of them are content to get there by associating with Christians from other denominations, even other Evangelical denominations, as little as possible.

Some will no doubt challenge this assessment of the contemporary scene, insisting that the day of denominationalism is past. They are convinced that the influence of theological liberalism and postmodernism, the loss of historical perspective, and differences in styles of music and approaches to public worship have produced divisions within denominations which promote cooperation and encourage fellowship across denominational lines. Supporters of this view often say they feel closer to believers in other denominations than to some in their own.

Whatever the case, there is little evidence of widespread unity among Christians. Differences in methodology, emphasis, and focus produce churches and parachurch ministries which resemble American corporate culture more than a worldwide religious movement with a common origin and heritage. Pastors and ministry leaders function like business executives who must achieve a high level of productivity in order to satisfy their investors and guarantee their continued employment.

Pastors no longer perceive their work as a partnership with others of similar calling in the service of the one who promised, “I will build my church… .”  Instead, they approach their ministry as if they are competing with other pastors and churches for recognition and “market share.” The pressure to perform—to succeed—is often debilitating, resulting in exhaustion and burnout from the constant pursuit of “the next new thing” that might work in their situation. Many eventually give up, succumb to the “greener grass” syndrome, and look for something better elsewhere.

What is the measure of success within much of the American church community? Apparently, as with most ventures in a free enterprise system, the mark of success is size and growth. We are conditioned to believe that no philosophy of ministry is successful unless it produces crowds and generates revenue. The problem with size as the mark of success, however, is that it requires indiscriminate application. All big things are alike successful, at least in theory. The largest ministry is the most successful.

Of course no one really believes that, not even, or perhaps especially, the leaders of “competing” ministries. Any conscientious observer recognizes the inconsistency in lauding the success of a ministry built on questionable fiscal policies, no matter how large or influential it has become. And should mega-churches that represent divergent, even contradictory, doctrinal distinctives and methodological approaches really be regarded as equally successful?

Still, our culture equates growth with success, and the American Christian community has embraced that idea with enthusiasm. When size is the mark of success, then the leader of a large ministry organization or the pastor of a large church achieves a measure of influence which he exploits through writing books and speaking at conferences. Especially in the Evangelical community, which lacks the ecclesiastical hierarchy of communions such as Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, these mega-church pastors and ministry superstars become the authority figures for millions of Christians.

Never mind that much of their “success” has come from being in the right place at the right time. Never mind that the proponents of contradictory teachings are alike claiming the blessing of God on their endeavors. Never mind that their accomplishments owe as much to marketing techniques and savvy public relations as to the application of the teachings of Jesus. They are the authorities. When they speak, we listen, and when they outline a program for advancing the gospel and building the church, we sign on.

Meanwhile, nonChristians are not impressed. Their hearing dulled by the cacophony of voices purporting to speak for God, and their vision blurred by the myriad of tactics employed to gain their attention, they are, ironically, turning away from the church. They are bewildered by the clamor and contradiction, the inconsistency and hypocrisy so characteristic of American Christianity. Even nonbelievers agree with St. Paul that “God is not the author of confusion.”

Not only are nonChristians spurning the church. A growing number of former church members, disillusioned with the carnival atmosphere surrounding contemporary American Christianity and its cafeteria-line approach to doctrine and discipleship, have joined the ranks of those for whom church attendance is no longer meaningful.

These ex-attenders are not the typical “entertain me or I’ll leave” brand of perennial church-hoppers who flitter around the periphery and eventually disappear altogether. They are, in fact, just the opposite. Many of them grew up in church and possess a genuine and vibrant faith. They have concluded, however, and reluctantly in many cases, that American Christianity does not fairly or accurately represent the character of Jesus Christ or of the “faith once delivered to the saints.”

They are discouraged by the lack of Christian unity and the competitive climate so much a part of contemporary American Christianity. They are dismayed by the elaborate media technology and showmanship upon which so much church programming depends. They are discomfited by the star-quality which attaches to so many Christian personalities and which so many others pursue. They are embarrassed by the superficiality and inconsistency which they see in their leaders, in their fellow Christians, and in themselves. And they are confused by the diversity of admonition and instruction, much of it contradictory, with which they are barraged in print, from pulpits, and over the airwaves.

And can you blame them? I mean, how are we supposed to determine which of the competing visions we should embrace? Whose definition of the gospel do we accept? Which version of Christian discipleship do we find most compelling and for what reasons? And perhaps the most important question of all—which model for growing the church and making disciples is most consistent with the teaching and example of Jesus?

Contemporary American society is based on an ethos of acquiring and consuming. Bigger is better. Wealth is power, and power is wealth. Many of the voices speaking for God in twenty-first century America trumpet a version of the gospel which seems very much at home in this culture. They have concluded that it is possible to have “all this and Jesus too.”

But is that realistic? Is a culture based on acquisition and consumption really compatible with the message of one who owned nothing and called His disciples to a life of self-sacrifice and “cross-bearing?” Does American Christianity honestly and consistently reflect the character and values of its founder? Or has it uncritically accommodated itself to the values and ethos of a consumer society?

This post is deliberately diagnostic in tone. At the same time, it is neither a critique of all church-growth theory nor a condemnation of all large ministries and their influential leaders. I am neither a sociologist nor a historian. I am an evangelical Christian, formerly a Mennonite college teacher and pastor, and now an Anglican priest. Despite the description of American Christianity in this post, my life is devoted to Christ and His church.

I once heard somebody say, “You are not caught in traffic; you are traffic.” Similarly, I am not simply surrounded by the problem I describe here. In too many ways, I am part of the problem. But I prefer to be part of the solution, and that is precisely what I will address in future posts.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.