By In Culture

Transforming your life in an hour a week

It’s that time again – you’ve got about an hour before dinner on Saturday afternoon. What are you going to do?

It all depends on the sort of person you want to be. For we’re all now in the process of becoming who we will be in the future.

So here are a couple of options.

Option 1: Watch TV. Or play Minecraft. Or check your Twitter feed. Or something.


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By In Theology

On The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, A Review

As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Martin Luther’s 95 theses remain the most revolutionary document in Western History. Luther’s attempt to begin a conversation about indulgences provoked an ecclesiastical and sacramental revolution. This revolution reverberated through the last 500 years and will continue to do so for many centuries to come. But Luther’s theses served the purpose, unbeknownst to him, of catapulting this Augustinian monk to the center of the church’s disputes of the day. Spurred by a prolific genius, this trilinguist sought comfort in the liberating power of God’s revelation.

Luther wrote on a host of issues, but particular to his concerns, was a hunger to recover proper worship in the Church. Martin Luther’s On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church[1] is a biblical examination of the seven sacraments of the medieval church. The Luther-revolution began as he opened his Bible and examined the practices of the Church in light of scriptural teaching. The reformer was compelled “to become more and more learned each day” implying a continual testing[2] of these practices in light of his voracious commitment to the Scriptures.

For Luther, the Papacy is a “kingdom of Babylon,” twisting the clear articulation of Holy Scriptures.

In his treatise, he begins by addressing the Lord’s Supper. In direct fashion, Luther viciously attacked the church, claiming its “tyrants” were denying the laity reception of both elements. Luther argues from Paul and the Gospels that the Lord’s Supper belongs to the entire Church. (more…)

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By In Culture, Politics

Misadventures in American Evangelical Discipleship


Guest post by Scott Cress:

The current campaign season has been brutal thus far. The American people have been treated to vitriolic personal attacks, countless conspiracy theories, and two major party candidates with questionable track records. Every word has been parsed by media, and every issue has been intensified by endless social media pontificating. The only people in the country who have anything to smile about right now are political science grad students, waking to a world of endless dissertation topics.

In the coming days, church leaders have some hard work to do as well. Challenges facing us include healing the wounds in sharply divided churches and finding new ways of engaging the public square. The last few days have, however, brought to my mind one issue above all others: the current state of American evangelical discipleship.

We have watched once admired leaders engage in hypocritical power-grabbing, willing to tarnish their legacy just so evangelicals have some foothold in the White House. Maybe more frightening than this, many sincere brothers and sisters have demonstrated an anemic moral reasoning which allows them to ignore language and actions clearly condemned by Scripture. “SCOTUS is all that matters right now,” they say. “And have you seen the other person?” they add with a touch of moral indignation. These latest remarks are one more stream feeding a growing river of American evangelical resistance to criticism (think of the recent conversations involving race) and fear of appearing “liberal” on almost any issue.

Of course, I write these words as a minister of the gospel who is himself flawed. Even as I read social media comments and mourn our present condition, I am reminded of my own persistent oversights and shortcomings. I mourn over the continual ways in which my behaviors, attitudes, and thoughts are out of step with the way of Jesus. I think of the state of my own discipleship, and I question my fitness to lead the church in these challenging days.

To be certain, discipleship has been occurring in our churches. Yet the current models have been found wanting. In particular the typical pathway of American evangelical discipleship has included the following elements:

  • A basic knowledge that we are somehow forgiven by God through Jesus
  • Short Scripture readings chosen for “comfort” and “encouragement”
  • A near obsessive focus on marriage and parenting
  • Constant reminders that God is with us in our struggles
  • A working knowledge of the “Christian position” on a few social issues
  • A variety of teachings on “hearing” God’s voice

The end results have been people who know God’s forgiveness but are shaky on God’s commands. A people who love God’s encouragement but don’t quite know what to do with God’s warnings. A people who want to succeed in life (with money or marriage) but still somehow follow a guy who was crucified. A people who have tried to live the Christian life in largely individualistic terms on a diet of disconnected verses. Hence, the focus on “hearing” God’s voice – not on hearing God’s Word in Scripture proclaimed to God’s people.

Many of us have been aware of the problem of malnourished disciples for too long. Answers have been proposed. Some have suggested that we ditch the judgment and focus on inclusivity. Others have found the answer in a life of miracles and immediate divine revelation. Another group has turned to renewed Christian intellectualism to supply our needs. In many instances, the answers to the problem have proven as troublesome as the problem itself.

In these difficult days, what are church leaders concerned with the ongoing growth of God’s people to do? There are simply no curriculums or social scientific studies which will solve our problem. In fact, the answers seem to this observer to be remarkably unremarkable. As November comes and goes, I am re-committing myself to three tasks.

  1. Immerse God’s people in the reading of Scripture. – God’s people need God’s Word. It needs to be read individually, memorized, and, most critically, read and heard together in our congregations. We need more than disconnected thoughts. We need lengthy pericopes, whole chapters, Old and New Testament working together. God’s people need to wake with David. Commute to work in the company of the Exodus community. And worship God together in the words of the Psalter. Memorization is key. We need God’s Word to make its way down into our long-term memory so that it can be deployed in the course of day-to-day living. We need to memorize more than single verses but, instead, whole chapters and strings of verses addressing the same theme. We need to feast not only on a few biblical words but on whole patterns of biblical thought. And if we find that we are crunched for time, we need to be prepared to ditch the single-verse devotionals and the many books on Christian living. We can no longer afford to raise up people who know how to set boundaries but don’t know how God’s covenants develop throughout the Bible or the differences between Matthew and Mark. These resources are not bad; they are simply inadequate for our present need.
  2. Teach God’s people biblical theology. – Even as God’s Word is read, heard, and memorized, church leaders must recommit themselves to teaching the overarching narrative of Scripture. We must develop the relationships between different portions of the Bible. In our thematic studies, we must collect relevant material from a story which begins with creation, experiences the horrific consequences of the fall, tastes the glory of redemption, and culminates with the restoration of all things. Our people don’t need bits and pieces of Scripture to provide comfort in crisis. Our people need deep and sturdy understandings of biblical ideas, strong enough to sort through the bewildering landscape of modern life. Many of our heroes in the faith have led their people through verse-by-verse expository study. This approach has borne fruit, but I doubt that it currently addresses the needs of people without a significant biblical-theological framework. Every teaching time is an opportunity to reinforce the grand sweep of the narrative and to point to the redemptive work of Jesus. To be sure, not every sermon will be the same. We simply cannot miss the opportunity to teach the all-encompassing nature of the Scriptural portrait of reality.
  3. Provoke the moral imagination of God’s people. – God’s people don’t need their church leaders to feed them the answers to today’s difficult questions. The results of this approach are all around us. Approaching ethics top-down has led to imbalance in our witness to the world. For example, we are often capable of crying out against the abortion industry but incapable of addressing real and persistent racism in our communities. We compromise on some issues and justify the compromise on the basis of another issue. This has also given birth to a subtle yet insidious legalism which leaves us suspecting the salvation of anyone who speaks out of step with us on our prized ethical (and often political) issues. How can we forge a better way? We start by following the path of the first task above. God’s people – and the leaders of that people – need to be exposed to the wide range of imperative content in the Bible. The Bible has much to say about the distortion of God’s will in all areas of life – including the economic, the political, the personal, and the sexual. We need all of this material. Moreover, application in our sermons and teaching times should be designed to suggest the multitude of ways in which the Bible gets under our skin and opens up new pathways for our present walk. Don’t tell people what to do. Show them the possibilities of a life lived under God’s rule. Church history has a crucial role to play at this point. Studying the history of the Holy Spirit at work in the church shows us how the Bible has formed and shaped our mothers and fathers in the faith. What did the Bible mean for the early modern city of Geneva? How did the African slave community appropriate the story of the Exodus? How have Christians from other eras persevered in strange political environments? I would advise congregations to consider using Sunday school time or small group meetings to engage in these types of historical study. It might even help to hire a historian-in-residence, equipped to bring case studies before the eyes and minds of God’s saints.

Much more could be said and needs to be said concerning the future of American evangelical discipleship. These brief thoughts have not touched on the necessary subjects of prayer, sacraments, or evangelism. But one last thing must be mentioned. These goals are attainable. We do not need large congregations, big budgets, or advanced degrees to begin digging into the world of corporate Scripture reading and imaginative moral thinking. We do, of course, need willing hearts and ready hands; yet the possibilities lie no further than the Bible on our shelves and the people in our homes. Real ministry and real discipleship do not begin with professional musicians and bounce houses. Those things are great, but they are not the stuff of discipleship. So here’s to the future of American evangelical discipleship – far beyond the dark and troubling days of early November.


Scott Cress is Associate Pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church (EPC) in West Lafayette, IN. In addition to his pastoral work, he serves as a business chaplain and part-time lecturer with Purdue Polytechnic Institute. He is married to Shana, with whom he is raising up two little disciples of Jesus.

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By In Worship

Formality in the Lord’s Supper

How did the formal liturgical ritual of the Lord’s Supper develop in the early years of the church? More importantly, why did it do so, and should it have done so?

It is often noted at, in the very earliest days of the church, though the believers indeed gathered regularly to “break bread” together, this appears to have been a fairly informal occasion enjoyed as part of a larger meal, rather than a ritual associated with a more formal service of worship (see for example Acts 2:42-47, and possibly Luke 22 and 1 Corinthians 11). This has led some to argue against the practice now found in the vast majority of churches, where the Lord’s Supper is detached from the domestic mealtime context and located instead within a service of worship. This, they claim, represents an illegitimate development. If we want to be faithful to our Lord’s original intention, the argument runs, we should get rid of all those “churchy rituals” and instead simply have a meal together, perhaps “breaking bread” in that context.

For what it’s worth, I think it’s a great idea for the whole church to get together for meals. But the above argument doesn’t work, and it’s important to see why.


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By In Theology, Wisdom

An alternative to therapeutic theology

There are many books designed to help Christians deal with issues such as anxiety, depression, alcoholism, loneliness, (lack of) fulfilment, bereavement, grief, marital struggles, addiction, low self-esteem, and so on. Many of them are very good – I’ve read a good handful myself. However, it seems to me that there might be a more fruitful way of addressing the issues underlying these symptoms.


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By In Culture

My Cell Phone Love Affair

14590352_10155294919678989_1255291463977345769_nResearchers have determined that we have a problem. Yet we cavalierly attempt to rationalize our ways acting as if everything is just fine. But it’s a subtle problem. It’s barely noticeable because our lives are wrapped up in it. I speak of that technological innovation known as the cell phone. For all its charm and effectiveness, it has left us desolate for attention and craving for more of it. Like a drug, it smiles upon us and gives us the image we want of ourselves.

When I first pointed this out some time ago, folks reacted in humorous opposition: “I had to check social media on my cell to read your critique of cell phone usage.” Of course, this is not a contradiction. I am articulating in opposition to the excessive use of cell phones, not the occasional “catch-up,” or pragmatic use thereof. I am no more contradicting myself than CNN does when it reports that according to researchers watching too much TV can cause long-term damage. The means is simply a popular avenue to communicate ideas, even if these ideas contradict the excessive use of the means.

Ultimately, this is about stewardship. You can use it wisely or not. I can quote Neil Postman on Facebook, though Postman would probably be unhappy about its overwhelming use in our day. The means does not negate the message. And the message is that too much of the means can be harmful for you. As Luther once observed, “The Abuse of something is not an argument against its proper use.” We need to understand that using something does not negate the reality that that something can be abused. (more…)

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By In Family and Children, Music

Why Don’t Men Sing in Church?

Why are men not singing in Church? Various articles have attempted to answer that question recently. But before we can try to offer a rationale for such a spectacular question, we need to observe that some are entirely comfortable allowing this trend to continue. After all, music plays a minimal role in their worship expressions. Others find the issue of congregational singing irrelevant due to the trained praise bands that lead worship each Sunday. “Let the professionals lead.”

Certain environments encourage people to hear and feel the music rather than sing it. And some groups have placed such high priority on the preached word that the very idea of a singing congregation seems secondary, if not tertiary in the priority list.

But on to better things.

Fortunately, there are a vast amount of churches and leaders that still treasure congregational singing and long for a time when men return to the old-fashioned task of singing God’s melodies. The cruel reality is that we are far from the mark. In my many visits to evangelical churches over the years, the few men who opened their mouths, timidly read the words like a child attempting to spell out his phonics assignment.

Timid singers make for timid Christians. (more…)

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