Friday, September 28, 2007

The Man Who May Have Saved the World

I wonder how many of you know the name Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov. If you don't, you need to read this article. Because he may well have saved your life, as well as the world as we currently know it.

I'm not going to recap the whole article, but on September 26, 1983, at a time of extremely high tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, Strategic Rocket Forces Lieutenant Colonel Petrov was on duty, monitoring the Soviet satellite early-warning network. His responsibilities included alerting his supierors of any impending nuclear missile attack. On that night, he received a computer report that indicated a nuclear missile being launched from the United States and headed toward Moscow. Reasoning that the US would not have launched a single missile, he--did nothing. But then the computers indicated more missiles, five altogether. Petrov still chose not to respond. In the end, Petrov turned out to be right. But being right came at a price. He was sent into early retirement with a poverty-level pension, and into a nervous breakdown, for breaking military protocol.

There is debate concerning whether Petrov's actions actually averted all-out nuclear war. The Soviets maintain that Petrov didn't actually have his finger on the proverbial "button," and that the lack of corroborating evidence would have prevented any missile launch on their part. But the decision would have had to be made in a matter of seconds or minutes. Who knows?

I guess this affects me strongly because I wonder how those of us who were supporters of a tough stance during the Cold War would have felt if we had known about this incident. How would we have felt if one of the officers in our bunkers had made the same judgment call? (Who knows but what some of them did?) Did we really take seriously the possibility of an accidental war?

It's easy to take positions based on ideology, or being tough, or sincerely believing that we're in the right. But we need to think through, really think through, the implications and possible consequences of our positions. Because there may be more riding on them than we had thought.

HT: Jollyblogger

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Death of Worship as Evangelism?

Just read a killer article: Sally Morgenthaler's "Worship as Evangelism," in the Next-Wave e-zine. Not all I agree with: the extended quote of an unchurched journalist lampooning a contemporary worship service, and the all-too-familiar accusation that we're all just looking for "an excuse not to do the hard work of real outreach" (evidently only extroverts are real Christians). But there is compelling stuff there:

  • a survey of what has been going on in the last 20 years with the seeker-sensitive/worship-driven model of church growth;
  • the irrefutable stats that show us that "For all the money, time, and effort we've spent on cultural relevance—and that includes culturally relevant worship—it seems we came through the last 15 years with a significant net loss in churchgoers";
  • the fact that churches that think they're reaching the unchurched are finding that only a tiny percentage of their congregations are actually from an unchurched background.
The seeker-sensitive movement had it right that if someone is going to visit your church, it will likely be on a Sunday morning (although that isn't really all that exclusively true, it seems to me). But that has very little to do with reaching people who never visit a church at all, who don't think that church is relevant to their lives. Frankly, there is nothing in Scripture that remotely suggests that the gatherings of believers is a primary evangelism opportunity, or that we should structure our services in order to be evangelistic. The closest you can get is Paul using the synagogue service to introduce Jewish worshipers to Jesus the Messiah. But he was bringing that in from the outside, and the inevitable result was getting expelled from the synagogue, and worse. So that's not really a model for churches to follow. The gathering of believers together was for an entirely different purpose: to strengthen, unify, build up, teach, and equip believers to live out their faith in the larger world when they were not gathered together.

I'm the last person to pretend to have the answers regarding evangelism and church growth. But it seems to me that real evangelism happens almost exclusively outside the church walls, by people who are especially gifted for that type of ministry, and also by people who are really excited about their own Christian lives, about what God is doing in them. People will naturally share what they're genuinely excited about. It can't be hyped into people, and it can't be guilted into them either. It has to be a God-thing, and we need to be seeking God to restore and rejuvenate that excitement. Because if it's not working for us, why would we invite anyone else to try it?

If you like this post, you may be interested in my book, What's Wrong with Outreach?

What's Wrong with Outreach?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Earl Creps on Missional Fatigue

There's an interesting post from Earl Creps regarding people who once attended missional congregations and then left for more traditional church environments. Since Creps has identified largely with the emergent and missional foci, and is about to plant a church on the UC Berkeley campus, it would have been easy for him to dismiss these people as simply unwilling to pursue the real mission of the church. But he doesn't do that. Both the post and the ensuing discussion are worthy of a serious read.

Also, Creps writes about some positive experiences he had in doing some workshops for the Southern Baptist Convention. Since I've got some SBC friends out there through this blog, I thought my AG and SBC friends might enjoy reading this. One good quote here:

Southern Baptists are as confused as we are: comparing notes on our annual meetings, districts, and autonomous churches, I discovered that the AoG and the SBC have some things in common. We are both trying to sort out how to amplify the efforts of thousands of independent churches through concerted action. It's a jungle out there.

I'm writing this blog because those of us within denominations easily fall prey to the idea that our organization is just the worst thing out there. We have so many problems and so many critics that some days negative thinking can become almost an obsession. Talking honestly with anyone from another group is a wonderful antidote to organizational anxiety. We really do share the same challenges.
Good stuff.

If you like this post, you may be interested in my book, What's Wrong with Outreach?

What's Wrong with Outreach?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Good News

Out in the painfully bright sunlight
Among the wandering hordes of people--
How does one go about it?

Telling the tale, of what one learned
In the cave and the cathedral,
Of the sky and the ghost

And the death and the life.
Sounds like gibberish to my own ears,
How much more to barbarians!

It's caught in my throat;
I'm no linguist, no interpreter.
Blame the messenger, not the message.

Tony Snow on Cancer's Unexpected Blessings

Tony Snow has a really great article in Christianity Today. Here's a taste:
The moment you enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, things change. You discover that Christianity is not something doughy, passive, pious, and soft. Faith may be the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But it also draws you into a world shorn of fearful caution. The life of belief teems with thrills, boldness, danger, shocks, reversals, triumphs, and epiphanies. Think of Paul, traipsing though the known world and contemplating trips to what must have seemed the antipodes (Spain), shaking the dust from his sandals, worrying not about the morrow, but only about the moment.
The whole thing is really good. Check it out.


Friday, September 07, 2007

Trying to Understand Mother Teresa's Spiritual Struggles

I've been trying to get my head around the recently publicized revelations regarding Mother Teresa. People whom I've read seem to be able to assimilate this information into their already-held worldview without much difficulty; I'm having a more difficult time with it. That's not because I can't identify with such feelings of spiritual abandonment. But making sense of it is a more difficult proposition. The options seem to be these:
  1. The Athiestic Option: Teresa didn't feel God's presence because there is no God whose presence could be felt. Christian writers that I've seen have accused athiests of exploiting this situation for propaganda purposes, but really, you have to admit that athiests have Ockham's Razor on this one.

  2. The "She Wasn't Saved" Option: Teresa didn't feel God's presence because she didn't truly know Jesus as her savior. I've read people say that others have come to this conclusion; I haven't read anyone write this themselves. Probably I don't frequent those types of sites. For a reason.

  3. The Bad Theology Option: Teresa didn't feel God's presence because she held to a works-centered theology rather than a faith-centered theology. If only she had come to Luther's epiphany, she would have realized that she didn't have to do all that she did to earn God's favor; He is only pleased with our faith.

    The thing that strikes me about those who would contend #3 (usually in combination with #2) is that many of them tend to ridicule present-day spiritual experience. All that ended when the Apostle John died. We now have The Closed Canon, through which (through only which) we can experience God and hear from Him. If we deny this, we deny Sola Scriptura, which leads to an open-ended New Age how-can-we-be-sure-of-anything yada yada yada. So a lack of spiritual experience proves them right, and Teresa wrong. Uh huh.

  4. The "Great Saints Fight Great Battles" Option: Teresa didn't feel God's presence because God was allowing her to go through a particularly strong trial, for reasons we may speculate on but ultimately are known only to Him. She was identifying with Jesus' passion; she was identifying with the spiritual darkness of those whom she was ministering to; she had to go through this in order to continue with the work she had been given.

  5. The "Teresa's Struggle Is Our Struggle" Option: Teresa was simply inordinately forthright with her confessors about a common spiritual malady. I've seen people write that they are using her book as a devotional, that she is spiritually inspiring. I can understand how realizing that we are not alone in our struggles can be a comfort, and that that comfort may be even more pronounced when the one who shares our struggles is noteworthy; but I find it hard to find any joy in the misery of a fellow human being, especially a fellow believer who has devoted her life to God's service.

    The last two items, it seems, cancel each other out. Either Teresa was unique, or she represented all of us. She can't have been both. Moreover, if she represented all (or a significant number) of us, doesn't that really just support the idea of #1? I'm not saying I agree with #1; I'm just saying Ockham's Razor, blah blah blah. This is particularly difficult for someone in my spiritual tradition--Pentecostal--that emphasizes the present-day experience of God's presence.

  6. The Psychological Option: Teresa didn't experience God's presence because she had some psychological need to compensate for her success. She had to punish herself, or give herself a reason for humility, and so therefore she subconsciously contrived her entire spiritual struggle. But then that lends itself to the theory that perhaps all spiritual experience is at bottom just psychological, which leads....
You see why I'm struggling with this? It's not that I think the athiests are right; I don't. Many of us have felt God's presence, even if we also experience periods when He seems absent. Many of us can attest to objective changes in our lives as a result of God's work in us. The history of Christianity cannot be explained without at least some spiritual objective beginning. But I find it difficult to understand why the God who loves us will withhold His presence from us, especially for prolonged periods of time.

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