When Idealism Crashes into the Messiness of the Church

A Fellowship of DifferentsIn his book A Fellowship of Differents, Scot McKnight, professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary, unpacks the unfortunate process of folks who idealize Christian community, refusing to make space for the messiness that comes with human relationships. He writes about a common pattern, or process, that we often see when their idealism crashes into the realities of life in the church:

  1. They read the NT carefully.
  2. They discover the glories of what the church could, or should, be.
  3. They start all over again with a vision of the church.
  4. They experience problems achieving the vision.
  5. They get discouraged.
  6. They withdraw from church.
  7. They start another church with a new-and-improved vision.
  8. They soon find fewer and fewer like-minded souls.
  9. They do church at home alone.

The idealism of the church will inevitably lead us to isolation if we do not learn how to deal with our disillusionment with the church. The church is a messy place, but it is a place where we walk together in the grace and truth of God in Christ.

If we are looking for the ideal church, it’s important to remember that it ceases to be ideal the moment we walk into it.

The Weekend Wanderer: 11 August 2018

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


Chabros“God at the Margins (Part 1 of 3)” – My dear friends, Michal and John Chabo, share their story of God’s faithfulness in the midst of the challenging environment of Syria. You do not want to miss this amazing story from these two wonderful men. You will also enjoy finding out more about their work with Chabros Music, including leading worship at many churches and telling their story as an encouragement to others.


HybelsThe ongoing saga at Willow Creek Community Church continued to heat up with the August 5 New York Times article “He’s a Superstar Pastor. She Worked for Him and Says He Groped Her Repeatedly.” Shortly before this, Lead Teaching Pastor Steve Carter announced his immediate resignation in protest of the way the women who have come forward have been treated (read his “A Diverging Path”). Then, on Wednesday night, Lead Pastor Heather Larson announced her immediate resignation, and that the entire Willow Creek Board of Elders would be steeping down. If you don’t know the entire story about what has come forth in regards to former Senior Pastor Bill Hybels and the way in which leadership of Willow Creek handled accusations of sexual misconduct, take a look at Scot McKnight’s recent post in this regard. You may also benefit from reading Mel Lawrenz’s reflections on what this speaks into the lives of leaders.


Indianapolis“These 15 U.S. Cities Have the Most Churches” – While this article was created by basically dividing city populations by the number of church buildings that exist there and not something more complicated, it is still interesting to take a look at this list of fifteen cities that have the most church buildings in the US. You will probably be surprised by number 2. [Thanks to Warren Bird for sharing this article.]


83011“Rwanda Restricts Fasting as 8,000 Churches Closed” – This is not what you’d typically expect to see within a news headline, but the government of Rwanda has been addressing lack of training and safety concerns in churches and mosques in recent months. “About 8,000 official and unofficial churches, as well as 100 mosques, have been closed in Rwanda for failing to comply with health, safety, and noise regulations. This includes 4 in 10 congregations belonging to a nationwide association of 3,300 Pentecostal churches.”


savs-504074-unsplash-e1525470662382-770x400“A Letter from the Angry Black Woman in Your Pew”Lysaundra Campbell at The Witness speaks out: “This is not a time for performative theological discussions that do not result in action. We do not need a conference, panel discussion, or one-time awareness training about gender-based violence. If our conferences, panels, and pulpits are cultivating a culture that mirrors the broader society and diminishes the value of black women and girls through racism and sexism, we have a much deeper heart issue.”


EvangelicalImmigrationTableLOGO“Citing Religious Liberty, Evangelical Leaders Urge Trump Administration to Support Refugee Resettlement” – Evangelical Christian leaders have sent a letter asking the Trump administration to raise the refugee ceiling, citing religious liberty and our nation’s history of offering safe haven to people fleeing religious persecution. Signatories express deep concern that further cuts to the U.S. refugee resettlement program would harm religious freedom internationally. The letter was sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback.


82941“The Truth About the Catholic Church and Slavery” – Rodney Stark takes on one of the most-debated issues in relation to the culpability of the Roman Catholic Church in relation to the international slave trade. The claim that Christians were actively involved in promulgating slavery is beyond debate. However, Stark suggest that the role of the institutional church and its teaching came against that much more clearly and much earlier than often claimed.


Insert-ghost-“Ghosts on the Shore” – “Japanese awareness of ghosts – yūrei – goes back centuries, rooted in ideas of justice and injustice, and in a fear of unfinished business. If a person’s spirit is looked after at death, by a family providing a proper funeral, praying for that person, and visiting the grave, then the deceased is able to pass peacefully into the next world. From there, the dead look out for their still-living relatives, providing help and protection. Every year, in summer, they return to this world, welcomed by their families at the festival of Obon with food and drink, fireworks and dancing.” [Thanks to Micah Mattix and Prufrock News for sharing this.]


[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Books of the Year?

book pile
One of my favorite bloggers, Dr. Scot McKnight of Northern Seminary, offered his picks for the top books of the year today on his blog, Jesus Creed. It’s worth a look for those who enjoy biblical and theological studies.

He mentions one of the books that I would consider in my top five, Tim Keller’s Center Church, as well as a number of other fascinating books. His top pick was one that I hadn’t heard of yet.

He writes:

Every year we choose Books of the Year for the Jesus Creed readers, and this year’s choices are a bumper crop — but also see the note at the end of this post. We sample books in a variety of areas. I hope you enjoy our choices.

Book of the Year: David Swarz, The Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism. Swarz unveils a history largely ignored, a history of a movement that has a decisive impact on the church today, and which is (so I think) destined to have a bigger impact in the next two decades. Exceptionally well researched; clear prose; focuses on people and their impact….[read more here]

What about you? What has been the best new book, whether fiction or non-fiction, that you have encountered during this past year?

What is Fasting?

Fasting is simply voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes. It is the opportunity to express to God in a very tangible way that we need Him more than anything else, even a physical meal. Fasting is always accompanied by focused prayer.

How Long is a Fast?

When you read the Bible, you will find various time-lengths of fasting. Esther, a Jewish Queen, called the people of Israel to fast for three days when she was facing a challenging situation (Esther 4:16). Daniel fasted for three weeks after receiving a vision from God (Daniel 10:2-3). The prophet Joel called the nation to one day of fasting and prayer in response to God’s judgment of their sin (Joel 1:14; 2:15). Jesus fasted for forty days as a way of preparing for His public ministry (Matthew 4:1-3). The Apostle Paul fasted for three days after encountering the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:9). The church at Antioch launched Paul and Barnabas out on their church-planting mission after a short time of prayer and fasting (Acts 13:2).

What Food or Drink is Involved in Fasting?

While there are different types of fasts in Scripture, fasting usually involves abstinence from all food and drink except water. This is typically called a ‘total fast’. There are some places in the Bible where people participate in partial fasts for a variety of reasons. The most memorable is Daniel and his colleagues who abstained from the royal foods in Babylon for spiritual reasons (Daniel 1:8-14).

If you are new to fasting, Richard Foster (author of Celebration of Discipline) offers some very helpful advice about: start easier with a partial fast (some food and juices to drink) and then work your way up to a total fast from food with only water to drink.

Quotations on Fasting

Here are a series of definitions of fasting by respected leaders in the church:

“Abstaining from food for spiritual purposes.” – Richard Foster[1]

“Fasting is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life.” – Scot McKnight[2]

“A fast is the self-denial of normal necessities in order to intentionally attend to God in prayer. Bringing attachments and cravings to the surface opens a place for prayer. This physical awareness of emptiness is the reminder to turn to Jesus who alone can satisfy.” – Adele Ahlberg Calhoun[3]

“Simply defined fasting is the act of doing without something in order to put more focus on God.” – David Drury.[4]

“Fasting, if we conceive of it truly, must not only be confined to the question of food and drink; fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose. There are many bodily functions which are right and perfectly legitimate, but which for special peculiar reasons in certain circumstances should be controlled. That is fasting. There, I suggest, is a kind of general definition of what is meant by fasting.” – Martyn Lloyd-Jones.[5]

“The self-denial of normal necessities in order to intentionally attend to God in prayer. Usually associated with food, but it could be from people, the media, phone, sleep, or even shopping.” – Steve Sonderman (in sermon “Becoming a Person of Prayer”)

[1] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, rev. ed. (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1988), 48.

[2] Scot McKnight, Fasting (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), xx.

[3] Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 219.

[4] David Drury, The Fruitful Life: What Will I Be Remembered For?, 2nd ed. (Spring Lake, MI: Spring Lake Wesleyan Church, 2004), 128.

[5] In Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1991), 160.

Counterfeit Gods – Tim Keller

Tim Keller, pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian in New York and author of many outstanding books such as The Prodigal God and The Reason for God, has just published a new book entitled Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters.

Keller is one of the pastors I respect the most for approaching crucial life and cultural issues from a deeply biblical and intellectual basis, and communicating them in ways that are widely relevant.

Listen to Tim Keller talk about his new book via the embedded video below.

You can also read some of Scot McKnight’s early comments on the book here.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer and “Life Together”

In my last sermon at Brooklife on 1 Corinthians 12 about the body of Christ and each members’ place in it, I mentioned what is in my opinion the best book on the church and true Christian community.

That book is Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran theologian, professor, and author who resisted the Nazi regime during World War II. He paid for his resistance with his life at the age of 39 near the end of the war in 1945.

Scot McKnight, an excellent commentator on the faith, has recently written six reflections on Bonhoeffer on his blog that I think are insightful, as well as a helpful introduction to this great book.

If you have the interest and time, why not take a visit to his blog to read more here.