This Little Church Had None

(November 2008 – Volume 14, Issue 12)  Ever since my college days I have enjoyed the study of philosophy. It is fascinating to delve into the reasoning of thinkers like Plato, Descartes or Kant and study how they piece life together. However, I have always deliberated on these philosophies from a biblical vantage point. That is, I have found their ideas interesting yet largely flawed in light of the teachings of Scripture. But I have often thought, as I examined the writings of such philosophers, about the reaction of unbelievers to the same concepts. For one thing is very noticeable about philosophies – they are constantly changing. As each new philosopher comes along he rejects the previous philosopher. Each generation considers the last generation, with its set of ideas, systems of thought and social structures, as passé, seemingly not recognizing that the next generation will cast the same censorious comments...

Willow Creek’s Big Adventure

(December 2007 – Volume 13, Issue 12)  It has been a tough year for the Willow Creek Community Church, the flagship congregation of the “seeker-sensitive” movement. Most know that Willow Creek has set the pace for 30 years in its redesign of the local church. More recently Rick Warren, and his Saddleback Community Church, have stolen the spotlight from Willow and, to some degree, eclipsed its influence on new paradigm churches. But rest assured, Willow, along with its Willow Creek Association, which boasts 12,000 member churches from 90 denominations, is still charting the way for those who look to felt-needs, surveys, the latest innovations and market strategy, instead of Scripture, for their structuring of the local church. When Willow speaks, church leaders listen. When Willow marches out a new product or method, churches around the globe fall in line. Whatever Willow promotes others emulate. So, as I said, it...

Will the Real Church Please Stand Up?

(June 2004 – Volume 10, Issue 6)  Tinker Bell was dying. Her little light had all but flickered out and Peter Pan stood helplessly by. What could be done to save Tinker Bell? Peter had no medicine and there was no doctor in the house. But Tinker had an idea: she thought she could get well again if children believed in fairies. Peter immediately cried out to all the dreaming children everywhere, “Do you believe? If you believe, clap your hands; don’t let Tink die.” As the dreaming children all over the world clapped, Tinker Bell revived and was soon as healthy and robust as ever. Apparently sometimes, at least with imaginary fairies, all that is needed for flourishing health is having enough people believe in you. I wonder if this approach could be adopted by the evangelical church community – or perhaps already has been. If enough Christians believed...

The Market-Driven Church – Part 4

(September 2000 – Volume 6, Issue 9)  Counterfeit money is recognized by those who know how to identify the real thing. Before we examine the gospel message found in the new paradigm churches, it would be best to examine the gospel message found in the Bible. The gospel message in a nutshell is this: Harry (to use Willow Creek’s name for the unsaved) is a sinner, in full-blown rebellion against God (Rom. 3:23; 5:1-12). While some Harrys are outwardly religious and some even desire the gifts and benefits that God can supply, no Harrys truly seek after God or desire Him (Rom. 3:10-18). As a result of Harry’s sinfulness he is under the wrath of God (Rom. 1:18), faces future judgment (Heb. 9:27), will die both physically and spiritually (Rom. 6:23) and will spend eternity in hell (Rev. 20:11-15). It is because of Harry’s hopeless plight, and the fact that...

The Market-Driven Church – Part 3

(August 2000 – Volume 6, Issue 8)  We Are Driven Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church in Orange County, California, has written the definitive book promoting the market-driven concept of evangelism and church growth. The Purpose-Driven Church, which admittedly has a considerable amount of practical and helpful advice, nevertheless is laced with a felt-need philosophy that undermines, in my opinion, the value of the whole book. It is Warren’s view that in order to reach the lost we must begin with their felt needs (p. 197ff). He writes, “ anybody can be won to Christ if you discover the key to his or her heart” (p.219). In order to discover the felt needs of the Saddleback Valley citizens he orchestrated a community survey of the unchurched (p.139). Once those needs were discovered, a program was implemented to reach the community by offering Jesus Christ, the gospel, and the...

The Market-Driven Church – Part 2

(July 2000 – Volume 6, Issue 7)  David Wells bemoans concerning the new paradigm church, “Much of it…is replete with tricks, gadgets, gimmicks, and marketing ploys as it shamelessly adapts itself to our emptied-out, blinded, postmodern world. … There is too little about it that bespeaks the holiness of God. And without the vision for any reality of this holiness, the gospel becomes trivialized, life loses its depth, God becomes transformed into a product to be sold, faith into a recreational activity to be done, and the Church into a club for the like-minded” (Losing Our Virtue, by David Wells, p. 180). Damaging accusations; are they true? The standard rhetoric coming from new paradigm churches is that they teach the same message, the same gospel, as the more traditional evangelical churches, they differ only in methodology and philosophy of ministry. Lee Strobel (former Teaching Pastor at Willow Creek Community Church)...

The Market-Driven Church – Part 1

(June 2000 – Volume 6, Issue 6)  At the first tee, with great optimism and hope, I take a mighty cut at my Top Flight #2. I eagerly look up, fully expecting to watch that little white ball soar 250 yards straight up the fairway, only to find that I have hooked it into the woods on the left. Determined not to repeat such an “uncharacteristic” performance, I correct my swing a bit at the second tee only to slice the ball into the water on the right. By the third hole, I’m sure, I have all the bugs worked out. Taking a swing that Tiger Woods would envy, and that blows leaves off trees fifty yards away, I am amazed to find that I have topped the ball, causing it to dribble harmlessly almost to the ladies’ tee about twenty-five yards away. Frustrated, fully humbled, and deciding that keeping...

The Kingdom of Emergent Theology – Part 3

(November 2007 – Volume 13, Issue 11)  In our last two papers we have examined the emerging church’s distortion of the kingdom and its impact on the gospel. In this paper we will explore what Scripture teaches about the kingdom of God. A Biblical Understanding of the Kingdom Acts 1:3 informs us that during the 40 days in which Jesus was making appearances following the resurrection He spoke to the apostles concerning the kingdom of God. We are uncertain about exactly what He said but we know the kingdom was at the heart of His discussions with them during that time. In verse six Jesus is preparing to depart the earth and they have one question for Him, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel ?” While we do not know precisely what Jesus had told them about the kingdom we do pick up...

The Kingdom of Emergent Theology – Part 2

(October 2007 – Volume 13, Issue 10)  Having seen in our last paper the emerging church distortion of the kingdom of God, we move on this time to discuss its effect on the gospel. The Effect on the Gospel It is not surprising with this understanding of the kingdom of God that David Gushee in a recent Christianity Today article asks, “Is it permissible to reopen the question of salvation?” While Gushee follows up his question with some things worth pondering, he states that when “Jesus was asked about the criteria for admission to eternity, he offered a fourfold answer: love God with all that you are, love your neighbor (like the Samaritan loved his neighbor), do God’s will by obeying his moral commands, and be willing, if he asks, to drop everything and leave it behind in order to follow him.” While Gushee is confusing salvation with sanctification –...

The Kingdom of Emergent Theology – Part 1

(September 2007 – Volume 13, Issue 9)  It has been claimed that Sigmund Freud enjoyed telling his followers a story of a pastor who visited an atheist insurance agent who was on his death bed. The family had asked the pastor to share the gospel with their dying loved one as they waited in another room. As the conversation continued longer than expected there was hope that the pastor was being successful in his mission. When the pastor finally emerged from the bedroom it was discovered that the agent had not converted to Christ but he had been able to sell the pastor an insurance policy. While Freud used the illustration to warn his fellow psychoanalysts to stay true to their beliefs, Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary, from whom I obtained this account, has another application to offer. While a most unlikely source (in my opinion) to offer the...