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Redeemer Church

Redeemer Church
Looking for a church in the Omaha area? Come check out ours on Sunday mornings at 11!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Vacuum Salesmen and Hell: A Parable

Last summer my wife and I went to the Nebraska State Fair so I could eat my first deep-fried Twinkie. It was worth the price of admission, price of Twinkie, and all future heart problems. While we were there we made our way to the exhibitors hall, where all the cool gadgets are peddled. These are the sorts of products that are cool enough that people will buy them at first glance, but not reliable enough that Wal-Mart or Target would stand behind them. I believe the strategy is make a good sell then flee town before your product falls apart.

While we were there, we were drawn in by an air purifier/humidifier that was free if we agreed to let a vacuum salesman come to our house and give us a 45 minute demonstration of his product. So after he came and gave us his 90 minute demonstration, I was still unconvinced. He tried every angle: need ("look at all these germs and allergens your breathing and living in"), benefit ("this will save you money in the long run over carpet and upholstery cleanings, allergy medicines, etc."), and guilt ("I've got a family, I'm just trying to provide for them. Don't waste my time"). He almost parted me with $4,000 when he showed my wife a thin, black cloth with a pile of what he vacuumed out of our couch. He should have been ashamed for playing on the fears of an already-neurotic, pregnant woman.

I was reminded of our vacuum salesman incident (as we now call it) today while reading Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. Don't worry, this is not a post on the emergent church. However, this did jog my memory: "On the emergent end I think people are afraid that Christians are using hell as a sales tool to get people to buy into Christianity, and I think that should be avoided". It got me thinking of the salesman. While I agreed with his premise that we needed to be free of all the dust mites, dead skin cells, allergens, and germs in our life, I just couldn't get over the cost. When he asked for references of others he could pitch to, I certainly did not want to be the one responsible for afflicting anyone else with what I just went through. Not only that, but his approach colored my opinion of other salesmen.

Hell is a reality just like dust mites, dead skin cells, allergens, and germs (my wife would probably suggest they are synonymous). Certainly not equal in magnitude and severity, but roll with my analogy. Even if people agree with our premise that hell exists and should be avoided, many of them just can't get over the cost. When this happens, our approach and conduct up to this point will determine largely how they think of Christianity afterwards. Will they feel that we had a genuine concern for them or that we just wanted to "seal the deal"? Will they want to spend more time around Christians or less? Will they come and seek you out when their life gets too messy dirty or will they go to someone else?

I am not suggesting that our Gospel presentation should just be "hell avoidance". Indeed, the Gospel, in its essentials, need not include hell at all. But when we do talk about hell, how is it handled? Are we presenting the Gospel like our vacuum salesman, just using the idea of hell to scare, coerce and intimidate? Are people being scared away from Christianity for fear that they will have to adopt similar tactics in being Gospel salesmen if they buy in? Is my impersonal and calloused approach coloring their opinion of not only me but other Christians and even Christ? The Gospel is offensive enough without us adding offense to it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Book Review: True For You but Not For Me by Paul Copan

Ten years ago Paul Copan addressed and challenged the post-modernity of our culture in his book True For You but Not For Me. Somehow that book had slipped under my radar and it was only upon the release of the new revised and expanded edition that I discovered it.

Thank goodness for revised and expanded editions.

This short and smart book reads like a practical field-guide for dealing with the challenges of moral relativism and religious pluralism that face Christianity today. While each chapter builds on the foundation laid by previous chapters, each is easily referenced by type and specific challege for a brush-up if one is in need of a quick response. As a philosopher, Copan is well equipped to both understand and deconstruct the false assumptions and faulty logic of some of the more extreme forms of postmodernism. At the end of every chapter is a summary in a few bullet points for easy review and a list of recommended books for further study.

This is, in short, the most concise handbook for addressing our culture's postmodern-influenced relativism that I have read. The information contained in this book should not just be read. It should be memorized if we are to present Christianity in a way that is clear, rational, reasonable, and winsome.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Book Review: Satan and His Kingdom by Dennis McCallum

As embarrassed as I am to admit this, my thinking on Satan and demons has almost solely been shaped by Lewis' Screwtape Letters and Peretti's This Present Darkness. Until now. Dennis McCallum has written a much needed work for Christian literature in Satan and His Kingdom. It is well studied, biblically balanced, and very readable.

While it may not be at the top of my list of recommended reads for the new Christian, it most certainly is for anyone in church leadership. Dennis McCallum is frank about spiritual warfare being fought around us and the tendency of most Christians to fall into a "peacetime mentality". While he is not seeing demons around every corner and behind every temptation, McCallum is honest and strongly biblical about the existence and activity of spiritual beings opposed to God and his children.

Many Christians are too quick to attribute every temptation and conflict to Satan and his minions ("The devil made me do it" type of people) rather than our own sinful tendencies and the system of the world. Others ignore their reality to the point of verging on naturalism. Dennis McCallum is a fresh voice bringing balance and biblical insight into the all too real battle going on around us.

If I have one criticism, it is that after a couple chapters of such subject matter, I felt like I needed to cleanse my palate, put the book down, and read the Bible. But I think McCallum would be happy with that.

Book Review: The Hole In Our Gospel by Richard Stearns

While the gospel of social justice is a popular topic today, it is refreshing to read a presentation of the Gospel that gives both spiritual transformation and social justice its biblical due. Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, has written a compelling book that pulls the blinders off of our comfortable, American Christianity. While social justice was given the bulk of the attention here, this is due to Stearns' sense of it's utter neglect in the Gospel of many evangelicals.

This book read like a half autobiography/half World Vision sponsor video script, neither of which I particularly enjoy but both of which I found compelling. And certainly, when there is such abject poverty and suffering in our world, and when we live in such opulence by comparison, we do not deserve to enjoy everything we read.

I was not convinced by some of Stearns' arguments from the Bible. I am still of the mind that Jesus' proclamation of good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and release of the oppressed was primarily (though not solely) referring to the spiritually poor, imprisoned, blind, and oppressed. Case in point: how many prisoners did Jesus free? Not even John the Baptist was freed by Jesus.

However, much of Stearns' offering was well-reasoned and biblically supported. World Vision's founder, Bob Pierce, famously prayed, "Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God." How will this ever be true if we blind ourselves to the things that break the heart of God?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

In defense of religion?!!

It is refreshing to hear a couple well-spoken guys defending religion in the public arena. I have personally voiced my opinion on the pariah that the word "religion" has become. Now Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck are doing the same, not only through Christian publishers (see Why We Love the Church), but through the mainstream media as well.

From the Washington Post: "Here's what Bono, Oprah, and the guru speakers on PBS won't tell you: Jesus believed in organized religion and he founded an institution. Of course, Jesus had no patience for religious hacks and self-righteous wannabes, but he was still Jewish. And as Jew, he read the Holy Book, worshiped in the synagogue, and kept Torah. He did not start a movement of latte-drinking disciples who excelled in spiritual conversations. He founded the church (Matt. 16:18) and commissioned the apostles to proclaim the good news that Israel's Messiah had come and the sins of the world could be forgiven through his death on the cross (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:14-36)."