Review of Thom S. Rainer's "The Millennials"

MillennialsTitle: The Millennials
Authors: Thom S. Rainer and Jess Rainer

For the majority of this book I was tempted to give up on this book. Author Thom S. Rainer and his son Jess spend the first 250 pages or so offering endless statistics concerning the Millennial generation (those born between 1980 and 2000). Much of it is quite repetitive. The Millennials are good with technology, confused about money, dedicated to their families, and indifferent to the Church. The information was gleaned through multiple interviews with Millennials and while useful, the authors seem to drag it out and repeat themselves endlessly. In addition, the writers back and forth between themselves in mid paragraph often enough that it became rather annoying.

However, despite its flaws, the last chapter of this book makes up for it when the Rainers offer ways the Church can and should respond to the Millennial generation. Church leaders are offered strategies to interact with and attract members of the Millennial generation with could prove to be invaluable.

I did find it most encouraging that despite their indifference to the Church, the Rainers are hopeful that the Millennials could make in impact in our world for Christ. It seems quite apparent that the small percentage of Millennials who self-identify themselves as Evangelical Christians and are dedicated to a local church stand poised to take radical steps to reach the lost for Christ.

This book is definitely worth the read for Church leaders who want to develop strategies to reach the Millennial generation.

Tending to the Vertical and the Horizontal: A Study of Hebrews 10:23-25

Occasionally, a Scripture verse or passage will hit me over the head with the force of a baseball bat. I experienced such today as I set out to mull over Hebrews 10:23, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (NASB). However, it wasn’t this verse that gave me a concussion; rather, it was the following verse:

“… and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24, NASB).

The author of Hebrews is writing most likely to Jewish Christians who, under much oppression, were tempted to turn from Christ and return to their pagan ways. His advice translates well to modern Christians who are tempted to adhere to the ways of the world and live selfish lives. Consider, how different the Church would look of we all followed the directions found in this verse. How would things change if we all actually took the time to consider the practical ways we could encourage and love one another? This verse doesn’t suggest we should simply love one another when the opportunity presents itself – it suggests we should be contemplating carefully how we can show love to one another! This changes everything! We should wake up in the morning mulling over our plans to intentionally love others. We should strategically love bomb people!

Dr. Thomas Constable writes that Hebrews 10:23 advises us to tend to our vertical relationship with God while verse 24 advises us to tend to our horizontal relationships with others:

“… (v.24) moves us from the vertical to the horizontal dimension of Christian living. This admonition to love one another, our social obligation, [is] necessary since some [tend] to wander from the faith” (Constable).

We’ve all known people who have strayed from the Church and stepped out of God’s will. If I’m being honest, there have been moments in my life when I didn’t tend to my faith as closely as it deserved. In these moments, it is crucial that Christians step in and take their responsibility to love one another seriously. This commitment to our “horizontal” relationships should directly flow from our vertical relationship with God.

The author of Hebrews didn’t stop there. In Hebrews 10:25 we are instructed to “not forsake our assembling together, as is the habit of some.” Tending to our Vertical and Horizontal relationships is best accomplished in the local church. Attending church faithfully and becoming invested in the local church helps keep us focused on the vertical while providing ample opportunity for the horizontal.

Dr. Charles Stanley writes, “God did not design us to ‘go it alone’ in our Christian faith … our participation in a local church not only protects our personal fellowship with the Lord, but it is a vital aspect to how He matures us and transforms us into His image.”

Let’s face it folks, if we want to be more like Christ, we need to tend to both our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationships with others.

Five-Point Strategy for Sharing the Gospel with a Cultist

Five-Point Strategy for Sharing the Gospel With a Cultist

Got Questions Ministries defines a cult as “a religious groups that denies one or more of the fundamentals of Biblical truth” (Got Questions). John Thomas Rogers adds that a cult “… is a religion that as not yet achieved respectability or has not grown up yet – a baby religion” (Rogers xxiv). An estimated seven million Americans have been involved in cults (Cult Hotline) with new members being recruited everyday. With such growing participation in the cults, it is in the Church’s interest to identify the theological issues cults have in common, refute them with sound Biblical doctrine, and to create strategies to share the gospel with those unfortunate people who have been led astray. There is a two-fold purpose behind the need of such a proactive stance by the Church. First, such a strategy would serve to ‘inoculate’ church members who may be in danger of being attracted to cults. In addition, the issue is a matter of salvation for those lost amid the cults. Christ charged the Church with the mission of spreading His gospel to the world and creating disciples[1]; refusing to formulate a strategy to refute the cults is akin to ignoring the soteriological needs of those who are lost. This paper will serve as a preliminary attempt to address these issues. Theological issues common to the cults will be addressed with an eye towards how these issues impact the individual cult member. These issues will then be refuted Biblically and a five-point strategy for sharing the gospel with a cultist will be presented.

Of the theological issues common to the cults identified by John Thomas Rogers (Rogers xxiv), three will be addressed in this paper. First, cults do not see the Bible as the final authority on theological issues and, as such, include outside authorities. Rogers writes, “One of the most common reasons cults give for their existence is that the Bible has errors, or at least that it cannot be understood without help … In other words, cults exist on authority outside the Bible” (Rogers 65). This view of the Bible’s authority (or lack thereof) stands in stark contrast to Biblical Christianity, which teaches that the Bible alone is authoritative on matters concerning God. One of the foundations of the Protestant Reformation is the principle of sola Scriptura (or by Scripture alone), which means, “only the Bible has the authority to bind the consciences of believers” (Sproul 42). The Bible is seen by Biblical Christianity to be the ultimate form of authority, inerrant, and infallible.[2] Furthermore, Biblical Christianity teaches that the Bible is complete. Rogers writes, “Once the task of completing the Bible was done, the apostles would be replaced by the Bible” (Rogers 129).

Once the sole authority (and inerrancy) of the Bible is denied, cults are then free to deny the deity of Christ. Rogers writes, “… most cults doctrinally lower Christ to the level of an angel or claim that He is only an angel …” (Rogers 108). This is in direct contrast to Biblical Christianity’s teaching that Christ is God the Son and the Second Person of the Trinity. John Walvoord writes, “Christianity has always honored Jesus Christ as its historical and theological center [and] one’s faith in and understanding of Jesus Christ involve the most important theological issues anyone can face” (Walvoord 11). One of the wondrous aspects of Christianity is the hypostatic union; the weaving of Christ’s complete deity with His complete humanity. A concise vision of Biblical Christianity is expressed by the Nicene Creed of the 4th Century; Christ is eternally begotten of God the Father, assumed humanity by incarnation through a virgin birth, and secured salvation for a sinful mankind through His death on the cross and resurrection. Furthermore, Biblical Christianity teaches that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead and will reign over an eternal kingdom.[3]

Finally, having denied the deity of Christ, cults are free to replace the salvation offered by His sacrifice on the cross with a salvation secured by works. Rogers writes that this salvation by works is accompanied by an absolute obedience to the group (Rogers xxiv). This teaching is opposed to the Biblical teaching of salvation by grace, “ For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NASB). Rogers writes “To comprehend that salvation truly is the work of God apart from my insignificant efforts caused me to realize that even my response to God as He drew me to Himself could be a source of personal pride. Jesus paid it all; all to Him I owe!” (Rogers 113).

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how these theological issues could work together to impact a member of a cult. Without the authority of the Bible to guide their beliefs, cult members are subject to the ever-evolving theology of cult leaders. Rogers writes, “The doctrines of cults change as needed. If a doctrine has positive results, it can be developed. If it has negative results, it can be changed and then later forgotten” (Rogers xxvii-xxviii). As a result, cult members are left on unstable ground theologically speaking. Their core beliefs are subject to the whims of their leaders. When this is coupled with an inadequate understanding of Christ’s deity and a salvation that is guaranteed only by works, cult members are eventually forced into a situation that requires blind allegiance to their group. Ultimately, and more importantly, these issues work together to become a matter of salvation. Cult members are lost and prevented from seeing a clear picture of the salvation offered by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It is for this reason that Christians should take great care in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with cult members. What follows is a simple five-point for Christians to adopt when sharing the gospel with cult members.

  1. Know Your Own Doctrine: Rogers writes, “To know the doctrine of every cult or religion is impossible” (Rogers 55). There are simply to many cults out there that employ evolving doctrines to be an expert in all of them. It is best to be grounded in a good knowledge of Biblical doctrine when sharing the gospel with cult members.
  2. Keep the Discussion Friendly: Refuse to engage in an argument with cult members regardless of whether or not they attempt to argue with you. Their salvation is of utmost importance and we do not want out behavior to serve as a stumbling block in their acceptance of Christ (see 1 Peter 2:12).
  3. Establish the Authority of the Bible: As a Christian, do not sacrifice the authority of Scripture. Politely explain to the cult member in question that if they want to prove a position, they must do so using the Bible only. Rogers writes that by insisting the discussion revolve around the Bible alone “… you are not being unfair; you are being honest. You are asking the [cult member] to do with you what you would have to do with a Jewish individual who rejected the New Testament and accepted only the Old” (Rogers 70).
  4. Continually Point the Discussion to Christ: Remember, it is common to all cults that works be required for salvation. By continually returning the conversation to the Person of Christ you are offering the cult member something they simply don’t have – salvation by grace alone.
  5. End Well: Rogers writes, “How one closes a conversation with religious people or cultists is just as important as how one opens it” (Rogers 114). If you sense tension developing in the conversation or can tell feelings are being hurt, don’t be afraid to recommend a break in the conversation. Your task is to share the gospel with the cult member and then allow the Holy Spirit to convict them. Time away from the conversation might be just what the Spirit requires.

 

Conclusion

It is been demonstrated that the prominence of cults in the United States requires the Church to formulate a strategy to share the gospel with cult members. It should be recognized that there are theological issues that separate the cults from Biblical Christianity. Three such issues are of immense importance; the authority of Scripture, the deity of Christ, and a salvation of works as opposed to grace. Ultimately, these issues boil down to matter of salvation. Christians who hope to share the gospel with cult members should keep these issues in mind and employ a five-point strategy; know Biblical doctrine, keep the discussion friendly, establish the authority of the Bible, continually turn the discussion to Christ, and ensure the discussion ends well. By employing such a strategy, Christians may successfully lead a cult member to Christ and proactively protect their own church members from being attracted to the cults.

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Cult Hotline & Clinic. The Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, 2010. Web. 30 October 2012.

Rogers, John Thomas. Communicating Christ in a Religious World. Xulon Press, 2009.

Sproul, R.C. What is Reformed Theology? Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997.

Walvoord, John. Jesus Christ Our Lord. Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute, 1969.

“What is the Definition of a Cult?” gotquestions.org. Got Questions Ministries, n.d. Web. 1 November 2012.


[1] “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

[2] 1 Peter 1:23 describes the Word of God as being living, imperishable, and enduring.

[3] Unfortunately, it is beyond the scope of this paper to offer a complete treatment of Christology, however, the Nicene Creed sums traditional Biblical Christology up well.

The Biblical Mandate to Share the Gospel

John Mark Terry defines evangelism as “presenting Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit so that people will become His disciples” (Terry 1). Unfortunately, for many Christians today, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ has become optional. Perhaps the Church has bought into the postmodern belief that faith and religion are personal pursuits. On the contrary, there is a clear Biblical mandate to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others. It is a mandate that was exemplified and passed on to Christians by Jesus Christ Himself. This post will examine the Biblical mandate to share the gospel as it applies to all Christians.

Christ’s directions to His Church are found in the first chapter of Acts. Verse six depicts the disciples asking Christ if the time has come to restore His kingdom. In Christ’s response, we find a clear mandate for His followers, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8 NASB). Christ’s instructions are clear. Though we may not completely understand the timing of God’s eschatological plans, in the mean time, we are to share the gospel of Christ with other people. These instructions are echoed in Christ’s Great Commission to the Church, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Surely, if Christ Himself thought it was important to instruct Christians to share His gospel, we should take His instructions seriously. Fortunately, Christ also provides a model of evangelism for us to emulate.

Richard D. Phillips writes that the John’s depiction of Christ as evangelist “… proves to us that the gospel is for everyone. Jesus came to save not a certain class of type of person, but all kinds of people, each of whom must receive him only in faith” (Phillips 108). Phillips asserts that the Gospel of John juxtaposes the stories of Nicodemus and the woman at the well to demonstrate that both people at the top of life (Nicodemus) and the bottom of life (the woman at the well) are in need of Christ’s gospel (Phillips 108). In fact, it is of Jesus’ encounter with the sinful woman at the well that Phillips writes, “… here the Lord Himself sets us an example of speaking the truth in love” (Phillips 109). In his encounter with the woman, Jesus acknowledged the woman’s sin and provides her with the truth of the gospel. It is this example that Christians are called to follow. However, can Christians truly be expected to follow Christ’s example? Certainly, some of us simply aren’t gifted with the ability to evangelize, right? Wrong, people of all personality types can follow Christ’s example.

Mike Bechtle writes that both extroverted and introverted personalities can follow Christ’s example of evangelism (Bechtle). For those introverts who find it difficult and intimidating to boldly evangelize, Bechtle recommends they mimic the pattern of Colossians 4:6, “Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person” (Bechtle). The point for Christians who hope to evangelize is that their words should always pave the way to make sharing the gospel possible. If we are continually generous and gracious with our speech, opportunities to share the gospel will eventually present themselves. These opportunities are sure to appear because “Evangelism isn’t our job – it’s God’s job” (Bechtle). God paves the way for Christians to participate in evangelism regardless of our personality type. As Christians, all we need to do is patiently await God to present us with an opportunity to share the gospel of Christ. Once God’s provides opportunities for evangelism, Christian’s can rest assured there are a variety of methods at their disposal.

One common method of sharing the gospel has been dubbed the Roman Road. Walking a person through salvation as it is presented in the Book of Romans “is a simple yet powerful method of explaining why we need salvation, how God provided salvation, how we can receive salvation, and what are the results of salvation” (gotquestions.org). Without leaving the Book of Romans it can be demonstrated that all of us are sinners (Romans 3:23), the wages of our sin is death (Romans 6:23), that Christ dies for our sins (Romans 10:9), and all we need to is confess Christ as Lord to receive salvation (Romans 10:9 and 10:13). There are other methods of evangelizing at the Christians disposal. For instance, Karl Bastian has created a system using different colored pages to represent different stages of salvation called the “Wordless Book” (Bastian). This particular means of sharing the gospel has proven to work particularly well for children. The wide variety of methods to evangelize makes it obvious that it is possible for any Christian to share the gospel with anyone.

In conclusion, it has been shown that there is a clear Biblical mandate for Christians to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others. In fact, the mandate originates from Jesus Christ Himself. As such, Christ provides the inspiration and example of evangelizing for each of us. It has also been shown that the gospel is a message intended for everyone. It can be shared by people of all personality types – extroverted and introverted. Finally, there are a variety of methods at the disposal of a Christian who chooses to share the gospel. As such, Christians are left with no excuses for not accepting Christ’s mandate to share His gospel with the world.

Sources

Bastian, Karl. “Using the Wordless Book to Share the Gospel.” Kidology. n.d. Web. 26 October 2012.

Bechtle, Mike. “Evangelism for Introverts.” On Mission Magazine. Retrieved on 26 Oct. 2012 from http://www.caseresources.org/whatcanido/evangelismforintroverts.htm

Phillips, Richard. Jesus the Evangelist. Orlando: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007. Digital.

Terry, John Mark. “Accept the Biblical Mandate of Evangelism.” Faith Baptist Church. n.d. Web. 26 October 2012.

“What is the Romans Road to Salvation?” gotquestions.org. Got Questions Ministries, n.d. Web. 26 October 2012.

Proselytize … A Dirty Word

The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word proselytize as inducing someone to convert to one’s faith. It is a word that seems to carry a negative connotation and, based on the reaction of Brit Hume’s comments regarding Tiger Woods, is a concept that offends a number of people. Based on his comments, Hume has been charged with (and seemingly found guilty of) proselytizing by the media and members of the Buddhist faith. Here is what he said:

“The extent to which he can recover seems to me depends on his faith,” said Hume. “He is said to be a Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of redemption and forgiveness offered by the Christian faith. My message to Tiger is, ‘Tiger turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.”

Hume’s comments were made on the show Fox News Sunday when a member of the shows panel predicted Woods would rebound from his current mess and win the Masters tournament in 2010. Hume’s words have been interpreted by some as inappropriate proselytizing and by others as disparaging to Buddhists in a firestorm of responses across the blogosphere.

This story caught my attention because Hume was involved. While I did not watch him a great deal during his career at the Fox News anchor desk, I was impressed by the story he revealed in the course of his retirement. Hume related how he had turned to Christianity in the wake of his son’s tragic death and how he hoped to spend more time serving Christ in his retirement. His testimony caught my eye. I was impressed that a prominent figure such as Hume was willing to share his faith to a nationwide audience. Hume seemed to me to be a genuine and honest person at the time.

In light of his past, I doubt Hume was in any way trying to insult or degrade Buddhists with his comments.  In fact, I am a little stunned that his words were perceived that way. In fact, his comments seem fairly accurate. In the course of criticizing Hume, Buddhist writer Barbara O’Brian writes that that the concept of sin is foreign to Buddhism. While forgiveness from one person to another may be a part of a Buddhist’s faith, there is no concept of divine forgiveness in Buddhism. Christ’s take on sin was a little different … in fact; one of the things that irked the Jewish leaders of the day was that Jesus dared to forgive sins:

When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5: 20-21, NIV)

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” (Luke 7: 48-49, NIV)

It seems as if Hume was accurate when he said Buddhism doesn’t offer the kind of redemption and forgiveness offered by Christ. Buddhism’s claim that there is no sin makes it clear there is a huge difference on the issue between the two faiths. Hume was right to claim the two faiths are different (there’s no denying they are), but his words were taken as insulting because they were unsolicited. Proselytizing has been given a negative connotation in our modern culture because it is assumed the act is unwanted by the recipient. It is viewed by most as being forced on the recipient against his or her wishes. In that regard, Hume did offer unsolicited advice for Tiger Woods. According to most people, this fact alone places Hume in a bad light; this is a shame, however, because in my experience, some of the best advice I ever received was unsolicited.

In a perfect world and circumstance a Christian will have the opportunity to forge a relationship with a person before sharing Christ with them. In the absence of that relationship, it is too easy to interpret proselytizing in a negative light. Hume shared his faith with Tiger outside of a caring relationship and on such a public stage that it was too easy for others to misconstrue what he was trying to do. It’s important to remember; however, that we are not always presented with a perfect situation. Sometimes, as Christians, we have to take the best shot we have and share Christ in spite of the backlash. Hume took that chance and for that should be respected.

Criticize Hume if you must … but how awesome would it be if Tiger did turn to Christ in his darkest moments? What if he did become a Christian and use his faith to inspire countless fans and youth? We’ve all been in Tiger’s shoes in some way or another. The enemy loves to expose and embarrass us. The enemy loves to drag us through the gutter whether we deserve it or not. In Christ, there is a clear path to turn darkness into light. It is up to us to flip the switch.