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Category: Quotations (page 1 of 14)

Book Review: Youth Ministry In A Post-Christian World

I recently completed Brock Morgan’s Youth Ministry In A Post-Christian World: A Hopeful Wake-Up Call, and wanted to write a brief review.

Morgan’s basic premise is that the America we live in is now a post-Christian society and as such, requires different patterns and practices of youth ministry to be successful. Morgan is not an ivory tower speculator, but a youth ministry veteran who is in the trenches, and speaks from his own experiences.

There were certain elements of the book that didn’t connect with me. First, as a youth minister in semi-suburban Arkansas, the students I work with are less post-Christian than those Morgan describes in Greenwich, Connecticut. That doesn’t mean Morgan is off-base or an alarmist (more realistically, the trends he describes are just 5-10 years around the corner for me), but it did make part of his material seem foreign to my context.

Second, the author seems like a great guy, and the stated subtitle of the book is “A Hopeful Wake-Up Call,” but the reality for me was that as I read the book, it made me feel incredibly inadequate as a youth minister. I’m sure this was not the author’s intention and is probably more of a reflection of my own tendency to be overly hard on myself, but the repeated feeling of, “This is not the way I do youth ministry; I must be terrible” was not a pleasant one.

Third, a few times throughout the book, the author used some course language that I didn’t have a lot of patience for. It wasn’t pervasive, and some might be inclined to roll their eyes that I even mention it, but I have never had much use for Christian leaders using bad language—especially for those who work with teens.

Finally, there were some statements and sentiments sprinkled throughout the book that I wasn’t crazy about, and I’ll give a couple of examples. At one point, Morgan relates a story where he and another minister teach a student that religion is man-made, while spirituality is from God. There are certainly a lot of man-made trappings that can obscure and distort religion, but this is a tired, false dichotomy that gets on my nerves, and is contradicted by Scripture (James 1.27). In another place where Morgan discusses how grace should lead us to act, he makes the statement that grace teaches us to say no to discipline. One thing I have found as a youth minister is that there are a lot of times where I can show grace by not responding harshly to every instance of misbehavior. But grace is not antithetical to discipline; discipline is an essential element of discipling people (see the connection in the two words?!). These are just a couple of examples, but represent that there were several times throughout the book where I read something, narrowed my eyes, and thought, “I’m not too sure about that.”

Having gotten the negatives out of the way, I want to clearly say this: Morgan is an insightful thinker and there were many places in the book where I thought he hit it out of the park. Here are some of my favorite quotations:

Our students are growing up in a pluralistic society that’s much different than the world in which you and I grew up. And if you’re smack-dab in the midst of adolescence and your top goals are to fit in and not stand out, to be different by being just like everyone else, then the acceptance of all things is an important value to have. (27)

Christendom is now dead, and we need to get over it. (30)

In a post-Christian world, no value is placed on the Sabbath, so our children have some scheduled activity seven days a week. This has created the most anxious and stressed-out generation in history. (41)

I’d hate to think that people aren’t open to Jesus because we’re perceived as not being open to them. (82)

For many people, the church is a place that says, “If you don’t believe what we believe, vote how we vote, and take the same stand on issues that we take a stand on, then you don’t belong.” I believe God is calling us to bigger things and a more humble posture. He is calling us once again to trust the Holy Spirit. To trust that he will work out the minor things of the faith in the lives of our students.” (83)

Unanswered questions open us up to the bigness of God. When we offer pat answers to complex questions, we shrink God down to our level. (89)

Hiring a 22-year-old and paying that person an extremely low amount of money to disciple students apart from the church has an effect. Many students graduate from the youth group and simultaneously graduate from their faith. (127-28)

What if students began getting their identities from being a part of the church rather than being apart from the church? (129)

All in all, this is a work that I would certainly recommend to youth ministry workers. The reality is that 21st century America is increasingly a post-Christian society—if your context (like mine) isn’t quite there yet, it will be soon. We can pretend this isn’t reality, continue to do things in the same old ways, and then wonder why we are increasingly ineffective, or we can begin to think through the issues that Youth Ministry In A Post-Christian World discusses. I would prefer to do the latter, and was thankful for this guide.

Abolition & the Stone-Campbell Movement: James O’Kelly’s Essay on Negro-Slavery

I have written before about the unfortunate fact that there were some Christians in the antebellum South who used the Bible to justify the practice of slavery. I argued that they were wrong to do so on at least two grounds:

  1. They failed to see a distinction between the ancient slavery described and regulated in the bible and the race-based chattel slavery of the U.S. colonies and Southern states that was basically “man-stealing,” something the Bible expressly forbade (Exodus 21.16).
  2. They failed to see the profound argument set forth by Paul in the Letter to Philemon. Here, he does not seek to abolish all slavery in the Roman Empire, but instead seeks to get one man to understand the radical implications of the Christian message: slave owners should view their slaves as Christian brothers and sisters (or at least, as potential brothers and sisters) in the family of God, and to treat them accordingly. In such a family where all are equally servants of God, there is no place for slavery.

Thankfully, many Christians were not wrong on these points, and were actually at the forefront of the fight for the abolition of slavery. One prominent abolitionist (in fact, he was one of the first clergymen to write an anti-slavery publication) was James O’Kelly (1735-1826), who is of particular interest to me (and many of my readers) because of his connection to the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement.

O’Kelly was a circuit-riding Methodist preacher in North Carolina in the 1770s and 1780s. O’Kelly withdrew from the Methodist Church in 1792 over matters of church polity, and founded the Republican Methodist Church, which later became a part of the Christian Connexion. Some of the members of this group later became a part of the Stone-Campbell Movement (though O’Kelly himself died before the Stone and Campbell groups united). You can read more about him here.

In 1789, O’Kelly wrote Essay on Negro-Slavery, in which he published his strong anti-slavery views. Abilene Christian University has a digital scan of this work available for free download, and I enjoyed reading this short publication last summer. O’Kelly writes forcefully and well. I have included some quotations from the work below, along with some of my own thoughts.

First, O’Kelly didn’t actually desire to write about such a topic, but felt compelled to do so:

“Not that I looked upon it as difficult to prove the injustice of slavery, for a man of half sense can see that; but I was reluctant to become an author. Yet the word of the Lord, whenever I thought of declining, would burn like fire in my bones, and rob me of my sleep.” [“To the Reader”]

He seeks to help his audience feel empathy, as he describes the horrible practice of the breaking up of families in slave markets, and the inhumane treatment that slaves at times received from their masters:

“O husbands, who have tender wives and precious children, can you acquiesce with a law that tolerates a practices so inhuman, which enslaves human creatures who have as much right to their natural liberty as to their common air?” [9]

“A master who drank to excess, one morning, lately, took his man-slave, and hoisted and weighed him by a tobacco-beam fixed between his legs, another standing on the beam to increase the pain; beat, cut, and lashed him, till the blood poured down in streams: the slave begged for mercy, but in vain; then spake in a soft manner to the tyrant, saying, master, you have killed me. He then lifted up his eyes to Heaven and expired.” [9]

Beyond an emotional level, O’Kelly addresses the issue of slavery from a theological perspective:

“When GOD called Abraham (Gen. xii) he preached the gospel to him, saying, “In thy seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed,”—Africa not excepted.” [15]

“The Son of GOD did not come to destroy lives, but to save. Neither did he come to enslave men’s persons, but to preach the great jubilee. Involuntary slavery directly opposes the benevolent purposes of the Christian religion. The Christian religion is the pure undefiled religion, gathering proselytes from every nation into one fold. The Christian, who through the Spirit hath received a divine nature, even the mind of Christ, hath learned of his great master to be meek to his countrymen, neighbors and brethren, and the inhabitants of the remotest regions as well as of the nearest. He calls no man common or unclean. He is like his Father and his Master, whose sun shines upon the evil and the good, and who sends rain on the just and the unjust.” [17]

O’Kelly also does not shy away from the difficult issue of the practical consequences of emancipation. With blacks subjugated for so long and deprived of education and a means of building up personal wealth, what would happen to them if they were suddenly freed? O’Kelly acknowledges this problem and suggests that a gradual emancipation would be best, but with the clear understanding that the very people who have created this problem through enslaving others need to be involved in helping former slaves to live as independent, self-sufficient free people:

“You say, “they are poor and having to begin upon, how can they live, if free?” This objection is stronger than all. They are the poorest people that mine eyes ever saw. you shall take every rag of clothing that is on a thousand, and put them in the road as free plunder, and hardly a free-man would alight from his horse to pick them up! But why such poverty? Where is all their labour that you have got? Your objections make your injustice only more glaring. You are the cause of their poverty. Will you rob a man of his all, and then out of pity make a slave of him, because he has nothing to begin upon? Perhaps the grand objection lies here. “What shall we do?” Only let a gradual emancipation commence, from the pure love of GOD and man in our christian brethren, and that glorious example will influence the civil powers. Reward them for their labour; encourage good behaviour; subject them to your laws; let them have interest to study, and our country will not want hands to till the earth with comfort; their minds will be no longer so contracted: the activity of the magistrates will suppress the flagitiousness of white and black. The natural genius of the people will soon appear.” [26]

“If your present situation is such that you cannot liberate your captives without defrauding your creditors, or reducing your family into deep distress; acknowledge the wrong detention, converse with your dear preachers who feel for you, and emancipate them in a more gradual manner; and we shall rejoice in your sincerity, and acknowledge you as dear brethren in Christ.” [31]

 

In many ways this was not an enjoyable read, as it described and decried a terrible practice in a dark period of our national history. However, it was inspiring to read the thoughts of someone like O’Kelly who, thoroughly infused with the principles of the Gospel, was willing to buck the trends of his time and take a stand for justice and righteousness. Furthermore, the knowledge that he was in some sense a spiritual ancestor of mine was a simultaneous source of pride and hope.

“Do Thy Work”

In my last post, I lamented the fact that so many Christians seem to be so unconcerned about seeking unity with other believers, despite this being something that Jesus Himself specifically prayed for.

This is something that frustrates me greatly, but to be honest, there are a lot of issues that frustrate me greatly which I face regularly as a minister:

  • Why does a particular parent seem less concerned about their child’s faith than am?
  • If Christians really believe what they claim to believe, why aren’t they more committed to Christ and His church?
  • How can people who have supposedly been following Jesus for decades be so immature and unChristian in the ways they deal with other people?
  • How can Christians get more stirred up about their political views than their faith? Related: why do so many American Christians seem to feel more loyalty toward America than Christ?
  • Why do we pick and choose which sinful behaviors we will address and condemn?

The list could go on and on; really, I just picked random problems as they occurred to me. When I focus on all of these problems and the way that they frustrate me, it can be exasperating: at times, I am tempted to throw up my hands and throw in the towel.

But then, I remember one of my favorite quotations from George MacDonald, the Scottish author, minister, and theologian:

“Heed not thy feeling; do thy work.”

In other words, the frustration I feel in response to these problems actually has no bearing on my own responsibility to do what I know that I have been called to do. I am to tend the garden in which God has planted me, take up my cross daily and follow Jesus, and seek to live out the behavior in my own life that I hope to see in the lives of others.

Jesus expresses a similar idea in John 21.18-22. He is speaking to Peter, and says:

“Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then He said to him, “Follow Me!”

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray You?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow Me.”

Jesus tells Peter that it really wasn’t his place to worry about what happened to the other disciple (probably John); Peter’s job was to follow Jesus.

Whether in ministry, or in life in general, there are many things that may bother me greatly. I may pray about those things, study and plan ways to address the problems, strive to teach others to live in better and more godly ways, etc. But ultimately, it is not my job to fix the world’s problems or feel depressed when I’m unable to do so; my job is to follow Jesus.

As He said to Peter, Jesus says to me: “What is that to you? You must follow Me.”

The Mutual Admiration of Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone

The American Restoration Movement, of which I count myself a descendant, has a somewhat complex combination of origins, but it is with good reason that priority is often given to the contributions of Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell. Stone was chronologically prior to Campbell, but the latter eventually came to be the primary face, thinker, and influencer of the movement. Together, their accomplishments are so recognized that the movement itself is often called, “The Stone-Campbell Movement.”

At the risk of oversimplification, both Stone and Campbell led religious movements in the early 19th century that were concerned with following the practices of the church as laid out in the pages of the New Testament, and doing so as a means of producing unity among the fragmented segments of Christendom. As a testament to that unity, their two movements united in 1832.

This union occurred despite significant theological disagreements between Stone and Campbell, but the nature of those disagreements is not my focus here. Rather, my emphasis is on the fact that, in the face of such disagreement, Stone and Campbell did not regard one another suspiciously or denigrate one another; instead, they possessed great admiration for one another, and did not fail to say so publicly. Consider the following quotations:

I will not say there are no faults in brother Campbell; but that there are fewer, perhaps, in him than any man I know on earth; and over these my love would throw a veil and hide them from view forever. I am constrained, and willingly constrained, to acknowledge him the greatest preacher of this reformation of any man living.

Barton W. Stone, 1843[1]

In the heat of controversy he may, indeed, like most other men, have been carried too far on some points; still he was the honored instrument of bringing many out of the ranks of human tradition, and putting into their hands the Book of Books, as their only confession of faith and rule of life, and will no doubt, on this account, as well as others, long continue to be a blessing to those who, by his instrumentality, have already been, or may hereafter be, translated into the fullness of the blessings of the gospel of Christ.

Alexander Campbell, 1844[2]

Again, I should emphasize that these are two men who had significant disagreements on a variety of issues, and historians of the movement are often quick to point this out. However, regardless of these disagreements, I find it incredibly significant and impressive that both regarded the legacies of the other so charitably.

What a sterling example both men set for us to follow!


[1] B. W. Stone and John Rogers, The Biography of Eld. Barton Warren Stone, Written By Himself: with Additions and Reflections by Elder John Rogers (Cincinnati: J.A. & U.P. James, 1847), 76.

[2] Stone and Rogers, Biography, 107.

Book Review: Centered in God

centered-in-god

The doctrine of the Trinity is one that is frequently neglected in churches. For some, it seems theologically murky, and anything we can’t fully understand is to be avoided. For others, the idea of the Trinity seems impractical and irrelevant to our daily lives. For others (perhaps especially those from a Restorationist heritage), the word “Trinity” is not used in Scripture and it is not the most clearly revealed of teachings, and there might be a level of discomfort with the entire idea. Regardless of the reason, I am confident in my opening assertion that it is a neglected area of Christian teaching and reflection.

In light of this, Mark Powell’s Centered in God: The Trinity and Christian Spirituality is a needed and important book. Dr. Powell, who teaches at Harding School of Theology, has done significant research on the Trinity and emphasizes it in his classes, and with Centered in God has offered a great gift to the church.

The book is written in a way that makes it accessible to the interested church member.[1] The first (shorter) section provides a framework for the rest of the book, discussing the doctrine of the Trinity itself and its historical development in the early church. The second section is where the real value of the book comes, as it moves from the theoretical to the practical, with essays on how a Trinitarian vision of God impacts the way we look at creation, worship, ministry, holiness, love, submission, suffering, and more.

Below I have included a sampling of quotations from that section to give you a taste of the flavor of the book:

This ambiguity toward creation explains two common religious responses. One is to confuse creator and creation, and view creation as divine. The other is to disparage creation, and seek to transcend and escape it. (58)

Like our bodies, creation itself will experience death and resurrection, the result being a glorified creation where God dwells with his people. (67)

Jesus is not a third party who stands between God and humanity, but it is rather the divine one who became human. (86)

Many contemporary critics of the cross, who see it as portraying a blood-thirsty God bent on vengeance, miss the point altogether because they fail to recognize that it is God himself who died on the cross for us. (86)

If we are constantly disappointed with the church, maybe the church is not the problem—maybe we are. (101)

While the study of Christian preaching rightly takes note of developments in rhetoric, and while preachers rightly give attention to matters of form, presentation, and cultural analysis, it is the Holy Spirit who makes Christian preaching effective. (111)

We cannot be holy apart from the gracious initiative and working of God, but God will not impart holiness without us. (150) 

If pride is viewing ourselves more highly than we ought and low self-esteem is viewing ourselves more lowly than we ought, humility is viewing ourselves rightly and placing our value and confidence in God. (170)

The leading of the Spirit is not confined to the words of scripture, but the Spirit of God will not lead us away from scripture’s witness to the way of Jesus. (193)

The people we are becoming, however, is more important to God than the things we decide or accomplish. God not only wants to accomplish great things through us, he wants to accomplish great things in us—God wants to transform us into the image of his Son. (196)

The Trinitarian God is not far away from us when we suffer, but is closer than we ever imagined. Jesus mourned with us in the sufferings he encountered during his earthly life. Jesus suffered rejection and death on the cross, and the Father suffered the death of the Son. Because we are united with Christ, our present sufferings are shared and carried by Jesus. Because of the indwelling Holy Spirit, our groans have become God’s groans. A Trinitarian vision of God changes our perspective on suffering. Suffering is no less real, but we can know that we are not alone. Our God has suffered for us and continues to suffer with us in our trials. (208)

I was blessed by my reading of Centered in God, and again, I see it as a great gift to the church in that it makes the foundational doctrine of the Trinity accessible to Christians in the pews, and enables them to see why it is foundational in the first place. I highly recommend it.


[1] By “interested church member” I mean to say that you don’t need to be a theologian or theology student to understand the book and appreciate its implications and conclusions. At the same time, it is not a work that will be appreciated by just anyone.

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