Happy Reformation Day! On this day, 500 years ago, Martin Luther famously nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Chapel - the event that we now commonly look to as igniting the Protestant Reformation.
Below I've collected a handful of resources that will help you understand a bit more about the Protestant Reformation and reflect on its ongoing significance. I encourage you to choose 1-2 links that interest you most and dig in. If you've got kids at home, consider bringing up some of the "big takeaways" with them, and inviting them into remembering the positive significance of the Reformation today. I've included a couple of accessible books that motivated learners can read.
Based on the number of "hits" each month, here are the top 5 posts here on the Brookside Institute blog for the last six months - January 2017 through June 2017. Take a minute to scroll through the list below and either catch up on things you may have missed or revisit things that were especially helpful.
Every now and then I try to take some time and reflect on why the intentional teaching ministry of the church remains important. Whatever shape it takes, why is equipping and a teaching in the church, for the church, and by the church valuable?
At least one reason is the growth of secularism, pluralism, and "indifferentism" in America. Very simply stated, secularism is a worldview that pushes God to the margins. It's fine to believe in God on your own, the secularist may say, just don't bring any religious ideas or reasoning into the public square. Pluralism flows out of the reality that we are surrounded by people who believe very different things than than us - and it often goes a step further to say the no one religion can be exclusively true. "Indifferentism" (this is my term, I think) tries to explain the religious apathy of the "nones" and "dones" - those who adhere to no single religious expression (the "nones") or those who have "tried out" some religion and - for whatever reason - didn't stick with it.
So what does all this have to do with catechesis - an intentional and systematic approach to teaching in the local church? Here's what:
Christmas is officially five days away (!!), and that means many of us are considering last minute gift ideas for others in our lives. If you're looking for ideas for the "reader" you know, here are six accessible suggestions based on books I've read and recommend, or books that are very much on my radar screen to read soon.
Each of these suggestions has been recently published (in the last 2-3 years) and will be linked to an Amazon page where you can learn more. You'll see they're listed under 6 categories that I try and stay loosely tethered to:
What other books (in any of these categories listed above) would you suggest people consider? List 'em here!
Christmas is lots of things. It's devotional - it should stir our hearts, prompting our reflection and worship. It's action-oriented - it should lead us to give of ourselves and serve others.
And along with everything else it is, Christmas is theology. Big theological truths seep out of Christmas like sap comes out of the Christmas trees when they're cut down. In very short order, here are three theological truths that go hand-in-hand with Christmas.
Christmas tells us a lot about God.
God isn't some distant deity or a "capriciously malevolent bully" as some have claimed. In Christmas, we discover that "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son..." (John 3:16). In Christmas, we see in the biggest way possible that God is a giver. And not only that God is a giver - but that God is a sacrificial, joyful, generous, over-the-top Giver.
Christmas defines the Incarnation.
The incarnation basically means that God became flesh. "Incarnation" helps us understand that Jesus was 100% God AND 100% man - both at the same time. (If you want to dig in deeper into the incarnation, read Stephen J. Wellum's recent God the Incarnate Son: The Doctrine of Christ or do some study on the Chalcedonian definition of Christ - a 5th century statement working to theologically articulate Christian orthodoxy around the two natures of Christ in His one person.
Christmas underlines our need for Jesus
When Jesus came into the world, he came into a world that NEEDED to be saved. In John 1 we get this Gospel writer's pespective on Christmas, and it underlines our need for Jesus.
In describing Jesus as light, John 1:5 tells us that Jesus came to shine in the darkness (i.e., evil). John 1:10-11 tells us that Jesus came into a world that was so darkened in its perception, twisted in its desires, and rebellious toward God that though Jesus made the world, "the world didn't recognize him." Instead, v. 11 tells us the world rejected Him. All of these things underline the truth thats sin is THE PROBLEM in our world and our hearts.
Sin is WHY we need Jesus. And so Jesus comes - is born of the Virgin Mary, lives a sinless life, dies on the cross for our sins and is raised to life again on the third day - so that "all who believe in His name can become children of God" (cf. John 1:12).
Let's not forget these (and other!) theological truths that go hand-in-hand with Christmas. Let's allow these truths to fill our minds, stir our devotion, and motivate our own action in line with the good news that Jesus has come, and that He's "God with us" (Matthew 1:23).
Ligonier ministries has sponsored another LifeWay Research study, surveying where Americans land on certain theological beliefs. (I encourage you to check out the article reporting the findings, posted here at LifeWay.)
The results indicate that there's plenty of job security out there for teachers of theology, and need for churches to continue to champion theological formation. As someone who commented on the findings remarked, "although Americans still overwhelmingly identify as 'Christian,' startling percentages of the nation embrace ancient errors condemned by all major Christian traditions. These are not minor points of doctrine, but core ideas that define Christianity itself."
As I said in response to a similar survey done a couple of years ago, findings like this reinforce the responsibility churches have to champion evangelical theology and they remind us of the opportunity we have to draw people back to the life-giving fountain that is rich Christian theology.
Let's keep at it, Church. :)
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(This is an updated version of a post I initially composed on July 22, 2014.)
I've recently gotten a few questions from people asking very specifically how they can get emails with updated posts from the Brookside Institute blog, without having to remember to check in periodically on their own. They want to stay in the loop, but they won't always remember to go looking for new content. And when they do remember, they may not be near a computer or it may not be a convenient time.
I love this question. I love it that people want to stay in the loop, and that we're providing valuable enough content that people want to stay engaged.
Here's how I respond to this question:
There's no way that I know of to get emails specifically from the Brookside Institute, providing updated content as new posts are published. (If I'm missing something on this, someone please let me know!) However that doesn't mean there's no way to conveniently stay in the loop. The solution is to subscribe to something called a "feed reader" that will collect the content (the "RSS Feed") you want from sites you subscribe to. Then, you simply monitor your feed reader and can conveniently stay up to date on the content you've chosen to subscribe to.
Below I've included some detailed steps on how to subscribe to an RSS Feed and have it collected into a feed reader. Before I get into that, though, let me briefly share WHAT an RSS Feed is and WHY subscribing to the RSS Feed can be helpful.
This last Sunday I preached on "The 'Why?' Question" of Suffering from Job 1:1-2:10. (To find the message, click here and scroll down to the sermon preached on July 31, 2016.) The point I kept making from Job is this: "As you wrestle through the WHY question of suffering, focus on WHO God is and trust in Him."
In my opinion, there was no better song to end this message with than with the old hymn, "It Is Well," written by Horatio Spafford in the late 1800s. Not only do the lyrics of "It Is Well" reinforce the point I was trying to make, but the story behind the song is powerful. Spafford was a successful man who experienced deep suffering himself - losing much of his wealth and 5 children. His song is an example of someone who - in the midst of suffering - focused on God and trusted in Him.
I encourage you to check out this brief video I found that tells the story behind this famous hymn. It's less than 5 min and will be worth the time spent watching it.
As of yesterday, it's officially summer. I laughed when I saw this tweet from @ChrchCurmudgeon:
And since it's summer, I figured I'd post a few books I'm wanting to read and spend time in this summer. No guarantees, but here's to hope! :)
If you've got some extra time over the next couple of months - maybe you're traveling a bit, or your summer schedule allows you more time to read for other reasons, or you just want some book recommendations as you maintain a habit of reading - here are a few books you may want to consider. I encourage you to explore these books a bit (each is looked to their Amazon page where you can learn more) and jump in - the water's fine!
What Did the Early Church Include in their Training of Believers? 9 Categories of Catechetical Content
From the earliest days of the church in the centuries following the death of the apostles, an intentional "training program" (or catechesis) was developed to form and shape believers in the Christian community. Why was this track of catechesis important? Alan Kreider points out a key reason in his The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire: "...believers knew that their practices [i.e., their noticeable, distinctive Christian lifestyles] were not acquired genetically or absorbed from pagan society. As Tertullian puts it around AD 200, 'Christians are made, not born'" (p. 134).
Those following Jesus took intentional steps to be transformed by the renewing of their minds (Romans 12:2); they took intentional steps to be made new in the attitude of their minds and to put on the new self (Ephesians 4:22-24); they took intentional steps to make sure they were strengthened and encouraged in their Christian faith (cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:2). A key part of these "intentional steps" was a value placed on catechizing (i.e., intentionally training) those in the Christian faith.
It's important to note that a number of different components were included in catechesis. Catechetical practices developed over time in the first few centuries. And no single approach seems to be have been adopted everywhere as the early church grew. We need to acknowledge the numerous layers and the diversity that characterized catechesis.
Nevertheless, catechesis was valued. As Kreider points out in The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, by the fourth century we have enough samples of catechetical priorities that we can present a composite picture of what the early church included in their catechetical content.
So (more simply), what did the early church teach?
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