IVP - Online Pulpit - April 2012 Archives

April 24, 2012

Letter 4: A Particular People in a Particular Place

In our final letter, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove finds our culture pulling us apart. Digital connections make it more and more simple to separate and yet stay together, albeit virtually. In his letter he calls the church of North America to stability. He hopes that a strong commitment to those who are right around us will reveal to us a more complete gospel.

The letter, I’m afraid, is a dying art in our culture. It has long been faster and easier to call a friend than to write them. To the extent that our communication is simply about the transfer of information, the text message is now preferable. This new form frees us from the cumbersome conventions of grammar and greetings and questions like “How are you doing?” which can only slow us down.

And, truth is, however much we complain about being too busy, most of us don’t really want to slow down. I have a Facebook page, and on that page there is a notice that I prefer to communicate via letter. Still, I write twenty electronic messages for every real letter. After all, I can stay in touch with a lot more people that way.

But this desire to stay in touch with more and more people is in tension, I’m afraid, with my vocation to be part of a community that witnesses to God’s quite personal form of communication. That is to say, while hyperconnectivity around interesting ideas might well serve to sell more books, I am increasingly doubtful that our preferred modes of communication have the capacity to convey the good and true Word which was made flesh in Jesus Christ.

When God wanted to proclaim good news to all the peoples of the earth, he struck up a conversation with a guy named Abraham and told a joke that made Sarah laugh before it made her pregnant. If we are to be about the proclamation of that news in our own time, a medium as personal and conversational as the letter might be the only way.

Read Jonathan’s entire letter here.

Learn more about Letters to a Future Church here.

lettersOP.jpgWith open letters from Andy Crouch, Ron Sider, Shane Claiborne and more, Letters to a Future Church paints a portrait of the world as we have it and the mission we have in it. You may find your calling in this book; you may even find your own voice.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 9:52 AM

April 12, 2012

Letter 3: Bigger Banquet Tables

Rachel Held Evans, author of Evolving in Monkey Town (Zondervan, 2010) and renowned blogger, writes her letter to the North American church with a single message: Feeding people is not enough.

According to the statistics, we are a people of relative prosperity and relative generosity. We control most of the world’s wealth and we give much of it away. Though we struggle with materialism, we value charity. While we want to make the world more just, we don’t always know how to start.

But are we people of the kingdom?

That is the question at the heart of this crisis, and as we struggle together to answer it, I am convinced that we don’t need bigger buildings or fancier sound equipment, better pastors or more parishioners, newer ministries or deeper pockets. What we need are bigger banquet tables.

Jesus loved banquets. He performed his first miracle at a wedding reception in Canaan, turning jars of tepid water into the finest of red wines. He spent so much time feasting in the homes of sinners that the religious wrote him off as a glutton.

When the five thousand were hungry, he served them fish and bread. When the time of his death drew near, he ate dinner with his closest friends. After Peter had denied him three times, he offered redemption over breakfast. It’s as if Jesus knew his message would mean more to us if we could taste and smell it. How fitting that in his absence we remember him by eating together.

I suspect that Jesus used all this delicious imagery because he knew that there is a difference between feeding people and dining with people.

Feeding people means keeping the hungry at arm’s length. It means sending checks now and then, making thanksgiving baskets once a year, preaching about justice, and launching new ministries—all while sitting comfortably at the head of a tiny table, dropping scraps of our abundance to the floor.

Americans are good at feeding people.

But dining with people is an entirely different matter. Dining together means sitting next to one another and brushing arms, passing the bread basket and sharing the artichoke dip. It means double-dipping and spilling drinks, laughing together and crying together, exchanging stories, ideas, recipes and dreams. According to Jesus it means leaving the seat at the head of the table ceremoniously empty so that all are guests of honor and all are hosts. Dining together isn’t charity; it’s friendship.

Read Rachel’s entire letter here.

Get involved and write your own letter here.

lettersOP.jpgWith open letters from Andy Crouch, Ron Sider, Shane Claiborne and more, Letters to a Future Church paints a portrait of the world as we have it and the mission we have in it. You may find your calling in this book; you may even find your own voice.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 9:16 AM

April 3, 2012

Letter 2: The Gospel of the Bible

Tim Challies, pastor of Grace Community Church in Toronto, loves what he sees so far. He is proud to proclaim his part in the church. But he has a growing concern that we are losing touch with the most important thing: the gospel.

Dear Church,

I love you. I’m proud to be part of you. I look around at all the church is accomplishing in the world, all the ways it is living out its mandate, and my heart is just full of joy, full of pride. I see what so many of you are doing, how you are living, and I want to let the whole world know, yes, I’m on their team! They’re on mine!

But Church, I’ve been asked to write you a letter. And in this letter I want to challenge you on one thing, one fundamental thing that seems like it may be in danger of getting lost or getting kicked aside. In the middle of all we do, we may just be losing sight of the heart of it all.

Church—the Bible tells us we are brothers and sisters—we’ve got to get the gospel right. The true gospel. The real gospel. The gospel of the Bible, the one that stands at the very heart of the Christian faith, the one on which the church stands or falls. There are all kinds of gospels floating around out there, all kinds of gospels competing with one another. And amid all of these gospels, we need to discover, or rediscover, or cling to and proclaim the real one, the true one, the only one that fully and finally matters. The only one that saves. We have got to get the gospel right.

I want the church to be excited about new kinds of church community. But not unless we’ve got the gospel right. I want the church to be serving the poor, to be standing with the widow and orphan, to be living in a radically different way. But how can we really serve anyone else until we’ve got this one thing right?

So what is the gospel? What is this good news that gets Christians so excited? What does the Bible call us to believe, to embrace, to take into all the world? That’s what I want to share with you now.

Read the rest of Tim’s letter here.

Get involved and write your own letter here.

lettersOP.jpgWith open letters from Andy Crouch, Ron Sider, Shane Claiborne and more, Letters to a Future Church paints a portrait of the world as we have it and the mission we have in it. You may find your calling in this book; you may even find your own voice.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 9:53 AM