The forgotten art of listening


photo: iStock

 

As I write, the signs look ominous for much of our world…

Trumped?


President elect, Donald Trump | photo: Wiki

President elect, Donald Trump | photo: Wiki

 

I am a ‘legal alien’, I carry a Green Card and all our children have been born here, but I cannot vote in America….

Letter from America by Josh Moody: How to reach an increasingly secular culture


photo: iStock

photo: iStock

It is becoming more apparent day-by-day that Western culture is facing a post-Christendom reality.

Bruce Jenner1, the Supreme Court debating homosexuality2 and on and on. What then evangelicals?

Here is a three step plan to reach an increasingly secular culture….

(to read more click here)

Josh Moody is the senior pastor of College Church, Wheaton, Illinois.

This article was first published in the July 2015 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, articles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Letter from America by Josh Moody: Holy internet debate


Letter From America

(view original article here)

The text, ‘be holy as I am holy’, is perhaps one of the most old-fashioned sounding in the Bible.

But it is newly alive with interpretative complexities. How are we to be holy? Can Christians be called to be holy? What is the most effective means by which Christians are urged towards holiness? Is it legalism to urge the use of the law in Christian discipleship? Are Christians supposed to put effort into their holiness?

Particularly amusing has been a minor debate taking place in the nether world of the internet as to whether Christians are actually sinners. Given that most would recognise that Christians are also regenerate and justified, it seems unlikely that any can deny seriously that Christians are nonetheless still liable to sin. If any do doubt it, they only need to observe the manner of debate on some blogs: there for all to see is this incontrovertible fact that Christians do indeed still sin.

Spurgeon’s jug

It reminds me of the old story of Charles Spurgeon – I trust not entirely apocryphal. When at a conference listening to man saying he had attained sinless perfection, the next morning Spurgeon is said to have poured a jug of milk over his head. And watched his sinless perfection evaporate before his (and everyone else’s) eyes.

Of course that debate was different to this one. Then the debate was whether Christians could attain a state of sinless perfection through some higher experience, or an especially devoted yielding of themselves to God. Now the debate is as to the appropriate means towards holiness. It seems incontrovertible that the gospel encourages holiness (Romans 12.1: ‘… in view of God’s mercy… offer your bodies as living sacrifices’, meaning that considering the whole massive panoply of the gospel, – ‘God’s mercy’– we are to sacrifice ourselves for Jesus). It also seems incontrovertible that being called on to obey God is orthodox Christian teaching: much of the second half of Paul’s letters is in the imperative mood, if not literally always in the imperative tense. Yet it is not now solely a matter of will power – by the Spirit, as born again Christians, we are enabled to follow Jesus so we strive to do so. Perhaps Philippians 2.12-13 is the text that we all need to make a renewed effort to memorise, for its wonderful balance: ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose’.

Or a refresher course on J.C. Ryle’s Holiness. Or, if his language from that long ago is a stretch or the book is too long in our soundbite age, at least the excellent The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges. As J.I. Packer said of it, ‘The work is pure gold: be sensible, and invest in it’. Anyone fancy doing a reprint of the Bridges classic? Or another of Ryle, perhaps a summary version?

Better still, write a new one. Take Philippians 2 as your text. Work out what God works in.

 

Josh Moody is the senior pastor of College Church, Wheaton, Illinois.

This article was first published in the July 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Letter from America by Josh Moody: Meet the president!


Letter From America

(view original article here)

Josh Moody interviews David S. Dockery, the newly appointed president of Trinity International University.

This university in Illinois, USA, includes Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where Don Carson is a professor.

JM: What do you love about Trinity?

DD: I love the mission of Trinity International University, which is to educate men and women to engage in God’s redemptive work in the world by cultivating academic excellence, Christian faithfulness, and lifelong learning.

I love the stellar faculty members at Trinity who are committed to that mission. I genuinely admire their scholarship and their commitment to teaching, even as I love their dedication to students and to the work of the church. I love the staff at Trinity, the people who shape community, serve the students, and carry out the high calling of what I often call the hidden curriculum. I love the heart of the students at Trinity, both undergraduate and graduate students.

I am looking forward to getting to know all aspects of the university better. I love Trinity’s intercultural and international commitments, expressed in the institution’s investment in the life and work of the global church. The list of things and people that I love at Trinity is long, but I will stop there.

JM: What are the opportunities you envision for Trinity?

DD: Trinity’s numerous opportunities are tied to the institutional strengths. There are key opportunities to help shape Trinity’s expanding identity and influence in the world of Christian higher education. I think there are opportunities to help ensure Trinity’s ongoing commitments to evangelical faithfulness, to cultural engagement and service to the church.

I am excited to think about opportunities to help the divinity school focus on its distinctive calling, even as we work to strengthen and expand the work of the undergraduate programme. We have many opportunities, I believe, in the world of graduate programmes, including ways to help the Trinity Law School mature and develop. I think that there are great opportunities associated with three of the centres at Trinity, the Bioethics Center, the Carl Henry Center and the Jonathan Edwards Center; I believe that all three of these have incredible promise.

We will trust the Lord to guide our steps as we prioritise our efforts.

JM: What are the challenges that you see for Trinity?

DD: Trinity faces some of the same challenges that almost every other private college or university is facing at this time. These are things like the need for enrolment stability, revenue enhancement, finding the best and wisest ways to use technology, and other similar challenges that we share with our friends in the world of private higher education.

Trinity certainly has not been exempt from the enrolment and revenue challenges over the past five or six years. Now, Trinity must prioritise enrolment management, student retention, services to students, and resource development. Likewise, Trinity must continue to address matters associated with faculty and staff development in order to help us pursue Christ-centred excellence in all that we do each and every day.

Moreover, Trinity faces some unique challenges that are associated with its distinctive structure, a structure that includes a large divinity school, a smaller undergraduate programme, and underdeveloped graduate programmes, including the law school. In addition, Trinity has the challenge of serving and resourcing extension sites in South Chicago, South Florida, and Southern California.

We certainly will need God’s help, blessings and favour for the days ahead.

JM: How can others pray for Trinity?

DD: We need God’s wisdom, help, grace, favour and blessings for the days to come.

Please pray that the Lord would grant to us a sense of coherence in our identity and work, a sense of collaboration across the campus that would result in a new synergy in our shared efforts, and a team of administrators, faculty and staff who are working together shoulder-to-shoulder to advance the wonderful mission of Trinity.

Please pray that the Lord would send us the right students, that he would expand our resources, and that he would grant us unexpected blessings for the calling that is ours. We must all come to a place of recognising anew our sense of total dependence on our good and great God for his provision for Trinity.

Please pray that we all would be found faithful in our leadership and our stewardship of the institution, working together to advance the gospel and a Christ-centred approach to higher education for the glory of God..

Josh Moody is the senior pastor of College Church, Wheaton, Illinois.

This article was first published in the May 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Letter from America by Josh Moody: Death of a… communicator


Letter From America

(view original article here)

Arthur Miller’s famous play, Death of a Salesman, has come to mind recently in a somewhat facetious, but applicable way.

The first time I was aware of it was when a then-famous preacher asked me what my role was at College Church. This in itself was not particularly unusual. Titles for positions of church staff are sometimes opaque, and it makes sense to delve a little further.

Before I had a chance to reply though, he interjected, ‘Are you “the communicator”?’ I was caught off-guard, for while my main role is indeed preaching, I had never thought of myself as quote, unquote, the communicator. I mumbled a hesitant, ‘Uh, yeah, I suppose so…’ and the conversation continued along other lines that are not pertinent to the point of this article.

What we call preachers

Since then, that conversation has continued to ring in my mind as I have observed various labels related to preachers develop in popular Christian subculture in America. The most obvious is the category known as ‘gifted communicator.’

I ask myself these days what that actually means. Obviously, I believe in there being different gifts given by God to edify the body and reach the world. Equally obviously, I do not think I need to look through the particular list of gifts in the NT (such as in 1 Corinthians and Ephesians) and specify a particular gift by name in order to include it in the pantheon of giftedness today. God’s grace gifts are gracious, and I am sure there are more gifts than specifically mentioned in those lists, overlapping and exemplary as they probably are.

Paul, the gifted communicator?

The concern I have is not so much with the category of a gift which cannot itself be found in the gifts of the Spirit in the Bible; though that causes me to pause. I can comfort myself that different translations of different gifts could be expressed in various ways in the vernacular, and that there are surely more gifts present than are listed there.

No, my concern is that I am suspicious that the category of ‘gifted communicator’ actually falls more naturally, within the NT’s descriptions, in a somewhat negative rather than positive light. After all, when you read through 1 Corinthians, you find that Paul – no doubt self-aware of being a gifted speaker, in some sense, and a gifted writer – was heavily criticised for his lack of spectacular gifting in these areas by the Corinthian church. In fact, as the category of ‘gifted communicator’ goes, he seems pretty determined to distance himself from that idea.

In retrospect, I probably should have answered the question ‘Are you “the communicator”?’ with: ‘No, I am a preacher of God’s Word by God’s power, not human rhetoric’. It seems to me that that is closer to what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians.

The relevant passage is worth quoting in full, for while you can no doubt find it in your own Bibles, I would especially like to draw attention to the way that Paul frames his understanding of his purpose as a preacher of God’s Word in God’s power. It is inescapably polarised against preaching with the rhetoric of the standard schools of rhetoric (read, ‘communication theory’) of his day:

‘When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power’ (1 Corinthians 2.1-5, NIV).

Dr Lloyd-Jones

In case you think this is an interpretation of this passage that suggests that preachers, therefore, should not attempt to communicate well, should not do their homework, should not try to structure their talks and writing in ways that are most likely to persuade, consider Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Surely he, of any of the 20th-century preachers, was at times given to preach with God’s power, and had, most would say who heard him, an unusual communication ability. Yet he did not view preaching the same as having perfectly-crafted, gifted communication. Sentences were not always grammatically accurate; structure was not always perfect. He lived in a different time and had different issues against which to contrast his ministry, but the point I think is well taken in our context.

Being able to speak for an hour without notes and make everyone laugh as you do so, all the while keeping within the bounds of conservative, reformed evangelicalism, does not necessarily equate to preaching with the power of God. In fact, perhaps, if we take Paul’s writing above carefully, on its own it cannot.

Josh Moody is the senior pastor of College Church, Wheaton, Illinois.

This article was first published in the April 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to EN for monthly updates.

Letter from America by Josh Moody: ‘Preachers of L.A.’


From a British point of view it is scarcely believable.

But coming soon to American TV is a reality TV series based on the flamboyant lifestyles of preachers from Los Angeles. Called Preachers of L.A., it promises a behind-the-scenes look at how certain kinds of megachurch pastors really live. The concern that this announcement has generated has largely been about the evident ‘prosperity gospel’ emphasis of these ‘Preachers of L.A.’ (see October’s column). I am reminded, though, a little of the old quip about Mary Baker Eddy’s ‘Christian Science’ movement, that it is neither Christian nor Science. Similarly the ironic aspect of the prosperity gospel is that it is neither offering true prosperity nor the real gospel.

Christian subculture

I am mentioning Preachers of L.A not so much to comment on the prosperity gospel but to remark on the sheer cheese factor. It continues to amaze me because my background was so different but there really are people who grew up in an environment where most, if not all, of the cultural conversation revolved around church, Christian media outlets, and general subcultural Christian norms of a fundamentalistic type.

If part of the purpose of this ‘Letter from America’ is to explain American evangelicalism to its British counterpart, then it is important to stress this subcultural phenomenon. J.I. Packer nailed the issues related to it in his Fundamentalism and the Word of God. It is important to read that classic book, or at least understand its context, because otherwise a lot of the books published over here, the books that are read, the church models that are promoted will make little sense — or worse they will be adopted unthinkingly in a British context without realising that the target that they are aiming at exists in Tallahassee but not Sevenoaks.

Reacting to culture

Many American evangelical leaders who appear to be writing in a way that moves away from Christian orthodoxy are doing so because they are reacting to a culture in which they grew up where there was a hardline connecting ‘do not drink’ or ‘do not go to the movies’ with ‘believe in substitutionary atonement’. I barely can conceive that such a thing can exist — and it is rarer now than it was — but, believe me, it has not gone away here.

Different context from Britain

It can be more subtle than that too. Some models of church growth, or church health, are really sending the message, ‘we are not a bunch of ignorant fundamentalists but know the Bible and church history quite well’. That is all fine, I suppose, but it has little relevance to someone who is unlikely to think that the vicar from St. Peter’s down the road is an ignorant fundamentalist. More likely to think that he is wet, or out of date, or a very nice man as long as he doesn’t insist that everyone has to believe in Jesus and go to church.

Few then in the UK are likely to ape the more outlandish models of ministry soon to be broadcast in Preachers of L.A., but there are other preachers who do not appear in reality TV series, and who are not prosperity gospel preachers, whose models of ministry are nonetheless designed for their cultural context, a context that is remarkably different from other places in the world. Remember the Bible does not provide us with 16 ways to do church just like we do. God seems to have left more up to the creativity, maturity, and common sense of the leaders of his church (insisting on orthodoxy and orthopraxy, of course) than we might have done if we had been designing or writing a manual for church that was to last thousands of years. Of that we may be grateful, feel a little scared, and rather more free than preachers of L.A., San Francisco, D.C., New York, Dallas, or anywhere else that might spring to mind.

Josh Moody is the senior pastor of College Church, Wheaton, Illinois.

This article was first published in the November 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Letter from America by Josh Moody: Good news for orphans


Recently I have been involved in an international conference in Kiev, Ukraine, seeking to develop a ‘Ukraine Without Orphans’.

Why describe this, you ask, in ‘Letter from America’? Because American Christians, too, are becoming focused on adoption. Russell Moore, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, emphasises this point in his teaching. And recently Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, sparked no little controversy by banning adoption of Russians by Americans.

What could be closer to God’s heart than orphans? I am enthusiastic about this movement for all sorts of practical, clear, and compassionate reasons. I also want to make sure that the Father heart of God, which is motivating these adoption movements, continues to have the power of the gospel as their foundation and inspiration.

Gospel at the heart

Church history is full of examples of good biblical action taken on the part of the church which has devolved into little more than a social action movement. The reason for this seems to be that the original movers and shakers feel that everyone knows why they are doing what they are doing, because, initially, everyone does. Before too long, though, if you are not careful, the default mode of the human heart appears and we begin once more to lean towards legalism, or human-centered forms of religion. That is why we have to have the Word and therefore the gospel at the heart and as the motivating engine of any of these kinds of greatly needed movements to express care to the least among us.

Our righteousness cannot be in visiting people in prison, or feeding the poor, for no one can do that enough to satisfy the righteous demands of a holy God. We act in care towards others as an expression of the gospel, as people who have been transformed by the gospel, and as a sign that we are gospel people. But our righteousness is Christ. Without that we will either become demotivated and the movement will dry up and lose steam, or the movement will continue but become less and less Christian. Witness: YMCA (which originally stood for Young Men’s Christian Association).

Josh Moody is the senior pastor of College Church, Wheaton, Illinois.

This article was first published in the March 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Letter from America by Josh Moody: Growing up in the manse


I grew up in a boarding school. My father was a boarding school house master, and we lived on the grounds of this community.

I did not grow up in a manse or vicarage or parsonage. My children, of course, are growing up ‘Pastor’s Kids’ (PKs). How can I help them flourish in that environment?

As I write, America is shocked and saddened to hear of the suicide of Matthew Warren, the son of well known megachurch pastor Rick Warren. I know Warren only by reputation, but, as I read his email describing the tragedy, I was struck by his remarkably compassionate and wise response. My heart went out to him as a father and I immediately tweeted: ‘Praying for Rick Warren and family’. Since then there have been several attacks launched against the Warrens, slurs and innuendos, and my heart is grieved again. Can you not give the man and his family some peace? Mark Driscoll blogged a fiery response to these critics, defending Rick Warren against such attacks.

How will they turn out?

It is also making me ask myself a wider and more personal question: how can I — as a father of four children — do all that I can to ensure that their experience growing up as ‘PKs’ is not only positive, generally speaking, but a place of spiritual, physical, emotional and cultural thriving? I hesitate to give any advice at this stage of our lives — our eldest is 12 and our youngest is one — as I may have to eat my words in 20 years’ time. I am trying certain things, but who knows how they will turn out? But, for what it is worth, I pass along my thoughts in five bullet point suggestions and would be interested if readers have any additional comments along the same lines.

* Actually care. I can fail to express my care for my children, I can fail to give them the time they should receive, but, as one elder at College Church said to me recently, children know when they are actually being loved. That love may or may not be exactly what they want, but if you love them, care for them, even if you fail to express it perfectly, likely as not they will realise they are being loved — and will love you for it, long-term, even if they think you are about as trendy as a goat on roller skates.

* Give time. I hate to confess it, but this is probably where I struggle most. I work hard. I always have. Too hard, no doubt. But time is short and I have a mission and I’m scared to death I won’t get it done before I die. But, part of that mission is being a dad. And being a dad means: time. Unstructured time. ‘Wasted’ time, ‘unproductive’ time.

Relational glue

* Find individual and specific ways to spend time with each of the children (if you have more than one). Now I have four, and I am astonished how different each of them is. Their ‘love language’ (to use Chapman’s phrase) is different for each of them, and finding a way to express that care in that specific way for each of them is critical, it seems to me. If there is an overlap between things I like and things he/she likes, all the better. That overlap space seems to create relational glue.

* Do everything I can to avoid the children overhearing the Current Report About Problems at the church. I have a sneaking suspicion that anyone much younger than 30, and with considerable spiritual maturity, is too young/fragile to hear about the underbelly of church politics, failures and general nastiness. I love the church, and most of it is great. But you know what I mean. Children cannot hear about this stuff.

* Spend personal devotional time with each child. Everyone has different theories about how to do this, but here’s mine: I think that if a parent can personally sit down, intimately, personally, with the Bible and with a child, then the chances of the Word digging into that deep mother-father, soul space is much increased.

Those are a few thoughts. But most of all pray for the Warrens — who no doubt have a better answer to all of this than I do, or ever will.

Josh Moody is the senior pastor of College Church, Wheaton, Illinois.

This article was first published in the May 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Letter from America by Josh Moody: Simeon in the USA


A group of pastors gathered in Wheaton, outside Chicago, in May for a three-day course on Bible exposition.

Vaughan Roberts from Oxford and yours truly provided the instruction sessions and expositions for this course, but the real heart of this Simeon Trust workshop is the small group ministry that takes place. Dave Helm, head of the Simeon Trust in America, has provided a wonderful set of material and a framework which serves many pastors up and down the country to encourage them to preach the word faithfully.

We are called to ‘Stay on the Line’, that is say neither more nor less than what the Bible text says. To that end we are to discover the ‘Melodic Line’ of a book, and passage, its overarching theme, and the main point that binds the whole message together. We can do this by spotting repetitions, top and tail indications from the author of a book and passage concerning what he is trying to communicate.

Another helpful tool is ‘Bone and Marrow’, that is looking for the structure of a text. Because the Bible, unlike the Qur’an, is held to be both 100% divine and 100% human, it means that texts have structure, and this structure reveals emphasis. The tool ‘Travelling Instructions’ encourage us to make sure we establish historical context before we leap to application, so that our application is faithful to what God has said, and therefore the application is all the more acute and genuinely relevant. Finally, ‘Travelling through the Cross’ holds out the concept that the Bible is one book, and that it all speaks of Christ. We are to preach Christ if we are Christian preachers, and this tool helps us to do that in a way that is intrinsic to the text and not trite or simplistic.

These lectures, if the terminology is not exactly identical, will be familiar to EN readers, because they are built upon the training in exposition of Dick Lucas. The Proclamation Trust in England is a similar organisation to the Simeon Trust in America.

More about The Simeon Trust can be discovered at http://www.simeon.org

Josh Moody is the senior pastor of College Church, Wheaton, Illinois.

This article was first published in the June 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057