Tag Archives: community

Book review: Radical Together by David Platt

I have read a lot about David Platt’s first bestseller, Radical, so when I saw his latest book, Radical Together, on the list of books to review for booksneeze.com, I jumped at the chance.

Radical Together is meant to explain how to take what David wrote in his first book, Radical, and live them out. To do that David uses a lot of examples by way of illustration, mostly from his mega-church, Brook Hills.

David begins by telling how he and his family ended up at Brook Hills following the devastation wrought by hurricane Katrina. David uses this incident to introduce us to the notion that God sometimes does radical things to get our attention. Like flooding an entire city, destroying lives and property and displacing millions.

For us the flood depicts the radical call of Christ to Christians and the [local] church. When Jesus calls us to abandon everything we have and everything we are, it’s almost as if he is daring us to put ourselves in the flood plain. To put all our lives and all our [local] churches, all our property and all our possessions, all our plans and all our strategies, all our hopes and all our dreams in front of the levee and then ask God to break it. To ask God to sweep away whatever he wants, to leave standing whatever he desires, and to remake our lives and [local] churches according to his will.

David then talks about how he reluctantly came to be the pastor of Brook Hills. He was asked to preach one Sunday and the people there liked him. But he didn’t want to go because he didn’t think he was qualified. David uses this story to express a concept from Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God bible study, that God operates on a mystical plane and that we should expect to find God in whatever it is we don’t want and are (or think we are) wholly unqualified to do.

All of this is in the first chapter where David is describing a problem found in most churches where people are busy but their business is not necessarily geared towards productive ends.

I mostly agree with David’s assessment but he seems to equivocate a lot between church as the body of Christ and church as a particular 501c3 non-profit organization.

At the same time we were studying James, we were going through our church budgeting process. To be honest, I hate budget season. As a pastor, I believe this is when the church comes face to face with hoe prone we are to give our resources to good things while ignoring great need. Christians in North America give, on average, 2.5 percent of their income to their [local] church. Out of that 2.5 percent, churches in North America will give 2 percent of their budgeted monies to needs overseas. In other words, for every hundred dollars a North American Christian earns, he will give five cents through the church to a world with urgent spiritual and physical needs. This does not make sense.

From this David draws the conclusion, which appears to have formed a large part of his previous book, that American Christians are greedy and materialistic. Never mind the fact that Americans out-give all other nations on earth. Unfortunately David seems to think that Christians are required to tithe (exactly how does a charity “earn” anything?) and that local church businesses are the best, if not only, means of giving aid and comfort to the poor. Oh, and we are also told that the people we should be primarily concerned with are the poor in nations other than our own.

From here David begins building his case for what he considers a radical Christian life. Put simply, that life is spent asking the same question Charles Sheldon asked in his book In His Steps, “What Would Jesus Do?”

Throughout Radical Together what struck me the most was how ordinary the message was. While I respect David’s desire to call people to live lives that are more consistent with their stated Christian beliefs, what I kept thinking was how neurotic a person who actually takes David’s (or Sheldon’s for that matter) message seriously.

Through Radical Together it seems like the overall message is to go out and make big changes. That thinking about the problem and are fully planning and, as Jesus said, counting the cost are something we should avoid in favor of, basically, living in the moment.

The only bright part of David’s book was where he brought up and championed the home/small church model. It was refreshing, though somewhat perplexing considering the context, to read a mega-church pastor advocating the employment of all believers equally in the body of Christ and that meeting in a small intimate context is more conducive to the discipleship we are called to practice among the body of Christ.

In the end I wouldn’t recommend Radical Together to anyone to read. If you want to read a “get busy for Jesus” book you would do better to read Sheldon’s classic, In His Steps. Or better yet, throw off the existentialism inherent in the notion that in order to truly follow Christ one needs to be “radical”.

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Man is made for community

Ayn Rand is famous for arguing for a political stance wherein men were seen as sovereign beings. While this view has merits, one of its pitfalls comes when discussing man’s relationship to other men. It seems that any appeal to community is lampooned by her and her followers as “collectivist”. Rand centered her philosophy in the rationality of the mind. However, I believe that it is precisely the mind where we find the strongest reason we have to believe that man is made for community.

When I pressed one of Rand’s followers what reason we have for believing the mind to be an accurate source of true beliefs, I was told:

The reason I trust my mind is due to a long road of trail and error. Started as a baby with simple concept formation.

The process of trial and error is only valid once you have information and a mechanism for evaluating truth from falsehoods. Babies rely on external agents to provide them with information AND the ability to sort out truths from falsehoods.

For example, I jokingly told my kids that landsharks would get them if they didn’t stay in bed a while back. My daughter firmly denied their existence based on prior argumentation of there being no such thing as monsters. My son, however, has been convinced they exist. Both of them have also subsequently been exposed to “evidence” for landsharks in the form of a shark ride at a local park and a youtube clip from SNL (its pretty funny too). Now, how are they supposed to find out, without me or some other external agent telling them, that landsharks are, in fact, not real?

I would agree that a man’s mind is essential to his survival. But the mind alone does not produce information. Like logic, all the mind can do is process what is already in it.

If you maintain that the mind is merely a physical chunk of meat I would wager that your burden of explaining how true beliefs are formed even more difficult since, under such a view, the mind would merely be a slave to the stimuli in the environment around it. This would also further call into question the mind’s design (or lack thereof) of producing true beliefs for it’s owner.

In opposition to this, I would maintain that true beliefs require the intervention of intelligent agents external to ourselves. This condition indicates that man is not complete in and of himself but rather is dependent on others, on the community.

No man is complete in himself, and children are a prime example of this fact.

Man is made for community

A new study shows compelling evidence that we are wired to be social, even from the womb. Of course, this should come as no surprise to the Christian who was told long ago that

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. -Genesis 2:18

And also

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work:

If one falls down,
his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up!
-Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Even secular philosophers recognized this fact

Man is a social animal. – Seneca

And John Donne

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. (Emphasis mine)

Man is made for community.

What does a simple church look like?

When You Come Together from simplechurch.com on Vimeo.

The Rabbit and the Elephant

Internet Ministry

I love reading Alan Knox’s blog, Assembling of the Church, mostly because Alan provides clear insights into the Christian life as expressed in Scripture. Recently Alan has written a few posts on internet ministry wherein he explores the role technology, and social media in particular, plays in regards to evangelization and discipleship. Generally exploring what the life of a Christian in relationship with both believers and non-believers alike looks like when expressed in a synthetic communications medium such as the internet.

Here is an exscript of Alan’s post titled “Internet Ministry” which, I believe, captures the essence of what could be the best thing to happen to Christianity since the printing press.

In my two previous posts concerning internet ministry (“What is it?” and “Evangelism and Discipleship“), I defined internet ministry as “the use of online services, apps, functions, and technologies in order to serve people with the intention of helping those people grow in maturity towards Christ” and concluded that even if we pursue evangelism online, our ultimate goal should be discipleship – that is, not simply making converts, but helping people maturing in their walk with Jesus Christ.

In this post, I am will discuss one of the major benefits of serving people using online resources, and I will show how this benefit can also be a disadvantage.

Of course, the benefit that I’m talking about (as indicated in the title of this post) is the global connection, meaning that by using online resources we are able to connect to people all around the world. Until very recently (less than 100 years), if I wanted to communicate with someone in another country, it would take days, weeks, even months or more. Today, I can talk with people from every country on the planet in seconds.

In previous generations, the only people who could carry on conversations with people of different religions were those who traveled to different countries, or those with neighbors who were part of different religions. Today, anyone with a computer or cell phone with an internet connection can communicate and interact with people from any number of belief systems.

So, the ability to communicate with other people has been drastically improved through the use of online resources. Because of the advancements in communication, many have compared the invention of the internet to the invention of the printing press. And, in many ways, the two inventions are similar. Both inventions dramatically increased the ability to communicate ideas.

Alan goes on to discuss how the apostles used long-distance mediums of communication, letters, to edify, encourage, and generally disciple the early churches. He also goes on to caution us against forming an undue attachment with a particular medium of communication. Specifically neglecting interpersonal or face-to-face communication.

Overall I would say that Alan is on to something that could be pivotal for the body of Christ. What I mean by that is that just like the printing press gave the average Christian access to the Word of God, advancements in technology in general and social media in particular can give the average Christians access to each other.

Handbook for explosive subjects

explosionRecently our small church decided to take on the controversial topic of homosexuality. Not in spite of the controversy, but because of it.

Now I realize that many of you will read that and think that we are intentionally trying to be divisive and unloving but the reality is that our goals are quite the opposite.  Our aim in discussing this topic is to learn how to handle conflict in a more Christlike manner. How to maintain unity in the midst of sharp differences without compromising our deeply held beliefs but, at the same time, while still loving each other and maintaining a humble and teachable spirit.

Why risk the hurt, pain, sorrow, division, etc.?

I’ve been party to a number of debates that have gone sour. Many that have gone past the point of not only wounding feelings and damaging long-held relationships to outright hatred. I’ve been party to some debates that have ended up putting a wedge in otherwise deep and intimate relationships (or so I thought) to the point where I haven’t talked to them in years (except for the occasional sniping).

I share that to let you know that I take very seriously the risks and dangers inherent in what I’m proposing. I understand that we are playing with fire and that some will get burned. However, as Augustine mentions in his famous “City of God” in reference to those who don’t wish to examine Christianity for fear of being converted (and I’ll paraphrase): Standing far off from the sun not only keeps you from getting sunburned, but it also prevents you from enjoying it’s warmth.

Intimacy comes with risks.

The question we have to ask ourselves is whether we are content to remain at a superficial level or if we want to risk going deeper and get to know each other in a more meaningful sense.

This is a serious question and a scary proposition for many people because it also means that, while we get to know others we are likely to find out they are far more broken than we have bargained for.

We will also find out that we are far less saintly than we like to imagine.

Love is messy.

How do we plan on accomplishing this?

If our chief concern were mere unity and superficial agreement, then we certainly would not take this path. However our goal is truth, whom we also believe to be a person in the form of Jesus Christ.1

In this respect, I believe that our only hope of surviving, and indeed thriving, is to keep our eyes firmly fixed on three main truths found in Scripture when it comes to controversy.

Mind the logs in our eyes

Jesus told us that before we take on the responsibility2 of correcting others we ought to first examine ourselves. Likewise we are told by James that our own evil desires are the source of the divisions among us (not the topic!) and that accordingly our tongues are among the greatest weapons of mass destruction known to man.

In our quest for truth we have to keep our finiteness in mind and remain teachable, no matter how convinced we are that we are right.

One seminary professor put it to his students this way: What would it take to convince you to walk away from the faith? If you answer is nothing then you should reexamine Scripture because yours is not the faith of the Bible.

Put simply, people who can never be persuaded or shown wrong are incapable of intimacy and do not value truth.

Stick to the facts

Since we are not omniscient we have no insight into the intentions of others and, as such, all of our arguments must be constrained to the realm of facts, reason, and evidence.

Not having either a theological degree or a computer science degree (my other love) I’ve learned to rely on facts and well formed arguments when making my case. Since I can’t use the “well this is how I was taught to do it in/by …” approach (which I’ve also found doesn’t work even if you insert the most prestigious names), I have to essentially rely upon tactics that are meant to persuade, as opposed to force, the other person to convince them of my position on any given topic. What I’ve also found using this approach is that quite often the other person will have something I hadn’t considered to bring to the table which, while derailing me from my original point for a time, adds to both of our understandings rather than subtracting from it.

So if we are to have any hope of getting to and understanding the truth (which is what we should be seeking after as of paramount importance)  we need to exhaustively study any subject we hope to engage in3 and we need to limit our comments and questions to the subject at hand4.

Above all else, love

This is far easier said than done, of course, but our whole goal of intentionally discussing such a controversial issue is to strengthen and expand the free-flow of communication between us. After all, if we claim to be the members of the same body we should understand that our head, that is Christ, was extremely divisive in his day when it came to the ruling religious majority but yet he managed to do so in a spirit of truth and love. Consequently, Ephesians 4:15 tells us that we should “speak the truth in love”.

Coupled with the description in 1 Corinthians 13 of what love is, and using the example Jesus himself set, we should weigh our comments and arguments against what we know of those we are talking with. This has the dual benefit of also helping us more effectively engage the world around us (that is, people in the world around us) by teaching us to temper the truth we are convicted of from our diligent study.

The road marked out ahead of us is not going to be easy, and we covet any and all prayers on our behalf as we walk through this minefield. However we also know the pearl we hope to gain, that is real and genuine community centered on the truth with a  willingness and ability to engage each other and grow spiritually, is certainly worth the cost.

Ultimately the charge to pick up our crosses and engage in explosive (and often hurtful) subjects can be stated this way:

Jesus didn’t leave us where he found us, so the least we can do for our brethren is not to leave them the where we find them.

Happy debating!

  1. Incidentally, even non-christians have noted the inconstancy and illogical way in which passages such as Titus 3:10 have frequently been used to quell “divisive people” rather than taking these as an opportunity for genuine growth. []
  2. Notice I said “before”, not “if”. One of the greatest misconceptions in the Christian community today is that we are not supposed to judge. Quite the opposite. We are to judge well according to John 7:24. []
  3. This also means we should have a broad range of subjects we can speak intelligently on if we hope to do anything more than remain silent in most conversations that happen around us. Being learned in several subjects also has the added benefit of making us better and more interesting conversationalists which, surprisingly, makes people more interested in talking with us. This is a large part of the answer to overcoming the common fear of sharing our faith with others. []
  4. The funny thing about rabbit trails is that they never, or very rarely, lead you anywhere productive. I think Paul would agree that an ordered meeting would include a clear discussion on one topic at a time so that everyone can keep up and participate. []

What is simple church?

A friend of mine recently asked, “What is simple church and how is it different than what we normally call ‘church’?”

Simple church is a pretty broad term and is rather hard to nail down. I think the best place to begin is to say that the aim (at least in the one I am in) is to be as close to the model of a church as portrayed in the Bible as possible.

Simple simply refers to the desire to jettison all the cruft normally associated with institutional organizations we mistakenly label “church” these days including programs, buildings, bulletins (which represent a strict order of worship), clergy (that is, we reject the common clergy/laity distinction as divisive to the Body of Christ), etc (more mentioned in Frank Viola‘s excellent book, Pagan Christianity.

Another aspect of “simple” is that we strive to maintain a small group and will unhesitatingly spawn another group if/when ours grows beyond what can comfortably fit in a modest living room (around 20 to 30 people).

One of the different things we do, as a consequence, is maintain open-participatory meetings where every member is free to add and interject anything they wish. Many people cringe at this thought and wonder how such a meeting wouldn’t devolve into a complete chaotic mess. But this is where an odd reliance on the unifying and guiding power of the Holy Spirit comes into play, to the point (at least in the small group we’ve had the privilege of being a part of) where both order and mutual edification are possible. In fact, in this type of meeting we tend to see more mutual edification and instruction given because the burden of preparation and teaching do not fall on the shoulders of any single one of us but are instead borne by each of us who are given the gift of teaching which is far more Biblical than having these responsibilities rest in any single individual week after week.

Another interesting difference is in how we relate to each other and how we handle differences among ourselves. In our group we all come from a variety of backgrounds and theological persuasions which, on the surface at least, would seem to make the task of unity far more difficult than if we were to simply ascribe to a denominational profession of faith. However, what I’ve found is that our lack of confessions, creeds, and councils tends to make us far more willing to debate in love our differences as we know that our ability to disagree in love is a key element to our community’s continuing to exist. Our smallness and lack of a membership roll provides much more incentive for us to be more careful where we draw lines of division and makes us much more generous in our debates with each other.

Some excellent resources to help you get a better idea of what a simple church is (or ought to be) can be found at:

I’m by no means an expert. We’ve only been attending a local house church for the past couple of months. But what I’ve seen so far (and I thank God for the wonderful people we’ve met considering the horror stories we’ve heard) has been very good and meshes quite well with all the research I’ve done in the area of Biblical ecclesiology.

The bottom line is that while most other places merely preach the priesthood of the believer in passing, it has only been in simple church where I’ve actually seen it put into practice.

Kissing campaign for peace

The kissing lips“Greet each other with a Holy kiss” is a phrase used at least 4 times in the New Testament.1 Each time it is used, it is issued as an imperative, urging the readers to greet their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ with a Holy Kiss. But what is this “Holy kiss” and why don’t we practice it any more?

When I was younger man I used to laugh along with my friends at this sentiment, imagining it to be some sort of first century dating scheme or pick-up line. While this notion of what a holy kiss is is still enough to produce giggles even from mature adults, I wonder how many people realize how important these commands are and why it is imperative that we  at least learn what a “holy kiss” meant in the first century and how, if properly practiced, such a sentiment could lead to much needed healing within the Christian community.

To begin with, the concept of kissing someone on the cheek by way of greeting is not particularly new or uncommon in many cultures. Many of us may think about the popular Hollywood, European, and middle eastern greetings which often involve a kiss on both cheeks. Some of us have even haven even seen (or have at least heard of culturally awkward stories which include) greetings involving a kiss on the lips. While these modern-day greetings come close, they don’t quite capture what Paul and Peter were trying to convey in their letters.

To get a good understanding of how we are to treat each other we need to take a closer look at James, specifically James chapter 2 where James discusses the equality of everyone who is a member of the body of Christ and how partiality and preferential treatment are out of place among a people who have all been graciously adopted into the family of God.

Next we need to understand that there exists strong evidence that the type of greeting advocated by Paul and Peter was normally reserved for close family and friends. In fact, a strong case can be made that many modern day greetings which utilize a kiss are really pale replicas of the genuine and heart-felt greetings performed in the first century.

A good example of how the greeting kiss can be (and was) perverted into a false display of kinship is seen in how Jesus himself was betrayed by Judas in the garden of Gethsemane2. What made it worse is that by many accounts the kind of kiss given by Judas was one which was sloppy and on the lips, two major social violations and displays of ingratitude

In fact, Jesus pointed out the failure of his hosts to greet him properly and points to a woman who not only poured out expensive perfume on Jesus but kissed his feet while drying them with her hair as an example they ought to follow.3

The best example, however, of a proper kiss in the right can be seen in the greeting the father gives his son in the story of the prodigal son.4 Hoping to merely be treated as a servant (an improvement from the situation in which he found himself) the son is surprised to be greeted as a son and given a ring displaying his restored status.

With this in mind let’s turn back to Paul and Peter’s admonitions to greet each other with a holy kiss and ask ourselves the simple question; “Do we really see our brothers and sisters in Christ as our family?” We certainly like to proclaim that we do, but as James also points out in his book, our actions speak far louder than our words.

What would we look like, as the body and bride of Christ, if we learned to truly embrace, love, and care for each other? How would it transform our discussions, debates, arguments, and our general attitude towards each other?

I can only dare to dream what such a change in heart would produce and look like, but I dare to say it would mean we would look a lot more like the church we read about in Acts which “had all things in common”5.

Such an authentic community might even be the answer to Jesus’s prayer in the garden right before he died for our sins.6

  1. 1 Cor 16:20, 1 Cor 13:12, 1 Thes 5:25, 1 Pet 5:14 []
  2. Mark 14:45 []
  3. One of the few stories told in all four gospels: Mat 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-50, John 12:1-8 []
  4. Like 15:20 []
  5. Acts 2:44 []
  6. John 17:1-26 []