Start With Adults!
I appreciate and applaud Tim Stafford’s plea for a fresh look at the needs of children vis-à-vis Sunday school [“This Little Light of Mine,” Oct. 8]. However, a fundamental shift needs to take place in the way we view the business of Christian education before we can see any significant reversals in the decline of this venerable institution.
The place to start turning this sluggish beast around is not with children, but with adults. We have seen our Sunday school more than double in the last four to five years through an all-out focus on adults. We began by contributing to the “burial mound for unused Sunday school literature,” and, for the most part, we develop our own adult materials in house. Then we expanded classes to hours we were told adults wouldn’t attend, and they came.
A serious commitment to the ongoing development of adults through Christian education will build a solid base for a solid children’s Sunday school.
Robert Bayley, D.Min.
Central Presbyterian Church
Saint Louis, Mo.
I found it interesting that in the same week Time magazine featured a cover story titled “Do we care about our kids?” Tim Stafford concluded that we don’t. That seems hardly surprising in a country that spends a billion dollars every year killing off children before they see the light of day and imposes cruel and unusual punishments on those who try to stop the slaughter.
The most important issue was not mentioned, and that is the lack of biblical and theological education for those who teach Sunday school. This education, in a strong academic level, has never been offered except on the college and seminary campus. By a dependable survey, only 10 percent of all who teach youth and adult Sunday school have had any biblical and theological education on the college level. Teachers have never been students!
We do not want our children in a school with untrained teachers during the week. What about on Sunday in Sunday “school”? Adults who will teach need to become students and then teachers.
Irvin E. Cole, President
American Association of
Theological Study Centers
No Cheers For Belt-Notchers
Hooray for Charles Colson for having the courage to speak out against politicians who make the execution of criminals some sort of belt-notching contest [“Voting for the Executioner,” Oct. 8], It is a terrible indictment against society and the church when we resort to solving the problem of violent crime in the same manner that violent criminals solve their problems. Is faith in the power of the gospel to change the heart just some empty platitude that we quote but don’t believe?
Is Charles Colson’s vote against the public executioner a vote for the thousands of private executioners who wantonly slaughter people like pigs on the streets of our cities? And how does his vote fit with “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made He man” (Gen. 9:6)?
Rev. Don W. Hillis
Emulating The Puritans
Thank you for the splendid, insightful article by J. I. Packer on the Puritans [“What the Puritans Taught Me,” Oct. 8]. Packer stated that “some ages have special messages for other ages.” If only the Western church, especially in North America, could see its shallowness and superficiality and begin to imitate the Puritans who “fought for truth against error, for personal holiness against temptations to sin, for ordered wisdom against chaotic folly, for church purity and national righteousness against corruption and hostility in both areas”!
P. Fredrick Fogle
The Milton Friedman School of Evangelism
One of the great combinations in Christendom is free enterprise and evangelism. And the best current example of this is the proliferation of jewelry, Bible covers, and T-shirts now on the market. What better way to share your faith than with a diamond-studded doodad that spells Jesus or with a T-shirt that redeems a beer slogan (“His blood’s for you!”)?
My only complaint is that we’ve barely tapped the market. Why not reclaim all of consumerism for Jesus. For starters, conscientious imbibers could uncork a bottle of Agua-Cana, the wine that turns into water (the real miracle could be explained on the label). On the soft-drink side, why not Israel-Lite?
With Lee Iacocca’s marketing savvy, I’m sure he could get his engineers to build the laser-fast Jehu.
Apple, Inc., brought out the Macintosh computer, and Commodore gave us the Amiga. Isn’t there a Christian entrepreneur who could slap the name Solomon onto a 386 machine?
Nintendo has been a big seller, especially at this time of the year. You’d think someone in the fold would offer some new game cartridges: Super Joseph’s Brothers, Wrestling Jacob, or Stoning Stephen.
Nike might want to consider a new line of water skis (River Jordans), while luggage manufacturers might want to diversify into the field of fitness with Samson Health Clubs.
And something tells me the name Methuselah would be a big draw for just about any business in Arizona or Florida.
Pet aficionados already have Noah’s Ark, and cookie lovers go ga-ga over Famous Amos. So it wouldn’t be too much of a jump to Wicker by Moses, Sarah’s Maternity Shops, or Zaccheus’s Tax Service.
Some may think this is nothing less than crass materialism, but if John Lennon could make a few million on Jude, what’s the harm in cashing in on a few earthly treasures ourselves? All for the sake of evangelism, of course.
Two-Covenent Theology Tensions
I appreciated Ken Myers’s article “Adjusting Theology in the Shadow of Auschwitz” [Oct. 8]. While I am a mainline Lutheran pastor who enjoys the writings of modern post-Auschwitz theologians, I can still relate to some of the tension Myers points to in the Willowbank Declaration event. It’s a fine report.
The tension Myers seems to point toward is “How can Christianity maintain the integrity of its Christological imperative for salvation with genuine mission fervor, yet coexist with other world faiths (such as Judaism) without being called anti-Semitic or some sort of old-fashioned Christian imperialist).”
Evangelicals don’t seem to want to “come clean” on one question. That is “What do Christian theologians say to six million Jews who died for their faith, which was not centered on Jesus Christ as Savior?” I don’t think too many evangelicals wish to suggest that the six million Jews who suffered in death camps now suffer eternal damnation.
As I see it, the two-covenant theology that Myers and the Willowbank Declaration criticize is one attempt to come to grips with this awkwardness.
Willowbank’s Declaration and event may simply be the writing on the wall signifying that Christians who upheld an uncompromising traditional dogmatic theology of an ancient Christian Christology are in for rocky times ahead in face of world religions making their claims as legitimate expressions of worshiping God.
Rev. David Coffin
Trinity Lutheran Church
Thank you for allowing Myers to raise the question “Does the Holocaust change the context for Christian evangelization of the Jews?” I am personally grateful for his understanding of the issue. He has spoken the truth with loving insight.
I worked as the coordinator for the Willowbank Consultation, which met in April 1989. Observing those internationally respected scholars working together has been one of the high points of my life.
The focus of the Willowbank Consultation was narrow by design. Other important matters raised there have been left for another scholarly consultation that will be convened in 1991.
San Francisco, Calif.
Hoping for an intelligent discussion on the impact of one of the most horrendous historical events ever to occur, I found the usual knee-jerk conservative polemic to convert Jews.
Does not this event at least deserve the frank discussion of the hypothesis that possibly, just possibly, “Christian” Europe and the birthplace of Luther might have contributed something to the rationale for the destruction of European Jewry, and that Christian churches might have resisted and addressed the slaughter a bit more passionately?
Myers’s article displays the unfortunate amnesia current in evangelical theology.
Rev. John R. Mazarella
First Baptist Church
Arkansas City, Kans.
Mcquilkina “Marvelous Model”
Thank you so much for the sensitive and inspiring article “Living by Vows” [Oct. 8]. Having gone through a similar experience with my own parents, it was doubly meaningful to me. This is a marvelous model for our young people—what a testimony it must be on the Columbia Bible College and Seminary campus of commitment in marriage. Thank you for addressing this timely subject!
Stop Looking for “Miracles”
At a recent workshop at an international church conference, a Mennonite pastor from Indonesia told of God’s miraculous protection (by a wall of fire) from an anti-Christian Muslim mob. A Tanzanian Mennonite bishop then reported on miraculous healings.
The North American delegates attending the workshop responded with a question: “Why don’t we see such miracles in North America?” Indeed, the miraculous does seem more prevalent in the Third World. Is it because we are less faithful, less spiritually alive, less open-minded?
Charismatically inclined believers, such as John Wimber, argue that Western rationalism keeps North American Christians from expecting or seeking the miraculous, that our lack of expectancy is a key part of the problem.
An alternative explanation for the seeming lack of miracles lies in returning the initiative more fully to God. The question then becomes not “What are we North American Christians doing wrong that we don’t experience signs and wonders?” but “Why is God working differently in North America than in the Third World?” or “What can we learn from his chosen way of relating to us?”
That God deals differently with different people is evident from the Old Testament account of the Exodus, where God gave Egypt a series of stern warnings and plagues, whereas he gave Israel divine protection. And while the Egyptians experienced plagues, the idolatrous Canaanites were simply given over to slaughter (Josh. 10:40). Likewise, Paul preached differently to the philosophers of Athens than the Jews in Jerusalem (Acts 17:16–33; 22:1–21). This all suggests that attempting to reproduce Third World signs and wonders in a North American context may lead us to miss what God is trying to tell us.
Think for a moment about the Third World context in which signs and wonders occur. Wimber himself notes that they are most frequent in contexts where Christianity is pitted against the competing religions of animism and Islam. In a context of suffering, starvation, poverty, and persecution, miracles become a “sign” of the gospel, God’s marvelous intervention to rescue a fallen humanity.
In North America, however, such an approach falls too easily into the trap of the “health and wealth” gospel, as Christians seek healing from sunburns caused by careless use of leisure time, or from coronary heart disease caused by our rich diet. These Christians make God a passive, automatic dispenser of miracles, controlled by depositing the right coinage of faith and prayer and spirituality.
In such a climate, “blessing” miracles are not the needed sign of God’s presence. They may lead us to worship ourselves and our own desires even more. In our setting, repentance and judgment, radical conversion, and a loving concern for others are the needed evidence of God’s Spirit and presence. It is not the sign of the healing at the temple gate that we are likely to be given in North America but the miracle of Ananias and Sapphira or the fall of Jim Bakker. What we are missing is not the proof of God’s marvelous intervention to bless us. We are overly blessed already. What we rich North Americans may most need is the prophetic denunciation of our luxurious indifference, our careless indulgence, and our arrogant self-satisfaction.
“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah,” Jesus said, referring to his death and resurrection (Matt. 12:39). What we need in many cases is not just the good news of the gospel but an unsettling, uncompromising call to follow Christ in discipleship. If and when we follow, that will be evidence that God is indeed alive and active among his people.
By James R. Coggins, associate editor of the Mennonite Brethren Herald. He is coeditor of the book Wonders and the Word (Kindred Press).
Speaking Out offers responsible Christians a forum for their views on contemporary issues. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of CHRISTIANITY TODAY.
Schuller No “Outlaw”
I have long been an enthusiastic reader and supporter of CT. However, I am appalled at the book review in your October 8 issue. Under the heading of “TV’s Spiritual Outlaws” you portray some pictures of people who supposedly fit that title. I want you to know that my long-time friend and current senior pastor, Robert Schuller, in no way deserves to be so labeled. Unlike so many TV evangelists, he is a respected member of a respected denomination and is the pastor of a very wonderfully Christ-centered and biblically based church.
The unfortunate layout of the page makes him guilty by association. I only hope that in the future you will be more careful in how you deal with brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Bruce Larson, Co-Pastor
The Crystal Cathedral
Garden Grove, Calif.
None of the other ministers collected in the photographs on page 73 have lived under the eye and under the potential call to judgment of a denomination as old and as historic in its commitment to historic Christianity as I do. Surely that outlaws the label outlaw!
Robert H. Schuller
The Crystal Cathedral
Garden Grove, Calif.
I would remind your reviewer and the authors of The Agony of Deceit that Robert Schuller is accountable to the Classis of California, of which he is a member. He is not a free-wheeling spiritual outlaw.
Edwin G. Mulder, General Secretary
Reformed Church in America
New York, N.Y.
The authors of The Agony of Deceit called their subjects “spiritual outlaws,” and those authors were critical of Schuller’s theology along with that of other television evangelists. We regret that publishing their phrase and the pictures of other evangelists along with Schuller’s mayhave left the impression that CT believes him to be heterodox.—Eds.
Neuhaus’S Lutheran Connections
Concerning your news story “Neuhaus Leaves Lutheran Church for Catholicism” [Oct. 8] permit me to help you make the report more accurate.
Richard John Neuhaus was not, as the story asserts, ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Neither did he spend “nearly 30 years” as a pastor in the ELCA. He was ordained in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, where he served the first years of his pastoral ministry. Following the exodus from LCMS after the purge of that denomination’s flagship Saint Louis Seminary in the early 1970s, Neuhaus became a member of the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC), a denomination that helped to form the ELCA in 1988.
Rev. Michael Sherer
Bibles To The Ussr
I read with interest your news article on Bibles for the Soviet Union [“The Bible Comes in from the Cold,” Oct. 8]. While the information was most helpful, there was an inadvertent omission. Bibles for the World has been mailing New Testaments to individuals in the Soviet Union for the past 15 years. Prior to glasnost, 650,000 New Testaments were mailed from India under the provision of a cultural-exchange agreement. During the past six months, New Testaments have been mailed as gifts to individuals in the Soviet Union from the United States.
Marshall R. Gillam
Director of Administration
Bibles for the World
Credit Where Due
Your September 24 article “Spirit in the Skyways” concerns a ministry to business executives in Minneapolis. This is an Assemblies of God ministry; the director and originator of this outreach is one of our fine ministers.
In the same issue was “Why the Bishops Went to Valdosta.” In that this lengthy article identified the Valdosta congregation as an Assemblies of God church, we are disappointed that “Spirit in the Skyways” was not identified as an Assemblies of God ministry. The congregation that joined the Episcopal Church was independent and had broken away from Evangel Assembly of God. Evangel Assembly continues to be a viable, strong congregation.
G. Raymond Carlson
The Assemblies of God
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