Reid shares some info and prayer requests for his week long journey up in New England. He will be sharing the gospel with university students and encouraging and equipping God’s people for mission.
The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan
A Reflective Summary Upon
Fred M. Donner, Muhammad and the Believers at the Origins of Islam, (Cambridge: First Harvard University Press, 2012)
By Reid S. Monaghan
Summary of Book
Fred Donner has provided us a solid resource in his recent, concise summary of the early years of the religious, social, and political movement which would expand into waves of empire and a major world religion. The book’s ambitions are quite simple and executed with determined focus. He set out to reverse a long tradition in western Islamic studies which presents the movement in mere sociopolitical and nationalistic terms. Donner’s view is that what became the world of Islam and Muslims began as a movement of believers and piety and a desire to stand in the coming and final judgment of God.
Donner sets about his goal by presenting a concise volume with five major chapters. The first presents the pre-Islamic world of the ancient near east ruled by vast and persisting empires with various existing religious visions. First, the Byzantines were to the north and west of the birthplace of Islam and were the heirs of the Roman Empire. This was a Christian realm, though it was divided by inextricable theological disputes. The second, and to the east, was the Sasanian, the extension of the Persian empire that reigned into the times of Muhammad. This initial chapter is important as it gives the social and religious context into which the community of the Believers would expand.
The second chapter introduces us to the basic biography of the Muhammad and gives an introduction to the reader of the difficultly of finding source materials about these early days. There is an abundance of Islamic sources, but the corroborating evidence is scarce. Donner makes it clear here, and in later chapters, that the historian must traverse the traditional sources and try to make sense of the material. Though the tradition is many times contradictory and may be embellished for various reasons, he still sees validity in the traditional writings of Islamic history. Even as corroborative sources are lacking, they are still to be treasured. For example, the excerpt regarding Muhammad by Thomas the Presbyter gives corroboration to the historicity of the prophet. This chapter gives the basic narrative of the prophet’s life, struggles, and claims of receiving revelations from God. We are introduced to the lands of Arabia and the two towns, Mecca and Medina, that loom so large in Islamic history. In addition to the life of Muhammad, this chapter also introduces some of the basic beliefs that the people who became identified as Believers held to with a pious devotion. A strict monotheism, a coming judgement, and adherence to a prophetic, revelatory tradition were all believed by the people who would some day be remembered as Muslims. Their devotion to prayer and obedience was central to the community and would follow them into their future.
Chapter three gives us insight in the the rapid and awesome expansion of the movement in a very short period of time. Donner makes the remarkable observation at the onset of the chapter: “This expansion lasted, with various interruptions, for roughly a century and carried the hegemony of the community of Believers as far as Spain and India—truly an astonishing feat.” (Donner, 90) This chapter begins with the last days of the prophet, the conquest of Mecca, and the political unification of the city under Muhammad. The story continues with period following the death of Muhammad, the succession of leadership of the community to Abu Bakr, and the subsequent title of the leader as the commanders of the believers. The first major conquests were the unification of Arabia in a series of sorties know as the Ridda wars. The continued expansion flowed out of an eschatological vision of the Last Judgment and a unification of the future world under the one God. This was the duty of the community to bring God’s revelation to the world and call all pious monotheists together as one. It is at this point that Donner has an interesting discussion of the Islamic conquest narrative tradition as well as a few corroborative sources from the time. Each of these involves war and battle, yet Donner chooses to follow an argument from the lack of archaeological evidence of destructive warfare to paint a more gentile vision of peoples being assimilated under the rule of the Believers.
Chapter four focused on the struggle for leadership succession in the community following the first few commanders, Abu Bakr and Uthman, after the death of Muhammad. The succession was a challenging thing for the community because neither the Qur’an or the direct teaching of the prophet spelled out who should lead the community after his departure. In light of this, it seems that the piety and close relationship to Muhammad are what held sway. The two periods of civil war following the assassination of Uthman were the bulk of the chapter and the big picture of these divisions was fascinating. The origins of the Shiite and Sunni communities is the result of a people striving for control of what was quickly becoming an imperial power. Though some of the narrative was a bit tedious at times, this chapter in Islamic history cannot be overstated in terms of its importance. These conflicts created a fracture in the community that persists into our times today.
The fifth and final chapter is appropriately named in order to match Donner’s presentation of the history of the movement: “The Emergence of Islam.” In this chapter Donner presents the story of how a movement that began in broad monotheistic piety became the religious empire of Islam. After the civil wars, the imperial project of expansion engaged with ferocity. The building of the the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, according to Donner, was placed to be a focal point of the coming Last Judgment to take place in the holy city. The chapter then focuses on the community seeing itself re-defined as Muslims and not simply Believers. The Muslim is a Believer who holds to Quranic laws and was to to be seen as different that Believers of Christian and Jewish monotheism, who held to their own holy books. It was also during this period of history, roughly the end of the 7th century AD, that the hadiths, or writings of Muhammad, began to be written down. These writings gave legitimacy to various practices of the community. The Qur’an is also given primacy over the Torah (Jewish law) and the Injil (the Christians gospel). Donner’s final comments on this transitionary period are related to the rejection of trinitarian ideas by the Islamic elite, the centralization of Arabic identity, and a clarification and codification of pious Islamic practice. Donner seems to write of a loss of an early monotheistic unity into the fully credal Islam, which is now distinct and at odds with the rest of the Abrahmic faiths.
Strengths of the Work
I personally found many strengths in Donner’s work. First, the focus on the Pre-Islamic monotheistic faiths present in the near east was helpful to see the context of early montheism of the Believers. Second, I thought Donner’s focus on the clarity and focus of the early community was very helpful. The unity of the people around religious devotion, the oneness of God, and the last judgment were themes that helped make sense of a world coming out from paganism and polytheism. Furthermore, the prevalence of world-unifying (dominating?) ideas permeating the world surrounding Arabia shows that Islamic expansion was less miraculous aggression and more of the same type of movement albeit from a different source and ideology. A third strength of the work was his willingness to use Islamic tradition, and even the Qur’an, as main parts of the narrative without giving way to a full historical skepticism. As a Christian, I have seen the discounting of Christian sources by historians time and time again simply because they are, well, Christian. Allowing a community to speak its own history, while seeking corroboration and without theological acquiescence is a noble project. This lead to Donner’s treasuring of extant sources which could provide some guidance or alignment to the tradition. A word from a Presbyter, a homily of a bishop, an inscription on a coin as wonderful collaborative, thought scarce, jewels for the historian were clearly seen.
Overall, the main weakness I found in the work was the ponderous style of the civil war narratives. I found reading these to be a bit cumbersome, though his concluding summary did provide some help. I’m not sure if this was just a preference of style or the burden of reading so many transliterated names, but I just wanted these civil wars to end.
A second critique was Donner’s overall project. He seems to present a “Proto-Islamic period” as a state that could have persisted in the assimilation of and the welcoming of Christians. This is an endearing feeling I get from reading Donner, but one of which I am personally a bit skeptical. The seeds of the full Islamic flower were already present in the nascent community and the coming subjugation can be seen in the taxation systems and the examples of the roles taken on by Christians in this age. The seeds of the ascendancy of Quranic, Arab-centric Islam is present from the beginning and perhaps it only needed time and power to stretch out its legs into its more mature form. Even Donner’s interpretation of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is very charitable while others have taken its erection, inscriptions, and dominance to mean other, more ominous things.
Though he makes an interesting argument, his presentation of a Pre-Islamic, Islam as something welcoming to Christians and others seems tendentiously stretched. I sensed a move by Donner to over-realize certain facts into a full-blown community of equality among monotheism(s). This unity Donner desires to see is either a modern, western fantasy or something quickly evaporated once the Believers had sufficient power to implement their project of conquest.
Appraisals and Appropriation of the Work
As I leave Donner’s work, I am taking with me one major appraisal and appropriation. Though I struggled a bit to see the early Believers community as optimistically, I do think seeking the things we have in common with our Muslim friends is a wise and fruitful posture. The commonalities between the faith of Muslims and Christians are are real, historical, and a starting place for discussion with Islamic friends. The question I am taking with me is which common ground to start with in our practical witness to our Muslim friends. Historically speaking, Christians, the Believers, and Jews have endured so many centuries of conflict and atrocities on all sides that it can be difficult to begin conversations with history. I have found this can quickly devolve into debates about modern geopolitical concerns or more ancient ones involving Frankish knights.
In terms of commonality I think I can take great solace in two primary moves. First, I think all Christians can initially speak of the historical Muhammad with some respect. This is not only practical in avoiding conflict, but also sincere in terms of historical appreciation. I am not saying we should feign any sort of false allegiance or acknowledgement of propheticity, but rather a conversational respect for such an influential man who is honored and highly respected by the Muslim community. Second, I think we can start with an acknowledgement of the seeds of the Islamic theological movement. As Jesus and monotheism are both held in high regard I think we should speak openly and freely about Jesus’s saving work, the grace of God, and the unity, yes even, trinity of God. Donner’s tone is one of respect for the Community of Believers which I think ought to encourage the Christian witness and apologist to approach Islam in the same posture. After all, we have our own holy book that teaches us:
…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
1 Peter 3:15–16 (ESV)
Over the years I’ve developed a deep love for books about two things: human history and the history of human technologies.
I have enjoyed learning about people and their ideas from various epochs of the human story with a particular interest in technology and engineering. Whether engineering feats like the Brooklyn bridge or the Panama Canal or the formation of high impact companies like Apple or Google, I have sought to learn about how human invention comes about.
Recently, the area of computational technology, consciousness studies, and artificial intelligence have piqued my interest. A recent book on this reading list has brought many thoughts to my own journey and some ruminations about what it means to be a human being.
That book, AI Super-Powers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World order by Kai-fu Lee, is the subject of this review.
I heard this book referenced in a recent lecture Should we Fear of Artificial Intelligence by Dr. John C Lennox hosted by the Zacharias Institute at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.
The book is written by a gentleman who has straddled both American and Chinese contexts in his education, engineering, business, and entrepreneurial endeavors. Lee is one of the true giants of the artificial intelligence revolution with a career that spans Apple, Google, and Microsoft, as well as the leading intellectual worlds of research in both countries which he calls “AI super-powers.” His book covers the history of developments in artificial intelligence as well as the discussion of the two most influential nations in the technology’s present and near future. The beginning of the book focuses on what artificial intelligence is and is not, and then continues into a lengthy discussion of the technology, its history, and what makes machine learning work. This middle section of the book covers much of China’s recent technological and Internet revolutions as well as how it is prime soil for innovation and developments in AI. The final sections of the book discuss both the potential problems related to artificial intelligence and it’s implementation, as well as Lee’s own story and unique contributions and problem solving.
I found the strengths of this book to be manifold. First, Lee is uniquely qualified to give a tour de force of the current state of affairs of artificial intelligence in both America and China. He rightly highlights the strengths of both nations in the AI universe. For example, he rightly notes the research leadership of the US and Silicon Valley companies like Facebook and Google. He also highlights the growing and bustling entrepreneurial muscle developing in the Chinese arena. Secondly, Lee does a good job in removing some of the hype surrounding AI where people wrongfully fear what is know as artificial general intelligence (or AGI) quickly replacing human beings. He rightly highlights the overwhelming successes of “machine learning” and AI systems tasked to do very specific jobs well. This capability of pattern matching done by algorithms trained on massive data sets is where the future of artificial intelligence truly exists. Lee rightly highlights the successes in machine learning which hold much promise for medicine, transportation, finance, and other data intensive industries. Third, Lee states the important concern of massive job eliminations and the possibility of great social unrest due to the huge success of artificial intelligence companies. The companies leading the AI revolution and the massive wealth they will generate for their shareholders hold the potential to create mass unemployment and even more massive income disparity among the richest and the poorest among us. Finally, the most striking strength of this book is how personal it gets in the latter chapters. As I did not read any reviews of the work prior to engaging with it, I was a bit taken aback by the testimonial nature of the story that unfolded. Lee‘s own interaction with a cancer diagnosis and his own mortality gave the ending of the book quite an unexpected twist. I found his own spiritual journey a pleasant surprise as Lee interacted and looked back over his own career and family. An engineer wrestling with what it means to love and be a human being was not what I expected to find in this volume. It was a wonderful surprise.
I do not offer these critiques in any way to be dismissive of this work. In fact, I want to offer a few suggestions as if giving them to a friend. I think this work has much to be commended and could be improved in follow-up writings by Mr. Lee.
First, a more philosophically rigorous grounding of his claims that life is about love and relationships rather than human beings being a means to economic and material production was warranted. After a diagnosis of stage four lymphoma, Lee seems to go on a spiritual walkabout of sorts as he looked back on his life. Seemingly filled with regrets of opportunities missed and time lost, Lee realizes that life is not about maximizing his productivity and impact but rather about the relationships and love that could be shared with other human beings. From his own words, this seems to be based on a mixture of theistic beliefs from an earlier adherence to Christianity mixed in with a form of humanistic Buddhism he learned from a master in a monastery in Taiwan. Though I would fully agree with him that the clues to the meaning of life are found in love and relationships, he does not ground this with any sort of argument or serious philosophical or theological reflection. Many who are involved in the artificial intelligence enterprise are likely philosophical naturalists and materialists, and I doubt they would find his change of heart to be much more than a man’s own fear of his mortality. Due to the fact that Lee offers many solutions to AI/unemployment/social unrest from this a desire for human love and relationship seems to me that it be important that he ground of these things in some solid argument. This leads me to my second critique.
Lee’s solutions to the coming problems of job replacement by intelligent machines is that humans will create jobs that located in loving service, volunteering, and relationship support. The future he proposes is a cooperation between entrepreneurship, centralized government action, and in the individual desire to serve one another in love. Amen and amen.
Though I find nothing wrong with an increase in the human work that has generally belonged to the religious and nonprofit sector, some of his solutions came off to me as wildly optimistic. It is almost as if an AI generated employment crisis will turn human beings into angels rather than devils in Lee’s envisioned future. His idea that all the humans will use their job time to love and to serve appeals to the perfect angels of our nature and does not take into account human fear, selfishness, and sin. Human beings are equally likely, or in my view perhaps more likely, to turn savage in massive unemployment as they are to turn to loving. As such, Lee’s view is somewhat utopian and perhaps belongs to the Kingdom of Heaven rather than the world of man and his machines.
In conclusion, I highly recommend this work to anyone interested in the development, history, and near future of artificial intelligence and its potential impact on our world. Furthermore, I deeply resonated with Lee’s human story and his desire for a more loving in human future. We need more technologists, not less, who desire a future for human beings rather than their own mechanistic creations. Though I personally found Lee’s solutions to be filled with a high dose of optimism, his voice is one that I do hope shapes and flourishes in the future of our work with intelligent machines. After all, there is plenty of technological pessimism to go around in our world, and a little optimism never hurt any of us. However, a more thorough view of our future should deal with both the beauty and depravity of the human beings as well as our nature as bearers of the image of God.
In this, we find meaning for our creations and in our own creatureliness. In this we find the ultimate center for love and relationship. The fact that we are created beings who share a common humanity should lead us to ensure that our machines should serve our fellow humans. Yet if we simply look to our material appetites, arrogance, and greed, our technology may unleash a hell on earth rather than a technoutopian future.
For some Christian reflections on artificial intelligence and our future please see the following resources:
Should we Fear AI by John C. Lennox - https://youtu.be/njU4u2hMFnE
Technology and a Human Future a Gospel Underground discussion by Reid S. Monaghan, Jesse Furey https://www.gospelunderground.org/podcast/2017/9/29/episode-4-technology-and-our-human-future
As August came to a close so did our second year of full time service to the Lord through Power of Change. During the month of September we closed our books, collated some data and looked back with a full heart of gratitude to the faithfulness of our Lord.
In this year’s report we invite you to rejoice in the work that has happened through our partnership all over the country, on the podcast airwaves and in and through many lives. We shared the gospel with young people, encouraged pastors and church planters and invested in the training of others for gospel life and mission.
Kasey and I simply send a hearty thank you and we hope that all praise and glory and honor would belong only to our King.
Reid S. Monaghan
2018 Power of Change Annual Report
Click here or on either image below to load in a new window
I was recently listening to the Acts 29/Gospel Coalition podcast, Churches Planting Churches, where my brother Matt Chandler was sharing about his new book Take Heart, Christian Courage in the Age of Unbelief. You can listen to the episode here. What struck me was their conversation related to hospitality and its importance to engaging people with the gospel in our day. I could not agree more.
Throughout my evangelistic work on college campuses, planting churches, and helping Christians think through a thoughtfully engaged witness, I have been shocked by how little time followers of Jesus spend with non-Christians. Chandlers recommendation, along with others like Tim Chester’s A Meal with Jesus, is to open our home and dinner tables to be with those who need the gospel. Again, just a hearty amen for hearty meals with Jesus and non-Christian friends. I would even say we need to not simply invite folks to our homes but spend time other’s spaces as well.
Matt also commented on something that led me to ask a specific question. He made a mentioned in passing that presuppostional apologetics is perhaps a less useful methodology today for reaching out to others when compared to the practice of hospitality. I have no bone to pick with this, nor do I desire to discuss apologetic methodology in this post (I explain those here), but I did ask the question: What is the place of apologetics in the life of the church?
I am currently wrapping up an almost two-decade Master of Divinity degree in Applied Apologetics. I have engaged my course work here and there over many years while staying engaged in a full time ministry that seeks to engage lost people with the gospel. I think quite a bit about what myself and others might need to be effective witnesses in our current cultural milieu. What I have found fascinating is that the way that Apologetics can be practiced and the way it is taught academically are many times very different. Let me explain.
Apologetics - As Often Taught
As an academic discipline, Apologetics, in many cases, is taught by beginning a deep dive engagement with the question of Faith and Reason. There are even books with this exact title. What can we know by faith? What can we know by reason and thinking? How do we relate philosophy and revelation/scripture? How does reasoning serve theology and confirming Christian truth claims? Or can it do so at all? etc. etc. The way one philosophically and theologically resolves all these Faith/Reason puzzles usually lands someone in a camp of apologetic methodology. The classical apologist seeking to use reason to prove things about God and Christian truth and the presuppositionalist engaging with others to show them indirectly that their worldview makes no sense without God or even on its own terms. Once you land in a methodological camp, then you “do apologetics” either by making arguments, giving answers, building a case for faith, or helping someone else to see the truth of the Gospel in light of their own worldview bankruptcy. You then use apologetics as a tool in witness and evangelism. You might look at this whole enterprise in the following way:
Apologetics - In Mission and Witness
In the Scripture, the primary text that calls us to give an apologetic is 1 Peter 3:15. I’ll give you the surrounding verses here for context:
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.
A very condensed, high level overview of the book of 1 Peter can help us to see several things about the context of this verse for God’s people and their calling:
- They are called “elect exiles” - they are chosen, saved, and called by God to belong to him and are therefore insider-outsiders in this world.
- They are to live in holiness and the fear of the Lord - they are to be a set apart people for God’s purposes.
- Their purpose is to “declare his excellencies” of the one who has called them out of darkness into light to rep God’s rule and reign to others as a community.
- They are to live in the world in a certain way even in suffering. We look to the example of Jesus as the suffering servant who trusts God and fulfills his mission.
- In their suffering they are to stand with Jesus, follow him under his Lordship. In our hearts the matter is settled. Christ is the one who calls me and leads my life.
- They are to be prepared to give a reason (an απολογία or apologetic) for the hope that is in them when anyone asks.
- They are do so with gentleness and respect.
Visually represented, this is the place of apologetics in the New Testament:
We live out the mission as God’s community with Christ as our Lord. We are to be prepared to give a reason/defense/apologetic for our hope when people ask! This requires us to be ready with good answers, biblical truth, and sound theology to share with others. The manner in which we do this should be with gentleness and respect (some good ole G&R) as we walk among the people of the world.
So let me return to Matt’s challenge for us to be hospitable in the context of our day to day lives. While people are coming to your home, or even better, you are in theirs, we should be ready to give an answer for the hope we have in Jesus Christ. Notice 1 Peter 3 seems to assume people will ask! This is not uncommon for people getting to know one another in real friendship and hospitality. Apologetics and thoughtful witness effectively takes place where there is real and loving presence with others. We love our neighbors, we love our enemies and we are with them up close and in person. Much like Jesus in the incarnation, who became flesh and dwelt among the people, we have a calling to do likewise. In this context we will also be answering peoples' actual questions. Answering our friends real questions in the context of hospitality and friendship can actually help them see the truth of the gospel flowing in the context of their life.
When Christians live like this, they will find a hunger and need for things like evangelism training and apologetics. As they begin to know and love real people, their desire to share more effectively will grow. Hospitality and thoughtful witness belong hand in hand. This is the way of Jesus. This is what Peter is conveying to us when he exhorts us to give an apologetic. This is also a way towards effective missional engagement with our friends.
If you or your church find yourselves in that place, we would love to help with training and equipping for this sort of lifestyle and mission.
The following is an short piece my 8th grade daughter Ky submitted to a NYTs essay competition. Hope she does well! I thought it was worthy of a guest blog post here on the blog:
Good Sans God?
A woman donated a kidney to a child in desperate need of a transplant. She does not believe in God, but has she performed a morally good act? Of course. One can be good without believing in God. To say otherwise is absurd. The question to answer then is can good exist without God? I propose that if God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
Some moralistic atheists, as Louise Anderson argues, would think this hypothesis false. They “find moral value to be immanent in the natural world, arising from the vulnerabilities of sentient beings and from the capacities of rational beings to recognize and to respond to those vulnerabilities and capacities in others.” This definition replaces right and wrong with vulnerabilities. Yet vulnerabilities are not defined, nor do we know which vulnerabilities pertain to evil or good. More importantly, if God does not exist and people are simply highly developed animals, then why are humans alone subject to basic morality? If a lion kills and eats another lion, it has committed no injustice. Yet murder and cannibalism are inarguably wrong by all accounts. What holds us to a moral standard?
Let us return once again to my thesis, ‘If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist’. To prove this, we must differentiate between objective and subjective morality. Objective morality means right and wrong are set in the object itself, in its fundamental rightness or wrongness. As William Craig said, “To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is right or wrong independently of whether anybody believes it to be so.” In contrast, subjective morality means that right and wrong are not set; they exist only in the beholder’s eye. We know that in space, without an objective reference point, we couldn’t be sure which was up or down. Similarly, without an objective moral standard, one cannot be sure of right or wrong. This objective moral reference point is found only in the character of God.
Atheism provides no standard, no secured reference point, to differentiate between right and wrong. New Atheist Richard Dawkins stated without God, there is “...no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” So do good and evil even exist? Yes. Objective moral values do exist. This is blatantly evident in the world around us. Human trafficking is evil. Whether the trafficker thinks so or not, the practice remains an atrocity. We now arrive to a conclusion: if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. Yet objective morals do exist, and therefore, so does God.
This month we have an audio update for our friends, family and ministry partners. May the Lord continue to give us grace to impact and influence the coming generation with the gospel.
Audio Update - March 2018
FCA Breakfast at VHSL 1A/2A State Wrestling Championships
Photos from this event by Grace Studios.
Brown University Trip
In this essay I will engage in a brief discussion of contemporary religious pluralism in light of the teaching of the Scriptures. I will do this by first looking at a passage in the Old Testament and then commenting briefly on the nature of plurality and various version of theistic belief. I will then look at our contemporary culture and a common pluralistic, universalistic view on offer. I will conclude by looking at the claims of Christ to see them as both inclusive and particularly important. To begin I wish to call our attention to an ancient passage from the Old Testament which get directly to the nature of monotheism and truth claims about God.
A World of Many gods
In Daniel chapter 2, the ancient Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar receives a dream. The exile Daniel explains it to him and gives its interpretation. Relieved to know the mystery that had troubled his psyche, Nebuchadnezzar then begins to give credit to Daniel and perhaps unexpectedly, credit to Daniel's God. In verse 47 he makes the remarkable statement:
47The king answered and said to Daniel, "Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery."
All religious traditions on the earth that are theistic in orientation have believed in a most high God. Whether it was Zeus of the Greeks, Odin of the Norse, Ra of the Egyptians, Baal of the Philistines, or the Great Spirit of indigenous peoples, the idea that there is a "God of gods" is quite common in the earth. The difference between these beliefs and that of Jews, Christians and Muslims is that they are all polytheistic, believing in a myriad of "gods." However, Daniel is monotheistic and the Babylonians were aware of the Jewish religion and its belief in one, true creator God. Nebuchadnezzar's exclamation is that Daniel's God is both the preeminent and sovereign deity. He is above the other gods and rules above earthly kings. This ancient reality of a plurality of “gods” has persisted in every age and I do not imagine this will ever really change.
John Calvin, during the Protestant reformation, declared that the human heart is like an "idol factory" always creating and fashioning gods for us to worship out of our own imaginations. Plurality of views and beliefs in religion is simply a fact of human experience. The truth of all these human crafted deities is another matter altogether. In light of the myriad of religions and beliefs, some modern thinkers have constructed various ideas to mute the claims of the competing world views. Several flavors of pluralism have been put forth for our consideration. Here I will focus mainly one I have found to be most common.
In our day we have moved beyond the belief in the simple fact of plurality in religious ideas. We are now asked to embrace of various forms of pluralism related to religious truth. Each faith tradition believes in various gods and no one is to question the veracity of their existence or related truth claims. If someone believes in pink bunny rabbits who rule the world, or little white mice, we should all just accept people’s sincere beliefs.
There are several flavors of pluralism today. The religious version of pluralism would say that all gods are equally valued expressions of the human attempt to reach a divine or ultimate reality. This, at first glance, is a friendly view and tends to see contradictory ideas about God as a fulfilling game of no real consequence to our lives. A very human pursuit, yes, but not dealing with matters of truth. The question of God to the religious pluralist is one that is unknowable or insoluble, with all religious talk as ways of groping towards an unknown, ineffable "real."
A classic illustration of this idea is expressed in a parable that has come to be known as the Blind Men and an Elephant. The story traces back to an ancient Indian folk tale where several blind men are examining an elephant when the King asks them what they think the elephant to be. One who is holding on to its tail, confidently exclaims "An elephant is like a rope!" Another blind man pushing on the body of the elephant proclaims with equal confidence "An elephant is like a wall!" Still another holding its trunk snottily weighs in "No, an elephant is like a wet hose!" The moral of the story is supposed to illustrate the reality of religious pluralism. It is not simply stating the fact that different religious ideas teach different things about the deity(s) or ultimate reality, but rather that they are all just talking about the same thing albeit in different ways. They have incomplete knowledge and are therefore talking past one another.
The religious pluralist in the West is typically a universalist in that he believes that all people, everywhere will ultimately end in heaven, paradise, or some salvation-liberation of their imagining. Let's call them optimistic. All will end up in a blessed state of heaven even if they don't believe in such places at all. Religious pluralists love to make statements on the behalf of all religious people. It is common to hear things today like "All religions teach the same things on the big issues, they just differ on the details." Of course, no Muslim, Hindu, Christian or Buddhist who understands her faith and philosophy would agree to this. After all, the phenomena are quite the opposite. We all agree on things like "be nice and good" but we disagree on God, heaven, hell, salvation, our problem as humans and even what nice and good ultimately mean.
Religious pluralists who seek to force some unity on religious truth claims seek to bring harmony to a world of obvious, long standing disagreement. They are profoundly mistaken about the nature of religious truth claims, and then seek to impose their beliefs about the nature of religious knowledge onto other devotees. Western pluralism of this sort is therefore imperialistic in that it insists it has the truth on religions while somewhat silencing the actual, devout beliefs of millions. Rather than a kind observer of many men touching an elephant, the western pluralist claims to be the only one in the picture that can see. He claims to be in the position of the King. As such, it seems that they are putting forth a new religion. We might call it Western Imperialistic Pluralistic Religion or WIPR.
In WIPR we all believe the same things because the WIPR priests say that we are all talking about the same things. Such WIPR devotees may not be so nice and respectful of other faiths after all. They seem to know quite a bit about religions while not seriously engaging with the actual beliefs and claims of religious devotees. In a desire to show tolerance, an arrogant, intolerant dismissal of treasured beliefs and traditions occurs. With a quick wave of a pluralist hand the substance of the major religious traditions is smeared away into a new belief altogether. Only WIPR is allowed to stand while the claims of the prophets, the claims of Christ or any other religious teacher are muted or, at best, called to submit. Let me illustrate by re-visiting the beloved blind men and the elephant one more time.
If we look at this story with a bit more reflection, there is a fatal problem with the whole story that emerges with the following question: How do we even know we are talking about an elephant? Obviously, someone in this story can see very well and not everyone is blind. Behind the reality of the groping men grasping trunk and tail is a King who can see. There is someone who knows what an elephant is and could tell all the blind men they are not touching rope, hose or a wall. What if the King, the one being spoken about, could tell us and show us who he really is? What if blind eyes can be opened and elephants could be seen? In simpler terms, what if God chose to speak to us? Furthermore, the problem of pluralism is that we are not all talking about elephants. Some religions believe God is one and others think there are millions of gods. As such, the human condition requires God to define himself for us and this is in fact what Jesus claims to have come to do. Jesus came to reveal to us our creator. He names the elephant for us.
Jesus' Teaching-Inclusive and Particular
The person of Jesus and his followers had something more interesting to say than the modern pluralist. He taught us something that was both inclusive of all human beings and calls us particularly to the creator God. The Christian message is clear that God made all things and placed people in time and history so that they might reconnect in relationship with God (see Genesis 1-3; Acts 17). Furthermore, God has kindly given all of us evidence that he exists and has certain attributes. Psalm 19 of the Hebrew Bible (or the Old Testament) teaches us that God is speaking to us through creation and that this witness is available to all peoples. Romans 1 teaches us that what can be known about God is clear to us from what has been created. We can see from looking at the stars, the vast oceans, high mountains, and the intricacies of RNA and DNA that there is indeed a powerful intelligence behind the universe. Acts 14 of the New Testament also teaches us that God kindly provides for creation. Jesus taught the same in declaring that he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45). God gives to all people a universal display of his existence and common grace. The Christian message is inclusive in this way.
Yet at the same time people have rejected God, and desire to live without him both in their attitudes and actions on the earth (Read Romans 1-3). We want to do things our way and deny that we were created by God and for the purposes of God. We worship ourselves rather than the maker of all things. Scripture calls this sin and it is a universal condition. Nevertheless, God in his kindness reveals to us in Jesus Christ that he is "God of gods and Lord of Kings." All who come to him in repentance (turning from sin and self to God) and faith (trusting him fully) will not be turned away (John 6). The gospel is particular in this way. We must come to God as God, not make him up in our minds and then come to the alter of an imaginary deity.
God shows something to all of us by placing us in creation to see that there is a God to whom we will give an account. Inclusive. Even as humanity in sin will resist his kindness, he enters the world to save those who will believe. The Bible does not teach that every person from every nation will be rescued from sin, death, and hell. Nor does God favor any group of people in that all from only some nations will be saved. The Scriptures are clear that there will be some from every people, tribe, and language in the Kingdom of heaven (Revelation 7:9-12). In a unique way, Jesus' message was as open as can be imagined, yet only some respond. His open call is clear:
- All who are weary and heavy burdened...come to Jesus (Matthew 11:25-30)
- All who are thirsty...drink (Revelation 22:17)
- All who are in darkness...he is light (Matthew 4:12-17; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6)
- All who are hungry...come eat and be satisfied (John 6:35-40)
As such, his message is also a call, a summons, to those who have "ears to hear." All that have been given to Jesus he calls. Those who "hear him" do come to him. This is the mystery of grace; God saves, we respond. He calls to all, yet all do not respond. As followers of Jesus it is not our goal to prove everyone is wrong or dispute with each created deity. We are called to present the truth that there is one God and one mediator between God and people—the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5,6). This Jesus is no normal man nor simple prophet; he is God of gods and Lord of Kings, and his Kingdom will last forever.
God of gods and Lord of Kings?
The most controversial figure in the New Testament is Jesus. Yes, sweet, nice Jesus. The fact of the matter is that he made such radical claims about himself that he has always been a fork in the road for many. Some would peddle him off as being a nice moral teacher, but this begs the question as to why he was unjustly murdered as a criminal. He did seem to anger people a bit no? Jesus was utterly compelling to some while utterly repelling to others. Part of the reason for this is that he claimed to be God incarnate (God become human). This is not what you hear people saying about themselves at Starbucks.
Followers of Jesus have been clear for centuries about the identity of Jesus. He was not "a god of gods" he is the God of gods and Lord of Kings. If you look at what some of his earliest followers said about him it becomes quite clear. This is necessarily a small sampling and I recommend further reading in this area for those who are interested.
- He claimed to forgive sin, only what God could do (Mark 2:1-12)
- He claimed to be the divine "Son of Man" (Daniel 7:13, 14; Mark 13:24-27)
- He claimed to exist before Abraham was born as the "I AM" - the unique name of God in the Old Testament (John 8:48-59)
- He claimed that he was "one" with the Father (John 10)
- He claimed that if you saw him, you saw the Father (John 14)
- He was called "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" superseding the grandeur and authority of all earthly kings and rulers (Philippians 2:9-11; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Revelation 9:11-16)
Scripture teaches us that God became a human being to reveal to us his nature and his ways. Furthermore, God then died the death that we deserved on the cross; it was a substitutionary death for sin. He then gives to us forgiveness, grace, and peace based upon his own merit. This person, Jesus of Nazareth, is the one who is called King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is the God of gods revealed to us in living flesh so that we might follow and worship him.
In this essay I began with looking at the simple fact of religious plurality by looking at an Old Testament text and making a brief statement regarding religious history. I then looked at modern pluralistic views of religious truth claims, and found this not only wanting, but a bit oppressive and imperialistic towards other views. I then looked at Jesus’ teaching as both inclusive and particular and a unique revelation as to who God actually is. In a world of many gods and many kings, the Christian should stand with confidence as she proclaims Jesus as the unique revelation of the Father and the truth about God in a person. As such, it is him we proclaim in our world rather than the inventive religions or religious philosophies. Amen.
 Huston Smith and Huston Smith, The World's Religions : Our Great Wisdom Traditions (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 378.
 Hence we may infer, that the human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols. Jean Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1997), I, xi, 8.
John Hick, Dennis L. Okholm, and Timothy R. Phillips, More Than One Way? : Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House, 1995), 47-51.
 The Blind Men and the Elephant is a very old Indian folk tale. John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887) wrote a poem based on the story which you can read at John Godfrey Saxe, WordInfo, accessed 1/30/2018, 2018. http://www.wordinfo.info/Blind-Men-and-Elephant-crop.html
 One might even insert the word “Oppressive” to give the title “Western Oppressive Pluralistic Religion” to this view but calling a view a WOPR lacks a certain charitability that I wish to maintain.
 I first came across the phrase “Naming the elephant” in the title of James Sire’s book on worldview as a useful intellectual concept in our pluralistic times. Although I am using the term here more in light of the doctrine of revelation rather than Sire’s use in his work. James W. Sire, Naming the Elephant : Worldview as a Concept, Second edition. ed. (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2015).
 See Robert M. Bowman and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place : The Case for the Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007).
Bowman, Robert M. and J. Ed Komoszewski. Putting Jesus in His Place : The Case for the Deity of Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007.
Calvin, Jean. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Translated by Henry Beveridge. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1997. Originally published as 1845-1846.
Hick, John, Dennis L. Okholm, and Timothy R. Phillips. More Than One Way? : Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House, 1995.
Saxe, John Godfrey. WordInfo. Last modified Accessed 1/30/2018, 2018. http://www.wordinfo.info/Blind-Men-and-Elephant-crop.html
Sire, James W. Naming the Elephant : Worldview as a Concept. Second edition. ed. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2015.
Smith, Huston and Huston Smith. The World's Religions : Our Great Wisdom Traditions. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.
This December, we've been given a wonderful funding opportunity for Power of Change. A generous friend offered to match all donations up to 10K which are given between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. An additional friend of POC has now upped this matching opportunity to 20K! We are so grateful to God for his generosity and that of his people.
Please help out with any gift, large or small, this holiday season. Thank you for considering our work to impact and influence the coming generation with the gospel. Your contribution to our work as we close out 2017, will help us to enter the new year on solid financial footing.
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Our family is technologically oriented. It probably starts most with Dad. My undergraduate degree is in Applied Science in a computer science track. I've been a heavy user and early adopter of technology as it rolled out over the last few decades. It is my hobby, I listen to podcasts on the tech industry and news. I love it. I remember as a college student using computer software for my calendar and printing it out my day. The Palm Pilot and personal digital assistants were a revelation. They were a precursor to the convergence that would take place with phones, MP3 players and pocket computers. These devices took mainstream flight with the launch of the first iPhone in 2007.
Now smartphones and personal computing devices line our pockets, inhabit our wrists, and ride in our laps for both work and leisure. They are also taking over our lives and the lives of our family. "Screen time" is now a colloquial phrase in parenting and many times kids are handed "devices as baby sitters" at a very young age.
The drawbacks of these technologies are real: disctracted people, texting while driving, walking into telephone poles, looking at screens instead of faces, the rewiring of our brains and smashing of attention spans have all arrived. Yet the benefits to work and play have been enjoyed by millions and personal devices are revolutionizing how we do just about everything. Our devices are here and we need to engage this wisely.
In order to to live both the plugged in and unplugged life our family just took another step together towards our enjoyment of technology while minimizing its ill effects on our relationships, sleep patterns, brains and spiritual lives. The following are a few of the recent tech changes we have made at home along with some house rules we are all working to follow. Each of them includes a technological solution as well as human problem solving to change our flow in our family.
On and Off Times
The internet is always on in many of our homes through the ubiquitous flow of WiFi thoughout the house. But why? There are certain hours where I simply do not want my kids to have wifi signal. Wind down, read something, unplug, pray and talk to each other.
We use a system of mesh wifi routers from Eero. They are awesome for their ability to spread your wifi through every inch of your home but they also allow you to assign various devices (like every single one used by kids) to profiles and have the Internet completely turned off. So from 10pm-6am none of the kids devices can get on the Internet. So no waking up or staying up late and getting online. Eero also has the ability to assign a custom DNS server so that those who use something like OpenDNS for filtering will be good to go.
Yes, we are aware of work arounds technologically, but we do what we can and trust out kids not to LTE it on their phones. Plus, the phone does not live in the bedroom. We can also turn the profile back on if homework projects are going awesome but it's going to take until 10:30pm to complete the job. Dad says yes to these type of requests.
There are so many times when I'm on my phone around the house and ignore people who matter to me deeply. There are also times we want set aside as no device times with our family. We also can lose devices here and there and have to ping them to trace them down. So recently we have created a new solution that solves many problems at once.
- It provides full batteries for our devices
- It provides a place to put our devices at dinner time and at bedtime (well, before bed time)
- It allows devices to NOT live in our bedrooms, at the bedside table
- It allows reading of real books at night and a time where we turn off all screens prior to going to bed
- It removes the temptation to grab phones in the middle of the night
- It removes the temptation to make the mass of email, texts and social media notifications first thing in the morning
- It allows the first movement of the day to be before God and not instantly connected by our alarm clock/smartphones
Enter our new charging station. We created a solution and a set of house rules for its use that is already blessing our family.
Here is our basic set up with links to the actual products we are using
- Two Anker 5 port USB chargers
- Ten 12 inch lightning charger cables
- 1 Mobile Vision holder thingy to tuck it all in
- 1 mini table commandeered from the living room
- 1 Power Strip to plug it all in
You have one laying around already, grab it and plug in. Get a surge protected one with some USB ports as well if you don't have something laying around the house already.
Anker USB Chargers
There are actually full multi-device chargers out of the east that do almost all that is involved here. Some of the reviews for them involved shoddy workmanship and even sparking (aka fire hazard). If you are not family with Anker, thank me later. They make some of the best charging accessories out there and are very well made. I thought of using a 10 port Anker but then all the USB plug-in points would be on one side of the charging station. Getting two 5 Port was a bit more pricey but allows the charges to face opposite sides of the station and to use smaller cables to limit clutter. The Ankers are safe, provide great amperage to the devices and even have two fast charge ports each. Put some colored markers on those fast charging cables and make them parent phones only. Lol. Just kidding.
12 Inch Lightening Cables
Though we use PCs for our computers, we are all Apple for mobile devices. So I found 5 packs of 12 inch lightening cables and bought two of them. This gives 10 short cables that go directly from the USB port to a slot in the station without tangles or clutter. If you own Android or other devices grab some micro USB cables and you'll be all set.
There are lots of these made of many materials on Amazon. I chose a black one that had 10 slots. We don't have ten devices yet but there are five of us and we have some phones and iPads already.
Commandeering an end table from the house, gave space underneath for the kids to charge their Chromebooks. I don't personally appreciate the Chromebook but our school system gives them to all our kids and they do use them, especially our middle and high schoolers, extensively for school work. They plug into the power strip and live underneath. Out of the room at night so in the evenings there are no devices, no TVs in bedrooms.
- Well, phones go on it at night one hour before bed time and they go with them to school in the morning. We keep them plugged in for family connection in the morning for breakfast and prayer before the kids head off to school.
- We still have general bed times for our kids. Sometimes it's more like "bed goals" or "bed hopes" for the teenagers. ;-)
- I was pleasantly surprised that the roll out did not incur the whining and wrath of our teens, though some apologetics was necessary.
- Casualties - Audiobooks at night were a casualty as well as using the phone as alarm clock These changes are VERY difficult for me. My eldest and me will have to adjust the most to these changes. I think we will also benefit the most. And yes, they still sell cheap, old school alarm clocks if you need one.
Look at my Face
One final thing we've added to our family flow is a simple pause and relational examination. If you are looking at a screen when you should be looking at a face, we need to put down the screen. Look at my face! We need to give this sort of attention to one another in our families more and more in our hyper-connected age. And your battery will be full as well! Enjoy your devices, but don't neglect the precious people that are right in front of you each day.
As some of you may know I currently serve on the Acts 29 US South Central network leadership team running church planter assessments for the center of the country. The US South Central network includes the great state of Texas.
Clear Creek Community Church, one of our churches in the Houston metro area, is running point on collecting funds to serve in recovery efforts in light of the devastation resulting from Harvey. I know the leaders of the church and they have our full trust. Additionally, trusted friends have recommended Crossover Bible Fellowship as a place to give
We recommend these as churches to give toward help those impacted by this torrential storm.
We live in a time where we no longer think truth is out there. In our day truth is created, generated, is personal and comes from within. Whether learned in class espousing philosophical deconstruction or simply singing along with a song from Moana, we are taught today to follow the voices within. Follow your heart! Find your own truth! Do what makes you happy! That chorus sings incessantly today.
Last month marked a year since our family moved out of New Jersey. This month marks two years from the time where God made it clear that our time in the garden state was coming to the end. This was not what "my heart" wanted. I had always assumed and intended to stay in the northeastern United States serving God's purposes there. When it became clear that it would be best for us to transition the church we had planted and base a new ministry out of Virginia, my heart literally felt sick. By this, I don't mean a bummed out feeling for a couple of days. I mean a deep feeling of discouragement and sadness that lingered for many months. Why? I love New Jersey and the work I had been given to there. My heart said stay, be still, endure, figure it out, and keep a tight hold on my will and plans.
And please don't think it was some heroic decision on my part; I was not happy in my soul about leaving. Yet as I look back over the last two years I see a kind hand of Providence at work in countless ways that I would have never been able to see by looking into my heart. Today, the Lord is giving me new passion and excitement for my work that I could not have anticipated. I see his light in my wife's eyes and my family is doing well in a new season. I am enjoying the care of my new pastors and building friendship with them and serving the Lord's purposes together. God has cared for his church in New Jersey in wonderful ways through his people there. If I had followed my heart, none of these decisions would have ever been made.
Sometimes God's plan works out in our lives by doing what we do not, on the surface, desire. Sometimes loving him and loving other people means we should transform our personal desires and plans. I believe that sometimes things are not so clear until much more life is rolled out by God into the rear view mirror.
The sovereignty of God is much more than a mere doctrine. It is something we trust. It is knowing that the judge of the earth will always do right by his own children even in the most difficult and trying circumstances. We trust God's providence and rule because we trust God.
Though in catchy Disney songs we might hear to always follow the voice inside, there are times when the voice of the one who made us must hold sway. Sometimes these voices lineup. Our hearts desire is the will of God for us. These days feel great. There are other times we learn obedience through trials and difficulties. Obeying God through his Word, wise counsel, difficulty and circumstance is quite complex. It is a sure and true path in the end.
The martyred missionary Jim Elliot once remarked that in trusting Christ he had never made a sacrifice. I wish I could say I always knew to trust God with every difficulty, circumstance and decision in real time. Sometimes I just don't. And yet trusting the one who is the truth has always led me in his path and for this I simply give thanks. He really does know what is best even when it doesn't feel that way to us.
I wish my heart trusted more readily and easily and I understood as much in the moment as I do looking back over over the years. But you know what they say about hindsight; it does get clearer as each day passes.
So these last two years have been challenging for me but they have led me back to the words of Jesus Christ: "Come, follow me." And in these words there is also a corollary truth: we don't simply follow the voice inside.
The apostle exhorted a young pastor long ago to watch his life and his doctrine, to persevere in them, and by doing so he would save himself and his hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16)
A pastor should care to both preach well and grow well in his character. This was said early and often in the Christian tradition. For example, the north African theologian Augustine of hippo once wrote:
More important than any amount of grandeur of style to those who seek to be listen to with obedience is the life of the speaker… A preacher should seek to live in such a way that he not only gains a reward for himself, but also gives an example to others, so that his way of life become's, in a sense, and abundant source of eloquence.
Augustine, On Christian Teaching
In similar fashion, the golden mouth preacher Chrysostom challenged others to live a life of holy integrity before God and his hearers:
The praise of the speaker does not consist in applause, but in the zeal of the hearers for godliness: not in noise may just at the time of hearing, but in lasting earnestness. As soon as applause has issued from the lips it is disbursed in the air and parishes; but the moral improvement of the hearers brings and imperishable and immortal reward both to him who speaks and two of them who obey. The praise of your cheers makes the speaker illustrious here, but the piety of your soul afford the teachers much confidence before the judgment seat of Christ. Wherefore if anyone loves the speaker, let him not desire the applause but the profit of the hearers.
John Chysostom, To Those Who Had Not Attended the Assembly
Like many parents I have adopted the phrase "know who you are and know whose you are" with my children. I want them to know they are loved by God and by our family as they walk out into the world in their journey of life. As a preacher, we are to know the same thing. We belong to God and we serve at his request and calling.
Preaching should be as much about our character and way of life as it is the preaching event. We can never be someone that we are not and no on stage fakery or eloquence will fool the eyes of God.
As preachers of the Gospel we should care to share the truth and to live the truth in our own hearts and lives. This means an honest life of repentance and faith. Repentance for our own sins and shortcomings which are legion. Faith to keep our eyes on the one who forgives and raises the dead to new life. If we fix our eyes upon Jesus the author and perfector of our faith, both the joy and the substance of our message will flow fourth out of a life lived for him.
Watch your life and your doctrine…Persevere in them both.
To listen to the Eulogy presented by E. L. Taylor, PhD at Dr. Taylor's funeral you will find it available online here.
There are many people who shape our lives both directly and indirectly as pastors and ministers. My own life has been no exception to this pattern. There have been men up close and far away who have made me who I am today as a minister of the gospel. There are ones we know love, encourage, and model things up close for us and then there are those we do not know which come to us through books, sermons, and the recommendation of others. It is good to have both living and dead mentors; the dead kind are especially helpful. Those who have completed the journey from cradle to eternity have much to teach us through lives well lived and works left for posterity. In this essay, I will share a few things I have learned from a recently deceased preacher. Not long ago I asked several pastor friends who they would suggest I look to for wisdom in the black church tradition in America. In that group text message exchange, many names were mentioned. One name was given almost by all: Gardner C. Taylor.
This essay will be a brief look at his life, ministry, and what I have learned and hope to learn from him in the years ahead. I will first give a very brief biographical sketch and then move into a look at aspects of his theological and ministerial vision. I will conclude with an evaluation of what I have learned, and then share what I think are his main contributions to my life and ministry.
Brief Biographical Sketch
Gardner Calvin Taylor was born June 18, 1918 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the son of Baptist minister Washington Monroe Taylor and school teacher Selina Gesell Taylor. Taylor was educated in the segregated public-school system of the early 20th century south. His life was deeply impacted in 1931 when his father died suddenly. At the time, Taylor was a twelve-year-old boy. This left an empty place in his mind and heart and burdened the family deeply. His mother went to work as a public-school teacher to help ends meet, and his aunt Gerty moved in to help the family. Taylor’s keen intellect began to take root after some early struggles in grade school. At the conclusion of his high school career, he graduated valedictorian of his class. He also captained the football team showing his prowess as a scholar-athlete. A sharp mind and strong leadership abilities were on display early in his life. He received degrees from Leland College (1937), an all-black school he attended on a football scholarship. His original desire was to be the first African American attorney to practice law in Louisiana and was even admitted to the law school at the University of Michigan to that end. This noble desire, however, was interrupted by his call to pastoral ministry after a near fatal car accident. After being so shaken by the car accident his calling was clear to move towards preparation for a life of gospel ministry. It would be a school of theology at Oberlin College for Taylor and not Michigan law. He graduated from the Oberlin Graduate School of Theology in 1948. Dr. Taylor considered the car accident, more than anything else, almost a direct summons to the ministry and his life’s work.
Though Oberlin was on the forefront of the antislavery movement and was thought to be quite progressive at the time, Taylor was still only the eighth African American to graduate from the School of Theology. A few important life shaping events happened in during Taylor’s time at Oberlin. First, he met Laura Scott, his first wife of fifty-four years. His wife was, like his mother, a gifted educator and the two faithfully served the Lord together until her untimely death in 1995. Second, it was during his time at the School of Theology that he received his first pastorate upon the call of Bethany Baptist Church in Oberlin.
Taylor would serve two additional churches in Louisiana: Beulah Baptist in New Orleans and Mt. Zion Baptist in Baton Rouge. After these stints, he would receive the call to one of the more influential churches of the time. In 1948, God called him and his wife to The Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn New York. At the age of 30, Taylor assumed the pastorate of a 5000-member church in the Bedford-Stuyvesant (Bed-Stuy) neighborhood. It would grow to almost three times this size under Taylor’s leadership. Concord Baptist church would go on to establish a nursing home, elementary school, a federal credit union, clothing exchange, low income housing, and a fund for youth and community development under Taylor’s guiding hand.
Taylor went on to be an active player in the Civil rights movement, an adjunct professor at several seminaries and divinity schools as well as a member of the New York City school board where he was an advocated for educational equality. In 1996, he married a second time to Phyllis Strong, a woman he had baptized some fifty years early. She would remain by his side until his passing on April 5th, 2015. Taylor died on an Easter Sunday, a fitting departure date for one whose life was dedicated to preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Just fifteen years earlier, Taylor was awarded the presidential medal of freedom by President William Jefferson Clinton. This is the highest honor and award which can be bestowed upon an American civilian by his country.
Understanding Taylor's Ministry
To live such a long, varied life and ministry creates numerous sermons, in a plethora of circumstances. There is simply quite a treasure trove of content that Taylor produced. Jared E. Alcantara has undertaken the task of understanding Taylor’s ministry in six major categories: Pain, Redemption, Eloquence, Apprenticeship, Context, and Holiness. These were so helpful to understand Taylor, but I felt compelled to break down his work in my own terms. I will discuss his work in three categories: his balance, his person, and his preaching. I do not consider this an improvement on Alcantara, far from it, but an exercise in my own thinking about Taylor’s life and theological vision.
Taylor, as an African American preacher of the gospel was constantly balancing the needs of the people here and now with the deep concern for personal faith and piety. He cared about both souls and soles. The hearts of men and the cultural ground they walked upon. Many times in church history this balance has been lacking. There can be an extreme focus on personal salvation, heaven, and the life to come with a neglect of justice, mercy and compassion for other human beings. At the same time, there can be such a focus on shaping a just society that the sin, death and hell defeating gospel is relegated as well. Taylor would have us care for both.
His work in the arenas of justice is seen in his work as a pastor serving and influencing the civil rights movement. His support and friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was well known. Dr. Richard Lischer describes his influence on Dr. King by saying:
What King and many young preachers besides would have learned from Taylor was the genius for channeling evangelical doctrine and the great stories of the Bible into socially progressive and prophetic utterance.
In comparing the two, Lischer also noted the difference between King and Taylor’s approach. Citing Lischer, Timothy George gives this wonderful description.
King’s prophetic witness burned brightly like a meteor against the night while Taylor’s more theological and exegetical approach was shaped by a ministry of preaching and pastoral care sustained over many decades.
Taylor’s work for racial equality and civil rights was a steady, behind the scenes, gospel influence through his person and pulpit. He insisted that his approach to political and social issues rise from the Scriptures. In a chapter entitled, “The Pastor and Political Realities,” he gives a sharp critique who engage in political posturing but unhinged from true biblical concerns. I will quote him at length:
Today, it seems to be in vogue to do political moralizing and call it "prophetic preaching." Pastors must learn to distinguish between the two. Prophetic preaching rises out of the Scriptures; moralizing is self–generated and arises from social mores or personal predilections. Whatever response the minister makes to the political situation (or any life situation) ought to rise up out of the Scriptures. This is not the same as fastening our own biases and predilections on to Scripture. Unfortunately, many people use the Scriptures as a basis for their moralizing. New Testament scholars distinguish between "eisegesis," reading meaning into a text, and "exegesis” bringing out the meaning in a text. This is a very dangerous thing.
Taylor’s desire to be biblical in his approach allowed him to remain a faithful pastor and influence an America around him that so deeply required a prophetic challenge and change. He cared about educational equality in New York City because he cared about people flourishing, equality, and justice. He cared about the family because he cared about people and their wellbeing. He cared about people because it is the transcultural, always relevant Jesus who saves people; and Taylor thought that people did indeed need to be saved. 
In summary, Taylor maintained this balance between social action and justice with a personal faith and pious devotion to God. He did so because he saw this is as the biblical course of life. The Scriptures demand that we show kindness and mercy to the poor, and justice to the oppressed. These were and are signs of the Kingdom of God and his Christ (See Proverbs 14:31, 17:5; Isaiah 61:1,2; quoted again by Jesus in Luke 4). The Bible also teaches us that all we need, we have in Christ. Taylor thundered this forth as well.
It is rare that a person can relate as well with people from all stations of life yet Gardner C. Taylor was just such a man. Ralph Douglas west described Taylor’s deep and personal interest towards “common people” in the foreword to Alcantara’s volume, Learning from a Legend. Taylor was a man who found favor with presidents, civil rights leaders as well as the people in the pew. This was a testimony to his character as a servant of God and man.
In a chapter entitled “The Pastor’s Commission” in the book We Have this Ministry Taylor has a laser focused honesty about a minister’s own weaknesses and temptations. Quoting Thomas Chalmers, he exhorts ministers to be “more than what we are—to exceed who we are. Then by the grace of God we will be delivered of the gospel to a world that is perishing without it.” His hope was not who he was, but who he might become in Christ. This was his key to character in a world in moral decline all around us. Alcantara liked him to the church father Basil, of whom someone once said, “His words were like thunder because his life was like lightening.”
Alcantara summarizes several warnings Taylor gave to other preachers regarding tendencies which would harm their character and witness. First, he warned against trying to be a “Fancy Dan”, an early 20th century term used to describe “showboating” or “hotdogging” in baseball. We should aim to be selfless, not the main attraction of a show. Second, he warned against a self-righteous disposition for preachers so they would not forget they themselves needed the gospel. Finally, he warned against a scholarship in the pulpit that would cool the heart towards God and sacred truth. Preachers should give great care to their own spiritual lives, walks with Jesus, and study. In doing so, they would deepen their own souls and be able to speak from what Taylor called “the depths.”
Finally, Taylor’s own character was shaped in life by suffering. He suffered the loss of a parent at a young age, saw a car accident turn the direction of his life, walked in the rebuilding of a church ruined by fire, endured and fought against he insidious stain of racism and injustice in America, and buried his first wife after she was literally hit by a bus. Like many preachers before him and many who are yet to come, Taylor’s faith was forged in the trials of pain and suffering. In his own words:
We have found our faith in the keeping power of God in flames and trials. Our faith, which holds, is born in the fire. All of us who have won our winning our faith in the fires, which have swept our lives. Those fires that scorch our inmost souls and sear our noblest dreams can declare that we know no other strength but that strength which is from above.
Character is either compromised or hardened by seasons of difficulty and disappointment. God’s word declares and demonstrates this to be true. The hall of faith in Hebrews 11 lists saint after saint who trusted God in terrible fiery ordeals. Jesus himself went to a bloody cross and he learned obedience through suffering (Hebrews 5:8,9). He was pleased to raise sinners from the dead and save them to the uttermost, provided we also suffer with him. (Romans 8:12-17). Taylor knew that suffering had its place in a believer’s life, but only in light of the eternal hope we have in Christ. Faith holds on in the fire and hope moves us forward towards full and final victory. These great truths made Taylor into man that was both listened to and emulated. He embodied a faith in the fire in his own person.
If he balanced justice and piety and lived a life worthy of the calling he had received, my final point is this. That calling was to preach; and preach he did. His vocational pulpit ministry spanned over four decades. His awards were numerous and he consistently bridged cultures and traditions with his craft. These are but a few of his awards:
- In 1979 he was labeled by Time Magazine as the Dean of Black Preachers.
- In both 1984 and 1993 he was listed as first among the fifteen greatest black preachers in America by Ebony.
- Baylor University named him one of the twelve most effective preachers in the English-speaking world.
Yet he was not simply an orator or public speaker. He was not simply a moralistic preacher working for political ends alone. No, he was an orator of the Scriptures, a prophetic preacher of biblical justice, and a person who preached from the holy text. The Rev. Dr. Ralph Douglas West had this to say of Taylor’s sermons:
The Bible undergirded every sermon, the Bible not in some proof-texting cleverness or decontextualized attempt at mere novelty but the Bible in its robust wholeness echoed in each message. Taylor became a mouthpiece not only for the text but for the Book. To borrow a phrase from Spurgeon, his blood was bibline.
In an essay honoring Taylor, Marvin McMickle argues that the sermon should be a substantive work rooted in the biblical text that sets forth its main point early in the message. Taylor’s messages reflect this counsel.
Furthermore, Taylor’s preaching was centered on Jesus Christ. Yes, he applied the gospel to the narrative of his people and contextualized it for them. The gospel he preached was one that saw the sufficiency of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection as central. In his sermon, The Sufficiency of Christ, he makes clear that it is Christ alone the Christian needs over and above any religiously motivated things. I will quote him at length as there simply was not a good stopping point in his rhetoric. I would read this out loud if I were you:
Christian people need no substitutes, no supplements, no boosters. Christ is all we need. We need no blessed handkerchiefs, Christ can wipe away all our tears. We need no consecrated rings. Christ is a ring all around us like the walls are roundabout Jerusalem. We need no holy water, Christ is the "living water, thirsty one, stoop down and drink and live." We need no one to bless a gold or silver cross. The Cross of Calvary cleanses us from all unrighteousness, gives us full rights in the family of God.
Christ is all we need. Christian adoration has strained the language, piled meanings into many figures and metaphors to speak of the "allness" of Christ, His sufficiency, our completeness in Him. And so we call him Prophet, Priest and King, Revealer, Representative and Ruler. Christ is all we need, the Captain of our Salvation, the Head of the Church, the Bridegroom at the final marriage, the Judge of all the world, the Firstborn of the dead, the New and Final Adam, the Captain of the Lords host, the Living Bread, a Fountain opened in the house of Israel, Mary's Baby, Calvary's Hero, Death’s Conqueror, the Grave’s Spoiler.
Christ is all we need. He begins with childhood, and says, "Suffer the little children to come unto me." He continues in adulthood and says, "Come on to me, all ye that labor." He follows the wanderer out through the darkness and says, "For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." Christ is all we need. He finds us in our sins and kneels and writes with that wondrous finger and says to us, "Go and sin no more." When we are sick, he comes and says, "Wilt thou be made whole?" And assures us that all "Sickness is not unto death." When we must go down to the slippery shores of death, Christ says, "I will come again and get you. In my Father’s house is a place for you."
Christ is all and more than all the world to His people. Christ is all. All our hope, all our strength, all our light, all our life, all our help. "Christ is all, and in all."
This was Taylor’s preaching: full of biblical quotations, full of Jesus Christ in all his revealed glory, full of passion and delivered with oratory zeal. I only wish I could have listened to the one above!
Taylor was involved in various political causes and movements during his life. He did so in a way that was balanced as a preacher of the Bible, lifting up Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Both prophetic calls for justice, personal piety, and faith in God flowed out from his work. His life, character, and person were shaped by his faith in Jesus and the fires and trials of this life under the sun. Finally, his compelling call was to preach. Though he could have ventured into politics, he remained a man of the pulpit. As such, his ministry was a person of embodied faith, hope, and love as a leader in his community.
To be quite honest I feel a bit shy to offer any sort of critique of a man so well respected in an essay of this sort. Who am I to say anything about this man to whom I have only recently become introduced? Others I have read in preparation for this paper have offered plenty of kind words and adulation. I have found much difficulty to find anyone with much of anything critical to say. Have I come across a bit of hagiography of a recently deceased 96-year-old saint? Or was he simply a wonderful man. I lean towards the latter after my introductory foray into his life. The strengths are many as I have already noted in my summary of his main theological and ministerial contributions. If there are any weaknesses I have observed they were few. One I noted was his use of the pronouns “he or she” when referring to pastors in his sermons. This would strain my own theological convictions about men being pastors. Second, I am not sure that certain schools of thought would consider many of his sermons to be proper expositional preaching. That said, these are the very people who are in great need to learn a thing or two about preaching from men like Taylor. Finally, there was also a hint that Taylor may not have held to what theologians see as the verbal inspiration of the Bible but that he preached and believed as if it were so. In my study, this was inconclusive and I found his view of the Bible was consistently very high.
Why is Taylor a mentor for me?
There are many reasons I think Taylor and his works are of help to me in my ministry. First, his ministry crossed with both black and white churches in America and influenced the discipline of homiletics in both communities. I have personally been involved in multi-ethnic and transcultural ministry for many years and I am always hungry to learn from others in how to do this well. Most recently I had the joy and privilege of leading a transcultural multi-ethnic church plant in New Jersey where I preached before a diverse congregation from various ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. My small contribution to help others do the same is found online at Power of Change. Jared E. Alcantara’s detailed study of Taylor’s work in Crossover Preaching, Intercultural-Improvisational Homiletics in Conversation with Gardner C. Taylor is a volume I plan on spending more time with in the days ahead to further help me in cross cultural ministry and service.
The second aspect of Taylor’s ministry I want to glean from is how he preached Christ faithfully for almost six decades, 42 years of which in his home church pulpit. His perseverance in ministry and consistent preaching of Jesus is something I want to learn from. His goal in sermons was to "To bring the people before the presence of God and within sight of the heart of Christ. No sermon can do more. None should want to do less." His goal in preaching was not simply to give people information but to introduce them to the person to whom the Word of God guides us. In his book for pastors, he wrote:
The role of the minister involves more than preaching the gospel as a written record; it includes seeking a relationship with the God about whom the Word has dealt and the Christ toward whom it points. In other words, one is not called just to preach the Word, but to preach what the Word seeks to say.
I can personally grow in this in my own preaching and I look forward to reading more sermons from Taylor for my own edification and grow in preaching Christ.
Finally, I want to learn from an excellent orator from recent history to learn how to speak, well, better. I don’t want to find a surely contentment with my own preaching and speaking. I want to improve. I want to find ways to communicate the Scriptures and the gospel of our risen King Jesus in ways that impact and influence. I wish to see others affected by the work of His Spirit, through the Word. I want to do a better job handling the task of preaching the gospel. Paul Tripp writes of the tragedy of Sunday mediocrity in our time in his book, A Dangerous Calling.
I am very concerned about the acceptance of Sunday morning mediocrity, and I am persuaded that it is not primarily a schedule or laziness problem. I am convinced it is a theological problem...If your heart is in functional awe of the glory of God, then there will be no place in your heart for poorly prepared, badly delivered, functional pastoral mediocrity.
I hope to have Gardner C. Taylor’s works around to help my awe of God and to help me learn to be a better orator who is called to speak the very oracles of the Lord.
As I have grown older and into middle age, my desires in life have grown somewhat simpler. In a time of transition in 2016, I wrote down three things that I want out of the rest of my life.
- I want to know Jesus and remain faithful to the end of my life and be saved.
- I desire deepening friendship with the wife of my youth.
- I want my children to know me in depth and character as a human being including my flaws and virtues.
It was important for me to isolate these from vocation in order to remind me of what really matters. To these I wish to add one more phrase that I happened upon through the title of an essay in honor of Taylor.
- I want to be a “Good Man Speaking Well”
It is true that there are none good but God (Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19). It is also true that we are to become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) and we are being transformed into the image of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:12-18). When all is said and done I hope that I’ve been changed to be much more like Jesus and I hope that I have learned and practiced speaking well of Him. Yes, even in preaching, loving, and leading well.
To listen to the Eulogy presented at Dr. Taylor's funeral, it is available here.
Alcantara, Jared E. Learning from a Legend : What Gardner C. Taylor Can Teach Us About Preaching. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2016.
Alcántara, Jared E. Crossover Preaching : Intercultural-Improvisational Homiletics in Conversation with Gardner C. Taylor. Strategic Initiatives in Evangelical Theology. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2015.
Hawkins, B. Denise and Adelle M. Banks. "Gardner C. Taylor, Dean of Black Preachers, Dies at 96." The Religion News Service. Last modified 2015. Accessed July 6, 2017. http://religionnews.com/2015/04/06/gardner-c-taylor-dean-black-preachers-dies-96/.
Monaghan, Reid S. "Planting Multiethnic and Transcultural Churches." Power of Change, February 13, 2017. Accessed 2017. http://www.powerofchange.org/blog/2017/2/12/plantingmultiethnic.
Proctor, Samuel D. and Gardner C. Taylor. We Have This Ministry : The Heart of the Pastor's Vocation. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1996.
Taylor, Gardner C. The Scarlet Thread : Nineteen Sermons. Elgin, IL: Progressive Baptist Pub. House, 1981.
Taylor, Gardner C., Timothy George, James Earl Massey, and Robert Smith. Our Sufficiency Is of God : Essays on Preaching in Honor of Gardner C. Taylor. 1st ed. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2010.
Taylor, Gardner C. and Edward L. Taylor. Faith in the Fire : Wisdom for Life. 1st ed. New York, Carlsbad, CA: SmileyBooks ; distributed by Hay House Inc., 2011.
Tripp, Paul David. Dangerous Calling : Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012.
 Jared E. Alcantara, Learning from a Legend : What Gardner C. Taylor Can Teach Us About Preaching (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2016), 7.
 Ibid., 8.
 Gardner C. Taylor et al., Our Sufficiency Is of God : Essays on Preaching in Honor of Gardner C. Taylor, 1st ed. (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2010), xiii.
 Alcantara, Learning from a Legend : What Gardner C. Taylor Can Teach Us About Preaching, 9.
 Gardner C. Taylor and Edward L. Taylor, Faith in the Fire : Wisdom for Life, 1st ed. (New York
Carlsbad, CA: SmileyBooks ;
distributed by Hay House Inc., 2011), xii.
 Samuel D. Proctor and Gardner C. Taylor, We Have This Ministry : The Heart of the Pastor's Vocation (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1996), 2.
 Taylor et al., Our Sufficiency Is of God : Essays on Preaching in Honor of Gardner C. Taylor, xiv.
 Alcantara, Learning from a Legend : What Gardner C. Taylor Can Teach Us About Preaching, 9.
 Taylor et al., Our Sufficiency Is of God : Essays on Preaching in Honor of Gardner C. Taylor, xiv.
 Alcantara, Learning from a Legend : What Gardner C. Taylor Can Teach Us About Preaching, 9.
 Taylor et al., Our Sufficiency Is of God : Essays on Preaching in Honor of Gardner C. Taylor, xv.
 Taylor and Taylor, Faith in the Fire : Wisdom for Life, xiii.
 Alcantara, Learning from a Legend : What Gardner C. Taylor Can Teach Us About Preaching, 10.
 Taylor and Taylor, Faith in the Fire : Wisdom for Life, xiv.
 Alcantara, Learning from a Legend : What Gardner C. Taylor Can Teach Us About Preaching. Is structured with each chapter occupying one of these themes. For the observant reader you may not that these headers also are memberoable for they spell out the word P.R.E.A.C.H.
 Taylor and Taylor, Faith in the Fire : Wisdom for Life, xvii.
 Quoted in Taylor et al., Our Sufficiency Is of God : Essays on Preaching in Honor of Gardner C. Taylor, xvii.
 Ibid., xxix.
 Proctor and Taylor, We Have This Ministry : The Heart of the Pastor's Vocation, 128.
 See his sermon “The Look that Saves” in Gardner C. Taylor, The Scarlet Thread : Nineteen Sermons (Elgin, IL: Progressive Baptist Pub. House, 1981), 58.
 See sermon “The Sufficiency of Christ” in ibid., 121-27.
 Alcantara, Learning from a Legend : What Gardner C. Taylor Can Teach Us About Preaching, ix.
 Proctor and Taylor, We Have This Ministry : The Heart of the Pastor's Vocation, 11.
 Alcantara, Learning from a Legend : What Gardner C. Taylor Can Teach Us About Preaching, 106.
 Ibid., 115-19.
 Ibid., 120.
 Taylor and Taylor, Faith in the Fire : Wisdom for Life, 210.
 Alcantara, Learning from a Legend : What Gardner C. Taylor Can Teach Us About Preaching, 2.
 Ibid., x.
 Taylor et al., Our Sufficiency Is of God : Essays on Preaching in Honor of Gardner C. Taylor, 108-15.
 Taylor, The Scarlet Thread : Nineteen Sermons, 126.
 Proctor and Taylor, We Have This Ministry : The Heart of the Pastor's Vocation, 131.
 Ibid., 128.
 For example, he once confided, “I find myself in the same situation as P.T. Forsyth who said, in his 1907 Lyman Beecher Lectures that although as a scholar he agreed with the historical critics who did not believe in ‘verbal inspiration’ of Scripture,” and yet as a practicing preacher Taylor, along with Forsyth, had often witnessed the fecundity and activity of scripture that is was a constant struggle for him not to believe in the verbal inspiration of scripture. Quoted in Taylor et al., Our Sufficiency Is of God : Essays on Preaching in Honor of Gardner C. Taylor, 206,07.
 See comments by Prof. Richard Lischer in the embedded PBS video at B. Denise Hawkins and Adelle M. Banks, "Gardner C. Taylor, Dean of Black Preachers, Dies at 96," The Religion News Service, accessed July 6, 2017. http://religionnews.com/2015/04/06/gardner-c-taylor-dean-black-preachers-dies-96/.
 Reid S. Monaghan, "Planting Multiethnic and Transcultural Churches," Power of Change, February 13, 2017, accessed 2017, http://www.powerofchange.org/blog/2017/2/12/plantingmultiethnic.
 Jared E. Alcántara, Crossover Preaching : Intercultural-Improvisational Homiletics in Conversation with Gardner C. Taylor, Strategic Initiatives in Evangelical Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2015).
 Alcantara, Learning from a Legend : What Gardner C. Taylor Can Teach Us About Preaching, 5.
 Proctor and Taylor, We Have This Ministry : The Heart of the Pastor's Vocation, 8.
 Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling : Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012), 138, 41.
 Taylor et al., Our Sufficiency Is of God : Essays on Preaching in Honor of Gardner C. Taylor, 241-59.
One of the portions of history that is lost to many modern day people is that of the late middle ages. This was time of the great empires of Islam and Christendom and the various clashes of civilization. Islam had marched out of Arabia from the time of the prophet forward and consumed vast territories and lands in North Africa, the ancient near east and Asia.
The rise of the the Ottomons and the vast empire forged by the Turks and their subjects followed. This era was touched on so little in my education to my impoverishment. In recent years, I've found a great delight learning about these Mediterranean empires of Asia and Europe that shaped the modern world.
My guide into these worlds have been the works of the British historian Roger Crowley. I cannot recommend his books enough with the audio versions being a particular joy to me. Crowley covers the conflicts, trade and intrigue of the various Mediterranean powers exposing the reader to the Habsburgs of Europe, the Ottoman Turks, the wily Venetians and the rise of the ambitious Portuguese. If you like narrative history and creative non-fiction these works are a must.
The following are descriptions of the books from Crowley's site. I have provided links to both Amazon and Audible for any who are interested in picking up a copy. Highly recommended. And no, this is not an ad, we don't do ads here on the POC Blog.
Constantinople: The Last Great Siege tells the story of one of the great forgotten events of world history - the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in1453.
For a thousand years Constantinople was quite simply the city: fabulously wealthy, imperial, intimidating - and Christian. Single-handedly it blunted early Arab enthusiasm for Holy War; when a second wave of Islamic warriors swept out of the Asian steppes in the Middle Ages, Constantinople was the ultimate prize: ‘The Red Apple’. It was a city that had always lived under threat. On average it had survived a siege every forty years for a millenium – until the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmet II, twenty-one years old and hungry for glory, rode up to the walls in April 1453 with a huge army, ‘numberless as the stars’
Constantinople is the taut, vivid story of this final struggle for the city told largely through the accounts of eyewitnesses. For fifty-five days a tiny group of defenders defied the huge Ottoman army in a seesawing contest fought on land, at sea – and underground. During the course of events, the largest cannon ever built was directed against the world’s most formidable defensive system, Ottoman ships were hauled overland into the Golden Horn, and the morale of defenders was crucially undermined by unnerving portents. At the centre is the contest between two inspirational leaders, Mehmed II and Constantine XI, fighting for empire and religious faith, and an astonishing finale in a few short hours on 29 May 1453 – a defining moment for medieval history.
Constantinople is both a gripping work of narrative history and an account of the war between Christendom and Islam that still has echoes in the modern world.
The inhabitants of the Maghreb have it on the authority of the book of predictions that the Muslims will make a successful attack against the Christians and conquer the lands of the European Christians beyond the sea. This, it is said, will take place by sea.’
Ibn Khaldun, fourteenth-century Arab historian
In 1521, Suleiman the Magnificent, ruler of the Ottoman Empire at the height of its power, prepared to dispatch an invasion fleet to the island of Rhodes. It was to prove the opening shot in an epic struggle between rival empires and faiths for control of the Mediterranean – the White Sea to the Turks – that consumed the centre of the world for sixty years.
Empires of the Sea tells the story of this great contest between the Ottomans and the Spanish Hapsburgs. It is a fast-paced tale of spiralling intensity that ranges from Istanbul to the Gates of Gibraltar and features a cast of extraordinary characters: Hayrettin Barbarossa, the original Barbary pirate, the risk-taking Emperor Charles V, the Knights of St John, last survivors of the military crusading orders, and the brilliant Christian admiral, Don Juan of Austria. Its brutal climax came between 1565 and 1571, six years that witnessed a fight to the finish, decided in a series of bloody set pieces: the epic siege of Malta, the battle for Cyprus and the apocalyptic last-ditch defence of southern Europe at Lepanto – one of the most dramatic days in world history, that fixed the frontiers of the Mediterranean world that we know today.
Empires of the Sea is the sequel to the much-praised Constantinople 1453. It is page-turning narrative history at its best – a story of extraordinary colour and incident, rich in detail, full of surprises and backed by a wealth of eyewitness accounts. Its denouement at Lepanto is a single action of quite shocking impact. Cervantes called it ‘the greatest event witnessed by times past, present and to come’. The book is also a narrative about technology and money. Lepanto was the Mediterranean’s Trafalgar, the last and greatest moment in the age of the galleys before sailing ships with broadside guns swept all before them, and it was paid for, on the Christian side, with Inca gold.
City of Fortune tells the story of Venice’s rise from lagoon dwellers to the greatest power in the Mediterranean. It was an epic five hundred year voyage that encompassed crusade and trade, plague, sea battles and colonial adventure.
Along the way, Venice created an empire of ports and naval bases – the Stato da Mar – which flourished under the lion banner of St Mark and whose sole function was to funnel the goods of the world back into the warehouses of the lagoon. Venice became, for a time, the axis of world trade and the richest place on earth. The city was a brilliant mosaic fashioned from what it bought, traded, borrowed and stole across the Mediterranean basin.
The path to empire unfolded in a series of extraordinary contests – the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 that launched the Stato da Mar, the slugging contest with Genoa fought to the death within the lagoon itself, and the desperate defence against the Ottoman empire. The long arc of ascent, domination and maritime decline is the subject of this book.
Drawing on first hand accounts of crusaders, sea captains and merchants, as well as the state records, City of Fortune is a rich narrative about commerce and empire, seafaring and piracy, and the places where Venetian merchants sailed, traded and died: Constantinople, Crete, Alexandria, the Black Sea, theAdriatic and the shores of Greece. It begins symbolically on Ascension Day in the year 1000 and ends with an enormous explosion off the Peloponnese in 1499 – and the calamitous news that the Portuguese had pioneered a sea route to India, strangling Venice’s lucrative spice trade.
‘The sea without end is Portuguese.’ Fernando Pessoa
In 1497, Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope and became the first European to sail to India. This feat came off the back of sixty years of coherent effort by the Portuguese to find a way out of the Atlantic Ocean. Then they set about conquering the world.
As remarkable as Columbus and the conquistador expeditions, the history of Portuguese exploration is now almost forgotten. But Portugal's navigators cracked the code of the Atlantic winds, launched Gama’s expedition and beat the Spanish to the spice kingdoms of the East - then began creating the first long-range maritime empire. Driven by crusading fever and the lure of the spice trade, a few thousand Portuguese, equipped with a new technology – ship-borne bronze cannon – joined up the oceans and surprised the world. In an astonishing blitz of thirty years, a handful of visionary and utterly ruthless empire builders, with few resources but breathtaking ambition, attempted to seize the Indian Ocean, destroy Islam and take control of global trade.
This is narrative history at its most vivid - an epic tale of navigation, trade and technology, money and religious zealotry, political diplomacy and espionage, sea battles and shipwrecks, endurance, courage and terrifying brutality. Drawing on extensive first-hand accounts, many of which have never been available in English before, it brings to life the exploits of an extraordinary band of conquerors - men such as Afonso de Albuquerque, the first European since Alexander the Great to found an Asian empire - who set in motion five hundred years of European colonisation and unleashed the forces of globalisation that shape the modern world.
Here on the blog I am sharing a few things we have done in our household with our kids to help guide them up into their teen years. You can read the intro and something I've called the Bear Grylls River Talk here on the blog.
Today I want share something I scribbled down for our kids about a month ago which has become a bit of an eye-rolling joke and a guiding framework for our family. I've called it CHIP in. For years I have been telling my kids that "boredom is the sign of a lack of creativity and thought and the result of an inactive mind." When kids are bored I tell them to use their creativity, imagination, prayer and thinking to find something helpful and productive to occupy their lives. My kids have seldom been bored.
As our kids have grown up they have the freedom to direct more of their free time and choices themselves. We also encourage one another to use our lives in the service of God and others and not simply be self-absorbed, entertainment driven people. As school ended for our family last month, I scribbled down some thoughts for my kids in the summer months where we have a bit more time margin. It rolled out this way:
When you have time open, CHIP in. With CHIP standing for Chores, Homework, Investment, Pleasure.
I picked the word CHORES as it typically refers to assigned household tasks given to kids. We actually do not have chores for our kids and have never really done things that way. Now our children do household tasks and work. These just don't exist on individualized lists for each child. They have not been related to an allowance. These things are good practices, but we have chosen not to do things in that way.
What we try to instill in our kids is this: do what we ask of you, and do things without being asked that need to be done. So for us, CHORES means to look at the house and get things done that you see needs to be done.
- If there is laundry that needs to be fold it, fold it. Grab a sibling to help
- If there are dishes that need to be put away, do it
- If there are dirty dishes, wash them
- If a common space in our house is cluttered, pick it up
- Your room, your domain - keep it cleaned up
So chipping in means proactively doing these things when asked and doing them on your own before you plop down to watch Netflix.
Let me say straight away that homework is not a bad or distasteful word in our home. Our kids like doing homework. They like school. This was caught in the culture of our household at a young age. We love to learn as a family. So even in the summer months, we encourage one another to do homework. In other words, love learning and when you have free time, endeavor to learn something.
- Pick up a book and read
- Learn something about God and his world
- Listen to an audiobook
- Do some math exercises on Khan Academy
So chipping in means proactively doing these things to grow intellectually as people before you plop down to watch Netflix.
God has placed us in this world as beings in relationship. We have relationships with God and other people. We are a family. You have a brother and a sister. Or in my son's case, two sisters. Take some time to invest in these relationships.
- Read Scripture and spiritual books to invest in your relationship with God
- Spend some time praying
- Spend time with one of your siblings, do something together. Chores, homework, fun things. Don't do these alone, do them together
- Call a grand parent
- Do something with a friend
So chipping in means seeking out things that invest in your relationships before you plop down to watch Netflix.
Finally, we are not anti-media, anti-fun or anti-pleasure as a family. We just don't want to default to entertainment and goofing off as the only thing to do with our free time. So yes, you can watch Anne with an E on Netflix. Yes, we can watch soccer together. Just don't slug out and watch 4 hours of TV in a row today. Chipping in means there are many others things to do with our lives.
And if you do want to plop down and watch Netflix, do so with with a friend, sibling or even dear old Dad. That new Anne with an E out of Canada was pretty good.
CHIP in is a bit goofy, my girls do roll their eyes at it in love. I even had this exchange with my middle one, "Dad, don't you just want us to do these things on our own, instead of you chirping 'CHIP in' to us every day?" Yes, sweetie Ky, yes I do. You got it and I'm proud of you. Dad gives dap to daughter and thanks God.
"CHIP in" can be used with kids of all ages young or old. Try it or make up your own deals to help your kids focus on the good, the right and true things of life.
Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.  Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and forsake not your mother's teaching,  for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.  My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. Proverbs 1:7-10
Many are familiar today with the British survivalist and adventurist named Bear Grylls. A few years back my kids and I got really into watching seasons of his first breakout show in the states, Man vs. Wild. We love it. Now I know lots of that show is staged and not for the survivalist purist but for what it is, we just love watching Bear. Grylls will eat anything and do just about anything to demonstrate survival techniques to viewers and some of it is just over the top. Eating bugs, snakes, raw yak meat in the mountains and squeezing liquid out of elephant dung in order to get a drink all come to mind.
On one episode, actually more than one, Bear lashed together a raft out of vines, small logs and some left over parachute cording. Bear can go down a river full of boulders, wild rapids and swirling eddies of death hanging on to a stick in the water. Why? Why can he do this? Wisdom.
With my two oldest I created a talk that I've gone through with them to describe the nature of the teenage years and we've used Bear as a guide. You can fashion your own talk along similar lines but perhaps with an illustration you vibe with.
The Bear Grylls River Talk
- Dad - do you remember that episode on Man vs. Wild where Bear Grylls goes down the river on a stick. Crazy, right!?
- Kid - yeah, awesome
- Dad - Do you think we could do that? Why do you think he can do that?
- Kid - he knows what he is doing!
- Dad - yes, he has wisdom as he's been down rivers before. He knows a flowing bump is likely a skull crushing boulder, He knows a little swirling pool of water could be a suction eddie that will pull you under and drown you. He knows which side of the river is going to be safe, what channels to avoid etc. He's done this before!
- Dad - Life is sort of this way. Each of us are heading down a river and there are many dangers, toils, snares, boulders and eddies of despair! It's also an amazing ride!
- Dad - As you are moving towards adulthood there is something we need to talk about related to the teenage years. Some in our culture hold to a narrative that goes something like this. Teenagers are supposed to think their parents are stupid and will not want anything to do with Mom and Dad. All they want to do is rebel. Parents are supposed to be hyper controlling, not letting kids do anything and trying to hold them back from growing up. So there is a lot of conflict. Do you want this for our relationship?
- Kid - no Dad, we are close and I'd like us to stay this way (this of course, depends on your relationship from birth until this day)
- Dad - me either, I love you and I want us to stay close. But you know what, our relationship must evolve and change. God intends for you to grow up and take your place in his world as a servant of the Kingdom and a mature adult. It's like we are going down the river. Until now, you have mostly been in Mom and Dad's raft but now you need to grab your stick and head down the river with us. I want you to go and enjoy the river; go for it. I need to let go a bit so you can do your thing in the world. At the same time I need you to trust me. I've been around a few years and down this river a few times. I'm going to be so proud to watch you go and grow. I also may point out a deadly boulder or two. I want you to listen to me in those times. I also want you to tell me "I got this Dad" when I need to back off. Our relationship will depend on me learning to let go and you still desiring to listen. And for us both to be honest when we feel tension. Let's reject the cultural narrative of the parent vs. teen conflict and continue together because we love each other. Cool?
- Kid - cool
I think this also gets right at the essence of problems which plague parents and teens. Parents will not let go or they clamp down too tightly. We can squeeze kids into a rebellion. At the same time teens lack the humility to continue to listen to the trusted and loving voice of parents. Parents, rejected by their teens can withdraw their wisdom and lack courage due to conflicts and drama. The tension is found on these grounds.
As my kids hit puberty and walked into the teen years, I wanted to acknowledge three things about myself to my kids. First, I'm a sinner and I will make mistakes. I will sometimes be too controlling or I will sometimes be too harsh. Forgive me in advance. Second, I do love you ever so deeply. My heart and hopes are for you. I'm not the enemy now or into the future. Third, I do know a few things about this life and life with God. I want you to continue to honor me as your Dad.
There is a quote credited to Mark Twain that is very likely apocryphal. It's attribution to Twain is likely due to its Twainishness but the quote cannot be sourced with accuracy. But nonetheless, it gets at an important truth. It reads something like this:
When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.
The point being is that kids tend to go through a temporary amnesia in adolescence but will listen once life beats them up a bit and they get a little earlier. I've shared this quote with my kids as well as a way to remind them to lean on my wisdom.
Has this talk and clarity solved all tensions that me and my teenage girls have with one another? Of course not. Did it prepare us with categories and helpful reminders for the journey that we are now traveling. Absolutely.
Talk about the evolving nature of your relationship with your kids as they come into the flow of the teenage river. In doing so your journey together can be the wild, fun, scary, dangerous and wonderful trip God created it to be.
 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.  Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and forsake not your mother's teaching,  for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.  My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. Proverbs 1:7-10
I love being a Dad. I love kids. I've loved every phase of fatherhood from the first day until now. This year our kids will turn 16, 11 and 14. We are now teaching our oldest to drive a car. Seriously fun and yet seriously nervy work.
Each phase of parenting has its own focus. There are unique challenges, joys and blessings for Moms and Dads for each stage and season of life our kids travel through. Here are a few of the needs we have observed.
- Birth-Waddling - love, feed, poop, talk, read, pray
- Waddler-Toddler - discipline, teaching, play, learning, discipline, energy, fun, discipline
- School age - learning, co-study, spiritual formation, deeper catechesis
- Teens - learning, responsibility, life ownership, deeper discipleship, friendship, clarity
- Young Adulthood - ??? I have my ideas but don't want to speak about the roads I've yet to walk
- Adulthood - looking forward to this...and if the Lord gives grace, grand babies!!!
Our kids are now in the tween and teenage years. We have never bought into the societal silliness that kids of age XYZ cannot be engaged with ABC. We've taught deeply, engaged socially and walked together with our kids towards maturity. We have done so in ways others might say kids of that age are not yet ready. Silly talk. Our calling is to bring our kids up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:1-4) and we cannot look to our contemporary culture for cues on how to raise our kids. We have looked to Scripture and examples in history to learn and grow. We have also prayed and thought deeply about being intentional in our parenting. In the teen years there are some distinct challenges and necessities. I'll simply share a few.
Thoughts on Teens
- Kids should rightly be moving towards less and less dependence on Mom and Dad.
- Kids need to own their worldview, kick the tires of their faith and grow in their walk with God. Obviously what we've done with them prior to this season is absolutely key here.
- Kids need to lead themselves, assume deeper responsibilities and learn to serve and lead others as they move towards adulthood.
- Kids and parents need to evolve their relationship with one another while fighting to maintain a loving connection. Again, what you've done since birth will matter here. It is easy for teens to not want to be around Mom and Dad if Mom and Dad were never really around and engaged with them.
In light of this, I've used two main tools to guide my teenagers. The Bear Grylls River Talk and a new invention I've entitled CHIP in. My kids loved the first and roll their eyes at the second. Both have been effective. So if you have teens or those who will be some day travel through these years, I hope these are of help to you.
Hi guys. This month doing a little ministry update via an audio file. To all the friends of POC we thank you for your prayers and partnership in the gospel.
Assessing the Call to Battle:
Preparing for the Mission
Preparing for life and what lay ahead on the roads of church planting is both an exciting and very serious matter. In Scripture Jesus used several examples to teach us about preparing our hearts and counting the costs of following him. As a follower of Jesus, who senses a call to church planting, we must hear the strength of his teaching:
25Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:25-33 (ESV)
The first issue we must ask of ourselves is our level of life commitment to our Lord. Any man looking at church planting must first look at his own heart and look to his Lord.
Following Jesus: Being a Humble Student with Character
The above passage was articulated to a crowd of people. The call to be a follower of Jesus is one of full life commitment, the call to church planting means you must be able to say as Paul did, “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). It has been said that in the early days of planting it is very much like plugging your life into an amplifier. People will watch you as an example of walking with Jesus and following him on his mission.
Church planting is hard work that has many stresses and pressure placed upon those who undertake this call. It will both shape a man and reveal who he really is. Church planters must begin with humble self- examination in the context of their family and local church community before they embark on this mission. The following are some questions to explore as you consider the noble work of taking the gospel to people through church planting.
- Why do you want to plant churches
- Are you doing this to make a name for yourself?
- Are you simply trying to be more radical than other Christians In order to stand out?
- Are you unwilling to work with others at your current church?
- Is this church plant going to be about you, your success, your failure, your renown?
Church planting for the wrong reasons is dangerous to your soul. Planting out of devotion and love for Jesus will fuel you in the work through all that hell will fling at you. From his Twitter account, Pastor Scotty Smith of Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN had this to say about the difficult work of church planting and its effects on the planter.
There is no commitment we will make as church planters of greater importance than living close to Jesus. For church planting can become an idol factory; a prostitution ring; a cruel taskmaster; a breeding ground for addictions...we need church planters who will love Jesus with abandon, and who cultivate a lifestyle of growing in His grace and knowledge. Until you know yourself to be slow of heart to believe the gospel, you will never cultivate a burning heart for the gospel. Churches planted with the DNA of the gospel will be led by those who live a life of gospel astonishment.
As you begin the process of examining your life, doctrine and calling to church planting I want to leave you with an encouragement about your motivation. Church planting should be done for Jesus, by Jesus and for the glory and fame of Jesus. We should do it to be unknown, to see Christ transform lives by the gospel and to see others honor his name. Church planting should be a spiritual act of worship, where in humble service to our King, we give our lives in gospel mission in our day.
Our hearts can be so deceitfully wicked (Jeremiah 17:9) so our motives will never be 100% pure and without mingling of sin. Yet, when motives other than Christ and him crucified, rise up in our hearts, we must repent. God graciously purifies our hearts in the church planting process. Do not resist his rebukes, discipline and refinement. Repentance and deriving our motives anew in the hope of gospel is the path we must take. As we examine our character, heart and motives in church planting some other questions of importance need to be asked. We’ll move to these next.
Who is confirming your calling?
It is amazing that many men feel called to plant churches yet nobody is currently with them in this idea. Now don’t get me wrong, God does call lone prophets to boldly step out and speak for him. God may call you to go out like Jeremiah and other prophets of the old school. What we want to assess is whether certain important parts of the family of God are standing with you to affirm your calling to plant. Wisdom tells us that without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. (Proverbs 15:22) An affirmation from others of your calling to plant churches seems both wise and fitting for men who seek to be in community and under good authority as they process God’s call on their lives. The following are important people that I think you should consult when contemplating church planting.
Ask Your Wife and Children (age appropriate)
The government of the church is based upon the government of the home. This is born our in the Pastoral Epistles discussing the management of one’s own household and family as a test for qualification in as a pastor (See Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Timothy 3:4,5). Furthermore a man’s marriage is reflective of the type of gospel leadership he will have with others. If his response to be a servant leader and sacrificial lover of his wife is neglected (See Ephesians 5), he is sure to neglect this with others. A church planter will have to lead men to be husbands and fathers so being one can help. I’m not saying a single man cannot plant a church, but I am saying it should be highly exceptional.
In addition to leading his family, a church planter needs his family to be with him on mission and it simply cannot be thought of as “Dad’s thing.” The gospel is and always has been a covenantal and family affair. The community lives mission together, passes of the gospel together and this begins at home (See Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Psalm 78:5-8, Ephesians 6:1-4) Finally, as a practical issue a man’s wife is to be his helper, his friend, his confidant, his lover and an oasis from the stresses and labors of church planting. A man planting a church with his wife not being on his team will be bad for the marriage and bad for the joy of both parties. Seeking unity in calling to gospel centered church planting is a must for a man and his family.
Ask Your Church? Flip not your nose at ecclesial authority
The local community of faith is the place where a man’s gifts and calling can be observed operating in the body of Christ. A fruitful man in ministry within a local church is evident to many. Additionally, a man who cannot be under the authority of local pastors/elders might not be trustworthy to have such authority. I realize that some church settings are less than ideal and that not all local pastors have a vision for planting churches. We still need to seriously ask whether our local church confirms our gifting and calling to gospel ministry and whether or not our pastor(s) see this calling on our lives.
Ask Church Planters?
Many denominations and church planting networks provide great assessment processes to insure a church planting has the right metal for church planting. Some of these assessments are done by actual church planters and pastors who have planted and who are able to understand the stresses, needs, gifting, maturity and spiritual calling necessary to plant churches. Assessment has been shown to greatly enhance the viability of church plants and a good assessment can help identify issues which need to be worked through before planting. A man is wise to seek assessment through a church planting network or denominational entity to help him prepare and move forward counting the costs involved in planting the gospel in new communities.
You can find the Acts 29 Network assessment process described in some detail here.
Ask the Pope in Rome
Just kidding, but feel free if you like.
Most importantly, humbly ask God?
A call to plant the gospel involves God’s calling a man to himself first and foremost as a Christian. We are first called to belong to the Father with Jesus as our mediator and older brother. Our primary calling of grace and intimacy with God must be first. Secondly, God’s call to plant the gospel and preach his Word must be the solid foundation upon which we move forward. If you are uncertain that God has called you to do this. Wait. There is nothing wrong with waiting before the Lord and actively serving mission where you are. In Acts 13 the call of Paul and Barnabas the Holy Spirit for his work was evident to the community and to the men called. Seeking confirmation of a calling into church planting from family, church, other planters and God himself is essential to move forward in humility and zeal. Men, take the time here to wrestle this through.
What are you planting?
As you look at the call to establish a new church you must remember exactly what you were doing. You are serving in Jesus’ Mission, making disciples of Jesus and establishing a local expression of his beloved family. This is not your gig, your kingdom or a place centered on you. Don't ever forget this!
If we count the costs, submit our lives to examination and assessment we will be well equipped for every good work in church planting.