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Exploring the Heart of Restoration

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Matt Dabbs

Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of


praying_on_bible_redIn sharing some thoughts recently on Luke 10 it dawned on me that Jesus is telling us that there is something we need to be praying and I cannot say that I have heard it prayed more than a few times in my life.

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

There it is. Not only did Jesus say they needed to “Go!” (the part we emphasize but still do infrequently), Jesus said they need to also ask God to send out workers. That is a very strange request because when I read that my first impression is, aren’t they they ones who are going? The very next word Jesus says is “Go!” so in a very real sense, yes, they are the ones who are going.

But maybe there is more to it than that. God has his hand in more things than we can ever realize. There are times in the Gospels and in Acts where the disciples run into people they had no idea existed who are doing the work of God. Where did those people come from? God humbles us in these stories to reminds us that we aren’t the only game in town. God reminds us that he will accomplish what he has set out to do with us or without us. We don’t know all that God is up to. It is easy to think the scope of his work is limited to what we are able to do ourselves. We know better…but still it holds true.

I want to encourage you to pray this prayer on a regular basis…to “ask the Lord of the harvest…to send out workers into his harvest field.” Maybe that prayer would spark growth in our churches. Maybe it would result in a renewed desire for planting churches. Either way…Jesus told us to pray it and we should pray it.

There are three reasons that come to mind as to why this is such an important prayer to pray regularly:

  1. The more you pray for the lost (preferably by name) the more you realize that it is foolish to keep praying for something to happen and continue to be unwilling to work on it yourself.
  2. God can and will send people in response to this prayer…why else tell us to pray it? Maybe the church across town grows from it…does it matter where the increase happens?
  3. Prayer changes culture. As our churches pray this on a regular basis people will begin to embrace it.

So there it is…the prayer Jesus told us to pray and I am afraid too few Christians are taking him up on it. Will you?

Keller-PrayerLast November, Tim Keller published another book on another much needed topic for Christians – prayer. His book Prayer: Experiencing Intimacy With God bears all the marks of typical Keller…thorough, Reformed and practical. I mean all three in the best possible way.

Sometimes thorough can be a problem where someone spends way too much time on a particular angle on things that you get bored. If you have read Keller’s work you know he has a style that manages to keep your attention while covering all the bases (even a few bases you didn’t know existed). Keller doesn’t just want you talking with God. He wants you encountering God. You can tell from his writing that he has personally experienced the difference. Have you? If not, give this book a read and see how it helps you discover the difference.

Keller operates out of the Reformed movement and leans heavily on Scripture and also on the works of men like Edwards and Calvin. Sometimes that gets to be too much in books like this but this book was different. This time, I felt like the pieces Keller chose to share where extremely helpful and gave insight into the prayer lives of these men that I haven’t spent a lot of time examining. Some of his best suggestions were things gleaned from what he has learned in the study of the spiritual giants of the past.

Keller doesn’t just want you to pray, he wants to encourage you to dive headlong into a vibrant relationship with the God of the universe. Doing so requires much more than reciting wrote scripts. It requires more than just being biblical. It ultimately involves the culmination of all of our being, drawn closer and deeper into relationship with the God of the universe.

All in all, Keller doesn’t just give you a few forms of prayer to try. He helps you understand why prayer is important and then lets the function of prayer flow out of that. In other words, since prayer is relational and transformational prayer must include things like repentance and self-evaluation. So he suggests things like meditating over scripture, say the 10 commandments, and allowing the outflow of that meditation to result in prayer. You would pray over the 10 commandments that you are currently struggling most with. That is just one example of many.

This was more than a how to on prayer. This book provides a why. Why is prayer important? Why does it matter that we pray to a God who already knows everything and whose will is already perfect? What difference can prayer actually make? Keller answers those questions in this book and he does so by pulling together the best scholarship and states it in a way that is accessible to the average Christian. Before you can answer the “how” questions, Keller answers the “why” questions and hones in on our heart’s desires (getting his cue from the work of James K.A. Smith and others).

What is more, he spends considerable time describing how Christians (particularly from the Reformation movement) of the past spent time in prayer and what lessons we can learn from the deeply spiritual people of the past. He also spends plenty of time in the Appendices giving ideas and outlines to help you be more consistent and effective in your every day prayer life.

At the end of the day prayer is transformational. It is redemptive, repentive and relational. In short, it is something we must invest ourselves into and give it enough time for a relationship to form and get all of the clutter out there and then out of the way. This book left me with a desire for a better prayer life through Keller’s teaching and the example of those who have gone before us. It is too easy to coast on autopilot and we often need encouragement to make adjustments in our walk.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is searching for a richer prayer life. It may be a little advanced for a new Christian but not overwhelmingly so with some guidance.

praying_on_bible_redAs we kick off 2015 we are going to spend the month in prayer. There is so much going on in the world, in churches and in our personal lives that need prayed over that we are devoting this month’s theme to prayer. We will be writing about prayer and helping equip you in your prayer life but more than that…this month’s issue is a call to pray.

One of the things that draws me to the Restorative Movement is our affinity for the Bible. I am an information junkie. Raw data thrills me as does the desire to know things as completely as possible. We are such a cognitive movement…we want the facts…and so we should. But we cannot be satisfied with information for information’s sake. Often our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness. As we lean into our greatest characteristics imbalance often occurs leaving us lopsided and incomplete.

We must seek God. We must know, not just who God is, but actually know God. Stated more directly, we need both knowledge and experience with God just as we would with a spouse or a child. If you are anything like me, the trap that we can too easily find ourselves is that the search for information can become an end unto itself. It becomes our heart’s desire rather than the God behind the information. It is like knowing your spouse solely based on their facebook profile…it doesn’t make for a happy or healthy marriage. Living with your spouse day in and day out…sacrificing for them, loving them and being present with them is essential for a meaningful relationship. The same is true with God…facts alone won’t cut it. The all out pursuit of information often results in people discounting experience and elevating rationality and cerebrality to the point of being the end all, be all of faith. Our prayers can become just as impersonal as our study and our spiritual lives ultimately run dry. We must know God, through His word, and we must know God on a personal (even experiential) level.

That is where prayer comes in. Prayer is by its very nature experiential. It is something that must be done and it must be done in concert with a God who listens. That means prayer is not just experiential in the sense of someone experiencing something apart from any and everyone else. Prayer is experiential and relational because we pray to a God who hears us.

In Tim Keller’s new book on prayer he addresses the need for balancing truth from scripture with a real by pointing us to the writing of John Owen,

“Where light leaves the affections behind, it ends in formality and or atheism; where affections outrun light they sink into the bog of superstition, doting on images and pictures or the like.” – John Owen

By ‘light’ Owen means our knowledge of right teaching or doctrine. Our doctrinal and biblical knowledge cannot ‘leave the affections behind.’ If we believe with our minds that God is holy, we must also come to find his holiness enjoyable and satisfying just to praise it. If we believe the great God of the universe really loves us, it should make us emotionally unshakable in the face of criticism, suffering and death. In short, we must be able to existentially access our doctrinal convictions. If doctrinal soundness is not accompanied by heart experience, it will lead eventually to nominal Christianity-that is, in name only-and eventually to non-belief. The irony is that many conservative Christians, most concerned about conserving true and sound doctrine, neglect the importance of prayer and make no effort to experience God, and this can lead to the eventual loss of sound doctrine. Owen believes that Christianity without real experience of God will eventually be no Christianity at all.

Still, there is a danger in the other direction. ‘Affections can outrun light,’…It is possible to use techniques of meditation and imagination to create changes in consciousness that are not tied at all to the reality of who God is…you can imagine [Jesus] coming into some past incident in your life, intervening, defending you, and embracing you. In such an exercise it would be easy to put words in Jesus’ mouth that directly contradict his teaching in the Bible.”

Keller’s point is that ignoring scripture for the sake of experience has big problems as does ignoring experience and clinging solely to mastering the facts. Experience cannot be put on the same truth level as scripture and neither can scripture be put in a vaccuum so that experience is never able to intersect with the truths found in it. Extreme progressivism and extreme conservatism can both result in leaving God behind. We must find balance.

Prayer is an essential component of meaningful experience with God. It must be a priority in the life of the child of God. It is essential to maintaining our relationship with God. Don’t just study the Word…pray over the Word and let the Word speak over your prayers and be spoken in your prayers.

Prayer is essential to repentance and to character formation. Later in Keller’s book he states, “if the affections of the heart are not engaged in prayer, real character change and growth in Christ-likeness is impossible. We cannot settle for less.” If you asked around to find out Christians’ opinion on what it takes to bring about real change and growth in our lives I suspect many people would put Bible reading ahead of prayer but maybe we missed something in giving 90% of our attention to the text and 10% to most everything else (or however you think those numbers should be). Again, the call is for balance.

Last, a word about prayer in social media and personal conversations. As we engage in theological discussions both online and in person and I often wonder how many of us take a moment to pray things over before we talk things over. Prayer forces us to slow down. Prayer requires us to focus beyond ourselves and consider what it is God has in mind. Prayer should be at the core of our relationship with God and others because prayer centers us and founds us in the reality that we are not the ultimate authority but we know the One who is and he is freely approached by every last one of us when we take the time to pray.

So let us set our minds and our thoughts on God and let the result of that focus lead us to pray. Let us pray for each other…for those we agree with and those we do not. Let us pray for our own inner transformation and growth, that God might transform us more and more into the likeness of Christ. Let us pray for wisdom and understanding. Let us pray for unity and for peace.

I want to close praying over all of you who are reading this article the prayer Paul prayed over the Ephesian Christians in Ephesians 1:15-23,

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[f] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

ImmanuelHow many times can we see a baby in a manger before it is just another baby in a manger? Sometimes the baby we see is way too big to be a newborn. Other times the baby is clearly plastic and can be seen for the fake it is even from the back row of the Christmas pageant.

But the baby that was in the manger that night in Bethlehem was a real as they come. God in flesh, ensconced in raw humanity. The creator of heaven and earth became creation on earth. The power that was displayed when the words were spoken “let their be light” became both the “Word” and the “Light of the world.” As Mary’s water broke, she gave birth to the “living water” and by him all who are thirsty may come and drink from the deep well that is the Messiah.

Immanuel, God with us…that is our theme for December. Immanuel, God with us, not just 2000 years ago, but also today. Not only is Jesus with us here as he promised he would be (Matthew 28:20) but we are with him (Eph 2:6).

While we reflect back on the incarnate God we are reminded that our vision not only looks back to “Immanuel” but it also looks forward to “Maranatha”…Come Lord Jesus…that just as he came before, he will come again when all things will be made new and very good (Rev 21:5), just as they were in the beginning.

My prayer for you, dear reader, is that as we close out one year and move into the next that your love for God and for others will grow, that you mind, will and heart will become more and more entangled into the depths of the very mind, will and heart of God and that we can continue to walk in the light because of the gracious blood of our savior.

Just as God has richly blessed each one of us through the coming of Christ, may each one of us embody the incarnation of Christ in the world to richly bless someone else.

Wineskins has officially launched a Youtube channel! We have more work to do on it but I wanted to make you aware that it is there and that we will be adding more content to it over time. Thanks for reading (and now watching) Wineskins! The first video introduces Lauren King, preaching intern with Patrick Mead at 4th Avenue Church of Christ in Franklin, TN.

In light of an outstanding book published this year, “Can We Still Believe the Bible? An Evangelical Engagement With Contemporary Questions” by Dr. Craig Blomberg we asked Dr. Blomberg to share some of his insights with us here at Wineskins. Dr. Blomberg was kind enough to take a moment and respond to the question, “If you could only pass one insight along to students of scripture, what would it be?” Here is his answer,Blomberg-CanWeTrustBible

Last spring I published my most recent book, Can We Still Believe the Bible? An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2014). Out of appreciation for my work, the editor of Wineskins has invited me to write a short piece addressing a single question, “if you could pass only one insight along to students of scripture, what would it be?” He thought that this would make my job easier, but I’m not sure it does!

If you find the question of how reliably the books of the Bible were copied throughout the centuries before the invention of the printing press an important one, then I have what I hope will be a helpful chapter in my new book. The same is true if you are particularly interested in the formation of the canon (the choice of the 66 books in the Protestant Bible), the reliability of English translations, whether or not the Bible can reasonably be called inerrant, what the implications are of Scripture’s diverse literary genres, or the credibility of miracles. If your interest lies elsewhere, then perhaps my book on The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007) or K. A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003) may be of more use.

But boiling it down to just one issue is hard. But I’ll give it a stab. Perhaps the most important word of encouragement I could give Bible readers and students is this: as the writer of Ecclesiastes repeatedly puts it, there is nothing new under the sun, at least not in terms of challenges to the Bible’s accuracy or authority.

Of course, specific details change. In 2003, Dan Brown wrote a blockbuster novel called The Da Vinci Code with a lot of fiction about Christian origins that fooled folks who didn’t know better. He pretended that Gnostic texts like the Gospels of Thomas, Mary and Philip presented a more accurate Jesus than those in the New Testament. A generation earlier, in 1964, it was Hugh Schonfield’s Passover Plot that was all the rage, detailing how Jesus never really died on the cross, but passed out, prematurely entombed, revived in its cool air, and emerged to convince his followers he was resurrected. But the point is that throughout church history, people have regularly written fiction as if it were true history and tricked the unsuspecting.

Or take a different kind of example. Prior to the civil rights movement in the U.S., many people either praised or accused the Bible of promoting slavery, whereas now it is widely recognized that it merely assumes it, considerably moderates it and sows the seeds for its abolition. Today many people’s focus is on the supposed attempted genocide commanded by God when the Israelites prepared to occupy Canaan. In fact, something far less is actually implied in Joshua when one understands the key passages in their ancient contexts and recognizes that the Bible uses the standard language of the day for the command, “defeat your opponent.” Most of the intended casualties were in fact just military men.

My point is this. The next time you encounter something in Scripture that puzzles or troubles you, don’t assume you’ve come across an issue nobody in the history of the church has ever thought about before! The next time a sensationalist claim floods the internet for a week or two about a new discovery that calls Christianity into question, don’t immediately panic and assume you have to give up your faith. Christianity has weathered hundreds of such claims throughout its history. Dig deeply enough and you will always find answers. Sometimes you may even have to look in sources not available on-line! If a supposed discovery is brand new, wait awhile for the dust to settle and see what true scholars finally decide. Often there is some element of a hoax, an exaggeration, or false implications bound up with the claims.

Is there good reason to still believe the Bible? Absolutely, no matter what anyone else may tell you to the contrary!


Craig L. Blomberg, Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary, Littleton, CO, Nov. 19, 2014

Here are a few resources to consider in studying how to read and understand the Bible.HTRBFAIW-Fee

How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth By Gordon Fee

This is a must read book for any student of scripture. Fee unpacks everything from genre to the differences in translation so you can choose one that is closest to what you need. Before you read any of the others, start here. The majority of this book is spent working through the various genres of scripture from Hebrew poetry to epistles, Acts, etc. This will give you a working knowledge to move beyond reading scripture as “flat” and begin appreciating the nuances of the different forms of scripture.

How to Read the Bible in Changing Times by Strauss

This book covers much of the same ground that How to Read the Bible By Fee covers except Strauss spends less time on genre and more time on how to read the Bible aware of your own filters and presuppositions. This book is big on helping you learn how to ask the right questions of the text. If Strauss’ name sounds familiar he actually co-wrote “How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth” with Fee.

Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes By Richards and O’Brien

Jumping off the last point made about being aware of our presuppositions…this is probably the best book out there for helping you grapple with the filters and assumptions you bring to the text based on your culture. The only hangup on this book is that they tend to replace one set of filters with another (some of their own based on missionary context in Malaysia), nonetheless, a very helpful book in understanding how we shape the text based on what we bring to the text when we read it.

Out of Context: How to Avoid Misinterpreting the Bible By Schultz

This is another book every student of scripture should read. Schultz highlights the various ways people have taken scripture out of context, “no holds barred.” He names names and gives examples, which is helpful because it reminds us that even the best Bible students, preachers and teachers out there can take Scripture out of context. What is great about this book is that he isn’t grinding any axes…instead, he is very kind and educational in his approach. In addition to taking things out of context he also deals with the problems and challenges of doing word studies and errors in application.

The Living Word of God: Rethinking the Theology of the Bible & Reading and Understanding the Bible By Ben Witherington

Witherington hits on the most important topics when it comes to the Bible itself in “The Living Word” (canon, post-modernism, picking a translation, and even throws in a chapter critiquing Peter Enns’ book especially on his take on myth, the unity/diversity of the text and problems with how Enns sees the NT writers using the OT). In the second book, “Reading and Understanding the Bible” you get more of a book on hermeneutics (historical backgrounds, context, genre, etc).

Exegetical Fallacies by D. A. Carson

This is a more academic version of “Out of Context” covering many of the same errors in a more scholarly and concise manner (an unusual combination).

Scripture and the Authority of God By N.T. Wright

Wright deals with the development of how people have read and understood Scripture from the early Christians, through the Enlightenment, to today. He notes the challenges that we face to good interpretation and concludes with a few case studies to illustrate his points.

Introduction to Biblical Interpretation By Klein, Blomberg & Hubbard

This is an excellent volume that should be on every student of the Bible’s shelf. They cover general hermeneutics, canon, ancient methods of interpreting scripture, qualities needed to be a good interpreter of the text, very in depth studies on the various genres of scripture and last the results of interpretation in the life of the Christian and in the worship, doctrine and practice of the church.

The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How you Read the Bible By Scot McKnight

McKnight takes a more narrative approach that will speak into the post-modern issues with reading scripture well…that we are living as a part of the larger story of scripture. As part of applying the principles he is teaching he spends quite a bit of time on how reading the Bible well will impact our view on women in the church (sort of a set of case-study examples).

Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson

No list of books on how to read the Bible would be complete without mentioning “Eat This Book.” Peterson, who is already well known for his translation of the Bible, “The Message,” lets us in on some insights he has gained in a life-long study of the text. To be perfectly honest, I have not yet finished this book so I am a little less informed on what to tell you about it than the others in the list. From what I have read on it, it is a marvelous combination of his typical pastoral work…where he is able to walk alongside you page-by-page with all the richness of his language to illuminate the way through the Biblical text.

What would you add to the list?

Here are a few things to consider as you read from Scripture that have been helpful or formative to me that I wanted to pass along to anyone BiblePicwho finds it helpful.

1 – Study now for what you will need later. This is what I call the “Joseph effect”…go ahead and store up scripture in barns today for what you will need tomorrow. There are times scripture reading is like mana…you need it right now and may not remember or need it tomorrow…but tomorrow will supply its own opportunities to gather more scripture up and consume it. Other times, like Joseph, you have to store up as much as you can now and only later will some of that get used in a season of dryness.

2 – Scripture really does have a meaning and it is important that we find it. God gave us scripture, he gave us a brain, he gave us a history in the church and He gave us a community of faith in the present to help us understand what the Scriptures actually mean. They really do mean something and it really can be figured out.

3 – Meaning is rarely ever found when you proof text. You can take a single verse and often point it any which way you like. But that is not how scripture is to be read. You take the verse at hand, the context, the broader theology of the writer and of the Bible as a whole along with historical context, and original languages and all of a sudden you have something that, unlike a proof text, has something to stand on that is hard to knock down…something that can withstand the prevailing winds of relativism or criticism from unbelievers.

4 – Personal situations do not change the meaning of the text, they illuminate it. As you go through different seasons of life different things in the Bible stand out to you like never before. Verses you have read a dozen times jump out at you like it is the first time ever actually heard the verse in your life. The Scriptures didn’t change. Their intended meaning didn’t change. You were just better able to hear it because you and/or your circumstances had shifted to give you a new vista of the same landscape.

5 – The Bible must be opened with a submissive spirit…not a domineering one. Try as you might to twist scriptures all that happens is a twisting of your heart. When your heart is willing to dominate not just other people but the very words of God…you have a major heart issue that has to be addressed. Come to the Bible ready and willing to submit to what you are convicted that you have found.

6 – Your attitude, emotions and what you ate for dinner last night can very easily color the text. This is why we look for more clues in and around the text than just personal whims. We look to church history on the interpretation of a text. We look to context. We look to original languages and broader theology to make sure that our interpretation isn’t in isolation to the clues that have been given to us to point us closer and closer to the original meaning or authorial intent.

7 – Application is an essential part of reading the Bible but you cannot apply what you do not understand. So before you rush to application make sure you have laid the proper foundation of interpretation. Otherwise you twist the text and twist people or yourself into doing things that were never intended. Also, don’t get sucked into the lie that says your formation is solely dependent on how well you apply the text. Much of our spiritual growth is 100% grace. Application is important (Matt 7:24-28) but there is more to our spiritual growth and relationship with God than getting neurotic in applying everything we find.

8 – The text is not meant solely for public consumption. If you are a minister, chances are you often read the text in order to “get a lesson out of it.” That means that you are reading the text for someone else or to produce things that will eventually “go public.” You cannot nourish your own soul on a constant diet of food you intend to feed someone else. Make sure you study at times purposefully not to give the results to someone else…but that what you find is a secret between you and God. The discoveries you made might be shared at some later point, years down the road, but that is not the initial intent. This keeps us from getting trained to open the Bible to always figure out what someone else needs to hear and keeps study personal.

9 – A good interpretive strategy is responsible but don’t leave out the Holy Spirit. There are times I have gleaned great riches from the text because I knew how to study but most of the greatest discoveries I have made in the text have been acts of grace through the mercy of the Holy Spirit ushering me into something that seemed like I just stumbled in upon it. So learn how to study the Bible but don’t conclude that the greatest riches of your personal study will come as the result of gaming the hermeneutical (interpretive) system.

10 – What insight would you add in for number 10?

HowToReadTheBible-DabbsAs we kick of the November issue we want to spend considerable time on the topic of how we read the Bible. The Bible can be plain and simple…as direct and straight forward as one could possibly imagine. It can also be complex: a rich text with multiple layers of meaning, diverse contexts, written into various circumstances and translated from Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic into languages we can read and understand.

How we read the Bible and understanding what the Bible is communicating is vitally important for the future of the church. We have to be intentional about being good stewards and students of scripture. We must instill in a new generation a love for the Scriptures and eyes and ears to understand what they mean and how to apply them.

I am looking forward to sharing with each other this month on how we read the Bible and what we can learn from each other to get deeper into Scripture than ever before.

To set the stage for the rest of this issue I want to work off of Hebrews 4:12-13,

The Bible is living and active…it will do something to you, if you let it. It will shake you up, form your heart, bring you to your knees and lift you to your feet. It is able to mend a broken spirit, bind up wounds and splint fractured spiritual bones. It is able to give us spiritual sustenance that allows us to make it in this world without starving for truth and direction from God. It is able to give rest to the weary and at the same time motivate the complacent.

The Bible is sharp and penetrates our lives to even divide soul and spirit…joints and marrow…it can dissect your heart into a million pieces in order to put it back together into a whole that is God-honoring and God-desiring. It can excise spiritual tumors of sin and rebellion so that our souls can heal and experience peace and wholeness.

The Word of God judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart…not only can you know Scripture but Scripture can know you. It knows where you stand and helps you get your footing on a firm foundation.

Everything, then, is laid bare before the One to whom we must give an account…And through all of this and with receiving such a great blessing of scripture comes great responsibility. To be handed the Holy Scriptures, read them and toss them aside as irrelevant, impotent, or unintelligible is like throwing away the most precious gift One could receive…

Our charge:
So let us pick up the Scriptures and read them with an ear for what God is trying to tell us. Let us learn to listen to not just how it can inform us but how it can actually form us. As we walk along side each other and alongside Scripture this month let us be sharpened, equipped and encouraged by the time we share together this month as we learn to open our Bibles with both fresh and ancient eyes and ears.

It is nearly impossible to make accurate predictions looking ahead for churches of Christ. I don’t believe everything I am about to say will happen as I describe it, I do hope that in dreaming and discussing these things that some principles will be highlighted along the way that I believe will be a big part of the future of church culture, practice and doctrine in the years to come. Let us know what you think…which of these do you think get pretty close, which miss the mark entirely and what would you add?

1 – The power of story will result in renewed interests and openness: A renewed and intensified interest in story will bring a new generation into a deeper connection with the history of the church post first century. As we realize more and more that there wasn’t a vacuum in history between 70AD and the 1800s there will be a greater interest in the broader history and movement of the Christian faith and how we tie/tap into that. More and more churches of Christ will embrace things like the liturgical calendar. That same drive will also put us more in touch with New Testament narrative (the Gospels & Acts). It will also result in a shift in emphasis where Paul is brought in as a supplement or support to the Gospels rather than the other way around (which has traditionally been the case).

2 – A greater de-centering of authority in already autonomous churches. In a world where everyone has a voice and authority structures are interrogated with regularity there will be a flattening of the authority hierarchies that will spread our responsibilities and purposes over more people rather than isolating it among the privileged few. This will impact everything from gender roles to decision making and doctrine (see #8 below). Without an overarching denominational structure Churches of Christ can and should be more nimble to make needed adjustments looking ahead. The question is, will we as a whole?

3 – Re-thinking “church”: A generation is already rising up with more interest in Jesus than the church. The question is, how will that affect our expressions and definitions of “church” over the next 30 years? How much of our view of church is due to tradition, boxing up biblical expressions into orderly and controllable shells of what God intended and how much of our view is actually based on what we see in the New Testament? How do we take who they were and what they did and apply that to our context so that we aren’t robotically imitating someone else, while still respecting and following the teachings we do have. The focal point and access point will shift moving away from a church-centered (ecclesio-centered) approach to Trinity-centered (theocentric, Christocentric and Pneumacentric) and what flows out of that will be church rather than making church the primary access point to the Trinity.

4 – Universities and churches will compete against para-church ministries for “talent”: More and more, young ministers are faced with choosing between traditional routes to and through ministry vs non-traditional routes. Para-church/non-profit ministries are becoming more and more popular as they require less investment to participate in and get you into ministry much more quickly than most universities can manage. These organizations are flexible and efficient and that is often more attractive to young people than investing 4-8 years into education to begin ministry. In other words, it is more attractive to young people to dive right into a group that is already set on meeting a particular need or transforming lives than to jump into an established church that is calcified and inoculated against such things where one of the primary goals would be the hard (decades long) work of culture change in the local church that has no promise of ever happening.

5 – A move to simplicity & efficiency: Churches are going to have to simplify everything from ministries to giving/budget in order to better justify what they are doing in a world that is in a competition for dollars and minutes. People don’t want to see 80% of their giving go to overhead.

6 – Increase of “lay lead” churches: I believe a time is coming when some congregations are going to decide they can take up the ministry of the church with less staff and overhead and more grassroots involvement. With that move to para-church equipping (#4) comes a move toward simple (#5), lay-lead churches. This will be a jettisoning of multi-layer/complicated ministry models and a move toward less age-graded/segregated approaches to more wholistic and intergenerational approaches (think small groups and intergenerational classes and ministries). The more you segregate ministries by age the more hired staff it requires. This is a shift from “ministered to” to “minister with.”

7 – Intergenerational ministry: We will finally see the benefit of getting the generations back together and not be afraid to throw away obsolete ministry structures of the past. This will be driven by a few factors: the demonstrated effectiveness of those who are already doing this well, its simplicity, and the shift from more staff to less and leveraging those new resources toward ministry outside the church.

8 – A healthier hermeneutic will be embraced: CENI is good in some instances but it has its limitations. It also ignores #1 – that genre matters and not everything in scripture was intended as legal code. Christians have more bible study resources available to them on the phone in their pocket that past generations had available to them in print. We need to leverage our resources to embrace a healthier hermeneutic that is fair with the text (think historical-critical approach).

9 – People will move from “church shopping” to “small group shopping”: As views on what church is (#3) change people will be more open to the non-traditional route…that means small groups as independent congregations may become more popular and draw more people than traditional expressions of church.

10 – What is your #10?