Tuesday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Dr. George O. Wood — aka, “Dad” — and I have a wide-ranging conversation on the Influence Podcast about leaving a legacy of influence in ministry. Dad is retiring as general superintendent of the Assemblies of God (USA), and has a lot of wisdom to share about this topic, based on over 50 years of gospel ministry.
  • Dr. Joy Qualls reminds pastors that when a person comes to church, the entirety of what they experience is sending a message. “Too often, when we think about message delivery, we focus only on the pastor’s sermon,” she writes. “I want to challenge that limited notion and encourage the view that the act of moving people toward a response begins the moment they pull into your parking lot…” Joy outlines four questions to help pastors figure out what message their church is actually communicating to attendees.
  • Carter McDaniel reviews Clay Scroggins’ new book, How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge (Zondervan), which released today. Carter summarizes the book’ message this way: “Great leaders lead when they are needed, regardless of their position or level of authority. And great leaders know how to lead when they are in charge because they have been leading that way long before they were in a position of authority.” After you read Carter’s review, listen to my Influence Podcast with Clay Scroggins…then buy the book. It’s really good.

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

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Leaving a Legacy of Influence | Influence Podcast


Today on the Influence Podcast, I interview Dr. George O. Wood — aka, “Dad” — about how to leave a legacy of influence in ministry. Dad is retiring as general superintendent of the Assemblies of God (USA), and has a lot of wisdom to share about this topic, based on over 50 years of gospel ministry. Take a listen!

Christianity at the Crossroads | Book Review


“The past is never dead,” wrote famed American author William Faulkner. “It’s not even past.”

Faulkner’s quip came to mind repeatedly while reading Michael J. Kruger’s new book, Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church. The authors and controversies of that century are unfamiliar to most Christians, but they fundamentally determined what Christianity became and continues to be today. In the words of Gerd Lüdemann, quoted approvingly by Kruger:

To put it pointedly, in the period from the first Christian generations to the end of the second century, more important decisions were made for the whole of Christianity than were made from the end of the second century to the present day [emphasis in original].

What kind of decisions are we talking about? Over the course of seven chapters, Kruger surveys the sociological makeup of second-century Christianity (chapter 1), its political and intellectual acceptability (chapter 2), and its ecclesiological structure (chapter 3).

The next two chapters interact with Walter Bauer’s seminal book, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, and describe both the diversity (chapter 4) and unity (chapter 5) of the Church during this time.

Finally, Kruger examines the “bookish” nature of Christianity during this period (chapter 6), concluding by making a case that the canon of the New Testament was functionally established by the end of the second century (chapter 7).

These issues might strike some readers as “academic” in nature, of no concern to the average Christian today. And yet, academic debates tend to spring up in popular culture in unexpected places. So, for example, a version of Bauer’s thesis — a mangled version, I hasten to add — underlies the plot of Dan Silva’s (awful) 2003 mystery, The Da Vinci Code.

Leading characters in that novel argued that Christian “orthodoxy” was merely the side that won the era’s theological debates with a considerable assist from imperial Rome, that true faith in Jesus was better expressed by doctrines that came to be known as “heresy,” and that the canon of Christian Scripture originally included many Gnostic “Gospels” that Emperor Constantine suppressed.

I was a teaching pastor when Brown’s book came out, and I remember answering numerous congregants’ questions about it. “Is this true?” they asked. “Is Christian orthodoxy just one option among many? Were Gospels excluded from the New Testament canon?” Any answer I gave required getting second-century Christian history right. Like Faulkner said, the past isn’t even past.

To put it pointedly, in the period from the first Christian generations to the end of the second century, more important decisions were made for the whole of Christianity than were made from the end of the second century to the present day. ~Gerd Lüdemann

Let me briefly summarize chapters 4 and 5 Christianity at the Crossroads to show the relevance of Christian history to such concerns.

These two chapters interact with Walter Bauer’s Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, mentioned above. First published in German in 1934, then translated to English in 1971, Bauer’s book argued that, in Kruger’s words, “the earliest (or predominant) version of Christianity in these locales [Asia Minor, Antioch, Egypt, and Edessa] was what eventually became regarded as ‘heresy.’”

Kruger’s summary goes on, “It was only in the later centuries — largely due to the influence of the church at Rome — that the doctrinal debates were settled and the ‘heretical’ nature of these beliefs was to become evident.”

Consequently, as Kruger explains the implications of Bauer’s thesis, “the distinctions between orthodoxy and heresy in these earliest centuries are nonsensical. Instead, what you have in these early centuries are just various competing versions of Christianity all claiming to be original.”

Kruger concedes in chapter 4 that self-described Christians in the second century disagreed with one another. “Just a short time after the time of the apostles [i.e., the first century], it appears that the early Church was mired in controversy over a number of different theological issues.” These included the doctrines of creation, Scripture, salvation and Christ — core doctrines all of them.

And yet, Kruger goes on to argue that these controversies don’t establish Bauer’s thesis. “Diversity by itself does not mean there is no way to distinguish between heresy and orthodoxy,” he writes. “Nor does it mean that heretical views were as popular as orthodox ones.” In fact, he argues in chapter 5, “even in the midst of diversity, there was a core set of beliefs that unified most Christians together,” and “these beliefs appear to have an ancient pedigree — one that goes back even to the days of the apostles.”

Kruger employs three arguments to reach this conclusion. First, he argues that “there was widespread unity centred [sic] upon the ‘rule of faith’, one of the earliest expressions of apostolic teaching.” The rule was “not just an abstract collection of doctrinal affirmations, but [was], in essence, a history of redemption.” It began with God’s creative work, included God’s self-revelation through Old Testament prophets, and focused on Jesus’ acts of salvation. The “widespread, early and uniform nature of the rule of faith” rebuts the notion that “no meaningful theological unity” can be found in second-century Christianity.

Second, Kruger argues that “there are a number of lines of evidence that suggest [the] ‘orthodox’ crowd…constituted the majority of Christians” in this period. These include the number of leaders, the geographical spread of churches, the preponderance of ‘orthodox’ literature, and the fact that critics of early Christianity, such as Celsus, aimed their heaviest fire at the ‘orthodox’ camp, presuming it to be the majority.

Finally, Kruger argues that “the teaching found in the rule of faith matches most closely with the earliest accessible apostolic teaching, namely the seven undisputed letters of Paul” (i.e., Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon). “If the earliest apostolic teaching is a reasonable standard for what counts as ‘orthodoxy’,” he concludes, “then it seems that title is best applied to the mainstream Church that embraced the rule of faith.”

From this brief review of Christianity at the Crossroads, I hope you can see, as Lüdemann saw, the crucial importance of second-century Christian history. Nineteen centuries later, contemporary Christians of various denominational stripes can recognize continuity between their faith and that of what both Celsus (the critic) and Irenaeus (the apologist) called the “great church,” a church that can credibly claim to represent the faith of the apostles.

 Christianity at the Crossroads is an illuminating study. It introduces the people and controversies of second-century Christianity in a clear, accessible manner. And it guides readers through scholarly debates about that century, fairly summarizing all sides of the debate, even as it argues for a traditional reading of the historical evidence. I highly recommend this excellent book about that “most important” century.

 

Book Reviewed:
Michael J. Kruger, Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church (London: SPCK, 2017).

 

P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review.

Here I Stand | Book Review


The Protestant Reformation marks its five-hundredth anniversary this coming October 31st. On that date in 1517, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. The theses called into question the selling of indulgences, which the pope granted to reduce time in Purgatory for either the buyer or the buyer’s intended beneficiaries.

“As soon as the coin in the coffer rings,” preached Johannes Tetzel of these indulgences, “the soul from purgatory springs.” Sales of indulgences were quite lucrative, helping Albert of Brandenburg buy the archbishopric of Mainz and Leo X build St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. The text of the Ninety-five Theses was largely biblical and theological, but the subtext was a German critique of Italian grandiosity.

Luther intended his theses to instigate a “disputation…on the power and efficacy of indulgences,” as the incipit to the printed placard put it. He didn’t intend to divide the Church or rend the unity of medieval Europe. Like many of his contemporaries, he wanted to reform Catholicism and restore the simplicity of the gospel. Dissemination of his theses set in motion a process which did that, though in ways he could not foresee that All Hallows’ Eve.  After Luther, Christianity and Christendom would never be the same. We moderns live in his world-historical shadow.

Here I Stand by Roland H. Bainton narrates the events of Luther’s life, focusing on the years between the posting of the Ninety-five Theses in 1517 and the publication of The Augsburg Confession in 1530. Though Luther was born in 1487 and died in 1546, 1517–1530 is the crucial period. Luther’s theology matured: he defined the doctrine of justification by faith, translated the New Testament, revised the liturgy, and wrote catechisms for adults and children alike. It was also during this period that Luther broke decisively with Rome; the Evangelicals divided into Lutheran, Reformed, and Anabaptist camps; and Christian princes intervened in political disputes, protecting the nascent Lutheran movement. In these years, religious radicals took over Müntzer, German peasants revolted and Luther’s theology of both church and state advocated a middle way between extremes.

Bainton’s prose is clear and his narrative forward-moving. Here I Stand is a work of genuine scholarship—with a chronology, bibliography, and index—but it is written for a broad audience. If you’re interested in Luther’s life, or the history of the Reformation, I encourage you to read this biography first.

Here I Stand was first published in 1950, but I read the 2009 reprint in the Hendrickson Classic Biography series. It is available as a reprint from other publishers too.

 

Book Reviewed:
Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: The Life of Martin Luther (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2009; orig. 1950).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Monday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Christina Quick profiles Leila Ojala, who shares the challenges and opportunities of planting a church in Summit County, Colorado. Quick writes: “It’s an especially harsh environment for church planting. The population is overwhelmingly millennial, unchurched, and transient, with more than 10,000 young adults coming to the ski resorts to work each winter and thousands more arriving to play, party and smoke pot for a season. Even the year-round residents seldom stay more than two years. And only 4 percent identify as evangelical Christians.” Ojala isn’t deterred by the challenges. “How we measure success is based on what God is telling us instead of what other people are saying,” she says. “Success is seeing individuals become disciples of Christ, and disciple makers, as the kingdom of God grows in and through their lives.”
  • In an excerpt from their new book, Known, Dick and Ruth Foth write: “So the question is, How can we get to that place [of feeling fully at home] with loved ones, co-workers, or neighbors? Doesn’t it make sense that, if God designs us for relationship, real friendship is fed by a growing experience of God’s love? When we know down deep that we are loved, accepted, and affirmed by the God who created us and knows all about us, we are free to give ourselves to others.”

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

Monday’s Influence online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I talk with the nation’s foremost historian of Azusa Street about the history and significance of this revival. Prof. Cecil M. Robeck Jr. — “Mel to his friends” —is senior professor of church history and ecumenics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. A credentialed Assemblies of God minister for 47 years, he is the author of The Azusa Street Mission and Revival, as well as the editor of the new Azusa Street Series of books from Gospel Publishing House.
  • George O. Wood — aka, Dad — shares the story of how an Assemblies of God church planter changed the trajectory of his father’s and hence his family’s life. Then, he concludes: “We may plant churches differently today than standing on a street corner, but plant churches we must! Thousands of communities in the U.S. do not have the witness of a Spirit-filled, Spirit-empowered church. Therefore, we must be more aggressive than ever in our church-planting efforts.”
  • Chris Railey talks about the AG is growing the kingdom of God through church planting.”The task ahead is overwhelming, but the One who hung the stars is faithful and will show us the way. God wants to continue growing His family by multiplying His church. We must pray, believe, and work like never before as we embark on the next 100 years. More souls saved! More lives changed! More people coming to Jesus! The vision is big, but we’re thankful Jesus can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine!”
  • Christina Quick relates the story of J. J. Vasquez, an AG church planter in Winter Park, Florida. “Though the young Hispanic ministers initially wondered whether they would connect with the predominantly white, affluent, middle-aged residents of Winter Park, the couple trusted God with their ministry as well. ‘Our skin color didn’t match, and our age demographic didn’t match,’ Vasquez says. ‘We don’t blend in, but we’ve learned that loving people is the universal language and culture.’”

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

The Azusa Street Revival | Influence Podcast


In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I interview Prof. Mel Robeck about the Azusa Street Revival. Mel is a friend and fellow Assemblies of God minister, but in his day job, he’s senior professor of church history and ecumenics at my alma mater, Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He is the author of The Azusa Street Mission and Revival, as well as the editor of the new Azusa Street Series of books from Gospel Publishing House (see my reviews here and here). If you’re ever in the Los Angeles area, make sure to take Mel’s self-guided tour of early Pentecostal sites.

The Pentecostal Blessing | Book Review


In How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles, Frank Bartleman offered this interpretation of the history of the Azusa Street Revival: “God found His Moses, in the person of Brother Smale, to lead us to the Jordan crossing. But He chose Brother Seymour, for our Joshua, to lead us over.”

Bartleman’s biblical allusion accurately captures the historical sequence of events at Azusa Street. “Brother Seymour” is, of course, William J. Seymour, the well-known and much-loved pastor of the Azusa Street Mission. “Brother Smale” — Joseph Smale — is less well known, however, even though his preaching laid the groundwork for revival in Los Angeles.

That preaching is on display in The Pentecostal Blessing, first published in 1905 and now brought back into print by Gospel Publishing House. The book contains the substance of several sermons Smale preached at the First New Testament Church of Los Angeles in the fall of 1905.

Smale describes the purpose of his book this way:

In the following pages a treatment of this subject of subjects [i.e., the ministry of the Holy Spirit] is attempted in the hope of imparting a vision, where it does not exist, of the Holy Ghost as the one and all-sufficient and divinely ordained Person, and inspiration, to meet the manifold needs of Christian souls individually, and in their corporate character of churches; and that a faith may be born in such that this blessed Person of the Trinity is only waiting to be rightfully honored by us before he will fill with glory and power these lives of ours and those of the whole church of God throughout the earth [emphasis in original].

Chapter 1 identifies four misconceptions of the gospel “which seriously affect a true embodiment and illustration of Christian life, experience and service.” Chapter 2 contrasts “The Church of Today” and “The Church of the Scriptures,” concluding that modern Christians “pretend to be what they are not, God’s representatives, and men know it.” Chapter 3 explains the contrast between today’s church and the biblical church. “Having failed to honor Him [i.e., the Holy Spirit], we have failed in all things vital to Christianity, and therefore vital to a true representation of the church of Jesus Christ.”

Chapter 4, “The Pentecostal Blessing,” argues that “Pentecost involves a second work of grace” [emphasis in original]. “There is something more than the act of union with Christ,” Smale writes. “There is a growing knowledge within the soul of all that is involved in that union.” Pentecost is this soul-knowledge or spiritual experience in ever-increasing measure. “Oh, believer, be ever going in for more and more, and more and MORE” [emphasis in original].

Chapter 5, “The Magnificence of Pentecost,” is the longest chapter in the book. It outlines Smale’s understanding of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Chapter 6, “The Secrets of Pentecostal Fullness,” answers the question, “How are we to know the Holy Ghost in this, His Pentecostal character and fulness [sic]?” This knowledge is experiential and practical rather than abstract and theoretical.

Reading The Pentecostal Blessing, you can understand why Bartleman depicted Smale as the Azusa Street Revival’s “Moses.” On point after point, Smale enunciated a practical theology of the Holy Spirit that shaped the Pentecostal movement as it emerged from Azusa Street.

And yet, Smale never experienced what Charles Parham and William J. Seymour called “the Bible evidence” of baptism in the Spirit. He never spoke in tongues. Many of his congregants participated fully at Azusa Street, and he himself spoke well of Azusa Street and William J. Seymour to the end of his days. But in Bartleman’s arresting image, Smale was Moses, not Joshua. He came to the edge, but he did not cross over.

So why read The Pentecostal Blessing today? For historical purposes, of course. Revivals don’t happen in a vacuum, after all. They have precedents. Read it for spiritual purposes, too. The Pentecostal Blessing can still bless Pentecostal readers today as it challenges them to go deeper with the Holy Spirit. And finally, read it as a reminder that while God has worked mightily through the global Pentecostal revival that sprang from Azusa Street, He is at work in broader Christianity too. Pentecostals can teach the broader Christian community, but we can also learn from them.

Two final comments about this book: First, it has an excellent 21-page introduction to the life and thought of Joseph Smale by Tim Welch, who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Smale. Second, the book itself is a serendipity. Though historians knew of its existence, no one had a copy. Then, in 2008, a friend of the Assemblies of God archivist, Darrin Rodgers, found a copy in a garage sale in Oklahoma, bought it for 25 cents, and donated it to the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center. It is the only known copy of this little gem of a book.

 

Book Reviewed:
Joseph Smale, The Pentecostal Blessing: Sermons that Prepared Los Angeles for the Azusa Street Revival (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2017; orig. 1905).

P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

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