First Things’ New Blog: Evangel


First Things is now hosting an evangelical group blog called, appropriately enough, Evangel. Check it out!

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Announcement of New Job


STRUCTURAL CHANGES AT HQ REFLECT EFFORTS TO RESOURCE MINISTERS, CHURCHES

The Executive Presbytery, in session in September, approved a restructure of the Ministerial Leadership Division at Headquarters. With the goal of more effectively resourcing AG ministers and churches, and to bring synergy to the area of Ministerial Leadership, the EPs elected to move this entire area under the General Secretary’s office. “The General Secretary is the repository for all matters dealing with ministerial credentials, so it made sense to place the area dealing with the development and resourcing of the minister in that area also,” states General Superintendent George O. Wood.

The Ministerial Leadership area has been under the direction of Ron McManus. The Presbytery has asked Ron to focus solely on Church Transformation. This will include helping small churches who are either stagnant or in danger of being closed to refocus their efforts and ministries to reach their community. Ron will be working with districts and churches to affect this new role.

To assist the General Secretary in carrying out the responsibilities of the Ministerial Leadership area, two offices have been created.

Pastor Care
The office of Pastor Care will be under the direction of Dr. Gary Allen. That office will continue as liaison with Emerge Ministries, will have oversight of the counseling data base referrals to assist churches and ministers with counseling needs and will work with districts who have appointed Pastor Care leaders to help resource those leaders. In addition, Gary will give oversight to the National Prayer Center which has been under the Division of Communications but now has been moved under the Pastor Care area. Sometime ago the ELT had requested the Prayer Center (under the direction of John Maempa) to focus on developing prayer resources for local churches and the staff has done that with a number of new, very effective resources. Gary also will serve as an in-house chaplain to headquarters employees who may need someone to advise and pray with those who face difficulties.

Ministerial Resourcing
The office of Ministerial Resourcing will give oversight to MinistryDirect.com and the Enrichment Journal. It also will serve as editor for the quarterly ministers’ letter, Called to Serve. This office will seek to develop resources for ministers and churches to assist with their individual ministries. General Secretary James Bradford has chosen George Paul Wood to lead this office. Dr. Bradford states, “When we looked for the right person who has ministerial experience, is a good writer/editor, and who has the academic credentials to lead this office, I felt George Paul was the person for the job.” George Paul has served on a church staff with Dr. Bradford and more recently has been the pastor of a turn-around church in Santa Barbara, California. He has a B.A. from Wheaton College and a M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary. Early on, he served as editorial assistant of the Pneuma magazine, the official publication for the Society for Pentecostal Studies. George Paul is a published writer and among others, has written articles for both the Pentecostal Evangel and Enrichment. The son of General Superintendent and Mrs. George O. Wood, George Paul and his wife Tiffany have a one-year-old son, George Reese.

“We solicit your prayers and support as we move ahead with this new structure,” states Dr. Bradford. “I believe the greatest days are ahead for our Fellowship as we continue to seek God, obey His will, and live our lives in light of His soon return.” The changes take effect in December.

My Resignation Letter


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dear Friends:

Over the past three years, Tiffany and I have been privileged to serve as your senior pastor. We have appreciated your prayers for us and generosity to us through actions both large and small. Mostly, we have appreciated your faithfulness to God and his church.

This past August, I found myself at a crossroad.

When I accepted your invitation to become the senior pastor of Living Faith Center, I did so with the intention of serving here for a long time. But 2007 was a very tough year emotionally for Tiffany and me. We were pleased with the progress the church was making, but we felt isolated and lonely and that Santa Barbara was not yet home.

It is never a good idea to make decisions based solely upon feelings, so we gave ourselves a two-year deadline, committed ourselves to working hard for the church, and began asking God daily to help us feel at home here.

And that brings me to the crossroad. In August, Tiffany and I attended the 53rd General Council of the Assemblies of God in Orlando, Florida. During the altar call of the first evening’s service, I went forward and found myself crying uncontrollably. Two-and-a-half years of conflict between what you might call my professional satisfaction and personal dissatisfaction were taking their toll on me emotionally. Tiffany felt the same way.

At the same General Council, a family friend whom I trust said he had a word from the Lord for me. I am a skeptical person by nature, but I really wanted to hear from God. The friend said: “You will have clarity about what you should do.” A few days after returning from General Council, I walked into the house at the end of a very long day, looked at Tiffany, and had absolute clarity that it was time to leave Santa Barbara.

So, today, I am offering my resignation as senior pastor of Living Faith Center. My last day will be Friday, November 13, 2009.

Throughout my ministry, God has led me by opening and closing doors of opportunity. When I felt that God was closing the door on my ministry in Santa Barbara, I had no idea what door he would open. That happened a few weeks later when Dr. Jim Bradford, who is the General Secretary of the AG, told me about an open position working for him in Springfield, Missouri. I applied for this position, and this past Tuesday, Dr. Bradford offered me the job. In this new position, I will be the Director of Ministerial Resourcing for the AG. In that office, I will be editor of Enrichment, a quarterly ministers’ magazine; Called to Serve, a quarterly newsletter; and team leader for the AG’s social networking website, MinistryDirect.com.

I know that my resignation catches many of you by surprise. I hope you understand that I have not made this decision lightly, precipitously, or without seeking God’s guidance. I hope you also understand that I consider it a privilege to have worked alongside you for these past three years.

We would appreciate your prayers as we take this next step on our spiritual journey.

May God bless you richly!

George P. Wood

Did the Resurrection Happen?


 

David Baggett, ed., Did the Resurrection Happen? A Conversation with Gary Habermas and Antony Flew (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2009). $16.00, 184 pages.
 
“Did Jesus of Nazareth rise from the dead?”
 
In 2003, Gary Habermas and Antony Flew met at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, to debate that very question. Habermas is a Christian philosopher widely known for his evidentialist argument for the resurrection. Flew was an atheist philosopher, perhaps the most famous such philosopher in the 20th Century. In 2004, he announced to a somewhat stunned philosophical world that he had abandoned atheism for deism. He does not believe in the resurrection, however, nor in any religions based on personal revelation.
 
Habermas and Flew’s 2003 debate was not their first. Their first debate occurred in 1985 and was published as Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?, edited by Terry L. Miethe. Their second occurred in 2000 and was published as Resurrected? An Atheist and Theist Dialogue, edited by John F. Ankerberg. Did the Resurrection Happen? contains a transcript of their 2003 debate and is edited by Christian philosopher David Baggett. Over the years since their first debate, Habermas and Flew have become friends, and that friendship no doubt explains the very cordial tone of their interactions at the 2003 event.
 
In addition to a transcript of the 2003 debate, Did the Resurrection Happen? includes the transcript of an interview of Flew by Habermas about the reasons why he abandoned atheism for deism. Despite the rise of an impressive philosophical defense of theism in the late twentieth century, Flew’s “conversion,” if that’s the appropriate term, was driven by more scientific arguments: Big Bang cosmology, cosmological fine-tuning, and intelligent design. Some atheists disappointed at Flew’s abandonment of them have claimed that he is an old man rooked into deism by friendly Christians. Flew simply claims to be following the evidence wherever it leads him.
 
Flew laid out the reasons for his change of mind in a 2007 book he co-authored with Roy Abraham Varghese, There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. (Flew was not happy with the publisher’s choice of a subtitle.) Habermas’ review of that book is the third major component of Did the Resurrection Happen?
 
The fourth, longest, and most substantial component of the book is an essay by David Baggett, “Resurrection Matters: Assessing the Habermas Flew Discussion,” which I’ll come back to in a moment.
 
To be perfectly honest, I was underwhelmed by the Habermas/Flew debate. In my opinion, Habermas talked too much, and Flew conceded too much. At a few points, even the moderator seemed to jump in to make Flew’s case for him. Habermas’ interview of Flew was far more interesting to me, and I got a much better taste of how Flew’s reasons about the evidence for God and against the resurrection by reading it.
 
Baggett’s essay was worth the price of the book. In it, he explains the character of Habermas’ argument for the resurrection. It is an abductive case, in which one makes an inference to the best possible explanation. Starting with certain historical facts that believers and skeptics might agree upon, Habermas reasons between competing explanations, ultimately inferring that the fact of the Christ’s resurrection (which is controversial) makes best sense of the agreed-upon historical facts (which are non-controversial). Baggett goes on to outline various skeptical responses to Habermas (some of which Flew employs), as well as the underlying philosophical issues in debates over the resurrection. Throughout, he defends Habermas’ argument and suggests that if Flew continues to follow the line of argument that led him to deism, he may very well land on Christian theism.
 
One more thing about this book. It is rare to see debaters change their minds because of a single debate, especially when those debaters are well-known advocates of contrary points of view. That’s part of the reason why I was drawn to this book in the first place. Why did Flew changes his mind, at least on the question of God’s existence, though not on the question of Christ’s resurrection? The answer, according to Flew, is evidence. But I can’t help but wonder the degree to which his friendship with Habermas also affected him.
 
Those who would convince others of their points of view would do well to remember that winning a person is at least as important as winning an argument.

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America’s Prophet: Moses and the American Story


 

Bruce Feiler, America’s Prophet: Moses and the American Story (New York: William Morrow, 2009). $26.99, 368 pages.
 
What do the Puritans, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, the Statue of Liberty, Cecil B. DeMille, and Martin Luther King Jr. have in common?
 
Moses.
 
In America’s Prophet, Bruce Feiler reveals the Mosaic thread that weaves its way through the tapestry of American history. Along the way, we see a Jewish history becoming the American story becoming a universal narrative of hope. The book is utterly engrossing, and I recommend it highly.
 
The American appropriation of Moses begins with the Puritans. They viewed King James as Pharaoh, themselves as the Children of Israel, and the New World as the Promised Land. But if the sailing of the Mayflower was their exodus, the signing of the Mayflower Compact was their Sinai. Moses was not only a liberator, he was a lawgiver. The twin Mosaic themes of freedom and responsibility recur again and again in the American story. George Washington, for example, both led his people out of British tyranny and into constitutional responsibility. Martin Luther King Jr. both led African Americans out of Jim Crow segregation and into the “beloved community.”
 
The Moses narrative has spoken powerfully to the American people because, historically speaking, they have been nominally Christian and biblically literate. The Civil War was, in some ways, a theological dispute. Would Moses side with the abolitionists and lead the slaves in an Exodus toward freedom? Or would he side with the slaveholders, since the Sinai law accommodated slavery? Debates couldn’t settle the question; only war could. And at the end of it, Abraham Lincoln was acclaimed as yet another Moses.
 
So was Martin Luther King Jr. who led the way for the full integration of African Americans into American society that the Civil War only inaugurated. And like Moses, who went only as far as Nebo and never made it into the Promised Land, King himself would never experience the substantial progress made on his dream after his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee. But on the eve of his death, speaking at Mason Temple, he nevertheless said: “I have seen the promised land. And I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the promised land.”
 
America was not just a Promised Land for African Americans. It was also a Promised Land for immigrants, many of them Jews fleeing eastern European pogroms, who sailed into New York Harbor under the watchful eye of Lady Liberty. Feiler points out the substantial Mosaic influence on even the architecture of this icon, but also through the words of Emma Lazarus’ poem, “New Colossus.”
 
In addition to the influence of the Mosaic narrative on politics, Feiler considers its influence in popular culture. Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, starring Charlton Heston, was a Cold War battle cry, calling America to submit itself to God’s will rather than Communist tyranny. Paramount studios even financed the placement of granite 10 Commandments monuments on courthouse lawns throughout America. One of them, in Austin, Texas, became the focus of a Supreme Court lawsuit. Two Jewish boys, Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster, incorporated Mosaic themes into their best-known superhero: Superman. And even earlier, at the start of the 20th Century, Bruce Barton turned both Jesus and Moses into a model entrepreneur and executive, respectively. The Metropolitan Casual Life Insurance Company published Moses, Persuader of Men, which described Moses as “one of the greatest salesmen and real-estate promotes that ever lived.”
 
Why does Moses keep cropping up in American history (in ways both sublime and ridiculous)? In his conclusion, Feiler points to three factors. As already mentioned, the Moses narrative is one of both liberation and responsibility, of freedom from and freedom for. It is also a narrative of inclusion. As Feiler writes, “the Israelites’ experience with oppression becomes the foundation for a host of Mosaic laws that mandate that God’s people care for the poor, tend the sick, comfort the grieving, and welcome the hurting into their arms.”
 
America is perpetually roiled by the place of religion in public culture. Feiler’s book shows how the use of the biblical narrative of Moses has been put to use for good and bad in American history (or both at the same time, in the case of the Civil War)—but mostly for good. As our culture becomes more religiously diverse, one wonders whether the Moses narrative can accomplish some good still.

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