Why Grace Is More Liberating Than You Believe | Influence Podcast


“There is power available to you that can unlock your soul and all of its hidden longings,” writes John Lindell—“the buried hopes of the past, the strength needed for the moment, and the dreams for a beautiful future. That is the power of the best news: the gospel is able to change your life at this moment, even now.”

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I talk with John Lindell about this power, which is the power of God’s grace. Lindell is pastor of James River Church, a multisite congregation in Springfield, Missouri. He is devoted to seeing the local church thrive and standing boldly for the cause of Christ. Most recently, Lindell is also of Soul Set Free: Why Grace Is More Liberating than You Believe, just published by Charisma House.

If you’d like to listen to John Lindell’s thoughts about expository preaching, listen to Episode 97 of the Influence Podcast.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Advertisements

Best Practices for Developing Women Leaders | Influence Podcast


Women constitute a majority of church attendees but a minority of its pastoral leaders. In the Assemblies of God, for example, women and girls account for 55 percent of all Sunday morning attendees, but only 25 percent of credentialed ministers. This is true even though AG theology affirms that “God pours out His Spirit upon both men and women and thereby gifts both sexes for ministry in His Church.” This raises the obvious question: How can we do better at developing women leaders?

That’s the question I’m exploring with Kadi Cole in this episode of the Influence Podcast. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine, and your host. Kadi Cole is author of Developing Female Leaders and president of Kadi Cole & Company. One of the first women leaders to serve in an executive role at a large, multisite church, she is now a leadership consultant for both ministry and business. She is a founding member of the Women Executive Pastors Group and the founder of MinistryChick.com.

P.S. I reviewed the book on Amazon here. As always, if you like my review, please click “Helpful.”

P.P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Seculosity | Book Review


American organized religion is declining. According to Gallup data, only one percent of U.S. adults claimed no religious affiliation in 1955. By 2017, that percentage had grown to 20. The younger the adult, the likelier the lack of religious affiliation. For adults ages 30–39, the percentage is 28. For those ages 21–29, it’s 33. If you’re looking for evidence of secularization in America, this rise of the Nones is Exhibit A.

And yet, David Zahl claims inhis new book that “the marketplace in replacement religion is booming.” Those replacements don’t look or feel religious, however — at least not in the capital-R sense of the term, which Zahl describes as “robes and kneeling and the Man Upstairs.” They don’t necessarily look like “folkloric beliefs” or “occult belief systems” either: things like charms, telepathy, or astrology.

Instead, replacement religions center around everyday concerns such as — to list the topics of the book’s chapters — busyness, romance, parenting, technology, work, leisure, food, and politics. Zahl calls each of these replacements “seculosity,” a portmanteau of “secular” and “religiosity.” Seculosity is a religious impulse “directed horizontally rather than vertically, at earthly rather than heavenly objects.”

Why does Zahl considers these secular concerns religious? And why should we do so too? Those are fair questions, good ones even, because they go straight to the heart of what our culture thinks religion is.

We typically think of religion in of capital-R Religion terms, that is, organized religion with its concerns for doctrine, ritual, community, and institutions. Those are the outward manifestations of an inward impulse, which Zahl calls “the justifying story of our life.” According to him, religion is “what we lean on to tell us we’re okay, that our lives matter.” It is “our preferred guilt-management system.” In other words, religion is what “we rely on not just for meaning or hope but enoughness.” This search for enoughness characterizes religious Nones just as much as it does the traditionally religious. It is a universal longing.

Take the everyday concern about busyness, for example. Ask people how they’re doing, and they’ll probably reply, “Busy.” I certainly would. Between work, marriage, parenting, and life in general, it feels like every moment of every day is accounted for…and then some. I tell myself to rest, but the moment I start to do so, the nagging suspicion takes hold that a book needs to be read, an article needs to be written, a chore needs to be accomplished, my kids need to be helicoptered over, my wife needs to be date-nighted, the latest blockbuster movie needs to be watched, etc. (Notice, by the way, that even our leisure activities such as dating and movie-watching become have become to-do items.)

These nagging suspicions arise from what Zahl calls “performancism.” He writes: “Performancism turns life into a competition to be won (#winning) or a problem to be solved, as opposed to, say, a series of moments to be experienced or an adventure to relish. Performancism invests daily tasks with existential significance and turns even menial activities into measures of enoughness.”

And woe betide those who fail at these tasks, because “if you are not doing enough, or doing enough well, you are not enough.” Zahl doesn’t quote Blaise Pascal at this point, but there’s a lot of wisdom in the latter’s statement, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” (Now that I’ve quoted Pascal, however, I’m feeling guilty that I’m not checking off that to-do item either.)

Performancism is “one of the hallmarks of all forms of seculosity,” their underlying assumption, affecting how we approach everyday life. It cripples seculosity’s practitioners with anxiety (Am I enough?), shame (Do they think I’m enough?), and guilt (Have I done enough?). “The common denominator [in all forms of seculosity] is the human heart, yours and mine,” Zahl explains, referring to what motivates our behavior. “Which is to say, the problem is sin.”

In theological terms, you see, seculosity is just the latest example of a “religion of law.” It is a form of self-justification or works-righteousness. And like all such schemes, it is doomed to failure because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are not enough. We have not done enough. We cannot do enough.

The antidote to seculosity is a “religion of grace,” Zahl concludes. “Sin is not something you can be talked out of (‘stop controlling everything!’) or coached through with the right wisdom. It is something from which you need to be saved.” And that salvation depends on the sacrificial love of the One doing the saving. He is enough, and only in Him can you be too.

Book Reviewed
David Zahl, Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What To Do About It (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is forthcoming in the July-August 2019 print issue of Influence magazine.

Trends in Bible Engagement | Influence Podcast


Sixty-three percent of U.S. adults “agree somewhat or strongly that the Bible contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life,” with 38 percent “strongly” agreeing. That seems like a good thing, right? Unfortunately, the “data shows a continuing downward trend from the previous year (42% who agree strongly) and the all-time high of 53% in 2011.”

For the past decade, the American Bible Society, in conjunction with the Barna Group, has released an annual State of the Bible report, surveying what Americans believe about and how they use the Bible. In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to Dr. John F. Plake about Bible engagement trends, based on the 2019 report.

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine, and your host. John F. Plake, Ph.D., is senior manager of Ministry Intelligence for the U.S. Ministry section of the American Bible Society, as well as an ordained Assemblies of God minister. Founded in 1816, the mission of the American Bible Society is “making the Bible available to every person in a language and format each can understand and afford, so all people may experience its life-changing message.”

Why Honor Is Key | Influence Podcast


“The stories of honor contained in the Word of God start from the first verses in Genesis and continue to the last words in Revelation.” So writes Rich Wilkerson Sr. in his new book, I Choose Honor.

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, George P. Wood, Influence magazine’s executive editor, talks to Wilkerson about why honor is the key to relationships, faith, and life.

Rich Wilkerson Sr. senior pastor of Trinity Church in Miami, Florida, and founder of Peacemakers, a Christian, nonprofit social services organization. His book, I Choose Honor, is just out from Charisma House.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Thinking Christianly about American History | Influence Podcast


“Christians believe the kingdom of God is our ultimate commitment, and we should confuse no temporal nation with that kingdom,” writes evangelical historian Thomas S. Kidd in his new, two-volume history of the United States. “But we are also thankful for the ways God has moved in American history, redeeming untold millions of people and building his church in each generation.”

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, Influence magazine Executive Editor George P. Wood talks to Thomas S. Kidd about how to think Christianly about American history. Kidd is distinguished professor of history, James Vardaman Endowed Professor of History, and associate director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. A noted scholar of colonial America, he is author most recently of American History, a two-volume textbook just published by B&H Academic.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Embracing Contemplation | Book Review


If Christian book publishing trends are any indication, contemplative spirituality is a hot topic among Christian readers — hot in the dual sense that it arouses intense interest as well as intense opposition. Proponents claim it is an ancient Christian practice capable of deepening a person’s love for God and neighbor. Opponents counterclaim that it is biblically subpar, smacks of medieval Catholicism, and opens the door to New Age mysticism.

In Embracing Contemplation, John H. Coe and Kyle C. Strobel assemble a team of theologians to assess the appropriateness of contemplative spirituality for evangelical Christians. These various authors examine the Bible, church history, and the writings of contemporary authors and arrive at a measured appraisal of contemplative spirituality. Coe and Strobel conclude: “contemplation and the contemplative life is fundamental to the maturing Christian life.”

This approval of contemplation should not be interpreted as a blanket approval of everything that calls itself “contemplative spirituality,” of course. In his chapter, “The Controversy Over Contemplation and Contemplative Prayer,” Coe identifies forms of contemplative spirituality that are “sub-Christian.” Similarly, in “A Distinctively Christian Contemplation,” Glen G. Scorgie differentiates authentically Christian contemplation from what is found in other religions.

Because contemplative spirituality is often seen as a Catholic practice, several authors show how Protestant Reformers and well-known evangelicals practiced a gospel-based form of contemplation. This includes three “Johns” whose evangelical credentials are not in dispute: John Calvin, John Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards. See Ashley Cockworth’s “Sabbatical Contemplation?” for Calvin and Tom Schwanda’s “To Gaze on the Beauty of the Lord” for Wesley and Edwards. Of particular interest to Pentecostal readers is Simon Chan’s chapter, “Contemplative Prayer in the Evangelical and Pentecostal Traditions.”

Throughout the book, the authors do a good job of placing evangelical theological commitments at the forefront of the conversation about contemplative spirituality. What is consistent with those commitments is allowed; what isn’t is discarded. This measured approach is better than a knee-jerk rejection or simplistic embrace of what passes for contemplative spirituality today.

Book Reviewed
John H. Coe and Kyle C. Strobel, eds., Embracing Contemplation: Reclaiming a Christian Spiritual Practice (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission. It appeared in the May-June 2019 issue of Influencemagazine.

P.P.P.S. I interviewed John Coe and Kyle Strobel in Episode 175 of the Influence Podcast, which you can listen to below: