The Future of the Churches of Christ: Church Trends, Part 1

PewStudyThe news has been filled with reports regarding the decline of Christianity in the U.S.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center shows a 7.8% decline in Americans who self-identify as “Christian.”

Looking more closely at the numbers, we see “Unaffiliated” growing by 6.7% and a growth of non-Christian faiths of 1.2%, which total to 7.9% — about the same number as the decline.

Most of the loss shows up in the Mainline Protestant churches (3.4% decline in 7 years) and Catholicism (3.1% decline despite the immigration of millions of Catholics from Latin America).

But even the evangelical churches are in decline — although by the relatively modest 0.9%. This category would include the Southern Baptists and the Churches of Christ.

And we know from separate studies that both denominations are in numerical decline.

So what are we to make of these figures? How bad are they really? Continue reading

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How to Study the Bible: God’s Plan

biblepage-781x1024So I guess you noticed that the series took a sudden left turn in the last post. We were discussing Bible study tools, and then all of sudden, we’re talking narrative hermeneutics — but hermeneutics are just another kind of tool. And the best hermeneutics are built on the Bible as a whole as a narrative — because that’s what the Bible as a whole is.

So while I’m recovering from back surgery (L5/L4/L3 fusion), I’m re-running some older posts, but in a sequence that establishes a better hermeneutic than most of us were taught.

Long before we get into the nitty gritty of interpreting a particular passage, Greek grammar, cultural backgrounds, and such like, we need to see the big picture, and this is where we have so often gone  wrong.

I’ve found just a handful of sources that provided extraordinary insight into the overarching narrative of scripture. In the last post we considered Scot McKnight’s latest book Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church. Less well known, perhaps, but of equal importance is John H. Walton’s Covenant: God’s Purpose, God’s Plan.

Walton is an expert in the cultures that surrounded Old Testament Israel, and this knowledge provides him with insights into the Old Testament text that few others have. But beyond being a historian, Walton does some excellent theology, tying his historical insights into the scriptural narrative with great effect. Continue reading

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Back Surgery No. 4, Continued

fusionAs of 5:30 yesterday, I am home from the hospital! I can’t tell you how glad I was to roll through those doors.

I’m still in a good bit of pain from the surgery itself, but the pace of getting better is better than before. But I’m still having to be on the pain pills — for a little while. Hopefully, I can get off them in the next several days.

Of course, this means I can say anything on my blog and, if it’s stupid or offensive, blame the drugs. So I’ve got that going for me … Continue reading

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1 Corinthians 16:5-24 (Concluding exhortations)

Writing letter to a friend.

Paul customarily ended his letters with a series of personal notes. It was a challenge to get a letter from place to place in ancient Rome. Normally, this was done by sending a scroll with a trusted friend.

Given that letter writing was based on friendships, and how much more difficult it would be to prepare separate scrolls, the custom had evolved of combining the text into a single letter. Besides, these personal notes helped remind people that Paul was a person who loved them, not just an authority figure with a pen and parchment. Continue reading

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How to Study the Bible: The Over-Arching A-B-A’ Story

biblepage-781x1024[This is adapted from an earlier post.]

The next step in Bible study is learning to approach the scriptures with the right questions — understanding where each element of scripture is situated within God’s story.

One excellent approach is found in Scot McKnight’s latest book Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church.

McKnight points out that both the local church and academia have learned — finally — to read the Bible as story. One such story might be summarized as C-F-R-C: the story of salvation in the Bible.

(And this is very much the story as related by Scot in his excellent The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, which we covered in this series.) The story goes like this– Continue reading

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1 Corinthians 16:1-4 (On the first day of every week)

collection2

Paul has now finished the serious theological part of his epistle, and so he moves to some practical concerns.

One recurring feature of many of Paul’s letters is his collection of funds for the saints in Jerusalem. We aren’t ever told exactly why this is needed, but Paul sees this sort of inter-congregational charity as at the core of the gospel.

(1Co 16:1-4 ESV)  Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do.  2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.  3 And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem.  4 If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.

Paul is soliciting a freewill offering, not a levy like the Temple tax. Continue reading

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How to Study the Bible: Bible Software

biblepage-781x1024I’ve alluded a few times to Bible software as a study aid, and there are just all sorts of programs out there — some free and some quite expensive.

Everyone with a smartphone or tablet has doubtlessly found the wide array of Bibles and similar resources available.

Just for example —

  • Lumina provides a free NET Bible with translator notes.
  • ESV provides a free ESV Bible.
  • BibleGateway provides several free translations and powerful search tools, as well as some out-of-copyright Bible dictionaries and commentaries.
  • The Holy Bible provides several translations, cross references, footnotes.
  • The Blue Letter Bible comes with many translations.
  • AndBible for Android users is similar to BibleGateway.

Most also provide reading plans, such as a schedule of daily Bible reading that will cover all the scriptures in a set number of years, daily devotional verses, and search features. And these are all free or very nearly so. Continue reading

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Back Surgery Number 4

fusionSo I go in for back surgery number 4 on Wednesday. I’ll be in the hospital for a couple of days — stoned on pain meds.

(I’ve loaded my iPod with “White Rabbit,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and the complete Pink Floyd.)

So I’ll be out of commission for a few days. It seems my earlier L5/L4 fusion has to be redone. The bones never fused. And so they’ll want to grab the L3 to be sure it works this time. Ugh.

Not sure how long I’ll be away from the computer, but I’ve posted several days ahead — of course, I’ve done it while needing a spinal fusion — meaning I’ve not always been in the best of moods. So you’ll understand the occasional fit of sarcasm.

If it gets too intense, well, there’s always Pink Floyd. Continue reading

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1 Corinthians 15:45-58 (O, Death, where is your victory?)

deathPaul next returns to an earlier theme, the comparison of Adam and Jesus.

(1Co 15:45 ESV) 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

Paul quotes Gen 2:7 to show the superiority of Jesus (the last Adam or last human being) as the giver of life (through the Spirit) rather than a mere recipient of life.

[Jesus] is not just a soma pneumatikon [Spiritual body] in his own right, so to speak, the first example of the large number of such beings the creator intends to make through resurrection, but he is also the one through whom the creator will accomplish this—because he is the one who, as ‘life-giving Spirit’, will perform the work of raising the dead. Genesis 2:7 is thus not so much a proof-text, more a part of the larger story which the Christian, looking at Jesus’ resurrection, can now tell; and the good news which emerges from this is that Jesus has pioneered the way into the long-awaited future, the new age which the creator has planned (verse 46). The pneumatikos [Spirit-empowered] state is not simply an original idea in the mind of the creator, from which the human race fell sadly away; this model of humanity is the future reality, the reality which will swallow up and replace merely psychikos [mortal] life.

N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003), 355. Continue reading

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How to Study the Bible: Commentaries

biblepage-781x1024For those new to serious Bible study, a “commentary” is a book that explains one or more books of the Bible in detail, generally verse by verse. Most commentaries are published as part of a set intended to cover the entire NT or entire OT or both. But many excellent commentaries are published as stand-alone volumes.

There are far too many commentaries for me to cover them all, and the quality varies from series to series, and volume to volume. But maybe I can offer some thoughts to help sort through the overwhelming amount of information contained in commentaries.

First, I do not use old, out-of-copyright commentaries. The Internet and Bible software are filled with archaic commentaries that, in their day, were excellent. But a lot happened in the last century to greatly improve Bible scholarship. For example —

* We discovered vast troves of First Century papyrus writings that shed new light on the language of the NT. Continue reading

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