Posts Tagged ‘Spiritual Formation’

Is the American Church Selling Out?

Friday, September 17th, 2010 by Diane Chandler

In a recent book entitled Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul (Basic Books, 2010), author G. Jeffrey MacDonald levels a caustic critique of the American church. 

As a former pastor and journalist, MacDonald offers a basic premise that the contemporary American church has lost its impact on contemporary society because it has sold out to consumerism. As a result, the church’s effectiveness has not only been diluted but it has lost its primary mission of providing a conduit of authentic spiritual growth for the church body and being a powerful witness in the world of moral formation.

MacDonald starts with three stark observations aimed at church leaders.  First, he notes the entertainment-orientation within the American church-at-large by citing the prevalence of hefty operating entertainment budgets, large projection screens, worship styles that are more worldly than God-honoring, and an emphasis on the cash collection devoid of a worshipful expression.  He comments, “Unfortunately, a church that functions like a fun house cannot fulfill religion’s central mission.  The Church can’t transform the desires of people it’s trying to titillate” (p. 36).

Second, MacDonald accuses the church of offering comfort to the exclusion of healthy confession, which has led to making church members happy at the exclusion of deep inner transformational change. He writes, “Small groups, organized around shared interests, offer indiscriminate affirmation rather than the rebuke or admonition that participants sometimes need” (p. 62).

Third, MacDonald identifies the weak moral character of the church, noting the financial indebtedness and mismanagement, evidence of rampant personal addictions, and unresolved relational conflicts that provide anything but a positive witness.

In summary, MacDonald attacks the religious consumerism that he observes running rampant in the American church as indicative of the consumerism in the American culture, which caters to a “feel-good” mentality in order to appease church-goers. He cites as an example of consumerism the practice of mega-churches opening their doors to corporate sponsors. Anyone seen Starbucks coffee available in church lobbies? 

MacDonald’s admonishes, “The Church must overcome both its baggage and its present tendency to pander in order to become a character-shaping force in the twenty-first century” (p. 87).  So I pose these questions ~

  • Is MacDonald’s critique of the contemporary American church valid?  Why or why not?
  • What specific counter arguments might you offer in response to MacDonald’s criticism? 
  • How can the American church remain culturally sensitive without losing her soul and central mission?

Spiritual Formation

Friday, July 23rd, 2010 by Diane Chandler

A resurgence of interest in spiritual formation has prompted many voices to offer perspectives about what it means to be transformed into the image of Jesus. Several contemporary authors have written on Christian spiritual formation including Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Robert Mulholland, Ruth Haley Barton, James Houston, and Simon Chan.  Others have developed theories that attempt to capture moral and character development such as Lawrence Kohlberg in his theory of moral development and James Fowler in his theory of faith development. Neither of these theories is without critique nor addresses the inner dynamics and mystery of formation.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Imago Dei in Historical Perspective

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010 by Diane Chandler

Throughout history, theologians have attempted to define the imago Dei (Latin, image of God) and identify what exactly being created in the image of God refers to.  Four perspectives have been offered.

The first perspective relates to humankind’s capacity to think and reason.  This has been termed the substantive view, connoting that the imago Dei can be described by any one or more of its essential parts, but particular human rationality.  Church fathers such as Irenaeus (d. 202) and Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) fashioned their theological views around God’s creating humankind in his image with the ability to reason and think over the non-human creation.

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Created in the Image of God

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010 by Diane Chandler

Between 1508-1512, Michelangelo painstakingly painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the Papal Chapel within the Vatican, depicting nine particular biblical scenes from the book of Genesis. One of the most famous scenes, the creation of Adam, depicts God touching the finger of Adam and giving him life. In order for his visual imagination to inform the planning of the paintings, Michelangelo continually drank in the biblical texts.

But what does it mean to be created in the image of God (Latin, imago Dei)? Over the upcoming few weeks, I’ll address the dignity of the human person, created holistically in the imago Dei.

Read the rest of this entry »

Being Guided By God

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010 by Diane Chandler

Like you, I’ve had many times when I’ve needed to hear the clear voice of the Lord.  Decisions like whom to marry; what job to take; or how to navigate a relational challenge, crisis, or life transition confront us all.  Students may especially seek God’s guidance as they near graduation.

God has not provided a cookie-cutter formula for hearing His voice.  The starting place is positioning our hearts in order to earnestly seek him (Heb. 11:6) and pray (Eph. 6:18, Phil. 4:6).  These five simple biblical principles may be helpful.

First, God speaks through the Scriptures.  John wrote, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).  Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples” (John 8:31). When making an important decision, we must seek the Lord through His Word, believing that He will guide us.  The Christian music group, Mercy Me, expressed it well in their song “Word of God Speak” (click to listen).

Second, God speaks through circumstances. After graduating from a program several years ago, I sought God related to a job.  I sensed the Lord saying, “Try every door.”  So I applied for many teaching positions, believing that God would close all doors but one.  That is exactly what happened.  David’s unexpected circumstance of the Amalekites capturing their women and children drove him to God to know if he would be successful (1 Sam. 30:3-8).

Third, God speaks through the voice and/or the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.  When the Apostle Paul wanted to go into Bithynia, the Spirit of God prohibited him from entering but instead directed him in a dream to go to Macedonia (Acts 16:7-9).  The Holy Spirit also provides peace in the believer’s heart, something the devil cannot duplicate. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace” (Col. 3:15). That Greek word for peace literally means to function like an umpire.  Peace is like an umpire that settles our souls and affirms direction. 

Fourth, God speaks through the input of trusted others.  God uses human vessels to speak to us.  With wisdom, Jethro spoke to Moses about delegating his work to others (Exod. 18:17-23).  At the Council at Jerusalem, James wisely recommended minimal stipulations be applied to Gentile believers (Acts 15:19-20).  Having godly counsel is important in seeing a decision circumspectly.  I’ll never forget the time my father spoke into an important decision I had to make.  He provided the wisdom I need to move forward.

Fifth, God speaks through confirmation of any and all of the above.  God desires to bring confirmation to encourage us in moving forward.  Moses desperately needed an assurance of God’s presence before moving forward.  God responded by directing him to the cleft of the rock and causing His glory to pass by (Exod. 33:12-23). Moses received a double confirmation of God’s guidance.  In making important decisions, we often need multiple confirmations.

Are you in the midst of an important decision?  How has God guided you in the past?