Martin W. Bender
Today I took the kids up to Statesboro to watch Finding Dory. I hadn’t looked at any reviews or seen trailers for the film, but I knew the general story line: the gang from the first movie try to find Dory. Simple enough.
What I didn’t know was how much the story would develop the fairly one-dimensional character from the first film. Let’s face it, Finding Nemo is half coming of age story, half rescue mission. Imagine a Pixar produced mashup of Stand by Me and Taken. Dory does little more in the original than provide comic relief and an alternative perspective to nudge Marlin away from his tendency toward pessimism to a more optimistic view of the world. Finding Dory takes a decidedly different approach to storytelling, focusing almost solely on Dory with little help from Marlin and Nemo. In fact, Marlin and Nemo essentially become the damsel in distress to be rescued by Dory and her newly found friends. This significant difference keeps the story fresh and avoids the pitfalls of what could have easily been a simple rehash of the original.
Finding Dory feels more like a detective story than a rescue mission. Dory begins her search prompted by dreams of her parents and finds that her short term memory loss seems to be helped by having some family stability in her life. The journey she took between being lost and finding Marlin is exceptionally tragic and terrifying. The imagery of her being alone in the vast ocean is startlingly bleak, both in the scenes where she is a child and later as an adult. My sweet little daughter cried as Dory found herself alone in deep trying desperately to remember where she was and what she was doing. This makes her relationship with her parents and friends all the more important and real for the movie goer. There is a true sense of dread in the film that rivals many modern horror movies. In fact, if one were to remove the shells at the end of the second act it would be a horror film.
The film works so well because it plays on a different set of fears than the original. In Finding Nemo the great fear is the loss of family. This is seen in both the death of Nemo’s mother as well as the kidnapping. In Finding Dory the great fear is the loss of self, as Dory only understands who she is within the context of her relationships. This is why it is so satisfying to see her develop relationships wherever she goes. Certainly, she needs Hank, Destiny, and other’s help to get around the aquarium, but working with them helps her to remain on task to regain that sense of self she loses as a result of her condition. Her continual search for community reflects humanity’s innately social nature and forces consideration of the communal nature of human interaction.
In a world where sequels are so often an attempt to make a second pile of money using the success of the original film, Finding Dory stands soundly on its own as an exceptional character study. The use of 3D avoided the temptation of having random objects flying at the screen and instead simply adds a field of depth that gives the viewer the experience of looking into an actual aquarium. Generally, I don’t like 3D, but Pixar used the technology well to fully immerse the audience in its undersea landscape. The animation is stellar and the short, Piper, shown before the film shows just how incredible animation and 3D technology has become since Avatar made 3D viable.
Finding Dory is an exceptional film. I loved it. I may go see it again tomorrow.
Is it ok for a preacher to run for mayor? Should the Forth of July only be called Independence Day? Can pets survive on their own? These and other riveting questions are answered in the 40th episode of Two Bearded Preachers! You'll hear tales of celebration, woe, and triumph as Justin explains his hairdo, Martin tells of Ham the porch dog, and both recount the high tempo summer. An amazing episode.
Martin W. Bender
I find myself a little torn on what to blog about today. I feel like I should say something about the Fourth of July since its Independence Day and all, but I don’t really have a whole lot to say about it. Most of my thoughts on the subject are probably pretty obvious from the conversations I’ve had with Justin on faith and politics. So I’ll skip the whole patriotism and American evangelicalism discussion for now.
Another topic that interests me is the current debate on eternal functional subordination taking place in the blogosphere. The argument is essentially about whether Jesus’ subordination is an eternal position within the Trinity or if it is limited to the incarnation. My initial thoughts are that it is eternal because I hold to the impassibility of God. It seems that a change in position, whether functional or otherwise, would violate the concept of God never changing. I’ll probably write a little about it later after I have read more on the subject, but at first glance, it certainly seems Jesus eternally maintains a functionally subordinate position to the Father.
Lastly, I’m interested in talking a little bit about how Leia is doing in her work in China. As many of you know, Leia had the rare opportunity to go to China to teach conversational English for a few weeks. She’s just started and is having a good time with it thus far, but at the time of writing, she’s only had one day in the classroom. I hope to write a little about how she’s doing in a week or two since her absence is pretty heavy on my mind.
I’ll probably get to all these issues soon enough, but for right now I’m going to spend a little time with the kids before we run off to another Fourth of July party and then record and episode or two with Justin later on this evening.
Martin W. Bender
If you've listened to the podcast for any length of time you've probably heard Justin and I express our mutual love for Serial, a podcast created by the folks from This American Life. Season Two explored the situation and people surrounding the Bowe Bergdahl return, you can listen to our conversation about that here (while we disagreed fairly strongly we're still friends). Season One reviewed the murder trial of Adnan Syed, a young man convicted of the murder of his former girlfriend.
Most people who listen to podcasts are very familiar with season one. It is the starting point for the majority of people when they begin listening to podcasts and has set the standard for quality content generation. What's amazing is that the popularity of Serial is the likely reason for the recent decision to allow further appeals to be made by Adnan despite previous failures. It turns out if you can get enough people interested in your story you have greater opportunity for aquital.
I'm glad he's getting another shot. Not because I think justice has been perverted, but because it means additional episodes of Serial will almost definitely be aired as additional appeals are made. If you haven't listened to Serial season one yet I highly recommend it as it seems to be the gold standard for podcasting right after the Two Bearded Preachers.
Martin W. Bender
When one thinks of Presbyterians evangelism doesn’t exactly come quickly to mind. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised by R. C. Sproul’s little book answering the question “What is the Great Commission?” In just a few pages Sproul communicates the joys of sharing the gospel with others and how evangelism ought to be done.
This isn’t one of those instruction manuals on church growth, or organizational success. In fact, it is about as far from that as one can get. In this book evangelism is described simply, told in a simple style in an effort to relate a simple truth: sharing the gospel is something anyone can do and all who are in Christ are commanded to do. And that is the point. People seem to want a system, a checklist, and an approved method for making swift and sure converts to Christianity, but that isn’t the command. The command is to share the gospel. One doesn’t necessarily need a system for that.
Communicating the gospel to another person can be a simple as telling the story of what Jesus has done. It requires neither exhaustive knowledge of theology nor academic credentials. The only requirement is a personal experience with the gospel itself. Sproul points out the difference between education and evangelism, a difference that often gets lost in conversations about discipleship. Evangelism is sharing the wonder of Christ’s work in salvation, education is explaining the details of what has, is, and will happen. Evangelism speaks to the man where education speaks to the mind. Both are necessary, but evangelism is logically first between the two.
“What is the Great Commission” shares very briefly how the communication of the gospel is a vital part of the Christian life, Christian worship, and Christian joy.
Martin W. Bender
While Justin has made it abundantly clear that I am no gamer, I do enjoy the casual game from time to time. I play on my iPhone 6 Plus such games as Slither.io and Underworld Empire, but my current favorite is War Tortoise.
War Tortoise is essentially a tower defense game where a turtle is used as a weapons platform for destroying insects. The game opens on a green field with trees in the background and blue sky overhead. Bugs, determined to destroy you and your turtle for some reason begin to approach. As they do you shoot them, but the problem with bugs is that there are so many of them. If we’ve learned anything from Starship Troopers it’s that bugs are the worst and they deserve to die. There’s something oddly satisfying about bringing forth violent destruction upon wave after wave of irritating little critters while leveling up weapons and support units.
The best part of the game is auto aim, which allows the game to play without paying any attention at all. War Tortoise is truly a game for casual players like myself. The player has the option to aim at specific targets making it more of a shooter, or just let it go and level up. As I write this, I am in the top 1,500 players and I almost always just let it run. That probably says more about my devotion to gaming than it does about the game itself.
If you’re looking for a funny little game that encourages hatred of small, annoying animals this is the game for you.
Should Justin try and get a government grant to help his congregation financially? Should Martin lighten up a little bit when it comes to his idealism? These and other questions are carefully avoided in this week's episode of the Two Bearded Preachers podcast of excellence. This time, the bearded brothers take on the challenge of separation of church and state leaving every issue completely solved to the satisfaction of all. The hamster wheels are definitely turning in this episode. Their egos may be writing checks their bodies can't cash, but you'll never know unless you listen to the entire thing.
Martin W. Bender
On one occasion when the scribes and Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus into saying something inflammatory they brought up the controversial issue of taxes. To many Jews, paying taxes to Rome was illustrative of political and cultural support. It implied religious support as well. Those seeking to cause Jesus problems asked him if it was lawful to pay taxes to a godless tyrant like Caesar. Jesus responded in such a profound manner his critics all marveled.
Jesus’ response to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” has a profound effect on how Christians ought to view their relationship with worldly authorities. Christians have a responsibility to give to the government that which it is owed, but to withhold from the government that which it does not have by right. Caesar was owed taxes, but Caesar also demanded worship. The Jews could not in good conscience render worship unto Caesar as he commanded, but they could, and in fact are compelled, to pay the taxes demanded by him. In much the same way, Christians are obliged to follow the laws of the land, provided those laws do not infringe upon giving God that which is his.
Paul builds upon the Christian’s relationship to governing authorities in Romans 13. He explains that the government is appointed by God to accomplish his own purposes in the world. As such, Christians should obey them as rulers are not a terror to good conduct. Our relationship to worldly authorities, including the government, should be one of submission, both to avoid the wrath of God and to maintain a good conscience.
Very frequently, though, American congregations I have been involved with tend to grant the nation more than that to which it has a right. As I prepare for Sunday’s service I recognize many in my congregation are expecting some sort of patriotic service rendering honor to the U.S. of A. The trouble I have with such services is that doing so takes away time we typically devote to the Lord in corporate worship. On Independence Day I encourage Americans to consider the founding of the nation, to celebrate the good we have done, and honor those who have made it possible. But on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, render unto God the things that are God’s: solemn worship and celebration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Admittedly, this episode is quite late. Martin was at camp, situations occurred, and the podcast recorded a full two weeks ago didn't get edited till this morning. That being said, remember a long long time ago when Jonathan Merritt wrote an article criticising The Gospel Coalition? Well, we talked about it and surprise surprise disagreed on whether TGC was wrong for a twitter banning spree. Justin attempts to get banned and fails leading us all to question just how effective he is at accomplishing goals. There should be another episode out tomorrow so the turnaround should be pretty quick. Also, does Martin's love for Tim Keller make him a Calvinist? Find this out and more in the spectacular episode 38!
Thanks to the wedding of Martin's saint of a mother, he travelled the arduous path to Florida, America's trailer park, for a few days. His first stop was to visit with Justin. After hours of talking and joking around, they finally decided to record a facebook live video to share their rare meeting with the bearded nation. Here, you'll hear the conversation they recorded on facebook and laugh along with them as they discuss parents getting married, church camp, and Manny's request to come on the show as a guest. It's an episode that will surely help to define the bromance between Justin and Martin for years to come.
In this episode, the Two Bearded Preachers are a little more serious as they are still reeling from the Pulse nightclub attack. They discuss how tragedy is used to further political agendas, are disgusted by it, and proceed to participate in it. Martin asks when it is ok to kill his children for disobedience and Justin can't remember who the Nephilim are in this important discussion on how Christians ought to respond to evil when it takes place. In the end, Justin lightens things up by sharing a Dad Victory that will make you proud to be a parent. This is a good one, so be sure to share it with your friends.
Martin W. Bender
The final perspective in understanding congregational life is practice. This is what the person does. It represents the existential category of Frame’s tri-perspectival epistemology and is likely what most people think about when discussing church membership.
“I go to the church on top of the hill.” That’s what many of us say when asked about church. We typically describe the location we meet to give the other person a sense of where we gather. It allows them to use their previous experiences with that congregation to form a little background for our faith and practice. It connects us with a particular group of people and ideas creating a sense of identity deeper than that which is established through conversation.
Practicing Christianity among a specific group of believers has been done since the church was established. The early Christians met together, learned together, prayed together, ate together… you get the idea. Christianity is practiced within community. This idea sounds like the situational perspective but has more to do with how one expresses their individual faith. I participate in the Christian life as an individual within a group.
Practice is an important part of congregational connectedness. Participation in the actions of a congregation places the individual at the heart of that congregation’s beliefs and community. One can self-identify with a group, but if they fail to engage that community their self-identification is irrational.
As I continue to consider what it means to be a member of a congregation I will be looking at the interaction between belief, belonging, and practice in order to further the development of all these areas both personally and within my congregation.
Martin W. Bender
Donald Miller’s best-selling book Blue Like Jazz isn’t the type of book I’m typically interested in. It’s a diary of sorts, telling of the author’s shift from generic American evangelicalism into what seems like an “emergent” expression of the faith. For some reason the book reminded me of McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian. It may be the underlying criticism of the church or the crunchy granola tone, but there is definitely a sense of subtle west coast superiority that makes this southeastern feller want to bless Don’s heart.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book. The writing is certainly better than mine with a smooth conversational pace. Reading it is a lot like how I imagine the talks in the book went since reading is just another form of listening. This is probably intentional. One of the themes in the book is that Christians need to listen, that Jesus himself was a listener, and in reading one is beginning the practice Don is encouraging us to do: listen to others.
Don has some good insights. American evangelicalism is certainly far too beholden to political conservatism. Hypocrisy does exist within the church. Pat answers to critics of Christianity abound and are frequently dispensed without the slightest concern for spiritual condition of the listener. His answers to these issues, however, seem to be to tune out rather than improve the situation (another indication of his friendliness to emergent thought). He assumes the problems within Christianity are insurmountable until he finds a church that happens to agree with his alternative practice of Christian spirituality.
The book also has some theological problems. Sin is not dealt with as a serious issue. Don comments that he did not perceive the community at the college he attended as immoral, although they engaged in continual immorality. He does, however, intone that conservative Christians are immoral because they do not embrace the same moral relativism he witnessed and seems to promote. This is problematic because Christianity is built upon the notion that a holy God will not leave sin unpunished. In a book on Christian spirituality the author ignores the very reason Christian spirituality exists.
I’m not saying to avoid the book. Remember, I enjoyed it. I am saying that theologically there is a fundamental problem with the author’s understanding of the human condition and the reasons for the incarnation. It would be a good idea to combine this book with John Owen’s On the Mortification of Sin to ensure one remains balanced in their understanding of sin and Christian practice.
We admit it, this isn't the flashiest episode we've produced, but the conversation on administering pastoral care is an important part of what Justin and Martin do on a regular basis. They talk about leadership and how they help their congregations overcome challenges like long, unproductive meetings and communication issues within the leadership team. Riveting, we know. They also get distracted by the news of Kimbo Slice's death as well as their typical retelling of stories they both already know. You'll get a hint of a time when the Two Bearded Preachers were not getting along, but sadly, the fullness of that story isn't realized. Better luck next time.
Martin W. Bender
Recently, Leia and I watched Robert Egger’s “The Witch”, a period piece about a family exiled from their colony on the basis of a religious disagreement. It depicts the difficulty of life in the American wilderness as well as the challenges of isolation on the frontier. It also provides a window into the faith of a common Puritan family as they deal with the trials of the early settlers. Oh, yeah… there’s a witch too.
Spoilers follow, but not really bad ones.
Being a fan of horror, I was interested in the film. Many of the reviews described it as well made with good acting, sound, and lighting (if you’re a horror fan, I don’t have to tell you this is not always the case). What surprised me though, was the very polarizing affect the film had in several Christian social media groups in which I participate. One camp heartily argued no Christian should watch this film as it glorifies participation in Satan worship. The other says it is a solid horror film that in no way glorifies the occult, but points out the emptiness of faith in anything but Christ.
I tend to lean toward the view that the film is not glorifying to the occult. No doubt, the story is a tragedy in the classical sense, where the main characters meet horrible ends, but even those who succumb to temptation are no better off than those who remained steadfast in their faith. Ultimately, the conversion from Christianity to witchcraft results in the girl leading a life similar to that of the witch tormenting the family. It isn’t depicted as delicious living in the least.
As a horror film it does well. It has that slow shift from the natural to the supernatural all good horror stories embrace. The story slips from frontier living and religious dogmatism to frenzied hysteria as subtle plot points steer the family from the known world, a world of relative safety, into the perils of the unknown. This is perhaps why the film worked well for me. It didn’t follow the typical series of jump scares followed by a nice resolution, but instead surprised the audience with the failure of each and every character. It is an exploration of the darkness innate in each and every one of us.
So, should a Christian watch it? Well, if they are fans of horror it will take them on a journey most other films lack the bravery to explore, but some might be upset by the nature of the content. It is, after all, a tragic tale about witchcraft. What I want to know is whether or not the girl was the witch the whole time. Dun dun dun!
Martin W. Bender
Initiating change in a congregation is a little nerve racking. This Sunday we are changing our order of worship a fair amount. Many of the elements in the service will remain, but they will occur at different times. The purpose of the change is to reduce the number of transitions taking place and to have a smoother progression from one activity to the next. Our hope is that by shifting the order of events we will be better able to keep the attention of our audience while reducing distractions from the service. We also hope to have greater flow from one activity to the next, emphasizing the theme of the service.
At the same time, we are exploring how our website can be better used as a supplement for our congregants. For each Sunday morning service, we are building a page designed for mobile use providing additional information to what is presented in the sermon. This will enable us to provide the congregation with resources that will enrich their worshiping experience.
Both of these changes are part of a deliberate effort to be more effective in communicating the gospel to a rapidly changing culture. Check out this Sunday’s site and let us know what you think.
Justin and Martin discuss just about everything in this episode. From murdered gorillas to celestial teapots there is nothing the two leave out. Martin talks about his trip to the water park where the actions of one person shut down four attractions simultaneously. Justin proclaims his love for wearing speedos in the summertime. Neither have any credibility in their hip hop game as Fay attempts to throw shade at the facially blessed brothers conversation. Most notable, however, is their discussion of Russell’s Teapot: an argument built to shift the burden of proof to those supporting the existence of God. This episode has it all, even a misquote by Martin. It was Calvin, not Spurgeon, he was referencing. Check it out, share it with your friends, talk about how awesome the show is on social media… you know, all that stuff every podcast asks you to do.
Enjoy the conversation.
Martin W. Bender
Justin and I have a standing disagreement as to which super hero ought to have our support in the Marvel Civil War. I have intelligently defended Captain America as being the obvious choice, while Justin, in his foolishness, has thrown in his hat toward Iron Man. Below you will find definitive photographic proof that every bearded man ought to choose Cap.
As you can see, Robert Downing Jr. is lacking a manly mane while Chis Evans has much beard. Discussion closed.
Martin W. Bender
Belonging is third in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He argues that all people require a sense of belonging in order to be healthy. This innate need often overshadows the need for safety or physical needs. Everyone desires a sense of belonging be it within a family, a group of friends, or the work place.
Religious groups also meet people’s need for belonging. When someone says, “that’s my church” they are making the point that not only do they worship at a particular location, but that they identify themselves with a specific worshiping community. This sense of belonging is almost tribal. Congregations develop unique cultures, languages, and worldviews they teach to their children and into which they submerge prospective members. Developing a strong sense of belonging in a congregation creates opportunity for improvements in fellowship, service, and evangelism.
Creating a sense of belonging cannot be done artificially. A new member class may be helpful in introducing a person to the beliefs of a congregation, but developing belonging is far more labor intensive. It takes time and shared experiences to create the feeling of belonging. Perhaps the best way to develop this feeling is by overcoming challenging situations.
The greatest sense of belonging I have ever felt was in the military. My experiences in the Army, particularly on deployments, created a sense of belonging that continues years after I have seen any of my old buddies. The sense of belonging was created by the following factors: a clear objective to accomplish, time spent together, shared experiences, and crises overcome. All of these can be applied to the congregational setting.
Can you think of ways to develop a sense of belonging within the church? What pitfalls can come from creating too strong a sense of belonging? How strong a sense of belonging do you have with your congregation and how has it developed through the years? Hit me up in the comments with your thoughts.
Is the world ready for a female 007? Justin and Martin both think so. They discuss who made the best James Bond, argue about video games, and wonder if Jason Bourne could beat James Bond in a fight. This episode rambles a little as the fellers have difficulty staying on topic, frequently running down rabbit trails and forgetting what they were talking about. They also wonder when their ministries will become more like Jesse Custer's from Preacher and when his beard will become more like theirs, thick and full like the mane of a lion. It's an episode you don't want to miss.
Martin W. Bender
In a few previous posts I’ve written about triperspectival ministry. The idea is that ministry ought to be considered in terms of normative, situational, and existential categories in order to best understand an individual’s relationship to their congregation. Instead of using those big seminary words I’ll simplify by referring to belief, belonging, and practice.
Belief is doctrine. The ideas and values communicated by the teachers in the congregation. It takes form in sermons, lessons, and statements of faith. Belief is also defined by the practice of the congregation and is rooted in the congregation’s traditions and habits. The way the Bible is interpreted, explained, and understood all fall under the category of belief.
People define themselves by their beliefs. The statement, “I’m a Baptist” provides a lot of information. It greatly reduces the amount of effort in figuring out where a person likely stands on a number of issues. When a couple recently joined my congregation I was able to rightly assume much of their theology based on the type of church they left. At the same time, it’s important to be able to distinguish the differences people may have with their congregations.
Communicating the beliefs of the congregation is profoundly important. The deliberate, creative, repetitive articulation of a congregation’s core beliefs will create greater levels of agreement of those listening resulting in members becoming increasingly attached to the group. As agreement increases, so does cooperation and the level of investment the member is willing to put into the congregation.
For this reason, the elders and I spent an entire year developing a statement of faith that better articulates the informal beliefs of the congregation. This statement will be used in the creation of lessons and sermons delivered in order to deliberately increase the degree to which the congregation agrees on important theological and practical issues.
In my next blog post I’ll describe how an individual’s sense of belonging has an effect on their relationship to the congregation. Until then, think about your beliefs and those of your congregation. Do they line up? Are there significant differences? What can you do to be in line with your congregation’s most important beliefs?
Martin W. Bender
Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine is an ancient minister’s manual that reflects much of what continues to be taught to those seeking pastoral positions in local congregations. Augustine essentially takes the basics of pastoral ministry and communicates to his readers methods for interpreting scripture, composing sermons, and delivering messages. He extols the use of the original languages whenever possible and emphasizes the importance of effective communication while preaching the gospel.
Perhaps the most surprising element of Augustine’s work is its similarity to modern ministerial training. He explains the great importance of rightly interpreting the text, bringing out the technique of allowing the simpler passages of scripture to explain the more difficult. This, of course, remains one the primary building blocks of biblical exegesis.
In the construction of sermons or lessons, Augustine argues in favor of the use of logical argumentation. He posits that logic is essentially an observable characteristic of God’s nature and as such should be embraced and fully utilized in the presentation of the gospel. For those familiar with Augustine’s other writings this should come as no surprise as he builds clear arguments in his sermons following a logical progression of thought.
Despite this reliance on the use of logic in developing messages, Augustine also recognizes the necessity to vary the style of delivery based on the audience, the message, and the text from which the message is derived. He sees that there is a place for different types of sermons as well as the use of another’s sermon in order to best communicate the gospel to a particular audience. In this area he takes on a very pragmatic attitude encouraging his readers to use the method that is most likely to produce the desired results. Funny how a man writing in the fifth century can be so very contemporary.
This book was difficult to get through. For all those who lament the difficulties of John Owen I’d suggest reading a little Augustine and getting over it. I’d happily read On the Mortification of Sin again before On Christian Doctrine. That being said, Augustine’s Confessions ought to be read by every Christian and will probably make it onto my reading shelf this year, but OCD was somehow brutal to me and made me hate reading for three months. I’d avoid this one unless you’re planning on going into vocational ministry. Read some of his sermons instead and you’ll be much better served.
Having read a little of “Mr. Orthodox” (that’s what one of my seminary professors called Augustine) I’m moving now to the charred remains of the emergent movement to see if there is anything left to salvage in Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz.
Martin W. Bender
Nothing is as it seems in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In the previous books there was a clear sense of whimsy pervading the story, but entering into Harry’s fourth year there are far darker forces at play than we have seen thus far in the wizarding world. This is probably a good thing.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the happy antics of Harry and his friends in the first three novels, but coming into the Goblet of Fire I was definitely hoping for higher stakes. I didn’t really care if Gryffindor won at quidditch and I’m not concerned if Harry and Malfoy have another brouhaha over some nonsense. In this book, though, there is a much more malevolent force working behind the scenes.
My biggest gripe about the first half of the series is the lack of peril. With an enemy so terrible people refrain from even speaking his name one would think there’d be greater danger than oversized snakes and bad versions of He-Man villains. Finally, in the fourth book, we see Voldemort as his intimidating, murderous self. It’s the slow burn reveal of Harry’s enemies that make the series work for me.
This may be why J. K. Rowling’s books have been so appealing. Harry’s innocence is slowly stripped away as he becomes increasingly aware of the world around him. As children, we believe the world to be safe provided there’s enough light in the room and our parents are around. As we grow older and experience more and more of the evil in the world we recognize there are far worse things on earth than the monsters we image lurk under our beds. This is precisely what happens to Harry as he is rushed into the wizarding world with all its wonders, but then is shown the dangers that so often come along with greater power. It reminds me of Vision’s assessment of the inevitable increase in supervillains with the rise superheroes in Captain America: Civil War.
I’m a little nervous about book five. My daughter Anna has been very clear that The Order of the Phoenix is the worst of all the books, but that it is a necessary step in understanding The Deathly Hallows (her favorite). I’m trying to keep her opinion from affecting me, but it took me months to get through book four which is supposed to be one of the very best. Hopefully I’ll get through book five fast and get back into the habit of reading regularly.
Martin W. Bender
How should a Christian congregation respond to trends within the religious world? As the preacher of a congregation in transition, I carefully look at church trends to help guide the ministry process where I serve. In doing so, I have noticed three stereotypical responses to church trends: ignoring them, bucking them, or following them.
Ignoring trends in the church is perhaps best illustrated by the Mennonites. These are people who hold to a very specific manner of both congregational life and interaction with secular society. As such, they have had very little influence on the societies in which they live and, with the possible exception of pacifism, have added little to modern expressions of Christianity (of course this is part of their point).
For congregations that choose to ignore societal trends and changes in culture one has to wonder if their particular expression of the Christian faith is worth maintaining. Today, we look at the lifestyle of the Mennonite and find it ever so quaint, but generally choose to lead lives that embrace the wonders of our age. Congregations ignoring contemporary religious trends do so at the risk of becoming like the Mennonites: faithful to their particular theological paradigm, but little more than a footnote in history.
Bucking trends within the religious world is equally dangerous. The Westboro Baptist Church has made a name for themselves by actively bucking just about every popular trend in American Evangelicalism. As they have done this, they have become a caricature of the church in the US bringing shame not only upon themselves, but on all Christians. This congregation is an extreme example, but there are numerous fellowships bucking any new trend with the discernment of a teenager, never even considering how a new approach might further the gospel.
Some trends need to be bucked. There is a trend among Christians to redefine marriage, ignore biblical gender roles, and deny the existence of Hell. All of these are clearly counter to scripture and need to be rejected on individual and congregational levels, but cultural questions like the use of information technology, various musical styles (remember that nonsense?), and communication techniques are not inherently counter to revelation and should be carefully considered prior to rejection.
Trend followers are those that follow the methodologies of other congregation perceived to be successful. Conferences, books, blogs, and programs are created to market to trend following organizations. After the success of Saddleback Church congregations copying their methods were everywhere attempting to achieve the same results. There is nothing wrong with this, but it does present some challenges in maintaining a congregation’s distinct identity.
Each congregation is different. This is a simple truth, but is often overlooked. Not all of the strategies that are successful with one group will work in another. It would be unreasonable to assume a program that worked well in California would be equally successful in rural Georgia. So when following trends, a congregation must be very intentional in applying ideas that are culturally appropriate to have the best opportunity for success.
There is of course one last option for congregations: establish trends. The establishment of trends is predicated on success. As a congregation is successful in developing an area of ministry they can then share how they achieved that success.
A local example of this is Savannah Christian Church. SCC has been very successful in both growing their congregation and in developing a very specific culture. They share how they are accomplishing this through a conference as well as being intentional in mentoring leaders of other congregations. In doing this, they have been able to have greater influence than would have been possible otherwise.
The likelihood of a small rural congregation establishing a large scale trend in congregational ministry is low, but there has never been a time in history where it was more feasible. As communications technologies continue to improve and become less expensive the possibilities for small congregations has never been greater. Those who are able to leverage the tools of the age to communicate the gospel will be the next generation’s trend setters. It could come from anywhere, why not here?
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