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.