Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Reaching the Next Generation

In last Sunday's sermon I mentioned the most recent research report from the Barna Group titled, "Most Twentysomethings Put Christianity on the Shelf Following Spiritually Active Teen Years" (read the report). The study notes that although 81% of today’s twentysomethings were involved in churches as teenagers, only 20% of them are still spiritually active at age 29. Of course, what the report is unable to tell us is how many of these were ever actually converted.

Although the report does not connect the dots, it is, in fact, an indictment of the way that most modern churches have attempted to minister to teens, namely by putting them exclusively into age segregated groups that focus on entertainment rather than discipleship. The problem with this approach is that when children become older they find the world’s entertainment more appealing than the pizza blast down at the church fellowship hall.

I think these statistics also speak to the gap between youth and their families. Parents have the primary responsibility of discipling their children. They cannot farm off that task to anyone else, even the church. Children will most likely follow their parents’ example. If parents see the Christian life as a draining burden and obligation, rather than as a joy and privilege, then so will their children.

The conventional wisdom is that if it is not broken, then don’t try to fix it. These statistics, however, tell us that youth ministry in our churches is largely broken. How do we fix it? Here are some things we have done at JPBC and will continue to do:

1. Try to integrate young people into the life of the church as a whole rather than constantly segregating them into their own same-age groups. This quarter in Sunday School, for example, we have asked our 9-12th grade youth to join their parents in one of the adult tracks. This does not mean that it is always wrong to have young people of the same age get together for fellowship. That is why we have continued our Sunday evening youth gathering, and we will likely offer special Sunday School tracks especially for teens in upcoming quarters.

2. Equip fathers and mothers to offer spiritual guidance and oversight in the home. A Christian Dad and Mom who are not self-righteous but who are humbly striving to live a faithful Christian life are the best "youth ministers" a child will ever have. If we disciple the parents, we are discipling the children.

3. Get the focus of our ministry to young people away from entertainment and on to gospel ministry (evangelism, discipleship, spiritual disciplines, Bible study, and worship). This does not mean that we eliminate all "fun" events, but we do not make them the central focus of our ministry.

May God give us a heart for reaching this generation of twentysomethings and teenagers with the gospel!

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

In Memoriam: Edgar Brown (1922-2006)

Ed Brown went to his reward with the Father on Monday, September 25, 2006. Ed was raised in an orphanage in New Jersey after the untimely death of his parents. As a young man, he fought in an infantry unit at the Battle of the Bulge in WWII. Few of us at JPBC will soon forget the powerful testimony he shared on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend 2006 of God’s providential care for him during his military service. After a successful career in insurance in Manhattan, New York, he retired to Palmyra, Virginia, along with the love of his life and his wife of over 60 years, Evelyn. Ed often relayed how he was converted by reading a Moffett translation of the Bible while riding a commuter train to work in New York City. His negative experiences in a liberal, mainline Methodist Church as a new Christian gave him a passion for evangelical and orthodox truth and led him to become a devoted Southern Baptist. He was a voracious reader and self-studied, lay theologian.

Though we are, of course, extremely sad to hear of Ed’s death, there are certainly many things about the circumstances for which we can be thankful. First, Ed died rather suddenly of cardiac arrest. There was no lingering suffering or long stay in a hospital or nursing home. Second, Ed and Evelyn had only recently moved into a retirement home in Decatur, Illinois, to be close to one of their daughters. It now seems apparent that God was working in those circumstances. Third, we all had our chance to speak with Ed and wish him farewell during the reception in his and Evelyn’s honor just before they moved. Many of us had the opportunity to say things to Ed about his influence in our lives in the Fellowship Hall that day. Like a contemporary Tom Sawyer, he got to hear the things we might have said at a funeral or memorial service.

A funeral service will be held at the First Christian Church of Decatur, Illinois (the home church of their daughter Beverly) at eleven o’clock on Friday.

Having kept the faith, our friend Ed has now finished his course and received the crown of life. Soli Deo Gloria!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Disturbing article on boy who wanted to blow up local school

Today's Charlottesville paper has a disturbing article about one of the local school kids who was arrested after planning a Columbine-style attack on his school. Much of the article focuses on info the child shared on his myspace account.
He chose as his screen name "Loki420diefor" and the article notes:
In the chats, the former Western Albemarle student used the screen name, “Loki420diefor,” calling to mind the character in Norse mythology known for mischief, and his birthday (April 20), which is also the day of the shootings at Columbine High School. (The number 420 is also commonly associated with marijuana use.)
Among other things, the article notes his myspace info "reveals his anger, his disdain for 'trendy Christians,' his enjoyment of Goth music and marijuana and his interest in suicide."
Again, the article should send chills down our spine when we think about this boy's deep disdain for his fellow man (and his antipathy toward believers in particular). It should also give us deep pause before sending our children off into classrooms with other children who have this kind of nihilistic worldview.


Monday, September 18, 2006

10% of SBC Pastors are 5-Point Calvinists?

According to the first report from Brad Waggoner, the new leader of SBC's Lifeway Research, 10% of SBC Pastors are 5-point Calvinists. See the BP article. The study was based on a sample of just 413 pastors (I can just hear someone now saying they made calls from the Founders' phone contact list). From my anecdotal experience that does seem a bit high. But who knows? In another surprising find, the study also says that Calvinistic SBC pastors are not just young but come from all ages.


The Baptism of Pocahontas

A few years ago my family took a trip down to Jamestown and I noticed a print of the "Baptism of Pocahontas" by John Gadsby Chapman (1808-1889). Chapman's work was commissioned in 1837 and in 1840 it was placed in the United States Capitol Rotunda. It depicts the baptism of the Indian princess by the Anglican minister Alexander Whiteaker in Jamestown sometime around 1613-14. Note the disapproving posture of her brother, Nantequaus. See also the Capitol website article on the picture. Take note of other pieces of politically incorrect Capitol artwork like Robert W. Weir's "The Embarkation of the Pilgrims."
I was struck by the work for several reasons. First, it is a reminder that one of the goals of the colonization of America in the 17th-18th centuries was the evangelization of the new world. See Iain Murray's "The Puritan Hope" and his discussion of the work of John Elliot (1604-1690) among the Algonquin tribe of Massachusetts (pp. 93-95). Second, it speaks to the early 19th century American view of the relationship between church and state. Can you imagine such a scene being commissioned for inclusion in any federal building in 2006? A framed copy of the print now hangs in my office.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Folly of Sports Ministries

I ran across this radio program message the other day on It raises some great questions about the idolatry of sport in our culture and how evangelicals sometime naively play into this. It's worth a listen.


Monday, September 11, 2006

Baptist and Calvinism Debate Coming on October 16

The "big" debate on "Baptists and Calvinism" is coming up on October 16, 2006 from 6-9 pm at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg. A van will leave the parking lot at JPBC around 4 pm. We'll grab a fast food supper on the way up, hopefully get there early enough to get good seats, and be home c. 11 pm. I'll post my observations soonafter.

9/11 and Postmodernism

One of the providential benefits of 9/11 has been the impact it has had in challenging the prevailing "post-modern" mindset. After 9/11 more Americans were able to understand that good and evil are patent realities. More Americans have also been led to question the myth that all "religions" are the same. Listen to this quote:

Some things are true and some things are false: I regard that as an axiom; but there are many persons who evidently do not believe it. The current principle of the present age seems to be, "Some things are either true or false, according to the point of view from which you look at them. Black is white, and white is black according to the circumstances; and it does not particularly matter which you call it. Truth of course is true, but it would be rude to say that the opposite is a lie; we must not be bigoted, but remember the motto, 'So many men, so many minds.'" Our forefathers were particular about maintaining landmarks; they had strong notions about fixed points of revealed doctrine, and were very tenacious of what they believed to be scriptural; their fields were protected by hedges and ditches, but their sons have grubbed up the hedges, filled up the ditches, laid all level, and played at leap frog with the boundary stones.

These words are from Charles H. Spurgeon (Lectures to My Students, p. 220), as he critiqued the spiritual life of Victorian era England! The postmodern blurring of the line between right and wrong, truth and falsehood, Biblical and unbiblical is nothing new, and perhaps 9/11 has been a divine corrective to the most recent version of "postmodernism."


Thursday, September 07, 2006

TV-Free in September

The Riddle family is taking the month of September as a tv-free month. That is, we decided not to watch any tv this month. This was mainly Llewellyn's idea, largely since she thought the kids were too drawn to watching afternoon shows on PBS rather than doing active things like playing outside.
When we moved out to North Garden in Spring 2005 we could not use our rabbit ears to get local tv reception as we had when we lived in C-ville. Llew ended up calling the satellite company. After much inquiry and much resistance to salesmanship offering a gazillion channels at huge costs, my wise wife was able to get the satellite folk to agree to give us only the four local channels plus PBS for which we pay c. $11.00 per month.
But this month the tv is off. Though it's still early in the month, I have found more time to talk/play with my kids before their bedtime and more time to read and to talk to my wife after the kids go to bed. We'll see what happens in October.

Movie Church: Judgement Lite

A JPBC member brought me a flyer he got in the mail at his apartment about a new church site starting up in a local movie theater. The flyer promises "A Great Church at a Fun Place!" It tells prospective attendees they can expect:
  • Relaxed, casual atmosphere with FREE refreshments and pastries
  • A LIVE BAND playing awesome music
  • Safe, fun environment for kids
  • Real answers for life
  • People genuinely caring for and about each other
  • FREE ADMISSION (no ticket required)

The flyer also directs the recipient to the church website, which offers this description of the new church:

A priority at _____ (new church site) is journey, not judgment. Judgment brings division and it creates discomfort. We want to be on a journey together. A journey allows us to know Christ and to know His hope collectively, rather than on our own. There is no need to go through life alone!

This venture is actually not a new church start but a part of a "multi-site" strategy being launched by this established church. I will be presenting a paper at the Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting November 15-17 in Washington, DC, tentatively titled, "A Biblical-Theological Critique of the Multi-Site Church Movement." I’ll try to post the paper when it's done.

Though I might appreciate the zeal of this church for evangelism and outreach, there are questions about wisdom (Romans 10:2). On churches meeting in movie theaters, see my previous post (March 20, 2006) "Our Lady of the Movie Theater."

Most disturbing is the website note's downplaying of judgement, since "Judgement brings division and it creates discomfort."

Didn’t Jesus say that anyone who comes after him must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23)? Didn’t Jesus say that he did not come to bring peace but a sword (Matt 10:34)? Maybe I found this particularly jarring, because we just finished a series through the parables in Matthew and each parable of our Lord has a striking word about judgement. A sampling:

The parable of the wheat and the tares:

Matthew 13:40 Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. 41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The parable of the dragnet:

Matthew 13:49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, 50 and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The sheep and the goats:

Matthew 25:31 When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.

It is judgement, judgement, judgement! Jesus knew that we have to understand the wrath of God before we can appreciate the grace of God. Certainly, unregenerate men do not want to hear of the wrath of God for their sin and the coming judgement. Thus, they often are offended by gospel ministry that is so "judgemental." Still, it is certain that "we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ" (2 Cor 5:10). For sure, all those parables also announce the future blessings in the kingdom for those who are saved from their sin. But can we clearly preach the gospel without announcing the wrath of God for sin and the only escape through the righteous life of Christ? Can we preach the resurrection without the cross?

"Ah," some say, "but we must catch the fish before we can clean them." But at what point are these seekers told that they must begin denying themselves? That the Christian life is not about "fun" but about holiness (and this brings the greatest joy)? That worship is not entertainment to meet our needs but service to meet God’s demands for glory?


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

In obedience...

This past Lord's Day (September 3, 2006) JPBC observed the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper.
Here is a picture of the church at worship.
Thanks to one of our youth, Elijah Widder-Varhegyi, for the photo.

Bible Notes: Paul as a prophet like Daniel

Continuing to flow parallels between OT prophetic figures and the presentation of Paul in Acts.
Compare Daniel’s vision in Daniel 10 with Luke’s account of Paul’s conversion/call on the Damascus Road:

Daniel 10:7 And I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, for the men who were with me did not see the vision; but a great terror fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves.

Acts 9:7 And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one.

Acts 22:9 And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me.

In both Daniel and Acts, the prophetic figure sees a vision that those accompanying him do not fully comprehend.

Question: Is Daniel really a prophet? Though not a prophet in the classical tradition (like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, etc.) the question is whether or not Daniel would have been perceived as a prophetic figure in the first century by someone like Luke. For Daniel’s inclusion among the esteemed spiritual heroes of Israel, alongside Noah and Job, in the exilic period see Ezekiel 14:14, 20; and 28:3.

Note: Those who seek "errors" in the Bible often see Acts 9:7 and 22:9 as being in contradiction, pointing out that 9:7 says Paul’s companions heard a voice but saw nothing, while 22:9 says they did not heard the voice that spoke to him. Is this is a contradiction? I do not think it is above resolution. In 9:7 the focus is on the fear of Paul’s companions to the point of losing their speech. Luke notes that they heard a voice but saw nothing. In 22:9, however, Paul says that his companions did not hear anything. The point of contention here may be two distinct uses of the verb "to hear" (akouo) in the two verses. The word "hear" can mean reception of sound or it can mean comprehension of intelligible speech. For example, I might hear someone speaking in a foreign language in the sense that my ears are receiving the audible sounds waves. This does not mean, however, that I hear in terms of comprehending and understanding what is being said. This distinction might easily be made in Acts 9:7 and 22:9 as well.

In addition, it is clear that Luke saw no contradiction in the two verses. Surely he would not have allowed such a glaring error to have remained in his text, if, in fact, there is such an error present.

Of course, the clear explanation for why Luke has Paul telling it this way (in 22:9) is, in fact, that this is exactly the way it happened and Luke faithfully has recorded the event. I believe that is true, but Luke also had to be judicious in what he chose by inspiration to write in Acts. He does not include all details, but he was inspired to include those most useful in achieving his overall literary purpose. Thus, it is not unimportant that Luke is led to portray Paul in the ways he does. Here is a thematic parallel, at least, to an event in the life of Daniel, that great OT figure, that Luke may have intended the LXX-saturated reader to understand.

Further question: Was it typical in Luke’s day to describe prophetic figures in circumstances where they are present with companions who are not able to perceive a spiritual experience as it takes place (a la both Daniel and Paul)? In this case Luke would not be modeling Paul on Daniel but on this typical prophetic experience in general.