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What is a Grace-Centered Church?

“Our church is grace-centered.”  

“We need more gospel-centered preaching.”  

The terms “grace-centered” and “gospel-centered” are sometimes used to describe the emphasis of a church or ministry, but I suspect that not everybody knows what they mean. “Don’t all Christians believe in grace?” “Don’t all churches preach the Gospel?”  In this post, I want to briefly explain what these words mean and why they matter.  (Some people might draw a distinction between “grace-centered” and “gospel-centered” but in practice they are largely interchangeable)

Like most technical terms, the expressions “grace-centered” and “gospel-centered” have developed in reaction to something else.  All broadly evangelical or pentecostal churches (or even liberal churches) would say that they preach grace and love the Gospel.  And, of course, the words “grace” and “Gospel” show up in most discussions of Christianity.  But are they at the center?  Is “grace” the main thing which shapes the thinking, speech, and actions of your church?  Is “gospel” something that only needs to be preached for evangelistic events?  Is “gospel” simply a type of music?  Is “gospel” used loosely as a umbrella term for any nice, Christian thing you do to help your community?

While people use “grace” and “gospel” in different ways, those who use the terms “grace-centered” and “gospel-centered” generally define them somethings like this:  Grace is God’s unmerited favor towards sinners.  The Gospel is God’s promise of salvation to all who repent  from their sin and trust in Christ alone.  Those definitions could be expanded on with more theological precision and nuance but the important thing I want to bring out in this post is what it means to have the Gospel of grace at the center of the life of a church.  Here are three reasons why “grace-centered” churches believe it is necessary to put grace at the center of the life of the church (aside from the fact, of course, that the Gospel of grace is the center of the teaching of Scripture).

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Book Notes ~ January 2016

I am starting a new monthly feature of my blog, called “Book Notes”.  Each month I will write some brief notes on the books that I have read during the previous month.  My goal is to share with others what I have been reading and thinking about in hopes that perhaps someone else will discover a new book that will be interesting and helpful to them as well.   

Last year I spent too much time on Facebook, scrolling the newsfeed, reading interesting yet non-essential articles, and engaging in discussion and debate with other Facebookers (only some of whom are actual friends).  I don’t think that that was the best use of my time. For 2016, I have decided to drastically scale back on my Facebook usage.  I figured out that if I eliminate (as much as possible) my internet usage in the evening, I can spend an hour or more reading each night after the kids go to bed.  If I add in time spent reading on the Bangkok sky train and listening to audiobooks as I drive, I hope to dedicate a lot of time to reading this year.   

About a month ago, around New Year’s 2016, I read Tim Challies’s “100 Book Challenge” to read 100 books in 2016.  That seemed a bit too much for me but I have decided to try to read 50 books this year, or about 1 book per week.  Of course, there are no merit badges just for finishing books, but I think that reading whole books will give me much more information and food for thought than reading short blog articles that I happen to find online.  Hopefully, all this reading will help me be better equipped to teach my students at Bangkok Bible Seminary and to write Facebook and blog posts on missions, church, and theology.  It is sometimes tempting to abandon social media all together, but I can’t bring myself to pull the plug. I still see too many benefits.  However, I have decided to change my approach to social media.  I will spend less time online and more time reading books and creating meaningful content to post and share, rather than just reacting and responding to whatever shows up in my newsfeed.

So, without further ado, here are my book notes on what I have finished reading in January 2016. Hopefully you’ll find a book that you’d like to read.   

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2 Ways to Combat False Teaching

When you think about combating false teaching, what comes to mind?  A book about cults?  A discernment blogger exposing the latest heresy?  That guy who devotes all his free time to apologetics? In the mind of many, combating false teaching is mostly about saying somebody or something is wrong.  But that's not the whole picture.  In this post, I want to talk about 2 very different, but essential ways to address false teaching in the church today.  Both are needed, but they don't deserve equal time and priority in the teaching and preaching of churches.

1) The Negative Approach: "That's Wrong!"

The first way to combat false teaching is the one that most people are familiar with, but few people enjoy (though some people probably enjoy it too much).  It is the act of holding up a particular teaching or teacher and saying, "This is wrong" or "He is wrong" and then comparing that teacher and his teaching to Scripture to show where he (or she) has got it wrong.

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Is the Bible Alone Really Enough for Christian Life and Faith?

Today, if you walk into any evangelical or pentecostal church, you are unlikely to find a pastor or church leader who will deny the authority of the Bible.  The authority of the Bible has been a firmly held belief in Protestant churches since the 16th century, when Reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin reaffirmed the authority of the Bible over the teaching of the Pope and church traditions.  They believed in Sola Scriptura, a Latin phrase that means Scripture Alone.  The Bible alone is authoritative and sufficient for teaching and leading the Christian life.

Many people equate "Sola Scriptura" with the inerrancy and authority of the Bible.  However, another important part of Sola Scriptura is the sufficiency of Scripture.  Churches today may affirm the authority of the Bible, but if you look at the content of preaching in many places, the Bible is not front and center.  Anecdotal stories, pop psychology, managerial techniques, tips for living, the latest prophecy or word of knowledge, or whatever good idea the preacher came up with on Saturday night is the main attraction.  The Bible is only perfunctorily consulted and used to support main ideas that come from someplace else.  For many preachers, the Bible serves as merely a source of inspiration and a launching pad to get started in preaching, but does not set the direction and content of what is preached.  No one comes out and says it, but it is implicitly affirmed that just teaching the Bible isn’t really enough to help people grow in Christ and face the challenges of modern life. The unspoken message in many places is that the Bible may be sufficient for getting saved, but to really grow in the Christian life, what we need is….. [fill in latest trendy idea or technique here].

So is the Bible really sufficient?  Is it enough?  Or do we need to heavily supplement from elsewhere in order for God’s people to know God and know what he wants us to do?

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Operation Auca (January 8, 1956) – Sixty Years Later

guest post by Larry Dinkins

Map of the area where Operation Auca took place, in EcuadorThis week, 60 years ago, five missionaries made contact with the Auca (literally “savage”) tribal group in the Ecuadorian jungle. Previously, no one had ever engaged this tribe without being killed. The previous year, gifts had been exchanged paving the way for this encounter. On January 3rd, the five married men, Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Peter Fleming, Nate Saint (oldest at 32), and Ed McCully established a camp at “Palm Beach” along the Curaray River and waited. On January 6, two naked women and a man emerged from the jungle and made friendly contact, even agreeing to take a ride in the yellow Piper. By January 8, the anxious wives got word that all five of the missionaries had been slaughtered on that lonely beach. The coverage of the event by Life Magazine and its photo essay broadcast the news around the world culminating in what has become one of the most inspirational missionary stories of the 20th century. 

Two years later,  Rachel Saint (Nate’s sister) and Elisabeth Elliot with her 3-year-old daughter went to live among the Auca for a period of three years. Eventually most of the village, including six in the murder party, turned to Christ.  Elisabeth returned to the states as a writer and speaker, producing a total of 28 books over the next fifty years, including Through Gates of Splendor, Shadow of the Almighty and The Savage, My Kinsmen.

In 1969 Elisabeth married Addison Leitch, a professor of theology at Gordon Conwell Seminary. He died of cancer in 1973. After his death, she married yet again in 1977 to a hospital chaplain named Lars Glen, a former lodger at the rented room at her home. That marriage lasted until her death at 88 in June, 2015.

Jim and Elisabeth Elliot have stepped “Through Gates of Splendor” into their reward, yet their words and influence remain six decades later. Elisabeth is a particular inspiration to me, especially how she handled suffering at multiple points in her life, first through the high risks of ministry in Ecuador and the wrenching experience of seeing cancer take her second spouse within only four years. Her last decade was a constant battle with dementia, a condition that she endured with godly acceptance as she had previously done with the passing of her husbands.

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10 Ways to Promote Missionary Attrition

Overall missionary attrition may not be sky rocketing, but it sure seems like it.   Every time I turn around, there is someone else packing up and going home.

Some attrition is normal as people enter different stages of life, and family or ministry circumstances / callings change.

But some attrition is unfortunate and preventable.

Although it is sometimes the missionaries themselves who have issues, other times it is their mission agency and/or supporting church(es) who have failed them. And in the messiness of real life, sometimes it is a combination of both missionary and agency, of uncontrollable and controllable factors.

In the past, I have written some positive posts about language study, the importance of friends, pre-field training, etc. But in the current post, I want to approach missionary attrition a bit more negatively, in hopes that a bit of cynicism might help us consider how to prevent attrition. So, without any further ado, here are 10 ways that mission agencies, churches, and others (including missionaries themselves) can speed up unanticipated departures from the mission field.