Conversion and Discipleship Ch 1

81jMhwVCE8L    Bill Hull adds another book on discipleship to a long list of books that he has already done.  Bill isn’t just a writer…he is a practitioner and that makes his writing all the more valuable.

This book is an answer to the challenge posed by Dallas Willard to provide a true theology of discipleship.   One that can answer key questions concerning what the Gospel, the call, and salvation really are about.

Each chapter deals with a significant aspect of discipleship (chapters 4 and 5 combined deal with the Holy Spirit and how people change.)  Chapter 1 deals with the Gospel.

“If we get the gospel wrong, we get everything wrong.”  And Bill makes a convincing case that many of us, have indeed, gotten the gospel wrong…whether on the right or the left.  In my own church, the Gospel of Forgiveness has been preached for a long time.  It is a Gospel that many are familiar with and why shouldn’t we be…it was introduced (at least in part) through people like Billy Graham and through tools like “The 4 Spiritual Laws.”  Unfortunately, the problem with the Gospel of Forgiveness is that it left out things like repentance and following Christ…things essential to the Gospel that Jesus preached.

Bill makes some good points when he says, “This shift from gospel culture to salvation culture has weakened the church, diminished the lives of Christians, and made disciple-making difficult.  What we should see as the starting line, our conversion to Christ, has become the finish line.”

This Gospel of Forgiveness has become so inseparable in the minds of many that if an altar call isn’t given it is assumed that the true  gospel isn’t preached.   I appreciated Bill’s quote by George Whitefield (a famous evangelist in England in the 18th century) when asked concerning how many conversions occurred in a meeting he reportedly answered, “I don’t know, we should know more in six months.”

“Discipleship” is a “hot-topic”, check the books being published, the seminars being sold, the mission statements being written.  It is my hope, however, that it is more than a fad, because it certainly wasn’t a fad as far as Jesus was concerned.  I am deeply concerned when both people in the pews and in the pulpits separate what God has put together.   Hopefully, this book will be a step in the right direction in getting people to see that conversion and discipleship are a package deal.

*I received an electronic copy of the book from Zondervan in exchange for my honest opinion.  I didn’t receive any other remuneration.

A review of Campbell’s “Advances in the Study of Greek”

In many ways I feel like the ideal candidate for this book, I studied Greek in college and seminary, but most of my classes were a long time ago and very little touched on what Campbell describes as “modern.”  In addition, unlike many Greek students, I also studied linguistics (both Functional and Generative) as well as discourse grammar, so I have a better background than most for judging Campbell’s conclusions in various areas.  In short, his book is an incredibly helpful primer to get a basic understanding of where things stand currently in the Biblical Greek world.  It will not go as deep as some would like it too, but it will definitely give you the lay of the land and point you in the right direction for further study.

The book is divided into ten chapters and it seems helpful to follow that division since each chapter, while interdependent, does stand on its own.

The first chapter is a survey of Greek studies from the 19th century to the present.  He calls it a “short history” and you should take him at his word.  Most people and developments receive a paragraph or two…if you are lucky you might get a page, but don’t expect more than that.  I would have liked at little more information on A.T. Robertson.  More information on Porter and Fanning would also have been nice, but a whole chapter is devoted to aspect theory so I can’t complain there.

In the second chapter Campbell spends more time than I would have expected on linguistic theories.  Back when I first studied Greek and Linguistics there was very little crossover pollination between the two disciplines.  Evidently a lot has changed in the last twenty years and I am greatly encouraged by the amount of time Campbell takes to explain Functional Grammar and show how it has practical implications for exegetical work especially the concepts of markedness and choice.  

The third chapter deals with changes that have impacted our understandings of the words themselves.  Here as elsewhere, Campbell gives a helpful but brief background of the theoretical aspects.  So when it comes to lexical semantics one gets a nice brief survey of the field before discussing more concrete issues like BDAG and Louw and Nida’s semantic domain-based lexicon.

It is here in the fourth chapter (Deponency and the Middle Voice) that I was first made aware of a discussion that I wasn’t even aware had taken place.  I had used Louw and Nida’s lexicon in Bible translation in North Africa and while pursuing further studies at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary I was made aware of Porter and Fanning’s work, but I had never even heard of this controversy.  And that is one of the reasons why this book really is helpful for bringing people like me up to speed on the conversations that are taking place in the Biblical Greek world.

The fifth chapter was the one that I was most interested in before reading the book.  As Campbell notes, “Verbal aspect has been the most controversial issue within Greek studies in the last twenty-five years.”   For those like me who know a little about the controversy or perhaps even for those who know next to nothing about it…this chapter serves as an excellent introduction to the history of the controversy and a summary of the key issues and the people who are at the center of this discussion.  Controversies about Greek can seem arcane at times, but this issue has significant practical implications concerning how the NT should be read at times and knowledge about this issue will enable one to read NT commentaries more critically especially those that don’t reference this issue at all.  Most importantly, just like at the lexical level, the interpreter needs to be much more aware of the context than simply arguing that a specific contextless form means something.  And like the other chapters, Campbell provides more than enough material for those who want to go further.

Chapter 6 deals with Idiolect (author style), Genre and Register.  Although I would think these issues would be significant throughout the whole NT canon (for instance compare register differences between Galatians, I Corinthians and Romans), Campbell argues that these have been most fruitfully used in studying the Gospels.  Noticing the differences in the use of the perfect indicative among the various Gospel writers should cause one to pause before drawing too many conclusions from the mere use of the form itself.  Particularly in John, stylistic concerns may be trumping grammatical ones thus the macro context of the author needs to play a part in the the discussion as well as the micro context.

Chapter 7 deals with Discourse Analysis according to Halliday.  Upon first receiving this book and looking through its table of contents I was very pleased to see that Greek studies had begun to take Discourse Grammar seriously.  This is in significant contrast to the Greek grammar that I had been taught that rarely acknowledged anything above the level of a sentence.  For Halliday, cohesion–how a text sticks together, is critical.  Halliday mentions various means such as conjunctions (probably the most obvious one), reference (pay attention to the pronouns used), ellipsis, and lexical cohesion.  While Halliday’s approach has much to offer, the fact that it was initially developed for English does limit it at times.

Chapter 8 continues looking at Discourse Analysis through the eyes of Levinsohn and Runge (a disciple of Levinsohn).  Levinsohn’s approach is both Functional and eclectic (he’ll take useful concepts from anywhere).  The fact his approach is Functional means that every linguistic choice has meaning (but, note that sometimes that choice has to do with idiolect, register and genre).  Discourse grammar is especially important in narrative genres for the purpose of background and highlighting information or characters.  This is impossible to deal grammatically at the sentence level and shows the importance and the added value that discourse grammar can bring to NT studies.

As a user of Logos, I was especially pleased to see Campbell take a look at Runge’s contributions to NT studies.  Both his textbook Discourse Grammar and his Discourse Greek NT (which shows how he applies his principles to the complete NT text).  

Chapter 9 deals with Pronunciation…your mileage will vary depending on your interest in this area.  To be honest, I am of those who see the pronunciation of a “dead” language as basically irrelevant.

Chapter 10 deals with the preeminently practical topic of teaching and learning Greek.  One of the new ways of teaching Greek is to do it through immersion. To be honest, I am not completely convinced that immersion is helpful for learning Greek.  In my experience (I learned French through an immersion program of several months in Quebec), immersion is great when it comes to oral language…but it only takes you so far and then there is still the need for disciplined study of the grammar of a language.

In conclusion, this is a very helpful book for those like me that have studied Greek, but aren’t aware of all the latest developments.  I could also see it being used in a second year Greek course as an introduction to movements that are taking place right now.  Either way it is an excellent introduction and for those who desire, it gives you a map and the compass setting to go further in whatever area you would like to go.

Thanks to Zondervan and Net Galley for providing me a free electronic copy of this text for the purposes of this review.

What is going on in the Church in America?

The National Congregations Study has surveyed churches in 1998, 2006-2007, and 2012…3815 congregations in all.  Obviously, surveys don’t tell us everything we would like to know about the church, but church leaders would do well to pay attention to the trends that the NCS reveals.

Some of what the NCS considers most significant observations are:

  • Most congregations are small but most people are in large congregations
  • The average congregation is getting smaller, but the average churchgoer attends a large congregation.
  • Worship services have become more informal and expressive
  • 10% of churchgoers worship in multi-site congregations

Size and Concentration

Congregations are getting older.  Children in Evangelical churches made up 33% of the church in 1998, but declined to 28% by 2012.  This trend reflects underlying demographic changes in American society:  smaller families as a result of delaying marriage until later in life, and more people who do not have children.  That is a trend likely to continue to influence American congregations, and is one to watch in the long term.

Most congregations in the United States are small, but most people are in large congregations. In 2012, the average congregation had only 70 regular participants, counting both adults and children, and an annual budget of $85,000. At the same time, the average attendee worshipped in a congregation with about 400 regular participants and a budget of $450,000.  The largest seven percent of congregations contain about half of all churchgoers.  This trend towards more and more people moving to larger congregations isn’t new, it began back in the 70’s, but it does appear to be intensifying.


Looking at changes from 1998 to 2012:
• Fewer congregations incorporate choir singing into worship, falling from 54% to 45%.
• The number of congregations that use a printed bulletin dropped from 72% to 62%.
• Far more use visual projection equipment in worship, increasing dramatically from
only 12% to 35%.
• The number of congregations in which people raise their hands in praise jumped from 45% to 59%.
• More congregations have applause breaking out, rising from 55% to 65%.
• The number of congregations that use drums increased from 20% to 34%.
• Fewer congregations use organs, falling from 53% to 42%.

Length of Time Spent in Worship. The median worship service is 75 minutes long, but
there is a lot of variation around this average. About one in four worship services are two hours or longer, while slightly more than one third (35%) keep regular worship times to an hour or less. Black Protestant and white evangelical services average about 90 minutes, compared to the 60-minute average service in Catholic and white mainline churches.  Much of this 30-minute difference is taken up by longer sermons, which average 35 minutes in white evangelical and black Protestant churches and only 15 minutes in Catholic and white mainline Protestant churches. Congregation size does not seem to be related to service length, and there is no noticeable trend over time.

Civic Engagement

Congregations mainly focus on collective worship, religious education, and pastoral care of their members. At the same time, however, almost all also serve the needy in some fashion, and about one third are politically active, engaging in efforts to promote or prevent social and cultural change.

Serving the needy in some capacity is by far the most common way in which congregations are civically engaged beyond their walls. In 2012, the vast majority of congregations (87%) reported some involvement in social or human services, community development, or other projects and activities intended to help people outside the congregation, including sending small groups of their members to assist people in need either within the U.S. or internationally. Since larger congregations do more social service work, this means that virtually all Americans who attend religious services (94%) attend a congregation that is somehow active in this way.

Congregations engage in a great variety of social service activities, but some types of
activities are much more common than others. The single most common kind of helping activity involves food assistance. More than half (52%) of all congregations—almost two-thirds (63%) of congregations active in social service—mention feeding the hungry among their four most important social service programs. Addressing health needs (21%), building or repairing homes (18%), and providing clothing or blankets to people (17%) also were among the more commonly mentioned activities, though they were much less common than food assistance.


There is a lot more in the study than I have chosen to highlight.  If you are interested (and if you are a church leader I hope you are interested) please go to for the full report.

The Power of Christmas and Music

Once upon a time, there were two brothers.  Both passionate in wanting to serve God, but with different gifts.  One preached and wrote sermons.  The other wrote songs.  The one’s sermons are still studied in seminaries to this day, but the other’s songs are still sung in churches to this day.  They were John and Charles Wesley…and while both of them did make an incredible impact on their world…Charles, in some ways, has had the greatest impact as his songs are song in a wide variety of churches, by all types of people (not just seminary trained).

Music is a powerful thing…which is why the one book that comes closest to being a hymnal in the Bible is also its largest book.  The book of Psalms contains songs for every possible emotion one might feel towards God…both the good and the bad.

This Christmas, take some time to enjoy true Christmas songs.  In the midst of the bustle of buying presents, trimming the tree, baking Christmas cookies and who knows what else…please take the time to pause and think about the reason for the season.

Hopefully, this music collection that I have selected will help you do just that.  Enjoy

If you want different results…

“The American church needs more Dick Fosburys. We need leaders who stay within biblical standards and respect the traditions of the church, but are willing to jump over the bar backwards. Too many churches are stagnant, too many church plant fails and too many people are unreached with the Gospel to continue to do the same thing over and over and hope for different results. The current models of American churches produce extraordinary results only when led by extraordinary leaders backed by extraordinary piles of cash. We don’t need to abandon these current models, but we have to find new models to reach new segments of society and see new patterns of success. So how do we find the “Fosbury Flop” in the American church?”

One of the blessings that we have found living in the Downriver Area is being close to Greenfield Village.  If you have never been there, imagine a small town dedicated to showcasing American entrepreneurs like Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers.  But more than just a showcase, being able to walk through their homes and laboratories (or at least really good reproductions) and seeing what they had to work with and also seeing what they accomplished.

In almost every case, entrepreneurs take things that have always been there, but they use them in ways that they were never used before.  I like taking my kids there (the annual membership is a Christmas present from my brother) and giving them a taste of history and at the same time hoping that beyond a taste of history they are also getting a taste for the power of innovation and problem solving.

One of the problems that I see in the American Church (and one that desperately needs some innovation) is our approach to making disciples.  To be blunt, we don’t seem to be all that good at it.  Part of the problem seems to be we aren’t all that sure about what we want to make.  The other part of the problem seems to be that we aren’t all that sure about the process.  So between uncertainty about the product and uncertainty about the process…it’s no wonder that we have some problems  in this area.

The thing is…people don’t seem to be too worried about this problem as long as the songs are ones they like, the temperature is comfortable, the seats are mostly full (especially with people that they like), and the sermon is short.  But of course, that would be like Henry Ford saying that he was fine with a Model T that was shiny, quiet and cheap, but that didn’t run.  No one wants a car that doesn’t run…so why are we ok with churches that don’t make disciples?  Maybe, somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten why churches exist in the first place.

Glory Days


I love books.  I love buying books.  I love getting books for free even better.  So imagine my surprise (and joy) when Thomas Nelson dropped off an advance reader’s copy of Max Lucado’s “Glory Days.”

If you have ever read one of Max Lucado’s books you will know they are filled with stories, personal thoughts and some insightful applications of Scripture.

“Glory Days” will not disappoint in that department.  Max Lucado takes the story of Joshua and makes it our story.  The fights that Joshua must fight become ours as well.  On the positive side, so do the promises that Joshua had.  The key one being that God will be with us.    Which, incidentally, was one of the last things that Jesus said to his disciples in the book of Matthew.  And considering one of Jesus’ names is Emmanuel…I guess the whole, “God with us” theme is kind of an important one.

Lucado encourages the reader throughout the book to get past the wilderness and enter the “Promised Land.”  Which, unlike some Southern Gospel songs, is not code for heaven…rather it is code for living a victorious life…a life where victories outnumber defeats, where there is more joy than sadness and more hope than despair.

As an example here are a few quotes that stood out to me:

“Perhaps you are facing a challenge unlike any you have ever faced before.  It looms out on the horizon like an angry Jericho.  Imposing Strong.  It consumes your thoughts and saps your strength.  It wakes you up and keeps you awake.  It is ancient, thick walled, and impenetrable.  It is the biggest challenge of your life.”

“Are you facing a Jericho-level challenge?  Do you face walls that are too high to breach and too thick to crack?  Do you face a diagnosis, difficulty, or defeat that keeps you from entering your Promised Land?”

“Your Jericho is your fear.  Your Jericho is your anger, bitterness, or prejudice.  Your insecurity about the future.  Your guilt about the past.  Your negativity, anxiety, and proclivity to criticize, over analyze or compartmentalize.  Your Jericho is any attitude or mind-set that keeps you from joy, peace, or rest.”

To live in the Promise Land, you must face Jericho.”

   In the end, the book is a challenge to live victoriously, to pray “audacious” prayers, and to rest in the knowledge that God will do the best thing for us.  It is an “easy” read, but a challenging one at the same time.  I enjoyed it and hope that you will have a chance to do so too.

One little correction point that I am sure will be taken care of in the final edition…the Greek Font is very badly done on page 175.

God’s Wisdom on Finances

Are you a renter or an owner?  Or is there a third option?  A lot of financial advice looks more like secular wisdom with a coat of Christian paint than a true rethinking of things from a Christian Worldview.  “Spend less than you earn.”  “Avoid debt”  “Invest”  Hard to argue with any of that, but at the same not exactly distinctively Christian either.

Now from a secular viewpoint…which is better a renter or an owner?  It is pretty clear that being an owner is generally better in the long term.  Besides that, it is common to talk about a “renter’s mindset” and that is never a positive thing.

Now, not all renters have a “renter’s mindset”… but in general:

  • Renters aren’t tied to a place
  • They don’t have any ownership and thus no “skin” in the game
  • They will stay as long as it suits them, but they won’t invest in improving any situation since that is the responsibility of the owner…not them.

If we take the “renter mindset” and apply it to the church or family life or work…you can see that we don’t want to be “renters” in any of those areas.

But at the same time…an “owner’s mindset” might not be the best either.  Do we really want to be owners in our church?  Is that really a good thing?  One indication that shows we might think we are owners is how many times the first person pronoun shows up when talking about the church (ie.  My church, my plans, my room etc.) 

And as I think about it more, I am not really sure that being an owner of my marriage is really the highest level that I can reach.  Because although being an owner implies some positives things in comparison with a renter…it can also imply some negative ones.  An owner can feel like they can do anything with what they own…good or bad.

But there is a third option that is uniquely Judeo-Christian…because it is a perspective that comes from Genesis.  Genesis 1 tells us, that we were made for an incredibly special role…a role not of just a renter…and not an owner either, but of a steward.  And not just a steward…but  a steward of the God of the Universe.

Think of it this way…the importance of a person’s role is in direct relationship to the one they serve.  A principle’s secretary has one level of importance…a secretary to the president of a college has another.  And the secretary to the president of the United States has another.  We…humanity, men and women…were made to be stewards of the Earth and all that it contains.

There is no higher role for us than that.  Take a look at Genesis 1:26-28 when you have chance and note that we were made to image God…to be His physical representatives on this Earth…in effect to be His Vice-Regents and thus ruling over the whole world according to His desires and plans.

That kind of changes the whole financial question from the get go doesn’t it?  The question isn’t so much, “What do we want to do with our money?”  The question is rather, “What does God want me to do with what I have been given?”

Signposts of Faith for When the Doubts Come

Do you have faith?  Do you ever have doubts?  How do you combine the two?  How does that work?  Does faith depend on evidence or does it go beyond the evidence?

Tough questions…especially when going through times where the evidence for faith is on thin side.  I think the Bible does offer some insight into these questions and one of the ways that it deals with this is by pointing to “Signposts” in the past…places where God showed up in clear way and made a difference that only He can.

John writes his Gospel with the need for evidence (or “signposts” if you will) assumed as part of what is needed in order to believe.  In fact, he comes up with seven lines of evidence

  1. Changing water into wine in John 2:1-11

  1. Healing the royal official’s son in Capernaum in John 4:46-54

  2. Healing the paralytic at Bethesda in John 5:1-18

  3. Feeding the 5000 in John 6:5-14

  4. Jesus’ walk on water in John 6:16-24

  5. Healing the man born blind in John 9:1-7

  6. Raising of Lazarus in John 11:1-45

This idea that “signposts” are sometimes needed to get you through the tough times is by no means a foreign idea to the Bible…one of the most common commands in the Old Testament is “Remember…”  Probably because we seem to be wired to forget the past in the midst of the turmoil of the present or the fear of the future.

But it is in the present where we most need to remember…regardless of the circumstances of the moment…that God has acted in the past and He will continue to do so.  In John 11, Mary and Martha firmly trust in Jesus and know in their hearts that He can make a difference if he comes in time.  What they don’t believe, is that Jesus could make a difference even if he comes too late (by their reckoning).  Their thinking is parallel in our lives…we believe that God can make a difference in our own lives….if we get that job that we want….that house over there….that promotion…or perhaps miraculously healed from our illness, but like Mary and Martha…we have a hard time seeing that God might have something better planned and it is those moments where God isn’t doing what we want that we need to remember His faithfulness in the past and trust Him in the present.

We also need to be encouraged by how Jesus treats those he encounters with doubts.  He doesn’t lecture Martha or Mary and when his own cousin sends messengers about his doubts (Matthew 11) Jesus responds with love and more signposts.

In the next post we’ll ask the question, “What’s it like when we think things are going great or horrible and God thinks the exact opposite?”  Sometimes we think a signpost is pointing one way, but really it is going another and it is only when we see what God is really doing that we realize that.


The Seven Deadly Sins

We have been going through the “Deadly Sins” at NFC.  They are deadly…not because they are the worst sins that could be committed.  They most certainly aren’t…although murder and adultery would be hard to commit without first committing anger and lust.  But they are deadly because they are rooted to some of our most basic and legitimate needs.  

  • Envy:  Feeling bitter when others have it better

  • Vainglory:  Image is everything

  • Sloth:  Resistance to the demands of love

  • Greed:  I want it all

  • Anger:  Holy emotion or hellish passion?

  • Gluttony:  Feeding your face and starving your heart

  • Lust:  Smoke, Fire, and Ashes


It would be hard not to find two or three of those in ourselves…and if we are more honest and understood ourselves better and these sins better…I would hazard a hunch that we all would find traces of each of these in us.  Not that we are necessarily defined by them…but that we commit them from time to time.

Not that it is fun, but there is value in holding up a mirror to your soul and asking yourself just how much are you defined by one of these.  For instance:

  • Envy

    • Do you feel offended at the talents, successes or good fortune of others.

    • Do you engage in backbiting or slander?

  • Vainglory:  Image is everything

    • Are you seeking to be admired for the wrong things?

    • Are you seeking to be admired in the wrong way or excessively?

  • Sloth:  Resistance to the demands of love

    • Do you resist the effort of doing day after day whatever it takes to keep the bonds of love strong?  Whether or not you feel like it?

  • Greed:  I want it all

    • Are you tempted to think that more of something will give you the satisfaction you crave?

    • Do you constantly upgrade?

  • Anger:  Holy emotion or hellish passion?

    • How often do you get angry?

    • Are you angry about the right things in the right way?

    • Do you deal with your anger before the day ends or do you let it smolder?

  • Gluttony:  Feeding your face and starving your heart

    • How dominated are you by the desire for the pleasure that food or drink brings you?

    • Are you the master or slave to a particular food or drink?

    • Are you trying to feed a spiritual, social, or emotional hunger with physical food?

  • Lust:  Smoke, Fire, and Ashes
    • Are you looking with the purpose of lusting?


And in all of these…the deeper question always concerns who you are, not what you did do or can do.  But, what would you do if you could?

For a great resource on this topic check out:

Arthur C. Clark, Science Fiction, Aliens, and Logos

I remember reading Arthur C. Clark back in my high school days, “Rendezvous with Rama.” and “Childhood’s End” and of course where most people first heard about him, “2001:  A Space Odyssey.”

This afternoon, I was browsing my news feed in Google Currents and saw an old interview with Arthur C. Clark.  Some of the interview was interesting, just from a personal perspective…getting to know a little bit more about how someone I have read thinks.  But it was the end of the interview that caught my attention.  Here is what he said:

Contact with extraterrestrials would be the turning point in history, to discover that we’re no longer alone.  I can’t imagine anything more important.

I agree.  The difference between he and I (at least at the time of the interview) is that I believe we have already been contacted by an extraterrestrial intelligence and like him, I believe that he really has made a difference.

One of the dangers that Clark mentioned about meeting up with aliens, is that they would be so far ahead of us that we would become couch potatoes in response.  It would have been easy for God to have made us into couch potatoes…He could have handed us the Encyclopedia Britannica 3001 edition, back in 4000 BC.  He could have explained germ theory, nutrition, and how to kill cancer cells.  He also could have given us a systematic theology text.

Strangely, He didn’t take any of those options…perhaps precisely to avoid the danger that Clark foresaw.  Instead, we have a Bible…a book with at least 1500 years of editorial processing (not exactly an instant data dump)…and in truth, a work in which He is “only” co-author.

But, of course, beyond God’s word…we actually had God’s Word…the Logos…Jesus, himself, walked amongst us as one of us.  Because, of course, if he had come in all of his glory that would have been a bit too much intimidating.  And Jesus really didn’t want to do that…he wanted disciples…not couch potatoes.

Of course, that begs the question….does the church in America produce more disciples or couch potatoes. 

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