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Looking for just the right gift for a preacher? Consider Warren Lathem and Dan Dunn’s 2008 book, Preaching for a Response: Leading New Believers into Spiritual Maturity, published by Bristol House. preaching-for-a-response2

The authors (Lathem has served as a pastor, district superintendent, and seminary president; Dunn has been a pastor, associate pastor, and missionary) know how to declare biblical truths in ways that elicit a clear response from listeners — a skill neither learned in seminary.

From the book:

These authors have a collective 17 years of formal theological education.

Yet never in those years did anyone attempt to instruct either of us in how to preach for a response, how to give the invitation for a response, or even why we ought to find a way to invite and encourage a response….

[But r]esponse is inherent in the gospel and the gospel preacher who does night invite response is not being completely faithful to the gospel.

Other excerpts:

How many sermons are preached, how many worship services are conducted in church all across America without any thought being given to a response by the hearer? How often do preachers and worship leaders prepare a great banquet, set it before the people, entice them to this gospel feast with beautiful words and music, yet never say, “Come and get it”?…

We may delude ourselves into thinking that just because the listener recognizes the need to respond, that he or she will know how to make a proper response to the gospel.

More likely, without direction, guidance and invitation from the preacher, most will simply make no overt, conscious, intentional response, and by failing to do so will in fact reject the message they just heard….

Why do most mainline preachers fail to issue an invitation or give an opportunity for response? There are several possible reasons….

  • We do not really believe people are lost…
  • We do not believe the power of the gospel…
  • We do not know how to invite a response…
  • We would not know what do if they did respond…
  • Our order of worship does not accommodate a response…
  • We are fearful of the opinion of others…
  • We do not take preaching seriously enough….

Preaching for a Response includes advice about “what to say” and “how to say it.” The chapter “Twelve Keys to Effective Preaching” emphasizes the basic building blocks of effective speaking — such as maintaining strong eye contact, using varied pacing, employing short sentences, and ending strong.

Warren_Lathem

Warren Lathem

Dan_Dunn

Dan Dunn

The book also includes detailed suggestions on how to plan worship services, week after week, aimed at eliciting responses that move people toward maturity in Christ.

You can order Preaching for a Response here (Amazon) or here (Bristol House).

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Steve Hawthorne, director of the prayer ministry Waymakers, offers interesting insights about the event we call Palm Sunday, which this year is celebrated on April 1.

He notes that in the days leading up to the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Jesus had “instigated a movement of hope throughout the towns and villages of the entire region” as He performed miracles and answered prayers.

triumphal-entry-jesusofnazarethBy the time He rode into Jerusalem to shouts of praise, “the whole city was stirred and [people] asked ‘Who is this?’” (Matt. 21:20).

For several days after the Triumphal Entry, Jesus taught at the temple, and “all the people hung on his words” (Luke 19:48).

By the end of the week, of course, the Lord’s adversaries had him arrested and crucified. But Scripture says the arrest occurred during the dark of the night, “because [Jesus' enemies] were afraid of the people” (Luke 22:2).

In his Lenten-season prayer guide, Seek God for the City, Hawthorne notes:

1) “Palm Sunday shines as prophetic picture of the spiritual awakening Christ desires to bring [in communities everywhere]”; and

2) “Whenever there has been revival, it has been a partial fulfillment of the promise of Palm Sunday.”

To help pastors, Sunday School teachers, and small-group leaders explain the significance of Palm Sunday, Waymakers has posted background information here, along with three sermon suggestions.

Use the audio player below to listen to a 12-minute excerpt of Steve Hawthorne teaching about Palm Sunday and Holy Week. He was recorded in 2008 at Christ Church in Austin, Texas, a congregation associated with the Anglican Church in North America. (Player won’t work? Click here.)


Steve Hawthorne holds a Masters degree from the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary. With Graham Kendrick, he is the co-author of Prayerwalking: Praying On-Site with Insight.

A Palm Sunday prayer: “Father, we pray for spiritual awakening and shouts of praise here, as Jesus enters our city with His presence and power. Stir people to ask, ‘Who is this?’ — that we might proclaim to them the One who is the way, the truth, and the life.”


Related resources
Background information about Palm Sunday, plus three Palm Sunday sermon suggestions | Waymakers
A Service of Prayer, Scripture and Song for Holy Week | United Methodist General Board of Discipleship

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The following commentary is by Timothy C. Tennent, president of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., one of the top training institutions for United Methodist clergy (Asbury also has a Florida campus).

Dr. Timothy C. Tennent

Below, Dr. Tennent offers a critique of Rob Bell’s controversial book, Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (HarperOne). Released last week, the book is already a New York Times bestseller.

Prior to being elected in 2009 to serve as Asbury’s eighth president, Dr. Tennent was a professor of World Missions and Indian Studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass.

He holds a B.A. from Oral Roberts University, an M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell, a Th.M. from Princeton, and a Ph.D. from at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Ordained in the United Methodist Church, Tim Tennent is served as a pastor in the UMC’s North Georgia Conference from 1982-1990.

This commentary previously appeared in serialized form on Dr. Tennent’s blog. Links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.

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Rob Bell is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church near Grand Rapids, Mich., a graduate of Wheaton College and Fuller Theological Seminary. His latest book, Love Wins, is an attempt to deconstruct widely held evangelical notions about heaven, hell and the lostness of humanity and replace it with a God whose cosmic love triumphs over human unbelief. It is Bell’s attempt to counter a very poor story with a better story.

The poor story is the story of a God who is an angry tyrant who sends people to hell for an eternity because of “sins committed in a few short years.”

Bell writes, “[T]elling a story about a God who inflicts unrelenting punishment on people because they didn’t do, or say, or believe the correct things in a brief window of time called life isn’t a very good story.”

In contrast, Bell wants to tell a better story which is “bigger and more expansive.” It is the story of the power of God’s love to triumph over a world of unbelief.

Rob Bell is to be commended for exposing the weak theology which apparently is present in many evangelical churches. But he caricatures evangelical beliefs to the limit of one’s imagination, playing on the worst kinds of stereotypes. According to Bell, evangelicals often proclaim a God who “is a slave driver” ready to “inflict pain and agony” on those who don’t pray “the sinner’s prayer in precisely the right way.”

Exclusivists are stereotyped as those who insist that “followers of Jesus confess him in the precise way defined by the group” or you will not be “going to heaven.”

Bell portrays evangelicals as those who are arrogantly cramming the gospel down the throats of an unbelieving world. He suggests that evangelicals care nothing about the environment or poverty or nuclear disarmament, or pollution because all that really matters is “getting people to pray the right prayer,” or believe just the right things so they can die and go to heaven which is “somewhere else” and in a time which is a “different time” than that which we occupy today.

I could spend pages disputing Bell’s caricature of evangelical faith and practice. I have met hundreds of solid evangelical pastors who do not fall into the traps which Rob Bell cites. The historic relationship between evangelical commitments and social action is a powerful and compelling story.

But, for the sake of the argument, let’s accept Bell’s critique as fairly exposing some serious flaws in the theology of contemporary evangelicalism. If it is true, then Bell has definitely revealed that most evangelical pastors need to go back to seminary.

Apparently, today’s pastors have forgotten that the kingdom of God has already broken in to the present age and we are to live out the full realities of the New Creation in the present age.

Apparently, today’s evangelicals have confused the New Creation with 19th century hymns concerning heaven which depict the “other side” as a remote, vague place of passivity with little to do but pluck our harps and walk on streets of gold.

Apparently, quite a few pastors across our nation need to re-learn the basic lesson that God actually loves lost people.

If half of what Rob Bell says about evangelicals is true, then we need to declare a massive recall along the lines of what Toyota did last year when so many cars were discovered to be defective. We need to declare that listening to today’s pastors is no longer safe and reliable until they are sent back for a re-fit and some major theological adjustments. Something deep inside me suspects that Rob Bell may actually be on to something here. Thank you, Rob!

Indeed, it is time for a renewed emphasis on the grand meta-narrative which tells the “big story” and puts all of these doctrines in a larger and more robust theological frame. Perhaps we need a recall and a re-tooling of a largely Christendom-trained clergy to a clergy better prepared for a post-Christendom world which desperately needs a robust gospel, not a domesticated one.

Bell has been listening to the church and to the culture and he has insightfully diagnosed that the church is theologically anemic. He is saying, in effect, “Houston, we have a problem…” — and for that I applaud him.

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Right problem, wrong prescription

My problem with Rob Bell is not so much with his diagnostics regarding contemporary popular evangelicalism, as it is with his prescription. The real question is not whether Rob Bell’s description of contemporary evangelical poor theology of “salvation” “New Creation” and “kingdom” is worth the attention the book is receiving. Bell is writing a popular book.

The book has received attention because of its prescription. Rob Bell is not just telling us we are sick, he is providing a remedy, a prescript for the theological malaise we are in. He may not be aware that his “solution” is not new, but dates back to at least 1963 and the writings of Karl Rahner. Nevertheless, for many evangelicals who avoid any books with footnotes, Bell’s “solution” will be received like a fresh new “third way” between a highly caricatured, mean-spirited “exclusivism” and an unbridled, relativistic “pluralism” which levels the playing field between all religions.

The question is this: Is Rob Bell’s prescription worthy of wide dissemination in the church? Should I commend it to our seminary students preparing for ministry today? The answer is a resounding no. Here are four reasons which give me pause.

First, Bell profoundly misunderstands the Biblical notion of God’s “love.” The entire premise of the book is to declare that God’s essence is “love” (which Bell states repeatedly). However, Bell never actually describes the biblical and theological relationship between God’s joyful engagement with the human race and God’s justice upon which the very gospel he celebrates is declared. Bell sentimentalizes God’s love throughout his book, making it almost equivalent to God being nice and reasonable to modern sensibilities.

I suspect that Bell has underestimated how shockingly tepid and sentimental our understanding of biblical love has become. If he had inserted the phrase “God’s holy love” for every place he has used “God’s love” he would have gained more biblical traction, but, in the process, much of his own argumentation would have become unraveled.

Bell’s argument actually requires a logical separation between God’s love and God’s justice which is quite untenable in biblical theology.

Second, Bell has an inadequate understanding of Sin — not the little “s” kind, but the big “S” kind. In other words, Bell understands that we all sin, but he doesn’t seem to comprehend that we, as a race, are part of a vast rebellion against God’s holiness.

Without Christ we, as a race, stand under condemnation and desperately need a divine rescue. Sin doesn’t just impede our progress and slow down our autonomous capacity to receive God’s love. We are spiritually dead apart from God’s prior action. Both Reformed and Arminian Christians affirm the cosmic consequences of the Fall of man. We are not Pelagian.

Bell’s solution takes humanity out of the dock and puts God in the dock. After reading Bell’s book one gets the feeling that Bell has put God on trial. It is God who now has to justify why he would be so cruel as to sentence a sinner to eternal separation from his presence, especially given the “few short years” we have had to commit sins. An eternal punishment for temporal sins is just too much for Bell to bear and so God had better provide an explanation — a good one.

The unfathomable love of the Triune God which resulted in a sending father, a crucified and risen Son and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit who ushers in the glorious realities of the New Creation into the present age is lost in Bell’s description of a “Son” who protects us from an angry “God.”

Third, Bell has an inadequate understanding of the Kingdom of God. He rightly chastises the collapse of salvation into personal justification, though he doesn’t use theological terms to describe this concern. However, in its place Bell fails to see that the kingdom has already been inaugurated, but is not fully consummated.

For Bell to say that heaven and hell are already here now is true in the sense that the kingdom of God is already breaking in (thus, heaven is breaking into the present age) and the absence of God’s rule and reign is hell. Bell correctly points out the relationship between “this age” and “the age to come.” Again, thank you Rob Bell! Bell correctly chastises a church with an under-realized eschatology which puts all redemption off into the “sweet by and by.”

However, Bell’s prescription is an over-realized eschatology which underestimates the massive redemption which still awaits societies, cultures, the kingdoms of this world and, indeed, creation itself. We live in an “already—not yet” tension. The Kingdom of God has already broken into the present evil age. Bell gets that point. However we still await our full redemption and the transformation which is ushered in by the eschaton will be dramatic and cosmic in scale. Bell misses that point.

Fourth, Bell’s solution exalts Christ’s work on the cross, but in the process sacrifices or ignores major themes in Scripture. Bell’s position regarding the state of the lost is known as inclusivism.

Despite rumors to the contrary, Bell is not a universalist, nor is he a full blown pluralist. A pluralist believes that all religions can independently save people and, therefore, there are many different, equally valid paths leading to God. In the pluralist world, Hinduism can save Hindus just as Christianity saves a Baptist. Bell does not take this position.

Bell’s argument is that you may, indeed, belong to a different religion, such as Islam, but it is Christ who saves you. You may be a practicing Buddhist or Hindu, but God is counting your faith as faith in Christ. It is a sort of Christocentric pluralism known as inclusivism and serves as a kind of half-way house between exclusivism and pluralism. It became popular in Roman Catholic circles in the wake of Vatican II and then spread to Protestantism and finally into evangelicalism in recent years.

The idea that a Buddhist could be saved by Christ has been called “Anonymous Christianity.” In other words, people are saved by Christ but do not realize it or know it.

(As an aside, I should note how offended many Buddhists were when they realized that some Christians taught that they were actually anonymous Christians. It is a form of stealth triumphalism which seeks to trump the dignity of unbelief.)

Bell drives a wedge between the ontological necessity of Christ’s work and the epistemological response of explicit repentance and faith. In other words, Christ’s work saves us even if we do not explicitly respond through repentance and faith. The relationship between God’s revelation and our response is severed. For Bell, God’s love saves “Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists as well as Baptists” and does so within their sincere seeking within their own religions.

Bell concedes that John 14:6 does claim that salvation is only in Jesus Christ, but he argues that the text doesn’t go on to say that we need to acknowledge this or know this truth or respond to this, in order to be saved by Christ. In contrast, Paul says, “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21). The relational link between the Redeemer and the redeemed is quietly dropped in Bell’s wider-hope inclusivism.

Bell makes a point that nowhere in the New Testament does it state that we need a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” However, Bell should remember that sin is not just a forensic, legal breach with God’s justice — it is also a relational breach with God’s person. Bell doesn’t seem to realize the vast implications his position has for the church, the Great Commission and the Biblical call to repentance and faith.

Bell’s ecclesiology has collapsed and we are left with an individual sincere seeker after God. The mission of the church has been, at best, stunted, since the other religions of the world have already brought (implicitly and anonymously) more people to the foot of the cross than has the global proclamation of the gospel.

However, it is only through dramatic theological reductionism that Bell equates biblical salvation in the New Testament to a lone individual seeker after God in a religion like Islam or Buddhism. Bell doesn’t just give us anonymous Christians, he gives us anonymous communities, anonymous Scriptures and anonymous sacraments.

He has effectively disembodied the faith and separated it from ecclesiology despite the fact that it is the church which is the public, redeemed community Jesus Christ declares that he will build to manifest before the world all of the active “heavenly” engagement in this world that Bell longs for.

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A domesticated gospel — or a robust, Apostolic one?

Bell is probably right about several things. A lot of pastors out there are teaching stuff which only vaguely reflects the actual teachings of the New Testament. If Bell’s book awakens in the evangelical community a fresh, robust conversation about what we really believe about the kingdom, heaven, hell, the lost and the New Creation, we should all be delighted.

It is important to recognize that Bell’s response reveals that the depth of his own theological reflection is a bit thin, too. He has given us a domesticated gospel which tries to make the gospel relevant to contemporary sensibilities. However, it is not the gospel which needs to be made relevant to us. It is we who need to be made relevant to the gospel. The gospel is always relevant whether it is recognized as such or not.

In my estimation, Rob Bell, and apparently quite a few evangelical pastors, need a thorough re-grounding in the biblical doctrines of God’s love, sin, the kingdom of God, the necessity of human response and ecclesiology.

While I sincerely believe that the spread of wider-hope inclusivism into the evangelical movement represents a serious breach of theological coherence which will undermine the gospel, I am not standing with a stone in my hand. As a seminary president, Bell’s book reminded me anew of the importance of biblical and theological training. He reminded me afresh why I have given my life to theological education.

If there is a “beam” in the eye of the evangelical church it is that we must hear the resounding bell (no pun intended) that a post-Christendom, post-modern generation is not hearing the gospel. However, the answer is not Bell’s further domesticated gospel, but a more robust, Apostolic one.

We can no longer give out gospel fragments which are not clearly tied to re-building the grand meta-narrative which gloriously unfurls from creation to covenant to incarnation to death and resurrection to ascension to Pentecost to the church of Jesus Christ to the Return of Christ and the final ushering in of the New Creation.

A post-modern world which has reduced all Truth to tiny socially constructed personal narratives is in need of a big, glorious grand Story. This is really the deepest cry of Rob Bell. This is the deepest cry of many of us.

Bell has reminded us that our deepest theological and pastoral work cannot be done in isolation from the world, the church and the larger cultural milieu. The world always remains God’s greatest theological workshop. Bell’s book, Love Wins, calls us all back to the workshop in a fresh way. Let’s get to work, shall we?


Related posts
Claremont president: Christians shouldn’t evangelize people of other faiths
Podcast: Billy Abraham on ‘Connecting Doctrine and Evangelism’
A word from Mr. Wesley: ‘Salvation by faith’
A word from Mr. Wesley: ‘The first doctrine’
A word from Mr. Wesley: The way to the kingdom
Podcast: John Wesley on ‘The New Birth’
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’
Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘The gospel in an age of skepticism’

Related information
Preface from the audio edition of Love Wins | Read by Rob Bell (HarperAudio)
Asbury Seminary elects new president | news release, Asbury Theological Seminary (via Pastors.com) (Feb. 17, 2009)
Asbury Seminary accounts for greatest number of United Methodist elder/deacon graduates (Report on Seminary/Theological School of Ordained Full-Connection Elder or Deacon—2009) (PDF) | Sarah Combs, UM General Board of Higher Education & Ministry (June 1, 2010)

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This is the third in our monthly series that presents excerpts from the writings of John Wesley, co-founder (with his brother Charles) of the Methodist movement.

The following is from John Wesley’s sermon, “The Way to the Kingdom.” The wording has been slightly updated from the original, based on the adaptation found in Renew My Heart (Barbour Books, 2011).

A link to the full text of the original sermon is included in the links below.

The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. (Mark 1:15)

What is the way to the kingdom of heaven? First, know yourself to be a sinner.

Know that you are corrupted in every power, every faculty of your soul. Your understanding is darkened, and you cannot discern God or the things of God. Your will is perverse and distorted. Your affections are alienated from God; your passions are either undue in degree or placed on undue objects.

What can you do to appease the wrath of God, to atone for your sins? Alas, you can do nothing. Nothing you do will in any way make amends to God for one evil work, word, or thought.

Even if you could from now on do all things well and perform perfect, uninterrupted obedience, it would not atone for what is past. Not increasing your debt would not discharge it.

To be deeply sensible of how helpless you are — as well as how guilty and how sinful — is the forerunner of the kingdom of God. Now, repent and believe the gospel.

The gospel is good tidings, good news for guilty, helpless sinners. The gospel is:

  • “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners”;
  • “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that we might not perish, but have everlasting life”;
  • “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”

Believe this, and the kingdom of God is yours. By faith, you attain the promise. He pardons and frees from guilt all who truly repent and genuinely believe His holy gospel. As soon as God speaks to your heart: “Be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven,” His kingdom comes. You have righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Only beware that you do not deceive your soul with regard to the nature of this faith. It is not bare assent to the Bible or the articles of any creed.

From the 1954 film 'John Wesley'

It is a confidence in the pardoning mercy of God through Christ Jesus, who loved you and gave Himself for you, and a sure trust that you are now reconciled to God by the blood of the cross.

Do you have a sure trust in the mercy of God through Christ Jesus, a confidence in the pardoning God? Are you convinced that “I, even I, am now reconciled to God by the blood of His cross?” Do you thus believe?

Then the peace of God is in your heart, and sorrow and sighing flee away. You are no longer in doubt of the love of God. It is as clear as the noonday sun. Your heart cries out about the loving-kindness of the Lord.

You are no longer afraid of hell or death or him who once had the power of death — the devil; no, nor painfully afraid of God Himself — but you have a tender concern not to offend Him.

When you thus believe, your soul magnifies the Lord, and your spirit rejoices in God your Savior. You rejoice that you have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins. You rejoice in the Spirit of adoption, the Holy Spirit, who cries within your heart Abba Father! You rejoice in a hope full of immortality and in reaching forward to the “mark for the prize of your high calling.”

Adapted from Renew My Heart,
published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

Related posts
A word from Mr. Wesley: ‘Salvation by faith’
A word from Mr. Wesley: ‘The first doctrine’
Podcast: John Wesley on ‘The New Birth’
Podcast: Donald English — Aldersgate Day address, 1988
Podcast: Bishop Gerald Kennedy on ‘The Marks of a Methodist’
Podcast: Billy Abraham on ‘Connecting Doctrine and Evangelism’

Related information
The Way to the Kingdom (full text) | The Rev. John Wesley (from The Sermons of John Wesley, 1872 Edition — Thomas Jackson, editor)

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This is the second installment of a monthly MethodistThinker feature for 2011 that  presents excerpts from the writings of John Wesley, co-founder of the Methodist movement.

Because the use of language changes with the passage of time, the wording in these excerpts has been slightly updated, based on the adaptation found in Renew My Heart (Barbour Books, 2011).

The following is from John Wesley’s sermon, “Salvation by Faith.” A link to the full text of the original sermon is included in the links below.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves;
it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
(Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV)

Salvation by faith must be preached as the first doctrine, and it must be preached to all. The Holy Spirit says, through St. Paul, “No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11).

“Whoever believes on Him shall be saved” is, and must be, the foundation to all else. That is, it must be preached first, and it must be preached to all. We must exclude no one. Not the poor. Not the unlearned. Not the young. For our commission is, “Go and preach the gospel to every creature.”

Never has maintaining the doctrine of salvation by faith been more seasonable that at this day. Nothing but this doctrine can effectually prevent the increase of delusions among us. Attacking one by one all the errors that assail us would be endless. But salvation by faith strikes at the root, and all errors fall at once where this truth is established.

It is this doctrine, justly called the strong rock and foundation of the Christian religion, that first established Christianity on this continent. It is this alone that can save us now.

Wesley statue in Bristol, England
Photo by Chris Bertram (used by permission)

Nothing but this can give a check to the immorality which has overspread the land as a flood.

Can you empty the ocean drop by drop? But let the righteousness which is of God by faith be brought in and the waves shall be stayed.

Nothing but this can stop the mouths of those who “glory in their shame” and openly deny the Lord that bought them.

Bring in the gospel. Begin with the righteousness of faith, with Christ, “the end of the law” to everyone who believes (Romans 10:4).

Declaring salvation by faith strikes at the very foundations of hell. For this reason, our adversary stirred up earth and hell to destroy those who first preached it.

[But do not fear.] Even though you are as helpless and weak as a young infant, the strong man, Satan, will not be able to stand before you. You will prevail over him and subdue him, and overthrow him, and trample him under your feet.

March on, under the great captain of your salvation, conquering and to conquer, until all your enemies are destroyed, and “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Adapted in part from Renew My Heart,
published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

Related posts
A word from Mr. Wesley: ‘Salvation by faith’
Podcast: John Wesley on ‘The New Birth’
Podcast: Donald English — Aldersgate Day address, 1988
Podcast: Bishop Gerald Kennedy on ‘The Marks of a Methodist’
Podcast: Billy Abraham on ‘Connecting Doctrine and Evangelism’

Related articles and information
Salvation by faith (full text) | The Rev. John Wesley (1738) (from The Sermons of John Wesley, 1872 Edition — Thomas Jackson, editor)
‘By grace are ye saved through faith’ | John Meunier (June 24, 2010)
This still new doctrine of salvation by faith | John Meunier (Sept. 28, 2010)

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To reverse the United Methodist Church’s decades-long membership decline in the United States, local UM churches must embrace innovation and commit themselves to constant improvement, according to Adam Hamilton, leader of one of the UMC’s largest and most successful churches.

Hamilton, founder and senior pastor of  the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection (COR) in Leawood, Kansas, was the lead speaker at COR’s 12th annual Leadership Institute, attended last week by nearly 2,000 pastors and leaders.

Even if local churches are willing to embrace innovative change, a net membership increase in the UMC is still likely to be at least 10 years away, Hamilton predicted, because the next decade will see heavy membership losses due to the deaths of tens of thousands of older members.

“If we act now, in 10 years we might actually see that we begin to reverse the decline,” he said during the conference’s Friday afternoon session. “In 10 years, we’ll actually start to see that we have a future with hope.”

He did not address the serious doctrinal disagreements or sharply differing approaches to social concerns that have roiled the denomination over the past four decades and have helped fuel membership decline.

Adam Hamilton illustrated the need for innovation and improvement at the local church level by looking at how computers have changed during the 20 years since Church of the Resurrection was founded.

I bought a computer for us four weeks before our first worship service. It had just come out…. It was a Macintosh Classic…. And this was the hottest computer you could buy in 1990….

And I want you to imagine if Apple Computer had said…, “We have just built the best computer that anybody could ever build.”… [Or maybe they said,] “We’ll make if faster, but we’re going to keep it [looking] just like this.”…

The Rev. Adam Hamilton

Instead, they developed laptops… that had the capacity to do things that nobody had ever dreamed of when [the Mac Classic] was built….

And [now in 2010 they’ve] invented a whole new way of doing computers…[with the release of] the iPad….

[T]hey studied how people used computers, they studied to try to understand…the needs of people, and then they formed a product….

And so [as the church,] part of this [is] in our hands. We have to be able to ask: “What needs to change [so that we can better speak to people’s needs today and connect with them]?”…

[M]ost of our churches [haven’t] had leaders who understood that and we [have] just kept doing the same thing over and over and over again. And we’re realizing that can’t work. It simply can’t work for the future.

You either…innovate, you improve, or you’re going to die. That’s a [Church of the] Resurrection classic principle we use around here….

[W]e’re not changing the gospel, we’re not changing the Scriptures. But we are changing how we talk about faith. We’re changing how we help people experience the presence of God in their lives.

Hamilton also focused on ways new communication technologies are improving the ability of local churches to connect with people — and with other churches.

The world is changing. Are you willing to shape the future by embracing technology?…

I think our future [in the United Methodist Church is] rooted and grounded in our past. When the early Methodists went to start churches across the United States, here’s what they did: they sent circuit riders out, and those circuit riders were given two books — they were given a hymnal and a book of John Wesley’s sermons.

And they would preach in a place and they would form a church, and after three weeks they would say, “Now, you’re in charge while I’m gone…. Here’s a copy of John Wesley’s sermons. And while I’m gone, why don’t you just read one sermon a Sunday when the people gather together for worship?” So the circuit rider would go start five or six or seven more churches and would circle back around 12 weeks later….

How do you think John Wesley would do this today? Would he give them a book of his sermons? No, he would say, “Why don’t you log on…online and then you can join me and I’ll look in the camera and I’ll say ‘Hey’ to all of you….”

Circuits were the groupings of churches that worked together and they shared one pastor and then they had lay leaders and they would work together for the discipleship of the people….

Is it possible that there are super circuits in the future where there are multiple churches, not bound geographic areas — they may be in different parts of the country — and they join together voluntarily and become connected to one another in these circuits?

Some of them [would] have ordained pastors who are overseeing. Some of those ordained pastors [might be] excellent preachers and some of them, maybe not so much. So sometimes they [would] use the sermons from another congregation…. Maybe some of them [would] only use the sermons from the largest church.

They [would] all share the IT resources of that [largest] congregation, and all of the churches [would] work together and bring their strengths to the table to help them all be more effective and stronger congregations….

There are 19,600 churches in the United Methodist denomination in the U.S. that have less than 60 people a Sunday in worship. Currently, most people say those churches have no future. They’re going to have to close because they can’t afford pastors, they can’t afford benefits, they can’t afford apportionments — they simply are going to die.

But what would happen if each of those was seen…as a place that could be [connected by technology]? And…it costs nothing to do it in this place. The building is already paid for. And if we get 25 people and over the next three years we can grow it to 30, we’ve seen a 20 percent increase in attendance in that place in three years, as opposed to closing it down….

What could you do with this? How could you help other churches in your community? Is there a way that you could create a voluntary circuit in which you are helping support and nurture one another in being healthy, vibrant congregations?

Renewing the church is going to require all of us looking at how we do share we share the resources we have so that other might have a chance to have future with hope.

Use the audio player below to listen to Adam Hamilton discussing the need for innovation and improvement in United Methodist churches (this 12-minute excerpt has been edited for length).


The purpose of the annual Church of the Resurrection (COR) Leadership Institute, launched in 1999, is to teach “practical, translatable principles” that have helped COR grow from four people in 1990 to about 17,000 today with multiple meeting locations.

DVDs of this year’s Leadership Institute will be available through The Well, the Church of the Resurrection bookstore.


Related posts
Adam Hamilton: ‘We are in desperate need of excellent preaching’
‘Assessment’ report: United Methodism faces compound crisis
Podcast: Billy Abraham on connecting doctrine and evangelism
Riley Case: ‘Operational Assessment’ shows UMC has lost its way
Four things the UMC must do ‘to serve the present age’
Podcast: Dr. James Heidinger on ‘United Methodist Renewal’
Podcast: Bill Hinson on ‘The Making of a Minister’
John Ed Mathison: Six ways for a pastor to make a lasting difference
Bishop Robert Schnase on ‘The Five Practices’
Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘The primary task of the Church’
Podcast: John Wesley on ‘The New Birth’

Related articles and information
The church offers ‘what’s desperately needed’: A conversation with Adam Hamilton (video) | Faith & Leadership (Duke Divinity School) (March 31, 2009)
Institute gives UM churches renewed hope | Robin Russell, UM Reporter (Aug. 22, 2008)
How to grow a church: Kansas pastor offers tips at Methodist gathering | David Yonke, The (Toledo) Blade (via Google Newspapers) (June 16, 2007)
Fewer whiffs: Too many sermons are ‘swing-and-a-miss’ strike outs | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Fall 2007)
4-H sermons: Connecting with your audience | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Summer 2007)
Reaching the unchurched | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Spring 2007)
‘Should we fret the back door?’ Why the departure of church members hurts me so | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Spring 2006)
Opening closed minds | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Spring 2004)
Christmas Eve at Adam’s house: Adam Hamilton’s Church of the Resurrection enjoys the fruit of the season | Kendrick Blackwood, The Pitch (Dec. 19, 2002)
Purpose, passion drive church growth, pastor says | Michael Wacht, United Methodist News Service (Feb. 26, 2002)

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The final podcast of our spring season features one of the most prominent United Methodist leaders of recent decades: Dr. Maxie Dunnam.

Maxie Dunnam was born in Mississippi in 1934. After earning a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Southern Mississippi (1955), he went on to earn a Master of Theology from Atlanta’s Emory University (1958). Later, he earned a Doctor of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky (1977).

Dr. Maxie Dunnam in 2008

Early in his ministry, he served as the organizing pastor of three Methodist churches: Aldersgate UMC in Atlanta, Ga. (1956), Trinity UMC in Gulport, Miss. (1958), and St. Andrews-by-the-Sea UMC in San Clemente, Calif. (mid-1960s).

Maxie Dunnam then served in several capacities at The Upper Room, eventually becoming World Editor of the ministry’s flagship devotional publication. He also helped launch the Upper Room’s spiritual-renewal ministry that became known as The Walk to Emmaus.

From 1982-1994, Dr. Dunnam served as senior pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tenn., which grew from 2,000 members to almost 6,000 members during his pastorate.

In 1994, Maxie Dunnam was elected president of Asbury Seminary. Ten years later, he was named the Asbury’s chancellor, and the school’s Orlando, Fla., campus was christened the “Dunnam Campus” in his honor.

Dr. Dunnam is the author of several dozen books and workbooks, including That’s What the Man Said: The Sayings of Jesus (Kindle Edition, 2009), Going on to Salvation: A Study of Wesleyan Beliefs (revised edition—Abingdon, 2008), and The Workbook on the Christian Walk (Upper Room, 2004).

Maxie Dunnam is a past president of the World Methodist Council, and he currently serves on the board of directors of the Confessing Movement Within The United Methodist Church.

The address on this podcast was presented at the Ordination Service at the 2008 session of the North Georgia Annual Conference.

To listen, use the audio player below (28 min.) — or right click (Windows users) to download an mp3 (13.2MB).


For previous MethodistThinker Podcasts, click the “podcasts” tab at the top of this page. To subscribe via iTunes or other podcast software, use the “Subscribe to Podcasts” link near the top of the right column.


Related posts
Why the United Methodist Church cannot condone homosexuality
Maxie Dunnam: Amendments outcome reflects ‘sense of the faithful’
Maxie Dunnam, Eddie Fox release videos on proposed amendments
Podcast: Bishop James King on ‘Preaching Authority’
Adam Hamilton: ‘We are in desperate need of excellent preaching’
Podcast: Bill Hinson on ‘The Making of a Minister’
Astonishing preaching
Preaching for a response

Related articles and information
MaxieDunnam.com
Former Memphis pastor Maxie Dunnam will air ‘positive’ TV, radio spots | The (Memphis, Tenn.) Commercial Appeal (June 1, 2010)
Renewing hope: UM evangelicals gather to focus on critical issues | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (Nov. 2, 2007)
Confessing Movement issues statement on unity | Daniel R. Gangler, United Methodist News Service (Sept. 28, 2005)
42 years later, clergy who fought racism to reunite | Associated Press (June 6, 2005) — Related: The “Born of Conviction” statement, published in the Mississippi Methodist Advocate, Jan. 2, 1963 (PDF)
Truth getting distorted about ‘amicable separation’ | Maxie Dunnam, Good News magazine (July/August 2004)
Helping others answer the call: An interview with Maxie Dunnam | Leadership Journal (Oct. 1, 2003)
History of the Walk to Emmaus | Robert R. Wood, 20th anniversary gathering of Emmaus (April 1997)
Placing Christ at the center of all | Maxie Dunnam, Good News magazine (March/April 1996)

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The following are our ten most-viewed posts of 2009 (the date of each post date is in parentheses):

  1. Adam Hamilton: ‘We are in desperate need of excellent preaching’ (Oct. 12)
  2. In Mississippi Conference, testimony from lesbian couple stirs controversy (June 29)
  3. Ed Tomlinson: Proposed amendments would ‘decimate connectionalism’ (March 26)
  4. Proposed amendments would separate UMC into ‘national entities’ (Feb. 27)
  5. John Ed Mathison: Seven concerns about the UMC (March 4)
  6. Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’ (Jan. 29)
  7. Board of Church and Society sex-ed writer: Sex outside of marriage can be ‘moral, ethical’ (Sept. 4)
  8. Maxie Dunnam, Eddie Fox release videos on proposed amendments (April 17)
  9. Bishop Robert Schnase on ‘The Five Practices’ (Jan. 14)
  10. Lyn Powell on the new United Methodist membership vows (Jan. 26)

The top video clip of the year was an address by Connie Campbell and Renee Sappington, two homosexual women who spoke about their relationship as part of a worship service at the 2009 session of the Mississippi Annual Conference (that video is part of the #2 post listed above).

The most-listened-to MethodistThinker Podcast during the past 12 months was a May podcast featuring a 1960 sermon by the late Methodist missionary, E. Stanley Jones.

Happy New Year — and thanks for reading MethodistThinker.com!

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The latest MethodistThinker Podcast features a sermon by Bishop James King, episcopal leader of the United Methodist Church’s South Georgia Conference.

Bishop James King in 2001

Before being elected to the episcopacy in 2000, James R. King, Jr. served as a pastor in Alabama, California, and Tennessee, and as a District Superintendent in the Tennessee Conference.

Prior to being assigned last year to South Georgia, Bishop King served for eight years as the leader of the Kentucky Annual Conference.

In August 2008, Bishop King was elected president of the General Commission on United Methodist Men.

Bishop James King blogs and posts photos at BishopKing.com.

This sermon on this week’s podcast was preached at the January 2001 Convocation for Pastors of African-American Churches held in Dallas, Texas — an event sponsored by the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship.

To listen, use the audio player below (21 min.) — or right click (Windows users) to download an mp3 (10MB).


For previous MethodistThinker Podcasts, click the Podcasts tab at the top of this page.

To subscribe via iTunes or other Podcast software, use this link to set up your feed: http://methodistthinker.com/category/podcasts/feed.


Related posts
A profile of Bishop James King
Bishop James King: ‘We are returning to God’

Related information
Bishop King celebrates first anniversary as episcopal leader in South Georgia | South Georgia Advocate (Sept. 14, 2009)
Bishop King to lead General Commission on United Methodist Men | United Methodist News Service (August 2008)
At Convocation for Pastors of African-American Churches, clergy focus on rekindling passion for ministry | United Methodist News Service (Jan. 18, 2001)

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At the 11th annual Leadership Institute, held last week at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, host pastor Adam Hamilton urged pastors and lay preachers to focus on improving the quality of their preaching. “We are in desperate need today of excellent preaching,” he said during the conference’s Oct. 9 morning session.

The Rev. Adam Hamilton

The Rev. Adam Hamilton

Hamilton, who founded the now-megachurch 19 years ago with only a handful of people, noted that the Methodist movement began and prospered as “a movement of preachers.”

“[People] went to the Anglican church for the sacraments on Sunday. But if [they] wanted preaching, [they] went to the Methodist ‘preaching house,’” he said. “And we had lay people and clergy — mostly lay people — who were trained to preach the gospel.”

Hamilton buttressed his point about Methodist preaching by quoting 19th-century Presbyterian revivalist, Charles Finney. Finney decried much of the preaching of his time, but had great admiration for preaching by Methodists.

It is evident that we must have more exciting preaching, to meet the character and wants of the age…. The character of the age is changed, and [most preachers] have not conformed to it, but retain the same stiff, dry, prosing style of preaching that answered half a century ago.

[But l]ook at the Methodists. Many of their ministers are unlearned, in the common sense of the term, many of them taken right from the shop or the farm, and yet they have gathered congregations, and pushed their way, and won souls everywhere. Wherever the Methodists have gone, their plain, pointed and simple, but warm and animated mode of preaching has always gathered congregations….

We must have exciting, powerful preaching, or the devil will have the people, except what the Methodists can save.

(From Finney’s 1835 Lectures on Revival of Religion,
Lecture XIV, “Methods to Promote Revivals.”)

In the past, Methodist preachers were known for “connect[ing] the gospel with daily life,” Hamilton noted. Their preaching was filled with passion, but not at the expense of intellect. “It was well-informed preaching but preaching that stirred the heart.”

leadership-institute09That same approach can work today — and it connects especially well with young adults, Hamilton said.

He mentioned an informal Facebook-based survey in which respondents ages 16-to-35 listed “preaching” as the number one reason they attend Church of the Resurrection.

“Preaching is something that can touch them and connect with them — if the preaching is thoughtful, if it’s helpful, if it’s inspiring.”

Adam Hamilton reminded his audience that the ability to excel in preaching isn’t something people are born with, but “we can learn,” he said. Hamilton called on pastors and lay preachers to work on improving their preaching by devoting sufficient time to learning, study, reflection, and prayer.

“The enemy of great preaching is busyness — when we don’t have enough time to devote to preparing a meal that’s satisfying to people,” he said. “And sometimes [the problem is that we're not] clear what that meal might look like.”

Hamilton then laid out five goals for every sermon. “If you do these five things, the chances of somebody wanting to some back next week, the chances of somebody wanting to invite a friend, go up exponentially.”

He said an effective sermon will:

  • Inform — teach at least one thing people didn’t know before;
  • Inspire and motivate — use illustrations that move people;
  • Invite — ask for a response;
  • Be practical and relevant — relate to daily life;
  • Be biblical — reinforce that the text, not the preacher, is the authority.

Adam Hamilton again reminded his hearers that an effective sermon must be “passionate.” He quoted a ministry colleague who said, “People come to see our convictions. They come to see what we really, really believe.”

Use the audio players below to listen to excerpts from Adam Hamilton’s teaching on preaching and worship at the 2009 Leadership Institute.

Excerpt 1: ‘We are in desperate need of excellent preaching’ (5 min.)



Excerpt 2: ‘Five goals for every sermon’ (12 min.)


The annual Church of the Resurrection (COR) Leadership Institute, launched in 1999, is designed to teach “practical, translatable principles” that have helped COR grow from four people in 1990 to 16,000 today.

DVDs of this year’s general sessions are available through The Well, the Church of the Resurrection bookstore.


Related posts
Podcast: John Wesley on ‘The New Birth
Podcast: Bill Hinson on ‘The Making of a Minister’
Podcast: Sir Alan Walker on ‘Christianity at the Crossroads’
Podcast: Dr. James Heidinger on ‘United Methodist Renewal’
For the pastor on your Christmas list: Preaching for a Response by Lathem and Dunn
Astonishing preaching

Related articles and information
The church offers ‘what’s desperately needed’: A conversation with Adam Hamilton (video) | Faith & Leadership (Duke Divinity School) (March 31, 2009)
Institute gives UM churches renewed hope | Robin Russell, UM Reporter (Aug. 22, 2008)
How to grow a church: Kansas pastor offers tips at Methodist gathering | David Yonke, The (Toledo) Blade (via Google Newspapers) (June 16, 2007)
Fewer whiffs: Too many sermons are ‘swing-and-a-miss’ strike outs | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Fall 2007)
4-H sermons: Connecting with your audience | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Summer 2007)
Reaching the unchurched | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Spring 2007)
‘Should we fret the back door?’ Why the departure of church members hurts me so | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Spring 2006)
Opening closed minds | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Spring 2004)
Large Leawood church getting even bigger | KMBC-TV (March 31, 2004)
Adam Hamilton and his bright vision for United Methodism | Kathleen K. Rutledge, Good News (July/August 2003)
Christmas Eve at Adam’s house: Adam Hamilton’s Church of the Resurrection enjoys the fruit of the season | Kendrick Blackwood, The Pitch (Dec. 19, 2002)
Purpose, passion drive church growth, pastor says | Michael Wacht, United Methodist News Service (Feb. 26, 2002)
Everyone gets ‘mugged’ at booming Kansas City church | John A. Lovelace, United Methodist News Service (April 20, 2000)

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While production continues on the upcoming fall season of The MethodistThinker Podcast, we’re highlighting several podcasts from our spring season.

This week, a sermon by the late Dr. Bill Hinson, long-time pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Houston, Texas.

Dr. William H. Hinson

Dr. William H. Hinson

During his 18-year tenure at First UMC-Houston, more than 3,000 people joined that congregation on profession of faith.

In 1985, Dr. Hinson was honored with Denman Evangelism Award. In 2000, the National Association of United Methodist Evangelists recognized him with the Philip Award for Outstanding Leadership in Evangelism.

A native of South Georgia, Bill Hinson attended Boston University, where he earned a Master’s degree in Sacred Theology, and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, where he graduated with the Doctor in Sacred Theology degree.

The sermon on this podcast, “The Making of a Minister,” was preached in June 2004 at a North Georgia Conference Service of Ordination and Commissioning. Five months later, Bill Hinson suffered a massive stroke. He died on Dec. 26, 2004.

At the time of his death, Dr. Hinson was serving as president of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church.

To listen to the podcast, use the audio player below (23 min.) — or download an mp3 (10MB).


The fall season of The MethodistThinker Podcast will begin after Labor Day.


Related information
Bill Hinson, Confessing Movement leader, dies at 68 | United Methodist News Service/Good News magazine (March/April 2005)
A resolution honoring the life and ministry of Dr. William H. Hinson | Georgia State Senate (March 29, 2005)
Lord, He Went: Remembering William H. Hinson, by Stanley R. Copeland | Abingdon Press (2006)
A charge to keep (an excerpt from Lord, He Went) | Stanley R. Copeland, Good News magazine (Sept./Oct. 2007)
Conversation with Bill Hinson on the Issues Etc. radio program — May 10, 2004 | Topic: Retrospective on the 2004 General Conference (use the player below for streaming audio—20 min.)


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