PhD

In May I completed a PhD at Columbia International University under Dr. Ed Smither. I wrote my dissertation on the rise of French secularism from the Reformation to the present crisis with Islam in France, which might not interest many people but allowed me to use mostly French resources and keep up with the language. The title is : LA LAÏCITÉ À LA FRANÇAISE: FRENCH “SECULARISM” FROM THE SIXTEENTH-CENTURY REFORMATION  AND WARS OF RELIGION TO CONTEMPORARY CHALLENGES IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY.

French laïcité presents a specificity in origin, definition and evolution which arises from a unique societal context leading to the official separation of Church and State in 1905. Laïcité has been described as the complete secularization of institutions as a necessity to prevent a return to the Ancien Régime characterized by the union of Church and State. To understand the concept of laïcité, one must begin in the sixteenth century with the Protestant Reformation, Wars of Religion, and religious toleration granted by the Edict of Nantes in 1598 under Henry IV. This has been called the period of embryonic or incipient laïcité in the tolerance of Protestantism. The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes under Louis XIV in 1685 reestablished the union of the throne and altar which resulted in persecution of the Huguenots who fought for the principle of the freedom of conscience and religious liberty.

The Law of Separation of Churches and State (Loi concernant la Séparation des Églises et de l’État) was enacted in 1905 in fulfillment of the French Revolution’s attempt to remove the Roman Catholic Church as the State religion. The law abrogated the 1801 Napoleonic Concordat with the Vatican, disestablished the Roman Catholic Church, ended centuries of religious turmoil, declared state neutrality in religious matters, and continues as a subject of debate and dissension one hundred years later with the emergence of Islam as the second-largest religion in France. The question at the turn of the twentieth century concerned the Roman Catholic Church’s compatibility with democracy. That same question is being asked of Islam in the twenty-first century.

This dissertation traces five centuries of religious experience in France, the attempts to separate Church and State, the decline of institutional religion, and the growing presence and influence of  Islam, in order to understand the meaning of laïcité and to provide insight into the challenging and changing religious context for cross-cultural ministry in the twenty-first century. Many of these challenges exist simply due to the religious history of France, the marginalization of religion, and the unwelcome presence of foreign missionaries in France. These challenges have been intensified by the growing presence of Islam which has led to a  reexamination and redefining of laïcité concerning the place of religion in the twenty-first century. These areas of inquiry do not imply that a causal relationship can be demonstrated between laïcité and religious decline. There is however the assumption that in France the place of religion and the response to the gospel has been shaped in part by the historical context in which laïcité developed.

New book and Other Writings

In this season of life (65 in October) the Lord has given me some time and opportunity to write. My first book was just published in July by Wipf&Stock. “Crossing Cultures: Preparing Strangers for Ministry in Strange Places.” https://wipfandstock.com/crossing-cultures.html  I’m biased but I think it would  be helpful for prospective missionaries and those sending them, churches and agencies in evaluating competencies. The book comes out of almost 40 years of domestic and international church planting experience.  I have another book under contract with Wipf&Stock and just submitted the manuscript last week: “Urban Church Planting: Journey into Depravity, Density and Diversity.”

Besides the books I’ve had book reviews this year in Missiology (April & July), Themelios (Spring), Evangelical Missions Quarterly (Spring), a full-length article in Evangelical Missiological Society Occasional Bulletin (Spring), an upcoming book review in Criswell Theological Review, and an article accepted for EMQ (Spring 2020). 

Sign of Life

It’s hard to believe that five years have passed since I last blogged. I suppose there are many possible reasons. 1. My blog was not that popular, 2. I no longer had time or interest, or both, 3. I didn’t have anything to say. Whatever the case, I thought I would at least give a sign of life. I’m still working bi-vocationally as an addiction therapist and elder at Grace Church Philly. Kathy and I celebrated our 40th anniversary with two trips to France, one in November 2017, one in March this year. My two sons are married and one expecting a child in December, our first grandchild. We are a little bit excited. For the last few years I’ve been teaching twice a year in Cameroon. I’m a PhD candidate in Intercultural Studies at Columbia International University with a May 2019 planned graduation (hopefully). I’m still amazed at God’s grace and goodness to me. Will I continue to blog? Hard to say but it’s on my mind.

South Philly Church Plant

Please pray for a new church planting endeavor in South Philadelphia. One of our elders, Will Turner, parachuted into the Point Breeze neighborhood a few years ago with his wife and four young children. To say that this is a challenging area in which to live would be an understatement. And frankly for most people it might not be a desirable neighborhood. My wife and I have been part of a small group Bible study at the Turners' house for over a year. They have made many connections and built relationships. Today, August 24 is the third preview service with community cookout in anticipation of a fall launch once a suitable meeting place has been obtained. Your prayers would be appreciated for the Turner family and for Redemption Church and for God to raise up co-workers to labor with them in South Philly. http://redemptionchurchphilly.com/

The Hubris of Faux Fundamentalists

One of my alma maters recently announced it will be closing after 38 years of training men and women for ministry.  Personally I am saddened by its impending closure yet rejoice in how God used and blessed the school. I have not been associated with the seminary for several years and have no special insight into the reasons of its closure. The reasons given by the school include a decline in student enrollment and financial constraints.  Predictably, some more separated and discerning brethren cannot control their distasteful triumphalism and have almost revelatory insight into the real reasons the school is closing. Against my better judgment I attempted to post on one consistently negative blog given to regular rants. Although posts were accepted that could barely hide their glee and with predictions and wishes that more compromising schools would close, my post my denied.

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A Compelling Case for Amillennialism

Sam Storms’ new book “Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative” presents a compelling case for amillenialism. Notice I said compelling, not conclusive. Whatever position you hold, think you hold, or have to hold because of where you serve, you should wrestle with Storms’ presentation.  He is one of many former dispensational premillennialists who have surrendered their long cherished and strongly held position. In Storms’ case, he studied under the dispensational fathers – Ryrie, Walvoord, and Pentecost (p. 10) at Dallas Theological Seminary where he received his Th. M.  He was finally persuaded that “there was no basis in Scripture for a pretribulational rapture of the Church” which led many of his friends to believe that he “was well on [his] way into theological liberalism” (p. 12).

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Urban Grace – Church Planting Internships and Partnerships

Have you been praying about urban church planting? This week, March 5-8, Calvary Baptist Seminary is hosting Advancing the Church, a biennial conference which this year features D. A. Carson as keynote speaker. Grace Church of Philly will be among the exhibitors to speak with prospective church planters interested in doing internships in Philadelphia and to meet pastors interested in church planting partnerships. Present at our table will be elders and interns from both church plants (University City in West Philly and Feltonville in North Philly).  This would be a great opportunity to speak with someone from our leadership team or leaders in training. You will meet men from different ethnic backgrounds and students and graduates from different institutions of higher learning who have accepted the challenge of laboring together for the advance of the gospel. We'd love to see how God might work to bring others to labor alongside us. Or just stop by for a free pen!

Helping “Issue Christians” Move On

Ed Stetzer has a good article on helping "issue Christians" move on. The particular issue in this case was prophecy details. We see this problem not only in churches but on scandal blogs which exist solely to attack other Christians (under the guise of defending the faith of course). The issues and terms (Lordship Salvation, Calvinism, etc.) are defined to make anyone who disagrees appear disobedient to Scripture. I suspect that below the surface often lurk undiagnosed issues and disorders and that championing issues in which they are experts provides a dose of self-esteem and sense of righterism. They have no trouble calling brothers in Christ clueless, liars, and of ill repute. They demand answers to inquisitorial questions for which no answer will suffice. If these issue Christians come to your church they may be able to be helped if teachable. If they are bloggers with too much time on their hands and most of their comments are their own or from anonymous people, they are best ignored.

 

How Much Can We Disagree on Eschatology?

Recently I was briefly involved in an online discussion regarding Sam Storms’ change in his millennial view from premillennial to amillennial. There have also been recent videos discussing the importance of eschatology in the life of believers and church life.  Several years ago Thomas Schreiner changed his view from amillennial to premillennial in his study of Revelation 20. Much of my training was in dispensational schools and I have no bone to pick with my dispensational brothers. Yet three years ago when we planted a church there were a few men committed to church planting who held to different views on eschatology. We decided not to enshrine a detailed eschatological position in the church’s doctrinal statement, which for some was a sure sign of compromise or flabby theology.

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Sandy Hook and Human Evil

When we look at the Sandy Hook tragedy, the question we should be asking is "‘what is wrong with humanity’ that we can commit such atrocities?" If the discussion does not go beyond ‘gun control’ or ‘mental health’ then our solutions will be superficial. People murder other people because they choose to unleash their hate, their anger, and their envy. Read more here at the Gospelfirst.

Also check out this Youtube video by a member of Grace Church, Dr. Chuck Williams, professor at Drexel University, who appeared on O'Reilly Factor last week discussing the correlation (not causality) between violent films and violence and how those who are already emotionally fragile can be pushed over the edge.

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