Q&A with Thom Rainer | Becoming a Welcoming Church

Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources and author of the new book Becoming a Welcoming Church. Matt O’Reilly of Orthodoxy for Everyone (OFE) recently asked Thom six questions about the book. And check out Matt’s video review of Becoming a Welcoming Church at the end of the interview.

  1. What prompted you to write Becoming a Welcoming Church?
    It was one of the key topics that kept being discussed at my podcast, my blog, and ChurchAnswers.com.
  2. Several times in the book you mention the relationship between evangelism and being a welcoming church. How does intentional focus on becoming a welcoming church help us lead people to Jesus?
    A welcoming church is an outwardly-focused church. An outwardly-focused church is more likely to have opportunities for gospel conversations.
  3. What are the dangers of not being a welcoming church?
    The members will become inwardly-focused and miss opportunities to share the gospel. Also, guests will not return.
  4. What’s the difference between a friendly church and a welcoming church?
    A friendly church loves to take care of its members. A welcoming churches also loves those on the outside.
  5. If a church has little or no focused attention on welcoming guests, what are the most important first steps?
    Get your church’s website to be welcoming website for guests. That’s where they come first. Then train members to become welcoming members.
  6. What is the pastor’s role in becoming a welcoming church?
    Be the example. Keep the importance of becoming a welcoming church before the members.

Buy Becoming a Welcoming Church on Amazon.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

Book Notice: Beauty, Order, and Mystery: A Christian Vision of Human Sexuality (@cenpastheo, @IVPAcademic)

When it comes to sex, evangelical Christians tend to be known for what we’re against rather than what we’re for. That’s why we need this new book and why I’m grateful to have had opportunity to contribute a chapter. The book is Beauty, Order, and Mystery: A Christian Vision of Human Sexuality (IVP Academic), and it’s a collection of essays from the 2016 Center for Pastor Theologians Conference. Contributors consider the topic in light of scripture, history, theology, aesthetics, and culture. One recurring theme is the need for those who take a traditional view of marriage and sexuality to spend more time working on a positive theology of marriage. This book makes a significant contribution to that endeavor. You can read the contents at the IVP Academic site. Here are the endorsements:

“Pastors minister; theologians seek-and minister-understanding. Ministering understanding of how the Bible addresses real-world issues is the great privilege and responsibility of the pastor theologian. Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson have put together a whole ministry team that ministers understanding worth its weight in gold on one of the most socially complicated, politically fraught, yet existentially unavoidable issues of our day or any: human sexuality. In an age where the male/female duality is in danger of becoming extinct, these essays serve as salient reminders of the beauty and mystery of God’s created order: ‘Male and female he created them’ (Gen 1:27).

-Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL

For Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson, the ideal of the pastor-scholar is not merely theoretical but intensely practical. The example they set through their Center for Pastor Theologians is an invitation to practice ecclesial theology. So is their new volume of thoughtful essays on God’s beautiful, well-ordered, and yet mysterious purposes for human sexuality-a book that demonstrates the value and relevance of having a community of wise scholars ‘do’ theology in the service of the church.

-Philip Ryken, President, Wheaton College

There’s a public conversation about human sexuality happening nearly everywhere today, but this book helpfully locates it right at the intersection of the pastoral and the theological. Beauty, Order, and Mystery provides a remarkably easy introduction to a vexed set of issues because the chapters are approachable and accessible even as they display deep reflection and up-to-date learning. In this particular multitude of counselors there is much wisdom.

-Fred Sanders, Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of St. Mark Church in Mobile, Alabama, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and an adjunct member of the faculties of Asbury Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical Seminary. Hear him on the So What? Podcast, connect on Facebook, or follow @mporeilly.

New Book Notice: "Listen, Understand, Obey: Essays on Hebrews in Honor of Gareth Lee Cockerill" (@wipfandstock, @wesleybiblical)

I’m excited to announce the publication of a new collection of essays written in honor of Prof. Gary Cockerill on the occasion of his retirement. The book is called Listen, Understand, Obey: Essays on Hebrews in Honor of Gareth Lee Cockerill (edited by Caleb T. Friedeman). Dr. Cockerill has been a mentor to me for several years now, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to contribute to this volume as an expression of gratitude for his kindness. Dr. Cockerill is a scholar with the heart of a pastor, and he’s impacted countless students during his 35 years of teaching at Wesley Biblical Seminary (WBS) in Jackson, Mississippi. He’s served the last four years as Academic Dean and Professor of Biblical Interpretation and Theology, a role which has been instrumental in the growth and increasing strength of WBS. 
All of the essays in this book deal with Hebrews, which has been a central focus of Dr. Cockerill’s scholarship throughout his career. In 2012, his commentary on Hebrews replaced F.F. Bruce’s volume in the NICNT. Grant Osborne called that commentary one of  “the top three ever written” on that book of the New Testament. Dr. Cockerill has also written on Christian Faith in the Old Testament (2014). You can read about that book in the author interview on this blog (part 1 and part 2). The title of this new collection of essays comes from Dr. Cockerill himself, who would often exhort his students while lecturing on Hebrews to “listen, understand, obey.” Here’s the publisher’s description:

“This volume brings together a diverse group of scholars, including biblical, systematic, and historical theologians, to honor Gareth Lee Cockerill, longtime professor of New Testament at Wesley Biblical Seminary (Jackson, MS) and distinguished scholar of the book of Hebrews. The essays focus on various aspects of Hebrews’ theology, ranging from the nature of -rest- in Hebrews to the interpretation of Hebrews in early Methodism. Readers will find resources to hear and comprehend Hebrews afresh and will be challenged to draw near to the throne of grace with confidence (Heb 4:16).”

Here are the endorsements:

“This fine collection of essays by both senior scholars and our junior colleagues makes a worthy contribution to the scholarship of Hebrews and a fitting tribute to its honoree.”

–Karen H. Jobes, PhD, Gerald F. Hawthorne Professor Emerita of New Testament Greek and Exegesis, Wheaton College

Dr. Cockerill is one of the truly fine exegetes of our day, and his commentary on Hebrews is among the top three ever written. This Festschrift is a goldmine of fine material that will aid the cause of Christ for years to come. I look forward to using this work in my own writing and ministry.

–Grant R. Osborne, PhD, Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

A big word of thanks goes to Caleb Friedeman, a Ph.D. candidate in New Testament at Wheaton College, who did the hard work of editing the volume. He did an excellent job keeping the project on pace and bringing it through to completion. Get your copy from the publisher or Amazon.
Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of St. Mark Church in Mobile, Alabama, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and an adjunct member of the faculties of Asbury Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical Seminary. Hear him on the So What? Podcast, connect on Facebook, or follow @mporeilly.

Reading Romans in Context: A Review (@Zondervan, @bencblackwell)

Context is everything. That’s the first rule for interpreting scripture (or any other text, for that matter). The rule refers first to the immediate context of a biblical passage, and it serves to remind us that responsible readers are not at liberty to extract a verse and do with it as they please. A good case in point is the common use of Philippians 4:13 by professional athletes, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The verse is appropriated as something of a divine pep-talk to motivate the competitor to excellence and ultimate victory over his foes. The problem is that the original intent of the verse has nothing to do with any of that. It was composed with thanksgiving for the power of God to sustain a suffering missionary awaiting the possibility of martyrdom. It is about the strength of Christ that enables that apostle (and the readers) to persevere with faithful contentedness in the face of persecution. So, if you need encouragement as you suffer for Christ, by all means turn to Philippians 4:13. If you are competing in a televised sporting event for tens of thousands of fawning fans, perhaps you should look elsewhere.
Beyond the immediate setting of a particular passage are other important levels of context that bear on interpretation. Among other things, I teach my students to interpret a passage with a view to its place within the context of the book-as-a-whole and, if available, the larger body of work by the author in question. We also talk about historical context, which brings me to Reading Romans in Context: Paul and Second Temple Judaism, edited by Ben C. Blackwell, John K. Goodrich, and Jason Maston (check out their blog).* This book puts Paul in conversation with other Jewish writers of roughly the same period to shed light on the argument of Paul’s most important letter. The non-scriptural material has been well-known by biblical scholars for a long time. This book, however, makes key portions of that material available in a non-technical and introductory format. That means you don’t need a theology degree to read and benefit from this volume.
The book has 172 pages of text (not including glossary and indices) divided into 20 brief chapters. The chapters progress through the text of Romans usually taking a chapter or less of text and setting it alongside another Jewish text that deals with similar themes. For example, Sarah Whittle looks at “circumcision of the heart” in Romans 2 alongside the book of Jubilees (chapter 3). Chapter 5 by Jonathan A. Linebaugh compares the all-important Romans 3:21-31 to the Epistle of Enoch to consider the highly debated topic of the revelation of God’s righteousness. Chapter 6 by Mariam J. Kamell considers the similarities and differences between Paul’s understanding of Abraham in Romans 4 and the interpretation of Abraham in Sirach. Chapter 12 takes up the topic of glorification in Romans 8 by reading it in light of Adam’s loss of glory as portrayed in the Greek Life of Adam and Eve. The relationship between hospitality and meals is the focus of chapter 18 by Nijay Gupta, who compares Romans 14 and 15 to 1 Maccabees. The thing to understand is that the argument of Romans is not historically isolated. The letter was not written in a vacuum. It takes its place among a variety of ancient Jewish thinkers intent on dealing with similar issues. Sometimes Paul agrees with them; sometimes he does not. The better we understand those dynamics, the better we will understand the Bible. This value of this book is the way it makes those matters available to a broader range of readers.

I’ll add that the essays are well-written, clear, and unburdened by lengthy footnotes. The chapters tend to proceed by introducing the theme to be considered in the passage from Romans (e.g. circumcision, salvation, the Law). This is followed by a short introduction of a relevant non-scriptural text. The remainder of each chapter is then given to putting Romans in dialogue with that text. The aim is to shed light on scripture by considering areas of agreement and disagreement between Romans and the additional text. For readers who find their appetites whet, the end of each chapter gives recommendations for further reading in relevant ancient texts and important secondary studies by scholars in the field.

There are many books out there that aim to shed light on the historical context of the New Testament, and many of them are written on a level accessible by non-specialists. These books often proceed with a survey of major themes, groups, and historical events (e.g. Jewish eschatology, Messianic expectations). Let me be clear: this is essential and important work. I’m glad those resources are available. Reading Romans in Context is distinct in that it introduces elements of context by focusing on particular texts. We might say that books on biblical backgrounds often take a wide-angle approach; Reading Romans in Context is a zoom lens that takes the reader up close to the particularities of the ideas in question. I find that students are sometimes intimidated by the large amounts of information that come with a lecture or reading assignment on New Testament backgrounds. There is a lot to learn, and it takes a lot of work. The precision focus of the chapters in this book strikes me as offering a complimentary approach that has potential to mitigate that problem. Students should be able to handle this book, and I am happy to recommend its use in a course introducing the New Testament, Paul and his letters, or on the exegesis of Romans. As a pastor, I would also feel comfortable recommending this book to an interested layperson in a local church setting.
All in all, I’m very glad the editors and contributors have published this book. I only hope they plan to produce further volumes that do the same thing with the rest of Paul’s letters.
_____
*Many thanks to the good people at Zondervan for providing a complimentary review copy. 

Initial Thoughts on Paul and the Gift by John Barclay #PTG @eerdmansbooks

I’ve recently begun working through John Barclay’s highly anticipated new book Paul and the Gift. And at 582 pages (not counting bibliography and indices), it is quite a tome. Barclay is Lightfoot Professor of Divinity at Durham University in the UK. He has given a decade to researching and writing this book, and the quality of his research and argumentation is evident from the first page. Rather than waiting till I’ve finished to review it here, I thought I’d offer impressions and reflections along the way. After all, a full review would likely be somewhat lengthy for a single blog post. Instead, think of the series as a travelogue for a long journey. That said, let’s be off.
First, the book is a study on the concept of grace in the letters of Paul. It is titled Paul and the Gift because the Greek word for “grace” is charis, which was the typical way to speak of a gift in the Greco-Roman world. Barclay argues that any Pauline theology of grace should be understood in light of the ancient context of gift-giving. That argument is rather straightforward and not all that surprising; that is, until we dig deeply into context of gift-giving in the ancient Mediterranean world, which takes us to the next reflection.
Second, the giving of gifts in the Greco-Roman period was radically different than the giving of gifts in the modern period. This is the argument that Barclay makes in chapter 1. We tend to think of gift-giving as something that is done out of sheer gratuity with no (or at least very few) strings attached. We often think in terms of “pure gift” or “free gift.” Giving a gift to another person places no obligation on that person to reciprocate the gift. And when we come to the language of gift/grace in the New Testament, we read that language in light of our present day understanding of gifts – freely given, freely received. The problem, Barclay argues, is that our contemporary attitude toward gifts is substantially different than the attitudes toward gift-giving in the world of Paul and his contemporaries. In Paul’s day, gifts were part of a culture-wide system of reciprocity and came with many a string attached. To give a gift was to place the recipient under obligation. This, of course, has implications for choosing the recipient of a gift, because you would want to make a gift to someone who could fulfill the obligation placed upon them. Typically, then, gifts were given to people in relatively similar social situations. To receive a gift was to receive the message that the giver considered you a person able to reciprocate the gift. Such a gift creates a social bond, because it is a way of recognizing the value or worth of the recipient.
Some implications of this should be clear even before getting to the exegetical portions of the book. What would it do to our theology of grace if the gift of God in Christ comes with strings attached? What if receiving the gift of grace puts us under obligation both to honor God and to obey him? There are implications for pastoral ministry, too. How many sermons have we heard that declare grace to be a “free gift” or a “pure gift” that depends on nothing in us and requires nothing from us? Working out the particulars of these questions will have to wait, but you see the importance of reading Paul’s language of grace/gift within the context of Greco-Roman gift-giving.
Third, the scope of this book is remarkable. It is not merely a study of Paul in his context; it is also a reception history of Paul’s theology of grace beginning with Marcion and proceeding through Augustine and the Reformers before moving to modern interpreters including Barth, Bultmann, Kasemann, Martyn, and those associated with the New Perspective on Paul, E.P. Sanders not least. This reception history is followed by an extended section on “Divine Gift in Second Temple Judaism,” in which the diversity of Jewish views on grace are considered. At this point, you are 300 pages into the book, and you are just getting the New Testament exegetical portions which focus primarily on Galatians and Romans. Here’s the point: Barclay has produced a methodologically robust study that deals with Paul in his context, through history, and in our contemporary context. And he is only focusing in depth on two letters. Imagine the possibilities of digging into the other Pauline epistles. Might there be a follow-up volume in the works?
Fourth, the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). I’ll be brief here because I’ve only thus far read the introductory and concluding statements on Barclay’s interaction with the NPP. Here’s what he says to expect: E.P. Sanders and other advocates of the NPP argue that Judaism in Paul’s day was a religion of grace. Barclay responds by arguing that “Grace is everywhere in Second Temple Judaism but not everywhere the same” (6). His point is that the NPP has given us a picture of Judaism that is insufficiently diverse. Paul was one voice in the middle of a debate on the nature of grace. Sanders made the mistake of reading different attitudes toward grace onto the Pauline texts without considering the extent to which Paul and his contemporaries might agree that God acts graciously toward his covenant people even though they disagree on the particulars of that grace. If this argument turns out to be successful, it will be a big problem for the NPP. I’m eager to dig into the details of that one, and I’ll be interested to hear responses from NPP advocates.
I’ll finish by saying it is very tempting to skip ahead to certain parts of this book that relate directly to my current research. And I may very well do that in order to keep my work moving at a good pace. Nevertheless, the quality of this volume makes me what to read it carefully cover to cover. So, even if I skip ahead, I’ll be certain to go back and catch up anything I may have skipped over. There is much to be learned here.  

Read This Book: Awakening Wonder by @DrTurleyTalks (@ClassicalAcadPr)

“There is no argument against beauty.” -Peter Kreeft

It has become increasingly clear to me in recent years that North American evangelical Christianity suffers from a lack of confidence in and appreciation for Beauty. We pursue and call for the Good and the True, yet our strategy has centered primarily on syllogistic rationalism. We’re not all that apt at aesthetics. We love Truth, but we’ve forgotten that whatever is true is also beautiful, and we’ve forgotten that Beauty itself is deeply persuasive. There is no argument against beauty. 
Given my growing interest in the role of theological aesthetics in pedagogy and apologetics, I was very excited to see Stephen Turley’s new book from Classical Academic Press (CA), Awakening Wonder: A Classical Guide to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty (2015). I’ve been following the work of CAP for several years now and have found their resources invaluable. This book is no different. 
Turley’s book introduces the reader to the role of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in shaping human life through a distinctly Christian education. The book opens in dialogue with C.S. Lewis to survey the way contemporary Western culture has redefined what it means to be human by removing objective value from our common life (chapter 1). This is followed by a look at the birth and development of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty as objective values in the classical world, and Plato’s role in that development receives focused attention. (chapter 2). Turley then traces the development of these values by the Christian Church in the Greek East (chapter 3) and the Latin West (chapter 4). All of that then serves as the foundation for his argument that the recovery of objective aesthetics by classical Christian educators provides the necessary tools to redeem the senses (chapter 5), sanctify the imagination (chapter 6), and reform education (chapter 7) in order to provide an environment in which our children grow up to embody the objective values of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. The strength of the book is the author’s ability to synthesize and communicate a significant amount of material across a variety of disciplines and apply it to the contemporary classical Christian education project. The coherence of the argument embodies the values it promotes.
The God who raised Jesus from the dead is perfectly beautiful, and his beauty beckons us. Turley has provided a framework for developing our ability to perceive the divine beauty which calls us with joy to himself. The result is the recovery of that which we have neglected in the modern period, and the rediscovery of full human life that faithfully incarnates the sacred vocation to shine forth the beauty of the glory of the triune God in whose image we are made. Take and read. 

Thinking through Paul by Bruce Longenecker and Todd Still (@Zondervan)

If you are looking for a top notch introduction to the life and letters of Paul, you’ll want to take a look at Thinking through Paul by Bruce W. Longenecker and Todd D. Still. Paul’s impact on the world is hard to overstate. The goal of this volume is to dig into what drove Paul to do what he did and write what he wrote. This well-written and attractive textbook moves beyond a superficial reading of Paul in order to engage the apostle’s thought in an exciting and transformative way.

What’s in it?
Let’s start with the overall structure of the book. It is organized into three major sections. The first section contains a single chapter that introduces the reader to Paul’s life and ministry. The chapter covers Paul’s life before Christ, his encounter with Christ, and his ministry.
The second major section is the longest and is devoted to the letters themselves. A single chapter is devoted to 1 and 2 Thessalonians. The “chief letters” all get a chapter to themselves: Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Romans. Then comes the prison letters: Philippians, a single chapter on Philemon and Colossians, followed by Ephesians. The section concludes with a single chapter devoted to the pastoral letters: 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus. Each chapter in this section explains key historical matters that impact interpretation of the letter and introduces its basic content and thought flow. Each chapter concludes with questions for discussion and review, a few other questions to stimulate theological reflection, and suggestions for further reading.
The third major section devotes three chapters to theological issues in Paul’s thought. These chapters represent the synthetic component of the book which give the reader a better sense of the patterns and concepts that run through all of Paul’s thinking. In my view this section is one of the major highlights of the book. Readers get chapters on “The Apocalyptic Narrative of Paul’s Theological Discourse” (chapter 11), “Paul’s Theological Narrative and Other Macro-Narratives of His Day” (chapter 12), and “Paul’s Theological Narrative and the Micro-Narratives of Jesus Groups” (chapter 14).
Each chapter has a number of inset pictures and text boxes with relevant artwork, pictures of archaeological discoveries, maps, and further information on key concepts related to the text and the background, 
Who is it for?

Thinking through Paul will be well-suited for college students and introductory classes at the graduate level. Interested and motivated lay persons should find the text accessible. Pastors and church teachers will find it helpful for getting acquainted with points relevant to preaching and teaching in a local church. It contains a few footnotes, but they certainly don’t dominate the text. All of this is appropriate for a textbook. Advanced students and scholars will, of course, be interested in a variety of issues that do not (and should not) come up in this book. 
All in all, I’m really quite excited about this book. There are a lot of books on Paul out there, but few pull the pieces together in an interesting and accessible manner like this book does. 
*Thanks to the team at Zondervan for a complimentary review copy.