Monday, April 12, 2010

R12: Introduction

Today begins our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

It's also important for some "official" disclaimers before we dig in. I am not affiliated with the ministry of Living on the Edge, Venture Christian Church, or Walk Thru the Bible. The opinions expressed on this blog are my own and do not represent Chip Ingram or any of the organizations above. At the same time, the video lessons linked to at R12, do not represent myself or my church.

While I agree with and endorse the purpose of the Living on the Edge ministry, I do disagree with some of its theology. This becomes clear at the outset with the video questions: How Can I be Certain I'm a Christian? and Is Surrendering to Christ the Same as Becoming a Christian? Chip and I have different answers for these two questions. Personally, I do not believe "Christian" is a label ever intended to look like it does today. It was originally an insult meaning "little Christ". It is not a marketing or political label. And it didn't describe the casual believer in Jesus. I believe most Christians in America are not disciples of Jesus, so I share that concern with Chip and is why I'm pushing this lesson. But unlike the answers in the aforementioned videos, I also question many Christian's salvation, so I pray not only that this lesson helps revitalize the Church with "sold-out" disciples of Jesus, but also that this lesson leads the lukewarm into a deeper, saving relationship with Christ. So where Chip and I diverge is in the second question where my answer would be, "yes, surrendering to Christ is the same as becoming a Christian." Simple statements of faith have nothing to do with our personal relationship with God, and accepting God's grace without repentance and a commitment to count the cost of daily carrying the cross cheapens the Gospel.

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On to the introduction...

To quote from the preface of the book: "Is this book for you? The answer is YES if...

  • You are spiritually stuck.
  • You are tired of the spiritual status quo.
  • You wish you knew what God really wanted from you.
  • You long to break free from some habitual sin.
  • You desire to grow spiritually.
  • You need a clear pathway to spiritual maturity.
  • You are discipling other believers."

Look around and consider the numbers from Barna describing the spiritual health of the Church. Look at your own life and your walk with Jesus. It becomes clear we're not all that Christ would want us to be. This isn't an indictment, but a call to grow. This isn't a criticism, but an acknowledgement of a common state from which we can learn and repent.

It is important to point out early that Romans 12 is not a list of "to dos". Religious activities does not equal being a disciple, that leads to religiosity. Absence of sin does not equal being a disciple, that leads to impossible expectations. Keeping rules does not equal being a disciple, that leads to legalism. Romans 12 is only a description of what a disciple of Jesus should look like. Evidences of your faith lived out.

Romans 12 follows Romans 1-11. It begins with "Therefore..." So something must come first. This lesson will not be effective unless you start with a conviction of the sacrifice of Jesus and what that has done in your life. Therefore... this is how we should live. If we try and apply this without that conviction, we are no different than the Pharisees.

Chip gives his background in the introduction. If you have the book, you could replace his story with mine and it would be almost identical. I say almost. I stuck with church at the same point he turned away. I did so convinced that God wanted something special from me, but I grew frustrated trying to figure out what that was. Like Chip, I didn't have anyone to teach me how to get deeper, how to grow. And like Chip in the earliest years of true Christianity, I kept one foot in religion and one foot in the world, and it was tearing me apart. And like Chip, it was Romans 12 that opened my eyes to a different way to "do religion". It is that conviction that leads me to "Therefore..."

Finally, to quote from the introduction, "The great majority of Christians have been taught that life is about coming to know Christ personally, being saved, being good, and then helping other people 'get saved'. Before long, they become part of the religious machinery whose primary goal is to help more people enter the kingdom of God." In the book Sticky Church by Larry Osborne, the problem of this mentality is described in detail. Assembly line Christianity does not address personal growth, personal discipleship, and as the book puts it, so much effort is made making the "front door" as large as possible, we don't notice when many leave out of the "back door". It's not meant to be this way.

In his introduction lesson, Chip gives some more damning numbers describing the Church today: One in twelve Christians live a Christ-centered life, described as holding a Biblical worldview, living their lives with integrity, are other-centered, and manage their money, career and relationships focused on Jesus. Less that 20% of Christians are involved in any service to the Church, including small groups or "do[ing] life together".

If these numbers shock you, convict you, or sadden you. Stick around. Let's change it. Let's use R12 to transform the Church.

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