Monday, November 29, 2010


In a class titled "Practicing Prayer and Other Key Spiritual Disciplines" taught by Professor Steve Korch, I was assigned "CELEBRATION OF DISCIPLINE: The Path to Spiritual Growth" by Richard Foster, a book I had previously read but could probably revisit once a year and still glean amazing insights until the day I die.

I was first introduced to "Celebration of Discipline" during a college camp retreat back in the late 90s when a guest speaker named Jorge preached from various chapters of Foster's contemporary classic. I can't recall a single thing Jorge said, but I do remember that he kept encouraging us to get this book, so I did right away after that camp (bought it from Harvest Bookstore in SF...and you can too!). I was forever changed by the way Foster approached the idea of Christian spirituality.

What are spiritual disciplines? Foster categorizes 12 disciplines into three groups: Inward, Outward, and Corporate disciplines:

- Inward (meditation, prayer, fasting, study)
- Outward (simplicity, solitude, submission, service)
- Corporate (confession, worship, guidance, celebration)

The Spiritual disciplines are by no means supposed to become an effort-driven, legalistic, formulaic recipe for Biblical success. In fact, they are intended to remind and refocus our lives around the Lord in such a way that we become totally and utterly dependent and satisfied on Him alone.

In his chapter on Worship, Foster writes:

+ "Worship is the human response to the divine initiative" (158).

+ "Until God touches and frees our spirit we cannot enter this realm. Singing, praying, praising all may lead to worship, but worship is more than any of them. Our spirit must be ignited by the divine fire" (159).

+ Quoting A.W. Tozer, Foster writes: “The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him” (159).

+ "The divine priority is worship first, service second. Our lives are to be punctuated with praise, thanksgiving, and adoration. Service flows out of worship. Service as a substitute for worship is idolatry. Activity is the enemy of adoration" (161).

+ "When we are truly gathered into worship, things occur that could never occur alone. There is the psychology of the group to be sure, and yet it is so much more; it is divine interpenetration. There is what the biblical writers called koinonia, deep inward fellowship in the power of the Spirit" (164).

+ "Genuine worship has only one Leader, Jesus Christ…Christ is the Leader of worship in the sense that he alone decides what human means will be used, if any. Individuals preach or prophesy or sing or pray as they are called forth by their Leader. In this way there is no room for the elevation of private reputations. Jesus alone is honored. As our living Head calls them forth, any or all of the gifts of the Spirit can be freely exercised and gladly received" (165).

+ "There is nothing more quickening than Spirit-inspired preaching, nothing more deadening than human-inspired preaching" (166).

+ "If worship does not propel us into greater obedience, it has not been worship. To stand before the Holy One of eternity is to change" (173).

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did" by Randy Newman

Dr. Dean Smith (Pastor of The Highway Community in Mountain View and Palo Alto) was the professor of my class "Practicing Evangelism & Apologetics" in the Fall of 2009. During that semester we were required to read three books:
1) "The Universe Next Door", by James Sire
2) "The Reason for God", by Timothy J. Keller
3) "Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did" by Randy Newman

The most practical of the three was Newman's "Questioning Evangelism" which helped take readers from merely filling up the head with information, explanations of varying worldviews and philosophies, and formulaic apologetic presentations, and move them towards the Rabbinical style of questioning, one that engages participation in conversations with skillful questions instead of setting up arguments that polarize communicators into defensive/offensive positions with propositional statements and emotionless facts.

Some of the book's standout chapters are:
"Why Are Questions Better Than Answers?"
"Why Are Christians So Intolerant?"
"Why Should Anyone Worship a God Who Allowed 9/11?"
"Why Are Christians So Homophobic?"
"If Jesus Is So Great, Why Are His Followers Such Jerks?"

The titles alone effectively grab the attention of readers who may or may not already hold preconceived answers, and Newman does a great job of unfolding the issues in a considerate dialogue while raising plausible structures for truth and reason, with a healthy balance of compassion and love.

During my early years as a Christian, I read popular apologetic materials like Josh McDowell's classic "More Than a Carpenter" and later Lee Strobel's "The Case for Christ" and "The Case for Faith". While there was and still is great value in the direct approach of the Q&A interview model found in these books, Newman (a Campus Crusade for Christ staff member himself) has taken more of the Rabbinical approach to asking questions, not so much with a direct Q&A approach (where the questions and answers are quick and succinct), but rather he suggests the kind of questioning styles that create opportunities to build relationships, earn trust, and allow ideas to grow instead of feeding them to others propositionally.

As Newman writes: "The goal of Questioning Evangelism is to help people know how to think about an issue than what to think...More important, though, readers will grow in confidence, knowing what to ask, because this book is about questions" (p. 15-16).