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22 January, 2008 / theexpositor

Theology at the Bottleworks…Visited

On the Monday January 21 edition of The Mike Corley Program, I shared an interview with Jonathan McIntosh, one of the pastors at The Journey in St. Louis, MO, as we discussed the event Theology at the Bottleworks. Jonathan and I talk about the formation of the event, its goals and what role it plays in missions and evangelism. Our conversation was recorded from the lobby of the Schafly Bottleworks immediately following the Midrash event for January.

Listen to Theology at the Bottleworks…Visited HERE!

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10 Comments

  1. Sam / Jan 23 2008 0 51

    Mike,

    I commend you for taking the time to get to know these people and do the investigation for yourself. I have to take your word on most of what you say about the church; according to what you say, everyone was too quick to judge them. I have never been there.

    I’m still disturbed, though and wanted to write. One of the things I can’t get past is that, while I agree that Mars Hill is a good analogy to meeting people where they are, and relating to them in the natural, Jonathan is wrong about Paul not preaching the gospel there. He does:

    “‘Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.’

    Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer . . .”

    Acts 16:30-32

    You said, “It’s not about me, it’s about them,” towards the end of the program. While I know what you mean, Mike, The Journey is still missing out on the important aspect you and I both know – God is sovereign. It’s not about them. It’s about Him alone. He will save, and no where are we excused from preaching the gospel to unregenerate sinners, simply because it would scare them away, or might be seen as a “bait and switch.”

    In the time of the early Christians, and the apostles, there were plenty of misconceptions about Christianity and bad Christians to ruin the witness of the early church. There were people preaching false Christs in the name of Christ back then too, and there were misconceptions then, including that Christians were into orgies and were cannibals. Nero blamed the Christians for the great fire of Rome. We do not find Paul asking the Stoics to tell them what they think of the Christian “cult,” and share with him how it had wounded them so that he could dialog. Paul is not ashamed of the gospel, and will not hide it from them, even though they call him an “idle babbler.”

    When people hear the true gospel, they will be able to see the difference between pedophile priests and a true regenerate Christian. They will see because it will be God who opens their eyes through the foolishness of preaching The Gospel. It is not our job to apologize, it is our job to warn them to flee from the coming wrath, and put their faith in Christ, whether they be found in a church or in a bar.

    God Bless,

    Sam

  2. theexpositor / Jan 23 2008 3 49

    Thanks for the comment Sam, and all good points. Perhaps Jonathan will read your post and offer a reply. As to my “it’s about them” remark, you are right, its all about the Lord. Thats probably what I was trying to express. Thanks again.

  3. Jonathan McIntosh / Jan 23 2008 17 46

    Sam,
    Thanks for listening to the interview and for posting a thoughtful response.

    Sam, you say in your post that I said that Paul never preached the gospel to the Areopagus in Athens. I went back and listened just to make sure, and I never said such. Paul certainly preached the Gospel in Athens. What I actually said was that in his speech to the Areopagus, he did not quote Scripture. He did not “reason with them from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” as was his common strategy when entering the Jewish synagogues.

    Why not?

    At the synagogue, the Law and the Prophets (the written Scripture of the day) was a commonly held authority. All Paul had to do was show them from their own authoritative text that Jesus was the Messiah. At Athens, he does preach the Gospel, but he doesn’t begin with the Scriptures, because in Athens, much like contemporary urban society, the Scriptures are not seen as a commonly held authority.

    The point is that Paul figured out another way around to hit the core of their world view. He used their own “texts,” appealing to their values and confronting their idols (which are really only twisted values) to win the right to share the Gospel with them.

    Sam, as to your comment about the sovereignty of God – amen and amen. We serve a sovereign King. We believe that at The Journey. We teach and preach that at The Journey. God, and God alone can save. We, also believe, however, that the fact of God’s sovereignty does not preclude our call to be both faithful and strategic missionaries. If you know of other strategies or ministries that are connecting with the hearts of pluralistic urbanites radically opposed to the Church, I would love to hear them.

    Finally, Sam, to your comment, “it is not our job to apologize,” meaning it is not the Church’s job to apologize to non-Christians for the record of religious wars, crusades, racism, and pedophilia that have marked the Church’s past. I would disagree. Having the true humility to apologize for wrongdoing should be the mark of the Gospel upon all of our lives. Since we are saved by grace, and not by our perfect record – this should give us a radical new freedom to look into the eyes of our non-Christian detractors and say, “You’re right. The Church has a damaged and broken past.” We are saved and follow a man who’s very symbol is laying his life down for his enemies and taking the blame & punishment for things that were not his fault. This is the Gospel – and it should give us the power to face people who see themselves as our enemies and love and approach them humbly. If the Church has wronged, and she has, then the Church should apologize.

    For the Gospel,
    -Jonathan McIntosh

  4. Sam / Jan 23 2008 23 59

    Hi Jonathan,

    Thanks for your reply.

    You’re right; I went back and listened to the message online. You didn’t say Paul didn’t preach The Gospel at Athens. I’m sorry. But, now that I know we both agree on that, I am wondering why, since you are using Mars Hill as your reasoning for The Journey’s missionary activity at bars, you all are not doing the same as Paul did there – preaching The Gospel.

    I would still have to disagree with your idea that we are called to apologize for the workings of the apostate church, as well as misconceptions about the church itself. I often run into people on the street when witnessing who want me to account for “Christianity’s” history. I have found it is pointless to apologize or discuss it, because that is not what people are truly asking for. They are simply listing their grievances against Christians, none of which God will accept on the Day of Judgment for why they rejected him. I used this excuse myself for most of my life, even after many people tried to apologize to me for “Christianity’s” hypocrisy. I thought it was a valid reason to have nothing to do with Christianity, until I realized, through the preaching of The Gospel, that the real issue was not my relationship to Christians, but my relationship to God.

    You asked, “If you know of other strategies or ministries that are connecting with the hearts of pluralistic urbanites radically opposed to the Church, I would love to hear them.”

    I do. I simply reach them out on the street with a group of other Christians, late on Friday nights. We reach them in the public square, like Paul did at Athens. Some listen, some don’t. Some have questions about Christianity or misconceptions about Christianity, and we can answer them there.

    There is nothing wrong with strategy – for example, when we go out, we often look for places with big crowds, we bring solid gospel tracts to reach the people passing by, we also talk to people, one on one. We watch our witness there – wise as serpents and harmless as doves. However, never to we shy away from the truth – The Gospel. We don’t omit anything in order to be more palatable.

    It gets down to this – if God is sovereign over who he saves, he doesn’t need us to apologize for misconceptions and apostates, and he doesn’t need us to hide the truth, namely, The Gospel, from people. Scripture plainly teaches that we are to preach The Gospel unashamedly. The idea we need to work our way up to winning the right to preach The Gospel is the same idea that the seeker sensitive and the friendship evangelism movement have all used, and they fail time and time again, producing churches full of false converts.

    The issue I take with the Journey is not that you all are in bars, but that you all are not preaching The Gospel at the bar after you have related to these people. From what I see, and I am not there, but it seems you are taking a wager that the most offensive message the world has ever known will be more palatable to an unregenerate sinner later on who decides to visit the church.

    It is God who convicts the heart, and if a man is not willing to listen to The Gospel in the bar at his first meeting, even after you have related to him in the natural, his blood is not on your hands. That doesn’t mean give up on him, that doesn’t mean condemn him, but it does mean you should not feel you are doing a disservice to the Kingdom by simply telling him the truth.

    I totally agree – relate to the person on the human level – show them love, respect and treat them as humans. They are made in the image of God, and we are no less worthy of Hell then them. That is Scriptural, but it is also Scriptural to confess Christ before men, whatever they think of him or his followers or his supposed followers. I would say – do not hide the message that God uses to save souls. Preach The Gospel brother!

    God Bless all you guys,

    Sam

  5. kim / Jan 25 2008 20 32

    Brother Mike,

    It was so nice meeting you. I am so glad I got to do that in conjunction with my visit to the bottleworks. I have to say though, I love ya, but we defintely did not get the same take on that evening.

    While I praise Journey and their zeal to reach out to the lost, I was disappointed that there was no Gospel to reach out with that night. After listening to the interview with Jonathan, there are so many things I want to respond to, but I’ll just mention some. Plus, Sam already did a good job going over some of my same thoughts.

    Mike, I’m with ya on not always having to have tracts or a counsling team at the ready, and I don’t have to witness doing it the way I’m used to, because really, I’ve seen the Gospel presented in many places and different ways, so there’s not a way I’m hooked to. I do think it should at least be brought up. The props become immaterial if there’s no Gospel with it.

    I know that Jonathan said this was a pre-evangelism event and that they are trying to gain intellectual credibility with the lost that attend. I don’t understand that concept. Doesn’t Scripture say not to preach the Gospel with human wisdom, “lest the cross of Christ be emptied of it’s power”. 1 Cor. 17:17 That’s one of the first things I thought of was 1 Cor. 17:17-25. Where God talks about the Gospel being a stumbling block for Jew and Greek, and the Greek want wisdom, but it’s foolishness to them. I remember this because I have never thought of myself as one of the sharpest crayons in the box, so to speak. I know that I cannot compete with those who have masters and doctorates, not to mention the self-discipline it took to persevere through the many years of schooling, but in this one instance, God reminds me that it’s not up to my intelligence or lack thereof whether these folks believe in Him or not. He says just to get His Word to them. If God draws them, then Praise the Lord, and maybe I’ll even get to help in discipling afterwards.

    I also don’t believe that I have to be up on the scores of movies, paintings, songs, t.v. shows, or what an Ipod, Mp3, bluetooth, blackberry, etc. and the many other cultural items are to be able to witness about Jesus Christ. I neither have the time nor the money to keep up on electronics or fads that will be history in a few minutes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a cultural hermit, but I’m not hip with the times either. (my kids still laugh when I want to get jiggy with it to an 80’s song on the radio. Is jiggy with it out already? Oh, the 80’s are out too? Ah man, see what I mean! haha)

    My point on this is, it matters that Jesus Christ is my Savior. It matters that I love my Christian brothers and sisters, and that I desperately want the lost to know this Savior too, but if I believe that God is all-knowing and all-powerful, which I very much do, then I will also realize I have no power. I can share the Gospel gently and lovingly, with much prayer, and willing to help answer questions with God’s Word the best I can, or get help if I can’t, and that’s it. That’s all I have to know. Remember, Jesus said they hated Him, they will hate you. Scripture also says they hated Him without reason. They thought they had a reason. They thought they had lot’s of reasons, but Scripture says otherwise. Christians can and will act contray sometimes to what God has asked of us, but it looks like Scripture says the lost don’t even need a reason to reject God. We should know this, we were once the same. No reasons necessary. I just want to do what I want to do when I want to do it, and I’ll justify it in my head any way I can to be able to live with that. Remember doing that? Good grief, being His child, I’ve cried and repented for still acting like that on some occasions. I just don’t believe it’s helpful or wise to be drenched in the culture’s past times to give the Gospel. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about them, and sometimes that’s the impression given by some if we aren’t doing this.

    I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for this to be so long, but I also wanted to address Paul and the Areopagus that was mentioned too. Paul was preaching the Gospel that day to Jews, Greeks, and anyone interested in the marketplace that day. Then the stoics and Epicureans started to dispute with him, and that’s when they took him to the Areopagus to let the others get a handle on this new idea of his. Yes, he mentioned the unknown god, but to point to the one and only God. Yes, he mentioned a poet they were familiar with, to show that the real God was not a stone or golden idol. Then he told them God had overlooked such ignorance in the past, but now He commanded them to repent. He talked about the ressurection and judgement day too. Some sneered, but some believed. My point is, the Gospel was given in all of that. Even though the philosophers loved to debate ideas, Paul wasn’t debating. He didn’t come back and debate either on another day for those who didn’t believe, because the Gospel had been given. Those who didn’t believe, didn’t, and all he could do now was to pray for them and all the other lost folks. The one’s who didn’t believe were in God’s hands. Paul was obedient and he now moved on to Corinth.

    I don’t have a problem talking about a show here and there, a song, or whatever in the middle of witnessing, but that’s the point, witnessing is going on too. Trying to make the timing, the place, the atmosphere, etc. meet with the approval of the lost, puts too much emphasis on them, on us, and what we can do to help this outcome, and takes all the power away from the Holy Spirit. Folks were hostile to Jesus, to Paul, to Peter, etc.. Christians were imprisioned, beaten, and killed. You can’t get more hostile than that. Folks all through time believed in one truth, no truth, or many truths, no different than this generation. We are not unique. We have always been rebellious, decietful and disobedient. Scripture says there is nothing new under the sun, and as I get older, I defintely see that. We can’t save anyone. We can only do what God has allowed us to, and that’s to give the Gospel, and I’m sorry, I just felt that an event put on by a church should have the Gospel mentioned, accepted or not. That’s our mission. There is no wrong time, but at some point, there will be no time, and to me that’s more unloving, to not give the Truth when we had the chance. Thanks for being patient with me and my long letter. kim

  6. theexpositor / Jan 26 2008 5 20

    Kim,

    You need not apolgize for a lengthy comment. Thats fine.

    Jonathan can weigh in with his response if he chooses, but I wanted to share just a few points. I shared with Jonathan and I will state it here again as well. While I can understand the intent of the TOTB (Theology at the Bottleworks), unlike a year ago, I am not prepared to cast the event out as totally useless.

    But I too think there should be a more direct and deliberate witnessing effort. I am not speaking out of turn here and as I said I shared this Jonathan persoanally and I know he understands my heart here. I dont think it has to be a lengthy expositional sermon, but I would like to see a more explicit method employed.

    Perhaps a session could be used with the expressed intention of discussing Christianty? Jonathan said they had done that before and it was pretty lively. Maybe this can be considered and I would gladly return to St. Louis to help in anyway I can.

  7. Erika / Jan 27 2008 18 50

    A few thoughts from someone who has assisted with planning and leading the Bottleworks for several years. First, simply because a direct and deliberate witnessing effort is not necessarily obvious from the front of the room each month does not mean it does not occur. The direct and deliberate witnessing effort occurs in the post-Bottleworks discussions and relationships that ensue. To be sure, evangelism and sharing the Gospel can occur with people we have only met briefly and may never meet again. It is our belief, however, that in our culture, the Gospel is best and most often effectively shared through relationships with others. These relationships start with the discussions at the Bottleworks. Sometimes the soil needs to be plowed, furrowed and fertilized before the Gospel can grow in fertile soil. Sharing it prior to that relationship may result in the seed falling on stony ground where it is washed away or where its roots never grow deep. The Bottleworks fosters relationships that allow for deep, deep growth. Is the time for planting always the 3rd Wednesday of the month? Probably not.

    Second, one of our missions at the Bottleworks is to reveal that we live in a God-drenched culture. We try to show where redemption is apparent in our world and also to show where the light of redemption is needed. My most effective way of sharing the Gospel may not be speaking the words of Christ crucified. It may be a discussion about the brokenness of our legal system and my own frailty and brokenness, where I am able to confess to a room full of people that the problem is me. It is not the system that needs to be fixed, it is I that needs fixing. It is I who needs a Saviour. This IS the Gospel being spoken; may we all have the ears to hear it.

    Last month was a topic where we were able to reveal God in our world. It was a time where we could say, maybe this is not just a painting or a movie, maybe this is a greater truth, a greater beauty that reveals something of our Creator. This IS the Gospel being revealed; may we all have the eyes to see it.

    Do we spell this out for people at the front of the room? No. That is not our intention. Do we need to apologize for God, the boldness and the foolishness of the Gospel? Absolutely not. And we do not. Do we need to apologize for human weakness, sin, and our failure to again and again see our brothers and sisters as children of God? Do we need to be contrite about our repeated failure to love and serve God’s creation, broken as it is? Absolutely. Humility is a lens–in my opinion, the only lens–to understand, love and share the Gospel. It is then that I can say to someone far from God that it is not you that needs the Gospel–I need the Gospel even as I share it with you and this world needs the Gospel–the renewal, the rebirth, the redemption.

    It is my prayer that through my involvement at the Bottleworks, I can play a part in revealing the Gospel to people who have never heard it. If words are necessary, then I must be bold enough to speak them. If words will do more harm than good, then I must be bold enough to be silent. It is also my prayer that through my involvement at the Bottleworks, I can play a part in revealing the Gospel to people who have known it for many, many years. The Gospel is revealed all around us–indeed, our world drips with it. It is not simply a message spoken in church. May His will be done on Earth–as it is in heaven. Helping to show that redemption on Earth, one discussion at a time is a mighty, amazing ministry.

  8. Derek / Jan 27 2008 20 53

    Mike, I want to thank you and commend you for coming to see what Theology at the Bottleworks (TATB) is all about. All of what follows is spoken in love and meant to communicate what we’re doing at The Journey and Midrash. Too often in the Christian sub-culture (ghetto) as Christians we get into the habit of ‘prairie-dogging’ which is to say we poke our head out when something appears ‘wrong’ in the world and then we go back to our hole and stay far away instead of going out and working to redeem God’s fallen creation – the world. This is in part why Christians, who used to be at the forefront and were the leaders of the arts today, we have withdrawn from the arts – I’m not counting some of the crap that’s thrown out there which merely panders to Christians. We Christians think we’re supposed to be isolated from all that’s ‘wrong’ in the world and we’re so used to looking through our lenses of Michael W. Smith, Joel Osteen, and Pat Robertson that we’re confused on how to relate and redeem creation so we withdraw once again to our prairie dog hole and only come out again when we hear something else that’s wrong. This act is extremely wrong b/c in our world the arts (books, movies, music, paintings, sculpture, technology, and yes discussions) are extremely compelling and we need to find every means possible to share how compelling the gospel is which is what we’re doing with TATB…but I’ll save more of this soapbox for another discussion over a nice cold one. So Mike, thank you for coming and seeing what we’re doing at The Journey via Midrash. And suffice it to say that God is the one who is ultimately at work in people’s hearts we’re merely providing an avenue for his voice to be heard among those who come to TATB.

    I think there are a couple key issues that should be addressed b/c of Kim and Sam’s concerns – 1) the manner/forum in which we do things 2) and the ‘success’ of TATB.

    1) the manner/forum in which we do things:
    I’m speaking as a leader and moderator of TATB, not just an observer or attendee. What we’re trying to do at TATB is meet at a neutral/safe place where every faith is welcome. We’re creating a middle ground and we’re meeting people where they’re at. We’re not diluting the gospel or withholding the gospel and as leaders of TATB we hold each other accountable to make sure the discussion turns towards the gospel and does not just stay solely about the topic. Every topic we talk about has redemptive aspects. If we did a direct gospel presentation during the discussion from the front of the room – which might be perceived as a mini-sermon or lecture (which is what Kim and Sam are kind of advocating) some if not most of the non-Christians in attendance would say, ‘hey that might be great for you, but it’s not exactly applicable to me b/c I don’t believe in your god I came to talk about why I care about topic _x_.’ And if we continued in that M.O. our non-Christian friends would stop coming b/c of a perceived bait and switch of a discussion-turned-sermon/lecture and then without our non-Christian friends we have a glorified Bible study with a room full of Christians which is not the purpose of our ministry. What we try to do is point out how the gospel intersects with our topic; how the gospel is evident in the topic; or how the topic needs to be redeemed but in what manner should it be redeemed? – the is/ought conversation. We plant those seeds and then after the discussion is when the real ‘action’ begins. But I don’t mean ‘action’ as breaking out tracts and reading how they’re a sinner and needs to repent – that comes later…much later…over several weeks, months, maybe years. But the action is at the end of the discussion we say, ‘Go find somebody you want to talk to, somebody that maybe you disagreed with and learn more about their opinion on the topic’. And this is where you see even more of the gospel present, evident, and direct. We who are leaders of the ministry are actively presenting the gospel afterwards but not in a ‘4-laws’ kind of way, but rather in the discussions we have with our friends and showing how God’s redemptive work is present in the topic we all just discussed. It’s not always about answering people’s questions (sometimes it is), but sometimes it’s just about conversing with them and living life with them. An author I respect said, it’s not about counting conversions (which we don’t control anyway) but maybe rather it’s about counting conversations.

    The method Kim and Sam speak of comes directly from the modern precept where a + b = c. Evangelism is a process, not an equation in which you plug in the variables; A (Non-Christian) + B (the Truth) = A (converted Christian). I will not limit how God will work in peoples’ lives but when living with people in a postmodern society when there is so much ‘grey’ in the world the same methodology will not work on every person. When I lived in Spain ‘preaching the gospel’ there looks markedly different than what it looks like here in St. Louis; and even different than what it looks like in my home state of Kansas.

    2) the ‘success’ of TATB
    I don’t want to sound crass in my next few statements, but maybe the “friendship evangelism movement…producing churches full of false prophets” that Sam speaks of is the fact that maybe Sam hasn’t seen how God can be at work at these ‘events’. I will say Sam is over-generalizing b/c we use friendship evangelism and I would not say that our ministry is failing nor full of false prophets. The second it does fail or it is full of false prophets we’ll love on the false prophets and show them their errors and go back to the drawing board and tweak what needs to be tweaked with TATB. Again I go back to the fact that evangelism is not an equation nor a one-size-fits-all-gospel-presentation to present the gospel. As a human being with feelings if I heard somebody telling me what’s wrong with me (as fire and brimstone sermons do) I would be much less willing to hear what that person has to say rather than somebody who engages me with conversation about topics important to me. I will say that our church has a similar ministry to the one y’all speak of in engaging (witnessing to) people on the street – but as leaders of Midrash we’re finding additional means of communicating the gospel.

    I also posted a lengthy response but I feel miscommunication of what we’re doing with TATB is harmful and not healthy for bringing God’s Kingdom to Earth as we all should be working toward.

    I’ll leave y’all with this quote from Robert Webber in ‘Ancient-Future Faith’ which is on my long list of favorite books. “The task of doing an evangelical theology will not be that of arriving at a fixed explanation, which we forever freeze, but rather the calling to bring biblical thought to bear on the ultimate questions asked by a postmodern world.”

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