Thursday, August 12, 2010

Small Group Workshop - Reflections

Today was our small group workshop and I was very happy with it.  We had a little over twenty people attend and they took copious notes which is always good to see.  Andrew Rogers presented materials from Zondervan and I highlighted some others from various other publishers.  The one that seemed to draw the most attention was a forthcoming Zondervan book by John Dickson called Life of Jesus.  Andrew gave me an advanced reading copy and I started it tonight--it is simply amazing what a great writer Dickson is.  The preface (it's not titled that but it comes before chapter one) is entitled "The Way We Believe (or What I Learnt from Aristotle)."  He explains that over a millennia ago Aristotle wrote about how people form their beliefs.  It is basically a combination of three factors: logos (the intellectual dimension), pathos (the personal or emotional dimension) and ethos (the social dimension).  He explains that no one "embraces faith in Jesus Christ based solely on factual evidence."  Rather when Christians tell how they became a Christian "they will often mention an intellectual component, a personal component and a social component."  (13)  On the other hand, he is fascinated in "the way sceptics of religion will not admit that they are sceptics for the same combination of reasons.  Instead, they claim to resist Christianity for logical reasons only."  But with some gentle probing he finds they usually admit that it is more complex than first acknowledged. 
"An event in the past called into question the fairness or existence of the Almighty. A Christian they once knew turned out to be an ugly hypocrite and it spoiled their appreciation of anything coming out of the mouth of believers.  Personal and social factors prove important for unbelief, after all." 
Dickson then explains that he will lay out some
"robust arguments for the life and significance of Jesus, but I have no intention of hiding the fact that some of what follows appeals to the personal and social dimensions of our lives.  After all, if there is a God, surely he would expect his truth not only to be factually verifiable but also personally satisfying and socially relevant."  (14) 
Dickson is fresh, very easy to read and imminently reasonable.  He writes with the precision of a philosopher and the heart of a pastor.  You can read the first chapter, "The God-Question," here

But, back to the workshop.  One question that came up consistently was the level of "homework" that a particular study guide might have.  One lady commented that she was having a hard time motivating the group to complete the homework while another said her group thrived on it.  The question is an important one and studies can vary significantly from no homework at all to work to do every day of the week.  We provide a packet which features many of the study guides we talk about and many more (this year's packet featured more than 40 different study guides).  Next year I'm going to add a category stating the level of homework involved: none, light, moderate or heavy.  I think this will be a valuable addition to the information packet. 

The attendees provided some very kind comments and seemed genuinely appreciative of our efforts.  That makes all the work worth it to know it is helping.  I'm taking the workshop "on the road" for a couple of churches who could not attend but asked if we could come and do a short presentation in their church.  We've done this in the past and are happy to accommodate the needs of these churches.  If your church would like us to come and do a presentation give us a call and we'll work out the details.  We do ask that a minimum of ten people can attend.  The phone number to the store is 616-957-3110 or toll free 866-241-6733. 

Thanks to all of you who were able to come out.  May God richly bless your studies in the coming year.  Till next year!  Here's the cover for Dickson's new book.  It will be a paperback with 208 pages and sell for $12.99.  A DVD will also be available which will sell for $19.99. 

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