[*] Mega Shift: Introduction

The first thing you should do if you intend to read Mega Shift is make a quick google of the internet for "" and "Open Church", and you can find a lot of people who apparently like James Rutz - and think well of his first book, The Open Church. You'll find fellows like this one -- which is an interesting study in what bloggers do. tallskinnykiwi apparently has never read Mega Shift, but believes that it will "stir things up". Very perceptive, I guess, if by "perception" we mean "clairvoyance".

If you keep poking, you will find megashift.com. What you'll find there is a sample of Mr. Rutz's thoughts on a lot of subjects. Particularly of interest are the "articles and info" links, like his "a few questions from God". I'll leave it to you, the reader, to make something of that site.

OK - t. One of the very dramatic features of this book is its focus, in the first chapter, on the plethora of miracles happening in the world. We're not talking about "I saw Jesus at McDonalds at Midnight in a bag of fries" sort of miracles: Mr. Rutz does a fairly decent job of elaborating (if not documenting - which is bizarre, given his penchant for endnotes {there are 139 for chapter 1 alone}) on many healings, and particularly many cases of resurrection where dead people are coming back to life 2 and 4 days after they are pronounced dead by a doctor.

Here's one place I want to start a review of this work: let's concede that all the miracles Mr. Rutz reports are 100% true. There's no sense in disputing claims of the supernatural because, frankly, Christians ought to believe that the supernatural - that is, acts which transcend the laws of the physical world perpetrated by God Almighty - happens. Our faith is based on the fact of a supernatural act, and to come out and say, "yeah, but ..." when we are faced with supernatural claims today is not quite consistent. As a Baptist, I'm a cessationist, but that's to say that I don't believe men are invested with supernatural gifts today as an endorsement of their office or mission because there are no apostles and prophets today. But to say that God has stopped working miracles is to deny that God saves anyone - because salvation is itself a supernatural act, replacing the old sin nature with a new nature which seeks Christ-likeness.

The question, then, is not "do supernatural acts occur," but "why do supernatural acts occur?" If we use the Bible as a guidepost, there are all kinds of supernatural acts done by God for the purpose of clarifying His declaration and validating His role in some historical act. But let's be clear: When God perpetrates a miracle, God tells the reason why He's doing such a thing. For example, in 1 Kings 17:
    8Then the word of the LORD came to {Elijah}, 9"Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you." 10So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, "Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink." 11And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, "Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand." 12And she said, "As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die." 13And Elijah said to her, "Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. 14For thus says the LORD the God of Israel, 'The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.'" 15And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. 16The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.
God intends the miracle to be done; the vessel (the prophet or the apostle) is not surprised when the miracle is done. And the miracle is foretold, intended for a purpose, and comes to pass on command.

What is starkly missing from all of Mr. Rutz's reports is the clear intention for a specific miracle to happen. When Jesus raised Lazarus, He went to the tomb and intended to raise him. When Elijah raises the widow's son, he goes with the intention to do such a thing. When Paul raised Eutychus, Paul intends to do so. And it is in the intentional nature of these acts that we can say they are revelational in the sense that they are meant to do something for the church in terms of fortifying them or teaching them about God and His plan. When Mr. Rutz is listing his plethora of miracles, there is no indication that there is someone through whom God is manifesting a miracle who knew for certain that a miracle was about to take place.

So the basis of my first concern is that Mr. Rutz has no ability to say "this act means 'X'" because his claim exists in a revelational void. Yet he takes the acts he describes and claims they are the evidence of something which is conjectural at best.

To move to my second concern about this book, let's talk about methodology. From page 14:
The direction of world events has made a sharp turn. Before the mid-1980's, Christians were growing about 2% a year, barely above the world population growth rate. Now God has stormed on the scene like a tornado. Compare today's annual growth rates:

Core Apostolics are the new saints who are at the heart of the mushrooming kingdom of God.
You can take your favorite quote about statistics and apply them to this chart - because we're not looking at a rigorous study of fact in Mr. Rutz's illustration. In the first place, his "source" for these number behind the chart - according to his endnote #14 - is a place called uscwm.org. Their "fact" is that "for the first time in history, there is one believer for every 9 people worldwide who are not believers." Mr. Rutz does the math, and comes out with "707 million switched-on disciples".

This part of his set-up is very rapid-fire stuff - until we get to the place where he says, "if you don't mind some tedious reading, you'll find my long-winded explanation of core apostolics and their numbers in this endnote.15"

Now, in the blogosphere, "long-winded" means "long" - you know, like my 4-part, 20-page treatment of Tony Campolo's last book. For Mr. Rutz, 2 pages gets him to "long-winded", but if you ask me (and did you really ask me?) when we're talking about methodology -- especially when we're talking about some research and its conclusions which are "a new ball game" for the church - you can't be too specific in telling how you came to your foundational presuppositions.

He begins his explanation with this statement: "I will defend my statistics to the death - or until the numbers change, whichever comes first." Well, OK: he's passionate. He believes he's right. Can't fault a guy for being on about something. But this is supposed to be his explanation of his methodology. Is the basis of his methodology, "I have the numbers I want: now I will defend how I got them"?

I think it turns out that this is his methodology - because when he tells us specifically what he did, you have to wonder why. His source of starting is a pretty valid source - Barrett and Johnson's World Christian Encyclopedia (NY: Oxford Press), 2001.

Rutz - who is not a statistician, but self describes as "a dogged scholar who managed to compress five years of college into eight" - then tells us this:
My tiny contribution today to church statistics is that I've been able to put a frame around the growing heart of Christianity - a very rough and ruthless frame, but a sensible one:

A. I've place the entire church on a continuum. On the left side, you have the denominational folks. At the far left end, you have a vast pile of tradition-bound, liberal, ancient, highly-centralized, and strategically-useless organizations that haven't grown much since the 1940's.
I am certain anyone reading this blog - friends and whipping-boys alike - can see where this is going, or at least where it is coming from. However, it's instructive to see him spell it all out. It's actually funny if you approach it from the perspective that he clearly no idea what he is talking about.
On the right side, you have the independents, composed of overlapping groups know by such labels as post-denominational, neo-apostolic, radical, restorationist, free, etc. Bartlett and Johnson trace their origins to 61 AD, starting with the Celts, then flowing onward through the Montanists, Donatists, Monophysites, Arians, Cathari, Bogomils, Waldensians, Lollards, Lutherans, Puritans, Methodists, etc.(World Christian Trends, Part 6, p. 293) Eventually, most of them have either turned into denominations or been stomped out of existence by their better-armed brothers in the faith.
See: when I read somebody lumping "Montanists, Donatists, Monophysites, Arians" in with "Lutherans, Puritans, Methodists", I wonder how this book got past the editor. And that's just his "A" methodological prop. Check out his "B":
B. I've pin-pointed the groups at the growing heart of Christianity. But hold the applause, it was not through a stroke of brilliance by isolating some magical quality that sets the core apostolics apart from everyone else. It was through the far-cruder tactic of lopping off the slow-growing groups at both ends of the spectrum en masse.
So this fellow apparently lays out the classes of "Christians" on a spectrum based on organizational characteristics, and then lops off the ends of the spectrum based on the criterion of "slow growing".

There is a very large part of me that wants to say, at this point, "The toy store just called, and they have apparently found Mr. Rutz's marbles", so I will instead confess to having nothing nice to say about what he has here done. He admits that he dispenses with about 1.330 billion "whose only problem is that they are capital-E Evangelical" - but Mr. Rutz: I thought the criterion was "slow-growing"? How do you make the equation you make here stand up on its own?

And consider this as we close for the weekend, faithful readers: that's James' Rutz' methodology. Wait until we start covering some of his extraordinary deductions based on this metholodology.

It'll be good for reference. How you get the lawn mowed this weekend because I will not finish mine: it's knee-deep after missing it last Saturday and I'm afraid the snakes have moved in.

Other entries in this series: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |