Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The World’s Largest Rummage Sale

Written by: on October 3, 2023

In Luke’s Gospel, a story is told that marks a turning point in the account of Jesus’ ministry.  Up to this point, Jesus has dealt exclusively with the Jews. In chapter 7, when Jesus returns to Capernaum, he begins to include the Gentiles.  You may recall the story of a Roman officer (also called a centurion), who was deeply troubled that his highly valued slave was sick and close to death. When the officer heard about Jesus, he sent respected Jewish elders pleading with Jesus to heal his slave, even stating that this particular officer deserved his help because he loves Jewish people. As Jesus heads toward the centurion’s house, the officer’s friends meet him on the road now begging him to not come; the officer says he’s not worthy of such an honor. And that’s when the centurion says something that amazes Jesus:  “Just say the word from where you are and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers and I have authority over my soldiers.” [1] The Roman officer understood that if he can do things because of his authority, how much more could Jesus!  Turning to the crowd in utter amazement, Jesus says, “ . . .I haven’t seen faith like this in all of Israel!”  


This is not a story about slavery, military leadership or even healing. Rather, it’s a story about the power of the word of Jesus and the authority of the word of Jesus. It’s a story about faith in Jesus Christ as the very word of God.  Reverend Fleming Rutledge notes, “Taking direction from the word of God is at the very heart and soul of the Christian faith . . “[2]

Has the Christian faith deterred from its heart and soul?


In David Bebbington’s, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s,  I found careful and extensive research of the evangelical’s history detailing how the Church has been molded by her environment.  Establishing a close connection between context and the expression of evangelical faith, Bebbington argues that the origins of the movement are linked to the pivotal events of 1730s Spiritual Awakenings movements.[3] 

Bebbignton distinguishes what is now widely held as the marks of Evangelicalism:

Conversionism-the belief that lives need to be changed;

Activism-the expression of the Gospel as effort;

Biblicism– a particular regard for the Bible; and

Crucicentrism-a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

No matter where you and I might land on what influenced evangelicalism’s identity, might we now ask what is at the heart and soul of Evangelicalism beyond Bebbington? What Evangelical identity now reflects our post Modern, Post Christian Era?  I don’t have words for it yet but it seems like an entire generation of Christians broke up an “overly institutionalized Christianity” and like the Gentile Centurion, understand that taking direction from the word of God is at the heart and soul of Christian faith; everything else can be thrown away.

In 2008, Phyllis Tickle published her small but fascinating book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why.  In it, she cites Anglican Priest Reverend Mark Dyer as observing how the only way to understand what is happening in 21st century North America Christianity is to first understand that about every 500 years, the Church feels driven to hold an enormous rummage sale. Bishop Dyer observes that about every 500 years, powerful, institutionalized structures of Christianity form an impenetrable defense that must be shattered.  When the dramatic upheaval happens, renewal and new growth take place.  I learned from this analogy that three consistent results happen after an overly institutionalized Christianity gets broken up:

  1. A more vital form of Christianity emerges
  2. A more pure expression of Christianity comes forth
  3. Christianity dramatically spreads both geographically and demographically

Tickle’s (and Dyer’s) point is clarifying in that any discussion of where the Church is going must start with a discussion of history. “As only history can expose the patterns and the confluences of the past in such a way as to help us identify the patterns and flow of our times and occupy them more faithfully.”[4]  In the final two chapters of The Great Emergence, Tickle eloquently lays out a suggested way forward for the Church. She notes that the four focuses (Liturgists, Renewalists, Social Justices, and Conservatives) have their role and that she hopes they will come together for a more holistic approach to the faith in the Great Emergence.


Here, too, I wonder about Christianity’s identity. Gathered around an expansive view of Bebbington’s quadrilaterals and Tickle’s four focuses, might we now move up higher and wider where the title, “Evangelical” is no longer our identity?

 Rather, our identity could be solely formed on taking direction from the word of God, Jesus.

[1] Luke 7:7. NLT.

[2] Contributor, “Actors and Preachers.”

[3] Harris Brian, “Beyond Bebbington: The Quest for Evangelical Identity in a Postmodern Era.” Harris notes that this challenges the notion of Gospel successionism popularized by leading evangelicals such as Packer and Stott, who argue that evangelicalism is essentially New Testament Christianity.

[4] Tickle, “The Great Emergence.”

About the Author


Pam Lau

Pamela Havey Lau brings more than 25 years of experience in speaking, teaching, writing and mediating. She has led a variety of groups, both small and large, in seminars, trainings, conferences and teachings. Pam’s passion is to see each person communicate with their most authentic voice with a transparent faith in Jesus Christ. With more than 10, 000 hours of writing, researching, and teaching the heart and soul of Pam’s calling comes from decades of walking alongside those who have experienced healing through pain and peace through conflict. As a professor and author, Pam deeply understands the role of mentoring and building bridges from one generation to another. She has developed a wisdom in how to connect leaders with their teams. Her skill in facilitating conversations extends across differences in families, businesses, schools, universities, and nonprofits. Pam specializes in simplifying complex issues and as a business owner, has helped numerous CEOs and leaders communicate effectively. She is the author of Soul Strength (Random House) and A Friend in Me (David C. Cook) and is a frequent contributor to online and print publications. You can hear Pam’s podcast on Real Life with Pamela Lau on itunes. Currently, Pam is a mediator for families, churches, and nonprofits. You can contact Pam through her website: PamelaLau.com. Brad and Pam live in Newberg, Oregon; they have three adult daughters and one son-in-law. One small, vocal dog, Cali lives in the family home where she tries to be the boss! As a family they enjoy worshiping God, tennis, good food and spending time with family and friends.

9 responses to “The World’s Largest Rummage Sale”

  1. Travis Vaughn says:

    Pam, these are great questions. I do think that “identity” is a good foundational subject from which to figure out post-Evangelicalism. Asking questions like “Who am I? “Who are we?” Where did I/we come from?” “What is my/our purpose?” “What does it mean to be made in the image of God, implaced here in God’s creation?” Something that James D. Hunter wrote in his 2010 book “To Change the World” has added another layer to this subject, that I think needs more reflection. He wrote, “When people are saved by God through faith in Christ they are not only being saved from their sins, they are saved in order to resume the tasks mandated at creation, the task of caring for and cultivating a world that honors God and reflects his character and glory.” (James Davison Hunter, To Change the World)

    And regarding Tickle’s Liturgists, Renewalists, Social Justices, and Conservatives….there’s a conversation that came to mind that I had with a pastor (actually, three pastors) today over lunch. He said — and I am paraphrasing what I recall — that it is one thing to disagree with someone and not be able to understand (or worse, misquote them or use their statements out of context) and another thing to disagree with someone yet be able to understand and represent the argument of another with whom there might be disagreement. Are we willing to dive into such disagreements and seek first to understand? That might be a good start, especially for the four categorical focuses to “come together for a more holistic approach” to centering our common identity in Christ being renewed in Christ’s image. Great post!

  2. mm Pam Lau says:

    I am so glad you mentioned James Davidson Hunter! Remember his good book, Culture Wars? Now I want to read the one you mention, To Change the World.

    The point you make from your lunch conversation is profound: If people would be willing to seek to understand first, any topic of conversation could be discussed openly and fairly. It’s as if we need to treat those with whom disagree like our children: We love and accept them. We seek earnestly to understand them. Because the relationship crowns being apart or distant, we tread carefully as we engage–always seeking to understand, staying close, but looking for ways to connect, nurture, guide and most important, UNDERSTAND. Thanks for your response!

  3. Jennifer Vernam says:

    An interesting post, and I am very intrigued by the thread around listening to understand each other, especially because it is so closely related to what is near and dear to my NPO. To take this in another vein, though:

    Maybe this belies my subconscious attitudes, but as I read Bebbington’s quadrilateral, I kept thinking “I wonder what the Early Church would say about those? What would they say we were overlooking?” -as if the Early Church were the authorities on what today’s church should be prioritizing.

    After reading your post, I am now wondering if each iteration of 500 years might be a step towards improvement, dare I say an evolution towards a more perfect version of what Christ intends for his people? This certainly challenges my Gen X dystopian worldview that everything is just continuing to degrade. Thoughts?

    • mm Pam Lau says:

      Yes! In response to your last statement:

      This certainly challenges my Gen X dystopian worldview that everything is just continuing to degrade. Thoughts?

      This is in part why Tickle says she wrote the book after years of working as a religious editor. It would be interesting to explore this on a zoom call with our cohort and record our conversation. What might the Scriptures say to us in our quest?

  4. Adam Harris says:

    Great post Pam! Jennifer mentioned it might be fun to talk through some of these ideas on a Zoom call at some point. This book was an on ramp for me to think about some deeper questions about the Christian faith in all its branches, expressions, and forms. Everything evolves and changes over time, but what is the essence and essentials of our faith. What needs to be modified, adapted, let go of, and expanded. Jesus does not mention the Bebbington quadrilateral to the lawyer when asked how to inherit eternal life in Luke 10.

    As you know I love Phyllis Tickle’s book. It caused me to pause and ask, God what is your spirit doing today in the world? It will likely look different from the past, but cause a renewal and bring fruit. I heard not too long ago that the greatest hindrance to recognizing what God is doing now, is a preoccupation with how God moved then.

    “Here, too, I wonder about Christianity’s identity. Gathered around an expansive view of Bebbington’s quadrilaterals and Tickle’s four focuses, might we now move up higher and wider where the title, “Evangelical” is no longer our identity?” What a great question and one I was thinking about ironically yesterday while driving to work. Appreciate your posts!

  5. mm Pam Lau says:

    Thank you for thinking aloud with me on this post. What I love about this conversation is that if our cohort did come together for a conversation around our identity as Christians, we would differ but where might our commonality stay grounded?
    For me, I believe in the errancy of Scripture, its more than 2000 year old doctrines of marriage, family, authority, truth, resurrection, salvation, sanctification and transformation. I believe in the filling of the Holy Spirit and all the gifts of healing, prayer and preaching/teaching. Yet, the public discourse around the Christian faith and the Person of Christ, whom I love with all my heart, sickens me because it does not represent the heart and soul of my own identity! Ephesians 3: 6-12 talks about the mystery of Christ and how all peoples are heirs of the promises. Paul writes passionately about how he is the very least of all the saints because his identity and calling are dependent on Christ and nothing else! (That’s how I feel about my identity and calling). Then, he writes that God’s plan is that, “through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” I am in the curious place with you and Jen as we ask, “God, what is Your Spirit doing now in the world through the Church?” My deepest prayer is that we would hear it.

  6. mm Russell Chun says:

    Wow, I gain so much from listening to your and our cohorts post. Such intellectual and erudite company!

    I am from simpler cloth. I attached my hallmark scriptures to the quadrilateral to make it palatable and called it good.

    • Crucicentrism (or Christocentrism) – Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” & Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” & Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
    • Conversionism – Romans 10:9: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” & Romans 10:13: “For ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'”
    • Biblicism – 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”
    • Activism – Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

    On a different note. You quoted the verse, ” Just say the word from where you are and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers and I have authority over my soldiers.”

    I have always loved the story of the Centurion. When I first went to Slovakia and Hungary people used to shy away from me when they learned I was in the U.S. military (and then retired military). They could not see how a military man could be a man of faith (review Centurion story).

    Then the inevitable question, “How many people have you killed?”

    Well, not as many as Joshua or Moses. That usually shuts them up.

    Wondering what your thoughts are on the new Israeli war? Walker….”holy violence?”


  7. mm Pam Lau says:

    Thank you for the Scriptures and I do hope I am being humbly transparent when I write about Bebbington’s quadrilaterals: who am I to suggest we think beyond them? What creates those kinds of questions for me is the culture in which we now find ourselves slaving away as we defend the tenets of Christianity (at least in some public discourses). I do believe in the Scriptures you site and see them as doctrinal truth. I think what I hear others asking collectively is, “have we made them our idols?” I am hoping others will chime in and help me be more clear.

    As for your other questions about holy violence and Israel, my brother is with me for 3 weeks so I will ask h im. He is an Israeli citizen and has much to say about the current events.

  8. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    first understand that about every 500 years, the Church feels driven to hold an enormous rummage sale. This statement made me laugh out loud…sounds about right if we are reading history right.

    “Tickle eloquently lays out a suggested way forward for the Church. She notes that the four focuses (Liturgists, Renewalists, Social Justices, and Conservatives) have their role and that she hopes they will come together for a more holistic approach to the faith in the Great Emergence.” I love the idea of a holistic approach. I think this indeed is a great way forward. Why do we continue to jump on the pendulum back and forth instead of finding the middle way? What do you think?

Leave a Reply