Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Task Of The Community

"Good theology... is the disciplined and critical reflection of the community of faith upon the gospel entrusted to it. It is reflection carried out within the community of faith, from the standpoint afforded by faith, and for the sake of the community of faith. Christian theology, then, is a pursuit of the church. It is the attempt on the part of those who belong to the church of Christ to explore and to comprehend more fully the shape and structure of the truth which they are called upon to profess and to live out in all its varied aspects."

--Stanley Grenz, Renewing The Center, page 209

Regardless of what some may think, the Bible does not interpret itself, and the task of theology is not confined to those in the hallows of academia. The task of Christian theology remains the task of the community of faith, for the benefit of the community of faith. That task involves contextual interpretation, and subjective application, which is what makes the center of theology always shifting, and moving as the church of Jesus Christ grows, and adapts to it's current context.

Reclaiming theological construction as a key responsibility of the church takes us beyond fundamentalism and it's foundational constructs, and beyond the protestant liberalism of experience claiming the right to be the cornerstone of theology. Rather it acknowledges the shared religious experience of people of faith in Jesus Christ, and rests on the foundation of the faithful interpretation of Scripture by those in the community of faith.

Everyone that claims the name of Christ is a theologian, and as a result must practice their task in the context of their own community of faith.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The End Of Theology

"In this sense, then, the postmodern turn spells the end of theology. No longer can any one group, tradition, or sub-narrative claim without reservation and qualification that their particular doctrinal perspective determines the whole of evangelicalism. Rather, the ongoing evangelical theological task includes (among other things) a never-ending conversation about the meaning, in the contemporary context, of the symbols that as evangelicals they are committed to maintaining and that form the carriers of meaning for all."

Stanley Grenz, Renewing the Center, pg. 189.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Quote of the Day

"I approach theology in a spirit of adventure, being always curious about what I may find. For me, theology is like a rich feast, with many dishes to enjoy and delicacies to taste. It is like a centuries-old conversation that I am privileged to take part in, a conversation replete with innumerable voices to listen to.

[I see myself] more like a pilgrim than a settler, I read the path of discovery and do my theology en route.

Being a theological pilgrim involves listening ever more carefully to what the Scriptures actually say and teach and making appropriate course corrections in response."

--Charles Pinnock

Monday, December 22, 2008

Church Advertising

I work in a church, and live near several "seeker sensitive churches". I am always amazed at how quickly staff members of churches rise up to criticize and tear down their fellow brothers and sisters. While I think most church marketing sucks, there are a few notable exceptions in my area. Churches that seem to be on the cutting edge of marketing, constantly working on new and creative ideas for their church series. I love driving by Flamingo Road Church simply so I can see their enormous billboard out front announcing the next series.

I think the impetus for most of our criticism comes not from some divine mandate that we constantly be on the lookout for those who are "compromising the message", but rather from our own jealousy. I don't really hear much criticism about churches of 20 in the area, but rather only about churches with large membership roles.

Ministry envy seems to be at an all time high, and it's continually frustrating to me to hear people tear down other pastors. My feeling is this: Before you criticize another pastor, or ministry, you should be required to first visit that church, and have lunch with that pastor. You should visit his home, meet his family, and church staff. Find out what they are all about. Walk a mile in their shoes. Only then will you be qualified to criticize, or judge their ministry. Throwing stones from a distance is far too easy.

There are many reasons why I think church marketing sucks, and I'll probably delve into that topic later... I'm continually frustrated that the church is not the hub of creative activity...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Obama and Warren

Barack Obama recently announced that Pastor Rick Warren from the Saddleback Church in California will give the invocation at his inauguration. This announcement has been met with much criticism from the left and right. I've heard Warren called a hate monger because of his views on homosexual marriage, and an inappropriate pick to give the invocation at one of the most historic moments in our history.

While I certainly don't agree with everything that Warren says or believes, I do agre with Obama on his statement that we need to have a variety of views present at the inauguration. He has defended his pick, saying that Warren represents views that differ from his own, but in those differences America's greatness is represented. We are a country of multiple belief strains, having Warren at his inauguration represents something that I love about Obama, his willingness to have a variety of views represented.

I'm hopeful that Obama will continue this practice throughout his presidency. I'm hopeful that he will lead from a centrist position in the White House. And I also think that many Christians could learn a thing or two from this encounter. Our differences, while they are important to us, are not what should divide us. Conversation amongst people of faith is a good thing. Not so that we may be swayed to another position, but rather so that we are able to hear the viewpoint of the other. So that we can understand the perspective of our brother next to us. And some times, it may be ok for us to be friends even if our belief systems don't match up like a connection on eharmony.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Saddleback Civic Forum

I finished watching the civil forum from last week at Saddleback Church. A few thoughts on the entire event.

First, this is exactly the kind of event that we need in an election year. A clear discussion with Presidential candidates on issues that matter to people of faith. I concur with Rick Warren when he said that we believe in a separation of church and state, but not with the division between faith and politics. Faith must influence politics, and it is my hope that people of faith will look at the issues facing our country and make the best decision possible when they head into the voting booth in November.

I thought Barack Obama was engaging in his discussion with Rick Warren. It felt like two old friends having a conversation. I loved his comments on the direction of America and Matthew 25: What you have done to the least of these you have done to me. That is the direction that I want to see America head in.

John McCain was also insightful in his comments. He was direct and to the point on issues that matter to Republicans, and particularly the religious right. His direct answers will calm the fears of many on the right who assume that he is a moderate in Republican clothes [which I think he really secretly is].

The issue of abortion always plays an important role in Presidential Elections. The right wants a President who will be stridently pro-life. At times this is the deciding issue for voters. All they want to know is who will be pro-life, and who will stand against gay marriage. I wonder if this will finally be the year when people start to look beyond a couple of issues when voting for President. As time goes on I am not so sure that the abortion issue can or will be solved by a conservative in the White House for another four years. The past eight years have not seen a significant drop in the abortion rate.

While we are distracted by the abortion issue, other issues that should be primary for Christian voters go unnoticed. Let me be clear, I am pro-life. I find abortion to be immoral. But my pro-life stance also requires me to be consistently pro-life. From the cradle to the grave. More people will die today from preventable diseases than died in the 9/11 attacks. Where is the Christian outrage over such a calamity?

I hope this will be the year that Christians across our great country begin to look at all the issues that face our country. I believe that a Christian can be fervently pro-life, and at the same time care about the poor, and support initiatives that will stop the crisis currently decimating our world. I hope for a candidate that can make the bold move forward to being both pro-life, and pro-poor. And I hope that all Christian voters will remember all the issues when casting their vote this November.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A New Option?

This morning I finished off God's Politics. In the last section of the book, Jim Wallis channels the spirit of Nostradomus to give some predictions for the new millennium. One in particular caught my eye:

15. A new option will emerge: conservative in personal values, radical for social justice. The number of spiritual progressives will grow.

This is what I have been looking for. A way forward between the bifurcation of values. The choice between abandoning either the poor, or abandoning the unborn. Can there not be a middle path in which those of us who bleed purple can navigate?

This sort of understanding is what draws me to the thoughts and writings of Emergent. Particularly the writings of Tony Jones, in his most recent book The New Christians. There is a groundswell of progressive Christians that are prophetically calling us out to care not only about the unborn, and family values, but to also spur us on to care for the environment, the poor, and peace in our fractured world.

I am looking forward to the political circus that will commence at the end of the month with both the Republican and Democratic Conventions. I anticipate spirited debate between the two worthy candidates. And I hope that Washington will soon learn that one can be conservative in personal values, and be stridently for social justice.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

McLaren and Obama

Brian McLaren has recently offered his support of Senator Obama for President.

I'm not sure that I have decided on who my vote will go to, and I'm not sure that it even matters all that much. My position as a pastor influences my decision not to share who I am supporting for political office, or to share with others who I vote for. I keep this information close to the vest, because of my position that a church, nor it's representatives should be in the business of overtly promoting political candidates. Rather I would like to see the church seriously engage in the political issues of our day, beyond the issues of abortion and gay-marriage.

I must say that I am drawn to Obama for several reasons. First he offers a breath of fresh air into the political scene. He's not a Washington insider, having served in the Senate for only 2 years. This may be seen by some as a weakness, his lack of political acumen being a hindrance to his electability, but I see it as someone with fresh eyes coming on the scene.

As a Christian I feel I must be anti-war. I have trouble being a full fledged pacifist, but I'm not on the side that supports the United States being the unilateral keeper of peace and capitalism in the world. I have a hard time supporting a presidential candidate who wants to keep the country in war, especially a war in which the reasons for going into war are spotty at best.

As a Christian I am also pro-poor. I believe that budgets are moral statements. The tax cuts that benefit the rich, while hindering the poor from receiving tax breaks are simply Un-Christian. It's time that Christians in America recognize this fact, and stand up and make their voice heard. We will not continue to support policies that leave the poor without the means to support themselves. Those who work a full time job should be able to support themselves.

Does Obama really represent a more holistic Christian world-view on some of the key issues? That remains to be seen. I am looking for a President who is willing to challenge the current administrations failings, and one that has a clear vision of the future.

This presidential election will be an interesting one, and I'm not sure who I will vote for. Sometimes I think I should just put an "undecided" sign in my yard. But I know this, I am one Christian in America who is calling for a candidate that will hold to policies that are moral across the board. I'm looking for a candidate who will protect the sanctity of life, from the cradle to the grave. I'm looking for a president who will only use war as a last resort. I'm looking for a president who cares about the environment, and our role as the stewards of God's creation. I'm looking for a president who will help the poor, and recognize that it's a sin for Americans to have millions of children starving in their cities. I'm looking for a president who will create a fair tax code that will not benefit the rich, while the poor starve. Is Obama that man? I'm not quite sure yet, and I'm not sure that either candidate will have all the answers, but what I am sure of is that we need a new direction in this country.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Beyond Foundationalism II

Theology after Modernity:

The Enlightenment influence on theology is far reaching. One cannot traverse far in the theological landscape without encountering the influences, and constructions of modernity along the way. Foundationalism [the belief that certain assertions receive their support from other beliefs that are more basic or foundational. The goal is to provide the foundation in order to evaluate and determine the veracity of all other beliefs], pervades throughout the belief systems of our churches and forms the very construction and praxis of theology.

How can we make our way forward in this twisting, winding, and sloping landscape that we now find ourselves submersed in? Postmodernity seeks to demolish the former high places that the Enlightenment epistemology erected for our worship and admiration. The era that traverses beyond foundationalism seeks to formulate theology in a non-foundational context. First we must recognize that reason, and objectivity are not only impossible on our part, but that the supposed universal reason we so want to appeal to is actually a construction of our personal and local contexts.

"Reason is not the supposedly neutral medium in which human relfection takes place. Nor is it a purely formal and autonomous given that precedes, and gives shape to, intellectual reflection. Instead, reason is person specific, and situation specific."

Beyond Foundationalism, 41

Our constructions of theology are not objective or neutral, but rather a reflection on the context and situation that we find ourselves in. The very questions we ask in theology are context driven. When we are able to give up our quest for an objective reality, we are then able to move forward in our search for the answers to the questions that our world is asking.

Theology must begin to be seen as a mosaic, comprising the past, present, and future of theology as a unified whole. Theology is the result of the many voices of Christians throughout the centuries. One must be careful to recognize these voices, and be aware of the influencing voices that drive a persons particular theology. Theology then is most properly done in the context of community. The Scriptures call us out as the people of God to speak into reality the kingdom of God. Jesus has established his rule and reign on this earth, and he calls us out to be the eschatological people of God. We are called to participate in the formation of the kingdom of God.

Our language, actions, and theology should reflect the hope of this future world. We make sense out of the world by speaking what shall be. We are an eschatological people not accepting the world as it is, but rather looking forward to the world as it will be.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Beyond Foundationalism I

We have entered into a strange new world of postmodernity. Putting new wine into old wineskin's is no longer viable. We need a new way forward both in our ecclesiology and our theology. Beyond Foundationalism provides that new way forward.

Over the next few weeks I'd like to try and blog my way through this immensely important book. The theological landscape has changed with the advent of postmodernity, and John Franke, and Stanley Grenz have written a masterful account of where theology has been, and where it must go.

Chapter one recounts the era of transition and ferment that exists in theological discourse due to the collapse of the categories and paradigms constructed in the era of the Enlightenment. With the collapse of Enlightenment epistemology, and the advent of the postmodern critique of modern certitude, theology is undergoing major transitions. We live in a world of fragmentation, where culture is shifting like sand in high swells. New categories, and theological pathways are being cleared by pioneers seeking to elucidate a theology that is both true to the norming norm of Scripture, and current with the changing culture.

In Beyond Foundationalism, Franke, and Grenz steer the ship towards a hope filled future in theology, one that is thoroughly postmodern, while holding on tightly to the truths of Scripture. Any conversation regarding the status of theology in our postmodern culture almost necessitates a defense against the slide into radical pluralism. There are those who view the theological task as a bounded set, and their job as patrolling the borders theology with guns drawn seeking to gun down any intruder. It is their perceived job to protect the interpretations of history as normative for all times and places. [History being almost exclusively a brief period of time in European history during the Reformation].

Franke and Grenz propose a new way forward that views theology not as a bounded set, but rather a centered set. They understand the formulations of past creedal confessions to be fallible much like all other human discourse, and provide the impetus for ongoing evaluation of such creeds. The work of God in the lives of believers takes the place of the doctrinal statements of history as the enduring essence of Christianity. To ask questions, and evaluate past systems of belief is not only Christian, it is a key to orthodoxy. Theology is a human response to the context, and history in which he is engaged. Man seeks to describe God and the work of God in a particular context, and it is for this reason that theology is fluid rather than stagnant.

Theology is a journey, a task to be taken by the faithful adherers of the Christian faith. It is an ongoing local, contextual, second-order task that serious Christians undertake to assist the Christian community of their time. We have neither arrived at the telos of theology, nor are we doomed to plunge into radical relativism. Rather we are on a journey with God in discovering his work in our world.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mere Discipleship

In Mere Discipleship grabs Christians by the scruff of the neck and gives them a good shaking. While American Christianity increasingly worships at the altar of convenience and ease, Camp effectively tears down the high places reserved for worship of easy believeism, and Christianity without discipleship.

Being a Christian involves more than a trip to heaven upon death, for real Christianity must move from a personal private spirituality into the realm of the real world where issues, and problems abound. Camp cuts through pop-Christianity, and drives us to a Biblical understanding of what it really means to be a Christian in todays world.

In Part One of his book Camp elucidates what real Christianity looks like. The "Constantinian Cataract" [page 21] that has impacted our view of the world is clearly delineated. Christianity is not a religion for private worship only, but rather realizes that the kingdom of God has broken in to all areas of life, political, social, and religious. As followers of Jesus Christians are pledging allegiance to a new kingdom, not following after the spoils of this world, with its promise that more power, wealth, and social standing equal success. Camp emphasizes that true Christianity is found in radical discipleship, the willingness to give up all and follow after Jesus in building the kingdom of God in our context.

In Part Two, Camp moves on to what disciples believe. With the plethora of Christian literature available today, one would think that orthodoxy would be easily accessible. Unfortunately, this is not the case today. The gospel has been reduced to a fire insurance policy, with no real relevance to life in the here and now. Camp defends the position that the gospel is the coming of the kingdom of God into this Aeon, a new period of history has been inaugurated in the death and resurrection of Jesus. For this reason, the gospel necessitates an orienting of our lives around the way of the cross, an orientation that focuses our attention on the kingdom of God. The power of Christianity is not found in the ways of the world, gaining more power and authority, and climbing the company ladder. Rather we seek to follow in the footsteps of our savior, the way of suffering and the way of love.

Camp is direct on his views of the violence that is often times espoused by "Christian" leaders. America seeks to continue it's domination through colonialism, exporting our religious convictions in a Constantinian paradigm. We have divided the world between the righteous who are with us, and the axis of evil that we must fight against. Camp is at his best when he brings the issue of worship into the conversation. As worshiping Christians we must understand that part of our acceptable form of worship is to choose to love the other in spite of their actions toward us. In this way Camp has captured the heart of Christianity, and what our posture towards the other should be.

In Part Three of his book, Camp concludes with how disciples should behave. As Christians we are to be known by our love. That love should extend to not only those we identify with, but also to those who persecute us. What good is it to love the lovable? Christianity is a radical perspective in regards to those we love. We are to worship our creator, and love both his creation and others. This involves a self sacrifice, and giving of both ourselves and our possessions to those in need.

This book will challenge your mind, and shake the foundations of what you believe real Christianity to be all about. It is an extremely helpful book in an age of easy Christianity without sacrifice.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Why Pray?

Why pray?

We pray because we long for something better. We recognize that evil is in our world, and we long for the day of restoration. Death, disease, hurt, discouragement, betrayal, hardship, we pray for strength to make it through the difficult times in life, and we long for a day when God will answer our prayers.

Prayers is our connection to God, it is our way of asking God to intercede in our lives. We long for the day of redemption when God will be all in all, when he will restore all things and we live forever with him. Prayer is our longing to God for that day. N.T. Wright said it well:

Christian prayer is simply in the sense that a small child can pray the prayer Jesus taught. But it is hard in the demands it makes as we go on with it. We are called to live at the overlap both of heaven and earth – the earth that has yet to be fully redeemed as one day it will be – and of God’s future and this world’s present. We are caught in a small island near the point where these tectonic plates, heaven and earth, future and present, are scrunching themselves together.

God’s whole creation is groaning in labor-pains, waiting for the new world to be born from its womb. The church, God’s people in the Messiah, find themselves caught up in this, as we, too, groan in longing for redemption. Christian prayer is at its most characteristic when we find ourselves caught in the overlap of the ages, part of the creation that aches for new birth
.” [Wright, 146]

Saturday, May 17, 2008

An Evangelical Manifesto

I read through the recently published Evangelical Manifesto this morning, and decided to post a few thoughts regarding the document.

1. I was glad to see the recognition of global Christianity. A clear understanding is made that we are not the holders of evangelicalism, or Christianity here in America. The document clearly states a recognition of a fresh infusion from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. It also makes me wonder if all these sects of Christianity can indeed be considered "evangelical". If evangelical is to mean a commitment to the teachings and message of Jesus, we can all jump on board, but when the definition constricts to specific theological assumptions and beliefs, we may have a problem on our hands.

2. I appreciated the statement of faith in the manifesto. Broad enough to avoid unnecessary distinctive, and narrow enough to be distinctives to the message of Jesus.

3. The statement is at it's best when recognizing the failures of evangelicals in history. We are not a pure spotless church without the staining of controversy, and behavior that denies the teaching of Jesus.

4. The idea that creeds and tradition are not ultimately decisive is Utopians, but simply untrue when fleshed out. Can evangelicals with any veracity claim that their belief system is not the product of creedal history?

5. Our fight for justice must remain [and in some cases begin] to be a clear demonstration of what being an evangelical is all about.

6. I agree that fundamentalism is deeply sub-Christian in many ways. It's forced interpretation of Scripture, and it's exodus from culture [rather than an engagement to transform it], and its use of labels and divisions are just a few examples of where fundamentalism misses the boat.

7. "Reformers we ourselves need to be reformed. Protestants, we are the ones against whom protest must be made." We need that today more than ever.

8. "All too often we have concentrated on great truths of the Bible, such as the cross of Jesus, but have failed to apply them to other biblical truths, such as creation. In the process we have impoverished ourselves, and supported a culture broadly careless about the stewardship of the earth and negligent of the arts and the creative centers of society." Brilliant.

9. Section 2, in it's recalling of where evangelicals have strayed is by far the most gripping portion of the entire document. An authentic recognition of our failures, and where we need to point our compass to get back on track.

10. The manifesto rightly echoes Greg Boyd by calling evangelicals not to be equated with any political party.

11. The criticism of Constantinian Christianity is wholly accurate, and needs correction. Too many Christians worldview is really the result of a Constantinian Cataract

The manifesto represents a call to a more holistic form of Christianity. It is refreshing to see the honest assessment of American evangelicalism, as well a manifesto for a way forward. A few closing thoughts:

I'm still not sure why some are so persistent to salvage the term evangelical. Would it not be better to drop the label all together, and simply live in the way of Jesus. In an increasingly postmodern society, I think labels will become obsolete.

I worry that the manifesto is a form of colonialism that plagued Christianity in the modern era. Exporting a belief system, or way of Christianity without recognizing the highly contextual nature of the faith can be damaging.

The manifesto only works if we begin to live like Christians, our words on paper will not amount to a hill of beans without the actions to follow them up.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Live by the sword, die by the sword

"Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle, when it does not become him even to sue at law? And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and teh punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs"?


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Questions and Doubts

I sometimes wonder what questions are out of bounds...

You know, never talk politics and religion, because your only headed for a fight.

I wonder if there are questions we are not permitted to ask God. In my life, I've asked God some difficult questions, and at times doubted His answers.

I always hesitate when sharing my doubts with others, sometimes I worry that my position will cause others to doubt their own faith.

But at the same time, I wonder if expressing your doubts openly and honestly is a way to encourage faith. If faith is a relationship, and the Christian life a journey, then are we not all on that journey, experiencing ups and downs, good times and bad times, times of great faith, and times where our faith is dwarfed by that of a mustard seed.

If faith is a journey, doubts are a necessary junction in that journey. Being free from doubt and questions may mean that your faith is stagnant.

Pray Continually

“Pray Continually”
1 Thessalonians 5:17

As Paul comes to the end of his book to the Thessalonians he has included for us a few brief phrases that sum up the Christian life:

Be joyful always [vs. 16]
Pray continually [vs. 17]
Give thanks in all circumstances [vs. 18]
Don’t put out the Holy Spirit’s fire [vs. 19]
Don’t treat prophecies with contempt [vs. 20]
Test everything [vs. 21]
Avoid every kind of evil [vs. 22]

These can be seen a short memory tools to help the early Christians remember what they believed, and how they were to act. But what does it mean to pray continually?

A year ago I broke my cell phone. Ok, I really didn’t break it, [I wish I had a story about how I was scaling a massive rock formation, and my phone fell from my pocket as I reached the summit]; actually I accidentally dropped it in a cup of coffee [which apparently is not good for your phone]. I didn’t have a cell phone for about a month after that, and it was a great month.

I’m not a lover of cell phones; we have a love hate relationship. I love them when I really need them, when I’m stranded on the side of the road, or when I need to track someone down at my convenience. I hate them because they make me constantly available to anyone who has my number. Anyone at anytime can call on me with a request. It’s not that I don’t like hearing from people, but sometimes I wish I had a time of quiet without the distraction.

Praying continually means that we have a constant connection with God. We have his personal cell phone number.

The words pray without ceasing actually mean “constantly recurring”. We are not to wander through our day mumbling prayers at all times, but rather what Paul wants us to do is to be constantly in communication with God. We are to go through our day as part of a long conversation with God, who knows our desires and wants to answer our prayers. We are to live with faith believing that God is there and that God is listening to us. So if you in need today, you know whom to call.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Lord's Prayer

“This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” --Matthew 6:9-13

In the ancient world there were many deities to which people would pray. Long complicated prayers were often the norm in an attempt to pacify or persuade some god or goddess to be favorable to them. The problem was that no one knew which deity one might need to pacify on any given day, so the prayers were often repeated over and over again and contained “magic words” used to please the gods.

Prayer today can be seen in two categories. For some it is simply shouting off into the distance to a God who is far away, with the hope that he may arbitrarily act on behalf of the seeker. For others prayer is a powerful experience of the love of God. His presence is palpable and his love surrounds us. For most Christians, the experience is somewhere in the middle.

The Lord’s Prayer is not meant to be recited as some sort of magic prayer, but rather it provides the framework for all our prayers to God. A few things to notice:

First, the prayer is deeply meaningful. It addresses God as Father; it shows that God is involved in our world, and in our lives in a deep and meaningful way. We can speak to God in our normal human language and he listens to us.

Second, God is not some man made idol, or something unknown or inanimate. He is the living God who dwells in heaven. The prayer is not meant to focus on ourselves and our needs, but rather the work of God in this world that we are a part of: “Your kingdom come, you will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Third, we can pray for the things we need on a daily basis, but not only for ourselves, but also for that of the whole world. We pray for our daily bread, but we must also remember to pray for those who are without, those who are in greater need than we are.

Finally, we pray for forgiveness. Many religions assume that evil deeds done on this earth result in eternal consequences. We believe in a God who can and does forgive, and we are to ask for that forgiveness. As we ask for this forgiveness, we are to remember that we should be in the habit of forgiving others so that God can forgive us.

Friday, May 2, 2008


“O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.”
-- Psalm 22:2

Prayer. It’s one of the most mysterious, and difficult of the spiritual disciplines. Ask most Christians what spiritual discipline they struggle the most with, and prayer will be at the top of many of their lists. Distractions, time, lack of clear answers, all of these are stumbling blocks to our communication with God.

Prayer is a strange thing if you think about it. We bring to God some of the most significant events of our lives. Our burdens, our tragedies, our deepest desires; we cry out to God in private giving them over to Him. We ask and sometimes beg for an answer, and yet often times we hear no audible response.

For some prayer is simply an opiate to numb our pain. The weak turn to prayer as a way to deal with their problems, for intelligent people know that prayer really doesn’t change anything, how could it. With so many tragedies in the world, are we really so ignorant to think that God above would hear our insignificant problems, and be interested in our lives?

We pray to a God we cannot see, and we hope for an answer that we cannot hear. Prayer is a mysterious and mystical discipline. And yet, it is a powerful one.

Lives have been changed through prayer, desperate requests have been answered, and guidance has been received. Though we cannot hear an audible voice with an answer, many would testify to the hand of God guiding them through the labyrinth of problems in their lives.

Over the next few days I would like to interact with the idea of prayer from Scripture. We are told to make our requests known to God because he hears our prayers, and answers them according to his will.

Prayer is a mystical experience, an encounter with the divine. It is our direct connection to God.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Where Do We Go From Here?

So where do we go from here?

How can we transform our Christian lives from private spiritual experiences to a faith that transforms our world?

In today’s world it’s all about getting money, power, and privilege. Those with the gold make the rules. We think if we have the right answers, if we can mine the Bible for the nuggets of truth that will confront and prove wrong our adversaries we are on the right track. If only we could guide America back to the principles of our founders and regain a higher position in society then we could make a real difference.

The life and message of Jesus seems to confront all of these assumptions.

About 100 years after the death of Jesus another “messiah” came on the scene with the same sort of ideals. His name was Simeon Ben Kisoba. He sought validation from the people of Israel by leading a revolt. He minted coins with the picture of the temple on one side [it still lay in ruins, he hoped to gain political power and then rebuild it], and on the other he instituted a new calendar with the year 1 inscribed attempting to claim that history was turning on his rise to power. He wanted to place himself in the long line of the great kings of Israel. He fit perfectly into the mold of what people wanted in a Messiah.

We too fall into the trap of Simeon when we assume that success in our spiritual lives revolves around a rise to power and authority.

Jesus came and pronounced Himself as the leader of a new way, a new kingdom at which He would be the head. The expectation of a king was one that would rule with power and glory over all others. But Jesus doesn’t live by the expectations of the world.

As Christians the surest way to change our world is not by gaining more power, but by giving up that power. Stop chasing money and privilege, and instead begin by giving up that status.

The kingdom of God views power in a subversive way. When we give up power we gain more prestige. It is by sacrificing of ourselves that we are able to be successful. In many ways the kingdom of God operates in stark contradiction to the world in which we live.

So where do we go from here?

Maybe we should first ask in what areas of my life could I give to others. It is only by humbling ourselves that we are able to access the power of God.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Gospel of Sin Management

So much of our energy is spent on the avoidance of sin at all costs. We make Christianity about the avoidance of wrong behavior and the breaking of all bad habits.

Is our energy wasted?

The Christian life is not about avoiding that which is evil, but rather grasping for and attaining that which is good.

We are all called to discipleship, a long strenuous process of growth and following our master. We are not called to spend our lives ridding ourselves of individual sins. We are called to something so much greater.

As Christians we need to always be searching after that which is better.

Our call in the here and now is to reflect the image and the glory of God. We look forward to the return of God and the renewal of all things. One day our earth will completely reflect the glory of God and will be rid of the damage and stain of sin.

We reflect the glory of God not by engaging in a private pietistic personal spirituality, but rather by engaging in the world and doing the good work of the kingdom.

A private faith is only beneficial for the individual.

We should certainly flee sin and attempt to live our lives in the way Jesus. But if our faith stops there it does not challenge and change the world we live in.

We are agents in the kingdom of God. God has placed all his eggs in our basket. He has given us the greatest responsibility, to reflect His image for all to see.

Working to live a less sinful life is good, but living out our faith in the public square is far better.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Walking With God

If your like me, a fan of John Eldredge, as soon as his new book Walking With God was released, you were either on the internet, or in your favorite local bookstore ready to pick up a copy. I've often wondered what it would be like to spend a day, a week, or a month with Eldredge. Canoing the waters of the wild west, leading a cattle drive like the cowboys of yesteryear, or hunting wild elk. His books stir in my soul a yearning for the beauty of God's creation, and a longing to walk with God in deep relationship.

This book represents a unique look into the journal entries of Eldredge over the period of a year. There are no chapter divisions, simply a catalog of the seasons as they come and go. Eldredge invites us to walk with God over the course of a year with him, through the good times, the bad times, and the strange times that life offers up to us.

This book will stir your heart, and challenge your mind. It's narrative is inviting and easy to read, you feel as though you are in deep conversation with a close friend. Eldredge has the ability to share with you his life in an authentic manner without pretense. Eldredge will challenge you to view every event in your life as spiritual, from the moment you wake, until you lay your head on the pillow at night, God is intimately involved in a relationship with you.

Eldredge challenges our assumptions about spirituality, and our view of God in a non threatening way. This book has the ability to stir the deep desires of our hearts, challenge our faulty views of God, and spur us onto living in deeper relationship with God, all in a unique narrative approach.

This book will be a great help to anyone seeking a deeper relationship with God.

The Church

I attempted today to write about the true purpose of the church. As I wrote I found that I could not do a better job describing the purpose of the church better than my favorite author. So I will let his words speak to us today:

“According to the early Christians, the church doesn’t exist in order to provide a place where people can pursue their private spiritual agendas and develop their own spiritual potential. Nor does it exist in order to provide a safe haven in which people can hide from the wicked world and ensure that they themselves arrive safely at an otherworldly destination. Private spiritual growth, and ultimate salvation, come rather as the by-products of the main, central, overarching purpose for which God has called and is calling us. That purpose is clear, and stated in various places in the New Testament: that through the church God will announce to the wider world that he is indeed its wise, loving and just creator, that through Jesus he has defeated the powers that corrupt and enslave it, and that by his Spirit he is at work to heal and renew it.

The church exists, in other words, for what we sometimes call ‘mission’: to announce to the world that Jesus is Lord. God intends to put the world to rights’ he has dramatically launched this project through Jesus. Those who belong to Jesus are called, here and now, in the power of the Spirit, to be agents of that putting-to-rights purpose.”

--N.T. Wright Simply Christian page 174.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008



We all long for connection with others. We all long for community. At the very beginning of the story man is alone, and this is not acceptable. God creates for him a helper a companion, someone to share the good times and the bad times with. No one is an island, we all want connection with someone else.

The same is true with our relationship with God. If we are serious about our faith we long for a connection with Him.

The Bible could be simply and accurately described as the story of God and His people. In Scripture we encounter those who encounter God in a deep and intimate way. From burning bushes to fantastic visions the characters of Scripture are profoundly changed in their encounters with God.

So why is that not true for us today?

Why do we have so few mountain top experiences with God?

Unfortunately the Bible has been transformed from a radical narrative of the work of God to an answer book to solve all of life’s problems. It provides “basic instructions before leaving earth”. The problem with this view is that it radically distorts the purpose of the Scripture. The Bible does provide us direction and insight, but it does so much more.

In prayer we find an area where heaven and earth overlap. Where we are in direct work with God in our world, and area where the curtain is lifted and we are able to speak to God face to face. The same is true in Scripture.

For too long we have used Scripture as an elevated sort of answer book, and not the living Word of God. We engage in arguments over the meaning of certain passages and miss the point of the passage.

The Bible is not a deposit of timely truths that we smugly possess. The Bible is the ongoing narrative of how God is working in the world. Reading Scripture is not about mining for devotional truths, but rather about lifting the curtain that divides heaven and earth.

The Bible is there for us to be equipped to join God in His work in the world. When we read its pages we are engaged in the continuing narrative of God’s work with His people. We are a part of a living and active community of God.

So the next time you open up your Bible stop looking for “answers” and start looking for how God is using you in His work in the kingdom.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Prayer is one of the simplest and one of the most difficult of spiritual disciplines. Every Christians knows that he should pray, but implementing that discipline is a constant struggle for many people.

We can easily ascribe the happenings of daily life to chance or even luck.

Prayer cannot be tested or proven. There is no criteria or system to evaluate the effectiveness of our prayers. And yet millions of Christians engage in this ancient practice every day. We have only a few postures to take in referent to prayer, and understanding them may help us in communing with God.

The first posture we can take is that of the pantheist. God is everywhere and in everything. Prayer then is not the practice of engaging with a distant reality, but rather getting in tune with the deepest realities and the world itself. In Pantheism God is near, but He is not distinct. He is in all, and all is God.

A second posture is that of the Deist. This particular view of God is very popular in today’s culture. In this view God is distant. We call across a great void to heaven not knowing if God is really listening or not. This God arbitrarily decides to intervene in the world on different occasions, but shows no consistency. Prayer in this posture is bleak hope.

A third posture can be found in what we refer to as the Lord’s Prayer.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.”
Matthew 6:10

In this view Jesus is not off in “heaven” somewhere, distant and detached from the earth. Nor is He completely absorbed in the created world. Rather heaven and earth are overlapping. We stand in a unique place where God is both beyond us, and intimately involved with us.

Prayer then becomes not calling out to a distant God and asking Him to take over while we sit back and relax, but rather us joining in with the work of God in the here and now. In prayer we become part of the work of God in a unique way. There is no great chasm between God and us. In prayer we actively become part of the work of God’s kingdom.

Prayer is not wishful thinking, but rather a joining of forces with God. We are able to join in the kingdom work of God through prayer. As we petition God in prayer, He in turn looks to us as His hands and feet to accomplish His work here on earth.

Friday, April 18, 2008


What is at the heart of Christianity?

What practices and beliefs truly set apart followers of Jesus from those who do not believe?

Everyone in the world engages in some sort of worship. Those who are spiritual or religious direct their worship toward a divine being. Those who consider themselves non-spiritual direct their worship to what is most important in their lives. But what is worship all about?

To worship is to acknowledge the worth of something or someone. It means recognizing, and saying, that someone or something is worthy of praise. The book of Revelation gives us a glimpse into true worship.

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,
Who was, and is, and is to come.”

Revelation 4:8

In this scene the whole creation is worshipping God. Even the animal kingdom recognizes his worth and majesty. God is worthy of our worship because He is greater than us, and in control of our world.

At this point some may want to object to the majesty of God by proclaiming “but our world is a mess! Where is God in the midst of all this suffering?”

We find in Revelation 5 the answer to the problems of our world. We live in a world full of injustice and suffering, but we have hope that there is a Lion of the tribe of Judah that is able to deal with the problems of the world [Revelation 5:5].

God is able to deal with the problems of our world, and in an even more surprising move he has enlisted us as His people to be agents of His good work in this world.

We worship God because we know He is worthy. We worship God because He is in control. And we worship God because we know that He alone can overcome the evil in our world. But as we worship God we must remember that He has enlisted us to be agents of His kingdom in the here and now.

We worship God because the power to change the world comes through Him, and we are enlisted in with God in doing the work of the kingdom.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Being President

"Being President is easy, you just point the army and shoot."
--Homer Simpson

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The New Christians

Straight from the horses mouth...

I'm not sure when horses began giving the most accurate information on any given subject, but if I were to describe The New Christians by Tony Jones in a single expression I would respond with my quip about the integrity of information that can be gleaned from speaking with horses...

This book represents the most lucid explanation of the Emergent phenomenon to date. Tony is especially qualified to speak to the evolution of the movement, from it's embryonic stages in the late 1990's to the growing and expanding movement that seems to be in the teenage stage today [that stage where you're going through transformation in every part of your being, and most people don't really like you because your moody, but it's not really your fault, because your just learning how to exist in this new strange world].

Tony is neither objective or neutral in his characterization of Emergent [as some have claimed to be], nor would the reader want him to be. He gives an inside, first hand look at the genesis of what has become a major conversation in American Christianity. Tony has been "on the ground" throughout the history of the Emerging church, [and Emergent Village the internet home for all conversations emergent]. As acting coordinator of Emergent Tony is in conversation with churches on both sides of the movement, and has given a clear readable picture of what Emerging churches look like.

This book acts as an oasis in the desert of American Evangelicalism for those of us who are longing for a more meaningful faith that moves beyond the flattened out left vs. right, conservative vs. liberal debate. It provides the impetus for stretching out to a third way of Christianity, one that is true to the historic orthodox faith, and one that has not been abducted by either side of the political and religious landscape.

This book is both theological sturdy, and readable at the same time. Centered around twenty "dispatches, Tony aptly describes the core of the Emerging Church movement. In this book, Tony Jones has taken complex ideas, and translated them into the language of the common man. This book will be a great help for those wanting to understand Emergent, both adherents and critics can glean helpful and accurate information.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in this movement. It has strengthened my faith, and given me hope for the future of Christianity.

Monday, March 24, 2008


This is why I'm voting Obama 08!

Sunday, March 23, 2008


As of right now, there are about 90 minutes left of Easter Sunday, and I am very tired.

Every year it seems to be the same. Easter afternoon is about spending time with family, eating a bit too much, and then crashing on the couch from exhaustion. Our church had 9 services today between three locations. For me personally sometimes Easter becomes less about remembering the hope and significance of the resurrection, and more about the marathon church services that I will be involved in.

So before I lay my head on the pillow tonight, I'll reflect on what N.T. Wright said about Easter:

"Easter is about real life, not escapist fantasy. Easter is about God’s judgment, calling the world to account and setting up his new, glorious creation of freedom and peace, and summoning all people everywhere to live in this new world. Easter is about God’s rich welcome to all humankind."

So Easter is about more than 9,345 services... It's about new life, new hope, God coming to make his dwelling with man.

Sometimes in the midst of my business I forget to reflect on that...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The New Christians

Tony Jones has written a brilliant summary of the Emergent Church in his new book "The New Christians".

For anyone wanting to learn more about the emergent movement, this is a starting point.

In chapter 1 Tony addresses the bipolar character of contemporary American politics. The left vs. right controversies of the past several years have left me longing for a third way in politics [voting Nader doesn't do it for me].

I'm a registered Republican, but I'm anti-war, pro-poor, pro-environment, etc. I'm some sort of undiscovered hybrid living in a remote area of the jungle of American politics. Tony speaks into that frustration with hope, there are more of my species out there, those who have grown tired of the back and forth liberal vs. conservative fighting with no appreciable results.

Chapter one of The New Christians speaks to that frustration in a lucid and hopeful way. Emergent's look forward to a new reality, a more complex world that moves beyond the simplicity of right vs. left.

So, now who to vote for....

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Community Called Atonement

Scot McKnight is slowly finding his way to the top of reading lists for many interested in theology, and rightly so [he is quickly gaining ground on my reading list]. "A Community Called Atonement" is both a sweeping overview of the divergent theories of atonement, and a proposal for bringing the divergent views of atonement under a single umbrella of Christ's redeeming work in the world to restore cracked Eikons.

The atonement has too often been squeezed into a one size, one theory fits all box. Often times that box is determined by our denominational influence. McKnight points out that many atonement theories are seriously deficient because they lack any consideration or interaction with Christ's teaching of the Kingdom of God.

"Atonement theories have been shaped by the history of atonement theories, and that history has been dominated by Paul's letter to the Romans so one-sidedly that opening the door to the kingdom upsets the entire conversation." [Page 9]

McKight purports that atonement can only be understood when it is seen through the lens of the work of God to restore cracked Eikons in all interpersonal relations. Atonement must be broadened out from an individual, sin remission only view, to a view that encompasses the work of the entire ecclesiastical community of believers.

Many of our atonement theories capitulate to the very thing that McKnight argues against. We view our problem in the world simply as individual sin. The remedy to this problem is simply an atonement theory that will cover our moral indiscretions, and restore our standing as right moral individuals. Sin however for McKnight goes beyond poor moral decisions. Sin is the "hyperrelational distortion and corruption of hte Eikon's relationship with God and therefore with self, with others, and with the world." [McKnight page 23]

A broad view of the affects of sin will help to broaden out our view of the atonement. If we can move beyond our reformation influenced view of personal sin, we will be able to begin to put our arms around the breadth of the atonement.

McKight offers a view that gathers divergent views of the atonement seeing them as vital parts of the whole. He uses the image of a golf outing. A golfer may have a favorite club, but cannot hope to play a full round of golf with only that club. The same can be said about our views of the atonement. We may have a preferred theory, but our theories in and of themselves cannot fully comprehend the broad scope of the atonement. It takes all the theories together to fully describe the work of Christ on the cross.

McKnight closes his book with an important consideration of the affect of atonement on our praxis as the people of God. Atonement is not simply something that was accomplished 2,000 years ago on the cross, but rather is something that is working its way out through the called out ones. Believers work out the atonement through acts of fellowship, justice, community and prayer. The atonement is not simply an archaic or dusty old theology to be debated and dissected by theologians, but is rather a vibrant and active event that is occurring around us every day.

In short, this book is a brilliant consideration of divergent theories of the atonement, and a great read for both the novice, and advanced student of theology. McKnight has written a classic book on the theory of the atonement.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


In the last post I briefly reviewed Surprised by Hope. I found Wright's section on salvation to be particularly enticing and revealing. A few choice quotes...

“As long as we see salvation in terms of going to heaven when we die, the main work of the church is bound to be seen in terms of saving souls for that future. But when we see salvation, as the New Testament sees it, in terms of God’s promised new heavens and new earth and of our promised resurrection to share in that new and gloriously embodied reality — what I have called life after life after death — then the main work of the church here and now demands to be rethought in consequence.” [Wright, 197.]

“Salvation, then, is not going to heaven but being raised to life in God’s new heaven and new earth. But as soon as we put it like this we realize that the New Testament is full of hints, indications, and downright assertions that this salvation isn’t just something we have to wait for in the long-distance future. We can enjoy it here and now (always partially, of course, since we all still have to die), genuinely anticipating int eh present what is to come in the future.” [Wright page 198.]

“All sorts of things follow from this. We might notice, for instance, that theories of atonement, of the meaning of the cross, are not simply a set of alternative answers to the same question. They give the answers they give because of the question they ask. If the question is, How can I get to heaven despite the sin because of which I deserve to be punished? The answer may well be, because Jesus has been punished in your place. But if the question is, how can God’s plan to rescue and renew the world go ahead despite the corruption and decay that have come about because of human rebellion? The answer may well be because on the cross Jesus defeated the powers of evil, which have enslaved rebel humans and so ensured continuing corruption. Please not, these and other possible questions and answers are not mutually exclusive. My point is that reframing the question will mean rethinking the various answers we might give and the relationship between them.” [Wright, 199.]


Wednesday, March 5, 2008


I'm Back!

After a long hiatus from blogging, I have decided to bless the internet with more of my musings...

Don't know how long this one will last, or how consistent I will be, but here is another attempt at regular writing.

I thought I would start out with a book review [I'm setting a new goal of reviewing every book I read]

N.T. Wright has written another brilliant work echoing he previously published masterpiece on the resurrection. Wright's expounds on a Christian hope firmly rooted in the Biblical narrative that longs for new creation.

In a world where the radio orthodoxy of Christianity espouses a gospel of fire insurance, Wright correctly and articulates a gospel and hope for so much more than disembodied bliss. "God's Kingdom in the preaching of Jesus refers not to postmortem destiny, not to our escape from this world into another one, but to God's sovereign rule coming on earth as it is in heaven".

Our hope according to Wright is not "going to heaven when you die" but rather in life after life after death. We hope not for an escape from this earth, but to the glorious day when God will make all things new.

Readers of this book may find the lack of eschatological certainty within the book frustrating. In a Christian sub-culture where end-times charts and elaborate explanations of the book of Revelation are the norm, Wright is careful to show that Christian eschatology is not about a certitude of specific events yet to come, but rather a hope for a renewed earth. Eschatology must be viewed as sign posts guiding our way through a fog rather than a detailed map.

Wright's comments in chapter 12 on the meaning of salvation are worth the price of the book, and his restatement of the doctrine of hell in chapter 11 is worth twice the price of the book. How we view the gospel, and the death and resurrection of Jesus greatly determines how our definition and the outworking of salvation.

In short, this is N.T. Wright at his best. A foremost expert on the resurrection of Jesus and the implications of Christ's defeat of death on eschatology and future hope, Wright has given us a clear, readable, and deeply Biblical picture of Christian hope.