On conversion.

Meet two of my new profs: Richard Kearney and Thomas Groome.

After two days of class, my head is already swimming with thoughts, but here is a short note about apolegetics and conversion:

The two classes that I have attended thus far have been a philosophy class with world-renowned scholar Richard Kearney, and a Christian Education class with beloved Catholic theologian and instructor (and now one of my principal advisors) Thomas Groome. This peculiar juxtaposition, which would have only been possible in a degree program such as this one, elicited some interesting contrasts between Christians’ different ideas about conversion—which, if you think about it, could be considered quite an arrogant thing: Here I am, as a Christian, charged with the Great Commission (which is part and parcel to my belonging to this faith-community), and thus I must seek to compel you, my dialogue partner, to encounter my faith and my God—(and not only that, but also that as mitigated through my words, my culture, my particular frame-of-reference).

In my second class, Groome said (and I agree) that to understand conversion in this way is a misunderstanding of the Great Commission, not to mention of the Kingdom of God: Christians should increase in their self-awareness, even as they assume the great task of the Commission that is charged to every disciple (yes, that means everyone), becoming more conscious of the predilection we have towards either cowering in the shadows, or force-feeding faith. We should also broaden our understanding of conversion in the first place, which I would state as a need to re-define evangelism in my contexts: The Gospel is proclaimed whenever Christ’s healing, restorative, loving presence is made manifest in the world. Therefore evangelism is the same as justice, as compassion, as relationship, as truth-telling, as prayer. This is a more holistic understanding of the task of the Church.

On the heels of Kearney’s class, however, even this call struck me as difficult, due to a possible arrogance—well at least, there is a temptation to be arrogant, whether we realize it or not. Indeed, any concept of apologetics, holistically-understood or not, seems that it would be a difficult pill to swallow for anyone with postmodern sensibilities. There are some branches of philosophy (e.g. Alasdair MacIntyre) that leave room for “conversion,” albeit radically re-interpreted, but the task of “Gospel-proclamation” remains always interpreted, always with the potential for grave distortion, always seems a bit “self-focused;” i.e., at the end of the day, my interaction in the world is about what I can give to it, or perhaps in a somewhat-mitigated version, what God can offer the world through me. 

Dialogue, relationship, narrative— all these are metaphors being used to describe the interaction between disciple and non-disciple… yet (genuine) dialogue, relationship, and even narrative, are more other-focused, than self-focused. Indeed, such a “self-focus” belies the very teaching of the Jesus the Gospel proclaims.

As I imagine Kearney would say, “conversion” and “apologetics” are probably words that simply need to be stricken from the Christian (or any tradition’s) vernacular— unless, perhaps, we speak of the former as a “mutual conversion.” That is to say:

Christians enter into conversation with others, including non-Christians, with the expectation of being changed, not only (and perhaps even more so) than to change. In that sense, conversion is an ongoing process that never ceases; even as we are continually being converted (i.e., renewed) in Christ, we are also converted by the Christ that appears to us, in expectedly ways, in the face of the non-believer, the skeptic, the Muslim, the Hindu, and the “vaguely religious” modern.

In fact, what better way, perhaps, to proclaim the Gospel in this world, than to be willing to listen, learn, and grow?



Posted by on September 9, 2011 in theology


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Back from hiatus…

No, I haven’t been on vacation….. just keep reading….

[Note: You can ignore this post if you want, it’s more about my own self-consolation and processing than anything else. ]

I have been on (about) a three-month break from blogging, as Amy and I finished up our ministerial tasks in Texas (for myself, I co-led a VBS and led two summer retreats for a San Antonio youth group). My first and most typical response to this unintentional hiatus was to be frustrated with myself at my lack of personal discipline. Plus, I was doing so well at keeping up with WordPress’ “Post-a-Week” challenge and I was disappointed at myself for dropping the ball.

I have decided, however, to take a different outlook, that will hopefully help me process other areas of my life where this similar pattern of “commitment—rhythm—inevitable collapse—frustration interlaced with intermittent self-loathing—giving up” seems to emerge:

With some areas of life, especially the reflective/restorative parts of it, I just go through waves. And sometimes I need “time-off” from even the good stuff. Then I can pick it back up when I’m ready to do so… and there’s nothing wrong with that.

So basically, I’m ready to pick blogging back up, after a little time off, ready to ride another wave.

Now that Amy (and Millie) and I are settling into our new home (in Newton/Watertown, Mass) and as we begin setting work and school schedules, blogging for me will most likely turn into a place where I process and throw out some thoughts, ideas, and inspirations that are stimulated by my readings and coursework. After all, the past impulses of this blog (theological language, and Christian discipleship) are similar impulses that have compelled me to pursue this doctoral degree in Theology and Education. 

Hopefully you (whoever who are) will find this new wave of posts fruitful, and maybe even entertaining, for however long it lasts.

I’ve already got one post as a result of my reflections on my courses— It will post tomorrow. I look forward to hearing your thoughtful responses!


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Posted by on September 8, 2011 in getting lost


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What JJ Abrams reminded me about the beauty of God (A.K.A., how the church should be like a mystery box).


[Travels to Boston this week have thankfully yielded housing; word still out on employment… travelling also meant no early-week blog, hence the Saturday post.

In case you were wondering.]

typical airplane passengers

(via EmilyDawn2)

I spent most of this week with my lovely wife/spouse/partner in crime, Amy. Wonderful.

Much of that time being, in an airplane. Less wonderful.

Towards the end of our final flight on Tuesday, with a few spare minutes left to kill before the limitless thrill of landing and taxiing ensued… I picked up the on-flight magazine and read an article. Well, I read a paragraph, at least.

Couldn’t tell you what the article was about, but that paragraph was about lauded TV producer JJ Abrams, of Lost and Alias fame, and the “mystery box” he kept in his office. Curious, the next morning while sitting in a Massachusetts Starbucks [always an admitted source of comfort in a new location; I can always rest assured that all Starbucks everywhere are the exact same.] I looked up the story— and as it turns out, the airplane magazine ripped the illustration off a TED presentation Abrams did a few years ago. 

(See his thoughts, my thoughts, and some other words formed into sentences, after the jump.)

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Posted by on May 28, 2011 in church, faith


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Thinking theologically: My (and our) future plans.

After nine months of unexpectedly leaving Southern California and moving to Texas to live with my grandmother-in-law while she recovered from health problems… after nine months of various but scattered ministry opportunities and lots of prayer, study, writing…we’re finally officially announcing our future plans:

In September I will begin a Ph.D. program in Theology and Education at Boston College.

It is a unique "interdisciplinary" degree (i.e., a "cross" between a theology and education degree, although it probably leans in focus towards the former) that I believe would prepare me for a task that I have become more and more passionate about over the years: not merely teaching the right theology to future pastors… but teaching pastors how to think theologically, and how to engage their community in a theological way. Boston College, further, is a Jesuit school, and the Jesuit tradition has a long history of studying and practicing holistic formation.

In my opinion, the way we teach theology in Protestant seminaries, becomes the way that those pastors, in turn, teach and lead their communities. If we teach in static, disconnected, non-questioning, reductionistic ways; pastors will preach and lead their congregations in static, disconnected, non-questioning, reductionistic ways as well. But if we empower pastors to think theologically, they will in turn empower their congregations to think theologically, that they might begin exegeting their communities for the sake of God’s kingdom together.

For more about us, check out our family update blog.

For more on the program, check out their webpage.

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Posted by on May 17, 2011 in theology, school



Why being a heretic is to be theologically engaged… and why theology is like sculpting.

Reflecting on the post I wrote a few weeks back about the historic creeds, I wanted to throw an additional thought out into the blogosphere, just for kicks.

The tendency today, and in recent history, is for people to equate heresy with saying the “wrong” things about God… in other words, getting our theological facts wrong. We say that what the old school heretics (Arius, Apollinarius, Marcion, Abelard, etc.) all had in common was that they “got it wrong;” they taught something about God that didn’t fit with the rest of the story, somehow.

That is partially true… but anyone who’s studied the heretics, as well as those in the modern era (post 1500) that have been accused of heresy, knows that oftentimes, the goal of the so-called “heretic” was not to dissuade people from orthodoxy— it was to explain an existing problem of theology that had not yet been adequately explained. 

That’s why every major theological development in church history always had a heretic or two attached to it. In an important sense, the so-called heretic, demonized for their insolence, was actually necessary for theology to develop properly.

(catch the rest, along with some gratuitous basketball references, post-jump.)

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Posted by on May 9, 2011 in theology



High-Stakes Unity: Paul, Cyprian, Belhar

Unity starts with Jesus. 

[A Bonus Post for the Rally to Restore Unity]

bears for christian unity sign

This is completely unrelated to my post, but this is my favorite #restoreunity sign from the week thus far.  Originally from Bryan Dormaier (link to original post)

OH, I also REALLY liked the Bill and Ted sign… whoever did that one. 

Sure, unity is great. 

But is it vital?  Is it necessary?

After all, churches (in this country in particular) have been splitting and re-splitting like amoebas for decades…centuries, even!  We know, somehow, deep down, that it’s bad… but at the end of the day, what’s the big deal?

Well, either it truly isn’t a big deal…. or, we have grown so accustomed to division, to digging in our heels and standing up for what we believe to be the authentic Gospel, that we have become numb to the fact that, according to Jesus, the Gospel itself is at stake when we fail to unify. 

The stakes are too low in our minds.

Jesus Himself is what’s at stake.

Some examples— (following the jump):

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Posted by on May 6, 2011 in bible, church



Unity in love; unity in purpose—possible, or a pipe dream?

This post is a part of the Rally to Restore Unity hosted on Rachel Held Evans’ blog.

NOTE:  I largely wrote this post last night, prior to learning about the Bin Laden death.  Thus, I make no mention of it.  I’ll just say here, no matter your perspective on it, that I hope we could consider this apposite RTRU sign(Courtesy of @WritingJoy). 

If you knew me back in my high school and (especially) college days, you would probably know that the concept of Christian unity was always a passion of mine.  I always felt like the church’s fragmentation and Christians’ general distrust towards each other was a tragedy, and that God has called the church to live and act as one… and that by remaining fragmented, the church’s message to the world would continue to be tarnished. 

Of course, I should clarify that by “concept” of Christian unity…I meant: “If only all churches would just believe the same things THAT I DO, and care about the things I CARE ABOUT, then we would be able to truly be one again.”

Of course, I didn’t think about it that way at the time… back then, I would’ve said it this way:

“If only all churches believed what the Bible says…. then we would be truly one.” 

So simple!  Why hadn’t anyone else thought of this before???  Smile 

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Posted by on May 2, 2011 in church


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