Tag Archives: godnotes

On judgment.

It’s time for us to admit it: Being “judgmental” is actually necessary to being a person of faith.

Just be really, really careful (and humble) about it.

Odd timing for a post on judgment, I know, since we just finished Christmas and I’m presently sitting in perhaps the last place on earth that you would consider nasty things like “judgment.” (That place being Hawaii).

Kona coast

But in the peaceful early morning hours here in Waikoloa, listening to Mumford and Sons and sipping my Kona coffee, I came across this article in USA about some comments that Bill Maher made about Tim Tebow following their recent loss to Buffalo.

I’ve shared my opinion of Tebow and Maher to others before—and in case anyone’s curious, I don’t deify or demonize either of them. I know this is a bit like comparing apples to Slip n’ Slides, but  I’ve found Maher to be both hilarious and needlessly-offensive (I’m not necessarily against someone being offensive if it makes a point)— and I’ve found Tebow to be both annoying and refreshingly sincere. If there is a comparison to be made, they are both in many ways poster children (and caricatures) for the two “sides” of the so-called “culture wars.” But none of this is the point I want to make.

My two main concerns are: a) do I have a right to say the things I just said about Tebow and Maher?…. and b) is a Christian called to “not judge”?

The comments of the above-mentioned article feature a man who says that Maher is “evil, vile, and mean spirited” and defends Tebow…then several people proceed to call the man out as a hypocrite (and many proceed to name-call right back). Such scenes have become about as common on the Internet as Youtube videos of laughing babies and tweets about the newest Apple gadget… and I sure most of you reading this are as tired of them as I am…. but I think a point of clarification needs to be made about what “judgment” is and isn’t.

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Posted by on December 28, 2011 in jesus


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New Questions– Compelling reasons for faith. (ANKC/God-Notes)

This week features both: 1) A change in blog theme, if you haven’t already noticed, and 2) Returning to posts inspired by A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren.  Almost too much awesomeness to handle all at once, I know.  Take deep breaths if you get dizzy. 

There, there.  Everything’s going to be fine.

Actually, my line of thinking for this post originates from a conversation I had with a youth at our church last week about his faith, and the nature of faith in general.  He had some amazing spiritual insight for his age (16), and drew from a variety of religious sources to get there, including a bit of sensationalized religious “wisdom” passed on from peers.  In other words, as research would tell us, he is your typical American teenager [although I’ll give him higher than average marks for spiritual awareness and humility, imo].

It brought my memory back to a familiar question that I faced regularly in college, as I confronted religious diversity for the first time:  “What are the essentials of my belief system?”…. [which is followed by the important corollary:  “Why are they so essential, and what’s actually at risk if those essentials are muddied or disregarded?”]   

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Posted by on April 21, 2011 in theology


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Creeds Guard the Mystery of the Story.


Can being dogmatic actually lead us astray off the path of faith?

Church history has never been short of people who have claimed to be the “true defenders of the Gospel.”  Far too often, this group is composed of Christians who look at other Christians and say, “Well, they’ve really mucked this up, haven’t they?” and then proceed to split from, condemn, dismiss, or destroy the opposition. 

Some will say that the church has always done this, going all the way back to the early church controversies that led to the creation of the Nicene and Constantinopolitan creeds, among others.   Theology, it is said, was at stake…. and the church put a stake in the ground for certain theological truths, an interpretive grid that would ensure that the Bible would be read the “right way.”  

There is a danger in false teachings, to be sure… and creeds were written in order to help defend the church against such teachings.

But what about those creeds, anyway????

It’s interesting to me that what’s presented in the creeds (particularly in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan and Apostles’ creeds) is a story, primarily… and they are primarily concerned with stating the clear identity of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and telling the story of God’s revelation.  They don’t work out a particular theological system. 

In fact, you can make the argument that the creeds’ authors were actually responding to attempts to systematize the story—i.e., church leaders were overstepping the boundaries of faith by trying to figure out the how of Jesus’ incarnation and divinity and the Trinity… and so the church responded with an assertion that kept the mystery intact.

     (your run-o-th-mill heretic)                     (an apophatic theologian)


“Jesus had the power of God.”

                                                         No…. he WAS God.

“Oh, so God the Father took the form of a human.”

                                                         No… he WAS human too.

“Okay… so Jesus was a lesser God, created by the Father.”

No…. he was FULLY God, and existed eternally.

“But then how can he be two things?  He must have two wills.”

                                                       No, he has one will.

“Oh, so maybe he’s a weird human/divine combo.”

         No, he’s both human and divine, fully, not a “third thing.”



“I don’t get it.”

                                                       That’s the point. 

To the Greek (dualistic mind)…. rationally, these things don’t make sense.  The whole thing is a big, fat contradiction.  Of course, Jesus didn’t fit into Greek categories.   When people tried to shove Him into Greek categories, crucial parts of the story were squeezed out of the mold.  The creeds were written to prevent that.  Creeds can be seen as defense against overstepping bounds, and embracing mystery, despite the logical inconsistency of it all, in a Greek-philosophy-dominated culture. 

Because what’s at stake—is God’s character, his identity, his mission… things ultimately beyond our grasp, that CANNOT be “defended” by us; they can only be asserted and lived-out. 

This naturally leads me to question:  How many times have we as Christians overstepped the bounds of what we can possibly know, in order to create an artificial, “who’s in, who’s out” distinction?

Did Roman Catholics overstep with particular [e.g. Tridentine] views on sacramentalism and church authority, or especially in doctrines such as immaculate conception? 

Did Luther and his followers overstep by making justification by faith the centerpiece of the gospel (thus strictly dividing it from sanctification)?

Did Wesley overstep with his defenses of Christian perfection?

Did Calvin overstep when he makes some apparently logical conclusions about election and predestining of the future of both the saved and damned (preservation of mystery was, in fact, Calvin’s point….)? 

Isn’t it ironic that our “defenses of the Gospel” when it’s at stake, can actually strip or deemphasize aspects of the Gospel story? 

The fact is, we all have systems, lenses, traditions, etc…. that seek to explain and interpret.  These systems use of combinations of logic and experience, tradition and cultural developments, history and church authority, translations of scripture, etc. etc…. all of which shape our view of scripture and our experience of the Spirit.  And they help us understand…. and they also hinder us, and cause us to overstep.

Overstepping, honestly, isn’t the big issue.  We wouldn’t be able to say much about God without overstepping (although some examples are certainly worse than others.)

The big issue is how we overstep, and then say, “And I KNOW this is true….and if you don’t believe this, you do not believe the REAL Gospel!”

Because faith and dogmatism are antithetical. 

I think the Creed-authors realized this, which is why the creeds were seen as so critical. 

Because in a rationalistic world, the creeds guarded the Mystery for the universal Church.

And we sometimes need to say definitive things about God…. but we’d best remember:  we should first determine why this need is present and if it is truly a need, and second, say what we say with humility, love, and openness, knowing that whenever we claim to speak for God, no matter how many people we believe stand behind us, we are standing on dangerous ground. 

The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son.

John 5:22

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Posted by on April 4, 2011 in church, history, theology


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God-Notes: Choose Your Own Biblical Narrative! (ANKC)

To celebrate the beginning of Lent…

It’s Audience Participation Time!  Smile 

McLaren’s first great Question shaping the New Conversation regards the flow, function, and substance of the Christian Story, particularly as regarded in Scripture. 

Speaking of “Narrative Theology” has become quite the trendy thing in intellectual circles, and I use “narrative language” frequently in my ministry—it has the unique benefit of appealing to both so-called conservatives in my church for its Biblical emphasis, and to so-called liberals for its intrinsic openness and intellectual honesty regarding Biblical interpretation…yet it goes deeper than either view by challenging us to engage scripture not only intellectual, but experientially and formationally. That is, stories lodge themselves into our brains, and they have the power to shape and challenge us over time, as the stories become part of us.  I think that’s how the scriptures were meant to be used, honestly.

However, the more controversial thing to discuss, I would think, is that all our theology, whether we recognize it or not, has narratival implications—and these implications are sometimes what sully the Christian story, and/or what make the Christian faith untenable for others.   I’ll be posting more on narrative theology in general, but I thought I’d first try something fun to illustrate this last point.  [well, at least fun for nerds like me.]


Two of my favorite activities as a kid were Mad Libs and Choose Your Own Adventure Books.  In the spirit of these grand traditions….

I’m going to write an [over-simplified] “skeleton” of what is often considered the most basic flow of the Christian narrative… but with blanks that YOU have to fill in.  Pick the response that most closely represents your views. I give a few suggestions for you, but feel free to write your own (one sentence/phrase) answer to each blank.

Keep in mind, I just took a stab at this… it’s imperfect, and no, I don’t represent every theological position, out there, and some of my grouping might feel a tad artificial, but they’re not meant to be perfect…. so, Theology Police, back off.  Smile 

Now you (yes, YOU): feel free to take a stab at it and put your answers in the comment box at the bottomdon’t feel like every theological position you hold has to be defended here— just do your best… Feel free to “mix and match,” or change the suggested wording…do whatever you want. 

[Funny answers are okay, too.  I have no qualms against somewhat irreverent humor, as you’ll see.]


1.  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, because________. 

a) He wanted to demonstrate His glory.

b) That’s who God is… a Creator. 

c) God’s extravagant love compelled Him to create.

d) God got a “Heavens and Earth” Erector Set for His birthday. 

2.  Humans were created last, as the ________ of God’s creation, and God surrounded them with __________. 

a) epitome….toys to play with.

b) chief stewards….creation to care for.

c) final act…the inalterable laws of nature and time to govern all things. 

Hmm….I don’t remember this one….

3.  This scene was ruined, however, when humans _______________, and God responded by _______________ and cutting them off from ________. 

a) broke God’s commands…becoming angry….eternal life.

b) became “unholy” by sin… becoming disappointed…himself, because a holy God cannot be near what is unholy without destroying it.

c) became selfish… allowing them to pull away from him… the freedom of God, and they became enslaved to their own desires.

d) bungled their advertising project…saying “You’re Damned!”… the hit reality TV show “The Apprentice: God Edition.”

4.  This situation was unacceptable to God, because ______________.   So He resolved to fix it, beginning with Abraham, promising him a family __________________. 

a)  He liked having minions… of clones that he would later use to destroy the Separatist’s Droid army. 

b) even though God ordained that humans be rebellious, it was nevertheless primarily their fault… that would be especially cared for, in order to be the lineage for the eventual Messiah. 

c) even though God foresaw that humans would rebel, He did not stop them from doing so out of His preservation of free will… that would be chosen to bless the entire world.

d) even though God anticipated the possibility that humans would begin to devolve, He had hoped that they would not…that would restore the original purpose/plan that God had for the Creation.

5. Through Abraham’s family line, eventually a nation of people, the Israelites, were formed.  Although they were enslaved in Egypt, God rescued them and gave them their own land. In addition, He gave them the law/covenant, because _______________. 

a) God needed to provide an impossible standard for the people, in order to demonstrate that people are hopelessly sinful.

b) God wanted the Israelites to live according to the law, living according to a higher standard than (yet analogous to) the surrounding nations, in order to demonstrate a “life with God” to the entire world.

c) He wanted to give the priestly class the necessary means for exerting control over the people….i.e., the priests made it all up.

6. He gave them sacrifices, because _____________. 

a) God for some reason loves it when you chop up living animals on an altar for Him, but gets grossed out when you cook a baby goat in its mother’s milk. 

b) God needs some kind of bloodshed in order to satiate His wrath whenever the people sinned against Him… and better an animal than a human being, right?

c) God took a culturally-appropriate means of worship and gave it new meaning.

d) God wanted the people to have distinctive rites and rituals, to remind them that they were called to be distinctive as a nation.


“Poor wittle wamb….”

“Hey, better him than me!”

7. He gave them the tabernacle, and later the Temple, because ____________. 

a) God ultimately wanted to be among His people again, however possible. 

b) God used them to anticipate the coming of Jesus. 

c) God got His jollies from watching the Israelites carry around a silly box, thinking that He somehow lived in/on it.

8. Later, He gave them a king ____________________. 

a) in order to establish justice/equity in the community.

b) in order to create a royal line from which the Messiah could descend.

c) in order to help Israel kick some a$$ against their enemies. 

9.  After a time of prosperity, Israel forgot God.  They ________________________. 

a) started worshipping idols, forgetting that they were the people of Yahweh.

b) began to take advantage of, and even abuse, the poor and alien in their midst, contrary to the society of justice and peace that God wanted them to be.

c) failed to uphold the law, which was God’s plan all along. 

d) ran up an astronomical bill at the “Mount Carmel Delight Resort, Spa, and Brothel,” including thousands of shekels in damages. (God:  “That’s the last time I’m letting Israel borrow my credit card!” )

whoops, got Israel confused with someone else for a moment…

10.  So God _____________________ and the people were conquered.  After that, Israel was never the same, nearly always under the thumb of foreign rulers.  Soon a new hope began to arise:   a hope for _________________. 

a) relinquished his protection…restoration of the nation.

b) unleashed his fury… the Messiah that would eventually come to absorb the anger of God that was meant for His sinful creation.

c) cried into His pillow that night…that God would stop avoiding Israel’s phone calls and forgive her for being so stupid. 

11. This hope was fulfilled in Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem in Rome-occupied Judea, which was the moment when________.

a) God came near to humanity again in His fully-God and yet fully-human self. 

b) God came to earth to do what humanity could not do on their own behalf; i.e., keep the law, as fully God and yet fully human.

c) God came to earth to give humans an example of what a human could actually do and accomplish. 

d) a baby was born… plain and simple.  It was what that baby ended up doing with his life that was extraordinary, not his birth.

12.  He grew up in a small Galilean town, and grew up to proclaim the Good News that ________________________. 

a) The Kingdom of God had come— that Jesus had come to establish a new way to live, in fulfillment of Israel’s original call.

b) Those who believe in Jesus the Messiah as the Son of God would be saved from God’s judgment. 

c) The Kingdom of God had come near— that creation’s brokenness was being radically reversed due to God’s healing work and presence in the world, first demonstrated by Jesus.

d) The Kingdom of God was about to drop-kick the freakin’ Romans. 

No doubt, if given the chance, Jesus would’ve punked those feather-duster-wearin’ Romans on the gridiron.  Pretty sure I had that dream once, come to think of it….

13. In addition to His teachings, many miracles were reported around him.  The people responded to Jesus _________________ because ________________. 

a) with frustration… Jesus’ teachings were even tougher than the “old law.” But He taught in this way to them, again, only so that people would recognize how utterly sinful they were.

b) with hope… Jesus had come to fulfill Israel’s original purpose and function, even though many misunderstood what this was.

c) with offense… they didn’t like the fact that they were just the “temporary fix” to the problem, all just a big lead-up to Jesus.

d) by running away in fear…  he trashed all their swag, all while brotha’ hit a note so high, it’s outlawed in 29 countries.

14. He also called other people to follow him as disciples, because _______. 

a) the upside-down Kingdom of love that He was establishing would be continued on through the disciples’ own lives. 

b) Jesus needed some company for the lonely journeys through the Judean countryside. 

c) Jesus was an egomaniac who needed attention.

d) then at least some people could see Him die and then rise again, which proved that Jesus was divine.

15.  Eventually He was killed on a cross ________. 

a) to finally pay the hefty price-tag on all of humanity’s sin.

b) in an act of Roman cruelty, yet refusing to fight violence with violence. 

c) in an ultimate act of love towards humanity.

d) in the culmination of living as a faithful Jew, and as their King (Messiah) God reckoned His life as having fulfilled the Mosaic/Abrahamic Covenant.

e) to be a sacrifice that would replace the need for all other sacrifices.

f) in an act of giving Himself up to the devil in exchange for the souls of humanity.

16. However, he was resurrected on the third day _________________ and appeared to His followers, among others. 

a) demonstrating victory over the powers of violence and death

b) in order to prove His divinity to people, which made His sacrifice for all humanity possible

c) in the hearts of His followers

d) as a nice “bonus” to the real Good News that Jesus died on the cross for our sins

17.  He ascended into heaven ____________ , and later, during the celebration of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples_____________________. 

a) as spirit… in order to choose who would be saved and who would not.

b) , taking His humanity up into the Godhead… and so uniting divinity with humanity. 

c) in a Criss Angel-like optical illusion… ,a.k.a. a drug-induced hallucination. 

“No, really, that’s okay.  I believe you’re alive now. Please don’t make me…”

“NO, dude, you gotta touch it!  Trust me, it feels so weird.”

“No, Jesus, really, I appreciate the offer, but…”



18.  In that moment the church was born, for the purpose of _________________________________. 

a) telling other people about how Jesus died for their sins.

b) maintaining and perpetuating an institution that in its majesty and power reflects God’s reign over the world.

c) Being the “New Israel,” the people of God that will function as a “light to the nations” in the way that it loves and serves each other.

d) being the “body of Christ,” and thus continuing to bring the healing, teaching, loving, and serving to the world that Jesus did, living according to the way of God’s Kingdom. 

e) one day creating mega-churches where you can go to worship, eat lunch, AND do your weekend shopping all in the same location!

19.  The church now continues in its purpose, while continuing to preach the Good News (Gospel) of Jesus: ______________, by ____________.  People become part of this community by ___________________________. 

a) “The Kingdom of God has come to earth”…working towards redemption in all its forms…reorienting one’s life to Christ and participating in this Mission.

b) “Jesus died for your sins”…preaching and evangelizing…hearing the Word and then praying for Jesus to come into their hearts.

c) “God is love”… loving everyone…being loved and loving others.

d) “God has chosen His people to be saved from His wrath”… preaching, which God uses to draw His elect… submitting to the inevitability of one’s fate.

e) “God wants you to live the best life that you can”… working hard and being a good person—oh, and going to church sometimes… telling people that you’re a Christian. 

f) “Panera gives you quality coffee with free refills and free Wifi!”… going to Panera whenever possible and ordering Panera pastries and coffee for your office meetings… beginning to spend your Saturday afternoons at Panera, forsaking Starbucks and all other idols. 

20.  Eventually God will ___________, heaven will________; earth will __________.   This will fulfill God’s original intentions for the creation because _______________________. 

a) rescue His chosen and then as Judge invoke His fury against the world…become the safe haven for the chosen…be destroyed, except for hell, which will persist forever as God’s eternal punishment for people’s sin…the whole purpose of the creation was to demonstrate God’s glory, and what shows God’s glory more clearly than utter annihilation and eternal suffering?

b) rescue His people and then allow Satan to unleash His fury against the earth… be the safe haven for those who made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ… be destroyed and then restored, ready to be God’s home again (with the exception of hell)… God is once again without dissenters and can start over with the creation process, just like He did with Noah [sure, He promised He’d never destroy the earth and “start over” again, but that was with a flood, so that was totally different.]

c) complete and actualize the redeeming work of the church in the world, and then all will be resurrected, and as Judge, Jesus will invoke His justice to all, Christians and non-Christians alike, according to how they lived…become one with earth…become one with heaven… this is how things began, even though the history and culture of the world will in some way be preserved in the New Creation. 

d) sit back and watch as the world destroys itself… increase as pure souls become One with God… only where pain and suffering resides… creation was the “holding cell” for our souls until we could escape to be one with God again.

e) Return to His creation to complete its restoration, and Jesus will invite all of humanity to participate in it, all having been redeemed by His fully efficacious sacrifice… join with earth…join with heaven… everything will be made new and whole, as God originally intended, and pain and suffering will be gone.  

21.  This message is hopeful to the world because ______________. 

a) well, you’re among the elect, aren’t you?

b) there’s a way out of the impending doom!

c) God loves you….yes, even you.

d) there will be justice for all who are oppressed one day, for those who could not receive it in this age.

e) it means that, as God’s chosen, living in the temporary creation, I can basically live however I want, no matter who it affects, and still get to party with Jesus in the New Kingdom…. so that’s a pretty sweet deal. 

Party people, line up!

Make a list #1-21 and note your answers for each number. If you like one of my options, just put down the corresponding letter.

In case you want it, here’s the entire story-skeleton together:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,  because________.  Humans were created last, as the ________ of God’s creation, and God surrounded them with __________.  This scene was ruined, however, when humans _______________, and God responded by _______________ and cutting them off from ________. 

This situation was unacceptable to God, because ______________.   So He resolved to fix it, beginning with Abraham, promising him a family __________________.  Through Abraham’s family line, eventually a nation of people, the Israelites, were formed.  Although they were enslaved in Egypt, God rescued them and gave them their own land. In addition, He gave them the law, because _______________.  He gave them sacrifices, because _____________.  He gave them the tabernacle, and later the Temple, because ____________.  Later, He gave them a king ____________________. 

After a time of prosperity, Israel forgot God.  They ________________________.  So God _____________________ and the people were conquered.  After that, Israel was never the same, nearly always under the thumb of foreign rulers.  Soon a new hope began to arise:   a hope for _________________. 

This hope was fulfilled in Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem in Rome-occupied Judea, which was the moment when________.  He grew up in a small Galilean town, and grew up to proclaim the Good News that ____________________.  In addition to His teachings, many miracles were reported around him.  The people responded to Jesus  ______________ because ________________.  He also called people to follow him as disciples, because ___________.  Eventually He was killed on a cross _______________.  However, he was resurrected on the third day _________________ and appeared to His followers, among others.  He ascended into heaven ____________ , and later, during the celebration of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, because _____________________.  In that moment the church was born, for the purpose of _________________________________. 

The church now continues in its purpose, while continuing to preach the Good News (Gospel) of Jesus: ______________, by ____________.  People become part of this community by ___________________________.  Eventually God will ___________, heaven will________; earth will __________.   This will fulfill God’s original intentions for the creation because __________________.  This message is hopeful to the world because ______________. 

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Posted by on March 7, 2011 in bible, funny, theology


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God-Notes (ANKC): Morsels and Tidbits from Chapter 3


Not only would doing a long post on every chapter of A New Kind of Christian be tedious and time-consuming (I’m hoping to make my posts more succinct anyway) on my end, I don’t think it would make for very compelling reading on your end, on the whole.  Moving slowly breeds redundancy for me. [I feel like I’ve been setting the table for months now.  It’s time to move on to the main course, already. ] 

Also, some of these chapters are not going to be as strong conversation-starters as others— Chapter 3 is an example.

That said, I wanted to highlight a few interesting “morsels” from the chapter, before we dig into full-fledged meals [so if you’re on a blog-diet, you can just read this post.]

The John Robinson quote:  If you want to read it, it’s the 2/27/11 entry on my page-o-quotes.  Basically, the prayer of the Mayflower Pilgrims’ pastor prior to embarking on their grand excursion is an amazingly gracious prayer that echoes the sentiments of those like McLaren, seeking a New Conversation. 

The overall sentiment? A desire for HUMILITY.  Exemplifying openness and desire to plumb the depths of faith, not destroy it (despite what critics may claim).   Commitment to dialogue.  Basically, the stuff I’ve mentioned in the last few posts.

The rest of these are things I thout about as I read lines from this prayer:

* “We acknowledge that we have made a mess of what Jesus has started…”  

People are not scandalized by the gospel in our culture… contrary to what some might say. [We’ve made it so easy; what is there to be scandalized about?] People are not scandalized by Jesus; they’re first and foremost scandalized by the church and its innumerable sins against God’s world.   Acknowledging this (and our need for repentance) is one of the first steps necessary to our New Conversation; it’s also necessary to our conversations with those outside the Christian faith. [<—- Shane Claiborne’s article to Esquire magazine=a must read]

* We understand that many good Christians will not want to participate in our quest, and we welcome their charitable critique…” 

Pesistent, loving  invitation is the primary attitude of this conversation; it is also the primary posture of the Church that lives in a post-legalistic and yet also a post-“making-church-as-easy-as-possible-for-me-so-that-I-no-longer-have-a-clear-sense-of-what-the-point-of-church-is” –mentality.    We want to belong to something bigger, but we are still individualists, who cannot be coerced into believing or belonging.    But we can invite participation into a “deep relationship,” and do so without judgment or passive-aggression.

* “We acknowledge that we have created many Christianities up to this point and they all call for reassessment and in many cases, repentance…” 

All forms of Christianity are constructed.  (Again, no pure Christianity!)… The way we respond to that is to continue to construct, but not after careful evaluation and “deconstruction…” because we must be HUMBLE about what we believe— lest our theology become our idol!

*We desire to be born again as disciples of Jesus Christ. 

Interesting that he (Robinson) did not say “we ARE ‘born again’…” even though that’s how most of us have heard this phrase used— as a static state of “in-ness” vs. “out-ness” imputed onto anyone who prays the “magic words.” 


Posted by on February 28, 2011 in church, theology


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God-Notes: Bonus Post on “A New Conversation”

(sub-title:  Apophasis and Pigs with Lipstick)

(a.k.a. Josh, Perhaps Unwisely, Takes the Gloves Off)

At the end of the day, what “a new conversation” means to me is a new kind of openness and humility in our conversations about faith.  In fact, I would argue, as I have often shared when I have taught about spirituality, that such an openness is what makes faith faith

The way that Christian theology (esp. in the East) talks about this is through apophatic approaches to theology; a.k.a. “negative theology,” which emphasizes that which we inherently know to be true:


And so when postmodern theology says that all our theologies, doctrines, and ideas about God are interpreted—for me, that is a reaffirmation of this very ancient idea: at the end of the day, we don’t know diddly-squat.  Our theologies are our imperfect attempts to grasp the ineffable.


In my mind, if Christians could simply affirm this statement, and therefore have a more open approach to their own beliefs and to others, we would go a long way in a) both deepening our own sense of faith, and b) addressing the postmodern critiques of the church.  We would, in my opinion, have a far more compelling witness of faith to give to the world—and the postmodern world in particular. 

What hurts that witness, however, is churches that are mimicking the forms of “relevant Christianity,” but are actually doing promoting the exact same narrowness and shallow faith that the modern church has been offering for centuries:

Possible EXAMPLE A:  I was driving back home from the youth retreat I was leading this weekend, from San Antonio to Huntsville, and per usual I drove through the town of Bastrop.  On the highway there I saw this billboard:

bastrop church

Obviously geared towards “post-Christians”—those who have left the church—the word “Foundation” implies that this “church” (or “ministry,” whatever they call themselves) sees themselves as the providers of what is “foundational” to faith—which in our culture, usually means “a certain explication of doctrine.”  (I guess they think that they just explain it better, or less boring, or more faithfully, than whatever church experience their target audience had before.)

I checked out their website when I got home; unsurprisingly, I wasn’t impressed.

Of course, you don’t have to drive through Texas long, I’ve discovered, before you’ll see a billboard that targets “post-Christians.”  I wonder how often those billboards translate into a person finding an authentic community where faith is nurtured and service is rendered.   And, I wonder if the people who are further jaded and pissed off by the church or its presumptuous signs outnumber those who are suddenly inspired to join a church again while driving down the highway.

Possible EXAMPLE B:  Christians in large part have ignored their Jewish history for the majority of their existence, which is in my opinion a major mistake.  That tendency, though, has shifted in recent years— it seems to me that ever since Rob Bell—the “postmodern-friendly”-preacher-turned-reluctant-megachurch-pastor-and-prolific-speaker—became famous for talking about Jesus’ Jewishness and for preaching heavily from Leviticus and Numbers, more and more preachers seem to be spending time elaborately explaining the Hebrew Scriptures.  (I recently saw this example on TV.)

And more are using whiteboards to do their very elaborate, “scholarly” talks.  whiteboard_lineup

This conference’s ads had that “Rob Bell” feel and a “postmodern” art and style—but seriously, when your keynote is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, how “postmodern” are you going to be?

And more are wearing glasses—although that’s probably not related to Bell.  I concede that that probably has something to do with eyesight, and with the general belief that glasses make you look smarter. 

(But see, now, thanks to Bell, smart is sexy!)

The thing is, Christians [often dispensationalist evangelicals] have been leading Holy Land tours and [erroneously] quoting Hebrew prophecies to “prove” their own theological agendas for a while, now—but I wonder how much Mars Hill’s success has led to a number of stylistic copycats—who are simply preaching the same message as they always have?

Possible EXAMPLE C:  That leads me to one of the more egregious offenders of the "trying to look relevant and cool but really just doing the same things the church has always done”-problem:  the other Mars Hill Church in Seattle, along with Mark Driscoll and his Resurgence Movement [A.K.A. Operation Screw Seminary], which has popularized what I might call a “Pissed-Off Hyper-Not-So-Calvinistic Calvinism with Reduced Fat.” [“Fat,” in this statement, means, “theological and spiritual depth.”]

He has gained a HUGE following.  Even as you read this, somewhere in the world there is a “Driscollian” already plotting my web-based evisceration… and maybe that person is you.  [Hi there, btw.  Hope you’re having a great day.  Jesus loves you.] And his methodology has been both copied and planted in church communities all over the country (admittedly it is not entirely his methodology… but his popularity has been markedly influential).

Minions, I implore you…. ATTACK!!!

(but only if you’re a dude.)


(Okay, that’s a little over the top.  Sorry. )

Driscoll was buddies with McLaren, as the story goes—until he realized that he and the rest of the Emerging-questioners were beginning to ask scary questions about God and gender, scripture, hell, atonement, foreknowledge, predestination….things that are apparently untouchable (even though MILLIONS of Christians around the world, throughout history, have all kinds of opinions about these matters).  Just the questions themselves were enough to provoke him to openly condemn McLaren and others as heretics, and to then openly mock their views of Jesus as “hippie” and “limp-wristed.” [McLaren responds to this famous Driscollian description later in the book—so we’ll go there later.]

Besides the overt aggression that drips off of him and his unrelenting willingness to offend whenever I have heard him speak (admittedly a small sample size) or read his writings, my biggest problem with Driscoll is that he constantly seems to place himself in the “countercultural” category— in order to be countercultural, in other words, you have to believe in a masculine God, pain and suffering as God-ordained, penal substitution as the centerpiece of salvation, male leadership, etc…. and that anyone who might question these things, among others, doesn’t really take the Gospel seriously and has acquiesced to the world. 

Except, that message is the “cultural” message— it’s the reduced Gospel-message that is common to the church in its modern expression (which developed originally in response to modern culture).    It’s not as radical as he makes it out to be… except for its radical brazenness and dismissal of other opinions.   In my eyes, it seems that Driscoll is the one trying to be relevant… or at least appear so.


That’s not to say that everything Driscoll’s Mars Hill, or any of the churches that are putting on the “face” of postmodernity without the “substance” of it, do, is bad.  Far from it.  But as popular as these churches are, I fear that the backlash and the “anti-witness” they create may be more severe than the brand of Christianity that they are selling. 


There is a big difference in trying to be relevant, to look relevant, or to appeal to people, and actually being relevant, real, authentic, and most importantly, humble and open (Just look at the seeker church movement).  Contrary to popular belief, the latter IS based out of conviction. 

If so-called “post-Christians” cannot tell the difference between the two anymore, I fear that Christians will continue to all be painted with the same brush of acquiescent, reductionistic narrow-mindedness, and any existing sliver of opportunity for them to open themselves up to faith will close off entirely. 


GOD. IS.  MYSTERY…. and HOWEVER you look stylistically as a church community, affirming that mystery (as Calvin did)  is where the “new conversation” begins.


Posted by on February 22, 2011 in church, theology


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God-Notes: The need for a new conversation (part two).


(Based on A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren; Chapter 2)


[BTW, I’m listening to The Suburbs in honor of Arcade Fire’s victory over the establishment last night (or, I’m in mourning of Arcade Fire’s now-inevitable becoming part of the establishment, depending on how cynical my mood is) as I am typing.  So if this post begins to sound angst-ridden, sleep-deprived, or somewhat tortured, you know why.

Oh, I also presently live about 10 miles away from the town that I believe is much of the inspiration for the album—The Woodlands in Texas.  I like playing the album when I drive through…esp. the song “Half Light II.”

Related reward waiting at the end of this post.

Okay, as you were.]

The sense that McLaren has, as well as many others, that a “new conversation” is necessary—that something has monumentally changed in our world that might actually present an opportunity to the church, although the church treats the world like it’s a threat—might illicit a number of questions/responses from those new to the idea.

Even though I’ve been in this “new conversation” for over six years now, I found myself “re-asking” myself many of these questions as I read A New Kind of Christianity (ANKC).  Here are a few, for which I try to offer some responses as well:

Is “postmodernity” really such a monumental change?  Isn’t the world always changing?  It’s not so much that the world is changing, but that the world is changing so fast, and has such a broad impact.  I don’t think this is a huge topic of debate. 

The bigger question here is whether or not we are actually moving away from modernity…. or just into another form of modernity.  I do think we are moving into something new, although we still very much live in a “modern” world.

It’s important to note, as McLaren does, that “postmodernity” doesn’t mean a complete rejection of all things modern (we can still find science, technology, and democracy valuable, for example [even though we may not consider these things as inherently good!])—in fact, we can never “go back” to the “pre-modern” days.  However, I’d say that postmodernity allows us to be more accepting of the wisdom of the pre-modern ages, and to not automatically assume that modern is better than post-modern (Example:  philosophers are today looking to reclaim Aristotle and his virtue ethics).

Why should Christianity embrace postmodernity?  –Well, it’s not about “embracing” a “movement” or anything…. but the Christian faith needs to begin to dialogue with the culture, instead of running from it.  If churches claim absolute truth, assurance, easy answers to complicated problems, and promote individualism, they are at risk of irrelevancy. 

But it’s even more than just being heard or accepted….. the church needs to ask the questions that the postmodern world has made possible, because there’s something to these questions.   Answering these questions (not just in opposition to them, but actually submitting our faith to the fire) might actually temper it and make it stronger [or are we afraid that the fire will burn it up?  Is the issue that our faith is too weak to ask questions about it?].

Isn’t Christianity an established institution?  Wouldn’t that make it antithetical to postmodern thought?  Isn’t postmodernity inherently “anti-religion”?  Again, I’d argue no.   Christianity has become “institutionalized,” but that doesn’t make faith something that requires institution to survive. [It does, in an important sense, “require” community, which requires organization…but that’s another discussion.] In fact, my understanding is that it was the modern world is hostile to faith…. and that (esp. Protestant) Christianity in its contemporary forms developed in reaction to this threat… and in doing so became “modernized” themselves (they are focused on the individual, the “provable,” the transactional, the simplified, etc….).  The postmodern world, on the other hand, is VERY interested in spirituality, even if “postmoderns” are suspicious of “religion” (particularly its ties to power). 

But shouldn’t Christianity influence culture, and not the other way around?  This is a difficult question to answer— and it’s the one that might be the most troubling for some Christians.  The simple response is that the Christianity that we now possess is NOT a pure Christianity!…. It is, depending on your background, a modernized version of Christianity… and while that hasn’t been all bad, it has skewed our perception and has made faith untenable for many.  Until you begin to see that, the idea that we should change something, or ask new questions, will be an impossible one to grasp. 

The fact is, there is no “pure Christianity.”  Such a thing is inaccessible (and perhaps not even desirable!).  That’s part of what postmodernity has taught us.  Everything is interpreted.  That doesn’t mean we throw everything out the window— but it does mean we take a wider-angle lens at the world, and hold our beliefs with more humility and a genuine willingness to change if need be.

Ahh…. pure Christianity.  Refreshingly nonexistent.

Isn’t all the “new Christianity” talk a little problematic?  What makes us so special?  The truth is, Christians were asking many of the same questions as McLaren and others about faith decades, and even centuries, ago.  And the church has always had reform movements among the fold, usually along its fringes.    We could argue that the Reformation wasn’t anything new either—John Wycliffe and Jan Hus, the Brethren of the Common Life in the Netherlands, Erasmus, the Franciscans, etc. etc. all made many of the same claims and issued many similar concerns as Martin Luther.  Similarly, the social justice “movement,” the ecumenical “movement,” the missional church “movement,” “new monasticism,” etc. etc… have all been a part of the ebb and flow of question-asking and reform-making over the past century in the church—and today these “movements” are showing greater continuity and expression, flowing together into a wide, momentous stream that has begun to shape and captivate churches nationwide and worldwide. 

So, no, we’re not special…. but if we fail to run with the ball that we’ve been passed, we’d be unfaithful. 

[And now, your reward:]

click on the link:


from last year’s web concert… two of the best songs from their first album. Some profanity at the beginning.

Posted by on February 14, 2011 in church, theology


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