I have long felt like my calling in life has been to help change the mind of the church. Jesus made it clear that he came to proclaim the good news that the Kingdom of God was near. The imperatives related to this declaration were for his followers to believe and repent (Mark 1). Repentance, while it means many things, at its simplest, most rendered definition it means to change one’s mind. I believe that is what the church in the West must do - change its mind regarding its identity.
Part of repentance means to turn from one direction to another. The negative side of the turning happens by deconstructing what has become of the church in what many would call Christendom. Though it is not the thrust of this post, the church must turn from its over-reliance on power and cultural control, it's political co-opting, and it's baptized mimicry of a consumer driven society (Have you visited many churches lately? IMHO, most churches are discipling people further into the consumer life, all the while Jesus actually calls us to deny ourselves and to daily take up our cross).
The positive direction of repentance is most activated by reimagining how we engage culture. I feel that as a leader, this is one of my most important functions…to get people to dream about how we live into Christ's prayer for his Kingdom to come in our local context just as it is in heaven.
One of the exercises that I use in my teaching is to have groups imagine leaving where they are, where the church is a siloed subset of whatever else is going on in their lives, and move to Grasse, France to plant a church with me. The reason I do this is to push them to imagine what life would look and feel like if they were to relocate to a context where less than 1% of the populace go to church. Not only to relocate, but to move there as missionaries.
Because I am semi-familiar with Grasse (pictured here), I know that on any given Sunday, out of the one hundred thousand or so people that live there, only about 70 to 90 people go to church. You will find around 15-20 in the historic Catholic Church and roughly 50-60 in two other storefront congregations (This information raises serious questions about church planting in most U.S. cities for me). One other note, while finding only a sliver of worshiping Christians in this once Christianized nation, you can find up to half of the hundred thousand people worshiping in a mosques. That's right, up to 50,000 Muslims in this western city. So, the question begs to be considered;
I honestly don’t think so. I think it would change everything. See, by changing locations to a place where our intended purpose is recalibrated and the trappings of Christianity no longer hold any benefit or sway, we can begin to realize that the church’s identity must be recast if we hope to impact Western culture. Through answering these questions, we begin to bump up against some of the issues and challenges that the church (the people of God) must become aware of...and repent of if we are to regain our true identity.
As some of you know, I spent a stint of time in the hospital this week. I blacked out a few time, took an unwanted ride in an ambulance and was pricked and prodded with no clear answer for the “why” behind the episodes. I am home now and as you might guess, I have been feeling quite introspective. There’s nothing like spending a 24 hours with Doctors thinking you’ve had a heart attack to get you into a “thinking about your personal mortality” space.
In light of these things, I dug up a quote I remembered from Steve Jobs. Many of you have heard this before, but here’s the quote:
“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
I’m afraid my batting average is a bit too low on allowing the days to go by unattended, or more so, captured by other, mostly, inane things.
If you watched it, there is obviously a visceral and compelling aspect to this video. It is maybe overdone, but still challenging to me. Stop pissing around and just “do it!” Stop making excuses and just “do it!” Stop allowing other things that are really rubbish to steal your life and “do it!” (he last three lines were me riffing on Labeouf’s rant)
Ok, please don’t get me wrong. I have had the privilege to do almost everything I have hoped for in my life. My life is full and rich. That said, attempting to steward the gifts and ideas God has given me, I have not come close to what could be leveraged. See I love life and people and, if you allow me to be a bit overly dramatic, I hunger to live into all there is to do and be.
Really, that is all I have to say this morning. I am alive, grateful, but still desire for more of what life is to be for someone following King Jesus.
I came across this lovely and challenging poem for Pentecost Sunday by Mark Berry (Here).
Flame Breather, Life Teaser,
Sweet Essence, Hard Presence,
Pulsing Blood, Sweeping Flood
Storm Force, Water Source,
Deepest Kiss, Draining Bliss,
Motivator, Love Creator,
Hearts Gripped, Conventions Ripped,
Fire Poured, Winds Roar,
Blown Upon, Blown Away,
Burning Up, Burning Out,
Baraka, Ruach, Shanti, Shalom,
Life Spirit, Holy Spirit, Spirit.
(The above picture is from Christine Sine's wonderful site. You should really check it out. It is trove of liturgical resources)
While enjoying a wonderful break with my family in Seaside, Oregon, I was able to carve out enough time to read Henri Nouwen's perceptive book entitled, Discernment. In the book, he makes several statements regarding how he spent much of his life craving affirmation, attention and acceptance of others.
He had attempted to possess others in the hope of acquiring satisfaction for his souls neediness.
In many ways, this has been my journey. I know it is a soft spot for me because when I don't get what I think "I deserve" I enter into a horrible soul level tumult.
Along the same lines, I have encountered real struggle when I have attached my soul to a community. I, with complete certainty, believe that every person, including me, desperately needs a community to be fully healthy. Nevertheless, if the community occupies too large of a space in one's life, there is a fragility or inordinate exposure. It must not occupy the space only Christ should hold. Nouwen wrote:
"I also learned afresh that friendship requires a constant willingness to forgive each other for not being Christ, and a willingness to ask Christ himself to be the true center of the relationship. When Christ does not mediate a friendship, that relationship easily becomes demanding, manipulating, and oppressive and fails to offer the other the space to grow." (Discernment, p. 75)
This became altogether evident in my experience with the church I formerly led, particularly upon the final stages of separation. The moment that demonstrated the nadir was the “reconciliation meetings” with the person who was my successor. Besides being poorly arranged, it also provided a clear reality of an over-reliance on the community. I needed from the community more than was possible or what should have been expected. It manifested in my need for acknowledgment and affirmation and in the apparent injuries to the next pastor and his spouse.
The meeting, from my perspective, was ill-fated from the beginning, mostly because of my injury and immaturity.
The moment of darkness came when the mediator finally realized, though I had led the community for nearly 20 years, I was alone in the room. I literally felt like something broke inside of me, that which in many ways I am still healing from years later...
I was expecting something from a group of people that for a variety of reasons was an impossibility...something that exposed in me an expectation that only Jesus could meet.
They tried, at least that is what I cling too…to navigate the complexity of hurt and separation, but at the end of the day it was not to be sorted. I still carry with me the awful sadness of the experience. I hope I can find (discern) the balance of commitment and connection, without enmeshment that is always the enemy of true community.
The thing on my end is, I held too tightly to something that never belonged to me. Though difficult, I need to employ the Ignatian discipline of “detachment!” It is the need to hold all things loosely. God can take and give, and it should be my posture to hold all things passionately, yet loosely (a tough proposition).
Two things I know: Nouwen, through his writings, continues to be one of my most trusted mentors, and I sadly held my former role too possessively.
One of the Psalms I used this morning for prayers was Psalm 66:4
“Come now and see the works of God, how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people.”
It is obviously an invitational Psalm. Come and see! Behold! As I prayed it over and over, I found myself deeply struggling with the phrase, “…all people.”
Honestly, I felt like I could barely will the phrase past my lips, “Behold how wonderful God is in his doing toward all people,” let alone pray it.
As I continued to pray though, my mind found its way to a young 5th grader who wandered into our service on Sunday. He is a kid from the neighborhood. When he realized that we were a church, he innocently asked one of the folks from Immanuel if he could go home and get his sister, which he did.
As I allowed my soul to exhale from all the troubles of the world and allowed it to reside in the beauty of the one, I actually felt the muscles in my body relax and my heart rise. I felt myself release the surplus of frustration and finally join the Psalmist in his invitation, “Come now and see the works of God, how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people.”
After all, it is the Fourth Week of Easter!
Desert father Abba Anthony said,
“A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us.’ ”
While reading the news this morning I was struck with how out of joint our world is. Here are the main headlines from CNN this morning: “TV Contestant slain; suspect had remains in stove; Mob beats woman, burns her; TSA agents attacked; Woman shot in head in road rage incident.” I must admit, I literally felt sick to stomach and and thought, our world is insane. I actually watched the clip of the woman being kill for inadvertently burning a Quran. It was horrifying. The interview from the Director of Religion was just as dreadful as he unflinchingly justified the barbaric behavior.
While doing my prayers afterwards (sorry for the backward order) I came across the above quote from St. Anthony. Mad, indeed.
Consider praying this Prayer of Peace by St. Francis today:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
Lord Jesus, may I, and my community, be a counter-force for peace in this world! Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.
The following are prayers we offered at Immanuel this morning, the 2nd Sunday of Lent. The text this morning was Mark 8:27-38. Feel free to pray along with us. Peace.
God of all creation, we pray for the needs of our world. We pray for peace for those places torn by war and violence. There are so many who suffer from the hands of others, by oppression, hatred and dominance. We
pray for those who suffer. We also pray for those who hunger and are sick. It is an incredible sadness for us that there are brothers and sisters in the world today who don’t have enough to survive. There are those who are without basic medicine, food and water to sustain them. We humbly, yet resolutely ask you to move toward them with mercy and help.
Lord, hear our prayer,
and in your love, answer.
We pray for our city, the city you have placed us in, the city you have sent us to, that you would move through your people to show the Gospel and tell the Gospel so others could see the life that you have provided to each person. We ask that many would come to realize that there is love with their name on it in You. We pray against the hindrances that keep them from you be restrained…particularly if we are responsible for those hindrances. Give us repentant hearts regarding ill placed religious affections.
Lord, hear our prayer,
and in your love, answer.
We know that you care not only for the world, but also individuals. People like us. There are people in each of our lives that need your touch, your mercy, and your embrace. We now ask you to do your work in them, particularly_____________!
Lord, hear our prayer,
and in your love, answer.
Jesus, head of the church, breathe your life into this place. It seems as if following you and your ideas are the only way to be who we are to be in this city…so, lead us and humble us to follow. May we be so taken with you that those outside of your life could, just maybe, catch a glimpse of your radiance and embrace through our humble lives.
Lord, hear our prayer,
and in your love, answer.
Now, God of all grace, give us open hearts and open ears to hear what you have to say to your church today. As we hear the Scriptures read and taught, help us look to not how it might affect others, but at our own hearts and truly repent of our self-life. Please bear in us, each one, the heart of a follower.
Lord, hear our prayer,
and in your love, answer.
Now, as our Savior Christ has taught us, we now pray…
embarrass [em-bar-uh s]: to cause confusion and shame to; make uncomfortably self-conscious; disconcert; abash
That is the only word I can come up with for it. Last night while teaching at Whitworth a couple of my students snickered to each other to which I asked, “Is there something I should know?” Well, there was something I should know, indeed! Apparently I had left my house for class with my shirt inside out. WHAT?!?! One of the students, attempting to swallow her laughter, gladly informed me of my oversight.
Now know this; my class this semester is populated by only young women. Seriously, are there any guys at Whitworth that love God? A room full of 20-year-old women…and me. In a younger, more vulnerable life, I would’ve fallen over in embarrassment. In my current season, I just looked up and went, “Oh, thanks,” trying hard not to look nonplussed, “…now turn in your text to…” At the break, I dashed to the bathroom and switched it right side out. As I was standing in front of the mirror, I honestly broke out in a belly laugh, feeling a wee self-conscious, yet still amused. To be honest, I realized I was playing out the all too familiar role of the unkept, absent-minded professor.
What is that Bible verse? “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Maybe it should say, “…gives grace to the Humbled.” Check!
Do you wear skinny jeans or pleated pants?
Kind of a funny question, but those are the metaphors theologian Scot McKnight uses to describe two prevailing and popular views of the Kingdom of God in his book, Kingdom Conspiracy. The first view, skinny jeans, predictably represents a more current approach that frontloads public sector social justice activism, while often times bypassing the church. He writes, “Kingdom means good deeds done by good people (Christian or not) in the public sector for the common good.” (p.4) The second picture is, again predictably, a perspective that is more represented in “traditional” Christianity. He describes this group’s view by saying, “…the Kingdom is both present and future, and the kingdom is both a rule and reign.” (p. 9)
McKnight is not content with either of these views. The thrust of the book juxtaposes these two with, from McKnight’s viewpoint, a more robust theological and holistically biblical approach.
A key element for the book is re-setting a view about the Kingdom from a redemption/salvation aspect to its natural Old Testament view of a “nation” and “Israel.” He writes, “Thus, kingdom is front and center about a people and cannot be limited either to social ethic or a redemptive moment.” (p.205) He contends that a proper view has five elements: a king, a rule of a king, a people the king rules, a law by which the king reveals how to live as one of his people, and a land in which the king rules. McKnight doesn’t give up the “already/not yet” aspect of the Kingdom which captures the best of both perspectives.
Where he arrives and what I think is the strength of the book is connecting this view of the Kingdom to church. There truly has been a shift of perspective related to the church. For many there is the feeling of, Kingdom yes! The church, boo!!! So, the upshot of this is many simply by-passing the church with the idea that if what really matters is the Kingdom, then God really won’t mind if I just do Kingdom stuff and stay away from the church. I mean, come on! They are an embarrassing lot. McKnight will have none of this. And this is where he “lays the lumber” and probably shocks not just a few by saying unapologetically (ready?), “With one sentence, now, I pull the rope taut: there is no kingdom now outside of the church.” (p. 87) WHAT? I could feel my muscles tighten and my theological sensibilities contract as I slowly read. Even though I am a churchman….even though I have given my entire life to leading the church, the statement caught me off guard. I thought to myself, “Really? Did he really mean to write that?” I must admit I made the sound “hmmm!” (or maybe it was “hmmm?”) numerous times while thinking about it. He clarifies that the idea of kingdom in Jesus’ world always meant “…a people governed by a king.” (p. 66) Now, this is at the very heart of the book's effort to reunite Kingdom and Church. He writes, “…If kingdom is a people and the church is a people, then it follows that the church are the kingdom people. The church, then, is what is present and peopled in the realization of the kingdom now.” (p. 87) In other words, if you assert that there is a King there must be a Kingdom, and if there is a Kingdom there must be a people. If that is agreed upon, the question has to be asked regarding the New Testament: who are the people of the King? I suppose there might be some astute interpretive device to wiggle out of that syllogism, but even with a natural reading of the New Testament, the people of the King is the church. Citing Bonhoeffer, it is written: “The church according to Paul’s understanding presents no essential difference from Jesus’ ideas [about the kingdom].” (p. 94) If that is agreed upon, which I do for the most part, McKnight’s assertion that there is an undeniable link formed between Kingdom and the Church cannot be dodged or avoided.
Thinking that would be enough to swallow for one book, McKnight takes it one step further wrapping in the sub-title of the book (Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church), by saying, “At the very heart of kingdom mission are kingdom people, the church of King Jesus. In one short expression, then, kingdom mission is first and foremost church mission.” (p.95) He spends an entire chapter laying out what the mission would look like which draws in both redemptive activity and social engagement. It includes evangelism, worship, catechesis, fellowship, edification, discipleship, and through the utilization of spiritual gifts. Sounding very Wrightian, McKnight recaps his viewpoint: “I want now to sum up what kingdom mission is: kingdom mission flows from the kingdom story, and that story focuses on God at work in history as God brings that history to its focal point in Jesus as King. That kingdom story, then, focuses on God as King through King Jesus…kingdom mission forms a kingdom people and that kingdom people in the present world is the church. This means kingdom mission is all about forming and enhancing local churches as expressions of the kingdom of God in the world.” (p.123) A person might potentially disagree with how McKnight arrives at his conclusion, but there is no denying the strength and resolution of his conviction.
McKnight closes his book by saying, still absolutely unflinching, “The only place kingdom work is and can be done is in and through the local church when disciples (kingdom citizens, church people) are doing kingdom mission,” and I might add, whether you wear skinny jeans or pleated pants! (p. 208)
Learn more. http://www.kingdomconspiracy.com/
What would it be like for us if the harm we do with our words had immediate physical manifestations in the person we harm? In other words, if I gossiped about someone, they were to get a corresponding gash on their forehead. Or if I were to slander someone with some awful, untrue statement to assuage a pain that I carry around, then the next time I saw them they walk up to me with a limp that was the result of my words. What if I exploited someone through sarcasm to turn a joke in a group (which regularly happen both to me and from me), but actually harmed the person I was exploiting. What if they bent over with abdominal pain? Would it impact whether I continued to gossip, slander or exploit? Would it finally motivate me to stop, to measure my words, to repent?
It has the intense imagery of physical pain as a result of reckless words. Words do matter. They can wound. I mean, duh! They have the power to heal or to injure. Not to give us a break, but the apostle James goes so far as to says that it is impossible to control the tongue. It is an unyielding foe. James is, however, saying these things not as relief from harnessing our words, but to simply state the challenge before every human.
John Gottman, the ubiquitous marriage therapist, states that for a marriage to be healthy (really any significant relationship) there needs to be a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. He does clarify that a positive interaction includes more than words. They could be in the form of a gentle touch, an embrace, a kind gesture or deed, but I would say that words form the main corpus of those interactions. The problem is, I know I am going to fail with my words. Seriously, I know it and hate it. The ratio though, does give me an actionable target. Divvy up all of my words and actions and make sure that I hit at least 5 to 1 with each significant person in my life. There does need to be action for the “one” as well…that would be in the form of forgiveness asking, which I will write about at some other time.
For now, I desire to live into the apostle Paul’s words, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29) There it is. Speak life, build life in others.
In a post from last December (CLICK HERE), I apologized to the women in my world. It was more a philosophical apology, because even before my shift in positions (complementarianism v. egalitarianism) I worked hard to insure respect for everyone I have been privileged to journey with, difference in gender included. I may have failed at some points, but my intention was to honor all. If there is a continuum where a complementarian view was on one side and an egalitarian view were on the other, internally, I attempted to live as close to the center-line as possible.
As a result of the previous post, I was asked by an atheist friend this question: “Not trying to be a douche, I honestly want to know what you and other more "progressive" pastors do with all the verses talking about a woman’s role in the church.” The following is, at least for me, a short summary of how I approach said passages.
While I could work directly with the key texts, the guiding issue for me is more hermeneutical. As stated in the prior post, “A position of non-equality simply did not make continuing sense for me as I attempted to flesh out a full-orbed theology of the Kingdom of God and it’s hopeful consummation…”
There is a thing I will call Kingdom imagination. Most can imagine what things would look like if all were “righted,” even if there is some difference in what “righted” might look like.
Additionally, almost everyone can admit that things are not right now – poverty, injustice, crime, massive physical disasters, abuse, illness (both mental and physical), etc.
If all of that were “righted” then you begin to land on what the Bible calls the “new creation.” Scripture history is a story or narrative going somewhere, sometimes inching along, sometime forcefully, but if you buy the Bible at all you must admit that it is going somewhere (read Rev 20-21) (BTW – do you think I used enough commas in that sentence? Sheesh!).
A robust theology of the Kingdom must hold in tension both a present reality (God’s reign erupting into our life in the here and now) and future consummation or hope (a full “righting” of all that is bent and broken from the once perfect creation).
For me at this time, it all comes down to which direction should a person view Scripture. Are we to view it from the present back or from the past forward? If backward, one is caught on the horns of a more or less literal interpretation of key texts. In this particular case, texts in which it appears the Bible is desiring women to be subjugated to men. If one is looking forward, as I believe the whole arch of Scripture does (eschatologically), then one must read the texts regarding women through the lens of Christ and what he has and will accomplish in the future. I call this “the directional life.” The question that really must be grappled with is are we to view this issue primarily through the lens of the historical context of the day or through the lens of Christ and his astounding work from then into the future.
In writing this, I am not judging others who have not arrived where I have. I believe in the idea of giving space to grow and learn. Honest people are not static, but learning. We are not to stop learning until we stop breathing. The people that are most frustrating to me are those who are unwilling to allow for that grace…grace that I have received from many who have disagreed with me. Many come off arrogantly enlightened and unwilling to have respectful dialogue around key issues, thus creating an antagonistic environment that makes everyone go defensive instead of open. I am grateful for the space I have received from people who have disagreed with me and it is my intention to extend that same hope and space to others.
"The Church is not to be defined by what it is,
but by that End to which it moves."
What will the end times be like? Not the tribulation, scary stuff, frightenly described in Revelation…or the “Left Behind” series. A bloody moon, catastrophic wars, demons thrown into lakes of fire…not that part, but afterwards when God makes all things right. It says that there will be a new heaven and new earth and all that is broken will be righted, that which is out of joint with creation will be healed.
Fortunately, we get a few glimpses. For example, in Revelation 21 we find these words:
“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bridebeautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.There will be no more death’or mourning or crying or pain,for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the thronesaid, “I am making everything new!”
In the next chapter, John the Revelator says, “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”
It requires what I call Kingdom imagination. With a bit of intentionality we (most people) can summon a picture of ultimate human flourishing. The Bible calls that "shalom" and it is at the core of reconciliation. Paul says that in Christ we are a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come.
The problem though is where we are and what that picture is seems like a million miles away. The way Scot McKnight would put it is the beautiful image that God wonderfully created is cracked, subsequently, there is estrangement with God, ourselves, others and ultimately creation itself.
I believe that the mission for every Christian, every community, is to recognize and humbly acknowledge the brokenness of our world, but not be satisfied there. We must live into the future reality that is to come. We pray that direction every time we recite the Lords Prayer, “Your Kingdom Come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What is it we are praying? We are praying the ultimate flourishing that exists in heaven into our realities?
We recognize our quest whenever we see things out of joint. Poverty? Can we imagine poverty existing in the New Heaven and New Earth? Absolutely not! Inequality between men and women? Between different nationalities or races? Will that exist when all is righted? Certainly not! An injured planet? No, it will be healed or, as Paul says, “redeemed!” Do you see how it plays out? Anywhere we see a discontinuity or misalignment between where we are and what will be illuminates elements of our mission. Ultimately, that includes estrangement with God. In sum, the Bible describes this as a picture of reconciliation.
This fall, at Immanuel Church will embark on a journey grappling with how we can be a community that lives out our life attempting to fulfill the Apostle Paul’s words,
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christand gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”
Below are the dates and speakers for the series. As a pastor for 30 years now, I am fully aware of the shelf life of sermons (they are usually forgotten before lunch is over), but I truly believe that this has a greater potential for impact then any other series I've been a part of.
This Sunday, Immanuel Church has two services - 9 and 11 am, and we meet at The Bartlett (228 W Sprague Ave), in downtown Spokane. Why don't you join us!
The older I get the more I realize I know a lot less than I thought I did...which is both freeing and frightening.
Here is a list of a few things that I used to be more certain about:
1. The Church
2. How to parent best
3. Political views
4. The real culprits in conflict - both personal and global
5. Durability of friendships
6. My internal motivations
It is not that I don’t have views, sometimes quite strong, regarding each of the above items. I simply do not carry the confidence I once held concerning them.
Over the last couple of months I’ve had the privilege of reading the book “Prodigal Christianity” with a group of my friends here in Spokane. All of them are good thinkers and we had a wonderful time processing the ideas by Dave Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw.
The book is really an attempt to locate a way forward that is truly prodigal in today's Christianity, a third way if you will. A writing device the authors employed is a cyclical juxtaposition between a Neo-Reform perspective of Christianity (Piper, Keller, et al) and a more “Emergent” version (McLaren and Jones). Honestly, a device I am not entirely thrilled with and I would suspect the authors represented in the book probably were not wild about either. Nonetheless, while looking at both of these poled perspectives they seek to mine out an alternative way for the church to move forward in the undulating social challenges of Western society.
The authors capably lay out a progression of ideas tethered to the idea of Barth’s “Far Country.” They move from a theological orientation or baseline to the more practical issues such as homosexuality and social justice (both chapters are probably worth the price of the book), both I deeply appreciated. They refer to “Signposts” that assist us to navigate both the church and “powder keg” issues we currently face as Christians in the U.S.
As far as full disclosure, I must say that I've appreciated Dave Fitch’s ideas before I read this book (The Great Giveaway) and am a causal acquaintance of both authors. I have great appreciation and admiration for both of them. You can locate both men’s personal blogs at…Fitch - Reclaiming Mission & Holsclaw - Into the Far Country
One of the key elements of the book for me was the nuanced challenge to be present in every situation trusting God is there before us, an idea often called prevenience. I honestly think if each Christian person I know could embrace the idea that they are expounding it would change Christianity. I know that sounds like a stretch, but I truly beleive it. In Signpost #2, the missio Dei, Fitch vulnerably writes about learning how to pray for his neighbors;
"I had in mind that this meant to pray for my friends to somehow see their need for God's forgiveness and that I would have an opportunity to give them the answer: the gospel of being forgiven from sin. The friend challenging me said, 'No, God is already working there, in each person's life. Just pray that you will have eyes to see what God is doing so you can participate with a word, or a prayer, with laughter, or a tear.' If the Triune God is already in mission, then I need to see the world in which I regularly walk as the arenas of the Spirit – places imbued with the presence of God. This was a fundamental shift. It changed the way I walked into every space of my life. Missio Dei means that God is already at work in our lives and the lives of all around us."
The other bit that I found quite significant about the book is the author's insistence that these issues that all of us face must be worked out in a local context, the local church. All of the jockeying for influence on the net or in celebrity Christianity is doing nothing more than exacerbating the problems that we have. These issues must be worked out with real people, in real time, in a real location. I could not concur more.
In summary, I would recommend this book with great enthusiasm to anyone trying to navigate the nuances of what it means to live life on mission in a postmodern context. Both Fitch and Holsclaw have grasped the idea that being a Christian today isn't about reactivity or in finding yourself in some sort of theological entrenchment, but in moving into the “far country,” being prodigal in a nonreactive, loving, open…local way.
Debra Hirsch: Redeeming Sex: Naked Conversations About Sexuality and Spirituality (Forge Partnership Books)
Not quite done yet, but at this point can confidently say that this book is amazing. So needed in the conversation about sexuality. It is highly recommendable. Well done, Deb! (*****)
Bryan Loritts: Right Color, Wrong Culture: The Type of Leader Your Organization Needs to Become Multiethnic (Leadership Fable)
An interesting book, written as fable, describing the nuances of attempting a multi-ethic church. Once again, I am reading it with a group and have found it insightful. (***)
Walter Brueggemann: The Prophetic Imagination, 2nd Edition
I love Brueggemann's thoughts and writing. I read this book years ago and just finished reading it again with my Theo-Reading Group. One of the most helpful books on discerning how the prophetic works both biblically and practically. (*****)
Scot McKnight: Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church
An interesting book that works to restore the beautiful and undeniable connection between the Kingdom of God and the Church. (****)
Christian Wiman: My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer
Reading with my group. Amazing insights, mesmerizing writing. (*****)