Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Marriage, Family, and the Image of God - In the Beginning

This is a first draft of the first chapter of my upcoming book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God. Enjoy!

Cecile and I first met during the summer after I had finished my first year in seminary. I was back home for the summer, and the job I thought I’d had lined up had fallen through. I got a temporary job doing data entry for a travel agency that was converting its files from one format into another. The job was from five at night to one in the morning, for about two and a half weeks.

I was one of three men among about a hundred women working on this project. Since I was shy, this was pretty intimidating, so when an attractive tall blonde in a red dress smiled at me, I stuck with her. Not for the reasons you might think. I went for short brunettes at the time, and I’d just had my heart broken, so I wasn’t looking for anything beyond a summer job. She smiled at me, so I thought she was safe.

She wasn’t safe.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

New Book Coming Soon!

I just finished the first draft of a new book, tentatively entitled Marriage, Family, and the Image of God. Stay tuned for details!

Monday, July 14, 2014

What's Wrong with Visionary Dreaming

I just got blown away by this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it has sprung from a wish dream…He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the later, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dreams bind men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.” (Life Together, 27-28.) 

Monday, July 07, 2014

What Does It Mean to Follow Jesus

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
--Matthew 4:18-20 NIV

The phrase Jesus uses most often to call people to become his disciples is the familiar phrase, "Follow me." Most people are reasonably clear on what that meant in Jesus' day, at least for Peter, Andrew, and the rest of the twelve. They left their occupations and traveled with Jesus, being taught by him and being commissioned to do the things he was doing: preach the good news of the kingdom, drive out demons, and heal sicknesses (Matt. 10). Their "following" was quite literal: Jesus was an itinerant preacher and they went with him wherever he went. Following Jesus involved sacrifice: Peter once said to Jesus that his disciples had "left everything" to follow him, and Jesus didn't contradict Peter, but rather held out to him promises of reward (Mark 10:28-31).

It's difficult to say in what sense other people also followed Jesus. Crowds followed Jesus from one side of the Sea of Galilee to the other, and Jesus rebuked them for having wrong motives (John 6:24-26). However, it's clear that at least some people outside the circle of the Twelve were also disciples, or at least true believers who followed Jesus' teachings: Mary and Martha, along with their brother Lazarus, Mary Magdalene and the other women who went to anoint Jesus' body and found the tomb empty. Joseph of Arimathea is also identified as a disciple of Jesus, albeit secretly, along with Nicodemus (John 19:38-39). So to be a disciple or follower of Jesus did not necessarily mean to be one of those who actually went around with him physically.

These questions become relevant for us in the present day because there are some current teachings relating to discipleship that make assumptions regarding what following Jesus is all about, largely based on the biblical example of Jesus and the Twelve. These teachings also relate to how we understand the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), because Jesus' command was to "make disciples," not merely to make converts. What it means to be a disciple, what it means to follow Jesus, is thus very important.


Saturday, May 31, 2014

Top Ten Reasons Why Theological Debate Doesn't Work

... especially on the internet.

#10 - Everyone compares what they actually believe to the "logical implications" of what the other guy believes.

This is why you get Calvinists arguing that Arminianism logically implies that we want to take credit for our own salvation, and Arminians arguing that Calvinism logically implies that God is the author of evil. Complementarians think egalitarianism implies erasing of all gender differences and egalitarians think complementarians simply want to keep women down. None of these groups actually believes what the other side says they should, and we all cry foul when someone else does it to us, but we all have the tendency to do a reductio ad absurdum on someone else's argument, no matter how much they protest that that's not what they believe.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Rediscovering Grace

My parents were both brought up in an extremely legalistic "Holiness" branch of the church. I have always been grateful that they broke away from most of that when I was very young. Since my family already understood that true holiness wasn't a matter of adhering to a bunch of mostly non-biblical rules and regulations, the question of what holiness or righteousness actually was was a live question to me growing up.

Somehow--I can only attribute it to the action of the Holy Spirit--I gained the insight that righteousness came through faith. I don't recall hearing it from anywhere, although I'm sure that it was present in sermons that I've heard and forgotten. I know that when I was young the Epistles were mostly opaque to me. ("Why should I care about some old letters that people wrote to other people a long time ago?") I was mostly into reading narrative at that time--Bible stories. So I didn't directly get the message from Paul. But somehow the story of Abraham in Genesis caught my imagination, and the line, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness" stood out to me. I'm sure I got it from Genesis, and not Romans or Galatians.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christian Tribalism: does God call us to stand up for the truth?

There seems to be a great deal of emphasis in Christian circles involving "standing up for the truth": affirming an unpopular but Biblical position regarding some issue that conflicts with contemporary Western mores. The latest flap is about Phil Robertson of the Duck Dynasty TV show, his interview with the magazine GQ, and network A&E's banning of Phil from the show. Conservative Christians are up in arms about censorship and free speech and most of all Standing Up for Biblical Truth.

What I see in all of this is a mindset I'd call Christian Tribalism.

Christian Tribalism is merely the religious version of a mindset shared by most people throughout history. It's basic form is encapsulated in the phrase, "Us vs. Them."  The basic idea is that We are at war, or at least in competition, with Them. We, of course, are the Good Guys, and They are the Bad Guys. Our job is to fight, or defend, or take a stand, for the Good Guys and for the principles that we believe in. We're looking to defeat the other guy, whether the weapons of our warfare are swords or guns or pens or tweets.

Friday, December 13, 2013

More on Rob Bell's "What Is the Bible?"

I have no intention of starting a running commentary on Rob Bell's "What Is the Bible?" series on Tumblr, but a couple of recent posts of his 1) answer some questions I had raised about how he was going to handle the Resurrection, and 2) provide a wonderful example of how not to do exegesis on Ephesians 1:9-10.

First, on the Resurrection. I had raised the question of how Rob would handle Jesus' resurrection, considering the fact that he had made a point of saying that the historicity of events in Scripture was beside the point. In his post #18 of the series, Rob gets to the Resurrection. And his conclusion is that, yes, literally, "Dude is alive!"(Rob is living in southern California now. And surfing a lot.)

So that's great: Rob and I agree that the Resurrection really happened. Rob gets there by an interesting path--he sees the discrepancies (or what he views as discrepancies) in the various Resurrection narratives and post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus as evidence that this was not propaganda and therefore really happened. (That it was women who saw Jesus first is additional evidence. A phony story would not have been set up that way.) So Rob manages to affirm the literal truth of the Resurrection while not having to affirm (or reconcile) the literal truth of any of the documents that document that fact. It all fits into his method pretty well.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Rob Bell's "What Is the Bible?" Series

Rob Bell has been blogging a series called "What Is the Bible?" If you're interested in reading it from the beginning, it starts here.

I'm neither a particular fan nor a particular detractor of Rob. (He strikes me as the kind of guy who'd like you to refer to him by his first name. Rob, feel free to call me Keith if you pop in.)

I read his Velvet Elvis, which didn't make a really significant impression; I think he was just tilting at different windmills than those that occupy my back yard. I haven't read any of this other books, including the controversial Love Wins. I was going to write that I have no particular axe to grind, but of course that isn't true; everyone has an axe to grind. I guess it's more true to write that I'm not jumping on board any particular pro-Rob or anti-Rob bandwagon.

So anyway, back to the "What Is the Bible?" series. A good summation of Rob's method can be found in Part 13: Consciousness and Violence. Rob's essential argument is that the Bible was written by people (he doesn't deny divine inspiration, but I suspect that what "inspiration" means is one of the things he'll get around to), those people were influenced by their own cultural biases and attitudes, those biases and attitudes become a part of the text, but also some new thoughts and ideas that weren't a part of the writers' culture also get introduced, which pulls the consciousness and attitudes of humanity forward. This process is very slow, because humanity is incapable of turning on a dime. God works from where we are, and draws us toward the next step forward.

Mike Breen and Building a Discipling Culture: A Dissent

Last summer, I commented on a review of Mike Breen's Building a Discipling Culture. The original review was at a blog entitled Notes from the Trail. In it, Jeff Noble offered a mixed review of Breen's book, lauding its intentional and structured approach to discipleship, but questioning the necessity of such a convoluted approach to discipleship and the effectiveness of the geometric images that Breen employs.

Based on my own experience in a church that had begun using Breen's approach, I commented on Noble's review. I've thought long and hard about whether to deal with the subject here on this blog, and decided that rather than saying a lot myself, I'd simply reprint my comment on the original review, along with a couple of the responses to me. I'm doing so because I think that Breen's approach is dangerous, and I feel that I need to let people know. My comment on the original review read as follows:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

First they came for Veteran's Day, but I wasn't a veteran.
Then they came for President's Day, but I wasn't a president.
Then they came for Memorial Day, but I had no close relatives to honor.
Then they came for Labor Day, but I wasn't in the labor movement.
And now they're coming for Thanksgiving Day, and the precedent's already been set.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

James Franco's Film Adaptation of As I Lay Dying

James Franco's film adaptation of William Faulkner's novel As I Lay Dying is both wonderful and frustrating. Wonderful because it succeeds in capturing the atmosphere of Faulkner's novel so well; frustrating because of the aspects that didn't work, and didn't have to fail.

James Franco As I Lay Dying movie photo
As I Lay Dying has been thought to be unfilmable because of the central narrative device of using various points of view to tell the story. Fifteen characters narrate a total of 59 chapters, and the book's power lies largely in seeing how different characters view the same events, how each person's hidden perspective and agenda shapes his or her view of the events they are describing.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Paperback or digital? Why not both?


What's Wrong with Outreach book cover

For anyone interested in reading What's Wrong with Outreach, my meditation on why church growth efforts often seem counterproductive, there's a new option: order a paperback version, and download the digital one for free. This is a part of the Amazon Matchbook program: if you order the paperback from Amazon, you can immediately get the Kindle version free.

Click here to check it out.

Monday, October 14, 2013

If I Were to Start a Church....

My family has been on a journey to find a church for a while, and we've been toying around with the idea of starting a church in our home. I would much rather find a body that we could worship with and support, but some aspects that I think should be in a church seem to be very hard to find in practice. Not that the individual elements are hard to find, but the combination of all of them seems to be impossible. With that, these are the top ten things that I'd like to see in a church that I attend or pastor:
  1. Grace-based.

    This seems to be the hardest thing to find. Oh, churches always pay lip service to God's grace, but mostly they extend it to outsiders. Once you're inside for any length of time, it's all about performance--whether that performance is dressed up as "imitating Jesus" or "avoiding worldliness" or "evangelizing the lost" or "supporting the ministry" or "helping with the project." There seems to be very little opportunity simply to rest in the finished work of Jesus, and very little acknowledgement of the faithfulness required in simply doing your job honorably and treating your family in a godly manner. The truth is that Jesus did all the work, and the only righteousness I can have is by trusting in him.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

The Means Justify the End

We've all heard the phrase, "The end justifies the means." Actually, I've more often heard the phrase, "The end doesn't justify the means," when the "means" being discussed are actually illegal or unethical. But we live in a world where ends are supposed to justify means all the time.

When I was growing up, "evangelistically speaking" was a euphemism for exaggeration, if not outright lying. In the workplace, achieving a goal is often an expected norm, even if it involves treating people badly to accomplish it.  One often finds that behind closed doors in a "successful" church, the leader is harsh, demanding, perhaps even abusive, or uses people to accomplish a project rather than having interest in them as individuals with their own needs. Success, it seems, is its own justification. As long as you didn't do anything outright illegal or sinful--with that interesting set of blinders evangelicals often use with regard to what is and isn't sinful--then it's okay. The end is good, and we just won't look too closely into the means.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Looking for the Pearl

Around 25 years ago, back when I was doing a lot of songwriting, I wrote a song that I played in youth groups, seminary talent shows, church services... basically, anywhere I got the chance. It was usually just me wailing away earnestly on an acoustic guitar, but that's not what was in my head. Finally, I've been able to record it the way I've always imagined it.  Check it out, over on the audio blog: Looking for the Pearl.