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

Note (January 7, 2018): since this post has engendered more comments than the Blogger platform seems able to deal with, I would like to invite anyone interested in continuing the discussion over to a more recent post at You can download an excellent in-depth commentary on Building a Discipling Culture  from there, and commenting and responding will be easier to get to than on this page.

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.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Justin Lathrop on Productivity

Justin Lathrop has some great things to say about productivity. My paraphrase: quality, not quantity, is what counts. Focus, thought, and time are necessary to quality.

Check it out.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Your Secret Weapon and the Plot to Take It Away

Jamal Jivanjee has a good post on the Illuminate blog about one of our most powerful secret weapons. I won't spoil it by telling you what it is. I will quote a portion of the post:
  • There actually is a conspiracy underway to take away your most powerful and feared weapon.
  • If you lose this powerful weapon, you will live as a slave.
  • If you lose this weapon, you will starve to death.
  • If you lose this weapon, you will lose the essence of life.
  • If you lose this weapon, you will become frustrated and hopeless.
If this sparks your interest, check out the post to learn more.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Jesus vs. Paul?

Recently I've been running up against a controversy of which I'd previously been blissfully ignorant: the supposed conflict between Jesus and Paul. I guess I'd known about the views of Ferdinand Christian Baur and the "History of Religions School" that had pitted Jesus' allegedly minor innovations to Judaism against Paul's ostensibly radical innovations, which then supposedly synthesized into early Catholocism. But I also thought that this theory was considered to have been discredited and outmoded. I didn't think that anyone who took the Bible seriously bought into it. Seems I may have been mistaken.

Apparently, the general idea is that we've been too influenced by Paul and his teaching of justification, which, we're told, leads to a focus on individual salvation, "accepting" Jesus as savior, praying a simple prayer, and being eternally secure thereafter. Evidently, what we should be doing is focusing on the teachings and example of Jesus in the Gospels. We see the differences described nicely here (by someone I consider a dear friend, by the way).

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Relational Ministry is Not a Strategy

Scot McKnight writes a good summary/review of Andrew Root's book The Relational Pastor: Sharing in Christ by Sharing Ourselves.

I think that to the extent that emerging and missional models of ministry failed and are failing, it is due precisely to leaders wanting a relational strategy rather than relationships with others for their own sake. It comes down to the same personal kingdom building (not Jesus' Kingdom building) that they think they're rejecting from the old Evangelical models.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Holy Saturday

What must it have been like?

You've been following him for the better part of three years. You've seen amazing things that no one else would believe in. You've watched him confound his opponents and open your mind to new ways of seeing that you couldn't have imagined on your own. At first it came as a thought, too far beyond the pale to do more than chuckle over. But then it was persistent, and at last you came to formulate it, at least as a question: could this be the Messiah? He was different, certainly, than what you had expected. But his teachings were so different, and yet so self-evidently true, and the works of power that you had seen with your own eyes! Whoever he was, he was no ordinary man. And so you began to dare to hope.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight

Just reviewed Scot McKnight's The King Jesus Gospel on Goodreads. I'll adapt it into a fuller discussion of the supposed Paul vs. Jesus problem in a later post here.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Areas of Influence and the Purpose of Life

[Adapted from “The Point of It All” in What's Wrong With Outreach.]

The typical model of how evangelism is supposed to work divides people into two categories, Saved and Lost. These categories are completely distinct and separate from one another. Every individual is in one category or the other. No one can be in both, or anywhere in between. This view could be illustrated like this:
There might be secondary differences within each category—among the Lost might be those who are apathetic to the gospel, those who are actively hostile, those who are devoted to other religions, and those who are atheists and have no supernatural beliefs at all; among the Saved might be those who are new converts and need instruction, those who are strongly committed and growing, those who are relatively apathetic, and those who are enthusiastically “on fire.” But these divisions are considered more or less intramural and aren’t really connected with the overarching goal of evangelism. The only distinctions made would be in relation to technique—how one goes about trying to reach a particular group from among the Lost—or impetus—how one goes about trying to motivate those from among the Saved to do evangelism in the first place.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Marginal Christianity: The Persecution of the Church in America – Really!...

The Marginal Christianity blog has a very interesting piece suggesting that Christianity in America is indeed under persecution--but not from the usual suspects.  Check out The Persecution of the Church in America – Really!...

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Roger Olson and Evangelical Secularism

Roger Olson has recently written a passionate post entitled, "Have American Evangelicals Become Secularized? Some New Year’s Reflections on Changes during a Lifetime." I have a great deal of respect for Dr. Olson, and his piece deserves thoughtful reflection. In discussing the differences between the church world he grew up in and the church world that exists today, Olson writes,
In 1950s evangelicalism we memorized Scripture. Who does that anymore? Then we sang theologically rich hymns and gospel songs. Who does that anymore? Then we studied our Sunday School lessons on Saturday (if not before). Who does that anymore? Then we attended church on Sunday evening and invited “unsaved friends” to hear the gospel. Who does that anymore? Then we gathered in each others’ homes for fellowship and prayer and Bible study. Who does that anymore?