Thursday, December 18, 2008

Smokin Joe's Emerging Swamp Thang

Hi guys,
we are going camping with some friends and a couple of out of town guests in January. The idea for this camping trip came up a year ago in a blog discussion about the importance of building our friendships around – non-agenda drive time together rather than structured meetings. We originally talked about calling this an ‘un conference.’ No speakers, no meetings, no agenda, just hanging out around the tents and near the beautiful Florida Bay with some good friends (with cigars and your favorite bev) doing some cool "thinkling."

If you are interested in joining us, we will start Friday afternoon, January 16th, and end about mid-day or afternoon Sunday (although those who desire can stay on another night) at Fiesta Key at mm 70.

I already have some camp sites reserved, please let me know as soon as possible if you are coming. The individual tent sites are $45 per night, if two adults share a tent, that comes out to $45 for the two-night weekend for the camping, and food should only be about another $40 per person. The entire weekend should cost about $90 per person – a little more if you are bringing your son (or sons) and want to have a tent site to yourself.

You can email me at ~Joseph

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Birdwatching I

Scot McKnight (see his jesuscreed blog on beliefnet) recently published The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How you Read the Bible. John Meadows recommended it, so I picked up a copy and was helped and challenged by reading it. I propose we spend a couple of conversations discussing it. I'd recommend you read it, but will provide a short summary of each section so that you can participate in the discussion without having to read the book ("Covenant Thinklings, where you can talk big without actually having to do any work!").

To get us into things, here's an assignment from the book:

Read chapter 19 in Leviticus (the subhead in your Bible may say something like "Various Laws." After reading through the chapter, make a list of the "laws" that you think are still "for God's people today," the ones that "no longer apply," and the ones that make you say, "Huh? No idea what to do here" (which likely means that it "no longer applies," so maybe you only have to make two lists after all!)

Now: on what basis did you assign various "laws" to the first or second (or third) list? It would probably be best to pick one example from each list and tell us how you made the call.

Appropriate humor is to be encouraged.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Topics for discussion? (asking for directions)

ok ... one is interested in talking about mission and evangelism, or the massive exit of young adults from the church. Its ok -- really -- it doesn't hurt ... at least not much ... Brian, please through in some gentle irony here ...

Let's open up a thread to take suggestions for topics for discussions ... what would YOU, dear blogger, like to talk about?

or have we talked about everything and run out of things to say? What think ye? Anybody know any good jokes?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What will we do about it?

hi all: I found the article below in Scott McKnight's Jesuscreed (now on I want you to remember that I said this a couple of days ago, and I have been saying it for the last several years in this blog and by email ... I didn't get it from McKnight, or McLaren, or even Gallup or Barna. We can see it with our eyes if we look around. There is urgency about this. Sorry to start another discussion thread -- you can keep responding to the previous thread, but this allows me to insert a link:

What will we do about it?
Research from a number of angles says the same thing: 20 somethings are not attending church. There is nothing less than a crisis in the church, a crisis that is far greater than most church folk know about and care to confront with the energies and focus that are needed. Here are the two facts:

1. The elderly people are exiting the church's back door.
2. The younger people are not entering the front door.

This means the numbers are declining. If something isn't done about it soon, the church will be facing a crisis in the next twenty years unlike anything the American church has ever seen. At a pragmatic level, it will mean a dramatic reduction in budgets ... I could go on. The more pressing issue is speaking the gospel to a new generation.

What will we do about it? Call for a conference. What are we doing about it?


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

mission and evangelism

Ok, we seem to have run out of steam on the spiritual transformation topic, at least temporarily. When we discussed what needs to change in contemporary Christianity a couple of months ago, we came with 17 points that we later divided into roughly 3 areas. One of those areas we called ‘spiritual transformation’. Another one we called apostolic mission.

Lets switch over to that topic and discuss it. There were three points under apostolic mission. Here is what Sarah said:

there needs to be greater missional engagement with the secular world

Do you all agree with this? If yes, what are some practical ways that can happen? Are there any ideological or paradigmatic blinders that prevent us from properly engaging people in the world?

Friday, November 14, 2008

conversation on Ventrilo

ok, John and I are now on Ventrilo .... it is not all that hard to set up. Here are his instructions if you need help (especially in the middle of the night) give John (the Musician) a call:


so ... how can we use this tool for spiritual transformation? or just simply friendship? Also, is there anyone else we should include in this? Any suggestions about how we can use it or when we can all meet?


1. Go to your local walmart or another equivalent store and buy a pair of headphones with a microphone. These usually run about 20 bucks depending on quality. Make sure they are for use with a computer, usually it will say that on the package.

2. Go to, go to the "download" link on the left side, download the Ventrilo Client that best fits your operating system (most likely the first option for windows 2000 and newer)

3. Once you've download the client program and plugged in your headphones (headphone jacks are usually color coded as well as the computer jacks so you shouldn't have a problem there =OP) Open the Ventrilo program (you'll probably have an icon on your desktop.

4. Once you open Ventrilo you should see a couple options the answers are as follows:
>Click the arrow pointing to the right on the right side of the field "User Name"
>Click "New" and enter your user name into the pop-up (you can also enter a phonetic so that you can hear the name being said when logging into vent or switching channels)
>Click "Ok"
>Next click the arrow pointing right at the right side of the field entitled "Server"
>Click "New" and add the name that you want to call the server (i.e. Covthinklings)

>Next You'll fill out the "Hostname or IP" field with
then you'll fill out the "Port Number" field with
and finally you'll fill out the "Password" field with

>At this point all information needed should be filled out and you can simply press the "Connect" button on the right side of vent in order to connect to the server, there will be several different channels and you will see if there is anyone in one of the channels and you will be able to join in if you like. =O)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tools for Transformation II: Repentance

As with humility, repentance can be easier to discuss or describe than to practice. But as we reflect together on how God works to shape us a whole persons in Christ, there's no avoiding repentance--and not just as a one-time event, but as a way of life. We can also confuse repentance with contrition, regret, or saying "sorry." Repentance embraces those, but is really about changing the way I think, feel and behave. So, what have you learned about repentance? Where and how has it been transformative in your own life? What makes it hard, and have you discovered some ways that make it "easier"... or even a joyful undertaking?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tools for Transformation I: Humility

We want to focus our conversations on spiritual formation, and try to get down to some practicals and some specifics. To start, then, let's ask, What is humility--what does it actually look like, how does it "work" for you in practice? And as we "practice" humility, how does God's Spirit work to make us more like Jesus? Let's keep it as real as we can, even if that means discussing more of our failures than successes!

(IMAGE: Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles by Meister des Hausbuches, 1475 Gemäldegalerie, Berlin)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Spiritual Formation, Digitized...?

OK, I admit I not sure I really get it, and I'm asking for help: how do you see digital technologies being powerful tools in the development of a new generation of Christ followers and Christ communities? Will virtual communities begin to replace traditional face-to-face gatherings, or enhance them? How might we use these technologies to disciple Christ followers or serve the poor? What might we gain when we no longer "open your Bibles to John 4:such-and-such" but instead have our faces lit by the glow of tiny individual screens on which the words appear? Are there any downsides to the increasing digitizing of more and more of life, and if so, how would you suggest Christ followers might guard against them? And Joseph, could you post a cool picture for this conversation?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

‘wiki’ updates for the church - 17 theses summary

Ok… the ditty is now

♪♫ 17 theses to discuss on this thread…
17 theses to process!
take one down, discuss it all around,
16 theses to discuss on the blog…

1) there needs to be greater emphasis on spiritual formation (Joe -57).
2) there needs to be greater missional engagement with the secular world (Sarah -32).
3) there needs to be greater humility among Christians and respect for others(Sarah - 32).
4) there needs to be a deeper engagement with Scripture as God’s word (Brian -56).
5) there needs to be a deconstruction of church growth thinking: churches limited to under 250 people. Over that, churches should reproduce a daughter church (Brian -56). Move from church growth to church multiplication.
6) greater emphasis on “Real Church” as micro-church of 10 to 12. Big God parties less frequently (JohntheMusician - 23).
7) Repent of judging the lifestyles of outsiders (JohntheMusician - 23).
8) Greater focus on the role of the Holy Spirit (William - 20).
9) Move from a corporate model (with buildings) to a household/family/tribal model centered on the headship of Christ (William - 20).
10) Move to a 'kingdom' focus rather than a 'church' focus; a 'sowing'/scattering mentality rather than a gathering/building mentality. An 'outward' focus rather than inward (Joe - 57).
11) Eliminate badly composed, theologically vapid or erroneous "worship music." (Brian - 56).
12) All "senior leaders" (however defined) will have a grounding in all 2000+ years of church history (Course title: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly). (Brian - 56).
13) Congregations (however defined) will creatively and meaningfully celebrate (however defined)Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday (however named)every year, because these events are at the center of our faith (Brian - 56).
14) Greater emphasis on bi-vocational, tent-making ministry in local congregations and in apostolic mission (Patrick - 24) Pat: I reworded it for you in a less inflammatory way ;-) joe, the low-key guy
15) The Evangelical church needs to regain a proper, biblical appreciation for the apostolic and move from a primarily 'pastoral' mindset to a primarily 'apostolic' mindset (Joe - 57).
16) The "church" should cease being congregations primarily defined by "religious" meetings and "services rendered," and to return to our calling -- to be the people of God who manifest and proclaim the kingdom of God in our way of life together (Steve H.- 58)
17) every "church" (however defined) should have a poet-in-residence, along with one other non-musical artist-in-residence (Brian, the ironic poet - 56).

Memorable comments:
(John M. - 59) "The Evangelical Church would do well to make a constructively critical and intentional evaluation of it's understanding and practice of ecclesiology; understanding from the outset that radical reform may be indicated and that the current, popular structure of the church is not sacrosanct or absolute."

(Patrick: - 24) "I would recommend disbanding Sunday morning congregational meetings, breaking into groups no bigger than the size of your living room and begin building relationships with people 'in the world' start in small steps."
Meeting together in worship
Maturing together in discipleship
Missioning together for the harvest.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

95 'wiki' theses for Reform?

Ok guys, here we go with another discussion thread. It seems to me that we have come to agreement, that while holding to the creeds and the whole history of the church, there is a need for ‘wiki’ reformational updating in the Evangelical wing of the church.

I mentioned 5 things I think need a ‘wiki’ updating in the last thread. In this discussion, lets come up with a comprehensive list of things that need reforming in the current U.S. Evangelical church. I’ll start with repeating one area I think that urgently needs to be reformed. Let's look for "change you can believe in." (ok, sorry, just kidding!)

I composed a little ditty for this discussion…

♪♫ 94 theses to post on this thread…
94 theses to post!
Write one down, discuss it all around,
93 theses to post on the blog

(click below for musical accompaniment ... these guys remind me of us talking theology in our blog... or of me and John Meadows on our way to the Kansas City Shepherds conference with Frank Dawson in 1975!)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The 'wiki' nature of the church: Why not convert to Catholocism or Orthodoxy?

While there is a bit of a lull in the previous thread, i thought I would post a couple of paragraphs from a great post today by McKnight in jesuscreed. He is answering a letter from someone who is asking him if he admires the historic communsions (RCC and EO) why he does not go all the way and convert to one of them from evangelicalism. His response is classic ... I recommend that you go do and read the entire post ... It is called Why I am not Catholic or Eastern Orthodox.

Here is a portion of his response:

"Third, the reason I think this way is seen in how Tradition plays itself out in each Church: for each of these communions the Tradition becomes massively authoritative and, in my view, each of these communions has become un-reformable. They read the Bible through Tradition and I believe in reading the Bible with Tradition. (my emphasis, not McKnight's)

And reformability is central to the “wiki” understanding of how God speaks: God spoke in the Bible in ongoingly fresh ways; that reveals the importance of returning to the roots in order to gain fire for the present. Return for reformation is the very essence of my “wiki” understanding of the Bible and of how God speaks.

I believe both the RCC and the EO, even with routine observations to the contrary by its adherents, are un-reformable.

I value, and value with profound respect, the great traditions of the Church, including Nicea and Chalcedon and Wittenberg and other moments as well. I check interpretation against these; but that does not mean I don’t think fresh light emerges or that something could be improved or modified (COMMENT: thats what I'm talking about! Let's have that conversation...)

Fifth, what this means — if you are still with me — is that I believe in ongoing discernment of what the Spirit is saying to the Church, and I believe this discernment is a function of church leaders and churches in communion with one another. Discernment for the day is different than infallible teaching for all time. Therein lies a major difference." (COMMENT: this 'discernment' is what I have been calling for along the lines of the Sons of Issachar...but there is a lot of pushback)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

How do we define the ‘kingdom of God’?

Scot McKnight points out the need for a clear definition in his article about Brian McLaren and the ‘emergent’ gospel in Christianity Today.

McLaren Emerging

[CHRISTIANITY TODAY] “Kingdom and Church Kingdom talk has become trendy and fashionable among emergents, and God be thanked that they are one group among many that are forcing us to reexamine what we think about Jesus' kingdom vision. But the lack of a thorough definition of kingdom is a major concern. On my blog, I spent several months slogging through what the Gospels say about the kingdom, text by text. I have discovered two points that cannot be denied: There is no kingdom without faith and attachment to Jesus Christ, and there is no kingdom without attachment to Jesus' followers. In other words, Jesus' kingdom vision is not that far from Paul's church vision, yet there is little ecclesiology in either Secret Message or Everything Must Change.

So my second question for McLaren is this: What is the relationship of kingdom to church? Can his emergent view of the kingdom lead to the New Testament picture of the church?”

[joseph] Here are two of my own favorite scriptures regarding the KoG:

Luke: 17:22 - "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, 21nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you."

Romans 14:17 - "For the kingdom of God is … righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,"

I define the KoG as “The heavenly father’s loving leadership in our lives through the authority of Jesus and the daily guidance of the H.S. “ The kingdom becomes manifest in our lives through our moment-by-moment inner surrender to his life and initiative which inevitably result in inner righteousness, peace and joy which exercise a gravitational pull that changes the external world around us."

So .. .how do you define ‘the kingdom of God’?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Barn-builders or kingdom movements?

The following is a compressed version of some of Steve Humble's thoughts; any misrepresentations are due to Brian's editing!

The primary purpose of God has always been to have a people on earth who recognize him as king over their own lives, over all men, and over all things. This people of God are to be formed in God’s character and to live on earth the way God lives in heaven; that is they are to represent (re-present) their king and manifest his kingdom on earth.

After the Fall, God began to build this people when he called Abraham and made covenant with him and his descendants. God’s people, the children of Abraham, were called to be the blessing of God and his reign for all the nations. However, once God had dealt with Israel’s propensity to serve the gods of other peoples, most of Israel turned the focus inward, believing that they were the center and epitome of God’s interest.

But God’s purpose, unveiled in Christ, was to have a people—the followers of Jesus consisting of both Jews and Gentiles—who would represent God throughout the whole earth, a kingdom people dispersed into all nations, manifesting God’s kingdom in their individual lives and in their community with one another. This call to be communities of the king and his kingdom is the substance of the new covenant.

The people of the kingdom are to follow the pattern of life modeled by their King; that is, we are to lay down our lives individually and corporately for the life of the world (John 6). We, the sons of the kingdom, are seed. Seed does not exist to be stored in barns, at least beyond the short run. Some seed goes through death and resurrection like the First Seed and thus the seed is multiplied. Other seed serves as food, giving life to other creatures. The issue is not to build big barns but to sow out the seed.

Like Israel, “churches” can become ends in themselves, whether on the local or the denominational level, often times using their resources to build bigger and bigger barns. The “churches” tend to be self-focused to a great extent, rather than to offer themselves up (individually and corporate) as living sacrifices of worship. A kingdom movement is focused on giving life. A “church” movement tends to be a consumer of life.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Manifesto II

Continuing our conversation on "An Evangelical Manifesto" (, here's the next section (from the Executive Summary of the full Manifesto):

Third, we are concerned that a generation of culture warring, reinforced by understandable reactions to religious extremism around the world, has created a powerful backlash against all religion in public life among many educated people. If this hardens into something like the European animosity toward religion in public life, the result would be disastrous for the American republic and would severely constrict liberty for people of all faiths. The striking intolerance shown by the new atheists is a warning sign. We call on all citizens of goodwill and believers of all faiths and none to join us in working for a civil public square and the restoration of a tough-minded civility that is in the interests of all.

Fourth, we are concerned that globalization and the emerging global public square have no matching vision of how to live with our deepest differences on the global stage. In the Internet era, everyone can listen to what we say even when we are not speaking to everyone. Global communication magnifies the challenges of living with our deepest differences.

As the global public square emerges, we warn of two equal and opposite errors: coercive secularism and religious extremism. We also repudiate the two other positions. First, those who believe their way is the only way and the way for everyone, and are therefore prepared to coerce them. This position leads inevitably to conflict. Second, those who believe that different values are relative to different cultures, and who therefore refuse to allow anyone to judge anyone else or any other culture. This position sounds tolerant at first, but it leads directly to the ills of complacency. In a world of such evils as genocide, slavery, female oppression, and assaults on the unborn, there are rights that must be defended, evils that must be resisted, and interventions into the affairs of others that are morally justified.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Discussing "An Evangelical Manifesto"

The following is excerpted from the "Executive Summary" of An Evangelical Manifesto ( I encourage you to read the whole document, if you can. After first staking out a theological understanding of the term "evangelical" ( a definition I found sound and unremarkable), the document goes on to say:

"Second, we wish to reposition ourselves in public life. To be Evangelical is to be faithful to the freedom, justice, peace, and well-being that are at the heart of the good news of Jesus. Fundamentalism was world-denying and politically disengaged at its outset, but Evangelicals have made a distinguished contribution to politics—attested by causes such the abolition of slavery and woman’s suffrage, and by names such as John Jay, John Witherspoon, Frances Willard, and Sojourner Truth in America and William Wilberforce and Lord Shaftesbury in England. Today, however, enormous confusion surrounds Evangelicals in public life and we wish to clarify our stand through the following assertions:

"First, we repudiate two equal and opposite errors into which many Christians have fallen. One error is to privatize faith, applying it to the personal and spiritual realm only. Such dualism falsely divorces the spiritual from the secular and causes faith to lose its integrity. The other error, made by both the religious left and the religious right, is to politicize faith, using faith to express essentially political points that have lost touch with biblical truth. That way faith loses its independence, Christians become the “useful idiots” for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology. Christian beliefs become the weapons of political factions.
Called to an allegiance higher than party, ideology, economic system, and nationality, we Evangelicals see it our duty to engage with politics, but our equal duty never to be completely equated with any party, partisan ideology, or nationality. The politicization of faith is never a sign of strength but of weakness.
"Second, we repudiate the two extremes that define the present culture wars in the United States. On one side, we repudiate the partisans of a sacred public square, those who would continue to give one religion a preferred place in public life. In a diverse society, it will always be unjust and unworkable to privilege one religion. We are committed to religious liberty for people of all faiths. We are firmly opposed to theocracy. And we have no desire to coerce anyone or to impose beliefs and behavior on anyone. We believe in persuasion.
On the other side, we repudiate the partisans of a naked public square, those who would make all religious expression inviolably private and keep the public square inviolably secular. This position is even less just and workable because it excludes the overwhelming majority of citizens, who are still profoundly religious. Nothing is more illiberal than to invite people into the public square but insist that they be stripped of the faith that makes them who they are.
"We are committed to a civil public square – a vision of public life in which citizens of all faiths are free to enter and engage the public square on the basis of their faith, but within a framework of what is agreed to be just and free for other faiths as well. Every right we assert for ourselves as Christians is a right we defend for all others. "

Friday, August 29, 2008

Romans and Revelation

Joseph provides a quote from NT Wright's book, "Surprised by Hope":

"Maybe what we are faced with in our own day is a similar challenge: to focus not on the question of which human beings God is going to take to heaven and how he is going to do it, but on the question of how God is going to rescue the world through human beings ... if we could reread Romans and the light of this reframing... I think we would find much food for thought" (p. 185).

Let's accept the invitation/challenge: what parts of Paul's letter to the Romans, or John's Revelation, would you cite to support or challenge Wright's contention? Those who are reading "Surprised by Hope" should feel free to add material from that book to this discussion.

One favor/request: can we try to point to specific sections in Romans, Revelation, other NT documents, or Wright's book in making our comments?

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Gospel in a Pluralist Society - intro.

Newbigin, Lesslie. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Cambridge and Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989.

Here is a passage on page 9 that adjusted some of my own thinking:

In the famous story of the blind men and the elephant, so often quoted in the interests of religious agnosticism, the real point of the story is constantly overlooked. The story is told from the point of view of the king and his courtiers, who are not blind but can see that the blind men are unable to grasp the full reality of the elephant and are only able to get hold of part of the truth. The story is constantly told to neutralize the affirmation of the great religions, to suggest that they learn humility and recognize that none of them can have more than one aspect of the truth. But, of course, the real point of the story is exactly the opposite. If the king were also blind there would be no story. The story is told by the king, and it is the immensely arrogant claim of one who sees the full truth which all the world’s religions are only groping after. It embodies the claim to know the full reality which relativizes all the claims of the religions and philosophies.”

I move the rest of this post, Newbigin's bio and some introductory comments over to my blog for the sake of brevity. You can go there if you want to read the whole thing and come back here for comments.

ok -- my new copy of McLaren just arrived as I was writing this ...I'll hit it this week.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Everything Must Change II, Chapter and Verse

We're continuing our look at Brian McLaren's book Everything Must Change. In order to focus the discussion just a bit, let's try this: please cite a specific section that either (a) says something you strongly agree with, (b) says something you strongly disagree with, or (c) says something that raised some questions (e.g., "I really didn't get this--can someone help me understand it?" or "Hmmm... I hadn't thought of it like that before... now I'm wondering if... ?") One passage could serve for all three kinds of responses.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Everything Must Change I

We're starting a book discussion on Brian McLaren's book Everything Must Change. We'll take it in chunks: after "Everything Must Change I, we'll have EMC II, EMC III, etc. If you're reading the book, skip the next section of this post and go directly to Comments. The following will attempt to summarize the first two sections (roughly the first 70 or so pages) for those who haven't been reading.

McLaren begins with the two questions that have preoccupied him for years, What are the world's biggest problems? and What does Jesus have to say about them? His main contention is that, while the Gospel of Jesus has in fact has a lot to say about these matters, the Western Church has largely proven to be a failed religion in responding to the world's present distress (e.g., environmental degradation, hunger, violence, slavery, addiction, etc).
In the second part, he develops the metaphor of a Suicide Machine to describe the impact of modern Western civilization on the Creation and the human community. All societies have legitimate needs for prosperity, security and equity, and all have a "framing story" that meshes these three areas of need into a coherent whole. (One example would be the way in which the framing story of the pax Romana justified the Empire's manner of providing prosperity, security and equity.) He contends that our current societal "machine" (using the term metaphorically) has become suicidal in the way it attempts to resource prosperity, security and equity in a manner that ravages the ecosystem in which it is necessarily embedded. He further argues that the Church has been largely complicit in the development of this suicide machine, either because of a deficient theology that assumes God has no interest in his Creation but only in "saving" people out of it, or because the Church in the West has tended to enjoy and depend upon the blandishments of the modern enterprise (or some combination of the two).
McLaren concludes section two as follows: "... we have raised the possibility that Jesus' message might be seen as an alternative framing story that, if believed, could save the system from suicide. To test this possibility, we will need to consider the possibility that "Jesus" as we have understood him has... been domesticated and made part of the dominant framing story. For Jesus to save the system, we must first, in a sense, save Jesus--by reframing him outside the confines of our dominant and largely unquestioned assumptions" (page 73).

Monday, June 30, 2008

Charging batteries?

while we continue talking in the other thread about books to read, and while Brian gets ready to lead us in a new topic, I thought I would ask you guys what is your favorite way to charge your emotional batteries? What do you do for re-creation? Any hobbies?

Monday, June 9, 2008

An Implausible Scenario?

As resident aliens living in the semi-secularized West, we are finding that it's becoming harder to gain a hearing for the Gospel because it is considered implausible from the get-go. For example, "Jesus is THE (i.e., only or exclusive) way" strikes many as implausible as "The earth is flat." So two questions: what are the features in our culture that support people in finding the Gospel to be implausible? What might be good ways for us to respond?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Do not judge... its a boomerang!

In the teachings of Jesus, there are parables, principles, and imperatives. Among those things that Jesus spoke in the imperative form is his admonition to “judge not!” (Matthew 7:1-3). And yet, the apostle Paul asks in 1 Corinthians 6:5 if there is not anyone spiritual enough to ‘judge’ a dispute among believers and in chapter 5, verse 12, Paul seems to imply that we are to ‘judge’ those within the church, at least in terms of morality. Again in 1 Corinthians 11:31 Paul seem to encourage us to ‘judge’ ourselves before taking communion.

So when do we follow the clear command of Jesus not to judge others? And we do we apply the teachings of Paul about judgment of ourselves and of other believers within the church? And what about the ‘spiritual man’ who makes judgments about all things but is not himself subject to any man’s judgment? (1 Cor. 2:15).

What is the difference between judgment and discernment?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Irreconcilable Differences?

"Irreconcilable differences" is the primary reason given for divorce (with "incompatibility" perhaps a close second). Given the curse that divorce is and brings to marriages, children, families and society in general (you may dispute this if you desire), why is the church in the mess that it's in in this area? When divorce rates for "bible-believing Christians" mirror those of the culture at large, we are clearly approaching the status of salt that has lost its saltiness and which is now no longer good for anything. So two questions: what might it take to get our own house in order? (Feel free to define "house" however you'd like.) And assuming we are graced to move towards that goal (and even while we are moving towards it), how can we minister redemptively to people whose views of human relationships are increasingly divorced from God's good intentions?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Wisdom Needed?

Here's a hypothetical for discussion: a single (never married) woman in your church (and here we allow as wide a definition of the term as you like) who understands herself to be gay wants to adopt a child. Let's posit that she (a) has made a clear, orthodox profession of faith, (b) is living that out consistently as an active member of your "church", and (c) currently committed to chastity (although has not closed the door on entering into a same-sex relationship "at some point"). She desires her church to support her in undertaking to adopt. How should/might you and the congregation respond? By the way, there are no legal barriers to a single person adopting.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Next Thing

The following comes from my favorite section of my favorite periodical, First Things. The section, While We're At It, consists of short "clippings" from books, other periodicals, etc. I have compressed the following item considerably, so if you'd like the full text, visit the May 2008 issue of First Things, p. 69, or visit

Part of the vitality, and the vacuity, of evangelical Protestantism is the unending and frenetic search for "the next thing." Whether it produces more vacuity than vitality is a disputed question. It is a question addressed in Telford Work's critique of Reformed and Always Reforming by Roger Olson... The next thing, the newest thing, the coming thing, according to Olson, is "postconservatism." Good riddance to conservatism, which is marked by "slavish adherence" to an "incorrigible" tradition. Let's replace it with theology as "a pilgrimage and a journey rather than a discovery and conquest" ... The sad fact is, says Work, "from political activism to the church-growth movement to the allegedly postmodern 'emerging church,' evangelicals are borrowing more than ever from late modern liberalism." Once again, the excited discovery of "the next thing" turns out to be the result of rummaging through a pile of discards in the used theology shop.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Favorite books?

I'll toss out a possible topic for discussion.
What has been your favorite book of the last two or three years? Let's say that it does not have to be theologically or religiously oriented -- it could be humor, novel, historical, devotional or any other genre. I have several books in mind that have had a formative influence on my thinking. I'm not sure yet which one I would pick as my favorite. I'll get back to you on that.

A secondary question might be which genre is your favorite? I am currently a fan of macro-historical books dealing with early modern European empires. Probably my favorite was C.R. Boxer's "Four Centuries of Portuguese Expansion, 1415-1825" (1969). It is only 100 pages long and written in simple English but brilliantly covers four centuries of European colonialism.

here are a couple of more questions:
-What book have you read twice, and might read again?
-What book do you have on your shelf to read that you are most looking forward to?
-Have you ever paid more than 50$ for a book?
-Do you have any written notes or summaries of books that you might share with others?

Remember Brian's suggestion that we keep our comments to 500 words or less...

Saturday, March 22, 2008


I think most of us agree that we are experiencing a cultural tsunami that is having a profound effect on the church. Alan Hirsch in his book, “The Forgotten Ways”, says that the church is in a state of “liminality”. Liminality is an “in-between, marginal state in relation to the surrounding society, a place that could involve significant danger and disorientation…” (p. 220).
The question we face is how will we as “church leaders” respond to the place we find ourselves in? Critiquing the present state of the church comes naturally to many of us. Could I suggest that we move beyond criticism, beyond deconstruction, and attempt to voice a constructive vision for where we are headed, for where God might be leading us?
Hirsch goes on to say, that, “holding a definite sense of vision (a preferred future) and mission informs and alters how people think and how they will behave in the present. Viewed this way, the future is a means to alter behavior… One does not creep up on a big future. Rather, the future is boldly declared in a vision and serves as the catalyst for all that follows.” (p. 233)
Can we dream the future? What is God’s dream for His Bride as she hurtles toward mid-term of the “new” Century? Can we allow the Holy Spirit to breathe wisdom, discernment, vision and direction about where God wants us to go? Which way is the wind blowing? What does He desire the “church of the future” to look like? How does He want us to function, to “be” his Body in the earth? How can we concretely be the light of the world and the life of the world as we continue into the 21st Century? Be concrete. Be specific.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


Liturgical or digitized? Ancient or future? Cutting edge or 'old faithful'? Mainly individual or expressly communal? A function that determines its own form, or a given form that functions in particular ways?

I've put the post title and its first line in question form, as a way of getting after what our current questions might be about worship: what is worship? Why is it important, and how is it important? What does it mean to be a "21st-century worshipper" or a "21st-century worshipping community" and how is that different from previous centuries? And of course the "or" in the first group of questions is a red herring, but perhaps a provocative one...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


We are discussing generational walls and barriers. There was a huge divide between the baby boomer generation and our parents in the late 1960s ... and corresponding cultural change as well as massive ecclesial change. The "Jesus" movement reshaped the face of the Evangelical church, the style of worship and the music.

S.S. sent me a statistic by email from Barna research which indicates that 36% of Americans today are Evangelical, but within the next generation, should current trends continue, that number will drop to 4%. It is routine for most churches to lose their graduating high schoolers as they go off to college (It would be interesting here to discuss the temptation for Evangelicals to go "instransitive" to use Mumford's phrase).

The question to be considered in this discussion is two-fold: 1) how can we be more effective in handing off our baton of faith to our own kids in our churches? (evangelical or otherwise).

2) How can we effectively engage millennial young people (secular) with a serious communication of the good news of Jesus?

Both questions lead to a third question that most be considered in order to answer #1 and #2: what are the generational and cultural differences that require a change in missiological methodology to reach these kids? Some say, there is no difference, others say we need to go back to historic Christianity, and yet a third group wants to throw out everything and start completely fresh. Which is it?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Trial Balloons

Despite our many grumblings about "politics" and "the system", we do have the amazing privilege of voting. So who you like for the OO (Oval Office) in 08? You get to name your (current--subject to change) candidate, and please provide the one or two reasons behind your choice. The hoped-for give-and-take might change some minds or sharpen some convictions!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Whatever Happened to Sin, next iteration

In the 1970s, Karl Menniger published "Whatever Happened to Sin?" The book pointed out the ways in which culture had abandoned the notion of "sin" as an important category for thinking about what's wrong and why things go wrong, and replaced it with terms derived from the realm of psychotherapy.

I wonder if we're not in a similar cultural moment, one in which our conception of the "location" of "evil" is shifting. In classical Protestant terms, sin/evil is located in each and every one of our rebellious hearts; we need a Savior. The therapeutic revolution moves the locus of evil to maladjustment, bad parenting, low self-esteem, etc.; we need a therapist. Various other social movements will locate or "explain" evil in terms of large corporations, centralized authority structures, or authoritarian ideologies; we need a raised, revolutionary "new consciousness."

Information technologies offer a fresh "take" on the human dilemma. Sin/evil is caused by twinned lacks: of connectedness and of information. More than a few voices in the emerging church movement are calling into question our "standard" categories of sin/sinner, being "lost," and formulations of judgment and the possibility of eternal punishment. Several are advocating wholesale denial of the doctrine of "penal substitution," the idea that Christ bore the punishment for our sin; this, at least in a few quarters, is seen as "cosmic child abuse." A modified universalism--while no one is saved apart from Christ's sacrificial death, many (all?) are saved without knowing that their salvation has come through Christ--is gaining a fresh hearing. The idea of drawing lines that separate those "inside" from those "outside," the understanding that people who "don't know Jesus" are "lost," are being viewed as outmoded, unhelpful and possibly even evil.

So: do we have an opportunity to rethink and reformulate our understanding of sin, what it means to be a sinner, and what it means that Jesus is Savior? How might we respond to the cyber-optimistic contention that people are inherently good and desire to make a positive contribution to a community (the ideology behind craigslist or eBay or Wikipedia)? What are our emergent brethren onto that we (those of us who might not be sure that the emergent label looks good on us) ought to pay attention to in regards to sin and salvation?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

One out of ten ain't bad for starters...

Totally selfish post: here I am, pastor of a small-ish Covenant Church (65 adults + kids), recognizing my need to lead our folks in a more "outward" direction. Help me develop a Top Ten list of things a guy like me, and a church like ours, might do to get ourselves going and reproducing/making disciples. Let's not have any one of us give all ten, but if everyone could offer one, with some reasons why you think it's important, maybe we could create a practical list that a guy like me could start doing! I realize you can't tell much about us from this brief description, so if you'd like more info, I'm happy to provide it, but feel free to fire away without it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

What's New?

With all the usual caveats about not pursuing the novel for the sake of novelty, or striving to be cutting edge, or falling prey to "new-ism" (the belief that what is new is automatically superior to what is old), please post a thought that is new for you: what's working in you right now that you haven't shared with us previously? These do not need to be fully-formed presentations; instead, I'm asking for a kind of "field report" from where your heart and mind are currently operating.