The Other Bridge Illustration: Visual Christus Victor

For all those visual learners who need to see it to understand it. This is the “Other Bridge Illustration.” And yes, I drew these while at Starbucks.

(David Fitch and I did an entire podcast on this topic if you are interested.)

The Original Bridge Illustration

But first we must talk about the Original Bridge Illustration, that staple of evangelism in my corner of evangelicalism.

The Original Bridge Illustration (pardon my drawing)

This is how I was taught to explain it.

On one side is humanity. Humanity sins (Rom. 3:23). And the wages of sin—what you earn—is death (Rom. 6:23). So “sin”, “wages”, and “death” mark the cliff separating humanity from God.

But on God’s side, God chooses to forgive our sin, which is a gift of grace—not earned like wages.  And this gift leads to life (Rom. 6:23).  So “forgiveness”, “gift”, and “life” are on God’s side.

The death of Jesus—his cross—becomes the bridge by which we cross over from sin and death and receive forgiveness and life.

We cross over to God through the cross of Jesus.

Simple, right?

Problems with this Bridge Illustration

Often—but not always—this presentation of salvation emphasizes individual sin and individual responsibility and individual salvation (notice a theme?).  It also assumes a movement from the side of humanity (on “earth”) to God’s side (in “heaven”).

Also, this view, when unpacked, usually holds to certain understandings of God’s wrath against humanity and how Jesus’s death satisfies God’s wrath so that we can avoid hell fire (drawn at the bottom of the chasm—too bad I didn’t have a red sharpie).

And lastly, this view can lead to truncated understanding that “Jesus came to die” or “Jesus was born to die“—which I regularly hear on Facebook or Twitter when I emphasize the significance of Jesus’s ministry or the kingdom of God.

The Other Bridge Illustration

But humanity IS separated from God.
Something needs to be done.
We need salvation.

So here is the Other Bridge Illustration.

The Other Bridge Illustration (the bridge if made of stones, if you couldn’t tell)

On one side is humanity. We are within the kingdom (or reign) of death (Rom. 5:14-17). We are slaves to sin (Rom. 6:17).  And we are captives of the powers (Col. 1:13).

But on God’s side is the kingdom of life, the redemption from sin, and liberation from the powers.

The bridge is made of three stones—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (I don’t know why stones. It’s just what came to me).

God coming to us.

But here is the main twist.
Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God is coming to us.

God comes from heaven to earth. God comes to the damned and the sinners. God comes to the enslaved and captives. God comes to seek and save the lost.

The totality of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection witnesses to this. 

Salvation comes to where we are. And this has always been the case. From Genesis to Revelation, God seeks to dwell with humanity. And God is pursuing humanity, bridging every divide, overcoming every obstacle.

This is the victory of God—not that we leave the place of sin and death, but that God overcomes by coming to our place of need, of desperation, of death.

Both/And…ish

To be fair, parts of the Original Bridge Illustration are true and we shouldn’t ignore them.  But we must place them in the larger context of the Other Bridge Illustration—The Christus Victor Illustration.

What needs to be added?

What would you add to make this better?

(I want to figure out the best was to add the Holy Spirit to this illustration.)


(This post it is part of my “20 for 20” post where I write for twenty minutes a day for twenty days [BUT I WENT WAY OVER TODAY].  So these are quick thoughts as I push out my ideas and practice writing.  See my explanation here.)

Are Evangelicals White? A Brief History

CEOs withdraw from Trump’s advisory councils because of the Presidents bankrupt statements about Charlottesville—maybe because of their moral backbone, but probably because of the financial bottomline. But so far no evangelical advisors have stepped down.

It makes people ask, “Are evangelicals really are just White?”
For some this is self-evident. Others vigorously deny it.

And statements like this by Jerry Falwell Jr. don’t help the cause of those trying to deny it.

So, are evangelicals white?

1976, the Year of the Evangelical

In 1976, pronounced the “Year of the Evangelicals” by Newsweek, Democrat Jimmy Carter won the presidency over Republican Gerald Ford. With each of them confessing to be “born again” Christians, Carter won with almost half of evangelical voters supporting him.

Only four years later evangelicals abandoned Jimmy Carter for Ronald Reagan. Opening his presidential campaign in the heart of Mississippi, Reagan presented himself as the “law and order” candidate advocating states’ rights, continuing the Republican “Southern Strategy” by obliquely cultivating racial fears while simultaneously courting evangelical voters. As Randall Balmer notes, throughout the campaign, Reagan operatives adeptly used “evangelical code language just as they had employed racially coded language in Mississippi.”

On the one hand, this quick reversal from Carter to Reagan confirmed the fears of black Christians who see evangelicals as merely a synonym for white, conservative Republicans. According to Anthony Bradley, associate professor of theology and ethics at The King’s College, evangelical leaders “sold out the mission of the church to win a ‘culture war.’”

Is this the Year of the Evangelical?

Thirty years later, 2016 could also be called the year of the Evangelicals. But this designation would be less congratulatory as white evangelical leaders fight with each other about supporting Trump. In the end, 4 out of 5 white evangelicals voted for Trump, prompting many to abandon the label altogether.

But on the other hand, evangelicals like Ed Stetzer contests collapsing the term to only meaning white conservatives. Formerly a Southern Baptist researcher and now the current Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center, Stetzer complains that “it’s not politics that unite all Evangelicals; it’s the gospel.” According to this broader, belief-based definition, many African American, Asian, and Latino Christians should be considered evangelicals.

And as alarming as it might be to some, recent surveys suggest the “evangelicalization” of American Christianity. As “self-identified Christians shrink and evangelicals have remained relatively steady,” says Stetzer, “American Christianity looks more evangelical year after year.”

But this kind of expansive definition seems rather self-serving as white evangelicals seek to distance themselves from the reality that 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump.

A focus on religious beliefs, rather than self-identification, effectively pushes out the far right white segment of the definition—by excluding those who identify as “born-again” but don’t regularly attend church—while also pulling in African American, Asian, and Latino populations who hold evangelical beliefs but don’t primarily identify as evangelical. A focus on beliefs conveniently diversifies evangelicalism but runs roughshod on how people identify themselves.

Pollsters looking at the same data see either a predominantly white religious segment with conservative political views, or they see a multicultural and politically diverse cross section of Christian America. “If we use a big-tent measure of evangelicals,” says Ryan Burge, instructor of political science at Eastern Illinois University, “we don’t find evangelicals to be different from other Americans. But if we use a measure based on what church people attend, then we find that there is an evangelical voter who is more likely to be politically conservative.”

So which definition is best when looking at evangelicals?


See also “Is Trump the End of Evangelicalism?”


 

Classical Evangelicalism

Examining the history of evangelicalism in America—rather than focusing on ideas or beliefs—is the best way to determine whether evangelicals should be considered primarily a conservative white expression of American Christianity.

Evangelicalism in America begins with the spiritual Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries. This classic period of evangelicalism—preceding the rise of fundamentalism by two hundred years—is best described as conservative Protestantism with a “revivalist twist.”

But this hope for spiritual revival also inspired a desire for social reform.

Celebrated revivalist Charles Finney and Jonathan Blanchard—the founding president of Wheaton College, a flagship evangelical institution—were both staunch abolitionists. And an evangelical feminism also flourished in the 19th century as women like Phoebe Palmer and Hannah Whitall Smith led revivals in America and Britain—a development continuing into the early 20th century with the rise of Pentecostalism.

Eminent historian of evangelicalism and professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, George Marsden observes that “in an era when social reform was not popular” it was evangelicals who modeled an impressive record of social service.

Evangelicals, before rise of fundamentalism in the 1920s, seamlessly united spiritual revival and social reform as a centrist movement balancing conservative theology and compassionate politics.

But the rise of fundamentalism within the US pushed evangelicals toward spiritual and social individualism. And the threat of Soviet Union outside the US pressed evangelicals toward a “Christian” nationalism. With the ascension of Soviet Communism and its militant atheism, evangelical-fundamentalists countered by championing a distinctively Christian American Capitalism. The political trinity of Christianity, American nationalism, and free-market Capitalism prompted evangelicals to abandon the work of social reform, leaving such service to the mainline Protestant churches.

This bifurcation of classic evangelicalism led, on the one hand, to evangelical-fundamentalists pursuing the spiritual revival of individuals while mainline Protestants, on the other, sought the political reform of society. As David Moberg notes, to this day each side “accuses the other of being untrue to the essential nature of Christianity.”

Evangelical Great Reversal

This rupture resulted in the “great reversal” of evangelicalism. Historian Donald Dayton notes how the previous champions of abolition came to resist the Civil Rights Movement, how an earlier evangelical empowerment of women came to oppose 1960s feminism, and how an original egalitarianism impulse succumbed to celebrity elitism. Dayton laments that since the 1920s a “great heritage of Evangelical social witness was buried and largely forgotten,” while its spiritual descendants reject as unbiblical activities clearly aligned with the early spirit of evangelicalism.

The abandonment of the Civil Rights Movement by self-described (white) evangelicals triggered the abandonment of black churches identifying as evangelical, creating the general impression that evangelicals are predominantly white conservatives.

But the spirit of classical evangelicalism—uniting spiritual revival and social reform—has not failed to haunt its children. There has always been a “moral minority” within post-fundamentalist evangelicalism promoting such integration. And even if they avoid the label, a growing number of mainline Protestants—and even Catholics—use evangelical terms to explain their faith.

This spirit of classical evangelicalism has always hovered between the extremes of conservative and liberal Christianity. Amid the chaotic waters of our bifurcated society, will this radical center emerge again?

The Spirit of Evangelicalism

Will this spirit breath life back into a three centuries old movement of multicultural and trans-denominational revival and reform? Or will it exhaust itself as the civil religion of white conservative Americans?

Are evangelicals white? It depends on which version prevails within the American religious landscape.

Subordination and #AltonSterling

I was about halfway through another post talking about theology and the Trinity and why claims for the “eternal subordination of Son” makes for bad theology.

And then I saw the new about #AltonSterling, another black man shot by white police.

And so I wrote this instead, because I couldn’t finish the other post…(it is 1am, Wednesday morning)

___

I’m mad. I’m really mad. I tried to go to bed but I just couldn’t.

I’m mad at my people, the evangelicals. I’m mad at conservative evangelicals who think they are just talking about a doctrine of God when they speak of the Son submitting to the Father. They think they are just (just?) talking about gender differences between women and men and why women should submit to men.

But conservative evangelicals, YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT POWER!

Every time you talk of authority and submission you are talking about power, and you therefore are not just talking about gender but also race, race relationships and racism. When you talk about power in any way you must understand that you are talking within a culture of white power, white privilege, even white supremacy.

I read a Bible where authority is always giving itself away. God hands over creation to his image bearers, giving them authority in all things. And when we screwed it up God does not demand obedience again, but entered as a SLAVE (Phil. 2:7) and became obedience himself (he who was Master would rather become a Slave than forcefully assert his rights as Master, so that all could be free and become children of God). That is the story I read.

From the conservative while male theologians (who I believe are not outright racists) to the pastors conferences they plan, to the pastors they teach, and then to the people (who often are racists) these ideas of authority and submission take shape and create a culture, a culture of expected deference to authority by “equal” people who are nonetheless expected to be “submissive”. And this expectation of submission to authority then blames the victims like #AltonSterling when something happens by the authorities, by the police.

I am angry about all this.

I am angry that white conservative theologians are so numb, ignorant, or blind to the fact that these ideas of “authority/submission” are continually used to denigrate women and minorities as they hide behind walls of abstraction and Biblicism (and I’m all for the Bible, but I see a very different story than they do). It is not enough to say “We are trying to be biblical” when those made in God’s image are being shot those in “authority”, especially when He who is the Image of God would rather himself die so that all might live.

Like it or not, these doctrines ARE causing incredible amounts of social apathy among white conservative evangelicals who are tempted to say “Well, if you just submit to authority then you won’t get shot.” Are we supposed to think that just like the Son submitted to the Father so too every black man should submit white police officers, or more likely, white police officers feeling like a black man should submit to them in every way, in excess of the law and trampling their rights?

“We are trying to be biblical by affirming authority and submission in the Trinity.” That is convenient that you are placing yourself as the authority of Scripture and not submitting to 2000 years that are in direct contradiction of your position. Why not submit to the church? And even those white conservative evangelicals who do not support this position of the Trinity, you still have fallen under the spell of submitting to authorities and turned a blind eye to our fellow black brothers and sisters. We (evangelicals) are all complicit! (Please see Divided by Faith and Disunity in Christ)

And so I am sorry.

I am sorry that I haven’t been more angry and more outspoken.

I am sorry to my Black friends, colleagues, and students that I haven’t been more urgent in exposing the dangerous theology and practice of the white evangelical community. That I haven’t been more bold in naming what is so obvious.

As one who claims an evangelical heritage, I often attempt to call evangelicals back to their better selves, their true traditions of spiritual conversion linked with social transformation. I am sorry that I have been too timid with the faults of persistent racism and white privilege.

I am sorry. Please forgive me.

Let our orthodoxy be known through our orthopraxis, otherwise we are noisy gongs and clanging symbols.

 

God’s love is coming; and so is his justice.

Lord, have mercy on us

Christ, have mercy.

 

Amen.

Deeper than We Thought (1): Our Society’s Sin

The Journey of Redemption 0e1140859_blog-racial-reconciliation

I’ve found in my journey of redemption that I don’t necessary sin egregiously in every category. Rather I’ve found I often keep struggling with the same two or three sins that seem to go all the way down to my core.

Every time I think I’m done with that sin God will gently tear off the Band-Aid and reveal just how bad the infection is. Over and over again this process goes on.

On a different level, this is true of our American society when it comes to race.

The Reality of Race

It seems that majority (white) people are often tired of talking about race (just like we are tired of dealing with that pesky sin of ours).  This is especially true of white evangelicals, where 69% think that the best way to improve race relations is to stop talking about race! It is as if we as a society think that because we acknowledge racism that we can now move on to our other sins.

But I would say this is probably one of the two core sins of our American society, and there is not easy movement beyond it.

And are we really working on it anyway? Or just managing it, like we manage having a short temper or indulging in too much dessert?

Aren’t we just managing “racism” when every so often we acknowledge the need for a “national debate”, or that those “real racists” need to be punished, or that perhaps the police are a little harsh on minorities, but never diving in to see how deep the sin goes?

These questions and concerns have directed me toward a book by Michelle Alexander called The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

This book rips off the Band-Aid and shows how and why the problem of racism persists in a post-Civil Rights era of colorblindness.

The Questions

As any good pastor would, this books asks deeper and different questions about our sin, overlooking the “obvious” as it searches for the true causes.

For instance,

  • Why did the “War on Drugs” begin in 1982 (by Reagan) when drug use was on the decline, not considered a national problem, and a good 2-3 years before crack cocaine became broadly available in major US cities?

(Anybody remember this add?)

 

incarceration_1-800x510

 

And more specifically,

  • Why is that when people of all racial backgrounds use and sell illegals drugs at a similar rate, that people of color are disproportionately imprisoned for drug crimes?
  • Why does America imprison a larger percentage of its black population the South Africa did at the height of apartheid?

Notice the drift of these questions?

This is about our criminal justice system, not the proclivity of racial stereotyping by people or racial slurs spoken in the parlors.

Alexander’s questions seek to reveal the links between a new form of racism and our criminal justice institutions, forged through what has become known as the War on Drugs (all that is for the next post).

The Plan

So I’m going to spend the next couple of weeks reading through Michelle Alexander’s book and posting about it (mostly for myself but also in the hopes it will provoke some conversation among those who have and haven’t read it yet…acknowledging I’m a late comer to the party as the book came out four years ago).

In the next post we’ll look at her what she means when she says,

“We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”

Evangelism and the Missional Church (video)

Evangelism In The Missional Church: How The Kingdom Breaks In Among Us

Missional Learning Commons 2014

November 7 @ 7:30pm – November 8 @ 3:00pm | $25

 (Wait for the 1:08 mark to learn what Fitch really thinks of Geoff, and evangelism…)

 

This year’s Missional Learning Commons will focus on the oft forgotten member of the 5-fold gifts: the Evangelists. While the Attractional Church focuses mostly on Pastors and Teachers, the Missional Church often gravitates toward the Apostles and Prophets. But what of the Evangelists?

On Nov. 7th and 8th we will focus our attention on the Practices of Proclamation & Presence as we seek the Kingdom of God among us in personal spaces, social spaces, and public spaces.

The Missional Learning Commons is a great value as a 2-day conference (only $25, lunch and childcare on Saturday included), bringing together experienced pastors and theologians into conversations around important themes for the contemporary  church.

Get all the DETAIL AND REGISTER HERE.

 

The Forgotten Lesson of Bonhoeffer, and the American Church

I am worried about the rising popularity of Bonhoeffer in the United States.

Very worried.

I’m worried not because of his theology, or his political views, or his activism.

I’m worried because so many people are interested in him…so many different people.

Some people laud him for his non-violent pacifism, and other for his violent attempt at activism. Some laud him for his commitment to community, and others for his religion-less Christianity. Some laud him for his non-metaphysical theology, and others for his pastoral care. Some laud him from the far left, and others from the far right.

When this happens we have to dig deeper and ask, “Is there something we are missing here?”

The Forgotten Lesson of Bonhoeffer

We often think of Bonhoeffer as a hero of the church, but I think of him more as a cautionary tale.

The forgotten lesson of Bonhoeffer is not that we should all strive to be more like him, but that we should strive to be a church that wouldn’t need him!

article_images-3_8_Pastors_Does_the_American_Flag_Belong_in_Your_Church_766070041I worry that people will either look for the next Bonheoffer or try to be the next Bonhoeffer in some heroic protest, rather than entering the more humble protests of daily life. I worry that people will think that large gestures of protest are the way to change the world, rather than entering on the difficult daily path of ordinary resistance.

You see, Bonhoeffer had to be Bonhoeffer because the national church in Germany failed to be the church at all.

This is the forgotten lesson of Bonhoeffer: The Church in Germany had failed!

Headed toward Failure?

So I’m worried that everyone interested in Bonheoffer might not be learning the real lesson: that we in America might be the type of church that, in a time of crisis, will capitulate to preserving the American Dream rather than living as a Kingdom Reality.

During this 4th of July weekend, are we Christians in America more American than Christian? How would we know? Does that distinction even makes sense? And if it doesn’t, then I worry that we have turned to Bonhoeffer into an inspirational story rather than a cautionary tale.

Let us not make Bonhoeffer merely into a Christian Celebrity…

Mastering Objectivity? Or Subject to the Bible

Tim Challies ended a recent post criticizing the practice of Lectio Divina by saying, “This, then, is a danger in Lectio Divina, that it may teach us to approach the text subjectively rather than objectively.”

But what is the big deal about reading the text subjectively as opposed to objectively?

man-inserting-memory-card-in-brain3 Subjects of Scripture

It is a typical concern of those defending expository or expositional preaching that they are seeking “objectivity” in their study as opposed to others who are succumbing mere “subjectivity”, but beyond the concern that such a simple opposition is wildly naïve philosophically and practically, this dichotomy often does the reverse of what it hopes to do (secure the authority of scripture from human manipulation).  

To understand this we need to remember the three ‘subjects’ of Scripture.

1) The subject matter = the text of Scripture.  This is the written word which is often equated with the “Word of God” without further reflection.

2) The subject (as person) = God who spoke and speaks through the text.

The true subject of Scripture, toward which our study ought always to lead, is God, who in Christ through the Spirit, is making all things right.

We read the first (subject matter = Scripture) so that we can encounter, know, and experience, the second (subject/person = God).

And all this leads to the third subject:

3) The subject = the reader, who is made subject, or is subjected to, or subjugated by, the text to God so that as to become slaves to God rather than to our own passions, desires, and deaths.

I believe those advocating for the ‘objectivity’ in study and preaching desire that we would be slaves of the text, and God, rather than masters of the text, but through this opposition of objectivity and subjectivity, which all to often relies on faulty philosophical assumptions, this perspective ends up becoming masters of the text rather than slaves of it.

“Although I wouldn’t have known how to talk about it then, slowly but surely the Scriptures were becoming a place of human striving and intellectual hard work. Somehow, I had fallen into a pattern of using the Scriptures as a tool to accomplish utilitarian purposes rather than experiencing them primarily as a place of intimacy with God for my own soul’s sake.” Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms

So perhaps we should stop striving for a mythical “objectivity” through which God will speak to us, and instead embrace all the processes which we might become “subject” to the text, especially the meditative practices that lead to our own subjective un-mastery of God.  Indeed, this is to understand Scripture within the God’s power to save rather than just God’s information to teach.

And tomorrow, on the Missio Alliance Blog, I’ll be posting about why I’m “Against Revelation” because it obscures the power of God behind the desire to know stuff about God. Stay tuned.

And see Mark Moore’s great response to Challies in his “Is Lectio Divina Really Dangerous?

Culture vs. Society, (Or Not): An Older Evangelical Mindset

evolucion_tecnologicaIn the older evangelical (and fundamentalist influenced) mindset there was often a split between “culture” and “society” (albeit, not a conscious one).  Culture was usually viewed with suspicion leading to separation or withdrawal.  But society was viewed neutrally leading to capitulation.  Let me explain.

Culture

Culture is often viewed by older Evangelicals as the field of values and worldview, of messages and meaning.  Culture is where one must battle over a Christian worldview and Christian values.  Culture is where the battle for the hearts and minds of the youth is won or lost.  This understanding leads to a “Culture War” mentality based around key issues public prayer, the meaning of Christmas, marriage, abortion, evolution, global warming.  This mindset often leads to suspicion and separation in regard to culture.

Society

But society is usually viewed more neutrally as the structures and institutions of culture, but which are mostly benign in themselves, but could be used well or poorly depending on the people in charge of the institutions.  The structures of society (politic systems, economic policy/practice, healthcare, military, police forces, prison systems) are either good or bad. This mindset lead to accommodation and capitulation about the ways in which these structures and systems of society are themselves possibility at odds with the kingdom of God.

In my class last week on “Church and Culture” I raised this distinction between culture and society in order to erase it because we are going to be talking about systems and structures of meaning production all of which fall under a broad understanding of culture understood as the the total human endeavor to live and make sense of this very living.

Have you seen this distinction between ‘culture’ and ‘society’ in your churches, church leaders, or church experiences?

Honoring Your Church

Acts 2:1-4. When the day of Pentecost came. Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012.
When the day of Pentecost came Mark A Hewitt, Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012.

Headline news is usually bad news.  Viral blog posts are usually polemical.  And those “way-too-long” conversations on Facebook and Twitter are often based in controversy.  Pain, division, and anger drive on-line traffic and often directs the content.

And church news is little different: pastor so-and-so is embroiled in a moral failing;  church such-and-such fired its pastor over leadership differences; and the seminary down the street let go a professor over theological issues. The list goes on and on.

Isn’t it time for something different?  

How about a little good news? What about a viral campaign about churches doing well?Well, here is my modest attempt to say a good word about our church community.

Honoring My Church Community

Let me just say it loud and clear: I love my church. And when I pause to think about it much it brings me to tears.

Last week our congregation gathered for an ordination and consecration service for myself and my wife.  You see, I managed to squeeze a 2-year ordination process into 10 years (Cyd did it in the allotted 2 years, so that tells you who is more on top of things).

During the service there was a time of affirmation so that people could say how much they love and appreciate Cyd and I as people and as pastors.  And of course it was very nice (thank you all who were there).

At the end of the service I got up to say a word of thanks, because that is the good and proper thing to do.  But I was so overcome by gratitude (more precisely, I was choking down tears) that I couldn’t get the words out (I know this is very hard to believe for those who know me, but there were witnesses I promise).

And why was I so choked up?  Well, let me tell you.

I forget…

My church community makes me forget that many pastors (and members) have been abused, neglected, and all around beat up by their communities.  I forget that this is the reality for many people when they think of “church”.  Over the years I have known many of these pastors in my Emerging and Missional church networks.  And I have heard their heartache and frustration caused by their church communities.  I have talked with them about their longings for a more holistic ministry and how they have been shut down by their leadership.  But my church makes me forget this (in a good way).

Being let down, dominated, neglected, and controlled has not been my experience here at Life on the Vine. I have never felt overworked and underappreciated. I’ve never been shutdown or controlled aggressively by people that disagree with me.  I have never felt like people were just putting a smiley face over a conversation in order strong conflict.

I know this might sound weird, but for the most part I have had such a positive experience as a pastor of this local church that I forget that many people have a very sour view of the church.  If often shocks me that people hate and mistrust the “church” in general (often coming out of a specific bad “church” experience).

I’ve even been called a naïve idealist because I have such high hopes and beliefs about the church.  But this is because my local church has been such a healthy experience for me.  In fact I don’t believe I’m either naïve or an idealist.  It is just that I haven’t been deeply wounded by my church (and I think that is just how God wants it to be).  I have been nurtured by my church. And isn’t that how it is supposed to be?

I remember…

Through my church community I remember God’s grace, God’s love, and God’s patience.  I know that I’m loved and accepted for who I am and not what I do (for the most part, the identity issues I have come solidly from my own sin and not because of passive-aggressive tendencies from my community).

I remember through my church community that God really is making a new people here in the world, a peculiar people (strange & weird) for sure, but a new people out of the old.  We don’t all act alike, believe alike, looks alike, or love alike. And yet here we are living our lives together.

For sure it hasn’t been easy. In fact, it has been hard work living into the reconciliation of God.  But it has been worth it! I’m a totally different person because of it.  And I wouldn’t trade those lessons learned for just about anything.

Not Perfect…

This is not to say our church is perfect. And certainly I’m not perfect. And that is the whole point! We aren’t perfect. NO CHURCH IS PERFECT.

But it is how we all deal with our imperfections that really matters.  Or better, it is how we are all allowing God to deal with our imperfections that matter.  We are all going to blow it.  But can we live in patience and forgiveness? Can we live toward reconciliation and justice?  Can we live toward love and faith?

I, for one, believe our church community is pretty good at being imperfect in these ways.

Therefore, I want to honor my church community in seeking God’s kingdom in the midst of all our messy imperfections, and somehow, for having put up with all my messy imperfections for the better part of 10 years.

What about you? Are you able to praise and honor your church?  Let’s get some good headlines going out there.  

Why am I so Grumpy? (about evangelical history)

Angry_face

Late last week someone accused me of being grumpy about evangelical history (I’ve been writing about it here and here).

Well, beyond the reason that I’ve already stated, here are a couple of reasons that get under my skin.

  • First off, I’m part of a historically Holiness (though non-Wesleyan) denomination (the Christian and Missioary Alliance) which practices healing and engage in world mission, and until the breakout of the “Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” controversy really didn’t see a problem with women leading churches.  But in the last twenty years, that and other doctrines and practices have been criticized by those who are adopting a more Neo-Reformed outlook because they think it is the way to more effective “evangelical” ministry.  That makes me a little cranky.
  • Sadly, my denomination is hardly the only one this is affecting.  I’ve talked recently with a Nazarene District Superintendent who told me that after part of his denomination began engaging with the Emerging Church that a small, yet extremely vocal contingent, begun pushing the Nazarene church toward Neo-Reformed thought as a way of protecting against a perceived liberalism in the Emerging Church.  The same is happening in the Brethren Church, the American Baptist Church, and others.  That makes me a little cranky.
  • I’ve heard from people ministering overseas that Neo-Reformed missionaries actively disparage Wesleyan and Pentecostal missions for being cult like and not preaching the real gospel.  That makes me a little cranky.
  • I continue to read for Neo-Reformed pastors, bloggers, and leaders a woefully misinformed history of  evangelicalism that at times feel intentionally misleading. That makes me a little cranky.
  • I repeatedly see young pastors with little theological training being told by Neo-Reformed leaders that their theological heritage cannot be trust and that “real” doctrine is contained in 5-point Calvinism.  That makes me a little cranky.
  • Certainly this is a bit anecotal and personal (which is why I didn’t say all this in my Missio Alliance posts), but I think that actualy my experiences are very typical once we start talking about it.

But really, I’m not that cranky at all (people that know me in flesh and blood actually think I’m pretty laid back and fun).  But I AM passionate.  I’m passionate about my evangelical heritage, and I’m very hopeful for God’s mission.  And to be honest, I am worried about the future of evangelicalism (broadly defined as I’m doing in my series) if it begins to feel that it is only “truly” evangelical if it is Neo-Reformed.  Of course this worry can only be fully explained when I get to the end of my series over at Missio Alliance.
imgresBut this doesn’t mean that I hate Neo-Reformed pastors and leaders, and certainly I don’t despise those that attend their churches.  I hope to continue ministering alongside them as fellow evangelicals.  And I’m excited about of a possible round-table happening next June about the nature of the gospel between prominent Missio Alliance and Gospel Coalition leaders.

But I won’t engage these round-tables as an “inferior” evangelical, nor will I overlook the messages being sent out that presume as much (I think much could be said for so-called “gospel-centered” emphases, but that is for another time).

So yes, I’m a little cranky, but also super hopeful.