Saturday, June 30, 2007

Tonight I Went Hunting

... for pictures to take, that is. The only things I shot were pictures!

I took the camera out into the back yard this evening and took these shots. I offer them in hopes that they bring half as much joy to you as they do to me. [I'll admit it - I'm a photography nerd!]

This is a very pretty geranium that Carmen has hanging near the back of the yard.

As you might have guessed, our garden is in full swing now. This is a close up of a future cucumber!

Echinaecha is a wonderful plant for a variety of reasons: one being these blooms.

This is the same echinaecha plant from a wider angle.

Am I the only one that thinks gazing balls are cool? I don't know if I like the big (read: bowling ball size) ones, but this smallish one on a rusty base often catches my attention.


And now back to our regularly scheduled theological blogging. Sorry for taking this indulgence!


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Pray for Mary

One of my former students and current friends, Mary in Maryland, passed along this prayer request to me and gave me permission to invite all of ya'll to pray as well:

Dear Nathan,

I hope that you receive this message. I have been praying, but I feel better when I am not the only one.
Please, pray for our 4-day club next week. Pray that the children will come, and that there will not be any distractions.
Also, I have a new acquaintance, Sandy. I am not sure of her salvation. Please, pray that I will do a good job of witnessing to her.
Take care.

Your friend,

I trust that as we pray, the LORD will be honored and glorified and that He may in His wisdom and timing use Mary's willing heart and home for His purposes.


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"Multiple Doorways" Theory

I've been thinking about philosophy of ministry a lot lately - I'm seeking a church to serve at vocationally, after all! In the process of answering questions and working through issues, it seems like I regularly end up making the "multiple doorways" speech. Some of you have heard this before (Jered!), but if not I hope you'll find the concept encouraging. As always, I welcome your criticism too.

First, a little history.

There was a time in America when a significant part of the unchurched population would simply wake up some Sunday morning and think, "I need to go to church today". The reasons varied - young children, nostalgia, conviction, family ties, etc... - but the end result was the same. The primary way that local churches welcomed strangers, then, was by making their facilities and people as hospitable as possible...

As a result, churches began posting signs pointing to the restrooms and the nursery. They put out lighted signs in the front lawn of the building to advise people of times of service. They made sure their phone number was in the local phone book anywhere possible. They listed in the local paper's "church section". They trained "greeters" to meet people politely and to hand them a "bulletin" informing these visitors about the nature of the church, the day's activities, etc... They often even tried to make the decor of the building appealing and comfortable.

All of this happened predicated upon a cultural understanding that people would just randomly decide to visit local churches out of the blue. [Please don't remind me here that it was the LORD's prompting - I understand that, but please allow that cultural factors have a role, too.] And they did, often in large numbers.

This "success" prompted strong "visitation" ministries. Sometimes people would randomly stroll through neighborhoods and knock on doors, inviting folk to their church services. Other times people would make sure to visit every visitor to their church services - returning the courtesy, if you will. And all of this worked very well.

Now mind you, there's nothing inherently Biblical about what I've just described, nor is there anything unBiblical about it either. It's just a method that fit a cultural context, all for His glory. If you doubt me, think for a moment about (for example) Martin Luther - do you think he did any of this? Or go back to Ignatius, perhaps - do you suspect he led a vibrant "visitation" ministry? Really, not even the pages of the New Testament indicate anything quite like this set up. But that doesn't make it wrong, bad, or otherwise - it's just a culturally appropriate method to come along side of God's work in a given community. Good stuff, frankly.

But ... (you knew there was one coming, right?) does this same cultural context exist today? In large part, the answer is a resounding "No!". In some areas of the country, and especially in certain demographics, the same cultural context exists and therefore the same methods may well still work, too. But by and large, that cultural context is now gone.

Don't believe me? Tell me, then, what's the first thing you think when two well-dress total strangers knock on your front door? If you're an average American, you either think a) Jehovah's Witnesses, or b) Mormons. Perhaps you think political pollsters or sales people, but regardless you most likely don't think happy thoughts!

Or how about this question: How many unchurched, random visitors have you had at your church meetings in the last six months? Not Christians looking for a new church. Not unchurched people who were invited or are attending because of some special event. People that just woke up and thought, "I need to go to church today" and happened to chose yours. Again, if yours is a normal American church, the answer is "very few".

So what's a church to do? Doom and gloom prevails, right? Wrong.

To put it simply, we need multiple doorways into the life of the church. Where once there was one primary doorway (the front door), there must now be multiple (metaphorical) "doorways" for people to contact, inspect, observe, and (hopefully) become a part of the life of the local church.

Some examples first, then a little theory. If your local community is into a given sport, you should find a way of cooperating - softball team, golf outings, signs for the local football team, whatever. Or how about a MOPS group (Mothers Of Pre Schoolers)? What about music - do you have talented folk in your midst that could play the local scene? Recycling is a great option - maybe use your facilities as a drop off for CFLs. The list goes on and on ...

But I must make an important point about theory and practice here:

I am not suggesting we do these things simply as a method!

I am suggesting that we find whatever passions the LORD has set in our hearts and pursue those with a holy fire. If the LORD gave a certain group of people in a given local church a passion about the environment, we need to encourage them to act upon that passion in the name of Christ. Not in a pushy, holier-than-thou way, but in a way that acknowledges the very Creator of these passions.

So let's run with the environmental example. Say 10 people in your church are passionate about protecting the LORD's creation. We must find a way of allowing them to pursue that passion as a group for the express purpose of His glory. If they want to help clean up highway litter, we encourage them to do so and perhaps find the phone number to call to make it happen. If they want to volunteer at the local recycling center, we stir them on to do that. Ideally, we encourage them to think of themselves as a team, a family, a group committed to these passions. We teach them to soak their problems in prayer, we admonish them toward becoming better disciples even as we watch them do this (in part) by pursuing their passions.

And this glorifies God.

But it does even more. It will almost inevitably attract others. Some not-yet Christians will share this passion and the LORD will use that to bring them into the life of the church. Others will quietly observe this demonstration of divine passion and pass it along to still others. The end result will be that divine encounters will happen, people will come to know the LORD, and He will be even more glorified!

Sure, there will be mockers. Sure, there are inherent risks. But the alternative is unacceptable - continuing to use methods that no longer fit the cultural context will (and has already, frankly) only move us backwards in the task of coming alongside God's work in our communities.

We talk all the time about changing the methods but not the message. This is how I see that taking place. But it's not just a method - it's an honest attempt to live out the passions that the LORD has hard-wired into each of us. In today's increasingly postmodern world, this level of authenticity is perhaps the only culturally acceptable way of proceeding anyway.


I'd really love for anyone that can to share how your local church might be living these principles. This is (yet another) opportunity for our resident lurkers to come out and be an active part of the conversation. I'll pick on a few of you by name, to see if we can start a healthy conversation: Jered, Dan, Nick, Ryan - can you hear me?


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Thursday, June 28, 2007

An Unusual Book Review

I'm quite sure this is the first time I've reviewed a book by an author I personally know. In fact, I work with him every week - he's actually my part-time accountant. But as I like to point out, he's only an accountant by trade; he's an author by passion (and perhaps someday it'll pay the bills, eh?).

Nick Hayden is a great guy and a fine author. You should get to know him. Incidentally, he's likely to read this, as he reads my blog often (though rarely comments - a thousand curses upon his head!). So I'll have to be nice...

Just kidding! There's no "have to" necessary. Nick finally (after roughly two years of whining on my part) loaned me a copy of his first book, Trouble on the Horizon. I suppose I should return it to him, now that I've read it, eh?

Anyway, if you like fantasy fiction, you should read this book. Nick does a great job of putting you inside the characters, and of keeping your attention. Even though it will eventually be but book one of a longer series, this one ends tidy enough to not drive you mad about the unfinished nature of the project. [How's that coming, Nick?]

My criticism of the book (sorry, Nick, but I have to say something critical, don't I?) is limited to just two points:

a) The large number of stereotypical characters in the story. But in defense, I must add that most fantasy fic books share this problem (hence, they've become stereotypical!).

b) The occasional tendency toward over-description (read: too many adjectives).

My specific praises include the following:

a) The "Horizon" of the title isn't what you'd expect - it's one of the most interesting elements of the book, one that I hope gets explored further in the series. I can't tell you more...

b) There's an underlying - not brow-beating - spirituality about the book, much like Lewis or (especially) Tolkien.

c) It's honest to the realities of life, but yet "clean" enough to recommend to anyone over, say, 14 years old.

d) It follows more than just the traditional two (one major, one minor) story lines.

e) Its author's father signs my paychecks! Sorry, Nick - I had to say it!

Seriously, it's a good book and one that (after the series is done) I'll likely actually buy ... unless maybe Nick doesn't notice that I still have his copy!


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Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Prayer for the Broken

LORD, we live in a broken world, a world full of brokenness:

Broken relationships;
Broken hearts;
Broken families;
Broken lives.

I hurt for the broken.
I myself am one of them.
I long for the brokenness to be healed.

My power fails me;
I cannot change this mess around and about me.
Sometimes I long for the days when I was too immature
in my faith to so quickly see it all.

Ignorance was once bliss.

You alone can change this, LORD.
You alone have the power to create real healing;
You are even now at work in the world to do just that.

Help me to see where I can come alongside Your work, LORD.
Help me to be a part of bringing healing to all this brokenness.
Dry my tears, but use them to make me fit for the work.


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Saturday, June 23, 2007

"Ask the Pastor" #2 - part 2

In case you missed the first part of this soon-to-be three part post, let me remind you of the question posed:

I am really interested in learning more about the Mormon, Muslim, and Jehovah's witness cults. I would like to know what exactly is wrong with their beliefs. I have some relatives in these cults.

In part one, I addressed Mormonism. I'll now tackle the Muslim faith - Islam.

Islam cannot properly be called a cult, since it's not really directly derived from Christian doctrine. [At least that's how I define a cult; others would disagree.] Nevertheless, Islam is a competitor to Christianity, and a false religion (as I'd not-so-politely call every non-Christian religion).

In a nutshell, Islam follows the history of the Old Testament up until Abraham and Isaac. Islam maintains that Ishmael, not Isaac, was the true heir of Abraham. They trace their history back to him, not Isaac. They believe the Jews distorted this truth and committed their lies to paper in the form of what we would call the Old Testament. Christians, naturally, followed this same supposedly false family tree and are therefore also condemned - sort of. [Some versions of Islam, and some particular followers, extend some love to Christians as "people of the Book" and look upon us with less derision than Jews.]

Islam actually begins with Muhammad, and can therefore be more or less traced back to ca. AD 700. What Muhammad actually taught is highly debatable, as his earlier "writings" often seem to contradict later ones. I say "writings" (in quotation marks) because Muhammad was almost certainly illiterate himself - his teachings were written down many years later by others claiming various levels of authority.

Read what you like from groups like CAIR - Islam is at its core a violent and hateful religion. [Note: I understand many may disagree; defending this particular point is not my primary intent in this post. If you disagree, feel free to say so and perhaps we can discuss it further.] They were established "by the sword" - they literally stormed through northern Africa in the 8th century and took village after village by force, giving the newly conquered the option of "convert or die". Islam teaches that violence must be done to "infidels" - anyone who is not Islamic.

Religiously, Islam is - like all other religions outside of Biblical Christianity - a works-based faith. You do this, don't do that, and perhaps you'll enter into glory when you die. A well-documented "guaranteed ticket" is given to those that die as martyrs (hence all the suicide bombers).

As with the Mormonism post, feel free to download this brief summary document I wrote about Islam.


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Stranger Than Fiction

I'm not really a "movie kind of guy". I rarely if ever go to the theater: it's too pricey for a guy with a big family, and I hate being surprised by a foul movie. So I wait until Andrew Coffin or someone else over at World Magazine reviews one. If it gets hammered by them, I usually avoid it. In the case of Stranger Than Fiction, it happened to be Marvin Olasky (who is, among other things, a University of Texas journalism prof) who reviewed it. He said very nice things about the flick, so last night Carmen and I rented it.

As it turns out, that was just the beginning of a well-spent evening...

We live in a small town, so we don't have a BlockBuster or any other big, national chain to rent flicks from. I like it that way, incidentally. What we do have is K & K Video, a locally owned and operated establishment. The gal that owns the place is a wonderful lady and fine Christian. So as I'm browsing through the aisles, a stranger (to me) walks in and begins doing likewise. She and I, along with the owner, are the only one's in the store.

This stranger happens to ask me where the New Releases section is. I point it out, and we both continue looking for a flick to rent. As the moments pass, she and I begin to make small-talk about movies: how they've gotten so often so foul, which ones she likes, which ones I like, etc... As often happens to me, the next thing I know I'm having a really nice conversation with this woman and with the owner about spiritual matters. It turns out her father was a pastor in her childhood days, and all three of us (sharing an affection for Christ) were discussing racism, its portrayal in books, its pathetic so-called link to the Bible (the ol' Ham = black stupidity). It was a very good conversation, if conversations that trouble and upset you can ever be "good".

So here we were, three Christians (as best I can know) talking about social ills and their Biblical cure.

Then I rented Stranger Than Fiction and went home.

As it turns out, the movie continued a similar theme. In a nutshell, the dominant theme of the flick is that a) the little things in life have value and meaning, and b) even one individual life is more valuable than a cultural masterpiece (whether art, literature, or otherwise).

Don't get me wrong - the flick is not "Christian" in any straightforward way, and does in fact contain some decidedly un-Christian behaviour. But the main theme of the flick is a very Christian one indeed.

Two different 'conversations'; one dominant theme - there are good and Godly answers to the social and cultural problems we face.

It was a good, well-spent evening.


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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Emerging Seekers?

A common question (for me) came up again the other day, so I thought I might ponder a bit on this post.

Aren't Seeker and Emerging like and oil and water?

Yes. And no. Sort of.

Let's think this through...

The most recent version of this question came as my wife was scouring "pastor wanted" ads over at Church Staffing. She found a self-described Purpose Driven/Seeker church looking to hire someone to pursue their vision of having an Emerging ministry.

Most probably the folks that wrote this ad fall into one of a few possible categories:

A. They don't really know what Emerging means. There's a large category of people out there that seem to think "Emerging" is a new style of worship, or perhaps a new method of organizing church services. They fail to grasp the basic message inherent in the term Emerging - we need to come out of and away from the past, not just tweak it. To many, an "Emerging" or (what's often erroneously considered a synonym) "postmodern" ministry just means lighting a few candles and turning the lights down. That's just simply not going to work, folks.

B. They want to start an Emerging congregation to serve as a hold-over until these congregants "mature" into the "normal" church service. This, as best I understand it, is what happened to Axis at Willow Creek. Click on the Willow Creek link and scroll through their Ministry Quick-Link and this is what you'll see:

In other words, they fully expect that the only people interested in postmodern culture and/or emerging church concepts will be "20-somethings" - a kind of "big kid" youth group. Once you "grow up", as it were, then you'll be a part of "adult" church, I suppose.

Now mind you, I'm not trying to take cheap shots at Willow Creek. They do a great many things very well. Emerging just isn't one of them. Churches that want to start an "emerging ministry" are missing the point, too. In fact, it could safely be said that option B is just a variant of option A!

But I don't want to give the impression that I think Seeker can have nothing to do with Emerging. That would put me in the currently standard mode of "whining Emergent dude" - I don't want that!

I think the two models can co-exist, but not in the same facility and not under an pretense that one is better than the other. The two models are different; one is not inherently better than the other. One happens to be very good at reaching Boomers, the other at reaching the rest of us. But I think they could work hand-in-hand under the right conditions. More on what those conditions might look like later ...

So for now, when I see ads looking to hire a guy to start an "emerging ministry" I'll continue to do as I have: check out their website, read around a bit and verify my suspicions - they know not what they seek.


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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

"Ask the Pastor" #2 - part 1 (revision 1)

[Note: I've updated this post since it's original debut the other day, hence "revision 1" in the title. I discovered a factual error on my part and decided to add a link to a pdf file about Mormonism that I wrote some years ago.]

A former student of mine sends along what is now officially our next "Ask the Pastor" question. Incidentally, might I remind everyone that this was your idea, not mine. I'm not entirely comfortable calling myself a pastor, as I'm presently without a flock to shepherd.

Anway, the question:

I am really interested in learning more about the Mormon, Muslim, and Jehovah's witness cults. I would like to know what exactly is wrong with their beliefs. I have some relatives in these cults.

As you can see, this is really three questions in one. In part 1, we'll start with Mormons...

What's wrong with Mormonism?

First, you're right to label this a cult. They have taken Christian language and twisted it to mean something completely different, yet fooled many into thinking they are a different "version" of Christianity. Officially, Mormons represent the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and as such are sometimes called Latter Day Saints (or simply LDS) rather than Mormon. I've often said that they shouldn't be allowed to use some of these terms. They should be the _____ of _____ of Latter Day _____!

Since this isn't intended to be a huge post, let me highlight a few of the major problems.

1. Mormons don't believe in the same Jesus as Christian do. To Mormons, Jesus is the spirit brother of Satan. [Note: the link provided is an LDS attempt to disprove my point, but read it carefully and you'll find my assertion is correct - and some!]

2. Mormons don't believe in the Trinity. They believe that God the Father is a seperate entity with actual spiritual children (two of whom happen to be Jesus and Satan - see above link), and that the Spirit of God is nothing more than the Father's "active force" (a trait they share with Jehovah's Witnesses, as we shall see in part 3).

3. Mormons beleive that the ultimate goal of their faith is to become a god. Hence the term "god-makers" is sometimes applied to them. The famous Mormon quote is "As Man is, God once was; as God is, man may become". Yep - God was once a fleshly creature like you and I but because he obeyed all the natural laws of the universe, he got to become He. And you and I can do the same! How exciting! How novel!

How blasphemous.

[Note: after re-studying my notes, I discovered I had the order of importance of Mormon holy books wrong. This revised version of my post has the correct order.]

4. Mormons believe the Bible is not as important as their own goofy book. You know, if I hadn't read it I might not have said "goofy". According to most LDS folk, there are four really important spiritual books in the world. In order of importance (least to greatest): the New Testament, The Book of Mormon, Doctrines and Covenants, and The Old Testament. So the most authoritative book in the world on spiritual matters is the OT, followed closely by Doctrines and Covenants. If I had my copy in front of me right now, I'd quote the page numbers where we read that "because Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did none other than that which was commanded of them, they have received their reward and become not as angels, but gods".

Summary: Mormonism is officially not a Christian denomination, nor are Mormons Christians. This a cult and heresy that lies well outside of the "pale of orthodoxy" (as Hank Hanegraaff calls it).

Incidentally, Hank's site (linked above) is a great resource for these sorts of questions, as is his radio show "The Bible Answer Man".

Until part 2,


Incidentally, if you'd like more details, click here to download a .pdf file I wrote about Mormonism. It's brief, but more detailed than this post.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Brian McLaren, part 2

A few days ago I posted what I liked about McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy. Today, as promised, I'll talk about those matters where I felt McLaren went seriously adrift of what's proper and/or Biblical...

[Warning: this is long. If you want to skip the details, just scroll to the bottom and read my brief summary.]

Having listed the chapters I liked before, here are those I really didn't:

Bad Things

Chapter 2: Jesus and God B - Here McLaren contends that God should not be seen as merely "'God A', a single, solitary, dominant Power, Mind, or Will, but as 'God B', a unified, eternal, mysterious, relational community/family/society/entity of saving Love" (p.85).

If that isn't terribly confusing enough, there's more: "In English, there just isn't a personal pronoun to express this kind of Life/Personality that isn't either exclusively male or exclusively female. The only nongender pronoun in English is impersonal (it)" (p.83). I especially dislike this quote because it implies to the average reader that such a pronoun exists in the original Greek manuscripts, but not in English. As grammar would have it, though - there is no such pronoun in Greek either!

I found many occasions in this book when McLaren's lack of theological training became obvious. This chapter was one of those.

The truth is that - to use McLaren's somewhat odd language - the God of the Bible is both God A and God B. The Bible clearly paints Him (not It) so.

Chapter 10: Why I Am Biblical - How in the world could I have problems with this, you might ask. It's because (even though he denies it on p.177) McLaren clearly has what throughout Christian history would be called a low view of the Bible. This seriously jaded paragraph speaks volumes:

We wanted a simple, clear, efficient, and convenient plan for getting to heaven after death. Between now and then, we wanted clear assurance that God didn't like the people we didn't like, and for the same reasons we didn't like them. Finally, we wanted a rule book that made it objectively clear, with no subjective ambiguity, what behaviors were right and wrong for all time, in all places, and among all cultures, especially if those rules confirmed our views and not those of people we considered "liberal". (p.178)

McLaren has apparently taken too many postmodern pills (yes, even I believe one can take too many). Much of what he writes mockingly really is what God's Word provides. The Bible is clear about the path to Heaven and many, many "rules" about our conduct here on earth, for all time, in all places and cultures. It's not as black and white as many would like it to be, but McLaren is painting with way too broad a brush here.

Did I mention his lack of Biblical training earlier? Here's another example: "To say Scripture is God-breathed is, then, to elicit this primal language of creation" (p.179). His point is that traditional understandings of inspiration have missed the point - this from the same guy that thinks the "street version" of Calvinism is double predestination! More on this in a minute...

This chapter gets worse, frankly. He goes on to posit a strange sort of "peace and love" view of inspiration. In his view, the fact that God sometimes commanded violence in the Old Testament doesn't have any bearing whatsoever on our modern day issues of war and peace. In fact, God - according to McLaren - seems to have evolved with His people, so that today we no longer have any Biblical mandate for violence - that was just a cultural accommodation of times long since gone.

But isn't the whole reason that God sent the Israelite to destroy the people of the land of Canaan precisely as judgement for their sins?! Yet McLaren doesn't even touch this truth. In his eyes, violence is clearly unacceptable and he therefore cannot posit a God that might use violence to accomplish His aims.

Moreover, what about Revelation? Does McLaren's theology ignore the many, many violent references in the Bible's final book? Don't get me wrong - I don't want random acts of violence any more than the next guy. But McLaren can't turn the God of the Bible into a peace-at-all-costs advocate, no matter how hard he tries.

Chapter 12: Why I Am A Fundamentalist/Calvinist - McLaren goes loopy in this chapter. He has the audacity to completely rewrite the famous TULIP acronym, filling it with warm-fuzzies and calling it merely a "doctrinal distinctive". As mentioned above, here McLaren says that "street version" of Calvinism is double predestination (p.208). I don't personally know anyone who's a true double predestination guy, and I'm firmly in the Calvinist camp.

To be brief about it, McLaren displays his lack of theological training for all to see, and seems to be proud of it too!

Chapter 13: Why I Am (Ana)Baptist/Anglican - This chapter makes many good points, noting - for example - that Anabaptists historically have viewed their faith as a way of life, not merely a religion. But then he gets out his peace-at-all-costs horse again and beats it to death. This says it all:

"... if pacifism is not required for all followers of Christ just yet, it should be as soon as possible" (p.232)

Chapter 17: Why I Am Incarnational - Those that know me will likely be shocked that I'd be agitated at a chapter with this title. It starts out well. McLaren tells us that "Jesus' incarnation bound him ... to all humanity, including people of other religions" (p.281). He's not going Universalist here, trust me - he's making a good point. He then reminds us that "Pharisees didn't understand the difference between love/acceptance and approval..." (p.282), another great point to remember today.

But things start getting shaky. In a footnote (p.286), he claims that "many" Christians believe in a manual dictation theory of Biblical inspiration. Just like his assertion that double predestination is the norm, this one fails the test of complete honestly. Hyperbole? Perhaps. Ignorance? Perhaps more likely.

I love this quote, too: "In the old modern-colonial world ... non-Christians could be seen as stubborn rebels who refused to capitulate to the dominating truth" (p.289). This, to McLaren, is a terrible way to view folk! Oddly enough, it's exactly how Stephen paints the Jews of his day in Acts 7. If McLaren were merely trying to say that we should be slower to judge folk as "stubborn rebels", I'd be with him. But he seems to be saying much more about the very nature of judgement.

He completely misses Jesus' command to "shake the dust from your feet" when a town refuses the message of the Gospel, too. Instead, we have a picture of Jesus who told his Disciples to "simply move on". Again, lack of training on display.

Chapter 20: Why I Am Unfinished - Here McLaren wants to invert the traditional Christian "pyramid" of learning. He states (correctly) that most folk would say Doctrine comes first, which informs Mission, which informs Ethics. Then he says it should be the other way around. Given the seeming disdain that McLaren has for theology proper, this comes as no surprise. Again, if his point was that far too many of us are settling for merely having "sound doctrine" and thinking that we therefore don't need to get off our collective butts and do something with what we know, then I'd say AMEN! But that's not what's going on here.

McLaren admonishes us to pursue truth - sounds noble, right? Not really, because he's assuming that it's an ever-elusive goal that "happily" recedes further from our grasp the more we pursue it (p.336). The Biblical conception of truth is that it's there, right before, plain as day - screaming from the rooftops, even. Our goal, then, is to pursue righteousness on the basis of the truth we are given in Scripture.


This turned out to be much longer than originally intended. If you've suffered through these 1,300-odd words, thank you for your diligence to my sometimes wandering mind.

Here's my summary of A Generous Orthodoxy: McLaren makes some great points, but his book is basically too "generous" with the truth to be truly orthodox.

Read with caution.


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Thursday, June 7, 2007

Global Warming Fundamentalists?

I've had a bit of an epiphany. I've heard others say that the "global warming" crowd has become more or less a religion. I agree.

But it goes beyond that. The "Global Warmers" are recreating a history parallel to my own religious tradition. I grew up a "Fighting Fundamentalist" and saw first-hand some of the foolishness that passed for "logic" and "apologetics" back in those days. Looking back, I see why we were mocked and ridiculed. We told ourselves that it was because we were "doing the LORD's work". The truth - perhaps as often as not - is that we were doing really stupid things in the name of the LORD's work.

What's worse - many Fighting Fundie-types still are... But I don't just want to pick on my own; I want to show how the Global Warming crowd is following a parallel course.

Let me illustrate:

[Please note: the links I'm providing below positively do not represent my views now, though some of them have over the years.]

Fighting Fundies (I'll just call them FFs from this point forward; GW for Global Warmers) and GWs make many of the same zealous mistakes.

1. Mountains out of molehills:

FF Example: "Soft rock" is evil!

GW Example: Cow farts should be taxed, since methane is 20 times worse than carbon dioxide!

2. Truly ridiculous/paranoid claims:

FF Example: Y2K bug will open the Seven Seals of Revelation!

GW Example: Cat shelters filling up because of global warming!

3. Consistent use of ad hominem attacks:

FF Example: (There are too many to list just one! Off the top of my head, the old Pensacola Christian College "The Leaven in Fundamentalism" video comes to mind - you can't trust guys like B B Warfield, you know!)

GW Example: Again, these are too easy to find. Try this Will Ferrell video impersonating President Bush re: global warming.

I could site more similarities, but I think you get the point. It's almost eerie how much more the GW folk look and sound like a religion than a "scientific movement"! Moreover, the modern day Global Warming religion seems to be making the same mistakes as Fighting Fundies make. Perhaps this is why the average American doesn't take either particularly seriously.

Here's the rub - both groups, frankly, have some important things to say. But courtesy of the way they're saying them, few folk truly listen.

Thankfully, many people (myself included) have left the Fighting Fundie model of following Jesus and found a new and better way. My hope is that the Global Warming crowd will eventually do the same: take away the foolishness, the fear mongering, etc... and just bring us what's real.


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Sunday, June 3, 2007

As promised, part 1 of my thoughts on McLaren

Long ago, in a month far, far away, a bold blogger once promised to interact with Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy.

Today that promise will finally be met.

As I've noted before, I was surprised at how much McLaren didn't tick me off. I actually agreed with more of what he said than I expected to. There were some major exceptions to that principle, mind you! But nevertheless, I have to recommend this book as food for emergent thought.

On with some of the details, eh?

In a nutshell, McLaren would like us to be discriminating diners at the buffet of Christian tradition. Take the good from this tradition, the good from that tradition, add it all up without any of the bad from any tradition and - POOF! - you have a "generous orthodoxy"!

If it sounds too good to be true, it's because it is.

But having said that, McLaren does make some good points. In this post, I'll identify some of the concepts I really liked in this book. In a later post I'll deal with some of the more troubling aspects of his thinking...

Good things

Chapter 1 - The Seven Jesuses I Have Known: here McLaren openly acknowledges what so many of us won't. Our upbringing/tradition plays a huge role in how we see theology and the Christian life. If, for example, the "spiritual warfare" motif is how you primarily see the Christian life (which isn't necessarily a bad thing), that fact probably has as much to do with your spiritual upbringing as not. It's simply not true that we arrive at theological/ethical decisions about our faith in a vacuum. Kudos to McLaren for not only telling his personal story, but in so doing implicitly encouraging the rest of us to acknowledge the role ours has played.

Chapter 3 - Would Jesus Be a Christian?: here McLaren serves up red meat for the emerging (and emerging-friendly) crowd. This quote serves to illustrate his point perfectly:

If the real Lord Jesus were to knock on our door as Revolutionary King/Master/Teacher, I think we'd look through the peephole and judge him an imposter, since our "Buddy Jesus" as Savior is already sitting on the couch inside, watching TV with us, thumbs up and grinning, "meeting our needs" very well, thank you very much.

How can I add to that?! Preach it, Brian!

Chapter 4 - Jesus: Savior of What? Here McLaren deals with the thorny issue of salvation. I say "thorny" not because I have any doubts about how a person truly becomes a Christ-follower, but because I doubt very much that "personal salvation" is all that Jesus was concerned about. We've made the Gospel too narrow - for most Evangelicals today it means the "message of salvation" for us as individuals. That's very American, very Modern (as opposed to Postmodern), and very easy to fit onto a cute little tract.

But it's also not the whole truth. As McLaren, so do I "fear that for too many Christians, 'personal salvation' has become another personal consumer product (like personal computers, a personal journal, personal time, etc.), and Christianity has become its marketing program".

If the Gospel were strictly a "fire insurance policy" then why in Heaven's name does God leave us here on Earth?! If I "got saved" and then immediately - poof! - was carried away to Heaven, don't you think that would be a pretty powerful testimony!?

Chapter 5 - Why I Am Missional. I'll not repeat my many Missional thoughts here (they're here, in case you're curious). Suffice it to say that I love McLaren on this point.

Chapter 14 - Why I Am Methodist. In the margins of my copy of the book I wrote "this is perhaps the best chapter in the book" when I read it. His focus here is on the very Methodist idea of a process of spiritual formation. I've often gotten myself in trouble by saying that "God doesn't give a flying leap about your personal spiritual growth if it's not in the context of a local church". McLaren draws upon that thinking and concludes that too many Christians are just focused on getting to the next plateau in their spiritual journey, without ever thinking about the other Christ-followers below them on the path. He ends this chapter with a great prayer:

May God save us from forgetting to reach back. Otherwise our orthodoxy will surely lose its orthopraxy, which will make it ungenerous and eventually unorthodox too.

There are other random phrases and ideas that I appreciated in this book, but these are the whole chapters that I most agreed with. That's five chapters I really loved. As it turns out, there are six that I really didn't.

But enough of my thoughts. Have any of you read the book, or any others by McLaren? What do you think? Even if you haven't read him, what in my summary resonates with you?


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