Reformed Reformission?

Can A Driscoll Change His Spots?

I don't appreciate Mark Driscoll, of Mars Hill Seattle and Acts 29 fame. I don't like the way he crassly treats and refers to women, and I don't remotely hold to his male-dominated theological viewpoint.

But I also find him distasteful because he's arrogant... for that reason, I may not like him because he reminds me of myself! He's the Kanye West of American ministry - pious hypocrisy in hip, flashy garb... and I know I'm a showboat. It's true. I like the sound of my voice. I grew up in the theatre, and like most insecure artists, I thrive on the kudos and commendations of my peers. That doesn't make it okay for me, and it doesn't make it ok for Driscoll (or Kanye).

Today a friend of mine sent me the following excerpt from a recent Driscoll sermon and I have to say I was impressed. I still think he's done untold damage to countless individuals and communities with his harsh rhetoric... but maybe I have too, from a lesser platform. Regardless, I was surprised to see this come from him and I'm glad for it:

From a sermon on Nov. 4 at Mars Hill
I believe that humility is the great omission and failure in my eleven years of preaching. I believe that this is my greatest oversight both in my example and in my instruction.

I therefore do not claim to be humble. I do not claim to have been humble. I am convicted of my pride, and I am a man who is by God’s grace pursuing humility.

So in many ways this is a sermon that I’m preaching at myself, this is a sermon you are welcomed to listen in on as I preach to myself.

But I truly believe that were there one thing I could do over in the history of Mars Hill it would be in my attitude and in my actions and in my words to not only emphasize sound doctrine, encourage in strength and commitment and conviction but, to add in addition to that, humility as a virtue.

And so I’ll start by asking your forgiveness and sincerely acknowledging that this has been a great failure.

And I believe that it is showing up in our church in the lives of men and women who have sound doctrine but not sound attitude. They may contend for good things but their motives are bad and their methods are bad and their tone is bad and their tactics are bad and their actions are bad because their attitudes are bad even though their objective is sometimes good. I see this in particular with the men. I see this with men young and old, men who have known Jesus for a long time and should know better, and men who are new to Jesus and are learning sometimes the hard way.

I will take some responsibility for this. Luke 6:40 says that when fully trained, disciples are like their teacher, and I am primary teaching pastor of this church and I can’t simply look at the pride in some of our people and say that I am in no way responsible or complicit.

I’m a guy who is pretty busted up over this personally and it really came to my attention last December just in time for Christmas. The critics really brought me a lot of kind gifts of opposition and hatred and animosity. Merry Christmas. And some of those most vocal and nasty critics were Christians – some of them prominent Christians. So I was getting ready to fire back (my usual tactics). They hit you, you hit them twice and then blog about your victory. Which I don’t have any verses for and don’t say it was a good idea. But it had been a pattern in my life until a man named C.J. Mahaney called.

I’d always considered humility to be cowardice and a compromise. In the name of humility you give up biblical conviction and passion and the willingness to contend for the faith (Jude 3) and to fight false teaching. What he was describing was orthodoxy in belief and humility in attitude and that those two together are really what God desires. And so it got me thinking and studying and praying through pride and humility and repenting and learning and growing. So I would start by saying that I thank my dear friend C.J. Mahaney for his ongoing friendship and the kindness he has extended to me and the things I’ve been able to learn through his instruction.

Furthermore, I apologize and repent publicly to you, the church for whom I am responsible, for much pride in the history of my ministry that some of you have poorly imitated and for that I am deeply sorry.

And thirdly, to say that I’m not a humble man but as result of study I’m a man who is acknowledging his pride and pursuing humility by God’s grace.

- -

I'm not going to applaud Mark. He did what he needed to do. And (judgmentally, I confess) I'm still somewhat skeptical of his motives (which is not my right or calling). Still, if this repentance is genuine, then I believe it can bring good fruit.


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Out of the OOZE!

Well, it took a few years, but my writing has finally made it past magazine confines, into a genuine book!

Conceptualized, organized and edited by Spencer Burke, Out of the OOZE is a collection of writings, rants and parables about being Christian and wrestling with "the church" amidst new paradigms - from new vantages.

From Amazon.com:
"TheOoze.com is an online collective of believers who feel disconnected from the mainstream church. Through articles and message boards, the site offers a public forum to honestly discuss faith, culture, and ministry. Site founder Spencer Burke hosts a journey through compelling stories that highlight the hopes and struggles of a new generation. Readers will encounter fresh perspectives and inspiration to pursue an authentic walk with Christ."

If you spend much time reading my blogs, you'll recognize much of the chapter I wrote from an old post here: "Cultural Refugees in Gay Nightclubs." The chapter is basically just that - a blog post converted into an article for theOOZE - then converted into a chapter for the book. It makes me feel awkward, because the writing is far more casual (even a little sloppy) than I would have hoped for my first publication. I pray NavPress doesn't hold it against me as they evaluate my worldspeak manuscript.

Anyway, pick up the book at Borders, your local bookstore or at Amazon.com! (please: just don't judge my writing entirely by that one little piece)


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Spiritual Formation vs. Experience

I've been reading Dallas Willard's Renovation of the Heart since finishing Nouwen, and the book largely focuses on spiritual formation. Not just actively forming your own spirit, and not just passively "being formed" by the Holy Spirit, (there is really no "just" involved in that experience - "solely" is a more fitting word) but both seeking and being sought, giving and receiving, working and resting - very holistic.

Jen and I went to see The Darjeeling Limited (the new Wes Anderson film). In it, three affluent young brothers travel through India by train. They're actively seeking "spiritual experiences," stopping in at mosques and shrines along the way, doing kitschy little ceremonies with peacock feathers in the desert, etc... but every spiritual attempt ends in failure.

However, in between (and sometimes during) those attempts, life happened.

It is in the challenges and hardships that frustratingly (for them) take them "off course" that they are actually being pushed, stretched, formed and refined.

Dallas Willard writes: "spiritual experiences do not constitute spiritual formation," citing Paul's vision on the road to Damascus as an example of experience. Very sexy. But it was what Paul did and lived after the experience that truly formed him.

I want to stop trying to make things happen - pushing, pulling - yanking - on life, God and the future to happen now. On my schedule. I want to be formed and deepened by the sacred of right now.

George Fox Seminary: A Gushing Plug...

Over the last few days I've been discussing George Fox Evangelical Seminary with a blog reader who is interested in attending. I won't sacrifice his privacy by reprinting his e-mails, but I'm such an enthusiastic supporter of GFS that I thought I would share some of my e-mail comments about the school. Combined below...

* * *
Dxxxxxxxx,
Thanks for e-mailing me!

This morning, I was thinking about my seminary experience so far and how thankful I am for the atmosphere and community there. It was serendipitous to find your e-mail just then. In many ways, GFS has restored my hope in the church.

Of course, I never stopped believing in the power (and victory) of the Body of Christ, but the last seven or eight years have led me to wonder if the Body of Christ is truly being invited into our churches (or are we whitewashed tombs full of Evangelical bones?).

I'm still somewhat disillusioned - and wrestling past bitterness therein - but to my joy, GFS has been a safe place to do just that. To heal and grow at the same time. And I've been blessed to find fellowship with Christians of incredible depth, maturity, and understanding - both professors and classmates.

I've taken classes with Southern Baptists and Episcopals, though the majority of students I've encountered are Quaker, Presbyterian or Foursquare (an interesting mix among those, alone).

GFS is also a very open environment for emerging church conversations. Though there isn't an official position to my knowledge, GFS faculty and administration express a lot of ongoing excitement about current developments with Emergent and other postmodern Christian communities, thinktanks and movements. Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren, Todd Hunter, Dan Kimball and Jim Henderson all have active relationships with the school, its mission, and in most of their cases, teach classes there on occasion. The only other school I am aware of with the same level of future-orientation is Mars Hill Graduate School in Seattle (no relation to Mars Hill Church in Seattle). For purely academic focus, I would imagine Fuller Theological Seminary in and Princeton Theological Seminary are more rigorous. But I have nothing but praise and satisfaction with GFS at this point.

I visited another Portland seminary as well, before choosing GFS. The dean there told me that my Emerging Church questions were interesting, but wouldn't be "appropriate" to discuss in the classroom: "Many of our students just wouldn't be comfortable with that." He added that I would be welcome to talk about those things in private, one-on-one with professors.

The discomfort and lack of familiarity with some of the big questions of our day (in my opinion) told me that the school wasn't right for me. Since I'd heard the other (third) seminary in Portland was even more conservative, I didn't bother visiting.

I also want to emphasize that George Fox is still a very "spiritual" atmosphere, in spite of it's more moderate, progressive (some would say "liberal," but I don't think that label is quite fair) leanings.

I grew up in Pentecostal and "Jesus People" non-denom atmosphere. I don't really practice "purist Pentecostalism" at this time, but I do believe strongly in the power of the Holy Spirit.

I'll put it this way: I believe in supernatural gifts, in tongues, prophesy, healing, etc... but I also believe in the sometimes-scary power of emotions and groupthink mentalities.

I worry that a lot of what we see in today's modern churches is just a religious brand of concert-goer enthusiasm. At secular concerts, I watch the audiences close their hands, sing along, sway back and forth, jump up and down, and sometimes quietly meditate on the music... looks shockingly like my old Sunday night worship service.

So maybe I'm just a little cynical.

I also respect your caution about Emergent. You're right to be cautious about anything spiritual, for that matter. But I appreciate that you're "hesitant" without being adversarial - we've got enough of that mentality in the church already. Good for you for exploring and weighing things carefully! I may not call myself overtly "Emergent" [largely because I hate the limitations of titles] but I am emerging, enjoy Emergent, and appreciate being part of that broader discussion about where the church is going and what that will mean at spiritual, corporate and theological levels.

Thanks for asking Dxxxxxxxx, blessings on your journey,
Peter Walker


read more about my thoughts on Christianity in the real world at www.essenceproject.blogspot.com...

worldspeak...

I've been solicited to submit an official manuscript of worldspeak to NavPress for their new line of Deliberate books. Working really hard to get something to them as polished as possible. Terrified of rejection...


"There are always two parties; the establishment and the movement."
- Emerson


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"Why Good Things Happen to Good People"

To be honest, when I initially picked up Dr. Stephen Post’s Why Good Things Happen to Good People, I was expecting another thinly-veiled prosperity read in the grand tradition of Osteen and Amway.

I’ve been down that road before: back in the ‘90s my brother jumped on the pyramid-bandwagon, distributing soap samples and copies of God Wants You To Be Rich to everyone he knew. When his finances flopped, so did his faith.

Call me a cynic, but that’s why I tend to be cautious about literature touting enlightened paths to success or affluence: Jesus said to die to myself and take up my cross. The Gospel is peace, transcendence, and total self-effacement; no mention of that six-car garage.

In Post’s book, I was pleasantly surprised to find a very different message than I expected. From the first chapter, he and journalist Jill Neimark introduce us to a paradigm we have seen before but rarely identified as “natural.” That paradigm is selflessness – goodness – lovingkindness. “If I could take one word with me into eternity, it would be ‘give,’” Post begins on page one. Typical prosperity-fare tells us, you deserve much, you can have much, then you can give… and be justified.

Nowhere in Good Things does Post posit a “get-then-give” dynamic. Throughout the book we are exhorted to be giving, loving, respectful and kind. This is not just a kinder, gentler way of living – according to Post’s extensive research, it’s a healthier, natural way of living.
In 2000, Post launched the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love (IRUL) through Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine. It’s a mouthful that may sound a little fluffy at first, but their methods are pragmatic and scientific with a focus unique enough to be quite riveting. The purpose: study love and its impact on physical and mental health and overall well-being.

Some findings on the power of loving behavior:

  • Giving reduces mortality. Out of 2,000 individuals, those who actively volunteered had a 44% lower likelihood of dying.

  • Giving reduces adolescent depression and suicide risk.

  • Fostering personal gratitude has profound health benefits. For example, the more gratitude a recipient of an organ feels, the faster that person’s recovery.

  • Generous giving is linked directly to deeper spirituality, especially among teens.

  • Forgiveness alleviates depression and lowers stress hormones.

  • Loyalty is a buffer against stress. The security of loyal, steadfast caring is one of the greatest inhibitors of anxiety.

  • When we listen to others in pain, their stress response quiets down and their body has a better chance to heal.

Good Things is not an overtly religious book (though it regularly references Buddhist and Christian teachings) but throughout the read I could not avoid comparisons to Mother Teresa or Jesus himself. The loving, selfless lives they exemplified have too-often seemed unnatural to me – somehow other than human. After all, human nature is dark, selfish and survivalist…

Post makes a compelling case in these pages for the goodness inherently wired into creation. That is not to say that we always choose goodness, but when we do, we are biologically, psychologically and spiritually healthier. One might dare to argue that Jesus is the most purely natural being to have ever walked the earth: the most perfect man, with perfect love in a perfect life. Here I tread dangerously near an old Christological debate, but when we step in line with the goodness of Jesus (conveniently outlined in the Gospels and neatly supported by Stephen Post, PhD.) we align ourselves with an abundant life intended from the beginning.

Despite my accolade for Post’s thesis, I still cringe a little at the tone from the book’s title that occasionally echoes throughout. “Good things… good people.” Am I hypersensitive? Maybe. But something about advertising “good things” strikes me as potentially dangerous – even if the intentions are pure. There will always be people seeking their “best life.” They look for a yoke that’s easy and a burden that’s light and ignore the parable of the rich young ruler.

On page 15, Post writes, “You don’t have to leap from bed at dawn or dole out sandwiches at the soup kitchen in the middle of an icy winter, or take up the torch of social activism and march in the streets, in order to reap the lifelong benefits of giving. You will find the style that’s right for you.” I’m reminded of Kierkegaard calling Christians a bunch of “swindlers” for contextualizing and deemphasizing aspects of the Gospel to fit our comforts. What if we do have to leap from bed at dawn, dole out sandwiches and march in the streets? What if that’s exactly what God is calling us to? Then this westernized Gospel of Convenience placates us and reorients us back on ourselves. Reap those lifelong benefits!

Why Good Things Happen to Good People is a fast and uplifting read. When I finished, I was inspired to do more for my community, my church, and the people I interact with each day. That’s a very good thing. The added benefit is knowing that by doing those things, I’m becoming a healthier person and contributing to a healthier world. But I pray that I never lose sight of the importance of goodness for goodness’ sake. If forgiveness brought us cancer or kindness risked our sight, would we still model love? Let the Gospel Mission lead us through the hardships of life, not around them, so that any blessings are merely an afterthought.


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James is Fuller-Bound!

One of my best friends, James North, just got his acceptance letter today from Fuller Theological Seminary!

He left a voicemail on my phone that just said: "you need to call me right away." It was so intense I thought someone died.

James has walked beside me over the last five years as each of our theological worldviews has been challenged, stretched and forced to evolve. He is probably a little more conservative than I, but we've both come a long way from the 50/50 Pentecostal/Baptist worldviews we grew up with.

I'm most jealous that James gets to live in Pasadena, but equally envious that he'll get to take classes from Dr. Veli-Matti Karkkainen (READ his introduction to ecclesiology).

For all my pompous keystrokes, James truly has a gift for teaching. His enthusiasm and charisma will take him very far, I believe, as an emerging voice in the 21st Century Church.

Nice job, man!

read more about my thoughts on Christianity in the real world at www.essenceproject.blogspot.com...

OOZING for answers... Ducking the sadists...

I can't deny it: www.theOOZE.com is the most user-friendly and enjoyable online discussion portals I've ever used. It also helps that the thousands of site users and visitors are interested in many of the same subjects I am.

On the other hand, I've also found that (naturally) the same personality types inhabit theOOZE as I find in local churches and Christian circles I frequent...

Lately I've been working on a chapter for my book entitled "Missional Sadism," or something like that. Maybe I'll call it, "Sadistic Witness." Either way, it's about people who literally derive pleasure from watching people squirm and shrink by asserting theological, intellectual or spiritual dominance through religious discussion or evangelism efforts. Sometimes, it's even physical dominance - only masquerading as religious, spiritual or moral.

There are lots of different kinds of sadists: typically we (ok, I) think of sexual sadists when the word comes up, but the kind of Christianized bullying I'm speaking of is subtler - harder to identify and harder, still, to convict. Many of us have been victims of sadism-as-witness. Maybe someone danced over you with theological terminology you didn't recognize and thus couldn't counter. Perhaps they spoke so fast (and so fluently) that you simply couldn't process the arguments (or indictments) coming at you. Maybe they were playing on deep-seated insecurities in your own life (moral struggles, temptations, embarrassing past experiences, chronic fears, guilt, etc...) that left you feeling small, weak and defeated.

No matter what the method or supposed justification, know this: the Kingdom of God does not breed disciples who feed on suffering. The Gospel does not tolerate arrogance, spite, manipulation or tyranny (even on a small scale).

The next time another Christian gets in your face to tell you how wrong you are, how immoral you are, or how right they are - if it makes you feel small, ashamed or silly) - tell them:

"Hey asshole! I am redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and there's no room for your words in the beatitudes of Jesus Christ. Now go steal some kids lunch money and let me seek, first, the Kingdom of God."

...Well, something like that.

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Camping at a Position...

I recently had an "emerging/emergent" conversation with a new ministry friend from back east.

As we began talking, he mentioned being still very exploratory with this emerging, postmodern conversation. He said, "I'm not completely decided on what I think about all of it - I haven't found a position to camp out at, yet."

My caution there (probably unnecessary - he's on track) was this:

If you want to come to a point where you respect, tolerate and understand the motives and forces behind the emerging postmodern church movement, I think you can find a position that is comfortable, respectful and static...

But if you feel the Holy Spirit moving you to truly be a part of an emergent Christian faith, you may have to abandon the expectation of finding a position to camp at. I think this is where he is feeling led.

What I've learned in the last six years is that faith within a paradigm of flexibility, openness and sometimes vagueness (gray) is a necessity during a period like this. "This" being a transitional period. Whether we are transitioning to Postmodernism, or postmodernism itself is the transitional period - either way the world we live in is in flux.

The problem with a lot of movements in the American church is that they have correctly identified a problematic piece of their ecclesiology, but once "corrected" (or at least addressed with good intentions) the movement stops. Or loses steam. So the Jesus People of the 70s (my parents) are now the middle age fundamentalists of today. The Pentecostals of the 1920s to the 1950s are the staunch, comfortable old people demanding hymns and forbidding the drinking of wine today.

If you're familiar with Driscoll at Mars Hill, Seattle, you'll see another good example of masked fundamentalism "giving a little" for the sake of popular culture: "Tattoos, beer and swearing are ok as long as you keep women off the pulpit and gays out of the pews." (in less direct language - remember, masked fundamentalism)

That is not to say one MUST be in favor of ordaining women (though I am) or MUST be open and affirming to homosexual Christians. Particularly with the gay question, there are many more churches traditionally minded about homosexuality (even within Emergent) than churches that are anti-woman.

Flexibility in an emerging global climate is vital. Acquiescence of belief is not required, but fearless love, kindness and tolerance are crucial to allowing room for each other (all of us) to grow, stretch and be molded by the Holy Spirit.

Personally, I'm not willing to throw out scripture because it isn't convenient to my worldview or personal feelings. McLaren and Campolo touch on this tension in Adventures in Missing the Point (a highly recommended read).

I'm EQUALLY unwilling to blindly wrap my arms around and embrace scripture simply because it's scripture. I respect it and may not directly defy it... but I don't have to like it! And I'll continue to wrestle.

I wrestle ongoing, because I'm also unwilling to withhold my grace or brotherhood from Christians who do believe such-and-such is ok... or not ok. I have Christian friends both actively gay, and some "ex-gay" friends who refuse to accept it in their lives - all are on journeys wholeheartedly seeking the face of God, through Christ Jesus.

I believe the Holy Spirit is big enough (and ACTIVE ENOUGH) to speak to the heart and convict in spirit and in truth. Can we be used by the spirit? Sure - but how often do we jump the gun?

By remaining flexible, fluid and somewhat gray, a church or an individual Christian can respond and act in love and faith, rather than fear or anger. I can speak my heart while leaving judgment to God. Or I can even choose NOT to speak to an issue with which I am still wrestling for understanding. This is what McLaren has chosen to do on the gay issue. Not only is he unsatisfied with easy or polar answers about the question, but he feels either answer unnecessarily wounds people. That's not a paradigm God created (the potential wounding) - that's a socio-political mechanism factions within the church (example: the Religious Right) have established.

The point is, as we explore what our faith is evolving into, we can let go of worry about isolating specific bullet points to stand on. That's "sinking sand." Get in Len Sweet's boat and ride the tsunami - that was part of the importance of his SoulTsunami imagery. We have to be fluid because things are evolving WAY too fast to stand still. Christ is our boat, (or the church, however you want to use the metaphor) and that boat is sturdy enough to take us through whatever storm we're in.



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The Secret Kingdom

Did The Newsboys Go Emergent?

I don't know how it happened. My friend and pastor (infamously, a K-Love director) says it's Paul Coleman's influence.

Whatever it is, the new Newsboys album - Go - is in many ways a new direction for Christian pop. Sure, there are some trite and sappy lyrics, perfect for YouthGroupKitschendom ("Hands up, holler back now... wherever we go, that's where the party's at" are perfect lyrics for a bunch of middle class white kids at an all night youth slumber party - forgive the cynicism) but there are also lyrics suspiciously... well, I said it: Emergent.




Secret Kingdom
This here won’t be contained
By culture, wars and trendy names
Been there, done that, wore out the t-shirts
Don’t need free perks
Don’t need knee jerks
This here still wakes the dead
Still gets God’s people Spirit-led
Gonna put in action all we’ve read
Not all enraged, just all engaged
‘Cause that there’s still fabricating kingdoms out of boxes
We’re gonna leave that slum
This here wants faithfulness, not easy fixes
This here won’t shrink to fit no politics, yeah
This here knows whistles make for better mixes

COME HERE, A LITTLE BIT CLOSER
I WANNA TAKE YOU TO A SECRET KINGDOM

The first song on the album reveals how far the Evangelical base has moved, to tolerate and even embrace ecological "green" sensibilities... "

Wherever we go...
Bullies make nice, crooks repent,
and
the ozone layer shows improvement





Another Trite Matrix Analogy...

I was tired of Christian/ Heaven/ Hell/ Messianic/ Spirituality parallels and analogies related to The Matrix within a few months of the first movie releasing. Then the books came, trying to cash in on the blatant spiritual connections.

So forgive me, but as a "banker-by-day," this one has been burning away at me.

As American citizens in a consumer-driven society, we are slaves to a machine that is USING US TO POWER ITSELF. We are batteries for the American Economy. If we stop spending (rather, if we stop borrowing and overspending), America stops functioning. And I'm a part of it - or have been.

Trying to break free.

It's a slow, painful process. First, I have to admit that it's a problem. It doesn't matter that 99% of Americans are hooked on the same drug. It's killing us. Robbing our souls. The "Suicide Machine."

Then we slowly have to start making lifestyle sacrifices to get out from under it. Spend less. Save more... no! GIVE more. See, it robs us of our souls.

The Average American spends 101% of their income every year.

We are slaves.

Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work... when you go to church... when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.

Neo: What truth?

Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.

* * *

Derek Web sings...
But I give myself to what looks like love
And I sell myself for what feels like love
And I pay to get what is not love
And all just because I see things upside down.

* * *
Statement from the director of the new documentary, MAXED OUT:
In the days after 9/11, I remember turning on the television and seeing politician after politician deliver the same message: keep spending! George Bush wanted us to go to Disneyworld. Tom Daschle wanted us to buy that new suit we'd been thinking about. I thought back to my fifth-grade history book. Didn't it teach that when we're at war, we sacrifice, not spend? The economics of our culture have clearly changed and I wanted to find out how and why.
* * *

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Sexual Diversity...

I have several non-Christian friends who are openly gay. I have a Christian friend who has "same-sex attraction" and is actively part of the "ex-gay" movement. And of course, I have lots of very conservative Christian friends who think homosexuality is akin to getting "I love Satan" tattooed on one's foreheard...

Well, something like that.

Recently, a friend and classmate from my seminary "came out" as a lesbian. She asked her friends to understand the time and prayer that had gone into her decision to openly accept what she was feeling. She said she could not even connect to God until she reconciled what was happening inside of her. And now she feels joy.

I don't know if she will continue with schooling, but I hope our friendship continues. I care about her, she has cool hair, and I value the insights she is learning in this stage of her journey.

I can remember at least half a dozen conversations she and I had, one-on-one or in small groups, regarding homosexuality. I can look back and see her wrestling, as I myself have done from a different vantage.

Like her, I never thought it was a simplistic question. I am sorry for the hateful things said and done, inside and outside of the church, and am ashamed that faith is so-often automatically associated with hatred, racism, homophobia or close-mindedness. All sorts of unchristlike behaviors and attitudes.

While I'm unwilling to universally denounce Scriptural references to homosexuality (there, I listen and wrestle rather than decry, denounce or assert) I am equally unwilling to accept the harsh or easy answers my conservative, Pentecostal background has offered. The Law without love is dead.

I believe there is gray area in the Kingdom of God, and I believe there is much none of us can or will ever understand on this end of death.

I am open to the idea that Scripture, God-inspired though it is, may still be replete with historical, social or cultural nuances from specific times and places that were never intended for GENERIC universal redistribution.

Most importantly, I believe that all good gifts come from the Father of lights (James 1:17) so that goodness itself comes from love itself, and that the God we worship is love incarnate - not in some metaphorical, ephemeral way, but in a real, personal God who manifested in history as a real, personal Savior.

I look forward to ongoing insights, exploring faith from my friend's newly-engaged vantage. I can't cookie-cutter myself with any of my friends: gay, ex-gay, homophobic, etc... we all have such different points of reference and experience. But that's the point: I don't have to agree with their entire set of bullet points to love and respect them for the experiences they've had, the struggles they've endured, and the journeys God has led them on (sometimes unwittingly).

I guess that just makes me a filthy, wishy-washy existentialist.


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Why does eschatology matter?

I've pretty much recovered from the hullabaloo created by the Left Behind books back in the late nineties. Frankly, the writing was so bad I wouldn't have grabbed the bait, even if the theology was compelling.

Recently, I've had a couple of blog comments here and at www.essenceproject.blogspot.com that keep reminding me of the centrality of End Times eschatology in pop Christian culture. One was from the makers of the Left Behind video game, pissed that I would have the audacity to critique their game without playing at least up to level 14. The other was from a woman who apparently numbers among the Bono-Is-The-Antichrist ranks. Ah well...

There is certainly nothing cut-and-dry about end times eschatology in the New Testament. That is why my own position on the rapture focuses primarily on the purpose and intent of scriptural revelation. Why have we been given these apocalyptic visions and what purposes do they serve?

Tony Campolo writes in Adventures in Missing the Point that in spite of current pop-cultural trends which sensationalize the dispensational Second Coming story, “Christianity has historically believed in general what the Apostles Creed declares: that Christ will come again to judge the quick and the dead – that is, a single event, a climactic and purposeful end.” While dispensationalism focuses on a failing, dying world, Campolo argues that human history is “infused with the presence of God… Human history is going somewhere wonderful.”

"Somewhere wonderful” is hardly the focus of those lovely Left Behind novels, with their seemingly endless parade of sequels. In fact, so intent are LaHaye and Jenkins to establish these “evil days" that they demonize the very fruits of goodness Jesus came to establish: “Tribes and nations have come together to pledge their wholehearted commitment to peace, brotherhood, and the global community,” announces Antichrist villain Nicolae Carpathia in the first book. Multiple "Rapture Watch" websites (try googling that phrase for horrifying fun!) identify occurences of social justice, peace, freedom, fair trade and egalitarian economic practices as dire signs of the apocalypse.

Hell, even Jesus himself was "The Prince of Peace." Maybe he was trying to deceive us...

While it is true that the Biblical Antichrist would be a liar and a deceiver – no doubt creating false miracles and spreading half-truths to lead humankind astray – the dispensational economy capitalizes on fear, even to the point of creating distrust of those things which are truly good, truly noble, truly pure.

If Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace, and the Kingdom of God is among us, then how dare we justify distrust of peace? Though the fruits are good, we live in fear and suspicion of productive trees. Wolfhart Pannenberg wrote that the church itself was the expectation of the Kingdom of God, and that although the church is not equal to or synonymous with the Kingdom, God is present, accessible and visible within it. A church that functions by fear and survives by cultural removal cannot reflect these virtues Pannenberg posits. My view on the rapture in particular and the end times of Revelation in general rests on the belief that our Biblical glimpses into the future were meant to invigorate, excite, and prepare us for the work left to us on earth – not to hide us away, safely in our subterranean fallout shelters.

In the postmodern matrix there is a good chance that the world will reverse its chronological polarity for us. Instead of being bound to the past by chains of cause and effect, we will feel ourselves being pulled into the future of God’s will, God’s dream, God’s desire… this new vision sees the universe as only partially created, an unfinished symphony, a masterpiece in progress. In this eschatology we are invited to be part of God’s creative team working to see God’s dream for the universe come true. (Len Sweet, A is for Abductive)

I echo Sweet’s optimistic exhortation, above. For my own purposes, I find a moderated, “open-handed” postmillennial view to be the most useful and productive end times model. Moderated, because a postmillennial view can easily push Christians into a despiritualized Social Gospel that lauds only human effort and idealizes human goodness. Open-handed because my limited encounters with Jewish Apocalyptic Literature, not to mention Liberation Theology, lead me to believe the purposes of such writings are not always in face value, nor are they universally, objectively distributable. What’s more, there are academic and theological writings that question whether the events in Revelation are as succinct as an unbroken read-through might suggest. The Roman Catholic Church, for instance, holds that Emperor Nero was “the beast” the number 666 alluded to. If this is the case, then the events in Revelation are already well underway – we are not waiting for Nicolae Carpathia to emerge. Nero already committed unspeakable atrocities against the early church. Even the number itself, 666, is found earlier in manuscripts to be 616. Too much of our popular modern theology is based on incomplete or imbalanced truths and half-truths.

In postmillennialism, I find values most intrinsically linked with the teachings of Jesus, particularly in the beatitudes, which outline a blessedness in humility, lowliness, selflessness and compassion in this world.Stanley Grenz offers a brief but succinct description of postmillennialism in an article from the collection, Rapture, Revelation, and the End Times. Pop-sociologist David Brooks also writes about America’s historical and even colonial roots in postmillennial theology in his 2004 book On Paradise Drive: from the beginning, colonists believed the Americas heralded a new opportunity for the redemption of humanity. In spite of countless atrocities that would suggest otherwise, this nearly nationalistic, uniquely American, hope managed to survive into the 20th Century.

While I think it’s vital to avoid romanticizing the ability of humankind to redeem itself – the wars and genocides of the 20th and early 21st Centuries should quickly sober us to this point – I believe it is most responsible for Christians today and in the future to take the Great Commission as a call to deliver the Kingdom of God, spiritually, socially, and economically, to every nation.

As long as we are maintaining a consistent ethic that holds spiritual connection to God as our highest value, we should take it upon ourselves to continue the redemption of this world that began with Jesus’ nascent Christmas arrival two thousand years ago.

Christ will return, of that Scripture is crystal-clear. If another millennium does happen to await us after he returns... well, can rest in confidence, knowing we manifested the Kingdom of God on earth. But if we are in or are approaching the millennial period even now, there is much work to do in his name!


read more about my thoughts on Christianity in the real world at www.essenceproject.blogspot.com...

"Spirit led," or just an excuse?

There's a terrible danger in the way we Christians credit God and the Holy Spirit for our actions.

I often imagine how strange it must be, both for people outside of the church and for those outside of the denominational or ecclesiological bent, to hear us when we talk about when we say "I'm being spirit led," or other things of that nature. "The Holy Spirit told me to..." such and such.

Of course, I have to acknowledge a disclaimer that as Christians, we regularly say things about Jesus/God that are just as problematic - "I felt God leading me here - God told me to do this - God wants you to vote Republican."

How does anyone substantiate such grandiose faith-claims?

But I still believe some of them are true. Maybe not voter instructions, but direction? Guidance? Inspiration? Caution? Wisdom? Peace?

Yes, I believe the Holy Spirit is quite active, even supernaturally, in our lives. That said, I think the Holy Spirit gets abused, regularly - blamed (or credited, however you want to say it) for our gut-level decisions.

When I was younger, the Holy Spirit told me I was going to be a famous actor.

In middle school, the Holy Spirit told me Rush Limbaugh was the smartest man alive.

In high school, the Holy Spirit prophesied my marriage to at LEAST a dozen attractive young ladies...

"The Holy Spirit" has been wildly inconsistent for me.

I've also seen a lot of horrible things done by others in the name of the Spirit. Or less dramatically, I've been at head-to-head odds with other strong believers over matters of faith - each of us certain of the Spirit's wisdom leading us to our conclusion and horrified that the other could be so deeply mistaken.

On the other hand, there are times when, beyond "gut," I've known something was wrong, or felt compelled to do something beyond my own desires or reasoning. In retrospect, I think God is behind everything that is good and true in the world and in life. Sometimes that's very humdrum and sometimes it's quite extraordinary. But I'm learning (for myself at least) how important it is to be cautious about crediting "The Spirit" for things.

My human perspective is pretty limited, even with the Spirit of the Living God inside of me.



read more about my thoughts on Christianity in the real world at www.essenceproject.blogspot.com...

An inconvenient payoff...

I finally got around to watching Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. I won't spend a lot of time saying how much I enjoyed it or how provocative I found its content (yes to both, despite my conservative, naysaying friends and colleagues who still believe anything spouted by Bill O'Reilly and the Bush administration).

There was one fairly brief mention by Gore of several scientists who changed their Global Warming research conclusions based on political pressure. He paralleled this with researchers years ago who altered their conclusions about the harmful effects of tobacco due to big money pressures. The lesson? It's hard to be objective when your wallet depends on a special interest group of any kind.


Immediately, it got me thinking about paid ministry - an issue I've obsessed over for several years now. Paid ministry (of some kind, whether church or parachurch) is generally the end-goal for a Masters of Divinity. But how in the world can I be expected to speak truth - or at least speak my God-given gut - when I have to worry about feeding my family?

This is why (I believe) so many churches remain stagnant, unchanging and impotent - financial dependence literally castrates prophetic teaching.

Several weeks ago in school a fellow student (in his late 50s) approached me after class. He said, "I've got a question for you: if we, the church, were doing what we're supposed to be doing - taking care of the poor, the widows, the wounded, the hurting, the outcasts... the church structure as we know it wouldn't survive. Isn't that right?"

I nodded my agreement.

"And that would be ok!" He exclaimed, but also seemed to be seeking my affirmation.

"Yes it would," I answered.

"See," he said to another classmate who had crept up to listen, "I'm a heretic. I agree with this 20-something!"

But I think it's true on a number of levels. If the church was as dirty, missional and honest (transparent) as it truly needs to be, it couldn't sustain that dirty, missional transparency if it decided to HIRE a paid pastor. Money, by its nature, immediately changes the game - immediately corrupts any semblance of objectivity or detachment from personal interest.


Still chewing on this, but finding it harder and harder to swallow the notion of becoming a paid pastor. Except when I get really pissed off at my job and want to step out of the business world... then I create an idyllic garden of vocational eden in my head...


read more about my thoughts on Christianity in the real world at www.essenceproject.blogspot.com...

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