Thursday, December 29, 2005

Maintenance and Mission Revisited

I’ve posted about this a little before, but it’s on my mind again so we’ll revisit an old subject:
It is an identity shaping choice that must be grappled with by every church and every Christian. Will you focus on maintenance or mission? Will you doggedly fight change and innovation in order to maintain your forms, or will you boldly innovate and change in order to pursue your mission? I received some feedback to the original piece I wrote on this which implied that this was a false choice and that there was a way to pursue both or find a middle ground. I disagree and submit that even when both are supposedly pursued, one is the slave of the other. Slight innovations are “permitted” as long as they don’t radically affect forms or, alternately, loose ties may be maintained to traditions while innovation is “pursued” to accomplish the mission.
I think it becomes a question of what God is actually trying to do and how He works. Does God desire for the things He created to be static and unchanging or does He desire for them to be dynamic and “going somewhere”? In one scenario, God creates a static, perfect world that is supposed to stay the same. We mess that up, so He sets up the church which is to stay the same in the midst of a ruined world. On the other hand, what if God created a “good”, dynamic world that is “loaded with potential”…that was supposed to develop and go somewhere? What if, even though it went off course, God didn’t give up on it? What if God established the church as something that was “good” and loaded with potential? What if it was meant to be dynamic and going somewhere?
I continue to land on “Mission” as opposed to “Maintenance” as the defining characteristic of the church and I continue to assert that these choices are “opposed” to each other. Do you know what you call a living organism when it stops changing? Dead.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Knock-Off Christian Junk For Sale

I was Christmas shopping yesterday and saw this for sale at the local Christian Bookstore. After I finally stopped laughing I snapped a pic of it to share with you. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Influence of Creation and Eschatology on Worldview and Mission: Part 7 (Conclusion)

A New Kind of Restoration Movement
     I would like to propose a new kind of “Restoration Movement”.  I believe that we must learn to see “worldview development” as one of the primary aims of the church.  This is crucial for children’s and youth ministries. However, because of the dearth of attention it has been given in some churches and the Escapist turn it has taken in others, communities of faith would be wise to place substantial emphasis on worldview formation in general for everyone.  We must teach the people of God to once again locate themselves within the Story.  Until we understand who we are, where we are, what the problem is, and identify the solution, the church will never function as God intends and dreams for it to.  Is it possible that the Escapist worldview that is so dominant in North America has actually been producing “disciples” who end up more self-centered rather than less?  What if the church learned to see itself inside God’s Story, partnering with Him to turn the world right-side-up?  We look forward to the Day when the Messiah returns and the dream that we’ve been pouring our lives into comes to fruition.  We press forward into God’s future of peace, harmony and Shalom.  We believe that God never gave up on the Creation He loves, and we can’t wait to see what He’s going to do with it.  We believe that those who have gone on before will be back to see it with us.  We believe that the God who created the cosmos has the power to make all things new.

  1. Bell, Rob…Velvet Elvis: Repainting The Christian Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005

  2. Campolo, Tony and McLaren, Brian D…Adventures In Missing The Point.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2003

  3. Grenz, Stanley J…Theology For The Community of God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000

  4. Moltmann, Jurgen…In The End—The Beginning. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004

  5. Warren, Rick…The Purpose Driven Life.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002

  6. Wittmer, Michael E…Heaven is a Place on Earth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004

  7. Wright, N.T….Creation and New Creation in the New Testament. Vancouver: Regent Audio, 2003

  8. ________...Paul for Everyone: Romans Part 1.  Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004

  9. ________...Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters.  Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004

  10. _________...The New Testament and the People of God.  Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992

  11. _________...”Farewell to the Rapture,” Bible Review, August 2001

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Influence of Creation and Eschatology on Worldview and Mission: Part 6

Ignoring The Problem
     There exists a third option that many Christians and churches opt for.  They ignore the issues all together.  They simply use the creation narratives to disprove evolution.  They roll their eyes at any discussion of eschatology and utter a dismissive statement such as “As long as I’m on Jesus’ side at the end, I don’t really care about the details.”  While there is a grain of truth hidden in the statement, it is quite a dangerous conclusion to reach.  As we have seen thus far, one’s view of Creation and Eschatology fundamentally shape one’s worldview.  Simply ignoring creational and eschatological questions creates a vague and directionless worldview.  They have no clear sense of who they are.  They aren’t really sure of the importance of where they are. They know that sin is a problem and would rather go to heaven than hell.  They know that Jesus death is somehow the solution to this problem.  In the same way as the Escapist worldview, this perspective quickly becomes individualistic.  But, additionally it is vague and directionless.  It carries with it a nebulous sense that there are things in this world that should be attended to by God’s people, but offers no clear answers as to what, how, or why.  It constructs a reality where the people of God have no real sense of the beginning of the story that they live in, and even less of where it is going.  The consequence is that they have great difficulty finding anc performing their role.

Deconstructing and Reconstructing a Worldview
     The interesting thing about the Escapist worldview is that, despite it’s popularity in North American Christianity, it’s origins seem more deeply rooted in Greek philosophy and even Gnosticism than early Christianity or even Judaism. Michael Wittmer explains, “Although the early church fought valiantly to defeat Gnosticism, it never did entirely overcome it’s deep attraction to Greek philosophy, particularly that of Plato.  Plato held to a spirit-body dualism that was strikingly similar to Gnosticism.  Like the Gnostics, he believed that our eternal souls formerly inhabited an ethereal heavenly world.  At birth, these souls entered our bodies, where they remain trapped inside these physical prisons until death releases and returns them to their celestial home.  Consequently, Plato taught his students to value the eternal, spiritual world and distain this temporal, material existence.  He said that the goal of life is for our souls to rise above our bodies and contemplate the spiritual world from which they came.”  As is evidenced by countless sources, this stands in stark contrast to the Jewish and hence early Christian understanding.  The Jews did not believe in an afterlife in the same sense that the surrounding Pagans did.  They believed that God had made promises to Israel and that when those promises came to fruition, the people of God who had died before their fulfillment would be physically raised in order to enjoy them.  As Wright says in The New Testament and the People of God, “As such, ‘resurrection’ was not simply a pious hope about new life for dead people.  It carries with it all that was associated with the return from exile itself:  forgiveness of sins, the reestablishment of Israel as the true humanity of the covenant god, and the renewal of all creation.  Indeed, resurrection and the renewal of all creation go hand in hand.  If the space-time world were to disappear, resurrection would not make sense.”  There is every reason to believe that the early Christians held to a modified form of this basic belief, particularly in light of the fact that in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul offers Jesus resurrection as a “firstfruits” of ours. Paul uses Jesus resurrection as an argument in favor of ours (and vice-versa) presumable to argue against the Gnostic heresy.  Further, Romans 8:18-25 indicates that Creation itself has the same promise as the children of God and eagerly anticipates the time when both we and Creation will be freed from the curse.  As Wright points out in his commentary on Romans, “From this point we can see with astonishing clarity, the whole plan of salvation for all of God’s Creation.”  Revelation 21 pictures God as coming down from heaven to make his dwelling with men and declaring, “I am making all things new.”  In a book he co-authored with Tony Campolo called Adventures in Missing the Point, Brian McLaren comments, “If our theologies focus only on the eternal and the individual (i.e. getting my soul into heaven) so that we avoid God’s concern for the historic and the global (i.e. God’s will being done on earth as well as it is in heaven), then the more people we win to our theologies, the fewer people will care about God’s world here and now.”  Even as we look at these passages from scripture, I am aware that those with an Escapist worldview feel that they have plenty of scripture that they can point to for their position.  Indeed, they feel it is based primarily on scripture.  In an article for Biblical Review, Wright articulates the problem:  “Paul’s misunderstood metaphors present a challenge for us: How can we reuse biblical imagery, including Paul’s, so as to clarify the truth, not distort it?  And how can we do so, as he did, in such a way as to subvert the political imagery of the dominant and dehumanizing empires of the world?  We might begin by asking,  What view of the world is sustained, even legitimized by the Left Behind ideology? How might it be confronted and subverted by genuinely biblical thinking?  For a start, is not the Left Behind mentality in thrall to a dualistic view of reality that allows people to pollute God’s world on the grounds that it’s all going to be destroyed soon?  Wouldn’t this be overturned if we recaptured Paul’s wholistic vision of God’s whole creation?”
(To Be Continued)

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Influence of Creation and Eschatology on Worldview and Mission: Part 5

     As you can see, our worldview is radically affected by our creational and eschatological perspectives.  Even though we live in the same world and are working from the same source material, we end up with two fundamentally different narratives.  The world is indeed a different place depending on which lenses it is viewed through.  Worldviews, as the term itself suggests, have far reaching implications that permeate every aspect of life and faith.  We will take a brief look at those areas that are most pertinent to our current discussion.

Implications for Salvation
     The Escapist worldview sees salvation in terms of being saved from both “the world” and from eternal punishment in Hell.  Salvation is seen as an individual enterprise.  Individuals follow a prescribed “plan of salvation” so that they may be granted the salvation of their souls (spiritual essences) from everlasting torment in the afterlife. Escapists also see salvation as granting them entrance into Heaven, the spiritual realm of God.  In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren speaks out of this mentality when he says, “While life on earth offers many choices, eternity offers only two: heaven or hell.  Your relationship to God on earth will determine your relationship to him in eternity.  If you learn to love and trust God’s Son Jesus, you will be invited to spend the rest of eternity with him.  On the other hand, if you reject his love, forgiveness and salvation, you will spend eternity apart from God forever.”  While Warren goes on in his book to plead with followers of Jesus to live lives of service, his point here is clear.  Salvation is about individuals securing their place in the afterlife.
     In contrast, the Restorationist worldview sees salvation in more holistic terms.  Far from merely securing the eternal destiny of one’s own spiritual essence, Restorationists see themselves as partnering with God in the “restoration of all things”.   They certainly believe in an afterlife in which the children of God are resurrected and live in harmony in renewed creation.  They believe their individual place in the afterlife to be only a part of God’s salvific plan, and certainly not an end unto itself.  As Stan Grenz eloquently states in Theology for the Community of God, “We are alienated from God, of course.  But our estrangement also taints our relationships with one another, with ourselves, and with creation.  Consequently, the divine program leads not only toward establishing individual peace with God in isolation; it extends as well to the healing of all relationships—to ourselves, one another, and to nature.”   In short, Restorationist believe that God enacted a plan for the saving of everything from effects of sin.  When we enter into relationship/covenant with God, we not only become recipients of salvation, we also become salvific agents.  

Implications for Church: Identity and Mission
     Since the Escapist worldview sees salvation in primarily individualistic terms, “church” is seen as a collection of individuals who hold to the same beliefs and practices.  The primary focus of the praxis of Escapist churches is the main worship gathering.  Their buildings and their gatherings are seen as a haven from the outside world that they desire to escape.  Their programs tend to focus on the piety of the individual and their separation from the world.  The emphasis is on attaining and, in some cases, maintaining individual salvation.  The mission of Escapist churches does extend beyond personal individual salvation to the evangelism of others, but seemingly only as a secondary concern.  Escapist churches and Christians focus almost exclusively on the afterlife.  Their focus on service in this world is seen only as a means of responding to personal salvation or as a means of gaining and retaining rewards in the afterlife.  Rick Warren further illustrates this view in The Purpose Driven Life, “Life is a temporary assignment…earth is only a temporary residence, so don’t get too attached…This is not your permanent home or final destination.  You are just passing through, just visiting earth.”  In regards to service, he continues ”At that point all our excuses for self-centeredness will sound hollow: ‘I was too busy’ or ‘I had my own goals’ or ‘I was too preoccupied with working, having fun, or preparing for retirement.’  To all excuses God will respond, ‘Sorry, wrong answer.  I created, saved and called you and commanded you to live a life of service.  What part did you not understand?’  The Bible warns unbelievers, ‘He will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves,’ but for the Christian it will mean a loss of eternal rewards.”  
     Churches with a Restorationist worldview (in the sense that we are using it here) see themselves as God’s agents in the world.  They see themselves as “citizens” of the Kingdom of Heaven, but not in the sense that the phrase is interpreted by Escapists.  In his commentary on the Prison Letters, N.T. Wright explains: “’We are citizens of heaven’ Paul declares in [Phil 3] verse 20.  At once many modern Christians misunderstand what he means.  We naturally suppose he means ‘and so we’re waiting until we can go and live in heaven where we belong.’  But that’s not what he says and it’s certainly not what he means.  If someone in Philippi said, ‘We are citizens of Rome,’ they certainly wouldn’t mean ‘so we’re looking forward to going to live there’.  Being a colony works the other way round.  The last thing emperors wanted was a whole lot of colonists coming back to Rome.  The capitol was already overcrowded and underemployed.  No: the task of the Roman citizen in a place like Philippi was to bring Roman culture and rule to northern Greece, to expand Roman influence there.”  This is how Restorationists view their identity and mission in the world.  They are a community that exists as an outpost of the Kingdom of God.  Together they live out Shalom in the midst of disharmony.  Their lives are instances of the Kingdom of God breaking into the kingdom of the world.  They are the covenant people of God who are blessed by God to be a blessing to the world.  They evangelize, not primarily to secure the eternal fate of ‘spiritual essences”, but to invite others to exchange their own reality for God’s and to invite them to partner with God in the realization of His dream.  They are not under the impression that this can be accomplished by human effort alone and are awaiting a day when the Son of God will return and the dream they have been pouring their lives into will become reality.
(To Be Continued)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Influence of Creation and Eschatology on Worldview and Mission: Part 4

     In his book, Heaven Is A Place On Earth, Michael Wittmer states that ‘worldview’ is “a translation of the German word Weltanshauung, [and] has been variously described  as ‘perceptual frameworks,’ ‘ways of seeing,’ ‘the set of presuppositions…which we hold…about the basic make-up of the world,’ and ‘the conceptual framework  of ones basic belief about things.’”  Wittmer continues by pointing out that “The common theme running through these definitions suggests that a worldview is a framework of fundamental concepts or beliefs about the world.”  “In short,” says Wittmer, “a worldview comprises the lens through which we see the world.”   Everyone has a worldview, whether they are cognizant of it or not.  Everyone has a set of presuppositions that determine how they interpret the world around them.  N.T. Wright argues that worldviews are “profoundly theological,” and offers the following questions as a means of determining the worldview of an individual or group:

  1. Who are we?

  2. Where are we?

  3. What is wrong?

  4. What is the solution?

We will now attempt to answer the above worldview questions within the framework of each of the stories we have outlined thus far. From this point on, we will refer to the first perspective as the “Escapist” view, and the second perspective as the “Restorationist” view.

An Escapist Worldview
1.  Who are we?
We are immortal souls (spiritual essences) encased in immoral bodies.  We were created in the image of God, but that image has been so damaged that it can never be recovered in this life.  We are the Covenant people of God who believe the right things and uphold God’s moral code.

2.  Where are we?
We live in a fatally damaged world.  When our world was created by God, it was “perfect,” but very early on in our story we made a decision that damaged it.  It is now either spiraling into oblivion or simply existing until God destroys it.  It can still, at times, be quite beautiful, and that beauty reminds us of our Creator.  However, our world is irredeemably damaged and will be burned up on the last day. This world is fundamentally not our home and we exist here as “aliens” and “foreigners”.

3.  What is wrong?
Human beings made an incredibly destructive choice near the beginning of the story (Gen 3), and ruined the perfection they were charged with maintaining.  Our souls are immortal, but are separated from God because of individual sin.  Destruction is inescapably coming to everything physical, and our (individual) “immortal souls” are bound for eternal punishment.

4.  What is the solution?
God became a man and died vicariously for our sins.  We must simply believe and obey to save our individual immortal soul from eternal punishment.  Ideally, these “saved” individuals will share the basic propositions one must believe and the “plan of salvation” with others so that their “souls” will be “saved” as well.

A Restorationist Worldview

1.  Who are we?
We are the people of God, created in His Image. That image is distorted by the Fall, but is still there.   We are the Covenant people of God, who are blessed in order that we might be a blessing.  Our understanding of ourselves in holistic and cannot be broken down into “parts”.

2.  Where are we?
We live in God’s world which he created and loves.  God loves Creation simply because it exists.  We believe that this world was created “good”(in the dynamic and “loaded with potential” sense), and not perfect (in the “complete” and “static” sense).  We believe that God created us and this world to live in harmony with each other and with Him.

3.  What is wrong?
Human beings make an extremely destructive choice very early on in the narrative.  That choice has far reaching consequences and knocks the entire Creation project off course.  The Shalom or harmony that is supposed to exist between God, people, and creation is shattered.  The world is not what God dreams for it to be and all Creation seems bent on moving in the opposite direction.

4.  What is the solution?
God does not give up on his dream for Creation.  He enacts a plan to bring about the “restoration of all things”.  This plan involves covenanting with a community of people to operate as agents of Shalom in the midst of a broken world.  God becomes a human being (Jesus) whose life, death, and resurrection open the door for a renewed creation of Shalom between a) God and human beings; b) Human beings and other human beings; and c) Human beings and Creation.  God calls a group of people to live in His reality now in the midst of a broken world.  He calls us to partner with Him to make it more and more so.  He promises that one day Jesus will return and that Heaven and Earth will be renewed.  He insists that we will be resurrected and glorified so that we may enjoy the fulfillment of His promise and his dream for all Creation.
(To Be Continued)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Influence of Creation and Eschatology on Worldview and Mission: Part 3

The basic trajectory of the narrative is radically altered depending on which perspective you are operating from.
In light of the first perspective, the story proceeds with things getting worse and worse. God loves the people (or at least their essence), but sees the creation project as incorrigible. By implication, all matter becomes evil while only “spiritual” things are good (because, after all, they are the things that are going to last). God, who is unwilling to let the spiritual essence or “souls” of people perish without a fight, enacts a plan. He enters into a covenant with a man named Abram and his descendants. Within their arrangement, God gives them a moral and ethical code to live by in addition to a set of basic propositions to believe. In return, God promises that they will be his people and that He has a plan for reconciling their “souls” to Himself. Eventually, God becomes a human being named Jesus who takes the destruction/punishment due us on Himself by dying a sinner’s death (though he was without sin). In this view, the overriding sentiment about Jesus is that He “lived to die”. Aside from “not sinning”, everything else Jesus did and taught during his life is either viewed as proof of who he was or simply nice but almost irrelevant. After His crucifixion, Jesus rises from the dead thereby defeating “death” itself and ensuring the souls of those who believe and obey a place in Heaven after they die. In his book, In The End—The Beginning, Jurgan Moltmann sums up this trajectory as follows: “The traditional doctrine about the Last Judgment…also talks about a restoration, but it refers only to all human beings, the purpose being that all of them, beginning with Adam and Eve, can receive their just verdict. Afterward, only heaven and earth are left. The earth will be superfluous and is to be burnt. This notion of judgment is exceedingly hostile to creation.”
Alternately, the second perspective paints a very different picture. The story proceeds with a God who is quite unwilling to give up on his dream for the world. He enacts a plan, not just to save the spiritual essence of individuals, but to pursue the “restoration of all things”. God enters into a covenant with a man named Abram and his descendants. They are to be the people of God, whom God will bless so that they might be a blessing to the world around them. Eventually, God becomes a human being named Jesus who lives out God’s dream of Shalom and teaches others to do the same. He dies a sinner’s death (though he was without sin) to free us from disharmony with God, each other, and creation (which is the definition of “sin”). On the third day after His crucifixion, He rises from the dead and his body is glorified. In this action, He frees people from death, gives them a preview of their own resurrection, and apparently opens the door for everything to be not only restored to its original condition, but for the project to go where God originally intended. Moltman concludes “The raising of Christ from the dead was not, either, a ‘return’ of the life he had lived; it was a transformation of his life on earth into eternal life. And it is in this light that we ought to imagine the design of the restoration of all things: its purpose is the transformation of this world into the future world of the eternal creation. The restoration of all things is to initiate the rebirth of the cosmos to its enduring form.”

(To Be Continued)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Influence of Creation and Eschatology on Worldview and Mission: Part 2

We will not discuss the “literal-six-days” issue here which, in my view, seems irrelevant to the subject at hand. The creation narratives in Genesis 1 & 2 simply were not written to answer such a question in scientific terms, nor does the writing style lend itself to such an answer. The questions they are written to answer are both broader and grander in scope. Within Christianity, there are generally two views of creation. Admittedly, for the sake of our discussion, I am going to be speaking in very broad generalities. Indeed, few would say that my characterizations fit them exactly, but most will admit that one characterizes them more closely than the other.
On the one hand, some view creation to be fatally damaged or ruined. Their story begins with God’s pristine creation. God creates a world (or at least a garden in a world) that is perfect and apparently static. People are placed in this world and charged with maintaining the perfection that God originally created. This point is crucial to understanding this perspective: The role of humans was understood in terms of maintenance. Creation is a finished product that is to be maintained. However, in this view, people make a choice that sends all of creation into an irredeemable tailspin. Satan’s trick works and the whole project is thrown irrevocably off course.
On the other hand, there are those who view creation as damaged, but “good”. Their story begins (based on the same texts) with God creating a world that is “good” and as Rob Bell says, “loaded with potential”. Creation is dynamic, not static or as N.T. Wright puts it, “creation is a project, not a finished product.” God puts people in the middle of this dynamic creation and charges them with the responsibility to govern it in His image. As before, people make a choice that fundamentally damages creation, sending the whole project off course. This is the point where we reach the major difference in these two perspectives. It can perhaps best be summed up with the following question: Does God give up on his dream for the world? Whereas the first view answers in the affirmative, the second view responds with a resounding “No.”
(To Be Continued)

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Influence of Creation and Eschatology on Worldview and Mission: Part 1

Our story begins in Genesis 1 and 2. God existed for an eternity before that point, but the story of us and our interaction with the Creator originates at the beginning of the Bible. The Bible then provides, in various genres and from a variety of authors, a developing narrative in which God’s interaction with human beings and creation over time is revealed. Interestingly, the “end” or consummation of the story is also revealed in scripture while the part of the story we live in remains unwritten in any tangible form. This puts us in a fascinating predicament which N. T. Wright in The New Testament and the People of God likens to a Shakespearean play for which we are missing the fifth act. Wright explains,
“The first four acts provide, let us suppose, such a remarkable wealth of characterizations, such a crescendo of excitement within the plot, that it is generally agreed that the play should be staged. Nevertheless it is felt inappropriate to actually write a fifth act once and for all: it would freeze the play in one form, and commit Shakespeare as it were to being prospectively responsible for a work not in fact his own. Better, it might be felt, to give key parts to highly trained, sensitive and experienced Shakespearian actors who would immerse themselves in the first four acts, and in the language and culture of Shakespeare and his time, and who would then be told to work out a fifth act for themselves.”
To modify and expand on Wright’s analogy; what if there were several radically different supposed final scenes floating around which were all proported to be written by Shakespeare? What if, in addition to that, there were several radically different interpretations of the first scene? What if some of the actors, though competent, experienced, and trained, felt that the ending was rather unimportant as long as it ended and they got to go home? Would any or all of these things substantially affect the direction and shape the performance? Would it be possible for there to be several performances of essentially the same play in which the “improvised scene” bore little or no resemblance to one another?
It is my contention that this is exactly the state of affairs we find ourselves in. Within the Christian community there are various and divergent views on Creation. These are not merely surface issues such as the “literal 6 days” controversy. They are deep rooted questions about the nature of creation and God’s attitude toward and plans for what He created. Additionally, there are widely divergent views on the appropriate or intended ending or consummation of the story of God and his creation. Looking at the eschatological discourse on the popular level, one might be led to the conclusion that the most important debate is whether or not a supposed “rapture” occurs before or after a “tribulation” (if it occurs at all), and specifics about the “millennial reign of Christ”. As with the interrelated questions regarding creation, I believe that most of the questions being discussed at the popular level regarding eschatology simply miss the point entirely. I suggest that one’s concept of creation fundamentally shapes one’s eschatology. I further assert that one’s eschatology determines one’s worldview and mission.
(To Be Continued)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

My Girls

I miss my girls. Two weeks ago I was at the Youth Specialties Conference in Nashville while Dana and Emma went to Dana's Parents' house. We came home and my parents came to visit for a week for Thanksgiving. It was a great visit, but very busy. After Church on Sunday I went back to Nashville for a Grad School class (New Testament Theology with Dr. Mark Black M-F 8-5). I am staying with my friend Phil and his wonderful family who are taking great care of me. This has all been great stuff, but I just haven't had much time to spend with my family. Emma called me tonight (I think her Mom helped her). She had an actual conversation with me. I think she's gotten smarter since I left on Sunday. I really miss them, I miss my girls. I can't wait to see them.

Monday, November 28, 2005

BodyPrayer Review

BodyPrayer is an interesting little book. It is not a deep study on prayer (though it does include well written and "deep" introductory material. It is what it claims to be...a guide. It is an experience in prayer. For those from traditions like mine, it will be uncomfortable at first. However, I highly reccomend it exactly for people like us. It has simply renewed my prayer life. I hope it does the same for you. A word of warning though: this book will not "reason" you into deeper prayer. You must experience it...actually do the things it suggests to discover what it is saying.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

YS Update 2 (Campolo quotes)

Campolo Quotes From YS
  • (Regarding Apologetics) "The conflict is not between Christianity and science... Science is no longer on the throne"
  • "If we are conditioned by our past, we are more influenced by what we anticipate in the future"
Paraphrases of Campolo statements (because I didn't write them down exactly and don't want to misquote him)
  • Don't presume that just because your ministry is producing pious kids who don't use 4-letter words that they are "Christian". Christians pursue justice for the poor and oppressed.
  • In a city in England, there was a rule passed that you could no longer refer to the decorative seasonal lights as "Christmas Lights". They must now be called "holiday lights" so as not to offend Muslims and Jews. The Rabbis and Imans were the first to protest, because 'if the Christians can no longer express themselves in the public arena, how much longer will we be able to?'
  • If I was forced to choose between individualitic salvation and social justice, I would have to go with individualistic salvation. However, you do not have to choose. We must pursue both.
I also got to hear Tony do a couple of his famous riffs, i.e.
  • "It's Friday, but Sunday's Coming"
  • "...[a large number of] children die every day of starvation and you people don't give a [expletive]. What's worse is that more of you care that I said [expletive] than about the starving children."
Good stuff.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

YS Update 1

YS has been great so far. Tons of great lessons and times of worship. I'm really enjoying spending some time with Ryan Ice. I ran into myfriend David Fraze, which was really cool because I wasn't expecting to see him. I also got a chance to meet Doug Pagitt, which was cool. My good friend Phil came and sat in with us in a seminar on Christians and Politics by Tony Campolo. I miss my girls and the youth group, but I'm also really glad I'm here. I needed this.


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Sermon and a Conference

Click Here for an mp3 of the sermon that Joe Spivy and I did together on Sunday.

Also, I will be at the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention this weekend. I plan on blogging every day of the conference, so start checking on Friday.

P.S. Many thanks to my friend Phil Wilson for configuring the drop down menus in my bookstore to the left.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A Faith or a Way?

I have recently been reading "The New Testament and the People of God" by N.T. Wright. Throughout a major section of the book, Wright provided a detailed description of Judaism, particularly in the first century. He does this to give a context for the work/teaching/lives of Jesus and Paul and also for the first century church. In the chapter on "The Beliefs of Israel", Wright says:

"To call Judaism 'a faith' is actually, in one sense, a piece of Christian cultural imperialism, imagining that because Christianity thinks of itself as 'a faith' other peoples do the same. Judaism chatacteristically thinks of itself as a way, a halakah, a life-path, a way of being-in-the-world"

This statement went off like a bomb in my thoughts. This is not to say that beliefs aren't important or even essential (as Wright goes on to point out later). They are simply neither "the point" or an end unto themselves. Belief is the means by which we become what we are called to be. Beliefs are meant to be catalytic to mission. The goal/ mission of the church is not simply to get others to mentally agree with the same ideas as we do. The church is not simply an "intellectual and moral society". The church is a catalyst for the Kingdom of God. Our "beliefs" should lead to a shared worldview in which we see ourselves inside the story of God, as the people of God, on a mission from God, for the world.
P.S. I received an advance copy of "BodyPrayer" by Doug Pagitt in the mail a couple of days ago. I plan to post a review in the very near future.

Friday, November 04, 2005


I have come to a rather stunning realization. A few days ago, I realized that most of the spiritual disciplines I had woven into my life, (or aspired to), were now noticeable absent. As I have spent time thinking about this, I have found it hard to discern exactly when I stopped practicing them. This has really been quite unnerving for me. However, it was more unnerving when I realized the reason (or at least the main reason). I am upset with God. I'd rather not go into the specifics of the situation, but the fact is that I am upset with him over something and I haven't dealt with it. There was this (relatively) long term situation in my life where I thought God was going to "come through", and he didn't (or at least, he hasn't). To be honest, I'm not even directly affected by that situation any more, but it is still messed up and I get angry just thinking about it. I admit that I am finite while God is infinite. I confess that I have a limited perspective and a 3 lb. brain which is unable to comprehend God or his purposes. But even so, I am left wondering why obvious good didn't overcome obvious evil in this particular situation (I know it is annoying for me to keep referring to "this situation" but I'd rather not identify it because of the harm it might do to some good people who are still involved). I think this may be where faith comes in. It has been really good for me to become familiar with John Mark Hicks, who is now one of my professors in my graduate program at Lipscomb. Dr. Hicks has been gone through situations and suffered loss that I can't bear to imagine for very long (I won't be so presumtuous as to attempt to tell his story here. You can and should pick up his book "Yet Will I Trust Him" to find out more) . He is an example to me of faith. He says that while he stands in protest sometimes, he still trusts God. This obvious echo of Job has been ringing in my head and my heart lately. I can't see where good overcame evil in that situation, but I believe God is good, so I'm going to keep trusting him. I stand in protest of the (current) outcome of that situation. However, I believe that God knows what he's doing, so I'm going to keep trusting him. I'm trying to deal with my anger and disappointment. I'm trying to reincorporate those disciplines I have dropped (Dana is helping me). I'm learning to talk to God about these things honestly, as great people of faith have and still do. I'm not advocating a blind adherence to facts in the face of evidence to the contrary. I'm advocating a relationship of love and trust. I live inside the story of a God who loves what he created and is good. I don't always understand him, but I'm going to trust him.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

What Is Gods Eschatological Goal?

Any good discussion of the end of something must also include some discussion of its beginning. In the beginning of our story, God created our world and everything in it. In the first two chapters of Genesis, it is clear that God believes his creation to be “good” and that he has intentions for it to progress rather than remain static. As N.T. Wright points out, “Creation is a project, not a product.” In other words, God loved what he created and had a dream for where he wanted it to go. He didn’t create a static, unchanging thing, but rather a world that was “good” and, as Rob Bell says, “loaded with potential”. God then creates people “in his image” to care for and guide the creation that he loves toward the fulfillment of his dream. Unfortunately, people make a poor choice and the entire creation project veers off course.
At this point in the story (and in our discussion), there enters an important question. “Does God give up on his dream?” How we answer this question, in no small way, determines how we perceive the rest of the story, particularly the “ending”. People who answer “yes” to this question generally, perceive creation to be in an irredeemable downward spiral and God’s eventual goal to be its destruction and the whisking away of the faithful to disembodied bliss. This is somehow thought to be God’s great victory. However, if God doesn’t get what he originally dreamed for his creation, it would stand to reason that this end would mark his defeat rather than his victory. It is my belief, however, that rather than surrendering creation to Satan and then destroying it in a final act of vengeance, God enacts his plan to bring about what the New Testament writers refer to as the “restoration” or “renewal” of “all things”.
God recruits a man named Abram and his descendants to be his agents in the world. He commissions them to partner with him in his dream. Though Israel’s prophets (particularly Isaiah) repeatedly paint pictures of God’s dream for the world with their words, Israel still doesn’t seem to get it. They fall into the temptation of believing that their arrangement with God is exclusively to their benefit. Even so, God doesn’t throw up his hands in defeat. Instead, God (the Son) becomes a human being and shows them the Way. He lives out Gods intention for humans. He dies a sinner’s death (though he never sinned) and then defeats even death, somehow freeing us from both sin and mortality. The Way modeled by Jesus is opened up beyond the descendants of Abram to all who would live in this reality and for this purpose.
But, what exactly is this purpose? Where exactly is this story going? What is God’s eschatological goal? Jesus, as the “true human” reveals the eschatological future of human beings in his resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15 refers to Jesus’ resurrection as a “first fruits” for us. It points out that this will not simply involve the restoration of our physical bodies, but also a glorification in which they will somehow be changed so that death and decay are no longer a factor. Far from being a “disembodied” existence, these passages seem to indicate that while our existence will involve a different kind of physicality, it will none the less be physical. I have heard N.T. Wright point out several times that this “disembodied bliss” idea has more in common with the pagan concept of Nirvana than to orthodox Christianity. Michael Wittmer, in his book, Heaven is a Place on Earth, implies that the concept is closely tied to the ideas of Greek philosophy and even Gnosticism having to do with “matter” being evil and only the “spirit” being good.
Romans, chapter 8 takes an interesting turn in verses 18-27. Here, Paul seems to indicate that creation itself has the same promise as the children of God. He says that creation, will be freed from it’s bondage to death and decay in the same way as the children of God. Indeed, the New Testament repeatedly refers to a time when there will be a new (or renewed) Heaven and Earth, (an idea that seems to be completely ignored in the most popular forms of eschatology in North America today). Revelation 21 envisions God and the new Jerusalem coming down to Earth with God declaring that he is “making all things new” (a picture also painted by the prophet Isaiah). As Stan Grenz articulates in Theology for the Community of God, “…the prophets of both Testaments anticipate a new earth blanketed by a new heaven (Isa. 65:17; Rev. 21:1). Rather than resurrected believers being snatched away to live forever with God in some heavenly world beyond the cosmos, the seer of Revelation envisioned exactly the opposite. God will take up residence in the new creation (Rev. 21:3).The dwelling of the citizens of God’s eternal community, therefore, will be the renewed earth.” God’s goal is not simply the resurrection and glorification of creation and humanity. It also entails his realized dream of harmony (shalom) between a) God and human beings, b) human beings and other human beings, and c) human beings and creation. God does not simply wish to restore original creation. He wants the project to go where it was designed to go all along. It is the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer for God’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done, “on earth as it is in heaven.” Perhaps, as both Wittmer and Wright have pointed out, the final verse of an old hymn sums it up best.

“This is my Father’s World
O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong
God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world!
The battle is not done;
Jesus who died shall be satisfied
And earth and heav’n be one.”
  • Bell, Rob…Velvet Elvis: Repainting The Christian Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005

  • Grenz, Stanley J…Theology For The Community of God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000

  • Wittmer, Michael E…Heaven Is A Place On Earth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004

  • Wright, N.T….he Challenge of Jesus. Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1999

  • Wright, N.T….Creation and New Creation In The New Testament. Vancouver: Regent Audio, 2003

Friday, October 21, 2005

What Is Salvation?

In my experience, the concept of salvation is typically presented as an individualistic enterprise in North American Christian culture. It seems to me that the message presented in most churches and in most “Christian” broadcasting is that “salvation” is about the saving of individual souls from Hell after death, or stated more positively, into Heaven after death. In this message, Jesus is often presented as a “personal Lord and Savior” (a term found nowhere in scripture). While these ideas (or some form of them) are certainly a part of the Biblical idea of salvation, they are just as certainly not the whole of it, nor arguably even the main points. For a more developed explanation of salvation, we once again return to the narrative of scripture.

The Story
In the beginning, creation was characterized by peace and harmony, (the Hebrew concept of shalom), between a) God and human beings, b) human beings and other human beings, c) human beings and creation. God charges human beings with caring for this world (in His Image). In Genesis 3, that harmony is shattered and the world begins to plummet into disharmony. (It can be argued that sin is the breaking of “shalom” in any of these afore mentioned areas…See Bell and Grenz) Years later, as the project has gone further and further off course, God commissions a man named Abram and his descendants to be ambassadors of His harmony in a world gone astray. God will bless them so that they may bless the world. However, these ambassadors frequently lose sight of the full scope of their mission, often getting bogged down, among other things, in their own self promotion and struggle for power (or at least the desire for these things). Even so, God never gives up on His dream for His world. Eventually, God (the Son) becomes a human being. He is the “true human”, the perfect example of what humans were meant to be. He is God’s ambassador of shalom. Interestingly, instead of promoting himself, He lays His life down. Instead of grabbing power (which was actually offered to him quite a few times), He poured out His power for the benefit of the world. He eventually dies a “sinner’s death” though He was without sin, somehow taking the consequences of the world’s sin on himself. In His resurrection from death, He thus opens the way into a new (or renewed) reality characterized by harmony with God, each other and Creation, free from the consequences of sin. He then commissions those who would follow him, the people of God (no longer just the descendants of Abram), once again become the ambassadors of God’s reality in the midst of a world that has created it’s own.

In light of this telling of the story, salvation becomes much more than just “being saved from Hell after death”, or even “being granted admittance into Heaven after death”. As Brian McLaren points out in Adventures in Missing The Point, “If you had asked the apostle Paul, ‘If you were to die tonight, do you know for certain that you would be with God in heaven?’ I’m certain Paul would have said yes. But he probably would have given you a funny look and wondered why you were asking the question, because to him it missed the point. To Paul, the point of being Christ’s follower was not just to help people be absolutely certain they were going to heaven when they died. Paul’s goal was to help them become fully formed, mature in Christ, here and now—to experience the glorious realities of being in Christ and experiencing Christ in themselves.” Grace, it would seem, is not an end unto itself. Rather, it is the means of our returning to the reality that God intended and to our becoming a catalyst for that reality breaking into our world. As seen through the lens of this telling of the story, salvation is by no means a primarily individualistic enterprise. As Stan Grenz explains in Theology for the Community of God, “We are alienated from God, of course. But our estrangement also taints our relationships with one another, with ourselves, and with creation. Consequently, the divine program leads not only toward establishing individual peace with God in isolation; it extends as well to the healing of all relationships—to ourselves, one another, and to nature.” Our individual salvation is a fact, but as Grenz says, “the church is far more than a collection of saved individuals who band together for the task of winning the lost. The church is the community of salvation.

Heaven and Hell
No explanation of salvation would be complete without touching on the issues of Heaven and Hell. In Scripture, the afterlife is discussed as a reality However, the main truth of Heaven appears to be less about people going there and more about Heaven coming here. As Rob Bell explains in Velvet Elvis: Repainting The Christian Faith, “For Jesus, heaven and hell were present realities. He talked very little about the life beyond this one because he understood that the life beyond this one is a continuation of the choices we make here and now. For Jesus, the question wasn’t, how do I get into heaven? But how do I bring heaven here?” Jesus prayed to his Father “Your Kingdom come. Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” Additionally, Paul, in Romans 8, seems to imply that creation itself has the same promise as the children of God. In short, the goal of God is not just the salvation of individual souls, but the salvation of the whole world.
As for individuals in relation to Heaven and Hell, Bell further explains, “And this reality extends beyond this life. Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people. Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. Hell is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust. Ours or God’s.”
  • Bell, Rob…Velvet Elvis: Repainting The Christian Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005

  • McLaren, Brian D…Adventures In Missing The Point. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003

  • Grenz, Stanley J…Theology For The Community of God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Missional Character of the Church

The Missional Character of the Church
Adam Ellis

     According to Brian McLaren, in his book A Generous Orthodoxy, the term “missional” was coined in the 1990’s by the “Gospel In Our Culture Network”.  McLaren explains, “The term as I understand it, attempts to find a generous third way between the conservative and liberal versions of Christianity so dominant in the Western world.  The conservative version is preoccupied with the “personal savior” Gospel…and the liberal version has lost something vitally important in their engagement with modernity”.  In actuality, the term is rather self explanatory.  In contemporary vernacular, a church that is “missional” defines its identity or focus primarily in terms of it’s mission from God, in and to the world.   To some, this may seem like one option among many for churches seeking to define their identities.  To others, this may seem wrongheaded or simply a “passing fad.”  However, I believe that the theological roots of the missional character of the church run deep in the narrative of scripture.
     In the beginning, (Genesis 1 & 2), God created people in his image, to care for the world around them.  God very clearly has a dream for where he wants the creation project to go and people have a role in getting it there.  The participation of human beings in this project, however, gets derailed in Genesis 3.  Even so, God does not give up on his dream.  Many years later, God makes a covenant with a man named Abram. Genesis 12 reveals that a key to this covenant is the idea that Abram and his descendants will be blessed by God and will be a blessing to all people.  The story proceeds from there with the people of God seaming very interested in being blessed, but noticeably less interested in being a blessing.
     The prophets continually attempted to point the people of God back to their mission.  Repeatedly, they scolded the people of God for their treatment of the poor and oppressed.  Over and over again, they challenge God’s people on their lack of compassion and concern for justice.  In the book of Isaiah, most notably in chapters 61 and 62, the prophet paints several pictures of God’s realized dream for his world and his people.  Interestingly, in the New Testament, Jesus quoted from this same passage, stating that it is fulfilled in him, when he “officially” began his ministry.   In Jesus, God (The Son) comes to earth as the “true human” to (among other things) show human beings what it looks like to be the people of God. Jesus further went on, in Matthew 25:31-46, to paint a picture of “judgment day” that points more to “involvement in mission” than “beliefs” as the primary criterion for judgment.  In the Gospel narratives, he continually refers to the idea of the “kingdom of God” or, synonymously “the kingdom of Heaven”.  While, in churches of Christ, these phrases have traditionally been interpreted as also being synonymous with “the church”, I think they are better understood in light of Jesus statement in the Lord’s Prayer.  In that prayer, Jesus says, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” (Matthew 6:10).  God’s “kingdom” is the extent to which his will is being done “on earth as it is in heaven.”  The “church”, therefore is not synonymous with the “kingdom’, but rather is a catalyst for the Kingdom of God.  It is an outpost of the Kingdom of Heaven.  When Jesus gives the disciples “the great commission” in Matthew 28, he seems to be passing the torch back to a community of people…from the true human back to human beings.  As I often tell the teenagers I work with, “Jesus took our place on the cross so that we could take his place in the world.”
     So, what does all of this mean for the church?  In a lecture at the 2005 Emergent Convention in Nashville TN, Brian McLaren explained that in pluralist society, a religion is no longer judged as valid based on whether or not it is true.  It is judged valid based on whether or not it is “good”.  This is not to say that Christianity should no longer be concerned with “truth”.  It does, however, point to the fact that our claim of truth is completely irrelevant to the world around us if we are not viewed as “good”.  While that idea might initially seem to be “getting the cart before the ox” or letting culture define us, I believe that it points to an important truth and opportunity.  A community of believers, who sees itself as blessed by God in order to be a blessing to the world, is good news, even to non-adherents.  Rob Bell explains in Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith, “If the gospel isn’t good news for everybody, then it isn’t good news for anybody.”  Because of it’s involvement in the pursuit of God’s dream, the church should be good news to everyone, regardless of their differing religious beliefs, politics, or race.  For too long, the church has seemed to focus exclusively on it’s benefits for it’s members.  This seems, to me, far short of the Biblical image.  The Church is the Way of Jesus.  It is the Body of Christ.  The Church does not pursue privilege or power.  Rather, the church pours out it’s life for the sake of the world.  At her very essence, the Church is a community of believers on a mission from God.  As Mark Driscoll eloquently states in The Radical Reformission, “…neither the freedom of Christ nor our freedom in Christ is intended to permit us to dance as close to sin as possible without crossing the line.  But both are intended to permit us to dance as close to sinners as possible by crossing the lines that unnecessarily separate the people God has found from those he is still seeking.”

  • Bell, Rob…Velvet Elvis: Repainting The Christian Faith.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005

  • Driscoll, Mark…The Radical Reformission.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004

  • McLaren, Brian D…A Generous Orthodoxy.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004

  • McLaren, Brian D…The Gospel In Pluralist Society.  Nashville: Youth Specialties Emergent Convention, 2005

  • Wright, N.T…The Lord and His Prayer.  Grand Rapids: Eeardmans, 1996

Thursday, October 06, 2005

God In The Flesh: True Human & New Human

Human beings were created in the Image of God. However, throughout history we have struggled with the tendency to remake God in our own image. As Brian McLaren points out in his book More Ready Than Your Realize, “people tend to describe God as a bigger and better version of themselves.” He goes on to say, “Now imagine you are God (if this comes easy for you, we should all be worried). What would you do about all of the versions of You, made in human images?” Christians through the ages have answered this question by affirming that God became a man who was truly human and perfectly the Image of God.

It is important to distinguish between God (The Son) simply putting on a “human suit” and God (the Son) truly becoming a human being. When we say “God became a man,” we mean that literally. God the Son became the human being, Jesus. We do not mean that God simply “looked human”, nor do we mean that God “possessed” or indwelt a human being. We mean that the Creator became a creature. As Stan Grenz points out in Theology For The Community Of God, this means that he took on our human needs and limitations. Additionally, as Grenz goes on to say, the humanity of Jesus means that he “developed and grew as a human, just as we do.” While these points may make many professing Christians quite uncomfortable, I believe them to be both well supported by scripture (John 4:6-7, Matt 26:36-37, Mark 1:35, Luke 2:52, Hebrews 5:8) and essential for a workable Christology. Many followers of Jesus want to speak of him as a sort of superhuman and unchanging figure. While these characterizations intended to honor Jesus, they are actually quite destructive, and several recognized heresies have been based on exactly these sorts of ideas. They create a kind of “cop-out” Christology where Jesus only seems able to identify with us, but that identification is simply an illusion. Our assertation that the Son became fully human, however, is in no way a denial of his deity or power. Indeed we affirm that God was not only powerful enough to make himself (the Son) completely human, but that he also maintained his Trinitarian relationship with this divine human being.

While the fact that the Son became truly human is crucial, it is not our main point. Jesus was not only truly human, but rather, in the incarnation he became the true human. In Jesus, we see true humanity exemplified. Jesus is the model of what God intended humans to be all along. He lived as God intended humans to live their lives from the very beginning. Paul seems to allude to this idea in both Romans 5:12-20 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 where he contrasts Jesus and Adam. He seems to imply that while Adam knocked the project off course, Jesus brings it back in line. While Adam failed to be what God intended, Jesus fully realizes human potential. Interestingly, Jesus does not live as an individual devoted to personal piety. Rather, he immerses himself in community, both with God (the Trinity) and with other people. As has been pointed out by many theologians and practitioners (Stan Grenz, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, etc.), his way of live can be characterized by shalom (peace/harmony) with God, other people, and creation. In churches of Christ, we have we have historically stressed the importance of and need for a “pattern” to follow. Patterning our churches after “first century churches”, however, has proved to be problematic at best. Perhaps the problem is that this is somewhat like “making a copy of a copy” in which the final product comes out “kind of fuzzy”. Instead, I believe that Jesus is the pattern for both the individual and the church. In the book of Acts, Paul is recorded as repeatedly referring to the church as “the Way”. This seems to imply not primarily a group of people who give mental assent to the same propositional ideas, but rather to a community devoted to living the way of life of Jesus, the true human.

There is still one aspect of our subject we need to explore. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul refers to Jesus resurrection as a “firstfruits” of our resurrection. We maintain, as Paul does, that this resurrection was and is physical, as opposed to some kind of disembodied “spiritual” existence. In the post-resurrection Jesus we catch a glimpse of our future. This future does not entail our “disembodied souls” shedding our bodies to go off and live in some sort of “spiritual realm”. As N.T. Wright points out in The Challenge of Jesus, “[in vs. 50-57]…Paul states clearly and emphatically his belief in a body that is to be changed, not abandoned.” He goes on to add, “As in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul envisages the present physical body ‘putting on’ the new body as a new mode of physicality over and above what we presently know. This is not mere resuscitation, but equally it is emphatically not disembodiment. And if this is what Paul believes about the resurrection body of Christians, we may assume (since his argument works from the one to the other) that this was his view of the resurrection of Jesus as well.” After his resurrection, Jesus (the Son) becomes the future of humanity…the new human. This is no temporary state of affairs for Jesus. The Son did not become human for a while and then go back to being God again in the way he was before. The incarnation is permanent. The Son is alive in the form of the post-resurrection Jesus. He is resurrected and glorified and in this way points toward our future.

We affirm that God, The Son became a human being. We further affirm that this human being, Jesus, embodied true humanity as God intended. Post-resurrection, this divine human being, in his resurrection and glorification, reveals the future of those who walk in his Way.

  • Grenz, Stanley J…Theology For The Community of God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000

  • McLaren, Brian D…More Ready Than You Realize. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002

  • Wright, N.T….he Challenge of Jesus. Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1999

  • Wright, N.T….Creation and New Creation In The New Testament. Vancouver: Regent Audio, 2003

  • Wright, N.T….Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Humans as the Image of God

For centuries, many theologians have been consumed with the concept of the Imago Dei, (humans as the Image of God). This may seem relatively odd due to the fact that only a handful of verses in scripture even allude to the concept. Even so, I believe it to be key to our identity as the people of God.

The concept of the Imago Dei first occurs in the creation narrative(s). Genesis 1 pictures God as making all the animals “according to their own kinds”. However, in verse 26 the language changes when he creates humans. There, God states that he intends to create human beings “in our image, in our likeness.” He goes on to explain that his intention in this is so that they will “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." Then, according to verse 27 he creates both male and female in this way and for this purpose. Marginalizing misinterpretations of this concept have ranged from “we kind of look like God (or worse yet, he kind of looks like us)” to “God has given us the world to use (and abuse) as we see fit”.

It is true that God bestowed individual human beings with structural attributes that reflect his being. These are commonly recognized as those mental and emotional attributes that distinguish us from the rest of the animal kingdom, in addition to our “spiritual qualities”. It is also true that because God made us “in his image”, our function of “ruling”, or better stated “governing” the rest of creation is foundational to our identity, though our definition of those terms has frequently missed the mark. Theologians like Stanley Grenz, N.T. Wright, and Michael Wittmer point out that at the time Genesis was written, it was common for a king to place a statue or “image” of himself in cities, territories, or colonies where he was not physically present. The idea was that the statue would bear the image of the king in order to remind the people of who he was and of his vision for his kingdom. While we do not buy into the deistic concept of an absentee God, this contextualization does shed light on our function as the “image of God”. We are to reflect God to creation. This function is at the core of what it means to be truly human. However, after the Fall (Gen 3), human beings lost that identity. When God enters into covenant with Abram, it becomes part of the identity of the people of God to image God to the rest of humanity as well as the rest of creation. The New Testament refers to Jesus as “the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4), which I believe is a direct reference to Genesis 1. As followers of the Way of Jesus, we are following him in baring the image of the living God.
If then, this is the context for the Imago Dei, then what exactly are we called to reflect as we bear God’s image?

Who God Is
God is, at his core, community. The co-unity of the Father, Son and Spirit form the basis for our doctrine of the Trinity. This divine community of perfect love, harmony, and wholeness is our God. As our society and culture grow radically more individualistic, our call as the Imago Dei is to reflect true community. We reject the myth of egocentrism and instead pour out our lives into others. We pursue harmony instead of self promotion. God is fundamentally a community; therefore any reflection of him must be borne out in community. Possibly as an extension of the previously stated idea, the 1 John 4 asserts that God is, at his essence, love (agape). In order to image God, we must essentially live lives of love. It must be our defining attribute, both as individuals and as faith communities. It must be so fundamental to our character that if we err, we err on the side of love. If Jesus was the image of God as scripture asserts, then we must note some things that he reflects of God’s character as well. Jesus is not noted for his exclusivity. Rather, he is radically inclusive. He refuses to withhold his or the Father’s love from anyone. Jesus is also not recognized for his independence. Instead, he is quite clear on his total dependence on the Father and the Spirit. He also develops deep and significant relationships in community with other humans that are well documented in scripture. As followers of Jesus in Imaging God, we must do the same.

His Vision for His Kingdom
Dallas Willard defines “kingdom” as “the effective reach of one’s will”. Jesus seems to affirm a similar definition when he prays “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I believe these statements in the “Lord’s Prayer” to be a sort of parallelism in which he restates the same idea in a different way to clarify his meaning. If part of our function as the Imago Dei is, as I have proposed, to image God’s vision for his kingdom, then we must ask: What exactly is God’s vision for his kingdom? In the first two chapters of Genesis, God creates a world of peace and harmony (shalom). This harmony exists between human beings and God, interrelationaly between people (and genders), and between humans and creation. This peace is shattered in Genesis 3, however it remains God’s vision for his Kingdom. This is further evidenced by prophesies (such as those in Isaiah) referring to the Kingdom of God and by the pictures painted of our eschatological future in Revelation. Our call then, in imaging God, is to live in the reality of the Kingdom of God rather than the alternate reality of the fall. We should display with our lives and in our faith communities God’s dream for the world. We are to live our lives as if Gods vision were realized until, by the power of God at the return of Jesus, it becomes so.

  • Grenz, Stanley J…Theology For The Community of God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000

  • ________…“What Does It Mean To Be Trinitarians: The Role of the Doctrine of the Trinity in Christian Teaching and Life”;

  • Willard, Dallas…The Divine Conspiracy. New York: HarperCollins, 1998

  • Wittmer, Michael E…Heaven Is A Place On Earth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004

  • Wright, N.T…Creation and New Creation In The New Testament. Vancouver: Regent Audio, 2003

Thursday, September 29, 2005

New Layout

I have long dreamed of a 3 column layout for "Adventures in Following Jesus". My friend Phil has helped to make this dream a reality. I will be posting my first "position paper" either tomorrow or Saturday. Check back and let me know what you think.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Systematic Theology Class @ Lipscomb

I'm in Nashville this week for my Systematic Theology class with John Mark Hicks. I'll admit that "Systematic Theology" sounded less than uninteresting to start with. However, Hicks takes a Narrative approach to it and I am loving it. In addition to the class, I have had a chance to spend some time with my blogging friends Phil (and his wonderful family) and BST. I also got a chance to meet Preston at Otter Creek Wednesday night. I'll be driving back to West Virginia (and to Dana and Emma) tomorrow evening.

The class was great and has really spurred my thinking, but I'm not going to expound on it that much today. Starting next week I will be writing a "position paper" on significant theological topics each week for the next 5. My plan is to post them each week to the blog. For those weeks I will probably post on Friday or Saturday. I would love your feedback on them.

Friday, September 16, 2005

I Have Decided To Follow Jesus

I believe in God. This is the lens that I view the world from. Yet, I have to admit that God has not been irrefutably proven to me. In the end, I made a decision to believe. I made a decision to look at the Bible through believing eyes. I decided to think about God with a believing mind. I decided. One of the mistakes that we have made in the church is that we have gotten into the habit of trying to offer "irrefutable proof" of God's existence. We tried to construct iron clad formulas to lead people to Christ. We forgot that faith, by nature, is not the product of irrefutable proof (or it would be "sight"). What if instead of trying to rationally prove our beliefs to everyone, we just lived out our beliefs with lives worth living? What would happen if we invited people into our faith communities (not just our services) who didn't yet believe, and incorporated them into the practice of our faith? What if instead of trying to argue or debate reasons for faith, we became reasons for faith? As Brian McLaren says, "In a postmodern world, the question is no longer 'Is it true?', but instead 'Is it good?'" This is by no means a denial of the truth of God. Rather McLaren is pointing out the way that people in culture now gage validity. So what if you can prove it? Is it good? Maybe it's time we stopped trying to prove it and started living lives that people might actually decide to follow because they are good lives. Maybe it's time that we connected them to stories and a Story that is worth buying into rather than "irrefutable proofs". After all, the Gospel is "good news", isn't it?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Image of God

In the Old Testament, there exists a strident prohibition against making images of our God. It’s something that He doesn’t really play around about. In the familiar story where Aaron makes a golden calf for Israel when Moses is up on the mountain, the text indicates that they were using the calf to worship YHWH, the one true God. It wasn’t that they were using an idol to worship another god, it was that they were using an image to worship the one true God. The consequences were severe.
For a long time I’ve wondered why this is: why is God so opposed to us making images to represent him? Partially I suppose that it may have to do with the fact that virtually all pagan gods were worshiped with images and this served as a distinction. But, I think it goes much deeper than that. In the beginning, God created man in His image. This is not just to say that “we look like Him”, or as a theologian I recently read suggested, that things like our “logic” are a reflection of the mind of God, but rather is an indication of our primary vocation. As the people of God, we are called to bear and “be” his Image to the world. We are not to craft images to represent God simply because that is our role…to be the images that represent God. If we were to create representative external images, we would lose the sense of our own calling. We gather together in worship, partly because, in community, we are imaging the Living God to each other. Right now, in the wake of the hurricane, in places where hope is gone and God seems absent, our role is to be there…to be present…to bear the image of the Living God. This does not necessarily mean that each of us needs to individually go and be geographically present. As a community…as the people of God, we need to figure out ways to bear God’s image into those places…the image of God the Provider…the image of God the Protector…the image of God, the Giver of Hope and Life and Everything Good. If we are content to let anything other than the people of God bear these images for us, simply put, we are guilty of idolatry in it’s most insidious form.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


I am currently reading Theology For The Community of God by Stan Grenz for my Systematic Theology class in Grad School. This book is simply brilliant. In it, Grenz says:

"Narrative theologians rightly point out that the revealed truth of God, which comes to us fundamentally in the narrative of God's actions in the world, forms the "basic grammar" that creates Christian identity. Truth establishes who we are--Christians, God's children. Rather than merely being a product of our experience, as certain strands of liberalism tend to argue, in an important sense this truth of God, this retold narrative, creates our experience. The identity-creative experience, however, is not ours as individuals in isolation. Instead our identity arises within a community, with in the fellowship of God's people in the church."

I believe that the church must recapture the sweeping story that begins in Genesis and ends with God declaring that He is "making all things new". This story must saturate our gatherings. It must comprise our worldview. Our teaching must constantly connect all things back to it.
Additionally, we must elevate our focus on the telling of individual stories and how they merge with the big story. I caught something on T.V. the other day about teen suicide (or I may have actually read it in a book). They theorized that people consider (and commit) suicide when they lose their story--when they don't think their story is going anywhere anymore. Could the same be true of the church? Is it possible that in our quest to make Christianity be all about "propositional truth" we have lost our story? The ramifications of that are staggering. Sometimes when I am asked to speak I do a little thing where I tell the story of scripture in about 15-20 minutes, connecting the major events into a single narrative. The reaction always amazes me. Dozens of people always come up to me afterwards saying "I never thought of it that way." What are we teaching in our churches? Steps? Unconnected historical facts? Timeless Truths? Good advice? God forgive us...and help us to claim and recapure our Story and thereby the church's life.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Family Man

A couple of days ago I woke up and heard Emma (my daughter, age 2) calling for me. I went and got her out of bed and laid her down between Dana and I. We all went back to sleep for a while. When I woke up again I rolled over and Emma was just looking at me and smiling. "Guess what? I love you!" she said. I melted. Every morning before I leave for work I give Dana and Emma each a hug and a kiss. Emma chases me to the door and says "More kisses!" and "More big hugs!" Recently she has started adding "Give Mama more kisses and big hugs!"

Last night before we went to bed Dana and I were talking about the day. Dana said "I took Emma to the park this morning and then we came home. I fixed us sandwiches and we went outside to eat them on the back deck." She said all of this very "matter-of-factly" as if it were no big deal (and maybe to you it isn't). By the time she finished telling me about it I found that I had this big goofy smile on my face and tears in my eyes. I said "You are a great mom." She laughed a little, thanked me and asked why I said that. I sort of rambled (like I'm doing now) and really had trouble explaining my reaction to what she said. I love that I'm married to Dana. But, also I love that Dana is Emma's mother. I love that Emma has a mother that takes her to the park. I love that they come home and make sandwiches. I love that they go outside and eat them together. I love my family. That night I think I prayed the most sincere prayer that I have uttered in a long time:
Thank you for Dana
Thank you for Emma
Help me to be a better husband and father,
Help me to be a better follower of Jesus.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Unquestionable Faith

Is there anything about your faith that you've never questioned? Is there anything about your belief in God that you refuse to question? Does it make you angry when certain things about God are sincerely questioned by others?
Do we imagine that God is afraid of our questions or that He can't handle them? Do we actually believe that we are somehow stronger because we blindly accept certain ideas or refuse to wrestle with our beliefs? Do we think God is cringing in some corner of Heaven begging "please don't ask that?"
Do we think it is noble to blindly accept things without ever really thinking through them? Is that really what we are trying to convince people of?

Why do we get angry when others question things we hold to be true? Why does it bother us if they reach many of the same conclusions we hold to be true, but take a different path to get there? Might it be an issue of pride rather than truth?

Is it possible that faith could become stronger because of questions and weaker when we refuse to ask them?

Is truth afraid of our questions, or does it actually long for them? Doesn't faith imply a certain level of uncertainty? Could it be that God is more readily found in humble questions than in proud certainty?