Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"You are the only religious person I've ever enjoyed talking to"

A while back I had flown down south for a speaking gig. I was sitting in the Birmingham Airport and I was fairly exhausted. Dan Kimball's new book, They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations, which I had been reading was on the seat beside me (it has great, provocative cover art). I was (re)-listening to the audiobook version of Brian McLaren's, A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey on my iPod. This guy (a businessman by the look of him) came and sat across from me on the seats facing me. He was talking on his cell phone and I noticed that he had an iPod in his shirt pocket. After he got off the phone, he waved at me and got my attention. "What are you listening to...just music?" he asked as he pointed to my iPod. I explained that I was listening to an audiobook, and his face lit up.

It seems that he listened to audiobooks too, and was quite a connoisseur. We chatted about that a while, and then , in an odd coincidence, we both got calls on our cell phones. When we got off our phones, he pointed at Kimball's book and asked me what it was about. I explained the premise, and we launched into a conversation about faith. Apparently, his wife and son are both very "religious", and from what I can tell, very evangelical and conservative (theologically and politically). He was not any of these things, and quite frankly couldn't understand them. He told me that I seemed like an intellegent guy and then asked how people could be all over the spectrum on know...from militant atheists (Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, etc) to mindless Jim Jones cult members who drink poisoned Kool-aid. We talked about all of this for a while. In our conversation, I told him that I did not believe that God or faith could be empirically proven or disproven and that both atheists and believers at some point in their lives make a decision whether or not to believe and generally spend the rest of their lives building a case to support that decision. He seemed pleasantly surprised to hear me say this, and also seemed to resonate with it.

At some point in our conversation, it was announced that our flight was running late. Eventually, they called for us to line up. By this point in our dialogue, we were discussing some of his criticisms of Christianity as he had seen it. Oddly enough, I didn't even feel the slightest bit defensive. I simply listened. I agreed with many of his criticisms because they were valid. In some cases I offered different theological perspectives that actually confirmed or allowed for his criticism. In a few places, (but just a few) I suggested that his perspective might be off and offered some context to clarify. By this point, we were in line and another guy (another businessman by the look of him) joined into our conversation. When we began to board, guy #2 (I'm choosing not to use their names here) said he was really enjoying our discussion and asked if we could sit together on the flight and continue it (we were flying Southwest, which has open seating on their planes). Guy #2 was also still recovering from a major back injury and asked me to help him with his bag. We continued our conversation on the flight, and by the time we landed we felt like old friends. As we stood, they both pulled out business cards and handed them to me so we could keep in touch. Unfortunately, I had forgotten mine so I told them I 'd shoot them an email so that they could have my information. Guy #1 said that would be great because we'd be able to recommend audiobooks back and forth to each other. They hurried out into the terminal while I got Guy #2's bag out of the overhead compartment. Since the flight was about 20 minutes late I had to run off to catch my connecting flight. I handed off guy #2's bag and told them how much I had enjoyed talking with them but I had to run to catch my flight. Guy #1 called out after me and said "Seriously, don't forget to email me. You are the only religious person I have ever enjoyed talking to. I'd really like to keep the conversation going." I consider that one of the highest compliments I have ever been given in my life.

I don't tell you this story to brag or to give you some kind of "evangelism methodology". If anything, I was ill-prepared and not really all that open to it at first (remember, I had headphones on). I have emailed back and forth a few times with Guy #1 and the conversation is still going, but to my knowledge he hasn't made any faith commitment yet, and he may never. Our developing friendship doesn't hinge on whether or not he makes that decision. My point is this: he is an honest, truth seeking person who is interested in the good of the world. His major objections to Christianity were generally based on his experience with Christians that in many ways seemed to be moving the world in the opposite direction. He didn't need to be argued with. He didn't need to have the "correctness" of God and Christianity logically proven to him. He certainly didn't need a high-pressure sales pitch. He needed to be listened to. He needed dialogue. He needed affirmation. He needed perspective and context. Most evangelism methodology would not have allowed for any of this. In a recent email reflecting on our airport conversation, he said this:

" It is refreshing to see, in you, a different take on faith, than the box that I had lumped most evangelical Christians in to. It gives me hope that there must be many more out there like you, searching for their own interpretation of "why" and as you pointed out "what".

We need a whole new crop of open minded thinkers like you if your generation is going to solve the real issues on this Planet. War, mass hunger, rampant diseases such as AIDs, and the biggee Global Warming. Unfortunately for you, our generation was clueless and made it our mantra to "live for today" and to not think of the Planet as an expendable resource.

Best of luck in your life. If you ever write anything that you would like an objective ear, or need a "wise man's" opinion on career or life path, please feel free to contact me. I have been lucky to have had many completely different lives and I love dishing out free advice. "

Though I'm not totally sure why, this exchange has given me hope. God is still working in the world, and he continues to use us in spite of ourselves.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Rachael Ray and Enterprise

This past Monday, the Rachael Ray show aired part one of a two part series on the tornadoes in Enterprise. In my opinion, it was extremely well done and I was impressed with how tactfully and they handled their coverage. If you missed it, you can CLICK HERE to watch video of the entire episode (broken up into several clips). You can also CLICK HERE to watch a shorter clip from the show that tells Katie Strunk's story. It features an interview with her mother. My Dad, Keith Ellis also shows up in this clip.

I've never really watched the Rachael Ray show before, but I have a lot of respect for them for what they have done here.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Anabaptist Roots of the Restoration Movement Part 4 (Hist Theo Paper)

Other Resemblance and Dissonance with the Restoration Movement

The first believer’s baptism of the Reformation was performed when Conrad Grebel baptized George Blaurock in January 21, 1525. Most Restorationists would applaud this monumental, catalytic event were it not for one detail. Blaurock was not baptized by immersion. Though it is difficult for most of us to grasp, the method of baptism simply wasn’t the issue at the time. It can be argued, however, that this event in 1525 set the stage for us to even be able to explore that question. This is a good example of the curious resemblance and dissonance that the Restoration Movement has with the early Swiss Anabaptist movement.

In his letter to Thomas Muntzer on September 5, 1524, Conrad Grebel goes to great lengths to describe this fledgling movement and to even list many of its defining beliefs. In addition to what has already been mentioned, there are many points of both connection and dissonance with the Restoration Movement that can be found in this correspondence. Like the Campbells, Grebel clearly believes that the Church had “fallen away” and sees his movement as seeking to restore simple, primitive Christianity by returning to what is revealed in Scripture. Grebel took this to the extreme of understanding the silence of Scripture on a given subject to be prohibitive. In regards to chanting, he explains to Muntzer:

Whatever we are not taught in definite statements and examples, we are to consider forbidden, as if it were written, “Do not do this, do not chant.” (Harder, 1985, 287)

This certainly resonates with the dominant hermeneutic of CENI (Command, Example and Necessary Inference) in the Restoration movement. In relation to the Lord’s Supper, Grebel contends that there should be no chanting or liturgy, but rather only the reading of relevant Bible passages from the New Testament. Restorationist would resonate with this in some ways, however they would tend to balk when Grebel presumes to list which passages are relevant and appropriate (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and 1 Corinthians 11) and insists that “neither more nor less” than these passages may be used. Grebel also contends for a symbolic understanding of the elements of communion, which most of us would heartily agree with. Additionally, he argues for a common cup, though this should not necessarily be understood as the “one cup/multiple cup” debate from Restoration circles. It most likely has more to do with the dominant practice of the Catholic Church at the time of offering bread to the congregation but reserving the cup only for the priests. In relation to Communion, Grebel makes an additional but interesting point that many from our movement would find odd. He argues that no one should take communion alone as it was a sign of fellowship. Historically, Restoration churches have tended to emphasize personal reflection in this time, and taken the elements of communion to “shut-ins” who are unable to attend our services. It’s an intriguing point, and our movement might benefit from engaging with Grebel’s thought on this. Overall, Grebel outlines a form of patternism that many in the Restoration Movement, particularly Churches of Christ, would resonate with. However’ he applies it more rigorously than most of us in churches of Christ would feel comfortable with, in that he sees the silence of scripture as actually forbidding singing in the assembly. I think I can safely say that many in a tradition that sees a cappella singing as a major part of its identity would have a problem with this. In the broader sense, I can’t imagine any Restoration church wanting to abolish all singing and music from their worship services, nor feeling compelled by scripture to do so.

Grebel also articulates an essentially pacifist position. In his letter to Muntzer, he explains:

Moreover, the gospel and its adherents are not to be protected by the sword, nor [should] they [protect] themselves…True believing Christians are sheep among wolves, sheep for the slaughter. (Harder, 1985, 290)

We know from history that Grebel and his followers actually lived this belief out in the face of the worst kind of persecution, torture, and death. We also know that historically, there have been many major thinkers and leaders in the Restoration Movement who resonated with this sentiment, such as David Lipscomb. Even so, this belief, for the most part, stands in contrast to current Restorationist beliefs on the subject.


It has been my intent to briefly reveal the historical “roots” of restoration thought in early Swiss Anabaptism. I believe that the exploration of our history is vitally important for the life and vitality of our movement. It locates us in our story. It gives context to our thoughts and beliefs. It forces us to look hard at our past and remember both the beautiful and the ugly. It helps us to avoid the same dangers and mistakes that have been made in the past. It gives us hope for the future as we see how the gospel has changed the world again and again in the past.


Allen, Leonard C, and Hughes, Richard T. 1988. Discovering Our Roots: The Ancestry of Churches of Christ. Abilene: ACU Press.

Bromiley, G. W., ed. 1953. Zwingli and Bullinger. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Harder, Leland, ed. 1985. The Sources of Swiss Anabaptism. Scottdale: Herald Press.