Where do we go?

    My good friend Damon Reiss and I will be spending some time reading and writing together on the issues raised in N.T. Wright’s New Testament and the People of God. This text is the first in a five part series that Wright is doing on “Christian Origins and the Question of God”. Wright is understood to be the leading spokesman for the “New Perspective on Paul” and is embraced by many in the “emerging church” as their key theologian (oddly enough he does not really fit there). He has recently stepped out of pastoral ministry to engage full-time in the academy.

    I think my hope for these series of posts is to:

    1. Stimulate our own thinking about root theological issues.
    2. To encourage one another.
    3. To challenge you, the reader, to grab a text, follow along, and engage in the conversation.

    The majority of the opening sections are filled with methodology. For some this is dense and feels somewhat pointless. However, let me suggest a couple of thoughts as to the inherent goodness of clearly stating one’s method:

    1. It provides a common language and framework to evaluate for intellectual integrity.
    2. It provides a look into the assumptions of the work and allows for dialogue at the root level of one’s argument.

    The key to understanding Wright’s method is to understand the problem that he finds all of us bumping into in our post-modern world, he writes, “We must try to combine the pre-modern emphasis on the text as in some sense authoritative, the modern emphasis on the text (and Christianity itself) as irreducibly integrated into history, and irreducibly involved with theology, and the post-modern emphasis on the reading of the text. (27)”

    This first volume, Wright insists, “argues for a particular way of doing history, theology, and literary study in relation to the questions of the first century; it argues for a particular way of understanding first-century Judaism and first-century Christianity; and it offers a preliminary discussion of the meaning of the word ‘god’ within the thought-forms of these groups, and the ways in which such historical and theological study might be of relevance to the modern world.(28)”

    The approach that Wright argues for is what he terms “critical realism”. This approach is contrasted to the positivist and the phenomenalist.

    Positivist: simply looks at the objective reality, tests it, if it doesn’t work its nonsense.

    [caption id=“attachment_1067” align=“aligncenter” width=“300” caption=“Wright, 35”]


    Phenomenalist: I seem to have evidence of an external reality, but I am really only sure of my sense-data.

    [caption id=“attachment_1068” align=“aligncenter” width=“300” caption=“Wright, 36”]


    Critical Realist: initial observation, challenged by critical reflection, but can survive the challenge and speak truly of reality.

    [caption id=“attachment_1069” align=“aligncenter” width=“300” caption=“Wright, 36”]


    Wright’s “critical realism” seeks to survive challenges through what he terms as “verification”. This method has some similarity to the “scientific method” of hypothesis, test, evaluate, etc…However, the difference being that it is tested within the context of worldview. The assumption is that each person has a worldview and seeks to make information “fit” into that worldview. As Wright says, “…there is no such thing as the detached observer. (36)” Therefore, knowledge and understanding comes through the process of “question, hypothesis, test hypothesis” in the context of story-telling which is the fundamental means by which humanity shares information.

    [caption id=“attachment_1070” align=“aligncenter” width=“300” caption=“Wright, 44”]


    I think that Wright’s approach is very helpful. There are two reasons I find this helpful:

    1. It provides for authorial intent because it forces us to take seriously the story/narrative of the original context.
    2. It provides for contemporary reading because we are forced to take our own context seriously.

    The question that remains for me though is this: what determines the authority by which we modify our stories? What do you think? How and where do we give authority to change the stories? What is the basis of authority? Is it possible to find authority outside ourselves and if so on what basis do we argue for that?

    We love Detroit. An Open Letter to Dan Shaugnessy

    Dear Dan,

    In a recent edition of the Boston Globe you had this to say about Detroit:

    Think about it: For the next five weeks, you could live in downtown Boston and your wife could shop on Newbury Street. Or you could live in downtown Detroit, amid the boarded-up buildings and the proverbial skeleton frames of burned-out Chevrolets. Is this really a tough call?

    I would like to commend you on your lack of research. You seem to be looking at pictures from 1968 in the immediate after math of the riots. Do you still think there is a gunman on the campus of Kent State University? Or maybe you believe that the “British are Coming”?

    Of course maybe you are upset that President John F. Kennedy had this to say about Detroit:


    I don’t know what your issue is. I don’t really know why you feel like you have to chastise a proud city. I would invite you to come and see what Detroit is all about. Oddly enough I have not seen a burned out Chevrolet anywhere. From Midtown to Greektown to Downtown all I find are great restaurants, bars, world class hospitals, a world class university, and three great sports franchises.

    When one determines to include the metropolitan area we find that on a weekend in the fall 110,000 people jam into U of M staduim, 70,000 at MSU, 20,000 for a Wings game, 20,000 for a Pistons game, 35,000 for a Tigers game, and 60,000 for Lions game.

    Detroit is proud city with good people. We are a collection of urban and suburban working together for a great future. I suggest, sir, that you come visit before you write about our home again.



    PS — Thanks to Dave Mieksztyn for the following links that you might find interesting:

    http://500coolthings.com/ (from the boys at Professional One)

    I am Proud to Be an American…

    [caption id=“attachment_1048” align=“alignleft” width=“239” caption=“Hilarious!”]


    …where atleast I know I can buy, whatever I want, when I want it, and nobody can stop me.

    There are few lasting images in my mind like that of September 11, 2001 and the days that followed. I remember where I was when I found out the World Trade Center had been attacked. I remember sitting and praying with a team of missionaries in my home for the families, the world, and our country. I remember looking at my son who was a few months old thinking what was his life going to be like?

    Then it happened, the President of the United States finally spoke. He told us that the terrorists would not win. He told us that we can stand up to these people and fight! He told us to do that we must…we must…GO SHOPPING! Fill the malls and buy stuff, show them that they can’t take away your lives!

    In that moment, I thought, “Yes! That’s right we must go on.” Upon nearly a decade of reflection I am becoming more and more distressed by this statement. What distresses me is the fact that it is emblematic of the broken culture within which we live in the West. We are fundamentally consumers. To go shopping and buy whatever we want is our highest freedom. It is what drives us.

    Missional discipleship necessarily conflicts with this. Consider this passage from Jesus’ teaching,

    “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
    “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
    “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
    “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
    “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
    “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
    “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”
    (Matthew 5:3–11 ESV)

    This is not the teaching of a consumerist. This is the teaching of a man who would end up being crucified in any era, any time, and any place. Missional discipleship requires us to take a hard look at the culture around us and begin to understand how WE are being manipulated by a broken world.

    So many who call themselves “Christian” are more interested in the spiritual wares that a church is offering than serving in the church. “Churches” become a clearing house for a shallow spirituality that is designed to attract and lure as opposed to forming the followers of Jesus spiritually. They become analogous to the the fishing lure. It is pretty and attractive and the fish can’t help but take a bite in doing so it finds itself hooked without substance.

    Eugene Peterson in “Tell it Slant” says that this approach is similar to narcotics. You can not live on narcotics yet it is all you want.

    “If Christianity simply mirrors its culture, what is the point of its mission? (Untamed, 109)”

    If we are serious about discipleship we must set aside the trappings of the consumerism that surrounds us and embrace the covenantal communitas of the living God.

    Are you a consumer or a member of community?

    Is it all about you or another?

    Are you asking “what’s in it for me” or “what can I offer”?

    I believe in the Spirit! Well sort of.

    In my experience the evangelical church has a bit of an integrity problem. No, I am not talking about the issues that just popped in your head. I am talking about the Holy Spirit. The last time I checked he was still part of the Godhead, you know the Triune God we Christians believe in? Yeah that guy. Our creeds give him second billing. In seminary our professors tack him on at the end of a course and seemingly never get to him. Yet, it is because of him that Jesus said it was better for us that he return to heaven and be with the Father.

    It is to the person of the Holy Spirit that we now turn in our quest for missional discipleship as outlined for us in “Untamed” by Alan and Debra Hirsch.

    The Hirsch’s spend much time discussing the abuses and problems surrounding our understanding of the Spirit and for that discussion I encourage you to read the book. I want us to focus on the heart of the issue in the chapter which is the carrying out of holiness with the Holy Spirit.

    First, there is a comment made that I think is worth repeating. Holiness is not a list of “don’ts” but of “dos”. This is imperative for us in discipleship. The Holy Spirit is not a cosmic kill joy but one who spurs us to creativity, joy, passion, and mission. He also leads us into truth and reminds us of all that Jesus taught.

    How does this translate into missional discipleship? Check it out…

    Let there be creativity: The Holy Spirit is the Creator, and he lives in us. The on who created the platypus can surely stir our hearts and minds to creative action.

    Let there be risky mission: The Hirsch’s remind us that God is a sending God. He sent the Son and the Spirit. He has also sent the church. The Spirit of God is leading us on the Mission of God. Will we boldly and faithfully follow?

    Let there be communitas: Community without mission is a social gathering. Communitas is developed around a mission. Is your community on mission? If not, then you don’t have communitas and you might be missing out on what the Holy Spirit is doing in your midst.

    Let there be lots of little Jesuses: The process of discipleship is to become like our rabbi, Jesus. If we are not looking more and more like him and there are not lots of “little Jesuses” running around then we are missing the work of the Spirit in our lives.

    Let there be love: Romans 5:5, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” To love well means that we are in step with the Spirit.

    Let there be learning community: The Spirit of God leads us into all truth. We can pursue a quest for knowledge and knowing and ought to because of our relationship with the Spirit.

    Let there be some miracles: Embrace the miracles of God that happen and let it be OK to do so. We can set aside our enlightenment rationalism and rejoice in the working of God.

    Let there be spiritual maturity: The Spirit is the means of spiritual growth, he brings us toward spiritual maturity, as we keep in step with him, we will see this growth.

    Let there be a lot more discernment: To engage in the mission of God requires us to be in step with the Spirit so that we can discern between Spirit-led engagement and foolish absorption into the world.

    Let there be unity around Jesus: I think this makes sense on its own.

    Let there be ecstasy and intimacy: I have been reading some in the life of Abraham Lincoln and his counterparts. I am noticing that there is a great sweep of emotion and intimacy in their writings. This is largely lacking from our communities today. If we are in step with the Spirit then we will begin to experience this more and more.

    Let there be liberation and transformation: As we engage more fully with the Spirit we will experience his transforming power in our lives and in the lives around us. This will be demonstrated through our being freed from the sin that entangles.

    So, which of these do you question? Doubt? Struggle with?

    Your image or mine?

    “If God is not the defining center of our faith, life, and identity, then who or what is? (58)” Now there is a question. The Hirsch’s continue to challenge our thinking in relation to the center of our faith in chapter 2 of “Untamed”. There is nothing more central to who we are than what we worship.

    Missional Discipleship, at its core, is about worship.

    Worship at its core is about the person or object worshiped.

    If we get this wrong then we get it all wrong. The Crusader, the jihadist, the cult leader all do evil because their worship is wrongly placed.

    So, how do we know if we are worshiping rightly? The answer, Israel’s Shema:

    ““Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
    (Deuteronomy 6:4–5 ESV)

    This is the compass by which we set our heading in discipleship because it points us towards the reality and truth of who God is and what God has called us to do. Jesus said it this way,

    “Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.””
    (Mark 12:29–31 ESV)

    Notice his expansion to love your neighbor. If you love God, then you will love your neighbor. It is a simple cause and effect relationship. If you do not love your neighbor, then you do not love God. I think that this modern re-telling of the “Good Samaritan” proves helpful here.

    The Hirsch’s argue that this place of “biblical knowing” comes when right thinking, right acting, and right feeling intersect. The process of getting us to this point is the task of discipleship.

    The issue at stake here remember is worship. The Hirsch’s define it this way, “offering our whole world back to God. (76)” If our lives are not becoming to a greater degree more and more unified under the living God then we are not worshiping.

    My challenge for each of us is to take stock here. Where are you disunified under God in your life? In what ways are you creating God in your image? Where are you missing in the areas of right acting, right thinking, and right feeling?

    I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments…

    Is your Jebus ‘Untamed’?

    Last week I spent some time reading Alan and Debra Hirsch’s newest offering, Untamed. It was so worthwhile that I thought I would take a few days to post a summary of each chapter. While there is nothing necessarily “new” in the book it is a really well done text that brings classic missional discipleship into an updated and fresh rendering.

    We begin with our view of Jesus. The argument that is posited is simple, “Show us your Jesus and we will show you who you are (38).” This is key to our understanding who God is. This is why the Hirsches argue that the foundation of discipleship is Jesus. To know God is to know Jesus. In any way that our picture of Jesus fails so too does our image of God.

    I think that Alan and Deb illustrate this well by asking this simple and yet profound question, “If we had a properly Jewish picture of Jesus would the holocaust have happened? (39)”

    Let that question run around in your mind a moment. Is it possible that had the world rightly pictured Jesus as a Jew and not as a European could it be that the holocaust could have been avoided?

    We must ask this question, do we believe in the Jesus of the Bible or do we believe in a created Jebus of our own imagination?

    This is critical for the task of discipleship because it is Jesus who sets the entire spiritual agenda for his follower. Before continuing in your read, I would encourage to take a moment and consider, who is your Jesus?

    Now we must determine what our agenda for discipleship is. Quite simply it is the pursuit of holiness. This pursuit of holiness is different from what we typically understand. Consider the fact that when Jesus was teaching there was a group of very holy people, the Pharisees. They had cornered the market on holiness, they had all the rules and all the ways to make sure you could stay close God. However, the people feared them and their religion.

    Then this Jesus comes around and his brand of holiness is attracted people, and not just average people, but SINNERS. Yes, his holiness attracted SINNERS, the very people who the Pharisees, those hard hearted harbingers of holiness, despised and avoided. This holy Jesus was accused of being a drunk and a glutton. His brand of holiness is clearly stated in Matthew 5–7, that great sermon on the mount.

    Do you hold to the radical and untamed holiness that Jesus espouses in the sermon?

    What is astounding is that this holiness is based within the context of love, grace, and mercy and yet a radical standard that transcends anything that most of us would consider doable.

    The first task of missional discipleship: right our view of Jesus.

    The second task of mission discipleship: embrace the sermon on the mount as our agenda.

    [vimeo 6302404]

    Unity, Liberty, and Charity

    I am really enjoying the ideas that are being put forth as part of the Big Tent synchroblog. I think that one of the things I am noticing is that there continues to be one thing lacking in all of our posts, a center. It seems that each of us would say “Jesus” is the center. But, which Jesus? Alan and Deb Hirsch in their text Untamed do a great job of pointing out that our understanding of who Jesus is determines what we believe about God. It is here that I think we find either our center or the point at which the Big Tent falls.

    For us to truly be a Big Tent we must find the good and the redemptive in each of the positions that are being voiced. There are too many voices that make it feel as though to enter the tent you must set aside your tradition and set aside your understanding of the faith. Yet, this not the way that the first Big Tent worked itself out. We must realize that we are blazing new ground. We are simply rehashing the same issues that have faced the church since the beginning: What do we make of the stranger? For the first century church this had everything to do with what to do with the Gentile convert.

    The answer was: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 ESV)“ Paul was simply admonished to “remember the poor”, which was the very thing he sought to do. The table was opened. There was freedom to approach God as male and female, Jew and Gentile, and so forth. Today we are still free to approach our God as fundamentalist, neo-reformed, reformed, orthodox, liberal, neo-liberal, emergent, etc… The question is will we embrace a consistent picture of Jesus?

    I would suggest that this is the pen-ultimate question. Who is Jesus? Can we agree on an answer? Is it possible to listen to one another’s perspectives and find the baby in the bath water in each?

    I appreciate the motto of the tradition that I belong to, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

    Of course this requires a definition of what is essential. The bigger the tent the larger the stakes required to secure that tent and keep it up. Here’s my minimal effort at a “Big Tent” list of essentials:

    1. Jesus is the real representation of God and in him alone we find the clearest expression of who God is.
    2. The atonement in all its facets is central to our understanding of identity and mission for the follower of Jesus.
    3. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the essential grounds for our knowledge of Jesus and his way.
    4. The mission of the Church is to follow Jesus as king in his kingdom building movement in all of its ramifications.

    Personally, I ascribe to the Westminster Confession with a couple of exceptions. I also prefer the slightly more robust essentials statement of the EPC. However, I think those four statements might allow for a symphony of harmonious voices to engage together.

    What say you? What are the essentials for a Big Tent Christianity?

    Scattered, Gathered, and Beautiful

    This my third post for the Big Tent Synchroblog dealing with these questions: What are your hopes and dreams for the Church? More specifically, what does “big tent Christianity” mean to you? And what does it look like in your context?

    I want to deal with the first question: What are your hopes and dreams for the Church? In my first post I dealt with a definition of the church ( group of people who communing together in the midst of being on mission with Jesus). So, here’s how I see that playing out in my hopes and dreams.

    I dream about a church that is scattered all over a city, town, or suburb in small, intimate groups that are keenly aware of the needs, heart cry, and passion of their surroundings. These small gatherings would each have an embedded DNA of mission, compassion, and kingdom. These gatherings would be outward looking always seeking to broaden their definition of family by inviting the stranger into their midst. They would gather around a common table fellowshipping together and worshiping through prayer and the word.

    These who are scattered would come together each week and celebrate all that God is doing in their midst. Stories would be shared and the DNA of mission and kingdom reinforced through the preaching of the authoritative Scriptures. The church would be diverse in as much as the communities which are represented in it are diverse.

    I dream about there being a revolutionary effect because the mission grows the kingdom and the pursuit of the King is relentless. Care and concern for the local would drive a vision for the global. The creation would be cared for through a reconnection to local food sources that would require the local culture to be sustainable for its own sake.

    The Church would grow in scope as it scatters further and further birthing new celebratory gatherings and so on and so on. The very nature of DNA requires multiplication and diversity. When it becomes static and loses its diversity then mutations and problems occur.

    For the church to be the beautiful bride of Christ it necessarily must be scattered, gathered, and multiplying.

    Big Tent or Single Issue?

    As I mentioned in my previous post, I am on a study leave this week and a big part of that is preparing for the year that is to come. I am enjoying the time to think and plan. The Big Tent Synchroblog has been stimulating some of my thinking and has been a welcome distraction to punctuate my work chunks.

    My initial response to the blogs is that there seems to be a couple of main issues surfacing in the conversation. What are these issues you ask? It’s the issue of human sexuality. Chad Holtz, and Rachel Held Evans are good examples.The other issue is that of what do we do with those who disagree with us. David Adams, Greg Bolt, Julie Clawson are good representatives of this side of the coin.

    As I think about these two sides of the same coin I begin to wonder if we are missing the key issues that are potentially at stake in this conversation. While we talk about enlarging our tent, I think we are missing the key issue, as Scott Frederickson helpfully points out, taking our tables out of the tent.

    I am growing more and more convinced that as we authentically engage in the lives of people we will change our understanding of the way we understand “who” can belong. People with real relationships with the homeless easily include them in the community. People with real relationships with homosexuals easily include them in the community. People with real relationships with heterosexually broken people easily include them in the community. The list could go on…

    The issue that continues to rise to the forefront of my mind is this: Who we know determines who we love. The unknown creates fear. To broaden the “tent” we must broaden our relationships. As we broaden our relationships we will constantly have to return to the question of grace and what it means to embrace those who “live in a broken world with broken relationships and bad records”.

    Check out the blogs and let me know what you think…

    I hope that as the week continues we will see conversations move from our personal “hot button issues” to grand visions of a unified body of Jesus.

    Big Tent Christianity 1

    So, I am a day late to the Big Tent Christiaity Synchroblog. Here is the theme that we will be discussing this week: What are your hopes and dreams for the Church? More specifically, what does “big tent Christianity” mean to you? And what does it look like in your context? Oddly enough I am in the midst of a study leave this week and one of the questions my counter part in ministry asked me to wrestle with was, “What are your hopes and dreams for the Church?” Brilliant!

    What are your hopes and dreams for the church?

    I think that before I can answer that question I need to ask a more fundamental question. What is the church? There are so many definitions running around that it’s hard to keep up. It used to be (back in the 50s in America) that the “church” was simply those folks who showed up and sat in their pew on a Sunday morning. Now we have “communities” and “networks” and “friends” and “who knows what else”. So, I don’t think I can express my dreams for the church until I can have some working definition of what the “church” really is.

    I want to follow most of those before me and say that the church is broken up into two large parts, the church visible and the church invisible or universal. I hold to a robust sovereignty of God and so I leave the latter to mystery, I am more concerned with the former. The definition that I want to posit for the “church” is a group of people who communing together in the midst of being on mission with Jesus.

    So, let’s break that down. “A group of people”: this is necessary because following Jesus does not call people to be alone on mission. He calls them to be a part of his body, family, and bride. I think you can get a good sense of this from this clip:


    The body of Christ ought be a collection of people of who speak with one voice because they are centered on one man and pursuing the same mission.

    “Communing together”. Alan Hirsch calls this “Communitas”. Whatever you want to call it, I think that the church must go beyond community to communing. This is the active lived life of a group of people together. They are engaged with one another sharing the mission, life, and life of Jesus. They are practicing the sacraments together (communion and baptism). This is a group of people who worship around a common table and as they commune with Jesus through the Spirit they find themselves drawn to one another.

    “ In the midst of being on mission with Jesus”. A group of people doing “community” does not the church make. They must be on mission with Jesus. There is no other mission that they are to be on. They are to be on Jesus’ mission. This means that they are glocally concerned with living revolutionary lives calling those around them into this mission. It is interesting that Jesus’ invitation was always to follow him. This following was at its core an invitation to join him in his mission.

    So, that’s my definition. What do you think? Later, I will post some comments on the other blogs in the discussion. Tomorrow, I will write about my dream for the church.

    Silence is Golden

    [caption id=“attachment_983” align=“alignleft” width=“288” caption=“I love that saying!”]


    I have been conspicuously absent in writing recently. This is partly due to a technical glitch when the most recent Wordpress version was installed (which broke me of the writing habit), this is partly due to a season of busyness, and this is partly due to a new season of learning. I want to finish my posts on youth theology and will hopefully soon. However, I am wrestling through some things in my relationship with the Maker and as a result, silence.

    Something is coming but I can’t put my finger on it. It’s a weird season. Bear with me and hopefully when clarity comes you will be there with me.

    Turn. Turn. Turn. No, not that song.

    In Matthew 18:3 Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

    The word for turn is straphēte. The idea here is “to experience an inward change, turn, change (BDAG)”. Jesus is not calling them to “repent”, in Matthew that idea is expressed by the word, metanoeō. However, he is calling them to change. They must “turn”. The disciples must experience an inward change. From the inside out they must become something different.

    Consider where we are in the life and ministry and Jesus. We are near the end. Jesus has set his face to Jerusalem, he is going to be sacrificed. These disciples were a group of men who were about have their lives changed dramatically. They are concerned who is going to be the greatest in the kingdom and Jesus calls them to change.

    They are still proud, arrogant, and haughty. They refuse to ask for help. The disciples believe that they know it all. There is not an answer they don’t know other than “who is the greatest”. They sounds like typical adolescents. These teenagers had become so caught up in themselves that Jesus called them to change.

    I think that the issue becomes more clear when we look at verse 4, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” There is a juxtaposition between the disciples question of “greatness” over and against the “humility” of the child. To get there one has to have an inward change.


    Jesus simply calls them to turn. Turn to away from themselves to humility.

    This is the beauty of Jesus’ call turn. It is never empty. It is always to something. To act in humility, to be humble is a state of heart and soul. Most children I know are humble. They ask for help. They ask “why”. They know that they don’t know. They are interested but rarely self-interested.

    I think we must all face this call to “turn”. I know I do. How about you? In what ways do you need to turn?

    Kids are annoying, sniveling, little…or Theology of Youth Pt. 1

    “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

    “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
    (Matthew 18:1–6 ESV)

    In our churches today children and youth are the silent ones. They are dropped off in their wings of a church for two hours so Mom and Dad can “worship in peace”. The harried teachers are expected to form these young spiritually to make them into mature Christians. Why? I think it is because we do not have a comprehensive understanding of youth and children from a scriptural stand point.

    Let’s consider this statement by Jesus (the “founder and perfecter of our faith”) from Matthew 18. This is one of those passages that should cause to stop and think about things for a moment. In the first century children were treated similarly to ours only without the cool cartoon characters and ping pong tables. They were largely considered an inconvenience until they could be productive adults in the synagogue and society.

    Jesus says that one who has become like a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. What does this mean? I think that we have a hard time understanding this because we push our kids to the fringes of our communities of worship. I love the fact that the Presbyterian tradition includes infant baptism because it drives home the reality that children are participatory members of the community of faith. While this is what we ought to be embracing, we do not. We are going to have a hard time knowing and understanding what it means to be a child in the kingdom when we do not worship with them.

    A child asks questions, incessantly. A child laughs when things are funny. A child laughs when things are inappropriate. A child can not sit still. A child finds mystery, wonder, and awe in the smallest of things (just watch one looking at the dust particles in a ray of sunlight sometime). A child believes their dad when he tells them something. A child loves the outsider. A child trusts. A child has fun. A child dances to the beat. A child loves to read. A child loves.

    Unfortunately these things about children annoy us. We find them disruptive. “A child is to be seen not heard.“

    It gets worse, they get pimples and hormones. They get attitudes and they question everything. They seek for identity and authenticity. They no longer take simple answers to complex questions. They grow and change and develop. They look weird. They have awkward stages.

    Unfortunately these things about growing children annoy us. We find them disruptive.

    Jesus is the great subversive. He graciously embraces the fringes and broken. Those without identity he shows them who they are. So, the question is will you embrace the child?

    Our next post will focus on one word: “turn”.

    Theology of Youth

    Whitney said, “I believe the children our future…” I think that song begins to run through the minds and hearts of people when they begin to hear people talk about children or youth in the church. They immediately think “future”. Oddly enough many of us ignore the second line, “Teach them well and let them lead the way.” What would happen if the children led the way?

    I think that we might play more. I think that we might laugh more. I think that we might collapse at the end of each day in joyful exhaustion more often. I think that we might smile more.

    It is interesting is it not that we as the Christian church have largely removed leadership from the hands of the young. Is it not also interesting that the great revivals in the history of the church have often been led by the young? Do we wonder why we have not seen a great revival in this generation? Could it be that our understanding of the role of children and youth has become anemic?

    I am going to take a couple of posts to walk through the references in Matthew 18, 19 (and parallels) and Proverbs 22 to children with the goal of developing some type of “Theology of Youth”. What role do they play in the community of faith? What kind of leadership should we give to them? What does is it look like to embrace children and youth in the context of the church community?


    Review: Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola

    http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=FFFFFF&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=danielmroseco-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&asins=0849946018 Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, published by Thomas Nelson. Jesus Manifesto brings Jesus to the front and center. Sweet and Viola seek to highlight Jesus’ sovereignty and supremacy. This is a great little text that is worth the read. I found it to be very devotional and it met its goal of bringing Jesus front and center. It is always good to be reminded of the centrality of Jesus to the life of the believer.

    This not a book that wows you. There is nothing controversial or new. It is a book that you read and then you find yourself thinking about an illustration from it. It is a book you read and then find yourself mulling over some description of Jesus. It is a book you read and then find yourself quoting it to someone else in conversation.

    The only thing that twinged me as a downside was from the introduction. The comment made there is, “So what is Christianity? It is Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less. (xxii)” I agree that Jesus is central to the Christian. However, to say that Jesus is the full sum of the Christian faith is not exactly accurate. I would suggest that this be edited to highlighting his centrality. This statement by Sweet and Viola I think pushes down toward the problematic view of “me and Jesus” that is predominant in our post-modern world.

    Overall: grab the book. It’s always worth the time remind ourselves how incredibly great Jesus is.

    Dude, that ain’t cool. Objections answered.

    It has been difficult to post recently as life and ministry have been very busy and margin continues to get swallowed up. However, writing is a necessary output for my own spiritual formation, so I am taking some steps to build this into my schedule. Thanks to all of you who have inquired as to the missing blog posts in your RSS feeds. It does my heart good to know that both of you are reading this blog.

    Infant baptism has fallen by the wayside in much of evangelical Christianity. So, when you post about this topic you get some good conversation via tweets and different formats where some great questions are asked. I wanted to answer these objections and questions in a post.

    1. What about those kids who get baptized and don’t walk with God? That’s a very good question. I think that the first thing is to realize that God is on a different time frame than we are. Just because someone has not yet responded to the gospel does not mean they won’t. The sacrament is not a guarantee to faith. Infant baptism provides an opportunity for the people of God to walk along and trust him to save this child. This is about God not about us. Finally, the sacrament is also to show that the child of believing parents is a member of the covenantal community and that we can look forward in hope that they will publicly profess their faith. (This is edited, thanks to Laura who helped clarify some poor logic in the comments below.)
    2. I heard that infant baptism is believed to actually give salvation to the infant, is that true? This is true or false depending on your tradition. The two major divisions are catholic and protestant. The catholic understanding of the sacraments is very different than that of the protestant tradition. The catholic understanding of the sacraments is that they procure grace for you. The protestant understanding is that the sacraments are a means to experiencing grace. This means that in the protestant tradition salvation is not procured by infant baptism. It is an external promise that will some day become an internal reality. It is a marking that the children of believing parents are members of the covenant community of faith. In baptist traditions children are not part of the community of the church but are viewed as outsiders until they “make profession of faith”. This is in stark contrast to what we see in the Scriptures where children have always been included in the community of faith. So, infant baptism does not secure salvation but inclusion in the community of faith with the promise of future salvation.
    3. Should I get re-baptized now that I have trusted Christ and am no longer a part of a tradition that does infant baptism? I would say, “By no means!” Why? This is because the day you were baptized there was a promise made over you by God. He has made good on this promise. If you choose to re-baptize then you are saying that you do not care about the fact God has made good on his promise. I would argue that you should praise God for his faithfulness and rejoice with those around you about how God saved you and did so in covenantal faithfulness to you.

    I am sure there are more objections. These are the one that seemed to come up the most. Please post others in the comments so that we can dialogue about them.

    You did what to your baby?

    I remember the day well. It was a Friday night, November 2001, the night before Michigan was to play the evil Ohio State Buckeyes. Ethan, our firstborn, was reclining in the stroller and I was chatting it up with other college missionaries. Then it slipped (well it did not actually slip, I was waiting for just right the time), we had baptized Ethan, AS AN INFANT! It was pretty funny when almost everyone within about a 30 foot radius (maybe I said it a little louder than I anticipated) stopped talking and stared at me with a dumbfounded look. I think it might have been a world record for chins on the ground at one time.

    In the world of parachurch ministries the idea of infant is relatively foreign. It is akin to saying that you are going to sew a third arm to your baby. Why? I think it’s because the dispensational and baptist movement has become quite pervasive in many parts of American Christendom. Presbyterianism, Methodism, Lutheranism, and other American denominations that practiced the historic sacrament of infant baptism moved toward liberalism and removed themselves from the public life of the church. Their conservative counterparts are small and as a result lost influence in the general Christian world.

    This has resulted in a loss of covenantal theology and the biblical doctrine of infant baptism. This is one of the great tragedies that the church has faced. This loss is tragic is because it means that there is a loss of vision for the emerging generations. They have simply become a missionary object as opposed to valued members of the community who need to be discipled and cared for.

    Why did we baptise our kids? We baptized them because they are members of the community of faith. We baptized them because we believe that God is going to draw them to himself. We baptized them because we believe that this promise is visionary for their life. We baptized them because we believe that the people of God are part of our family and that they have a responsibility to be a part of these kids lives.

    Let’s go swimming, I promise.

    It’s been about two weeks since I last wrote. I have missed the discipline of writing and thinking but I simply have not had the margin to write. Tonight it is quiet and I have been thinking about baptism, covenant, and the blessing that God gives. To that I end I want to begin my series of posts on baptism with some discussion of covenant because I believe that it informs our understanding of baptism.

    What is a covenant? This is a bad question. We are talking about covenant in a very specific sense and not in a general way. We are not talking about covenant between people and people or even god to god. No, we are talking about God covenanting with his people. So, what does this divine covenant look like? It is in its most basic understanding a suzerain treaty. You can read a fantastic description here.

    What is unique about the divine covenant is that God’s covenant of grace is one way. He sets the requirements and meets the requirements in himself. In the covenant of works man was required to merit favor and ultimately failed. God was gracious and provided the Law to act as a guardian for his people (Galatians 3:24) until Christ came and fulfilled the conditions of the covenant of grace. He was the embodiment of the people of God and his faithfulness as our federal head is given to us.

    So, there are two covenants. The covenant of grace and the covenant of works. Both are gracious in that they are implemented by God to provide a means for his people to have relationship with him. In Hebrews 7 and 8 we find that the people of God failed in their responsibility in the covenant of works but Christ was faithful in the covenant of grace.

    Baptism then must be understood in light of this reality. A few of the questions that I want to explore in future posts are how does baptism function as a means of the covenant of grace? What are the effects of baptism? What is the role of baptism in the identity of formation fo the people of God?

    Communion and Faith

    One day not very long ago my son and I were sitting in the gymnasanctatorium at our church readying for worship to begin. That particular morning was a communion sunday and the table was front and center and covered. For a 6 or 7 year old boy anything covered with a sheet is instantly mysterious and requires investigation.

    “Dad, what’s under that sheet?”

    “Communion son.”

    “What’s communion?”

    “It’s when we celebrate Jesus dying on the cross and rising again.”

    “Yeah, but what’s under the sheet?”

    “Juice and crackers.”

    “Really? Do I get some?”



    “Because the juice and crackers are symbols for Jesus’ death and resurrection and the only people who get to eat them are those who believe in Jesus.”

    “I believe in Jesus.”

    “You do?”

    “I do.”

    “Well, you have to meet with Pastor Doug and talk to him about the fact that you believe in Jesus and what that means.”

    “I do?”


    “I can’t do that, I would be too scared.”

    “Well, then you’re not ready for communion.”


    And so began a conversation about Jesus that lasted a few months until Ethan was ready to proclaim his faith and take communion. It was a remarkable period of time. Communion is a means of grace. The very act of taking communion leads us to the place where we actually talk about what Jesus did. In our tradition we “fence” the table and encourage those who don’t know Christ to allow the elements to pass. This is purposeful. It opens the conversation.

    Why use a tract alone when the table is set and ready?

    When’s a meal not a meal?

    I am often times amazed at the fact that when the early followers of Christ came together they always gathered around a table. This table was where they would eat and enjoy the presence of one another and Jesus. It is remarkable when you think about the difference that most of us find ourselves in when we gather with other followers. Too often the discussion turns to an us versus them situation where we are worshiping our proper understanding of theology as opposed to the risen Christ.

    What I love about the mystery of the Lord’s table is that it shapes us and reminds us of our in-Christness. When we fellowship at this table it is for the one who claims Jesus as Lord. When we gather the walls melt between us. We are caught up in the mystery and beauty of grace. We are found out to be sinners who need a savior and we are found to be a part of a community of forgiven saints.

    The table reminds us of our identity, of who we actually are. Consider the words that St. Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 11:23–26,

    23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

    How does these brief words of institution shape us?

    1. They remind us that Jesus suffered (he was betrayed and his body was broken).
    2. They remind us that Jesus suffered for us (his was for us).
    3. They remind us that Jesus offered a new covenant (one of grace, mercy, and forgiveness).
    4. They remind us that Jesus calls to a proclamation of his death.

    Consider communities of people in the way of following Christ who grabbed hold of these truths and lived them daily? What would that look like? How might that bring transformation to themselves (1–3) and those near them (4)?

    The supper reminds us that we are a people who for whom one suffered, died, offers a new way, and sends us to invite others in. This is us. This is a piece of what it means to be in-Christ.

    When is a meal not a meal? When it’s a transformer.

    Gluten-free: BRILLIANT!

    The first Sunday of every month is our community’s traditional time to celebrate the Lord’s Table. It probably looks like any other communion celebration, but it does not sound like any other I have been a part of. As a church leadership team we found that there were a growing number of people who could not participate in communion due to gluten allergies. One of our resourceful volunteers found gluten-free “communion wafers”.

    I love these things. They crunch like it’s nobody’s business and it is BRILLIANT!

    Why? Quite simply when we take the “bread” and eat you know you are doing it with everyone else. Our Gymnasanctatorium has painfully bad acoustics and so when 150 or so people go crunching into the gluten-free wafer it ignites a sound that you feel in your chest. You know that you are not alone. You know that you are with others and they are with you. It is an audible reminder that sharing the Lord’s Supper is something you do in community.

    We live in a day where community is a buzzword as opposed to a reality. We have air conditioning, TV, and attached garages, all of which are designed to keep us apart from other people in the name of “comfort”. It is comfortable because when I, the chief of sinners, interact with other people I make mistakes and I say things that hurt them. Isolation protects me from this. It is comfortable.

    The communion table is supposed to draw us out from isolation into communion with one another. It is a time for us to be caught up in the spiritual mystery and grace of the supper where we remember Jesus and what he has done for us. It is a time for us to celebrate together the beauty and magnitude of the grace we have in Jesus. It is to shape us and mold us and change our identity and help us remember anew the reality of our being in-Christ together.

    A gluten-free wafer — The sound of community and communion.

    Cannibal? Yes, yes, I am.

    The early church was accused of being cannibalistic. They were thought to be such because they feasted on the body and blood of Jesus the Christ. This was an unthinkable ritual and act. It was seen as barbaric and it was a stumbling block to the world around them. The Eucharist split churches in the 1700s and was a cause in Jonathan Edwards being released from his position in Northampton.

    Today communion is a mundane and humdrum ritual that nobody really notices. This is a tragedy.

    The celebration of the Eucharist, the Lord’s Table, the Lord’s Supper, Communion is one of the most beautiful acts that we as Christians get to participate in. When we do we experience the presence of Christ and join with the great of cloud of witnesses in a spiritual act that bonds us as the body of Christ. How can this astounding and beautiful means of grace become something that is largely ignored?

    My senior year at Central Michigan University as new church was planted in Mt. Pleasant, MI. This church was unlike any I had ever seen. It met in an airplane hangar. Yes, that’s right an airplane hangar. The seats were couches and plastic chairs. The room was dimly lit and cold in the winter. There was nothing routine about this church. It was determined that the celebration of the Eucharist would occur whenever it seemed right to “us and the Holy Spirit.”

    The first time that Amy and I celebrated communion there we were amazed. I was moved to the core of my being and changed that evening. The bread was homemade without yeast and the juice was in a 64 oz containers next to a stack of 12 oz cups. Barry, the pastor, stood and read 1 Corinthians 11:23–26. Then he said (atleast this is how I remember it), “This was supper. It was a meal that was shared. Jesus is not stingy in his grace or his mercy. Come, take, eat to your fill and drink till your thirst is quenched. Seconds, thirds, fourths, whatever you need Jesus will provide. Come, taste and see that the Lord is good.” We partook and we were filled.

    I was left in wonder and awe. This was a far cry from the thimble of juice and crumb of bread that I was used to. We celebrated together the beauty and wonder of the crucifixion and resurrection. We marveled in the grace of God. We were a community perfectly united in a feast of grace. The bread was warm and smelled wonderfully. The juice was cold and refreshing.

    I was changed.

    I was left in awe.

    I got lost and found in the mystery and limitlessness of God’s goodness.

    I feasted that night on the body and blood. That night I became a cannibal and was forever changed.

    Are you a cannibal?

    For Whom the Bell Tolls or Big Ben’s Travesty

    I am a sports guy. I love Sportscenter and follow the NFL, MLB, and NHL. I have always admired the way that the Pittsburgh Steelers have handled their business. I am becoming more and more impressed with the way that Roger Goodell the commissioner of the NFL is conducting his.

    Unless you have been living under a rock you know that Ben Roethlisberger has been suspended by the NFL under its player conduct policy. Many of the sports talking heads are decrying this as “legislating morality”. I think that there is a different issue here though. This is the first time that the NFL has suspended someone who has not been brought up on criminal charges. The letter that Goodell sent was direct and clear. The behavior of this player falls outside the standards that the NFL desires to hold its players too.

    I think that what we have in this instance is not a “legislation of morality”. It is simply a private company stating that it believes working for it is a privilege and that there is an expectation of a certain standard of behavior. Accountability is something that has been largely in our society at large. We are offended by the concept because it assumes that there is a right way and a wrong way to conduct oneself. This then requires that there is a standard or an authority by which we will be judged. To be judged is immoral.

    The hypocrisy of the talking heads is amazing. When a religious leader is found to be immoral the culture screams for punishment. When an athlete is found to immoral the culture screams for forgiveness. It seems that what we need is integrity in our judgment of public figures.

    Roger Goodell is doing things right. It is an honor to play a boys game for millions of dollars. Those who work for the NFL should be held to a higher standard and that standard is rightly determined by the league.

    What about the church? Are we doing things right? What can we learn from Goodell and the NFL? I think that we can learn much if we would just open our eyes. Hit me up in the comments with thoughts about what the church can learn, if anything.

    Water and Wine…

    Over the next handful of days I want to tease out some thoughts on the sacraments. In the Protestant tradition we have two sacraments: baptism and the eucharist. I think that these two means of grace are essential for the church today and that they have been largely ignored or abused. The sacraments do not bring salvation. They are however means of grace.

    This means quite simply that we experience something beautiful, authentic, and Christ-centered in their celebration. In an age where we talk about “multi-sensory” preaching and object lessons it is as if we have forgotten the beauty and raw power that is to be found in these ancient acts that tie us to “the great cloud of witnesses”.

    A couple of years ago I wrote a few posts on these issues. One of them was an argument for paedobaptism and I would encourage you check it out. I also wrote a post on communion that lays out some initial thoughts and in the comments a friend suggested that I dig deeper. I hope these next days my metaphorical shovel will reach a new depth.

    Before writing in earnest I want to say thanks to Eugene Peterson (not that he’ll ever read this). His text, Christ Plays in 10,000 Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology has been really helpful in shaping some of my thoughts about both baptism and communion. When possible I will give him credit but so much of what he has written has become a part of my own views and sometimes I may not be sure where his thoughts begin and mine end.

    To kick things off, I am curious do you remember your first communion? What was it like? Did it mean anything to you?

    It’s MY RIGHT!

    “Just because something is technically legal doesn’t mean that it’s spiritually appropriate. If I went around doing whatever I thought I could get by with, I’d be a slave to my whims.” — Eugene Peterson

    The refrain, “It’s my right!” rings our everywhere today in our culture. Whether it’s in demand of entitlements or freedom from regulation. Regardless, our “rights” are something that we constantly demand. The quote from Peterson is actually 1 Corinthians 6:12 from the Message. This verse will be the final one that we look in our conversation about freedom and the law. It is used almost always to support the freedom of a person and their use of freedom. Based on Peterson’s rendering we are left scratching our heads as to “why?”

    Well, consider the traditional translation from the ESV, “”All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.“

    So, when we read this often we think, “Yes, I can do anything!” This leads us to a place of license. However, Peterson’s rendering provides us with the correct sense. There are things that we should not do because they harm us spiritually. 1 Corinthians 6–9 is a fascinating section of Scripture where Paul lays out many issues regarding freedom. To work through all of it would be too lengthy. So here are a couple of bullet points:

    • Paul wants the Corinthians to realize that there is more to life than what they see. Their bodies are going to be resurrected and bought with a price. Freedom is limited by the statement, “So glorify God in you body. (6:20)”
    • Freedom is determined by knowledge of God (8:1–2).
    • Freedom is limited by concern for the brother’s conscience (8:12)
    • The freedom which Paul is directly dealing with is in regards to food laws (6–8)
    • Freedom in relation to personal association is doggedly protected (9:19–23)
    • Freedom is determined by ones own understanding of the gospel (9:19)

    In short, we have no “rights”. We cannot do anything we want because we are constrained by love for our brothers. We cannot do anything we want because we are constrained by love for our Savior. We cannot do anything we want because we are constrained by our desire to glorify God.

    However, we are also free to love well. To enjoy the creation. To engage the culture in all its fullness. We are free to “become all things to all people” without fear of condemnation. We are free to speak the language of the common man and to enter into his world.

    I think that as we close this conversation about freedom and law we must realize that in Christ we are free. The measure that we use this freedom is direct correlation to our understanding of grace. If we are free, really free, then we can also choose to protect the weaker brother. We are also to help one another grow in knowledge and experience of the gospel.

← Newer Posts Older Posts →