Deep Church 3

Brazos – Day Glo

I hope you appreciated Belcher’s comments on unity and new ecumenism as much as I did.  He repeatedly referenced this idea of the “unity of the Gospel,” which he says is embodied in the classic Christian Creeds.  Of course, not being familiar with the Creeds could pose something of a problem for us.  While I have yet to memorize even the shortest of them, there have been times when I was more familiar with them than I am right now.  Reading over them again, I was reminded of few things.

First, they are simple.  With the possible exception of the Athanasian Creed (I’ll get to its strengths in a minute), they say what they need to say and no more.  They don’t get bogged down in side issues, which of course is the point – both of the Creeds and Belcher’s praise of them.  They deal with what are “core” beliefs of the faith.

Second, they are clear.  There is very little ambiguity in them.  While I was somewhat amused by repetitiveness of the Athanasian Creed, you have to admit…  it is painstakingly clear.

But third, and perhaps most striking, they are radically Trinitarian.  Really, the subject of another post entirely, but it is interesting that the early Christian Fathers put such an emphasis on this biblical truth.  Lose sight of the complexity and mystery of the Trinity, and everything begins to unravel.

Ok, there’s my two-bits.  How about you?  Do you see a “new ecumenism” taking shape?  Is it one that you see as defined by this two-tier idea of inclusive commitment to the “top tier” truths?  What role do creedal confessions play in the church today?  What is your favorite creed?  Favorite ice cream flavor?  Favorite Thanksgiving food?

Word Pictures

The Swell Season – Star Star

A little while back, I read Word Pictures: Knowing God Through Story and Imagination by Brian Godawa.  Don’t let the cover or the title fool you.  On first impressions, one might be led to believe that it is artsy-heavy and theology-lite.  The author’s involvement in the movie industry might also (mis)lead one to believe that as well.

It ain’t.  He is up on his theology and does a masterful job synthesizing a wealth of biblical, cultural, and historical information.  Of course, as with any book there are shortcomings, and I would welcome the opportunity (as unlikely as it seems) to clarify some points with him.  Nonetheless, his main point is taken well enough.  The modern church has relied too heavily on propositional truth as enshrined in systematic theologies and the like, and not enough on story, narrative, imagery, and icon.

While you can head HERE to read the first chapter, this quote should give the flavor of the book…

“The net effect of this virtual ignoring of the theological value of art is the implicit devaluing of it.  As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words, and a systematic theology without a developed aesthetic is an implicit sign of an underlying belief that beauty is not an essential part of theology.”

So again, while there are times when he overstates his case and fails to take certain factors into account, I am in general agreement that we stand to lose much when the arts (in their manifold expression) are ignored.  This book is for anyone who loves the arts, the Word, and fairly weighty theology.

Deep Church 2

One of the things this chapter does well is identifying the concerns associated with the “emerging” church.  So which (if any) of the protests are ones that you share as well?

Just so you don’t have to go back and look them up, here they are again…

1) Captivity to Enlightenment Rationalism
2) A narrow view of salvation
3) Belief before belonging
4) Uncontextualized worship
5) Ineffective preaching
6) Weak ecclessiology
7) Tribalism

Ok, even as I type, I am recognizing that some of this sounds fairly esoteric.  Let’s try to flesh it out.

Deep Church 1

Ok, so here we go.  I’m going to throw out several questions that came to mind as I was reading the introduction and first chapter. Feel free to answer any, all, none, others, or ask entirely different questions.

In the Introduction, Belcher paints a picture of the rift that has and opened between the “Traditional” and “Emergent” church.

How aware are you of this growing division?
Would you identify yourself as leaning more traditional or more emerging?
How have you been affected (if at all) by the in-fighting?
Do you think Belcher’s broad strokes paint a fair picture of the current state of evangelicalism? Would you describe it any differently?

In chapter 1, Belcher briefly recounts his own story and relationship with the church.

How has your history with church influenced where you find yourself in relation to these two poles within (North American Evangelical) Christianity today?

Belcher describes a strange sense of being both an insider in the emerging movement and yet at times feeling alienated from (an “outsider’) as well.

Can you identify in any way with that “insider”/”outsider” feeling as it relates to church?

Deep Church… Almost

Ok, so I think about a dozen people or so are committed to reading this book together.  We are shooting for having our first “discussion” next Monday (11/16).  Just in case, you haven’t gotten your hands on the book yet, and can’t wait to dive in, here’s a LINK to the intro and first chapter.

Once again, I hope that there isn’t uniform agreement among all of us reading.  I’m not one who likes to argue just for the sake of arguing (despite what my beloved might say), but it will be sort of boring if we are all just nodding our heads ‘yes’ from week to week.  But on the flip side, I think it goes without saying, that we should strive to respect each others’ opinions (including the author’s).  Sometimes electronic discourse creates an environment in which people say things that they might not normally if they were face to face with a person.   Ok, you get it.

Read with me?

Ok, so I thought I’d try something different around here.  Instead of me telling you what I am reading or have read lately, I thought it might be interesting to read something together.  An online book club if you will.  Here’s how it would work.

Step 1: Give everyone a chance to acquire the book.

Step 2: Establish some reasonable reading schedule.  Maybe a chapter each week.

Step 3: Begin reading it.

Step 4: Weekly post some thoughts, questions, or reflections from the chapter.

Step 5: And here’s the all important part…  Everyone reading the book joins in the online conversation.

Simple enough.  So the book I had in mind is Deep Church by Jim Belcher.  I’ll be honest, I know next to nothing about the book.

I like the front cover.  I read the back cover.  It is endorsed by people who I am drawn to…  and some that I’m not.  But I know that the author (or publisher) is speaking my language when he says,

“Deep church looks like – a missional church committed to both tradition and culture, valuing innovation in worship, arts and community but also creeds and confessions.”

My hope isn’t so much that we’ll all be convinced that his perspective is the “right” one.  Rather, I’m hoping that through reading this book together we’ll begin to ask some of the right sorts of questions concerning what it means to faithfully live out our calling as the people of God today.

So if it looks interesting to you, and you would like a place to think out loud about what you are reading and thinking, then pick up a copy and we’ll get started in a couple weeks.  If you are local and want me to order a copy for you, let me know by November 2nd.

I’ll shoot for having the first post up on November 16th.

If you aren’t feeling the whole “emerging-church-dialogue” thing, then I’m also reading THIS and THAT.  I’d be happy to talk about them too.

Surprised By Hope… Again.

Mumford and Sons – Roll Away Your Stone

I take it back.  In my little blurb on this book a few posts back, I suggested that this wouldn’t be a very good introduction to N. T. Wright’s thinking.  I was wrong.  It may be the perfect book for that purpose.  I read a bit and thought that it was going to be a toned down version of his exceptionally long treatment life after death and the Christian understanding of resurrection.  It is that, but so much more.

Who should read this book?  Anyone who cares about understanding what the New Testament teaches about life after death.  I think even the relatively informed Christian will have their thinking on this subject clarified.  Anyone who wants to understand the gospel and salvation better.  Anyone who wants to understand the mission of the church more fully in terms of the resurrection.  Anyone who tires of simplistic reductions of the Christian faith that tend to rely more on categories of Greek philosophy than the story that emerges from the pages of Scripture.

Here are a few gems…

[A] feature of many communities both in the postindustrial West and many of the poorer parts of the world is ugliness.  True, some communities manage to sustain levels of art and music, often rooted in folk culture, which bring a richness even to the most poverty-stricken areas.  But the shoulder-shrugging, functionalism of postwar architecture, coupled with the passivity born of decades of television, has meant that for many people the world appears to offer little but bleak urban landscapes, on the one hand, and tawdry entertainment, on the other.  And when people cease to be surrounded by beauty, they cease to hope.  They internalize the message of their eyes and ears, the message that whispers that they are not worth very much, that they are in effect less than fully human.

Ok, after you have wrapped your brain around that one, here’s another…

The power of the gospel lies not in the offer of a new spirituality or religious experience, not in the threat of hellfire (certainly not in the threat of being “left behind”), which can be removed if only the hearer checks this box, says this prayer, raises a hand, or whatever, but in the powerful announcement that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God’s new world has begun.


As far as I can see, the major task that faces us in our generation, corresponding to the issue of slavery two centuries ago, is that of the massive economic imbalance of the world, whose major symptom is the ridiculous and unpayable Third World debt … I simply want to record my conviction that this is the number one moral issue of our day.  Sex matters enormously, but global injustice matters far, far more.

But in order to understand the context of statements like these, one needs to wade through ones like this…

It is love that believes the resurrection.  “Simon, son of John,” says Jesus, “do you love me?”  There is a whole world in that question, a world of personal invitation and challenge, of the remaking of a human being after disloyalty and disaster, of the refashioning of epistemology itself, the question of how we know things, to correspond to the new ontology, the question of what reality consists of.

I think I’ve said this before, but there is no one writing today who more clearly expresses my own feelings, thoughts, misgivings, and hopes.  While he begins with developing our understanding of the resurrection, he ends up leaving no stone unturned.  Because he (and I) believe just that…  the resurrection changes everything.

better words

Tonight, I was engaged in one of my main roles as a pastor… teaching.  And it wasn’t on any ordinary run-of-the-mill topic either.  It was on the rather thorny issue of “How can a good all-powerful God exist when there is so much evil and suffering in the world?”  Envying me yet?

Frequently after teaching, I will come across someone who says in writing the same thing I say – but better. Rarely though does that discovery come so quickly. So, not two hours later, I read from N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope the following:

If creation was a work of love, it must have involved the creation of something other than God.  That same love then allows creation to be itself, sustaining it in providence and wisdom but not overpowering it.  Logic cannot comprehend love; so much the worse for logic.

Yeah, what he said.

Three Views Revisited

Julie Peel – Unfold

A few days ago, I mentioned that I was reading a book entitled Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old.  I’m done now and wanted to make some reflections on the book and subject.  So be forewarned…  boring theology talk is about to commence.  I use this blog for a variety of purposes, one of which is to think out loud.  Therefore, you may want to simply click ‘play’ on the song above and enjoy a little background music while you go do something else on the internets.

First, a few preliminary comments on the strategy of the book.  It is a part of a series called Counterpoints which covers a wide variety of topics, including the Rapture, hell, women in ministry, baptism, and so on.  The general layout of this series is that an editor will make some introductory comments, and then the various proponents of whatever view will sound off.  After each view is presented, the other contributors have a few pages to respond to the main essay.  The other day, I called it a theological cage match, but that wasn’t entirely fair.  It really has the tone more of a cordial debate than a smack down.

The contributors for this particular volume are well known biblical scholars in the evangelical academic community: Walter Kaiser, Darrell Bock, and Peter Enns.  The volume editor, Johnathan Lunde, makes some very helpful introductory comments on the subject of NT/OT intertextuality which provide even the uninitiated with some handles to begin to grasp the major contours of the lay of the land.

And it is very unfamiliar territory indeed.  Sometimes it is easy to forget that the New Testament is inextricably linked to the Old.  For example, you can buy a New Testament that is unencumbered with all that lengthy prolegomena.  A not so subtle suggestion that we don’t really need to know what is in the Old Testament, just the bits that involve Jesus and everything after that.  Frankly, its a bit offensive.  Can you imagine if they sold an Old Testament only version of the Bible?  Funny to think that was all Jesus, Paul, and the gang had to work with.  And yet, even a casual reading of the New Testament reveals its dependence on the Old Testament both for its major themes and frequently for exact wording.  Ok, nothing really debate worthy there.

However, if one puts those references and quotations under greater scrutiny, a problem emerges.  Sometimes, it looks as if the New Testament author hasn’t really understood the Old Testament passage correctly or has taken something out of context, and in doing so has imported a meaning onto the text that wasn’t there in the original Old Testament author’s mind.

The classic example is in Matthew 2:15, where he quotes Hosea 11:1 – “Out of Egypt, I have called my son.”  In Matthew, the verse is cited as being somehow prophetic with respect to the journey that Jesus’ family makes to and from Egypt early in his childhood.  Now, if one just sort of blows through Matthew without pausing for much reflection, the reader is unaware of any “foul play.”  However, when one goes back to Hosea, it seems (to some) that the text doesn’t seem prophetic at all, but is instead a look back at God’s saving act in history – specifically the deliverance of Israel from Egypt under Moses’ leadership.  In this context, it is relatively clear that Israel is the “son.”

So there is a tension there…  Is Matthew playing fast and loose with the text?  Is he a poor exegete and misunderstood what Hosea has said?  How one resolves this “tension” is largely shaped by certain understandings of how the New Testament authors approach the Old.  Kaiser (and those sympathetic with his view) doesn’t see the possibility of two different meanings for a single text.  Rather, the Old Testament author had an intended meaning and whatever the New Testament author is doing must agree.  So for example, Kaiser would likely argue that the Hosea text was in fact predictive and that the “son” there looked forward to Jesus in some way and that Hosea would have been conscious of the predictive element in his writing.

Bock represents a fairly nuanced view that sees patterns in biblical history.  So, he wouldn’t necessarily need to argue that Hosea was predictive in a strict sense.  However, due to God’s consistent patterns of deliverance throughout history, Matthew is capitalizing on or evoking a theme of deliverance that up until Jesus was most clearly expressed in the exodus tradition.  It is more complex than that, but this sort of approach both recognizes the tension and assumes the best about Matthew in his use of the Old Testament.

The final view that is articulated by Enns is that Matthew is simply employing exegetical practices common to that  time that paid more attention to specific words and how they could be mined for meaning apart from the actual original context.  While this lack of regard for original context might cause concern to the modern reader, Enns would argue that we shouldn’t expect ancient interpreters to conform to modern hermeneutical practices.  God’s Word was spoken into a certain places and times and bears all the marks (including the “faulty” interpretive traditions) of that culture.

Ok, as you might guess, it is far more complicated than that, but that’s why these guys wrote a book, not a blog post.  If you are still reading (and that’s a big ‘IF’), rest assured that all of the positions have merit and can be held by intelligent faithful readers of the Bible.  However, my own view is something of a combination of Bock and Enns.  I appreciate Enns’ observation that the Bible will inevitably reflect the culture in which it was forged.  And yet, I also would affirm that due to its dual authorship (man AND God), that it can transcend culture and take in the grand sweep of redemptive history.

Despite the differences of opinion, one thing that everyone agrees on is that the New Testament’s interpretation of the Old Testament has been indelibly marked by the one we know as Jesus of Nazareth.  After Christ, everything written in the Old Testament had to be re-looked in the light of Christ’s coming, living, dying, and rising.  May our own interpretation of Scripture – both “Old” and “New” – reflect the same.

currently reading

The Avett Brothers – Ten Thousand Words

I consider myself to be an average reader.  I read more books than some and less than others.  The ones that I tend to gravitate towards usually have something to do with God, the church, theology and sometimes all the above.  Right now, I’m in the middle of four books and each one is a worthwhile read.  So I thought I would share them with you.

The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel is one that I am reading with students.  It is basically a straight forward apologetic for the Christian faith, but written in a slightly more engaging style than your average apologetics.  Strobel (a former journalist) takes to the road and interviews various experts on the big objections people have to Christianity.  So it has the feel of a narrative while providing some solid answers to questions.  Over time, I’ve been less and less compelled by the modernist approach to defending the faith (I tend to see apologetics as being more helpful for the already convinced than the skeptic), but there are some worthwhile observations here.  What I’ve loved most is that the students (and not a few adults) seem to be really engaged by it.  If you need a reminder that Christian faith actually stands up to reason, then you might find this relatively easy read helpful.

I meet with a group of men on Monday mornings, and the book we are wading through right now is a collaboration between Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe entitled Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion.  This one was something of a surprise.  Judging both by the cover (which of course we should never do) and by the title, I was thinking this was going to be of the more “touchy-feely” variety.  Well, it’s not.  The strategy of the book is to look back on the history of the church and highlight the contributions various saints have made to Christian spirituality.  It is something of a unique book in that it doesn’t read like a popular treatment of these men and women, nor it read like a college text.  It finds the happy middle-ground of helpful summary, critique, and application.  If you find yourself woefully ignorant of the major figures in church history (and let’s be honest, most of us are), then this serves as a wonderful introduction to and distillation of their thought and practice.

N. T. Wright is a name that I’ve mentioned maybe once or a hundred times around here.  By all accounts, Wright is one of the most influential New Testament scholars alive today.  He is strongest when he is shedding light on first-century Jewish beliefs and practices and how that impacts our understanding of Jesus and the communities from which the New Testament emerged.  He is about half way through an extraordinarily ambitious multi-volume New Testament theology.  However, one of the things I appreciate about Wright is that he takes nearly all of his scholarly work and attempts to make it accessible to a broader audience.  Such is the case with Surprised by Hope.  It is a more readable version of The Resurrection of the Son of God in which Wright ever so slowly wades through what the New Testament teaches about life after death, life after life after death, and so on.  Not the first book I would pick up by Wright, but it wouldn’t be the worst introduction to his thinking either.

This one is called Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, and to borrow a phrase from the students I work with “that’s my jam.”  This book is one of a series of books in the Counterpoints Series.  The idea is simple enough.  Take a biblical subject that has a variety of views (and what biblical subject doesn’t?) and let a leading proponent of each view take a whack at it – and then a whack at each other.  It is as close as one comes to a theological cage match.  Anyway, the Old Testament in the New is something with which I have more than a passing familiarity, and this volume lays out the issues and the options with great clarity.  On a side note, I realize that this topic is probably intensely boring to 99.99% of Christ-followers, but I could make a pretty strong case for it being one of the key building blocks for our understanding of what the Scriptures are and the authority they are supposed to have in our lives.

Alright, so there it is.  If you have read or later read any of these books, I would love to hear your thoughts about them.