Hopeful Fruit #4 - A Tradition of Pacifism  

Posted by The Metzes in

It was a trip to Columbus, OH that sealed my fate as a pacifist. I live in Columbus now, but at the time I was living, working, and going to school in Nashville, TN. I was working for a church in Nashville and had been invited to join a couple other former Buckeye residents to their yearly trek to the Ohio State - Michigan football game. I'll spare you the details (Buckeyes lost, John Cooper fired . . . really, really cold), but the connection to pacifism had to do with the car ride back to Nashville from Columbus. Two friends from church invited me, and one of the friend's brothers also came and provided our transportation.

Our foray into politics began while we were overnighting Friday at a friend's house and the topic of the recent election came up. Somehow, (I don't remember the details of the conversation, but if it was anything like most political conversations I've taken part in with Christians, the beginning presupposition of everyone present being a registered Republican probably played a role), the other men found out that I had voted for Al Gore. This (absurd, in their eyes) reality, opened us up to a weekend of political conversation and debate.

Even at that time, I had my suspicions about the benefit of a Christian being involved in the political process (even the less evil democratic political system), but had continued to meddle in the quasi-liberal-slanted perspective of my upbringing. Attending a private Christian school in the South immediately placed me in a smaller minority than the ethnic minorities at the not-long-ago-segregated campus of my alma mater.

It takes approximately six hours to drive from Columbus to Nashville, and that Saturday, after the game was over, our six-hour commute was solely focused on politics. The conservation moved from light joking about the parties, to the serious concern they had over my vote . . . and as I came to find out, my soul. The most tense moment came when the driver challenged anyone to, "Name one good thing Bill Clinton did for this country!" As a college student, that was pretty easy to do because the former President had help sign into legislation a huge college education assistance program that I had benefited from. "He had gotten me a few extra thousand dollars to attend college." Sounded like something good to me. Turns out, my traveling companion did not see this as in any way "good." His response began sternly, and grew louder to the point of a yelling crescendo, "It's my money and I worked my ass off for it, and why should I be paying for your college tuition?" The car sat in silence for quite awhile. Finally, as the tension began to lift a bit, I tried to make the point that I really had no dog in the fight. I wasn't card-carrying for anyone. My point was simply to force my companions into considering the biblical texts that didn't easily jive with their political views. "What about Acts 2 and 4 where the Christians met together and sold all they had and shared all they had?" I asked. "And how does the Old Testament practice of jubilee connect with your Right wing political stances?" These were questions they had never been asked before - really, they had never been asked these questions!

I relay this story not to characterize everyone with one broad-sweeping stroke. Certainly, politics are complicated and generalizations are seldom helpful. This experience, however, opened my eyes to the negative side of politics and the divisive and explosive discussions that often result. These events occurred nearly a decade ago, and the United States has grown even more divided along political lines. What a breath of fresh air a church who focused more on kingdom politics than on the tirelessly fallen politics of the nation would be! Never has the world needed the prophetic voice of the church to live out a nonpartisan politic who concerns herself with matters of justice, mercy, and righteousness.

In recent years, pacifism has grown in attention paid by Christian theologians. Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw brought some more academic concepts from people like John Howard Yoder and Jacques Ellul to a more popular-level, lay Christian audience through their book: Jesus for President. Other scholars and pastors like Gregory Boyd, Lesslie Newbigin, and a host of others, are receiving wide readership and extensive exposure. As the West continues to broaden its perspective through the advances of technology and mass media, global concerns are becoming prevalent, and for many Christian traditions, their theological structure is incapable of productive dialogue in this setting.

In my years in seminary at Lipscomb University, it came as a huge surprise that this private Christian school with an overwhelming pro-Republican undertone, actually bears the name of one of America's most important Civil War-era Christian pacifists (and I don't think this is overstated): David Lipscomb. In fact, it turned out, Churches of Christ have a ripe tradition of pacifism. Lipscomb's 1913 work, Civil Government, represents what might be one of the most overlooked and under-appreciated documents produced in America on the topic of pacifism. [The full version of Lipscomb's work is available online here.]

Scholars in Churches of Christ continue to maintain this longstanding tradition - most notably through the work of Lee Camp (Lee has written the very popular Mere Discipleship, and hosts the Tokens program at Lipscomb) and Michael Casey ("the topic about which he was most passionate and which forms the largest corpus of his published materials was that of pacifism in Churches of Christ . . ." from preface of And the Word Became Flesh, essays written in his honor published this year.) Lipscomb University also has faculty member Richard Goode who teaches in the history department who has been especially formative in my experience, even in my limited interaction with him. In short, the pacifist tradition in Churches of Christ is alive in well . . . at least in the academy.

The challenge before us as ministers within the tradition is to bridge the gap between the isolated tower of academia and the every-day life of the church. In my early years of ministry I see no message as desperately needed in the face of mounting political divisions as this one. At the same time I have experienced the loudest and most acute backlash from conversations in this vein. Nationalism has become the most uniting characteristic of our churches: progressive and conservative churches are equally as likely to sing patriotic hymns in their service and display the American flag prominently in their building.

Certainly, pacifism stands as one of the more hopeful fruits of our tradition. It is also, however, one of the most challenging in teaching and discussing. It is widely said the two topics to avoid in public conversations are politics and religion. What this topic does is jump head first into them both. When it comes to our political allegiances, Churches of Christ are as guilty as any other Christian group of losing our way. It is important for us to rekindle the thoughts and ideas of our pacifist forefathers . . . and be reminded that these are not novel ideas - as the accusation sometimes is made. Not only is there a great history of pacifism within the broader Christian church, closer to home, Churches of Christ share in this rich tradition. We must learn to not be afraid of talking about politics, but we must reframe the conversation. We must overcome the unnecessary obstacles that we have placed in front of those who differ politically and open our minds to a new political reality, a politics of the kingdom of God.

This is not a call for being anti-political (a charge I have been accused of). Quite the contrary, this is a call for a renewed orientation, for allowing God to set our political agendas instead of our governments, and for realizing that our politic is our life, not our vote. We must allow our political agendas to be caught up in the vision of God, not the latest candidate to ascend to power. May Christ grant us some sanity when it comes to charged political matters. May he grant us the confidence and vision of the prophets to speak the Word of God. Those of us in Churches of Christ stand in a great tradition to be able to do so, may we be bold in taking up that calling.

Christmas Gift Book Recommendations...  

Posted by Adam

For those of you who are looking for last minute gifts for your bookworm friends and family, I offer a list of my current favorite books (and book related products).

  • Kindle Wireless Reading Device--If you are looking to spend a little more cash, I actually do recommend the Kindle. I know what you are thinking, but hear me out. I originally thought the same thing. However, consider the following benefits: There's a ton of free content available. The innovative screen technology is very easy on your eyes, as opposed to computer screens. Free web browsing. Text-to-audio feature for most books and documents via internal speakers or headphones. MP3 (music on random shuffle) and Audible (audiobooks) supported. I am very impressed with this device.
  • Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder--This was singularly the most engrossing book I read this year. I literally couldn't put it down. This is not a particularly "Christian" book (for those who care about such a designation), but there is something so inspiring and true about this book, that it strikes me as "holy". Read my full review HERE.
  • God's Dream by Desmond Tutu--This is the only children's book on my list...but what a book! This simple and beautifully illustrated book is a poignant expression of the Christ-like love that characterizes the great man who wrote it.

Advent Conspiracy  

Posted by Adam

Spend Less. Give More.

Go to http://adventconspiracy.org for more details.

Mosaic Bible Giveaway Winner...  

Posted by Adam

The winner of the Holy Bible: Mosaic NLT (Meditations) Giveaway is...

Veronica Leaptrott!

Congratulations Veronica!

Winner was chosen using the List Randomizer tool at www.random.org

Mosaic Bible Giveaway and review  

Posted by Adam

The Holy Bible: Mosaic NLT (Meditations) is a treasure, particularly for those of us with a religious heritage that tended to be somewhat isolated from other traditions. The Mosaic bible intentionally calls together voices from across the spectrum of Christian traditions and from across the ages to provide commentary and devotional meditations. The first section of this edition of the Bible is organized around "church time", beginning with meditations on advent. Coming from a non-liturgical tradition, I found this section to be fascinating and quite helpful. Additionally, I love the fact that they chose the New Living Translation for this edition. The NLT is one of my favorite Bible translations because of its accuracy and readability. Believers from all Christian traditions will find a valuable resource in beautiful devotional Bible.

We are giving away one copy of Holy Bible: Mosaic NLT (Meditations). The winner will be randomly selected on Wednesday, Dec. 2, and no entries will be accepted after noon on the day of the drawing.
You may enter...

  • once by commenting on this post
  • once by re-tweeting this post on Twitter (tag your RT with @adamellis)
  • once by linking to this post on facebook (tag your fb post w/ @adamellis)
Good luck!

*Disclosure: Tyndall House Publishers provided a copy of this book for review free of charge, and provided are providing an additional copy for the giveaway.

Hopeful Fruit #3 - The Populist Insistence  

Posted by The Metzes in ,

One of the marks of the Protestant Reformation, of course, has been the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. As a direct result of a priesthood that had become thoroughly corrupt and overly powerful, believers found life and hope knowing that Scripture was for all and shouldn't be reserved for the most educated and annointed. There are few groups of Protestant groups that have realized this as significantly as the Church of Christ.

I always find some humor in explaining to pastors from other denominations how our churches find their ministers. When you really step back and think about it, it is quite humorous . . . and yet, somehow strangely, refreshing. In a postmodern world where skepticism abounds and trust of "The Man" has all but deteriorated, it seems as though this tenet of our churches just might push us through a difficult transition. It seems to me that outsiders will be excited to know that our ministers are not the product of some denominational appointment or designation, but that this is who the local congregation chose. There is a great connection with our populist emphasis and our insistence upon autonomy.

I find myself talking out of both sides of my mouth on this topic. On the one hand, I am encouraged by our desire to level the playing field of interpretation and leadership. Regardless of education, background, or perceived expertise, everyone pretty much comes in on a level playing field. This is overstated, a bit, obviously, in that we still maintain some hidden or unwritten "weights" based on family demographic in the congregation (more prevalent families often have a more vocal place), socioeconomic bias I'd like to think we are free of, but are just as susceptible as other groups to injustice there, as well as racially and culturally. However, finding no perfect system, we may just have something to offer here.

I am writing these words as the Sarah Palin circus has come to town. They are expecting 5,000 to 8,000 to attend the Columbus-area bookstore where she'll be promoting her book. The Sarah Palin political entry last year has proved to be an interesting example of the power of populist appeal. Regardless of your political leanings, you can't help but find something attractive to the "normal person" who takes on "the Man." This is the heart and soul of Palin's attraction. She speaks for all the soccer and hockey moms - her now famous self-identification. And the response? A great outpouring of support (at least in the Midwest and Southeast . . . she's not surprisingly avoiding the coasts in her book tour - now there would be some interesting events!) In any case, I bring Palin up here because she illustrates the power of the populist voice still today. People like the story of the underdog. They like to think that no office is too big for the common folk.

Sociologically, Churches of Christ fit this mold for the religious sects perfectly. We don't ordain our pastors. The local congregation maintains the criteria and job assignment for the ministers. Worship assemblies are overseen equally by "clergy" and "laymen" (and maybe someday "laywomen" - we'll get to that into the pruning portion of the posts!) Ministers are generally appreciated and respected for their unique Bible knowledge and ministerial expertise . . . at least generally.
It is here I find myself speaking out of both sides of my mouth. On the one hand I believe the populist appeal of our Movement speaks volumes for how we can traverse the postmodern matrix. However, at the same time, I feel as though it has been one of our most signfiant liabilities. In my ten plus years of ministry, now, I can assert that one of the most challenging aspects of working for churches is leadership. I have taken special interest in leadership in the past three or four years, seeing it as such a glaring weakness of my own, and many ministers I have worked alongside and known. It is tough to know how to lead a church.

However, I believe in the midst of such a populist driven church, the issue is ampiflied. Suddenly, the minister's voice is watered down, and his significance dulled a bit. "He makes some interesting points, but let's hear what lukewarm member who doesn't do anything but warm a pew has to say," and we have to keep in mind that so and so just isn't there yet" and those kinds of comments abounds. It seems, from my experience, that the power and influence of a minister in Churches of Christ is truncated even to a greater extent than those in other denominations. This makes the task of leadership extremely difficult and probably says a lot about why our churches tend to remain pretty small.

Again, I see this populist approach as both a potential bonus for our involvement with non-Christians. Realizing the only folks setting doctrine and making decisions and excommunicating members and hiring and firing ministers are those folks you worship right beside on Sundays. However, it has potential risks as this populism can just as easily make us lazy and myopic in our understanding of our role in the invisible church. Group think can (and I think has) set in quickly under populist-driven congregations. Looking around at congregations of Churches of Christ throughout the rural parts of the United States, I think this is exactly what is ailing them.

Brian McLaren on moral absolutes and certainty  

Posted by Adam

The following question and response is taken from a post on http://brianmclaren.net

What are your thoughts on his response?

Here's the q:

Please help! I am currently taking a graduate class on church growth and we are using your book More Ready Than You Realize as an example of "friendship evangelism." You book has caused much discussion...which is what I guess you were wanting.... [details of class discussion removed] Here is my problem. I consider myself a postmodernist, but I can't really give a good answer why. What I do know is that the modern way (while once extremely effective) of evangelism is no longer effective. The following criticism is what I hear as an attack towards postmodernism, "they believe that there are moral absolutes." Is this true? I find it hard to believe that you would not take any moral stances. Also, I do not get this when I read your books.... I'm rambling, but if you could help me with the question on moral absolutes it might help me in the quest of better understanding postmodernism.

R: Thanks for your question. The discussion in your class sounds like a classic case of how a postmodern viewpoint looks to sincere modern-minded people. To modern-minded folk, postmodern people seem to be moral nihilists, relativists, compromisers, with no moral compass. No wonder they get so upset!

And you can't blame your fellow students for seeing things this way. This is how they've been taught by most of their pastors, youth leaders, and other authority figures - who were in turn taught this way of thinking by their authority figures.

As I've written elsewhere on this blog (just search on "postmodern"), the term "postmodern" is often defined in the worst possible light by modern-minded folk, so defending it will make you look like a kook (or worse) to them. So, I won't try to speak for "postmodernism," but let me speak for myself.

Of course I believe that some things are morally good and others are morally evil. Of course!

But I do not believe that Christian fundamentalism (or Islamic fundamentalism, or secular fundamentalism, etc., etc.) has a superior record of identifying what is moral and what isn't moral in contested situations. For example, in my lifetime Christian fundamentalists have been among the last to release racism, sexism, a careless attitude toward the environment, a careless attitude toward the rights of Palestinians, a fear of science, and a fusion between the gospel and American nationalism.

Go back farther in history, and there were a majority of Bible-believing Christians in the South who were pro-slavery - and held that as an "absolute truth" or "absolute moral principle" that they could quote chapter and verse to defend. (I'll explore this in some detail in my upcoming book.)

Go back still farther, and our Christian ancestors refused to believe Copernicus and Galileo - again, based on their conception of moral absolutes based on their readings of the Bible. The same was true regarding the age of the earth, Darwin, etc.

So here's my concern: If a person or group pushes the "we've got moral absolutes absolutely figured out" button too fast or too often, they run an increased risk of behaving in immoral ways, and they are the last to know it because of their excessive self-confidence. If conservative Christians would acknowledge this pattern at work in their own history more openly, and if they would show how they have taken corrective action to avoid similar patterns of misjudgment in the future, a lot of us would feel more confident in their moral judgment.

I'd also add that I do think moral standards change - but not in the direction of going down - just the opposite. That's why Jesus said, "You have heard it said ... but I say to you..." in the Sermon on the Mount. Over time, I believe God calls us to higher and higher standards of morality. Let me state this very clearly: the goal isn't to lower moral standards, but to raise them as we grow more morally mature. So - before it was don't murder. Now it's don't hate. Before it was only one eye for an eye. Now it's seek reconciliation, not revenge. Before it was love your neighbor, hate your enemy. Now it's love everyone - including enemies.

So - perhaps we can put this question to rest for good: the issue isn't morality - with some "fer it" and others "agin it." We're all for morality, as we understand it. The issue is two-fold. Postmodern-leaning folks are concerned whether this or that preacher's claims to have "absolute certainty" about this or that moral viewpoint of his are "absolutely justified," and whether his confidence will increase the chances of behaving immorally. Modern-leaning folks are concerned whether leaving the door open to the possibility that "we" have been or are wrong will lead to moral collapse. If you let an absolutist system go, there will be nothing left, they fear.

I'd say there are dangers on both sides - the danger of excessive moral confidence on the one side and the danger of insufficient moral confidence on the other. I'm seeking a proper confidence ... one that is aware of both dangers on both sides.

In my view, only God has absolute moral knowledge. Human beings have shown a remarkable propensity to misinterpret God, all the while claiming to speak for God on morality, which (sadly) often degenerates into speaking as if they were God. I hope that helps! (Feel free to share this with your class.)

Hopeful Fruit #2 - The Passion for the Sacred Text in Churches of Christ  

Posted by The Metzes in , ,

Perhaps it is one of the most enduring qualities of the Churches of Christ that we have managed to be unapologetically Bible-focused and Bible-centered, while at the same time remaining outside the limiting circles of Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism [Richard Hughes argues that this may no longer be the case for much of the movement in his Reclaiming a Heritage (a great read for any reader of this blog!) ACU Press, 2002 - see especially chapter seven entitled: "Why Restorationists Don't Fit the Evangelical Mold; Why Churches of Christ Increasingly Do" Another topic for another day]. In compiling the "Heart of the Restoration Series," ACU Press was quick to release a work centered on the place of the Bible in our heritage [volume 2 in the series is entitled God's Holy Fire: The nature and function of Scripture, 2002.] Gospel meetings, mission statements, sermons, and classes echo from congregations of Churches of Christ the world over with the message of "Back to the Bible." Any study taken upon by her students inevitably begins with the question, "What does the Bible say about that?" Stated simply, there aren't many groups who know the Bible as well as our people do, and to not recognize that as a hopeful fruit would be disingenous and a disservice.

Brightly hanging down from the branches of the Churches of Christ tradition is their abiding love for the story of God. I remember sitting in Bible classes learning the books of the Bible, the 12 Tribes of Israel, the 12 Apostles, the chronology of the Old Testament . . . just about everything that's in those 66 books, we covered it. Bible bowls, Sunday school, lectureships, Vacation Bible School, and Gospel meetings still retain the undeniably Bible-focus even today. From the smallest, most rural congregations to the largest suburban megaplexes among Churches of Christ, these churches love to teach the Bible.

Among members of Churches of Christ, a person's age, education, and life situation all are considered secondary to how well she or he knows the Bible. Bible knowledge is often directly equated with spirituality - the more Bible you know, the more spiritual you are. Quoting Scripture is sometimes seen as paramount to a spiritual gift. These latter case points illustrate some worms that lay underneath the skin of a perfectly healthy piece of fruit, but shouldn't take away from the fact that Churches of Christ hold steadfast to the biblical text.

It is widely held that children within Churches of Christ are not learning as much Bible as they did in bygone days. Biblical literacy across denominational boundaries is suffering and the Churches of Christ are certainly not immune to this phenomenon. However, there remains, by and large, an incredible commitment to teaching our people the Bible. While there may be a general laxity in the general audience when it comes to the biblical literacy, it also should be noted that scholarship in Churches of Christ has gained an increased audience in recent years and is more widely respected by the broader theological community than ever before (could this be evidence of an increased Evangelical leaning??)

While the commitment to being biblical and Bible-people should be seen as hopeful fruit, the good fruit has not come without potential worms. Often, in Churches of Christ, the story about God has been elevated to a higher plane than God Himself. Bibliolatry has become the golden calf for many in Churches of Christ - this excessive emphasis on the bonded leather and gold-tipped pages to the neglect of the mysterious Creator and Savior of all that is in existence. Too often we have bound God to the ink on the pages instead of allowing Him the freedom to work apart from the Scripture itself (we seem to have overlooked Paul's point in Romans 1 all too often).

Just as damaging, we have often married our love and emphasis of the text to our love and emphasis of "necessary" antiquated interpretive devices. The thoroughly modernistic hermentuic evolving from Enlightenment philosophy is often valued equal to the text it seeks to interpret. Churches continue to be taught the interpretive system of command, example, and necessary inference both directly and indirectly. The limitations of this foundational philosophy has been exposed over the past several years (see the work of Michael Casey, John Mark Hicks, along with others). Unfortunately, for many in Churches of Christ their love for the sacred text is married to their love for their interpretation of the sacred text. The certainty demanded of foundationalism has created skepticism of alternative voices and a myopic view of the hand of God. As the Churches of Christ engage the world of postmodernism, nothing has been more harmful to her cause than the lack of place for alternative voices and this begins at the table of biblical interpretation.

I believe we must reinvigorate our love and passion for the story of God, and not find ourselves so committed to one interpretive device or another. Instead, we need to find our way beyond the need for certainty and past the place of answers, as very difficult as that is going to be. If we will once again fall in love with the text and, in the spirit of Psalm 119, meditate over it, take it to heart, allow it to sink into our very ethos . . . and allow part of God to be revealed in the text, but not limited to the text. Our churches should be filled with people who love the text and love to learn about the text and engage in long discussions about what the text means. Churches of Christ must become a place where conversation is encouraged and facilitated instead of streamled monologue and uniform teaching dominate the floor. May diversity abound and the unity of the Spirit be what unites us instead of the unity of thought and homogenous hermeneutics.

"Drops Like Stars" WINNERS  

Posted by Adam

Here are the winners of our "Drops Like Stars" Book Giveaway:

1. Blair Andress

2. John Wilson

3. Lee Taft (Taftastic)

If you won, please contact me within the next 3 days with a mailing address or I will have to give your book to someone else. Congratulations! Enjoy the book.


Giving away 3 more copies of "Drops Like Stars" by Rob Bell  

Posted by Adam

Surprise boys and girls! Zondervan publishing noticed our recent giveaway of Rob Bell's book, "Drops Like Stars: A Few Thoughts on Creativity and Suffering", and has authorized me to give away 3 more copies. You have until noon, Monday, Novemeber 9th to enter.

You may enter...

  • once for commenting on this post (on the actual blog, not facebook)
  • once for retweeting this contest on Twitter or posting a link to this post in your Facebook status message.
  • once for mentioning this contest with a link to this post on your personal blog.
Good luck! Winners will be announced on the afternoon that the giveaway ends.


P.S. If you aren't interested in the book, don't feel compelled to comment. I really have no desire to read about how you know that Rob Bell is a heretic...even though you've never read anything he's written or heard him speak...but you know because some "discernment" watchdog website told you so.

The Hopeful Fruit #1  

Posted by The Metzes in , ,

As I looked over the apple tree in my backyard, considering the harvest cycle that was now coming to an end, there were a few apples that actually made it to fruit. Not all these apples, to be sure, were created equal. Most of them died off before they became edible. A few of them made it some time further, but then were attacked by squirrels realizing their demise at the hands of these neighborhood pests. There were exactly three that made it long enough to actually become part of our dinner one night recently. As I assess the hope-filled fruit dangling from the apple tree of the tradition of Churches of Christ, I see an equal disparity in the fruit. While each of the fruit I mention offers hope, they do so at differing levels. So, I thought I would begin here with what I believe to be the most promising of the fruit.

I have become convinced that the single-most promising characteristic of the Churches of Christ as they engage in their ministry in the postmodern world is their commitment to congregational autonomy. From my earliest days in Churches of Christ, I have known that the Bible taught "autonomy." I think I was in college before I really understood what that meant. In a nutshell, our autonomy in Churches of Christ can be well-illustrated in business-terms: each congregation is locally owned and operated.

While the basis of this self-understanding in Churches of Christ stems from the belief that the autonomous churches in Acts serve as an example for how churches should operate today, the richness of a locally-run congregation is quickly becoming realized throughout Western Christianity. As culture deepens in its skepticism and distaste for globalization and cookie cutter development, hungering for creativity and authenticity, it seems to me that an autonomous church offers an organic structure that is both biblical and culturally significant. In Christian leadership circles, a localized approach to church dynamics is gaining momentum across the denominational spectrum (just a few recent examples are : Doing Local Theology, Preaching as Local Theology and Folk Art, It Comes from the People, Organic Leadership and Finding Organic Church).

What many see as innovative, Churches of Christ have maintained throughout its relatively short history. One of the most enigmatic qualities among Churches of Christ have been their relative homogeneity despite their autonomous claims. Although we have claimed to be autonomous, our practice has not been fully so. Congregations of Churches of Christ in settings as diverse as Boston to rural Pennsylvania, Texas, coastal California, Florida, and the Midwest all, for some time, have looked eerily similar. While there is no organizational hierarchy declaring edicts on church policy, the schools, literature, and lectureships training our leaders clearly have had a great deal of influence throughout these churches. But, should autonomy be limited to describing the lack of a denominational head quarters? Is there not more implicit in the reality of autonomy? Haven't we missed a great deal of our freedom?

Today, many in Churches of Christ find their Mecca in the Bible Belt of the South East or on the prairies of central Texas. In my ministerial interaction with those in Central Ohio, I am amazed when I come across ministers and elders who seem more concerned with what is happening at a school or lectureship hundreds of miles away than with the decisions of the local governments and churches within minutes of where he lives. I conclude that autonomy very well may be the best thing we have going for us . . . but it also may be the most widely misunderstood and undervalued.

I challenge us in Churches of Christ to take the autonomous heritage of which we have been the benefactors, and explore its deeper implications. What would it look like to be a truly autonomous agency of the kingdom? No denominational boundaries. We would be just as interested in the preaching and teaching of the Vineyard Church here in Columbus as we would the others who share our name. We would be willing partners in worship and fellowship at any time and with anyone whose sole aim was to lift up the name of Christ. And we would invite others to the table with no strings attached. We would converse and share, listen and learn. We would be more engaged locally allowing our theology and ecclesiology to emerge from within the voices of people we love and share with and worhsip beside. The oldest and the youngest would have equal say with great theological forefathers who are also part of our tradition. Our conversations would begin with empathy and care instead of doubt and hesitancy.

The future will be bright in Churches of Christ if we can further grapple with this notion of localizing our theology and practice. We can be proud of our heritage when we are about forming disciples instead of creating adherents. That is the duty of the church . . . and far too often we have gotten in the way. There is much to be said for the baggage that denominational structures bring. This post simply touches the surface of what I believe to be our most enduring and important characteristic. We live in a world who is much less interested in the position our denomination takes on homosexuals - though they will make judgments based on that (what edict has been sent down from your ruling body?) than in our local manifestation of the love of God (do you love homosexuals? can I tell that you love them?)

With the emergence of micro-narratives and village theology, the localized, contextual congregation has as much potential as ever. However, in order to embrace this potential, we must learn to listen, open ourselves, and be ourselves: here and now.

The Apple Tree In My Backyard  

Posted by The Metzes in ,

My wife and I moved into our house on Main St. five years ago. Like all young married couples, we were excited about this major future-defining purchase that we had made (OK, major understatement). As we considered the number of bedrooms and bathrooms and squarefootage among other house-suitors, I was always drawn to the backyard. Growing up on a sprawling lot in the country surrounded by trees, I knew the metropolitan setting of suburbia was going to be a challenge for me. Sprawling country acreage was never within our financial means, so I settled for a big backyard, and our first house on Main St. has a nice big backyard where I spend as much time as I can.

One of the most striking features of our neighborhood is the trees. There is a sign on our street that decrees Westerville, OH as "Tree City USA." I'm not exactly sure what that means, but what I do know is that we have many large and beautiful trees in our neighborhood. As we visited potential houses five years ago, we saw many houses that were nicer, newer, and larger than ours but few had trees as large as the ones at our house. Directly behind our house is a beautiful silver maple tree that seems to stretch forever towards the sky. It has such beauty that I am willing to ignore the numerous large branches it has lost since we moved in - even the ones that have scraped our gutters. Behind the silver maple is an even more impressive sugar maple - a beatiful sight particulaly in the fall. In the back corner of the yard are two pine trees that shade our hammock in the summer. And just a few feet from one of those pine trees is a large apple tree.

When we first moved into the house, the trees hadn't been trimmed in many years. My first mowing experience was similar to running an obstacle course dodging hanging branches and low-lying limbs. The overgrown limbs greatly hid the beauty of our backyard. As a matter of fact, during our first year in the house, I didn't even realize we had an apple tree. Fall came and went and there were no apples on the tree. However, thanks to my pruning, when the next spring came around, the apple tree was full of the most beautiful blooms filling the air with their sweet fragrance. The scent was no guarantee of the apple harvest, however, as the blossoms gave way to small fruit. The fruit never matured, and we ended up with a tree full of rotten half-grown apples. Upsetting to us tenants, but great news for the local squirrel community.

The half-grown apples were a disappointment, but it was encouraging to know that we had made some progress. I was committed to giving the tree constant TLC and to willing it on towards a more bountiful future. And the tree reponsded. Unfortunatley, just as the tree seemed ripe for a large harvest, it was nearly destroyed by Ohio's first hurricane. (Really, Ohio had a hurricane!) One large gust sent the top-part of the neighboring pine tree right on top of the apple tree I had been caring for. So much for the progress!

This year I have done my best to salvage our apple tree. I trimmed all the branches that were damaged by the pine tree. I cleaned out all the dead branches and limbs. This spring there were but a handful of blossoms, but it looks as though it is going to make it. The handful of blossoms gave way to exactly three apples. Because there were only three, I gave these apples special attention. I did my best to nurture them keeping them free of insects and harm. Slowly, across the summer, all three of these apples matured right in front of our eyes. It was the most beautiful sight - these three apples hanging alone on this large, damaged apple tree.

I want to use this apple tree as a metaphor for the Churches of Christ. The tree has been beat and battered by the weather. It has been split by the storms life has rained down upon it. In the same way, the Churches of Christ have been beat and battered with storms of their own: divisions, scandal, and tension. And these churches have not been left unharmed. Unity has been the chief victim, but there are others. As I sat looking at my apple tree last fall after the hurricane, questions that I have had about the Churches of Christ seemed dually applicable - is she going to make it? Will she continue to bear fruit in the future? Is this the end? Has she finally been beaten into irrelevance? Does she have anything left to offer? Am I wasting my time trying to save her?

It's important to note here that in my analogy there are other, larger, more healthy trees in my backyard. Sure, they all have their problems: the silver maple has a disease that my kill it one of these days, the pine tree that took out the apple tree is missing its top half, and the sugar maple badly needs pruned. These are the other denominations. There are other, older, solid parts of the kingdom living out the Gospel alongside us. There are also some smaller shoots that have taken root and they that may or may not make it into adulthood - other denominational movements that continue to grow and shoot off from the others. In this analogy I am certainly not concerned that the church is by anyway defeated. This is an intramural dialogue for those of us associated with Campbell, Stone, and the boys.

There are some reasons to throw in the towel and give up hope - any Google search of "Church of Christ" can affirm that. And yet, like my apple tree in the backyard, there seems to me to be a few pieces of beautiful fruit still hanging from the tree, not ready to completely fall to the ground, giving up. This fruit needs nurture and attention. It needs time and care.

In the work that I have proposed, and will be fleshing out here in the months to come, there is some productive fruit still hanging from the group of disciples who call themselves "Churches of Christ." This group increasingly grows diverse and discussions about them grow increasingly complicated - but perhaps, considering the complicated postmodern matrix of the Western world, that in and of itself is one of those pieces of hopeful fruit.

In the next several series of posts I'll be addressing what I believe to be the most hopeful pieces of tradition in the Churches of Christ. This work will be divided into two sections: Hopeful Fruit and Pruning Shears. While there may be some hopeful fruit dangling from our tradition, there remains at the same time some major obstacles to our growth that will require pruning. In the coming months I'll be soliciting fellow ministers who are in a similar place to me to reflect on these areas offering practical and timely suggestions on how we might save our apple trees - if that is in fact what God wants us to do.

I would invite those of you in these churches to post thoughts and ideas about some of the hopeful fruit you see in our movement as well as other harmful limbs that you feel need to be pruned. I am continuing to assemble a group of writers with topics on this issue and would benefit greatly from hearing the ideas of others. I'll be copying this post throughout on the like-minded group site: Post-Restorationist Perspectives. I hope you enjoy!

The Unhelpfulness of Categories  

Posted by Adam

If you want to prevent meaningful dialogue from taking place, here's a tip: Apply categories. Get at least one of the people involved to think of their position as the "conservative" or "liberal" position. Better yet, get them to start thinking of themselves as "liberal" or "conservative". This works in virtually any setting (theology, politics, etc), and really only requires one of the dialogue partners to apply the labels to be effective.

If preventing meaningful dialogue doesn't go far enough for you, here's another tip: Polarize the argument. Convince at least one of the people involved to define their category so narrowly that to differ on any point, or even to question any point places one in the opposite category. Cultivate an us/them mentality. Make it about "winning", or even about "not letting the other win", more than substance. Cultivate the idea in an individual (or group) that the position they currently hold is the one that any sensible person would naturally come to if they would only be objective about the matter. Once a person becomes convinced of the obviousness of their own position, they will naturally assume that anyone who disagrees with this position is obviously stupid, or an evil person who is intentionally misleading others.

Make sure that these categories get reinforced frequently, perhaps by employing overbearing media personalities who can boldly and consistently articulate the intelligence and rightness of their own position. Note: these personalities should never be self-critical, never recognize anything good in the other, and should only have anything resembling a sense of humor in reference to those they seek to ridicule (they should never be self-deprecating).

Follow these steps, my friends, and I guarantee that you will prevent any empathy, understanding, and progress. Remember, you don't have to win the debate to maintain the status quo. You just have to apply categories and polarize the argument.

A few warnings though. For this to work, you must avoid the following at all costs:

  • Asking questions
  • Engaging with the questions of others
  • Listening to the best articulations of other perspectives
  • The idea that there even can legitimately be other perspectives
  • spending time with others who are unlike you
  • Humility
  • Compassion
  • Grace
  • Anything beyond a Gospel of "sin-management"
  • Jesus

Top 5 Video Presentations from "The Nines" IMHO  

Posted by Adam

A couple of weeks ago, Leadership Network put on a free online conference primarily for Ministers and ministry leaders. It was a somewhat schizophrenic and maddening experience as it jumped from good, thoughtful presentations to inane church-growth drivel passed off as "wisdom". Below, I'm embedding what I thought were the 5 best and most helpful presentations. Feel free to comment. I'd really like to see your reactions.
(Sorry Driscoll fans...he doesn't make my cut...even though he went over the time limit with the clip from one of his sermons that he sent in.) If you'd like to see all of the presentations, they can be found HERE.

Now, here are the 5 videos that, in my opinion, were the most engaging and important for anyone engaged in church and/or Christianity today...as a leader or otherwise:

1. Brian McLaren--One of my favorite authors. I love this guy.

2. Skye Jethani--editor of www.outofur.com

3. Alan Hirsch--Leader in the Missional Conversation/Movement

4.Reggie McNeal--Another Leader in the Missional Converstation/Movement

5. Pete Wilson--My friend Matthew Paul Turner's Pastor. When you start watching this one, you'll be tempted to assume he's w/ the flashy church growth crowd. You'd be right about the flashy, but you'd be wrong about everything else.

Lord Save Us Movie Find a Theater  

Posted by Adam

Lord Save Us Movie Find a Theater

Click the above link to see if Dan Merchant's Film "Lord Save Us From Your Followers" is playing in a theater near you. If it is, you should definitely go see it. I can't say enough good things about this film.

"Drops Like Stars" WINNER...  

Posted by Adam

The Winner of Rob Bell's new book Drops Like Stars: A Few Thoughts on Creativity and Suffering is Melissa Howell. Your book will be in the mail soon. Enjoy!

Win Rob Bell's New Book  

Posted by Adam

We are giving away 1 free copy of Rob Bell's new book, Drops Like Stars: A Few Thoughts on Creativity and Suffering. Here's how you can enter the giveaway:

  • You may enter once by commenting on this post (on the actual blog...NOT the facebook repost)
  • You may enter your name additional times if help promote this contest by posting a link to this post on facebook, twitter, or your personal blog. 1 additional entry per method (tell me which methods you used in your comment) Here is a direct link to this post: http://postrestorationist.blogspot.com/2009/09/win-rob-bells-new-book.html
  • The winner will be randomly selected and announced Tuesday, Sept. 22.

If you'd like more information on the book, I recently reviewed it on my personal blog.

Speaking a Missional Gospel? (part 4)  

Posted by Adam

Preaching as Missional Proclamation To The Church

In congregations operating from an attractional model of church, the identity of the church is centered on the worship gathering, and this gathering tends to be centered on the sermon. Whereas the major emphasis in this model is bringing people in, sermons tend to revolve around meeting “felt needs” with Biblical principles, with an occasional presentation of the gospel in transactional terms. Such an understanding of preaching is so prevalent, that it can be difficult for those who do not adhere to an attractional model to see a relevant place for preaching in the life of the church.

But, is preaching inherently attractional, or is it possible that “attractional” is merely one form that preaching can take? Guder offers a helpful reframe in a discussion of missional worship gatherings:
“Thus we join together the various expressions of Christian ministry in community, which are so often distinctive and unrelated to each other. We will experience and proclaim the sacraments as equipping means of grace. We will understand the music and discipline of worship as the supreme form of preparation for the work of ministry outside the walls of the church. Preaching will become the powerful Word of God equipping, challenging, correcting, and commissioning the people for their incarnational witness in the world.”[1]
If the church exists for God’s mission, her gatherings should revolve around preparation for that mission. If we are a sent people, then preaching in our gathering should serve the purpose of equipping the people of God for further and deeper engagement in our cooperative mission with God in and to the world.

Generally speaking, preaching in the attractional church was shaped toward the “seeker”, or the uninitiated. The shape of the message was usually something along the lines of “this is how God’s way benefits you”. This framing is decidedly unhelpful, and based on mistaken assumptions. First of all, the typical worship gathering is comprised mainly (if not totally) of those who already claim to follow Jesus, and who are supposed to be maturing as His disciples. Secondly, to perpetually gear the thrust of preaching to the uninitiated (as this is understood in an attractional model), is to reinforce a static faith, offering no encouragement to mature. It should also be noted that we aren’t called to a consumeristic, “what-can-God-do-for-you” Christianity in the first place. As Guder notes:
“Failure to grasp this essential link between benefit and mission results in the one-sided evangelistic preaching so characteristic of today’s Christian church. We tend to present the gospel as God’s way of getting the individual saved. We call upon people to come to Christ to be saves as though that were the ultimate purpose of our proclamation…Our savedness is not our privilege but our responsibility. To reduce the saving work of God, to say that Christ died “to save me,” is to say far too little, and thus to distort the gospel.”[2]
Our assumption in preaching should be that those gathered are the people of God, and that the main engagement that the church has with the world will be through their lives outside our walls. Our emphasis must therefore be on equipping the people of God for living witness-bearing lives, as God’s partners in his mission to the world. In other words, if the point of our gatherings is to encourage one another “toward love and good deeds”[3], then we must allow our gatherings, and our preaching to take its form from that function.

Lee Wyatt suggests a helpful model for missional preaching in our postmodern culture. He provocatively calls it “Agnostic Preaching”, though his emphasis is on the “struggle” implied by the Greek root of the word, and is not meant to imply the more popular definition employed today. Wyatt explains:
“The fundamental shape of biblical faith is narrative. The non-narrative portions…all grow out of, or respond to the gracious story of what God has done, is doing, and will do in human history. If we allow the shape of this Story to inform our preaching, then we will be primarily storytellers…Specific texts will be embedded in a larger Story. We will tease out the ways in which the non-narrative portions of the Story gain their coherence and intelligibility from the baseline established by the narrative. And the Story will be told again, and again, and again, in as many different ways as we can imagine. It is important to be clear about this. We need to allow the shape of the Story itself to determine both the form and function of our preaching.”[4]
Wyatt identifies three forms for preaching in this model. First, he argues for preaching as “re-telling”. This form of preaching serves to provide a broader, fuller understanding of God’s story as revealed in scripture for the purpose of reframing how we view and interpret the world around us, the church, and our own lives.[5] As discussed earlier, I would contend that the biblical narrative is not a metanarrative, and I stand by that statement. It is not a metanarrative, nor is it intended to be one. However, it is a “framing story”. Though related, these terms are far from synonymous. While all metanarratives are framing stories, not all framing stories are metanarratives. Brian McLaren helpfully defines a “framing story” as:
“a story that gives people direction, values, vision, and inspiration by providing a framework for their lives. It tells them who they are, where they come from, where they are, what’s going on, where things are going, and what they should do.”[6]
This is exactly the business of the gospel, the biblical narrative and, therefore the business of preaching. When preaching takes the form of “retelling”, it addresses the question of who we are, and is thus reframing our identity and setting our trajectory.[7]

Secondly, Wyatt suggests that preaching can take the form of “Forth-telling”. In this form, the function of preaching is “bringing the insights and implications of reframing to bear on our current situation.”[8] Here, the preacher is facilitating an exploration of where we are as the people of God. When done well, imagination and creativity are ignited for missional responses in our own contexts. However, it should be stated that this “forth-telling” is only really possible in light of “re-telling”. We must understand who we are to even be able to see the problems to engage in our immediate context, but it is impossible to truly understand who we are and not feel the pull of God’s mission to our world.

Finally, Wyatt suggests a third form for preaching, which he calls “Fore-telling”. In this form, preaching is a means of “retooling”, and seeks to address the question of what we are to do.[9] If the church exists for God’s mission, then the church takes her shape from that mission. Form follows function. But, if God’s mission is to the world, and that world is ever-changing, then the church’s form is never static, but rather fluid and dynamic, as relative to the demands of her mission. This would be a difficult situation for any organization. In the form of “Fore-telling”, preaching can encourage the church to think in terms of the future. God’s mission is on-going and in process. As those who have wrestled with our identity as the people of God and located ourselves in His story, we must remember that the story is still unfolding. Whereas “forth-telling” ignites the flames of creativity and imagination, “fore-telling” fans those flames into a holy inferno. Preaching can remind us that our story is going somewhere, and so are we. As N.T. Wright is fond of saying, we are the people of the “already and not yet”. Wright explains:
“What I am saying is, think through the hope that is ours in the gospel; recognize the renewal of creation as both the goal of all things in Christ and the achievement that has already been accomplished in the resurrection; and go to the work of justice, beauty, evangelism the renewal of space, time and matter as the anticipation of the eventual goal and the implementation of what Jesus achieved in his death and resurrection. That is the way both to the genuine mission of God and to the shaping of the church by and for that mission.”[10]
Preachers must help the people of God to see themselves individually and as a community as called by God into his future. As a people who have been formed by God’s action in the past, engaged in God’s action in the present, and oriented towards God’s restoration of all things in the future, we enter into that future unafraid, but rather characterized by faith, hope and love.


The church is the people of God, redeemed for the purpose of partnering with God in his mission to the world. The gospel we proclaim is fundamentally narrative in nature, and to be proclaimed, it must be both embodied and spoken. The church is called together in order to be sent out. As such, both our gatherings and especially our preaching function to further equip us for that mission. Thus preaching serves to clarify our identity, ignite imagination and creativity, and instill faith hope and love as we walk with inspired confidence into God’s future.

[1] Guder, Be My Witness, 234.

[2] Ibid., 11.

[3] Hebrews 10:19-25

[4] Gelder, Confident Witness--Changing World, 161-162.

[5] Ibid., 161.

[6] McLaren, Everything Must Change, 5-6.

[7] Gelder, Confident Witness--Changing World, 161.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 162.

[10] Wright, Surprised by Hope, 270.

Speaking a Missional Gospel? (Part 3)  

Posted by Adam

Evangelism as Missional Proclamation

If the gospel finds its truest form in narrative, then it would follow that our best articulations of it would come in that form as well. But, if the gospel is this particular narrative of reconciliation and restoration, our practice of telling that story is shaped by it all the more. The postmodern ethos of contemporary culture has a much-noted distain for metanarratives. For many in the Christian faith, this appears to create an impasse in terms of evangelism, for they believe that our story is grand, overarching and true. Indeed, many so-called “evangelism training” programs now include a section defending metanarratives, seemingly suggesting that those who don’t yet believe must be converted to the concept of a metanarrative before they can be converted to the gospel. However, I would suggest that this concern is unnecessary. For the record, I affirm that the narrative of the gospel is grand, overarching, and true. At the same time, I would argue that the gospel narrative is not a metanarrative at all.

In a discussion of Christianity in light of Lyotard’s self-admittedly oversimplified definition of postmodernism as “incredulity toward metanarratives”[1], James K. A. Smith explains:
“…many assume that metanarratives are the target of postmodern disbelief because of their scope, because they make grand, totalizing claims about reality and have universal pretensions...But this is not what Lyotard means by a metanarrative. What is at stake for Lyotard is not the scope of these narratives, but the nature of the claims they make. Put another way, the problem isn’t the stories they tell, but the way they tell them (and, to a degree, why they tell them). For Lyotard, metanarratives are a distinctly modern phenomenon: they are stories that not only tell a grand story…but also claim to be able to legitmate or prove the story’s claim by an appeal to universal reason.”[2]
Smith goes on to explain that that the problem with metanarratives is that they are a particularly modern phenomenon. They claim to be legitimated from an objective, universal standpoint that is above all perspectives and outside all stories. Thus, they function as power-games that coercively demand compliance. The problem is that while they attempt to dismiss all other narratives, they are, in fact, narratives themselves, and proceed as such, while denying their own nature.[3] The gospel is an invitational narrative, and as such does not act coercively. The gospel is not a story of a God who exercises “power-over”, but rather it is of a God who humbles himself, who takes the form of a servant, who saves by exercising “power-under”. As such, those who would bear this God’s image must do no less. When the gospel is spread by coercion or even by intellectual bullying, it ceases to be the gospel. Byron Stone explains:
“…when a hearer’s acceptance of the Christian message becomes obligatory, when witness is no longer surprising but coercive because it is presented as undeniable, the good news is neither news nor good. Weakness, vulnerability, incarnation, and refusability are all markers of faithful Christian witness.”[4]
Thus, evangelism is not about winning debates about the “rightness” of the gospel. It is about bearing witness to good news, embodying good news, and speaking good news to the world.

There is a powerful and pervasive temptation to define the gospel as merely information, and thereby to render “evangelism” as the successful transmission of that information. This is deeply problematic. Scot McKnight argues that while the gospel must certainly be proclaimed, it must also be performed. He explains:
“The first without the latter is hypocrisy; the second without the first is not the gospel. But, together they tell God’s story so satisfyingly that others are compelled to join along.”[5]
The story of the gospel is hollow and irrelevant if it is not embodied by individuals and by communities of faith to the world. The imperative to bear witness to the gospel is not simply an imperative to speak testimonies. It is a commission to live as witnesses in and to the world. In short, when a person becomes a follower of Jesus, this should be good news to everyone around them on some level, due to the kind of person they are becoming. As those who begin to live lives that bear witness to God’s unconditional love, grace and forgiveness, they will thus embody those things to the world around them regardless of agreement or reciprocation. This is not to say that bearing witness never calls the witnesses to speak prophetically or stand in opposition or protest, for there has always been tension between the people of God and the “powers that be”. However it is to say that even in protest, the “power-under” stance of those who would bear witness looks more like the nonviolent resistance of Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr., Desmond Tutu, and Mother Teresa than the coercive, “power-over” methods so often employed in our world.

Modernity presented us with a further temptation that tends to obscure our approach to evangelism. It comes to us in the form of our obsession with measurable results. While I certainly affirm there is a body of research in the field of marketing that can be quite useful in terms of clarifying our communication, there is an obsession with church marketing among many church leaders (and members) that reveals an apparent syncretism between Christianity and consumerism. Darrell Guder rightly cautions that focusing on things like measurable results and numerical growth tempts us to “dilute the gospel in order to ensure success”[6]. Guder believes that such a focus necessarily conflicts with the practice of incarnational ministry. Emphasizing the role of God in evangelism, he explains:
“The response to the gospel is in the realm of spiritual mystery. We can no more produce faith as the manipulated result of our proclamation than the farmer can make the seed sprout once it is planted. Thus we may properly understand effectiveness as obedient witness, which God uses to present the gospel in power and truth.”[7]
Such an understanding is true to the cooperative impulse within the gospel narrative itself. God has invited us to partner with Him in His mission to the world. God is already at work reconciling the world to Himself, and he invites us to join Him. Our call is to bear faithful witness placing our confidence in God’s action. However, this is not to advocate a ham-fisted, unthinking approach that actually distorts the gospel. Many missional leaders have been raising precisely this concern, and there are several recent books exploring this theme from a missional perspective. Pointing to a Christian subculture that exists as a direct result of an attractional understanding of church, Dan Kimball plainly states:
“…please understand, I affirm that the gospel is a radical message that entails faith in the risen Jesus, the denial of self, and repentance to align with God’s will. I know that this message is a stumbling block and that there will be those who reject this good news. Yet I am convinced that we have created a new stumbling block with our Christian subculture that keeps people from even getting to the gospel at all.”[8]
In short, there are those who will certainly reject the gospel. However, as those who are called to bear witness, we also bear a responsibility for presenting the gospel with our lives and our words as accurately and as clearly as possible. Ours is a story that must be embodied as well as heard. May we resist the urge to promote a god created in our own image. May we faithfully bear the image of the God of hope, who never gave up on his dream for creation, and who even now is working to reconcile all things to Himself.

(To Be Continued...)

[1] Lyotard, The postmodern condition, xxiv.

[2] Smith, Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?, 64-65.

[3] Ibid., 66-69.

[4] Stone, Evangelism after Christendom, 232.

[5] Mcknight, Embracing Grace, 3.

[6] Guder, Be My Witness, 138.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Kimball, They Like Jesus But Not the Church, 238.

Speaking a Missional Gospel? (part 2)  

Posted by Adam

The Missional Nature of the Gospel

As Christians began to drink deeply from the wells of modernity, they began to place a much higher value on things like objectivity and human reason. Additionally, the Biblical text and even the gospel itself seemed to be presented in a manner that proved unwieldy, cumbersome, and frankly inefficient. With modernity’s lenses firmly in place, thinkers began to mine the text for eternal truths in the form of propositions. These propositions were then systematized in an effort to make them more accessible and understandable. Thus, the tendency was toward a simplified gospel that articulated how individuals can make sure that their souls can go to Heaven (and/or not Hell) after they die because of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

Such an approach is problematic to say the least. While, proponents of such a definition can point to key passages[1] in Scripture that (devoid of context) seem to support their case, the meaning of the death, burial and resurrection (not to mention life, teaching, and ministry) of Jesus is virtually incomprehensible outside the context of the broader scriptural narrative spanning from creation to consummation. Additionally, it is difficult to reconcile such an individualistic focus with the God who is revealed in Jesus. Indeed, as Dallas Willard quips in a discussion of what he calls “the Gospel of Sin Management”,
“Can we seriously believe that God would establish a plan for us that essentially bypasses the awesome needs of present human life and leaves human character untouched? Would he leave us even temporarily marooned with no help in our kind of world, with our kinds of problems: psychological, emotional, social, and global? Can we believe that the essence of Christian faith and salvation covers nothing but death and after?”[2]
Such an unconcerned, escapist gospel seems not to be very good news for a lost and dying world. Indeed, it seems to require one to become convinced of contextualizing “bad news” before it can even be heard as “good”.

The Biblical accounts of the life of Jesus repeatedly tell us that he and his disciples preached “the gospel”. This is quite significant, since none of the disciples really understood what was going to happen with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus yet (as evidenced by their confusion when it actually happened). Additionally, in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, “gospel” is routinely associated with the concept of the Kingdom of God (or Kingdom of the Heavens). For Jesus, the Good News seems to be that God’s Kingdom is breaking through. It seems to be that God has not given up on us, or his dream for all Creation. It seems to be that through Jesus, things are being set right. Some might object that Paul doesn’t use this “Kingdom language”, but as Brian McLaren rightly points out (after pointing out 13 overt references in Paul’s writing to the Kingdom message),
“…we should consider that Paul may be dealing faithfully with the new situation Jesus has created. In this light, we can read Paul carefully and see if his message actually does deal with new problems and opportunities created by Jesus’ success.”[3]
Additionally, we find all of this language rooted in the OT scriptures, and particularly in the prophets. Language permeates most of the NT documents that points to the “restoration” “reconciliation” of “all things”. The gospel is essentially a true story that begins with God creating all things out of love, including human beings who are charged with bearing his image. It is a story of humanity’s selfish choices that shatter the harmony of God’s creation, and of the God who calls humanity back into relationship with Himself so that they may partner with Him in the restoration of all things. It is the story of a God who becomes a human being in order to free them from sin, death, fear, and their own selfishness so that they might embrace their destiny as the children of God and their mission as partners in God’s dream of restoration. It’s a story that ends with God making “all things new”, the lifting of a curse, and the healing of the nations. It’s a story of hope, peace, and abundant, eternal life. Chris Wright astutely reminds us that:
“…we must not rest content until we have included within our own missional response the wholeness of God’s missional response to the human predicament—and that of course includes the good news of Christ, the cross and resurrection, the forgiveness of sin, the gift of eternal life that is offered to men and women through our witness to the gospel and the hope of God’s new creation…Mission may not always begin with evangelism. But mission that does not ultimately include declaring the Word and the name of Christ, the call to repentance, and faith and obedience has not completed its task. It is defective mission, not holistic mission.”[4]

[1] for example, 2 Tim. 2:8-9

[2] Willard, The divine conspiracy, 38.

[3] McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus, 94.

[4] Wright, The Mission of God, 319.

Speaking a Missional Gospel? (part 1)  

Posted by Adam in , , , ,

The most visible manifestation of the North American church in recent history has generally adhered to an “attractional” model. Put simply, in this model, the church is in the business of organizing events and activities that are to be attended. This understanding of “church” is so commonly held, that it functions for many as a largely unquestioned presupposition about what the “church” is supposed to be, both historically and biblically. Additionally, congregations and church leaders who embrace this model may become what Brian McLaren refers to as the “purveyors of religious goods and services,”[1] as they attempt to use marketing principles to engage a culture that is increasingly consumeristic and entertainment-oriented. From the perspective of an attractional understanding of “church,” the “worship service” becomes the main focus, and the sermon acts as the clear centerpiece. The main thrust of evangelism tends to be encouraging members to invite their un-churched friends to this event that is designed to encourage conversion experiences.

While the attractional model relies heavily on the idea that conversions mainly take place in the context of worship events, interpersonal evangelism is encouraged (though possibly not expected). However, even this interpersonal evangelism tends to take the form of a micro-event where the Christian sits down with the non-Christian for a semi-formal gospel presentation. Additionally, the thrust of this presentation tends to be transactional (not to mention coercive), focusing on mental assent to certain propositions and steps/actions to take in order to avoid eternal punishment and thereby secure eternal bliss after death.

Though these assumptions about the attractional nature of the church and the transactional nature of the gospel are commonly held, they have also arguably led to a church that is unquestionably in decline[2]. Frost and Hirsch lament that,

“The church is in decline in almost every context in the First World. The Church is worse off precisely because of Christendom’s failure to evangelize its own context and establish gospel communities that transform the culture.”[3]

This situation has led many to reconsider their previously unquestioned assumptions about the shape and nature of church. Voices from Biblical Studies, Theology, and Missiology have begun to suggest that the church is essentially “missional” in nature, and that perhaps her forms were always meant to follow her function or, as Chris Wright eloquently states,

“Certainly, the mission of God is the prior reality out of which flows any mission that we get involved in…it is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, but that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission—God’s mission.[4]

Thus, the church exists precisely for participation in God’s mission, and God’s mission is precisely to and for the world. Whereas an attractional understanding of church tended toward the idea that members were the primary beneficiaries, a missional understanding insists that the church exists for the benefit of non-adherents.[5] In a missional understanding, the church sees itself as existing “for the sake of the world”.[6]

A Missional understanding profoundly reframes what it means to be church, particularly for those steeped in the attractional model. At the risk of overstatement, an attractional understanding of church, and a transactional understanding of the gospel, centered church around speech, cognition, and a certain level of piety. A pendulum-swing-style overcompensation that rendered speech, cognition and morality/behavior as irrelevant would be huge mistake. However, it would also be a mistake to view “being missional” as a strategy for church growth or renewal. It is a reframing, a different understanding of church that is characterized by its external focus, its holistic engagement, and its view of mission as primary rather than secondary. In such a context, what is the role of proclamation? If the gospel is to be in any sense spoken, how is it to be done? Is there a place for the Biblical practice of preaching if an attractional model of church is abandoned? How is the gospel to be communicated interpersonally from a missional understanding? What is the Gospel if it is not primarily transactional?

(I will continue my thoughts on all of this in subsequent posts. I would love to hear your thoughts and reactions (particularly if you'd like to respond to the questions that conclude this post)

[1] McLaren, A new kind of Christian, 156.

[2] “American Religious Identification Survey 2008.”

[3] Frost and Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come, 12.

[4] Wright, The Mission of God, 62.

[5] McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, 111.

[6] Barth and Michielin, A shorter commentary on Romans, 97.

Book Giveaway Winners  

Posted by Adam

Our winners are:

Chris Lockhart and Mark Willis.

Contact me through email or facebook with your addresses so that we can mail your books.



Book Giveaway: Ron Martoia's Transformational Archietecture  

Posted by Adam

Occasionally on this blog, I will do a book giveaway. For our first giveaway, I'm offering a chance to win Ron Martoia's excellent book, Transformational Architecture: Reshaping Our Lives as Narrative. We have 2 new copies of this book to give away.

From the Zondervan Product Page:
Author Ron Martoia is one of today’s keenest Christian observers and thinkers. And in his latest book he explains why evangelism is more difficult now than ever before: postmodern society has lost its overarching stories. People today are disillusioned, disenfranchised, and less open to the biggest “story” of all: the message of God’s redeeming grace.

“How Can I More Effectively Reach People of My Generation with the Message of the Gospel?”
Start the story where God starts the story.
In other words, it’s not about “lifestyle evangelism.” Or being cleverer than the person with whom you’re talking. Or knowing everything there is to know about the Bible.
It’s about knowing what’s most important to your friends, family, coworkers, and others you meet along life’s journey. It’s about, to use author Ron Martoia’s words, discovering the “story” each of us lives every waking day of our lives. Once you know that, you’ll know how God’s story fits into our human stories.
Jesus spread the Good News this way. He talked to people, asked them questions about who they were, what they were doing–in short, he found out what made each person get out of bed every morning. And then he shared with them a bigger story–and how they fit into it. Jesus knew that when people grasped God’s big picture, they felt compelled–even overjoyed–to be a part of it.
In today’s increasingly individualistic, disenfranchised world, it’s never been more important to know God’s story and how one fits into it. Let Transformational Architecture be your guide to reaching those around you with God’s life-changing message of hope.


NOTE: There has been some confusion over this due to a lack of clarity on my part. We are not referring to Google Reader or the Facebook Post-Restorationist group. You must press the "follow" button for "Google Friend Connect" on the far right sidebar of this blog (under the heading of "Followers") or by using the "Networked Blogs" application on Facebook (which can also be reached through the far right sidebar). If you have already entered the giveaway indicating Google Reader or Facebook in general before 9:30 EST on August 21, your entry will still be counted as is. However, all entries from this point on must indicate whether you follow through "Google Friend Connect" and/or "Networked Blogs". My apologies for the confusion.

Follow these 3 steps...

1. Follow this blog through "Google Friend Connect" or through "Networked Blogs" which is associated with Facebook. See the sidebar of this blog for links.

2. Leave a comment on this post indicating which of these 2 methods you are using to follow this blog. You may only enter once for each method you use to follow the blog. (max of 2 times, if you use both methods)

3. Winner will be randomly selected next Wednesday, Aug. 26th. Winner will be contacted and asked to provide a mailing address, so that the book can be shipped to you free of charge (be sure I have some way of contacting you).

That's it. Good luck!
P.S. Keep watching. Rumor is that we may be giving away a copy of Rob Bell's new book, Drops Like Stars: A Few Thoughts on Creativity and Suffering, some time in the next 2 weeks.