Archive for June, 2007

Heim on Atonement

Posted: June 28, 2007 in books, quotes, theology

Saved From SacrificeAfter spending the spring reading some missional literature, I’m finally getting to S. Mark Heim’s Saved From Sacrifice: A Theology of the Cross. Honestly, my tribe doesn’t talk all that much about atonement theories. We figure God saved us and we’re pretty happy with that. Anyway, I thought I’d share some of the more thought provoking comments of Heim’s as I work through the book. Note: My quotation of Heim does not necessarily mean that I’m endorsing those comments, but rather that I found them intriguing. Plus, they are out of context and at the outset of the book Heim is arguing various perspectives!

“Is this God’s plan, to become a human being and die, so that God won’t have to destroy us instead? Is it God’s prescription to have Jesus suffer for sins he did not commit so God can forgive the sins we do commit? That’s the wrong side of the razor. Jesus was already preaching the forgiveness of sins and forgiving before he died. He did not have to wait until after the resurrection to do that. Blood is not acceptable to God as a means of uniting human community or a price for God’s favor. Christ sheds his own blood to end that way (scapegoating) of trying to mend our divisions. Jesus’ death isn’t necessary because God has to have innocent blood to solve the guilt equation. Redemptive violence is our equation. Jesus didn’t volunteer to get into God’s justice machine. God volunteered to get into ours. God used our own sin to save us.”

“If a debt is owed to God, why can’t God simply forgive it, as Jesus apparently counsels others to do? If God is ransoming us from other powers, why does God have to submit to their terms? If this is God’s wise and compassionate plan for salvation, why does it require such violence.”

“A theology that has the heavenly Father punish his innocent son to redeem the world looks uncomfortably to some like a charter for child abuse, with an innocent son sent to bear the wrath of a “heavenly father” to make things right for the entire extended family. Who ultimately administers the torments of crucifixion, ‘for everyone’s good,’ if not the God whose redemptive plan requires it? Critics find cross-centered atonement faith of Christianity a toxic nexus of guil, retribution, and violence, twisting everything it touches, from gender relations and systems.”

Coming Together

Posted: June 27, 2007 in books, church, emerging church, missional

Looking back over Alan Roxburgh’s The Sky is Falling, I was again taken with his leadership typologies. Roxburgh is arguing that churches should move away from modernity’s sola pastora project and the myth of the great leader with great plans into a communitas where diverse roles are being met and people – what he calls “liminals” and “emergents” – can come together in an effort to create new missional imagination. (Now only people involved in the emergent/missional conversation will understand that last sentence.) In essence, Roxburgh is saying that to function in the emerging missional era, church leaders need to recapture some lost and under-appreciated leadership types and bring the fullness of God’s gifting to the table. Roxburgh offers three types:

1. The Leader as Poet.

“The pet’s role is to articulate the tradition so that it gives meaning and language to the people’s current confusion. Ancient poets would do this through music, story, writing, art, and imagery. Their core skills were the ability to listen to the stories of the dominant, surrounding culture, understand the ways it enters, shapes, forms, and interacts with the community, and unfolds what is happening in these currents through their art.”

2. The Leader as Prophet

“Prophets reconnect people with the meaning and actions of God’s radical call out of the past and invitation into the present practices of eschatological Spirit. In our time the gospel has been reduced to values and morals, to aesthetics and spiritual experiences. Because of this, it is different to encounter the God of Scripture. Ecclesial life is not about the formation of a missional community, but the formation of the church as an instrument for marketing religious goods and services. Only by reinhabiting its foundational stories in Scripture and tradition can the church comprehend and encounter God’s story. The prophet creates situations that compel the community to do just that.”

3. The Leader as Apostle.

“The apostle’s passion and single-minded focus on turning God’s community into a people of action around the missio dei (mission of God) can make them threatening to people. Church systems have tended to push such leaders out because of fear and their inability to control such leaders. Apostles, even more than prophets, threaten the culture of the organization because they push for action and can articulate how that action might happen. Furthermore, the apostolic gift has hardly been recognized in the pastor-dominated paradigm of leadership. It is, therefore, difficult for those with apostolic gifts to understand their impact within pastor-dominated systems.”

The Pastor’s Mystique

Posted: June 26, 2007 in Everything

I read an interesting article last week written by Craig Groeschel, the pastor of is an interesting place – several campus including one on the internet, but that’s not what interest me about Groeschel’s article in Leadership.

In the brief article, Groeschel mentions what one of his mentors called “the pastoral mystique.” He writes, “Week after week, he warned me about a pastor;s mystique: ‘Keep your guard up. Don’t let them know the real you. Dress the part. Talk the part. You’re a pastor now. Never let them into your life, or you’ll regret it.'”

Groeschel goes on to talk about the danger of this kind of behavior, but I want to chime in as well. I know many ministers who have been wounded deeply be churches and so-called friends in churches that have used knowledge of them against them in harmful and career ending ways.  Unfortunately, this has lead many pastors to adopt the pastoral mystique out of necessity.

But the flip side, I think, is more dangerous. I know too many pastors who approach their work and ministry in the detached, unaffected, dispassionate way that the pastor’s mystique eventually leads to and in each case it is hurtful to both the church and the gospel. It seems odd to me that pastors could preach and teach at churches for years and the congregation still not know them, yet it oftentimes happens. It seems strange to me that there are some pastors whose families are no more involved in the life of the church than some of the most scant attenders, though that phenomena is not unfamiliar in many churches. I don’t think pastors should work themselves into ulcers or that ministry families should be expected to be at and participate in everything, but surely if a pastor actually cares about a community how could they not be significantly engaged?

I reject some – though not all – of the professinalisation of the clergy that has occurred over the past 30 years. I reject that as a pastor you can show up, complete the tasks of your work and not be significantly engaged in the life of the church.

The reason is that communal life is part and parcel with living the gospel. The New Testament is replete with encouragement and suggestion that the Christian life is meant to be lived together and how can you preach and teach Scripture to a body and not live it out to the best of your ability.  Just me thoughts. What do you think?

Tonight I’m speaking at the Houston area Summer Youth Series. There should be about 800-1,000 students there tonight. I’m telling the grossest story ever, but it’s true and makes a great point, so I think it’ll work. ( A note to young speakers: You can’t tell bathroom stories until you get really good at it like me. 😉

I rented and watched “Saved” last week. It’s pretty tough on Christians, but says a lot about some of the Pharisaical behaviors that Jesus was pretty tough on too. If you haven’t seen it, rent it and watch it. If appropriate watch it with your teenage kids after you’ve seen it and can talk them through it.


Is this religious persecution? The Germans won’t let Tom Cruise – and the Scientology that comes with him – film in Germany. Check it out here.


Okay, I have to confess: I was generous in my review of Evan Almighty. The movie is just not that good! Now you all know.

I like Tom Shadyac’s movies though. Keep at it Tom, no one bats 1,000. (A note to Hollywood: Christians don’t like movies just because they’re “Christian.” They have to be good, too!)


You can vote for the cover of Donald Miller’s new book. Click here. I love Miller’s book – at least the beginnings and ends are always good – so pick a good one.

The Family

Posted: June 19, 2007 in family, fatherhood, home, kids, ministry, missional

I think the family is important! I think that the family, particularly husbands and wives, are a great metaphor for the God’s relationship with humankind. The family is the backbone of so much in our world and time, resources and energy should be put into it. But, do you ever wonder if the family has become an idol, the object of Christian worship?

Here’s what I mean: It seems that in the Christian world, the family is being held out as the focus of spiritual life. We hear time and again that good Christians have good families complete with kids who never get into trouble.

A few years ago, I received a mailer from a non-profit religious group from Colorado Springs. I can’t remember what they were selling, but I do remember one line. It said something like this, “We want to help your church with its number one concern, the family.” I thought, “Good thing they sent this to me, because I didn’t know that the family was my number one concern. I thought it was the kingdom of God.”

What’s more, Christian bookstores, particularly evangelical ones, are littered and laced with books about “the family.” We’re awfully concerned with protecting our families, raising our families, keeping them from the evil “culture” out there, and making sure they don’t grow up to be, of all things, liberals! Christian radio touts that it’s “family friendly” and right now I’m sitting in a coffee shop that is peppered with copies of Houston Christian Magazine, which has as it’s subtitle, “Family Friendly News with an Eternal Purpose.”

Don’t get me wrong. I have two daughters and I’m VERY concerned about how they are raised and I’m hopeful that one day they will both own their own faith. But don’t we have to question whether or not Jesus died for something grander than us having good families? Don’t we all remember Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Family?

One of my old professors, Jack Reese, used to say, “Jesus didn’t die so we could have good advice.” And to me, so much focus on the family (no pun intended) has turned the cross into a how-to method of having a great vacation with your kids. Plus, I’m not sure what a “good family” even means.

My parents divorced when I was 15, yet still I’m in ministry working with people and families. My brother is getting married next month and he and his girlfriend are deeply committed to and involved with their church. By some people’s standards, our family is “broken.” Plus, what does all this emphasis on family mean for those people who take Paul seriously when he says it’s better to not marry. Or what do we do with the fact that Paul and Jesus were single? Not to mention those whose children have grown up and moved away. Is the church just a good tool to help us raise our kids? (And by the way, when Christians say “family” what they mean is “people with kids.”) And guess what, some of the best husbands and fathers I know aren’t Christians (or are nominal Christians without any real commitment to living in the way of Jesus). If we’ve cornered the market on how to do family well someone should tell these guys.

Here’s my hypothesis: At some point, probably the late 60’s, we realized that people were deeply concerned about their kids as the world turned post-Christian. In response, we learned that we could grow churches by focusing on the family and telling folks that if they hung out with us we would help raise their kids, keep them virginal and off drugs (all good things, by the way). So that’s where our energy went. And in many ways this has been good for many people.

The problem is that the family alone is not a big enough vision for the church. When we place the family at center of the church we hurt ourselves. It feeds on our fears and anxieties and into our consumerist tendency to have someone provide what we feel we cannot. Plus, it misses the missional nature of God. When we focus on the family, we focus on ourselves while the call of God is to embrace the other. At the same time, when we focus on our nuclear family over God’s family we undo the work of baptism which is partly designed to teach us that water is thicker than blood. When we are baptized, we claim the family of God, a family with folks who are different than us and across the globe and throughout time, as our primary identity. Baptism is a call out of the narrow world of thinking about those most like us and into a world most concerned with the missio dei – the mission of God – rather than the people under our roof.

My hunch is that if parents were to call their children into that kind of kingdom perspective and living then much of the rest would take care of itself.


Posted: June 19, 2007 in blogs, books, church, words, yancey

Recently, I posted a blog about leaving churches. People leave churches for a host of reasons, but one of the saddest is when folks feel their spiritual vitality fail and fade into distress or nothingness. This happens for a lot of reasons – some legitimate and some illegitimate. I don’t want to go into all that, rather I want to put forth some helpful suggestions of how to remain and gain spiritual vitality (if that’s even a good way to say it) when and if your local church experience leaves you lacking.

1. Don’t Expect the Church to Prop You Up Spiritually. There’s a lot to be said here on many different fronts, but suffice it to say this, “No thing or place can give you what only God can.”

2. Deeply Engage Spiritual Disciplines. If you’re a reader, a book like Marjorie Thompson’s “Soul Feast” is a good place to start to shape spiritual disciplines in your life. In the disciplines we find real spiritual life, rather than the pre-packed notions, assumptions, assertions, interests and agendas of pastors and church leadership structures. Plus, spiritual disciplines always lead back to Scripture.

3. Develop a Rule of Life. Thompson explains this well, but people need an explicit Rule to shape there lives. Hardly anything good happens by accident! If you want spiritual vitality you have to put forth intentional effort.

4. Find 2 or 3 People to Covenant With. Folks have done this through prayer groups, accountability groups and very small study groups. Each of us needs a place and people who will walk with us. This means we have to be fully open to others, sharing our lives and our very selves with them.

5. Find Great Podcasts. This is HUGE for me. There are some pastors and teachers whom God uses to speak to me, so I subscribe to their sermon podcasts. Plus, it’s a good use of traffic-sitting time.

6. Re-imagine Church. Can church be in your home with good friends and seekers? In coffee-shops? Online? If your imagination dictates that church is some place that offers some things, you will likely be frustrated at different points.

7. Read Philip Yancey’s Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church. I hate to suggest books, but this book changed my imagination concerning spiritual life, church and my own holy discontent with church. Here you will be amazed by people who challenged, loved and hated the church all while being the church in the world.

8. Teach Your Children the Great Stories of Scripture. These stories still speak and reveal God in ways that are profound. Plus, you will hear your children bring forth profound truths about Scripture that never occurred to you. These stories are designed to be lived into, not merely to entertain children. You and your kids will be blessed and changed.

9. Bless Your Pastors. Seriously, I mean it. And I’m not angling for free meals or gifts. But most church members don’t know their pastors (A lot of this is the pastors fault. Many of them are disconnected from the church on purpose). People don’t know their pastor’s hearts and what makes them tick on a personal level. If church members asked their pastors about their rearing, their spiritual journey and what God is doing in them, then sermons and classes would make much more sense. Plus, one of the great ways to deepen your spirituality is to be witness to it in another person.

10. Read The Palmer Perspective. I just thought I’d throw this in. Plus, since you’re already doing it, I wanted you to be able to check 1 of 10 off your list.