Archive for March, 2010

I have long been a fan of Brian McLaren – both the man and his writings. We’ve e-mailed back and forth through the years, been apart of a scripture project together (The Voice), shared multiple meals, and Brian spoke an important blessing into my life at a critical time. His “A New Kind of Christian” came along for me at the perfect time; a time when I thought I was becoming disillusioned with faith, but ultimately, I was disillusioned with the version of Christian practice I’d thoughtlessly inherited. Brian showed this to me. This is, perhaps, Brian’s greatest gift; causing people to reexamine, search, study, investigate and re-conclude. In this way, Brian is a one man Hegelian Dialectic.  This is why so many people distrust and despise him and his work while others love him. In “A New Kind of Christianity, (ANKoCty)” Brian’s newest release, McLaren will not disappoint his fan or his critics.

ANKofCty endeavors to consider 10 questions that Brian says are transforming the faith. Truth is, these questions are not transforming the faith, but Brian wants them to, and he’s right to want it. The ten questions: (1) The Narrative Question, (2) The Authority Question; (3) The God Question, (4) The Jesus Question, (5) The Gospel Question, (6) The Gospel Question, (7) The Church Question, (8) The Sex Question, (9) The Future Question, and (10) The Pluralism Question are good ones, and Brian hopes to help push us ahead as we think through them together.

At the heart of ANKofCty is what McLaren calls, the “Greco-Roman” reading of scripture. This, it seems, is the root of our collective problems in terms of church and culture. Brian argues that freeing ourselves from this narrative releases us to answer the 10 questions Brian poses more faithfully. Within the Greco-Roman reading of scripture, Brian argues, there is no room for story or development, which ultimately gives rise to a “six-line narrative” that prejudices our reading of scripture. McLaren argues the “six-line narrative” leads us to all the wrong conclusions about everything – which Brian endeavors to demonstrate throughout the remaining pages of ANKofCty. In the end, Brian argues that we have read the Bible backwards with our filter coming through Paul, the apostles, Augustine, Plato and the Platonism and philosophical systems that are foreign to the true nature of the scriptures. Therefore, our view of Jesus and the Bible is not the Jesus OF the Bible, but a character – or caricature – inherited by thousands of years of interpretation lodged and birthed by the Greco-Roman narrative and Greek philosophy. This is Brian’s central thesis and gives rise to his conclusions.

I think Brian is both right and wrong. In fact, having read nearly all his books, I have never felt more strongly that he is both right on and far off course. This is what I mean: In terms of McLaren’s analysis of the Greco-Roman reading, he is dead on. The problem is that there is no way to avoid this, no way to time travel back through scripture and get something other than what we already got. This is where Brian is right and wrong. Having been raised in a “Restoration” movement, I know all too well the nonsensical pitfalls of thinking you can just skip over history, doctrine, theology, and theological and ecclesial development and get back to “the real thing.”

It cannot be done!

At best you miss the richness of the tradition that has given life to the faith that gives us life, at worst, you become a partisan to largely uneducated, ununified and incoherent belief system. If we were able leap backward over the hurdles of history to uncover a new way – or the grand old way – to read and interpret text without the obstacles course of 2000 years worth of interpretation and thought, then we would be forced to just to pick a method, system or interpretive lens and go with it arbitrarily.

Been there. Done that. Thank you very much.

All of that to say this; even Brian is coming at the text from somewhere “post-Jesus” in terms of history. Is he right in arguing that the method we’ve chosen is bad for hosts of reasons? Yes.  Is it possible for us to read and interpret Jesus the way McLaren wants us to, without the narratives that have been imposed heretofore? Unfortunately, no.

This means that all of our conclusions, even Brian’s, have to be held loosely, with epistemological humility. Perhaps it is my own ecclesial history, but something in my gut churns at the thought of dismissing church history and the schools of thought developed through it. For this reason, I’m open to the idea that I may be seeing shadows and experiencing paranoia where there need not be. I may be reacting to something not explicit in the pages of ANKofCty.

At the same time, Brian has offered the most helpful way forward on a number of issues that are becoming tremendously important to more and more people – sexuality, pluralism, etc…. He is far from convincing his critics or those entrenched in either/or, black/white, privileged / unprivileged thinking, but Brian’s conclusions, I think, are generally pointing the church in the right direction – though I need more convincing in some areas, myself. Both critics and fans of Brian know where he’s going with many of the issues addressed in ANKofCty before they turn the first page, but what is good about his work is that he provides a useable way forward for conversation (for those willing to have it). Using the Biblical text, McLaren at least gets the ball rolling and establishes what can become common language around these issues. This, I think, is the great service Brian has done for us.

In addition, Brian explores Romans in ways many will find broadening. In fact, I read ANKofCty with my Bible open. Trust me: this does not happen often! What more can you ask of a book? Brian forced me to look into the scriptures and I found myself looking differently. That alone is worth the price of purchase. I doubt that I’ll ever be able to read Romans the same way after engaging ANKoCty.

Likely the most out of character elements of ANKofCty comes in chapters 12 and 13 dealing with The Jesus Question. To articulate his vision of Jesus, McLaren takes on two vocal critics who happen to hold in common the ability to be consistently wrong and increasingly sought-after.  For those in the know, the critics are fairly easy to recognize, though Brian does not name them. What is out of character is Brian’s pointed language. Having spent time with Brian multiple times, I’ve found him to be irenic and generous, these chapters weren’t. At the end of chapter 12, I wrote in the margin, “Bam! One in ___________ _______________’s kisser.”

Between you and I, the rebuke was long overdue. Overdue not because scores needed settling, but because this particular critic has, and often does, misread Jesus and the Bible, offering an alternative gospel, in my view. This critic seems to envision Christian leadership as a full-contact blood sport and Brian gives him what he wants. Brian skillfully disarmed the violent, warrior-only version of Jesus, which had the added benefit of fitting nicely into Brian’s overall aims in ANKofCty. At the same time, he gave one particular critic the only kind of conversation he seems to understand. Harsh! In this way, the rebuke can be described as incarnational – speaking to people in their own language.

If Brian’s goal is to get people thinking and talking, ANKofCty is a success. Clearly not all will embrace his vision, yet others will be freed to pursue the Spirit in wild and new directions. Ultimately, ANKofCty is more than worth the time. I suggest reading it community. Drink from it slowly and invest in the ideas, maybe even choosing one question and digging deep over time. This is not a book for singular and individual thought. Brian has returned to what he does best – challenging the church. And he does so brilliantly this go round.

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Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Viral Bloggers for the purpose of this review.

It been a while since I articulated a theological perspective regarding why I advocate a world without nuclear weapons. I’m not going to do that now, either – at least not a purely theological perspective – but I will attempt to articulate the most common and palpable reason we should all work together toward this goal. Here goes…Nuclear Weapons Are Not Safe!

When a nuclear weapon is detonated, it is unlikely that a nation-state will have lit the fuse. This is contrary to the commonly held belief that nuclear weapons make us safer. There was, however, a time when this thinking was true: The Cold War era. The fear of mutually assured destruction (MAD) served to dissuade any country from using nuclear weapon. Mad was the logic of deterrence. It worked for the Cold War. But the Cold War is thankfully over.

Add to that the fact that the logic no longer works that Osama Bin Laden and his al qaeda network have stated as their express goal the murder of 4 millions Americans. This, my friends, will not happen on an airliner over the Atlantic. What I mean is this: The greatest threat for nuclear attack is not from a nation, regardless of how rogue it is. The greatest threat is from terrorists. The existence of nuclear weapons once made us safer, now they do not.

We cannot forget that terrorists networks have been attempting to steal, buy and/or build a nuclear weapon for over a decade. This fact is made all the more unsettling when we come face-to-face with the number of nuclear warheads that have been lost or misplaced. The most sobering fact about contemporary life may be that Russia, without its Cold War army and infrastructure, has become the nuclear Craigslist for madmen high on destruction and low on conscience. Crazily enough, these nuclear weapons are walking out the back door of Russia under master plans only slightly more sophisticated than a 16 year-old girl sneaking out her bedroom window after curfew.

Without going into the gory details, let me say this: When a nuclear weapon goes off, regardless of where it is in the world, everything else everywhere else shuts down. Millions dead in an instant, millions more die from the literal meltdown of organs and tissue, the global food supply line collapses, environmental carnage happens in both an instant and throughout the next decades and this is only the beginning. One bomb means everybody loses! There is no location in the world where a bomb can detonate that does not unleash death on us all. As my friend Tyler says, “Would we celebrate a tumor on the liver because we believe it to more responsible than the brain?”

If that’s not enough for you, consider what would happen in our world should one bomb be detonated in a major city like Los Angeles and the group claiming responsibility were to threaten another detonation should their demands not be met. What would we do then?

I’m not a slippery sloper, but I cannot escape the simple fact that nothing in our world has ever been made yet never used. Someone will use a nuclear weapon someday. It is, IMHO, an inevitability. For that reason, the world needs a strong, intrusively verifiable, and punitive system to reduce and eventually destroy all nuclear weapons. Thankfully, it can be done. We can implement system to ensure that new weapons are not created. Hopefully, this little fact will keep us from killing ourselves.

Last night I had the privileged and honor of viewing a soon-to-be-released documentary entitled, Countdown To Zero.  The film documents (as you might conclude from it being a “documentary”) the necessity of reducing the world’s  22,000+ nuclear weapons to the whopping sum of ZERO . Those of you who know me and read this blog know that this issue – nuclear reduction – is increasingly becoming a passion of mine.  I have previously blogged about the issue here and here. And Countdown To Zero has only increased my desire to invite you to join in this cause along with me.

On the face of things, the idea of a world without nuclear weapons seems far-fetched, naïve and even crazy. Yet truth be told, some very serious men and women are working toward it and have been for some time. These “crazy, hippie, utopian dreamers” include George Schultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry, Sam Nunn, 70% of living former Secretaries of State, Defense, and National Security Advisors. This list also includes John McCain, Jim Baker, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, President Obama, and Russian President Dimitry Medvedev. And much of it began with Ronald Reagan.  These names alone should hearten us that the issue is non-partisan, realistic, and, most importantly, doable. No one, I think, has ever considered George Schultz gullible or utopian. Yet rather than rehearsing the reasons for non-proliferation and reduction, please read my friend, Tyler’s, insightful and thorough essay here.

What I need from you, and what the world needs from you, is to keep your eye out for this movie. The film is high quality, informative, troubling and oddly inspiring. I have seen it, hope to see it again next month and will proudly take people from my family, church and community to see it in the theatre this summer. If you live in NorCal, hit me up and we’ll go together.

While you’re waiting for the release, go ahead and educate yourself. Start with Two Futures Project. Sign-up to receive e-mail and get involved. Then cruise over to Global Zero. If you really want to get nerdy, hop over to the Nuclear Security Project. Next, sign-up for twitter and follow the guys: @seanpalmer, @armscontrolnow, @nukes_of_hazard, @cirincione, @TylerWS, @globalzero, and especially @2FP.

It is my hope and plan to help engage Christians around this issue. In fact, if — and some people say it’s only a matter of time until “when” — a nuclear weapon is discharged, none of the other good works that occupy our prayers and labors will matter. Let’s work together to change the world for good.

As you know, I’m a big fan of books and reading. Our world needs more reading not less. So I found this video (posted on Michael Hyatt’s blog) very interesting.

Here’s to more reading…in whatever form it comes.

How To Read

Posted: March 16, 2010 in books, leadership, reading, words

I read a lot. And I don’t even get to read everything that I want.  At this very moment, I have 633 articles waiting review on Google Reader and I just cleared it out 5 minutes ago. I am in the midst of 4 great books, and am constantly reading and reviewing books, articles for blogs, reading for teaching, to better my leadership and sermon preparation. Certainly, most people don’t need to read this much – and if statistics are true, most people don’t read. A major reason reading frustrates many of us is because there are certain skills to reading that no one teaches us. This is not an indictment of others or an elevation of myself, it just means that speakers, teachers, leaders and opinion-makers must read and stay information current to do what they do well.

Occasionally, I’m asked about my reading habits, so here are.

  1. Read Widely – As a minister I read both academic theology and popular level material, but more than that, it’s important to remain current on leadership, marketing, communications, technology, etc…. Plus, good leaders read works from multiple perspectives. Never become locked in to one particular human perspective. Think big. Think broad.
  2. Know When to Stop – Not every book deserves to be finished. 80% of the content is in 20% of the book. Because publishers generally think people won’t buy shorter books, most books have “filler” – a good bit of it, in fact. Skip it. Read and incorporate the important parts. Keep the rest for reference.
  3. Read “How To Read A Book” – I was required to read this book in graduate school. In it, Charles Van Dooren (yes, the Charles Van Dooren who cheated on “21” as was chronicled in the movie “Quiz Show”) teaches you how to understand how books are written and how to read them to follow the author’s “argument.” You’re missing out on your reading if you don’t know how to read. Reading is less natural than you’ve been told.
  4. Force Yourself – Reading is a discipline. When you’re working through a book make yourself complete a certain # of pages every day. You’ll be amazed at how you start to tear through books at, say, 50 pages/ day. I know people who exercise their bodies for hours a day, but never exercise their mind. Reading is exercise for your mind and heart.
  5. Use Google Reader – RSS feeds are incredible. In 10 minutes you can keep up with a great deal of what’s happening in the world and in your particular interest. This is when blogs, and finding good bloggers matters.

My guess is that by incorporating these 5 simple principles, you will enjoy and increase your reading. Remember, reading engages the heart and mind while leading us to new places in thought and deed. My hope is that you would becoming a lover of ideas and that those ideas would change the world.