Thursday, February 25, 2010


new blog over at

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Theology reading list: Pauline Interpretation

So a couple days ago J.R. Briggs offered some good tips on reading well. It spurred some good conversation.

Well, I'm currently working on my comp. questions for at Marquette, and I thought that some of you all would be interested in what I have to read for my tests. So today, is my bibliography on Contemporary Pauline Theology with special reference to the Philippians Hymn. I would highly recommend the short book by Stendahl to see where the "New Perspective on Paul" came from and where N.T. Wright got everything (well, kinda).

Pauline Interpretation

F. C. Baur, Paul, Apostle of Jesus Christ: His Life and Works, His Epistles and Teachings (Reprint; Peabody: Henrickson, 2003), part 3.

Albert Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, trans. William Montgomery (New York: Seabury, 1968), 1-40, 52-140, 334-396.

Rudolf Bultmann, The Theology of the New Testament, trans. Kendrick Grobel (2 Vols.; New York: Scribner, 1951-55), 187-345.

Ernst Käsemann, “‘The Righteousness of God’ in Paul,” in New Testament Questions of Today (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1969), 168-82.

____________Justification and Salvation History in the Epistle to the Romans,” in New Testament Questions of Today (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1969), 60-78.

Krister Stendahl, Paul Among Jews and Gentiles (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976)

E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), 431-557.

James D. G. Dunn, “The New Perspective on Paul,” in idem, The New Perspective on Paul: Collected Essays (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), 99-120

--------------“The Theology of Galatians: The Issue of Covenantal Nomism,” in Jouette M. Bassler, ed., Pauline Theology Volume 1: Thessalonians, Philippians, Galatians, Philemon (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), 125-46

James D. G. Dunn, “The Narrative Approach to Paul: Whose Story?” in Bruce W. Longenecker, ed., Narrative Dynamics in Paul: A Critical Assessment (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2002), 217-30.

James D. G. Dunn, “Once More, Pistou Christou,” in E. E. Johnson and David Hay, eds., Pauline Theology Volume IV: Looking Back, Pressing On, 249-271

J. Louis Martyn, “Events in Galatia,” in Jouette M. Bassler, ed., Pauline Theology Volume 1: Thessalonians, Philippians, Galatians, Philemon (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), 160-79

Daniel Boyarin, A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (Berkeley: University of California, 1994), 1-85, 228-260.

Richard B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1- 4:11 (2nd Ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), xxi-lii.

Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 1-33.

Francis Watson, “Is There a Story in These Texts?” in Bruce W. Longenecker, ed., Narrative Dynamics in Paul: A Critical Assessment (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2002), 231-39.

Richard B. Hays, “Pistou Christou and Pauline Christology,” in E. E. Johnson and David Hay, eds., Pauline Theology Volume IV: Looking Back, Pressing On, 35-60.

Francis Watson, Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith (New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 1-29.

Mark Seifrid, “The Narrative of Scripture and Justification by Faith: A Fresh Response to N. T. Wright,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 72 (2008), 19-44.

Richard Horsley, ed., Paul and Politics (Harrisburg: Trinity Press, 2000), 160-83.

Philippians Hymn

Bauckham, Richard. God crucified : monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (Carlisle : Paternoster Press, 1998), 51-61.

Dunn, James D.G. Christology in the making : a New Testament inquiry into the origins of the doctrine of the incarnation (Philadelphia : Westminster Press, c1980), 98-125.

Fowl, Stephen E. Philippians (Grand Rapids, Mich. : Eerdmans Pub. Co., c2005).

Heen, Erik M. “Phil 2:6-11 and Resistance to Local Timocratic Rule: Isa theo and the Cult of the Emperor in the East.” In Paul and the Roman Imperial Order, ed. by Richard A. Horsley, pp. 125-53. (Harrisburg: Trinity, 2004).

Gorman, Michael J. Inhabiting the cruciform God : kenosis, justification, and theosis in Paul's narrative soteriology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009), 9-39.

Keesmaat, Sylvia. “Crucified Lord or Conquering Saviour: Whose Story of Salvation?” Horizons in Biblical Theology, 26 (2004), 69-93.

Martin, Ralph P. A hymn of Christ : Philippians 2:5-11 in recent interpretation & in the setting of early Christian worship (Downers Grove, Ill. : InterVarsity Press, c1997).

Martin, Ralph P. and Brian J. Dodd, eds. Where Christology began : essays on Philippians 2 (Louisville, Ky. : Westminster John Knox Press, c1998).

Oakes, Peter. Philippians : from people to letter (Cambridge, UK ; New York, NY, USA : Cambridge University Press, 2001).

Wright, N.T. The climax of the covenant : Christ and the law in Pauline theology (Edinburgh, Scotland : T & T Clark, 1991), 56-98.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Spiritual Leadership

What is spiritual leadership? What does it consist of, where does it come from, where does it propel us?

Let me know because at Life on the Vine we have been thinking more and more about leadership development, and this has returned me to a classic from my college years (which, surprisingly, is over 10 years past). This classic for me is Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders. So I've decided that over the next couple of days and weeks I'm going to take various sounding from that book and reflect on them here. Sanders still speak to, encourages, and exhorts me to a deeper spiritual leadership and, frankly, I still haven't found a better leadership book that covers all the basics.

But because I've read the book several times, it would help me to know what issues or topics you think most important so I can focus on those themes rather than merely whatever strikes me.

So let me know what you think is most important for or about spiritual leadership? And hopefully together we can gaze through the murky waters of leadership.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Missional Monday: Baptismal Family

How do you understand and practice the ecclesial truth of the Family of God? And not just in the social sense that we, who practice faith in Christ, are part of a new reality, but that we truly have a Father with whom we can intimately converse.

At Life on the Vine we speak of the centrality of the Baptismal Family, around which the Biological Family must be ordered. This means that those with children, or even married couples, must not mirror the dominant cultural obsession with the nuclear family and all its activities, habits, and typical seclusion. Rather, our Biological Families are not the center of the social, political, moral, or economic universe because the Family of God is the center of all things. We try to indoctrinate our congregation along these lines especially around Easter when we baptize our youth and new believers, and during Pentecost when we bless and receive infants into the community of the Family of God, exhorting young parents that they cannot do it alone. And the reverse is true for singles. While the culture debases singles and makes marriage the norm, in the Baptismal Family of God all have a necessary place, meaning, and significance.

But for me this is really just the surface of what it means, for really, there are so many of us who come from broken families, who never had fathers who loved them, who never had healthy brothers to protect or exhort them, who never had sisters to encourage them, and never had mothers to nurture them. There are so many who are lost and wandering because they never really had a family to speak of (even if there family existed in some sense with all the elements). There are some many who have been emotionally, relationally, and spiritually orphaned by their families, and they feel it so deeply every Christmas when they go home. Or perhaps they have just stopped going home because there is nothing there.

It is here, in these places of loneliness, of insecurity, of defensiveness, and hurt that the church must live out the truth of the Family of God. There is not merely pastors and congregants, employees and a building, founding members…No, we are fathers, and mothers, sisters and brothers to each other. One’s pain is all our pain; and another’s joy is all our joy. It is here that we break the rule of what it is OK to talk about with others who are in our family, where we say hard things, where we show and embarrassing amount of love, where we can just be awkward because its're home.

So, how can we better witness to the Family of God? For, certainly, each biological family should be practicing the mission of God, but the Baptismal Family witnesses to the love of the Father for all.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

this is a test.

oh, yeah a test. baby!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Missional Monday: Verge, LA

I'll be heading out to LA this Friday for Verge, LA: where the next BIG idea meets UNconference. If you are near by you should check it out.


Friday, November 13th – 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Saturday, November 14th – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Fountain Room

The Ecclesia Network


Please RSVP to the event on Facebook, as we need an accurate estimate for lunch on Saturday.

We will be thinking imaginatively about the future of the church with others in an open-source gift economy way. The next BIG idea is about giving time to interact about innovative ways to partner with God in the renewal of all things. Unconference is about freely sharing creative ideas with one another without putting anyone on a pedestal. It is more participant oriented than personality driven, which is why there will be no lists of speakers. There is also no cost, because people share their gifts and knowledge freely.

Within a 24-hour period there will be twenty 14-minute presentations by 18 – 20 different speakers from 18 – 20 different churches on innovative ways to think and live missionally. Some of the missional themes that people may talk about include:

Colonialism and Mission
Leadership and Mission
Worship and Mission
Strategy and Mission
Sabbath and Mission
Incarnation and Mission
Prophetic Ministry and Mission
Unity and Mission
Social Justice and Mission
Anthropology and Mission
Jesus and Mission
Community and Mission
Hospitality and Mission
Spiritual Leadership and Mission
Spaces and Mission
Neighborhood and Mission
Economics and Mission
Pacifism and Mission

In addition, we will have interactive times with those who share as well as informal conversation at different venues around Hollywood.

Verge LA 2009 Smaller

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Sounds of Silence

There are at least two levels of silence, if not many more: the silence after the audible sounds have left, and the silence after the accusers and justifiers have left.

The first is just getting to a place or a space, of solitude, of quiet, of silence. This is where physical, or audible silence, or at least something close enough to it to give the mind room to listen. Only utter silence works if I have ear plugs in, because mere stillness still has creaking floors, stepping cats, or distance cars to distract (they actually startle me, which is worse). Often I just use a fan or something that lightly covers over those other noices, something consistant and non-discript. But this is all merely technique preparing for silence by getting rid of the exterior sounds.

The second level of silence I often do not achieve. This is occurs when all the sounds of the accusers and justifiers have left my mind and my soul. Some struggle more with silencing the accurser, other the justifiers. The accusers all the thoughts and memories of what has gone wrong in a day or week, or last five minutes, and the recounting of your responsibility, of your guilt, of your shame within those moments. These voices are infinitely varied for each person because of our different families and contexts. The voices might accuse about failing to love someone, or being responsible for someone else’s failure, or you being the cause of relational problems, or you not raising your children right way, or you saying something just like your mother. It could almost be anything, and often is everything you have done, said, or left undone or unsaid. These voices often take on the persona of someone else, or God, a parent, sibling, spouce, friend, of some other authority in your life, shifting between these persons depending on the situation or infaction. The accuser slips into silence and proclaims that you are unworthy and unacceptible.

The voice of the justifier is usually given your own voice. It is you trying to explain, argue, convince others that you are right about something, that you didn’t mess it up, that they are the ones who don’t understand, that they are the ones in sin and causing all the problems. This is the voice of self-justification, or self-satisfaction before others, knowing that you are superior, but needing to tell yourself again just so that you feel better about yourself and your situation, about your effort, about your life. The justifier replays that past argument at work, and changes it so you come out looking good. It anticipates that future conversation you need to have with a friend about how they were wrong to treat you so poorly and how it offended you. The justifier mulls over a perceived social slighting by another, and dreams about how it might be reciprocated. In all these ways the justifer slips into the silence and proclaims that you are essentially right and good.

But in a sense, both the accuse and the justifer are addictions which we hardly know about until we enter silence. They are manifestations that we are addicted to ourselves, either in condemnig ourselve or approving of ourselves. And don’t be fooled, while it might seem transparent that self-justification is of course odious for Christians, self-loathing is equally as bad. While the former trusts ourselves for approval, the latter does not trust God in his approval of us.

But in any case, passing into the second level of silence is to silence these voices, which is a mental struggle all its own. It is here amid the warring voices heard most clearly in silence that we can turn toward the grace of God, the approval of God, the truth of God spoken in Christ. And this voice of Christ is only heard after the sounds of silence have ceased.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Missional Monday: Editability vs Accountability

Do you live in a world of accountants or editors? Are you yourself an accountant or an editor? I’m not talking in the sense of actual professions, but rather in your relationships, in how you understand others, and in your community.

Joe Myers, in Organic Community, speaks of the difference between accountability and edit-ability: the former looks for mistakes and problems while the latter looks for goodness and improvement. Here is the quick and dirty as Myers breaks it down:
- accountability relationships are bilt on the understanding that people are primarily bad and sinful.
- edit-ability relationships are built on the understanding that people are good, made in the image of God.

- the accountabilty partner looks for mistakes and keeps an account.
- the editor looks for trengths and makes suggestions for imporvemnet.

- the accountability partner initiates accountability discussions on a regular schedule or on whatever schedule that accountability partner deems necessary for proper recording.
- in a relationship of edit-ability, one person brings requests for help to the other on an as-needed basis.

- the accountability partner tries to help by creating more structures, rules, and regulations.
- the editor makes suggestions but leaves the major reworking wih the individual.

- the accountability partner is often drawn from a limited resource pool (e.g. someone within the individual’s organized small group).
- the editor is a person of one’s own choosing, in whatever spher of life would be helpful.

- the accountability partner tries to get the individual to cooperate with and conform to certain standards and expectations (a prescriptive pattern).
- the editor allows one to resource oneslef in whatever ways are healthy (a descriptive pattern).

- the accountability partner emphasizes and inadvertently reinforces the negative behavior by concentrating on it.
- an editor celebrates the journey of wholeness.

- the accountability partner holds the power.
- the project--health or wholeness--holds the power.
Now for the most part, I really like the way he construes this, speaking of the accountability relationship as one of cooperation according to a master plan as opposed to edit-ability as a relationship of collaboration according to an organic order.

But I must say, that while great in theory, often life is not so clear cut. There needs to be a connections relationships of accountability to root out sin and relationships of edit-ability to foster grace and the gifts of the Spirit. While one portion of my theology says that humans are created good in the image of God, another part of my theology (and most of my experience) says the Fall messed everything up, so I can’t whole-sale affirm editorial understanding of relationships. However, as Myers says, “when presented with th option, most peole prefer an author-editor relationship over a client-accountant relationship.” And certainly this is true, and a needed corrective to such evangelical spirituality which merely focuses on sin-management. So let us recover this edit-ability where we celebrate God’s grace in each other, but let us not abdicate the responsibility of legitimate accountability

The Lost Tools of Learning

"We let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects. We who were scandalized in 1940 when men were sent to fight armored tanks with rifles, are not scandalized when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of "subjects"; and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotized by the arts of the spellbinder, we have the impudence to be astonished. We dole out lip-service to the importance of education, lip service and, just occasionally, a little grant of money; we postpone the school-leaving age, and plan to build bigger and better schools; the teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school hours; and yet, as I believe, all this devoted effort is largely frustrated, because we have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it.” (Dorothy L. Sayers, "The Lost Tools of Learning")
Children are taught various subjects (history, literature, science, arts), but not how to deal with subjects. They are not taught the tools of learning, or organizing, or criticizing a subject, but the facts of a subject from an authority. These lost tool are basic grammar (rules of a subject), logic (rules argumentation of a subject), and rhetoric (rules for articulating and debating a subject). The are taught the basics of reading words, but not of reading for arguments, for biases, for implications, for spurious reasoning.

Dorothy Sayers wrote the above over 50 years ago, but are we, and our children, not still worse off? They know words but not the power of words, nor how to articulate the Word, and are left vulnerable.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Missional Mondays: On being a Pre-Evangelical

It used to be in vogue to be post-evangelical. And to some extent I can understand this. People understand evangelicals often according to those who speak the loudest while at the same time defining it the narrowest. For those who became post-evangelical it was a protest of sorts about an all too limited theology and all too shallow view of society. This conversation continues still now with Rob Bell, and there with Scot McKight, and over here with Tony Jones.

For many it seemed like post-evangelicals had lost the truth, lost the way, lost the life which comes with modern Christianity. But these post-evangelicals always claimed they were working their way back to the way, truth, and life of Christ, and his Gospel, the euangelion. But then Robert Webber helped us to back off a bit and to think about pragmatic and younger evangelicals. And now people just busy themselves with out-maneuvering each other with historical and biblical investigation about what being evangelical really means.

For me, since I’ve been at Marquette, a catholic university, I have just returned to calling myself an evangelical (it always make me laugh when the student here ask about my evangelical religion). Perhaps I like the scandal it makes when people who used to be evangelicals find out that I still consider myself one (they are often now either disillusioned with the church, or have turned into Anglicans…One post-evangelical, now Anabaptist, philosophy student audibly guffawed during when he found out it was still an evangelical!).

But, I think I’m going to make a change. I would like to think of myself as a Pre-Evangelical, as one who is waiting for these little turf wars to die down, one waiting for a re-birth of the truly Evangelical. I’m want to be a Pre-Evangelical, not as one trying to get behind a fundamentalist/liberal divide or the modernist debates of the 1920’s, or recover some authentic 19th-Century religiosity, but one looking forward to a glorious dawn, one could even say the return, the parousia, toward which the Evangel points and proclaims.

I claim to be a Pre-Evangelical because the Gospel has yet to totally take root, to fully transform me. As John tells us, "what we will be has not yet been made known," but because I am being made into the image of Christ, who is The Evangelical, we know that "when he appears, we shall be like him" (1 John 3:2) and only then will I be able to claim to be an Evangelical.

So who will join me? Let's start a movement, a revolution, of Pre-Evangelicals. But let it not be through publishing contracts or conference circuits, let it not be through blogs and tweeds, let it not be through doctrinal emphases or identity markers, but let us Pre-Evangelicals live, proclaims, follow, give, die, and rise again with Christ the Evangelical. Let us not argue over being a post-Evangelical, but living into the Gospel as something before us that leads us on.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Christian Radio Redeemed!

I can't believe it, but it is true. One line from one song has temporarily redeemed Christian radio for me: "Late have I loved you."

Yes, that is right.
There is a song played on KLOV which references St. Augustine's Confessions. Here is the full excerpt for Augustine.
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you. You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
The song was written by Matt Maher, who is known for composing "Your Grace is Enough" which was made popular by Chris Tomlin. Now this song that I heard, Alive Again, is basically structured around this excerpt, which is read on the feast day of Saint Augustine.

Oh, did I mention that Matt Maher is Catholic.
Yes! A song that was written as a reflection from the reading on the feast day of Saint Augustine is now at TOP 20 song on KLOV. Incredible! Christian Radio can be redeemed.

Here are all the lyrics, not sentimental or poorly crafted, well written and drawing from the ancient traditions of the church.

Alive Again

I woke up in darkness 
Surrounded by silence 

Oh where, oh where have I gone? 

I woke to reality Losing its grip on me 

Oh where, where have I gone? 

'Cause I can see the light 
 Before I see the sunrise

You called and You shouted 

Broke through my deafness 

Now I'm breathing in and breathing out 

I'm alive again 

You shattered my darkness 

Washed away my blindness 

Now I'm breathing in and breathing out

I'm alive again 

Late have I loved You ,
You waited for me, I searched for You 

What took me so long? 

I was looking outside 
As if Love would ever want to hide 

I'm finding I was wrong

 'Cause I feel the wind 
 Before it hits my skin 

You called and You shouted 

Broke through my deafness 

Now I'm breathing in and breathing out

I'm alive again 

You shattered my darkness 

Washed away my blindness 

Now I'm breathing in and breathing out 

I'm alive again

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Missional Monday: 10 People Not To Have In A Church Plant...

Here is a list of 10 personality types that destroy all the energy of planning and planting churches (and even the energy of an existing church). The opposite to these are based in deep faith and relational maturity, something I'll be posting on later (and if I was artistic I would made fun little drawings of the people).

So, the top 10 people not to have in a church plant...

1) Mr. Dream-Killer
"Come on, let's be realistic!"
"Don't you realize what facts are?"

2) Ms. Nay-Sayer
"That just doesn't make sense."
"That would never work."

3) Ms. Air-Talker
(to no one in particular, to everyone in general)
"I really wish this meeting could start on time."
-(translation: you are wasting my time and I don't like it.)
"At least I did what I was supposed to do."
-(translation: I'm the most responsible one here but no one appreciates me.)

4) Mr. Been-There (or Mrs. Done-That)
"We tried that once in the '90s, but..."
"People used to always think that, but..."

5) Ms. Reminds Me Of
"Once when I was 12 I saw a cat and..."
(then 7 minutes later)
"Oh yeah, that was like the time when I..."

6) Mr. Pouter
(with arms folded)
"...oh just forget it!"
(looking out the window)
"... you just don't understand."

7) Mr. Doer
(squirming in his chair)
"Are we still talking about this?"
"Are we done here? Can we move on?"

8) Ms. US Weekly (or if a man, Mr. Gus-ip)
(after the meeting)
"Did you know that X said...?"
"Could you believe X when Y said Z?!? OMG!!!"

9) Mr. Stereo(type)
"You always say that!"
"You sound just like..."

10) Mr. Bulldozer
"That is all well and good, but I think..."
"Really? It is more that obvious that..."

So, who do you think is missing?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

trust the community entrusted to you

In our organic leadership styles, and non-hierarchical organizations, where starfish grow and spiders flee, it is often heard that we must trust the community. We (leaders of some type) must learn to trust the community (and by that I mean individuals within the community) to work out its individual problems, sins, and issues. If leaders always jump in and attempt to solve the problems then people are deprived of the opportunity to learn the difficult skills of living together under the lordship of Christ. And they eventually become dependent on leaders to solve everything. So of course we need to trust the community, let it grow and learn at the proper rate, experiencing first hand how to live in Christ with others.

But, sometimes this hands-off approach to trusting the community turns into an abdication. For leaders, at least leaders commissioned by the church, have a responsibility to the community which has been entrusted to the leaders. While leaders (and there are always leaders no matter how democratic, or flattened your structure) must trust the community, they must also realize that the community has been entrusted to them for its care, protection, and provision. And while this idea of "entrustment" can lead to authoritarian abuse by those seeking to control a community according their own whims, we must not abdicate leadership when issues, problems, or sins threaten the general health of the church. If a wolf is loose in the sheep pen, it is the shepherd's responsibility to take care of it, not the community of sheep.

Finding the balance between intervention and abiding is very difficult, especially for action oriented and people oriented leaders (yes, that is everyone!). So, thankfully I get to work it out in community!

Monday, September 28, 2009

On not beginning with the book...

“We are inclined to begin with the book, with historical context and social setting, words and idioms, grammar and literary forms, religious and theological vocabulary, and the many other topics that command our attention. But the early Christians began with the risen Christ.”

by Robert Louis Wilken

“Interpreting the New Testament,” Pro Ecclesia 14 (2005): 15-25, 16.

Missional Monday: Pseudo-Spirituality

I had been warned! I had been warned by many that seminary would kill my spiritual life. But it is not the only thing that can. There are numerous pseudo-spiritualities that lull us into a way of life that only mirrors a vibrant life with Christ, but is in reality only a dim reflection.

A friend recently reflected with me about his struggle with the pseudo-spirituality of seminary life, where it is easy to think that reading Genesis 1-50 (in one sitting!) is simultaneously homework and devotion. Where one reads Trinitarian theology for 5 hours and allows oneself to claim the time as also a contemplative practice of union with God. But sadly, this is not the case, and seminary life can all too easily fall into pseudo-spirituality.

But unfortunately seminary is not the only place this occurs. Parenting can turn into pseudo-spirituality as we think teaching our children about God, or living as examples of Christ can replace our own struggle and practices of living in Christ. Pastoral ministry of all kinds (vocational or not) can fall into pseudo-spirituality. Leadership meetings, discipleship times, counseling prayer, hospital visitations, or sermon preparation can all lend themselves as spiritual practices of a kind, and it is tempting to allow them to replace disciplined time with Christ. Likewise, social action and community service, with all the time it demands and the concerns it generates can function as a pseudo-spirituality. The list could go on.

Now I’m certainly not saying all the above have no part in forming a vibrant life with Christ. That would be absolutely wrong. But rather the reverse. That all these must be fundamentally connected to Christ, and should never act as a replacement, but rather as an extension of living with Christ.

Here at Life on the Vine, we seek to “live in Christ, with one another, for God’s mission in the world.” But I must remember that I can’t allow living in community or the practices of mission to become the center of my spiritual life because then caring for/being with other and living the gospel life transforms into a pseudo-spirituality. Rather, “living in Christ” is the center that is not a center, because it permeates all things, for it is only by His Spirit that I can do all the others.

So what other forms of Pseudo-Spirituality have you been tempted by?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Missional Monday: Don't Reify "Helping the Poor"

I know that I am guilty of this at some level. But I'm really stuck. I, and many at Life on the Vine, are both concerned for the poor locally and globally. And that is the rub. You see, I'm concerned about not participating in poverty creating or exploitative economic practices, and therefore try as best I can to purchase ethically manufactured clothes, shoes, food, etc. I believe that every dollar I use to purchase something is not only related to that product, but circulates far beyond through economic practices/companies/regimes that I may or may not want to be affiliated with. For those reasons I support places like No Sweat, Autonomie Project, and Toms.

Now I don't think that is missed placed concern at all, but I also know the temptation to reify my concern for the poor in these concerns for exploitation free economics. Being missional is certainly not to stand on the heads of global workers by buying designer jeans while we go out to a local coffee shops or bars and drink a designer coffee or beer. But that is not enough. We still need to seek out the poor locally and not congratulate ourselves merely for supporting local economics (as good and right as that is).

So, anyway, that is what I'm trying to remember here in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

when pushing the envelope, don’t destroy the letter.

Many of us in the emerging church or missional conversations can become wary, disillusioned, and disappointed with the church. It moves so slowly. It changes imperceptibly. It squashed innovation ruthlessly (unless it is innovation of basically the same thing). Many times it seems that we can’t break out of the status quo without a serious jolt, a shock to the system, a dramatic upheaval.

And this is where we come in. The “we” of missional change. The “we” of emerging openness. The “we” of prophetic pronouncement. The “we” that wants to look back on our lives and know that “we” were on the side of history, of a great revolution, for God’s kingdom against the status quo of mere churchiness. And so “we” come to push the envelope. But often when “we” are pushing the envelope “we” end up destroying the letter. In the effort of tearing down walls we end up building new ones. Often we fail to accomplish what we set out to do, and lose ourselves and our relationships over an ideal.

But Paul, even in the midst of his immense frustration with the church in Corinth, needing to push all the envelopes and buttons to get them back in line, still could say and live:

You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Cor. 3:2-3)

Because letters written on hearts are from Christ, the ministries and individual which pushes the envelop in the name of Christ must take care not to destroy those letters in the process. Our zeal is no excuse for running over people and communities. So, when you are pushing the envelope, be sure you don't destroy the letter.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Science Fiction Friday: How Will The World End?

So this summer I read A Canticle for Leibowitz, and loved it. It is a post-apocalypic novel about the monks of St. Leibowitz who preserve the "memorabilia" of the previous (our) lost civilization, destroyed in a nuclear holocaust. The novel works its way through three different time periods as new generations grapple with the lost sciences and their eventual recovery. It is just brilliant. When Walter E. Miller wrote the novel in 1960, the threat of nuclear war was on everyone's mind. But now, are we really going to blow everything to kingdom come, or will world end in a different manner?

I have a sense that it will end differently, and not out of fear of other humans. It no doubt will still be motivated out of fear. But fear of what?

Here is my idea. What if we immunized ourselves to death out of fear of some pandemic? Really, what if we, in trying to create a vaccine, for say the swine flu, we ended creating some killer strain that wipes out 3/4ths of the world population. I'm talking about the scale of 12 Monkeys (great movie!) or 28 Days Later. I'm just wondering because I have heard rumors that we are headed toward the possibility of forced vaccines if the swine flu truly does escalate (here, here, and a video here), and what if it backfires or instead causes the pandemic.

To add fuel to the fire, below is a hip-hop version of an anti-vaccine announcement. it is pretty fun and somewhat informative (well, maybe). But it still makes one think. Also, if you are interested, you can choose your own apocalypse (at least for America).

But let me know how you think the world will end. Or rather, what do the bowls and scrolls of Revelation contain?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

On building walls

So I'm preaching this week on living together in Christ, and I need your help. What keeps us from living in the peace of Christ, the peace that IS Christ himself? What breaks up the unity of the Spirit in believers?

I'll be preaching on Eph. 2:11-22, of which 2:14 says, "For [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility." Compare it to Robert Frost's "Mending Wall", where the speaker acts like he is against walls, but still keeps mending them all the same (see commentary here, text below). But please let me know what you think is the reason for the Church to typically not live in the peace of Christ.

“Mending Wall”
by Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Monday, September 07, 2009

Missional Mondays: On not being so bad at b-ball

So this Labor Day weekend was full of sports (no, not just watching them), which means I had a great time of it. I got several games of volleyball in (and found out my cousin has mad skills). Then I played a bunch of corn hole, or as the capitalist Man calls it, Baggo (trademark). But to top it off, a couple high school guys call up to see if I wanted to play basketball with them. And so I just go back from playing some pick up ball down at the local middle school.

I had mentioned earlier about it being good missionally to be bad at something, but thankfully tonight I wasn't so bad (even though one team of polish guys killed us!). But it was really great because I was able to meet this college student, Denis, who is studying philosophy and sociology at NIU. And it just happens that I also studied philosophy in undergrad, and so we were able to talked about philosophy and religion, and little about his aspiration for law school.

Anyway, just briefly, this is a reminder that hobbies in the flow of life are the great beginnings of a missional lifestyle...always getting in the way of people so that they might stumble into the Way. Here is a great summary about ways to get in the way: 8 Easy Way to Be Missional.