A Meditation on the Nature of Sacrifice Part 2

Primary Audience – To Those That Want to Understand Basic Christian Theology
Secondary Audience – Skeptics, Agnostics, The “Over-Churched”

Last post asked the question, “Why does Jesus have to die?”
“Why can’t Jesus just stand in the temple and say, ‘New deal – confess you are a sinner, put your trust in me, I’ll forgive you, enjoy the abundant life right now and for all eternity?'” No blood, no cross, no need for a resurrection, So why the drama, why the violence?

What escaped me was the doctrine of sin and holiness. Being raised in church, I of course knew what sin was – it was pretty much everything ;) I understood sin as any a moral failure of some sort or the fancier definitions were any thought, word, deed contrary to the will of God, etc. Then there was the because we were sinners, Jesus needed to die. Which if you walk into the story for the first time, you are not really sure why anyone really has to die. Again, why not a Messianic announcement of a “new deal”?

To understand this, I needed to understand that sin was more than simply a moral failure (or the fancier definition). I really needed to see that sin was a separation from God and death was the greatest type of separation. So sin/death was separation. How can the separation be eliminated? For years, we evangelicals drew this “chasm” between God and humankind, and used Jesus as the bridge that we could cross over. This was all well and good but for deconstructionists and newbies to the story, we all knew by now that there were so many different types of bridges, why only Jesus? The answer came back pretty fast – Because He was sinless, the perfect sacrifice and so on.

God gave me an imagination that I refused to hand over upon entering adulthood – Why couldn’t the all-powerful Jesus pick us up and jump over the chasm with us? Or just toss over to some soft-mattress or have the angels catch us. Why this persistent need for death?

What Do You Give the God Who Creates Everything?
The answer came in a question, “What does God want from me?” Unless I am willing to treat the question superficially, the answers get pretty intense quickly. The other question is “How do you demonstrate to God that you are sorry?” When I offend a family member or a friend, I express that I am sorry. When I get a speeding ticket and “offend the law”, I pay a fine. When I offend creation, I don’t do anything really except perhaps make a mental note to consume less, recycle more, be a better steward. Why is God not satisfied with words, money, future conscious effort? God is a God of life. This was His currency. I needed to give up life as a sacrifice.

God in His mercy knew this was not practical for humankind. The sacrificial system was created (you can read Leviticus if you want the details) and obedient Jews abided.

But to God, this was always a temporary system until He descended in the form of a man, Jesus, and became our substitute. He was the perfect sacrifice for humanity, paying the price for humankind’s sin/separation/death. In the words of theologian John Lightfoot, “Our redemption must answer the fall. Christ must fullfill the law as we had broken it.”

It wasn’t until college that I understood it wasn’t God’s high-maintenance that was the problem. I was the problem. Sin/death/separation needed to be solved and while the chasm metaphor was helpful, I needed another way of understanding it. What helped me was understanding that I was infected, I was being quarantined, I needed a cure.

But He did more than die, He defeated death. How does one actually defeat death? Money, negotiation, even not dying will not defeat death. You defeat death by actually dying and then resurrecting to life again. This is the victory, the answer, the cure. And this is why Jesus needed to sacrifice Himself on the cross – so that we could live the way we were intended, in peace with our God in this life and in the life following this one.

This is what makes the Easter story so powerful, one worth sharing. Each year, I hope to see the Resurrection story with new eyes and may the same be true for you – thanks for reading.

A Meditation on the Nature of Sacrifice Part 1

Primary Audience – To Those That Want to Understand Basic Christian Theology
Secondary Audience – Skeptics, Agnostics, The “Over-Churched”

The word and idea of “sacrifice” is a tough one to fully grasp. Part of it is that our hearts/minds don’t really want to fully understand it. So when Jesus tells his followers to take up the cross daily, die to self for his sake, seek first the Kingdom and so forth, He’s asking them/us to make the greatest sacrifice they/we can.

Typically, when I think of the idea of sacrifice, I think of the idea of withholding privilege and pleasure for the sake of duty and work. I think of parents who sacrifice for their children and the strong who serve the weak. Next I typically think of the soldier or the officer or the firefighter who sacrifices and risks his/her life.

When I was visiting the Angor Watt Temples in Cambodia, the guide showed us an altar where child-sacrifices where made. Obviously to my modern, western mind, this was barbaric and incomprehensible but to them, it was the greatest sacrifice they could make. It was their utmost religious devotion.

I remember the first time that someone said that God believed in child-sacrifice because He sent Jesus to die on the cross. While there are some differences (doctrine of Trinity, Resurrection, atonement for humankind), the thought has always lingered in my mind.

As a teenager, I could not understand why Jesus really had to die. This was due partially to being turned off by all the blood and guilt that accompanied the cross. IMO, it’s laid on pretty thick in some churches. But I could not understand why Jesus didn’t ever stand up in the Temple or jump down off the cross and say, “Hey listen – new deal, believe in me, repent of your sins, and live the abundant life in obedience to the Father.” Holy Spirit is optional too – Jesus could return to heaven and become one with the Father or sit at His right hand and send the Spirit. To my teen-age mind, it worked either way.

What was missing was an understanding of what sin/death really was and what the doctrine of the incarnation was really about. I simply saw sin as a moral failure, mistakes and I knew that it separated us from a holy God but I did not understand that sin was also separation and that death was the greatest of separations.

It wasn’t until a theology class in college (Dr. Habermas!), when I understood if the greatest good was life and the greatest evil was death, that I really understood what Jesus was up to and how this changed my idea of salvation. It was the first time that I realized that the words in describing it were the same, but they were now suddenly richer.

But even so, why did Jesus have to die? I understood the sacrifice system, I got the Jesus being the ultimate sacrifice thing thereby ending all temple sacrifices but why couldn’t the closure of that be different. Why couldn’t Jesus destroy the altar when He cleared the temple? He could make the aforementioned announcement, a ascend off to heaven. I think it stands to reason that a flying human-God that never dies is just as good as resurrected human-God that flies. Further, Jesus wouldn’t have had to experience so much pain and our Easters would be a lot less bloody. Instead of hanging crosses, we could hang crowns.

Now I’ll grant that the current story is much more dramatic – you just can’t beat a “I’m dead but I came back to life” story. Everyone loves a comeback and that one wins hands down. But why the need for the cross, blood and death?

Part 2 Soon.

“You Are Making the Gospel Palatable .. Aren’t You?” #LoveWins

I mentioned in an earlier post that I think this whole Rob Bell, Love Wins conversation has some solid potential for needed conversation, especially among us evangelicals (probably for conservative mainliners too). However, one of the moments that I thought was a bit ridiculous was the Martin Bashir interrogation with Rob. It wasn’t because I cannot stand the idea of someone intellectually defeating Rob. Had he been outdebated, that’s one thing. For me, it was a spectacle of journalistic rudeness combined with poor quality of thinking. How does a journalist today not understand paradox?

We all know that Rob doesn’t answer questions directly. Many people don’t – so let’s stop acting as if that’s Rob’s signature. But if you want to annoy us as viewers by asking the same question repeatedly, it’s your show, thanks for the commercial telling me to never tune in again. But the line that really annoyed me was the repeated phrase “You’re trying to make the gospel palatable for contemporary people … that’s what you did, isn’t it?”

I understand what’s accused in that line – you are compromising the Gospel to appeal to your audience. Indeed, we ought to never compromise the Gospel. But making the Gospel more understandable, more accessible is a good thing. In fact, it’s very Jesus-like. I think I could make the case that the entire idea of the Incarnation is the grandest attempt at making the Gospel “palatable” to humankind.

Later I listened to a 40 minute interview with Bashir on the Paul Edwards show here where I had hoped to find a little redemption in the moment. In my naive way, who likes to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, I thought he’d say something like, “Well, I hadn’t read the book, but it sounded like he believed … It wasn’t until later that I realized what he was trying to say… and frankly, I was trying to make it interesting.” Instead, I’ll paraphrase what he said “I had an advance copy of the book, read it, thought it was poorly researched, called some religious scholars (among them was a non-Christian religious scholar), and more or less, ambushed him on my show.” The exasperated tone of this post stems from this Paul Edwards interview.

In this same interview, Bashir criticizes Bell for over-reacting the working out of his upbringing. Later, in the Edwards show, he admits that he was raised as a Muslim and abandoned Islam after being rebuked for asking questions. Now, I’m glad that Bashir is a Christian, but can a brother in Christ criticize another after the genesis of his own Christian faith was born out of a reaction of being rebuked of asking questions. Bashir is upset that Rob is asking questions?? Is that not an over-reaction?!

Back to the Gospel-Palatable point – depending on how we define “palatable”, I submit that we all are guilty of making the Gospel “palatable”. There are differences for sure but anytime we focus on one aspect of the Gospel over another, I think the accusation works. If you focus on the love of God, you possibly regulate the justice of God. Emphasize the wrath of God, you are prone to marginalize His mercy and you appeal to a different group. We can throw accusations at each other all day long, “You believe in such an angry God!” versus “You are preaching a cheap form of grace”. Suburban churches preach the Gospel different from urban and urban different from rural. The Global South preaches the Gospel different from the West and the West different from the East and the East different from the Middle East.

Should we challenge our audience? Should we hold our prophets/teachers accountable? Of course. Every time we share the Gospel, whether by word or deed, we share it in a particular context – every time. If the goal is to be understandable, you’ll wisely choose the most effective, most understandable way to do it. It’s why Paul wrote to the Romans … in Greek. It’s why many pastors preach … from behind a pulpit wearing a tie and suit. It’s why many pastors teach … from a music stand in a t-shirt and jeans. It’s why God … became Jesus … to make the Gospel understandable, accessible and dare I say – palatable.

If you are coming to the conversation late – check out the summaries with links Part 1 and Part 2.
Also, check out Evan Curry’s posts The Day I Told a Girl She Was Going to Hell and How My Grandfather Helps Us Understand Rob Bell’s Position.

Are Terms Like “Unbiblical”, “Unorthodox” Still Helpful For Us Today?

There was a time when the terms “unbiblical” or “unorthodox” were trump card answers for me. Now I see them not only has unhelpful, but as very detrimental to needed conversation concerning the future of the church.

I remember asking in undergrad, “What’s wrong with Arminian Theology?” and was given the response, “Well a thorough examination of Scripture will prove that it’s simply unbiblical“. That worked great for me until I met an Arminian who told me the problem with Calvinism was that it was “unbiblical”. Then to complicate matters, I started investigating and some days I find both views to be “biblical” and other days, both to be “unbiblical” and a couple days a bit of both. To me those terms are the near equivalent to a parent’s trump card line, “Because I said so.”

This is among the issues that bothers me with some of my fellow evangelicals that we ought to honestly discuss. What is better to say is that a particular position is contrary to our interpretation of Scripture. Like everyone, I too quite often find things that run against my personal hermeneutics. I think sometimes I’m right and sometimes I don’t know I’m wrong. And while my seminary experience was quite helpful in confirming certain suspicions, it also revealed quite a few blindspots in my understanding of Scripture. I try to operate with a lot more humility and generosity these days.

This is what bothers me about the John Pipers, John McArthurs, Al Mohlers and the younger Neo-reformed crowd (like Kevin DeYoung, Justin Taylor and the Gospel Correction crowd). Now, before I start too far down this road, know that our essential convictions are probably similar. Know that I believe that these men love the Lord and mean well and please extend that benefit of the doubt to me. But a collective gift many of us conservatives have is slamming the door shut on anything that strikes us as “unbiblical.”

I encourage you to test this theory – whenever a group of conservatives and a group of liberals (and I know there are numerous shades in between but let’s keep it simple) and as soon as the conservatives identify the liberals, they leave the conversation, thereby leaving the table “liberal.” As a church we would do well to keep the conversation going, to share, discuss, as opposed to debate, argue, and exit. Exhibit A for me is the emerging church conversation. This conversation offers so much and it would be well-served if conservatives came back to the table.

Why does this matter so much to me? Reason 1, vocationally, I’m a youth pastor – I have to be open for conversation because teenagers walk in my youth room with some terrible theology. Some of it is due to a generational perspective, some of it is due to their parents, some of it is simply the fact they’re young and they are very much in the process of forming their views on God, the world and discovering who they are. Reason 2 is that I am an evangelical and I have a heart for non-believers. They sit at my table with very different views. To dismiss their convictions and opinions only reinforces the stereotype that evangelicals are arrogant, anti-intellectual and suffer from a superiority complex. Reason 3 is the example of Jesus. A careful reading of the Gospels shows that he debated those who presumed to have it all figured out and engaged in loving conversations with those that were very different from him (to put it mildly).

Which leads us to today’s big conversation – Rob Bell and his ideas in his book Love Wins (you can check out my review here). Should Rob Bell really be considered “unorthodox”? Can he be dismissed as “unbiblical?” Was it fair for Martin Basher to berate him with the line, “You are trying to make the gospel palatable, aren’t you?” Is it not better to say, “That’s interesting but I don’t see that way – let’s talk about it?”

In a time when evangelism is splitting and on the decline and further the growing divide between Christian believers and non-Christians believers, it would serve us well to sit at as many tables as we can, to share our viewpoints generously and lovingly and to grow in conversation.

While John Piper’s famous “Farewell Rob Bell” tweet helped Harper Collins sell more books, it would have been far better for the Kingdom had he tweeted, “I look forward to reading your new book Rob. Let me know when you come to Minneapolis, would love to grab lunch.”

That seems like a really naive statement now, but I tell you, it’s very Biblical, very Orthodox and very Jesus-like.

So back to my original question, are these terms still helpful for us today?  Yes, when used humbly and responsibly. Thoughts?

My Review of Rob Bell’s #LoveWins – What I Liked and What I Wasn’t Crazy About

At this point where does one begin when describing Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins? Much digital ink has been spilled and in my opinion, a lot of it has been worthwhile. Here’s why. First, sincere, God-searching discussion is good. Second, right or wrong, the potential influence of this book serves as both a wake-up call and a reminder to the Boomer Generation. The wake-up call is that countless people (especially those outside our church) are asking these types of questions and these other subjects cannot be ignored, spoken over, or be given shallow answers. The reminder to the Boomer-age evangelical is that the Christian faith is to be shared by each living generation as we remember the words of previous ones and as we pray for future ones. X’ers and Millennials would do well to take note, it will be our turn one day soon too ;)

For those who see these words as exaggerated, consider how social media has shaped this conversation. I have no doubt that this whole scene is drastically different if there were no such things as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. It’s a changing world and ideas in books in moments like these reveal that. And frankly, Rob Bell is an excellent person to demonstrate this. I only regret that we have not recognized other voices similar to Rob Bell.

Know that I understand the concerns and the ramifications of getting too carried away of what Rob Bell is saying (“What if people completely lose their urgency for the Gospel? We barely have any as it is!” “If people can find Jesus in the afterlife, how do we convince people to follow him in this life?) I’m a conservative, I get this. And while this could be a different post altogether, I think it’s worth saying, that if our hearts are set to pursue the generous truth that Christ offers, consequences and ramifications are secondary, just above trivial. If we want urgency for the Gospel, let us invite people to life in the Kingdom of Jesus now, let us live the Jesus’ heaven on earth here. If you understand what I mean by this, you probably have a good idea of what heaven and earth is really about.

Talking about Love Wins is a bit like ruining a movie. There’s huge rush to answer and judge certain questions, “Is Rob a universalist? No?? Well, he’s still a heretic”, “Does he believe hell is real, here, there, forever, empty, full?” “What? Well, he’s still ambiguous” … So I’m going to do my best not to ruin too much for you because you really should read it for yourself. But he asks great questions, offers excellent insights but my favorite part of the book is that his heart comes through, and I would suggest, interestingly, it comes through stronger than any Nooma video, sermon, or HD production he’s ever given.

Here’s More of what I Liked:
While promoting the book, I liked how Rob went on every talk show and said that God is grieving too over what happened in Japan. In a world of Pat Robertson’s and John Pipers who state that God sends earthquakes and tornadoes when He’s angry, this is a beautiful pastoral moment of evangelism. (Btw, I always wonder what the mindset is when evangelist types say that – Have they not read Genesis 9? Or is God off the hook on the technicality that the entire world wasn’t destroyed? Seriously, many times a very terrible image of God is portrayed to our world).

I loved the questions he asks. Like what does happen to a 15 year old atheist that dies in a car accident? I’m a youth pastor – this question cuts deep. Further, we are overdue for an intelligent discussion on the age of accountability.

I really did like how Rob describes the hell on earth. We as evangelicals need to do a better job at acknowledging those in and going through terribly painful times.

Appreciated how he described that different people have very different understandings of “Jesus”. As much as we evangelicals want to present a “Biblical” version of Jesus, we must acknowledge that for many outside the church, their take on Jesus is extremely different from ours – thus a great part of the reason why they are outside the church.

How he described how different people have had very different salvation encounters with Jesus. He uses the gospel narratives very well here.

The Deconstruction of it all. He does a great job at describing the Hebrew understanding of the afterlife, the idea of “forever”, and of course, heaven and hell.

I loved the honesty and openness of it. He allowed for a lot of mystery and the wondering about God is an amazing experience for any faithful believer.

What I Wasn’t Crazy About
Though I really liked how he used Scriptures and commend him from not shying away from certain passages, he was a bit care-free in throwing them around and I think a proper study of some of his examples may be counter-productive. I am afterall, a conservative evangelical, and I think he could have done better here (which would have made the book longer and less pastoral but this is the trade-off). That said, I will concede that most of them serve his big point in some way.

Wished he would have spent more time talking about the justice and sovereignty of God as those that would champion those attributes from God would be in check or perhaps answered. I know that may have added another chapter to the book but I think it would have been helpful.

The last third of the book. I’ll give it that it was courageous and made for a very interesting read but I feel it came up a bit short for Rob Bell’s standards. It may be similar to an album that after a few listens/reads, I find the brilliance in it but til then, this is my first impression.

His use of Origen and the early church fathers needed more context. I’ll leave it at that except to say critics have implied that he is ignorant of the patristics. Not true if you listen to his sermon podcasts and that’s why I am a bit disappointed here.

I am not sure what he could have changed about the “Does God Get What He Wants?” chapter, He does a great job in presenting his argument, then does an even better job by humbly backing off his argument and stating that it’s a mystery, none of us can actually know the mind of God and so forth. But the problem for me was framing the chapter around that question seemed to undermine his argument and after some thought, perhaps the title of the book as well. In other words, Rob says that freedom must have love, if not, it’s not love. Excellent – I’m there with you. But then God potentially does not get what He really wants. We may hope that His love will eventually melt all hearts and therefore win but I took the title of the chapter to be a rhetorical question and the title, “Love Wins” to be declarative. But I’ll give any non-Calvinist credit for for asking that question though.

Therefore, if I may be so bold, perhaps the book should have focused more on Life than Love. I know it’s not as catchy and it may be splitting hairs but I think the “life” angle works even better (and obviously Jesus’ work is rooted, motivated, fulfilled out of love)

For all the talk on mystery and so on, I was really waiting for him to say more about the work of the Holy Spirit. This is my biggest letdown of the book.

Right now, Kevin DeYoung is working on a book called, “Why Love Doesn’t Always Win – Wrath, Anger, Torment and Reflections from a God-Appointed Warrior Who Hates Sin”

All in all, it’s a really good book and a great conversation starter. I hope it’s lovingly discussed in churches, small groups, living rooms, coffee-shops, pubs, and wherever else open-minded dialogue is welcomed. You can order the book here (only $12 from Amazon).

My next post is on how we using terms like “unbiblical, unorthodox, “Making the gospel palatable”, etc. are not helpful for humble truth/God-searching discussion.

Recapping the Rob Bell Controversy #Lovewins Part 2 – A Few More Links Since the Book Release

Of the 140 million tweets per day, almost half of them are about Rob Bell and his new book Love Wins. I’m not really tired of the discussion because, frankly, I think it’s worth having. A few of my friends have asked for my thoughts and while I finished the book, I’m still working on how to appropriately share them (I like the book and only have one major complaint and a bunch of “yeah, I think I see what he’s saying, I’m not sure about that though”‘s). I have about three posts on the book and the reactions about it. But before I do, here are some of the links that I enjoyed over the past week or so.

Eugene Peterson’s thoughts http://www.patheos.com/community/loveandjudgment/2011/03/16/eugene-peterson-would-jesus-condemn-rob-bell/
“I don’t agree with everything Rob Bell says. But I think they’re worth saying. I think he puts a voice into the whole evangelical world which, if people will listen to it, will put you on your guard against judging people too quickly, making rapid dogmatic judgments on people. I don’t like it when people use hell and the wrath of God as weaponry against one another…”

David Fitch’s post The Rob Bell Fiasco: Why We Can’t Have This Conversation. Regretfully, I resonate with the evangelical-divide idea. I’m also interested in reading David’s new book The End of Evangelicalism?

Rob Bell on Good Morning America.

Rob Bell on MSNBC’s Martin Bashir Show – This one got a lot of attention because Bashir accused Rob of making the “gospel palatable” and rephrased the same question 3 times. I have a little bit to say about that and hope to post soon.

RELEVANT Magazine has a great online interview with him, entitled Is Rob Bell a Universalist? I thought the most interesting part was his answer to the question “Are your feelings hurt by the response and what has been said about you and your ideas?”

You can still watch the Livestream here.

And order the book here (only $12 from Amazon)

Thoughts on Last Weekend’s YSPalooza

Two weekends ago, I took our youth leaders to YSPalooza in Philadelphia and we really liked it. So for those of you in the Dallas, TX area (and for those of thinking of 2012 already), I wanted to suggest you go too. This is ideal for youth min teams who are in somewhat normal churches. What I mean is that I have a fantastic volunteer leader team, a limited budget, and in a traditional/blended church model with a facility that does not draw in outside students (although we have a cool youth room). So, attending the National Youth Workers Conference in Nashville as a team is not going to happen for us – YSPalooza is a terrific solution.

The Challenges For Us
Even with the cost being affordable ($100 bucks now, but early bird group  was $79), to bring 10 people and find hotels still takes a bite out of the budget.
Without exception, all of our volunteers work real jobs for a living. So the 1pm Friday start time was a challenge.

Our Solutions
We started talking about this possibility back in the Fall when it was announced (thanks YS for the heads up – we needed it). Even so, for some it still came down to a last minute decision.
Though our leaders are extremely busy (which isn’t conducive to the most time and energy draining ministry of the church), our leaders are committed to this and they sacrificed the time for it.
We are taking a bite out of the budget that is reduced each year because we believe in leader training. (And if the trustees have a problem with that, they can host the next Jr. High Lock-In at their house :) By the way, an All Night Lock-In Tour at trustee houses would be a great idea).
For the leaders whose jobs made it impossible for them to miss Friday, they left at 5am Saturday morning to meet up with us for the first Saturday am session. (I told you, they were dedicated, well except for one because well you know, there’s always one :)

What I Liked:
For years, I have been a fan of YS but with the owner transitions going on the past couple years, I admit, there was a hesitation on having too high of expectations. So the first thing I want to say about the YSPalooza was that it seemed to be very YS.

The second thing I liked was the same schedule, same seminars, and same workshops for everyone. No options, no extra stuff, no one running around looking for room 303 and wondering which seminar to attend.  This format for this type of event significantly helped our conversations.

I liked that it was pretty stripped down in terms of set and signage. The bands played through the house speakers (though it was a bit loud and I found the color lights distracting but I’m not used to worshipping that way but again, it looked like it was all part of the church).

Duffy Robbins and Jim Burns still got it.

I really liked the schedule and the way it all flowed. Liked that it all ended before dinner on Saturday too. I know that it will never be perfect but I think this format works quite well.

Though not a tremendous amount, I liked the racial diversity that I saw. Also liked that Harvey Carey was a speaker there (though I think he was a bit too hard on white people. But it was funny and I can laugh because I am an Egyptian serving in a predominantly North European church).

I liked the free coffee/tea, water, soda, snacks, and professional, non-shady, body massages in between sessions.

Appreciated Mike Harder’s and Branchcreek’s hospitality. They also opened up their renovated barn that is their youth space and gave tours – it’s pretty awesome.

Wasn’t Crazy About:
I think I’m Starfielded Out. Great bunch of guys, great hearts, great music, for YS regulars though, it may be time for a change. We really liked Audrey Assad though.
The commercials for some of the sponsors were umm, well, uhh, well, they weren’t great. I did like (UthStuph’s idea of providing a meal for every shirt you buy though).

Dear Harleysville and Hatfield, PA,  You need restaurants and roads.

What I Loved
I especially loved the Learning Labs. Mark Matlock’s message on our generational trends and differences was fantastic Youth ministry needs some good doses of sociology.
Tic’s thoughts on the “10 Essential Values for a Thriving YM” was excellent, especially for newbies (and veterans who need a reminder :-)
Kara Powell’s “Sticky Faith” was great to listen to, she is an incredible presenter and the content was great.
Marv Penner’s “Helping Hurting Kids” was saddening, eye opening, and energizing. (although I always feel they should rename that to “Helping Kids Who Are Hurting”. If you didn’t know any better, it sounds like it’s a seminar on how to hurt kids further but besides that, the words and stories are powerful).

So much could be said about each presentation, they really did a great job.

I also really loved the moments of personal reflection and group discussions following many of the sessions and workshops. Some of the weekend’s best thoughts and conversations happened right there.

Again, our church is blessed with great youth leaders and as we have been going through our church-wide vision process, we have been emphasizing the need to equip our volunteers. Further, there is just something powerful and validating when a speaker echoes something that you have said to your leaders. When Mark mentioned “moral theistic deism”, one leader looked at me and thought, “Hey, I heard that before.” Another looked at me and thought, “We are so blessed to have Tim as our youth pastor” and then the other thought, “He may be an idiot, but at least he’s saying the right things sometimes.” Satisfied, I stopped reading their minds and tuned back in.

It will be interesting to see what they do next year but it’s definitely on our radar. If you can get to Dallas, the next one is this weekend. Here’s the link that has registration, schedule, and line-up and check out Tic’s message.

My Time at the Rob Bell’s Love Wins Event at the NYC Ethical Society

Monday night, my wife, Susan and good friend Tim Nye and I went in the city to see Rob Bell talk about his new book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell And the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.  If you have little/no idea what I am talking about, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding this book as many have been eager to label Rob a universalist. Here’s a link to a previous post to fill you in.

It was streamed live and you can watch it right now (every so often some great-looking people show up in the crowd too :)

Let me describe the vibe of the room – it was buzzing and once again it reminded  me of that line “Rob Bell is a rock star in the evangelical world”. Don’t take it  out on Bell, it was similar to that when we went see NT Wright at Wheaton too  and that crowd was a bit older, established, educated even, etc.  Indeed the room  was filled with many appreciators of Rob. I wondered beforehand how many  critics were there given the firestorm but even during the Q&A, I didn’t get the  sense that many had come. I thought all the questions were honest (though they  may not have been great) but certainly appropriate for what everyday people are  thinking like, “Will God force an atheist into heaven?”  And for those  wondering, the questions were selected randomly.

That said, the room was a bit frustrated too. We may have laughed at the right moments, we may have all bought the book and got it signed by Rob (yep we did) but we were all hoping at some point that we could stop shrugging our shoulders. There were sighs that hoped some of the answers would start coming together and he’d offer a concise Cliff Notes summary of it. I haven’t got far in the book yet but it will be interesting to see how I feel about that after finishing it.

To some extent, we expected that. Rob has never been super-direct and while his answers are not quite as entertainingly brilliant as say, Bob Dylan, they always offered insight. When he was being interviewed by Lisa Miller (who writes for Newsweek), she asked outright, “Are you a universalist?” He laughed a little and said “No” and mentioned especially not in the sense that a gigantic arm was going to swoop up everyone (again you can watch for yourself for the exact lines).

Soon after he was asked another direct question (around the 28 minute mark) that was something to the effect of “Coming from a Jewish family, we would find it offensive for you to imply that our salvation has to come from Jesus.” I seriously wonder if anyone in evangelicalism could have had a better a Christian answer and not come across as offensive to her. It was probably my favorite moment of the night. He refereed to Moses striking the rock and providing water for the Israelites (Numbers 20) and said later, Paul describes the water from this rock as Christ (I Cor. 10). Paul does not offer much commentary there but the implication is that God has always been rescuing people. He mentions that it’s good for us to be generous when talking about such things, Jesus comes and makes the Torah speak, shows compassion, love, etc. concluding that Jesus is a paradox that we have been wrestling with for thousands of years. She seemed sincerely satisfied with that answer and frankly, I am not sure many other evangelicals could have done better in the sense of serving the asker and honoring the Lord.  Some may dismiss that as tightrope walking, others may see it as a powerful and truthful moment.

As the night continued, I saw two things. One was Rob’s pastoral heart. I believe he really cares more about people than theology (not a bad position for a pastor) and it started making more sense that this book is not theological but more pastoral (like all his other ones.  Also, know that I am not implying that he does not care about theology, clearly he does, but people seem to matter more to him. Which is a bit of a relief because NT Wright’s Surprised By Hope seems to fill that void for many of us). Two, is that I appreciated Rob’s insistence that no one really knows what’s going to happen in the next life but we trust that God is loving and just. There was a lot of talk on the Biblical character of God and you cannot blame someone who is arguing for a big, generous, loving God. He supported free will, spoke of sin and evil, spoke of the here and now of heaven and hell (I understand that he does believe that they are places in the afterlife but not in a traditional evangelical sense. This is similar to many now and many throughout church history as well) and he spoke of how he was evangelical and orthodox to his bones which I hope people took more as a profession than a cool sound byte.

Obviously so much more to say, I’ll probably watch the interview again at some point but I am more interested in the fruit of this conversation and this is not the only conversation we need to have. I know these conversations are exhausting for some and others find them senseless. I feel that they are very much worth talking about and while I probably won’t agree or understand everything that Rob is saying in this interview and in his book, I think these conversations have the potential to be very edifying for the church. If you want to read with me, grab a copy, read a bit and let’s grab a drink. Let me know.

Watch the livestream here.

And there’s a lot out there to read, here’s the Christian Post article, “Rob Bell Denies Being a Universalist”.

Is Shane Claiborne Getting Married Like LeBron Leaving Cleveland?

If you haven’t heard, this weekend thousands of single female Christian university students and graduates cried all weekend upon hearing the news that Shane Claiborne is getting married to a woman named Katie Jo Brotherton. They even have a wedding site. Yep, Katie Jo is the Kate Middelton of the neo-monastic world :). For some, this is like LeBron leaving Cleveland. Right now there are countless women burning their fair trade, organic, cotton Claiborne jerseys and shredding their copies of Jesus For President. From Facebook/Twitter and a few personal conversations, people are not only surprised but some have expressed disappointment. And though I haven’t actually seen it yet, I imagine there’s some Neo-reformed young woman that tweeted, “Farewell Shane Claiborne”. My question is why?

Before we go any further, a post like this only makes sense in the blogworld in our little subculture of Relevant/Hipster young adult Christianity. This is really none of our business. But in a world that has lost its sense of privacy and that loves to Senifeldize every detail of life … here we are.

It’s true that Shane had expressed that he had chosen celibacy. It’s true that many of us saw that as part of his radical message of revolution seeking the simple way of Jesus. It’s also true that Shane became a Christian rock star by his radical way of life. That’s all ok.

I created the rumor today that Shane Claiborne was seen at Target, IKEA and Macy’s filling out their wedding registry (they actually have one at Alternative Gift Registry but I couldn’t find it). Of course, I have no idea what Shane Claiborne did today, again, is isn’t my business, but in all honesty, I have no problem with him and his fiance filling out a registry, leasing a Toyota Prius and/or a Ford Explorer and moving out to the suburbs of Miami tomorrow or in years to come.

Here’s why:
1. It’s not just ok, but absolutely wonderful for a someone to fall in love and decide to get married.  (As a married guy, I highly recommend it … provided it’s with the right person).
2. I find the vow of celibacy to be a pretty suspect idea IMHO.
3. If the guy who wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye can get married, why can’t Shane? (I know the book is about the return of courting but I still think it’s funny though I am happy for Josh Harris, his wife and family).
4. Purely hypothetical: What if as the years went by, Shane felt that he desired the company of a woman? He doesn’t owe anything to anyone to not purse that desire. Frankly, I’m just glad that he hasn’t gone the scandal route and had numerous affairs in the back of his Bentley. In some sense, it’s quite brilliant for a Christian celebrity type like a Shane Claiborne to take on a vow like this. For one, it gets rid of some of the “Christian groupies”. Second, it creates space for them not to have to expend a great deal of mental energy to deal with this dynamic. I imagine it’s great deal of pressure to be a single man in the Christian public eye.

So what’s next for Shane and his beloved? Will they stay at the Simple Way until they have children and move out of Kensington? Will they write a couple’s devotional published by Zondervan The Irresistible Soulmate: Living as an Extraordinary Married Couple in the American Suburbs. Will the Arcade Fire be their wedding band?

What I really think and hope is that Shane and Katie Jo will continue to pursue the will of God in their lives, bringing hope, justice and redemption to this world as they follow Jesus. I and many wish them the best.

All I really know right now is that countless Christian women are doing their hair and makeup because they are spending the day stalking Don Miller. Run, Don, Run.

Reflecting on the Devastation of Japan and a Church Member That Passed Away and the Virtues of Tragedy

My heart was broken twice this weekend. First with the loss of a 48 year old gentlemen in our church who was diagnosed with cancer just 5 weeks ago and second, with the tragic earthquake/tsunami in Japan.

After seeing a handful of videos and pictures of the devastation, I had to stop clicking. I need to discern the balance between being informed and obsessed and I find at times, that it’s easy to objectify and trivialize these events with the constant consumption of these images and stories. To combat that, I try to pray and meditate.

For the sake of context and to limit the sensationalism, I don’t know anyone that died in Japan and aside from a church missionary family that is safe in Japan, I don’t know anyone there. Regarding our church member, I wasn’t very close to Angelo and am much closer to his family. One of his daughters is active in our youth group, his other daughter graduated a couple years ago, I high-five his ten year old son in the church hallways, and have enjoyed many conversations with his wonderful wife who has served our church in many ways. Perhaps my deepest conversation with him was when we repainted the farmhouse on a couple church workdays a few years ago. He was a quiet, private man and I know more about his faith through his family and our senior pastor who visited him in the hospital many times a week. Still, my heart is quite broken by both these tragic events.

I am very content with never getting used to tragedy. In fact, in some sense, I hope always grieve with the grieving and never get desensitized to the pain of this world.
Admittedly, my thoughts were quite distracted throughout our worship service. I often find myself debating with God during these times of grief. At times it’s accusatory, other times it leads me through a process of recognizing that I have allowed a poor understanding of sin, death, sacrifice, life, redemption and the character of God to limit my thinking. I still finish these times with, “Lord, I believe but help my unbelief.”

In my post prayerful moments, here are some of the “virtues” I find in tragedy:
1. Tragedy keeps us our hearts broken.
2. Tragedy reminds us to intercede for the hurting.
3. Tragedy keeps things less trivial, my heart less vein, and our community focused on the Sovereignty of God.
4. Tragedy reminds me that things of this world are fleeting and temporary.
5. Tragedy helps me be a better person in this world as a child of God, husband, father, friend, pastor, citizen of the world.