Saturday, July 30, 2011

Shut your mouth...

Paul taught his disciples to shut up about the moral decay in their culture.

The story of the riot in Ephesus: In Ephesus Paul finds disciples who are eager to learn, they receive Christ and are baptized. Paul speaks publicly and from house to house, night and day making disciples and sending them out for perhaps three years . The city is shaken to its foundations as great numbers of people believe and join Paul in the work of making disciples. Many of them burned their books of magic and abandoned idol worship. From Ephesus Paul was able to direct a great disciple making movement and churches were founded in cities for up to 100 miles around. Ephesus rapidly became the leading center of the Christian world. In all respects Paul had a successful public ministry in Ephesus.

But the idol makers, seeing a decline in their business, incite an immense mob to riot against Paul and these new churches. They chant their slogan, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians,” over and over as they drag leaders of the church into a giant arena filled to capacity with idol worshipers. The Mayor then steps in and disbands the crowd by saying “You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess.” The crowd leaves because no one in the crowd can argue with the Mayor’s points.

It is important here to look carefully at what the Mayor said. The words “robbed temples” are the Greek word hierosylos and it means stealer of things from a temple, or one who desecrates and commits sacrilege. The word blaspheme is the Greek word blasphēmeō and it means: to insult, slander, curse, to use malicious talk, or defamation of character. The Mayor challenges the mob to bring one witness who has heard the disciples of the way say anything negative about Artemis, or one person who has witnessed them desecrate an idol. No one from this massive crowd has any evidence that Paul or his fellow Christians have said or done anything slanderous to the local religious traditions.

We know Paul was not shy about his beliefs. All of the evidence tells us that Paul was at the center of this movement writing letters and teaching in public places. Paul is training and sending others out to speak for Christians as well. Scholars believe that several of Paul’s epistles, including a letter to the church at Corinth, were written and sent while Paul was in Ephesus. In many of Paul’s other ministry journeys he is recorded as giving speeches to large crowds. Paul is even anxious to get in front of this huge mob to speak to them.

Paul is not vague, but also not confrontational, about the difference in idol worship and worship of the one true God. In the letter to the Corinthians Paul says, “An idol is nothing at all in the world” he goes on to call them “so called gods.” He does not call on the Corinthian disciples to publically criticize the idol worshipers. In fact, Paul talks about them eating food sacrificed to idols in the idol’s temple. He does not chastise them for associating with the idol worshipers, it even seems expected that they would be in close contact with nonbelievers and new believers. At Mars Hill, Paul uses the idols of the local populace and even quotes one of their poets. He then turns these things on their head to teach the crowd about Yahweh but, he never once insults these cultural icons.

We know that Paul was not quiet about his beliefs regarding idols and idol worship. We know Paul had tremendous influence. We know there were thousands of Christians in and around Ephesus who had regular contact with the Ephesian people. Despite all of this, no one can recall a single time the Church was disrespectful or publically ridiculed the pagan worshipers. Paul never called on the church to make signs and form a protest line at a concert or speech. Paul never called on the church to stage a book burning. Paul never instructed the disciples of the way to pester and ridicule their friends, family and coworkers about the decline of their culture. Paul does not instruct the church to endorse a particular political party or candidate.

Paul is an excellent example of how Christians should carry on in the face of cultural resistance. He knew that to engage in hierosylos and blasphēmeō damages one’s witness. Because we have failed to listen to Paul, the world today knows more about what the church is against than what it is for. How then should we conduct ourselves in a culture of moral decline and idol worship? What should be the churches public response to having less of a cultural influence than other religious traditions or new age spiritual practices? We must find ways to lead people into experiencing redemption in Christ that don’t involve a bullhorn. We must find ways of helping broken lost people find redemptive love without shame and condemnation. We must live amongst the people of our culture and love them as Jesus loves them.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Who's theology?

What is Theology?

The word theos is Greek for “God,” and -ology which is from the Greek word logos meaning study of or “word.” Most literally then the word theology means "study of God" or “words about God” (not to be confused with the words from God). It is the articulation of an individual's or a community’s beliefs about God.

As such theology will always fall short from a complete & accurate description of the God of all creation. Despite the fact that our theology falls short, and sometimes entirely misses the point, it is still a necessary way to provide an anchoring point. When it is done well it is our humble attempt to explain what we mean when we confess that “Jesus is Lord," and when we say that it should subvert and redefine what the we count as “rational.”

Just as a toddler tries to form sentences, and she can’t quite get her mouth around the words, so it is with us trying to communicate who God is and what the kingdom of God is like. But just as we take great delight in hearing our tiny children talk about things they can not yet understand, God takes pleasure in us, with our halted uttering and incomprehension, trying so hard to grasp the infinite mystery with our finite comprehension.

It is destructive then for us to treat out theology as if it is written in stone. We are at our worst when we fail to to leave room for possible errors in our theology, we risk making our theology an idle. When we build our theology up and act as if it is somehow written by God himself, when we fail to see how our theology falls short, we fail to recognize our own humanness. After all our best guess is probably laughable from God's point of view.

How we develop and treat our theology has massive implications for how we live. Theology is a practice and a craft that is rooted in the other practices of the Church (e.g., mission, evangelism, worship, communal prayer, preaching, hospitality to the poor and the stranger, living life together, service to our neighbor, nonviolent encounter/witness to our enemies...). Our theology should help us to be the church, and it should push us to more faithfully be a community of disciples of the way of Jesus in our time and in this place.

When we as the church are at our best, we recognize that people will always be in process and no one individual's theology will completely line up with our communal theology. We celebrate this diversity as a strength that brings a balance to our understanding of God. Our tradition is a wide stream that allows much room for how we try to articulate our understanding of God.

As such we should constantly be on the look out for new and different ways to speak the message that has been entrusted to us. We should pull words and phrases from our culture and turn their meaning on its head, just as Jesus and the early Church did.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Blessed are the...

We would like invite you to take a fresh look at the beatitudes with us in the hopes that they will lead us to be the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world".

“(the beatitudes) give us not only a way to see God, but a way to see our world, and they give us something concrete to do about what we see, as they call us to participate in God's kingdom.” -Anne Howard

"Blessed are the..."

Lets stop right there. It is easy to read into something a meaning that is not there, without a proper understanding of the context in which it is said. Or we could say we cannot get a proper understanding of Jesus message if we do not understand what exactly he is saying.

The word Blessed is the Greek word makarios, and it means blessed or happy.

However this makarios is not a word used in asking for or even invoking blessings, such as "Lord I ask that you bless this person," or "We ask God to bless this ministry." That word would be eulogeō, and it (eulogeō) does not appear anywhere in the beatitudes.

Raymond Brown describes makarios as "not part of a wish list and not to invoke a blessing. Rather it is to recognize an existing state of happiness or good fortune."

Kenneth Bailey further adds "We could say it affirms a present reality or it points out a state of spirituality that is already present."

The beatitudes are the first and longest message of Jesus that we have a record of. Up until this point, Jesus has been announcing that the kingdom of heaven was, near and at hand, He had been calling for people to repent to re-orientate their lives. Now, in what could be described as a manifesto of His kingdom, Jesus unveils the foundations and character of life in that kingdom. Here He teaches the ethical guidelines for life in His kingdom; and the guidelines point to the quality of righteousness that characterizes life in the kingdom, here and now as a present reality not as something God left us longing for.

It is not asking for a blessing but neither is the second line a reward for the first line. "Jesus does not say you will be blessed if you..." We could say it like this: "Joyful is my friend Neil because he will inherit his family's business." Neil is already joyful and will eventually inherit the business. There is nothing for him to do. The first statement affirms his joyful state and the second presents a future that allows him to even now to live a life of joy.

Jesus goes on to affirm that these makarios blessed ones make up the membership of the kingdom of heaven, which is already theirs.

With this firmly in hand let us gather together and read Jesus words with a fresh understanding of what kind of blessings we have and what kind of lives we are called to live.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

What you look for you will find (or where is heaven?)

When you picture heaven what do you picture?
Go ahead and close your eyes and try to visualize it now...

You may think of Angels floating on clouds playing on harps (because everyone loves harp music). Or you may think of a place where dis-embodied spirits float to and fro, perhaps you envision mansions and streets of gold. But these fanciful images are placed into our collective mind by culture not by scripture.

"Think of all the jokes that begin with someone showing up at the gates of heaven, and st. Peter is there, like a bouncer at a club, deciding who does and who doesn't get to enter. For all of the questions and confusion about just what heaven is and who will be there, the one thing that is the generally agreed-upon notion that heaven is, obviously, somewhere else. And so the questions about heaven often have an otherworldly air to them."-Rob Bell

Where and how you begin the story, and where and how you end the story, shapes and determines the story you’re telling.

One way to look at the big picture of the Bible is to see how scripture follows a story-arc, we call this narrative theology. It traces through the bible building as it tells the story of God and his creation which was broken and he how seeks to restore it. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is one story of the Kingdom of God coming near and it culminates with Heaven and Earth merging into one when God and humanity dwell together in the Resurrection.

But this is not how we tend to tell God's story. We tell a story of brokenness and sin. We talk about how this world is broken and marred by this "original sin." We tell our story of being "born into" this sin. This has become the dominate way to tell the "Christian" story.

There is nothing wrong with telling the story of how sin entered the picture, and how it effected all of creation. Indeed it is important to acknowledge the fact that sin still infects creation to this very day. But, when we begin with sin when the fall is the starting place, and the death of Jesus on the cross is the ending, then our story becomes one of escape instead of restoration.

The story begins in Genesis 1 NOT in Genesis 3. The story begins with a good and loving God creating and stepping back and declaring "it is good." And then this good and loving God then creating us in his image. Our story starts in the Garden, with everything just as God intended it to be, with God walking with the man and woman...


The story does not end in some sort of tribulation period and great climatic battles...

The story ends in Revelation 21
"Then I saw 'a new heaven and a new earth,'for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.”

If you took out sin from the Bible you’d have a four page pamphlet, kinda like a Gospel tract. But, unlike a tract it would be a story we would want to read. You’d begin with Genesis 1 and 2 and end with Revelation 21 and 22. You begin with a perfect garden and end with a perfect city. Genesis 1 and 2 paints a picture of a participatory lifestyle where God and man co-habitate the same time and space.

Revelation 21 and 22 paints a picture of a participatory lifestyle where man engages with God and they co-habitate the same time and space. There’s no distinction between heaven and earth in Genesis and the fusion of heaven and earth at the end of Revelation leaves no distinction between the two.

All things have been made new, and the story ends here….on earth, the same place it began.

A story that begins with Genesis 3 begins with sin, and if you start with this premise in your story then your goal is the removal of sin. To get rid of the problem. But a story that begins at Genesis 1 the goal is “how do we get back” to shalom and restoration and peace. What is the larger story that you are telling? Is it just how to get rid of sin?

"A proper view of heaven leads not to escape from the world, but to full engagement with it, all with the anticipation of a coming day when things are on earth as they currently are in heaven." - Rob Bell
Heaven is where God is storing Earth’s future, bringing hope not rooted in escape but engagement, not evacuation but reclamation, not in leaving but in staying and overcoming.

Or to put it another way materiality is not the issue, rebellion is the issue.
"When Isaiah predicted that spears would become pruning hooks, that's a reference to cultivating. Pruning and trimming and growing and paying close attention to the plants and weather they're getting enough water and if their roots are deep enough. Soil under the fingernails, grapes being trampled under bare feet, fingers sticky from handling fresh fruit... For there to be new wine someone has to crush the grapes. For their to be no more war someone has to take the sword and get it hot enough in the fire to hammer it into the shape of the plow." - Rob Bell
So go back and read Genesis 1 and 2 and then read Revelation 21 and 22 and think of what heaven will be like. Read the prophets when they reveal glimpses of what God has in store for the world:

"By the way when the writer John in the book of Revelation gets a current glimpse of the heavens, one detail he mentions about crowns is that people are taking them off, chapter 4. Apparently, in the unvarnished presence of the divine a lot of things that we consider significant turn out to be, much like wearing a crown, quite absurd." - Rob Bell
Now what do you think heaven will be like?
Final note
"On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there." Revelation 21:25 .

What are gates for? Gates are for keeping people in and/or out... Hmmm

Monday, February 28, 2011

Love wins Redux

Ok so a few things...

1. Yes I have the book so quit asking (photo provided)

2. No the book is NOT for sale

3. Saying mean things about my family or myself will not get your comments posted nor will it stop this book from getting published (and adding "I mean this in Love" does not make your post Christ like).

4.The book is biblically based and includes EVERY reference to Hell in the bible. So please stop trying to post anonymous references that only include a bible verse describing Hell. I have read them before and they are all included in the book.

5. As you can see from the picture this is an uncorrected proof. I find it important to say verbatim what it says, so I am not going to correct its grammar, thats the job of the editor who I'm sure will correct it before you buy it.

OK so with all that out of the way I’m not sure I want to go too in-depth about the book because I think it is important for folks to explore it for themselves. As you would expect the book, much like the video, is full of questions (more so than answers). I am fighting the urge to do a more extensive review before it is published because I think people should read it and wrestle with the questions themselves.

When I say he lands on solid orthodox ground I don't mean this has been some sort of bait and switch and he ends up just agreeing with the neo-Calvinists (As Julie Clawson points out there is a sometimes huge difference in evangelical orthodoxy and Christian orthodoxy). What I mean is he always uses The Bible as his reference point, He does not end up saying Jesus was a space alien or some other ridiculous thing. To put it more simply I can not find anything in this book that contradicts the Nicene Creed (though again I'm sure there are scores of folks who will disagree).

In describing the history of the Christian church and what Christians have believed over time he says:
"...however you answer these questions, there is a good chance you can find a Christian or group of Christians somewhere who answer in a similar way. It is a wide stream we are swimming in."

I will say that in the same way He writes about angels and animals in “Sex God” (speaking about abstinence and self indulgence) he explores the issues of Heaven and Hell, Judgement and Eternity. He avoids buying into the traditional narrow views on both sides and delves into scripture, inviting the reader to question, explore, and make their own judgments.
Here are a couple of other reviews by others who have also read the book (but again don't take our word for it read it yourself):
“In the current religious climate in America, it isn’t easy to develop an imagination, a thoroughly biblical imagination, that takes in the comprehensive and eternal work of Christ in all people and all circumstances in love and for salvation. Rob Bell goes a long way in helping us acquire just such an imagination. Love Wins accomplishes this without a trace of soft sentimentality and without compromising an inch of evangelical conviction in its proclamation of the good news that is most truly for all.” – Eugene H. Peterson, Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology, Regent College, and author of The Message and The Pastor
“Love Wins is a bold, prophetic and poetic masterpiece. I don’t know any writer who expresses the inexpressible love of God as powerfully and as beautifully as Rob Bell! Many will disagree with some of Rob’s perspectives, but no one who seriously engages this book will put it down unchanged. A ‘must read’ book!” – Greg Boyd, senior pastor at Woodland Hills Church and author of The Myth of a Christian Nation

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Love Wins

A number years ago I read a blurb from a well known preacher who quoted a book called Velvet Elvis and explained why the author is a heretic. This well known preacher explained that the author said directly that he did not believe in the virgin birth. He even provided a chapter and page number.

I took this well known preacher for his word and decided to not read the book. Then several months later one of my mentors suggested I should read books by people who I disagreed with as it would help me sharpen my understanding of what I believed. So of course I picked up Velvet Elvis straight away.

I found that what the well known preacher said was true the author DID say exactly what was claimed on the exact page where he claimed it was. HOWEVER it was used in an example of doubt, and two pages later the author said he fully affirmed the virgin birth and orthodox Christianity!

This left me in a very interesting spot. This well known preacher had ether prejudged the book and author with out reading the book (sloppy at best) or he had purposely lied and used the quote out of context to discredit the author (dishonest and self serving at worst).

I have gone on to read every thing the author has ever published, watch his thought provoking videos, and listen to his weekly sermons . This author has had a profound effect on my life and my ministry.

It would seem the same folks are at it again. In a blog post and a series of tweets they are using social media to attempt to discredit the authors latest book, and most people are ignorantly copying and reposting what they have to say. Here are a few of the comments that people have copied and re-tweeted over and over again:

@JohnPiper: Farewell Rob Bell.

Rob Bell's following deserves the death it has received from swallowing the poisonous pill of theological liberalism. #RobBell

There's nothing loving about preaching a false gospel. This breaks my heart. Praying for Rob Bell

#Robbell. Sad and its's leading people astray from Truth

The sad thing here is that NONE of these folks have actually read the new book, it is not even out yet. They are taking a blurb from a marketing guy at a publishing house who has probably never met the author and a very short video that simply asks a few questions (but provides no answers) and holding them up as proof.


As a book seller I received an advanced pre-pub review copy. The author does go in the direction that this well known preacher claims. But, he once again does it to cause us to ask serious questions, to dig deep and wrestle with our beliefs. The author then lands on what I consider solid orthodox ground (though I'm sure the well known preachers legions of minions will disagree).

I wanted to wait until I could do a proper review of the book to do it justice, but I guess I'll just post verbatim where he lands so every one who cares to read what he actually says can. (note the author works through this at length and I highly suggest you get a copy of the book when it is out and judge for yourself)

First he articulates what ALMOST seems to be a universalist point of view:

"Could God say to someone truly humbled broken and desperate 'sorry too late?' Many have refused to accept the scenario in which somebody is pounding on the door apologizing, repenting, and asking God to be let in only to hear God say through the key hole 'Doors locked, sorry If only you had been here earlier, I could have done something but now its too late."

But he then goes on to give a brief over view of Revelation and focuses on the last few chapters. He lands with this:

"... In speaking of the expansive, extraordinary, infinite love of God there is always the danger of neglecting the very real consequences of God's love. Namely God's desire and intention to see things become everything they were intended to be. For this to unfold, God must say about a number of acts and to those who would continue to do them 'Not here you won't.'

Love demands freedom. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God's ways for us. We can have all the hell we want."

I certainly hope all those who saw fit to re-tweet this garbage tweet an apology after they calm down and get a chance to actually read the book.

**P.S. (or a note added afterward) I welcome comments, even thoes which disagree with me. However if you wish to try to convince me of the state of my or my families salvation, call into question my personal theology, or simply try to be rude I will not post your comments.***

Please See also My edits and notes about this post Love wins Redux And for further quotes please see What you look for you will find (or where is heaven?)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New Economics

When you think of the early church what do you think of?

Many Christians sight the church as recorded in the book of Acts as a kind of model for the way a community of believers should function. But, they almost always read it through a different lens, placing emphasis on some parts and completely ignoring others.

Often the text that is sighted reads:
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayerEveryone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles....

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. -
Act 2:42-34, 46-47

The last line is usually held up as a standard and the rest of the text is picked apart and broken down as a how to manual.

Some read that they broke bread and ate together simply as communion.
Others say it was a meal and place emphasis on the fact that they shared it in homes.
Most point out that they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching but, have trouble agreeing on exactly what was being or should be taught.
Some believe miracles and signs MUST accompany every sanctified gathering.
Others believe these signs and wonders stopped happening long ago.

And while many of these may be important points they are not a full reading. They miss something important. The verses most over looked and least often sighted read:
All the believers were together and had everything in common.Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Act 2:44-45

Now these words appear right smack dab in the middle of the first and second set of text we looked at. But they are not quoted on church websites, or listed in most doctrinal statements.


I believe it is because it make us uncomfortable.

In our have it your way culture it is almost a sin to say you have to share. The prevailing attitude is "I have worked hard for what I have and no one is going to take it from me."

A bit later in the story this idea of sharing of possessions is affirmed.:
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. -
Act 4:31-35

The early Church took this idea of sharing of resources seriously.
So did the monastic communities that sprung up a few hundred years latter.
So did the Celtic Christian communities that sprung up after them.
And the early Anabaptists, and the catholic worker movement, and Mother Teresa's Missionaries of charity, and the new monastic movement today.
They all read this text and took it seriously.

So why don't we?

There is a story of an elderly Rabbi who is known for communing with God. One day his disciple says "Rabbi I have a question, Why does God allow all the poverty, war, and human suffering in the world to exist?"
The Rabbi says "You know I have often wanted to ask God about that."
"Then why don't you ask him then?' responded his disciple
Looking at the ground the Rabbi responds "Because I'm scared."
"Rabbi Why are you scared?" asks the disciple.
"Because I'm scared he will ask me the same question."