I’m not sure where I first heard this story. And I really can’t confirm the main characters. Though I remember Charles Spurgeon as the protagonist — without any Googleable proof, unfortunately.

But.

The apocryphal story goes like this:

Spurgeon was at a conference with many people of different denominations. One of those people was a man quite taken with the holiness movement.

Pitcher of Milk shadow

In fact, he professed to actually having achieved holiness. And he kept referring to this throughout the many days of the conference.

Finally, at breakfast on the last morning, Spurgeon took a full pitcher of milk and poured it over the holiness fellow’s head. The man screamed at Spurgeon, “You idiot, why would you do this to me!”

To which Spurgeon replied, “I was simply testing your theology, good sir.”

My memory of this story prompted by Mark Galli’s review of a book I doubt I will ever read.

____________________________________________________

Apocryphal — of doubtful authenticity, although widely circulated

(This post was prompted by a Twitter conversation between Aaron aka @culturalsavage and moi from earlier this afternoon, Nov-15-12.)

In the 20+ years that Imbi and I owned a post-house in Toronto (an editing, graphics and post-audio facility called Scene by Scene®), we worked on thousands of interstitials for broadcast clients including Canada’s two largest private television networks, CTV and Global. These were the on-air promos for “Coming up Next”, or “Thursday at 9pm”… you get the drift.

5, 10 and 15 second attention grabbers meant to keep you connected to the network, or anticipating future viewing pleasure. (Forgive me for having participated in promoting prevarication.)

Interstitial image KTV

On-air promos/interstitials are the primary way networks reinforce their branding.

Our company was paid well to produce high quality brand promotion for broadcasters. (As an aside, I will always remember when the 1st Gulf War started, as I’d just finished creating 36 CTVNews promos for the Gulf Crisis when Imbi went into labour with Kaili. The day after Kaili’s birth, I was back changing them all to Gulf War.)

At one level, Twitter is a broadcast medium. Depending on the ratio of following to followers, it mimics the one-to-many communication of a TV network — primarily seen in the every-moment-tweeted Kardashian/Beiber/Kutcher inane celebrity universe.

LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME — their tweets demand. They aren’t interested in a 140 character-at-a-time conversation — they simply want followers — ones who will buy what they’re selling.

I don’t tend to follow these Twitterati. They add next to nothing to my social media engagement. Their tweets simply reflect the dominant pathology of celebrity — narcissism.

Twitter to me is most engaging as way to discover new ideas and arguments — as well as new production software and technology. :-) My particular bent.

I have no problem with writers who point to their own writing — as long as that’s not all that they point to.

What I find particularly odd in the Twitterverse, are Christians who view Twitter like CTV viewed on-air promos — as a place to simply promote their wonderful brand.

We are told to “stay tuned for a big announcement.” Or ReTweet to win prizes — their books or tickets to their speaking events. They highlight every great thing someone else has tweeted about them. They let us know exactly where they’ve shared their great wisdom — to the applause of the gathered multitudes.

But, sorry, they really don’t have time to engage with anyone who hits reply to one of their tweets. (Followers really need to learn their place.) They’re on to bigger and better things that they’ll tweet about momentarily.

So.

In my never humble opinion, when the primary focus of one’s Tweet output is you and what you are doing, then Twitter has simply become interstitialed narcissism.

[The image above is from the rebranding we did for Global when they went from KidsTV to KTV in the previous millennium. Scene by Scene® is a registered trademark of Medri Kinnon Productions Limited.)

Zero-Sum Games & the Church

kinnon —  November 5, 2012 — 15 Comments

ZeroSum Games w 3D Shadow

a zero–sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which a participant’s gain (or loss) of utility is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the utility of the other participant(s)Wikipedia

I Win! You lose! It’s a zero-sum game.

______________________________

This is, effectively, an extension of a previous blog post from January of this year, Theology — Is It a Bloodsport? It came out of a heated “conversation” Jared Wilson and I had on Twitter. One that may have not been the most productive. What I found most disquieting in that discussion was the language of team sports as a metaphor for interaction regarding Christianity’s different theological positions.

In that post, I spoke about my own lack of indoctrination into what I see is the idolatry of sports.

I make no bones about the fact I’m not into sports. From the time I was 8 until I was 13, I lived in Europe on Canadian Air Force bases. My family didn’t have a TV and neither did any of my friends’ families. If I listened to any sports, it was on Canadian Forces Network radio—a week tape delay of Hockey Night in Canada. And as much as I love the sound of Foster Hewitt’s voice, I rarely listened to him. So I guess I was never predisposed to view life through the lens of professional sports.

I, therefore, don’t find what appears to me to be the language / actions of team-loyal sports fans being applied to theological discussions as particularly helpful.”

I would state, rather categorically, that if there is a state religion in the U.S., that religion would be organized sport. The level of angst that exists for the success or failure of one’s team is more than a little disconcerting – especially when the fan is a Christian, or a “Christian leader.”

Pascal put his finger on the problem of human life when he saw how entertainment had come to occupy a place, not as the necessary and momentary relief from a life of work, but as an end in itself. When entertainment becomes more than a pleasant and occasional distraction, when time and income become devoted to entertainment and to pleasure, when sports teams become more important to us than people—even the people to whom we are close—then something has gone badly wrong. The frothy entertainment culture in which we live is a narcotic: not only is it addictive, so that we always want more; it also eats away at us, skewing our priorities, rotting our values as surely as too much sugar rots our teeth.” — Carl Trueman, Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread, Page 111.

In my childhood, I was taught the lie, “it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” The truth is closer to, ‘it doesn’t matter how you play the game, it’s whether you win or lose.’

Trueman again,

For many, though, sport has become an integral part of their identity, and, more often than not, it is watching sport, not actual participation, that does this. The success or failure of a team becomes the vicarious success or failure of the supporter. In other words, sport becomes a means of finding authenticity and value. Other areas of life can be neglected, malfunction, or simply go to the dogs; but as long as “the team” is doing well, all is OK with the world. Indeed, in good “opium” fashion, we can be enduring all kinds of garbage being dropped on us; but the “team” gives us hope—albeit specious and illusory—of fulfillment and happiness.” Carl Trueman, Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread, Page 123.

Many, if not most North American children are indoctrinated into their particular team fandom at a young age.

Rachel Held Evans, in her latest book, talks about her Roll Tide addiction,

I grew up in the great state of Alabama, which journalist Warren St. John deems “the worst place on earth to acquire a healthy perspective on the importance of spectator sports.” 1 In Alabama, the third most important question after “What is your name?” and “Where do you go to church?” is “Alabama or Auburn?” So soon after I learned to identify myself as a nondenominational, Bible-believing Christian named Rachel, I learned to identify myself as an Alabama fan. My little sister and I knew what intentional grounding was before we’d acquired the dexterity to play with Barbie dolls, and as kids we liked to imitate my mother, who had the habit of willing an Alabama running back down the field by moving closer and closer to the TV set the longer he stayed on his feet. By the time he danced into the end zone, the whole family—Mom, Dad, Amanda, and I—would be huddled together around the TV, screaming our heads off, nervously looking for any yellow flags on the field.” Rachel Held Evans, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Page 2

At it’s very worst, this American obsession with winning teams is exemplified by what was allowed to happen under Joe Paterno’s leadership at Penn State. Winning at any cost — even if that cost was children sacrificed on the altar of pedophilia. UPDATE 3: View this graphic. And weep.

But I would suggest that for most Americans, the worship of sports is milder than that, but perhaps more insidious.

Trash Talking

One of the manifestations of this is the prevalence of trash talking that began in sports but has become a very noticeable part of social interaction. It’s roots may be in the rather innocent, “Hey batter, batter” of baseball but the language is far stronger today — and much more destructive.

I note these two stories on American President, Barack Obama, known as a hyper-competitive player. From CNN,

Reggie Love, the man by President Barack Obama’s side for two years in the White House, said the president leads like he plays basketball… …“He’s a competitor, and I think when you compete … you can’t spend all your time sort of being overly emotional or reactional to what’s going on,” Love said.

Obama trashing Rubio2

And then from Politico,

It is Obama’s own burning competitiveness, with his remorseless focus on beating Mitt Romney — an opponent he genuinely views with contempt and fears will be unfit to run the country…

Obama is sometimes portrayed as a reluctant warrior, sorry to see 2012 marked by so much partisan warfare but forced by circumstance to go along. But this perception is by most evidence untrue. In the interviews with current and former Obama aides, not one said he expressed any reservations about the negativity. He views it as a necessary part of campaigning, as a natural — if unpleasant — rotation of the cyclical political wheel.

Obama’s trash-talking competitiveness, a trait that has defined him since his days on the court as a basketball-obsessed teenager in Hawaii, was on display one night last February, when the president spotted a woman he knew was close to Sen. Marco Rubio in a Florida hotel lobby. “Is your boy going to go for [vice president]?” the president asked her. Maybe, she replied. “Well,” he said, chuckling, according to a person who witnessed the encounter. “Tell your boy to watch it. He might get his ass kicked.” [emphasis added]

Obama is simply a product of the dominant culture.

His team will do anything to beat the other – and that sentiment is reciprocated. To a Democrat, Republicans are knuckle-dragging fools who hate women and want to return to the 50’s. To a Republican, Democrats are Socialists who will steal the election in order to worship Stalin or Satan, take your pick.

The trash-talking, zero-sum gaming of U.S. Politics is in danger of destroying the American nation.

But.

I’m more concerned about what it’s doing to the church.

Matthew Lee Anderson, in his review of RHE’s new book, says this at the end of his rather long (but must read) review:

…I am increasingly saddened by the state of our Christian discourse online, including my own involvement in it.

I’m no Roman history expert, but I take it that it was their love of entertainment that led them to the Coliseum. It’s a bloodthirsty idol, entertainment, for it knows no boundaries nor respects no persons. Over the past two years, Christians have engaged in a variety of controversies—which they have been doing for a long time, but which seem to be coming and going with a greater rapidity while being discussed at a significantly more shallow level. I think of Rob Bell’s book, Jesus>Religion, Mark Driscoll’s book, the Wilson dustup, and now this conflagration. And there are, I think, others I am forgetting.

In each, the form of arguments have rarely been commendable and the level of discourse ennobling. We have increasingly, it seems to me, been taken by these controversies and fought for pageviews in the midst of them. And that has meant mostly fighting each other, clashing verbal swords and letting the digital blood flow in the streets. I know well that there is a time to disagree and to draw lines. And I also know that when the controversy is upon us, the drumbeats of war always beat the loudest, and it is usually in such moments that we should speak of peace. Perhaps we would all do well to wield our intellectual swords with a good deal more care.

One of the reasons I’ve had such a hard time blogging in these past six months, is what went down this summer on The Gospel Coalition blog of Jared Wilson’s when he used a Doug Wilson quote on his Fifty Shades of Grey Post, now deleted – and the Internet blog storm that was created — the Wilson dustup mentioned by Anderson, above.

I’ve known Jared through our relationship with the late Michael Spencer, for probably five years. I’ve held him in high regard for most of the time. But I was shocked by his response to the people who were profoundly offended by his blog post, particularly in the way he trash-talked them on Twitter, as well as in the comment sections of the multiple posts he wrote based on his first post.

If you follow Jared on Twitter, you’ll know he’s a huge sports fan — especially football. I honestly believe that Jared was engaging in social media debate in a manner little different than what he would do amongst his friends known as The Thinklings. His responses were simply representative of the perspective formed by the culturally dominant world of sport. Trash-talking being a normative response.

Jared is hardly the most egregious example of Christian trash-talking. And its not limited to his fellow Calvinists.

Some of the stuff I read from Christian Progressives in response to Evangelicals and other Christian conservatives is really little different from how Democrats feel about Republicans — only its shared with less love and affection. (That’s sarcasm, by the way.)

As I bring my own, too long, post to a close, I realize that perhaps all this is a plea like that of the late Rodney King, “Can we all get along?”

So.

Perhaps, we could all simply become less resounding gongs or clanging cymbals — the ones Paul, the Apostle spoke of here.

UPDATE: Read Michael Kruze’s post here: America’s Increasingly Tribal Electorate

UPDATE 2: Todd Littleton advances the conversation much further.

Releasing the UnLeader!

kinnon —  September 20, 2012 — 18 Comments

The tag line for this site is, “the issue isn’t leadership, it’s discipleship.” Just in case you missed it. :-)

But. Though many claim to agree. The reality is that LEADERSHIP REALLY IS THE ISSUE™.

Whether a missional church plant in the heart of a major North American city, a growing megachurch in the bible belt, a male-dominated, “gospel-centered” church in the DC area or a struggling church south of Lake Ontario — the issue is leadership and the apparent solution is more of the same. Better leadership, trained at the hundreds of leadership conferences available almost any day of the week will be the key to the successful growth of your church. Let me offend as many people as possible – this isn’t just bullsh__, it’s heresy.

If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know that this is the story I’ve been telling for a rather long time. The last post (from over 3 months ago) was Captain America and the Gospel of Leadership

My inbox is constantly spammed by Christians pushing the next great leadership conference or offering the next great leadership book to review.

Come hear the latest megachurch pastor reveal the secrets to his amazing success — and if you buy his book(s), DVD(s) or subscribe to his podcast(s), you might just be the next one up on a stage in front of people who are just like you are now.’

The heresy is in the belief that Jesus has called you to be a leader. He hasn’t. He’s called all of us to be servants and disciplers – while being discipled ourselves. (Matthew 20:25 and Matthew 28:19—20.) If you don’t believe me, listen to someone with much greater, earned authority, Christopher Wright. (Which I’ve pointed to many, many times — in the hope that more folk will listen… and learn.)

Unleader Lance Ford’s book

All of this to say, there’s a book I’d like you to read. Written by a friend of mine, Lance Ford. It’s called Unleader, Reimagining Leadership, and Why We Must. Lance says this at the beinning of his book:

The largest church leadership conferences each year include talks from corporate business world stars and world famous CEO’s who make no claim to be followers of Christ whatsoever. The bookshelves of most pastors and church leaders are filled with a solid collection of New York Times bestselling books on leadership, authored by corporate business gurus and political figures. Furthermore, twice as many books on the subject of Christian Leadership are available on Amazon.com as compared to titles on Discipleship. Leadership making has not only trumped disciple making, it has trampled it and left it in the dust. Regarding servantship, look for books on it and you are up the proverbial creek without a paddle. I have not found one Christian book on serving as a coveted position in and of itself. When they do get close to it, every author in the Christian leadership field (in my research) cannot help themselves but to use the phrase Servant-leader. Leader seems to always get squeezed in. Mere servantship is considered not enough.

Perhaps the biggest snafu concerning the current leadership obsession is that Jesus himself directly contradicts much—if not most—of what is being imported into the church under the leadership mantra. Better put, much of it is expressly forbidden by Jesus. Can you imagine the Apostle Paul hosting a leadership conference for the early church with a lineup of speakers such as, Roman Governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus; Revolutionary Leader, Simon bar Giora; John Philip Maximus, owner of the Roman Traders Market (I made up this last guy). Ridiculous, huh?

Most disconcerting is the fact that Jesus himself is not our first choice when it comes to the one whom we model ourselves after as leaders. When the character and persona of Jesus is washed out through so-called strategic initiatives and sound leadership decisions a clash of kingdoms has manifested. And in large part these are the coordinates being followed by most pastors in today’s evangelical church circles. (I apologize that I don’t include page numbers as I’m working from a pre-release document.)

One of the largest peddlers of the CEO leadership culture in the church can be found in the Chicago area. I’m struck by the reality that in spite of this “great leadership teaching center” and all the other megachurches in the Chicago area, Illinois politics are some of the most corrupt in North America. I then ponder the Welsh Revival and its impact on that country’s culture — as compared to the ever growing empires of Christian “leaders” in the Chicago area — and the rather surprising lack of impact on the local political culture. Thoughts?

Where it might seem I would probably be happy taking the word “leader” out into the street, setting it on fire and then kicking it, Lance seeks to redeem it:

This book is not about eliminating leadership in the church. Far from that, it is about redefining and recalibrating leadership according to Jesusian coordinates. To borrow a phrase from my Aussie mates, “What am I on about?” It is to say that the only acceptable leadership moves we make in the church must be made by following Jesus himself. If you are stepping off the path of following Jesus in your leadership methods and means then you are not followable yourself. You may be quick-witted, smooth tongued, and a strategizing whiz kid. But if you use those skills in contradiction to the person of Jesus your leadership way is not worth following.

I’m convinced that Lance’s book is critical for the church in North America today. I’m also convinced that those people already atop the leadership heap will ignore it. But that doesn’t mean you have to. In fact, I’d suggest it’s very important you do read the book to hopefully innoculate you from the dis-ease of the North American Church Leadership CULTure. (Intentional)

Einstein has been quoted as defining insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. (It probably wasn’t him, but…) As we burden the church with more and “better” leadership conferences, books, etc we keep expecting different results — expecting the church to grow in love, impact and number of conversions. Allow me to let you in on this insane little secret. IT ISN’T WORKING!

Over four decades of marinating in church growth theory has left the vast majority of evangelical denominational and local church leaders wandering in the weeds of a consumer church field. It has created a clergy crop that views the church from the perspective of marketers and businesspersons, and a Christian mass that views itself as clientele.

It isn’t working because it isn’t actually Jesus-centred. (I avoid using gospel-centered as I see it too easily being manipulated into whatever the author believes the gospel to be – unless they choose to call it the King Jesus Gospel, of course. For too many, their gospel appears to be rules, commands and control — all supported by specific scripture verses, of course.)

Under the heading, Cultures of Dominance, Lance tells this unfortunately typical story. (I’ve received far too many emails with similar stories myself.)

I recently shared dinner with a young man who had just recently been fired from a church he had served for several years. He made the mistake of sending an email to the upper echelon—the “Executive Leadership Team”—that questioned the decision of following through with a costly building program for a wedding chapel in the midst of a season of staffing cutbacks. He merely requested a dialogue among the entire staff to get a consensus of thought concerning the situation. His email was written in a very respectful, and humble manner. The day after Devon19 sent the email two members of the Executive Leadership Team showed up at his office to inform him that he was being let go, effective immediately. The reason he was given for being fired was that he had “incited negative morale and displayed lack of cooperation.” When Devon asked why he had not been given the opportunity to at least discuss the situation, per Jesus’ Matthew 18 instructions on dealing with conflict, one of the two “execs” told him he shouldn’t be surprised. “If this was Sprint, or another business, it would be done just like this,” she replied.

What is the problem with this scenario? It is that the church is not Sprint, nor any other business. The church is the body of Christ and has a manual of protocol. It’s called The Bible. And if these “leaders” were following Jesus they would never consider such behavior or tactics. The thing that should terrify us is that this type of scenario is a commonly accepted practice across the landscape of evangelical churches and denominations.

Lance does not write his book as one how has never been called a “successful leader” in the eyes of our present church-leadership culture. On the contrary, we could just as easily be reading a book on building a “growing, successful church” if (as I believe) the Spirit hadn’t intervened.

It was not that I didn’t love people. The problem was that I was more into building a church than I was into building the people who were the church. Like so many other church planters I was consumed with developing my “vision” of church. And though I constantly preached that the church was the people, my obsession with developing the systems, organization, and expansion of our church betrayed what I really believed in the basement of my heart. I was a leader, not a servant. I was building a leadership culture, not one of servantship. Not one of followership.

In our attempts to create Jesus in our own image we often think of him as a great leader. Many pastors have read the Laurie Beth Jones book, Jesus, CEO. But neither Jesus nor God ever labeled him as such. No, Jesus was a great servant—the greatest servant of all—and he embraced the status of a servant.

After not writing for a rather long time, I’ve spent too much time writing a rather long post. I apologize… sort of.

Buy the book.

Read it.

Let me know what you think, if you have the time. :-)

I’m thinking of asking my Missional ’Gator friends (they know who they are) to join me in a Missional Avengers team. Our mission will be to seek out and destroy the Loci of church leadership ideas like this one from that great church ecclesiologist, Teddy Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I’ve seen this pointed to by a number of people as relevant to church leadership. The last straw was when a good friend — a person I love dearly — who is planting a church in Toronto, ReTweeted a link to it.

Marlboro man as Pastor 2

I deal with this ridiculous and, in fact, dangerous belief in the mythic super hero as church leader/planter at length in my post, Jesus and the Marlboro Man.

This is the myth of the rugged individual and it is one, I’d suggest, that has done more damage to the church in the west than we care to realize.

And that damage includes both those who have attempted to “build” a church this way, as well as those who have attempted to work with said solo builder.

In light of my response here, please read this post from Lance Ford, based on his upcoming book, UnLeader: Rethinking Leadership… and Why We Must —  a book you just might want to pre-order. (Part One of his “Refutable Laws” posts is here.)

And if or as you disagree with me, help me understand how Teddy’s thoughts line up with Luke 10 or Matthew 20:25. I’m just saying.

The Bible as King

kinnon —  June 7, 2012 — 38 Comments

Some might be surprised.

Others will say, “I knew it all along.” “He’s not to be trusted.” “He’s slid so far down the slippery slope he’s a nanometer from Hell’s Gates.”

BibleForegroundStainedGlassSoftBG

What am I talking about?

The Bible.

Sorry.

The Holy Bible.

I don’t believe it’s inerrant.

Inspired?

Yes.

Automatic handwriting under the control of the Holy Spirit?

Ummmm… I don’t think so.

Scot McKnight notes:

…many Christians grow up with a view of Scripture that it is inerrant, and that means for them – and I speak here of the populist impression – that it is not only true but that is more or less magically true – true beyond its time, true when everything else says something else. Connected to this view of inerrancy is a view of Bible reading that takes a sound Christian idea called the perspicuity of Scripture, that the Bible’s message is clear to any able-minded Bible reader, and ratchets it up one notch so that the Bible reader thinks whatever I see in the Bible is what the Bible is saying. This is my way of saying that one’s interpretations of Scripture become as infallible as the Bible itself, and since everything interlocks, giving in one inch is the first step in apostasy.

A blog I regularly read, wrote recently about the need to “Preach the Word.” The writer is of the inerrant camp Dr. McKnight speaks of above. This isn’t “The Word made flesh” of John 1. This isn’t “knowing nothing… except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” of the Apostle Paul. This is a systematic approach to the text of Scripture — often being preached line by line.

In 1 Samuel 8 (to which I often refer), God tells Samuel that the people aren’t rejecting Samuel in their desire for a king, they are rejecting God. Is it possibly that the same affections that animated the desire for a king in the people of Israel also animate the approach of many of us to the Bible?

The Bible is the King we worship. We can read it, discuss it, follow the parts we like in it (and ignore those we don’t), call others with different understandings of particular texts, “Heretics!” and be rather self-assured in our understanding. Much easier than being in relationship with the Creator of the Universe, who, though good, is not safe. (To paraphrase Mrs. Beaver’s response to a question about Aslan.)

Christian orthodoxy is trinitarian. We worship the Father, Son & Holy Spirit. But often, as many others have suggested, it appears that we worship the Father, Son and Holy Scriptures.

When Jesus speaks of the Paraclete, the comforter, the one who comes along side in John 16, he says, “when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” [emphasis added]

IBrants Bibliolatry smalln practice it appears that many believe “all the truth” is a reference to the Bible. And it took four centuries to guide the church into that “truth.” But now that we have “the truth”, the perfect has come and the majority of the Holy Spirit’s work is done. (I’m being facetious.)

I’m reminded of this old cartoon from the irrepressible Brant Hansen. It speaks for itself.

Christian Smith, in his thought provoking book, The Bible Made Impossible says this,

…on important matters the Bible apparently is not clear, consistent, and univocal enough to enable the best-intentioned, most highly skilled, believing readers to come to agreement as to what it teaches. **That is an empirical, historical, undeniable, and ever-present reality. It is, in fact, the single reality that has most shaped the organizational and cultural life of the Christian church, which now, particularly in the United States, exists in a state of massive fragmentation. ** The fact that Christians have worked for centuries and sometimes millennia to try to sort through these differences has not mattered. The fact that the Bible itself implores Christian believers to come to unity with one another and be of the same mind as one another, in view of their one Lord, one faith, and one baptism (John 17:23; Rom. 15:5; Eph. 4:2–5, 13; Phil. 2:2; Col. 3:12–15), has not mattered. The differences have not been overcome. And we have little reason to believe that they will be overcome anytime soon—whether or not we have an inerrant, harmonious, and perspicuous Bible. Appealing to the same scriptural texts, Christians remain deeply divided on most issues, often with intense fervor and sometimes hostility toward one another. [emphasis added] — Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible, Loc. 662–72 (Kindle Edition)

Dave Fitch, says this in his important book, The End of Evangelicalism,

“The inerrant Bible” in essence allows us to interpret the Bible to mean anything we want it to because after all we believe it to be “inerrant.” To exaggerate, we can say just about anything based on the Bible and then declare our allegiance to the Bible’s inerrancy. No one then can dare question our orthodoxy! In this way, “the inerrant Bible” functions once again as an empty-signifier. As a result, “the inerrant Bible” (and its variants) holds together a wide variety of institutions and churches that have very little in common in terms of their practice except of course the desire to self-identify as evangelical. — David E. Fitch, The End of Evangelicalism? Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission: Towards an Evangelical Political Theology, Loc. 1818–22 (Kindle Edition)

And even though “we” want to identify ourselves as evangelical, Evangelical Christianity has become a battle ground of proof texts. No matter what the particular battle is.

“I’ll see your 1 Tim. 2:12 — Paul not suffering a woman to teach, with Paul lauding the apostle Junia in Romans 16:7, greeting his co-labourers, Priscilla & Aquila in Romans 16:3–4 and 2 Timothy 4:19 and writing of their house church leadership in 1 Cor. 16:19. Winning!”

On this particular battle, Smith writes,

The Bible seems to say many things that can be reasonably read and theologized in various ways. In studying the various sides of this heated debate, one gets the distinct feeling that it is actually the divergent prebiblical interests of the many interpreters—both traditionalist and feminist—that drive their scriptural readings, as much as the texts themselves. That too presents problems for biblicism. But the more pertinent point here is this: apparently smart, well-intentioned scripture scholars in fact do read the same set of texts and come away making arguably compelling cases for opposing if not incompatible beliefs on a matter of significance for Christian personal and church practice. — Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible, Loc. 780–85 (Kindle Edition)

But for those Biblicists in the inerrant camp — as Scot McKnight suggests — their understanding of the text is the one that is correct. If Pauls says ‘women can’t teach’ then it’s obvious, WOMEN CAN’T TEACH. Some are so exacting in their understanding of the inerrant, perspicuous scriptures that they proudly proclaim that they won’t even let women read scripture in a church service — as it’s almost like teaching. (Which reminds me of the old joke about Baptists and dancing, but I won’t go there right now.) The logical extension of this is that since hymns and some worship tunes also teach, the soprano parts should be song by castrati, n’est-ce pas?

One of the prompts for this post was something that Michael Newnham at Phoenix Preacher pointed to earlier in the week; the resignation letter of Jason Stellman, pastor of a Seattle PCA church. One of the stumbling blocks for Stellman that he felt forced his resignation was his changed position on the Reformed doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

Stellman writes:

I have begun to doubt whether the Bible alone can be said to be our only infallible authority for faith and practice, and despite my efforts (and those of others) to dispel these doubts, they have only become more pronounced. In my own reading of the New Testament, the believer is never instructed to consult Scripture alone in order to adjudicate disputes or determine matters of doctrine (one obvious reason for this is that the early church existed at a time when the 27-book New Testament had either not been begun, completed, or recognized as canonical). The picture the New Testament paints is one in which the ordained leadership of the visible church gathers to bind and loose in Jesus’ Name and with his authority, with the Old Testament Scriptures being called upon as witnesses to the apostles’ and elders’ message (Matt. 18:18–19; Acts 15:6–29), with no indication in Scripture that such ecclesiastical authority was to cease and eventually give way to Sola Scriptura (meaning that the doctrine fails its own test). Moreover, unless the church’s interpretation of Scripture is divinely protected from error at least under certain conditions, then what we call the “orthodox” understanding of doctrines like the Trinity or the hypostatic union is reduced to mere fallible human opinion. I have searched long and hard, but have found no solution within the Sola Scriptura paradigm to this devastating conclusion.

Some suggest that Stellman is about to swim the Tiber. I find that as problematic as others find his rejection of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fida — but his rejection of the Reformed position on Scripture resonates with me.

Christian Smith (who has swum the Tiber) notes the vast numbers of Christians who have their faith ship-wrecked when their Sola Scriptura world view is shattered by reasoned inquisitors. He writes,

To argue that our only lifeline to God is the Bible is way off base. It also fails to recognize the many ways we know about and simply know Jesus Christ. It fails to explain how the Christian church for its first three hundred and fifty years—when it did not possess the defined biblical canon as we now know it—managed to know Christ. “The Christian faith,” Craig Allert rightly observes, “did not grow in response to a book but as a response to God’s interaction with the community of faith.”[53] — Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible, Loc. 2457–61 (Kindle Edition)

And then later,

Scripture is not worshiped. It is not in scripture that we place our hope. It is not on scripture that we stake our lives. All of that is reserved for Jesus Christ alone. … Scripture is sometimes confusing, ambiguous, and incomplete—we have to admit and deal with that fact. Biblicism insists that the Bible as the word of God is clear, accessible, understandable, coherent, and complete as the revelation of God’s will and ways for humanity. But this is simply not true. Scripture can be very confusing. It can be indefinite. The Bible can lack information and answers that we want it to have. To say such things seems, from a biblicist perspective, to insult God, scripture’s divine author. But that is, again, because biblicism starts off with wrong presuppositions about how the Bible ought to work. — Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible, Loc. 2546–47 & Loc. 2661–66 (Kindle Edition)

The Bible is not our King… King Jesus is our King. (And may I highly recommend you read Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel.)

Our understanding of Scripture must come first from our relationship with the Risen and Living Christ. To view the Bible as “all the truth” too often denies the reality of Jesus being very much alive and actively working through His Holy Spirit.

As Eugene Peterson intreprets John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.” He is alive and in our midst – something the Scriptures witness to.

One Ed to Rule Them All

kinnon —  May 17, 2012 — 12 Comments

As I look back on my over half-century of existence I note a number of Eds in my life.

The first, from my childhood, the dreaded Phys… Phys Ed, that is. Though tall for my age, I was almost a year younger than most of my class confreres and my co-ordination so reflected. Phys Ed is not a name I remember fondly.

And then there was Drivers’ Ed. I believed Mr. Drivers’ Ed when he told me, “You do know they will fail you for going too slowly, don’t you?” So, after taking his advice to heart, I guess I was a little shocked when I failed my license the first time.

Mr. Kinnon, your son handles the car very well but he does 30 MPH everywhere. Around corners. In reverse. Through a school zone. Twice.”

My adult life was not particularly Ed-free, but I didn’t really become concious of the plethora of Eds until I entered the wonderful world of blogdom. (I’ll leave E.D. out of the discussion, if you don’t mind. Though the final Ed might bring it up as is his wont.)

My friend, Ed Brenegar was an early blogging comrade. A consultant to both church and business, Ed is one of the good guys.

Ed Cyzewski was next up in the pantheon of Eds. Introduced via his Coffeehouse Theology book, I’ve come to enjoy Ed’s writings at In A Mirror Dimly.

And then there’s Ed Stetzer. Missiologist, Church Planter, Researcher, Author and more. He even has his own Wikipedia page. With a double doctorate, and double Masters degrees one might expect Ed to be more than a little intimidating. But dang it, he’s just a very nice guy. (Though you won’t catch me arguing with him… much.)

But all these Eds, as wonderful as they are (except Phys of course) pale in comparison to the one ED.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemensch.

Give it up for, ED YOUNG JUNIOR!

Ed Young Pastor Fashion

Go to any Christian dictionary and right beside the word AWESOME, you’re going to see a picture of ED YOUNG JUNIOR with his big, shi… err… pearly-white grin.

And it’s not ’cuz ED YOUNG JUNIOR is the Senior Pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church Grapevine TX and all its many satellites. It’s not ’cuz he is MR CREATIVE PASTOR. It’s not ’cuz he has the coolest French-made jet (that most of his parishioners knew not about until some nasty TV station broke the story). It’s not ’cuz he tried to spend 24 hours on the roof of his church in bed with his wife. (Where I’m sure he would have talked about E.D. had he had the chance.)

Nope! What makes ED YOUNG JUNIOR the mostest, awesomest ED ever… Pastor Fashion.

PURE.

BRILLIANCE.

I don’t know about you, but most of the Pastors I know just aren’t the kind of fashion plates for the Kingdom they could be. (Yes Toronto Pastors Darryl Dash, Dan MacDonald and Barry Parker – I AM looking at you. Come on guys. Spend a little time at Pastor Fashion. It’ll do the rest of our eyeballs good. And Hyatt and Fitch. I’m not even going to bring you Americans up. Oh. Wait. I just did.)

ED YOUNG JUNIOR goes where lesser Eds fear to tread.

Yup.

Spanx!

Forget those fad diets that leave you craving a Cheesburger, Fries and a Coke at 11pm most nights. Spanx will give you the kind of control you’ve been missing. (Please note: This is not to be construed as medical advice. Consult your doctor before getting spanxed. Void where prohibited by law. Your mileage may vary. Batteries are included – from ED YOUNG JUNIOR, of course.)

And so to the Lessor Eds. Since the odds of you ever being as AWESOME as ED YOUNG JUNIOR, we kindly ask that you stop referring to yourselves as Ed.

Edward, Eddie, Edster, Edit, even Ward are fine.

But WITH ONE ED TO RULE THEM ALL, we’d really rather you not to try to confuse us by using ED YOUNG JUNIOR’s first name.

Man, I just love this American Christianity thing!!!

This post was partially triggered by JR Briggs blog post, Devastating Statistics About Pastors. In that post, JR talks about church leader stats that Bob Hyatt shared at a recent Ecclesia Network gathering; stats which, in terms of pastor failures/problems/pain, truly are devastating.

JR has some suggestions for what you, the parishioner and/or elders, can do for your pastor. They’re all good.

But.

Might I suggest the only way to actually deal with the problem is to recognize its root. Which I would identify as our predominant church leadership system — rather than how pastors are treated within that system. (And I need to note that I think much of what JR, Bob, Dave Fitch and the many others involved with what the Ecclesia Network is doing is critically important to the life of the North American church in a Post-Christendom context.)

DHayward Justlikethem

The separation of church and pastor is largely responsible, in my never humble opinion, for both the abuse of pastors, as well as abusive pastors.

When pastors set themselves apart from the people, or are expected to be separate from the people they are pastoring, the system breaks down into what we are experiencing today. Whether it’s the stats Bob Hyatt points to at one extreme or the systemic leadership abuses of organizations like Sovereign Grace Ministries at the other. (As an aside, please see this important post from former SGM pastor, Rick Thomas on the hurting people wounded in that particular train wreck.)

In the previous post, I wrote of how Jesus lived with and discipled his followers. He was in intimate relationship with those gathered around him. He ate with them, he laughed with them, he wept with them and he constantly modeled ministry for them. He was almost always with them. Yes, he separated himself to pray and seek the Father, but what we see in the Gospels is primarily Jesus hanging out with those he called. He wasn’t heading off to Messiah conventions to learn from or share his understanding with all the other messiahs. He was pouring his life into those around him.

Wander with me to Luke 10. What do we see? Well. Jesus sends the 72 disciples out in twos. No manly single church planters being sent out to the harvest. He tells them to take nothing for their journey. They are to receive hospitality from those with whom they meet. To pray for their healing. And they return to him shocked by what has transpired.

Note that Jesus didn’t tell them to choose the area where they would build their church, or to get their church logo designed, their website up or to find the perfect worship leader and team. Rather, he sent them out in twos to both receive from and minister to those who would accept them. (And yes, there is a lifetime’s worth of further teaching to unpack from Luke 10.)

The model is relationship. Jesus with his disciples. His disciples in pairs, establishing relationship with those they encounter on their journey. It’s not about setting up branch plants of the particular church model preferred by the individual disciples.

In scanning blog posts or reading tweets of late, I see lots of words about pastors needing to get together with other pastors. I see little about pastors and fellow Christians who are not pastors, needing to be in close and loving relationship with each other. The “us/them” attitude between church and pastor is simply a given. And it leads to a lot more problems than just the stats JR points to via Bob.

King in suit

Perhaps, the latest and one of the most egregious examples of the separation of church and pastor is the Chuck O’Neal story where he, a pastor from Bob Hyatt’s home town has begun a lawsuit against a number of folk who’ve written bad reviews of his hyper-authoritarian church. Chuck is a firm believer in the popular translation of Ephesians 3:17 as “submit to your leaders and obey them”. And it seems that Chuck simply adds to this, “if they don’t and they dare write publically about it, then sue’em” — which he claims he was advised to do by a leadership staff person working for a well known promoter/practitioner of authoritarian leadership. (For further discussion on the Eph 3:17 translation issue, see Lance Ford’s and Lin’s comments on my previous post.)

From the multiple media reports one can surmise that Chuck believes and practices what I was once told by a senior pastor of my acquaintance, “if it’s not my vision, it’s di-vision. And I won’t allow it.”

Mike Breen, whose latest book I will say again is a must-read, wrote this in a blog post published yesterday,

At the end of the day, what most pastors want (and have been trained to want!) is minions to execute the most important vision of all. Their own. In doing this, they effectively kill people’s ability to get a vision of their own. Nevermind that this approach is antithetical to the Gospel.

Christian leadership is about listening for vision from God within community and then being given the authority and power to execute that vision — to take new Kingdom ground. That’s the birthright of every Christian…to hear the voice of their Father. But in the way we do leadership, suddenly it’s like we are pre-Reformation where only the select and the elite who are given this privilege. And let’s be clear: Our ego has a lot to do with this.

Now I’m not suggesting we shift to a paradigm full of chiefs and no Indians. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t times where we leverage our collective abilities to deliver on a central vision. I’m saying that there are many places in your community where the Kingdom needs to be advanced. And if you want to take that territory, you’re going to need more than just a cadre of volunteers. You have to learn to operate in a model that releases leaders to take those fronts, or you’re going to stand still.

You may think your vision is big enough to all those cracks and crevices, but I’m telling you…it’s not.

More on the Separation of Church and Pastor in Part Two.

NB: Cartoon from the inimitable Naked Pastor, David Hayward.

Over the course of the last two years when I’ve deigned to write, I’ve written a fair amount about discipleship. In one of those posts, one of the commenters TimD, wrote of his experience of discipleship as that of command and control. For him, discipleship is a scary word.

Discipleship meant encouraging the newbies to buy into the program. To believe all the right doctrines and theologies and to become convinced that we were the right ones and the Baptists, Pentacostals, Catholics, etc were all wrong (to a greater or lesser extent). And any practical expression of discipleship in that context was focused on one of two things: 1) converting others to think the same we did, and 2) complying with the shallow morality checklist (church attendance, no sex or smoking, while ignoring greater issues of justice because there wasn’t a verse for that). The Bible study, teaching historicity, etc. all served these pathetic ends.

Discipline ≠ Discipleship

As I skip from node to node on the interwebs, I see lots of concern from church leaders on how to effectively practice church discipline. It reminds me of reading and reviewing the book, Why We Love the Church, where DeYoung and Kluck pontificate on the importance of discipline, i.e. Obeying Leaders!

Rather than a thoughtful and engaging book on Christ and His Church, this book’s title could just as easily have been “Why We Love Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to them.” Kluck and DeYoung (who write separate chapters in the book) both quote this verse and approvingly quote other writers who say things like, “Without church membership there’s no place for the important role of church discipline (page 162).” My note scrawled in the margin screams “versus discipleship?

Discipline and discipleship may have the same root but are worked out in a person’s life in very different ways. Below is the common (dictionary) understanding of the word, discipline:

• the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience

• the controlled behavior resulting from such training: he was able to maintain discipline among his men.

When you add the not necessarily accurate translation of Hebrews 13:17 — submit/obey leaders —to discipline being understood as the above, it becomes easy to see how church discipline defaults to command and control. (UPDATE: See Lance and Lin’s contributions on this in the comments.)

When discipleship and discipline are conflated you get what TimD describes at the opening of the post.

Jesus, in the Great Commission, tells us to go and make disciples. It is simply not debatable that the model for doing this is Jesus himself.

And what do we see in the Gospels; Jesus living and focusing most of his energy over a three-year period on his band of followers. It wasn’t him building a large platform from where He could gather the multitudes to discipline them — with new rules and regulations — but rather it was Jesus pouring his life into a small group of people. People who would go on to turn the world upside down after Christ’s ascension.

He actively demonstrated the kingdom come, while walking hundreds of miles with his followers at his side, eating together, laughing together, in Luke 10 sending his disciples off in twos to return to him with their wonder-filled stories. He, to paraphrase the instructions of many of my writing coaches, showed them rather than told them.

In fact, he discipled them, didn’t he.

Were there times when he was incredibly frustrated with them and rebuked them?

Of course.

But, because the Jesus model of discipleship is fully relational, even when he rebuked his disciples they never doubted he loved them. His discipling was the furthest thing from command and control. (If your confused on this read Matthew 20:28 again… or even for the first time.)

So, I ask you, in the way Jesus made disciples, how do we conflate what far too many church leaders excitedly call church discipline with discipleship?

My friend, Lance Ford, wrote a note on my Facebook wall today reminding me that I haven’t blogged since March 21.

So.

I opened up Dragon Dictate and discovered a number of half-written posts that I thought I’d finish. But I didn’t.

Perhaps tomorrow.

Instead, as my first post back after far too long way, let me point you at three books I’m reading that I have found particularly helpful.

Make Your Own Application

The first is from my friend, Michael Newnham, a.k.a. Phoenix Preacher. It’s called Make Your Own Application. I’ll let Michael explain it in his own words,

A couple of years ago I started writing a weekly column on Fridays I cleverly called “TGIF”

What actually happened was that I woke up one Friday morning and had no idea what the hell to write and something fell out of my head and onto the keyboard. It had to have a title…and it was Friday, after all.

After some hits and misses, I found my voice writing about what was going on in my daily life and drawing scriptural applications from the same.

I wrote about my son and the skateboard park, I wrote about my doubts, I wrote about my faith…and I wrote about my cats. Miss Kitty and Squeak became regular guests of my readers as I chronicled how God speaks through critters.

This book is a collection of those writings. 

Let me just say with all the crap that I see happening in the church — crap that I need to admit is having a significantly negative impact on my faith, Michael’s book is fresh water in a dry and thirsty land. My recommendation is you buy the book. You won’t regret it.

Three Free Sins

The second book is one that Michael recommended, Steve Brown’s Three Free Sins—God’s Not Mad at You. Steve and Michael are both Reformed in their theology. I won’t hold that against either of them. :-)

Three Free Sins had me laughing out loud in many places — which scared the dog. 

I received this from a friend: “You have to work hard to offend Christians. By nature Christians are the most forgiving, understanding, and thoughtful group of people I’ve ever dealt with. They never assume the worst. They appreciate the importance of having different perspectives. They’re slow to anger, quick to forgive, and almost never make rash judgments or act in anything less than a spirit of love . . . no, wait! I was thinking of Labrador retrievers!”

It also often hit me where I needed to be hit, which I greatly appreciate.

Forgiveness was the focal point in Christ’s teaching because he knew that without profound “to the bone” forgiveness, there is no freedom, no real joy, no peace, and no release from the pain and the root of bitterness that destroys nations, families, and individuals. He understood that the key to everything important in life is forgiveness.

And the final book of the three, equally as good as the other two, is Kathy Escobar’s Down We Go: Living Into the wild Ways of Jesus.

Down We Go

Like me, Kathy spent too much time inside the “much sound and fury signifying nothing” world of the North American mega-church, before finding herself on the outside of it.

This book is her story of experiencing Jesus in the midst of people most middle-class Christian folk would attempt to avoid. It is a story of full bandwidth Christianity—a combination of incredible highs and painful lows along with everything in between.

When we put relationship with people above everything, we will cultivate authentic transformational community—little pockets of love—instead of spending our energy, building ministries or lifestyles that don’t reflect the humble spirit of the Beatitudes. These pockets of love help teach us interdependence, a critical characteristic of Kingdom living.

Another critical element we can’t forget as we engage a life of downward mobility is dreaming. Big or small, dreams are part of Kingdom living. They inspire us to try scary things, meet new people, jump into the deep end, or put our toes in the water. Without dreams we can’t make “what could be,” a reality. At the same time, I continue to learn that dreams are often much prettier when they are just dreams.

Life down here doesn’t always turn out the way we think it should be, that’s for sure. But that’s the beauty of downward mobility. “Pretty” and “easy” aren’t the goals. Transformation is. And one thing is clear: Down here, there’s a lot of room for transformation.

It is a must read book for those of us tired of consumer Christianity — who have that sense, as Bruce Cockburn would say in More Not More, that “there must be more…” 

If, like me, you find yourself in a thin space when it comes to your faith, I would highly recommend any or all of these three books.