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.


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.

…is for good people to do nothing. (This quote is often mis-attributed to Edmund Burke. I have little doubt he would have agreed with it, whether or not he actually stated it.)

I am no longer astounded by the number of people — purportedly “good people” — who willingly go along with evil being perpetrated in the church. The specific evil of which I write is that of the easy destruction of peoples’ lives when they dare to question spiritual authority. (The previous post points to the practices of a particular leader who gets a pass from other leaders in supposed relationship with him — to their shame.)

I’ve written at length about the problems with the authoritarian style of Mark Driscoll and what I believe are the problems with his ministry. Contrary to the opinion of many, I do not hate Mark Driscoll. I do, however, hate the leadership style he has been allowed to assume and to teach other men to practice (and it is gender specific). I believe it to be so far from the biblical model of servant leadership as to be almost antithetical to what the New Testament teaches.

In 2007, two pastors, Paul Petry and Bent Meyer, who disagreed with changes to the leadership polity of Mars Hill were subsequently dismissed with apparent prejudice. They dared question the desired direction of Mark Driscoll in terms of his power and authority. Until very recently, these two men remained virtually silent on what they and their families had experienced.

Bent Meyer spoke out first on The Wartburgh Watch. And Paul and Jonna Petry have responded with their blog, Joyful Exiles.

Jonna Petry’s “My Story” is more than worthy of your time to read. It is a powerful story of excitement with something they believe to have the potential for much good in Seattle — that gets turned into one man’s personal ministry. A ministry where those who dare disagree with that One are discarded at best, or destroyed at worst.

From the full document,

…we started attending regularly, heard a number of the pastors preach (because in those days they took turns preaching), listened carefully to what was said and mostly delighted in what we experienced. Mark Driscoll stood out then, as a persuasive speaker with a strong attitude but, we had confidence the leadership team, Mark included, was committed to the distinctive of biblical eldership. Though Mark was young, he was surrounded by a group of godly older men – Bent Meyer being one who also had years of pastoral experience behind him. This was very reassuring to us.

The church was growing and we became completely immersed in loving, serving and teaching. My father (who had not been in church for almost 40 years) and my sweet stepmother joined us monthly and then weekly for worship services – ferrying over from Poulsbo, Washington, to spend the day with us. Mark often used the expression that our church was “family” and we rather believed it – so effective in building a sense of belonging.

But those things began to change,

Mark pressured all the elected executive elders [with the exception of Jamie Munson] to resign their posts, saying a new structure was necessary. Mark also decided that Lief would no longer function as the pastor of the Ballard campus (the primary and largest campus where Mark taught mostly in person) and as a result the two of them had a horrible falling out. This was an ominous sign for me because Mark had often spoken about his love and appreciation for Lief’s willingness to go “toe-to-toe” with him and how this was vital for the health of the church. (Pg 4)

What had begun as a multiple teaching leadership, elder-led church devolved (and I use that word intentionally) into one man rule. To the point where Jonna writes,

What started with a beautiful beginning – three families sent from Antioch Bible Church in Kirkland to plant a “daughter church” in Seattle that would be authentic and relevant to reach the lost – has turned into the personal ministry of one very ambitious man. Although it is still called a church, I think a more honest and accurate name might be “Mark Driscoll Ministries,” not unlike the name for Billy Graham’s organization, a man who Mark has said he greatly admires. I think what we are seeing demonstrates a confused ecclesiology and I fear this is also being taught to many other young church planters through the Acts 29 Network who want to “have” a church just like Mark’s. (Pg 13) [emphasis added]

Jonna acknowledges her own mistakes in allowing the Mars Hill church system to grow in it’s dysfunction,

I have my own sin in all this. I contributed to the dysfunctional system. I acted in pride, idolatry, fear of man, people pleasing, cowardice, and favoritism. I am truly sorry for all the ways I personally hurt people by my words, my actions or inactions, directly or indirectly, during my time at Mars Hill Church from 2001–2007, especially as a part of leadership. And now, I am also very sorry for how my years of silence regarding the spiritual abuse that I suffered have indirectly contributed to the abuse of other precious people. Though truthfully, I don’t think I could have written about it any sooner. (Pg 13) [emphasis added]

Jonna ends her story powerfully,

If Mark and the organizations he leads do not change, I fear many more will be hurt, Mark and his family included. To not speak is to not love or care and shows no thought or consideration for those who have been wounded and those who will be in the future. We are witnesses. There is a pattern. There is a history. There is an ethos of authoritarianism and abuse. Mark is the unquestioned head of Mars Hill Church and the Acts 29 Network. His elders have no way to hold him accountable. Those under him likely fear him and want to garner his favor so they don’t dare say nor do anything that might anger him. This is tragic.

Perhaps at some point, with enough outcry and exposure, Mark will come to his senses, own his harmful behavior, and get the help he needs to change. I hope so. Our common Enemy can make terrible use of our weaknesses and blind spots. Our Lord’s harshest words were for leaders who used their status, power, the Scriptures, and God’s people for their own self-aggrandizement. Surely this is not what Mark meant to do.

A Christianity which perpetuates the exaltation of mere men to god-like status, while belittling and wounding so many of God’s children in the process, is completely antithetical to what Jesus taught and is just as harmful to the leaders as it is to those who follow. Sadly, this is not the love of Jesus Christ or the power of the gospel we are called to demonstrate to one another and to the world. (Pg 14) [emphasis added]

To which I can only add, a loud AMEN!

Please read the entire document, and the full blog of Paul and Jonna Petry, Joyful Exiles. If this doesn’t cause you great concern with the Celebrity-Driven Church culture in North America, nothing will.

Side Note: Imbi and I are on the road in the EU working on a number of projects. This is the primary reason for my blog silence. The introduction of Paul’s and Jonna’s blog was well worth me taking a moment to write this new post.

Over the weekend, I read an article written by Don Carson and Tim Keller called Carson and Keller on Jakes and the Elephant Room. Then on Monday, Scot McKnight wrote a post called Why? In that post, he wondered why people react to John Piper, Mark Driscoll and Al Mohler, but not to Tim Keller, when they all espouse, effectively, the same views on theology and ecclesiology.

So those two posts are the primary triggers for this post of mine where I do want to ask, the gospel according to whom?

Carson and Keller were writing from the platform of The Gospel Coalition. Note the definite article “The”, at the beginning of what they call their network. It isn’t A Gospel Coalition. It is The Gospel Coalition. We can deduce from the title that the men involved with TGC believe they represent The Gospel. And it is men, not women, in The Gospel Coalition. So it’s safe to assume that the only leaders in what they understand to be “The Gospel” are men.

What else do the men of TGC believe? Well, they are all either neo-reformed as Dave Fitch’s designates them or neo-Puritan in Scott McKnight’s descriptor, so the men of TGC would identify the gospel with a form of Calvinism. (Fitch would note that this would be Calvinism from within a North American context.) Is it fair to say that there are no Arminians involved with TGC; male nor female? Were they alive today, neither of the Wesley brothers would be welcomed to the TGC table, though it would be okay to sing a few of Charles’ hymns… as long as the worship leader was male, of course.

This is what they say about themselves,

We are a fellowship of evangelical churches deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures. We have become deeply concerned about some movements within traditional evangelicalism that seem to be diminishing the church’s life and leading us away from our historic beliefs and practices

And later,

We want to generate a unified effort among all peoples—an effort that is zealous to honor Christ and multiply his disciples, joining in a true coalition for Jesus. Such a biblically grounded and united mission is the only enduring future for the church. This reality compels us to stand with others who are stirred by the conviction that the mercy of God in Jesus Christ is our only hope of eternal salvation. We desire to champion this gospel with clarity, compassion, courage, and joy—gladly linking hearts with fellow believers across denominational, ethnic, and class lines.

But is it not fair to believe that this example of “a true coalition for Jesus” is one limited to truly reformed and patriarchal Christians? Which either means they don’t believe the rest of us are Christians or we simply don’t understand what the gospel is — if only we’d agree with them, then we could join. These dear men claim to want to gladly link hearts with fellow believers across denominational, ethnic, and class lines, (but not gender), but can we surmise that that would only be as long as you agree with their theological and ecclesiological positions?

So, it would seem, “the gospel”, in The Gospel Coalition is masculine and truly reformed. Their table is limited — much like their view on The Atonement.

But let me return to the 1st trigger for this post, Carson and Keller on Jakes and the Elephant Room. Now Keller & Carson’s primary concern is with where TD Jakes stands on the Trinity. This has been written/spoken about ad nauseam in the days since James McDonald’s ER2. Jakes claims to be Trinitarian and it seems Carson and Keller don’t believe him to be Trinitarian enough.

They then go on to express concern about the prosperity gospel which they write Jakes preaches. How odd that it’s a concern when Jakes preaches it, but not when Stephen Furtick does. Note that Furtick has been a part of both Elephant Rooms.

So, here’s what I want to ask Carson and Keller; if a poor Trinitarian understanding and the prosperity gospel are hindrances to relationship, where does blackmail fit in?

No, that’s not a non sequitur.

You see one of the celebrity pastors who is a part of The Gospel Coalition is CJ Mahaney. Mahaney and a number of his fellow leaders in Sovereign Grace Ministries stand accused of blackmailing the original cofounder of SGM, Larry Tomczak. This was, apparently, done in order to stop him from publicly disagreeing with SGM’s move towards a Calvinist theological position. (This happened over a decade ago, but was only fully revealed in the last year). One of the men involved with Mahaney at the time has publicly admitted it, asked for forgiveness and revealed the others’ complicity.

This is not news.

I wrote about it in this post, C.J. Mahaney & Semper Reformanda or …Not So Much. And it’s been covered in depth all over the blog universe. Just Google “CJ Mahaney blackmail” and you can read to your heart’s content.

And yes, I realize that SGM’s board has approved Mahaney’s return to SGM leadership but I also realize they did this before the real investigation report from an outside party has been completed. One might wonder whether this was done so he and his right hand man, Dave Harvey, can appear as speakers at April’s Together for the GospelT4G. (Read the linked-to above BHT post from an SGM member.)

This video of Mahaney with his three T4G co-founders made me sick to my stomach, when I viewed it this morning. These men should be ashamed of themselves. But they apparently don’t know what “shame” means… or “research” for that matter. When the CJ-Stepping-Down scandal first erupted last summer they chose to believe Mahaney over the hundreds hurt by his ministry. Isn’t that typical for the celebrity-driven church.

So back to Carson and Keller. Perhaps they can help me with my confusion; if a poor understanding of Trinitarian theology and the preaching of prosperity are cause for concern (and I don’t disagree that they are), should not one be concerned about a significant leader in your movement who uses blackmail to get his own way. (Trust me, there are many, many more reasons to question Mahaney’s fitness for church leadership, but this one will suffice for the moment.)

The fellows of TGC and T4G are more than willing to call out anyone they believe to be doing harm to their understanding of The Gospel.

Except, it would seem, if it’s one of their co-council members. (And I haven’t even mentioned a certain West Coast church leader, also on said council… well, not in this post, anyway.)

UPDATE: Todd Littleton adds to the discussion with Komen, Lifeway, SGM and T4G Or, Maintaining the “as is” Structure

I just spent the last hour working on a post called Power, Authority and Control. And I just don’t have the energy to finish it. As you might imagine, it references the recent nonsense from John Piper on Christianity being masculine, more Mark Driscoll than I care to think about and the latest missive from 9Marks on church discipline — as if it’s a line from Hotel California, “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

The post references the upcoming T4G conference where the recently reinstated CJ Mahaney, he of blackmailing-his-church-cofounder-fame, will share the platform with men who will teach young males about the importance of exerting proper control of their sheep. If there was truth in advertising, or a at least Christian advertising, the conference would be called Men Together for the Patriarchal Gospel.

So here are some of the things that I’m tired of:

1) People who deny that they believe that patriarchy is a first-order issue, but then do everything in their power to make it such.

2) The people who insist that they have the answers for the church simply because of the size of their audience. Would they please spend some time in 20th century history. Assuming they are literate, that study should defeat the argument for them.

3) The supposedly Christian publishers who promote anything as long as they think there’s a market for it — I’m getting more convinced every day that I should only read Christian writings from authors who’d been dead for at least 40 years.

4) Celebrity-Driven Conferences that could fill almost every waking moment, if one were so inclined, but in the end have limited to no impact – other than on the bank accounts of attendees.

5) People who want to die on the hill of Scriptural Inerrancy, but really what they believe is truly inerrant is their interpretation of Scripture.

And finally,

6) People who find the Judgment Seat of God to be particularly comfortable for their Gap-covered butts and are busy pontificating from that place — letting us all know whether we are in or we are out.

One of the interesting comments on David Fitch’s recent post about Mark Driscoll & the neo-Reformed was Scot McKnight’s. Scot said he prefers NeoPuritan to neo-Reformed.

…I have now landed on NeoPuritan as the heart of this movement. Puritanism is, of course, personal zeal before the Lord for holiness and, also, zeal for reforming church and society according to biblical (and not ecclesiastical) teachings.

This got me thinking about the Puritans and specifically about the Puritan theologian & preacher, Jonathan Edwards (a hero to many) and perhaps his most famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.

…God is dreadfully provoked, his anger is as great towards (natural men held in the hand of God) as to those that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of his wrath in hell, and they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that anger…

Which then caused me to think about how Jesus taught us about God the Father’s character, in the story of the Prodigal Son.

As you remember, in that story, we see the younger son who effectively tells his father that he wants to view him as dead so he can immediately recieve his inheritance.

The father’s response is neither to ignore him, punish him or even disown him. Rather, the father gives his younger son what he demands, his inheritance — the father no doubt knowing that his son will end up as a wastrel.

The son quickly burns through all his inherited wealth and sinks to the point of finding himself sleeping with pigs — particularly gross to Jesus’ Jewish audience— and though he believes his father will no longer see him as his son, he hopes that he might at least be a hired servant on his father’s estate. So he heads home… or at least to what was once his home.

Jesus shocks his audience when he tells them of the father’s response. He sees his son coming from a great distance — as if the father has been looking, hoping and waiting for his prodigal son to return. And the father runs to his pig-stinking, wastrel son — throwing his arms around him and kissing him. (While the son attempts to apologize and asks to be a hired servant.) The father then has him clothed in fine robes, puts a ring on his finger and throws a party in his honor.

Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

Jesus’ audience, “tax collectors and sinners” and grumbling “Pharisees and teachers” would have all been shocked. This was not how they had been taught to view Yahweh.

I would ask, is this a story of Jesus showing us sinners in the hands of an angry God? Or are we all sinners in the hands of the Prodigal’s Father.

Perhaps a little food for thought in light of what’s going on in some parts of the NeoPuritan world right now.

Lord of the Flies Religion

kinnon —  January 26, 2012 — 24 Comments

I woke up early this morning with my brain still buzzing about the latest from Seattle’s answer to the Western church. And in that buzzing, was the sense that what I had been reading was a modern-day retelling of the book, Lord of the Flies.

The stories here, here, here, and here are stories about power and control. They are stories about young men being taught that to be a leader in the church means to be hard, strong, quick to judgment, domineering, and at all times, in control. Nietzschean will to power is the driving force. And if you won’t be led, they will do everything in their power to destroy you, vainly believing that they are following Jesus in Matthew 18.

This is what happens when a young man becomes a Christian and then starts his own church without ever having been effectively mentored by an older-in-the-faith person. This is what happens when a new believer with a charismatic personality and practiced stage technique is never properly discipled and ends up with significant church authority.

But here’s the rub. The leader of this church is part of the neo-reformed tribe… or is that team. And yet that tribe or team, so quick to judge and respond to anything they think is outside the realm of their understanding of Christianity, is strangely silent as lives, perhaps thousands of lives, are damaged by a truly undiscipled leader. (The size of his church does not provide him with a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free pass for his actions, as only an ahistorical student of humanity would believe the number of one’s followers justifies one’s actions.)

DA Carson and Tim Keller accepted what appears to be the forced resignation of James MacDonald from the neo-reformed Gospel Coalition because he was associating with TD Jakes—believed to be a Oneness Pentecostal. (There is a letter floating around the interwebs that unpacks this. I won’t link to it here.)

But where do they stand on the actions of Mark Driscoll?

I realize that Driscoll is not a member of TGC. But. He is a part of their tribe/team. Driscoll is a Council Member of TGC (as pointed out by Deb in the comments.) So… when one of TGC stars, Kevin DeYoung, can write thousands, if not tens of thousands of words at the drop of a hat, on any particular topic that offends the Gospel Coalition world — is it fair to surmise that Driscoll’s actions are not problematic for them.

To further my point, I’ve noticed that most of the reviews of Driscoll’s book, Real Marriage by the neo-reformed have been almost obsequiously fair. (This doesn’t apply to Tim Challies’ review of the book but I would suggest that Challies is more neo-fundamentalist than he is neo-reformed.) Yes, most of these neo-reformed reviews have had issues with certain sections of Driscoll’s book but they can’t quite bring themselves to say, “Don’t buy it!” or, at least, “This isn’t a complementarian position — it is simply misogynist.”

David Fitch asks the question whether Driscoll is an outlier or an actual representative of the North American neo-reformed position. Might I suggest, that with crickets being mostly what we hear from this camp/tribe/team in regards to Driscoll, it appears he’s a representative. And that makes me profoundly sad.

Or, to return to the title, the island is on fire but where are the adults?

UPDATE: Read Wade Burleson’s post from today - Our Problem Is Authoritarianism and Not Legalism and then my buddy Jared Wilson (of recent TGC fame and fortune) from last November, 5 Leadership Signs Your Movement is Dying. And make a point of reading Fitch’s gentle caution in the comments, please.

Theology — Is It Bloodsport?

kinnon —  January 20, 2012 — 5 Comments

First, let me say that Twitter is probably not the best place to have theological discussions. Yet, fool that I am, I occasionally attempt to do so.

Yesterday, I got into a heated discussion with someone I consider a good friend, Jared Wilson. It was around Dave Fitch’s post on the Neo-Reformed Movement in light of the most recent Driscoll brouhaha, and Jared’s take on what Dave said.

I didn’t think that Jared was accurate in his Tweet obliquely commenting on Fitch’s post. But the discussion quickly turned to it being about “my team” against “Jared’s team”. And then to my recent posts on Mark Driscoll, where Jared identified me as an “enemy” of Mark Driscoll.

I confess that I was completely taken aback by that and lost my cool with Jared. Another person on Twitter DM’d me and gently upbraided me, suggesting I was responding to Jared in a manner similar to how Mark Driscoll had responded to Justin Brierley. He was right.

Jared and I both apologized and continued our discussion off-line. I value Jared highly as a thinker, a writer and my brother in Christ and it was a good conversation off-line. (Heck, Jared and I even share a birthday, All Saints Day – totally appropriate.) But I do want to respond to the language of “friends” vs “enemies” in theological discussions.

Rightly or wrongly, Jared felt that my responses to Driscoll were inappropriate in tone. To him, the language that I used and the way that I expressed myself stated that I felt Driscoll was evil and needed to be stopped. (In the future, Jared has committed to contacting me and letting me know if he feels this about something I’ve written — if and when I do it again.)

So let me say this. Mark Driscoll is not my enemy. Neither is he my friend. He is, however, my brother in Christ. I view his theology and primarily how he presents it as deeply flawed — and damaging to many — including himself. When I “go after” Mark, I’m going after what he said publicly and responding in a manner that, for better or for worse, is not atypical for me. I’ve used this manner in response to public statements or writings from people at all positions on the theological spectrum. None of these people are my enemies. Whether they be Noble, DeYoung, or from the Clans MacDonald or McLaren.

TheoBloodSport Image orig

And I find the language of enemies vs friends on separate teams distressing. 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 lense 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 must note that, though Jared’s and my Twitter interaction yesterday provoked this post, I do not find his writings exhibiting this on any kind of regular basis, if ever. He is a strong, opinionated but irenic writer in my never humble opinion.)

I think Paul addresses the issues of “being on teams” in 1st Corinthians when he talks about one being of Cephas, the other of Apollo etc. We are, in fact, on one team. That would be Team Jesus— or if you’re afraid I’m sounding a little too Oneness Pentecostal — Team Trinity.

At this liminal time in the church’s history, where there is much change and much confusion, people want certainty— there seems little room for nuance. It is easier to join a particular side or team and pledge your allegiance thereto. But might I suggest that this only increases the confusion as we must all, together, seek the Holy Spirit and listen to what’s being said to the Church Universal — and when I say universal, I mean universal — what’s being said to the Church around the globe. This will not contradict the Scriptures but it may well give us deeper insight into them. (And yes, we can all hope and pray that I learn to do this with more grace and less snark. Though I fear it will require fervent prayer on your part.)

I realize it’s naïve to hope that in the midst of robust discussion we can actually hang on to that understanding that we are on the same team — especially as many want to make themselves arbiters of who is and is not on the team — and this is not unique nor exclusive to the neo-Reformed camp. (I need to note that I use neo-Reformed or new reformed interchangeably. This is not to be confused with the Neo-Calvinism espoused by Kuyper, Bavinck, Dooyewerd et al as unpacked by my friends, Gideon Strauss, Jonathan Chaplin and Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin.)

At the end of the age, Jesus won’t be giving Super Bowl Rings to the Theological Championship Team as the rest of us — the losers — slink off to our shacks in the less bright parts of heaven.

Hopefully we ALL will be hearing, “well done good and faithful servant” — as we have been clothed in Jesus righteousness rather than our own, being seen through the Blood of the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.

On this we may all have hope.

In this post, what I’d like to do and is riff a little on Imbi’s post from yesterday—one prompted in part by conversation with our now 21-year-old daughter, Kaili. (Happy Birthday, Kaili!)

Kaili has been reading books by J.I. Packer and John Stott on catechesis and discipleship, respectively. In her discussion with her mother, she said the word that is most important to her in this, is the word “transformation.”

Pres. Obama campaigned under the rubric of “Change You Can Believe In.” It’s truly questionable how successful he has been, and I guess our American cousins will decide that later in 2012. But I’d like to talk about “change you should be able to believe in.”

One of the standard rejoinders from mega-church pastors to any critique is to mention the size of their church and the number of people they have baptized. To them the sign of the effectiveness of their ministry is simply in the numbers and the numbers baptized. (Note that in the UK Interview by Justin Brierley, Pastor Mark makes a point of mentioning the size of “his church” and the size of Acts 29.)

And now I’ll probably offend a large number of people when I question this kind of reporting.

Allow me to chase a rabbit for a moment or two. Certain organizations, fraternities, clubs, etc have weird initiation rites that one must perform before one can join them. Otherwise intelligent people are willing to swear blood-curdling oaths or perform silly or even danagerous actions in order to join… to belong. The need to belong, wired into the human psyche, will often allow us to suspend our better judgment while swearing oaths or performing meaningless actions in an effort to join a community.

What can this possibly have to do with “change you should be able to believe in”? Especially in light of baptisms.

I’d like to posit that for many people getting baptized is simply their initiation into fellowship with other people. They have a natural longing for community and baptism is their initiation rite into that community. It may be done for spiritual reasons. But in mega-churches where there is little to no emphasis on discipleship, baptism is simply your way in.

Let me say that I hold the sacrament of baptism in high regard. But I confess that I don’t see that this “high regard” is particularly the case in many Celebrity–Driven, consumer-focused mega-churches.

So, when I hear of the great numbers being baptized in North America mega-churches I ask this question, “Where is the fruit?” Is it simply in bringing more members into the mega-church – more butts to fill up the pews or comfy theatre seating.

John Wesley said, “The Church changes the world not by making converts but by making disciples.” He was known for rigorously examining people to discover whether they had really become believers. It could take up to two years of intense discipleship before Wesleyans actually accepted a person’s conversion. And though I come from a line of Wesleyan preachers on my mother’s side, and identify myself as predominantly Arminian in my theology, I’m not suggesting this kind of rigour.


There must be more than simple crossing a line from darkness to light and then sitting just past that line for the rest of one’s days.

I am suggesting that we should and must have an expectation of real transformation in the lives of new believers. This doesn’t happen by having them sit on their butts in comfortable pews listening to sermons on Sunday morning and, perhaps, occasionally on Wednesday evening. It happens with older-in-the-faith believers walking alongside younger-in-the-faith believers —teaching them the historicity of the faith, the power of prayer, the longing for the infilling of the Holy Spirit, what the fruits of the spirit are, compelling them to read the Scriptures and become like the Bereans who Paul lauded, and to learn to be makers of discipler themselves. (Note that the older and younger references are not meant to suggest chronology but rather people who have been Christians longer than the new believer.)

Let me point you to a post from Andrew Jones earlier this month, Practices of a new Jesus movement. And what are those practices; Bible study, open houses, fringe focus, simple habits, good business practices, a system for rehabilitation, native flavor, daily rhythm, not outreach TO others but outreach WITH others, something for the whole family and prayer — with the ministries characterized by Grace. Andrew says,

…they were wonderfully generous. Being poor, they made many rich. Including our family who were treated like royalty. We left with our backpacks filled with gifts and our hearts filled with a sense of overwhelming debt of gratitude.

Also, the intentionality of the movement was focused on impacting people’s lives with the gospel and NOT on creating community or starting churches which they saw as a natural outgrowth.

Sitting in pews, staring forward (or off into space) is not high on the list of the new Jesus movement – where the fastest growth of the Church is taking place in the world. Make a point of reading Andrew’s post.

This post is from Imbi Medri-Kinnon (though the title is from Bill).


Discipling / Catechesis, depending on your faith tradition, are words that are out of fashion. The church is seemingly into all things missional in this generation. (Even if “missional” means a hundred different things.)

Yesterday’s sermon reminded those of us gathered that indeed the Acts 1:8 call is to each of us – we ARE witnesses (because of the Holy Spirit in us).

But of what?

Substance has been an ongoing discussion in our household, and last week Kaili used a phrase and particular word that is still resonating – conversion is (necessarily) followed by TRANSFORMATION… Discipleship / Catechesis ….

What we are becoming matters!

I’ve been encouraged by various writers including Richard Foster, and the classic Oswald Chambers, but also John Stott, NT Wright and Dallas Willard among others who are calling us back to integrity, indeed transformation. And Christopher Wright who reminds us that we ARE disciples, before all else.

For far too long in the evangelical North American church, we have offered a form of cheap grace where simply saying the sinners prayer, or reciting the creed(s) on a Sunday morning is apparently enough. But 1/2 way around the world, in Kenya, the phrase ‘Christianity in this country is a mile wide and an inch deep’ came up several times in conversation with local brothers and sisters, suggesting that it is not just a localized phenomenon, but rather a generational issue.

Rich Mullins wrote one of my favorite song lines ever, saying “Faith without works is like a song you can’t sing, 
It’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine”
. What a rich image, summarizing such depth, (no pun intended). (Watch song. May need to go to 4:28 in on iPads, iPhones, etc.)

Roy Williams, quoting Christopher Isherwood, says relevance (does this matter?) and credibility (is it true?) are essential to actual communication with this generation. Persuasion follows.

Who are we persuading, and to what?

Does our relationship with Jesus matter? And is He real, in my / our life?

Discipleship / Catechesis — TRANSFORMATION — is necessary. And more than possible with the Spirit and seasoned believers invited to speak into our lives, on an on-going basis. Indeed transformation goes far beyond what we hear in sermons and say on Sunday mornings.

We are witnesses.

Without on-going transformation, we simply live out ‘a form of godliness’ in any number of ways, making us irrelevant and incredible to a world longing for truth and integrity …. about as ‘useless as a screendoor on a submarine’ ….

I know I need to be being transformed – especially on Monday mornings, not to mention Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday …