Category Archives: Uncategorized

Being Jesus in Nashville

My friend Jim Palmer likes to color outside the lines of modern evangelicalism and to make a long story short, his last book was controversial enough that his publisher tossed him which for me, makes me want this book to be published.  He is publishing it independently and needs your help.

I set out to disentangle Jesus from the religious machinery of Christianity and discovered a profound and unexpected answer to the question, "What would Jesus do?" I devoted more than a year of my life to live as Jesus and learned that Jesus was special not because he was more divine than the rest of us, but because he was courageously more human than most. Unfortunately that message didn’t go over well with my publisher.

I don’t know if this book is theological sound or not but many books in the history of Christian theology were seen as heretical when they came out.  Even if Jim is wrong, it adds something to the conversation of praxis and how Jesus would live today.

I’ll embed the video.  I hope it’s okay but I can’t hear it.  This ear thing really sucks.

The end of the line for Prairie Bible Institute?

Canada’s oldest fundamentalist Bible College finds itself in the middle of a sex abuse scandal.  As Jeremy Klazus reports in the Calgary Herald, instead of looking outward for a third party, it is trying to handle things internally.

Callaway, who did his master’s research on sex abuse in churches and recently completed a doctoral thesis on Prairie’s history, says the school had a "high authoritarian" atmosphere in which L.E., who died in 1984, spoke for God.

"You just didn’t question him, at least publicly," he said.

After L.E.’s death, the school slowly started relaxing rules (staff, for example, were allowed to have TVs in their homes).

Callaway says he’s not surprised but saddened by the allegations of abuse at Prairie. He was also not surprised when he heard that the board appointed a member to handle the matter, given the school’s history.

"I thought, ‘This is a chapter out of that same book – going to keep it internal, going to try to solve it in-house,’ " said Callaway.

The school has suffered from plummeting enrolment and internal strife over the past decade, but this year the numbers levelled out.

Mark Maxwell, who took over as president last year, has repeatedly said the school is taking a new direction toward openness and transparency.

"There’s this idea that the board is going to protect the image or the reputation of the school," said Maxwell. "No, that’s the way you destroy the school, actually, by trying to artificially protect its reputation. I think we can leave the reputation of the school with God."

Prairie’s willingness to publicly acknowledge the allegations would have been unheard of in years past.

The school put a news release about the matter on its website before the Herald broke the story on Saturday, more or less inviting media scrutiny.

"The move could backfire," said Callaway.

"It’s one of those situations where you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t, really."

I am not sure what to think.  I have several friends my age who were sexually and physically abused in churches across the country and the families and churches when they found out, kind of just ran the abuser out of town.  In rural areas there wasn’t the capacity to deal with a lot of the abuse.  When Wendy came out about her own sexual abuse, many women we know (and readers of this blog) reached out and said they went through the same thing.  You also have the residential school abuse.  Even noted lawyer and scholar Larry Lessig went through is own personal abuse.

If I was Prairie, I would bring in a third party, offer whatever help that they can offer, and cooperate in whatever way they can.  In many ways I would pay as little attention to my lawyers as possible and listen to some pastors and counsellors.  If victims want to sue, I doubt Prairie has the resources to survive and if you are going to go down, go down trying to do the right thing.  I feel for the victims.  Hopefully there is a process that can lead to peace and heading.

The Death and Life of Prairie Bible College

Jeremy Klazus has a great article on the trials and tribulations of Prairie Bible College.

Prairie Bible College Opinionated alumni and donors have long scolded PBI leaders for deviating even slightly from the status quo. Even L.E. got flak. After spending 19 years as a missionary in Japan, a Prairie grad named Marvin L. Fieldhouse returned to PBI, disliked what he saw and wrote a fiery undated pamphlet titled “Whither Bound” (described on its stark black cover as “a shocking analysis of current trends at Prairie Bible Institute”). Inside, he recalled seeing Ernest Manning, then Alberta’s premier, on the platform at PBI’s 40th anniversary in 1962, a scene that would have been incomprehensible in the institute’s early days. L.E. had warmed to politics over the years and especially liked Manning, admiring that he kept his radio broadcasts free from politics (“a wiser man than Aberhart,” he once wrote). Fieldhouse was nevertheless incensed. “I honestly wanted to vomit right where I sat in the tabernacle,” he wrote.

L.E. got sheaves of letters from similarly disgruntled American fundamentalists. A Minneapolis woman who’d heard that her niece was using hair rollers at Prairie wrote in 1966, “No wonder that in the picture which she sent home that she looked so worldly—much more so than when she left home. What is happening to your standards up there anyway??” Other letters carried a more menacing tone. After a PBI quartet visited his church in 1977, Pastor George C. Bergland of Le Roy, Minnesota wrote saying he was distressed by the singers’ appearance. “For example, last night, some of the young fellows badly needed a haircut. One of them had a moustache.” Bergland was further offended by “pictures of girls in slacks playing tennis” in a PBI publication. Then came his threat: “I am writing to say that if the trend towards worldly dress and haircuts continues I am sure that it won’t be long before our support will be discontinued. I am sure that the same will be true of many fundamental churches.”

L.E. responded generously even to the kooks. To Bergland, he wrote, “we appreciate folk who hold standards in this day—when the whole world has pretty well gone down the drain.” Yet he reminded his correspondent that “there are greater things that unite us” than moustaches and hairstyles. Still, change came slowly at PBI. L.E. himself resisted faculty efforts to relax rules forbidding male-female interaction, and TVs were forbidden in staff homes until the mid-’80s, after L.E. had died.

For Sale

The Crystal Cathedral

The Crystal Cathedral is for sale.  Seriously.  According to the L.A. Times

The Garden Grove church, which said it owed more than $50 million to creditors and vendors when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October, will file a reorganization plan with a Santa Ana court as soon as Friday.  The plan includes the sale of the 40-acre campus to a real estate investment group, alleviating financial pressure from a $36-million mortgage, Charles said.  The church has a guaranteed option of leasing the campus for 15 years. After four years, the church could buy back the core buildings, which include the 10,000-pane Crystal Cathedral, the 13-story Tower of Hope, the welcome center and the cemetery.

I am not too heart broken by the news.  Wendy and I took a tour of it a decade ago and it had already become a parody of itself then.  The highlight was a women’s washroom that cost a million dollars to build.  I know things like this are contextual but c’mon, a million dollars for a women’s washroom.  Yeah.


Fringe Expressions

Fringe Expressions

Andrew Jones has launched a major new project called Fringe Expressions.  As he calls it.

We are going to partner with leading mission organizations and denominations by helping them start 50 new church/mission structures around the world that will act as role models for church planting in the toughest parts of the world.

As well as being highly effective fresh expressions of church and mission, these new communities will bring a lasting, holistic impact through these 3 strategies:

1. Through social enterprise and mico-business they will move their ministries towards long-term sustainability.

2. Through social justice ventures they will touch the needy in their cities in measurable ways – ie, a spiritual, social, financial and environmental impact.

3. Through social media streaming they will contagiously share their story to leverage their experience and compel others to follow their examples.

Sneaky . .  huh?

These 50 new communities will be fresh expressions of church but, also, because they will intentionally position themselves to impact those on the fringe, we will call them "fringe expressions".
By fringe, I mean the cultural fringe (alternative, non-churched, victimized) the economic fringe (poor, needy, vulnerable) the geographic fringe (church-unfriendly areas and countries) and the spiritual fringe [NOT your father’s old-time religion] where traditional church efforts make little progress.

Or in other words, they will go where no fresh expressions or missional communities or emerging churches have gone before.

If it’s something you want to support (and believe me, you do), check out the full post out for more information.

Playing the Percentages

Theologian David Fitch has a good post on the debate about Rob Bell’s new book

I blame Rob Bell for this inflammatory mess (along with his publisher) because of the excessive bating and provoking all in an obvious attempt to attract attention to his book. This is no way to pastor I say. This is no way to lead. (but it does sell books).  On the other hand, to be even handed, I blame people on the Neo-Reformed side as well, people like Kevin DeYoung. Sorry Kevin, I know you mean well but when you do a 20 page review that largely argues out of an incredibly narrow view of orthodoxy with little to no appreciation for history before the 1920′s,  it comes off as defensive and parochial. For both sides, the tactics reveal a lack of a place to engage this issue productively for the furtherance of the Kingdom beyond our own personal enclaves (or ambitions). And yet discussing this issue is essential in order to be shaped for a posture for Mission that has been lacking amongst the traditional evangelicals, the church I am part of and remain committed to.

I have been kind of intrigued by the entire debate… not so much that I will read the book or any of the debate but the nature of the debate in itself.  Let me explain.  Theological debates never used to be like this.  They were much more private events, often done through letters, in person, or in small circulation academic journals.  Book sales were small.  I am going out on a limb and say that Rob Bell will probably outsell Barth’s Commentary on Romans in a couple of months.  What used to be a private and contemplative debate has been sped up tremendously through blogs, Twitter, and competing book deals and the resulting conference speaking gigs.  All of this is driven by Christian publishing companies that are either shareholder held or are owned by News Corp, famous for taking sides and then profiting from the division.

There is always going to be different ideas in the church.  I have some reservations with Brian McLaren’s theology that we have talked privately over (not sure who is right on that… been thinking about it for ten years) and even with David Fitch, I still am trying to figure out his theology of social justice and how to work on it in my context.  Hopefully in the next decade I can put to words my issues with it but it needs some more thinking about but my theological reservations don’t need to be tweeted, blurted, and raced out.  At the same time, I need to present my ideas in the expectation that some of them are going to be offensive to others.  I am a Methodist.  I am quite confident that my theology is correct but some of my beliefs stand in contrast to my own denomination even let alone others yet I don’t feel the need to refute and inflame others all of the time.  I have my questions about Brian McLaren’s theology, David Fitch’s social gospel and CFL allegiances (I think but check back in 2018), Darryl Dash’s theological worldview (he’s Baptist, same could be said for Santosh Ninan and Kyle Martin), Len Hjalmarson (Anabaptist),  Randall Friesen (moved to Alberta and cheered for Brett Favre), or anyone that I know that doesn’t subscribe to a liberal Free Methodist worldview that I do yet i think we have managed to have better discussions than what we saw over this latest dust up.  We are always going to have things that divide us (the Hamilton Tiger Cats?  Really?!) but can’t we have these discussions without cutting each other off and using the terms heretic.  Good grief, Tillich and Barth continued on their correspondence despite seeing the world in very different ways (with evidence that Tillich and a pantheist.

I wonder when we are going to realize that speed isn’t always vital or even desirable in theological debates.  The rush to be first or provocative may appease your masters at News Corp, Google, and Amazon but is it adding anything to the church.  I don’t think it is.  I think what we gained in speed was lost in perspective, contemplation, and depth of dialogue. 

Soularize 2011

This came from Spencer Burke of TheOoze yesterday.

Soularize 2011 in San Diego, CaliforniaIt’s been almost 10 years from the first Soularize in Seattle, and we’re exciting about hosting another learning party in 2011. As usual, this event will unite both traditional and non-traditional teachers, artists, theologians, thinkers, and social activists.

This year – sunny San Diego!
October 12-14, 2011

Save the date and plan to join us for one of the most unique experiences of your life. If you’ve been to a previous Soularize, don’t miss this 10 year reunion event. If you’ve never been before, you won’t want to miss it.

We’re partnering with an incredible church in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego to put on an incredible event that will cultivate a thought-provoking and spiritual experience while introducing a wide variety of ways to connect and grow with others on the journey.

Didn’t Soularize start a year earlier than that in in Los Angeles?  Whatever the case, San Diego in October looks inviting.  Update: I am planning to be there.

Where have all the denominations gone?

In the Wall Street Journal

Are we witnessing the death of America’s Christian denominations? Studies conducted by secular and Christian organizations indicate that we are. Fewer and fewer American Christians, especially Protestants, strongly identify with a particular religious communion—Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, etc. According to the Baylor Survey on Religion, nondenominational churches now represent the second largest group of Protestant churches in America, and they are also the fastest growing.

More and more Christians choose a church not on the basis of its denomination, but on the basis of more practical matters. Is the nursery easy to find? Do I like the music? Are there support groups for those grappling with addiction?

It’s not all bad news for denominations

Where hymnody once came from the spontaneity of slave spirituals or camp meetings, worship songs are increasingly now focus-grouped by executives in Nashville. The evangelical "Veggie Tales" cartoons—animated Bible stories featuring talking cucumbers and tomatoes—probably shape more children in their view of scripture than any denominational catechism does these days. A church that requires immersion baptism before taking communion, as most Baptist traditions do, will likely get indignant complaints from evangelical visitors who feel like they’ve been denied service at a restaurant.

But there are some signs of a growing church-focused evangelicalism. Many young evangelicals may be poised to reconsider denominational doctrine, if for no other reason than they are showing signs of fatigue with typical evangelical consumerism.

For example, artists such as Keith and Kristen Getty and Sojourn Music are reaching a new generation with music written for and performed by local congregations. Yes, prosperity preacher Joyce Meyer sells her book "Eat the Cookie, Buy the Shoes," which encourages Christians to "lighten up" by eating cookies and buying shoes (seriously). But, at the same time, Alabama preacher David Platt is igniting thousands of young people with his book "Radical," which calls Christians to rescue their faith by lowering their standard of living and giving their time and money to Church-based charities.


Theological Debate as a Blood Sport

Jamie Arpin Ricci has some thoughts around the debate on Brian McLaren’s new book, A New Kind of Christianity.  I am going to quote a big chunk of it here but make sure you go to Jamie’s site and read the entire post.

McLaren, who finds himself in a cultural context that is incredibly polarized theologically, politically, etc., has too often been the target of ungodly attack.  This is not to say he is above criticism, but rather acknowledging that he has been subject to indefensible treatment by many people.  In light of this reality, it does not surprise me that Brian would very quickly want to make some distinctions for his readers up front, which I believe was his intention with the cited material.  That is entirely understandable.  That being said, I believe he pushed too hard, writing more for the extreme critics than for those of us who might be cautiously interested.  As a result, I believe that he unintentionally alienated many of his readers.

I am not suggesting that Brian was simply misunderstood, that if we could just understand his intentions, this would all be cleared up.  Of course not.  First, the poor communication is his mistake, one that should be acknowledged.  Frankly. it is a small issue, worth mentioning only for clarity.  Second, he clearly does present beliefs that run contrary to what many of us hold as sacred.  This is not an indictment, but rather an acknowledgment that, beyond the misunderstanding that exacerbated the problem, there are still very real, underlying differences.

I point this example out because it illustrates a dynamic that is problematic.  It seems to me that both sides are so focused on their position, be it defend or attacking, that they continue to talk- yell past each others.  Again, there are exceptions to this rule on both sides, but even they are not saved from getting caught in the cross fire.  I recently read a very gracious critique of the book that one defending blogger (who is a notable voice and who I greatly respect) cited as unreasonable, bashing and even jealous.  Was I missing something?  Can we not disagree on something graciously without resorting to character assassination?

Frankly, I am ashamed.  I am ashamed that on a public platform before a watching world, sisters and brothers in Christ are letting this get so out of hand.  Disagreements within the Church are nothing new and will always be with us.  It is right to be passionate about what we believe is true, even taking to task those with whom we have concern.  I’m not advocating some limp hope that “we can all just get along”.  I am advocating for some grace, self-restraint, humility and- for the love of God- maturity.  Or are we hoping that the world will know we are Christians by our fights with each other?

Without question there are some serious issues at hand.  I have some grave reservations about some of the theology I see being put forth in sectors of the church, be it emerging, missional, evangelical or otherwise.  However, we need to acknowledge the relational dynamic at play here.  For myself, I have seen people who I consider dear friends publicly go after each other, feeling helpless to do anything about it.  I even fear that this post will only fuel the fire.

I have long felt that the American political discourse of hyper partisanship continues to shape the way we discuss theology in the church.  Of course this is a really big issue because it isn’t as if we have a proud tradition of doing this without the influence of FOX News (how many wars were fought during the early stages of the Protestant reformation over theology?).  Add in the time lapse in which we order something from Amazon, read it, and then rush to review or write about it in internet time (often to capitalize in on the traffic that comes from an trending topic) and no wonder why the discussions seem to be lacking.

I was thinking back to the emergence of neo-orthodoxy in the 1930s amongst Barth, Bultmann, Brunner, Tillich, Bonhoeffer and others.  They debated largely in private through letters, in person, and in more thought through essays in journals.  The debates were a lot more private and a lot more measured, partly because there was time for theological reflection.  The net has taken that away from us and has given us immediacy.  We know it has hurt journalism.  Look at how many times NBC has referred to Michael J. Fox when they meant Terry Fox on their broadcasts.  Today I was reading the news online and saw a half-dozen factual errors (not just differences in opinions but obvious mistakes in facts).  In some ways “internet time” is great but in other ways, it has hurt our ability to discuss substantial issues and I think we have to take into account it’s influence.

We also need to take into account what we are doing is in public.  Ever since Google Alerts has come out, I have received mentions of and Jordon Cooper when they are used online.  I have seen my writings misquoted and misconstrued by those worried about those of us in the emerging church.  I have no problems with a difference of opinions, after all you are entitled to be wrong :-) but some of the stuff never represented what I said of believe.  Later on I have had the privilege of meeting the people who have said what they said and they have no idea the impact of the crap they said.

One of the things I love about living in Saskatchewan is that there is only one million of us and we do run into each other.  My MLA goes through Wendy’s till at Safeway.  One of the reasons why I stopped talking partisan politics is that I really like people from both sides of the ideological divide.  When I posted some photos of Flickr that showed a city councilor, I was contacted that day to see if they could get a print because they saw the photos and liked them.  Somewhere along the way we forgot that this stuff is read by the people we are talking about.

Of course we also have to take into account how bloggers get played by the publishing houses.  In exchange for “review copies”, they get to turn us into their own personal marketing whores.  You don’t think Harper Collins isn’t feeling pretty happy for the “buzz” that we generate from their free cheaply produced review copies.  We get to feel like “insiders” when we are marketing pawns, rushing to review the book on Amazon and posting the reviews on our blogs.  Harper Collins (as a division of News Corp.) has an obligation to the bottom line, not to the faith.

I think Jamie is right.  We need to have passionate debate about theological matters but there has to be a better way of doing this than what has been acceptable practice for the last couple of years.  That is a project worthy of some time and effort. 

Why I am still a friend of Emergent (even if we don’t talk that much anymore)

emergent village logo I posted about Andrew Jones’ decision on the weekend and I can respect what he is doing as he has been a person of his convictions and one has to do what one has to do.

He makes a pretty good case for leaving.

Also over is any official relationship I have left with one of those emerging church groups called Emergent Village. EV is a hard group to leave because its a flat structured organization and there is no one to inform that you are de-friending yourself, or getting de-friended, from this "generative friendship". Also hard because there are so many wonderful people still involved.

The EV website stated last year, "Those who started emergent were at the National ReEvaluation Forum in 1998; those who will take it into the next chapter will be at Christianity21." I wasn’t at Christianity21 but I have been watching as new theological emphases and sectarian attitudes towards church emerge (well described by Wikipedia’s North American Emergent Movement) and it is just not something that I can lend my name to or my time. In the early days, I joined the leadership of the Young Leaders group (that eventually became Emergent Village) because it was more about uniting churches around mission and equipping people to reach the next ‘postmodern’ generation. I hope they can shift it back again to its origins.

I remember cringing when I saw the Emergent Village stating "Those who started emergent were at the National ReEvaluation Forum in 1998; those who will take it into the next chapter will be at Christianity21." They were right in the fact that Emergent Inc was started back then but the emerging church was taking seed all over the world.  As far as the statement about Christianity21… well Tony and Doug had a conference had a conference to promote and I take that statement as nothing more than that.  Emergent Village’s desire to be a promotional commercial vehicle of a flavor of the emerging church in the United States was a flaw from the start but in the end I think it was a reflection of the entrepreneurial commercial context that seems to define the American church industry.  While emergent talked of this being a global conversation, they never realized how incredibly American they are.  In that way by Andrew saying that he won’t be using the language of Emergent Village and the emerging church may be a good one because while language is really important, the discussion of the emerging church has been more about language than it is has about incarnating the gospel for a long time.

You know what, I am okay with it.  I think that is the reason many of us gathered in Three Hills in the 90s, later some of us started Resonate and why the conversation in the U.K. and Europe is so incredibly different.  We all have our national contexts and it does shape our ideas of church and the Gospel.  While I am friends with many south of the border and I deeply appreciate them, I am also okay with them doing their thing and I’ll pipe in from the sidelines from time to time.

I guess what I struggle with is the idea of removing oneself from a conversation because in the end, you have given up on the conversation as a whole.  Maybe Andrew is correct but I think his ability and unique place as a global missionary is a voice that is needed in Emergent Village, even if the North American church doesn’t realize it.

Of course that for me not talking to the emerging church very much anymore, I think it is comes from the amount of pure crap that has been sent to me to review.  I just got a copy of Dwight Friesen’s new book, Thy Kingdom Connected and it may the only book of 2009 that I want to review and think more about.  A friend of mine used to say, “I’ll preach better when Max Lucado preaches better”.  I find myself feeling the same thing.  When the conversation (and books) becomes more compelling, I’ll start paying close attention again.

Update: January 10th – I am totally okay with accepting the fact that Emergent has always seemed too American because I am too Canadian.  If I can say that I find Emergent too American, it’s also fair to criticize me back so fair is fair.

Right now I am actually more happy with Emergent than I have been in years.  I think having Doug and Tony work (and I really hope they make money as well) as consultants and event organizers through JoPa is good while leaving Emergent to be an organic grassroots expression across the country.  I do agree with Mike Morrell’s comment that the next thing to figure out is the relationship between publishing and Emergent.

Goodbye to Emergent Village?

Andrew Jones wrote this today on his blog

ev3 Also over is any official relationship I have left with one of those emerging church groups called Emergent Village. EV is a hard group to leave because its a flat structured organization and there is no one to inform that you are de-friending yourself, or getting de-friended, from this "generative friendship". Also hard because there are so many wonderful people still involved.

The EV website stated last year, "Those who started emergent were at the National ReEvaluation Forum in 1998; those who will take it into the next chapter will be at Christianity21." I wasn’t at Christianity21 but I have been watching as new theological emphases and sectarian attitudes towards church emerge (well described by Wikipedia’s North American Emergent Movement) and it is just not something that I can lend my name to or my time. In the early days, I joined the leadership of the Young Leaders group (that eventually became Emergent Village) because it was more about uniting churches around mission and equipping people to reach the next ‘postmodern’ generation. I hope they can shift it back again to its origins.

Perhaps the best response was from Rick Bennett

The Emerging Church, the controversial Christian movement that inspired many to plant churches, leave behind their faith and question authority, died in her sleep Thursday following a short illness. She was 21 (according to some sources).

The cause was cardiac arrest, according to spokesperson Steve Knight. According to police, foul play and suicide have not been ruled out at this time. According to person of interest, Andrew Jones, she was ready to die and beyond any life-saving treatment.

Theology Pub in Toronto

Stubby Old Style Pilsner Beer For those of you in the Greater Toronto Area and are looking for a place to discuss theology in a casual setting, you will want to check out Toronto’s Theology Pub.

Theology Pub is a monthly gathering of Christians in Toronto. We gather for fellowship and to discuss theology with a desire to grow in our love for God and obedience to him; to sharpen and encourage each other; and to pray for the city of Toronto.

It’s hosted by our friend Darryl Dash and looks like a great night out for all of you theologians out there.

Anything to make the sale

Dan on a promotional idea gone bad.

So, to recap, the strategy is: do something fun/cool/outrageous to get people in the door, then tell ’em about Jesus.

Let’s be clear about one thing: the motivation is great. Telling people about Jesus is our highest calling. Creating opportunities to tell people about Jesus is a wonderful task.

But there was a dark side that very few people really wanted to talk about: this ‘wow ’em and tell ’em about Jesus’ strategy doesn’t do much in the way of creating disciples. Instead, it creates instant flash with no long-term impact. The fact that even 70-80% of Christian kids leave the church after high school ought to tell us we’re doing something wrong. That we’re not growing Followers, that we’re not raising Disciples. Instead, we’re creating Consumers who will always chase after the next big fix, wherever that comes from. We’re not raising young people who understand such basic tenets of Christianity as sacrifice, service, humility, forgiveness, love, grace and mercy. We are, in fact, temporarily distracting young people with smoke and mirrors, sneaking the gospel in there, assuming that, since they ‘said the prayer’ following the pizza and root-beer gorge, they’re ‘in.’

And here’s today’s problem: those raised in this world are leaving their youth ministry days behind and moving into senior leadership in churches across America. . .and they’re using the exact same strategies in the larger church.

Like the Church over in the Seattle area that decided to perform live tattooing during their worship service.