I'm currently reading...

I usually appreciate knowing in advance whether a book is worth reading or not, and the only way to find out is to ask someone who has already read it. So I thought I'd start publishing what books "I'm currently reading..." in the sidebar. That way if anyone out there is curious if these books are worthwhile or not, just ask...


2 Sermons and a Crazy

Got a couple of new sermons posted on Sermon Cloud. They're both from a series that I'm doing on the Full Armor God:

"More Than Just Forgiveness"
- A lot of times we limit our understanding of salvation to that initial experience of God's forgiveness. But forgiveness is only the first step. The larger experience of salvation is our restoration into the people that God created us to be.

"Sword of the Spirit" - "The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" is a weapon, not to be used against people, but against "the spiritual forces of evil." And it is to be used for our own spiritual growth: to give us clarity about ourselves and to equip us to live the Christian life.

And lastly, this is just weird...

Leonard Nimoy, "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins"


Attention Blogging Pastors

Just something quick. Brian Bailey, who just finished writing The Blogging Church (due out in January), is keeping a list of pastors who blog. If you're a blogging pastor, you can get on the list by e-mailing Brian (his e-mail address is at the top of the page).


The Missional Matrix

So, I'm reading Breaking the Missional Code by Ed Stetzer and David Putnam right now (yeah, I'm reading Velvet Elvis, too; and believe it or not, I'm also reading Olympos, some good sci-fi by Dan Simmons before bedtime each night!) and the book makes some pretty interesting observations, including some thoughts regarding George Barna's "revolutionaries."

I haven't read Barna's book, but I'm going to the Revolution Conference with D.G. Hollums next week, so I'm curious to see what I learn there and how it compares to Stetzer and Putnam's analysis.

Here's their analysis in brief. I'm including the diagrams from the book which will hopefully help keep this as clear as possible.

First of all, for a church to be truly missional, it has to include a healthy balance of three things: christology (Who is Jesus and what has he sent us to do?), ecclesiology (What expression of a NT church would be most appropriate in this context?), and missiology (What forms and strategies should we use to most effectively expand the kingdom where we are sent?). This is the "The Missional Matrix." Here's their diagram:

This is the starting point for understanding their next three diagrams. Each of these diagrams shows what they consider to be the truly missional church in the center with an equal emphasis on the three parts of the missional matrix.

The first model they demonstrate is the Church Growth movement of the 1960's, 70's, and 80's. The weakness of the church growth movement (which began with Donald MacGavran and continued with Peter Wagner, both of whom were at Fuller Seminary, my alma mater) was that it soon "sank into a church methods focus, many times without a foundation in scriptural truth. Thus, it strayed slightly outside of scriptural foundation and application" (p. 54). It's the typical "use this megachurch's methods and see phenomenal growth in your (vastly different) setting!" Usually didn't work. Here's that diagram:

The problem you can see in this diagram is that it overlaps with ecclesiology and missiology, but since it doesn't have a focus on christology, it can't be called a missional church.

The next diagram is the Church Health movement of the 1990's. "This movement centered on how the church body was related to Christ, and what was the best form of church (ecclesiology) in order for the church to be healthy." The problem with this movement was that "this inward focus resulted in blindness to the community, blindness to other races, and blindness to other approaches" (p. 55).

You can see in the diagram that "church health" focuses on christology and ecclesiology, but not missiology, so it also isn't considered missional.

Now we come to the third model, which Stetzer and Putnam suggest represents Barna's "revolutionaries." In this diagram, you can see that there is a focus on christology and missiology, but not much in the way of ecclesiology. You will, however, notice that there is some overlap with the missional church. Here's that diagram:

Stetzer and Putnam seem to suggest two things. The first is that these "revolutionaries" have the best shot so far of being a truly missional church (demonstrated by the overlap in the diagram). Secondly, however, they also run the risk of having "an undeveloped idea of what the church is--as described by the Scripture, not by the modern notion of church" (p. 57). The danger is syncretism.

I don't know... I haven't explored this enough to know yet if I agree or not. I'm excited about the new things that are going on with the church. My friend D.G.'s (who I think is a revolutionary) organic gatherings are exactly what some people need in order to find community and a connection with God.

I think we need to keep pushing and discovering new ways of doing church, but Stetzer and Putnam offer a thoughtful reminder to make sure we have a healthy ecclesiology as we explore this revolution.


Why do people go to church?

Ted Gillgrist over at StragglingBand has just posted what, in my opinion, is one of the best things I've read on what really makes people want to go to church. Check out his post here.


Reforming, not Reformed

Ok, I promise. No more griping about the design of Velvet Elvis. I've got some real comments about it now.

I know this didn't come across in my other post (y'know, the one where I complained the whole time), but I really do like Rob's Bell's ideas. They resonate with me a lot.

In fact, right in the introduction of the book (although he calls it a "welcome" rather than an introduction; but I'm not complaining--really!) he says something that's been floating in around in my head for the past year or so. Here's what he says:

...Luther's contemporaries used a very specific word for this endless, absolutely necessary process of change and growth. They didn't use the word reformed; they used the word reforming. This distinction is crucial. They knew that they and others hadn't gotten it perfect forever. They knew that the things they said and did and wrote and decided would need to be revisited. Rethought. Reworked. [Rob's italics]
Right on, Rob!!

As a Presbyterian, my denomination prides itself in being Christians "in the Reformed tradition." In doing church "in the Reformed tradition." In worshiping "in the Reformed tradition."

But why are we stuck in this tradition that is now 500 years old? Yes, there absolutely are things to be valued in this tradition. But, as Bell says, the Reformers were in process--the process of reforming.

Like the Reformers, I don't like to say about myself that I'm Reformed, but that I'm Reforming. Please hear me on this. This doesn't mean that I think we ought to change the essentials of our faith--and I don't think that's what the Reformers meant, either. But we continue to reform ourselves and we continue to reform the church. And as we reform ourselves and the church we become more and more conformed to the image of Christ.

And hopefully this reforming self and this reforming church will more and more be able to connect with our culture and help people connect with God.


More Bell

Ok, full disclosure here. I just listened to one of Rob Bell's sermons on their website and I gotta say--it was really good! I may think the way he designed his book is kinda lame, but I do like his preaching!


Is Rob Bell real?

Sometimes I think I'm becoming too cynical. Here's my problem. I'm an INFP according to Myers-Briggs, and one of my things is that I place a high value on authenticity. So, it frustrates me when I feel like someone is being artificial.

So, I'm reading this book right now called Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell, the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. My friend, Ted, is also reading the book and has posted some of his thoughts on it (here and here) over on his blog, StragglingBand. Ted asks the question, "Is questioning what you believe healthy?" He raises some thoughts worth considering....

But before I can talk about that, I just have to get this off my chest.

I just think the book design is a little over the top. I mean, look at the front cover--plain matte white with the title Velvet Elvis in small orange letters written sideways. It's also got Rob's name and the subtitle written sideways with two little "plus signs" added for aesthetic effect. It's like it's screaming out, "Look at me! I'm different!"

And what's with the bright orange pages at the front of each chapter? And what's with the chapters being called movements, and not just calling them chapters?

Don't get me wrong. I think Rob is a great thinker. I like listening to his sermons. I think his Nooma videos are awesome. I like being challenged by his ideas.

But, I don't know... I just feel like Rob is trying to be cool. Listen, it's just a book! Words on paper. Yeah, yeah, the medium is the message and all that. And believe me, I value good graphic design.

But it just feels fake to me. It feels like he's trying too hard to be "relevant" or "postmodern" or "hip" or whatever....

My cynicism is flowing right now. Sorry...

Anyway, I really do have something more significant than this to say about the book, but I just had to get this off my chest first.


U2 + Apple = Holy Cow!

Brian Bailey, who is in the process of writing a book called The Blogging Church, (see my earlier post) has an amazing announcement about U2 and Apple. One note of warning: if you start to read this, be sure to read the whole thing...


Flonk! (aka Passion)

I know. You're thinking, "What the heck does Flonk mean?" To be honest, I'm not sure I can answer that. It's a catch-all word. "I had a flonkin' day today!" "Would you get your flonk over here!" "What the flonk?!"

It can also be a fun way to elaborate a person's name. I, for instance, have been dubbed by a couple of buddies to be "Marquistaflonk." Those buddies are Chad Brinkerflonk and Wes Flonkson--and they are the creators of "flonk."

Ultimately, "flonk" is excitement. "Flonk" is zeal. "Flonk" is passion!

And Wes and Chad are full of passion. They're a couple of guys from my old youth group at Glenkirk Church in Glendora, CA. They're in college now and are spending a year at the University of Kentucky, an hour and half from my house. About once a week, they come up and hang out with Robin and me. They tell us about all the crazy things they're doing in college with Campus Crusade for Christ--and they get me to do crazy things I would never do, if not for their bad influence (e.g., things involving IceyHot...)!

But I absolutely love these guys. Not simply because they're a ton of fun, but also because they're passionate--especially about their relationship with Jesus. I love sitting on our front porch with Chad and Wes smoking cigars and talking theology/spirituality/

Wes told me tonight that he started a blog a few weeks ago that he calls "Passion." And, fittingly, the URL is wwwflonk.blogspot.com! "Flonk" says it all!

He's only posted once so far, so I told him I'd send people his way as motivation to write more. I'd love it if you'd give him a quick visit and drop him a brief comment. If you're so inclined, tell him what excites you. Tell him what delights you. Tell him what drives your passion!

Flonk you very much.


I can't get over this...

Ok, this is the same picture as my last post. I gotta tell you, the more I look at it, the more amazed I am at how incredible this picture is! How did they take the picture for the front and back computers, which are at an angle to us?! Man, this is just amazing!


Church Outreach on My Space?

Church Marketing Sucks recently posted an article on doing outreach using My Space. The author (guest blogger, Joe Suh) is the co-founder of MyChurch.org, a My Space lookalike that seems to be designed for building community among Christians. The article also touts MyChurch.org as being a vehicle for reaching out to non-Christians, although as one commenter named Matt states, "It seems to me that MyChurch.org is about as effective for outreach as a church advertising on Christian Radio."

The article is worth taking a look at. It's actually sparked a pretty intense debate regarding the validity of using My Space for outreach purposes. That debate alone makes this something worth reading. Check out this article and the debate that continues to rage here.

P.S. Take a closer look at the picture at the front of this post. Did you notice what's so cool about it?


More Bad Theology

Michael Foster has been leaving some pretty stimulating comments in my post about "Bad Theology and Salvation." In that post I said, "All that's required for salvation is faith in Christ--even if the theology about Christ may be off-base." To which Michael responded:

I have a hard time accepting this in light of the following passage:

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed."
Here's what I think Paul is saying. First of all, the primary onus is on the teacher, not the followers. The ones who Paul says ought to be "accursed" are not the Galatian believers, but those who preach a "gospel contrary to the one we preached."

Face it. People are gonna have bad theology. Even good, loving, Christ-like believers will get some things wrong. Some will get things way wrong. But I don't think Paul is cursing those people. Paul is cursing leaders who lead people astray with bad theology.

And I don't think Paul is telling the Galatians that they are losing their salvation--he is saying, "Don't have bad theology! Trust what we taught you. And don't believe these new teachings which are contrary to what we taught you."

But the fact that the primary responsibility lies with the leader raises another point. Just because someone can have bad theology and still be saved, I don't think that excuses their bad theology. As Christians grow spiritually, that bad theology needs to become good theology. That's where we as leaders come in--part of our job is to help people develop good theology.

We need to help people understand that God is sovereign. We need to help them understand that we were enemies of God because of our sin. We need to help them understand what was accomplished through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and what continues to be accomplished today through his Body in the power of the Holy Spirit.

So, here's what I think in a nutshell: I don't think we need to have good theology to be saved. God's grace isn't about theology, it's about faith ("whoever believes in Him should not perish," not "whoever believes the right doctrines should not perish"). However, as Christians we need to strive to develop what we would call good theology.

And if you're a teacher or leader who is teaching bad theology--yikes...


Helping Paths Cross

I've been a little slow in taking my turn to post my continuing thoughts on the Presbytery of Cincinnati's Transformation Proposal. Russell Smith has a couple of posts with his thoughts so far (here, here, and here), and I've got a couple of posts about this as well (here and here).

On Monday night, I attended a focus group for anyone wishing to provide feedback to the Transformation Team. It's kinda sad to say, but I was only one of six people who took the time to attend this meeting. Granted, they've got a couple other focus group meetings on the calendar, but it's still disappointing.

Anyway, one of the thoughts that occurred to me during this meeting has to do with the "permission-giving" design of the proposed structure. As I've mentioned in the past, I love that we're striving to be more permission-giving. One of the statements about this proposed structure is that this Presbytery would be one "that is not afraid to risk how ministry emerges, is done, or is financed." Let me give a loud Pentecostal "Amen" to that!

One of the challenges as this structure emerges will be to connect people who have mutual ministry passions. We may have one person at Union who is passionate about providing help to single mothers. There may also be someone at Covenant First and one at Heritage.

But let's suppose that none of them are go-getters. They're not going to start making phone calls or publicizing this potential ministry; they just have a desire to help single moms. If, however, they knew that there were others in the Presbytery who also were passionate about this, they might together begin to form this ministry and obtain the support it needs from the Presbytery.

One of Presbytery's roles in all this will be to connect people who may not otherwise cross paths. How this can be done is up for discussion. Could there be a presbytery-wide survey of what people are passionate about? Perhaps Presbytery could then work to connect those with common passions.

That's one idea. I think the Presbytery generally will have to continue to work to create a culture of cooperation and connectedness.

I'm curious to see what will happen.

Bad Theology and Salvation

Our little group of "pastors, leaders, and dreamers" that used to meet at Barnes and Noble every Thursday has morphed into a more intentional discussion group that meets once a month at Cincinnati Christian University. Today was our first meeting. It was good!!

All of our regulars were there, plus two others. It's pretty interesting how group dynamics change just by adding one or two new personalities.

Anyway, we started talking about what it means to be "ecumenical" vs. "non-denominational" and how the more mainline/liberal theologies tend to prefer the word "ecumenical," while more conservative/evangelical types like the word "non-denominational" better.

Pretty soon we were talking about what the essentials of Christianity are and what happens if someone doesn't believe certain essentials.

To which I raised the question, "Can a person be saved and yet have bad theology?"

That's easy to answer when you're talking about something like infant baptism. If you come from the Anabaptist side, you might say that, yes, a person can still be saved even if they were only baptized as an infant. If you come from a more Reformed perspective, which holds that infant baptism is a sign and a seal of God's covenant with humanity, it really doesn't matter if someone else thinks you can't be baptized as an infant. They're just wrong on the issue, but they're still saved.

But what about issues like the resurrection or the virgin birth--so-called "closed hand" issues? Can a person who believes that Jesus' resurrection in the New Testament was really a metaphor for the spirit of Christ and his teachings being resurrected in the community of early Christians--can a person who holds that belief on the resurrection be saved?

Or can someone who doesn't believe in the virgin birth be saved?

I think that they can. Nowhere does the Bible say, "To those who hold to good theology and true doctrines, to them he gave eternal life." It says, "To those who called on his name, he gave the power to be children of God." (That's a rough paraphrase from John 1.)

All that's required for salvation is faith in Christ--even if the theology about Christ may be off-base.

This, of course, opens a whole new can of worms--one to which I haven't yet given enough thought. But let's open the can, anyway.

If a person can be saved even if they have bad theology (as I propose in all my wisdom and authority), does that mean that Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses can be saved? Or other theologies that might be branded heretical or cultic?

I don't have the answer to that....


Punk Theology

Just found a new blog called Never Mind the Bibles: A Theology of Punk. It seems to be a book in progress (that, I guess, may or may not end up published on paper), but it looks pretty interesting. Haven't read the whole thing yet, but I've gotten through enough of it that I thought some of you out there might be interested in it.

Let me know what you guys think.