July 6, 2010

Atheism is therapeutic

The church in the West is raising functional atheists (those who confess with their mouths but live as if there is no God) because they have capitulated to late capitalism. Thus, we're impotent to engage the material world in meaningful ways. So what is the church ministry about if we're raising functional atheists? "Therapeutic, consumer deism." Ministry tends to imbibe (especially liberal Christianity) therapy, consolation (to the point that suffering from illness or grief is picking up and carrying one's cross), and maybe even passion for "issues" with no depth of engaging those issues. We love the idea of love, but do not actually love. We think that reading a book in a class means having done what the book talks about (whether contemplative prayer, social justice, or living simply). Thus, our essential action is apathy produced by consumerism that pacifies us and aids in the essential goal of self-actualization: the realization that the individual is all that matters. Atheism declares there is no god. So does the church if the church will not begin to live alternatively in dominant story of late capitalism.

April 19, 2010

Consuming Jesus: A Sermon on Being Church

Well, here is my first consecutive sermon, or first sermon to have preached directly after preaching another. This last Sunday the student ministry at First led us in worship and we ended in Communion. You can listen to the sermon from last week or yesterday on our website or download fbcaustin's podcast.

April 13, 2010

Get Lost: A Sermon on Finding the Way

Well, here's the sermon I preached last Sunday. I think it's also available in iTunes as a podcast under First Baptist Austin. Give it a listen, let me know what you think.

March 6, 2010

"Knowing God" - the Problem of Humanity

Well in answering one of my good friend's questions to my post below on Brian McLaren's book and doctrine I basically wrote a long enough answer to put it up as a new post. So here's the context. In the review I wrote:
Bonhoeffer wrote, “it is only when one knows the unutterability of the name of God that one can utter the name of Jesus Christ” Thus what we DO know about God is that ultimately God is unknowable. So doctrine is not an end in itself, thus aNKoC is not an end in itself.

Seth has some other good questions which you can read in the post below, but here's the heart of what he's saying:
But I don't get from that quote (and again I don't know the whole context behind the quote from Bonhoeffer) is that God is unknowable. Jesus seems to say the exact opposite. He identifies himself with the Father, and says several times that if you know me, you know the Father; if you see me, you have seen the Father, etc. It seems that God is knowable, but ultimately he is known through the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Here's my response:
Well, I want to be careful because there's this strange dialectic I'm trying to walk here (creating a both/and or neither/nor category). In some ways I want to say what you are saying about Jesus, but in a more or differently nuanced way.

First, in regards to JC's words about knowing the Father. Thomas asks Jesus to show them the Father and the way to get where JC is going. I think we can agree that this passage isn't about doctrine (as if Thomas is saying, so is God eternal or everlasting?), knowing God categorically, conceptually, or perceptually. Instead, what Jesus is talking about is "the Way," the life and person that best reflects God on earth (himself). These verses in Jn 14 seem to point more toward relationships, allegiances, and ways of life (or mission) more than doctrinal statements about God.

There are many different ways of "knowing" in the Bible, but I think of the most metaphorical, physical way..."knowing" as sex. This knowing is about something deeper and more personal then concepts. It seems that "knowing" in the Scripture is almost always a deeply human, physical, and relational term as opposed to abstract, categorical.

Second, and ultimately I believe the greater truth is that God is unknowable. What I mean (not sure about Bonhof) is that we cannot use scientific reasoning and the 5 senses to create concepts that tell us "what" God is, God is neither provable or disprovable. We cannot point to God and say, "see God suffers or no God is immutable."

Language about God is tricky, but I don't think our words or categories ever fully satisfy the reality of what God is in his being. It's very important to say, or maybe admit (since there have been many abuses) that what we can know about God is that God is unknowable, un"what"able. But while our language, concepts, and perceptions of God always fall short of his Being that doesn't mean they aren't important. While we cannot say "what" God is, we can say "that" God is...that God is loving, good, infinite, simple, just, faithful, unified, etc. Now do these words describe God metaphysically, ontologically? No, but they do give us categories to understand how God can be the way he is, and relate the way he does (and possibly just as important it helps us understand how we should relate to God and each other).

Since we cannot claim what God is, but only what God is not (Bonhof's Christology) we can speak doctrines without fear of logical incoherence...like the idea that Christ is fully God and fully human (real logical right?). And that bring us back to Bonhoeffer, where he is saying that this way of talking about God (the "that," not "what") allows us to speak logically and coherently about the existence of God while being able to make statements about the incarnation.

I agree that we do know God through Christ, but I cannot say that doctrinally speaking I better understand God's being because of Jesus. Actually, because of Jesus I am a little more confused about God's existence. Did God die on the cross? Does he suffer? 3 and 1, 3 in 1, 3 = 1?

God is knowable, as in we can relate to and be in relationship to God. God is unknowable as in, I cannot point to and make conceptual statements that exactly describe the reality of God's being. Jesus leads us to what is really important, a life giving relationship with God; but after that we are stuck in our limited human categories to think about ways of describing conceptually and perceptually this reality. And that is theology in a nutshell, the aftermath of being swoon by God.

March 4, 2010

Not an acceptable Christ

It is not that a "Christian culture" must make the name of Jesus Christ acceptable to the world; but the crucified Christ has become the refuge and the justification, the protection and the claim for the higher values and their defenders that have fallen victim to suffering. It is with Christ who is persecuted and who suffers in his Church that justice, truth, humanity, and freedom now seek refuge; it is with the Christ who found no shelter in the world, the Christ who was cast out from the world, the Christ of the crib and of the cross, under whose protection they now seek sanctuary, and who thereby for the first time displays the full extent of his power. The cross of Christ makes both sayings true: "He that is not with me is against me" and "He that is not against us is for us."

-Bonhoeffer, Ethics.

February 24, 2010

A New Kind of Christianity: Too far, not far enough...or is that even the point? a book review

Stones have been cast. “Too far!” “Not far enough!” Love him or hate him, Brian McLaren shows in his newest book that he is willing to be a prophetic pastor, a figure representative of a conversation and movement (which means people are way too harsh and unloving to him). Book reviews are floating all over the internet dealing explicitly and directly with A New Kind of Christianity’s (aNKoC) content. For years as most know, McLaren has been in the messiest and necessary business of asking hard questions of the church, Christianity, and cultural changes. But aNKoC deals with creating and coming to answers to ten of the most important questions being asked within and of Christianity worldwide according to McLaren:

• The Narrative Question: What Is the Overarching Storyline of the Bible?
• The Authority Question: How Should the Bible Be Understood?
• The God Question: Is God Violent?
• The Jesus Question: Who is Jesus and Why is He Important?
• The Gospel Question: What Is the Gospel?
• The Church Question: What Do We Do About the Church?
• The Sex Question: Can We Find a Way to Address Sexuality Without Fighting About It?
• The Future Question: Can We Find a Better Way of View the Future?
• The Pluralism Question: How Should Followers of Jesus Relate to People of Other Religions?
• The What Do We Do Now Question: How Can We Translate Our Quest into Action?

You can read the book or the reviews to find out the “what” that Brian is trying to say, but aNKoC’s true importance lies not in what Brian is saying but what he is doing with aNKoC. The real point of this book is to (1) recognize the real need to find language that is contextual yet faithful to Scripture & our deeper Christian tradition and (2) to guide actions into the kingdom/ethics/mission.

So what is Brian doing in aNKoC? He is giving Christians permission to reformulate doctrines in light of recent scholarship, conversations, cultural changes and most importantly mission. This book is both emergent and doctrinally focused (insert gasps here). And now more then ever with the growth of world Christianity and emerging, late capitalistic culture the church must learn to talk about doctrine in a healthy and humble way.

Bonhoeffer wrote, “it is only when one knows the unutterability of the name of God that one can utter the name of Jesus Christ” Thus what we DO know about God is that ultimately God is unknowable. So doctrine is not an end in itself, thus aNKoC is not an end in itself.

But the reaction and conversation on the blogosphere revolving around this emergent book of somewhat systematized theology of doctrines is symptomatic of the state of the church. First, these reactions reveal that doctrine is very important (it has fallen on hard times with all this pomo talk). In WWII, the Barmen declaration which deeply affirmed Trinitarian and Christological doctrines were used to attack the Nazi funded state church. Embedded in Walter Rauschenbusch’s theology are manifest destiny and nationalism. More recently, John Stackhouse has (wrongly) affirmed that God is in globalization. Doctrines are necessary for they reveal our convictions and ethics.

Second, doctrine is very important but we don’t know why. Liberals focus on the experiential kernel of doctrine, that we form beliefs off of hidden individual experiences. Conservatives focus on propositional, abstract truths that correlate to our doctrines, thus they believe what we say equals what is real. Both are wrong.

Doctrine is not an end in itself, but always exists to serve the mission of God. As Robert Louis Wilken writes, “Doctrines or theoretical concepts are never ends in themselves but always at service of a deeper immersion in the res, the thing itself, the mystery of Christ and of the practice of the Christian life.”

This week while at ChurchWorks (or does it? as Bass reflected), Diana Butler Bass spoke to a group of Cooperative Baptists and said “Historians know that people only argue about something when it’s going away,” in reference to the national debate around the identity of the USA as a Christian nation. We argue about being a “Christian nation” exactly because we are no longer a Christian nation (as if we ever were…thanks Rauschenbusch). In this same way, we argue about doctrine because as McLaren writes, “the bad news: the Christian faith in all its forms is in trouble. The good news: the Christian faith in all its forms is pregnant with new possibilities (aNKoC, xi). “

The “doctrine police” would do well to hear Martin K√§hler, “Mission is the mother of theology.” Why did Peter find transformation and new doctrine at Cornelius’ house? Mission. Why did Nicaea, Gregory, and the early church struggle with Christology and the Trinity? Mission. Why is the church in the Western context finding new doctrine? Mission. Why is world Christianity growing and creating new doctrine? Mission. Why is Brian McLaren writing a book called A New Kind of Christianity? Mission.

Mission serves the kingdom of God that Jesus was crucified for proclaiming and doctrine serves mission and the one who was crucified by pointing toward the significance of Jesus’ life, not the life itself. It is the Scripture and Holy Spirit’s work in community to reveal the life of Christ and doctrine’s work to witness to that significance.

Our cultural context is one of great upheaval and change for several reasons. Not least of these are the effects of globalized late consumer capitalism creating a homogenous experience of liberal individuals who simply do not experience the world the same way people did 100, 50, or even 10 years ago did. In this globalized world the church, especially in the West, must be faithful to God’s mission by allowing the gospel to sprout new life, language, and doctrine in its new setting. The church exists not for itself (just like doctrine), but must exist for the other, for mission encapsulated by hope, justice, and love.

Language is a tricky thing, but best understand by its performative intent. Does this statement mean you are grieving, want me to do something, rejoicing, sarcasm, asking for help, etc? In understanding what you mean by your words’ performative function, I can truly grasp what you are saying, what you mean.

Doctrine’s performative action is witness. It exists to point to God, the unknowable.

While I do not agree with many of Brian’s methods or assumptions behind the doctrine’s formulated in aNKoC like the recasting of church history as negative (Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, the Pope, etc) or his simplistic “bad guy:” the “Greco-Roman” reading of the Bible; I do find great hope in aNKoC. Let us remember that Brian IS NOT seminary trained. Brian is a Jesus follower with a heart for God’s mission and in wrestling with this mission he is forming doctrines in service of the church…not vice versa. The world will not be saved by the few elite, seminary trained professionals for God’s mission is too vast, wide, and deep to be limited to experts.

In the West, atheism is growing in interest, pluralism and “therapeutic, consumer deism” is on the rise. The church in the West is in decline. Doctrines serve mission and right now that mission is failing because we are not believing rightly.

As Catholic Baptist theologian Barry Harvey of Baylor says, “doctrines order our transactions.” People are turning away from the church because our actions and transaction are not rightly ordered. We need new doctrines birthed out of the deep and rich traditions of Christianity. We are wealthy with theological reflection, but we must mine the wells and give to those who are willing to give their life to God’s mission the freedom and space to create new doctrines, just as Peter did, just as Paul did, and as Brian is doing (hey, it’s a biblical idea).

In so doing the church will find the “crucial difference…between telling us a story differently and telling a different story.” (Nicholas Lash).

I highly praise Brian as a brother in Christ willing to be a scapegoat for many and a refreshing voice for others. A New Kind of Christianity only deepens my belief and hope for giving people the space to discover new language and ways of putting together our story of God’s great redemption of the world in Jesus Christ. Brian is a mentor and friend to those who are tired of the conversation and Christianity as only thoughts/ideals/belief, old doing things the way they’ve always been done (badly and often without civility), and ready to give their life to a Kingdom come, but not yet. aNKoC is not the last word or the word after that, but gives permission to live into Christ and rethink that which is trying to be born. So quit throwing stones and go do it, be it, live it, and order yourself and God’s people back into love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control so that God may be in all and known by all.

February 18, 2010

Preparation for Ash Wed & Prayer

Last night at First Baptist Austin, we inaugurated the Christian season of Lent with an Ash Wednesday service. I had the opportunity to open the service with these words and prayer:

As we all know, tonight is not our common Wednesday night Midweek Mooring service, but like Advent, Christmas, Pentecost, Lent, Good Friday, and Easter…today is a note worthy day in the Christian calendar: Ash Wednesday. For myself, having grown up outside of the church, spending much of my time as an atheist, and then becoming a Christian in a very fundamental Baptist church, most of these words: Advent, Lent; much less Ash Wed. were and are still somewhat foreign and mysterious to me.

If you’d ask me five years ago, I would have said “I have no idea what Ash wed is about, but its probably heretical.” My reasoning: it’s a Catholic thing. I mean, didn’t the Reformation save us from all this Catholic ritualism, salvation by works stuff.

If you’d ask me about 3 years ago, I still would have said I don’t really know what Ash Wed is, but I would like to know. For what I had learned, is that of all the good things that came out of the Reformation, many good things were lost too. As the saying goes: the baby was tossed with the bath water.

If you’d ask me today, I’d say something like this. I’ve only experienced Ash Wed once, last year at a Baptist Retreat. In the past, for the most part the only preparation I made for Easter was to buy new clothes. In the last few years I’ve taken to this time called Lent to prepare myself for Resurrection. I mean, shouldn’t’ something as awe-inspiring and somewhat terrifying as Resurrection be prepared for.

And we begin this journey of new life by making room, getting rid of distractions and sins and awakening to our own mortality. I’ve learned a lot in my time with you here at First Baptist, but one of the things I’ve seen time after time is how alive some people become when they are close to death. Ash Wed. marks the first day of this season of drawing near to death, giving us permission to grieve our weakness and sin; and instead of buying more clutter for our lives we are invited to toss some of the mess. So you and I are invited tonight to reflect on what keeps us from living close to our mortality, our fragility of life so that we may live every day fully alive as if it’s our last.

You are invited to identify yourself with Christ who was given the marks of suffering in his body, by receiving the sign of mortality on yours in the form of ashes. So that is Ash wed, not some rote ritual to gain God’s favor, but an invitation to God’s faithfulness by physically identifying yourself with his gift.


Faithful, life-giving Creator, there is nothing and no one you have made that you despise.

And though, you call us to life, we close our ears.

You welcome us home, and we desert your hospitality.

You breath on us Spirit, and we prefer the stench of sin.

From your never ending, loving faithfulness, we ask for sorrow for our individual and collective brokenness, isolation, hate, and neglect; to make us new in your mercy; and to bring us to death so we may find life.

We desire and ask these things in the creative energies of your Spirit, the faithful suffering of your Son, and the nurturing guidance of the one God, forever and ever. Amen.

February 10, 2010

He doesn't like it...

So, I'm almost done with Brian McLaren's newest book and will have my thoughts on it up soon. But I thought I'd post this guy's review, because it is very different from what mine will be. I mean, I do not agree with McLaren 100% and think "A New Kind of Christianity" leads to a dangerous place at times, but I'm generally sympathetic to the project. Also, I like a lot of what he says thus far. So, before I get my thoughts up here's a tidbit from someone who wouldn't agree with my take on McLaren:
Finally – and most importantly – this is not a minor tweak of Christianity. It is a repudiation of the church’s understanding of God and the gospel. It really is tearing up the contract and starting all over again. McLaren says we’ve got the whole Biblical storyline, as well as our ideas of God and Scripture, all wrong. He’d rather be an atheist, he says, than believe in the God that many of us think is found in the Bible. You don’t get any more basic. We are talking about two fundamentally different versions of Christianity and the gospel.
and you can read the rest here.

February 4, 2010

A New Kind Of Christianity, McLaren's Newest Book

As part of the ViralBloggers network, I have the honor of being one of the few (elite?) people to receive author, speaker, pastor, and networker Brian McLaren's newest book "A New Kind of Christianity (browse inside it)," which hits the store shelves, as well as virtual shelves on Feb. 9th. HarperCollins is publishing Brian's newest quest

Brian has been a faithful friend, I mean that's what books are written to be right, along my pilgrimage. I haven't read much by him but in seminary I read A Generous Orthodoxy after reading Richard Foster's Streams of Living Water. These two pilgrims helped me move away from the strictness of fundamentalism wrapped tightly in denominationalism and see truth in the many doctrines, dogmas, and denom's of Christianity. Needless to say when I was deconstructing and struggling to find words and new ways of viewing the church, God, and my own faith McLaren gave me the gift of perspective. Later in seminary one of my night stand books became More Ready Than You Realize in which again Brian aided my perspective in reinventing evangelism away from the evange-cube/tract/guilt tactics toward befriending those were are different from me. Thus, began my conversation. These two themes play strongly in my faith still: the necessity of bearing and seeking truth in its many forms as well as the need (for myself) to be converted (continually) as well as love others toward Christ.

Then last year at First Baptist Austin, our Easter Tide (that's the time after Easter before Pentecost on the church calendar that lasts about 7 or 8 Sundays) we studied in small groups Everything Must Change. For myself, while not groundbreaking or even really new, this book guided me in leading "real" people, nonseminarians in the conversations that I found so important and true. Moreover, before leading these groups my wife and I as well as a bunch of other CBF baptists heard McLaren speak at Current retreat. So, in ways I feel like Brian and I are friends. We talked...at the conference...in his books...on the web...blogs...facebook...I'm not sure he'd know who I am, but way I feel towards my friends is the way I feel toward this newest book by McLaren.

I get excited about my friend's stuff, tweets, etc; but I'm also familiar with them. It's not that I'm bored, complacent, or even contempt (familiarity breeds what?) with Brian's work, but more...familiar...comfortable...I don't know how to describe it. But the reason I enjoy genuine friends so much is the same reason I'm looking forward to breaking open "A New Kind of Christianity," friends make you remember: remember who you are, where you came from, what the questions are, what makes life worth the living. While I'm not expecting to have my mind blown away in amazing revelations (though it could happen), I'm expecting to be reminded. Was it Augustine who said prayer is learning deep memory?

If you are still reading and haven't perused the book yet, here are the ten questions Brian seeks to answer in this newest book. These ten questions seek to unite our inner lives with our outer lives in a search for a "faith for tomorrow:"
  • The Authority Question: How Should the Bible Be Understood?
  • The God Question: Is God Violent?
  • The Jesus Question: Who is Jesus and Why is He Important?
  • The Gospel Question: What Is the Gospel?
  • The Church Question: What Do We Do About the Church?
  • The Sex Question: Can We Find a Way to Address Sexuality Without Fighting About It?
  • The Future Question: Can We Find a Better Way of View the Future?
  • The Pluralism Question: How Should Followers of Jesus Relate to People of Other Religions?
  • The What Do We Do Now Question: How Can We Translate Our Quest into Action?
As you can see, these questions are seemingly perennial questions to confront in our context. Hope you find room on your shelf or IPad or Kindle for

Also, check out the video (and all of Ooze.Tv's stuff) below of Spencer Burke driving Brian McLaren around talking about the power of questions to produce a new journey, a conversation driven by questions asked all around the world of people seeking to follow Jesus.

January 25, 2010

A (Half) Year in Books: 2009ish

Here's a look at some books I read last year. I only posted the ones I finished starting in June or July, I can't remember. The only book I read last summer was Dostoevsky's beautiful (and thick) Brothers Karamazov. I definitely slacked off in posting up what I was reading throughout the year and giving feedback, reviews, and thoughts...but I'm hoping to do more of that this year. There were several books I didn't finish, read in a group, or am not remembering right now, but we won't count those. So starting with the most recently finished, here's a look at the book I've read this month and the second half of 2009.