False Idol #1: An End to Suffering

May 31, 2006

No one enjoys suffering. However, suffering used to be seen as having meaning. As Christians, we must believe that suffering can have meaning, otherwise our faith in our Suffering God is misplaced. The early church developed a cruciformed imagination that gave meaning to the suffering and death of martyrs. They even developed different forms of martyrdom–the red martyrdom of the persecuted and the white martyrdom of astheticism.

None of this is to say that suffering is good. However, in modern times suffering has increasingly been regarded as meaningless–as an irredeemable evil. This rejection of suffering has led to the increased rejection of the penal substitutionary view of the atonement. I am, by the way, not a fan of this view of the atonement. However, I recognize that the growing marginalization of the view among my peers may be, in part, fueled by the growing rejection of suffering as something having any value or meaning.

In this emerging world where suffering has no meaning, it is increasingly becoming the case that the end of suffering becomes the primary good. Suffering and death are seen as the worst things that can happen. In contrast, earlier in Christendom, people were actually afraid of a swift, painless death. They were afraid of dying poorly; their desire for virtue outweighed their avoidance of suffering. And religion has become merely a tool by which suffering may be ended. Religious groups have lost their interpretive power–once offering the meaningful interpretation for our suffering, now they have become mere charities that can alleviate suffering.

Not that suffering shouldn’t be alleviated. But instead of offering meaning as we also extend our care, we have been relegated to simply offering the care. Our churches offer therapeutic theism–where God is a tool to alleviate suffering. Instead of procliaming a God that is worthy of worship, worship becomes an experience that makes our lives a bit better. Instead of embracing the long Christian tradition that finds meaning in suffering, we seek not only to end suffering (which is a good thing to do), but also rob it of its meaning. End of Suffering is one of our new gods.

American Idols

May 30, 2006

Over the next week or so, I’m hoping to have time to comment on what I see as several American “idols”–false Gods that American Christians worship instead of Jesus–or above Jesus. In a way, this is my own Genesis 1. Genesis 1 is widely recognized as a sort of polemic against other Ancient Near Eastern deities. In Genesis 1, we find that it YHWH is Lord over all creation–Lord over all other Gods. According to the first commandment, one must not place one of these Gods–or any other creature–above YHWH. YHWH alone is to be worshipped.

But in our culture–even among those who consider themselves devout Christians–we place things above God all the time, effectively making the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit into tools for a higher idol. And so, in the next week or so, I hope to name these false Gods. NEXT: the false God “AN END TO SUFFERING.”

Megachurches and the De-Churched

May 30, 2006

I really enjoy David Fitch’s insights. Here are some fresh words from his blog:

…according to Barna and Stark and others, large numbers of people have come to the mega church from small churches attracted to the glamour and production values of the large church. Or they were “catechesized” in the smaller church, haven?t gone to church for a long time, and then they come back to “going to church” through the mega church. These were people formally participating in some ways in “being known” by other people in a church, in liturgical worship or traditional worship where the pastor knew you and you participated. There were a lot of things wrong but at least they were part of something that participated in some of the “marks” of the life of a Body of Christ. There was mission going on at the former small church where you could not help but be part of in one way or another. Now many of these same people, and sons and daughters of these people, have become habituated into coming only to a morning seeker service or “information-bearing” service, which entails little participation in the Kingdom of God. They passively observe the Kingdom sitting in their seats as a member of the audience. There is little getting to know one another, little if any participation in the Kingdom of God. Now they sit uninvolved, unknown, segregated, isolated, and living a life unto themselves. Yet they have grown to understand that this is church. They once (perhaps subliminally) knew what church was, even if they rejected it at age 12. Now they have been linguistically and habitually trained to think something is church, which is not. This phenomenon I would like to define as “the de-churching” of America.

Read the rest here.

Some thoughts I had on the way home from Hard Times on Sunday

May 23, 2006

One of the reasons that the church is necessary is that individually we are too weak, foolish, afraid, or broken to embody Christ alone. This is also, incidentally, the reason that it isn’t wise for clergy to be placed upon a pedestal. Not only are they insufficient of themselves to embody Christ, it is commonly the case that the only reason they differ from the rest of us is not that their list of vices is shorter–it is that they add “arrogant” or “cocky” to their list.

The problem is that churches often become bands of people whose brokeness, foolishness, and fears become institutionalized. They become the very sorts of “power” that Paul tells us we must battle. Often, a group of people left to their own can become a “power,” but they are certainly more powerful under effective, yet arrogant, leadership. These days we don’t value saints as much as we ought. And we value effective, yet morally adequate leaders, too much. Even so, we expect too much from both the saintly leaders and the effective leaders–and even more so of the rare combination of both.

Monastic Institute

May 22, 2006

July 1-7, the 21st Annual Monastic Institute is taking place at St. John’s University here in Minnesota.  Any of you interested in monasticism, or neo-monasticism, should come; the theme this year will be One Heart, One Soul: Many Communities.

Here is an overview from their website:

we begin the third millennium of Christianity there is growing interest in
religious community and monasticism.   New communities are springing
up in unexpected forms, places, and denominations.  Some borrow directly
from traditional monastic models.  Others develop new models guided only
by their desire to gather intentionally with people of faith in some way beyond
what can be found in the parish or congregation.  Yet all the while,
existing monastic communities are shrinking.

As part of the 150th anniversary
celebration of Benedictines in Central Minnesota (Saint John?s Abbey - 2006 and Saint
Benedict?s Monastery - 2007) the 2006 Monastic Institute will examine this
phenomenon by convening a conversation among members
and scholars of these various forms of community life.  We seek to
increase our understanding of the cultural dynamics generating new religious
communities, to explore what established monastic communities can learn from
the experience of the new communities, and what the new can learn from the
experience of the established.  Featured speakers include Abbot Primate Notker Wolf OSB; Abbess M?ire
Hickey OSB, Moderator of Communio
Internationalis Benedictinarum
Columba Stewart OSB, Director of Hill Museum and
Manuscript Library; Kevin Seasoltz OSB, editor of Worship;
Meg Funk OSB, author of Thoughts Matter; Christine Pohl, author of Making
Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition
; as well as
representatives of Sant?Egidio, L?Arche, Bridgefolk, New
Monasticism, Community of Jesus, Madison Ecumenical Monastery, new members of
traditional communities, and others.

Questions to be considered: 

  • How important/necessary are authority and bedience? 
  • What is the monastic rhythm in your life situation?
  • How would you describe your code of conduct (rule of life or customary way of living the life)?
  • What constitutes membership for your group? 
  • Why have you formed a distinct group?
  • What has not been present in your life that you formed into this group or what was present but you sought to join this particular group?
  • What do you do about ownership and money?  How do you contribute to the community?

Missio Dei has become increasingly monastic since we started 1.5 years ago.  It was about 6 months ago that we began to self-identify ourselves as a missional order.  There is still alot of shaping and molding for us as a community.  We don’t want to do monastic things simply because they are monastic.  However, we recognize our indebtedness to the monastic tradtion.  As my wife and I go to this conference, we hope to hear many stories from all sorts of monastic and neo-monastic groups.  My hope is that we will learn some things that can help Missio Dei understand how to best embody the Gospel on the West Bank. 

What manner of Christian be ye?

May 21, 2006

Scot McKnight is asking folks what manner of Christian they are. I’m sure, as always, the discussion will be quite interesting.

At the time I read the post, his concurrent poll revealed the following:

Evangelical 37.7%
Post-evangelical 35.8%
Other 10.3%
Charismatic 5.4%
Mainline Liberal 4.4%
Anabaptist 2.5%
Roman Catholic 1.5%
East Orthodox 1.0%
House church 1.0%

I selected “post-evangelical.” But that was only because you could only pick one. The problem is that I, like many these days, defy categorization.

Though my parents werent’ exactly evangelicals (my mom was anti-religion and my dad was a lapsed Mormon) I am generally from an evangelical background (”saved” at Bible camp in my teens). Currently, I am a part of the Baptist General Conference–which is thoroughly evangelical.

But the evangelical church of my teens was charismatic and had a mennonite pastor–I still consider myself charismatic (though more likely I should be called “post” charismatic).

My old mennonite pastor left a mark, however. Currently, my church is pursuing dual-affiliation with the Mennonites. Theologically, I am pretty mennonite (pacifist etc.).

At the same time, my church is basically neo-monastic. We have a lot in common with the house church movement. Though we have more in common with modern house churches as opposed to traditional house churches (post-house church?). Nevertheless we don’t think of ourselves as a house hcurch. We are neo-monastic because we draw heavily from Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theology and monastic traditions. The Catholics have a richer, in my opinion, monastic tradition. But the Orthodox have a richer theological heritage. My Doctrine of God is very Orthodox. Many of their other doctrines also appeal to me.

I am decidedly a mutt. And there are tons of mutts out there–and more all the time.

When people ask what sort of category I fall into, I say that I am a neo-anabaptist post-evangelical who is the founder of a neo-monastic missional order. Usually, that doesn’t help clarify.

What do we call ourselves (or what tradition we should claim) when the old categories no longer work? How do we really root ourselves in tradition when we don’t fit into one? How do we think of denominational loyalty in light of the “emerging” freedom to identify oneself across the spectrum of traditions and beliefs?

Audio files from Consumerism Conference

May 20, 2006

Some of the audio files from the conference are up.

I really dislike typepad

May 17, 2006

I don’t like typepad.  It has served me well, but it costs money, but doesn’t function nearly as well as WordPress.  I am notorious for changing my typepad design almost every month.  It is just that I don’t like any of the pre-built typepad themes and I get sick of them so damn fast.  Wordpress is infinitely customizeable.  And while I could do some of my own customization in Typepad, it is nothing compared to the general ease at which I can tweak WordPress–and I get much more savory results.  For example, look at Missio Dei’s website, which I built using WordPress.  It is so clean, yet stylish.  I want to do the same thing for this blog, but if I migrate this blog, I’d probably want to switch my other Typepad blogs (like the Pub Gathering, and Twin Cities Emergent Cohort) but I lack the gumption to make such a move.  I wish all of my blogs, including Missio Dei looked professional…and I wish that my blog,, and the Pub Gathering site had a similar look and feel.  But I lack the skills to take things to the next level.

In my lamentation over blog suckiness, I have decided to make this blog very minimalistic until I can make it look good. 

The Transformational Leadership of Prophets: A RANT

May 16, 2006

In my OT course (which is my final class at seminary!) we are reading
through the prophets.  Every week we have to evaluate our reading from the
OT.  One of the questions is: "in which way does X demonstrate
transformational leadership?"  The way most denominational leaders
and ministry professors evaluate leaders is by their outcome.  Whenever
one privileges outcome too highly, faithfulness usually loses out to success.
The church growth movement itself points to growth as a sign of faithfulness.
Obviously, the prophets were pretty faithful and blessed, but few listeners
caught on to their message. Jesus himself was more of a "prophetic"
leader than a "transformational" leader. In fact, the only reason
that the numbers came in Jesus’ ministry was because he rose from the dead and
poured out his Spirit. Unless we too, have this strange power, we shouldn’t be
too quick to look at him for a model of "success", unless, of course,
our definition of success is faithfulness.

Jesus "sucked" as a leader of a large group. People followed him in a
mostly marginal way. And when he got a large following (who were mostly around
because he did miracles), he was intensely NOT seeker sensitive.  He told
them dumb things like "eat his flesh and blood." The truth is, we
build our own 21st century version of what it means to be a leader out of the
scraps of consumer capitalism and western rugged individualism and then we
anachronistically delve into the Gospels to see the ways in which Jesus fits
our model of leadership. Jesus’ leadership had VERY LITTLE to do with
technique. It had more to do with his love, his miraculous deeds, and his
spiritual depth. He listend to the Spirit.  He did what he saw his father
doing.  We shouldn’t emulate his encounter with the woman at the
well.  We should follow the same Spirit that led Jesus to that

In the end, as we read in Acts, he was rejected like every other prophet. That
is his legacy. Instead of trying to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, why are we so
eager to make Jesus follow in ours?   A few years ago, I was told in
a preaching class not to preach James 4 in such a way that was too challenging.
I was told to make the following verses ENCOURAGING, since preaching is
supposed to be about gathering seekers:

4You adulterers! Don’t
you realize that friendship with this world makes you an enemy of God? I say it
again, that if your aim is to enjoy this world, you can’t be a friend of God. 5What do you think the Scriptures
mean when they say that the Holy Spirit, whom God has placed within us,
jealously longs for us to be faithful?   6He gives us more and more strength to stand against
such evil desires. As the Scriptures say,   
    "God sets himself against the proud,
       but he shows favor to the humble."
7So humble yourselves
before God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.   8Draw close to God, and God will
draw close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, you

I was told that the challenge should come via small groups or discipleship
class.  That way, people can come and explore our faith before they are
challenged too much.

So, leader.  If you want to follow Jesus’ "model" for
leadership, be a prophet.  You may gather a crowd for a while, but in the
end, you will suffer and possibly die alone.  That is the burden of
prophets.  If you’d rather gather a happy crowd and spoon feed them
spirituality according to their comfort level, be a transformational leader.   

The Obligatory Comment on Non-Blogginess

May 14, 2006

I try to avoid commenting on blogging absences.  I get a bit irked when I go to a blog and find that they post about their lack of posting.  Either post, or don’t post–but don’t post about not posting!

Having reflected upon this phenomenon further, I realized that posting about not-posting offers the hope of a post-ful future.  When one posts about their lack of posting, they are effectively saying: "I would post more, but I’m busy or preoccupied or taking a blog-break.  But hold on, dear readers, for soon I will return to blogging.  Do not fear.  Do not forsake visiting me.  Do not take me off of your feed list or blog rolls.  I shall return."

My posting for the past month or so has been sporadic.  It has tended to lack substance.  And this trend will probably continue until I graduate in early June.  I have been very busy indeed and want to encourage you to hope for a better future.  Don’t take me from your blog rolls. Don’t remove me from your feed list.  Oh, I will continue to blog from time to time over the next month, but the trend of the past month or two will continue. 

My hope is that I will be able to focus more on bloggin in June. 

Next Page »