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Posts Tagged ‘Anthony Bradley’


In January I’ll be starting a sermon series on 1 Peter currently entitled “Living Faithfully in Babylon.” Recently Daniel Wells mentioned a book by David Fitch called Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines that Shape the Church for Mission. It looked like something that may help me think through some things as I preach through 1 Peter. In 2010 James Davidson Hunter released a book called To Change the World, in which he talks about the church maintaining a faithful presence. Dr. Anthony Bradley, before he dropped off Facebook, was highly critical of the book. Having not actually read it, his point seemed to be a lack of missional presence by the church but rather a retreat to a ghetto. Fitch refers to Hunter’s book in the introduction:

“Hunter proposes that Christians changes their tactics for engaging culture and changing the world. He asks Christians to turn away from grabbing power in the broader culture through traditional political means. Quit trying to win the battle of ideas through political rallies, voting schemes, cultural confrontations, and campaigns of persuasion in churches and political forums. Instead let Christians commit to a “new city commons” free from the power struggles and culture wars. He calls for Christians, shaped by an alternative covenant community of the kingdom, to humbly inhabit the places where they live and work with a new on-the-ground presence that dialogues and interacts with those around us and the institutions we are a part of.” (pp. 12-13)

Fitch seeks to flesh out more of what this looks like. Anthony Bradley did a blurb for this book, so I thought I’d read it. I’ll confess I can struggle with reading more “broadly evangelical” books. They often lack a sense of history and theological depth that leads them into trendy ideas that are often gone in a few years, as well as a rather shallow understanding of things. But I don’t want to live in a Reformed echo chamber either. This was one of the times I ventured out.

I think I found some helpful ideas in the midst of the trendiness. There were some challenging thoughts in the midst of the, from my perspective, theological weaknesses and problems in the book.

David Fitch is a professor at Northern Seminary (an American Baptist Seminary) and pastor of Vine Christian Community (affiliated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance) and Peace of Christ Church in Illinois. I did not know of his denominational affiliations until I just looked it up seconds ago. Reading the book I thought he came from a more Anabaptist or Brethren background. He frequent refers to John Howard Yoder, for instance. There is also an emergent, or whatever it is called now, influence with guys like Scott McKnight and Leonard Sweet. To make matters interesting he tosses in some Herman Ridderbos. In other words, Fitch is kinda broadly evangelical with some Anabaptist leanings.

So, where to begin?

He wants us to practice 7 disciplines, as the subtitle notes, to shape the church for mission. He looks at each of these 7 disciplines in 3 contexts. His terminology is fairly idiosyncratic at this point so I’ll use more common terminology. First is the church gathered or public worship. Second is essentially missional communities where Christians are gathered but expect to invite non-Christians to join them on “our territory” for lack of a better term. Third is outreach where we enter “their territory” in the hopes of dialoguing, discussing and building relationships that may or may not result in them eventually being part of the church gathered.

He notes that often churches can focus primarily on the church gathered and fall into maintenance ministry. In reaction to this, they can focus primarily on outreach and fall into exhaustion. Churches should be committed to all three.

The 7 disciplines are: The Lord’s Table, Reconciliation, Proclaiming the Gospel, Being with “the Least of These”, Being with Children, the Fivefold Gifting (Eph. 4) and Kingdom Prayer. Nothing terribly novel here. Sadly, many churches have lost sight of these disciplines. When we lose sight of them, our churches become unhealthy and eventually die. For instance, too few churches seem actually committed to practicing reconciliation. Members just leave in a huff or conflict spirals into church splits. It starts with the little things, and so should reconciliation. We don’t just practice it among the church gathered, but in our missional communities and relationships outside of the church with neighbors, co-workers and people who share our hobbies and interests. I agree we should value children, and avoid the lure of glitzy programs in place of actually spending time with them.

So, in terms of big picture as well as some cultural critique there are some positives here. There were some good challenges.

But I also struggled while I read this book, largely because it was “broadly evangelical.”

It was trendy, and annoyingly so. Since the book is about presence, I can understand the very frequent use of the term. “Space” on the other hand…. It was nearly as frequent as the very “to be” (yes, some hyperbole). In one paragraph it was used 5 times, and frequently used 3 or 4 in a paragraph. I started circling it. Often the sentence was quite understandable if you removed the word or the clause around it. I feel like the Knights Who Til Recently Said Ni- “Stop saying the word!” As we will see in a moment, there were also some theological concerns connected to it.

His ecclesiology and sacramental theology were problematic. He speaks as if these disciplines are a set of new post-Christian sacraments. He uses the term sacraments in connection with them. My inner Inigo Montoya kept saying “I do not think it means what you think means.” Taking the concept of the Lord’s Table to missional communities and outreach is difficult for me to process. We should take hospitality into those arenas, but not an actual sacrament. I see a similar issue with the Fivefold Gifting. Does every missional group need each of the 5 gifts to work effectively? How does this work in terms of outreach? In his stories of sitting a McDonald’s it is just him, not with 4 other people exhibiting the other gifts. So this was confusing.

“The sacrament of being with children is a social sacrament that brings together the community in its withness with the child.” (pp. 139)

He repeatedly talked about miracles happening. Here comes Inigo again. As a seminary professor I expect him to use this loaded term technically, not simply for unexpected and extraordinary events that took place. In Scripture it is used to refer to healing of prolonged and disabling medical conditions without ordinary means (medicine), raising the dead, walking on water etc. It is not used of reconciling long-broken relationships or a homeless guy getting a job.

His view of God’s sovereignty is problematic. He says, in one place, that God is sovereign over all. But he sounds very much like an Arminian throughout the book. Often he notes God does not coerce or force his way. He may be arguing against a Calvinist strawman here since the Westminster Confession (and London Baptist Confession) affirm that while God ordains whatsoever comes to pass, he also does “no violence to the will of the creature.” Fitch does more than maintain human responsibility. He frequently speaks of “creating space” for God to work. That sounds like more than human responsibility to me, but that we really control whether God is at work or not. There is no sense of Him working with, without, above or against means. There is no sense of God initiating all this as the One who “works in us so we will and work according to His good purpose” (Phil. 2:11).

“He is still ultimately sovereign and in control of the world. But as for actually using his power and authority, he will not oppose our grabbing and pushing for control. He refuses to steamroll our wills in order to dictate his will in our lives and in the world. … God’s power can only work through us as we submit to him, let him work, open up space for him.” (pp. 168)

A text from Proverbs comes to mind, one that is quoted by both James and Peter in the context of our grabbing and pushing for control: God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. God does use his power and authority to actively oppose the proud. Yes, He is love and is patient but He’s also righteous and wise.

His polity is rather vague. He is clearly against hierarchy. This is good to a degree. But his ideas of mutual submission, particularly in the discipline of the Fivefold ministry, is quite unclear. Here is where Presbyterianism is a really good thing. We don’t believe in pastor as “pope” or bishop. We believe in the plurality of elders leading together in submission to Christ through His Word, and summarized in our Confession, in mutual submission to other churches in our presbytery. While not perfectly lived out (we are sinners!) is seems to be a good and biblical model based not just on an isolated proof-text but the whole of Scripture.

“For Jesus, authority in the kingdom would be exercised in no other way. There would be no hierarchy, no coercive power, no one person ruling over and above another person. His model, as we will discover, is mutual, shared leadership under one Lord.” (pp. 152)

Jesus’ point is not simply hierarchy, but motive. Church leaders are to be about Christ’s kingdom, not their own. Yes, there power is limited and there authority is to be exercised in love. But we see hierarchy in Heb. 13, 1 Peter 5, 1 Tim. 3, Titus 1 and Acts 15 among other places. Christians are told to obey their church leaders. Church leaders are overseers. It is how they fulfill this that is the issue.

As a result, this really is a book for mature leaders who can pick through the book, tossing out the suspect theology and trends while retrieving the good ideas that are present (and they are there). We should consciously work to maintain not only the church gathered, but missional communities of some sort and recall God’s presence with us even as we are present to the world in outreach. We should be committed to the Lord’s Table and hospitality, prayer, biblical leadership with stewardship, children (not just children’s programs that entertain), relationships beyond our socio-economic class, reconciliation, and gospel proclamation. When we do we are engaging the world, and engaging it positively, not just as a critic.

I will add that reviews say something not just about the book, but also the reviewer. While I can learn from broader evangelicalism (some Reformed people fall into the stereotypical arrogance and think they have nothing to learn from other parts of the church), I do evaluate it from my theological heritage rather than just accept whatever is said. I hope I am being fair in my criticisms.

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The Boston Celtics have so many draft picks it nearly is their draft.

In the first round they have the 3rd (Nets), 16th (Mavericks) and 23rd picks.

In the second round they have the 31st (76ers via Heat), 35th (T’wolves via Suns), 45th (Grizzlies via Mavericks), 51st (Miami) and 58th (Cavaliers).

Way too many draft picks. This is 8 players, more than 50% of a roster.

They have 3 guys who are free agents: Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller.

They have players who have team options: Amir Johnson ($12 million), Jonas Jerebko ($5 million).

IF they just let them all go they still wouldn’t have enough openings for 8 draft picks. At least with the 2nd round picks there are no guaranteed contracts so perhaps only 1 or 2 make the team.

AND they have plenty of cash available combined with a desire to sign some elite talent.

All of this adds up to a roster crunch of enormous proportions. They have chips they can use, but every knows they need to move people and/or picks. So in one sense, they are over a barrel. Maybe.

There are no shortage of options. I can think of at least 2 deals that could include the 76ers, who own the first pick. The 76ers also have a surplus of bigs and a need for perimeter shooters. Lots of people advocate for a trade of the #3 pick, and perhaps a player or two for Okafor. There is another option. They could swap picks with the 76ers by tossing in another 1st round pick and some 2nd round picks or players. This means they wouldn’t have to pick a big at #1 but could draft a guy like Dunn who doesn’t want to go to the Celtics because they have too many guards. They Celtics could then draft Simmons or Brandon Ingram.

They could also draft a European player or two and stash them overseas for a few years. While Ainge seems to like Dragan Bender, I doubt he is NBA ready. Luwawu, though smaller, seems to be in the same boat.

Another possibility is drafting an outside shooter like Hield while using players like Smart or Bradley in a trade (with picks?) to get swing or inside players of note.

I’m not sure why high profile free agents would come to Boston. While it has plenty of money, this is a playoff team that will experience high turnover. The most important players will be back (unless they trade Bradley who is their best perimeter defender). You can stop imagining Durant or Horford in Celtic green and white.  The possibility of prying a player like George or Butler from their teams seems highly unlikely.

What seems likely is that we’ve seen the last of at least Sullinger, Zeller, and Turner. Probably the high priced Johnson as well. Like I said, lots of turnover.

What we do know is that we should expect the unexpected. We don’t know what it will look like, and we don’t know if it will actually make the team better.

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I had been meaning to read Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Ministry Leadership is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions. for quite some time. I think the subtitle says it all in many ways. I also have had the conviction for a long time that we need to see minorities rising into positions of power.

The book is edited by Kings’ College professor Anthony Bradley. CavWife is an alum. Bradley is ordained in the PCA (and a number of people have caused him to wonder why periodically). He tells his story in the General Introduction and then provides his vision, so to speak, in the afterward. The rest of the book is by a number of contributors who tell their story and make recommendations about how to change institutions.

As a white man this can be a difficult read. Most of us are unfamiliar with stories such as theirs. We can often find ways to write them off. It is important that we listen.

Any compilation like this is prone to be uneven. Yes, some essays are better than others. Carl F. Ellis Jr.’s chapter in particular is quite valuable in my estimation. The contributors are African-American, Hispanic, and Asian. The have all felt left out, unwanted and resented during their time in white institutions.

A few frustrations. When some data doesn’t match up with my personal knowledge, I have a hard time. Perhaps one of us doesn’t have our facts straight. If it is me, no big deal, I would have to learn. If it is them, then it could undermine the overall argument in the eyes of some people.

Disputed Issue #1: Bradley, in his introduction, refers to Peter Slade’s Open Friendship in a Closed Society for the following:

On December 4, 1861, the representatives of forty-seven Southern presbyteries formed an Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America (PCCSA).

I don’t dispute that, but it lacks historical context. It neglects to mention the passage of the Gardiner Spring Resolutions that were passed by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America in May of that year. The situation was nobody’s finest moment. Spring and the other presbyters confused loyalty with the United States with loyalty to Christ. Yes, Romans 13 indicates we are to submit to the State unless it violates the Law of God. The southern presbyteries had to choose between the greater magistrate and the lesser magistrate. Imagine, for a moment, a church having to reject the state in which they exist. While I don’t agree with their view on slavery, they were place in an untenable condition by the Gardiner Spring Resolutions. The context of their forming a new denomination was more complicated than that little blurb leads us to believe. Makes you wonder, will the rest of the book also ignore historical complexities?

Disputed Issue #2: In Orlando Rivera’s chapter he notes that “the seminary and the denomination it represented…” I attended that seminary. Orlando was in the class before mine. The seminary is not a denominational seminary. Yes, it is most closely tied to the PCA since it assisted in the foundation of the denomination. But officially it is non-denominational. We had professors who were in the SBC, American Baptist and more. Students came from a variety of backgrounds. The retired pastor who assisted in placement was in the RCA, not the PCA. He was a good and godly man, but I was shaking my head when he told me “youth ministry is the mail room of the church.” I’d already worked in a mail room, and really didn’t want to work in the church’s mail room. This doesn’t mean that he didn’t experience these frustrations, misunderstandings and disappointments. I’m sure he did actually. Both of us would love to see changes in the PCA. One sign of hope is the adoption movement among PCA members and pastors. Many of us are adopting children from other races. My prayer is that they will be among the future leaders of the denomination. Time will tell.

On the flip side, Orlando Rivera’s recommendations were very interesting. They may help increase minority enrollment and success in educational institutions. That is a worthy goal and I hope more institutions try to implement his recommendations.

Carl F. Ellis Jr.’s chapter was on discipling urban men. In this context he gives a brief history of black culture since the civil rights movement. He addresses the differences between the achiever class, the under class and the criminal class. This information would help many of us who didn’t grow up in black urban culture understand the cultural context of many current events. I also found a number of his statements with regard to discipleship helpful and challenging.

The Issue of White Privilege

Often when white people hear about white privilege they either don’t understand the concept, or have no clue what they are supposed to do with or about it. We often just feel some kind of guilt.

Anthony Bradley talks about this in his afterward. He thinks we are stuck trying to reconcile and need to begin moving forward.

“But I am convinced that the church will be able to lead society on race only if it moves beyond reconciliation and pursues racial solidarity, which means embracing our common human dignity … and respect differences between ethnic communities for the common good.”

That solidarity means sharing power with one another instead of one group trying to hoard all the power. Reconciliation doesn’t address the issues of white privilege. It never forces us to unpack the ways  in which white people are more advantaged in our culture than others. We white people tend to think we are normal, and that everyone enjoys the same reality we do. It is hard to admit they don’t. Bradley has a higher purpose for that privilege than forsaking it like Francis of Assisi left his father’s wealth behind.

“On the contrary, the point of discussing white privilege is to help whites see how God can use those advantages and freedom from certain burdens as a platform for blessing those without them. In other words, whites may be missing opportunities to use their privilege redemptively in the broken world.”

When I read this I thought of my professor Richard Pratt. His Third Millennium Ministries seeks to provide educational resources to church leaders all around the world for free. He longs to build indigenous leadership. He’s using the resources of our white western world to do it.

The afterward is quite helpful to understand why Anthony Bradley assembled these essays. It really pulls the book together and gives us a better vision for the future. I’m glad I read it. Perhaps you will be too.

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That was interesting.

No trades at this point, though one may be looming for Rajon Rondo after they drafted Marcus Smart. He’s not the guy I would go after. But, he is a strong defender and rebounder but not a great shot as a point guard. Does that sound vaguely familiar?

Gordon, the guy I thought they would take wasn’t there thanks to the Orlando Magic. They took him at 4. As I noted, Randle and Vonleah were essentially redundant for the Celtics.

The draft is unpredictable which is why we watch. The Magic’s unpredictable move probably forced a change of direction by the Celtics. Probably. I obviously could be wrong, but I do know that Ainge spent a good amount of time researching Gordon.

I thought they would replace Bradley with the 17th pick and Harris from Michigan State was right there. I was hoping for Nick Stauskas but figured he’d be gone by then. He was. Harris seemed like the logical choice.

Wrong. James Young, a small forward out of Kentucky, was the pick. He was on a stacked team, so he didn’t get as many touches as some other guys. He scores. He might replace Jeff Green aka Mr. Inconsistent.

I’m not sure where this leaves the Celtics. They needed a rim protector. Talked about a rim protector. That was a big part of why they were getting killed in the second half of the season. They really didn’t address their need for a true center. Now we’ll see if they are able to do that or if we’ll endure another season of watching teams kill us down low.

Tonight I’m fairly disappointed. Maybe that will change in a few days, or a few years.

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Chapter 5 of Recovering the Reformed Confession is the second part of Recovering a Reformed Identity.  Here Clark focuses on the need for Confessions of Faith that we might be in agreement about the meaning of Scripture.  The Reformed Church has been busy making Confessions of Faith since the 1500’s.  There is no lack of them.

Initially there were no exceptions permitted, which makes sense since that contemporary group wrote it.  I wouldn’t be taking exceptions to a document I helped create and approved.  In the denominations of which I have belonged as a minister exceptions are permitted.  We are concerned with the system of doctrine, though any exceptions that depart from the core beliefs would result in exclusion.

In other denominations, we have seen how ministers confess to adhering to the Westminster Confession of Faith yet really do not.  Those denominations have slid consistently to the left until there are barely recognizable as Christian, much less Reformed.  Clark sees the sideline denominations moving in this same direction with the absence of strict subscriptionism.  But the problem was not the absence of strict subscriptionism, but the absence of church discipline against those who departed from the core issues of the Confession regarding Scripture, the Trinity, justification and more.

System of Doctrine was first advocated by Charles Hodge to avoid the loose Irish view of “substance” and the unforgiving “strict confession” of the Scots & American Presbyterians.  Views that contradicted the Reformed faith were not permitted as exceptions.  He viewed that strict subscriptionism would lead to the same hypocrisy as substance subscriptionism did.

The full or strict subscription view is proposed by such men today as Joseph Pipa, Morton Smith and George W. Knight III.  They say that not all doctrines are of equal importance, yet act as if they are.  Since the Confession is a summary of Scripture, Pipa argues that if a minister finds that the Confession is out of step with the Scriptures, they should write exegetical papers explaining the difference and advocating the necessary changes.  In Pipa’s view, this takes place within the courts of the church, not publicly.  In other words, you don’t write a book or teach a class on it.

The “good faith” approach was approved by the PCA in 2003.  The candidate’s views are examined and they are required to take exceptions in which they differ from any part of the Confession or Catechisms.  The Presbytery decides whether or not to grant the exception.  Often, the minister may teach the exception as long as he notes it is not the position of the church.

(more…)

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