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Posts Tagged ‘hospitality’


The times they are a-changing. That should be fairly obvious to anyone in America. Some resist the changes, while others adapt.

That includes Christians.

During the 2016 election I preached thru Esther to prepare people for this new world. I saw the two options as slow change and fast change. Both seemed more like the Persian king that I was comfortable thinking about.

I followed up Esther with 1 Peter to prepare my people for life as exiles. We are shifting to a post-Christian culture. As part of the previous majority, Christians are commonly disparaged by those seeking to re-balance the scales. I tried to draw this out and apply it to evangelism.

I wish the new book Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land by Elliot Clark was available at that time. Clark draws on his experiences as a missionary in a closed country to apply the message of 1 Peter to the newer American context. He provides us with a thoughtful exploration of evangelism as we move into the future where Christians are not welcome, just like Peter’s original audience.

After a foreword by D.A. Carson, Clark offers us an introduction (Embracing Exile) and 6 chapters to develop some of the primary themes in Peter’s letter: the hope of glory, godly fear, respect for others, evangelism as doxology and our true home. This is not a very long book (just over 150 pages). It will both comfort you and discomfort you. Filled with gospel hopes you also find some gospel imperatives as well.

Carson notes that opposition can be either cultural or judicial. Our missionaries would experience both at times, but we may have experienced some cultural opposition here in America. That opposition is increasing, and we are beginning to experience judicial opposition. This will mean that nominal Christians will fall by the wayside. But we have to consider how we will respond.

“Instead of whining and feeling sorry for ourselves because the culture is becoming unrecognizable, Christians should align their vision with that of the most mature first-century Christians.” D.A. Carson

It is time for many Christians to realize that the cultural war is over. It is post-D-Day and pre-VE day to borrow an analogy. We can live in fear and anger. Or we can realize there are profound gospel opportunities we didn’t have before. The New Testament was written to a church that was a cultural and religious minority. Therefore, there is much for us to discover there about our new cultural situation.

Peter wrote to “elect exiles”. Since become Christians, these people were exiles in the same cities they lived in before they converted. They engaged in evangelism despite lacking cultural power and influence. They relied on the Spirit and the Word more than programs and events. We may have to leave our programs and events but will still have the Word and Spirit.

Jesus experienced opposition from the Pharisees, scribes, Herodians, Sadducees, his own family, Roman officials and communities that were afraid of him. Sinners hate God and his gospel. When we represent God and his gospel, they may hate us too. Throughout his letter, Peter highlighted “the overlapping realities of their experience with the Savior’s.”

“In a world of seemingly unending shame, opposition, struggle, weakness, affliction, and persecution, the certainty of future glory is the unstoppable heartbeat of our enduring hope.”

Peter wanted them to know of their certain future, their hope. This future glory is Jesus’ shared glory. The afflictions we experience, and abuse heaped on us, cannot change or diminish that glory. We have a certain future, so don’t be overwhelmed by the uncertainty in the short-term.

I get it. I worry about how my kids will live. Will they have opportunities? Will they be persecuted? I’ve long thought I’ll probably end up in jail for my faith, and that may still happen. We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and the promise of glory.

Clark speaks of shame, not fear, as perhaps the greatest impediment to evangelism. Shame excludes. Exiles don’t fit in, and no one will let them in. Future glory is the only antidote to the power of shame.

“God has put us in these places, positions, and relationships for a reason, and that reason, among others, is to proclaim the good news of Christ.”

While shame may be the greatest impediment, fear is a real problem too. He reminds us that the biblical antidote to the fear of man is the fear of God. Clark brings us to Isaiah 8, for instance, to help us to see that Peter’s message wasn’t new nor novel. It is, however, relevant.

Not only should we fear God, but Clark reminds us to fear for them. Judgment is real too. They will face judgment. These two fears should motivate us to make the gospel known to people.

As Christians we are to honor everyone. Peter calls us to gentleness and respect as we make Jesus known. This is not natural to us. We want to revile in return. We want to mock and ridicule. That doesn’t work so well for evangelism which is a way to love other people. To do it in an unloving fashion works against the goal. Perhaps we need to rethink how to interact online. We do need to realize we are not inviting them into short-term glory but rather to be outcasts with us. The glory will come later.

Evangelism is about worship too, as Clark reminds us from 1 Peter 2. Perhaps we don’t evangelize because our hearts are not filled with His praises.

In the midst of this, Clark redefines our understanding of “opportunities”. We tend to reduce opportunities to those times we think the person will be open. We are like guys who will only ask a girl out if they think it likely she’ll say ‘yes’. Instead, we are to proclaim the gospel in season and out. We are heralds of the kingdom, not salesmen looking for an easy mark.

Peter, Clark notes, repeatedly returns to Noah who was a preacher of righteousness. He preached despite a lack of success. He didn’t figure out which way the wind was blowing but by faith was obedient to God even though those around him couldn’t conceive of a flood. People today can’t really conceive of a judgment that involves them. Yet, the Great Commission stands as a gospel responsibility.

Holiness matters too! Personal holiness authenticates the message we bring. Jesus changes people. He imputes righteousness to us in justification, and imparts righteousness to us in sanctification. We aren’t saved because we are holy, but are saved to be made holy.

He then moves into hospitality. In Peter’s day there were no hotels. Inns were often places with questionable and immoral behavior. Church planting teams, itinerant preachers and traveling Christians needed a place to stay. Christians were to open their doors to them. Worship took place in people’s homes as well. Evangelism includes inviting people into your homes as you offer them an eternal home. In closed countries hospitality is an essential part of friendship and therefore evangelism. It will be so here too.

Clark touches on some important topics in this book. It is not simply theoretical, as seen in the stories from his life on the mission field. This is a great corrective to the average American Christian’s view of evangelism and culture.

Do you feel like a stranger in your own country?

Do you feel a desire to share the gospel with people who seem so different from you?

If you answered yes to those questions, this book is for you. You will find the book both comforting and challenging. May God move us into the world as heralds of the good news.

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Much has changed in America since I became a Christian during Reagan’s second term in office. The church has had a variety of reactions from assimilation to abdication.

What is a Christian to do? How are pastors to guide and direct people?

In 2016 I prepared my people for a new set of circumstances by preaching through Esther and then 1 Peter. While “evangelicals” seem to have won they battle of the election, they seem to have lost the war for the culture as numerous articles blame Trump’s victory on them. The disenfranchisement many felt has only deepened with new charges of x-phobia.

Image result for faith for this momentRick McKinley’s new book, Faith for this Moment: Navigating a Polarized World as the People of God, caught my eye. McKinley is the pastor of Imago Dei church in Portland, OR. He shows up in Blue Like Jazz as Donald Miller’s pastor for a time. Like Driscoll, he seemed to fall into the Emerging (not Emergent) Church movement that held to historic Christianity applied to new circumstances.

On the surface this book seems to be The Benedict Option for millennials. I haven’t read BO, though it has been recommended to me often. It seems a bit retreatist to me. It sounds a bit too much like abdication. I could obviously wrongly judging that book by its cover. This book, I read.

I appreciated the overall tone and message of the book. I had some issues with the details and some of his analysis. It is not a long book, so it doesn’t flesh everything out as much as some may like. He’s trying to move people in a direction more than giving them detailed instructions. So, what is that direction?

He begins with the Moment in which we live, how we got here, and then how we should move forward as God’s people. That last part sounds the most like BO as he seeks to reclaim some distinctive Christian practices to help us live faithfully in a world, a culture more precisely, that has become hostile to our existence.

The Moment for him was the aftermath of the Pulse shooting. Christians, in the eyes of an unbelieving culture, we known less for Jesus and His sacrificial love than our opposition to homosexuality and defense of firearms. Though a Muslim, many show Mateen as in line with the “God and guns” crowd that President Obama disparaged.

Lost in the moment was the compassion shown by many churches, locally and in other parts of the country. Lost was Chick-Fil-A providing food to responders on a Sunday. Somehow we were at least partially to blame.

And then came the results of the 2016 election. The backlash is still a popular narrative: evangelicals voted for Trump because they are racist, misogynist, anti-immigration and homo-phobic. This is a world without nuance painting all conservative Christians with the same (wrong) brush.

“We are a society that is messy and complicated, and it appears that Christians, whose voices have been drowned out by misrepresentation and misunderstanding, have little to say about the things that matter most to the world.”

Image result for adam and eveChristians have moved from a group with relative power to being marginalized as a minority group. This happened without moving in a foreign country. We’ve lost our sense of identity and place. We’ve also lost our sense of practice: how we live or act, what we do, because we follow Jesus. Most Christians are caught between “denial and despair”. McKinley is not going to lead us in a pity party, however. Nor is he going to encourage us to go with the flow. He reminds us that for significant periods of time God’s people have lived as the marginalized, the exiled, and have flourished despite that.

He begins with the original exile. Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden of Eden because of their sin. Life changed forever, so it seemed. There was no going back for them. The consequences would be disastrous as one son killed another as sin ran rampant. Abram and Sarai willingly went into exile in following the call of God. They had promises and a covenant but they were strangers and aliens in Canaan.

“This shows us that while exile is a place of loss, it is also a place of hope, because the God who is sovereign over the times in which we live is the one who sustains us in exile.”

He continues with Jacob, Moses (what about Joseph??) and the wilderness generation. He identifies Jesus as the True Exile who voluntarily (like Abram) left “home” to come to this far country to live among us, and suffer with and for us. He entered exile to bring us back to the Garden, but better.

McKinley then focuses on Babylon as a real exile and a picture of subsequent exiles. Babylon didn’t make all of Israel slaves. They were invited to partake of Babylon’s prosperity, similar to the materialism and consumerism of America. Prophets like Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel were calling them to faithfulness in exile. They were not to abandon their faith and assimilate with Babylon. They were to seek the good of the city and put down roots there. Their welfare was wrapped up with the welfare of the city.

“Exile can be a place of deep spiritual transformation and kingdom advancement if we are willing to step into it with courage and faith.”

It is easy to miss that Israel was in exile due to her sin. She lost her place because she forfeited her faith. It was time to regain her faith in exile. The church in the west, in particular in America to whom McKinley writes, has lost its place because it largely lost its faith. It fell for the American Dream instead of the Kingdom of God. It is time to regain our faith in Christ and His kingdom.

He focuses on that passage in Jeremiah in Baptize It, Burn It, or Bless It?. Here he discusses Christendom, both its rise in Rome and its fall here in America. Christendom is the blending of Christianity with the dominant culture such that you have a civil religion that largely reflects the culture. It is a largely assimilated faith. Racial pride, ethnic price, economic pride etc. are identified with Christianity.

While I agree with him, I also struggle with some of his points. For instance, on the issue of a border wall he sounds reductionistic to me. The threat is not the “other” so much as the lawless for many. He rejects just war theory as if it were the same as “manifest destiny”. For instance, he writes “When our hope becomes misplaced in these things, we begin to see other countries as a threat rather than a neighbor.” We live in a world of sinners so all our homes have doors, with locks. Every home in my neighborhood has a fence because there are boundary lines. I don’t hate my neighbor or fear my neighbor. Many politicians and celebrities who chastise us about a wall live behind walls and travel with armed security. That is wise in a world of sinners. Are nations to eschew wisdom for foolishness?

Another example, this time of overlooking details. In the context of same sex marriage he mentions that the church has done little to reduce its own divorce rate. I agree that some portions of the church have high divorce rates. But he seems to ignore the movement toward “covenant marriage” in many states in the Bush 43 years. These laws made getting a divorce more difficult for those who chose to enter that kind of marriage.

In response McKinley focuses on piety. He lays great weight on these practices to remain distinctive. He appears to lose the connection between being and doing. Theology informs our being. To be fair, he could have teased more of that (theology) out of his first practice. But he sees theological distinctives are part of the problem.

“The way forward will require us to move beyond doctrinal divides of conservative and liberal. We will need to find a set of practices, born from faith, that can make us distinct in our identity and our way of living in this moment in which we find ourselves.”

Image result for the borgHe is right that cultures make disciples. “You will be assimilated! Resistance is futile!” cries the Borg. Here he brings in some Lesslie Newbegin and contextualization. The gospel is a-cultural. It transcends cultures instead of being culture bound. The church is called to “navigate its relationship to the culture it finds itself in at this moment.” We embrace elements of culture in agreement with biblical norms and reject those in conflict with biblical norms. He breaks out what looks like a triperspectival triangle. The gospel is the norm, the church is the existential perspective (who we are) and we live in the circumstances of a particular culture. The gospel does not change. It is the norm that is intended to transform both church and culture- though in different ways. The church lives out the gospel in culture, and addresses that unchanging gospel to the particular culture it finds itself in a way that the culture can understand and applied to the culture’s problems.

McKinley expresses this in the terminology of “windows of redemption and opposition.” Each culture has ways we can address the culture “in its own space and through its own language and values.” But there are also “values, beliefs, and practices that are at odds with Jesus and the gospel.” If your gospel doesn’t present any offense it probably isn’t the biblical gospel. If it is only in opposition to culture, it probably isn’t either.

He then moves into the history of his congregation to show how this worked out. They needed to repent, often, of their lack of involvement with their community and culture. We often act like strongholds, at odds with those around us instead of seeking their holistic welfare.

“We must be willing to be honest with ourselves, to be broken over the state of our own hearts and the part we played in making the church the way it is.”

The book moves into the final section focusing on the spiritual practices he advocates. It seems strange to me, to compare us with Muslims (or the Amish or Hasidic Jews) as identifiable by dress and customs. I’m not sure about focusing on such externals. He does point us to practices that may standout, but not dress. The goal he notes is to turn us around (repentance) and “fully enter the story of God in our everyday lives.”

“Too many of us are exhausted from the pressure of the empire, and we find ourselves binging on its pleasures to short-circuit the anxiety we feel, even if those pleasures are only a temporary fix.”

He begins with that story in the practice of listening and obeying. Scripture is to be the story that shapes our worldview. The Story of redemption should shape how we live, eat, work etc.. He then moves into hospitality. He misses the point at times, focusing on how our government welcomes some immigrants and not others. I get that our hospitality is intended to be distinct from the governments, but the government has a different mission and goals than the church does. He doesn’t really develop the differences between the church and the state. This warps some of his statements.

In the chapter on generosity he seems to misunderstand some basic economic principles. Capitalism isn’t built on supply and demand. It certainly honors that reality in a way that other economic theories but it is built on the idea of using capital to create supply to meet demand. He also confused greed with capitalism on that same page.

The fourth practice is Sabbath. The practice of ceasing from work and engaging in rest and worship is contrary to the consumerism of America. We regain our focus and become refreshed so we can be better and more principled workers as a side benefit. He doesn’t want us to complicate it, but some of his quick encouragements seem to miss the point. Like, light a candle.

The last practice is that of vocation, seeing God’s call in our lives in work. God calls us to work and gifts us to work. It is not about money, but the gospel calls us to work out of love for God and others. We flourish, generally speaking, when we work to help others flourish.

As I mentioned earlier, this is more a big picture book than detailed book. I think that the practices are good for us. I do have some concerns with his pietistic bent that in some ways de-values theology. This can be a helpful book as long as one spits out the bones. More conservative readers will find a fair number of bones in his political references and perspectives.

[I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.]

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The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World Butterfield, Rosaria cover imageRosaria Butterfield has written two quite different books so far. Her first, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, was largely narrative with some extended musings. It was easy to read and quite interesting. It allowed her gifts as a story-teller and writer to come out and play. Her second, Openness Unhindered, exhibited her gifts as a teacher. Far more didactic, it also drew on her past life as an academic who was a lesbian activist teaching queer theory at Syracuse University in NY. She wrote to interact with the controversial subjects regarding sex and gender of our day from the perspective of a Christian who used to be an activist.

Both books were representative of who Rosaria is. Her third book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key, is also representative of who Rosaria is. Her first book talked about the key role hospitality played in her life as part of the homosexual community, her conversion and then as a Christian. The book wasn’t really about that subject but you recognized this was an important topic to her. It would be natural for her, and desired by her audience, for her to write a book on the subject that seems to so permeate her experience.

It is written in a style quite like Secret Thoughts. It is narrative used to communicate a lesson. The main narrative is the story of a neighbor, Hank. She and her family slowly pursue the reclusive war vet and build a friendship which has survived some major trauma. She also includes the story of her life with her mother after her conversion.

For Rosaria, hospitality isn’t a faceless practice. It is the long-term investment in particular people through hills and valleys. This investment is understood in terms of the gospel. First, God has welcomed us through His Son. That doesn’t seem like a big deal until you realize we were ungodly, helpless sinners and therefore His enemies. She isn’t as explicit about this as she could be, but it is there. Second, He sends us out to welcome others in the hopes of their coming to faith as we meet tangible needs. It is a form of mercy ministry that takes place in the home, not on church property.

The subtitle, Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in our Post-Christian World, helps set some of the boundaries. This is some thing to be practiced. When we practice we start off rather poorly but continue to get better if we continue to invest the time and energy needed. This is something we may not be great at but can and should become better at with time because we continue to invest ourselves into it.

It is from the root, or radical. We are sharing ourselves, and not just the good part. We are full people and she notes that true hospitality receives too. We are not to be like Martha, ever the good host, but some of Mary who is truly interested in her Guest and needs Him. The hospitality she has in mind is reciprocal in nature: not paternalistic. It is radical in terms of being sacrificial as well. It is a big part of her family budget, and that means there are things they do without.

It is ordinary. She’s not talking about fancy dinner parties with the fine china and special silverware. She’s talking burgers on a picnic table, Thanksgiving turkey seated on the coach or folding chairs, soup and bread before reading the Bible and singing Psalms. She’s talking about inviting people in for community, not a state dinner at the White House.

It is ordinary in that it is for ordinary people, not elite Christians. Anyone can do this because it is simply about loving people.

The context of hospitality for the American Christian is changing too. We are in a post-Christian society. The influence of the gospel is waning, not growing. Disdain for Christianity is growing. We can no longer assume people have a basic understanding of the Bible. Many know only what they’ve been told on TV or the radio. Post-Christian America has a hunger for community. Much like pre-Christian Rome, hospitality is our way to gain an ear by granting a seat at the table with give and take.

This makes for an interesting, challenging book that is both easy and difficult to read at the same time but in different senses. It is a book that can make you laugh and cry. Her gifts as a story-teller (or teller of the Story) are on display in the course of the many narratives. She does provide a few sections on “nuts and bolts” of hospitality. This could be expanded and moved up in the material. It seems almost an afterthought. As a result she may have lost some people earlier; people who think she wants them to practice hospitality just like she does. Some in the conclusion deal with temperament and marriage roles in hospitality.

Caveats and Impressions

I should give a little personal background so you, dear reader, don’t think I’m simply reactionary. As a kid it was normal for friends to “stay for dinner” or me to stay there for dinner last minute. The families who “raised” me as a new convert in my early 20’s practiced hospitality. Their doors were open and I was often there on Friday nights or Saturdays. I helped them with projects and they fed me with conversation and meals.

My wife’s family routinely took in strays: animals and then people. They still do.

When we lived in Florida we knew many of our neighbors and had been in many of their homes. They had been in ours. At times we had to eat in our garage because the kitchen/dining area was so small and there were so many toddlers toddling about.

Since moving to Arizona we had a young man live with us for 18 months because he was struggling spiritually & relationally. We frequently have people in our home. But now we pretty much know 3 neighbors. Arizona is not Florida or the Christ-haunted North Carolina where Rosaria resides. The relationships seem limited to the Next Door app, rather than using it to get together in person.

It would be easy to feel like an inhospitable person reading this book. That is not her intention, but know yourself. Will you compare yourself to her example? Or are you able to simply take her example as an encouragement to be more hospitable in your particular setting? There is a part of me that longs to be in a neighborhood like hers, where my kids have heaps of friends (it is MUCH larger than our subdivision), where people are open, even if opinionated, instead of driving directly into their garage closing the door before they even get out of the car. Some people may confuse such longing with condemnation.

Image result for soup and breadRosaria usually has a soapbox topic in each book. She goes on a bit of a rabbit trail on a controversial subject. For instance, in Secret Thoughts she spent a few pages on Exclusive Psalmody. Here it is “biblical patriarchy”. It is introduced when a friend asks her “how the magic happens”. Her answer was a husband who leads and a wife who submits herself to her calling as wife and mother. She has chosen not to pursue a career as a teacher at this time. She is a writer, which happens in the quiet mornings before the kids bring their chaos.

I wish she had actually spent a little more time on this one so I knew more of what she is talking about. Patriarchy is a loaded term in my theological circles. She may be using the term in a way I could agree with, but often this term is used in  a way I don’t agree with and many will find unnecessarily offensive. If she’s using it for complementarianism (wives submitting to their husbands who love them like Christ loved the church, and male leadership in the church) then I’m onboard. Patriarchy is often used for the view that women submit to men, thereby granting women an inferior status rather than role. I do not find that position to be biblical. Since she doesn’t clarify, it causes needless confusion and possible stumbling blocks.

Rosaria is honest about her life, and her sins. Therefore she is honest about her rather dysfunctional relationship with her mother. At times I sensed a dysfunctional relationship with her neighbors. I wasn’t sure if the co-dependency she had with her mother transferred to others. There was a lot of community processing of community events. In some ways commendable.

A few years ago the house across the street from us was raided by a number of law enforcement agencies. My wife was out on her walk when it started. She got permission to come home, but was initially told to stay on the other side of the house, just in case. We did some watching from the window. But there was no gathering of neighbors (as their was in FL after a resident committed suicide by cop). There was no community processing of the arrest, and aside from his friend down the street it wasn’t perceived as a tragedy. As a member of the HOA, I got no rants about property values.

Therefore it is hard to discern where her concern for others crossed into perceived responsibility or unhealthy response. Healthy hospitality respects that boundary. She does mention boundaries, but that is an area that needed more attention.

The last issue is kids. Contemporary culture wants to protect kids from real life. As a pastor my kids are protected from some things, but get a big dose of other things. Our hospitality has introduced them to couples who live together before getting married, among other things. So, I’m not approaching this from an overly protective posture.

The flip side is I’ve been a pastor to people whose parents had time for everyone’s problems but their children’s. They were neglected by “good Christian parents” out to save the world who forgot their kids needed nurture and care. This is one of those boundaries that didn’t get nearly enough attention in the book. I’m not going to pretend to know enough about how this plays out in the Butterfield home, but more attention should have been paid to this subject in the book. There has to be something between over-protective helicopter parents and bringing your kids to the front lines of ministry by bringing it all in the home. I have had some difficult conversations with people on my front porch. Hospitality with boundaries because my kids were inside or out back. We can’t be paranoid and overprotective, but neither should we be clueless.

These are some of the gaps I noticed in this otherwise excellent book. You can’t say everything anytime you say anything, but these seemed like important things to say.

 

 

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Once again I was up early and took a walk. The storm knocked down a lot of branches. One tree fell across the sidewalk and into the street. The house had a For Sale/Under Contract sign out front. It took out part of the neighbor’s fence. I notice people tended not to clean up the debris in their yards, or on the sidewalk & street.

Back at the assembly we resumed with the Study Report and I nearly lost my mind again. About 20 minutes into the discussion the parliamentary nightmare resumed. Never have recommendations asking sessions and presbyteries to consider things taken so long to approve. Some of these things our church does already, but I planned on us considering the others even if the motions were rejected.

Many reminded us that we are a “grassroots” denomination, and overtures should arise from the sessions and presbytery (most do, but the fear of hierarchy is astounding to me, we can be so binary). Oddly we later approved a motion that all overtures then be funneled through the Committee on Overtures before being assigned to any other committees that may have expertise or interest. This, in my opinion, gives this one committee way too much power for a “grassroots” denomination. It also bogs down the process, which may be the point but I’m not sure. No one said we were consistent or logical. The primordial sins of pride and fear threaten to undo us at every turn.

I had an early lunch planned with Luke Smith so we walked to Zaxby’s while the Study Report was finally wrapped up. I had never eaten at one but we needed a place with salads and that would be quick due to a previous commitment. He told me a little bit about the book he’s working on, and it piqued my interest for our Missions’ Emphasis weekend in 2018. It had been awhile since we’ve sat down together to talk, so it was good to do so. He’s a great and gifted guy.

When we got back I saw fellow ’94 grad Randy Edwards in the lobby and stopped to catch up with him for awhile. The last few years have been challenging for his family, but God has been faithful. He wrote and read a sonnet for worship Tuesday evening.

In the afternoon the business went quickly. There was a slow down as we discussed the Review of Presbytery Records and a 2CV (2nd commandment violation) with respect to the order of worship for a Presbytery meeting. Some wanted the image removed from the report, and the minutes, but the report has been approved.

I ran into Darrin Edgington whom I had not seen since about 1995. He was the manager of the RTS Bookstore when I worked there. It was great to see him again.

For dinner I ended up at Bonefish Grill down the street with Eddie and his cousin. The worship service had a bluegrass or country feel to it. This was more out of my comfort zone than the other services. Duke Kwon had another good sermon addressing the communion with have with Jesus and one another at the table. He also discussed our tendencies toward partisan politics.

Dan can’t wait to get to Tucson!

The remaining business went quickly. Southwest Presbytery multiplied into Arizona Presbytery and Rio Grande Presbytery beginning in January. The overtures to form a new Presbytery from North Texas and Covenant had some opposition. I was too tired by the time Roy Taylor’s report came so I retreated for some socialization with Charles Garland, Richard Dolan, Dan Smith (our new RUF guy in Tucson) and other church planters. On my way out I passed the 20-30 guys outside who were smoking cigars & pipes. GA can be an interesting experience.

GA is about more than “church business”. Much encouragement happens behind the scenes. One friend has a child who has gone “prodigal” recently. He’s been dying inside, needing a friend. At GA he talked to a number of people who had similar experiences. He also spent time talking to Barbar Juliani, Jack Miller’s daughter who is the subject of Come Back, Barbara. The Father brought consolation and hope to his weary heart. And challenged him to love the man who has inflicted this upon his family. It is a time when God uses His family to encourage one another.

Next year in Atlanta!

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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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Openness Unhindered is Rosaria Butterfield’s second book. Her first, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, was largely autobiographical and took the Reformed community by storm. Her story of how God worked to turn her life from that of a very liberal, lesbian professor of English and Queer Theory to a conservative, Reformed Christian who is married to a Presbyterian pastor. Her book succeeded in annoying many who are not conservative, Reformed Christians. They made some faulty assumptions, like that she think God makes every Christian a heterosexual. In many ways she was a threat to the narrative of the gay community.

Her second book really isn’t like the first. It covers some same ground as the subtitle indicates: Further Thought of an Unlikely Convert- Sexual Identity- Union with Christ. But how it covers it feels very different to the reader. There are portions that seem more like the section in the first advocating for exclusive psalmody. She’s writing much more like a professor teaching us what she used to believe and how it is incompatible with Christianity.

She steps into the sexual identity debate that is going on in the church. The concept is a “gay Christian” is becoming popular on one hand. And one the other some think that a Christian can’t even struggle with same sex attraction (SSA), confusing temptation with sin itself. This is what much of the first half of the book is about.

In the preface, she explains the title in terms of union with Christ. Paul’s union resulted in his being open and unencumbered about his life and struggles. If we are united in Christ, we can be open and unencumbered about our struggles instead of acting as if all is well though your inner life is filled with chaos.

“Even our struggles, our failures, and our suffering are redemptive in Christ. But there is blood involved. There is a cutting off and a cutting away that redemption demands. Stepping into God’s story means abandoning a deeply held desire to make meaning of our own lives on our own terms based on the preciousness of our own feelings.”

She sets up the method, so to speak, in the preface. She argues for God’s created order as one that includes norms and boundaries for life which includes sexuality and gender. They are not social constructions, but about essence. Many, however, are pragmatists and think these boundaries and norms don’t exist and can be manipulated to please ourselves.  These people deny the authority of Scripture. But there are also some who while affirming the authority of Scripture “unbiblically believe that the struggle is the sin (pp. 7).” They believe that conversion experientially restores all boundaries and norms sooner rather than later.

In other words, Christians can struggle with SSA because they are still sinners. The desires they experience are wrong, but they are not themselves sin. Those desires are not innocuous, but neither are they impossible for a Christian. The Christian, when experiencing them, is to put them to death in the power of the Spirit, as they would any other temptation. Christians can experience SSA just like opposite sex attraction, temptation to greed, revenge and any other sin.

14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. James 1

There is a method as she covers conversion, identity, repentance and sexual orientation. She works through these theological categories. At times she brings us back to her story, but this book is more theological than autobiographical. As she notes, life stories, including her own, “are messy, contradictory, and humiliating. (pp. 12)”  She says she had a heterosexual adolescence. The sexual meat market of college threw her for a loop, and she felt out of control and her sexual desires became tangled and confusing. For 6 years she dated men, but fantasized about relationships with women, “especially my friends from my growing lesbian and feminist community base” (pp. 13).

Here for instance she distinguishes between homosexuality and homosociality. The latter is “an abiding and deep comfort afforded in keeping company with your own gender, and finding within your own gender your most important and cherished friendships. (pp. 31-32)” Lines get blurry at times.

She then moves into identity. So often we carve out our identity from the wrong things: vocation, past experiences, social status etc. Today people build theirs on their sexuality. We have a tendency to hold to Sola Experiencia- where our feelings and personal experience shape our identity, forming the lens through which we see life. These, for instance, judge the Scripture instead of Scripture evaluating our experience.

She argues that a homosexual identity is not removed by a heterosexual identity, but by Christ. We are converted to Christ, not heterosexuality (though that is a norm by the created order). A person may never be free from SSA until glorification, but they are to find their identity in Christ, not their desires.

One of the issues I had with the book was some of the terminology she uses for sanctification. She follows Vos’ commentary on the Westminster Confession and using “infuse”. This is idiosyncratic. Protestants typically use imparted because Roman Catholic theology talks of us being infused with grace through the sacraments. She doesn’t say this, but this former-Catholic struggles with the use of the term. Vos and Rosaria are the only Protestants I know that use it. Not sure why.

Because God gives us grace, we are able to say ‘no’ to our desires for sinful things (see Titus 2). In Christ we have been sanctified and are being sanctified. We don’t have to act on our lust, hatred, envy etc.

She ends the chapter discussing shame which leads her into the chapter on repentance. Shame is about being exposed, reveled as dirty, disgusting and disobedient. Shame for past actions refuses to stay in the past. We feel it now afraid people will discover what we did back them. She points us to confession of sin that we may be cleansed of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). She distinguishes this from admission. Confession not only admits our actions were wrong, but also appropriates God’s grace.

In all of this she talks about original sin, which she sees as the great equalizer. We all suffer under it. Sin continues to dwell in us, and produces actual sins. She is highly dependent on the Puritans such as John Owen and Anthony Burgess. Because sin dwells in us, we experience temptation internally. We can either say ‘no’ to it, or ‘yes’ to it and sin.

In the 4th chapter, Sexual Orientation, she gets into theory and the history of sexual orientation. Prior to Freud no one thought in such terms. They thought in terms of behavior: that is a homosexual act. They didn’t think of themselves in terms of identity: I am a homosexual. She argues for this precisely because many Queer theorist and postmodernists argue for this. As a former English professor and Queer theorist she talks about why words matter, building a case against terms like “gay Christian”. This continues in Self-Representation or What Does it Mean to Be Gay?.

While she is very black and white, very theoretical, and sounds dogmatic (not necessarily a bad thing), she isn’t drawing lines in the sand. The next chapter, Conflict, is about her disagreement with other Christians about this. She recognizes that while these terms find their basis in a movement in which she was a mover and shaker, younger people don’t come at it with the same theoretical underpinnings and don’t mean by it what she believes it means. They agree to disagree without consigning one another to the region of hell.

She then moves into the living of the Christian life, focusing on community and hospitality. Her understanding hospitality  “starts with adoption and ends with keeping the Lord’s Day together, because the purpose of our adoption is worship. (pp. 150)” She starts with how community begins, which is important for Christians to remember. Community begins with a group of strangers, who have different ideas, passions and interests. True community is not homogeneous. We have Christ in common, but differ in many ways. Community recognizes that it is dangerous. We are in community with people who are sinners of all kinds. We can get hurt! But the perfect love of God is intended to cast out our fear. Open and unhindered, we share life together even the unpleasant parts of life like grief.

She then talks about how they have practiced hospitality in their neighborhood. I don’t think it would work in mine. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong. That just means it is an example, not the only way. It is also shaped by her Covenanter convictions. In some ways it seems similar to her defense of exclusive psalmody in the first book. It all seems a bit too perfect (to this admittedly cynical soul).

She then moves into church membership, and why we should take it seriously. She is standing against the consumer approach to membership. She quotes from G. I. Williamson about how there is no perfect congregation, and no perfect denomination (oh that more people in my denomination would understand that!).

“As a pastor’s wife, I have seen the ugliest side of people when they start to believe that the sins of others in our church are intolerable, or when they pack up and leave instead of receiving the repentance of other, or sticking around long enough to work on reconciliation. The people who leave the church because they think they are too good for it have no idea that hurt that they cause- for the people who love them and miss them, and for the people hurt by the things they said and the things they didn’t say when they broke fellowship.”

This is a good book. It is not as easy to read as her first book. It does get more deeply into some very important ideas, theologically and philosophically. It gives those of us who haven’t read gay theorist a summary of sorts from a former-gay theorist.

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Last year CavWife set the wheels in motion. She was envious that I got to spend time with some of our best friends from Florida. With Greenville the site for this year’s GA, she believed she and the kids should travel with me and spend time with some of our friends.

We tried various permutations. But like Jerry to Babu, it was looking like the wheels were just spinning, not going anywhere. I was not excited about the prospect of driving across the country for General Assembly, heading north for vacation and then driving back to the AZ. Not restful at all, and I had a bad back experience in April. Thankfully we found a flight deal that was only slightly more expensive than if we just flew to the Northeast for vacation.

We would fly into Atlanta, rent a van to drive to Greenville and then return to Atlanta to fly into Newark and begin our vacation. Sounds great, right?

The kids couldn’t wait. They wanted to pack about a week ahead of time. We had to keep putting them off. That is always fun.

But the magic day arrived. I had much to do to prepare for that day: liturgy for the entirety of my time away, most of my sermon prep for the week I got back … and so on.

We had an afternoon flight out of town, so we had a good lunch at home before being driven to the airport by a friend. We had a short layover in Denver that concerned me. We had 30 minutes to get from one flight to another with 2 car seats and 4 kids. I was losing sleep over this.

And then our flight out was delayed. And delayed again. This wasn’t good. But we were assured that our flight would be held since it was the last flight out of Denver for Atlanta and 17 of us were making the connection. Okay.

Though we left late, the flight was essentially uneventful. Thankfully our departure gate was not far from our arrival gate in Denver. We even had time to go to the bathroom since that flight was delayed. Soon we were in the air for the relatively short flight to Atlanta.

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Right now I’m stuck.  Flat tire.  You know how that goes.  Planus interruptus.  Instead of heading to church, we are stuck at the Farm because I can’t seem to lower the spare tire.  As annoying as it may be, it is not as annoying as if it had happened Friday while we were driving home back from NH in the midst of a heat wave.  That would have been worse, especially in light of my inability to lower that spare tire.  We passed one poor soul whose jack had dug into the hot pavement, unable to lift his vehicle.

Before traveling to NH to visit my parents, we decided it was time for a haircut.  The “Butcher of Bakers Mills” discovered the clippers, held together by duct tape, only had 2 attachments.  So I got buzzed pretty good.  I decided this was a good time to remove 3 weeks’ worth of stubble from my face.  I ended up looking like one of my brothers.  So I thought.

She's got an idea...

But even before this… CavGirl stepped on a nail while playing in the woods with her cousins.  CavWife heard some screaming over the persistent sound of Pop-Pop’s lawnmower.  He big cousin Evan carried her to her aunt’s house.  It bled alot, which was good.  And she seemed to do well.  We agonized over whether or not she needed a tetanus booster.  We relented since it had been 5 years.  The doctor decided she needed antibiotics just in case.  2 problems.  First, he gave her a liquid.  Second, he said it didn’t taste very good.  I want to smack this guy.  Though this could be the reason he is practicing medicine in the middle of nowhere.  For most of the 10 day protocol of antibiotics, 4 times a day, we had to deal with screaming, running, gagging and more.  A few night’s later I watched Inception with my oldest niece.  He planted the idea in her mind that this would taste horrible and like Cobb we couldn’t get the thought out of her mind.

With renters in the main house, we headed down to CavWife’s sister’s home.  Down into the cave so the morning sun wouldn’t wake me up.  But the footsteps would.  But before a night’s sleep, we went to someone’s house on Garnett Lake.  He is the retired basketball coach from Wheaton.  He and his wife were great hosts as we sat by the lake with one eye on the kids while we talked about life.  Then I slept in the 4th bed on this trip.

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The 2nd chapter of The Immigration Crisis by James Hoffmeier is very interesting.  He examines the biblical accounts, and archeological evidence from that time frame to gain a better understanding of what was meant by “alien” in Abraham’s day.  This is important to the matter today.  Some treat “alien” in the Scriptures as if it were equivalent to “illegal immigrant” today.  But is it?

We sometimes think that the Ancient Near East (ANE) was some borderless mass with free passage.  Yes, there were migrations and often mass migrations.  But, Hoffmeier argues that there were clearly delineated lands in that day.  Often the borders were natural (rivers, mountains etc.).  And these borders were frequently defended.

“Indeed many of the mass migrations throughout history have resulted in the eclipsing of various languages, cultures, and the national sovereignty of countries.”

We see this in the case of the Israelites wanting to pass through Edom after the Exodus (Numbers 20).  Any large migrating group would ask for permission to pass through the countryside belonging to another nation.  Israel asked for this permission.  And it was denied, repeatedly.  They respected Edom’s right to determine who could and could not cross their borders.

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