So I thought some of you who are tired of my blogomaniac hubris would get a kick out of watching me get owned by one of my friends in a response that he sent to my critique of suburban culture. He gave me permission to share it as long as he could remain anonymous. He’s absolutely right that “suburbia” ends up being a scapegoat depository where hipsters like me project everything we don’t like about America or even just modern culture. Anyway, what I really love is the way he shows how different aspects of worship are the antidote to the social problems I described. So it’s an excellent application of James K.A. Smith’s liturgical theory. It’s way better than what I originally wrote, so enjoy. Continue reading
It’s a strange and beautiful thing to hear someone preaching your own thoughts in a sermon. That’s what happened for me last summer when I heard Pentecostal preacher Jonathan Martin‘s sermon series “The Songs of Ascent” about King David and the Psalms. My whole life, I have been on a journey of trying to understand the nature of worship. Growing up Baptist, I was instilled with a zeal for sincerity in worship. What is the difference between truly worshiping God and putting on a performance? In one sermon last summer, Jonathan said that King David’s worship was to delight in the discovery of God’s delight in him. This beautiful way of framing things is at the heart of Jonathan’s new book Prototype, which I would buy and ship to every Christian who has been wounded or disillusioned by the church if I had the money. Continue reading
I’ve just started reading James KA Smith’s new book Imagining the Kingdom. Smith’s basic argument is that our actions are not really based on conscious rational choices but rather on how ritual behaviors have caused us to imagine the world around us. Most Christian thinkers from the beginning have unconsciously bought into a Platonic “rationalist” conception of human nature in which our behavior is supposed to be regulated by our conscious rationality, and the fact that it isn’t reflects our fallenness rather than a condition innate to our humanity. Continue reading
Is Jesus saving the world from us? It’s a different way to talk about salvation, but honestly it’s the gospel that I’m hoping to be true as an evangelical afflicted by what Rachel Held Evans calls “the scandal of the evangelical heart.” When did we become the Pharisees Jesus came to Earth to stop us from being? How many of us have been secretly asking that question in our minds? How many of us need to be saved from a toxic salvation? I really feel that we are in the midst of a great awakening. The legion of demons that poisoned our gospel for so long is running off a cliff in a herd of hateful pigs, leaving us to wake up in the graveyard where we chained ourselves. We are discovering that Satan is our accuser and oppressor, not God. We are realizing that our need to be right and justify ourselves has kept us inside a tomb whose stone was rolled away by Jesus. So I wanted to share five things God has been teaching me over the past few years about what Jesus saves us from and what He saves us for. Continue reading
Kayal ta-arog al afike mayim is how you write “As the deer panteth for the water” phonetically in Hebrew. That familiar heartwarming hymn has its place to be sure, but if you read the remainder of Psalm 42 from which it draws the first line, then you see that its tone is off. The psalmist says tears have been his food and his enemies’ taunts are crushing his bones. Those sorts of images call for a hip-hop song rather than a churchy sounding hymn. I’m preaching on this psalm this weekend. I will be rapping my own adaptation of it too. Lyrics are below. Here’s the recording:
Eastern Orthodox priest Father Thomas Hopko has a featured podcast on Ancient Faith Radio that I have recently started listening to. Recently he triggered quite a bit of controversy for a commentary about a visit he made to Wheaton College in which he talked about why Eastern Orthodoxy cannot endorse evangelical Christianity as being orthodox. It was very interesting to process the very different criteria by which Hopko defines orthodoxy. I would like to review several of the points he made and then offer how I would chart out a possible ecumenical relationship between evangelicalism and Orthodoxy. I think that the apostolic succession and traditioned ground of Orthodoxy is what a true conservatism looks like; the problem with the sola scriptura priesthood of the believer in evangelicalism occurs when we farcically try to make a conservatism out of what is inherently progressive. A progressive evangelicalism can relate to the genuinely conservative Orthodoxy the way that a saxophone relates to the steady bass-line of a jazz improvisational piece. Continue reading
This weekend, I preached on Mary’s Magnificat (audio, Luke 1:46-55) at our church in the wake of the school shooting in Connecticut. The title of my sermon was “His mercy is for those who fear Him,” which is a line in the middle of Mary’s song. The reason that we live in an unsafe world is because people don’t fear God. There are a lot of other systemic and cultural factors at play to be sure, but I still think that fundamental theological statement holds true. Now I mean something very specific by “fearing God,” as those of you who have been following my trail are aware. It is not that we ought to be afraid of God, because when dread is the motivation for behavior, people do good only begrudgingly and with mediocrity. It is rather the fear that is awe and wonder at God’s majesty that builds sanctuaries of people who can speak the truth in love to one another and thus live in safety. And it is when we live in this awe and wonder that we discover the depths of God’s mercy and make it our lives’ work to help spread the reign of this mercy. That is how I interpret Mary’s statement that His mercy is for those who fear Him. Mary’s Magnificat shows us the path into the holy fear that discovers mercy. Here are the points I made in my sermon as my interpretation of the clues in Mary’s words. Continue reading
Isaiah 1:10-20 is a sobering prophetic passage in which God reams out the Israelites for thinking that they can honor Him while mistreating the most vulnerable of His people. We play the same game the ancient Israelites did. So many Christians today abstract their vertical relationship with God from their horizontal relationships with their neighbors and even pit the vertical against the horizontal. This is why I’m very suspicious of people who make a big fuss over glorifying God in the abstract as an act of zealous piety without exhibiting the generosity and mercy towards others that shows their genuine deliverance from the self-justification that Adam brought into the world. The abstraction of God from the creation He loves is the root of a particular immorality that afflicts God’s most zealous cheerleaders.
For the last month, I’ve been reading David Bentley Hart’s Beauty of the Infinite, which is one of the most profound and difficult texts I’ve read. Hart uses the theology of Gregory of Nyssa and other sources to talk about the relationship between our desire and God’s beauty. On the first weekend in December, Rachel Held Evans spoke to our annual Virginia United Methodist youth retreat about “living in the questions” as a way of understanding our faith. The Saturday morning talk was about seeing the Bible as a “conversation-starter not a conversation-stopper.” Rachel questioned whether the Bible should be viewed as a self-evident “blueprint” for every aspect of life. Weaving her talk together with Hart’s book left me with the thought that reducing God’s word to a finite blueprint not only snuffs out the conversation and fellowship that are supposed to emerge out of our sacred canon; it also kills the worship of our infinite Creator.
I have reduced my book to seven chapters and have given it a new title: Mercy Not Sacrifice: Salvation for Recovering Evangelicals. It may be too bold; I almost feel like checking the sky above me for lightning. My brother John Meunier had challenged me to come up with a unifying theme, and last night in Bible study we read about Zacchaeus where Jesus says, “Salvation has come to this house.” So it hit me this morning that there’s one question that evangelicals think we know the answer to but really ought to step back and reconsider: What is salvation? I propose 7 answers. Continue reading