DA Carson versus the Emerging Church, 02

Carson’s first emphasis in his lecture about the Emerging Church was to offer what he said were “five praiseworthy elements.”

1. He said that the Emerging Church is trying to read the times. That’s good. But since “80%” of the Emerging Church’s leaders are originally from conservative churches (and are just reacting against that conservativism), they are not capable to reading the times well.

2. He said that the Emerging Church is making a plea for authenticity. That’s good. But since the Emerging Church does not use the Bible as its standard of what is authentic or not (relying more on feelings and cultural acceptability), then the authenticity has to be called into question.

3. He said that the Emerging Church has recognized some of the parameters of postmodernism. That’s good. But they fail to analyze it well enough (he elaborated on this more in his criticisms).

4. He said that “in the best of Emerging Movement, there is an evangelistic thrust” to reach those the church are not reaching. That’s good. But since the Emerging Church is filled with post-conservatives, they are not really capable of reaching them. And there are churches like Mark Dever’s church in Washington DC, Mark Driscoll's church in Seattle, and Tim Keller's church in New York that are reaching postmoderns without jettisoning good theology.

5. He said that the Emerging Church is willing to question traditionalism. That’s good. But there are a lot of churches that can move beyond traditionalism but that hold onto the historic creeds and theology of the church (like Dever’s).

At a break, I talked with some of the people in the crowd. They all said that if that is Carson’s idea of “praise" for the Emerging Church, we can’t wait to hear his actual critiques!

Posts in this series:
DA Carson versus the Emerging Church, 01

DA Carson versus the Emerging Church, 02
DA Carson versus the Emerging Church, 03
DA Carson versus the Emerging Church, 04
DA Carson versus the Emerging Church, 05
DA Carson versus the Emerging Church, 06



DA Carson versus the Emerging Church, 01

This morning I attended a three-hour seminar given to pastors in Akron, Ohio about the Emerging Church. The speaker was D.A. Carson, esteemed New Testament scholar from my alma mater, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. It’s been three years since Carson first gave this same basic lecture at Cedarville College, and little has changed. I listened to those lectures in astonishment back then; I listened to this lecture with astonishment today.

Why am I astonished?

Because Carson, known worldwide as a top-notch scholar, is still offering a poorly thought-out critique of the Emerging Church. His critique was full of straw-man arguments and cheap shots. This from a world-renowned scholar?

I ate lunch with him and six other men. I sought to get a more nuanced take on the EC in a smaller-group context. Instead, he simply said that he won’t lose any sleep over people who don’t want to take his criticism. He knows he’s right and they are wrong, and his presumption is that if they have any issues with his critique, they just are not listening hard enough.

It was a slap in my face. I sat there for three hours, took nine (9!) pages of notes, wanted to engage in some dialogue about his criticism, and he dismissed me as one that was not listening to his lecture well enough.

Next: A look at some of Carson’s critique.

Posts in this series:
DA Carson versus the Emerging Church, 01

DA Carson versus the Emerging Church, 02
DA Carson versus the Emerging Church, 03
DA Carson versus the Emerging Church, 04
DA Carson versus the Emerging Church, 05
DA Carson versus the Emerging Church, 06

technorati tag:

Amazing Grace, How Sweet is the Sound of Justice?

I saw the movie Amazing Grace yesterday. And I was moved to tears.


Because I wonder when we’ll get it.

When will we get the fact that the gospel is just as much about justice as it is about salvation?

When will we get that we Christians are called not just to the grace of being given heaven but to work for justice here on earth?

When will we get off our big fat consumerist American comfortable butts and live radical Christian lives that make a difference in the world like Wilberforce did?

When will I get it?

There's a campaign to call Christians to action about the 27 million slaves in the world today. Check it out at www.amazingchange.com.

Visit the Amazing Change Website

technorati: , , , ,


Balmer’s Left Ideological Rhetoric Undermines His Book

The evangelical church in America needs to wake up to the fact that Jesus is not a Democrat or a Republican. In our proper Christian zeal to correct the injustices of our society, we latch onto political ideologies that can lead us to no longer holding a purely Christian perspective. As David Koyzis points out in his fine book, Political Visions and Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies, all political ideologies flow out of an idolatrous worldview. Ideologies are inescapably religious, in that they attempt to identify what evil is and what “salvation” is from that evil.

Christians, as I see it, are supposed to be politically active. The problem is that we easily lose our focus on the Kingdom of God as the worldview source for our politics and begin instead to focus on a particular political ideology as that source. We forget that politics must flow out of our Christian worldview, not the other way around. We are not to put political ideology over the Kingdom; we are to place the Kingdom over our political ideology.

In his book Thy Kingdom Come, Randall Balmer tries to show how the ideological politics of the Religious Right “Distorts the Faith and Threatens America” (as the subtitle of the book puts it). This should pique the interest of any Christian who has been dismayed by how the political moves of the Jerry Falwells, Pat Robertsons, James Dobsons and Ralph Reeds of evangelical politics have betrayed what we feel Jesus Christ our Lord taught.

Balmer’s been burned by the Religious Right, and it shows. As an “insider” evangelical (having gone to evangelical schools, including the seminary I hail from, having been a writer for the flagship magazine of evangelicalism [Christianity Today] for years, etc.), he has experienced scorn and ostracism for holding to a liberal political ideology.

“The evangelical subculture, which prizes conformity above all else, doesn’t suffer rebels gladly, and it is especially intolerant of anyone with the temerity to challenge the shibboleths of the Religious Right.” (p. 168)

Balmer’s wounds show in his rhetoric throughout the book that casts the Religious Right as a sinister lot, whose only motivation is political power. For example, Balmer says that after the fall of Communism and with the election of Clinton, “the Religious Right desperately searched for a new enemy…After casting about, the Religious Right came up with a new foil, an enemy right here among us: homosexuals” (p. 24, 25).

Balmer doesn’t often allow himself to consider for a moment that the motivations of evangelical conservatives are not always so diabolical. Were they really only “looking for new enemies,” or “casting about” for new foils? He needs to consider that the conservative political motivation is not just about political power but about protection. Conservatives are seeking to protect themselves and their children from that which they are afraid. Balmer makes it sound like they are just looking for somebody to hate so that they can manipulate this for their political advantage.

That being said, there are things to commend in Balmer’s book. He has a very good chapter entitled, “Where Have All the Baptists Gone?” Balmer correctly points out that the early Baptists, people like Roger Williams (who championed for “Soul Liberty” in the 1600s), Isaac Backus (who wrote Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty in 1773) and George W. Truett (President of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1927-1929) were the strongest advocates to keep the state and the church from becoming entangled. Historically, when the Baptists were on the margins of society, they rightly declared that a just society would keep the government from dictating what its citizens were to believe religiously. Ironically, as Balmer points out, it’s now the evangelicals in the Baptist tradition that are to most active in trying to get government to mandate that our society line up with their religious ideas. Balmer is correct to say that the Ten Commandments controversy in Alabama showed that Judge Roy Moore and the Baptists that rallied with him were betraying their own Baptist roots.

However, Balmer looks at two other controversial issues and ends up looking more like a political pundit than a thinking Christian reporter. The first issue is public education. Balmer paints advocates of school vouchers as scoundrels trying to dismantle what he claims is “a key and formative institution in America’s history.” Never mind that secular public schooling is a rather novel experiment here in the United States (only about a century old) - the earlier public schools were practically Prostestant parochial schools supported by local communities. Also, never mind that there are advocates for government-sponsored religious education that are not associated with the Religious Right (see James Skillen's Center for Public Justice). And never mind that secular schooling can, and increasingly does, violate the free exercise clause of the first amendment (that parents have the right to raise their children in the religion of their choosing while not having to constantly fight the secular worldview that a public school can indoctrinate into their children). Balmer does not deal with these issues; instead he uses sarcasm and inflammatory language to make his points. He writes, “Make no mistake about it: What lies behind most rhetoric about school vouchers is the desire to garner taxpayer support for sectarian education….proponents of the voucher system insist on defending the program with specious arguments about social justice” (p. 82, 83).

It’s alarming how often a reporter the caliber of Balmer resorts to such rhetorical tactics to make his points instead of doing the hard work of investigative reporting. Another example is his chapter railing against advocates for Intelligent Design. He simply throws around words like “insidious” (see p. 122) when talking about their motives, but offers no proof of such sinister intentions. He writes, “The Discovery Institute claims to have recruited more than five hundred scientists to sign a document that reads, ‘We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.’” Balmer denigrates The Discovery Institute by writing that they “claim” something (thus casting doubt on it), but he never investigates whether this “claim” is true, who these scientists are, and whether or not they have the necessary credentials to carry any weight in signing such a document. He simply dismisses it out-of-hand.

Overall, Balmer’s tactic for dealing with radical right-wing evangelicals is to be a radical left-wing evangelical. He very rarely offers balanced perspective; his rhetorical style picks more fights than it does encourage thoughtful discussion.

When it comes to politics, what the Evangelical Church needs is not more “us vs. them” rhetoric, name-calling, simplistic caricatures of declared enemies, and denigration of the character of those we politically disagree with.

I read this book because I sincerely believe, as the subtitle of the book states, that the “Religious Right distorts the faith and threatens America.” But I do not want to be someone that, in reaction to the Religious Right, becomes the very same thing, using the same tactics, only from the other side of the political spectrum.

Jesus’ Kingdom is above all of this ideological bickering. Let’s focus on Him and His desire for Justice. Let’s not put political ideology over the Kingdom; let’s place the Kingdom over our political ideology.



This Will Cure Your Cynicism

I can be rather cynical about Christianity. Sometimes I think we talk a lot about God, we argue a lot about theology, we grumble a lot about what’s wrong in the world, and we push a lot for Bible study, evangelism, and personal piety.

All the while the needy in our world suffer.

All the while the people in this hurting world are desperately in need to see the body of Christ incarnated and making a difference: transforming all things, fighting injustice, working for Shalom.

I get cynical.

But just when the cynicism is about to choke out my faith, I find myself at the Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh. The annual Jubilee Conference is done by the ministry that I call it a privilege to be a part, the CCO.

2,000 college students (and others) convened at the Hilton in downtown Pittsburgh this past weekend. They were encouraged to live out their faith in the very vocations in which they are training. They were challenged to think that Christianity is more (not less, but definitely more) than getting into heaven. They were given the Jubilee vision: that Christ came to declare the year of the Lord’s favor, to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed (see Luke 4:16-21; Leviticus 25:10). They were told that, yes, we Christians can make a huge difference in the world. Christianity isn’t just about the “next” world; it is about this world too.

Shane Claiborne challenged us that we Christians can, and must, seek to make a difference for justice. His message was not so much that everyone must follow exactly his way of life, selling all their possessions and living monastically in the inner-city, helping the poor and homeless. It was larger and more profound than that: He told story after story of how real Christians were living out their faith in ways that righted injustices, be it in fair trade, advocating for the poor, seeking peace, using their education and influence to make change in the way their vocations actually did business. He had us believing that we could actually work for the justice of the oppressed and champion the cause of those in need.

Gary Haugen told stories about how Christian lawyers were fighting injustices internationally, fighting to free children forced into bonded labor and sexual slavery. He told stories of real heroism (my kids like the Justice League; when I got home, I told them about the real International Justice Mission). And then he made his challenge. In the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus did a miracle from just the few loaves and fish that a boy had (see Matthew 15:29-31). Jesus simply asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” The point Haugen made was this: The miracle was done by Jesus, but not just out of thin air. He did it from that which could be given from his followers. Haugen said that Jesus seeks to still do amazing things for those in need today. But what is Jesus’ plan to do so? The answer: us. The plan has always been us. Jesus wants to transform the world, but he intends to do so through his people. He still wants to feed the hungry, but he is still asking “How many loaves do you have?” The miracle is not in how much we can do, it is in how much God can do with what we can offer.

I also witnessed how this happens in real life, right here, right now. The CCO honored a former student in our ministry for living out the Jubilee vision with his life. After college, he went on to medical school and became a doctor. He opened a clinic in Pittsburgh, caring for the poor and needy. Half of his patients do not have medical coverage. Many have severe problems: drug habits, psychological issues, long-term physical debilitations. And his clinic cares for these people. This is gospel lived out. This is transformational ministry.

Seminars were led by business people, political activists, artists, medical practitioners, educators, engineers, and others that explained how this Jubilee Gospel vision can actually happen (and has!). Christians are really living out their faith in this world and making a difference. They are not missionaries or pastors. They have not moved from their vocations in order to do “full-time Christian ministry.” They have realized that that is a misnomer. If you are a Christian, then you are in full-time Christian ministry. It’s done in how you transform your vocation to bring about Justice and Shalom in the world.

This is different from the Christianity about which I’ve become cynical. It is not just a bunch of us Christians getting together for a Bible study so that we can know more about God while cursing the darkness “out there” and awaiting the return of Christ to make things right. It is moving into the darkness, being a transformative light in that darkness through the grace and power of Jesus Christ.


The biggest event in our ministry’s year is this weekend. Nearly 2,000 students congregate in Pittsburgh for the CCO’s Jubilee Conference. Hopefully our huge winter snowstorm will subside so that the students can make it out safely!

I’m praying this week that many students will have “the light turn on,” understanding how the gospel of the Kingdom of God impacts their studies, their vocations, and their entire lives.

The Christian gospel is often truncated to merely salvation from Hell and receiving assurance of Heaven. The Jubilee Conference helps students see the gospel holistically.

This is a unique experience for each of these students, an opportunity to see that faith as a Christian must penetrate into every aspect of what it means to live in this world.

Sessions on worldview, sports, art, literature and music, law, culture, pornography, education, medicine, global debt, politics, business ethics, science, and engineering are coupled with plenary worship experiences that help students connect faith, vocation, and culture.

Our speakers include:
  • Shane Claiborne of The Simple Way and author of The Irresistible Revolution
  • Gary Haugen, President of International Justice Mission
  • Steve Garber, author of The Fabric of Faithfulness
  • Barbara Williams-Skinner, who with her late husband, Tom Skinner, founded the Skinner Leadership Institute
  • Gideon Strauss, editor of "Comment," the Work Research Foundation’s monthly worldview journal
  • David Naugle, author of Worldview: The History of a Concept
  • Dr. John Templeton, President of the John Templeton Foundation
  • Andy Crouch, editorial director for The Christian Vision Project at Christianity Today
  • Plus many more speakers on specific vocational callings.
Please pray for the students who attend (and for the weather)!


Bob the Barista

My friend Larry Bourgeois hooked me up with a commercial espresso machine for my home. Man, is it fun to make real cappuccinos and lattes! It’s a Rancilio Silvia, paired up with a Rancilio Rocky grinder.

After getting frustrated with quality of the drinks at Starbucks (ever since they went to the automatic machines, the drinks have been weak and tasteless), and after Larry introduced me a couple summers ago at CCO's New Staff Training to a real machine for making espresso drinks, I am now (thanks to Larry, who gave this to us as a gift!) making Linda and myself drinks at home.

I’m still working on getting the hang of it.

It takes some finesse to get just the right shot times (a combination of grind, dosing, and tamping) and also I’ve become better and better at frothing milk.

Lots of fun. Now, if you visit me at my house, I can serve you an espresso drink that will knock your socks off!


Evangelicals, Homosexuality, and Divorce

At one time, evangelicals were clear in their denouncement of divorce. Citing both Old Testament (Malachi 2:16) and New Testament teaching (1 Corinthians 7), they were adamant that divorce was an evil that plagued our society. Laws were on the books that kept divorce from being an easy option, and Christians would see divorce as a reason for church discipline.

Jesus’ teaching is pretty clear. He taught, “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32)

When asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” Jesus replied, “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Matthew 19:3-6)

Therefore (according to JESUS!) divorce is a terrible sexual sin.

An interesting phenomenon has occurred in the past 25 years, though. According to Randall Balmer, in his controversial book, Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical's Lament, How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America, the Religious Right has moved the emphasis of sexual sin away from divorce and has emphasized homosexuality. It seems to be an an easier target. Why? Because it allows evangelicals to externalize the enemy, based on the supposition that no true believer could be gay or lesbian” (p. 26). Gay marriage has become a “hill to die on” for many evangelicals (p. 28).

Balmer even asks, “What should we read into the fact that evangelical conservatives dropped their long-standing denunciations of divorce about the same time they embraced Ronald Reagan, a divorced and remarried man, as their political savior in 1980?”

It seems to Balmer, and to me, that homosexuality (and all the talk of passing a constitutional amendment banning “gay marriage”) has simply become a political maneuver, a strategy to manipulate conservative Christians to vote. It’s easy to point our fingers at “those people” who want to “destroy our way of life.” It has a lot more political weight than saying that we want to pass a constitutional amendment banning divorce (after all, many of us are divorced!).

This makes the fall of Ted Haggard, the former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, all the more telling. Haggard was caught in an illicit homosexual affair—cheating on his wife and showing the hypocrisy of his public denunciations of homosexuality. When this sin is so explicitly within the house of evangelicalism, we cannot use it for our political ends.

technorati: ,


Praying "Our Father"

Over at Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight broaches the subject as to whom, among the Trinity, are we supposed to address our prayers.

Our kids (Trey 8, Joel 6, and Kaira 6) have been praying to “Jesus” for most of their sweet lives. But now I’m trying to de-program them. Last week we had a long talk about how we are given the privilege to pray to the “Father” because of what Jesus has done for us. The “Father” is normally who we should pray to. It’s okay to pray to Jesus or the Holy Spirit, but the wonderful joy and privilege that has been granted to us by “the Way” (Jesus) is that we have access to the Father. Because of Jesus, we can now call God "our Father," he is our loving “Daddy” (Abba) - and we should now feel his loving acceptance as his children,

It occured to me that we teach little kids to pray to “Jesus” because our theology is skewed. We think that kids can relate better to their buddy Jesus more than some fearful Father. We talk so much about how Jesus loves us (especially “the little children”) that we presume that maybe the Father doesn’t love us as much or something. And so we inadvertently teach them to pray to “Jesus” rather than the “Father,” thinking that these kids already have this emotional connection with Jesus that they do not have with the Father (and that maybe they should have that closer connection with Jesus!)

This is seriously warped!



Picture Share!

Here's some pictures from my family's party when we celebrated God's intervention to save my life a year ago.

I love my Linda!

Crazy kids!

Kaira (6), Trey (8), Joel (6)

A New Kind of EPIC - Missional Community in a Megachurch Context

I am exploring whether or not to lead a new sub-community in a megachurch that would be an attempt at missional community. We had our first meeting last Sunday as a core group, discussing the conceptual ideas I have for such a group.

I found that first meeting both frustrating and exciting. The concepts of missional community and the emerging church are foreign to most of the people in this suburban megachurch, so it will take some time for some people to "get it." The pastoral leadership at this church is split—some are very modern in their Christianity, perpetuating the attractional megachurch model for outreach. Others are more in tune with creating more incarnational communities within the church for the sake of offering the Kingdom of God to those who have not yet experienced it.

My working acronym for this new community is EPIC. I stole the idea from Leonard Sweet (in his books Post-Modern Pilgrims and The Gospel According to Starbucks). However, where Sweet has “Image-Driven” for the “I” in EPIC, I have changed that to what I feel is the central core purpose of our missional community. The "EPIC" I hope to establish will be an "Experiential, Participatory, Incarnational Community."

Here’s what I want our community to be:


  • Evangelical megachurches talk a lot about God and the Bible, but not enough effort is given to actually experiencing God.
  • We will take time for experiences that connect us with God, like contemplative prayer and worshipful communion around the bread and the cup.


  • Evangelical churches talk a lot about the priesthood of all believers and the empowering of gifted people for ministry, but the pastors and missionaries are still seen as the full-time Christian ministers.
  • We will encourage the people in this community to participate in the ministry, owning it for themselves and forging it with their own personal gifts and endeavors.


  • Evangelical churches have partitioned the gospel into “personal conversion/being born again” and “care for the needy.” The first takes precedence, while the second is seen only as a route to the first.
  • We will eliminate this dualistic understanding of the gospel of the Kingdom by seeking to be the incarnation of Christ to our part of the world. We will do what Christ would do, with caring, loving, compassionate concern for the holistic needs of people.


  • Evangelical megachurches are infamous as places where people pop in and out without anybody ever knowing each other.
  • We will create a sub-community into which we can invite people so that they can experience what it means to be loved by fellow Christians.

technorati: , , ,


One Year Ago Today…

…I was going about my normal life when, all of a sudden, it felt like someone through a spear through my back. It was past 10:00 PM, and my wife Linda had already gone up to bed. I ran up the stairs, woke her up, and told her to call 911. In a matter of minutes, she was performing CPR on me.

It’s been a long ride since then:

  • A 12-hour emergency surgery to replace my dissecting aorta.
  • Four weeks in a medicated coma as I fought dying from Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome.
  • Many complications during this four-week coma, from issues associated with my lungs to issues associated with my colon.
  • Waking up from the coma extremely confused and scared, but being comforted by Linda’s standing by my bed reading scriptures every day.
  • Three weeks of recovery in the hospital as I could not get up vertically after so long on my back—both due to atrophy and due to dizziness and queasiness. My children visiting me, and drawing me pictures and writing me books.
  • After being home for a month, my blood pressure spiked to over 200/100. I was life-flighted to the Cleveland Clinic where they discovered yet another aneurysm at the base of the aorta.
  • A summer of lethargy as the medications to keep my heart-rate and blood pressure low until I was physically ready for another operation kept me on the couch with little energy.
  • Another surgery in September, to redo the emergency surgery and to repair the new aneurysm and replace my aortic valve with a mechanical one. Great fear that I would not survive and would leave my wife and children.
  • Recovery from that surgery and now trying to get back on track with my life.

Linda and I are amazed at what we have learned about the body of Christ through this. It is a testimony to his glory that you have interceded for us, sent loving words of encouragement to us, and practically helped in so many ways.

Thanks to everyone, both local and worldwide, for being the incarnation of Christ to us.

And thanks to God. Who would not let the evil one triumph over the needs of my three young children. It is a joy to love on them each and every day.