Favorite Albums of 2010

Top Ten Progressive Rock Albums of the Year

10. Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth, by Steve Hackett
hacket-out of the tunnels mouthThis is the 22nd Hackett solo album for the former guitarist for Genesis (he was with them during their artistic progressive rock era, 1971-77). A legendary guitarist who has influenced guitarists for years (think Steve Rothery of Marillion, Roine Stolt of The Flower Kings, and Nick Barrett of Pendragon), this is the second best album he has ever made (after “Watcher of the Skies,” which was a revisioning of old Genesis classics). With this album, Hackett offers an eclectic sound experience. Download the proggy “Fire on the Moon” (a song that sounds like it could have been on “A Trick of the Tail” by Genesis), or the middle-eastern flavored “Last Train to Istanbul,” or even “Nomads” with its Flamenco guitar styling which then ends with the classic Hackett soaring electric guitar, or the truly dreamy “Sleepers.”

9. The Underfall Yard, by Big Big Train
bigbigtraintuyWith this album, Big Big Train (Gregory Spawton, Andy Poole, David Longdon, and Nick D’Virgilio) continue to impress with a sophisticated symphonic progressive sound, similar to old-school Genesis and Yes. The new singer, Langdon, was a finalist to replace Phil Collins in Genesis ten years ago, and you can tell why: he sings very well, and reminds us of the Peter Gabriel / Phil Collins style. Drums are handled by our old friend D’Virgilio, singer/drummer for Spock’s Beard. Download the emotional “Victorian Brickyard” or “Last Train” (which reminds me of something I could have heard on “Selling England by the Pound” by Genesis).

8. Scratch My Back, by Peter Gabriel
gabriel-scratchLeave it to Peter Gabriel to try something totally different. With Scratch My Back, he performs covers of some of his favorite songs by other artists. Only there’s a catch: No guitars, no electric bass, and no drums. Just Gabriel's vocals accompanied by strings, woodwinds, brass and piano. This “limitation” inspired Gabriel and John Metcalfe to arrange the songs in innovative ways. Download his rendition of “Listening Wind” (originally recorded by The Talking Heads) or “Mirrorball” (originally done by Elbow).

7. Grappling Hooks, by North Atlantic Oscillation
north atlantic oscillation grapplingHere’s a different sounding band, and they’ve created a very modern and accessible album with catchy melodies, yet with adventurously quirky sounds and rhythms. For anyone with interest in Radiohead, Elbow, or E.L.O., try them out by downloading “Some Blue Hive” and “Alexanderplatz.”

6. Size Matters, by Marillion
marillion size mattersThis 2CD live album is available exclusively from the Marillion website through their personal label, Racket Records. Recorded at the Marillion Weekend Festival in Holland in 2009, the band decided to do a set of all their longer songs (the 10 songs clock in from 9 to 17 minutes), including the Fish-era “Kayleigh/ Lavender/ Heart Of Lothian,” to the excellent “Neverland” from Hogarth-era Marbles.

5. Someone Here is Missing, by The Pineapple Thief
pineapple thief-someoneFor those that yearn for the musical style of early Radiohead (OK Computer, The Bends, Kid A) featuring accessible melodies and rhythms yet innovative sounds, textures, and transitions, then the new album from The Pineapple Thief is right up your alley. It also is in the same vein as Muse and Porcupine Tree, with plenty of progressive rock influences throughout. Download some excellent tracks like “3000 Days” and “Nothing at Best.”

4. X, by Spock’s Beard
spocks beard xHas it really been 10 albums for the venerable leaders of the new Progressive Rock genre? Amazing. It seems like only yesterday that I first discovered this band and was re-invigorated in my passion for Prog Rock. Spock’s Beard has carried the banner of symphonic prog forward into the new millennium, following the tradition of bands like Genesis, Yes, Kansas, Gentle Giant, and Jethro Tull.  Of course, the last four albums have been in the “After Neal Morse” era, the founding member and artistic driving force behind some of the finest music made in the last fifteen years. But when Neal Morse left the band for a solo career, they courageously struck out on their own (brother Alan Morse on guitar, Nick D’Virgilio on drums and vocals, Dave Meros on bass, and Ryo Okumoto on keyboards). With X, they show that they have indeed matured into song composers of their own, with the prime examples being “From the Darkness” and “Jaws of Heaven” – both around 17 minutes with four accessible movements featuring incredible melodies and amazing playing. These two longer songs are available for download at amazon.com, but not through iTunes.

3. Victims of the Modern Age, by Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One
star one - victimsStar One is one of the many projects from the incredibly talented Arjen Lucassen, who is also the mastermind behind Ayreon (and other side projects including Guilt Machine, Ambeon, and Stream of Passion). Lucassen’s modus operandi is to write and create music journeys and then employ the best instrumentalists to play and various vocalists to sing the roles of the people in the songs. Star One’s “niche” is Progressive Metal coupled with science fiction themes; all the songs on the two Star One albums are all based on science fiction films. Check out “Earth That Was” (based on one of my favorite television shows, “Firefly”) and “24 Hours” (based on the cult classic film “Escape from New York”).

2. Night is the New Day, by Katatonia
Katatonia_-_Night_Is_The_New_DaySpeaking of Arjen Lucassen, it was on his last Ayreon album, “01011001” that I was first introduced to the incredibly haunting vocals of Jonas Renkse (Lucassen, remember, recruits the best vocalists for his projects). Renkse’s voice is full of yearning, melancholy, and expression - like no other I’ve ever heard. Renkse’s band, Katatonia, had established themselves earlier in their career as a leader in the “Doom Metal” genre (which features harsh sections mixed with calm sections along with lyrics and vocals characterized by despondency). Hints of that past are apparent in this album, but this album is much more melodic and textured. This album is more in the vein of Porcupine Tree and the melodic side of Opeth. It is quite clear that these are artists that understand musical composition. Have a listen to “Liberation” and “Forsaker.”

1. Wintercoast, by Touchstone
touchstone-wintercoastTouchstone creates the perfect blend of symphonic melodies and soundscapes with the edginess of aggressive guitars and drums. Rob Cottingham wins best new musical composer, hands-down. Cottingham plays keyboards and sings lead and backing vocals, but he has wisely placed Kim Seviour at the front of the band as the key vocalist. She provides the melodic vocals that make these songs resonate with the listener long after the iPod is turned off. I am very glad to have discovered Touchstone, and Wintercoast is one of the best albums in my music collection. Download the title track (“Wintercoast”), “Zinomorph,” and “Joker in the Pack.”


related posts:
Top 20 Albums of 2009 (20-11)
Top 20 Albums of 2009 (10-1)
My Top 10 Albums of 2008
A Brief History of Prog


Local Churches as Missional Training Outposts

God’s Mission and Our Mission of Reconciliation

missional training outpostIn light of the mission of God (to reconcile all things to himself, i.e., to usher in the Kingdom of God), new missional leaders must be willing to shape local congregations into missional training outposts for incarnational ministry, equipping believers to infiltrate all of society with the gospel of the Kingdom of God.

Ministry leaders in the 21st Century will need to reshape their thinking as to the nature of their calling. We must concentrate on training Christians to infiltrate society and culture with the gospel of the Kingdom of God.  We need a new discipleship model based on the Kingdom mission of the reconciliation of all things, providing Christians the tools to be change agents as they engage the culture.

Perhaps some churches will embrace the idea that they could become missional training outposts for Kingdom ministry, but it would take a major paradigm shift for a local congregation to not think in terms of its own church growth priorities and embrace this paradigm. I do see signs of hope, however, in that some churches and ministry leaders are focusing on these things, and in my doctoral research, I intend to study these congregations intensely and interview ministry leaders (see my next post on who I see as leaders in this area).

Instead of focusing on new methodologies for invigorating local congregations to be more attractive to the next generation for the sake of church growth, we need to focus on the mission of the Kingdom. We need to develop discipleship strategies to develop Christians into ambassadors of the Kingdom, fully yielding all spheres of their lives to the reign of God, and then seeing their mission as being witnesses and instruments of God’s Kingdom in their areas of influence.

New strategies need to be established through which Christians can be agents of God’s reconciliation of all things to himself. I believe that a possible model of discipleship can be to form cohort groups (based on vocation, geography, interests, passions, and callings) as the witness and instrument of the Kingdom of God in our current culture. Perhaps local church congregations can become missional training outposts for incarnational ministry, equipping believers to infiltrate society and culture in their particular areas of vocation, locality, interests, passions, and callings.

roxburgh-romanukThe goal for discipleship is to have people know God and his purposes for them in life. As Al Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk astutely state,

“Our telos is to know God…To know God is to know the Good. Knowing God is also participating in a life infused with proper calling, and to do the work we have been given to do in this life. Only by participating in the life of God can we live out our telos and live into our work and purpose. By doing our proper work in life, we know happiness in the sense of knowing God. As human beings our quest for the Good is a quest for the telos of our life, which can only be known in God” (Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk, The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World, p. 117)

Joseph and Mary on Facebook, Sharing the Story of the Birth of Jesus

ht: Matt Robinson


The Church’s Mission for the Sake of the Kingdom of God

God’s Mission and Our Mission of Reconciliation

The Church functions for the sake of the Kingdom of God, not the other way around.

Over the centuries, the Church has placed itself at the center of God’s plan for the world, but God’s plan is the reconciliation of all things to himself (see me previous posts), where all things again submit to the rule of God.

This is The Kingdom of God.

Tladd-theologyofnewtestamenthe church is the people of the Kingdom, not the Kingdom itself. As George Eldon Ladd outlines in A Theology of the New Testament (in chapter 8, “The Kingdom and the Church”) , the Kingdom creates the Church, and the Church witnesses to the Kingdom, is the instrument of the Kingdom, and is the custodian of the Kingdom. Ladd correctly states, “The Kingdom is God’s reign and the realm in which the blessings of his reign are experienced; the church is the fellowship of those who have experienced God’s reign and entered into the enjoyment of its blessings” (p. 117). This is no subtle nuance of semantics. It makes all the difference in the world.

The late Ray Anderson, who was Professor of Theology and Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary, correctly assessed that “the temptation for the church has always been to identify its own existence and institutional life with the kingdom of God. When that occurs, the existence of the church tends to take priority over the mission of the kingdom of God” (The Soul of Ministry, p. 161).

Alan Hirsch makes the argument in his influential book, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church, that “we have so divinized this mode of church through the centuries of theologizing about it that we have actually confused it with the kingdom of God.” (p. 51)

My hope for the Church is that it would be less institutional-focused and more Kingdom-focused. Kingdom-focused ministry leaders, in the words of Reggie McNeal, are not limited to “one congregation or to just church real-estate programming,” but are “more collegial than competitive, more community focused than merely focused on church culture agenda,” and are busy “reconceptualizing and practicing a Christianity that is not dependent on the prevailing church culture for its expression” (A Work of Heart, p. 103).

Many churches, since they see themselves as the center of God’s plan for the world, spend the majority of their time, money, and resources on strategies for getting people to come and become members of their church. But this strategy severely limits the scope of their Kingdom influence.

The Church must change its manner of ministry to better match its mission. If God’s mission in the world is to reconcile all things to himself, and if he has called his people to do this ministry of reconciliation (that is, to be the witness and instrument of the Kingdom of God), then our mode of being local church congregations must follow. Alan Hirsch correctly insists that a missional reading of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) “requires that we see that Jesus’s strategy is to get a whole lot of versions of him infiltrating every nook and cranny of society by reproducing himself in and through his people in every place throughout the world” (The Forgotten Ways, p. 113).

There is hope because we are witnessing a new and fresh movement of God’s Spirit in the North American evangelical church. I see a reawakening of our call to be restorers of God’s good creation, ambassadors of God’s reconciliation of the all things back to himself, agents of redemption and shalom in a broken and hurting world.


The Kingdom of God and the Reconciliation of All Things

God’s Mission and Our Mission of Reconciliation

People in the current culture have watched the Church’s dualistic approach to life (see my last post) and have determined that we are sheltered and out-of-touch.

UnChristian at amazon.comDavid Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, in their essential book, Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why it Matters write,

“Outsiders think Christianity is out of tune with the real-world choices, challenges, and lifestyles they face. Only one-fifth of young outsiders believe that an active faith helps people live a better, more productive life.” (p. 122)

This is a sad indictment on the Church. If we would have had a positive witness through our mission of reconciliation, there would be no doubt that an active faith has a direct impact on all of life.

This is the very definition of the Kingdom of God: it is God’s way to a better, more productive life (though the good life of the Kingdom of God does not align well with the ill-defined “good life” of the kingdom of this world). Jesus explained that he was sent to “proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43).

In our twenty-first century culture, the desire of people outside of the Church is to see their lives have meaning and purpose. According to a report from the federal Corporation for National and Community Service, college student volunteering increased by 20 percent between 2002 and 2005, more than doubling the growth in the adult volunteering rate. 3.3 million college students volunteered in 2005, almost 600,000 more students than three years before.

Desiring the Kingdom at amazon.comPeople in today’s culture, without even knowing it, are seeking to do Kingdom work, but are like sheep without a shepherd. James K. A. Smith, in his new excellent book, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, writes

“To be human is to desire ‘the kingdom,’ some version of the kingdom, which is the aim of our quest. Every one of us is on a kind of Arthurian quest for ‘the Holy Grail,’ that hoped for, longed-for, dreamed-of picture of the good life—the realm of human flourishing—that we pursue without ceasing.” (p. 54).

What can we do to offer people in our culture the Kingdom of God?

More in this series next week. We will explore the relation between the Kingdom of God and the Church. The temptation for the church has always been to identify its own existence and institutional life with the kingdom of God. When that occurs, the existence of the church tends to take priority over the mission of the kingdom of God.


Book Gift-Giving Guide from Byron Borger

Byron Borger
Byron Borger is one of the wisest and best-read men in North America. I am not kidding. He owns a bookstore called Hearts & Minds and is the go-to bookseller at many major Christian conferences on the East Coast.

Byron offers a wonderful in-depth Christmas gift guide at his website. Do yourself a favor and check it out!

Hearts & Minds gift giving guide---for moms, dads, sports fans, film buffs and those with interests from science to art

The Holistic Christianity of Reconciliation

God’s Mission and Our Mission of Reconciliation

God’s mission through Christ is to reconcile all things back to himself (Colossians 1:20). This begins when he “reconciled us to himself through Christ,” and continues when we, as his “ambassadors,” perform “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:17-20).

The Hebraic understanding is that “God is One” which undergirds the Christian view is that Jesus Christ is the Lord of all things.

The problem, however, is that the evangelical Church in North America has embraced a Greek (Plato and Aristotle) understanding of reality that separates the sacred from the secular. This false worldview led to the Gnostic heresy of the early Church, and in the 21st Century, the North American evangelical Church accepts a neo-gnostic understanding of reality. Alan Roxburgh writes, “Gnostic movements have always sought to dematerialize and spiritualize Jesus, limiting God’s engagement to some inner, spiritual experience that is disembodied from most of the public and material engagement of the world.”

Here N. T. Wright explains the gnostic heresy:

N.T. Wright on Gnosticism

Alan Hirsch correctly states, “There is no such thing as sacred and secular in biblical worldview. It can conceive of no part of the world that does not come under the claim of Yahweh’s lordship.”

The evangelical Church has neglected the Hebraic understanding of life in favor of the dualistic view that separates the secular from the sacred. Instead of seeing its ministry in terms of “the reconciliation of all things,” it sees its ministry in terms of growing and managing its own institutional life. As Alan Hirsch points out, it sees its ministry as the “mediating institution” between the sacred and the secular. The diagram below shows this mistaken idea of the church’s mediating position between the sphere of God and the sphere of the world.

dualistic spirituality -1

If we are to revitalize our ministry of reconciliation, we must no longer see the church as a mediating institution. Rather, we must see our ministry as the equipping and empowering of God’s people to be God’s agents of the reconciliation of all things back to God in Christ. Jesus is Lord of all.

non-dualistic spirituality

(diagrams adapted from Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways)


Entrusted with the Ministry of the Reconciliation of All Things

God’s Mission and Our Mission of Reconciliation

reconciliationGod’s mission to reconcile all things to himself drives his purpose in calling a particular people to be the Church. As Ray Anderson states, “Mission precedes and creates the church” (The Soul of Ministry, p.158).

The Church’s mission is determined first by God’s mission through Christ, which is the mission of reconciliation.

Let’s compare Colossians 1:15-20 with 2 Corinthians 5:17-20.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20)

God’s mission, in a word, is reconciliation. The scope of Creation was “all things;” the scope of the Fall was “all things,” and the scope of redemption, therefore, is “all things.” That is God’s mission in the world. This brings us to our mission in the world.

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new. All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

God’s mission through Christ of reconciling all things back to himself begins when he “reconciled us to himself through Christ,” and continues when we, as his “ambassadors,” perform “the ministry of reconciliation.”

In other words, our mission is to be God’s agents of restoring all aspects of the created order back to God’s loving rule and standards, reconciling all things back to God through Christ.

The Forgotten Ways at amazon.comGod the Creator is the ruler of all of his creation, not just the natural created world, but also of the human endeavors in society and culture (see my previous post). As Alan Hirsch says in his excellent book, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church,

“Therefore, everything—one’s work, one’s domestic life, one’s health, one’s worship—has significance to God. He is concerned with every aspect of the believer’s life, not just the so-called spiritual dimensions…There is no such thing as sacred and secular in biblical worldview. It can conceive of no part of the world that does not come under the claim of Yahweh’s lordship. All of life belongs to God, and true holiness means bringing all the spheres of our life under God.”

In other words, God is in the process of reconciling “all things” back to himself, not just the individual souls of people, not just the natural creation, but everything, including society and culture. All things were created by him, and he wants it all back.

But there’s a problem in American evangelical Christianity: we have lost the biblical understanding of God’s reconciliation ministry, and have replaced it with a neo-Gnosticism that truncates the gospel. More on that next.


What is the “CREATION?” What is God Redeeming?

God’s Mission and Our Mission of Reconciliation

The mission of God in Christ is to reconcile all things back to himself. According to Colossians 1:15-20, Jesus Christ is the creator (v. 16) and sustainer (v. 17), of “all things” (τὰ πάντα), and God’s purpose is to “reconcile all things” (ἀποκαταλλάξαι τὰ πάντα) to himself by making peace through the atoning work of Christ on the cross.

God’s desire to reconcile to himself “all things” is larger in scope than simply individual salvation for human beings.
The scope of Creation was “all things;” the scope of the Fall was “all things,” and the scope of redemption, therefore, is “all things.” God’s mission, then, is the redemption of his entire creation.

As N.T. Wright says, “To put it bluntly, creation is to be redeemed; that is, space is to be redeemed, time is to be redeemed, and matter is to be redeemed.” The purpose of redemption is not simply to usher human souls off to some heavenly non-corporeal existence for all eternity; it is to restore that which God had deemed “very good” in Genesis 1.

We must be clear in our definition of the “creation” that God so treasures that he is reconciling it back to himself. 

It is certainly the natural creation, but it is also much more. In the creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2, we learn that the pinnacle of God’s creative work was creating humans in the divine image. Then he rested from his labor, expecting the creative work to continue in those that carry that divine image. The human race was commanded to rule, fill and subdue the creation (Genesis 1:26-28).

creation_regained_new_woltersAlbert M. Wolters, in his essential book, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview, writes,
“Mankind, as God’s representatives on earth, carry on where God has left off. But this is now to be a human development of the earth…From now on the development of the created earth will be societal and cultural in nature. In a single word, the task ahead is civilization.” (p. 41-42)
The scope of “creation,” then, includes the natural created order that God originally made, but it is broader than that. It also includes that which God had predetermined human beings to fashion as an extension of his creativity. All structures of society and culture must also be included in what we call “creation.”
“Creation is not something that, once made, remains a static quantity…The given reality of the created order is such that it is possible to have schools and industry, printing and rocketry, needlepoint and chess…We are called to participate in the ongoing creational work of God, to be God’s helper in executing to the end the blueprint for his masterpiece.” (Wolters, p. 44)



Check out the new series that starts tomorrow,
God’s mission and the Church's mission of reconciliation

It is the fruit of my first doctoral course at Fuller Theological Seminary.


Service and What it Says About the Gospel

Feed the World
The desire among young adults to make a difference in the world is increasing.

According to a report from the federal Corporation for National and Community Service, college student volunteering increased by 20 percent between 2002 and 2005, more than doubling the growth in the adult volunteering rate. 3.3 million college students volunteered in 2005, almost 600,000 more students than three years before.

As Ivy Jungle reported in its “State of Campus Ministry 2008,”
“Students have shown a significant increase in interest in social action. From Spring Break trips to causes like HIV/AIDS, poverty, and the genocide in Sudan, students have a heart for justice. This has led to a number of new evangelistic opportunities. Community service and mission trips have become entry points for non-believers. Events focused on combating sex trafficking or the World Vision Acting on AIDS campaign have generated great interest. Several groups report a significant increase in conversions. 86% of all campus ministries report someone coming to Christ in their ministry last year. This is despite a continued decline in ‘evangelism’ as a ministry program activity. Creating opportunities for service and helping students see the way social action connects with the gospel will continue to open doors for introducing students to Jesus Christ.”
A gospel message that connects faith in Christ with the holistic gospel of the Kingdom of God resonates with today’s college students. As Ray Anderson writes in The Soul of Ministry, the church is the “result of the dynamic power and presence of the kingdom in the world.” Robert Webber reported in The Younger Evangelicals that new ministries by young evangelicals are realizing that “the church’s mission is to show the world what it looks like when a community of people live under the reign of God. The true gospel is portrayed best by the community that believes it, embodies it, and testifies to it in the midst of any given culture.”

NextChristiansBook4x8300dpi (1)Gabe Lyons, who commissioned the Barna Group to study young adults both inside and outside of the church to better understand a way to reach the next generation (see his UnChristian cowritten with David Kinnaman) writes about a new breed of Christians that has emerged, a group he calls “restorers.”
“I call them restorers because they envision the world as it was meant to be and they work toward that vision. Restorers seek to mend earth’s brokenness. They recognize that the world will not be completely healed until Christ’s return, but they believe that the process begins now as we partner with God. Through sowing seeds of restoration, they believe others will see Christ through us and the Christian faith will reap a much greater harvest.
They are purposeful about their careers and generous with their time and possessions. They don’t separate from the world or blend in; rather, they thoughtfully engage. Fully aware of the seachange under way, they are optimistic that God is on the move—doing something unique in our time.” – Gabe Lyons, The Next Christians: How a New Generation is Restoring the Faith (Doubleday, 2010), p. 47.


Are Our Churches More Secular Than the Culture?

22449_logoIn a post-modern, post-Christian culture, people have become disenchanted with rationalism and Cartesian scientific method. They are interested in pursuing spiritual realities with nonrational and intuitive means.

In spite of the sales of books espousing the “merits” of Atheism, less than 10% of North Americans claim to be atheists.

Many are seeking God, though they have no clue that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life.

Reggie McNeal, in his book A Work of the Heart, writes,

“The church might fail to capitalize on this heightened spiritual awareness… Many Christian leaders are uncomfortable with genuine spiritual realities that involve the powerful and immediate presence of God.

The truth is, many churches are more secular than the culture.

Everything that transpires in them can be explained away in terms of human talent and ingenuity. It would be a huge mistake on the church's part to continue its pursuit of programs and methodological prowess (what ‘works’) when the world desperately seeks for God.”  (p. 81)

How are we offering people a taste of God and His Kingdom in very real ways, ways that are clearly “God-things?” How do we offer people the Kingdom to come – that which is beyond the normal, beyond the plastic, temporary, and pragmatic?



My favorite metaphor from Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity


Jon Stewart played video clips of cars merging before entering the Lincoln Tunnel in New Jersey.
"This is where we are, this is who we are: These cars. That’s a schoolteacher who probably thinks his taxes are too high; he’s going to work. There’s another car-a woman with two small kids who can’t really think about anything else right now. There’s another car, swinging, I don’t even know if you can see it - the lady’s in the NRA and she loves Oprah. There’s another car—an investment banker, gay, also likes Oprah. Another car’s a Latino carpenter. Another car a fundamentalist vacuum salesman. Atheist obstetrician. Mormon Jay-Z fan.
But this is us. Every one of the cars that you see is filled with individuals of strong belief and principles they hold dear - often principles and beliefs in direct opposition to their fellow travelers.
And yet these millions of cars must somehow find a way to squeeze one by one into a mile long thirty-foot wide tunnel carved underneath a mighty river. Carved, by the way, by people who I’m sure had their differences. And they do it. Concession by conscession. 
You go, then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go. Oh my God! Is that an NRA sticker on your car? Is that an Obama sticker on your car? Uh, that’s okay. You go and then I’ll go.
And sure, at some point there will be a selfish jerk who zips up the shoulder and cuts in at the last minute, but that individual is rare and he is scorned and not hired as an analyst!
Because we know instinctively as a people that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light we have to work together. And the truth is, there will always be darkness. And sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promised land. Sometimes it’s just New Jersey.  
But we do it anyway.

Very nicely said.

I have an idea: Perhaps the greatest witness to the grace of love of Christ would be if Christians became the ones who modeled civility in public debates, refusing to caricature opponents, willing to listen as well as to speak, respectfully engaging in debates. Perhaps we can refuse to get caught up in the vitriol that has become the modus operandi of the cable news and radio networks.

Books for Christians to read on this subject:
The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends on It by Os Guinness
Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World by Richard Mouw


The Constitution vs. Tea Party Belief in America Being a “Christian Nation”

Glenn Beck and the Tea Party candidates want to propagate the myth that America is a Christian Nation. A recent American Values Survey shows that 55% of Tea Party supporters believe that "America has always been and is currently a Christian nation” while 49% of Christian conservative believe that. (Strange, isn’t it, that more Tea Party supporters believe this than Christians – this explains why Mormons like Glenn Beck are so popular when they talk about the pseudo-history of America's “Christian” roots. What people cannot discern is the difference between American “Civil Religion” and the actual Gospel of Jesus Christ).

Michael Gerson, former chief speechwriter for George W. Bush and now a columnist with the Washington Post, gives three reasons why “America is not a Christian country and has never been.”

“First, the Constitution was designed for religious diversity because the Founders were religiously diverse. The 18th century was a time not of quiet piety but of religious controversy. It was a high tide of American Unitarianism, a direct challenge to Christian orthodoxy. Thomas Jefferson's deism flirted with atheism -- a God so distant that He didn't even require his own existence. As journalist Jon Meacham points out, the Founders were less orthodox than the generation that preceded them, as well as the one that followed them. Their commitment to disestablishment, in some cases, accommodated their own heterodoxy.

Second, American religious communities were often strong supporters of disestablishment. Dissenting Protestants had a long history of resentment for the established English church. Others -- Catholics and Quakers -- were minorities suspicious of majority religious rule. Christians generally saw state intrusion as a threat to their theological integrity and worldly power as a diversion from their mission. They supported disestablishment for the sake of the church. And their political independence contributed to their religious vitality.

Third, as my co-author Pete Wehner and I argue in "City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era," America was not founded as a Christian nation precisely because America's Founders were informed by a Jewish and Christian understanding of human nature. Since humans are autonomous moral beings created in God's image, freedom of conscience is essential to their dignity. At least where the federal government was concerned, the Founders asserted that citizens should be subject to God and their conscience, not to the state.”


Allowing Ourselves to Question our Theology


Howard Stone and James Duke in their book How to Think Theologically, make a distinction in two types of Theology: “Embedded Theology” and “Deliberative Theology.”

“Embedded Theology”
“Christians learn what faith is all about from countless daily encounters with their Christianity—formal and informal, planned and unplanned. This understanding of faith, disseminated by the church and assimilated by its members in their daily lives, will be called embedded theology. The phrase points to the theology that is deeply in place and at work as we live as Christians in our homes, churches, and the world.
Our embedded theology may seem so natural and feel so comfortable that we carry it within us for years, unquestioned and perhaps even unspoken except when we join in the words of others at worship. We may be secure in the conviction that this is what Christianity is all about and leave it at that. 
But occasions arise that require us to think about our embedded theology, to put it into words and then subject it to serious second thought. Frequently it is during crises that people first experience this call to theological reflection”
“Deliberative Theology”
“Deliberative reflection questions what had been taken for granted. It inspects a range of alternative understandings in search of that which is most satisfactory and seeks to formulate the meaning of faith as clearly and coherently as possible.
Like Solomon, the theologian wants to take all the testimony and evidence under advisement, press beneath the surface to the heart of the matter, and develop an understanding of the issue that seems capable—at least for the present—of withstanding any further appeal. This is deliberative theological thinking”
When I first became a believer, I was suspicious of theologies other than the one that my immediate faith community taught. If someone was not from the right seminary, the right church, or of a particular theological stripe, I dismissed them as either impure or maybe even outright heretical. I only read books from publishers with a “name you can trust.”

Then I went to seminary, where I was encouraged to question my embedded theology, to deliberate and test it against the Scriptures. I learned to hold my theology with a looser grip.

Strangely, some of those same professors from whom I learned this are now telling the evangelical church to not deliberatively reflect on our presupposed theologies. They worry that if Christians embrace the postmodern practice of “deconstruction” then the faith handed down from the apostles will be threatened.

They don’t like it when young Christians embrace the idea to “Question Everything.” Though their motive is to protect people from heresy, they are encouraging a non-deliberative theology.

They do not understand that the goal of deconstruction is not the deconstruction itself. It is the reconstruction of our theology as we attempt to question everything we presume from our embedded theology.

It is this Deliberative Theology that best reflects the Reformation’s slogan of “semper reformanda” – “Always Reforming.”


American Suburban Evangelical Christianity Looks A Lot Like Paganism

I have repented. I have purposed to no longer live the pagan life that I once lived. Not that I’m perfect; I am so steeped in this pagan lifestyle, so surrounded by it, and have been so brainwashed by it that I very easily fall back into bad thought patterns and bad habits.

What am I talking about? It may sound like my faith decision to follow Jesus Christ, but it isn't. I am talking about another major step in faith: My decision to no longer believe the false gospel of American Suburban Evangelical Christianity (ASEC).

Here’s what I’m talking about (hypothetically and hyperbolically speaking, of course):
  • The church provides the pastor with a newly leased Lexus every two years.
  • The men have an outreach Bible study at their Country Club.
  • Our small group meets at the “Smith’s” home – a 5,600 square foot home in a gated community. The hostess has decorated it with the nicest furniture and keeps the place immaculate. She serves the most amazing hoers d’voures each week.
  • The women’s ministry has their quarterly all-day excursion to the Outlet Mall.
  • The church installs a few 46-inch flat screens in the Youth Room along with new XBoxes and PS3s.
When we see the pastor driving his nice, new shiny car, we trade in our five-year old car for a new one. One that is just a little beyond what we can actually comfortably afford.

When the guys get convicted about the poor in the community, they cancel their regularly-scheduled Country Club Bible Study so that they can serve in a soup kitchen. Once.

When we see how “God has blessed the Smiths,” we buy a few more things on credit so that we too can enjoy the blessing of God. We also fret about how we too could be such gracious hosts, worrying that if the group ever meets at our home, we won’t live up to the high standards set by the Smiths.

When the women return with the hundreds of dollars worth of clothes they purchased on their shopping spree, they congratulate themselves on being such good stewards of their money… after all, they did go to the Outlet Mall.

When the elders look into their newly renovated Youth Room, they congratulate themselves that they have created a space that will attract kids to the ministry. When a wise parent complains that they church is simply feeding into the consumerist mindset of the culture, they are dismissed as unable to get with the times.

As I see it, Jesus has called us to a radical level of discipleship – a discipleship that seeks first his kingdom and his righteousness. Kingdom fidelity has no room for consumeristic desires. But ASEC has taken the paganism of the “American Dream” and has combined that with the gospel of the Kingdom of God to create a syncretistic amalgam that resembles a mutated, disgusting creature from some science fiction movie.

Jesus was clear:
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33)
The church in America reminds me of the Church in Laodicea.To these Christians, Jesus said,
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (See Revelation 3:14-22).
Jesus is standing at the door of American Suburban Evangelical Christianity and is knocking. Will we let him in?


Christian Community As Counter-Culture

Contemporary American Reflections on Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together

In American culture, we believe the opposite of what the Bible teaches.

  • In America, the meek do not inherit the earth; they inherit our scorn.
  • In America, the silent listeners get trampled over by the “go-getters” as they leap to the top of the heap.
  • In America, we see ourselves as more important than we really are, too busy with what we have deemed “important matters” to bother taking the time to do menial, inglorious helpful acts.
  • In America, when someone is caught doing something he should not have been doing, we revel in it and take advantage of their mistakes for our own gain.

This is America. But this is American Christianity all too often as well.

Even though we are believers in Christ, we have been inundated with the concept of “self-esteem” that finds our worth in other things other than the grace and mercy of Christ.

In Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “He who would learn to serve must first learn to think little of himself.” This reflects what Romans 12:3 teaches: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.”

As long as I think of myself as “the worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15), I am better able to interact with other Christians in a more healthy way, no longer judging them or using them to boost my personal self-esteem.

Perhaps the one area that Christians in America needs the most work on is the ministry of listening. Bonhoeffer states, “The first service one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them…Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render…Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening.”

Bonhoeffer expertly identifies how we “half listen,” while waiting for our opportunity to speak. How dishonoring this is to the person to whom we are talking. Bonhoeffer also insightfully says that this may be the reason people do not confess to one another their sins—“we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects.”

There does come a time to share words of advice (based solely on the Word of God) to others in the fellowship. But Bonhoeffer insists that this can only be done if and when there is an authenticity to the relationships that stems from truly showing meekness, taking the time to listen, offering consistent helpfulness even when it is inconvenient, and showing the grace of God in bearing people’s burdens.



Hope for Christianity Coming from the Next Christians

Gabe Lyons has written a very insightful article for CNN.com entitled, “Young Christians optimistic despite Christian America’s demise.” He writes,

“While some megachurches are flourishing in suburban Christian enclaves, the number of self-identifying Christians has fallen 10 points over as many years. Each year, the Christian church experiences a net loss in attendees and the waning political influence of the movement is now more than apparent.”

This decline in the number of Christians and churches is alarming to most evangelicals. The response by many (what Lyons calls the “old guard evangelicals”) is to engage in the culture war, some going so far as to claim that America was founded as a Christian nation and that we need to reestablish our Christian heritage.

Instead of looking backward to some mythical past, Lyons advocates looking forward to the opportunities that lie ahead. He writes, “But young Christians, it turns out, are far more optimistic about what the future might hold for the two-thousand-year-old faith.”

“Over the last several years, I’ve conducted hundreds of focus groups, interviews, and gatherings of young Christian leaders. I have tracked and compiled a list of their common characteristics—from the desire to create good cultural artifacts to a strong sense of calling—and these leaders’ optimistic outlook on the future has steamrolled me.”

Lyons gives a few real-life examples of the good work that the “Next Christians” are doing that are helping make Christianity a viable cultural phenomenon in our day. Then he states,

“Rather than strive for relevance or some amorphous ‘cool’ factor, they simply set out to accomplish good for the sake of the Christian Gospel. The only thing pragmatic about them is the way they try to solve pressing problems.

Additionally, they are far less interested in partisan politics. We are seeing more diversity in the ways young Christians define themselves politically, if they choose to do so at all. For example, when given the choice between ‘traditionalist / conservative,’ ‘centrist,’ or ‘modernist / progressive,’ almost all choose ‘centrist.’  In order to solve problems and make progress, young Christians are finding they often have to reach across party lines and work issue by issue.”

As I work with young Christians in my ministry, I have to give an exuberant “yes” to what Lyons is discovering about the Next Christians:

“As I’ve studied the next Christians, it’s apparent that they have a particular way of thinking, being, and doing that is radically different from previous generations. They are purposeful in choosing their careers, optimistic about changing social problems, and eager to infuse the world with beauty and grace.

‘Christian America’ as we’ve known it is no doubt coming to an abrupt close, and the jury is out on how the next generation of Christians will shape public perceptions or solve pressing global concerns. Only time will tell, but if you ask them, they’d tell you the future is bright.”

How purposeful are you in choosing your career?

How optimistic are you about our ability to be change agents of unjust and systemic social problems?

How eager are you to take up the mantle of “image bearer” and create as our God creates with beauty and grace?



The Mission of God and the Missional Church

The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch According to Alan Hirsch, in The Forgotten Ways, a missional reading of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) “requires that we see that Jesus’s strategy is to get a whole lot of versions of him infiltrating every nook and cranny of society by reproducing himself in and through his people in every place throughout the world” (p. 113).

A non-dualistic understanding of discipleship does not place church leadership as the pinnacle of Christian maturity. Rather, church leaders are supposed to equip the saints for the work of service (Ephesians 4:12) so that they can be the embodiment of Christ in every aspect of culture.

The goal is not so much to “save people” by attracting them into the church since we see it as God’s mediating institution in the world. No, the goal is to send people into the culture as incarnational “little versions of Jesus” invading every institution and sphere as God’s instrument for bringing all things under the Lordship of Christ and His Kingdom.

As Abraham Kuyper famously said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

When we understand that this is the mission of God in the world, we understand our role as being a movement to bring about this mission. And the mission is not simply to save people from this evil world, but to “restore and heal creation” (as Darrel Guder says in Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, p. 129).

Alan Hirsch makes the case that our ecclesiology must follow our missiology, which must follow our Christology.


Hirsch says, “It is Christ who determines our purpose and mission in the world, and then it is our mission that must drive our search for modes of being-in-the-world” (p. 143) . Since our ecclesiology must be determined by our missiology which is ultimately determined by our Christology, "church" is the most malleable of these doctrines.

Jesus preached “the Good News of the Kingdom” (Matthew 4:23), and so that must be the church’s mission as well. But how that is done is based on the mission of a particular body of believers as they seek to incarnate the gospel to a particular people group.

The “missional-incarnational impulse” (as Hirsch calls it) will be awakened in the church when we intersect God, the world, and the church so that it is all one cohesive whole. “Church is not something done in abstract from the world. Our evangelism and social action are communal, we join with God in redeeming the world (he’s already there), and our spirituality is of the all-of-life variety” (p. 239).



Dualistic Christianity and the Church

In the Western Church, we’re trapped in a worldview that assumes that we live and act in two separate domains, the “sacred sphere” and a “secular sphere.” We see prayer, evangelism, worship, and other “Christian activities” as the sacred part of life, that which has eternal significance. We see work, leisure, politics, shopping, and other “worldly activities” as the secular part of life, that which is only second-tier importance or of no eternal significance.

Alan Hirsch, in his book, The Forgotten Ways, contributed to my understanding of the destructive power of dualism by identifying that we also see “church” as the “mediating institution” between the sacred and the secular.

I’ve seen this as the operating paradigm for many Christians to whom I minister. They see the two spheres at odds with one another and the church as the place where “God” and “World” are mediated. So church is where they go weekly to move from the world and into the God’s sphere. Daily “Quiet Times” are treated as stop-gaps to recharge the sacred part of life so as to deal spiritually with the secular part of life. Personal missional work is reduced to “evangelism,” which is often defined as asking people to ditch this world so that they can live in the otherworldly heaven at the end of their lives and, while they await heaven, joining the church as the mediating institution between this world and God.

My main goal in ministry is to overcome this misconception and empower believers to embrace a holistic, non-dualistic spirituality—one that unifies our entire lives under the One God revealed in the Bible and connects our Sunday faith with our Monday reality.

Hirsch expertly diagnoses the disease that is causing the symptoms of dualism: “It is the actual way we do church that communicates this nonverbal message of dualism. The medium is the message, after all. And it sets people up to see things in an essentially distorted way, where God is limited to the religious sphere” (pp. 95-96).

I want to enable believers to see that Christian discipleship is the work of bringing all the spheres of our lives under the lordship of Christ.




How could YOU spend $10 Million? How would Jesus spend $10 Million?

So I was walking out of Denny’s yesterday morning when I glanced over at the front page of the USA Today. There was this article, titled, “Boehner as speaker of the House? Big donors think so.” The opening paragraphs stopped me in my tracks.

“Powerful interests are banking on Republican John Boehner to be the next speaker of the House, fundraising reports show.

The Ohio lawmaker has collected nearly $7.1 million for his campaign and leadership committees — more than double the $2.9 million that current Speaker Nancy Pelosi has received in similar fundraising, according to data compiled by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. Another $2 million has flowed into "Boehner for Speaker," a fundraising committee that shares contributions with the group working to elect more Republicans.

The industries giving the most to Boehner: insurance companies, drug manufacturers and Wall Street firms…”

I stood there shocked as I did the math. Between the two congressional leaders, they have raised ten million dollars.

And this in light of the recent Census Bureau report which stated, “The number of people in poverty in 2009 (43.6 million) is the largest number in the 51 years for which poverty estimates have been published.”

It doesn't matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, if you are a Christian, I think you’ll agree that our political system is extremely broken, starting with the way we fund campaigns.

It’s disgusting.


College Advice from Gideon Strauss

What students should do to make college count:

1. Fall in love. College is a time to decide what matters most in life, and to order the whole of your life toward that deepest love.

2. Ask big questions. College is a time to review the biggest questions, to talk about them, read about them, watch movies about them, and figure out your own answers to them, in alignment with your deepest loves. Who am I? Where do I belong? What kind of person do I want to be? How shall I live? What am I supposed to be doing with my life? How do I make sense of what is going on in the world around me?

3. Read great books. College is a time to settle in for some serious, heavy reading — which with practice becomes one of the most fun things anyone can do. Shakespeare. Plato. Jane Austen. Aristotle. John Calvin. Alexis de Tocqueville. The Psalms. And the list goes on. Ask yourself of each book: What if this were truly true? How should I live if it were?

Gideon Strauss
, PhD
Chief Executive Officer, Center for Public Justice

Editor, Capital Commentary

Editor, Comment Magazine

Courtesy of Derek Melleby's Make College Count