Thinking Out Loud

February 3, 2012

What The Shack and The Elephant Room Have in Common

I had a bit of an epiphany responding to Tom’s comment left at Tuesday’s Elephant Room piece here, but it was too good to leave buried in the meta.  You are welcome to read first read the comment that sparked what follows, or it can stand on its own.

Many of the people who are commenting on the whole ER2/Jakes thing are in ministry, but many are lay-leaders, or bloggers, or just people who have an opinion on the matter that they want to share.

One common thread unites those in ministry however, especially if they live in a small or medium sized city or town: They all attend monthly ministerial meetings. Unless you’ve been to one of these (and I’ve attended two of them in another city) you have no idea of the dynamics involved in bringing people together around a discussion table. These monthly get-togethers are awkward for all concerned, and none of the ministers I’ve spoken with on this subject are particularly enthusiastic about attending.

But attend they do. Catholic. Orthodox. Seventh-Day Adventist. Word-of-Faith. Independent Baptist. Evangelical. (And, in some places, Baha’i, Buddhist, Muslim, etc.) All of them sitting around the same table united by commonality that must seem rather elusive at times. And sometimes some actual work gets done for the benefit of the broader faith community, or the community as a whole.

And you know what: Each one of them gets up from the table with a better understanding and resolve as to who they, themselves are and what they represent.

If Jakes claims to be a Christ-follower, but his practice of that faith includes cutting the heads off chickens, I still think giving him a place at the table on a unique, singular, special occasion is a Jesus kind of thing to do.

That said, if you are organizing such an event, you want to invite audience members who buy into the agenda for that particular day and exclude people if the entire tenor of their ministry runs contrary to the spirit of conversation.

Furthermore, I don’t believe we need to build fortresses to, as someone put it, “protect the body of doctrine.” The body of doctrine is quite capable of protecting itself, just as easily as Jesus was able to deflect his critics; something He did mostly by asking questions, a format not dis-similar to the Elephant Room.

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say I think that under more 21st Century circumstances, Jesus would attend something like ER2 — it’s not a stretch from his time as a 12-year-old asking the rabbis questions in the temple — nor a stretch to think He might have organized something like ER2 himself.

And frankly, you don’t want to think of who He might have invented.

But then, I got to thinking, this is all plain dumb.  I realized this whole debate is one giant deja vu of the whole debate over The Shack. And probably the same people are lined up on the same sides.  So I added this, responding to specific issue the blog post raised about the guy whose registration for the event was revoked:

I realized later that trying to get agreement here is like trying to get people to agree on The Shack. You either understand the mindset or you don’t get the book’s purpose and decide to condemn it.

For example, in the meta, “Anon” wrote:

Chris is very critical of these guys and comes off as self righteous. His coverage has been unfair. Does he ever reach out to these leaders for their side of the story? I doubt it. He couldnt be trusted to behave himself at ER2. That’s just my guess.

To which the blog replies:

Anon, that is too funny. C.R. [name shortened here to avoid web-spiders creating unnecessary links to this story] absolutely has reached out to these guys. They want no part of him. He has attended these guys conferences, at Nobles’ church for example. He is not disruptive in any fashion.

But then again, maybe they assume someone critical of a pastor is a “threat”.

So, we reduce the criteria to the fact that he hasn’t acted out yet at such a conference when really he “acts out” all the time on his radio show. His purpose in being there is not to attend with an open mind and see where the event leads.

You would do better to invite the secular media.

Some people can think in terms of abstraction, but for others everything has to be black and white.  “The Shack is a bad book because it portrayed God as a woman.” “James MacDonald should not have invited T. D. Jakes to the Elephant Room because Jakes is a prosperity preacher who doesn’t believe in the Trinity.” “Mark Driscoll’s Church was right to tell its members to shun Andrew, because Andrew sinned and would not subject himself to their church discipline.” (Yes, that story is totally related, because you’ve got the same mentalities lining up on either side.)

Black and white.  But not in a positive, ebony and ivory sense of the phrase.

So let me sum up the week with this:

  • The Shack wasn’t really written for us, nor does its author believe that God is a black woman with a southern accent.
  • The Elephant Room sought to bring together people with diverse takes on how to do ministry and T. D. J. was invited particularly because there have been questions about the orthodoxy of his beliefs, not as endorsement.
  • People unlikely to buy into the basic premise of ER2 should not see any problem with being asked to surrender their seat at the live event to people who do buy into its inter-denominational (not inter-faith) dialog.
  • Andrew was remorseful and repentant but felt, as did Matthew Paul Turner’s readers, that the manifestation of the authoritarian form of church government he had once been attractive to him, was clearly crossing a line in its attempts to administer correction and restoration.

But I’m not changing anyone’s mind by writing this, am I?

And that’s the way it was, last week of January, 2012.

January 25, 2012

Wednesday Link List

The rug and lamp cozy living room theme from Grace Community Church in Fremont, Ohio as seen at the blog, Church Stage Design Ideas

Why are opening remarks called an introduction, but concluding remarks are never called an extroduction?

  • Emotionally stirring:  Caiden Hooks, eight-years-old, lost his eyes to cancer.  He shares his faith in a baptism video produced at LifePoint Church in Columbus, Ohio: “We live by faith and not by sight.”
  • Frank Viola attempts a classification of Evangelicals into four distinct streams.  It’s actually part two of an article he posted in May.
  • Last week I found myself in the middle of a discussion concerning a Catholic parent whose eight-year-old daughter is being invited to Bible study run by Evangelicals.  It’s good to see both sides of this scenario.
  • Or how about this one which goes all the way back to December 30th — that’s so last year — where he’s Baptist and her parents are Church of Christ and insist he convert before marrying her.  They say that otherwise, he is “leading her to hell.”  Yikes.
  • When a faith healer like Todd Bentley reports of crusade miracles taking place, it would be helpful if there were sufficient information to verify the claims. Update: Bentley has just been refused admittance into Australia.
  • Here’s a fun idea; the world’s most popular provider of cosmetic beauty — Photoshop — marketed as if it’s a consumer product that actually changes people in the real world.
  • Haiti for Christ was in line for much needed financial support from Mark Driscoll’s network of churches, but when they found out the organization had a female pastor, they pulled the plug on that support.
  • Comment of the week: At an article at Reformed Arminian about KJV Onlylism, this response: “I am KJVJSB — KJV Just Sounds Better. I can’t bear the ugly English in the NIV in particular. So I swap between the NKJV and the KJV…”
  • An excellent piece from across the pond about the ongoing value and need for the ministry of Christian bookstores.
  • Speaking of Driscoll, Todd Rhodes thinks we’ve gone from speaking too little about sex, to talking too much; especially Pastor Patrick Wooden. (Note: Audio clip content is unnecessarily and uncomfortably graphic.)
  • One of the worst things about being newly — or not so newly — married is hearing the same question over and over and over and over again: So when are you having kids?
  • Meanwhile, over at Mandy Thompson’s house, the topic of contention is FDT or Family Devotion Time; somewhat complicated by the fact that he’s the preacher and she’s the worship leader.
  • Often by promoting a moral high ground, the church unknowingly is pushing sexually active young people toward having abortions.
  • Polish pop star Doda this week was fined the equivalent of $14.95 — no, make that $1,495 — by a Polish court for comments she made in 2009 suggesting the Bible’s writers were drunk and on drugs.  Doda disagreed: “If someone is a deep believer, I would not think such words could offend someone.”
  • How about a blog that mixes video games and theology?  That’s what David is trying to do at Reclaimer 105.  Or maybe you’re in youth ministry and just need a good game analogy to get a message across.
  • Still lots of heat over a July piece here concerning Perry Noble’s charge to his congregation, ‘Show up on time for church, or else.’
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day last week, turned up a rare 30-second clip of King’s humorous side when he guested on The Tonight Show.
  • So why is the Pajama Diaries comic here today? It was the words “Sunday School Tuition” that got me. We use the phrase in one context and forget that it means something entirely different in a Jewish context. Besides, most church children’s programs don’t charge fees, while the various synagogues I checked online were charging between $200 and $550 per child.

January 22, 2012

Disagreeing without being Disagreeable

…the longer an online conversation goes, the more likely it is that someone will make a reference to Hitler…

Stephen Altrogge has written a great piece, “How to Disagree Online Without Being a Total Jerk.”  I guess if you really don’t want to be a jerk online, you don’t steal blog posts wholesale; but then again, Stephen has written this for the ages, so to speak, and it should be the sidebar of every site in the Christian blogosphere; with multiple iterations at CNNBelief and USAToday’s Religion page.  But if you prefer, here is the link

Science has proven that the longer an online conversation goes, the more likely it is that someone will make a reference to Hitler.

It can start off very innocently, with two Christians on Facebook debating the relative merits of Calvinism. But after several comments, the innocence is usually gone, and is replaced with comments like, “I can’t believe that you would believe in such a stupid thing like free will! Have you ever heard of the Bible? You should try to read it sometime.” If it keeps going, someone will inevitably say something along the lines of, “I suppose you think Adolf Hitler didn’t have free will either!” At that point, the conversation is officially dead in the water.

How can we avoid dreadful conversations like that? How can we disagree with a person on the Internet in a godly, humble, God-honoring way? The truth is, we will give an account to God of every careless word that we speak AND every careless word that we type. I want my online interactions to be honoring to God. Here are a few suggestions for how we can honor God in our online speech:

Remember That Your Opponent Is Created In the Image of God

When we’re sitting snugly behind our computers, it can be easy to forget that the person on the other end of the conversation is a real person. A real person who is created in the image of God and should be respected as a fellow image bearer. A real person who has real feelings and strengths and weaknesses. A real person whom God really, really cares about. The words that I type will have a real effect on that person, either good or bad. My words have the potential to build them up or tear them down. To corrupt them or bless them. To strengthen them or be a source of temptation to them. God will hold me accountable for the ways in which my words affect others.

Remember That Your Opponent Is Your Fellow Brother Or Sister

If my opponent is a Christian, they are also my brother or sister in Christ. They have been bought with the precious blood of Christ and they belong to him. Jesus values. The Father treasures them. The Spirit dwells in them. If I insult them, I am also insulting Christ. If I speak poorly of them, I am speaking poorly of Christ. There is no place for maliciousness or backbiting or insulting in the house of Christ, and that house extends to the digital world.

Don’t Say Anything You Wouldn’t Be Comfortable Saying To Their Face

Being behind a computer screen gives me a weird, and often times sinful, boost of confidence. Suddenly I feel like I know everything, and that every person who disagrees with me is a complete and total moron. I also may be tempted to say things that I would never say to a person’s face. But when I get behind a computer, the Golden Rule still applies. I’m still called to treat every person as I would want to be treated. I don’t want to say anything that I wouldn’t be comfortable saying in person.

Ask Forgiveness Quickly

If I sin against a person through online speech, I need to ask their forgiveness quickly. Just because it happened online and I don’t know them that well doesn’t mean that I’m not accountable for it. The house of Christ should be a place ruled by grace and mercy. I want to seek out grace and mercy from those whom I sin against.

Spoken words matter and digital words matter. I want the words that I type to be pleasing to the Lord, don’t you?

~Stephen Altrogge

Nothing Matters But The Weekend…
Some blogs pretty well shut down on Saturdays and Sundays, but weekends can be a rather quiet time for those who miss the pace of work or school; so Thinking Out Loud frequently ramps it up with extra weekend posts.You can be a part of doing something similar. Find a need that’s not being met. Find a group of people who need connection. Find a place where every sign says ‘closed.’ And then step up. Make a difference. Swim upstream. You can have a part in changing lives. Know somebody who could use some people contact today? Maybe that’s you. Get in touch. Reach out.  And watch for more here at TOL later today.

October 14, 2011

Solving the Arminian / Calvinist Maze

Bruxy Cavey -- Here in Canada we grow our pastors a little different

Bruxy Cavey is a Canadian pastor of The Meeting House, Canada’s largest multi-site church.  After growing up Pentecostal (Arminian) for years he pastored a Baptist church that was more or less Calvinist, and was really drawn to the academics of the systematic theology.  But then, he discovered the Anabaptists (Arminian again.) 

If Cavey sounds like a theological chameleon, I’m sure he’ll forgive you for that accusation.  But now he wants to help his church understand the difference and has launched a series, Chosen and Choosing.  As I type this, the video for week one is up, but only the audio for week two has been uploaded.  I’ve decided to wait for the video for that one, but enjoyed his approach to week one, and regardless of which side of the doctrinal fence you lean to, you have to admire the way he turned the whole debate around in the last 3-4 minutes of week one.  I never thought you could give an invitation after a doctrinal debate, but he did!

Catch the series here.  And don’t forget the series, One Church, which we mentioned in the summer is also online. Bruxy invited people from various Christian denominations to ‘make their pitch’ over the summer with some interesting results. [Click further down the 2011 series tabs.]

…For those of you who weary of this particular debate, there’s always this.

Appendix [from the notes from Week One]:

AUGUSTINIAN (CALVINIST): We will not choose God unless he chooses to make us choose him. Without me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

PALAGIAN (FUNCTIONAL): We are free to choose God or not. Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

SEMI-PALAGIAN (ARMINIAN): God frees everyone to choose. When I am lifted up, I will draw everyone to myself. (John 12:32)

ANABAPTIST (BRETHREN IN CHRIST): God works with our infirmed will to help us ask, seek, and knock. I believe; help my unbelief. (Mark 9:24)


He chose us, not because we believed, but that we might believe.
— Augustine, Predestination of the Saints

By free will one shapes one’s own life.
— Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994)

Free-will without God’s grace is not free at all, but is the permanent prisoner and bondslave of evil, since it cannot turn itself to good.
— Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will

If it is not in the power of every man to keep what is commanded, all the exhortations in the Scriptures… are of necessity useless.
— Erasmus, Diatribe Concerning Free Will

When the will is enchained as the slave of sin, it cannot make a movement towards goodness, far less steadily pursue it.
— John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

All unregenerate persons have freedom of will, and a capability of resisting the Holy Spirit… and of not opening to Him who knocks at the door of the heart; and these things they can actually do.
— Jacob Arminius, Certain Articles to Be Diligently Examined and Weighed: Because some Controversy Has Arisen Concerning Them among Even Those Who Profess the Reformed Religion

God having placed good and evil in our power, has given us full freedom of choice.
— Chrysostom, De proditione Judaeorum

God is the initiator and principal actor in salvation, and we should never think salvation originated with us. God, however, has given humanity a sense of freedom and requires us to make a choice.
— Gerald Borchert, New American Commentary on John

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.
— Jesus

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