Thinking Out Loud

March 10, 2016

Throwback Thursday

Recent comments by Dr. Russell Moore on how he wants to distance himself from the term Evangelical has sparked various discussions including one on this week’s edition of  The Phil Vischer Podcast about the rise of a new category, Progressive Evangelicals. I was reminded of a very lengthy post we did four years ago when a large controversy was happening over a book written by Rachel Held Evans.

We live in a time when battle lines are being drawn between conservative Christians and progressive Christians. I usually find myself standing somewhere in between, trying to build a bridge between both groups; trying to maintain doctrinal orthodoxy while at the same time recognizing that this ain’t 1949 or 1953 or 1961. It’s 2012 already.The world changed in-between; the world changed last year; the world changed last week.

We need to be mindful of the duality as we interact with the broader culture; as we live between two worlds; as we exist as aliens and strangers, having citizenship in another country; but having to live, eat, breathe, work and play in a world that’s not our permanent home. (See graphic below.)

To that end, we need authors and publishers who will translate our message into the vernacular of the day, or even the hour. We need books and book distribution networks that will illustrate Christian worldview in a way that people can understand.

In the end, the books we create should, at times, make us uncomfortable.

Christians Live in Two Worlds


If you’ve ever visited the blog platform Patheos, you’ve also seen that bloggers are divided into two categories, Evangelical and Progressive Christian (as well as Orthodox and Catholic, but strangely, not Mainline Protestant).  I’ve always felt that Patheos was ahead of the curve on this one in terms of making the distinction long before some had consciously considered the differences.


Another throwback: As I write this one of the many, many debates concerning Donald Trump’s aspirations to be U.S. President surrounds the idea of having someone elected to the position who is not a career politician, not a Washington Beltway insider. Some feel this makes Trump uniquely qualified.

Four years ago, we did a tongue-in-cheek post about a guy who is visiting a church and notices a board vacancy in the bulletin. He makes an argument for the refreshing perspective of someone who is not a congregation insider:

Dear Nominating Committee;

Visiting your church for the first time last Sunday, I noticed an announcement in the bulletin concerning the need for board members and elders for the 2012-2013 year. I am herewith offering my services.

While I realize that the fact I don’t actually attend your church may seem like a drawback at first, I believe that it actually lends itself to something that would be of great benefit to you right now: A fresh perspective.

Think about it — I don’t know any one of you by name, don’t know the history of the church and have no idea what previous issues you’ve wrestled with as a congregation. Furthermore, because I won’t be there on Sundays, I won’t have the bias of being directly impacted by anything I decide to vote for or against. I offer you pure objectivity.

Plus, as I will only be one of ten people voting on major issues, there’s no way I can do anything drastic single-handedly. But at the discussion phase of each agenda item, I can offer my wisdom and experience based on a lifetime of church attendance in a variety of denominations.

Churches need to periodically have some new voices at the table. I am sure that when your people see a completely unrecognizable name on the ballot, they will agree that introducing new faces at the leadership level can’t hurt.

I promise never to miss a board or committee meeting, even if I’m not always around for anything else.

I hope you will give this as much prayerful consideration as I have.

Most sincerely,

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October 28, 2013

Book Non-Review: Selling Water by the River

I’m really grateful that the exposure of this blog — while nothing compared to some of the über-bloggers — has allowed me to be so bold as to ask publishers for review copies and get a favorable response. It’s sure an improvement from the pre-blog days when I would simply buy the books and then review them on the newsletter from which Thinking Out Loud emerged.

Selling-Water-by-the-RiverJericho Books is a division of Hachette Book Group, a large publishing concern which has been making increasing inroads into the Christian publishing market, including signing some pretty big names to their Faithwords imprint.  Hachette, or HBC, is a big deal. They probably get a lot of requests for review copies, so they simply ignored me — several times over — when I asked to preview Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber.

So I was several chapters into a copy of last year’s Selling Water By The River by Shane Hipps — a copy which fell off a truck, so to speak — that I realized this was also a Jericho title that I couldn’t really give a full review to under the circumstances.  So I’ll be brief, and let some others do the heavy lifting.

Shane Hipps first appeared on my radar with a book called Flickering Pixels that he wrote for Zondervan. Then, he was named associate pastor at Rob Bell’s Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI, but didn’t let his name stand for the lead pastor job after Bell headed west.

I’ve never been totally sure where Hipps fits in on a liberal-conservative theological continuum that proves challenging when mentioning him or people such as Bell and Peter Rollins or even Brian McLaren. My tendency is to want to put people into a box, and Hipps has confounded me a few times. Reading Selling Water By The River, I see some amazing insights into the message of the gospel, not to mention some absolutely great apologetics in the form of analogies and stories that help define the Christian message.

But then I’m never 100% sure what the subtext is; what he means by “Some Christians believe that…” Does that include Hipps himself? The book is bewildering in many ways. One reviewer said,

While I enjoyed this book it isn’t cohesive. It feels like (and I’m pretty sure it is) a collection of sermons or lessons that have been edited and assembled with a loose theme in a semi-logical order. There are a lot of individual moments of wisdom here, but no big kicker. As a result the book leaves a pleasant vague impression, but no lasting impact on me.

Still another reviewer correctly observed:

Hipps has a gift for disentangling the beautiful way of following Jesus from the centuries of cultural and institutional baggage that so often obscure that way.  Hipps contrasts Jesus (the “river”) with Christianity (which he likens to selling water by the river)–insisting that it is the former, not the later, to which we should give our devotion.

however, I grow concerned at the pejorative possibilities where the institutional church is linked to selling.

Yet one more reviewer notes this dichotomy in the book and is very precise in articulating the issue the book raises:

…Herein lies the hierarchy of Shane’s epistemology; experience is less fallible that logic, and is more trustworthy. I’m not sure I totally agree with this hierarchy, but that’s how he navigates this transition from rigid theological dogmatism to real and authentic spirituality (though he probably doesn’t want to use that word).  He says, “[Jesus] wants people to experience God’s love, rather than just think rightly about it.” This is profoundly true and vitally important, but I don’t think that we need to jettison belief into the realm of purely cognitive thought, I think that belief and even disciplined theological reflection can be though of as part of the experience of God, even if it means at times commanding our deeply felt experiential presuppositions into subordination to logical clarity.

I don’t think we need to think of religion and belief in such negative terms. Even if the establishment of the religious institution is not what Christianity is about, certainly our experiences with God in the contexts of community and solitude can be thought of as religious–of an authentically holistic kind of religion. It’s misleading and it might even be arrogant, in light of hundreds of years of church history, for us to come on the scene today and say, “religion, I have no need of you,” as though we somehow exist outside of religion…

(be sure to read the rest of this one!)

And then there was this essay by Karen Spears Zacharias, which I’ll let you read in full.

So… it’s complicated. Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t get a proper review copy of that one. (Nadia’s book, which they probably won’t send this late after release date, is no doubt equally complex.)  I’ll leave the last word to WIllow Creek’s Aaron Niequist:

As you can tell, this book is going to push some buttons.  Fundamentalists will scream as Shane pokes holes in Christianity’s claim to have a monopoly on the Truth, and post-modern, “spiritual but not religious” people will resist his high view and trust in Jesus Christ.  But I think that anyone who makes everyone uncomfortable might be on to something.

I’m not saying that I agree with every single word in “Selling Water By the River”, but here’s why I loved the book and am recommending it to you

(If anyone at Jericho Books wants to make a friend, you know where to find me!)

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