What is Discipleship?

A friend and thoughtful blogger, Bill Kinnon, got my mind stirring yesterday with his latest: Discipleship is Conspiracy post. Bill suggests that that there is an intimacy lost in the conventional pedagogy of western discipleship. I agree. The classroom approach does not compare to the down-to-earth discipleship reflected in the gospels. To say discipleship is conspiracy suggests so much more than the transference of religious information.

Understanding discipleship against such strong language of conspiracy could be helped by introducing language of “empire”. Empire is ultimately the principalities and powers at work in the world to exert its will in the form of politics (Eph 6:12). The empire is in rebellion toward God because of sin. The empire exploits, comodifies, and dehumanizes people with its lust for power, domination, and control. The empire conspires to perpetuate its agenda by worshipping the false gods of money, redemptive violence and power.

Against the backdrop of empire, I really like the language of conspiracy that Bill introduces for a number of reasons.

  1. Discipleship is ultimately participation in God's project for creation. This project was inaugurated in Jesus and carried out in a subversive and transformative manner within the empire and for the sake of the world. Therefore, an undermining took place and we can say that God's undermining of the “powers that be” and defeat of evil constitutes a conspiracy.
  2. Bill traces the etymology of conspiracy to the act of breathing together. There is an intimate connectivity (a breathing together) that we witness in the life of Jesus with his disciples. There is a story playing out within the larger story of the empire to non violently resist the practice of domination and oppression that ultimately support the empire. Therefore; this type of breathing together constitutes a conspiracy to subvert the empire.
  3. Discipleship is conspiracy because of the invasiveness of the word into the world through the incarnation. In other words, God took the world by surprise. Only by this incarnate invasiveness can the breathing together with humanity occur. Disciples are co-conspirators with God. It is ultimately a demonstration, rather than religious education or ideology alone.
  4. Conspiracy has an element of surprise. As co-conspirators, disciples work their way through the empire as the Holy Spirit leads (Matt 13: 31-32). Discipleship is surprising because of its way of non-violent resistance. This type of resistance disarms exploitation by exposing sin and responding in love (Matt 5:41, Luke 6:29). It leaves the aggressor disarmed while demonstrating a new way of being in response to aggression.

I want to take discipleship further as well and suggest that it is also an act of civil disobedience. In Baptism, for example, the disciple declares a “YES” to the Kingdom and a resounding “No” to the will and values of the empire that are in opposition to God. Through baptism, we become dissobedient toward the empire for we declare a new order that is led by a new King as supreme. If the empire dehumanizes, the Kingdom through discipleship is about dignifying and making fully human those that are broken; restoring God's order of all things. This is a public act. Through baptism one renounces allegiance to the empire and is born into a new life of breathing together with God and his people for this purpose. Is is the ultimate conspiracy and is dangerous when taken seriously.

The challenge with Western discipleship (in addition to what Bill mentions) is a form of blindness to the conspiracy and how it ought to play out against the empire. To take it further, allegiances are mixed and following Jesus has been co opted into a form of private religion that is palpable by the empire. It poses no significant threat. The empire goes as far as bestowing benefits upon the disciples of this coopted religion. The church and the empire are breathing together in conspiracy.

As much as true discipleship is a conspiracy, there is a conspiracy that works in the opposite direction that has far too many adherents to pose any significant threat to the empire. Caesar loves this arrangement.



A collection of reflections about the Newtown tragedy….

Since the news of the Newtown tragedy flooded the airwaves, I've been very moved by the loss of young life and feel deeply for all victims and their families. I wrote this post on Friday to express how I felt about it. It was for me part of the grieving process. Tears were pouring on Friday.

I've read some thoughtful reflections by greater minds than me in the last few days and decided to provide you with links and short overviews of the articles that, in so many ways, provide a good and necessary perspective on the issues. I consider these “serious discourse” on the matter that grapple with the core issues in helpful ways.

First, a friend, Santosh over at Dreams Unlocked wrote a piece called: Christmas Mourning in Connecticut. With a father's heart he contrasts the tragedy on Friday against the context of when Jesus was born. It is helpful because he points to the hope found in the God of suffering that knew it so well himself. Comforting words.

David Fitch, a writer and avid blogger points to a couple of helpful articles. One brings a helpful perspective on America's fascination with guns and the other pulls Dostoyevsky's Brothers Kharmazov into the conversation as it relates to wrestling with God amidst the tragedy. A helpful exploration.

David also had some thoughts of his own that he reported about the real dilemma of Nhilism in the midst of consumer capitalist societies. These thoughts originated after the resent mall shooting in Oregon. Some food for thought.

One of my favourite people, Brant Hansen has written two pieces that tackle two very sacred cows within Christian culture in the US. As you may know there has been a picture reposted obsessively with sentiment about God not being allowed in schools. The photo tries to anchor the political conversation about prayer in schools with the Newtown tragedy. Brant punches this one in the nose and sets the record straight about God and his presence in the midst of this tragedy.

The second post by Brant is going to get him in trouble with many, but he doesn't care. The truth is more important as it relates to the idolotrous worship of family and the question of whether God will protect our kids.

Finally, this article is a pure gem. Shared by Ben Meyers at Faith and Theology over twitter, Our Moloch is an exploration by Gary Wills about the worship of guns and the ancient practice of sacrificing children to the god Moloch. There are times when someone transcends cultural veneer to expose idolatry. This is one of those times. Please read it.

If you have any other helpful articles, drop a link in the comments and let me know. Happy reading and I hope thoughtful dialogue prevails as the US confronts the societal pillars that give birth to such grim chapters in their story.


A letter to my children….don’t stare at the ads!

There are many things I want to teach you about life. Although I am hardly the expert, some understanding has grabbed me through my experiences that I long to impart to you for your benefit. Today you are still young, but tomorrow, I hope you will see things with clarity and a keen mind nurtured from a trust in God and a desire to understand the truth beneath the surface of things.

Don’t stare at the ads! That’s right, I said don’t stare at the ads. I am talking about the advertisements that constantly bombard you with their visual arrows through television commercials, public billboards, the radio, internet, and junk mail. They are harmful. They seem harmless, but in reality, millions of dollars are spent on constructing them in a way that will tap into your deepest desires in order to shape them. They are designed to make you feel incomplete without the product that they are trying to sell. They will offer you the world if you pledge allegiance to their brands. Popularity, beauty, power, wisdom, satisfaction…I tell you, it’s all rubbish!

When you peel back the surface, you will see that corporations are trying to create a religious experience in you to make you their disciple. They want you to believe that you were made to buy their products. In other words, they want your self-identity to be deeply rooted in consumption, and as long as it is, you will always be longing for more and more without being truly satisfied. This is not who you are.

The constant struggle for us in this life is to remain true to who we are. You know where you come from. We’ve told you the stories about the God who created you in dignity, love, and respect. You know how God rescues you and offers you a fulfilling life as a contributing artist in his restoration masterpiece. Each of you are gifted to be blessings in God’s project to heal this world with a love that puts an end to manipulation and violence. Sharing in the life and love of God….this is where real purpose and fulfillment come from. Not from the consumption of products that leave your souls thirsty and anxious in the end.

If you stare at the ads and let them invade your imagination, they will shape who you are. And let me tell you, if the heart of your identity is found in being a consumer, you will always be in a place of unfulfilled longing. Don’t be a slave to filling an empty void with “things” that can only be filled by God.

Standing in the middle of God’s Kingdom coming

Last Friday I had the joy of being with my wife at our church’s annual Christmas production. This was not your typical Christmas production of years past. There was no play…no manger…no shepherds. Instead, it was through songs, readings, and stories that we were able to come in contact with how God was working in our midst. Representatives from various organizations in the lower mainland and abroad were present to talk about  their specific work with the poor, homeless, and refugees. There was a silent auction and through my photography business, I donated a couple of family portrait sessions as a way to throw my hat in the ring for a good cause. The event raised about 10,000$ for the sponsored organizations through ticket sales and the auction.

In many ways it takes time, to slow down, to listen, and and absorb the harsh reality of people around us to really find out where God is at work. Unfortunately for many, we tend to think God’s hand is in the best deal we get on something at the store, or in the comfort of our personal realities…you know, in the things we perceive as blessings. Rarely do we consider that God’s real and significant work is among the poor.

For me… on this evening I was standing in the middle of God’s Kingdom coming. It was also the same day that I finished reading NT Wright’s book, Simply Jesus and the weight of engaging with the concept Wright proposes – of Jesus announcing that God is becoming King – was heavy upon me. People think Jesus means many things, but an examination as thorough as Wright’s leaves little room to think that Jesus was anything but announcing that God is becoming King in himself. What struck me are the implications this has on not only our personal lives, but in our public lives as well.

Some of these implications manifested themselves nicely and prophetically in the production. In God’s economy there is a spirit of generosity and love that is completed in the action of Jesus and that power now imbues it’s people to follow suit. That same power of God’s presence gives courage to stand up to the injustice of how our society marginalizes people and exploits them. It gives courage to do the things Jesus did….to not only care for the vulnerable among us, but to call into account the powers that corrupt. I am now eager to see this evolve into more systemic engagement that goes beyond charity to challenging the status quo.

Eugene Peterson on Consumerism

From Eugene Peterson’s, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places...

“In our present culture all of us find that we are studied, named, and treated as functions and things. “Consumer” is the catch-all term for the way we are viewed. From an early age we are looked upon as individuals who can buy or perform or use. Advertisers begin targeting us in those terms form the moment we are able to choose a breakfast cereal.

For those of us who are reared in North American culture, it is inevitable that we should unconsciously acquire this way of looking at everyone we meet. other people are potential buyers for what I am selling, students for what I am teaching, recruits for what I am doing, voters for what I am proposing, resources for what I am building or making, clients for the services I am offering. Or, to reverse the elements, I identify myself as the potential buyer, student, recruit, resource, client, and so on. But it is consumerism ether way.

I have no complaint about this at one level. I need things, other people offer what I need; I am happy to pay for and take advantage of what is offered whether it is food, clothing, information, medical and legal help, leadership in a cause that is dear to my heart, advocacy in matters of justice, or victim-rights that I care about. I’m quite happy to be a consumer in this capitalist economy where there is so much to consume.

Except. Except that I don’t want to be just a consumer. I don’t even want to be predominantly a consumer. To be reduced to a consumer is to leave out most of what I am, of what makes me
me. To be treated as a consumer is to be reduced to being used by another or reduced to a product for someone else’s use. It makes little difference whether the using is in a generous or selfish cause, it is reduction. Widespread consumerism results in extensive depersonalization. And every time depersonalization moves in, life leaks out.”

~Eugene Peterson

Can you believe this? Rambo’s violence married to a Christian theme?

I rise from a blog slumber with an itch to express my disgust at the movie making (if we can call it that) shenanigans employed by the latest Rambo film. I lost count and think this is the 11th or something. Read this review from Christianity Today about the movie and let me know what you think of Stallone’s attempt to marry Rambonian violence with a sentimental Christian plot that aims to save missionaries through the use of extreme redemptive violence. I think I just threw up on my mac.

What do you think?

Is Our Celebration of Christmas Shrouded With Injustice?

Is our celebration of Christmas shrouded with injustice? This a question I am being led to explore. Over the last year, the Lord has been speaking to me about bigger issues of injustice and oppression, and aside from the obvious manifestations of these (usually not close to home), I have been prompted to wonder how much of our day to day lives, in the affluent West, support injustice. What better time for evaluation than with the practice of our Christmas celebration?

The other day we were waiting for our table at Boston Pizza and while waiting we wandered through the adjacent mall. We found ourselves perusing the aisles of the local Winners store and I couldn’t help but feel strange. The people scrambling for items of perceived value were literally buying everything they were being sold; the message and the overseas designer goods with name brand flair. People were buying stuff because they felt they had to and to not “buy something” for loved ones would surely be awkward; even more awkward than living with the post Christmas debt most will incur this year. I felt out of place and for once I was set on not buying anything.

We all feel the pressure to buy stuff. Wrapping paper, socks, shaving kits, slippers, gloves, underwear, and sweaters for those who we don’t know how to buy for. These typical items usually get us by. But where do these appeasement gifts come from? Overseas…China, Cambodia, Malaysia, India. For the most part, these items are made in sub standard factories by underpaid workers. Moreover, they travel thousands of miles just to end up under our tree and in our stockings. Is this injustice? Is it not unjust for us to contribute to the mistreatment of workers and the environmental pillage incurred? Do our compulsions for gift giving for the sake of giving because it is Christmas play into this greater economic injustice that is perceived as normal to our culture? Surely there must be a better way to express the love of Christ?

As a result, I am asking questions about giving this Christmas. I want to give, perhaps more that I ever have. But I want to give in a way that can subvert the empire’s status quo. The way things are are not good enough for me anymore. I believe that as Christians we ought to align ourselves against the empire in a loving and prophetic way. We ought to stop participating and supporting the injustice that lies beneath the surface of what we think us normal. Just because capitalist exploitation is not illegal, that doesn’t mean it is just.

I am going to have a paperless Christmas. No wrapping paper. We have a ton of gift bags left over from our wedding, birthdays and showers I we will use to exchange the gifts I give tis year. Another thing I would like to explore is what “just” gifts look like. Someone mentioned to me that giving donations in the receivers name is an alternative. I’ll explore this. And I would like to explore what giving local gifts might look like. In addition, I will let the meaning of Advent occupy my mind and intentionally dim the noise of consumer clatter.

In the end, I am just not comfortable anymore. There is an unsettling feeling within me that is tired of being part of the problem and if we want to seek local transformation, then it should start with the way we live as models to this world we long to see redeemed.

What ideas do you have for celebrating a just Christmas?

A Cultural Observation

When I ran into Canadian Tire the other day to get some little clip things for our Christmas lights, I was warmly given an Advent Calendar by the worker as I left the building. On the back side of the Advent Calendar were coupons for product savings. When I got home, I opened the calendar and was astounded at what I saw. Some of this may be nothing new, but here are some reflections; my attempt at reading our world.


Iphoto-2   Iphoto-3

It is interesting to note how the consumer message is co-opting and reinterpreting symbols or traditions of religious significance into its own agenda. What is subtle is that this is not surprising in our culture; it’s expected and desired. After all, Christmas can be fun under the bright lights that advertise SALEs in the "shop till you drop" narrative of our culture. I am not one to harp on culture and cast it as an enemy; that would be too fundamentalist of me. I believe culture is part of the imago dei and is being redeemed. However; I do want to draw attention to the subtlety by which the message of Christmas is embraced as a market opportunity by corporations that are pursuing economic ends. In addition, there is a very religious element to this co-option toward consumerist ends. Another way to put it is that the secularization of post enlightenment culture – which has pushed religious value to the private sphere – is working the relic symbols of a time past toward a new religious movement that offers value, meaning and purpose to its adherents. 

What is more is that it is conditioning a "look-forward" anticipatory response from consumers toward material ends. The advent of the sale, if you will. "I can’t wait until the 24th so I can get my power drill for cheap." seems to be the new promised liberation and hope. What was (and still is for those who can beware the hijacking attempts of our culture) a time of expectation and hope for the true King to put the world to rights, has become an alternative story that envisages a Jesus that is not the hope of the world, but the hope of the bottom line.

What are your thoughts? Is this reading too much into something that that is insignificant?

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One Year Blogging…

As I approach the anniversary of my first year of blogging, I took some time to reflect on the experience and how it has shaped me. Blogging has been a tremendous source of life for me. In addition to helping me improve my writing skills, blogging has expanded my insight into the greater missional/emerging church conversation. Blogging has also connected me to some intriguing and wonderful people that God has used significantly in my spiritual growth. Here are a few that I am grateful to know, read, and admire. In no particular order:

JR Woodward – this guy is onto something unique and prophetic in both his writing and missional context. JR, thanks for always being an encouragement to me in your writing. Check out his site if you haven’t already and make it a regular read. There is much to be gleaned.

Erika Haub – Erika is one who ‘earths’ her theology. She finds God at work in the everyday and skillfully writes her stories for us to enjoy. Erika and her husband are embedded in a missional context that is both challenging and (from what I hear in her writing) rewarding. Theirs is the front line of the mission that reconciles this world to God. A must read.

Bill Kinnon – Bill’s writing is inspiring and thoughtful. He has a penetrating eye that can see through to the heart of the conversation and is never hesitant to speak his mind. Signs of a prophet perhaps. I met Bill in person back when I started blogging and his words of encouragement were immediately a blessing. Thanks for your help, Bill. Please link to Bill.

Brant Hansen – Brant is busy blogger because, well….he’s just sooo popular. His writing and whit are unmatched in the blogosphere, as his his theological insight and reasoning. Much can be learned from Brant and reading his stuff is pure fun. Humor was handed to him twice when he was created and he has a knack for communicating important things about the Kingdom. This leading feeder of leading leaders and his conferences are sure to spur many on to love and good deeds. Please link to him, he plays the accordion.


Rick Meigs – How could I have forgotten? In the wee hours of the night when I types this post, I forgot to include Rick. Rick over at the Blind Beggar has been an informative read over the last year. He’s the founder of ‘Friend of Missional‘; a website anyone who is interested in the missional church conversation should read. From what I read at Rick’s site, he seems to have an uncanny and prophetic way of living out what he writes about. Please link to him.[UPDATE]

These are but a few of the people that have made this blogging thing a substantial blessing for me. Thanks to you and to the others who are linked in my blogroll. You are all part of a significant journey and I am thrilled to peek in and learn from time to time.

As a way to remember this past year at Toward Hope, here is a list of what I feel were my top posts in the last year…not by comments or hits, just the ones I liked writing the most. Consider them the “Best of Toward Hope”

Eschatology & Missional Spirituality

Spirituality, work, and integration…

Thoughts about Vision

Questions about “Mega Church” ecclesiology…

What’s in a word?

Sacred Reading and Creative Word

Billy Graham Special & some observations about the Gospel on TV and in our culture…

Living in the Story – Narrative and the Kingdom

Church as Public Companion…

I was reading the latest Christian Bookstore flyer and…

While waiting for my prescription…

Writer’s Block and the Bachelor…

Artistic imagination as subversive prophetic engagement

Community, Discernment, Compassion, and Justice

Thoughts about charity and justice…

Listening into Action…

The day the Lord spoke…

A scholar and a gentleman…(some humor)

The Royal Consciousness…

An interesting neighbourhood…and an invitation to pray

Reality and Values Collide….

10 Tips for Living the Incarnation…[Plus One]

The Bishop weighs in on the topic of ecclesiology…

The People Formerly Known as Passive (or TPFKAP)

The Loss of Lament: The Devil Pulled a Fast one…

The 3 Maladies of Facebook relationships

The Church Moves into the Neighbourhood – Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3

3 Perspectives on Congregational Life

3 Perspectives on Pastoral Ministry

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The Dream that Captured Me…

When I was younger, much younger, I had a dream. It was a powerful dream that has been with me vividly for years. It began against the backdrop of my upbringing, when my family had little in terms of status or fare. We are an immigrant family. Immigrating from Europe can prove challenging for a those with few resources, language skills, or knowledge of how Western Values work to shape people.

My imagination was ripe and at some point (I can’t remember when) I was captured by this dream. It was one of material comfort, security, and lack of tension, fear, or worry. It was only recently that I considered this dream and why it has been lodged in my memory banks for years. It’s not a cohesive dream per se, it is without start or finish and is more like a clip of streaming film from a life I longed for at best. I remember finding comfort in the dream.

What did it look like? It was an image of me, dressed in comfortable clothes, with two kids and driving a Range Rover. we lived on a nice neighbourhood, all were happy, money abounded, and name brands were worn with pride. I just remember driving and feeling totally safe, without worry, and happy. I felt in control of my own destiny and everything was perfect. Why? That is a question i have only been able to answer recently.

We watched a lot of TV when we were younger. It seemed to be on all the time. Our parents lived beyond their means in an effort to do the best they could. We were welcomed into a culture that was competitive and sought one-upmanship in almost every sphere. Shopping was the thing to do. The malls claimed the prime real estate in the neighbourhood and served as a centre for gathering and social stimulation. We were molded into the fold with little awareness of what was happening.

Unexpectedly, our spending habits – formed by the values that were subtly and blazingly communicated to us via the scripts of consumption and materialism – became a source of tension and anxiety. We could not keep up to what was now the object of our desires with the little money we made. It proved pivotal to the eventual demise of my parent’s marriage. Financial turmoil is almost always a significant contributor to the breakdown of marriage. We had religion, but that was private and did not penetrate the “real” world.

I realize that I am a product of my culture and my dream was exactly what those people who sell stuff wanted me to dream. As I have learned much about culture over the last few years, I have begun to see the ways in which I was formed. Ways, that in my place in life today, compete with the values of the Kingdom of God that I thew my life into about nine years ago. I think many have this same dream in one way or another.

As a pastor, I care for and share life with people who have been shaped in a similar fashion. The Sunday side of the Christian life that people so passively sit through (perhaps they don’t even know why) does little to form them. They are being powerfully shaped by the culture in which they participate in.

This seems like an invitation for the church. It is an invitation to reconsider worship and discipleship. It is an invitation to begin forming a community of practice that can be a redeeming agent of our culture and not the product of it. Here comes a big question. How might we create an environment where people can be shaped by the dream that God has for the world? It most probably doesn’t include a Range Rover.

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The Church Moves into the Neighbourhood – Part 3

As I look toward tomorrow, I see it a very busy day and so I will post part three of my series on incarnation today. Part 1 and Part 2 dealt with two things I think are necessary for the church to embody appropriate witness in a community; Perceptive eyes for which to read culture, and the embrace of lament and pathos for prophetic engagement. Today I want to talk about a third necessity; the importance of a robust understanding of Jesus. For this, I lean on NT Wright’s work, The Challenge of Jesus.


A Robust Jesus – Reducing Reductions for a Complete Vision

In recent history, there have been many understandings of Jesus that are swayed in the tides of philosophical thought. From Gnostic tendencies, to enlightenment constructions, Jesus has been understood and misunderstood. Notably, the church’s understanding of Jesus will reflect the church’s witness. NT Wright in, The Challenge of Jesus, suggests that commitment to the task of understanding the historical Jesus is needed to ensure the Church’s witness remains faithful. One can think of the theological shifts in Germany that led to Aryanism as an example of cultural capitulation that resulted from not committing to the study of the historical Jesus. This book is a great help to understanding Jesus robustly for appropriate incarnational witness.

If one does a Google search for images of Jesus, several appear; from bobble head Jesus, to Scandinavian blond haired, blue eyed Jesus and everything in between. Part of the challenge this brings to churches is the cultural “trinket-ization” of Jesus as a vending machine god that resembles more the consumption mechanism of out culture. This is a result of our lack of historical study of Jesus within his context. Although personal relationships are platformed in Western Evangelicalism, I think there exists a thin understanding of who Jesus was, and his purpose for individuals and the world.

A proper historical understanding of Jesus, as Wright is committed to, will have serous implications for the church as she seeks to incarnate the gospel. For in addition to the “personal savior” element to Jesus, the Kingdom of God, the cross, and the resurrection radically shape the church’s vocation in the world. Jesus “…is not about ‘soul-making’, the attempt to produce or train disembodied beings for a future disembodied life. It is about working with fully human beings who will be reembodied at last, after the model of the Messiah.” Wright’s comment is a corrective for the church because the lack of a robust Jesus has dimmed her understanding of vocation to a point where discipleship has been neglected. Just imagine what most would say to the truth that we are called to implement the project of redemption Jesus initiated against the backdrop of a “Jesus is only my personal savior” culture?

As we travel into neighbourhoods seeking faithful embodiment of the incarnation, we must remember that we are to the world what Jesus was for Israel. For it is “…because Jesus to Israel, therefore the church to the world”, that launches us headlong into God’s plan of redemption for the world that includes not only saved souls, but saved creation. To do anything less will lead to a Gnostic-type gospel that takes away the most significant components to who Jesus was and is.


As the Church moves into the neighbourhood, the three perspectives above, I think, will help us toward faithfulness. Without keen eyes on culture, fearlessly plunging philosophical depths to understand how we are shaped, we leave ourselves open to misunderstandings. Without the embrace of pathos we in some ways deny our own humanness and revert to being the masters of our own destinies. And without a robust Jesus, the gospel messages we contrive will be as powerless to transform the world as many of the statistics on Western Christianity indicate. Furthermore, the call to incarnation is one of great price that we need to carefully consider as we remember where the incarnation led Jesus before the resurrection.


Brueggemann, Walter. The Prophetic Imagination. Augsburg Fortress, 2004.

Newbigin, Lesslie. Foolishness to the Greeks : The Gospel and Western Culture. Wm.B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 1990.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message//Remix 2.0. NavPress, 2006.

Sider, Ronald J. The Scandal of The Evangelical Conscience : Why Are Christians Living Just Like The Rest Of The World? Baker Book House, 2004.

Wright, N. T. The Challenge Of Jesus : Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is. Intervarsity Press, 2006.

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The Church Moves into the Neighbourhood – Part 2

Here is Part 2 of a three part series on incarnation. In Part 1 I shared a reflection about the importance of having eyes to see the theological and philosophical constructs of our culture. In Part 2 I talk about Brueggemann’s work, Prophetic Imagination, and how a second element for incarnational witness is the embrace of pathos and lament.


Embracing Humanness – Mourning, Pathos, and a Shock to the Numbness

Jesus embraced humanness in the incarnation and we are invited to follow him in that way of suffering love. But there is a problem in our culture to which the church in the West is largely unaware. The problem is that there is an inability to embrace suffering and mourning. Walter Brueggemann makes this clear in his work,

The Prophetic Imagination. We are scripted into a cultural status quo (or Royal Consciousness) that presses us to live for the now. On a more sinister level, forces of consumerism are providing for us “ends” that leave us satiated in materialism alone. The story is a dark one and tells us that the highest point in life is to live for consumption. It masks the reality of impending death and doom shouting “peace, peace, all is well, just buy more stuff”, when there is no peace (Jer 6:14). The problem we are faced with in this situation is a denial of humanness that leads to oppression, for an illusion that ends in calamity.

How is this important for incarnation of the gospel in our time? Brueggemann plunges us deep into the narratives of Moses and Solomon to contrast the two consciousnesses they embodied. Under Moses, God was free and responded to the people’s lament and embrace of Pathos. Under Solomon, affluence, oppressive social policies, and static religion attempted to contain God and formed a consciousness that served the King. To answer the question, in our time today, we live under a Royal Consciousness that is not unfamiliar to the Solomonic one. Ours is the worship of the economic, capitalist King that is uninterested in the greater values of God’s heart; to act justly and love mercy (Micah 6:8).

If we are to live our faith genuinely in communities, it will require that we embrace our humanness and suffering in the way of Jesus and the prophets that preceded Him. This should happen as we journey with Jesus; for in conversion there is a mourning that leads to dying that leads to new life. Both personally and corporately, the church’s task in the numbness of culture is to embrace pathos to teach it to mourn. In addition, embracing pathos will help us to embrace our humanness, shock us out of Royal numbness, and fund for us a way to imagine an alternative future that belongs to God. Brueggemann put it best in concluding his book. He reflects on the beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn”:

“There is work to be done in the present. There is grief work to be done in the present that the future may come. There is mourning to be done for those who do not know of the deathliness of their situation. There is mourning to be done with those who know pain and suffering and lack the power or freedom to bring it to speech. The saying is a harsh one, for it sets this grief work as the precondition of joy. It announces that those who have not cared enough to grieve will not know joy.”

Part three and the conclusion tomorrow.

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The Church Moves into the Neighbourhood – Part 1

The following is part one of a three part series of posts on the incarnation. It is a small paper I completed for a class in Spiritual Formation. I welcome your questions and feedback on these thoughts. As the total paper is a short 7.5 pages, it was difficult to formulate detailed arguments. As such, I deal with three general perspectives that I feel the Church needs to consider as it incarnates the gospel. This first part considers Lesslie Newbigin’s work, Foolishness to the Greeks


Engaging the topic of the Church and her move into the neighbourhood, presses one to grapple with elements of the incarnation. That Jesus incarnated the presence of God in human form requires us to consider the presence and work of God among us and in us in each cultural context we find ourselves in. As Eugene Peterson’s, Message puts it: “The word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood”. This compelling description of incarnation shapes the pattern now for the church.

But the pressing questions of “How?” and “In what manner?” remain on the forefront and can determine the difference between faithfulness and gospel reductionism. I believe for the church to faithfully move into the neighbourhood, a number of things need to be considered. That they begin with the church’s faithful relationship with Jesus and a clear understanding of his mission and purpose is without question. Without this, “moving into the neighbourhood” will bring with it numerous reductions and cultural accommodations that are sadly far too evident in many churches today.

As I Reflect on the readings for this paper, Brueggemann, Wright, and Newbigin, all offer incredible challenges to the Church about her relation to the gospel and culture. In addition, they fund for us new (or, rather old) perspectives for the church’s faithful witness. In this paper, I will present three perspectives that have emerged from my engagement with the texts.

With Eyes to See – A Cultural Investigation Alongside the Gospel

I am learning that perceptive eyes and critical thinking about the world around us are important elements to appropriately understand how to incarnate the gospel. Foolishness to the Greeks is a superb book that engages the sub-forces of culture and how we are shaped in the West alongside the gospel. For how can we trust that our understandings of the gospel and the culture (in which we are so enmeshed) are accurate, without first listening and observing the philosophical and theological assumptions we come to the table with?

Newbigin’s work is helpful in that it challenges our presuppositions about culture and the gospel. One big issue was made clear to me. It is that the gospel is not about propositions and mental articulation of Jesus in order to go to heaven when one dies. The gospel is, as Newbigin summarizes, “…the announcement that in the series of events that have their centre in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ something has happened that alters the total human situation and must therefore call into question every human culture.” This statement early in the book sets up a number of arguments that bring into question Modernity’s Post Enlightenment assumptions that suggest a divide between that which is sacred and that which is secular. This has made religion a private affair (of values) and left the public world of “facts” (as governed by the public religion of science and rationality) untouched by the challenge of the gospel.

Why is understanding this important to faithfully incarnating the gospel? It is so because the neighbourhoods we desire to incarnate in operate in the realm of pluralism where our Christianity has no superior claim to any other religion and all religions have no claim on the God of rationalism that governs public truth. “What is true for you is not true for me”, is the earthed expression of this postmodern reality. This must cause the church to move beyond trying to rationalize faith (as it so often does) according to the scientific principles of modernity, and begin to live and breath the resurrection as a result of being in Christ. We must embody the resurrection in historical word and deed following in the footsteps of Jesus.

The Gospel is foolishness to the Greeks and this serves true in our day as well. It can be said true that sacrificial love and care for the world holistically (beyond care for only the rational mind) will always trump the scientism that tries to rule the public realm that belongs to the Kingdom of God, without discounting the value of science, of course. To live out of a hermeneutic of love is the invitation knocking on the door of the church in the West. After all, in our postmodern times, truth is understood locally and experientially. This way will surely call into question the culture with the gospel and what better opportunity than now to live out our faith?

Part two will come tomorrow.

I welcome your questions and feedback.

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A Community in my face…

Poverty 10 06.Jpg (Jpeg Image, 445X296 Pixels)

Each morning I get up in the wee hours, prepare myself for work and make my way to the train station where I park my car before the 40 minute trip into downtown. I park on the street beside a vacant lot that is a smattering of trees and unkept grass. Upon first glance, anyone will realize this is an abandoned lot. On an adjacent street, one riddled with syringes and roaming prostitutes, there is the local food bank which is frequented often by the needy. This is the marginalized centre of Whalley, in the city of Surrey. It is wrought with discomfort, brokenness, and violent crime. The people here are considered by societies standards, the dregs. Although I live in an somewhat well kept neighbourhood, this place is a five minute drive from home.

Since the summer weather is nicely lingering and offering mild days, lately I have noticed a community forming in the vacant lot that I park next to. There are about 15 people that call this abandoned lot home. I am confronted by them daily, not in a ‘harassing’ way (perhaps only harassing to my comfort), but in a way that has troubled me since I have begun exploring how God works in each moment of my day. The simple question, “What are you saying, God?“, if offered to each situation in life, can have serious implications for faithfulness.

People ignore the humans (that’s right, humans) that struggle through life in this park. Some pass them by thinking “You’ve made your own bed, you deserve this.” How Karmic such statements are. Others don’t even notice that these are someone’s earthly and heavenly children. As I pass, always in a rush to get to work on time, these sentiments make their way out of my heart as well. Then I realize that were Jesus here today in person, these would be the ones he would wake up beside to the sunshine, or rain, of the morning. They are the “least of these” Jesus talked about. These are the ones who would jive to hearing that he too didn’t have a place to rest his head. These are the ones that would be drawn to the one who identified with them through the incarnation.

Where does that leave me today? Troubled. Why? because I know that as Christians we are to implement the plan of reconciliation that Jesus fulfilled and instigated on the cross. To say the least, I am challenged. I am challenged to the point where I want to shake myself (or be shaken) out of this slumber of day-to-day getting along, and make my life here a reflection of God. Because I know he cares for those I tend to sheepishly pass by.

I am also inspired. Our mission groups are gearing up for a journey into discernment as well. Through this we want to eagerly hear God’s invitation to us to act justly and love mercy in our neighbourhood. My question of; ‘How is God inviting us to embody his love here?‘, is lingering as I write.

Perhaps my discomfort is a sign of God’s attempt to reach send me?

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