“Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices” by Brian D. McLaren [REVIEW]


This book is nearly a decade old now. It ages well, though now what it says may not seem as immediately new and fresh as it once was. Still, I believe its diagnosis and treatment are just as relevant today as it was then. 

Ultimately, as laid out in its introduction, this book (and the series of subsequent books which follow it), seek to lay out a fourth way (“third” ways are soooo 2008) “beyond a reductionistic secularism, beyond a reactive and intransigent fundamentalism, and beyond a vague, consumerist spirituality”. In this sense, this book is a great success. 

Implicit in its prescribed antidote, this book offers the same diagnosis for each of the three problematic ways of existing in the world, despite their radically different orientations–a fundamental disembodying of the human person, as exemplified by their anemic relationship to practices, both communal and private.

To that end, the book outlines ancient historical and theological foundations to spiritual practices. A refreshing aspect of this is that his list goes well beyond the typical Evangelical “pray-and-read-your-Bible quiet time” approach to spiritual practices. There are treatments given to Christian mystical traditions often overlooked by contemporary American Evangelicals, especially when it comes to contemplative, apophatic, and negative theological traditions, wherein one experiences connection through the divine by stopping activity and cogitation to experiencing an emptying rather than a filling.

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Philly: Join Me for an In-Depth Galatians Bible Study


book-of-galatians.jpgFriends in the Philly area: starting next Tuesday I will be leading a six-week Bible Study on the Epistle to the Galatians.

It’ll be on six consecutive Tuesdays at 7pm, starting next week, July 11th. You can sign up for it and the resources here.

I’m really excited about this. Each evening will be split into two parts. In the first, we will read through the chapter and study it using pre-modern, non-scholarly methods. We will sit with it and see what it might say to us if we had no other information and resources in front of us other than the text itself–hopefully, lessons we can bring to any passage of Scripture. We will try out methods that appeal to both the more “feely” types out there, as well as the more analytical ones. We’ll also look at how some ancient Christians experienced that text.

The second half of each evening will be mainly me leading a talk and discussion around historical, scholarly, and theological issues that come up within the text. We’ll talk about various scholarly views on different aspects of the text and how we might navigate them and incorporate them into our own study. (I may also put some of this material on this blog.)

Lastly, I also want to encourage us to do a little Scripture memorization. For this first week, I’m going to encourage everyone to memorize some of these opening lines from the first chapter:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (1.3-5)

So if you’re in Philly and are interested, sign up!–even if you’re not a part of my church, feel free to join us! See you then!


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Baptizing Babies: Re-Creation & Changing My Mind


infant-baptism-water-4Inspired by last month’s Theology Book Club, I want to spend some time on the blog reflecting on baptism. Today, I want to tell you the story of how I changed my views on baptism to be in favor of baptizing babies.

I was raised a good Bible Belt Southern Baptist. I was so immersed in this language and perspective on the Bible, that even now that I totally buy into the reasoning and Scripture behind infant baptism, it still “feels” more natural to read the Bible with my Southern Baptist eyes. I get why people would absolutely disagree with infant baptism.

Having come from the Baptist perspective (called “Believer’s Baptism”) gives me some added insight (I hope) into this discussion. It also has helped me see how people can get so insulated in the way they are raised that they can get really wrong impressions of the “other side”. I remember all the beliefs I had about those that baptized infants and now, on the other side, I see how wrong I was.

The Fateful Turn

I got all the way through college and entered a Presbyterian seminary, all while still holding to my theological roots. These Presbyterians spoke as if it was soooo obvious that infants should be baptized, and thought any other way of thinking was pretty silly and naive. I couldn’t have disagreed more.
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Dyeing Tulips: Calvinism, “Free” Will, & Losing Our Religion


Rembrandt-Return-ProdigalWell, this little miniseries on Calvinism has been fun.

We’ve talked through a bookthe history,  and reframed the traditional “points” of Calvinism: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, and Limited Atonement. Today, we will look at the final two emphases of Calvinist belief.

I hope you’ve been challenged to evaluate Calvinism in broader and deeper ways so that, if you already agreed with it, you were challenged in the complexity and nuance of the issues here; and if you did not, that you found Calvinism a bit more inviting and interesting.

For more on just how broad and diverse Calvinist thought it, I can’t more highly reccomend Oliver Crisp’s Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology or the book that initiated this whole discussion, Richard Mouw’s Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport. Continue reading

Tweaking Calvinism: Universal Limited Atonement


Adel-Abdesemmed-razor-blade-crucifix-jesus-2

UPDATE: I’ve finished this little blog series. We talked about a book, the history, and TULI-P. Enjoy!

I recently offered some proposals on some “less intense” (yet still Reformed) articulations of Calvinism (see above). The election (of a different kind) derailed those posts for a bit, but I wanted to pick it up today, by talking about the most controversial of the “points” of Calvinism: Limited Atonement.

This is the most controversial of Calvinism’s points, but it’s also the most logical. The least charitable way to explain it is to say that Jesus only died for Christians and not others. The more charitable way is that there is not a drop of Jesus’ blood that is shed in vain. God accomplishes what he sets out to do. So traditionally, the belief is that Jesus’ atoning work on the Cross was “limited” to cover only the sins of people that would become Christians.

There seems to be only two options, here, right? Limited or Unlimited? Particular or Universal? How can we approach this in a more winsome and erudite way while still calling ourselves Calvinists?

Atonement is NOT Salvation

This is really important. In my last post, I pointed out that God’s Election is more about our life here-and-now, and less about our future eternal destiny. The same can be said of Atonement.
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November Book Club: All Your Questions on Baptism, Answered


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The Promise of Baptism: An Introduction to Baptism in Scripture & the Reformed Tradition
by James Brownson

Our discussion on Calvinism this past Sunday was really great. Our exploration of Reformed Theology continues, however.

For November, in my church‘s monthly Theology Book Club, we’re going to be looking at that significant distinctive of Reformed thought: Baptism. And to wander into this potential minefield, we’re going to follow an amazing guide, Dr. James Brownson in his incredibly helpful book, The Promise of Baptism.

Seriously, this book is amazing.  It covers everything in relation to baptism. It starts with the big picture and starts to zoom in into specific biblical, historical, theological, and practical questions. Every chapter is built around a question. And this book goes through every question you may have had about baptism, and a bunch you may have never had. Some of the chapter topics:

  • Should infants be baptized?
  • Sprinkling or Immersing?
  • Can someone be saved without being baptized? What about baptized without being saved?
  • What happens to baptized infants who die before they can give a profession of faith?
  • What about baptized people that leave the faith?
  • Is “Re-Baptism” allowed?
  • Is “dedication” an appropriate substitute for infant baptism?
  • Does it need to be the parents who offer an infant to baptism, or can grandparents or close family friends?

There are 30 such chapters, so I’m only barely scratching the surface. Really, this is a great book. And it’s very charitable, meaning it doesn’t demonize any side. It clings to Scripture and recognizes there are different legitimate opinions on many of these issues. It does argue for infant baptism, but it’s topics are much bigger than that, so even if you don’t leave convinced on that point, you will have learned so much more about what the Bible and the Church tradition have to say about the essential sacrament of the Christian Church.

NOTE: Because the last Sunday of the month falls right after Thanksgiving, our discussion will be on the first Sunday of December, the 4th, at 5:30pm.

As usual, even if you don’t live in Philadelphia, feel free to join us in reading the book. I’ll try and blog about it through the month. You can use this blog or the Facebook page to offer your thoughts, questions, critiques, and concerns. Happy reading!

So pick up the book, read it, keep up with the discussion, and join us on December 4th at 5:30pm at Liberti Church.


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Philly Peeps: Join us for our Calvinism discussion!


calvinism
This month, as part of my church’s Theology Book Club, we’ve been reading Richard Mouw’s Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport in order to spur a broader discussion of Calvinism and Reformed Theology. Tomorrow, Sunday 10/30, we’ll be gathering in person in Center City Philadelphia to have a discussion on this controversial topic.  RSVP at the Facebook page.

You do not have to have read the book. Just show up.

We’ll have some wine and some snacks, but feel free to ring whatever you like. Hopefully, I’ll see you tomorrow at Liberti Church, 17th & Sansom in Rittenhouse.


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Tweaking Calvinism: Unconditional Election?


tulips-red

UPDATE: I’ve finished this little blog series. We talked about a book, the history, and TULI-P. Enjoy!

As our book club is going through Richard Mouw’s Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, I’m blogging some of my thoughts.

In this little Calvinism mini-series, I’ve talked about some of the things that make Calvinism hard for our modern ears, and I’ve begun articulating a broader view of these ideas, by first looking at the “T” (“Total Depravity) of the usual acronym of Calvinist beliefs: TULIP. Today we’ll look at the “U”: Unconditional Election.

Unconditional (Corporate, Vocational) Election

Traditionally, the “U” of TULIP stands for “Unconditional Election”, which simply means that when God chose us as his people, he made this choice on the basis of no condition outside of his own good pleasure. In short, God didn’t choose you because of anything you are or had done. This is true. And yet, it’s not the whole (or even the main) story.

In the Reformation’s move away from the Institutionalism of the medieval Catholic Church, and Scholasticism’s emphasis on the ability and intellect of the individual in society, much of the foundation of Calvinist doctrine was laid in very individualistic terms.

Think about it: each of the five ideas represented by the letters in TULIP are fundamentally about how individuals are reconnected and reconciled to God. I think this really distorts what the Gospel and Christianity (and Calvinism) are about.
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Calvinism: A (Humble) Proposal for Some Tweaks, pt.1


UPDATE: I’ve finished this little blog series. We talked about a book, the history, and TULI-P. Enjoy!

[As our book club is going through Richard Mouw’s Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, I’m blogging some of my thoughts.]

If you have any sense about Calvinism, its reputation, and what it believes, you probably know that it is not especially popular. Contemporary Calvinists nearly always fall into one of only two camps: irritating, uncharitable jerks that are unapologetic for their Calvinism; and kind, warm people that too apologetic about it. In other words, you have the “damn right, I’m a Calvinist” crowd, and the “I wish I wasn’t a Calvinist, but it just makes sense to me” people.

Depending on my coffee and/or alcohol intake, I can be either one. But I definitely think (and hope) I lean more towards the latter.

I started out my Calvinistic journey in college as I sat under a sermon miniseries on the topic that utterly convinced me of the truth of the doctrines. I’m going on over a decade now having sat with these beliefs and (in my opinion) truths, and I’ve watched then morph and shift over time in my soul.

I definitely began the journey as the arrogant, tight-fisted, dogmatic Calvinist that generally annoyed anyone that didn’t agree with me. I also hurt a lot of suffering people. I acted in good faith, thinking that changing the doctrinal minds of others would unlock such joy and security in such a big God. Sometimes this happened. A lot of times it didn’t.
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Calvinism: What it Is, and Why it’s Crazy


John_Calvin_by_HolbeinUPDATE: I’ve finished this little blog series. We talked about a book, the history, and TULI-P. Enjoy!

This month, our Theology Book Club is going through Richard Mouw’s remarkable book Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, in which he articulates a vision for how Calvinists might understand and hold their doctrinal convictions.

But first, what is this “Calvinism” thing I’m talking about?

Every school of thought has some core foundation on top of which they build every thing else–some assumption that guides and shapes the rest. In that sense, Calvinism is a cluster of beliefs that are centered around the idea that Jesus is Lord, or (in more traditional language), that the Triune God is uncompromisingly sovereign and has no competition in this area. That is the center of Calvinism from which everything else fans out. As Mouw summarizes:

“Unlike other traditions, Calvinism rigorously guards this emphasis on divine sovereignty by refusing to allow any other theological point to detract from it. [So] when Calvinists get around to attempting to explain the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human freedom, we are so concerned to protect the former that we are willing to risk sounding like we are waffling on the latter rather than to imply in any way that God’s power is limited.” (p.27)

If you’re only somewhat familiar with Calvinism, you likely think it was some archaic belief mainly held by cranky medieval Christians and Puritans that said God was in absolute control of every little thing and human free will was largely an illusion. Further, you may also have some vague sense that it’s super depressing, focuses almost entirely on how bad and useless humans are, and had some role in creating the American work ethic.

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October Book Club: Un-Crazy Calvinism, with Richard Mouw


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Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport
by Richard Mouw

For my church‘s monthly Theology Book Club, we’ve been spending the Fall exploring some of the distinctive beliefs of Reformed Theology.

Well, if there’s any set of ideas Reformed Theology is most known for (and controversially so), it is surely that cluster of doctrines known collectively as “Calvinism”. That’s what we’re exploring this month through Richard Mouw’s amazing book, Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport.

To be clear, “Reformed Theology” is a lot bigger than Calvinism. You can agree with Calvinistic thought and not be Reformed, and you can have a huge range of opinions on Calvinist doctrines while still being Reformed. And yet, it is so connected to the thought of my church’s tradition that it deserves a deep dive.
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September Book Club: What IS Reformed Theology, anyway?


luther-95theses-humor-memeSeptember’s Books
(just pick 1)

Welcome to a Reformed Church: A Guide for Pilgrims by Daniel Hyde

Reformed Theology by R. Michael Allen

One thing I appreciate about my church is that we don’t wear our labels on our sleeve. That does mean, however, that a lot of people can go to our church for quite a while and not know that there is a very real theological ethos woven into everything we do.

We belong to the oldest American denomination–the Reformed Church in America–which ascribes to a theological tradition called “Reformed Theology”. And because many, many people in our church likely have little idea of what that especially means within the broader Christian family, we’ll be spending this Fall exploring these ideas in our monthly Theology Book Club.

So how are we going to do this? Well, I really struggled with this one, because though Reformed Theology has some general contours, there really is quite a bit of diversity and flexibility within that definition of being “Reformed”. In looking for a good book, the problem I kept finding was that most books on this topic tend to define Reformed Theology very narrowly and very dogmatically. I don’t think this is helpful.
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Secularity Was Not Built in a Day


Last month, I led a Book Club through James K.A. Smith’s How (Not) To Be Secular, itself a summary of the much larger book, A Secular Age by Charles Taylor. There were so many lessons culled from those pages–most of which I am still processing and will be in the months and years to come. And yet, the biggest takeaway for me was how Taylor described the “feel” and cause of our current secular existence.

Taylor challenges the story of our cultural and philosophical moment, affirming that we did not stumble or trip into our secular age. Secularity is not the “neutral” space of human existence once all forms of power, influence, control, and superstition are done away with. Rather, secularity is a cultural and philosophical achievement. The gravity of human progress does not necessitate secularity. We’ve had to build it.

Secularity: A Fall or Climb?

We first need to remember that when we talk about “secularity”, we’re not talking about some sort un-religious, “neutral” public space. A society is “secular” (in our sense) when disbelief in God becomes a viable option. We take for granted that the vast majority of humans in history (and even in the non-Western world today!) have no comprehension of such a world. Continue reading

August Book Club on Christianity & Race: “Divided by Faith” by Emerson & Smith


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Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion & the Problem of Race in America
by Michael Emerson & Christian Smith

Last night’s book discussion went really well, and it makes me even more excited for this month’s meeting.

For my church‘s monthly Theology Book Club, I’m excited to have us read an especially timely and important book, Divided by Faith by sociologists Michael Emerson and Christian Smith. The opening lines of the Preface summarize their purpose beautifully:

To learn more about American life, this book examines the role of white evangelicalism in black-white relations. Our argument is that evangelicals desire to end racial division and inequality, and attempt to think and act accordingly. But, in the process, they likely do more to perpetuate the racial divide than they do to tear it down.

In America, we have a problem with race. White Christians, I think, genuinely act in good faith to play a positive role in race relations in America. And yet, they often end up unintentionally exacerbating some of the broader cultural problems that feed into racial injustice.
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Join the Liberti Church Theology Book Club!


July’s Book book-jamessmith-hownottobesecular

How (Not) To Be Secular
by James K.A. Smith
Amazon


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For those of us that are Christians, we come to church on Sundays to get re-grounded and re-oriented in the rhythms and truths of the Christian life.

Many of us also try and live life in various small groups and Bible Studies throughout the week in order to press these truths all the more deeply in our hearts and communities.

But still, some of us are wired to wrestle with big ideas in a different way. That’s why at my church we’re starting the Liberti Theology Book Club: a way to walk with others through different perspectives and insights on theology, the Bible, and Christian thought.

It’s been designed to take up as little of your time as needed, while also letting us really work through some deeper and harder parts of faith. Also, because of the decentralized nature of it, anyone across the country can join in!

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