November 6, 2018

Kellye Fabian, one of our Northern students who is a leader and teacher at Willow Creek, has a new book designed for spiritual formation called Sacred Questions: A Transformative Journey Through the Bible.

What prompted you to write Sacred Questions?

Sacred Questions arose out of three years of writing daily devotionals for Willow Creek Community Church. I began writing these devotionals as a way to help our congregation go deeper with and be more consistent in their daily discipline of reading the Bible. After writing these question-based devotionals for years, I began to think more about why I wrote them the way I did and how asking questions as we read Scripture might be a unique and beneficial way of listening to God. As I examined this idea, I discovered that listening to God by paying attention to the questions that arose in me while I read Scripture was transformative and life-changing for me. God had done so much in me as I wrote the devotionals that I thought I’d pass along this discipline to others through the book.

What are the major influencers/influences in you that helped shape Sacred Questions? 

The most influential person in shaping Sacred Questions was probably (unknowingly to him) Eugene Peterson. Just a couple years into my Christian faith, I bought and worked my way through a devotional he wrote called The Message//REMIX: Solo: An Uncommon Devotional. It is question based and really formed the way I read Scripture. Others that also had significant influence include Ruth Haley Barton, Aaron Niequist, and my good friend and mentor Michael Fox, who’s a pastor in Louisiana.

Why is Sacred Questions not an ordinary daily devotional?

Sacred Questions is different than any other devotional for three reasons. First, as the title reveals, it is question-based and as a result prompts a very personal experience for the reader. In most devotionals, the author shares her experience or interaction with the particular passage of Scripture, inviting you into her story. But in Sacred Questions I don’t share my experience and instead invite the reader, through prayer and questions, to have his or her own experience. Second, the devotional takes the reader on a formative journey. In other words, the book isn’t just 365 days of randomly selected Scripture passages, but rather has separate sections that move the reader from Jesus’ invitations to relationship with him through a process of opening to God’s love, knowing who Jesus is, finding one’s identity in Christ, abiding in God, being formed by what’s true, loving like Jesus, opening to the Kingdom of God, aligning with the Holy Spirit, lamenting pain, worshiping God, and reaching out in service to others. As the reader moves through the book, she is being formed in Christlikeness by God’s Word.

How would you describe Sacred Questions?

I would describe it just like the subtitle puts it: A Transformative Journey through the Bible. I really believe that as readers go through the book, God will transform their desires, thoughts, words, and actions to look more like those of Christ. And in this way, readers will be grounded in Christ while seeking to love the world.

How are your questions “sacred”?

My questions are sacred in the sense that they are prompted by an encounter with God in the Scriptures. But, it’s not just my questions that are sacred. I believe that any questions that arise in us as we read the Bible are sacred. So, as readers engage with the Scripture passages in the book, their own questions might arise in them and these are sacred and worth paying attention to.

How have you learned that questions lead to a deeper spiritual life?

What I have learned is that most questions I ask as I read Scripture aren’t questions that desire a factual answer. For example, typically, I’m not asking, “Where is Jerusalem?” I’m asking something like the first faith question I ever asked, “Why don’t I have faith?” And this second kind of question is what I most often find bubbling up in me and in others. These are questions that result from some encounter with God that challenges the way we think, believe, or act. And if we can follow these questions into God’s presence, he will transform us.

What are the basic elements of each daily reading in Sacred Questions?

Each day, the reader will find a simple prayer to open their time, a reading from the Scriptures, a short paragraph to orient the reader with the particular passage, three questions to reflect on, and a responsive prayer.

How has your seminary education influenced Sacred Questions?

There’s probably no way of knowing fully how my seminary education has influenced the book because so much of my thinking and understanding has been impacted greatly. However, there are two specific areas of the book that come to mind immediately. The first is the Christmas section. This section focuses on the truth that God came to be with us in a body, something I think we so often overlook, thinking of Jesus as a sort of supra-human. We forget that he has a body—even now! This is a realization and revelation I had in one of my seminary classes as we studied the incarnation and why it matters. The second section that was deeply influenced by my education is the section called “For the Sake of Others.” I had always thought we should, as Christians, serve others because Jesus said so. And while that is true, what I discovered in my Old Testament courses is that we are part of a much bigger, longer story than that! As we serve and love others, we are living out God’s promise to Abram (way back in Genesis 12) that God would bless all the nations through Abraham.

What would you like readers to know about this Sacred Questions that may not be obvious?

You can start Sacred Questions anywhere! There are 14 different sections and while the journey from beginning to end is one way of going through, the beauty of the devotional is that it belongs to the reader. Wherever he or she decides to start, God will be there to meet them in their questions, joys, and pain.

 

November 4, 2018

Kris and I grieve today after hearing that my teacher and former colleague, Grant Osborne (1942-2018), passed away in his sleep last night.

We offer consolations to Nancy and to Amber and Susanne.

Grant, famous for his extensive handouts and dialogical classrooms, began his career in Canada and came to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1977 when I was a student. I believe I was in the first class he taught, a class on the Gospel of Matthew. (Did I mention he had a few leisure suits?!)

Grant outlined in detail whole NT books, offered brief sketches of scholarly viewpoints and then usually turned to the “best” view. Jack Dean Kingsbury’s monograph on Matthew was recently in print and that book generated plenty of class discussions. Grant and that class inspired me to do my dissertation in Matthew studies.

Grant invited me to be his TA for a couple years and we had a habit of annoying one another: Grant didn’t care that his books were not all lined up to the edge of the shelf so I eventually got through all his shelves to tidy up his shelves. Which annoyed him. To annoy me back he would push a few books in or turn some spine up or pull a few out, and then say to me, “I feel more comfortable now.”

One of his famous handouts was nothing less than an outline of all the texts in the Bible on eternal security/loss of salvation. His big assignment one year for me was to rewrite and revise the whole thing and add to it some recent scholarship — and that exercise itself both was a deep dive into the subject and changed my mind on the topic.

Grant loved to teach and taught all over the world. He loved his family, he loved the Bible, he loved teaching the Bible, and he loved teaching the Bible in the church.

When I returned to TEDS to teach, first as an adjunct and then as part of the NT department, my natural alliances were with Grant. We had endless conversations about all the topics around TEDS and our classes and our mutual interests in the Gospels. Later, when I was at North Park, Grant and I co-edited The Face of New Testament Studies, which next year will be “updated” with The State of New Testament Studies. As I was the junior editor for Face, so I will be senior on the next volume, this time with Nijay Gupta.

Probably his best known book is The Hermeneutical Spiral, and I remember the stacks of books and articles he was reading when the book was in gestation. Grant had been turning his extensive handouts into commentaries, the most recent being The Gospel of John.

The last long-time I spent with Grant was one evening when both of us were teaching at Willow. I drove and Grant was my riding companion. A good long evening of chatting it was. I felt like we were back in his office chatting.

Grant, as many of us have known, suffered from asthma his entire life and said to a family member recently that the first thing he’ll do in heaven is take a deep breath.

Breathe in, brother, you’re in the presence of our glorious God!

September 21, 2018

By Vonda Dyer

It’s “Giving Day” in north Texas, and I’m celebrating what our agency calls #minervasoul, because we have the privilege of supporting clients who want to end poverty as we know it through innovative higher education, others who want to eradicate human trafficking in our city, some who want to tangibly love people better by the way that they do business, and yet others who are lifting people out of homelessness. The one thing they all have in common is that they want to make the world where they live and work a kinder, more generous place to be. I’m following the North Texas generosity online as I send last emails and make sure the kids and grandparents have what they need before my husband and I embark on a two-week journey through Greece to experience some of the places where God used the apostle Paul to build and spread the Church.

I find it no coincidence that I am typing these words with a few hours of sleep and a burning in my heart to breathe the air, see the places and connect my minds-eye back to the essence of what drove Paul to preach with such fervor and urgency about the glorious life that Christ would bring to this dusty earth and into our hearts.

This departure and pilgrimage is met with the announcement of the Willow Creek Advocacy Group and a process that still lies in the spaces between what is right and true, what lies in a man’s heart and what happened with one of the most influential and powerful men in global church leadership in my lifetime. He was both boss and friend, pastor and human. We watched this revelation of abuse of power unfold before our very eyes, and I have never wept as much as I have in this last year over the depravity of man, even well-intentioned man, and the tornadic destruction it wields in its wake. So as I have packed, settled work accounts, kissed my children one last time, I am reflecting on Paul’s desire for us to be free from all of the earthbound things that tend to bind us. I am grateful for my new “online church” with its beautiful, colorful, rag tag community of believers and doubters, advocates, researchers, doctors, lawyers, pastors, ministers and faithful prayer warriors that have gathered to see this set right. I’m writing this in response to the many requests that have flooded my cell phone over the last few days. I have so many thoughts, but no conclusions. What I know for sure is that this Willow Creek Community Church crisis that has become part of my life in various ways for more than two decades, still makes me burn, like Paul, for a fully biblically-functioning church here on earth.

As of yesterday, I want to thank these four individuals that were announced publicly for stepping forward to begin a process that I hope and pray will be redemptive for all involved. From all I read, they seem to be a great group of people. It is my desire to honor and respect the process that the independent Advisory Council offers, unless they give me reason to distrust their motives, process or actions in how this is handled.

This investigation is a defining moment for Willow Creek and for the Evangelical Church at large. It has the opportunity to reveal, highlight, and model how the bride of Christ can be led by servant leaders who allow the indwelling Christ to define their leadership patterns, behaviors, relational patterns, emotional health, and organizational decision-making, once again.

This situation has created great distrust by the way in which the Willow Creek leadership mis-handled my situation alone, let alone all the others. This situation has had severe consequences for me personally and for all involved. It needs to be resolved, for the gross injustice that has occurred to be made right, for the sin that has caused such destruction to be revealed and dealt with, and for the unhealthy power structure that has damaged so many to be removed and rebuilt biblically.

I believe that Bill’s actions and the Willow Creek debacle will be studied for many years to come.  Willow Creek and the Willow Creek Association’s current and future response to abuse within the church is critical because of their national and global influence on church leadership. These findings and how they are dealt with have the potential to provide a model for what is good and acceptable for leaders and churches going forward. This is a great opportunity for the church to hit the reset button on Christ-centered, biblical relational and organizational leadership.

The investigation into Bill Hybels’ actions regarding his abuse of power and sexual misconduct is a huge task. It requires legal, spiritual and relational integrity for the Advisory Group chosen to investigate him. I cannot confirm whether the Advisory Council has the skills to oversee the proper investigation, as I’m not aware of their prior experience with oversight of weighty investigations regarding abuse of power and sexual misconduct. That said, someone must step up to lead a process that calls for clarity, repentance, and ultimate healing for everyone involved.

I choose to believe that God is in control of the situation and has brought it to bear for the purpose of refining and redefining Biblical leadership for the modern-day church, to bring purity and holiness to the Bride of Christ.

Here are a few answers to questions I have been receiving. They leave me with more questions than answers, at this point:

  1. I have not been contacted by anyone about the particulars of the pending investigation, the intended process, or the makeup of the Advisory Council, but I hope that I can trust this council in a way that I haven’t been able to trust Willow Creek leadership so far. Their actions will determine my level of trust and involvement.
  2. I do not know whether they will “look into actions themselves” or whether they will hire professionals with significant experience and expertise in these matters to truly investigate these serious allegations with a completely unbiased approach.
  3. I do not know if they will make the findings public so that the heart of the matter may be revealed in full.
  4. I do not know if they will go back in time to review all known infractions with regard to Bill’s choices, from the beginning of his ministry.
  5. I do not know if the grievous infractions will simply be “noted so that the church can move on”, or if the abuse of power that led to a multitude of other unjust, unbiblical and destructive behaviors will be brought to light and rectified, paving the way for a new model for redemptive leadership.
  6. I do not know if they will immediately go to the most obvious places to look, with regard to this investigation – that being the emails, files, texts, phone calls going back as far as 2014 with the initial allegations of a 14-year affair, all the way to the most recent woman investigated, and including his communication with female leaders, including Heather Larson, into present day. The women in the news media outlets have already had their stories thoroughly corroborated and vetted by reporters, in order to present truthful accounts of their allegations. Simply investigating the women again will not be thorough nor sufficient to uncover what has been hidden. There also needs to be a safe place created for others to come forward, if they have a story, without fear of reprisal, shaming or further victimization. I do not know if there are plans for this.
  7. I do not know if the investigation will include inviting Bill into a process of biblical repentance, for his own sake, the sake of his family, his church, his organizations and for the sake of all who at one time traded their sinfulness for the fullness of Christ, as Bill has preached this most of his life. I pray for this kind of restoration.
  8. I do not know if the investigation will go beyond the women’s stories and Bill’s misconduct, to the issues of how the allegations and process were mishandled by Willow Creek and WCA leadership, and to the systems that protected him and itself, and allowed all of this to happen.

If Bill is unrepentant, he will stand before the world, who, I believe, will consider his unwillingness to cooperate with investigations as an admission by default.  He must live with the consequences of his choices. We may always wonder why he has been unwilling to open his life to being investigated fully, accurately, and thoroughly, for the sake of integrity and his own spiritual well-being, and for the healing of those he wounded.

The church has a bright future because the sovereignty and grace of God allows it to flourish in spite of man’s choices. But the church is most glorious when she radiates in truth, with the full expression of Christ, without blemish, living and moving about in this world, expectant for the kingdom to come.

If this investigation is done well, it “will sift wheat from chaff” in leadership structures of the church and encourage that which remains to thrive, for the sake of the gospel. The Evangelical Church must bring Jesus back to the forefront of spiritual leadership and fully recognize him once again as the Head of the Church. The Evangelical Church must address the issue of power abuse and sexual abuse running rampant in “successful” churches. Instead of being in the headlines for covering up misconduct and abuse and giving standing ovations to abusers, let’s be known for leading the way toward repentance and health, for the church of the future.

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

Ephesians 4:11-13

September 18, 2018

The Merriam-Webster dictionary online defines ambition as (a) an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power (b) desire to achieve a particular end. This is viewed as a virtue in much of our culture – certainly in academia. Ambition is also considered a virtue in the church. Perhaps most significantly in the view that “bigger is better.”

But is ambition a virtue? Should it be viewed as a virtue from a Christian perspective?

What role does ambition play in our church? What role should it play?

I’m skeptical. It seems to me that ambition is playing with fire. It is not inherently negative, in fact it is good to have goals and to work for those goals with perseverance. But ambition uses people, destroys relationships, and destroys community. Ambition is intimately coupled with envy, pride, and perhaps greed. We are fully embodied creatures and ambition feeds on our chemistry and biology and it shapes our natural responses, it is addictive.

I’ll go one step further. Ambition, although not always clearly recognized and acknowledged as such, wreaks havoc in the church. Sexual sin, despite the attention payed to it, is of less significance if we consider impact on community and pain caused. The difference in impact is primarily because we recognize sexual sin as sin – there are consequences. In contrast we often value and reward the result of ambition. We brush under the rug or rationalize away its impetus in envy and pride. This is a spiritual problem and a physical problem.

We are, I believe, fully embodied souls. Sin is a product of mind and will, but it is a fully embodied mind. I’ve posted on the embodied nature of sin before and borrow from those posts to start this discussion. This is background and necessary insight into the direction I would like to consider thinking about ambition. And yes, it is related to science.

Scientific developments have impact on our understanding of human behavior and human response. There was an article, Seven Deadly Sins, in the September 2009 issue of Discover Magazine that posed the question “Why does being bad feel so good?” and describes research being done these days to explore the science of sin. Scientists are using techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and PET (positron-emission tomography) to map the active areas of the brain as a subject responds to certain stimuli.

Lust is a big one – Research into brain response connected with lust indicates that (in males at least) the response is all-encompassing. “All said, the most notable thing about lust is that it sets nearly the whole brain buzzing.“ The signals are unique, distinctive, unmistakable and uncontrollable. This isn’t surprising. We know that lust is a problem, we know that behavior can shape response, that there is a biological and chemical aspect that shapes not only the present, but the future. The biochemical response can be addicting and destructive. The lure of pornography is an excellent case in point. We could go on here, but this isn’t really the point of today’s post.

Envy is interesting – in a study of envy a number of volunteers were observed using fMRI while they read one of three scenarios – the key one described a student similar to the volunteer, but better in every respect. The conflict detecting regions of the brain fired and the response was similar to that for pain. This leads to the suggestion that envy is a kind of social pain. Later, when reading about this student’s downfall, the reward and pleasure regions of the volunteer’s brain fired. Not only this but the greater the pain in reading about the student’s success, the greater the reward in reading of the student’s downfall. The reward response is along the same line as that experienced from food – or sex. It feels good.

And now the queen of vices – Pride. Gregory the Great in commenting on Job noted (p. 489-490): “For when pride, the queen of sins, has fully possessed a conquered heart, she surrenders is immediately to seven principal sins, as if to some of her generals, to lay it waste. … For pride is the root of all evil, of which it is said, as Scripture bears witness; Pride is the beginning of all sin.” Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica dealt also with the question of pride as sin and concludes that is is indeed sin: “Now right reason requires that every man’s will should tend to that which is proportionate to him. Therefore it is evident that pride denotes something opposed to right reason, and this shows it to have the character of sin”

Does pride show response in brain scans? The science here is rather interesting.

For most of us, it takes less mental energy to puff ourselves up than to think critically about our own abilities. … volunteers who imagined themselves winning a prize or trouncing an opponent showed less activation in brain regions associated with introspection and self-conscious thought than people induced to feel negative emotions such as embarrassment. We accept positive feelings about ourselves readily, Takahashi says: “Compared with guilt and embarrassment, pride might be processed more automatically”. (p. 51)

In another experiment a part of the brain could be stimulated to turn off the protective influence of pride. When this happened “they saw themselves as they really were, without glossing over negative characteristics.” (p. 51)

Even more interesting, the experiments demonstrate that righteous humility, deliberate self depreciation, is but arrogance and pride in disguise. The brain activation is the same. “Both are forms of one-upsmanship. ‘They are in the same location and seem to serve the same purpose: putting oneself ahead in society.‘” (p. 51)

What does this mean? Self confidence, ambition, pride, envy – this is a slippery slope. It is insidious – affecting our very make-up inside out. We are wrong when we cast it “simply” as a battle of wills. And our capacity for denial, blame-shifting, and self-deception is also rooted in our make-up. It is interesting though, because studies also show that we can train our brains and influence response – especially true of sins of envy, wrath, and pride. Feeding ambition, with its corollaries of envy and pride, is like feeding lust. It changes our very being, our function, our chemistry, our brain paths. On the other hand intentional pursuit of virtue is also self reinforcing.

So why is it playing with fire? A look at the church in America over the last decade should make it clear. Mars Hill, Willow Creek, coverups in the Catholic Church, and many others if we dig a little. Ambition, pride, and the quest for power played a role in all of these. It is always wrapped in “righteousness” – doing God’s work, protecting his image, saving souls. The goal becomes influence and power hidden behind a veneer of righteous humility.

Thinking about it brings me to my knees. Lord, help me stay focused on the goal, the edification of the church and the kingdom of God. … And may they forget the channel, seeing only Him.

This reflection leads me though, to an idea that I would like to pose for consideration. Within the American evangelical church we view ambition as a virtue. We condone ambition, we reward ambition, we cultivate ambition, we admire ambition, we feed ambition. And this is a serious problem.

In fact, I think it is one of the biggest and most destructive temptations active in our church today. Ambition, accompanied by, and inextricably intertwined with, pride and envy.

What do you think?

What role does ambition play in our church? What role should it play?

How do we guard against pride and envy and stay focused on Christ?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

This is an edited and shortened re-post (but timely)

August 17, 2018

By Michelle Van Loon
www.michellevanloon.com
www.ThePerennialGen.com

The newest wave of reaction to megachurches was sure to come in the wake of a string of moral failures of both charismatic leaders and the “yes man” approach of the elders/board members responsible for governing the organization. A number of pundits have noted that the megachurch built on a business model is a faulty structure not unlike a McMansion built on a foundation of sand. There is a renewed hue and cry to get back to small, local churches in order to prevent the kinds of failures we’ve witnessed among super-sized congregations in recent days.

While I have great sympathies for those sentiments – and am sympathetic to them – I also hear in some of these expressions two troubling motivations: nostalgia and pragmatism. I’d like to see both confronted in this moment before they take root among us, because neither will lead us in a healthy direction.

The first, nostalgia, is a wistful, filtered view of the past. Journalist Doug Larson said, “Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days.” Every time Scripture exhorts us to remember, it is a clear-eyed, present-tense participatory engagement with God, not a call to a sanitized, comforting yearning for the “better” ol’ days.

Though I’m not much of a fiction reader, I have enjoyed author Jan Karon’s Mitford series. They trace the story of middle-aged, diabetic Episcopal priest, Father Tim, as he seeks to minister to those in his small-town (and, occasionally, to assist other churches). The books are set in the present, and tackle contemporary problems including addiction, abuse, abandonment, and various incarnations of the seven deadly sins among those in Father Tim’s care – and in Father Tim himself. They are lovely books, and create an accessible picture of a man continuing to grow in his faith. But even with a heaping helping of modern-day problems, Father Tim’s world is at its heart a deeply nostalgic portrait of a small-town church and community – a place where everyone knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.

Some who are calling for a return to small churches have a longing for a Mitford-like oasis in our coarse, often-inhospitable culture. Truthfully, I share that desire, and I suspect many of you reading these words do, too. A smaller church can be an amazing extended family. But it can also be a place of loneliness or deep dysfunction that is simply a scaled-down version containing the very same problems we see in the megachurch world. I’ve been a witness to sexual sin coverup and abuse of power in several small churches. Size alone is no guarantor of a healthy community. Nor will trying to recreate an idealized vision of a past that never really existed.

The other temptation I see in this moment may at first glance seem an odd bedfellow with nostalgia. However, pragmatism fuels Evangelicalism and, to a lesser degree, many other streams of church in the West. We love what “works”, and nowhere has this been more evident than in the business of church growth books, conferences, and coaching that has shaped the way in which we think about our congregations and denominations for a generation.

Sadly, I hear a new pragmatism in some of those calling for smaller churches now. I live less than 15 minutes from 3 different megachurches, including Willow Creek. I grew up in this area, and remember 40 years ago there were many, many small and mid-sized churches here. That number has shrunk dramatically, in direct proportion to the rise of the megachurches that have been built in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. We may rightly lament the notion of transfer growth fueling the rise of the megas and multi-site churches, but it is worth noting that at least some of these smaller local congregations weren’t all that healthy in the first place.

As megachurches shrink from problems from within as well as perhaps reflecting a societal trend away from church attendance and membership. it is inevitable that new expressions of smaller, local churches will arise. However, trying to capitalize on the failures of this church or that one is a reaction, not a calling, and is at the heart fueled by pragmatism.

There are many wounded sheep milling around right now in the body of Christ – those who’ve been hurt by leadership failures and abuse, in large and small churches alike. Neither nostalgia nor pragmatism offer a cure. I long to hear of more current and would-be leaders asking the question of how to provide care, rest, and healing for those wounded ones. It is a question I’m not hearing asked nearly often enough right now, and it might well be the most urgent question we face as we move forward from here.

August 11, 2018

A huge thanks to JS this week for some of these links. This week has been a week of grieving in our home as we grieve what has happened and is happening at Willow Creek. Pray for Willow. It’s not over by a long shot.

Flat out one of the finest posts I’ve ever read and one of the best pieces of wisdom on leadership and churches I’ve read. Maybe the best.

Kristin du Mez

Debates over who is and isn’t an evangelical have become commonplace among scholars. Some of these debates have played out here at the Anxious Bench. Should evangelicalism be a theological category, à la David Bebbington? If so, people of color deserve a prominent place within evangelicalism. Or, is “evangelicalism” a cultural movement—one defined by its whiteness and its politics as much as (if not more than) by any particular statements of belief? Should we think of evangelicalism first and foremost as a global movement? As one represented by such luminaries as John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and William Wilberforce? Or as the politicized, white, God-and-country movement best represented by Robert Jeffress and the Duck Dynasty clan?

What if the answer is all of the above?

For scholars, perhaps the time has come to set aside our quibbling over definitive rubrics and our attempts to dictate, once and for all, who is and who is not an evangelical, and instead begin to consider evangelicalism as an imagined religious community.

There are, in fact, many evangelicalisms, and each is imagined with a different center and different boundaries.

If we consider “evangelicalism” an imagined religious community—imagined as inherently limited, bounded, with insiders and outsiders—we must pay close attention to questions of power.  Individuals, communities, theologians, organizations, leaders, and distribution networks all imagine evangelicalism in different ways. (One person may even imagine it in conflicting ways simultaneously, using each for different rhetorical purposes, identifying with or against different imagined constructs.)

The primary question, then, isn’t which definition is “correct,” but rather which imaginings have more power to shape other people’s imaginings. When LifeWay decides you are no longer an evangelical, it matters. At least if you want to sell books. When the evangelical left claims the mantle of evangelicalism, it matters rhetorically. Does it matter beyond their own circles? Perhaps. This is a question worth exploring.

[SMcK: here’s the challenge. Until the official organs who speak for evangelicalism open their doors to more than their type, this imagination will not take hold.]

Bodies vs. screens

A rooster crows and awakens my family at the farm where we are staying for a long weekend. The air is crisp, and stars twinkle in the sky as the Sun rises over the hill. We walk to the barn, where horses, cows, chickens, pigs, dogs and cats vie for our attention. We wash and replenish water bowls, and carry hay to the cows and horses. The kids collect eggs for breakfast.

The wind carries the smells of winter turning to spring. The mud wraps around our boots as we step in puddles. When we enter a stall, the pigs bump into us; when we look at the sheep, they cower together in a corner. We are learning about the urban watershed, where eggs and beef come from, and how barns were built in the 19th century with wood cauls rather than metal nails. We experience the smells of the barn, the texture of the ladder, the feel of the shovels, the vibration when the pigs grunt, the taste of fresh eggs, and the camaraderie with the farmers.

As a parent, it is obvious that children learn more when they engage their entire body in a meaningful experience than when they sit at a computer. If you doubt this, just observe children watching an activity on a screen and then doing the same activity for themselves. They are much more engaged riding a horse than watching a video about it, playing a sport with their whole bodies rather than a simulated version of it in an online game.

Today, however, many powerful people are pushing for children to spend more time in front of computer screens, not less. Philanthropists such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have contributed millions of dollars to ‘personal learning’, a term that describes children working by themselves on computers, and Laurene Powell Jobs has bankrolled the XQ Super School project to use technology to ‘transcend the confines of traditional teaching methodologies’. Policymakers such as the US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos call personalised learning ‘one of the most promising developments in K-12 education’, and Rhode Island has announced a statewide personalised learning push for all public school students. Think tanks such as the Brookings Institution recommend that Latin-American countries build ‘massive e-learning hubs that reach millions’. School administrators tout the advantages of giving all students, including those at kindergarten, personal computers.

Good read.

In 2014, George Barna spoke about a study he was conducting on conservative American pastors. He found 5 factors that the pastors consistently used to rate the success of their church: attendance, giving, number of programs, number of staff, square footage. According to these measures—Willow Creek is wildly successful. Tohatchi Baptist Church is wildly unsuccessful.

Except it isn’t. The smile on the little girl’s face as she hugged my knees spoke volumes about the success—the true success—of Tohatchi Baptist Church.

I find Barna’s insight about these five measure of success—attendance, giving, number of programs, number of staff, square footage–rather interesting. He said, “all of these things are good measures, except for one tiny fact: Jesus didn’t die for any of them.”

As I laid on my lumpy cot in the multi-purpose sanctuary (did I mention we spent the night there?), I thought a lot about the difference between Tohatchi Baptist Church and Willow Creek. I have been a Christian for thirty-five years. I have been in ministry for twenty-two years. I get the church. I get why middle-class Christians are more comfortable dropping their kids off in a safely protected children’s unit that has computers and electronic cards checking you in and out than a small room with stained carpet and only two volunteers. I get why middle-class Christians like comfortable chairs and pretty bathrooms to accompany their well-orchestrated services. I really do understand that there are dedicated Christians serving Jesus at churches like Willow Creek just like the dedicated Christians serving Jesus at Tohatchi. I know this because I was one of them (not Willow Creek, but a similar style church). I get it, but I am becoming less and less comfortable with it.

I am also having more and more trouble understanding why Christians at any church idolize pastors and allow pastors free rein without accountability. As one of my good friends once said, when you build your pastor a privacy suite and give him all the keys, why would you not expect trouble?

The pulpit at Tohatchi points away from the pastor. “Sir, we want to see Jesus.”  But when Bill Hybels resigned, his congregation groaned and shouted “No!”. When Bill Hybels denied the allegations against him, his congregants stood up and cheered him. His elders rallied around him. When Andy Savage confessed his “sexual incident” with a teenage girl, the people gave him a standing ovation. Despite the outrageous behavior of Mark Driscoll and his clear abuse of his pastoral position, people are still attending his new church and reading his Patheos blog.

Haven’t we had enough already?

Pastors, like all Christians, should point to Jesus—not to themselves. Churches should hold pastors accountable—not idolize them as saints.

Give me the churches like Tohatchi any day. At least for the time being, I am done with the Willow Creeks.

Great instincts:

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — A 12-year-old boy is recovering and remains hospitalized days after he jumped several [SMcK?] feet from an overpass and a police officer jumped to help him Friday.

“Everything happened so fast and I think my adrenaline was pumping so high” said police Officer Jessie Ferreira Cavallo, of the Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., police department over the weekend.

Ferreira, who was on her way to work in the village, was one of a few passers-by to stop to help. She said she jumped after the boy and helped him after he was unresponsive on the ground.

Ferreira said she immediately parked her car on the shoulder, stuffed her pockets with first-aid materials from her car and then jumped after the boy, who she said looked like a young teenager.

“I wasn’t thinking too much,” she said. “I just knew, when I looked down and saw him … he looked dead. I couldn’t see anything other than blood. I thought to myself, ‘He needs help. I need to help him.’ “

She said another woman, in a military uniform, also stopped to help.

“Both me and her together, we were able to aid him and assist him,” she said.

The boy was unresponsive, she said, and they put a neck brace and a splint on him, and checked his airway.

After some time, the boy opened his eyes, but was mostly non-responsive, Ferreira said.

“I was talking,” she said. “He wasn’t really responding back.”

The boy, who went to the hospital with a broken arm, broken nose and leg injuries is expected to survive, said Kieran O’Leary, a Westchester County, New York, police spokesman on Monday.

Good essay on Kafka.

Wes Hill on ReVoice:

At a time in my life when I wondered whether it would signal defeat if I said simply, “I’m gay, and I don’t expect that to change, and I want to be celibate,” an older single friend of mine wrote a letter to me—one that I now look back on as a turning point in my thinking, illuminating an unexplored possibility:

Perhaps the real question is not how to make unfulfilled desires go away, but rather, what they teach us about the nature of our lives, what is ultimately important. … This, I suspect, is much akin to Paul’s own discussion of the thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul prayed but it did not go away. God allowed it to remain in his life that he might know the surpassing greatness of God’s grace in ALL circumstances. Likewise, unfulfilled desires point us to the only eternal source of satisfaction—God himself. … [T]hey help us identify with the true nature of the human condition of all those around us who are suffering [things] over which they have no control. It is an immediate bridge for ministry to our fellow human beings.

Reading those words was a revelation. In their wake, I began to ponder questions I hadn’t known I was allowed ask: Might there be some divine design, some strange providence, in my homosexuality? Might my sexual orientation be something God does not want to remove, knowing that its challenge keeps pulling me back towards Him in prayer? Might it even be something through which more empathy and compassion for fellow sufferers are birthed?

Asking these questions let me abandon my fevered search for some cure for my gayness and prompted me to look instead for what C. S. Lewis once called the “certain kinds of sympathy and understanding, [the] certain social role” of which only those who aren’t straight might be capable. Homosexuality, I continued to believe, is sinful insofar as it represents a thirst for acts that Scripture forbids, but I came to see that it is at the same time—like St. Paul’s thorn—an occasion for grace to become manifest.

Exploring that grace was the point of the Revoice conference. It was the first theologically conservative event I’ve attended in which I felt no shame in owning up to my sexual orientation and no hesitation in declaring my sexual abstinence. At Revoice there was no pressure to obfuscate the probable fixity and exclusivity of my homosexuality through clunky euphemisms. Nor was there any stigma attached to celibacy, as though my embracing it were simply, as the ex-gay leader Andy Comiskey once wrote, “a concession to same-sex attraction.” There was, instead, a kind of joyful and creative moving on. “Yes, we’re gay, and yes, we’re committed to historic Christian belief and practice,” everyone seemed to be saying. “But that’s just the boring preamble. What we really want to talk about is where we go from here.”

Concussions:

High school girls in the United States are 56 percent more likely than boys to suffer a concussion in sports that are played by both genders, a recent study says. The largest discrepancy was found in the concussion rates for girls’ softball, which were four times the rates of concussions for boys’ baseball.

Nearly 8 million U.S. high school students participate in sports every year, with more than 2 million competing in the sports where concussion is common: football, ice hockey, lacrosse and soccer, the study team writes in Journal of Athletic Training.

Participation in sports is one of the leading causes of concussions among the student-athletes, the study says. Researchers were interested in learning about who was getting concussion and how they might have originated.

Ocean Clean Up:

SAN FRANCISCO – On Sept. 8, an ungainly, 2,000-foot-long contraption will steam under the Golden Gate Bridge in what’s either a brilliant quest or a fool’s errand.

Dubbed the Ocean Cleanup Project, this giant sea sieve consists of pipes that float at the surface of the water with netting below, corralling trash in the center of a U-shaped design.

The purpose of this bizarre gizmo is as laudable as it is head-scratching: to collect millions of tons of garbage from what’s known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which can harm and even kill whales, dolphins, seals, fish and turtles that consume it or become entangled in it, according to researchers at Britain’s University of Plymouth.

The project is the expensive, untried brainchild of a 23-year-old Dutch college dropout named Boyan Slat, who was so disgusted by the plastic waste he encountered diving off Greece as a teen that he has devoted his life to cleaning up the mess.

 Along with detractors who want to prioritize halting the flow of plastics into the ocean, the Dutch nonprofit gathered support from several foundations and philanthropists, including billionaire Salesforce founder Marc Benioff. In 2017, the Ocean Cleanup Project received $5.9 million in donations and reported reserves from donations in previous years of $17 million.

August 8, 2018

Beautiful post by Nancy Beach:

As I woke up very early this morning, my mind and heart once again ruminated on all the chaos and carnage connected to the Willow Creek story. So much loss and pain and broken relationships as a consequence of sin. It would be quite natural and easy to go to a place of despair. To conclude that maybe this whole idea of church is a disaster and it would be best for smart people to run far, far away.

And yet…….what more powerful two words can there be?  AND YET……I still have hope. Though my soul is weary and exhausted, though the storm is raging on the eve of the Leadership Summit, I still hold on to hope. Here’s just a few reasons:

  • I have hope simply because I know the God of Hope. I learned the astonishing good news at the age of 7 that Jesus loves me in spite of my sin. That I can be forgiven and transformed over time. That one day I will stand before Him, and only because of His extraordinary grace, He will say, “She is mine.”
  • I have hope because throughout Scripture we read that our God responds to the prayers of broken, humble people. That when even the smallest remnant of his followers lament their sin and seek the truth, He will usher in healing.
  • I have hope because 5 years ago now, God gave an assignment to Leanne Mellado to steward some heavy secrets, and she has been faithful ever since to call out for truth and justice. She was joined by her husband, Jimmy, and by WCA Board member Nancy Ortberg who courageously called the Board to do the right thing. Since then God has raised up other voices and unearthed other secrets and women have bravely told their stories. This brings me great hope because I believe truth and love and grace will prevail.
August 5, 2018

Thank you Steve Carter for your courage. Willow’s path has been reckless disregard for truth. Steve saw through the deceptions of it’s former pastor’s “they’re all liars” narrative and he he apologized for his complicity. This is an act of courage and integrity.

From Steve Carter:

I am writing to announce my resignation from Willow Creek Community Church, effective immediately.
 
The new facts and allegations that came to light this morning are horrifying, and my heart goes out to Ms. Baranowski and her family for the pain they have lived with. These most recent revelations have also compelled me to make public my decision to leave, as much as it grieves me to go.
 
Since the first women came forward with their stories, I have been gravely concerned about our church’s official response, and it’s ongoing approach to these painful issues. After many frank conversations with our elders, it became clear that there is a fundamental difference in judgment between what I believe is necessary for Willow Creek to move in a positive direction, and what they think is best. That is not to say that I am right and they are wrong. But I must follow the path that I believe God has laid out for me to live with integrity, and that path now diverges from Willow Creek. I offered my resignation many weeks ago, but I was requested to delay an announcement and continue with my duties until the leadership determined how to make the decision public. At this point, however, I cannot, in good conscience, appear before you as your Lead Teaching Pastor when my soul is so at odds with the institution.
 
I wish I could appear before you to say goodbye. I wish I could tell each of you, personally and individually, how much I treasure the time I have been able to serve you. But it would be misleading of me to stand on that stage as if presenting a unified front. I defer to the wisdom of the leadership of this church, so I must stand aside.
 
Sarah and I are heartbroken over this decision. We love our Willow Creek family. Nothing would have given me more joy than to pastor this church for many years to come.
 
To all the congregants, staff, believers, supporters, and wonderfully faithful people who make up this community, thank you so much for the opportunity to be a part of your world. I thank God for every moment I’ve had with you here, and we will continue to pray for this community and hold it dearly in our hearts.
 
Grace + Peace,
Steve Carter
July 28, 2018

We had a marvelous trip to Denmark and we are back! More on that to come.

Curious Koala:

An inquisitive koala that animal rescuers in Australia said they’ve encountered multiple times before had to be saved yet again – this time from a fence at a power station this week, local media reported.

“It wasn’t a great start to the day for this curious who got his head stuck in a fence at our Happy Valley substation,” electricity distributor SA Power Networks wrote on social media, sharing a photo of the stuck marsupial.

After the animal was found, Fauna Rescue SA, a local animal rescue operation, worked to free the fury creature.

“(It) looks like he’s crawled under the fence to go somewhere, as they do, and then sat up as he was under the fence and got his head caught,” Fauna Rescue SA volunteer Sally Selwood told The Advertiser, an Adelaide, Australia, newspaper.

Selwood told The Advertiser the koala seemed “very confused” about how he came to be trapped. “But he didn’t have the brains to bob back down again to get out,” she added. “He looked like he’s thinking, ‘Who put this fence on my head?’ “

Mourning Orca

An endangered orca whale died shortly after its birth on Tuesday, and the calf’s mother has been tending to the body for three days.

The calf was born near near Victoria, British Columbia, located about 75 miles northwest of Seattle. Researchers working to track Southern Resident killer whales responded to the scene, the Center for Whale Research said in a release.

The organization observed the baby’s corpse sinking and the mother repeatedly bringing it back to the surface on Tuesday. The mother supported her offspring’s body on her forehead as she pushed it toward an island, the organization said.

On Thursday, the mother – labeled J35 – entered her third day of mourning with her calf, Ken Balcomb, founder and principal investigator of the Center for Whale Research, told USA TODAY.

“It’s still happening,” he said Thursday evening. He said that he has observed the behavior before, but not for this length of time.

The organization says killer whales and dolphins show strong mother-offspring bonds and sometimes transport dead calves for up to a week.

Southern Resident killer whales are a clan of 76 orcas in imminent danger of extinction, the organization says.

Deborah Giles, science and research director for the nonprofit Wild Orca, told the Seattle Times that she’s observed similar behavior from orca whales for lesser amounts of time.

What would a leader do?, Warren Throckmorton asks. From the original claim of 700 to…

A significant erosion has happened. The GLS started the year with 700 locations and now the organizers claim “over 500 locations nationwide.”

However, there is a problem. If you click the “show list” link and count the number of venues, only 494 are currently listed. I suspect, Willow Creek Association knows this but hasn’t changed the website again because less than 500 doesn’t sound as spectacular as “600+” as the front page of their website currently boasts.

What would a leader do?

Women and speaking out:

Starting next month, Sarah Hirshland will officially take over as CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee. One of the big issues she will have to deal with is ongoing sexual abuse scandals.

In recent months, athletes have come forward in sports like swimming, gymnastics, diving and taekwondo with allegations of sexual abuse or assault. Many athletes don’t go public until years after the alleged assaults take place. They stay silent in part because of the taboo around sexual abuse. In some cases, young people can’t identify what has happened to them as a crime.

But a major reason athletes stay silent is fear that publicly criticizing sport governing organizations could derail their athletic career.

Keith Sanderson, a three-time Olympian in shooting, made that point in an interview with KOAA television in Colorado Springs last February. The interview came just a few weeks after more than 100 girls and women testified in a Michigan courtroom about how the former USA Gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar, had abused them.

Beth Allison Barr on coverture.

Bird story:

A photo showing a female duck followed by upwards of 50 ducklings has sparked national and international attention, awe and a little confusion.

“Mom of the year” some have mused of the photo taken by wildlife photographer Brent Cizek on June 27 in on Lake Bemidji in Minnesota.

But the scene is better understood as an extreme example of duckling daycare, an expert says. And the mom leading the way? She might more accurately be described as a grandmother. Maybe a great-grandmother.

The ducks pictured in the photo — common merganser — are among a number of bird species that can care for their young in a “day care system” called a crèche, the New York Times reports. In a crèche, multiple females leave their offspring in the care of an experienced female.

Teens and Seniors on exercise:

You might think that the younger we are, the more active we are. But a new study turns that belief on its head: The results show that physical activity is lower in children than previously thought. And, on average, teens are about as sedentary as a 60-year-old adult.

The study, conducted by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, shows that by the end of adolescence, activity levels were alarmingly low. The only age group with an increase in activity is young adults in their 20s. After that, activity levels begin to decline starting at age 35, and continue to fall through midlife and older adulthood, the study shows.

The researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2003-2006, in which nearly 13,000 participants wore tracking devices for seven straight days, removing them only for bathing and at bedtime. The devices measured how much time participants were sedentary or engaged in light or moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

The researchers broke down findings into five age groups: children (ages six to 11); adolescents (ages 12 to 19); young adults (ages 20 to 29); adults at midlife (ages 31 to 59); and older adults (age 60 through age 84). Forty-nine percent were male.

Great story from Wade Burleson, and here’s opening clip:

I’m reading the autobiography of missionary Chris Clayman. The book is called Superplan.

It’s excellent.
Many of us spent a few of our early years as a Christian fearing that God might call us to the mission field. “From here to Timbuktu” was the phrase we’d use to illustrate how far we feared God might send us.
Chris Clayman actually moved to Timbuktu, Africa to share Christ with the Bandogo people.

How does a 23-year-old caucasian from Georgetown, Texas wind up in Timbuktu?

In the book, Chris describes how he grew up in a “strong Christian family, a supportive community, and a modest but well-provided lifestyle.” He attended a Christian university (Abilene Christian).

Chris assumed the safe and secure Christian experience of American evangelicalism.

In college, however, Chris came to understand what it means for Christ to be King.

It happened like this.

June 30, 2018

From Willow Creek’s elders:

With the blessing of the Elder Board, Heather and Steve have made statements that reveal their hearts on the issues facing our church. We support them and join with them in their desire to respond with a more repentant and honoring spirit.

We apologize and ask for forgiveness that the tone of our initial response was not one of humility and deep concern for all the women involved. It takes courage for a woman to step forward and share her story.

We are grieved that we let Bill’s statement stand for as long as we did that the women were lying and colluding. We now believe Bill entered into areas of sin related to the allegations that have been brought forth.

Please know we, as a board, are committed to doing everything we can to improve and grow from this experience. To that aim we are:

  • Expanding our investigative efforts to, as best we can, get to the truth around these allegations.
  • Eliciting outside expertise in the area of board governance with the hope to not repeat mistakes made in the past and provide the guidance we need to be effective going forward.

Join us in prayer for all involved and for His Spirit led guidance and wisdom.

Humbly,

The Elder Board

From Heather Larson:

I want to talk to you all about something that has been on my heart. Early this week, I reached out to the Elders and mentioned that I thought it was important for Steve and me to be able to personally speak to the situation we have been navigating as a church. This has been a tremendous weight on both of us, and for many compounding reasons, we both believe it is important for us personally to own what we need to and to do whatever we can to help us take next steps. The team and I have been having long conversations, and you may have read Steve’s post last night. I was supportive of Steve’s post, and the Elders are supportive of us making these comments. I wanted to stand before you and address you all as the church family and those who are watching.

I know these past months have been excruciating, and I want to personally acknowledge to you the mistakes that I have made. I need to speak these words for my own integrity and for our church. I need to publicly apologize to the women who raised concerns about Bill.

To the women directly, I can’t imagine how painful the past months have been for you, and I am so sorry for my part in that.

It was stated that the allegations are all lies, and I do not believe that. I should have jumped in and declared that personally right away when that statement was made. I believe the stories that Bill had interactions that were hurtful to these women. That is wrong, and I hope and pray that someday this can be made right.

I ask for forgiveness that I did not personally declare that sooner.

The women showed courage in coming forward. In full transparency of what was going on in me, one of the hardest parts for me was that I did not agree with how the information came out in the media, and I allowed that to get in the way of focusing on the pain of these women. I am sorry. I should have listened more to why the women felt like they were forced to take that path.

It was wrong to host those first family meetings and to release those initial posted statements in the way we did. We should have started by listening. As I walked out on stage that first night, I realized that the humility and tone were not right, and I have deep regrets about even holding those meetings. I said things that hurt people, and I am deeply sorry.

It grieves me that people felt like they had to take sides and that this situation has created such division. I long for personal conversations, for ownership, for repentance, for healing.

Since Bill stepped away, we have all been reflecting on what we could have done differently and on how we can better navigate in the future. I am doing what I can to make things right, and I am working hard to begin this new season with a culture that is transparent, healthy, and thriving. I am praying with every ounce of my being that God will redeem this situation and bring healing for everyone involved. I ask you to please be praying as well.

We need to hear from the WCA as well.


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