The Gospel is not Hostile to the Culture

Jesus of Nazareth stands at the center of the narrative that best explains, for me, the world, the universe, and the reason for human existence. That narrative, with Jesus at theday-12 center, gives me a sense of purpose for my life and fills me with hope for the future.

Jesus of Nazareth, whom the early church came to think of as Jesus the Messiah (or Christ, i.e. God’s anointed one) embodies the nature of God while, at the same time, he exemplifies the full potentiality of humanness. I come closest to realizing my own potential by aspiring to be like him. Continue reading

Why Would Anybody Want to Plant a Church?

A lot of the rhetoric coming from proponents of church planting these days is ill-conceived and theologically inaccurate. For example, nobody is going to die and go out into a godless eternity just because a new church wasn’t planted in a particular neighborhood. Churches should not be planted out of the fear that, if we don’t raise up an institution of this sort, the work of God will not get done and the plan of God will somehow be thwarted.

Furthermore, it is inaccurate to compare the political, social, and religious culture of twenty-first century America to that of Asia Minor and Europe in the first century. The Roman Empire in the first century was characterized by a hodgepodge of belief systems ranging from mythological polytheism to philosophical agnosticism. While monotheistic Judaism existed, it was not an aggressively evangelistic movement. The number of Jews outside of Palestine was small, relative to the population at large, and the influence of Jewish faith and culture was limited. Continue reading

Our Debt To St. Patrick

Like most Americans my age, I was introduced to the word Celtic as the name of Boston’s NBA franchise.  About twenty years ago, however, like most Americans my age, I learned two things.  First, the Boston team has been mispronouncing its own name (it should be “Keltic,” not “Seltic”).  And second, whatevCeltic-Tribes-in-Europeer the word Celtic meant, it had gained enormous popularity and commercial success.  Wherever I went, I ran into something Celtic—Celtic music, Celtic crosses, Celtic art and jewelry, Celtic spirituality.  Although the craze is subsiding a bit by now, the past twenty-five years have been mainly a boom time for all things Celtic.

In the centuries before Christ, the Celts occupied much of what is now central Europe, extending into Spain in the west and Turkey in the east. Many scholars believe that the Galatians, to whom Paul addressed his New Testament letter, were a part of this Celtic people group.

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More Listening, Less Judging

Here’s a radical idea, a heartfelt plea to my fellow Christ-followers. No matter what we think the Bible says about a particular group or category of people, could we agree that we will issue no blanket criticism or condemnation of that group until and unless we have a personal relationship with at least two or three people who are members of that group ortalking_over_coffee fall into that category? Not just a passing acquaintance, mind you, but an association that has produced meaningful conversation and a genuine attempt to empathize and see life from the “other” perspective.

I’ve come to the place where I don’t really want to hear any more exposition of “what the Bible says” about, for example, divorce, single parenthood, women’s ordination, etc., from teachers, preachers, or writers who don’t know people in those groups well enough to have coffee with them. Same thing is true regarding gay and lesbian Christians. Continue reading

Introducing the “Ad Hoc” Church

The subject of this post is a new idea for me. I usually don’t write about something until I have thought about it for much longer than I have thought about this. I mention this in order to say that I reserve the right to retract everything I say here after I have had time to consider it more carefully. In the meantime, I want to test the idea while it is still fresh in my mind.

Even though I don’t attend church services very often these days, I still consider myself a churchman. I recognize the importance of the community of believers for the cultivation and development of faithful Christian discipleship, and I look forward to the day when I will once again be part of a local body of believers, experiencing and benefiting from corporate worship, accountability, and mutual care. (I have written elsewhere about why this is not happening right now, but if you’d like to know more, look me up, buy me a cup of coffee or some other beverage, and I’ll be happy to be more specific in a face-to-face chat.) Continue reading

A Vision In 800 Words

Before I die, I hope to be part of a church which identifies itself, deliberately and forthrightly, as an agent of the Kingdom of God. More particularly, I hope that church will embrace the three-fold relationship of the church to the Kingdom which Lesslie Newbigin described when he wrote,

“The church is only true to its calling when it is a sign, an instrument, and a foretaste of the Kingdom of God.”

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A Really, Really Practical Post

Of all the uses to which I have put this blog in the fifteen months I have been writing it, of all the things I have communicated in the previous one hundred thirty-three posts, what I am sharing in this post is the most difficult, most awkward, and most likely to be misinterpreted. Still, I have learned that, when an idea implants itself in my thought processes and intrudes repeatedly into my consciousness over several days, it is likely something I should heed. So, here goes.

For nearly five years, since the door closed on my fourteen years of ministry as an instructor in a small Bible college, I have been asking God to show me what new door He was opening. For a time, I thought I detected a sliver of light through a door slightly ajar. I painstakingly prepared for a ministry within the Anglican tradition. Following my ordination as a priest in May 2011, I spent a year and a half trying to force my way through a door which God was not opening, at least not at this time.

I have written much about my vision for a new church in Columbus, Ohio, near the campus of The Ohio State University. More than a year ago I located a small office for rent Grandview Officein Grandview Heights, the very community in which it seemed that God might be leading us to establish the new church. The circumstances surrounding my discovery of the office’s availability, along with the generosity of the people of St. Augustine’s Anglican Church in assuming the cost of renting the office for one year, led me to conclude that God was in the midst of that enterprise.

The church is not yet a reality. The office did not directly lead to an even greater presence in the community resulting in the formation of a congregation. The vision for the church still lives, but God’s timing, in that regard, is different from mine.

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The Arthur Chronicles—No. 4

In the space of about ten minutes, I was reminded of two subjects which profoundly moved Arthur Lough and awakened a fervor deep within him—contemporary Christianity and the church’s relationship to twenty-somethings, the generation which sociologists call Millennials and some Christian social analysts call Mosaics. The longer Arthur talked, the more ardent his mannerisms, the more urgent his tone.

After a brief pause, during which it seemed he thought deeply about how much more he wanted to say and in what terms, he picked up where he had left off a moment before.

“I know that we talk about the importance of the ‘formative years,'” he said, making invisible quotation marks in the air with his fingers. “That generally means childhood and adolescence. And I don’t dispute that argument. Those are crucial years, without doubt. But consider all that happens during that decade between ages twenty and thirty.

couple in Prague, Tynsky church, Old Town Square, Czech Republic“Twenty-somethings make life-shaping decisions about education, career, marriage, finance and debt. It’s the decade during which they test their beliefs about what is real, what has meaning. And sadly, many of them are making these decisions apart from the influence of a faith community or church.”

“Why do you think that is?” I asked.

“They’ve lost confidence in the church as an institution,” he replied. “Or maybe they think of the church only as an institution and not as a community. Twenty-somethings value relationships above programs. They look for honesty and authenticity above authority and dogma.

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Arthur Lough’s Crisis Of Faith

Arthur Lough is a man in his early sixties. He has been a Christian minister for more than forty years. Over the course of his long career he has served the church in a variety of roles including, among other things, as a pastor and an educator. He is not currently serving a congregation nor, in fact, has he been employed in any aspect of Christian ministry for more than four years.

When I asked him about that, he tried to deflect the question with an attempt at humor. “I am currently in a state of temporary, mandatory retirement,” he joked. “I hope to get my retirement out of the way soon so that I can get back to the task of fulfilling my call to vocational ministry.”

Arthur Lough is a man who is serious about Christian faith and what he calls “radical discipleship,” but his belief system is undergoing great stress at the moment. Arthur is in the middle of a serious crisis of faith.

I met with him at his home yesterday, and when I arrived I found him reading an e-book he had recently downloaded to his Kindle. It was called Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary. The author is a man called Kenneth Daniels, and, as Arthur explained, “This guy grew up as an evangelical Christian, spent several years in Bible translation work in Africa, began to have some doubts about Christian faith, particularly the reliabilityCloseup Of Bible With Praying Hands of the Bible, and now, in his mid-forties, identifies himself as an agnostic with strong atheistic leanings.”

A mutual friend had told me about Arthur’s own struggles and the challenges he was facing in maintaining the strong and vibrant commitment to Christian faith which had characterized his life and ministry up until the past few years. I asked him if he was experiencing doubts like those of Kenneth Daniels.

“Well, I wouldn’t say that my doubts are the same as his,” Arthur replied. “But I can relate to his situation. I can understand how his faith could undergo such a test. Mine has too, but so far the end results are different. He abandoned faith altogether. I still have faith, but some days the distance between where Kenneth Daniels is and where I am is not that great.”

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The Vision Abides

It has now been exactly one year since I set up shop in a small office on 1st Avenue in Grandview Heights, an urban community just west of downtown Columbus, OH. The locals call it simply Grandview, and it is a legal jurisdiction separate from Columbus. It has its own mayor but not its own identity so far as the Post Office is concerned—our mailing Grandview Officeaddress is Columbus, not Grandview; go figure. We chose the community as a potential location for a new church since it is not far from the south-most reaches of the main campus of The Ohio State University. (It also didn’t hurt that my favorite coffee house in all of Columbus is an easy walk down the street from my office.)

The office is simple, even spartan—just one room and a tiny bathroom—on the first floor of a two-story building. (In the picture shown, our office is in the southeast corner, just to the right of the entrance.) Our only neighbor downstairs is the office of the lawyer who owns the building. Upstairs are four small residential apartments. Nothing fancy, but altogether suitable as a place to work, to meet, to think, to change my shoes before walking through the neighborhood. It is a minuscule presence in the community, but it is a presence nonetheless.

The other day my landlord asked me how things were progressing toward our goal of establishing a church in the neighborhood. I told him things were going slow, but I was still there (in the office) and still hopeful. In an entire year, he had never said a word about the potential for St. Patrick’s Church becoming a reality. On this particular day, nearly a year after I moved in, he said, “I wish you well in your efforts, and I hope it really does happen.”

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