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

Evan Jellico and the Left Road Bridge: A Parable

For as long as anyone could remember, the Jellico family had raised corn and wheat on their two hundred fertile acres of Midwest farmland. They marketed their grain through a large cooperative whose elevators were located in the town of Kingston, about twenty miles north of the Jellico farm.

For reasons no one fully understood, the Jellicos—who had adopted many of the most modern agricultural methods to ensure maximum productivity from their acreageMule wagon 2—insisted on hauling their grain to market in a large wagon pulled by a team of strong mules.

In the old days, there had been but one major road from the Jellico farm to the grain elevator in Kingston. Oh, there was a rutty old one-lane road that veered off to the right about twelve miles north of the farm, just south of the river. It did go to Kingston, but it was narrow and winding and generally more difficult. Some people used it, but the vast majority stayed on the main road. Continue reading

Yes, I Am a Flawed Messenger. Then Again, Who Isn’t?

For a person with such strong opinions about, well, almost everything, I have an incredibly thin skin when it comes to criticism. I could have set that sentence in quotation marks, changed the “I” to a “you,” and attributed it to one of the scores of people who have said that to me over the years. I didn’t do that, because I want to make it clear I know it is true.

I can deal with certain kinds of criticism. (I won’t like it, but I can deal with it.) For example, people sometimes point out what they believe are logical inconsistencies or non sequiturs in my writing. I can deal with that because, most of the time, I can explain my thinking to show that the perceived gap in consistency was more misperception than reality. Moreover, when the critique is sound, and my logic really has been faulty, I can show genuine, if sometimes grudging, appreciation.

I have greater difficulty with the more subjective criticism of my character or my motives. In the first place, it is almost impossible to defend oneself against a critique that points up a flaw in character or motivation, whether or not the critique is true and accurate. In the second place, the critique is far too often both true and accurate. Continue reading

A Pacifist Reflects on the Meaning of Memorial Day

American holidays like Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, and the Fourth of July pose something of a dilemma for me. Like Bruce Springsteen, I was “born in the USA.” I am grateful for the many positive and admirable qualities this country contributes to the family of nations and for Pic 4the benefits I have enjoyed as one of its citizens. But not everything about this country is positive and admirable. And I feel that tension most keenly on these distinctly American holidays.

I felt it again last night as I watched the annual Memorial Day Concert on PBS. I hadn’t intended to watch it, but there were a couple of artists whom my daughter, who was visiting, wanted to see, and before you could say Francis Scott Key, I was caught up in the pageantry. I was also really, really “conflicted.” Continue reading

Someday I Hope To Love Sundays Again

I hate Sundays. Wait, I should be a bit more temperate and not so indiscriminate with a term I tell my grandson not to use. So I’ll re-phrase. I really, really dislike Sundays with a visceral aversion akin to hatred. I approach this day with a combination of dread and loathing so intense I know it will generate a bile in my inward parts that I can almost taste. Several times today I will wonder why I am gritting my teeth so hard that my head hurts. Then I will remember. Oh yeah, it’s Sunday.

If it were possible to go to sleep on Saturday night and not wake up until Monday morning, I would happily take that option. Sundays are just too disheartening, frustrating, and painful. Continue reading

Today Is The Day

I have known for some time that “this day” would come, but even when I woke up this morning, I still didn’t know that this would be that day. Then I read a note by one of my Facebook friends, and I knew what I had to do. And so, today is the day that I officially come out.

In the same way that I recently publicized my change of heart regarding the role of women in church leadership, I am today making public a similar change of heart and mind with regard to those who identify as LGBTQ. I now believe that LGBTQs who follow Jesus Christ as Lord should be welcomed into the fellowship of the church with full acceptance and without restriction upon their ministry and leadership in the church if they are qualified for ministry in all other ways. Further, in the same way that I encourage celibacy before marriage and faithfulness in marriage for heterosexuals, I offer the same counsel and encouragement to those of same-sex orientation. Continue reading

“I Feel Your Pain”—A Post for Holy Saturday

Dear Kathryn:

With this post I conclude the series of email exchanges into which you and I entered more than a month ago on Ash Wednesday. This is the last day of Lent, the Holy Saturday of Passion Week as it is known in the liturgical tradition. Lent has been a good experience for me this year, owing in large part to the disciplined reflection your thoughtful questions have fostered. I hope you have found the experience equally beneficial.

It seems only right to conclude the series on the same theme with which it began: the need for change in the life of a growing, thinking Christian. Continue reading

Beyond Right and Wrong: A Maundy Thursday Appeal

Owing largely to my upbringing in Christian fundamentalism, until just a few years ago, I was completely convinced I had everything figured out when it came to matters of faith and doctrine. Oh, I had made some changes to my thinking in a few areas—as when I embraced the Anabaptist view of biblical nonresistance—but, for the most part, my beliefs and convictions were firmly established on conservative evangelical presuppositions. Continue reading

Yet Another Place Where I Was Wrong

Dear Mr. Lough:

Okay, here’s a question I have wanted to ask you for some time, even before we decided to do this email series during Lent. I read something that you posted on Facebook, and it surprised me so much that I wrote it down and made a note to ask you about it. Today’s the day to pose that question, I guess.

The Facebook post I’m referring to appeared late last year on December 20. Here is what you wrote:

An odd post, I know, but prompted by several other posts I’ve read today, so it’s time to dispel any uncertainty. I now believe that every position or role of leadership ministry in the church, without exception, should be open to women as well as men.

Continue reading

Salvation in the Here and Now

Well, Mr. Lough…

I am more than a little intrigued by the final paragraphs in your last letter, so if that was your intention, you succeeded admirably. As you know, a description of human salvation like the one you summarized there is at the very heart of evangelical Christianity. Aren’t you concerned that raising questions about something as basic as how to understand the idea of salvation and how to relate to Jesus as savior will further weaken your ties to the evangelical community? Continue reading