The 'In Between' People

"And the early Christians are encouraging one another to live precisely as points of intersection, points of overlap, between heaven and earth."

NT Wright


Theology shapes and informs our praxis...

We talk about how this happens, and try to make it happen in holistic and comprehensive ways...


While it is true that theology shapes praxis, it is also true that praxis communicates theology.

Why did Jesus choose 12 men to be set aside in a special way from the rest of His disciples?

He was saying something!

Praxis communicates theology...


We read in Philippians 2 that Jesus 'being in nature God became obedient to death on a Cross.'

We are used to thinking about the Cross as something that Jesus suffered, but often in terms of something that required Him to set aside His power, glory, and divinity...

Yet Scripture speaks of the crucifixion, not as setting aside divinity, but as the full expression of it!



Why is my first response to antagonism simply to return the hostility?

I must face the simple truth, I am (in the words of Dallas Willard) "prepared to do evil."


Catherine LaCugna

The life of God - precisely because God is triune - does not belong to God alone. God who dwells in inaccessible light and eternal glory comes to us in the face of Christ and the activity of the Holy Spirit.

Divine life is therefore also our life.

The doctrine of the Trinity is ultimately therefore a teaching not about the abstract nature of God, nor about God in isolation from everything other than God, but a teaching about God’s life with us and our life with each other.


I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.
All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will [a grumbling] mood, embrace it. Ye can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood...
--excerpted from The Problem of Pain and The Great Divorce


Emerging Theological Conundrum

Emerging theology compels us to engage in theological reflection with diverse voices.

However, emerging theology is largely the construct of post-conservative, evangelical, white people. Conversely, those diverse voices we feel compelled to listen to, are decidedly less-than-emerging theologically and practically. We are compelled to enter into partnership with people, (not merely allow them into the country club, but share power with them) and allow them to change things.

This is an interesting problem.

Our theological compulsion is leading us to a place where our theology might be significantly shifted, perhaps into directions that we have consciously rejected with disdain!



The Solution is Serving God

As I start my regime next week, I am prepared for what the old chemo pros call “the hump”, which is the second round of chemo. From there I will almost be half way and can set my mind on the good things to come. I decided that while I am going through this, I am going to try to the best of my ability to make new friends, encourage others, and let God use me in this place. I am not doing this because I am noble, but because I know that it is the solution. Happiness and peace are a byproduct of right living, and being of service to my fellow man has always helped me to somehow forget about my problems and be momentarily freed from the bondage of self centeredness.

Click on the title link to

Culture Driven Atonement Theory pt IV

Here of course, is the million dollar question:

What are culturally significant ways of talking about the Atonement?


New Creation?



God of this City

Culture Driven Atonement Theory pt III

So what are the problems our culture does acknowledge?

Where are people 'feeling the pinch' so to speak?

I would suggest at least the two already mentioned:

Broken relationships

Global injustices

But I would love to hear other thoughts...


Culture Driven Atonement Theory pt II

His paper was followed by an interesting experience on the plane ride home:

I sat next to a woman who self identified as 'agnostic, daughter of hippies who rejected God.' She expressed, not antipathy towards spirituality, but rather apathy. She claimed to have no real concern for even the questions raised by spiritual experience, and to have never had a spiritual experience.

We had quite a lengthy, and cordial, conversation that included the gentleman on the other side of her. He was an elder (?) in a local Baptist Church.

At one point early in the conversation she made a point of communicating her belief that religion offered no real answers, and that she had no personal need for it. She even went so far as to say she was a fundamentally good person who had done no wrong. In short, she had no personal experience of guilt.

With Steve Burnhope's paper ringing in my ears I suggested an alternative to the problem of personal guilt: I described the brokenness in our world, broken families, broken marriages (she was in the middle of a divorce), broken social structures, unjust political and economic structures, environmental pollution that is embedded in our way of life.

She began to nod her head with vigor.

It was at this point that my Baptist friend introduced a Chesterton quote that went something like this, "The real problem with the world is me."

My hippie friend refused to acknowledge this. She spent almost the whole rest of the plane ride communicating her own personal goodness, and trying to convince the both of us that we were good people as well, despite our good, Christian protests to the contrary...

I didn't have the presence of mind to move away from the language of personal guilt and back to the language of cosmological and relational brokenness until we were ready to disembark...


Culture Driven Atonement Theory

One of the more intriguing papers at the recent conference was by Steve Burnhope entitled, Culture, Worldview, and the Cross: Penal Substitutionary Atonement and 21st Century Mission. The main thrust of the paper was to undermine the idea of a central theory of atonement and, in our attempts to communicate atonement, to shift out of a content centered approach and into a learner centered approach. (To borrow language from the realm of education...)

He repeatedly referenced the stereotype of evangelism; "let me explain to you why God hates you, okay, now that you have a sense of guilt and fear, let me tell you the Gospel of Penal Substitutionary Atonement!" We are offering a solution to a problem most people don't think they have, and so we must first convince people they have the problem that we have the answer to!

His paper's main argument was that Scripture itself is more concerned with communicating atonement to culture on culture's own terms rather than in terms of some sort of 'timeless truth.' If this is so, then we have a mandate to do three things.

1) Get into Scripture until it gets into us... it must become the soil we are rooted in.

2) Exegete culture... it is the surrounding environment that provides the opportunity for pollination and propagation (to continue the plant metaphor).

3) Engage culture on it's own terms... we must provide fruit that is attractive to others! It would be an odd strategy for a fruit tree to produce fruit that made other creatures sick in the hope that someday they would adapt to it!


Our Great Cultural Divide

There are many lines of division in our culture. We divide along racial lines, economic lines, educational lines, political lines, spiritual lines, and perhaps some others; but all of these divisions relate in interesting ways with what I believe is the greatest cultural divide in the American context today.

The urban/suburban* divide.

Now, this is actually a surprise to some people. People are used to thinking of the more obvious divisions, but think about it...

...if you tell someone you live in the city or suburbs, they are able to make a pretty good guess at your politics, your spirituality, your economic status, and your education. Conversely ethnicity is a fairly good indicator of where someone might live. In short, the cultural milieu within the city limits is markedly different than outside of it. In fact, changing other factors is less likely to result in as great a cultural shift as changing the geographical location. Ethnic minorities in the suburbs are much more likely to fit into stereotypical 'suburban culture' when it comes to politics, economics, even spirituality. Caucasian city dwellers are likely to look very different than their suburban counterparts when it comes to spirituality, politics, and many other aspects of culture.

My goal here is not to minimize the more obvious cultural dividing lines, but rather to elevate the geographical dividing line. Race, politics, religion, economics, etc. are legitimately significant; however, geography is at least as significant, if not more so.

*My apologies to you rural folks out there, but there really just aren't too many of you left. There are plenty of suburbanites living in the country and erecting their cultural values out there, but the true rural paradigm (farmers, ranchers, loggers, pioneers) is a very small segment of the population; small, and ever diminishing...


David was a godly man?

God proclaims His affirmation of David, He calls him "a man after my own heart."

Is this the same David who slept with his friends wife, while his friend was out fighting to protect David's kingdom? Is this the same David who had his friend killed to cover up the fact that his adultery had led to pregnancy?

Murderer, adulterer, man after God's own heart...

Now God is no dupe, He was aware of David's crimes; God even forbids him from building the Temple because of the life of bloodshed and warfare. (1 Chronicles 22:7)


I have heard many a sermon on the need for contrition, (one of my favorite Psalms is the 51st which arises directly in response to David's brokenness over his horrible actions) but I believe there is another lesson in this man's life as well.

It is true that David models repentance, and an earnest desire for godliness in the midst of a life marred by sin, but what if we shift the focus of our storytelling from David, to God? What happens to our story? What echoes might we hear then?


What is going on in the heart of God?

While God was not blind to the evil in David's heart, He chose to interact with David's good. God saw what was best about David, not what was worst...

This speaks volumes about God's character!


I regularly read 1 Corinthians 13 as either a ringing indictment of my failure to love, or as an exhortation to that love. How instead if we read it as a description of God's character?

God is patient, God is kind, God doesn't rejoice with evil, but rather with truth! God doesn't keep a record of wrongs, God perseveres in love and goodness, and His love always wins out over evil and human brokenness!

David's story then becomes, not a revelation of David's heart after God which we must emulate, but rather a canvas on which God's heart is displayed for us which we should wonder at!


When God looks at you, He doesn't look at your failures and sins, but at your sincerest efforts! We discount our earnest desire for God because of the presence of sin. God instead discounts the presence of sin because of our earnest desire for Him!

Because of God's goodness it is not the presence of sin that defines us, but rather the presence of righteousness!


In short, God is not disappointed when we are a pile of ash with only a negligible spark of holiness within, rather, He is overjoyed at the presence of the spark! He guards it, cherishes it, and works with it. He longs to nurture that smallest glimmer of faith and righteousness and to fuel it, and breathe on it until it flames!

As Scripture says, 'a bruised reed He will not break and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.'

If you are a bruised reed, barely standing upright, or a smoldering wick, barely lit, God will not cast you aside, but rather work with joy to encourage the life that is present within you!


Training Wheels Pt IX

So what?

How does this become practical?

Hopefully in two ways:

1) A closer, and more contextual, reading of the Law. A more nuanced approach to what is going on in the Old Testament passages, and the New Testament itself specifically in reference to the Law. Consequently, a greater understanding of what God has been up to throughout history, so that we might gain greater understanding of what God is up to now!

2) A deeper desire to become righteous in Christ! A growing passion to engage the Spirit of God, and the source of righteousness! A heightened resolve to open our souls to our Father through prayer, fasting, study, worship, giving, serving, and sharing.


Society of Vineyard Scholars

I just returned from the First Annual Conference, here are some reflections:


I was very blessed by several papers in particular. Matt Croasmun's delightful juxtaposition of the Johannine gospel with the Synoptics (proposing that we lay John's gospel over the top of the Synoptics much like watching a movie with the director's commentary turned on). Jared Boyd's paper demanding that we name specific evils as a necessary first step in working to eradicate injustice. Jason Clark's paper exploring ecclesiology and consumerism. Steven Burnhope's deliciously intelligent, and timely paper exploring various Scriptural metaphors for the Atonement, and more specifically, how those theories were rooted in the surrounding culture of the biblical authors. Subsequently, (aside from prompting me to deeper awe at the marvelous repository of wisdom and power that is the Bible) we are compelled by the Scriptures themselves to engage culture from Scripture with freedom and fluidity...

Of course, I was blessed by each paper! The above just touch more on areas of personal interest, but I felt a little intimidated to be set alongside any and every of the presenters!


I wasn't sure what to expect, but certainly was not expecting the Spirit's presence during the paper presentations! I was moved to tears by many of the papers, and heard God's promptings during many of them as well.

There were times of worship and prayer, as well as prophecy. I was greatly blessed by all of this. There were even some specific prayers that arose directly in response to some of the papers and/or discussions...

I was humbled by the amazingly intelligent people doing playful things, remarkable things, necessary things. I look forward to being able to read through several of the papers when they become available.

I was able to make some new relational connections that I believe might possibly be quite significant personally...


I was also extremely blessed at the overall attitude and posture of the people.

The Movement we belong to is a phenomenal one! I am overjoyed that God connected me with this people at this time! I have always been encouraged by what I know of the movement, but (even though I am a Vineyard Church planter) my connection to the movement is largely through my sending pastor and the church community who sent us...

...so this was really my first Vineyard event above the local level, and I was so blessed to see how much I share the values of this community, and even more, how much it seems there is a real hope for a next generation of Vineyard leaders to put their finger-prints on the movement...

Training Wheels Pt VIII

So lets take a look at a few specifics...

Jesus Himself set aside, as we have seen, the food laws laid down in the Law. He additionally set aside much of the Law pertaining to ceremonial cleanliness; He routinely came into contact with those who were considered unclean, and proclaimed that His cleanness made them clean, not the other way around.

He did, however, affirm much of the Law in its dealings with human ethical behavior surrounding economic, sexual, and interpersonal behavior. In fact Jesus took these portions of the Law and made them much more deeply binding on His followers, precisely because the issue is not obedience to the Law, but learning to become the kind of people who would fulfill the Law without trying to; who would not murder, cheat, or steal, regardless of the existence of the Law.

So what do we do with new claims to do with the Law what Jesus did?

Do we allow Jesus' innovation because He is Jesus? Do we ban others' innovation because they are not Jesus? Or are we each and every one of us expected to do what Jesus did with respect to the Law?


A perfect example is the sexual ethic. In recent decades we have heard very unique voices within the Church. Throughout the history of Christian thought the sexual ethic has been quite homogenous: sexual pleasure is, and should remain, a culmination and a reflection of the vow to lifelong partnership between a husband and a wife. Throughout history there have been dissenting voices from outside the Church, however, we now see a growing minority within the church advocating that we set aside this clear consensus of Christian teaching on sexuality, and that we do so for precisely the reasons (according to these voices) that Jesus encouraged us to set aside certain portions of the law in His day.

I disagree with these voices, and here is why.

1) The traditional sexual ethic is consistent with agape love, the love that has grown up under the tutelage of the Law, and then come out into its own maturity. The inconsistency claimed by these advocates (if we love people we will allow them to express their love, and so we must change the sexual ethic) is based on a notion of love that is rooted in popular culture and has grown up under the tutelage of that culture, in many ways in opposition to the wisdom offered by the Law.

2) While it is my contention that God desires for us to come to a place of maturity wherein we are able to judge for ourselves where 'Love fulfills the Law' prudence demands that we recognize the primacy of Jesus' judgment! His words should carry more weight than our own. What seems wise to our minds must be set aside whenever it contradicts His wisdom.


We Christians have disparaged the Law, in some ways this is consistent with New Testament teachings, but in other ways we have gone too far. The Law is not evil, nor is keeping it evil; quite the opposite, the Law is good, and keeping it is what God desires. The evil is in us. It is in how we approach the Law, how we use it, or more precisely how we misuse and abuse it. The Law was never intended as a means for making men righteous, but rather as boundary markers pointing towards righteousness. The Law is God's tool, and we must use it consistent with His purposes for it. As the Messiah's people it still has a function for us, albeit muted since the coming of the Messiah. It serves for us, the purpose of providing the backdrop to Jesus' teachings. Like students who occasionally read through their old Algebra text to be clear about what it is that their Calculus professor is teaching, or read through their old American History texts to gain understanding into contemporary affairs.


Training Wheels Pt VII

Follow the link to a wonderfully illuminating essay on Scripture by Bishop Wright

Sean did it!

So I am getting ready to head to Stafford, TX today...

Yes, it is all Sean's fault. Sean McMasters of the clan McMasters! (send hatemail here)

He convinced me that we had to write papers for the Society of Vineyard Scholars' first annual conference. I submitted mine, he never finished his! And lo and behold, mine was accepted.

So I am off!

(And no, Sean isn't coming with me! He didn't even offer to pay for my airfare! Can you believe some people?)


Training Wheels Pt V

If all of this is true, if Jesus then, is able to set aside portions of the Law, with the claim that 'love fulfills the Law, and love commands this or that action,' then we are faced with a rather important question, and a rather serious practical problem...

How do we know what is or isn't moral? Is the Law to be completely set aside? Or even if it is not, what do we do with other people's claims that we should set aside different portions of the Law, because 'love has led us to do so?'


We read earlier the scriptural truth that 'love is the fulfillment of the Law,' let us think upon this...

We know what the Law is:

it is the commands God gave us to govern action; telling us to do certain things, or to avoid certain things, also telling us to value certain things, even to think and feel certain things. The Law also provides for the eventual breaking of the Law; punishments and sacrifices, what should happen when this or that aspect of the Law has been broken, how does the individual or community get back on the path after leaving it...

...but what is love?

Here we come to an interesting realization; love in our culture is not defined in terms that would line up with the Law. It would be a hard sell to say 'Love fulfills the Law' if we defined love in accordance with our culture! Our culture defines love primarily in terms of desire. We love people when we desire to be around them and with them. We love people when we free them to pursue their desires unhindered. This kind of love (and it is a form of love) would be hard pressed to encourage obedience to the Law in any way shape or form...


Our love itself, then, is in need of shaping. It is not a pure thing, not a holy thing, and needs the Law itself to direct that passion, to form it into the kind of Love that will indeed fulfill the Law. This sort of love is less about desire, and more about a concerted effort of the will to effect good on behalf of another. This is what is meant by the word agape.

When Scripture talks of a 'love that fulfills the law,' then, it is speaking of a love that was tutored by that law, and grew up under it, and so whenever that love 'revises' that law, it does so in the spirit of the very law it is revising; a love that is defined by our concept of God (namely Jesus), not a God that is defined by our concept of love (namely desire)!


Training Wheels Pt IV

We read the words of the Law inLeviticus 11 that expressly prohibit the eating of certain foods, they are declared unclean. Yet Jesus tells a crowd of observant Jews to ignore this command!

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen and understand. What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'
Matthew 15:10-11

How then are we to account for Jesus words about the Law in the Sermon on the Mount?

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:17-20


Jesus is 'fulfilling the Law' yet also seemingly breaking the Law and even encouraging others to set aside what it says, at least one specific portion of it...


If you have ever been around someone who has mastered some skill, albeit a sport, painting, a musical instrument, woodworking, or cooking, you will see the same thing. I am not talking about someone who is good, or even great among their peers, but rather, a practitioner that stands as a giant above the generations before and since.

Think Albert Einstein, Claude Monet, Florence Nightingale, or Thelonious Monk, I am personally familiar with wrestlers John Smith (2x Olympic Gold Medalist) and Stephen Abas (3x NCAA Champion). These were people that in some sense 'broke the rules' of their craft, setting aside the decades, or even centuries, of wisdom from previous practitioners, and yet, in doing so they were not setting aside the craft itself, but rather somehow extending it, making it better, and more true to itself. We could easily add to the list of names...

What these individuals possessed was a mastery of craft that actually exceeds the craft itself! They were each able (in the case of science, painting, medicine, music, and wrestling) to take the craft and learn it, understand the rules, the guidelines, the practices, the craft itself, to such a degree that they were able to move beyond the rules, guidelines and practices, yet remain true to the craft itself!

This is precisely what Jesus is with respect to the Law.

He is a Master of the Law, a Master of Righteousness, a Master of Love. The course of righteousness to which the Law is a guide is the constant path of Jesus' feet, and even without the Law to guide them, those feet would stay the course...

Jesus is the 'fulfillment' of the Law.


Training Wheels Pt III

So the Law was given to point towards righteousness, and in fact is the path of righteousness, but does not itself give us the power to be righteous nor enable us to walk the path. Rather, righteousness (or more specifically agape love) fulfills the requirements of the Law. Righteousness is the ability to walk the path.

It is with this understanding that we begin to talk about improvisation upon the Law.

The training wheels that keep a small child from falling over are taken off of the bike as soon as possible, but why not keep them on? Professional speed-cyclists can get their bikes outside of the range that would be allowed for by training wheels. On slanted tracks these cyclists can get going fast enough to get their bicycles nearly horizontal; BMX riders do tricks with their bikes that would not be possible if the training wheels were still on the bike. Even normal riders would feel hampered by training wheels if they remained on the bike.

In the same way the Law is not the same thing as love, and when operating from a place of love and righteousness we are able to move beyond Law, and at times even perform acts that might be seen as breaking that Law if seen only from the perspective of the Law itself, and not from the perspective of the righteousness to which the Law points.

This is why Jesus (operating from true righteousness) could set aside portions of the Law in certain circumstances, and even revise whole portions of it in others, while at the same time proclaiming that He was not doing away with it.


Training Wheels Pt II

because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
Romans 8:2-4


Previously we quoted Dr Willard saying, "the Law is, has been, and always will be, the course of righteousness..."

However, he finishes that sentence by saying, "but the Law is not, never has been, and never will be, the source of righteousness!"

Training wheels are not the source of bike riding skill, or the ability to travel from point A to point B, or to navigate a route. Those skills come from some other place. The training wheels are a guide, pointing towards 'upright.'

The Law performs a similar function. It is not able to create people of righteousness, people cannot become good by obeying the Law, but by obeying the Law they are kept from 'falling over.' It is a way of staying alive long enough to actually learn righteousness. You will not learn how to ride a bike if you cannot stay upright, and training wheels are an aid to this; you cannot learn to be righteous if you are breaking the Law, and so obedience is an aid to righteousness, but not its source...

Christ is the source, the Law is the course. Jesus is the method for making men righteous. He transforms hearts by His Spirit, He 'writes the law on the tablets of our hearts.'


For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, " YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF."

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Galatians 5:14, 18, 22-26


Training Wheels Pt I

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
1 Timothy 1:8-11


The Law is like a set of training wheels. They are for people who don't know how to ride a bike, not for people who do. The Law is for people who are unrighteous, not for the righteous.

This, of course, doesn't mean that 'the righteous' can break the law, anymore than people who know how to ride a bike should try to tip over sideways now that the training wheels are no longer in the way. Rather, 'the righteous' will live according to the law without trying! There is no 'obedience' necessary for those whose natural course of action is 'righteousness,' just as one who knows how to ride a bike will remain upright without the training wheels to hold them up.

As Dr Willard says, "The Law is, has been, and always will be, the course of righteousness..."


Until the time when we were mature enough to respond freely in faith to the living God, we were carefully surrounded and protected by the Mosaic law. The law was like those Greek tutors, with which you are familiar, who escort children to school and protect them from danger or distraction, making sure the children will really get to the place they set out for.
Galatians 3:23-24