Pure Mark

There is a phrase that's captured my attention as I've prepared to speak at Large Group tomorrow night:

"He is going ahead of you into Galilee"

That phrase comes out of the end of Mark, from the much-disputed chapter 16. Jesus has been crucified, died and was buried. His followers had been scattered.

Some women came to the tomb to anoint his body. Apparently, in the rush to lay him to rest before the start of the Sabbath, his body had not been appropriately prepared.

What unfolds is pure Mark. This is how Mark tells a story. Light on details. Playing it safe (was that a man or an angel? Don't guess). Rapid pace. And the secret.

Throughout Mark Jesus is telling people to keep quiet. And the keep disobeying him. He heals someone and they run around telling people. He casts out demons and they run around telling people. He rises from the dead and the women who loved him flee the tomb and tell no one. What?

Mark's gospel (at least, in its original form) ends with the phrase "εφοβουντο γαρ," which means (literally) "they feared for" and is translated "for they were afraid."

Mark ends his story and hands it back to us, leaving us full of questions. Did they ever meet Jesus in Galilee? Did the women ever speak up? Did Jesus really rise?

Pure Mark. Beautiful.

How can we avoid The Drift?

How can we avoid The Drift?

My off-the-cuff answer over they years has been: ask God’s help, embrace the spiritual disciplines, and lean on the community God provides.

I still think that’s a good off-the-cuff answer, but I had it challenged this week. A student at an event we were doing pointed out that the community can also cause and reinforce The Drift. She told a story about her experience as a lesbian, rejected by church people, dropped as soon as she came out.

This is The Drift in action. The Drift poisons community.

If you drift into the moral place, the behavior-oriented place and you find likeminded people, a dangerous dynamic kicks into gear. In order to stay in the community, you have to maintain a certain level of performance, live according to the rules. Now, in the Christian community, when we talk about standards, we normally talk about the need for perfection. Sin can be defined as underperformance.

In this dynamic, three things happen to us:
We hide our failures behind a façade of perfection
We create new rules, rules that we can actually keep
We kick people out of our community for not keeping the rules

This happened over and over again to the detriment of Israel’s mission in the Old Testament. This happened in the community in which Jesus grew up. This happens today.

But it doesn’t have to.

If we’re in the relational place, the identity-oriented place and we find likeminded people, a beautiful dynamic kicks into gear. In order to stay in the community, all we have to do is remain in relationship, live a loved life. Now, in the Christian community, when we talk about relationship, we talk about a God who loves unconditionally. So the whole thing goes in a different direction.

It’s this God who can protect us from The Drift. It’s this God who can rescue us when we’ve drifted. This is the God we see and love in Jesus Christ.

Why do we drift?

The Drift Principle states that there is a consistent force that pulls Christians from a place of relationship to a place of performance (ie. from Child to Employee).

Paul wrestles with this Drift Principle throughout his letter to the Galatians. Check out this passage:
What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

Paul, speaking to a group privileged to call God "Father," urges them not to return to "those weak and miserable principles," not to drift.

We drift so that our voices can be loud
We drift in order to feel warm, secure
We drift because our eyes and hearts are proud
We drift because we're broken and impure
Loved, we're called away from our tradition
Loved, we're built upon a new foundation
Yet we often cave to opposition
And despite the heavy preparation
That we undertake to serve, one can find
In every Christian circle this small shift
Begins to do its work upon the Mind
And there it is: the move, the shift, The Drift.
We drift because its easier to say
"I'm good" than "I am loved, so I'm okay."

The Drift Principle

A year or so ago, we piled into the truck and drove deep into the mountains to some place Zach and April knew about. Rolling out of the truck and after the usual round of stretching and ooohing and ahhhing, we wandered through a line of trees to a winding mountain stream. We could see the currents swirling, rippling eddies running across the river that we'd swear was green if we hadn't heard all our lives that water was supposed to look blue.

I threw a branch into the water and watched it head downstream. Not to be outdone, Joel grabbed a log and sent it swimming. The log, too, headed downstream.

This illustrates The Drift Principle.

The Drift Principle states simply that we drift.

Christians start off thinking and saying a lot about God and a relationship with him. Christianity is all about life in Christ, union with him by his Spirit to the glory of the Father. Christianity is all about overflowing joy and peace and reconciliation and life, life, life to the full.

But we drift.

Christianity becomes more and more about a moral system, a set of ethics, a code. We've talked about this on the blog before, I think. This isn't new. Or insightful. But it is important.

We need to be aware of The Drift because The Drift forms us into people who are full of hate. If Christianity is all about being a "moral" person, then immoral people or people who make it harder for us to be "moral" need to be kept at a distance, kept under control, and maybe even hated.

Hatred is one of the love's opposites (apathy, selfishness, shame, etc...). And many of us try so hard to be loving people, we're shocked when we find hatred in our hearts. We don't want to hate anybody. Why do we hate? We hate because we drift.

Why do we drift?
How can we keep from drifting?
What would happen if we resisted the drift?

The Drift Principle is coming

Tomorrow, I'll blog about The Drift Principle.

Tonight, I spoke in Farmville and talked about this Principle (among others) at their Why? Event: Why do some Christians hate the gay community?

Tonight, I'm too exhausted to blog coherently.

There's always tomorrow...
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
- Psalm 127:2

No moral victories

We're not looking for moral victories. In this talk, Pastor Brad Mullinax talks about the need for our morality to flow from our spirituality. See Mt. 5:17ff.

Check out the audio from tonight's talk:

Blank your husbands

"Wives, _____ to your husbands."

That is a strange sentence. Fill in the blank. What could go there?

Wives, serve the food to your husbands (for the cooks)
Wives, dish the rock to your husbands (for the ballers)
Wives, slowly hand the gun to your husbands (for the murderesses)
Wives, pass the pigs to your husbands (for the lame gamers)
Wives, holla to your husbands (for folk from The Shore)
Wives, give the elbow under the table to your husbands (for me)

We're studying Ephesians 5:21-33 tonight in Small Group. We've been really loving our time in Ephesians, basking in the theology of our unity to Christ.

But this passage is a tough one.

It starts out like this:
"21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit to your husbands as unto the Lord."

But here are two tough things about the passage...

First, the passage doesn't necessarily say "wives." The word there could also mean "women." We translate it "wives" from the context; just a few words to the right you hear the word "husbands." There's a big difference between saying that "wives" need to submit and that "women" need to submit, unity rather than hierarchy.

Second, v. 22 doesn't actually say "submit to your husbands." It actually says "to your husbands." The passage wouldn't make sense without the context: "Wives, to your own husbands." Needs a verb, right? The lack of a verb links the submission of wives to the mutual submission of Christians to one another mentioned in v. 21. Even though men and women are distinctly different in God's design, husbands and wives can continue to cooperate with each other and carry each other's burdens (hupotassomenoi).

Two verses in and there's already a lot of complexity. I love the complexity, the wrestling with words and the seeing more and more clearly the deep and important wisdom of God.

And I love digging into God's Word with our Small Group. God brings such depth to his word through his people. That's why we do Small Groups.

Stop dating the Bible

I've had a little too much fun with the "dating" pun this week. Sorry. One more and then I'm done, I promise. We need to stop dating the Bible.

Now, we might go two different directions when we stop dating. We can move in the "it's complicated" direction, drifting away from the relationship. We could also move in the "marriage" direction, increasing our level of commitment.

The strange thing is, I think we need to go in both directions: increasing commitment but not "marrying".

Christians do not worship the Bible. To do so is actually to commit idolatry. I remember the first time my systematics professor brought this to light. I thought he was a little crazy (he might have been...I mean, who wants to teach systematics?). In this age of disrespect for the Bible, how could this prof or I say we need to move even a little in the "it's complicated" direction?

For the past several generations, evangelical Christians have fought to protect the Bible. Inerrancy, authority, inspiration have all been defended against folk who would say that the Bible is a misinformed, meaningless work of man. And many people still need to be brought to a place of deeper love, appreciation and respect for the Bible. I'd love for everyone to be headed that direction.

But that direction is not the direction toward marriage, for the Bible is not the Groom. To whom are we united, as a wife to her husband? To whom do we offer worship? To whom do we offer our deepest and most heartfelt love? We Christians don't worship the Bible (or any other book). We worship a person. We worship the Father-Son-Spirit God, revealed in Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord.

Few things are worse than a person who loves the Bible but not the God of the Bible.

Few people loved the word of God more than the scribes and the Pharisees. They attentively committed it to memory and lived it out in their lives to the best of their ability. A lot of us would deeply respect the scribes and Pharisees if we saw them today. But they loved the word and did not love the Word made flesh. They didn't recognize him when he came, even though the word they loved trumpeted his coming. The problem wasn't that they loved the Bible too much, it was that they loved God too little.

The Bible exists to connect us to God and to help us stay connected to him. We never leave it behind and we never grow out of our need for it. But the Bible is not our ultimate. Our relationship shifts into the "it's complicated" because we develop a new love, a deeper love. And because we want to experience and maintain a deep connection with God as he really is, we become deeply committed to the Bible.

The Bible portrays the God-of-our-worship accurately. Without the Bible, we would soon be worshipping God not as he really is, but as how we in our brokenness wish him to be. The Bible protects our love. Ellery Baker (one of the awesome guys I discipled at Tech) compared the Bible to guardrails, keeping us from running off the road of truth.

So, we need a deep commitment to the Bible, but we don't want the Bible to be our deepest commitment (that's reserved for Someone else). Fun with puns is now done.

Dating doesn't really get you anything

When I was a kid, some adult told me that the Bible was written in the Middle Ages. That late-date data supported that person's idea that the Bible was written to manipulate and control people.

I don't know which came first, the faulty late-date data or the notion that the Bible was written to manipulate and control. At least, I don't know for sure. But if I had to guess, I'd guess that the person in question had personally experienced a manipulative and controlling religious environment. Then, when the late-date suggestion came up, it stuck.

Of course, it was written way later. That's what you'd expect if the Bible was written by liars trying to pass fiction off as fact in order to legitimize power, right?

And we have very little defense against this Dark Art. I've been shocked over the last year to discover how much faulty data I believe about ancient Rome and ancient Judiasm (that's, like, all of my Bible background stuff). I didn't know any better, so I just believed whatever data supported the most common or most compelling narrative.

But what if the liar lies elsewhere? What about ulterior motives for late-dating?

Dating is often difficult (this applies to every meaning of that phrase). Scientists argue about the age of the earth with such intensity because their closely-held worldviews hang in the balance. Historians argue about the "discovery" of America because it shapes how they tell its story. And Biblical studies people argue about the dating of the Bible because they think it tells us how seriously we have to take it.

But the more I think about it, the less convinced I am. Why does a late-date mean we have to take it less seriously? If we've seen the minimization of transcription errors throughout ancient literature, isn't this assumption another case of chronological snobbery? Those quaint little ancients can't be expected to accurately hand down history.

Now, the best data indicate that the New Testament writings were written soon after the New Testament events, so I'm not supporting a late-date theory. I'm just saying, a late-date only diminishes the meaning of the Bible if we're already looking for excuses to diminish the meaning of the Bible. If we can't find our excuses in dating, we'll just have to look elsewhere.

This makes my head spin. Look at it this way...

Stephen Colbert believes that the universe is only 6,000 years old. God made it recently. It still has that new-universe smell. Great.

The book of Genesis tells the story of God creating the universe. This is where Colbert gets his guidance for dating (dating guidance out of Genesis, hmmm, chapter 24 has potential, chapter 34 scares me...different kind of dating).

Who wrote Genesis? (You can kinda see where I'm going, can't you?) The Genesis story spans Creation all the way through Joseph's life. The conservative position pegs Moses as the writer of Genesis (somewhere between 1500 and 1300 BCE).

So, if the universe is 6,000 years old, it was created in 4,000 BCE. If Moses wrote Genesis, it was written at least 2,500 years after the first events recorded in the book.

All this is to say, we Christians have to find a way to be okay with late-dating of Biblical texts. We can fight and pretty easily win the dating battles around the New Testament. Scholars have been dragged kicking and screaming into dating almost all of the New Testament writings to within 100 years of Christ's death. But we should know: winning that battle wins us very little.

Late-dating isn't the end of the world. Let's not freak out.

Dating the Bible

Monday night is Date Night for us. Last Monday we went to Roanoke to see a movie and eat at Humble Pie. Great night. I love dating my wife.

I hate dating the Bible.

That could mean a coupla different things:
1) I'm ready to pop the question and commit to the book
2) I don't enjoy the conversations about when it was written.

These things are intricately linked. The earlier the book was written, the more likely I am to want to trust and believe it (generally, but it can be more complex than that).

Think about it.

An event happens. Two books are written about this event. One of these books was written a few days after the event. Another was written a decade later. Which book do you think would best catch the details? Oh, but it's more complex than that.

Which book do you think would best catch the significance of the event? Now, that's very tricky. Sometimes, perspective serves as a filter. More significant features stick and the rest fall away.

Dating becomes significant and complex. It can mean many different, counter-intuitive and exclusive things.

This is worth reflecting on more deeply.

The thin case for EATing (Erroneous Accidental Transmission)

I've been telling a lot of stories this week.

Actually, I tell a lot of stories every week: stories about how I learned something, stories about where God's shown up, stories and stories and stories. I tell stories.

And I listen, man do I ever. I listen to stories, loads of them. My conversation lilt just begs people to jump in and tell a story. I can't make people stop.

This weekend was so full of stories. We were getting to know Kevin and Kristy, the folks who are coming to W&L to serve with InterVarsity next year. I tried to tell them as many stories about our community as I could: about how GCF was formed, about where God's taken us over the years, about what God's been doing recently and about why I don't do pre-marital counseling in Java 23 anymore.

Wes was right on the money this week when he said that the Biblical story could accurately be handed down. Stories that are precious to us get passed on and they get passed on intact.

The thought that any of the early Christians would get the main points of the Jesus story wrong on accident is a strange thought. Anyone who was there can tell the main gist of the GCF-end-of-year-bonfire-from-last-year story and that's just a bonfire.

The telephone game ends up scrambling stories for the following reasons:
- Whispers are hard to hear
- No repeats
- We don't really care about what's being passed on

None of that is true of the story about Jesus. Because we care about him, we repeat his story over and over and over again. And we don't whisper, at least, not often.

I think the case for accidental transmission error is a thin one. Maybe something else happened, but me-thinks there be no accident, here.

Can we trust the Bible? (Notes and audio from last night's talk)

We've been talking a lot about trust here on the blog recently. As a follow-up to Becca's talk about building trust as an essential element of evangelism, we invited Wes Zell in to speak of the trustworthiness of the Bible.

Check out the audio from his talk (apologies for the sound, you might have to max the volume to hear him):



Notes from last night's talk:
Can the Bible be trusted historically?

One could ask, can the Bible be trusted morally, but that's another talk

Story #1 The Book of Acts and the Chester Beatty Papyrus
--- turn of the 20th century, common belief was that Acts was written several generations later and was only allegedly a history
--- William Ramsey was researching the history of Asia Minor
--- Found that Acts got a detail about Iconium right that history had wrong
--- Checked many specific details and found Acts held up

Story #2 The Book of Isaiah...transmission
--- until 1946 oldest known, surviving Hebrew manuscript dated to 1000 AD
--- Dead Sea Scrolls contained one dated to 300-0 BCE
--- Compare texts, basically unchanged

Two important questions:
Did the writes care about history?
Could real history have been recorded and preserved?

Opening of Luke
--- "fulfilled among us" - things really happened
--- "carefully" - important to get the story right
--- "from the beginning" - standard to be considered reliable
-------with Jesus from John the Baptist to ascension
-------report what he'd done and interpret what it meant
--- "handed on to us" - Luke needed to consult sources
-------taught in a way than ensured it was understood
-------see similar examples in Corinthians, Didache, Polycarp, Irenaeus

Not the rumor mill, place where a story gets adapted and inflated
--- Every culture has rumor mills
--- Oral cultures know how to preserve and protect important stories
--- Phillip Bailey example (researcher on oral transmission)

Evidences that people got the story right
--- Historical and political details in the Biblical texts
--- Cultural details in the Biblical texts
--- Preserve embarassing details (failures, associations)
--- Outside Jewish and Roman source collaboration
-------Jewish teacher who was crucified
-------Had followers who worshipped him post-crucifixion

1 John 1
--- The Bible offers itself to us not as evidence to be evaluated but as something to be lived
--- Not just looking to rattle off an argument
--- Our estrangement to God is not just intellectual, but relational as well
--- Need a relational restoration
--- History is important because it is the place where God has come to meet with us

The Experiential Echo Chamber

Our experiences amplify our beliefs.

Are you familiar with the echo chamber effect? Learning about this was one of many fun reasons to be a Psych major (not as fun as being in class with basketball players, but still pretty fun). The echo chamber effect kicks into gear when a biased bit of information gets into the information stream and gets picked up by multiple sources, amplified and passed along as unbiased.

For a long while, I would have said that our goal was to escape the echo chamber, to slip into the realm of unbiased data examined objectively. But I've become more and more skeptical that such a realm exists, skeptical that there are unbiased data or that I am capable of examining them objectively.

It is hard to be objective when matters of loyalty are at stake. Duke is slated to win my NCAA bracket. I know it's a long shot, but I'm not objective. Nor should I be. I value loyalty.

It is hard to be objective when matters of love are at stake. Amy is the most amazing woman in the world. I know not everyone will share my opinion, but I'm not objective. Nor should I be. I value love.

I like to be around Duke fans and I really like to be around Amy fans. The world is full of them, so it's not difficult to find them. They amplify my dearly held biases. And I think that that's a good thing.

Not all biases are to be nourished. There are some echo chambers we should never enter, some we should strive to escape. Some echo chambers send us on evil spirals, reinforcing beliefs and experiences that deepen our bondage to sin and amplify our brokenness.

The Bible is an echo chamber.

We all have experiences of Jesus and God, experiences that provide either true or false data to our ever-developing view of the world. Something is going to amplify your experiences. Maybe several things will amplify your experience. South Park. Church. GCF. Lectures attended. Books read. Late-night fraternity conversations.

We bounce from echo chamber to echo chamber, constantly exposing our experiences to amplifying influences.

If the Bible is God's way of breaking through the scandal of particularity and providing us with the roots, shoots and ladders we need to know him as he really is, if that's what the Bible is, then it's a God-given experiential echo chamber. We can go to it not just to find trust, but to amplify it.

And this is what lies at the heart of a Jesus-trusting dive into the Bible. The church fathers pulled these writings together because they believed that reading them in the church community would amplify and preserve the testimony handed down from the first witnesses.

This line of argumentation follows Anselm's fides quaerens intellectum and is, I know, a backward way of thinking theologically. But I find it helpful.

Roots, Shoots and Ladders

The scandal of particularity particularly scandalizes if we ignore our God-given roots, shoots and ladders.

Christianity claims to be grounded in actual history. God actually created and did it in real time. Moses actually led God's people through the Red Sea. Jesus actually was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died and was buried. We keep going...he descended into hell and, on the third day, he rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. That is, according to us.

A historical foundation for our faith actually proves quite problematic. Historicity might seem like a huge asset. You might picture yourself saying "This really happened. Adjust your life accordingly." Well, bad new, that's a problem. We weren't there, so it's not fair!

Not fair! Not fair! Not fair!

Some folks, because of where and when and how they grew up, are more likely to trust Christ. Yesterday, I briefly mentioned the influence of family of origin on the development of faith.

But the scandal of particularity goes beyond that. Jesus' Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection happened in a particular time and place. Some people got to be first-hand witness to the events recorded in the Gospels. And some didn't. We didn't. Not fair, right?

These people trusted Jesus before the New Testament was even written. (Now, some had read the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, but we can circle behind that. Abraham and Moses trusted God before the Scriptures were written.) So, it is possible to trust Jesus first.

In fact, Christianity got passed along for generations before the writings that make up the New Testament were even collected in the same place. We have our roots in an oral tradition, in a passed along from parent to child, from one person to another tradition, a personal tradition. Trust in Jesus (a person) was passed along from person to person until it reached us, like shoots springing off a vine. The Bible serves as a ladder, ascending from our ancient roots to the current day, supporting the shoots as faithful men and women emerge from the vine.

Our modern era didn't value roots, shoots and ladders. We wanted boxes and packets, data bundles, propositions that could be evaluated and accepted (or rejected). We approached all things with skepticism, assumed that all things were what they really were only when divorced from their context and environment. We loved dissection.

But organic is in now. Communal is in now. History and tradition are making a comeback. We're hungry to know about our roots, to be a part of something that goes way back, to stand on the shoulders of giants.

This intersects interestingly with Biblical Criticism. The questions for us are not "Is the Bible reliable?" but "Does the Bible portray the real Jesus?" These may seem like the same questions, but they're not. One tries to defend the Bible from cover to cover, the other focuses on the Gospels. If the Gospels faithfully portray the Jesus that I trust and love, then the whole Old Testament comes into play (because the Gospels display Jesus referring to and arguing out of the OT). If the Gospels and later NT writings faithfully portray the Jesus that I love and trust, I'm more likely to trust them when they're talking about other things.

Craig Blomberg's book on the Historical Reliability of the Gospels is so helpful here.

Trust Jesus-in-the-Gospels, trust the rest of the Bible. A spiral is starting to develop. Trust Jesus. Trust some of the Bible. Deepen your trust of Jesus. Trust more of the Bible. Etc, ad infinitum into the depths of trust.

It's beautiful, but there's more to the story.

The Scandal of Particularity

The notion of trusting Jesus before trusting the Bible is a strange one. It's strange, first of all, because of what I (quoting CS Lewis, I think) call "the scandal of particularity."

How can we base our trust in the Bible on our trust in Jesus? Don't we learn about Jesus from the Bible?

Now, there's an interesting question. Is the Bible the only way to come to know Jesus?

Our community here is full (sadly, beautifully, but not exclusively) of students who have grown up around Christianity. Their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents trusted Jesus. Some of these folks came to trust Jesus because they read about him in the Bible. But not all.

What about you? Did you start with the Bible? Maybe you did. Maybe you're still trying to figure out this whole trust thing.

But for those folks who grew up around Christianity, I'd bet three shiny nickels that a lot of them trusted Jesus before they understood John's Gospel. Some trusted before they could read, before they sat in on "big church." They trusted because their mom trusted, because their dad or grandparents or older sibling trusted Jesus. When the Bible was introduced, it rolled on the same credibility.

That doesn't sound very noble or authoritative. You can't convince someone to trust Jesus or the Bible by saying "My Mom said...". There's a part of me that wishes it weren't the case, that I could say confidently of all these folk that they would trust Jesus and the Bible even if they weren't raised around it, that wishes I could say this because it makes trust in Jesus and the Bible sound more objective and transportable. But wishes aren't fishes and families and communities of origin do have significant impacts. Not everyone has the same opportunity.

So, the scandal of particularity starts to show it's scandalous colours.

Some people trust Jesus, not because they already trust the Bible, but because someone else they already trust models trusting Jesus (did you really think I wouldn't find a way to connect Biblical Criticism to Evangelism?).

But the formidable opponent might claim that someone, somewhere in that family tree probably connected with Jesus and started to trust him through the influence of a Bible. They make a good point.

Maybe Person A trusts Jesus because their Mom (Person B, she's more than a mother, c'mon) trusts Jesus. If Person B started trusting Jesus because she came to trust the Bible (perhaps after hearing a talk like the one Wes Zell is going to give at Large Group this week), then we haven't really showed that you can start with Jesus, we've only showed that you don't have to start with the Bible directly.

This is like someone who "solves" the problem of the origin of human life by claiming that we were seeded on Earth by aliens. Well, where did the aliens come from? Or crystals. Where did the crystals come from? Or Jersey. Where did the primordial soup come from? These "solutions" just push the problem back a step or two.

Is that what we just did here? No.

The Scandal of Particularity joins in on an ongoing game of Roots, Shoots and Ladders. I'll explain this tomorrow. (Hint as to where I'm going --- people trusted Jesus before the Bible was written down) Stay with me. I have no intention going over the edge.

"Where did you find this thing?" he asked, holding up a leather Bible

Where does the Bible come from?

That can be an awkward question. It belongs in the "Where___come from?" set. Daddy, where do babies come from? Tamayo, where does your last name come from? Where does the Bible come from?

So many folks never even think about it. The Bible just is. Folks assume it descended from heaven or was dug up from beneath the earth, but it wasn't. There are books that make those claims, but the Bible isn't one of them.

In Athanasius' De Incarnatione Verbi Dei, he says that the Scriptures "were written and inspired by God." Now, if that isn't a slam dunk argument, I don't know what is.

That is, given that you trust Athanasius, the fourth century bishop from Alexandria. If you don't already trust Athanasius, I guess I didn't help you. But I do think that trust in a person must be the ultimate source for our trust in the Bible.

Modern apologetics assumed that impersonal was authoritative. Apologists would try to get you to trust the Bible first, then trust Jesus. Some found this approach helpful. Some still do. Most don't.

What if we ran the other way around the circle? What if you started by trusting Jesus? If you trusted Jesus and he trusted the Bible (at least, the parts that were written when he was here in the flesh), you'd probably trust the Bible.

Postmodern apologetics assumes that impersonal can't be authoritative. (Thank God he's a personal God!) We won't hang our hats on abstract ideas. We can be convinced to trust people. (We can, reall, I swear, trust me)

The need to trust a person (Jesus) before trusting the Bible creates a few problems, about which I'll be blogging over the next coupla days:
1) The scandal of particularity
2) Roots, shoots and ladders
3) The experiential echo chamber

Hello, my name is Evil and I'd like to talk to you about God

What do you think it would be like to meet a truly evil person? I think that person would, if they were evil through and through, look ugly, smell bad, and cheer for the Tar Heels. I think that person would kill and steal. I think that person would not be trustworthy.

I wouldn't go to that person for information. How could I trust what they'd tell me? (It reminds me of that classic puzzle from Dr. Who, the one with the lying robots) I wouldn't trust a wholly evil person. Would you?

But what if the completely evil person wanted to tell you something you really wanted to know? What if they confirmed one of your fears? What if they told you something you were always afraid was true? Would you believe them then?

We would be fools to trust a person who was evil in every way.

I belabor this point because it's been so helpful for me when I wrestle with the question of evil and the justice of God. I experience evil regularly, painfully. What does this experience of evil tell me about the nature and character of God.

Nothing.

Nothing? Well, nothing I'd trust. Evil isn't a reliable source for information. If I wouldn't trust an evil person, why would I trust the abstract evil I experience day in and day out? If it gave me answers to my questions about God, they would be lies.

Now, this doesn't mean I ignore evil or bury the feelings it stirs up. That would be a different brand of foolishness. But I don't trust evil to tell me true things about God. Instead, I look for someone who is totally good, completely good, good through and through. That someone I can trust to tell me about God (if he knows anything).

Any guesses as to who that someone is? Here's a clue: if you guess right, you get a gold star.

On building trust

Jesus built trust masterfully. But he didn't build trust with everybody.

In the passage Becca talked about, Jesus built trust with an unnamed Samaritan woman with a complex past. Just a few chapters later, Jesus teaches some super-complex, super-controversial material and we hear this:
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

Jesus could build trust, but he didn't seem to do it with everybody. He ticked off the Herodians, alienated the Pharisees, disappointed the Zealots, provoked the Sadducees, and snubbed the Scribes. The list of people who didn't like Jesus was, to quote Rick, "long and distinguished."

This is a struggle for me. I want to build trust with everybody I can. Rapport is like air to me. This isn't people-pleasing, it's connecting.

But Jesus didn't do that. He built trust with particular people even at the expense of losing trust with others. How often did his trust-building activity break trust with a bystander? You don't have to flip long through the gospels to see this happening over and over again.

What does this mean for us? Perhaps nothing. We're called to do what Jesus would have us to do, not necessarily to do what he did himself. If he wants us to be universally trusted, then I can breathe my sigh of relief and continue on. If he calls us to another way, then...

I'm going to struggle with a desire to build trust with the wrong people. The people Jesus built trust with aren't the people I naturally gravitate toward. (What would I talk to a random Samaritan woman about?) I have some unlearning to do. If I don't, I might have some 'splaining to do.

Trust and truth: lifelong friends



I want to say something heretical: trust is more important than truth.

Trust is the bridge truth walks on. Without the bridge of trust, truth spirals into the chasm. Truth is useless, meaningless without trust. Better to have no truth, than to have no trust.

Heretical, right?

Images of building trust based on lies and deception swarm through our minds. Compromise: the mega-curse word of fundamentalism. Accomodation: compromise's ugly cousin.

Becca gave us a hard shove in a much needed direction last night.

Trust is not optional. Just as truth is not optional. In our missional enterprise, we can no more abandon trust than we can abandon truth. What we've perceived as either-or's, as enemies, prove upon further review to be nothing of the sort.

Truthless attempts to earn trust soon become the most intractable kind of distrust. Trust-devoid attempts to proclaim truth often produce the most intractable kind of disbelief. We all hesitate to follow someone we feel doesn't have our best interests at heart and it is wise policy to disbelieve habitual liars.

But for decades evangelical Christians have fought so hard to protect truth (orthodoxy), that we've begun to believe that trust (relationship) is optional, or even dangerous. We measure our faithfulness on how little people like us. They hate us, we must be doing something right!

Trust doesn't get us noticed. Trust doesn't make us famous or infamous. Trust can't be scaled, put on CD, packaged, sold and shipped. There isn't a lot of money in trust.

In our willingness to abandon relationship to preserve orthodoxy, we've come dangerously close to losing orthodoxy. Our theology has ceased to be onto-relational and has, instead, become abstract, lines to be defended (war, athletics) instead of followed (ancestry, transportation). We die on the wrong hills.

The reality is that telling the truth is one of the best ways to develop trust. Truthtelling leads to trust which leads to more truthtelling which leads to truth being received more and more: an upward spiral. If you care enough about me to tell me the truth, you're the sort of person I want to trust. Think about that video Brad recommended. Penn-the-atheist says that if you think the gospel is true, you should share it with everyone you care about.

One last thought and then I'll end this rant. Charles Spurgeon, a brilliant British preacher, once was asked to reconcile two seemingly incongruent theological ideas. His reply applies here: "I never reconcile friends."

If someone asks if Trust and Truth are friends, I'd say good friends. If they asked if they were good friends, I'd say lifelong friends.

Leadership application

This is the time of year when our returning and new leaders fill out applications to serve in our community. It's such a huge blessing to work with these folks and to see how eager they are to serve God and the people he loves.

The application is available here: drop.io/leadapp.

Check it out if you're curious. Apply if you're interested (this actually only applies to my W&L readers. Sorry, Mom).

Notes from tonight's talk

So, Becca shared powerfully tonight about the important relationship between trust and truth. Due to the vulnerable nature of some of her content, we won't be posting the full audio of the talk, but I'll post my notes below and, hopefully, we'll get to do an interview with her on the topic for the podcast later this week.

Notes from Crossing barriers with our friends
We must deal with broken trust as we invite our friends into the spiritual places in our lives

Trust vs. Truth
- Truth walks across the bridge of Trust
- We must work to rebuild the bridge of Trust
- To do this, we must...
--- 1) be committed to the relationship
--- 2) assume that some mistrust has creeped in somewhere
--- 3) go to the hard places

There are questions behind some of the questions people ask (trust before truth): Why did God allow this to happen to me? Where was he? Does he care?

See how Jesus built trust, a dip into John 4
- Barriers of distrust standing between the woman and Jesus
--- 1) Male/Female - guys in that culture didn't talk to gals
--- 2) Jew/Samaritan - Jews did not associate with Samaritans
--- 3) Past sin - "Go call your husband"...fear of judgement
--- 4) Low social status - alone at the well in the heat of the day
- Jesus was aware of this barrier of distrust
- Jesus rebuilds broken trust

A case study...the problem of suffering
- Trust issue
--- Philosophical angle: if God is powerful, why does he allow evil?
--- Personal angle: where was God when I was suffering?
- Assume there's a personal angle in there somewhere
- The truth: God doesn't explain evil but he does respond to it
--- 1) by experiencing it himself
--- 2) by defeating it...which gives us hope

Having a friend who was willing to build trust made all the difference

Flip flopped trust

The trust situation used to be flip-flopped. People used to trust a pastoral figure because they trusted God. They were raised in the church, brought up in it comfortably and well in our Constantinian culture. Everyone trusted pastors, that what you did with a pastor. You trusted him just like you respected pilots, admired astronauts, honored presidents, and depended on doctors.

Flip flop.

Doctors drive us crazy, presidents make us roll our eyes, astronauts...name a recent one, pilots are seen as glorified bus drivers and don't get us started on pastors. Not much has changed, but everything's changed (well...not everything, but a whole lot has changed).

I'm becoming aware, in snippets and bits, that this change may be more like a renewal than a revolution. Now, it won't always feel like it. I mean, "glorified bus driver" is way harsh. But the ministry model that flows from this renewed cultural posture toward leadership resonates deeply with the model lived out by the apostles, especially Paul, and Jesus.

Of all the people the world has ever seen, Jesus had the most right to demand our trust and respect (those two often go together, especially as relates to leadership). He was God.

But Jesus did not exert his God-ness to demand trust, at least not initially. As he interacts with people, you rarely (if ever) hear him saying "I'm the positional Messiah, Son of God, so you should trust me." Instead, he builds trust with people through his loving life and then asks "Who do you say that I am?"

These are very different approaches to ministry:
Trust me, I'm a pastor
I'm pastoring you, trust me

Isn't that strange? Those two sentences could mean the same thing (just like "I'm sorry" and "I apologize"), but they don't always. One can be a demand based on positional authority, the other can be a request based on personal credibility.

Tomorrow, Becca's going to be speaking on John 4 and how trust creates a bridge for truth to walk on. I'm really excited for her talk because I feel like the things she's going to be sharing will help bring some clarity to my jumbled thoughts about the significance of vulnerability in ministry.

I could really use some clarity right now. Could you?

Increased vulnerability leads to increased trust

Why does increased vulnerability in ministry lead to increased trust?

Part of it has to do what I mentioned yesterday: vulnerable ministry encourages people to know our real weaknesses. I may get defensive. I may get angry. I may waffle and hem and haw so as not to hurt someone's feelings. I may back down from a situation where the hard truth needs to be spoken. I may be disorganized at times, overworked at times, overmatched at times.

I have lots of real weaknesses as a leader, acknowledged weaknesses. I also have a practice of valuing especially people who have the courage to point my weaknesses out to me in a loving way. That actually might be a strength.

And that's the thing, right? Being honest and open about our weaknesses creates space for us to acknowledge and embrace the gifts God's given to us. As leaders, we become multi-dimensional, more real. And that makes us more trustable.

That's part of it.

Another part of the reason why increased vulnerability leads to increased trust has to do with some heavy theology, touched on lightly here (with more to come tomorrow).

God's gospel comes to us not only in the shape of words and ideas but also in the very lives of the people commissioned by him to deliver it. To put it another way, God's gospel is illustrated, a pop-up gospel with us as the characters springing off the page.

And so, in pursuing vulnerable ministry, we are incarnating the gospel, projecting with our bodies the good news of Jesus Christ. Though we are broken and flawed, though we struggle to be faithful to God's call on our lives, though we are poor illustrations of God's beautiful gospel, God himself has chosen to use us, to dwell with us, to be at work in us calling the world to himself.

And so, just as people trust the gospel (ultimately trusting the God of the gospel), a ministry that reflects the gospel, a vulnerable ministry, leads to people trusting us (ultimately trusting the God of the "us").

This is a lot at once, so I'll keep unpacking it. It's great for me to think about and, possibly, helpful for you to read about.
We've been burnt by authority.

Let's resist the temptation to whine. We've all been burned and have done some burning. This archaeology is valuable to me because it explains why vulnerable ministry resonates with folk in my generation.

It's a matter of contrasts.

The huge scandals of the 80s became the disappointments of the 90s. Now, we don't even have the capacity to act surprised. Men and women who live lives that are above reproach are just men and women who haven't been caught yet. Sound cynical? It is.

Our cynicism can't be preached away. We can't be guilted or shamed or lectured into trusting. Those techniques make us more cynical.

Our hopes have been dashed. Our trust has been broken. We've been burned by authority.

I wish this wasn't the case.

Just last week I was in a discipling appointment and I stumbled over this. I was explaining one of our leadership guardrails: why specifically we're hesitant to let someone lead in two Christian communities. There are several reasons, but one of them is historical. We used to do it and it didn't work out so well.

The friend I was talking to did exactly what I would have done: she asked me who these people were. Neither of us would have cared about who the actual people were (David, Ryan, Katie, Sarah), we would have just wanted to know that they were real people, that the other person wasn't pulling the wool over our eyes. Remember, we've been burnt by authority. Can't you see someone making up past problems to justify present policy?

But this didn't go well. I was running on 4 hours of sleep after two weeks of travel, so sick I could barely hear and had just found out he had a huge hiccough with Amy's insurance. I couldn't remember these names. I hadn't thought about these folks and situations in years.

The conversation didn't go well, but we've had a commitment to vulnerability on campus. And this student isn't a parishoner (such a cold word), she's a friend. She probably didn't believe me (I wasn't sure I believed me until I found those names. That's how tired I was), but she hung in there with me. She actually prayed for me.

Why? I don't actually know. I think it has something to do with the fact that I've been really open with her about my flaws and weaknesses and she knows that this isn't one of them.

I'll explore this more tomorrow.

We know our own brokenness

We know our own brokenness.

It's a rare thing to find a person in our generation who thinks they have it all together. We have a hundred reasons why we can't lead or a hundred problems in our life that we just can't figure out.

Fifty years ago, most people would say: "I'm basically a good person."

More and more, now, you'll hear people saying: "I'm basically a broken person."

Ask around. Ask people if they've felt ashamed at all this week? What about guilty? What about rejected or dejected or subjected? If people could change one thing about their physical appearance, is there anything they would change? If people could change one thing about their personality or inner life, is there anything they would change? If people could change one relationship, would there be one broken and needing change?

We know our brokenness.

God's word talks about this brokenness as sin. In Romans it says that "all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory." Vulnerable ministry flows from an awareness of this truth.

We can't pretend to be perfect. The emperor has no clothes. We know our own brokenness and you'd better believe we'll have some good guesses about yours.

So, don't fake it. Pursue vulnerability in ministry.

Two rationales for vulnerable ministry

Vulnerable ministry resonates with folks in my generation, at least it does with me.

Why is that?
1) We know our own brokenness
2) We've been burnt by authority
3) We long for connection

I think this is true and that I can both defend and explain this. But I wonder if there's more to it than simple generational resonance.

I've been wrestling with this teaching on vulnerability since the Urbana conversation on Jesus' Incarnation. Why did Jesus make himself vulnerable?

In our Small Group at the LaFe Staff Conference today, we studied the beginning of Luke 4, where Jesus is tempted. Jesus allows himself to be tempted by the devil. The passage even says that the devil led Jesus around (to a high place and to the top of the temple in Jerusalem). He went into the desert and fasted for forty days, making himself weak. Why did he do that?

Jesus made himself vulnerable, facing rejection, misunderstanding, abandonment, fear, exhaustion, humiliation, failure and death, even death on a cross. And he could have had a successful ministry without any of this. "Successful."

Jesus could have commanded loyalty, projected clarity, forced commitment, demolished threats, worked without tiring, led without suffering, thrived and shattered the cross. Who wants a cross? Who wants a weak God, a God who can die?

I don't always want a God who can die. I'll be honest. But I treasure the truth that I have a God who will die, who would die, who did die, who did more than just die, who died and lives and works wildly in this world and in me and in us.

Two rationales for vulnerable ministry, then, are these:
1) Vulnerable ministry resonates with this generation
2) Jesus' ministry hinged on his vulnerability

Music from today's conference

When we get together, we sing. Most of the songs, ya'll have never heard of and YouTube videos don't exist for, yet. But here's one that really connected with me today:


Daniel Esqueda sang this for us today, reminding us with beautiful Psalmist echoes that our hope is rooted in our God. And I needed to be reminded of that today.

I'll post more on vulnerability tomorrow because, to be vulnerably honest, I'm too tired to think straight, much less write, much less write on something as huge as this.

Missing Large Group

I miss one Large Group every semester. I hate missing Large Group. To use the word differently, I miss Large Group. I missed Large Group tonight.

Something special is happening on our campus and in our community. While I've been blogging and thinking and talking about vulnerability, folks in our community have been living it out.

Someone who shared during the missions trip de-brief hates public speaking. Someone else knew hardly anyone in the room. Someone took a risk that their sharing would be misunderstood, would come off as preachy, would offend.

We live vulnerable lives in our community. That is special.

I'm off in Texas at our once-every-three-years Latino Staff Conference. Guess what we talked about today? Money. Fundraising. Vulnerability.

The high point of our session today, for me, was when my friend Naty shared a story about one of her donors. This elderly man has been her advocate in ministry for almost a decade, has provided for her financially and asked others to give. And this 72 year old man is instrumental in bringing college students to Jesus.

Naty made herself vulnerable, allowed herself to depend on this man and his connections to provide financially for her ministry and, as a result, this man feels wildly blessed.

Do we deny people opportunities to be blessed when we refuse to pursue vulnerability?

Can you imagine the missions trip de-brief without vulnerable sharing?
Can you imagine impersonal financial askes in Christian communities?
Can you imagine God's people living risk adverse lives?
I bet you can. I know you can.

But that's not the future you want to see, is it?

We must pursue vulnerability (pt. 3)

I've been wrestling a lot with the temptation to fake it this week.

I'm sick. Do I pretend to be healthy? I'm sad. Do I pretend to be happy? I'm scared. Do I pretend to be brave? I'm exhausted. Do I pretend to be rested?

Somewhere along the line someone told me not to share my burdens with the people I'm serving. Don't trouble them with your junk, you're their pastor, their staffworker, their mentor. So, I asked for authenticity, transparency and vulnerability but failed to model it in my own life.

I try not to do that anymore.

One of the core "rules" of our ministry is that we don't ask students to do anything we're not doing ourselves. So, if we want to ask them to share their lives with us, to share their stories with us, we must share our lives with them.

And this gets awkward. People aren't used to people in ministry sharing their lives. It's just not done. The Staffworker is supposed to have it all together. He's supposed to be wise, to be strong, to be mature. And sometimes I am. Actually, often I am. But not always.

Today was a "lean-on-my-community" kinda day. Zach led Small Group. John Calvin, Abigail and Sam listened to and counseled me for part of our time together today. It was great.

But it's tough to receive that kind of care from the folks you're called to lead. There's a subtle power associated with being the "giver" in a relationship and I get easily attached to that power.

Dependency is difficult. It feels uncomfortable to ask for help. Although I really appreciate the care I receive, I'd rather not make myself vulnerable.

How far I am from Paul's vulnerable posture toward the Thessalonian Christians:
We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. - 1 Thes 2:8

He shared "not only the gospel of God," but his life as well. Wasn't the gospel enough? What can Paul's life possible add to the gospel of God? Wouldn't it be better to avoid going into the details of our lives and just focus on the gospel?

For Paul, I think his love for the people he served forced him to share both the gospel and his life. His life echoed this gospel, lived it out. He could be open, authentic, transparent and, yes, maybe even vulnerable because his gospel was the gospel of God, the only gospel that mattered, the best news.

I want to be able to say that I shared the gospel and that I shared my life. I love the people I serve and want them to see the gospel lived out, a story and an adventure, not just an idea.

We must pursue vulnerability.

We must pursue vulnerability (pt. 2b)

We instinctively mask financial asks.

We've all seen it done. A pastor flinches during a sermon on giving and ends up presenting commands like they're suggestions. A Small Group Leader lets the group skip over a passage of Scripture that might make us feel uncomfortable about our consumption. A missionary hems and haws about needing "support" and "partners" when you know they need "money" and "donors" (don't get me wrong, we need support and partners too).

Why do we do this?

Well, I don't know about "we," but I avoid vulnerability when it comes to talking about money because I don't want people to abandon me. I'm afraid that if I preach on money, people will stop coming, stop inviting. I worry that people will get angry and leave. I fear that people will avoid me.

Most vulnerability-dodging in ministry flows from a fear of losing people. This is true in the arena around money, but it's also true throughout. The fear of losing people causes us to do some crazy things, causes us to do some cowardly things.

I vividly remember driving a careening golf cart around Rockbridge and talking to John Teter about fundraising (he brought it up). He said that he intensely pursued his wealthy friends to give money to God and the poor because their souls were at stake. His heart for fundraising echoed his heart for evangelism. You can't serve two masters.

Patrick Lencioni wrote recently about "telling the kind truth" in his book Getting Naked. In the business world, Lencioni sees this hesitancy to tell the kind truth as deeply connected with a fear of losing clients.

Paul wasn't afraid to lose the Romans. He wasn't afraid to ask for money, to go there with them. I think he put himself in the vulnerable position of talking about money because he thought there was something worse than having people not like him.

I really want to be like that. I want to live my life as if there are worse things than not being liked, free of the fear of "losing clients."

God has given us such a beautiful and epic commission as his people. And I think that we can't do what he's calling us to do unless we're willing to make ourselves vulnerable, to speak "the kind truth" even if people abandon us for it. After all, a servant is not greater than his master (see John 6).

We must pursue vulnerability.

We must pursue vulnerability (pt. 2a)

Why do we shy away from talking about money?

I've had a money-filled week. It hasn't been filled with money in the "make it rain" kinda way. No, that would be nice. But it's been filled with money in the "God has sharpened my awareness to a particular conversational thread" kinda way.

I love it when this happens. It feels like it rains and then pours, like particular themes keep coming back up over and over. When we were struggling with infertility, everyone around us got pregnant. When I was thinking about evangelism, everyone around me started inviting their thoughtful friends to think about Jesus. God's doing something.

It's easy to assume that these things are happening more and more frequently around me, that there are more babies, more evangelism, more talk about money. But I'm not sure that's true. I think that seasons like this just sharpen my awareness, that God helps me notice and remember particular things that are happening around me day-to-day.

And this week, it's money and vulnerability. Here are some stories:

During the Urban Plunge element of the missions trip, we wandered around Union station with $2 for dinner. I was suddenly aware of how much food costs. Two dollars could feed a family if it had to, but it could barely feed me.

In South Florida this weekend we visited Church by the Glades with the Lavins. They had received an e-mail that week, informing them that the next week or two would not be a great time to bring a visitor to the church (as the church would be having their annual series on tithing). They brought us anyways and it was fantastic. The church was unashamed, sensitive, clear in its conversation about money.

We visited a new Small Group at Chantilly Bible Church up in Northern Virginia tonight. Although it was their first meeting, they invited a couple of missionaries to come, since the broader church was engaged in its Missions Emphasis Week. Since I'll only be in VA Mon-Wed of this week, we went up tonight, presented about InterVarsity, asked for prayer support and asked for money.

Paul wrote this at the end of his beautiful letter to the Romans, not as an afterthought, but almost as the pinnacle:
But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while. - Rom. 15:23-24

Talking about money makes people in ministry feel vulnerable. Maybe it makes everyone feel vulnerable. Why is that?