The kingdom is for outsiders: a “skinny-jeans evangelical” response to @scotmcknight

I’ve been enjoying the stimulating conversation at the Ecclesia National Gathering in DC. Scot McKnight started things off with a polemic against the “skinny-jeans evangelicals” (like me, sometimes) who tend to define the kingdom of God as happening “when good people do good in the public sector for the common good.” I think his polemic is legitimate. There is a furious backlash among evangelicals of my generation against the culture wars, which can turn us into generic “social justice” activists who no longer have any concept of church. “Kingdom” gets used as a code label to define a here-and-now social gospel over against an “eternal fire insurance” gospel. As McKnight says, “If the kingdom means everything, it means nothing.” He comes up with five Biblical principles for what the kingdom must include. But I think he needs some help from a “skinny-jeans evangelical” heckler like me, because I don’t think his five principles avoid reaffirming and returning to the problematic Christendom of the past. Continue Reading


Two Biblical commands no Christian will ever obey

I’ve been at the Ecclesia National Gathering in DC. It’s a network of moderate evangelicals who use the word “missional” a lot and plant churches and stuff like that. We just had a presentation from Bill Webb about the nature of the Bible’s authority. One of his points was that the Bible’s authority is always “accommodated” to its particular cultural context. He shared two very awkward Biblical commands, Proverbs 31:6-7 and Deuteronomy 25:11-12, that I’m pretty confident no Christian would ever obey. Continue Reading


Wrestling with heaven and hell (last weekend’s #sermon #podcast)

I keep on getting busy and forgetting to post my sermon podcasts. Last weekend, for our Wrestling sermon series, we wrestled with heaven and hell. To provide a different framework than the usual one in which the question is concerned, I looked at two passages from Isaiah. Isaiah 2 starts off by talking about God’s vision for a beautiful peaceful world (vv. 1-4) and then talks about the entrenched idolatry and injustice that will need to be destroyed for God’s peace to be established (vv. 5-19). This was actually the topic of one of my first major blog posts if you’d rather read than listen. The second passage I looked at was Isaiah 6 which captures what it’s like for a human to stand in the overwhelming presence of God. I have a typed manuscript of a sermon on this that I preached in the Dominican Republic two years ago. These two components, God’s promise of a peaceful kingdom and the ability to face God with integrity, are the foundation for how I understand what heaven and hell are. Here is the audio. Sign up for the podcast if you’d like to auto-download it into your phone.

healing of man with withered hand

Three highly ignored teachings of the New Testament: Sabbath healings, circumcision, and unclean food

One of the main reasons that many Christians fall short who are earnestly seeking to live Biblical lives is their refusal to see legitimate analogies between issues of controversy in the time of the Bible’s stories and our lives today. Most Christians completely miss the significance of three important social teachings in the New Testament because they deal with issues that were a huge deal in their day but are completely uncontroversial now: Sabbath healing, circumcision, and unclean food. No one is going to criticize a doctor whose on-call pager goes off in church on a Sunday morning so he can save a patient’s life; neither will anyone tell the parents of a boy whom they elected not to circumcise as a baby that they are not welcome in worship; neither could we imagine telling anyone that eating meat from a grocery store owned by a Muslim or Buddhist is an offense against God. So we don’t allow these three major New Testament controversies to teach us anything, because we’re unwilling to recognize the deeper principles they teach and apply these to the actual controversies of the faith in our day about which many Christians are every bit as tight-fisted and hard-hearted as the 1st century religious leaders who crucified Jesus and persecuted Paul.

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pussy riot protest

Why my heart is torn between Russian Orthodoxy and Pussy Riot

A few months ago, First Things ran a post critiquing emergenty evangelicals like me for dabbling in the theology and sacred ambiance of high church traditions like Orthodoxy and Catholicism without being willing to submit to the hierarchy. Whether it’s inconsistent and incoherent and irrational, there’s something that causes Christians like me to have one foot in the Occupy camp with the irreverent hooligans and one foot in the cathedrals that enchant us. Two images have grabbed my heart over the past few weeks: when the Russian Orthodox monks stood praying and risking martyrdom between the cops and the protesters in Kiev, Ukraine, and when the anarchist girl punk band Pussy Riot got whipped by Cossacks for recording a punk video in Sochi this week. Half of my heart belongs to Russian Orthodoxy and half belongs to Pussy Riot; it’s just the kind of Christian that I am. Continue Reading

how we vision

If I made a coloring book for my church vision…

My friend Matthew Paul Turner shared a page from the coloring book Steven Furtick has used at his Elevation Church to share the church vision. I wanted to offer my own version, but I’m not very talented artistically, so I cheated and Photoshopped an actual photo from our worship service using the “Charcoal and Chalk” filter. It’s a photo of a kid serving communion because that’s what he wanted to do more than anything else so I let him. Some of you may be scandalized by the impropriety of it. But I would choose this picture for the first page in my church vision coloring book because I think church should be a place where all people, including children, are encouraged and empowered to seek their own visions from God that they are equipped by their pastor to live out. Continue Reading

queer calling

Our Journey as a Celibate LGBT Christian Couple (a guest post by Sarah and Lindsey from A Queer Calling)

[The following is a guest post from Lindsey and Sarah who describe themselves as a celibate LGBT Christian couple. They reached out to me on twitter after my post about the Wheaton dialogue between LGBT-affirming students and Rosaria Butterfield. Lindsey and Sarah are emphatic about saying that they don't want their story to be used to invalidate any other LGBT story. I asked them to write a guest-post because I was fascinated by their lifestyle, and it was something I hadn't encountered before. Please ask any genuine, un-snarky questions that you have and/or visit their blog at] Continue Reading

david brooks

No, David Brooks, the poor are not the prodigal son

David Brooks has done it again. This time he wrote a column about how America’s class divisions are illustrated by the parable of the prodigal son: “We live in a divided society in which many of us in the middle- and upper-middle classes are like the older brother and many of the people who drop out of school, commit crimes and abandon their children are like the younger brother.” The point of his column was to exhort the “older brothers” not to be snobby moralists but to have compassion on the poor people who are like their “younger brothers.” Except that by making this blanket statement about why poor people are poor, Brooks becomes the snobby moralist he’s supposedly critiquing. Continue Reading

jamie coots

The awkward truth about snake-handling: it’s totally Biblical

Jamie Coots, the snake-handling Kentucky pastor who starred in the National Geographic reality show “Snake Salvation,” died this past weekend after refusing treatment for a snakebite. Snake-handlers tend to be an embarrassment to most other Christians. But here’s the problem: they’re following exactly what the Bible says in Mark 16:16-18: “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Continue Reading


Have you ever been thrown into hell or did you pluck your eyeball out in time? (Matthew 5:29)

Jesus says some pretty wild things, but this week’s lectionary reading includes one of his most extreme statements in Matthew 5:29: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” I’ve only known of one instance in which somebody actually obeyed this teaching, and it was fictional. My favorite novelist Joyce Carol Oates wrote a novel called Son of the Morning about a boy prodigy Pentecostal preacher named Nathan Vickery who falls into fornication and publicly gouges out his eye as an act of penance. So what do we do with this extreme teaching of Jesus besides creating a nation of cyclopses? Continue Reading