Faith of Leap

Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. The Faith of Leap: Embracing a Theology of Risk, Adventure, and Courage. Baker Books, 2011. 224 pgs.

“All disciples of Jesus (not just a select few) are called to an ongoing, risky, actional, extravagant way of life--a life resonant with that distinctly wild--and yes, Christlike--faithfulness of their Lord and Master.”

Thus begins the book Faith of Leap: Embracing a Theology of Risk, Adventure, and Courage. Teaming up once again, missional church frontiersmen Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost collaborate in challenging Western Christians to get out of the safety of the pew and enter the risk of the real world. And for them, such an approach to the Christian life is not optional.

The book’s title - “Faith of Leap” - is more than simply a play on words; it offers an important distinction: Risk and adventure are not merely actions we take once in a while when necessary (e.g. “leaps of faith”), but rather encompass a posture we need to take to life in the world as followers of Jesus. Our whole lives must incorporate a faith that is willing to risk. I appreciated the emphasis on our whole lives, not just isolated actions. Echoing Stanley Hauerwas I suspect, the authors emphasize this whole life approach to life and mission: “The church doesn’t have an agenda; it is the agenda. The church doesn’t have a missional strategy; it is the missional strategy.”

Two key concepts in developing their proposal are liminality (ch. 1) and communitas (ch. 2), terms borrowed from the field of pyschology. Liminality literally means “a threshold,” which related to Christianity is said to describe the current cultural situation. The church is in a time of transition. Words like “danger, marginality, disorientation, or ordeal” describe the Christian life in the 21st C. (or at least they should). And naturally, in a time of unpredictability people are drawn together, not by choice, but because of the situation. This is called communitas. “The bonding is deep; people get to need each other, they get to know and rely on each other.” While I’m not a big fan of new terms, the concept is true to the biblical account: God’s people are on a journey - all people, really - and significant circumstances create significant bonds. My lingering question - not easily answered - is this: should Christians go out and seek this “liminality” all the time (the author’s suggestion) or simply be ready to navigate it when it comes along?

The rest of the book (ch. 3-7) provide rationale and examples for Christians to accept risk and adventure in theology and practice. The authors draw from a variety of disciplines and stories to make their case, which begins to get a bit repetitive after awhile, I’ll admit. For the church to be truly missional, we need to take risks, be heroic and overcome our fears. All helpful themes, for sure. I’m just not convinced they needed to fill a whole book. I’d rather see risk and adventure explored alongside other aspects of theology and Christian practice, not as a concept by itself as the authors propose here. Perhaps an essay or chapter in another book would have been more appropriate.

The book's greatest strength is probably the repeated emphasis on risk and adventure being for the whole church not just individuals. In an age where personal taste and individualistic spirituality reign supreme, Hirsch and Frost do well to assert that navigating the unpredictability of faith and mission in the 21st C. is not a solo endeavor. I wholeheartedly agree.

Overall, I’d recommend this book to anyone engaged in the missional church conversation who are wanting a little more motivation or rationale to risk implementing missional concepts in your church. 3.5/5.

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group

"teach what is appropriate"

More on the expectations of a pastor.

I throw out this verse for consideration (fitting, I think, that it comes from Paul’s Pastoral Letters):

You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1 NIV).

Ah, you might thinking. There is the answer to all the questions raised in the previous post. Teaching sound doctrine is central to the role of the pastor. Paul says so.

But wait, Paul doesn’t stop with this clear assertion. Actually, his main point isn't sound doctrine, but what is appropriate to it. And so he continues by talking about temperance, respect, self-control, sound faith, love, endurance, reverence, more self-control, goodness, purity, kindness, integrity, and godliness as the very things that are appropriate to good theology. Doctrine, for Paul, was connected directly to life and relationships. Reminds me of how Jesus summed it all up: Love God and love others.

Paul closes the section of his letter saying, “These, then, are the things you should teach” (Titus 2:15 NIV). These “things” aren’t ideas, but ways of living in the world.

Too often Christians misuse or misinterpret passages like this, which in turn has implications for the role of the pastor. Sound doctrine itself is made the central issue, the pastor the main source. Formal apologetics, denominational study conferences, theology books, ancient creeds, and yes, even blogs (all good things by the way) tend to focus mainly on the intellectual aspects of the Christian faith. Pastors are expected to display an adherence to orthodoxy as it’s defined by their church or denomination. This is all well and good.

But it's incomplete.

For Paul, sound doctrine doesn’t stand alone. Sound doctrine coincides with sound living. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy go together. Thinking well must include living well.

If you think I’m saying this to take the pressure off of pastors - you know, lower the expectations - far from it. If anything, expectations on pastors should increase. It means our ideas in a sermon must relate to the lives of the people we share with. Pastors lead people in their whole lives, not just in what they think about this or that.

Brings me back to relevance (again, I know!). Relevance isn’t the result of dynamic and engaging presentation or an ability to preach orthodox, biblical sermons. A pastor’s relevance occurs only when the lives of the hearers begin to reflect “what is appropriate” to the teaching.

May our lives reflect such appropriateness!

Rob Bell and expectations on a pastor

The recent Rob Bell controversy has led me to consider expectations around the role of the pastor, particularly in communicating biblical truth. Many people believe Love Wins was irresponsible pastorally, leaving too many questions unanswered instead of guiding people towards clarity. I do find it fascinating that what is acceptable for C.S. Lewis in a novel - The Great Divorce - is overboard for a pastor in a theology book. Just sayin’...

Seriously though, s a pastor myself, I think this is a critical issue, both personally and for the church. Christian leadership is important, for sure. But also important, is the type of Christian leadership. At this point, Bell’s situation only raises more questions than answers for me. For example:

  • When is it appropriate for a pastor to “sit on the fence” on certain issues, at least publicly?
  • How should pastoral leadership provide not just good answers, but good questions?
  • When it comes to theology nowadays, are expectations on pastors too low? Too high? Just fine? Or, “Theology? Just make us feel good about ourselves”?
  • And finally, how do these wise words from Eugene Peterson factor into this whole issue?
"The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God."
(Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity)

I throw these out there for consideration. More to come...

the Vancouver riot - hope in humility

Following the Vancouver riots, it wasn’t long before most people and groups in and around Vancouver distanced themselves from the incident. The city and police blamed anarchists. The public blamed drunken hooligans. It was a small select group of people who wreaked havoc on the beautiful, and typically peaceful, city of Vancouver. Enough said.

But this past week has revealed it’s not that simple. Normal people were involved. Aspiring athletes. People with jobs. Pictures reveal men and women of a variety of ages - albeit mostly under 30 - participated in the mayhem. And if not directly, participation was indirect through the reverberating ‘cheers’ on social media as the destruction was broadcast to a watching world.

While some no doubt went downtown intending to riot regardless of the hockey outcome (let’s not forget there was a hockey game that night!), for most, a few bad decisions shifted their intention from partying to rioting. From construction to destruction. From joy to hate. How quickly things change despite the good intentions of a day, an hour, or even a minute before.

How quickly indeed.

And then I wonder, what about me? How many bad decisions would it take for my life to become destructive? Or more sobering, what bad decisions do I already make that are destructive, but are just hidden from the peering eyes of social media? “Judge not lest ye be judged...” Shucks.

If anything, the Vancouver riot should force us all to consider what we want our lives to stand for. But humility needs to follow such consideration. Humility acknowledges our weakness - a tendency towards a few bad decisions - yet refuses to blindly accept our weakness as a defining characteristic, be it individually or collectively. Humility goes beyond apathy. Whether amid literal riots or merely in the chaos that can consume everyday life, we recognize our weakness but refuse to accept it as the norm. A few bad decisions - destruction even - don’t have to be our only story. There is hope in humility.
Cos' when you find yourself a villain,
In the story you have written
It's plain to see
That sometimes the best intentions
Are in need of redemptions
(Death Cab for Cutie - “You Are a Tourist”)


"Dad Life"

Happy Father's Day!

Canucks and Community

Ok, last post related to the Canucks...maybe ;-)

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog and elsewhere talking about community - my passion and belief that humans are meant to be in meaningful relationships with one another and strive to make a difference in this world...together.

The difficulty is that community cannot be fabricated. Try as we might, we cannot simply flick a switch and choose to get along, be it in friendship, marriage, church, or politics. Community is hard work!

Oftentimes it’s crisis or trial that unites people together. It’s why sports are such a great venue to form community. Do you think the Bruins or Canucks would have gotten as far as they did this year if it wasn’t for the uniting process of struggle through the playoffs? Not to sound cliche (!!!), but overcoming adversity creates harmony. As Alan Hirsch describes, in his book Faith of Leap, “any member of a sports team can recall something of the profound sense of intimacy they with their teammates, when each of their contributions to the game create a force greater than the sum of their individual parts.”

Hirsch goes on to describe biblical images of community, highlighting themes of exile and pilgrimage to remind the people of God that our purpose is not safety and comfort in the world, but unity and witness to a world so often lacking the distinct character of unity God calls us to. This type of community - “communitas” as Hirsch calls it - “propels us out of self-concern to other-concern, from holy huddle to venturing out into God’s world.”

As hard as it was to watch as a Canucks fan, this togetherness was evident in the Bruins post-victory comments. Praise for teammates, family, coaches, and teachers were on the lips of the players. I didn’t hear anyone say, “I did it.” Similarly, even in loss, the Canucks reiterated their shared responsibility and disappointment. The struggle of the journey, whether it ends in victory and loss, unites.

But the hockey playoffs end. Player disperse, get traded, retire, or sign elsewhere. Next year is a new team. Life, however, doesn’t have the same turnover. We continue on the journey. While a sports team experiences a sort-of insulated and short-term community over the course of a playoff run, we have the opportunity of experiencing such community over the course of our lives.

Instead of going it alone, consider asking these questions about your community and circle of friends:

-What are the adversities that we share?
-What are our common goals?
-Where will my sacrifice bless someone else?

Beyond being hyper-connected in our technological age, a shift from self-concern to other-concern pushes us to also be deeply-connected. We see it in hockey playoffs. We read about it in biblical stories of faithfulness. Now we need a willingness to risk the venture ourselves.

The Stanley Cup brings out all the clichés

On this, probably the biggest day in Vancouver sports history - Canucks in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals - the river of sports clichés is flowing in abundance. You know:

“They have to remember what got them here.”
“They have to treat this just like any other game.”
“It's do or die.”
“The best players have to be the best players.”
“Just give it 110%.”
(feel free to share your favorite sports cliche)

Clichés aren’t limited to sports either. In particular, Christianity is full of clichés that describe our beliefs and the life of faithfulness. For example:

“God has a special plan for you”
“Just trust the Lord”
“I will pray for you”
“Hate the sin, love the sinner”
“Jesus saves”

In many ways, clichés are accurate statements of truth. If you lose Game 7, well, your season is dead. And if you get caught up in the hype and don’t play a good game of hockey, the result won’t be good. Or when life is tough, trust in God and the prayers of others are good things.

But the very definition of cliché describes the problem I see with the whole phenomenon: overuse results in a loss of the original meaning behind the statement. The statements themselves take on a character of their own, as if they carry some sort of magical power able to carry the recipient through whatever trial is being faced.

Whether its sports or faith, we need to remember the substance behind the cliché. Athletes give it their all to win championships (“110%”) because they have experienced the gruelling journey that got them there. Christians claim “Jesus saves” because of our belief in the historical reality that the God of universe displayed his love most clearly in the act of becoming human and experiencing all (good and bad) that life has to offer, overcoming death in the process. Too easily we forget that all clichés have a story - an important story that relates the truth of the statement to the reality of human experience. Without these stories, clichés will continue to cheapen the deep values of life, be those athletic achievements, or more importantly in my opinion, the life of faith.

And so personally, it’s from a whole lifetime of Canuck futility, close calls, and missed expectations that l say it’s time for the Canucks to leave everything on the ice, put the past behind them, lay everything on the line, live the dream and claim the prize that is the Stanley Cup. Go Canucks Go! We are all Canucks! This is what we live for!


I couldn't help but share a few quote highlights from this past week:

On art and Christianity:

“I’m convinced that bad art derives, like bad literary theory, from bad theology. To know God falsely is to write and paint and sculpt and cook and dance Him falsely. Perhaps it’s not poor artistic skill that yields bad Christian art, in other words, but poor Christianity.”
(Tony Woodlief via Experimental Theology)

On Jacob and God's love:

“...even for a dyed-in-the-wool, double-barreled con artist like Jacob there are few things in this world you can’t get but can only be given, and one of these things is love in general, and another is the love of God in particular...God doesn’t love people because of who they are but because of who he is.” (Frederick Buechner, “Jacob” in Peculiar Treasures)

On doubting Christian leadership:

"[the disciples] doubted Jesus’ authority, or at least his good judgment, in commissioning a rag-tag group of losers like them to, 'Go…make disciples….baptizing…teaching….'" (Will Willimon at A Peculiar Prophet)

On technique and parenting:

“We live in a technique society. On any topics from growing flowers to creating scrumptious gourmet dishes to raising children we can find a hundred and one how-to formulas which promise that the right technique will produce beautiful flowers, succulent meals, and perfect children. This may work for flowers and gourmet dishes, but children and parenting are more complex than that.” (Balswick's, The Family)

subversive marriage

People often think things that are creative, or even subversive, in culture will be the newest or best things around - the type of ideas that no one else has thought of. Risk and originality go against the grain of what’s generally accepted as the norm. And every period of history has examples of people subverting culture by modeling a different and better way of being in the world. These examples are both big (abolition of slavery) and small (rock’n’roll - ok, I guess, that’s big too!). Or take technology. The last decade has seen Apple dominate with innovation after innovation. Forget love wins, new wins!

But in the process of this creativity for how we function in this world, we too easily forget that what’s old can be just as creative or subversive as what’s new.

I had the privilege of officiating a wedding this past weekend. Every time I go through the process of preparing for a wedding I’m reminded how this most ancient of rites (Gen. 2:24) is perhaps one of the most counter-cultural and subversive acts one can participate in. For many today, the old adage “two are better than one” (Eccl. 4:9) has been amended: “Two are better than one...only if it suits me."
Love gets relegated to mere personal satisfaction - where any notion of sacrifice and commitment is secondary to personal happiness. Too often, to quote a pastor, “marriage in our society has become a commodity” where if we grow tired of our partner, we simply trade them in “for a newer and sleeker model.” Love – even love within marriage - becomes something we create by ourselves, a sort of intangible force that is somehow supposed to sustain us through thick and thin. Sadly, such love repeatedly falls short of sustaining relationships over the long haul.

Marriage commitment on the other hand - a covenant relationship - isn’t built on a set of principles for relational success, high running emotions, or simply a bunch of words couples say to each other in a marriage ceremony. To be sure, the feeling of love in a wedding are a great thing and should be celebrated! (I make sure I say this in the ceremony :-). But significant to love within the covenant of marriage is its root, beyond ourselves, in the character of God - a God who himself “is love” (1 Jn. 4:8) And this love isn't new. It's old, eternal. God’s love is a giving love. A persistent love. A sacrificial love. A truly beautiful love. And a love, that today, makes marriage a subversive reflection of God’s intention for all us - to love and be loved.

Let us love one another, for love comes from God. (1 Jn. 4:7)

canucks - a lesson in history

In case you didn’t know, the Vancouver Canucks are in the NHL’s Stanley Cup final. Growing up in the greater Vancouver area, naturally, I’m a huge fan. People across Canada sometimes struggle to understand Canucks fans. We are a strange mix of sporadic emotion, boisterous cheers and deafening boos (often of our own team!). With Canucks’ success, the bandwagon is full, but with trial or loss, complaints abound. People think we’re arrogant and whiny. But if you look at history, you just need to realize, we’re simply starved for success. For a great take on the dynamic Linkbetween Canada and Canucks fans, watch this video - "History of the Canucks"

40 years - 2 trips to the final - 0 Stanley Cups. These 40 years have seen periods of terribly low-expectations met or at times exceeded (e.g. 1982), and many examples of high-expectations never met. Essentially, it’s been like this: the greater the disappointment, the greater elation with success. 3 victories from the 2011 Stanley Cup, I’m hesitantly confident. If the Canucks win, I’ll be elated.

But let’s say the Canucks had already won several championships. Or never traded Cam Neely or Trevor Linden. Or never acquired Mark Messier. Let’s say Pavel Bure became a team-player and stuck around. Who knows what could have happened...

I do know, however, that our response now would be different. You see, history matters. Our culture loves to live in the moment - carpe diem, right!?! But if we forget history, moments of victory or meaning lose significance. It’s part of being human. Who we are today, and who we will be tomorrow, is shaped by our past.

I’m a life-long Canucks fan, I should know.