Jesus was sacrilegious

Jesus was sacrilegious.

This is the message of the book, Sacrilege: Finding the Unorthodox Ways of Jesus by Hugh Halter.

Using the Beatitudes as a guide, Halter asserts that Jesus’s message and mission was anything but religious - it was sacrilegious. “To commit sacrilege means to disregard, disrespect, or be irreverent toward those things that have traditionally been considered holy, venerated, or dedicated as sacred.” This is what Jesus did in the face of the religious leaders, over and over. As someone who makes a living in religion - leading people to encounter the sacred - for me the book was a practice of examining assumptions throughout. And while this could have turned me off - insulted me even - it didn’t. Halter has a straightforward openness, makes his point through engaging stories, and desires to take the words of Jesus seriously. Reading the book was a breath of fresh air to one (me) who runs the risk of getting bogged down in the heavy air of religious ritual.

And Halter lives what he preaches. He’s part of a faith community in Denver, Colorado that seeks to embody Jesus’ kingdom in the culture they find themselves. Traditional church things are held loosely. They don’t have a building. They occasionally skip Sunday worship gatherings (everyone!). They don’t have any full-time pastors. On the surface, some might say they are a bunch of jaded, anti-church folk. They’ve looked at Jesus’s sacrilegious teaching and gone too far, leaving the church behind. Not so. Halter’s clear disappointment in organized Christian religion is paralleled by an even greater passion for the church to remain central. The church community is of utmost priority. Halter offers an inspiring summary of Jesus’s teaching, “Although going to church is not that big of a deal to Jesus, being the church and becoming his winsome representatives does matter to him. A lot.” To all the religious cynics out there, I think this is Halter’s strongest point: “please don’t give up on your church. Find some friends and start being the church...The least we can do is stop bellyaching about [the church] and try to make [it] as beautiful as as Jesus intended [it] to be.” Each chapter resonates with common frustrations, but challenges us to consider creative ways forward. Again, this was refreshing.

I did have one frustration with Sacrilege, not limited to this book alone (e.g. Brian McLaren's New Kind of Christianity). The book follows a trend one could call the “find-the-real Jesus” trend. Mostly this is a good trend. It challenges what we take for granted and forces us to look seriously at what Jesus actually said and did. But I worry. The trend can do injustice to two-thousand years of faithful Jesus followers muddling their way through life and faith trying just as hard to find the real Jesus as we do now. It’s not as if we’ve all of the sudden stumbled upon a never-before discovered Jesus. I’m not saying Halter explicitly suggests this, but I’d prefer the term “rediscovering” over “finding” in the title. Alan Hirsch is more intentional in this manner.

All this to say, for anyone tired of religion, for anyone seeing an absence of “sacred” in the institutional church, and for anyone who thinks Jesus still matter, Sacrilege is for you. Halter offers a vision of hope for the community of Jesus followers we like to call church. And in a time when many bemoan this and that about the church, a little hope can go a long way. It did for me.

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.

challenging assumptions

Religion is full of beliefs and practices that carry with them a whole host of assumptions that are taken for granted, yet oftentimes profoundly impact the way religion is lived out. Evangelical Christianity is no exception.

Personally, I've found it helpful to consider the assumptions I've adopted. Such consideration prevents my faith from becoming a bunch of routine practices or shallow and naïve beliefs. I want to know why I believe what I believe and why I act how I act. I think such questioning is a natural part of maturity, regardless of your religion/worldview.

So I was challenged to read this list of evangelical assumptions from Hugh Halter. He offers them to point out how easy it is to stray from what Jesus actually taught. While caricatures, no doubt, see if some of these resonate with - and perhaps challenge - your assumptions:
  • Western ways of doing things are intrinsically superior to Eastern ways.
  • Truth is ultimately a body of propositions rather than a Person--a doctrinal download that we are to download to others.
  • It is wise to invest my money in financially prospering neighborhoods because I will get the best return on my money rather than investing in a poor neighborhood where the return might be eternal but not monetary.
  • The kingdom is in the afterlife, so there's no need to help folks on this side of eternity. What matters is whether we get them into "the kingdom," another word for "heaven."
  • Jesus prefers me to spend most of my time with other Christians.
  • The best investment of time and energy in relationships should be determined by what I get in return.
  • My family should have the best of everything, and I define "best" as life in a safe neighborhood with good schools and where government and social services work well.
  • My job as a parent is to protect my kids, avoid anything that could hurt them, and pray that they will always stay in church. Never mind preparing them to live a life of sacrificial mission in a wider culture.
  • Stewardship is giving God 10 percent of my money after taxes instead of seeing everything as truly his to be used for his purposes.
  • An increase in my income is a way to enjoy a better lifestyle, not a way to bless more people.
  • Planning for retirement means laying aside enough money to ensure that I can maintain the lifestyle I am used to and comfortable with.
  • Holiness is defined in terms of what I don't do instead of how much I act like Jesus did, with the kind of people Jesus loved. Holiness is separating me and my friends and family from the dark and dirty world.
  • The Good News is a message I should communicate verbally. Good deeds are for those liberal churches. My job is to get the message out, and if people don't respond, they'll sadly burn in hell.
  • Salvation is only for those who have prayed the right prayer of repentance to God.
  • Discipleship is growing in head knowledge about God and not doing any of the "biggie" sins.
  • My relationship with God is "personal," with very little emphasis on faith in the context of a committed community.
(Hugh Halter, Sacrilege: Finding Life in the Unorthodox Ways of Jesus)

The Road to Missional

Recently I asked, “what is missional?”

After reading Michael Frost’s latest book The Road to Missional, I have a better idea.

Seeking to clear up confusion around the term “missional,” Frost offers a clear presentation of key concepts for how churches can become missional. The problem of the concept’s growing popularity, as Alan Hirsch points out in the preface, is that “when everything becomes missional, then nothing becomes missional.” Basically, talk is cheap. And so far, for many, the church and missional has been primarily a shift in language only.

As the one who first coined the term, Frost wants more than words. For the church be missional, it has to be more than “just another way of saying get-out-there-and-invite-your-unsaved-friends-to-church, which it is definitely not.” This traditional paradigm for the church’s role in the world places the impetus on us. And wrongly so. Frost clarifies the alternative: the church is missional only in its relation to God. Mission, then, must start with the Missio Dei - “the reign of God.”

When the church is about us, mission can turn into a mere sales pitch amidst the competing marketing of anything and everything. Frost labels this the “market-shaped church,” where evangelism - sharing the good news of Jesus Christ - measures itself in terms of efficiency and initial impact, instead of acknowledging the “slow” work of alerting people to God’s work in the work. The chapter “slow evangelism” is an incisive challenge evangelicals would do well to hear (and respond!).

For the church to be truly missional, Christians must give up control, being reminded of the mandate to follow the way of Jesus as Lord and not just Savior (much more could be said about this important point). I think Frost’s phrase, “triumphant humiliation,” is genius in describing this way of Jesus (probably my favorite phrase in the book). In suffering, Jesus brought life through his resurrection. Humility brought triumph. The same is true for the church today. Mission, then, is about “participating” with God, not being gods ourselves. Instead of complex strategies to reach people, the church is with people in their day-to-lives (Frost offers some helpful practical ways the church can be present with the people around them).

I’ve read a lot of books on the missional church. I’ll admit, I was skeptical in reading another. The discussion can become a bit redundant (boring even!). Not so here. The Road to Missional is the best summary of the missional church I’ve read. It’s accessible and readable, but without compromising a rich theology and conceptual foundation. As well, Frost writes with integrity. He’s personally wrestled through the subject matter himself. To be sure, liabilities exist in any summary project such as this (e.g. Frost’s critique of pietism needs more clarification), but such points don’t detract from the greater value the project. Here we have clarification and inspiration on a topic (the church and its mission) so many confuse, abuse, or simply ignore.

Thank you Michael Frost!

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.

story sense

As I continue to adjust to life with a newborn, I'll keep sharing some of the meaningful quotes/ideas I encounter as I work up energy/motivation/inspiration for more original blog posts.

And so, consider this:

Churches are not franchises to be reproduced as exactly as possible wherever and whenever—in Rome and Moscow and London and Baltimore—the only thing changed being the translation of the menu.

But if we don’t acquire a narrative sense, a story sense, with the expectation that we are each one of us uniquely ourselves—participants in the unique place and time and weather of where we live and worship—we will always be looking somewhere else or to a different century for a model by which we can be an authentic and biblical church. The usefulness of Acts as a story, and not a prescription or admonition, is that it keeps us faithful to the plot, Jesus, and at the same time free to respond out of our own circumstances and obedience.
(Eugene Peterson, The Pastor, 119)

In a time when churches continue chasing after relevance, success, and popularity, these are wise words from a wise pastor.

what is missional?

What is missional?

It's a term bandied about with regularity in evangelical church circles. Missional has become a bit of buzz word if you or your church want to ensure you are "with the times" when it comes to being faithful Christians. But again, what is missional?

Is missional a new set of programs? Is it a synonym for evangelism, but more tasteful in our sensitive post-Christian (and anti-evangelical) culture? Is it a fad to sell more books? Is it being on a mission, not just doing missions? Google the word and you realize pretty quickly just how diverse this whole missional concept really is.

Would someone clear up the confusion!?!

Well, hopefully it's Michael Frost. I just received his latest book that looks to clear the whole missional discussion up. The Road to Missional sets out to do the following:
It has recently become acceptable, and even fashionable, to refer to one's church as "missional." But many churches misunderstand the concept, thinking of "going missional" as simply being a necessary add-on to church-as-usual. This domestication of what is actually a very bold paradigm shift makes missional nothing more than one more trick to see church growth.

With a light hand and a pastoral spirit, Michael Frost points out how church practitioners are not quite there yet. He reestablishes the ground rules, redefines the terms accurately, and insists that the true prophetic essence of "being missional" comes through undiluted. This clear corrective will take ministry leaders from "not missional yet" to well on their way.
I look forward to reading it and will share more in the weeks to come.

--If you're wondering why the relative silence on the blog, go here. Valid excuse I think!--

"dark beauty"

I'm blessed to share life with our new baby daughter. We love our "dark beauty"- Laila!

Laila Julianne was born October 3, 2011 at 8:54pm, weighing in at 8lbs.