Keeping the Good News Simple

In light of the conversation that prompted yesterday’s post, I started musing on the definition of ‘gospel’ and finding a way to state it simply. Of course, that gets us back to defining ‘gospel.’

By gospel, I don’t mean a written account of the life of Jesus, be it orthodox or not, as in “the gospel of …”

I’m referring to what people mean when they capitalize it – Gospel – good news – THE Good News. But even that gets debated to death. Too often it is reduced to  either justification or atonement (penal substitutionary atonement, in particular), but that limits the scope.

Given that start my theological musings with “it’s all about Jesus,” I want to come up with a simple sentence that expresses and proclaims this Good News so it can be understood, yet leaves room to go in-depth and discuss it. A few of us got a start on it yesterday on Google+, and the ideas of kingdom and reconciliation quickly rose to importance.

Then today, another Twitter friend (@thinking_reed) linked to this Christian Century piece on expressing the gospel in seven words. I don’t necessarily want to reduce the gospel to seven words, but I would like to be able to say it in a short sentence.

So what elements do I need present?

  • God’s kingdom has arrived.
  • Jesus of Nazareth is the king.
  • Expressed through repentance and faith, we are members of this kingdom because of the work of Jesus.

This should include everything necessary. Jesus went around proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of God is here. Jesus justifies us, and we receive this justification by believing him. Jesus atones for our sins on the cross. Nothing we do earns our way into God’s kingdom. It all comes from Jesus. Though we are (and always were) broken, we are reconciled by the actions of Jesus.

More can be said, to be sure, but that begins the long walk down theology lane. One simple sentence is the goal. I’ll find my own way to express it (as should we all – it’s a good exercise), but I must confess I like the words of Will Campbell in the Christian Century piece:

“We’re all bastards but God loves us anyway.”

How would you say it?

Church and Community: Which comes first?

A few moments ago on Twitter, Chris Hubbs (@cjhubbs) was musing back and forth with Randy McRoberts (@rmcrob) and Bill Kinnon (@kinnon) about the nature of church (as we often do) and noted the following:

Typically we “launch” the church and then work like crazy to make community happen somehow. Which is relly hard.

His observation is correct. How many new churches, especially of the evangelical variety, begin with a “launch.” There’s a media blitz with mail and yard advertising – a big push to announce the new church that’s going up in some upper-middle-class suburb. New programs and building expansions function the same way.

But isn’t this exactly backward?

When we consider what church is and is supposed to be, community should not be the forgotten after-effect that we scramble to put in place in order to insure that the dollars keep rolling in. If we really want to consider planting churches of Jesus-followers who transform communities, perhaps we should first get in touch with where the Spirit is active in a place, then gather as community, and let church follow. Not only does this seem to be more in line with what happens biblically, it also doesn’t require a pile of cash, lights and sound, a band, a building, and a massive volunteer force that will ultimately burn out.

To borrow from the church plant method types, this kind of small community following the Spirit “methodology” is just the kind of “vision” I have. It all begins in the north central Twin Cities suburbs. Why? Because I live there! You can do the same thing where you live, too.

Having “The Talk”

Many of you know that I am the proud parent of two little girls (at present ages 5 and 7) who we adopted nearly 3 years ago. There will come times (and some have already come) when we need to have “the talk” with them.

You all know what I mean. SEX

Unlike many in the Evangelical tribe, I don’t have a lot of patience for True Love Waits or other such moralist/legalism-driven purity nonsense. I am not at all against remaining pure before God. In fact, I hope and pray my daughters are able to save their sexual expression for marriage. That said, instead of filling them with lists of behaviors to avoid and to fear, I would much rather teach them to embrace the good of following Christ.

This is by no means a new concept. There’s a word which has fallen out of use and favor in our culture that perfectly describes what I’m talking about: Chastity.

I could write on what that’s all about, but my blog friend Alastair has written a detailed defense that says all I need to say on the subject. Take a trip over and read his post, Why I Believe in Pre-Marital Virginity and you’ll understand.

Denying your sexuality is a dead end, and will only lead you to trouble. Embracing it, and choosing to subject it to faithfulness to Christ allows you to re-prioritize the role of sex that our culture has distorted.


Kirani James traded runner’s bibs with Oscar Pistorius after their semifinal run. This says two things. One: James is a classy dude. Two: Pistorius is one of the few people for whom I have great admiration after this iteration of the games.

And you have to admit, those prosthetic legs are amazing. Technology can be so cool.

(Image from The Guardian)

(Image from Yahoo)

One More Year

It is starting to hit me that I only have one year of seminary left. It is also starting to hit me just how much work there is yet to do. In addition to the six regular courses that remain, I am also finishing up my supervised ministry project. This is a 1000 hour customized independent study which, for me, is in part continuing the ministry work I have been doing in my current church, and in part doing the work to discern God’s leading once I’m done.

I am at peace with the idea that I will be engaged in bivocational ministry. I am still undecided whether that ministry will look like me being an agent for change within a traditional church structure, or whether I will begin the task of gathering in community as a church plant that would look unlike much of what exists in the suburban landscape in which I live.

Either way, I’m sure a lot of people will tell me I’m crazy, but that’s how it’s supposed to be. The hard part is making sure the path I’m on is the one God has called me to follow. I think the first task will be to take some time away from the academic grind, connect with my family, and take the kids to Disney World. Rest. Recharge. And then, dive in. This should be a fun ride, and it will give my other domain ( some much-needed direction.

Site Update

I’ve done some long-needed maintenance to Ars Gratia. WordPress is up to date, and I’m up to the latest release of Standard Theme version 2. I’m still looking at Standard Theme 3, but for now I have this one tweaked fairly well. I’ve also added a little color to the site. Other than the background color, there isn’t much visible to you, dear visitor, but hopefully the site will perform better, and it’s certainly a little more secure.

give what you have

Please allow me to get something preachy out of my system.

The balance to privilege is not found in retribution or regulation or revenge. It is found by freely sharing. “Freely you have received; freely give.” Our friend Spider-Man learned it this way: “With great power comes great responsibility.” The Wisest One who ever walked the earth, in addition to instructing us to give freely said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

The hard part is getting those who have much to recognize what they have, and understand the benefit of giving it away. Hoarding does no one any good.

We all have been given something. What do you have? What do I have? Let that burn a hole in your brain for the day.

Preachy mode off. Back to our regular day.

Discerning my post-seminary future

One of my seminary experiences is a supervised ministry project. A small part of this is the internship at my church that many of you know. The part most don’t see is that personal research project that is acting as a means of discernment.

A big part of this unseen half is to read/study through twenty books selected for their commonality with the direction I’ve sensed I’m supposed to be going post-seminary. I’m only a few books into this, but I think Neil Cole’s “Organic Church” is going to be the foundation of my post-seminary work. That book, combined with what I’ve learned from Thorsten Moritz and the late Michael Spencer are about as close to New Testament era discipleship and church as I’ve seen anywhere. (I’m reading through Neil’s book right now.)

It has been observed that the institutional church in the West is in decline, and compared to what one sees with an honest examination of the New Testament and what precious little can be seen of the early church (there’s less material out there between the New Testament and Constantine than most people realize), this isn’t really a bad thing. Oh, there’s worry and hand-wringing about it, but that’s just misplaced priorities. God’s people and God’s movement are alive and well. We just need to stop looking at broken human organizational structures to find it.

one last time

You know those times when you read or witness something that strikes you dumb, making you feel like you’ve been kicked in the gut? I read an announcement last night like that.

This is to be the last year of the Cornerstone Festival.

They made the announcement first via email, and it was reported on the Cornerstone Guide. The announcement made their Facebook page late last night.

I lost count, but I’ve been to 12-13 past Cornerstones. We haven’t gone in recent years with the adoption, but bought tickets for this year. I’m glad we did. I baptized my wife in the lake there. I got to meet Michael Spencer in person there. There are good memories too numerous to name. Even though I haven’t attended recently, I’ve followed the news of the fest. It seems they’ve struggled in the past couple years, especially financially, so this shouldn’t be a surprise, but it is.

Can’t Wait for This to Come Out

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