To Black Church Leaders: Please Don’t Give Us An Out

Over the past few weeks, like many of you, I have read scores of articles purporting to offer analysis of the issues arising from and relating to the situation coming to be known colloquially as simply “Ferguson.” Many have been unusually insightful and helpful. I have learned much from them.

For me personally, however, the least helpful have been those written by church leaders—some prominent black pastors among them—who want to remind us that the pain and suffering experienced by the black community every time another Ferguson breaks upon our corporate consciousness derives, at least in part, from wounds that have been self-inflicted. Continue reading

Pastor Mark, Meet Father James

The saga of Seattle minister Mark Driscoll and the mega-church he founded and served as pastor for eighteen years has dominated the evangelical church press for far too long. I have written almost nothing about that situation, since, even with all the press coverage, I didn’t feel I knew enough about the particulars to add anything substantive to the discussion. A quick review of the archives for this blog turned up only one other reference to Driscoll, way back in January 2013 in one of the Arthur Chronicles, and there I simply listed his name along with several others associated, at one time or another, with the movement known as “emergent Christianity.”

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Intentional Faith

For sixty years, Christian faith of the conservative and evangelical variety was a foundational element and a formative influence in my life. More than that, and—practically speaking—more important than that, for nearly forty years, it was an essential factor in the way I made my living. As a pastor, a parachurch executive, and a Bible college instructor, one of my tasks was to defend and propagate a fairly specific set of beliefs and the system of biblical interpretation which produced them.

That is not to say that the character and content of that list of doctrines never varied over the years. It is only to say that I understood, if mainly subconsciously, that any significant variation could have consequences. Not least was the possibility that I could lose my job. Continue reading

Lest I Be Misunderstood

Two days ago (on August 18), I posted a status update to my Facebook page which I described as an observation, not a comment. Here is an edited (for clarity) version of what I said there:

When it appeared the Islamic State was targeting Christians in Iraq, my newsfeed was full of condemnatory posts. When it became clear that the major target was Yazidis, the indignant and accusatory posts all but ceased. And I have read virtually nothing (from my white, evangelical, FB friends) expressing dismay at the shooting of a young, unarmed black man by the police in Ferguson, MO. When that local community subsequently erupted in an emotional demonstration of anger and frustration, the response of the mainly-white police force looked more like a military invasion than the reasonable reaction of “peace officers” whose motto is supposed to be “to protect, and to serve.”

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We All Need a Place to Be Real

A few years ago, my wife and I spent three weeks in Great Britain and Ireland, visiting locations where the presence and power of God had been felt in genuine spiritual revival in years past. We were part of a group of 50 people, all evangelical Christians from the United States. I returned from that trip with two convictions etched deeply into my soul. The first was this: our world is in desperate need of a renewal of biblical Christianity. The second: contemporary American evangelical Christianity is not it.

What I observed among my fellow travelers, many of whom were pastors of evangelical congregations, was a sterile, superficial imitation of biblical faith. I don’t question the genuineness of their conversion experience, but my heart aches when I consider how much the character of their religion reflected the spirit of American consumerism—how they described the scope of their ministries in terms of programs and property, budgets and buildings, nickels and noses. And it seemed clear to me that they marketed Jesus the way American businesses market their products… “Try our brand and your life will be better. Just ask our satisfied customers.” Continue reading

The Arthur Chronicles—No. 17 (Prophecy and Irony)

Arthur motioned for me to follow him into their small, eat-in kitchen, and, as he filled the kettle with water, I pulled a chair away from the round, oak table and prepared to sit down.

“The tea is in the pantry there,” Arthur said, pointing to the sliding doors behind me. “Do you like Earl Grey?” Without waiting for my response he went on to say, “It’s in one of those tins. See if you can find it.”

Arrayed before me was a collection of metal canisters, in a variety of colors, either old or Old canisterdesigned to look old.

“They belonged to my grandmother,” Arthur said. “I found them in a trash can. Somebody had thrown them out after she died. I couldn’t bear to see them discarded, so I rescued them. By the way, the tea you’re looking for is in the gray one.”

Of course, I thought to myself. Leave it to Arthur to put Earl Grey tea in a gray canister. I opened the tin, removed two bags, put one in each of the cups Arthur had just warmed with hot water from the tap, and set the canister on the table. I then sat down in the chair I had selected a couple of minutes earlier.

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The Arthur Chronicles—No. 14

“Except for one thing,” Arthur said, as he sipped from his mug of hot coffee.

“I beg your pardon,” I said in response.

“This article sounds like something Francis would agree with,” Arthur said, waving the sheet of paper from which he had just read. “Except for one thing.”

“And what is that?” I asked.

“The article levels some pointed criticism at the institutional church,” Arthur replied. “From what I’ve read, Francis seems to have criticized the church very little, at least with words. Rather, he seems to have preferred to let his life speak for him.”

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Podcast No. 7

Vector Button PodcastPodcast No. 7 is now available. It is called “I Just Want To Go Home,” and it is about 10 minutes long. To download it as an mp3 file, click here. To listen to the podcast now, click on the button below. This podcast is also archived on the “Podcasts” page of this blog. Thanks for listening. 

The Arthur Chronicles—No. 12

“Do you remember Andy Rooney?” Arthur asked me as he polished off the last of hisAndy Rooney oatmeal and whole wheat toast.

For the past fifteen minutes we had focused more on eating than on talking. We could hear snippets of conversation from the tables around us. The guys behind us fumed over the inability of the local NHL team to win with any consistency. The couple across the aisle worried about the falling water levels in the Great Lakes. And the two women in the adjoining booth carried on a lively chat, each on her cell phone, however, and not with each other.

I was just about to comment on the entertainment derived from simple eavesdropping when Arthur sprang the Andy Rooney question.

“You mean the guy who used to do the commentary at the close of Sixty Minutes every week?” I asked in response.

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The Arthur Chronicles—No. 6

“Please understand,” Arthur said, as he returned the leather satchel to the windowsill behind him. “I don’t repudiate the idea of church. I simply need some time away from organized religion in order to clear my head and let some of my bruises heal. I’m also taking some time to review the New Testament teaching on the nature of the church from God’s perspective.”

“What needs to change before you can become an active churchgoer again?” I asked him. “Is it something in you, in the church, in the culture? What needs to happen in order to bring about a change in your status quo?”

elderly man with face closed by hand“I know for sure that I need some time to rest and recuperate,” he answered. “I feel banged up and battered and a little disillusioned.”

“Are you angry?” I asked.

He started to respond, even made a little grunt, then looked away, as though he needed to think carefully about what he was going to say. He took another drink from his blue bottle of high-priced water.

“I guess I am, a bit,” he said, after a moment’s reflection.

“At what?” I asked. “Or at whom?”

“That’s just it. I think I am angry, but I have only the vaguest idea of who or what I am angry with. I’m not even sure what I am angry about. At the end of the day, I think it might be more accurate to say that I am disappointed, frustrated, a bit confused, and even a little sad.

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