Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Message of George Fox for Today

By Lewis Benson (The Tract Association of Friends, 1948)

At the time of the rise of the Protestant Reformation another reform movement was taking place that historians call the Spiritual Reformation. This other Reformation was a much smaller movement that sought above everything else to free Christianity from the weight of all corrupting encumbrances so that the pure light of the Gospel might shine forth and transform the whole moral life of man. This Spiritual Reformation culminated in the life and teaching of George Fox (1624-1690) and in the spiritual movement that he started.

Fox's message lays special emphasis on two things: the relationship between God and the individual Christian, and the nature and mission of the Church.

He declared that faith in Jesus Christ always means direct acquaintance with the living Christ and obedience to His "voice and command." Just as the Hebrew prophets conveyed the mind of the Lord to the children of Israel, said Fox, so does the living Christ make God's will known to the believing Christian. He brings us an authoritative word of Truth concerning what God requires of us in the moral decisions that confront us day by day. He is "the prophet who speaks from heaven."

It followed from this belief in a direct and daily contact with God through Christ that man must be capable of receiving this word of Truth - a capability which Fox called "that of God in every man."

He is careful to make clear, however, that the means of salvation do not lie in man's own spiritual resources. Man's capacity to receive Truth is a conspicuous part of Fox's message but his main concern deals with the manner in which God's Truth is imparted and the means by which it reaches our receptive capacities. The living word of Truth comes from the living Christ. He is the prophet, like unto Moses, who is to be heard in all things. Fox is never more serious than when he is exhorting all to hear and believe the prophetic word of the living Christ. The true Christian, according to Fox, is the man who, through "that of God" in him, is in constant communion with the Lord by means of the mediating power of Christ.

At the moment of moral decision, then, man has access to a standard of Truth whose author is the creator of the universe. There is a living word of Truth that reaches man's contemporary moral situation through day to day instruction from the living prophet of God's truth. When moral decisions are reached in this way it produces the maximum of moral certainty and this, in turn, results in the greatest possible release of moral energy.

Fox's message on the relationship between God and the individual Christian is wonderful good news for this age. Through faith in the living word of the living Christ we can know what God wants us to do and we can do it.

Fox's conception of the Church is no less daring and no less important. To him, the basic unit of human society is the Church - for it is here that the rule of Christ is recognized and accepted and obeyed. He taught that this true Church must be gathered on the basis of common devotion to Christ and to the Truth that He reveals. The true Church must demonstrate that it is under Christ's rule by doing his will. It has a corporate testimony to bear to the moral Truth that Christ reveals and to His supreme authority over those who are gathered in His Name. The Church that is so gathered is the people of God whose corporate life is directed and sustained through constant communion with its living High Priest - Jesus Christ. Insofar as there is a meaningful future for mankind it consists in becoming gathered into this witnessing fellowship of which Christ is the living Head.

Moreover, the Church is, in Fox's view, the only lasting human fellowship. To him, every other form of human society is ephemeral, but the Church that is gathered together through fellowship with Christ in His suffering is an everlasting fellowship. It will outlast every combination that appears against it. It is absolutely secure. Its ground is Truth.

This then is what Fox had to say three hundred years ago. His message is still good news to all who seek a foundation that cannot be shaken. It is still a message of hope for all who seek to know the will of the Lord and to do it.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Carla, Seth and I enjoy movies, though we rarely go to the cinema anymore. We almost always watch the Oscars and this year was no exception. The high-point of tonight's broadcast was the empassioned acceptance speech by Dustin Lance Black, screenwriter for Milk.

The low-point was Bill Maher's boorish and snarky presentation.

Magic goat detained by police as robbery suspect

(The actual suspect)

Police in Nigeria have detained a goat on suspicion of attempting to steal a car. Locals came upon two men in the act of stealing a car and pursued them. According to witnesses, one man got away. The other was captured, but not before he transformed himself into a goat. No word yet on whether or not the goat has retained a lawyer. Read the full story here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Toxic churches

I just read an excellent article on Toxic Churches at a blog called "Seeking Justice and Reconciliation at Mars Hill Church". Mars Hill is a mega-church here in the Seattle area that is controlled by a notoriously abusive and domineering Senior Pastor named Mark Driscoll. I've experienced my share of toxic churches and Mars Hill seems to be the epitomy.

As the article--written by John Setser--explains, a church becomes toxic when it "...abandons its 'spiritual paradigm' in favor of a 'corporate mandate' that measures success in terms of ever-increasing assets. A corporate mandate is appropriate if the goal is measurable success; not so if the goal is to love God and serve people. This is because the aim of a corporate mandate is, above all else, to benefit the organization. Success for these organizations is defined in financial, material, and numeric terms. The feelings, hopes, and needs of people are of little consequence under this mandate. Of prime importance is making sure that the organization survives and thrives."

You can read the full article here.

You can also request a free copy of Setser's book, Broken Hearts, Shattered Trust by clicking here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bright Eyes - The First Day of My Life

Here's a lovely video from Bright Eyes called The First Day of My Life:

Monday, February 16, 2009

On didacticism, autodidacticism and theodidacticism

I'm looking at my bookcases as I write this. They are filled to overflowing--mostly with theological works: Bibles; commentaries on the Bible; tomes on church history, ancient Greco-Roman culture, Jewish customs; dense theological treateses intended for scholars and lighter fare written for the rank & file; writings of early church fathers and contemporary church leaders; and the more recently added shelf of Quaker writings. Over the years I have spent thousands of dollars on books to feed my passion for Christian theology. Theology has been defined as "faith seeking knowledge", and I have always been a seeker. My autodidactic approach has cost me much less than a formal seminary education would have, but has also left me with a patchwork knowledge and large gaps (for example, my grasp of the ancient Greek and Hebrew languages is terribly lacking).

Lately I find myself wondering, as I look at my collection of books, how much I could get for them at the used book store. Mere pennies on the dollar, no doubt. It's not that I've given up on theology but rather that I find myself less interested in learning about thing related to God and more interested in simply experiencing God.

How did Christianity come to be such an intellectual religion? I suppose it can be traced back to the Scholastic Movement of the 12th and 13th centuries. A few hundred years later came Luther, Calvin, and other Protestant Reformers who were inheritors of Scholasticism. Luther was a university professor and Calvin a lawyer. The Protestant wing of Christianity has placed a heavy emphasis on discipleship via the acquisition of knowledge. Most church buildings are designed as lecture halls and at the heart of most Christian worship services is the sermon. Lately it seems many churches prefer to use the word teaching instead of sermon. Either way, it remains an instructional monologue.

It seems that no Christian event or gathering is deemed complete unless it centers around a lecture-style teaching session.

The original followers of Jesus were not, by and large, theologians. Paul would be an exception, yet Paul wrote that he considered his impressive credentials "a pile of shit" compared to knowing Christ. Peter, John, James and the rest did not have a well-defined understanding of the implications of trinitarianism, nor did they sit around pondering the hypostatic union of Christ's human and divine natures. What they (and Paul) knew was that they had encountered God in such a powerful way that it entirely changed their world.

Tony Campolo seems to have figured out the balance of living both the interior life of a scholar and the hands-on outwardly-focused life of a follower of Jesus. In Tony's book "Let Me Tell You a Story", he relays the following account about Karl Barth giving a lecture in his later years at the University of Chicago Divinity School (Barth was the author of the fourteen volume "Church Dogmatics" and is generally considered one of Christianity's great theologians): “At the end of the lecture, the president of the seminary told the audience that Dr. Barth was not well and was very tired, and though he thought Dr. Barth would like to open for questions, he probably could not handle the strain. Then he said, "Therefore, I'll ask just one question on behalf of all of us." He turned to Barth and asked, "Of all the theological insights you have ever had, which do you consider to be the greatest of them all?" This was a remarkable question to ask a man who had written tens of thousands of pages of some of the most sophisticated theology ever put on paper. The students sat with pads and pencils ready. They wanted to jot down the premier insight of the greatest theologian of their time. Karl Barth closed his eyes and thought for a while. Then he smiled, opened his eyes, and said to the young seminarians, "The greatest theological insight that I have ever had is this: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so!”

To pit theological study against experiencing God would be a false dichotomy. I have often experienced God in the course of my studies. But there is also a time to set the books and theories aside and just be with God and learn directly from Him (see 1 John 2). There is always the danger of thinking that learning about God and the Bible is the same thing as learning from Him. What I learn from Him tends to have more of an effect on my heart than my head.

The ongoing personal, experiential encounter with God has been given short-shrift in Protestant, Anglican, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The tendency has been to put in it's place knowledge acquisition and/or ritual. In doing so, the simplicity of hearing and following Jesus has been denegrated to the realm of a few other-worldly mystics. Yet hearing directly from God and following Him is anything but other-worldly. It is incredibly practical and earthy and incarnational, just as Jesus was when He walked the streets and hills of Palestine.

I guess I'm just at a point in my journey where I'm fairly satisfied with the theological framework that I've cobbled together. My hunger has gradually shifted from seeking to understand into seeking to stand under. The more I taste of God's living presence, the more I want that. It gets simpler and simpler.

I'll keep my books though.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Gay Forum

Do you know any Christians who are gay? If not, you should listen to these discussions hosted by Brian McLaren and Off The Map:

Part One
Part Two

Quote of the Day: What makes it Christian?

"I'm fairly certain that the descriptor 'Christian' when applied to music and TV shows is not an indicator of theological content but instead points to what is absent: profanity, homosexuals, liberals, uncertainty--basically anything that would challenge a particular worldview." - Nadia Bolz-Weber, Salvation on the Small Screen

Saturday, February 14, 2009

It didn't have to be this way.

While traveling last week and flipping through the TV channels in my hotel room, I saw an ad for an HBO documentary entitled "The Trials of Ted Haggard". I decided to stay up and watch it. The maker of the documentary had previously filmed and interacted with Haggard when he was riding high as pastor of New Life Church and president of the National Association of Evangelicals. Now the filmmaker returns to chronicle how Haggard, his wife and his children are adjusting to life after his fall from fundamentalist favor due to his alleged drug use and homosexual activity.

We see the Haggards, broke and broken, traveling around the Southwestern U.S., staying in cheap motels and in the guestrooms of stranger's homes. Ted tries to find work but his career as a pastor has left him completely ill-equipped for employment outside of the church. He eventually gets a job selling life insurance door-to-door on straight commission and actually loses money.

Haggard comes across as naive, pathetic, depressed and perhaps suicidal, but still trying to put on a happy face and unconvincingly mouth positive-confession platitudes. Watching the documentary provides the same feelings one gets when slowly driving by a bad accident on the highway. One has to assume that he allowed himself to be filmed in this condition because he needed the money.

The truly tragic part is seeing how much of the Haggard's misery is caused by the walls of shame that they have allowed themselves to be trapped within. They have been ostracized by the Evangelical powers and by the church community they founded, and have been sent out into the wilderness to fend for themselves. It reminds me of an old saying that the Christian church is the only army that shoots its own wounded.

The truly sad part is that it doesn't have to be this way. There are people and churches and communities that would embrace the Haggards--just as they are. I think of similiar journeys by Mel White (who came to accept his homosexual orientation) or Carlton Pearson (who was cast out of the Pentecostal in-crowd because he believes that God will ultimately save everyone). Both of these men came through the wilderness to find a brave new world of people outside of the Evangelical fortress who welcomed, loved, accepted, enfolded and appreciated them. They found refuge in communities made up of broken people who are tired of acting like they have it all together.

My prayer for the Haggards is that God leads them to such a community and that they would be able to drop their baggage and allow themselves to be accepted and loved without any pretense or condition.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from Dr. Clayborne Carson in response to my post about The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. Carson invited me to join the online Gandhi-King Community, which I did.

I've had several very nice responses to my episode of Viking inspired ukulele madness, but my favorite was this voicemail message from my mom. Hearing her laugh like that made it all worthwhile.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.

February is Black History Month, something which--to be totally honest--I'm usually completely unaware of. I'm not just unaware of when Black History Month occurs, but pretty ignorant about Black History in general.

Last week I began reading The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. I had purchased it a while back at the same time that I bought Gandhi's autobiography. I've been following the trail of non-violent thought from Jesus to the Anabaptists to the Quakers to Leo Tolstoy to Gandhi to Martin Luther King (and points in-between). So MLK was the next stop on my journey. I only discovered last week after getting half-way into the book that February is Black History Month. I learned this by seeing a placard on the side of a bus.

Dr. King's autobiography was not intentionally written by it's subject, in the same way that Gandhi's autobiography was. King was assassinated before he could write this work himself. Instead, his autobiography was assembled by King scholar Clayborne Carson (at the request of Coretta Scott King) by carefully gathering and collating King's public and private writings into a cohesive narrative. Carson did a masterful job, as King's voice and personality consistently shines through. One really has the sense that this is the autobiography King would have written had his life not been cut short.

I had not expected to become so quickly engrossed in this book. Obviously I knew who Martin Luther King was, but this was my first opportunity to really see what an amazing man he was. King was an intellectual giant, yet also an extremely humble and honest man. He was a brilliant theologian and scholar, but consistently chose to identify himself with the lowest of the low in society. He was incredibly, well ... Christian ... in the true sense of the word.

Besides being impacted by the encounter with King as a person, this book is also teaching me about the events of the Civil Rights movement and the various personalities involved. A consternating thought keeps bubbling up in my mind: Why was I never taught about this in public school? The Civil Rights movement was an epic moment in American history and it's effects continue to reverberate--most recently and obviously in the election of Barack Obama. Yet I can't recall being taught about it in school. Perhaps because I grew up in a 99% white community in Colorado it was deemed irrelevant, just as I've typically viewed Black History Month as personally irrelevant.

Now I'm realizing that Black History, from slavery to emancipation to Jim Crow to the Civil Rights movement and beyond is not just "for black people". It is an integral component of American history. Ditto for Native American history. Looking back, I realize how narrow and anglo-centric my public school history education was. I was not given anything approximating a complete picture of American history. And, sadly, neither has my son. I'm going to try to get him to read this book.

I also find myself thinking as I read this book that if I had been an adult during the 1960's, I hope I would have been one of those whites who joined into the Civil Rights movement to offer solidarity and support. I self-flatteringly imagine that I might've trekked to the South and gotten onto the front lines, as so many people of good conscience from all over the country did. But that thought is immediately followed by a more uncomfortable one: Where are people being oppressed today and what am I doing about it?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

My first YouTube videos

I wish they were more profound...