My 38 Theses: Ideas for the Church

Last month a friend asked me to tell him my best advice for the Church. At the time, I just laughed and said, “That’s not my place… right?” He shrugged, “Why not?”

Later, as I thought about his question more, I started writing down a few things, just a few thoughts, ideas, and hopes I have for the Church.

I’m still not sure it’s my place to offer the Church ideas. But as a member of the God’s Church and somebody who spends my fair share of time thinking about where the Church might be or what it might look like 10, 20, 50 years from now, I do often wonder what actions we should be taking now to inspire the world’s future believers.

Here’s what I wrote down (in no particular order).

1) The Church needs to stand in front of a mirror on a regular basis. We need to start being honest about who we are, what we look like, our failures, our sins, and our habits.

2) The Church needs to sober of its addiction to cool and/or its addiction of trying to be cool. We weren’t called to be cool or to pursue cool. Our addiction to that end is sucking us dry of meaning, depth, and future relevance. Besides, the Church isn’t cool, especially when its trying to be.

3) The Church should stop morphing those big biblical/spiritual promises found in the stories of scripture into blanketed God-promises for all mankind.

4) The Church should be known by who it unites, who it brings together, who it loves… (Of course, ironically, the Church has always been known by who it unites, who it brings together, who it loves…)

5) The Church should stop being handled, managed, and its future strategized like a brand. We aren’t The Church™. We’re the Church. Which means we must stop managing the Church, selling the Church, and using the Church like its a brand with franchises and stock options.

6) The Church should stop promoting God and Jesus like brands, too. If we believe that God’s name is holy, why on earth would we use it in vain like we own the copyright on it?

7) The Church needs to stop worshiping guns, sports, the CEO/Leadership culture, cultural masculinity, and other American obsessions.

8) The Church should be known more for celebrating and experiencing the mysteries of God as opposed to learning and reciting humanity’s definitions of God.

9) The Church should stop being a large deep financial pit known more for its buildings, technology, and sound and light shows rather than who it helps, locally and around the world.

10) The Church should stop building churches and ministries that are defined and held together by personalities and/or celebrities.

11) The Church should stop fighting a war against religion and embrace the fact that we are a part of religion, that not all religion is bad, and that sometimes religion (in its myriad of forms) can actually be spiritually helpful for some believers.

12) The Church should stop creating enemies out of people with whom it disagrees.

13) The Church should be known for creating/engaging space, time, and practice for helping people connect to the God of the Universe.

14) The Church must start owning its past, not simply the good parts of our history but also the tragic, violent, and controlling parts. By owning our Christian and not-so Christian history, we can learn valuable lessons and ideas for how to move forward in peace, with hope and grace.

15) The Church should be defined by the teachings of Christ more so than the theologies of Paul, the Apostle.

16) The Church should be an institution/environment where gender equality is not only embraced, it is celebrated and passionately promoted.

17) The Church should pursue all things with a spirit of humility.

18) The Church should embrace a path that engages and celebrates community but never at the expense of silencing or ignoring the needs, ideas, and stories of an individual.

19) The Church should pursue being an environment where questions and doubt are as central to the journey of faith as answers and belief.

20) The Church should go to great lengths to ensure that its systems/environments do not favor one person’s story over another, the rich over the poor, the influential over the lay person, the man over the woman, the saint over the sinner.

21) The Church should always be an advocate for the “least of these,” never harboring those whose actions are harmful or abusive and never silencing the outcries and concerns of victims or those speaking on behalf of victims.

22) The Church should evaluate and/or rethink its role among its community, seeking to serve the greater good of all people regardless of their creed, origins, or orientation.

23) The Church should work alongside the mental health community in pursuit of providing an environment of faith and spiritual healing that does not contradict or work against the advice/direction of an individual’s doctor/health care provider.

24) The Church should be led by individuals who embrace their need for accountability, direction, and grace.

25) The Church should be a passionate advocate for life—all life—always seeking to use its platform/influence/resources to bring awareness, aid, education, healing, and sustainability to those whose livelihoods are endangered.

26) The Church should be a safe, welcoming, and affirming environment for all members of the LGBTQA communities. Our passions should also include being chief advocates of their stories, never excluding, preventing, or discouraging any LGBTQA persons from connecting with God and spiritual community.

27) The Church should seek to bring glory to God through worship, confession, prayer, and pursuit of the common good.

28) The Church should seek out ways to bring unity among communities of faith, both Christian and non-Christian alike, helping the culture at large to discover and embrace paths toward peace, tolerance, and goodwill.

29) The Church should seek out ways to engage God’s resurrection story here on Earth.

30) The Church should use/borrow popular culture sparingly, with wisdom.

31) The Church should stop perverting the “good news” with individualism, prosperity messaging, and grandiose promises of transformation.

32) The Church should stop using its overwhelming support of Israel as reasons/excuses to stereotype, fear, and hate followers of Islam.

33) The Church should inspire faith, not fear, arouse belief, not doctrine, awaken people’s curiosity about God, not manipulate God to fit people’s questions.

34) The Church should be known for creating, not mimicking. We should inspire humanity’s urges to imagine, dream, and invent. We should be known for new ideas, new art, and new creations as opposed to critiquing culture, copying culture, and protecting our culture.

35) The Church should always be seeking out opportunities to further reconciliation among races, never becoming comfortable with mediocre forms of racial equality.

36) The Church should be Good News. Not old news. Not bad news. Not fake news. Not fear-filled news. But Good News.

37) The Church should be about confession, about forgiveness, and about resisting the temptations to use confession and forgiveness as reasons for keeping secrets and not calling out the evil deeds of powerful and rich people.

38) The Church should embrace these words of Jesus: That they [the Church] all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

This list is hardly exhaustive. And hardly perfect. Just a list of things I think about when I think about the future of the Church.

What do you think about when you think about the future of the Church?


Dear God, Elias starts school tomorrow… (a prayer)

Dear God.

Elias starts school tomorrow.

And thankfully, he’s excited about it. Which is awesome.

Thank you for helping him to be a confident bright kid who’s actually looking forward to school.

And of course, I want him to love school. I want him to be passionate about learning, about experiencing new things, and about engaging new relationships. I really want that, God…

Which means you’re gonna have to protect him, God. Of course, I would love for you to protect him from all of the outside forces that tend happen in and around schools, you know, drugs, bullying, and school lunches. But right now, I mostly want you to protect him from me.

Because I love him so much, God. But sometimes I love him so much that I can be overprotective. Which is normal. But sometimes I can be far too preemptive in my protecting, God.

And as you know, I didn’t love school. It wasn’t all bad. But I have some baggage, mostly just a few fears and assumptions that seem show up the most in my parenting.

And God, the last thing I want to do is to negatively affect Elias’s school experience by projecting my own experiences onto his.

So help me, God. Help me to be the kind of daddy who guides without defining…

Who inspires without assuming…

Who engages without manipulating…

Who’s involved without being too involved…

Because Elias possesses a brilliant spirit, God, one so full of joy and imagination and wonder. And I’d like for him keep those things for as long as possible…

So protect him.

Don’t coddle him. But protect him…

From the bullies… the asshole teachers… and from me.


John Piper’s ‘Ebola,’ a poem…

As we know, Piper often puts his thoughts down in rhyme. Today, he released his latest poem to World Magazine, a Dr. Seussesque ode to the Ebola virus, inspired by tweets from Donald Trump…

Summer 2014

Today a thousand dead. And more
To die. A common ache, like flu,
Then nausea, a fever-soar,
A hopeless clinic interview:
“There’s nothing we can do.”

The bleeding has no bias. These:
A child, a chief, a friend, a nurse,
Liberian, and Leonese,
From Guinea, Texas, taste the curse—
And kindness, from the Purse.

Samaritans, six thousand miles
From home and care, subdue their fears,
And wonder if a sneeze defiles,
Or if a healthy fluid clears
The curse. Perhaps their tears.

But now two treasured ones, struck down,
Contagious still with death—and love—
Fly back to us, our joy, our crown,
A touch of grace, a gentle dove,
Yet through a plastic glove.

While in our land we see today
Another virus spreading, dumped,
More deadly, in the soul. They say,
“Why bring them home?” Though you be stumped,
This grace will not be trumped.

John Piper
August 3, 2014 SOURCE

Toxic Water in Toledo: Are we complicit and what should we do?

Today’s post is a guest post by C. Christopher Smith, the found editor of The Englewood Review of Books

We live in an age of deep brokenness. The news has been full of many horrific tragedies in recent weeks: Israelis and Palestinians killing each other more aggressively than at any time in recent history, escalating conflict in the Ukraine that lead to a plane full of civilians being shot down, the Ebola virus raging across vast parts of Africa and on and on.  What do we do as followers of Christ, called to be “ambassadors of reconciliation,” in the face of these gut-wrenching tragedies that are painful reminders that reconciliation between God, humanity and all creation is not only absent, but even difficult to imagine?  

In our book Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, John Pattison and I argue that our first response to such tragedy should be lament, mourning that we are part of God’s wonderfully inter-connected creation that so often seems hell-bent on destruction. Lament is, no doubt, a foreign practice amidst our technological age in which we have all sorts of devices to distract us, to save us labor and to steer us clear of any semblance of suffering or discomfort. And yet, lament is essential to being the compassionate people (literally those who suffer with) called to be followers of the compassionate Christ.  Lament often helps us see our complicity in a tragedy and guides us into repentance and new ways of living and being that bear witness – even if in the tiniest of ways – that a different way is possible, one that emphatically proclaims that all has been reconciled in Christ and that all will ultimately be healed and made well in creation.  John and I maintain that this process of lament and repentance should unfold in our church communities, where we begin to embody together a different way, the way of Christ’s reconciliation, among the neighbors who live in our particular place. In the words of the Apostle Paul, we (albeit slowly and haltingly) “become the righteousness of God.” [2 Cor. 5:21]

How might this work?  Let’s consider a tragedy happening right now closer to home (or at least to my home in Indianapolis): the ecological disaster in Toledo, Ohio, water contaminated by the toxin microcystin. This toxin cannot be eliminated by boiling water (and boiling may very likely intensify its toxicity), and people with weak immune systems are also being instructed to avoid all contact with the water. Why is the water system in Toledo plagued by this toxin? The toxins are being created by the annual algae bloom in Lake Erie, which in turn is caused primarily by chemical fertilizers that are used in industrial agriculture and are running off into the waters of the Great Lakes.  It is not difficult to see our complicity in this tragedy. My desire for fast and cheap food – for beef and chicken fattened at break-neck speeds on Midwestern corn, for soda and other products sweetened with High Fructose Corn Syrup, for cheap bread made with Midwestern wheat – has led to the citizens of Toledo being unable to drink or use their local water. These realities should give us pause, and lead us into lament and repentance. But I cannot do these things on my own; I need to be part of a church community that is nurturing a deep sort of economy among its members and neighbors, in order that alternative ways of eating and being can begin to be imagined and worked out – slowly and attentively – over time.

In the summer of 2010, in the wake of the BP oil spill, I was part of a group at Duke Divinity School’s summer institute (a group that included Norman Wirzba, Ragan Sutterfield, Chris Elisara and others), who penned a lament for churches in the wake of that ecological tragedy. It would not be difficult to adapt this lament in response to the water crisis in Toledo. For instance:

As followers of Christ, creator and redeemer of all creation, we mourn the water crisis in Toledo, and the toxic waters that are pouring out of Lake Erie and into homes. We mourn the disease and possible death posed to humans and animals, the economies and ecosystems destroyed, and the gifts of God, created from and for his love, squandered and poisoned. Most of all we mourn our complicity and active participation in a food economy based on toxic fertilizers that has made such illness and death inevitable. 

We find our lives dependent upon the destructive forces that have been made visible in the Toledo water crisis, but which have been a sinful and deadly presence in creation for many decades now. We acknowledge that our current lifestyle of convenience, which drives the demand for cheap food is at the root of the problem and that the irresponsibility and hubris of agricultural industries and farms are only outgrowths of this deeper reality. As the prophets of old said, we hear the land witnessing and testifying against us. 

We should lament the water crisis of Toledo, but we should not be hopeless. Rather, let us hope that God is at work in the midst of God’s people, transforming our hearts and minds and calling us to be communities that share a deeper life together, which bears witness among our neighbors – even if in the tiniest and feeblest of ways – that in Christ, all has been set right and all will ultimately in God’s time be reconciled.


C. Christopher Smith is co-author of Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesusand founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books.  He is currently working on a book with the tentative title, Reading for the Common Good.

Mark Driscoll has apologized. Now he needs to resign.


Mark Driscoll has apologized.


And now he needs to resign.

It’s time. Hell, it was time in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, and six months ago.

But now—either today or possibly tomorrow because it’s a Sunday!—it’s time for Mark Driscoll to step down, to leave Mars Hill, to possibly even leave Seattle.

Late last night Driscoll released this apology to his church members and also to Christian Today:

While the discussion board itself was a bad idea, my decision to attack critics who were posting there (I did so by posting under the character ‘William Wallace II’) was an even worse idea,” Driscoll said in his letter Friday, provided to CT. “I was wrong to respond to people the way I did, using the language I used, and I am sorry for it and remain embarrassed by it.

In his Friday apology, Driscoll noted that, in his 2006 book, he used the forum posts as an example of “something I regretted and an example of a wrong I had learned from.”

The content of my postings to that discussion board does not reflect how I feel, or how I would conduct myself today,” he told his church members Friday. Over the past 14 years I have changed, and, by God’s grace, hope to continue to change. I also hope people I have offended and disappointed will forgive me.

Is there more to this apology somewhere? I mean, it’s not that I don’t accept Mark’s apology, though I’m not really the intended audience for an apology from Mark. But if this really is all that Mark said (and that seems to be the case), then this is a pretty sad excuse for an apology, even for Mark Driscoll.

I mean, it just sounds like Mark Driscoll is tired of apologizing. Which makes sense. How could he not be tired of issuing apologies? He’s apologized a lot. And this time he doesn’t seem to even know who he’s apologizing to or why he’s apologizing. It feels forced, formulaic.

And God knows that faithful-to-fault communications guy at Mars Hill–what’s his name again?–has got to be tired of writing apologies on Mark’s behalf. I’ve chatted with Justin Dean. He seems like a nice guy, far more aware than he lets on. Though he’d never admit this, chances are even he thinks it’s time for Mark to bid farewell to Seattle.

But seriously, how many times can you ghostwrite unemotional statements of forgiveness on the behalf of somebody you know to be an absolute tyrant to work for before you’re secretly writing fake resignation letters and sending them to your friends?

Which is why its time for him to go. Mark hanging on to Mars Hill is like ABC hanging on to Grey’s Anatomy, it’s getting desperate. It’s time for this part of the Mars Hill story to end. It’s time for somebody else to begin writing the next chapters.

I mean, it’s not like I’m suggesting that Grace needs to take the kids to Argentina while Mark secretly works as a lumberjack somewhere in No Man’s Land, Canada. I wouldn’t wish that Dexter ending on anybody.

But I do think that it’s time for Mark to leave… for his family’s sake, for his church’s sake, and for the sake of all of those who Mark has hurt…

Listen, I believe Mark. I believe he’s embarrassed. When your career as a pastor has managed to offend nearly every person on earth except the white people who read The Blaze, how can you not be embarrassed? Of course he’s embarrassed. He should be embarrassed.

And I do believe he’s probably changed. But I’m not convinced that these changes have made him a safer leader, a leader who should be trusted, a leader who should be left in charge of a church full of victims.

And that’s what Mars Hill needs, a kind, humble gracious shepherd to lead them into Part 2 of the church’s story.

But there can’t be a part 2 with Mark Driscoll still in charge.

The only kind of apology that moves this situation forward is the kind that comes with a resignation.

So come on, Mark, man up, walk away… with Grace… and grace.

Grace is not a hashtag. Grace is not passive. Grace is not an excuse to remain silent. Grace is not…

All of us need grace. I believe that with all of my heart. Grace is my daily prayer—that I receive it, that I embrace it, that I show it toward others. Every day, often many times a day, I ask God for grace. My heart wants to know grace, my soul longs to engage the world with grace. Which is why I wake up each day asking God to show me grace and to help me to know grace.

However, in my search to know and embrace grace, I’m also bewildered by how so many Christians name drop “grace.” I’ve seen “grace” show up a lot on this blog in the last few years, often when I’ve written about Mark Driscoll or told stories of people who have been deeply affected by Mark Driscoll’s ministry at Mars Hill.

Yesterday, one individual wrote, “This is between God and Mark. #grace.” The subtext of his tweet was that to show grace was to shut up. And perhaps for Mark our silence would feel like grace. But what about all of the people, the hundred of Mars Hill members who have suffered various forms of spiritual abuse under his care, is our silence grace for them too? Should we leave their stories between them, God, and Mark?

On Sunday, in a conversation online about Mars Hill, one guy said, “he who is without sin, cast the first stone…” His misuse of that story and its context aside, the subtext of his statement was that, unless you’re perfect, you have no right to say anything. That rather than speaking up against the perpetrator or speaking up for the victim, grace means you shut up, do nothing, and judge others with #grace.

Again, I need grace. I am far from perfect. But for the grace of God and the grace of my family, friends, and church go I. But that doesn’t negate my responsibility to stand up for people who have been hurt, abused, or silenced.

Grace is not a hashtag.
Grace is not “giving the benefit of the doubt.”
Grace is not passive or passive aggressive.
Grace does not harbor abusers.
Grace is not something to be demanded just because the conversation makes you uncomfortable.
Grace is not an excuse to remain silent.

Yes, grace is an idea filled with uncertainty. It’s a balancing act. It’s nonsensical. It’s otherworldly.

But grace is also present. Grace is intentional. Grace is active.

Grace is not a middle man negotiating a deal between bullshit and pain.

Sometimes grace calls out bullshit. Sometimes grace brings hope to those in pain.

But I cannot believe that grace would ever stand in the middle and remain silent.

Mark Driscoll’s Pussified Nation…

In his book Confessions of a Reformission Rev, Mark Driscoll might have made one confession too many. See image below.


Mark’s seemingly funny story about writing as William Wallace II might end up becoming his worst nightmare yet. Because Mark’s Internet ramblings as William Wallace II from 14 years ago have allegedly hit the Internet. Not just at my blog. But at lots of places. You can read the backstory about “William Wallace II” here at Wenatchee The Hatchet.

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And that’s just part of the 140-page conversation that you can read here.

And warning… it’s a mouthful.


Daniel Radcliffe has an inner demon…

Daniel Radcliffe once portrayed the world’s most famous witch/warlock, Harry Potter. Now, he’s donning horns and causing all kinds of demonic spirited trouble in Horns.

According to The Hollywood Reporter:

In the first full trailer for the horror-fantasy film, Radcliffe plays Ig, whose girlfriend has died mysteriously, leading much of the town to hold him responsible. On the anniversary of her death, he suddenly grows a pair of demonic horns, which doesn’t exactly help his cause.

Clever concept. I’ve long thought that after witches, zombies, and vampires, we’d begin to see “demonic” movies and series pop up.