The new album uses the titular Bible passages as the merest inspiration, a canvas upon which Darnielle paints very contemporary–yet timeless–portraits of grief, despair, resignation…and inexplicable faith, hope, and love. An example of this is the bouncy “Genesis 3:23″ in which the original verse (”therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken”) provides a proper motif for a more contemporary exile story of a man who breaks into the house where he grew up to confront the ghosts he has carried with him since he left.

Break the lock on my own garden gate
When I get home after dark
Sit looking up at the stars outside
Like teeth in the mouth of a shark

Continue reading….

Manifold Witness

Manifold Witness

Over at my personal blog (The League of Inveterate Poets) I’m blogging through John Franke’s new book Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth. Thought that though this blog has been dead for some time, some who still have it in their feed readers might be interested in this book.

I have two chapters posted so far:

Manifold Witness Chapter 1

Manifold Witness Chapter 2

bookAt the Institute for Biblical Research (IBR) meeting this year, I acquired the book mentioned above (for free). Its title testifies to its relevance for the Conn blog, so we’ll do a multipart review, one post for each chapter. For my part, my parents-in-law work with Chinese immigrants, my younger brother works with Latinos/Latinas in IV in southwest Texas, and I live in NYC–just south of Washington Heights no less–and am constantly confronted with the causes and impact of immigration. So how Christians should think through this topic, particularly as citizens of a functioning republic, is something that’s frequently on my mind.

Immigration tends to be a polarizing issue both inside and outside the church no matter what your ethnic or citizen status and in my opinion, like politics, it is one for which we by-and-large lack the theological tools and ecclesiological framework to really address the subtleties of the problems involved, how to solve them, what the Church’s role should be, and how that should differ from the State’s (or really, States’). Therefore in my opinion serious books by Christians with expertise in Biblical studies, Theology, though especially Sociology, Politics, and Law are very much needed: people who not only understand the difficulties attendant in applying the ancient texts to modern circumstances which don’t overlap well, but also people who understand the modern circumstances well enough to know what kind of answers we should be looking for in the first place. (more…)

Monday I returned from the SBL. My main reason for going was to visit friends, though I hoped to be inspired to new thoughts by some sessions. The latter was hit-or-miss (though mostly miss), though one of the more interesting sessions was on Kent Sparks’ recent book God’s Word in Human Words, which was heavily attended.

I’ve not read the book, though after the session think I’ll probably need to. The main point though, as most of you probably know already, is to present a case for a Christian approach to the Bible that takes much more seriously the advances of Biblical scholarship–i.e. by acknowledging that the Bible contains myth, composite texts, imbibes the historical/hermeneutical context of its day, and trying to find a sensible way of understanding “what the Bible is” and “what it’s purpose is” that makes sense of that.

Fascinating session for me on one front. All three respondents emphasized how good the book was, how necessary it was to fill an important gap, highly recommended it, etc. The only “major” criticism was Sparks tone which the respondents felt was a bit too forceful, though Sparks responded that he considered being softer, though felt that it would actually undermine the forcefulness with which he wanted his argument to be received, particularly by an evangelical audience that was prone to look for excuses to dismiss his argument altogether. I thought that was totally understandable. The sad thing is that some people will choose to dismiss him still because they’ll think he’s being a pretentious jerk and therefore not worth taking seriously (which is wrong: all the respondents said he presented the issues very judiciously). But honestly, this is an awfully lame criticism: it basically says that Christians are too sensitive to give an author the benefit of the doubt and hear what he has to say, and if that’s true to an extent, I think the blame falls more on the readers than the writer. Writers can’t constantly be worrying about that sort of thing and readers ought to know how to read judiciously and give a writer the benefit of the doubt and/or read through the tone.

Of the three respondents, two (Stephen Chapman and Bill Arnold) openly argued that from their perspective, it is a bit strange that Sparks holds onto inerrancy since the way he wants to use it empties the term of its practical value. That is, if you’re willing to admit there are both errors of fact and intent, as most scholars do, does “inerrancy” make sense as a descriptor? Bill Arnold then made a further observation from his Arminian standpoint that I found very interesting: he said that the whole question of trying to “save” inerrancy is strange because it’s never been a major issue for Arminians. According to him, they believe in Biblical authority, infallibility, etc., but they don’t think that for the Bible to ultimately accomplish its purpose for the church requires it to be perfectly “true” in the modern sense, nor that if it contains historical errors that it impugns God’s credibility. The Bible is true and effective in the sense that it accomplishes by God’s Spirit what He intends, not because it is subject to verifiability under a microscope. This point was fascinating to me because I didn’t realize the extent to which the pursuit of inerrancy was so varied. Arnold’s attitude very much reminded me of the one I often encountered while doing my MA and the Jewish Theological Seminary: for them, the starting assumption of why they read and use the Bible in religious life is that it’s from YHWH and is for His people; given that, the “problems” become puzzles to be solved rather than threats to faith.

I’m totally with Chapman and Arnold here. On the one hand, for a long time I’ve felt that if I’m willing to admit certain historical and textual problems, then continuing to call the Bible “inerrant” not only didn’t make much sense, but also made me sound duplicitous to those I explain my views to. Sparks defended his use of the term inerrancy, though his argument ultimately devolved into the claim that the Bible was inerrant in the sense that God superintended its writing, editing, etc., and was ultimately what he intended. For me, that’s perfectly fine: I’m jokingly fond of saying “I think God inerrantly inspired an errant Bible,” although that obviously doesn’t actually say anything about the factual content of the Bible (which I’m aware of when I say it). Rather than a claim of inerrancy, it is actually a claim about God’s providence; it’s a theological claim more than a bibliological one (if that’s a word). So incidentally, I don’t actually think Sparks, Chapman, or Arnold actually differ in what they actually think the Bible is, they’re differing only in the words they’re using to describe it.

A couple of points that I thought were important to draw from the discussion. First, people often refer to taking this line on the OT as a “low view of the Bible.” If anything, this session pointed out that the “low view”/”high view” distinction is a false one: the goal of the Christian is to properly understand God’s word, how it works, and how it applies to the Church throughout the ages. As such, there are right and wrong decisions, right and wrong beliefs, but not high and low ones. People like Arnold, Chapman, and Sparks aren’t saying the Bible is “low”; rather, they’re saying if these things are true, given that the Bible is God’s word, this is how we should read and use it.

Second, it is a category mistake to say–as some ignorant systematics profs have–that context can never be allowed to trump the Bible, or that choosing claims of scholarship is directly opposed to taking the Bible on its own terms. The fact of the matter is that interpretation always requires importing a context–whether we supply it unconsciously from our own life experience, whether we construct it from our own imaginations, or whether we try to supply it from our analyses of the worlds that gave birth to the documents. No matter what we do, we always sit in judgment over the texts we read; no matter we do, we are the arbiters of their meaning–even if along the way our study is attended by the work of the Holy Spirit.

It’s no secret on this blog that I’m a McCain supporter.  I believe that he has an appropriate understanding of the benefits of public policy on behalf of the common good, and its limits as a tool to re-engineer society.  He has personally sacrificed for the United States, is demonstrably competent, and knows how to work with those who see things differently to accomplish important goals.  I don’t agree with everything he says, but I think Sen. McCain is right for the challenges of the presidency – domestic and international – and I will vote for him.  But I’m not his disciple. 


Perhaps that is why I’m struggling so much as I watch Sen. Obama’s approach to attaining elected office.  Much of the time, it’s unclear to me whether he’s running for president or messiah.  When I listen to Barack Obama speak, I hear a sermon.  Healthcare benefits and entitlement checks will flow like milk and honey.  The lion and the lamb will lie down together and we’ll be a people of peace, respected around the world.  We’ll power our land with earth, wind, and sun.  We’ll all pay less and get more (well, most of us).  We’ll all come together in unity, and he will lead us. 


I find this rhetoric deeply unsettling.  It is working (well) in ways that go way beyond political differences and move into the realm of faith.  I clearly recognize that some Obama supporters are thoughtful people who weigh issues and prefer his approach (including some of my fellow bloggers with whom I heartily disagree but nonetheless respect and love).  But, if he wins the election, it will be because he has deeply stirred the religious passions of a staggering number people who view him not as a politician, but as a savior.  For a nation that has clung so tenaciously to the concept that church and state are separate, we seem to be teetering on the edge of a remarkable remake of state into a form of church, with Sen. Obama as its charismatic leader.


Authentic church is built on authentic community.  Its members come together in a common commitment to the gospel, and seek to serve their Lord and one another in love.  Christianity calls for death to self in favor of following Jesus, with the sure knowledge that it will require sacrifice.  Service is expected of everyone, and giving flows from redeemed hearts.  Although faith in Jesus affords believers tastes of the fruits of redemption in the here and now, the fullness of his promises is reserved for the age to come.     


As envisioned by Obama, however, the church of state offers benefits without sacrifice.  There is no personal repentance, no call to service.  The prayer of the church of state is “what’s in it for me?”  Tax “cuts” for just about everyone, including the great numbers who pay no taxes.  The so-called “rich” – the new unclean out group if ever there was one – are the appointed scapegoats.  Omitted from the narrative is that they already pay most of the taxes.  The top five percent of taxpayers (those making adjusted gross income of $154,000 and up) pay sixty percent of the total federal tax dollars collected from individuals.  The group in the next five percent pays an additional eleven percent of the total.  By contrast, the bottom fifty percent – those earning $32,000 or less – pay only three percent of the total.     


It’s worth noting that the senator is not setting his proposed requirements for massive additional revenue (because like it or not, someone has to pay for all this) as a challenge before redeemed hearts.  Rather, his plan is to simply take more from those who have it because he wants it for his purposes.  It matters not that they may have gotten it through hard work, personal sacrifice, and careful planning, and that they may have their own plans.  It also matters not that even if he takes it all, it will never be enough.  In the church of state, the gospel call to give freely is replaced with a legal mandate to take, and the gospel call to sacrifice is replaced with a secular decree of entitlement.    


He also brings of promises peace, unity, and green.  But the gospel call in all these areas presupposes life-giving unity with Christ.  Part of the Christian hope is that as these benefits well up in the hearts of believers in community, they will spill over into our spheres of influence, and move us towards provisional acts of redemption in creation.


But in the church of state, Christ is not the center of these promises, Sen. Obama is.  He is expected to raise our international stature by pitting talk against action as if they are somehow mutually exclusive.  He is portrayed as the great red and blue unifier, as if our polarized society will somehow disappear with his Robin Hood-like redistribution of the wealth.  He is also the great green-earther, as if solar, wind, and geothermal power are simply waiting to be harnessed for our clean and economical use at his say-so.   


All the while, he is attracting impressive numbers of acolytes.  I recently asked an Obama follower why he was so enthusiastic.  He replied that Obama makes him feel calm.  He also told me that he didn’t mind paying yet more in taxes – he felt that it was somehow a way for him to give back.  When I pointed out that he could not only give back on his own, but direct it to his causes, he shrugged.  Michael Smerconish, a popular conservative talk radio host, recently declared his support for Sen. Obama.  Amid a string of surprisingly vague reasons for his choice, he indicated that Sen. Obama, if victorious, will give us hope.  In support of that, here’s what he said:  Wednesday morning will come and an Obama presidency holds the greatest chance for unifying us here at home and restoring our prestige around the globe.”    


Am I the only one bothered by this?  I hear these things, and the category they trigger isn’t politics, it’s religion.


Why does Sen. Obama engender such hope among so many?  Could it be that even though rampant secularism has taken hold in the United States, it cannot quash the human need to worship?  Could it be that although Christian faith is on the wane, religious impulses are alive and well and still seeking haven in a gospel, albeit a secular one that requires nothing from them?  For, there is no “ask not what your country can do for you” here, there is only follow me and I will give you _____.  The problem is that – at least for now – the United States of America is not the church, and Sen. Obama is not the messiah. 



In keeping with my past post to the Ehrman v. Craig debate, I offer another link. This one is to a Prof. Christine Haye’s (Yale) undergraduate lectures for her course Introduction to the Hebrew Bible. These really are an excellent, lucid presentation of the major issues facing contemporary readers of the HB (Hayes is a brilliant communicator). But more pertinent to my previous post, these are the kind of lectures undergraduates at most universities receive, and which the vast majority of Christians have yet to seriously face or engage. What’s more, unlike some lecturers, Hayes doesn’t antagonize or degrade her believing students; rather, she by and large just states what she thinks and why.

One additional note. I think like Ehrman’s presentations, Hayes’ offers a helpful entry point for considering possible directions forward. The fact is that for the most part there are 2 kinds of responses to these issues: total abandonment of the faith in light of the arguments, or total repudiation of the arguments in favor of a preconceived doctrine. In my opinion, for the same reason the first isn’t necessary and the second is irresponsible: the doctrine needs to be able to fit the data. Granted, we shouldn’t adopt everything in the academy whole hog, but there’s a lot we should. Moreover, the incarnational analogy is a helpful posture for approaching such issues, but it needs to be emphasized that the analogy doesn’t actually solve any problems. It tells us not to be surprised when we find challenges, but cannot actually tell us what to do once we find them. Ps. 18 describes Yahweh as a fire-breathing being being dwelling in a temple who opens the ceiling of earth to descend upon a cherub with arrows ablaze, and its not the only place in the HB–or in other ancient Near Eastern literature–where we meet such strange descriptions that don’t fit neatly into our creeds. We may be prepared to see this as God permitting the ancients to describe him in their own ancient ideas, but that kind of concession raises at least as many questions as answers, probably more. We have much more to do.

At any rate, enjoy!

It’s time for a brief break in the polemics!  Since its introduction in late 2007, I have eagerly followed the progress of the Amazon Kindle, an e-book reading device and so much more.  Although e-readers have been around for a while, the great leap forward in the Kindle (and a few competitive devices of which the Sony E-reader is the most notable) is the employment of electronic ink, which creates a screen reading experience that mimics print on paper.  This is not like reading a computer monitor or cell phone; it’s like reading a book. 

Before choosing Kindle over Sony, I did my homework.  No question about it, the Sony is nicer looking, and it was at the time $100 less expensive.  (Amazon dropped the price on Kindles from $399 to $359 a few wees ago, reducing the gap.)  But the benefits ended there, and were outweighed by 1) Kindle’s ability to download books over free built-in cell phone technology wherever a Sprint cell signal can be had.  That’s right; no need to connect to the computer, and the ultimate in bibliophilic instant gratification.  Sitting at the airport, and stuck?  No problem.  2)  The price of most books through Amazon is $9.99, even brand new releases.  The Sony’s offerings through mobipocket and elsewhere are priced in relationship to the physical book, and considerably more expensive.  3)  The Kindle allows the user to take electronic margin notes; the Sony does not.  4)  Amazon permits the downloading of any Kindle book’s first chapter for free.  5)  There is rudimentary web capability (emphasis on rudimentary) on the Kindle, including instant access to Wikipedia, and the ability to access web-based email – at least gmail.   6)  There are thousands of free books available on other web sites, including many classics.  7)  Amazon will Kindle-ize and send to one’s device a PDF file of any size for a dime.  (Did you really want to print out the HTFC report?) 

I took the plunge last month, and asked my husband for one for my birthday.  I’m delighted with it.  Yes, I agree with a few of the commonly-cited criticisms like the size of the page advance button and the overall uninspiring look of the device.  The grey and black screen is limiting; charts and illustrations don’t reproduce well at this point in the device’s development.   But, what I’ve gained is the ability to carry around a small library in my purse.  Which brings me to the point for this post.

Amazon’s Kindle offerings at this point are substantial, but they are geared to best-seller style reading.  The real utility of this device for us would be the market for theological writing.  I still recall standing in the WTS bookstore (back when that was not only expected but encouraged!) with a $40, c. 200 page paperback in my hand, and saying “absolutely no way.”  The problem is that the Kindle’s current offerings in theology are quite shallow.  Keller’s new book is available, but that’s because it’s a best-seller.  But, imagine the possibilities if commentaries were Kindle-ized or if small-run but important works were Kindle-ized?  The academic market, and more specifically, the theological market represents incredible potential for the Kindle.  We all know what some of these books cost, how heavy they are to carry, how much space they take to shelve, and how much money they cost to move.  The Kindle takes care of all that! 

As the number of users grows, the book offerings will diversify!  So, take a look, and let me know what you think.  Is this device going to be part of our future?



I thought I would make a short post on this. Many of the contributors of this blog, and certainly some of its readers, know Daniel Kirk. Daniel is a MDiv graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (2000). He subsequently completed a PhD in New Testament from Duke University’s Department of Religion, studying under Richard Hays, E.P. Sanders, and Joel Marcus, among others. He wrote a fascinating dissertation on Resurrection in Romans, how Paul re-understood and re-told the significance of Israel in the light of Christ. His advisor was none other than Richard Hays, whose writings certainly molded my thought on Paul and the communal significance of Paul for the church more than anyone else’s writings. Daniel commences his job as a professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary this coming Fall.


During and since his time at Duke Daniel has written a fair amount concerning Paul and the significance of recent scholarship on Paul for the contemporary church. (more…)

That’s a mind bender. Normally in the academy a rejoinder to a review is entitled in special circumstances–usually when an author has felt his or her work has been misunderstood or misrepresented substantially. It’s very rare to have a counter-rejoinder though. You can see why: the tit-for-tat get’s old, little progress is actually gained, and it looks rather petty.

Nevertheless, at the risk of being subject to this criticism, I’ve written an additional “tat.” I’ve just tried to summarize why I think Helm is wrong and how we need to move forward. For those interested, have a look here.

I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not to post a piece I’ve been working on. But I guess that part of what the connversation blog is all about, putting your reflections out their for conversation, debate, and critique. Here goes…

Mere-catholicity: What’s blowing in the wind? 

Within the next generation of pastors there is a trend to believe that less theological & ecclesiological fences equal more missiological growth. Some of us would see their trend and pass them over as chasing the fading popular values of their day. But I want to suggest to you that these leaders values of ‘less being the new more,’ what I call mere-catholicity;  are a genuine manifestation of what one form of the next Christendom of the Post-Christian West will look like.

            It would be wrong to say, as some have, that these emerging pastors[1] are only motivated by “a kind of snobbery for the past that makes them appear cutting-edge in the eyes of the theologically illiterate.” Rather I want to propose to you that many of the younger, culturally savvy, nuance-in-love pastors have a tendency toward mere-catholicity because they are finding it to be a better missiological posture toward other Christian traditions as they reach out to their Post-Christian neighbors – many times inside urban environments, but not exclusive to urban environments. This trend of mere-catholicity is driven more by the spirit of their day changing their plausibility structures; that spirit’s deep rooted effects upon them while in seminary – their most formative theological incubation period; the death of an older, now bi-gone spirit; and because that spirit is fostering new ecclesiologies that are emerging in answer to the contextual needs of their ministries, as well as a new kind of Christian spirituality being fostered out of that spirit of their times.

            You may be asking yourself, “what is the spirit of their day you’re referring to?” This new spirit is comprised of variegated responses to postmodern epistemologies, post-Christian missiological and ecclesial questions, as well as the widening of the worlds social conscience fostered by Globalism. “But how does this new spirit create new leaders?” One way is by changing what’s plausible for these emerging leaders.

 The plausibility canopy we are increasingly living under  

The ‘less is the new more’ mentality of the emerging pastors comes from a subtle but important shift in what they feel is plausible to believe about their faith, their churches, and their traditions. Their plausibility structures have shifted and what is open for doubt, conversation, and continual exploration by them has expanded because of this shift. Their attitude toward other Christian traditions is due more to the plausibility structures around them shifting than it is to what some have seen as their love for the novel, or hunger for the illiterate mobs’ adorations (though for some accumulating the mobs’ attention is unfortunately part of their agenda).

“What are plausibility structures,” you ask. The term comes from Peter Berger a noted sociologist of the 20th century.[2] Cultural apologist Os Guiness relying on Berger’s work spells out what plausibility structures are, and why it is so important to realize their effect upon the communities of these emerging pastors.. Guiness says;

 “…the degree to which a belief (or disbelief) seems convincing is directly related to its “plausibility structure” – that is, the group or community which provides the social and psychological support for the belief. If the support’s structure is strong, it is easy to believe; if the support’s structure is weak, it is difficult to believe.”[3]   

To raise the question of plausibility structures is to acknowledge the influence of our culture, and community upon us. These emerging pastors’ ecclesial community as well as their surrounding cultures’ influence are reminders to them that the Trinitarian image which humanity bore in its original creation is still retained even though people preside in a fallen state. The social value and nature of plausibility structures are part of that Trinitarian image humanity was created in relation to. Stated simply, humans bear as a hermeneutical necessity because of their creation in God’s image, the need to read and interpret things in community. The widening realization and affirmation of this is one of the reasons why mere-catholicity among this emerging group of pastors is becoming a desired way of relating to others.

            These emerging pastors feel the need to relate to others around them, because as their denominations’ churches and related seminaries have grown so have their social support structure which has nurtured these pastors in their ministerial formation. Many of these younger pastors were not trained at the denominational seminary, Covenant Seminary, because of this they’ve had to learn to value the opinions and contributions of others. Through this they’ve found out that it’s possible for them to believe and affirm things beyond or counter to their own traditions and still hold their own tradition as their primary theologizing partner.

            With the shift in plausibility structures or perhaps a better word would be expansion, comes the winds of change. The rest of this piece will look at a few of these winds.

 The Fair Trade Trajectory 

The first wind of change I’ve labeled, ‘The Fair Trade Trajectory’.

             One of the most significant voices in the formation of the plausibility structures of our younger pastors is their seminary cultures that they’ve emerged from. I want to suggest that it is the local tone and trajectory of our next leaders seminaries that will play a larger part in their theological hermeneutic than the sentiments of our either our Presbyteries or the committee reports they produce. The hermeneutical structures our emerging pastors are impressed by most are from their seminary professors rather than their pastoral communities they’ve just recently entered; at least in the first season of their post-seminary community immersion and for some of them well beyond that immersion. You could call this ‘The Fair Trade Trajectory’ they drink in. Like so many of our local coffee café’s that praise the locally grown, fair trade supported brews, these next pastors will stay true to the locals over the ‘big bad corporate companies’ far off in GA land – at least until they need to candidate for another position somewhere other than their present church homes. What this means is that we must come to grips as a denomination with the fact that many of our emerging leaders are being trained by non-denominational seminaries, which hold both positive and negative effects on our ability to seek uniformity through committee reports on topics such as the NPP, FV, and AA[4]. Such a pursuit of uniformity will continue to be splintered by the sometimes irenic, at other times cathartic moods and nuances of these emerging leaders professors whom they’d much rather trust than the distant reports and mediations of a GA judicial body.

            In relation to this, part of the mere-catholicity of our emerging leaders is the perpetuation of their professors’ love for nuance. Nuance which provides room for a ‘safe-space’ of theological conversation where difference or even ‘in the moment’ articulations are not an immediate matter for discipline or ecclesial jurisprudence, but rather are an invitation for exploration and repeated conversation between affirmed and trusted friends. In this sort of conversation ‘theological machismo’ is simply not needed nor admired. “What is theological machismo,” you ask…

 The Death of Theological Machismo 

The second wind of change is the death of theological machismo.


            ‘Ancient-Future Faith’[5], ‘Generous Orthodoxy’[6], ‘Humble Orthodoxy’[7], and more claims the fame of having the ability to summarize our ages’ sentiments toward orthodoxy and its nature in the lives of our faith communities. Though they represent different streams of thought – ‘Ancient-Future Faith’ is the recently deceased missional guru Robert Webber’s ancient ecclesial restoration project, ‘Generous Orthodoxy’ is the ever racy Brian Mclaren’s popular answer of being all things to all people, and ‘Humble Orthodoxy’ is Sovereign Graces’ blog where they explore less of ‘what of orthodoxy’ is and more the ‘how of orthodoxy’ should be expressed – they all reflect signs of the death or swoon of what I call theological machismo[8].

            “What is theological machismo,” you ask. Well first it is important to point out that machismo is not the biblical call for men to be masculine, which is good and in great need of development in our churches. “So what is it,” you ask again. Theological machismo can be seen as an attitude, a practice, and a way of maintaining community boundaries that belies humility;


Ø      As an attitude theological machismo says, “I am right, you are wrong; and if you are right, I can find the same answer you have given inside my own tradition – therefore I don’t need you!”

Ø      As a practice theological machismo is typically marked by a love for literature of one’s own tradition, and a disdain for literature of others traditions; particularly a love for polemical literature written by our traditions against the viewpoints of others.

Ø      As a way of maintaining community boundaries theological machismo is marked by its desire to create fences within its own fences; to ‘out-masculinize’ ones closest neighbor thereby reminding him or her who they are not rather than who they are. To put it bluntly theological machismo is most delighted in itself when its boundaries are so defined that only a few can find harbor within them – it is a ‘remnant theology’, where man instead of God says these are the true children of Israel.


Over against this type of ethos our next pastors are finding mere-catholicity to be a better way of not only engaging those outside their own tradition, but also a better way to explore the rich valleys of diversity present inside their tradition. Mere-catholicity could also be described as an attitude, a practice, and a way of maintaining community boundaries which could grasped in a single word – humility.


Ø      Particularly a humility that is be based on the attitude of complementary sharing of theological resources between different traditions.

Ø      A humility that constructs theology in a way that embodies in practice Paul’s picture of the church as ‘one body of many members’.

Ø      And a humility that believes that the only way to maintain ecclesial purity is by de-constructing more and more of social fences the modern church has thoughtlessly constructed between its own tradition, and those of the surrounding Christian traditions who are ‘of the household of faith’; while also re-constructing new fences that have side-doors to welcome in the foreign faces of today’s ever globalizing world in which the PCA makes up less than 5% of Protestant Christianity.


            Indeed, the nature of mere-catholicity for our emerging pastors leads them to embody to others the ‘servant quality of the study of theology’[9] in a fashion that presents the Reformed and Presbyterian heritage found within the PCA exerting itself not just for its own community maintenance, but also with the hope of implanting theological nutrients into the soil of the wider body of Christ. While also glorying in the mutual dependence of being served by the nutrients of other traditions through humble theological conversations, mutual ministry outreaches together which take place in the shared social spaces where traditions converge within.  Tendency’s toward mere-catholicity are leading these emerging pastors to repent from theological machismo, as a broken husband seeking forgiveness from his discarded wife, so to are our emerging pastors putting on the only garb they can as they re-approach their Christian neighbors: one of vulnerability, humility, and dependence upon all the traditions of Christ body – upon all the cultures within their own denominational community. This repentant act is so re-creative and resurrecting that out of the death of theological machismo arise new, refreshing adjectives for the nature of the church, as well as the nature of these emerging pastors Christian spirituality. One such adjective is Missional.

 The Buzz of Being Missional

The third wind of change is Missional.


            The king of the buzzword hill in evangelical Christianity today has to be this word Missional. That elusive, trendy Mac-like revolutionary that refuses to be boxed in by mere-functionality while also appearing to fit into any ecclesial model on the Protestant or Catholic landscape is what everyone is talking about. Be that John Piper, Tim Keller, or Joshua Harris everyone wants a piece of the savvy pie our younger generations are serving up. And whether they’re only for certain forms or shapes of it like Josh Harris, or against most of its features like John Piper, or trying to prophetically recapture the imagination of it like Tim Keller; they’re all engaging it. “What’s being Missional all about,” you ask. The word Missional because of its use, and popular forms is hard to tack down; but here’s a way to address it that I’ve found helpful. Missional can be used as both an adjective for defining one among many models of Post-Christian ecclesiology, thereby changing missions as something the church does to something the it is. Missional can also be used as an adverb to define a style of Post-Christian spirituality: A spirituality that can be expressed and experienced either individually or corporately; and is typically spoken in terms of ‘incarnational living,’ ‘following the way of Jesus,’ or pursuing a ‘spirituality of the road’.

No one has better captured what the elements of a Missional ecclesiology are than Tim Keller in his article, The Missional Church. Keller draws out five elements: (1) they discourse in the vernacular; (2) they enter and re-tell the cultures stories with the gospel; (3) they place emphasis on theologically training lay people for public life and vocation; (4) they create Christian community which is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive; and (5) they practice Christian unity as much as possible on the local level.[10] It is this last element of a Missional ecclesiology that is relevant to our discussion. Listen in as Keller unpacks it;


In Christendom, when ‘everyone was a Christian’ it was necessary (perhaps) for a church to define itself over against other churches. That is, to get an identity you had to say, “we are not like that church over there, or those Christians over here.” Today, however, it is much more illuminating and helpful for a church to define itself over against ‘the world’–the values of the non-Christian culture. It is very important that we not spend our time bashing and criticizing other kinds of churches. That simply plays in to the common ‘defeater’ that Christians are all intolerant.”[11]


Dr. Keller makes the point of setting the discussion of Missional ecclesiology into a Post-Christian context, thereby acknowledging that the social context of the church today has shifted. This shifting of the church’s social context signifies that the Church in the West, which was dominant in modernity, is now a minority at the global table (a table that also adds to the shifting of the plausibility structures of our emerging pastors). Mere-Catholicity as an attitude, practice, and way of maintaining community affords these emerging leaders with an answer to the “common ‘defeater’ that Christians are all intolerant.” A ‘defeater’ that needs to be answered if the church is going to be effective in the mission dei.

            Not all pastors in the PCA notice the need to answer this defeater; Why? This is where it gets messy for the PCA as a denomination. There is a tension between the growth of our denomination and the decline or passing of Christianity in the West. This tension forms part of the strain our next leaders face in their relationships to their older, more senior pastors, as well as to their Presbyteries. This strain, is a strain between two plausibility structures – Traditional churches affected by more modernistic epistemological sentiments where their imagined or felt social consciousness still relies on the church as having a governing voice in the public square; and Missional churches affected by more postmodern epistemological sentiments where society has gone through the Post-Christian shift, and they don’t feel the need to be the only meta-narrative on the block, though they contend to the death that their meta-narrative is the divine meta-narrative.

The adjective Missional will likely have its day in the sun and end dried up in the field of other helpful, but not bygone categories, but the changing ecclesiology it sought to capture will remain until and if we experience the Southern Hemisphere shape of Christendom to come (spoken of by people like Philip Jenkins)[12] expanding into the landscape of our Post-Christian West in a culturally transforming manner.

Missional as an adverb of spirituality places the emphasis on the missiological context of our individual and corporate spiritual pilgrimages in the Post-Christian West where growth happens as we go into the world rather than retreat inside our ecclesial cloisters, it is a ‘spirituality of the Road’ as David Bosch has argued.[13] Not only are the plausibility structures of our next pastors changing, but they themselves seek to change the unbelieving plausibility structures around them by living out the realities of the Kingdom of God as one part of the new people He’s creating in the world, socially and politically incarnating the presence and personage of Christ, while reaching out to un-webbed communities as the new people in union with Christ (this has been explored by people like Darrell Guder).[14]

 Conclusion: ‘Conversational confessionalism’ – Vintage threads for post-everything times 

            Is it possible to promote a ‘safe-space’ for theological conversation carried out in the spirit of mere-catholicity in our churches without opening the door to either cultural accommodation or theological compromise? A ‘safe-space’ conversation where the missional labors of the emerging leaders of our churches will not be suspiciously scrutinized for their lack of confessional literacy or appeal; where questions marks are placed on their epistemic accommodations before they speak; and inquiries are manufactured by ecclesial tribunals to explore their assumed narratival neurosis’s? I believe so, but it’s not enough to raise the question of, can change be welcomed.

            These younger emerging pastors must ask themselves can their inherited or adopted tradition be maintained thoughtfully and honestly as they seek to be faithful to their Post-Christian contexts. Will they abandon the classics for ‘chick-tract’ theologically shaped innovations, while stepping over the bodies of their father’s polemical labors in estrangement to the dangers their father’s felt, only to stock up on the collapsible IKEA social conventions of their times? Will they ignore the Standards of old Tradition, only to find themselves’ putting on a false sense of relevancy, a Standard of their new Missional proclivities out of conversation with the past? I believe they can absolve themselves from this, that mere-catholicity as a way of maintaining community actually governs them away from this sort of reaction.

            There is a way out of this dilemma but it will require the “long obedience” of discipleship modeled by men like Eugene Peterson; a bold, daring, and risk-taking obedience – a humble obedience.[15] These times require a theology that abides in contextual conversation with these emerging pastors Post-Christian setting, as well as a theology that is in chastened-agreement with Westminster Standards. What would such a theology be called, well how about Conversational Confessionalism: A vintage thread for a post-everything times. Where the very curvature of these emerging pastors convictions provoke interest, intrigue, and imagination in the minds and cultural landscapes of their neighbors; while the threading retains the fibers of vigor and truth, the Westminster Standards were meant to cloth them with…

[1] This word ‘emerging’ isn’t meant to connote pastors who are apart of the Emergent Village Network or even Acts 29 per se, nor is it to give direct reference to the ‘Emerging Churches’ issue, though it may include some of those involved with those items. Rather I use the term in a general sense – ‘newly formed, or just coming up’, pastors who are just entering ministry after seminary. Typically emerging pastors are in their 20’s and 30’s and find their context focused largely upon their peers, many of whom because of the social trends today are single, urban, and culturally savvy.

[2] Peter L. Berger. A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural. (New York: Doubleday, 1969).

[3] Os Guiness. The Grave Digger Files: Papers on the Subversion of the Modern Church. (Chicago: Intervarsity, 1983).

[4] http://www.pcaac.org/2007GeneralAssembly/Fed%20%20Vision%20Rept%20%205-11-07.pdf.

[5] Robert Webber. Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World. (Baker Academic, 1999).

[6] Brian Mclaren. A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN. (Zondervan, 2004).

[7] http://www.newattitude.org/blog/

[8] ‘machismo’ at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machismo; ‘macho’ at http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/macho; inclusive to meaning of both these words is a domineering social attitude toward those perceived as less important or honorable. A prominently exhibited and excessive sense personal sense of virility that typically bullies and dehumanizes the weaker ‘other’.

[9] John Frame’s article captures this well, “Studying Theology as a Servant of Jesus.”

[10] http://www.redeemer2.com/resources/papers/missional.pdf. For a different look at the missional church, see Darrell L. Guder’s edited volume, The Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. Ed Stetzers’ book, Planting Missional Churches. Craig Van Gelders’ book, The Ministry of the Missional Church: A community led by the Spirit. Or Earl Creps, Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual adventures of missional leaders.

[11] Ibid., Keller, pg. 3.

[12] Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The coming of global Christianity and The Next Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the global South.

[13] See David J. Bosch. A Spirituality of the Road.(England: Wipf & Stock, 2001).

[14] See Ed. Darrell Guder. Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. (Chicago: Eerdmans, 1998).

[15] Eugene Peterson. The Long Obedience In the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. (Intervarsity, 2000)

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