Episode 135: Streams in the Wasteland

In this episode Daniel and Andrew sit down to talk about Andrew’s recently released Streams in the Wasteland: Finding Spiritual Renewal with the Desert Fathers and MothersGrab your copy on Amazon!

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We moved here in 2017 after having been a pastor for eight years in Denver… and I was not prepared for the spiritual crisis that would create… it felt like getting put in a witness protection program… I couldn’t find my equilibrium…

In the midst of that, someone told me I needed to read the desert fathers and mothers… when I asked why, he said, “Because the thing that you feel like is being thrust upon you, they sought out, and found it to be a place where God could be found…”

They gave me language to make sense of the desolate space… God’s people find God in the wilderness… my own healing was not complete where I got to the point where I never needed to lead again… I fell in love with “My God and my All…”

It’s easy for us to look at them as socially awkward misanthropes who justified their retreat with spiritual language… but sometimes a situation is so toxic that you have to separate yourself in order to find the love of God and others again…

A mischaracterization of them is that they severed themselves from the truth… even if they create some creative distance, they still live in community and they still go to church…

Thomas Merton said that now, the wasteland is everywhere… which means that the wisdom of the desert is wisdom for our time… what does it look like to cultivate true humanness?

Our speech is one of the most critical issues in our moment… social media invites and even rewards us for adding more heat to the conversation than light, which is why we’re living in an increasingly polarized society…

God’s speech is creative speech that gives life, and he gives that same gift to human beings… fallen man can take the power of the word and warp it and cause reality to fray… it grieves the Spirit when we use our words to tear down…

Maybe the greatest moral achievement of our age is can we sit in a room with people with whom we vehemently disagree and neither feel the need to conquer them or feel the need to bail out and run away… 

Episode 126: All Things Beautiful with Dr. Chris Green

In this episode we sit down with Dr. Chris Green to talk about how Jesus reveals himself to us through the arts. This conversation is an engagement with Chris’s book All Things Beautiful. Grab a copy here.

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My encounter with literature and the arts is what led to my becoming a theologian… I grew up in a Pentecostal church, but didn’t read the Bible with any artfulness… but after my encounter with the arts, the Bible became something entirely different…

Too often, we read the Bible for the way it affirms and confirms our ideas… we need to learn to give it the kind of attention Jesus gives to us… not looking for confirmation of our ideas, but receiving it for what it is, and marveling at it…

Proverbs, for instance, opens with a call to the young to learn wisdom… but to do that, you have to attend to “the dark sayings of the wise”… 

This is striking to me because the churches I grew up in put pressure on the preacher to make the truth plain… we didn’t want to do the difficult work of interpretation… but I think what Israel knew and what Jesus embodies is that we need to do the difficult work of interpretation…

The artfulness of the artist is to make art difficult in all the right ways… 

Artfulness opens us up to the way that God saves us… Emily Dickenson tells us to “tell the truth slant”… which speaks to the way that God saves us… God is sometimes startlingly direct in the Bible… but most of the time is like the road to Emmaus—God is there, but not obvious…

We need to recognize the good of difficulty… when something is demanding, it summons parts of yourself you didn’t know were there… so God is demanding in a way that summons out of us gifts we didn’t know we had…

Another part of this is our brokenness… the universe seems “riddled” to us because we are the ones who are “riddled”… in our brokenness, God teaches how to become truthful… 

The arts also give us the skills we need to turn to others… when give our attention to the arts and they surprise us, it teaches me that the next time I’m with a person, if I’ll give them my attention, they will surprise us…

Episode 122: An Interview with Dr. Gregg Okesson – Witnessing To A Complex World (Pt. 2)

In this episode we pick up our conversation with Dr. Gregg Okesson to talk with his book A Public Missiology: How Local Churches Witness to a Complex World and what it looks like for local churches to witness to the reign of Jesus Christ in all of life.

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Sending is an important function for the church… but historically one of the most radical things that Christians have done is to gather… we need to think of local congregations as people who gather in ways that are different from the world…

People talk about the problems of people bringing their politics and ideologies to church… but that happens all the time… we need the sacraments, worship, and preaching to challenge those ideologies…

This is where we need to be a people of difference—we worship the King of the universe… all ideologies need to be challenged at the foot of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ…

One of my heroes is Lesslie Newbigin, who said that the cross is a profound “no” to all ideologies… they all need to come to the foot of the cross and die… just like individuals, even “publics” need to come and die…

But Newbigin also said that the resurrection is a glorious “yes” to God’s creating and reconciling work… we need to go out into the fullness of God’s world saying “yes” to politics and economics… 

If we take public witness seriously, we will discover the gospel of Jesus Christ… there’s a lot of preaching out there that has nothing to do with the gospel, or is so thin that it has no ability to speak to the public realm…

To preachers I would say that while it’s wonderful to get into all kinds of exegesis, we need to tell the full story of the gospel over and over again… the world is “storying” us one way, and we have the greatest story of all… we need to tell it to our people… 

Every congregation is different and pastors need to know their congregations… they need to know where and how to affirm the good… but if we are not regularly calling into question the reigning assumptions of our day, we are not fulfilling our role as preachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ… 

Pastors need to spend time with people and live in the “publics” around their congregation… we need to do strong biblical exegesis and strong cultural exegesis at the same time…

Episode 121: An Interview with Dr. Gregg Okesson – Witnessing To A Complex World (Pt. 1)

In this episode we sit down with Dr. Gregg Okesson to talk with his book A Public Missiology: How Local Churches Witness to a Complex World and what it looks like for local churches to witness to the reign of Jesus Christ in all of life. This is the first of two episodes.

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The challenge for me while planting churches in Tanzania was trying to witness not just to individuals but to large, complex social needs…

In the process of allowing my understanding of the gospel to enter into the day-to-day public realities, I actually found the gospel…

Christ is reconciling all things to himself… so the challenge for us is to enter into complex public spaces with a gospel of salvation that is big enough for the whole world… 

The gospel is good news, but we’ve often made it bad news… it’s about the inauguration of Jesus Christ as king and lord of the whole universe… 

Historically, evangelicals have opted for simplicity over complexity… but when you look at the story of God, it is a complex story… across time and space and ethnicity… 

I use the language of “thickness”—God is weaving a “thick” witness in a “thick” world and too often we have tried to witness to the thickness of the world with a too-simple gospel… 

We need to start to practice the discipline of intentional inconvenience in our churches… if we’re not inconvenienced in our churches, the gospel will become captive to our culture… 

The public realm is drastically shaping the way that we live… from cell phones to music to television to streaming video… we are immersed in it…

“Publics” are spaces of togetherness where humans form life and build community that also have “open weave” in them… 

We tend to think of these “publics” or “domains” as discrete, but they are actually overlapping each other every day of our lives… 

The problem that we face is that we don’t realize how all of these overlapping “publics” are impacting us… it is forming us and shaping us… we need to spend more time exegeting the ways that it is forming us… 

Episode 120: A Church Called Tov (Pt. 2)

In this episode we pick up our conversation with Dr. Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer to discuss their book A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing.

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The first thing I would say to young leaders is that every pastor needs to become self-aware through a battery of psychological tests, to try to expose traits of narcissism… 

We also need to restore to the pastoral calling the centrality of character… just like culture eats strategy for breakfast, so character eats culture for breakfast… a bad character will form the culture… 

We have so valued the platform and performance gifts… pastors on the platform exude a persona… people think that is the real person… they are responding to a persona… 

We need to start putting persons of character on the platform more than just persons of gifts… 

TOV is the Hebrew word for good… God created everything good… this word is used in the Old Testament hundreds of times… it is master moral category… God is TOV, everything he makes is TOV, and he wants us to be TOV…

We found seven elements of TOV that flipped the script: empathy, grace, putting people first, telling the truth, nurturing justice, nurturing service, and nurturing Christlikeness…

We could do ourselves a world of good by giving our budding pastors a test, for instance, on how empathic they are… 

Power physically changes the brain… all of us have power at some level… when we have unbridled and uncensored power, it is damaging to the person who has it along with those who are on the receiving end of it…

The people that have wrecked churches and ministries over the last twenty years had power without boundaries… it never ends well…

Leaders need to learn the habit of being in touch with people in pain, and watching how they are responding to them… 

If power is something that changes the brain, we need to practice the habit of losing power and having people over us who have more power than we do… 

We also need to learn to invite people to the platform who are better than us… the pain of wondering if people like someone else better than you is a good thing… 

Episode 119: A Church Called Tov (Pt. 1)

In this episode we sit down with Dr. Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer to discuss their book A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing. This is a two part episode.

Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube Channel and follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to stay connected with us throughout the week!

It was a disorienting experience to have our church covering up the truth… it launched a series of conversations about how Scripture was not being interpreted the way it should… 

Around the same time, I read a book on the German pastors and how they responded to the Holocaust that shocked me… it showed the power of sinfulness of Christian leaders… when confronted by the truth, they didn’t confess their sins… 

Pastors have an enormous power over people… and have the capacity to assume a platform and narrate a story that trusting people are going to believe… when the narrative is distorting, cynicism arises in the church…

I found the way that Matthew 18 was being used irritating… they were using that text to say that if a woman thinks that a leader abused her, she has a responsibility to tell him… that will protect a pastor every time…

We need to ask, “Who has the advantage?” when Matthew 18 is being used… it is never appropriate to require a victim of abuse to confront their abuser privately…

A sign of institutional narcissism is when you shift from thinking that your church is helpful to thinking that your church is the best church in the world and where you think that all other churches are inferior…

This isn’t just an issues with megachurches… small churches are impacted by it too… thinking that you are the true people of God is insidious and dangerous… 

Since writing this book, we’ve gotten tons of letters from people who have been impacted by power-through-fear cultures…

Power is a very interesting phenomenon that is wielded wisely and recklessly by the same people in the same churches, and we need to be more conscious of it…

There’s such a thrill for people to be in the pastor’s inner circle, that it becomes like a shield of pride… but it’s a double-edged sword—you can both welcome people in and kick them out… it’s like a drug for many people… 

Episode 118: The Power of Place

In this interview we sit down with Daniel Grothe and talk about his new book The Power of Place: Choosing Stability in a Rootless Age. Snag a copy of The Power of Place HERE.

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The question of “what is the good life” has bugged me for a long time… as I pay attention to people who are living good lives, all of them have lived lives of stability in place…

This was actually the first book I wanted to write… I think that wisdom looks like a rooted life in place… 

Summers in my childhood were spent in Idaho with my family… they worked the land hard and were tired at the end of the day… I don’t get to live exactly like that, but as a pastor I’ve tried to live that way…

With the Gerasene demoniac, this is the first time Jesus tells someone, “You can’t follow me…” Jesus sends him home… when Jesus finds him, he is on the fringes, he is place-less… Jesus heals him and sends him back into his life, to live settled… 

When we look at the Bible, see that place helps us find security… place helps us find identity… and place helps us learn skilled mastery… 

God is not the God of abstraction… he doesn’t bless us out in the ether somewhere, but he blesses us in place… the story of God ends with the new Jerusalem descending to earth which gives life and security to the nations… creation itself is re-placed, re-homed…

We need to remember that Jesus is Jesus OF NAZARETH… he comes to us in our particularity… he comes into the story to put together heaven and earth, flesh and spirit… 

Adam and Eve started wondering what they were missing out on, and it led to their looking outside of the limitations of the good life that God had given them… when we live at the edges, we miss out on the gift at the center…

When people leave our churches for silly reasons, I always think to myself, “You’re going to have a stranger bury you? I should be burying you… or if I go first, you should be at my funeral… you’re going to throw that away?”

Sometimes you can’t stay in a place… even then you can live by certain principles… Jeremiah 29:1-10 helps us… wherever you are, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which you’ve been sent into exile… God will bless you there… 

Online church is a great tool, but it’s not a congregation… it will never replace the body of Christ, the local congregation of the saints… 

Episode 115: The Resilient Pastor (Pt. 2)

IIn this episode (part two of two) we sit down with Glenn Packiam to talk with him about his forthcoming book The Resilient PastorLeading Your Church in a Rapidly Changing World. (Releases in February—order HERE.)

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The new paganism presents a real challenge… because if people are managing the practical needs of their lives by getting what they need through the new paganism, it makes the church’s appeal more difficult… what does the church offer that people don’t already have…?

This is one of the reasons why the gospel is racing through the global South and is waning in the West… the church is in decline in the West in part because we’re rich and have our needs met… 

Part of the reason it also may be in decline is that because we have positioned the gospel as only therapeutic, and once the practical need is satisfied, then the need for the gospel goes away… but perhaps the gospel is about MORE than the therapeutic… 

Another thing we are seeing is expressive individualism… it is the exaltation of the self as the source and goal of all goodness… my measure of what I am going to do is whether or not it will make “me” a “better me”…

People used to discover meaning in the world, but now we think that our job is to construct meaning in the world… this is why we hear people talk about “your truth” and “my truth”… it sounds nice in the suburbs, but it doesn’t work in Taliban-haunted Afghanistan…

What Christian spirituality has to do is claim the interiority while also showing how all the pieces of the world fit together… 

The aftermath of all of this is very messy… one person said, “I don’t believe in God, but I miss him…” and I think that describes so many people… 

I have an impulse in my heart to say that the church just needs to keep its doors open and trust that people will come… but Jesus is the one who goes out after the lost sheep… we need to go out and meet the culture where it is at…

We must never give up on the one thing that we have to offer that no one else does—the presence and power of God… 

We need to make room for the power of God… Paul says that one of the signs that the Gentiles belong to the kingdom is that the Spirit is at work… people don’t come to church for the coffee; they come for the presence and power of God, and that’s the one thing we’re carrying… 

Episode 114: The Resilient Pastor (Pt. 1)

In this episode (part one of two) we sit down with Glenn Packiam to talk with him about his forthcoming book The Resilient PastorLeading Your Church in a Rapidly Changing World. (Releases in February—order HERE.)

Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube Channel and follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to stay connected with us throughout the week!

In some ways the pandemic was the instigator of new changes… in other ways it accelerated some that were already in process… and in still other ways it revealed changes that had happened that maybe we had masked over… 

The tectonic plates that have shifted are Christianity and country… many of the things that we take for granted in Western civilization (like civil rights) have Christian roots… but now Christianity no longer has a prominent place… 

The big question for Western civilization is whether we can keep the fruit of a Christian culture when it is severed from its roots…

To say that we are in a “secular age” does not mean that we are post-religion, it means that we have decoupled the relationship between religion and the ordering of society…

Now we are seeing a surge in the gap left by that decoupling… one of the elements of that surge is a new pluralism in the West which is syncrestic and imperialistic… the new pluralism is where people say “I’ll take a dash of Buddhism and a dash of Hinduism and a little Christianity…”

In a way, the new pluralism is a response to religious fundamentalism… if embracing religions in their totality is seen to be evil, then taking a little of each is a way of hedging our bets…

One of the challenges here is that when I’m in conversations with people and they are leveraging a critique against the church, they don’t recognize that many of those critiques are dependent on what the church has taught…

There’s a greater burden now on the church to show that what it is teaching is good… that religion is good is no longer taken for granted… there’s an invitation of the Spirit here to show how what we believe is good for civil society…

Christianity at its best has always at its best has been able to name what is good about different religions and systems of thought while also showing how Christ corrects and completes them…

Another element of the surge is a new kind of paganism… in the old paganism, you used the gods as means to your own end… the new paganism is things like technology, commerce, and politics… it is a way to get what I want and make me feel better…  

Episode 112: An Interview with Tara Beth Leach – Radiant Church: Restoring the Credibility of our Witness

In this episode we sit down with pastor and author Tara Beth Leach to talk about her book Radiant Church: Restoring the Credibility of our Witness and what the church can do to recover a kingdom ethos. Grab a copy of her book here.
Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube Channel and follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to stay connected with us throughout the week! I am a daughter of evangelicalism… I wanted to be like Billy Graham when I grew up… the first time I walked into Willow Creek, I thought it was the epitome of what the church could be about… that’s just how I was formed…  It wasn’t until 2007 and 2008 that I began to look around and say, “Something isn’t right, here”… the first thing was women in ministry… so many women who were gifted to teach and preach didn’t have a role and they were leaving the church to take corporate jobs…  Later, seeing the church’s participation in Christian nationalism, racism, and success culture and the failure of many church leaders made me think that something wasn’t right…   It’s important that we love the church AND critique the church… we can be “all in” and still critique the church…  We have rooted ourselves in storylines that are not grounded in the grand narrative of Scripture… we have to go back and recover that narrative… our call to bear witness begins with Abraham where the Lord tells him that his descendants will shine like stars… we are those stars…  Let me be the first to confess that I am lured to success as much as anyone… I have always worked in the megachurch world, and it is so easy to pay attention to measurables like attendance and money… it’s easy to lose sight of the more important questions…   We have been hijacked by individualism in the church… it has distorted our witness… when faith becomes all about me, or all about a ticket to heaven, then we forsake the prayer that Jesus teaches, “on earth as it is in heaven” in which we participate as a PEOPLE…   We can’t talk about the missional crisis in the church until we talk about the formational crisis first… the gospel is about restoration, about the healing of all creation… the kingdom mission is about a partnership with the work that the triune God is doing to restore all creation…  We are called to be Great Commandment AND Great Commission people… justice and evangelism need to be reclaimed as the mission that we’ve been called to…   One practice we need to cultivate is a new kind of examen… we need to open ourselves to the Spirit by listening to our neighbors, women, people of color, and people that have been hurt by the church… not listening to prove a point but listening to receive…