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.

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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 111: An Interview with Lucy Peppiatt – Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women (Pt. 2)

In this episode (part two of two) we sit down with theologian and New Testament scholar Lucy Peppiatt to talk about her book Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts in which she unpacks why and how the biblical texts traditionally used to support the subordination of women to men might not be saying what we think they’re saying.

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With Genesis 2, people will say that because the woman was made after the man, she is subordinated to him… but I don’t think that’s warranted by the text… 

But with Genesis 3:16, it’s very interesting… human beings have eaten of the fruit, and God speaks over them the world that they have now created for themselves… God is revealing to them what they are going to have to live with… 

There are traditions that would say that God is speaking curses over them, but I see it as God saying, “This is what I told you would happen…” So his words to the woman encapsulate the dysfunctional relationship that now ensues between the man and the woman… 

Household codes were a normal part of the ancient world, and were normally addressed to men… Paul is making any great and different claim by calling the male of the household the “head”… it is descriptive not prescriptive… 

But what is fascinating about the Christian household is that the texts address the woman directly… women, slaves, and children are all addressed, along with the men… this is really powerful, subversive teaching…  

The apostles are saying to the men that their wives are their only sexual partner, which is radical for the ancient world… the men are called to a much higher standard than any other men of their time… they are called to a monogamous, loving relationship with their wives, in front of everyone… 

We might have wanted Paul to go further in overturning oppressive systems, but when we look at his letters, we can see that the seeds of revolution are planted… 

Ephesus was a place where the cult of Artemis was central… many wealthy women in Ephesus were priestesses in the cult, and it seems that some converted and came into the church, and became the false teachers…  

Once you realize this, you can construct a picture [of what Paul was addressing in 1 Timothy 2]… it helps make sense of Paul’s words…

Episode 110: An Interview with Lucy Peppiatt – Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women (Pt. 1)

In this episode (part one of two) we sit down with theologian and New Testament scholar Lucy Peppiatt to talk about her book Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts in which she unpacks why and how the biblical texts traditionally used to support the subordination of women to men might not be saying what we think they’re saying.

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In my twenties I made a commitment to Jesus and married an Anglican clergyman… I was busy with church and kids but felt like God was calling me into a ministry and teaching… and loved it… as I sought more training in theology, I found that I loved that too… I did a masters and halfway through was encouraged to do a PhD…  

Instead of “complementarian” I use the term “mutualist”… I was drawn to this term because when I first heard the term “complementarian” I assumed it meant someone who believed that male and female complemented each other perfectly…  

When I later learned what “complementarian” meant, I realized it assumed a power structure between men and women and that is not what I thought… I think men and women are different and those differences are good, but I don’t think “complementarian” best describes what I think… 

These issues are not cosmetic for the church, but they strike to the core of the church’s understanding of salvation…  

My experience of coming to know God in my twenties was uncompromisingly affirming… it built me up as a person… encountering the love of God was really life-changing… when I discovered [subordinationist theology] I realized that kind of setup of relationships hinders or blocks the revelation of God to a woman of who she is in Christ… 

I think that it prevents her from understanding that before Christ she can come into the fullness of who she is, without needing a man to mediate that to her… it’s a distortion of the gospel because it is a distortion of what Christ says to a woman… 

Genesis 1, 2, and 3 are seminal texts… we know based on Genesis 1 that male and female together are made in the image of God…  

Old Testament scholars make a very clear case for the phrase “helper suitable” connoting strength and mutuality… for the Hebrew phrase to be translated “helpmeet” when the word itself [Hebrew: ezer] has been used for God, it is disingenuous…

When the man cries out “this is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone”, he is saying that she is his perfect counterpart who will be with him and is his substance and equal… that she comes from his side denotes equality and mutuality…

Episode 108: An Interview with Winn Collier – A Burning in My Bones

In this episode we sit down with Winn Collier, Director of the Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination at Western Theological Seminary and to talk with him about the release of his book, A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene Peterson. Grab a copy here.

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When I was a young, struggling pastor, someone handed me Eugene Peterson’s Working the Angles… I needed that book… I didn’t have language for what it meant to be a pastor, and Eugene gave me the starting of that language… 

A lot of people don’t understand Eugene… they think that even though he grew up Pentecostal, he left it in a huff… but that wasn’t true… he was invited into the Presbyterian world and at the end of the day it was more about what was in front of him… 

For someone who had as deep an ecclesiology as he did, he was profoundly un-enamored with any kind of ideal about any church tradition… when people asked why he was Presbyterian, he would say, “Because God put me here and I made a promise…” 

Eugene asked God to make him a saint… but a saint for him wasn’t someone who had achieved a nirvana-like experience but rather someone who in their very human body was so ravished by the love of Christ that their interior and exterior were becoming congruent… 

Eugene had a burning longing for holiness, for God… and at the same time he understood that a saint was someone who was becoming more and more human… that was the source of his gravitas… 

He insisted in a hundred different ways that all of our ideals have got to die… our pictures of the world are not the real world… until we let Jesus illuminate the actual realities of our life, we will just be fighting against God… 

There are a lot of things that Eugene stands for which we hear in an abstracted kind of way… but Eugene didn’t believe in abstract principles… he was interested in particular people in particular situations… he always started with, “Tell me what God is doing in your life…” 

When you ask the question, “What does Eugene Peterson contribute to the pastoral imagination?”, I think the answer is, “God…” 

We are so desperate to have God at the very core of our being again… all the upheaval we are seeing in our culture… and all the questions we are holding about the future… what the future holds is God… Eugene relentlessly pointed to the Triune God…

Episode 106: An Interview with Dr. Chris Green – Sanctifying Interpretation

In this episode we sit down with Dr. Chris Green to talk about his book, Sanctifying Interpretation, and how God uses the ‘troubling texts’ of Scripture to make us holy. Grab a copy of it here, and/or read Andrew’s review of it here.

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My relationship with Scripture began in church… we went to church 4-5 times per week and the sermons were almost always from the Old Testament… the readings of the Old Testament were almost always typological… 

From the time of my childhood, the Old Testament texts—especially the troubling ones—have been the ones that have drawn me…  

I believe that God is like Jesus… if that is true, then all of Scripture is written by Jesus… so we should look at his teaching to see what the rest of Scripture is… 

When you look at the Gospel portraits of Jesus, you see that he is incredibly difficult… we have this notion that Jesus was a simple teacher… but that’s not true… Jesus in the Gospels almost never says anything that anyone understands, and when they do think they understand it they try to kill him… that’s true to what the Old Testament is… 

Before I wrote this book, I was convinced that you couldn’t talk about reading Scripture without first talking about what it means to be human and what it means to be the people of God… human beings have a calling: to be interpreters and mediators, and we mediate by interpreting… we are priests in that way… 

This, I believe, is the only way to understand why God would give us the Bible in the first place: it must be that he means for us to have to grapple with texts… Jesus never writes anything himself; he inspires others to write his story—and this is how Jesus writes and teaches… 

The reason that interpretation is difficult is because the process of becoming holy people is difficult…  

When we’re reading troubling texts, the first and most important thing is to pay attention to the fact that we are troubled, to lean into it, and to ask why we are troubled…  

Everyone says that the Old Testament is full of judgment… but if you actually go back and read the texts, what you see is that without exception, the judgments fail to work… no judgment short of the judgment that falls on Christ actually solves the human situation…  

Everyone needs to read Scripture… but we need to stop talking about it and actually read it, and read it well… we need to defamiliarize ourselves with our “readings” of Scripture and go back and read them with fresh eyes…