Women in theology, book 1 of 10: Reframing Hope

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A few weeks ago on this blog, I wrote about how a disproportionate number of religious books are written by men. In response, I was flooded with suggestions of female religious writers, more than 70 authors in all, to help correct the imbalance on my own bookshelf.

After taking some time to learn about each author, I narrowed down the list down to ten books I plan to read by the end of the year.

Earlier this week, I finished the first book on my list, Reframing Hope by Carol Howard Merritt. My choice of where to start was driven partly by a pragmatic consideration: I’m starting with the books I already have. Carol was generous enough to send me a copy of Reframing Hope. (She also sent copies of her other books, Tribal Church and Fighting for Peacewhich look equally intriguing.)

My plan over the coming weeks is to share some of my takeaways from each book. I’m not planning to review each book, per se. I don’t see it as my place to judge which voices are worthy of a hearing. Instead, I want to adopt the posture of a learner. My primary hope is to learn the art of listening to voices I haven’t always been very good at hearing.

Now, on with the show…

Reframing Hope CoverReframing Hope
by Carol Howard Merritt

The premise of Reframing Hope is to help churches to thrive in a constantly shifting world so they can meaningfully connect with their communities—and, in particular, with new generations. Carol argues for churches doing what they’ve have always had to do: contextualize the “hope within us” for the world in which we find ourselves, not the one that existed 50 years ago.

Some of the things I appreciated most about Carol’s book…

The way she transcends the extremes of stubborn resistance to change on the one hand and, on the other hand, a reactionary tendency to throw everything old out the window.

The way she expertly diagnoses recent trends in three distinct streams: mainline, evangelical, and emergent—and relates them to the larger cultural and technological shifts taking place. She connects the dots in ways I hadn’t considered before.

The wisdom she shares on using technology as a tool for ministry. On the one hand, Carol unpacks some of the dangers of relying too much on faceless digital technology. One danger I hadn’t thought much about until reading Carol’s book is how all this technology, if not carefully used, can reinforce inequality between the economically privileged and the disadvantaged, who have less access to technology. Yet Carol also shows how social media can be a tool for nurturing community, alongside (not in place of) more traditional means.

She practices what she preaches, too. Case in point: Carol and I have never met in person. Our interaction to date has been confined to a few tweets and maybe the occasional blog comment. Yet she saw my post about wanting to expand my reading list so I could start listening to more female voices, and she offered to send me some of her books. That may not sound like much, but look at it this way. She made a meaningful investment in my spiritual formation. It required the gift of her time, a certain amount of money to send me her books, and genuine concern on her part for someone she’s never even met. All made possible by Twitter and her willingness to use her platform for community-building rather than empire-building.

Loyal radicals

I also appreciated how relatable some aspects of Carol’s journey were. We both grew up in evangelical churches, we both intersected (to varying degrees) with the emergent movement, and we both wound up finding a home in the mainline church. I’m especially grateful to Carol because she gave me new language to help make sense of my own journey. She writes about “loyal radicals” who possess many of the same proclivities as their emergent counterparts, yet find themselves drawn to more “institutional” expressions of the church.

Carol makes a powerful case for the importance of these institutions, too. Some in the emergent stream like to think of denominations as a thing of the past, having long outlived their usefulness. Tony Jones, for example, talks about the “denouement of denominations.” To him, this is not a tragedy but something to celebrate. Elsewhere, he writes, “Few things piss me off as much as the sinful bureaucratic systems of denominational Christianity.”

Emergent Christianity imagines itself breaking the shackles of organized religion in the name of inclusivity and progressive values. Yet the leadership of emergent is almost entirely white and male. And if some of the more explosive charges made recently are true (see the comment thread on David Hayward’s recent post), then the emerging church has a long way to go before it can claim to have put sexism and misogyny behind it.

It was the mainline church—for all its bureaucratic inefficiencies (and oh there are many) that gave Carol a platform for ministry, that affirmed her calling and made room for her and others like her to lead. As she writes:

The organic leadership model, where pastors are raised up through the community without the shackles of a denomination, did not work for me—and I daresay that model probably fails to work for countless other women, as well as some historically disadvantaged minorities…. Although many emergent church leaders point to the denominational church as an unredeemable bureaucratic structure that stifles innovation and is inseparably bound to modernism, I have a different experience. I have found denominational congregations to be less hierarchical because they encourage leadership of women more and have a longevity that allows the community to thrive long after the pastor is gone.

Carol makes a crucial distinction between the empire-building so pervasive in some corners of the church and the community-building she advocates. She offers a prophetic critique of the “bigger-is-always-better” mentality that has shaped much of evangelicalism—and the broader culture—for the past 50 years:

From our produce to our political power to our pulpits, we decided that bigger is better. We opted for less personal contact. We began to lose sight of what is good for our communities and began to focus on the individual. However, the bigger-is-always-better attitude left us empty, anxious, and depressed.

Denominations, for all their faults, offer a means of accountability and stability. It’s harder to build your own empire within the confines of a denomination. There’s a reason why there are fewer “celebrity pastors” in mainline churches. We understand that, as Carol writes, “When a church rises up around a charismatic leader, the congregation tends to dissolve when that leader leaves.” Outside of a denomination, there’s nothing to hold someone like Mark Driscoll accountable to charges of abuse, because he is an empire unto himself. Denominations value continuity, accountability, and inclusion. And as Carol can attest, there is often more follow-through on these commitments within denominational structures than outside them.

“Words create reality.”

Carol’s book is not about helping aging mainliners come to grips with modern technology. (Though for anyone who’s wondering how to bring their church into the digital age, she has lots of great advice to share.)

Reframing Hope envisions something bigger. It calls for a renewal of both the medium and the message. Carol understands the power of narrative for igniting change. And, dang, she can preach. One of my favorite extended passages in the book comes from the chapter on retelling the message:

Scripture reminds us that we have the power to bless and to curse (Gen. 12:3). This may seem like a foreign concept, but any father who hears the words “I love you” from his child knows the power of a blessing. The words create a reality. Parents also often have the power to bless and curse, and indeed we parents are typically the first ones to create our children’s realities. Our answers to their question of “Who do you say that I am?” have a lasting effect on them, for better or worse… We are a storied people. Our lives are formed by the truths and lies we’ve been told throughout the years.

In the same way, as people of the Word, Christians are connected through words to a larger history and tradition. In the story of creation, we recall how God created out of nothing, through the use of words… The Word then became the history of a people. As the story unfolds, we read of the fiery and comforting words of the prophets. Words are eaten. Words blacken the mouth. Words become as sweet as honey. Words are set in stone and carried around in a dramatic covenantal ark. They are lost and they are found.

Then we read how Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, dwelt among us. Over the centuries, as the church formed and continues to form, the Word becomes central to our lives. We say and hear, “This cup is the new covenant,” and we know these words signify a new reality, a new relationship of promise, forgiveness, and reconciliation…

All of these words bind us to a story, a purpose, a community; they form as they inform us.

What we need, Carol writes, is to recover a narrative understanding of the Bible. We need people “who can present the facts [of our story] within a context and with an emotional impact.” We need to recover the art of sharing the good news—that is, sharing our story.

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing mainline churches is that we are too easily fixated on what Carol calls a message of deprivation: “Come to our church because we need more people, money, and energy (which doesn’t sound like good news at all).”

She continues:

If churches can develop and communicate a narrative that invites people to enter—if they are places where a person can slip into the pew for an hour of internal wrestling, where she can mentally question everything that happens, and at the end of it, she knows that such questioning is okay—then people will attend again… It’s an extensive, tough, and beautiful process. And it is one of the great things about being the church.

That’s one of the most important things that I took from Carol’s book. She reminded me of some of the genuinely good things that are still true about the church, while prophetically inviting us into a new era of ministry.

Next up: the other book already on my shelf, The Gospel of Ruth by Carolyn Custis James

Matthew Paul Turner’s Great Big American God

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God has an image problem. The question is, which God are we talking about?

There have been many manifestations of God over the last four centuries of American religious history, according to Matthew Paul Turner’s newest book, Our Great Big American God. MPT’s sweeping historical overview doesn’t always make for comfortable reading. That’s because nothing is sacred in this book.

Then again, when you’re writing about how we’ve continuously made and remade God in our own image, maybe nothing should be sacred.

Unknown-1From the Pilgrims to Jonathan Edwards and the creepiest children’s sermon ever… from the emergence of modern-day evangelicalism to the corporatization of God… MPT dismantles the popular, sanitized version of our history—one that depicts America as a shining “city on a hill” planted by God himself. The effect can be jarring at times, even for those of us who’ve long since grown suspicious of the sanitized version.

Take, for example, how Our Great Big American God demolishes the notion that the Puritans came to America for the sake of religious freedom in any broad sense of the term. In truth, they came for their own religious freedom. Once on these shores, they ruthlessly denied such liberty to anyone who believed differently that they did. As MPT concludes, they effectively turned God into a “controlling, state-run deity, the same God that had made England so impossible for them to endure.” Just ask Roger Williams. Or Anne Hutchinson.

A few chapters later, Our Great Big American God turns its attention to D.L. Moody, the father of mass evangelism and a forerunner of sorts to Billy Graham (though the oft-repeated story of a chain of religious conversions connecting the two men is largely untrue). Our Great Big American God doesn’t shy away from the darker side of Moody’s legacy: his uncomfortably close ties with the robber barons of the Gilded Age and how he openly preached against the labor rights movement—at a time when child labor was commonplace and the average worker toiled 10-hour days, six days a week in dangerous and often downright horrific conditions.

Our Great Big American God also traces the development of dispensational theology in the 1800s by men like J.N. Darby and C.I. Scofield, including the invention of the rapture. It directly connects dispensationalism to the American church’s failure at times to practice the kind of radical compassion embodied by Jesus and his first followers:

Darby’s ideas not only changed how America’s Christians thought about God and the Bible but also how they thought about the world. According to Scofield, Christians shouldn’t worry about “the reformation of society.” He said, “What Christ did not do, the Apostles did not do. Not one of them was a reformer.” Which is why so many of America’s Christians do little to improve American society, because why bother when Jesus is coming back?

If you find yourself cheering while MPT takes on someone else’s golden calf, just wait. He’ll probably tackle something that hits a bit closer to home before long. Like I said, nothing is sacred in this book. Reading Our Great Big American God was at times an unsettling experience for me. But the conclusion it points to should be unsettling for all of us:

That’s because all of us have fashioned God after our own image, to one degree or another.

God has become, in effect, “like a naked paper doll, one that free individuals could and would dress up into whatever Americanized deity they liked. Which is exactly what Americans have been doing with God all along.”

We think it’s God’s story we’re telling when, all too often, what we’re really doing is using God’s name to baptize or legitimize our own agenda. Which is why God so often ends up (conveniently enough) being angry about the same things we’re angry about and hating all the same people we hate.

The irony, of course, is that this leads to a smaller view of God, even when we think we’re proclaiming a big, all-powerful deity. Whether it’s the Puritans in the 17th century or John Piper in 21st, this is what happens “when God is left in the hands of angry people of faith.”

The big sovereign God that Christians usually boast about becomes a small and narrow-minded deity incapable of handling unorthodox ideas, at least not without humans helping him to carry the burden… As hard as we try to demand that God be this or declare that God hates that, in the end, our actions often undermine our understandings about the sovereignty of God.

Our Great Big American God should prompt plenty of discussion and debate, to echo what Chaplain Mike said in his review for Internet Monk. But it should also prompt a fresh dose of humility—for all of us—in how we go about telling God’s story. Being confronted with the less savory bits of our religious history should remind us that maybe we don’t have God entirely figured out, after all.

To quote something Matthew Paul Turner shared in a recent interview with Bedlam Magazine:

If we really care about God’s story we would be more careful how we express it. We would approach it with gentleness and questions and humility as opposed to such confidence and arrogance that we are just absolutely convinced that we know what God thinks about this issue. I hope it gets people talking about our Christian history and how there are so many bits and pieces of our history that play out in the here and now. As we tell the story it would behoove us to consider the words we use.

Our Great Big American God is worth reading, even if it makes you squirm at times. Which it should.

On reading my book to my daughter for the first time…

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Last night I read The Story of King Jesus to my daughter for the first time. Well, I read printouts with not-quite final art that my publisher gave me last week. Still, it was a moment I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.

It’s been two years since I shared the first draft of what became The Story of King Jesus. Then Scot McKnight picked it up and shared it on his blog. Many, MANY rewrites later, it was a book proposal…and finally (after more rewrites), an actual book with a publisher and a release date and everything (ahem, March 2015). But it’s always been—and always will be—something I wrote for my daughter. This is how I want to introduce her to our faith.

She’s picked up bits and pieces about Jesus over the years. She knows Christmas is when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, though she wonders why she’s never seen him in person before. We’ve read some Easter books together, as well as excerpts from The Jesus Storybook Bible and the Children of God Storybook Bible by Desmond Tutu. But this was her first time hearing the whole story of Jesus in one sitting—including the story of Israel, which he brings to fulfillment.

I think one of the reasons we reduce the gospel to a handful precepts or sound bites is because we’re not sure our kids are up for something bigger. Or because we don’t think of the gospel as being primarily a story. Or maybe we worry our kids won’t have the attention span for something more than a few quick bullet points about sin and salvation.

I want to prove these assumptions wrong—because, frankly, this kind of gospel doesn’t work. It doesn’t stick. Stories stay with us for life. Bullet points, not so much. Our kids need a better story.

Last night, my daughter stayed with The Story of King Jesus all the way through, even though it’s longer than most of her bedtime books. She even had me read it a second time. OK, that may have been a bedtime stalling tactic. And granted, she’s a focus group of one. But she’s also a bit younger than the target age group (4 to 8) for my book, so I was thrilled to see how she engaged with it.

She was absorbed in the story and the art (thank you, Nick Lee). When we got to the part about the crucifixion, she grabbed her owl nightlight and held it close to the page so she could look more closely. On our second time through, she started repeating some of the key lines—completely on her own.

I have no illusions that everything got through on the first or even the second read. But she was absorbing, processing, engaging with the story. After we finished, she said it was her favorite story she’s ever read. (Though earlier that evening, she said the meatless chicken nuggets we had for dinner were her favorite food she’s ever had. The night before, peanut butter sandwiches were her favorite.)

As for the “most clueless dad” moment of the night… afterward she asked me, “When will it be put together?” I assumed she was asking a deep spiritual question about the state of the world. After all, God fixing the world—putting it back together—is one of the recurring themes of The Story of King Jesus. So I proceeded to stumble my way through a response…until she cut me off and said, “No, dad. When’s the book going to be put together?”

But she also asked me when Jesus is coming back, which gave us a chance to talk about how we get to be part of making the world right and good until he returns. We talked about how God gave us a job to do: love each other with all we’ve got.

The bottom line is, last night, I got to talk to my daughter about bringing heaven to earth.

I know it can be terrifying to talk to your kids about faith. We’re afraid we’ll say the wrong thing and screw it up for them. But it can also be a wonderful, rewarding experience. It can be like bringing a little bit of heaven to earth right here and now—especially when we let go the pressure to extract a decision from our kids now and just tell them the story and watch it begin to click in their own imaginations.

I think—I hope and I pray—that’s what started happening for my daughter last night.

UPDATE: I just found out you can already pre-order The Story of King Jesus through Amazon…

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The Bible is messy, troubling, and weird. And that’s OK.

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Someone shared this quote with me from Peter Enns’ preview of his forthcoming book The Bible Tells Me So (HarperOne, September 2014):

What if God is actually fine with the Bible just as it is? Not the well-behaved version we create, but the messy, troubling, weird, and ancient Bible that we actually have? Maybe this Bible has something to show us about our own sacred journey of faith. Sweating bullets to line up the Bible with our exhausting expectations, to make the Bible something it’s not meant to be, isn’t a pious act of faith, even if it looks that way on the surface. It’s actually thinly masked fear of losing control and certainty, a mirror of our inner disquiet, a warning signal of a deep distrust in God. A Bible like that isn’t a sure foundation of faith; it’s a barrier to true faith. Creating a Bible that behaves itself doesn’t support the spiritual journey; it cripples it. The Bible’s raw messiness isn’t a problem to be solved. It’s an invitation to a deeper faith.

What if the battle for the Bible is really just a battle for control? Is it really such a “high view” of Scripture if it means making the Bible something it’s not and never meant to be? Isn’t it a higher view to accept and embrace the Bible we have than the one we might wish we had?

Needless to say, I will be buying Enns’ new book when it comes out. (Unless I can wrangle myself an advance review copy…)

For more, see “Quick preview of my next book (or, respecting the Bible enough not to defend it)” on Peter Enns’ blog.

In which my book has a title, a cover, and a release date

So this is real, friends.

Yesterday, I saw the final cover of my book. With my actual name on it.

Apparently, they’re really letting me do this. (Yeah, I’m surprised too.)

As of today, my book has a title, a cover, and a release date.

The Story of King Jesus will be published on March 1, 2015. Five days before my 38th birthday. A month to the day before our son turns one. Exactly two hundred days after our daughter turns four.

She’s the first of two very good reasons I have for doing this book. I wrote the first draft when she wasn’t even two years old. Back then I had no idea it would ever become a book. I just wanted something we could use to nurture her spiritual curiosity and introduce her to a more holistic gospel story, the kind of thing Scot McKnight calls for in his book The King Jesus Gospel. Something that’s more than just a set of spiritual laws. A gospel that’s not about escaping from this world but something much better: the story of God making this world right and good again.

I’m thankful I get to share the end result with you. Thankful that David C Cook is taking a chance on this first-time author (one who never thought his first real book would be a kid’s book). Thankful that a talented illustrator named Nick Lee has thrown everything he’s got into making this story come alive with his captivating artwork.

And, of course, thankful to any of you who end up buying a copy or sharing it with someone who’s wondering how to introduce their kids to their faith.

This is coming March 1.

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How today’s the day I send my book to the publisher

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Today is manuscript day. The day I officially send my book to the publisher.

Today is the day I let go after who-knows-how-many dozens of revisions. You would think a children’s book wouldn’t take this much effort. (OK, well I would’ve thought that once.) But when you only have a thousand words in which to captivate a child’s imagination with the story of Jesus,

every

word

counts.

So this is the scary part. Handing it over to someone else and waiting to see what they do with my book. It’s weird. I’ve been on the other side of the editor-author relationship many times, but this is my first seeing it from an author’s point of view.

I think it would be harder to let someone else leave their mark on my book if there weren’t so many sets of fingerprints on it already. There’s my mom, the first to see a writer in me and to nurture that potential. There’s Brian, my first boss at World Vision, the first person who actually paid me to write, who took a chance on hiring a writer without a professional writing background. There’s Sandra, who edited almost everything I wrote at World Vision, who scared the crap out of me a little at first, but who helped me become a better writer and gave me the confidence to put myself out there. There’s Rob, the Welsh writer and actor who saw creative potential in everyone he met — so much so that each time we were together, even the last time when his cancer had nearly run its course, he wanted to know what I was writing, what I was creating. (Rob, I finally have an interesting answer.) There’s Scot, who was the first to share what started as a simple blog post written for my daughter, and also the first to tell me I should turn it into a book. There’s my agent Linda, who has patiently put up with more revisions of this thing than I think either of us anticipated — and has added immense value to each. There’s my wife, who’s done more than anyone to give me the confidence to write — and who has a knack for telling me when something doesn’t make sense or when I should find a better way to express myself, all while managing to make me feel good about it.

And of course, there’s my daughter Elizabeth. This will always be her book. (Though I’m sure she won’t mind sharing it with others, too.) It will always be the book I wrote to try, in my own faltering way, to express to her what God is doing in our world and how she can be part of it. If it does that for her, then I don’t really care how many copies it sells.

(OK, well maybe I care a little.)

—//—

Not long ago, a politician caused a controversy (imagine that) by saying to a room full of successful businesspeople, “You didn’t build that.” By which he meant: You didn’t build that on your own. There were others who helped lay the foundation for your success.

His opponent tried turning his statement into a political advantage, as all politicians are wont to do, even making a slogan (and merchandise) out of its antithesis: I did built that.

Setting politics aside, along with debates over the role of government in our success (or lack of it), I appreciate perhaps more than I used to the truth that “I didn’t build that.” I can see the delusion in thinking that any of us got where we are on our own.

This realization helps me to let go of my work. (Which is not to say that letting go is easy.) It helps me to realize that it’s not really mine to begin with. I didn’t create it on my own. I wouldn’t have been capable of creating it if it weren’t for the investments made in me by others. And I didn’t write this book for myself, either. I wrote it for my daughter and others like her who need to be introduced to the story of Jesus in a more authentic, more compelling way.

So it’s not really “my” manuscript. It’s not “my” book.

(Now if I can just remember that when the time comes for others to add their mark to it…)

Jesus Feminist: a review

Jesus FeministWhen I was younger, I rationalized my opposition to women in ministry by claiming I’d never heard a female pastor who could give a decent sermon. (At the time I attended a Christian college that periodically invited female pastors to speak in chapel.)

It was circular, self-serving logic, I know. I was hardly the most objective judge, what with my my hostility to the very notion of women as pastors. (And the fact that I was 20 and didn’t know anything about anything.)

I’m glad I got over myself — not least because otherwise, I would have never learned to hear some of the prophetic voices God has raised up, who just so happen to have two x chromosomes.

After reading my advance copy of Jesus Feminist, all I can say is Sarah Bessey is one of those prophetic voices. She describes herself as a “happy clappy kind of Christian… who speaks in tongues and lays on hands.” (In other words, we represent different traditions.)

And dang she can preach.

Jesus Feminist doesn’t fixate on everything that’s wrong with patriarchy. While Sarah suggests that patriarchy doesn’t represent God’s dream for humanity (and I agree), she’d rather spend her time imagining another way, discovering what is God’s dream for humanity, and inviting us all to explore it together.

Sarah celebrates women past and present who’ve demonstrated their full membership in God’s kingdom in myriad ways — some ordinary, some extraordinary. She picks up the thread of redemptive movement in the Scriptures and follows it all the way through to our world today. (Because Sarah is someone who believes that “God is still speaking, still moving, still alive, still loving.”)

In the Scriptures, there are at least two kinds of prophetic voices. One is the voice of righteous indignation, raging against the machinations of idolatry and injustice. Then there’s the gentle voice of hope, whispering (or singing) to us about a new reality, a new way of being human, a better way to live.

Sarah is that second kind of prophet. While some of us want to knock tables over, Jesus Feminist reminds us that sometimes it’s better to sit at them, armed with nothing more than a cup of tea (or something stronger), and see if together we can imagine a better way to live, to celebrate each other, and embrace one another as equal partners in God’s kingdom.

There are plenty of writers who can land a rhetorical punch, who can hitch patriarchy to the whipping post and let loose.

Sarah has done something even better with her book: she’s elevated the conversation.

How I rather unexpectedly wound up writing a children’s book

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UPDATE: You can now pre-order The Story of King Jesus through Amazon.

One Saturday when I was 5, I got down on my knees and prayed the sinner’s prayer. I only remember a few details from that day — mostly trivial ones like what we had for lunch.

(Tuna fish sandwiches, in case you were wondering.)

For many Christians, faith is all about The Decision. The earlier it’s made, the better. But if the stats are to be believed, more than half of my friends who prayed the same prayer as kids are no longer practicing Christians.

So maybe it’s time we reevaluate a decision-based approach to the gospel. Maybe we’re shortchanging our kids, who in many cases aren’t old enough to even know what they’re signing up for. Yes, Jesus said, “Let the little children come.” But he also told would-be followers to “count the cost” of discipleship.

When I prayed the sinner’s prayer, all I knew was I didn’t want to go to hell. And I wanted to eat my tuna fish sandwich.

But a decision-based approach also shortchanges the gospel by confusing the decision with the gospel itself. It reduces the gospel to a tool for sin management or hell avoidance.

The New Testament paints a more expansive picture of the gospel. It’s not merely a decision you make. It’s not a set of four spiritual laws. It’s not a wordless color book. It’s not something that can be reduced to a formula or an incantation.

It’s a story. It’s the story of God rescuing the world, bringing heaven to earth, advancing his kingdom. And it’s an invitation to become part of that story, to become citizens of a kingdom characterized by loving God and loving others.

As Scot McKnight writes in his book The King Jesus Gospel,

The gospel is the Story of Jesus as the completion of the Story of Israel as found in the Scriptures, and that gospel story formed and framed the culture of the earliest Christians.

I believe it should form and frame ours, too.

Now it would be to easy for me to sit back and just be another armchair critic, judging others for how they’ve sought to pass down their faith. But there’s at least one important thing a decision-based approach to the gospel gets right: the fact that we owe it to our kids to start telling them about our faith when they’re young.

That doesn’t mean we should settle for a reductionist gospel. It doesn’t mean we should employ tactics that border on the manipulative in order to coax a decision from them.

Our kids deserve better when it comes to the gospel. 

Some of the first people to follow God had another way of passing down their faith; and it’s time we rediscovered it. The ancient Israelites passed their faith to each generation by telling their story:

In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.” (from Deuteronomy 6)

Tell your story.

—//—

Three years ago, I became a parent.

Suddenly these questions — What is the gospel? How do we pass it on to our kids? — took on a new sense of urgency. Suddenly the stakes got very real.

Could my wife and I live our faith in a way that would nurture our daughter’s spiritual curiosity? Could we tell the story of our faith so that someday she would come to embrace it as her own?

Inspired in part by the depiction of the gospel set out in Scot’s book, I began writing my own sketch of this story — the whole gospel story — for my daughter. I meant for it to be something we could read together when she’s a bit older, a first introduction to our story of faith.

About a year ago, I shared an early draft on this blog. Then it got shared on a few other blogs, including Scot’s. A few people said I should try turning it into a children’s book. I’ve always thought I would write book someday. I just didn’t think it would be a children’s book.

But I gave it a shot. With the help of a good friend, I found an amazing agent. Together, we crafted a proposal. Then re-crafted it. And re-crafted it again. Finally, we sent it off to some publishers. And waited.

Then one day I signed a two-book contract with David C. Cook.

(Believe me, there was plenty of nail-biting in between.)

The thing about Cook is, well… they’re awesome. They share this vision for communicating a more holistic gospel to our kids. From our very first meeting, I wanted it to be them. Can I just say? I am SO excited to work with everyone at Cook.

So the first book will tell the whole gospel as a single story — starting with God’s good world, which he made for us to share with him, and telling how God set out to rescue us from exile so he could be our king once more, making the world right and good again.

Unlike most storybook Bibles, it will be something parents and kids can read together in a single sitting. But it’s not a quick fix. It’s not a replacement sinner’s prayer. It’s not primarily a tool for coaxing a decision. It’s something that can help you to begin this journey with your kids, to start telling the story of your faith.

In the end, this will always be the book I wrote for my daughter. But my hope (and prayer) is that it will help a few other kids take their first steps of faith, too.

More details to come! (Including figuring out what that second book will be…)

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Why I’m a Jesus feminist (and I haven’t even read the book yet)

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When I was growing up, feminism was a dirty word.

Actually, we didn’t call them feminists. We called them feminazis.

Militant, man-hating, bra-burning radicals who taught literature classes and took orders from Hillary Clinton and outsourced their childrearing duties (assuming they had any children) to some Orwellian, quasi-socialist village.

Then I became a feminist myself.

It started in college, when a friend in my political philosophy class took time to explain to me what feminism actually was. Turns out it didn’t have anything to do with the caricature in my head. (Heck, even the whole bra-burning thing proved to be an urban legend.)

It continued in seminary, when I learned that the arguments used to rationalize the subjugation of women are the same ones that were used to justify slavery a century and a half ago.

Then I fell in love… and found that mutuality offers a better starting point for a happy marriage than hierarchy. (Eleven years and counting.)

Then I became a father… and realized I couldn’t settle for anything less than my daughter’s full equality — in her family, in her church, and in her world.

41yNlmBxf0L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I came to believe that gender equality is rooted in creation itself, reaffirmed and renewed in the person and work of Jesus. That’s why I can’t wait for Sarah Besey’s new book… and that’s why I embrace the label Jesus feminist.

I’m a Jesus feminist because I believe my daughter is fully and gloriously human, that she and I bear the same divine imprint, that she is not mine, that she is free to discover for herself what God made her to be, and that the possibilities open to her are endless.

I’m a Jesus feminist because the gospels insist we allow women to sit alongside men at the feet of our Messiah — that is, to take the posture of a disciple. The story of Mary and Martha is not a Sunday school lesson on the importance of setting one’s priorities; it’s a radical affirmation that my daughter has as much right as anyone to call herself a disciple of Jesus.

I’m a Jesus feminist because some of the finest preachers I know are women, including those whose main pulpit is a blog (cc: Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held Evans).

I’m a Jesus feminist because women were the first apostles, the first to witness the resurrection. If not for their courage, vision, and willingness to see what Jesus’ male disciples couldn’t — if not for that, I wouldn’t be a Jesus anything.

I’m a Jesus feminist because I won’t accept a world which turns my daughter into an object — neither the evangelical modesty culture that teaches girls to be ashamed of their bodies nor the hyper-sexualized culture that tells them their bodies (and their willingness to flaunt them) are all they have to offer.

I’m a Jesus feminist because the apostle Paul said there isn’t “male and female” anymore. Just one body, one family, one inheritance in which we all have equal share.

And someday, if my daughter feels a calling deep in her bones to share this message with others — or if she feels called in any other way to lead — I will be right there cheering her on.

Because even though I haven’t read Sarah’s book yet, I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus feminists do.

P.S. Go and buy the book when it comes out.

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How Ed’s story helped change mine

CNN has a great piece on Ed Dobson, former pastor of Calvary Church in Grand Rapids. More than a decade ago, Ed was diagnosed with ALS. Now, he’s telling his story through a series of short videos called Ed’s Story, produced by Flannel (the same company that did the NOOMA series with Rob Bell).

I’ve only met Ed Dobson once. It was to thank him for a book he published thirteen years ago. In the early 1980s, Ed was an insider with the Moral Majority, the organization founded by Jerry Falwell that made the religious right a force to be reckoned with. Years later, Ed wrote Blinded by Might with conservative columnist Cal Thomas. They argued the church’s quest for political power had been misguided, that there are better ways to effect lasting change.

Ed’s book changed the trajectory of my life post-college. It helped me to imagine a new story for myself. After college, I had an opportunity to go to Washington, D.C. and fight the “culture war,” to take up arms in the quest for political power and influence. Ed’s book showed me another way.

Now, he’s showing people everywhere another way to follow Jesus, even in the face of certain death. And he’s proving you don’t need a megachurch, a TV broadcast, or all the other trappings of success to do it.