God's Grand Story
by James Wakefield, PhD
Chapter 3 Comments
Chapter 3 is now posted. Would love to get your feedback to the most recent chapter.

Please join in these conversations! We are posting these comments (and my responses) with the permission of each author. We are agreeing to use our first names, and an initial, and the city we live in. Again. Please share your thoughts with us!

June 19, 2012
From Dr. Michael James McQueen
Senior International Minister, Outreach Christian Fellowship
Assistant Professor in Intercultural Communications, Urbana Theological Seminary
[Michael is commenting on a first, not yet public draft of Chapter Three]


Hey Brother James,

Finally got around to reading Chapter 3. Well, at least skimming it. I'd love to talk to you more about it, but here's some initial thoughts as I perused it. Over all good. I'm assuming that your main purpose is to bring believers back to the simplicity of the Gospel and the Gospel back to the world for whom it was designed. N'est pas? Mission accomplished. I was reminded of the first couple lessons from the US Center for World Mission's Perspectives course that I use for my intro to missions class here at UTS: "The Living God is a Missionary God" and "The Story of God's Glory." Both of these strongly emphasize the nature of God's plan of redemption from beginning to end. If you've never done Perspectives you've missed a treat. I didn't know missions could be so interesting until I went through it the first time. Anyway, I think you did well with that.

Second, I'm coming at this whole thing from a "reluctant Calvinist" position. And here' my cop-out. I don't like, but do see predestination in a lot of Scripture, the most difficult for me to overcome being Romans 9-11. But I do see it in a lot of places from Genesis through Proverbs and the Prophets. But I also see a tremendous emphasis on human responsibility as well. I know Gordon Lewis would still be unhappy with me, but I see an antimony, paradox or whatever you want to call it. I can't explain it or systematize it no matter how hard I try. I spent hours languishing over this when I did my required doctoral level systematics course for my degree, wrote more boldly than I thought I should (especially considering my prof was a rabid 5 point Calvinist), but was never convinced the Calvinists, Arminians, Openness or other hybrids had it right. So I go with God predestines, man has to respond, and let God sort it out in the End (cf Psalm 131, which became my lifeline to the goodness of God during that period).

Was Edwards right in his preaching? I don't think so, but I do see a lot of passages in which God is very pissed off. And you can't read the OT without fear and trembling to a certain degree (cf Mr Beaver in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe). I fear that our "cultural christian with a small 'c' view of love with a wishy-washy view of phileo" has resulted in a very man centered view of reality than a more biblical God centered view. On the other hand you if anger and wrath is all you see of God, you've been listening to the enemy rather than the Bible. 

So as a Reluctantly Reformed Baptist with Presbyterian, Anglican and Lutheran leanings, I think you're OK. Just make sure you've not set up a straw man to shoot him down, which I don't think you did, but after I reread it more thoroughly, I'll let you know. BTW, Calvinists have been some of the most passionate missionaries throughout history. Read John Piper sometime if you haven't. I can send you a couple of the articles he did for Persepectives that will likely leave you scratching your head as to why people say Calvinists make bad missionaries. For what it's worth, here it is...
Keep up the good work, bro.

Blessings,
Michael
From James (June 20, 2012)
Hi Michael,
I appreciate your time and thoughtfulness. I would love to take the Perspectives course. I have heard about it many times and it hasn't been offered at a time or place where I could make it work.
In a later chapter, I will explore predestination to a task but not to a destination. Have you seen Wm Klein's book on corporate election? I see a consistent line from Genesis 1:26 right through to Revelation 22:3, 5: We were created to image God. Our predestination in Romans 8 is to sanctification (Christ-likeness), and this restores us to our original destiny: Jesus is the image of God, we are made like him, we image God. God's mission moves forward! The development of this line is also in Ephesians, but it requires that we connect Eph. 1:3-14, 2:10, and 3:9-12 with 5:1-2. Again, in Paul's thinking, it is all about mission. With Augustine it becomes about who fills the seats vacated by the fallen angels... and very few Calvinists seem to know that piece of the story.

If you read my Chapter One you will see that I have a very dark a view of human nature. I accept total depravity and I believe we cannot let go of original sin (I am very disappointed with McLaren, Generous Orthodoxy, 235). But I have great confidence in the Holy Spirit as evangelist and in the Gospel as the power of salvation. We cannot know the mechanics (ordo salutis), but I believe when the gospel is preached, completely fallen creatures, enlightened by Jesus (John 1:9-13) and convicted by the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11) have a real chance at salvation. When did the church stop believing that the Gospel is powerful (Romans 1:16)?

Talk of "alien righteousness" is both right and wrong. Right in the sense that it must be restored to us, wrong in the sense that it is "alien." Interpret righteousness as "right-relationships" and connect it with the Two Great Commandments and you see that "loving God and neighbor" is our destiny. We were created for this role, it is our task, it is the fulfillment of our deepest joy (all of John 15, but see verse 11).
Michael, hang in there with me on this. I really need partners in this dialogue.

Peace, James

August 16, 2012
From Emily H, From San Diego, California
[Emily is commenting on Chapters 1-3]


Hi James,
A friend told me about your book, and I’m probably one of the types you are writing this for—grew up in the church and now not really into it. I’m not sure if this is even going to be helpful at all, but if you want I’m fine with you showing it on your blog.
I think the way you told the story is really good, and probably even the best way I’ve heard it told. My response to it though is, OK this sounds fine, and it could be true. But how do we know this way is the one true way of looking at things?

I guess I just see Christianity as one group of people’s way of answering life’s big questions. Other groups of people have stories about how we got here and what happens next. How do we know the one the Jews told is the one true one that we should all follow and not the one that Native Americans or something told?

I know that we are all supposed to or at least be able to know the God of Christianity because His invisible attributes are clearly seen so we’re without excuse and everything… but to me personally, after spending the first 18-20 years of my life being a firm believer in all that, it just doesn’t work for me.

I don’t know exactly what I believe, and I definitely don’t have it all figured out. And some of my problems with it do come from things in the Bible like anti-homosexuality and science and stuff, but you already know what I would say about that I’m sure and it seems like you are focusing on the bigger picture of God’s love for us, so I will talk about my thoughts on that.
I can’t say that’s not true, because I have friends who are “in,” whom God clearly loves and they somehow love Him back and believe He has a plan for their lives. They say things like, God is telling me this or I’m being led to do this. And I believe them. Who am I to say God is not talking to them?

But for me, it just doesn’t fit. I am not “in” I guess. For years I would see the people with their eyes closed and their hands up at church, clearly feeling something I wasn’t. And we were told at school and church that it’s not about that and it’s faith not a feeling, but really it seemed like everyone else was on this wavelength with God and I just wasn’t and at some point I should have felt that emotional part of it right?? (It really feels good now to stop beating myself up over that and just admit that, hey maybe this isn’t for me.)

Some ways you can read certain parts of the Bible make me think that maybe I don’t get it because I wasn’t one of the ones chosen in Christ or because He hasn’t revealed it to me or something, and when I first started coming out of being a hardcore Christian that was what I thought had probably happened, but now I don’t think that’s really true (although I guess it’s possible and I know some people who would explain it that way).

So anyway, I didn’t feel loved that way. One way I tried to explain it to myself back then though was that maybe God loves me through other people and the way He’s blessed me in my life. And I really consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world. I have a family that loves me and that I love so much, I had a good home and education and opportunities and great friends, and school and sports came easy to me and that’s just the basic stuff. But really, I feel like God took all the best people in the world and gave them to me to be my friends and family—or I guess a less selfish way of saying it would be not that “He gave them to me” but that somehow I got placed with them. So I could consider these blessings and the way I feel so loved by the people in my life as God’s love for me even though I never really felt it directly like everyone else seems to feel it.

But I can’t explain why all this good stuff happens to me. I mean, I am grateful and very aware of how lucky I am every single day, but why me? Why did I get assigned to this family where my dad is laughing and making me pancakes while some other kid is starving or abandoned probably just miles away from me?

I guess it’s just hard for me to define this as God’s love for me when He’s supposed to love us all, and obviously not everyone wins the life lottery this way, so His love can’t come down to how blessed we are right? So that means whatever it was that was causing people to love God and feel loved and hear from God and have an actual relationship with him, I didn’t have.
And it’s not completely on God—I didn’t love Him back like other people did and do. I tried and I said I did and I really wanted to. And I definitely made a choice to love God. But I have friends who love God so much and it’s clearly very real, and I just can’t bring myself to feel that for this thing I’ve never seen and I really don’t understand how they can. I feel gratitude and I feel amazement and wonder at nature and everything, but even when I wanted to I couldn’t feel love for Him (although I never admitted or acknowledged that till after).

So anyway, that is my response to the “big picture” of the Bible I guess. As I reread what I just wrote, it occurs to me that people would probably say God’s love is about sending Jesus to die for our sins so we can be with Him.

And my thoughts on that are another, probably bigger, reason I don’t believe in all this anymore. It just seems so unfair. Kind of like what I said about me winning the life lottery when someone who is probably more deserving didn’t, but when it comes to eternal life. The Bible says that Jesus is the only way to Heaven. But I feel that people like me and my friends who were born in Christian homes or at least in a place where a lot of people believe in and know about Jesus have an advantage. We are much more likely to believe in Jesus and what He did for us and thus receive eternal life. Of course that is open to everybody. The Bible says we can all know there is a God because His invisible attributes are clearly seen so we’re without excuse, and it also says something about Jesus not coming back until every part of the world has heard the gospel right? But I still think we have a huge advantage.

If I’m someone in an African tribe or something, even if someone comes and tells me about Jesus and His love for me, I’m not just going to drop the religion I was raised with and that every person in my neighborhood believes. And even if I do, a lot of the other people around me won’t. Even if I was born into a Mormon or Muslim or whatever else family in the U.S. where I probably know a lot of Christians and it’s not a brand new thing to me, I’m not going to jump ship and abandon the religion of my parents whom I love and respect (I haven’t even really told my parents that I just can’t bring myself to believe all this anymore because I don’t want to hurt them). So I just think that even if everyone technically has an opportunity to accept Jesus, it’s not an equal chance. It’s more difficult for them. So it seems like some people go to Hell because of the situation they were born into. I just can’t believe in that.

So I know this maybe wasn’t a direct response to your book, but that’s just because my issues with the Bible and Christianity are more basic than a specific point you make. So I don’t know if this was helpful at all, but I guess it’s at least probably the perspective of some of the people you have in mind that you are writing this for.

But like I said, this really is the best way I’ve heard it put. I’m not trying to be re-converted or even still trying to make Christianity make sense for me, but I am still interested in spiritual things and as someone who is trying to figure out what I do believe and trying to answer life’s big questions, I enjoyed reading the first chapters of your book and am looking forward to the rest.

And I think it’s really cool that you care enough to do this—so thank you!

Emily
From James (August 16, 2012)
Hi Emily,
Thank you for a very thoughtful response. I will take a few days before I respond with more “ideas.” What I hope you hear from this first response is gratitude. I have been waiting for someone to voice the whole insider/outsider dynamic. Thank you! You may be closer to the kingdom of God than you think, because this insider/outsider dynamic is at the very heart of the Gospel of Mark. :) BTW, My favorite short book on the Gospel of Mark uses this dynamic as one of the keys to understand it.

Did you read the most recent version? Can I post your comments as a response to Chapters 1-3?
Thanks for trusting me with your thoughts,
James

August 16, 2012
From Emily H, From San Diego, California
[Emily is commenting on Chapters 1-3]


Hi James,
I did read the most recent version. I found it really interesting that some versions were about the lucky few. I know a lot of people believe that God has predestined some to go to Heaven like you mentioned, but I didn't know that some people thought there was a set number, other than Jehovah's Witnesses. It's also a little less unsettling the way you said some believe God doesn't exactly choose who goes to Heaven, but it's just that He already knows what you're going to choose. It's still a little weird to me though.

And yes, posting as a response to all three chapters is fine. And the city is San Diego.
Thanks!
Emily
From James (August 20, 2012)

Hi Emily,
I’ve thought a lot about what you have shared. Thank you for trusting me with your thoughts.
You are voicing one of Joe’s questions in Chapter Three: How do we know this is the true version of things? I have two responses, one psychological and one theological/practical.

In terms of developmental psychology of James Fowler (Stages of Faith, Harper & Row, 1981), there comes a time when many of us need to throw off the inadequate views we received from our community, and seek for a broader understanding that allows us to live with more integrity. This feels like agnosticism and sometimes even atheism to us—and our community! I want to encourage you to keep seeking and living the truth as you understand it. Is it possible that God wants to meet you at a different level? How often does God smash our idols?

On the theological/practical level, you are asking a wonderful and famous question: Qui bono? For whom is this good? Christianity, as it is too often preached, is good for the insider community—the elect. Christianity, as it is very often lived, is good for those who become insiders within the insiders. I believe that Christianity should be good for all people, Christians and non-Christians. If Christians live out God’s love in the world—if we humbly serve every person in every religion as our beloved neighbor—then all of the world benefits. They may not trust the God we image, but through our service, Christianity would still be good for the world.

Let me know what you think, and thanks again for trusting me.
James

August 20, 2012
From Sherri V, Sandy, Utah
[Sherri is responding to the first public draft , posted on July 5, 2012]

I loved chapter 3. The description of Arminians brings back the impression that I was given as a child of people who follow this line of thought. (I grew up in a Conservative Baptist household.) I had the impression that Arminians were trouble because with their emphasis on human will, they taught you could "lose your salvation" and that if you died while you were "backsliding" you would go to hell--while by contrast, Calvinists had "eternal security," with the phrase "once saved, always saved." From your chapter 3 it is clear that this distinction isn't the heart of the difference between Arminians and Calvinists at all.
From James (August 21, 2012)
The “once saved, always saved” distinction is one of five distinctives of Calvinism. Of course they would phrase it differently from Baptist and talk about the “perseverance of the saints.”
Thanks for your comments!

August 17, 2012
From Brooke G in Medford, OR
[Brooke is commenting on Chapter 3. Her comments on chapter 2 can be found under the Chapter Two Tab]


James,
First, the addition of a conversation with Joe at the beginning of this chapter is VITAL to the whole flow. It draws the reader into the text and motivates them to continue reading in order to find the answers to the questions brought up in the conversation. The dialogue was so much more authentic than the very first draft of Chapter 2. I really feel like you're getting to know Joe and finding his voice.

I've only made it through "Which Story Are We Telling?" and "The Missional Practice of the First Three Centuries" so far, so the rest of my comments will be centered on those two sections.

In the first draft and this one I am struggling to get through these sections. Primarily this has to do with the use of the terms, "mission" and "missional" throughout the text. Neither of those terms signify anything to me in the context of the sections (and we've even had a conversation about them!). “Mission” to me mean Mormons or spies and if it was anyone but you, I would say “missional” is a word you made up (I know that you didn't :). It would help if you spent some time describing exactly what you mean when you use these terms in the first section and review it again at the beginning of the second section.

The second aspect that is causing me to struggle through this part is that it is really clear that you (the narrator) don't believe that I (the reader) can understand or will be interested in what you're talking about. Mostly this is communicated through the conversational interjections you make in the narrative story such as, "Can you see it?" (pg 34), "Now imagine yourself sitting in Rome..." (35), "Stay with me in the first century for a few more moments" (pg 35). You speak directly to the reader so often you seem worried that the story can't stand on its own, that you have to coax the reader along in order to get them to stay interested. If I'm understanding you correctly, you're using the conversational pieces to make a complex concept more accessible, but I think they are actually having the opposite effect. By asking me to take a break from the story and "talk" to you, I lose track of the context you've already established and the flow of the story becomes choppy and disconnected instead of logically flowing from A to B to C.

I'm planning to finish reading the final two sections this weekend and will hopefully be able to send you comments soon. I really believe that this topic is not too complex for the average reader and that it is very important for Christians and non-Christians alike to understand, so persevere! With all of the sects and denominations the church has divided into over the centuries, I would be very surprised if the majority of Christians had even an elementary understanding of the early church (after the death of the apostles and before the Reformation) and understanding where we come from is vital to knowing where we're going, so I think it’s time we all learned a bit about our roots.
Blessings,
Brooke

August 21, 2012
From Brooke G in Medford, OR
[Brooke is commenting on Chapter 3. Her comments on chapter 2 can be found under the Chapter Two Tab]


James,
I’ve finished the last two sections now and I am a little overwhelmed by the shear volume of information! There is enough material covered here that I think you may want to consider breaking it up into two chapters (perhaps early church/Augustine and Reformation/Modern day Church?). I can feel the crunch to wrap things up in the final section and its causing you to gloss over some topics that could definitely be expanded (for example, dealing with the problem individualism poses to real Christian community). There is also a language shift between the third and final sections where you move from discussing ”story” to focusing on “mission/gospel” that makes the final section feel like it wants to be its own chapter.

I’m still struggling with the flow of the text in these final two sections. The whole chapter is full of fact after fact, generally presented in short sentences without a whole lot of description. It feels like you have the skeleton of the story but it still needs to be fleshed out. All of the pieces are there but they haven’t quite clicked. Over and over I found myself asking, “why is this important?” I wasn’t bored, everything I was reading was interesting, but I didn’t feel like the text was explaining why it mattered. From what I can tell, chapter 3 is focused on establishing how we arrived at the story we are telling today. That is so important. I can’t tell you how often I’ve had conversations with people who are struggling with the disparity between Jesus in the Bible and Christians in the church today. I think when chapter 3 is finished you’re going to have a really beautiful exploration of our journey from missional community (I may not understand that word very well, but I sure can throw it around ;) to where we are today.

My final advice for chapter three:
Be a storyteller. Weave the facts together in such a way that they can stand on their own without any interjections from the narrator. Make me want to be a part of the early church community because I admire them, help me feel the sorrow and hopelessness Augustine must have felt in realizing that anything he once thought solid, from his culture/government to the ability of his God to do transformational work in the lives of believers, was suddenly on shaky ground. I think you know what I’m saying here. If you want people to hear you, especially when you are talking about complicated or controversial things, you have to tell them a good story.
Blessings,
Brooke
From James (August 21, 2012)
I will have to think about how to incorporate your comments. I think you are right, even “spot-on.” :) My biggest struggle with splitting the chapter and saying more is I’m not sure a later editor is going to allow that much space. I’m asking other readers to weigh your comments and help advise me. Brooke, thanks for all your help. And I am very grateful for your confidence in this project!

August 22, 2012
From Tera A. in Salt Lake City, Utah


Wow James, thank you! I can't think of much that I'd recommend you change or much that I didn't like. I was truly challenged and it really caused me to examine the way I believe about salvation and mission. I didn't know too much about (the history of) why some believe how they believe when it comes to salvation and mission so it was interesting to see where those views came from.

Also something that really stood out to me is when you said, "One of the most terrifying effects of the Enlightenment is the isolation it encouraged by reducing communities to individuals." I can actually see how this has happened in many of the church congregations I've been part of and it saddens me. I've often wondered what community even looks like and I'm grateful that now I'm seeing the importance of it. Thank you for sharing!
From James (August 23, 2012)
Tera! Thanks for reading and for responding so quickly. Chapter Three is just the tip of the iceberg, but it is meant to start us thinking on this issue. Just wait for Chapter Four. :)

August 30, 2012
From Amy L in Anacortes, WA

[Amy is retired with her husband John. Her heart is to be missional, and she gives herself as a nurse practitioner in some difficult places. We have been on other continents together. ]

I learned so much of the history in a very tangible and yes, disturbing way. I resonate of course with the retirement question of how to be missional in our "golden" years -- convicting. I also resonate with the Arminian approach that God loves and desires all to be saved... I guess the never-ending question for me is how to translate this into my newer life of retirement from a vocation that was missional, in a new community where I am unknown in the deeper spiritual way to most. I guess I need to practice my story telling- help me Jesus!
From James (August 30, 2012)
Amy,
it is so very good to hear from you. I know your heart, and I believe God will lead you to places you can make a difference. Who can you mentor? Where can you serve?

Back in the seventies, I encountered the most wonderful example of “retirement.” My grandfather-in-law had been a steel salesman for 45 years. He had no special ministry skills, but he had a great heart for serving others. His retirement included giving two 6-8 hour days each week in kingdom building activities. He passed out Bibles to college students on Mondays. He read letters to patients in a hospital for the blind on Wednesdays. And no one knows how much money he gave away as he mentored impoverished families in his Evangelical Free Church congregation. Inspiring, huh?

September 6, 2012
From Tom B in Salt Lake City, Utah

[Tom commented on Chapter Two, and on an earlier draft of Chapter Three. Here are his comments on the third draft of Chapter Three (posted on August 15). Tom is a seminary grad, and he is interacting with a broad community of young adult moderns and postmoderns. At his request, I have removed all denominational labels and school names from his comments. My fill-ins are enclosed in brackets. :)]
 
I like the introductory paragraph about the contrast of saving souls vs. the “rules of the garden,” which already provides a much needed, more holistic gospel than the minimalized “life insurance” version.

Once again, I love the story getting tried out in the bar.  This nicely takes the heady, abstract part of Christianity down to the real world (including the environment) in a way which I can imagine being illustrated “Humble Apologetics” by Stackhouse.
When you state, “ people are beginning to tell the story this way,” on page 31, I and I believe other readers like me, would like to see a wealth of footnotes of other sources so we can potentially garble up this info.  Seriously, when I was attending church in NC last year, I was involved in a bible study with [almost a dozen seminary graduates from different schools], and other folks into theology, I was the only one that was utilizing narrative theology to work with scripture.  Everyone else was working with doctrine and a heady form of theology that never incorporated God’s grand narrative.  Anyway, the more footnotes the better, as this will help folks with the paradigm shift. 

The contrast between John 3:16-17 vs. Edwards carries much weight, especially with the popularity of the neo-reformed movement (Piper, Driscol, etc.) in which Edwards and total depravity are elevated on the pedestal of importance.  Also, as one that attended a liberal arts undergraduate university, the only glimpses of Edwards we touched upon was from this sermon. It’s common for university profs to make fun of this sermon while showing Christianity as a bygone product locked into the medieval ages of Europe. By taking this portion of the Edwards and his understanding of God extracted from his sermon, you’re also taking on the profs which are trying to disprove or ridicule the Christian faith, but not only that, you’re providing a much clearer more biblical understanding of the Gospel.  Your alternative apologetic is much needed!

For those that want to go further, your biblical, missional or mission oriented footnotes will give people the ability to see that what you are saying is backed up by scripture which provides a solid rock for your information. :)

On page 36, perhaps using a different word instead of “reconcile” or defining it may help people understand what this “churchy” words means. All these footnotes are great too and I believe it helps brings us as readers to an understanding such as, God really wants a close relationship with everyone, with the whole world, with me…? How can I know more…? Good stuff!

Nicely done summary of church history and how the grand narrative could have and sometimes, did change (Marcion, Gnosticism, Plato, etc). Yep, too often we learn a faux story that the world is evil which then drops the next set of dominoes in which we have to escape the world. Here the body, suffering and God’s creation are minimized (page 38).  Perhaps adding creation (justice for creation is tied to the God’s grand narrative) may be a good idea here.

You said, “Can things get worse? Oh yes! ... He isn’t qualified to be a member of your special club…” (page 39) YES! Oh, how this has been on my mind for the past few years. The apologists from [some seminaries] may retaliate… Fundamentalists will not like this. Yep, many of us will not like this, but this needs to be said and you do just that. :)  The next paragraph, I belief helps smooth things over by adding Irenaues, “also told God’s story…” Yes! In the Christianity of emphasized doctrine and abstract reasoning, the version where winning arguments is inferred as winning ones soul for Jesus … your text is a much needed corrective.

Under “A Narrowed View of Salvation with Augustine” You said, “And I believe that the story being told also changed”(Page 40). W/o yet reading onward, I have to say, the tension is high.  This is a bold statement. :) And then you go on to say, point blank, “he changed the story.”  This is where it gets really interesting.

Source 45 for Augustine’s “strange quote” about salvation is shocking. And then you follow this up with Augustine’s belief that the rest of people were condemned to hell.  This, I believe, is definitely perking up our ears, like a German shepherd’s ears that need to hear more when he knows that something is wrong.

Good question based on Brown’s research: “Is it too much to think that this new economy changed the context in which God’s story could be told and heard?”   Powerful!  I wonder how many scholars look at Augustine from this economic and new cultural reality.

Source 50 from Bosch where you incorporate Augustine’s pessimism with the reality that the church was into saving souls while the secular authorities purse changing the world is especially thought provoking.

Source 51: use of force. Shocking!!  This adds a much different look at Just/War theory too.  I believe Mennonites will enjoy your argument. 

Your summary of the 1st two sections on page 42 is crucial. I’m thinking that old story is so embedded into our understanding of the Gospel that people will call you a universalist as a way of preserving their understanding of Christianity’s core “principles.”  Even though you used the crucial words, “available” and “repent (page 42), as people start hearing what you’re saying from others, without reading it themselves, the potential for emotions to rise and fights to break out (as they too far too often in the realm of evangelical discussions) may start happening. I’ll be praying for you and the body of Christ as this can potentially become heated.

Page 42 into 43:  You’ve hit the nail on the head in that a Thomist theological interpretation is lacking missional emphasis. Perhaps helping readers understand how Aquinas used Augustine to influence a philosophically oriented understanding of Christianity, showing how this elevated man’s reason over revelation, and illustrating how this influenced the “modern” church to use abstract doctrine out of touch with common people, can help readers further understand the divorce of our understanding of the Gospel from God’s grand narrative. It will help people like my traditionalist friends to see why they are locked into a doctrinal view of scripture instead of one more focused on narrative.

Page 43 is a great summary of what N.T. Wright has been bringing to light. You provided this important statement, “Religion became a matter of believing what the church told you to believe, following the rules, and escaping to heaven after death.” Amen! Many younger evangelicals seem to get that the gospel is not about escaping to heaven after death—perhaps less so in fundamentalist ministries. I think the biggest problem might be influencing older folk about this or many in fundamentalism. One example: [Leaders from some American conservative evangelical seminaries] did not attend Lausanne / Capetown 2010 (even though they have an invitation) because they were fearful that the current emphasis social gospel echos the eventual “liberal” and minimalized social gospel emphasis of Edinburgh in 1910. Included in a fundamentalist understanding of liberal Christianity for many, is the trend to lessen aspects of the afterlife, while increasing what Richard Stears has penned as the “hole in the gospel.” Having said all of that, while I think many twenty-something’s have moved beyond the “life insurance” understanding of the Gospel, I think you’re dead on; the theological pendulum must continue to swing in this direction and emphasize a more holistic gospel narrative.

Your readers—including me— should be shocked to learn that Luther believed the world would end in 1558. Furthermore, the words or Johannes Heinrich Ursinus are a punch in the gut! The resulting lacking of missional focus sounds like distant cousin to what happens in dispensational pre-millenialist, left-behind theology.

On page 45 you said, “it is also fair to insist that today only a small portion of Western European and American Christians understand the call to missional living.”  This is another powerful statement. It captures my attention and deeply draws me into you manuscript.

You provide yet another much needed voice on the ideals of individualism.  This counters the myth of the American dream and it our current political environment, it’s at odds with libertarianism.  The communal re-emphasis of the Gospel must be understood and practiced by us Americans.  BTW: I’m a guilty hypocrite when it comes to this….  Keep on preaching to me. :)

“The required mobility of clergy families in many denominations contributed to a pervasive blindness: Why would congregations even want to establish and model life together in deep community?” (Page 46) Yep…

I just heard a Mennonite sermon today while mountain biking (just in case you think my time is wasted while doing my sports, I use it to think and pray… :-) ) that speaks about the Enlightenment’s emphasis on books which added to the emphasis of the individual; i.e.: We tend not to read books in community, but by ourselves. While reflecting on this, I was thinking that when it comes to Christian scholars, profs (the folks that influence doctrine, theology, etc,) tend to be bookworms where they must be isolated to take in great quantities of information.  Not only does this make it easy to form a theology of individualism, but contributes to a pedagogy of individualism which is adopted as normative for discipleship.  This can create the antithesis of a missional community.

You said, “The horrors of the First World War and the poverty afterward in Europe, and the experience of the Great Depression in the United States, started a shift in thinking about the dangers of economic individualism. Governments responded with government pension programs like Social Security and Medicare.” Maybe it’s just me, but I think an economic source needs to be quoted on the latter statement.

“A few Christians have been truly mission minded and, believing in Jesus’ imminent return, invested themselves and their money in evangelism. Many others, half-believing the many reports that Jesus would return any minute or that the world was ending soon, let greed get the best of them and bought more toys to play with while they waited for the end.”  Oh yeah!!!!  Oh and I’m convicted too.   C’mon preacher…. :)

“At the very moment they should be investing themselves and their finances in the kingdom of God, they are trying to manage their debt and put a few dollars aside.”  Yep!!!  BTW: When we moved to NC, we did so to live my Grandma who has Alzheimer’s.  I believe it’s the families responsibility to take care of their loved ones and since my mom was too burned out to do it, we moved back east to do so ourselves.  Our pastor at [a church plant] in NC never said it, but acted like my decision was crazy.  Many other Christians told that that they could / would never do that.  When I explained to people that our overly individualized American society places the person over their own family members, the response was often silence or like you said, even pastors would tell me that “you need to place her in a home.” Pastors were advocating for the government.  I only remember one time that her [former] church even visited her. Once my grandfather died, as a shut-in with limited income, she quit financially giving to the church and the church quit visiting her... Once again, I’m a hypocrite. With all the manipulation that was occurring and the way my grandma continued to throw an arsenal of negativity, blame, control, and the list goes on, once we were about to have our first child, we moved out and shortly after she was placed in a home. However, the government is not paying for it. My mom is forking over $4000 a month to pay for my grandma’s care while pushing off her retirement to pay for it… Not sure what the point of this was, but it sure is therapeutic for me to write it. :-)  Sorry of it’s wasting your time, but maybe there is something in there that will connect with you.

“We have heard good news—a story about a few people being saved for heaven. The call to missional living has been much harder to hear. It is very difficult for most modern and postmodern western Christians to listen to. And it calls for dramatic change.”  Nice ending.

Anyway, I hope these comments are helpful to you.  You have so many great things that you’re saying. Please don’t feel obligated to answer any of my many thoughts and questions that don’t seem pertinent to your focus and please.  My mind was in more a creative writing mode this evening than normal which tends move into ideas that are more like hyperlinks of hyperlinks which can be taken too far from the main text. 

Blessings to you! The only thing that I see which might hinder more academically minded Christians from following you is if they may have a bias against your work because of what may be perceived as an over reliance on two sources: Bosch and Brown.  It works for me, but I’m not an academic. Good stuff, Pastor! :)
From James (September 10, 2012)
Tom!
Thanks for your thoughtful response. Your experience helps you see why these issues are important. Maybe others will want to hear more from you on this? If enough people ask, would you consider writing a guest blog?

I will try to beef the footnotes in some of the places you suggest. I am choosing not to footnote the sections with Joe. Of course the bibliography will give readers more sources for narrative theology than they can read in a month of Sundays...

Thanks for sharing and for helping me with some blind-spots!

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