Diversity in the Church … Bragging on My Brother

Paul and I have a mutual friend who knows us but not so much. Competition is generally the nature of sibling relationships. Trent, Paul and me could certainly be competitive. Even to this day we feel the twinge whether we are playing golf or angling for the most trout. However, we have learned over the years to be secure in our own skin. We may trade the winner’s cup on the golf course but when it comes to fishing I lose to them both.

Sometimes viewing life with others as a competition regarding who is better gets in the way of valuing the other. We face these battles in our personal, profession and pastoral lives.

One of the fun things has been to share a vocational experience with one of your brothers. I am not sure of the relationship between the Ascol brothers, but Paul and I shared  conversations about theology while in college sharing a summer job. We continued those conversations while in Seminary when Paul lived with us for a couple of  years. With the advent of technology, we generally keep up with one another and our theological musings regularly.

Paul recently offered a series of posts on diversity in the church. Dwight McKissic was so struck by it he asked Paul to make a presentation for a meeting. Word out of the meeting was it was a home run. I am not surprised. Both of my brothers are home runs.

Read Paul’s posts here – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 

The Edge of the Inside … Pt. 1

“What’s in a name?” The wise Solomon suggested, “a good name is to be chosen above riches.” Most muse about the meaning of their name at one point or another. Parents fret over what to name their children and will often refer to books that give the meanings of common names. On my recent trip to Spain I met a couple. The wife’s father happened on a name while walking through a cemetery. There on a gravestone he thought he read the name, “Mentanna.” Years later they walked through that same cemetery and discovered the name was, “Mentaha.” Rather than feel bashful about her name, Mentanna wears the name with great pride.

In the first iteration of my blog I chose the title, “Just Todd.” My friend Mark had titled his first blog, “Just Mark.” Flattery is a compliment. I asked Mark if he minded if I used his idea. Over the past number of years I have used a variety of platforms – Blogger, Typepad and now WordPress. Last summer I thought it time to re-work the blog. My friend David helped set up the new digs. In the process it was time for a new title.

A couple of years ago I was privileged to meet Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest. We had dinner in New Mexico. We toured the Center for Action and Contemplation he founded in Albuquerque. One of the newsletters I picked up to read contained an article by Father Rohr titled, “The Edge of the Inside: The Prophetic Position.” Thoughts of a prophetic position for the pastor of a local church resonated with me. I found the name for the new iteration of my blog.

What is the “edge?” Father Rohr suggests it is liminal space. The space he describes is one where we are moving from old ways of thinking to new ways, the place toward holiness. He notes,

To take your position on the spiritual edge of things is to learn how to move safely in and out, back and forth, across and return. It is a prophetic position, not a rebellious or antisocial one. When you live on the edge of anything with respect and honor, you are in a very auspicious position. You are free from its central seduction, but also free to hear its core message in very new and creative ways. When you  are at the center of something, you usually confuse the essentials with the non-essentials, and get tied down by trivia, loyalty tests, and job security, Not much can happen there.

Leading a local church should always leave us looking for the space where we may help others move toward holiness.

More in Pt. 2

Good Practice Begets Good Theology

Tony Jones new book, The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emerging Frontier, is due out in March. At some point I may offer a review. Tony obliged my request for a review copy for some research I am working on. We have had occasions to share good conversations both in person and over the phone.

One of the emphases of the emerging church movement/conversation raises the level of emphasis upon orthopraxy – right practice. Scot McKnight boils down the movement, borrowing from Gibbs and Bolger, to an ecclesiological push to live the way of Jesus in postmodern culture. In other words, people really hope to live the life of Jesus in a world full of tensions and complications either not experienced at all or not experienced at the current level of complexity. Those willing to point beyond carefully defined doctrinal articulations to a practice that reveals what one really believes often face ridicule as forgoing orthodoxy.

A few years ago I met Michael Spencer online, a.k.a. iMonk. I believe it came in the comment thread of a blog Steve McCoy began. I cannot recall if it was the early days of “Reformissionary” or not. Needless to say, our exchanges led me to begin reading iMonk. In fact, I had hoped at one time to hold a position for our State Pastor’s Conference hoping I could persuade Micheal to come preach. I did not “win.” He was a bit shocked I would ask. Maybe some day.

Today I read his post, “The Bible I Don’t Believe.” I reminisced a conversation or two I have had over the problematic nature of power words used to draw lines in odd places. For example, Michael chronicles his sixteen years of teaching, preaching, counseling, and giving away bibles to/with students from all backgrounds. He notes his dependence and insistence on the Bible. He stands firm on its inspiration and authority. And yet, when he refuses to use the term “inerrancy” the “code word police” come out of the woodwork even, evidently, suggesting Michael apostate.

This sad affair illustrates just why we need an emerging emphasis upon orthopraxy. Tony Jones suggests, “Good practice begets good theology.” (my translation) The corollary would be “Bad theology begets bad practice.” Take it a step further and draw in Dallas Willard’s contention that it matters little what we say we believe, but that what we really believe is demonstrated in our living. So, when someone suggests “in my humble opinion” and then proceeds in a number of places on the internet to rip Michael not for what he does but for the word he refuses to use it seems we have a ripe illustration. Sadly many dismiss many of the healthy things associated with the “emerging church” for many of the same reasons and in the same manner.

Self-defense often comes off as defensive. In this case, iMonk’s defense illustrates his orthopraxy begetting healthy theology. How is this for a list,

But what really makes me angry is what I did in those seven hours I was at school.

I preached on John 1 to 350 students about what it means to be a prophet who points to Jesus. My fourth sermon this week.
I prepared a sermon on John 1, on what it means to be a disciple, to be delivered tomorrow.
I read scripture and prayed with all my classes.
I taught four Bible survey classes, including three full lectures on the book of Judges, delivered to a majority of unbelievers, including Muslims, Buddhists and atheists.
I read scripture myself in my own devotional time, and made the words of scripture my own prayer.
My wife and I read scripture together this evening.
I started preparing for the two messages from the Bible and the one Bible class Iâ??ll teach this weekend.
All like Iâ??ve been doing for 16 years. Iâ??m not blowing a horn here. This is my life. In the community setting where I live and serve I canâ??t go ten feet without bumping into something Iâ??m doing with a Bible.

In none of those 16 years or before has anyone- student, staff, pastor, trustee, elder, pastor, parent of student, lay person or preacher- complained that I didnâ??t believe the Bible sufficiently. And I talk about the Bible and what I believe about it constantly. I assure you I donâ??t hide behind anything or anyone. I proudly read from Wright, Capon and Peterson to whoever will listen. Iâ??m perceived on our staff as the original curmudgeon and stick-in-the-mud for my insistence that all our chapel preachers preach from the Bible, and from text of the Bible ONLY. As campus minister, I give away the Bible in every language on our campus and answer Bible questions all week. We make our students purchase the ESV for Bible class.

I knowâ?¦.lots of liberals going to hell like a greased pig have similar involvement with the Bible. Teaching and reading it mean nothing. Do you believeâ?¦really, really, really, believeâ?¦ the â??inerrancyâ? crowd? Thatâ??s the acid test.

It takes people who read blogs to figure out that I donâ??t believe the Bible, am apostate, a Biblical invertebrate and â??wuss,â? and will be judged by God as a false minister according to James 3:1 (a verse I know very well from my ordination.) This internet is a wonderful tool, isnâ??t it? Incredible insight with very little actual knowledge.

Whatever I believe about the Bible, Iâ??m out here doing something with my life and my ministry that is unthinkable and impossible without my own foundational belief that the Bible is true, inspired and the Word that delivers the Gospel of Jesus. I know God in and through his Son Jesus, but what I know of Jesus grows out of the Bible first of all. My confidence in its truth, power, authority and relevance hasnâ??t changed.

Ask the people I minister to and with what I believe about the Bible. Oh wait, you arenâ??t actually here. Sorry.

If thatâ??s a diatribe against â??historic orthodox reformed Protestants,â? then I hope you enjoy it. Sorry that I actually want to be accepted as a brother in Christ who believes and loves scripture. Whatâ??s gotten into me

I listened to Ed Stetzer’s CNN interview noting recent Lifeway research. He confirmed what Dan Kimball wrote giving people good reason to Like Jesus but not the Church and paint ourselves in such a light 44% would as soon avoid us as have a civil conversation.

If more people lived out the conviction iMonk shares we might reverse statistical trends and re-title our books. Here’s to iMonk. May his tribe increase.