Rob Bell: Amateur Lumberjack

I’m not a fan of Rob Bell.

But I am a fan of mercy, grace, and trying to understand people before making any judgement’s about what they are saying. I don’t always succeed at that, by the way, but I think I’m getting better.

Not perfect. Just better.

So what’s my problem with Rob? Certainly not his style. His style is quite enjoyable, even enviable. Nor is it his quest—intentional or not—to question everything. If we question nothing, we never learn anything for ourselves, and I’ve been known to ask a few troubling questions myself.

No, it’s not the style or the questioning.

It’s his penchant for behaving as an erstwhile, amateur lumberjack, sawing at the tree trunk of Christian theology while we’re all (Rob included) hanging from its branches.

deforestation

Dialoguing on a Branch While Sawing at the Trunk

What do I mean? Let me start at at the beginning and explain where this post came from.

I started to write this post after hearing an interview and reading some of the criticism of Rob’s new book (with his wife), The Zimzum of Love. I haven’t read it, and I’m not going to say much about it, except that I am bothered with how readily Rob leaves Christian theology aside to make his case with other philosophies. And yet, Adam Shields made some really good points in defense of this, so I’m not going to argue the point…unless I get around to reading it.

After deciding that I didn’t have much more to say on the topic of “why Rob is wrong,” I moved on.

And then I read this on one of his Tumblr posts1 in defense of his belief that homosexuality is not a sin:

When someone is told that who or how they are is wrong or deviant, it creates massive dissonance in the depth of their being. Especially if they are told that God is opposed to who they are. This is why suicide rates among gay teens are so tragically high. Sexuality is one of the most mysterious dimensions of our humanity, and to tell a young man or woman in their most formative years that there is something deeply wrong with them at the core of their being and if they are true to who they are they will bring the wrath and condemnation of the creator of universe upon them is a crushing weight no one should have to carry.

Before you get all hot and bothered, I’m not going to be arguing Rob’s points about homosexuality. Others have and are continuing to do so. Again, it’s his “sawing at the truck” that I want to talk about.

In this statement—which was part of Rob’s answer to a question about homosexuality not being a sin—Rob is trying to make the point that we should accept homosexuals as they are, and I agree…to a point.. We should accept everyone as they are just like Jesus did. However, accepting someone as they are, where they are, isn’t the same as accepting” who they are” or “where they are” as “who they should be” and so on. Without wanting to put words in Rob’s mouth, I think he’d say that I’m not as accepting as I should be.

In making his point about accepting all people, Rob argue that we shouldn’t tell people that they are “wrong or deviant” and that its destructive to tell them that “there is something deeply wrong with them at the core of their being and if they are true to who they are they will bring the wrath and condemnation” of God upon themselves. I agree that we shouldn’t start our dialogue with the unchurched in such a way, but there’s more to it than that.

It sounds like Rob is subtly undermining the concepts of original sin and total depravity.

Maybe he isn’t doing it intentionally. Maybe he’s writing very informally and didn’t concern the weight of what he was saying. I really don’t want to charge him with something that he isn’t doing, but it sure looks that way. “Why?” Great question.

The doctrines of original sin and total depravity are underpinning doctrines that make up the philosophical/theological foundations for Christianity. Original sin holds that because of Adam and Eve’s sin we have all been born into sin. We are born with a stain on our hearts, which makes us prone to further sin. Total depravity adds to this by saying that human beings are not only born sinful but are completely lost in their sin and have no strength within themselves to choose God or even to choose right behavior. It’s only because of God’s prevenient (awakening) grace that we are able to hear and respond to God’s call to relationship.

If Rob is trying to—honestly, even if he’s not trying, it’s still pretty bad—to undermine these doctrines then he’s doing some pretty significant damage to Christianity. Essentially, he’s removing or at least reducing the need for the Savior. How so? If we aren’t all born into sin, then aren’t I free to chose righteousness on my own? If I’m not born into sin, then righteousness is my natural state of being. Evil, selfishness, and wickedness would all be external and not an issue until I freely chose them.

You see, the honest truth is that there is something wrong with all of us. We are all broken at the core of who were are until Jesus is allowed in to not only heal us but also redefine who were are. Our identity before we meet Christ is a fading shadow before the eternally glorious identity that we receive once we have been joined with Him. For Rob to argue in defense of these individuals’ identities is to argue in defense of the fallen nature.

Now, Rob—or you—might likely counter that these individuals aren’t fallen. They are Christians. Gay Christians. Christians who are gay because God made them that way.

In defense of this, Rob would say that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be with someone, with not wanting to be alone, and that we need more fidelity, more faithful couples, regardless of their gender composition.

To counter this, I would provide scriptural evidence, ranging from outright prohibitions against homosexuality to a lengthy discussion of the comparisons made between God and His people and a man and his wife. However, Rob wouldn’t respond to this. He wouldn’t counter any of it directly accept to say this2:

[T]he Bible…contains an arc, a trajectory, a movement within it’s pages.

And here we reach the end game. Rob isn’t merely sawing at the branches by discounting orthodox doctrine: he’s chopping down the trunk.

deforestation

Deforestation in the Wood of The Word

Rob seems to genuinely help people understand God better, but by positioning the Bible as being a “trajectory,” he’s removed any foundational authority we might have had. The Bible isn’t God, but it is the only authoritative source given to us by God by which we can establish our faith and discern our course in this life. If we claim that the Bible is on a trajectory, that it’s teachings and doctrines are the reflection of men’s consciences and consciousness and not inspired by God, then we have no substantial authority for out faith. Rob contends that the Bible’s prohibitions against homosexuality are the result of the cultural attitudes of the day and a response to the…”serial infidelity” of homosexual practices in these time periods. I’m sure he’d also argue my point about God’s own use of the metaphor of heterosexual marriage by saying that we don’t know how God expressed this idea to the Bible writers and that all we can know is that the Bible writers expressed God’s thoughts in this way.

That last line feels a bit unfair, so I’ll take a different route and ask some questions. If God is fine with homosexuality, why create two genders? Why not simply create one gender, human, that could reproduce homosexually? Why create two when He would have been fine with one? Furthermore, why impart the power of creating more humans and passing on the divine image to only a heterosexual pairing?

At one point in Rob’s answer about homosexuality, he made a point I never thought I’d see him make:

There are roughly 31,102 verses in the Bible. There are five or six or seven, depending on who you talk to, that refer to homosexuality.

There are a handful of verses that prohibit homosexuality. Fair point. I’ll grant you that it’s a bit of a drop in the bucket. Now, how many verses are there that, in any way, leave the door open for a change on this position? Ok, I’m going to pause for a minute and be a huge jerk, ok?

Really, Rob? You went there and counted the verses? That feels like something a moralist would do regarding drinking. And what does that prove anyway? You’re counting verses that explicitly mention it and explicitly forbid it in both the Old and New Testaments, right? Ok, so how many times do you have to tell you kids something before you get annoyed that they aren’t listening? Also, let’s count all of the times that marriage is mentioned in a heterosexual context…oh wait. We can’t because you’ll just argue that the metaphors are heterosexual because they were written by heterosexuals. Because the Bible is a reflection of men—conspicuous absence of women, right?—writing to describe and explain God. It’s not God’s Word, right? Then why even count the verses? Why even use it at all? If it’s not truly divine, if it is on a trajectory of progress, then how can we trust that it offers us anything of value or substance?

Now, back to, at least, the pretense of civility. I went off for a minute precisely because this belief that the Bible is on a trajectory, moving us toward a more “progressive” view of reality, is so frustrating. It essentially undermines the value of the Bible as an authoritative source. Try to convince all you want that the trajectory is real: the only trajectory I see is one from man’s fall to God’s descent to creations restoration. You can argue all you want about how society’s position on women or minorities have changed over the years as proof, but I’ll counter by saying that the Bible has been quite clear about all that; it’s society that hasn’t lived up to the biblical standard.

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:26-28

The apostle Paul didn’t leave much room for interpretation: all of humanity is equal in worth before God.3 The problem with gender or race issues isn’t what has been written in the Bible but how it has been interpreted and abused. And while Paul was clear about the proper view of gender and race, he was also clear regarding his prohibitions against homosexuality, and before you make a statement about fidelity, let’s read what he said:

“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Why does he list sexual immorality, adultery, and homosexuality all separately? They were separate things. “Sexual immorality” is a fairly broad group. I’d hate to try to dissect that Paul could have meant there, but I think we could safely list bestiality, masturbation, pornography—though this obviously didn’t exist then as we would think of it today. “Adultery”isn’t limited to cheating on your spouse: it’s extramarital sex of any kind at any time, even if you’re not married. It’s after Paul lists the broad category of sexual immorality and the easily defined sin of adultery that he lists “men who have sex with men.” The Greek doesn’t indicate “men who have sex with men without commitment.” He was fairly clear about the issue.

Rob, I’ve call you a “lumberjack” because I feel like you’re sawing away at the trunk of the tree of Christianity. Furthermore, if the Bible and the doctrine and theology surrounding it were a wood, a lush forest, I envision you in the wood felling tree after tree at an amazing pace. You don’t seem to care about—Or maybe understand? No, I think you’re actually pretty smart.—about the philosophical and theological underpinnings of Christian doctrine. You are deforesting our theological woods, and if you’re not careful, there won’t be anything left to believe in.

But what if the Bible is on a trajectory? Where does the trajectory stop? With the cannon?4 Will God send us a new apostle, a new prophet, to better clarify Jesus’ message?5 Or maybe God has sent us a new apostle to do just that? An apostle with a shelf full of books and a new TV show?

I know that wasn’t very merciful or gracious.

I said that I’m getting better; I’m not perfect.

I went way too long on it, so if you made it this far, way to go! What do you think of what I’ve said here? Am I way off?


  1. All of the quotes in this post are coming from Rob’s Tumblr post What is the Bible? Part 75 

  2. The only edits I made to this quote were for the sake of readability outside of Rob’s post. Here’s the original quote: “Third, the Bible, then, contains an arc, a trajectory, a movement within it’s pages.” Also, this quote was taken from the same post but was not from the question about homosexuality. This was part of Rob’s answer to a question about troubling passages in the Bible, though I believe Rob has applied this same logic to the homosexuality debate before as well. 

  3. We can discuss “differentiation of gender roles” later. 

  4. The official, orthodox collection of sixty-six scriptural books that we call “the Bible.” 

  5. This is the heart of both Islam, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormonism, by the way. 

Psalm for the Theologian

1 My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
3 Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.
Psalm 131

Read this psalm as a part of the Book of Common Prayer, and I instantly thought that it would be a good one for theologians (and pastors).

It reminded me, in a way, of this quote from Spurgeon1:

It has been said by some one that “the proper study of mankind is man.” I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father. There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, “Behold I am wise.” But when we come to this master-science, finding that our plumb-line cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought, that vain man would be wise, but he is like a wild ass’s colt; and with the solemn exclamation, “I am but of yesterday, and know nothing.” No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God.


  1. From his sermon “The Immutability of God” 

The Story Without A Conflict

Do you remember seeing a chart like the one above when you were in eighth grade? It’s called the “story arc” or “dramatic structure” or a bunch of other things. In essence, it’s a graphic representation of the action and flow of a story from “Once upon a time…” all the way to “…happily ever after.”

I love this chart for so many reasons, mainly because I’m a story nerd. I enjoy studying stories and understanding how they work.

But I also love this chart because it’s a great indicator of the human condition.

Not sure what I mean? Allow me to explain.

Good Conflict = Good Story

Look at that story arc again. How does it start? “Well, it starts with ‘exposition.’ Whatever that it is.”1

That’s technically right, but look again. Where does the story really start? With conflict. The conflict comes, and the story takes off. It’s the conflict that gets the story going and keeps it going until it’s resolved. Good stories have good conflicts that we can readily relate to or find exciting or compelling.

The worst stories are the ones that have a bad conflict—one that’s confusing, one that can’t be related to but isn’t exciting or confusing, etc.—or no conflict at all. You know that one uncle who tells stories at Thanksgiving that have neither point nor punchline? He’s telling stories that are missing a good conflict.

But Conflicts Aren’t Good

A good conflict makes for a good story, and yet aren’t conflicts bad? Doesn’t the presence of a conflict mean the absence of peace?

Conflicts are bad. Conflicts are problems that spark the action of the story. If there are no problems, there are no conflicts, and all of the characters are at peace, enjoying their lives. Ever wonder why the filmmakers don’t include more scenes of the film where the main characters are simply hanging out for no reason, with no plot advancement? It’s because that doesn’t make for a very exciting movie, unless you’re into that.

So, all of our stories—except for those written to intentionally attempt to defy this law—begin with and are driven by conflict?

What does that say about us?

Fallen Humans, Fallen World, Fallen Stories

All of our stories begin with conflict because our lives are filled with conflict, but it’s not because the presence of conflict makes it easy for us to relate to the story because we have conflict in our lives. The presence of conflicts in stories and our lives comes from the fact that we are all characters in God’s story, a story that contains the mother of all conflicts.

In the beginning…once upon a time…God created a perfect world, free from conflict, discord, and pain. We brought conflict into this world, and thus, into our lives. The Gospel, the story of Jesus, is the story of God entering into our conflict to bring a permanent and final resolution.

We created the conflict in God’s story, and God has sent Jesus to begin the process of resolving this conflict.

But wait! When that happens, when Heaven comes to Earth and all conflict is resolved, what happens to the story?

Won’t a story without a conflict be terrible and dull?

No Conflict = Better Stories

I’ve already stated that good conflicts make for good stories and that stories without conflict are boring. So, now, we have a conflict, a contradiction, in this blog post, right? No.

Stories that are told without a conflict are pointless. We have a conflict in our story; our story has a point. When we reach that resolution, we’ll finally be living in the “happily ever after.” That doesn’t sound boring at all.

“But didn’t God plan to have a story without a conflict? And don’t stories that end with a ‘happily ever after’ often return with a sequel, conflict-driven story?”

Yes, He did. More on that in a second.

Sequels are created to bring back the characters in a new story, and they require a new conflict because we don’t want a story where the characters are merely sitting around. We can’t imagine a story without conflicting being exciting. We want to see these characters being heroic, brave, etc. We crave stories of wonder and thrill, that see characters move beyond what they know about life and themselves into a new world beyond anything they’d experienced before.

And that’s exactly the kind of story God planned for us in the first place. He planned a story that we have seen us growing closer and closer to our infinite Creator, constantly discovering more and more of who He is and being changed by it. This is the story we will have after Heaven has come to Earth. Conflict resolved, but discovery, adventure, and excitement brought to their highest peaks, beyond anything imagined in this life, each and every moment that we live in the perfect presence of God.

Conclusion

This isn’t an easy topic. It’s very conceptual and abstract, but let me close by summarizing as simply as possible. Before that, however, let me suggest the CS Lewis book The Great Divorce. While it’s a highly speculative and metaphorical book, it presents a view of Heaven that lines up with a lot of what I’m trying to say.

God started a story without a conflict, but we introduced a conflict through sin. God sent Jesus to live, die, and be resurrected to remove our sin and restore our relationship with Him, beginning the process of resolving the conflict. We living in a world of conflict and seek to entertain ourselves with stories that are driven by conflict. And yet, part of us desires a compelling story full excitement and yet devoid of conflict.

And that’s the story that God is going to inaugurate as soon as this one is fully resolved, when Heaven comes to Earth.

[Featured Image Via Ms. Snowden’s English Blog]


  1. ‘Exposition’ is the background of a story—the introduction of characters, setting, etc. It gives the reader some context that helps the reader understand the rest of the story. 

Neglecting Intellect

What do you do more in church: think or feel?

What about the sermon—does it appeal to one more than the other?

And the worship? Do the songs—because that’s generally the sum total of corporate worship in America—aim to engage you intellectually or emotionally?

I would hazard a guess and say that most churches are shooting at the heart more than the head, and this, gentle reader, this is a problem. Just look at the state of theology in our nation (and our churches) to see that an increasing number of people don’t understand the gospel.

Disclaimer & Caution

Before I explain our problem, let me offer a disclaimer and a caution. First of all, I’m imbalanced. I am way more intellectually-driven than emotionally. Part of that is from being a Western-born man and part of this is arrogance.

Secondly, as a caution, please don’t read on, come to the conclusion that your church is out of balance, and then swing the pendulum past the point of a balance and end up on the other end of the spectrum. The heart is important. We cannot cut it out, but neither can we let it dominate the head.

Emotion vs. Intellect

I first thought of writing this article after listening to Ravi Zacharais’ answer to a question on this Q/A episode of Just Thinking.1 The question was about the growth of the Church overseas, and Ravi made the interesting point that the American Church has become far too focussed with the emotional elements of their faith to the neglect of the intellect of their congregations.

Can I take a moment to pause and reemphasize my disclaimer and offer some teaching to clarify it further? We are human beings, created in the image of God. Yes, the image has been damaged by the ravages of sin, but we can still see some of the original design. God has both emotion and intellect—do we think that He allows one to reign over the other or are we of the opinion that God is a being who is in complete, balance within and without? In fact, when we say that we are “out of balance,” what are we using as a comparison to determine what balance is? Personally, my balance is Jesus. He displayed emotion: anger (Matthew 21:18-19, Mark 3:5, Luke 9:41, John 2:13-22); sadness, grief, despair (Luke 22, John 11:35). And yet, Jesus taught with such wisdom and authority, conviction and intelligence, that His contemporaries were amazed: (Matthew 7:28-29, Matthew 22:41-46, Luke 2:46-47). Jesus presented both emotion and intellect. Both are gifts to us from God; neither should be neglected in favor of the other.

Now, the contention at hand is that many churches have neglected intellect for emotion. Before we go too much further, let’s give ourselves a few questions to answer that can serve as our outline.

How can we know if a local church (or the American Church, at large) has neglected the intellect in favor of the emotion?

What are the consequences of a church neglecting the intellect?

How can we regain a balanced approach of appealing to the heart and the head?

With these questions as our guide, we’ll press on.


How can we know if a local church (or the American Church, at large) has neglected the intellect in favor of the emotion?

With a post like this, asking questions like this, I run the risk of over-generalization. For that, I’m sorry. At the same time, I also risk missing some important items, so please don’t treat this as an exhaustive list or even a truly diagnostic list. Take this list a “first step,” as checking WebMD before you call the doctor. I’m not your doctor.

A church that neglects the intellect for the emotional will most likely…

1) place a greater emphasis on prayer and worship than the sharing of the World. I grew up in a Pentecostal church, and I have been in services where we felt the presence of God so deeply during our times of worship that we pressed on in worship and prayer, foregoing the sermon. There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as that is the exception. When a church makes this it’s regular practice, there’s a problem. Worship is vital, seriously. We were created to glorify God, but the issue isn’t worship, in reality. The issue is with our definition of “worship.” Worship should not be defined as singing. Worship is so much more.2 In fact, the Apostle Paul taught that anything we do for God’s glory is done as worship, which would mean that the sermon, properly done, is worship. A balanced view of worship would then have both the corporate time of singing and the sermon equally represented. It’s also worth noting that so many who over-emphasize corporate singing as the sum total of worship are woefully lacking in times of individual worship/singing. Corporate worship, meaning the entirety of the Sunday gathering, should be seen as the capstone to the individual’s worship carried out throughout the week.

2) train their pastor to preach anecdotally using proof texts3 and three-point sermons. Pastors want to preach the Word, but they aren’t machines. If a church body refuses to respond to an intellectual—but not emotionless—appeal, pastors will change their approach. It’s human nature. This process is exacerbated when congregants complain to their pastor, or about him to others, that his messages aren’t emotional enough. For some reason—and I will have to explore this topic further at another time—Christians have come to believe that emotional appeals are more spiritual. Honestly, this is the heart of this issue, the “why” of the “what,” and I just don’t have time to get into it.

3) focus more on what happens in the service as opposed to what changes come spring up in their lives. This could be turned on its head and applied to a church that was all intellect and no heart, but I doubt such a church exists, at least in the US. A church that over-emphasizes emotion often falls into emotionalism, which tends to be demonstrated in church gatherings where emotional responses are equated with God’s presence. By this, I mean that crying, chills, etc. are taken to the preeminent signs of God’s presence/moving in a church service and, as such, they are sought out experiences. Now, I’m not saying that these aren’t signs of God’s presence. No, it’s when we seek these experiences that we get off track. Jesus hasn’t saved us so that we can get chills when a certain song is sung in church or whatever. We’ve been saved for His purposes and His glory, and He is most glorified in us when we allow Him to make us more like Him. You aren’t being transformed into the likeness of Christ just because you’re crying at the altar. You can’t measure your increase in holiness by the number of tissues you went through in a single time of prayer. We are, of course, going to respond emotionally/physically to God’s presence, but those responses are not the end. The end goal isn’t an emotionally moving time at the altar; the end goal is God being glorified as we are made to be more like Him, a process that takes place mostly outside of church gatherings.

4) become unbalanced in other areas. Emotions are crucial, indescribably important elements of our daily live. Oftentimes, our emotions can help to tell us when we’re off track in our relationship with God. However, it is our intellect that is most often responsible for telling us where we are off track and how to get back on track. Of course, this argument only serves to support what I haven already said that we need a balance of emotion and intellect to be wholly human and that we will find greater intimacy with God Himself in a holy balance between the two.

I would argue that the American Church, by and large, has become and overly-emotional church, whether your local church has or not is between you, your pastor, and God. Beyond this list here, I would add as evidence the disparity between the number of women, on average, who attend church when compared to men. Overly emotional churches don’t appeal to most men, who are more likely to be reached with a more intellectual appeal.4

What are the consequences of a church neglecting the intellect?

The consequences can be stated with a simple link: The State of Theology.

The average Christian’s knowledge and understanding incredibly low considering the wealth of tools and resources made available to him or her. It’s frightening, really, when you consider how much bad theology is being presented using that same abundance of resources. Now, some might wonder why it matters what Christians believe. To them I would ask this, “Suppose a medical doctor ceases believe in a certain medicine. He’s still a ‘doctor,’ right? Well, now, he’s ceased to believe in all medicine. Is he still a ‘doctor’? Perhaps. What if he no longer believes in medicine or surgery, no longer believes in the reality of illness or injury, seeing them both as delusion, and no longer regularly reports to the hospital. Is he still a ‘doctor’?” Maybe that’s a weak analogy, but my point is fairly simple and strong: when it comes to faith, what you are (Christian, Buddhist, atheist, etc.) is based upon what you believe. Sure, there are some open-handed religious issues in the theological gray area between Christian denominations, but there is a grand and glorious core of closed-handed issues that make up the essence of what a Christian believes. Should the individual Christian begin to neglect, due to a lack of sound doctrine and over-emphasized emotionalism, these core beliefs, a whole host of other beliefs will take their place. Atheists don’t believe in “nothing.” They have very strong beliefs, and one of them is that their is no God. Christians who neglect or reject the core beliefs of their faith will eventually replace them with other, non-Christian beliefs. I’ll close this section by saying idols aren’t just “false gods” but also false conceptions or constructions we have of the true God.

How can we regain a balanced approach of appealing to the heart and the head?

This section, of all of them, could be a blog post or a series of posts all on its own, but since I’m unlikely to write that post soon, I’ll offer there quick suggestions for bringing balance because, remember, we don’t want to remove emotion. We want to balance the heart and the head, having unity in the whole of our humanity.

1) Preach to the head, challenge the heart, and God will change the spirit. If you’re not preaching an intelligent, reasonable message with a heartfelt, pastoral appeal for Spirit-powered life-change, start now! Stop cherry-picking verses to match your points. Go to God in prayer. Pick up the Word. Let the Holy Spirit draw you to a passage or a series of passages and allow the Spirit to reveal to you the meaning, in context. God has both intellect and emotion, and His written Word has something to say to us as whole humans, heart and head. It’s your job to let Him first preach it to you so that you can preach it to your church.

2) Add some teaching time—even at the costs of some preaching time.
In 2013, I transitioned from working with students to serving as my church’s discipleship pastor. As a part of this process, we reformatted our Wednesday night programming. We removed our “Wednesday night Bible study” and the two or three struggling life stages classes that were still hanging around after having out-lived their efficacy. In fact, the Bible study had effectively just become our Sunday PM Worship Part 2, while some of the life stages classes had become social clubs. In removing these programs, started a new system wherein we have six-to-eight week classes with rotating topics and teachers. This has allowed us to begin offering increasingly deeper doctrinal classes while also offering practical classes, designed to help Christians apply doctrine to their marriages, to parenting, to managing their lives and time. There have been some bumps and some lessons learned, but overall, the change has been a huge success.

And yet, it cost us some classes that some people enjoyed and a Wednesday night sermon. Preaching is important but so is teaching. Teaching provides the doctrinal foundation according to which the preaching holds you accountable. To poorly paraphrase Josh McDowell, “If more sermons were going to work, there wouldn’t have been a problem to begin with.”

3) Recommend (strongly) some old, time-tested books (And some really good newer ones.)
If you’re only reading current/new books, you’re stuck in the crowd. You’re learning, and therefore, thinking the same as everyone else. That’s why I suggest reading books that are older. They are often better placed to give you some teaching that society is currently neglecting. At the same time, there many good books that have been written in the past two decades. Don’t judge a book (or a person) because of its age. However, be aware that newer books haven’t always been around long enough to have been fully vetted or discredited by orthodox theologians and teachers.

Here are some books that I have already recommended to my church:

The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? by Rick Warren
Just Like Jesus by Max Lucado
Come Thirsty by Max Lucado
In the Grip of Grace by Max Lucado
Simply Christian by NT Wright
The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee
The Pursuit of God by AW Tozer
Radical by David Platt
Crazy Love by Francis Chan
Lucky by Glenn Packiam
Secondhand Jesus by Glenn Packiam
Story by Steven James
Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
The Furious Longing of God by Brennan Manning
The Holiness of God by RC Sproul
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence (Look for an updated/modern translation)


This is in no way an exhaustive post, though I am exhausted from writing it. I’m not done with this topic, but I’m done for today.

Do you agree with the case I’ve presented?

Is your church out of balance between the head and the heart?


  1. The question comes at around the 7:16 mark. 

  2. Ravi Zacharias is definition of worship found in this quote from Archbishop William Temple: “Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose—all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.” 

  3. A “proof text” is a verse or small passage of Scripture pulled out of context to support a theological or moral point. Using this approach, is not considered to be good scholarship, meaning that it doesn’t accurately present what is being said in Scripture. 

  4. Again, this is a generalization, based upon gender roles instead of my perceptions of churches. That’s why I didn’t include it in the list. Furthermore, there are many men who wouldn’t consider themselves “intellectual,” but I would still argue that men, on the whole, respond better to an appeal to their reason and rationality than to their emotions. And I hope it would go without saying, though I know it doesn’t, that none of this is to say that women aren’t intelligent or intellectual. My point is only that, on average, women appreciate/respond to an emotional approach more readily than men. 

Our Tortured Soul

Over a week ago, the Senate Intelligence committee released an “executive summary”—a highly redacted, summarized, and condensed version of a much larger and ostensibly more damning report—on the use of torture by the CIA on suspected terrorists since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. (The report, entitled Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program is available for free download from CNN.)

Before I discuss this issue, let me make my position very clear: Torture is, morally and unequivocally, wrong. Continue reading Our Tortured Soul

“Like for Jesus,” Scroll for Sanity

I’ve been a Facebook user since around 2005. I don’t say that to gloat—there’s no pride in that statement. No, what I’m trying to communicate is longevity. I’ve seen Facebook evolve, and I’ve seen it change as its user base has changed. And to that end, as older adults, who are statistically speaking more religious (in a cultural sense), have joined Facebook, my feed has become increasingly more religious.

Now, I’ve used the term “religious” twice for a very particular reason, even though the “religion” in question is Christianity: the amount of “religious” items I’ve seen in my Facebook feed have increased, but I’d say that the overall evidence of “Christianity” or “Christ-likeness” of my feed has remained the same.

Allow me to explain with a prime example of what many people would consider a true display of “Facebook faith.” Continue reading “Like for Jesus,” Scroll for Sanity

A Psalm for the Part-Time Pastors

“Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord who minister by night in the house of the Lord.
Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord.

May the Lord bless you from Zion, he who is the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 134:1-3

I know that the psalmist didn’t have part-time or bi-vocationals pastors in mind when he wrote, but when I read it last week, it seemed to fit so well.

I am a pastor who ministers “by night in the house of the Lord;” I work five days a week as a public school teacher and come into the office twice a week to get work done, after school, and then serve on Sunday’s and Wednesday’s.

I love what I do, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it’s incredibly frustrating. I’m doing two jobs (teaching and pastoring) that really should only be attempted full-time because both require so much mental (lesson-planning, sermon prep, research, reading, writing, etc.), emotional (counseling—big part of both jobs), and physical (pacing, walking, standing, lecturing/preaching) effort. And yet, here I am.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll keep doing both, but I do know that God blesses (and will continue to bless) all who serve Him, both now and into eternity.

Facebook Privacy and Christian Gullibility

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Two weeks ago, a wave of panic swept through my Facebook feed as several well-intentioned though misinformed individuals posted the following:

Due to the fact that Facebook has chosen to involve software that will allow the theft of my personal information, I state: at this date of November 27, 2014, in response to the new guidelines of Facebook, pursuant to articles L.111, 112 and 113 of the code of intellectual property, I declare that my rights are attached to all my personal data drawings, paintings, photos, video, texts etc…. published on my profile and my page. For commercial use of the foregoing my written consent is required at all times. Continue reading Facebook Privacy and Christian Gullibility