According to John: Where Are You From

john bannerI’ve been planning to create some short notes on John, discussions of topics about which I’ve gotten a number of questions. I recorded the first of these today, and here’s the embedded YouTube video:

Tonight I’ve decided that I will focus much more on the trial of Jesus and the relationship between ritual, symbol, and spiritual reality. You can find more information on the Google+ Event Page, or you can view using the embedded viewer below.

Papers from the Pericope of the Adulteress Conference

They are announced, publication in April 2016 by T&T Clark.

Another Note on the Eucharist Celebrated Weekly

9781631990113… at least.

Bob Cornwall shares a bit on this topic, including, of course, a link to his book in Energion’s Topical Line Drives series.

I often don’t like John Calvin, but I do like this view of the Eucharist. I don’t see the need for some kind of physical description, but I do believe that through carrying out this common ritual as commanded by Jesus we share in community.

I like the weekly celebration as part of the service. Our pastor normally connects the celebration with the topic of his sermon and makes it a combination of traditional elements and up-to-the-moment connections. I recently experienced this with someone who read the liturgy word for word, and I must say that the difference was striking to me. I think there are ways to make traditions both familiar, so people feel able to participate and also new, so that participating is an uplifting challenge.

In any case, check out Bob’s article.

Last Night on the Tuesday Night Energion Hangout: Stewardship

97816319917389781938434129Pastors and church leaders cringe at the “s” word, because so many members don’t want to hear about it. Sometimes they blame the members for not wanting to dedicate their wallets to the Lord. But is that precisely what we should be asking church members to do?

I think the resources to carry out the gospel commission already exist. Those resources are tied up in our individual wallets, bank accounts, and possessions at the individual level. At the church level they are tied up in buildings and supplies, things we’re sure we have to have. But do you know that there are thousands of churches around the world that get along without the things that we, in American churches, absolutely have to have?

Come to think of it, am I aware that there are people who do without things that I count on every day?

My guests were David Croteau, author of Tithing after the Cross and Steve Kindle, author of Stewardship: God’s Way of Recreating the World. They come from different denominational and theological backgrounds and belong to different generations. Yet in looking at what the Bible says about stewardship, they both come to the same conclusions. You’ll be amazed at the level of agreement.

I have heard many of my fellow Americans say that the government needs to get out of charity and let the church do it. You know what? How about if the government could spend way less on social welfare programs because the church was doing its job? I don’t just mean giving out money; that’s part of it. But giving out money results from letting the gospel change our priorities so that we give ourselves to the Lord (2 Corinthians 8:5), and everything else results from that.

Just think! We might even turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6)!

Here’s the video:


Earlier today Dave Black commented on this as well.

Talking about Getting Published

Tonight on our Tuesday night Energion hangout, Jody and I will be talking about how to get published, particularly by Energion Publications, but also with some general ideas. Join us at 7:00 pm central time tonight, July 21, 2015.

Go to our Google+ Event Page for more information or watch using the YouTube embed below.


According to Mark with Drew Smith

9781631991219I had a great time yesterday interviewing Drew Smith for my study on the gospel of John. I wanted to talk to him about how one “does” biblical thelogy and do some comparisons between John and Mark. Drew is very knowledgeable, having written his dissertation on a narrative critical reading of the gospel of Mark for his PhD in New Testament from the University of Edinburgh.

Here’s the interview:

We were left with one question: Is there a case in Mark where one can unequivocally say that the title “son of God” is not the equivalent of Messiah. “Unequivocally” is a tall order, but Drew said he’d look at it. I look forward to posting the results in the comments here.

Drew blogs at Wilderness Preacher. He’s the author of Reframing a Relevant Faith (cover image above; click for full size).

According to John: Interview with Drew Smith

john bannerWe had lots of audio problems last time we tried, so we’re trying again! Tonight (7/16/15), Drew Smith will be my guest on my study of the gospel according to John. Drew got his PhD in New Testament from the University of Edinburgh, and wrote his dissertation on the gospel according to Mark. Tonight we’ll compare the theologies of the two books and ask Drew about adoptionism. Does the absence of a birth narrative in Mark mean support adoptionism?

You can find more information on the Google+ Event Page, or view using the YouTube embedded below.

Choosing Pastors and Church Continuity

churchandpeopleLast week I encounter two posts that got me wanting to say something about the same topic: pastoral leadership and church mission and continuity. The first was The United Methodist Church Should Give Up Its Game of Musical Chairs, and the second was not obviously related, 5 Reasons Why the Sunday Sermon Is Boring (both HT Dave Black Online). I do tend to see them as related, and I’ll explain why.

The United Methodist Church has an approach to assigning pastors. We call it itinerancy, because it grew out of the system of circuit riders, but we Methodists should admit that it bears very little resemblance either in theory or in application to circuit riding. And yes, it has its problems, sometimes serious ones. Bigger churches get preference. Places that are well established and have good income are more likely to get experienced and effective pastors. Places where the ground to be ploughed is hard often get pastors who are tired or inexperienced.

I would also say that quite frequently churches get what they deserve under this system. If a congregation is lively and active and wants to impact its community for good and for God, then it will often get a similarly lively pastor. I once heard a United Methodist district superintendent say she wasn’t going to waste a good pastor on a church that wasn’t going anywhere.

But the system has the bottom line problem of all systems: People. One can write a similar list of problems for almost any system. A call system often results in similar disparities, this time because the same pastors the bishop would have assigned to more active or larger churches are chosen by such churches, while the smaller or less active churches are left to choose between the remnants. On the other hand, pretty much all systems have at least one plus: People touched by God’s grace.

We often believe we can rewrite the rules for church polity and thus solve the church’s problems. But our rules do not solve problems. Our rules provide a framework for us to live in community. Yes, they can encourage or discourage various kinds of behavior, but they will not make a successful church. For the church to be successful, we need to proclaim the gospel and act on it in our community. That will require discernment and listening to the Holy Spirit. There are independent congregations that find their way and there are churches with a pastor assigned by a bishop that do so. There are house churches that proclaim the gospel. There are also house churches that go nowhere. The building, furniture, and human rules won’t make it all work.

So what about those boring sermons. How does that relate?

I’m glad you asked! The sermon is another point at which we hope certain rules or procedures will solve the problem and make the sermon “work.” But like a pastoral call, we get stuck with what happens. If the called or appointed pastor is a good preacher, we’ll get a good sermon. I know there are classes on homiletics and good books on sermon preparation and presentation. I even publish one. But some people simply aren’t preachers. I know more than one person who was a deep thinker, perhaps an excellent discussion leader, certainly someone who did her or his homework, yet the sermon was just not the right medium for the person.

But the pastor has to present a sermon!

And there is our problem with both elements. We have churches that are pastor centered. Why is it that a church cannot function with a change of pastor? Why is it that a church cannot function in the absence of a pastor? Why is it that a change of pastor will bring active ministries crashing down?

In all cases, I would say, the ministries are too pastor-centered. We are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). Paul doesn’t tell us that the pastor is the body of Christ and we are the pastor’s minions. Rather, we are the body of Christ and “pastor” is a gifting and calling exercised within that body. A pastor won’t necessarily be a good preacher. And despite those who advocate pastor-teachers (and there are many of those), I believe that the two exist separately as well as together, though the work overlaps. Both pastors and teachers (in one person or not) equip the saints (Ephesians 4:12) for the work of ministry. The means may be different, but the goal is the same: To produce disciples who go forth and minister.

Now teaching and preaching are not necessarily the same, either. One friend of mine told me that the sermon was more a form of art than of teaching. It carried the worship service forward in an artistic way. I don’t really object to this except to say that if this is worship in the form of an art, it shouldn’t be an individually-centered thing, but rather something in which the whole congregation participates.

I would suggest that the needed response to the problems addressed in both these articles is to make our churches less pastor-centered. We need to spread out both the work and the leadership. If a church needs to call a new pastor, they should have continuing, active ministries waiting for the new pastor’s added touch, not for him to revive before moving forward.

Am I against pastors? No! Am I against professional pastors? In some cases. I see a problem when churches that are small spend too much money on having a professional pastor. There is a place for a lay-led congregation or a pastor who is bi-vocational. But whether the pastor is a full-time worker who is paid, or a lay person volunteering part-time, the church shouldn’t center on that one person. Pastoring or teaching should equip others and help them find their place of service in the church and in the community. Further, churches need to recognize this as work. When the pastor sits down in his office with someone for an hour or so, that’s not wasting time. That’s equipping. When the pastor teaches people how to visit and encourage others, that’s not trying to get out of work, she’s doing her job.

I’d further suggest that we, as a church, should not reserve ordination or commissioning for pastors. We should discover the gifts God has given to each member and commission them for that service in the body. Do you have gifts of administration? Let’s pray over you and lay hands on you commissioning you to administer the church office. Do you have the gift of encouragement? Let’s pray over you and lay hands on you, commissioning you to go out and encourage, recognized by and supported by your church.

Recognizing, equipping, sending! Sounds like fun! And we might even find that we had fewer discouraged pastors if we did it.


And There It Is!

I’ve been fascinated by Pluto since I found out it existed way, way back in prehistoric times.

So here it is. I’m looking forward to closer images after the flyby.


SNEAK PEEK of gorgeous Pluto! The dwarf planet has sent a love note back to Earth via our New Horizons spacecraft, which has traveled more than 9 years and 3+ billion miles. This is the last and most detailed image of Pluto sent to Earth before the moment of closest approach – 7:49 a.m. EDT today. This same image will be released and discussed at 8 a.m. EDT today. Watch our briefing live on NASA Television at: The high res pic will be posted on the web at: This stunning image of the dwarf planet was captured from New Horizons at about 4 p.m. EDT on July 13, about 16 hours before the moment of closest approach. The spacecraft was 476,000 miles (766,000 kilometers) from the surface. Image Credit: NASA #nasa #pluto #plutoflyby #newhorizons #solarsystem #nasabeyond #science

A photo posted by NASA (@nasa) on

Guest Post: Thoughts on the SDA General Conference Decision about Ordination of Women

I thought about commenting on the recent vote by the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference on allowing it’s divisions to choose whether to ordain women. As an ex-SDA, however, and one who works with people on both sides of this issue, I thought it might be a bit rude.

I just received the post that follows from an SDA young person, thoughtfully responding to the vote. I think there are elements here that should be considered by people of all denominations. If you change the issue, don’t the underlying problems nonetheless remain? – HN


On Wednesday the 2015 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists made a historic decision on the topic of women’s ordination. On Wednesday, the General Conference stopped representing me.

I am a 20-something male who could be considered a “card-carrying” SDA: raised in the church, attended an SDA academy and university, and am even a lifelong vegetarian. I’m not a pastor, though at one point I nearly became one. I have worked in Adventist summer camps for over 5 summers, and am involved in music and technological ministry. But what right do I have to speak on women’s ordination? Not much. This vote, however, was not about women’s ordination.

To make my stance perfectly clear: I am fully supportive of women being ordained in the SDA church and given full privileges in ministry, with no limitations or compromises. I am not a theologian, though, and my intention is not to add to the body of arguments already made for or against it. To me, the deeper, more sinister strain beneath this vote is the clear expression of mistrust that the delegates of the world church have demonstrated towards its members who are called to the ministry of the Gospel. As a church that advocates that all members are ministers, this means that the governing body of my church no longer trusts me.

Let’s look at the actual measure voted upon:

“Is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry?”

The delegates voted 1,381-977 against the measure, but what does that mean? Perhaps more importantly, what does it not mean? A ‘yes’ vote would not mean that a division would ordain women. To me a ‘yes’ says that, given an issue to which there are clearly multiple theological and cultural interpretations, regions would have the right to take into consideration the needs of their members and the path that would be most effective in spreading the message of Christ to the world. A ‘yes’ vote, then, could be conscientiously given by a delegate who did not themselves agree with the ordination of women in their division, but wanted to extend that right to those in other divisions.

The 1,381 ‘no’ votes, however, did not leave room for debate or choice. The GC delegates were under no illusion as to which way the vote would have gone had it been about directly approving ordination without regards to gender across the entire world church. Given a global GC approval was virtually impossible with the current body of delegates, a ‘no’ vote sent a clear message that their interpretation of this issue is the only valid interpretation, and this should be imposed on the global church body. Look at any major tweets or article about the ordination vote and you will see many well-meaning yet inconsiderate replies praising God for keeping His church together or making His will clear through the vote. Meanwhile, the disenfranchised received an ‘official’ slap in the face from the very organization to which they have dedicated their careers and service.

As someone who can still be considered a (barely) young person in the Adventist church, my global church has told me they do not trust me to think for myself. More insultingly, they have told me I should not regard my close female friends who are dedicated ministers in the church, pastors or otherwise, as highly as the men, independently of the quality and sincerity of their service. In this same GC session, mission has been emphasized, and reports have been given on young people leaving the church. Countless discussions throughout the years have tried to ascertain why this is. Well, as a ‘biased sample’ of those young people, I will answer that to them right now: It’s because you don’t trust us. You won’t empower us. You want us to be nominally part of your mission, but you want us to walk, talk, and sing like you. Yet we see right through your facade. We were attracted to this church because we believe that Jesus is coming soon, and because we want to do our part to get the world as excited as we are. Then we found out that you won’t let us, and we wonder if this mission we were ready to give our lives for was really the mission that you represent at all. Then we ask questions you won’t answer, or that you answer too quickly. Then we doubt. Then we leave.

Fortunately, not all is lost. Some unions within divisions of the church, such as the Pacific Union, have courageously approved ordination of women within their union. These rights may not extend beyond those unions, but they shine as little lights that will not stand for inequality within the body of Christ. We (of all denominations) need to stand for those who want to spread the light of Jesus but have been discouraged, disenfranchised, or belittled. In my (and I still consider it my) church, I need to stand by the women who are fighting to serve in a church that does not always acknowledge that fight, and I will not blame those who for these reasons feel compelled to leave. Personally, my fight is still from within. I believe that being an ‘Adventist’, one who hopes for the second coming of Jesus, is something far beyond what a large, fragmented, human governing body can define it to be. This is evident in the many accepting local churches and wonderful individuals in the Adventist church of all genders, races, and cultures. Even if I cannot be represented fully by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, I am represented wholly by Christ and His advent. My mission as a Christian and a Seventh-day Adventist is a reflection of Christ’s mission: to reach all the world, without prejudice or compromise.

I’d like to end with a quote from one of the founders of the Adventist denomination, founded about 150 years ago. Her writings have been used and abused on both sides of this issue and many others, so I will simply leave you this paragraph unabridged and without personal commentary. God bless you, whatever you believe, and thank you for reading.

Then as the children of God are one in Christ, how does Jesus look upon caste, upon society distinctions, upon the division of man from his fellow man, because of color, race, position, wealth, birth, or attainments? The secret of unity is found in the equality of believers in Christ. The reason for all division, discord, and difference is found in separation from Christ. Christ is the center to which all should be attracted; for the nearer we approach the center, the closer we shall come together in feeling, in sympathy, in love, growing into the character and image of Jesus. With God there is no respect of persons.

Ellen G. White, 1st Selected Messages, pg. 259