contact ME

I look forward to hearing from you. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions, concerns, thoughts, suggestions, speaking requests, writing ideas, good jokes, great quotes, wisdom, or mind-bending puzzles.

Please fill out this form to contact me.


Grand Rapids, MI


Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Tag: Gordon MacDonald

McLaren, continued


St. Louis ArchOk, so I've been gone for awhile.  You may notice, I blip on and off like a bad TV that's been hit by lightening.  True.  When busyness hits, I go underground - at least on the blogosphere.  I wish it weren't so because it's wonderful to write for no other reason that to write, process, and share.  Anyway, this week in September is the busiest week of my year and September is generally the busiest month.  But this summer in general was just plain busy. There are a couple new books I'm reading, or almost done with.  The first is GloboChrist: the Great Commission Takes a Postmodern Turn by Carl Rashke.  If you'd like to read an excerpt, click hereTall Skinny Kiwi has been blogging about it, and I hope to engage it a bit in the coming weeks.  I'm pretty much done with it.  I'm also half way through Andy Crouch's new book Culture-Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling.  Both are good books, and I've enjoyed them both.  Lots to say about Crouch's book.  Raschke's is provocative, interesting, sometimes overstated, and just OK.  I'm going to be starting Gordon MacDonald's book Who Stole My Church soon as well as Four Views of Youth Ministry and the Church with one of my youth pastors.

On to McLaren.  I wanted to share a quick metaphor that McLaren used when he was talking about The Gospel and salvation and Kingdom.  To truncate it a bit, Brian was talking about what I've mentioned before about the message from many that the penal substitutionary theory of atonement or receiving Jesus as one's personal savior is the Gospel.  Someone in the audience had questioned him about where he stood on this theory, etc. as the Gospel.  McLaren used a metaphor in which he said something to this affect, "People want to talk a lot about going to Florida and what I think about Florida and how to get to Florida, when I thought we were going to California."  I didn't really like his metaphor, although I thought it raised some important issues.  When you talk to people (like me... and Brian) about the Gospel, our view is wider than the theory of substitutionary atonement or receiving Jesus as Savior.  However, when many people here that, they think we've forfeited the gospel.  I would argue that we are actually saying that the Gospel is more than that, not less.  And for sure, Christ's work on the cross as our substitute to atone for our sin and rebellion against God is key, and core to the Gospel.  However, it is not itself the gospel. 

So, I have an alternative metaphor.  Think for a moment about the St. Louis Archway.  It was originally built in the '60's to commemorate Thomas Jefferson and the Westward expansion of the Americas.  So, imagine with me that the Arch were the actual gateway to the the West, that you would have to pass through the archway to get to the western frontier.  And let's say that the Eastern United States was ruled by a different king and under different rules than the Western United States.  So, let's say you live in the east, and friends of yours have told you about the King and Kingdom of the West, how different it is, how much more humane, how much healthier, etc. it was.  So, you head West from your home in Washington DC and you come to the St. Louis Archway.  You take pictures; you go to the top of the Arch; you even take the helicopter ride.  Then, you settlt there on the banks of Illinois just to the East of the Mississippi river, or maybe you cross over and you set up your new home on the western banks in St. Louis, Missouri.  But, you never go West (young man).  You never see the sprawling Iowa and Nebraska plains, the deserts of Nevada, the mountains of Idaho, or the California coastline.  Even so, you think you've travelled West. 

That's the metaphor I think of when we truncate the Gospel to a theory of atonement, to a sinner's prayer (which much of the time is misunderstood while it's happening), or being born again (not in the biblical John 3 sense - which is more like the West , but in the contemporary sense like the banks of the Mississippi).  Those are all gateways, are all part of going West, but the Gospel is about the King and his Kingdom that are both coming and have come.  And as CS Lewis said, we must go "further up and further in" to experience the beauty and wonder of the place Aslan has prepared for us. 

I'm certainly interested in the St. Louis Arch and getting across the Mississippi, but I also really want to see the Rocky Mountains, the Snake River, the Tetons, the Black Hills, the Grand Canyon, the vineyards, and pacific coast beaches.

After McLaren's talk, my friend and I had the highlight of the evening when we stopped at one of my favorite places:  Traverse Bay Pie Company.  If you're ever near one, you have to stop and have at least a piece of pie, but don't go alone.  Make sure you have a good conversation partner along.

Subscribe to Embarking Blog by Email

Spiritual Formation


As a Pastor of Spiritual Formation, I've been giving a lot of thought into the development of people into disciples of Christ.  I'm continuing to work on a process at my own church that will hopefully begin to launch in the fall that takes people from the starting point of faith, and gives them some next steps until the point when they're multiplying other disciples.  Sounds very modern and linear of me, doesn't it!  It is and it isn't.  More on that later. But, given that, I ran across an article by Gordon MacDonald from the Leadership Insight called "So Many Christian Inants."  I definitely resonate with the sentiments in this article.    Here is a poignant moment in the article:

I have concluded that our branch of the Christian movement (sometimes called Evangelical) is pretty good at wooing people across the line into faith in Jesus. And we're also not bad at helping new-believers become acquainted with the rudiments of a life of faith: devotional exercise, church involvement, and basic Bible information—something you could call Christian infancy.  But what our tradition lacks of late—my opinion anyway—is knowing how to prod and poke people past the "infancy" and into Christian maturity.

So true.  Remember that famous quote (who said it... people disagree... Packer, Colsen, Chesterton... I think Chesterton first?) "American Christianity is thousands of miles wide, but only an inch deep."  Evangelicalism has so focused on conversionism (see The Future of Evangelicalism 4, The Future of Evangelicalism 5) and the atonement that we've forgotten some of the important depth that the whole sciptures teach, and our part in multiplying disciples.  Multiplying converts is of course of first importance, but that's only the beginning stage.  Lately, I've been thinking of conversion more as "changing allegiance" from one kingdom to another, and that once you enter the kingdom, then everything begins.

MacDonald also hits on something I've been talking a lot about lately.  Here's how he says it:

The marks of maturity? Self-sustaining in spiritual devotions. Wise in human relationships. Humble and serving. Comfortable and functional in the everyday world where people of faith can be in short supply. Substantial in conversation; prudent in acquisition; respectful in conflict; faithful in commitments. Take a few minutes and ask how many people you know who would fit such a description.

In fact, I just gave a friend MacDonald's book The Resilient Life because it talks about just that - how to live a life in which you become more and more Christlike as you approach death.  In some classes I've been teaching, I ask the following question to start to get at a definition and a starting point for growth, "If having Jesus formed in us is the goal (remember, Paul was in the pains of childbirth so that Christ would be formed in his followers - Galatians 4:19), then what would it look like if Jesus were living your life?  How would he look in your shoes, during your day, with your gifts, and your opportunities?  Now, where are you in comparison to that? (That's not a question to elicit guilt, as you might imagine since I'm reformed)  Now, what is the next thing you can do to move towards having Christ formed in you?  What areas need the most work?  If you focused on one area, which one would bear the most fruit of transformation?"  Then, we can begin to develop a plan to develop spiritually. 

Our traditional answer to that question is to develop programs.  Again, MacDonald:

You need programs to make large churches go: kind of like the automakers need an assembly line that stamps out fenders as fast as possible... But mature Christians do not grow through programs or through the mesmerizing delivery of a talented speaker (woe is me) or worship band. Would-be saints are mentored: one-on-one or, better yet, one-on-small group (three to twelve was Jesus' best guess). The mentoring takes place in the streets and living-places of life, not church classrooms or food courts. And it's not necessarily done in Bible studies or the like. Mature Christians are made one by one through the influence of other Christians already mature.

So there's the catch, and I couldn't agree more.  I've been harping on this in my own church and trying to - not eliminate programs (they can serve a very important role) - but to lower their value and raise the value of the person-to-person interacdtion.  We were wired for relationships, and we don't grow as well on our own.  And that's what MacDonald is questioning:  how many of us are willing to really commit to discipling others?  How many of us are being discipled?  We tend to lament the epidemic of Christian infancy, biblical illiteracy, and lack of leadership, and yet our focus seems so often to be placed in the wrong area.  This is a question of mine as of late:  "How do we move away from a programmatic potluck approach to Christian Education and towards a relational people process of spiritual formation and discipleship?"

Subscribe to Embarking Blog by Email