Archive for June, 2010

18 Veterans a Day are Killing Themselves

How do people change? I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, both in terms of general ‘spiritual growth’ and particularly in relation to the ever-growing amount of people in our culture that struggle with mental health issues – depression, anxiety, and ADD. Thanks to Dallas Willard (I’ve been listening to an awesome Christian Audio recording of him reading his Renovation of the Heart) I’ve been reconsidering what had been tired old biblical bromides:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge God and God will make your paths straight. (Proverbs)

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. (Romans)

How is it that our minds re-pattern, and our brains and bodies re-form? Scientists tell us that every cell in our bodies dies and is replaced with new cellular life every 12 months; it seems like we’re constantly being born again.

If what we essentially are is a pattern of in-formation and not ‘matter,’ how might what we meditate upon effect who we are? I’ve been thinking about this anew while reading up on an organization that exists to help soldiers rebuild their lives after the insanity of war.

“I have ptsd. i know when i got it — the night i killed an 8-year-old girl. her family was trying to cross a checkpoint. we’d just shot three guys who’d tried to run a checkpoint. and during that mess, they were just trying to get through to get away from it all. and we ended up shooting all them, too. it was a family of six. the only one that survived was a 13-month-old and her mother. and the worst part about it all was that where i shot my bullets, when i went to see what i’d shot at, there was an 8-year-old girl there. i tried my best to bring her back to life, but there was no use. but that’s what triggered my depression.

when i got out of the army, i had 10 days to get off base. there was no reintegration counselling. as soon as i got back, nobody gave a f — about anything except that piece of paper that said i got everything out of my room. i got out of the army, and everything went to s— from there.”Army Veteran, Michael

American troops are taking their own lives in the largest numbers since records began to be kept in 1980. The army suicide rate is now higher than that among the general American population, calculated as 20.2 per 100,000 soldiers, compared with 19.5 per 100,000 civilians. In response to this, an organization called CBE launched 411God Hope for the Heroesa high-touch, high-tech suicide prevention tool specifically designed to reach at-risk service men and women with daily 60-second inspirational mobile phone messages.

Can a scripture a day help keep the demons away from the over 300,000 active soldiers currently suffering from PTSD? The Center for Bible Engagement (CBE) says “unequivocally yes.”

Dr. Arnie Cole, a former mental health professional and CBE’s Director of Research & Development, conducted extensive research on the link between behavior and Bible reading including a 5-year study concluding that those who read or listen to the Bible at least four times a week are more likely to successfully navigate societal ills: emotional sickness, marital problems, drug dependency—all issues suffered greater by PTSD sufferers.

War is hell. Stories like this prove it:

“i had all these images floating around in my dreams, nighttime was the worst. i missed my buddies, i felt like i had abandoned them. i had been so excited to be out, i’d done my time, and it was over. i didn’t anticipate the extreme loneliness and loss of purpose i would feel. i couldn’t fall asleep without putting back a bottle of jack. i needed to numb out in order to not… think. i wasn’t sure where to turn; i felt i would scare my friends and family if they knew what i was going through. a lot of my friends from the service were going through the same thing … and we’d talk … sometimes. but it’s hard when we’re all so far away from each other. i signed up for 411God, sorta on a whim, never realizing the impact it would have–it brought me hope. i started to get strength from that little phone call each day to start looking for a job, to move home and to share a little of what was going on in my head. it’s not over. i still have horrible days, but now i have something else to think about besides my time overseas, i have something that gives me hope.” – private 1 st class, Jason.

Now if you’re like me, you’re thinking “It can’t be that simple.” And of course, it isn’t – as Jason here says, he still has horrible days. But I think it’s important for us highly-educated, nonviolent activist, psychologically-savvy NPR-listening types to realize that some things aren’t overly complicated. The repetition of inspiring or comforting passages of Scripture can have a restorative, reprogramming effect on our minds and our lives. While we should all continue to work for the swords of the military-industrial complex to be beat into the plowshares of sustainable communities, but let’s not neglect one of the important human faces of war: Returning soldiers. Befriending them, getting to know them, being willing to sit with them in uncomfortable silence: This is the ultimate high-touch restorative tool.

Advertisements

Losing My Religion

Last month I had the privilege of joining Callid Keefe-Perry, Jules Kennedy, and host Pastor Nar for the Losing My Religion podcast – outdoor edition!

We were at the beautiful campus of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington DC, at a truly singular event emceed by Steve Knight, communicant extraordinarine at Halogen: TransFORM – East Coast.

This conversation is like a small tasty morsel of the feast that was this ‘conference.’ I use air quotes because, truth be told, I didn’t attend too many of the actual sessions; raging ADD aside, there were just so many people I’ve known for years online, whom I was able to meet in-person for the first time. It was like a “family reunion in heaven” – people whom you’re simultaneously meeting for the first time, but whom you’ve also known forever. (I also had a great time with my Atlanta and Cobb Emergent Cohort peeps, and even a lovely Augusta representative – getting to see them is too long and far-between!) It was a rag-tag conglomeration of emergents and outlaw preachers and missionals and mainliners and meditators and Wild Goosers and Big Tent-makers and organics, all coming from every denomination (or lack thereof) under the sun – lots o’ variety in God’s great big family.

This event was very well-timed for me, personally. I’m at something of a crossroads, both vocationally (great developments, some of which I’ve already shared, as well as some scary-awesome challenges!) and health-wise (I really will get to posting about this in the near-term future); during large swaths of TransFORM I felt quite literally like I was going nuts. And yet the warmth and unconditional presence of the TransFORM folks carried with them the distinct aroma of Jesus. There was a palpable sense of Christ and his Kingdom throughout the weekend, on display in the kindness and dizzying diversity of those present – women and men; black, white, Latino and Asian; Quaker and Wesleyan, Pentecostal and Catholic, Baptist and Reformed.

TransFORM: The Event is but a subset of TransFORM: the Network – a collection of church-planting and pneumatic-community enthusiasts who color outside the lines. If this is you, you should connect with us. As I like to say, there’s more than meets the eye with TransFORM. (Cue groans)

Okay, without further ado, here is the free-flowing conversation, with gentle provocateur Pastor Nar at the helm!

And a little namesake R.E.M. – why not?

Finally – and most significantly – a TransFORM blog-post roundup (If I’m missing some – and I probably am – please put ’em in the comments section below; I’ll list ’em up here):

Adam Moore

Anthony Smith

Brandon Mouser

Callid Keefe-Perry

Chris Rosebrough (note: Chris, from Pirate Christian Radio & Fighting for the Faith, is not a fan. He’s more of a loyal critic, and drove all the way out from Indiana for the main purpose of critiquing. But we love him anyway!)

Darren Rowse (yes, the accliamed ProBlogger was with us via video link from Australia!)

Doug Pagitt

Drew Tatusko

Hugh Hollowell

Jonathan Brink

Joy Lynn- Schroeder

Julie Kennedy

Kathy Escobar

Liz Dyer

Lori Wilson – Part I and Part II (a very thorough recap of the actual sessions!)

Marcus Gibbs

Pete Rollins

Phil Wyman

Shawn Anthony

Sivin Kit (joining us via video from Malaysia!)

– Trans4m in the Twitterverse

The Voice of the Psalms: Psalm 65

Here is an excerpt from a Psalm I rendered for The Voice project, Psalm 65:

1 Rapt silence and praise

Sweep through the Sacred City, O God

Competing to give voice(less) voice to Your goodness

Solemn vows uttered to You will now be performed

2You hear us in words and silence;

all humanity comes into Your presence.

3Crookedness and perversion overwhelm us!

But You forgive us and bring us integration,

Restoring as only You can.

4You invite us near, drawing us

Into Your courtyard – what an honor!

We feast ’til we’re full

on the goodness of Your house

Your sacred abode made manifest

Where heaven and earth kiss.

5You leave us breathless

in the wake of Your response;

God of liberation—You are the hope

of all ecologies, from far-flung

continents to life-giving oceans.

6 With creative energy You inaugurated mountains

Wrapped in strength You compelled

7Choppy seas,

Crashing waves

And cacophonous people

To sit in astonished silence.

8Those who inhabit the boundaries of the known

Are awed by Your enfolded clues,

Strong and subtle hints of Your indelible presence.

The portals of night and day gape to sing Your praises.

9You spend time on (Y)our good earth,

Watering and nourishing the networks of living.

God’s river, full of water,

All people full on the staff of life without exception—

Poured and mixed, living bread, kneaded by Your very hands.

10You are the gentle equalizer;

smoothing soil’s wrinkles,

Softening unbending earth

Generous showers

making holy the fruit of the ground…

…continued in The Voice of the Psalms!

What is The Voice, you ask? Here’s how I initially described it in a Relevant Magazine news snippet I wrote back in early 2006:

The newly-formed Ecclesia Bible Society is releasing a full-orbed narrative and artistic retelling of the Bible, beginning with the recently-released The Last Eyewitness and Songs from the Voice, Volume One.  The project, which began in April and will continue throughout the next five years, includes work from notable authors such as Phyllis Tickle, Tim Keel, Brian McLaren, Donald Miller, Lauren Winner, Phuc Luu, Allison Smythe, and Dieter Zander, as well as musicians and visual artists including Rob Pepper, Waterdeep, Derek Webb, Sara Groves and the Robbie Seay Band.

Project originator Chris Seay describes The Voice as a serious translation that allows the original biblical authors to speak in all their truth, beauty, and stylistic diversity.

The Ecclesia Bible Society feels like many traditional Bible translation committees have muted the original biblical authors’ unique voices. “The Chronicles of Narnia and Blue Like Jazz might sit as two bookends in my library,” said Seay.  “They’re among my favorite books.  But 100 years from now if a committee of translators tried to make CS Lewis‘s and Don Miller‘s voices sound the same on the page, you wouldn’t want to read either one.”  Even so, they’re still being careful.  “We have scholars on board as a vital part of The Voice project,” Seay said.  “But they’re following the creative lead instead of vice-versa.  They’re helping us navigate the linguistic roads, showing us the terrain so that we can avoid translational pot holes and ditches.”

Ultimately, Seay and The Voice contributors hope to resource the Christian community with “the full narrative force of Scripture, which for too long has been blunted by a ‘propositional’ grid.”

The Ecclesia Bible Society is not-for-profit, and all revenue generated will be dedicated to church planting and humanitarian initiatives.  Their stated goal is to embody God’s kingdom in voice and deed.

“What we long to do is retell the stories of Scripture, not only in truth but in beauty.  We hope that you fall in love with these stories anew.”

Other editions:

The Voice New Testament: Cloth & Leatherbound

The Voice New Testament: With Psalms & Proverbs (coming soon)

The Voice: Gospel of John – free download!

A Mosaic of Voices & Feast of Visuals

What if there was a Bible that combined a readable-yet-accurate text with breath-taking art from every continent and era, combined with meditative reflections both ancient and contemporary? What if they ancient voices were similarly from a myriad of ethnicities and theological persuasions, carefully chosen to sing a chorus of praise to the One who eternally Was, Is, and Is to Come? And what if these reflections and art were paired together – much like fine wine and good food – and synced to the ancient rhythms of the liturgical calendar?

Well then, you’d have the Holy Bible: Mosaic, one of the most ambitious Bible undertakings in years. Publisher Tyndale House and editorial director David Sanford wanted to create a truly ecumenical, multi-cultural work of art that is as beautiful to behold as it is to read. It achieves its goals, I think. But then again, I might be biased…I’m one of the contemporary contributors!

Below are excerpts of my unedited contribution*:

God as Nourishment

Exodus 24:9-11 * Leviticus 6:18b * Psalm 34:8a, 10 * Isaiah 25:6 * John 6:22-58 * Revelation 19:1-9

Food and God, God and food. God is food—taste and see. Jesus and fish, fish and bread; bread and wine, wine of New Covenant. Come to the banqueting table—set and served by the God of plenty, our El-Shaddai, God who nurses us at the breasts of divinity. The Spirit and Bride sing out—the wedding supper of the Lamb arrives! Father, Son, and Spirit, setting a table before us—even before our enemies. Fear dissipates; our Abba gives us fish and not stones. When we rest in our true center, we play hide and seek—we are lost in God, and found in the way things really are: God is immediately present to us, and us to the Triune God. Here God nourishes our spirits—Jesus is real food and real drink. At the table of our souls we are consumed by the all-consuming God.

* * * *

When the Church eats and drinks in Eucharistic feast, in Lord’s Table and Lord’s Supper, we celebrate Christ’s subversive presence in our midst. We consume God and are consumed, eating and drinking once again in God’s upside-down reign. This holy meal that Jesus gives us disorients us in God’s nourishing presence and re-orients us to our real surroundings, God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. When we take the recipes of heaven into our bodies, the Church re-members once more that we are reconstituted, new creation, real bodies becoming one flesh and blood by Jesus’ flesh and blood. We become God’s life incarnate, free to act in the world with startling freedom, astonishing grace and truth, no strings attached.

Let us taste God, and let us become. What if we became gardeners, cooks, party-throwers; cultivating God’s organic life and sharing this nourishment with all? Communal meals, agape feasts, subversive lunches and dinners shared in the Way of Jesus. What if we followed Jesus, inviting everyone to the table: sex workers and terrorists, homeless and high-powered business leaders, blacks and Asians and whites and Latinos, televangelists and gay activists? Around the table of God, we are reduced to the grandeur our common humanity, the spark of divinity that by God’s grace sparks us, perchance to dream, together. To dream of another world, one filled with choice food and fine aged wines, and new wine—the wine of New Covenant, containing the inebriating dreams of God’s new world.

God is food and drink. We can taste and see the Lord’s goodness with our whole lives, along interior and outward paths alike. We can imbibe divinity in the still, small moments of restful inner repose; we can eat and drink the will of our Father at the raucous tables where stranger, neighbor, enemy and friend meet…

…to be continued on page 320, in Pentecost week 27!

Mosaic: Holy Bible Hardcover

Mosaic: Holy Bible Simulated Leatherbound

Check out the Slideshow

Browse inside the Advent Meditations!

*They cut back some portions of this, with my blessing. I wrote like a bit of a mad chef, experimenting with ingredients. The editors needed to be mindful of the appropriateness of its use for a large and diverse readership, and I completely understand their editorial revisions. I’ll write more like a whirling dervish channeling John of Ruusbroec and Sara Miles when my book on God-as-nourishment comes out – which will be soon!

Liiiiive from Minneapolis/Washington DC – It’s Doug Pagitt Radio!

During the TransFORM East Coast After-Pary, I was privileged to be an interview guest on Doug Pagitt‘s transplanted radio show – normally in Minneapolis on AM 950 KTNF, but broadcast from the President’s office at Wesley Theological Seminary. Doug was in town for TransFORM, as well as leading a JoPa social media bootcamp for pastors and nonprofit leaders.

Click the image below to be taken to our segment (Grrr…why can’t WordPress embed most video formats??):

Doug’s a great radio host, and we all had a good time that morning. If you don’t live in Minneapolis, catch Doug’s show on Sunday mornings on Ustream.

“I Don’t Want to be Part of Any Jesus Revolution Without a Perichoretic Dance” – Why We Need Both Jesus Manifestoes

Frank Viola and Len Sweet’s book  Jesus Manifesto remains in the Amazon Top Ten today, and my interview with them yesterday has stirred a lot of interesting conversation. Among conversation partners is my friend Jeff Straka, who airs some honest thoughts and frustrations that inspire me to say something I’ve been wanting to say for a long time. Jeff wonders:

While Brian McLaren has endorsed both these authors’ books in the past, his name is glaringly (to me, anyway) missing from the list on this new book. Nor did I find any endorsements from other names considered more solidly in the emergent movement (and not just in “conversation” with). Am I reading too much into this or is this shaping into a “spy vs. spy” manifesto?

Also, are the subtitle words “the supremacy and sovereignty of Jesus” a helpful choice of words as they seem to imply then that other religions are flat-out wrong or false (ala Franklin Graham)?

Well Jeff, we know that Brian rarely eats or sleeps, but even he cannot endorse everything. 🙂

But seriously. I think there is a difference between divergent views and hostility. F’r instance, it was apparent that Mike Wittmer didn’t merely have differences with Brian’s presentation in A New Kind of Christianity; he was pretty hostile toward Brian, both theologically and personally.

I’m almost certain that this isn’t the case here. While there are doubtless differences between Len and Brian (as the Sweet piece you cite demonstrates), I see them as iron-sharpening-iron differences and not iron-jabbing-your-opponents-eyes-out differences. Both Len and Brian have been accused of various grevious heresies by the self-appointed watchdog ministries; I doubt Len wishes to inflict that pain on anyone else, even if he disagrees with them theologically.

So: Does JM say some different things than ANKoC?

Yes.

Is it possible to enjoy both books?

Yes, I think so, though natural predispositions being what they are, readers might naturally gravitate toward one perspective or the other.

Here’s the fascinating thing, as an aside: Brian in ANKoC and Richard Rohr in The Naked Now (which I’m presently reading) both write out of a conviction that Jesus has become in the hearts and minds of Christians too remote and too ‘divine’ to be of any earthly good, or connection with his followers today. Rohr specifically indicts contemporary Christians of the heresy of gnosticism, saying that while Nicea (or was it Chalcedon? I always forget…) technically settled the matter of Jesus being fully human and fully divine, “most Christians are very good theists who just happened to name their god Jesus.” By contrast, Rohr calls for a robust incarnational ethic, where we disavow a remote ‘theism’ as such and affirm a ‘down and in’ God who is located precisely right here, in our midst. Brian and Rohr both hope that people will stop merely worshiping Jesus and start listening to and following his teachings.

Sweet and Viola, by contrast, are observing an opposite trend: People following the human Jesus, but neglecting the exalted Christ. They wish to reclaim the grandiose language of the Epistles, which speaks of a Christ who fills all-in-all. This is different than a John Piper or Franklin Graham approach of brow-beating the planet earth with a jingoistic Christ, in my opinion.

To begin with, ‘supremacy’ is used in a mystical sense, inspired by T. Austin Sparks. And the divinity of Jesus championed by V&S isparticipatory divinity: We have become partakers of the divine nature through Christ. It’s a perichoretic divinity: The expansion of the dynamic life of the Trinity into communities where this Trinitarian life is made welcome, and thus radiating into the earth. (See Viola’s From Eternity to Here and Sweet’s So Beautiful.) To be honest with you, not counting Rohr, I miss this kind of unbridled mystical-devotional dimension in much of the emerging church. I too agree that everything must change and I don’t share Len’s antipathy with liberation theology (I don’t see how anyone can read Leonardo Boff or James Cone or Gustavo Gutierrez, or know the story and plight of the Base Ecclessial Communities in Latin America, and dismiss liberation theology as simply re-hashed Marxisim), but I will paraphrase anarchist Emma Goldman here: “I don’t want to be part of any Jesus revolution without a perichoretic dance.”

I want to see an emerging conversation that makes room for neo-liberationists and neo-pietists, Jesus Manifesto and Jesus Manifesto. We need neo-pietists in the Conversation to remind us just how revolutionary Paul was, and the Epistles are – that participatory divinity linked to the monotheistic God was truly a new phenomenon in the first century, and can be just as much so today. We need the neo-pietists to remind us of a good, strong, Lutheran-esque Gospel of God’s gratuitous grace and favor toward us, and how we can’t be the ‘hands and feet of Jesus’ unless we’re connected to the authority and animating energies of Christ our Head.

And so: I hope that in the next year, emergents and missionals, organics and liturgicals, conservatives and progressives, can stop writing each other off. If I have to stop calling it the ’emerging’ conversation in order to help missional and neo-pietist folk feel more welcome at the table, I will. Because I think that’s what Jesus – the whole, living Christ – wants.

Frank Viola & Leonard Sweet on ‘Jesus Manifesto’

Happy June! In May I was able to chat with Len Sweet and Frank Viola, penners of the declaration-turned book Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ (not to be confused with the Anabaptist-anarchist Jesus Manifesto webzine edited by Mark Van Steenwyk – same great Jesus, two different manifestos.). It garnered a ton of signatures and acclaim last year when put online in short form – as well as a little controversy for its emphases and what it didn’t say. That’s why I wanted to interview these two gents, to set the record straight with the book’s release today.

And so, without further ado..!

1. Jesus: He’s the central figure of our faith, and yet in so many ways He’s like a living Rorschach test – everyone sees what they want to see: Mystic, sage, redeemer, prophet, reformer. Who is your Jesus? Is He the Jesus of history? The Christ of faith and inner experience? What are your sources, and what need do you feel that Jesus Manifesto is fulfilling in publishing, yet again, about the Most Talked About Man in History?

Frank: We believe that the Jesus disclosed to us in the New Testament is the same Christ whom the Holy Spirit reveals today. He is the Christ of the cosmos, the Christ of Eternity, the Alpha and the Omega, as well as the Christ who lived on this earth as the quintessential human – the second Adam, or more accurately, the Last Adam – who then died, rose again, was glorified, ascended, enthroned, and now lives in His people.

By my lights, the Christ that is presented to us in Colossians and Ephesians is little known or preached today. Mind you, He’s the same Christ as the One born in Bethlehem. But His incomparable greatness has been lost sight of in so many quarters.

We feel that for many Christians today, their Christ is simply too small. And so we chase all sorts of other things . . . good things, religious things, spiritual things even. And Jesus becomes a mere footnote or a stamp of approval – an Imprimatur – that we place over those other things.

We expound on the following point in one of our chapters, but take for instance Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Scholars have spent a lot trying to figure out the exact nature of the erroneous teaching that captured the minds and hearts of the Colossian believers.

One of the reasons why there is so much debate over it is because Paul never directly addresses the problem. Paul’s primary way of dealing with church problems is to give God’s people a stunning unveiling of Jesus Christ. (Therein lies a valuable lesson for all church leaders.)

For Paul, Jesus Christ is the solution to all problems. And any problem that a believer or a church has can always be juiced down to one common denominator. They have lost sight of the Head, Christ. They have lost touch with the living Christ. Or to put it in Paul’s words, they have stopped “holding fast to the Head.”

But whatever the error was, we can be sure of this: The Colossians thought they could graduate beyond Jesus Christ. They took Him as Lord and Savior, but they felt they could advance to higher and deeper things. Higher and deeper things beyond Jesus . . . hmmm.

In short, if we ever get to the place where Jesus Christ isn’t enough … if we ever get to the place where we feel we can advance beyond Him … then we haven’t met the Christ of Colossians. And our Christ is too small.

In the same connection, there is a debate within much of Christendom presently. It’s not new, but it’s grabbed the attention of many young believers, so it seems novel to some.

One side argues for the Jesus of justice – who is largely derived from the Gospel accounts. The other side argues for the Jesus of justification – who is largely drawn from some of Paul’s statements in Galatians and Romans.

While Len and I embrace the Jesus of justice and the Jesus of justification, our book attempts to present a Christ who is far greater, far more glorious, and far richer than simply being the Justice-Giver or the Justifier.

We feel that this third vision of Jesus is sorely neglected in our time. It’s possible to put justice and justification on the throne, and leave the living Christ out in the cold.

The indwelling life of Jesus also seems to be a missing note in both discussions.

In this regard, I don’t think I can improve upon what Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, said about the book:

“This is a really exhilarating reintroduction to a Jesus who seems sometimes to have become a stranger to the Church; a passionate and joyful celebration of God with us, which cuts right through churchy quarrelling and brings us back to wonder, love and praise – and the urgent desire to make Him known to all.”

Len: When I was 17, I deconverted from Christianity and became an atheist. After college I decided to go into academe and study the history of religions from a scientific, critical perspective. When I was in graduate school, and gradually finding my way back to faith, I made an appointment with a professor to talk about my return journey to orthodoxy. This theologian confessed that for him personally, “I am in pursuit of truth. Whatever truth is, and wherever it is to be found, that is the journey I’m on. When I seek truth and find it, and if truth turns out to be two hydrogen atoms that accidentally collided, and no more than that, I will kneel in front of those two atoms and give them my worship and praise.”

I shall never forget the power of his words which sought to embrace the meaning of meaninglessness.

At about the same time, I encountered a letter Dostoevsky wrote to Natalya Fonvizina, in which he admitted that he was a “child of unbelief and doubt” and would remain so “until my coffin is closed over me.” That got my attention. But then Dostoevsky went on to say more: in the letter he laid out his conviction that “nothing is more perfect than Christ . . . .” He then adds: “If someone succeeded in proving to me that Christ was outside the truth, and if, in reality, the truth was outside Christ, then I should prefer to remain with Christ than with the truth.”

It suddenly hit me that here were the two choices I was facing in my spiritual journey: the worship of a Big Bang, or the worship of a Savior, Redeemer, Sanctifier and Friend who sticks closer than a Big Brother (Proverbs 18:24).  That was a decisive moment for my spiritual pilgrimage, and I immediately immersed myself in our sacred texts and traditions and learned from them that it is dangerous to separate three things that enliven and enfaith us: Jesus, Scriptures, Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings Christ to life, and the Scriptures point us to Christ. Separate one from the other and you risk writing another chapter in the history of the waylaying and wrong-footing of the Christian story.

2. The Jesus Manifesto started out as an online declaration by you two; now it’s a book. How did this come together?

Len: I smelled Jesus all over Frank and wanted to know how he had kept his faith “fixed” on Christ. Frank and I met at a GFU event, and stayed in the same bed & breakfast. In the course of coming and going, we both commiserated about how, to hold on to tolerance, so many of us think we must let go of Christ and just hold on to God. So the Christian story becomes Unitarian, primarily about God, only peripherally about God’s Spirit. But Jesus no longer has the leading role . . . that belongs to God alone.

Then I mentioned to Frank that I could not get to Colossians 2 because I couldn’t get past Colossians 1, where it says that “the secret that has been kept hidden has now been revealed, and that secret is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” When I found out that Frank also was transfixed and transfigured by Colossians, we first talked of jointly writing a commentary on Colossians. But then we were led in this direction, and now no one knows the rest of the story …

Frank: In August of 2008, Len and I began conversing via email and phone. One of the things that came up in our conversations (as a pleasant surprise to both of us) was that we both felt that Jesus was getting short-changed in His church, being eclipsed by other “hot” topics and subjects.

In February 2009, we both spoke at a seminar hosted by George Fox Seminary, and we were able to spend some time in person to discuss what was on our hearts. Our burden only increased, as well as an awareness that God had something for us to accomplish together to discharge it.

In April, the idea of writing a joint article/essay emerged. We wrote it in approxiamately18 days, titled it “A Magna Carta,” and subtitled it “A Jesus Manifesto.” It was published online on June 22, 2009. It went viral immediately. I’m told that it was viewed 500,000 times in 8 weeks.

Thomas Nelson was interested in turning the essay into a book (and we were as well), and that’s what happened.

Folks can visit www.theJesusManifesto.com and read sample chapters, hear some brand new songs that were recorded by professional Christian artists based on the book (one of them by the man who wrote some of Amy Grant’s most popular tunes), check out the iPhone app, read endorsements, etc.

3. Frank, you’ve been identified with the ‘house church’ and ‘organic church’ movements – how has Jesus Manifesto been nurtured in that soil? In what ways do you think if functions as a kind of prophetic critique to it?

Frank: In 2005, I began working on a project that I finished at the end of 2009. The project has come to be called the ReChurch Library – five books on radical church reform and the restoration of God’s grand mission in the earth.

The dominating subtext of these five books is the absolute, functional headship and supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ. Each book in the series themes around this subtext. The afterword of From Eternity to Here is fully dedicated to it.

In short, the organic expression of the church and the supremacy of Christ go hand in hand. Christ is the head; the church is His body. They are organically connected by life. I’ve defined the (local) church as a group of people who are learning to live by the indwelling life of Christ together and displaying that life in their locale. I don’t believe the New Testament knows of any other kind of local church. In addition, the church has no other specialty but her Lord. Everything else flows out of that relationship. Thus for me, the issue of the church has never been its structure. The issue has always been its center – Christ. If Christ is truly the functional head in a particular church, the expression of that church will be effected—sometimes radically. This is my chief argument in Reimagining Church.

Jesus Manifesto takes the thread Christ’s supremacy and builds an entire volume around it. Consequently, the book is a blending of both our (Len and mine) hearts, voices, and burdens regarding our shared vision that Christ should “have the first place in all things” (as Paul put it). Our book explores what that means exactly.

In short, I view Jesus Manifesto as an enlargement of the thread that runs through all of my previous books.

On a lighter note, for the last two years I’ve been writing cook books, but this is my first sweet book 😉

With respect to your last question, I am of the opinion that the driving force of much of the house church, organic church, simple church, and missional church movements is not Jesus Christ. And so I’d like to see this changed. Hopefully, God will use the book toward that end.

4. Len, you have been a pioneer in Christians’ being responsive to the postmodern cultural and philosophical turn – what is now known in different circles as ’emerging’ or ‘missional’ church. Is Jesus Manifesto a departure from your earlier fascination with cultural change and its impact on faith, or in some ways a fulfillment of it?

Len: Even though my primary field is history and semiotics, I challenge you to find one of my books where I do not make the case for the supremacy and sovereignty of Christ in some fashion. In fact, for the last decade, in one book after another, most blatantly in So Beautiful (2009) and Out of the Question, Into the Mystery (2004), I’ve been obsessed with making this case for understanding Jesus as “The Truth” and for understanding discipleship as becoming a Jesus manifest. I am only saying here what I have said in other places and other forms and other ways: how do we speak the name of “Jesus” in such a way that the world we’re in can actually hear us, not the world we wish we had but the world we actually have. The difference is that here, I feel like Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society,” where he has the students throw away and tear up the text books and instead stand on top of the desks and speak at the top of their lungs. In Jesus Manifesto, maybe I’m back to my “shouting Methodist” and holiness Pentecostal roots.

5. Up until last year, I would have never expected Sweet and Viola to be sharing a book byline together! What was it like collaborating for this? Did your styles naturally gel, or was co-authoring difficult?

Frank: We were given a very quick deadline from the publisher after the book idea was finalized. As a result, we wrote the entire book in roughly six weeks. We were laboring on it Christmas Day even, rushing to meet our January 1st deadline.  The book was also bathed in prayer. We deliberately prayed for one another as we wrote our chapters.

But despite the haste, the process went smoother than I expected. We complimented each other’s chapters, adding to them our own unique ingredients and seasoning them with our own peculiar spices. Len made my chapters stronger, and I hope I did the same for his. I trust that readers will feel that the mix works.

Len: For me, what Frank and I did was not “work” but “play.” You don’t “work” a violin. You don’t “work” basketball.  You play a violin; you play basketball. All the best creativity comes from a play paradigm, not a work paradigm. “Labor” was what we got when we were banished from the garden, and in writing this book I felt that I was back in the garden, living out of God’s Prime Directive to Adam (“Conserve and Conceive”), with my pen a plow and my keyboard a seedbed.

I always feared that co-authoring a book would stymie rather than stimulate my creativity. When I tried my hand at woodworking, I never could master the art of mortise and tenon joinery. But I found that Frank’s passionate investment in the project opened the sluices of my soul and the rain that flowed out from both our beings is what you hold in your hand. It’s a fine line between drawing out a colleague’s best and dredging. Frank never crossed the line. It was a joy to play with him in making mudpies of praise out of soil and rain. But as Frank says, the reader is the ultimate judge and jury of our Back to the Garden project.

6. You all were up against some pretty strong critiques toward your original online Jesus Manifesto last year. Some folks thought that you were so ‘Christ-centered’ that you weren’t Trinitarian enough; others thought you magnified Jesus’ person at the expense of His teachings and deeds. Reading the book length Jesus Manifesto, I see that you more than address Jesus’ place in the Triune dance; perichoresis, the community life of God. But what would you say to the readers approaching your book who are looking to integrate this high view of Jesus with their desire to pursue a witness of good works and social justice toward expressing God’s Kingdom?

Len: Actually, we spend a lot of time talking about this in the book, maybe too much time (two chapters is a lot). But we did it because justice is now top dog among social values, and for many in both the more liberal and emerging sectors of the church, justice is another word for “equality”—making more equality more just than less equality.

The truth is no one knows what justice is. No philosopher in history has been able to satisfactorily define justice, whereas everyone knows what injustice is. Injustice is subject to Justice Potter Stewart’s “you-know-it-when-you-see-it” test (first applied to pornography). In fact, one of the best definitions of justice may be this: justice is what emerges in the struggle against injustice. If you don’t believe me, read Amartya Sen’s new book, The Idea of Justice (Harvard University Press, 2009), where he argues that justice is not a philosophical category or principle (“niti”) but a practice (“nyaya”). Justice is a practical matter of dealing with injustice; justice is asking “what is best to do in the here and now, given what can be done.”

In other words, even philosophers are bringing us back to Micah 6:8 where we are to “love mercy,” and “do justice” all the while “walking humbly with our God.” Notice what we’re to love: mercy. We’re to “do justice,” or to “practice justice,” but we are to “love mercy” and “walk humbly.”

My critique of the emerging movement is precisely here: it’s like these “young evangelicals” discovered the “social gospel” movement a century after liberals did, or fifty years after their boomer parents did in “Sojourners.” I’m a “social gospel” person (is there any other gospel than a social one?). But when you replace the “kingdom of justice” as the “framing story” rather than Jesus’ life, death and resurrection as the framing story, there ends up everything “social” and nothing “gospel.” In the Scriptures the kingdom is never something you build or create; the kingdom is something you receive as a gift and enter with your whole being, because the kingdom is the presence of Christ. A couple of years ago Relevant magazine interviewed me about my critique of Emergent and the emerging church along these precise lines, so you can read more about it there.

Frank: Someone once counted almost 200 blogs on the original essay. As I recall, there were only five that were negative. The ones I saw did mention that we neglected to discuss the Trinity—a correct observation. The others felt that we were somehow pitting Jesus against justice.

We certainly failed to talk about the Trinity in the essay. Right or wrong, we didn’t feel it was necessary to discuss it because our entire focus was on Jesus, and we were attempting to point out those aspects about Him that we felt aren’t getting enough air-play today. The Trinitarian nature of God wasn’t one of them; hence, it didn’t come up in our radar. We also wrongly assumed that most of our readers were familiar with our other books that go into the Trinity in detail.

On the other point, we tried to state as clearly as possible that it’s a gross mistake to separate the Jesus of the Gospels from the Person of Christ depicted in the epistles. And that it’s a profound failure to separate His Person from His teachings. For us, neither should be neglected; both should be held together. I addressed this very question (as well as the topic of God’s kingdom and liberation theology) more fully in an interview last year.

Having more space to unravel our vision and burden in the book (which is roughly 190 pages of actual text), we discuss the Trinity and we explore why the Person of Jesus shouldn’t be separated from His teachings and the problems that (we believe) ensue when we divide the two.

7. There seems to be a lot of grassroots energy behind this book, as well as some high-profile friends of its message via endorsers from across the Christian spectrum. If your fondest dreams could be actualized, what do you hope Jesus Manifesto will accomplish – on the literary landscape, in the Body of Christ, in the marketplace of ideas?

Len: When the Marx brothers were in the early stages of their career, the New York City family home was heavily mortgaged to the “Greenbaum” banking firm. Often the payments were very hard to come by. When the three elder brothers (Chico, Harpo and Groucho) and two younger brothers (Gummo and Zeppo) were on stage, their mother would stand in the wings. When her five zany sons began to improvise too much (especially Groucho) and depart  from script, she would snap them back with a loud stage whisper: “Greenbaum! Remember Greenbaum!”

With this book Frank and I are hoping to snap the church back with a loud whisper: “Remember Christ. Remember Christ. Remember Christ.” It’s okay to improvise as long as you stay on script/Scripture and don’t short-shrift Christ. Don’t ever forget the supremacy and sovereignty of Christ.

One more thing: Christianity has lost its liturgical and devotional language. To be sure, English is not the best language for liturgy or piety, as it has largely lost its stately, magisterial register that makes the 1611 King James Version (which was mostly cribbed from Tyndale’s 1537 translation) so resonant and thrilling. Frank and I purposely wrote this in a worshipful way in an attempt to re-introduce the church to a devotional way of talking about Jesus that seems to be missing in the life of faith today.

Frank: Yes. We are thankful that we have over 20 endorsements from some of the most influential leaders on the Christian landscape today. They include Baptist, Reformed, Anglican, Methodist, Charismatic, Pentecostal, New Monastic, Neo-Anabaptist, Missional, etc. It’s a nice mix of theologians, biblical scholars, pastors, and renowned authors, all of whom share our passion for the supremacy of Christ.

My dream in a nutshell: That the Spirit of God would taken the unveiling of Jesus that’s presented in the book and press it upon the hearts of every reader, bringing us all to our faces in the presence of so great a Christ. That we would make Christ and Christ alone our chief pursuit, our chief love, our chief passion, and our chief obsession in life, in ministry, and in our churches – at whatever cost it may exact. That the body of Christ would begin to learn how to live by His indwelling life, which (according to the New Testament) is a major part of “the mystery of the ages.” And that churches all over this planet would be built upon the only foundation that exists – the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Not in rhetoric, but in reality, thus discovering and displaying His inexhaustible riches to one another, to principalities and powers, and to a lost world.

All told: I see the body of Christ in battle with its own. Some are fighting on the left; others on the right. This is true politically as well as theologically. May these timeless words from our Father stop us all dead in our tracks:

“This is my beloved Son, hear HIM.”

Jesus Manifesto is our frail attempt to reflect this heavenly voice.

Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ (Thomas Nelson) releases Tuesday, June 1st (today!). Check it out and be re-centered.


Check Out This Free Book Club

Tweetlie-Dee

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

Abolish Slavery – Join the Movement Today!

  • Friend of Emergent Village

    My Writings: Varied and Sundry Pieces Online

    Illumination and Darkness: An Anne Rice Feature from Burnside Writer's Collective
    Shadows & Light: An Anne Rice Interview in MP3 format from Relevant Magazine
    God's Ultimate Passion: A Trinity of Frank Viola interview on Next Wave: Part I, Part II, Part III
    Review: Furious Pursuit by Tim King, from The Ooze
    Church Planting Chat from Next-Wave
    Review: Untold Story of the New Testament Church by Frank Viola, from Next-Wave

    a