Intro to Theology of Place


Who had heard of “missional” church prior to 1998 (the publication by the GOCN)? Now “missional” is everywhere, and while some of it is just buzz, many have found fresh engagement. Sometimes we need new language in order to see. Similarly, the language of “place” recovers a lost imagination, one obscured in the legacy of Modernity where we traded “place” for “space,” the concrete for the abstract. Renewing our language helps us recover an ability to enter the texture, colors and rhythms of the places we dwell.

In 2014 I finished the introductory volume I began working on after finishing the long version. It is 80 pages and 12,000 words, with lots of full color images. I approached the subject with an aim to integration – to move beyond abstraction and words alone – and to appeal to both artistic and structural types. The book still leans to the academic side and will encourage rich theological reflection. And it’s cheap! Links —

Intro to Theology of Place

“Len’s writing provokes thinking, stirs the imagination, and calls forth and nurtures one’s inner longings to put down roots, to invest in one’s home, neighbourhood, workplace, and city, and to join with others in welcoming and bearing witness to God’s presence and kingdom in our midst. A valuable contribution!”

Patrick Franklin, Assistant Professor of Theology and Ethics, Providence Theological Seminary.

Also available for Kindle. Download a sample here —

Intro Theology of Place

Intro to a Missional Spirituality

Back in 2009 Roger Helland I began talking about the integration of mission and spirituality: that these were never meant to be two parallel tracks, but a rhythm of life in discipleship. That book came out through IVP is around 240 pages, and is aimed at college and seminary students and others doing serious theological reflection. It’s long — and it left room for something shorter and more integrative — image based and with appeal to other learning styles.

In 2014 I finished the shorter, introductory volume. It is 80 pages and 12,000 words, with lots of full color images. I approached the subject with an aim to move beyond abstraction and words alone, and to appeal to both artistic and structural types. The book still leans to the academic side by virtue of many footnotes! And hopefully, also by continuing to encourage rich theological reflection. When I read it again this morning – after two years – I realized that I REALLY like this short volume. It’s pretty darn good! And it’s cheap! Links —

Intro to a Missional Spirituality

“If we are to avoid the legalisms associated with driven activism or the disobedience associated with wimpy passivism we will need to learn how to worship God in the fulness of life. This is no mean feat and in fact requires a serious reorientation from the prevailing evangelical spirituality of quiet times in quiet places. Len has gifted us with precisely such a reorientation in this book. I am grateful.” –Alan Hirsch

Also available for Kindle. Download a sample here —

Intro Missional Spirituality

leadership lenses

On the way home from getting my muffler renewed on the old Impala, I was reviewing some work I am doing on leadership paradigms. Paradigms, models, mental maps, frames — these taxonomies are all ways of making sense, or organizing in a way that illuminates. That’s what language does for us.

But like all things, once we name them, we are caught. We don’t all have a great ability to hold things in tension, and we also tend to mistake the menu for the meal. As if having the language makes all things possible. And even with language, not all things are created equal.

So frames, maps, models… even styles… are one way to think about the way leadership functions. Whether you see leadership as a function of individual personality or as the function of a community, you can organize what you see in a map or model or frame. But frames, maps, models: the language is flat. The words imply that we can lay it all out there and see it and make choices. It’s not that simple. Actually, it’s complex!

The danger is that we talk about models and maps and absorb the implication. We can change styles like putting on clothes; we can alter our location by using a different map, then expect change. We expect functioning, enculturated, already formed leaders to simply swap a model or frame and so change the way they incarnate leadership. Not going to happen. And partly for this reason, I think I prefer the word “lenses.”

We see through lenses. They are something we use to see what is really going on. They impact what we see, yes — hopefully adding depth and focus. Words are tools for sense-making. Lenses are aids in our seeing; they aren’t something we choose (and granted the limits of this metaphor too. We can, after all, use different lenses).

No, the leadership shift we are experiencing is a result of changing cultural conditions, as well as something that the Spirit is evoking in response to needed change. Lenses will impact our seeing, and seeing our understanding. It’s critical that we understand what is happening, and whether models or frames or lenses we need to see – and we need to also see our seeing.

Ultimately we need new wine, more than a wineskin. The new wineskin will form as a result of the new wine. David could not wear Saul’s armor. There is a lot we will have to leave behind. Wendell Berry writes,

To see what may be had by loss of having,
To see what loss of time will make of seed
In earth or womb, dark come to light, the saving

Of what was lost in what will come –repaid
In the visible pattern that will mark
Whatever of the passing light is made.

(A Timbered Choir)

Most leaders in this day have some grief work to do; the longer they have been in leadership, the more likely this is the case. But what about the issue of new leadership. Where do we find them? How do we equip them? Can established leaders make this transition?

Some years ago I was pointed to a document by Andrew Strom considering leadership in this transitional place. Jonathan is the figure of interest, because he is the young transitional leader; he is the one whose loyalty is divided. He is caught between Saul and David, between one leadership paradigm and another. To make a huge jump, he can be seen as the young leader caught between the traditional (or inherited), attractional church and the missional-emerging church. (See Stuart Murray, Church After Christendom). (more…)


To see what may be had by loss of having,
To see what loss of time will make of seed
In earth or womb, dark come to light, the saving

Of what was lost in what will come –repaid
In the visible pattern that will mark
Whatever of the passing light is made.

W. Berry, A Timbered Choir, 20

a Relational Account of Providence

A couple of years ago I discovered the work of Roger Olsen, and have since enjoyed many of his posts, and one of his books. Roger is an Arminian, a theology professor, and a very thoughtful student of the bible. He blogs HERE.

More recently, another bible student has been thinking about relational approaches to the issue of divine sovereignty. Thomas Oord is professor of theology and philosophy at NW Nazarene University in Idaho. His recent book, published with IVP, is titled “The Uncontrolling Love of God.” It arrived on my desk in January and this past week I spent some time perusing it.

Oord identifies 7 distinct models of God’s sovereignty. In a footnote at the opening of the fourth chapter he writes this:

“Theologians and scientists use models to explore the validity and fruitfulness of competing theories… a model, in this sense, is that which provides epistemological vividness or immediacy to a theory by offering as an interpretation of the abstract or unfamiliar theory-structure something that fits the logical form of the theory and is well known.” (in part a citation of F. Ferre.)

The seven views Oord lists are these:

1. God is the omnicause
2. God empowers and overpowers
3. God is voluntarily self-limited
4. God is essentially kenotic
5. God sustains as impersonal force
6. God is initial creator and current observer
7. God’s ways are not our ways

Greg Boyd falls into the third position, but uses similar language to Oord at points – that of kenosis. But Oord’s position is somewhat unique, and he rejects components of Boyd’s approach. In essence his argument runs that self-limitation still leaves God on the hook for non-intervention in the face of grotesque evil. So instead, Oord relates the apparent limitations – or non-intervention – to God’s nature.

Oord argues that God’s nature is uncontrolling love. “Because of love God provides freedom/agency to creatures, and God works by empowering and inspiring creation toward well-being. God also necessarily upholds the regularities of the universe because those regularities derive from God’s eternal nature of love. Randomness in the world and creaturely free will are genuine, and God is not a dictator mysteriously pulling the strings.But God sometimes acts miraculously, in noncoercive ways. God providentially guides and calls all creation toward beauty and love” (95)

Oord notes the difference with Boyd very clearly. The model of God as voluntarily self-limited thinks self-limitation is a free divine choice. In contrast Oord’s kenotic model portrays God’s self-limitation as involuntary. God’s nature of love logically precedes his sovereign will. As a result Gods self-limiting kenosis derives primarily from God’s eternal and unchanging nature and not from divine decisions.


Depending who you read, there are around 7 unique views of providence. All these postulate certain biblical criteria that have to be met — in other words they are built around other key issues like God’s foreknowledge, human freedom and Christology, etc. The two broad camps are Calvinist and Arminian, with the open theist conversation being more recent.

I’ve been reading Thomas Oord’s “The Uncontrolling Love of God,” but also have listened to Greg Boyd speaking on these issues, and have found much that resonates. Yesterday I found Terrance Tiessen’s summary of Boyd’s position.

Greg Boyd is a nice place to begin, because he has been researching the problem of evil, and more broadly, what we do with evil and God’s providence in the OT, for quite some time. His sermon series on “The Shadow God,” working from that little phrase of Pauls’ in Colossians 2:17, was helpful for me in approaching the OT. One has to find SOME way of reconciling the OT picture of God with Jesus, or else one splits off the Father from the Son.

Tiessen summarizes Boyd’s approach by listing four Christocentric criteria – these Boyd proposes as essential in evaluating models of providence.

Since “everything Jesus was about centered on manifesting the reign of God against forces of evil that oppose God,” a model should “render intelligible the reality and scope of evil in the world and the need for God to battle against it” (184-85).
God’s struggle against evil, as revealed in Christ, is distinct from pagan views because God relies primarily on wisdom rather than on power (185-86).
Taking the cross as paradigmatic of God’s way of overcoming evil, a model of providence should adequately portray God’s reliance on other-oriented love and his willingness to be affected and influenced by humans (186-87).
In principle, God has already won the battle with evil, bringing ultimate good out of the evil that led to Jesus’ rejection and crucifixion, so a model of providence should demonstrate God’s ability to bring good out of evil and thereby accomplish his overall purposes for creation (186-87).

These criteria are a helpful place to start. Note how they already assume a particular theological frame. Tomorrow I’ll post the seven views Oord lays out, and then the two views that I like the best.

tao of leadership

Leaders should not seek power or status;
people will not then crave power or status.
If scarce goods are not valued highly,
people will have no need to steal them.
If there is nothing available to arouse passion,
people will remain content and satisfied.

The truly wise do lead
by instilling humility and open-mindedness,
by providing for fair livelihoods,
by discouraging personal ambition,
by strengthening the bone-structure of the people.

The wise avoid evil and radical reform;
thus the foolish do not obstruct them.
They work serenely, with inner quiet.

The best leaders, the people do not notice.
The next best, the people honor and praise.
The next, the people fear;
and the next, the people hate.

If you have no faith, people will have no faith
in you, and you must resort to oaths.

When the best leader’s work is done
the people say: “We did it ourselves!”


Ron Heifetz: “in a crisis, we call for someone with answers, decision, strength, and a map of the future — in short, someone who can make hard problems simple… Instead of looking for saviours, we should be calling for leadership that will challenge us to face problems for which there are no simple, painless solutions — problems that require us to learn new way.” Leadership without Easy Answers

the problem with language

Christians have always had a good word for human flourishing: shalom. It’s a word that comes out of an old story, and so its meaning is carefully scripted. We can tell others what it means because of what God has been doing and what he has promised to do. Memory is an important piece here.

But there is another, newer word that has become increasingly hip. Andy Crouch talks about the proper end of power as flourishing in his newest book, Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing. And also Miroslav Volf, in his latest, Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World.

It’s not a bad word, but it’s a word that has different stories, and in fact, the narratives are being contested. Robert Joustra talks about “flourishing” here.