len on May 16th, 2016

Love this statement by Tim Keel —

“people call and they want our doctrinal statement and I refuse to give one out. You know why? Because it is shorthand. It says, Oh, that’s the kind of community you are. And people in our culture today shop church. In other words, we’re so concerned with orthodoxy [right belief] that we don’t care about orthopraxy [right practice]. And there’s a way of being a Christian that I think is destructive: you can have all the right beliefs in your head, you can have all the right information, but if your life is shaped by twenty-first-century American materialism and the church becomes one more thing that you consume, then what the hell does it matter what you believe if there’s no community that shapes your salvation? And so I tell people, come to our church, spend six months with us, and then you tell us what we believe.

“Dallas Willard has this great quote where he says that doctrinal statements are prepared by people who are worried about something. So what if I’m not worried about anything? Not that there aren’t things to worry about, but I trust in Christ’s presence and the Spirit’s animating life in the context of our community. I think you would find that we hold to a generous orthodoxy and that everybody can affirm the Apostle’s Creed. All these theological traditions are wonderful, but were each born in a context. And what if we felt like we are finding ourselves in a new context – a really new place – that might birth a tradition?”

len on April 14th, 2016

Every few years I go back to this post and reflect on these things from other angles. Today I’m thinking about the superficiality of the very popular NCD diagnostics for church health. But I’m also thinking about systems of exclusion and scape-goating, leadership that defines itself by fear, and the book I’m working on — and how some people value safety in a system, while others value novelty. As complex conditions arise we need to be more connected to one another, at the same time as we become more adaptable.

Attachment, Differentiation and Love

In a section in his book on the Trinity and ministry titled “Our Need for Relational Wholeness,” Stephen Seamands writes about the journey toward wholeness. He asks, “How do relational problems manifest?” and then quotes Stephen Stratton in his article, “Trinity, Attachment and Love” (Catalyst 29, April, 2003). Stratton relates some things that are helpfully connected:

“contemporary Trinitarian theology’s understanding of personhood with attachment theory; the psychological and neurobiological study of human relating. Similar to the Trinitarian concept of being-in-relationship, attachment theory considers the dynamic balance of selves-in-relationship, without overemphasizing self or relations. Like the persons of the Trinity, human selves in proper relationships, rooted in love and characterized by dynamic interdependence, are never separate from one another nor subsumed by one another.

“However, because we typically operate out of fear and self-protection rather than love, attachment theory sees us falling into two unhealthy relational styles. The first finds its security in an overemphasis on relationships. Those who use this strategy [even unaware] often cling to sources of security and demand responsiveness, especially in times of distress. The second finds its security in separation from others. Those who adhere to this strategy are often counter-relational and may over invest themselves in what must be done around them, particularly in difficult times. Instead of living in a place of secure attachment, our self-protective efforts rooted in fear drive us toward preoccupation with attachment or avoidance of attachment. In Miroslav Volf’s words, we tend toward either unhealthy “embrace” or unhealthy “exclusion.” Seamands, 41. Read the rest of this entry »

len on April 5th, 2016

IVP has released volume 1 and 2 in this series, volume 1 edited by Colin Brown, and volume 2 by Steve Wilkens and Alan Padgett.

I spent a couple of hours perusing volume 1 on Sunday evening. From Socrates and the Sophists to Kant, from Augustine to Aquinas and the Reformers, Brown traces the turbulent, fascinating story of the thinkers, ideas and movements that have shaped our intellectual landscape. Here is the detail:

1. Socrates and Pre-Socratic Philosophy
2. Plato’s Vision of Reality
3. Aristotle and the Physical World
4. Epicureans, Stoics, Skeptics and Cynics
5. From Greeks to Gospel

6. Philosophy and the Church Fathers
7. Early Medieval Philosophy
8. Aquinas and Later Medieval Philosophy

9. Philosophy and the Reformers
10. Old Questions and New Crises
11. The Age of Rationalism
12. Rational Religion and the Era of Deism
13. The Rise of British Empiricism
14. The Skeptical Empiricism of Hume
15. Scottish Common Sense and Early American Philosophy
16. Enlightenment and Skepticism in France
17. Enlightenment and Skepticism in Germany
18. Retrospect and Prospect

Anyone with exposure to this history has their favorites. It didn’t take me long to locate Duns Scotus as well as Pascal. In the process I learned a few new things about Thomas Aquinas. I also read the entirety of chapter 14 to get a better sense of Empiricism, with a particular interest in the thought of Locke.

A very rich source for discussion – I’m sure it will be well received as a new text!
Link to IVP

len on March 17th, 2016

From Comment, a look at Cohen’s Old Ideas. Chris Cuthill writes,

“We often use the word “journey” when we refer to Lent, because Lent is a decidedly non-linear season for the church. We like to think of journeys as linear things, getting from point A to point B, going somewhere. But Lent isn’t about going somewhere. Lent is a time-out for the church—a season in which the church as a whole enters into an extended retreat.

“Every year I choose a piece of art, music, or literature to frame my personal rambling journey. This year I spent some Lenten time with Leonard Cohen and his new album of Old Ideas. This album, Cohen’s swan song, is about waiting for death, a decidedly Lenten theme. At 77, Cohen seems to have developed an elegiac acceptance of his physical and moral frailty. He stares into the abyss and patiently waits for a home without sorrows or burdens…”


len on March 16th, 2016

An excerpt from Broken Futures, chapter 5 (unpublished)

It took many years for Israel in Egypt to realize that their lives had become unmanageable. And then came the transition to the Promised Land. That went well, right?

Well, sort of. It took just a few days for Israel to get out of Egypt. It took forty years to get Egypt out of Israel. It wasn’t possible to skip that part. Transition is a process of disembedding and unlearning. It’s painful and uncomfortable; but it’s preparation to enter the unimaginable world.

On one side, we let go of habits and values and patterns of action that are familiar and understood. These practices and values were not theoretical: they anchored our lives and gave them stability. Until we are well into the letting go process we rarely realize just what is required of us. It feels intensely vulnerable.

On the other side, we pick up something new, or rediscover something we almost lost. We re-enter the narratives and traditions that anchor our lives in Christ. The Exodus story suddenly becomes our story; it becomes a personal narrative of transition, disembedding and remembering. Entering the traditions of our faith helps us reconnect not just with God but with our faith community. Tradition becomes personal experience. The recovery of hours of prayer and of traditional practices of silence and reflection is not incidental to our time: it is a living movement to reconnect with God that is necessitated by liminal conditions.

“Generals lose new wars because they are still fighting old battles.” CBC, Ideas

In long periods of cultural stability, organizations establish very particular roles and methods and ways of being.
It was 1981, and the engine in my 1965 Chev was burning oil. I decided I would do the minimal work and replace the rings, retool the valves and valve seats: a top-end job. I drove the car into my father’s garage and used his trusty chain hoist to lift the eight cylinder motor off the mounts. At the time I had no idea that the smooth running chain hoist had an unusual pedigree.

WWI was a nasty, brutal affair. It was a trench war, a defensive war, with fixed lines and little movement for years. There were many hard lessons, and after the war the French responded with the Maginot line: a series of concrete fortifications built into the high ground along its border with Switzerland, Germany and Luxembourg. The line did not extend to the channel because of the French desire to avoid offending neutral Belgium. The Maginot line was an engineering feat: layers of underground bunkers connected by underground tunnels. At the peak were large guns facing toward Germany. Power was provided by underground diesels. The network included recreation facilities, a library, even a hospital and movie theatre.

The Maginot line was a response to a known problem: how to stop a sudden attack from Germany. The eventual success of the static combat of WWI conditioned the response. Along came a small man named Hitler. From the start, he rewrote the rules. Hitler believed the key to success was shock and awe. He tooled a fast moving army and invented the lightning war. When the Generals encountered the fixed fortifications of the Maginot line, they simply went north around the obstacle.

Not long after the war, around 1953, a Canadian Corporal was stationed in France and touring the French countryside on a weekend. He and a friend had driven to one of the access points for the Maginot line. The Corporal was a diesel mechanic, and he wanted to have a look at the powerplant that was two levels down. They descended two levels with the help of a flashlight. When they left they took with them a number of souvenirs, including a hardened steel chain hoist weighing about 65 pounds that my father used all his life.

Our successes often become a set-up for future failures, as happened to the French in 1939. Germany was in chaos and traditions and habits – good and bad – were discarded, opening new possibilities.

In stable times habits and roles come to be seen not as chosen or embedded in a certain culture but as the way things should be and should always be. For much of the twentieth century organizations in North America functioned within a stable, well managed, and relatively predictable environment. The assumptions of Modernity prevailed: by rational and technological means we could make and maintain our world. Our collective intelligence and know-how would help us attain the good life.

Since early in the last century, churches adopted the same way of seeing the world. This corporate form and imagination became embedded in our churches via the culture. Leadership roles and leadership functions developed in this context to fit the needs of congregations. Pastors and church leadership learned these roles and ways of being as the normal way to run an effective church, and churches rewarded workers who were effective in these roles.

len on March 15th, 2016


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

len on March 15th, 2016

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

len on March 4th, 2016

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). Read the rest of this entry »

len on March 3rd, 2016

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

len on March 2nd, 2016

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.