Sunday, July 14, 2013

Meet the rock stars of progressive Christianity all in one place

This photo includes some of my favorite people in the whole world. Nadia Bolz-Weber on the far left is the closest thing the North American Lutheran world has to a rock star. She has great theological "chops." Sometimes I think of her as the reincarnated Gerhard Forde, just taller and with tattoos.

Will Willimon, next to her, helps preachers out with incredible and thoughtful books. I had the honor of spending a week in Birmingham with Will at a Doctor of Ministry class on the theology of preaching. He also happens to have written the foreword for my book coming out with Fortress Press February of 2014. I also think of Will Willimon as a Gerhard Forde, just a Methodist Gerhard Forde, with no tattoos, and about the same height.

Continuing to the right, although I haven't met Jose Morales, I've heard great things. Jay Bakker I've gotten to know primarily through the Twitter-sphere, and have heard speak at National Youth Gatherings. Rachel Held Evans is another rockstar blogger and social media presence. Phyllis Tickleis the leading systematic theologian on emerging church, and Eric Elnes does the whole Darkwood Brew thing.

I would love to bring any one of these speakers to my church. They would energize, inspire, challenge, form. The fact that Sparkhouse has succeeded in bringing them all together in one place in a video venue for congregations, missional communities, house churches, and more, is simply phenomenal.

Last year our high school group picked up Animate: Faith, the first installment in this video series from Sparkhouse. The design is incredible. It's the perfect cross between media platforms for faith formation. Most of us now are native "watchers." We are ready to receive information, get emotional, and more, from videos with high production values. Rob Bell, an early adopter of video as a resource for faith formation, got this kind of intuitively. Our youth really liked the Nooma videos he put out, at least for a while.

But the Nooma series, though outstanding, has a kind of sad tenor to it. It's the same voice and feel again and again. What's refreshing about the Animate series from Sparkhouse is the diversity of voices and faces. There's still a center. This is progressive Christianity, a kind of mashup of Lutheran and emergent (in this case, more emergent than Lutheran). But it's pitch perfect. Our group can't wait to watch the videos.

I've never been in a high school class setting where discussion was as energized as it was around the topics in the Animate: Faith video series. Sometimes, after discussion, we'd want to go back and watch the video one more time, just to see what we missed, forgot, or misremembered. That's another advantage of a video resource. With a live speaker, you can't go back to see it again. With these videos, you can.

Although the resource is marketed to adults, and can work well with them, we are finding our greatest traction on these videos with high schoolers and their parents. I even think a savvy group of middle school youth would get tons out of them.

We're still somewhat old school in our worship space, so I don't know whether long form videos would fly for Christian worship, but these are also some of the first longer videos I've imagined using in Sunday morning worship. Given the right context, they could be profoundly energizing of conversation, prayer, and deeper reading of Scripture.

Check out a couple of the sample videos embedded below. And here is a link to an overview of the whole program:

Thanks to the whole staff of Sparkhouse and Augsburg Fortress for their work on this incredible resource.

p.s. As a resident of Arkansas, I'm especially pleased that this "Lutheran" resource includes some rather southern accents.


  1. Forde? Hey I wasn't sure he was alive when he was. ;-) We went thermonuclear at a meeting once (Lutherhaven in North Idaho). He even started shaking and couldn't talk. Before I went thru recovery (EA) for anger, BTW... ;-)

  2. Who are you, unknown?

    1. 'Tis I, my settings are goofed up. Sorry about that.

  3. I learned a lot from Gerhard Forde. He did have Parkinson's at the end of his life.

  4. I learned a lot from Gerhard Forde, too. And I learn a lot from Nadia. And love and sort of envy Rachel Held Evans. I'm thinking about using animate this year for adult faith formation and discussions.

  5. I am Chris Alexander, an ELCA Lutheran Pastor serving with Eric Elnes at a UCC congregation called Countryside Community Church, in Omaha NE. He is awesome and a great voice to add to all of these voices at Animate! Come check us out at Darkwood Brew sometime! We'd love to have you and I administrate the live chat so say hello if you visit! Sunday evenings at 5:00pm CST - Live conversation with featured guests like Nadia, Phyllis, Jay and Rachel...through the live chat you can ask them questions. Can't make it at 5:00 pm CST? Videos available all the time, anytime... Come and see.