Monday, October 29, 2007 | The 95 Theses today: Five Lutheran scholars say which still matter—and why | The 95 Theses today: Five Lutheran scholars say which still matter—and why

In the print edition of The Lutheran, they even provide a cool poster of all 95 theses, plus a brief historical discussion of whether or not Luther actually posted the theses on the door. Kudos to The Lutheran for neat insert!

'The Final Season' Movie Trailer - Public Information - Luther College

'The Final Season' Movie Trailer - Luther College

A movie based on the story of Kent Stoc, a graduate of my alma mater, Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. Go Norse!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Oswald Bayer | Theology the Lutheran Way

Theology the Lutheran Way is a great book. The Lutheran Quarterly Books series has concentrated on publishing works from two crucial Lutheran theologians- Gerharde Forde and Oswald Bayer. One easy way to summarize the thesis of Bayer's book is to say that, just as Forde stated that "theology is for proclamation," Bayer here argues that "theology is for divine service."

What does he mean by this? His basic thesis is that theolog has two inseparable sides- the "monastic" side, its liturgical spirituality, the first order discourse of worship. And then it has an "academic" (wissenschaft) side, the secondary discourse on the primary texts (forms of speech and worship). The two are inseparable, just as in Forde's thought, theology drives and leads to proclamation, but also emerges from proclamation and so leads to further proclamation.

The book is also an excellent resource because Bayer summarizes and introduces Luther's understanding of theology. He focuses especially on Luther's three "rules", rules Luther learned from his repeated praying of Psalm 119. In his introduction to the New Testament translation, Luther offered three rules for theology: Oratio (reading out loud), meditatio (praying or contemplating), and tentatio (suffering or undergoing the text).

Along the way, Bayer addresses issues in the philosophy of science, the study of speech acts, and critiques the main modernist proposals- Schleiermacher, Kant, Hegel, and Bultmann.

Anyone could read this book as a fascinating introduction to theology the Lutheran way. Lutherans will be edified, and will be pushed to clarify their own assumptions and reading of Luther.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Ego Identity Status and Reported Alcohol Consumption: A Study of First-Year College Students.

Ego Identity Status and Reported Alcohol Consumption: A Study of First-Year College Students.

This was my first (co-authored) published work...

Facebook | 1,000,000 Strong For Stephen T Colbert

Facebook | 1,000,000 Strong For Stephen T Colbert

Colbert's group on Facebook is now over 1,000,000 strong. Goes to show the difference in generations and cultures. None of the actual candidates have ever been able to garner this kind of support on what is largely a young people's domain...

Reclaiming The F Word: God, You're Such A Radical

Reclaiming The F Word: God, You're Such A Radical

Kelly Fryer has kindly referenced Lutheran Confessions on her blog, commenting on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. This continues to confirm in my mind how important it is that our church leaders read Christian Smith's book, Soul Searching.

Madeleine L'Engle: Her Official Site

Madeleine L'Engle's Official Site

We're reading A Wrinkle in Time for our book group next week, and I learned of this site through a Wikipedia entry.

Rest eternal grant her, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon her.

Philip Roth on Cell Phones

Or should I say Nathan Zuckerman on cell phones? In any event, this paragraph from Exit Ghost sums it up:

What surprised me most my first few days walking around the city? The most obvious thing-the cell phones. We had no reception as yet up on my mountain, and down in Athena, where they do have it, I'd rarely see people striding the streets talking uninhibitedly into their phones. I remembered a New York when the only people walking up Broadway seemingly talking to themselves were crazy. What had happened in these ten years for there suddenly to be so much to say--so much pressing that it couldn't wait to be said? Everywhere I walked, somebody was approaching me talking on a phone. Inside the cars, the drivers were on phones. When I took a taxi, the cabbie was on the phone. For one who frequently went without talking to anyone for days at a time, I had to wonder what that had previously held them up had collapsed in people to make incessant talking into a telephone preferable to walking about under no one's surveillance, momentarily solitary, assimilating the streets through one's animal senses and thinking the myriad thoughts that the activities of a city inspire. For me it made the streets appear comic and the people ridiculous. And yet it seemed like a real tragedy, too. To eradicate the experience of separation must inevitably have a dramatic effect. What will the consequences be? You know you can reac the other person anytime, and if you can't, you get impatient--impatient and angry like a stupid little god. I understood that background silence had long bee abolished from restaurants, elevators, and ballparks, but that the immense loneliness of human beings should produce this boundless longing to be heard, and the accompanying disregard for being overheard--well, having lived largely in the era of the telephone booth, whose substantial folding doors could be tightly pulled shut, I was impressed by the conspicuousness of it all and found myself entertaining the idea for a story in which Manhattan has turned into a sinister collectivity where everyone is spying on everyone else, everyone being tracked by the person at the other end of his or her phone, even though, incessantly dialing one another from wherever they like in the great out of doors, the telephoners believe themselves to be experiencing the maximum freedom. I knew that merely by thinking up such a scenario I was at one with all the cranks who imagined, from the beginnings of industrialization, that the machine was the enemy of life. Still, I could not help it: I did not see how anyone could believe he was continuing to live a human existence by walking about talking into a phone for half his waking life. No, those gadgets did not promise to be a boon to promoting reflection among the general public. (pages 62-64)

And yes, that is ONE paragraph written precisely in the way that makes Philip Roth so great!

Away From Her | A Movie by Sarah Polley

Away From Her | A Movie by Sarah Polley

An amazing study of a wrenching disease...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Here's the last paragraph of Christian Smith's essay, "On 'Moralistic Therapeutic Deism' as U.S. Teenagers' Actual, Tacit, De Facto Religious Faith":

It appears that only a minority of U.S. teenagers are naturally absorbing by osmosis the traditional substantive content and character of the religious traditions to which they claim to belong. For, it appears to us, another popular religious faith--Moralistic Therapeutic Deism--is colonizing many historical religious traditions, and almost without anyone noticing, converting belivers in the olds faiths to its alternative religious vision of divinely underwritten personal happiness and interpersonal niceness... We can say that we have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of 'Christianity' in the United States is actually only tenuously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but has rather substantially morphed into Christianity's misbegotten step-cousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. This has happened in the minds and heart of many individual believers and, it also appears, within the structures of at least some Christian organizations and institutions. The language--and therefore experience--of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, Eucharist, and heaven and hell appear, among most Christian teenagers in the United States at the very least, to be being supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward. It is not so much that Christianity in the United States is being secularized. Rather more subtly, either Christianity is at least degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Patriarchs and Matriarchs

Genesis 12-30

Starting with Genesis 12, the bible narrows its focus to a specific family. As we have been reading the early chapters of Genesis, you can notice that they cover a lot of ground, they are mythic and epic in their proportions. Now the rest of Genesis is basically going to relate the family history of Abraham and Sarah and their descendants. So get ready, it’s an incredibly dramatic family saga, with lots of twists and turns and surprises, a lot of sin and sex and betrayals, but also a lot of faithfulness, love, and forgiveness.

Early in the story, keep in mind the three promises that God makes to Abraham and Sarah. They are going to be the parents of many descendants. Second, they will be given a land to live in. And third, God will bless their family, going with them and continuing to claim them as God’s people. This is the chosen race, the community who today call themselves the Jews, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

James Chatham writes, “Descendants, land, blessing: God’s promises. These promises form God’s covenant with Abram.”

The story of Abraham and Sarah runs chapter 12-24. Abraham and Sarah’s son Isaac is the patriarch next, and his story is Genesis 25-26. Jacob’s story runs Genesis 27-36. The story of Joseph (made famous in the musical about his colorful coat) runs from 36-50.

There is so much going on in this book that it is difficult to hone in on the most important elements, but let me lift up at least a few surprises or interesting twists. First of all, pay attention to all the times that Abraham lies. Abraham is not perfect. He is the father of a great nation not because he was perfect but because God called him, and he went. He was faithful to God’s call, and his role as patriarch comes about because of what God did first, not what he did or was.

Second, notice all the reversals of fortune. Some of these stories continue to make for dramatic tension yet today. For example, some Muslims claim Ishmael as their ancestor, and indeed, God blesses Ishmael and his descendants just as God blesses Isaac’s. What to make of that?

Spend some time thinking about the covenant of circumcision. How shall we think about that today? As you read about it, think about our own practice of infant baptism. Are there connections? What is different?

Finally, just relish in the story. There are dramatic love stories here. There is the destruction of a sinful city. The incredible family tensions between Hagar and Sarah. If you pay attention, this book is just as dramatic and interesting as the newspaper, maybe even more so, because the author reminds us that God is in working in the midst of it all. If God can work in and through a family like this, don’t you think it is possible that God is working in your family, in our family, as well?

Or, another way to ask it, “What if God is asking you, ‘Leave your country, and go to a land that I will show you’”? Where is God calling you? What is God calling you to leave behind?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Christian Smith, author Soul Searching, has published a fascinating essay on-line on their characterization of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. it is worth reading carefully.


For some reason linking directly to the pdf doesn't work, so here is the Google html version which also provides a link to the pdf:

Monday, October 22, 2007

Getting a Life - Books & Culture

Getting a Life - The challenge of emerging adulthood by Christian Smith

This is an eye-opening exploration. Christian Smith's book Soul Searching blew me away when I read it a few years ago.

High Flyer: Richard Rorty obituary | New Humanist

High Flyer: Richard Rorty obituary | New Humanist

Danny Postel pointed me to this essay he wrote on Richard Rorty. Thanks, Danny!

I tend to be sympathetic to many of the critiques that a philosopher like Rorty makes, especially critiques of a generalized deism as such, or certain forms of fundamentalism.

What I find unfortunate, however, is that it appears that theology has never made inroads with philosophers of Rorty's variety, and this probably precisely because of the "liberal theology" so many criticize. Once we go down the road of liberal theology (and I'm over-generalizing), I think something like Rorty's secularism is the logical outcome.

But there is one key theological insight lacking in this equation, and it is the key insight that keeps me a Christian, and keeps me confessing the faith.

Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

I wonder if Rorty ever read much Christology? Paul's acknowledgment that Christ crucified is a stumbling block is spot on, but it seems that most of modern theology hasn't even gotten in the road to stumble anyone.

It is simply the case that our theology starts and ends with Christ, and inasmuch as a supposed Christian culture has failed to confess this, preferring instead some form of general religiosity, we have failed to proclaim Christ and him crucified. "We proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" has largely disappeared from the public Christian confession.

Or maybe I'm too dismal here. Anyway, that's my take.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Facebook Looking for 1,000,000 Strong for Stephen Colbert | The Trail |

Facebook Looking for 1,000,000 Strong for Stephen Colbert | The Trail |

Unbelievable. Impossible even to know how to comment...

Augsburg Fortress | War, Peace, and God

Augsburg Fortress | War, Peace, and God: "What do people mean by a 'just war'? What are the moral criteria for justifiably going to war and fighting in war? Can Lutheran congregations be peace churches and be within the JWT? These are the important questions explored and addressed in this timely book. Includes additional resources and questions for reflection and discussion."

By Gary Simpson

Friday, October 19, 2007

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Bush ramps up sanctions on Burma

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Bush ramps up sanctions on Burma

|| LIRS || Advocacy Update -- October 2007

|| LIRS || Advocacy Update -- October 2007

Clean Water

*excerpted from the LWR web site*

Dear Senators Russell Feingold and Herbert Kohl,

I am writing to ask that Congress increase U.S. Development Assistance Account funding to $500 million for Fiscal Year 2008 for clean drinking water and adequate sanitation internationally. These increases should be part of an overall increase in U.S. development assistance for poverty alleviation world-wide. Millions of people every year die from diseases that are easily preventable due to the lack of sufficient clean water.

While the U.S. Government has long funded water and sanitation efforts abroad, most of this aid is emergency and temporary water supplies or for projects concentrated in a few countries. With its Water for the Poor Act, Congress focused concern on long-term, sustainable water and sanitation provision in countries of greatest need. The Act emphasizes affordable and equitable access for impoverished communities.

Congress' continued leadership role is critical. In calendar year 2007 there is an unmatched opportunity for the U.S. to exert moral, diplomatic and financial leadership so as to reach the goal, as stated in the Water for the Poor Act, of halving by 2015 "the proportion of people unable to reach or afford safe drinking water and basic sanitation."


Clint Schnekloth


Gracious God, fount of every blessing,
Your life-giving love flows for us and through us.
We give you thanks, for in all things you
sustain us through your Holy Spirit.

Yet drought is ever present in this life.
The land cries out for rain,
crops and cattle long for flowing streams,
and children cry empty tears of thirst.

Flood this creation with your healing waves.
Make us instruments of your peace,
and bless us in our thirst for righteousness.

Help us to proclaim the deluge of your Word.
Cleanse our hearts in your righteous care.
And remind us always of the love poured out for us.
Through your Son Jesus Christ, the Fount, we pray.




Being proactive in getting set up to back up the laptop, this program seems like one of the easiest and best for backing up to an external hard drive.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Leadership Network

Leadership Network

Leadership Network fosters church innovation and growth through strategies, programs, tools and resources consistent with our far-reaching mission: to identify, connect and help high-capacity Christian leaders multiply their impact.

Leadership Network’s “DNA” is to work directly with pioneer churches who are testing and implementing the new ideas that will drive the Church in the future.

Many churches that participate in Leadership Communities become teachers themselves, taking what they have learned to a broader and larger audience. As innovation spreads, the Church better fulfills its mission to expand the Kingdom of God.

The Gospel and Our Culture Network - Homepage

The Gospel and Our Culture Network - Homepage

Reading Room - Sunday Book Review - New York Times Blog

Reading Room - Sunday Book Review - Month long discussion of War & Peace

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Was It Ever Really Mine | Lyrics

Here are the lyrics to "Was It Ever Really Mine" by Jon Troast.

Was It Ever Really Mine, Jon Troast

I brought a dollar to the store today wanting to buy something new
I put the dollar in my front pocket and brought it back home to you

Refrain: cause I don’t wanna buy what I don’t need
And I don’t wanna own what I can’t keep
And if I’m gonna have to leave it all behind was it ever really mine?

I made a dollar at my job today I show up every week
I guess I really didn’t make it they gave it to me

Refrain: cause I don’t wanna buy what I don’t need
And I don’t wanna own what I can’t keep
And if I’m gonna have to leave it all behind was it ever really mine?

Bridge: And I’ve got mansions waiting in the sky
Where the rivers run but never run dry
There are highways of gold room for this soul
Well I don’t think Jesus would lie

I put a dollar in the mail today I hope it gets there on time
They look so hungry on my TV I hope they’ll be alright, I hope they’ll be alright

Slower: cause the store’s full of things that I don’t need
And the world’s full of mouths that I can’t feed

Up tempo: and if I’m gonna have to leave it all behind was it ever really mine

Refrain: cause I don’t wanna buy what I don’t need
And I don’t wanna own what I can’t keep
And if I’m gonna have to leave it all behind was it ever really mine?

Essay on Genesis 1-11

I'm writing essays every two weeks to introduce a set of daily lessons our church is doing reading through the Scripture in one year. Here's the essay for the first 11 books of Genesis:

So much has been written about Genesis and the first few books of the Bible that it is really hard to know where to start. There is probably no part of Scripture other than the Gospels that has had more commentary written about it. Genesis is so very rich and diverse. It starts out with two creation stories, one an overall creation story of the heavens and the earth, the second one more centered in on humanity’s place in creation and its relationship to it. Then it moves on to the early myths- the flood, new languages, the first murder, etc. I call these stories “myths” not because I don’t believe they actually happened, but more because they are told not just to record an event, but also to show us a truth. So, we can read the Noah story as an account of a flood that really happened, but we can also read it as a truth about sin, God’s hatred of sin, but God’s forgiving and relenting in the midst of sin and destruction. The story is mythic because it carries that truth.

The early part of Genesis, chapter 1-11, keeps plodding along with these mythic stories, and all of it is intertwined with a genealogy, from Adam and Eve all the way to, eventually, Abram (remember that later in Scripture, God is called “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”). So as you read these first 11 chapters, you’ll see the mythic tied very closely together with the personal and the familial. That’s very interesting. But actually, the whole bible is like that. We think of God operating on a really grand scale, but the truth is, most of the time in the Bible, God is working through very specific and local means. He doesn’t appear in the sky and call the whole world. He calls one specific family, Abram and Sarai, to go where he tells them. She doesn’t save all the enslaved peoples of the world. She hovers over like a mothering hen and calls Israel out of bondage from Egypt.

This last point is especially important. Even though we haven’t started reading Exodus yet, it is important to remember that, from the perspective of the Bible at least, all of these books are written by the man who led the exodus out of Egypt- Moses. Moses is, according to Scripture, the author of Genesis. There has been a lot of historical work done that now calls into question whether historically Moses actually did write Genesis, but we can disregard that concern, at least for the time being, and think of Moses as like a narrator that we can imagine writing this. If you want to think of who is narrating all of this, think of Moses.

If you do that, you’ll realize that the lens through which we read all of Genesis is the Exodus. In fact, I almost thought of having us read Exodus first, and then go back and read Genesis after the exodus narrative. Because the Israelites and Moses can only think of God as the God who saves and liberates. Their worldview is forever affected by what happened to them when God led them out of Egypt.

This is not actually strange to us. We cannot really read the Old Testament without thinking of it through the lens of the New Testament. We read everything in Genesis, Exodus, and the other books of Scripture shaped by what we know of God’s work through Jesus Christ in his birth, death, and resurrection. We are Easter people, just as Moses was an Exodus person. So when you read the early chapters of Genesis, in fact, when you read all of Genesis, keep in mind the exodus, and God’s liberation of an enslaved people, and a promise of salvation. In fact, you can think of Moses as a kind of interpreter, looking back and interpreting these historical events in a special way, always watching for God as savior in and through the events.

Martin Luther certainly does this in the Small Catechism. I his explanation of the first article of the creed, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth,” he writes, “What does this mean? I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties.

In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.”

God’s creation is not simply a past action for Luther, something that is done and over with. Instead, Luther reads creation in light of redemption, and sees creative work as on-going. The key phrase is, “and still preserves.” God still preserves; God still saves; God is living and active. Not only that, God was there, in the beginning, making heaven and earth, living with and loving a humanity that was sinful from the very beginning, redeeming and saving.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Lutheran Forum columns

Beginning in November, I'll be writing a quarterly column for the Lutheran Forum. Right now I'm in the process of narrowing the topics, so I can start planning to publish every three months. Here's my list of potential topics. I'm hoping some of you will informally vote for your favorite first topic, and will also add suggestions for future columns.

Here's the Lutheran Forum page with current column published.


1. Missional church and Lutherans
2. Blogging and the Church/Facebook and the Church
3. East Koshkonong Lutheran and the reality of owning two church buildings
4. Advent
5. Best books of.../Best CDs of...
6. Contemporary Lutheran musicians
8. The ELCA Book of Faith Initiative
9. The ELW after six months of use
10. Preparing Sermons While Jogging

David Field: The Baptized Body

David Field: The Baptized Body Great review of an excellent book!

The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court - Jeffrey Toobin - Books - Review - New York Times

The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court - Jeffrey Toobin - Books - Review - New York Times

Listening to it as a book on CD right now, great insight into American politics and the judicial system!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

How Beautiful Are the Feet of Those Who Bring Good News

Photo taken at our children's sermon two weeks ago. Title of the sermon: The Gospel Walks Out of Church.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Fair Trade in Bloom - New York Times

Fair Trade in Bloom - New York Times

Reflections on Alan Hirsch and Eugene Peterson

I'll be posting articles I write for my doctor of ministry program here. Here's the first one-


The two books under consideration for this paper are quite different. Eugene Peterson’s Under the Predictable Planet has as its primary concern the vocational holiness of pastors. Peterson hopes to encourage a paradigm shift from the pastor understood as a kind of program director to the pastor as a spiritual director . This shift of the imagination for pastors will be accomplished, according to Peterson, through prayerful contemplation of Scripture, especially the Psalms, but also prayerful attention to non-banal and playful texts like Jonah (from which the title of the book emerges), not to mention prayerful consideration of the language and idiom of the culture and people with which the pastor lives and works .

Alan Hirsch’s The Forgotten Ways, on the other hand, has as its concern the missional agility of our churches. He argues that there are six irreducible elements to the mDNA (m=missional) of churches that manifest Apostolic Genius: recognition of Jesus as Lord, Disciple Making, Missional-Incarnational Impulse, Apostolic Environment , Organic Systems, and Communitas, not Community . Hirsch sees this Apostolic Genius especially lived out in the early church, and again in the church in present-day China. He analyzes other church movements (including his own), especially those movements that are church-planting or church-multiplying. Much less attention is paid in this book specifically to the vocation of pastor; instead, the attention is on ecclesial and cultural issues
relative to the transformation of the church along emergent missional lines.
Although the two books are programmatically quite different, there are at least two overlapping themes that interest me as a Christian and pastor. First, both name the idol-making tendency of the church and individual Christian as a central concern. Second, both authors believe that the way we currently do much of what we do results in wasted energy, frustration, and despair. I will examine each of these in turn.


A crucial insight of my own tradition, Lutheranism, is the recognition that we are always simul iustus et peccator (simultaneously saint and sinner). It’s a reminder that our justification comes from Christ alone, but in this life we still remain sinners. Whenever we become convinced of our own righteousness, precisely there is where danger lurks. Peterson writes, “It is in our virtuous behavior that we are liable to the gravest sins… when we are being obedient and successful pastors we are in far more danger than when we are being disobedient and runaway pastors” .

The first commandment is the command against having false gods (Ex. 20). Idol making, though often not recognized as such, is the greatest sin. Peterson identifies the primary danger for pastors here as career idolatry. When pastors begin to believe that pastoral work is glamorous; when they succumb to “program-oriented religion” ; then they are in danger of shifting from a life of vocational holiness to idol worship. In a characteristically beautiful turn of phrase, Peterson writes, “Following the paradigm shift, the place occupied by the pastor is no longer perceived as a center from which bold programs are initiated and actions launched but a periphery that faces a center of clear kerygma and vast mystery” .

It is not only the pastor who is chasing after idols. The people in our churches are “consumers” of religious goods rather than living subject to Jesus Christ as Lord. Pastors are tempted to market to this consumerist mindset. Alan Hirsch recognizes this early in his ministry. He realizes that the people coming to and supporting his Elevation Caf├ęs are interested as consumers, but haven’t actually made a disciple-like commitment. On the outside, the program looked successful--it had flash. But when push came to shove, even if the program had flash, it wasn’t bearing the kind of fruit he believed would be indicative of a truly Christ-centered church .
Hirsch later writes, “in the modern and the postmodern situation, the church is forced into the role of being little more than a vendor of religious goods and services” . Hirsch is truly missional in his outlook. He’s not interested in simply gaining market share, shifting Christians from one church to another as their interests wane and re-ignite. He is interested in reaching those who have never even heard the gospel, and so he wants the church to adopt a sending (discipleship/apostolic) rather than an attractional (consumerist/institutional) stance towards the culture.

This leads into the second insight from these two books. Both recognize that a lot of current patterns just are not working. With Peterson, the recognition in his own ministry was that the way he worked as pastor did not match his sense of call. Like Jonah running away to Tarshish, he was chasing after a certain image of pastoral ministry and effectiveness rather than engaging in vocational holiness. He was not listening to God; he was not listening to his people.

Hirsch recognizes a similar problem on the ecclesial level. He writes,
Although we hear about successful attempts to revitalize existing churches, the overall track record is actually very poor. Ministers report their attempts to revitalize the churches they lead do not yield the desired results. A lot of energy (and money) is put into the change programs, with all the usual communication exercises, consultations, workshops, and so on. In the beginning things seem to change, but gradually the novelty and impetus tend to wear off, and the organization ends up settling back into something of its previous template or configuration. So instead of managing new organizations, these leaders end up managing the unwanted side effects of their efforts. The reason for this is actually quite simple, though it is often overlooked: unless the paradigm at the heart of the culture is changed, there can be no lasting change .

I recognize this in my own life and ministry. I invest considerable amounts of energy and time trying to “revitalize” the church. But the net result is never what I had hoped. This is probably because I am pursuing technological rather than adaptive changes .

It is also a result of my failure to focus, in my own pastoral work, on the essentials of prayer and the study of Scripture. I give some time to these tasks, but I don’t pursue them as diligently and faithfully as Peterson recommends. Everywhere I look, everything I read lately, everything I hear from Scripture and God, encourages me that prayer is central and vital to the re-vitalization of the church. But I keep scurrying around acting as if our church can be re-vitalized under my own steam, by my own effort and innovation. In so doing, I stop relying on God and start relying on myself.

And beyond that, I tend to force my boiler-plate, my programs and abstractions, on the people I live and work with, rather than truly getting out and being with my community in a more missional-incarnational mode. I don’t listen as well as I should, and I assume I have more to give in shaping the community than there is concomitantly in the community that can shape and strengthen my faith.

I spend huge amounts of energy on the attractional model of church (because it is flashier and builds up the institution that supports me). What I want and desire to do is more along these lines, “We say [God’s] Name personally, alongside our parishioners in the actual circumstances of their lives, so they will recognize and respond to the God who is both on our side and at our side when it doesn’t seem like it and we don’t feel like it” .

Hirsch and Peterson together have given me a new vision. Both visions are radically large enough that it will take a while, possibly a lifetime, to live into them, but inasmuch as they call me away from idolatry and back to a life of vocational holiness and missional ecclesiality, they have done their work.


1 Eugene H. Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994), 175.

This paradigm shift is best illustrated through a story Peterson tells early in the book. Out of frustration with how his call as pastor was going (he felt he had no time for personal relationships and prayer), he goes to his church council and resigns. Instead, his council asked him, “What do you want to do instead?” His reply: “I want to study God’s word long and carefully so that when I stand before you and preaching and teach I will be accurate. I want to pray, slowly and lovingly, so that my relation with God will be inward and honest. And I want to be with you, often and leisurely, so that we can recognize each other as close companions on the way of the cross and be available for counsel and encouragement to each other”, 39.
2 This item in the list is difficult to understand by its title alone; see the APEPT chart in Alan Hirsch for a helpful description of apostolic “environment”, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church. (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2007), 158.
3 Ibid., 25.
4 Peterson, 35.
5 Ibid. 167.
6 Ibid. 176.
7 Hirsch, 40-41.
8 Ibid. 110.
9 Ibid. 53.
10 Patrick Keifert, We Are Here Now: A Missional Journey of Spiritual Discovery, (Eagle, Idaho: Allelon, 2007)
11 Peterson, 172.