The Christmas Gospel of Jesus the Liberating King

The birth narratives at the beginnings of Matthew and Luke are packed full of the Christmas gospel. However, it seems to me that none of the birth narratives sit easily with the ‘gospel’ preached by much of modern Christendom – in either its liberal or more conservative forms. Both tend to be individualistic, focusing on individual ‘spiritual’ experience or the salvation of one’s individual soul. But this makes the gospel about us – and one thing that we can know for certain here, the Christmas gospel is not about us. To put it simply: the gospel is not about my guilt, nor is it a general theory of salvation, nor is it about my individual relationship with God, nor is it about giving Jesus my soul.  All these things have been made the gospel but these things are not the gospel. These things are important, there is no denying that, but the gospel is not ABOUT these things.

Jesus is (Not) My ‘Personal’ Lord and Savior…

What does this mean? One of the things it means is that the gospel can never primarily be about Jesus being my personal Lord and Savior. Jesus being my ‘personal’ Lord too often translates in modernity as my private Lord – and if Jesus is merely one’s private Lord then Jesus is not really Lord. Jesus is not content to be a private Lord; he demands to be one’s public Lord as well. Nor is Jesus merely my individual Lord; he is Lord and King precisely because he Lord and King of the whole world/cosmos. And neither can Jesus be merely my personal savior. I have an ongoing tension with what might be called the ‘plan of salvation’ gospel – what New Testament scholar Scot McKnight calls the ‘soterian’ gospel.

What’s this tension all about? Well its simple really – the tension here is that the ‘plan of salvation’ isn’t the gospel. The individualist plan of salvation both reduces the robust picture of salvation in the Scriptures and obscures the true gospel from us. It exchanges and confuses a small part for the whole and thereby distorts and loses the whole. Surely what evangelicals know as the plan of salvation is connected to the gospel (at least we hope it is) but we must avoid collapsing the gospel into the typical individualist plan of salvation of modern evangelicalism. This must be said, if we only know Jesus as ‘personal Lord and Savior’ in this sort of way we don’t really know Jesus.

A King and a Kingdom…

This is because there can be no good news apart from the gospel of the Kingdom. The gospel is about a Person (who is a king) and a Kingdom. The gospel is the good news of this King and Kingdom. If we fail to preach the gospel of the Kingdom, in favor of the plan of salvation, we have failed to preach the gospel. The gospel is the story about the Liberating King Jesus – how his life, death, burial, and resurrection of come to fulfill God’s promises to Israel and, through Israel and Jesus, God’s promises to the nations and all of the Created Order. The gospel story is the proclamation of the good news that Jesus is both Lord and King. There can be no good news apart from Jesus as the Liberating King.  This is why I love ‘the Voice’ New Testament which is the work of the Ecclesia Bible Society which is connected to Ecclesia Church in Houston.

I came to love the reading of the Scriptures from the Voice in worship at Ecclesia. The biggest reason for this is that the translators for the Voice project chose to translate ‘Christ’ or ‘Messiah’ as ‘Liberating King’ or ‘Liberator’. Why do I like this so much? Its because so many today seem to have lost our story and consider the Old Testament superfluous. Disconnected from its story the term ‘Messiah’ (which is Hebrew) has no meaning. As a result when it comes to ‘Christ’ (which is Greek) these folks do no better. Many seem to think that ‘Christ’ is simply Jesus’ last name. I love the fact that the Voice makes clear that ‘Christ’ is not Jesus’ last name and that it gives some narrative content to ‘Messiah’ – Jesus is the Liberating King (a wonderful phrase that continues to capture my imagination about who Jesus really is). This is what the Christmas gospel in the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke are all about – the inbreaking of the Kingdom in the birth of the Liberating King of Israel and the world.

The Christmas Gospel in Matthew…

Scot McKnight at the Jesus Creed blog discusses the presence of the Christmas gospel of the Kingdom in the narratives of Matthew (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). He says in part,

“What is the good news, the gospel, at Christmas? Very simply there is one basic message we are invited to announce: Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph, is the King. The Christmas gospel — it’s all here — is that Jesus is King” and “the gospel is to declare that the Story of Israel (or the Bible) has been fulfilled in the Story of Jesus, who is King (Messiah) and Lord who saves. At the heart of this gospel then is a Story, a Story that begins with Adam and then all over again with Abraham and winds and wends its way all the way to Jesus. That Story is told in the Old Testament. The Christmas Story is a Story fulfilled. Let me turn this around: these are Advent texts not just because they are about the birth of Jesus; they are Christmas texts because these texts singularly fulfill the OT Story’s anticipations.”

The Christmas Gospel in Luke…

Andrew Perriman at the P.OST blog has a good post on ‘Christmas now and then’ in which he traces the Kingdom theme present in Luke. He says,

“Jesus will be king over Israel, in the line of David: ‘And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end’ (Lk. 1:32-33). The magi come looking for a new born king of the Jews, whose star they had seen. When many nations are assembled against Jerusalem, a ‘ruler in Israel’ will come from Bethlehem, who will ‘gather the rest of his brothers’ and deliver his people from the invader, and the ‘remnant of Jacob’ will be established amongst the nations (Mic. 4:11-5:9; cf. Matt. 2:6). Herod had the male infants of Bethlehem slaughtered not because he feared the arrival of a personal saviour but because he believed his rule over Israel was threatened.”

This kingdom theme ought to cause us to think differently about the pronouncements of peace in Luke (see 1:30 with Mary’s ‘Do not be afraid’ and 2:10-14 with the shepherds). At church we did a study by Rick Warren called ‘The Purpose of Christmas’. But I was terribly disappointed that his study never mentioned anything of the Kingdom theme. Instead, the guy who sold a ton of books proclaiming ‘its not about you’ ultimately made it all about us. Christmas it seems was so that we can individually experience peace with God and feel at peace with God. I confessed in our discussion group that I was not at peace with Warren’s take on Christmas peace. I wondered…where is the Kingdom? Christmas peace that’s not Kingdom peace actually misses the ‘purpose of Christmas.’ Christmas peace can never be merely individual peace. Christmas peace is only found within the context of the Kingdom.

Perriman again comments,

“the birth of Jesus in the city of David coincided with a registration of the whole empire ordered by Caesar Augustus (Lk. 2:1-7). The good news of Jesus’ birth as ‘Saviour’ and ‘Lord’, of peace for those in Israel with whom God is pleased (Lk. 2:10-14), clashes with pronouncements concerning the birth of the divine Augustus, who was Son of God, Saviour, Lord, who had brought peace and prosperity to the empire.”

The (counter) Kingdom theme runs all throughout the birth narratives and this is what the peace pronouncements are – royal, kingly pronouncements of the arrival of King Jesus. What we have here is the Kingdom favor, Kingdom good news, and Kingdom peace of Jesus the Liberating King. The point is clear, the true king of Israel and the world is neither Herod nor Caesar but Jesus.

The Christmas Gospel of Mary’s Magnificat…

Finally, Chaplain Mike at the Internet Monk blog has a great three part series on ‘Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) vs Today’s Gospel.’ (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). He concludes that Mary,

1) sees what God has done for her as personal but not the sense that its private;

2) sees herself in God’s Story, not just God in her story;

3) sees the coming of Jesus coming as the inaguration of The Great Reversal (versus merely The Great Exchange);

and 4) sees the coming of Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham.

He additionally says,

Mary has a BIG gospel! — a gospel that covers the whole Bible and the whole world. This isn’t something she learned as a ‘deeper truth’ for mature Christians; this was her hope and expectation, but it is something the soterians miss because they jump from Genesis to Jesus and don’t include the whole story in their understanding of Gospel as Mary did. From the beginning, Mary praised God as the King who rules the earth, who has called her to join him in the Missio Dei of bringing about the blessing of a New Creation.”

I think that pretty much hits the gospel nail on its head!

The Christmas Gospel is a BIG Gospel…

I will be honest, the individualist plan of salvation ‘gospel’ (if we can even call it a gospel) crumpled under the weight of my grief as Christie and I went through a devastating failed adoption and also lost three of our babies to miscarriage. Because of this Christmas can be hard for us. As I navigated my grief I needed more than a general theory of salvation, getting my guilt taken care of, or being sure my soul went to heaven when I died so that I could hang out with other souls (do we not see how Gnostic this is when we speak this way?). I needed a gospel that was not about me, that was bigger than me, that was bigger than my grief. As it turns out I needed what the rest of the world needs; that which is ultimately true – the reality that actually constitutes the world – the gospel of the Kingdom. I needed the Christmas gospel of the Liberating King. The Kingdom and the communion of Father, Son, and Spirit it seemed were the only realities bigger than my grief.

This Advent season we have prepared for the coming (again) of Christ with the themes of hope, joy, peace, and love. These are Kingdom realities first and foremost which are rooted in the Kingdom of the Liberating King, and in which our participation in these realities comes not primarily in existential ‘goose bump’  fashion but through participation in the triune communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is true hope, true joy, true peace, and true love. This is Kingdom hope, joy, peace, and love that draws us into the story of the Liberating King in which God is putting all things to rights, that gives us bodily resurrection, that includes a new heavens and a new earth, that calls us to join the Liberating King in the triune Missio Dei in the world of bringing new creation. This is the BIG gospel that Mary knew. Let us learn from Mary. Let us live within the Christmas gospel of the Liberating King, today and every day.

Happy Incarnation Day! May the hope, joy, peace, and love of the Liberating King Jesus be with you at all times.

The First Christmas Sermon Ever Preached

Over at Tony Jone’s blog he has posted excerpts of what is thought to be the very first Christmas sermon ever preached. I like this sermon so much I decided I would steal his idea and post the excerpts myself here on my own blog. This sermon was preached by John ‘Golden Mouth’ Chrysostom (who got his nickname due to his oratory skill) in 386 AD. I first came upon Chrysostom’s sermon when I was an undergrad doing some research for a historical theology course I was taking. I then forgot about it for a number of years until I rediscovered it as a graduate MDiv student at Logsdon Seminary in Abilene, TX while doing research on the Trinitarian theology of the church fathers.

You will find the excerpts below and can read the whole thing for yourself in The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers. The full text is available on Google Books as well. Happy reading and Merry Christmas!

I behold a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.  The Angels sing.  The Archangels blend their voice in harmony.  The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise.  The Seraphim exalt His glory.  All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven.  He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice.  And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields.  For He willed, He had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God.  This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not.  For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His.  Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny.  Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech.  For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth.  The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace!  The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption.  For what reason?  That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see.  For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature’.  For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made.  Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator.  For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

What shall I say!  And how shall I describe this Birth to you?  For this wonder fills me with astonishment.  The Ancient of days has become an infant.  He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger.  And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men.  He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands.  But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life.  He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity.  For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ‘in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this?  Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh.  He did not become God.  He was God.  Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things are nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother.  So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him.  Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever.  Amen.

‘Tis the State of My Discontent [2]: The Threads

It’s taken me a rather great while to get this second post in this series up. Honestly, since we left Houston my thoughts have been terribly scattered and getting anything down in written form has been difficult for me. This state is not particularly normal for me and I don’t really like it. Before going any further allow me to note upfront that I am going to be rather honest about how I feel about a few things and that it is very possible that misunderstanding may occur and offense will be taken where none is intended. I certainly hope this does not happen and I invite and encourage the reader to visit the first post (here) before continuing on. And yes, I realize its Christmas Eve and some may think this out of place. But the things I share in this post simply mean that I have needed Advent and Christmas even more this year! And warning, this post is long so pace yourself.

Part of the reason for this series is for me to clear my head and (being in a HUGE transitional period) figure out where to go from here.  I am no super saint, so it’s a good thing there is not biblical requirement for super saint status among God’s people. I say this because it’s tempting for me to come to my generalized sense of discontentedness and conclude that I really don’t measure up. But as I revisit the story of the people that God has used throughout history and even in my own life, I am finding that its not just me. ‘Measuring up’ (whatever that means, if you know please tell me) it seems isn’t as important as we are led to believe. Why is it that we so often carry around this undefined weight to ‘measure up’ in such a way that only some sort of super saint could ever meet the standard? I have become convinced that God incarnates his presence in this world in the weak, the lowly, the messy, the smelly, the ordinary, and the all too human things of this world. I guess if its put it that way, perhaps I’m still in the running. I can be ordinary, weak, lowly (though hopefully not smelly), and yes…even discontented with the best of them.

The Theological Thread

Those that know me will know that this could be just about anything since I tend to approach everything from a theological perspective. But here I am using this for some things that I am feeling discontented about but couldn’t find another place to put them. First there is the subject of the gospel. Yes, I am discontented about the gospel at least the version of the gospel we have heard since coming to Carlsbad (ok, see I probably just offended some folks). Scot McKnight in his book The King Jesus Gospel (see here) critiques the ‘soterian’ gospel which focuses on the individualist ‘plan of salvation’. It does this to the detriment of the more genuinely robust, full gospel of the Apostles and the Gospels – the gospel of the Kingdom, the King Jesus gospel. Since we moved here references to the Kingdom and to Jesus as the liberating King have been few. Mostly (especially in the area Baptist churches) its an individualist salvation gospel that gets preached concerned with ‘saving souls’.

But having spent time in Crosspoint Fellowship in Abilene and Ecclesia in Houston, both of whom focus on missionally living out of the King Jesus gospel its just rather frustrating. It needs to be said, the gospel is not about you and me. The gospel is about King Jesus and his Kingdom. I have come to believe that if you only know Jesus as personal savior, you don’t really know Jesus. Its that simple to me, really. I know that perhaps most people mean the King part to be implicit in there somewhere, but Jesus is not simply your personal Lord or King either. No, the personal savior part is true and we are included, but we are included only in the context of the Kingdom, with Jesus as the liberating King of the whole world/cosmos. If we don’t preach the gospel of the Kingdom with Jesus as the liberating King we aren’t preaching the gospel!

Second, there is the idea of male headship. Yes, this is an issue for me…mostly because we are in a very conservative area now where it seems that I don’t exercise my ‘headship’ in what is considered the ‘biblical’ way. Keep in mind that not long after we got here the movie Courageous came out. This is the ‘best’ movie to date from the producers, but unfortunately in my opinion its still yet theologically thin (in how it presents a soterian gospel as well as headship in marriage). According to the movie it seems that all our troubles will be solved if men just take up their rightful positions as the ‘leaders’ in the home and church (and society?). Where does this leave women? Well, its not explicated precisely but it’s a safe bet it leaves them as the ones who submit to male leadership. Now, I believe in headship, I just don’t think has anything to do with male ‘leadership’ or authority complimented by the unilateral submission of women and wives. I disagree with those who demand that the complimentarity of men and women requires a relational hierarchy (of men over women). I consider my view to be ‘complementarity without hierarchy’ and I would describe myself as a ‘mutualist’.

I believe 1) that Jesus is the head of the home and family, 2) that the husband is NOT the head of the family/home but instead is head of HIS wife who are ‘one flesh’ together, 3) that headship in marriage is tied to the ‘one flesh’ analogy (as in a head and a body) and is thus a metaphor for intimate communion not authority over, and 4) that the Ephesians text must be framed by Ephesians 5:21 and mutual submission (in both church and marriage). I believe that ‘male and female’ created in the imago dei are meant to be co-equal, and co-regents, and that mutual submission is the high calling of all our relationships, including marriage as an icon of the triune communion of Father, Son, and Spirit. The producers of Courageous are correct; we have a stark crisis where men are concerned. But they are wrong that the ‘biblical’ answer is for men to exercise their ‘headship’ as ‘leaders’ – unless of course they mean that men and women are to act as mutually submissive co-leaders alongside each other (which they don’t).  Those who see male headship as ‘leadership‘ and ‘authority over’ and the unilateral submission of women leave me discontented.

Third, there is the Lord’s Supper…or Communion…or the Eucharist. Why am I discontented about this? Basically because I miss being able to take Communion weekly. This was one of my favorite things about being a part of Ecclesia in Houston. Taking weekly Communion is a powerful way to be storied into the incarnational narrative of Christ each week. Despite how ‘in shape’ we may or may not be we all inhabit broken bodies. Our bodies may differ in degree, but they do not differ in kind. And it is this same flesh that Jesus took on when he became human, was bloodied, crucified, and resurrected. For those of us with broken bodies (ie, all of us) there is only sustenance from the broken flesh and blood of Christ. I have come to wonder how we can not take Communion weekly. I honestly feel like I’m starving with a once a month observance. We currently worship with FUMC here in Carlsbad – this is not meant as a slam on them. I really appreciate the blessing that my wife is accepted as an ordained woman (I’ll explain more below) but I wish we would do Communion weekly.

The Marriage Thread

The second thread contributing to my discontent surrounds my marriage. Now let me say on the front end my marriage is NOT in trouble. I love Christie (others know here as C.C.) more than my very life, and she me. So what is the discontent about? There are three main factors here. First, after our CPE/chaplaincy experience we both felt like we needed time to reclaim our marriage. The fact of the matter is that being a CPE student is a full time job…and being a chaplain is a full time job. Since we were both CPE students and chaplains, well, that was like four full time jobs (dealing with all the brokenness and suffering that the city of Houston could throw at us) in our house. Looking back I’m not sure how we did it and I would advise others against it.

Second, since we arrived in Carlsbad neither of us really feel we have been able to reclaim our marriage as we desired. Resting and recuperating has not really come to us as we have hoped. And, while grateful for their generosity and blessing, it has been difficult to figure out how to be husband and wife while living with the in laws…not much more to say here, it just has.

Finally, Christie’s recuperation from the toll everything has taken on her (especially physically) has been very, very slow. And without insurance now it is difficult to find adequate health care to help her recover. I can only say it has been rough. And it takes it toll on me. It eats at me that I have not been able to provide a way to take care of her better. This comes not from the traditional tack of the husband as ‘head and provider’ (see above on mutual submission) but because as her husband I experience ‘one flesh’ intimate communion with Christie. When she is in pain I hurt too, pure and simple. It is love that motivates me to want to ‘provide’ for her, and it eats at me that I can’t do so properly right now.

The ‘Ecclesiastical’ Thread

Both Christie and I have Southern Baptist roots…and we find ourselves back among primarily Southern Baptist turf here in New Mexico…and we find ourselves really at odds with both our roots as well as the Southern Baptists in this area. We still consider ourselves Baptist…just no longer that kind of Baptist. It won’t make sense to some but denominational identity is not that important to me, but my Baptist heritage is. I suppose that’s a way of saying my Baptist heritage transcends denominationalism – or that one can be a good Baptist and not be Southern Baptist. Given the Baptist options around here it was really not surprising that we ended up worshiping at a Methodist church. We are Baptists that happen to go to a Methodist church currently.

It can be difficult to locate oneself in the ecclesiastical wilderness. The journey is difficult and some people just give up. We were very fortunate in Texas at both Crosspoint in Abilene and Ecclesia in Houston. Both churches are grounded in a deeper sense of the gospel than the soterian option and both have a definite missional focus. Both also are not captured by the rank traditionalism that marks so many churches. Its odd that those who are the biggest ‘traditionalists’ know next to nothing about the wider church tradition (or even Baptist heritage for that matter). Given my penchant for being a non-traditionalist many are surprised I advocate a recovery of the wider church tradition (and yes, even Baptist heritage). I’m a ‘catholic’ Baptist if you will. The problem is not tradition per se, but stale, dead, cold traditionalism. In fact, I believe that recovering a greater sense of the wider church tradition will help us recover our story and be an antidote to traditionalism (which is ironically usually very recent).

But back to the matter at hand, at both Crosspoint and Ecclesia my wife was fully accepted as an ordained ‘woman in ministry’ (in fact Crosspoint ordained us both in a joint ceremony). It is here that in Texas we were also fortunate to have the support of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), of which both Crosspoint and Ecclesia are affiliated. The BGCT is supportive of women in ministry and works to provide an environment in which they can thrive (which can be tough, especially in more traditionalist churches). In the strictly Southern Baptist world (which dominates New Mexico unfortunately) this is not the case. We have even had a couple of Southern Baptist churches threaten church discipline in the past if we were to ever join them. Yikes!

At this point in our journey it is apparent that, while we are perhaps Baptist and embrace our Baptist roots, we do not consider ourselves Southern Baptist any more and for multiple reasons do not feel at home in a Southern Baptist church. So, we are part of a Methodist church, which (while it has its own traditionalism, and while its ‘contemporary’ worship is more Hillsong than David Crowder or Robbie Seay) is where we are a better fit and where I know my wife will not be questioned or looked down upon because she is ordained. We so long to be back with our fellow Texas Baptists though and back with our Crosspoint family.

The Vocation/Calling Thread

One thing I have never been concerned about is my resume. I sometimes think that I’ve made a mistake here – especially when I go to apply for a job. My resume often feels like a catalog of failures. But I have tried to focus on following the best discernment Christie and I had for what God was calling us to do. This is why we left Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2000 to start a church in Plainview, TX. It ultimately didn’t go well for us. What is for certain is that when we left SWBTS for Plainview I chose a path of ministry outside the traditional church system. I have felt called to people, contexts, and a missional expression of the faith largely outside of the traditional structures. This has meant that I have worked a variety of (so-called) ‘secular’ jobs and (as one person put) did church stuff ‘on the side’ (though I don’t like this language).

I have a great deal of pastoral experience but almost all of it is non-traditional (such as working in children’s homes, church planting, small group leadership, and even hospital chaplaincy) and my ecclesial experience is almost all non-paid (which always caused me to question if I should have ever really considered myself bi-vocational). After our time as hospital chaplains we now find ourselves in transition period, in sort of a limbo. This is pretty much a feeling I’ve felt in some way since we left Plainview all those years ago. Though I feel I was able to incarnate God’s presence in some very tragic circumstances, chaplaincy never really clicked for me. It too felt very limbo-ish. The place that I have not felt this limbo type feeling is Abilene. Abilene just feels like home.

Currently I work for a mental health company as a ‘Community Support Worker’ (a kind of unlicensed social worker) and with their group psycho-social rehab program. This job has been a great blessing for us and I have been able to use some of my pastoral training in my work. But it has still been difficult to go to work every morning. There is the lack of effective training for what they expect me to do and certain administrative issues that contribute to this. And there is the fact that much of my (postmodern) theological formation is at odds with the (modernist) therapeutic psychology of a mental health organization (something that put me at odds with much of my CPE experience interestingly enough also). As a theologian with a pastor’s shape I feel quite often that I am a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. Where I’m at currently, I honestly feel like a parody of what I’m called to be.

It has taken me too long to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. There are two major ways that I am shaped – as a theologian and as a pastor – both of which has been confirmed by other Christians in community at various times. And its these two things that I feel called too in the deepest parts of my being – pastoring in some capacity and being a theologian, things that in my opinion should never be separated in the first place. I would like to get a PhD and teach theology (despite the buzz going around that doing a PhD is not the thing to do right now) but the thought of moving someplace far off for a PhD isn’t appealing to me. No, I’d rather us move back to Abilene, reconnect with Crosspoint and HSU/Logsdon Seminary, and enroll in a distance PhD program like the University of Durham. How are we going to make this work? We have some irons in the fire, but at this point I really have no idea.

The ‘Exile’ Thread

I saved this thread for last on purpose. I’ll be brief here as this one will set the stage for the next post, so I’ll say more there. As the name implies, the cumulative total of everything I’m experiencing right now means that I feel very much like I am in exile. Living with the in-laws, working a job where I don’t really fit, separated from our home, etc, etc …the only way I can describe the way it feels is exile.

E.W. Said put it like this,

“Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted. And while it is true that literature and history contain heroic, romantic, glorious, and even triumphic episodes in an exile’s life, these are no more than efforts meant to overcome the crippling sorrow of estrangement. The achievements of exile are permanently undermined by the loss of something left behind forever.”

Yes, I know its Christmas Eve and I’m really not trying to be a downer. The Christmas Gospel of the Kingdom is big enough for whatever we bring to the table. Pretending doesn’t do any good. We might as well be honest about it. And this season the word exile remains very descriptive of what I’m feeling. Though I have a very good roof over my head, and am grateful for all the ways that God has provided for us, and am thankful for those through whom God has provided, in many ways (but not all) I feel homeless. But this just means that Advent and Christmas are all the more theologically significant for me this year, because the coming (again) of Christ is the end of exile. This is reason for rejoicing, Kingdom type rejoicing, even in exile!!! I’ll pick up with this theme of exile again in part three. For now thanks for reading and your prayers are coveted and appreciated.

Christmas blessings to all!