Fall Reading List 2014

Over the summer, I’ve loved the break from reading non-fiction and theology/church related books and primarily picking up fiction.  I’m still enjoying reading fiction, but there are some non-fiction books that have been catching my attention. I’ve been increasingly interested in the complexities of Vietnam and have read very little about it. I’ve also been interested in the faith communities response and influence in the Civil War (both good and bad.) I’m not reading much theology this fall. A little burned out there still. But I will get to a few classic liberation theology books that I’ve neglected thus far. James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree was powerful and eye-opening so I thought it would do me some good to read more in that vein. Cone’s book has also inspired me to read the poetry of Cullen and some more on Martin Luther King Jr. Enjoy!

Fiction/Poetry:
A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter Miller Jr.
Saint Maybe – Anne Tyler
The Magicians – Lev Grossman
Home – Marilynne Robinson
Annihilation – Jeff VanderMeer
On These I Stand; An Anthology of the Best Poems of Countee Cullen – Countee Cullen

Non-fiction:
Strength to Love – Martin Luther King Jr.
Going Clear; Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief – Lawrence Wright
A Prayer Journal – Flannery O’Connor
Dispatches – Michael Herr
Quiet; The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain
The Civil War as a Theological Crisis – Mark Noll
A Life Worth Living – Robert Zaretsky

Theology:
Kingdom Conspiracy; Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church – Scot McKnight
God of the Oppressed – James Cone
The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It – Peter Enns
A Theology of Liberation – Gustavo Gutierrez

Church:
Slow Church; Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus – Various
Fail; Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure – J.R. Briggs
The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches Are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community – Soerens, Sparks, Friesen
Body Politics; Five Practices of the Christian Community Before a Watching World – John Howard Yoder

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Inadequate Responses to Abuse and Corruption

I’m as Mark Driscoll news-weary as anyone. I’m tired of seeing it in my feed all the time. I’m tired of reading about it. But unfortunately being in the Pacific NW and living in a city (Portland) where there is a Mars Hill franchise, it’s unavoidable so I have kept up and thought through the significance of all that is being revealed on a leadership and ecclesiological level.  That being said, I’m seeing a lot of people respond in ways that I know are well-meaning but in this case and others like it, are simply inadequate.

We haven’t had a shortage of scandal and outrage in the Church this year ranging from the Sovereign Grace abuse and alleged coverup, to Furtick’s million dollar home and kid’s coloring sheets and now of course to continuing groans of Driscoll’s lengthy pattern of arrogance, manipulation, and control.  For the purpose of engaging this in a healthy and adequate way, I thought I would mention some of the ways that are simply insufficient responses.

1.  What about grace and forgiveness?  Shouldn’t Christians be the most forgiving people of all?

Yes, but that doesn’t mean there are no consequences for your actions. Forgiveness is a process that can and ideally should happen if at all possible between Mark, the leadership, and all of those who have been wronged.  I hope reconciliation is possible and I know people are intentionally pursuing that very thing.  Praise God!  BUT, that doesn’t mean that consequences of sinful or immoral behavior or leadership abuses just goes away.  Should Acts 29 and the board forgive Mark and Mars Hill?  Of course, but that’s not really what’s in question here.  It’s a matter of trust.  Can they trust him?  It sounds like the answer to that is no.  So to continue in partnership with someone you can’t trust is irresponsible and foolish.  There’s nothing “un-Christian” about parting ways.

I think this stems from a particular theological problem.  Many Christians don’t understand that we’re (to simplify a bit) saved by grace, judged by works.  In other words, for some reason Christians think they are going to be exempt from the judgment of God!  Or they won’t be held both held accountable and rewarded (two poles of “judgement” in the NT sense) for the way they lived their lives on earth because they’re “saved” after all!  How wrong this idea is and how unlike the teaching of Jesus, Peter, Paul, or John particularly. Feel free to peruse Matthew 12:35-37, 1 Peter 1:17, Rev. 20:12, 22:12.  Just a few examples that really doesn’t do this concept justice in terms of length or complexity.  But come on, this is a blog post. 🙂

I think JD Kirk rightly points out: “Every time the New Testament indicates the basis of the final judgment, that basis is the works of the people who are being judged.”  In any case, I think it’s a faulty theology that teaches us that we are above or exempt from consequences just because we are Christians and that impacts how we think of other Christian’s when they reveal a pattern of sin.

2.  Why are we talking about this when children are dying?  

I’ve heard this a number of times now online. I’m as shocked and heartbroken over what is going on in Iraq and Gaza as anyone.  But does that make it a waste of time to the people who experienced manipulation and abuse in this community?  Do you think they would see it that way?  It seems pretty important to these people: www.welovemarshill.com and www.marshillrefuge.blogspot.com  And honestly, like I said, it’s an important issue for me as we have a MH in town AND my seminary has chosen to partner with them in starting a Seattle campus.

The real problem is one of logic.  If A is important (kids dying in Iraq), then B (whatever it may be) cannot be simultaneously important or worth discussing.  If this were the case, the entire world would have to investigate and conclude on one thing or issue that was of supreme importance and entirely eliminate all other conversations except for that one thing that we have all agreed on is issue #1.  But until that happens, I choose to believe that one can adequately think about and discuss a variety of issues with a varying level of importance at the same time!

3.  We’ve all got problems and are messed up in some way.  Why are we giving this one individual such a hard time? 

That’s a good question.  There’s no doubt that everyone has their problems.  But not everyone has a HUGE platform, or has been given the authority and responsibility that comes with being a pastor/elder of a church community or speaking into thousands of lives through books, podcasts, and blogs.

Like it or not, pastors and elders are held to a higher level of accountability.  And that is how it should be.  I would expect a higher level of discipline and consequences in my position as pastor in my church, than the average church-goer.  Is it because we’re different in some way from one another or because I’m more important?  Not at all.  It’s because I’ve been gifted a responsibility to the community at large by the other elders and by God and that’s a weighty thing.  So I understand that while I will sin and hopefully repent and confess my sin to a community that forgives me, the consequences of my sin may be greater than other’s who do not carry that same kind of responsibility. (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1)

4. Christians “attacking” other Christians doesn’t look good to our non-Christian friends and does nothing to promote “unity.” 

That’s a fair point and I never want to come across as “attacking” anyone, but do you know what else doesn’t look good?  Trying to sweep abuse and other immoral behavior by Christian leaders under the rug.  Does that establish any kind of credibility with the watching world? Many people suggest just not talking about it, posting about it, drawing more attention to it.  The problem is, a non-response IS a response. It communicates that this kind of thing (whether it’s sexual abuse in the church or leadership manipulation) isn’t important and not worthy to talk about under the guise of “not giving the church a bad name.”

The point is, non-Christians KNOW what is going on because it’s all over the internet whether YOU are the one that posts about it or not.  And ignoring it, not talking about it isn’t doing anything to change their potentially negative perception of the church.  What MIGHT do that is if we recognized how grievous this all is to God AND repent of our own wrong-doings as the church.  Not every disagreement or recognition of wrong-doing is an attack.  There is a way to discuss and even expose the ugliness that happens in the church in a way that is loving and respectful.  And I think that establishes more credibility and trust with friends than trying to make excuses, cover it up, or pretend that nothing is really happening.

I’m also quite certain that unity doesn’t necessitate agreeing on everything or covering up sin.  Can you imagine Paul or Peter saying, “well, I know the people at the church in Corinth are sleeping with prostitutes, BUT we don’t want to rock the boat. Gotta stay unified!”  If we can’t address sin in the church and encourage repentance and reconciliation as Jesus says we should, it makes you wonder what it is we’re building our “unity” around.

Western Seminary – Mars Hill

From 2006-2009 I did my M.Div at Western Seminary here in Portland.  Overall, I really loved my time at Western.  I chose Western over George Fox mostly because I thought it would be more challenging for me to do a degree in a conservative, Reformed seminary.  And it was.  After going to a largely Arminian (and mostly hostile to Calvinism) bible college in Illinois, to jump into a grad program at a Calvinist school was a fun challenge.  I’m not a Calvinist, they didn’t convert me, but I can represent what they think and believe without all the unhelpful caricatures and hostility.

The faculty was excellent as well.  They were all solid and willing to engage in a variety of ideas without defensiveness.  And they were even open to have a wide variety of visiting faculty teach.  I remember when Doug Pagitt was in town and we had a conversation about his latest book with some faculty and a few students.  If I remember rightly, John Johnson had Brian Mclaren and/or Tony Jones teach something at the doctoral level.  But something changed in 2009, 2010.  It seemed like a push, or some kind of pressure to solidify conservative, Reformed roots and shelter the school off from anyone outside of that stream.  So mostly the visiting faculty became professors from SBTS who went through their own winnowing of anyone who wasn’t bleeding for the conservative Reformed movement.

In any case, in 2011 I began the Th.M program at Western after being awarded a scholarship that paid for the first year and completed a seminar on Augustine with Marc Cortez (which was excellent) and New Perspectives on Paul with Jim DeYoung which was also great.  I did a Bonhoeffer class with Joel Burnell from Poland and a few independent studies on the nature of the Bible.  It was a fun foray into post-graduate work but largely I decided that I was not cut out for the academic route, but was called to be a pastor first and foremost.  The time limitations with having a few kids and a full time pastorate were too much so I dropped off after doing about 10 hours of the program.  I have no regrets in doing that and feel at peace with the direction of my life.

After that, I kind of buried my head in the sand a little bit I guess and haven’t been keeping up with Western much.  Recently I saw online that Western Seminary has partnered with Mars Hill Church in Seattle to open a campus of Western as a part of Mars Hill School.  I was immediately saddened to see this and think this is a terrible direction for the school on a number of levels.

More than saddened, I am a little embarrassed.  I’m embarrassed that people are now going to associate Mars Hill and Western more than ever before.  I’m embarrassed when people ask me where I went to Seminary, I’m going to say Western and many minds will turn to Mars Hill and associate me with that.  Honestly, if I were still in school, I would transfer out at this point.

In regard to the number of levels that strike me. First and foremost, I’m embarrassed academically.  To choose to associate yourself with a church and a name that has recently been caught plagiarizing does not scream academic excellence!  Nor does Driscoll’s fundamentalist and ignorant rants.

Second, I’m embarrassed culturally.  No, not because Mars Hill is known for being “all about Jesus.”  It’s because they’re known for abusive and controlling tactics, degrading local preaching by showing a video, perpetuating celebrity Christian culture, saying demeaning and degrading things about women.  And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg folks.  And now when I say, “I went to Western Seminary” I almost feel like I have to tack on, “But, I’m not associated in any way with Mars Hill.”

Third, I’m embarrassed ecclesiologically.  Lots of this is expressed above.  Capitalizing on a celebrity-persona and status.  Not valuing the local preaching of scripture.  Taking a franchise approach to church planting.  Threatening to sue anyone and everyone who says a word of dissent against Mark or the church.

Finally, I’m embarrassed ethically.  Why would a seminary partner with a church who has been found out to misappropriate designated funds, who has spent 200,000 dollars of church funds to pay for Mark Driscoll’s book to be on the NY Times bestseller list, who has countless accusations online ranging from a sexual felony in Portland that has gone unreported to about every abuse of power possible.

For all of the above reasons, I think this is a horrible idea for Western Seminary.  Why muddy your name by getting mixed up in this polarizing mess?  Like it or not, when you start a campus IN Mars Hill, you’re inheriting all of the baggage that comes with this one man’s mistakes.  Is it worth it?  Does it not in some way also mean you’ve condoned it?  Or at least overlooked it?