Wednesday, June 21, 2017


This is a paper I wrote March 2009 on Holiness and Social Justice for my Doctor of Ministry at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary -  Please give me your thoughts           


The churches in the United States today usually lean to one side or the other in some broad categories called Liberal (Progressive) or Conservative (Evangelical). Both groups have strengths and weaknesses. These differences might be categorized in relation to James 1:27 which reads, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Both emphases in the church today can learn from each other in regard to the issues of holiness and social justice and can become stronger, better balanced, can walk in greater unity and can become a better witness and influence to our culture.

Although this is a broad generalization, progressive churches tend toward fighting for social justice, meeting the needs of the poor, the marginalized and the broader needs of community – Loving their neighbor (if you will) – the doing more than the being. Evangelical churches tend to focus on being unpolluted by the world (holiness), individual moral issues – Loving God (if you will) – the being more than the doing.

Again, I know that these characterizations are crass over-generalizations, and these may even be offensive to both sides, but they seem to ring true in my observations. I was reared in the Episcopal Church during my childhood and have been involved in Evangelical churches for some thirty years since then. I now tend to interact with people who have more conservative leanings. I have chosen to attend Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, which I would infer has leanings to the Progressive emphases, so that I might learn some of the strengths of this perspective (and possibly share some of the strengths and perspectives of the Evangelical bent if God permits).

I will discuss briefly some of the history reflecting this church split and possibly some of the signs that the two sides are coming together to love God, love their neighbors and love each other. This dichotomy is reflected in many areas of our American political culture: Republican and Democrat, pro-life and pro-choice, the definition of marriage and gay rights, illegal aliens or undocumented immigrants, just war and pre-emptive strikes, global warming and “dig, baby, dig,” and many other issues. Many church members’ views on several of these issues are related back to these divided perspectives.

Brief History of the Division

Evangelical is a term that has come to be used primarily to describe the religious views of various groups of theologically conservative Protestant groups in Europe and North America. Evangelical simply means of the Gospel (good news). This term has been used by some of the leaders in the Protestant Reformation in the 1500’s to emphasize salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. In the 1700’s, it was used to describe the religious revivals of English preachers John Wesley and George Whitefield. They emphasized the need for personal conversions through God’s grace and the importance of leading a holy and disciplined life.[1]

At the end of the 1800’s, many liberal religious scholars challenged the accuracy of the Bible, questioned previously accepted Christian beliefs and attempted to adjust Christian theology to then new discoveries in biology and geology. Many Christians believed the work of the liberals threatened the authenticity of Christianity. From 1910 to 1915, anonymous authors published 12 small volumes titled The Fundamentals. Fundamentalism got its name from these booklets. The authors tried to explain what they felt were basic Christian doctrines that should be accepted without question, such as the infallibility of the Bible, the Virgin Birth of Jesus and Christ’s atonement for the sins of humanity through his Crucifixion.[2]

This debate caused a division between more liberal and more conservative Protestants. After World War II, the fundamentalists became known as the “new evangelicals” who became closely linked to the popular preacher Billy Graham. These fundamentalists also influenced the growth of many non-denominational groups that are primarily conservative and Evangelical.[3]

The mainline churches have continued to grow progressive and liberal and to emphasize the social gospel more than the individual need for conversion. The term mainline churches usually refers to such denominations as Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, United Church of Christ, Lutherans and American Baptists.

The division is evident even in the title of Diana Butler Bass’ book Christianity for the Rest of Us. She makes reference to other Christians that are not part of politically conservative evangelicalism. She says, “I knew, though, that ‘other’ Christians existed. I am one.”[4]

Division Today

In the church today, there seems to be antagonism from both sides. When I told a few people in my circles that I was attending Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and they heard that it was Presbyterian, they felt that I would get a liberal education (and they meant that in a negative way). The non-denominational church in which I serve is used to lively worship and interactive preaching. If the congregation is non-responsive or non-energetic, comments have been made such as, “Am I in a Presbyterian church?” or “This Methodist church is very quiet today.” In the first few days in the cohort classes this January as we were getting to know each other, some interesting comments were made. One student said apologetically, “I grew up as an Evangelical.” Around the time of the Presidential Inauguration, there were some very negative comments about Rick Warner and his views. 

Unity in Scripture

In the fourth chapter of the letter of Ephesians, there seems to be two aspects or perspectives regarding unity. In verse three, it reads, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” The author then proceeds to list some things that he may be saying on which we should keep unity. Verses four through six read, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all.” Then later in the chapter, the author writes in verses eleven through thirteen that leaders in the church (or extra-local church) are “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

So, there seems to be a keeping of the “unity of the Spirit” and a reaching of the “unity in the faith.” Whatever the primary (or fundamental) areas in which we should keep unity, there seems to be some areas in which we will grow in unity. Unity does not necessarily mean uniformity. 1 Corinthians 12 discusses diversity and unity. Members in the church are compared to members in a body. There are many parts, but one body. Because we are not all alike, we should not say to each other, “I do not belong (12:15)” or “I don’t need you (12:21).” There should be no division in the body, but each part should have equal concern for each other (12:25). Together we are the body of Christ with our individual perspectives, strengths, weaknesses and emphases. We need each other to reach unity. It is Christ in you (plural) that is the hope of glory (Col 1:27b).

Guilt and Shame

One perspective that influences this discussion is what has been characterized as Western and Eastern worldviews, generally stated as guilt-based or shame-based. When humankind fell in the Garden of Eden, there were at least three negative consequences: guilt, shame and fear. In Genesis 3:7, after Adam and Eve had disobeyed God, they realized they were naked and attempted to cover themselves. They experienced guilt. In Genesis 3:8, when they heard God in their midst, they hid themselves in shame. In Genesis 3:10, Adam said that he hid himself because he was afraid.[5]

Generally speaking we see these three responses to sin expressed in three worldviews. Some cultures have more of one than another, but all three are present in all cultures today.[6] Many western nations (Northern Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand) have cultures that contain mostly guilt-based cultural characteristics. Much of the 10/40 window (Eastern nations from Morocco to Korea) is made up of shame-based cultural characteristics. Most of the primal religions and cultures of the world (such as tribes in the jungles of Africa, Asia and South America) are structured around fear-based principles.[7]

While the United States has been primarily a guilt-based culture through the years, over time, this has begun to change. The yardstick in our culture has been right versus wrong. However we have defined it, we want to do the right thing and not the wrong thing. We have believed that there is some way of objectively determining if something is right or wrong. If we do the right thing, then we are innocent; if we do the wrong thing, then we are guilty.[8] This tends to be an individual perspective. I did something right or wrong independent of my relationship to others. The respected leader in a Western culture will determine guilt, punish the offender, and then right and goodness will reign again.

Eastern cultures tend to operate under the worldview where the paradigm is shame versus honor. They would say that there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way of doing things, but an honorable or dishonorable way of acting. Honor is wrapped up in one’s tribe, one’s family and one’s community. The respected leader in an Eastern culture will maintain honor for his people in the midst of a shameful and alienated world.[9]

Our culture is shifting toward more of a shame-based culture. Today’s young people are reluctant to label anything right or wrong. Instead, they will assign the labels “cool” or “uncool” to things. Cool and uncool are very shame-based or honor-based words. You are cool if you do something honoring to your clique or community; you are uncool if you do something shaming to your tribe.[10]

In broad strokes, I see this reflected in the two categories I am discussing in the church. The Evangelicals/Conservatives tend to view choices based upon right and wrong, objective truth, individual righteousness and holiness (what is right for the individual). The Progressives/Liberals tend to view choices based upon social justice, community honor and shame (what is honorable for the community).

This affects our views on holiness as well. The Evangelical tends to think of holiness in terms of things that they don’t do, don’t watch and are not involved in. Progressives tend to relate holy living to things that they are doing, lives they are affecting and changes they are making in others. We sometimes confuse holiness with morality. Holiness should make us more moral and cause us to make better choices, but the essence of holiness is being uncommon, peculiar and “other.” We are holy because God declares us holy, which should affect how we live. In Exodus 3:5, God says to Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” The ground was set apart because God declared it so, not because it made better moral choices than the other parts of ground around it.

We sometimes separate the holiness of God from his incarnation and thus our holiness and our incarnational ministry. We are called to be holy in the midst of an unholy world. As John Webster says in his book, Holiness, “The church’s holiness is visible as it bears witness to the world.”[11]

Examples of Division

A case in point is the debate on the illegal alien/undocumented immigrant. Conservatives say, “They have done something wrong. They have come here illegally. We should not reward bad behavior. They need to be punished. We need to stand up for righteousness! They are illegal aliens.” The liberals say, “It is very complicated. They are part of a family. Their children are born here. Many of us came here from other places. We do not need to shame them; we need to honor them within their family and their culture. We need to give them social justice! They are simply undocumented immigrants who need our help.”

Although obviously a very complicated issue, abortion rights, pro-life and pro-choice is another topic that is affected by this discussion. A technical question is that of when life begins – does it begin at conception or at birth? Most Evangelicals contend that life begins at conception and quote such verses as Psalm 139:13 which states, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” They say that the fetus is alive and growing and that ending the pregnancy prematurely is murder. They are for life. The choice was made at conception; by choosing to engage in sexual relations, one is choosing to conceive life.

Most people from Progressive denominations tend to lean toward pro-choice, abortion rights and giving the woman the right to control that which is in her own body. They would contend that life does not begin until birth. They might quote such verses as Genesis 2:7, which states, “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being.” They would assert that life does not begin until the child takes that first breath of life. By ending the unwanted pregnancy, a woman is making a choice with her own life. This choice is one that is made in community; one that is made for honor and not shame to the individual within a family, extended family and culture. This choice may be for many, many reasons including economic, emotional, age of the mother, cause of pregnancy (rape or incest) and pregnancy outside of marriage. 

Effects of Eschatology

These groups’ perspectives are also affected by their views on Eschatology (End times views). I disagree with those who say that our view of eschatology does not affect how we live. Over the last sixty or so years, many Evangelicals have embraced Dispensationalism (Futurist, Premillennial, Pre-Tribulational and literalist interpretation of end times events). Many have become convinced that the great Eschaton, a rapture, a seven-year Tribulation period, and the new Millennium are destined to happen quickly. There was a book published in the 1980’s entitled, Eighty-Eight Reasons Why Christ Will Return in 1988. 

This perspective has affected the Evangelicals in many ways. It has put many into a “Wait” mode. If Christ is coming back soon, they I don’t need to worry about taking care of the planet – it will be destroyed anyway. I don’t need to worry about long-term social issues – I just need to be concerned about getting people saved so they will get into heaven. I don’t need to be concerned with influencing my world for good – it is destined to get worse and worse and then Christ will return to save us. I have even heard well-meaning Christians tell me that we shouldn’t try to make the world a better place; we should allow it to get as bad as possible; the world getting worse more quickly, will cause Christ to return all the quicker.

This has caused many Evangelicals to pull back into what some call “holy huddles.” They are fearful of the world. They have pulled there children out of public schools and put them in Christian schools or have home-schooled them. They then blame the terrible conditions of the public schools on the liberal government who took prayer out of schools. I tend to think that the schools have suffered because the salt and light of Christian influence has been pulled out. The “holy huddle” syndrome also caused the increase of a separatist Christian sub-culture – Christian Yellow Pages, Christian Entertainment, Christian bookstores, Mega-churches, etc.

They have developed a Christ against culture mentality.[12] They have developed a monastic Christianity. Evangelism now comes over the radio, through the television, from the pulpit, or through tracts that present conversion as an intellectual decision or a decision to avoid Hell. Many have lost their connection to individually share the love of Christ with their neighbor in a long-term relationship. In some ways, they have become the modern day Essenes and are attempting to escape to a safe place. The Evangelical Church has become known more for what they are against rather than what they are for. Many have attempted to be the morality police of our society. In that way, they have become the modern day Pharisees.

About the Progressive/liberals, many Evangelicals would say that they are the modern day Sadducees. The Sadducees rejected the resurrection and the miraculous. Some would say that the liberals have entered into Christ of Culture and are compromising and accommodating. They have accepted pluralism, subjectivism, and relativism. Many Progressives in desiring not to be exclusive have stated that there are many ways to God, of which Christ is only one. Some would say that the liberals are not holy because they have become tainted by the world and that they do and act just like everyone else. They are not distinct or peculiar.

Returning to our end times discussion, the Progressive churches tend to different views of eschatology. If they believe in a literal second coming of Christ, they are more Post-Millennial or Amillennial in their views. Christ is reigning in us today. We are to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.” Their mentality is much more Christ transforming culture than escaping it. We are called to fight for the rights of the marginalized, the alien, the poor, the widows (single-moms) and the orphans (children disserted by dead-beat dads). They are not sure when Christ is coming back or what that will look like, but until then, they will be about the Father’s business, and the Father’s business is to love the unlovely.

Stewards of Creation

I also see this church split reflected in how we view our responsibility to the planet, ecology (water, air and land pollution), global warming and endangered species. Many Evangelicals would say that this is not important because this is a fallen creation and Christ will be coming back soon to redeem his creation. All energy in that direction is counter-productive. The liberals would say that we are stewards of God’s creation and should take good care of the planet, God’s creatures and be faithful to what he has entrusted to us.

N.T. Wright goes into a great discussion of creation, redemption, the new earth, the resurrection and hope to encourage us to be good stewards of God’s good earth. The gospel story is one of God’s Kingdom being launched on earth as in heaven, generating a new state of affairs. The power of evil has been decisively defeated and the new creation has been launched. We have been commissioned and equipped to put that victory and inaugurated new world into practice. God’s rule is to be put into practice in the world, resulting in salvation in both the present and the future, a salvation that is both for humans and through saved humans, for the wider world.[13]

Faith and Works

There are some who categorize these differences according to being and doing (faith and works). They say that we need not only orthodoxy (right thinking), but also orthopraxis (right doing). This has been a theme that has been with us for some time. James 2:17 reads, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” Paul in Romans 3:28 states, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” This is obviously a large discussion that encompasses a great deal of theology regarding justification, sanctification, and God’s role and our responsibility in salvation. Much ink and many words have been put to this discussion over the years.

An over-simplistic characterization of these theologies has been presented in the following humorous description: Augustine’s theology could be summarized as “Be to Do.” If you are right with God, then you will do the right thing. Thomas Aquinas’ theology could be summarized as “Do to Be.” If you do the right thing, then you will be right with God. And then the famous theologian Frank Sinatra sang, “Do Be Do Be Do.”

A balancing passage for me in this discussion has always been Ephesians 2:8-10. It reads, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We are saved by faith in Christ’s righteousness, not by any works that we might do, but God has works for us to do. These works reveal and express our faith in God. Martin Luther is attributed to have said that we are justified by faith alone, but that faith is never alone; it is always accompanied by good works.

Regarding this discussion, Evangelicals have tended to focus on faith and grace. Many have emphasized to completed work of Christ, the doctrine of eternal security as “once saved, always saved,” and justification by faith to the neglect of our response in faith which should be to serve our community and to love our neighbor. Many Progressive or liberal Christians have emphasized the need for serving and the social gospel more than the presentation of the gospel and Jesus’ message of reconciliation and atonement for sins. In our cohort class, one of our brothers from the United Church of Christ said something like, “I would rather serve than be saved.”

Effects on Evangelism

Evangelicals have tended to use John 3:16 extensively in personal evangelism. It reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” They emphasize that each person need to believe on God’s one and only Son in order to receive eternal life. The Progressive churches have emphasized 1 John 3:16-18. It reads, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”

Bryan Stone states “the most evangelistic thing the church can do today is be the church – to be formed imaginatively by the Holy Spirit through core practices such as worship, forgiveness, hospitality, and economic sharing into a distinctive people in the world, a new social option, the body of Christ.”[14] Stone quotes Albert Outler who says, “Give us a church whose members believe and understand the gospel of God’s healing love of Christ to hurting men and women. Give us a church that speaks and acts in consonance with its faith.”[15]

St. Francis of Assisi is quoted as saying, “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words,” and “Don’t go some where to preach unless your going is your preaching.” We need both: speaking and doing (talking and walking). One of my favorite scriptures regarding evangelism is 1 Thessalonians 2:8. It reads, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” That is when evangelism happens, when conversions happen, when life is transformed, when we share the good news and our lives with others.

Existentialism and Essentialism

Just to show what a nerd I am, I will share another perspective on this dichotomy. In the early Star Trek movies, these two perspectives were displayed. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Commander Spock sacrifices his life for the ship and says, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” In the next installment, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, the crew sacrifices their individual agendas to find their friend Spock, and Captain Kirk says, “Sometimes, the needs of the one, or the few, outweigh the needs of the many.”

Both of these perspectives are true. There are times when we as a community make sacrifices for one person – a child who has been kidnapped, a person down a well – we pull together to help one in need. There are other times when we as individuals lay aside our individual needs for then needs of the community or our nation – paying taxes, fighting a common enemy in war. Both perspectives are equally valid dependent upon the situation.

Conservatives would say that they are more concerned with the needs of the individual and his/her eternal salvation than they are for the community’s extended temporal needs (more existential than essential). The liberals might say that they lay their individual concerns aside for the needs of the extended community (more essential than existential). The liberals might say that a person is unconcerned with their ethereal and eternal needs if their practical and physical needs are not being met.

Movements to Unity

There has been some movement on both sides to unite, show love to each other and to present a balance in being and doing. In their book entitled The Externally Focused Church, Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson describe four types of churches based upon their emphasis on good deeds and good news.
  1. Internally focused church – These churches are good at preaching and teaching, worship, and serving the needs of those inside the church. They excel at pastoral care and building up the saints. Attendees hear biblical truth and the message of salvation. They have an attractional or “come to” mentality. They can be characterized as:
Goal: Building up the saints
Belief: Good teaching and truth will change and heal people
Focus: Teaching truth
Actions: Caring for their own
  1. Serving churches – These churches are good at demonstrating love for their communities. They are at the forefront of bringing social change to the cities but are weak in proclaiming the gospel. They can be characterized as:
Goal: Serving the least
Belief: Transforming the community leads to transforming individuals
Focus: Grace
Actions: Showing
  1. Externally focused churches – These churches are effective in proclaiming good news and showing love to their communities. The gospel is both show and tell. The can be characterized as:
Goal: Saving the lost and serving the least
Belief: We are most effective when we transform individuals and communities
Actions: Showing and telling
  1. Evangelistic churches – These churches focus on evangelism outside the church and going after the lost. They emphasize going door to door, handing out literature and sponsoring evangelistic crusades. They do little to serve as a blessing to their communities apart from evangelism. They can be characterized as:
Goal: Saving the lost
Belief: Transformed people will lead to a transformed society
Focus: Truth
Action: Telling[16]

I would say that regarding these categories: (4) Evangelistic churches – this describes many of the smaller fundamentalist and Pentecostal churches. (1) Internally focused churches – this describes many of the larger, Evangelical mega-churches. (2) Serving churches – this describes many of the mainline churches in America. (3) Externally focused churches – this is where the authors and I would like all of the churches to find balance in saving and serving, showing and telling.

Randall Balmer, in his book Thy Kingdom Come, calls the Religious Right, which he considers a sub-culture within the Evangelical subculture, to change their ways. He asks them to live according to the Sermon on the Mount. He asks them to examine their views on deploying military forces in light of Jesus’ invitation to love our enemies, their views on consumerism and tax cuts for the affluent in light of Jesus’ warnings against storing up treasures on earth and their denial of equal rights to anyone which is inconsistent with Jesus lifestyle of spending much of his time with the cultural outcasts of his day.[17]

Brian McLaren is attempting to speak to the post-moderns and the emerging church and to call them to develop progressive evangelical Christianity.  In this book, Everything Must Change, he is calling the church to examine their dysfunction in four areas of crisis: Prosperity – Environmental breakdown caused by our unsustainable global economy that fails to respect environmental limits and produces wealth for one-third of the population. Equity – the growing gap between the rich minority and the majority poor, which prompts envy and resentment from the poor and fear and anger from the rich. Security – the danger of cataclysmic war arising from resentment and fear among groups at opposite ends of the economic spectrum. Spiritual – the failure of the world’s religions to provide a framing story capable of healing the three previous crises listed. A framing story gives people direction, values, vision and inspiration by providing a framework for their lives.[18]


In the Broadway musical, Oklahoma, there is a sequence in which there is a dance and they all sing “The farmers and the ranchers should be friends.” The farmers and the ranchers have different perspectives, methods, lifestyles and goals as they homestead the territory of Oklahoma. They needed to coexist and complement each other as their territory became a state. The progressive Christians and the evangelical Christians should be friends. We are called to walk in unity with each other and to reveal God’s love to the world.

John 17:20-23 reads: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”


  • Barker, Kenneth L. eds. NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002. All quotes are from the New International Version.

  • Balmer, Randall. Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America: An Evangelical’s Lament. New York: Basic Books, 2006.

  • Butler, Diana Bass. Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith. New York: Harper One, 2007

  • Jacobs, Dale W. eds. World Book Vol. 6. Chicago: World Book Inc.1993.  “Evangelicalism,” by Mark A. Noll.

  • Jacobs, Dale W. eds. World Book Vol. 6. Chicago: World Book Inc.1993. “Fundamentalism,” by Robert L. Ferm.

  • McLaren, Brian D. Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crisis, and a Revolution of Hope. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007.

  • Muller, Ronald. Honor and Shame: Unlocking the Door. U.S.A:, 2000.

  • Niebuhr, H. Richard. Christ and Culture. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1975.

  • Rusaw, Rick and Eric Swanson. The Externally Focused Church. Loveland, Colorado: Group Publications, Inc., 2004.

  • Stone, Bryan P. Evangelism after Christendom: The Theology and Practice of Christian Witness. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2007.

  • Webster, John. Holiness. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2003.

  • Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. New York: Harper One, 2008.

[1] Dale W. Jacobs, eds. World Book Vol. 6, (Chicago: World Book Inc.1993), “Evangelicalism,” by Mark A. Noll, 431.
[2] Dale W. Jacobs, eds. World Book Vol. 7, (Chicago: World Book Inc.1993), “Fundamentalism,” by Robert L. Ferm, 557.
[3] “Evangelicalism”, 431.
[4] Diana Bass Butler, Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith (New York: Harper One, 2007), 3.
[5] Roland Muller, Honor and Shame: Unlocking the Door (U.S.A.:, 2000), 18-19.
[6] Ibid. 19
[7] Ibid. 20
[8] Ibid. 22
[9] Ibid. 51.
[10] Ibid. 52.
[11] John Webster, Holiness (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2003), 74.
[12] H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1975), vii. Although, I do not quote directly from Niebuhr, I do use his designations for interaction with culture.
[13] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: Harper One, 2008) 204-205.
[14] Bryan P. Stone, Evangelism after Christendom: The Theology and Practice of Christian Witness (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2007) 15.
[15] Ibid. 53.
[16] Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson, The Externally Focused Church (Loveland, Colorado: Group Publishing, 2004), 125-127.
[17] Randall Balmer, Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America: An Evangelical’s Lament (New York: Basic Books, 2006), 191.
[18] Brian D. McLaren, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crisis, and a Revolution of Hope (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007) 2-5.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

In the Middle

I am fifty-five years old.
There, I’ve said it.
Fifty-five to stay alive

I am finding my fifties to be an interesting time of transition.
I am no longer young.
I don’t feel that I am old.
I am in the middle – middle age, Middle Earth, stuck in the middle with you, Malcolm in the Middle

I know people in my age group who are trying very hard to stay young – dress young, act young, appear young, talk young, get surgery, get tattoos, get twitter accounts and try to keep up with technology. It’s not working. Be your age; act your age; be who you are and not who you aren’t.

I also know people in my age group who are trying very hard to be old – dress old, act old, appear old, talk old, settling in to lethargy and retirement. They let their devices blink 12:00. They begin most sentences with “In my day,” or “When I was young.” They are either ultra-conservative or ultra-liberal. They think that everyone who doesn’t agree with them on every issue is either stupid or trying to destroy our world. Be your age. You are not dead yet. Be open to listen to other people with different ideas.

This transition period of my life has probably been intensified because we recently moved to a small community and things have slowed down. We had been living in Phoenix and I had been an associate pastor a large, multi-site church (around 5000 attendees). We now live in a Northern California town of about 5000 and I pastor a small church with under 100 attendees.

It is definitely a time of transition.

We love this community and this church. We love our home and our view of the lake. We love this time of our lives. We love our kids and our grandkids, although we don’t see them as much as we would like. We don’t love that our bodies are getting older and that they don’t bounce back as quickly.

I don’t want to try to act younger than I am. I don’t want to try to build a shallow enthusiasm and make a lot of noise that builds to a lot of action that reaps no significant changes in people’s lives. I don’t want to try to dress young, act young and talk young. I want to act my age and minister people of different ages.

I don’t want to try to act older than I am. I don’t want to just wait for retirement and escape from society and culture. I want to be aware of my surroundings. I want to listen to different ideas. I want to continue to live a life of significance.

The strength of youth is enthusiasm. The strength of age is wisdom.
The weakness of youth can be living to please others.
The weakness of old age can be not giving a flip what others think.

I want to maintain enthusiasm and walk in wisdom. I do not want to live to please others, but I do want to continue to serve others and to not isolate myself. I pray that I will find the correct balance at this time in my life and walk in joy and peace in the midst of a different type of storm.

I remember when my Dad was teaching me how to drive and he said something like, “Slow down as you are going into the curve and speed up as you are coming out of the curve.” This time of transition in my life is a curve. I am trying to slow down, look around, listen, be aware of my surroundings and to go through the turn. I am praying to see through the turn, receive new vision, reorient to the other side of the curve and live wisely before I begin to speed up.

The bear went up the hill to see what was on the other side and he saw another hill. I don’t want to go back and I don’t want to settle on the top of the hill. I want to go wisely and at the right speed. There is still much to do, much to see, many to meet and growth to be experienced.

The journey continues