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Diversity and the Witness of the Early Church


Photo Credit: Frédéric Glorieux, Creative Commons

Leroy and I were recently on a trip to Washington DC and discussed the early church and the faith community at Antioch for a blog post he was working on. When his post came out, I thought it would be fun to post it here as well!

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Guest Post by Leroy Barber

As I look at the early Church, I am amazed by their diversity. They were a bunch of people who were deciding to learn a new way of living outside the norm of their society. They were Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, trying to live a different life.

First, it drew people to know who they were and how they could be a part of this new thing. Eventually, they would be called Christians at Antioch.

Second, it put them in such opposition to the status quo that persecutions began to happen. These new Christians were fed to lions and burned at the stake by folks like Nero.

It is remarkable that even though Christians were heavily persecuted, people kept wanting to become Christian! Acts tells us that the Church was added to daily. In contrast to today, a time when Christians are quite comfortable and people are leaving church in droves, I can’t help but wonder if we should call ourselves Christian. We simply don’t resemble anything close to the early Church. We walk down the “Romans Road” to belief, but in many cases that is where faith ends. It seems that in the early Church people preferred authenticity, even if it brought persecution.

And here we introduce the idea of hospitality. The idea of hospitality wasn’t a part of some cultural norm to show one’s status or sophistication. It was a way of life to help people who were wandering about because their families disowned them for following Jesus. Hospitality was a necessity of life and the norm of a struggling community caring for each other. Those early Christians even sold their belongings to meet each others’ basic needs. Can you imagine selling your stuff so that your neighbor can eat? I have experienced such hospitality in some of the most vulnerable places around the world. And I have been deeply blessed.

How did we get here, friends? How are we so separated by race and culture? More importantly, how do we begin to live into our call again as Christians? How do we recapture the moment when we were first called Christians?

It seems to me that the call is once again or perhaps has always been a radical one, meaning that at all costs we give our lives for one another. We sacrifice for strangers. We love and give to people across racial, cultural, political, denominational, gender, and economic lines. If we do this, there would need to be a new way to define such a community since the idea of Christian as many know it today does not now fit this new kind of community.

To sacrifice for all? It might take an act of God. Yes, it probably would. The Holy Spirit would have to take over our lives and rid us of our fears. However, perhaps this is just what we need—an act of God to make us Christians again.

This blog post originally appeared on Evangelvision.

Small Beginnings

Photo Credit: Justin Tung, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Tom Rowley, A Rocha USA

Two weeks ago, I spent the day with a dozen other men—nine black, three white—discussing racism, black men and the Church. Appreciative as I was for the invitation by Leroy Barber and Kilns College, I was a bit hesitant. Privileged by society because of race, gender and socio-economic class (none of my own doing), I was afraid I would feel guilty, ignorant and uncomfortable. I went anyway and am grateful I did. I was given not only new friends, but also new insights—albeit still quite limited. What I now claim to “understand” is mere head knowledge about things these men “understand” as life. Small beginnings, I suppose.

And while the conversation was not about the creation or environment, the field in which I work, I was struck by several similarities. Racism and environmental degradation share roots, results and, even response by the Church.

As others have pointed out, Christian slaveowners were able to soothe their consciences and rationalize their ownership of human beings by buying into a sort of insidious gnosticism. In short, they could tell themselves and their slaves that life on Earth doesn’t matter; all that counts is the eternal hereafter. That same heresy can be and is used to justify abuse of the non-human portion of God’s creation as well.

Another related and shared root is greed—plain and simple. As the apostle Paul said, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” (1Timothy 6:10) That evil is evident, even when unintentional, when what I want comes at the expense of another human being or the planet (recognizing, of course, that it is impossible to live without some impact on the environment.)

As for similar results, we can see them in the devastation that racism and environmental degradation wreak on people of color. Racism inflicts physical, emotional, social and economic damage. So, too, does environmental degradation. Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians, as well as poor Whites, often (disproportionately according to some studies) live downhill, downstream and downwind of the smokestacks, landfills, sludge ponds and incinerators that hold the toxic byproducts of modern life.

Finally, the response by the evangelical Church in the USA to both racism and environmental degradation has been less than one—and perhaps Jesus—might hope for. We in white middle-class America are largely insulated from the practices and effects of racism, just as we are largely insulated from the results of environmental degradation. Insulation, however, is no excuse. Ignorance is not a defense. And the fact that you and I may not be blatant racists, nor have lavish lifestyles does not give us a pass. The recent awakening of the Church on both fronts is encouraging, but it is “recent”.

Interestingly, addressing one can help with the other.

Getting people of different races to sit down with one another, grasp the nettle and bridge the divide is right and good and we should do it. It is, however, exceedingly difficult. Getting people of different races to roll up our sleeves to clean up the river that runs through town or plant trees in school yards may be a good small beginning. Common ground. Common cause. Relationship. Healing.

Two examples. In Lexington, Kentucky, two churches—one black, one white—have come together to plant a community garden on property owned by the white church, but set squarely in the predominately black neighborhood. What once was a source of contention dating back to Civil War days is now a place of tomatoes, conversations and community. In Southall—a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural—suburb of London, A Rocha brought all parties together to restore a large tract of land that was a place of crime and illicit dumping. Eyesore and health hazard converted to community jewel.

The obstacles to racial justice and harmony are many and complex. And by themselves, efforts such as these are insufficient in overcoming them. And clearly this blog has only scratched the surface. But “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…” (Zechariah 4:10)

Re-Post: Reggie Williams on Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus

Reggie Williams is an Assistant Professor of Christianity at McCormick Theological Seminary, in Chicago, Illinois. His research consists of analysis of the intermingling of race and religion from the modern colonial period to the Harlem Renaissance. Particularly, Christology within the Harlem Renaissance literary movement yields evidence of a prophetic Christianity that can guide peaceful resistance of oppression. Williams’ book Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic, recently published by Baylor University Press, examines Bonhoeffer’s exposure to Christianity in the Harlem Renaissance, and it’s effect on Bonhoeffer’s Nazi resistance. He and his wife Stacy Williams are the parents of a son, Darion (15yrs), and a daughter, Simone (13yrs).

KW: How did your interest in this topic first develop?

RW: I first became interested in this topic while I was a PhD student of Glen Stassen’s. Glen argued that Christianity in America suffers from a problem of reducing the way of Jesus to thin principles (like personal responsibility, modesty, humility, etc…), which can be inserted into any ideology and turn Jesus into divine support for harmful ideologies. Glen saw that the slave trade in America did exactly that with Jesus, and whole traditions of Christianity in America continue to suffer from the effects of thinning Jesus down in order to see American race-based slavery as a legitimate Christian practice. That is an American injustice that we’ve not yet recovered from. But, there are other American traditions of Jesus that have not suffered from the need to make Jesus accommodate practices of domination. African American traditions of Jesus were born in the heat of domination, and tend to center on Jesus with more attention to concrete commandments (rather than abstract ideals) and social expectations. For Glen, Bonhoeffer’s experience in Harlem demonstrates the power of that historical reality; Jesus appropriated for domination and authoritarianism in Germany meeting Jesus identified with the marginalized and oppressed in Harlem, resulting in a transformative effect upon Bonhoeffer’s Christian identity. Glen introduced the story to me, and I took it from there.

KW: Can you compare/contrast Bonhoeffer’s beliefs and practice before and after his experience with black Christianity and the Harlem Renaissance?

RW: Years after his return from his time in Harlem, Bonhoeffer claimed that during his student years, (which scholars interpret as ending upon his return from New York in the summer of 1931) he wasn’t really a Christian, yet. In his words, he was arrogant, uninterested in the Bible, or in prayer. He didn’t attend church much, but in New York, he became a lay leader at Abyssinian Baptist Church. Upon his return to Germany, he continued to take church attendance very seriously, and he was now making use of the Bible, interpreting scripture as relevant for daily Christian living. Upon his return to Germany, Bonhoeffer began talking about racism, and “ethnic pride” as sin. Bonhoeffer recognized the Nazi race language as the German equivalent of American white supremacy after Harlem where he learned that white supremacy is a Christian problem.

KW: Can you briefly summarize how you think this affected Bonhoeffer’s work against the Nazi regime in Germany?

RW: After New York, Bonhoeffer was familiar with an African American tradition of Jesus that associated Jesus with suffering humanity, rather than with the powerful and the elite. Within an African American Christian worldview, Christian faithfulness was re-calibrated for Bonhoeffer, from the perspective of the marginalized, in whom he came to recognize Jesus hidden in the world in suffering and shame. By positioning himself as a white German man, next to black Christians in America, Bonhoeffer was enabled to interrogate Christian identity and Christian faithfulness in a way that called into question his formation as a white man, and consequently in Germany, he was equipped to do the same self reflection as a German Aryan Christian in relationship to Jewish people.

KW: Why do you think this aspect of Bonhoeffer’s experience hasn’t been explored significantly before? 

RW: Well, first, I think matters like Harlem, race, black theology and church life have been an enigma for many white theologians. The theological implications of race are legion and they are perplexing. Second, only in recent years have Bonhoeffer scholars, in America and in Germany begun to give Bonhoeffer’s study time in Harlem any serious attention. Many years ago, one Bonhoeffer scholar by the name of Ruth Zerner wrote an article that claimed Harlem was influential for Bonhoeffer’s theological development. Bonhoeffer wrote to his best friend Eberhardt Bethge after he was imprisoned by the Nazis that he hadn’t changed much in his life except under the influence of his father’s personality, and after his first trip abroad. Zerner made a convincing case that he was referring to his trip to America as a post-doctoral student in 1930-31 when he mentioned his first trip abroad. Other scholars have begun to follow Zerner’s interpretive lead about Bonhoeffer’s transformative trip abroad, but they had to swim against the tide of opinion that was still arguing that Bonhoeffer was referring to an earlier trip to Rome and Africa that he took with an older brother. In all of this debate stands the difficulty of interpreting the impact of theology on our Christian identity, and Christian social interaction. Race is a complicating source of that interaction, and it has been missed precisely because it has not been respected or understood. Yet, we cannot really discern all that was going on with Bonhoeffer’s advocacy for the Jews in Germany without attention to the theological implications of race.

KW: Having studied Bonhoeffer so deeply, what do you think he would say about his rising popularity and exposure in America today?

RW: I’m sure Bonhoeffer would be shocked by his popularity. When the Nazi government arrested him in 1943, he was not a very popular person in Germany. The Confessing Church movement that had been his outlet of theological resistance to the Nazis was no longer in existence by the time of his arrest. Large numbers of the confessing church membership succumbed to Nazi demands that they show loyalty to the Nazi government by swearing allegiance to the Führer.  In that process Bonhoeffer was pushed out and to the margins of the community of his colleagues, nearly alone in his Christian opposition. Today many regard him as a hero, but in his day, he was just a young radical professor/pastor, struggling to encourage faithfulness to Christ among his colleagues. I’m sure he’d want the same faithfulness for Christians, today. I’m also sure that he’d be surprised by the many different interpretations of his radical Christian claims, and his international acclaim.

Bonhoeffer was not one who sought the limelight. He was instead one who preferred humble solidarity with other Christians within community. The urge to follow a charismatic leader was not one that he respected. Life within Christian community as the practice of submission to the will of God who is present in Christ, was Christianity for Bonhoeffer.

KW: What is your hope for those who read this book? Is there a practical application for everyday Christians?

RW: I read Bonhoeffer as one who helps us to ask important questions about Christian identity and identity formation. Our understanding of what it means to be human is tethered to notions of ideal humanity, religion and ideal community. These themes of ideal humanity and ideal community have calibrated Christianity to correspond with harmful ideologies that inform our collective understanding of race. Bonhoeffer helps us to interrogate the harmful connection between ideal humanity and ideal community as people who seek to live in the real world, in faithfulness to the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. We really cannot do theological education, or Christianity, well in America without paying attention to the formation of our identity as human and Christian. I hope that readers will see the kind of work that Bonhoeffer had to engage in order to advocate for people pushed to the margins of society by the dream of an ideal community.

New Art

Thanks to former Antioch Intern, Sam Palencia, for some pretty cool hand-drawn memes for #TheGrandParadox. Sam is an art student at Cal Baptist and she is pretty much the bomb.

If you’d like to see the set of 5, or other memes and media resources for the book, visit the media resources post here.

Social Media Advice from Uncle Screwtape

Guest Post by John Sowers

The other day I took my iPhone into the Genius Bar for some work. When I turned my phone back on, I received a series of strange texts, each one cryptically signed, “Screwtape.” At first I thought it was a joke, so I played along, texting back. But the more texts I received, the more I realized it was no joke. Here are some of those texts…

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Dear Wormwood, if you cannot divide them into new denominations, have them write angry blogs and sarcastic tweets to one another. As you learned in training, sarcasm is a Greek word meaning “tearing the flesh.” Make them so determined to ‘win the argument,’ that they tear at each other, like sharks at feeding frenzy. – Uncle Screwtape

Dear Wormwood, do everything to keep him disconnected from the Voice of the Enemy. Every morning, rush at him with a thousand voices. Tweets. Texts. Instagram Likes. Make him feel a small buzz of approval whenever he gets a “Like.” Soon, he will live for an invisible audience instead of those right in front of him. He will believe to be ‘connected,’ but will be utterly alone. – Your Affectionate Uncle

Dear Wormwood, have your patient become a ‘spiritual critic.’ Make him into a misguided whistleblower writing open letters and airing out his theological rage on Facebook. Twist and use him. Whisper accusations in his ear, like leprous distillments, straight from our Accusing Father below. – Screwtape

Dear Wormwood, I see you are having success with this ‘critic’ idea. I am giddy with impish delight! Your patient feels superior to others and will never learn to serve. He has forgotten Grace extended to him by the Enemy and is religiously competitive, believing, like the Pharisee, ‘I am not like other men.” – Your Proud Uncle

Dear Wormwood, your patient is interested in compassion and justice? Do not lose heart. Convince him to build a social media ‘platform’ to make a name for himself, like those at Babel. Soon, he will have insatiable lust to for superiority and will love fame more than people. He will reach for the heights, lusting for the Throne. – Screwtape

***

I think Uncle Screwtape is right. Not about the content of our online discourse, but the tone and the posture.

Somewhere along the way, it became fashionable for us to be spiritual critics and blog trolls, to fire off tweets and write angry open letters to one another. Our critical, knee-jerk reactions have taken us a long way from the Prince of Peace. When we act in this way, we are more like the Accuser – the “Father Below.”

So Beware! If your social media tone is anything but love, you may be walking lock-step with Uncle Screwtape’s wishes.

The Grand Paradox Parent Resources

Guest Post by Linda VanVoorst

Kids ask lots of questions. They are curious about seemingly everything! Their curious little minds can’t help but question. Teaching kids to live the way God desires also prompts many questions. Often, the answers seem paradoxical.

Imagine a young boy asking his dad “Why do you work so hard, dad?”. His dad might answer something like “I want to do my work well.” The boy extends the logic and says “And because you work so hard, we will have lots of money!”. To the surprise of the young boy, the dad says “Not exactly. You see, I work hard so we can meet our needs and help meet the needs of others.” The little boy might furrow his brow as he tries to formulate his reply. “So you mean you work hard so you can give your money away?” If the dad is honest with his son, he might say “Exactly. It’s not easy. It would be awesome to spend all our money on new toys, big TV’s and vacations. But God wants us to care about others like we care about ourselves. So, we use some of our money on ourselves and some of our money to help others.”

Living the way God desires doesn’t always make sense, especially in light of our culture. Kid logic recognizes that! However, I believe kids can grasp the importance and value of faith. Simply put, faith means loving God and living the way He desires.

I also know that kids can ask questions that often leave parents tongue-tied, making it hard to explain the importance of faith in God and His ways.

As The Grand Paradox was being written, I started to dream about practical ways to begin a similar conversation about faith with kids. How can we teach kids about the messiness of life, the mystery of God and the necessity of faith? How can we begin to answer the questions that kids ask about faith? How can we equip parents to teach kids to live the way God desires?

We had some pretty grandiose ideas, but soon realized the answer was quite simple. First, we needed to figure out what questions kids were asking, then we needed to help parents answer the questions being asked. We thought we could do this and hoped we could make it fun for both parents and kids. Who says living by faith should be boring?

We started by surveying a bunch of kids. When they were not around their peers, we asked, “What is the most confusing part about living the way God desires?”

Stop for a minute. How would you answer?

Their answers were consistent. Nearly every kid we surveyed answered with one of the following questions:

Nobody lives like a Christian. Why should I?

What is God up to?

Why am I here?

Why should I go to church?

We asked kids to elaborate about their question so we could make sure we answered the questions correctly. Then we got to work answering these four questions in a way that explains the beauty of the paradox. After a lot of head-scratching, bible-searching hours, we created a parent resource to accompany Ken’s new book, The Grand Paradox.

This parent resource provides four fun, yet to-the-point, guides designed to help adults answer the four questions listed above in a manner that makes sense to kids while not sugar coating the necessity of faith. For each question, the guide offers:

1. In Other Words: Kids speak their own language. The question is unpacked so parents understand the nature of the child’s question.

2. Important Truth: Keep it simple. There is one important truth we think kids need to know. Here you will find the words to assist you as you help your child understand the necessity of the paradox.

3. In the Bible: Kids want proof. Show them that God desires this type of faith by looking at the suggested story in the bible.

4. Check It Out: Kids often learn best when engaging their senses. Do the suggested activity to help kids wrestle with the important truth.

5. It’s Been Done: Read about a real-life hero who has lived out the important truth! Dream about living out the truth, also.

6. Ask God: Check out this short prayer in light of the important truth.

Each guide also relates to a chapter in The Grand Paradox. If you need more insight to answer the questions that might arise, check out the chapter referenced at the top of each question guide. We hope this hands-on guide aides you as you teach the kids in your life about the messiness of life, the mystery of God and necessity of faith! Download a FREE copy here.

Justice Kids Parent Resource Overview from Ken Wytsma on Vimeo.

Conquering in Apocalyptic Style

Photo Credit: Marcovdz, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Sam Adams

When we were thinking up possible classes to offer at Kilns College this past Jan-term I came up with the idea to offer a course on the Apocalypse, that is, the book of Revelation. Capitalizing on the cultural fascination with everything “post-apocalyptic” from zombies to dystopian fantasies, the timing seemed right. I called the class, “The Book of Revelation: History, Politics, and Social Justice.”

In preparation for the class I was frequently asked whether I was ‘post-trib,’ ‘pre-trib,’ or ‘mid-trib.’ If you grew up as I did in the shadow of Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth, or, more recently, in the aftermath of the Left Behind series, these questions seem obvious. (If your only exposure to pop culture’s interpretation of the Apocalypse is the latest offering starring Nicholas Cage–don’t worry, you’re not even on the map!) But, I reminded my friends, those positions assume the rapture, an event not in the book of Revelation. Go look. It’s not there.

What is there are seven letters to seven churches in Asia Minor. Each church (actual, historic churches, mind you) is told to conquer. Now, if you read the book of Revelation looking for what Christians actually do in the book, you will be hard pressed to find anything remotely resembling what we would think of when we think of conquering. There are no battles where Christians are swinging swords or beating people over the head in some sort of final, holy war. Rather, you see Christians enduring, suffering, praying, remaining faithful, refusing idolatry, removing themselves from Babylon’s (Rome’s) unjust economic system, and bearing faithful witness to the point of death.

This last point is key. In the great heavenly throne room vision in chapters 4 and 5, in the midst of dramatic worship around the throne of God, we are presented with a scroll. The scroll is sealed with seven seals and there is nobody in heaven or on earth or under the earth who is able to open the scroll. No one, that is, until John’s bitter tears are interrupted by a voice. It is one of the elders and he says, “See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so that he can open the scroll and the seven seals” (5.5b NRSV).

Now we will see conquering. The Lion is here. But—and here is where the surprising transvaluation happens—John looks and sees, not a lion, but a lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered. What he expected was a regal, powerful force who had conquered in the usual way. What he saw was the Lamb slain, the Son of God, the crucified Messiah. What he saw corrects what he heard and implies that conquering is understood according to the faithfulness of the Lamb, a faithfulness even to the point of death.

Note here that the word “slaughtered” in verse 9 (“for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed…”) is the same word as in the next chapter where, with the coming of the first horseman, we are told that people would “slaughter one another” (6.4). The slaughter that happens to the Lamb is not likely the slaughter of sacrifice, it’s the slaughter/murder that might very well happen to faithful witnesses to God’s kingdom. It’s the slaughter that John expects his churches to be confronted with as they seek to endure faithfully and bear witness in the midst of a hostile empire.

The book of Revelation is resistance literature. It is written to a church struggling to remain faithful in the midst of an imperial power that rules through economic injustice, military might, and hegemonic cultural dominance manifested in the cult of emperor worship, what we might today call ‘nationalism.’

Here’s the rub and why we need Revelation today: the Roman Empire could seem hospitable rather than hostile. The Pax Romana, the peace of Rome, was alluring and welcoming. Because of this, the language and vivid imagery of apocalyptic was needed to shock the churches into a posture of faithful resistance and patient endurance. Today, rather than long for the Pax Americana, John’s apocalypse encourages us to resist the allure of a peace that is not really peace.

The end of history is, after all, in the hands of the one who conquered. The one who conquered is the one slain for his faithful witness. It is in the Lamb’s faithfulness, even to the point of death, that we learn what it means to conquer.

On Sale NOW for $2.99

Thomas Nelson has generously opened up the digital version of The Grand Paradox for a launch sale price of $2.99 (off of the sticker price of $22.99).

That’s the cost of a cup of coffee and a $20 savings off the hardback!

I’d love for everyone to benefit from it: just click here to get your copy.

Sabbath – The Forgotten Commandment

“Sabbath, in the first instance, is not about worship. 
It is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the
anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life
be defined by production and consumption and the endless
pursuit of private well-being.” ― Walter Brueggemann

The Desert Series Part IV :: The 9 Commandments and 1 Suggestion from Antioch Church on Vimeo.

***JUST RELEASED***

Life is messy. God is mysterious. Faith is still possible <–Tweet that

Today is the official launch day for The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God, and the Necessity of Faith.

Thank you to all who supported this project… from those who helped in crafting it within the Antioch community to the folks at Thomas Nelson who steered, edited and packaged a pretty rough work into what it is today.

Question, would you be willing to help with the launch today? If so, here are two things that would be helpful:

  1. Order a copy on Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble to help our launch day stats (which helps move things forward)
  2. E-mail a pastor, influencer or friend who might benefit from the book. My prayer has always been that it might simply be used to change lives and encourage men and women in their pursuit of God.
Thank you in advance for your help and support!
Ken

Why Women Should Read The Grand Paradox

Tamara has been telling me throughout the process of The Grand Paradox coming together that she believes it is a book that can encourage a lot of women and moms.

She’s begun to find others who agree with her take on it, which led to our first ever joint interview by Angie Tolpin.

Check out the video interview below if you have 10 or 15 minutes and read Angie’s thoughts on her blog here (along with a book giveaway opportunity).

Rick McKinley on The Answer to Our Cry

Rick McKinley serves as Lead Pastor of Imago Dei Community. He and his wife, Jeanne, and their four kids moved to Portland, Oregon in October of 2000 to plant the church. Since then, Imago Dei has been voted one of the Top 25 Most Innovative Churches in the Country by Outreach Magazine and Portland Monthly Magazine named Rick one of Portland’s 50 Most Influential People. He is the co-creator of Advent Conspiracy and Love Portland. He teaches on topics such as holistic mission, leadership, and spiritual formation and serves as President of The Waterhouse Network. Rick has authored five books including the recently released The Answer to Our Cry: Freedom to Live Fully, Love Boldly, and Fear Nothing.

KW: What do you feel is unique about the message of this book compared to things you’ve written about in the past?

RM: Much of what I’ve written about in the past is about our place in the Kingdom and our invitation to participate in the Kingdom. This book unpacks and uncovers the mystery of the relationship that we are invited into, at the center of the Kingdom, which is relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

KW: In the Answer To Our Cry, you share a very personal story involving your daughter. How have the difficulties of life and the challenges you’ve faced as a father shaped your understanding about how God responds to our cry and the messiness of life?

RM: Yeah, I mean it might be better to ask how it hasn’t. It shapes every aspect of my life. It creates points of frustration and confusion where you’re wondering “why God?”, “why is this the case?”, and “do you care?”, and “are you involved?” It creates a whole other set of places where you become aware of God, and what it means to belong and to be named as son, without the ability to sort of tell God how great I am. He calls me into barren places where I worry and I hurt for her but also places where God says “I’m going to launch this deeper work in you about trust and hope and about what’s real and what matters.” Which actually has nothing to do with writing books and those sorts of things.  It’s belonging. Being a part of her and her being a part of me.

KW: You have a D. Min in Homiletics under Haddon Robinson, how has the act of preaching and teaching on Sunday morning shaped your understanding of what Scripture says about God’s response to our cry or vice versa?

RM: I think getting up every week and opening up the bible and saying is this true, what does it say about God, about me, about you, and then striving to honestly bring ourselves before that text, whatever it might be this week. It forces you to not come up with your own ideas or trust in your ideas but it forces you to ask better questions and deeper questions. Then there’s having a congregation that is amazing and kind of sniffs B.S. from a mile a way forces you to be honest with the text. The text is more honest with us than we are with the text. It also forces you to say “yeah you don’t get by on cheap pithy statements.” You have to answer is this true, true to life?

KW: What is the biggest barrier to finding freedom in our lives?

RM: Us. I mean it’s our sense of love for self instead of love for God. It’s our fear of danger of what that deep sacrificial intimate jealous love really is. It’s this lie that we can protect ourselves and keep ourselves safe and secure in our own little narcissistic world that we create for ourselves. For everyone it looks different but it all comes down to I don’t want to risk my heart on that big of an invitation. I’d rather just sell out.

KW: How do you see this manifested in the lives of those you have met and done life with?

RM: I’ve known people who are daring and courageous enough to risk their heart on the love of God and let their personhood and their vision of the world get reoriented by that grace. Letting go of sin and selfishness and tasting a deeper thing.

KW: What are some of the ways we misdiagnose our hunger for true, biblical freedom and how does that feed into the dysfunction many of us feel in life?

RM: I think there is this deep longing and desire for everyone to taste some sense of freedom, but we have these faults whether you call them idols or quick fixes or whatever. It’s much easier to run to some appetite of the flesh whether booze or drugs or sex or whatever to get me free from this stress, from whatever that moment is that I’m in. So culture is really good at creating idols and worshipping them. But there is that deeper freedom we know we are made for and its kind of scary

KW: Most Christians talk about the Gospel but think it’s something that describes the moment of conversion. How should the Gospel shape our everyday life and lead to the fullness of freedom you discuss in the book?

RM: I think evangelicals have misplaced the gospel as this thing they experience at the moment of conversion. Which is true, they believe something about Jesus and that changes their life. But the gospel isn’t something that you walk away from, like now you’re on your own to grow. It’s the place you keep coming back to, you keep repenting, you keep submitting, keep surrendering keep receiving, keep responding to his grace. So the only way I’m going to love like I’m supposed to love is if I go back to the gospel. The only way that I’m going to surrender, and obey, and serve, and be humble is if Christ births that in me. Otherwise it’s just a work of my own processing and my own energy toward being a better person as opposed to the miracle of fruit bearing that is supposed to happen by the spirit.

Justice as a Theological Necessity

This blog post recently appeared on the World Vision blog — it’s a topic that I get asked about a lot so I thought I’d re-post it.

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I often use the phrase “Theology of Justice.”

In fact, it was one of the founding ideas and goals of The Justice Conference—to discuss and promote a theological understanding of justice.

But what does a “theology of justice” mean?

Simply put, it means that our understanding of God should compel justice. And our understanding of justice is one of the ways by which we are meant to understand God more clearly.

Read the rest on the World Vision blog.

#TheGrandParadox Thunderclap

I’ve never done a “Thunderclap” before, but my publisher encouraged us to set up a Thunderclap for the release of The Grand Paradox next week.

Thunderclap.it is a website where people can simply “join in” to a big launch post or campaign that pushes out all in one moment–hundreds of tweets and posts on the same thing in an instant.

Joining the Thunderclap campaign for The Grand Paradox is relatively easy (and kinda fun!)

Will you consider joining?

Follow the link here and learn more about the campaign.

The Tragedy of Self-Appointed Prophets

Guest Post by John Huckins

The world is swirling with issues.

Picking up my phone and opening my news app each morning is being met with more and more dread each day.

When something hits the news, it is fascinating to watch people jump onto social media and begin “yelling” out their answers for how to heal our broken systems.

Of course, there are almost always at least two completely different opinions for how these problems should be fixed, which typically leads to people drawing lines in the sand, picking their stance and not budging. Relationships often fracture and a polarized a world gets more polarized, rendering it immobilized for the work of reconciliation.

Whether it’s on our Facebook page, Twitter feed or around our table, I assume most of us can think of an interaction where this unhelpful and potentially destructive reality played out.

So, does this “yelling” of our opinions actually help heal the broken systems and the people whom those systems are breaking?

I’m all about using our voices to call out injustice. By offering a critique of power and a hope for those on the underside of it, the ancient prophets did this beautifully throughout history.

But, in a globalized, virtually interconnected world, I’m concerned we have too many self appointed prophets (which, by definition is NOT a prophet), and not near enough practitioners.Far more constructive than a verbal or written argument is actually doing something.

I don’t think the world needs more armchair advocates…especially when our arguing or defending leads to the fracture of real life relationships. I’m not saying we all need to passively waltz around the world’s issues. No, I’m proposing we actively engage them in two ways:

1. Healthy, constructive discourse that doesn’t require we all agree to remain in relationship
2. We spend less time talking, and use our best energy to actually do something

What this world needs are people who are willing to role up their sleeves and get dirty. And not for a week or a month or a year, but for the long haul.

The world needs people embedded in the center of these conflicts equipped with the practices that make for peace. These people don’t have time to debate solutions on social media because they are already hard at work making the solutions a reality. They don’t have to transplant themselves to the center of the issue, because they are already embedded in it. They don’t have to seek the approval of their constituency, because it’s not about their reputation, it’s about the flourishing of those they have been called to serve.

They are sharing meals with the forgotten in their neighborhood.

They are building lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with those of other faiths who we are often taught to fear.

They are sitting at the hospital bedside of the family who is suffering loss at the hands of unjust people and systems.

They are in the churches, schools and homes of our black and brown communities to listen, learn and support.

They are in detention centers and deportation shelters to pray with and look in the eyes of those in our society’s shadows.

They are encouraging and walking with our faith and political leaders as they navigate the potentially compromising positions of power.

It’s a way of life that is costly. It is not glamorous. And it often comes without our desired outcomes being met in the short term and, potentially, not even in the long term.

This is the work of a trained, strategic and intentional community of Jesus followers who are prepared to move to the center of our society’s conflicts with the weapons to transform rather than destroy. It’s the gritty, subversive and costly work of peacemaking.

More than ever, I believe the work of peacemaking is discipleship. It’s the long hard road of the cross that will lead to the flourishing of others and allow our deepest calling to meet the worlds deepest needs. May it be so.

————–

NOTE: The work of The Global Immersion Project is to train and mobilize the kind of people I describe. We call them Everyday Peacemakers. To learn more or participate in one of our international or domestic trainings, go here: http://globalimmerse.org

The Grand Paradox Media Resources

Greetings!

Thank you for your interest in The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God and the Necessity of Faith. This book represents many of the lessons I’ve learned, experiences that have shaped me, and ideas on faith that I want to leave to my own children as well as others with the opportunity that this book affords. I’m humbled and grateful for your willingness to support this project and pray that I may be able to return the blessing some day. Below are items some items that may be helpful in the creation of blogs, online reviews, and social media posts. If there is something you’re looking for that you don’t see below, please email me.

Sincerely,
Ken and team

Product Photos

Sample Social Media Posts

Just finished my pre-copy of #TheGrandParadox by @kjwytsma and it was a phenomenal read. Get your copy today: http://amzn.to/1J3xUHO

.@kjwytsma #TheGrandParadox was INCREDIBLE! Blogged about it here: [insert link]

Idealized faith? You want actual faith. Check out #TheGrandParadox by @kjwytsma: http://amzn.to/1J3xUHO

Reconcile with the foundations of faith in a mysterious God in #TheGrandParadox by @kjwytsma: http://amzn.to/1J3xUHO

Please use the hashtag #TheGrandParadox in all social media posts.

Square Images for Social Media

Rectangular Images for Social Media (Best for Facebook)

Reviews

Englewood Review of Books: Top 50 Books for Christian Readers to Watch for in 2015

RELEVANT Magazine: 12 Books We’re Excited About This Year

Small Group Resources

A small group discussion guide, parent guide, and video resources are available here.

Bios

Super short:
Ken Wytsma is a teacher, entrepreneur and author. He is the founder of The Justice Conference and president of Kilns College, as well as the author of Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things, and most recently, The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God and the Necessity of Faith — a contemporary guide to the pursuit of God.

Short:
Ken Wytsma is a thought leader and sought after speaker on faith and culture who has taught at church, universities, and conferences around the world.

A gifted communicator, Ken is known for his transparent and easy style, passion for wrestling with tough questions, and ability to help others understand their world and faith in new and relevant ways.

Ken is the lead pastor of Antioch in Bend, Oregon and the president of Kilns College where he teaches courses on philosophy and justice. Ken is also the founder of The Justice Conference–an annual international gathering that introduces men and women to a wide range of organizations and conversations related to biblical justice and the call to give our lives away.

Ken lives in Bend, Oregon with his wife, Tamara, and their four daughters.

Headshot

Foreword by Eugene Cho

I’m humbled and blessed to have had someone I respect deeply, Eugene Cho, write a foreword for my new book The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God and the Necessity of Faith. Eugene is a first-rate thinker and writer, but more than that he’s a pastor with a tender heart. There are different kinds of forewords—some are long endorsements and others that lack passion. In contrast, Eugene put time and energy into creating a passionate piece of writing that, not only endorses, but adds to the quality of the manuscript as a whole. Below is an excerpt from Eugene’s forward and I can’t wait for you to be able to read it in its entirety.

We all know that there are books out there that give us 99 steps for this, 40 days for that, 7 ways for farther here, or 3 steps for deeper there.

This kind of nicely packaged formula sells because well, there’s a market for such nicely, packaged formulas. We yearn for our lives and our world to be neatly seasoned for our appetites and our desires for order and dare I say, control. Yes, we even want our God to fit nicely in our compartments, categories, and boxes for us to fully understand and perhaps, even manipulate.

Ken Wytsma doesn’t provide easy steps, pat answers, or a systematic approach. If that’s what you’re looking for, keep looking. It’s not convenient or palatable. It’s not a book that gives you clear directions – like a step by step spiritual GPS…

What kind of book is this? It’s a gut check. An honest look in the mirror. It’s one of those books that says, “Whatever. Let’s just try to put everything on the table… knowing that the table will still be messy when it’s done.”

You can pre-order a copy of the book on Amazon.

Tony Kriz on God’s Hiddenness

Tony Kriz hopes, through words both written and spoken, to give people permission to authentically feel/speak/struggle and to honestly express their faith-filled affections. He has a Doctorate of Ministry in Leadership and Spiritual Formation and teaches in colleges and universities around the country on topics of authentic faith, spiritual formation, cultural integration, cross-spiritual communication, and sacred friendship. He is the author of Neighbors and Wise Men and the recently released Aloof: Figuring Out Life with a God Who Hides.

KW: Why did you choose to write ALOOF?  Why the topic of God’s hiddenness?

TK: I have spent my life asking (and trying to live through) the questions that many people in religious spheres aren’t somehow willing or able to ask.  My last book dealt with the issue, “how non-Christians can be God’s voice in our lives.”

Before I ever wrote a word of ALOOF, I brought up the topic of God’s hiddenness often… and when I did, I was got this response: first a moment of confusion, the person’s face expressing, “are you allowed to ask that?”  Then their face would soften and their eyes would almost plead, “Would you please write about that?”

Then, when my 3-year-old nephew contracted inoperable cancer I knew, for my own spiritual sanity, I had to process, “How do I figure out life with a God who hides?”

KW: Why do you think there is so much confusion about how we hear from and experience God as Christians in America?

TK: This is a many-layered question and ultimately the answer is way above my pay-grade.  Here is some of what I have witnessed:

Generally, I am not sure our collective faith is very strong at all.  In religious circles we seem to feel the need to prop-up our faith with flowery or triumphalistic speech.  Pastors, writers and media personalities tell us that God “speaks” to them every week, then the rest of us are left with the need to emulate them, so we sound just as spiritual.

This leads to a culture of pretending.  Part of our problem is many people don’t feel free or like they have been allowed to process their stumbling faith honestly.

Where can we go to process our faith authentically?  And where will we find the vocabulary/metaphors to express it?

That is why I wrote ALOOF.

KW: What is the big deal with epiphanies?

TK: I think all transformative learning comes through epiphany.  It comes through the Aha moment.  They are the lessons that sneak up on us.  And they almost always feel like they come from outside of us, outside of our normal internal dialogue.

That is not to say that we cannot contribute to the epiphany process.  Quite the opposite.  Some people live just the sort of life that leaves them open and begging for the Aha to come.  Epiphanies, most often, happen when we are off balance.  It is those moments that feel like… like when you were a kid and you tried to walk along the top of a fence OR the first time you stepped out on a stage to give a speech.  Off-balance moments.

If you want epiphanies, here are a few practices anybody can implement.

  • More risk: take on a project that is way outside your comfort zone.
  • Travel:  this does not necessary mean going to Uganda.  There are places that are only a bike ride away that might as well be on another planet.
  • Embrace the “Other”: Our culture steers us to surround ourselves with people who look just like we do… vote like us, read like us, drive like us, spend like us, believe like us.  Befriend folks that are wholly different than you: racially, culturally, economically, philosophically, spiritually, age.

These are just some of the practices that dare epiphanies to come.

KW: Can you summarize how you think orchestrated epiphanies contributed to your spiritual journey and the way you’ve seen them impact others?

TK: I have been the surprise recipient of more than my share of epiphany-saturated experiences.  I lived with a Muslim family in the Muslim world for two years.  I worked as a chaplain at Reed College (the smartest, most liberal and least religious college in the US) for 3 years. My family has been submitted to multi-racial inner-city leadership.  We have been living for ten yeas in a multi-cultural, multi-class communal household. It has been a great life.

I did not set out wanting to do any of these things.  I literally stumbled into each one. I am convinced that Jesus led us.

One of my ways of protecting myself (if left to myself) is to narrow my perspectives, so they are small enough that I can control them.  When I fully invite the “other”, in a spirit of risk, that self-controlled narrowness softens, opens up and eventually shatters.

KW: How did you grow through the process of writing this book? How has it continued to shape your spiritual walk?

TK: It is a process that I call “narrative spiritual formation.”  It can happen out loud, through conversation, or, in this case, it happeed through the writing process.  What I do is I ask my life a question and then, through mediation, I identify all of the narratives (stories) from my journey that most contribute to that question. I often don’t even know WHY those stories are important, I just know that they are… It is like my soul knows before my brain has had a chance to figure it out.

In the case of ALOOF, I asked myself, “What are my experiences around God’s suspicious presence and maddening absences?”

Through the gift of writing each story, I discover the lessons or themes those experiences left buried deep inside me.  Many of those themes are in fact lies, long clung-to lies, which though as yet unidentified, had daily affected my life with God.

KW: What advice do you have for people who are searching for God but feel they are waiting in a long gap of hearing from God?

TK: First, and this is really, really important:  You are not crazy.  There is not something wrong with you.  You are not alone.  In fact the vast majority of the Christian experience throughout human history was spent in relative silence.  The vast majority of Biblical characters lived their whole lives with zero or very few ecstatic, tangible or otherworldly encounters with God.  Our problem is we need to stop pretending like we have been promised a God who prattles at us every day.

Second, go back and reread my thoughts on epiphanies and…

  • Try some risk.
  • Experiment with a Christian tradition that feels foreign.
  • Meditate (or “centering prayer” if you are more comfortable with that term).
  • Beg God to help you.
  • Make a friend that is nothing like you and argue with them about faith, culture, purpose and hope.

Messages from Antioch Church

Below you'll find Ken's latest messages at Antioch Church in Bend, OR. Searching for a specific video? Visit Antioch's Vimeo page to find more of Ken's messages and other videos from Antioch.

Answers from Askquestions.tv

Below you'll find Ken's most watched videos from Redux. Searching for a specific video? Visit Askquestions.tv to find more answers from Ken and many other Christian leaders and thinkers from around the world.


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