Love Wins

3 Biblical Reasons Why Christians in Fayetteville Should Vote For the Uniform Civil Rights Ordinance – Even If They Believe Homosexuality Is a Sin

For the second time in as many years, Fayetteville is being torn apart by a civil rights ordinance that codifies protections for LGBTQ people. If passed, the ordinance will allow for LGBTQ people to be guaranteed the same rights and services that any Fayetteville resident enjoys without fear of discrimination. A landlord will not be able to refuse to rent to a man simply because he’s gay. A trans woman won’t be able to be fired from her job simply because of her gender identity. A lesbian couple will be able to buy a wedding cake from any bakery that serves the public. Read More…

Love Your Enemies … Unless

Love your enemies, unless they are your political enemies.

Love your enemies, unless they are a famous person who said something offensive.

Love your enemies, unless they really hurt you.

Love your enemies, unless they are racist, bigoted, or homophobic.

Read More…

The Best Week Ever, or What to Say When You Meet Your Heroes

Last week was one that I will not soon forget. I had to be in California for work, which normally means that my coworker and I will try to catch a baseball game. This time, though, we decided to get tickets to see Conan O’Brien. Unfortunately, Conan tapes his show in the afternoon, and there was no way we’d make it in time from the home office to LA to use our tickets. I was sorely disappointed. Until I saw someone post on Facebook about Rob Bell doing an event from the Viper Room in West Hollywood. No to baseball. No to Conan. Yes to Rob Bell.

We got to the Viper Room and spent some time laughing at all the guys who looked like us – slightly chubby with trendy glasses. It was like we had come home. Right at 7pm, Rob took the stage. He spoke for over an hour and then answered questions. Mine was the last one of the evening. You can watch the video of Still Painting here. After he got done speaking, Rob hung out and talked to people, including me and my friends. I told him about how we give away Velvet Elvis on our church website, and I told him that he was one of the patron saints of our church community. I asked him to come and speak at Vintage sometime. We’ll see if we can make that happen. He was funny and gracious, and I hope it’s not the last time I get to interact with him.

Rob is a controversial guy. No one denies his unbelievable talent as a communicator. He is enrapturing when he speaks. His books are conversation and engaging. His videos – Vanessa calls them a cross between a sermon and music video – are mesmerizing. But Rob is quite polarizing. His book, Love Wins, got him labeled a heretic by many. My posts about Love Wins are among the most trafficked on this little blog. People either love or hate Rob.

I am in the love category. Rob, through his work at Mars Hill Bible Church, has helped me to see how a church can create an environment in which people can bring their doubts and questions. He has modeled a way and thereby helped me to be a better practitioner of the kind of faith that is less focused on the theological arguments of the past and more engaged in helping people to wrestle with the questions of today. Short of Butterfly Theology‘s arrival on the scene, no book has better summed up the kind of church Vintage is trying to be than Velvet Elvis. I am who I am as a pastor and Vintage is what it is as a church because of Rob Bell.

I was on a bit of a high on Wednesday and Thursday, pumped up and excited about having spent just a couple of minutes with Rob. Thursday began with the mixed feelings of excitement that I would head home at the end of the day but also dread that I would be on a red-eye all night before finally making it back to Arkansas on Friday morning. I got through the day and boarded the plane at 10:30 pm PT with the realization that I was not getting upgraded to first class, which meant that I would spend the next several hours cramped in coach and probably unable to sleep. I was texting Vanessa about my complaints when Brian McLaren walked down the aisle of the plane.

Brian McLaren is kind of the godfather of the emergent church. He’s the author of many books. He is not as well-known as Rob Bell, but he is equally as controversial. He has set forth a roadmap whereby the church can leave behind its intertwinedness with modernity and engage more fully with postmodernity. In Brian’s case, this has meant an embracing of interfaith dialog and science, and it has led him to positions on hell, homosexuality, and politics that make him not-so-popular with evangelicals.

But I love him. When I was going through a deep crisis of faith, it was Brian’s book A New Kind of Christian that saved me. Without Brian, I doubt I would have left fundamentalism. Without Brian, I think my faith would have died rather than emerged. Without Brian, Vintage Fellowship would not exist. Without Brian, Butterfly Theology would be a very short book. He is my hero. And he too is a patron saint of Vintage.

And he was sitting three rows behind me on the plane. When there was a lull in the passengers boarding, I went back to talk to him. I asked the guy sitting next to him if we could change seats so that I could talk with Brian. Brian suggested we talk when we got to Atlanta. That was a better idea than me chattering away while Brian tried to sleep on the red-eye. I returned to my seat and had a hard time getting to sleep.

When we arrived in Atlanta, Brian and I connected in the terminal and headed to Dunkin Donuts for coffee and breakfast. We spent over an hour talking about a whole host of things. We talked about the future of the emergent church and seminaries and how to respond to critics and how Vanessa’s theological transformation mirrored my own and mutual friends. Brian could not have been more gracious to me. He listened and asked questions and wanted to know my story. He offered me counsel and affirmed me in my journey. I felt the same way about meeting him as I did about Rob – I certainly hope this is not the last time our paths cross.

I hope that Brian is a words-of-affirmation guy because I showered him with them. Thinking of how much they have impacted me, I wanted to just yell titles of his books at him – GENEROUS ORTHODOXY!!  THE STORY WE FIND OURSELVES IN!!  THE LAST WORD AND THE WORD AFTER THAT!!  A NEW KIND OF CHRISTIANITY!!  But I was able to restrain myself. I did tell him that in a very real and literal way, he had saved my faith. I told him that he had been my mentor ever since I left fundamentalism. I told him that I had learned to have an irenic spirit from him. We talked about me sending him a copy of Butterfly Theology and how we could get him to Vintage to speak to our community. My fingers are crossed.

In the last ten years, two people have impacted my life, my thinking, my ministry, and my theology more than any others. Those two people are Brian McLaren and Rob Bell. They are my heroes. In the span of four days, I met both of them.

I fully expect to meet Bono any day now.


Guest Post: Lombardi Wins by Bryan Johnson

My dear friend, Bryan, doesn’t like my take on Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. We disagree. So … we could do what so many people did in the wake of the release of Love Wins. We could call each other names, question each other’s fidelity to the gospel, and condemn one another to hell, be it a literal lake of fire or a miserable party experience.

But, no, Bryan and I aren’t going to do that. We decided to have a civil discourse about Love Wins and the question of eternal, conscious torment. We hope to help each other understand the gospel better while also demonstrating that two people can sharply disagree without resorting to vitriol and judgment.

After reading the book, and what I’ve written here on the Grenz (links at the bottom), Bryan sent along this guest post. Read it. Enjoy it. I will tear it to shreds in the comments. Join in the conversation.

A Parody of Parity by Bryan Johnson, Winston-Salem, NC 6/6/11
An analogous review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins

Lombardi Wins: Victory, Defeat, and the Outcome of Every Team in the NFL

With cameras rolling, the Super Bowl hero jumps up and down with his index finger pointed upward, shouting on national television, “We’re number 1! We’re number 1!”

He knows this?
Without a doubt?

In light of the endlessly frustrating NFL lockout, there is a way for Commissioner Goodell to get the teams playing again. But it is also a long term plan that, in the end, will surprise…it will astonish…it will amaze…everyone.

Up to this point in NFL history, it has been assumed that a grueling training camp, a relatively meaningless pre-season and a long, injury-prone 16 game regular season, followed by the playoffs where only a select few teams get to keep playing, has been the best way to play professional football.

Is it really?

What about the other teams who don’t make the playoffs? What happens to all their effort? Is it wasted? Was it for nothing? Truth is: they spent just as many hours planning and playing as the other teams. Is it fair that they have to go home while a few “elite” teams get to move on? What kind of message does this send to their sponsors and fans?

Can Commissioner Goodell actually send these hard-playing, effort-giving teams into the ill-fated offseason with no hope or reward? What kind of commissioner is that? What type of sports league would reward a mere few special franchises with the chance to play on while punishing multiple others by sending them home for the year?

The playoffs are actually a time for every team to start over. To begin again. Like overtime, there’s a new coin toss. A football renewal, if you will. After all, the ground is level at the 50-yard line both at the beginning of the game as well as at the end of the game. And it’s time the entire season reflected that.

Besides, every player on every team already knows full well both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. For every game already has its own share of winners and losers, victories and defeats. There is victory in every proper formation, every perfectly run pass route, every first down scamper. Likewise, there’s defeat in every fumble, every missed tackle and every wide-to-the-left field goal shank.

Thus, winning and losing are not ultimate states of being, but present realities contained within every game.

Therefore, the subsequent rewarding of the Super Bowl championship to only one team at the end of the season ends up being both unfair and redundant. Plus, it only serves to further underscore (no pun intended) the chasm that currently exists between the football have’s and the football have-not’s.

Think of it: if the only teams who realistically have a shot at the Super Bowl championship each year are the Indianapolises, the New England’s, the Pittsburgh’s and the Green Bay’s of the league, then what incentive do the other teams have for suiting up at all months earlier in training camp? Why play every down of every game all season long if it’s all for naught in the end anyway? Such a system is terribly hopeless and counterproductive for the other 31 teams. More importantly, it raises serious questions about the commissioner, the entire league and even the sport of football itself.

Frankly, who are we to say the team with the most points at the end of the game always wins? Or, why is it the team who wins the last game is always crowned the Super Bowl champion?

For that matter, what exact formula for winning should be followed? Whose criteria for victory should be used? It’s possible for the concept of winning to be defined in many different ways.

Hence, a plan of surprise, a season of the unexpected…yea, a sport where mystery prevails.

What a wonderful surprise to all the Detroit’s and Cleveland’s of the league to take an entirely different approach to the season! It is high time to view Pro Football from a whole new angle.

It’s time for the NFL to change.
It’s time for more….

This season, when the clock runs out on the Super Bowl game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on February 5th, 2012, regardless of the scoreboard, instead of having the “winning” team come to the podium, Commissioner Goodell will invite all 32 teams to the center of the field. And with the sound of Freddie Mercury belting, “We are the Champions,” across the stadium, and with confetti and champagne covering every NFL owner, player, coach, staff member and fan alike, each team will rush the field of their own free will in order to celebrate and then be presented with, yes, its very own Lombardi Trophy in all of its splendor.

Every team.
The Lombardi Trophy.
No one excluded.

Everyone victorious.
United in joy.
A league-wide celebration.

No doubt, this surprising plan will have residual positive effects for the entire league for years to come. Players won’t have to practice each week with the fear of losing in the back of their minds. Free from having to explain failures and miscues, coaches will actually enjoy postgame press conferences. Many insufferable fans who’ve been disillusioned with their team’s perennial Super Bowl absence will be genuinely won back to the game. Many previously non-fans will finally come into the NFL fold away from Pro Tennis and Formula One Racing. Plus, every vendor will make a decent living just selling: “We’re 1 of #32 winners!” foam fingers.

In addition, it will be a huge windfall for the league and for the sport as a whole. Truckloads more in profits and endorsements will pour in. Every owner will be able to afford to build a brand new stadium with all the creature comforts fans so richly deserve. Why, even third-stringers will finally become product endorsers and company spokespersons.

As a result, Commissioner Goodell will be in his glory. He’s always wanted the NFL to be supra-cultural and global in its following. This will accomplish that and more. In fact, he could well become the savior of the entire sport, perhaps sports, in general (think Chicago Cubs, LA Clippers, etc.). Question is: does Goodell always get what he wants?

Think of it: he will be able to end the oppression of the losers and stop the exploitation of playoff-missers. He will rescue the poor in talent by shattering the arrogance of the elite. He will deliver the annually broken-hearted as he crushes the pride of the exclusive winners. Detroit will no longer be football hell. Cleveland will become dog-pound heaven on earth, here and now. Rebuilding years will become rebuilding moments. The future will be the present.

For that matter, consider the trickle-down results this astonishing plan will also have on all the Pee Wee leagues around the country, on every starry-eyed child who dreams of one day playing professional football. No more minivan rides home with a muddy, sobbing 7 year-old loser. No more cocky fist pumps and scornful looks coming from the victor’s sideline, touting the score and their pigskin prowess. No. Instead, participant ribbons for everyone! They’re all winners!

Lastly, this plan should go a long way to effectively (and permanently) end all collective bargaining debates, holdouts, lockouts and labor disputes. For at the end of the season, every team will get to raise the Super Bowl trophy and write ultimate victory into their own franchise story. You can’t put a price tag on that. Besides, it’s the love of the game for which they play.

Remember, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,” said the legendary coach. And Commissioner Goodell couldn’t agree more. So while the plan may be a bit unorthodox at first glance, the surprising end results are extremely appealing. For winning isn’t everything; it’s the everyone thing. And winning isn’t just the only thing; it’s also the final thing.

So, although temporarily rolling over in his grave in Middletown, NJ, come February, in Indianapolis, IN,…once again…it will be Lombardi who wins.

Love Wins: More Questions, More Answers
Winning! (some thoughts on Rob Bell, not Charlie Sheen)
Hell’s Bells: some preliminary thoughts about Love Wins


The Roundtable

One of my most cherished memories from my time pastoring a church in Michigan is the Pastors’ Theology Roundtable. The Roundtable was a group of pastors who got together every couple of months to debate doctrine in a safe environment. All of us had various beliefs that were off the beaten track that, given the rather restrictive nature of our denomination, were unable to be openly discussed in our churches. The Roundtable gave us the opportunity to present our ideas and to hash them out together. We rarely agreed, but came to love one another deeply and to value our time together.

The Roundtable affirmed to me that clear theological debate can take place without the name-calling and condemnation that characterizes so much of the Church today. And it has me wondering … could we recreate the Roundtable here? Could the Grenz counter the blogosphere culture by being a place where people can pursue truth without sacrificing grace?

Admittedly, the flap over my review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins gives me pause. But I believe in us. I am hopeful.

So … here is what is going to happen.

I have written a paper entitled The Glorious Kingdom: mystery and generosity that I am going to circulate to a couple of pastor friends of mine. I am hoping that they will write a response, poking holes in my arguments and pointing out my blind spots. Then, I am going to post all of them – my paper and the responses to it – here on the Grenz.

I know that this is going to be lengthy. My paper is over 3,000 words, and that’s without any responses. But I think it and the responses may be able to do two things: 1) help to dial back the vitriol so common in theological discussion today by demonstrating how to disagree with grace, and 2) further the discussion we are now having about hell and universalism. You can read and think and decide for yourself. And, more importantly, you can enter the discussion.

So, what do you think? Am I crazy for hoping to turn the Grenz into a Theology Roundtable? Do you want a seat at the table?


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