Archive for month: July, 2011

Scot McKnight on ‘Faith Without Illusions’

29 Jul Andy
July 29, 2011

The next post on my book is up at Jesus Creed.  As I have commented before, reading what others write about their reading of what I have written is both exciting and daunting.  But I really think I learn more about what God was doing with me during the writing process when I read many of the comments of my readers.  So thanks for reading, folks… and for writing!

To see Scot’s latest comments, click here.

Departing from Ministry Posts

25 Jul Andy
July 25, 2011

I am in process of leaving a wonderful ministry position at a wonderful church for doctoral studies.  I will be writing a bit about leaving ministry posts in the coming week or two.  Below is a post I wrote a few years ago after leaving a small Baptist church.  It is one of my favorite pieces.  Hope it is a good read for you….

[From Summer, 2008]

I pastor a small Baptist church outside of Durham, NC.  A weathered sign at the corner of US HWY 70 and Old NC 10 points passersby our way.  It simply reads in faded Old English font:

Mount Hermon BaptistChurch

Est., 1848

When I came to Mount Hermon in September of 2006, it was after four years of campus ministry.  I went from the sound of drums and acoustic guitars to the sound of an organ… and the occasional hiss of Mr. J____’s oxygen tank.  The smell of coffee and burning candles at the college services was replaced with the scent of the perfume preferred by older ladies.  The reasons people missed worship services went from viewing American Idol to suffering with arthritis.

I fell in love this little church.

I came to Durham for a degree program, not for a pastorate.  But God divinely cornered me and I found myself under the employ of Mount Hermon.  For the past two years I have struggled to be somewhat decent as a shepherd.

Then I heard about this job in Birmingham.  The dream job.  Now, I was actually hoping to enroll in a doctoral program, but I had to take seriously this job opening.  A suburban church with which my wife and I had worked during my seminary years was looking for a College Pastor who would head up a large, vibrant campus ministry.  I knew the guy whose place I would be taking—he is one of my closest friends.

But I really love this little country church in Durham.

Weeks and months passed by.  I actually removed my name from the candidacy for that campus ministry position.  But when I was having doubts, they called back and asked if I would at least show up for an interview.

A week later, after long bouts of the kind of miserable prayer that precedes major decisions, we decided to move to Birmingham.

So I had to tell the little country church that I was leaving.

The Lord’s Supper had been scheduled for that Sunday (it was that time in the quarter, you know).  I chose as the text John 13-17, Jesus’ Farewell Discourse to His disciples (for John, the Passover meal is decidedly placed in the backdrop of this scene).  I told the congregation that the first Lord’s Supper was occasioned with the sadness of a departure, and that our morning of sharing in the same meal would be similar.  I did not view myself as Jesus and the parishioners as my disciples, but the situation was that of a minor shepherd leaving a precious little flock.

I carefully conveyed my story to them.  And since the disciples posed a number of questions in John’s Farewell Discourse, I gave them the chance to ask questions of me.  No one asked a question at first, but the sanctuary was not silent.  The sounds that accompany the use of a tissue sporadically echoed throughout the pews.

A few people made comments, and that was all I could take.  I broke down behind the pulpit.  I wept, tried to calm down and speak, only to make those terrible sounds one makes when they think they have calmed from weeping but haven’t (and the pulpit mic seemed to catch all those awkward sounds).

I finally escaped to play the piano during Communion.  But afterwards, friend after friend approached me with hugs.  These were people whose spouses, cousins, and even children, I had buried.  I knew where their bodies were scarred from recent surgeries.  I could not gather myself.  I was wrecked.

There is a lot of glitz and glamour attached to certain churches and certain positions in ministry.  I do think I am following God’s guidance in moving to the large suburban church with multiple services and video projection screens.  It is a wonderful church.  But I hope I never fail to forget what I told the little country church that day before we took the Lord’s Supper: “I am not moving on to bigger and better things.  They may be bigger… but they are not better.”

Nijay Gupta on starting and finishing a Biblical Studies PhD

21 Jul Andy
July 21, 2011

I am excited to report that Wipf & Stock is mailing me a review copy of Prepare, Succeed, Advance by my friend Nijay Gupta.  Nijay has been a source of encouragement and wisdom for me over the past couple of years in my preparations for beginning the PhD at Durham University in New Testament.  Since I move to England in less than three weeks, the release of his book on starting and finishing a doctorate could not have come at a better time.  The book will take an oceanic voyage enshrouded in cardboard in the company of my other books that made the cut for my stint in Durham.  I will be offering a review of his material once I am settled in….

Ezra as a model for those who would teach Scripture

19 Jul Andy
July 19, 2011

“…Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of YHWH, and to do it, and to teach his statues and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). 

I want to teach the Bible.  I am moving to England in 3 weeks for further training to this end.  The venture is so costly in every way—emotionally, logistically, financially.  It is also a venture fraught with temptations.  So many young pastors and students, smitten with the beauty and wonder of God’s self-revelation in Scripture, have waded into academic waters in which certain currents pull with riptide force in a number of hazardous directions.  One of the most dangerous (mis)directions one could take would be down a course that abstracts the subject matter.  Post-Enlightenment theological/biblical study can come with the temptation to professionally distance oneself from the potent content of the lessons and lectures.  This casual (and often unconscious) aloofness has led to much of the anti-intellectualism so strong in American religious life.

Ezra provides us an alternative model.

With an enormous sigh of a national relief, the Persian king Artaxerxes permitted him to return to Jerusalem, its walls freshly rebuilt, its ghost-town status recently annulled.  Out of the dust and ash of Solomon’s revered Temple, a new one had been constructed.  In Ezra 7:7 we read that out of Babylon came “singers” who had had no songs to sing (Ps. 137), “gatekeepers” who had had no gates to keep, and “temple servants” who had had no holy temple to serve.  They followed behind Ezra, known by Artaxerxes as “the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven” (Ezra 7.12, 21).

What had he been up to during all those years of exile in Babylon?  We know he had been studying.  Studying hard.  In a foreign land, there were surely late nights and early mornings spent before whatever scrolls had survived Nebuchadnezzar’s flames.  Work both wearisome and toilsome… and charged with the emotional pain of loss and remorse.  The man was pouring over the words of the Law which Israel had discarded and had in turn been discarded (seemingly) as a people, forcibly ejected out of their land.  We have little access (in the canon) to Ezra’s exilic life before taking on leadership in Jerusalem.  But we know this:

“…Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of YHWH, and to do it, and to teach his statues and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). 

So there had to have been years of painstaking work in those precious, old texts.

But let’s notice that Scripture provides an interesting verbal order in 7:10, an order to emulate for any of us who would presume to crack open our Bibles for the purpose of study and teaching.  The verbal order in 7:10 is study – do – teach.

Many of us want to communicate God’s word.  We want to feel the edge of that pulpit or lectern in hand.  Many of us like a mic positioned before our lips.  But before teaching the word of God come preliminary disciplines.

Study.  Every now and then someone will preface their message to a congregation with something like this: “I think I just need to throw out my notes.  I’m just going to follow the Spirit.”  The Spirit of God will indeed guide us at times to make alterations.  I have no qualms with that.  But we have to admit that there is a strong tendency in evangelical circles for us to assign a superior status to un-manuscripted messages, as if an extemporaneous thus-sayeth-the-Lord message is more “spiritual” than a message that has risen from unseen hours of painful, arduous study.  Relying on the Spirit at the moment of teaching/preaching has become for some of us a spiritualized excuse for sloth in prayerful study.  If the Spirit is leading at the extemporaneous moment, is He not also leading us in the secret place of early morning and late night study?  Before Ezra stood before the people to teach them at a monumental turning point of Israel’s history, he had set his heart to study.

Do.  But Ezra was not just an intellectual bookworm more suited for a library than the marketplace.  Before he presumed to teach the Law, he performed the Law.  Study, do… then teach.  The anti-intellectualism in the evangelical church, though misguided, has some really solid grounds.  So many young men and women have left the workforce or the family farm for the seminary, only to return with impressive, esoteric verbage on their lips with very little to demonstrate with their actions.  Study, yes.  Study late into the night.  Rush to the text before the sunlight creeps out of the east.  But then doPerform the Scriptures as you ready yourself to teach the Scriptures.

Teach.  The need for vibrant, grounded teachers is always so dire.  But if I go to some foreign land, placing myself in some sort of an academic exile experience, yet I fail to embody Ezra’s example, then my teaching will be of little service to the church.  Teach, yes.  But not without serious studying and serious doing.

Singer-Songwriters in the Solar System

14 Jul Andy
July 14, 2011

I was struggling over the sound and lyrics of a band called Vigilantes of Love while a Freshman at the University of Georgia.  My friend Joel Brooks finally succeeded in convincing that it is okay for me to look outside the standard “Christian” music genre for good tunes.  He played Shawn Mullins and VOL nonstop on a camping trip we took later in the year and my exclusive hand-holding with the Christian music industry ended. Since then, no song lyrics have lingered longer or more deeply in my mind than those of Bill Mallonee, VOL’s chief architect.  In Faith Without Illusions, I cite Bill with as much regularity as N.T. Wright, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Eugene Peterson.

Bill and Muriah Rose came to Birmingham for a concert at the UCF House last week.  Opening were four young singer-songwriter friends of mine who you have yet to hear about, but who you should certainly hear.  Along with the video of Bill and Muriah performing “Solar System” below, you gotta check out the music of Josh Brown, Justin Cross, Wilder Atkins, and Matt Sanderlin.

 

Solar System by Bill Mallonee

Matt Sanderlin

Josh Brown

Wilder Atkins

Justin Cross

 

 

First post – preview images are always big for first posts

13 Jul Andrew Byers
July 13, 2011

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Post with Post Format “Link”

13 Jul
July 13, 2011

Post Formats were introduced with Version 3.1. A Post Format is a piece of meta information that can be used by a theme to customize its presentation of a post. Post Format “link” is designed to link to interesting articles or sources you have found on the web.

Post Formats is a theme feature introduced with Version 3.1. Post Formats can be used by a theme to customize its presentation of a post – this is a quote

by WordPress

Sightings of Faith Without Illusions in the Cybersphere

08 Jul Andy
July 8, 2011

Confessions of a new Author: I am worried over stuff I had hoped I would be above worrying about.  I am worried about the sales rank of my book at Amazon (yeah, every book has a sales rank—I’d never noticed it before).  I am worried if those who have worked to get the book published regret their investment.  I am worried (and this is so vain) about my blog stats.  As an author without a viable “platform” for marketing a book (that is, a pre-existent audience-base who will be inclined from the onset to buy whatever I might write), I find myself at the mercy of those strange shifts and waves that occur in public space (like the Internet, for instance) over which I have no control.

So it is of profound comfort when other folks in those public spaces champion your project or let you write about themes related to that project.  Here are some recent “sightings” of material related to Faith Without Illusions on the Internet….

Jesus Creed at Patheos: Beyond Cynicism I

Scot McKnight, NT Prof at North Park University and author (most recently) of One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow has been kind enough to begin a series on FWI at his well-respected blog, Jesus Creed (Click on the Patheos image to get the link to the 1st in the series on FWI).

Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology

My friend Jason Hood who blogs for SAET has also been kind enough to post some comments on FWI (again, click on the image to see the post).

Hope for Center-Stage Cynics (The Gospel Coaltion)

And The Gospel Coalition was gracious enough to publish an article about the cynicism of pastors.  This article came out of an earlier blog post here at Hopeful Realism where I describe my realization that I was writing FWI for pastors as much as for jaded 20- and 30somethings.

To those of you out there helping out with the book—THANKS.  I pray regularly that God will use the project as He sees fit, and I am striving for contentment in whatever the “stats” end up being.

The Dangers of “Radical” Continued… Spiritualized Escapism

04 Jul Andy
July 4, 2011

For those of you following the blog, I apologize for the hiatus in new posts.  My wife and I have been on a sobering, fast-paced trip to England.  We are moving there in early August in the face of extraordinary obstacles but with a nagging, unyielding sense of calling.  The plan (which we have been anticipating for about a decade) is for me to begin the PhD program in New Testament at the University of Durham.

This is a “radical” venture.  It may well be the most arduous path my feet will ever take.  Moving a family of six to one of the most expensive regions of the world without proper resources, and doing so for a stringently demanding degree program that will cost us so much financially, logistically and emotionally—to some, it may appear as madness.  Though I previously entertained the prospect of overseas study with a romanticized wistfulness (sipping coffee beneath the ancient beams and archways of a centuries-old library while studying theology), the severe costs of what we are undertaking has brought painful sobriety over the years.  The sense of calling, however, has only intensified, to the degree that we feel constrained to pursue the path “by faith.”

And doing anything “by faith” is just terribly inconvenient.

This is the context out of which I am writing about the dangers of “radical” (see the previous post, The Un-Romance of Radical).  In no way am I trying to bash the bestselling book Radical by David Platt.  I like the book, and I think it is so helpful in lovingly goading comfortable, safe,  and suburban Christians out of out complacency.

But there are dangers in being extreme or radical.  In my aspirations to do the PhD in England, a vocational decision attended by many painful sacrifices, and in other “radical” decisions from my past, I have noticed several impure motives that have been cloaked with the noble rhetoric of “divine calling.”  One of these dangers is “spiritualized escapism.”

Radical Leaving rather than Radical Going

I was 20 years old and wracked with angst.  I was on my knees in the tiny “prayer closet” at UGA’s Methodist Student Center.  My heart was burning so fiercely with passion to serve Christ overseas that I felt I could not go another day without a global assignment, without a divinely issued itinerary on hand.  Friends of mine were planning mission trips.  One had just withdrawn from college to go overseas, leaving behind a major scholarship.

This was my prayer that day.  And I meant every word:

Lord, just whisper a country, and I will walk to it.  I don’t care how far it is.  I don’t care what it costs.  Just whisper a place and I will go.

If I had even had the slightest sense of which nation I was being assigned to in that moment of prayer, I would have walked out of that room with the clothes on my back and headed north, south, east or west.  I did not care.  If the country was in another hemisphere, I would have walked to the nearest port city and boarded a ship secretly as a stowaway.  I just so desperately wanted a task, a mission, a feat.

I never heard a word.  I guess I ended up doing homework that night.

A couple of years later, just after graduation, I was working on a landscape crew, digging ditches, pulling Bermuda grass and mowing lawns.  I came to the conclusion by the summer’s end that God had higher things for me.  I quit my job, deciding not to bother myself with the mundane inconveniences of work.  I had bigger things ahead of me.  I took up residence in the home of a very gracious family and began praying over a stack of maps that God would send me to the darkest places on Earth because I was willing and eager to go and serve.  (I recount this season of my life in the second chapter of Faith Without Illusions).

Eventually, I ended up on the streets of a spiritually dark Southeast Asian metropolis and found myself praying a very different prayer than the ones I had been praying in the previous years and months:

Lord, please get me out of here.  And please don’t ever send me here again. 

Looking back on these prayers, I have realized that I was much more concerned with a radical leaving than with a going.  The heart behind the prayer was not so much “let me serve you, Lord” but “Lord, get me out of here.”

Escapism.

I wanted to escape the unexciting “local” for the exotic “global.”  I wanted freedom from the tedious tasks of the daily grind for the thrilling speed of travel and for the gratifying buzz of experiencing something new.  I did not want to do statistics homework—I wanted to fulfill the great commission.  I did not want to dig another ditch in the summer heat—I wanted to preach the word on a distant city street.

As a college pastor, I have seen this longing for escape at work in many other young people.  That itching angst to do something awesome, the burning passion to be a part of something big—as one familiar with these sensations, as one who has acted on them and ended up stranded on the other side of the world, I find myself calmly urging college students with similar desires to settle down a bit.

They cannot see how doing their accounting project will glorify God.  They cannot see how finishing the research paper on 18th century art forms can contribute to God’s Kingdom work.  Aren’t people dying out there from lack of clean water?  Aren’t the lost dying without the Gospel?

Yes, but an untested 20-something without the work ethic required for completing the accounting project or boring research paper will likely be of little help in dire situations overseas.

All Ministry is Local

What I failed to see in my earlier adventures was that all ministry is local.  You can wistfully scan the horizon longing for global exploits, but once the plane lands then anyone who really wants to work for change must then embrace a host of tedious, mundane disciplines that are very unexciting: learning the language, finding the right food items in the nearest market, figuring out how to use the local currency, interacting with the postal worker, finding a plumber to unclog the drain, etc., etc.

There is no escape from the local, mundane tasks of the daily grind.  Nothing may be more suitable training for radical work abroad than years of faithfulness in small, meticulous details.  Patiently digging ditches in the summer heat, regularly paying the water bill, diligently doing the homework—these are the practices of someone who is qualified not so much for a radical, wild-hare trip, but for a lifetime of slow, persistent faithfulness towards God’s radical mission.

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