Category Archives: Faith Without Illusions (the book)

The Future of the Church: Cynic-Saints?

Gospel Centered Discipleship asked me to write something about how we disciple cynics.  In working on the piece (“Discipling the Disillusioned”), I was struck with the urgency of that task.  If young (and not-so-young) folks are leaving the church due to their frustrations and disillusionment, then the future of the church lies in our capacity to reach them.  And they are out there, hovering out on the margins.  Maybe you… maybe me… the disillusioned souls who get branded (often self-branded) as cynics.

So how do we reach them?  Click on the link if you want to read on….

(And spend some time on the site.  GCD has some excellent stuff!)

The Heartbeat of “Hopeful Realism”: Already… but not yet / Coming… and now is

The namesake of this blog is taken from a phrase my wife supplied as she carefully read through drafts for Faith Without Illusions.  Hopeful Realism is a perspective that holds rosy idealism and shallow optimism as incompatible in an ex-Eden world (hence, “Realism”).  But the perspective is “hopeful” because it holds that cynicism is incompatible with a pre-Parousia world.  That Jesus will make all things new drains cynicism of its legitimacy.

The Resurrection is the premise for a hopeful realist.  That Christ punctured a hole in Death’s impenetrable ramparts and then walked through it signals that something freakishly amazing is underway—the system (of evil) has a virus.  Not only is our world ex-Eden and pre-Parousia, but invaded by the powers of New Creation.  The hopeful realist has ground for hope not only because of Jesus’ forthcoming return, but because mysterious Resurrection powers at work even now, enlivening (cynic-)saints for divine service and seeping into darkened souls whose eyes are on the verge of opening wide.

So eschatology is critical for understanding idealism, realism and cynicism as perspectives in the life of faith.  If the idealists’ eschatological shout can be reduced to “now,” and the cynics’ eschatological cry reduced to “never,” the hopeful realists can claim “already… and not yet.”  I was reading the Greek text of John’s Gospel the other day and realized that the Johannine take on this can be rendered, “coming… and now is” (see Jn 4:23, 5:25).

The great challenge of the hopeful realist is to conjoin mourning with rejoicing.  We groan with creation (Romans 8:18-25) in longing for the day (the Day) when all things are made new.  We also rejoice that glimpses persist hinting that the newness is already underway.  Groaning and celebrating simultaneously—these are the honest joint disciplines for the hopeful realist in a world out of kilter, yet assured a new life.

Faith Without Illusions at Euangelion

I check the biblioblog Euangelion at least a few times each week.  I had met Joel Willitts before, so I decided to sheepishly ask if he would consider taking a look at my book on cynicism for a possible review (giving him the freedom to review it badly if necessary, of course!).  He posted his comments earlier today, and you can click the link to Patheos (which hosts the blog) to check it out.


I really appreciate Joel’s emphasis on my conviction that cynical, jaded, and disillusioned Christians may be the most suited demographic to bring reform to the church in the West… if they forsake their  cynicism.

The folks God so often enlisted in His program to reform Israel were not idealists reeking with cheery optimism and full of trite platitudes for the downtrodden.  The prophets, sages, and tragic-poets of Israel were often trodden down themselves by the very people they were called to love and embrace.  But God’s call on them demanded a movement away from a disengaged cynicism.  The modern-day cynic-saint  is someone who discards their idealism but not in exchange for an embittered vocation of deconstructing the messed up people of God.  They embrace a realism that will be grim at times, but ever hopeful of a breaking dawn….


Calvin & Coffee: Word — Spirit

[This is part of an ongoing series of posts I am calling “Calvin & Coffee”]


I just finished ch. IX in Book I of Calvin’s Institutes.  Here we see the insistence that Word and Spirit are conjoined in “an inviolable bond” [1].  Calvin has in his sights what we might would call “charismania,” an excessive emphasis on the Holy Spirit and supernatural phenomena to the neglect of orderliness, sound doctrine, and the honoring of Scripture (trends apparently associated with the Libertines in Calvin’s day):

For of late, certain giddy men have arisen who, with great haughtiness exalting the teaching office of the Spirit, despise all reading and laugh at the simplicity of those who, as they express it, still follow the dead and killing letter [2].

I have written about this sort of excessive emphases in Faith Without Illusions—the chapter on Experientialism required the greatest degree of sensitivity and precision in writing—spiritual gifts and the more mystical elements of Christian faith are such controversial topics.  I have friends who lean in opposite directions when it comes to experiential manifestations and emotional sensations in the life of the church… and Scripture itself demands a meticulous degree of balance.  Calvin’s own sensitivity and balance on the issue is impressive (and so also one of his successors in the reformed tradition, Jonathan Edwards).  His objective is not to demonize supernatural manifestations per se, but to address the alarming dissociation between the Word of God and the Spirit of God:

God did not bring forth his Word among men for the sake of a momentary display , intending at the coming of his Spirit to abolish it.  Rather, he sent down the same Spirit by whose power he had dispensed the Word, to complete his work by the efficacious confirmation of the Word [3].

It is strange that Word and Spirit so often tend to become a dichotomy rather than a complementary and inseparable pair in the life and history of the church.

Here is a case in point.  A young pastor approaches the pulpit and then announces, “I was going to come with a detailed manuscript for this morning, but I think I just need to tear up my notes and go with the Spirit.”

Now, I acknowledge that sometimes God may indeed lead us modify our homiletical agenda in the moment of preaching.  But so often, so-called reliance on the Spirit can be justified to forgo the hard, meticulous work of exegesis, theological interpretation, and then the careful organization of the material and its crafting into a coherent message.  But when someone announces that they are scratching their notes or manuscript, it serves as an alert of sorts that now, now that the encumbrance of prepared material is out of the way, now the Holy Spirit is really about to speak.

But where was the Spirit in the preacher’s preparations?  Was He not guiding and stirring in those unseen hours, late and early?

Again, sometimes notes do need to be torn up.  Sometimes the manuscript is to be left in the pew.  But for the most part, this “inviolable bond” between Word and Spirit has to do, for the preacher, with hard, prayerful, cognitive labor; and it has to do, for the congregation, with the hard, challenging task of diligent listening.  Sometimes the most impressive feat accomplished by the Spirit in our midst may be the enabling of minds, hearts and ears to stay attentive to the presentation of the Word.  And every preacher surely knows the desperate need for the Spirit’s help while pouring over the Word in anticipation of Sunday.

So, Word — Spirit… any thoughts from you readers?  How do you see the union of the two in life and ministry?  What disciplines or practices might we employ in the cause of keeping them together?


[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (ed. John T. McNeill; tr. Ford Lewis Battles; Library of Christian Classics vols XX and XXI; Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960),93.

[2] Ibid.,

[3] Ibid., 95.

Karl Barth and ‘Hopeful Realism’

I am reading Church Dogmatics VI.1, sections 57-59, and I just had a moment.  Okay, I have all sorts of great moments in reading Barth so far, but something that stood out this morning is the comment below.  The reason it struck me is because the hopeful orientation of the Christian to the incoming (and currently in-breaking) power of the new age of salvation is unstoppable, providing for us the disposition of hopeful realism rather than idealism (an illusory denial of the death and injustice of our ex-Eden world) or cynicism (the embittered embrace of current reality without hope in a future reality).  This re-ordering of our disposition is the premise and challenge of my work in  Faith Without Illusions.  Here is Barth saying something that sounds very similar (and with greater clout!)….

“…perhaps [the Christian] is most clearly distinguished from the non-Christian by the fact that, directed to the great hope, and without any illusions, he does not fail and is never weary to live daily in these little hopes.  But this necessarily means that he is daily willing and ready for the small and provisional and imperfect service of God which the immediate future will demand of him because a great and final and perfect being in the service of God is the future of the world and all men, and therefore his future also.”  [1]

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics; ed. G.W. Bromiley, T.F. Torrance (vol IV.1, The Doctrine of Reconciliation; tr. George W. Bromiley; London: T & T Clark International, 2004), 121-22.

Faith Without Illusions at Jesus Creed

I am just so grateful for Scot McKnight’s willingness to make posts on each chapter of Faith Without Illusions.  His comments and summations at Jesus Creed are so helpful even for me to read.  Access to the perspective of a senior writer and scholar on one’s work is quite a privilege.  If you want to see the posts, you can get started with the most recent one by clicking the icon for Patheos (which hosts Scot’s blog) below.

Scot McKnight on ‘Faith Without Illusions’

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.