Monday, March 29, 2010

Imaginary Jesus for $0.98 @imaginaryjesus @mattmikalatos @christianaudio

Imaginary Jesus, which I reviewed positively, is available as an audiobook download for only $0.98. It's totally worth it. You can get it at

Article Round-up

It's done! I took the EPPP this weekend. Now I have to wait for the scores... Interestingly, I'm more afraid of the shame of failing than having to study more and spend the money again (although I really don't want to do either of those). That could be an interesting topic for another time.

In any case, here's some articles I've found interesting over the last week or so.

Starting off with a devotional, Day 28 of Dr. Larry Crabb's Lenten devotionals is particularly good!

This is a great article on depression and the church and some of the weaknesses of the church in affecting depression.

Who Are the De-Churched. This is a REALLY good article. I feel quite similar to the relationally de-churched. It's stuff we've discussed a few times on this blog.

Elemental Preaching. This is a great article on the purpose of preaching written by my pastor from my time in Berkeley. He's a great guy with great ideas.

3 Lies the Church Tells About Sex. Pretty self-explanatory article. And VERY accurate, with significant implication.

Breaking Through Workaholism. I need to internalize several of these. :)

How (and How Not) to Bring Christ to Work. I like the Incarnational emphasis on this. Very relevant to other discussions on evangelism on this blog.

When It's Good to Get Mad
. Another article with some topics that we've hit on here before.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

NLT Contest

Hi, all! Some of you may be interested in this contest. I was introduced to the NLT with the Mosaic Bible, and I really like the translation. Here's an opportunity to get a free copy of the Bible!

The New Living Translation Break Through to Clarity Bible Contest and Giveaway

Visit and click on the tab that says “Sweepstakes”

Fill out a simple form, take a quick Bible clarity survey, invite your friends to join and you’ll be entered to win one of our exciting prizes.

With each fan number milestone a new prize will be given away.

Grand Prize

Apple iPad 64G and a Life Application Study Bible
Awarded when the NLT Fan Page hits the fifth milestone
Retail Value: $829.00

2nd Prize - Already awarded

32G iPod Touch and a Life Application Study Bible
Awarded when the NLT Fan Page hits the fourth milestone
Retail Value: $300.00

3rd Prize – Will be awarded when fan count hits: 3500

Kindle DX and a Life Application Study Bible
Awarded when the NLT Fan Page hits the third milestone
Retail Value: $489.00

4th Prize Will be awarded when fan count hits: TBD

Apple iPad 16G and a Life Application Study Bible
Awarded when the New Living Translation Fan Page hits the second milestone
Retail Value: $499.00

5th Prize Will be awarded when fan count hits: TBD

Apple iPad 32G and a Life Application Study Bible
Awarded when the NLT Fan Page hits the first milestone
Retail Value: $599.00

Prize Eligibility – Recently updated to include more countries

Sweepstakes participants and winner(s) can be U.S. residents of the 50 United States, or residents of any country that is NOT embargoed by the United States, but cannot be residents of Belgium, Norway, Sweden, or India. In addition, participants and winner(s) must be at least 18 years old, as determined by the Company.

Sweepstakes Starts

March 17, 2010 @ 10:24 am (PDT)

Sweepstakes Ends

April 30, 2010 @ 10:24 am (PDT)

Wait, there’s more!

Visit for a chance to win a trip for two to Hawaii!

Here are the details:

Choose one of six passages of Scripture from the New Living Translation and consider:
How do these verses encourage you to know God better?
What is God teaching you in this passage?
How does this passage apply to your life?

Submit your answer and you’ll be entered to win.

Just for signing up: Everybody Wins! Win a Free .mp3 download from the NLT’s new Red Letters Project. It’s the dynamic, new presentation of the sung and narrated words of the Gospel of Matthew. You win the download just for entering! Or choose to download the NLT Philippians Bible Study, complete with the Book of Philippians in the NLT.

Every day, one person will win the best-selling Life Application Study Bible!

The grand prize: One person will win a fantastic trip for two to the crystal clear waters of the Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s North Shore in beautiful Hawaii.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Truth and Imagination

Today's lenten devotional from Dr. Larry Crabb was particularly interesting and powerful, I thought. He talks about the desire to find and control truth, often to the exclusion of imagination and the dance of faith and relationship with God. It's something many of us struggle with and is often the subject of this blog. If you'd like to read it, visit the archive and look for Day 27.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Stats or the Dance?

[This one is from Cal rather than Josh.]

First comes the conference (“Theology After Google” in this case). Then come the critics like so many sharks searching for the tasty blood of heresy. Constructive dialogue about the mission and future of the church in a high-tech, postmodern age isn’t going to consist of a neatly nailed down lists of certainties. It’s going to be open, dynamic, messy, and unsettling. Anything else would fail to do justice to the issues being discussed.

Many of the critics seem to be focusing on their conviction that mental affirmation of unquestioned “facts” about God are our only defense against heresy. Narrative? Conversation? Open ended quest? All anathema to these authors. They remind me of something I read recently attacking the emerging church moment by using the analogy of marriage. The authors insisted that “the correct facts” about one’s spouse were what really matters—that the relationship is defined by them rather than by things such as conversation.

Honestly, at this point I don’t know how much my wife weighs. I don’t know her measurements. I don’t know all the numbers on her latest blood panel from the lab at the doctor’s office. Even though I’ve devoted years to the academic study of the neuropeptides of love and attachment, I can’t say I know her plasma levels of any of them. What I do know is the narrative, the “dance,” the joy of conversation, and the cumulative shared experiences that have shaped us as a couple. I’ve changed my mind on some things I thought were true of her, we've worked through some misunderstandings, and neither the language I use to describe the relationship nor the way I experience are identical to what it would have been the day we said “I do.” And what I “know” about her and the way I describe her is different from how our children, her parents, or the people at her work know and describe her. No “propositional profile” of facts would begin to do justice to any of that. Or be what I need most as I build a future with her.

The people who are obsessed with fixed, measurable stats are more likely to be on Craigslist looking for hook-ups rather than enjoying marriage to an actual spouse.

I see several problems to the “stats” approach of the heresy hunters and litmus testers:

First, they create barriers between people and Jesus. The blogosphere is full of heresy hunters who are effective at inciting the passions of those who already agree with them (after all, having enemies is great fun). But I hear regularly from people outside the circle of believers who find this approach a great stumbling block in their spiritual quest. The insistence that only full certainty about the “right” (and highly detailed) answers qualify one as Christian leaves many people with unanswered questions with the feeling that it's impossible to ever join the dance.

They also make it sound as if Christianity is some new version of Gnosticism—that we are saved by precise knowledge and formulas.

Finally, they seem to completely overlook the dynamic nature and “situatedness” of faith, spiritual growth, church, and understanding. Actual thought always entails detours and development. I should certainly hope that I would think something heretical at some stage of the process--the alternative is being brain-dead or some kind of robot. And much of the change in my thinking over the years has from Bible study itself, not from some descent into some dark underworld of Godless conspirators. Even in church history we see how the categories, the questions we assume the Bible authors are answering, and the formulas people derive cannot be separated from the cultural context and the thought forms of the age.

I have convictions, commitment, and community. But hopefully not concrete. And I appreciate those who are involved in the dynamic dance of faith and discovery and open-ended quest to explore the future of the church—even if I don’t agree with every single thing that gets said in the process. I’ll take the dance over the stats any day.


Not-So-Imaginary Jesus @caReviewers

The next book I have reviewed for the christianaudio Reviewer's Program is Imaginary Jesus written and narrated by Matt Mikalatos. As should be obvious, I did receive a free copy from christianaudio in exchange for reviewing it. As followers of my blog know, my other reviews of their works have been less-than-stellar (I wish they'd choose other options for review because they have a lot of great texts, er audio). So this positive review should emphasize that this is not an over-inflated review due to getting a free audiobook. :)

Imaginary Jesus caught my eye due to the title and the synopsis. It looked creative and in my interest area because of the idea that we have constructed a Jesus in our minds that clouds the real Jesus. That is precisely what this book discusses, but not in such a bland and boring way as I just described it.

Mikalatos (who does an excellent job narrating--I particularly love when authors narrate their own works, especially when they are of such a personal nature) does a very creative job tackling (sometimes literally) his imaginary Jesuses, guiding us through his imagination in what many ways makes this book feel like a novel. I must say that about an hour or so into the book, I got a bit bored with the Jesuses, but this gave way to appreciation. Without these descriptions, the final chapters, which were more propositional (although not terribly explicit), would not have been as powerful. The chapter, "Holy Mother of God," was particularly moving, I thought. I don't want to give too much away because the process of moving through Mikalatos' imagination is part of the power of the book.

In many ways, this reminds me of the mystical texts that some of the saints used to describe their inward journey to meeting Christ. Mikalatos takes a more humorous approach. However, it is funny because it is terribly accurate (in particular, I loved the Secret Society of Imaginary Jesuses). He does an effective job of crafting a modern mystical experience that is at once both individually contemplative and communal.

Further, I realized toward the end of the book that this is a perfect example of describing God image. This refers to the construction of God we have created and with which we interact. It's a natural psychological phenomenon everyone does with anyone with whom we relate. It can be a hard concept to understand, but this book makes it much more understandable.

In sum, I highly recommend this book. I'm not sure how it would be in written form, but the audiobook is excellent. In many ways, I the audiobook may be better if for no other reason than the author reads it himself. That conveys a message no written text ever could.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Theology After Google Wrapup or Where's the Praise? #tag10

Sorry for the delayed wrap-up. I finally scheduled my first licensing exam, so the next two weeks will be extra focused on studying. But no more highly anticipated waiting for my final thoughts on the Theology After Google conference. :)

First of all, the third day was by far the best. It was less focused on convincing everyone to use technology and social media and more of showing people various ways of actually utilizing it. I also appreciated that there was less focus on technology as the end-point in contrast to it being a means to an end.

There were a few points that particularly stood out:

In his presentation, Doug Pagitt (whose writings I very much admire and who I was very excited to meet at the conference) discussed different "Ages" that America has passed through that have affected how the church operates. He noted that we have been in the "Age of Information," which has created a church that is all about teaching. I have discussed before the question of the emphasis on teaching in church, but this really helped pinpoint it, describe it, and put it into perspective, particularly that church (even the organization on Sunday mornings) can and should be much more than teaching.

He also describe a phenomenon that I've noted before about the differences between mainline/progressives and evangelicals. While I have described it as a cognitive/affective split, he named it as open minded and challenging one's own assumptions and theology versus challenging one's aesthetics and mode of presentation. I think we're hitting on the same idea: Mainline/progressives are willing to change their thoughts, but not their mode. Evangelicals are willing to change their modes, but not their thoughts. While there's exceptions to these rules, I find them largely true. The problem is, I still have not found a satisfying answer as to why this is the case.

Further, I'm really sick of this divide. My friend and I both noticed that there was evidence of a very strong divide between evangelical thought and mainline/progressive thought. The conference was sponsored by and dominated by the latter, and there were various comments and such that showed a disdain for evangelicalism. I still want something in between. As I shared in a breakout group, I'm currently going to an evangelical church. I can do the cognitive challenging stuff on my own (I do it anyway). I need the group for the praise element. For some reason, I find that that is something that I cannot do satisfactorily on my own.

In response, Doug Pagitt mentioned how he is out of the mindset of "the God of the gaps," referring to God is only present with what man cannot do. I completely agree with him, as readers of this blog should know. God works incarnationally. However, there is something important about occasionally being explicit and praising God. An analogy I thought of is marriage. I should show my wife how much I love her and live that out. However, I also need to say it out loud. And frequently. I think it's the same with God, for God's sake AND for mine. Probably more for my sake, as I'll forget why I'm doing something.

That's one of my biggest criticisms and complaints from the conference. There was a noticeable lack of praise. I called it "devotion and worship" before, but I realized "praise" is probably a better descriptor. I think that may be an artifact of the mainline/progressive tradition. This is what makes me feel more evangelical than I thought I was. Now interacting with many of the top movers of Emergent Village, I understand why some people, like Dan Kimball have separated and started their own organizations. I don't know or remember the reasons why, but if I were deeply involved, I would consider that on the basis of wanting more explicit praise. Yes, I find it that important.

What do you think? What is the role and importance of praise? What does praise look like to you?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Theology After Google Day 2 or Web 2.0 and Worship #tag10

So Day 2 of Theology After Google is over, and we're about to start the final day. I've had a variety of thoughts and reactions. So here we go, and some of my conclusions will hopefully be helpful to the wider web audience. :)

It's a good conference, and I'm impressed that there have been no bad presentations or presenters. That's rare in a conference. However, yesterday morning I was getting a bit bored, honestly. It was too much repetition and trying to convince us of using social media and Web 2.0 rather than 1.0. My friend and I kind of thought, "We all probably believe that anyway if we're here." After talking with one of the organizers, Phillip Clayton, that does not actually seem to be the case. In fact, it has in some ways been more of a Web 2.0/social media boot camp. That would explain why I'm one of the youngest and one of the few young people there...

If you need or want boot camp, you can also view the conference live or again here. I would recommend the afternoon sessions from yesterday, starting with the video game one. Good stuff there. I like the metaphors, particularly about predestination and free will.

On that note, one of the things I have wanted the most is using Web 2.0 for worship and devotion. That's an element that seems to be noticeably missing. In fact, to me, this conference could go on without God. I'm not sure I've felt God's presence at all. It's more reliant on all of our thoughts and creativity.

The one exception is someone who I have been introduced to in this conference and really like is Callid Keefe-Perry. I'm definitely going to start following his blog. He does a nice job of being incarnational and reminding us that why we do what we do is to connect with God, not just be self-sufficient cognitive beings.

One of the suggestions I thought of last night is using Twitter to share with other people (and remind ourselves) of ways we've seen God in the world around us, using the hashtag #incarnation. That's a long hastag, so if you have other ideas, please share!

What other ways can you see Web 2.0 and social media being used to facilitate worship and devotion?

Finally, both my friend and I have noticed the major divide between mainline/progressives and evangelicals. Both of us feel out of place in both worlds. I personally thought I was closer to the mainline/progressive world. After this conference, I feel closer to the evangelical world, largely because of this issue of devotion and worship. I know mainlines do that, but I'm still puzzled as to why it's been so clearly absent here. It's really sad. These two groups really need to get closer together. I need a way in between...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Theology After Google Day 1 Thoughts #tag10

Last night was the first night of the Theology After Google conference, and I really enjoyed it. It got me thinking about a few things, so like a good blogger, I have to share them with the world, assuming everyone will read them. :)

The conversations my friend and I had after during the TheoPub was focused on social media. Yes, the conference is about the use of social media (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etc.), but I don't really think that's the main point. As the speakers said last night, "Google" is really a metaphor for what is changing in the world (primarily America) and theology. In short, the technology revolution and easy accessibility of information, which also allows everyone to contribute to information, is leading to a new democratization of theology. The parallel is the advent of the Gutenberg press and Bible, which paved the way for the first democratization of theology, namely everyone being able to read the Bible.

Social media definitely helps get the information out. That's the way I use it, I realized last night. Social media and technology are more about information and content than really connecting with people. I use the "social" tools, but I realized last night that social media connection feels to me more like a superficial connection. It makes me feel connected, but when I really think about it, I'm not really connected with the others. This may be idiosyncratic to me and part of my introversion, so I'll own some of that, too.

Ultimately, though, I think we need to remember social media is a tool and medium, not the end goal.

As some criticisms (the organizers asked for feedback), I really didn't hear anything new last night. It may have been new to some people, but... That's not necessarily a bad thing. It really was laying the groundwork of the philosophical underpinnings of what will likely be discussed over the next two days.

Additionally, we were encouraged to stay connected online and multitask. I appreciated that, so I tried. However, I found it quite difficult to pay attention to the speaker, read tweets, and tweet myself. I think today I may check tweets and tweet responses occasionally, but focus more on being present in the moment. To me, that's more powerful and something that can be lost in an age of technology and social media (and believe me, I LOVE technology, including my new Android phone :) ).

Finally, my friend and I were both realizing last night that there had not been any prayer. This is a group of Christians. Are we afraid of opening a theology conference in prayer? Or closing it? He also commented that it would be nice to have some musical worship. I have to agree.

Prayer and worship (and yes, discussing theology can be worship) would help us maintain our focus and remind ourselves that this is not all about us, but about God and connecting to God. I realized last night, that night one actually felt more like a celebration of ourselves (i.e. the Academy Awards) than really attempting to worship and connect with God...

It may also be indicative of the fact that most of the organizers come from a more "progressive" background. This just emphasizes what I've observed about mainliners being more cognitive while evangelicals are more affective. Why can't we have both?!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

66 Love Letters Lenten Devotions

I have subscribed to Larry Crabb's Lenten devotional from his 66 Love Letters. Some are definitely better than others, but today's (Day 19) is particularly relevant for this blog, I think. You can see the archive of all devotionals here, although Day 19 was not quite posted yet as of this writing (I'm guessing it will be posted soon).

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Theology After Google

Sorry I haven't posted much. Life gets in the way sometimes. :)

Anyway, I'll be going to the Theology After Google conference this week. If anyone is going, let me know!!


Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).