Thursday, April 28, 2011

Toward Unity Amidst Theological Disagreement @alan_knox

Yesterday, I a post I wrote for my church's blog was posted about our new membership program and the attempt to have unity despite theological disagreements. This fits with other things I have written recently, in addition to some discussions in the rest of blogosphere, especially Alan Knox's blog. I had to cut down my post for word count purposes, but since I tend to be verbose here, below is the original, unedited version.

At a recent blog meeting in which we were brainstorming subjects, the topic of membership came up. We mentioned how some people have had problems with membership. Sandals' leadership openly admitted that they knew they would lose people through the membership process, so this was not necessarily a surprise. That doesn't make the separation any easier for anyone involved. I know there are many people who have various concerns related to the membership class and process. I am one of them. I thought sharing some of my journey may help validate those who have concerns and bring our community together to be stronger than before.

We have been very deeply involved in our previous church communities, both of us running major ministries within our churches (and sometimes practically the whole church ministry at times). We've seen the good, bad, holy, and ugly involved with church from the inside, including controversies that have been on the national news.

Theology has not been any stranger to us, either. My bachelors degree was in Religious Studies, and I did my doctorate at Azusa Pacific University because my passion is the integration of spirituality and psychology. One of my hobbies is a blog dedicated to exploring spiritual and theological questions. My wife has done her fair share of theological inquiry and writing, too.

So when we moved to Grand Terrace about two years ago, we knew what kind of church we were looking for. We were also both very wary of the inauthenticity that can go along with church institutions, leadership, and politics. We were actually burned out of any kind of church organization for a while. Then my wife found Sandals' website with the motto/vision of being Real with Self, Others, and God. I was instantly intrigued.

My wife and I came to Sandals right around the time fundraising for the new building really started with the pledges about a year and a half ago. One of the first Sundays we were there was when the kids brought in their offerings. While Matt made many statements that Sandals was not all about money for those who were new, this process actually made my wife and I appreciate Sandals more because the money was obviously being used wisely and authentically.

We quickly joined a small group and a few months later volunteered to step up as small group leaders despite vowing to not get too involved because of our past experiences. Then Tawny wrapped me into writing for the blog. Laci did some artwork for the church (she was the one who taught some kids--and adults--to draw Disney characters at Imago Dei last month). So much for taking a break from leadership roles...

One of the things that I loved about Sandals was the emphasis on authenticity and meeting people where they were at in every way. Then membership came up. I had a lot of questions. First of all, I'm very ecumenical when it comes to theology. I definitely have my beliefs, but as many other eccesiologists have noted, church institutions should not be about theological agreement, but rather living life in Christ Jesus. I was worried membership would make Sandals more sectarian, creating an "us versus them" within Christendom, further fracturing the already broken body of Christ in humanity.

A lot has been said in the membership classes about membership being about people committing to the local church and participating. I support that wholeheartedly. However, my wife and I have been and are very committed to this community. I was happy to learn about Sandals' official positions on issues. Others have noted that membership is useful so people know whether or not to commit to a group who may have a different theology.

One of the struggles my wife and I have been having is that we have been strongly committed, yet there have been some theological differences between our beliefs and some of Sandals' official positions. I know this has been the case with many others, too. As Derek said, any divorce would and should be painful. Leaving our other communities simply because of moving was hard enough.

At the same time, I do not believe that most of these issues should prevent a group of people from being in community together and forming a group known as a church. We need to agree on certain basics, but there is plenty of theology that does not determine whether or not someone is in fellowship with Christ. Not that the issues are unimportant, but again, they should not, in my belief, create a divorce between a person committed to a church body and that community.

I have really been struggling with this, though, as I was unsure where Sandals would draw the lines. Again, there are the official positions, and then there are the issues with which we all must agree (for instance, as Derek has said, Jesus being God is mandatory; believing men must be the head of the household and women cannot be pastors is not required). Yet there is a difference between what is preached from the pulpit and what is practiced in real life. I've had experiences in Sandals with people who are not willing to tolerate any disagreement while others have thanked me for asking questions.

A couple of weeks ago during a leaders meeting, we had some prayer time related to confession. Quickly into the individual time, I heard a very strong voice tell me that I need to stop worrying about these minor theological issues and live according to what I believe--that we can have theological disagreements and still be in communion with one another, encouraging and discipling each other in movement toward the same mission and vision.

This week's membership class validated this idea, as Derek explained that small groups and Christian community should not be always based on affinity (similarities), but based in Jesus. He also stated that theological differences help keep us all in check and honest with ourselves and each other. That is so true.

I still have questions about how everyone can live in community when we disagree. It doesn't always work; that's why there are thousands of Protestant denominations. My hope and prayer for Sandals is that we can live in unity because of theological diversity through Christ. This does not mean that we avoid issues of theological disagreement, but rather we do not demonize dissenting opinions. I have been guilty of this. If we are going to have a successful commitment to one another, we all need to be honest, real, and respectful of each other to grow in Christ and work together to bring the Kingdom of Christ to our neighborhood and the world. A wide group of committed, unified followers of Christ will be able to bring the Gospel much farther than segments of bickering believers.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Heart of a Pastor @christianaudio @caReviewers

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an initial review of Eugene Peterson's memoir, The Pastor. I have finally finished it and absolutely loved it. While I am not in the role of professional clergy, this book hit home to me. If you want to know what my heart is as a psychologist and where I find meaning in life, read this book.

Peterson's book is a perfect example of how amazing of a writer he is. His prose becomes beautifully poetic (and I'm one who generally dislikes poems) with vivid imagery. In the afterward, a letter to a young pastor, he stated that he does not feel like he is a pastor of great achievement. While he did translate The Message Bible and has written many books, I got the sense from reading this that he is not your typical uber-famous Christian who has met the world's standards of success.

Yes, Peterson has had some of that, but he writes not to be famous, but because that is his love and passion. In fact, his personal testimony about the development of The Message makes me love and appreciate it all the more.

But returning to his pastoral work, this is where he finds his primary identity, with the writing elements being more of a supplement to that work. As a pastor, he led a flock of about 500 by the time he left. That's large compared to many institutions, but quite modest compared to those congregations of the best selling authors. And Peterson seemed to have no problem with the size. In fact, he indicated that he didn't want it bigger. He was satisfied with his work, and it showed through his heart and the true, lasting transformation that occurred in his community.

As a psychologist who definitely can be tempted by trying to achieve widespread notoriety, this tome reminded me of the power of daily, incarnational work that we all do on a daily basis. Our daily relationships and connections are what counts. Peterson knows that and lived it. And I have been blessed by his testimony of that life.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Why I Ask Questions And Don't Give Answers

I've had some questions recently about my blog and my approach. My blog is a bit unconventional, which can raise questions. Back in 2008, when I started this, I wrote a couple of posts explaining how the blog developed (which can also be found on the right-hand side of the blog below the picture of Jacob wrestling with the angel). However, sometimes it's good to revisit the purpose, especially as it can change over time.

The biggest question I get is why I ask so many questions, leave them open-ended, and don't give clear stances. A lot of people want the clear, unambiguous answers, particularly related to spirituality. Heck, Wikipedia cites professor Rob Wall as saying Mark Driscoll's authoritative, clear, definitive speech is what makes him so popular. I agree.

This blog isn't for those people. It's also not for people wanting to find out what Christianity is about. It's not for "baby Christians."

My intention is to write a blog for people who have been Christians and have questions. They have doubts. Struggles. My purpose is to provide a space where people can have questions, doubts, struggles, and ambiguity while not having to give up faith.

So often the institutional church creates a perceived and real ultimatum of doctrinal certitude that if you don't believe a certain thing, then you may not be a Christian. I personally believe there is a very small number of issues that really determine a person's salvation. I was talking to a friend just the other day that I have a relationship with God that exists beyond doctrine. Virtually all of my beliefs could be proven to be false, and I would still struggle with giving up my faith because of that relationship.

My faith is based on relationship, not doctrine.

Doctrine, while important, can often lead to impediments in our relationship with God, usually because of man-made wall that our friends construct. While I do believe in walls, I have also found that there comes a time when people have to discover them on their own. Simply being told about the walls and enforcing them doesn't always help growth. Helping people explore and understand and discover the boundaries and mysteries of life and faith is much more powerful.

So even when I do make a more definitive statement or take a position, I also usually attach questions to it. My goal is to get people to think and think critically about themselves and their faith.

I do the same thing in my psychology practice. Many people come in looking for advice. They generally don't get advice from me. I help them come up with the advice they give themselves.

So why do I ask questions? Because millions of people ask the same ones and need a forum to know that they're not alone and can still pursue God in the midst of those questions. Why don't I provide clear answers? Because I don't find that effective for the population I'm aiming at.

You may be one who wants clear answers. If questions or ambiguity hurt your faith, I don't recommend you continue to visit. I have found ambiguity pervades all of life, especially mine. The more I can come to accept and be comfortable with the ambiguity rather than forcing on an artificial answer, the closer to God I get. And that's my hope for those who read this blog.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Compassionate Conservative Christianity from @MaxLucado #MaxOnLife @LucadoTeam

Back in December, I wrote a review of Max Lucado's latest (at that time book). I mentioned how refreshing that book was because Lucado presented conservative evangelical Christian ideas while emphasizing "liberal" social justice. It's a great case for those two to not be in opposition to one another.

Lucado is one of the few authors whose work I have known since early on my Christian life and who I still read and respect highly. I recently had the opportunity to read his newest (and man, does he have a long authorship credit!) book, Max on Life, providing answers to 172 common questions he has received over the years. These were culled from letters, emails, sermons, books, etc.

The result is the most theological work I've read of Lucado's. Usually his work feels more devotional and singly-focused, emphasizing the encouragement of the saints. And this is good stuff. Many of the questions he addresses, though, require more directly theological responses.

Readers of my blog and tweets know I have lobbed a few volleys against penal substitutionary atonement lately. Lucado advocates this atonement theory. However, he doesn't do so in the same condemning hellfire and brimstone fashion that many other big names do these days. His emphasis is more on the transcendent love of God that rescues us from everything. Rather than being against sin, he is for love and God. His presentation of some of these ideas helped me realize that my theological problems are at times more with the viciously vociferous advocates of some positions than the pure theology itself.

There are some gems of lines in this book. One of Lucado's strengths is clarity in his writing and purpose. If you're one who has a lot of questions and want a clear, concise answer, this is a great book. If you want more of Lucado's traditional writings that are more narrative in format, you may want to pass.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Romance Sans Sexuality

Related to yesterday's post about celibacy and romance, I've noticed that a lot of romance is rooted in sexuality. Taking a holistic, incarnational perspective that values the body and not create a dualistic mind-body split, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Ultimately, can romance be separated from sexuality? How would you define romance? What is different about romantic love than friendship love or family love?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Celibate Homosexuality & Other Romance

Yesterday's post on unnatural things not necessarily being sinful could obviously apply to homosexuality. Plenty of Christians state homosexuality is both unnatural and sinful. There are many statements of faith and behavioral contracts that state all sexual activity must exist only within the confines of a heterosexual marriage.

From this perspective, would it be acceptable for two men or two women who are in love to be in a celibate relationship?

Could a man and a woman live together out of wedlock while not engaging in any sexual activity?

If the sin is sex and we remove the sex, is the problem solved?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Jesus Can Be Hard to Find in the Present

Over the past few years, I have come to deeply appreciate the value of living in the present and not always the future. When I came across Warren Wiersbe's Jesus in the Present Tense: The I AM Statements of Christ, I was very intrigued. I've always loved hearing the various names of God and their significance. Using them as a devotional to see God around us all the more is awesome.

The book starts out great, emphasizing the importance of names, including that of God. I particularly loved the exploration of people who know God but have not known God's name for various reasons (this could be a full separate conversation).

In the preface, Wiersbe that Jesus "is alive and says, 'I AM.' He can meet our needs today. He is alive this very moment and offers us a satisfying spiritual life in the present tense" (p. 11) He explains that the simple statement, "I AM," emphasizes the present nature of Christ, which is a reflection I had not noticed, but think is powerful.

Unfortunately, the rest of the book does not really seem to focus on the present nature of Jesus. The names of Jesus and subsequent exploration of their meaning is fine, but they're not that significant. Most of the time, it simply feels like a new way to present conservative evangelical theology. It's a much more organic way of doing so with some devotional elements, but it honestly feels more didactic than devotional.

Ironically, halfway through the book, Wiersbe states, "As important as doctrine is, it isn't enough for us simply to affirm what we believe. We must realize that Bible doctrine is incarnated in the Son of God and that He through the Spirit makes each doctrine real and active in our lives" (p. 103). This is an amazing statement that I think really is the motivation for the book. While we need to know what we believe and why we believe it, our faith is not living or effective if it is not vibrantly present in our daily life in the context of relationship. Again, though, this book just seemed to miss this focus consistently.

Just prior to the above quote, Wiersbe states the following, already in italics: "He moved the resurrection out of a statement of faith and into a person, and out of the future and into the present" (p. 103). This is a great reflection that we should all remember!

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for a review (with no obligation for a positive review).

Unnatural and Not Sinful

So often so many things are labelled "sinful" with the explanation that they are unnatural. The Bible frequently points out actions that should be avoided because they are unnatural. However, does something that is unnatural necessarily mean it is sinful?

As a result of the Fall, we are odds with the created world around us, which would mean plenty is unnatural due to this fact. We do not call of these situations sinful, though. Neither does the Bible.

Take the whole book of Job. Plenty of unnatural occurrences for this poor man which should be avoided if possible. Yet one of the clear messages was that he was not sinful.

What about the blind man who Jesus healed? Remember the debate about who sinned? Jesus said it was not because of sin. Blindness is unnatural. Yet it is not sinful. It is the result of the fallen, broken world, but would not be considered to be the man's fault.

We can continue this line of thought through a variety of medical conditions, from the common cold to cancer. In the mental health field, we often apply these ideas to de-stigmatize and normalize mental illness. While clearly abnormal, schizophrenia, bipolar, depression, anxiety, etc. are not sinful. Sometimes behavioral sin can lead to these conditions. In my professional experience, though, this is not the case. Being anxious is not a sin. Being depressed is not a sin. Being schizophrenic is not a sin.

So what about other things we call sins simply because they are unnatural. Is that a fair label? When is it accurate and when is it not?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Mimetic Atonement

Yesterday, I provided very brief summaries of some of the dominant theories of atonement with some problems from each. A few weeks ago, I was introduced to the philosophical works of René Girard during a psychology conference at my doctoral alma mater.

Again, in very brief summary, Girard presents the idea of mimetic desire, essentially that humans have the drive to mimic or imitate others. This has plenty of psychological implications that actually seem verified at some level in neurobiological studies.

He argues that as we develop, we want what other have, causing mimetic violence, as we try to take what the others have. Eventually, a scapegoat is sought in order to restore the social order.

Applying this to the Bible (which Girard did, although I'm not sure if he developed an atonement theory--these are my thoughts and application), we can see the violence that continually escalates throughout the Old Testament, culminating in the scapegoat of Christ.

If we assume that the ideas of mimetic desire, mimetic violence, and the scapegoat mechanism are accurate within humanity, then God's introduction of literal scapegoats as sacrifices may not have been as much to satisfy God's need for justice and retribution as much as human's need for such obvious justice. By providing a divinely ordained solution to guilt, God protected his creation from additional violence at the hands of one another.

Such continual scapegoating could only last so long, so eventually Jesus was sent. Through living a perfect life, there was no reason he should be killed or blamed for any wrongdoing. Yet he was condemned, becoming the epitome of an unjust scapegoat.

Through the ridiculousness of the condemnation, further emphasized through the resurrection, the scapegoat of Christ emphasizes the absurdity of scapegoating and violence. With the recognition of its absurdity, those of us who recognize his sacrifice can take on his moral influence and stop violence. Further, since our human drive is for a scapegoat, Christ's death was necessary to prevent additional violence within the world to both other humans and the rest of creation.

The scapegoating of Christ serves as a ransom from the perspective of humans, as it ransoms us from the evil grasp of mimetic violence and greed, which would be at the core of a literal or metaphorical Satan. His death still fulfills the humanly constructed need for justice appeased and satisfied in clear, concrete, and unyielding ways. Yet it also shows us the limitations of our human constructions and the ideal of God's divine thought.

While this is a simple outlined version of an atonement theory based on Girard's mimetic theory, I think it can provide a way to integrate elements of all the major atonement theories into a cohesive whole while also addressing the problems with each. Therefore, it doesn't wholly absorb them, but rather challenges certain elements, like Christ's sacrifice being directed more at humans than at God or Satan. Like Brink argued in his book, most perspectives of atonement place the problems on God, Satan, or the law. This theory places it in us. It is not Satan who requires payment. It is not God who requires payment. It is man. And from what I've read in the Bible and experienced in life, humanity is definitely the primary one who always demands clear, concrete, and sacrificial restitution.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Atonement Problems @jonathanbrink @greg_boyd @edcyzewski @markgalli

I've been thinking a lot about atonement theories lately (yes, even before the Rob Bell controversy). For those who don't know, atonement is the fancy word to explain Christ's sacrifice and our reconciliation with God. I've found few people know that there are multiple ways of explaining why Christ died on the cross, all of which are rooted in biblical understandings.

A lot of debates and theological disagreements have some relationship to the atonement theory each individual ascribes to, so I thought it might be helpful to provide a short summary here about some of them to introduce people to these ideas. Tomorrow, I'm going to outline some of my thoughts that integrates some of these models into a coherent whole while challenging problematic elements through Girard's mimetic theory.

Wikipedia's articles on the atonement theories are very useful in providing more detailed information, as this is really a general overview. While I mention some of the problems with each of the theories, all of this is far from exhaustive, as volumes and volumes have been written about each theory.

Substitutionary atonement is the idea that Christ died in place of us. This is one of the most common one in evangelical America. However, there are subtypes of substitutionary atonement.

Penal substitutionary atonement is the one popular among the neo-Calvinists, like Mark Driscoll, John Piper, and the rest of The Gospel Coalition. This takes a legal metaphor, where there is a clear cause and effect according to the law, which cannot be waived. The punishment for sin is God's unending wrath. Christ stands in between us, allowing God to pour out his wrath on Jesus, allowing the punishment to still occur, but without us having to suffer it. The problem with this, as Jonathan Brink and other have stated, is we are being saved from God, making him not a very compelling God to love. The governmental theory is similar, emphasizing that Christ's sacrifice allowed God to be both just and merciful at the same time.

The satisfaction theory of atonement is also similar. It takes on a legal tone, whereby Christ's death is paying restitution for the wrongs of man. It "satisfies" the debt we have incurred.

On the other side, there is a ransom theory of atonement. Ultimately, the idea is that the world is under the power of Satan. Christ's death is a ransom to take us out o the power of Satan and back into the hands of God. CS Lewis' depiction of Aslan dying to ransom Edmund essentially depicts this view. The problem here is that this give Satan quite a lot of power, in some ways appearing to have more power over God.

The Christus Victor perspective is often presented along with ransom theory, although there are differences. The idea of this theory is that Christ is victorious against all evil in the world through his death and resurrection, thereby squashing the power of Satan. Gregory Boyd presents a compelling, holistic view of the Christus Victor perspective, though, giving Satan much less power than in the traditional ransom theory. Ed Cyzewski wrote about how Christus Victor can be a response to the limited perspective of substitutionary atonement, while Mark Galli at Christianity today recently posted a piece exploring the limitations of some Christus Victor perspectives.

There's also the moral influence theory, where Christ dies to demonstrate for us the power and importance of love. He is influencing us to live moral, holy lives. This is definitely compelling, as Christ is the model for our spiritual formation. Another variation of it is that it emphasizes God's holiness, goodness, and love rather than simply being a model of good behavior. However, as one of my friends says, this doesn't really explain why Christ's death was necessary. My friend's analogy is that because he loves me, he'll step out in front of a bus and die. Not really useful or necessary.

There are other theories, too, but these are the most prominent ones. The issue is that so often people hold closely to one, disregarding the others. In fact, though, the Bible actually explains the atonement in each of these ways through metaphor. And these theories have each developed in distinct cultural contexts (for instance, penal substitutionary atonement has its roots, from my understanding, in the feudal times when strict legal/forensic understandings of the world were important). Each has their strengths, but each also misses, in my opinion, a big part of the Gospel.

As I mentioned earlier, Brink wrote a book exploring an alternative view of the atonement, which I summarized in my review of the book. He argues that Christ's death was necessary because we humans needed it. Without it, we would not be able to accept God's love for us and subsequent reconciliation. I think there are significant strengths in his theory.

People committed to emphasizing that God must pour out wrath on the world because that is who God is will have problems with that theory. I don't believe God is a God of wrath. God has wrath, but God can also control and not pour it out if he so chooses. The Incarnation itself is a perfect example of God voluntarily limiting his power and choosing to hide his full glory for the sake of reconciliation and love. I don't have a problem with God giving up justice for love. He does that frequently throughout the Bible.

Further, the perspective of wrath that is the root of penal models is rooted in anthropomorphic viewpoints, emphasizing human wrath, which is all about anger and punishment. There are arguments that explain a biblical view of God's wrath is not about anger or punishment and that fearing God does not necessarily equal being afraid of God.

I see a need for constant justice with some payment always occurring being more of a human need, not God's need. We need someone to be punished because then we can control the outcomes and can clearly identify who is where because it's all measurable and behavioral. Life, especially in relationship with God, is not that simple.

Ultimately, the legal twists on atonement seem to present God in a very negative light. He is a God primarily of justice and wrath. In contrast, the moral influence, ransom, and Christus Victor perspectives can emphasize a weak God who is more beholden to Satan and humanity. None of these seems terribly satisfying or encompassing the whole picture of the atonement. Could it be that we may not be meant to fully understand the atonement? Could all of these views be correct?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Pastor and The Psychologist @christianaudio @caReviewers

I'm currently in the middle of listening to the audiobook version of Eugene Peterson's memoir, The Pastor (with a free copy courtesy of christianaudio). I had heard nothing but good things about it, and I have to agree. Since it's a long book (12 hours for the audio), I wanted to post something about how it has impacted me in my vocation as a psychologist.

While the tome focuses on the pastoral vocation, Peterson actually spends a good amount of time exploring the role of mental health and the work of a pastor. He describes how he began working in a rural area with a significant dearth of mental health professionals. A local psychiatrist realized that clergy are usually the first line of defense against mental illness and that most people having emotional problems seek clergy first. This is fact that has been verified many times up to the present, emphasizing the importance of the clergy to know about mental health. In response, the psychiatrist trained a group of a dozen or so clergy members in the basics of mental illness so they could aid with triage and helping get people to needed services.

As a psychologist, I absolutely love this. It's a great way to bridge the artificial divide between psychology and church life while having the practical implication of utilizing resources wisely to help people get the help they need.

Peterson expressed his appreciation for this training. One of the things he noted was that he began approaching his congregation as problems to be solved, diagnoses to be named in order to find the issue and provide a resolution. He did not at all criticize the mental health field for this, but realized that he needed to back up and begin to re-immerse himself in the ambiguities of congregational life (and I would add that solutions are not always possible).

Rather than giving an answer or immediately offering to do something, he explained how he would sometimes just sit with the other person. Or he would ask if they would like him to do anything. He stated this was difficult because providing the answers helps the ego and sense of accomplishment of seeing change happen quickly.

Yet this is not all that different from the work of many psychologists. While there are some people who focus on diagnostics and simple symptom reduction, that is not my calling. There are plenty of psychologists who want to focus on deeper elements than behaviors and labels. While we may have to use that wording at times for billing purposes, many of us do work much closer to what Peterson described of just offering ourselves and our presence to the individual or family.

At this point, the work of a psychologist moves from a job to a vocation. Depending on our orientations, I kept thinking that the best description of my work is being more of a pastoral psychologist than a clinical psychologist. This emphasizes the lack of the de-personalization and impersonalizing work that can often coincide with a more clinical perspective, which Peterson explained was key to his understanding of the danger of seeing his congregation as problems to be solved.

Later on, he describes how a friend, who lived through Nazi Germany, became severely disillusioned with the institution of church, as so many supported Hitler's terror. Peterson beautifully describes how this friend vividly pointed out how the position of pastor could suck all of his life and compassion and heart out, leaving a deadened, sick individual.

This is not so different from the life of a psychologist. The issues of insurance and institutions and diagnoses and money can quickly de-personalize all work, sucking the love and sense of vocation out of the psychologist. I have struggled with this, despite being new in the field. Peterson's work helped me recall and refocus on my reasons for pursuing my vocation.

While I'm only halfway through the book, I would definitely recommend this to all mental health professionals and would love to include it in future classes I may teach to budding clinicians. It reminds us we should not just be pursuing a job, but a vocation.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Recruiting Spiritual Coaches

Below is information from one of the companies I review books for. It looks like something some of you might be interested in, so I wanted to pass it along. Contributing to the spiritual development of others, especially young people, is vitally important.

Are you compassionate and caring?
Are you a good listener?
Do you want to share the message of hope with others?

Groundwire needs you!

GW FB Logo.jpgTeens today can be overwhelmed searching for meaning amidst depressing hopelessness, negative self-image, and the pressure to be perfect. Groundwire, a current and innovative outreach, has become a ministry where teens find comfort, guidance, and answers delivered through multi-media communication. Groundwire leverages media and technology to meet teens exactly where they are — viewing, listening, texting, or chatting — and to invite them to voice their questions and struggles so they can find answers in the message of the Gospel.

The ministry builds its impact through broadcasting that strategically places television and radio spots on secular stations. Teens listening to popular radio broadcasts or viewing favorite shows on networks like MTV, VH1, Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming, and Comedy Central are interrupted by direct spots. These spots catch their attention, resonating with where they are today. Teens responding to the broadcast messages are invited to visit Groundwire’s website where they can chat with a live spiritual coach available day and night, as well as find a collection of resources such as podcasts by Groundwire’s founder and executive director, Sean Dunn, and daily devotionals.

To meet the needs of hurting teenagers across the country, Groundwire is looking for additional online coaches. Are you interested?

FAQ’s regarding volunteer spiritual coaches

What is Groundwire?
Groundwire is an international ministry aimed at broadcasting hope to students all over the world by leveraging the most effective media formats.  Their radio spots are heard on both mainstream and Christian stations and their TV commercials are aired on MTV, VH1 and the Cartoon Network among others.  Each spot points their audience to the Groundwire website where spiritual coaches are available to answer questions, encourage with biblical hope and pray for chatters.

What is the Coaching Line? does not simply offer content, but conversation.  The coaching line is an instant message platform that connects chatters with trained coaches in order to provide one-to-one real time conversation.   Volunteers all over the world offer their time and talents in order to meet the needs of those searching.

Who is capable of being a spiritual coach?
Spiritual coaches are sold-out Believers who are committed to the Great Commission and love people.  They realize that although they are not perfect, God can and desires to speak through them and they realize that technology offers amazing opportunities to minister to people all over the world.  Coaches need to be over eighteen and willing to submit to a background check and go through the necessary training. 

What are some of the needed qualities of a coach?
Compassionate, teachable, good listener, sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading, patient, resilient and authentic.

What type of commitment are you looking for?
The typical coach offers two to four hours weekly on line, however some offer up to ten.  Coaches set their own schedule on a monthly basis and coordinate with team leaders to offer the line sufficient coverage.

Can I coach from home?
Once a coach has been trained and given their log in information they can offer support from any location with internet connectivity.

Who would I be talking to?
Although Groundwire media buys are aimed at youth and young adults, and the majority of chats are in that age range, chatters have ranged from eleven to sixty-seven years of age and from over one hundred countries.  The issues are very diverse ranging from the extremely depressed and suicidal person to the fifteen year old who is struggling with relationships.

What does the training look like?
Training begins when an application is completed and returned to the Director of Coaching.  From that point the majority of training is done online and consists of learning how to deal with the different types of conversations that might take place. There are a series of written responses that take place in email format and then an online mock chat as well.

What type of oversight is offered?
In order to protect the integrity of the Groundwire mission and message, layers of organization and accountability are built into our procedures.  Coaches are encouraged and offered additional training on an ongoing basis.   Each chat is read to protect volunteers from accusations of inappropriate behavior as well as to ensure a consistent message is being presented.  Each coach is assigned a team lead that will act as a mentor in an ongoing manner.

How will this benefit me as a person?
Seeing God speak through you to comfort someone who is struggling builds your confidence.  On top of that the skills and discernment you will discover as you serve the Lord in this type of face to face ministry translate into your everyday life and the other areas where you serve.

Let your audience know how they can become Groundwire spiritual coaches!

For more information or to get download an application,

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Eternal Punishment May Not Be Biblical

On the heels of the over-debated topic of hell thanks to Rob Bell and inflammatory comments by The Gospel Coalition, I have been thinking a bit about the emphasis many of us put on punishment and how we see that played out in our theology.

Uber-liberals have been known to profess universal reconciliation, in which all people spend eternity with God in heaven. Uber-conservatives are known to say that is heretical, as all people who do not explicitly profess Christ as Lord and Savior are doomed to eternal conscious torment in hell. The conscious part in conservative theology is important as some faiths say that people will continue to live on, including apart from God, but will essentially be asleep. This view is not accepted by the more conservative branches.

And then there's a variety in between, namely some form of annihilationism. In this perspective, those who do not have a relationship with God (and of course different people argue this is defined differently, but we won't get into that part here) will eventually cease to exist at all. In other words, they are annihilated.

Some annihilationists think this complete death will occur upon earthly death. Others say there will be a time of punishment in hell, followed by annihilation. Then there's the people who think that some people will go through a time of punishment and then be able to be reconciled to God, sort of like purgatory.

When we think of punishment both psychologically and biblically, it is used to correct. It helps people learn and grow or to purify people. There is no support for punishment for the sake of punishment. Revenge is clearly frowned upon frequently.

Even when people made serious errors causing very long situations where they were indebted to others, God created the Jubilee, giving everyone a second chance.

Take this principle about the philosophy of punishment and apply it to the afterlife. Eternal conscious torment with no hope of release has no grounds for purification or for helping people learn and change. Punishment just prior to being annihilated has the same situation. Both of these sound more like torture than punishment. And God is not a God of torture nor would condone torture.

In contrast, punishment post-death with a hope of post-mortem repentance has the element of true punishment--moving toward change. Therefore, this perspective or immediate annihilation actually seem to make the most sense if we consider what the purpose of punishment is...

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Need for Radical Discipleship @christianaudio @caReviewers

The idea of discipleship is a hot topic right now, as is the idea of being a "radical" follower of Christ. Different people have different takes on what discipleship and radical actually mean. In what may be his last book, John Stott writes about what he has learned is the nature of a radical disciple in The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of our Calling. He addresses eight topics: nonconformity, Christlikeness, maturity, creation care, simplicity, balance, dependence, and death.

Each of these topics have been discussed often ad nauseum, particularly in the social justice and missional literature. Add to that the spiritual formation works, and there was very little I heard in the book that hadn't been said elsewhere (and often said better, to be honest). It was not a bad book; it just didn't seem all that radical to me.

The lack of radicalness (is that a word?) may be because the ideas don't seem all that new or that Stott uses more formal language that fits his older British Anglican heritage. Just this reaction itself may be important for us to evaluate how we define radical. At what point do we see radical as ordinary because we are numb to it or bored with it? Do we always need to change what is radical in order to be radical? Should we always be radical?

I thought the final chapters on dependence and death, though, were particularly interesting and insightful. Stott accurately noted that most people do just about everything in their power in order to not be burdens on others. He noted that we are meant to be burdens on one another in order to foster interdependence. I've never heard anyone say that before, but I would agree.

Stott's text (or audio, as I experienced it) was not earth-shattering in my experience, but is a nice short summary of what one person sees as radical discipleship. One of the things I appreciated was that he noted that his form of discipleship may not be applicable to all people, but that we should all seek our own discipleship. That acknowledges and emphasizes the importance of personal application.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this audiobook in exchange for a review (with no obligation for a positive review).


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).