Endgame and the End

A version of this post originally appeared at Conciliar Post.

Disney+ is something of a temptation, especially for those of us who are Star Wars and Marvel nerds. Want to binge your absolute favorite shows? Now, I don’t even have to find my DVDs–they’re right on my phone or TV in HD perfection. This had lead (as you might expect) to my watching (and re-watching) my favorite films from the MCU. I only saw Endgame once in theaters, but have probably watched it four or five times now.1

On each subsequent rewatch, something stands out quite clearly during the first half of the film: Endgame says quite a bit about the process of grieving. Many of the film’s other tropes and lessons have been rigorously discussed (often in concert with other MCU films), but I have yet to see any substantive discussion about what Endgame communicates about how people grieve and respond to loss.2 In this article, I want to explore what Endgame tells us about the end and the various ways that people respond to death and loss.

The OG Avengers and Grief

It’s well noted that the six original Avengers survive Thanos’s snap at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. While many of the newer rising stars of the MCU crumble into dust, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye, and Black Widow all survive the snap. Each of the original Avengers (along with some other, albeit lesser,3 members of the team) is left to pick up the pieces of their shattered world. In the aftermath of their revenge visit to Thanos and the realization that their friends are really gone, the behavior of each OG Avenger follows a grief-type.

Captain America, whom we first see facilitating a support group in New York, uses his pain to help others come to terms with what has happened. Cap casts the grief of the snap as an opportunity for redemption, encouraging people to do the hard work of finding their “new normal” amidst loss (although he privately confides to Black Widow that he’s personally struggling to follow his own advice).

Similarly, Black Widow throws herself into her work, although it’s less of a support group than mission control for those who are left.4 We are not given much insight into Natasha’s interior life, but her focus on the ongoing mission and her desire to fix things (even seemingly unfixable under-ocean earthquakes) suggests that she’s throwing herself into her work to keep her from fixating on what has happened.

Although we don’t see Hawkeye’s reaction until later in the film, once he appears we learn rather quickly that he has chosen the path of anger. Clint expresses his grief through murderous rage (though directed only toward cartels and organized crime). He has lost his family and, since he cannot fix that, he lashes out against those who have survived who were not worthy of survival.

In response to the snap and (especially) the loss of Peter Parker, Iron Man doubles down on his commitment to family, devoting his life to the family he has left. In what are undoubtedly some of the more touching scenes of an already-emotional movie, we witness his clear love for his daughter Morgan. Tony realizes that he’s lost someone important, and he’s (initially, at least) not willing to risk what he has left.

Bruce Banner, a.k.a The Incredible Hulk, takes the path of self-betterment following the snap. He remakes himself, creating through hard work and dedication his new life as the “Credible Hulk.” Banner becomes a mix of the best parts of his two personas, maintaining his appearance as the muscled Hulk without the accompanying personality of the enormous green rage-monster.

And finally, we have Thor. After decapitating Thanos in a fit of rage, the God of Thunder manifests his feelings of failure and loss by trying to escape reality, very nearly losing himself in gluttony, entertainment, and the abandonment of responsibility. Although much of the pop culture response to “Fat Thor” has been one of approval, the character is clearly teetering on the edge of self-destructive tendencies and tremendous grief.

Some Takeaways

Our OG Avengers thus respond to their grief through the paths of helping others, immersing themselves in work, anger, recommitment to what’s important, self-improvement, and escapism. These portrayals are far too clear to be unintentional; clearly, we are meant to learn that there are many ways forward through the grief journey that follows trauma and loss. Each of these approaches are real ways that people deal with loss, pain, grief, and death in real life. Our favorite superheroes stand in our places for a moment, but these are paths that each of us can choose when we face loss in our lives.

Of course, we are also expected to see that not every manifestation of grief is a positive one. Although there is little explicit explanation, values are certainly being communicated. Cap’s desire to help others and Tony’s commitment to family are clearly models to be followed. The Hulk and Black Widow follow paths that are largely positive, although they may veer too close to clichés to be a real help to most grieving people. Finally, the routes of rage and escapism taken by Hawkeye and Thor only lead to negative consequences—roads that even superheroes ought not walk down for very long.

There are, of course, many other lessons that we can take from Avengers: Endgame when it comes to grief, loss, and the healing process. For instance, one extremely significant lesson that the film’s time-hop unfortunately obviates is that grief takes time. Five years after the snap, some people are on the right track—but everyone is still bearing the scars of what happened. There are no magic “get over it” moments with grief. Loss is loss. Death is death. Heartbreak is heartbreak. Time helps, but it doesn’t fully heal.

Similarly, the way that our heroes emerge from their various grief journeys is telling, as it’s only together that they can make sense of what happened and do something to fix it. This is, of course, one of the major themes of the entire MCU and Avengers franchise: we should face challenges to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness together, whether that togetherness entails winning or losing. And it’s in their togetherness that the Avengers truly make their last stand against Thanos—one imbued with the power of sacrificial love. From the Marvel-Trinity of Cap, Iron Man, and Thor tag-teaming Thanos to the climactic moment of the critical final battle, where everyone has a role to play, everyone supports one another, and one hero makes the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of all the others, love for one another is what brings an end to the grief of the snap.

There’s a lesson to be learned there too; not that movies based on comic books can’t deliver truly meaningful lessons or messages to a complex and contentious world. Things like love for another other can make our world less complex, less contentious, and less grief-filled than they are today. Now, isn’t that a story worth thinking about?


Notes

1 For the sake of full disclosure, I have long been a fan of Marvel’s creative storytelling, from their early use of intertextuality (or inter-screen-ality) to their character development (for heroes at least), and from their encapsulation of important moral lessons to their pop culture hilarity. Others have said it better than I, but the MCU is truly an impressive technical, storytelling, and economic accomplishment.

2 Here I should note that I have trawled the depths of the internet for any possible source. Additionally, of course, we must note that Spider-Man: Far from Home is itself in many ways an extension of this reflection on grief, as a major trope of the film is how Peter comes to terms with Mr. Stark’s death.

3 Deus ex Captain Marvel not withstanding.

4 The “throw yourself at your work” approach also seems to be the preferred option of the non-core Avengers as well, as each prioritizes focus on their mission during the grief stage of Endgame.

Book Review: Galatians: Freedom Through God’s Grace

Paul’s letter to the Galatians has long held a place of importance for those seeking to understand the power of the Gospel. One of the first books of the New Testament to be written, Galatians forcefully presents many of the Apostle Paul’s most central ideas and themes of grace and justification, displaying in brief, impassioned terms the theological categories and concepts that would find later expression in his letters to Rome and Corinth. If one hopes to understand the message of Christianity, Galatians offers a worthy starting point.

It was therefore with eager anticipation that I engaged Phillip Long’s Galatians: Freedom Through God’s Grace. And indeed, I walked away informed, encouraged, and impressed.

This is no technical commentary thickly layered with Greek exegesis, nor is it the kind of sweeping systematic commentary that one might expect a preacher to regularly consult. Rather, this is a reader’s commentary, the kind of book that any inquisitive Christian mind can bring with them as they thoughtfully engage Galatians.

Long’s prose is clear and compelling; his structure, simple and easy to follow. Readers are informed, without being overwhelmed, by historical details, the nuances of Greek, and the history of scholarship. Long includes snippets of those things, of course, but in ways that illuminate the text rather than insulate it from understanding.

The commentary proceeds section by section, with each section’s chapter including an introduction, conclusion, and discussion questions. Each section is divided into pericopes, and important aspects of each pericope are commented on. Footnotes to secondary literature are limited, but helpful when included. As with other commentaries, this one is best read next to an open Bible; unlike many other commentaries, however, you can actually consult this book section by section alongside your reading of Scripture.

Especially noteworthy is Long’s treatment of the chronology of Galatians and Acts. For those invested in understanding any biblical writing, there are few pieces of context more important than the audience and setting of a writing. In a reasoned but non-argumentative manner, Long suggests that Paul wrote Galatians before the Jerusalem Council described in Acts 15. While this is not a majority position among contemporary New Testament scholars, the book’s argument is clear and compelling, and Long suggests a chronology that provides useful answers for some of the otherwise difficult parts of Paul’s letter.

In short, I want more commentaries like this; commentaries that are at once brief and helpful for the busy academic or pastor, while also accessible for the lay reader. This is the kind of slim book that’s worth its weight in gold for those who are engaging Galatians, whether for the first time or the hundredth. In terms of audience, this is not a commentary for the technical preacher or graduate student working in the minutiae of Galatians. However, it is an exceedingly helpful volume for the vast majority of people who want to better understand Galatians, be they pastors, small group leaders, or new Christians. I plan to use this commentary in the future as I lead groups through Galatians, and I know readers of all backgrounds and purposes will benefit greatly from Long’s insights.

Phillip J. Long, Galatians: Freedom through God’s Grace (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2019), 156 pages. I received a complimentary copy of this volume in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Difficult Dialogue in Distressing Days

This post originally appeared at Conciliar Post.

Another week, another round of things for people to vehemently and caustically disagree about. Whether it’s politics, economics, social issues, or religious news, we can’t seem to disagree with one another fast enough. We’ll pick up a cause and champion it for a time, only to have something else catch our attention and demand our outspoken criticism or support. Why can’t we seem to see eye to eye?

Obviously, worldview divergences stand at the heart of some disagreement. You and I (and everyone else) see the world in differing ways, which leads us to come to different conclusions or explanations for the various crises occurring in our time.

But I wonder if there’s a deeper issue at work too. An anonymous quote came across my newsfeed the other day, one that I think summarizes our current predicament well:

“Being taught to avoid talking about politics and religion has led to a lack of understanding about politics and religion. What we should have been taught was how to have a civil conversation about a difficult topic.”

We’ve been taught to avoid having difficult conversations for so long that we’ve actually forgotten how to have those conversations (or never knew how to have them in the first place). We fight and quarrel amongst ourselves so readily because we don’t have the ability to have productively difficult conversations with one another. Now, I’m not the first person to point this out. Indeed, one of the major reasons that Conciliar Post was founded was to provide a space for thoughtful, faithful people to have difficult discussions. Promoting “meaningful dialogue across traditions” is what we’re all about.

But this leaves open the question of how. How do we have meaningful dialogue in today’s world? How can we make sense of our world while challenging other people in loving ways? I want to offer eight suggestions:

  1. Listen in order to understand. Instead of hearing what someone else has to say for the primary purpose of defeating their position, we must learn to listen to others in order to understand what they are actually trying to communicate. Only then can we productively explain our own viewpoint.1
  2. Listen to people with whom you disagree. Pay attention to people who think differently than you.2 Read their books. Listen to their podcasts. Subscribe to their blogs. Follow them on social media. Take them seriously. Don’t offer strawmen—engage what real people really have to say.
  3. Reflect. This might be the hardest thing to do in our social media age. Everyone wants news and reactions immediately. Immediately. Eschew the fixation on immediacy (and the posturing that comes along with it) and take a moment to reflect on what is actually going on before making a judgment about it. As human beings, we’re mostly terrible at making complex snap judgments. Take a moment to think before you engage.
  4. Verify your facts. I take it back—this is the hardest thing to do in our social media age. It’s so easy to share something that gets our blood boiling without ever pausing to see if that information is true. Last week, in the wake of the horrible violence in El Paso, Dayton, and other places, my social media feeds filled with people spouting statistics about gun violence (from both sides of the aisle, mind you). Almost no one provided any sort of verification. Sure, saying that there has been more than one mass shooting in America per day sounds enticing and horrible—but is it true? No one wants to be disseminating fake news, so make sure that you’re verifying your facts.
  5. Commit to civility. Make the decision not to debase people, engage in ad hominem attacks, interact disrespectfully, or otherwise use the relative anonymity of the internet to say horrible things about other people. Just don’t. Seek a more excellent way and communicate with other people respectfully. And on that note….
  6. Have face-to-face conversations. Don’t just interact with other people online—have face-to-face conversations with people. Get out of your bubble. Grab coffee with someone. Have people over for dinner (have your neighbors over for dinner!). Have conversations with people with whom you agree—and with whom you disagree.
  7. Do something. Don’t just share a post on social media and think that you’ve meaningfully contributed to the resolution of a problem. Do something about it. Hashtag activism that doesn’t lead to actual action is nothing short of hypocrisy. Now, you obviously can’t fix every problem; but you can do something about some issue or issues. So do it. Get involved.
  8. Pray. In my less charitable moments, I wonder how many of us say things like “you’re in my thoughts and prayers” and then never give the person or situation another meaningful thought—let alone pray for what’s going on. Don’t get me wrong; I understand and appreciate the sentiment. But as followers of the risen Jesus, our prayers must not be meaningless platitudes. We must actually throw ourselves before God in prayer. You think abortion is evil? You think mass shootings need to end? You’re not pleased with a government official? When was the last time you prayed about those things? Are you consistently bringing them before God? The people of God must bring their concerns to Him in prayer, not just in platitudes.

Will these practices and approaches solve all the world’s problems? No. Only the Second Coming of our Lord will do that.3 But committing ourselves to having productively difficult conversations in these ways will help us make better sense of our world—and enable us to serve as faithful and fruitful lights within it.

What about you: what practices and approaches help you productively dialogue with other people?


Notes

1 Relatedly, much of our media intentionally perverts this idea. Dramatic films or shows are often all about perceived (rather than real) problems that could easily be solved through conversation. Even our sports news is now filled with dramatic talking heads whose sole purpose seems to be shouting at one another rather than having an actual conversation with another person.

2 This doesn’t mean that you have to listen to everyone of course. But finding a couple of well-respected voices from “the other side” is an excellent discipline. Robert P. George and Cornel West are a fantastic example of this.

3 A fact that, it seems, Christians must do a better job of remembering in the public square when we promote this or that cause as the thing that will turn society around. As Jesus reminds us in John 16:33, in this world there will be trials and tribulations.

Books I Read in 2020

As many of you know, I love reading. So each year, I commit to reading as much and as widely as possible and (as a means of remembering everything I’ve read and holding myself accountable to my reading goals) I track the books I’ve read each year. (Click here to see what I read in 2019)

Now, a couple of notes before my list. First, I read a fair amount of churchworld and theology, so don’t read this as a “what you should read” list. Second, I continue to push myself to read more fiction, so those works are separated from non-fiction in my reckoning.

Third, please note a couple of special markers. My favorite books (and the one’s I recommend you consider reading) are marked with an asterisk and hyperlinked. Additionally, the books I’d read prior to this year but re-read are marked with a [re-read] notation.

Finally, my goal the past several years has been to read 150 books (~3/week). There were moments this year when I was not sure that was going to be possible (I worked more hours in 2020 than in 2019, at least in part due to COVID). However, I’m pleased to say that this year’s list of books read includes 170 titles completed.

So, without further ado, what I read in 2020 (presented in chronological order of reading):

Non-Fiction

  • Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl
  • The Name of God is Mercy, Pope Francis
  • Crazy Busy, DeYoung*
  • Talking to Strangers, Gladwell*
  • How to Lead in a World of Distraction, Scroggins*
  • The Rise of Rome, Everitt
  • The Parables of Jesus, Jeremias
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Kondo
  • Short Stories by Jesus, Levine
  • Something Needs to Change, Platt
  • The Benedict Option, Dreher*
  • Hope in the Dark, Groeschel
  • The Point of It All, Krauthammer
  • The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Maxwell
  • Unfreedom of the Press, Levin
  • Color Outside the Lines, Hendricks
  • The Case for Jesus, Pitre*
  • The Infinite Game, Sinek
  • Cur Deus Homo, Anselm [re-read]
  • The Secret Lives of Color, St. Clair*
  • Preaching Parables to Postmoderns, Stiller
  • Our Father, Pope Francis
  • Who Was Jesus?, Morgan
  • Fifty Great American Places, Glass
  • Almost Everything: Notes on Hope, Lamott
  • The Joy of Discipleship, Pope Francis
  • The Parables of Jesus, Schottroff [re-read]
  • Speaking Parables, Buttrick
  • Preaching the Parables, Blomberg
  • A Diary of Private Prayer, Baillie [re-read]
  • The Devil in the White City, Larson*
  • The Right Side of History, Shapiro
  • Divine Direction, Groeschel
  • The Big Short, Lewis
  • You Are Not Special, McCullough Jr.*
  • Love Does, Goff
  • I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Channing Brown
  • Everything Happens for a Reason an Other Lies I’ve Lived, Bowler*
  • Purple Cow, Godin
  • The Liturgy of the Ordinary, Warren *
  • Erasing Hell, Chan and Sprinkle
  • How to Hide an Empire, Immerwahr*
  • K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches, Kepner
  • Parables for Preachers: Year A, Reid [re-read]
  • Out of the Treasure: The Parables in the Gospel of Matthew, Lambrecht [re-read]
  • Failing Forward, Maxwell
  • Sitting at the Feed of Rabbi Jesus, Spangler and Tverberg
  • Planting: Principles for Starting New Churches, Bustle and Crocker
  • Follow Me, Platt
  • The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, Maxwell
  • Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace for Us, Sprinkle*
  • Liar’s Poker, Lewis
  • Death on a Friday Afternoon, Neuhaus
  • Rooting for Rivals, Greer and Horst*
  • The Explicit Gospel, Chandler and Wilson
  • The Road to Character, Brooks
  • The 5 Levels of Leadership, Maxwell
  • Passion: The Bright Light of Glory, Giglio et al
  • Range, Epstein
  • The Bomb, Kaplan
  • 360 Degree Reading, Esler
  • The Oxford Handbook of Prayer, ed. Appleton
  • Boundaries: Updated and Expanded, Cloud and Townsend
  • The Clash of Civilizations, Huntington
  • Streams of Living Water, Foster
  • The Externally Focused Church, Rusaw and Swanson
  • Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times, Steinke
  • Euthyphro, Plato [re-read]
  • Apology, Plato
  • Seven Lessons for Leading in Crisis, George
  • Crito, Plato
  • Phaedo, Plato
  • Leading Change, Kotter [re-read]
  • The Twelve Caesars, Suetonius
  • 40 Days Living the Jesus Creed, McKnight
  • The Apostles’ Creed: Together We Believe, Chandler
  • The Creed, Bauman [re-read]
  • Finding the Right Hills to Die On, Ortlund*
  • Surprised by Scripture, Wright*
  • Call Sign Chaos, Mattis
  • A Little Book for New Preachers, Kim
  • The Lean Startup, Ries
  • Friendship, Denworth
  • The Lost Art of Scripture, Armstrong
  • To Be a Christian, Approved Edition*
  • Dark Agenda, Horowitz
  • The MVP Machine, Lindbergh
  • 1, 2, 3 John (NAC), Akin
  • Old Testament Legends, James
  • The Great Bridge, McCulloch
  • A Brief History of Time, Hawking
  • United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity, Newbell
  • 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus For Everyone, Wright
  • The First One Hundred Years of Christianity, Schnelle
  • Educated, Westover*
  • The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Douglass
  • Waco: A Survivor Story, Thibodeau
  • The Splendid and the Vile, Larson*
  • Inspired, Held Evans
  • The Next Evangelism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity, Rah
  • Canoeing the Mountains, Bolsinger*
  • Jesus among Other Gods, Zacharias
  • The History Buff’s Guide to the Presidents, Flagel
  • Until Every Child Is Home, Chipman
  • You’ll Get Through This, Lucado
  • The Church of Mercy, Pope Francis
  • Gospel Allegiance, Bates*
  • Crossing the Ling: Culture, Race, and Kingdom, Burns
  • Just Mercy, Stevenson*
  • God is Not Great, Hitchens
  • The Drama of Scripture, Bartholomew and Goheen [re-read]*
  • Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Tippett
  • The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, Comer*
  • The Screwtape Letters, Lewis [re-read]*
  • Compassion and Conviction, Giboney, Wear, and Butler*
  • Genesis: A Translation and Commentary, Alter
  • Happiness in This Life, Pope Francis
  • Genesis 1-15 (WBC), Wenham
  • The Shame and the Sacrifice: The Life and Martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Robertson
  • The Soul of Science, Pearcey and Thaxton
  • An Unconventional God, Levison
  • Raising White Kids, Harvey
  • Boundaries for Leaders, Cloud
  • Recreatable, Scott [re-read]
  • Survive or Thrive, Dodd
  • The New Testament: A Translation, Hart
  • 3000 Questions about Me, Piccadilly
  • The Need for Creeds Today, Fesko
  • God Wins, Galli
  • Isaiah: Life Change, NavPress
  • Boomerang: The Power of Effective Guest Follow Up, Smith and Hofmeyer
  • Isaiah (TOTC), Motyer [re-read]
  • The Book of Isaiah, Young
  • Isaiah: NIVAC, Oswalt [re-read]
  • The History of the Ancient World, Wise Bauer
  • Letters to a Young Pastor, Peterson and Peterson*
  • Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends, VanHoozer
  • The Maxwell Daily Reader, Maxwell
  • The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Butterfield*
  • The Forgotten God, Chan

Fiction

  • Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck
  • Dave Berry’s Greatest Hits, Barry
  • Thrawn: Alliance, Zahn
  • Lost Stars, Gray
  • Beowulf, trans. Gummere
  • Thrawn: Treason, Zahn
  • New Dawn, Miller
  • Tarkin, Luceno
  • Remembering, Berry*
  • Lords of the Sith, Kemp
  • Star Wars: Aftermath, Wendig
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Rowling [re-read]
  • Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, Rice
  • World War Z, Brooks
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Rowling [re-read]
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Rowling [re-read]
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Rowling [re-read]
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Rowling [re-read]
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Rowling [re-read]
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rowling [re-read]
  • The End of October, Wright
  • The Magician’s Nephew, Lewis [re-read]
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lewis [re-read]
  • Prince Caspian, Lewis [re-read]
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lewis [re-read]
  • The Horse and His Boy, Lewis [re-read]
  • The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Collins
  • The Silver Chair, Lewis [re-read]
  • The Last Battle, Lewis [re-read]
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: A Clash of Kings, Martin
  • Till We Have Faces, Lewis

Acts of Baptism

This post originally appeared at Conciliar Post.

As anyone even somewhat familiar with Christianity knows, various Christian denominations have different, specific approaches to baptism—that all important rite involving water and the Holy Spirit.

Depending on its theological commitments, a church may expect the person being baptized to be an adult (or, at least old enough to make a conscious decision to be baptized), to be fully immersed in water (rather than sprinkled or poured upon), to be triple immersed (rather than once), to have undergone rigorous catechesis prior to baptism, to manifest miraculous spiritual gifts (before or after), or to fulfill any number of other practices. It really depends on the church. I once spoke to someone who seemed to believe that the only true way to be baptized was to be triple immersed while wearing a white gown in the cool running water of the river near their church.

In principle, Christians taking Jesus’ command to baptize seriously should be celebrated; in practice, however, our obsession with making sure that everyone is baptized our way—the right way—poses some problems.

Some Problems with Right Way Obsession

In the first place, there is the problem of rebaptism. Many people enter a new church having already been baptized. Or at least, under the impression that they were already baptized. That is, until someone convinces them their previous baptism was invalid and they should be baptized the right way. While there are probably some circumstances where a serious discussion about rebaptism may be permissible, making rebaptism commonplace seems to oppose the very unity that the Apostle Paul calls the Church to in Ephesians 4:1-6.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. [Emphasis added]

Second, a focus on making sure that everyone has been baptized the right way potentially corrupts what baptism is. Romans 6:1-4 closely identifies the effects of baptism with the salvific work of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Orthodox Christians of all denominations confess that salvation comes through this work of Jesus and is granted to humanity by God’s grace. To then turn around and assume, as certain denominations do, that baptism must be undertaken in a highly specific manner undercuts that message of grace. It’s like saying, “Yes, Jesus graciously offers you life, but only if you do the right (baptismal) works to get there.”

Finally, a focus on making sure everyone has been baptized the right way tends to be utterly confusing for congregants. This is particularly true for those who are new to faith, on the fringes of belief, or in the process of changing churches. In some contexts, the emphasis on being baptized the right way can even lead people to question their relationship with God—or to doubt someone else’s relationship with God. Beyond the differences in how different denominations baptize, such confusion can lead people to question the value of baptism itself.

Right Way versus Big Tent

Although nothing apart from the Second Coming is likely to get Christians on the same page when it comes to baptismal practice, I think there is an approach to baptism that is scriptural and can help cut through some of the problems fostered by a right way approach to baptism. I call this perspective the big tent approach to Christian baptism.

The big tent approach to baptism recognizes the internal diversity of baptismal practices recorded within scripture and recognizes as valid differing contemporary baptismal practices when they conform to the diversity of these scriptural models. This approach fits best in a big tent approach to Christianity more generally; but it is also tenable in ecclesiastical contexts that work with the diversity of contemporary Christian instruction and practice.1 Indeed, many denominations already practice this kind of big tent thinking when it comes to baptism.

Acts of Baptism

The book of Acts serves as the best example of the big tent approach. Luke records about ten distinct narratives of baptism in Acts2 and, although there are clear theological parameters governing these baptisms, no two are precisely alike. Consider that:

  • Some baptisms occur “in the name of Jesus Christ” (8.5-13; 10.44-48; 19.1-5), others appear to be “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (8.36-38), and still others are silent on the matter of “in whom” people are baptized.
  • At least one baptism narrative is preceded by repentance of sin (2.37-41), another seems to make confession of faith central (8.36-38), another baptismal narrative is preceded by speaking tongues (10.44-48), and still others focus on the importance of belief (8.5-13; 16.13-15; 16.27-34).
  • Some water baptisms precede the baptism of the Holy Spirit (19.1-5), other times the Holy Spirit is poured out before water (9.17-19; 10.44-48), and many times water baptism is not explicitly connected to the baptism of the Spirit.
  • Finally, some passages record individual baptisms (8.36-38) while others use household language (10.44-48; 16.13-15; 16.27-34; 18.5-8) that, if nothing else, set the stage for infant baptism.

Clearly Acts records significant diversity of baptismal practice in the early church. Why then are contemporary Christians so committed to picking-and-choosing a handful of these examples (or other New Testament references to baptism) and interpreting them as the right way to baptize? A big tent approach better reflects the diversity of practice within the New Testament itself—as well as Christ’s prayer for unity among His followers.

Conclusion

The New Testament consistently portrays baptism as an essential3 part of what it means to follow Jesus—as a matter of obedience to the command of Jesus (Matt. 28.18-20), as a sign of entrance into God’s new covenantal family (Gal. 3.27; Col. 2.12; 1 Cor. 12.13), and as a seemingly salvific act of God’s grace (1 Pet. 3.21; see also Mark 16.16). What the New Testament does not portray as essential is the precise method of baptism; to the contrary, a variety of specific practices seem to be affirmed. Accordingly, Christians should baptize new believers in a manner consistent with New Testament models and recognize as valid baptisms by other Christians that fit these big tent parameters.

God’s work through baptism is a gracious gift, one we should continue to celebrate, practice, and reflect upon. In the spirit of Christian unity, however, we should adopt a big tent approach to recognizing the validity of baptism at the hands of others. For scripture itself suggests that we make our acts of baptism a little less about us and a little more about the God who is at work in His people.


Notes

1 For instance, the increasingly common practice by many denominations to recognize the seminary degrees, communion practices, or theological perspectives of other denominations.

2 Depending on how you subdivide narratives.

3 Here, of course, we must draw the distinction between essential and required. If we take Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross seriously, then we cannot expect that no one who has not been baptized belongs to the family of God. Still, exceptional theology should not undermine normative theology. Accordingly, it’s appropriate to confirm the long-standing practice that every person who is able who follows Jesus should be baptized.

300 Books for the Educated Christian Mind

As a follower of Jesus, I believe it’s important to love God with all of who we are: our hearts, souls, and minds. Much has been said about this last aspect of our humanity, most of it better than I could say it here. But as I pursue veritas with my life and mind, some of my most constant and fruitful conversation partners have been good books.

The more I learn and experience, the more I’m convinced that you cannot know where you are or who are without knowing where you come from. To those ends, I find it absolutely vital to read, to engage with the great minds and thinkers of our world. So I’ve compiled a list (I’m big into lists) of key books for the educated Christian mind.

Before diving in, a couple of caveats: first, this is a specialized list, one tailored for a particular worldview that’s interested in the life of the mind. I don’t think that everyone should read all of these books (though there are quite a few that I think everyone would benefit from engaging). Second, this is a list for American Christians. As such, at points it touches on particular viewpoints or issues that are of particular importance in the context of contemporary American Christianity. Finally, this list takes seriously the great tradition of liberal arts and broad learning. Accordingly, while clear emphasis is given to particular realms of inquiry, the hope is that by completing the list, one will have both breadth and depth on many subjects.

One final framework before the list: there are three major influences on the creation of this list. First, there are the Great Books of Western Civilization. Scholars will continue to debate the canon and it’s ongoing relevance or evolution. Here, we’re interested in learning from the greats. The second influence are the Classics of Christian Orthodoxy. These are the great books and works of the Christian Tradition, of which there is certainly some overlap with the general Western canon, but which here includes a more intentional theological bent. And finally, there are some Key Contemporary Texts. These are works that, while they may not possess the staying power of the great traditions, nonetheless are informative and indicative for particular questions or topics facing the Christian mind today.

Those frames in mind, here’s my list of 300 Books for the Educated Christian Mind.

TITLEAUTHOR
1984George Orwell
20,000 Leagues Under the SeaH.G. Wells
A Brief History of TimeStephen Hawking
A Christmas CarolCharles Dickens
A Conflict of VisionsThomas Sowell
A Farewell to ArmsErnest Hemingway
A History of the English Speaking PeoplesWinston Churchill
A Little Exercise for Young TheologiansHelmut Thielicke
A Long Obedience in the Same DirectionEugene Peterson
A Tale of Two CitiesCharles Dickens
A Wrinkle in TimeMadeleine L’Engle
Against HeresiesIrenaeus of Lyons
AgamemnonAeschylus
Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandLewis Carroll
AlmagestPtolemy
An Experiment in CriticismC.S. Lewis
Analytical PsychologyCarl Jung
Animal FarmGeorge Orwell
AnnalsTacitus
Antiquities of the JewsJosephus
Apologia Pro Vita SuaJohn Henry Cardinal Newman
ApologyJustin Martyr
ApologyPlato
As You Like ItWilliam Shakespeare
BeowulfUnknown
Beyond Good and EvilFrederich Nietzsche
BoundariesHenry Cloud and David Townsend
Brave New WorldAldous Huxley
BreviloquiumBonaventure
Brothers KaramazovFyodor Dostoyevsky
Catch-22Joseph Heller
Catching FireSuzanne Collins
Celebration of DisciplineRichard Foster
Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryRoald Dahl
Charlotte’s WebE.B. White
Christ and CultureRichard Niebuhr
Christianity: The First Three Thousand YearsDiarmaid MacCulloch
City of GodAugustine of Hippo
Cloud AtlasDavid Mitchell
CloudsAristophanes
Commentary on the Our FatherTertullian of Carthage
ConfessionsAugustine of Hippo
ConfessionsJean-Jacque Rousseau
Consolation of PhilosophyBoethius
CosmosCarl Sagan
Crime and PunishmentFyodor Dostoyevsky
Critique of Pure ReasonImmanual Kant
CritoPlato
Das CapitalKarl Marx
David CopperfieldCharles Dickens
De AnimaAristotle
Democracy in AmericaAleix de Tocqueville
DialoguePope Gregory the Great
Discourse on MethodRene Descartes
DiscoursesEpictetus
Don QuixoteMiguel De Cervantes
DuneFrank Herbert
Early History of RomeLivy
East of EdenJohn Steinbeck
Ecclesiastical HistoryEusebius of Caesarera
Ecclesiastical History of the English PeopleVenerable Bede
ElementsEuclid
Emotional IntelligenceDaniel Goleman
Ender’s GameOrson Scott Card
Epitome IVJohannus Kepler
EssaysMichelle de Montaigne
EssaysRalph Waldo Emerson
EuthyphroPlato
Faerie QueenEdmund Spencer
Fahrenheit 451Ray Bradbury
FaustJohann Wolfgang von Goethe
Fear and TremblingSoren Kierkegaard
Finnegans WakeRunyard Kipling
Four Hundred Chapters on LoveMaximus the Confessor
Four QuartetsT.S. Eliot
Foxes Book of MartyrsJohn Foxe
FrankensteinMary Shelley
Go Down, MosesWilliam Faulker
Good to GreatJim Collins
GorgiasPlato
Great ExpectationsCharles Dickens
Guide for the PerplexedMaimonides
Gulliver’s TravelsJonathan Swift
HamletWilliam Shakespeare
HamletWilliam Shakespeare
Harry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsJ.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Deathly HallowsJ.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireJ.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceJ.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Order of the PhoenixJ.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of AzkabanJ.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s StoneJ.K. Rowling
HatchetGary Paulsen
Help, Thanks, WowAnne Lamott
HippolytusEuripides
HistoriesHerodotus
How Then Should We Live?Francis Schaeffer
How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleDale Carnegie
Huckleberry FinnMark Twain
Imitation of ChristThomas a Kempis
In Cold BloodTruman Capote
In Memory of HerElizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza
In the Name of JesusHenri Nouwen
Infinite JestDavid Foster Wallace
Institutes of the Christian ReligionJohn Calvin
Intellectuals and SocietyThomas Sowell
Interior CastleTheresa of Avila
Introductory Lectures on PscyhoanalysisSigmund Frued
Jane EyreCharlotte Bronte
Jesus of NazarethPope Benedict XVI
King Jesus GospelScot McKnight
King LearWilliam Shakespeare
Les MiserablesVictor Hugo
Letter from a Birmingham JailMartin Luther King Jr
Letters and Papers from PrisonDietrich Bonhoeffer
LeviathanThomas Hobbs
Life of AntonyAthanasius of Alexandria
Life of MacrinaGregory of Nyssa
Life of MosesGregory of Nyssa
Life TogetherDietrich Bonhoeffer
Little WomenLouisa Alcott
Liturgy of the OrdinaryTish Harrison Warren
LivesPlutarch
Lord of the FliesWilliam Golding
Love WinsRob Bell
Man’s Search for MeaningViktor Frankl
Mere ChristianityC.S. Lewis
MetaphysicsAristotle
MiddlemarchGeorge Eliot
Midsummer Night’s DreamWilliam Shakespeare
Misquoting JesusBart Ehrman
Moby DickHerman Melville
MockingjaySuzanne Collins
Nicomachean EthicsAristotle
Novum OrganumFrancis Bacon
Oedipus RexSophocles
Of Mice and MenJohn Steinbeck
On Christian DoctrineAugustine of Hippo
On DutiesCicero
On Faith and WorksCardinal Cajetan
On First PrinciplesOrigen of Alexandria
On InterpretationAristotle
On MusicBoethius
On Nature and GraceAugustine of Hippo
On the Development of Christian DoctrineJohn Henry Cardinal Newman
On the Freedom of the WillErasmus of Rotterdam
On the IncarnationAthanasius of Alexandria
On the Nature of ThingsLucretius
On the Revolutions of the SpheresNicholas Copernicus
On the Unity of the Catholic ChurchCyprian of Carthage
On WritingStephen King
OrthodoxyG.K. Chesterton
OthelloWilliam Shakespeare
Paradise LostJohn Milton
Peloponnesian WarThucydides
PenseesBlaise Pascal
PersepolisMarjane Satrapi
PhaedoPlato
PhaedrusPlato
Philosophy of HistoryFrederich Hegel
Pilgrim TheologyMichael Bauman
Pilgrim’s ProgressJohn Bunyan
PoemsGerard Manley Hopkins
PoemsJohn Donne
PoeticsAristotle
PoliticsAristotle
Pride and PrejudiceJane Austen
Prince CapsianC.S. Lewis
Principia MathematicaIsaac Newton
PrometheusAeschylus
ProslogiumAnselm of Canterbury
Ready Player OneErnest Cline
Relativity: The Special and the General TheoryAlbert Einstein
Rerum NovarumPope Leo XIII
Revelation of Divine LoveJulian of Norwich
Robinson CrusoeDaniel Defoe
Romeo and JulietWilliam Shakespeare
Screwtape LettersC.S. Lewis
Second Treatise of GovernmentJohn Locke
Sense and SensibilityJane Austen
SilenceShusaka Endo
Simply JesusN.T. Wright
Sir Gawain and the Green KnightUnknown
Sit, Walk, StandWatchman Nee
Slaughterhouse-FiveKurt Vonnegut
Social ContractJean Jacques Rousseau
SonatasWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Song of Fire and IceGeorge R.R. Martin
SonnetsWilliam Shakespeare
Summa TheologicaThomas Aquinas
Surprised by HopeN.T. Wright
Swiss Family RobinsonJohann David Wyss
SymposiumPlato
Tarzan of the ApesEdgar Rice Burroughs
The AeneidVirgil
The BacchaeEuripides
The Blue ParakeetScot McKnight
The Book of Common PrayerThe Church of England
The Book ThiefMarkus Zusak
The Bridge to TerebithiaKatherine Paterson
The Call of the WildJack London
The Canterbury TalesGeoffry Chaucer
The Catcher in the RyeJ.D. Salinger
The Closing of the American MindAllan Bloom
The Complete Adventures of Sherlock HolmesArthur Conan Doyle
The Cost of DiscipleshipDietrich Bonhoeffer
The Count of Monte CristoAlexandre Dumas
The CreedMichael Bauman
The Cricket in Times SquareGeorge Selden
The Cross and the Lynching TreeJames Cone
The Dark Night of the SoulSt. John of the Cross
The DaVinci CodeDan Brown
The Decline and Fall of the Roman EmpireEdward Gibbon
The Diary of Anne FrankAnne Frank
The Divine ComedyDante
The Drama of ScriptureBartholomew and Goheen
The EnneadsPlotinus
The Epistle to the RomansKarl Barth
The Federalist PapersAlexander Hamilton
The Fellowship of the RingsJ.R.R. Tolkien
The Five Levels of LeadershipJohn Maxwell
The Four LovesC.S. Lewis
The Gift of FireRichard Mitchell
The GiverLois Lowry
The Gospel Comes with a House KeyRosaria Butterfield
The Grapes of WrathJohn Steinbeck
The Great DivorceC.S. Lewis
The Great GatsbyF. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great OdesJohn Keats
The Handbook of the Christian SoldierErasmus of Rotterdam
The Handmaid’s TaleMargaret Atwood
The Hiding PlaceCorrie Ten Boom
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the GalaxyDouglas Adams
The HobbitJ.R.R. Tolkien
The Horse and His BoyC.S. Lewis
The Hunger GamesSuzanne Collins
The IliadHomer
The Intellectual LifeA.G. Sertillanges
The Jungle BookRunyard Kipling
The Last BattleC.S. Lewis
The Life of Samuel JohnsonJames Boswell
The Lion, the Witch, and the WardrobeC.S. Lewis
The Living ChurchJohn Stott
The Long LonelinessDorothy Day
The Looming TowerLawrence Wright
The Magician’s NephewC.S. Lewis
The MartianAndy Weir
The Martyrdom of Perpetua and FelicityUnknown
The MessageEugene Peterson
The MetamorphosisFranz Kafka
The Mind of the MakerDorothy Sayers
The OdysseyHomer
The OresteiaAeschylus
The Origin of SpeciesCharles Darwin
The Phantom TollboothNorton Juster
The Politics of JesusJohn Howard Yoder
The Practice of the Presence of GodBrother Lawrence
The PrinceNiccolo Machiavelli
The Purpose Driven LifeRick Warren
The Red Badge of CourageStephen Crane
The RepublicPlato
The Resurrection of the Son of GodN.T. Wright
The Return of the KingJ.R.R. Tolkien
The Rule of Saint BenedictBenedict of Nursia
The Scandal of the Evangelical MindMark Noll
The Scarlet LetterNathaniel Hawthorne
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective PeopleStephen Covey
The Seven Storey MountainThomas Merton
The ShiningStephen King
The Silver ChairC.S. Lewis
The Sound and the FuryWilliam Faulkner
The TempestWilliam Shakespeare
The Things They CarriedTom O’Brien
The Three MusketeersAlexandre Dumas
The Twelve CaesarsSuetonius
The Two TowersJ.R.R. Tolkien
The Voyage of the Dawn TreaderC.S. Lewis
The War of the WorldsH.G. Wells
The Wealth of NationsAdam Smith
The Wind in the WillowsKenneth Grahame
Theological OrationsGregory Nazianzan
Theologico-Political TreatiseBaruch Spinoza
Three TreatisesMartin Luther
TimaeusPlato
Tinker Tailor Soldier SpyJohn Le Carre
To Kill a MockingbirdHarper Lee
Tom SawyerMark Twain
Treasure IslandRobert Louis Stevenson
Treatise of Human NatureDavid Hume
Two New SciencesGalileo
UlyssesJames Joyce
Uncle Tom’s CabinHarriet Beecher Stowe
UtopiaThomas More
Veritatis SplendorPope John Paul II
Walden PondHenry David Thoreau
War and PeaceLeo Tolstoy
Wars of the JewsJosephus
Watership DownRichard Adams
Winnie the PoohA.A. Milne
Wuthering HeightsCharlotte Bronte

Well, there it is. I’m about 76% percent of the way through, so there’s much more learning to be done. What about you: What else should be on this list? What are the great books that have formed you?

Canoeing the Mountains

This post originally appeared at Conciliar Post.

After fifteen difficult months of travel, they had made it. Lewis and Clark had reached the spring that began the Missouri River, that great river they had been following since they crossed the Mississippi and began their exploration of the Louisiana Purchase.

For over three hundred years before Lewis and Clark arrived at this spot, explorers from numerous nations had assumed that just beyond the headwaters of the Missouri were the headwaters to the Columbia River, and with it, a route to the Pacific. Indeed, this was the entire purpose of the Lewis and Clark expedition—to determine the best way to connect the Missouri and the Columbia, thus connecting east and west, Atlantic and Pacific. To accomplish this goal, the expedition had invested heavily in their canoes—big, sturdy things that could carry all the supplies and people needed to make their trek from the Mississippi to the Pacific as manageable as possible.

Meriwether Lewis himself had written about his belief that when they reached the springs that fed the Missouri, he and his men would walk up a hill, look down across perhaps a half-day portage, and then simply set their canoes in the Columbia and set off for the Pacific Ocean. All they needed to do was crest the hill, find the steam, and coast to the finish line.

Lewis and Clark could not have been more disappointed.

What they actually discovered was that three hundred years of geographical assumptions were completely and utterly wrong. For when they reached the top of the hill and looked out, they saw not the Columbia River, but the Rocky Mountains. Stretching out for miles and miles, as far as the eye could see, one set of peaks after another: tall, dangerous, and imposing. In other words, Lewis and Clark didn’t see anything like what they expected to see—and not at all what they were trained or prepared for.

And in that moment, Lewis and Clark were faced with a choice: should they turn back, or should they press on? They were equipped with canoes; before them lay mountains. And in the words of one of their companions, “the most terrible mountains I ever beheld.” No one would blame them if they turned back; no one would think less of them if they needed to regroup and try again later. Should they take the safe bet? Or should they venture into the unknown, into uncharted territory that was even more dangerous and uncertain than they had originally thought?

Of course, there are museums dedicated to Lewis and Clark across the United States precisely because they didn’t turn back. We know the names Meriwether Lewis and William Clark because they embraced the path before them and forged ahead, into the unknown, even though the path was very different than they originally expected. In the words of Tod Bolsinger, Lewis and Clark canoed the mountains: they adapted, they learned new skills, and they completed their mission, even though the circumstances of that mission changed. It’s a fitting description for many aspects of reality right now. But it’s particularly fitting for planting a church during a pandemic.

Planting During a Pandemic

I’ve written previously about church planting at Conciliar Post, what it is and why it’s important, and even shared some of my church plant’s working projects on things like leadership in the church. But, as I’ve taken to saying, that was “before the dark times.” Church planting, like exploring, is difficult under the best of circumstances and 2020 is not the best of circumstances. With the arrival of COVID, much of life was thrown into chaos. The seemingly inevitable became problematic and dangerous. The best-laid plans were disrupted, and “uncertainty” became the watchword for “these unprecedented times.”1

Like so many other ventures, COVID forced us to consider the wisdom and viability of trying to launch a startup church at a time when nothing seems to be starting up. In the spring and summer, we wrestled with all manner of questions about the uncertainty of the future, the realities of the virus, social perceptions, and logistics. How does one build community, reach the lost, and pay the bills while under quarantine? What would happen if a staff member or key volunteer gets sick (or worse)? What might happen if church becomes a super-spreader event? Would pressing on distract people from the gospel? Would being open drive people away rather than inviting them in? With so many gathering spaces closed, where will we meet? Without the benefit of face-to-face team building, will anyone still plant with us? These are but some of the questions we faced and wrestled with.

The Shift

As we sought to answer these questions for our plant (or, at least get as close to answering them as possible), we relied on a number of voices. Foremost were conversations with our leadership team and the leadership team from our planting church. We also were in consistent communication with our church planting network, which helped give us insights into how different leaders and churches were creatively tackling some of the concerns we were facing. Finally, there was the value of experience. From late May until August, I was serving as an associate pastor at our planting church, where I was on the frontlines of doing church during a pandemic. In combination with lots of prayer, these conversations and experiences gave us the grounding to make some critical decisions.

Most significantly, we made the decision to move our plant from a movie theater to a storefront. Rather than leaving the week-to-week fate of church meetings in the hands of a distant corporation, we moved to lease some local space in a local shopping center. This enabled us to work directly with St. Louis County on adhering to COVID restrictions, rather than some intermediary who may or may not include additional restrictions. Such a space would also allow us to host other meetings throughout the week, including the filming of online services in the event of another shutdown. Of course, this shift of venue resulted in a cascade of other changes.

No longer could we need to plan for a portable church that would pack into our trailer every Sunday morning. Instead, we needed to sell our trailer, find chairs, and acquire all the other accoutrements necessary for a semi-permanent church space. This required plenty of adjustments to our preparations. As one example, when you’re meeting temporarily in a movie theater, you don’t have to worry about where your toilet paper comes from and if you have enough trash cans; but when you’re the tenant in a space, those mundane things are a little more important. We also had to make some changes to our service schedule (we have two services instead of one in order to facilitate space-friendly seating arrangements) and our launch timeline. We had hoped to launch on September 13. But because of all these COVID-induced changes, we were forced to move our launch all the way back to September 20.

But, Why?

At this point, it’s natural to ask why. Why are we planting in a pandemic? Why have we jumped through so many hoops in order to launch this Fall? It would have been far safer organizationally, financially, and personally to remain in our comfortable and well-resourced planting church until things settle down. So why did we press on toward planting?

Because people still need Jesus.

Studies have consistently shown that church plants are one of the best ways to reach people who don’t know Jesus with the good news of the kingdom of God. The fact that people still need to encounter and be transformed by Jesus hasn’t changed because of this pandemic (or any other obstacle). The Church still has a mandate to “make disciples of every nation” (Matthew 28:19-20). Our mission has not changed—only the circumstances in which we work.

All of the reasons that we needed church plants in 2019 also apply in 2020; only the need for churches to reach their communities is greater. More innovation is required to survive and thrive. More churches have plateaued or are in decline. People are still hurting and in need of safe communities, perhaps now more than any other time in recent history. Loneliness, anxiety, depression, isolation, and self-harm were epidemics before COVID and they’re only getting worse. People crave authentic connection and community—even more so after they’ve been in social isolation for long periods of time. The world is decidedly not normal—but the Church can still be a place of relative normalcy, a place where we can be reminded of the goodness and hope of the Gospel that we so desperately need when things are not normal.

Canoeing the Mountains

Fear, sickness, hatred, racism, division, malice, and anxiety may seem to guide much of our world right now, but that’s not the whole story. What better time to bring people the hope of light and life eternal in Jesus Christ than in the midst of this present darkness?

God has given us the task of planting a church. And God has provided an amazing team and the resources to carry that task out. We can be confident that God will be faithful to carry through to completion what He has started. Yes, things have changed. No, things are decidedly not easy. But the world needs Jesus. Our nation needs Jesus. Our city needs Jesus. That’s always true. But it’s especially true right now.

And so, we move forward. The future is yet uncertain; there’s still much that’s up in the air. We’re only in our seventh official week right now. All signs have been promising so far, but only God knows the future. All we can do is trust and hope in Him. Well, that—and we can continue to canoe the mountains.


Notes

1 I say this tongue-in-cheek: the only things truly unprecedented about this global pandemic is that we can dissect it on social media faster than it can spread and that modern medicine continues to perform miracles right before our eyes to save perhaps millions of human lives from our fragility and stubbornness.

Seizing Moments of Transition

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” — Col 3.23

Everyone experiences transitions from one thing to another. We put down the old (or have it wrenched from us) and pick up the things. No one can live a completely sedentary life (nor would that be good for us). Whether it involves our jobs, homes, cars, stages of life, churches, or geography, we all encounter moments of transition.

While many transitions result in joy, not all are. Some transitions are sad, uncomfortable, or even depressing. Changing jobs, for instance, could indicate a step forward in a person’s career; it could also represent a changing career field that is now fraught with uncertainty. Other transitions are bittersweet; you are excited to move forward with a new opportunity, but recognize that somethings (and perhaps some people) will be left behind.

In fact, even the best transitions are often accompanied by feelings of anxiety and loss. Right now, as we transition from life and work at Rooftop Church to life and work at our church plant, Arise, my wife and I are reflecting on the bittersweet-nature of this transition. We are extremely excited for what stands ahead of us; but we also see some coming changes and know that things will not ever be quite the same moving forward.

But even in their discomfort or bittersweet-ness, moments of transition can stretch us, helping us grow and learn. It’s critical, therefore, that we seize the opportunities afforded us by these transitions.

Carpe Diem

How do we make the most of every opportunity? How do we seize moments of transition and use them to help us grow into the people God has made us to be? I don’t have any hard and fast answers. But I do have five practices that I have used in times of transition that may be beneficial for you as you tackle the changes ahead of you.

Begin with Prayer. Begin each day—or each moment, if necessary—in prayer to God. He will bring you grounding and peace amidst what may be a tumultuous time. Consistently communing with the Almighty through prayer, Scripture, and devotional reflection will help you begin each day with the most important part of your journey in mind.

Keep a Journal. Write down what you are thinking and experiencing. Journaling functions both as a means of processing what is going on in the moment and as a way to remember those experiences later on. Personally, some of the most valuable time I spent in moments of transition have turned out to be the reflective journaling that I have undertaken. Journaling helps process and it helps you remember for the future the lessons you learn through the transition.

Form Positive Habits. Use the transition to foster positive habits. This can be general lifestyle changes—eating better, exercising more, not spending as much time on your phone—or changes specific to your  situation—for instance, beginning each week at your new job with an evaluation of your weekly, monthly, and yearly goals. One of the families at our church, for example, uses the new school year as a time to take a close look at their calendar and family goals, adjusting things as necessary. This is also the thinking behind New Year’s Resolutions (which might serve as a reminder that all of these suggestions only help if you put them into practice).

Push Yourself. Moments of change and new experiences may be hard. But they may also be the perfect opportunity to test your limits. Muscle only builds when you push it to the limit and stretch the bounds of what you can do. Do not use the newness of things as an excuse to take things easy—aim high and capitalize on the new as an opportunity to become even better. Transition is tough–but that toughness is accompanied by the chance to do things otherwise.

Learn What You Can. Not every transition is to something complete unknown; but most of the time, transitions involve something beyond the realm of our experience. It’s useful, then, to use times of transition to learn. If you are in a new city, go exploring. If you have a new job, see what new skills or competencies you can acquire. If you find yourself experiencing new (or long-dormant) emotions, devote some time to prayer and self-reflection. Do not simply try to conform your new to your old; rather, lean into the discomfort of your transition and learn what it has to teach you.

Transition can be hard. But as we adapt to our new environments and situations, do not forget all the good that can result. As Sons and Daughters of the King, after all, we belong to the one who will says that He will make “all things new” during the final transition of creation into its restored state (Rev 21:5). Whatever our anxieties and insecurities, we can celebrate new things in our life in the light of the One who made all things and will make all things new.

The Apostle’s Creed

We believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

 And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

 We believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.