Another Look at 3DM

2 April 2019

Fast forward from 2011 to 2018. By this time, I’d spent quite a bit of time with 3DM materials, read most of the books, and could comfortably use the concepts I’d found helpful. During my years of work in the biblical Story, I had developed a lot of my own tools that stayed closer to the biblical text. But in real-life ministry, you use the best tool for the job, no matter where it came from. If my tools were a good fit for the person I was discipling, I used mine. If a 3DM tool was a better fit for the specific person and situation, I didn’t hesitate to use their tool instead, with joy and thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, my friend and mentor Dave, who originally introduced me to 3DM, was looking for a successor to step into his role at Centerpoint Church, a mission congregation composed mostly of homeless folks. He asked me to consider it, and as I prayed about it, God put a couple things in my heart: first, that I should say yes, and second, that there was no way I could do the job without serious coaching, accountability, and support.

Now, where does the new bivocational pastor of a 90% homeless congregation go to get coaching? Not a lot of places leap to mind, I can tell you.

In God’s kind providence, there was one place I knew I could trust…and we already had a relationship with them. It was Centerpoint’s parent church, Faith Community Church in Littleton. I had known Faith Community’s pastor, Jeff Allen, for years. In fact, Dave had introduced Jeff to 3DM in that same group I’d been part of back in 2011. In the intervening years, Jeff had gone all in with 3DM, becoming a coach, leading learning communities, and even writing a book (Small Church on a Big Mission) that used the 3DM platform to equip small churches.

Jeff was more than ready to have me…and he was ready to release control of the ministry, if that’s what I wanted. “I know you have great relationships with the churches in Englewood,” he said. “If there’s someone else that you’d rather have as your umbrella organization, we’ll be happy to have them step into our role.”

“No way!” I told him. “You have two choices: parent us and get us into your next Learning Community, or find someone else to do the job.”

And that’s how I came to be in the first-ever 3DM Hybrid Learning Community. Jeff’s passion is helping small churches, and learning communities have always been cumbersome for smaller churches. For a church with a full-time staff of 10, it’s no big deal to commit a team of 3 to multiple weekdays of training twice a year; they’re on salary anyhow, and it’s part of their job. When your whole staff is bivocational or volunteer, well, that’s a little different. This learning community is optimized for us.

So I’m taking a deep dive into 3DM’s resources. I don’t expect to change my basic “eat the meat; spit out the bones” approach to things. And knowing Jeff and his team, I don’t expect that to bother them much.

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Meeting 3DM

26 March 2019

I first encountered 3DM in 2011 or so. I had just come off a 7-year stint as a pastor of a small church that turned out to be more of an exit ministry for people who were leaving a cult. Once they were nursed to spiritual health, my people fit beautifully into a local Bible church, and my work with them was done. Even before I had really begun to consider what to do next, God called me to a bivocational gig in Colorado.

One of the local pastors — a seasoned church planter named Dave Cheadle — was starting a mentoring group for young pastors. He invited me to join it, and I did. It was through Dave’s ministry in that group that I really learned how to make disciples.

Embarrassing as it is to admit it, I had managed to grow up in a Bible-believing church, get through Bible college and seminary, and begin in pastoral ministry without ever really grasping how to make disciples. Looking back, I’m grateful that God arranged things so that I did some disciple-making without really understanding what was required–He is good! But my intentional attempts at discipleship always dissolved into just another Bible study. I didn’t really understand life-on-life discipleship until Dave modeled it for us. The group walked together for a couple years, and along the way we worked through a few books and a lot of Bible.

The group had been going for some time when Dave encountered 3DM. Favorably impressed, he had us read through Building a Discipling Culture (then in its first edition).

I’ll save my commentary on the book for a review later. For our purposes now, it’s enough to say that I was deeply unconvinced of the need to develop our own language (the shapes) to disciple people, and at the same time deeply blessed by the way Breen had successfully organized, clarified, and added to my understanding of discipleship. It was worthwhile enough for us that Dave ended up taking a deeper dive into 3DM, and over the coming years I engaged 3DM’s other books and resources.

As I dug deeper into 3DM’s resources, I found a few things:

  1. A lot of the content was solidly biblical, but some of it was exegetically or theologically weak.
  2. A certain amount of the material seemed not true to real life, either because it was missing key ingredients (like trying to re-create oikos without shared housing and a business at the center), or because it was greatly oversimplified (like “language creates culture”).
  3. The delivery vehicle could cause problems.

The delivery vehicle was very carefully crafted.  3DM was working hard to offer multi-million-dollar church corporations exactly what they wanted to buy: a slick, professional suite of tools and systems. (Yes, I know the official line is “there is no 3DM system.” But the medium is the message.) In our case, the slick package presented to us was definitely not a match for our scruffy, working-poor town and the ministry we were doing here. We adopted a “eat the meat, spit out the bones” approach to 3DM, and moved on.

Since then, I’ve read various other writers in similar fields of endeavor: Soma, Hugh Halter, The Faith of Leap, Reggie McNeal, like that. I found a lot of good insights, but also an embarrassing tendency to act as if returning to basic Christianity is some unprecedented move of God. I understand how someone might feel that way: recall how far I got into my ministry before I understood disciple-making! But no. Living on mission, in close community, making disciples–that’s been Christian practice all along, and there have been people doing it all along. We haven’t discovered something new; we’re just ignorant of our own history.

Lots of us come from traditions that got distracted by other things at the expense of the fundamentals. The answer is as simple as it is unmarketable: admit that we have a problem, dump the distractions, and start investing the bulk of our time and effort in the most important things. (In other words, repentance.) But it’s easier to sell a book about the new thing God is doing than it is to sell a book about repenting of your distractions.

As we repented of our distractions, we turned to the Bible for answers. The more deeply we engaged the biblical Story, the more we found that the Bible has its own language and tools for cultivating disciples. Consequently, we paid less and less attention to various missional authors. We gratefully used tools from the missional genre when they fit the job at hand, but I honestly never expected to revisit this material in any kind of deep way.

But God–while very reliable–isn’t particularly predictable, and He had a plot twist headed my way….


2018 Books in Review

31 December 2018

I set goals every year, and I always include a reading goal. This year was a little different for goal-setting, but I still set a reading goal to finish 30 books. I read 40. Over drinks a couple nights ago, a friend asked me to name the top five, and after some thought, here they are.

Spirit of the Rainforest: a Yanomamo Shaman’s Story by Mark Andrew Ritchie

This was the hardest book I read this year. Replete with rape, murder, torture, sickness, and death, it is also a stunning tale of beauty and redemption. We in the modern West like to keep spiritual and physical as separate categories; in these pages, you’ll see spiritual and physical as a single, complex world–the way they really are.

Here, through the eyes of a shaman who calls himself Jungleman, you will find the unvarnished truth of Yanomamo life before they ever made contact with modern culture, and how things changed across the decades as they made (often traumatic) contact with traders, missionaries, anthropologists, soldiers, and other outsiders. The author chose to tell the story as Jungleman told it to him, in Jungleman’s words (as nearly as translation allows), but he also worked hard to verify the events described from multiple sources where possible. For this, he has been excoriated by missionaries, anthropologists, and other modern folk for telling the unvarnished truth about them all. Some folks apparently want the freedom to opine about all things Yanomamo, but don’t want the Yanomamo to have the same freedom to comment on them back–and especially don’t want the folks at home to hear how they behave in the field. Colonialism dies hard, I guess.

Despite not being a “theology book” as such, this is the best theological book I read this year, by far.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of my Life by Scott Adams

Books about success are largely written by successful people, about their big successes. That approach delivers what people want to read (and the story a successful person wants to tell), Adams says, but it leaves out crucial parts of the story. In this book, Adams–himself an indisputable success–takes us on a guided tour of his lifelong string of failures, and shows how they contributed, over time, to his success. (And in concrete, imitable ways, not just “building character.”) More importantly, he shows you how you can do the same: choose projects and partners and set processes in motion so that even when you fail, you get something out of it, and increase the odds of future success.

Adams’ conversational style and self-effacing manner make this an easy, fun read, and it is brimming with clear, immediately actionable advice.

The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle

Healthy cultures have certain elements in common, whether you’re talking about a military unit, a sports team, or a restaurant staff. In Culture Code, Daniel Coyle profiles successful cultures: the physical practices, beliefs, and emotional landscape that separate stimulating, rewarding, effective cultures from the rest of the pack. Liberally illustrated with examples both good and bad, Culture Code is not just illuminating, it’s applicable. Coyle concludes with an epilogue describing how he put his insights to work in his own life, coaching a team of young writers, with excellent results.

This one is a must-read for church leaders. If your organizational culture does not reflect the profile Coyle is describing–which tracks pretty tightly with how the Body of Christ is supposed to work–it would be worth your while to ask why. And fix it.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

Slow Regard is an odd little book, and it might not be for you. It’s a week in the life of a singular character named Auri, who lives a life of self-imposed exile in, and under, the world of Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle. You need to read book 1, The Name of the Wind, before this one to get necessary context, but that’s not going to be a chore. (This one’s labeled #2.5 in the series, but you can read it after #1; there’s no spoilers.) TNOTW is a stunning achievement in fantasy fiction, and if Rothfuss can deliver the finish that the first two main volumes promise, he will be deservedly mentioned in the same breath with the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien and Frank Herbert. I wouldn’t take anything away from the achievement of the series as a whole…but Slow Regard is important.

In Slow Regard, Rothfuss takes us inside Auri’s head. She’s beautiful, whimsical, deeply intelligent, powerful, and absolutely broken. She sees the world in a unique way, a way that might be totally delusional. Then again, it might be uncommonly perceptive. Or maybe a bit of both; you’ll have to decide for yourself.

And then you’ll have to decide how that maps from her world into ours. It might be one of the more important decisions of your life, because, you see, there are real people like Auri. You can write them off and be the poorer for it. Or you can learn to love them, to dance with the oddness, to profit from the things they see that you cannot. There is so little space in the world for such people; if some corner of your life can hold space for an Auri, that’ll be a kindness well worth doing in itself, and both of you will be richer for it.

If you can stand to, read this book. Whatever you do, don’t skip the author’s foreword.

Internal Body Mechanics for Tai Chi, Bagua, and Xingyi: The Key to High-Quality Internal Structure and Movement by Ken Gullette

Despite the title, this one is not just for martial artists. If you’re a massage therapist, an athlete, or you just want to learn to use your body in an attentive, aware way, there’s a lot here for you.

The standard disclaimer applies: there’s no substitute for personal instruction from a qualified teacher, etc. But you learn martial arts by practicing, and there’s a lot here to inform your practice and make it more fruitful.

When it comes to “chi,” Ken Gullette is an uncompromising materialist: for him, there is no non-physical energy, just a very sound–if uncommon–set of body mechanics. Being a Christian, I don’t think the world is quite that simple, but Gullette’s line of inquiry here is undeniably productive. Whatever the truth about chi, there are physical mechanics at work.

Selecting a series of six key mechanics–groundpath, peng jing (which I’m not going to try to explain here), whole-body involvement, silk-reeling (spiral) movement, dantien (pelvic, kinda) rotation, and proper use of the kua (hip hinge)–Gullette walks us through key exercises and practices to develop each one. Start practicing even a couple of these together, and you’ll instantly understand why so much of Tai Chi practice is done slowly.

Gullette has been teaching for many years, and I’ve benefited from some of his and Mike Sigman’s earlier efforts. (Thanks, guys!) This book shows the results of a lot of trial and error to find the best words and exercises to convey these key concepts. The explanations are crystal clear and the photos are shot from useful angles (which is a lot harder than it sounds, y’all.) I’ll be spending a lot of time with these practices as I work to refine my own movement–as a martial artist, as a massage therapist, and as a structurally healthy human being.

***

So that’s my top five of a lot of good stuff–a total of 40 books and 8,389 pages, according to Goodreads, which is kind enough to track all this for me (and sell my data to the highest bidder, no doubt, but who isn’t, these days?)

As with any goal-setting exercise, I review my reading list periodically to make course corrections. A few things stand out to me about this year’s reading list:

  • It’s low on classics and poetry.  Be good to re-read some Shakespeare, Bacon, and Frost, just for the joy of the language.
  • I have some quality theological work on my shelf that I want to read, and didn’t quite get to. I want to do more of that this year.
  • I set the goal low on purpose, knowing that this was going to be a demanding year in other ways, and I might not have time for a lot of reading. And then I way overshot the goal without really trying. I expect this year to be equally demanding, but I should probably raise the goal a bit.

Also with any goal-setting exercise, it’s important to celebrate what went well. My standout items are…

  • I read 40/30 books!
  • I had fun! By setting a number goal, with just a few must-read items, it didn’t ever feel like something I had to do. I was just having a good time reading about whatever interested me. That’s ideal; I retain a lot less if it becomes a chore.
  • I finished The Unshakeable Kingdom and the Unchanging Person. That doesn’t sound impressive, but I’ve been chewing slowly away on that book for three years. (It’s not that long, but it was meaty. I’d read a few pages, and then have to go think about it for a week. So it took a while. I got most of the considerable benefit from it in the first year, but this year I finally finished, which feels like a significant accomplishment.

A Year in Review: 2018

30 December 2018

2016 was a dumpster fire of a year, a torrent of damage. It’s no exaggeration to say it was by far the worst year of my adult life. 2017 was a year of recovery, not in the good way, but more in the sifting-the-ashes-of-your-burned-home-through-a-screen-box kinda way. 2018 was a year of new direction. But you wouldn’t have known that from the way the year started….

I usually set 8-12 goals for the year, spread across the categories of Body, Spirit, Calling, and Relationship; I’ve been doing this for years. (I generally only hit about 60% of my goals, but that’s way better than I ever did with New Year’s resolutions, so it’s all good.) By the time I’d dragged myself through 2016 and 2017, I was in no shape to choose goals. I tried, and I just couldn’t do it. Nothing made sense. I found myself incapable of believing any set of goals I put on paper. I didn’t know what to do.

And then, as so often happens at those moments, God spoke. He told me if I wanted to take the safe road, get a bodywork job working for Hand & Stone or whoever, and do another season of true bivocational work–one job to pay the bills, and a ministry gig on the side–that there was a job out there for me, and it was ok to do that. I’d done that before; it’s a tough life, but I understand how it works, and it’s known territory for me. But God also told me that wasn’t the only road open to me. If I wanted to go for the dream, He would support that too. The dream was…poorly defined, to put it mildly. But I knew exactly what He meant: I could live a life that seamlessly blended my ministry and my livelihood, a life where all my gifts came into play together. It was what I’d been dreaming of my whole adult life. I thought I had it, briefly, a bit over a decade ago, during the short time when I was a full-time professional geek…but no. That turned out to be too sterile, too one-dimensional. And it didn’t last anyway.

God told me (via a prophetic friend that I deeply trust, and confirmed various ways) that my dream life was now within reach…if I was willing to take the risk. I thought about the safe road, and the security it offered, and waiting another five years (or however long) before this opportunity came my way again. And then I muttered something like, “Oh, what the hell, it’s too late to start playing it safe now,” and went for it.

I kept my freedom and plowed into developing my business and my ministry, all at the same time. I didn’t really know what I was doing, and let me tell you, it showed. My marketing was beyond amateurish. My bookkeeping needed serious help. I had poor judgment in my partnerships. (I had some great partners, but also some that were…well, let’s just say not great, and leave it there.)

But you know what? God supported it. Clients came. The business side got (somewhat) organized. God winnowed out the partners that didn’t belong. The bills (somehow!) got paid. In a month when the bottom fell out of the bodywork business, I inexplicably got extra ministry funding; when the ministry funding dried up, suddenly more massage and Trauma Touch clients came my way. I had day after day when I went home, sat down, and thought, “YES! This is why I do what I do!”

And after a year of that, I finally have clarity on what God has given me to do. Back in early 2015 when I first started my business, God told me clearly that there were four skills that would define what I do. I tried to list them, and every list I made came out to three or five. I could never quite get a list of four that made sense…until now.

The four skills that define my calling are

  • Massage Therapist
  • Minister
  • Trauma Touch Therapist
  • Martial Arts Instructor.

Those are the four corners of my existence; I play in the space between them. And the center, the bullseye, the place where it all comes together? Spiritual healing that takes the body seriously. That is the center of what I do. Of course, depending on the needs of the moment, sometimes I’m just giving a massage or whatever service they came for. But often–very often, in fact–I find myself holding a space where God shows up, and my client receives spiritual healing. That’s what I do.

A year ago, I couldn’t say that without feeling silly. After a year of doing it, seeing God bless it and people blessed by it, I don’t feel silly at all. I feel like I have purpose again. I know what I’m shooting for; I know what I’m asking God to bless.

And I am asking. I don’t want to bury the talent in the backyard; I want to put it to work in the marketplace. Let’s grow this thing.


A Reading Milestone

17 November 2017

Every year I set a reading goal. This year, it was only 25 books, split between the professionally relevant, the devotional, and fun. For me, that’s a remarkably unambitious goal, and it reflects the fact that I spent the year finishing school and launching a business, which left me precious little time for reading. But I hit my goal last night, finishing the 25th book with 6 weeks to spare. So I’ll probably hit 30 before the end of the year.

Which was my favorite? That’s a complicated question. How do you compare a spirituality of midlife change to a romp through a fictional, Manhattan landscape featuring parkour and dragons, or either of them to a careful appraisal of C. S. Lewis’ philosophical differences with his longtime friend Owen Barfield?

You can’t, on any but wildly subjective criteria.

So let me speak subjectively: overall, for sheer joy of reading, my favorite was probably Owen Barfield’s Worlds Apart, a fictional discussion between a wide variety of specialists meditating together on the nature of reality and human consciousness. If it sounds heady, it was — but I’m a geek to the bone. Reading Worlds Apart was like being in a room with a bunch of people brighter than me, and just barely managing to keep up with their discussion. It was a great deal of fun, even if I did have to read some parts a few times to catch up. I read a good deal by (and about) Barfield in the past year, including a number of his essays and introductions to others’ works, but this one was my favorite. He’ll be changing my thought for many years to come.

More sensible comparisions would be within major categories of books: spiritual, healing, martial arts, philosophy, and so on. So here’s some of that.

Among the spiritual works, the clear standout was Hierotheos Vlachos’ magisterial work Orthodox Psychotherapy. Entertaining it ain’t, but when I was able to carve out the time to read a decent chunk at once, I found a depth and breadth of spiritual insight and compassionate understanding of the human condition that is rare in any tradition. It was helpful to me, and it will be helpful again when I read it next year–which I certainly will.

Among the healing works, Agnes Sanford’s The Healing Light was a clear standout. It’s a classic for a reason. And I have to make mention of Cyndi Dale’s Subtle Energy Techniques. While I widely disagree with Dale in spots, her reflections on her life’s work are well worth reading, and she is a master of her craft.

Among the martial works, I’ve gotta say, Maija Soderholm’s The Liar, The Cheat, and the Thief is a classic. I will read it again. And again. Her subject is sword duelling, which is only of peripheral interest to me, but her insights into the human condition along the way make it valuable for anybody — and again, she is a master of her craft.

Steven Pressfield’s wonderfully readable Turning Pro and Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t changed the way I practice my profession for the better, as did Sam Altman’s Startup Playbook. Reading Greg Gutfeld and Vox Day on rhetoric and political strategy may have made me a little spicier, not that I needed any help in that department.

I read fiction by Lee Child, Kel McDonald, Dan Millman, Tony Hillerman, Doug Wilson, and others — and if you have’t read Wilson’s Flags Out Front, you’re missing out — but for sheer entertainment value, Seanan McGuire’s Midnight Blue-Light Special was the most fun.

I’m still in process on a handful of books — when am I not? — but that’s the lineup for most of this year.


Goals

31 December 2013

New Year’s Day is upon us, and with it, a flood of New Year’s resolutions. Gym memberships and workout DVDs will be purchased. Yoga pants will be worn (once). Classic works of literature will be opened. Journal entries will be written. Healthy recipes will be googled, and wheat grass juice will be guzzled. Scales will be dusted off. Credit cards will be cut up. File folders and closet organizers will be purchased. Hopes will be high. This year, I’m gonna do it! No, really!

And by Valentine’s Day, all will be forgotten. Because New Year’s resolutions, like Christmas trees, Jack-o-lanterns and fireworks, are a seasonal thing. You would no more keep a New Year’s resolution in May than you would carve a pumpkin in July. It’s the American way.

That said, the end of a year and the beginning of another is a natural time to stop and evaluate. For a few years now, I’ve had a practice of setting annual goals. Here are my rules:

  1. Standard goal-setting wisdom applies. Goals should be realistic, measurable, etc. Metrics can be totally subjective, but they need to be meaningful. (e.g., if the goal is to exercise enough to feel better, then me feeling better is the measure. If the goal is to be more tender toward my wife, my subjective evaluation is not worth much — but hers is.)
  2. Cover the range. Hitting my goals for the year should mean a fairly balanced life. This means, at minimum, goals that will challenge me physically, mentally, relationally, and spiritually.
  3. Review goals constantly. I write my goals out and keep that piece of paper on my desk where I can see it all the time. I consciously review the list at least once a month, and evaluate how I’m doing. How I’m doing has to boil down to a simple statement, with no shilly-shallying about: “I am on track.” “I am lagging.” “I am ahead of schedule.” “I am failing.”
  4. I am free to fail. If something that seemed worth doing in January just turns out not to be worth doing in the cold light of March, then I won’t feel obligated to do it. This is not a contract with myself. That said, it stays on the list through the end of the year. I will have to face it no less than once a month and say, “I am failing at xyz.” If I am pleased to be failing at it because the other things that are taking precedence really are more important, then so be it. If not, maybe I need to get back on the horse.
  5. No repeats on failed goals. If it wasn’t important enough to do last year, then I’m not going to clutter up my list with it again this year. If I still think it’s important a year from now, it can go back on the list. Note that this does not apply to partial successes. The difference between partial success and abject failure is somewhat subjective, but it mostly hinges on whether the goal changed my lifestyle. Let me illustrate with a couple of my goals from last year. I set myself a goal to read through one book a month in a certain area. I think I did it through February, and stopped. That’s a failure. I still think it’s a good idea to do, but it clearly wasn’t a priority, and therefore it’s banned from this year’s list. I also set a goal of learning Sun Lu-Tang’s 98-posture Taiji form. It crossed my mind that it might take more than a year, but I figured I could handle it in a year if I really tried. In fact, the foundational movements and power-development exercises I had to master before I could even start the form ended up taking the first half of the year. I’m finishing the year with only about a third of the form learned. But I practice 4-6 days a week. The goal changed my lifestyle, so I consider it a success; I just didn’t get as far as I was hoping. I had never done Taiji before, and didn’t have a realistic appreciation for the learning curve. This year’s goal (to learn the remaining 2/3 of the form) is much more realistic.

I don’t have a rule about this, but I’m a big fan of brevity. My entire list of annual goals will fit on one side of a 3×5 card. More than that is too much to juggle, and makes it hard to constantly review.

Here’s a partial (but representative) look at my evaluation for the past year:

  • Spirit: Develop in marital and spiritual leadership. Success. I’ve been presented with leadership roles that I couldn’t have handled a year ago, and been able to step into them handily. The spiritual focus in my marriage is stronger than it was a year ago — we’re more in sync with God and each other. (Sounds fuzzy, but I can feel the difference.)
  • Body: Regular workouts. Partial success. My martial arts workouts were regular and numerous. My workouts for attributes (strength, endurance, looseness, freedom of movement) were no less than once a week, but much more sporadic than they could have been.
  • Body: Focus on power generation in my martial arts practice. Success. I had occasion not only to focus on power generation in my own practice, but to teach a lot of what I know — and I probably learned more by teaching than I’ve ever learned any other way.
  • Mind: Write the novel I’ve been working on over the course of the year. Failure. I did nothing until October, prepped a little, and then tried to ram through it in November, using NaNoWriMo as a vehicle. It didn’t work; I can’t improvise my way through a mystery story — just too much to have in my head at once.
  • Career: Greater control of my schedule. Success. My better choice of bus route package this year allows me more freedom to make and honor commitments. We are well positioned to begin curriculum sales that have a good chance of freeing me from the need to drive a bus over the next couple years, which would greatly increase my flexibility. Meanwhile, I have increased my margin by dropping a weeknight commitment, and I have successfully maintained a day of rest most weeks.

Where there is success here, it is very much God’s doing. In a number of these areas where I was seeking growth, I didn’t have a clue how to make it happen. The goal was more a prayer than anything else, and overwhelmingly, God answered those quasi-prayers, often in very unexpected ways. It’s been my pleasure to learn from what God did, and apply what I learned to setting further goals for this year.

Do you set goals for your year? How do you decide on them?


Reaping What I Sowed

8 September 2013

“That you may be found just when You speak
And blameless when You judge.”

A while back, I parted ways with the Grace Evangelical Society, which was the closest thing I had to a denominational affiliation. Unlike my departure from Rocky Mountain Seminary, which was public and suitably attended by explanation here, here and here, my departure from GES was very quiet. The only public ripple was my removal, without comment, from the list of speakers at that year’s conference. It was a while before the conference, so it seems that only a few people noticed.

Bob Wilkin told me at the time that he wanted to spare my reputation, and I believe that he sincerely meant that. For my part, I believed (probably wrongly) that my reputation was in no danger at all, but to be honest, it wouldn’t have mattered to me if I thought it had been. I’d been gambling my reputation on every public thing I did for years, and this was no different. The issues at stake were serious, and I believed they needed to be discussed in public for the benefit of the entire movement. I was rightly confident I could acquit myself well in open debate. I wanted to give it a shot — and the more public, the better.

However, I wasn’t willing to try to force Bob into a public debate he didn’t want to have. I was still smarting in the aftermath of the vicious Chafer Theological Seminary split, in which I had been very active as a full-time professor (and the school’s only Th.M. graduate). In that context, the quiet parting of ways felt like getting away clean — and in a sense, it was. At very least, it was a significant improvement over the previous unholy mess. Having no significant public venue available to me, I left quietly, and continued the conversation where I could, trying to lay out a Free Grace approach that repented of the past’s errors without surrendering its victories.

Now, with more miles on my shoes and more meals under my belt, I see it differently. The issues under discussion did, and still do, need serious public consideration, and suppressing discussion was and is an awful idea. However, the public debate that would have happened then would have been bad for everybody. I was still pretty angry. I would have gone the extra mile to embarrass my opponents in the debate (and in all modesty, I would probably have succeeded — they were vulnerable at several points, and I was pretty good at that sort of thing.) Serious and important issues would have been buried under all sides’ emotional baggage. Everyone would have come away nursing unnecessary wounds and more entrenched than before. In that sense, a quiet departure was a good idea, and I’m grateful to God and to Bob that it happened that way. However, it was not an entirely unmixed blessing; some fallout has come from the very quietness of it all.

A good while after my departure, I found myself catching an enormous amount of flak from certain quarters because of my association with GES, and this largely because people thought I would teach the very errors I had been trying to correct. I see no reason to allow those misunderstandings to continue, so I am hoping to prevent similar misunderstandings in the future by explaining a little of the history

The job at this point is not to try to go back and say what I should have said back when the separation was fresh, or to enumerate my disagreements at every point. The moment has passed. What I can do is reflect from the present distance on what happened, and in the process clear the air and remove whatever gossip and lingering doubts I can.

The short version is pretty simple: I was a Free Grace hardliner, and sought to advance the cause of Free Grace theology. In the course of that, I gradually became aware that in certain areas, I was sinning against my Christian brothers, and these sins had been nurtured in me by the Free Grace movement. At the same time, I saw a need to encounter and address a set of problems — call them second-generation concerns, perhaps — that would move the conversation beyond some of the traditional Free Grace bullet points. Having grown up Free Grace, I saw it as a living tradition rather than a fixed ideology, and so I sought to reform the movement from within. To say that I encountered very highly placed resistance is putting it mildly. I kept pushing — hard — and after a long series of clashes behind closed doors, I was unceremoniously bounced. The proximate cause was that in the course of a public discussion, I made a critical remark about Zane Hodges and Bob Wilkin, which seems to have provoked Bob to re-examine the value of my participation in GES. At the time it seemed the right thing to say, and I’m still not sure it wasn’t. Had I kept my mouth shut then, something else undoubtedly would have been the last straw — open debate on the issues I was concerned about was not welcome at GES back then. (I don’t know about now — I’ve been out of touch.)

This post is long enough without getting into the specific issues at stake in those discussions (many of which I have written about here before), but l will close with a couple of theological observations about this whole mess.

First, in the events surrounding my departure, I believed with all my heart that I was being treated unjustly. I still think that some people treated me very unjustly, but I can now see that at the same time, I had it coming. You see, I had served for years in the Doctrinal Purity Police, picking fights about doctrinal minutia, causing division among brethren, and so on. These skills were encouraged in my training, and in all modesty I was good at them. When I repented and began to seek a different approach to ministry, I suddenly found myself on the receiving end of the Purity Police treatment — and let me tell you, that was not as much fun as dishing it out. Giving me the treatment was sin on the part of the Purity Police, but it was certainly justice where I was concerned. God will not be mocked; I had sown the wind, and I was reaping the whirlwind. I had it all coming, and then some — but God is merciful.

Second, because it seemed to me at the time that there was no rhyme or reason to the situation, I suffered emotionally over my exclusion from GES far more than I should have. As I said above, it was a certain sort of justice, and therefore I ought to have simply received it as training from my loving Father. By the time the chickens came home to roost, I had already repented of the sins whose consequences I was reaping, and was seeking to follow Jesus in those areas. But for some reason I had the idea that things should go well for me whilst following Jesus. Stephen, Peter and Paul would have found that a very odd notion. Following Jesus leads to trouble with the powers that be, and more than a little of that trouble comes from reigning religious authorities. We are Christians; Jesus told us it would be like this, and taught us what to do. Instead of wallowing about feeling wounded and rejected, I ought to have rejoiced as though I were getting a big promotion. In fact, I was, if only I’d had the eyes to see it.