Lots of Little Fires

29 November 2019

Reading assignment: Numbers 10, Psalm 68, Ephesians 4. Then let’s discuss. I don’t have time right now to draw this out in detail, so I’m going to sketch some suggestive high points, and see where that takes us.

In Numbers 10, Moses’ liturgy for the movement of the camp tells Israel what it means that the pillar of cloud/fire is moving: Yahweh is invading the world, scattering His enemies before Him.

David begins Psalm 68 with that same liturgy. The psalm is an extended meditation on its meaning.

Ephesians 4:7-10 shows us how Jesus fulfills a portion of that meditation in His incarnation, resurrection, and ascension, rising to victory at the Father’s right hand, receiving as His due the spoils of victory, and distributing the gifts He’s received to His people. A Christian functioning in the gifts Christ gave is what the Tabernacle/pillar was: Yahweh invading the world. There is no longer one pillar of fire lighting the darkness: there are tongues of fire above every Spirit-baptized person’s head — and like Samson’s foxes running two by two through the Gentile fields, we set everything ablaze as we go.

The invasion continues….

Hermeneutical Repentance: An Open Letter To My Former Tribe

24 May 2018

I was reared in a conservative evangelical tradition that was heavy on strict grammatical-historical hermeneutics. I have repented of that school of thought in favor of following the examples set by the NT authors themselves.

Look, you know I love you, but there’s no point in mincing words here: you guys suck at reading narrative. I mean, it’s terrible. Either you reduce the story to a disconnected set of little morality tales for Sunday school kids, or you chop it up into however many dispensations or homogenize it all into two covenants (or both). At best, you think it’s there as a means to the end of teaching “doctrine,” by which you mean something like systematic theology. In practice, of course, many of you mostly ignore the narrative in favor of the church epistles, especially in your preaching. To be fair, you’re mostly pretty good at the church epistles. Straight-out didactic literature is your forte.

But look, the narrative is three quarters of the Bible. Paul says that all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, and your hermeneutics courses are all a-flutter with warnings against “getting doctrine from narrative.” This means — it has to mean — that there’s something wrong with your hermeneutics. As long as you insist that your hermeneutics are fine, you’re going to continue to have the same problem, to wit: you don’t know how to read three quarters of the Bible. As soon as you contemplate some sort of hermeneutical repentance, though, you feel as though you’re about to throw open the door to every perversion and silliness that hermeneutical laxity has ever visited upon the Church. How can you proceed? How can you gain the ability to read the other three quarters of the Bible well without falling victim to the many traps and pitfalls that have snared so many of your unwary brethren?

I want to make an observation and propose a way forward. The observation: you’re scared. If your reason for avoiding narrative is that you don’t know how to avoid hermeneutical excesses, and your response to your lack of skill is to run away and hide in a church epistle…stop it. You can’t learn to swim by running from the water. God has not given us a spirit of fear.

Now, for a way forward. It’s simple in concept, sufficiently rich to cover the variety of problems you’ll have to face along the way, and as a bonus, it starts in your old stomping grounds — the church epistles. Even there, however, you’re going to have to face hermeneutical repentance. You’ve missed some pretty obvious stuff. The authors of the church epistles had none of your reluctance about drawing doctrine from narrative. For example, you somehow fail to notice that Paul derives his doctrine of justification by faith in Romans 4 from the narrative accounts of Abraham and David — the very thing you warn your students not to do. Nor is that circumstance unique — the authors of the epistles overwhelmingly draw their doctrine from the biblical narratives. Peter does it. Hebrews certainly does it. James does it. Know why? Because they’re following Jesus–He did it too.

The authors of the epistles may not have left you a hermeneutics manual, but they certainly did leave you with an enormous set of examples. Start with Romans 4, and work your way out from there. What other examples can you identify? How might you follow the example set forth for you?

Of course I realize that there will be differences of opinion, excesses, and all that. Sure. But if you’re not willing to get out there and make some mistakes, you’ll never get anywhere. You’ve gotta learn somehow.

Or you could keep being bad at reading three quarters of the Bible….

Thirty-Five Theological Notes

26 June 2015

(for old friends and new, who are trying to figure out where I’m coming from) 


1.  I am an exegete, storyteller, and shepherd. My personal ministry focuses on helping people to pray, know God personally and directly, learn and live the biblical Story, retake lost territory the Church has ceded to the pagans, and use high-concept folk culture as a vehicle for reformation. Mostly in Englewood, Colorado.

2.  I have tried to listen well to the Scriptures and be as faithful as I can be to what they say. Theologians tend to gather in herds like anybody else, and my particular set of emphases has not led me into one of the standard herds.

3.  The spirit of the day being what it is — postmodern ectoplasm that evaporates in a strong light — I am expected to reject herding and its attendant labels, and demand recognition as an absolutely unique snowflake. But no. Gathering in community and giving apt names to things are expressions of the image of God. Hence this explanation, which I hope will help.

4.  Much mischief comes of affirming something we ought to affirm, and then on that basis denying something we ought not to deny. We ought to have learnt this from the doctrine of the Trinity: if we believe in inerrancy, then sometimes we must submit to mystery.

5.  Mood is often more important–and harder to capture–than the standard talking points. For example, I have worked productively with postmil brethren with no problem, and had trouble working with some of my fellow premil folk. The practical difference is mood: when the kings of the earth conspire against Him, Yahweh laughs at them. Do we laugh with Him, or do we think the sky is falling? The difference is easy to see in real life, but it can be quite difficult to codify meaningfully in the standard form of a doctrinal statement.


6.  I believe the historic Christian faith expressed in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, the Definition of Chalcedon, and the National Association of Evangelicals statement of faith.

7.  I believe in the biblically attested miracles — crossing the Red Sea, Joshua’s long day, virgin birth, water into wine, all of it, because the Bible says so. I believe in a recent, six-literal-day creation and a worldwide flood for the same reason.

8.  Since I don’t approach the Scriptures with the skepticism of a 19th-century liberal, I don’t approach the history of the Church that way either. Having been taught by the Scriptures to believe in such things, I believe in the miracles of the Christian Church, reported in the ministries of such notable saints as Augustine, Patrick of Ireland, George Wishart, John Knox, Charles Spurgeon, and Francis MacNutt. And I’ve seen some myself.

9.  I have personally experienced the exegetical bankruptcy, practical impotence, and willful historical ignorance of cessationism. Never again. That said, supernatural ministry can be mightily abused, as in Corinth. 1 Corinthians prescribes a solution; cessationism ain’t it.

10.  Just to get it out of the way, I am not a Calvinist, and still less of an Arminian. Both Calvin and Arminius did good service to the church, but they were both Calvinists, and shared a number of assumptions which the Scriptures do not support. Talking about “the theological spectrum from Calvinism to Arminianism” is like talking about “all the colors of the rainbow, from red to pink.” There were 15 glorious centuries of Christian theology before those two worthy gents came along, and a few centuries after them, too. For which all thanksgiving.

11.  I am Protestant, and happy to be. I am deeply in debt to the magisterial Reformation; it remains one of the finest creations of the Roman Church.


12.  A strong view of divine sovereignty is necessary to the integrity of the Christian faith. The Scriptures require it, and there’s no point in praying for things unless God is in control.

13.  I believe that God’s hand moves in response to prayer, and sometimes we do not have because we do not ask. This is tough to square with divine sovereignty, but if we only know enough to be obedient, then we know enough. So I pray; resolving the mysteries can wait.

14.  I believe we should learn to pray by praying in the categories of the Lord’s Prayer, because Matthew says so, and in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, because Luke says so. Many struggle to pray effectively because we do not honor our Lord’s instruction in this matter.

The Unity of Christ’s Body

15.   I am small-c catholic. Those who belong to Christ belong to me, and I to them.

16.  I believe in the unity of the Body of Christ. Unity is a cardinal doctrine and practice, essential to maintaining justification by faith (as Paul said in Galatians), and a crucial part of our witness to the world, not to mention being Jesus’ dying wish for His people. Our real convictions on unity are demonstrated in our choices of whom to eat with, pray with, worship with, and work with. If we don’t do those things outside the narrow confines of our home community, we might think unity is permissible, but we don’t think it’s important.

17.  I believe in historical unity. All Christ’s people, everywhere and everywhen, are My People, more so than my family, my fellow Americans or the members of my martial arts club. In the second century, my Church was still finding her feet. In the eleventh century, my Church had suffered an unfortunate split that has yet to be healed. In the fifteenth century, my Church was hopelessly corrupt. She has always been headquartered in the New Jerusalem, no matter what some folks believed about Rome. If we celebrate Veteran’s Day but not Purim or the Feast of All Saints, we have an odd notion of where our primary loyalties lie.

18.  Today the Church lives with denominations and highly denominated nondenominational entities by the million. These tribal loyalties are a blessing insofar as they inspire greater love for God and our neighbors, but when we cease to act as one Body with others who belong to Christ but not to our tribe, we are failing in exactly the way Peter failed at Antioch.

The Church Service

19.  Every regularly held public meeting has some kind of liturgy to it; some churches are more conscious and competent at using their liturgies to achieve their goals. I prefer them.

20.  I believe that worship is about what God wants to receive, not about what we happen to want to give (cf. Cain), and still less about what’s fashionable this month. I believe God has told us to be a Psalm-singing people. If we sing the Psalms and follow the directions they give, we will experience richer worship than is typical in the American church.

21.  Having been taught by Psalm-singing, baptism, communion, and anointing with oil, I believe in physical expressions of worship. I believe that the arts have a strong place in the church’s worship. There’s nothing wrong with spontaneous worship, but I believe in the value of planned prayer, painting, and dance as I believe in the value of planned music and sermons.

22.  I believe in the use of the supernatural ministry gifts in the worship service, because the Bible says so. I also believe that if you’re serious about that, you leave space for it. If you have a 90-minute service time, and you plan 90 minutes of content, you don’t value supernatural ministry. If you schedule a move of the Spirit 27 minutes into the service, you are attempting to control something you shouldn’t. He blows where he wills.

23.  I believe the church service ought to end in communion, with its attendant implications of security and fellowship, rather than an invitation, with its attendant implications of insecurity and crisis. Invitations are fine for revival meetings, but have no place at family gatherings. Repeated invitations of the “Maybe you know a lot about Jesus, but have you ever really…” type have done much mischief to impressionable children who were unfortunate enough to grow up hearing them every week.


24.  I believe in baptizing believers immediately, like they did in Acts. Baptism is the New Covenant analog to circumcision. Of course, we circumcise the baby after he’s born, but since New Covenant members are born twice, we have to ask: “Which birth are we talking about?” If baptism is the new circumcision, then what is the new birth? Well…the new birth. Paedobaptism is a throwback to the days before Christ broke the power of the clan.

25.  I believe in weekly communion, but I also believe that weekly communion will be unbearable until it is celebrated as the feast of victory that it is, rather than observed as an orgy of ungodly introspection. It is vile for a shepherd in Christ’s flock to turn the Corinthians’ sin — which no one is committing today — into an excuse to torment the sheep with every imaginable doubt. Self-examination for the sins discussed in the passage is fair game.

26.  I believe that the wine in the communion cup should be wine, because the Bible says so. I also believe that it is foolish and wicked to divide the Body over how we conduct the Table, so when necessary, I drink my grape juice with joy and thanksgiving.

27.  It is not my Table; it is Christ’s. I am nowhere commanded to fence it; how dare I? All who are His are welcome; all who desire Him are welcome. Jesus did not stint to give Himself to the children, the outcasts, and those who did not yet believe. Of course giving the body and blood of the very Son of God to such people (to any people, for that matter) is blasphemy and sacrilege. But it is Jesus’ sacrilege, not ours. Who am I to argue?

28.  I believe we must speak of the Table as God speaks of it, without hedging. I believe in the real presence of Christ in the elements, without feeling a need to explain the details. I follow the examples of John Knox, John Williamson Nevin, and other stalwart Protestants in refusing to let vain Romish speculation ruin this for me, as it did for poor Zwingli.

Living as a Christian

29.  Eternal life is knowing God. Salvation is irreducibly relational, and individual conversion is absolutely necessary; well-remembered crisis conversion is another matter entirely. Seeing a child on the playground, I can be sure the child is alive without knowing the moment of his birth. Striking up a conversation, I might find that the child himself does not know when he was born. It does not follow that he was never born.

30.  The new birth is a miraculous, gracious act of God which we receive by trusting God. Like any birth, it is the work of the parents, and not the child, that accomplishes it.

31.  The body is dead because of sin, but the spirit is life because of righteousness. Continuing to grow in Christ requires an ongoing miracle, and again, we must be willing to receive that miracle. But if we are, God will do it.

32.  It is the birthright of every child of God to hear and understand his Father’s voice, in the Bible and in his heart.

33.  Uncertainty is a poor foundation for a life of righteousness. Like any good father, God assures us that we are His own, and urges us to live on that basis. The accusations and doubts that cause us to question our place in the family come from the world, the flesh and the devil–or from our fellow believers, doing the devil’s work for him.

34.  Living as a Christian is a life of continual repentance. We always fall short, and God’s grace is always there to transform us and move us closer to Him. We need only be willing.

35.  Willingness is being open with God: openly communicating to Him what we think, believe and have done, openly hearing His approval and correction, and obeying.

Parabolic Living

11 August 2013

This post is part of the August 2013 Synchroblog on the subject “Parables: Small Stories, Big Ideas.”

Parables are weird. I’m not talking about the specifics of particular parables — although those are often weird too. I’m talking about the entire genre. The very existence of parables is a really odd phenomenon. The premise of the parable is that small stories of mundane events, sometimes just a few sentences long, can somehow contain life-altering challenges.

Have you ever thought about how odd that is? It’s one thing to see big ideas at work in, say, the sack of Rome, the failed Mongol invasions of Japan, the death of colonialism, or even something as comparatively small as the Berlin airlift or the Tiananmen Square massacre. It’s quite another to see big ideas at work in the tale of a nameless sower at work in a generic field. Why does it work? What sort of world do we live in, that such a thing is possible?

In the beginning was the Triune God, and the Word spoke all things into existence. The world we live in is the ultimate spoken-word performance piece, and like all works of art, it reflects the nature of the Artist. Within that overall spoken mixed-media portrait, we as human beings are meant to reflect the likeness of God in a special way. “Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness,” God said, and “in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” This is reflected to some extent in the parables. Have you ever noticed how virtually all the parables center around human activity — sowing and reaping, buying and selling, making bread, fishing, investing?

Within these simple stories, each parable presents its own challenges to us. The Good Samaritan: will I be a neighbor to anyone I meet? The Wheat and Tares: am I willing to leave final judgment to God for the sake of protecting vulnerable saints? The Leaven: will I be patient with the slow and hidden coming of the Kingdom, or will I try to gin up something flashy and quick, something I can take credit for?

If simple fictional tales set in mundane circumstances can contain such life-altering challenges, might the mundane moments of our own lives not contain those same challenges? Might it be possible to see those challenges, and live in such a way that our choices make parabolic lives?

Of course it is. There are famous examples, like when the Pope forgave his would-be assassin. But that’s pushing it up onto the grand scale again, and that’s not where parables happen. When a mother loves her teenage daughter, even though the girl has just screamed “I hate you!” and slammed her bedroom door — a parable is taking place. When a husband and wife stop in the middle of a stupid fight, forgive each other, and try to make date night work after all — a parable is happening. When an infertile couple conceives, then goes ahead with the planned adoption anyway, because that child needs a home — a parable appears before our eyes.

So what will it be in your life? The Kingdom of Heaven is like a person who…[your life here.]

This is the promise of the parables: that your life, rightly ordered by God annd lived in the power of His Spirit for the glory of Messiah’s Kingdom, your life, can be a succession of parables for the world to read.

Of course, as Jesus once explained to the disciples, parables have a dual purpose: to conceal from some, and reveal to others. Some people will look right at your God-glorifying, poetically lived, parabolic life and see nothing of consequence…or worse still, entirely misunderstand. Some people won’t have eyes to see. They just won’t get it. But some will — and for those that do, you can be a lamp set up on a lampstand, that gives light to the whole house. What will they see in your light?



You can find the other August Synchroblog participants here:

Jesus’ Parables are Confusing? Good! – Jeremy Myers

Seed Parables: Sowing Seeds of the Kingdom – Carol Kunihol

Parables – Be Like the Ant or the Grasshopper – Paul Meier

The Parables of Jesus: Not Like Today’s Sermons – Jessica

Penelope and the Crutch – Glenn Hager

Parables and the Insult of Grace – Rachel

Changing Hearts Rather Than Minds – Liz Dyer

Young Son, Old Son, a Father on the Run – Jerry Wirtley

The Kingdom of God Has Come

30 September 2012

“But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God is come upon you.”

With these simple words, Jesus raised the stakes on the religious leaders. He had just cast out a mute demon, a difficult feat that some rabbis maintained could only be done by Messiah Himself. Rather than believing, the Pharisees had rejected Him again and accused him of casting out demons by Satan’s power. Jesus pointed out what a foolish thing it would be for the ruler of demons to cast out his own demons, but the real challenge was yet to come.

The real challenge was simple: What if He wasn’t using Satan’s power? What if it was the Holy Spirit? What then?

Then the Kingdom of God is come. God’s rule, already firmly established in heaven, is breaking into earth, and where that is happening, the agents of the kingdom of darkness are being driven away.

The Kingdom is future. One day, we will see God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven, and Christ’s enemies will be His footstool. As Hebrews 2:5-9 observes, that day has not yet arrived, and so we can confidently say that the Kingdom has not yet come.

But then again, there are little pockets where we see exactly those things happening — God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven, and Christ’s enemies crushed under His feet. Jesus was pointing out one such pocket. In that place, at that time, the rule of God was being asserted, which is to say that the Kingdom had arrived.


Abram’s servant, seeking a wife for Isaac, met her at a well. Jacob met Rachel at a well. Moses met Zipporah at a well. In the Bible, when a man meets a woman at a well, you can practically hear the wedding bells in the background. So when Jesus meets a woman at the well outside Sychar, we know what is about to happen.

Jesus is going to marry Samaria.

Samaria has had five “husbands,” five nations who possessed her (see 2 Kings 17:24*), and the nation that dominates her now, Rome, is not really her husband. The emperor is just using her for the tax revenue. She’s defeated, hopeless, oppressed — a captive, trapped in the kingdom of darkness.

She meets Jesus, and her world changes. Finally, a man who knows her: “He told me everything I ever did,” she later says. He bypasses the theological smokescreen she throws up on the Gerzim-Zion question (there was a right answer, but she didn’t really care about it anyway). Instead, He speaks to the deep need of her heart: to have reality in her relationship with God, to have life. She drinks the water that He gives, and as He promised, it wells up in her and becomes a fountain of life. All her neighbors hear about it from her, and then meet Jesus for themselves, and He remains a few days in Sychar.

Now here’s the key question: In terms of the kingdoms of light and darkness, what just happened?

Obvious, isn’t it? Yahweh’s reign has come to Sychar, which is another way of saying that the Kingdom of God has come to Sychar. Has it come perfectly? No. Has it come fully? Nope. But has it come truly?

Of course. Where Jesus is, the Kingdom is already forcefully advancing.


So the question is, do we believe His promise?

Jesus sent His disciples out, not just with a commission, but with a promise: “All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and disciple the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to do all the things that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Do we believe His promise?

If we do, then we know that He is with us wherever we go. As He cast out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit, so we have the indwelling Holy Spirit in us, always.

If the Kingdom breaks out wherever Jesus is, then why shouldn’t the Kingdom break out wherever His Body is?


If we understand that it’s God’s will for the Kingdom to break out wherever we go, then we can pray boldly. He wants to break the domain of darkness through us. From driving away oppressing spirits to freeing broken people, we are agents of God, seeking to establish His reign. Knowing that He sent us out, that He is with us, and that He wants to establish outposts of His reign on earth, we pray as Jesus taught us: “Thy name be hallowed; Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

*many thanks to Michele for pointing out the 2 Kings 17:24 connection.

Paint by Numbers?

6 May 2012

The artist regards the canvas for a long moment, then takes up his brush.  He touches it lightly to the palette, then to the painting, just a single stroke.

“Why did you put the brush stroke there?” the apprentice asked, watching from his shoulder.

“Do you see the way the shadow falls just there, on the model’s cheek?” the master said.

“Yes.”  The apprentice nods vigorously.  “The principle of attention to detail.  They drilled that into us in art school.”

“Do you see the way it changes the color of the blush on her cheek?” the master continued.

Again, the apprentice nodded vigorously.  “Sure.  The principle that light level changes the way that the colors look.  I’ve read all about it.”

The master looked back at his painting, frowning.  “So now you understand?”

“Completely, sir.  All the principles are in the textbooks we used at school.”

A grin tugged at one corner of the master’s mouth.  “Excellent.  Since it’s all in the principles you already know…where will I place the next stroke?  Will it be heavy or light?  Which brush will I use, and which color?”

The apprentice opened his mouth to speak, his finger reaching for a spot on the painting.  Halfway extended, his arm faltered, and his expression slowly changed until it was an open-mouthed gape.

Theopoetics: My Insight Engine

22 January 2012

My partner and I have occasion, from time to time, to introduce people to the Bible, or parts of the Bible they’ve never met before.  Or at least never met before that way.  Or never seen how that bit connected so nicely to this bit, over here.  When one of these things happens, we look like absolute geniuses. In fact, genius has very little to do with it.  The Bible is at once a simple and a demanding book, and as we seek to engage it fully, there’s certainly room for genius if there happens to be any lying about.  But the genius is not the point, and in fact it’s not really required.

On a good day, someone will ask us how we do it, and we have a chance to engage that discussion.  On a bad day, they just assume that it takes something they don’t have, and they could never do what we do.  Now, in all modesty, God has gifted us in certain areas, and no amount of training and schooling can put in what God left out.  Understanding Scripture, though, is for everyone; this is a thing that can be learned.

We have accepted a fairly simple set of practices — hard, but simple — into our lives.  These five things have shaped us into the sort of men who can do what we do.  There’s nothing magical (or even especially academic) about it, and the truth is that we learned relatively little of this in seminary.  It doesn’t take a degree or time in the classroom; it doesn’t take knowledge of Greek and Hebrew.  Again, there’s room for those things to find expression, if you should happen to have them, and if you want them, I can help you get them.  But they’re not essential.  Diligence is essential, a passion for pursuing God.  It was our passion for pursuing God that led us into these things to start with.

So, without further ado, the five core practices that I’ve dubbed my “insight engine”:

Walk with God personally.  No excuses, no imitations, no treating God as a thought experiment, a set of principles, or a vending machine in the sky (even if it’s just dispensing spiritual blessings).  It is the birthright of God’s children to hear their Father’s voice, to know it for what it is and converse with Him, and to partake by grace in the dance of the Triune fellowship.  Accept nothing less.  The better you know a person, the easier it is to understand what he writes — and God is a Person.  Three, actually.

Map your world with the Word of God.  What is man?  Dust and breath.  What is the sun?  A power made by God to rule the day.  It’s not a “love scene” in a movie — it’s not even a “sex scene.”  It’s a “fornication scene.”  Take everything that happens in your world and go back to the Word with it.  Find it there, in the Word, and then you will know what it is, and what to do with it.  This is a key part of the task the Scriptures describe as meditation.

Talk like God talks.  Having done the hard work described above so that you can think of the things in the world, talk that way.  Constantly.  With everybody.  Yes, when you say, “Can we fast-forward through the fornication scene?” they will look at you funny.  So?

Walk with the wise.  Spend lots of time with people who are skilled in these things.  We don’t learn nearly as well from lecture or musty classrooms as we do from apprenticeship, working together with someone else who is more skilled.  Find those people and spend all the time with them you can.

Know your limitations.  Jesus could walk up to a guy mending nets on the beach and say, “Leave your dad and his servants here, drop your nets, and come follow me.”  He was walking so closely with the Father that He could see exactly what the Father wanted, and He could speak it out directly.  If I don’t hear the Father quite that clearly, then I ought to be hesitant about speaking that clearly and authoritatively. I am not, in fact, the Holy Spirit, and it’s not okay to poach on His territory.

So that’s it.  If you like the biblical insights you find here, this is where they come from, and there’s nothing in the list above that you couldn’t do just like I do.  (If you think I’m a nut, well, these things are to blame.  But I think all the people who thought me nuts quit reading a while ago.)