Ebert on Herzog


I’ve often thought that preachers should read the Bible the way Roger Ebert watched (and preach the way Ebert wrote about) films.

I’ve also often thought Werner Herzog was among the greatest artists of our time.  Watch Grizzly Man.  Watch Into the Abyss.  Tell me I’m wrong; this is film as poetry, film that shakes and inspires and terrifies not by manipulation or by tricks, but simply by watching.  (Not that Herzog is an objective or disinterested observer.)

RoberEbert.com has published an overview of Ebert’s reviews of Herzog.  Read it, follow the links, check out the incredible movies, be moved and inspired and terrified by the simple beauty of it.

Coming Later Today …


… “What We Talk About When We Talk About What Rob Bell Talks About.”  What is Rob Bell doing when he preaches?  Is it dangerous?  Is it biblical?  A brief sketch, and a few tentative conclusions.

#NeverTrump, Reason 4,359


Warren Throckmorton asks: is Trump the kind of “friend” American Christianity needs?

Does Christianity Need Donald Trump’s Help?


“The Last Time We Stood in the West”


I think something interesting is happening among the progressive evangelicals (ugh, I don’t like that term) out west.

(I think I’m going to start referring to everyone who’s still arguably evangelical but just a skosh to my left as “the radical center.”)

(“Skosh“: I saw an online dictionary that etymologized “skosh” as coming from a Japanese word, but I know darn well it’s a Texas thing.)

I’m speaking of the LA nexus of Rob Bell and The Liturgists (Mike McHargue, aka “Science Mike”, and Michael Gungor.)

(A few weeks ago, I heard a megachurch preacher introduce Science Mike, and repeatedly refer to him as “Mike the Science Guy,” which transported me back to Bill Nye.)

What I’ve read and heard from these guys mines rich veins of Christian mysticism, sharing much with Richard Rohr (also out west, in Albuquerque).

Bell is a fabulous preacher; seriously.  He’s not good, he’s VERY good.  A couple of weeks ago, he podcasted a series of five sermons on Lamentations that were rich and biblical and incredibly therapeutic on an emotional level.

Don’t make the mistake of judging Bell without actually listening to him or reading what he’s written.  (Many people I know express a real disdain for Bell, but only a few of them have actually read or listened to him.)

(I’m working on a piece where I describe Bell’s hermeneutics, rationale, and mission, as I understand them.)

Also in the west is Tripp Fuller (Home-brewed Christianity.)  I know Fuller is from North Carolina originally, but believe he is located in Los Angeles.  I haven’t seen any interactions between him and the Bell cadre.

Fuller is more academic and less accessible (IMHO), less therapeutic (or at least less immediately so), than Bell or The Liturgists.  I AM fascinated by the ministry training school he has organized, however: The Hatchery (@Hatchery_LA), which is part MDiv and part graduate program in community development and entrepreneurship.

Who are the other progressive evangelical voices out west?

Living in a One Storey Universe


A very Rohr quote, from Stephen Freeman, “One-Storey Universe” (here), 17.  Freeman is an Orthodox priest.  In this blog, he describes how Orthodox Christians believe that all the cosmos is sacred and God-drenched.  There is no separation into “sacred” or “common”: everything & every activity is (or can, or should be) sacred.

Some implications of this worldview:

“The more the secular world is exalted as secular, that is, having an existence somehow independent of God, the more we will live as practical atheists – perhaps practical atheists who pray (but for what do we pray?).  … The more secular the world becomes for Christians, the more political Christians will become. We will necessarily resort to the same tools and weapons as those who do not believe.

Christianity that has purged the Church of the sacraments, and of the sacramental, have only ideas which can be substituted – the result being the eradication of God from the world in all ways other than theoretical. Of course, since much of modern Christianity functions on this ideological level rather than the level of the God-Who-is among-us, much of Christianity functions in a mode of practical atheism. The more ideological the faith, the more likely its proponents are to expouse what amounts to a practical atheism.

Orthodox Christianity, with its wealth of dogma and Tradition, could easily be translated into this model – and I have encountered it in such a form. But it is a falsification of Orthodoxy. Sacraments must not be quasi-magical moments in which a carefully defined grace is transmitted to us – they must, instead, threaten to swallow up the whole world.”

This is very much of a piece with Rohr’s The Naked Now: Learning to See As the Mystics See, which I’m currently reading










Jon Merrit on Being Blocked by the Gospel


Not a definitive takedown, but worth reading. 

The Gospel Coalition and how (not) to engage culture

Richard Rohr’s Seven Themes


These are the seven themes around which Richard Rohr’s teaching revolves.  I’m posting them here, and interacting with them on a subsequent post.

Do I need to post a disclaimer saying that the fact that I’m posting them here, or the fact that I’m a severe Rohr fanboy, does NOT mean I agree with everything he says below?  If so, consider the disclaimer posted.

The links (if they work) should lead to .mp3’s of Rohr’s teaching on the topic, so you can hear him unpack each point.

You may also want to hear Rob Bell’s “robcast” with Rohr, a nearly 90 minute conversation about these themes.

1. Scripture as validated by experience, and experience as validated by Tradition, are good scales for one’s spiritual world view (METHODOLOGY).

2. If God is Trinity and Jesus is the face of God, then it is a benevolent universe. God is not someone to be afraid of, but is the Ground of Being and on our side (FOUNDATION).

3. For those who see deeply there is only One Reality. By reason of the Incarnation, there is no truthful distinction between sacred and profane (FRAME).

4. Everything belongs. No one needs to be punished, scapegoated, or excluded. We cannot directly fight or separate ourselves from evil or untruth. Darkness becomes apparent when exposed to the Light (ECUMENICAL).

5. The “separate self” is the major problem, not the shadow self which only takes deeper forms of disguise (TRANSFORMATION).

6. The path of descent is the path of transformation. Darkness, failure, relapse, death, and woundedness are our primary teachers, rather than ideas or doctrines (PROCESS).

7. Reality is paradoxical and complementary. Non dual thinking is the highest level of consciousness. Divine union, not private perfection, is the goal of all religion (GOAL).

Against Cottrell’s Rebuttal of Wright


This past week, former Cincinnati Christian Seminary theology professor Jack Cottrell, the dean of conservative Christian Church theologians, posted a brief “takedown” of the New Perspective on Paul, specifically N.T. Wright.  You can find Cottrell’s post here.

This afternoon, I posted the following response.

Respectfully, I see several methodological problems with your response.

1. Although you summarize the New Perspective, you don’t seem to be tracking all the conversations that Wright is part of here. The Davies > Sanders > Wright “school” is ‘re-judaizing” Paul in response to German NT scholarship of the 19th and early 20th century, which de-judaized Paul. Bultmann is the towering example, but aside from a few exceptions (e.g., Schlatter, perhaps Schweitzer but I don’t remember him as well), German NT scholars grossly minimized the Jewish background of all the NT, including Jesus, which facilitated the rise of Nazism and anti-semitism.

In other words: if Davies > Sanders > Wright swing the pendulum too far in one direction (“Judeocentrism”), it’s because it swung drastically and disastrously in the other direction for a very long time.

2. You seem offended by the idea that the New Perspective thinks it has corrected something that theologians have been getting wrong since nearly New Testament times. That’s the kind of claim that the reformers made against Catholicism. It’s also the kind of claim that restorationists frequently make. It is hardly unprecedented.

3. You seem offended by Wright’s attempt to redefine classical theological terms, away from the understanding given them during the Reformation: e.g., the words related to DIKAIOS. This is the entirety of your point C, and it is anachronism run amok. (E.g., your complaint about relying on literature outside of the New Testament.)

The center of Wright’s attempt to redefine the meaning of these terms, which you do NOT summarize and certainly do not refute, is careful exegetical work and literary-historical work that shows that the world of Paul did not use these terms (e.g. the DIKAIOS word group) to mean what later theological formulations say that they meant. For example, Wright claims that a careful literary-historical survey shows that “justification” in Paul’s world was never used to refer to imputed righteousness.

(Similarly, Wright and others have noted that the post-enlightenment West is much more individualistic than Paul or Paul’s readers; this is a given in modern New Testament scholarship. This is at the heart of the New Perspective’s critique of much of reformed theology as nothing more than individual soteriology, something you note near the beginning of your post but do not refute nor [apparently] appreciate.)

If the biblical witness is the basis of and standard for our theology, and if literary-historical work shows that a concept we are using cannot (or even likely did not) mean to the biblical writers what we say that it means in our theology, then we are wrong and need to correct our formulations, no matter how inconvenient or universal our error.

4. You are fundamentally misreading Wright on the relationship between the roles of Israel and Jesus.

You say: “If Israel was God’s original agent for saving the world, and if Christ came only to do what Israel failed to do, the clear implication is that, theoretically, the Jews as such COULD HAVE SAVED THE WORLD if only they had been true to their covenant. There would have been no need for Jesus.”

You do not produce a quote to support this, only a “clear implication.” I believe your “clear” inference is a misreading of Wright, which you fall into because he is doing narrative theology (describing God’s plan in narrative sequence) and you are reading it as systematic theology.

“First Israel, then Jesus” is the order of events. Even if Israel had been faithful, Messiah would have come, but his coming would have looked very different, as would his road to the cross.

But that’s like asking if Jesus failed because Israel rejected him as Messiah, leading to Gentiles and Jews together in the church. God’s purpose is not frustrated.

Regarding Labels


What do you call Christians who listen to / read Rob Bell, The Liturgists, Richard Rohr, Tripp Fuller, etc.?

I hate the label “progressive evangelical,” in part because it applies affinity with progressive politics.  I’m not politically progressive; good grief, I supported Ted Cruz (although I preferred Marco Rubio.)

But I have a real affinity for the socially conscious, tradition-questioning Christians who are serious about biblical authority (even as they challenge the way the established church interprets and applies it.)

Is there a better term than “progressive evangelical”?  Something to do with Sojourners?  Or Red-Letter Christians?