Archive for evangelicals

Musings on The Liturgy of the Mall, Living Rural, and Contemporary Ministry

I spent the semester using James KA Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom as a framework for my Introduction to Spiritual Theology class. We talked about thick practices. We talked about liturgies and specifically the liturgy of the mall. In the first class (and the very last class) we read together his hypothetical anthropological investigation of the mall and talked about its offer of the”good life.”

And now, here I am, the semester is over and my husband and I are having a mini-vacation at the West Edmonton Mall. And I see the liturgy everywhere. 
  • We can find the good life at Sears (or at the gym). 
  • True Religion is found in clothes, specifically jeans. 
  • Enlightenment is achieved through tea (at the store Tea-vana).
  • Transcendence is found in bedding (at Bed, Bath and Beyond). 
  • We can “live well” with the help of GNC. 
  • We can retain our youth and beauty forever through skin care products and makeup (at Forever Flawless). 
  • And, we can escape it all and spend the night in Fantasy Land (which was quite lovely. We stayed in the Arabian room).

Together, these stores send the message that I don’t have the good life, but they can provide it. I will find happiness if I spend my money and use their services. 

It’s a very different experience than shopping on Amazon. For the most part I go to Amazon, type in what I’m looking for, and choose my options. While Amazon will suggest related products, there is not the same unconscious messaging and branding. 

Maybe there’s something to be said for living in rural Saskatchewan, away from any real mall (cause let’s face it the “mall” in Moose Jaw doesn’t count). 

What would my Christianity look like, what would my worldview look like, if I hadn’t stepped away from the mall culture five years ago? Would Smith’s work have been as impactful, or would I have found it patronizing? 

I’ve struggled for a while now with the current trend in church planting and church growth to favour urban contexts over rural ones. But I’m wondering if the rural context offers a much needed outside (though not necessarily superior) perspective or reality check, that challenges urban/suburban ministry to be aware of the possibility that they can too easily fall prey to the allure of consumerist liturgies.

And the musing continues…

#TBT Immersed By Scripture

The following is adapted from a post I wrote in 2012.


It’s been an interesting transition from studying the Reformation to backing up fourteen hundred years and studying the Church Fathers. One thing that is common to both eras is how the writers from both eras used Scripture. In their writings, Scripture is quoted and when it’s not quoted it’s alluded to, and when it’s not alluded to it is fully exposited. It doesn’t matter if it is Marie Dentiere, Argula von Grumbach, St. Clement, Barnabas or Justin Martyr. These writers are immersed by Scripture.

If I wrote a paper the way they wrote their treatises, one of two things would happen:
1. The professor would inevitably charge me with proof-texting
2. The professor would inevitably dock me points for not citing enough “academic” sources

What if bloggers wrote like these writers from the Reformation or Patristic period? Would we even read the posts? What would happen if we allegorically interpreted Scripture to comment on the latest “mega-pastor says something controversial” video clip? Honestly, I don’t know that I would continue reading blog posts that were made up of nothing but a series of quotations, allusions and expositions of Scripture the way that some of the writings of Church Fathers are.

How bad is that?

I admire how Scripture immersed these writers. It informed everything they wrote, said, did, and prayed. And even though I am a seminary student, I can’t really say that Scripture so fully immerses me. Why is that? Is it symptomatic of our 21st century Christian culture? Is it because I’m lazy?

Wouldn’t it be interesting, if instead of arguing over whether the Bible is inerrant, inspired, infallible etc. our concern was whether and to what degree the Bible immerses us?

In our efforts to assign the Bible authority, by developing statements regarding inerrancy and infallibility, we still seem to keep the Scripture at arm’s length. We can talk about the importance of Scripture, but the discussion is almost abstract. So what if the Bible is inerrant? If it doesn’t transform us what does it matter that the Bible is “fully without error?”

The liturgy that is used at the church I attend is an example of this immersion. As it tells the grand narrative of God’s redemptive work, it continually quotes, paraphrases, or alludes to Scripture. And yet, I have had a conversation with a couple of different people who have been in this tradition all their lives, and yet do not recognize the references to Scripture. They are just words on a page, and as far as they know the editors of the liturgy drew them from thin air. So this then raises another question: if people don’t even realize that Scripture is being quoted, does it matter?

With immersion comes transformation. And with transformation comes passion, a new perspective and a new posture. And this is what the Holy Spirit does as he illumines the Scriptures to point us to the Risen and Exalted Jesus. And of course, as you will notice, I didn’t quote, allude to, or exposit a single verse of Scripture in this post. Oops.

O Lord, may Your Word immerse me.

Books on Spiritual Formation — A Few Recommendations

I am teaching THEO 112 Introduction to Spiritual Theology this semester in the college. And one of my goals is to give my students tools to help them to grow and flourish in Christ over the next four years at Briercrest. What follows is a few choice books from my ever-growing list of books that I would recommend if someone asked “Where do I start reading?” These books have been chosen based on their accessibility/readability.


bonhoeffer life together  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together/Prayerbook of the Bible. I am using Bonhoeffer’s book as the textbook for the course, and the students are doing two assignments based on it. First, they are reflecting on and constructing a theology of the Christian life in response to Life Together. Second, they are going to pray the Psalms and respond to Bonhoeffer’s thesis that the Psalms are the prayers of Jesus.






grenz created for community   Stanley Grenz, Created for Community: Connecting Christian Belief with Christian Living. This book is a little dated (1996), but it is a book that is accessible while still being academic.







a-long-obedience  Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. You can’t talk about spiritual formation without referencing Peterson. This book is written to a lay audience. I would also highly recommend Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading. (I contemplated adding Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places to this list, but it better fit in a seminary-level course on spiritual formation rather than in a college-level course/a small group study in a church).





forgotten songs  C. Richard Wells & Ray Van Neste, eds. Forgotten Songs: Reclaiming the Psalms for Christian Worship. This is a good complement to Bonhoeffer’s Prayerbook of the Bible. I would especially recommend this book for pastors/churches that do not currently incorporate the reading/singing of Psalms in their regular worship services. The introductory chapter opens with a fantastic quote from Willem VanGemeren on the Church’s neglect: “Though no Old Testament book has been more important in the history of the church than the book of Psalms, we are in danger of losing it, partly because of lack of use of the psalms themselves and partly because of lack of use of the skills required for understanding them.”

The Practice of Rest

The following is adapted from a paper I gave at a colloquium last spring entitled: Towards a Theology of Rest: Using the Language of Sacrament and Ordinance to Understand the Christian Practice of Rest. See also my earlier post: Enforcing Rest?


sabbath british

We live in a culture of busyness. Sometimes this busyness is constructed by the program-oriented ministries of the church, with families having some sort of church activity and obligation (kid’s club, Bible study, worship practice, not to mention Sunday worship) three or more days a week. Sometimes this busyness is constructed by life outside of church, and pastors have to recognize that very often families are too busy with work, extra-curricular activities and family obligations to participate in all (or even just one) of the activities in the life of the church. Congregations, eager to keep people plugged into the life of the church, have adjusted to the reality that Sunday morning services are competing with Sunday morning soccer practices in the summer and Sunday morning hockey games in the winter, and have begun to offer mid-week church services for those who are too busy on the weekend to spend an hour or two in corporate worship.

How does rest fit into this life of busyness? More specifically, why do we practice rest? Often, the primary answer is the pragmatic answer: because it is good for us. Rest is often framed within an individualistic context in the Christian literature; though couched in Scripture proof-texts, the thesis is still the same: practising rest is good for me, therefore I will rest. And of course, there are plenty of resources for Christians on how to practice rest, with suggestions and strategies for even the busiest of people.

But what if, in trying to address the necessity of practicing rest, and in exploring the reason why we rest, the theological answer is not framed around us and how it benefits us, but around God and how rest is his work, into which he invites us to participate?

I want to suggest that rest is more than a commandment or ordinance to follow; rest is sacramental. The activity of rest becomes an outward sign of inward grace that points us not only to our present rest that we find in Christ, but also forward to the future rest that is promised in the eschaton. It is the tension between the present reality of rest and the eschatological one, between the “now and not yet,” that Christians testify to, participate in, and give thanks for, in their regular practice of rest. Rest is a practice that pulls back the curtain of the heavens and reveals the reality of how and why God is at work in the world.

“Sacraments are material things that point beyond themselves to their creator. They are windows into divine reality.”[1] All of creation can be sacramental, as the material world points to and gives hints to the mystery that is behind it. To think sacramentally is to understand that creation, created things, and physical practices (like the Lord’s Supper or Baptism), point to something larger than themselves. To think sacramentally is to acknowledge that God’s working in creation is mysterious and that humanity “cannot fathom how [sacraments] work or trace the lines form physical element to spiritual power and action.”[2]

The physical practice of rest, in which Christians participate, points to the mystery behind the practical: that God created rest, not as negation of work, but rather as the fulfillment of work. Just as God resting on the seventh day of creation was a sign that God was satisfied with His creation,[3] so too the Christian practice of rest is a sign that we acknowledge that Christ’s work was and is sufficient. God’s salvific work of sending Jesus is more than sufficient, it is also good, and there is nothing that we, as humans, can do, through working or striving, to improve it.

The practice of rest, the visible action of spending time in ceasing to work, points to the promises found in Scripture. In God’s instituting Sabbath at the creation of the nation of Israel, the practice of rest became a visible sign to remind the people that God had indeed delivered them from bondage in Egypt.[4] Entering the Promised Land became a powerful promise and image of rest that God would bestow on Israel, historically, soteriologically and eschatologically.[5] This rest was not an abstract, impersonal reality, instead, it is His rest,[6] given by and owned entirely by God Himself.

It is also important to note that just as sacraments not only have a vertical dimension, but also horizontal dimension,[8] so to the practice of rest is not solely about reconnecting the believer with God, but also about the reconnection of the believer with other humans. The day of rest has built into it a chance not only for Christians to gather in worship, but also for families to spend time together in a way that does not happen during the busyness of the rest of the week. In the Old Testament, Sabbath days, Sabbath years (e.g., the Year of Jubilee) and Sabbath feasts were communal practices, drawing the nation of Israel together to celebrate the goodness of God, and to practice hospitality, to acknowledge and allow the land to lay fallow, and for debts (and indentured persons) to be forgiven (Leviticus 25).

[1] Leonard Vander Zee, Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: Recovering the Sacraments for Evangelical Worship (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 17.

[2] Vander Zee, 54.

[3] Pipa, 121.

[4] Deuteronomy 5:12-15.

[5] Kaiser, 138.

[6] Psalm 95:11; Hebrews 4:3.

[7] Hebrews 4:11.

[8] White notes that sacraments are inherently communal in nature, and “overcome corrosive individualism,” James White, The Sacraments in Protestant Practice and Faith (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999), 28.


Enforcing Rest?

sabbath britishThis Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a dire preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs before-hand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations; but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship and in the duties of necessity and mercy. (Westminster Confession of Faith 21.8)



Should “rest” be mandatory? The Ten Commandments include an exhortation to keep the 7th day holy, not only through an act of worship, but also through the act of ceasing (Exodus 20:8-11). Throughout history there have been repeated examples of laws and rules being created to ensure that the day of rest is observed. For example:

  • Pharisees – They were so focused on keeping God’s Law that they had created layers upon layers of rules of what exactly could and could not be done on the Sabbath, rules that were not originally part of God’s institution of Sabbath in the OT.
  • Synod of Elvira (Spain -306) – specific prohibitions about the day of rest that were grouped in 5 categories: no working the land, no judicial acts or public assembly, travel restrictions, no sales of goods, no hunting.
  • Council of Laodicea (363) – outlined expectations of Christians regarding the observance of the Sabbath. Even though Christians were to observe the Lord’s Day, it was not necessary for them to rest on the Lord’s Day. Instead, the council offered instructions focusing on which day (Saturday or Sunday) should be set aside for worship but rest was “only for those who are able to do so.”
  • Council of Macon (585) – all local businesses (not just Christian businesses) must be closed on the Lord’s Day to observe rest.
  • Ireland (9th century) – no writing, haircuts, bathing, baking or housecleaning on Sundays.
  • Reformation – For a brief time in England, Protestant churches specifically allowed and encouraged their congregations to work, so as to rebel against the edict by the Roman Catholic Church that outlawed work on Sunday.
  • 20th Century– Even Canada had rules in place banning stores from being open on Sunday in observance of the Lord’s Day, whether they were Christian or not. (Ontario abolished the Sunday shopping ban in 1992)

And while some (many?) of the rules noted above seem legalistic and even downright absurd, I wonder if the 21st century church, in its attempt to be relevant to a 24 hour/7 day a week culture, could learn from this. Not in a “let’s tell society that they must rest” kind of way, but in a “how can we as Christians practice rest in such a way that is a witness and light to a culture that is “on” all the time?” kind of way.

Of course, it would be helpful to define “rest” which I will do in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!

Theology of Christ 2014


THEO 350 ONL syllabus Fall 2014

A Year of Busy

To say that this past year has been busy is an understatement. But, here I am, one week until graduation. Looking back, it’s been amazing journey.

In the last year I have:

  • Had baby #3
  • Proposed a thmeandbarthesis on Barth
  • Had major surgery and spent a week in the hospital
  • Made and sold over 100 jars of homemade jam at the local farmer’s market
  • Started working on my thesis
  • Got a job as a graduate instructor (translation: grading, grading and more grading)
  • Continued to work on my thesis
  • Presented a scholarly paper on the theology of rest at a seminary-sponsored colloquium
  • Completed my thesis
  • Successfully defended my thesis

And now, the end is near. The grad ceremony is next week. I have been given the privilege of standing before the seminary as valedictorian (technically co-valedictorian as there was a tie for highest GPA).

To all those who have been so supportive on this journey: Thank you. To the parents — my mom, and my fantastic in-laws — thank you for coming and helping out with the kids. To Julie, who has been like family, thank you for caring for my children a couple of days a week so that I could write. To dear friends Sherilyn, Ellen and Kelsey, thank you for sharing in the stress and joy and emotional ups and downs. To my husband Charles, thank you for encouraging me, for sacrificing, and for working so hard to provide for our family. And to my three children, thank you for brightening my days with smiles and for teaching me about the simple beauty of the Gospel.



Lots and Lots of Christology

For the past eight weeks I have been reading piles and piles of books on Christology. No, not for my thesis (though, technically my thesis is on Karl Barth’s Christology, specifically his exegesis and use of John 1:14), but for my job.

As I’ve been reading, there have been some books that have been hugely helpful, and others that though they came recommended ended up being highly over-rated, boring, or both.

Today, I want to highlight a few of the books that I really like. My research emphasis has been on exploring the theological significance of the major events of Christ’s life (e.g., Baptism, Transfiguration, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, etc.,) rather than on the historical development of Christology.

The Suffering and Victorious Christ is a new book (October 2013) that I had the privilege of getting a sneak peek at thanks to Baker Academic and Net Galley. This book has provided me with an introduction to the broader Christological tradition, through the exploration of the Christus dolor, the suffering of Christ. The authors contrast Western, North American, portrayals of Christ, what the authors refer to as the “masculine triumphalism” to Christ, to Asian (specifically Japanese) portrayals, particularly the suffering and sorrow of the Lord. Of special interest, was the chapter that examines the Christology of 19th century African Americans, for example Sojourner Truth. This book has been helpful as I tackle the question, “Why did Christ die?”


One of the things I have observed in evangelical circles is that the ascension gets overlooked. Either it gets collapsed into the resurrection, or it gets rushed through as a quirky prologue to Pentecost. While I have chosen a chapter from T.F. Torrance’s Space, Time and Resurrection as a primary source reading on this topic, Peter Atkins’ Ascension Now is a fantastic pastoral resource. In it, Atkins not only considers the biblical evidence, and theological implications of the ascension, he also devotes significant time to considering the implications of the doctrine of the ascension for liturgy, prayer, and preaching.


While Gustaf Aulen’s Christus Victor is the classic choice for an overview of the Christus Victor theory of the atonement, it suffers from being dull and boring. In contrast, Greg Boyd’s chapter on “The Warfare Significance of Christ’s Death and Resurrection” in his book, God at War, is an accessible, and non-boring presentation of Christus Victor.





And of course, I can’t not include Barth, so a primary source reading of Barth’s exegesis on the parable of the Prodigal Son in CD IV.2 is a must!



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Reading Barth, Not Reading Barth, and Reactions to the Barthian Industry

Karl Barth

There has been a fascinating discussion going on in the blogosphere this month about reading Barth.  It started with Janice Rees talking about her own personal resistance movement where she was deliberately choosing to not read Karl Barth:

“…my commitment to not reading Barth arose because of my concerns regarding the institution of Barthian scholarship and my understanding of identity for theologians on the margins. By not reading Barth I was, and have been, engaging in what I believe is a form of resistance; a small gesture that I could manage as I tried to find a voice and place beyond tokenism.  There are several ways in which I have understood this to be resistance.”

Peter Kline wrote about his choice to no longer read Karl Barth and his personal therapy of choosing to not go to Princeton for a PhD program:

“The previous summer I had been invited to contribute to an online blog conference on Barth that would take place in October. The conversation that unfolded in response to my essay was painful for me. People I thought were my friends at Princeton treated me with a callousness and condescension that I found disgusting. But I realized that this was nothing new really, that I had been around this toxicity for years but hadn’t had the distance to see it. This is what talking about Barth sounded and felt like, a pious pissing contest. These are the kinds of conversations Barth’s discourse generates, and I decided that I didn’t want to be a part of them, even if I was good at them. After that essay, I decided not to write on Barth anymore, beyond what was required of me as a grad student. What I decided to walk away from was a whole Princeton-Barth culture that bred arrogance, pseudo-friendships, and a very limited set of theological possibilities.”

 Kait Dugan wrote about her reasons for reading Barth:

“I wish there was space within the theological academy for women to critically engage and appropriate Barth in ways that brought him into desperately needed conversation with other critical theologies. And I’m not talking about the token engagement that can pass in certain projects. I’m interested in profound and rigorous bilateral dialogue between Barth and other critical theologians in order to create something new. [4] The most ironic part of all of this is when I realize just how “radical” Barth is on certain issues and the lines of continuity that can be drawn between him and other theologians who most within confessional boundaries might typically render “not serious” or “unorthodox.” [5] To my surprise, when I read Barth, I see him as an incredible support and ally for many basic theological concerns within theologies of race, gender, and sexuality.”


Today, David Congdon has weighed in on the conversation:

“But it is has become fashionable to stop reading Barth for other, far less compelling, reasons. In the first of two recent statements on the matter, we discover that “not reading Barth” is not really a rejection of Barth himself so much as a rejection of “the institution of Barthian scholarship,” “a means to resist the production and control of ‘serious scholarship’” in favor of contextual theology, a rejection of “the way in which ‘Barth’ is invoked as the magic word for ‘orthodoxy,’” a way of resisting “institutional powers,” since “Barthian scholarship seems a power unto itself.” These are all different ways of saying the same thing: “not reading Barth” = resisting the oppressive institutional powers of church and academy. We hear more of the same in the second, more personal, statement, in which “not reading Barth” = the rejection of “a pious pissing contest” and “a whole Princeton-Barth culture that bred arrogance, pseudo-friendships, and a very limited set of theological possibilities.” Of course, by the end, we learn that the author has exchanged one culture for another, that of critical theory, which “is every bit as much an industry as the former with unspoken but obvious clubs and entrance requirements.””

And my thesis supervisor made this observation on Facebook this afternoon:

“Telling people why we may have stopped reading Barth (which is, of course, perfectly a legitimate choice) is one thing, but telling others why we may have stopped reading Barth with the strong implication that their readers should ALSO stop reading Barth sounds a little bit too much like a form of censorship for my comfort.”

As an MA student doing my thesis on Karl Barth, I have been reading the ongoing conversation carefully and prayerfully. I don’t have anything profound to add to the conversation, but what follows are a few of the ideas that are floating around my Barth-addled brain.

  1. I have been edified and challenged by Barth.  It was an invitation to a Barth reading group in Caronport when we had just newly moved here, that allowed me to meet people and be intellectually challenged. I would later take a seminar class on Barth that, though it was one of the most challenging classes of my seminary career, was the most rewarding. I have learned that Barth is best read in the context of the church. He was writing to edify the church, not to edify the academy. If a person reads Barth merely as an academic exercise, then they are doing a grave injustice to the writing and spirit of Barth’s scholarship.
  2. While Barth is a profoundly important voice for Christian theology, he is not the only voice, nor the final voice.
  3. You don’t need to like Barth to appreciate Barth’s contribution to theology. Confession: I really, really dislike reading Augustine. If I have a choice between reading Augustine and anything else, I will choose anything else (including the dreadful Twilight series). But, I also know that it is important for me to read Augustine as he has (for good or for evil or both) profoundly influenced western Christian thought.
  4. Peter’s observation of Barthian scholarship being a “pious pissing contest” is spot on. As I read for my thesis I have begun to be able to tell just from the introduction of a book which Barthian “camp” the author identifies with. Too often I have found otherwise intelligent scholars failing to understand, listen to, or fairly represent the arguments from a scholar from the opposite camp simply because they are from the “wrong side.”
  5. Given the way that Barthian academy works, I am learning (very quickly) that I am not smart enough to be a Barth scholar. As I read “provocative” and “creative” interpretations and interactions with Barth, I find myself asking: “are we reading the same text?!” “is all this academic twisting and interpreting being fair to the spirit and purpose of Barth’s writings?” and “are the “innovative” readings of Barth merely a means for the scholar to get name recognition?”
  6. Criticizing Barth for not anticipating the conversations or the postmodern assumptions in Christian theology that developed after his time is at best a cheap-shot, and at worst, unethical and sloppy scholarship.
  7. While it is true that in classes and at conferences, I am usually the only or one of only a few women in attendance I have not experienced any problems being a woman who studies Barth. This is probably due in large part to the fact that I am just a mere student and not a scholar trying to contribute to the academy.

I may never end up in the hallowed halls of the Barthian academy (very probable). I may get to the end of my thesis and not want to read Barth for a very long time (highly probable). I may discover that Barth is not the best dialogue partner for my theological journey (very possible). Or I may discover that Barth is the coolest of all the cool theologians and that my life’s dream is to become a Barthian scholar (unlikely, but who knows?)

Whatever the case, Barth offers all of us, whether we are student or teacher, pastor or teacher, some very wise counsel: the work and call of the theologian is a gift of grace. “To become and be a theologian is not a natural process but an incomparably concrete fact of grace.”  While some may say that this idea lends itself to a sort of arrogance, as if the theologian has been endowed, Barth is quick to point out that this gift of grace is a mystery, for “if anyone supposed he could understand himself as such a receiver of grace, he would do better to bid theology farewell.”  With this comes the need for humility. All of our theological presuppositions are grounded, not in the logical consistency of a theologian’s argument, but in the “reality of God’s self-communication to us in Jesus Christ.”  As such, theological statements, be they from Barth or any other theologian past or present, “are true only in so far as they direct us away from themselves to the one Truth in God” and that Truth is Jesus. 


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Random Barth Related Stuff

barth study

Fun Barth Fact:

It took Barth three lecture periods to get through his material on John 1:14 when he taught through the Gospel of John in 1925. (No wonder he didn’t make it all the way through the Gospel, given that pace!)

A Real Barth Related Conversation:

2 year old — “Help Momma!”

Me — “You want to help Momma do research?”

2 year old — nods.

Me — “Can you speak German?”

2 year old — “…fitzzzzzzzzzzz.”

Me– “Perfect! You’re hired!”

Barth quote that I’m examining in light of the McCormack’s argument that Barth moves from being Pneumocentric to Christocentric in his Christology:

Inasmuch as the Incarnation fulfills the time, it is also limited by time. Insasmuch as it is epoch-making, it is also an epsiode which points beyond itself to the Holy Ghost who proclaims the Incarnate Word in other ages as well, and to the Resurrection of the body which includes all ages. ~”The Word Made Flesh” sermon 1926.


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