Archives For Narrative Theology

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Our students just got back from attending a conference about evangelism and the discussion that came from that from our students was extremely helpful and has shifted my thoughts on what it means to be evangelistic or to do evangelism. Our discussions seem to center around the difficult conversations we have when talking to people about God, Scripture and multiple issues. It seems that the student’s perception of evangelism is that it cannot be based on one simple, “throw-it-all-out-there” conversation but it takes multiple conversations built on a relationship.

That’s not to say the gospel cannot be offered to someone whom we have only just met but it is to say that most of the time evangelism takes time, initiative and a whole lot of prayer. This leads me to how we teach students what it means to be evangelistic. For a long period of time I taught students at Main Street that evangelism is sitting down and studying systematic doctrines so that when people assent to a knowledge of who God is and what the bible teaches then they could make a decision to follow Christ and put Christ on in baptism.

That’s sounds good except the issue I have with it is that the first century Christians did not do evangelism this way. I know you are quick to go to all of the conversion stories in the book of Acts but I want you to think about something for a minute:

When Peter, Paul and others are involved in the conversion of people what exactly is said? What is discussed? Do they use Scriptures and if so what Scriptures do they use?

I think what happened in the beginning stages of the church was that the Spirit played a role in the preaching and teaching and what happened was that a lot of people bore witness (Greek – martureo) to the works, words and life of Jesus and part of that testimony was how Jesus completely changed their own life.

 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard,which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3)

There was testimony from what they saw in Jesus himself but they, in turn, bore witness to that testimony with the joy (1 John 1:4) of fellowship in Christ. In other words, Christ changed their life and they shared that news everywhere (Dare we talk about the apostle Paul here?). The original disciples were not quick at sharing dogma (i.e., teaching) but at sharing life. They were vulnerable and they invested themselves in the work and ministry of local churches all around the Roman Empire. That does not mean a system of beliefs is not necessary for Christians as part of sanctification includes knowing what to believe and what to do with those beliefs.

Yet it is entirely different to approach Scripture saying, “What do I need to know?” versus having the attitude, “What does God delight in or what brings God joy?” One seeks information and the other seeks transformation. I think where we fail in evangelism is that we are more interested in making converts instead of disciples. We seek to concentrate on their eternity (which is absolutely important) but we fail to tell them what to do here in the meantime.

So I want to blog a little about evangelism and how it relates to youth ministry. I admit that I am not good at evangelism because I am not good at sharing my life with people. I recently was asked to speak at the aforementioned conference about evangelism and my response was as blunt and confessional as I could be:

 I feel like I have not been evangelistic enough and teaching about evangelism when I am not practicing it like I should sounds a bit troubling to me.

Yet, I am learning. So join me as we journey together.


Great day I experienced with classes, super-sessions and keynote messages from some of the finest people in Christianity. I typed 10 pages of notes yesterday so I cannot include everything here but I want to give you some highlights that stood out to me.

Tuesday Morning, Mike Cope “Spiritual Intubation: How Community Keeps Us Alive” The Wizard of Oz: Revelation’s View of Community

  • “No church ever existed in a pure state. The church is made up of sinners. The fleas come with the dogs.” (Eugene Peterson)
  • Four characters who are known by their deficiencies. Much like Christians today.
  • Showing of who Oz really is. “The great Oz has spoken, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
  • Pergamum
    • It’s a great distance from Colorado Springs to Pergamum.
    • In Pergamum it was very, very different.
    • Everywhere people went they told two stories: the power of Rome and Greek gods and goddesses. Everywhere they went they are told that they are caught up in and how could they not believe it. It “has to be true.”  Every market, athletic event, silver item told them about temple worship.
    • Where is the Pergamum church of Christ?
      • A tiny…insignificant few.
      • Imagine holding on to the story of Jesus while walking among the temples and other places where the minority is huge.
      • Have you been the minority?
      • Power, honor, identity was wrapped up into gods and Rome not Christ.
    • Persecuted Christians get it
    • “Though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw he saw no creatures so wild as one of his own commentators.” G. K. Chesteron
  • Deep Community is anchored in Jesus
  • Deep community has to be eschatological in nature.
  • Deep community is at its best when it is part of a mission…a larger story.

Tuesday Morning Keynote Kurt Johnston @kurtjohnston “Deep, Redefined”

  • Have you ever stopped and thought about all the things in youth ministry that you don’t do very well? We are great at trying to control the perceptions of other people. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are great at creating perception of us.
  • Four truths I have learned that have 1) pointed out my shallowness and 2) led him into a deeper experience in faith.
    • Life is a squiggle
    • I need a travel partner
    • Busyness will keep you in the shallow end.
    • When you begin to have a long view of youth ministry

Tuesday Super Session Frank Viola @FrankViola “The Missing Ingredient”

Observations about ministry to young people:

  • Catch30 Crisis – Human beings go through developmental stages as they get old. When they are 30 they reassess every decision they made in their 20s and they either abandon what hey believed or abandon them. You don’t know where someone is spiritually until they are thirty. You could not serve in the house of God until you were 30. Jesus did not begin his ministry until he was 30. Young people need to be prepared for this.
  • There is a difference between youthful enthusiasm and spirituality. Most of the big Christian movements are built on youthful enthusiasm. The problem is that many operates on youthful enthusiasm and the well runs dry
  • You can’t pass on to those whom you minister to what you have not experienced yourself.
  • I have to prepare them for the forgotten beatitude. Blessed is he who is not offended by me.

Other Notes from class…

  • If you cut the bible in any place it will bleed Jesus Christ.
  • Moses and Christ
  • Creation and Christ
  • Isaac and Christ
  • Jacob and Christ
  • Conclusion  – #1 – Find Christ in the bible. #2 – Do business with the Lord

Tuesday Afternoon Class 1 Josh Graves @JoshGraves “The Bible Jesus Read: Genesis 1-2”

2 Timothy 3:14-17; John 5

  • We need a more mystical understanding of Scripture. But also how it calls us to new spaces.
  • “All Scripture” does not exist yet and he has in mind Torah.
  • Inspired…he does not infallible, inerrant. They never show up in the bible. Sometimes the most important work we do is not learning new things but relearning old things.
  • 2 Timothy is not about proving Scripture over science but it is about inviting people into God’s world in order to see the world differently and “to do something about it.”
  • These stories carry the freight in any given culture.

Genesis 1

  • God can’t help but to create. He is in control. The things God creates would not be believable if we have not seen them.
  • Everything else that has creativity or imagination that somehow it is all linked back to the God who started.
  • One of the ways Genesis invites us to go deeper and that we live in a good creation. Does not deny the dark side of life but he made everything and called it good.
  • Most people who tell the story of God begin with Genesis 3 and not Genesis 1.
  • We have to introduce paradox to our students. Life is full of joy and pain. Paradox is one of the greatest contribution to the Western world.

Tuesday Afternoon Class 2 Sally Gary @centerpeaceinc “Reaching out to Teens Who Identify as Gay and Lesbians”

Many who struggle with same sex attraction but still love the Lord.  Struggles do not divide us.

Starved for Intimacy. Facebook and its struggles for intimacy. Question is: How can we meet this need? This desire for community. There is a great need for this connection.

What teens learn from the world: Glee, Modern Family.

What teens learn from the church: Nasty messages about homosexuals from the church

What they need is looking for a safe place.

How to be a safe place?

Deal with our own fears.

  • Change our thinking
  • Change our language
  • Listen
  • Be consistent
  • Model the Love and Acceptance of Christ

Tuesday Night Keynote Frank Viola @FrankViola “God so loved the world vs. Love not the world.”

The world in the New Testament is used in two ways…

  1. Speaks of the material universe. Jesus of Nazareth is this world’s true Lord.
  2. A system or network or order of things designed to draw us away from God.

Historically Christians have taken two postures: 1) Retreated from the world’s system (Isolationism) 2) Enmeshed by the world and married to it.

The most miserable person is a Christian who is living in a way where deep inside them they are told to give something up and they can’t. When we are in community with other Christians the Holy Spirit is clearest.

The Holy Spirit will reveal to you what is of the world.

2 Kind of legalists: 1) Salvation by works 2) I am going to take what the Holy Spirit has shown me personally and make it a law to you.

“The gospel spreads best not through force but through fascination” (Shane Claiborne)

Dinner in Colorado Springs: Uchenna Ethiopian Restaurant

This was ranked #2 in Colorado Springs by TripAdvisor and it was awesome. I had Yebeg Alecha which was tender pieces of lamb marinated with butter then sautèed with ginger, garlic, and 12 spices. There were no forks but you had this roll that you put the meat and the sauce in. It was excellent. The owner’s name is Maya and they cooked everything to order so it took a while but the food was worth it. They have mostly organic food and a substantial vegetarian menu. I have never tried authentic Ethiopian cuisine but this was a must! Went a left the owner looked at me and said, “Go in peace.” I love her already.


I was one of those that has not read the book Blue Like Jazz by Donald (Don) Miller. When it came out it seemed to be the trendy thing to read if you were a post youth group college-age twenty-something. I am not being pejorative with that descriptor it just seemed to me that most of the people reading this book fit into this category. I will read the book now but I first saw the movie which is something I like to do. Most people read the book then watch the movie. I usually do the opposite. When you read the book first you are always disappointed but when you watch the movie first then read the book then it brings wonder and excitement into the movie. Having said that here are my thoughts about the movie.

The movie, in a satirical way, shows some weaknesses of some evangelical churches in addressing the larger issues twenty-somethings struggle with. To be fair this is not a large stroke against every evangelical church but I do think (especially among the more conservative/fundamental groups) there is some disconnect with the theology some practice and how that theology contextualizes in real life. There was a scene where they had a youth-group lock-in and they were playing games, then it cuts to a scene where Don talks with his troubled father and troubled mother. It is like the context of church did not mesh with the context of his family. They were not syncretized but they were two distinct situations. In discussions with twenty-somethings there seems to be this disconnect where church is something we “go to” instead of something “we are.” The movie pointed to this disconnect very well.

I thought the movie did an excellent job at pointing to the complex journey of faith that young people take. Don’s journey (if I take it to being biographical) is very difficult. He deals with reconciling what God is doing versus the complex issues (homosexuality, mother sleeping with the youth pastor, etc.) that he has to face in this world. There is no escapism for Don and that is tough to deal with. Young people want genuine faith and the moralistic therapeutic deism that many churches are teaching simply does not fly with the younger generation. They want to learn more about God other than being a nice guy, wearing a tie on Sundays, voting Republican and going to services three times a week. Faith is more complex to them than that.

Christianity does not call for us to model culture but it also means we cannot escape it. The people Don encountered at Reed College were incredibly different than he was used to back in Houston, Texas. It seemed that Don’s effort was not to leave these people because they did not mesh with his views but to engage them in conversation and Christian love. In the end, it turns out that he was able to be frank with his belief and to allow his love for God help people.

This is a good movie to watch and I recommend twenty-somethings to watch this movie and take its content seriously. I think a challenge is understanding Don’s use of storytelling and how to interpret it for our own context. Story is powerful (which is why he sold over a million copies) but I think we cannot seriously advocate parties, drug use and flippant sexuality as part of our Christian journey. I think his story should be understood just as that…his story. He is not prescribing aspects of life but describing his own complex journey. Yet, each of us have our own complex journey so this story is so powerful for many people.

The movie does contain some cuss words and there is some partying and things that occur so appropriate ages should watch this only.

What am I missing?

I have been a fan of Yellowcard since they released their epic album “Ocean Avenue” in 2003. I have loved just about every song they have come out with. Their new album “Southern Air” looks to be a great album and I absolutely love the song “Here I am Alive.” In the video it portrays a couple of junior-high kids who have dreams but come across some bullies who say, “You are never getting out of this town.”

I thought about my own dreams and where I am now. The song seems to speak some truth to life about how there are ups and downs but we are still alive. He poses a question, “If I could write myself when I was young.” I have written on this before but if you could write a letter to your younger self what would you say?

What would you say to your dreams?

What would you say to your struggles?

What would you say to your family and friends?

What things would do differently?

This kind of thing allows us to think about what we use to hold important but no longer do but also things we gave up on and said that we could never do. Things people told us we would never accomplish.


Here we are…


Maybe we need to dream again.

What should you dream about?

What could you do?

Watch the video below. I hope you enjoy it.

You can see the first two posts here:

I had a conversation with my sister who lives in Toronto and we were talking about recycling and how, at least in the areas I have lived (Southeastern US) we have more trash and less recycling than Canada. She responded in jest, “You American consumers!” I think a lot of truth is said in jest and that is evident with the Olympic games as we watch all of the money spent on getting the games ready. I saw where the money raised and the budget used for the Olympics was in the neighborhood of over £2 billion (Source: That is $3.1 billion in U.S. currency! Not to mention all of the advertising. Consider this quote:

The 11 biggest corporate sponsors doled out nearly $1 billion for the rights to flaunt the Olympic seal during the London Games and 2010’s Winter Games in Vancouver. Coca-Cola is using social media to nudge Olympic fans to create and share music videos. General Electric is using it to coax folks to improve their health. Visa is using it to nudge fans to post elaborate cheers for the athletes. During the London Games, “we are going to see the use of social media surpass any sporting event in history,” says Bob Liodice, CEO of the Association of National Advertisers (USA Today).

All of this to garner our attention away from the competition and towards a particular product. Then I wonder how used (consumed) athletes feel. We use them until they no longer entertain us and then we are off to the next best thing in which we can consume as entertainment. All of this makes me as the obvious question: “Do you feel a bit used yourself?” It’s like they are saying, “Take our product, use our product and we will take your money and use your money to make another product and on and on the cycle goes.”

Jesus said this: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). In other words, Jesus is saying that our lives is not made by what we consume rather our lives are made by who we are.  Watch the Olympics… by all means! Enjoy it but be cognizant of what narratives are being fed to you and understand how they relate to the overall narrative of God.


As we were sitting in evening worship this past Sunday Madelyn handed me a ruffled piece of paper and said this, “Daddy, this is torn from your bible!” I looked and it was a missing page that had torn out of my bible. All of Scripture is important but what was missing as parts of Matthew 5-6 (i.e., the Sermon on the Mount). I am not sure what page I would choose to lose in Scripture but it definitely would not come from those famed chapters in Matthew. I thought about an illustration that I would make in this blog. I thought how important each page of Scripture is and then I thought about the Dead Sea Scrolls and various textual discoveries made.

You see discovering manuscripts is important because it allows us to see if the translation of Scripture has been accurate over a period of centuries. With the advent of technology and discovery, textual critics (fancy term for nerds who forget more than many of us know about Scripture) have determined that much of what we contain now is not incredibly different from the older manuscript evidence that was discovered. There are a few variants but these “missing pages” have been crucial for our understanding of how Scripture was transmitted and translated over the years. I digress at this point but two helpful books before I make an illustration and land this plane:

Now, the illustration. While studying for sermons I often will go to Google Books (highly recommend this) and will try to see if a commentary is available for me to peruse a particular passage. Sometimes I get lucky and all the pages I need are available but more often than not I get this nasty message from Google Books: “Page ________ is not part of this preview.” Ugh! How frustrating. Usually that is the page I needed and it is missing.

Imagine reading a story, getting to the climax and then the page is missing. What a horrible story! What are we to do with that? There is only one page I know of that is missing in Scripture and that is the page God has left blank for us to write on. It is the missing page of Scripture because it is our invitation to place ourselves in the story. You see, Scripture makes no sense to us unless we place ourselves in the midst.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2)

The Torah was only words until the reader placed themselves at its mercies…at its pleadings…at its yearnings. Consider A. W. Tozer:

For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth. The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts.

Tozer, A. W. The Pursuit of God (p. 9).

Until we write that page Scripture is no different than other literary classics like The IliadRomeo and Juliet and others. Will you write your page and place yourself in God’s divine narrative? Your page is missing.

I had a discussion with a youth minister friend of mine about some struggles I was having in which I felt like I was on an island. Let me explain. My youth group and college students love to sing. Many members in the church love to sing. They get together and they sing and sing and sing. Many of the members seem to be “lost in worship” and the desire is to sing more and more and more. I had a discussion with a lady one time that I think illustrates what I struggle with:

Lady:  “Let’s keep singing and singing, this is wonderful.”

Me: “Why don’t we sit down and read Scripture for a while.”

Lady: “Where’s the fun in that?”

So I talked with the youth minister about my struggles with this and he made a profound statement. He said, “I think what’s going on is our generation at church is over-devotionalized.”


I struggle with this because singing is an act of worship that brings me closer to God yet I think the church, youth ministries, college ministries (insert Passion Conference comment here) and other ministries places too much stock in the worship event. We have become over-devotionalized and under-discipled. I asked the church last night, “What is the most important mandate for a follower of Christ?” (From Robert Lupton’s book, Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life). 3 or 4 people answered and every one else was dead silent.

I ask questions in bible class about what God demands from them and how to begin a relationship with him and I get blank stares. We know how to close our eyes to “How Great is Our God” and sit in a circle holding a candle professing our faith yet when it comes to leading others to Christ and talking to people about our relationship with him we struggle. Why? We have placed too much stock in the event (i.e, the “moment”) rather than the process.

I am all for singing and for devotionals but there is something wrong with our focus when we have singing days, singing nights, singing this and singing that and we do not have a yearning for our brother down the street. With all things balance must be normative but I feel like the New Testament agrees with my thought process as you can only find a handful of Scriptures about corporate worship yet you find scores addressing discipleship. Think about how much money is spent on the worship auditorium, worship media, worship ministers, worship training, worship bulletins, etc.

I think I can back it up…

We are over-devotionalized (event/program based) and under-discipled (process).

God has objective existence independent of and apart from any notions which we may have concerning Him. The worshipping heart does not create its Object. It finds Him here when it wakes from its moral slumber in the morning of its regeneration.

Tozer, A. W. (Aiden Wilson) (2011-03-24). The Pursuit of God (pp. 38-39). . Kindle Edition.

In my morning reading I came across a familiar passage and wanted to share it with you and some of the thoughts I wrote down in my journal.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
there is none who does good. Psalm 14:1 (ESV)

Perhaps your experience is similar to mine in that when this verse is read, quoted or used it is within the context of atheists. I have heard many Christians say, “How could someone not believe in God? The Scripture says ________.” They will quote Psalm 14:1. I think people do not believe in God for a variety of reasons (hypocritical Christians?) but I wonder if we could go a different direction with the interpretation of this Psalm. Let me ask the question, “Who is the fool in Psalm 14?” They are those, contextually, who God looks down and sees that the people are 1) not understanding, 2) not seeking after him, 3) they have turned aside, and 4) become corrupt (14:2-3). Now surely this broadens our interpretation of simply atheists. Surely you know some folks at church that fit the bill there right?

Look at how Eugene Peterson words the Psalm in The Message

1 Bilious and bloated, they gas, “God is gone.”
Their words are poison gas,
fouling the air; they poison
Rivers and skies;
thistles are their cash crop.

2 God sticks his head out of heaven.
He looks around.
He’s looking for someone not stupid—
one man, even, God-expectant,
just one God-ready woman.

3 He comes up empty. A string
of zeros. Useless, unshepherded
Sheep, taking turns pretending
to be Shepherd.
The ninety and nine
follow their fellow.

I wonder then, who is the fool? I find it interesting that Psalms 14:1-3 is quoted nearly verbatim in Romans 3:10-12. The context there is that we are all sinners in need of the justification of God by faith. So then is it a stretch to say that the fool in Psalm 14 who says “there is no God” might be us? The immediate context for David are the enemies of his kingdom but the larger implication is that sometimes we are fools. Consider the following:

  • We are fools when we do not believe God will deliver us in a difficult situation.
  • We are fools when we try to conduct ministry, spiritual formation and kingdom-work on our own without the guidance of our Father.
  • We are fools when we do not lead our families spiritually.
  • We are fools when we try to bind things in Scripture that God never intended to be bound.
  • We are fools when we make it our goal to “correct” every person’s theology whom we have contentions with as if we can come up with a perfect theology on our own.
  • We are fools when we neglect the poor and build massive buildings (does Babel ring a bell?) and have big-screen TV’s, elaborate pulpits complete with techno-savvy ways to make ministry “easier.”
  • We are fools when we do not evangelize and disciple others.
  • We are fools when we judge people, as if we are the perfect standard.
  • We are fools when we say God can’t do something, as if our existence were not evidence for God being able to do something.
  • We are fools when we keep sin to ourselves.
  • We are fools when we spend too much time at work and forget our families.
  • We are fools when we do not take care of ourselves physically.
  • We are fools when we isolate ourselves in our Christian bubble, forgetting that God actually came in the flesh.
  • We are fools to think God does not care about us (how many hairs do you have on your head again? God knows).
  • We are fools not to learn from the past, redeem the present and wait, with hope, for the future.
  • Finally, we are fools when we think it is up to us to become righteous.

Tough list. I look at it and mourn. Because I want to be honest with you, I am a fool. At times, my actions and thoughts reveal the claim that there is no God even thought intuitively I know there is. Sad. Christ, forgive me.

Who is the fool?





Show this movie….thanks to Adam McLane for the referral



Talk about consumerism and how it has taken over not only the original meaning of Christmas but many other holidays.





We live in a time where the original meaning of Christmas is trumped by people spending insane amounts of money to “keep up with the Jones'” and make sure little Johnny and Sally have what they want.  This past year we had a record Black Friday where the National Retail Federation reported we spent close to $52 billion through Sunday (SOURCE).




Most of the time we don’t remember what our parents purchased for us and we spend more time using what we have now and then moving on to the “next best thing.”  Surely this was not the original intention of Christmas.  The original Christmas was about a moment when the people of Israel anticipated the coming of the Messiah.

Read and discuss Messianic passages like 2 Samuel 7:16; Daniel 9:24-26; Isaiah 7:14; 11:10; 40:1-5, 9; 49:6; 50:6; Jeremiah 23:5; Micah 5:1-2.




The Christian calendar is a tool that allows Christians to move through the year focusing on different seasons of Scripture.  This time of the year is what is called “Advent” and has been focused on for many years.  The word “advent” comes from the Latin word adventus meaning coming and stems from the New Testament Greek word parousia which focused on the Second Coming of Jesus (cf. 1 Thess. 5:1-11).  The point was for Christians to focus on the birth of Jesus Christ this time of the year like the early Jews did.  Advent is about anticipation and being vigilant and sober for the second coming of Christ (1 Thess. 5:6, 8).  The early Jews were vigilant and sober for the first coming of Christ (i.e. Messiah) as he would right all wrongs and establish justice to those who were oppressed and his kingdom would reign forever.

Dennis Brown, in his lovely article “The Christian Season of Advent,” shares these splendid thoughts about advent:

In this double focus on past and future, Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation, as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power. That acknowledgment provides a basis for Kingdom ethics, for holy living arising from a profound sense that we live “between the times” and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people. So, as the church celebrates God’s inbreaking into history in the Incarnation, and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which “all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption,” it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

So Advent, and its history, is about the who (Jesus came and will come), the what (incarnational kingdom-living) and the to-what-extent (until the new heavens and the new earth). Different things are done on advent like feasts, fasts and special services all of which are not the means to an end but merely a way of praising God for what he has done and will continue to do.




Show this video to close.  (Thanks to my friend JP and the Village Church in Texas)