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From the Forgiveness Issue: A Q&A with Philip Yancey

From the Forgiveness Issue: A Q&A with Philip Yancey

For this fifth issue of the magazine, we had the privilege of talking to author and journalist Philip Yancey about the message of grace in today’s churches. We also got a chance to re-print a small sample of his most recent book Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News?.

To order a copy of The Forgiveness Issue, look no further than here. There’s more where this comes from. 

In May of 2015, the Pew Research Center released its latest findings on the “changing religious landscape” of the United States. According to the survey, 70% of Americans identified as Christian in 2014,…

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Why Richard Rodriguez and I Keep Taking Our “Inner Atheists” to Church

Why Richard Rodriguez and I Keep Taking Our “Inner Atheists” to Church

Maybe novelty is the currency of the blogosphere—but then again, maybe not. Sometimes the brightest-shining gems come out of an old closet at your grandparents’ house (or in this case, an old box of $1 books at a library sale).

It may be old (we’re talking last decade—you know, back when Pluto was a planet and “the Facebook” still had an article in front of it), but Richard Rodriguez’s essay “Atheism Is Wasted On the Nonbeliever” deserves to be talked about. Especially by those who claim to believe in something. Or are claimed by something to believe in, of whom I…

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The Scandal of One Way Love: A Few Thoughts About My Friend Tullian

The Scandal of One Way Love: A Few Thoughts About My Friend Tullian

What a week to have been away. I was on the road to Kanuga when I got the news of Tullian Tchividjian’s resignation from Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and the shuttering of doors at Liberate.

As long-time readers know, Tullian has been one of Mockingbird’s most ardent fans for many years, as well as a dear personal friend. He’s spoken at a couple of our conferences, and we’ve worked together closely on a number of projects. So the news about this sudden reversal is saddening on several levels, predominantly because I/we know so many of the people involved, and none of…

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When Your Life Inevitably Falls Apart: Watching BBC’s Rev.

When Your Life Inevitably Falls Apart: Watching BBC’s Rev.

I have no idea why people watch Rev. I mean, my husband and I love it. But we are both clergy. So watching a show about an Anglican priest is cathartic. Our lives have been filled with weird churchy moments. We’ve had a Pentecostal Korean congregation secretly use our church at 5am for months without anyone knowing (I found them one morning on my way to spin class, like you do). And we’ve had parishioners walk right into our rectories (church owned housing) without knocking and tell us they didn’t like our paint color choices. Sure, there are moments of…

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Thoughts on the S—- Word and Left-Handed Power

Thoughts on the S—- Word and Left-Handed Power

You guessed it – secularization! There was that recent Pew survey release showing that 78% of Americans identified as Christians in 2007, but only 70% in 2014. DZ’s already covered that topic pretty well, and the stats are disheartening, but it’s worth thinking about some possible silver linings.

First, from a Law/Gospel perspective, pressure engenders rebellion, so it’s nice that Christianity is less mandatory than before. The people I know least receptive to religion of any kind are megachurch children or people who went to (the wrong kind of) Catholic gradeschool. As long as Christianity’s a cultural status quo, people can…

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Distinguishing Between Law and Gospel: A Brief Guide

This handy guide comes from the first appendix to our newest book, Law and Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints), coauthored by Will McDavid, Ethan Richardson, and David Zahl. Hope you enjoy:

The distinction between law and gospel is the highest art in Christendom
–Martin Luther

Mbird LAW AND GOSPEL Cover options4A strong belief of Luther, and those who follow in his footsteps, is that people should not be enticed to church by the Gospel and then, after believing, turn toward self-improvement. The Law always kills, and the Spirit always gives life. This death and resurrection of the believer is not a one-time event, but must be repeated continually: It is the shape of the Christian life. On Sundays, therefore, some form of the Law is ideally preached to kill, and the Gospel to vivify—“the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6). But in many situations, the Law is mistakenly preached to give life, on the assumption that the believer, unlike the new Christian, has the moral strength to follow the guidelines. This leads to burnout, often producing agnostics or converts to Eastern Orthodoxy. Words like ‘accountability’ or ‘intentionality,’ for example, are sure signs that the letter, rather than the Spirit, is being looked to for life. To help distinguish this form of misguided Law from the Gospel, here’s a handy guide:

1. Listen for a distortion of the commandment: Anytime a hard commandment is softened, such as “Be perfect” (Mt 5:48) to “just do your best,” we’re looking to the Law, not the Gospel, for life.

2. Discern the balance of agency: If you’re in charge of making it happen, it’s misguided Law. If God’s in charge, it’s Gospel. If it’s a mixture, it’s Law.

3. Look for honesty: If you or others either seem ‘A-okay’ or ‘struggling, but…,’ then likely it’s because the Old Adam is alive and well (there will also be a horrible scandal in the next three months). If people are open and honest about their problems, such freedom shows the Gospel is at work.

4. Watch for exhaustion: If the yoke is hard and the burden heavy week after week, then the letter’s probably overpowering the Spirit.

5. Examine the language: If you hear ‘If… then,’ ‘Wouldn’t it be nice…,’ ‘We should all…,’ or anything else that smacks of the imperative voice, it’s implicit works-salvation. If you hear the indicative voice—‘God is…,’ ‘We are…,’ or ‘God will…’—then it’s probably Gospel.

6. Watch for the view of human nature, or anthropology: If human willpower, strength, or effort are being lauded or appealed to, it’s Law. High anthropology means low Christology, and vice-versa.

7. Finally, keep an eye out for the ‘Galatians effect,’ summarized by St. Paul:

Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so much for nothing?—if it really was for nothing. Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? (Gal 3:2-5)

If how you’re approaching or being told to approach Christianity now feels different from “believing what you heard,” we’re in Galatians territory. Christianity is Good News, and it never ceases to be Good News.

Grab your copy of L&G today!

Feministic Fallout? More on Underachieving Boys and Gracious G.A.W.F.s

Feministic Fallout? More on Underachieving Boys and Gracious G.A.W.F.s

There’s a telling scene at the end of Whit Stillman’s film Barcelona (above). One of the characters remarks about how wonderful it is to marry someone from another country. Alienating traits, instead of being taken personally, can be chalked up to national differences. As in, “must be a Spanish thing”, or “in Japanese culture, that’s just how they operate”. The scene has been playing in my head these past couple of weeks as various articles about the state of gender relations in America have crossed my desk. One wonders if, in leaving behind certain gender expectations and roles, we have…

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The Devil Went Down to Georgia

The Devil Went Down to Georgia

It’s not every day that my hometown is trending on Facebook, but my wife assured me that it was. Yes, Lilburn, Georgia, was trending because of what Slate has dubbed—in a year that has already seen Kim Kardashian publish a book of selfies—“The Year’s Most Perplexing News Event.”

Last week, Lilburn’s TNT Academy hosted an explosive graduation ceremony in which the principal, Nancy Gordeuk, concluded a lengthy rant about the rudeness of the guests with “Look who’s leaving: all the black people.” The rant was, of course, caught on video, from several angles, and was followed by an on-camera semi-apology and, later,…

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Take Me to Church

Take Me to Church

I wore jeans on Easter Sunday.

I don’t remember the last time I missed church on Easter—or if there ever even has been a time. The Lord’s triumphant return from the grave, spring’s return to our calendars, and lapsed parishioners’ return to pews amalgamate into an unmissable Super-Bowl-Sunday among the observant. It’s like the newest club that has everything: fashion. Crowded sanctuaries. Clogged parking lots. Boisterous hymns.

And we missed it all. My family—husband, boys aged three years and six months, and I—have unintentionally participated in a sabbatical from church since our youngest was born last fall. We knew we would take…

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Low Anthropology Is My Love Language

Low Anthropology Is My Love Language

Often, when I try to explain what Mockingbird is I am faced with the daunting task of articulating a “low anthropology”. That is, an unflattering view of humanity. People accuse me of being negative or of losing sight of the fact that human beings are “mostly good.” So I pause and consider their opinions. And then I start to judge them for having those opinions. “How naïve” I say to myself. Then I realize I’m sinning in the middle of a theological discussion. Which brings me back to square one: low anthropology it is.

Recently, I met a lovely person who…

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Bridging Church and Culture: A Conference Breakout Preview

Bridging Church and Culture: A Conference Breakout Preview

Seven years ago, Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, VA renovated a small, single-car garage into a downtown art space and then guess what we named it? We named it The Garage. Since then we’ve hosted monthly art openings, potluck dinners, letter-writing days, some amateur film screenings and literally hundreds of concerts (five years ago, The Lumineers played in front of eight people on a rainy Sunday, long before they were writing songs for The Hunger Games, #neverforget). The space opens out onto a street and, during concerts, passers-by either gather at the entrance or in a park on the other…

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Grace and Mercy in Chicken Fingers: Matt Redmond’s God of the Mundane

Grace and Mercy in Chicken Fingers: Matt Redmond’s God of the Mundane

I recently came across a book that really spoke to me called The God Of The Mundane: Reflections on Ordinary Life for Ordinary People (2012) by Matthew B. Redmond. The thing I like most about the book is it’s pastoral—it really ministered to me as I read it. It’s main thrust is that God is at work in the ordinariness of our mostly mundane lives. This is actually the opposite of what one often hears in Christian circles (across the ideological spectrum) that urge us to do radical things and find God in mountain-top experiences.

Here is the description on the back of the book:

This…

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