New Here?
     
Theology

Book Review: Falling Into Grace by John Newton

Book Review: Falling Into Grace by John Newton

Most of what lives on bookstore shelves marked “Christian” should actually be marked “Self Help with the Name Jesus Thrown In” (I’m looking at you, Osteen). But John Newton’s latest book, Falling Into Grace: Exploring Our Inner Life with God begins not with us climbing the corporate ladder to the Kingdom, but with us falling. In fact, Newton makes it pretty clear from the beginning:

“This book is an invitation to let yourself fall. It’s a reminder that because you’re already home free from the beginning, any fall can always be a fall into grace. And so don’t expect to find within these…

Read More > > >

Hopelessly Devoted: Isaiah Chapter Sixty Two Verses One Through Four

This one comes from Bonnie Poon Zahl.

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. (Isaiah 62:1-4, ESV)

imageThere’s the old Shakespeare line, “What’s in a name? / That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” (Romeo and Juliet). Juliet may not have made much of names, but our names have the tendency to transcend us. In the Bible, significant changes in a person’s life were accompanied by a change in their name: Abram was re-named Abraham—“Father of Nations”—after God declared him to be so (Gen 17:5). Jacob was re-named Israel—“God contended”—after wrestling with God until morning (Gen 32:28). Simon became Peter, the “rock” on which God would build his Church (Mark 3:16). When God re-names people, He creates a new hope, something stretching much further beyond who they’ve known themselves to be. By changing their names, He changes their lives.

Although names seem to possess less inherent meaning today, we still wish to be known as people whose lives mean something. We strive to maximize the positive traits by which we are known and minimize the jeopardizing ones, and sometimes we wish we were someone else altogether. We are not usually completely happy with who we are: we know well what we lack, yet we also lack the means to really change it. It is hard for us to render a new name in any sustainable or significant way.

And yet the old story of a new hope is true for us: “you shall be called a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give.” God promises that we will be known by a new name—a name that, in renaming, transforms us. No longer shall we be called “Forsaken,” but “Righteous;” no longer shall we be called “Desolate,” but “Delight of God.” The Lord has and will continue to transform us, and the first step is to call us by something different than what we are; He will name our righteousness into existence.

The Gospel’s Steady Work of Reversal

The Gospel’s Steady Work of Reversal

David Brooks’ most recent op-ed discusses the late career of Ernest Hemingway, how he became in his later years “a prisoner of his own celebrity.” Hemingway was a famous writer by 25 and by middle age he was simply “playing at being Ernest Hemingway.” Of course, this is where most of us might roll our eyes, and say few are so lucky. It’d be nice to a prisoner to your laurels instead of your demons. But when it comes down to it, Brooks isn’t just talking about fame. He is instead talking about works righteousness in a most literal sense: that becoming righteous (or noteworthy,…

Read More > > >

Life Expectancy (In a World of Expectations): A New York Conference Review

Life Expectancy (In a World of Expectations): A New York Conference Review

A little self-referential praise never hurt, right? Grateful for this one from Sarah Denley Herrington. 

Last week my husband and I were fortunate enough to attend Mockingbird’s ninth annual conference at St. George’s Church in New York City. We grew up in the South, were at one time New Yorkers (I use that title very liberally), and are now living back in Mississippi with our two young children.

Courtesy of Melody Moore Photography

The conference title, Relief: The Boldness of Grace in a World of Expectation, as usual, could not have been more apropos to my life and circumstances. I’m seven months pregnant…

Read More > > >

Failed Evangelist

Failed Evangelist

This comes to us from our friend Emily Skelding. 

I’m a terrible evangelist.

I have never once, not ever, converted anyone. I am suspicious of emotional altar calls after a sermon that starts at a whisper and ends with shouts.  I’ve never wandered a Florida beach converting a hungover college kid. In fact, I doubt these transformations. They ring tinny to my ear.

Sometimes I’m not sure if I even qualify as a born-again Christian.

Still, I cling to the idea of rebirth. God’s grace, the process of God holding my cracked soul to make it healed and whole, carries me through life’s…

Read More > > >

Kierkegaard on the (Lost) Offense of Christianity

Kierkegaard on the (Lost) Offense of Christianity

[T]ake away the possibility of offense, as they have done in Christendom, and the whole of Christianity is direct communication; and then Christianity is done away with, for it has become an easy thing, a superficial something which neither wounds nor heals profoundly enough; it is the false invention of human sympathy which forgets the infinite qualitative difference between God and man.

-Søren Kierkegaard, “The Offence,” Training in Christianity

Kierkegaard handles the problem of the “messianic secret” still, to me, better than almost anyone. That secret is the question of why Jesus, after healing people, often tells them to tell no one….

Read More > > >

The Disappointing Heroism of Indiana Jones

The Disappointing Heroism of Indiana Jones

This one comes from Mockingbird friend, Jared (Indy) Jones. 

For my birthday a few weeks ago I got an amazing gift: the complete Blu-Ray set of all four Indiana Jones films. (Yes, there are four of them; no you cannot just pretend the fourth one was never made.) Indy has been in the news lately since Spielberg and Ford agreed to take a shot at a fifth installment in the franchise, which is as yet untitled (though some pretty amazing titles are already being thrown around). Indiana Jones 5 will almost certainly be… Actually, I have no idea if it will be good or not.

These movies hold…

Read More > > >

Resurrection & The Grace Of Doing Nothing

Resurrection & The Grace Of Doing Nothing

Towards the end of his first missive to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul offers a mini tour-de-force in defense of the veracity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. For Paul this conviction is central not just to the future hope of the people of God but also to orient the pilgrim life of the faithful in this present broken age. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” ( 1 Cor. 15:56-57). Then the argument concludes with something that,…

Read More > > >

“I Should Know Better By Now”: God as the Older Brother

“I Should Know Better By Now”: God as the Older Brother

This post comes to us from our friend Julian Brooks.

Most of us have heard the Parable of the Prodigal Son and found ourselves identifying with one of the two sons. In fact, if we’re honest, we have to admit we are certainly a mixture of both. Whether we are self-righteous, angry older brothers or unrighteous riffraff, we know the story illustrates the desperate need that we all have for the unconditional love of the Father.

But have you ever noticed what happens to our perception of God the Father when we undermine the radicalness of the Gospel of Grace? I’m amazed…

Read More > > >

Costly Grace? A Conference Breakout Preview

This breakout session session preview comes to us from our friend Javier Garcia. Hope to see you next week in NYC for Mockingbird 2016. You can register here!

bonhoeffer-1In Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton presents us with an unsettling truth: “The long words are not the hard words, it is the short words that are hard.” No matter how much or how deeply we consider the short words of our faith, such as “cross,” “law,” “gospel,” and, above all, “grace,” it is all too easy for us to slip, to miss the point, to twist the meaning and misunderstand the very heart of what we believe. Here at Mockingbird, we revel in what Paul Zahl calls “one-way love” – the steadfast, never-ending, ever-surprising and seemingly impossible truth (thank God it is not impossible!) that God accepts us and loves us completely in Jesus Christ, without question and without conditions.

Yet, in our wrestling with this reality – both to understand it and accept it – we often come up against competing definitions or interpretations of grace, which threaten to dim the light and muffle the promise. A contentious example here is the whole idea of “Cheap Grace” and “Costly Grace” that appears in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s spiritual classic Discipleship (more popularly known as The Cost of Discipleship). The misinterpretations of this trope are legion. Bonhoeffer’s economic language doesn’t help – grace doesn’t have to be earned, as if somehow it were expensive. Grace is free! A gift isn’t bought, nor is this one merited by us (in unison, let us join the Pauline chorus: by no means!). Other aspects of Discipleship make us wonder…We hear “only the believers obey and only the obedient believe” or “faith is only faith in deeds of obedience” and it sounds as daunting as the heavy-metal guitar riffs (yes, that guitar with fire bursting out of its fret board) of Mad Max: Fury Road, heralding the bitter end to this hopeless world. Is this grace?

The question remains, then, is Bonhoeffer a Mockingbird or its bogeyman? Is his understanding of grace compatible with one-way love, or is it something else entirely? We would like to think that Luther-an (i.e. all lovers of Luther) birds of a feather flock together, but does Bonhoeffer’s doctrine of grace fly, at least with us? In this breakout session we will be taking a fresh look at Bonhoeffer’s theology of grace, making a detour from his more famous works to find the short words we love in his sermons and reflections on pastoral care. We will find that Bonhoeffer is a crucial resource for us to understand the different forms of relief we can find in grace, especially in our world of expectation.

To anticipate some of our discussion and to see its relevance for the season of Easter, I leave you with Thomas Cranmer’s collect for this past Sunday:

“Almighty God, which hast given thy holy son to be unto us, both a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of Godly life; Give us the grace that we may always most thankfully receive that his inestimable benefit, and also daily endeavor ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life.” Amen!

Pre-register here!

unnamed

“I’m New Here: What’s Going On?” A Conference Preview

What a joy it is to host everyone at Calvary St. George’s for the 9th Annual Mockingbird Conference! Things are shaping up for a memorable weekend with great food, excellent speakers, and a topic that any human being in 2016 can appreciate–Relief. For friends who are new to church, new to Mockingbird, new to Christianity, new to New York, here’s a pre-conference word of Relief for you.

We are Mel Smith and Bryan Jarrell, and we’ll be hosting the breakout session “I’m New Here: What’s Going On?” At this session, we’ll talk about The Law, The Gospel, the Bible, everyday life, and Mockingbird’s vision to connect all those things with the human heart. If it’s your first time at a Mockingbird event, if you’ve come to the conference by yourself, or even if you have attended the last 8 and are wondering “what am I doing here?”, join us!

Together we will explore how God’s immeasurable grace intersects with our human experience through the culture, faith expressions, and everyday living. Here at Mockingbird we can seek to explore the threads of truth & grace as we interact with the world around us.

Travel safe, see you next week!

Nothing else in the world matters but the kindness of grace, God’s gift to suffering mortals. ~Jack Kerouac

Pre-register here!

So You Have Your Doubts…

So You Have Your Doubts…

Last week, William Irwin wrote an op-ed for the New York Times’ philosophy forum, The Stone, called “God Is a Question, Not an Answer.” Despite the nauseating title, and the ever more nauseating 2,000-plus comments that have come in the week since it has been published, the article asks a lot of tough questions about the nature of faith in an era that loves expressing itself in the semantics of certainty.

What’s so compelling about Irwin’s article is that he sees the same dedication to certainty on both sides of the “faith” question. In other words, to Irwin, those who staunchly…

Read More > > >