Thursday, July 31, 2014

Limited Sovereignty? Peter J. Leithart

God’s sovereignty is properly protected only if it encompasses and includes human will, freedom, and action, only if it underwrites and enables all creaturely powers.  read more

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

In latest interview, Pope Francis reveals top 10 secrets to happiness

Slowing down, being generous and fighting for peace are part of Pope Francis' secret recipe for happiness.

In an interview published in part in the Argentine weekly "Viva" July 27, the pope listed his Top 10 tips for bringing greater joy to one's life:  (read more

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Cal Newport on how you can be an expert and why you should *not* follow your passion


Cal Newport holds a PhD from MIT and is an assistant professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University.

He runs the popular blog Study Hacks (which I highly recommend) and is the author of four books including, most recently, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love.

Cal and I talked about the secrets to becoming an expert, how deliberate practice works and why following your passion can be a *bad* idea.
My conversation with Cal was over 45 minutes, so for brevity’s sake I’m only going to post edited highlights here.
If you want the extended interview I’ll be sending it out with my weekly newsletter on Sunday.
Join here.
Don’t Follow Your Passion
I set out to research a simple question:  How do people end up loving what they do? If you ask people, the most common answer you’ll get is, “They followed their passion.” So I went out and researched: “Is this true?From what I found, “Follow your passion” is terrible advice. If your goal is to end up passionate about what you do, “Follow your passion” is terrible advice.
So the first fundamental misunderstanding is this idea that we all have a pre-existing passion that’s relevant to a career, and if we could just discover it, then we would be fine. Research says actually most people don’t have one.
The second problem is that it’s built on this misbelief that matching your work to something you have a very strong interest in is going to lead to a long-term satisfaction and engagement in your career. It sounds obvious that it should be true, but actually the research shows that’s not at all the reality of how people end up really enjoying and gaining great satisfaction and meaning out of their career.
If you study people who end up loving what they do, here’s what you find and if you study the research on it, you find the same thing: Long-term career satisfaction requires traits like a real sense of autonomy, a real sense of impact on the world, a sense of mastery that you’re good at what you do, and a sense of connection in relation to other people.
Now, the key point is those traits are not matched to a specific piece of work and they have nothing to do with matching your job to some sort of ingrained, pre-existing passion.
How To Become An Expert At Something

What you need is a clearly identified sort of skill you’re working on. You need some notion of feedback. So you have to have some notion of, “How good am I at this now, and am I any better now that I’ve done this versus not doing it?” So that’s sort of the coaching aspect of things. And then when actually working, you have to work deeply, which means you have to sort of work on the skill with a persistent, unbroken focus, and you have to try to push yourself a little bit beyond where you’re comfortable. So you should not really be able to easily get to the next step in what you’re doing. At the same time, you should, with enough strain, be able to make some progress.

What You’re Doing Wrong When Trying To Become An Expert

I think when people want to get better at something the biggest mistake they make is seeking flow. It’s a very enjoyable state. It’s where you’re lost in what you’re doing, you’re applying your skills seamlessly and fluidly, and you feel like you have control.
But we know from research on how people actually gain expert levels of performance that the actual state in which you’re getting better is one of strain, and that’s different than flow. It’s a state where you actually feel like you’re being stretched. It’s uncomfortable. You’re doing things beyond your current abilities. It’s not fluid. You’re not necessarily lost. Your mind might be saying, “This is terrible. This is terrible. Check your e-mail. This is terrible. What if there is something on Facebook?
We avoid that for the most part, but we know that if you just keep doing what you know how to do already, you’ll hit a plateau almost immediately. So I think the avoidance of strain is the biggest mistake people make in trying to get better.

What Books Should You Read If You Want To Be An Expert?

The Secret To Success Is The “Craftsman’s Mindset”

My advice is to abandon the passion mindset which asks “What does this job offer me? Am I happy with this job? Is it giving me everything I want?” Shift from that mindset to Steve Martin’s mindset, which is “What am I offering the world? How valuable am I? Am I really not that valuable? If I’m not that valuable, then I shouldn’t expect things in my working life. How can I get better? Like a craftsman, you find satisfaction in the development of your skill and then you leverage that skill once you have it to take control of your working life and build something that’s more long-term and meaningful… When I talk about the habits of the craftsman mindset, it’s really the habits of deliberate practice. So someone who has the craftsman mindset is trying to systematically build up valuable skills because that’s going to be their leverage, their capital for taking control of their career and they share the same habits you would see with violin players or athletes or chess players.
The craftsmen out there are not the guys checking their social media feeds every five minutes. They’re not looking for the easy win or the flow-state. They’re the guys that are out there three hours, pushing the skill. “This is hard but I’m going to master this new piece of software. I’m going to master this new mathematical framework.” That’s the mindset, the habit of the craftsman.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

George Will stuns Fox panel: ‘Preposterous’ that U.S. can’t shelter child refugees from violence

By David Edwards
Sunday, July 27, 2014 11:12 EDT

George Will speaks to Fox News

Fox News contributor George Will shocked his fellow panelists on Sunday by asserting that the United States should not deport child refugees who were fleeing violence in Central America.

“We ought to say to these children, ‘Welcome to America, you’re going to go to school, and get a job, and become American,’” Will suggested. “We have 3,141 counties in this country. That would be 20 per county.”

“They idea that we can’t assimilate these 8-year-old criminals with their teddy bears is preposterous,” he added.
At that point, Fox News host Chris Wallace interrupted: “You got to know, we’re going to get tons of email saying, ‘This guy doesn’t understand the border. Why should we be dealing with Central America’s problem? We can’t import the problem, they’ve got to deal with it there, and our border has to mean something.’”

“We can handle this problem is what I’m saying,” Will explained. “We’ve handled what [American poet] Emma Lazarus called the ‘wretched refuse of your teeming shore’ a long time ago, and a lot more people than this.”

Church Decline and Karl Marx

A fire hydrant is seen with an "Out of Service" sign on a blighted street on the east side of Detroit

From Patrick Deneen’s How Red (State) is Marx?, in The American Conservative:
Here’s what Marx got right—profoundly, overwhelmingly, admirably right: capitalism is unforgiving to “conservatives,” those who care about neighborhood, Church, family, loyalty, tradition. As Marx and Engels eloquently described in The Communist Manifesto,
The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part. The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.
The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers
The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation….
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
Deneen adds an important note about Christopher Lasch, “Marxism’s best heir”:
Conservatives would do well to read some Christopher Lasch, who in the 1980s wrote a series of devastating critiques of the elite as those least likely to advance the cause of the working classes. An atheist Marxist early in his career, Lasch’s late work—especially his books The True and Only Heaven and The Revolt of the Elites—exposed the intellectual and financial elites for their irresponsibility and deep hostility toward the working classes. His fears that the society they envisioned—globalized libertinism—has come to pass, with these elites now reaping the advantages while the (unemployed) working poor “enjoy” the fruits of sexual liberation: the de-linking of individuals from robust and settled communities, the destruction of networks, cultures, and traditions that supported families and neighborhoods. He identified liberals especially for special and searing scorn, exposing their sentimental pity as a veneer that covered their main aim of outsourcing actual responsibility toward the less fortunate to a faceless, uncaring, distant and irresponsible government while they enjoyed the fruits of their outsized gains and organized license.
This is the kind of Marxism we need today. People who really want to work, make things, build families and communities and dig deep roots—Unite!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

No Time to Think

When people aren’t super busy at work, they are crazy busy exercising, entertaining or taking their kids to Chinese lessons. Or maybe they are insanely busy playing fantasy football, tracing their genealogy or churning their own butter.
And if there is ever a still moment for reflective thought — say, while waiting in line at the grocery store or sitting in traffic — out comes the mobile device. So it’s worth noting a study published last month in the journal Science, which shows how far people will go to avoid introspection.
“We had noted how wedded to our devices we all seem to be and that people seem to find any excuse they can to keep busy,” said Timothy Wilson, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia and lead author of the study. “No one had done a simple study letting people go off on their own and think.”
The results surprised him and have created a stir in the psychology and neuroscience communities. In 11 experiments involving more than 700 people, the majority of participants reported that they found it unpleasant to be alone in a room with their thoughts for just 6 to 15 minutes.
Moreover, in one experiment, 64 percent of men and 15 percent of women began self-administering electric shocks when left alone to think. These same people, by the way, had previously said they would pay money to avoid receiving the painful jolt.
It didn’t matter if the subjects engaged in the contemplative exercise at home or in the laboratory, or if they were given suggestions of what to think about, like a coming vacation; they just didn’t like being in their own heads.
It could be because human beings, when left alone, tend to dwell on what’s wrong in their lives. We have evolved to become problem solvers and meaning makers. What preys on our minds, when we aren’t updating our Facebook page or in spinning class, are the things we haven’t figured out — difficult relationships, personal and professional failures, money trouble, health concerns and so on. And until there is resolution, or at least some kind of understanding or acceptance, these thoughts reverberate in our heads. Hello rumination. Hello insomnia.
The comedian Louis C.K. has a riff that’s been watched nearly eight million times on YouTube in which he describes that not-good feeling. “Sometimes when things clear away and you’re not watching anything and you’re in your car and you start going, oh no, here it comes, that I’m alone, and it starts to visit on you, just this sadness,” he said. “And that’s why we text and drive. People are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for a second because it’s so hard.”
But you can’t solve or let go of problems if you don’t allow yourself time to think about them. It’s an imperative ignored by our culture, which values doing more than thinking and believes answers are in the palm of your hand rather than in your own head.
“It’s like we’re all in this addicted family where all this busyness seems normal when it’s really harmful,” said Stephanie Brown, a psychologist in Silicon Valley and the author of “Speed: Facing Our Addiction to Fast and Faster — and Overcoming Our Fear of Slowing Down.” “There’s this widespread belief that thinking and feeling will only slow you down and get in your way, but it’s the opposite.”
Suppressing negative feelings only gives them more power, she said, leading to intrusive thoughts, which makes people get even busier to keep them at bay. The constant cognitive strain of evading emotions underlies a range of psychological troubles such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression and panic attacks, not to mention a range of addictions. It is also associated with various somatic problems like eczema, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, inflammation, impaired immunity and headaches.
Studies further suggest that not giving yourself time to reflect impairs your ability to empathize with others. “The more in touch with my own feelings and experiences, the richer and more accurate are my guesses of what passes through another person’s mind,” said Giancarlo Dimaggio, a psychiatrist with the Center for Metacognitive Interpersonal Therapy in Rome, who studies the interplay of self-reflection and empathy. “Feeling what you feel is an ability that atrophies if you don’t use it.”
Researchers have also found that an idle mind is a crucible of creativity. A number of studies have shown that people tend to come up with more novel uses for objects if they are first given an easy task that allows their minds to wander, rather than a more demanding one.
“Idle mental processing encourages creativity and solutions because imagining your problem when you aren’t in it is not the same as reality,” said Jonathan Smallwood, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of York, in England. “Using your imagination means you are in fact rethinking the problem in a novel way.”
Perhaps that’s why Google offers its employees courses called “Search Inside Yourself” and “Neural Self-Hacking,” which include instruction on mindfulness meditation, where the goal is to recognize and accept inner thoughts and feelings rather than ignore or repress them. It’s in the company’s interest because it frees up employees’ otherwise embattled brain space to intuit end users’ desires and create products to satisfy them.
“I have a lot of people who come in and want to learn meditation to shut out thoughts that come up in those quiet moments,” said Sarah Griesemer, a psychologist in Austin, Tex., who incorporates mindfulness meditation into her practice. “But allowing and tolerating the drifting in of thoughts is part of the process.” Her patients, mostly hard-charging professionals, report being more productive at work and more energetic and engaged parents.
To get rid of the emotional static, experts advise not using first-person pronouns when thinking about troubling events in your life. Instead, use third-person pronouns or your own name when thinking about yourself. “If a friend comes to you with a problem it’s easy to coach them through it, but if the problem is happening to us we have real difficulty, in part because we have all these egocentric biases making it hard to reason rationally,” said Dr. Kross of Michigan. “The data clearly shows that you can use language to almost trick yourself into thinking your problems are happening to someone else.”
Hard as they sometimes are, negative feelings are a part of everyone’s life, arguably more so if you are crazy busy. But it’s those same deep and troubling feelings, and how you deal with them, that make you the person you are. While busyness may stanch welling sadness, it may also limit your ability to be overcome with joy.

An Idiot’s Guide to Inequality

We may now have a new “most unread best seller of all time.”
Data from Amazon Kindles suggests that that honor may go to Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” which reached No. 1 on the best-seller list this year. Jordan Ellenberg, a professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that Piketty’s book seems to eclipse its rivals in losing readers: All five of the passages that readers on Kindle have highlighted most are in the first 26 pages of a tome that runs 685 pages.
The rush to purchase Piketty’s book suggested that Americans must have wanted to understand inequality. The apparent rush to put it down suggests that, well, we’re human.
So let me satisfy this demand with my own “Idiot’s Guide to Inequality.” Here are five points:
First, economic inequality has worsened significantly in the United States and some other countries. The richest 1 percent in the United States now own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. Oxfam estimates that the richest 85 people in the world own half of all wealth.
The situation might be tolerable if a rising tide were lifting all boats. But it’s lifting mostly the yachts. In 2010, 93 percent of the additional income created in America went to the top 1 percent.
Second, inequality in America is destabilizing. Some inequality is essential to create incentives, but we seem to have reached the point where inequality actually becomes an impediment to economic growth.
Certainly, the nation grew more quickly in periods when we were more equal, including in the golden decades after World War II when growth was strong and inequality actually diminished. Likewise, a major research paper from the International Monetary Fund in April found that more equitable societies tend to enjoy more rapid economic growth.
Indeed, even Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, warns that “too much ... has gone to too few” and that inequality in America is now “very destabilizing.”
Inequality causes problems by creating fissures in societies, leaving those at the bottom feeling marginalized or disenfranchised. That has been a classic problem in “banana republic” countries in Latin America, and the United States now has a Gini coefficient (a standard measure of inequality) approaching some traditionally poor and dysfunctional Latin countries.
Third, disparities reflect not just the invisible hand of the market but also manipulation of markets. Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, wrote a terrific book two years ago, “The Price of Inequality,” which is a shorter and easier read than Piketty’s book. In it, he notes: “Much of America’s inequality is the result of market distortions, with incentives directed not at creating new wealth but at taking it from others.”
For example, financiers are wealthy partly because they’re highly educated and hardworking — and also because they’ve successfully lobbied for the carried interest tax loophole that lets their pay be taxed at much lower rates than other people’s 
Likewise, if you’re a pharmaceutical executive, one way to create profits is to generate new products. Another is to lobby Congress to bar the government’s Medicare program from bargaining for drug prices. That amounts to a $50 billion annual gift to pharmaceutical companies.
The problem is that there can only be one hottest car on the block. So the lawyer who buys a Porsche is foiled by the C.E.O. who buys a Ferrari, who in turn is foiled by the hedge fund manager who buys a Lamborghini. This arms race leaves these desires unsated; there’s still only one at the top of the heap.
Fifth, progressives probably talk too much about “inequality” and not enough about “opportunity.” Some voters are turned off by tirades about inequality because they say it connotes envy of the rich; there is more consensus on bringing everyone to the same starting line.

Unfortunately, equal opportunity is now a mirage. Indeed, researchers find that there is less economic mobility in America than in class-conscious Europe.
We know some of the tools, including job incentives and better schools, that can reduce this opportunity gap. But the United States is one of the few advanced countries that spends less educating the average poor child than the average rich one. As an escalator of mobility, the American education system is broken.
There’s still a great deal we don’t understand about inequality. But whether or not you read Piketty, there’s one overwhelming lesson you should be aware of: Inequality and lack of opportunity today constitute a national infirmity and vulnerability — and there are policy tools that can make a difference.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

7 examples of lazy leadership practices

Posted on July 22nd, 2014
Laziness is a sin.

“Whoever is lazy regarding his work is also a brother to the master of destruction.” (Proverbs 18:9)
It’s also annoying. And ineffective in leadership.

The fact is, however, that many of us have some lazy tendencies when it comes to leadership. I do at times. This is as much an inward reflecting post as an outward teaching.

Please understand, I’m not calling a leader lazy who defaults to any of these leadership practices listed. The leader may be extremely hard working, but the practice itself — I’m contending — is lazy leadership.

Here are a seven examples of lazy leadership practices. See if any of them apply to your leadership.

Assuming the answer without asking hard questions. Or, not asking enough questions. It’s easier just to move forward sometimes — and sometimes it’s even necessary to move quickly — but many times we just didn’t put enough energy into making the best decision. Often its because we don’t want to know or are afraid to know the real answer. That’s the lazy way of making decisions.

Not delegating. Again, I’m not saying the leader is lazy. But this part of their leadership is. It’s easier many times just to “do it myself” than to go through the process of delegating. Good delegating takes hard work. You can’t just “dump and run”. You have to help people know the vision, understand a win, and stay close enough in case they need you again. New leaders are developed, loyalty is gained, and teams are made more effective through delegation.

Giving up after the first try. No one likes to fail. Sometimes it’s easier to scrap a dream and start over rather than fight through the messiness and even embarrassment of picking up the pieces of a broken dream, but if the dream was valid the first time, it probably has some validity today.

Not investing in younger leaders. There’s the whole generational gap — differences in values, communication styles, expectations, etc. It would be easier to surround ourselves with all like-minded people, but who wins with that approach — especially long-term?

Settling for mediocre performance. It’s more difficult to push for excellence. Average results come with average efforts. It’s the hard work and the final efforts that produce the best results. But, the experience of celebrating when you’ve done your best work is always worth the extra energy.

Not explaining why. “Just do what I say” leadership saves a lot of the leader’s time. If I don’t have to explain what’s in my head — just tell people what to do — I get to do more of what I want to do. But, I’d have a bunch of pawns on my team and one disrespected, ineffective and unprotected king (leader). (And, being “king” is not a good leadership style by the way.) Continual vision casting is often the harder work, but necessary for the best results in leadership.

Avoiding conflict. No one likes conflict. Not even those of us who don’t run from it. But, you can’t lead effectively without experiencing conflict. Every decision a leader makes is subject to agreement and disagreement. It’s why we need leadership. If there was only one direction who needs a leader? To achieve best — the very best — we have to lead people beyond a simple compromise that makes everyone happy.

If you’ve been practicing lazy leadership, the best response — as to any sin — is to repent — turn away — and do the hard work of leadership. You and your team will benefit greatly.

“Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise!” Proverbs 6:6

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Munus Triplex as a Paradigm for Preaching

John Calvin made much theologically of the three offices of Christ – prophet, priest, and king (the three main offices in the Israel of the Old Testament).  I want to float another use of this Calvinistic distinctive in this post – as a paradigm for preaching. 

A lingering question for preaching, at least for me, is how it proclaims the gospel it is authorized to declare.  I guess I’m really pushing toward a biblical rhetoric for preaching.  Part of the issue is the overall theological perspective one brings to preaching.  By this I mean the fundamental distinction Paul makes in 1 Corinthians between a “theology of glory” and a “theology of the cross.”  We must, I think, side with Paul and work out of the “theology of the cross” he develops and practices throughout his ministry.

Within that overall perspective, the munus triplex may offer a helpful way to move toward a rhetoric of preaching.  It might look something like this:

Munus Triplex
Aim of Preaching
Helps people to engage, embrace, and process loss (W. Brueggemann)
Helps people engage and process the divine presence in their midst
Helps people engage, embrace, and process life in the world
Rhetoric of Preaching
Allusive, poetic, open-ended, names fear and anxiety
Declares presence (or absence) of God, leads praise, lament, holds world before God
Tells story of new creation, describes what the Cross demands, costs, and creates in the world  

 Well, that’s as far as I’ve gotten with this.  Any thoughts or critiques?

What the Surveys Don’t (And Can’t) Say About the Rise of the “Spiritual But Not Religious”

Timothy K. Snyder
It all begins with “survey says….”
The pollsters now regularly tell us that religion is on the decline and commentators can’t say enough about the so called, “Spiritual, but not Religious” (or SBNR)—the now common moniker for many (but not all) of the religiously unaffiliated.

But analysts often misunderstand what the surveys actually tell us. Some overplay their hand and try to predict the future. Others fail to acknowledge that different surveys measure slightly different categories: “no preference,” “nothing in particular” and “spiritual but not religious” can’t easily be lumped together.

And yet others actually underplay the research. For instance, this past Friday, the NY Times‘ Mark Oppenheimer wrote about four new books on the SBNR. His final takeaway?
At the very least, we might conclude that “spiritual but not religious”isn’t necessarily vague or wishy-washy. It’s not nothing, although it may risk being everything.
Really? Everything? It’s an awkward ending to an otherwise informative piece. But perhaps Oppenheimer didn’t get the whole story.

While many continue to speculate what the survey trends might mean for the future of American religion, sociologist Nancy Ammerman has recognized the limits of the surveys and done her own research.

She asked a diverse group of ninety-five Americans about the role of religion and spirituality in their everyday lives, letting those stories count as much as any checkbox. Whenever the difficult issue of definitions came up, the research team turned the question back on the participants and allowed them to speak about spirituality and religion in their own terms.

As it turns out, it is possible to map out and thematize the way Americans talk when they talk about spirituality and religion. And it certainly is not “everything.” In her recent book, Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes: Finding Religion in Everyday Life (Oxford, 2014), Ammerman lays out exactly this kind of map.

It turns out when Americans talk about “spirituality” they refer to religious traditions, to morality and living a virtuous life. At times they link the term to God or the spiritual world. At other times it refers to particular practices and rituals, to mystery or transcendence, meaning-making and beliefs.

By setting aside the typical categories academic researchers use when studying contemporary religion, Ammerman and her team document the complex ways religion shows up in a wide range of domains: in communities and conversations, in homes, at work and in public life, and not surprisingly around matters of health, illness and death.

This research qualifies what we have learned from surveys like the Pew Forum’s 2012 study. For example it suggests that “spiritual but not religious” is not so much an empirical category as it is political rhetoric. As Ammerman writes in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion,
“The ‘religion’ being rejected turns out to be quite unlike the religion being practiced and described by those affiliated with religious institutions. Likewise, the ‘spirituality’ being endorsed as an alternative is at least as widely practiced by those same religious people as it is by the people drawing a moral boundary against them.”
Or in other words: pollsters beware. It’s easy to proclaim the decline of religion, or the ascendance of the “everything” implied in a new all-encompassing spirituality, but American religion is made up of more than the language we use to define it.

The Cost of Apostleship

Chris —  July 16, 2014 — 1 Comment

“I don’t know how you just talk to people like that, Chris.”

This subtly offensive statement was one I have heard a lot. For a little while, I hosted a weekly dinner where I invited some non-Christian friends from a nearby Starbucks to eat with a few from my church.

It didn’t go very smoothly. For these church friends, talking to people outside our church community was pretty hard. Some saw it as a challenge to grow. Others saw it as an unattainable “gift” I had.

“I just can’t imagine taking the risk of starting something.”

This one I hear all the time from pastors and teachers, searching through an ever shrinking pool for the perfect church job. These statements depict the reality of today’s church for so many. We are constituents and employees of the institution.

Many churches seem to have forgotten the two most basic impulses of an organism: reproduce and adapt.

Or to use more Biblical language:

We have forgotten how to be an Apostolic movement.

The Other Missional Conversation

There is a conversation happening in the broader church about what it means to be missional. In other words how does the local, day-to-day life of the church flows out of the eternal mission of God. It’s inspired a lot of good theological reflection. However, it has occasionally been co-opted to rebrand many ingredients of church-as-usual.

There also is a parallel conversation happening within a growing segment of the church on what it means to recapture what Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim refer to as “The Apostolic Imagination.”
In their book The Permanent Revolution, they make the case that the book of Ephesians serves as a sort of “constitution” for the Church. Key to understanding what the Church is and how it functions is the APEST: Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers who equip the church to carry on the work of Jesus in the world today.

While an Apostle is a specific role within the APEST, the Apostolic impulse drives the church as a whole. This word Apostolic means that the church is always being sent out. It is constantly spreading, recalibrating, translating and reinventing itself for new cultures and generations.

The Apostle, herself or himself, is the individual that most embodies this core impulse. They are the people who are always starting new things and seeking out new opportunities to carry out the ministry of Christ.

Hirsch and Catchim’s call is important, exciting and persuasive. I consider myself and unlikely and unnatural Apostle, only functioning in this role for the time God deems necessary. This personal experience has shed light on at least five costs of Apostleship.

Five Costs of Apostleship

1. Apostles will often be bootstrappers.
You gotta eat.
By definition, an Apostle is creating something new. Raising support has its place, and a church that can fully fund their workers is a huge blessing. However, for reasons to be explained below, the Apostle will often be bi-vocational.
We already know this from scripture. Paul was a craftsman, often building and selling tents. Peter had been a fisherman, and may have continued to cast nets for his dinner.
You sell one thing in the meantime to enable you to pursue your larger goals. The secular start-up world has a word for this: Bootstrapping.
A lot of people are talking about being bi-vocational these days, but I’m not sure we’ve counted the cost as a church. Too many church “professionals” have no idea how they would survive in the secular marketplace.
Getting from here to there is going to be costly. We need seminaries that also teach vocational skills, anything from plumbing to computer programming. We need existing churches to help pay for retraining their leaders to thrive in non-church related businesses. We need church leaders to reevaluate their expectation of a 40-hour week related solely to the work of the church.
2. Apostles will be misunderstood
An Apostle should fully expect to be misunderstood, maligned and even persecuted by religious insiders and offended outsiders.
Some insiders will naturally be offended. The act of trying to create something new can often be taken as an offense to what already exists. The Apostle can easily be misunderstood as saying “Your church isn’t doing it right. That’s why I’m here.”
Some outsiders will be offended. The Apostle is creating relationships and environments in the hope of leading people to reevaluate their very reality. The Apostle can easily be misunderstood as saying “Your understanding of reality is dangerous. I’m here to fix you.”
The true Apostolic calling is about constantly creating opportunities for real people in a specific time and place to respond to Jesus’s claim that the kingdom of God is at hand. For the Apostle, there is always new places, new people groups and new generations that need to hear.
As lives are changed, some will come to understand who the Apostle is and why they do what they do. Being misunderstood along the way is unavoidable.
3. Apostles are often unsettled.
Since the apostle is constantly working to birth something new, they seldom can settle into what currently exists.
This is not to be confused with an insatiable appetite for adventure. It is not a lack of capacity to find joy in the present. It is simply the recognition that “sent-ness” is a verb. It will sooner or later result in being sent again.
Unsettledness does not necessarily mean un-groundedness. The apostle will find grounding in the consistent practice of spiritual disciplines. The apostles relationships will be forged in deep connections that come from shared life-changing adventures.
It does mean that the apostle addresses their current task or mission with the additional clause “for the time being…”
4. An Apostle must share responsibilities
The inevitable result of what we are describing here is that the Apostle can’t do it all.
This is why Paul traveled in teams. This is why Peter’s team instituted deacons and Timothy installed elders.
This is also, according to Hirsh, Catchim and a rising chorus why an Ephesians 4 must be understood as being a sort of “constitution” for the church. An apostle may kickstart a church or movement. Seeing it grow into the full measure of Jesus will require prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers.
As a bi-vocational church planter, I deal with this every day. There are events I cannot coordinate and people I cannot pastor. We only have a church because so many others are stepping up.
5. Many of the things apostles try will fail.
The great thing about being an apostle is trying new things with new people in new places. The
reality of these is that only some of them will “succeed” (by any definition of success).
In Church Planting world, you often hear the lament that 80% of new churches “fail.” Similar stats can be found about new businesses.
Perhaps the problem isn’t that we lament the failure of church plants. What if instead, we expect and prepared for some failure?
Not everywhere Paul preached resulted in a thriving church community. The fact that he kept going and tried new things is a testimony to his mindset.
In the end, the role of an apostle has to be understood as a vocation. It is something that you can “not not do.”
Apostles keep “apostle-ing” whether they are paid or not. They try something different when they fail. They try something new when they succeed. They keep at it because it is just who they are.

The cost of Apostleship, for the individual and the apostolic church, is high. But not nearly as high as the cost of a slow death.

Luke’s Great Narrative on Mission

“One thing is clear to me: The temptation of power is greatest when intimacy is a threat.
“Much Christian leadership is exercised by people who do not know how to develop healthy, intimate relationships and have opted for power and control instead. Many Christian empire-builders have been people unable to give and receive love.”
– Henri Nouwen, “In the Name of Jesus”+
Luke 10 has become paradigmatic in the missional shift: the disciples sent out before Jesus, sent empty-handed and vulnerable, sent into villages and towns two by two. The great commandment follows: we are to love God with all that we are, and our neighbours as ourselves. Then follows the story of the good Samaritan. Hmm. That shakes us out of our presuppositions that God is with the righteous few and not with the other. So much for a colonial style mission: We go as learners.+
Then follows the Mary-Martha story. The placement of this one has puzzled me. But think of what has gone before. The focus has been on mission. Suddenly it shifts to contemplation, with Mary who sits quietly finding the Lord’s approval. What? What about being sent out on mission?+
This story is a radical reframe of service. Our first service is to Christ. Actually – our ONLY service is to him and any other service is in and through Him. All other calls are relativized in view of our call to worship. All that does not flow from our intimacy with the Father will fall short of God’s intention. Lex immaculata caritas est. “The divine law is love.” +
Taken another way, contemplation and mission are two sides of a coin. Only the contemplative will be a healthy missionary, a rich channel for the Spirit, securely rooted in the love of God; only the missionary, rooted in place, feet on the dusty road, understands the need for contemplation. Root and fruit are intimately related. And then, to reinforce and expand this point, chapter 11 leads off with the disciples prayer – the prayer of the kingdom. We are reminded that God’s purpose is to unite heaven and earth – no other-worldly spirituality here. A slam-bang ending.+
There are still some puzzles for me, and one of them is why did Luke leave off the opening part of the Shema here? In Mark 12, the parallel passage, Jesus recites the Shema prior to quoting from Deuteronomy 6. I suspect there is a reason the connection is so sharply made in Mark.+
The Shema “Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is One.”+
And then we have a promise. When we love the Lord with all that we are, we become like him in his wholeness. We experience integration of head, heart and body – something most of us long for. Emotional and spiritual well-being walk together, and when they do not — most of us have too much experience of the down side, of leaders operating without awareness of their own shadow. But we are only now waking up from a time when these things were so far apart that we almost lost our understanding of the relationship. We so emphasized the justification side, the legal standing we acquire when we give our lives to God, that we neglected our part in cooperation — and so many believers remain babes in Christ, with their spiritual life a mile wide and an inch deep.+
The promise of the picture of Mary and Martha is what seem like polarities belong together: action and contemplation, mission and devotion. We need to hear the approval of the Father before we serve him: you are my beloved. Then we can go out with freedom and offer the same love to others, a free and hospitable space. Coming to know and trust God’s love is a lifelong process. David Benner writes, “Every time I dare to meet God in the vulnerability of my sin and shame, this knowing is strengthened. Every time I fall back into a self-improvement mode and try to bring God my best self, it is weakened. I only know Divine unconditional, radical and reckless love for me when I dare to approach God just as I am.”+
Mission ought to be rooted in prayer: the relational reality that keeps us anchored in the place where we experientially know that Christ is our all in all.+
“Missional communities, shaped by faith in Jesus Christ and the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit, present a different image. Rather than seeing themselves as one more civic institution offering religious goods and services to individuals (or to society at large), such communities take the time to create gracious and caring space where they can reach out and invite their fellow human beings into a new relationship with God and with each other. They offer both the protection and the freedom to enable estranged and fearful human beings to bring the actual circumstances of their lives into conversation with the peace of the gospel. ..

“Hostility is converted into hospitality, strangers into friends, and enemies into guests.” – Inagrace Dietterich (Missional Church, “Cultivating Communities of the Holy Spirit”)

Was the Gospel Based on Pagan Myths?


It’s an accusation that’s been around a long time.

Even in ancient times, critics of Christianity noticed some parallels between Christian beliefs and pre-Christian myths. In the late second century, a pagan philosopher named Celsus charged, “The Christians have used the myths of Danae and the Melanippe, of the Auge and Antiope in fabricating this story of virgin birth!” In more recent times, skeptical scholars such as Marvin Meyer and Robert Price have claimed close connections between the resurrection of Jesus and the myths of dying and rising deities that marked many pagan mystery religions.

In the simplest possible terms, here’s what these critics contend: The most marvelous claims in the Gospels—a miraculous birth, for example, as well as the idea of a deity who dies and rises again—are paralleled in pagan religions that predate Christianity; therefore, early Christians must have fabricated these miracles based on their knowledge of pre-Christian religions.

To be sure, there are some surface-level similarities between ancient myths and certain events in the Gospels. Long before the first century A.D., the myths of Egyptians deities such as Osiris, Adonis, Attis, and Horus included tales of death and rebirth. The Persians venerated Mithras, a deity who (according to some recent claims) was born of a virgin and who died and rose Fain. Sacramental bread and the fruit of the vine make appearances in a few mystery cults as well.

So why should anyone see Jesus as being distinct from the pagan gods? Could it be that the New Testament stories of Jesus represent the fictive myth of an ancient mystery cult that’s survived for two thousand years? Or is there something different about the accounts of Jesus’ time on planet earth?

:: The Pagan Parallels Aren’t Particularly Parallel ::

In the first place, it’s important to be aware that most of these supposed pagan parallels aren’t nearly as parallel as the skeptics suppose. When the actual sources behind the pagan myths are closely examined, the supposed parallels have little in common with the New Testament narratives.

For example, there are dying and rising gods in some earlier religions—but these deities died and arose each year, certainly not the same pattern as Jesus’s once-for-all sacrifice for the sake of others.
And the pagan myths of miraculous births are closer to divine impregnation—a mortal woman conceives a child as a result of sexual relations with a god—than to the virginal conception described in the Gospel According to Matthew and Luke.

To exemplify how these supposed parallels aren’t nearly as parallel as the critics claim, let’s take a look at one particular mystery-cult myth that’s often presented as a predecessor to the New Testament, the myth of Mithras.

So what of Mithras’ miraculous birth? In the ancient sources that describe the birth of Mithras,
Mithras was birthed from solid stone, and he got stuck on the way out. Some nearby persons in a field pulled him from the stone, which left a cave behind him. Yet some writers continue to connect this birth to the birth of Jesus in a stable with shepherds arriving soon afterward. A few critics even refer to this birth of Mithras as a “virgin birth”! I guess that birth from a rock is sort of a virgin birth. But how can you tell if a rock is a virgin, anyway? And how precisely do rocks lose their virginity?
Parallels of this sort are too vague and too dissimilar to support the claim that Christians borrowed their beliefs from pagans of previous generations.

James Tabor, a professor at University of North Carolina, doesn’t believe in the virginal conception of Jesus, and he denies that Jesus could have risen from the dead. Yet even he sees how radically the birth of Jesus in the New Testament Gospels differs from the supposed pagan parallels:

When you read the accounts of Mary’s unsuspected pregnancy, what is particularly notable … is an underlying tone of realism that runs through the narratives. These seem to be real people, living in real times and places. In contrast the birth stories in Greco-Roman literature have a decidedly legendary flavor to them. For example, in Plutarch’s account of the birth of Alexander the Great, mother Olympias got pregnant from a snake; it was announced by a bolt of lightning that sealed her womb so that her husband Philip could not have sex with her. Granted, both Matthew and Luke include dreams and visions of angels but the core story itself—that of a man who discovers that his bride-to-be is pregnant and knows he is not the father—has a realistic and thoroughly human quality to it. The narrative, despite its miraculous elements, “rings true.”

:: Supposed Parallels and Significant Problems When Comparing Jesus and Mithras ::

Supposed parallel: Mithras had twelve followers.

Significant problem: One piece of ancient artwork depicts Mithras surrounded by twelve faces, but there is no evidence that these were “disciples” of Mithras. In fact, Mithras had only two companions, Albederan and Antares.

Supposed parallel: Mithras was identified as a lion and a lamb.

Significant problem: There is no surviving evidence for the connection of Mithras to a lamb. Mithras was identified as a lion. However that imagery for a royal ruler existed among the Israelites (Genesis 49:9) several centuries prior to the emergence of any Mithraic myth; the New Testament writers were using familiar Jewish imagery when they depicted Jesus as a lion.

Supposed parallel: Mithras initiated a meal in which the terminology of “body and blood” were used.

Significant problem: The earliest evidence of such terminology in the context of Mithraism is from the mid-second century—nearly one hundred years after the Gospels were written. In this instance, it is far more likely that Mithraism borrowed from Christian practice.

Supposed parallel: Mithras sacrificed himself for the sake of others.

Significant problem: Mithras is frequently depicted in the act of sacrificing a bull—but Mithras himself never becomes the sacrifice.

Supposed parallel: Mithras rose from the dead on the third day; his followers celebrated his resurrection each year.

Significant problem: There is no surviving evidence from the pre-Christian era for a resurrection of Mithras on the third day. Because of his association with the sun, it is possible that followers of Mithras celebrated a renewal or rebirth each year.

Supposed parallel: The resurrection of Mithras was celebrated on Sunday.

Significant problem: There is no surviving evidence from the pre-Christian era for a celebration of a resurrection of Mithras on the first day of the week, though the followers of Mithras—and of other sun-related deities—did worship their gods on Sunday. The reason for the emphasis on “the first day of the week” in the New Testament Gospels was, however, more closely tied to the fact that, in Genesis 1, God’s work of creation began on the first day. The implication was that, through the resurrection of Jesus, God was initiating a new beginning, a re-creation of his world.

:: Claims of Parallels in Pagan Sources Confuse the Historical Claims of the New Testament with Later Christian Practices ::

What’s more, proponents of these parallels consistently conflate later Christian traditions with what’s found in the Gospels. It’s true, for example, that pagan festivals occurred around the time when Christians later celebrated Christmas—but the New Testament documents never suggest a date for the birth of Jesus in the first place! The identification of a date to celebrate Christmas occurred centuries after the time of Jesus; Christians probably arrived at a date near the winter solstice because of an early tradition that Jesus was conceived on the same date that he died, and nine months after Passover landed the birth of Jesus in late December. In any case, since the New Testament makes no claims regarding the date of Jesus’ birth, the celebration of Christmas is irrelevant when it comes to a discussion of whether the New Testament description of Jesus’ birth is rooted in real historical events.

The same holds true when it comes to connections between pagan fertility festivals and later Easter celebrations. The term “Easter” comes from “Ishtar,” a Sumerian goddess who died, arose, and ascended, and several familiar Easter motifs originated in pagan fertility cults. Yet, except for a mistranslation in Acts 12:4 in the King James Version, no New Testament text even mentions Easter! The pagan roots of later Easter imagery have nothing to do with the historicity of the Gospels.
Likewise, later Christian art incorporated both Egyptian and Mithraic motifs, especially when depicting Jesus and his mother. Yet later imitations of pagan themes among Christian painters has nothing to do with whether the events in the New Testament actually occurred. It simply means that Christians artists could have been a bit more creative when choosing sources for their inspiration.

:: What If Some Pagan Parallels Did Exist? ::

Let’s suppose for a moment, though, that some patterns that were present in the life of Jesus could be pinpointed in some previous religion. Would this weaken the historical foundations of the Christian faith, as critics claim?

Not necessarily.

The real question isn’t, “Are there similarities between the New Testament’s descriptions of Jesus and some previous religious practices?” Perhaps there are—although I must admit that every ancient parallel I’ve examined has turned out to be vague and weak when examined in its original context.
The crucial question is, “Did the events described in the New Testament actually occur?”—and the answer to this question doesn’t depend on parallels in pagan practices.

Parallels in other ancient religions neither prove nor disprove the authenticity of the New Testament documents. They simply demonstrate the common expectations of people in the first century A.D. Even if some clear parallel did exist between the story of Jesus and previous religious expectations, this wouldn’t warrant the belief that the apostle Paul or the authors of the New Testament Gospels “borrowed” these tenets from other faiths. It would mean that, when God dropped in on the human race, he chose to reveal himself in ways that the people in that particular culture could comprehend. If that’s indeed the case, it would merely mean that the myths of dying gods and miraculous births are rooted in longings that run deeper than human imagination; although the pagan religions twisted and distorted these motifs, they are rooted in a God-given yearning for redemption through sacrifice that makes the world right and new. C.S. Lewis addressed this possibility with these words:

In the New Testament, the thing really happens. The Dying God really appears—as a historical Person, living in a definite place and time. … The old myth of the Dying God … comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens—at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We must not be nervous about “parallels” [in other religions] … : they ought to be there—it would be a stumbling block if they weren’t.

When it comes to parallels between the New Testament story of Jesus and the myths of pagan gods, the supposed connections are not sufficiently parallel to claim that Christian faith is borrowed. Even if some parallels were indisputable, the parallels merely mean that God worked out his plan in a manner that matched the context within which “the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us” (John 1:18).

So what should you do the next time someone pulls out a pagan parallel?

(1) Locate the primary source. With the rarest of exceptions, the primary sources—that is to say, the actual ancient texts that describe the pagan practices—do not include any real parallels to the New Testament.

(2) Determine whether the supposed parallel precedes or succeeds the New Testament. Every text in the New Testament was in circulation no later than the late first century A.D. If the pagan parallel is from a text that was written later than the first century A.D., the New Testament writers obviously couldn’t have borrowed their information from that text.

(3) Determine whether the supposed pagan parallel connects to the New Testament or to later Christian traditions. Connections between pagan practices and later patterns in Christian worship or holiday celebrations may be interesting—but these links have nothing to do with whether the New Testament accounts of the life of Jesus are historically accurate.
R. Beck, The Religion of the Mithras Cult in the Roman Empire (New York: Oxford, 2006) 209-210.
M. Clauss, The Roman Cult of Mithras (New York: Routledge, 2000) 68-165.
C.S. Lewis, “Answers to Questions on Christianity” and “Myth Became Fact,” in God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970) 58, 66.
Origen of Alexandria, “Contra Celsum,” ed. J.-P. Migne, Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series Graecae 11 (Paris: Lutetiae Parisiorum, 1857-1866) 37.
T. Snyder, Myth Conceptions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995).