Thursday, June 30, 2005

Poverty Is the New Slavery

I was reading my SojoMail today, and I came across this line in Jim Wallis' article on the G8 Summit: "poverty is the new slavery." That's just beautiful. I can't help but wonder if he intended the "pink is the new black" parallel.

It's a delicious double entendre. It is certainly true that poverty, particularly extreme poverty, is a kind of slavery. It's also true that the moral imperative to oppose poverty today is like the moral imperative to oppose slavery in the 19th century (Wallis' actual context). But could it be that the issue of poverty has become trendy? We can only hope.

I would love to see to see white wrist bands join the ranks of red and yellow ribbons. Brad Pitt is with the program. It doesn't get much trendier than that. But I'm concerned. I'm not seeing it on the streets.

The G8 is upon us. Have we generated the necessary political momentum? Among bloggers, the support seems to be strong, but do you hear about it from the people around you? Have you heard any buzz about Live 8? Am I just outside the marketing demographic?

You might hear about debt cancellation on the news, if you listen closely enough, but do you hear about clean water? education? trade justice? agricultural enhancement? electricity?

I still find that when I talk about the issue of global poverty with people at my church, they don't understand the opportunity we have before us. They worry about "just throwing money at the problem". They talk about the corrupt governments in Africa. They complain that we're not even helping our poor here at home. I've even heard the "the poor you will always have with you" line. They want to help the poor, but they're hesitant, skeptical even. I tell them about Jeffrey Sachs and the U.N. plan, but I'm not sure it sinks in.

Jim Wallis says in his SojoMail article, "For the first time the world has the knowledge, information, technology, and resources to end extreme poverty as we know it, but what is still lacking is the moral and political will to do so."

I worry that we lack the political will because people don't realize that we have the knowledge, information, technology and resources.

Coming Into the Light

Whatever our individuals sins, they are to some extent, and probably to a large extent, the product of our history. Often the sin of today is the result of some series of poor choices made long ago, but even those choices, at the time we made them, were conditioned by our environment and our history.

To even suggest, then, that someone's sin would put them outside of God's grace is to suggest that it is the condition of needing salvation which blocks salvation. It would be the cruelest of Catch-22's. Of course, intellectually we know that sin doesn't separate us from God in this way. God seeks out the sinner.

The trouble is, when we're burdened by the condition of sin, we often can't see what the real problem is. I say this is trouble, but it's only trouble for our theory. In practice, God makes his way through the jungle of our condition and finds us. We often describe God's finding us in terms of coming into the light.

For alcoholics, drug addicts and other people trapped in compulsive behaviors, this step of coming into the light is incredibly important. Recognizing that you are an alcoholic is the decisive step in being lifted out of that condition.

It's curious, though, that for gays and lesbians coming into the light is also important, but the result is very different. Whereas alcoholics who have recognized themselves as alcoholics are on the road to change, the healing process that begins with recognizing that one is gay seems to be one of acceptance, embrace and even celebration.

There are no "alcoholic pride" celebrations, and there never will be. A few rowdy frat boys may revel in the idea of being alcoholics, but they aren't really, or at least don't realize it yet. Knowing what it is to be an alcoholic precludes anything like pride.

But this is apparently not so with being gay. The alcoholic can look back at his life and see the extent to which his drinking has brought problems into his life. But when the homosexuals who have come into the light look back on their life, it is apparent that the related problems were caused by a refusal (either their own refusal or that of others) to accept the fact of their sexual orientation.

This should tell us something. If we ignore this, it is nothing less than a refusal to ground our morality in reality.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Born Again and Again

St. Paul, St. Augustine, Martin Luther and C.S. Lewis are among the many Christians whose spiritual journey includes a dramatic momentary turning. Modern evangelicals frequently point to these experiences as the moment when these men were born again, the moment of their salvation. Luther even says he felt like he was born again, though it should be disputed whether he meant by that what modern evangelicals mean.

But I think there is something that Lutherans should learn from these evangelicals, and from Paul, Augustine, Luther and Lewis. We should learn something about commitment. Paul, Augustine and C.S. Lewis all specifically relate their experiences to obedience to God. St. Augustine says, "This was the sum of it: not to will what I willed, O Lord, but to will what you willed."

Ever since I read those words in St. Augustine's Confessions I've had a longing for just that feeling. More on that in a moment.

While I fimrly believe that the Lutheran teaching that we are saved throughout our lives and that this salvation is assured in our baptism, I think that Lutherans should learn from evangelicals that at some point you need to actually commit yourself to following Christ. Lutherans, with our penchant for theological precision, would quickly say that we must commit ourselves anew each day. Very well, but we must, nevertheless, commit.

What I've related to this point has been my thinking on the Damascus Road experience for some time now. But now I must come to a confession and with it something that I learned today, though it was something I already knew.

As I mentioned above, I have had a longing to experience Augustine's feeling of "not to will what I willed, O Lord, but to will what you willed" since I first read his account of it. The power of its effect on his life captivated me, and I wished and hoped that God would do something like that in my own life.

And this wish, as wishes do, took on a life of its own within me. I started to look for it in my prayers. With every new feeling of contact with God I began to wonder, "Will this be what changes me?"

I should make clear what it was I was looking for. I am, and have been for some time, a commited Christian. My faith makes a great deal of difference in the way I live my life. In fact, I don't think it would be too immodest to say that faith pervades my life. Some people might even say I am obsessed with God. But I wanted, and want still to be honest, just what Augustine says: not to will what I willed, but to will what God willed. Stepping back it's easy to see that what I was looking for was what Wesleyans call a second work of grace. It's very un-Lutheran of me, I know.

Eventually, I started to try to manufacture something like the experience I was looking for. I'd convinced myself that it wasn't really a particular work of grace that was need but rather my response. I was moved by William Law's statement, "And if you will here stop, and ask yourselves, why you are not as pious as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will tell you that it is neither through ignorance, nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it."

So I would decide to become serious about living in the will of God. For a few days it would go well, and I would begin to hope I had finally reached that longed for place. And then I would do something base, something that I couldn't deny came from within me. So I would consider that attempt a failure and conclude that I must try again.

What I saw today is that this is exactly the experience of the Baptist who isn't sure that he "really meant it" when he was baptized before and so goes forward for another altar call and is baptized again.

I needed no doctrinal instruction. I can kick the simul iustus et peccator rhetoric with the best of 'em. Why I didn't apply that to my own life, only my fellow owners of human hearts can know.

Having made this realization, it occured to me that perhaps I already have what I've been longing for. The commitment to Christ that I've been looking for can't possibly be a long, unbroken streak of successful discipleship. It can only be a commitment to keep picking myself up and continue following when I fail.

As Luther says of baptism, "It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever."

All this I already knew, but now I know it in a new way. I've connected with it. God help me, I've become more Lutheran.

And what of my longing for Augustine's experience? I'm not certain of this, but I think that perhaps the longing itself is the experience. Is there really a difference between longing to will what God wills and actually willing what God wills? Maybe. But for now I will resolve myself to be content with longing for the will of God to be made manifest in my life.

Sunday, June 19, 2005


I hate chain mail but I love books, perhaps chain blogging is harmless fun.

I came across the book meme on LutheranChik's "L" Word Diary so I am now propogating it here.

How many books do you own?

Oooh, I should probably lie about this, but I won't. I'm an absolute packrat when it comes to books. I read voraciously, but I buy even more books than I read, and I never get rid of books. Once in a while I'll give one away if I think it will make a difference for someone. I would guess I have about 700 books on the shelf and probably another 100 or so boxed up in the garage.

Last book bought:

In the mail right now from Amazon (Father's Day treats): In One Body Through the Cross, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, The Passion of the Lord: African American Reflections and The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible.

Last book read:

I most recently finished Rebecca Lyman's Early Christian Traditions.

I'm currently reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Ethics (as my blog has shown) and Jim Wallis's God's Politics (for a discussion group), and I'm listening to C.S. Lewis' Surprised by Joy on audiobook.

Books that mean a lot:

Obviously there's the Bible. I don't just say that as a pious requirement. It really does mean a lot to me.

I've got a couple of books, a leather bound edition of Thoreau's works and a one-volume collection of three of John Irving's novels, that my mother gave me with personal notes of encouragement inscribed inside when she was dying of cancer. Quite apart from the content of the books themselves, these are among my most valued possessions.

The Way of a Pilgrim almost single-handedly led me back into Christianity after I had drifted away. As C.S. Lewis said, "A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading."

What magazines do you read regularly?

I don't really read magazines much. I look at the cover of Christian History when I can find it, and read that if it's interesting. The current edition about George MacDonald looks promising.

I just subscribed to Sojourners, having enjoyed their e-mail newsletter for a while, so it may become the one magazine that I read regularly.

Before Baseball Weekly became Sports Weekly I read it regularly. Does that count as a magazine?

Tag Five People:

Like I said, I don't like chain mail, so don't feel pressured, but who doesn't like to talk about books?

Friday, June 17, 2005


My wife tells me that, for purely anatomical reasons, I'm not entitled to an opinion on abortion. Nevertheless, I have one. I tend to be considerably more pro-life than the church body with which I am roughly affiliated (the ELCA), but I think it would be a terrible mistake to make it strictly illegal. I understand that I can never know what it's like to be a woman about to choose abortion. I cannot not judge them.

As I finally got to the treatment of some concrete issues in Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Ethics, I found in his stance on abortion a certain resonance with my own view and some interesting additional depth. Here is what he says:
Destruction of the embryo in the mother's womb is a violation of the right to life which God has bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question of whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder. A great many different motives may lead to an action of this kind; indeed, in cases where it is an act of despair, performed in circumstances of extreme human or economic destitution and misery, the guilt may often lie rather with the community than with the individual.
This last insight is simply brilliant. Abortion is an evil. I don't think there can be any real question about that. But who is responsible? Is it the woman backed into a corner, or the society that backed her into that corner?

In God's Politics, Jim Wallis suggests that Democrats should rethink their position on abortion. He suggests a position which would be decidedly anti-abortion without attempting to make it illegal. A position which would attack the causes of abortion rather than the act. To reduce the abortion rate, he says, we should focus on teen pregnancy, adoption reform and real support for low-income women.

Or we could just tell women they're evil to even think about it. :-(

Thursday, June 16, 2005

What Theologian Are You?

Here's a cool quiz which I came across by way of Pastor Frontz' post on the Blog of Concord.

What Theologian Are You?

Apparently, I'm Jurgen Moltmann. And here I didn't think I really understood his books. :-)

What Today Thinks

"Speak what you think today in words as hard as cannon balls, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said today."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

I think I need to retract at least some of what I wrote recently about Rick Warren. I stand by my comments on Hawaiian shirts, but I need to think more on the significance of his P.E.A.C.E. Plan and even his Purpose Driven Church movement in general.

Sure, the acronym thing is tacky. Yes, his mass consumerism does amount to the McDonaldization of the Church. But he's doing something. He's reaching people.

The thing that drove me to this rethinking was his announced support for the ONE Campaign. One of my chief complaints about the Purpose Driven movement was that it didn't have any particular substance to it, that it was full of vagaries, that its chief goal was to draw people into itself. But Warren's support for the ONE Campaign gives the lie to that thinking. If he's going to engage in actual Christianity, then I have to drop my objection.

Of course, my objection was largely incorrect anyway. As I've said, my congregation is involved with Warren's programs. We've had 40 Days of Purpose and 40 Days of Community. And it has actually had positive impacts on people's lives. It hasn't led to the kind of Christianity that I love, but it was Christianity. It was, perhaps, tacky, but that works for some people.

Fr. Benedict Groeschel says, "Religion exists at a simple level for simple people and at a popular level for popular people." Neither of those appeal to me, but I should not thereby slam them. Whoever isn't against us is for us.

One of the most remarkable things about the ONE Campaign is the way it is bringing together such a broad spectrum of people. Pat Robertson and Bono have come together. This can't be anything less than the work of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Penultimate Truth

"If the hungry man does not attain to faith, then the guilt falls on those who refused him bread."
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics
It's a remarkable quality of good theology that it can sometimes help you make sense of things you radically opposed in bad theology. This little sentence from Bonhoeffer's Ethics had just such an effect for me.

I complained recently about Christians seeing their service to those in need primarily as a tool for evangelism. It seems to me to be downright anti-Christian to offer a hungry person food, not out of compassion, but as a way to get them to listen to your preaching of the Gospel. The message it conveys seems to be, "We don't really care about you, but we'd really like to add you to our membership roles."

But Bonhoeffer's statement struck me as truth. At first, I didn't even make the connection between feeding the hungry and evangelism in his statement, I just heard it as a call to feed to hungry. But eventually the connection with evangelism did penetrate my thoughts, and it struck the usual sour note. So I thought further about what he was saying. This also helped me to get a handle on an otherwise rather abstract chapter about the ultimate and the penultimate.

What Bonhoeffer is saying is that the coming of Christ is something we can neither bring about nor prevent. Yet the Gospels begin with John the Baptist crying out "Make straight the path of the Lord." The Lord's coming may be experienced as judgment or as salvation.

Ultimately, only the Lord can prepare the way for his coming. The feeding of the hungry does not necessarily bring with it the presence of Christ. No amount of feeding the poor will bring about a new heaven and a new earth, but it can show the world what it will look like. It can remove obstacles to the coming of the Lord, to the hearing of the Gospel.

The things we do in this world to "be Christ to our neighbor" are intrinsically penultimate things. They can never in themselves be the salvation of God or even lead people to the salvation of God. But the salvation of God can invest these penultimate things with deep meaning.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Good News for the Unfortunate

OK, no Bonhoeffer today. He's riffing on the history of western civilization, and I'm content just to read along. Instead, I'd like to return to a quotation I liked from Rebecca Lyman's Early Christian Traditions. Lyman quotes a fragment of the early Christian critic Celsus (c. AD 178) that is preserved in Origen's "Against Celsus":
Those who invite to participation in other mysteries, make proclamation as follows: 'Every one who has clean hands, and a prudent tongue;' others again thus: 'He who is pure from all pollution, and whose soul is conscious of no evil, and who has lived well and justly.' Such is the proclamation made by those who promise purification from sins. But let us hear what kind of persons these Christians invite. Every one, they say, who is a sinner, who is devoid of understanding, who is a child, and, to speak generally, whoever is unfortunate, him will the kingdom of God receive. Do you not call him a sinner, then, who is unjust, and a thief, and a housebreaker, and a poisoner, and a committer of sacrilege, and a robber of the dead? What others would a man invite if he were issuing a proclamation for an assembly of robbers?
I remember reading a couple of years ago some things that Nietzche wrote against Christianity, but Nietzche twisted the Christian message to make it a proper object of his scorn. Not so with Celsus. If this quotation is any indication, Celsus would have been a good evangelist, if only he saw the beauty of what he was criticizing.

How are our churches doing today? Today when Christian churches are criticized as being congregations of sinners, it is based on observation of our behavior not our message. Have we lost the will to preach good news to sinners, to those devoid of understanding, to children, generally to whoever is unfortunate?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Love of God

Yes, my little Bonhoeffer-fest continues again today. I really intend to stop somewhere short of quoting the entire book, but this is too good to just leave on the turned page.
Ecce homo! -- Behold the God who has become man, the unfathomable mystery of the love of God for the world. God loves man. God loves the world. It is not an ideal man that He loves, but man as he is; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find abominable in man's opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, the real man, the real world, this is for God the ground for unfathomable love, and it is with this that He unites Himself utterly. God becomes man, real man. While we are trying to grow out beyond our manhood, to leave the man behind us, God becomes man and we have to recognize that God wishes us men, too, to be real men. While we are distinguishing the pious from the ungodly, the good from the wicked, the noble from the mean, God makes no distinction at all in His love for the real man.
Leave it to a Lutheran to preach the Gospel in a book on ethics!

I read this quote to my wife. She said she liked it. Then I said, "Now apply that to yourself." That's always the hard part. (Please note that I had this exchange with my wife because it was less embarassing than having the same exchange with myself.)

We can appreciate a fresh or clever statement of the Gospel on an intellectual level. We can enjoy hearing the radical nature of God's love. But do we believe it? Do we really believe it? Sure, God loves real people, particular people. But this is still an abstract statement. God loves me. Even this I believe, but if I'm honest about it, I'd probably have to admit that what I really mean is that God will love me once I've been cleaned up a bit. I once read that on the front of his famous sermon "You Are Accepted" Paul Tillich wrote the words "for myself." That's comforting. It's not just me.

This is why Bonhoeffer's inclusion of the world in this passage helps. God loves the world. We don't live under any illusion that the world will clean up it's act someday soon. And yet, God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.

Even if we imagine God's love for the world to be like someone who finds a tattered antique at a flea market and buys it knowing that it can be restored and made beautiful again, we must face the profound truth of Bonhoeffer's insight. A collector doesn't buy a pot-bellied stove at a flea market so she can turn it into a microwave oven. It's the pot-bellied stove she wants and any restoration is simply to make it more perfectly into what it already is.

But our friend Dietrich had a further insight to offer along these lines. The passage above appears in a chapter on ethics as formation. Not formation in the sense of learning to imitate some ideal standard, but formation as transformation into the form of Christ. He spoke of the form of Christ acting on us and in us and transforming us into this form. And it was sounding an awful lot like the Orthodox doctrine of theosis.

But then he put an astounding spin on St. Athansius' famous quotation. Whereas Athanasius had said, "God became man so that man might become God," Bonhoeffer says, "Man becomes man because God became man."

Behold the wondrous love of God. A selfish love seeks to consume, to assimilate, that which is loves. But God gives Godself to us, not that we may become what God is, but that God may share with us in what we are.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


Bonhoeffer writes:
If by his knowledge of the law a man has become the judge of his brother and so eventually of the law itself, then he can no longer perform the law, however much else he may appear to reform. The "doer of the law," unlike the judge, submits to the law; the law never becomes a criterion for him such as he might apply to his brother; the law never confronts him otherwise than in summoning him personally to action. Even when he has to deal with a brother who is at fault, the "doer of the law" has only one possible means of giving effect to the law, and that is by performing it himself. ... This does not mean, then, that the doer of the law is content with his own doing and that with a sidelong glance he calls upon God to be the judge of his sinful brother whom he himself is, unfortunately, not permitted to judge. There really is no such sidelong glance here.... There does not remain, therefore, in addition to action or through action, some ultimate possibility of judgment; action is and must continue to be the only possible attitude towards the law of God; any residue of judgment would disrupt this action entirely and transmute it into false action, into hypocrisy.
This is, I think, pretty much what I was trying to say last month in my post about God's law and civil law

The Will of God

I've made it through the first chapter of Ethics, and it's one of those things that's so rich in ideas that I knew I wouldn't retain any of it if I didn't try to make some notes. Here's what I've understood of it (my apologies beforehand for the gender-biased language, it's in the translation I'm reading and it's all I can do to keep up with this thought as it is without remapping this). If anyone is familiar with Bonhoeffer's thought, please let me know what I've understood or not understood.

In the knowledge of good and evil man knows himself apart from God. He knows his own possibility of being good and evil. He sees himself as something separate from God. As such, the knowledge of good and evil creates disunion between man and God (also between man and man and man and the world). To use Martin Buber's language, man develops an I-It relationship with God, others and the world.

"Instead of seeing God," Bonhoeffer says, "man sees himself."

Man experiences this separation as shame, shame at the union he has lost, shame at not being covered by God. So, he seeks a covering. He seeks to create his own good.

Jumping now to the Pharisee (largely as a type, though based on the Biblical class by that name)... Bonhoeffer has a very realistic image of the Pharisees. He refuses to demonize them or trivialize what they hoped to accomplish in their lives. He recognizes that their life was a sincere attempt to live a life pleasing to God, but they did so by seeking to create their own good.

The Pharisee sees every moment as a conflict in which he must choose good over evil. Jesus, by contrast, does not allow himself to be drawn into these conflicts (see Matthew 22). Jesus sees only one thing: the will of God. The Pharisee tries to navigate through disunion. Jesus lives in union.

The goal of Christian ethics then is to live in the will of God, not to choose good over evil. So how do we find the will of God? The will of God, according to Bonhoeffer, does not force its way into the human heart. It is not simple or obvious. It is not a system of rules that can be known before hand. "The voice of the heart is not to be confused with the will of God." "Direct inspirations must not be heeded or expected."

Instead, intelligence, discernment, observation and whatever other powers the human possesses, pervaded by prayer, must be used to seek the will of God. Past experience warns and corrects. In the end, one acts in the confidence that God acts in him. The presence of Christ is decisive.

Jesus Christ, Bonhoeffer says, occupies exactly the same space in the believer that was previously occupied by his knowledge of good and evil.

"It is evident that the only appropriate conduct of men before God is the doing of his will."

Hearing and doing must not be separated as though the word of God could be stored for later use. This always becomes judgment. Hearing and not doing is seeking knowledge of good and evil. Hearing and doing is the only way of doing the will of God.

I'm not entirely satisfied with his resolution of how one may know the will of God, but I think it is meant as a thing to be experienced, not a thing to be understood. Objectively, it can never be true, it can never be recommended as a step-by-step plan for knowing the will of God. It must be lived. It requires faith.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Bonhoeffer's Ethics

I began Bonhoeffer's Ethics today.

It occurs to me that this may very well be the only book of ethics ever written while the author was actively contemplating taking the life of another human being. I can only imagine the urgency that this added.

In Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard considers the problem of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac, and he asks, "Is there such a thing as a telelogical suspension of the ethical?" Bonhoeffer faced this question but without the distance of abstract speculation.

But if I've understood what he's written so far, I think Bonhoeffer would reject the question. I think he's saying the teleological is the ethical. The ethical is not a matter of dividing right from wrong, good from evil, but rather it is being united with the will of God.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Good and Evil

I visited my sister-in-law today to help her with her computer, while I was there I visited the nearby Powell's Books and found a copy of Bonhoeffer's Ethics on sale for $6.
The knowledge of good and evil is seems to be the aim of all ethical reflection. The first task of Christian ethics is to invalidate this knowledge.
Yeah. I've got to read that.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Roadside Religion

Listening to NPR this morning, I was thrilled to hear them mention Frostburg, Maryland. I grew up in Cumberland, Maryland, about 10 miles away and went to college at Frostburg State University. It's a fairly rural area and so it's always a surprise to find evidence that the rest of the world knows it's there.

The NPR story was an interview with author Timothy Beal about his new book, Roadside Religion: In Search of the Sacred, the Strange, and the Substance of Faith. He said that he got the idea for the book when he and his family were driving along Interstate 68 in Maryland when he saw a sign that said "Noah's Ark Being Rebuilt Here" and he just had to stop and see it. That sign is in Frostburg.

From the time I got my driver's license until I moved to Oregon, I drove on 68 nearly every day, and during college I drove past the "Noah's Ark Being Rebuilt Here" sign nearly every day. I never once stopped to see it.

The sign was kind of a joke in the area. I can't remember when the sign was put up, but it was years before any part of the ark was visible. We never thought they'd really do it. Then one day these red girders showed up.

It's a very odd enterprise. People there still wonder about it. The last time I went by it was still nothing but girders. It's been more than 30 years since Pastor Richard Greene had the dream that led him to undertake this project, but he's patient, persistent, faithful.

Faith is indeed a strange thing.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Purpose Driven Reformation?

Purpose Driven Pastor Rick Warren, at the recent Purpose Driven Church Conference, encouraged attendees to work toward a "new Reformation".

From the Purpose Driven website:
Warren told the church leaders in attendance that in his travels around the world he has noticed four coinciding movements in Christianity.

First, the church is exploding in the southern hemisphere, particularly in Africa and South America. Second, Purpose Driven Ministries is bypassing old distinctions between denominations and nationalities and unifying the church worldwide. Third, Warren believes God is revitalizing the local church. Finally, new technologies such as the Internet have helped to build a global, de-centralized network of churches that allows congregations to communicate with one another more quickly and efficiently than ever before.

These four observations, Warren believes, are the framework of the second great reformation of the church. Through this reformation, Warren expects to see:
  • a complete mobilization of ordinary believers.

  • a rapid multiplication of churches.

  • the complete eradication of the five global giants (spiritual lostness, ego-centric leadership, poverty and illiteracy).

  • a new cooperation between churches around the world.

  • the complete evangelization of the planet.
As someone who attends a Lutheran church that identifies itself as "Purpose Driven" I have to admit to being more than a little ambivalent about this. On the one hand, I'm happy to see someone doing something. I'm really happy to see an evangelical movement that mentions things like poverty and illiteracy. I've seen first hand that a lot of really good things can come out of this.

On the other hand, I really don't like this kind of Christianity. Part of it is aesthetic. Aside from not liking Hawaiian shirts, I don't like most praise songs and it makes me uncomfortably when people get weepy during ordinary prayers.

But aside from that I have problems with the theology behind all this. It's hard to say why because you have to really dig to find the theology amid all the hype. And what you do find isn't so wrong that you can say, "black-and-white, that's wrong." It's just misdirected. We can do better.

At the PDC conference, Rick Warren talked about his "P.E.A.C.E. Plan" (Plant churches, Equip servant-leaders, Assist the poor, Care for the sick, Educate the next generation). If you go further and ask what makes the "P.E.A.C.E. Plan revolutionary, you'll find out that it is P.L.A.N.S. (Purpose Driven, Led by small groups, Attacks the global giants, Networks church to church, Sends to the whole world). I'm not making this up.

What can I make from the acronym G.O.O.F.Y.?

I'm reminded of a line from The American President: "People [in the desert] don't drink the sand because they're thirsty. They drink the sand because they don't know the difference."

I really do think it's great that Rick Warren and company are trying to make a difference. I really hope that God will bless these efforts and bring something wonderful out of them. But I also hope God will have mercy on the Church and let our cream rise to the top and not our grease.