Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Go Jayhawks!

Last Sunday evening, the University of Kansas basketball team punched their ticket to the Final 4 in New Orleans, by beating the University of North Carolina. The Final 4 is generally considered the gold standard for college basketball excellence and this weekend's trip to New Orleans will be the 14th time a KU basketball team has made it to the final weekend in the NCAA tournament. The tradition and history is rich as KU's first basketball coach, James Naismith, was the inventor of the game of basketball. This Saturday night KU plays Ohio State, another tradition-rich basketball school, and the winner of that game plays the winner of the University of Kentucky vs. Louisville game (two more tradition-rich schools). This is already a very exciting time for KU basketball fans as last year's team lost seven key players (three to the NBA, three to graduation and one to transfer) and this year was supposed to be a "down year" for KU basketball. Well, making it to the Final 4 has been anything but a "down year" for us!

Back in 2008, KU won the national title by beating North Carolina in the semi-final and then the University of Memphis in the final. A week later, a parade was thrown in downtown Lawrence on Mass Street, in honor of the Jayhawks. Needless to say, it was a big deal to Kansas fans. Hopefully we can repeat the experience again this week and have another parade; however, KU fans will be happy either way. It's really a win-win situation from here on out, "house money" as they say. No one expected the Jayhawks to get this far in the tournament, but they have, so now they can play loose going for it all. Otherwise, they've had a great season if they don't win out this weekend.

Here was the scene in downtown Lawrence back in 2008:

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Reformers' Understanding of Beer

"Historians Will and Ariel Durant have written in The Story of Civilization: The Reformation that at the time of Luther, 'a gallon of beer per day was the usual allowance per person, even for nuns.' This may help to explain why beer figures so prominently in the life and writings of the great reformer (Martin Luther). He was German, after all, and he lived at a time when beer was the European drink of choice. Moreover, having been freed form what he considered to be a narrow and life-draining religious legalism, he stepped into the world ready to enjoy its pleasures to the glory of God. For Luther, beer flowed best in a vibrant Christian life.

It is important to know that Luther's hometown of Wittenberg was a brewing center, that his wife, Katie, was a skilled brewer at her convent before she left it to marry him, and that in his day every occasion of life from weddings to banking was graced by the presence of beer. This was only good news to Luther. Inviting a friend to his wedding, he once wrote, 'I am to be married on Thursday . . . Katie and I invite you to send a barrel of the best Torgau beer, and if it is not good, you will have to drink it all yourself!' This is typical of his playfulness, his boldness, and his passion for good German beer.

Having wrestled his soul out of its harsh theological constraints, Luther tried to understand the world afresh in a consistently biblical light. He reexamined, reapplied, and, where necessary, reformed according to a fiery biblical worldview. And he spared no one, from the pope to nuns and priests, from extremist Protestants to those who wouldn't live life fully in the love and grandeur of God. He did not suffer fools lightly and could barely stand those who feared moral excess and so retreated from everything that might tempt them in the world. 'Do not suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object which is abused,' he once wrote. 'Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we then prohibit and abolish women?'

Luther spent much of his life in the taverns of Wittenberg and not just because he loved to drink beer. He often mentored his students there, studied there, met important visitors there, and, upon occasion, even taught classes there. The time he spent in taverns and inns gave him a chance to look out into the world as it was in his day, to experience and to observe. . . . The tavern was where Luther learned of the world he was called to reform with the gospel of Christ.

These hours of learning from life around beer must have led him to his famous definition of intoxication. 'Drunkenness,' he wrote, is 'when the tongue walks on stilts and reason goes forward under half a sail.' This definition posed no challenge to Luther, though, for he is never described as drinking to excess. Instead, he viewed drink as good for the body, an aid to social life, and a gift of God. 'If God can forgive me for having crucified Him with Masses twenty years running,' Luther once boomed, 'He can also bear with me for occasionally taking a good drink to honor Him.'

John Calvin, Luther's fellow reformer, felt very much the same way, though this is contrary to the image of him that has come to us through time. Perhaps we should have known better. In his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin wrote, 'We are nowhere forbidden to laugh, or to be satisfied with food . . . or to be delighted with music, or to drink wine.' The great Genevan reformer also wrote, 'It is permissible to use wine not only for necessity, but also to make us merry.'

Like Luther, Calvin worked hard to hammer out a consistently biblical worldview. He wanted all of his life to be submitted to the rulership of Jesus Christ and yet he did not want to miss some grace or provision of God because of flawed theology or religious excess. He and Luther had seen too much of that in their pre-Protestant lives. 'The use of gifts of God cannot be wrong, if they are directed to the same purpose for which the Creator himself has created and destined them,' he insisted. In his little classic, The Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life, Calvin developed the case that God has 'made the earthly blessings for our benefit, and not for our harm':

If we study . . . why he has created the various kinds of food, we shall find that it was his intention not only to provide for our needs, but likewise for our pleasure and for our delight . . . . For, if this were not true, the Psalmist would not enumerate among the divine blessings, ‘the wine that makes glad the heart of man, and the oil that makes his face to shine.’

This robust Reformation theology, which taught enjoyment of God's creation and doing all that is not sinful to the glory of God, filtered into the centuries that followed the reformer's work. This likely comes as a surprise to those who confuse biblical Christianity with the antisaloon leagues and prohibitionism of later history. The truth is that most post-Reformation Christians believed as their first-century fathers did- that drunkenness is sin but that alcohol in moderation is one of the great gifts of God.

Thus, John Wesley drank wine, was something of an ale expert, and often made sure that his Methodist preachers were paid in one of the vital currencies of the day- rum. His brother, Charles Wesley, was known for the fine port, Madeira, and sherry he often served in his home; the journals of George Whitefield are filled with references to his enjoyment of alcohol. At the end of one of his letters, he wrote, 'Give my thanks to that friendly brewer for the keg of rum he sent us,' and in another, 'I believe God will take Georgia into his own hands. Its affairs have lately been before the House of Commons,' where, thankfully, 'the use of rum was granted.' The revered colonial American pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards viewed alcohol in much the same way. According to biographer Elizabeth D. Dodds, Edwards grew up in a home of a father who 'turned out a locally famed hard cider in the orchard behind his house.' Though he was not known to drink much at a time, Edwards was famous among his friends for nursing a glass of punch throughout an evening with family or while preparing sermons at night.

Clearly, then, though the Reformation diminished the production of beer temporarily by closing many of the European monasteries where beer was brewed, it also served the cause of beer and alcohol well by declaring them gifts of God and calling for their use in moderation. This, in time, led to a restoration of beer brewing and even gave it a noble purpose- offering beer to the world as an alternative to hard liquor that so often meant destruction in human lives."

Lamenting an Evangelical Disinterest in Unity

"I belonged to a generation which had been given their formative vision of the Christian life and received their Christian calling in an ecumenical setting. But now the majority of those in the Churches (of England) had been shaped either in a conservative evangelical setting where visible unity was not seen to be important, or in a merely denominational setting which had deprived them of opportunity to form deep and trustful friendships outside of that setting.... I find myself driven back to the simple fact that Jesus prayed for the unity of the Church, that he still prays for it, and that that prayer cannot be for ever denied. And I remember with gratitude the text which Visser't Hooft preached to us in Madras at the Second Synod of the Church of South India more than thirty years ago: 'We are partakers of Christ if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end'" (Unfinished Agenda, p. 250).

A Tough Form of Paganism

After 40 years of ministering in India, Lesslie Newbigin returns to England. He speaks of ministry in Birmingham, England as such:

It is much harder than anything I met in India. There is a cold contempt for the Gospel which is harder to face than opposition. As I visit the Asian homes in the district, most of them Sikhs or Hindus, I find a welcome which is often denied on the doorstep of the natives (the English). I have been forced to recognize that the most difficult missionary frontier in the contemporary world is the one of which the Churches have been- on the whole- so little conscious, the frontier that divides the world of biblical faith from the world whose values and beliefs are ceaselessly fed into every home on the television screen. Like others I had been accustomed, especially in the 1960s, to speak of England as a secular society. I have now come to realize that I was the easy victim of an illusion from which my reading of the Gospels should have saved me. No room remains empty for long. If God is driven out, the gods come trooping in. England is a pagan society and the development of a truly missionary encounter with this very tough form of paganism is the greatest intellectual and practical task facing the Church.  Unfinished Agenda, p. 249

Reading this excerpt, it made me wonder if the US today isn't a lot like what Newbigin was describing of England during the late 70s into the 80s, that today the "tough form of paganism" we face here is even tougher than the overt opposition to the Gospel other brothers and sisters around the world face?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Unfinished Agenda, by Lesslie Newbigin

I'm working through Lesslie Newbigin's autobiography, Unfinished Agenda. As General Secretary for the International Missionary Council and traveling worldwide (ca. 1961), Lesslie Newbigin observes a couple of disheartening features of Protestant Christianity in Latin America. In his travel journal, Newbigin writes:

One of the distressing features of the situation is the obsessive fear of Rome. Of all the places this seems to be one where it is unnecessary in view of the fact that the Roman authorities themselves acknowledge that there are now more Protestants than practicing Catholics in the country. One is conscious all the time of the profound spiritual consequences which have flowed from the fact that evangelical missions in this country felt it their duty to begin by saying ‘No’. When one begins exalting a negative it is very difficult to get out of that posture. I think that this is where the message of the ecumenical movement with its insistence upon the positive affirmation of Jesus Christ as God and Saviour has a profoundly important feeding and strengthening role to play. I found that there was a real response to this approach.  An Unfinished Agenda, p. 184

Newbigin then comments on this journal entry of his, “But the response was always under threat. Wherever I went, there was in the same town at the same time a representative of North American ‘evangelical’ Christianity to warn against the danger of being mis-mated with ungodliness. Ecumenism and communism were linked with murder and adultery among the mortal sins” (Unfinished Agendap. 184).

The second distressing feature of Protestant Christianity in Latin America was the observation of extreme wealth and poverty juxtaposed and that the young people of the Church tended to be very interested in engaging questions of "political and economic analysis" (p. 185). The distressing feature was that the local churches worked hard to keep the young people "inside the church organization," rather than encouraging them to engage such political and social concerns.

So at the time, the fears of Latin American Christianity, given the influence of North American Evangelical Christianity, were: 1) of Roman Catholics and 2) a social gospel (generally associated by conservative Christians of the 20th century to be "another gospel").

I do believe that today we are seeing Evangelicals with a great hunger for what Richard Lovelace called "A Unitive Vision of Christianity." There is a greater openness to some kind of meaningful unity with Roman Catholics as well as seeing the Gospel of the Kingdom extended to social and political concerns (in addition to the saving of souls). I don't fully know what this all means for my own journey, but the questions have indeed been pressing in on me for a long time now: Why the Pursuit of a D.Min.?

Brené Brown on Shame

I've learned so much from this dear woman and am so deeply grateful for her message.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Goldman Sachs Employee Reflects on Op-Ed

Greg Smith, executive director of Goldman Sachs, resigned yesterday and posted this blistering op-ed in the NY Times- it was the most frequented article at the NY Times website yesterday: Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs.

One of my Doctor of Ministry cohort members, John Gage, actually works for Goldman Sachs and John had some incredibly thoughtful reflections on Smith's op-ed. John's reflections are not yet published but our doctoral mentor Steven Garber is helping to see that it does. Here were John's reflections that he wrote to our D.Min. cohort last night:

[from John Gage, Goldman Sachs employee and brother in Christ]

I have been thinking about my vocation and specifically my role at GS a lot lately, so the Op-ed by Greg Smith this morning on his leaving GS was very timely.  I have to say - most of the things in the article were true.  There is a culture at most Wall Street firms that is very dangerous (I knew this going in).  It is one were "making money for the firm" is most important, even though the narrative from management is that we are seeking the best for our clients.  There is also a culture of short term profits over long term success that is very concerning as well (I am convinced this is the case in most industries in the new global economy). On the flip side, there are also many of us that do first and foremost care about our clients and doing good in the world.  But don't get me wrong, it is a dark place on many levels, and that is one of the primary reasons that I am there.

So this begs the question - what should we do as Christians working in this type of environment?  Or, should we even be working at a company like GS if what Smith said was true?  I have actually been writing a short article on this very question to get my own thoughts on paper.  I wrestle with this question every day.  I thought I would share it with you below.  I strongly welcome any feedback or comments.  As Steve loves to say - further up and further in. - JG

Christian Work in the “Messy Middle”
By: John Gage

As a Christian working in the investment banking industry, it has become very difficult to discern God’s will for our industry during this extended period of financial turmoil. Banks and bankers continue to receive a great deal of criticism, and rightfully so.  As has been evidenced by the Occupy Wall Street movement, it is much easier to point out the things that are wrong with our industry than it is to find aspects that are a blessing to society and contribute to the common good. This reality begs the question - how do we live out the Gospel in an industry like investment banking that is so affected by sin and the fall?  Should Christians abandon these industries that appear to be so prone to corruption, or should we seek to transform these industries by being faithfully present in them?

In his influential book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World <> , James Davidson Hunter calls Christians to live out a theology of faithful presence in the world. Hunter explains that a “theology of faithful presence begins with the acknowledgment of God’s faithful presence to us and that his call upon us is that we be faithfully present to him in return.”  This means that we are to be faithfully present to our neighbors, to our tasks, and within our different spheres of influence.  With work being the primary area in which most of us engage with society, it seems that if we are going to seek to be faithfully present to God, we must do so in our daily work.

Being faithfully present in an industry like investment banking can be very difficult, and I would argue that most Christians end up compromising their convictions and the Gospel because the tide is too strong.  I know because I have been there.  Without a plan to thoughtfully do our work in a creative way that honors God, Christians will continue to be more influenced by the negative aspects of their work than they will be able to introduce positive elements.

Jeff Van Duzer, Business School Dean at Seattle Pacific University does a great job of explaining this predicament in his book Why Business Matters to God (And What Still Needs to Be Fixed) <> .  Van Duzer uses many stories and illustrations to look at business through the creation, fall, redemption, and consummation paradigm.  As he discusses how Christians should engage in the business world, Van Duzer acknowledges the reality of sin that plagues our work, and how we as Christians are forced to exist within what he calls the messy middle”.  The messy middle is Van Duzer’s description of the already and the not yet, or living and working in a world where the Kingdom of God has been introduced, but has not reached final consummation.  In our current state, sin is still very real. Van Duzer explains:

Christians need to realize that they are operating “between the finish lines”. Their businesses function in a messy world.  In some sense Christ’s victory is assured but not yet fully evident. Specifically, this means that Christians in business need to remain attentive to possible dissonance as they ply their craft…Simply recognizing potential dissonance, however, is not enough.  Christians in business should become experts in looking for the creative “third way”- the way that is not one of the options initially considered, but a way that emerges as the business leader persists in living both as a faithful disciple and as a successful business person.

In following this “third way” framework, it appears that if Christians are going to be faithfully present in our vocations, we must be creative.  This does not mean that we all need to be business owners or executives so we have the power to make important decisions, but we have to consistently find ways of doing business that glorify God and benefit society as much as possible, realizing that things are not going to be perfect until the final consummation.  Work is going to continue to be messy, and if Christians are going to have a positive impact on society through our work, we must get our hands dirty.

As we do this hard work, Van Duzer also acknowledges that Christians are going to often be forced to make decisions that we do not totally agree with in order to just “stay in the game”.  This is a very harsh reality, and it was refreshing to hear someone actually admit this. These are things we need to talk about if we are going to be realistic about being faithfully present in our work. I am sure I will get push back from some who would say that if they ever had to do something that they did not totally agree with, they would quit their job - that would be the only right thing to do.  This is definitely a very noble idea and sounds great, but I would imagine that person has not held a corporate job for long in the modern world.  Social structures, businesses included, are sinful and cannot be changed over night.  Living a faithful presence is a process.

Let me clarify that I am not advocating that we sin in order to keep our jobs, but what I am advocating is that we look for alternative ways of doing business instead of giving up in the face of adversity. As we make day to day decisions that are often very difficult, I pray that we would be creative and search for solutions that not only glorify God, but also benefit all parties involved. Yes, there will be times that Christians must walk away from a job because of ethical reasons, and we must rely on the Holy Spirit to guide those decisions, but I pray that this would be the exception and not the rule.

As we practice a theology of faithful presence in our work, we must not get discouraged when we realize we are not going to transform our workplace or industry overnight.  If Hunter is right, and I believe he is, our job is not to transform our workplace, or to “change the world”, but it is to be faithfully present where God has put us.  If we do that, God will do the transforming, and that should be comforting to us all.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

My Book Review of Kingdom Callings

Recently I was able to write a book review for Amy Sherman's Kingdom Callings: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good for the Washington Institute: Life of the World to Come.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Beekeeper

My Doctor of Ministry fellow cohort member Eric Bonkovsky sends this video. Eric is a PCA pastor in Richmond, VA ( and writes:

"I want to direct you to this beautiful series of short films about vocation: Made by Hand

The most recent profile--beekeeper--is stunningly shot like the others. But it also begins with a profound statement of vocation as integral not incidental, from someone who gives no indication of being Christian, but communicates deeply about being human."