Eugene Peterson and The Pastoral Imagination

There is something special about pastoring a local church.

Being called to shepherd a local congregation and being a part of a particular church family is a blessing.

In the American church we often hold the megachurch pastors in high esteem becuase of the breadth of their influence. This is something we can be thankful for, if they steward their influence well.

However, let us not forget that the depth of ministry in a local community – through a local congregation – is a powerful witness to the kingdom of God.

While local church ministry happens in obscurity, it has profound implications on eternity.

In the past few years I have come to appreciate the ministry of Eugene Peterson. His writings have profoundly shaped my pastoral imagination.

Take a few minutes and watch this video from Nav Press and you will see why. Also, if you have not read any of Peterson’s books – I encourage you to do so. Here is a link to his Amazon Author’s Page.

The Neglect Of Beauty in Theology


The Gospel Coalition just published my newest article titled “5 Reasons Christians Neglect Beauty In Theology“.

To be human is to have a sense of beauty. Beauty demands our attention. There is no way, then, to escape the aesthetic task.

If the practice of aesthetics is the responsibility of every person, it’s especially true of Christians. Doing aesthetics isn’t so much a theological option as a theological necessity.

It’s no stretch to argue that the evangelical church has largely neglected theological inquiry into the nature of beauty and aesthetics. Most reflection and writing on these subjects come from professionals in philosophy and in the specialized field of aesthetics. Christians are largely on the sidelines. This should not be.

Here are the five factors that have contributed to the lack of distinctly evangelical contributions to the conversation. Would love to hear your thoughts!

Independence Day and Religious Liberty


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“The religion of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man.” – James Madison

Independence Day of the United States, also referred to as the Fourth of July in the U.S., is a federal holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

On that day, thirteen American colonies regarded themselves as a new nation, the United States of America, and no longer part of the British Empire. Central to the foundation of our country is the freedom of religious liberty. On this issue, the first amendment of our constitution is clear.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition.”

The freedom to believe, and the freedom to live out those beliefs is the very cornerstone of a free society. Religious liberty teaches that individuals, institutions, or government should not coerce religious beliefs. As Moore and Walker argue, “…the most biblical form of government is one that’s neither hostile to religion nor too cozy with religion.”

Government is designed to see that laws are followed and that citizens are protected. Government should not invade the free religious conscience of its citizens. The issue central to religious liberty is “to whom do we owe our ultimate allegiance?” To God or state? This is a matter of conscience, and one that should be protected.

This is why we read in Matthew 22:15-22 and Romans 13:1-7 that a government’s role is limited and its authority is delegated. Therefore, religious liberty entails the careful balancing of a government’s duty to uphold public order and the rights of citizens to freely exercise their religion in peaceful ways.

The current state of religious liberty in our country is growing more and more ominous. If this trajectory continues, religious freedoms will soon be limited to the “freedom to worship”. In other words, religious people will be free to worship within the four walls of their church, but will be hindered to act on those beliefs in the public square. However, faith is integrated into all areas of life. We are the church both gathered and scattered. Our theology not only informs our doxology, it also animates our daily living (praxis).

The threats to religious liberty are serious even though they are not evenly distributed throughout society yet. While the threats are serious, we also understand that our God is sovereign over all of human history. As the church proclaims that Jesus is Lord, we are trumping all other claims made by a governmental institutions and by elected officials. When the church proclaims Jesus is Lord, we are also pledging our ultimate allegiance to Him – in trust and prayer.

As the church, we need to pray for our temporary home, the United States of America. Yet, we do so with the balanced understanding that we are ultimately citizens of the greater Kingdom of God (Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 11:16). We must also trust that God will sustain and empower us to remain faithful regardless of how our society regards religion. Even so, as citizens of this country, let us continue to uphold and defend the religious liberty of all American citizens.

The Sin of Retaliation

Decorative Scales of Justice in the Courtroom

This was originally published at The Biblical Recorder.

The natural mode of our hearts is expressed well in the Latin phrase lex talionis, which means “the law of retaliation.” When someone crosses us or makes demands on us our initial reaction is to respond in the same way. Why not? This is the way we’ve heard that the world works. Right? Retaliation is sinfully seductive and bitterly sweet.

However, as Christians we operate by the laws of a different world, the Kingdom of God. This is why in Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus says, “you have heard it said … but I tell you.” What does he tell us? Jesus demands that when someone insults us, we should not respond in a way that escalates violence. Instead, we should respond in love towards our attacker, in a way that prevents further attacks or stops the progression of violence.

Moreover, when someone takes your possessions, Jesus calls us to respond in the way of love, namely, to go the extra mile, to give freely to those in need. In many cases, those who pursue our possessions have an actual need they are trying to meet.

Doesn’t Jesus call us to give to those who are truly in need?

Now, we can split hairs on this passage and develop numerous scenarios where helping can hurt. Or we can think of many modifiers to these words in order to show how these things may or may not play out. But I think that misses the point of the passage.

In fact, the initial response of counting the costs to respond this way shows that retaliation is our natural desire.

However, Jesus calls us to think differently. Moreover, His Spirit enables us to respond differently.

In a unnatural way – better yet, a supernatural way – our need for retaliation and personal justice is not bound by the “pay out” on this earth.

If our self-esteem is found in our stance before God, we can lovingly stand in the face of sinful insults. If our treasure is found in the inheritance we have as children of God, we are not devastated when our earthly belongings are taken. This is the power of the gospel.

Love Your Enemies

Love Your Enimies

This was originally published at The Biblical Recorder.

The election season is a good time to gauge fears of our fellow citizens. Politicians are experts at exposing and exploiting the suspicions of our culture. Right now, many people fear Middle Easterners because they merely resemble their religious extremist neighbors. Some candidates have proposed that we respond to entire people groups with fear by shutting them out.

However, Jesus calls us not to respond in fear, but in faith. To open our hearts to those who are different that we are. Even to our enemies: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

It is easy to love those who are like us, but what reward is there in that? Is God not sovereign over all things? Does He not allow His sun to rise on the evil and on the good? Does He not send rain on the just and on the unjust?

We know from scripture that God hates those who are resolutely and unrepentantly wicked. Those who do, and intend to do harm against us will face the judgment of God. In most cases, even those who resemble the enemy do not intend harm. Without reservation, we are called to reflect the grace that we so commonly enjoy.

Doesn’t God show grace and care for all of His creatures? Absolutely. Therefore Jesus’ disciples are called to imitate God and love both neighbor and enemy. I recently heard International Mission Board President David Platt say that “Only an Americanized Christianity would prioritize security over the proclamation of the gospel.” We must remember the power of Satan is limited by the prerogative of God. When we face the enemy, and the perceived enemy, our initial response should be love: pray for them; love them; open your hearts to them.

The power of the gospel dissolves fear and empowers us to act in faith. Perhaps the most poignant way to apply this text is to remind us of Christ’s command to love your neighbor as yourself. In other words, love others with the same amount of energy and tenacity that you would for your own well-being. How would you want to be treated?

I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life


This is an excerpt from the sermon I preached this past Sunday at Fairview Baptist Church. You can watch the whole thing here.

In John 14 Jesus tells the disciples to stop letting their hearts be troubled. As Jesus was headed closer and closer to the cross, the disciples were becoming more and more confused and uncertain. And rightly so.

In Ancient Israel, a disciple would begin following a Rabbi or Teacher between the ages of 12-20. At an early age the disciples had left family, friends, homes, occupations – everything – in order to follow Jesus. Their whole world had been wrapped up in Jesus. And now after a few years, Jesus is telling them that he is leaving them, and that they cannot follow him where He goes. Not just yet. Jesus is going to prepare a place for them in His fathers house. They are called to turn their trouble into trust.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Textually, “the way” is placed over “truth” and “life”. In Greek, word order often indicates emphasis. So, we can trust Jesus is the way, because He is the truth. We can also trust that Jesus is the way, because He is the life. Jesus is the only way to God precisely because He is the truth of God and the life of God. No one comes to the Father except through Him.

When Jesus tells the disciples that He is going to prepare a place for them in the Father’s house, it gives us a good depiction of eternity. The word “place” is connected with the verb that means, to abide or dwell. Jesus goes to the cross in order to prepare a place to abide and dwell with God. This is good news. Whatever else heaven may hold, the most wonderful part of it will be the fact that we dwell with God forever. This truth was driven home for me several years ago as I read John Piper’s book God is the Gospel. Piper writes:

“The critical question for our generation—and for every generation— is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?”

Is dwelling with God central to your vision of eternity? I pray so. The way to God was opened through Jesus Christ, who sacrificed Himself in your place on the cross. Believe the truth that Jesus is the only way to an eternal life of dwelling with God.

Acting Our Way Into Feelings In Worship

a-long-obedience-in-the-same-directionI recently picked up Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction at a used book store (I love the title). I have always found Peterson’s writing soul stirring. In this book Peterson offers an honest and reflective journey through the Psalms of Ascent (120-134). Consider this thought on worship based on Psalm 122:1, “I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the LORD!” (ESV)

But very often we don’t feel like [worshiping], and so we say, “It would be dishonest for me to go to a place of worship and praise God when I don’t feel like it. I would be a hypocrite.” The Psalm says, I don’t care whether you feel like it or not: as was decreed, “give thanks to the name of God.”

I have put great emphasis on the fact that Christians worship because they want to, not because they are forced to. But I have never said that we worship because we feel like it. Feelings are great liars. If Christians worshiped only when they felt like it, there would be precious little worship. Feelings are important in many areas but completely unreliable in matters of faith. Paul Scherer is laconic: “The Bible wastes very little time on the way we feel.”

We live in what one writer has called “the age of sensation.” We think that if we don’t feel something there can be no authenticity in doing it. But the wisdom of God says something different: that we can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quicker than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting. Worship is an act that develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God that is expressed in an act of worship. When we obey the command to praise God in worship, our deep, essential need to be in relationship with God is nurtured.

A God-Centered Worldview (Blog Series)


In correlation with the Winter Gospel Project adult and student study The Gospel Project team has lined up a great series of blog posts that will encourage you to dig deeper and reflect on some of the most important topics and issues facing Christians today.


The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C.S. Lewis

CS Lewis - Copy

Desiring God has posted the audio and video files from this years national conference on imagination in the work of C.S. Lewis. Enjoy!

Kathryn Joyce, Orphan Care, and the Southern Baptist Convention


I thought it would be helpful to provide some context to the discussion on adoption and orphan care in light of Kathryn Joyce’s recent comments on NPR related to her new book The Child Catchers. Joyce does raise legitimate concerns about orphan care and adoption systems in her article, though she is a little too inflammatory and cynical in her diagnosis. Joyce rightly observes that we live in a fallen and broken world. However, broken systems do not dismantle our call to care for neglected children. Christians are also broken people saved by the grace of God. We still see through a glass dimly. There are times when we could have addressed these issues with more wisdom. My concern here is that Joyce is a little off the mark in discerning our motivation behind orphan care.

As for Southern Baptists…

In this post I can only offer one opinion from a specific sector of the evangelical world, namely, the Southern Baptist Convention. Also, I am only going to respond to part of her observation about the evangelical world of adoption. I have not read the book. But, in the interview she argues that;

“Evangelicals felt that they had kind of unfairly lost a claim to the good works side of Christianity, the social gospel, the helping the poor,” she tells Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies, “and so they wanted a way to get back into doing something for poor people’s rights, and adoption and orphan care came about as something that, I think, they could really invest themselves into without challenging or changing their stances on the other social issues that they care about.”

To be fair, evangelicals have picked up involvement in adoption and orphan care in recent history. But the reason for doing so is not because adoption and orphan care are simple social causes that we can jump on without challenging or changing our stances on the other social issues. The impetus behind the movement is rooted in the resurgence of conservative theology. In June of 2009 the SBC overwhelmingly passed a resolution proposed by Russell D. Moore promoting adoption and orphan care, which in part reads:

That we encourage local churches to champion the evangelism of and ministry to orphans around the world, and to seek out ways to energize Southern Baptists behind this mission.[1]

Interestingly, orphan care has long been a part of Southern Baptist life. Since our very beginning, Southern Baptists have taken the call to orphan care as a divine mandate. In 1845 the Southern Baptist Convention was formed with two cooperative ministries and one agenda. The two ministries were the Foreign Mission Board (Now the International Mission Board) and the Domestic Mission Board (Now the North American Mission Board). The initial agenda of the Convention was simple; to combine the efforts of autonomous churches for one sacred effort, namely, the proclamation of the gospel and the demonstration of Jesus kingdom. One phrase in the original constitution of the SBC reflects this clearly:

“It shall be the design of this convention to promote Foreign and Domestic Missions, and other important objects connected with the redeemer’s kingdom.”[2]

While orphan care fell under the banner of ‘other important objects’, it was important none the less. The foundation for such social ministries came from the desire to provide gospel signs amid the rubble of a broken world.[3]

Adoption in Early Southern Baptist Theology

“Baptists have long been considered a ‘people of the Book.’ Various Baptist confessions demonstrate the way in which the Bible is viewed as the Word of God and is, therefore, authoritative for the faith and practice of every believer and church”.[4] In the larger framework of evangelical Christianity, Southern Baptists have not always been known for their contributions to theology. As one historian put it, Southern Baptists “have been more active than contemplative; they have produced more doers than thinkers”.[5]

Yet searching the work of early Southern Baptist theologians provides a glimpse into the importance of the biblical doctrine of adoption. Baptist Theologian John L. Dagg opens his discussion on the theology of adoption by explaining it as it is practiced among men: “an individual receiving the son of another into his family, and conferring upon him the same privileges and advantages, as if he were his own son.”[6] Unlike Northern Baptist theologian Augustus Strong, who placed adoption as a sub-category of justification[7], Dagg argued that the theological truth of adoption is a blessing that rises higher than justification because in its relational aspects adoption secures the love of God, the discipline of God, and believers are made heirs of God.

The relational aspect of the doctrine of adoption is further described by Southern Baptist James Petigru Boyce, who wrote that “the sonship ascribed to the believer in Christ, is best understood by considering its gracious origin, its peculiar nature, and the wondrous blessing which it confers.”[8] Boyce noted that one experiences a “closer and more endearing relation to God” because of one’s adoption through Christ. Like today, the stunning reality of one’s adoption in Christ was most likely the theological motivation for the early Southern Baptist’s orphan care endeavors.

Orphan Care in Early Southern Baptist History

If one takes a close look at the denomination’s history they will find that Southern Baptists organized several orphanages across the southern states dating back to the 1860’s, most of which ministered to Civil War orphans. The correspondence of the Domestic Mission Board’s secretary, W.S. Webb, concerning the situation of orphans in Mississippi following the Civil War enables us to see the importance of orphan care in our early history as a convention. Historian Keith Harper notes that Webb “estimated that there were some 5,000 to 10,000 orphans in the state and some 50,000 Baptists whom he chided for neglecting Biblical commands to care for the poor and needy”.[9] Ignoring the call to care for orphans, argued Webb, “would mark [Southern Baptists] with a pusillanimity that would deserve contempt from the world.”[10] While Webb’s challenge went unheeded by some of his specific audience, there were Southern Baptists who took up the call for orphan care. Harper writes:

Southern Baptist orphanages tried to provide the best possible medical care and education for their children. They also tried to provide a homelike atmosphere that gave orphaned children, in addition to mere shelter, a sense of stability in community.[11]

Beyond that, Baptists were influential in developing orphan care systems such as the ‘cottage plan’ orphanage (placing children in self-sustaining cottages with a housemother), the ‘placing out system’ (a forerunner to modern foster care), and even the ‘apprenticeship model’ (placing children in specific homes for training in an industrial trade or framing skills) throughout the American south. Even today state children’s homes continue to be a part of  the Southern Baptist convention’s care for domestic orphans.

What Now?

There is a rich history behind the efforts of orphan care in the Southern Baptist Convention. Though we are currently separated from the founding efforts recalled above by over a century, Southern Baptists still have a divine mandate and a social situation that calls us to care for the orphans. It is interesting to note, as one historian posits, that the controversies of the 1970’s and 1980’s between the conservatives and moderates over the authority of the Bible was more closely tied to the abortion issue, thus the sanctity of human life, than many Southern Baptists realize.[12] However, there seems to be little evidence of an adoption and orphan care movement during this period.

Perhaps this was due to the hesitation among conservatives towards social endeavors as an implication of the moderate’s drift towards a theologically bankrupt social agenda. Even still, there has always been a desire among Southern Baptists to seek the welfare of the city[13] and to love one’s neighbor[14] as a sign accompanying the proclamation of the gospel, even if we haven’t gone about engaging these issues in the wisest way. Nevertheless, the divine mandate is still before us. The specific call pertaining to orphan care is well reflected in our current denominational summary of faith, The Baptist Faith and Message:

We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death.[15]

Since its conception, the Southern Baptist Convention has out grown its name. Our gospel efforts reach far beyond the southern states of North America. Moreover, there is still an orphan crisis. Immediate indigenous situations (like the civil war) are no longer the sole source of the orphan crisis. Globalization has flattened our distance from third world poverty, the AIDS epidemic, and unwanted pregnancies.


The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest protestant denomination in the United States, with over 44,000 churches in all fifty states, and is now more than 160 years old. If the Church is truly, as Merida and Morton argue, the most powerful force in the world, then we must not remain silent or still.[16] As for the Southern Baptist Convention specifically, according to historian Nathan Finn, the strength and longevity of the convention is evidence that, “…autonomous churches believe that they can accomplish more when they work together than they can as individual congregations.”[17]

I am thankful for the resurgence in connecting our orthodoxy to orthopraxy. Like our early Southern Baptist theologians, are regaining a sense of God’s heart for the helpless. Moreover, we need to consider the model of early Southern Baptists who saw their mission in terms of both evangelization and social outreach to the less fortunate. May we be faithful and fruitful in advocating for the poor, marginalized, abandoned, and fatherless.[18]

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