A Reformed Evangelical and Eastern Orthodox Conversation (Video)

This is an “older” video of a dialogue that I did with Fr. Jon Braun, who is an Antiochian Orthodox priest. Fr. Braun was a Campus Crusade for Christ staff leader when I was a college student in 1967-1971. Eventually, along with several of his good friends on Campus Crusade for Christ staff, Fr. Braun entered the Orthodox Church. (He was a Presbyterian before his conversion to Orthodoxy.) We were both invited to share in this conversation together by an Orthodox Church in Bloomington, Indiana. I have never publicly posted this particular video. As you will note, if you follow me online, I was “the old John” in this video. (I was about 50 pounds heavier). I have been asked over the past three years, “Are you sick?” No, I intentionally lost a lot of weight and as a result I look thinner. More importantly, I feel much, much better. I hope you will find this dialogue interesting and helpful. It is the only one I’ve ever done “one-to-one” with an Orthodox priest in a public context.

Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, Reformed Christianity, The Church, Unity of the Church | 2 Comments/Likes

The Church of Pope Francis: The Dialogue I’ve Being Waiting to See and Hear

With all the views of Pope Francis coming from right-left-and in-between I have wanted to see a god dialogue about the man, his view of important issues and his leadership style. Finally, the Jesuit magazine America has given me what I was searching for online. What is remarkable about this program is who is speaking here. The moderator is Nancy Gibbs, managing editor of TIME. Michael Gerson, next to Nancy in the panel, was a policy advisor to President George W. Bush. He is an evangelical non-Catholic. He is also a Wheaton College graduate. (He makes a joke about Wheaton College which is old but still funny). Michael was a TA to one of my favorite theology professors, Dr. Alan Johnson. Then there is the highly regarded progressive Catholic, retired Northwestern University professor and Pulitzer Prize winning author, Dr. Gary Wills. Wills has written some of the most critical contemporary commentary on the Catholic Church of anyone in American academia. At the end of this panel, on your right, is the editor of America, Fr. Matt Malone, SJ. I would describe this group, if I was forced to used these terms, as a group consisting of a conservative, a moderate and a liberal. Yet all three of these panelists are measured and all three say almost the same thing about Pope Francis. If you care about the church, and here I mean all of it, then you should watch this full program. I hardly ever plead with readers to watch a 60-minute video but in this case I shamelessly beg you to watch it all. Once you begin I believe you will finish it. If you are concerned about the pope’s views on markets and economic freedom then you need to watch. If you are concerned about his views on the environment then you really should watch. If you are concerned about the pope’s moral views you should watch. And if you believe in mission you should watch. If you think you have figured him out then PLEASE do watch!!!

Posted in ACT 3, Current Affairs, Jesus, Leadership, Missional-Ecumenism, Pastoral Renewal, Religion, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future | 4 Comments/Likes

Same-sex relationships and the church

A very helpful interaction of the kind that is called for by people who love deeply and follow Christ. You will find things to disagree with but if you agree with everything why bother to reconfirm you own views? I submit this as a helpful and civil exchange.

Full blog post copied below, if you prefer to embed the whole post:


Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Culture, Current Affairs, Homosexuality, Love, The Church | 7 Comments/Likes

David Hickman on Christian Unity

During the Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation in 2014 ACT3 Network video taped a number of short interviews about unity. This one is from my friend David Hickman, an evangelical leader in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Posted in ACT 3, Missional Church, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story, The Church, Unity of the Church | 2 Comments/Likes

International Justice Mission

My very good friend Mark Moore (Plano, Texas) just became a regional director for a mission called International Justice Mission. I am really thrilled for him and thus I am very excited to share this incredibly fruitful mission with you, my online friends. Some of you already know about IJM. Others can learn from seeing this wonderful TED Talk by the founder behind this great movement.

Watch Gary’s talk at the IJM website and learn more here.

Posted in Current Affairs, Ethics, Kingdom of God, Missional Church, Personal, The Church | 5 Comments/Likes

My Dialogue with Father Robert Barron on Christian Unity

On February 9, 2015, I did a remarkable and engaging dialogue with my friend, Fr. Robert Barron at St. Procopious Abbey in Lisle, IL.  The full video of this event is on our ACT3 website. In spite of posting this a few weeks ago, after some effort to get it finished, I have never included it as a blog post. Now I post it here to secure the interest of more of you who follow me via these blogs and the online ministry of ACT3 Network. Now you can watch this entire evening here or mark it on this site and come back to it later when you have the time. It is one hour and thirty minutes in length so you will need to “kick back” and watch it all. I hope that you will. This is me doing what I believe in with all my heart and soul. Pray for this dialogue to reach hearts and change minds. It has already had an impact in the context in which it took place, back in February.

Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Current Affairs, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story, Personal, Protestantism, Reformed Christianity, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future | 10 Comments/Likes

Chicago’s Archbishop Cupich’s Response to the Supreme Court’s Ruling

bioIn my post yesterday I referenced the response of some conservative Christian ministers and leaders to the Supreme Court ruling on marriage announced last week. A Chicago news report noted that Archbishop Blasé J. Cupich, on Sunday, July 5, urged Chicago’s Catholics to adopt “mature and serene reflections as we move forward together.” Cupich noted that the Court’s decision had “redefined civil marriage.” He also said that the Catholic Church has “an abiding concern for the dignity of gay persons.” But, he added, “It is also important to stress that the Supreme Court’s redefinition of civil marriage has no bearing on the Catholic Sacrament of Matrimony in which the marriage of man and woman is a sign of the union of Christ and the Church. In upholding our traditional concept of marriage, we are called to support those who have entered into this sacred and loving bond with God and each other.”

Can you not see the striking difference in both wording and tone in the archbishop’s response and that of stridently conservative evangelicals and Catholics in other parts of America? I believe that every word he spoke must be weighed with great care. I feel sure that he crafted them with this intent. He is saying:

1. The church has not redefined marriage thus this recent action is a civil one, not an ecclesial one. (The Catholic Church is not going to be swayed in its understanding of marriage by culture!)

2. The Catholic Church is not going to launch an all-out war against those who enter into such a civil marriage but these marriages are not sacramental and thus not defined as Christian marriages.

3. We should love gay people and civilly married couples and we must protect their dignity as fellow citizens and neighbors.

4. Finally, we need to engage in “mature and serene reflections as we move forward together.” This, to me, is his way of saying we the Catholic Church does not plan on using the tactics of cultural warfare. The church is here to minister to people, not to drive them away. At the same time he is saying that our view of marriage is unchanging as a church.

To draw out this fourth point I will quote from Archbishop Cupich.

This will be especially important for the members of our own Church as we walk together, respectful not only of the political demands of equality, but above all else, guided by the higher claims of divine revelation. Our aim in all of this will be to hold fast to an authentic understanding of marriage which has been written in the human heart, consolidated in history, and confirmed by the Word of God.

 I believe that Archbishop Cupich has spoken well. He has maintained the church’s understanding of marriage as God’s sacrament, not as a civil arrangement decided by the courts. At the same time he has clearly affirmed human dignity and Christian love for all our neighbors. He has also urged his fellow Christians who disagree with the church to love one another. And, finally, he has plainly taught his flock how to do all of this in a most gentle and Christ-like way. I cannot do better. Thank you archbishop.

Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Church Tradition, Culture, Current Affairs, Homosexuality, Marriage & Family, Politics, Roman Catholicism, Sacraments, The Church, The Future | 35 Comments/Likes

The Week That Dramatically Altered the Culture Conflict and the Future of the Church

th-1Response to the recent Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage has been all over the map, to say the least. We have seen some amazing celebrations and all the expected denunciations from many Christians. At First Baptist Church in Dallas the pulpit was adorned with red, white and blue last weekend. The pastor called the ruling “an affront in the face of Almighty God.” Robert Jeffress, pastor at First Baptist Dallas, said the court had acted in a way that represented “depravity, degradation and what the Bible calls sexual perversion.” The White House, in contrast, was bathed in the rainbow colors of the LGBT movement. Many other churches, mostly Protestant mainline congregations, called attention to the decision with prayer and joy.

The pastor at First Baptist in Dallas said he was not discouraged at all. He added, “We are not going to be silenced. This is a great opportunity for our church to share the truth and love of Jesus Christ and we are going to do it.” Now, if ever there was a line I personally agreed with this has to be it. My question though is simple: “Does condemnation of the court’s decision, and opposition to same-sex marriage, equal the love of Christ?” Ah, but this is the really, really hard question. On both sides people argue, with little evidence of the love Jesus taught us about in John 13:34-35, that they (alone) are speaking with love. I have friends who argue from both sides. They all insist they are acting with love. Most of them see the other side as intolerant and bigoted. My problem is that I deeply wonder how this can all be true?

Judge Roy Moore (yes, the same judge who wanted the Ten Commandments in his courtroom in Alabama) preached from his home church in Kimberly, Alabama, last Sunday. The judge said, “Welcome to the new world. It’s just changed for you Christians. You are going to be persecuted.” Hmmm, again I profoundly wonder if I live in the same world.

thI later spoke to a Christian leader in Canada. I asked him, “How long has same-sex marriage been the law across Canada?” He answered, “About ten years I think.” I then asked him, “How do LGBT people, and the government in general, treat Christians who do not agree with them and will not support them openly?” He said there was little or no legal problem at all. The church, being much smaller and not so engaged in cultural war rhetoric, simply continued to do its mission and the state left it alone. That is an idea that crosses few minds in America, left or right. We are a nation defined by battles and litigation. It is rooted in our DNA. Think: Civil War, two parties since Jefferson and Hamilton, etc. We are badly divided and have been for my entire lifetime. The Vietnam War tore us apart more than anything in my lifetime and we have never enjoyed a deeply appreciated unity since.

For whatever it is worth here are some thoughts that I have formed over the years and now apply to this recent ruling:

  1. 1976 was proclaimed by TIME to be “The Year of the Evangelicals.” Our influence and importance has declined every year since! Could we have become impressed with our churches and leaders? Are we filled with ourselves? Is the problem really us?
  2. Culture wars have not won and will not win in the public arena. They are rear-guard battles that only make our work of “making disciple” and “loving our neighbors” far more difficult.
  3. Morality is not our task in the culture. Our task is to be “salt and light.” We do not have to condemn everything that we disagree with to effectively bear witness to Christ in public. Do you not think the world already knows what we believe?
  4. Our message should be “good news” to all if we preach and live it well. We will suffer persecution but that is happening, at least broadly speaking. We are being attacked for the way we are pressing our moral views on the broader culture, a culture that does not know Christ and could care less what we believe morally. (Our numbers show we do not live what we preach, which makes things even worse.)
  5. If we are serious about the moral law maybe we should apply it within the church to our own members first? You talk about a hard job, if done well pastorally. Yet few will even try. It is so much easier to preach to those outside, whoever they are. (In this case the Gays!!!)
  6. Ministers should opt out of civil marriage and let the state do what the state is determined to do in this area. Marriage should be treated in a more sacramental fashion by Protestants, thus preserving it for truly Christian consecration and celebration.
  7. We should get to know our neighbors, including our LGBT neighbors. Once we know and love our neighbors we can then know how to more effectively share the love of Christ with them. But until we know our neighbors as real people we are not sharing Christ’s love at all, only our public views about them.

I could say much more but this is where I am after a week-plus that was truly transforming in our present culture. The question Christians should now face is this: “What have we done to make this shift take shape so dramatically?” Could the problem be us more than those who are outside the church?

Posted in American Evangelicalism, Church History, Civil Rights, Culture, Current Affairs, Ethics, Evangelism, Gospel/Good News, Homosexuality, Missional Church, Personal, Sexuality, The Church | 31 Comments/Likes

Celebrating the Martyrdom of John Hus 600 Years Later

Monday, July 6, marked the 600th anniversary of the martyrdom of John Hus. Hus, the great Bohemian reformer, prophesied in his death that God would raise up another reformer who would carry on what he began, a reference that fits Martin Luther to the letter. (We celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s “Ninety-five Theses” in 2017!)

thJohn Hus, known as “The Morning Star of the Reformation,” desired that the Czech nation and people know redeeming grace through Jesus Christ more than anything else. He preached a clear and popular message in the language of his people, not in the Latin of the church. He taught the Bible very carefully and encouraged people to pursue the truth in Christ in every area of life. He was willing to die for his faith and this is exactly what happened.

On Monday a most remarkable event took place in the city of Opava in memory of John Hus’ martyrdom. The Catholic Church hosted an ecumenical memorial service to honor John Hus, the biblical reformer, in the main city cathedral. The service was a powerful one in which evangelicals stood shoulder-to-shoulder with their Catholic brothers and sisters. The crowd that gathered was encouraged to pursue the truth as John Hus did by laying down his life at the hands of Catholic hierarchy 600 years ago.3ebb0e5d-a98e-4f67-970e-93d6c53b9465

When I first read this story I was stunned. Then I rejoiced and realized again that the Spirit is moving in Christian love and unity as we have not seen for centuries, certainly since before the sixteenth century schism in the Western Church. Those who spoke at the cathedral said: “Therefore, faithful Christian, seek the truth, hear the truth, learn the truth, love the truth, speak the truth, adhere to the truth, defend the truth to death; for the truth will make you free from sin, the devil, the death of the soul, and finally from eternal death.”

Amen. Come blessed Holy Spirit and heal your church with an outpouring of your holy love!

Posted in Church History, Current Affairs, Missional-Ecumenism, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future | 11 Comments/Likes

A Global Charismatic Gathering @ the Vatican with Concerted Prayer for Christian Unity

UnknownPope Francis greeted tens of thousands of members of the charismatic movement last Friday, July 3, who were in Rome for their 38th annual Convocation. They gathered in St Peter’s Square for an evening of prayer, spirituality, and evangelization. Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli and Israeli singer Noa were among the singers who performed. The most amazing and moving part of the evening may have been the singing of the world’s best known hymn: “Amazing Grace.”

This global gathering event had a distinctly ecumenical character. The theme was: “Ways of Unity and Peace – Voices of Prayer for the Martyrs of Today and for a Spiritual Ecumenism.” No theme is closer to my own heart so I took notice of this event and rejoiced. When I watched the singing of the great hymn I was melted to tears of joy. I watched Pope Francis and prayed for him with renewed determination to do all I can to support him as my brother in Christ.

Representatives from the churches of many denominations and ecclesial communities were present for this great meeting with Pope Francis, all openly testifying to “the power of ecumenical prayer and the need for a new fraternity among Christians.” In his prayer at the beginning of the Audience, Pope Francis prayed that God the Father might send the Holy Spirit, Who will guide us to unity. It is the Holy Spirit, said Francis, who gives the various charisms’ within the Church, who works through the variety of gifts in the Church, and who grants us real unity. Pope Francis asked that Jesus, who prayed for unity in His Church, might help us to walk along the path of “unity, or of reconciled diversity.” I cannot pray and express my passion more clearly then this.

The pope’s address included what have been called “off-the-cuff” remarks that reminded the members of the Renewal of the Holy Spirit of the words of Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens, who called the charismatic renewal a “stream of grace.” Suenens, who is featured in my book, Your Church Is Too Small, was one of the great leaders at Vatican II. The current of grace, said Pope Francis, must always flow into the ocean of God, the love of God, and must not be turned in on itself. This is really the theme of the book I am writing at this very time in my life.

andreea1436130418Pope Francis also spoke about “unity in diversity,” another favorite theme God has given to me. He noted that unity is not uniformity but reflects the confluence of all the different parts that go to make it up.

He warned of the temptation of leaders – or rather, servants – to imagine that they are indispensable, a temptation that can lead to authoritarianism or personalism, which “does not allow the renewed communities to live in the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit, Pope Francis exclaimed, is the only indispensable actor in the renewal, just as Jesus is the one Lord. At the same time he spoke of good founders who lead the communities they found, caring for them and leading them to spiritual maturity.

The pope also gave thanks for the “current of grace” which has borne much fruit. He encouraged those who have had the experience of the renewal “to go forward, [and] share it with the [whole] Church,” a service he called very important. He encouraged those who gathered to especially “form bonds of trust and cooperation with the Bishops, who have the pastoral responsibility of guiding the Body of Christ, including the charismatic renewal.”

Finally, Pope Francis emphasized the ecumenical dimension of the charismatic movement, rooting it in our common baptism. Unity among Christians, he said, must begin with prayer. This is the key to my mind. When we pray together we will learn to love one another and when we love one (cf. John 13:34-35) we will see the love and power of the Holy Trinity released in our lives and churches. As in the past Pope Francis spoke of modern-day martyrs: “The blood of the martyrs of today makes us one!”

Pope Francis gave the gathered crowd the example of a Catholic priest and a Lutheran minister who were both executed by the Nazis as followers of Jesus. He also spoke of the 23 Coptic Christians who, just a few months ago, were murdered in Libya. And he rightly noted that Pope Paul VI, in canonizing the Ugandan martyrs, made reference to the Anglican catechists who shed their blood with their Catholic brothers. “Excuse me, don’t be scandalized, they are our martyrs,” he said.

Pope Francis concluded his remarks by reminding those in the square of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the charismatic movement, which will be marked in St Peters on Pentecost in 2017. This jubilee, he said, quoting Pope Paul VI, will be an opportunity for the church “to give thanks to the Holy Spirit for this current of grace which is for the church and for the [whole] world; and to celebrate the marvelous works the Holy Spirit has done in the course of these 50 years, changing the lives of millions of Christians.”

Watch the video and pray. I promise that if you love grace and unity you will join me in my tears of joy!!!

Posted in ACT 3, Current Affairs, Missional Church, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Renewal, Roman Catholicism, Spirituality, The Church, The Future | 9 Comments/Likes