The Lord’s Supper: A Roman Catholic and Reformed Evangelical Dialog (Video)

Who should participate in the Lord’s Supper? How frequently should we observe it? What does this meal mean? What happens when we eat the bread and drink from the cup? What do Christians disagree about and what do they hold in common? These and other questions are explored in my book, Understanding Four Views of the Lord’s Supper. 51Uh-nniC6L._AA160_This volume in the Counterpoints series from Zondervan allows four contributors to make a case for the following views: • Baptist view (memorialism) • Reformed view (spiritual presence) • Lutheran view (consubstantiation) • Roman Catholic view (transubstantiation) All contributors use Scripture to present their views, and each responds to the others’ essays. This book helps readers arrive at their own conclusions. It includes resources such as a listing of statements on the Lord’s Supper from creeds and confessions, quotations from noted Christians, a resource listing of books on the Lord’s Supper, and discussion questions for each chapter to facilitate small group and classroom use.

After this book was published in 2007 I engaged with my friend Fr. Thomas Baima in a dialogue hosted baby Elmhurst Christian Reformed Church on a Sunday evening. Until recently this dialogue was not available on the Internet but today we make it available for the first time.

If you wonder what the “boot” is on my right foot it is a surgical boot used after one of my three surgeries on that foot. It still gives me fits today so now we are treating it for inflammation. Since I walk like a “nut” as part of my daily routine I can never get it to stop marking at me but it is much better right now.


Posted in ACT 3, Biblical Theology, Church Tradition, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story, Personal, Protestantism, Reformed Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Sacraments, The Church | Leave a comment

The Church: Ever Ancient

photoThe church is one of the only places in culture where people of multiple generations make our lives together. This is the way God wants it. Augustine addresses God in prayer this way: “Beauty ever ancient, ever new.” I think here of an early church martyr named Polycarp who was ordered by the Romans to curse Christ. “I have followed him eighty-six years and he has done me no wrong. How can I curse my king who saved me?” I think too of John the Baptist leaping in his mother Elizabeth’s womb. The church stretches from the not-yet-born to those on the cusp of the next life.

This is also really difficult. Younger and older folks often struggle to understand one another. We all know this in our own families. Why would we think the church would be any different?

Yet it is crucial that all ages become God’s church together. Scripture promises that Israel’s “sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams and your young shall see visions” (Joel 2:28). This is fulfilled in the church at Pentecost according to Acts 2. How can the church be, like God, ever ancient and ever new?

I was delighted when Arnold Lester joined our church recently and added to our north-of-90 set. I am struck how often they tell me how pleased they are to see younger folks at our church. Bill Dixon, of blessed memory, used to know every child’s name at our church. Buck Robbins, also of blessed memory, was an advocate for children his whole life here. This church stood in for him when he had no father of his own, so he knew in his bones the church must be a surrogate parent for today’s young. When Gene Ammons joined us as one of our retired ministers he pointed to the regular infant baptisms we do as a reason. And when Leveda Law started worshiping as a retired missionary some of her fastest connections came among our young families.

I have been pleased with the way older members of our church have leapt in and joined me in leadership. I have asked for their help, being keenly aware of my own inexperience. Five of our most important committees are ad council, finance, missions, trustees, and staff-parish. Two of those groups have the same leader I inherited. The other three saw as their first new leader after I came someone decades older than the person in that chair when I arrived. All have been a privilege to work with.

Our visioning group, which has yielded our new mission language, is both seasoned and new. John Thomas has been one of the most active leaders in that group. Bob Dunnigan was gracious to lend his effort early on. Jim Deal and Bobby Sharp and Susan Jones have decades of leadership at our church. Even some of the younger folks, like Michaele Haas and Kelly Broman-Fulks, have nearly four decades of experience at our church between them. Altogether that group has more than 200 years of membership at our church.

One of the most exciting proposals that group has had, about which you will hear much much more, is for an elder care facility in our town. Part of our excitement is that a similar facility in West Jefferson (NC) intentionally puts their elders in relationship to their preschool kids. What a glimpse of the church—making our life together across four generations, dreaming dreams and seeing visions, becoming the church God dreams about.


Dr. Jason Byassee has been the senior pastor of Boone (NC) United Methodist Church since 2011. His church is an atypical mainline Protestant church which has continued to experience numerical and spiritual growth under his leadership, some of which if reflected in this pastoral epistle you read above. Previously Jason served at Duke Divinity School as Director of the Center for Theology Writing & Media, Special Assistant to the Dean, & Executive Director of Leadership Education (2008-2011) and as assistant editor of Christian Century, 2004-2008. He still serves as a contributing editor for the Christian Century and on many boards and professional organizations. Jason is the author of many excellent books and has been a friend of John H. Armstrong and ACT3 Network for over a decade.

Posted in Culture, Current Affairs, Missional Church, The Christian Minister/Ministry, The Church | 3 Comments/Likes

Difficult Men: Why Did Cable Television Produce So Many Great Works of Popular Art? Part 2

61wQB1+4LXL._UX250_Brett Martin identifies a first burst of literary energy in 1950s television (when the medium was young) and a second that came in the 1980s (when the forward-thinking television executive Grant Tinker’s MGM Enterprises begat the groundbreaking Hill Street Blues). These are followed by the “Third Golden Age,” beginning with The Sopranos. This story is at least half the content of his book. He uses it to set the stage for understanding what followed in shows that may be even better than The Sopranos. The Emmy Awards, given for the best programming in television, are now routinely given only to cable shows such as these, all of which have garned an incredible number of such awards. The New York Times book review of Martin’s books says that he “writes with a psychological insight that enhances his nimble reporting.” Again, I have to agree completely.

Martin takes the reader (listener) behind the scenes of this cultural shift and provides extensive reporting based on interviews and good research. He gives you “never-before-heard” stories and reveals how cable television has distinguished itself from the networks, making their programing less and less compelling and interesting. Personally, I can think of only two television series on the networks that captured my interest in the last decade: The West Wing and Friday Night Lights. Martin’s account explains why this is true and thus helped me understand what was going on in the making and development of these works of popular art that I have found riveting at times. Breaking Bad is so compelling I am reading about it, watching it on Sunday evenings and reading follow-up dialogue about it on the Internet. Almost all my young friends watch it!

Some Christians do not appreciate popular art, especially popular art on television. I do not wish to engage in that debate here but I believe the human condition, the nature of sin and the fears and dreams of real people, all come alive in these particular shows. I have seen few great movies in the last five years. The best viewing, for my time, is shows like those Martin features in this book.

Other critics suggest that these shows are nothing but modern soap operas. There is a small element of truth in this claim but a very small one at best. The sustained drama, the gripping story lines and the development of profoundly human characters, is all more like Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers than a network soap opera.

One of the appealing things about these shows is that you can watch them in large chunks all at once via CD discs or Netflix streaming. This allows you to process the story with a growing awareness of the plot and development without large amounts of time in between episodes. Plus, most seasons are only thirteen shows or less. I am not sure what comes next from this “Golden Age” but the shows Brett Martin writes about in his fine book are clearly ground-breaking in terms of modern culture. Unknown-1As Breaking Bad came to the end of its television life scores of my friends were interacting with me about Walter White, Jesse Pinkman and the entire series. Groups of millennials are gathering to watch the series in person as a shared group experience. Mad Men will soon come to its final season, leaving us all trying to more profoundly grasp the terribly flawed life of another antihero, Don Draper. (And the amazing 19th-century period piece, Hell on Wheels, is also nearing the end of its final season, reaching a much too premature death because of behind-the-scenes wrangling.) But then I still have another season of Justified on FX so all is not lost in cableland. It is to be seen if this “Golden Age” can be sustained or something else will follow in its wake but one thing is sure to me, television will never be the same because of this kind of dramatic programming. If you consume large amounts of cable news forget it. It is so  ephemeral and wasteful, even corrupting in a deeply unseen way. Immerse yourself in one of these great series, overlook certain objectionable parts that might stun you at first, and dig into the deep characters of fictional people who come through as real humans in living color!



Posted in Books, Culture, Current Affairs, Film, Personal, Television | Leave a comment

Difficult Men: Why Did Cable Television Produce So Many Great Works of Popular Art? Part 1

cover225x225As a true fan of what Brett Martin calls “The Third Golden Age” of television I devoured his new book, Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Man Men and Breaking Bad. I devoured the book by listening to Martin’s work as an audio book. Listening to a book in its entirety is a first for me. This one was very easy to listen to since I used long driving stretches to work thorugh it in only a few days. The essential core of Martin’s story was easy to grasp. The actual reader, Keith Szarabajka, was also fantastic, making the aural experience deeply satisfying. (I am told my own book, Your Church Is Too Small, is poorly read in its audio version since the reader apparently does not understand important words and thus mispronounces a number of them. O bother!)

In the late 1990s, and early 2000s, the landscape of television began a transformation with a wave of new shows, all featured on cable channels. The reality is that the advent and popularity of cable channels made this creative outpouring of really good popular culture possible. Because cable could feature shows that did not have to be commercial success stories, and because cable did not have to face the same standards as network television, creative genius could be developed in a more open artistic freedom. This two-way street led to a lot of bad programming but Brett Martin focuses on the award-winning programs that truly captured the heights of this third wave.

These new shows allowed for television’s narrative inventiveness, emotional resonance and artistic ambition under the care of a new breed of auteurs: the writer-showrunner.

The title of this fascinating study actually refers to the antiheroic male protagonists of these immensely popular television series. These include the foreboding and likable Don Draper, the lead on Mad Men and the out-of-control Walter White in the lead on Breaking Bad. imagesTony Soprano, the best known of them all, was the lead on the ground-breaking HBO series, The Sopranos. (The actor who played Tony Soprano recently died, as some readers will know.) But as reviewer David Pitt has noted the title of this book also refers, in “a slightly lesser degree . . .  to some of the men who made those shows—David Chase, for example, the demanding creator of The Sopranos, and David Simon, the ambitious creator of The Wire. The author’s premise is that around 1999 what he calls a third golden age of television (The Sopranos debuted in ’99) began. Whether you agree with Martin’s designation of this era as “Golden” one thing is certain in his tighyly argued story – a new kind of TV series started to flourish around this time. Can you imagine any earlier point in television history when Breaking Bad, The Wire, Mad Men, Six Feet Under, and The Sopranos could have existed? Brett Martin combines a compelling account of behind-the-scenes production battles, stories about the stars who helped make these shows great, and the struggles over scripts and how they progressed, with in-depth profiles of the people who, in a very real sense, changed the modern face of television. Critic David Pitt concludes, “Fans of the shows he discusses, and especially those interested in television history, should consider this a must-read.” I could not agree more. This is a great read so long as the subject interests you.



Posted in Books, Culture, Current Affairs, Film, Personal, Television | 12 Comments/Likes

From John F. Kennedy to John Kerry: Evangelicalism’s Shifting Position on the Catholic Church

Raith_ChadCurrently, at First Things magazine, Dr. Timothy George, Fr. Thomas Guarino and Dr. Carl Trueman are posting reflections on the ecumenical working group Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) in light of their twenty years of existence (see

The creation and success of ECT was made possible due to a larger shift in evangelical perceptions of Catholicism that had occurred over the course of about sixty years. For me, nothing captures this shift better than the about-face reflected in two Christianity Today editorials addressing the two Roman Catholic presidential candidates, John Kennedy and John Kerry. While the first editorial warns evangelical voters of the candidate’s Catholic faith, the second laments that his faith isn’t strong enough.

When John F. Kennedy announced his run for President of the United States on January 2, 1960, he thrust into the political spotlight something that proved to be as controversial as any policy position, namely, his Catholicism. For many evangelical Christians at the time, this fact alone rendered him a problematic candidate for the office of the presidency.

By the time Kennedy ran for president, there was in place a long history of negative sentiment toward Catholicism among evangelical Protestants in the States. A.J. Gordon, a Baptist who lived from 1836-1895 and founded the evangelical institutions that would become Gordon College and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, once claimed, “It is Satan who is the real Pope, and his subordinate demons are the real cardinals.” Bible teacher Donald Barnhouse (1895-1960) stated in his commentary on Revelation, “in the seventeenth chapter of Revelation God speaks of religious Babylon and identifies it with the Roman ecclesiastical system.” I could go on (and Bill Shea does in his work The Lion and the Lamb: Evangelicals and Catholics in America [Oxford, 2004]). As Timothy Larsen of Wheaton College aptly summarizes, “It would not be hard to compile a long list from across multiple nations and centuries of self-identified evangelicals attacking Catholicism.”

 So it comes as no surprise that when Kennedy became the Democratic nominee for the presidency, Christianity Today published an editorial warning their evangelical voters of Kennedy’s Catholicism. In particular, the magazine expressed concern over Kennedy’s potential first allegiance to the dictates of the Catholic hierarchy rather than serving the American cause. As the editorial warned, the Vatican “does all in its power to control the government of nations.”

But JFK was no poster-boy Catholic. Kennedy went to great lengths to show his independence from the authority of the Church; as he famously stated at the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960, “I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party candidate for president who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters – and the Church does not speak for me.” Kennedy’s distancing of himself from the Catholic Church helped quell the fears of many evangelical voters, and by a very small margin, Kennedy won the election over Richard Nixon.

Now fast forward to 2004 and the presidential campaign of John Kerry. Once again Christianity Today issues an editorial addressing Kerry’s Catholicism. And once again it contains a warning. But this time rather than warning evangelical voters of Kerry’s potential adherence to the authority of the Catholic Church, the editorial warned evangelical voters of Kerry’s failure to adhere to the teaching of the Catholic Church. In an about-face from the 1960 editorial, the 2004 editorial asserted that Catholic Church officials should “form the consciences of their members—including, and especially, politicians.” And as it turns out, it was because Kerry distanced himself from the Catholic hierarchy that he lost a number of evangelical voters.

What happened between the presidential campaigns of Kennedy and Kerry that led to such a positive shift in the evangelical perception of Catholicism in America – a shift that has only become stronger since the time of Kerry? I hope to offer some reflections in the coming posts.Raith_ChadRaith_Chad

Guest Author: Charles Raith II is Director of the Paradosis Center for Theology and Scripture and Assistant Professor of Religion and Philosophy at John Brown University. His research interests include medieval and Reformation era theology, scriptural interpretation, and ecumenism. He is author of Aquinas and Calvin on Romans: God’s Justification and Our Participation (Oxford, 2014) and is currently co-authoring the book Ecumenism: A Guide for the Perplexed (T&T Clark).

Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Current Affairs, Missional-Ecumenism, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 4 Comments/Likes

“Sanctuary” – A Chicago ABC Television Broadcast on the ACT3 Network Story

ABC television, Channel 7, in Chicago broadcast a special twenty-eight minute program called “Sanctuary,” that was devoted to the ACT3 story and to my life and work for missional-ecumenism. This program aired yesterday, March 22. Today you can see the entire program on our home page as well as here on my blog and Facebook page. I hope that you will be moved to pray for unity and the work that I do for ACT3 Network. We need many friends who will: (1) Pray for me and this mission, and; (2) Support us financially as we  bring the word of Jesus from his John 17 prayer for unity to a wider circle of churches and leaders around the world.

One great way to help us is to subscribe to the ACT3 Weekly via our website. Each Monday you will get a short article as well as news and prayer requests. Go to and sign up.

Posted in ACT 3, Missional-Ecumenism, Television, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 42 Comments/Likes

Real Humor is Always Good for the Soul

I love religious humor, good humor. Sometimes such humor, if it is really good, can make a rather profound point. There are two bits of humor that I recently overheard that made me laugh while they also made a great point.

First, did you hear about the man who was an agnostic, dyslexic, insomniac?

His problem was that he sat up all night wondering if there really was a dog!

Second, did you hear about the aliens who landed in the Bible Belt?

The first persons to meet them were zealous Christians who told them all about the story of Jesus.

They replied to these Christians by saying, “He’s already visited our planet and we threw him a great party and everyone celebrated.” They asked the Christians: “What did you do when he came to your planet?”

Posted in Humor | 4 Comments/Likes

Living in Community, Living in Love

41XiJWC3cPL._AA160_Yesterday, I wrote about the desert fathers and mothers. One of the most prominent of them all was Antony of the desert. After reading Jesus’ words to the rich younger ruler Antony, sensing the spiritual deadness of his own soul and of the church of his time, retreated to the desert to seek God with his whole body and soul. For the next twenty years he wrestled with (in his own words) demons and the constant rigors of ascetic practice. His sole desire was to draw nearer to God. (He was not undertaking a “self-help protect” so that he might be saved by his good works!)

When Antony’s friends begged him to leave, and then dragged him, away from the desert twenty years later, his health was superb and the power of his ministry was unmistakable. Antony shows me what new life really costs–everything! He also scares me to death and he makes me tremble before the deep spiritual reality that he knew during and after the desert. But he also gives me hope. I’ve was in a kind of desert, from around 1999- to March of 2012. Antony reminds me, from his cave in the desert, that meaningful life is both powerful and truly possible. It is said that when word was spread regarding Antony “the desert became a city.” Antony became a role-model in a dark time. Hundreds of men and women fled to the deserts of Egypt and Palestine, Syria and Turkey, to become wise and mature mothers and fathers of the faith. In a time of complete breakdown in the visible church these faithful ones, who gathered into communities of love and discipline, listened for God in prayer and spoke infrequently. There words “were few” but their power was immense. How opposite of our time.

The result of this period in church history can now be read in the “sayings” of these mothers and fathers. Their sayings are not universally useful, by any stretch in my view, but among them are some of the most powerful encouragements to faith, hope and love that I have ever read. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove has said, “The heart of desert wisdom, just like the heart of Jesus’ gospel, is in the memorable images and words of instruction as Peter, Paul, and John wrote reflections to helps us make sense of the sayings of Jesus, more systematic thinkers came along to make sense of the desert wisdom also” In the  foreword to Desert Fathers and Mothers, Paraclete Press, 2011).

UnknownJonathan Wilson-Hartgrove adds, “Without the radical commitment and total abandonment of someone like Antony, their work would have never been possible. And yet, without their careful thought, we may well misunderstand the gift of the mothers and fathers. Part of the wisdom of the tradition,  I suppose, is that we need experience and reflection, theology and practice.” A whole-hearted amen to that conclusion. We need experience and reflection, theology and practice. If I have learned anything deeply over the last thirteen months working on a book about love this is it. We must have both. We are extremists and it is killing us!

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, an author and pastor in North Carolina, lives his own life in a community that embraces what is being called the “new monasticism.” I read and follow this movement with profound interest. I am not called to live in this way personally but I believe those who are so called provide the rest of us a witness that we desperately need in our day. Just as the church needed the desert fathers and mothers in another century we new the “new monasticism” to shake us free of our illusions about life and happiness. This movement helps keep hope alive in me. We really can live in community, we really can love one another. This is not simply a “wish dream” as Bonhoeffer called it. It can be real and I crave it for good reason. I drink coffee and share food with friends, old and new,  almost every day. I do this to seek for love, friendship and community. I know of no other way to pursue true ecumenism than in friendship and community. I know of no other way to pursue true holiness that is embodied and rich. This is why my friends are more important to me than my branding, my books or my public speaking. I cannot thrive in my love for God without my friends. You know who you are. I thank God for all of you, whether we are in contact often or less often. You show me what community looks like in the flesh and thus you show me how to live in Christ’s true love.

Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Church History, Church Tradition, Culture, Discipleship, Friendship, Love, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Prayer, Renewal, Spirituality, The Church | 5 Comments/Likes

The Wilderness and the Desert: Images for Christian Living?

41XiJWC3cPL._AA160_Two of the most lasting images used by the Christian church to describe the spiritual life, especially among the desert fathers and mothers, are wilderness and the desert. Had I not learned these two images in the early 1990s I am not sure I would have profited so deeply from my own spiritual journey.

First, the feeling of God’s absence became real to me during the late 1990s and all through the first decade of this century. I had known God’s presence in some remarkable ways previously but around 1998 this sense of his presence began to recede. I felt what the ancients called abandonment. I felt like I was wandering in a wilderness, a desert. I felt God was testing me. I felt a devastating absence for prolonged times. I read the account of my Lord suffering in the wilderness and identified with his heart in some ways.

Second, these images suggest an arid spirit but in reality I learned the opposite to be the case. I was being powerfully renewed in the desert. In Exodus, when the Israelites were being led through a wilderness, and they were not too happy about it, God provided food and water for them. But in the Gospel accounts of our Lord’s forty days in the wilderness we see him emerge prepared to face the challenges of the ministry that was before him. The desert fathers and mothers believed that these two stories provided the people of God with foundational narratives of spirituality.

During the first centuries of the Christian church tremendous persecution came against51hM9lR63QL._AA160_ the believing community, especially those who were the leaders. Ten waves of Roman persecution washed over the church for three-plus centuries. Their confident belief, born at Pentecost, was profoundly challenged. To read the story of Pentecost, as if this marked a time of unbroken happy and wonderful days, is a huge mistake. Empowered they were but hatred and persecution marked their future.

Theologians were not just mental giants. They suffered for the faith they explained. Justin, Irenaeus and Origen all come to mind. Martyrdom became central to life together. Ironically, the church debated many doctrinal points but it remained one. But internal arguments did not despoil the church.

All of this changed over time but the point I want to make is that this image of the wilderness and the desert remained. Christians interpreted their corporate and personal struggles with theses images. Could it be that we hear so little of these images today not because many of us do not face physical persecution but we do not understand the coming and going of God and his way with us. We have accepted a “happy-clappy” brand of faith that will not last. It bears so little true fruit of the Spirit precisely because it is a weak faith, not a strong and powerful joyfulness from the Lord. In my case my call to faith involved a call to die and to see God raise me up again. This pattern is not unique. It is completely normal. If you are on the way that leads to life you expect nothing less. But the promise he gave to me he also gives to you. “I will be with you, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

Posted in Biblical Theology, Church Tradition, Discipleship, Patristics, Personal, Spirituality, The Church | 24 Comments/Likes

Suzanne McDonald: The Power of Real Ecumenism

Last year ACT3 hosted the Lausanne Movement’s Catholic-Evangelical Conversation in Mundelein, Illinois. We will host this same event again on September 2-5 this year. During our meeting last year ACT3 hired a videographer to film each of the participants talking about the power and importance of unity. A few weeks ago I posted a segment of one of those interviews with Dr. Suzanne McDonald, theology professor at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. Today we hear the second of her excellent two-part response.

These interviews capture the heart and soul of the mission of ACT3 Network.

Posted in ACT 3, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story, The Church, Unity of the Church | 1 Comment/Like