The Theolocal Imagination

This post was born out of a typo. Responding to a friend on Facebook, I tried to type on my tablet the word theological but my fat fingers produced instead theolocal, evidently too anarchic for an autocorrect fix. I did fix it before pressing send but it got me thinking, “Theolocal—what a lovely way to say God came near!” I was set on a path imagining what it means to reveal the theolocal God in my everyday life.

Incarnation vs. Bearing Witness

John tells us in the introduction to his gospel that the Word, who was with and is God (John 1:1), became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), or as every missional preacher, church planter or Christian community development organization reminds us, ““The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. (The Message). In Jesus, God was theolocal—he moved into the neighborhood. God was not watching us from a distance, but entered into our humanity, completely and fully. He suffered and was tempted by everything we suffer from and are tempted by (Hebrews 4:15). He was hungry and thirsty and experienced, for the first time in an eternity, what it meant for Him to be weak. The Incarnate One—Our Theolocal God.

Jesus’ Incarnation is an important clue as to how we ought to engage in mission. Certainly, we want to be Christ’s hands and feet, and incarnate Christ’s presence wherever we go. But unfortunately this is some people’s entire missional strategy: imitate Christ by trying to incarnate him wherever we are. In a significant way, the Incarnation has already happened and if this is the only we can imagine making the theolocal vividthen we will be pretty patronizing in our mission.

Jesus is theolocal in a way we will never be. If we incarnate his presence it is because our soul has been mystically united to Him through the cross. Incarnation is a once and for all event which we participate in,  but it isn’t something we make happen through block parties, neighborhood outreaches, church planting or bringing your neighbor a plate of chocolate chip cookies.  When we think about revealing the theolocal-ness of God, Incarnation cannot be our primary approach. God is still near, but not incarnated in the way  Jesus was. Instead, the Spirit of God goes before us and is already active wherever we go.

At Jesus’s Ascension, he said these words to his disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). These words come to fruition in the next chapter, a rushing wind, tongues of fire and Peter’s testimony that the ‘Spirit was being poured out on all flesh” (Acts 2:17). On that day the disciples were empowered for mission and their mission was to bear witness to what God was doing and had done.

Like the first disciples, our mission is to “be Christ’s witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”  However, if we see ourselves primarily as the incarnation of Christ coming to the neighborhood we are likely to reach out in paternalistic, condescending and ethnocentric ways (see the history of Western Christian mission). If our job is simply to be witnesses we can imagine new theolocal possibilities.

Instead of us bringing Christ and his kingdom, we arrive and discover that the Spirit of God is already at work, that there are already signs of the Kingdom and Resurrection. Because we have eyes to see, we bear witness to what we see God doing in the neighborhood, city or place. We also bear witness to where we have seen God at work in our own life but we are primarily witnesses—observers who tell others what we see.

If we are to be missional people, then we need to cultivate our theolocal imagination. In some later posts I want to press into this a little more and explore what kind of practices help us make vivid our Theolocal God, but mostly this is about cultivating our spiritual senses so that we can see which way the Wind blows, and know that wherever we are the Lord is working, long before we got there. 

Revealing the Hidden Things: a book review

Christian films, books and TV preachers give their take on the last book of the Bible, Revelation. Speculation about end times is a Christian cottage industry with theories bandied about on things like the identity of the beast, the rapture, the role of Israel, or the nature of the judgments poured out on the earth. Revelation is written in highly metaphorical language, so there are tons of speculations. Other Christians read through Revelation once or twice but unsure of what to do with it, so they ignore it.  In The Heart of Revelation,  J.Scott Duvall offers a third way of of reading revelation. He attends to the vision of hope in the book without devolving into personal speculation about what we may or may not suffer.

TheHeartOfRevelation_hires+spine.inddAfter a brief introduction discussing the cultural context, Duvall explores the book’s message through the lens of ten themes: God, Worship, the People of God, the Holy Spirit, our enemies, our mission, Jesus Christ, judgment, new creation, and perseverance. By attending to Revelation thematically, Duvall provides a overview of the book rather than a detailed walk through the text (elsewhere he has published a commentary on revelation in the ‘Teach the Text Commentary Series).

In his introduction Duvall offers these guidelines for understanding the book: (1) attend to the meaning of the book to its original hearers in Asia Minor, (2)  Be aware of the symbolic nature of its language and (3) a focus on the main theological message of each vision (9-10).  The result is a historical-literary sensitive reading which doesn’t get caught up in theorizing about locust in smoke or Russia’s role in Armageddon (Sorry Hal). This isn’t to say that what Duvall says isn’t compatible with various eschatological options. He allows for the book’s future orientation without speculating about the minutia. His focus remains on the major themes through out the book and I think that mild Preterists, Millennialists and Dispensationalists can all read this book profitably.

The picture he paints is of a loving God who is the true center and source of life, a worshipping community drawn from every tongue, tribe and nation, a Holy Spirit who is living and active among us, an oppressor who is defeated by the cross and enemies we will overcome as we take up our cross and suffer. We also see our calling to be faithful witnesses to Jesus, the coming judgment against sin which takes seriously God’s holiness and  our human freedom, a new heaven and new earth where God will dwell with his people,  and the challenge and promise for those who persevere until the end.

If Revelation mystifies you and you want a book that helps you see the meaning and purpose of the book, this is a great place to start. Each chapter ends with a list of key texts, a reading plan and community group questions for exploring Revelation in a small group setting (or personal study).  I give this book four stars.

Note: I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for my honest review.

Praying to the Spirit: a prayer book review

I’ve become quite the fan of Jack Levison. I’ve read a couple of his books, Fresh Air and Forty Days with the Holy Spirit [as I write this review, Fresh Air  and Forty Days are both only $1.99 on Amazon!].  Fresh Air is the popular level version of his scholarly tome Filled with the Spirit. Forty Days with the Holy Spirit is a daily devotional with scripture, devotions, space for reflection and prayer. I find his writing both insightful and personally, spiritually enriching. Reading Levison I’ve been blessed with a greater understanding and a deeper experience of the Spirit. His newest book, Holy Spirit I Pray is a book of fifty prayers, which invites readers to  pray to Spirit.

Holy Spirit I Pray by Jack Levison

In his introduction, Levison writes, “A book of prayers to the Holy Spirit, even a slender one is an oddity. While they probably exist, I know of no others. In a modest way this book is unprecedented” (introduction, p.5).  Nevertheless, Levison notes the long tradition of addressing the Spirit in prayer (i.e. liturgical prayers, prayers of Christian saints like Hildegaard of Bingen, or the Cappadocians). So while books of this kind are somewhat novel, praying the prayers in this volume, is joining in the chorus of Christian tradition.

The fifty prayers in this volume are composed by Levison. Each is paired with a relevant Bible passage. These are presented without comment or reflection. Instead Levison uses his introduction to unfold several  concepts to help orient readers toward prayer: the meaning of ruach (Hebrew for Spirit, wind breath), the nature of the Spirit’s filling, and the Spirit’s eagle-like-brooding (vii-xi). These are important concepts which Levison explores more in-depth elsewhere. What he says here is brief, but explicates what you need to know to fully appreciated his prayer-metaphors and the connections he makes. Continue reading Praying to the Spirit: a prayer book review

More of God: a book review

Alec Rowlands had a childhood experience of God’s presence while growing up King William’s Town, South Africa. As an adult and as a pastor he wondered how to keep the vitality of that experience in his life and ministry. He then sets out on a journey through studying historic revivals, recovering his prayer life and giving his attention to the winds of the Spirit.

Today Rowlands is the senior pastor of Westgate Chapel in Edmonds, Washington and has a D.Min from Carey Theological College. In The Presence: Experiencing More of Godhe explores the nature of spiritual experience, cultivating a friendship with God and an openness to the surprising ways in which God works.

Growing up Pentecostal, Rowlands is open to the Spirit’s work in sometimes ‘weird’ ways. As an old-school-evangelical he is a student of revival (Keswick, First and Second Great Awakenings,  early Methodism, etc). However on neither score does he fall into the error of baptizing all ‘spiritual experience’ and revival. He points to examples. historic and contemporary where spiritual manifestations no-longer aided believers to sense the Spirit’s presence and leadership but became a distraction. He also spurns techniques and methods for manufacturing revival. While it is true that we can cultivate our awarness of God’s presence, the Wind blows where it may and revival is always fundamentally the Spirit’s work. God’s presence, not God’s presents.

Underneath Rowlands’a search is a hunger for a deeper experience of God’s empowering presence in all of life and ministry. This is the gift of this book. He stokes our expectancy for more of God’s presence, he gets us to be mindful of the what God saved us from, he exhorts us to cultivate our love for God through a vibrant prayer life, he opens up the surprising ways the Spirit works, and invites us to participate in God’s mission. This has both personal and corporate implications. He sometimes writes of his own spiritual life, and other times the ways God has helped him to lead or grow his congregation (or early on discern when God was leading him to a new congregation).

Another thing I really liked is how thoughtful this book is. Rowlands is rooted in history, philosophy and theology. While he may invite us to chase a personal experience of God, he also maintains a place for reason.

At the close of each chapter, there is a text book about revival. These sometimes seemed to fit the theme of the chapter, but not always. I am not sure what they actually added to the book as a whole other than giving a short thought about revival which you could print on a mug or t-shirt. On the whole, good engaging book on the Spiritual life. I give it four stars.★★★★☆

Notice of material connection: I received this book from Tyndale Momentum in exchange for my honest review.

The Holy Spirit in the Catholic Tradition: a book review.

As the publishing arm of the ecumenical Community of Jesus, Paraclete has published a number of books from a range of theological traditions. Their Holy Spirit series boasts books from the Jewish, Orthodox, Protestant and Pentecostal traditions. I have reviewed a number of these books here before and have found them immensely helpful. A few of these books are downright fabulous! Jack Levison’s Fresh Air and Amos Yong’s Who is the Holy Spirit? are standout volumes but every single volume is good.  Each book manages to illuminate the Spirit in a way that honors their peculiar denominational tradition. These are lay-friendly books, but they are theologically astute.

The Gift: Discovering the Holy Spirit in the Catholic Tradition lives up to the quality of other books in this series. Alan Schreck, professor  of theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville is a specialist in Catholic doctrine, church history and the teachings of Vatican II; however this is not just a book about Catholic dogma. Schreck has an eye for how we can deepen our spiritual experience by praying for the Spirit to do his work in our lives.

In seven chapters, Schreck synthesizes the wisdom of the Catholic understanding of the the Spirit. In chapter one he describes  the person of the Holy Spirit as presented in Holy Scripture and in the Tradition.  He describes what the Old and New Testament say about the Spirit, what the Councils and Creeds came to declare about the personhood of the Spirit and the Augustinian understanding which was most influential in the Western Church. Chapter two examines the history of Catholic devotion to the Spirit. Schreck describes various orthodox movements which sought to emphasize the Spirit.

Chapters three though five describe the ministry of the Spirit. Chapter three focuses on truth, chapter four focuses on holiness and sanctification and chapter five expounds on gifts of the Holy Spirit.  While every Christian would agree that the Spirit leads us into all truth, convicts us of sin and leads us to be transformed in the image of Christ and gifts us for ministry and mission. Schreck illuminates a Catholic understanding of the Spirit’s role in each of these. The Spirit leads us into truth and empowers us to speak it boldly, but ecumenism that denies or downplays truth revealed to the church should be questioned.  Holiness is the goal of the Christian life, but in the Catholic understanding, this is described by our cooperation with God in the grace he has given us through the Spirit. The Spirit gives gifts to individuals and orders of the church, but Schreck demonstrates how we are to understand this in relationship to the institutional church.

In chapter six, Schreck describes the relationship between the Spirit, the church and Mary. Church was birthed at Pentecost and is constituted by the Spirit and his work. Mary is the first disciple and member of the church. In the Catholic tradition, Mary intercedes for us to the Father, but whatever grace is in her is derivative. She is the recipient of God’s grace and exemplary for her fiat to the incarnation (her ‘yes’ to God).  Like the Spirit, Mary points us to Jesus, the Divine Son of God. Mary is not to be understood as the Third person of the Trinity or someone who usurps the Spirit’s role, but as the prime example of someone who cooperates with God and reveals the maternal aspects of God’s character.

In the final chapter Schreck discusses the Spirit in the Catholic church today. He focuses on the Catholic charismatic movement and the emphasis of Vatican II on the Spirit’s work. Schreck gives a generous and a positive assessment of these while acknowledging that many Catholics will not feel called to join up with movements devoted to the Spirit’s work. Nevertheless all Catholics should appreciate how the Spirit enables, enlivens and empowers the Christian life.

An appendix collects several prayers and reflections on the Holy Spirit which can be incorporated into your daily prayer time.

I appreciate Schreck’s articulation of Catholic teaching. Throughout this book Schreck comments on the Catechism, Vatican II and Catholic theologians live Hans Urs von Balthasar, Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) , Yves Conger, John Paul II, and Vatican II.  He gives a careful and reasoned defense of Catholic teaching on the Spirit and draws out the implications for our lives.

As a non-Catholic reading this book, there are areas where I disagree with Schreck rather sharply. However I appreciated Schreck’s description of Catholic teaching and practice.  In addition to having a good grasp on Catholic dogma, he seems to also be an apt apologist, anticipating many of the difficulties protestants like me face. I found Schreck generous and evenhanded in his presentation and do not hesitate to commend this book to you. Catholics will obviously benefit most directly from this book. As a non-Catholic I gained a greater appreciation for Catholic teaching and  the insights of the theologians that Schreck culls together. This is a great short book on the Spirit in Catholicism. I give it four-and-a-half stars.

Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.



From Prince Caspian: 

Lucy buried her head in his mane to hide from his face. But there must have been magic in his mane. She could feel lion-strength going into her. Quite suddenly she sat up.


I’m sorry, Aslan,” she said, “I’m ready now.”


Now you are a lioness,” said Aslan, “And now all Narnia will be renewed. But come. We have no time to lose.(151)”


Acts 1:8:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”


Lion of Judah,

  We are fearful people

   who fail to bear witness to Your presence.

   Fill us with your Spirit–

                     the Spirit of Love,

                     the Spirit of courage,

                    the Spirit of  gentleness,

                    the Spirit of power,

                    Spirit of Christ.

By your Spirit you have bound us together as a Church

and commissioned us to share your Kingdom presence 

with your world. 


May your Spirit embolden us so that all the earth may taste your renewal. 

May the Spirit be our strength and our guide. 







Learning to Love: a book review

I first became aware of the ministry of Heidi and Rolland Baker through a class I took in seminary. My professor (Bob Ekblad) is an activist who works with people on the margins and is passionate about the work of the Spirit.  He held up the Bakers as exemplars because of their tireless work in mission and their passion for supernatural ministry. I had seen video clips of interviews of Heidi Baker  but knew little about her (and Rolland’s) mission organization or their work in Mozambique. So I was excited to read Learning to Love: Passion, Compassion and the Essence of the Gospel

Heidi and Rolland take turns narrating  their work in Africa and around the world.  Learning to Love tells of their experience  entering into the suffering of Christ, loving people, responding to God’s leading and seeing Him work in often incredible ways. The passion and zeal the Bakers have for sharing the gospel is infectious.  While many charismatic authors in the United States preach prosperity, the Bakers have given their lives sacrificially to see the people of Mozambique and around the globe come to saving faith in Christ. They speak of miracles and God’s provision but they also have really entered into the suffering of the nations they’ve served. This book is their story of ‘loving God and the person in front of you.” There mission has involved them in caring for children and orphans, planting churches,  leading bush revivals, prayers of healing, digging wells, launching schools, providing needed physical care and more.  Through it all they have sought to be faithful to God’s call on their life.

Yet Learning to Love was a difficult read for me. To me, the book reads like a series of support letters for Iris Ministries (their organization). They are passionate and expound on where God is working in their midst, but there seems to be little cohesive organization to their chapters.  I also found that I still know very little about their mission philosophy (other than an expectancy to see God at work). I like that they are listening to the Spirit and expect miracles and are driven by a concern for the people of Mozambique, but because this book tells you the breadth of all that they do, you don’t get a sense of what their long term commitment to one place, or one group of people is like.  There is more to their story which I would like to hear.

I do respect that these charismatic missioners have seen God bring healing and new life in their mission and have come to expect God’s supernatural ministry. This is the experience of the global church and too often us educated Americans seek naturalistic explanations instead of the God of Grace.

I am not sure that I can say I loved this book, but I did like Heidi and Rolland and what I heard from their story.  I give this book 3 stars and am interested in hearing more about their work.

Thank you to Chosen Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.