Orthodoxy and heretics like Calvin?

Jarrod McKenna

Jarrod McKenna’s Wednesday’s with Gandhi:

“Today I rebel against orthodox Christianity, as I am convinced that it has distorted the message of Jesus.  He was an Asiatic whose message was delivered through many media, and when it had the backing of a Roman emperor it became an imperialist faith as it remains to this day.”

Mohandas Gandhi, (May 30, 1936) from “Mohandas Gandhi: Essential Writings” by John Dear, p. 79

I’d like to start this post not just with a quote from Gandhi, but a quote from 3 others:

Quote 1.

“Whoever shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt.”

Quote 2.

“Anyone who can be proved to be a seditious person is an outlaw before God and the emperor; and whoever is the first to put him to death does right and well. For if a man is in open rebellion, everyone is both his judge and the executioner; just as when a fire starts, the first man who can put it out is the best man to do the job.”

Quote 3.

“If what I’m saying about the centrality of Calvary-looking love is right, we need a major paradigm shift on how we view orthodoxy – which in turn should effect who we see as the “heroes” of orthodoxy.”

If the words of this last quote were written and acted on in the 16th century the writer could expect a second baptism of the involuntary variety where you never come up for air again.  These aren’t the words of some dreadlocked, kingdom-fuelled, commune starting, dumpster diving, fringe-dwelling, freegan, (eco)activist, permaculturalist wanta-be  (but thanks for reading my posts anyway ;)) but of Charismatic-Evangelical megachurch pastor, and theologian, Dr. Gregory Boyd.

So what his problem?

Well… quote 1 and 2 were written in the 16th century.  Not by some crazed peasants fuelled by a violent feudal variety of liberation theology on some crazed apocalyptic crack (but enough about Münster). Rather from the two men that many evangelicals consider the golden boys of the Reformation:

  • Quote 1: John Calvin (after the execution of Servetus for preaching a non-Trinitarian understanding of God )
  • Quote 2: Martin Luther (in a pamphlet one historian described as “boldly encouraging the slaughter of peasants” who held agendas other than that of the Elector of Saxony)

Now Dr. Boyd and I aren’t arguing for a reactionary “they sinned so I’m going to discount their whole work”. There are too much faults in my own life to be able to even want to argue something like that (!!) and there is also too much richness in the work of these brilliant men. On that logic we also have to discount the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, John H. Yoder, Gandhi and… well… everyone except Jesus! 😉 That kind of dismissive approach shows little spiritual maturity and a lack of hard work in coming to terms with, and removing the logs from, our own eyes in our own contexts.

So from a deep desire to first remove our own logs and then assist the church in doing likewise, this recovering sinner would like to raise some questions regarding the bench marks for orthodoxy. Why is it that the litmus test for orthodoxy for many evangelicals has been frozen in the 16th century in the thought of brilliant men who never the less had theologies that made it possible to disobey Christ’s commands to put away the sword, love our neighbour and even enemies like God has loved us (ie. not drowning, beheading or burning those who disagree with us). In particular questions about the bench mark of “orthodoxy” being systems of theology which fail to preach Christ crucified in ways that keep Christ central for atonement AND discipleship.  That have found approaches to preaching Christ crucified in ways that have failed to bear fruits that look like the church refusing to crucify others!! That have failed to continue reforming to an extent that we no longer perpetuate a history of Christianity that looks like the patterns of this world and nothing like the Christ who rejects the sword and goes the way of the cross trusting only in the faithfulness and sovereignty of a God who hears the cry of those in captivity.

Pastor Boyd suggests 16th century magisterial reformer John Calvin of the “worst heresy imaginable” in killing those who were in error. Greg’s argument:

“The New Testament defines agape love by pointing us to Jesus Christ (I Jn 3:16). To love someone is treat them like Jesus has treated you — dying for you while you were yet a sinner… Now follow me: If love [not a sentimental ideal but incarnate in Jesus] is to be placed above all else, if everything else is to be considered worthless apart from love and if everything hangs on fulfilling this one law, how can we avoid the conclusion that refusing to love even our enemies is the worst heresy imaginable? To miss this all important point renders whatever other truth we may possess worthless.”  

I wonder if one of the biggest heresies in the church today is a clever trick where by we keep the centrality of the cross in our understanding of atonement yet have created systems where the cross-shaped love of Jesus is not central to how we understand issues of power, of how we get things done, how we do conflict, how we relate to enemies, our way of being in the world (ie. following Jesus or “discipleship”). And I wonder how any theological system which is blind to this can be considered fully “orthodox”. For surely right belief leads to right practice?  And maybe it’s not until we start to practice what Christ commands of us that we can start to understand our belief. For doctrines (not a popular word but important none the less) such as the Trinity aren’t just boxes to tick but profound realities of who God is to be expressed in our lives.  So it seems that not just Servetus but Calvin was also in error regarding how he understood the Trinity because it didn’t express itself in refusing to kill his enemy because of the kenotic, self giving love, love that is seen in the Holy Trinity.

I recently wrote to our blogging mate Andrew Jones (aka tall skinny kiwi) regarding discussions of the Reformation:

Mate I was thinking the reformation conversation seems very ‘Magisterial-centric’ (did I just invest a word?). I don’t understand why we let Calvin or Luther set the bar for “orthodoxy”. What about the radical wing of the reformation that insisted orthodoxy lay in the witness of the early church and were therefore willing to die but not kill for Christ? I feel embarrassed that the conversation gets so nasty. While we don’t kill our brothers and sisters today over difference (in doctrine… we might still kill them in difference of nationality if asked by our nations in war) we still don’t think loving each other means not attacking each other. Why is that? What about Jesus’ Lordship in this area? If we really think each others in error should there not be tears in prayer for one another not ‘virtual burnings’. I think the church is still in need of a savour who rejects violence, and I think we have one in Jesus. Surely these conversations can be opportunities to for the church to journey deeper in the process of sanctification, of ‘divination’ as the Orthodox have put it, in become more Christ-like. If we can’t love our sisters and brother well how are we going to love our enemies?

Today there is a direct correlation between the theology of these 16th century magisterial reformers and evangelical leaders in the U.S. like James Dobson and Don Carson who actively oppose other evangelical leaders in actions like the ‘Evangelical Climate Initiative’ to prophetically confront the biggest ecological disaster in human history.  This is the same group that reject much of the work of who I think is one of the most promising thinkers on a ‘Jesus shaped orthodoxy’, N.T. Wright. They do this on the basis that his scholarship challenges some of the ways the Magisterial Reformers have taught us to read the Bible in light of their argy-bargy in the 16th century. And while gifted communicators Mark Driscol are able to use these Reformers to critique some of the stuff that passes for Christianity today such as the “success, self help and saved by rapture” nonsense, until we can let Christ be central to our critique we will not recover the dynamic faith and faithfulness of the early church which challenges the practice of these reformers (and our) comfort with violence.

But I’m not holding Gandhi up as a theological alternative. Gandhi was far from Christian orthodoxy in his beliefs and though I think conversation with his life is incredibly fruitful for discussing the log in our eye as westerners who claim to follow Christ, I have never held him up as providing a theological framework for deepening ourselves in the biblical narrative. Yet the “orthodoxy” which Gandhi rejected I think is no orthodoxy at all. An orthodoxy with an “imperialist faith”, that plays the chaplain to the kingdoms of this world that crucified our Lord is not “orthodox’’ (lit. “Right believe”) but a dangerous heresy. (for those interested here’s a link I put to a short 2min interview with Dr. Cornel West on this subject and photos of our Peace Tree ‘commun(e)ity’ and our initial response to the recent gang killing on our streets). 

So this plea for a Jesus-shaped orthodoxy will not be found in out arguing each other but out living (out witnessing! 🙂 ) each other. We remember the only way we can deepen in orthodoxy is by prayerfully seeking to do so in a way that reflects the way of Christ, after the likeness of the mutual love of the Triune God who is fully revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. In the love we see in the cross and the power we see in the Resurrection. We must learn to engage in ways where we deepen our journey of discipleship. Where we become more aware of our own desperate need for God’s transforming grace that lead us on the exodus journey out of our own captivity to the cycles of domination that can never witness to what God has started in Jesus, the kingdom of God.

ABC’s Radio National did an interview with me and others on parts of the Reformation traditions which insisted that following Christ means living Christ-like lives where we drop our weapons that we may pick up our cross: Here’s the link if interested

and an article on the “emerging peace church movement” and an orthodoxy in keeping with the witness of the early church: click here


When you send your kids to Grandma’s house you never know what treasure they will find hidden away…

This time though it wasn’t the kids – it was me that found the treasure!

Pete just happened to mention that they had the complete two volume set (1200 pages) of Hudson Taylor’s biography written by his son Howard back in the early 1900’s.

‘You have what?!’ I responded…

‘Would you like to borrow them?’

‘Would I ever!’

Part 1 is entitled ‘the growth of a soul’ and part 2 ‘the development of a work of God’. Part 1 actually begins with Taylor’s great grandparent’s story and we eventually start to hear about him by page 200.

There are many journal/diary quotes that give a great insight into the character of this man. I am almost finished part 1 and looking forward to the story of the development of the mission work.

What is most amazing is that when he left England on a 5 month boat ride to Shanghai he was 21. Yes 21!…

Is he a rare breed or are there other Hudson Taylors out there today? I find myself constantly challenged and confronted by the old missionaries who lived lives of great sacrifice and risk at times when it was so much harder to do so.

Pure treasure!

Missionary Position

Here at Upstream we are always open to people joining us either as part of our community, or for those who seek a higher level of commitment as part of the mission team.

If you would like to take up the challenge of mission in the burbs then give us a call to discuss what it would mean to join the team.

If you considering overseas mission and would like to flex your ‘mission’ muscles locally first then it would be worth spending a year with our team to observe and learn how a mission team functions.

At the moment there are 5 families in the core team and I am praying for several more to assist us as we serve the local community and connect with people.

If you are overseas and would like to spend a year in Oz intentionally serving in a mission capacity (and you are able to self fund) then give us a call to discuss the options!

Some thoughts on missionary work in suburbia Part III

Ok so I’ve suggested several building blocks for effective missionary work here the burbs.

1. Proximity – being near people

2. Regularity – spending significant time together

3. Depth – going beyond the fluff in relationships

4. Conflict – being prepared to disagree and realise that’s ok and necessary

So here are my final two ‘building blocks’ if people are to become Jesus followers.

Building Block 5. The Message – This is where I believe some ability to articulate the gospel is essential. At some point we need to be able to share with people who we are and why we have chosen to orient our lives around Jesus Christ.

At the moment I see some interesting things happening. There is the typical conservative evangelical position that sees the gospel very much as ‘God loves, you sinned, Jesus died, you repent, all good’. I oversimplify but you get the gist. Then there is the more ’emerging’ position (for want of a better term) that says ‘hang on – there’s more to the gospel that Jesus dying for your sins’ – and gets into ecology, justice, environmentalism etc.

While one may seem a bit narrow my observation of the holistic approach to the gospel is that at times it can err on the side of being too fuzzy. It can neglect to mention the central aspect of Christ’s atonement and in that misses the mark. So while we speak of being ‘Jesus followers’ there is a requirement to understand what he calls us to and what he calls us from.

At the risk of making this sound like a specialist business, I do think it takes a bit of skill to articulate the gospel in a way that is both holistic and personal as well inviting and simultaneously repellant. By that I mean any gospel that only delivers the ‘goodies’ of eternal life and forgiveness, but doesn’t tell the whole story of ‘taking up your cross’ is ultimately doomed. There is a ‘repellant’ aspect to the gospel because it calls for self denial and that is not natural to us folks.

I do think its about here that the gift of evangelist comes into its own. That is not said to negate all of our responsibilities, but to affirm that some are created by God to do this work more specifically. For me one of the most envigorating things I ever do is talk with people about Jesus and the hope he gives to life. I could talk about Jesus, answer objections, lead people towards him all day every day and feel as happy as a pig in mud. This is where my own sense of being comes alive.

I also have a standard policy that with people who enquire respectfully and gently I respond accordingly. However if someone wants to be argumentative and difficult I will often respond to them in kind. Different people communicate in different ways and knowing what works when speaking with a person is critical.

All that said, at the end of the day we just need to be able to speak about who we are – and why. Its that simple. And if we can’t then I’d suggest we need to do some work to develop in that area.

Building Block 6 The Supernatural – I do realise the ‘supernatural’ is at work the whole time, but what I mean is simply that I cannot open anyone’s heart to the Holy Spirit.

Even after I have done ‘my bit’ it may not result in a person choosing to follow Jesus. As much as I would like my friends to share the journey with me its like trying to make someone ‘fall in love’. You just can’t force it.

So while we can do our bit ultimately it still comes down to a work of God in someone’s life that causes them to want to change the way their life is focused.

This is the bit I find hard.

The rest I can control to some degree, but this bit is totally beyond my control. But that’s a reality we need to deal with also. Does prayer influence this? Absolutely! I would hope so! So I pray for those who don’t Jesus, but it seems that sometimes God hears and responds… and sometimes well…


So – there you have it!

Hamo’s thoughts on how mission develops in suburbia.

I’d be interested to hear people’s reflections on their own experiences of trying to mission with both passion and integrity.

Forge WA Survey Summary

Ok here are the summarised results from our Forge WA online survey after 100 respondents. Thanks to all who responded and helped us review where we sit.

I haven’t included any interpretation yet, but I would be interested to hear what others would see these results saying. Feel free to leave a comment.


• The largest group of responses came from males 25-35 (27%) and 36-45 (28%)

• 23% of the responses were from women with the 25-35 age range the largest (9%)

Church Connections:

• 56% of responses were from people who are part of an existing church

• 19% were part of a new missional community

• 13% didn’t fit the categories or were ‘between churches’

Involvement With Forge:

• Interesting that the largest group are those who are ‘interested but haven’t got around to anything yet’ (19%)

• The second largest was both the ‘intensive attenders’ (17%) and those who would just like to stay in the loop of the conversation (17%)

What People Perceive Forge to be About:

• Provoking new thinking about mission and church was way up high with 79%

• Training missionaries for the west had 59%

• Being a prophetic voice to the churches had 34%

The Greatest Need for Forge to be Addressing:

• Simple training in missional living was the top response here with 43%

• The development of young adults into disciples was high with 16% but was the third preference behinng ‘other’ (22%) and there was a huge diversity of thoughts here.

Some of those responses include:

1. training and mentoring misional leaders

2. Re-definition of what the christian faith can look like

3. to actually do the evangelism it criticies others for not doing

4. How to inculcate Kantian courage

5. Seeking the new “traditions”and “rituals” that enhance emerging church

6. How to encourage existing churches (not just dying ones) to re-assess their paradigm of mission and re-form themselves as local counter-cultural movements

7. how to develop anyone into disciples of Christ

8. what is the gospel of the ‘kingdom of God’ mean to everything

9. hurts

10. Challenging non-gospel beliefs held by Christians

11. I cant choose between re-igniting dying churches and developing young adults into disciples.. dont they go hand in hand?

12. Build real churches

13. Stimulating thinking around growing the kingdom

14. How to live and share the gospel in our communities

15. It has to be about more than the above

Our Profile:

• 78% of people said we need groups like Forge to keep us thinking and developing.

• 56% said they see Forge as a healthy addition to the church scene here in Perth.

• There were a number of other responses, some of which were quite critical. See below:

1. From 5, above: To get off of their high horse and to admit, whether they like it or not, that they are just another church, and no better than the rest of us, no matter how much they try to put the rest of us down with their “spirituality”. I usually find their condescension offensive and tasteless. Question 6: My perceptions, based on my own experience, is that Forge and the “emerging church” is to self righteous, and arrogant.

2. Complaining about the existing church is like shooting fish in a barrel, too easy. They are arm chair critics who seek to teach others their ideas without much success themselves. They are negative people who do not lead by example. Charasmatics, evangelicals and liberals are nicer people who lead by example. Forge people like to see themselves as ‘revolutionaries’ without showing us what the revolution is leading to.

3. I think there is a lot of talking, and not a lot of action. (wow, that sounds judgemental, prove me wrong 🙂 ) I also wonder about the negative effect Forge is having on young leaders

4. I feel like I’ve finally found a place where I’m not misunderstood. Intensives stoke up the fire in my soul.

5. I have found it is helpful in changing thinking but would like to see more of this moving into separate denominations.

6. Helping people to push the boundaries on how they think about church and mission is very good. All I wonder is when Forge turns from being on the frontier to becoming what it is trying to influence or just another version of church. I see great value in forge from my limited experience. Hopefully it will continue to stay fresh and keep people on their toes.

7. Another ‘church’

8. Courageous, on the mark, disciples of Jesus.

9. Unfortunately I see some of the members of Forge building their lifestyles and notoriety(quite noticeably) at the expense of or in conjunction with serving the Kingdom of God .

10. It thinks it’s more different to the established church than it really is.

11. In the past I’ll admit my perception of Forge was lots of complaining about how church is all bad and we should be different, but not much action. I don’t know if it’s my shift in thinking towards the emerging church or just having heard more about stuff that people within Forge are actually doing, but I think my perception is healthier now 🙂 But I think that perception still exists “out there”.

12. I am concerned that majority of christians haven’t heard of forge, and are scared when they hear about it

13. Still sussing Forge out. Positive about innovation, cautious about theology.

How do we go about assessing the impact of Forge in WA?:

• 47% said ‘the degree to which Forge ideas have spread’

• 27% said ‘the degree to which the established church embraces Forge concepts’

• 18% said ‘the number of new churches planted’

The ‘other’ category had 36% of respondents so here is a sample of what was said:

1. The lives that are transformed into the image of Christ. “Opposition” = impact? Oh the martyr complex of some groups!!

2. The number of people who feel impacted by the ministry

3. Forge will only ever appeal to a certain group of people so I don’t think Forge should assess the impact it has on WA it is awesome and you will soon start to see the fruits of your labour.

4. Number of healthy communities that form without needing to complain about other expressions of faith

5. How can you possibly assess the degree to which lives are changed? If only one new disciple makes it, surely it is an impact. Everything that is made from gold takes generations to build.

6. Nnot the number of people attending intensives but maybe the number of different people attending intensives???

7. Focus on obedience not on fruit…

8. Don’t…God will let you know how it’s all going. all the rest is for man who is temperamental. trust me, i’m a man…

9. Faithfullness in fostering communities that love God and neighbour

10. Whether you feel you’ve stuck to God’s original vision for you

11. If itb helps one person it is worthwhile.

12. A growing movement of transformed people introducing others to the Life Changer, no matter what environment these people can be found in.

13. The number of people becoming community (outwardly) oriented rather than church (inwardly) oriented.

14. Will be hard to measure. Numbers of “church-plants” would be significant- but so is the number of participants challenged to “change/fix/refocus” a church the currently lead/attend

15. Souls saved

So there you have it!

Do those results sound like what you would have expected or do they sound significantly different?

I was actually surprised that we were able to generate 100 responses so quickly!

So What?

Sometimes when I speak to people about what we are doing in Brighton and how I see mission working out in suburbia they say to me ‘but isn’t that just what normal Christians are supposed to do?

I can only say ‘yes – that is what normal Christians are supposed to do…’

The problem is that they often don’t…

There is very little rocket science in discipleship – but the fact that the word ‘disciple’ also associates with words like ‘discipline’ might give a clue as to why some do and others watch.

Reality is if every person who calls them-self a follower of Jesus actually started doing the very simple stuff of discipleship then I wonder if we wouldn’t witness a huge shift in the equilibrium of our communities.

Unfortunately no matter whether you are running a mission order or a megachurch people will cruise. Maybe one ought to weed out the cruisers better than the other, but we will never escaoe it.

Contextualisation Gone Mad?

Here’s one to ruffle your evangelical feathers a wee bit… I posted this on the forgewa blog earlier today.

During a recent trip to Thailand I came across some innovative and boundary pushing missionaries from New Song church in LA.

They were wonderfully refreshing people and willing to ask hard questions about context and gospel.

They spoke to me about the ‘New Buddhism’, the term they use for the gospel planted in buddhist cultures.

Here is the article they sent me.

What do you think?!

I’ll tell you my opinion tomorrow 🙂

Exiles Part II

I wanted to finish my reflections on this book before heading off on a break.

So here goes…

In short I found Exiles a challenging and stirring read. I had heard Mike present some of the content of the book in oral form when he was with us in Perth earlier this year for the Forge intensive. The whole exile theme is a powerful one as it resonates deeply with the kind of people we Christians are now in this secularised world.

We no longer hold any power and even if we hope to again be the centre of society, reality is we not likely to re-occupy that position in the short term (if ever).

And yet there is something incendiary and potent about being the fringe group or the marginalised people that evaporates once you occupy the centre. Mike actually says that in many ways this is a preferred position for the church and a position where we can function best because it brings out the best in us.

I think he’s onto something there. There is a complacency and a domesticity that comes with power and influence, but when that is removed we are forced back to our roots of being the non-conformist, radicals who challenge the status quo and ask the hard questions, who return to the core of the gospel rather than being swept away by the lures of the world we live in.

Much of the book seems to revolve around how we can live in and amongst our communities yet also live differently to those around us – not in ‘Ned Flanders’ kinds of ways – but in ways that critique ‘the empire’, and in ways that subversively yet powerfully give people a sense of the gospel. Its the ‘in the world but not of the world’ theme that we come across in John’s gospel.

What struck me was the amount of social critique and social action Mike calls for as he describes the life of an exile. There is an interesting article on Our of Ur today asking if social action is becoming trendy. Its a good question as it does seem to be on the rise for many church groups. Are we going to fall into the trendy trap or are we really re-capturing something at the heart of the gospel?

For those of us who feel it is our calling to ‘swim upstream‘ Exiles does offer some solid practical advice. It’s subtitle living ‘missionally in a post-christian culture’ could as easily be ‘discipleship in a post christian culture’.

This is an interesting book for an evangelist to have written. Mike is widely regarded around the world as brilliant communicator and evangelist, but this book seems less ‘evangelism’ focused (if evangelism = some element of proclamation) and more about missionary living – of which evangelism would be a subset.

Its of interest to me because I am currently pondering whether there may be a gift of ‘evangelist’ as well as that of ‘missionary’. They would overlap in places but the evangelist gift would be more specific while the missionary gift would be broader based and more of the ‘apostolic’ ilk. While never in Frosty’s league I have done a fair amount of evangelistic preaching over the years and often with some ‘results’ (I won’t go there..). Up until recently I would have seen this as a significant component of my own gifting, but lately I’m not so sure. While I love talking about Jesus with people I don’t see people regularly coming to a point of faith because of our conversations – something I would imagine more the domain of the evangelist. Food for thought…

The part that really resonated with me was actually the section on communitas v community. Its not the first time I have heard it, but I sense there is stuff that we (Upstream) need to hear in there about the team effort and how we gel together with a common mission. We have a very healthy team, but don’t do much by way of stuff together outside of our team meetings. I imagine a shared project would be valuable for welding a deeper connection between us and those around us. But nothing is coming to mind and I’m not about to invent one!

I haven’t gone into great depth with specific content but rather tried to give you a flavour of the book as well as some personal insights. For those committed to mission and a life of discipleship I reckon its a great read.

If you want more indepth insights and summary of content then you can read Len’s stuff starting here, Jamie’s stuff here mummy returns the dvd and John’s interview with Mike here.

.shakespeare in love download free

For example…

For those who may be wondering what these Aussie emerging churches look like here’s the latest newsletter of Third Place Communities in Tassie. These guys do some great stuff, are very well thought out and I’d be proud to be associated with them.

If you want to read a short series of stories about new initiatives in church planting – most with an ’emerging’ edge then you shoul also get a hold of the latest Victorian Baptist Witness.

If the seeds of the future are found in experimentation then there is much to be hopeful about.

Exiles by Mike Frost

Mike Frost was kind enough to send me a copy of his new book Exiles and I’m about to start reviewing it on here.

Mike is both a mate and a hero, someone who has been instrumental in helping me re-find myself as a missionary, so I’m looking forward to taking some time to reflect on it over the next week.

If you’re interested in ‘meeting the man’ then John Smulo who used to work with Mike at Morling College has a very useful 2 part interview here