Thursday, February 26, 2009 | By: Zachary Bartels

This Week's Sermon (2009, Week 9)

Click here to link to the audio (right click and choose "Save target as" to save the file on an iPod or other device).

Temple Detox. In the course of one chapter, we see Jesus go from the joyful shouts of "Hosanna" to the heartbreak of weeping over Jerusalem to the righteous wrath of a God scorned as he cleanses the temple. What had Our Lord so irate that day? And are we doing it today?

As always, you can access all my sermons here.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009 | By: Zachary Bartels

Interview with Ted Kluck (pt. 2)

Well, you all waited patiently for it (I did receive that one threatening note, delivered through my living room window via brick. But I'm pretty sure it was from Kristin Kluck.) I've already spilled much ink by way of intro in part 1...So, without further delay--and certainly without Tad Delay--here's part two of the interview:

The topic of the “emergent church” can get pretty heated. Have you stayed above the fray?

TK: I probably haven’t stayed above the fray, inasmuch as I wrote a book containing the words “Why I’m Not…” in the title. However, I think I’ve stayed above the day-to-day fray in that I refuse to tango with people on the blogosphere. I’m convinced that much of that scene is a waste of time…it makes me sad. There are lots of keyboard warriors and wounded, armchair theologians acting tough behind their screen names on both sides of the aisle. That’s why I stick mostly to football, music and movies on my blog. I also try to delete any comments that aren’t explicitly fawning or complimentary…

ZB: Tell my readers about your new book, Why We Love the Church.

TK: After we wrote the Emergent book, we realized that there were a ton of spiritual journey – “I left my church and found God” books on the shelves. Donald Miller’s literary offspring are all over Christian publishing. The Barna stuff was getting huge – and people were considering it “revolutionary” to “have church” at a Starbucks or on a golf course. It’s never been cooler to hate on the church, and to (quoting a million bumper stickers here), “love Jesus but not the church.” That said, we wanted to write a book that would serve as an encouragement to our generation to love the church. Kevin tackles this, again, from a theological perspective, and I hit the cultural elements, interviews, etc.

ZB: A common slogan for church signs lately is, “It’s not about religion; it’s about relationship.” Respond to that.

TK: I think that’s bogus. It is about religion. When Paul was confronted with the altar to the unknown God, he didn’t respond with: “Hey, mystery, that’s great! You have an unknown God…I have an unknown God…let’s do life together and be authentic in our uncertainty.” He preached. He implored Timothy to preach, and to guard the good deposit. I love relationships as much as the next guy, but I also love the gospel and think that if it was important enough for Paul to endure beatings and imprisonment for, it’s something I can and should take a stand on myself. In that same Acts passage, Paul ended with (v. 31) “For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."

ZB: The church has been sliding toward a market-based “please the sinner and make him comfortable” mentality for almost a generation, in an attempt to restore waning interest in things spiritual. Do you think institution, hierarchy, and organized religion are “the problem?” If not, then what is?

TK: In a broad sense sin nature is, of course, The Problem…but I think there are major problems in this demographic marketing model as well. Twenty years ago George Barna said we needed bright lights and stadium seating…now he says we need to do church in your living room, and we need candles, darkness and “mystery.” That’s not to disparage Barna, it’s just to say that if we base the way we “do church” around trends or affinities, those trends and affinities will almost certainly change. My co-author always says, “What you win them with, is what you win them to.” I hope we’re winning people with a humble, earnest, loving presentation of the gospel as our only means of salvation.

ZB: What book do you dream of some day publishing?

TK: That’s easy, my new novel The Purloined Heart: A Romantic, Historical, Postmodern Christian Novel. This is going to blow minds, Zach (see also: cockiness). Note: Any Christian publishing mavens who happen to be reading Zach’s blog can contact my agent, Andrew Wolgemuth at the Wolgemuth & Associates office. Let the bidding war begin!

ZB: What is the most important thing you learned about yourself while playing pro football?

TK: That I truly love playing football…my teammates, the feel of the pads, running out of the tunnel, the turf underfoot, etc. There’s nothing like it. And I loved being able to share that with my wife and son. I think when I’m 85 years old, I’ll roll out of bed in the fall and think to myself, “I wish I could play football today.”

Football is also a great antidote to the kind of exhausting, never-ending “dialogue” about postmodernism, the church, etc. I turned to football whenever I felt like I needed to be around real people. That is, people who have never heard of Rob Bell, Donald Miller, John Piper or Ted Kluck. It’s refreshing in that regard.

ZB: …while training as a pro wrestler?

TK: That I don’t like pro wrestling anymore…and for an activity that involves grown men jumping around in tights, there’s a lot of grim determination and very little whimsy. But I really like my friends Vandermolen, Jarmo, and JR, who did the wrestling stuff with me, and helped me start my promotion, The Literary Wrestling Alliance (LWA) for one show only. I realized that my true talent as a wrestler lies in my ability to pick perfect ring walk music and design sweet t-shirts.

ZB: …while interacting with the emergent church?

TK: That I have Bono fatigue. I also learned that if I’m not talking about the emergent church a year from now…and if people aren’t really talking about it five years from now, it will be good for everybody. This thing will jump the shark soon.

ZB: …while researching the institutional church?

TK: That reformed people have their own obnoxious, idiosyncratic cultural blind spots, just like emergents and liberals, and that sometimes these reformed cultural quirks can grate on my last nerve. But I still love the theology, and I love my church. I still believe the church to be the bride of Christ, and in spite of her shortcomings, will love her because as Kevin wrote in WWLTC, she is a body with Christ as her head. This is comforting and inspiring. It frees us to not have to be cool and chase trends in order to put people in the seats.

ZB: And finally, if you were to fight Gary Busey for fifteen rounds in an Octagon-style mixed martial arts setting, what would be your strategy? What would be the outcome?

TK: I would first fill the Octagon with drugs and food…and then just turn Busey loose on himself for the first eleven rounds or so, and then, just as his demons are about to overtake him I would witness to Busey in round twelve. Busey would think about it for a couple of rounds, before becoming a Christian in round fourteen. In round fifteen I’d beat his ۻۼۼ.
Thursday, February 12, 2009 | By: Zachary Bartels

This Week's Sermon (2009, Week 7)

Click here to link to the audio (right click and choose "Save target as" to save the file on an iPod or other device).

Such as These. Are children the "church of tomorrow?" Or are they a vital part of the church today? And in what way does Jesus command us to be "like children?" These three short verses (Luke 18:15-17) take me 45 minutes to unpack. Still, I think it's worth a listen. As always, you can access all my sermons here.

Oh, and part 2 of the Ted Kluck interview will be posted on Wednesday.
Friday, February 6, 2009 | By: Zachary Bartels

Interview with Ted Kluck (pt. 1)

In October, I interviewed my friend and mentor Dr. Michael Wittmer, who had just released a book called Don't Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus Is Not Enough, which challenges the Postmodern/ Emergent de-emphasis of doctrine in the church (or rather, destroys said de-emphasis).

Since then, I've been waiting for the right time to interview another friend of mine, Ted Kluck, who has also written on the emergent church. Well, in light of Ted's book Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) winning the 2009 Christianity Today Book Award for best church/pastoral leadership book, I can hold off no longer. But let me warn you: hold on to your freaking face lest it be rocked off.

Ted is a professional writer. He's also been a missionary, a professional football player, trained as a pro wrestler (for a book--at least that's the excuse he used) and boxer. He's half 1940s "press-card-in-the-hat," pipe-smoking wiseacre and half "suck-down-raw-eggs-to-make-me-meaner" jock. And he calls his wife "Lovey." No one makes fun of him for this because Ted once broke his collar bone playing football and tried to get up and "walk it off."

When you hang out with Ted, he gives the impression that he's this struggling writer who got lucky once or twice, and may never have another book deal. But the truth is that he's been widely published, both in print (a quick Amazon search shows six books by major publishers and I happen to know of at least two more in the works) and a bunch of periodicals ( heard of it?--and Sports Spectrum, to name a couple). Ted is unconventional in that he writes on both sports and Christiainity. And, no, that doesn't involve using a bunch of folksy lessons he learned in the huddle as allegories for the Christian life (like most "sports guys" who write spiritual stuff). And he sure the heck doesn't need a ghost writer. His prose is quick, fresh, incredibly entertaining, and often leaves me with that I-know-exactly-what-you-mean-but-I-never-could-have-said-it-that-well feeling that I look for in a writer.

If you haven't read Why We're Not Emergent (co-written with Kevin DeYoung), you should definitely pick up a copy post-haste. This is a topic that is now affecting the church well beyond urban centers and university towns. I also tore through Paper Tiger pretty quick. And believe me, anyone who can make me interested in professional football is a master of his craft.

Let me stop jawing and make with the interview. Here's part 1; the rest will follow in a few days.

ZB: You interviewed Mike Tyson for your book Facing Tyson. If you had to describe him in one word, what would it be?

TK: Thoughtful. (followed closely by intriguing, muscular, and unhappy).

ZB: Of all the professional athletes that you’ve interviewed, who is the most genuinely nice guy?

TK: There are a bunch to choose from here. I’ll stick with boxing and go with Tyrell Biggs, the 1984 Olympic Gold medalist in the Super Heavyweight division, and a former Tyson opponent. I met him on a street corner at 11 PM in a bad neighborhood in Philly. We drank tea together at a seedy Chinese place in his ‘hood and really had a fun time together, once I got over my fear of getting shanked (see also: bad neighborhood). Tony Dungy, formerly the Colts head coach, was a genuinely humble, kind guy as well. Ditto for former SI coverboy, NFL left tackle, and infamous former steroid user Tony Mandarich.

ZB: The biggest jerk?

TK: I got thrown out of a party once by former Michigan State football coach Hank Bullough, who I think was about 110 years old at the time, and who reminded me of the “Pop” character in the Grumpy Old Men movies, except way less cool. That was no fun.

ZB: You have recently written a “Christian fanifesto” called The Reason for Sports. Is there an inherent spirituality to sports?

TK: There is inherent spirituality in sports, inasmuch as there are Christians playing sports and being used by God in sports settings. Paul used examples from sports in his teaching, and Jacob wrestled with the Holy Spirit. Sports can be a great example of athletes created in God’s image doing beautiful/ heroic/ courageous things. They can be a great example of dying to self for a greater goal. They can provide great opportunities for true repentance, when we’ve sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, in public ways.

All of that to say, there’s a lot more to the “Christians in Sports” thing than kneeling in the end zone or penciling a bible verse onto your eye black.

ZB: Do you think Jesus likely played sports?

TK: I have no idea…but I wouldn’t doubt it. We know that Jesus had a “physical life” as well as, of course, a spiritual life. He worked with his hands. He experienced hunger and fatigue. It makes sense to me, then, that he would want to compete, whether it was running races or throwing rocks or wrestling or whatever they did back then. Though I’m certain that when he won he didn’t pound his chest and point at the sky.

ZB: Has your involvement (both as a writer and a participant) in the sports world opened doors for evangelism?

TK: Absolutely. It opens doors for evangelism because it’s a world that I love and care about, so naturally I love and care about the people in it. I think sometimes we feel like if we’re not starting a fair trade coffee shop or writing a screenplay for Jesus, we’re not quote/ unquote Engaging the Culture. But for me, football is cultural engagement. It’s just the culture I happen to really like.

There are lots of hours in weight rooms and on buses that naturally lead to spiritual conversations. I thank God for chances to share the gospel with teammates from Paper Tiger, and some of the fighters in Facing Tyson. That made those projects feel worthwhile.

ZB: What are the origins of the slogan “Ted Wins?”

TK: Remember the whole “Love Wins” thing in Grand Rapids? The bumper stickers, t-shirts etc. that were all based on a Rob Bell sermon? My blog name and slogan is kind of a satire of that. “Ted Wins…because Love Won last year.”

ZB: Do you know of any other writers who split their work between the world of professional sports and matters of theological/ ecclesiological significance? (Sub-question: are you one of a kind?)

TK: I am, to my knowledge, completely unique and fabulous in every way (hint: buy my books).

On a serious note, no, I don’t know of a lot of guys who do this, but I do know of a lot of Christian guys who are thoughtful about sports and wish they had something to read besides the Orel Hersheiser and Dave Dravecky biographies.

ZB: What were you and Kevin trying to accomplish in writing Why We’re Not Emergent?

TK: To remind people that the gospel isn’t primarily about what we can do for God, but about what God did for us. We also wanted to encourage the kinds of humble, plodding local pastors who wouldn’t describe themselves using words like “revolutionary”, “futurist”, “activist” or “transformational change architect” but who are nevertheless heralds for the gospel.

ZB: What kind of responses have you personally received to the book?

TK: Almost overwhelmingly positive. It’s really humbling for me, a “Joe Blow in the pew” type, to receive letters from pastors, telling me that they enjoyed the book or were encouraged by it. I have a great deal of respect for pastors, and it blows my mind to think that something I wrote could encourage them. I also get a lot of “you put to the page what I’ve been thinking for years” type-responses, which is also very cool.

Oddly enough, I’ve received the most hate mail for the section I wrote about holiday letters and homeschooling, which I just mentioned in passing (a half-page, if that) in a tongue-in-cheek way. These messages usually take a thousand or so words to tell me that I’m an idiot and wrong, and then almost invariably end with a signature like “In Him” or “Blessings.” You’ve got to love Christian hate mail.

ZB: What do you think are the greatest strengths of the emergent church?

TK: The fact that they think they can save the world. Also, I think the existence of the emergent church has forced a lot of people to articulate exactly what it is they believe, which at the end of the day is a good thing.

ZB: The greatest weaknesses?

TK: The fact that they think they can save the world. Ultimately it’s the kind of thing that will crumple under the weight of its own moralism.

ZB: When you found out that Why We’re Not Emergent won the 2009 Christianity Today Book Award for the church/pastoral leadership category (even beating out the late Robert E. Webber), were you surprised? Have you become cockier?

TK: Fame is hard, Zach. I can’t really grocery shop in town now, without people stopping me and saying things to the effect of “Hey, didn’t you win the 2009 CT Book Award for Church/Pastoral leadership?” Young, reformed children (note: there are a lot of these) have also been known to ask me to sign copies of their church bulletins. Heady stuff. Now I know what Carman felt like in 1986.

Seriously though…I was very surprised. Especially given CT’s friendliness toward the Emergent Church. But what people don’t realize about writers and cockiness is that writing is pretty much the most humbling thing in the world. If I get 100 reviews, and 99 of them are good, I’ll obsess over the bad one. This pretty much negates any cockiness that might develop. Though I wouldn’t mind getting cockier…it sounds like fun.

ZB: At least two of your books have now won awards (the Library of Michigan selected Paper Tiger as a Michigan Notable Book in 2008). Have you considered appending “award-winning author” to the front of your name? I don’t just mean in promotional material, but when introducing yourself, etc.

TK: I’ve tried to encourage my wife to call me “an award winning author” around the house…also, bank tellers and the guys at the gas station really seem to get a kick out of it when I do it (often).

Okay, I'm gonna pause it right there. Chew on that for a while and then check back in a few days for part 2, in which Ted talks more about Why We're Not Emergent and his new book, Why We Love the Church. He also re-visits "evangelical smackdown," but with a personal twist. If you miss it, you're probably not elect.

Update: Click here for Part 2.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009 | By: Zachary Bartels

This Week's Sermon (2009, Week 6)

Click here to link to the audio (right click and choose "Save target as" to save the file on an iPod or other device).

The End of It.
Gratitude and praise are central to the life of the Christian. In fact, they are among the marks that your faith is true saving faith. Are you living a life of thanksgiving? Does your heart overflow with gratitude and praise?
And what's with Baptists taking "the eucharist?" Listen and find out.

As always, you can access all my sermons here.