Pub Theology

4 steps for talking about Jesus at the bar (or coffeehouse, or anywhere else)

4 steps for talking about Jesus at the bar (or coffeehouse, or anywhere else)

This post originally appeared in Toast Weekly, a newsletter of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington DC.

If you’re like me, you’ve been told once or twice that being a good Christian includes occasionally telling other people about Jesus.

Your reaction might go something like: “Ewww. Yuck. I’m not that interested in evangelism, or selling something, or anything like that.”

But there is another part of you which senses that if more people knew the Jesus who was a radical for peace, forgiveness, love, and justice—the world would be a better place. So how does one go about doing this, without feeling like an unwanted door-to-door salesperson or an awkward friend? Continue Reading..

Pub Theology on PBS!

Pub Theology on PBS!

This weekend, the PBS show Religion and Ethics Newsweekly will feature a segment on groups gathering in pubs to talk about God and faith. One group highlighted will be Kyrie Pub Church, a community in Fort Worth Texas that has worship services in a pub. The other featured group will be a Pub Theology gathering I facilitated in Washington, DC. The story, as I understand it, is about people seeking non-traditional forms of community and faith outside the church walls—at the bar. Continue Reading..

Advice to a Child

Advice to a Child

What one piece of advice would you offer to a newborn infant? That was the question that kicked off our conversation at Pub Theology Holland last night. After a few quips like: “Go back!” and “A newborn infant wouldn’t be capable of understanding advice,” we decided to stretch it out to a child somewhere between 5 and 8 years old.

Then some real wisdom began to come out around the table. Here are a few of the gems that were shared: Continue Reading..

POLL: Pub Theology Conversation online

As part of creating space online for ongoing Pub Theology conversation, I’m considering a new Facebook group. This will be for pub theologians everywhere to gather at a virtual table, to discuss any number of topics. Vote on the Facebook page with your thoughts. If you think I should consider something other than Facebook, let me know that in the comments.

I’m in the process of creating a new Pub Theology website, so ideally whatever I create can be embedded and accessed there.

We Need Each Other

We Need Each Other

Interfaith reflections

The Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad which featured “America the Beautiful” sung in various languages has struck many as a beautiful display of the wide diversity of this nation. A nation which has always prided itself on being a melting pot, a place where people from anywhere on the globe have found a home.

Yet, unsurprisingly, some managed to find it inappropriate. One group responded on Facebook with this little gem: “Call us what you want, but my Ancestors came here and learned this beautiful language – they did not ask to be catered to… they taught themselves, and thrived…. to hear one of nation’s proudest songs in other languages was a bit disheartening… Bring on the Pepsi!”

Which makes me wonder, do we really want peace in our world? Do we really want understanding? As a person who seeks to cultivate dialogue between people of varying viewpoints, this is a high value of mine. Some disagree. Continue Reading..

New Year Resolution: Conversation

New Year Resolution: Conversation

Guest post by Scot McKnight. Original post can be read here. I share this post because I see much that is in line with my own experiences of good conversations at the pub. Read it and see if you agree.

The question: What are the central characteristics of a genuine conversation in your opinion?

I want to draw your attention to a massive and brilliant study, but for most of us far too specialized to be a book to “blog” our way through. The book is Benedetta Craveri’s The Age of Conversation. Her book is a detailed analysis of 17th Century salons, directed mostly by women, designed not for professors and specialists but for a nobility that wanted to form a society where its values and interests could become the central focus. I contend that the term “conversation” can be understood by taking an interest in this movement. I see its descendants in high society England and major metropolises in the world (e.g., high society New York — think The New Yorker). One publisher comes to mind: Alfred A. Knopf.

The Age of Conversation, seen in the salons especially in France, found a group of people who had the following characteristics:

1. They were directed by women and showed an unusual degree of integration between the sexes.
2. They were concerned with the pleasure of conversation, of learning, of enjoying one another.
3. They were shaped by absolute equality between all participants.
4. They had an ideal: to “marry lightheartedness with depth, elegance with pleasure, and the search for truth with a tolerant respect for the opinions of others” (xiii).
5. They sealed themselves off from the power structures and politics of the day in order to form an ideal society.
6.  They were shaped by a style: they carried on their lives with a notable style and a code of manners.
7. They secured an informal society that had some clear boundaries between themselves and others.
8. They were opposed from the left (Rousseau thought they were oppressive) and right (Pascal thought they were too worldly).
9. They privatized what was most important to life.

Now to the issue of “style”… Life was made in the salons of France into “the most elegant of games” (340) that was shaped by loving one’s partner and fellow salon members as they ought to be loved. Tolerance and mutual respect shaped the conversation completely; honoring the integrity and value of the other shaped the the conversation as well. These conversations became the educational force for those so involved.

Central to the task was aim of pleasing others and to do this they developed several strategies, and I shall try to use the French words with some brief translation:

Politesse: courtesy.
Esprit: mental, spiritual, and social sense and joy.
Galanterie: chivalry, galantry.
Complaisance: an obligation to the other, kindness, amiability.
Enjouement: cheerfulness.
Flatterie: without being overdone, one was to complement the other.
Raillerie: playful teasing of one another.

There are dangers here, like snobbishness, and they are obvious for anyone to see. But what happened was that the French salons created an environment where conversation occurred, not to beat the daylights out of someone else, not to denounce the other, but to enjoy the pleasure of discussing pressing concerns of a given group. They learned to converse in order to learn from one another and make one another more educated.

Conversation like this, however, has its problems. As Craveri sums them up, “their exquisite courtesy was a means of domination, and their intellectual malleability was a mask for sterility and sophism” (356). In fact, at times such conversations refused to ask the hard question. “As on the battlefield where French officers took their hats off to the enemy, or in life’s crucial moments when notaries drink to the health of their expiring clients, so, in theological discussion, politesse had the upper hand, and Morellet would turn to his adversary and address him as ‘Monsieur and dear atheist’” (359).

In other words, and I hope you like this swiped line from Cynthia Ozik, the danger of conversation in this sense is tete-a-tete gone flagrante delicto.”

The fundamental obstacles to conversation among are two-fold: most conversations are blocked either by a right vs. wrong obstacle or by an information-only obstacle.

Let us say that a person wants to converse about world religions, about the presence of “silent Christians” in the Islamic world, about the issues surrounding eschatology in the New Testament, about how to “do church” in a postmodern context, about preaching in today’s world, about homosexuality, about the church and the poor, about the gospel and social justice, about marriage, about rearing children… any topic that matters and any topic about which a person has concerns and wonders what is the best way to think about. Bring into the mix a person who is young or a person who really has serious and good questions about traditions … and you create the only kind of conversation that really can a conversation. Something important, a couple of people, and a desire to learn from one another. But, often mutual exploration is not what happens. Why?

The first obstacle is the right vs. wrong risk. Orthodoxy is right; anything else or less than orthodoxy is wrong. With that looming behind every conversation, when a person raises a question there is immediately a worry if what the person is asking is orthodox or not; whether or not by participating in such a conversation a person will be seen as harboring doubts about orthodoxy; and whether associating with such persons calls into question one’s reputation. Quickly, in many cases, the conversation stops being conversation and becomes instead a quick lesson on what tradition teaches the Bible says and that if one strays from that one is questioning the Bible and, there you have it, the slippery slope worry comes to the surface.

When conversation is shaped like this — and this is what I want to contend — there is no conversation. Instead, it becomes didactic. Which leads me to the second issue.

The second obstacle is that conversations, instead of becoming explorations of one another’s minds on a given topic as each reflects on how each makes theological decisions, become information-exchange sessions. Whoever knows the most becomes the teacher; whoever knows the least becomes the student. That’s all. It’s about information exchange. It becomes catechesis instead of conversation.But the “art” of conversation can’t be learned in such a context when everything is dominated by right vs. wrong or when it becomes whoever knows the most becomes the teacher. This isn’t conversation; this is lecture or information exchange.

I do not deny the value of information, nor do I deny the importance of orthodoxy. But can we have conversations sometimes?

What are the marks of a good conversation?

First, a good conversation (and therefore a good conversationalist) requires a safe environment. By this I mean space — somewhere to feel comfortable; and I mean at least two people with listening skills; and I mean the ability to disagree if necessary but not denounce, condemn or berate.

Illustration: most of us think this blog is safe; when someone joins us at the table and starts denouncing someone we feel uncomfortable. The reason we feel uncomfortable when someone denounces another is because we assumed we were in a genuine conversation in a safe environment. We believed we were in a conversation not sitting in a pew listening to a visiting pulpiteer.

I’ve been blogging now 8 years — began about this time 8 years ago — and sometimes I wonder how long I can keep doing this but it is the commenters — our virtual community — that keeps me plugging along. So thanks.

Many have turned to the blog world because they are having difficulties finding a safe place. I can’t tell you the number of pastors who have written me privately and said “I can’t say this on your blog, but I want to converse with you about the post today” or about something else.

Second, a good conversation requires a good topic or a good question. This one is clear: what is a good topic for some is not for others. It is also clear that some topics are better than others. Some topics are off-limits for one person and on-limits for another. There is a social skill involved here: some people perceive immediately what is on-limits or off-limits; others don’t.

Third, a good conversation operates on the basis of frequently-unexpressed but nearly always assumed, shared assumptions. I find this to be a regular hang-up on the blog. Many of us operate with a set of assumptions — and it would be fun to bring to expression what these really are — but we don’t talk about them. When someone violates them, we raise our eyebrows or start to wiggle our fingers and maybe even break into a sweat. Perhaps it begins with the viability of the question we ask.

Fourth, a good conversation requires the spirit of exploration and experimentation. If I ask my good friend, Greg Clark, who happens to be a philosopher and therefore practiced in the art of conversation and one who finds it delightful to turn over each stone somehow, a question, I expect him to tell me what he is thinking on the subject and he will probably explore his mind and he’ll ask me what I think and then I’ll ask him back and it goes on and on.

The major problem here is when someone gets too dogmatic. If in conversing we want to explore something together, we can’t have someone say “here’s the answer, buffo, and there’s no other possiblities.” The shared assumption is that we don’t get too dogmatic and that we explore and think together.

Fifth, a good conversation desires wisdom. I have very little use for a conversation that goes nowhere unless a few of us are gathered just to chat over beer or coffee or about a football game. No, a good conversation with a good topic or question leads to mutual exploration so each of us can learn and grow in wisdom. As a Christian, we want the conversation to lead us into the wisdom of the way of Jesus.

Sixth, a good conversation stays within the parameter of the topic. One of the routine challenges of conversation is wandering. We begin with a good question — Did Jesus do miracles by the power of the Spirit or in his own power? Can libertarian economics exist in a world like ours? — that begins on the right track but then someone begins to talk, and wander aloud to another topic (a previous event in life) and then we’re talking about that event, which leads to another topic and we realize we are no longer on topic. This element of conversation requires either a conversation partner who keeps us in line or, better yet, we make a mutual commitment to stay in line.

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

Pub Theologian’s Best of 2013

Pints were raised. Theology happened. Another year has come and gone.
Pints were raised. Conversations happened. A good year comes to a close.

To new and old readers of this blog, to those who I’ve been able to lift a pint with, and to those gathering everywhere to enjoy a good brew and engage in thoughtful discussion, here’s to 2013! It was a good year! Cheers.

YEAR-END GIVEAWAY – I’m giving away a signed copy of Pub Theology along with a $25 gift certificate to your favorite brewery. Entry details below. (Winner, drawn on Jan 4 2014 is: DIANE McGRATH from Abington, PA! She entered via Facebook. Results via


Pub Theology Official Directory: A listing of all Pub Theology and Theology on Tap style gatherings in the United States. There are over 130 groups listed here and more are being added every week. Know of a group that’s not listed? Post it in the comments below! It’s really great to hear from folks all over the country who are being intentional about cultivating an ongoing conversation in their community about matters of life, philosophy, and faith.


HuffpostRPMA Rabbi, a Priest and a Minister Walk Into a Bar – at both Philly Beer Week and DC Beer Week, I was privileged to join Rabbi Eli Freedman and Father Kirk Berlenbach for conversational sessions in which each of us discussed the role of craft beer in our faith communities. Both events drew packed houses and generated considerable buzz as unusual offerings on the usual slate of beer week events. Look for us at a beer week near you in 2014!


You’ll see a few saisons on the list this year as my palate expanded to enjoy more farmhouse and Belgian style beers.

10) Monkey King Saison (New Holland Brewing) – A soft, medium body saison with subtle pepper character and fruity undertones.

9) El Hefe Speaks! (DC Brau) – a traditionally brewed German-style Hefe. It is fermented around 65°F and hopped with German Tettnang hops. 11 IBUs and 5.3% ABV make this one extremely drinkable. One of three local DC beers to make my top ten.

8) ESA (Yards) – East Kent Golding hops give this English style ale a subtle spiciness, which compliments its strong malt backbone. Hints of chocolate and caramel round out this deep chestnut colored ale. Floral, earthy, smooth. A cask-conditioned wonder that is a staple of Yards in Philadelphia. I enjoyed this one at a small bar served via the hand-pull from the cask. Smooth and delightful.

7) Peppercorn Saison (3 Star Brewing) – Belgian style farmhouse ale. Slightly sweet fruity nose, hints of grass and coriander, smooth underlying bitterness, clean dry finish, smooth lingering citrus notes. A local DC offering.

6) La Saison Des Fêtes (Atlas Brew Works) – A warming winter Belgian ale straight from the farmhouse to your fireside. The third saison to make the list, and the third DC brewed offering from one of the District’s newest breweries.

5) Stone Ruination IPA (Stone Brewing) – an extra-large helping of malt, and a lot more hops. And then some more. And then even more, resulting in a vibrant blast of citrusy bitterness that hits you on the first sip. Just one taste and you’ll know why it says on the bottle: “A liquid poem to the glory of the hop!”

4) Boxcarr Pumpkin Porter (Starr Hill) – a traditional English-style Brown Porter with pumpkin added to the mash. Light spicing allows the subtle flavors of pumpkin and roasty porter to shine through. Boxcarr is a session beer at 4.7% and very drinkable. This was my go-to beer this fall.

3) Three Philosophers (Ommegang) – A beer made for contemplation. Aroma a sweet and heady mixture of rich toffee, floral tobacco, vanilla bourbon, and brown spices. Very sweet smell but there’s a little bitter grain to provide balance. Palate is all rich sweet malts, dark fruits, and spice, minimal toast or roast. Milk chocolate, dates, nutmeg and clove, vanilla cream, a little banana, and licorice toffee with a semi-chewy, buttery mouthfeel. A small amount of ale brewed with Belgian kriek cherries imparts a subtle red fruit acidity from start to finish. Low to moderate carbonation. A very nice Belgian-style quad with a lot of complexity and character. And much gratitude to Ommegang for sponsoring our DC Beer Week event!

2)  Parabola Russian Imperial Stout (Firestone Walker) – Bold bourbon, tobacco and espresso aromas and a hint of American oak greet the nose. Rich, chewy roasted malts, charred oak and bourbon-like vanilla fill the palate and create a seamless finish. A remarkably complex brew that—according to the brewers—offers a transcendental drinking experience. I enjoyed this at Smoke & Barrel tap takeover during DC Beer Week.

1)  Indian Brown Ale (Dogfishhead) – A cross between a Scotch Ale, an India Pale Ale and an American Brown, Indian Brown Ale is well-hopped and malty at the same time (It’s magical!). This made my top ten last year, and this year moves up to no.1! A beer worthy of any top listing.



10) Tomorrow’s Theology. Today’s Task. – My response to a controversial article in The Banner.

9) “No, Donny, these men are nihilists.” – This 2011 post on the roots of rapturous nihilism continues to be popular. The end of the world viewed through the lens of The Big Lebowski.

8) Apology NOT Accepted – A Lutheran pastor is forced to apologize for praying at an interfaith prayer service. I refused the apology.

7) Jesus in the Desert: A Midrash? – Jesus encounters Satan in the desert. History, parable, or midrash?

6) God Doesn’t Need Our Help, But He Asks For It – James K.A. Smith says there is a “new apologetics” afoot in Christianity to make the faith more palatable in an age of intellectualism and postmodernity. He’s wrong.

5) Why Conservative Churches Attract Young People… Or Not – You get the idea.

4) Religion May Not Survive the Internet, Then Again… It Might – Some are saying religion is going to be vaporized by this thing called the ‘internet’. I say not so fast.

3) Noah and the Violence of God – Debate: who is more violent – God or Russell Crowe? [Trailer included]

2) A New Convergence – There are  shifts happening within broader Christianity… whether one likes it or not. This 2012 article is the most popular post ever at

1) Show Up or Else: the So-Called Scandal of the Semi-Churched – A controversial post (from just a couple weeks ago!) where I take a pastor to task for chastising his congregation (and every Christian) for inadequate church attendance.


1) Practicing Theology Without a Net: Theology Pubs, Spiritual Direction, and Letting Go – This fantastic article by Keith Anderson was featured on WordPress’ Freshly Pressed. A great read.

2) 10 Things You Can’t Do at Christmas While Following Jesus – Mark Sandlin’s piece got a lot of attention this Christmas. Deservedly so.


5) Walden Two (B.F. Skinner) – This fictional outline of a modern Utopia has been a centre of controversy ever since its publication in 1948. An interesting read if you’re interested in sociology, community, and attempts at ‘getting it right’.

4) Schrödinger’s Gat (Robert Kroese) – A quantum physics thriller. If you like having your mind bent by science and philosophy (who doesn’t?) while reading an engaging story, read this book! ($2.99 for Kindle)

3) To An Unknown God (John Steinbeck) – A mystical tale, exploring one man’s attempt to control the forces of nature and to understand the ways of God. Steinbeck once again captivates.

2) A Being Darkly Wise (John Atchison) – Every once in a while you find a book that knocks your socks off. “A Being Darkly Wise” is such a book. A group of Washington bureaucrats go on a wilderness training led by a mysterious, charismatic activist/scientist. As the story progresses they begin to realize how estranged they have become from the earth we inhabit. ($3.99 for Kindle)

1) 11/22/63 (Stephen King) –  My favorite read this year, and timely with the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. If you could go back in time, would you change anything? Captivating read, and really great story-telling. I couldn’t put it down.


Thanks for reading, everyone! Don’t forget to enter the year-end giveaway!

Here’s how to enter:
1) Share this post on social media (FB, Twitter, Google+).
2) Like my author page or invite your friends to like my author page.
3) Like this post with your WordPress account.
4) Share your favorite beer or favorite book (or both!) from the past year in the comments below.
5) Follow me and/or Pub Theology on Twitter: @bryberg and @pubtheology


You can enter multiple times by doing each of the above. Must enter by 1/1/2014. Drawing on Jan 2. Good luck!

Congratulations to

Diane McGrath
Winner, Year-End Contest 2013!

Improbable Souls: A Poem

Today’s post is a poem written by Jack Ricchiuto, inspired by a recent conversation at Pub Theology DC.

A short poem. It came out of a question that emerged for me from last night, somehow: what if God was approached by people who want access to heaven and hell to bring love to those they loved in their lifetime here? Enjoy.



Improbable Souls
Angels dart glances on the rare occasion
   Where God sits in speechless reflection
On a new request, never uttered by the
   Billions before, the seemingly simple request
To have dual citizenship, bilateral passports
   Into heaven and hell, for the freedom
To visit friends across the chasms,
   As both are missed and loved, dearly
The impossible prayer sent to the Source:
   Why should eternal punishments and rewards
Deprive them of a friend’s love?
   After all, love asks nothing in return,
Love is kind, love graces without
   Requirement of worthiness,
This is the infinite love,
   Of which God’s brow in
Wrinkled ironies, acceded,
  Greeted with the gratitude of improbable souls
Who would delight in spending time
   With loved ones, faithful and fallen alike.

Jack Ricchiuto is best known across the US and globally for his experience as writer and engagement artisan. His work focuses on teaching people how to work together well and facilitate people working together well in education, organizations and communities. He lives in the Tremont community of urban Cleveland.