Say My Name

Say My Name

Pope Francis is being widely hailed for his historic appearance before a joint session of Congress yesterday. But some are taking him to task for one glaring omission: he didn’t say the name of Jesus.

A professor of moral theology at Calvin Theological Seminary noted the “pope did not find it necessary to name the name of Jesus when he addressed Congress yesterday.” Perhaps an oversight? Like, hey, I’m the vicar of you-know-who on earth. Did I forget to mention him?

Perhaps such an oversight is forgivable, right? I mean, what with all the focus on caring for the poor, embracing the stranger, denouncing violence, caring for creation, and reverencing all human life—in other words, some of the very teachings of Jesus—can we not overlook such a small omission?

Apparently not.

This professor goes on to write: “Now the whole country is talking about the pope and the pope’s politics, but no one is talking about Jesus or the gospel. What a sad day. What a wasted opportunity.” Continue Reading..

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..

If You’re Going to Bring Them to Jesus, Then Bring Them to Jesus!

If You’re Going to Bring Them to Jesus, Then Bring Them to Jesus!

This an excerpt, read the full column on The Huffington Post.

Lately I’ve been getting a little flack for downplaying the importance of evangelism. I wrote a post recently entitled, “We Need Each Other,” celebrating diversity of various kinds: ethnic diversity, linguistic diversity, cultural diversity, and yes — religious diversity. But how could I celebrate this as a Christian, some have asked.

“Isn’t your central goal as a Christian to convert others to Christianity?”

“Don’t you decide to follow Jesus, then you help others to do the same?”

I disagree with the first question. We’ll get to the second in a moment. I am not interested in making religious converts. Converts to a set of doctrines about somebody. Converts to a confined, cultural way of thinking. Converts to outdated conventions or to a dualistic religion of escapism: “Believe this and go to heaven. Get on board or go to hell. Our religion is the only true religion. Convert or die.” Or just as bad: “Convert and experience God’s wonderful plan for your life.” No, thank you.

Such an approach explains my hesitation when people ask if I’m excited about evangelism. In fact, if that’s your impetus, I’d say, just stop sharing. We don’t need more religiosity, more escapism, more fundamentalism, more prosperity-gospel-inspired materialism. Hence my hesitation about “evangelism.”

The second question — “Don’t you decide to follow Jesus, then you help others to do the same?” — I am more prone to agree with. Following someone indicates a way of life. Following someone is something you do today. Following a set of teachings, a manner, an approach, an ideal — this I can get on board with, and is what I think Jesus was actually about. In the Great Commission, he called for the making of disciples — people who followed a teacher in order to bring about his or her vision of the world.

So I say, if you’re going to bring them to Jesus, then actually bring them to Jesus!

Bring them to the Jesus who was born an illegitimate child to peasant parents in an out-of-the-way place, in the shadow of power and empire. Bring them to the Jesus who told stories denouncing abuse of money, power and privilege. The Jesus who, in parables, helped people see the darker side of themselves while also inspiring with the reminder that the divine presence was hidden in plain view. The Jesus whose parables exposed systems of abusive power. The Jesus who…



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In Session: Pub Theology 101

In Session: Pub Theology 101

A Guide to Cultivating Meaningful Conversations at the Pub

You’ve heard about people gathering at the pub to talk about God and faith, and wondered, why aren’t I doing this? Now you can, thanks to this new guide by Bryan Berghoef, author of Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation, and God. Here Bryan walks through all the steps to beginning your own Pub Theology group, from choosing a location to deciding what to talk about. (You’ll have to make your own decision as to whether you prefer an IPA or a stout). And the best part of this new book: hundreds of discussion topics and questions, sorted by category–such as art, belief, death, morality, philosophy, politics, science, and world religions, to name a few–that Bryan has compiled from over five years’ worth of pub discussions.

So what are you waiting for? This is the inspiration you’ve needed, and the resources to boot, all for less than the price of a pint!
—Book description at Amazon.com

Pub Theology 101
Hot off the press!

My new book, Pub Theology 101: A Guide to Cultivating Meaningful Conversations at the Pub, is out TODAY for Kindle for only $2.99! (Go to Amazon page)

After my first book, Pub Theology, came out, I began to hear from people all over the country—some leading similar groups, others wanting to get one going. The constant request was: what do we talk about? Do you have some topics for us to get started?

I have compiled all of my topics, questions, and quotes from facilitating Pub Theology sessions for the last five years into one handy ebook, all sorted by category, as well as some tips and suggestions for best practices. And I’m making it all available for—have I said this—less than the price of a pint (or a tip to the bartender.) This is a must-have resource for anyone leading discussions at the pub!

You can carry this handy guide with you on your Kindle or smartphone and pull it out whenever you’re looking for something interesting to talk about with friends, or when prepping for facilitating a Pub Theology session (or Theology Pub, or Theology on Tap, or even Scripture and Scotch, as I heard the other day).

Quotes from Bob Dylan, Søren Kierkegaard, Mother Theresa, Mark Driscoll, Thomas Aquinas, Rob Bell, Kester Brewin, John Piper, Peter Rollins, John Calvin, the Talmud, the Buddha, Plato, Demosthenes, Immanuel Kant, Martin Buber, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Tim Keller, Richard Rohr, Jesus, the Shepherd of Hermas, Marcus Borg, Karen Armstrong, Walter Wink, John Frame, Elizabeth Gilbert, Oprah, C.S. Lewis, Doug Pagitt, Blaise Pascal, Ludwig Feuerbach, Leo Tolstoy, Paul Tillich, and. . . many many more questions that I’ve written or others have shared with me —all gathered here, for your pub theologizing pleasure.

So what are you waiting for? Get your copy now!

I should also mention—there’s no marketing plan and no major publisher behind this, it is totally word of mouth and grassroots, so share on your Facebook page, Tweet it, pass it along to friends. If you know anyone who might benefit from this resource—let them know!

*Also, if this resource proves helpful to you, please leave a review at Amazon!

Don’t have a Kindle? You can get a free Kindle reading app for your Mac, your PC, your tablet, iPad, phone… Or, you can convert it to Nook or other another eReader format at Calibre.

From Chad Schuitema, facilitator of Pub Theology Lafayette:

“Everything you need to start your own Pub Gatherings – except the courage! The enormous amount of questions and discussion starters have helped me not only with each week’s gathering, but have helped me come up with my own as well. A much needed resource!”

Pub Theology Recap June 9

A great turnout last Thursday, and some very good conversation.  With a pint from the cask in hand, we set out to respond to six questions I took from an evangelism questionnaire that I had used in college.

The questions surprisingly created a lot of good conversation and sharing about things, prompting us to wonder about the effectiveness of such a questionnaire, not to mention the idea of accosting random people to talk to them about deep personal matters.

The questionnaire is as follows:

1.    How would you describe your life in one word?

2.    What three things do you most desire out of life?

3.    What do you think “God” is like?

4.    Who, in your opinion, is Jesus Christ?

5.    If you were to die tonight and found yourself standing before God, and he asked you, “Why should I let you into My heaven?” How would you respond?

6.    If you could know with 100% certainty how you could get into heaven, would you be interested in hearing about that?

The first two questions created opportunity for us to share some things about ourselves that our normal questions didn’t necessarily prompt.  So that was very cool.

The third and fourth questions began to lead us into theological territory – also somewhat revealing in the group, and certainly would be in an interaction with a stranger.

It seems, though, that it is all a warmup to no.5:  the evangelical zinger.  Give me the password that gets you into heaven.  Answer correctly and you win!  The prize: eternity in heaven.  Answer wrong, and (cue the Price is Right wrong answer theme), sorry friend, the flames await you.  Which made us wonder about the typical evangelical understanding of salvation, of evangelism, of faith, and all that.  Is life really just a big prelude, and the goal, after all the major events, life learning, relationship building, personal growth, etc, is simply to answer a question correctly?  And if I didn’t study adequately for the test, or if I somehow was never properly prepped, I’m doomed?  That all seems like a cruel joke.

Perhaps a short answer might point to something deeper and and true in a sense, but the idea of having to answer a question at the gate seems sort of silly, and falls right into all the old cliches about St. Peter manning the door.

And of course question no.6 makes the whole thing seem like a sales gimmick.  If you could be 100% certain of how to get no.5 right – would you be interested?  In fact, we have a money-back guarantee!  (Too bad you’ll be too dead to claim it though!)

We then began wondering about the whole idea of street evangelism, beach evangelism, door-to-door evangelism, etc.  Can deep and serious matters be discussed or entered into at a meaningful level in a random encounter with a stranger?  Should the gospel be peddled like it’s the next-best vacuum?  Where do relationships come into play?  Where does community fit in?  What about discipleship?  What about going forward?

Ocean City boardwalk

I noted that in my experience of two summers doing beach evangelism in South Jersey, at its best, we had meaningful encounters with people and then encouraged them to find a local church to connect to.  Even better were our relationships with locals through our summer jobs.  But you wonder how effective this ‘drive-by evangelism’ really was for some random person on the boardwalk who was simply trying to figure out how best to devour the delicious elephant ear they were holding to suddenly realize the more pressing matter of hell was being shoved down their throat.  As they stared dumbfounded at you, the eager college student with all the answers and the salvation guarantee, you wonder if there were moments we actually did more harm than good.

There’s a great post on the blog Slacktivist about evangelism (thanks, Steve!), where the following is noted:

Without relationship, it’s not really evangelism, merely sales. Evangelism should never be anything like sales. This is not a transaction, not commerce.

No doubt.  They also note the important point that listening is key. Too often we are armed with ‘the answers’ and enter into a conversation so that we can tell someone what’s what.  This is not a new tact:

The Cherokee Baptist theologian Bill Baldridge tells a story about white missionaries who arrived at the Indian settlement. “We are here to tell you the story of our God and of salvation,” they announced.

The elders welcomed them, brought them food, and gathered around to hear this story. The missionaries, pleased by this enthusiastic audience, decided to go with the Long Version. They started at the beginning and over the next several hours they told the whole great Christian saga of creation, fall and redemption.

When at last the missionaries were finished, the elders thanked them. “This is a good story,” the elders said. “Now we would like to share with you our story.”

The missionaries were furious. Hadn’t these people been listening? Didn’t they realize that they had just heard the One True Story and that their old story, whatever it was, no longer mattered?

The missionaries abruptly left, shaking the dust off their shoes and heading out to find some other group more receptive to to their message.

Sad, but I’m sure I could dig back and find similar instances from my own evangelistic efforts.

So it was a good night at the Pub last week, and I look forward to the next one, as learn to share our stories, our perspectives, our lives, and as we do so, may we remember that ‘our stories are not an argument.’  They are us.  May we give them the respect they deserve, and not merely use (or abuse!) them to win a debate, but rather share them with one another, even as they are unfolding at that very moment.

Musings from the Pub

Every once in a while, it’s good to ask yourself, “When was the last time I had a real conversation with someone who doesn’t believe in God?  Do I even know anyone like that?”

The reality is that people of no religious belief are one of the fastest-growing segments of the population. They’re also just the sort of people Jesus engaged.

With this in mind, our church began to contemplate how we could connect with people who would never set foot in a church on Sunday morning. We decided we had to go where people were already hanging out. So a year and a half ago, on an October Thursday evening, we started a conversation group called “Pub Theology.”

We had cleared the plan with the owner of a local brewery and put up a few posters, but we weren’t really sure what to expect. More than 15 people showed up that first night, and we’ve rarely missed a Thursday since.

In many ways we’ve connected with the crowd we set out to meet: people who have left the church but consider themselves “spiritual” individuals who believe in an undefined higher power, atheists, Buddhists, and others. It’s an open environment: there are no presentations or lectures, just good talk over a good brew.

Fertile Ground and a Safe Place

One of Pub Theology’s regular attenders, Steve, is an atheist. He loves coming because it’s the first time he’s met Christians who are willing to admit they don’t know it all. “If more Christians were like this, I would be much more open toward people of faith,” he said to me. Many of the Christians who attended Pub Theology have said the same thing about people of unbelief. That is a healthy development. It opens the door to meaningful relationships that can become fertile ground where the gospel can be seen, experienced, and shared.

Rebecca, a former Christian who openly declares her lack of belief in God, noted that Pub Theology feels like a “safe place” to talk about matters of faith. She also says she never senses a tone of condescension. “So often you try to talk to people about this stuff and it’s clear they feel superior to you and are less than subtle about their underlying agenda to convert you to their position,” she said.

Hanging out at the pub this past year has taught me that I have a lot to learn from people who think differently than I do. One of the unfortunate tendencies of Christians, myself included, is to surround ourselves only with people who think like us. This limits our own ability to think, to learn, to ask questions, to grow. It’s hard to be objective about something when you’ve never heard another perspective. It’s also easy to start thinking that you’ve got all the answers. Or that your answers are the best answers. Or that you need to talk with non-Christians only so you can “tell them how it is.”

Certainly we should be enthusiastic about what we believe and desire to share those beliefs with others, but we are shortsighted and ignorant if we think we’ve got the whole world figured out. Not to mention that few people enjoy talking with someone who thinks he or she has all the answers; the conversation tends to be a bit one-sided.

Persuading by Love

Often in encounters with people of different beliefs, Christians end up using oversimplified arguments in an aggressive way. In other words, we attempt to persuade someone by the cold facts, rather than by love and by reliance on the Holy Spirit.

In opposition to this, consider the apostle Paul: “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. . . . My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Cor. 2:1-5).

Consider also the approach Jesus took. Rarely do we see him engaging in arguments about God’s existence or even attempting to prove who he was through his miracles. In fact, many times Jesus’ miracles were for a different purpose: to bring healing. And often when someone wanted to tell everyone else about it, Jesus told that person to keep quiet.

Peter Rollins, in his book How (Not) to Speak of God, elaborates: “Instead of offering a scientific explanation that would convince, or publicizing the miracles so as to compel his listeners, Jesus engaged in a poetic discourse that spoke to the heart of those who would listen. In a world where people believe they are not hungry, we must not offer food but rather an aroma that helps them desire the food that we cannot provide.”

In our gatherings at the pub, we’ve had evenings where some well-intentioned Christians have shown up armed with Bibles, tracts, and pamphlets. Their agendas are written on their sleeves, and the conversations in these instances rarely go well. (Mis)treating people as the objects of evangelism has negative effects on them and on us: others can sense when we aren’t listening or aren’t taking their beliefs seriously. They are repelled by that, and we miss opportunities to learn something or to befriend someone when we open our mouths and not our ears.

Encounters with people of different beliefs will, for many Christians, be eye-opening, difficult, and challenging, perhaps requiring us to critically examine long- and deeply-held beliefs. To participate honestly and lovingly is to open yourself up to sometimes scary doubts. If you choose to do this, prayerful preparation may be required.

Unexpected Blessings

These interactions definitely come with unexpected blessings as well. Sitting at the table with agnostics, atheists, Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Muslims, Buddhists, and others has broadened my own perspective in a healthy way. I’ve learned things about other faith traditions, other ways of seeing the world. I’ve been forced to examine the things I believe and the things I take for granted. This is a good and healthy thing.

I’ve also learned that Christians aren’t the only people who want good things to happen in the world. While people of different belief systems may have different motivations for doing good, we can often agree on far more than we think. Even though people of non-belief are one of the fastest-growing elements of the population, we should not fear that statistic. Rather, we should see it as an opportunity to meet someone who sees the world differently yet often cares for it equally.

Today, when believers are portrayed as “delusional” and atheists caricatured as “evil,” we need more than ever to sit at the same table, ready to learn. When that happens, I can’t help but think that a little leaven of God’s kingdom mixes through the dough.

This article originally appeared in The Banner entitled How (Not) to Talk about God.