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The No Pants Gospel

Chris —  February 28, 2014

Perhaps we should have titled the Ecclesia National Gathering “The No Pants Gospel.”

Kingdom Pants

Scot McKnight is on a tirade right now, trying to get people to slow down and think through what they mean when they say “Kingdom.” He pointed out two, somewhat generational definitions of the word.

For the “Skinny Jeans” crowd, there is “kingdom work” which more or less means doing social justice (ie – Tom’s Shoes, wells in Africa).

For the Pleated Pants crowd there are “kingdom moments” where something miraculous happens (ie – healings, reconciliation, victory over evil systems)

This can be pretty offensive to people giving their life for their definition of the Kingdom. But Scot has a point. Skinny jeans leave the church for their wells. Pleated pants use the church to manufacture experiences.

No Rule Book

McKnight went on to team up with Bill Webb (of Slaves, Women and Homosexuals infamy) to radically reenvision how we read the BIble.

Looking at the “divorce texts” they showed how the gospel writers and Paul each framed Jesus teaching a little differently. They made three points:

  1. There is no “ultimate ethic” reflected in a single verse of scripture.
  2. The Bible is full of stories of discernment, applying ethics to culturally bound circumstances.
  3. You can see incremental movement throughout scripture toward a redemptive ethic, found most clearly in the teachings of Jesus and embodied in the Church.

In other words, the Bible is a great story, but it makes for a lousy rule book.

The No Pants Gospel

Mandy Smith answered the lingering question, “how then do we read the Bible?” Mandy’s answer: “let the Bible read you.”

If the Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing bones and marrow, we should treat God’s Word like a surgical tool.

We cannot approach the Bible to justify our personal need to be involved in social justice.

We cannot approach the Bible to justify our personal need for an exciting, life-changing experience.

We must approach the Bible as the Word of God, carrying the authority of God. We must set aside our own agendas and approach it naked of our hopes and dreams.

How do we read the Bible? Only with the expectation that learning to live in the Kingdom where God reigns will hurt.

This past Spring hundreds of Christian Leaders met up in Washington, DC for a unique gathering. Missio Alliance gathered disparate voices to discuss the future of the gospel in the West. It highlighted points of view which seem to have been ignored in recent memory. This includes women leaders, the Black church, Wesleyans and Anabaptists.

Now Missio is offering a special day for those on the West Coast to experience this as well.  The Future of the Gospel: Why the Humanity of God’s Son Matters Everyday will take place at George Fox Seminary in Portland on October, 26. The event is described as addressing the following:

For Evangelicals, Jesus’ divinity is clear and settled, but what does his humanity have to do with the prophetic role of the gospel today and into the future?

Cherith Fee-Nordling, whose thought provoking point of view was a highlight of the DC event, will speak on Why The Humanity Of Jesus Matters Everyday. Learn more and register on the Missio site.

There were many important moments at the inaugural Missio Alliance gathering, but one of the most powerful and unexpected was hearing from Cherith Fee Nordling. Many in the audience were asking themselves “why have I never heard of her?!”

For me I was struck by how she spoke of theology as a woman. Cherith is a powerful speaker, and much of that power seems to come from a sense of comfort in who she is, as a woman in Christ.

Much of what Cherith spoke about was “embodied theology”, the unique Christian proposition that God became flesh, and has a plan to redeem and restore our flesh. Or, as Cherith puts it, the gospel is about how “you get your life back!”

Via Northern Seminary:

Before joining Northern, has taught at Regent College Fuller Theological Seminary,  Cornerstone University, Westminster Theological Centre in London, the Vineyard Leadership Institute in Ohio, the Trinity Learning Community in California, and Wheaton College in Theology. Most recently, she taught at Calvin College and Seminary while serving as Co-Director of Christian Formation with her husband.

Nordling received her Ph.D in Systematic Theology from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. She is author of, Knowing God by Name: A Conversation between Elizabeth A. Johnson and Karl Barth, is currently working on a commentary on Acts, a book on theological anthropology and the resurrection, and a condensed version of Paul’s Christology with her father and noted author, Gordon Fee.

Inspired by the unofficial N.T. Wright page, here are some resources to introduce you to this important voice:


  • Still flying high from my time in DC with Missio Alliance.  It ended up being a bit of a family reunion, with old friends from growing up in Denver, my alma mater, Ecclesia network, and my Fuller MAGL cohort and my church in Austin.
  • One person said to me “now I understand Chris!  These are his people.”  That felt good.
  • There’s been lots of great feedback from my post Eight Game-Changers Observed at Missio Alliance. One person even wrote a response.  Check it out, and share your thoughts.
  • Here’s some other people who have been blogging about Missio:
  • After leaving Missio Alliance, I headed up to New York to spend a few days with my sister and brother-in-law (and future niece!) in the Bronx. Here we are at The Cloisters.
  • She is responsible for my awesome new profile pic.  Thanks!


  • Highlight of this trip to NYC? Highline Park.  A former freight train track that runs across through the city that has been repurposed into a hanging garden.  The best views I’ve seen in New York.  Pretty much the closest I’ll ever get to being Spider-Man.
  • I try to befriend anyone I see reading N.T. Wright in public.  Yesterday at the best-looking coffee shop in Austin, I met Shane Blackshear, a blogger, podcaster, and part of an inspiring church community named Mosaic.  Check out this interview he did with Derek Webb.

I’m getting pumped for the first ever Missio Alliance gathering in April.  With main speakers like Dallas Williard and Scot McKnight, a meaningful discussion of discipleship and the Kingdom is likely to take place.  Many of the workshops will take on difficult discussions such as gender roles and the environment.  These are essential discussions that the church needs to be having today.

However, I am a pragmatist.  So I’m hoping there will also be some practical discussions that tie into the overall themes of what it means to be the church today.  Here’s three conversations I hope crop up in the discussion time in workshops, hallways and over drinks.

New Models for Evangelism

A lot of the planned discussion at Missio Alliance seems to be around ecclesiological issues, that is, how do best organize a missional church movement?  What I hope does not get lost in this is asking “how do we invite others into this new movement?”

Anabaptist Values in Post-Christendom

There seems to be a gathering steam around a neo-Anabaptist movement.  It makes sense, because the classic Anabaptist churches (Mennonites, Amish, etc.) were shaped in part as a response to the nationalization of Christendom.  Today, as Christendom crumbles around us, Anabaptists give hope that there has always been another way.  My gut feels that the answer is not to join existing denominations by shaving my mustache and sew my own clothes, but too take these values into new, 21st century forms.  Who’s in?

Viable Models for Bi-Vocational Ministry

Many of the leaders of Ecclesia Network are bi-vocational, and in some ways, so am I.  However, I seldom see this model  resulting in viable church plants that last for more than a few seasons.  If Bi-Vocationalism is the new normal we need to have some serious discussions about vocation in general and leadership structures that will create thriving churches.

Are you attending the conference? What do you hope will be brought up?  Will you join me in this discussion?