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Reflections on the Awakenings Conference

There was so much to love about last week’s Missio Alliance conference, Awakenings. For one thing, the diversity of both the crowd and the presenters was absolutely beautiful. N.T. Wright went so far as to say that this gathering was “the most multicultural and multivalent Evangelical event [he’d] ever attended.” This diversity brought an energy, breath, and joy to this event that I believe this conference would have otherwise lacked.

Beyond that, the whole event had that distinctive sweet kingdom aroma you pick up around kingdom-hearted people. This was a gathering of people who were passionate without being dogmatic about the issues that were discussed. There were points of conflict, but always with respect and without anger. And there was a deep commitment to Scripture combined with a willingness to think outside the box. And, most importantly, the whole gathering seemed to be enveloped by the Spirit of love.

I enjoyed every single one of the presentations, but the one that impacted me the most was actually given to a group of leaders who gathered the day before the conference to discuss issues facing the church in America. Mark Charles opened this gathering by reviewing the racist history of America and talking about how it continues to operate today. Much of this history I already knew, but Mark’s powerful way of stating things, combined with his insightful way of connecting dots to illuminate present realities, made his presentation so impacting. If you ever get a chance to listen to him, I encourage you to do so. (Also FYI, he has a book coming out next year.)

The most rewarding aspect of this conference was the countless people who approached me to express gratitude and share testimonies about how ReKnew, Woodland Hills Church, or one or more of my books have impacted them. Some of these testimonies were given in tears and brought me to tears. I feel so blessed to be used like this.

I was especially touched, and surprised, by the testimonies I received about the cross-centered interpretation of the OT’s violent portraits of God. Several of these testimonies were based on a partial reading of Crucifixion of the Warrior God (people are devouring this book). But most were based on the sermon series entitled “cross-centered” that I did at Woodland and/or on the bits I’ve shared about this thesis on ReKnew. Here too several people wept as they shared the profound relief they felt now that they’ve been set free from the need to combined Jesus with the ghoulishly violent portraits of God in the OT. It was humbling to hear these testimonies, and it makes me wonder what the future holds as more and more people encounter this way of interpreting these portraits.

The event that was the most fun for me was the Friday presentations and dialogue between Tom Wright and myself. Tom discussed his excellent book, The Day the Revolution Began, and I followed by presenting the central thesis of Crucifixion of the Warrior God. Our dialogue gave me the impression that, because Tom hadn’t yet had a chance to read my book, he wasn’t able to see how complimentary our books are, despite their different orientations. Indeed, because Tom assumes a narrative approach to issues while I work more systematically, I think Tom thought there may have been points of tension between the two works where I honestly don’t think any exist. But no matter. I’ll be interested to see what he thinks about the book once he has a chance to crack it open.

And then, to top it all off, Tom played the guitar and sang a couple of songs for us – and, dang, the dude is pretty good!

Any conference that ends like that you know had to be good. I encourage you to already be thinking about attending next year’s Missio Conference. Breathe in that sweet kingdom aroma!

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“When we learn to read the story of Jesus and see it as the story of the love of God, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves–that insight produces, again and again, a sense of astonished gratitude which is very near the heart of authentic Christian experience.” N.T. Wright Image by Joshua Earle