just finished “the last word”

i’ve had a pre-release copy of brian mclaren’s the last word and the word after that” since early february — months before it was released. and like a total dork, i put it on my shelf (can’t think what i was reading at that moment), and didn’t get to it until these last two weeks (i coulda been the cool kid on the emergent playground if i’d read it back then!). i finished it at an irish pub this evening on a “reading date” with my wife, jeannie (she was reading the first-draft manuscript of mark yaconelli’s upcoming book).


one of the more significant threads of my theological journey over the past half-dozen years is the nagging sense that my understanding of the atonement, my classic evangelical explanations of christ and the cross (which i’ve held warmly for three decades or more, and have used as explanations to thousands of junior highers), just weren’t enough for me anymore. the idea that jesus death is/was only about staking the wrath of a perfect, yet just, god, who must punish sin, and all that. [don’t flame on for this — i know pretty much every argument you could throw my way — i’ve thrown them myself for years.]

a half-dozen years back, i started shifting how i did “the response time” at camps and retreats i spoke at. even though my approach had long ago moved beyond what i considered to be manipulative, i was once again being confronted with the idea that i was manipulating young teens into the kingdom (this time, not by my methodology, but by my theology). so i started changing my language, and started shifting my approach, and all the while, i was seeking — personally — for a deeper or newer or more complete understanding of salvation and atonement.

in the last two years, i think i’ve mostly landed somewhere on this. but it’s still pretty fuzzy in many ways. brian’s book (which is getting high praise from some, and being wholly dismissed or called dangerous by others) puts words on many of the things i’ve been thinking.

i’m not sure i agree with everything in the book — yet. but, i still contend that questions are better than answers; and brian’s book helps me frame my questions.

in the end, i liked the 2nd book in the trilogy (“the story we find ourselves in“) best — it was the most helpful to me of the three. but this one rocked also. i might have to read it again, along with the first two.

5 thoughts on “just finished “the last word””

  1. Its when we think we have all the answers and run out of questions that worries me about people.

  2. I remember using many of your YS books for my junior high youth group I led, years ago.

    I’m also on my own spiritual journey, rethinking a lot of what I’ve taught/said/thought over the years. I’m working my way through the trilogy, and I’m having a simliar response to them as you (I’m nearly done with ‘The Story’). I love the freedom that I have now in looking at my faith from all angles.

  3. I would be interested, as a youth pastor, to understand specifics of what you changed in response times at camps, etc…I struggle with this.

  4. kevin — the primary shift i made, which sounds like semantics, but really is reflective of a theological shift on my part, is that i stopped talking about a decision to follow christ in terms of getting into heaven. i never use that kind of terminology any more. instead, i talk about joining your story to god’s unfolding story; or, i talk about the choice to follow jesus. i talk much more about fullness of life now than i do about an eternal status. one of the things that really struck me in brian’s book was the reframing of what “eternal” can mean — eternal in terms of connecting with the spiritual realm that is outside our space and time, instead of eternal only meaning “length of time”. i need to think about this more, but i might consider thinking (and speaking) about eternality in “sideways” terms rather than “lengthwise” terms (though, that might only be helpful to me, and might actually be more confusing to the junior highers who are normally my audience at camps and retreats!).

  5. Thanks. I think it is better for junior highers to get confused than to think its all about heaven or hell. I’ll pick up that book next time I’m out. I love this blog.

Leave a Reply