Sunday, October 28, 2007

JTRP Has Moved To Word Press

Hey Blog Friends!

has moved to

Meet me over there now. I am using Word Press. A good friend of mine, Jeremy Bouma, is giving me some great "techie" counsel. Jeremy is an exceptional young theologian and friend.

The web site is somewhat under construction so please be patient. Thanks!


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Out of Print: A Novel by John W Frye

My second book is now available! To learn more about it and purchase a copy, click here. At the book website you will also be able to read the back jacket copy, an excerpt from the first few pages and a comment from Scot McKnight's Afterword. Credo House Publishers is a division of Credo Communications under the excellent leadership of Tim Beals.

This is my first attempt at fiction and I am told that it is a gripping and provocative story. You be the judge of that. I wrote the book to provoke meaningful conversation about the Bible as both a divine gift and a human creation.

On the book website is a CONTACT tab. I want to hear what you think of the story. My heart-felt thanks to Jeremy Bouma for creating the book's web site.

I thank Dr. Scot McKnight, Karl A. Olsson Professor of Religious Studies at North Park University, for writing the Afterward, admitting that he is not a huge fan of fiction, but that my book "hooked" him. I appreciate Scot's comments about the novel.

My first book was Jesus the Pastor: Leading Others in the Character and Power of Christ (Zondervan: 2000).


Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Time to Laugh: Ecclesiastes and Joy

"Well, I think Ecclesiastes is just human wisdom, the best people can find 'under the sun.' It's just man's ideas, not God's, you know, what with its hedonism and all, telling us to 'eat, drink and be merry.' It is a wisdom beneath Christian dignity."

The above is what many sadly think of the amazing biblical book titled Ecclesiastes. Notes in the old Scofield Bible promote this misguided view. C.I. Scofield's understanding of the phrase "under the sun" is way off base. It's simply a phrase for location, i.e., "under the sun" means "on the earth." The phrase carries no moral or theological overtones.

We looked at the "meaningless" theme in the last post and concluded that Qoheleth was not being pessimistic, but realistic. In this post we tackle the "enjoyment" or the "eat, drink, and be merry" theme.

Consider these repetitive calls to enjoyment of life:

A person an do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work (2:24).

That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God (3:13).

Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot (5:18).

So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad (8:15).

Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do. 8 Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. 9 Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun— all your meaningless days (9:7-9).

However many years a man may live, let him enjoy them all. ...Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth (11:8-9).

Unquestionably Qoheleth commends eating and drinking and finding joy in life. Yet, the question is: Does Ecclesiastes promote a hedonistic life? The answer is a resounding "No!"

Qoheleth probes the limits and bankruptcy of hedonism as he describes his "experiment" with unbridled pleasure in 2:1-11. Read the verses. Notice Qoheleth's summary comments: "I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure" and "Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun." His foray into hedonism was meaningless. So whatever the repetitive "enjoyment" theme is, it is not a call to hedonism. Hedonism is seeking pleasure as the highest or ultimate goal in life.

The enjoyment theme is a gift from God to help us on our journey in this meaningless existence. If you are tripping over the word "meaningless," please read the previous post. Qoheleth, the wisdom writer, commends finding deep joy in daily pleasures---eating and drinking at our meals, enjoying the pleasures of marriage (if we are married) or companionship with others if we're not. God made us to experience joy, and joy is a worthy experience, a wise experience in our otherwise wearying life.

Behind the wisdom writer's call to joy is a deep-seated belief in a theology of celebration. The God of Israel called his people to joy. God's people were to eat and drink and rejoice in his presence (when they brought tithes to the LORD). Even told to buy "fermented" or "strong drink." What?! Nehemiah told the people not to weep and mourn, but to eat and drink, "for the joy of the LORD is our strength". Jesus told stories of a joyful, party-throwing shepherd who found his lost sheep, and a celebrating woman who found her lost coin, and a village chief who as a father calls for a city-wide feast when his lost son came home. And there was "music and dancing" (Luke 15)!

We sorely need a theology of joy and celebration, especially because some in west Michigan define Christian holiness by what Christians can't do. Horse face holy ones presuming to speak for God wring every drop of joy out of anything and everything. For many, there is a religious knee-jerk response of guilt to every experience of joy. "There will be no joy without guilt in this this church!" Years ago I got a call from a local Bible school telling me that their students could no longer attend our church because we held a square dance during the Fall season. Drabness and dullness are next to holiness. I don't know where these ideas crept into the faith, but they certainly did not come from the Bible or from Jesus.

I think Christian kill-joys perpetuate the ancient heresy of gnosticism. Gnosticism promoted the idea that the flesh is bad and the spirit is good. So anything that is bodily or "fleshly" enjoyable---eating good food and drinking good wine and celebrating good sex---has to be frowned upon; it's "carnal." Only prayer and Bible reading and being quiet are holy, and certainly abstaining from sex except to procreate is very holy . Yet, it was heretics who forbade those things according to the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 4:1-4.

Once again we discover Qoheleth to be very astute, giving us rock-solid wisdom. "The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one Shepherd" (12:11). Our party-loving, joy-bringing Shepherd.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Ecclesiastes' Reality Check

There used to be an indelicate bumper sticker that read "Sh*t Happens." (I'm not trying to be provocative with this. Just reporting what I've seen.)

I think that Qoheleth, the wisdom writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes says it more delicately and robustly, " 'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher. 'Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.' "

A group of friends and I recently looked up every reference to "meaningless" in Ecclesiastes. What an apparent negative drumbeat about life---knowledge is meaningless, as is pleasure, success, money, fame, royalty, building an inheritance, work, youth and vigor, death and more!

Yet, the pertinent question is this: Is Qoheleth being negative with his repetitive "meaningless" refrain?

Qoheleth is writing in the tradition of Jewish wisdom. These are some "givens" in his outlook:

1. God is the creator of humanity and of all things (7:27; 11:5; 12:1; 12:7 = Gen 2:7).

2. Human beings experienced a "Fall"--a cracking of the Eikon according to Scot McKnight (7:27; 9:3; rebellion makes humans like "beasts" 3:18).

3. All existence was subjected to meaninglessness as the Book of Ecclesiastes reports. The Hebrew word is hebel (pronounced hev-el) and it means "breath, vapor, insubstantiality, useless." Paul picks up on this reality and writes that God will redeem it (Romans 8:20-21 where the term "frustration" is from the Greek word for hebel).

4. Life does not unfold in a tidy "cause-effect" manner. This truth is what strains the mind and sears the heart of the wisdom writer. Ponder this: "There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous people who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked people who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless." Why is this so troubling? Recall Deuteronomy 28--the blessings and the cursings formula? That's why!

Qoheleth is not being negative--a party pooper, a nay-sayer. He's being realistic. We live life in a world created by God and that world has suffered a severe blow because of sin. Qoheleth wants us to wake up and smell the coffee, to hear the screams of the oppressed, to ponder the debauchery of the rich, to smell the nauseating odors of death, to grapple with unexplainable injustice, to monitor our own hearts and honestly admit the evil that is there.

We humans know that things are "not the way they ought to be." We all long for something more, something deeper, more fulfilling. We commiserate, "There's just got to be more to life than this." Even the restless longing is an evidence that we've been touched by God. "[God] has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end" (3:12). We want to know what will happen next and we can't know it (8:7). Here is the smartest thing in the book about meaninglessness: "No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if a wise person claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it."

Sometimes there is more behind a bumper sticker than meets the eye.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Emerging Church Conversation...Right Here in River City!

OCTOBER 18, 2007
7:00 PM
(at the E Paris Store)

This forum will have four topics with four presenters moderated by Sarah Cunningham, author of Dear Church, Letters from a Disillusioned Generation

Topic: What is the Emerging Church?
Steve Argue is founder of Intersect Community, a ministry for training and coaching emerging leaders globally. He is the Executive Director of the Contextual Learning Center of Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, where he teaches. He is a doctoral student at Michigan State University, having completed his MDiv at Trinity International University.

Topic: A Friendly Critique of the Emerging Church
Michael Wittmer
serves as Associate Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary where directs the Center for Christian Worldview. Michael holds a Ph.D. from Calvin Theological Seminary and is author of Heaven is a Place on Earth.
Topic: The Emerging Church and Urban Communities
Andre Daley is Founder and Lead Pastor of Mosaic Life, an urban, multi-ethnic faith community in Grand Rapids, MI. Andre earned his B.A. from City College of New York in Psychology and a Master of Divinity from Princeton Seminary.

Topic: The Emerging Conversation is Good for the Church.
Presenter: Me. Hopefully I'll have a surprise for those who attend.

Louis McBride, a former student of mine at Moody Bible Institute and now serving at Baker Book House, is working diligently to make this a meaningful learning experience for all who attend. Carve out some time and join us for a stimulating evening of conversation.

Baker Book House recently released a constructive book to advance the emerging conversation. The author is Tim Keel and the book is Intuitive Leadership.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Jesus and The 'Cutting Edge'

Jesus said, "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off" (Mark 9:43).

What if your hand is causing you to die? Cut it off!

On April 26, 2003 Aron Ralston, a young man and expert Aspen climber, got trapped as he was hiking in the Canyonlands National Park in Utah. An 800-pound boulder shifted onto his arm as he climbed through a narrow ravine. Five days later, after running out of water and wondering if rescuers would ever find him, Aron cut off his arm with a pocket knife. He repelled down the mountain and hiked 5 miles before he was found by a Dutch vacationing family.

Terry Mercer, a helicopter pilot with the Utah Highway Patrol, said after seeing Aron, "I've never seen anybody that had this much desire and this much tenacity to stay with it and stay alive."

Radical decision. Painful action. Continuing life. These are part of Aron Ralston's story. Jesus teaches us that these issues must be part of our story as well. Sin can be the 800-pound boulder pinning us down and causing life to seep away. "Cut off your hand!" Jesus counsels. Just as we do not condemn Aron Ralston for "mutilating" his body, as a matter fact we admire him, so we do not accept the perjorative claim that Jesus is fanatically calling his followers to self-mutilation. Yes, the terms are strong and, yes, Jesus uses hyperbole, but only to emphasize the seriousness of life in the kingdom of God (versus the alternative).

Sin will kill us. And in this part of Mark's Gospel, the sin Jesus has in mind is that of forsaking him and his gospel way. The sin is obedience to the impulse to lay the cross down and find an easier way to be a Christian. Jesus is strongly warning us to not let anything dilute our loyalty to him and divert us from living the Jesus Way, the way of the cross. It is better to be crippled and be alive than to be whole and be dead. In hell dead.

Radical decision. Painful act. Continuing life. I would want the helicopter pilot, Terry Mercer, to say of my loyalty to Jesus and the gospel of the kingdom, "I've never seen anybody that had this much desire and this much tenacity to stay with it and stay alive." Wouldn't you want that said of your life of following Jesus?

In the USAmerican church we've created powder-puff Christianity and Lazy-Boy discipleship and Sleep-Comfort worship. We're into Super-size me...Me! The last thing we will ever imagine is taking a pocket knife to our soul and experiencing the pain that leads to life. "Oh no, let's not get too fanatical about this Jesus stuff. 'Radical' is not in my vocabulary." It's alright to imagine Jesus bleeding to death on the cross (or to see it portrayed in The Passion of the Christ), but not one drop of our blood, not one bead of our sweat, not one tear from our eyes in the cosmic challenge of following Jesus.

God, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.


Monday, October 08, 2007

Move over, Dirk Pitt. Sylvie's Here!

Sylvie is ready to dive!

Our daughter, Leah, and her family are vacationing in Florida. Her husband, Andy, and the kids, Jackson, Trevor and Sylvia are having fun on the beach. Andy's brother, Mike, and his family are there, too, sharing a rented house on the ocean front.


Saturday, October 06, 2007

"Raise Your Glass": McKnight Awarded at CU

John and Julie Frye and Scot and Kris McKnight

Julie and I had a delightful evening at the Van Andel Museum in Grand Rapids, MI where Cornerstone University held their Alumni Banquet and Awards Ceremony. Dr. Scot McKnight was honored as the 2007 Alumnus of the Year. Scot still holds the most points in a game for the University's basketball team. Scot's philosophy professor, Ron Mayer, had a copy of the 1976 year book for Cornerstone University (formerly aka Grand Rapids Baptist College). In the year book Julie and I saw a much younger Scot (with hair) jumping in the air for what would have been a 3 point shot if they had existed then. We also saw a picture of a young Gary Raymond who coached Scot in basketball.

From his much hit-upon blog "Jesus Creed" we learn that "Scot McKnight is a widely-recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. He is the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University (Chicago, Illinois). A popular and witty speaker, Dr. McKnight has given interviews on radios across the nation, has appeared on television, and is regularly asked to speak in local churches and educational events. Dr. McKnight obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Nottingham (1986)."

To me Scot embodies "a new kind of scholar." I think that it is fantastic that Scot stays engaged with the local church; he's smart, yet down to earth, with a joyful sense of humor. He's not afraid to question, explore and formulate new ideas in theological and biblical studies. He's a friend and, at times, corrective voice to "the emerging conversation." He is a machine when it comes to writing, with over 20 books already published and he's working on several more. He's a devoted husband, dad, and Cubs fan. His wife, Kris, is a warm, personable lady with a career as a psychologist. Scot and Kris are high school sweethearts and at one time were an enthusiastic couple for the Freeport (MI) Pretzels!

Scot does, however, have one sad Eikonic flaw: he doesn't like to read fiction. I keep telling him that he can't be a full, well-rounded scholar without reading good fiction (and annually reading Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea and Dickens' Christmas Carol doesn't count). He continues to resist, saying that fiction is a waste of time. C'mon, Scot.

So, Scot received a beautiful hand-carved, wooden trophy of a globe with eagles at the four corners representing Cornerstone's mission to cover the planet with the good news of Jesus Christ. Scot is certainly helping Cornerstone achieve that mission.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Ecclesiastes and Establishment Evangelicalism

One of the most misunderstood and often maligned books of the Old Testament is the wisdom book of Ecclesiastes. Many readers either dislike it or love it.

Those who resist it usually react to the alleged dismal refrain "Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!" Who needs a Bible book to tell us something like that? Just watch old Seinfeld TV episodes or listen to USAmerican political rhetoric. Why waste revelatory energy on a downer?

Those who like it are drawn to the "eat, drink your wine, enjoy your wife" refrain. We know "stuff happens," so make the most of the good times.

Did the author Qoheleth have a purpose in writing and/or compiling this fascinating book? I think so.

Not only was the Teacher wise, but also he imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.
The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd. --
Ecclesiastes 12:9-11

A few observations: 1) the Teacher (Qoheleth) is wise. He is not a cynic nor a skeptic. He is a skilled thinker in his biblical tradition. 2) Qoheleth reflected deeply and explored widely and wrote precisely. Ecclesiastes is not spontaneous graffiti. 3) Qoheleth was a word-smith and wrote dependable wisdom.

Using two metaphors (word pictures) in 12:11, Qoheleth (the Teacher) offers his two-fold purpose in writing. The first aspect of his (her?) purpose is to stimulate action. Wise words are like "goads." A goad was a long, pointed stick used by shepherds to provoke movement in animals. Wisdom is a pointy, if not sometime painful stimulant that expects a prompt reaction. "Move!" We could use the cliche' that one of wisdom's aims is "to afflict the comfortable." The second metaphor--"firmly embedded nails"--gives us the second aspect of wisdom's purpose: to create stability. The nails are tent-pegs used to secure the tents so that the desert winds do not blow them down. When the winds are strong, we want the nails to be firmly embedded and to hold fast.

Do you see the creative tension in these wisdom energies? To stimulate and to stabilize. To provoke movement and to prevent movement. Overall, these twin aspects of wisdom's purpose provoke us TO THINK!

I am sick of establishment evangelicalism's strident expectation that we believers simply accept evangelicalism's prevailing views. Don't think! Don't question! Don't dare get into a conversation about establishment doctrines and dare to emend, expand or perhaps, God forbid!, jettison some of them.

We need wise goads these days to get a lot of lazy, just-tell-me-what-to-believe-Christians off their mental butts and to start thinking, questioning, searching the Scriptures with fresh eyes and ears and to begin creating a robust gospel and theology big enough for the devastating global mess our planet is in.

You have heard it said unto you: "If it ain't broke don't fix it." But I say unto you, "The USAmerican evangelical gospel is broke, broke to pieces." The evidence: the sad cultural bondage of the church.

If you're interested in pursuing a robust gospel, I invite you to read and discuss with friends Scot McKnight's book Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Cheeseburger (and more) in Paradise

Some churches give you a little gold star for attendance. In Southwest Florida, they give you a huge starfish to wear.

Just kidding.

Julie and I spent last week Tuesday to Tuesday with some good friends from church on Estero Island (Ft Myers Beach). They graciously invited us to join them in their condo and to experience the Gulf coast joys of boating, swimming, sea-dooing and golfing. The weather was exceptionally perfect. It never hampered our excursions into daily fun. Did I mention eating?

Last Sunday we attended "Chapel by the Sea," a Presbyterian church. This unique church is decorated in the motif of a ship---the pulpit looks like the bow of a ship, the cross is a mast, the baptismal font looks like a giant sea shell and the windows are stained-glass portals. The Rev. David Uhl spoke on the symptons, causes and cures of "burn out."

Tanned, refreshed and carrying home a boatload of sea shells, we're back.