Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ever Changing, Never Changing

Just returned from speaking at Catalyst in Atlanta. It was a great experience and a wonderful crowd. They were surprisingly responsive to a very challenging message. At the request of the organizers I spoke about how "the medium is the message," (surprise) and I challenged the prevailing notion that "the methods change but the message stays the same."

The point of the talk was not to stop the innovation of methods. Instead it was to advocate for the renewal of both our methods and our message.

When Jesus told us that new wine must be poured into new wineskins, we miss the fact that both the wine and the wineskins are new, both the container and the content, both the medium and the message are new.

The methods and the message change. This is not an opinion or a theological assumption, this is simply Biblical fact. The scriptures clearly teach a message that grows, expands, refocuses, and evolves.

The message of judgement to the nation of Israel is not the same as the message of comfort to the exiled Jews in Babylon. They are not inconsistent, but they are not the same. The message of exclusive blessing to an ethnic group with the promise of land is not the same message as the universal blessing of heaven for those who believe. Not inconsistent, but definitely different.

In one sense the Gospel changes; however, the Gospel also remains unchanged. In other words:

The ever-changing message never changes.

The things that don't change? The fact that Love wins, Forgiveness works, Grace is free, and Peace is possible. These things have never changed and will never change. This is in the DNA of the Gospel.

So perhaps Jesus was right when he said the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that will grow into a grand tree. A tree always changes yet stays the same. A Mustard tree will never become an orange tree, in that sense it never changes. But a Mustard tree will grow new limbs, more leaves, and provide more shade, in that sense it always changes.

With each new context the gospel must grow to address challenges and issues that never existed before. And with the growth of each new leaf reaching higher and wider, the roots grow deeper.

There are diamonds that reside deep in the rock of scripture that have yet to be discovered. As the Gospel grows they will be uncovered.

This is cause for hope not fear.

Maybe we should become gardeners of the gospel rather than guards.


J. Ben said...


Great thoughts. I love the end. That is something entirely new I get to think about now. thanks. Gardeners of teh Gospel instead of guardians. Love it.

I saw you at poets, prophets and preachers and you opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking. thanks for all you do. I really enjoy your work and the podcast. Shalom.

Ben said...

My wife (who went to Catalyst) told me about your talk. I completely agree. I took a similar line when discussing translation of the Scriptures in a short paper I wrote last year. The conclusion being: "It is possible that the reason Christian communities throughout history, by and large, have risen and fallen in proportion to their use of vernacular Scripture is due to vernacularization being an expression of the nature of God Himself."

Oak Leaf Church said...

i think there is an appropriate guarding of the gospel. contending for the faith and staying true to the message of the gospel. didn't paul warn us to examine teachings in light of the original gospel that he preached?

Unknown said...

Hey Shane,

You are a powerful prophetic voice, thank God you're not out in the wilderness, but here where we can listen and divulge.

I'm reading your post right in the midst of study/tension with these passages of scripture (Mark 2, Luke 5). I wonder if we're Gardener's of new wine or old/original wine?

If the Gospel is the Good News of restoration/reconciliation then is it a Way or path home, back to God's original plan, back to Eden?

Brad Young writes, "The purpose of Jesus was to revitalize the people spiritually by a revival through the old wine...but the old wine needs new wineskins. Men and women must be renewed in order to hold the old wine...fresh skins for old wine"

In every culture, in every age, fresh skin is required, but no one drinks new wine - we all know the older the better!

So I sincerely wonder, I am honestly torn, are we new wineskins who garden for new wine, or are we digging in order to uncover the original, old, Eden of glory?

In recent months I've said Jesus was "Mr. UnOriginal", he never said anything news he simply illuminated what had been forgotten.

much love my brother from another mother!

Sam said...

Shane - what is the gospel?

Jonathan said...

I must say, when I heard this talk at Catalyst, i was taken back...a new gospel I thought, this guy is a heretic...the fascinating thing was that two guys that I was with that i respect highly were saying, I totally get it. So as I have thought about this more, i think i am understanding...each and every setting demands that we understand the societal issues, defaults, and inner cries of human hearts in that setting, and also demands that we share the unchanging message in a way that relates to our surroundings. And the gospel grows in that it relates and brings hope to each of those issues specifically...and that is why there are still nuggets in scripture that have not been tapped yet, because those scriptures have not been needed in the ways they will...Shane, is this what you were saying?

Jacob said...

Jonathan, I have the exact same question.

I heard your talk at Catalyst Shane, and I don't feel like you had enough time to really develop your thoughts. You did great at breaking our presupposition that "the message never changes but the methods have to." It's certainly dangerous to think the medium has no impact on the message. But you didn't land the plane. Or, if you did, I was left at 30,000 feet and you landed without me. That's why I felt like you didn't have enough time.

I think part of the problem is that everyone in that room at Catalyst has had the phrase "the message never changes but the methods do" drilled into their heads. It's what people at Catalyst hang their hats on. It's the justification for every trendy thing they do in their churches. And when they hear the word "message," it means the literal life-saving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that we are sinners ruined and without any hope or ability to come to God on our own, and that Jesus Christ, though He is God, came to earth and died on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God.

So when you said, "the message HAS to change," we were all taken aback. We needed you to land the plane a lot slower and smoother than you did. After all, the phrase you attempted to debunk is the godfather phrase of catalyst leaders.

So, I would love to hear a bit of clarification on the talk. I want to land with the plane, but right now I'm falling from 30,000 ft, about to spill my guts on the runway.

Gutzy said...

Nuff Said....

Gutzy said...

Woops, hers' the link. The technology continues to blaze in innovation... scary to think what's next.

Unknown said...

just an additional thought on 'message & medium' i just encountered in a study of Mark 3:1-6...

“The deeper meaning of holy institutions such as the Sabbath, which honour God, can be lost sight of in the very act of careful observance of such institutions. When faced with unexpected and serious challenges to their concept of God and traditional practices, even deeply committed religious people can end up doing evil. Jesus who voices and embodies a new image of God and an alternative religious practice must be gotten out of the way. Mark's message for the church of his age contains paradigmatic value for the church of any age that must face tensions arising from rapidly changing understandings of God and of those institutions and practices vested with divine authority”
~ Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Mark

Jonathan said...

Gutzy...that's crazy does that thing changed the message?

Adam, i agree if you are saying that religious observance can get in the way of seeing and relating to God and seeing God's heart in instituting the Sabbath, but those things are not wrong when looking through the proper lens...through Jesus and His life...He is the gospel!

John said...
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John said...
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John said...

Hi Shane,

I was at Calvary Church for years when Rob was a 3rd or 4th service pastor there and he would pack the place out. I then was at Mars for a while when it started back in Wyoming and then later in Grandville, off and on. I use to love Rob's teaching as it was based solely on scripture back then. I was even in leadership development with Rob's dad as one of the teachers at Calvary if that dates me any. :-)

I guess I stepped away to fellowship with another body of believers too long, so listening and hearing what you are both "preaching" now is a shock to the system. It is sad, because clearly you have both been gifted with such speaking and entertaining talent.

Shane, you really should look where heart is first mentioned in the new testament in Matthew 15:19 and Mark 7:20 and see if your teachings of the heart being the key to knowing God are accurate. Scripture says the opposite.

The gospel is simply this...believing in the virgin birth of God's one and only son, Jesus Christ, and His death and resurrection in the flesh as the ONLY way to salvation, and following his commandments and teachings. Satan seeks to wage war with real believers (Rev 12:17) and it appears you are trying to help him by disarming those that would normally have followed Christ alone and that would otherwise have dug into scripture daily.

Why is Jesus the only way? Because Jesus is the ONLY means to forgiveness of our sins as we are to remind ourselves via communion...not because we close our eyes and focus on our breathing and watch our minds dance in a cage like a monkey and listen to our heart (as you taught at the Prophets, Priests and Kings 2nd talk)

Once you actually know that everyone that does not go to heaven unless they understand the real and only gospel, you will be able to effectively preach truth. Until then, what you are "preaching" is not gospel at all.

I don't know if you are aware of this or not, but you have been labeled the leaders of the Emergent Church Movement. That is not a good thing by the way.

I would cherish the opportunity to meet with you anytime if you care to discuss this personally or with a group. I only live a few miles from Mars Hill and work within a few blocks.

As I never expect to actually hear from you, just know I'm praying for you both as well as your congregation as I drive past the building every day. If you do want to reach me, just email me and we can get together anytime, anywhere.

In His Service,

Anonymous said...


短裙 said...


...dan said...

i read this article [link] and wanted to now what you think.

The article says: "What the Internet does is shift the emphasis of our intelligence, away from what might be called a meditative or contemplative intelligence and more toward what might be called a utilitarian intelligence..."

...Is this a good thing, or a bad thing?

I just started reading your Flickering Pixels, and i love it so far.

Would be awesome if you would comment on this article.

Anonymous said...


nathanbarrett said...


Saw you at PPP as well and really liked the comment about back lit or forward lit screens.

I haven't really read or heard anyone come out and say what you wrote on this post. Quite brave. I agree with you and in so doing would alienate myself from people who view the Gospel as John does, from the long comment by John.

It seems that the Gospel is evolving but not at its base structure but more in an illuminative trajectory. Structuralist theories of language posit that we can only communicate based upon the awareness of contexts that form the nuances of a language and give meaning to its words at a specific juncture in history. The Gospel gems to be discovered can only do so when that Gospel encounters cultures that have never encountered the Gospel. The manner in which the Gospel is illuminated and expanded is through cultural distinctives that have not yet encountered the Gospel and yet are cultures cultivated out of a good Creation not-yet-encountered.

There are many examples that could be spoken of here from the perspective of Bible translators and how they derive meaning from a culture's structures of meaning. How is a word used from a context that has no Biblical influence to convey Biblical ideas? Anyways - it seems that there are many directions that this can go that are profound and redemptive. I think that redemptive analogies are huge for this illuminative trajectory.

Is this what you are positing through your talk. If so, that's exciting!

I too don't like changing the methods but not the message. It just not logical and can't survive.

Congratulations on your move to GR. Maybe we'll get you to Chicago one of these days - only 3 hours away.


John said...

Evolving gospel???...Let's see what the scriptures say regarding this concept...

"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." (Gal 1:8-9)

Oh, here is another one that is pretty fitting...

"But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves." (2 Peter 2)

So with that warning for us...What would you think if you heard someone claiming to be a Christian Pastor teach the following:

"We need religious structures, external things we can touch and see and traditions and lineages that teach us so that we can better catch the wind… Some sails are better built sails...some religions are built different than other religions...Just because we claim Jesus as the center of our religion does not make us one and the same with the wind of God. It just means we have another sail...I just happen to think it is a better sail than other sails...but it ain't the wind...This is what John is doing...That’s what John’ll be pointing us to...the whole thing of the logos becoming flesh...

God animates everything that is in the world. And that’s why it says, “It was the life and light of all people.” It didn’t say the light and life of the people who believe in Jesus. This logos affects everybody including Osama bin Laden, as long as he’s got breath, in him, is a spark of the divine."

The entire misleading can be found at:

The quoted portion is taken from near the last quarter.

In His Service,

nadine.w said...

I was at Catalyst and really enjoyed your talk. Thanks for explaining further, it's helped me understand how to apply it further.