Saturday, December 31, 2005
I’ve sometimes wondered whether the “emerging church” was turning into a return of the Social Gospel. There is such a high focus on ecology and sociology. Tony Campolo is right in saying that evangelicals have really turned away from the idea of advancing the kingdom of God on earth. He believes this has a lot to do with the loss of vision for the social gospel after two world wars devastated people’s hopes in the potential of humanity. No doubt, this is how I feel. Not because of the two world wars, or the wars to come after them, but simply the smaller battles of everyday life in a fallen world. Recently hearing that someone nearby went into the hospital to deliver three little babies and lost every one of them (two on her birthday). That another woman was recently diagnosed with a rare cancer, already in its third stage. These are just things I heard since yesterday, and we won’t even mention the local or national news.
No doubt then i am guilty of looking ahead to our eschatological future, banking it all on the return of Christ, who alone can redeem this world. Certainly acts of kindness, simply helping people to get by for today, are a big part of my theology and practice. Yet all hopes or intentions of working toward the advancement of the kingdom of God on earth, beyond individual conversion and spiritual growth, have not entered into my practice or thoughts (except that i don’t litter). Mostly because it seems so futile. It seems that every good thing done on earth will become corrupted and eventually pass away. So instead, i focus on the soul and the spirit.
Spiritual growth is a sure buzz word today. No doubt we focus on personal and individual spiritual development. Yet we do not believe that we will complete this work or process within our life times. Still, we see it as vital. We work toward what one-day Christ will make complete. Never do we think we are wasting our time.
After reading Campolo in “Adventures in Missing the Point” i am convicted that I have given up on the advancement of the kingdom of God on earth, as it pertains to the earth and society. The whole world will not be destroyed. Instead, God will purge the earth of all that is worthless. Wouldn’t it be horrible if there was nothing left after the purging? Certainly advancing the kingdom of God on earth, by creating a better society and tending to the earth and her recourses, is just as much a part of God’s plan of salvation as the conversion and transformation of people, since Christ came to redeem the whole creation. Surely we will not complete the work without the return of Christ, but it does not mean that we shouldn’t strive toward completion. We certainly wouldn’t give up on becoming more Christ-like in our personal lives simply because we won’t ever achieve perfection in this life. i believe that becoming more Christ-like includes reclaiming some of the vision of the social gospel which we left behind.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
In “A Generous Orthodoxy”, McClaren questions what Jesus’ reaction would be to the Church today, if he happened upon it. Would he disassociate himself from the Church? Would he be embarrassed? Would he rebuke it? I passed over this with a bit of thought, but not too much. Of course he would find some problems with the Church today, but hasn’t it always had problems? After all, isn’t he really present and guiding the Church even now. Didn’t he have something to do with the Reformation and the terrible splintering of the Church into churches, and thousands of mini popes? Hasn’t the Church always shown forth its fallen nature, and after all, it is a “hospital for the spiritually sick”. So I thought to myself, “Jesus wouldn’t be very surprised, or upset at all.” Of course the Church is less than perfect and it could do a better job, but why the dramatic questioning? Then I happened up Mark 11, dwelling on the first parts of the chapter.
In the account of Mark 11, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, takes a walk around the temple, and seems to leave abruptly. Of course it was already getting late and the sun was setting. He probably intended to stay at a friend’s house in Bethany, and so he headed off. Why the stop in Jerusalem though, knowing he’d hardly get to look around before he had to take off again? Why all the bells and whistles going into Jerusalem, only to have a disappointing arrival really. Imagine it. He rides atop a donkey, fulfilling a major messianic prophecy, coming into the holy city amidst a crowd of people going before and following after him, shouting “Hosanna”. Then the excitement suddenly crashes. No big welcome really. Gets to Jerusalem and the temple, strolls around a minute, and says, “Oh well, looks like it’s getting late. Better head off to George’s house so I can get some sleep.”
Mark doesn’t give us a hint that Jesus is upset about what he sees. Instead he merely notes that Jesus had a look around the temple and headed out. Next day, he wakes up, stretches out, apparently doesn’t even take time to have breakfast, and heads out of Bethany. Mark doesn’t tell you where he’s going. Instead he abruptly and rather awkwardly introduces the story of the fig tree. Jesus, looking from a distance, sees a fig tree full of leaves. It’s not the season for figs, but since the tree looks like it’s in bloom, Jesus suspects he might find some figs on it. Yet there are no figs, and Jesus curses it, ensuring that it will never produce edible figs again. And we all stop to say, “What the heck.” Mark notes that “his disciples were listening to him”.
Now we find out where Jesus was heading. Mark says they came into Jerusalem, and Jesus entered the temple. This is sounding familiar. Sounds a lot like the night before. The story goes on to speak of the cleansing of the temple.
Surely it is no mistake or whim that Mark sandwiches the story of the cursing of the fig between the two entrees into Jerusalem and the temple. What Jesus had come into Jerusalem expecting to find, was not found. There was not fruit in Jerusalem or the temple, for if there were then people would have celebrated his arrival upon a donkey. And in another gospel they do, but not in this one. Mark leaves out any mention of it. Instead, the night into Jerusalem the night before was brief and uneventful, besides the crowd who had come with him. They got to Jerusalem and the party died out rather quickly. You know, it was getting late and there were other places to be, other things to do. Yet Jesus looked around. He took note, and would be returning in the morning to curse what was going on in the temple. Yet not only in the temple. Surely it was much bigger than that. Yes, he was cursing the whole temple legal system and the priests who were overseeing the spiritual life of the people of Israel, and even the people themselves, who’s following of YHWH had become worthless as that fig tree.
Yes, God is Lord over creation, and He is present everywhere, yet Jesus seems surprised by what is going on in the House of Israel. The center of Yawehism is utterly misfocused and in need of desperate reform, if that is even possible. And if it is possible, when Jesus appears in the flesh, and visits the temple, that he is utterly dismayed, then isn’t it possible that if he were to appear among the Church today, that he may be utterly dismayed?
So I guess I should have given more thought to what McClaren said. Perhaps Jesus would indeed be surprised and disgruntled, maybe even ashamed. Perhaps indeed he would disassociate himself with the Church, even denouncing and rebuking it. Yes we are his body, but wasn’t Israel also his chosen people? Certainly there is much similarity between the Church today and what was going on with the Temple and Israel’s system of worship in their time. Instead of tables of pigeon sellers and money changers, we have tables of doctrinal distinctives and religious practices. We sell these to the people who come to worship, convincing them that these things are “acceptable to God”. We peddle them and hope that people will choose our distinctives over that of the competitions. And so much of Church is now centered around these denominational distinctives and acceptable doctrines. If only we “believe” correctly, we will have the abundant life. After all, what does Christianity have to do with practice?
When our churches are established based upon doctrinal differences rather than Christ like practice, we have certainly misplaced our focus.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
The other day I noticed someone reading a book by Donald Miller. I think it was “Blue like Jazz.” I’ve never actually read the book, but I’ve heard he’s got some ideas along the lines as emergent. I still don’t really know what emergent is, but I went to a seminar on it not too long ago and liked a lot of what Brian McLaren had to say. The way I think lines up rather nicely with emergent thought. Reading another blog, or something like it, I saw a definition of emergent as “those who desired to do church in such a way as to minister to postmoderns.” I’m certainly all about that. I myself am a postmodern, having only accepted the faith when I was nineteen. I think like a postmodern and have never felt very comfortable in or enjoyed church.
Anyway, I asked this person what the book was about, and I don’t really recall what he said. I asked him if it had anything to do with emergent. To this he made some comments about emergent just being another fad, mostly for publishers to make money off of. I said, whatever it is or isn’t, it certainly raises the point that we live in a postmodern society and need to find new ways of reaching these generations. He made a good point in saying that the church ought always to be studying culture and finding new ways to minister effectively within it. I agree. The problem is, they aren’t.
So, i still don’t really know what emergent is, but I have a strong desire to enter into postmodern ministry, leaving the church behind in some ways, while creating it anew in others. The hard part is knowing what this looks like. It’s easy enough to say that we always need to study culture and adapt, but it’s another thing to actually do it. I don’t want to latch on to another trend, but there is a real issue and concern here, and not too many who are currently in the church even have the ability to think in such a way as to be able to begin to reach out to postmoderns. Black and White thinking is the only way they process, and conformity to their preconceived notions and particular denominational distinctions is the only way one can truly enter into and receive the full blessing of the church. As much as they would like to think differently, they can’t. They just don’t know how.
Well, I finally got the balls enough to leave the church plant. This certainly wasn’t an easy decision. The biggest thing that held me back is that I didn’t want to hurt the morale of the church. I want them to keep going, and to succeed. If this is their dream, I want them to make it a reality. It just wasn’t my dream.
Who knows where the path leads which we walk down. When we think we are going in a particular direction, suddenly there is a sharp turn in the path, and all the scenery changes. Now everything has changed, and I do not know where I am or where I am going. Yet I feel strangely at ease. I have stopped struggling, setting aside my ambition for a moment, that I might seek the will of God. How everything I have set my hand to has crumbled under its pressure.
It is a strange feeling. I have no obligations. My life is no longer so busy that I cannot keep up. I’m actually enjoying it.
During this time I will consider what it is that God is calling me to. It is strange that I do not even have a church. I am so free to head down any road I please. It will please me to head down the road which he desires for me. So long as I can overcome this self-doubt. He certainly believes in me more than I believe in myself.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
We’re planting a church in the area and I had all these hopes and dreams for a “new” type of church. A new feel, a new focus. One thing it wouldn’t be is “program” based. I’m so tired of programming. Sunday morning, Sunday night services, Wednesday night prayer service, small group, special events, now a Sunday morning class…What the heck! We haven’t even launched yet and all these things are being put in place.
Last Sunday morning as I took in the service with the other nineteen people I began realizing how much our service looks just like every other 1980’s service I’ve ever seen. The pastor in a three peace suite, lecture format seating, hymnals (hymnals, what the heck!), same procedures: announcements, singing, offering, sermon, benediction of some type. Even with twenty people you could have snuck in and snuck out without anyone saying hello.
So what do I do? Do I pack it up and move on to some other church that is already heading down the road I want to go? I’ve talked to the pastor and he says he wants to change the format, but I say, “so what’s stopping us?” Why the lecture seating when we are just twenty people and have this divine opportunity for some serious dialogue and interaction? Why the big sermon when we could have an open discussion? Why ever the three piece suite?
As I’ve just begun to read “Emerging Worship” I resonate with the feeling that there is a change coming to the church. I don’t know exactly what that change is or what it looks like, and I know it has to do with a lot more than format, but I can’t place it exactly. Yet there is this restlessness. A need for authentic Christianity that interacts with all of humanity. How do we do this?
Saturday, September 17, 2005
This is a comment on Steve Argues blog post (already.notyet) concerning a dialogue of the September 12th, 2005 Talking Points Emergent Church Seminar fearturing Brian McLaren, Mike Wittmer, and Ed Dobson.
Nobody likes change, and all change, even for the good, brings anxiety. Another part though is fear of the unknown. Emergent is just taking shape theologically. Not everything is clear, and not everyone agrees. Brian reminded us at the seminar that not all of his thoughts and theological positions represent the thoughts of emergent thinkers as a whole. Of course, when people are turning to his books to critique and understand emergent theology, they don't have much else to go on, and therefore attribute it to the whole. Suddenly personal opinions become a trademark of a movement, though they were never intended to be taken that way. i hope emergent thinkers don't come up with a distinctive theology on issues such as trinity, hell, election, etc. That would simply lead to another denomination. i think what we're looking for is an authentic way of being. Doctrine isn't the main issue here. Our doctrine is sound, and hopefully does not splinter us as it did the protestants. Something that ought to make emergent thinkers sick is the idea of tearing apart the church over gray issues. i say we ought to continue to live together with our own distinctive, and mostly orthodox theologies, and celebrate the diversity of our theological differences, focusing on praxis and authentic living. We may not agree on hell eternal or annihilation, openness theology or meticulous sovereignty, penal substitution or kingdom of God focus, or various other issues, but most of us recognize what it means to "live Christ" and know we need one another to even begin to be able to attempt to do this.