Friday, March 17, 2006

Learning to Dance


When I think of the Church adapting to postmodern culture, I first think of Christian pluralism, or the possibility of interdenominational relations. I believe that Christians can look past their differences of practice and doctrinal differences, and engage with one another in genuine relationship, not trying to see eye-to-eye, but simply embracing each other “as is.” My hope of course has been that the new “waves” within the Church would begin moving the Church in this direction.

One thing that bothers me about the latest discussions among what we’ll have to call “emergent” thinkers, is the high emphasis they are giving to theological and doctrinal reinterpretation. I fear that some of the conclusions being drawn are just the beginnings of creating new “denominations.” An example of this is the latest conversations concerning the nature and existence of hell. It is great to discuss these topics, to question our general assumptions and traditions, yet this is a job for the Church at large, and not necessarily something we want associated with a new movement that has so much potential for uniting the Church and helping it move forward through this cultural transition. Instead of bringing unity and challenge, it may ignite resistance and criticism.

I also understand though that some of our doctrinal views may be unnecessarily hindering the advancement of the gospel. I too disagree with the traditional understanding of hell, and see it as a hindrance to understanding the true nature of God. No doubt this makes it more difficult to bring the gospel (good news) to those who would readily accept the message otherwise. So I see a need to revisit and even reinterpret some of the traditional positions and teachings, yet is Emergent much to young and undefined to take on this task? Too many people’s personal views are becoming associated with a movement that is meant to encourage Christian pluralism, thereby defining the movement doctrinally, which is a complete contradiction to the whole idea of C-pluralism. Perhaps stepping on each other’s toes is just an inevitable part of learning to dance with one another. I hope we become more graceful.

To download an interview with McClaren that serves as an example of this blog topic click this link: Leif Hansen and Brian McClaren: Bleeding Purple Podcast

Also, there will be a discussion group held on March 21st revisiting the doctrine of hell and some of the more recent interpretations and criticisms.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Secularizing Christian Culture



American Christianity has become a subculture. As Christians we have the temptation to live within our own “Christian” spheres, or “bubbles.” We have our churches, Christian schools, work places, social groups, Christian music, radio stations, television, websites, magazines, book stores, t-shirts, and even theme parks. It is easy to find ourselves living in a Christian bubble, completely cut off from secular culture.

Our evangelism has been highly reliant on an “attractional” model. That is, we create special services or events, such as music specials, dramas, or even rent out movie theatres for “pre-screening” select movies. Or else we attempt to offer every possible class and service we can to attract people to our churches. Yet current statistics show that this model has lost both its appeal and effect for those outside the Church.

The newer, “incarnational” model is based on the idea that we need to burst out of our Christian bubbles, and step foot back on planet earth, participating in the world as it rotates. One small way I attempt to do this is by recollecting all of the secular music I tossed out during my more “spiritual” days. Another way to do it is to support Christian attempts at moving Christian art into the secular realm, such as our music. Recently I picked up a Gregorian Chant album simply for its aesthetic value, and was more than pleased to hear them chanting Pink Floyd’s “Wish you Were Here” and Zepplin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” Score for the Monks.

Too bad for Creed. Is anyone else sorely disappointed about Scott Stapp? I really had high hopes that he was a follower. It seems that it was common thought among secular radio stations as well. His last eight scandals have everyone realizing that we assumed a bit too much. There is an interview with him about the break up of the band and the label they received as a “Christian” rock band on mtv.com.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Counter Reformation




Luther saw that the church was headed in the wrong direction and acted to intervene. His intention was not to create a new splinter of the Church, but to restore or reform the Church that already existed. Yet Luther’s strong stance on “Sola Scriptura” was at odds with the Church’s strong stance on “Tradition”. For Luther, the Word of God ought always hold supremacy over Church Tradition, and many would say, “rightfully so”.
The problem with Luther’s understanding of the supremacy of the Word is that it did not account for variant interpretations of the Word. Indeed, the Word is supreme and infallible, yet it must be interpreted by fallible beings. It is here that the crisis of Luther’s reformation begins to rear its head.
When Luther met Zwingli, the two hoped to resolve their differences and unite their groups under one (protestant) banner. Yet Luther and Zwingli could not come to terms on the issue of the nature of the Lord’s presence within the Eucharist. At this, Luther arose in anger against the unyielding Zwingli, and said, “We are of a different spirit”, thereby insinuating that Zwingli’s theology was prompted not by the Holy Spirit, but by the Great Deceiver. From this came the beginning of the Great Splintering of the Church.
Most of us would agree that Luther was right in elevating the Scriptures to the highest place of authority. Yet he was wrong in believing there was any one person, in this case Luther himself, who could accurately and infallibly interpret the holy writings. Many presumed their interpretation was the proper understanding, and then elevated that understanding to the level of Divine Revelation. These various interpretations then rivaled one another, leading to the unnumbered Protestant denominations that exist today.
As the “Age of Enlightenment” is understood to be a bit less ‘enlightened’ than we originally thought, many are justly questioning denominational divisions. For a time, churches were willing to admit that other denominations were still ‘Christian’ and that their conflicting opinions were not necessarily ‘unbiblical’. This was a big step, though it fell far short of accepting these differences as equally valid interpretations. Today most churches are divided between those who still grip their denominational distinctives firmly and others who hold them lightly or not at all.
If the cause of Christ is to move forward (and it will) in postmodern culture, we must be willing to hold nonessential and debatable differences lightly. If we falsely present our unique interpretations as nothing less than the God intended Interpretation of Scripture, those who we are trying to reach will see through us and be put off by our arrogant attitude. Instead, our leaders ought to present the varying interpretations, respecting the intellect of the layperson, and allowing each one to consider for themselves where they land. The Essentials of the faith will be elevated, while the nonessentials will begin to play a peripheral role. Downplaying the role of the nonessential issues will give the church an opportunity to celebrate its’ diversity, while dwelling together in true community. No longer can we settle for mere toleration in this area, but must move toward genuine acceptance. Differences can then become one more opportunity to display our respect and love for one another.