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“Graphic Novel pt. 8”

This is a post from one of my mentors, Mike Metzger, from when I lived in Kansas City. I think it does a great job of showing how we can speak past each other when not realizing that in the conversation we are coming at it grounded in two different points of view – let confusion commence! It also illustrates the importance of institutions as what corporately defines our reality. Our hyper-individualism is why there is such a push-back to institutions from our culture today – we want to define reality on our own terms – this is also partly why the church has veered off course today…but that’s in my next post. More on that below.

Be sure to read the comment/response section because there are good questions in there…and there is also one tragically ignorant statement. You can’t fix stupid.

Graphic Novel part 8

I’m going to try to have a new post (my own “quasi”-original thoughts) up before I leave for Colorado, but we’ll see if that happens. I can tell you that my next post is going to make me a lot of friends within the church community (sarcasm intended). It touches on one of the reasons why I have left the church for the time being. I am still a Christian and I fully believe in the church but have not found one in Little Rock which wholly (or as best as possible) encompasses what I feel the church should represent. I’ll explain more in the post.

Cheers!

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Posted by on July 16, 2012 in culture, theology

 

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Moses the Power Broker

I’ll be posting the next part of ‘Ship Christians Only Can Say? soon, but I read this short post from Mike Metzger and had to post it.

Why institutions matter. Everything that follows is from Mike Metzger. Enjoy!

—   —  —   —   —   —   —   —   —   —   —   —   —   —   —  —   —   —   —   —   —   —   —   —   —   —

It’s stunning that while Christians understand marriage as an institution established by God, most evangelical Christians are anti-institutional. They imagine institutions as cold, calculating corporations. This explains why evangelical Christianity is often so powerless to affect real change in the world. It has become, as Theodore Roszak, a Professor of History at California State University memorably put it, “socially irrelevant, even if privately engaging.” The proper exercise of power requires a proper understanding of institutions.

Power is translating authority into action. Having authority is having dominion. Jesus said all authority has been given to him. He has delegated authority to Christians (what is known as the Great Commission). We don’t have authority over all creation, but do have it over spheres of creation, such as a local business or school. Power is the capacity to translate wherever we have authority into action. Without this power, our faith is socially irrelevant, even if privately engaging. This power comes internally from the Spirit of God and instrumentally from institutions.

The best book on this – other than the Bible – is Robert A Caro’s masterful tome on Robert Moses, called “The Power Broker.” In studying the life and impact of Moses, Caro learned about the power of institutions. It began with an “epiphany about power” in the early ’60s. Moses got approval for a bridge from Rye, N.Y., across Long Island Sound to Oyster Bay – a bridge so atrociously big that it would disrupt tides. Caro never imagined Moses getting approval. He had been incredibly naïve. “I got in the car and drove home to Long Island, and I kept thinking to myself: ‘Everything you’ve been doing is baloney. You’ve been writing under the belief that power in a democracy comes from the ballot box. But here’s a guy who has never been elected to anything, who has enough power to turn the entire state around, and you don’t have the slightest idea how he got it.’ ”

Moses got his power by heading, or sitting on the boards of, most of the most influential institutions in the city. I’ll be telling you more about this in an upcoming column. But this does raise a few questions.

Questions to ask:

  • Does your church know which are the most influential institutions in your city?
  • Does your church have a plan to head, or sit on the boards of, most of the most influential institutions in your city?
 
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Posted by on April 22, 2012 in culture, theology

 

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‘Ship Christians Only Can Say? Part II (Yoda and Bill Clinton make an appearance)

What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. 

It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so. 

– Mark Twain

(disclaimer – in all of the scenarios and examples I create and illustrate in this post, please know they do not represent my own views or the views of anybody else in particular. They are merely examples that have been plucked out from scenarios I have seen from people throughout all of my history with the church.)

Ok, where were we? We were talking about the bifurcation (or fragmentation) that we do in our lives (i.e. sacred vs secular, private vs public, etc) to help us avoid the fear of the other or the unknown. I don’t want to focus on the fear of the unknown too much; it definitely fuels the bifurcation, but it’s not the sole reason behind why we bifurcate. But I do think the fear of the unknown is still worth exploring a little bit.

Continuing on.

Fear of the unknown 

Please hear me out on this next illustration. When some of you read the name of who proffered this analogy, which was Rob Bell, you will turn your brain off because sadly many people have ignorantly thrown the baby out with the bathwater (post coming on that topic soon) in valuable take-aways because of his most recent book, “Love Wins”. But I think this is an excellent illustration of why the fear of the unknown is so powerful. Rob Bell explains it like this: imagine all your beliefs are individual bricks in a wall and this wall is your faith – the trinity is a brick, the virgin birth is a brick, abortion is a brick, alcohol is evil, Jesus was a republican is a brick, homosexuality is a sin is a brick, strict creationism is a brick, the earth was created in 6 literal 24 hour days is a brick, the Bible being read literally is a brick, Jonah being swallowed by a fish is a brick, Jesus’s miracles are all bricks, the rapture is a brick, etc, etc.

Imagine that below is that brick wall I was talking about. The bricks are a rusty red and they are all stacked on top of each other.

the trinity the virgin birth abortion
jesus was a republican homosexuality is a sin young earth
the world and culture is evil alcohol is evil literal translation of the bible
the rapture hell is real & eternal torment jesus is the only way
the bible is inerrant god will destroy the earth evolution is wrong
God is a man original sin the resurrection
us vs them obama is the antichrist don’t question the church

You take all of these bricks, stack them on top of each other and build a strong, sturdy wall. But each of these bricks are interdependent of one another. What happens if you start to discuss one of your core truths which in effect is wiggling a brick? Or what if one of your truths is disproven somehow and you have to completely remove a brick? The structural integrity of the wall will be compromised and it is very possible it will crumble. If you build and construct your faith this way your faith might start to crumble. What’s on the other side of a deconstructed belief-system? The unknown. Can I trust God? Can I even still believe in God? Can I survive without a religion?

What’s next?

 
I am not God and I can not create him in my image

Hope is next. If we acknowledge we are not God.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55: 8, 9

It will mean that my understanding of the truth must be constantly open to revision and correction, but – and this is the crucial point – only and always within the irreversible commitment to Jesus Christ. – Lesslie Newbigin

Hold to Christ, and for the rest be totally uncommitted. – Herbert Butterfield 

Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord! – Lamentations 3: 40

We have to be careful about what we do with our assumptions about God that we are constructing as core immovable truths. So the fear in this instance is the effect that if one truth is disproven your faith will crumble and fall apart, and you don’t know what will happen if your belief-system falls apart or what needs to be done to rebuild it. Maybe we put too much faith in our beliefs and derivations about God, and not enough faith in allowing God to be bigger than what we think we know.

If you know what God knows, or have God all figured out your God is not big enough.

Sacred vs Secular and Filling the Void

So, how does all of this tie back into my original problem with what the pastor said? The problem is that he is teaching from the pulpit that it is ok to view things as sacred and secular which is what propagates the us vs them mentality and puts Christians at odds against the culture. If two issues, which seem in conflict, actually meet we won’t know how we’ll deal with it or if we’ll be able to process it. We don’t know what’s on the other side of our rationally-based faith. We have this basic need where things have to make sense to us. So in order to do this we compartmentalize the conflicting things – we keep them in their place. We conjure up belief (read: coping) mechanisms to make it seem to ourself that our made-up belief is in fact believable and copacetic.

It’s easy to convince us to believe because we want certainty.

We have a deep-seated longing to confirm our desire

for an ordered universe: a universe that makes sense,

a universe in which we are special, valued, and eternal.

And on top of it all, like the child who rationalizes her behavior,

we have a deep desire to convince ourselves

that we believe for reasons other than mere psychological need.

Hence we will often seek out evidence 

to support the already existing belief

and then pretend that our belief 

arose from the evidence.” 

– Peter Rollins

Sometimes we become conflicted with our own rationale; we feel that we have to recognize science because it truly helps society move forward…but we are not going to recognize all of it, or at least not the evolution part of it – that conflicts with my faith. We have to have a government because otherwise we’ll have anarchy, but we can’t let our faith or morals play into making laws because we don’t want to impinge un-commonly held beliefs if your party is not in power. And damnit, Petrino is a coach, not a pope, he’s not a role model, it doesn’t matter if he’s a man of integrity – just let him coach.

What’s on the other side?

Is holding a fragmented worldview the right thing to do in every circumstance? I would say definitely not in regards to what the pastor said regarding “fellowship” being solely a Christian word. The tendency to fragment or compartmentalize different things in our lives so they don’t cross over to certain other areas will cause confusion when there are true signs of God interwoven in our culture. How can we recognize truth found in our culture, if we can’t discern what truth actually is and compute that the two can peaceably coexist within each other?

There is more than just the bifurcation of words that Christians can only say vs words the world can say that cuts to the root of the problem. I think alot of times when we fragment things we tend to place a sense of value on these things and when value is involved then hierarchy and exclusiveness can occur. When hierarchy and exclusiveness occur then we place a high value on what we know, and that I know I’m right, and if you’re different then you’re wrong. Fear of the unknown can cause inert distrust and a sense of self-righteousness.

“To lose that which grounds us and provides us with meaning

 involves nothing less than losing the God of religion

 in whatever form it manifests itself in our life.” 

– Peter Rollins

What’s next?

What can be on the other side? For me, I found freedom. Freedom from the notion that my beliefs had to be bundled up and make sense with a pretty bow on top. With things that might not sit well with me I can hear the cognitive dissonance and on top of that hear the beautifully layered harmony.

note – language in the video

In my next post I’ll be continuing this series and touch on the reason behind why we have this fragmented worldview and how we can reshape our lenses.

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2012 in culture, theology

 

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’Ship Christians Only Can Say?: How Bobby Petrino, Yoda, and Bill Clinton Tie-in Together

They (questions) offer us a unique opportunity

to rethink what it means to be the Church,

not merely critiquing the presently existing church 

for failing to live up to its ideals,

but rather for espousing the wrong ideals. 

– Peter Rollins

Several weeks ago I was sitting in church, probably just surfing on my phone, and the pastor made a comment that made my head snap up like a yo-yo being yanked upward. I was fully focused on listening to how he was going to explain what he had just said.

Before I jump in, please trust me, I am writing this not to solely criticize his statement/attitude; but I do believe what he said is bad theology and also a prevailing thought shared by many in the Church (the church-at-large); if not always explicit in word (although in this instance it was) it is most certainly implicit in actions. Overall, I want to try to make our church culture in Arkansas (and elsewhere) better.

Here’s the story:

The pastor was telling a story about how one afternoon he was just cruising around on the internet and saw an advertisement of a gathering for single adults that said, “Come and have some fellowship with us.”

{This next paragraph was his explanation of his gripe with that particular internet ad. When I started to write this post I listened to the podcast of the sermon when it was posted online to accurately quote what he said.}

“Man, don’t use our word! That’s not “fellowship”! “Fellowship” is not any casual human interaction that we have. “Fellowship” is not two christian guys getting together talking about how great the razorback basketball game was or how all their hunting exploits have been, that’s not “fellowship”. “Fellowship” is a lot deeper than that. “Fellowship” is not two people just getting together and working on something. It’s not you calling a friend and saying “hey, why don’t you come over and let’s do scrapbooks together and have fellowship. Well, maybe you will maybe you won’t. You say, “{Pastor} (name withheld), why are you talking about this?” Because there is incredible joy, listen friends, in genuine “fellowship”. Genuine “fellowship”. And “fellowship” is not some kind of mere friendship, “fellowship” is much deeper than that. It’s not a group of Christians getting together and having a potluck together. It’s so much bigger and deeper and wider than that.”

He went on to explain, in his opinion, what Paul teaches is required to have “genuine Fellowship”.

Deep breath…ok, I’m better. Let’s dive in.

So what’s the big deal? Why am I getting so picky about a word? First of all, even though “fellowship” isn’t used in our everyday vocabulary, I completely disagree with his definition of the word “fellowship”. I believe every situation he listed can be an excellent example of fellowship and yes, even worship, but overall that’s not what this post is about. It’s not the specific word that was used that is the problem. The false-ownership of a word is a problem, but the main issue is the problem behind the problem that I want to focus on. Some people in the Church (again, the Church-at-large) try to separate themselves from the culture in many different areas of life because they believe culture is bad and out to get to them. They isolate themselves and deem there are Christian words, watch only Christian movies, read only Christian books, and condone or criticize things under the banner of “God”, “Jesus”, or “the gospel”, when I wonder if God would want his name attached to some of those things. Yes, I’ll go as far to say this isolation and bifurcation is bad theology. I believe it portrays and creates a fragmented worldview and also creates an “us vs them” mentality. God called us to redeem (reclaim) his creation – this includes culture, but if Christians are separating themselves from culture and simply saying, “Come quickly Lord Jesus”…well, that’s the problem. So how does this “us vs them” mentality form?

Even in society as a whole (Christians and Non-Christians) we tend to hold a fragmented view of certain ideological issues in our lives: sacred vs secular; public lives vs private lives; and church vs state are just a few examples. Some Christians interpret the Bible as proffering this separation (which is borderline Gnosticism), they believe this bifurcation of sacred things and secular things (I don’t like the word “secular”) as acceptable to God. In this post and the next I’m going to hash out and explain a little more why this is not what God desires as our worldview.

{Yes, you can probably think of examples where the fragmentation isn’t a bad thing.  A boys bathroom and a girls bathroom – yes, that’s a good thing. But when the fragmentation does occur in the wrong instances it often leads to an undesired end.}

A bifurcated worldview tries to eradicate the fear of the unknown. And the fear of the unknown can cause us to do some childish things.

Here are two quick examples of a bifurcated worldview and also the fear of the unknown –

(quick note – part of this was written before the firing of Bobby Petrino and I am very impressed with the integral approach Jeff Long took in this situation.)

1) Bobby Petrino. Now, try to take off the razorback-red colored blinders for a second…  I can’t tell you how many times during this whole shameful incident I heard or read somebody say something along the lines of, “He’s our coach, he’s not the pope.”, and “We don’t care what he does on his own time, we just want him to win ball games.” That’s a clear bifurcation of his public life (his job) and his private life (his affair). And below even the waterline of people bifurcating his job from his actions, people have also bifurcated their treatment of a winning coach vs a losing coach. What I mean is, would Arkansans still be holding rallies and fighting for his job if he had an average record as a coach then had the affair, paid the woman and lied to his boss about the accident? Doubtful. Should we just care about wins and losses and not the way he carries himself in the community? Or should we value what the coach does wholly? So why all the angst from Razorback fans? Because Bobby Petrino is a damn good coach – he had won 21 games in the past 2 years and had them in the hunt for an SEC title this year which automatically put them in the hunt for the national title. Well the angst might be from what my favorite KC sports radio host likes to ask, “If not him then who?” Now that Petrino has been fired, what’s on the other side? A possible fear of the unknown. Arkansans don’t know for sure what’s on the other side since there is a coaching search just now starting, but Jeff Long did a damn good job in showing that overall integrity matters and he will attempt to make the appropriate hire. Fear of the unknown: greatly diminished.

2) Now, an example for my Jayhawk brethren on the fear of the unknown. We don’t have to think back too long ago to have a similar example. Roy Williams was our coach from 1989-2003. While on the job for 15 years at KU, Roy racked up – 4 final fours, 2 championship game appearances, several Big8/Big 12 titles, and won 81% of his games – a staggering clip. In 2000, the University of North Carolina’s coach Bill Guthridge retired and UNC (chiefly, Dean Smith) tried to coerce Roy to “come home to North Carolina” to be their coach. Roy graduated from North Carolina and was an assistant to Dean Smith their hall of fame coach. After deliberation Roy declined by saying, “I’m staying.”

Later on in the same press conference Roy also said, “The next time I have a press conference is when I’m fired, or I retire.”

What does that say to you? To KU fans it meant he was never leaving, that he would retire at KU. In 2003, UNC fired Matt Doherty, and came after Roy…again. What?! He already told us he’d never leave. Well, he left and we all felt betrayed. Now, we weren’t worried about attracting a top flight coach – we are one of the top 4/5 programs of all-time in college basketball – James Naismith (inventor of the game coached at KU), Phog Allen (grandfather of coaching, coached at KU and has our Fieldhouse named after him), Adolph Rupp (from KU, played under Allen, and coached at UK), Dean Smith (from KU, played under Allen, coach at University of North Carolina), Larry Brown, Wilt Chamberlain (player), JoJo White, Paul Pierce, (and many more of course) #2 school in all-time victories, 14 final fours, 5 national titles, countless all-americans etc, etc…but still there was the fear of the unknown. Who would we have as our coach, and would he do as good as Roy? If not Roy, then who? That thought was running wild through our minds when Roy left. Yes, I was bitter at Roy. He told us he’d never leave. I took my “Benedict Williams” t-shirt to the 2005 Final Four and was crushed to watch him when his first national championship. Enter Bill Self to replace Roy. Now, if you would have told us when Roy left that Bill would win 8 straight Big 12 titles, make it to 2 Final Fours in his first 9 years, have several all-americans, win at a better percentage than Roy (Self’s win % is 85% – ridiculous!), and that Bill would beat North Carolina the two times he’s faced them to this point, then the fear of the unknown would’ve been eased quite a bit. But absolutely 100% of the bitterness was erased in 2008 when Bill got to his first Final Four and beat UNC in the national semifinals, and also won the national championship in his 5th year as our coach that year. Fear of the unknown with Bill: 100% gone.

So what do I mean by the fear of the unknown? When we have fear of new ground that we’re approaching maybe it’s not the specific thing standing in front of us that is feared, but it’s actually the effect, or fallout, of what might happen that is feared…or maybe it’s a bit of both.

I’m not afraid of falling…it’s the landing that worries me.  

Make sense? If not, sit back and think about it for a second…look at the things you might bifurcate. I’ll try to pull it all in tomorrow with the second part (of 3 or maybe 4 parts) of this post. And remember this is all tying back to a bifurcated (fragmented) worldview that some Christians carry of “us vs them”. Tomorrow we’ll also hear from Yoda and Bill Clinton.

“Man, don’t use our word.” Man, I hope I never hear that again.

 

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2012 in culture, theology

 

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The Church Is My Mistress

It is perfectly possible to imagine a Church in which every single individual personally rejects the religious view of God while being protected from the psychological impact of this rejection through the rituals and liturgical practice they engage in: affirming the power of the deus ex machina, not through their words, but through commitment to certain concrete practices. – Peter Rollins, “Insurrection”

The Church Today

What do you mean the church isn’t all about me?!  You create programs for me, you take care of my kids, you sing the type of songs I want to hear, you make it cool with bright lights and fog machines, you create different environments and genres of “worship spaces” at different times on Sundays and even different days for me, you built this nice big building for me with super comfortable chairs or if I want to go old school there are pews a few doors down, you make it possible for me to watch at home in case I don’t want to come to this super big building, you preach sermons that make me feel good, you help me by saying things that make me feel separate and different from those sermons out in the big, bad world, wait, I don’t like what you just said…you better rethink what you’re telling me. You know what? Forget it. I’m going to take my family to the new church down the street. They have an espresso cafe.

This is happening all across America. Does it sound familiar? Do you see the irony? And please don’t think that I’m saying that all of that is necessarily bad, but we try to tell people the church they attend is not about them, it’s about God (well, sometimes we tell them it’s about God) but we confuse the message most of the time by telling them indirectly how special they are to be part of “the chosen” (even if we don’t believe in the elect 144,000). We turn them into consumers by catering to their every need…or even what they don’t need…so we seem “in touch” with hip, new, church trends and they can come and go as they please. And while the church is trying to gain traction with its congregants it’s losing traction in being in touch with the wider world (or as some might call it, the “secular world” – I don’t like that word (sacred vs secular)When people come to church some want to be entertained, leave and come back…well, they might come back or they might not come back, but we’ll never know because they have no strings attached. We need to change this. While we can’t force people to take ownership of the church and be involved we reinforce the “it’s all about me” mentality by the sermons we preach on Sundays and continuing to cater to them. The church is my mistress. The second the church doesn’t cater to them they’re gone, but they’re satisfied just in the fact they went to church. Welcome to church today in the United States. You might be laughing and thinking “I’m glad that’s not my church.”, but in reality, it’s happening at so many different churches everywhere and maybe it is your church, but you just don’t see it.

Why is this happening?

Well,  I’ll share what might be considered part of the issue. This post will be more of a “what” the issue is and again, in the following posts I’ll talk about the “why” behind this issue and I’ll intersperse how we can curb some of these prevailing attitudes and practices in church to hopefully move us to somewhere away from the Christian ghetto and back out into the wider world.

What follows is part of an email conversation I recently had with a friend.  In a previous conversation with him there was a pretty packed sentence I had written that wasn’t exactly clear to my friend, so I followed it up with an explanation of the sentence.

This particular snippet is solely what I wrote in the email and I have edited the conversation a little for readability and to omit any non-public information. The entire sentence is in bold and then below that divided out with my explanation in between parts of the sentence. I hope that makes sense:  entire sentence -> intro -> part of sentence -> explanation -> part of sentence -> explanation -> remainder of email to my friend. The sentence was, if viewed by my 3rd grade teacher, a grammatically-tragic sentence – and forgive the unprofessional writing style…my degree is in political science not grammar. 😉

~ my email to him ~

This http://bit.ly/xOUuz3  (a podcast link that I had sent him) is the type of teaching I wish {this church} focused on, but instead the teaching each week at {this church} focuses on “me”, which, don’t get me wrong is necessary for personal growth and discipleship but it seems to be the main vein (focusing on the individual and not the collective world) each and every week which can create (and I believe has created) a culture of “I am more important than others” which then turns into consumerism at best and isolationism/Christian ghetto at worst.

You’re right that was a sentence with a lot of meaning so what I’ll do is parcel it out to unpack what I meant by it. Now please understand the comment is meant as “let’s right the ship and make things better in the church”. One of my favorite authors says, “It’s easier to criticize without constructing an alternative.”, so when I make a criticism of something I’m part of I always try to offer a solution of a possible way to make things better.

Ok, right from the start I’ll let you know this is going to be a LONG explanation and I’ll do my best to make it cogent. 🙂

So alot of that sentence is from the past 10 years of reading (pic below of some of the most influential books to me), mentoring, and teaching all about this information from some phenomenal “godly men” (I’m not a big fan of that term, b/c we’re all creations of God and have bits of God in us – everyone, not just Christians) so know that this is not just me flying off the handle about {this church} – this happens worldwide and has been written about by many many many people and about how it needs to change now. But also I see this teaching each week at {this church} and it is very disconcerting. If it was one or two sermons that’d be one thing, but I’ve been going there for about a year and a half and it’s been about the same each week.  I get virtually nothing from the sermons and have to find ways to entertain myself without blatantly opening up a book to read.

This http://bit.ly/xOUuz3 is the type of teaching I wish {this church} focused on, but instead the teaching each week at {this church} focuses on “me”, which don’t get me wrong is necessary for personal growth and discipleship but it seems to be the main vein (the individual and not the collective world) each and every week which can create (and I believe has created) a culture of “I am more important than others” which then turns into consumerism at best…”

In the podcast Jon alludes to alot of what I meant by typing that sentence in the first email so I think the podcast will also help you understand my primary criticism(s) of {this church} and the church-at-large’s teaching (sermons) today. I think it’s a bad form for pastors (anywhere) to teach putting the focus on “me” b/c it bifurcates “sacred” and “secular”. It makes the attenders to respond with “fill me, entertain me, I may or may not throw some money your way, and let me go on my way and maybe I’ll be back next week but I’ve got a tough job so make this worth my while”.  Like Jon says in the podcast (especially starting in minute 36) I think we (christians and the culture-at-large) have a fragmented world view that the church is where you go to “fill your tank” and get you ready for the work which christians believe is meaningless and has nothing to do with God (unless you work at the church or some other vocational ministry) – the conventional although indirect thought is that Jesus is not in our work he is only at church. And thus the pastors feel they have a responsibility to teach about the people and it turns into how to survive in the woeful world.  But what about how Jesus taught us to pray?  Do we accidentally forget what he said?  Or maybe we’re ignoring it b/c we’ve been taught otherwise for so long.  I’m talking about Matthew 6:10…thy kingdom come, thy will be done ON EARTH as it is in heaven. “On Earth”. hmmm…this confuses Joe-christian b/c he thought the world didn’t matter unless he’s vehemently preaching a “turn or burn” sermon at it? So Joe-christian ignores it and goes about his way and reverts back to, “I need to feel good about myself on Sundays”. This is consumerism.

“…and isolationism/christian ghetto at worst.”

I went golfing with Dallas last week and unfortunately we waited until the 18th tee to talk about something I had asked him about a couple weeks ago. Starting the conversation on the 18th tee didn’t give us near enough time to really talk about it.  I had asked him about the theology/intent behind a sign in {this church} that says, “Unexpected places: Where does God find you?”. At face-value the phrase seems like a nice little thought, but when I thought about it a bit more I think it can be easily misconstrued towards guilt in implying that everything you need to do needs to be “church-related and remember that each week you only find Jesus at things at church or in your community group, so be sure to do those things and only those things – don’t let God find you in some naughty place you shouldn’t be”. So then, what happens is we construct an “us vs them” mentality (a sacred vs secular paradigm) where we avoid anything not done or directly hosted by the church, christian authors, christian musicians, christian film-makers – this is the christian ghetto – which in my opinion is very bad. Christians are withdrawing from the culture at large and creating a sub-culture where all they see is the church around them and think that’s good. Well, then we wonder why our culture is so screwed up…it’s because the church withdrew from being a major player in our culture about a couple hundred years ago!!  Remember when we all had CDs? Or maybe a better example are our books – look at those. How are they ordered in your bookshelf? I’m pretty anal so I’ve always ordered them in some fashion and back in the day when I was engulfed in the christian ghetto I had them separated as christian (sacred) authors/bands and secular authors/bands.  These are all ways we isolate ourselves from the world at large. Isolationism/christian ghetto.

Today, I’m still very anal in how things like my books and CDs are ordered, so now they’re ordered by genre like philosophy, political, fiction, etc, I don’t arrange things by “christian” or “secular” authors or musicians because I think we can find God in everything – and if God is in everything then everything is sacred! People ask, “you can find Jesus in the Beastie Boys?  Yep!  Metallica?  You betcha!  The communist/marxist Karl Marx?  Absolutely! (and he could teach us some things about community and we could teach him some things about God 🙂 Well, what about that heretic Rob Bell who some think he said there is no hell? Definitely!  (And he didn’t say there’s no hell; and he happens to be one of my favorite authors.) Surely not Nietzsche? Even Nietzsche. Every author and every band.

So instead how about changing up the sign to say…

“Unexpected places: where do you find God?”  Maybe if we do that then it might help to start to see value (see God) in every area of our lives. Business, leisure, sports, relationships, yard-work, the arts, family-time…everything we do. “…Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. Amen.

So all of that are my four half-pennies.

– D

small portion of influential books in my life

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2012 in culture, theology

 

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Aside

This is my desire for the churches in Little Rock, in Arkansas, and in the United States. I have several blogs coming soon that will speak to specific areas of how we fall short and what we need to do to improve the church culture and allow it relate to the wider world. There’s not much sense for deconstruction unless there’s a plan for reconstruction. We need to reconstruct how the Church impacts the wider world. That means we need to get our butts in gear and relate to people instead of making them a pet project.

Right now it seems as if we (the Church) focus on a 2-chapter view of the gospel – Fall and Redemption – a life insurance, “get-my-butt-to-heaven” policy. I feel we need to implement a 4-chapter view to understand why living on earth matters and so we can make a greater impact and heed our calling to redeem the Earth. The 4-chapter gospel: Creation (ought), Fall (is), Redemption (can), Restoration (will).

Tim Keller’s views on The Missional Church: (http://www.redeemer2.com/resources/papers/missional.pdf)

THE MISSIONAL CHURCH

The Need for a ‘Missional’ Church

June 2001

TIM KELLER

http://www.redeemer2.com/resources/papers/missional.pdf

In the West for nearly 1,000 years, the relationship of (Anglo-European) Christian churches to the broader culture was a relationship known as “Christendom.” The institutions of society “Christianized” people, and stigmatized non-Christian belief and behavior. Though people were “Christianized” by the culture, they were not regenerated or converted with the Gospel. The church’s job was then to challenge persons into a vital, living relation with Christ.

There were great advantages and yet great disadvantages to ‘Christendom.’ The advantage was that there was a common language for public moral discourse with which society could discuss what was ‘the good.’ The disadvantage was that Christian morality without gospel-changed hearts often led to cruelty and hypocrisy. Think of how the small town in “Christendom” treated the unwed mother or the gay person. Also, under “Christendom” the church often was silent against abuses of power of the ruling classes over the weak. For these reasons and others, the church in Europe and North America has been losing its privileged place as the arbiter of public morality since at least the mid 19th century. The decline of Christendom has accelerated greatly since the end of WWII.

The British missionary Lesslie Newbigin went to India around 1950. There he was involved with a church living ‘in mission’ in a very non-Christian culture. When he returned to England some 30 years later, he discovered that now the Western church too existed in a non-Christian society, but it had not adapted to its new situation. Though public institutions and popular culture of Europe and North America no longer ‘Christianized’ people, the church still ran its ministries assuming that a stream of ‘Christianized’, traditional/moral people would simply show up in services. Some churches certainly did ‘evangelism’ as one ministry among many. But the church in the West had not become completely ‘missional’–adapting and reformulating absolutely everything it did in worship, discipleship, community, and service–so as to be engaged with the non-Christian society around it. It had not developed a ‘missiology of western culture’ the way it had done so for other non-believing cultures.

One of the reasons much of the American evangelical church has not experienced the same precipitous decline as the Protestant churches of Europe and Canada is because in the U.S. there is still a ‘heartland’ with the remnants of the old ‘Christendom’ society. There the informal public culture (though not the formal public institutions) still stigmatizes non-Christian beliefs and behavior. “There is a fundamental schism in American cultural, political, and economic life. There’s the quicker-growing, economically vibrant…morally relativist, urban-oriented, culturally adventuresome, sexually polymorphous, and ethnically diverse nation…and there’s the small town, nuclear-family, religiously-oriented, white-centric other America, [with]…its diminishing cultural and economic force….[T]wo nations…” Michael Wolff, New York, Feb 26 2001, p. 19. In conservative regions, it is still possible to see people profess faith and the church grow without becoming ‘missional.’ Most traditional evangelical churches still can only win people to Christ who are temperamentally traditional and conservative. But, as Wolff notes, this is a ‘shrinking market.’ And eventually evangelical churches ensconced in the declining, remaining enclaves of “Christendom” will have to learn how to become ‘missional’. If it does not do that it will decline or die.

We don’t simply need evangelistic churches, but rather ‘missional’ churches.

The Elements of a Missional Church

1. Discourse in the vernacular.

  • In ‘Christendom’ there is little difference between the language inside and outside of the church. Documents of the early U.S. Congress, for example, are riddled with allusions to and references from the Bible. Biblical technical terms are well-known inside and outside. In a missional church, however, terms must be explained.
  • The missional church avoids ‘tribal’ language, stylized prayer language, unnecessary evangelical pious ‘jargon’, and archaic language that seeks to set a ‘spritual tone.’
  • The missional church avoids ‘we-them’ language, disdainful jokes that mock people of different politics and beliefs, and dismissive, disrespectful comments about those who differ with us.
  • The missional church avoids sentimental, pompous, ‘inspirational’ talk . Instead we engage the culture with gentle, self-deprecating but joyful irony the gospel creates. Humility + joy = gospel irony and realism.
  • The missional church avoids ever talking as if non-believing people are not present. If you speak and discourse as if your whole neighborhood is present (not just scattered Christians), eventually more and more of your neighborhood will find their way in or be invited.
  • Unless all of the above is the outflow of a truly humble-bold gospel-changed heart, it is all just ‘marketing’ and ‘spin.’

2. Enter and re-tell the culture’s stories with the gospel 

  • In “Christendom” it is possible to simply exhort Christianized people to “do what they know they should.” There is little or no real engagement, listening, or persuasion. It is more a matter of exhortation (and often, heavy reliance on guilt.) In a missional church preaching and communication should always assume the presence of skeptical people, and should engage their stories, not simply talk about “old times.”
  • To “enter” means to show sympathy toward and deep acquaintance with the literature, music, theater, etc. of the existing culture’s hopes, dreams, ‘heroic’ narratives, fears.
    • The older culture’s story was–to be a good person, a good father/mother, son/daughter, to live a decent, merciful, good life.
    • Now the culture’s story is– a) to be free and self-created and authentic (theme of freedom from oppression), and b) to make the world safe for everyone else to be the same (theme of inclusion of the ‘other’; justice).
  • To “re-tell” means to show how only in Christ can we have freedom without slavery and
    embracing of the ‘other’ without injustice.

3. Theologically train lay people for public life and vocation 

  • In ‘Christendom’ you can afford to train people just in prayer, Bible study, evangelism–
    private world skills–because they are not facing radically non-Christian values in their public life–where they work, in their neighborhood, etc.
  • In a ‘missional’ church, the laity needs theological education to ‘think Christianly’ about
    everything and work with Christian distinctiveness. They need to know: a) what cultural practices are common grace and to be embraced, b) what practices are antithetical to the gospel and must be rejected, c) what practices can be adapted/revised.
  • In a ‘missional’ situation, lay people renewing and transforming the culture through distinctively Christian vocations must be lifted up as real ‘kingdom work’ and ministry along with the traditional ministry of the Word.
  • Finally, Christians will have to use the gospel to demonstrate true, Biblical love and ‘tolerance’ in “the public square” toward those with whom we deeply differ. This tolerance should equal or exceed that which opposing views show toward Christians. The charge of intolerance is perhaps the main ‘defeater’ of the gospel in the non-Christian west.

4. Create Christian community which is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive.

  • In Christendom, ‘fellowship’ is basically just a set of nurturing relationships, support and accountability. That is necessary, of course.
  • In a missional church, however, Christian community must go beyond that to embody a ‘counter-culture,’ showing the world how radically different a Christian society is with regard to sex, money, and power.
    • In sex. We avoid both the secular society’s idolization of sex and traditional society’s fear of sex. We also exhibit love rather than hostility or fear toward those whose sexual life-patterns are different.
    • In money. We promote a radically generous commitment of time, money, relationships, and living space to social justice and the needs of the poor, the immigrant, the economically and physically weak.
    • In power. We are committed to power-sharing and relationship-building between races and classes that are alienated outside of the Body of Christ.
  • In general, a church must be more deeply and practically committed to deeds of compassion and social justice than traditional liberal churches and more deeply and practically committed to evangelism and conversion than traditional fundamentalist churches. This kind of church is profoundly ‘counter-intuitive’ to American observers. It breaks their ability to categorize (and dismiss) it as liberal or conservative. Only this kind of church has any chance in the non- Christian west.

5. Practice Christian unity as much as possible on the local level. 

  • In Christendom, when ‘everyone was a Christian’ it was necessary (perhaps) for a church to define itself over against other churches. That is, to get an identity you had to say, “we are not like that church over there, or those Christians over here.”
  • Today, however, it is much more illuminating and helpful for a church to define itself over against ‘the world’–the values of the non-Christian culture. It is very important that we not spend our time bashing and criticizing other kinds of churches. That simply plays in to the common ‘defeater’ that Christians are all intolerant.
  • While we have to align ourselves in denominations that share many of our distinctives, at the local level we should cooperate and reach out to and support the other congregations and churches in our local area. This will raise many thorny issues, of course, but our bias should be in the direction of cooperation.

Case Study
Let me show you how this goes beyond any ‘program.’ These are elements that have to be present in every area of the church. So, for example, what makes a small group ‘missional’? A ‘missional’ small group is not necessarily one which is doing some kind of specific ‘evangelism’ program (though that is to be recommended) Rather, 1) if its members love and talk positively about the city/neighborhood, 2) if they speak in language that is not filled with pious tribal or technical terms and phrases, nor disdainful and embattled language, 3) if in their Bible study they apply the gospel to the core concerns and stories of the people of the culture, 4) if they are obviously interested in and engaged with the literature and art and thought of the surrounding culture and can discuss it both appreciatively and yet critically, 5) if they exhibit deep concern for the poor and generosity with their money and purity and respect with regard to opposite sex, and show humility toward people of other races and cultures, 6) they do not bash other Christians and churches–then seekers and non-believing people from the city A) will be invited and B) will come and will stay as they explore spiritual issues. If these marks are not there it will only be able to include believers or traditional, “Christianized” people.

Missions Might Be a Little Different Than You Think in “The Missional Church”

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2012 in culture, theology

 

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1 Bourbon, 1 Scotch, and 1 Beer. But Not Here.

“Ain’t no beer around here. You want beer you gonna have to git back to Missouruh.”

Dan (a life-long friend) and I are both originally from NE Kansas and we were driving on our way for a weekend of primitive backpacking back in 2003.



The “no beer here” declaration were un-welcomed words we heard from a toothless, female gas station attendant after driving quite some time through the ever-winding hills of the Buffalo National River Park in North Central Arkansas. We were driving in an area, unbeknownst to us, which was a “dry county”. I had heard of “dry-counties” before but I didn’t think they actually still existed. I knew that Jack Daniels which is distilled (or whatever they do to whiskey) in Lynchburg, TN, was located in a dry-county, but I thought that was more of, “Yeah, yeah, we sure are a dry county.” (wink wink nudge nudge).  We had stopped at this gas station in hopes of buying some beer to enjoy around our campfire but we were quickly informed by the not-so-eloquently spoken and unkempt service station caretaker that if we really wanted some beer our shortest drive was an hour and half back up through the hills of north Arkansas.  My buddy’s response, “So, that sign 100 miles ago that said, “Last chance to get the beer!”, really wasn’t kidding.” We got back into our car and headed to our trail inlet.

That was my first experience with the south’s “disdain” for alcohol. But I also quickly learned while some people truly are tea-totallers I also learned these jokes hold true.

Jews don’t recognize Jesus as the son of God.

Protestants don’t recognize the pope as the leader of the Church.

Baptists don’t recognize each other in a liquor store.

Why do you take two Baptists with you when you go fishing?

Because if you take just one he’ll drink all your beer.

Another recent experience happened this past Sunday at church.  Before the sermon, the campus pastor opened the floor for “sharing”. One gentleman started sharing about his daughter’s troubles with drugs and alcohol. He made the statement that he now abstains from alcohol for his daughter’s sake but that he believes there is no problem whatsoever enjoying beer or wine as long as it’s done in moderation. After he made that proclamation I wanted to fist-pump and let out a hardy “Amen!” but since I was upfront banging on my congas during the music I chose not to. Needless to say my reaction differed greatly from the congregation’s corporate thought. While nothing was outright said from the congregation in disagreement from I could see all the brows furrow and the faces change shape to that of scorn. I’m sure the campus pastor’s phone was quite busy the next day.

So is this post all about booze? Well, kindof, but when you read this quote from CS Lewis (who might surprise you with what you think you know about his actual theology) I think you’ll be able to apply this quote and thought to more than just alcohol.  I originally saw the quote from Jonathan McIntosh, a friend of mine and a church planter in Midtown Memphis, who tweeted it today (Wednesday, 8/10/11) and I thought it was quite descriptive in what we, as Christians, sometimes do to things, in our attitude and actions, that we might think are taboo.  Since I’ve been living in Arkansas I’ve never seen such religious fueled opposition to alcohol, but it is not solely limited to Arkansas. Remember Prohibition?

So as not to be-labor the point, here’ the quote from CS Lewis.

CS Lewis view on alcohol

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2011 in culture, Uncategorized

 

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