Monday, February 26, 2007

A few technical notes

Just a brief word on some technical matters. If you've noticed things look a bit different, it's not your imagination. I've widened the post column to make better use of the space. If you still have your monitor set to 800 pixels in width, you may now find that you have a scroll bar at the bottom. Hopefully this won't be an inconvenience for you. For the rest of us (who long ago increased our pixel width) it should be a welcome change.

Also, I've added a list of previous posts by their category (label/tag), so if you're interested in only certain topics of conversation you should be more readily able to track the relevant posts.

You'll notice a Friend of Missional logo/link now, too. By adding their link, I'm not declaring my allegiance to ever particular word you might find on their website. But as my regular readers know by now, I'm decidedly Missional in my philosophy of ministry. The link therefore makes sense and may help spread the concept.

Lastly, at the prompting of Don and Stuart, it is my intent to begin adding more of what might be called "proper Bible study" posts. Hopefully we can learn from one another in this process.

As always, please share your thoughts as often as you can. As much as I enjoy talking to myself, these conversations are of much more value to all of us if we share the wisdom the LORD has given us. If you've got something burning a hole in your heart, let me know - I'd love to have a guest blogger now and again! Whether you agree with me or not, by all means share what the LORD is sharing with you.



Type rest of the post here

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Entertaining Angels

I was reading in Hebrews this morning and stumbled across a familiar passage:

Do not neglect hospitality, because through it some have entertained angels without knowing it.

As I was scanning through the notes in my Bible, I was reminded of an Apocryphal story that illustrates this verse. Given how little we Evangelicals ever talk about history - whether the Ante-Nicean Fathers, the Reformation, the "Dark Ages", Second Temple Period, or anything else - I thought I'd share this tale with you in my own words...

It seems that many years ago, after the Assyrians had conquered the Israelites and scattered them throughout the Middle East, that a certain man strove to live a life pleasing to God. This man's name was Tobit, and he sought to be a good Jew despite the fact that the Jews no longer had a land, a king or a Temple. He went to great lengths to honour the pathmarkers of Jewish faith - burial of the dead, almsgiving, mercy, etc... But as is so often the case, his well-intended efforts only got him in trouble with the enemies of the LORD.

You see, Tobit was an official in the king's court. As would often happen in the courts of pagan kings, enemies of the state were routinely killed. But our hero could not stand to let even such as these go without proper burial - it would, after all, dishonor the LORD. So he made it his habit to bury those that were otherwise carelessly discarded. Until he got caught!

Upon being found out, Tobit had to flee the land for his own safety. All he had - save his wife and child - was taken from him. But in the process of time a new king came to the throne and Tobit was allowed back to life as he knew it (though poor). But once again, his righteousness got him in trouble - this time a sparrow pooped in his eye as Tobit lie resting from his good deed [note: I'm not making this up, that's how the story really goes!]. Well, as often happens when a bird poops in your eye, Tobit eventually went totally blind. Sad story, eh?

Tobit clung to his God throughout these trials, though. Eventually, it became clear to him that his son must be entrusted to become a man. So he told him about some money that he had stored away in neighboring Media and instructed his son to find a Jewish travelling mate and go after the money. He also advised his son to seek for himself a wife from among the Jews, and to honour God daily, as Tobit himself had done.

After find a Jewish guide who could get him to Media, Tobit's son (Tobias) set off on his journey. Along the way, his guide (Azariah) told him of a woman named Sarah. It turns out that per the Jewish marriage laws, it should be Tobias that married her! His curiosity piqued, Tobias listened as Azariah explained about the maiden. And what an explanation is was!

It turns out that Sarah had previously married seven different times, and that on each occasion the new husband died in the bed chamber! Some blamed Sarah, but most blamed a demon named Asmodeus. As you can imagine, this put a bit of a damper on the newly kindled fires of Tobias' love. Nevertheless, as his father had instructed him, he decided to do what was right.

Along the journey, Tobias was attacked by a fish [again, I'm not making this up]. Azariah advised him to catch the fish and gut it, keeping out certain parts for their medicinal value. Okay. Medicinal value of fish guts. Got it.

Upon arriving in town, Tobias and Sarah are introduced and the marriage is arranged for that very day. The wedding proceeds, and Azariah gives Tobias some advice concerning the problem of Asmodeus - burn some of the fish guts in the incense and he'll run scared, never to return! This, of course, works like a charm and Tobias and Sarah survive their first night of marriage.

Tobias now sends Azariah on to collect the money his father sent him after while Tobias and Sarah continue celebrating their marriage feast. Eventually, Tobias heads back to Tobit with his new bride and half of his father-in-law's estate. Oh, did I forget to mention that Sarah was their only child? Tobias now has the privilege of carrying on the family name and property. He'll get the other half after his father-in-law dies. So he's returning to Tobit a rich man for sure!

Once arriving in town, Tobias' parents rejoice at what the LORD has done for their son. Tobit, having received some further medical training from Azariah, smears the remaining fish guts on Tobit's eyes (of course - why didn't he think of that before?) and - poof! - Tobit can see again!

When the dust all settles, Tobit reminds his son that he needs to pay Azariah for guiding him to Media. They had previously agreed to pay him half of the money that was stored away, but now thought it appropriate to give him a bonus. After briefly discussing it, they decide to give Azariah half of everything they came home with! For those of you who failed Math in High School, that's 1/4 of the estate of Tobias' father-in-law PLUS half of the money they collected in Media! Azariah, a complete stranger who just happened to be Jewish and a guide, is now a rich man himself.

As you may have guessed by now, Azariah was actually an angel (Raphael, in case you're taking notes). This story is recorded in the Apocryphal book of Tobit, especially chapter 12.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying this stuff actually happened. Nor am I saying that the Apocrypha should be given any sort of authority along with Scripture. But the wisdom found in the Apocrypha is certainly on par with many of today's Christian authors, and we don't hesitate to talk about them or how they illustrate Scripture. The story of Tobit was well-known in the time of Christ. I have little doubt that a great many Christians in the first century read or heard "entertaining angels" in Hebrews and immediately thought of Tobit.

Does the LORD work this way? I don't know. I only know that the admonition of Hebrews is still valid today:

Do not neglect hospitality...


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Sunday, February 25, 2007

A Segregated Gospel?

I just received this week's World Magazine. Much of the issue is dedicated to the theme of Abolition - the upcoming movie Amazing Grace (which highlights William Wilberforce's work) in particular.

In reading through the magazine, I've found echoes of a question that we probably should be asking more often...

First, in an interview with Eric Metaxas (who wrote a recent biography of Wilberforce) comes this exchange:

WORLD: You have put Wilberforce in the Hall of Fame of social reform and justice. In fact, you assign him almost the biggest room in that house.

METAXAS: The world that Wilberforce was born into didn't even question the idea of slavery; in fact, the entire worldview of the British Empire was what we today call social Darwinism. The rich and the powerful preyed on and abused the poor and the weak. But Wilberforce saw that the gospel commanded those in power to help the powerless. He pulled this Christian idea right into the social and political spheres.

Wilberforce and his friends were so successful that today we take the idea of a social conscience for granted. Today we argue about how to help the poor and suffering—should the public or private sector take the lead? Of course Wilberforce was so successful that today doing good and helping the poor has become secularized. We've forgotten its roots, that it's a fundamentally Christian idea, brought to us by a Christian man and his friends two centuries ago.

WORLD: Christians on the left seem as enthusiastic about the Wilberforce story as those on right. How does he transcend our political debates?

METAXAS: In Wilberforce's day there was no division between what we today call the social gospel and evangelicalism. Anyone who was a Christian knew that sharing one's faith and helping the poor and suffering were two parts of the same thing—the gospel of Jesus Christ.[emphasis mine] Today those on the left love Wilberforce's social innovations and passion to help the downtrodden. Those on the right love his vibrant evangelicalism.

Then in the magazine's last article (which deals with response to the tornado that hit central Florida last week - too near my grandmother's home, incidentally) comes this bit:

Which churches will be best prepared to save bodies and souls when the next big disaster—hurricane, earthquake, terrorist attack, whatever—hits? Looking at what happened this month after a tornado killed 20 people in central Florida, the answer is clear: churches that already do community-based ministry.

This leads me to one of the questions the emerging movement has been trying to ask (but doing a poor job of, frankly) - why do Evangelicals feel compelled to separate the Gospel into the "spiritual part" and the "needs part"? Why, when the Kingdom of God that Jesus so often spoke of has already been initiated (but is not yet fulfilled) do we still insist on this dubious distinction?

Are we so afraid of someone misunderstanding us that they'll label us "social gospel" advocates? Are we so concerned with swinging the pendulum that far that we've gone too far in the opposite direction? I don't want to send warm bellies to Hell any more than the next Evangelical, but does that mean there's anything wrong with warming bellies in Jesus' name?

I'm sorry folks, but I've just got to ask:

What are we so afraid of?!

Later in the tornado article, the author relates this incident:

Twenty volunteers spent eight hours cleaning up five acres owned by a family that included an elderly man with congestive heart failure and his crippled wife. Their 35-year-old son asked how much the cleanup would cost them.

A pastor responded, "Fact is, it cost a whole bunch—but it was paid 2,000 years ago."


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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Book Review: Rumors of Another World

I need to start this review with a few caveats:

1) I do not agree with a lot of Philip Yancey's "pendulum swinging". He comes from a Fundamentalist background (as do I), but he was burned badly by the viciously legalistic variety (as he tells it)- I was not.

2) I do not agree with Yancey's theological take on homosexuality.

3) I do agree with the love and grace with which he treats homosexuals - and everyone else, as near as I can tell.

Having said that, let me get on with the actual review...

Yancey writes books that are easy to read. I mean that as a compliment. He has gobs and gobs of interesting anecdotal information to share with his readers. He does research that many authors of his style would not. He's particularly transparent, too.

He wrote Rumors of Another World for those on the "borderlands" of faith - those that are either of the faith, but wavering or those that are not of the faith, but are increasingly curious. I'll own up to being in neither of these categories, and as such the book was perhaps not really written for me. That may explain why I didn't enjoy it as much as What's So Amazing About Grace?...

Yancey's basic take is that if we look hard enough, we'll find that the supernatural world consistently and regularly breaks into the natural world. I takes eyes of faith to see these overlaps, though. He uses Augustine's notion of two cities - the City of God and the City of Man - to explain his thesis. We hold dual citizenship and can therefore see the overlap more readily than someone who is only a citizen of this world. He uses many, many engaging anecdotes to explain this. Frankly, they're the best part of the book! From the Elephant Man to personal notes of C S Lewis, Yancey has done his homework.

In the end, Yancey comes to the place where (I think) most Christians rest: we don't really want God to break out in a song and dance to tell the world He's here. It would ruin the intimacy of faith. So we content ourselves with the glimmers of the "other world" that we see around us, striving to live primarily as citizens of Heaven without neglecting our obligations here on Earth. And we strive to use those "rumors of another world" to engage other people that the Spirit may be leading.

This book is probably best read by someone on the "borderlands". I read it simply because I like Yancey's style. I was not disappointed with Rumors of Another World, but neither would I recommend it very highly either.


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Friday, February 23, 2007

The LORD works in literary ways

Having had more than my fair share of time to reflect on the books I've been reading lately (courtesy of my ever-improving back), the LORD has brought something to my attention. So far this year, I've read books on the emerging church movement, on the Incarnational model of church, on counselling, on cross-cultural ministry, and a few other subjects. What I'm coming to see is the way they've all woven together in my soul...

So what can these varied subjects possibly have to do with one another, you might ask? Community. Authentic community. I know I'm probably beating a dead horse here, but I can't get over how the LORD has used these various books to impress upon me more and more then need for real community.

In my emerging church readings, the emphasis is on the natural desire and Biblical nature of community. Postmoderns have a greater "felt need" for attachment and community than did many of our modern parents.

In my Incarnational model readings, the emphasis has been on the "attractional" nature of genuine community. If we foster environments where real community can happen within the local church, those that the Spirit is prompting can more readily be drawn to us.

In my counselling readings, the emphasis has been on our sinful striving for independence. Independence from God can never breed genuine dependence upon one another - it cannot foster authentic community.

In my cross-cultural readings, the emphasis has been on our need to identify with a given culture if we're ever to meaningfully interact with it. We cannot create community without hard work, even within our own cultures. But especially as we seek to live in community with Christ-followers of different cultures, we must do the hard work of fostering real community.

The end result has been an ongoing development of my personal Theology of Community. Where before this journey all I could say was merely, "I personally really appreciate genuine community" (a Biblical statement, for sure), I can now say much more. Community has great value in the fundamental purposes of the local church: it aids us as we seek to "Go", as we seek to "Make Disciples", as we seek to "Love God" and as we seek to "Love our Neighbours". Community helps make us more like the image of Christ - in true community we can "enter the battle" for the soul care of one another. Community if worth the work. Hard work it is - but it's all worth it.

Moreover, we really don't have the option of authentic community if we are seeking to live as God would have it. He commands His church to live in community.

And is always the case with our Amazing LORD, when we obey His will we are most blessed ourselves.

Praise God for the genuine community of faith!


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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Book Review: Connecting

First off - sorry for all the Book Reviews in a row! As some of you know, I've had serious back issues this past week. Short version: I've been through x-rays and an MRI and advised not to do much this week. Can't work. Can't sit very often. Serious doses of Vicadin (as well as a handful of other drugs). Anyway, with all this time on my hands, I've been catching up on my reading. So you're stuck with all my reviews!

Anyway, Connecting is a significant departure for Larry Crabb. It represents his moving from one group to another - apparently many of the folk that once loved him and his counselling theories no longer do, but many that once wouldn't give him the time of day now love him. Go figure!

Fundamentally, Crabb is arguing that the local church has given up way too much responsibility for the "soul care" of the believers within their community. I think he's right. As a culture, we've decided that "psychological" problems always require "professional" help. While Crabb certainly acknowledges that this is sometimes true, it is his considered opinion that we - the body of Christ - can be of terrific (to use a buzzword of his) benefit to one another. We must be willing to "enter the battle" of believers against sin.

Like in his previous work - Understanding People - Crabb defines sin primarily as a quest for independence from God. At the root of so many of our problems is a desire to do it on our own. This can be motivated by fear of the unknown, general lack of trust, overconfidence in our own abilities, impatience, or a host of other issues. But at it's core, the battle we fight for what some might call "emotional health" is in reality a struggle for our own independence. Crabb is calling for the community of Christ to pour their lives into just a handful of other Christ-followers in such a way as to encourage the Spirit's work of making us more like Jesus.

If you've read much of my blog, you know how high I am on the value of community, and how much I think it's been missing in local churches. Crabb's appeal therefore naturally resonates with me. It's something I'd love to see churches - especially elders - thinking long and hard about.

Why have we (the local church) marginalized the problems of our people to the realm of merely "mental", when in truth they are so often mental symptoms of a profoundly spiritual problem? Give Crabb credit for asking and attempting to answer this question. If he's right, he's added yet another reason for local churches to fearlessly pursue authentic Christian community.


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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Model for the Local Church

I'm becoming increasingly convinced that many churches have lost focus on what's important. As I've posted about before, it seems that many Attractional model churches have placed Evangelism above any other pursuit - a position that is understandable, but nevertheless unBiblical. Too many Traditional churches have placed Preaching above any other pursuit - again understandable, yet still unBiblical. And in my limited understanding of Incarnational models, it looks like many of them are placing Community above all other pursuits - tempting, but not Biblical.

Lest this begin to sound like an advert for "The Purpose Driven Church", let me say upfront what most of you already know about me - I'm not a huge Attractional model fan, nor do I think Saddleback is the model for us all to follow. This post is not motivated by Warren or Saddleback. It's motivated by a growing sense of unbalance that I see around me. My pastor is always preaching the virtues of "balance", and with good reason. The more churches I study, the more case-studies I read, the more I visit, the more I dialogue ... the more I think so many of us are missing the very simple truth of the local church...

Let me start with some theology. If you ask most OT scholars what the fundamental message of the OT is, they tend to say something like "God is Holy". This is, I understand, a generalization - but many OT Theology guys do make this claim. And I tend to agree. If you trace the pages of the OT, every page is full of His Holiness. That's not to say other principles don't run through the threads of the OT - I'm just attempting to assign a primary thread.

In the same way, many NT Theology guys would tell you that "Love" is the primary thread running through the NT. In particular, "love God and love your neighbour". So if these claims are true, shouldn't our model for understanding the local church have heavy doses of His Holiness and Love? Stay with me...

Now let's turn to the Westminster Confession (WC), which proclaims what virtually all Christians would agree to: "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever". Where Piper would change the "and enjoy Him" to "by enjoying Him", he - like most Evangelicals - would still agree with the fundamental thesis of the WC.

So drawing from the theologies of both the OT and the NT, as well as the great wisdom of the WC, it looks like our model for local church should include His Holiness, Love, and God's Glory. Still with me?...

Now turn to the pages of Scripture themselves and we find all manner of "good" things that local churches and God's people should be involved in doing. Probably all of us could quickly turn to verses that admonish us to "preach the Word" (2 Tim 4:2), to "love one another" (John 13:34), to "love mercy" (Micah 6:8), to "worship Him" (John 4:23), to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:17), etc... But simply compiling a list of these virtuous behaviours is a rather "shotgun" approach to finding a model for the local church. Each could turn to his own personal favorite and declare it to be the primary purpose. Some would (and have) declared Preaching the primary purpose of the local church. Other would (and have) declared Worship the primary purpose of the local church. Isn't there some framework we can hang all of these truthes on?

I think there is. Let me illustrate it this way:

This is what I'm increasingly coming to believe is the best general model for the local church to follow. It leaves room for local communities to emphasize whatever their local context requires, but it keeps us grounded in a Biblical view of things - and it keeps us balanced.

Let me explain the model. I can see no higher purpose recorded in pages of Scripture than "God's Glory". I whole-heartedly agree with the WC on this point - as has, not coincidentally, virtually every Christian thinker in the history of the Church. If this is the case (and can it really be otherwise?), then it must be the "umbrella" under which all of our efforts are concentrated. But the NT provides a more specific framework for the local church. As so many have already pointed out, the two primary statements given to God's people in the NT are 1) The Great Commandment and 2) The Great Commission. Hence, I've placed these as the sub-headings under "God's Glory". Then, under each of these two great statements, I've randomly placed many virtuous behaviours that support one (or perhaps both) of these sub-headings.

Within this framework, if a local church has a special giftedness or calling toward ( for example) preaching and teaching then they should feel free to emphasize those outworkings - but not to the exclusion of others. And certainly not in such a way that elevates them to where only "God's Glory" should be! Let us never say that Worship (for example) is really the label on the umbrella! Only His Glory can be in that exalted position. And let us never ignore those two great statements given to us in the NT. If we focus too much on Community, how are we ever to give enough weight to "Go and make disciples"? If we give too much weight to Preaching, how are we ever to focus enough on "Love God and your neighbour"?

So let me know, guys - is this framework useful to your thinking? Does it strike you as unbalanced in any way? Have I forgotten something big? What should be added or taken away? Is it truly as flexible to a local context as I'm implying?

This is a BIG issue, guys. I really covet your input.


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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Book Review: Understanding People

Larry Crabb is a figure I've always kept at some distance from myself, and I really don't know why. Somewhere in my Fundamentalist past I remember hearing something "bad" about "Christian counselors" and (sadly) decided to simply ignore men like Crabb. Having just finished Understanding People (and being in the midst of Connecting), I'm sorry I waited so long to give him a chance...

Understanding People is thoroughly Biblical in its worldview. It may not be thoroughly Biblical in an absolute sense (see my upcoming review of Connecting for more on this thought), but Crabb approaches everything in this book with a passionate conviction to stay within the boundaries of Scripture. I like that - so many "Christian" counselors would be better labelled counselors who happen to be Christian.

Basically, Crabb's book focuses on four dynamics of people: we are 1) personal, 2) rational, 3) volitional, and 4) emotional. As he expands upon these bullet points, Crabb tries to articulate how each of these facets of humanity can be used to point us (as counselors) toward a way of healing for a hurting person. If this sounds terribly "secular", fear not - Crabb is very careful in keeping the meaning he pours into these terms within the shadow of Scripture, if not within the pages themselves.

Crabb has little patience for either those that merely moralize everything - "Your problem is sin; repent and get on with things!" - or with those that lay blame on any other than the hurting person - "It's not your fault; you were scarred in your childhood!". But that's not to say that he devalues the moral principles or the source of pain.

He would remind the moralizer that simply saying "repent" is very often not helpful to people deep in the pains of, for example, suicidal depression. Ultimately, Crab would agree that the problem is sin. For Crabb, the particular sin always boils down to "independence from God". He argues (convincingly, to be honest) that our "psychological problems" stem from an innate desire to live independently of God. But merely pointing that out is often not helpful.

He would remind the analyzer that though our problems often result from years of misguided efforts and our victimization by others, the root problem is still sin - seeking independence from God. So while it may be helpful to uncover many of our past "issues" and "hurts", it is not the end.

In other words, Crabb wants to fuse the strengths of these two positions within the framework of Scripture and a model that defines sin as "seeking independence from God". It's compelling. It resonates so much more than the usual models of counseling. But yet it seems somehow incomplete.

And then I started reading Connecting...


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Book Review: Cross-Cultural Connections

In his book Cross-Cultural Connections, Duane Elmer seeks to lay a foundation of understanding and help for those preparing to enter another culture. He specifically intends to address Christians headed into cross-cultural ministry opportunities, but his text would be of value to many other situations – be it business, travel, or otherwise. Reading through a text like this should be a mandatory starting point for anyone seeking to minister cross-culturally...

Elmer's book goes beyond simply opening peoples' eyes to the existence of cross-cultural pitfalls. It's basic strength is in the way it is formated. By working his readers systematically through a general perspective, expectations, coping skills/attitudes and specific (and common) sources of frustration, Elmer's book is very practical. I can even see someone reading this book while on route to culture X benefiting from it (though certainly more thorough thinking and training would be ideal).

Especially useful are his chapters on “attitudes and skills”. There are a theoretically infinite number of possible cross-cultural pitfalls, so instead of trying (in vain) to enumerate and work through them all, Elmer offers a general-purpose skill set that can be used to help process whatever cultural difficulties or tensions might arise. It is not coincidental that his suggested “attitudes” are in reality simply extensions of how a Christ-follower should live and move and breathe in his/her daily life anyway. Openness, acceptance and trust (the three primary attitudes Elmer discusses) are all skills/attitudes that each of us (as Christians) should be striving to demonstrate whether in our own culture or another.
Very practical; very relevant; very helpful – Elmer's book will be of value to anyone in Christian ministry, but especially to those who seek to work cross-culturally. Don't let it's brevity fool you – this is one book that should be on the “must read” list of anyone who wants to better understand his/her neighbors in the world.


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Book Review: Ministering Cross Culturally

Sherwood Lingenfelter - that's a great name, eh? His book on cross-cultural ministry is good too.

How's that for a snazzy introduction to a review? If I've not scared you off with my less-than-impressive prose, read on...

Lingenfelter mixes his extensive personal experience ministering among the Yapese in the 1970s with sound missiological and anthropological studies to come up with a helpful book on ministering across cultural boundaries.

His fundamental thesis is that we, as Christians wishing to minister across the boundaries of culture, must utilize "an incarnational model for personal relationships" (the subtitle of the book) to be most effective. This means that we must try to embody the local culture as best we can. We don't try to "go native" - everyone recognizes the shallowness of such an attempt. We simply try to become what Lingenfelter calls 150% people - giving up some of your own culture and adding as much of the other as you can for the purpose of relating well. In fact, he argues that this is precisely what Jesus did in His earthly ministry.

Much of the book is devoted to raising awareness of some classic categories of culture. For example, some cultures are "crisis oriented" (think: insurance, long-range planning, contingencies, etc...) and other are "non-crisis oriented" (think: take life as it happens). Neither system is necessarily better than the other - just different. That's an important point - we absolutely cannot come to another culture with the presupposition that ours is right and better in every way! We're doomed to fail if we think this way.

One of the most insightful comments he makes relates to a change in his own view. Near the end of the book (p.114), Lingenfelter says "In the first edition of this book, I suggested that the system of culture was in itself neutral [read: amoral, as discussed on this blog here], but the people within the culture were moral or immoral. I no longer hold this position. I believe that the system of culture, like the people within the culture, is both moral and immoral". This is a very welcome change from what is usually assumed.

The challenge, then, is to figure out how much of a given culture we can ethically and morally adopt in our efforts to communicate cross-culturally. By making people aware of some of the common pitfalls, and by vividly illustrating these cultural differences with stories of the Yapese, Lingenfelter offers sound advice to anyone seeking to minister to people unlike themselves - whether across national boundaries or even within our own cities.


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Book Review: Emerging Worship

This post is overdue, having finished the book Emerging Worship some weeks ago. Sorry for the delay - hopefully my memory is still fresh enough to write a cogent post.

Dan Kimball is a prominent figure in the emerging church movement (if you've been paying attention, you've noticed I stopped capitalizing the term), having written the well-received The Emerging Church in 2003. I've not read it yet, but intend to. I've been told it's better than Emerging Worship. Anyway, on with the review...

Kimball starts out with a very important truth that often gets lip service but nothing more: Worship is not just singing!! Sadly, most of us still use the terms synonymously. But we shouldn't, and Kimball implores us not to.

With that in mind, Kimball discusses the how and why of creating "emerging worship". Notice that he doesn't discuss just the 'how'. He spends a great deal of time talking about why a given local church felt the need to establish emerging worship - it's not just something to do to be different. This is a point that the fad-seekers need to hear. Don't do emerging worship just because it's new and hip.

Additionally, Kimball spends some time promoting a Missional view of ministry. He juxtaposes the "church built upon weekend services" with the "church built upon mission" concepts, showing (graphically) and telling why they are so very different - and why you should choose Missional.

Kimball also goes into detail discussing the worship environments that a number of specific churches have created. The book will give you plenty of ideas and concepts to try in your local context if you feel so led.

He ends the book largely on the topic of Vintage Faith Church, where's he's a pastor. This discussion brings to light another subject for another post - multi-congregational churches, church-within-a-church models, sister/hybrid models, etc... But on it's own, Kimball's discussion of Vintage Faith is a great story of why an emerging model was chosen and how not to distance oneself from other models.

Sorry for the brevity of the review - I'm sure I've not done the book justice. It's a good and a valuable read if your interested in the emerging movement, particularly emerging worship. Read it; read it NOW! : )


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Monday, February 19, 2007

Westwinds Theology

The teaching elder at Westwinds (Dave McDonald) recently posted on his blog about Theosis and Substitutionary Atonement. If your not even remotely interested in Atonement theories, don't bother reading it. If you're curious (as I am) about the theological leanings of (at least one) emerging church, his post is a good place to start. Dave strikes me as a very intelligent and articulate man - I'm sure he'll be able to address the issue in an understandable way. Incidentally, if you're looking for my take, you'll find it in the comment I left on his blog.


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Friday, February 16, 2007

Keeping up Appearances

No, Stuart, this isn't about the BBC! Don recently admonished me to get some more Bible on my blog, so I'm taking this opportunity to discuss a particular text that has long vexed the Christian community. No, not Hebrews 6. I'm talking about 1 Thess.5:22...

In the KJV, this verse reads "Abstain from all appearance of evil". It's my contention that way too many people are still misinterpreting this verse. I'd like to think I'm wrong, but on two occasions in the last week, I've had friends express some tension over this verse. In both cases, it came from a faulty understanding of the KJV.

As you all know, the KJV uses a version of English that no one uses anymore. You've perhaps already heard that when the KJV says "conversation" (e.g. Eph 4:22) it doesn't mean "talking among people". Well, "appearance" is another of those words mis-read by today's modern English audience.

There are those that teach this verse means that we (as Christians) shouldn't do anything that even looks like it might be "evil". We are to abstain from any action that a person might see and think, "Oh, that person is doing wrong!". It's been used to condemn Christians going into bars and pubs. It's been used to condemn going to the movie theatre with your date. It's been used to condemn virtually anything that somebody somewhere might misconstrue as "evil".

I'm here to condemn such a view.

The word "appearance" in the KJV meant "a showing forth". Think, "the president made an appearance today". It doesn't mean that the president "looked like" he was there - he really was! In other words, 1 Thess 5:22 admonishes Christians to avoid all the different manifestations, all the different types of evil. This is why all of the modern translations render it "form" or "kind", not "appearance".

So please!, stop worrying about what someone somewhere might think (wrongly) of your actions. If what you are doing is not any kind of sin, feel free to exercise your freedom in Christ to do it.

Don't take this as an anti-KJV post. As long as you read the language of the KJV correctly, it's a fine translation. It's just that most people - many preachers included - don't.

So, am I the only one still hearing this misinterpretation?


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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Philosophy of Ministry 101

Since we're talking about various models of "doing church" on this blog in recent weeks, I thought I'd lay out some of the strengths and weaknesses of varying models. In my view, there are three primary ways of "doing church" that I consider viable and common today. For sake of simplicity, I'll call them Traditional, Attractional, and Incarnational...

By Traditional, I mean (most likely) the church you grew up with. Steeple in the front, organ and piano on the platform, hymns, 30 minute sermon/lecture, etc... Most small town churches and plenty of others are Traditional. Doctrinally they can be and are all over the map, but in terms of form they're Traditional.

By Attractional, I mean churches like Willow Creek or Saddleback (or NorthRidge). The premise is to consciously try to attract the "seekers" by holding services that are non-threatening, comfortable and composed in a cultural language easily understood. This usually means using very contemporary music (often "secular") and doing everything with high production value. Virtually every Attractional church I know of has adopted the "Excellence honours God and inspires people" mantra I mentioned in this post.

By Incarnational, I mean churches that attempt to be Christ's body everywhere. Their worship services are designed to be authentic expressions of praise from the lips of the local body. They believe that "seekers" might well be attracted to that level of authenticity, but that's not why they do it. They are more interested in community than rigid doctrinal conformity. Many are very small, meeting in homes or wherever they can. Some, like Westwinds, are much larger.

So what are the ups and downs of these models? Here's my take - my personal opinion that I invite you to interact with:


Strengths - good sense of community (often rooted in the local rural community and carried into the life of the church), strong sense of doctrinal agreement (they usually tightly define their doctrinal positions within the context of membership), longevity and rootedness (many of them have been around for generations).

Weaknesses - sense of community identity often not drawn from church but town, inability to "agree to disagree" on many doctrines and beliefs, outdated cultural language (who really listens to organs outside of a church context?), usually weak at evangelism, unwillingness to accept change (even when absolutely required for survival), typically missing an entire generation of people (primarily 18-30 yr old adults).


Strengths - strong emphasis on evangelism (often with astounding numbers of people coming to Christ), often many more material resources than other churches, willingness to change as needed, fairly able to maintain doctrinal standards.

Weaknesses - little sense of authentic community, lack of depth of Biblical studies, difficulty leading people into discipleship, typically missing postmodern adults, foster a "watch the show" mentality.


Strengths - strong emphasis on discipleship, strong sense of Biblical community, strong emphasis on spreading mercy and grace.

Weaknesses - very (often too) broad doctrinal positions within the local assembly (frankly, some are involved in heresy), often de-emphasis on "evangelism" (sometimes taking "friendship evangelism" too far), tendency to deconstruct virtually all of Christianity without an equal vigor to reconstruct anything of value, often missing an entire group of people (moderns in general, older people in particular).

These are broad brushes - I recognize that. I'm not intending to say or imply that all churches of a given philosophy of ministry adhere to the generalizations I've laid out. They are general observations. In particular, they are my observations.

Which leaves me with two questions:

1. What have you observed (where do you agree or disagree with me)?

2. So what? What do we do with this collected information?


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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Westwinds and the Incarnational Model

Jered had some questions about some things I talked about during Sunday School last week. He addressed them in a comment on an earlier post, but I think this conversation might get long and I'm therefore setting them into their own post. Let me take Jered's questions one at a time, and I'll welcome your thoughts thereafter. By way of context, here's part of Jered's original comment:

In Sunday school you mentioned the acrostic IPAC for the Incarnational church, Westwind, I believe. Everything about that model cried out to me; the focus on imagination and creativity, the embracing of authenticity, the empowering of the congregation to do good works, and obviously the communal focus....

First of all, yes - it was Westwinds in Jackson, MI that I was talking about. They are a self-described Emerging church. Just so we're clear, the iPAC acronym is theirs. Imagination, Permission, Authenticity, Community: iPAC. There's a flash sequence on the bottom of their homepage that visually identifies this creed. the Incarnational model synonymous with emerging or missional or is it another closely related way of doing things?

Westwinds does, in my opinion, serve as a great example of the so-called Incarnational model of ministry. The Attractional model says, "Create an environment that will attract seekers and make them feel safe and comfortable". The Incarnational model says, "Create authentic community as a help to the spiritual growth of the congregation and as a testimony to God's glory; seekers, should the Spirit lead them, will see this depth and sincerity and perhaps be attracted to it (though that's not the point)". Okay, maybe nobody would actually say that, but that's my take on Incarnational.

"Missional" is not exactly the same as Incarnational. Missional describes the philosophy of ministry for the local church; Incarnational describes the philosophy of community. The two definitely overlap, but to keep the meaning of the words distinct, I'll keep this distinction a bit more academically than it might appear in reality.

"Emerging" is a very nebulous term right now. There is no single accepted definition. But for me and in this context, it is the catch-all term that sums up these two concepts: emerging churches are (by and large) both Incarnational and Missional. One can be Missional without being Emerging - the FGBC, for example. That's Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, for you non-Grace Seminary folk! They are decidedly Missional in their thinking, but not Emerging (though they're not all anti-Emerging).

I'd encourage all of you to poke around on Westwinds website. They are one of the more theologically orthodox of the emerging churches that I know much about. Read and see what they have to say.

And let me know what you think.


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Monday, February 12, 2007

Change Without Compromise, part 2

If you look through the comments on my "emerging theory" blog, you'll find this:

I was just searching the net and found your blog entry about the conference at NorthRidge. I would love to hear more of your thoughts regarding the conference: delivery, message, and content. Was it practical/applicable or was it simply informational for you?

It was posted by Scott - a man I don't know in any way at all. Just so we're clear, Scott is a complete stranger to me (as far as I know). But he asked a very good question, and I thought I'd answer it. My previous post ("Change Without Compromise") addressed it in some ways, but I'll try to stay to the parameters Scott set forth...

Delivery: Change Without Compromise was delivered almost exclusively by Brad Powell. Brad is a very effective communicator. He is passionate, genuine, articulate and engaging. It would be very hard to critique Brad as a speaker. Someone older than I might say he was too sarcastic at times, but not those of my generation.

He's clearly making an attempt to look young and therefore "relevant" to culture, which I admit did bother me some. From his hair style to his clothing choices, he seemed just a small bit like he was trying too hard. Like most postmoderns, my radar for "poser" is on the hyper-sensitive setting, so maybe I'm being too hard on him...

Message: Brad's message is a fine one - sometimes churches simply must change. In fact, Brad would argue, all churches must be always changing to be "relevant" to the culture. Here I disagree, but more on that later.

As for the "sometimes you just have to change" message, he's absolutely right. Far too many of our American churches look like museums of the 1950s. They are completely uncomfortable, completely irrelevant, completely unacceptable - frankly - to the vast majority of Americans. And change is HARD, another message that Brad knows from deep and painful experience. He encouraged everyone at the conference to pursue the necessary changes as if "playing to an audience of One" - which is precisely what we should all be doing.

The steps he offered and the advice he gave for implementing change were often spot-on, I think. He affirmed for me some theories of change I'd studied, but also offered a level of personal experience I hadn't encountered before. I found myself genuinely infected by his "if we could change, you can change" mantra. Rarely has a church faced such an uphill battle as Temple Baptist (now NorthRidge). While I might not whole-heartedly endorse where they are now, it's certainly a vastly better place than where they were.

Content: The content of the conference was pretty much a long series of group sessions led by Brad, centered around the fundamental message of change (without compromising Biblical truth - an emphasis I really appreciated). But, as I mentioned above, some of the particulars I had a hard time with:

All churches must be always changing to be "relevant" to the culture: Not true, folks. In a word, here's why: multi-generationalism. If we foster multi-generational churches, we will have various people "in house", as it were, that are relevant to other like them by default. Want to be relevant to 70 year olds? Have some 70 years olds in your church. How about skater kids? Have some in your church. 40-something businessmen? Have some in your church. Authentic community fosters authentic relevance. The truth is that attractional model churches live by this truth and don't even know it - they've created an artificial environment that is "relevant" to only one slice of culture (primarily upper-middle class white suburbia) . And they wonder why they can't reach postmoderns!

Excellence honors God and inspires people: Wrong again. Excellence can honour God, but it can also be fake, or at least look fake. Excellence can inspire people, but it can also intimidate them or give them a "watch and see" (while the "excellent" do their thing) mentality. God desires our best, not our excellence. If your best is singing a bit off key, go for it! But Brad boldly declared that we shouldn't let such a person sing before the congregation - ever! He literally posed the age-old situation: what if aunt Sally tells you she's "got a song in [her] soul" and wants to let it out? Brad's answer? Tell her "good, but keep it there" because none of us want to hear it. I seriously almost cried during the conference at this point...

Our competition is bars and malls and restaurants and such, so we must look as good or better than them: Again, wrong. Our "competition" is sin and the sin nature and the Devil. Maybe add materialism and sex to the list too. In short, our competition is Darkness, and we have the Light. But we are in no serious way "competing" with the shiny temples of American consumerism, are we? Is it any wonder that Attractional models seem to only attract people who would otherwise spend their Sundays at these shiny temples of American consumerism? Oh wait, don't Attractional models often at least look like shiny temples of American consumerism? Yes, friends, they do and they often are.

So once again, I find myself arriving at the same place. Attractional model churches (including NorthRidge) seem very good at evangelizing, especially a specific demographic (that happens to be ginormous in America right now - Boomers). But they seem inherently designed to stifle authentic community, without which they will never reach the coming postmodern wave.

I hope that helps, Scott.


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Change Without Compromise

I've now officially had a few days to process some of the things I saw and heard at the Change Without Compromise conference last week. As a reminder (since I wrote about it earlier), it's a conference held at a mega-church grown in the Attractional (seeker) model. The principles taught were designed to help you move a church through needed but difficult transition...

I don't have a lot of this stuff settled in my head. I'm still working through the implications of tons of ideas. But I do have some initial thoughts. So on to my brief list of observations/comments about this mega-church (and presumably other):

1. The place really looks and feels like "McDonald's does church". It's too well put-together, if you know what I mean.

2. "Excellence honors God and inspires people" (the catch phrase of so many attractional churches) is only partly true. They give you the feeling that what they really mean is only excellence honors God and inspires people. Nothing could be further from the truth, to be honest. If you have to ask why, you don't get postmodernity.

3. They are doing an amazing evangelistic work. How many churches can honestly say that more than 50 people trusted the LORD in the first week of February within the context of their ministry?

4. They are really not good at much else in the Christian life. I've ranted for years that the highest goal in life is not the Gospel and leading souls to Jesus. The highest goal in life is God's glory. One of the ways this is seen is through the spread of the Gospel. Maybe even the chief way, but not the only way. Attractional models clearly seem to put the Gospel where the Glory should be.

5. Postmoderns don't dig it. Q: "Of the 12,000ish people who call your church their own, how many do you have in your college-age ministry?". A: "About 80". Reason (IMHO): postmoderns can see shallow a mile away.

6. Deep people (in general) don't seem to dig it: Q: "Of the 12,000ish people who call your church their own, how many come to the Bible-study/Sunday School classes you offer?". A: "About 120". Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying people who like SS are necessarily "deep" and those that don't aren't. This tidbit was just one in a series of pieces of information that lends itself to the theory that attractional models inherently attract people looking for merely "the show".

7. Great place for a concert. Poor place for fostering authentic community.

8. We have to look great because we're competing with bars and restaurants and malls that look great. I'm sorry - wrong answer. Please play again sometime.


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Friday, February 9, 2007

My emerging theory

So here I am at this conference (see post below). I've been through two days of it so far; half a day more. It's being held at and by a HUGE mega-church of the Seeker variety. I'm trying to process what's been said thus far, so what I'm about to write are by no means my final thoughts. I'm just "thinking out loud", as it were...

I've been exposed to a new term: attractional model. Seeker churches are a kind of attractional model of doing church - you do whatever you can to attract people to come and see you (without compromising doctrine, in the view of the church holding the conference) and thereby gain an audience to share the Gospel. It's wildly successful at that, here at NorthRidge: their ministries saw 51 people make a commitment to Christ in the first 7 days of this month already!

But what they're not good at is discipleship or depth of community. The director of adult ministries very candidly admitted that they don't even know how many people are involved in small groups. They know they have a problem. They know their worship services alone cannot accomplish community or discipleship. They also believe it's a challenge common to attractional models (think Willow Creek or Saddleback, for example).

On the other hand, incarnational models of doing church (think emerging or missional) are very good at discipleship and community, and not as good at evangelism (at least compared to attractional models - a lot of this has to do with demographics, but now I'm getting off my topic...).

So I'm wondering: both models can be effective, but is it as simple as this?

Attractional: EVANGELISM and discipleship
Incarnational evangelism and DISCIPLESHIP

More importantly, if this is true (and it's definitely an 'if' for me right now), then why can't the two models work together? Why can't attractional model churches work with or even plant incarnational models to somehow work together? What about the concept of one church and yet multiple congregations? There are a lot of ramifications to this thinking that I've not run through my head yet, but it's a theory I'm thinking through right now, and I'd love it if ya'll would help me...


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Monday, February 5, 2007

More on Culture

It seems to me (right now) that there are four ways Christians look at the culture around them.

1. - Culture is bad and we should hide from it (think, Amish).
2. - Culture is "secular" and our job is to reach out and bring people back to the "sacred" (which is usually code for "our own Christian subculture").
3. - Culture is amoral. Use it however necessary for the sake of the Gospel (as defended in Emerging Churches - see my critique of that book here).
4. - Culture must be interpreted through Scripture: what's evil is rejected, the rest is used to be culturally relevant.

I found a blog post at The Resurgence that puts together a very healthy view of culture and "cultural relevance" - one that puts a finer point on my view (#4) than I have myself. It's well worth the read.

Here's the link. Read it and let me know what you think.


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Book Review: Simple Church

This was a book I read because it was required for the one-week class I'm about to attend. I wasn't sure why the professor was so adamant that we read it before we attend the upcoming church conference (on change - the one I posted on below). Having finished the book last night, I understand his insistence...
Simple church presents a somewhat radical, yet decidedly simple concept: the churches that are the most "simple" are the most effective.

So first of all, what do the authors mean by "simple"? They argue that the fundamental purpose of a church is to make disciples. They are careful to note that it's the LORD who carries out this "making like Christ" in our lives, but also propose that the local church is responsible for creating an environment where this is most likely to happen. So a simple church (by their definition) is "designed around a straightforward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth".

So what do the authors mean by "effective"? They use Sunday morning worship service attendance (and its growth or lack thereof) as the marker for effective. While this sounds somewhat suspect, they offer (in an appendix) a rationale: "Research indicates that people only remain in worship services over time as they are moved to greater levels of commitment. Measuring the church's annual average weekly worship attendance measures the ability of the church to attach people, not just attract them".

In a nutshell, they maintain that churches should define what a disciple of Jesus "looks like" in three or four ways, then structure the church's programs around these. For example, if your church believes that disciples of Jesus 1) love the LORD, 2) love each other, and 3) love the lost, then you structure everything around moving people through that chain. So your Sunday morning worship service becomes the primary vehicle for "love the LORD". You may have small groups that encourage "love each other", and perhaps outreach teams (of varying kinds) the foster "love the lost". If a present church program doesn't fit this paradigm, you kill it (either slowly or quickly - depends on your circumstances). If a new program is suggested that doesn't fit the paradigm, you kill it.

To otherwise, they contend, is to be "complex". Complexity pulls people in lots of directions. Complexity fosters an environment where church leaders compete for the attendance of their flock. Complexity dilutes effectiveness because it lacks clarity. Sadly, most churches fit this description.

On to my take:

1.) There's something about the "simple" concept that resonates with me. As the authors point out, "simple" is being marketed to us all the time - precisely because it resonates with people in a too-busy world. There's also something inherently postmodern about the idea (maybe pre-modern, in reality). So creating simplicity in focusing on disciple making within the context of the local church seems like a great idea.

2.) The book is decidedly modern in its philosophy. Facts and figures abound - the result of their research that shows a "highly significant relationship" between this or that.... Also, there's lots of talk about doing ministry in an "excellent" way. They are seemingly very supportive of the uber-church phenomenon. Sometimes they even sound borderline consumerist.

3.) The book is most certainly Seeker friendly - and as you know by now, I'm not a big Seeker guy!

I'm trying to decide how a Missional guy like me can make use of the concepts in Simple Church. I'm convinced that their fundamental assertions fit - churches should be actively fostering an environment that encourages the disciple making process, and "simple" resonates with culture in a counter-cultural way. Just what this means for Missional I haven't quite wrapped my head around yet...

Your take?


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Saturday, February 3, 2007

Church Change

I've got a seminary course next week that meets in a one-week module format. The first two days will be on campus. But after that we'll be attending a "Change Without Compromise" conference in Michigan. The church facility it's being held at is NorthRidge Church, and the official site of the conference (which I presume travels) is here. I'm not sure what to think about all of this, to be honest...

I get the impression that the church we're headed to is decidedly Seeker - something I'm decidedly not. But I've been told the conference itself doesn't really address that issue. It's more general purpose, I guess. We'll see...

Also, we'll be attending a postmodern church's Saturday meeting on the way back home. I'm looking forward to that. I think we'll be given a chance to talk with some of the church leadership folk as well.

All told, the course (including the conference) sounds like it should be very informative, and a good place to test some of my heretofore more philosophical thoughts about Missional and emerging.

I'll keep you posted. If I get a chance, I'll try to post something during the conference.


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Friday, February 2, 2007

Christians and the Environment

Having just posted a review of a book about environmental issues and Christian faith, I thought I'd ask you all: what's your understanding of how a Christian should understand "the environment"? I know you're all going to say "we should be stewards/caretakers of God's creation" ... but I'm looking for more specific thoughts. For example...

1.) What about extinction? How and why should we be concerned about a species going extinct?

2.) What about hunting? How and why should a Christian hunt animals?

3.) What about "factory farms", wherein the chicken you ate for lunch was likely raised in a 12" x 12" pen it's entire life?

4.) What about organic foods? Should a Christian care about the "organic" movement?

These are just example questions. Answer one, all, or none. But I'm interested in your thoughts about environmentalism and Christian faith - what's the relationship between the two?


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Book Review: Pollution and the Death of Man

As JB will testify, this book review is long overdue.

Francis Schaeffer on environmentalism? Absolutely! And well worth the read. Believe it or not (he says in mock astonishment) there once was a time when environmentalists blamed the earth's eco problems on ... Christians!! I know it's hard to imagine such a time in human history, but trust me - it happened. Oh wait, it still does. All the time.

So even though this book was written in 1970, it's still of value to us today. My one most prominent criticism of the book isn't entirely fair - Schaeffer doesn't adequately reflect on postmodernity as he wrestles with the issue. Postmodernity was in an emerging state (pun intended!) in 1970, so I can't really blame Schaeffer. Still, it's probably the biggest mark against the book for us today.

On to the gist of things. Schaeffer wrote in response to a specific article (included in the appendix of the edition I read) that explicitly blamed the Christian doctrine of "dominion over creation" for the ecological problems of the day. In his short book, Schaeffer responds to this criticism and turns the tables. For Schaeffer, not only is a proper Christian worldview not the problem, it is in fact the only real solution.

In a nutshell: we are creatures, in that we are created beings. So are trees and flowers - we therefore share a base-level commonality with these other created things. As such, we should show tremendous respect for them, in their place. In other words, we cannot let the needs of a tree override the needs of a family. But that doesn't' mean we can treat the tree however we choose - it is, after all, a fellow created being. Our position as Christians is to act as God's stewards - we care for the earth, not dominate it.

Here's where Schaeffer turns the tables: non-Christian environmentalists, no matter how well-meaning, are ultimately serving out of selfish motives. Most genuinely believe they are "saving the earth for future generations" - but even that is a humanocentric way of looking at things. Only the Christian can honestly say, "I'm caring for the environment selflessly - I'm just serving the LORD who created it and me". Some would argue that Christians are, in fact, doing this selfishly (with an eye to some sort of divine "reward") but this reasoning is too presumptive and cynical to take seriously. Do any of us truly think that God somehow "owes" us a reward for anything we do here on earth?

But don't think that Schaeffer is letting Christians off the hook. Not at all! He calls out those who misuse the environment for what they are - wrong, and in sin. We can never go back to the oft-heard "Christian" attitude of the past, "The LORD's coming back sometime soon, anyway - what's the sense in caring for the planet?"... I've actually heard Christians say that - one as he was throwing a Styrofoam cup out of his car window!

So let's embrace the challenge of making the environmental movement a distinctly Christian movement. We have the best answers and the purest motives, after all.

And a Biblical mandate to steward the Creation.


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Postmodernity hits retail

For reasons still unknown to me, I've been getting Display and Design Magazine for years now (here at work). It's an odd magazine for me to be getting - very "high concept" retail. Anyway, like many mags, the editor gets in the inside front cover to talk about ... whatever she wants. In the first issue of 2007, her article is entitled "Four Trends for the Future". Talk about postmodernism! ...
She never identifies what she's talking about in modern/postmodern terms, but she lays out the case for postmodernity hitting the world of retail nicely.

For example, trend 1 is "Go Slow". She talks about "slow food", "slow cities", and "slow retail" (if you're not familiar with these concepts, you should be - click here - slow food or here - slow cities for more info). She ends her discussion with "The message from the entire Slow Movement is slow down - enjoy life". Most postmoderns are fed up with rampant consumerism and materialism. Nice to see some of this impacting the retailers themselves in a positive way.

She also talks about Indies - whether independent films or independent hardware stores - and how "smaller store sizes also are becoming popular". Her last two points are "Social Networking" ("stores become hubs for social networks for specialized groups of consumers, providing ways for customers to meet and connect") and "New Humanism", wherein people - not just the profits - actually matter. She points to a Starbucks ad that reads, "High ideals don't have to conflict with the bottom line: owned and operated by Human Beings".

So community, richness of environment, social concerns, quality (over quantity) of life, etc... Sound like familiar themes to anyone?

If retailers are starting to figure out what makes postmoderns tick, why is there such deafening silence within the walls of churches?


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Thursday, February 1, 2007

Book Review: Emerging Churches

I started reading this book with fear and trembling, to be honest. I knew that this book (because of the accolades certain emerging leaders have given it) would shed a great deal of light on the most radical stream of emergent churches. I was afraid that I would find confirmation of my suspicions - that these folk are too far removed from the teachings of the Bible...

Sadly, I was right. But let me first get to some of the good in this book.

1.) Missional thinking - though they often go places I think are outside of the confines of the Text, I must give enormous credit to the emerging movement for focusing attention on missional living.

2.) No Culture-phobia - too many Fundamentalist and Evangelical churches view "culture" as synonymous with "the world" and "worldliness" ... and therefore "sin". Give credit to emerging leaders - they don't have this problem. They are passionate in their belief that the sacred/secular divide is dysfunctional. Like Missional thinking, they go further than I think the Text allows (like viewing culture as largely amoral). But give them credit for avoiding the Christian-subculture view that so many Seeker/Purpose Driven churches foster.

3.) Social concern - generally when I say "social activism" to my Christian friends, they think I've "gone liberal"! Sad. But true. So it's nice to read of Christ-followers that take seriously the needs of the poor and needy in their communities. And it's equally refreshing to read that these folk love and care for the needy simply because it's the right thing to do, not necessarily out of a desire to evangelize them. Here, as elsewhere, they go to far - building bridges toward someday sharing the Gospel (my take on Missional and social concern) is not the same as never even considering sharing the gospel (their take on Missional and social concern).

On to the bad, or at least a very selective list of the many, many things I could pick on:

1.) Ecclesiology based upon the life and ministry of Jesus. In this book you will read over and over again that the "life of Jesus" is their model for church structure (or lack thereof) and function. But here I have a fundamental problem - the Church wasn't even in EXISTENCE during the life of Jesus! Bad - very bad - theology. Recontextualize all you want; you can't avoid the simple truth of the birth of the Church (Pentecost - after Jesus' life on earth). Moreover, this sort of thinking implicitly wants to separate the Bible into good/better/best. In this scheme, the OT is good (as in, it's pretty much never mentioned anywhere in this 300+ page book); the post-Gospels/Acts stuff is better (it's occasionally referenced, though usually in a deficient way); the Gospels and Acts are best (as in, we draw our theology from them, even though they were clearly never meant to be used this way). This sort of pick-and-choose way of looking at Scripture is deficient at best.

2.) Selective hermeneutics - when trying to justify their deficient view of "church" (more on that in a minute), they repeatedly refer to (especially) "the priesthood of all believers" and "neither male nor female" to justify their position without ever dealing with the multitude of NT texts that speak about "elders", "shepherds", "deacons", and other explicit notions of church structure. Again, it's pick-and-choose; you pick the verses of Scripture that sound (without context, not coincidentally) like they support your view and never deal with the others.

3.) A deficient view of leadership - you get the distinct impression that many of these emerging church leaders were burned by a pastor or church body at some point in their past. The first appendix of the book gives short auto-biographies of most of the people interviewed, and they often speak of negative experiences. Anyway, the emerging church folk are largely advocating complete egalitarianism - most have no official pastor, few have any paid staff, and virtually all believe democracy is the highest form of church government. Some even openly advocate for "leaderless church". So what about the roughly sixty-two zillion verses in the Bible that address leadership? What about the constant NT theme of elders who are vested with actual authority? What about the clear system of authority in the Jerusalem church? What about deacons? None of it is dealt with. I am very open to other views of church government, largely because the NT says so little about how churches should be structured. But the Text does say a few things: like, you can't be a church without elders. You can be a group. You can be a community. You can be a circle of friends. But Biblically you can't be a church without elders. I don't care if you call them "pastors" instead of elders, incidentally. But this is one of the few things your Biblical definition of "local church" must include. But there's doesn't. In fact, many openly accuse people like me (with a Biblical view of leadership and authority) of being nothing more than power-hungry - sorry, but the ad hominem attacks bear little weight either.

4.) There's so much more that could be criticized... but I'm tired, and I think you get the point by now...

I'm sorry if this "review" turned into more of a rant. I had - and in many ways still have - high hopes for the emerging movement. Mark Driscoll is credited as referring to the "toilet of emergent theology". This book will definitely support such an assertion. [More on the emerging versus emergent issue later.]

Having said all that, if you're genuinely interested in the movement, I think this is one of those "must read" books. Just understand that your going to find yourself oft-frustrated as you read it.


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