Thursday, May 7, 2009
Saturday, April 11, 2009
I was talking with a fried the other day about the problem with the slippery slope argument (you know the one: if you question 1 thing the bible says, 6 day creation for example, then it's a short downhill trip to questioning everything and losing your faith) is that it's just too blunt. The way he put it was that it's like using a chainsaw to chop garlic. I agree, I think we must look carefully at every issue independently of where it leads. If I am convinced that evolution is true, then I am convinced it is true, and I need to deal with my understanding of Genesis 1 in light of that. But I don't need to worry about every other possible question that might come down the road. When those come, I will look at them carefully too.
So that's settled, but, I also have been thinking of an equally blunt argument that takes the slippery slope argument head on which is the house of cards argument.
The house of cards argument says that if your faith is so constructed that to challenge any one aspect (be it the Bible, or the virgin birth, or miracles, or the church, or whatever) shakes the foundation of everything you believe, then you don't have a very well built faith. What you have, in fact, is a house of cards. And what do you do with a house of cards? You protect it from anything that might blow it over – because it is so fragile.
However, if your faith is built so that every aspect is held independently (connected but not structurally dependent on each other) then it can stand the questions and challenges that are bound to come up if your life is going to be anything other than safe. Common images for this I have heard are like nodes in a web, or springs on a trampoline (thank you John Franke and Rob Bell, respectively).
The thing that connects these two arguments is that, at the end of the day, the concern of both of them is pastoral. The slippery slope argument fears that if you question any aspect of your faith you will lose it all, and the house of cards argument fears that if you don't question your faith then you aren't building it in a structurally sound way, and eventually the whole thing will come crashing down.
I suppose I am beginning to see my calling as someone who can help people reconstruct their faith in a not-house-of-cards way.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Several years back Tara and I took a trip to London. At the time I was much more, "Yay America" than I am now. But I remember thinking, pretty much the moment I got there, that you know maybe other countries know what they're doing. All of a sudden I began to see the world as a place of dialogue and cooperation where no country, even my own, had all the answers. I know that seems obvious, and had you asked me before I am sure I would have said the right thing, but somehow being there made it true to me in a new way. And it's not like I had any deep political conversations with any locals. Just being there was enough.
When I first became a Christian I was very much involved in a very unique, successful (and now somewhat notorious) church plant up in Seattle. The attitude there was very much we are starting this church because every other church has it wrong. And that was pretty much my attitude. That was, at least, until I went to seminary. At seminary, studying with folks from all kinds of traditions (Baptist to Unitarian) I realized that though I didn't agree with all of them on everything, they all had something to contribute.
My view of the church, like my view of the world when I went to London, became a place of dialogue and cooperation where no church, even my own, had all the answers.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
I believe in God, the father, the maker of heaven and of earth and of all things seen and unseen. The One God who was and is and is to come. I believe He is active in the world and that He is benevolent. I believe that He loves all of humanity and seeks a reconciled relationship with all of humanity, not only that but all of creation as well.
I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe he was (and is) in some way that I do not begin to understand, both entirely human and entirely God. I believe he came to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins. I believe his life death and resurrection inaugurated the Kingdom of God, the time in which God's will is done, "on earth as it is in heaven". I believe he taught us what to expect in that kingdom (the last being first and the poor being blessed) and how to behave in it (turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile).
I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe God's spirit of perfect holiness is active in the world reconciling us to Himself, bringing about peace and wholeness and working particularly in the people of God, the Church.
I believe in the Church. I believe in the whole Church, the church catholic ("universal"). I believe in all God's people – forgiven and reconciled to God and tasked with being a part of the coming to fruition of God's kingdom.
When I say that I believe in I mean that I have faith in, I put my trust in. It is different from saying I believe that…
I believe that the Bible is the true and trustworthy revelation of God about God, about Jesus and about the story of God's people (Israel and the Church).
I do not put my faith in
the Bible, I do not put my trust in it. So in that way I can say I Believe the Bible, but don't believe in it. I've made this point before but felt the need to make it again.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Hey folks, this is a long email to a friend of mine who I am having a discussion with about the KOG. What I discuss is a way of reading the Bible, and I thought it might be interesting enough to share. I apologize for not editing it down, but I need to hang out with my kid.
Ok, I'm gunna finally try to give a decent response to your thoughts here. I have been excited to respond for a while just haven't had the time/energy to put pen to paper (so to speak). Like I've said, I'm excited because I think we are getting to the crux of things, and that's where good conversation happens.
The points in your post I would like to highlight are these:
"I think what has also turned me off a bit to that part of the conversation has been the way of talking about the Kingdom in a way that it is we who are bringing it about."
"I would say that I root a lot of my understanding of the KOG in Romans 5, where Paul outlines Jesus as the New Adam and His recapitulation of humanity."
Ok, before I talk more about the KOG (which I might not get into in this email), I wanna talk a second about how I think that you and I read scripture differently. And I only dare discuss this because I feel at this point you know that I respect you as a Christian and as a theologian. So, even though I will be communicating in such a way that proposes my way of reading scripture as being somehow better, please understand I hold that opinion humbly, realize I could be wrong, and regardless do not consider it the measure of a Christian. But it's useless to try and pretend that I think all theologies or strategies of reading the Bible are equally valuable because I don't and if I did, what would be the point of discussing it. Anyway, here it is.
I imagine, from reading your thoughts thus far, that you read the scriptures through the lens of a systematic theologian. Which means that there is a kind of meta-narrative or philosophical schema, a systematic theology is what I'm saying, that scripture then fits into. Now don't hear me wrong here. I trust that your overall structure is Biblical and I'm not suggesting that it is something made up "outside" of the text and superimposed on top of it. We can have conversations about who's overall systematic theology is more biblically sound then the other, and that's a useful conversation to be sure, but I am talking about something different here.
The theology riding underneath your strategy (forgive my assumptions, please correct me where I am wrong) is that of God's, how should I say, hands on approach to the creation of the scripture. I don't know if you go as far as inerrancy but I assume that you believe that God's inspiration of the Bible means a handful of things. For example, that there is coherent "truth" that is represented throughout the text. That there are no serious contradictions in teaching or doctrine in the Bible. That the Bible itself is sufficient for our faith. Etc. How am I doing so far? (btw. don't assume I'm too big a heretic yet, I'm not saying I disagree with all this, entirely)
So what, then, is a different view of the Bible? I believe that God was active in inspiring the events of the Bible as well as the folks who wrote down those events, as well as the communities who edited and canonized those accounts. I also believe that God has been active in the communities that have read them over the centuries, and still is today (no disagreement so far, I bet). However, I also believe that at every step of the way, humanity was active in the process as well. In the events, the stories told, the creation of the text, and the interpretation. I think the creedal statements about Jesus work for scripture as well – entirely God (inspired) and entirely man (man made).
Therefore, I don't believe that the Bible offers us a perfect, consistent, systematizable, truth. Rather, I believe that the Bible is a man made/God inspired text that we read, study and meditate on for a lifetime to, hopefully, through prayer, understand more and more about God throughout our life.
So, I am ok with there being tensions in the Bible, and here's my point. I believe that the stories about Jesus as represented by the Gospel writers (at least Mt, Mk & Lk) present to us a teaching primarily concerned with the Kingdom of God, and our activity in it. Whereas the teachings of Paul are primarily concerned with something else (I'm not sure how to say it, maybe 'the theology and ontology of the Christ event"?). And that these two things, though not exactly at odds, are in tension with one another. Which is why churches have a "canon within the canon" meaning parts of scripture that they concentrate on, dictated, I would argue, by whatever theological superstructure they come to the Bible with.
However, I believe that if we instead come to the scripture without attempting to find an overarching superstructure of truth we will be able to do justice to the tensions that exist in the text.
So, for example, if the question is: Is the KOG up to us, or up to God, the answer can be YES.
Now, to your point about the Emerging Church, do I think that sometimes some of us fall to far on the side of human responsibility, as a reaction to our evangelical roots that we felt were in error on the other side, yes. Which, actually, is why I originally sought you out as a conversation partner, to provide that tension in my own life. Because I believe that the tension is itself, biblical (I'd love to see a systematic theology based around the idea of tension, maybe I'll write one someday).
I'm excited to hear your thoughts on this.
Grace and peace,
Thursday, March 12, 2009
"Relevant to daily life" is the goal of all sermons, according to common wisdom. The parishioners should walk away with something they can immediately apply to their life. Some change of behavior, attitude, or sometimes belief.
Of course their is nothing wrong with this goal in itself, but here's my frustration. I believe that ultimately the best thing I can do for my community as a preacher is to give them a fuller, deeper, truer image of Jesus, God and the Gospel. And that if I am successful in that, then that will have a more lasting, and truer to the gospel, affect on their daily life.
But here's the rub. That's hard. It takes intense attention to the text, a willingness to embrace some mystery and paradox and to lay down what we think we know about Jesus and God, not to mention all of my skills as a communicator, just to try and show forth Jesus well. When I do try to make a sermon immediately "relevant to daily life" I usually circumvent the process of true exploration in search of some clever, relevant, interesting soundbite that I think people will remember.
And brother's and sister's in the ministry, I fear I've heard most of y'all do this too.
But maybe, when I've been doing this longer, I will find a way to do both.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Now I am a fan of the creeds so I have to admit I wasn't excited about the topic going in, but Ryan made me stop and think. Not so much about the value or theology of the creed themselves, they have their weirdness's, but all and all I think they are strong and useful. But about the potential threat against hospitality to the un-churched visitor in reciting the creed in our church services. Here is the analogy he made, I found it haunting.
There is a scene in 1984 where a character is being tortured for the purpose of brainwashing him. And as mice are eating his face he is being instructed to say that there are 5 lights in front of him when there are clearly only 4. This first lie, or breech of integrity, is all the brainwashers need to eventually re-program the characters thinking.
To Ryan, this is what it feels like (without the rats, of course) to be pressured by a group of people to stand up and recite a bunch of words that you don't yet believe or understand.
That made me stop and think. I don't know what to do about it, but I think its worth thinking about.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Second. The family and I are going to Phoenix to spend the week (two Sundays!) with my folks. This will be the first (and second) Sundays I've had off (not counting the Sundays spent in the hospital) since we planted CPCP August of 2006.
Third. A friend of mine just had a baby and these are the cutest pictures ever!
Fourth. I need a new XBox 360 game to play when I get home. Any suggestions?
Monday, February 9, 2009
“Will the generation that created Wikipedia be content with a traditional top down church hierarchical structure?” (Hat tip to Mike S.).
This question has helped to shape my thinking on this subject, because if the answer is no, and I believe, for most of us, it is, then that has serious consequences on how we form our communities. It doesn’t mean there is no leader (Wikipedia still has a CEO) but that the leader’s role in the community is different than it has been in the past. More facilitator and less boss, more coach, and less charismatic leader, more friend, and a little less priest.
And it means that we must create opportunities for our Christian communities to be shaped and led by everyone in the community who shows up. Not just the pastor, or staff, or leadership team, or the longest standing members, or the biggest givers, or whatever. All those people have roles to pay, but so does everyone who calls the church home.
But its more than structural, it’s theological also. I believe that the spirit is just as likely (if not decidedly more likely) to speak truth to the community then it is to speak truth to me. I believe the spirit is just as likely to give us guidance through the community as it is to give guidance to me. And believing that has consequences on how we do church as well. A simple example in my community is that after almost every sermon there is a time for discussion, for questions, for thoughts, for places where someone might disagree with me, etc. it’s a small thing but it seems to have a big affect on people.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Sunday, February 1, 2009
By new ways of communicating with God, I am referring primarily to things that might happen on a Sunday (or whenever the community gathers together for “worship”). This includes all the things you might normally think of when you think of an Emerging Church: stations, labyrinths, body prayer, discussion based sermons, etc.
Probably the best known and most interesting examples of this are Grace church in the UK with Johnny Baker and Icon in Dublin with Pete Rollins. But other churches are doing more humble things that I think are just as invigorating (e.g. The Common Table in Vienna VA, and my own community, CPCP in College Park, MD).
Ultimately, however, I think that experimental ways of communicating with God are hollow if they don’t allow for and encourage new ways of talking about God. This is one of the reasons why I think starting an “Emerging Service” within an established congregation can be so difficult – they often don’t have the stomach for new thoughts about God.
So let me just list some of the ideas about God (and broader theological issues) that I see being put on the table and rethunk in various Emerging Churches:
• Foundationalist understanding of truth
• Biblical inerrancy
• Original sin
• Eternal damnation
• Penal substitutionary atonement
• Homosexuality as sin
• God’s nature as being omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent
• And more…
Now, of course, I’m not saying that to be an Emerging Church a community must tackle all of these, and I certainly don’t think that to be an Emerging Church you have to come to the same conclusion on all (or any) of these. In fact a community might consider one of these things and decide that they still think the way they have always thunk is right, hopefully coming to a deeper and more nuanced opinion on the matter in the process. All I am saying is that I think for a church to be truly an “Emerging Church” it needs to be able to have an open conversation about things like the issues represented here, and if questioning any of these undermines your faith in the living God, well then I wouldn’t suggest seeking out an Emerging Church to worship in.
On the other, I don’t believe, as some might argue, that everything is up in the air in Emerging Churches. There are traditional theological ideas that I don’t see being questioned, but actually embraced whole heartedly as the real “stuff” of Christianity, and the way forward. Examples would include:
• The Trinity
• And more…
I would love to hear what others would add (or remove) to either of these lists.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
But also, unlike some of our mainline church neighbors, Emerging Churches are not content just throwing money at the problem or outsourcing our service to the professional clergy. Christians in Emerging Churches want to be in relationship with the people they are serving.
Let me talk about the two ways in which this works in my community, even though I know that in many ways what we do is woefully lacking. Our service constitutes primarily 2 activities:
First every Saturday a group from the church make lunches to hand out to a community of homeless people that live downtown. Of course that’s a pretty common thing for churches to do. But what we do that’s different is that we make only about 4 lunches per person going down. The goal being not to feed as many people as possible (let’s be honest, these guys know how to get food) but rather to spend some time with them, to get to know them.
So, having done this for the last two+ years we know most of these folks by name. We know they’re history, we know about their families, we know what’s going on relationally in the homeless community. Sometimes they come to church, sometimes we take them to the doctor or to the shelter, sometimes we have them over for dinner, and most weeks we pray for them by name during worship. I share this example, not because it’s great or impressive but because it’s simple.
Second, we do support a small aid organization that works with disabled children in Kenya called Kupenda for the Children (www.kupenda.org). Now in this instance we can’t really have relationships with the kids but we do have relationship with the American staff. The director, a young woman named Cindy, comes and shares with us frequently. We get there newsletter and bring them up in prayer. I am on their board of directors and we are looking for creative opportunities to raise funds for them.
Again, nothing about that is great or impressive, just that there is something “emergent” to me about finding a small NGO to support in whatever way we can. One where we will know by name the people who are doing the work we are supporting.
And again, I use my community not because we’re a stellar example but because we’re not. Because I think we are striving in the right direction in a way that might be helpful for others to hear about. But I do think that for a church to call itself "emerging" this idea of relational service -- in whatever way it works itself out -- needs to be a part of what they are doing.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
It seems that this question is on everyone’s minds these days. Some people are leaving the conversation and defining themselves over/against the term. Some people are saying let’s get rid of the term all together. And some people are breaking the term in to a myriad of camps, primarily along the same old lines of conservative and liberal. I think it’s time to raise the bar on who and what the Emergent Church is, who and what it is not, and to be unapologetic about it.
I mentioned some of this in an earlier post but I’d like to expand on it in a series of posts starting with:
First, the Emerging Church is about churches. It’s not about a brand, it’s not about an organization, it’s not about cohorts and it’s not about a series of blogs. Ultimately the Emerging Church is not about conversation, it’s about churches. Obviously, we can and should have conversations about the Emerging Church – I love my Cohort, I enjoy conferences, and I like to blog and read blogs – but ultimately the strength of the movement is not in any of these things. It is in churches that have the courage to take what they gain from the conversation and put feet on it.
I say all that because my sense is that people who are jumping ship, feeling the need to distance themselves, arguing over categories and terms, and answering interviewers questions with, “my concern about the Emerging Church is…” are not people who are actually living out this thing that is Emergent in a local community. They are bloggers and professors and mega-church associates.
Maybe I’m wrong about this (I probably am) but it seems to me that those of us who are busy with the work of trying to flesh this stuff out in a local community don’t care that much about what it’s called or who doesn't like us or what every bodies “concerns” are. Believe me, if I was still trying to please my old friend and mentor Mark Driscoll I wouldn’t be a stay at home dad, I wouldn’t be reading Jack Kaputo and Walter Brueggemann, I wouldn’t be planting a church with no money and I sure as heck wouldn’t be a graduate from Wesley Seminary!
Now again, I believe in the conversation. And I believe in continuing to have conversations with people who disagree with me (I have a coffee date with a conservative Evangelical on Thursday). But I guess what I would like to see is for our conversations to revolve around and celebrate the ways in which they are being fleshed out in local communities – to me, that is the future of the Emerging Church.
So in attempt to help facilitate that conversation (snicker at self) I will be offering 3 “marks” of an emerging church over the next week or so. I’m nothing close to an expert on this topic (is there one?) so I would love to hear about ways in which I am wrong or better, what I have left out.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
I hope everyone else is having a nice a day as I am.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Friday, January 16, 2009
The first is an inner city Catholic parish in downtown Baltimore. This church is deconstructive in that it is truly doing the work of the KOG among the least the last and the lost even though the community has, "no money and no Catholics". So the faithfulness of the parish in spite of the lack of support from the institutional church deconstructs the institutional church as not being about the KOG among the LLL (kingdom of God among the least, the last and the lost).
The second is Icon, Pete Rollins church in Dublin. Icon is creating truly experimental worship experiences for its people in order to deconstruct the peoples preconceived notions about God, Christianity, and religion, and force them to seek these things in new and vital ways.
So here's my point. I think that for a church to be "Emerging" it has to attempt BOTH of these things. It cannot be content with serving the LLL while every Sunday continuing the same old patterns of communication about (and with) God. On the other hand it can't be content to spend Sundays experimenting with new ways to communicate about God without being about the business of bringing the KOG to the LLL.
Furthermore, I think that an Emerging church also has to strive to be a place of authentic community -- whatever that may look like.
Now maybe its just my way of coping with a severe inferiority complex, but it seems to me that if a church tries to do all 3 of these things as well as it can its not going to do any of them as well as the examples in kaputo's book. But I think that striving for all 3 is more true to the ethos of Emergent then being truly great at just one.
But like I said, I don't know anything about the actual communities, I'm sure they do all three of these things to some extent.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
I think the two ideas are connected. I believe that God laments that evil exists in the world and is always, everywhere calling us back to himself. I believe that Free-will is real and is a beautiful and radical religious expression of the reality of the world as it is. I don’t believe it makes sense to think of a world where we have free will but somehow choose to do everything just the way God would have wanted us to. I believe that the church is to be the unique community that proclaims and welcomes and expresses the path to re-union with God. I believe that God’s judgment is real, and I say that with fear and trembling. When I read about the people Jesus describes as being deserving of judgment (the rich, the powerful, the comfortable, the religious leadership) I see myself and I ask for God’s mercy. I believe the life we live now has some sort of eternal consequences, I don’t know what and I don’t know how, but I throw myself at the mercy of God. And when I pray, I don’t (often) pray to change what God is going to do (“please heal my son”) I pray that I might better know God and God’s will (“God show me how to be a person who brings healing to the world”).
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
And yet, I have been finding myself saying things like, "Proclaiming the real -- or the ideal -- deconstructs the lie of the actual" (read my post on deconstruction). And on Sunday I preached a sermon arguing that sin is not simply about doing something that is or isn't on a list, but rather it is about the pursuit of Jesus Christ -- the ideal, again -- and the choices we make lead us towards or away from this ideal One.
So, am I becoming a Platonic Dualist? Or is there something fundamentally different about deconstruction that i don't yet grasp (or something about Platonic Dualism for that matter)? Is an ethics based on Christ as an ideal just another platonic ethical philosophy?
I am hoping somebody can help straighten me out on this because I don't really wanna read another book on deconstruction. Though i do have Pete Rollins, "How Not to Speak of God" next in my reading Q.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
So in 2009 lets all just commit to get on with the work of doing theology, preaching the Gospel in a holistic way and leading communities with real community and stop worrying about what Mark, Dan, Erwin (or whoever our personal ghosts are) might say if they heard us, which they probably won't anyway.
Personally, I have been covicted lately that I have been cowardly form the pulpit on many ocasions. I have found ways to avoid talking about things in new ways for fear of people who are more comfortable with old models. Which is a tragedy since most of the folks in my church are there becaue they are not happy with the old models anyway! So no more, I say, 2009 will see (I hope) a bolder more coragaous and more authentic Jason Mack at the pulpit (which is actually just a stool on a rug).
At the same time I beleive strongly in listening to people that disagree with me. But I mean really listening. I want to have real conversations with reasonable (and I mean reasonable) conservatives on why Penal Sibsitution is the only model for the atonement, and why that matters, and I want to have real conversations with reasonable liberals about why Jesus didn't have a bodily resurection, and why that doesn't matter. And I want to have good long conversations with people that think Jesus is but one of many ways to God, no better or worse then any other.
But what I dont want is to keep editing myself, or to keep hearing others edit themselves, out of fear of some made up person thats gunna come and take our microphones away (i dont really have a mic., I mean there's only 20 people in my church, so why would i need one, but you get the image, I'm sure). And I don't want to icolate myself so that the only voices I hear are ones that already agree with me.
God, in 2009, please give me the courage to speak the thoughts you put into my head, and the right people in my life to correct me about the ones you don't.