Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My trip to London…

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

This is what I believe in…

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

A theology of the Bible discussed

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

Rethinking sermons

I have long been discontent with the style of sermon I often hear in many churches that I visit as well as the style of sermon I was encouraged to preach during my education. I think that I have begun to find words for this discontentment.

"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

The Creeds?

Last night at the DC Emergent Cohort we had, I think, one of the most interesting conversations that we have had in a while. Consistent Cohorter and member of Church of the Common Table Ryan Page, led us in a honest questioning of the value of saying the creeds in our common life as Christian communities.

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.