Jesus as a Storyteller

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A couple weeks ago I spent the day up in Santa Barbara with a friend. We had a nice day of it, lunch on the beach, visit to the natural history museum (where I spent a good bit of time twenty years ago), and wandering about the Mission. The point of the trip, however, was in the evening. We are both Wheaton College alumni and we joined other alumni at a Wheaton Club event, with the featured speaker Dr. Gary Burge, professor of New Testament at Wheaton. I had him about ten years ago or so for a brief class, only eight weeks long. But it was one of those classes that provide a sure foundation for later study. My time in seminary went wonderfully smooth academically in large part due to his teaching on New Testament Criticism. He was a masterful teacher then. And now.

This is what he talked about:

Jesus as Middle Eastern Story-Teller and Theologian

Jesus Christ was a master storyteller. His parables and metaphors swept up his audience and surprised them with themes they never before expected. Jesus’ stories gained power through his use of humor, surprise, irony and poetry, which were all based on the culture of first-century Palestine. Dr. Burge will bring to life Jesus’ teachings in their original context, helping us to hear like first-century listeners.

Here’s what he said, bout an hour long:

emerging labels

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This made me laugh.


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A little bit ago I gave a presentation and helped lead a discussion on a book by the theologian Jurgen Moltmann. Because if my long standing tradition of posting whatever on my website I finally got around to posting what I threw together.

Moltmann is a daunting writer and thinker, and his thoughts on the subject of eschatology are quite a bit different than popular or traditional thought in many ways. Indeed, I don’t think there’s any subject in which academic and popular discussions have parted ways more than on the topic of future things and eternity. But if you’re curious what one of the more brilliant theologians of the last fifty years has said, or at least what he said in the second half of the book I was responsible for have a go at the discussion of Moltman’s Coming of God.

Jesus, not the Church IV

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In Dan Kimball’s discussion on new generations and their view about spirituality he made this list:

1) The Church is an organized religion with a political agenda.

2) The Church is judgmental and negative.

3) The Church is dominated by males and oppresses females.

4) The Church is homophobic.

5) The Church arrogantly claims all other religions are wrong.

6) The Church is full of fundamentalists who take the whole Bible literally.

In his article he focused on three of these points, though to his credit he does note all six are worth thoroughly exploring. But he doesn’t explore them. And for a very good reason. Points 1, 2, and 5 are issues that the broader Evangelical church pretty much sees the same way. Sure, there are differences in responses. But we can agree that those points are approached in the same way, which is some derivation of “yes, but…”

However, the other points are more difficult, not least because these are sources of great conflict within the church among other Christians. There simply is no speaking for the whole of the Church, not even the whole of Evangelicals on these issues, and if one does take a stand it almost always will mean being rejected by others who think they are right on the topic. Our overemphasis on these issues has made us a myopic people. We don’t really even care if one believes in the resurrected Christ if they don’t agree with us on these topics. Kimball avoided these, and in doing that likely saved Christianity Today a lot of angry notes.

But, I’m feeling a little more intrepid. If these are the rejections then we need to bring out discussions out into the open. Be civil about it, to be sure. Maybe that’s the problem. We have a hard time being civil.

Though, I dare say, there’s something important in that. What inflames passions so much? Underneath these issues is a root cause, I think. Which is worth exploring.

Issue with the Church number three says, “The Church is dominated by males and oppressive to females.” Yes. Yes it has. And yes it often is. Don’t think so? Then go to any conservative Christian forum and assert a woman can be a pastor of a church. Now, of course, people won’t see that as being oppressive. They will argue Scripture, and argue some pretty clear verses of Scripture. They will argue the symbolism of Jesus and the symbolism of the Disciples. They will argue with tradition and with other pretty convincing sources both that women have a behind the scenes role and that women are not oppressed.

But, this doesn’t change history. There may be some good arguments in these various approaches, however, history shows that these arguments have often been employed not to bolster Christ, but to bolster the power of men, men who see themselves as the representatives of Christ.

The Church then has a lot to answer for and it’s not going to do well if it’s only answer is to place women in a spiritual role that is a century or more behind than the cultural role presently found. It’s well and good to talk about the importance of submission, but the question is not about hierarchy or power or control or a person’s place. The question is about the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s work in our world, a Spirit who gives gifts and motivates men and women towards all sorts of roles. In trying to police the Spirit, in trying to maintain societal restrictions the church is telling the Spirit how to work and what works will be acceptable. The Spirit doesn’t care about what leaders or self-appointed church police have to say. Which leads to conflict, and frustration, and all sorts of issues that are not inherent to God’s work but are inherent to human need to give God boundaries and interpret his work in the most restrictive ways possible.

What the church has to do, in action not just in theologizing rationalizations, is help women to find their Spirit given roles, and in doing this help define the boundaries of the church not by societal or cultural oppressions but by the freedom, joy, and power of the Spirit who redeems and inspires, bringing each person to their own fullness, and gathering together a group of people who celebrate their abilities. For too long the Church has been about limiting and squashing and denying, all so there could be some sort of symbolic representation of Christ. In doing this such rules have forgotten that the Church is the symbol. The gathered people are the symbols. The unity and diversity and freedom are the symbols of Christ who releases us from the Law so we can move past the cultural and religious boundaries to embrace the heavenly status that makes us all equal in status and roles.

God did make men and women different. Different enough that it seems silly to try to parse out yet more differences because of philosophical or religious interpretation. The Spirit who gives gifts does not give in order to tease and alienate, forcing women to have talents which must be hidden. The Spirit gives gifts and talents and training so that these gifts will be used, even if their use bothers insecure men and Law dependent leaders.

The Church has failed in this area for too long, much as it failed in a clear message of racial equality. Just another way it showed that the Spirit wasn’t quite as important for the functioning as preferred order and rules. Now, however, we are in a different time, a time in which we can find a new freedom of the Spirit, and a time in which gender roles can exist within the differences God has made, and without the distinctions and oppressions humanity has for too long enforced.

We need to move on, and only in that way, only by having freedom in our churches without oppression can we adequately respond to this most important critique.


emerging church, liturgy, nascent church, theology 3 Comments »

A little while ago I was talking to a friend about churchy things. He told me he was trying to come up with a new term that was similar to but not the same as “Emerging”. I agreed this was a worthwhile venture because in my soon to be published book I was asked to take out any reference to the word “Emerging”, as it had too much baggage. This is an editing decision I agreed with because while I want to explore something I don’t want my explorations to carry the baggage of other explorations and then be forced to answer for the problems others have created.

We talked for a while. He worked on it for while, and most certainly had conversations with others. Then he said he was trying out the word “nascent”. It didn’t resonate with me right at first but the more I think about it the more I like it.

Websters defines the word like this:

nascens, prp. of nasci, to be born:

1 coming into being; being born
2 beginning to form, start, grow, or develop: said of ideas, cultures, etc.
3 Chem. designating or of the state of an element just released from a compound and having unusual chemical activity because atoms of the element have not combined to form molecules [“nascent chlorine”]

Basically, the term is something a few of us have begun to use, not sure if it’ll catch on or if it’s just our own wording. It comes from a few realizations. One, is that there’s something going on in the Church in our era. From all sorts of directions there are new frustrations, new hopes, new approaches, new emphases.

A major expression of this in the last decade has been called the Emerging Church. This in fact has a lot of interesting contributions and a lot of wonderful insights. Yet, because it was developed publicly and began more out of dissatisfaction than a ready made positive contribution a lot of baggage has developed around that term, which makes the term almost too loaded for a less intentional purpose. By saying I am “emerging” I would be seeming to attach to the positives and negatives of this movement, and would then be pressed to respond to the particular criticisms leveled against it. Much of those criticisms are useful, but a lot of them are distractions, especially as they don’t relate to my own developing views.

In addition, while the Emerging church is a potent and popular expression it is, I think, not the only conversation going on in this era. There are those who may share similar themes but have different approaches, different visions, and different backgrounds. They too are interested in bringing a renewed liveliness to the Church but are not really within the Emerging Church model. Nascent, then, is a word that is open rather than limited. It expresses a hope in a destination while realizing there is presently a movement that has begun without yet arriving. It is a word that suggests there’s more than just a liturgical change but also a theological change, one that does not dismiss orthodox beliefs as much as re-examines and re-explores the earliest questions so as to bring answers to contemporary questions. The Church, as it is, has developed liturgies, questions, emphases, and answers which reflect a Church dominated culture and a modernity oriented philosophy. While these are not false, they are no longer expressing an engagement with who we are now. It is not enough to have to first convert someone to a prior era then allow them to be a Christian. We want to explore what Christianity means now, in our present concerns, issues, values, and discoveries. And this isn’t limited to a specific group, or a separatist movement, or any particular conversation.

Yet there are shared themes, and these shared themes, I believe, can be expressed and worked out in a variety of different ways, all under the guidance and focus of the Holy Spirit who raises these themes. These broader themes, all but one which come from a book on Emerging Churches. They are not limited to Emerging churches, but instead express where Emerging Churches are tapping into a common yearning. Ten things: 1) an emphasis on the whole life and ministry of Jesus; 2) a lowering of the boundaries between what is sacred and secular, with the church being a going out into the culture rather than insisting the culture retreats within the church walls to find God; 3) a strong emphasis on community; 4) a renewed emphasis on personal and corporate holiness that isn’t limited to merely the outward do’s and don’ts of prior eras; 5) an embrace of those who are outsiders and different; 6) an emphasis on giving — not tithing merely to support a ministry or building, but giving to those in need and to bring an openness to all our resources; 7) a broad participation by all those within the community, emphasizing each persons ability to contribute in an important way; 8 ) a high emphasis on creativity as an expression of our Spirit empowered faith; 9) a breaking down of the older patterns of hierarchy and power, with a new appreciation for more fluid, flexible and broad leadership; 10) Worship which has a contemporary flavor while being aware of the historic contributions of worship through the ages, so as to bring wisdom and passion into our focused gatherings.

Other concepts come to mind as well. The nascent church is a missional church, one which takes less cues from the establishments of Christendom and more from missions work in other non-Christian cultures. As such it tends to reflect a pre-Constantinian order, finding much resonance in Early Church discussions. By being missional this isn’t just about being evangelistic. It is deeper and broader than that, seeing the Gospel as more than a few phrases to be repeated. It involves a broad range of involvement as Christians within a culture that in many cases has little or no Christian experience. In the past evangelism was about bringing people back into the fold or encouraging them to take more seriously that which they were neglecting. It also assumed a person had a respect for, if not passion for, religion. Now, however, we deal with people who are in many cases inoculated against the message of the church, having just enough exposure to make an intelligent and considered rejection of Christianity or people who have absolutely no connection at all with the conversations we take for granted.

This new cultural reality implies a distinct change from 1500 years of Church existence and roles. We cannot just continue on like nothing has changed and expect what was assumed in the past to be a present reality.

Also as well, there is a distinct breaking down of denominational barriers. In modernity and throughout the prior eras a community was defined in its distinctions and differences, asserting its separation from other Christian communities within the broader culture of Christendom. Now, however, as in the earliest communities, the assertion of a vibrant Christian faith is itself a shared bond that separates it from other cultural assumptions. We can and do differ in the accidentals of the faith, holding onto the unifying themes of Christ and Spirit to bring a shared mission to the Church in this world. Instead of these different opinions being reasons for a broken communion, these differences are held within the common bond of a unity that can withstand the pressure of diversity because of the deeper and broader hope of God’s complexity in his work. A Catholic can be nascent. A Baptist can be nascent. A Presbyterian and a Methodist and a Pentecostal can be nascent. So too can an Emergent. The denominational or community titles are less important than the underlying values and themes.

These are things which can be expressed in a variety of both new and established communities and traditions, while sometimes not being found in those communities which may take on the name of cutting edge movements but in reality reflect a lot of old emphases under the cover of stylish liturgy.

It is these emphases, not the particular liturgy or denomination or movement, which I think will be increasingly influential across the board of Christianity, with the Church of 50 years from now very much different than the Church of 50 years ago, or even the church of today. This process of discovery and renewal needs a non-baggage laden term, that is broad while retaining a similar feeling of hope and exploration. The goal is not merely to question, but to find answers and to find a place of arrival.

So we went with nascent. It’s not a settled word nor does it have yet a settled meaning as it is applied to church. I am just sketching out my thoughts on it. You’re welcome to join in on this fun.

on the Kingdom

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In Emerging circles the buzz phrase is the Kingdom of God. It implies an emphasis on the life of Jesus, what he did and how he taught and what he emphasized. It implies ethics and actions. While it doesn’t eliminate the importance of right doctrine, it places declarative statements within the fold of a broader Christian reality. Jesus did not go directly to the cross without passing Go. He sat for a while. Taught for a while. Healed for a while. He lived for a while. And it is in the consideration of how he lived, not just the reasons he died, we can learn what it means to be a Church. For we are not a church who goes straight to martyrdom. We are not a church who sits around and waits for Christ’s second coming, all the while sending out strongly worded missives to the wider world so they’ll join us in our waiting bunker.

We are called to live. To interact. To do good. Jesus preached. He also healed. The Good Samaritan did a work, he did not hand out tracts. The Kingdom of God is one of action and power. It is said to already be among us.

But how do we assess this kingdom? In what part of theology does Kingdom studies reside? This isn’t merely an academic or philosophical question. How we answer this has a massive impact on what we then see as the Kingdom and how we see the Kingdom organized. Is the study of the Kingdom contained within ecclesiology, the study of the Church. That has been the answer through most of the last 2000 years. The Church is a reflection of the Kingdom and the Kingdom is a reflection of the church. Thus rules and policies and organization and purging and policing and hierarchies are established so as to form the boundaries of this Kingdom. We have princes of the church, and local bureaucracies who see their authority not merely as human organization but as endowed by the very power of God for the purpose of his reign. Little functionaries abound who wield their particular portion as though given a directed mandate by God himself, something Roman Catholics claim explicitly as the source of the Pope’s status.

The Church then takes on a political reality, as the Kingdom is understood according to political kingdoms. As England is organized so too the Church is organized. As Rome was led, so too the Church should be led. Those liking Democracy tend towards a Democratic church. Which is why ecclesiology is such a touchy subject. We can wrestle with so many other topics and yet we see the particularities of a liturgy as being almost untouchable. Preaching is the manifestation of the Kingdom because ecclesiology is the ruling guide of the Kingdom. The Church is the reflection of God in this world and so how we see Church, how we do Church, how we organize Church is the bedrock of our whole existence as Christians. If ecclesiology is the ruling topic for our view of the Kingdom then we are constantly thrown back into discussions of organization, and hierarchy, and liturgy, and politics. Nasty topics those, because then the expression of Power is an expression of the power of particular people. People who want power rise within the hierarchy, and so take the kingdom by force.

Where did we get this idea that when Jesus was talking about the Kingdom he was implying the Church? Why do we see the Church as the political, social, and theological expression of the Kingdom?

What is the proper theological topic in regards to the Kingdom of God? What direction in theology will help steer us and correct us? Clearly ecclesiology hasn’t worked out well. The history of the world over the last 2000 years has shown a lot of things but it hasn’t shown the Kingdom of God expressed fully and clearly. Indeed, God has been maligned again, and again, and again by those who seek to act in and for his name. But they have acted for their own names and the power that has led to wars, and persecutions, and false religions, and constant strife is not the power of God. Yet it is the power that a kingdom based on ecclesiology has given us. It is a false power. It is a lying power. It is a power that has used what was meant for wonderful good to bring corruption into this world and into our faith. The Church cannot be the source and topic of the study of the Kingdom of God. It is only a reflection of the Kingdom, not a guide.

And that is what I think needs to change. Christendom, the idea that the Church is the prime reference of the Kingdom of God, is dying. This approach had a good run of about 1500 years, with some wonderful moments along with the terrible. What the world needs, however, is for those who seek Christ to listen better to what he said about the Kingdom. For too long the Church has been the unenlightened disciples, always clamoring for the political presence of the visible, physical kingdom in which Peter and John and James sit on their thrones.

The Pentecost disciples, however, hadn’t a lick of politics in them. Their concern was elsewhere. And while it’s been hip in many circles to note the change of conversation from the Gospels to the Epistles, I think we’ve been arrogant in our assumptions that there was a change.

The Emerging Church has been marked by a re-emphasis on the Kingdom of God practices as illustrated by Jesus. Following, in part, the lead of NT Wright and Dallas Willard. Yet, underneath so much of this is the same sort of problems that run through church history. Leadership. Power. Control. In and Out. The liturgies change. The hierarchy changes. But where is the guide that can focus and hone the real discovery of the Kingdom of God that leads us past yet a different list?

That’s the question I’m asking. It’s not enough to say we emphasize the Kingdom of God. We have to also say what part of theology includes and guides the Kingdom of God. How we answer this determines where we look for both the questions and the answers.

This change, I think, will propel the Emerging Church past its lingering moment of frustrated rejections, in which it is defined as much by what it is against as what it is for. This change of core theology, core theology that has had 1500+ years of tradition built up around it, will be the way the Church steps past the politics of earthly kingdoms and towards the re-embrace of the fullness of the Kingdom of God in all its various expressions.

What is the Kingdom of God? What is that which is already among us? What is that which the disciples were told to wait for and that many of them would live to see in power and fullness?

It is the Holy Spirit. And it is the topics of pneumatology and eschatology that the Kingdom of God will find its expression and its present guide for the lives we live now in this world. Study of the Holy Spirit and of Last Things isn’t a matter of speaking in tongues or a matter of watching for the signs of the coming millennium. Study of the Holy Spirit and of God’s Eternal work is how we experience, know, embrace, and begin to live out the Kingdom of God that Jesus talked about and expressed in all his work. Is is not the study of the Church that reflects the Kingdom. It is the Holy Spirit who is the Kingdom among us. Where the Spirit is, there is the Kingdom. Where the Kingdom is, there is the Spirit. For Eternity, and that eternity includes our present.

So what does it mean to assess the Kingdom in terms of the study of the Holy Spirit? I suggest you read the book. Well, that one. And the one that should be out roundabout this Fall.

Jesus, not the Church III

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Perception No. 5: ‘All Other Religions Are Wrong!’

we have to build relationships and understand other faiths well enough to talk about them intelligently and compassionately.

It seems to me that we don’t necessarily need to understand other faiths well enough to talk about them, as much as we need to understand our own faith well enough to talk about them while listening to others talk about their faiths. Here we run into a major sign of a modern thinker — thinking they possess total knowledge on all subjects. Have you ever run into an atheist who really knows the Christian faith? I have. I’ve run into a few that know more about the Christian faith than most Christians I know. Do you know what? I didn’t become an atheist. Weird! Freaky!

Why not? Because while they knew about the Christian faith they didn’t know about my Christian faith. Stop at the first part of that phrase above and you’ll do well. We do have to learn how to build relationships. And we do not need to tell someone else what they think. We have to learn how to have a relationship of give and take. But to do that, to be able to have a conversation we have to know our own contribution.

So to be effective missionaries in our emerging culture, what do we need to understand about where people are coming from?

Note. It’s not the culture that is emerging. That’s a bad blend of hip concepts. The culture is the culture. Emerging as a word is only useful, really, in regards to the Church. Though I appreciate the fact postmodern is overused, and generally vague. But, I’m thinking ’emerging’ is too now. I’d prefer “to be effective missionaries in our culture, what do we need to understand…”.

• Our culture is post-Christian. About a year ago, I watched an episode of a popular TV sitcom in which the family was arguing over which religion a new baby would be dedicated in. The father wanted the baby baptized, the mother wanted a Hindu ceremony and the grandparents wanted a Jewish bris. In the end, they compromised and did all three.

I wrestle with this one. Our culture is post-Church to be sure. But is it really post-Christian? Do all the world faiths have an equal chance in the land between the Atlantic and the Pacific? I really don’t think so. I’d much rather be a Christian missionary than a Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, or B’Hai missionary. The tendency now is to be secular or vague, but most of the country retains a Christian flavor to it. Which makes me think this country is a lot more Christian-weary than post-Christian. Europe is in a different place with this. But, I’m not sure I’d give America that label yet.

Indeed, about four days ago I watched an episode of a popular TV sitcom in which one character had an argument with another character about whether things happen for a reason. One character, Dr. Cox, said, “no sir, not a chance, there.” The other character, Nurse Roberts, replied otherwise. Her specific dialogue was especially interesting. “Romans 8:28,” she said to Dr. Cox, “says ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.'”

Yeah, on Scrubs last week a major subplot was based on a verse from the book of Romans. And you know what? Things kept happening for a reason in that episode, proving Dr. Cox wrong (though with a very big cliffhanger at the end).

Interesting. And I really would like to learn what show Dan Kimball was watching. I can’t think of any that would fit that description. I’m just sayin…

To be sure there is a huge openness to listen to what other faiths are saying, but a big, big part of that has to do with the fact most people think Christianity has said all it needs to say during an hour of Christian television preaching, so they are open to other faiths who don’t feel a need to popularize their depths.

• We need to develop a basic understanding of world faiths. While we don’t have to become experts, as leaders we should acquire at least a basic understanding, so that when we teach in our churches and meet people of other faiths or those who hold a pluralistic view, we can talk intelligently about other religions. A basic knowledge shows people of other faiths that we respect and are interested in their beliefs enough to do some homework. It also helps counter the impression that all Christians are dogmatic and close-minded.

I’m not sure a basic knowledge shows people of other faiths we’re interested, at least interested in much more than evangelizing them. Am I really blown back when a Mormon comes to my door and talks about the work of Jesus in the Gospels? Does it convince me when a Jehovah’s Witness discusses the doctrine of the Trinity? No. I see through them. They know enough to tell me what not to believe. Again, it’s not our prior knowledge that changes opinions about Christians or perceived close-mindedness. It’s how we listen and react in any given conversation. If we are trying to win the conversation, if we show that we have really studied the apologetics, then people will see us as used car salesmen, trying to exploit the moment.

Being willing to really talk, ask questions, listen and dialogue shows we’re interested. Basically, being genuinely interested in their beliefs shows that we are interested. How many evangelists, however, are really interested in what someone else believes?

One emerging church leader put it well when he said he was willing to be evangelized. That’s it really.

• Train your church to understand world faiths. I know of one church that devoted five weeks in its main worship gathering to learning about world religions, even inviting individuals from various faiths to come and be interviewed.

How much time did this church spend teaching in the main service about the doctrine of the Trinity? Or Church history? Or the nuances of Christology and pneumatology? How many of the Christians in that church could delve the depths of Christian theology? That’s really the biggest problem in the Church. We’ve our few points of essential, evangelism useful, doctrine, but most folks have little or no idea about some of the deeper aspects. They don’t realize how mystical or how thoughtful or how amazingly deep Christian theology is. In dealing with other religions Christians have to be able to contribute to the dialogue, and this doesn’t mean becoming broadly knowledgable, this means becoming very informed about what Christians offer. I have no interest in talking to a Muslim who knows Christianity really, really well. I’d love to talk to a Muslim who really knows Islam. I can talk my faith, he can talk his faith. What if I can’t my faith. It’s a pretty poor conversation and Christianity comes off as shallow.

• Can your congregation explain why not all paths lead to God? People in emerging generations are open to discussing this truth. But they’re looking for conversation, not a lecture, and facts, not rhetoric. Simply quoting a Bible verse and smugly saying, “Case closed,” will only alienate them. Despite what you read and hear about our relativistic world, when you logically and gently lay out the facts before someone who’s interested in your opinion, there is actually great response. Most people have never really thought about the implications of what it means when they say, “All paths lead to God.”

This is very true. But it shows a really modern insight into postmodernity. The problem with this point is not what Dan Kimball is saying. The problem is that it’s not really enough. You can logically and gently lay out the facts and get complete agreement. But it won’t change anything. A person won’t necessarily change their opinion in the face of the facts. Or rather the ‘facts’. Those are nice ‘facts’ they will say, but I have my own ‘facts’. And the modern will then get really angry and try to convert the postmodern to become a modern so that all the logic and syllogisms will work as they should.

Because really, it’s what Christ said. We need to do, not just say. We need to act, not just preach. We need to build relationships, not identify targets.

And we need to know who we are. What are Christians without Christ? What is Christianity without Christian theology? Post-Christian. We need to become fully Christian ourselves again so as to try to address this Christian-weary culture before it goes truly post-Christian. Fortunately, I really see the Spirit moving in a lot of ways, and where the Spirit is, however the Spirit is, there is Christ.

Which gives me a whole lot of hope. And makes me think I need to get closer to the Spirit more than take a class on Hinduism.

Next up, the aspects of our current society Dan Kimball didn’t address.

Jesus, not the Church II

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This one will be pretty easy. I think he’s right on target.

Perception No. 2: Judgmental and Negative

• Teach how and when to talk about sin. I’m convinced that people in emerging generations actually want to be informed about Jesus and His teachings, even the ones that require repentance and change. But our approach makes all the difference. If we go around pointing out people’s sins, the reaction will usually be negative. But if we share how we can become more loving and more like Jesus by changing in certain ways, then it’s often accepted as a positive thing.

This is one of the bigger confusions about new conceptions of church. People think there’s a dismissal of these important topics. There’s not. Rather there needs to be a balance. Jesus did talk about sin. Paul did talk about sin. But this wasn’t their primary emphasis. Sin was always the beginning of the conversation and we’ve made it the whole of our conversation. Why do we talk about sin? Because there is more. The Holy Spirit who offers us hope also leads us towards light. What is most troubling is that the church expects people to work out their own sin issues, and judges them for not doing so, even when they have no relationship with Christ. That’s the big thing. Romans 8 says we can only overcome sin through the power of the Holy Spirit who leads us to life. Without the Holy Spirit there is no power to overcome. So why do we start with that? We are stuck in Christendom where everyone was expected to already be in the church. Thus the topic of sin was always assumed to be a discussion among other Christians. Guilt could be used because people were not living up to the standards they assumed.

I do disagree with him on his last sentence. We don’t share how we can become more loving or more like Jesus. Why? Because we can’t. We share the power that can. We speak of the Spirit who works in us to become the people Christ has called us to become. If we speak of our own changes, and our own efforts, and our own work, then there’s no real hope.

• Focus more on what we stand for. Those who like Jesus but not the Church see Him as one who stood up for the poor and oppressed. Scripture mandates that His churches follow Christ’s instruction to care for “the least of these.” By doing so, we also earn the respect of those outside the Church. They are also looking for a church that expresses love and “does not judge” as Jesus taught.

Yes. More importantly, we actually do what Christ called us to do, and in doing that help create a context in which the Spirit can move most freely. By doing what we are called to do we ourselves change and take on Christ’s perspective. We begin to listen to the Spirit and are empowered to do even more. The Church becomes a dance, rather than a lecture.

• Teach your church to break out of the Christian Bubble. As leaders, we can use preaching and the example of our own lives to teach people in our churches that their attitudes impact those outside the Church. Unless we’re creating cultures in our church in which people see themselves as missionaries in their day-to-day worlds, unless we’re challenging Christians to break out of the Christian Bubble and start listening to the hearts and cries of people around them, only the loudest, often-negative voices in the Church will be heard.

I agree with this in part. I think it’s a noble challenge. However, there is still the problem that the Church is inherently closed off. We still emphasize work in churches, and service in churches, and church services. More than just leading with preaching and examples, a pastor needs to understand his role of empowering. And a church needs to exist with fluid boundaries, erasing the line between the sacred and the secular. Jesus, for instance, made most of his points in his day to day life. The idea of missionaries implies a going out, and a bringing back. Instead there is a bringing out, a sharing, and openness of existence in which Christ is reflected in all sorts of circumstances, not to bring a person back to church, but to be church with all people.

Jesus, not the Church I

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Dan Kimball wrote an interesting article recently in which he came to terms with the spirituality of postmodern generations. He concluded there were six common perceptions about the Church:

1) The Church is an organized religion with a political agenda.

2) The Church is judgmental and negative.

3) The Church is dominated by males and oppresses females.

4) The Church is homophobic.

5) The Church arrogantly claims all other religions are wrong.

6) The Church is full of fundamentalists who take the whole Bible literally.

He continues by saying:

While it’s essential that we as church leaders thoroughly explore all six of these perceptions and listen to what these emerging voices identify as barriers to putting faith in Jesus and becoming part of a church community, I want to focus on three that seem to be especially prevalent in our current culture—and in my conversations with non-Christians.

I can’t help but think these are not the ones which are especially prevalent as much as the three that Evangelicals have more agreeable and developed responses towards. Basically, while Kimball is trying to respond to the next generation he is doing so in the style of a modern. Categorizing the responses and responding to only parts in a way that makes it seems these are the only parts really worth responding to. I’m very much intrigued by these categories, however, I thought his responses and the lack of response he has to the other three need some discussion.

Here’s my interaction with Dan Kimball:
Perception No. 1: The ‘Organized Religion’ Barrier
He breaks down this perception some more:

I can relate to God without the structure. I rarely talk to anyone who’s not seeking “God.” But emerging generations don’t see “church” as the place to explore who He is. Instead, they understand and strongly believe that they can pray to a caring and personal God without being in a church. They also fear the church will try to control how they dress and act, and organize their faith the way the leaders think it should be patterned.

This is a fair argument, in my mind. Do Churches give a person a chance to explore who God is? Or are they places where a small group of people tell others who God is? Churches are a place to listen, not to discuss. Which is fine for many, not so fine for those who don’t quite know what to think yet.

The Church is about hierarchy, power and control with a political agenda. Emerging generations have a strong sense that most churches are all right-winged fundamentalist and everyone in the church is expected to vote a certain way. While we may know that most churches don’t have political agendas, the impression on the outside is that most do.

The Church is about hierarchy, power, and control. Read Church history. For the most part almost every major event is about hierarchy and power and control. If these were not issues there would be a unified Church. I cannot think of a single church in which hierarchy was not clearly defined and defended. Kimball focuses here a lot on the political side of it, but doesn’t note that even in non-staff there are massive battles of power and control in a church, which has resulted in innumerable church splits over many centuries. When people think they are the representatives of Jesus to others they defend their roles. And others support them in their power because those others also see them as the primary representative of Jesus. Many people just see the hierarchy, power, and control as inherent to the Church.

The Church is filled with leaders who function like CEOs and desire power and control. Think about the titles of your staff—senior pastor, associate pastor, executive pastor, executive assistant—all throwbacks to the ’80s when churches began applying business principles to their infrastructure and using some of the business world’s language and metaphors. To baby boomers, this made sense. But in our emerging culture, language like this can come across as very unlike Jesus.

Listen to me. IT’S NOT ABOUT LANGUAGE. That’s a major mistake made by those who are trying to come to terms with what’s going on. They think it’s about the words used. Words were really important to Baby Boomers and earlier. Change a title and people think it’s great. That why in one church I attended they must have changed the names of small groups five or six times. Titles change. Names change. But it’s not about the words. It’s about the structure.

Now to his response:

So those are three main reasons why “organized religion” is often a barrier to this group. And while you may be inclined to dismiss their reasons because they aren’t actually accurate, remember this is how we are being perceived to those on the outside. It’s important to listen to and address their perceptions. I believe there are several things we can do to dispel the “organized religion” stereotype.

“Dismiss because they aren’t accurate.” Which is followed by point #1-

• Communicate how your church is organized and why you practice your faith in this way, its basis in Scripture, etc. Explain that a church is like a family and all healthy families do need “organization.” Communicating this and not letting the “organization” strangle the life out of your church is key.

The way to address organized religion is to explain how it is organized? I’ve never seen a church organized like a family anyhow, though maybe Catholics have something with calling priests Father. I think the organization is the problem, not the explanation. Again, he thinks that it is a matter of words, and if you just use the right words then folks will change their opinion. No. It’s about the organization itself, which is seen in meetings, and offices, and hierarchy, and power and control.

• Be aware of your biases. I’m convinced that emerging generations are open to hearing hard things that go against today’s culture. We shouldn’t be afraid to share how Jesus said some strong things about what sin is and the need for repentance. However, be careful how much your personal biases and opinions slip into your preaching. Avoid saying, “Jesus thinks this … ” when you really don’t know what He thinks, subtly using God and Jesus to back your opinions about various social or political issues that aren’t clear in Scripture.

This one is very good. Spot on.

• Evaluate your titles for church leaders and the number of hoops people have to jump through to meet with them. If you’re using titles such as senior or executive pastor, have you ever paused to ask why and what that communicates?

Don’t just pause with evaluation. Make changes. Evaluate titles and hoops and what it communicates then really change so that it matches a more theologically appropriate model. Oh, and figure out what that model is. “That’s the way it’s always been done” is not good theology.

• Listen to the younger voices. We need to not only make it easier for young people to be involved in our churches, we also need to show them that they’re needed in all areas—not just isolated in youth and young adult ministries. They need to know that we respect their opinions on the direction of the entire church. Make sure your board has one or two younger elders, and set up a leadership training structure to include people of all ages.

Bribe ’em and they’ll shut up. Give the rebels a title and some land, that’ll keep him fat and happy. Didn’t work with William Wallace. Won’t work with those who are yearning for deeper changes in organizational patterns. The Church is about hierarchy, power and control with a political agenda and including some of the upward mobile ones, with their strong leadership potential and flashy smiles, will not placate the broader group. It doesn’t matter if the power is in a 60 year old or a 30 year old. It’s the same system. Even if the included 30 year old is now happy as punch.

I’m doing this in stages, so this’ll be part one.

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Merry Christmas!