emerging church, nascent church, theology Comments Off on eschatology

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.

Good music

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Want to hear some good music. Want to get some free music:

Here you go, straight from Australia, one of my recent favorite cds is now yours to have:
Tanya Gordon’s Braver than you think you are

Jesus, not the Church IV

church, emerging church, nascent church 1 Comment »

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.


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“Jesus is gone,” she said. “I’d like to turn it into a studio for artists.”

The LA Times writes about the Church in Germany.

Springtime in Southern California

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Pics from today –

view from my desk
Spring in Southern California
Spring in Southern California
Spring in Southern California


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

emerging church, nascent church Comments Off on on the Kingdom

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.

I feel yucky

nascent church, personal 2 Comments »

On Easter afternoon I started feeling dizzy. So I took a nap. Woke up feeling worse. Nauseous. All around bad. I thought I snuck by the sickness season. But it got me. The flu hit me. I feel yucky. So, I haven’t really gotten to much of anything I should get to.

I have, however, hit on something I’m going to start looking at more closely. Curiously, after a little looking closely I found a verse that sums it all up for me.

Romans 14:17 — “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

Emerging churches talk a lot about the Kingdom of God. Pentecostals and Charismatics talk a lot about the Spirit. For many these are considered two different emphases. Jesus with the first, Paul with the latter. Not so, I think. Same topic, same expression, same verses. Different words. Same meaning. They are talking about each other. There is no Kingdom apart from the Spirit, where the Kingdom is there is the Spirit.

Only in Church history folks think of the Kingdom in terms of politics and hierarchy. Folks think of the Spirit in terms of mushy spirituality and supernatural.

Hmmm… maybe I should write a book on this.


liturgy Comments Off on Easter

The cross is important for one reason.

On Sunday, the tomb was empty.

So we celebrate Easter. Saved from sin. Saved to life everlasting. Already and still to come.

Meditate on the stations of the resurrection.

Good Friday

liturgy 1 Comment »

The sun is behind the hill and cannot be seen. Is is now 6:00 in the evening, and the Sabbath approaches very soon. Some more servants arrive and Joseph orders all the men to roll the large stone in front of the entrance. The six of them grunt as they begin to push.

The stone moves, and rolls into place with a thud. And then silence.

After a minute a bird in a nearby tree begins to sing. Another joins the song.

The small group of people hurry back up towards Jerusalem.

The Sabbath has arrived. Jesus is dead and buried.