Archive for April, 2008

Dreams, They Complicate My Life

You get me?

Creativity and Spirituality: A Possible Future

HT: Brian McLaren

Read ‘The New Conspirators’!

The New Conspirators cover

Boy oh boy. I recently got The New Conspirators from IVP’s new Likewise imprint–this is like their New Friars, but even more comprehensive. It’s a who’s-who of todays New Monastic, 24/7 prayer, and other communal movements.

Some reviews/excerpts:

Emergent Village

Open Source Theology is doing a multi-part interview/review.
Part Zero
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

I’m looking forward to reading this, hopefully with other dreamers, practitioners, and rabble-rousers. Three cheers for Tom and Christine Sine, and their continuing work!

Related: Who’s going to the PAPA Festival this summer?

Maybe ‘Emergent’ Is Not So Complicated

Sez early Emergent Village inspiration Brad Cecil:

“I hear comments like: Defining emergent is like “nailing Jell-O to the wall” and “postmodernism means a hundred different things”, I disagree – it isn’t all that hard to describe if you are listening and reading. Here are the simple basic ideas of what fueled the emergent conversation and friendships:
1. Post modern refers to the period after modernity. It appears to “us” that a significant epistemological shift is occurring – the likes of which we haven’t seen in 400 years.
2. Language is limited
3. Human concepts are limited
4. There is no place of irreducible certainty (foundation)
5. Considering the above it would be very difficult to convey absolute meaning using language and human concepts
6. Christian theology has become enslaved to the 1st order assumptions of modernity and is far more Cartesian than Christian and has become ashamed of faith
7. A Reformation of recognition and repentance is needed
8. New theological thought is needed to free Christian theology from the enslavement of modernity and enlightenment assumptions and conversation and friendships would be more productive than developing imperatives.
9. This is just the beginning of the transition and a great deal of work and theological thought lay ahead for those who desire to join the conversation.”

Read more in his review of Why We’re Not Emergent. (By the way, I don’t see this as backing down in my vow to Wayne, as I’m just quoting! 🙂 )

HT: Steve Knight in the EV Weblog

Heresy Hunters: I Get By With a Little Help from My Friends

You know you’re doing something worthwhile when all the right people are denouncing you.

A couple of weeks ago Herescope denounced Jay Gary, Diana Butler-Bass, Brian McLaren and myself, who will be hanging out at the World Future Society‘s annual conference in D.C. We’ll be talking about “The Future of the Religious Right” and of global Christian faith in general, but the Heroscope team sees our work as promoting “new theologies and practices,” and “disparaging…of biblical prophecy.” Somehow, they suspect that all this winds up “creating an evolutionary convergence” where we all sing Kumbaya and venerate Gaia and Easter bunnies. As if that’s a bad thing!

Moving along: I’ve already told you the kind of flack The Shack has been getting recently with the heresy-hunter websites. Well, as Steve Knight reports at Emergent Village, now our ‘ol pal Mark Driscoll is in on the action too (you can watch his eight-minute YouTube rant on the E.V. link). Apparently he’s mighty uncomfortable with the sacred feminine, anthropomorphic depictions of God, and the idea of the Trinity (and thus, human relatedness) as mutually submissive rather than chain-of-command hierarchical. Sigh. Co-publisher Wayne Jacobsen blogs his response to the question “Is The Shack Heresy?”

Of course Frank Viola has had his share of critique concerning Pagan Christianity–not all from shrill heresy hunters, but certainly enough of it. Well, Tim Dale over at Karis Productions produced this pretty funny spoof response:

I have two observations about all the shelling and attack from this past month: Most of the people above are friends of mine, and for the most part, we can all laugh this off (in the cases of Frank and Team Shack, they can laugh all the way to the bank, as these books have really struck a chord with most readers and have become best-sellers)–even if we don’t know whether to laugh or cry sometimes. Others, though, are not so fortunate–heresy-hunters can cost people their livelihoods.

I don’t have the privilege of knowing Peter Enns, but his story has been all over the blogosphere recently. As Christianity Today reports, Enns has been suspended from his teaching post at Westminster Theological Seminary for writing his 2005 book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, which takes a hard look at the messy, complex, and human aspects of Scripture from an evangelically-informed text criticism point of view. The Board of Trustees said:

“That for the good of the Seminary (Faculty Manual II.4.C.4) Professor Peter Enns be suspended at the close of this school year, that is May 23, 2008 (Constitution Article III, Section 15), and that the Institutional Personnel Committee (IPC) recommend the appropriate process for the Board to consider whether Professor Enns should be terminated from his employment at the Seminary. Further that the IPC present their recommendations to the Board at its meeting in May 2008.”

I understand that confessionally Christian schools are not as enamored with “freedom of thought at any cost” like their liberal arts counterparts; I get that evangelical higher learning institutions are trying to maintain a precarious balance between intellectual integrity and nurturing creedal faith commitments. All the same, Enns is not Bishop Spong or something–he’s asking questions about Holy Writ that the rest of the Church (and world at large) have been asking since the 19th century. Like it or not, those who read and love the Bible are going to begin pondering its more troubling aspects with greater honesty and ideological flexibility.

Heresy-hunting is far from the world’s worst problem. (Next time, I’m going to blog about sex trafficking. Please try to refrain from throwing yourself off a building.) Nonetheless, it is a downer. As I mused last year, sometimes I wonder why I even bother participating in this kind of ‘dialogue’–it all seems so insular. Sometimes I just want to throw my blog into the ocean (so to speak) and becoming a wandering hermit…with my wife and child, of course. But for now, I suppose I’ll leave everyone with an easily-rebuttable maxim: If you don’t have something kind to blog, don’t blog anything at all.

Related:

Mike Todd’s The Shack Film casting call

John MacArthur launches Nothing Must Change tour

Heretic Hunter video

Brad Cummings and Wayne J have something constructive to say about all of this in their Doctrine Police podcast at The God Journey

Stepping into a Violent Wind: Writing This Pentecost

violentwind3.gifI’m pleased to be one of the judges in a literary competition this Pentecost season.

“We want your words. Jesus Manifesto is inviting you to submit an original article exploring the theme of Pentecost. In particular we want you to explore the theme of Pentecost in light of the world’s struggles. In the so-called “first” world, Christendom is fading into memory. In the so-called “third” world, new religious realities are emerging as Pentecostalism, Catholicism, and Islam compete for souls. Meanwhile, our world is growing increasingly diverse as immigration patterns and globalization intensify both the interconnectedness and the fractured-ness of our world. Ours is a world where urban poor in US cities carry cell phones while urban poor in other cities live amidst disease and intractability.

How can Pentecost provoke our imagination for the 21st Century? In 1000 words or less, we want you to stoke the embers of our imagination into flame.

PRIZES: We’re awarding one $50 prize for each of our categories (doxis, praxis, culture, aesthetics, and satire) with a $150 grand prize for the overall best general submission. That’s $400 total in prizes.”

For more, check it out.

Fun 80s Birthday Party for Jasmin

…a picture says a thousand words, yes?

Opti-Mystic Friend of Jesus?

In the past couple of years I’ve been referring to myself in a cheeky-but-earnest way as an “opti-mystic friend of Jesus.” It’s my Religious Views affiliation on my Facebook and the tagline on this here blog. Every now and then I get people who ask me just what on earth this means (and they’re always Calvinists who ask, God love ’em). Sometimes the question is loaded with hostility, other times curiosity. Either way, here’s my response:

It’s a Christian…maybe. Or maybe that monicker has worn too deeply into our mental categories so that it’s shorthand for something meaningless to faithful and infidel alike.

So etymologically:

opti-mystic
The first being optimistic as opposed to pessimistic; to me the glass of God’s grace is overflowing. Rooted in resurrection and fulfilled eschatological hope.

mystic being (for my purposes) one who lives by the life of Another; animated by Holy Spirit and a God who is within, around, and permeating all existence.

friend listener, loyal, confidant. Willing to throw ones lot in with. Not a servant, but not someone who disregards service either.

of Jesus What is there to say about this man, this anointed one? Palestinian revolutionary peasant. Harbinger of God’s Renewed Order. Emmanuel–God with us, the government resting upon his shoulders. State-sponsored torture victim. Second person of the Trinity. Nonviolent victor over the Powers that Be. Bearer of Father’s true disposition for humanity and the cosmos.

You dig?

Deeper, Safer, Richer: Emergence into Global Family

So my friend Wayne Jacobsen of The God Journey podcast (and co-publisher at Windblown Media, which you might’ve heard of ’cause of the runaway best-selling Trinitarian thriller The Shack) treated us with a visit yesterday, and Wayne is calling us to a fast from the ‘e-word’ in order to reach our truest ideals. Here’s what he said:

Mike, I think you missed my point in the questions I posed to you. There’s a difference, in my mind, between expressing your journey in ‘emerging ways’ and isolating that conversation as ‘Emergent.’ This term has moved way past describing emerging thinking on church life and has taken an identity as an organized group of people, identified spokespeople, and specific doctrine and agendas. Emergent is now a label that carries certain connotations and certainly some unfair accusations.

I don’t think you guys on the inside see that as clearly as folks do on the outside of it. It may not be what you wanted when you started this conversation, but what denomination ever began by a group of people trying to start one? I don’t think that’s evil, but unwittingly it creates an inside/outside environment and limits the conversation with others.My concern is with labels themselves. And you’re right, relational Christianity can just become another label, too, which is why I avoid using it when it takes on a life of its own. I just want my focus to be on Jesus, my fellowship to be broad among this incredibly diverse family, and to not help create or sustain movements that will over time just become another marginalized denomination to add to all the others.My hope is that some day we’ll just be a family, without needing to find any identity in labels. And we’ll get to have a deeper, richer conversation among the manifold expressions of church life that God gives breath to. My concern is only that labels limit that conversation rather than foster it. If you don’t believe me, just see how willing the ‘emergent folks’ would be to give up the term…Blessings, Bro! Always love your stuff and the freedom to crash hearts and heads without risking the friendship.With love,

Wayne

Wayne! Oh, I’m glad you saw my initial posts–I was going to alert you, but it’s been crazy moving around here (barely time to write the entries!). Thank you for taking the time to say all this; I think if anyone is, you’d be a helpful someone to offer some gentle corrective to ‘the conversation’ and how it inhabits or inhibits relationships in God’s ever-expanding kingdom.

Did I miss your point? Hmm. I may indeed have; I’m just not sure who you’re talking about. Besides maybe Tony Jones (happy 40th) or Doug Pagitt, can you name any Emergent Village folks? Most of ’em or rather low-key, and Tony & Doug are obnoxious in a good way. (did I just say that in print?) But point taken that emergent now carries a particular ‘taste’ in many people’s mouths, and not a very pleasant one among her most vocal critics.

You mention ’emergent’ as having an agenda, and I agree that there is one. The tragical irony of it all is that the agenda is fostering hospitable place for respectful dialogue regardless of differences, so that there is no ‘insider-outsider’ conception. And I’d say that this worked beautifully until around 2005 when Christian and mainstream media began taking notice, alerting people who didn’t want to converse and indeed thought that this theological hospitality was a dangerous thing. In recent years our ‘enemies’ have defined us too much, which might seriously jeopardize the value of the descriptor.

As to your concern with labels themselves–I’m with you almost all the way on that one. Have you ever read Wendell Berry’s essay In Distrust of Movements ? A great little piece; on distributed, incidentally, in 2004 I think by Brian McLaren when some people ceased referring to an emerging ‘conversation’ and started referring to it as a ‘movement.’ I think Mr. Berry’s points (and yours) are to be heeded.

And yet when you say “I just want my focus to be on Jesus,” I have a split reaction. In my heart of hearts I say “Oh yes, me too”–and mean it, just as you mean it (and live it out quite compellingly). But the other part of me is reminded of the first century situation in Corinth, where the “Just Jesus” folks were every bit as labeled and movemented as any of the other factions–maybe even more so because they were blinded to it by a false assurance that they were ‘just about Jesus’!

You know me, Wayne; I’ve been around the house church/simple church/relational Christianity/’outside the camp’ scene for 10 years now–several years longer than my reflecting on postmodernity’s interactions with faith, the mood and probing that gradually became known as ’emerging church.’ Well, in the outside-the-camp land, folks blast what they call “the institutional church” or “the IC” with aplomb–’cause they thank God they’re not that. While there are some lovely people in this stream that I call dear friends to this very day, I can’t help but see their desire to be “just about Jesus and the pristine simplicity of Scripture and divine revelation” as a modernist impulse to escape history and retreat to some kind of ‘objectivity’ that is above the messy situatedness and contingency of life. But there is no escape. I have green eyes and am 6-foot-2 and kinda overweight and I was born in Georgia. I like sci-fi and comic books and have a wonderful wife and little girl. Amid my journey into God I was Baptist then Pentecostal then Presbyterian. These days I’m way more permeable spiritually but I can still accurately describe myself as practicing apprenticeship to Jesus in a house church community context, asking questions of God, friends and reality along similar lines as those involved in a conversation we see as indicative of a kind of emergence occurring on a global scale. Try as I might seek to transcend the particulars of my life, I cannot. We are all contextual people, historically situated in a particular time and place, with proclivities that can indeed be summed up from time to time. It grates on enlightenment Western individualism, but I’m not all that original. And so sociologists can sum us up, Wayne—you and me both. We may as well enjoy it.

But I agree with your heart, brother, that we as friends and followers of the risen Jesus shouldn’t seek to sum up or size up, ever. Why eat from the Tree of Judgement (aka ‘Knowledge of Good and Evil’) when you can dine on life itself? I yearn to be more like a family with this great conglomeration we call the cosmos. I want deeper, richer, safer conversation—and not just conversation, dammit, but bold new creative, loving action! So if we need to be (I cannot help but snicker as I write this) post-emergent in order to evolve into this, then so be it.

So let me take you up on your challenge, Wayne: No “e-word” for the next 30 days on this here blog (my own commented replies to this post notwithstanding). Last time I checked I don’t have a green “e” tattooed on my forehead, and I’d be quite fine forgoing it as a source of identity and comfort. Let’s see if the fast will last!

Emergent Church: Denomination or Common Grammar?

So my friend and former fellow communard, Johnny T commented on yesterday’s Why We’re Not Emergent post:

I dunno man…“Emergent” seems like just another denomination to me. As a group, they have their own “common” (more so than not)way at talking about and looking at things…just like everyone else…and like any denomintaion, they fall into the same traps that they make for themselves. (Just like individuals who place too much importance on why they are different)

While I agree, Johnny, that we all have traps we lay for ourselves (no matter what labels we share or shun), I’m not sure if it’s automatically a bad thing when lots of people (in this case, friends and followers of Jesus) begin thinking similar thoughts and taking similar actions and conversing amongst themselves. And I think the emerging conversation is actually more analogous to the charismatic movement in the 60’s-80’s than a denomination per se. The charismatic movement, interpreted by most participants as a move of the Holy Spirit, by and large touched people in whatever churches they were in. Whereas the early Pentecostal revivals made people leave their established churches (mainly because the ‘mother churches’ ostracized them, but no doubt too because the newly spiritually-gifted and enthused were likely quite fanatical in cases), the charismatic movement renewed already-existing churches for the most part. And a couple of denominations were also founded, like the Vineyard. But many stayed Catholic, Episcopal, Baptist, Methodist, etc…

Similarly today, most of us see ’emergent’ as the life emerging on the spiritual trees we’re already on–the fresh life budding on Lutheran, Anabaptist, Presbyterian, Quaker, Anglican, house church, etc… trees. The outermost rung of the bark, as it were. Check this directory out to see what I mean. And it’s not just an insular kind of “We’re sticking to our tree” kind of thing. For me, one of the most beautiful and helpful things about the emerging conversation has been its function as a common ‘grammar’ if you will, a way of speaking that’s allowed me to respectfully dialogue with Christians from across the traditions spectrum–and it’s even taught me how to share and converse with people who (gasp!) aren’t even Christians. It’s an open table where nobody’s trying to convert, which was rare in all of the heavily denominated churches where I grew up, where everyone thought they had a corner market on “Truth.”

I might be into fulfilled covenant eschatology, but I still don’t see how Jesus’ prayer in John 17 has been realized with any kind of tangible fullness. “That we all be one” has been my heart’s longing for 15 years now, ever since I first found that passage as a teenager. On its best days (when we aren’t spending all of our energy trying to defend ourselves to a tiny-but-vocal group of online critics that we have zero actual relationship with), the emerging conversation is a stunning example of grassroots ecumenicism and unity-building in our shared living amidst God’s kingdom. And of course on its worst, we can be as prideful, cantankerous, quarrelsome and unhelpful as anyone else out there.

Here is Josh Brown’s take on whether emergent faith is ‘becoming another denomination.’ His whole series on this is worth reading–see

1 – An Introduction, 2 – A White Man’s World, 4- A Public Service Announcement on Friendship, 5 – We Hate Scripture

6 – The Bastard Child of Evangelicalism

Anyway, here’s the thing: I consider myself an emerging contributor and an emerging beneficiary. I think that the emerging conversation (and Emergent Village in particular) often get an undeserved bad rap among those for whom the conversation is not helpful. But all the same–unlike Michael Vick–I don’t feel like I have any particular dogs in any particular fights. I can let all this go tomorrow; it’d be sad, but my guess is it’ll eventually happen–whether next year or in 10 years. Addiction to permanence is not my goal. Like I said yesterday, “I’ve been on a journey in, through, and toward a Christ-transformed reality before I began naming it in this way, and will likely be if and when this way of articulating things ceases to be helpful. But right now, that I do find it helpful.”


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  • Friend of Emergent Village

    My Writings: Varied and Sundry Pieces Online

    Illumination and Darkness: An Anne Rice Feature from Burnside Writer's Collective
    Shadows & Light: An Anne Rice Interview in MP3 format from Relevant Magazine
    God's Ultimate Passion: A Trinity of Frank Viola interview on Next Wave: Part I, Part II, Part III
    Review: Furious Pursuit by Tim King, from The Ooze
    Church Planting Chat from Next-Wave
    Review: Untold Story of the New Testament Church by Frank Viola, from Next-Wave

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