So my friend Frank Viola writes this blog post titled ‘My Problem With Mental Filters,’ and before you know it I’ve written nearly a 1,000-word response before I find out the comments are closed. Alas. Fortunately (thanks to Firefox) my comment was not lost in comment-abyss, so now it’s transmorgifyin’ before thine very eyes into its very own blog-post-a-looza!
You should probably read Frank’s original post first. The upshot: “Mental Filters. They are frustrating. We all have them. Yet we’re unconscious of them. It makes communication between Christians about spiritual things almost impossible.” Then Frank goes into how little folks understand him when he describes the kinds of ‘organic church’ gatherings that he helps cultivate & experience. So here’s my reply…
Quite true – we all have filters, and they can either help or hinder communication. In fact, I think a wise man once wrote an article called ‘Rethinking Our Theological Conversation Styles.’
That said, did Paul (a comment-er, not the Apostle raised up in some kinda seance or something – what, you think Frank has illicit consultation with dead?? Are you crazy??) really miss the point when he suggests that you, too, have filters? Sure, he pastors what looks like a big church & you’re advocating something quite different which you feel is better…but isn’t that the (your) point? Surely you’re not claiming to have ‘un-filtered’ yourself. Though I suppose you might be claiming, by grace & revelation, to be able to at least temporarily transcend human filtration when lifted into the glorious atmosphere of heaven-come-to-earth that is an organic church gathering.
If so, I’m with Joshua Tucker – please, blog (or podcast) what ‘sharing Christ’ might mean devoid of cliches. Now I know you blogging isn’t going to compare to a live, collective experience of the depths and riches of Christ coming out of many people’s mouths – you’re just the blog-meister here and that’s going to be inherently limited. But it might create, as you say, the hunger to move forward into a real, live experience. Otherwise these allusions without example are just gonna get caught in our filters!
This probably wont’ surprise you, but I take slight issue with something you framed at the beginning of this post. You said that when you tell someone about “the glorious, every member, open participatory, Christ-centered meeting that is under the headship of Jesus by the Holy Spirit,” that people think you’re talking about “…a Quaker meeting…a Plymouth Brethren styled gathering…[or]…old-school charismatic “body ministry” meetings in a home…But none of those kinds of meetings are anything like what I’m speaking about. None can compare…”
Do you think that anything like might be hyperbole? I’ve participated in some of these off-this-planet gatherings you speak of, and I’d say they’re something like the best of Quaker or charismatic body ministry meetings (I’ve been in both of these too) – though I’d probably agree with you that they’re nothing like, say, a megachurch service. But let’s give credit where credit is due: Don’t you think that Quakers, or the Brethren, or any number of other such reforming/purifying groups had ideals – and even experiences – like what you’re describing, at the very least in their early days? I don’t think you intend it, but what you’re saying could sound like “Never since the first century has such tangible Christ-centered glory be seen, but now we’re recovering it in our day…”
I think the attempt has been made before. And sometimes, successfully.
With that said (sheesh, I didn’t mean to write a feature-length response to your blog! Just goes to show how provocative you are, Frankie), I’m wondering if the “All riches of Christ, all the time” paradigm is sustainable. I don’t wonder this because it seems theoretically unsustainable, but because it’s been un-sustainable in my church’s direct experience. As you know, I was part of a fellowship for many years that had precisely this goal – “all Jesus, all the time.” If you dared bring up theological questions, your aunt Matilda, personal experiences with God, and the like, you were seen as interrupting the very rich flow of the infinite treasures of the Father’s eternal purpose revealed in the Son before time & space.
With a teeny bit of hindsight, I can see two main difficulties with such an approach:
1.) I don’t think we can run with all pistons firing, all the time. Our ‘car’ will flood. Even Paul’s magnificent letters come down to earth and address real people with real problems and a diversity of experiences. Now I totally agree with you, so much of the Church today focuses exclusively on the pieces of the New Testament that focus on behavior and ignore the evocative poetry of a cosmos existing by, through, and within God’s loving embrace via Christ – it’s a real shame. But the minority movements that attempt to correct this by completely inverting the focus do a disservice to the Body. Because…
2.) Not only is it impossible to always be in ‘self-less proclamation mode’ about the glories of Christ, it isn’t actually Christ-like. That is to say, it isn’t particularly loving to encourage members to squelch their spiritual questions or practical needs, nor does it do justice to Christ’s Incarnation, Emmanuel: God. With us. Perhaps Christianity today on a whole is narcissistically focused on the “With us” part of the equation, turning the Gospel into self-help. But attempting to focus on “God” to the exclusion of “With us” does violence to the revelation Jesus brings – that God’s Kingdom has come very, very near, and no detail of our lives is left out.
Please don’t misunderstand me, dear readers-other-than-Frank: Frank has something on his heart that really is substantially different than what many of you have experienced. By all means, you should get a copy of From Eternity to Here in a couple of weeks – it unveils a panoramic portrait of this uber-rich big-picture heartbeat of God that animates Frank’s life & vocation. I’ve spent the last decade of my life pursuing a collective pursuit of God with friends of God meeting in living rooms across the country, because we’ve been captured by just this vision. And it’s real – it’s not a sham. But! Precisely because of my similar passion, I want truth-in-labeling. I’m wary of this vision being over-sold and under-delivered. The next expression of church I end up in will probably be a good deal more…modest, and will emphasize her continuities with the rest of the beautiful, messed-up Christian family more than her discontinuities.
Okay, I’ve said enough here. Overcoming filters, experiencing more of our birthright in Christ – great conversation-starter, Frank!