Posts Tagged 'evangelical'

Paradoxy: Paradigm Pathways

I met Ken Howard at a party at my house last month – a Big Tent Christianity kegger wherein we raised funds to put a Raleigh homeless couple into a home. There were like 100 people here (at least it felt that way!) but we hit it off despite the din. Ken’s a priest in Maryland; he wrote a book that I’d already begun to hear good things about. He asked me to participate in a blog tour & I said “sure!” I haven’t been disappointed.

Ken Howard’s Paradoxy: Creating Christian Community Beyond Us and Them opens up with a premise strikingly similar to Jim Belcher’s Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional (see? Even the titles sound similar): The Church is being torn apart by dissonant voices; we need to move forward in a creative ‘third way’ direction that honors our deepest values while laying aside our addiction to our niche. Beyond this starting point, however, the two books diverge pretty significantly. While Belcher (to some people’s acclaim, and others’ disdain) desired to create a ‘mere Christianity’ essentialist orthodoxy that nods toward emergence while drawing out the best of his PCA Presbyterian tradition, Howard attempts to craft three ideologically-neutral terms to re-frame old verities and serve as self-identifiers of where you are as an individual and congregation:

  • The conservative way we will call Doctrinal-Propositional Orthodoxy or Orthoproxy
  • The liberal way we will call Ethical-Practical Orthodoxy or Orthopraxy
  • The emerging middle way we will call Incarnational-Relational Orthodoxy or Paradoxy

In chapter 8, my stop along the tour, we’re looking at where particular faith commuities fall along this spectrum. It’s here that Ken offers a 14-question congregational self-inventory. Here are two samples:

Which statement best describes your church’s view of religion?

a. Ultimate truth is found in one religion (Christianity is the only way).
b. Deepest truth is shared by all religions (Christianity is the only way for me).
c. Religion is irrelevant for following Christ (Christ is the way, the truth, and the life).

Which statement best describes your church’s understanding of the process of including newcomers?

a. First conversion, then fellowship.
b. First full fellowship, then fellowship catalyzes transformation.
c. Community offered with few conditions, then the inner faith experience leads to the person’s change of heart.

Curious how your responses to these questions place you along the Orthoproxy-Orthopraxy-Paradoxy continuum? I was – and the answers surprised me. Paradoxy is a book that conservatives and progressives can read together with mind and heart, grappling with issues of pluralism and inclusion on the one hand and the integrity of our faith and conviction on the other hand. It’s an excellent meditation on our quest for a generous orthodoxy that is, indeed, both generous and orthodox. I recommend it.

Check out the rest of this tour:

Foreword and Introduction: May You Live in Interesting Times
Brian McLaren on brianmclaren.net
Ken Howard on Beyond Us and Them

Chapter 1: The End of the World As We Know It: Collapsing Paradigms
Bosco Peters on Worship Blog

Chapter 2: Constantine’s Ghost: Christendom
Amy Moffit on Without A Map

Chapter 3: Reality Ain’t What it Used to Be: Foundationalism
Jana Reiss on FlunkingSainthood

Chapter 4:  Hanging by a Thread:  Christianity as Religion
Tom Brackett on Church Planting Central
 

Chapter 5:  O God, Our Help in Ages Past: Christianities That Might Have Been
Sarah Dylan Breuer on SarahLaughed.net


Chapter 6: The Shape of Things to Come: Promising Principles for a New Way of Church
Joel Borofsky on Christian Watershed

Chapter 7: A New Middle Way? Characteristics of an Incarnational Orthodoxy — a.k.a. Paradoxy
Andy MacBeth on Faithfully Reading

Brian McLaren: ‘I enthusiastically affirm the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. I’m a wholehearted Trinitarian.’

I mentioned recently that Brian has taken all kinds of heat from certain corners of the blogosphere for putting fingers to keypad on A New Kind of Christianity. This trend, sadly, has continued, with Calvinist blogger Tim Challies ranting “It’s as if McLaren is screaming “I hate God!” at the top of his lungs” and then going into scary 1984 allusions, Dr Mike Wittmer finally comes clean in opining the Brian isn’t even a Christian (something sounding more and more like a compliment every day on the ‘Christian’ blogosphere), and Some Guy (I don’t mean to be rude, but in interacting with this fellow for about a month, I still have no idea who he is behind the pseudonym) feels that Lucifer is being cheated by Brian being called ‘a son of Lucifer.’

Ah, Christians. Can you feel the love? Beyond the acerbic words, the latest route of attack on A New Kind of Christianity seems to be: Who does Brian say that Jesus is?

Is his careful language regarding the Christ-like God who is a nonviolent Liberating King masking an evil liberal agenda? Is having certain friends in scholarly circles who don’t believe in Jesus’ literal resurrection tantamount to Brian denying the same? Can Brian, with a straight face, affirm historic consensus Christian understandings of Jesus’ ontological identity? Well apparently, yes he can. Indeed he’s taken the time to respond to critiques – from everything to ‘Brian’s shamelessly pimping himself and shutting down disagreement with his fundamentalism quiz’ to ‘Brian denies Jesus’ divinity’ – with a ton of grace and class. You should read these three posts in their entirety:

A New Kind of Christianity: response to Morrell and McKnight

A new Kind of Christianity: cont’d

A New Kind of Christianity: cont’d 2

Some money quotes:

My paraphrase of Seth Godin didn’t capture the real point he was trying to make very well at all, and Seth’s point itself could probably have been nuanced and adapted with good effect rather than passing it on as-is.

When I passed on the video clip, I was thinking of issues like these:
– When questions arose in Copernicus’s and Galileo’s time about the structure of the universe …
– When Foulke, Leidy, Owen, and others raised questions in the 19th century about fossils, dinosaurs, and the age of the earth …
– When Lamarcke, Wallace, and Darwin raised questions on the evolution of living organisms …

Most of us, myself included, would have reacted as many of our ancestors did: to reject and mock those who dared question what “everyone” already “knew” to be the case. Thank God for those whose curiosity was strong enough to ask, “What if?”

Certainly, as Scot says, almost anyone’s first response would be to ask how these ideas would sit with their faith community. Scientists would do the same thing as people of faith, I think: comparing what is proposed with what is already believed to be true among their peers. So probably the issue isn’t what one’s first thought is, as I (and Seth) suggested, but instead whether one stops there and refuses to give a new idea a second thought…. [Even] so – thanks to all who critiqued my little quiz. You were right, I was wrong, and I appreciate your good insights.

When Bill Kinnon quite pointedly asks, “Who do you say Jesus is, Brian?” Brian responds:

Who do I say Jesus is? In answering that question, I would go exactly to the passages you did: Peter’s confession of Jesus at Caesarea Philippi (I wrote about this at some length in EMC), Paul’s beautiful hymns in Colossians and Philippians, and John 14:9. So yes, I enthusiastically affirm the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. Yes, I’m a wholehearted Trinitarian.

…and, he agrees with his friend Tom over his friend Marcus on Jesus’ resurrection.

Finally, in speaking of an email he received from an appreciative college student, Brian says

I should add that when this writer is talking about “cheap shots in the blogosphere,” he shouldn’t be interpreted to be saying that there’s anything wrong with vigorous disagreement or critique. Vigorous but respectful disagreement has more in common with vigorous and respectful agreement than it does with cheap shots, I think. But having said that, I understand that it’s impossible to do anything about the cheap shots, so it’s probably not even worthwhile to complain about them. Better to just move forward and focus humbly and prayerfully on constructive disagreement and agreement, in pursuit of God’s truth and goodness.

I agree; the problem is, I haven’t seen much ‘vigorous disagreement’ unaccompanied by cheap shots (thankfully, there has been some commentary done in a very constructive and reconciling tone – it’s like a breath of fresh air). I really want to see some principled push-backs, as I think – this might come as a shock for anyone who might be reading me as a McLaren sycophant – ANKoC deserves a thorough-going critical discussion, and perhaps (gasp!) deconstruction. F’r instance:

Jack Caputo says ‘We deconstruct what we love.’ Brian’s taken the time to deconstruct conventional (and we’ve gotta be honest, patently harmful) constructions of systematic theology, ‘the fall,’ redemption, Jesus’ raison d’être, sexual discourse, eschatology, ecclesiology and more because he loves God, Jesus, and the Church – as well as the stranger, the outsider, and our fragile, in-peril political and ecological systems. So if we love Brian, and if we love conversations, let’s take him at his word when he says

The responses I offer are not intended as a smash in tennis, delivered forcefully with a lot of topspin, in an effort to win the game and create a loser. Rather, they are offered as a gentle serve or lob; their primary goal is to start the interplay, to get things rolling, to invite your reply. Remember, our goal is not debate and division yielding hate or a new state, but rather questioning that leads to conversation and friendship on the new quest.

If we agree with Brian, fine. Let’s agree with him where we can. But if we disagree with Brian, let’s do that too – with vigor, but thoroughly seasoned with grace. Because – as we all agree – there’s a lot at stake with how we live lives of faith, hope, and love in the 21st century.

With this in mind, this week marks the start of the Brian McLaren Channel on TheOOZE.tv, wherein Brian and Spencer Burke discuss each of the ten questions raised in the book. I hope that if you feel passionately about these questions (in whatever direction), you’ll take advantage of the sweepstakes we’re running right now – you can win a live, Skyped-in group discussion with Brian.

(Discussion questions here.)

Ah – and a couple of audio interactions with Brian & ANKoC:

State of Belief

Jay Bakker

On the McLaren Nay-sayers

Update: Read Brian’s own responses to these criticisms, as well as his affirmations of creedal orthodoxy & Trinitarian conviction.

It’s a new year; A New Kind of Christianity is out. I highly recommend it; it’s a fantastically thought-provoking book. Not everyone would agree, though – which is perfectly fine. Iron sharpening iron and all that. But it’s not just content-disagreement; it’s becoming increasingly fashionable to bash Brian McLaren these days. This has been the case for years actually in certain quarters, but in the last few months it’s become common for folks who might’be happily displayed a ‘Friend of Emergent’ badge on their blog a couple of years ago – folks for whom Emergent has become either too ‘establishment’ or (more common) too ‘liberal.’ I deliberately haven’t posted at all on the latest spate of ‘breaking up with emergent’ posts here because, frankly, they depress the hell out of me. But you can find a roundup of the points and counter-points here on my Delicious bookmarks. At the end of the day, I think some valid critiques have been raised, for sure, but the overall tenor of dismissal is rather debilitating, to be honest. I can’t summarize it any better than Brother Maynard has here:

The other notable point is a set of changes in what the emerging church is, how it’s defined, who’s a part of it, who still uses the term, and a plethora of other notes. Being the end of a decade, people are also tending to look farther back and farther ahead as well. On this topic, I’m saddened that within the emerging church, people who shared a pulpit at the beginning of the decade won’t share more than the time of day at the end of the decade. Though some of them will spend some time in criticism. You know who you are.

Thankfully I’ve never been through a divorce – as a child or a husband. But my parents did fight alot during one particularly painful season, and this feels identical to me. This isn’t like those big, national ‘pajamas media’ brawls writ large, some Perez Hilton vs. Matt Drudge kind’ve affair. This is like family fighting family, civil war type stuff. It saddens me, it sickens me, it raises my blood pressure and makes me go out and ROM.

So: Bringing this back to Brian. I suppose it’s inevitable that, when you’re deemed the ‘Papa’ of something as amorphous and volatile as the emergent movement, eventually your spiritual children are going to have daddy issues and take out their frustrations on dear ‘ol dad. On the other hand, some of the loudest friends-turned-critics seem to be older men of his own generation, so maybe ‘sibling rivalry’ would be closer to the truth. Nonetheless, I sense a growing sense of more-orthodox-than-thou former emergers who are reacting to what they’re deeming hyper-modernity and/or heresy and/or cheap marketing ploys.

Let’s go with this last one – Scot McKnight says that Brian’s two-question ‘Are You A Fundamentalist?’ quiz shuts down the conversation before it begins; Bill Kinnon says this quiz is fundamentalist of Brian himself, and – if jacket copy can believed – means that Brian’s setting himself up to be a deity.

Excuse me? Are we talking about the same man here? Let’s see if we can find another way to narrate this – one more in line with Philippians 4:8 and 1 Corinthians 13 – you know, believing all things, hoping all things, focusing on what’s pure, righteous, of good report, et cetera.

Brian, for all his lack of formal theological education, is a deep thinker and natural teacher. He reads and travels widely, combining the insights of theology, spirituality, sociology, anthropology, futures work, and the like – synthesizing it in a way that some still find too wordy, but is nonetheless light-years easier to read than his primary source material. Beyond being a bright guy, he’s an empathetic soul – he listens deeply to folks in Africa and Latin America and the Middle East who don’t have a voice, as well as marginalized people within our own borders (LGBT folks, Muslims, etc…). He often speaks for them to religious and political power. The religious power structures in particular don’t like it because while the name of Jesus is upon his lips, they’ve convinced he’s getting Jesus’ Gospel wrong. And so the mud-slinging begins.

I am not saying, as some have recently suggested, that anyone who disagrees with Brian about the aforementioned areas of theology, spirituality, politics, etc., is automatically a mud-slinger; what I am saying is a sizable number of critics are indeed engaging in mud-slinging behavior. Brian has for years endured the worst kinds of insults – to his face and in print, even directed toward his own family, because he dare question the status quo. And being an empathetic man, he takes critiques seriously, even as he’s consistently death with such withering slander with Christ-like character (as Frank Viola notes). I am not linking the recent blog-critiques with the following extreme examples, but imagine for a moment that someone – indeed many someones – are calling you these things:

A true son of Lucifer

A Satanic author

A f*cking idiot

…and I’m deliberately leaving some of the worst ones out.

Now, imagine you’ve been hearing people say stuff like that to you for years, and you have a new book coming out where you’ll be speaking plainer than ever, shooting straight from the hip, real John 16:25 type stuff. And so you want to give your potential readers a fair warning: If you don’t approach theology and spirituality with a certain playfulness, a certain curiosity, a certain winsomeness – then my newest book might not be for you!

I think that’s fair enough. It need not be read as trying to shut down conversation, bur rather that the conversation itself is wising up, maturing. Perhaps some of us emergers, in our late 1990s youth, said “We can change the world through conversation! Come one, come all!” And that worked for us, for a few years. But starting around early 2005 or so, folks who weren’t conversing with curiosity, open-endedness, et al, began strong-arming themselves in and crying “Fire!” And emergentno.com and other sites were born, making decrying such conversations a full-time gig. From my vantage point, Brian is now doing what many wish Obama would do: Grow a pair and say “You know, my message isn’t for everybody. I’ve been very diplomatic for years, but that hasn’t gotten me very far with those who continue to loathe me and my message. So now I’m going to speak plainly to those who like these kinds of conversations, which can still be all kinds of people. Except for those who, by general disposition, are inclined to (yes) ask “Is it acceptable to my religious/ideological community or belief system?” before they ask “Is it possibly true, valuable, and worth exploring?”

Folks who fit into the first category should have their wishes to remain fundamentalists respected. And we need to realize there are siblings in Christ who proudly self-identify as fundamentalists. God bless them and their understandings of Christ’s work in the world – I mean this sincerely.

Brians’ quiz – which I think he meant tongue-in-cheek, by the way – is only a fair warning, doubly fair when including the context of Seth Godin’s short film on fundamentalism (which Scot sadly omitted from his initial posting on the quiz – intentionally or not). And if I understand how this all unfolded correctly, Brian’s idea for the quiz was suggested by Mike Todd’s posting on Seth’s fundamentalism clip, where Mike poses the million-dollar question:

When it comes to matters of faith, do we embrace questions in order to grow and learn, or do we first screen them through our rigid, existing lens in order to eliminate the ones that don’t fit our concrete, bounded structure?

This question is not meant to piss on orthodoxy(ies), or the wisdom of our spiritual forbears. But it’s about remaining open to the Light and leading of the Holy Spirit’s forward-pull into our future, which many of us see as the fullness of New Covenant living in God’s ecology. We can’t pass through this gate of insight without our curiosity and winsomeness intact and functioning healthily.

I understand the critique that Brian is generous to all orthodoxies but the one he comes from – evangelicalism and fundamentalist Christianity. He’s naturally the most trepidations of what he himself has lived through, and he’s naturally the most gracious and hopeful toward those forms of Christian faith that he’s discovered in his later years as a friendly outsider. Thus, Brian’s Christology, soteriology, hermeneutics, modes of discipleship, etc., might seem foreign to (or even hostile to) evangelicalism (or, some might imagine, a complete dismemberment of Christianity itself) – but in reality there are few original components to Brian’s new vision of Christian faith – which is why Brian himself is highly ambivalent to calling this ‘new’ at all.

He’s drawing from the deep and ancient wisdom of East Orthodox churches, Quakers and Anabaptists, mainline and liberation theologies, Catholic spirituality and more. He’s not drinking from these wells indiscriminately; what is new and original is his fresh synthesis of what he (and many of us) see as the best and most fruit-bearing dimensions of each, as we pray, worship, read Scripture and act together as learning communities. This doesn’t mean that everyone who reads ‘the story’ differently is a reverse-heretic in some new emergent papacy, but it does mean that increasing faith-diversification is undeniably the future. Will new ‘c’atholic churches be able to contain the diversity that’s already present in the Body of Christ, which will only continue to flourish as we grow toward the 22nd century? I hope so – we need all hands on deck to answer the call of the ‘Great Work’ of our time – to be Trees of Life for the healing of hatred, violence, and shattered lives and eco-systems. I know that our ‘Gospel’ is important and worth debating over – but please, let’s all sides do this in a respectful manner, not ad hominem, and expect the best of each other’s sincerity, lives, and theologies.

I hope that Brian never becomes impervious to his critics. I hope that he’s able to strain through the metric tons of crapola being dumped his way right now to pick out an occasional pearl, like  Yeah, I suppose that fundamentalism quiz could have been interpreted as polarizing, or I need to have more patience with brothers and sisters who still find much life in the institutions and beliefs that I, for reasons of my own, have moved beyond. I pray that the some of the hurtful words being directed toward a guy who’s already had a ton of hurtful words thrown his way don’t forever isolate him from hearing genuine loving disagreement.

But to my mind, while Brian is not above critique in his theology or actions, at the end of the day I see a man sincerely following Jesus – like Jesus, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. And like Jesus, having Hosannas shouted his way on Sunday, and being crucified on Friday. Jesus ‘descended into hell,’ according to the ancient creed. Like the much-more-recent Facebook group states, I’d rather be in hell with Brian than strumming harps with the bulk of his staunchest nay-sayers.

May all of us – missional and emergent, evangelical and mainline, Catholic and Pentecostal, gay and straight, deconstructionist and Radically Orthodox – fling ourselves upon the Throne of Grace and mercies of the Father, Son, and Spirit, one God, who alone saves and restores.

Amen?

*****

And in the midst of this liminal opportunity for growth in grace and mutual forbearance in this matters where so many obviously disagree, I look forward to reading and reviewing A New Kind of Christianity with the whole community of faith. Beyond the posts you’ll find amply linked to above, here are a few that I’ve found helpful:

Going to Hell with McLaren…or at least to renew an institution. Which is worse? – Dave Wainscott

A New Kind of Christianity Intro by Matt Nightingale

Book Review: A New Kind of Christianity by Bill Nieporte

A New Kind of Christianity by Pam Hoegweide

A New Kind of Blogging My Notes on A New Kind of Christianity by Dan Rustad

Questions…

Brian McLaren on the Overarching Storyline of the Bible

Porpoise Diving Life interview by Bill Dahl

Explore the Spirit interview with Brian

and finally: You will find a variety of reviews, of all persuasions, on the ViralBloggers.com post for A New Kind of Christianity.

Loving Neighbors – and even ‘enemies’ – in the Wake of Ft. Hood

Crescent and CrossUnless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve heard that last week an army psychologist, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, opened fire at Fort Hood and killed 13 people. You’ve probably also heard the inevitable discussion that follows senseless violent tragedy, focusing on the nearly-unanswerable question “Why?” From a ‘systems thinking’ point of view, there are many legitimate facets to put on the table, including mental health, post-traumatic stress disorder, the general morale and collective mental state of troops involved in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, and – yes – the influence of radicalized, fundamentalist Islam.

All well and necessary. But what happens when fundamentalist Christians – and their more respectable evangelical neighbors – ignore 3 of the 4 above factors and generalize the last one, painting all Muslims as a potential fifth column ‘sleeper cell’ in our midst? It isn’t pretty. I’ve been avoiding the typical watering holes for such ‘reasoning’ – Fox News, CBN, WorldNetDaily. I know better. But one place I’ve been unable to avoid seeing it is on my own Facebook network. In some cases dear friends making statements like “If three friends from my local [Christian] congregation were involved in shootings, I don’t know if you could claim that my religion is peaceful. Hmm.” What follows is some of my tentative, in-process response, to my friends and family members who are scared, and want to know how followers of Jesus should respond in the wake of this tragedy.

Where to begin? First off, I do agree that Major Hasan had some shady connections. Not only was he not investigated for those connections, but he was actually appointed by the Bush administration to be high up in Homeland Security if this source is to be believed! This is very odd, and needs to be investigated.

But I’ve gotta be honest with you: It makes me sick to my stomach to hear people compare the best of their faith with the worst in others’ faiths. Of course your truncated version of Christianity will come out smelling like a rose! But we cannot forget that we have a legacy of violence, terror, shame, and intimidation along with the worst of Islam. We too have ‘texts of terror’ in our sacred scriptures, and we do best to handle them with the utmost care so as not to let their volatility spill out into the fragility of our interconnected lives. How is caricaturing a faith held by a billion people worldwide loving our enemies? How is it going to show them the love of Christ?

Continue reading ‘Loving Neighbors – and even ‘enemies’ – in the Wake of Ft. Hood’

Open or Closed Table Eucharist/Communion – WWJD?

Vaux EucharistThe sacred meal that Christians celebrate, variously called ‘Eucharist’ or ‘Communion’ or ‘Lord’s Supper’ – is both the centerpiece of most Christian worship worldwide, and one of the most painfully divisive rites we practice. My friend and Catholic Celtic contemplative (how much more alliteration can I pack into his descriptor – oh I know, his first name!) Carl McColman blogs about feeling this ambivalence firsthand in his post Communion and the Broken Body. What follows is a response to Carl, and the others who have interacted in the comments. I recommend you read Carl’s post before proceeding.

First off Carl, thank you for sharing this – I recall you and I discussing some of this the first time I came to the monastery with you and participated in the morning prayers and mass; the Christian community’s celebration of unity with God and each other is fragmented, broken much like Christ’s body on the altar, and this does indeed call for sadness.

But I also agree with Darrell and some of the other (you could call us ‘green meme’) commentators on this thread – that unlike other things the Church might mourn, such as the energy crisis or genocide in Darfur, this is a matter wholly of our own making and within our purview to change. In stages of grief, if grieving doesn’t lead to fresh beginnings and new action, the griever is stunted in her growth. So let’s move on.

How might we do this? Well, if Catholics want to appeal to tradition and authority, and Protestants want to appeal to conscience and Scripture, maybe we can all agree to hold these in abeyance while taking a moment to appeal to Jesus. (Ack – I realize upon typing this that it can sound awfully one-sidedly Protestant, even Pietist. Bear with me a moment…)

If I may be so presumptuous, I think Jesus agrees with your growing realization that there are legitimate boundaries to the community of faith – that there are mysteries to be stewarded, and hard roads to walk, and that while hospitality is a crucial part of our vocation as apprentices to him, there are also places where the general public simply won’t go – and this is fine. Inclusive green meme progressives like us struggle with this a bit, but Jesus deliberately thinned out the crowds from time to time – speaking in enigmatic parables, ratcheting up Moses’ law a thousand-fold to show the heart of God’s reign, and ultimately inviting followers to a challenging third way path between Roman hegemony and reactive Jewish intransigence. In this way Jesus brought a ‘sword,’ and families were divided over what to do about him and his message. So Jesus is exclusive, yes?

And I hardly need to argue in this esteemed audience that Jesus is inclusive, too. Maybe cranky and reluctant at times, but reaching out to Samaritan women and Roman centurions and – most significantly – to lowest-caste Jewish folks of his day that polite society and religious elites wouldn’t countenance. Jesus seems to genuinely enjoy the company of the outcast and ne’er-do-well.

And Jesus gave us a meal – sometimes somber, sometimes joyous, in re-membrance of him, embodying Christ for the sake of each other and the world. And the question we post-Christendom, postmodern friends of God in the way of Jesus are asking ourselves is,

How then shall we eat?

And with whom?

Recognizing that there are initiation rituals and boundary rituals in any religious group, we could then ask the question what are our boundary rituals, and what are our initiation rituals? And is Eucharist the former or the latter? I know that official Roman Catholic polity – and that of many other communions – say that Eucharist is the former, it’s a boundary ritual reinforcing membership in Christ’s Body.

Byzantine/Anglo-Catholic liturgist Richard Fabian makes a brief-but-compelling case for reversing the well-tread order of Baptism and Eucharist in his essay First the Table, Then the Font. I’m not going to reiterate his arguments here, but it’s well worth the read. Summarizing him from my point of view, I have to ask the question “How did Jesus eat with others in his earthly life? Were they initiation meals, or boundary-maintenance?” I have to conclude that, overwhelmingly, in his eating Jesus is precisely at his most inclusive. This is when he dines with terrorists and sex workers and tax collectors, whilst the religious authorities of his day were disgusted.

“But oh,” contemporary religious authorities might object, “his final meal this side of the grave – the one where I told his followers to keep eating in remembrance of him – that was just with his inner circle.” Granted, but let me ask you this: If Jesus was asking his followers to eat in his manner to celebrate his presence among them, would they be drawing solely on this one ‘final’ meal, or the collective memory of their years shared together? To put it another way: If the Church wants to insist on a closed, bounded-set meal based on one night of our Lord’s life, shouldn’t it work equally vigorously to celebrate the scandalously inclusive, no-strings-attached manner of eating our Redeemer practiced during the vast majority of his public ministry?

Religious thinking is so bass-ackward sometimes. We’re afraid of ourselves, and afraid of the ‘outside world.’ We think of boundaries as something that we need to institute and enforce, externally, while gratuitous inclusion is something that will result in our loss of distinction and identity. Jesus seemed to reverse this pattern, finding his identity in complete open-handed invitational inclusion at the site of the shared meal, with boundary naturally arising in his call to follow him. It’s good branding, really – being salt and light both attracts and repels different people, or even the same people at different times – even ourselves at different stages of life’s journey.

With this said, I realize that – both practically and intentionally speaking – Eucharistic celebration is primarily for the edification of committed apprentices of Jesus; it is not ‘evangelistic’ per se in its design. Even so, it is invitational when practiced in the way of Jesus. We needn’t be concerned that abject heathens are going to keep beating down our doors to participate in a ritual that they disrespect and that holds no meaning to them – it just ain’t happening, folks. On the other hand, atheists, agnostics, sinners and ne’er-do-wells might just be curious enough to participate alongside us – to see if they can belong before believing, to see if they can ‘taste and see that the Lord is good.’ I long to see creative, prophetic acts of public worship, like my friend Lucas Land proposes in Eucharist as Eat-In. If we unshackle Jesus from our exclusionary practices, the transforming love of God can spill into the streets and the ‘profane’ lives or ordinary people – through our supposed ‘means of grace’ that we keep shut up.

That’s what happened to another friend, Sara Miles, who stumbled into Fabian’s congregation over a decade ago. I loathe to think of where Sara, her city, and even her congregation would be had she not been allowed to encounter Jesus at a no-strings-attached Communion table in her neighborhood. I shudder to think of how Jesus is being shuttered up in buildings across this world – what we’re missing out on by not making liturgy the work of the people, for the people.

I’m sorry, Carl – I got into the very argument that you didn’t want to have. And I’m going to ratchet it up slightly here – I don’t think that Darrell was being overly unkind or by describing the closed-handed exclusivity of certain Eucharist practices as ‘demonic.’ This needn’t be seen in an overly polemic way, but rather in the spirit of the apostle Paul, when he wrote a church to say he was giving one of its members “over to the devil.” This wasn’t a curse, but a naming of things as they really are in hopes of full repentance and restoration. I can’t – and won’t – stand in judgment of denominations that fence the table from all who don’t have confessional unity with them. But I do sniff the smell of fear and sulphur around such behavior at an institutional level, at what Walter Wink would call “the Powers” (demonic again. 🙂 ) And I do pray that such power will be broken – for Christ’s sake, and the sake of the world.

If anyone wants to do some theological heavy-lifting on the matter, I’d recommend (in addition to Fabian’s essay above) Come to the Table by Anglican priest Jamie Howison – the full book is available here. Also Making A Meal of It: Rethinking the Lord’s Supper by United Methodist minister and theologian Ben Witherington III. And to be fair to another perspective (thanks Carl for pointing these resources out), Episcopal priest and Thomas W. Phillips Chair in Religious Studies professor at Bethany College in West Virginia Jim Farwell has staked a lot on a generous-but-boundary-keeping stance on limiting Communion to the baptized. His essay Baptism, Eucharist, and the Hospitality of Jesus: On the Practice of  ‘Open Communion,’ as well as its rejoinder by Kathryn Tanner can be found on the Anglican Theological Review website here. (Interestingly, for me anyway, I took a class with Farwell nearly a decade ago on Eastern Religion with a focus on Zen and interreligious dialogue at Berry. It’s a small Body of Christ…)

It’s also worth noting that, in true house church fashion, I think that the Eucharist is best celebrated as a full meal – why redact God’s feast into a notional meal only? But that’s a subject for a whole ‘nother post…

Does God Have An ‘Eternal Purpose’? A Review of From Eternity to Here by Frank Viola

https://i1.wp.com/frometernitytohere.org/pic2.jpgIt was 2003; I was 23. Finally after all these years, I had scraped up the cash (& credit cards) to undergo that great American rite of passage – the summer trip to Europe. Thanks to the generosity of Andrew Jones & family, a couple of house churches, and many other hospitable friends (including Bea & Andy Marshall) I made my way from London to Bournemouth to the Netherlands to Birmingham and Sheffield. While on one leg of my British journey, I was part of a learning party Andrew & friends put on called Wabi-Sabi. It was there I was having a conversation with a fellow American, a new friend 20 years my senior, who had published a book the year before. He was a pastor and church planter, and ‘coach’ to other pastors and church planters. He was asking me what I was up to, & I told him about a book I was working on. (It’s a book I’m still working on! Could this be the month I finish it..?)

“What’s it about?” He asked.

I proceeded to tell him, noting that in part it attempts to unfold “The eternal purpose of God.”

“Well!” He exclaimed jovially but incredulously. “When you figure that one out, be sure to let the rest of us know!”

Ah, these were the early, heady days of postmodern incredulity to metanarratives – even postmodern Christian suspicion of Christian metanarratives. And why not, after all? We (at least, we evangelical Christians) were weaned on a ‘big story’ of “If you were to die tonight, do you have assurance in your heart that you’d go to heaven?” Or, “Have you heard the four spiritual laws?” Those of us following Jesus with awareness of our post-everything cultural shift were keenly aware of the shortcomings of our blithely-uttered “theories of everything,” and were looking for a humbler approach – even if it ultimately meant affirming a much humbler, more localized, cosmology.

But I had a problem – one I still have, at least in part, today. But it’s one I think From Eternity to Here by Frank Viola speaks into. My problem, sitting in Europe circa 2003 – and in the Southeast US of A circa 2009 – is that, since 1998 or so, I was arrested by a grand story – a tale of a God in love, a God who is love, a God who is Community, creating matter and physicality and embodiment as an expression of that love to pour Godself into. If this Story doesn’t do away with the Fall-Rescue-Restoration narrative so common to Christendom, it certainly reframes it, going back further and then permeating the present, to the point (for me at least) that some eschatological tensions are less pronounced. And further still, proponents of this Story have the audacity to believe it’s hiding in plain sight right in our bibles: https://i0.wp.com/jotpuree.com/images/theophanes_in_russia_larger/theophanes_in_russia_larger-Images/16.jpg

Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Paul’s letter known as Ephesians, 3:8-11, TNIV – emphasis mine, as ancient Hebrews & Greeks did not have italic fonts yet.)

So this story’s sexy – it has grace, and the overseeing of an age-old ‘mystery,’ in the same sense as ‘mystical’ or Babylonian mystery religion (only better). A message, a power, hidden by God in Christ that would be as revelatory to heavenly principalities and powers as it would be for mere mortals, a divine purpose that’s not only age-old but eternal.

WTF??

By which I mean Where to, Frank?? It is this impenetrable enigma that Viola turns his pen to unfolding for us – and it’s a good thing, too: If folks in the first century CE barely grasped what the apostle Paul (and, Frank contends, Jesus – and others) were talking about, we certainly don’t talk much about this stuff 20+ centuries later.

Except, interestingly, there is a stream of the Christian family who has dared speak about such things: Plymouth Brethren, Christian Missionary Alliance, Keswick Higher Life movement folks, and their descendents. I can’t do justice to their whole story here – that’d be a post in itself, or a series – so I’ll just do a genealogy. Ruth Paxson begat Mary McDonough begat Watchman Nee and T. Austin-Sparks (I’m talkin’ spiritually, now) begat Stephen Kaung and Devern Fromke. Hudson Taylor and AW Tozer run around in this family tree too, somewhere. All of these folks had teaching ministries, or churches, or publishing outreaches, the emphasized the the exchange that happens when those who trust in Christ spiritually ‘die’ with Christ and have his resurrected life take the place of your own – and how this all fits into a larger, more cosmic plan of God’s original purpose – or as Fromke calls it, ‘The Ultimate Intention.’

Frank brings these teachers’ core messages into the 21st century, connecting them in dialogue with other branches of the Christian family, including neo-orthodox folks like Karl Barth & Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who explore radically Christ-centered spirituality as the ground of all being and escape from religion and conventional categories of knowledge), and more recently still post-evangelical luminaries like Stan Grenz and Miroslav Volf who explore the social habits of the Trinity and how these might be reflected in the Church.

So where to, Frank? Frank wants us to begin in the Godhead:

In “the agelessness of eternity,” God had an incredible dream: He wished to expand the “infinite communion” that He had with His beloved Son. He wanted other beings to participate in the interior mystery of the Trinity, to share in the sacred exchange of fellowship, love, and life that flows…between the Father and His Son. He wanted others to participate in “the amiable society” of the Godhead.

But he doesn’t end there. In order to “participate” in the Godhead, the Church in Frank’s depiction lives out four values (see chapter 27):

Communion with God:

As the bride of Christ, the church is called to commune with, love, enthrone, and intimately know the heavenly Bridegroom who indwells her.
Churches that excel in the bridal dimension give time and attention to spiritual fellowship with the Lord. Worship is a priority. Seeking the Lord, loving Him, communing with Him, and encountering Him are central.

Corporate display of the church in an atmosphere of ever-member freedom:

The church is called to gather together regularly to display God’s life through the ministry of every Christian. How? …In open-participatory meetings where every member of the believing priesthood functions, ministers, and expresses the living God in an open-participatory atmosphere (see 1 Cor. 14:26; 1 Pet. 2:5; Heb. 10:24–25, etc).

God dwells in every Christian and can inspire any of us to share something that comes from Him with the church. In the first century, every Christian had both the right and the privilege of speaking to the community. This is the practical expression of the New Testament doctrine of the priesthood all believers.
The open-participatory church meeting was the common gathering of the early church. It’s purpose? To edify the entire church and to display, express, and reveal the Lord through the members of the body to principalities and powers in heavenly places (Eph. 3:8–11).

Community life where practical reconciliation takes place:

The church’s allegiance was exclusively given to the new Caesar, the Lord Jesus, and she lived by His rule. As a result, the response by her pagan neighbors was, “Behold, how they love one another!”

God’s ultimate purpose is to reconcile the universe under the lordship of Jesus Christ (Col. 1:20; Eph. 1:10). As the community of the King, the church stands in the earth as the masterpiece of that reconciliation and the pilot project of the reconciled universe. In the church, therefore, the Jewish-Gentile barrier has been demolished as well as all barriers of race, culture, sex, etc. (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:16). The church lives and acts as the new humanity on earth that reflects the community of the Godhead.

Thus when those in the world see a group of Christians from different cultures and races loving one another, caring for one another, meeting one another’s needs, living against the current trends of this world that give allegiance to other gods instead of to the world’s true Lord, Jesus Christ, it is watching the life of the future kingdom lived out on earth in the present. As Stanley Grenz once put it, “The church is the pioneer community. It points toward the future God has in store for His creation.”

It is this “kingdom community” that turned the Roman Empire on its ear. Here was a people who possessed joy, who loved one another deeply, who made decisions by consensus, who handled their own problems, who married each other, who met one another’s financial needs, and who buried one another.

Commission where we love the world as God does:

As we have already seen, when Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, He chose to express Himself through a body to continue His ministry on earth. As the body of Christ, the church not only cares for its own, but it also cares for the world that surrounds it. Just as Jesus did while He was on earth.

The pages of history are filled with stories of how the early Christians took care of the poor, stood for those who suffered injustice, and met the needs of those who were dying by famine or plague. In other words, the early Christian communities cared for their non-Christian neighbors who were suffering.
Not a few times a plague would sweep through a city, and all the pagans left town immediately, leaving their loved ones to die. That included the physicians. But it was the Christians who stayed behind and tended to their needs, sometimes even dying in the process…the early church understood that she was carrying on the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. She well understood that He was the same today, yesterday, and forever (Heb. 13:8).

So there you have it. I’m still not sure if we contingent humans can dare speak in plain prose about something as ineffable as an “eternal purpose of God.” And yet, if I saw my American church planter friend again today, I’d echo Pete Rollins (or is that Caputo? Or is that Derrida?) in saying that while language definitely fails at such a sublime provocation, we cannot help but speak about eternity and ultimate meaning. Some of the best conversations, orations, letters and books have been penned exploring this very idea, and From Eternity to Here is no exception. What I appreciate about it is its desire to marry the contemplative with the active, the mystical (if you will) with the missional. As I said in my inside-cover endorsement of the book,

Frank Viola is the heir apparent to classic Deeper Christian Life teachers, faithfully bringing their core ideas into the 21st century with his own fresh insight. Visio Dei meets Missio Dei in this passionate examination of what motivates the very heart of God!

Check it out. I’d love to hear your thoughts. And for a list of reviews and endorsements, check out the booksite.

Further Atonement Thoughts: Late to the Party

[he_qi_crucifixion.jpg]Earlier this week, kicking off Lent, Tony Jones pointed his readers to some reflections on Jesus atonement, including my recent pieces “Beyond Liberal and Conservative” and “Possible Reconstructions.” The resultant comment-conversation is largely quite encouraging, and worth reading. One of the highlights from me was this helpful summary of atonement models by Brian:

(1) Substitutionary atonement (Calvin) – Christ’s voluntarily suffers and dies on the cross as our substitute. In other words, Jesus takes the punishment of God for sinners by representing us.

(2) Satisfaction (Anselm) – Christ’s voluntary sacrifice of his innocent life pays our debt to God so God’s justice can be satisfied. In short, Jesus makes restitution for us.

(3) Ransom (Origen) – Adam and Eve sold humanity out to the devil, so God had to trick the devil into accepting Christ’s death as a ransom so we can be free. In the end, the devil is tricked because Jesus got resurrected after we are freed.

(4) Moral influence (Abelard) – Jesus’ life and death are characterized by his exemplary obedience to God’s love, therefore demonstrating to humanity the love of God. So, Jesus should awaken sinners to God’s reality and inspire us to be obedient to God.

(5) Governmental (Grotius) – God demonstrates God’s anger toward sin by punishing Christ. Here, God is understood as a judge who demands divine justice for sinners. In the end, Jesus suffers in order that humans can be forgiven and God’s justice can be upheld.

(6) Liberation (Boff) – Jesus’ life and death demonstrate God’s solidarity with people who are poor and oppressed. So, Jesus lives a life of care and compassion – and his crucifixion demonstrates how perverse and violent human injustice can be. In other words, Jesus lived obediently to God’s care for the poor, which brought him into conflict with an oppressive empire that killed Jesus. In the end, Jesus was unjustly executed through crucifixion by the Roman Empire. Therefore, the oppressive and violent people in the world were exposed as ungodly and immoral. In this theology, Jesus died because of sin, but not for sins. Therefore, in imitation of Jesus, ministry is about empowering the oppressed and helping the poor.

(7) Decisive Revelation (Riggs) – Jesus is the widow through which we see God. Through Jesus’ life and teachings we learn about God and what God values. Some people experienced God-in-Christ and became faithful to God. But other people were offended and threatened by Jesus and wanted to kill him. In the end, Jesus was murdered by people who hated the values and influence of God. Despite his crucifixion, the presence and ministry of Jesus continues through the lives of Christians. God is still beckoning us into faith and faithfulness. In this theology, the purpose of ministry is to share the good news of God’s love that was decisively revealed through Christ, so more people can develop a relationship with God.

(8) State Execution (Crossan) – Jesus and his disciples invited people into the Kingdom of God and out of the Kingdom of Rome. The Empire of God was about God’s love, justice, and mutuality. The Empire of Rome was about humanity’s individuality, greed, and brutality. Jesus and his disciples were rebels against Rome by living out the values of God. Romans became angry that Jesus was undermining their way of life. So, the brutal Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, hung Jesus on a cross to humiliate Jesus and terrorize his followers. Despite Jesus’ traumatic and unjust execution by the state, Christ’s presence and God’s Kingdom continues to invite people to live by God’s values – and be assured of God love. In this theology, Christians are empowered by God’s love to live out God’s values of love, justice, and mutuality.

Brian’s series on Lent & Crucifixion is well-worth reading too:
Journey of Lent (#1): “Crucifixion of Jesus as Unresolved Grief and Trauma”
Journey of Lent (#2): “Grieving the Crucifixion to Heal Our Memories of Jesus”
Darrell Grizzle’s Atonement and Emergents is great too along this theme. And finally, The Contemporary Calvinist & Friends think we’re taking a blowtorch to the Bible – alas.


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