Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Few Conference Pictures

I went to a great one day conference on Saturday and have posted a few pictures.

Ron Sider was the first keynote speaker at the Evolving Church Conference last Saturday. If the name sounds familiar, it should be. He wrote " Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger." He made a number of disturbing comments. In particular a couple jumped out at me. The first one was that 35,000 children under the age of 12 will die today because of starvation or of preventable diseases. The cost of one fighter jet would be enough to provide the food and medicine for one year to help these children. The second comment that he made was that Michael Jordan made more money in one year promoting Nike shoes than all of the 18,000 Indonesian factory workers combined who actually made the shoes.

Shane Claiborne was a hoot. He lives in Christian community in North Philadelphia among the poor there. He made a number of memorable comments. Refering to the Live 8 concerts to help bring awareness to poverty, Jesus said "If the Christians remain silent the rocks will cry out ... or maybe the rock stars!"

Jim Wallis heads up Sojourners in Washington DC and has written a book with a very interesting title: God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It. After discussing the book with Jon Stewart (The Daily Show) Wallis got thousands of emails. Many wrote him saying "I didn't know you could be a Christian and care for the poor." The other comment he made that struck me was that "We will not see a restoration of Justice in our land without a revival of faith."


I’m more of a thinker than a writer – hence the paucity of posts recently. But I have been thinking about prayer and direction and the words of Jesus. That always makes me uncomfortable.

Sunday ... I spoke about the two tax collectors prominently highlighted in Scripture – Matthew (Levi) and Zacchaeus. One left everything and followed Jesus. The other gave away half of what he had and then promised to repay those he had defrauded - quadruple! One left everything to become a full time missionary and the other stayed where he was but simplified his lifestyle and reformed his business practices. Both were radical followers of Jesus. The message made me uncomfortable.

In the midst of my emerging church thinking, reading and occasional posts, I’ve come to a realization. My first exposure to what has become the emerging church was actually through ministry to the poor at Church on the Street and Yonge Street Mission. We were an emerging church (in the best sense of the word) in 1982, before anyone had coined the term. We had recognized some of the shortcomings of the traditional church model and were experimenting with what might work with the broken, non-literate culture of street-involved youth. We used art, images, candles, community meals, high levels of participation and ownership of the services to try to make Jesus make sense to street kids. And it really worked.

They loved Jesus. They struggled to hold on to Him in the midst of addictions and bad relationships and babies on the street. But they loved Him. Even when they were unable to stay sober or clean or married, they displayed a deep hunger for Jesus. However we failed in making them into our own image – good middle class Christians. It’s hard to make sense of middle class Christianity when you have nothing. That always made me feel uncomfortable.

To me the value of the emerging church phenomenon is all about being dissatisfied with the status quo and then doing something to change it. I heard Shane Claiborne speak on the weekend at the Evolving Church Conference. There is a good "live" commentary of the conference at Daryl Dash's blog. Jim Wallis (who also spoke at the conference) writes in the forward to a book by Shane Claiborne: “We were also young evangelicals who found that neither our churches nor our society were measuring up to the way of Jesus – not even close. Our battle then was against a private piety that limited religion to only personal matters, then compromised faith in a tragic capitulation to the economic, political and military powers that be. We desperately wanted to see our faith “go public” and offer a prophetic vision with the power to change both our personal lives and political directions … The Christianity of private piety, affluent conformity and only “God Bless America” has compromised the witness of the church while putting a new generation of Christians to sleep. Defining faith by the things you won’t do or question does not create a compelling style of life. And a new generation of young people is hungry for an agenda worthy of its commitment, its energy and its gifts.”

That certainly makes me uncomfortable. Who was it that said Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?

Friday, March 23, 2007

What is Evangelical?

Scot McKnight (of the Jesus Creed blog - see the link on the right side) suggests a great description of the shifting definition of "evangelical" and of the slightly different focus the term has in the USA. Here's the quote ...

Here’s how I understand the term, but I think something must be done quickly or the word will simply fall out of favor for evangelical moderates. I speak in the past tense because I don’t think it means this anymore, or at least it will not if something is not done.

First, it referred to Christians who are post-Fundamentalist and who broke out of Fundamentalism in the 1950s and 60s at the leadership of Harold Ockenga, Carl Henry, Billy Graham, and the like — represented by Christianity Today. Evangelicals in those days were called neo-evangelicals (and that often was a slur by Fundamentalists).

Second, it referred to those who believed in the essential gospel doctrines: the majesty of Jesus Christ and his saving death, the Holy Spirit at work, personal faith, the authority of Scripture, the need for evangelistic work, and commitment to the local fellowship of Christians. These essential gospel doctrines led to a big umbrella for all those who joined in the same beliefs; in other words, neo-evangelicalism was “evangelical ecumenism.”

Third, in the 70s and 80s — Francis Schaeffer’s Evangelical Manifesto, the rise of the Moral Majority under the likes of Jerry Falwell, and the Presidency of Ronald Reagan — the evangelical movement took on board a conservative political orientation, and for many it was as self-defining as the previous gospel doctrines.

Fourth, in the Clinton era the now re-shaped evangelical movement became increasingly combative in a “take back America” posture and began to add to the list of gospel doctrines — and they continue to add to it (including your view of women). Put differently, evangelical now means “Fundamentalist” (what I have called neo-fundamentalist).

Today the word “evangelical” no longer means what it meant in the 50s and 60s. The question is whether or not the E-word is worth saving for many of us.

Should you care to know, one thing the word “emerging” seeks to capture is the older sense of evangelical for a new day. I’m a follower of Jesus — orthodox, catholic, protestant and therefore sometimes (but clearly not always) “evangelical.”

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Evangelicals and Israel

Just connected with a site reporting on the most recent AIPAC confereence (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) where Rev. John Hagee was speaking on why Christians support Israel. He didn't really say a lot of new things but the reaction of the mostly secular Jewish crowd is quite amazing.

The video is youtube and not great quality but the sound is good. It's in three parts.

Read some of the comments below the video link. They are also quite interesting.

Check it out here.