Friday, November 30, 2007

Mathematical Certainty?

This is kind of one of those chain emails that people send out with the annoying moralistic platitudes at the end. Well I removed most of the platitudes and kept the content - some interesting mathematical idiosyncrasies because we have a deci-numeral system (as opposed to binary - or some other system). Anyways be amazed.

Beauty of Maths!

1 x 8 + 1 = 9
12 x 8 + 2 = 98
123 x 8 + 3 = 987
1234 x 8 + 4 = 9876
12345 x 8 + 5 = 98765
123456 x 8 + 6 = 987654
1234567 x 8 + 7 = 9876543
12345678 x 8 + 8 = 98765432
123456789 x 8 + 9 = 987654321

1 x 9 + 2 = 11
12 x 9 + 3 = 111
123 x 9 + 4 = 1111
1234 x 9 + 5 = 11111
12345 x 9 + 6 = 111111
123456 x 9 + 7 = 1111111
1234567 x 9 + 8 = 11111111
12345678 x 9 + 9 = 111111111
123456789 x 9 +10= 1111111111

9 x 9 + 7 = 88
98 x 9 + 6 = 888
987 x 9 + 5 = 8888
9876 x 9 + 4 = 88888
98765 x 9 + 3 = 888888
987654 x 9 + 2 = 8888888
9876543 x 9 + 1 = 88888888
98765432 x 9 + 0 = 888888888

Brilliant, isn't it?

And look at this symmetry:

1 x 1 = 1
11 x 11 = 121
111 x 111 = 12321
1111 x 1111 = 1234321
11111 x 11111 = 123454321
111111 x 111111 = 12345654321
1111111 x 1111111 = 1234567654321
11111111 x 11111111 = 123456787654321
111111111 x 111111111 = 12345678987654321

Now, take a look at this...

101% ? What does it mean to give MORE than 100%?
Ever wonder about those people who say they are giving more than 100%?
We have all been in situations where someone wants you to GIVE OVER 100%.
How about ACHIEVING 101%?
What equals 100% in life?

Here's a little mathematical formula that might help answer these questions:


Is represented as:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26.

H-A-R-D-W-O-R- K
adds up to ...
8+1+18+4+23+15+18+11 = 98%

adds up to ...
11+14+15+23+12+5+4+7+5 = 96%

results in ...
1+20+20+9+20+21+4+5 = 100%

THEN, look how far the love of God will take you:

will give you ...
12+15+22+5+15+6+7+15+4 = 101%

Therefore, one can conclude with mathematical "certainty" that:

While Hard Work and Knowledge will get you close, and Attitude will
get you there, It's the Love of God that will put you over the top!

God in the Common Places

I was in my "office" again today - the Second Cup coffee shop at Promenade Mall. I have a hard time being productive when I'm just sitting at my desk in the basement of my house. It helps me focus when there is a lot of "white noise" activity going on around me. I get more reading done. I can journal better. I can even write better sitting in a busy place.

But that's not the only reason I go to the mall. I like to watch people. I like waiting for divine appointments. I like to see the interactions that happen "in passing." I wrote this following article for a newsletter a few years ago as I was trying to understand the concept of what I now know as Missio Dei or "the missional God" - the one who becomes like us and goes out from where He is to be with us. He is the incarnational God - God with us - Immanuel. Here's the article ...

It’s 11:30 a.m. on a Monday. The regular crowd shuffles in. I have a large Paradiso Dark on my table and a Billy Joel tune floating through my mind. I can hear the gentle splash of the fountain providing a pleasant white noise in the background. It’s highlighted by the staccato clank-clank of spatula against grill from the Japanese food outlet. There’s that unique hubbub a hundred voices make in a large room - occasionally punctuated by the excited scream of a toddler or the high pitched beep of a cell phone.

I watch the people. It’s amazing: the diversity of humanity that you see in a public place. The retirees sitting alone reading the paper. An older woman writing a dollar store birthday card to her granddaughter. An impossibly young teenage mother pushing a squirming, straining baby in a stroller. A nervous young guy with a black Roots toque pulled low, waiting for his dealer to come by. An old man with a full grey beard, and grey lifeless eyes, drinking coffee – looking all the world like life has used him up. The group of four or five older men having an animated discussion in a language I don’t recognize. The four teenagers from the high school, cutting class to meet with their boyfriend or girlfriend. The weird, but harmless looking guy with the silly grin, who picks up his coat and bag to change his seat every five or six minutes. He’s changed his spot eight times since I’ve sat down.

At 12:03 the place starts to buzz with the growing lunchtime crowd. Teenagers are ten deep at the McDonald’s counter. The tables fill up quickly. Security makes an appearance – standing around the edges, keeping an eye out for trouble. The guard stares for a moment at four young guys at a table near me and quickly walks over to them. I wonder what they’ve done wrong. “Sorry guys. No card playing allowed.” Crazy Eights is apparently a restricted activity here.

By 12:40 the room has become quieter again and there are no kids from the high school anymore. Only the real regulars are left – the harmless, weird guy, the seniors, moms and their kids, the unemployed guy going through the want ads, and a few “suits” still on their lunch break. Especially endearing is the older gentleman sitting two tables over, hands in his lap, patiently waiting for his wife to return from shopping. You can tell he’s done this a thousand times before.

I love to watch people. I enjoy interacting with people. I especially notice the people sitting alone, reading the paper – or more often than not, just looking around. Once in a while I have a conversation. Sometimes I see someone I know.

Yes, I’m at the mall. The mall has become the modern public square – the modern marketplace, the new human crossroads. A busy mall may see tens of thousands of people come and go every day. It provides employment for a thousand people at any one time. It’s a place people go to shop, to access professional services. It is increasingly becoming a place to go when there’s nothing else to do. It has become something of a social outlet for many – especially for youth, seniors and for others looking for connections. As a result, a mall not only provides commercial products and services, but has become in many respects a meeting place, a place to hang out, a living room.

People come to a mall because they are lonely and looking for human contact; looking for something to change their desperate existence. They may come because the prospect of facing four walls with only a TV for company is too daunting.

People come longing for things they may not be able to afford, filling their credit cards with debt they can't handle. It’s where tired mothers go when they don’t know what else to do with the kids. It’s a place estranged fathers take their children - struggling to entertain them during their one visit a week. Teenagers go to the mall – desperately wanting to fit in with the crowd at the food court – and willing to do almost anything to find acceptance. These are not just financial and commercial issues. These are social issues. More importantly these are spiritual issues.

The public crossroad places of life (malls, coffee shops, school parking lots, book stores) are places of safety and familiarity for people. For one reason or another people do not perceive the church to be a safe place any more. People tend not to share their innermost longings, doubts and self-destructive, sinful habits with the complete stranger at the equally strange church fellowship time – especially if they think (rightly or wrongly) they are going to be judged for being sinful. Why reveal yourself too candidly to people who you perceive to be “holier than thou’? Paradoxically, they will share their innermost longings, doubts and struggles to overcome destructive habits with a complete stranger at the coffee shop, knowing that they may never see that person again.

I believe people deeply need to be listened to. They are desperately interested in the healing touch of God, something that can transform dull, impotent, sick, meaningless routine, into vibrant, useful, healthy and purposeful living. People are seeking to be changed.

In order to be effective in the new millennium, we need to prioritize our time to be purposely spent, not in church meetings, but in the public crossroad places of life being with people. Can we take time to listen to people who are willing to speak candidly in an anonymous atmosphere free from fears of judgement? Can we hear the longings of the lonely? Can we read between the lines of conversation to discern the doubts, self-recriminations, and dreams of the people? Are we willing to take the risk to invest our lives encountering people we have not yet met?

The mall is one of those common places where people hang out, waiting for connection, and longing for transformation. God is in the common places. Too bad the church isn’t.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The "Event" (Continued)

I enjoy having fun, being inspired, learning new stuff or encountering God when I attend a Sunday Christian gathering. But the part I like best is meeting the other people who are there and learning how they experienced God this week. I love hearing about the answers to prayer and the divinely arranged "God Encounters" that have supernaturally intersected someone's week. I love to see us all praying for someone and then hearing next week how that prayer was answered. I love the challenge of living out the Scripture we read and then having someone hold me accountable for it the following week. That to me is church - the assembled, set apart saints of God who gather to worship God and encourage one another.

The "Event" seems to miss all those things. The Event is geared towards attracting a crowd and its purpose is to passively entertain. I just have a hard time calling that "church." It may attempt to be honouring to God (it is probably more God honouring than a Broadway production). It may provide good Biblical teaching, and it may inspire and create good feelings, and it might bring some people into the kingdom - but is that church? Is that what we're supposed to be doing? I'm going to repeat a quote I made in my paper because it fits here again ...

Matt Casper, an atheist commissioned by Pastor Jim Henderson to visit churches to provide an outsider’s view of what we do in church, said this about the machine that church has become. If someone who had never attended church went to visit a number of churches … “if that’s where they started, they would have to conclude that Jesus’ number one priority was that Christians invest the very best of their energy and their money into putting on a huge church service – a killer show as it were … is this what Jesus told you guys to do?” Casper simply could not imagine Jesus telling his followers that the most important thing they should be doing is holding church services. And yet this was the only logical conclusion he was able to come to based upon what he observed.

Perry Noble at NewSpring church in South Carolina supports the Event mentality but he calls it "Creating An Experience" at his blog. Bill Hinon has a great response that I thought I would post a large chunk of it here.

One of the things that Perry explains to those of us with smaller churches (or no church at all) is that Jesus was in the experience creating business:

One of the things I have realized in reading Scripture though is that Jesus was far from boring–He created experiences for His followers–experiences that they NEVER forgot…do you remember…

And just like Jesus, Perry gathers his team together to creatively plan their spectacles services.

Today I sat in a room for two hours as our creative team talked about the next several Sunday’s. We spent around 10-15 minutes on how to conclude the sermon for the 17th of this month…we are serious about Sunday’s and the experience that is created for people coming in these doors.

I can just see Jesus gathering his team around him.

Jesus: OK guys. Any suggestions for what we do next. I've done the water into wine thing, helped you guys catch a boat-load of fish and calmed a storm that was freaking you all out. What are we going to do to wow the crowd next.
Simon Peter: I'da know. What about maybe walking on the water. That would be totally amazing.
Various disciples: That would rock...Totally could we capture it?
James: Or what if you spoke to a big crowd, say 4 or 5,000 people. The only food was a loaf of bread and a few fish. But everybody left filled to the brim...with food left over.
Various disciples: We could call your sermon "Feed Your Need"...yah, or "Five Ways to Come Empty but Leave Filled."
John: You know what would completely blow people's minds...what if you raised someone from the dead. And I don't mean just recently dead...but somebody who'd been in the grave for three days...somebody already stinking.
Various disciples: You're creepin' me out, John...My stomach kinda reacts to bad smells...Couldn't you be a little less earthy, John?
Judas: whatever we do, we can't forget the offering. We need money to keep this thing going, people.

Hang on. I'm sorry. This is really bad exegesis on my part. There is absolutely no scriptural indication that Jesus ever had this kind of discussion with his disciples. Not an iota. I'm really sorry. (Other than Judas talking about money, perhaps.)

What we do know is that Jesus went off to spend a lot of time talking to his Father. And to attempt to write that conversation would probably be blasphemous, eh! But since he only did what his Dad showed him to do, do you ever think he asked "What next?"

Perry further helps us understand his methods by playing the Hollywood card:

Seriously–I believe people should look more forward to church that they do 24, Lost, or American Idol. WOW…there’s something…those shows actually put hard work and effort into their programming…and it shows! Hmmm, maybe if the church was as serious as Hollywood in reaching people…we would be reaching people.

That's right, Perry. Whenever I want to look at people who build depth and substance into relationships, I look to Hollywood. People who experience what Hollywood produces have more joy in their lives, their marriages last longer and they even have fresher breath. Who could want anything more?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Going Forward by Going Back - DMin

The last post was going to contain another section of the DMin paper but I got a bit carried away and it got too long. So in response to the previous stuff posted in my paper, we respond to the current church and culture situation by looking back to the first century and other periods of time when the church responded effectively to the culture around it.

Going Forward by Going Back

What is needed is not a recalibration or retooling of the existing model but an entirely new structure and certainly a change in thinking. There is a consistent message being communicated in much of the literature examining our necessary response to the passing of Christendom. If the problem is Constantinianism, then the solution is to be found as we examine the church before Constantine and of course the biblical record. Many of the authors suggest recapturing the spirit, if not the specifics of first century Christianity.

The characteristics of the first century church and that of the necessary emerging model of church can be contrasted with the Christendom model:
1. Locus of gathering: didn’t have dedicated sacral buildings but met in homes and was often persecuted – emerging models also reject need for “church” buildings,
2. Leadership: apostolic, non-institutional, 5-fold ministry gifts (Eph 4), pioneering-initiative, usually bivocational,
3. Organization: grassroots, decentralized,
4. Grace: communion celebrated as a community meal – the new models redeem, resacralize and renew symbols and events alongside Lord’s Supper,
5. Position in society: on the margins and fringes,
6. Missional mode: incarnational/sending and missional.

Given the demise of Christendom and the bleak outlook facing the church in the West, are there any models, past or present, that can help us formulate a way forward? Fortunately, yes. The clearest model is the exceptional growth of the Church in the second and third centuries. Rodney Stark, a church historian, (using conservative estimates) calculates that the Church grew from 25 thousand in CE 100 to anywhere between 10 and 20 million in CE 310 and up to 33 million by CE 350.

Although exceptional, this growth is not unique. More recently, when Mao Tse-tung seized control of China, there were about 2 million Christians. He nationalized the church buildings, killed most of the leaders, banned all public Christian meetings and tried to eradicate all traces of religion. When the so-called Bamboo Curtain was lifted a few decades later, estimates were that there were 60 million Christians; and that there are about 80 million today. How did that happen?

Hirsch summarizes the common characteristics between the early church and the Chinese church:
1. They were an illegal religion.

2. They didn’t have church buildings.

3. They didn’t have easy access to Scripture (the Chinese had illegal, partial copies passed on from house to house).

4. They didn’t have any central institutions or professional forms of leadership.

5. They didn’t have seeker-sensitive services, youth groups, worship bands, seminaries, or commentaries.

6. They made it hard to join the church.
How did they do it? Hirsch’s concept is the mDNA of Apostolic Genius – that is, the “missional” DNA of how the apostles were led by God’s Spirit to unleash the gospel. That will be for the next post.

The "Event"

In the previous posts of the ongoing excerpts of my DMin paper, I outlined some of the problems experienced by the church today and of the changing of our culture that makes the Christendom attractional and extractional model of church increasingly irrelevant to the people of this culture. Good programs and targeted marketing is not sufficient to make church interesting to a culture that is now at least a generation away from Christian teaching and typical church practices (like Sunday school, Bible studies or prayer meetings). Again this is not to say that Christianity has become irrelevant! That is my whole point! We have adopted a form of godliness that in many ways has lost its power - because it once did have power. The question really is where do we go from here? That's the point of the next section of the paper - we go forward into the future by learning from the past and listening to the Spirit. (Actually the next post will contain the next section of the paper - this post is getting quite long already).

Interestingly enough there are many who continue to strongly advocate for the attractional marketing model of church. In the previous post I mentioned Bill Hinon's series on Marketing the Church. In the comments section of one of those posts a guy named Nathan argues (at length) the benefits of attractional ministry.

Just a sample.

"Church marketing, that is nothing more than telling people (in whatever manner) about your church, what your church is about, and what your church can offer (salvation, fellowship, children's ministry, etc.) can result in new members, and not just new members by way of another church (shuffle). I'm talking about growing the church via baptistm, not theft. You seem to believe that the church cannot do so without resulting in lazy consumer christians. I'm here to say that the only way you get lazy Christians is through lazy service preparation and preaching."

My response to that is there are many people who will not come into church in the first place - no matter how good the marketing or how many personal invitations there are. Secondly, the product we are offering is not usually something people think they need - especially in the form we present it. This is not because everyone presents it poorly (some do but many present this "exciting church" product well). It is because the megachurch model is basically an entertainment model. A large group of people gathered to see and hear professionals perform. It's like a play, a concert or a movie. People will come to see it when they sense a need (like at Easter or Christmas) but won't make it a regular habit because they think it's the same thing over and over again. Only weirdo's go to the same movie over and over again.

The other thing is that the real event is not just the movie - it is the series of events connected with it. Meeting friends, going out for dinner, seeing the movie, having drinks afterward or going to someone's house to continue the connecting. The megachurch model tries to make church the complete experience instead of only part of the experience. We need to see that the real connecting happens before and after the event. The event is only an excuse to get together and no matter how good it is, the event itself is rarely the best part of an evening together with friends or a loved one.

Church was never intended to be about the event. Church was never about coming to a place where you could learn things or see things. Church is about where two or three are gathered Christ is in the midst of them. Church is about the connecting and learning and journeying together.

More Marketing

Isn't it always that way ... the perfect resource shows up the day after you hand in your paper, the exactly appropriate illustration for yesterday's sermon is seen in today's newspaper, and the time you really need something is three days after you threw it out.  Well I just found a great series of posts on commercialism a few days after I posted on it myself.

Check out some of this stuff.  I started with Daryl Dash's blog post on What's Wrong with the Church?* where he referred to Brian Mclaren's Christmas letter where he hocks his books while discussing the evils of consumerism. From there I went to Bill Hinon's blog where he was doing a great series on marketing the church - check out the series ... one, two, two 'a', three, four, and five.

He links to one of his other posts - which is a spoof on Marketing the Church, called Marketing the Family. By the way the comic is also from his series on Marketing the Church.

*Many years ago the "Times" in London invited several eminent authors to write essays on the theme "What's Wrong with the World?" Chesterton's contribution took the form of a letter, and was probably the shortest and most accurate reply they received. What's wrong with the world?

Dear Sirs,

I am.

Sincerely yours,
G. K. Chesterton

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Not Much Meandering

I'm not sure why but I'm not surfing the web as much these days (or meandering as my blog post titles would say). These days I have not wandered much further afield than a few regular blogs (like my children's blogs, Alan and Esther in Africa, Jesus Creed) and the occasional automobile site. I realize that my meandering sometimes comes from distractibility - when I'm working on something and just feel like I can't continue on without a break. Sometimes it is a pure lack of focus and motivation that sends me to search out interesting and strange posts. Sometimes my motivations are as pure as the driven snow - I really do have a thirst for knowledge and I am genuinely interested in a great many things.

So this all begs the question, why am I not surfing as much? One of the reasons is that I'm feeling some of the pressure of the things I want and need to do in terms of my studies and of the pressure I feel as a friend and I contemplate writing a book together. These efforts require a great deal of creative thought and theological reflection. Secondly, I've been making a couple of significant connections with some new people that I have been mentoring. Those connections require more time and more thought and meditational prayer. Thirdly, I've committed myself (and our congregation) to be praying more for neighbours, co-workers and friends. That requires some time and energy and focus.

I also think that one of the major reasons I'm not surfing much is because there is so much stuff out there and most of it is junk. I have been sensing that a great number of people have been sensing the futility of just gathering more information without really acting on it. The internet is a great source of information but it is getting to the point that sometimes it's not worth wading through all the junk in order to find the specific stuff that you really want. Maybe I'm just being more disciplined in sorting through the fluff to get to the heart. I wonder about how much information the collective human mind can actually hold. At what point does too much information just become futility?

This doesn't bode well for someone like me who is writing a blog hoping that someone comes across my mental meanderings posted on the web - who hopefully finds something of interest or inspiration. Others have felt the same way. One of the bloggers I regularly read has just up and quit (Fred Peatross) and now sends out an occasional email (now usually written by someone else). It makes me wonder about simpler times when you needed to work for the information you wanted. Because you can get anything you want with the click of a mouse our brains have become empty and lazy. We have filled them with useless amusements knowing the the stuff we need will always be available.

It also makes me wonder about what happened to that valuable art of memorization. It has certainly taken a toll on Scripture memorization when what you want can be searched for in a couple of seconds. It has also caused us to be ignorant of some great works of literature that was often committed to memory. I remember having to memorize forty or fifty lines of Shakespeare in high school and poems like Alfred Noyes' The Highwayman or The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in grade school. I won't even get into spell checking.

I occasionally have an apocalyptic bent where I wonder what would happen if a gigantic solar flare fried all of our electrical generating facilities and we would have to go without all our electronic gadgets? I wonder how quickly our society would degrade into the survival of the fittest. I wonder who would be holding aloft the light of civility and grace and knowledge and faith? I want to read more books, pray more prayers and have deeper talks with more people. I want to write more and laugh more and do things that last a lifetime - or maybe an eternity.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Consumerism (continued)

This consumerist attractional model is what Hirsch says characterizes Christendom. Success is measured by numerical growth, better programs, and an increase in resources – all of which require an attractional model. The success of outreach services and evangelism programs are measured by how many new folks attend church.

The strategies of the attractional model are based on conventional church growth principles and include incorporating the following steps:
1. Expand the building for growth and redesign.
2. Ensure excellent preaching that is relevant.

3. Develop an inspiring worship service with a good band and positive leaders.

4. Provide good parking.

5. Ensure excellent programs for kids.

6. Develop cell groups rooted in a Christian educational model.

7. Make sure next week is better than last week.

However this type of strategy only entrenches the Christendom model and creates a church that has very little active participation of its members (usually only 10-20%). Church growth principles have not really contributed to a growth in the percentage of Christians or in the effective discipleship of Christians. It has however contributed to the consumer mentality of Christendom and has resulted in the ongoing “trading of sheep.”

Even a church that focuses on missions or on social action is not breaking out of the mold. Giving to outreach projects and going on missions trips can function as outlets that allow us to appease our conscience and still remain a safe distance from the poor, lost or needy of our world. It is much more comfortable to depersonalize the poor or the lost so we don’t feel responsible for the catastrophic human failure that results in third world poverty or someone sleeping on the street while people have spare bedrooms in their homes. Demonizing those we disagree with (liberals, abortionists, gays, Catholics, Moslems, etc.), or going on protest marches, or writing letters, also allows us to remain a safe distance from our “enemies.” Jesus is not seeking distant acts of charity, or social action, or moral indignation but concrete acts of love (Matthew 25).

Shane Claiborne provides this example. “The social work model of church produces clients and providers … merely facilitating the exchange of goods and services, putting plenty of professionals in the middle to guarantee that the rich do not have to face the poor and power doesn’t shift. Rich and poor are kept in separate worlds and inequality is carefully managed … The Church becomes a distribution point where the poor come to get stuff and the rich come to dump stuff. Both go away satisfied … but no one leaves transformed. No radical new community is formed”

We have developed programs to do everything in the church. Many programs can be helpful and useful because people do care and understand why they are doing what they do. But many times programs are implemented to provide a service – not to develop community, nor to act incarnationally. The examples are manifold. In ministries to the poor it is often quite obvious when people come just to provide a service or are doing something to ease their consciences. Inside the church we have ushers and greeters to welcome and seat people; visitors groups instead of personal interaction; advertising instead of personal invitation. We have discipleship courses instead of one-on-one mentoring. We do fellowship lunches instead of extending hospitality in our homes.

Each of these things not only serves a consumerist mentality, but it also removes much of the responsibility from individual Christians to develop relationships and engender community. Instead of connecting with someone that God brings across your path and walking with them for as long as it takes to see them mature in Christ, we give the task to the church “machine” and we become cogs in the machine – each doing our part (greeter, parking lot attendant, teacher, group helper, kitchen clean-up crew, etc., etc.) All of these tasks keep us busy with church work, and meetings with ourselves, but leave us with little time to interact with our neighbors, whom we are commanded to love.

“Believers are a dime a dozen … but lovers are hard to come by – people who are building deep genuine relationships with fellow strugglers along the way and who actually know the faces of the people behind the issues they are concerned about. So we need to put a face on war, on Moslems, on poverty, on the difficult situations of the world.”

Matt Casper, an atheist commissioned by Pastor Jim Henderson to visit churches to provide an outsider’s view of what we do in church, said this about the machine that church has become. If someone who had never attended church went to visit a number of churches … “if that’s where they started, they would have to conclude that Jesus’ number one priority was that Christians invest the very best of their energy and their money into putting on a huge church service – a killer show as it were … is this what Jesus told you guys to do?” Casper simply could not imagine Jesus telling his followers that the most important thing they should be doing is holding church services. And yet this was the only logical conclusion he was able to come to based upon what he observed.


I wanted to post a bit more on consumerism in the church and how serious a challenge it is to faith in the Western world but didn't really get to it. Scot McNight at Jesus Creed is posting on a recent book by Paul Metzger called Consuming Jesus.

One of the solutions Metzger proposes to the rampant consumerism practiced by Christians is a theology that begins with personal conversion that works itself out into genuine reconciliation with others and downwardly mobile ethic. But Scot McKnight's contention (counter to Metzger) is: "Either evangelicalism is filled, big-time filled, with unconverted folks or this strategy is just words. The fact is that many, if not most, of evangelicals — or those who claim personal conversion — are not that involved in the anticonsumerist and antiracist and anticlassist agenda Metzger advocates." Consumerism is so deeply entrenched in our culture - including our Christian culture - that we don't even know we are so deeply infected by it.

So because I didn't get to all that I wanted to say about consumerism I will quote from Emerging Churches by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger (which I also included in my paper and which I have also quoted previously on this blog).

Gibbs and Bolger present an insightful critique of the consumerist mentality of many churches. Their comments, though lengthy, are worth quoting. “Today, typically, individuals come to spirituality as shoppers. They consume spiritual experiences. They pursue the next experience that promises to take them to a higher spiritual plane and yield greater growth. Churches that adopt a marketing approach treat their visitors as customers, numbers and potential converts instead of simply as people. A culture of self-interested exchange permeates the life of consumer-oriented churches, where the "customer's" financial support is solicited in exchange for spiritual services rendered. The underlying assumption is that customers are never satisfied and are liable to take their business elsewhere. Satisfaction is an elusive target, constantly moving and taking on new forms.

“Much of marketing practice borders on manipulation by creating needs. Until one sees or experiences a product one often does not "need" it. The creation and the presentation of a product create the need. Marketing is not neutral; it fosters human desire as much as it satiates it. Churchgoers associate the consumer church's products with "need satisfaction." There are areas of an individual's life that are ambiguous and insecure, to which the church seeks to respond by creating and offering products that will address those gaps. Consumer churches present a relationship with Jesus as the answer to widespread feelings of angst. Thus Jesus is turned into a product that satisfies needs. The problem is that Jesus won't satisfy individual needs, for the gospel is primarily about God's agenda, not ours. For true satisfaction to take place, needs must be reformed and transformed to correspond with the gospel.

“When Jesus is presented as a product and ceases to satisfy, as all products cease to satisfy at some point, one must then move on to another spiritual expression. By marketing Jesus, therefore, the consumer church actually makes the pain worse, for now even God (from a visitor's perception) cannot help. Instead of challenging the logic of the economic system, which the kingdom does wonderfully, the consumer church blesses the economic rules and creates transitory, surface-level Christians in the process.

“Consumerism both pacifies and disempowers people and robs them of their individuality and creative potential. Consumerism destroys community by discouraging active participation. Unbridled consumerism also leads to greed, acquisitiveness, and wastefulness as people become dissatisfied and bored with their possessions and strive for the latest and the biggest (or the smallest, in the case of gadgets).”

My comments again - the next post will continue on this theme.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Everyman’s Religious Varnish

The last post on fruit, leads into the next section (and a couple of posts) of the DMin paper, the malaise of the Constantinian church and the scourge of rampant consumerism in the church and what some people are doing about it.

Frost and Hirsch describe the revitalization of the church as a diaspora – being thrust out of our safe environments like a mother robin pushes her fledglings out of the nest. Frost uses the term “exiles” to mean Christians who find themselves caught in that dangerous wilderness between contemporary secular Western culture and an old-fashioned church culture of respectability and conservatism.

Douglas John Hall describes it this way: “If we have the courage to give up our defense of the old facades which have nothing or very little behind them; if we cease to maintain, in public, the pretense of a universal Christendom; if we stop straining every nerve to get everybody baptized … if by letting go, we visibly relieve Christianity of the burdensome impression that it accepts responsibility for everything that goes on under this Christian topdressing, the impression that Christianity is a sort of Everyman’s Religious Varnish, a folk-religion (at the same level as that of folk-costumes) – then we can be free for real missionary adventure and apostolic self-confidence.”

Shane Claiborne says “I gave up Christianity in order to follow Jesus.” He then quotes Soren Kierkegaard: ”The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly … Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close.”

If committed Christians are leaving the institutional church (yes, even Evangelical and Charismatic churches) to pursue radical obedience to Jesus, perhaps the very existence of this institutional church needs to be challenged. The philosophical aspects of church as we know it are expressed in tangible structures. The structural characteristics of Christendom thinking include:
1. dedicated, sacral buildings that are central to the notion and experience of church so that church becomes a visible, tangible place to be sacred,
2. leadership and much of the hands-on ministry provided by institutionally ordained clergy, mostly gifted as pastors/teachers/administrators – a professional guild,
3. a hierarchical/top-down organizational structure, that often excludes “undesirables” (women, youth, poor, new people, those not of the dominant ethnic group, etc.),
4. the institutionalization and formalization of sacraments into a symbolic event administered by the dominant leadership culture,
5. the perception that church is central (or should be) to society and culture,
6. an attractional (come to the church building) and extractional (extract people out of the host culture and into the church culture) missional mode.

To put it into context, this list describes a church that invests much of its time and energy into conducting a weekly “worship service” and a number of other programs that include music and teaching, designed to appeal to a small percentage of society. These events are planned and conducted by about ten percent of the people (predominantly male paid professional staff members) and presented to the other ninety percent of the people (who are predominantly female). The majority (90%) of the financial resources are committed to the upkeep of the building and the hiring of staff.

Given the poverty in the world, and that of our own neighborhoods, spending millions on church buildings begins to become a justice issue. The main mode of growth of this type of church is marketing (by members and often through various forms of media) that invites people to come to the church building to consume what the paid professionals are presenting. This description may sound harsh or crass. In reality, some are able do this type of church with excellence producing positive results (in terms of some conversion growth, and some discipleship). But the fact remains that the vast majority of resources of this type of church is consumed to sustain itself and it typically doesn’t transform communities , produce new converts or truly disciple Christians.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Results and Fruit

I had a great conversation with a friend today about how we go about measuring things in this Christian sub-culture we inhabit. We tend to be very fuzzy about what we think success is unless it involves attendance or finances. How do we really measure Christian growth or church health?

When we say "I really enjoyed that church service" what does that really mean? Does it mean that it made me feel good? Or that it was better than last week? Or maybe it's that they sang all my favorite songs? Or that I liked the stories the preacher told? It may be more well thought out and involve a new insight or a sense of connecting with God or maybe an answer to prayer.

Those things might all be true but what is the lasting result of a good service? I believe we need to measure these things by what type of action or result it produces. Spiritual things are notoriously hard to define - and not just for Christians. People sometimes say to me (in the context of arranging a funeral service) "I'm not really a Christian but I'm very spiritual." When I ask them how they would like me to help them express their spirituality, they usually have no answer or give me a "Christian" answer (like read Psalm 23 or say the "Lord's Prayer"). Most people feel that they are spiritual but don't really know what it means to live out that spirituality. They don't really know what a spiritual person is supposed to look like.

We sometimes don't know what a Christian is supposed to look like either. Sure we have some traditional descriptions that made sense when holiness was measured by what you didn't do (smoke, dance, drink or go to movies). But when we describe a mature follower of Jesus, a disciple - what does he or she really look like?

When Jesus talked about results He sometimes used the word "fruit" like in Luke 6.

43"No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

But in this passage Jesus is kind of vague in helping us determine what good fruit is. It is certainly the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 6:22 and the fruit of people coming into the kingdom, and I suppose the fruit of righteousness and right living (holiness). John the Baptist actually gives some very specific examples of what fruit looks like in a few specific examples earlier in Luke (Luke 3).

8Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."
10 "What should we do then?" the crowd asked.
11 John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same."
12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?"
13 "Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them.
14 Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?" He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely—be content with your pay."

John the Baptist gives some tangible actions that result from a spiritual activity (repentance). Those actions fall into the category of Justice - helping those less fortunate than yourself, being fair and equitable, being content with what you have. Those are good fruits? Apparently so.

My point is not that acting justly is the only fruit (or tangible result) of hearing and obedience. Rather it is that we should be seeing and being able to measure the result of our life in Christ - as a result of attending 50+ "worship services" a year, after reading through the Bible in a year. What is the fruit and where is the fruit? Disciples bear fruit.

John 15
8. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
16. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

P.S. This actually is challenging me to do a deeper study into what it means to bear fruit and the nature of fruit in the Bible. There may be more to come.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Responding to Our Post-Christendom Reality

Sometimes looking at our culture and our church with open eyes can be discouraging. At times as I was writing my paper I wondered where we go from here. Was I the only one thinking about the consequences of a culture that had for all intents and purposes moved beyond (or at least away from) its Christian heritage. It was encouraging to find other pastors and authors and bloggers who were asking some of the same questions and struggling with how to make their faith in Jesus vital and live their lives in such a way as to have a message to our culture. The DMin paper continues ...

Responding in a Post-Christendom Era
The responses to the demise of Christendom are varied. Rodney Clapp lists three main categories of response. The first is Relinquishment (or sentimental capitulation) where the church capitulates to the culture and has nothing significant to offer it but sentimentally hangs on to Christian practice and language anyways. This response is more common in mainline denominations. Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong typifies this response by saying: “The only churches that grow today are those that do not, in fact, understand the issues and can therefore traffic in certainty … The churches that do attempt to interact with the emerging world are … almost by definition, fuzzy, imprecise and relatively unappealing. They might claim to be honest but for the most part they have no real message.” The honesty of his response is mildly refreshing but the depth of hopelessness reflected in his comments reveals the pervasiveness of the despondency experienced by many Christians in the face of the relentless advance of postmodernism.

The second response is Retrenchment (or getting back to Constantinianism). Trying to turn the nation back into a Christian nation and trying to regain the power and influence it once had as the sponsor of Western civilization, characterizes this response. Postmodernity is then seen as an attack against the Church and must be confronted at every level.

This seems to be how much of the Evangelical world is responding – particularly those commanding a strong media influence (Pat Robertson, James Dobson, John MacArthur, etc.). In many circles, this “religious right” has become the face of Evangelicalism and the position is politicized (Republican versus Democrat), and narrowly focused on only a few key issues (abortion, sexual morality, and family values).

The other expression of retrenchment is the tendency of some to try and escape the evils of society by creating a “safe” Christian environment isolated from the world (complete with Christian schools, clubs, books, movies, restaurants and amusement parks). Christians have their own celebrities, media networks and “yellow pages” and God is the means to become happy, “healthy, wealthy and wise.” They do not question the dominant culture: they embody it and baptize it. This “consumerism” is a serious challenge to discipleship.

A further expression of retrenchment is one of blissful ignorance where people really are unaware of the shifts within our culture and the challenges it presents to Christianity. They are unwilling or unable to engage their culture actively and just want to be a good Christian living a holy lifestyle. They don’t know what Postmodernity is and wonder what all the fuss is about. All that is needed is more prayer, deeper study of Scripture and a greater reliance on the Holy Spirit. This may be the most positive expression of retrenchment because there is an innocence (or is it ignorance?) and simplicity to this way of life and some may be called to this. They may be the Mennonites of the twenty-first century.

However, other Christians are sensing the deep change in culture. Many feel a vague dissatisfaction (for some a deep and profound dis-ease) with their Christian experience and the way church is done. Some are leaving the church because they are unable to see the connection between institutionalized faith and reality. Clapp puts it this way: “Christians feel useless because the church feels useless. And the church feels useless because it keeps on trying to perform Constantinian duties in a world that is no longer Constantinian. So the grace is this: Christians feel useless because they are no longer useful for the wrong thing, namely, serving as chaplains in a sponsorial religion.”

Others are leaving the church because they see life outside the church as the way forward and that they feel being part of a typical Evangelical congregation is actually harmful to their spiritual growth. These are those who (in George Barna's words) “wish to be faithful followers of the radical Jesus but no longer find themselves able to fit into the bland, limp, unsavory straitjacket of a church that seems to be yearning to return to the days when “everyone” used to attend church and “Christian family values” reigned.”

George Barna calls them revolutionary Christians. Revolutionaries are typical of a “new breed of disciples of Jesus Christ. They are not willing to play religious games and aren't interested in being part of a religious community that is not intentionally and aggressively advancing God's Kingdom. They are people who want more of God in their lives and they are doing whatever it takes to get it.” Clapp calls this third response Radicalization (to be radical followers of the Way – of Jesus).

Saturday, November 17, 2007

My Week

This was a bit of a hectic couple of weeks. I attended a conference. My in-laws moved. I had a birthday. So I thought I'd post a couple of pictures. The first one is of my in-laws new house. The second is our house church.


A friend sent an email asking if I'd seen this video. It was posted on GodTube, a Christianized version of Youtube. I hadn't heard of Godtube before but I think there is a place for it - as long as it doesn't remove Christians from interacting missionally with their culture.

I often ignore the "have you seen this" links or quickly browse through them to see if anything catches my interest. I thought I'd briefly check this one out and watch the first bit. I was surprised by its impact. I was questioning it with my intellect but at the same time it snuck up on me and struck deep at the heart level. It reminded me of my time with street kids. It's not short (almost six minutes long) but check it out.

The name of the song is Everything. It's by a band called Lifehouse and you can find it on their album, No Name Face - I've posted the lyrics. (Rather vague and not really a major theological treatise but goes well with the skit.)

Find Me Here
Speak To Me
I want to feel you
I need to hear you
You are the light
That's leading me
To the place where I find peace again.

You are the strength, that keeps me walking.
You are the hope, that keeps me trusting.
You are the light to my soul.
You are my're everything.

How can I stand here with you and not be moved by you?
Would you tell me how could it be any better than this?

You calm the storms, and you give me rest.
You hold me in your hands, you won't let me fall.
You steal my heart, and you take my breath away.
Would you take me in? Take me deeper now?

Cause you're all I want, You're all I need
You're everything,everything

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Church Still Stuck in Christendom

Ready for another quote from my DMin paper? Here it is.

This demise of Christendom is hardly a new phenomenon. “Taken as a sociopolitical reality, Christendom has been in decline for the last 250 years, so much so that contemporary Western culture has been called by many historians (secular and Christian) as the post-Christendom culture. Society, at least in its overtly non-Christian manifestation is “over” Christendom. But this is not the case within the Western Church itself. Christendom, as a paradigm of understanding, as a metanarrative, still exercises an overweening influence on our existing theological, missiological and ecclesiological understandings in church circles … Constantine, it seems, is still the emperor of our imaginations.”

As the demise of Christendom continues and its influence in the world wanes, many in the church still continue to oppose any change in the status quo, as though buttressing the system will somehow make it more relevant to our society. It is not just that we need a new style of ministry to attract a new generation. What the Church needs is that revolutionary new/old (ancient-future?) approach that fundamentally reforms its Christendom structures. Trying to make the Christendom system work in our current milieu is like trying to fly to the moon with a twin engine Cessna. It’s a good airplane but it won’t get us where we want to go. We need a flying machine of a different order.

So to attack secularism and pluralism as contrary to “the Christian values this country was built on,” seems to miss the point. In fact, Clapp maintains that the church is actually responsible for secularism because it has sponsored the system, it privatizes faith (Jesus as my personal Savior) and trivializes vocation (only full-time workers are “in the ministry”) and then calls on its members to be model citizens while it allows the state to determine the laws and the norms for what it means to be a good citizen. To quote Albert Einstein: “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Not the End of Christianity

Just to clarify, when I suggest that Christendom is at the point of expiring, I don't mean that Christianity is dead - not at all! Christianity is actually the one religion that is quite fluid and amazingly able to adapt to changing circumstances. When I reflect on some of the conversations I have with some of my Jewish friends or neighbours I realize that they are quite proud of the heritage of their religion that has not changed very much for three millennia. They look back to Moses or David or the Maccabees confident that the way they celebrated their religion was much the same as it is celebrated now. The clothing, the food, the scrolls, the layout of the buildings can all be traced back centuries if not millennia. It is a religion that resists culture and maintains its traditions in spite of cultural shifts.

I think that Christianity is for the most part very fastidious about maintaining its Scripture but has tended to adapt many other things that at various times seemed more or less important. The list of changes I mentioned in the last post is an illustration of how significantly the focus of Christianity has changed over the centuries. The changes at times are so significant that the true faith becomes almost unrecognizable at time - hence the need for renewal movements and reformations to bring the church back to the few core basic of the faith. A call back to the centrality of Scripture, to the Lordship and divinity of Jesus Christ, to simple and humble worship, and to an authentic love for one another.

There really are very few clear guidelines about what church should look like. However the people who make up the church should always look and act like Jesus. If we are not doing that then someone needs to call us to account. Do I hear a voice calling out in the wilderness?

3-5Thunder in the desert! "Prepare for God's arrival!
Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God.
Fill in the valleys, level off the hills,
Smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks.
Then God's bright glory will shine and everyone will see it.
Yes. Just as God has said."
Isaiah 40:3-5

That has always been a guideline for me. I really believe that pastors should be doing what Jesus did - walk around, gather disciples, feed the poor, heal the sick, tell stories and make pompous religious people mad. It may mean you get crucified for it but what a way to go.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Demise of Christendom

Here is another post of some of the writing I have done in conjunction with my DMin course. This section is on the characteristics of the Christendom system that has been set up in Western culture - which most of the culture is now rejecting. I trust it is interesting reading.

It is because there is such a significant shift in our culture that the church has become the least likely option for those seeking an “artistic, politically subversive, activist community of mystical faith" - and the rejection of middle-class American values in some ways is also a rejection of Christianity, the sponsor of those values. The mode of operation of much the Church is still rooted in an assumption of “culture Protestantism” – in other words, still rooted in the Christendom paradigm.

Christendom is the term used (in many instances negatively) to describe the church-influenced culture that has dominated European society for the last Millennium. Its roots go back to the Edict of Milan in CE 313, where Christianity moved from being a marginalized, subversive and persecuted movement, secretly meeting in houses and catacombs, to being the favored religion of the Roman Empire. Christianity became the metanarrative of Western culture blurring the lines between the church and the state to the point where, in some countries, the king (or queen) was, and still is, the head of the church.

The head of state was often the one who determined what type of church there would be, or if there even was to be a church. You became a Christian by birth rather than choice, and to be a good citizen was to be a good Christian (and vice versa). Rodney Clapp refers to this as “Constantinianism” and a good summary of his thesis is this quote: “The question is no longer ”How can we survive and remain faithful Christians under Caesar?” but now becomes “How can we adjust the church’s expectations so that Caesar can consider himself a faithful Christian?””

Stuart Murray provides an excellent summary of the major shifts that occurred in the centuries after Constantine imposed Christian rule on the Roman Empire.

• The adoption of Christianity as the official religion of a city, state or empire
• The movement of the church from the margins of society to its center
• The creation and progressive development of a Christian culture of civilization
• The assumption that all citizens (except for the Jews) were Christian by birth
• The development of the corpus Chirstianum, where there was no freedom of religion and where political power was regarded as divinely authenticated
• Infant baptism as the symbol of obligatory incorporation into this Christian society
• Sunday as an official day of rest and obligatory church attendance, with penalties for noncompliance
• The definition of orthodoxy as the common belief shared by all which was determined by powerful church leaders supported by the state
• The imposition of a supposedly Christian morality on the entire society (although normally Old Testament moral standards were applied)
• A hierarchical ecclesiastical system, based on a diocesan and parish arrangement which was analogous to the state hierarchy and was buttressed by state support
• The construction of massive and ornate church buildings and the formation of huge congregations
• A generic distinction between clergy and laity, and the relegation of the laity to a largely passive role
• The increased wealth of the church and the imposition of obligatory tithes to fund this system
• The defense of Christianity by legal sanctions to restrain heresy immorality and schism
• The division of the globe into Christendom or heathendom and the waging of war in the name of Christ and the church
• The use of political and military force to impose the Christian faith
• The use of the Old Testament rather than the New to support and justify many of these changes

Even though many of these changes may have been well intentioned, we see how the Christendom model has created a system that makes it difficult to produce radical followers of Jesus. To be very simplistic, the Christendom goal in North America has been to establish a nation that is lead by a godly person and that has laws reflecting the Old Testament moral code, with morality legislated so that the behavior of the citizens is controlled. The spiritual leaders sponsor the civil leaders (or elect one of their own) so that the nation will create an environment favorable to their purposes. The model citizens of this society are outwardly obedient and outwardly observant – inner conviction was a matter of personal choice.

Those who are unable to comply are marginalized to the fringes of society. It devalues the powerless. It produces Pharisees and outcasts. It sounds very much like the system in which we find ourselves in North America. It sounds like the system from which Jesus came to deliver us. Tony Campolo says it this way: “If we were to set out to establish a religion in polar opposition to the beatitudes Jesus taught, it would look strikingly similar to the pop Christianity that has taken over the airwaves of North America.”

Monday, November 12, 2007

Meandering Again

A few things I got a hoot out of - either funny or interesting.

The first is someone's MSN log on name: "4 out of 5 dentists agree that 1 dentist will always disagree with the other 4 "

The second is on the Blogger Dashboard and it is the "To Do List" blog. There are some great ones including "things to do before I die" (pictured below) the "before getting pregnant" list (July 06), the "perfect husband" list (july 06) and the "stuff to do when I'm old" list (definitely tongue in cheek). Click on the picture to enlarge.

The third one is from my son's blog where he asked people on MSN to "say something inspirational" - it's called Surprise Me!

The fourth is a link from my son's blog as well to illegal signs in Toronto. Check it out here.

Another piece of interesting flotsam. If you think you have a hard time finding a parking spot in North America try Europe. Check it out here.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The "Other"

I am continuing to post some of the writing I have done in conjunction with my DMin course. This section is about postmodernity and metanaratives. [A metanarative is story that explains all the elements of life with one overarching thesis or paradigm. All the world religions presuppose a metanarative. Christianity's metanarative has been at times been summed up with John 3:16.] Postmodernity will get lots of press as my paper continues. Enjoy.

We are facing a changing view of life itself that challenges many of the things that have been part of the understanding of society for centuries. We live in a postmodern world, where people “embrace pluralism and place value in the diversity of worldviews and religions that characterizes contemporary society.” Also, Postmodernity certainly influences Christianity, and may in some ways actually be interpreted as a reaction to Christendom.

Among numerous definitions of Postmodernity, Paul Lakeland provides a succinct description. The basic tenets of Postmodernity are:

1. No standpoint is neutral or above suspicion. All are rhetorical.
2. Metanarratives erase otherness by including the other within “my” metanarrative, thereby removing its otherness. Therefore all metanarratives are suspect.
3. The task of understanding or interpreting society, if attempted at all, must be conducted through piecemeal, tactical, pragmatic, and tentative means.
4. The task of changing society if attempted at all, must be conducted through grassroots, localized (though sometimes networked) tactical, pragmatic and incremental means. The social activist must be committed to dialogue and consensus building.
5. Postmodernity contains within it elements both of the emancipatory and the demonic. No theoretical grid is available that will easily allow the discernment of which elements are which, though the kinds of totalizing impulses that would reject points 1-4 provide important hints.

One of the predominant characteristics of Postmodernity, according to Lakeland, is the explosion of communication technology that has, for the first time in history, created a world culture. This world culture allows us to be in contact with many divergent viewpoints and has contributed to a pluralism that challenges Christianity’s exclusive claims – at least in the public forum. It has also contributed to the “small world” phenomenon whereby we are much more closely connected to every other person upon the earth.

Similarly, communication technologies shift how our society views people in leadership positions. With instant and mass communication leaders are now under much closer scrutiny than ever before. This concept of globalization (or a global spirit) will continue to present challenges to the understanding of the exclusive claims of Christianity.

Also a world culture creates scrutiny of metanarratives. One of the main problems with metanarratives, whether or not they are consciously adapted or unconsciously reflected, is that they shape a singular view of the world and its peoples. It is only when the metanarrative is abandoned that voice can be given to people who are marginalized – who are defined as the “Other.”

Lakeland gives this example: “… the privileged citizens of any developed Western nation, and that of course meant a white male, and probably a Protestant, did not have to confront the Other … Women, slaves, native peoples, and homosexuals were of course not invisible, but were successfully deproblematized, incorporated into a monological schema of untroubled serenity. So, while they were undoubtedly “others,” their status as “Other” was unrecognized.” Therefore in a postmodern world, the minimized other is genuinely accorded the status of “Other” and is to be heard. This shakes some of our Evangelical certainty and must be considered as we examine the church’s sensitivity to existing paradigms of power, exclusiveness and inclusiveness, the role of laity, women, children, language and other religious systems.

In the midst of the challenges to Christianity, interest in spirituality in general and more specifically Jesus, is actually increasing. The popularity of a postmodern Jesus is the result of the perception that “he’s a pluralist, he welcomes outsiders. He welcomes women, he is against organized religion, he’s for economic justice. Jesus comes dressed up in the clothes of our own culture.”

Evidence of this interest in spirituality finds expression in New Age events like psychic fairs or like the Burning Man Festival , and in movies like David Fincher’s Fight Club (based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk). In describing the attraction of the movie, Frost and Hirsch say: “Theirs is a community of male empowerment with a strongly anti-consumerist sentiment. Like the Burning Man festival, it is also about belonging, liberation, rebellion and the rejection of middle-class American values.

There is an untamed energy about Fight Club. It has a dissident wildness about it … both are prime examples of the desperate yearning that has been unleashed in the Western world … (raising) within the West many expectations for an experiential, activist form of religious, mystical experience. The Christian church has not met these expectations.” Even though Jesus may be attractive, the Church is seen as the LEAST likely option for those seeking an “artistic, politically subversive, activist community of mystical faith.”


I've mentioned and quoted Fred Peatross before and given links to his blog - which unfortunately he has now discontinued. However, he continues to send me an email "devotional" every once in a while and for the most part they are very good. I would like to give a link to these posts because they must exist somewhere in cyberspace but until I find them you can find some of his stuff here on hillschurch. (If someone has a link for him please forward it to me in the comments.)

His message is about the difficulty of forgiveness. I make a few comments at the end. Here is his email post.

Forgiving for Faulty People

Twenty-three years ago Pope John Paul walked into a cell in a Roman prison and forgave the man who tried to kill him. But the Pope is a professional forgiver which, on the surface, appears easier for such a high placed professional to forgive when he knows ahead of time that the whole world will be watching. It is much harder for an ordinary person, whom nobody is watching, to forgive and forget.

Never underestimate the demands that forgiving puts on the average person's modest power to love. Some skeptics, when they heard Jesus forgive people, challenged: "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Novelist Charles William said that forgiving is really a game-we can only play at it, essentially we cannot do it.

We talk a good forgiving line as long as somebody else needs to do it, but few of us have the heart for it while we are dangling from one end of a bond broken by somebody else's cruelty. Yet people do forgive and they do heal themselves of their pain. But no one seems to be born with much talent for forgiving. It is love's toughest work, and love's biggest risk. We learn from scratch, and learning almost always runs against the grain.

The truth is we forgive best when we go at it in bits and pieces, and for specific acts. We bog down when we try to forgive people in a grand manner, because wholesale forgiving is almost always fake. Forgiving anything at all is a minor miracle; forgiving carte blanche is silly. Nobody can do it. Except God.

My Comments:
I would agree that forgiving is difficult. I would also agree that we go at it in bits and pieces. But I think forgiveness is a bit like the grief process that we go through when someone close to us dies. Because the truth is that we often have lost a friend or family member with the death kiss of betrayal. The initial offense or betrayal is like the funeral - you need to go through this process of accepting that you've been offended or betrayed and deal with it - acknowledging it, perhaps sharing it, and then putting it to rest. In that way forgiveness is an event - in Fred's terms "forgiving carte blanche" However, like grief, memories of the event spring up and need to be dealt with on a daily basis. These memories each need to be dealt with by another act of forgiveness. They become more infrequent with time but nonetheless still need to be dealt with and forgiven. The deeper the betrayal the longer the forgiving needs to go on.

Sometime we are tricked into thinking that we haven't really forgiven the other person when one of these memories is triggered by an event. Sometimes we are surprised and dismayed by the depth of feeling that is exposed by these memories and think "How could I still feel like this if I really forgave?". But the truth is that we did forgive - we just need to keep forgiving. That's the tough part. To quote Eugene Peterson: "It's a long obedience in the same direction." Ultimately we really can't do it without God.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The End of the World As We Know It

As many of you know I am in the process of studying for a DMin. The title to this post is the title of my first paper. I thought I would include a bit of the paper in a few posts. I actually posted the introduction here a few months ago. A lot of the paper is a collection of ideas and quotes from other sources. I will try to cite the major contributors as I go along. Anything in [square brackets] is stuff that would normally go into footnotes. Sorry if that makes it too confusing but I tend to like to include more information rather than less.

The world is changing. It really is the end of the world as we know it (and we don’t feel fine – most of the churched world has serious misgivings). [With apologies to band REM, who wrote the apocalyptic song with the title: “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine).”] The consistent message of many current authors on the state of the church today is that Christendom is over and has been for quite some time. The church must either adapt to the changing culture or die. Parts of the traditional church may already be dead.

It is quite possible that in the early part of the third millennium only the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, on the one hand, and evangelical Protestantism, on the other, will survive as ecclesial communities. What used to be called the Protestant mainline churches are in acute danger of disappearing. I expect they will disappear if they continue neither to resist the spirit of a progressively secularist culture, nor to try to transform it.” [Wolfhart Pannenberg. “Christianity and the West: Ambiguous Past, Uncertain Future.” First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, 48, no. 4 (1994): 22. These comments were made more than a decade ago and in many ways still ring true. However, there are many indicators of new life within some streams of the traditional mainline churches. There is also a renewed interest, especially among the emerging generation, in the historic liturgy typically found in more “high church” traditions.]

The “culture Protestantism” of the Western world that existed in one way or another since the Reformation, has been rejected, or perhaps ignored, arguably ever since the first World War.

Robert Jenson [“The Hidden and Triune God.” International Journal of Systematic Theology. (2000) 2, no. 1: 5] suggests that the church “is in the midst of divorce proceedings from the culture.” This divorce between the church and culture is not a new phenomenon. Many are drawing historical parallels between the pre-Constantinian and postmodern ages, where religious options abound, and there is a distinct separation of church and culture (state). As Rodney Clapp has stated: “Western Civilization is no longer content with a single religious sponsor.”

The core of this Christendom thinking is that much of Christianity still expects to be the chief sponsor of Western culture. Just as Nike sponsors Tiger Woods to piggyback on his success in order to dominate the golf equipment business, Christianity has sponsored Western culture to piggyback on its power and influence so as to dominate the religious worldview and win more converts. However, today’s church must recognize that it is confronting a culture that has lost its predominant guiding theme or authority, and a culture that has lost sympathy for the church’s cause. The Western church must reevaluate its accumulated Christian tradition and balance that tradition against Postmodernity’s insistence upon a multitude of equally acceptable and often conflicting views.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Theological Reflection

Well after the buzz of last week (Halloween, All Saints, prayer over the visit of the Dalai Lama), I haven’t been good for much blogging this week. I realize that blogging consistently requires a certain level of personal awareness and reflection. And if one wants to describe things from a Christian perspective it also requires theological reflection – not just “This is a biblical idea” but “What is this idea saying to me or to my situation?” This week I’ve had a lot of the first but not much of the second.

I conducted a funeral this week. The deceased was only 55, thin, active and fairly healthy but died of a heart attack. He had just this past weekend finished the cottage he had been working on for years (well made it livable with plumbing and electricity). He had a 16 year old daughter who read a letter to her dad as part of the eulogy. That hit fairly close to home. I have a 16-year-old daughter. It’s my birthday in a week and 55 is, well … I’m not there yet but I can see it from here.

I also spent a day at a conference about key indicators of a transformed city. I posted about those last year. We had Glen Smith here discussing how they came up with those for Montreal. Basically the concept is “How do you know when what you’re doing is working?” If we are praying that we would have good government, that we would see neighbourhoods improved and cities transformed, then what does that really look like? How do we know we are going in the right direction?

These twelve indicators are a great paradigm but they need to be developed for the city of Toronto and many of them will be different – or at least some of them will be. That will take a lot of work – and theological reflection. If you want to check out the graphic I’ve included below in more detail, check out their website or the direct link to the twelve indicators PDF.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Around the World in 800 Days

My nephew Andrew Gardner and his friend Ryan are sailing around the world in what looks like a 35 foot sloop. (Well he's not actually my nephew - he's the son of my wife's second cousin.) Quite an adventure for a couple of guys just out of university. They will be posting their journeys on a blog Ryan and Andrew... Sailing Adventures Around the World.

Sail On!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

It's a Good Thing

There are times when I catch a glimpse of the majesty and awesomeness of God - it is truly overwhelming. Psalm 8 says:
3 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?
What is it to fall into the hands of this almighty, majestic God? It can be a fearful and dreadful thing being in the hands of God. Jonathan Edwards' famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" comes to mind.

So often that discipline and judgement feels to us like a bad thing. I've really come to see it as a good thing, a very good thing. It is good because it means I am a son and not just an employee of God. He pays attention to me. I am known by him and not just a speck of dust. Employees can be fired or bought out and left behind. But sons ... sons are remembered and thought about - even if they have disappointed us. Sons carry the bloodline and have a place in the inheritance even if they have been exiled or disowned. Sons are welcomed back even when they have been in a far country wasting their substance with riotous living (see Luke 15:11-32).

Sons are also subject to God's discipline - not merely for the purposes of punishment but because He wants to see them come into the fulness of their calling. He wants them to become everything He has created them to become.

Hebrews 12 has become an oft-read passage for me and reveals the love and purposes of God for me.

5And have you forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
"My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."

7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

12Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13"Make level paths for your feet,"[b] so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

14Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Discipline and judgment are actually a sign of love and grace. God loves us too much to allow us to continue along a path of destruction. His discipline - even to the Israelites - is always intended to be a course correction and a sign that He has not abandoned us. If we listen closely, and are obedient, the discipline is short and the blessings are eternal.

Part of my prayer for you.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Alan and Esther in Africa

It's been almost two weeks ago since they left for Africa and they won't be back until late January. Alan and Esther are unique missionaries. They have travelled to Africa a number of times already and go trusting that God will lead them day by day. They raise their own support (downsizing their lifestyle, selling off unneeded stuff, taking some donations) and go to help whomever God leads them to. They have helped AIDS and war orphans, helped prostitutes move off the street, provided housing in the slums, supported micro businesses, helped fix someone's wheelchair and will be helping drill wells. Their stories are being told on their blog (Esther in Africa) and it is worth following.

I think Alan and Esther typify one of the new types of missionary that help people help themselves. They are not a drain on a denomination's finances, they don't take away from local missionaries and they empower the nationals to do the work themselves. They give life to the Chinese quotation: "A leader is most effective when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, the people will feel they did it themselves."

Blessings to you and our prayers go with you.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

All Saints Day

With all the fuss over Halloween (or All Hallows Eve) it's strange that there is almost no awareness of the reason for the holiday - All Saints' Day (or All Hallows, or Hallowmas - "hallows" meaning "saints," and "mas" meaning "Mass"). It is a feast celebrated on November 1 or on the first Sunday after Pentecost in honour of all the saints, known and unknown. Although the Christian elements of this holiday have been overshadowed by the commercialism (candy, costumes) and the occult, there are some vestiges of historic Christian origins seen in our current celebrations. Let's look through some of the history to see some of the mingling of the sacred and secular.

In the early Church, Christians would celebrate the anniversary of every martyr's death for Christ (known as the saint's "birth day") by serving an All-Night Vigil, and then celebrating the Eucharist over their tomb or place of martyrdom. Frequently, a number of Christians would suffer martyrdom on the same day, which naturally led to a joint commemoration. In the persecution of Diocletian (245-316) the number of martyrs became so great that a separate day could not be assigned to each. But the Church, feeling that every martyr should be venerated, appointed a common day for all. Over time it also became a day to venerate all saints who had passed on not just martyrs. All Souls' Day was eventually added following All Saints Day to commemorate the departed faithful who had not yet been venerated as saints.

A commemoration of "All Martyrs" began to be celebrated as early as the year 270. It was originally celebrated around Easter and then on the first Sunday after Pentecost which is the day the Eastern Orthodox church still celebrates All Saints Day. The feast of All Saints, on its current date, is traced back to Pope Gregory III (731-741) who moved it to November 1 coinciding with the Celtic pagan holiday of Samhain.

In the first ages, during the night before every feast (primarily Christmas, Easter, Assumption and All Saints), a vigil was kept. In the evening the faithful assembled in the place or church where the feast was to be celebrated and prepared themselves by prayers, readings from Holy Writ and sometimes also by hearing a sermon. On such occasions, as on fast days in general, Mass also was celebrated in the evening, before the Vespers of the following day. Towards morning the people dispersed to the streets and houses near the church, to wait for the solemn services of the forenoon. The morning intermission gave rise to grave abuses; the people caroused and danced in the streets and halls around the church.

So we see that even in the sacred observance of All Saints there were elements of the current Halloween celebration going on. There was the gruesomeness and violence of the martyring of the saints, some elements of the ghostly in remembering those who had gone before and then we see the carousing connected to the abuses during the vigils of the night before a feast.

For Christians this should be a time when we do remember the contributions of those who have gone before. We rest on their shoulders and are able to learn much from them. We certainly have a heritage received from the Apostles as they live with the Saviour and passed down much of our Scripture. We learn from the church fathers and those who were persecuted for their faith. The saints of old and the saints of the Reformation to those who have only recently passed away - each contributes to our fuller understanding of the purposes of God. This remembering challenges us to press on to the high calling of God as the writer to the Hebrews reminds us ...

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3