Friday, December 24, 2004
This evening there is a worship gathering at church, and I'm really looking forward to that. Worship is always good, but there's something about the Christmas season that seems to sort of wrap worship like a warm blanket. After that we'll come home and open a few gifts, then put Piper to bed and probably watch Bing in White Christmas.
On Christmas day we'll leave mid-morning for Tulsa, OK, to see a lot of my family there. We'll have a get-together Sunday afternoon/evening with my Dad, Jara, 5 of my siblings, along with associated spouses and children. On Monday we'll get with my mom, who will meet us at my sister's house there. I think the only one missing will be my older brother, who lives in Maryland -- and he'll definitely be missed.
I grew up in Tulsa, but haven't had Christmas there in 10 years, and I'm finding that going back is a little nostalgic. Things have changed a lot there, and yet much is still the same. One thing is sure: I will eat Mazzio's pizza while I'm there, or there will be trouble.
On Wednesday we'll pack up the van and drive on up to Salina, KS, Celeste's home town, to see her family. They have always had Christmas for their immediate family on New Year's Day, which is a huge blessing in answering the age-old question 'who will we visit for Christmas?' We'll return from Kansas on the 1st, and be back in time to be home at SBC again on Sunday morning.
All in all, the trip will probably be a bit hectic, and our biggest hope is that we can get Piper to sleep well while we're in so many 'strange' places. But even with all of that, in the end we're simply making a big loop, constantly going home. Home to Tulsa, home to Salina, then back home to Texas.
Is anyone else ready to go Home? Maranatha!
Friday, December 17, 2004
McLaren points out that when it comes to interpreting the Bible, there is a continuum of perspective with conservatives at one end and liberals on the other. McLaren starts out by acknowledging the importance of parts of each of those positions. Conservatives are trying to maintain the integrity of the Word as it was written; Liberals are keen to ensure that we don't allow our current understanding of the Bible to keep us from questioning it, particularly in light of current scientific discoveries, etc.
He goes on to say that both groups view the scriptures through what he calls a 'grid of decency', which helps them determine which scriptures apply today and which don't. He says that many of the debates about the absolute authority of the Bible are really arguments about the traditional grid through which conservatives read the Bible.
McLaren gives some convincing examples (Paul said women shouldn't wear jewelry -- what's that about?), some ridiculous examples (polygamy is mentioned as if one of McLaren's characters thinks that the Bible condones it, which I found to be ridiculous), and finally an historical example (slavery was once defended by conservative Christians). And then he basically says that Christians should always be open to being corrected about our interpretations.
Generally, I think I understand McLaren's point. We as Christians need to stop living as though we have all the answers, because only God has all the answers.
At the same time I'm left wondering what that looks like with skin on it. It would have helped me if McLaren had stuck with examples that made good sense to me; by including polygamy as a questionable subject in scripture, he leaves me wondering when we cross the line between accepting differing 'grids' and accepting false teaching.
But then, maybe he did that on purpose, to stir the pot.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
I was reminded this morning of something that Keith said in a message a month or two back about trusting God. He said that the thing about trusting God is that he'll never pull the rug out from under you.
As he said it that morning, my knee-jerk reaction was to think to myself, that's not true. I mean, after all, I've had the rug pulled out from under me many times. And then another thought struck me:
If that's true, then you must have been standing on the wrong rug.
Where are you standing these days?
Saturday, December 11, 2004
Early on in McLaren's A New Kind of Christian, one of the characters asks the other to distinguish between postmodern Christians and traditional Christians. The other character responds by saying that, "...if you succeed in creating a postmodern framework, I think you've just sabotaged it." His point seems to be that in the Modern world we tend to reduce any subject down to a list of main points or themes, and in so doing we oversimplify things and take them out of context to some extent. He seems to be saying that PostModernity, by its very nature, cannot be summarized in a few words.
But of course, the purpose of the book is to help people begin to recognize PostModernity and what its all about, so I don't think McLaren would object too much if I skip to the end and provide a summary of what he (or at least the PostModern character in the book) perceives to be the primary areas of change in a PostModern Christian.
That said, each of the items below are themes he highlights in the book. My plan is to post about at least a few of these items, maybe all of them, so as to flesh them out a bit, perhaps add a few thoughts of my own, and help my closer friends begin to think through some of these issues, perhaps more fully than we have before.
One more caveat before you read the list below. Looking over the list, I suspect that someone with a conservative Christian background (like my own) might read that list and become concerned for McLaren (or even for me in reading this book and writing about it here). I mean, if I were to read a headline saying that Christians should 'change their posture in relation to other religions,' I would possibly infer that the writer must believe that Jesus isn't the only way to God. But that's really not what that bullet is talking about, and several of the others are not exactly what they seem as well. So...if you're tempted to read that list and blow this off, stay with me a little bit longer.
Sorry, one other caveat: I'm no expert in any of this, only an interested party, so in the list below or in the following posts I may have some of these wrong or at least off-kilter. Still, I think they are good food for thought:
Important Areas of Change for PostModern Christians
- Our understanding of the Bible, how we follow it, and how we let it work on us
- Our posture in relation to other religions
- Our releasing of the ways in which our faith has been enmeshed with modernity
- Our exploration of theology free of the constricting, reductionistic categories of modernity
- Our escape from the narrowing of the gospel to an individualistic story about saving souls to a missional, communal, and global story about saving the world
- Our discovery of forms of authentic spirituality that are broader than our modern pietism
More to come shortly. Peace and love, and Merry Christmas,
Monday, December 06, 2004
With that in mind, I went back through the book and made note of some of the many great points McLaren makes, and I thought I'd post a comments about some of those items over the next few days. (Besides, considering some of the unfortunate things my church is going through right now, it's good for my spirit to put some effort into being positive.) So without further ado...
In several places in the book, McLaren points out that many Christians (myself included) have been conditioned to think of evangelism sort of like a sales pitch. We go to a car dealership and the salesperson is usually polite, helpful, etc, but as soon as they can they'll ask some variation of the question we all probably recognize: 'what would it take to earn your business today?' Similarly, according to many sermons, radio programs, classes, and tracts (!) in my experience, the point of evangelism is often about 'getting your butt into heaven' (McLaren's words).
McLaren goes on to point out that this approach runs the risk of 'attracting people who want salvation from hell without actually wanting salvation from sin,' as if the saved are 'chosen for privilege, not sacrificial service.'
Additionally, he points out the individualism of this approach to evangelism can come across as downright evil. For example, he explains, "a good-hearted person might respond, 'I love my neighbor, and if you're offering me something that my neighbors can't have, then I don't want it.' However, if it were put in the service context, ... the reverse would be true: 'I love my neighbors, and if receiving God's salvation will help me help them, then I want it!' "
Elsewhere, McLaren goes on to re-frame evangelism in a different way:
Instead of conquest, instead of a coercive rational argument or an emotionally intimidating sales pitch or an imposing crusade or an aggressive debating contest where we hope to 'win' them to Christ, I think of it like a dance. You know, in a dance, nobody wins and nobody loses. Both parties listen to the music and try to move with it. In this case, I hear the music of the gospel, and my friend doesn't, so I try to help him hear it and move with it. And like a dance, I have to ask if the other person wants to participate. There's a term for pulling someone who doesn't want to dance into a dance: assault. But if you pull someone in who wants to learn, and if you're good with the music yourself, it can be a lot of fun!
And that reminds me of the lyrics from a great song we sing at church sometimes:
We will dance on the streets that are golden,
The glorious bride and the great Son of Man.
From every tongue and tribe and nation we'll join
in the song of the lamb!
May God's people listen to the music, and invite others to dance!
Sunday, December 05, 2004
I did happen to read something in McLaren's A New Kind of Christian that I thought was interesting at the time and that seems poignant given yesterday's meeting. Again, McLaren's book is written as a fictional conversation between a pastor and another individual, and the conversations cover a range of topics relating to Christianity in the PostModern world. In this paragraph, the pastor character has just related an issue that has come up within his church, and makes some general comments about how these divisive issues tend to develop within a church. He writes:
...these situations follow a pattern. Parishioners experience some personal offense – loss in power, hurt feelings about something. This causes withdrawal. They begin keeping a mental notebook, noting all additional offenses. “Demerits” add up, and a conspiracy theory develops. They can’t help but talk about it, and “concern” spreads. If I don't address it, they drift away, and their leaving adds a demerit in the mental notebook of others.
From my perspective this is a pretty accurate description of some of the events that led up to the meeting at church, and some of the comments that were made illustrated this well. Many at Southlake are well aware of the hurt feelings that one group had toward a particular Shepherd. Certainly we all heard a list of offenses (demerits?) Sunday from individuals in that group. And can anyone question whether a conspiracy theory was posed? People decrying that 'the truth would be welcome', implying that the Shepherds were hiding something, that they must have some alterior motivation for making decisions as they have. People saying that the Shepherds had no accountability for their actions. And it was specifically mentioned that other families had already left our church.
Frankly, if it weren't so heartbreakingly sad, it would be fascinating how closely McLaren's words mirror what has happened at SBC. (I hope it's obvious where the script above begins to veer from the direction the church is given in Scripture regarding relational problems. If anyone would care for me to elaborate, let me know.)
And I suppose someone might say that even if the quote above is applicable to this situation, that the last sentence is particularly applicable in that the problems still exist because our church leadership didn't address them. But I suspect that they've done more to address the problems than we realize -- just not publicly. Even in regards to the meeting, I appreciated the way they at least tried to manage the tone of the discussion by trying to use index cards to capture the questions, despite the fact that the meeting deteriorated into a shouting match anyway.
I've actually seen the 'index card question' method used very successfully in business meetings related to the outsourcing world, where groups of employees are being told that their current employer is outsourcing them to a different employer. Those meetings are also very tense, and could turn very ugly if they are allowed to go that route. To keep the meeting on-track, people are sometimes asked to write their questions anonymously on index cards, which can then be sorted into groups of redundant questions, and those questions are addressed as well as possible (not always perfectly but that's the real world). That way the meeting can end and people can move on without having seen who can yell the loudest.
My personal opinion is that I participated (along with much of the church) in the process to select our current Shepherds, and despite Sunday's demand from a vocal minority that they all step down, I will continue to submit myself to them. I still love and respect these men, and I trust them. Furthermore, relating specifically to the decision that was announced Sunday to let Keith go, even if someone doesn't fully trust the Shepherds for whatever reason, surely the fact that the rest of the staff are in agreement should mean something. I mean, if someone really believes that there's not a single trustworthy Shepherd or staff member at our church, I must suggest that they should begin looking for a place where they can worship and serve and at the same time trust the leadership of the body.
Anyway, as this is heavy on my heart right now I thought I'd post a few thoughts. I wonder how long it will take our church body to move beyond this...
Grace and peace, Brian
Friday, November 26, 2004
McLaren gives several examples of this, all of which I agreed with, but I found my own while looking at this week's scripture for the study I'm in on Sunday mornings in John. I was in John 6, and Jesus is teaching in Capernaum. As Jesus is teaching, he comments that he had 'come down from heaven', sent by God.
The people responded incredulously, saying that (in my words) 'we know his parents, Joseph and Mary, so how can he say he came down from heaven? It's not like he just stepped off a cloud...' They might even have been insinuating what they probably heard about Mary's pregnancy, reminding people that Mary was certainly pregnant when she married Joseph, and I suppose bringing to mind questions of who Jesus' father really was. But I digress...
So the crowd is already stirred up. But Jesus doesn't explain himself, doesn't defend his declaration about himself (at least not at this point), and he doesn't stop there. He goes on to say that He is the bread of life, and that people who eat the bread of life will live forever. And the crowd gets even more stirred up ('how can he give us his flesh to eat?').
Now, we know today what He was talking about. We've heard about it all our lives. But at the time, the people were already offended by his comments about having come down from heaven, and then he goes on to say (from their perspective, I surmise) that they'd have to EAT HIM to live forever. (Anyone remember that movie Alive, about the rugby team that crashed in the Andes and had to eat each other to survive?) Needless to say, the crowd was totally shocked.
So Jesus stops there, right? He lets them chew on that before throwing anything else at them, right? Nope. Despite their reaction, despite the fact that they were obviously not on the same page with him, he says this in John 6:53-58
53 ..."I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever."
He pushes them right over the edge. It's like the 'shock and awe' approach to teaching about God. He repeats that people will eat his flesh, adds that people will drink his blood, repeats both of those things several times (in case someone didn't catch it) and in the next few verses as people are turning to leave in disgust he asks if he offended them!
Again, the people couldn't have understood what he meant at that moment, unless the Spirit revealed something to them, and I don't think that's the case (there's no mention of that in the text, anyway). It's like, the point is, either you trust Him or you don't. Even if it sounds like the craziest, most truly insane, maniacal declaration you've ever heard -- either He's the One and is telling people what God wants them to hear, or not.
And then he asks the Twelve whether they'll leave too, based on these words he just spoke. But even though I'm pretty sure they're as clueless as the rest, they at least have made a decision that's helpful: they're with Him, no matter what.
Having read this a hundred times, its like I've never read it before. I wonder how often God says things to my heart that I dismiss outright as ridiculous? I wonder what I miss by my lack of faith? I wonder...
Sunday, November 21, 2004
- I have the most amazing family. My wife loves me (almost as much as I love her), she's gorgeous, and she spoils Piper and me rotten. My daughter is adorable, she's gotten big into giving hugs and kisses without being asked, and she has the sweetest smile I think I've ever seen. And we found out the other day that the 'one in the oven' is a boy! I'm very thankful to God for my family.
- I may be going bald, but my haircuts cost nothing. Seriously, that's huge. No, seriously!
- I live in what I truly believe is the greatest nation on earth, where I am free to pursue my dreams, where I am free to say what I like, and where I can worship as I please. Praise God! And may He help me not to take these things for granted!
- Chocolate. Always thankful for chocolate.
- I am so thankful for Southlake Church. I know God is working through His body all over the world, but my friends -- my family -- at Southlake are so precious to me. I'm glad to be in a place where so many people have such a real desire to know God, more and more.
- Dubya won. (Not that I ever really doubted...)
- I have a good job, if frustrating sometimes, where I make a comfortable living. And I have great friends there who really care about me.
- Did I mention my family? They're awesome.
That's probably enough for now. I thank God for each of these blessings. And I pray that you and your family would have much to be thankful for as well!
Grace and peace, Brian
Monday, November 15, 2004
I went ahead and finished the chapter, gave it a few days to let it simmer, then went back through it again. In the end, what I decided was giving me heartburn was the fact that McLaren commented in several different ways that we need to transcend the ideas of 'conservative' and 'liberal', and take the discussion to a higher level -- which is probably a good idea in many respects. But from that point forward he consistently slaps the hands of 'liberals', then turns and gives 'conservatives' a mushroom-cloud-size nuke.
For example, he gives a laundry list of ways that conservatives have 'gotten too comfortable' in using scripture to justify their actions, including perpetuation of slavery, marginalization of minorities and exploiting the environment, etc. Meanwhile, he has a single line about how liberals have 'gotten too comfortable', and in their case the only problem was (in my words) that they didn't have clear enough direction as to how to be good people. (Is there any question which way McLaren leans, when he's not 'transcending' the argument? And if you're wondering, I consider myself a conservative, politically speaking.)
Now, I suppose if I don't fit his description of a conservative, that might make me a liberal, in which case I guess I'm a pretty good guy already and I just need more direction. :-) Seriously, though, it seems to me that he conspicuously excluded identifying any areas that liberals have justified problematic behavior with scripture -- or perhaps it would be more correct (given his definition of a liberal) to say that he conspicuously avoided listing problem areas that have been caused or exacerbated by the lack of clear standards amongst liberals (given his definition of 'liberal').
I've kicked around several theories for why he would do that -- primarily that McLaren leans toward the 'liberal' side of the line when he's not 'transcending the discussion' (some of the political commentary on his website seems to make that clear), or possibly that McLaren's got a beef with conservatives because there is little doubt that they are his biggest critics -- but in the end, it doesn't really matter. I'm happy to say that, while I'm confident that McLaren and I don't share the same perspective on national politics, I have yet to see anything specifically relating to Christian Postmodernism (as McLaren describes it so far in the book) that is really inconsistent with what I believe.
So far, the most uncomfortable thing I've read about Christian Postmodernism (the thing that made me stretch the most) had to do with whether or not the Bible is authoritative. McLaren seems to say both yes and no depending on what page I'm on, so I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt that the yes's are correct, and that when I think he's saying 'no' I'm just misunderstanding him.
To drop down in the weeds for a moment, McLaren argues (in my words) that the Bible is authoritative, but that we shouldn't be too confident in our understanding of anything we read there. Now, I frankly don't know how someone can really live in that state of mind about everything in the Bible. Not that we need to bash anyone over the head with what we believe based on Biblical teaching, but I have to think that there must be something that McLaren believes Christians can all agree on, regardless of culture. After all, Jesus Christ is the Son of God, right? God created the heavens and the earth? I find myself wondering whether McLaren would say that if we believe those things wholeheartedly we are taking a Modern approach to the text. But again, I'm willing to believe that I'm probably misunderstanding him.
One last thing and then I'm done (I promise). At the end of my last post I took a moment to say that no one should call me a Postmodern Heretic (or not yet). I must say as of the end of this post that no one should think that I don't like McLaren, or that I don't think he makes valid points. The heartburn I described above about conservatives/liberals didn't show up until page 50, and he had moved on to another (more comfortable) subject 3 pages later; so clearly most of what he is saying is consistent with what I believe. Further, I haven't even finished the book yet -- this is a running commentary -- so I am intentionally not making up my mind as I continue on this path.
I commit that I will continue to do my best to read the book objectively and critically to an extent, and continue to flesh out the raw concepts of Postmodern Christianity.
Blessings to you,
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
I must say, these are exciting times for me:
- Celeste and I are blessed with a beautiful 15-month-old girl, Piper, and we're expecting our second child, due in late March.
- Several things seem to be pointing me toward some sort of job change or even a career change in the near future. (Even if I stay with my current employer, the way things are currently going, it looks like my job will absolutely change in the next 6-12 months.) This is a good thing!
- And on top of that, I'm in a sort of self-discovery mode right now, participating in a small group study of the book 'Wild at Heart', recently taking a test to help me identify my strengths, and trying to better ground myself in my faith.
Relating particularly to the self-discovery activities, one of my current interests is the concept of postmodern Christianity. I was first introduced to the idea as 'Emergent' Christianity, which is (from what I can tell) a particular group of Christians who are attempting to examine their faith to determine how much of it is truly Biblical, and how much of it has been influenced or even distorted by the 'modern' culture of the last several hundred years.
One of the leading voices in this group is Brian McLaren, and I've begun reading a book he wrote called 'A New Kind of Christian' in the last week or so, plus I've been reading some additional information from his website. Along the way I was surprised by two things:
First, I was surprised to realize that postmodernism is related to (though not necessarily the same as) the belief that there is no absolute truth. (This shows my ignorance I suppose.) If you don't know me, I'm a believer in absolute truth - a 'right' and 'wrong' that is bigger than what serves my own interests in a given moment. So my knee-jerk reaction was to think that this 'postmodern/emergent' stuff is not going to be for me.
Second, after having the thoughts above, I read the first few of chapters of 'A New Kind of Christian' and so far I'm even more surprised to find that I haven't read anything about postmodernism that particularly bothers me. The concept so far strikes me as an ideology that questions everything, and doesn't take things at face value without really looking closely at it. McLaren comments in several places that 'younger' people have to some extent been exposed to postmodern thought their whole lives, and I suspect that's true of me.
One caveat: McLaren himself strikes me as a bit on the 'elite academic' side of the world, tending to position his arguments as if to say that his thoughts are really obvious, then adding in phrases indicating that he could maybe, possibly be wrong, but pretty clearly indicating that anyone who disagrees with him just doesn't understand. This is a bit annoying, but so far I think I've been able to separate my perception of his writing style from the details about postmodernism.
Now, don't anyone go reading this and decide that I'm a postmodern 'heretic' ... at least not yet. I'm still getting my arms around the issues, and I know I'm only on the threshold of what is involved in postmodernism. But I think it will be fascinating to see where this path leads. I wonder if anyone reading this will have a 'knee-jerk' reaction to postmodernism?
(How's that for a deep thought, right out of the chute?)
P.S. Have you talked with God today?
Friday, November 05, 2004
Having said that, if I thought anyone would actually read this...