Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Towards an Open Theology

Yesterday I had a lunch with a fellow sojourner and pastor from a completely different context and background than myself and I found it to be a compelling connection. As we got to know one another and share stories, he was inquisitive as to the functions and structure of Ordinary Community. I realized as I was sharing that I really have journeyed far from many of the systematic theologies I had been raised in.

I believe in conversion, but I have a much harder time putting words to the process or being able to state when a conversion to Christ has happened or not. Rather, I tend to use terms such as "followers of Christ" and regardless of people's spiritual state, I encourage them to follow Christ where I used to try and make them a Christian. In my old days, I would have labeled my present self a "liberal", but I don't think I am. I believe that Christ made exclusive claims about himself as the only passage into the Kingdom of God. There aren't other portals or wardrobes to Narnia, Christ is the gate in. That is one of the absolutes of my theology.

As well, I believe that the Scriptures are True and they have an elevated role for faith and practice. They are the basis of our faith and the marker that doesn't shift even in the midst of storms, the words carry Divine power. But I do not believe that all the genres and books in Scripture ought to be interpreted as literal (except for the ones that are history) but rather some are apocalyptic and as teaching narratives/myths that illuminate lessons and truths to be lived out. Applying the modern scientific worldview to ancient texts in my humble opinion is a clearly misguided goal. Scriptures don't have to be literal/historical to be True or inspired or authoritative. The Scriptures are attached to the Spirit, and it breathes life into the reader. To me, the very process of reading texts from Scripture is a mystical experience and they show me how to live.

I affirm women in all forms of leadership and ministry in the church. I believe the passages of I Timothy 2 and Titus 1 are not prohibiting such.
1) The greek word "Auqentew" translated as authority, is not used by Paul or any other NT author in the Scriptures. The only way we can learn about its correct translation is in extra-biblical sources. In my opinion, the word is more accurately translated as "source" or "originator". So I Timothy 2 would read more as "I do not permit a woman to say she is the source of man" which would be Paul confronting Goddess worship in Ephesus who were teaching that Eve came before Adam. I don't believe this passage is speaking towards an absolute for all forms of church structure, but rather a condemnation of false teaching in the NT context.
2) 1 - 2 passages is not enough to build an entire theology around. One needs to look at the whole of the Biblical voice. We have women acting as prophetesses, house church leaders, matriarchs, evangelists etc. all throughout the Scriptures.
3) Jesus radically departed from traditional Jewish roles by affirming women, reaching out to them as outcasts and inviting them into the center of His movement. We do not have revelation of women as Apostles, but we do see them counted in the groupings next outside the 12.
4) On Easter morning, when the male Apostles were cowering in the upper room, while it was cold and still dark, it was Mary who got up and went to the tomb. I would suggest that at this all important moment of the Church, it was only a woman who was leading us. Mary received the announcement of the Resurrection and then left boldly proclaiming the Resurrection. That in my opinion was the first sermon of the NT Church. Mary telling the others that He is risen!
5) The ancient and NT world were male dominated, women were valued, but not as equals. Part of the teaching of Hebrews and a New Covenant with a New Community to me is the abolishment of this male domination to a pure view of God's intention, the equality of the sexes.
6) I believe the hardline view of excluding women from roles of elder/teacher are not followed consistently by those claiming them. Women cannot read Scriptures in a service but are allowed to sing them in a special song. Women cannot teach our American men, but were/are sent in droves to foreign soil to win the natives (including men) in tribal cultures by teaching/preaching as the only voice for the Kingdom. This is what I observed growing up in fundamental theologies and I think its hypocrisy. If you are going to take a hardline view against women in ministry, you better apply it in all forms or you are committing the same heresy you accuse others of.
7) Experience counts for something. I have sat under and around women using their gifts in ministry of preaching and teaching and making wise decisions. It was quite natural and yielded the same fruit godly men had provided. Just reading the fruit of these experiences agreed with the Scriptures.
8) Its about the gifts, not the gender. The Spirit of God calls and brings to life His gifts in the Church. Whomever that calling falls upon, regardless of their reproductive parts, ought to be obedient to it for the sake of the Kingdom.

So I think differently now than I once did. I believe I have left a loyalty to certain systems of thinking and to one that is closer to the Biblical truths and to the Spirit that drives it all. I have moved towards a more open theology and in that I have found freedom to act and move within the Kingdom in more powerful ways. To some, that may be heresy, but I would just say, judge me by "the fruit".

Or, don't judge me at all, that would be more fun :)

peace for a Kingdom Come,

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

mmmmmmmmmmm, tasty books

Ok,Christmas is coming so its time to check out a good book sale. You have to go here: Bean Books Clearance Sale

There are so many tasty vittles on this list at cheapy cheapy prices. Expand your mind, take some down time, buy some books and do a bit of reading. Books as well make for better Christmas presents than chia pets or pink bunny pajamas. Well, maybe not the pajamas, but definitely better than chia pets.

Reccomendations you ask???? Here are a few:

1) The Secret Message of Jesus, McLaren
-Our house church is in the midst of reading and discussing this presently. Its a good, readable overview of Kingdom theology
2)Left Behind in a MegaChurch World, Ruth Tucker
-Written by the same woman who wrote the classic missionary textbook "From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya". I read this on the plane to Seattle, she nails some of the church cultural shifts and issues nobody else is talking about.
3)Emerging Churches, Bolger and Gibbs
-This book interviews the practitioners in emerging churches and tries to report on the scope of the movement
4) Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning
-Ummm, if you haven't read this, what are you thinking? This is a classic.
5) Community and Growth, Vanier
- Haven't read this, been told its great. I need to pick it up.
6) Rennovation of the Heart, Student Edition. Dallas Willard
- I used this with high school seniors and it opened the doors wide open for the real stuff they were dealing with.
7) Divine Nobodies, Palmer
- Another book I haven't read but heard of its goodness.
8) Myth of a Christian Nation, Greg Boyd
- I bought this, waiting to read it. I've become a recent fan of his.
9) Praying with the Church, Scott Mcknight
- Perhaps the keenest mind out there right now in emerging church circles. To quote Zoolander, "that Mcknight, he so hot right now!"
10)Prayer, Richard Foster
- Best overall book I've read on prayer, another classic and perfect gift idea. Who can't improve their outlook on prayer?
11) An Army of Ordinary People, Tony Dale
- Haven't read it, love the title :)
12) The Message New Testament in small paperbacks. ONLY $4!!!
- I would call these house church pew Bibles.

Ok, there's my plug, now I'm off to do some book shopping.

Make sure to feast w/ Thanks tomorrow.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Continuation of Grief

This week begins the holiday season. I'm not sure what I feel about them this year. This week will put us one month away from December 22, the one year anniversary of the passing of my niece Kate, suddenly in the night due to an aggressive and unknown strand of pneumonia. She was a happy 21 month old. It is still shockingly painful and at times raw.

My 10 year old daughter, Ali, wrote this for a paper at school this week, entitled "WHY":

"Oh why oh why did this happen to her? She was only 21 months old. I started to cry. I was at the funeral for my cousin Kate. I went over to the casket that Kate was in. Savannah, my cousin the same age as me, and my Mom went over and we started to cry. Everyone was crying too. I reached my hand out and I felt her cheek. She felt hard like a baby doll. I too looked under the blanket on top of her. I saw her pacifier. It reminded me of the last night when she was alive. I wish I could have known those were my last moments with her. Why did it have to be her? I cried to my Mom. Why? Why is Kate in there? (sister Paige asked) Paige is Kate's siser, Paige did not understand her sister was dead. I gave Savannah a big hug, she gave me one back. We told each other it's going to be alright. We knew it really wasn't though. When we left, I said, "Mom, I don't want to leave her! I want to be with her, I can't let her go." "I know" my Mom said still crying. "But you have to remember Kate is in a better place now." I asked, "But why?" bursting out in tears. "Why?" I repeated. "Why is it her?!" "Why? . . . Why?" Mom said, "I don't know, no one does. Sometimes things happen." Mom said she didn't want to leave either. I don't want to cry about her but it was hard for me. She was the first person I knew to die. I will never forget her no matter what. She will always be in my broken heart."

To follow Jesus includes a road of suffering. It is a baptism of fire. No one asks for it, but they happen and the desert is a very rough teacher. Continuing the cycling of grief makes all the talk of emerging church and ministry so irrelevant. If you want to be cool and hip and relevant, stay out of ministry and find a job in marketing. If you want to follow Jesus, then pick up your sword and start swinging. Its not a program nor technique, its War and it will take the wind right out of you. There will come a day when the Kingdom comes in fullness, for now, its reality is only in part here. But. . . that's a pretty beautiful part. You want a ministry? Forget all the books and techniques. Find the people you think are beautiful and love them. Its not anything more complicated. To fulfill that love, it will cost you everything. But in following Jesus, you inherit everything that matters.

There is still so much mystery in this suffering, but we never suffer alone. When I don't know how to make sense of things, I tend to just pick up my sword and start swinging at anything in the darkness. Until the Enemy can crush the wind out of my lungs, I will not relent. It is an unshakeable Kingdom and the Hope of the Kingdom Come is upon us. Participate in it. live it, breathe it, fight for it. In a world where death is yet a reality, Hope and Life is our Rebellion. Just pick up your sword and start swinging.

peace to your house this night,

Monday, November 13, 2006

Modernism dies a slow death

So I'm sitting here in my family room comfy chair, with me feet up after a day's work and a good dinner prepared by my wife w/ pumpkin pie and all. And since Nicki is reading, I have full control of my remote. I landed upon NRB, one of the dozen or so "god" channels on Direct Tv now. And I'm watching a sermon by John MacArthur. I grew up in churches that worshipped this guy. Over the past 15 minutes he has read a sermon from his notes saying things that today's evangelical churches are mediocrity and celebrating carnality. Pastors are humorous and "cool" instead of being rigorous studiers of the Word. He states that the book of Amos is a prophecy against these "relevant" churches, that he hates their music, hates their worship and hates their sacrifices. That God will no longer speak because of his judgment. Speaking of a past Era when we used to have great preaching and an Era when we agreed with Scripture with consistency. He says the world can't know who God's real spokesman is, that is convenient for a guy who cornered the market with a book called "The Gospel According to Jesus". In that book, he argues his take as Jesus' exclusive view and thus all others are false.

Modernism as a worldview is all about "either-or" thinking. I am right, therefore you are wrong. The Bible then is a system to be figured out of objective information, it will lead you to a world of black and white truth. This is not at all consistent with the kind of Jewish mythology in which the Scriptures were written and a culture of mythology. The Bible was written hundreds and thousands of years before the Scientific worldview was born in the Age of Enlightenment. All I can say in my experience in these churches growing up is that it has a whole lot more to do with a dogged loyalty to the Modern worldview than anything having to do with following Jesus. At its foundation is a system, not a person. And the system is about knowledge, not relationship. In this black and white world, there is no reckless intimacy that leaves you vulnerable nor leaves room for doubt or confusion. I suppose just listening to him just brings up so much baggage for me.

I think what I remember is that I grew up and feeling that I had a "calling" to pastor, but the category of "Pastor" that I knew was one of a guy who showed no emotion, knew all the answers and spent 40 hours a week in personal study around books and systematic theologies and away from the distractions of people. Pastoring was preaching a theological sermon for 30 minutes each week in which you passed judgment on culture. I deducted that I shouldn't be a pastor because none of that fit me. MacArthur is upset because people aren't committed anymore to the rigors of studying Scripture and that he shouldn't have to grab their attention with his preaching, they should work to listen. To me, the burden of communication is not on the receptor, but on the communicator. Pastors want everybody to listen to them, but how many of them understand how people learn.

Do I believe in objective truths? Yes. Does this make me a bad postmodern? Sometimes. For me, in a Kingdom worldview, objective information has to take its place at the round table of knowledge with experience, tradition and Scripture in context. Modernism exalted objective information and its experiment has failed. They couldn't answer all the questions.

It was unbiblical in my traditions of church to show emotion. Christians were somber and right. I never fit and thought God was a joke growing up. I tried to fit in only to be reminded that I didn't belong over and over.

MacArthur is mad the world has changed. Modernism is losing its grip and he interprets that as the Gospel not being preached instead of it actually just being the death of his preferences. Modernism fit him like a glove. I can't stomach this stuff anymore because it lacks what it claims to have the corner of the market on, a true intelligent and studied view of Scripture. Since he would call me unbiblical, I'll go ahead and return the favor . . . in love of course ;)

Stop and notice the Kingdom around you today,

Friday, November 10, 2006

Sunil Sardar destroyed me

Ok, so last week in Seattle at the Revolution conference I came into contact with Sunil Sardar of Truth Seekers Int'l I was not prepared for this encounter . . . or was I?

For years I have been absolutely captivated by the writings of E. Stanley Jones, missionary to India in the 1930's and 40's. His teaching on the Kingdom of God were profound and revolutionary and it shaped my beliefs. Just a short time with Sunil built several more stories on that foundation. Because of Sunil's relationship with Jason and Brooke Evans, we were able to have dinner with him after he spoke. It was all I could do to not begin weeping at the table. Somehow his words and presence were piercing my soul. There was a fire in the man's eyes that only comes from a road of suffering.

I have much more to say, but instead I'm going to paste an interview with Sunil from Off the Map to give you a taste. Let me know what you think:
What were you doing prior to starting the Truth Seekers Society?

We spent 10 years in church planting work in Maharashtra (central India). Our ministry was called Din Bandhu which means "Friend of the Poor". Several hundred churches were planted representing 40 different caste groups who had no church before. My brother is now leading this work, and it continues to flourish.

A social reformer named Phule founded Truth Seekers in the early 19th Century, tell us about him? What did he do that was different from other reformers in India’s history?

This country worships idols. They also worship heroes. I was looking for a model which would be safe for any caste group to be able to worship Jesus Christ without having the baggage of organized religion. Phule is that role model. He was salt and light and pointed the way to Christ for this nation. He found Christ in this culture and pointed towards him which was residing in the name of Bali Raja (the King who sacrificed), Yeshuwant (victor over death), and Yeshua (Jesus). He never became part of organized religion, but followed Christ throughout his life along with his family, and modeled His example and stood boldly with Christians and missionaries in their times of persecution. He also clearly identified the enemy of the Gospel, which still resides in this country... the false religion of Brahminism which has its roots in discrimination from birth to death. The religion of Brahminism perpetuates and glorifies lying, cheating, and adultery.

Why not simply go out and "preach the gospel" and forget all the social activism stuff? Other preachers stay away from those kinds of activities?

The gospel is the person of Jesus Christ. You cannot exclude any part of human life...the Gospel transcends all areas...social, political, economical, educational, etc and spiritual. If someone is a follower of Christ, he has to stand for the poor, oppressed, widows, orphans, and those who have no voice of their own. That is the model Jesus gave us.

Christian leaders who separate the sacred from the secular do not understand. They are looking for an excuse to stay away from a 'dirty job' in the name of holiness and piety. They also are afraid of the risk involved in living this kind of lifestyle. They fear the unknown, and it is safer to surround yourself with people like yourself, other believers. They are afraid of the exploration of unknown territory because they don't have all the answers. They want to look like they know, and in addition, this kind of lifestyle is not taught in the seminaries. It has to be lived. Jesus is the most creative, risk taking Redeemer, so I believe Christians should be the most creative people on earth...even in their presentation of the Gospel. He has made us free so that we can enjoy freedom in creativity.

Who are the Dalits? Do they remind you of any groups in the states?

The Dalits of India are the Untouchables or Outcastes of society; they are not even worthy (according to Brahmin scripture) to be a part of the human society. In fact, they are lower than the animals. I guess we could equate them with blacks who were enslaved before the Civil War, or perhaps Mexican immigrants who come only as laborers. People who are absolutely discriminated against by society...people enslaved by addictions.

Who are the Brahmins? Which socio-economic group in the states do they most closely resemble?

Brahmins are self proclaimed priests of the nation. They are upper caste and upper class. Everyone else (according to their scriptures) exists to serve them. One can become Brahmin only after 84 million life cycles. They are the most proud people on the face of the earth. They call themselves 'god on earth' (bhudeo). It reminds me of the white supremacist groups in the States. Or perhaps the white upper class Republican evangelicals who have the mindset that they know and have all the answers.

Tell us a little about Ambedkar and why the Dalits identify more closely with him than they do with Gandhi?

Ambedkar is one among them; Gandhi is not. Ambedkar fought for their rights and exposed the cause of their slavery and publicly renounced Brahminical Hinduism. The way he lived his life reflected what he spoke. He walked his talk. Gandhi gave a false name to Dalits which was Harijan (children of god), but never said which god. Gandhi asked them to rebel against those who literally supported them. He never identified their enemy. He turned British and missionaries (who were their friends) into their enemies. He sided and glorified the very religion (Brahminism) that made them Dalits.

You practice what I call "deep contextualization", you literally "inject" yourself into complex sociological settings (similar to how a virus works) and then wait and watch to see where you end up relationally and influentially. How did you learn how to do this? Who taught you? What prompted you to stop "watching from the sidelines" and dive into the game of connecting?

Great analogy! I can't claim any instruction but the Holy Spirit's leading. Often, it took me a longer time than it should have to obey because I was scared of 'Big Brother' meaning the Christian world who often accused me of synchronization, which wasn't the case at all. It is redeeming what is already present in the life and culture of this nation. Don Richardson's book, Eternity in Their Hearts, had a great influence on my thinking. Actually, we view it as we are simply meeting Christ where He has already been and continues to be. He is inviting us there; that makes the work so much easier. We are not converting people; Christ is converting us every day. My journey began and I became a Truth seeker when I met Christ. Since that day, no day is boring.

I met a Sikh man at the Ravidas street celebration you took me to. This man had become a Christian through associating with Truth Seekers. He told me that it took him 3 years to become "spiritualized", meaning become a follower of Jesus. What is the process he went through to become "spiritualized"?

Mr. Than Singh Josh became a follower of Christ before he actually knew it. He was culturally a Sikh (learner or disciple). Spiritually, he was an atheist. Politically, he was a socialist. He started coming to our Truthseekers fellowship meetings. Then he started speaking about Jesus as a social reformer. Then he started praying to Him and the Lord answered him. Then, he started praying for others in Jesus' name, and Lord answered those prayers too. Now, many friends are interested when they used to make fun of him. It was the Word, the fellowship of Truthseekers, and answered prayers that brought him into a clearer understanding of following Christ. But he tells me now, that his father told him before dying that if Christians would have come first in his life, he would have become a Christian. Instead, Sikhs came so he had a chance to renounce his caste in this way, so he did. He was a farmer and a hardworking man. Maybe he is in heaven....who knows? But his father's words also had a hand in his conversion.

Why did you tell him to remain a Sikh after committing his life to Christ? Can you think of any "dynamic equivalents" of how this process would look in the States? In other words - In our stateside approach to "getting people saved" are we too linear, too uptight and if so what would it look like if we did it the Truth Seekers way?

The term Sikh means 'learner or disciple' never to become a guru which is your downfall. It’s easy enough to equate that with becoming a humble follower of Jesus Christ. Your turban doesn't matter to Jesus...He is after our hearts. So, culturally to remain a Sikh in his own community is to his advantage and he becomes salt and light to his world and people. This is what Jesus asks of us.

My best advice for the equivalent of this approach in the States is not to have your own agenda for 'getting people into church' and don't have any model other than Christ to follow. No matter what, don't give up on people. Be there for them whatever that means and love them anyway whether or not they become Christian as we understand that term. Don't have any program to make people Christians, but have open homes, open lives, open communion, open discussions. Pray unashamedly to Jesus and boldly ask Him to reveal Himself as you go.

wow. peace.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Must Read

Ok, finally somebody captured the breadth of the emerging church conversation. This is one of the best descriptions of what has happened, is happening and might continue to happen. In my humble opinion, really well done. This is Scott Mcknight's address at Westminster Theolgogical Seminary.
Scott McKnight