Tuesday, September 25, 2007

[THO] Location of the Divine

In Varieties of Religion Today Charles Taylor explores the shift in religious sensibility we inherit from modernity (Chapter 3 is brilliant!). With the age of reason the natural world was pulled down into the realm of comprehension. We could now measure, desconstruct and pull apart the created order. It belonged to the dominion of man, or so we now assumed. What was lost was the mystical connection with the world as created. The world became more and more mechanistically understood and God became more and more distant. We might remember that the deists came to believe in a divine watchmaker, winding up the world to let it run of its own accord.

In this Newtonian atmosphere we began to elevate the notion of law. After all laws are what govern the created order, and laws represent the enduring connection of the Creator to creation. It is not a wonder then that when Western humanity began looking again for the location of God we looked not to the world but to the lawfulness of society. It is from here that Kant makes his great contribution. No one of that age is unaffected, morality becomes the dominion of God. Understanding this is it really any wonder that we have evangelists who introduce us to the law instead of the person of Jesus Christ?

But all is not lost. More and more people are realizing the incredible poverty losing a sense of divine in the created order has meant. So many are longing for the authenticity of mystery. It also shouldn't surprise us that many in the West have turned elsewhere to feed their souls. For me I believe we face a time of incredible opportunity. Are we to continue to offer a morality based religion or will we introduce the world to a Jesus who holds all things together. Will we continue to preach a destructive message divorced from our lived reality, or will we call for believers to love the world Jesus died to save?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

[LIV] Falling into a Groove

I'm starting to get into a groove with school, that is a welcome relief. It was pretty crazy there for a while. I'm still overwhelmed with the gear shift, but I am confident that I'll be good and this will be an amazing year. I spent a good chunk of time chatting with Lydia Bean. She is doing doctoral work that is similar to what I want to do, well except her scope is much broader. But she has a good handle on the differences between American and Canadian evangelicals. Through her I also heard about some really cool evangelical movements that are taking serious the call to justice that is integral to the gospel message. Check out Sojourners and Friends of Justice. That is pretty encouraging.

Another fun side note, one of my profs has been getting us to read from his new book. He speaks a lot of languages but his English is funny, I call it Spanglench. It is actually endearing. But what is cool is he asked if I would keep an eye out for language errors in the text. So I sent him my first installement from the first chapter and introduction and he was impressed. Not that there were a lot, but they were simple things that I could hear him saying not realizing that this doesn't work n written English. Anyway he appreciated it and added me to the list of folks who helped him edit the document. That is really cool.

Well, lots to do. If I don't write as much you know what I'm doing: head buried in book or typing out papers on my lappy.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

[THO] First Impressions of 'What Did Jesus Do?'

Ray Comfort has been a hot topic here and on my Facebook page. I couldn’t help but take a quick look at one of the books Chris Curry sent me, “What did Jesus do?” I began sharing some of what I had gleaned from the first couple chapters and Sharon stopped me asking if I was talking about a cult. While the aspect that Comfort proposes a private truth is troubling, I am not convinced he goes beyond the pale of popular evangelical notions. But what is clear to me is that Comfort is operating almost exclusively out of a propositional theory of revelation – that is the notion that revelation is communicated to a specific people through a series of truths often collected into a text (Lane, The Experience of God, 34). Adherents to this view of revelation insist on a literal reading of their text(s) in order to preserve the truths contained within them. This is a very common paradigm for the evangelical world, at least in North America.

Before we look at why this view of revelation is flawed, I would be remiss to gloss over Comfort’s confusion of the Law with the Decalogue (p.25). This is very evident in his writing and thinking and it is an understandable confusion knowing that within the Protestant church there is a long tradition of using the Decalogue as a touchstone for Christian moral teaching. But when we look at the New Testament there is more of a tendency to reduce the Law to two propositions instead of the Decalogue. This is significant if you buy into Comfort’s insistence that the Law must come before grace then your understanding of what constitutes the Law matters gravely. But I’m sure I will have more commentary on this after I finish this book.
The second important omission is any sense of ongoing justice. On page 16 there is a list of what the fruit of salvation should look like (in Comfort’s mind of course). While half of this list is questionable, what is more startling is what is not listed. The list is completely devoid of any sense of justice. Where is the fruit of justice or has Comfort completely discarded the prophetic tradition that he claims to lean on so heavily? Where is the fruit of mercy? Love towards neighbours is reduced to getting along with Christians (which is easier for Comfortians who have narrowed greatly the definition of who is actually a Christian) and evangelizing the lost (obviously only with the ‘right’ method of evangelism). This list is what caused Sharon to conclude that Comfort has cult potential.

Those particularities fall out of Comfort’s flawed view of revelation. This theory of revelation often buys into the myth of unmediated access to divine truth, meaning that adherents actively resist the self-examination and self-criticism that is part of any healthy theology. (Interesting enough Comfort wants to undermine confidence in salvation but not in his propositional view of revelation?) Comfort definitely resists such activity, while he mentions that others oppose his views, there is no chance for examining their complaints as his work does not permit us the courtesy of proper footnotes and references. Obviously Comfort has no intention of defending his particular position, rather he wants to bolster the troops and convert the uncritical to his way of thinking. Academically these texts are useless, except as an example of how not to do a theology of mission.

I would encourage you to read with your eyes open.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

[LIF] Conversation Comes to an End

Well my conversation with Chris over at Living Waters came to an end. I am planning on the reviews, but his answer to my last email was quite curt and polite. I'm going to miss that discussion. Chris, I extend an invitation to go for coffee, my treat. I would love to sit down, brother to brother, and hear your heart a bit more. I have a real concern for helping widen the discussion amongst my evangelical brothers and sisters. I think it is important for us as a movement to work on unity and to combat the history of polemics that so easily ensnares us. Also know that I'll continue to pray for you that you would open yourself up to other resources that would enable you to preach the gospel clearly, maybe give that Ray Comfort guy a rest for awhile.

The end of that conversation is also the beginning of my research work this semester. I am working on narrowing my research problem and finding a director. But all of the areas I have a passion to tackle address the issues surrounding the need for a re-instatement of public religion in the evangelical world. Not that there are not great examples of public religion re-emerging, but usually only with great suspicion from the rest of the evangelical world.

Friday, September 14, 2007

[LIF] Grad School

Wow, this is a bit different than I expected. This is going to be an awesome semester. I finally made it through the first class for each prof. and I'm both overwhelmed and excited.

I'm actually happy with the classes in French. I feel like my head is about to explode towards the end of the class, but I'm positive my comprehension is increasing each moment. I was able to follow both profs, at least for the main ideas being presented. There are quite a few of us in the same boat which makes it easier. It is hilarious how we each heard different things for the assignments in one class. :-) We'll do fine.

The programme is focused on the thesis, which is 60 pages max (including bibliography). But the process of even beginning that thesis is intense. I am supposed to be chatting with different profs already to find a director, but I'm not completely sure how to carve off a manageable portion of what I want to study - basically Evangelical hermeneutics as it relates to social engagement. I was feeling stressed over this but right now I have too many other homework assignments to worry about that.

My courses are Spirituality with Prof. Heather Eaton, as you know from my blog I really like Prof. Eaton. She has challenged the heck out of me, but I really feel I grow spiritually in her courses. Plus she is the one that introduced me to Thomas Berry. Sad news is that the Berry Group looks like it might not do too much over this semester, everyone is swamped.

I am taking a Methodology class with Prof. Gregory Bloomquist, I've always wanted to take a course from Bloomquist, he is an amazing biblical scholar. But he is looking like the best candidate for director right now, he has a doctoral student doing a similar topic. This is the course that gets us ready for the thesis, so the class is pretty informal and geared towards coming along side us in this process.

I am also taking Biblical Hermeneutics with Prof. Christian Dionne. This one is in French and thankfully I find the biblical courses like this really easy. My mistake of neuf for nine instead of new really broke the ice for me. The anglophones outnumber the francophones, but the lecture is delivered in french. I'm happy with this one. His french is clear so I'll benefit a lot from the lectures.

Finally I am doing a directed reading course with Prof. Ramon Martinez de Pison Liebanas (there is a mouthful). He is Spanish, so his french is not bad to follow, his english is a bit funny though. This is my first directed reading course, I think it will be great. I'm re-reading Dermot Lane's The Experience of God this week. The topic of the course is Religious Experience.

Today I have to go to the library and get my late night pass approved! But tonight I have a little me time, gaming with my East end friends. Then it is nose to the grind.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

[LIF] Last Night Before Class

I have my first class in the morning. Research Methodology with G. Bloomquist. I decided to check his website again, there wasn't much the last time I checked. Yikes! There is reading assigned for tomorrow. I'm about halfway through it. I have some guys coming over for Injurius Games tonight, but that is easy to set up and tear down. Hope to get my reading done before they come, otherwise it will be a late night. We'll see.

I am halfway through the first article in my KoG series. I might redo it, I'm not happy with the flow. In fact I might do it in three short pieces (the first topic that is), I want to cover off the assumption many people make that Kingdom Theology is the same as Dominion Theology.

I'm toying more and more with the idea of doing a critique of the Evangelical Theology of Grace for my thesis, but maybe I need to let that one percolate more first. I know I need to read a heck of a lot more and there are some other areas I need to work on. I'm planning a book with my friend Brad Culver, we're in the preliminary stages but it should be a good project. Brad should be up around Thanksgiving to share in our church community. Perhaps I can weave some of the research for that into my Masters work, I need to think that one through.

If I don't post in the next week, know I'm knee deep in classes trying to get my bearings. I'll be around in the comments at the very least.

Friday, September 07, 2007

[LIF] Holding Pattern

Seems like I'm waiting a lot these days. It is funny because I am not always sure what to do with myself when I am waiting. Perhaps this is my opporunity to learn how to wait well. Waiting is a normal part of creation, but that's the subject of a whole discussion.

I have new software in the mail, at least I hope it is in the mail. A French-English Dictionary, supposedly one of the best. I couldn't find a copy in Canada, just the UK or the US. So I put in my order, paid my money and now I wait impatiently.

I am waiting for classes. My first class was supposed to be Thursday, but the prof cancelled. It worked out for stuff going on here, but it was disappointing.

I am waiting to find a good daycare for Chelsea. This one is hard, we were waiting for a subsidised spot to replace the one we gave up last year, but no such luck. We interview three candidates tomorrow! Pray for us, she is only there three mornings a week.

I am waiting on the books from Chris. Yeah, I actually would like to give them a read. I'm more interested as to how the ongoing conversation will continue, if it continues. Seems Chris has run out of steam. Actually, it seems he has moved the discussion to his blog, sweet - Facebook is frustrating for comments.

Well my waiting for supper is over. The buzzer is going off.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

[THO] What is the Gospel?

My buddy Byron posted a series on this recently. Byron started off with a challenge to write down in a sentence or two exactly what is the gospel. I've been thinking about that a lot lately as I have been engaging in a debate with the Living Waters Canada Rep, Chris Curry. Chris has generously sent me a few of Ray Comfort's books which I will endeavour to review here. I've endured a few of Ray's videos and I find him quite offensive actually. Which begs that question - what is the gospel?

Byron does a great job of defining the gospel in terms of the Kingdom of God. Where I want to go is to look at the implications - how do we live out what the gospel is? If we believe that the gospel is essentially only about your personally getting right with God then perhaps Ray Comfort is not so far off in his thinking. But if the gospel is the good news of the Kingdom, as Jesus claims, then it has far greater implications than merely getting folks saved and in the waiting line for heaven. A lot is at stake on our understanding of the gospel.

For me it comes down to what Jesus did. If we want to follow the true way of the master, then it definitely isn't going to boil down to a modern formulaic representation such as Comfortians often employ. As long as it is missing the heart of the gospel - that is good news that the King has come - then it is nothing more than what the Pharisees did when they searched out converts to become twice as good at converting others as they were. Jesus wasn't impressed. Neither should we be impressed. The King changes everything.

So what did Jesus do? Well he healed the sick, drove out spirits, mended relationships, restored dignity, stood for justice, called for repentance, fed the hungry, taught the masses (inside and outside the synagogue!), loved the children, freed prisoners, gave people purpose and meaning... In short Jesus changed everything. So how can we call gospel anything that compartmentalizes a small bit of this? We can't, it is all or nothing. But isn't that What Jesus did for us? He gave everything for us. Paul aptly responds that our only reasonable response is to give our whole selves as living sacrifices.

I was watching one of those videos yesterday, where Ray is berating a young man who dared to admit he believed in evolution. I kept thinking, "what is your point Ray?" I think there is a place for even the law in evangelism. But when that is your only option then you miss the bulk of the richness of what the gospel really is. Why would I believe God loves me after you've just treated me like shit? How can that thought not go through the minds of those accosted with such a stark misrepresentation of God's good news? Maybe I don't get it. Maybe I'm missing something and the books will help me with that. Then again... what is the gospel?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

[THO] Kingdom of God - Preamble

Yup, as promised this is that new series on the Kingdom of God. It will likely be sporadic and in the next few weeks I'll be revisiting my original series outline. I'll definitely let you know if I plan on a wild deviation.

If you have been around the Freedom Log for a while you will hear me talk of the Kingdom of God a lot. I did a search and was surprised at how often it comes up. That has a lot to do with my denominational home, the Vineyard. Our movement takes the key insight of George Eldon Ladd (which I feel is actually an advance of Dodds even though Ladd takes pain to distance his idea from Dodds) that the Kingdom of God is an eschatological tension. It is the tension of this age and the next age, where this age is pregnant with the possibilities of the next age breaking in at any moment.

This is an important theology for us as it distinguishes us from similar movements like Pentecostalism or the Charismatic movement. It is how we understand the nitty gritty of Christian life, both the struggles and the triumphs. Even though it is so important I find that it is also something that gets lost as the movement grows beyond its Fuller roots. Fortunately the Vineyard in Canada has been working hard trying to ensure that these roots are nourished. Perhaps, in some way, this is my part in helping all of that.

I want to start with the language of the Kingdom. I am of two minds in this regard. On one hand I'm highly sensitive about how language can hinder the sharing of ideas. But at the same time I am convinced that distinct language has incredible value for the groups that adopt it. So here is also a tension. So I anticipate that I will take pains to clarify the language, identify the issues and then continue to go right on using the language of Kingdom. It is comfortable langauge for me, not that this is a reason for using a language, but it does evoke in me that sense of connection to Ladd and the heart of the Vineyard movement.

Hope that you enjoy the series.

Monday, September 03, 2007

[THO] Why We Need Each Other

The recent thread on Ray Comfort has led to a sort of response by Living Waters Canada. I'll post his response if there is enough interest, but in post response dialogue to Chris Curry's credit he did admit to not even reading the Ray makes me UnComfortable series??? Apparently once one has made up their mind on an issue it is not advisable to look at alternative view points, at least that is the impression Chris is leaving on me.

But that is really a side issue. The problem I'm having here is that the factioned body of Christ has missed sight of the fact that we all need one another.

We don't need clones and constant affirmation. How are we ever going to grow if all we get tickles our ears? I appreciate the Ray Comforts out there for the simple reason that he doesn't think like I do. Heck I'm even willing to bet God is big enough to work powerfully through Ray's flawed theology to do some good in the world. But, and this is a big but. All of us, even Ray, could do much better.

Recently I was given some articles critical of my denomination, the Vineyard. At first I was a bit ticked, but then I decided to scan them. I heard in them the voice of someone hurt by Vineyards and struggling to articulate what he sees as reals pitfalls. If this is true then is it not worth engaging? So I emailed this fellow and we've begun a dialogue. Does this mean I love my Vineyard less? No, I want what is best for my denomination and that means learning even from those we might be tempted to call our enemies. We have a long standing tradition of not responding to criticism in the Vineyard, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't consider that criticism doesn't come out of nowhere.

I love the ecumenical school where I study. I need those voices. I need the Catholics with their sacramentality. I need the Anglicans with their passion for concensus and unity. I need the Pentecostals with their passion for the Holy Spirit. I need the Anabaptists with their passion for peace and justice. I need the Orthodox with their committment to mystery. I need the Comfortians for their zeal for evangelism. I need the whole Church. That doesn't mean I'm like the whole Church. I'm definitely unique. But that is why the rest of the Church needs me too.

So if Ray makes you comfortable or uncomfortable, I pray that either case will propel you to think deeper about your faith and how you live it. The examined life is definitely worth living!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

[THO] Communication via the Internet

Communication in the electronic age can be quite challenging. Tools like the internet have allowed us to have more communication to more people, but has this really been helpful? I enjoy blogging, email and various forums. When you are conveying flat facts and academic topics this is a wonderful medium. But we are essentially social beings - it is much harder to do community on the web simply because of the drawbacks to e-communication.

1) E-Communication lacks an emotional connection. A lot has to be said for not seeing the face of the person you are talking about. When we can't connect at a visual level we lose a whole dimension to communication. How many of us have experienced the frustration of being completely misunderstood through email. The problem is twofold. Because when we type out the message we actually express with our faces to the unresponsive computer screen. So when we are misunderstood our prejudice is that we effecively communicated. We need to see each other in real-time to capture that whole non-verbal dimension.

2) E-Communication allows for a false anonymity. Because there is a buffer between commucators it is too easy to forget that you are communicating with people. People who have the same potential for frustration, anger and poor communication that you do. Being a fan of online forums (since FidoNet actually) it is common to see misunderstandings escalate into veritable flame wars. As one who has participated in such conversations as both the voice of reason and the unreasonable voice, I know how easy it is to feel like you are fighting a machine or worse being treated like you are a machine.

3) E-Communication is too easy. This is both boon and bane. The fact that I can email my friends and organize a get together is incredibly easy and convenient. That I can post discourses like this on my blog and engage with a community interested in exploring the same thoughts, is incredible. But how much does e-communication erode our social skills? I've been trying to find ways to build real community on the Internet, and the more I try the more I realize the incredible challenge that this is.

Where I find this issue of ease most stark is in my role playing communities. I play pencil and paper role playing games with a couple groups of friends. When new folks come in there is a awkward, but necessary, integration period. The group gets to know each other. But our common bond of the game makes us want to do this. These groups work best with smaller numbers (8 or less in my experience is best) and so you can develop some really amazing community that way. In the latest group I've joined I feel, finally, like I'm through that initial awkward stage and that I'm starting to get to know these guys a bit. We are starting to have some more meaningful dialogue as well as a heck of a lot of fun trapsing around a dungeon chasing dragons. But it takes work. It takes some effort to open up and join in to what the community is doing together (which is telling a story in which we are the main characters). In the online versions it is too easy to connect to a multitude of folks and think that you have community, but when it comes down to it these are just other players who don't want to do the work that real community takes. It is an illusion of community. In my established gaming group most of the guys who've been gaming with us for a year or more have become better and better friends. In fact in some cases our families have connected significantly. It extends well beyond the game.

It is too easy to abandon the so-called friends we make online when it involves breaking out of the virtual realm. We can make new 'friends' online. But in person-to-person community it is hard to ignore the request for help (often unspoken). (I should note that the same phenomenon occurs in large impersonal groups, but that is another post).

My main concern is that we are becoming so used to e-communication that we are learning to accept these limitations as the status quo. When we do this we impoverish communication as a whole. I am not advocating abandonment of technology, but rather recognition of these limitations. Recognition will achieve two goals, first it will help us treasure what we have in person-to-person communication and second it will spur on the search for innovative ways to overcome these limitations and improve the advance in communication (audience and ease) that technology has given us.

* Note: Scott Smith is the person who I first remember talking through these ideas, I owe a debt to him for the thinking in this post. Thanks Scott (NeoInsight).