Sunday, October 28, 2007

[THO] The Corporate Church

I get a few different ministry newsletters that point me to web articles, often of dubiuos quality. But occasionally a topic catches my attention. Today I was directed to a short little list on the difference between Corporate Strategy and Ecclesial Strategy, I think it is worth perusing. It is also one of my frustrations with modern ecclesiology and I'm not sure that we can just blame an incorporation of corporate methodology. There is a deeper psychosis at work in the Church, an inward turning that has left it with a diminished witness in the world. The corporate methodologies only strengthened a trend that was already present in the Church.

The core of this is an inward turning of the Church. We have reigned so long that our self-importance has left us unable to cope with any other reality. So we bolster the structures that protect our identity at an organizational level at the expense of the people who are the true Church. Theologically this is rooted in a false equation of the Church with the Kingdom of God. But it lives in a fearful protectionist stance towards the encroaching secular reality of the world we live in.

What the world needs is not a starkly isolated and corporately driven, albeit slickly organized, Church. What it needs is a people in the world, yet not of the world. What the world needs is a Church that is struggling with the reality of this world, just like everyone else, and crafting hope wherever she finds herself. There is a lot I can agree with on Mattera's short list, but a lot of it needs to be properly unpacked and meditated on.

Friday, October 26, 2007

[THO] The Religious Experience

While I might throw out terms like post-charismatic, I am very comfortable in the charismatic world. At least experientially. However, I do have some reservations about the way that charismatics understand their experiences with the Holy Spirit. I am convinced that we charismatics could actually do things in a lot healthier ways.

Let me qualify that just a bit. People get hurt because of the ways that charismatics, and I've been just as guilty as the next charismatic, approach their spirituality. Yet, the temptation is to get so wrapped up and overwhelmed by the event that we miss what God really wants to do. So to that end I propose a few considerations about the religious experience we charismatics like to call the gifts of the Spirit.


The first thing that we need to insist, and to this task I would call all charismatic leaders of integrity, is that of recognizing that we only have access to the experience of God by the human. That is when we experience God's presence we can only describe and understand that experience through our own capacities. More harm has been done by well meaning folks who think they have a direct and unmediated understanding of the experience of God. Really understanding what happened takes time and reflection. In fact I would insist it takes a Church because no word of prophecy is of private interpretation. Too often we want to claim the upper ground because we fear invalidating the experience. But the reality is God has asked us to test all prophecy, so to do less is to dishonour God's intent. The experience comes as a grace (and we love it) but it also demands reflection, humility and community to be of real value.

I am always reminded that first Corinthians was written to correct us. A little more reflection and we might find that Paul is right.

God's Purpose in Visiting Us

We should begin our reflection with a question - what is God saying to us through this experience? I've seen too many charismatic junkies running from fix to fix and never pausing to ask why. John White (When the Spirit Comes With Power) reminds us that we are psychological beings, and that we can live in a Pavlovian experience where we react in a pre-determined way whenever the Spirit shows up. At some point our response just serves to deaden us to the voice and intent of God. I remember the first person to tell this Pentecostal to stop speaking in toungues (the usual reaction to being prayed for) and just listen to what God was saying. I was offended, but I now know that person did me an immense favour. I would say that if you always react the same way when the Spirit comes then you need to look for real fruit, if you don't see it then stop and start listening to God. God is more interested in what is going on within us, that is converting us to the mind of Christ, than what is going on externally.

For the Church

The gifts of the Spirit are for the Church. This is so important. If something is disrupting the service then stop it. If something is happening, then share it. The fruit to look for are unity, peace, healing, forgiveness, liberty and joy. I'm not saying shut down things just because someone doesn't like the way it is going, but for heaven's sake if there is confusion then look for clarity. Don't ignore their frustration, ask the folks manifesting what God is doing. If it isn't God then it will likely put a stop to grandstanding, and if it is God then that clarity will bless the Church. But don't stop there either. Take that and reflect, search as a community for what God is calling you to through this. Too often we think that this is just a personal experience - Paul's correction was to tell us that God is not that selfish, the gifts are for the Church.

For the World

The gifts are also for the world. God shows up because God still loves this world. When we miss this we turn into a pathetic bless me club. If the visitation doesn't send you out into the world with good news. Then quesiton it. Seriously. Good news, we've talked about here a lot, it is more than just telling others to come get drunk in the Spirit in some hedonistic festival. It is to love mercy, do justice and walk humbly with God. This is exactly what the world is looking for. This is exactly what God wants for the world. So when the visitation leads us elsewhere - we need to really quesiton if it is God who is visiting, or at least if we are really listening to what God is saying in the visitation.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

[LIF] A Bit About My Programme

Now that I'm well into my programme it might be interesting to give you a bit of a snapshot of what I am doing. I have three classes and a seminar this semester, all of them quite intense.

I like least the Biblical Interpretation course, not because the subject matter isn't interesting, a history of Biblical Interpretation is awesome. But the class is in french which makes it exhausting. We are looking at Origen. Honestly I don't find much difference in this course than the undergrad Biblical studies courses I have done. I could not say that about the other courses though.

The Master's Seminar, which is new to the programme, combines a course in theological methodology (the next section) and a way of preparing with each other for our research project. That has been good and we are all pretty well narrowed in our topics (and we all have directors now). I started out with an idea to open a dialogue between the Evangelical church and the Emerging church on the issue of social engagement, but I am doing a much smaller slice of that now. The goal is to become a local expert on your topic so hopefully at some point I will be able to teach on the contemporary Emerging church. Fun stuff.

My other two courses have a lot of overlap. One is a reading course on Religious Experience and the other is a course on Spirituality and the Human Sciences. Both are heavy reading, but very rich. I'm just finishing up Transcendant Experiences by Louis Roy and am going to start Helmeniak's The Human Core of Spirituality. In the course of studying religious experience I've been spinning off and looking at some of the spiritual expressions from my own traditions (Pentecostal and Charismatic). I've been able to bring some dialogue with this material and the ecstatic experiences of the Toronto Blessing as well as the Asuza Street Revival. That has been very interesting, I get to design a course on Religious Experience as part of the reading course, so I'll definitely have a section on the psychology and theology of ecstatic experiences. One of the things I've come to realize is that we don't process those experiences well. I'll have to unpack that in a later post, maybe when I'm more awake.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

[LIF] Progress

I now have a working outline to direct my research. That means I can more readily filter the material I am diving into. I'm really excited to pour into some of the books I've been collecting in anticipation of this project. I'll finish up Mark Noll and then go right to Grenz's primer on postmodernity, a book I've wanted to read for quite a while now. Then I'll finally get to McLaren's new book.

My undergrad convocation is tomorrow. My parents couldn't get away so it is my dear wife and my wonderful mother-in-law who are coming to see me wear the robes. Christopher Plummer will be there getting an honourary degree, that should be interesting. I was told it is a long ceremony and the St. Paul grads (there are four of us this time) are up first! We do our convocation with Ottawa U. I'm going to have a book under my robes, shhhh don't tell anyone.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

[LIF] Resolving Tension

It is funny that I just finished (yesterday) a paper critiquing our human tendency to not live with unresolved tension (even if we just develop tactics to ignore the tensions) and yet I am overjoyed that the tension with my youngest daughter has been resolved - at least for now. We still meet with her principal and teacher Monday, but my girl apologized to the bus driver already. Thanks for the prayers all.

Friday, October 12, 2007

[LIF] Parenting Heartaches

My youngest is misbehaving on the bus. It is fairly serious in that if she gets kicked off the bus we have no way to get her to school and back. I had to punish her, gave her several dice (dice get put in a jar when one of the girls is bad and they have to work them off before they can have any playdates or watch any movies). I also made it clear that if she doesn't apologize to the bus driver, he's such a nice guy too and she just laughed at him when he tried to tell her to sit down, she will miss out on halloween.

Now the thing is after all that I absolutely feel like crap. I feel let down and disappointed. Chelsea can be very strong willed. We try to direct that knowing it is good to be strong in who your identity in this world. But strong willed is just the other side of the belligerant coin. Chelsea is only four which doesn't help.

Pray for us. Thanks.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

[LIF] Books!

It has been a while since I've posted my book purchases, fear not they are aplenty. Here are a few highlights.

The Craft of Research (Booth, Colomb and Williams) - Man I wish I had had this book years ago! Some great insights into the whole writing process. If you are just starting out in studies this book will be a great boon to your work and get you up and running in no time.

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Noll) - I'm a Noll fan. I have a feeling that this book will be a great springboard for my studies this year. BTW Kenny reviewed this one already. [EDIT: Kenny actually reviews Ron Sider's Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, not Noll's book. But that review is where I heard of Noll's book in the first place. It was a while ago that I read it.]

Spirituality and Society: Postmodern Visions (Griffin ed) - I've started this and am considering some more from this series. The essays are excellent and postmodernity is the issue of our time. Griffin is a reconstructionist thinker.

Everything Must Change (McLaren) - I've been waiting a while for this one. I have really appreciated McLaren over the years and this book is right on topic for my research project. Thanks Brian.

I bought a slew of emergent titles and have been reading the ones I already had on the shelves. My shelves, BTW, are bursting. I do thin out the herd from time to time, but I really like books, even books I strongly disagree with.

OK one more of note, and this is a really special one.

About the Fruit (Young) - A while back I reviewed MJ Young's _What Does God Expect?_ and as a way of saying thanks MJ sent me his latest. He even put a little note inside the front cover. It isn't a huge book but it looks like a great scriptural study. I like how careful MJ has been in the past, he has a lot of wisdom to share. Thanks Mark, I'll let you know when the review goes up. BTW my last name only have one 'm' :-)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

[THO] What are you saved from?

I might have asked this here before, it came up in a class again. We are so fond of using easy slogans to try and articulate our religious experiences, that is part of the process of mediation that we all go through. The problem is that these slogans don't often translate well outside of our communities. Now this would not be a problem if we reflected deeply on our slogans. What does it mean to be 'saved'? What does it mean to be 'born again'?

I readily admit to being a born again Christian and can easily articulate a further slew of slogans to back that up - of course it means that I was born spiritually when I gave my life to Jesus. But think about all the assumptions even in that explaination? What does it mean born spiritually? or even to give your life to Jesus? and further what is Jesus? It is not simple stuff. But it is worthwhile stuff. In fact it is so worthwhile that people have given their lives to understand (and often live out) even just one of those assumptions. Unfortunately the average believer does not reflect upon their slogans.

I want to encourage you to answer just this one: what are you saved from? What I want to do is keep prodding behind the answers to get at the real question to which 'saved' is an answer. If nothing else, I would love to encourage you to think deeply about your faith, because the deeper you reflect the more of a claim it will make on your life.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

[THO] Sacred Epistemology?

I'm getting much closer to having my research topic refined, I'm confident enough that I ordered a slew of books on topic. The refining is important because it will determine how I read those books. Should be fun though as most of the books are out of the Emerging Church. As I've been reflecting on the engagement of the Emergent church with postmodernity, and also on the response of the evangelical stalwarts like Carson and MacArthur, I'm wondering if we haven't mistaken our epistemology as sacred?

It is interesting that in the modernist revisions of Christianity there is an emphasis on faith being something reasonable. The modern church presents a primarily propositional gospel message, assent to these truth claims and you are in. But that sort of understanding does not get very far in postmodernity. In the postmodern mind those truth claims are also a created reality so they need to be brought into the matrix of community forming. The postmodern mind also doesn't expect faith to be reasonable, but rather uses a different criteria of authenticity.

Authenticity is different than truth. The way truth is used assumes that there is an unmediated communication of said truth and that there is a faithful encapsulation of that truth in the form of doctrine or dogma. But here is where most of the mainline evangelicals mess it up, they assume that to think anything else less about truth is less of a committment to truth, by that I mean what is truly true. It is not truth that is rejected, it is how we arrive at and appropriate truth that is at stake in the postmodern turn.

Here is where the disconnect of lived experience and creedal affirmation comes in. The great proponents of propositional truth have claimed to live according to truth, but really there are two types of truth operative: the truth we say we believe and the lives we truly live. What we live is what we really believe, no matter what we say we believe. So if you say it is wrong to steal, but you enjoy pirating videos, well the truth that is operative in you is not a simple proposition against theft, but rather a complex belief about degrees of theft and possibly a belief about what constitutes an apparently victemless crime. Now when you try and navigate to the true truth this gets messy. Which is why the need for a new category: authenticity.

Authenticity is a way of affirming a lived truth. To be real or authentic is to be in touch with the greyness of our lives. It is to recognize that each of us is embedded in systems and ideologies that are not helping the world, our community or even our selves. So you now have a generation that want to keep it real. This scares the crap out of those who are staunch defenders of the truth, not the least because this authenticity is messy and doesn't care about the old categories of truth that were so important to the modern revision of Christianity.

But here is the opportunity, and if you have been here a while you know that I see postmodernity as an incredible opportunity. In the past, when the lived life comes into focus we've fallen to systems of personal holiness to help us navigate the greyness of society. I think in the past these have been very beneficial to the church, although not always. But such efforts are based on propositional thinking and readings of the scriptures. This has to shift slightly for the postmodern setting.

Postmodernity is not only a call to authenticity, it is a recognition that the myth of progress has failed us. The world is screwed up and we are implicated strongly in the actions that have led us to this place. So those same passions for holiness can be used to call for deeper committment to an authenticity that leans into common good. Here is the opportunity we have to craft a hope filled generation. See the postmodern mind is concerned with truth, but it is just less picky how it arrives there. That is an incredible opportunity.