Saturday, December 27, 2008

Problems with Salvation Language

I've been reflecting a lot on how frustrating evangelical speak can be. There was a thread a while back on the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association's yahoo group that was dissecting the idea of "inviting Jesus into your heart". The consensus was that this is not a very helpful analogy. We love these quaint little sayings that actually say absolutely nothing. And we wonder why people outside of the evangelical world do not take us serious.

The one that really bugs me right now is the saying that God/Jesus "saves our souls". Think about that for a minute - what does it actually mean? After trying to tease some meaning out of that hopelessly Hellenistic slogan I had to conclude that unless one does a careful exposition of the concept of soul from scripture - this pretty much means God is only concerned with some disconnected part of me that can neither be proven or disproven, so is easily bifurcated from the tangible aspects of life. Let me explain.

Most Westerners think of soul as that part of us which lives on after death. I suspect that many think of it as a composite of our beings, sort of a seat of personality, but that is a much more lengthy study than I'm prepared to undertake in a blog post. The idea is that soul is related to heaven - it is what we rationally connect with an after-death experience. Death being the great bugbear against which a saved soul is the perfect ward - or is it. What it really boils down to is purely semantics, that is it is just words we use to comfort ourselves in the face of the inevitable unknown. If having my soul saved is nothing more than this then I think I'll pass. Fortunately, there is another way of approaching the soul issue.

In the Christian tradition the idea of resurrection should challenge Hellenistic notions of a separation of soul and body. Unfortunately this supposed separation has led to the vilification of the flesh, another thread for another time. But we must not be so quick to separate our realities, as if the body was just some disposable husk we can't wait to shirk off. This devaluation of the body has been employed to justify all kinds of injustice - slavery and human trafficking continue today because we can somehow commodify the body. In scripture soul and body are not so quickly isolated (if at all).

The second issue is that if Jesus came just to save an abstract part of our being, albeit one that seems quite important and possibly the animating aspect, then why incarnate? What model does condescending into bodily form produce? For Jesus it is all connected. Body, spirit, soul - however you want to slice it up, it is all met together in the person of Jesus. If it was only our souls then would not ecstatics suffice? In point of fact they do suffice for many and serve as convincing arguments for obscuring ones own hermeneutics.

The third issue is that if the soul is really our animating whole seat of personality - how can be excuse our bodily existence? How can we ever justify bodily actions that do not prove a change in our souls in the here and now? I guess this is what frustrates me most - that Christianity is reduced through popular images to a pie in the sky religion while the world goes to hell in a handbasket. That sort of Christianity is not worth participating in.

Not enough effort is given into the trite little sayings we Christians throw around. Less thought is given to the worldviews behind our sayings. When we do so we risk making God into a god of convenience and a god of escapism. Neither is the God who so loved the WORLD (COSMOS) that John's gospel speaks of. Let me quote a bit of proverbs by way of conclusion. Let me first affirm that God saves all of me(you) and that must mean everything or it means nothing at all.
Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.
Punish him with the rod
and save his soul from death.
My son, if your heart is wise,
then my heart will be glad;
my inmost being will rejoice
when your lips speak what is right.
Do not let your heart envy sinners,
but always be zealous for the fear of the LORD.
There is surely a future hope for you,
and your hope will not be cut off.
Listen, my son, and be wise,
and keep your heart on the right path. (Psalm 23:13-19, NIV)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Hope you all have a wonderful Christmas day! I just popped onto the computer to send off an email, then I'm back to playing with my kids. Santa found me and dropped of a wonderful dice bag that came with a bonus bottle of rye! Soooooo sweet.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

How I Relax

I just sorted out the state of my stamp collection, that is what albums have I actually put together to house the countries that I collect. While some of my collections are better than others, I do love putting my own personal touch on my collection. So for instance in my German collection I have several pages detailing both world wars as well as a section on hyperinflation. I incorporate philatelic pieces into these sections and it makes them a bit nicer than just stamps on a page. But there is nothing wrong with stamps on a page - especially the joy of filling a page with stamps! Here is what I have so far:

Canada - up to 2001 (when I got back into collecting) in really nice Unity albums (3), after that I collect the year sets from the post office. Also I have an album of provincial stamps.

Germany - a big album for German States, West Germany, early Germany and occupation stamps. I have a second album for East Germany (DDR) and another with Berlin, Saar and Danzig in it.

Great Britain - a big hand made album. I also have a second album for Machins. In other albums I have Ireland and the Channel Islands.

Apart from that, in various albums, I have:
Australian States
Brazil (some)
Ceylon (I only collect pre-Sri Lanka)
Hong Kong
India & States
Netherlands (Holland)
New Zealand
United States
Vatican City
Eventually I will add the rest of South America, possibly Central America and Austria. Now that I have a good handle on what is made up I can dive back into sorting. Oh such fun.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Tis the Season...

I have Internet again, yay! Even though I was off I did have a new cell phone with free internet for three months. Of course that is super slow, but it let me keep up with Facebook. I finished off my coursework with a truly delightful read of Russell Moore's "The Kingdom of Christ". He is quite careful until the second to last chapter, but even there it is a very worthwhile read. I highly recommend this to anyone who is interested in the development of evangelical theology in North America. His proposal of a growing consensus amongst evangelicals based on a tensional (now/not yet) understanding of the Kingdom of God is intriguing. The only unfortunate thing is that this is pretty much the book I would have written for my PhD dissertation! Ah, well I think I have some outs yet.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Cake

* 2 cups flour
* 1 stick butter
* 1 cup of water
* 1 tsp baking soda
* 1 cup of sugar
* 1 tsp salt
* 1 cup of brown sugar
* Lemon juice
* 4 large eggs
* Nuts
* 1 bottle wine
* 2 cups of dried fruit

Sample the wine to check quality. Take a large bowl, check the wine again. To be sure it is of the highest quality, pour one level cup and drink. Repeat. Turn on the electric mixer. Beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl. Add one teaspoon of sugar. Beat again. At this point it's best to make sure the wine is still OK. Try another cup... Just in case. Turn off the mixerer thingy. Break 2 eggs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit.

Pick the frigging fruit up off floor. Mix on the turner. If the fried druit gets stuck in the beaterers just pry it loose with a drewscriver. Sample the wine to check for tonsisticity. Next, sift two cups of salt. Or something. Check the wine. Now shift the lemon juice and strain your nuts. Add one table. Add a spoon of sugar, or some fink. Whatever you can find. Greash the oven. Turn the cake tin 360 degrees and try not to fall over. Don't forget to beat off the turner. Finally, throw the bowl through the window. Finish the wine and wipe counter with the cat.

Bingle Jells!

Thanks Gabe, I thought this was quite cute.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ugh. Still not Internet.

I'm at a hotspot, seems Sympatico will not have me up properly until the 18th!

I'll post something then.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

No Internet

Somehow Sympatico deleted my internet service??? Anyway, I'm back up now. Did you miss me?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Great Post and Sad News

I meant to post a link to this post yesterday, Drew often tackles issues that others avoid. I think he makes some interesting points about the way we use scripture, it is worth thinking through.


I got some really sad news today. The minister of my parent's church died suddenly today. He was with my dad at the time. I'm a bit shaken up. He was one of the good guys and it was just a few weeks ago that we had dinner together (in Truro). My prayers are with his wife and their children. I already miss him. I know my dad is really going to miss him too, they were really good friends.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Promise from Moltmann's Theology of Hope

I really enjoy this read. Moltmann is wonderfully engaging. If you haven't read any Moltmann - don't deprive yourself any longer. In Theology of Hope he builds a strong case for eschatology as the center of a Christian theology. Now, those of you who hear eschatology and start getting ruptured over the rapture - eschatology actually means last things and escapist notions like a rapture really don't cut it. His emphasis is that the 'not yet' opens up a future that is pregnant with possibility. Eschatology is about a particular view of history that is shaped by an understanding of God as revealed through promise. To get a handle on this Moltmann draws our several key ideas about promise from the First Testament:

  1. "A promise is a declaration which announces the coming of a reality that does not yet exist." (103)

  2. "The promise binds man to the future and gives him a sense of history." (103)

  3. "The history which is initiated and determined by promise does not consist in cyclic recurrence, but has a definite trend towards the promised and outstanding fulfilment." (103)

  4. "If the word is a word of promise, then that means that this word has not yet found a reality congruous with it, but that on the contrary it stands in contradition to the reality open to experience now and heretofore." (103)

  5. "The word of promise therefore always creates an interval of tension between the uttering and the redeeming of the promise." (104) I really like this point, it is exemplified in the tension of the Kingdom as both 'now' and 'not yet', but more on that in another post.

  6. "If they are God's promises, then God must also be regarded as the subject of their fulfilment." (104) God is not abstracted from the promises as a sort of deistic clockmaker god, yet at the same time this is not a fatalistic claim that God is the only actor in history. Earlier in the text Moltmann states clearly that our lives in this world are not adiaphorais, meaning having no good or bad effect on our world. Think tension and participation.

  7. "The peculiar character of the Old Testament promises can be seen in the fact that the promises were not liquidated by the history of Israel - neither by disappointment nor by fulfilment - but that on the contrary Israel's experience of history gave them a constantly new and wider interpretation." (104) That is "[t]he 'not yet' of expectation surpasses every fulfilment that is already taking place now." (106)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Exciting Timesin Canadian Politics

This topic is generating a tonne of heat over on facebook. I thought I'd throw it out here as well. As you can see I am for the coalition, in fact I am ecstatic the the Bloc Quebecois has decided to support this coalition - they are working harder for national unity than the Federalists??? Harper has to be on the way out and I think he can kiss goodbye any gains the Conservatives have made in Quebec. I find it so offensive his attacks on the Bloc. Why he can't own up to his own culpability in engineering his downfall, is simply beyond me. His penchant for bullying and US style politics led to the last election. And contrary to the little dream world he has concocted, he did not get a mandate to rule like he has a majority. He won a minority, that means Canada expects him to behave himself and cooperate for the good of the country. Obviously he is incapable of this.

I'm probably biased though - I can't say that I've ever really trusted Harper. I just thought with all the rhetoric about a more civil parliament he would have at least tried. Enough is enough and I say Harper has to go. Obviously I would rather see the Green party represented, but at this point if we have elected leaders willing to lead through cooperation then by all means we need to let them. That is why I support the Liberal-NDP coalition.

Jesus and Repentance

"John was known for his practice of baptism, which was understood as a sign of repentance (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3); but Jesus, according to John's emphatic note (4:2), did not practice baptism himself. This corresponds to a notable absence of instruction on the need for formal repentance, restitution and sacrifice. St Luke emphasises this especially. Zacchaeus offers restitution spontaneously, after Jesus has entered his house and not as a condition (19:18). When the Prodigal Son tries to deliver a speech of penitence, it is brushed aside (15:20-4). If there is, in Jesus' teaching, anything like a condition for being forgiven other than faith itself, it is, as we find St Matthew emphasising, forgiving others. And this is a condition only because it shows we have taken God's act of forgiveness seriously as a world-changing event which leaves no relations in the state that they were. On this understanding, however, it is clear that faith implies a change of life. Repentance is included in, rather than excluded by, the priority of faith."
-- Oliver O'Donovan, The Desire of the Nations, p.113-114.

Consider the implications, if this is a valid position, on our understandings of evangelism.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Interesting Vid on Evangelism

Found this on Scott Paeth's blog and it raises some important questions about strategies of evangelism. I wonder if our strategies have become way too important to us. If we are committed to seeing people come into relationship with God, then why does that have to look one specific way? It was suggested to me that the dirty little secret of evangelicalism is that we don't really like to evangelize. By that it was meant that evangelism is an often long and messy process with no guaranteed payoff. Strategies are an easy substitute and almost guarantee that if someone becomes part of your church they will have a lot of the same values you have already formed and intact - they won't rock the boat.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fun with Church Signs

I saw this sign on the way home from my own church service.

This church is notorious for signs that make me go, "huh?" This one got me thinking - what is it that Jesus doesn't. So I thought maybe you all could make some suggestions.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Very Important Video

Jamie had this posted. It is very worth watching.

In my experience 'stuff' is the most stressful aspect of my life. Would love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Be Not Afraid

"The lover of truth has no truer friend that an intelligent critic."
- Oliver O'Donovan

Saturday, November 22, 2008


In a recent conversation, over on facebook, my friend Cameron keeps invoking the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. I have been thinking about this. I know from discussions at Saint Paul that what actually constitutes this Magisterium is a bit of a debated topic. For instance there is the teaching office of the Bishops, but the concept of Magisterium includes other voices such as the Magisterium of the poor. The reality, as I understand it, is that this is not a concrete well defined body of teaching, but rather a charism possessed by the whole Church and brought to consciousness to lend weight to ecclesial decisions. Sort of like the tradition of pseudopigrapha in the writings of the early Church.

Regardless of how this charism is expressed, I am wondering if this is a useful concept. In the Protestant Evangelical world, the one with which I am most implicated, there is a resistance to a definitive body that imposes dogma on the rest of us. Yet, at the same time we can be some of the most dogmatic of Christians. I think the biggest roadblock to a Magisterium in the Prot-Evangelical world is our commitment to individualism and personal revelation. This is a debate for another thread, but it doesn't mean that a Magisterium is a bad thing, just not something that would readily fly for Prot-Evangelicals. Or would it?

There is a strong leader-follower mentality in the Prot-Evangelical world. This is most clearly seen in our Fundamentalist roots. Another way of naming it is cult of personality. In this model it is a few dominant voices, claiming unmediated access to revelation as support for their truth claims, who lead the majority of followers. There is little wrestling together for what might seem good to us and the Holy Spirit, rather it is presented as a propositional reality. At least in the idea (abstract as it is) of the Magisterium, there is an attempt to acknowledge this process. The Magisterium, as I understand it, is never a single individual and almost never a dominating subgroup. Although I think there are Roman Catholics who wish this were the case.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

Jim West's Desktop Challenge

I had to respond immediately. I call this one - My Girls. They are truly my inspiration. BTW can you tell where I'm posting this from?

Smells and Bells

I had a great time preaching at First United in Truro. I always feel a bit clumbsy when I am in a highly structured service, but someone had placed a huge quilt (one that is touring Canada) so that it obstructed view from the guest preacher's chair. I was happy to not be the centre of attention for the whole service. I couldn't have put together a better service - the music and prayers were all themes that have become so close to my heart: unity, justice and faithfulness. But two things overwhelmed me. First, this is the church I spent my youngest years in. I was shocked to realize how commanding a view the preacher (and choir) get of the balcony seats where I used to hide out - Doh! But more than that I was flooded with memories and the memories triggered smells (or maybe vice versa, but as it is a scent free (practice) church I'm not sure). I could smell the pine of the great Christmas trees that the young people always used to gather beside before being dismissed for the children's programmes. I could smell the wood of the pews that was an anchoring presence in my early life. I even met with the couple who'se house always made me think of a shade tree - and they still sparkled.

As we were greeting folks leaving the church, a number of ladies told me they had had me for Sunday school - I apologized to them all. But one lady actually thanked me for apologizing, she said I would never do anything I was told. But she was very proud of me, I could see that in her eyes. For me that was worth the whole trip.

Well I'm back to Ottawa today, and back to the daily grind of my studies. Oh, I called this Smells and Bells because they had a wonderful bell choir playing throughout the service, when I realized this I was thinking my daughter (my oldest came with me) would just love how beautiful they sounded. It was quite something.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

From Guest Lecture to Guest Speaker in Just One Week!

The lack of words here does not mean I've forgotten my regular readers. But merely that I have been busy. Yesterday I was guest lecturer at Saint Paul University. Prof. Heather Eaton is doing a course on Religion, Culture and Diversity and needed someone to tackle Evangelicalism. So I put together a lecture on contemporary Evangelical Identity. This included a look at the significant developments of Evangelical Identity in the 20th century - material from my masters work. But the big issue I wanted to cover was how the Evangelical self-identity creates barriers in academia. I found John Stackhouse's Evangelical Landscapes (especially "Why Can't Johnny Produce Christian Scholarship") especially helpful here. It seemed really well received.

I'm still putting my message together for this weekends anniversary celebration in Truro. Quite and eventful week for me.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Going Preaching

My mom sent me this blurb from their local newspaper. The worship committee of First United Church (Truro) has asked me to come and celebrate their 248th anniversary with them. I'm really excited.

My message will be called Honouring Our Journey, and I hope to encourage them to reflect on God's faithfulness as we travel through life by sharing a bit about my own journey. I am incredibly honoured to have been asked to speak at this church. I have a great deal of respect for Gordie the pastor there. However, I think they chose the wrong picture - wouldn't this glamour shot have been so much better.

Unfortunately this was taken much too late for the article. This is what PhD students do at their super secret seminars, or at least what they do when a classmate pulls out their crazy sunglasses at the end of the class!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Bad Posture

Went to see the doctor today. Seems years of sitting improperly in front of a laptop have taken their toll on my neck. I've had really bad neck pain for at least two years now. My wife was trying to scare me into seeing the doctor, she was worried I had done some serious damage, but the doctor gave me some exercises that he felt should help. I also need to think through my computer use habits (also my posture when reading is not so good). Habits are not easy to modify - I was trying to adjust just now on the computer and devolved into my usual slump with scary ease.

In other posture news, the markets are rallying today with the impending news of a new president to the South of us here in the Great White North. I am actually unimpressed with how much of a sense of importance my fellow Canadians are placing on this election as opposed to our own election. No I do not wish I could vote in the US election. I think it will be interesting to see how the Obamania pans out if he is elected tonight. I was saddened to hear of his Grandmother's passing though. Much as I'm unimpressed with national politics these days, I think this temporary optimism, sown in the markets, does not help with the realization that the world needs all of us to do our part if it is going to be a better place. I'm disturbed by any posture that surrenders that control to others in a sort of public fatalism. That is the posture that is really at the roots of our problems in North America. We are so self-absorbed and disconnected with a world that so desperately needs us - especially those of us who claim a religious orientation of hope.

If I do my exercises perhaps my pain will eventually give way to new muscular strength. Unless the world learns to exercise our public ability to act it will be more than our necks that are one the line. Something I'm thinking about.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Primer on Worship and Reformation (review)

This is the review I submitted to LibraryThing.

I did not know what to expect from Douglas Wilson’s little book, from the title “A Primer on Worship and Reformation: Recovering the High Church Puritan” I actually expected something more historical. Wilson has another agenda in mind. This book is an interesting look at Wilson’s experience of present day evangelical traditions, and as far as observations go, he makes some good ones.

The book begins with some observations about culture and evangelical Christianity, he is not covering new ground here, but he does adequately identify some of the significant challenges of our day. However, he does not stick with his analysis long enough. As Wilson moves to his judgement the language becomes one of manifesto – “we have to fight...” and “we need to see...”. This is not a proposal but a definitive answer to the issues of our time. The problem is that these are Wilson’s answers and he does not have enough critical distance from them to convince anyone but the already convinced. This is a common downfall in such literature.

Another point that troubles me is that this book despairs over other expressions (proposed solutions) within Christianity. The worst of this is the anti-Roman Catholic sentiment. I tried to look past that to see how Wilson validates his claims. But really this is just another call back to “fundamentals”, a proposal that has not worked very well in the past. Despite my disagreement with Wilson’s project, I do think this is a better offering in the genre of manifestos than typically comes out of Fundamentalist evangelical traditions. I think that he does identify issues worth wrestling with. And I think we would agree that the evangelical traditions are in need of reformation, however, we both offer quite different prescriptions to these traditions.

1.5 stars out of 5.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Gone Convocating!

Yup. Today I will be handed my Masters of Arts in Historic and Systematic Theology diploma. I'm leaving the house in just a few minutes. This has been a hard won degree. See you all on the other side!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Two Ends of the Scale

On one hand I am so excited that Fresh and Re:Fresh is about to be published. I'm also ecstatic that I have been asked to guest preach at the church I grew up in, it is their 248th anniversary service - what an honour. And this weekend is my masters convocation, what could be more satisfying than that? But at the same time I'm realizing just how burned out I am. I have been going full time for three years with barely a break and I was hoping that this semester would be a lot lighter than it is turning out to be. I have been putting off starting a new church group simply because I don't have the energy. It is not a fun realization.

It was a bit of a relief to actually admit to being burned out. But at the same time it is quite difficult knowing what to do about it. I know I need rest, and in fact I've been escaping quite a bit more than is healthy (mostly into watching tv series on the internet) and I've had stress related neck pain for at least two years now (in the last year it has the tendency to migrate into my head with very painful results). But the worst thing is that I stopped being present to my friends and family in the way I used to. Last year I blamed it on the intense masters programme, but as I set out some goals around family time I am realizing that it is something much deeper. If it comes down to family or continuing studies, studies is not going to win. In fact Sharon would really like me to take off a semester and be a stay-at-home dad, not sure how that screws up my scholarships though? But after that last SSHRC session I think I have a fundable project.

On the happy side, it has been really nice to spend some quality time with the family. We spent Sunday afternoon at the McKenzie King Estate, the waterfall is dried up right now BTW. Elyssa is coming Down East with me when I preach at First United. She is so excited about going on an airplane. It will also be really nice to see some of my old friends. I took yesterday off and hung out with Sharon in the day, and my buddy Vince in the evening (Vince needed some help with his resume, it is looking quite spiffy now). I really don't have much to complain about in terms of family and friends - I'm really blessed in that department. For me it is making sure that the people who are most important to me are not lost in the midst of all my busyness.

Just a note about the book. I had the amazing opportunity to write the last chapter, just before Roxburg's (someone I really appreciate!) conclusion. The chapter is called Treasures in Clay Jars and it is the story of Freedom Vineyard in dialogue with Louis Barrett's distinctives of a missional church. This is an important book as it gives you a sense of what the Canadian emerging church is doing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It's My Party and I'll Cry It I Want To

With just shy of 1 million votes, that is 6.8% of the popular vote, my party failed to translate any of the really good contests into a single elected MPP. It was pretty disappointing watching the results last night. Especially when at one point the little ticker at the bottom of the screen reported on Green win and then it went away - robbed, I felt robbed. Locally my candidate didn't do so well, but it was going to be a hard slog against John Baird (conservative environment minister) and David Pratt (former Liberal defense minister). But I was hoping for more from high profile (and well spoken) Greens like Adriane Carr, Mark Nagy, Lori Gadzala, etc. or even Elisabeth May herself. My did pull a solid second place, but there also was no Liberal candidate in her riding?

I'm not happy with the gains the the Conservatives made. Obviously Newfoundland was a blow to them, but they won a solid minority. I shudder to think what that means for my country. The economic woes of our current moment turned out as a boon for the conservatives, I was afraid of that. People are afraid of change. We will have to brace ourselves as economics trumps justice to the detriment of our embattled planet and impoverished world.

What is odder to me is the apathy. Lowest turnout, that was expected, but the unwillingness to vote if you are not going to win is ridiculous. I really do not get this fatalistic approach to voting. Seriously, what do people expect? You get one vote, throwing in with who you think will win does what? Makes you feel like a winner? The worse option, refusing to vote, means you will get exactly what you don't vote for. But I think Harper counted on this. Why else would you set an election so close to Thanksgiving? A time when folks have other turkeys to deal with then an election. $290million dollars went into this travesty. Not voting is what makes this a waste of money - we had an opportunity to roast the real turkey but instead we re-elected him.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hey It's My Church Too!

The reality of the Christian Church is one of division and disconnection. You have your Roman Catholics, your Eastern Orthodox, your Evangelical Protestants, your mainline Protestants, and a bazillion subdivisions in each of these. Yes, even the Roman Catholic church is a divided reality, they just have a great knack for keeping all the different fruits in one basket. (BTW I think baskets of fruit look purdy.) So this is the reality of the situation and there are a lot of folks passionate about bringing it all back together - if only so-and-so would change this little distinctive, uh well you get what I mean.

Unity (aka ecumenism) is an interesting problem for the Church. We love our distinctives. I for one am not willing to abide a patriarchal hierarchy such as our Roman kin enjoy. And I'm convinced that I shouldn't have to - both by my reading of scripture, my experience and my study of history. Flattening the distinctives of our movements into some sort of lowest common denominator or worse into a Darwinian loss of the weaker movements is not the way to unity. Unity is not something enforced but something embraced.

Unity begins with embracing that we all share a common starting point, despite our differences. One might be tempted to define this dogmatically, rooting it in a creedal formula, but I envision something a bit more unifying - history. We share a history - no matter where our movement took shape in this history, we all (as Christians) start with the experience of the primitive Church that told the stories of Jesus. That history belongs to every one of us who claim the name Christian - no matter what objections we have to what they've done with their heritage.

Unity continues to flourish when we begin to revel in diversity. If Social Trinitarianism has taught us anything it is that unity is only achievable in diversity (the other option is really totalitarianism). Diversity is helpful because it allows us to see the strengths and weaknesses of our own tradition/movements through the strengths and weaknesses of others. Iron sharpens iron is the proverb that comes to mind. Difference is the only thing that highlights our own uniqueness. Diversity is a prerequisite for robust life.

Unity results in strength. All that fundamentalism ever does is build polemics. It is a tiring defensive posture that has, frankly, eroded the public confidence in Christianity. It doesn't preserve, rather it stagnates. It can only end by turning in towards itself until it has no friends, a sad state I've witnessed over and over again. That is not strength, that is weakness.

Strength comes from knowing what and who you are. That we bring ourselves, unique and confident, into the diversity that is unity. That each of us makes up a part of the people of God, we identify with the Church as being our Church. This strength is the path of restoration of our place in the world as ones who speak for the poor, the lonely and the outcast. It is when the Church is united like this that we will once again be relevant to the world that God so loved.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Great Tool!

My director was encouraging me to make sure I managed my time well, academic work at the graduate level is highly self-directed. The reason it takes folks so long to complete is because they do not manage their time well. Life is always busy, the academic work usually gets relegated to the bottom of the pile. I'm completely guilty of this, and it has been a great source of frustration for me. So I sat down with my loving wife and we hammered out a schedule which averages me 32 hours/week for school. It also helps me know when I have time for cleaning, making meals, loving on my family, pastoring Freedom, etc.

Having a schedule is all fine and good, but I need a way to keep on target, see what items are left to complete, and be able to estimate when I can complete tasks (within my 32 hour framework). Having done a bit of project management I could make this way more complicated than it needs to be, but rather than that I decided to find a tool that will let me track my time on specific tasks. As a student my preference would be for something free! I found it in a programme called ToDoList.

ToDoList lets you organize and time your activities. You can set due dates to manage your time and prioritize your items. At least that is how I am using it. If you get it spend some time figuring out the interface and then make your list, it will be time worth spending (there are manuals but manuals are for when you really screw things up, right?) Here is what I do:

  • Divided my reading course into texts I need to read, grouped by papers I need to write. More granularity means that I can track how long I spent on each task.
  • I then ordered them, set the priorities and checked off the books I have already read. This tells me how much of the project (%) is complete. Progress is always encouraging.
  • I am very interested in what types of reading are more time intensive. This will really help me in the future when choosing books to prepare for courses - I can make sure the more time intensive ones get read early. This is easy to do, click on task and then the little clock icon - when you stop click the icon again, the clock can be started and restarted as much as is needed.

Give it a try.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Quote to go with the Last Post

"In a sense, "political theology" is a pleonasm; any theology, no mater[sic] what the subfield, no matter what the topic being treated, must be political. It must attend to the way that the Christian message has been privatized and has thereby lost much of its meaning and relevance. It must reckon with the forward-looking character of human experience, particularly in modernity. It must grapple constructively with the ways that the "understanding" that is operative in the classic definition of theology as "faith seeking understanding" is tacitly or explicitly shaped by our current social-historical context (that is, by "praxis"). It must show that and how Christian hope is not inimical to human longings (or, to quote Guadium et Spes, the joys, hopes, griefs, and anxieties of modern men and women), but their most profound fulfillment."
- J. Matthew Ashley in the Introduction to Faith in History and Society (Metz), 17.


Is salvation located as a process in history or as something completely transcendent from history? If it is only about an eternal destination external from history then we might as well sit this one out and wait for the real deal. Good luck with that. But if it is embedded in history, redemptively embracing the suffering of this world as the incarnational appearance of Christ suggests, then our action in history takes on a whole world of meaning. We are either participants in God's redemptive passion for this world, or we are opponents of what God is doing. When we take history seriously, then we are doing political theology.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Failure of The Capitalist Dream

"Individualism is thus not respect for the individuated being of the free person, but simply the human unrelatedness of men and women when organized solely in terms of economic competition."
- Charles Davis, Theology and Political Society, p.178-9

I had a friend ask me some questions about communism recently. We need to be careful to distinguish between Marxism and communism, as Davis points out Marx was also critical of communism that was not intellectually engaged in its efforts to emancipate humanity (Davis, 132). Certainly communism has failed as a project. But just as certainly capitalism has also failed. One needs only take a deep breath of the panic that is engulphing the world to realize our advanced society has an Achilles heal, one that Marx was able to see clearly. We no longer own our own efforts in this world (a dream that was supposed to provide us with even more leisure - but tell that to families managing more than 2 jobs while strangers look after their kids!), we all work for "the man". And while "the man" gets richer, we become less, not more, free. Davis hits it right on the head - we aren't freer, we are more disconnected and meaningless. Something to think about.

Sign on the Lawn

I was raised with no sign on the lawn, in fact politics was something you kept private. It would be unthinkable for my parents to discuss their voting choices let alone stick a sign on their front lawn. And while it has been a few years since I've realized that political discussion is healthy and good, and should be done openly, I've always wanted to, but resisted, putting up a sign on my front lawn. Not anymore.

This year I am proud to display my green disposition.

Now let me be clear, I would never think to tell my congregants or even the readers of my blog how to vote. But I'm sure going to tell you that I think you need to vote. I arrived at my choice through deep personal convictions regarding social justice, ecology and inclusion. For me that is embodied in the Green Party. But I have a lot of respect for folks who have been led by similar convictions to choose other parties to support.

What is really interesting to me is how good it makes me feel to be upfront about my political convictions. Partly because I'm doing politics where I think politics really needs to happen - right in the public space.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Healthy Doubting

Recently my daughter became aware of the differences between Muslims and Christians (one of her best friends is an Egyptian Muslim boy). So she used to ask her friends if they believed in Jesus, of course Ahmed, the boy, said yes. In fact he was convinced all Egyptians believed in Jesus (I won't tackle that one or his declaration one day that God gets angry with us if we eat pork). So in order to discriminate she started asking her friends if they were Christians. One of her friends was curious about that, so I love the respect Elyssa showed when she asked that girl to ask her parents if they minded her sharing about Jesus. But I loved even more her approach to sharing Jesus. Once she got to tell her friend about Jesus she relayed the story to her mom. One of the things Elyssa shared was sometimes she wondered if the Jesus and God were just something the devil made up.

Now at first that was incredibly funny (and still is). But I also think it is quite profound. She has been hanging out with some more fundamentalist Christians at a kids club, and we've had many deep conversations. I encourage questioning, I think it is very healthy. I also am greatly encouraged that she does not feel obliged not to doubt! Doubting is very natural and even reasonable. Especially in light of the injustice of this world. One has to be quite callous to not suspect God is a rich man's invention when you witness the abject poverty experienced throughout much of the world. The question of theodicy, or how can God and evil co-exist, is the fuel for much of the best theology in our time. And well it should be.

Doubt should lead us to wrestle. What do we know that we know? Doubt is the tool that most adequately reveals true faith. Doubt peels away the layers of surity we use to insulate the fragile core of our faith. I find that evangelicals, in particular, do not deal well with unsurity. But an honest assessment of life reveals contradiction, injustice and suffering. To pretend otherwise does not strengthen our faith any more than believing through sheer force of will. Folks who dismiss doubt are not interested in truth, they are interested in self-security which they are convinced only surity can bring. Those are the folks who have the most to lose when their faith is challenged.

Doubt does not mean giving up your faith, but recognizing that faith is what calls us to conversion. Conversion is not about repentance (although repentance is often the fruit of conversion) but rather about changing the way we understand life. Conversion is the beginning that we continually return to, like Job whose view of humanity is forever altered when he names his new daughters. Conversion is prompted by the need exposed by doubt, especially when doubt raises a cry for hope in the real core faith of ones heart. Doubt is the friend of faith as much as surity is faith's enemy.

Last night at supper Elyssa was keen to offer up her prayer of thanksgiving for the meal. Her prayer was filled with both faith and questions, she asked God to reveal if Noah was a real person, because she "really wants to know." Her maturing faith delights me all the time.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How the Conservatives See the Arts

Michel had this posted on his blog, worth watching. Not with the kids around though - it is a very frank video.

Worst Preacher is Crowned

Scott knows a thing or two about competition sports. Yesterday he wrapped up the Worst Preacher Ever contest and crowned the winner: Benny Hinn! Yup, the guy who convinced me that faith healers should focus on healing and just shut their mouths has emerged victorious. Not without stiff competition either. Benny faced the horrid and heretical preaching styles of Joel Osteen, Jack van Impe, Pat Robertson and even Todd Bentley. Yet, none of these could stand up the the sheer magnitude of aweful preaching that is Benny's legacy.

Congrats Benny! Wear your crown with pride.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Baum on Doctrinal Development

Baum insists that in every generation evil changes (p.188). How the church responds in each moment is both a testimony to the creativity of the gospel and our resistance to upsetting the status quo. In any event Baum provides some real food for thought.

What I am proposing here is, in traditional theological terms, a theory of doctrinal development. It is of great theological importance to insist that such a development is never simply an adaptation to a new cultural consciousness or to new social conditions of life, but is or ought to be, at the same time, a creative response to the sinful world. Theologians dealing with the development of doctrine often neglect this second aspect. For this reason, they either restrict doctrinal development to logical or psychological deductions from previously held doctrinal formulations, or understand it simply as a translation of the Christian message into a new cultural consciousness. Gregory Baum, Religion and Alienation, p.189.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Baum on Idolatry

For if idolatry be understood as the absolutizing of the finite and the elevating of a part to be the ultimate measure of the whole, then the Church's unmitigated claim to absolute truth and ultimate authority becomes problematic. From the biblical point of view, the Church itself could become an idol. Church doctrine and ecclesiastical authority promote idolatrous trends in religion whenever these institutions no longer present themselves as serving the divine Word and as mediating a divine mystery that transcends them; the Church becomes an idol whenever it identifies itself with the kingdom of God. The Church is tempted by idolatry when it wants to multiply the absolutes and regard its teaching and its hierarchy as the ultimate norms for judging all forms of Christian life and faith.
---Gregory Baum, Religion and Alienation, 64.

I have been thinking a lot about the need to gain critical distance from our religion in order to understand who we stand with/for. BTW this is a very fine book by Baum.

How Paradigms of Theology Function

I have been reviewing an undergrad course I took on Liberation Theology and came across this nifty little chart. I'm pretty sure these come from someone, but I didn't note who. There are some good insights into methodological biases here, but I'm also cautious as to the potential to caricature theological paradigms - theology is rarely this neat. However, there are good starting points here.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Congress 2009 - Carleton University

I took on the role of local arrangements coordinator (LAC) for the Canadian Theological Society (CTS) at the upcoming Congress 2009. Congress 2009 is the Canadian Congress for Humanities and Social Sciences, and will be held at Carleton University late May. Today I gathered with Carlton staff, LACs and Programme Coordinators (PCs) from the various societies meeting at the coming Congress. We were treated to a very nice buffet, a foretaste of the catering to be sure. And it seems like a fairly well organized event. Of course I was one of the few not in at least dress casual, when will I learn. But no one seemed to mind. And my buddy Peter (also doing a PhD at Saint Paul) is LAC for the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association (CETA).

I know, you are wondering why I didn't go rep for that one. Well, I only became aware of it after accepting the responsibility for the CTS. I'm definitely going to check out the CETA, in fact I might submit a paper for consideration - not sure if I can do both the LAC duties and get a chance to present, but I'll find out soon enough. My good friend Kat (also a PhD student at Saint Paul) was supposed to do my job, but wasn't sure about her springtime plans, so it fell to me. I'm happy to do this, it will be really helpful on my academic resume, but it looks like a lot more work than she first told me.

I almost didn't make it. Yesteday Chelsea power-puked (she is the fruit of my loins) all over the backseat of our Vue. Yuck. So I had a sick girl and Sharon was working. But Sharon found someone to work the second half of her shift so I could attend the planning meeting. But in the meantime I've gotten zero work done for my course. But I did help a dear friend with his dad's stamp collection and had a great chat with the primate for the Independent Old Catholic Church of America, who happens to also be a local stamp auction guy. He's a lot of fun, and was terribly interested in Freedom's Eucharistic journey. I got the sense he would be more comfortable if I were ordained in some way akin to the orthodox tradition, but whatever. My ordination doesn't come from or through man, but through the call of God on my life and the recognition of the body I serve. As we pray in the Eucharist, it is at Christ's command we celebrate. But George is a lot of fun to chat with, he definitely loves Jesus.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Emerging Church?

Scot McKnight has some great thoughts on the state of what is often called the emerging church. Kenny point this out over on the Resonate forum. I love Scot's acknowledgment that he doesn't need the term emerging to describe what is happening in the church today. Really that is what emerging is trying to label - something is happening, like it or not, and it is easier to deal with a label, to which we can attach definition(s), than just to say "there is something happening."

I know all too well how hard it is to speak with precision about the things that are emerging at the edges of the evangelical church. To make matters worse, other folks like Bruce Sanguin, are also using this same term to name what is happening in other parts of the Body of Christ. When I did my work I had to settle, that is land, somewhere that I was comfortable with and I knew would capture the folks I was concerned with investigating. If I didn't do that I could only go broad and never really go deep into what is making the folks I investigated tick.

I also hear the complaint that evangelism is not the highest priority of the emerging or missional groups. I think this is both true and not true. First off, in this disperate group there are some who are very committed to, even traditional, forms of evangelism. I know that is true of our congregation, although we tend to stay away from confrontational modes, favouring deliberate relational paradigms of evangelism. But when you read broadly from the emerging churches that actually contribute to emerging church literature (I'm convinced some of the best efforts are not even on the map, they are too busy doing the stuff to write about it or self-promote!) there seem to be bigger fish to fry. That makes sense, if this is really a movement to bring at least a part of the church into the post-modern present. I think that these are also very worthwhile contributions to the whole church, especially the challenges to the so-called sacred-secular split. But if you want to hear my arguments on that you have to wait for my paper.

I've become more and more comfortable with the term emerging. In fact I like that it puts off some people. I don't want them comfortably resolving my comments into something that fits their tight little categories. I want a sense of tension. The funny thing is I don't get that outside of the evangelicals. In fact my more mainline friends are quite interested in what it going on at the edges - and I think eager to have a dialogue partner that has the energy of the evangelical church without the head-up-assedness of the evangelical church that sees everyone else as an enemy of the faith.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Politics and Theology

Rudolf Siebert movingly recounts the death of his wife Margie in From Critical Theory to Critical Political Theology. There is a temptation to skim through this painful recounting, but in taking Siebert's earlier advice that this is foundational to his discussion of theodicy, I endured the discomfort. I am reminded of the discomfort many of the hearers of Jesus' words would have felt, something alien to us who want to reconcile and make things like Jesus' proposal of a "good shepherd" nice. Not wanting to face the outrage of such a suggestion, especially towards those who actually were good shepherds. It is with that discomfort that Siebert's funeral sermon hits home. In describing their theological contribution he has this to say:

In our critical, political theology, we never neutralized the prophetic or the Messianic element in Judaism or in Christianity. We did not privatize religion. Our faith did not only consist in the task of saving our individual souls. Our faith was and is eschatological, Messianic, and apocalyptic. Most of all, our faith was, and is, witnessing and confessing communicative action: and this also poitical praxis, whenever and whereever that is possible. We had learned from Max Horkheimer and Theodor, W. Adorno: Politics wihtout theology is mere business! (p.102)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Little Gutiérrez to Ponder

Man is saved if he opens himself to God and to others, even if he is not clearly aware that he is doing so. This is valid for Christians and non-Christians alike - for all people.... Human existence, in the last instance, is nothing but a yes or no to the Lord: 'Men already partly accept communion with God, although they do not explicitely confess Christ as their Lord, insofar as they are moved by grace, sometimes secretly, to renounce their selfishness.... They reject union with God insofar as they turn away from the building up of this world, do not open themselves to others, and culpably withdraw into themselves.'
quoted in Margaret Campbell's Critical Theory and Liberation Theology, p.63.

Despite the non-inclusive langauge I really liked this quote. I tried to find it in my copy of A Theology of Liberation, but I think the one she used is much older. Perhaps I'm just too tired. Her book is definitely a thesis, so it is well laid out and actually quite well written. It gave me a taste of Critical Theory and now I'm reading Rudolf Siebert's (a student of Peukert) From Critical Theory to Critical Political Theology. I'll probably follow that up with an article or two from the Blackwell Companion to Political Theology (I'm really enjoying that one) and then move onto Charles Davis. It is very stimulating reading.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Critical Theory - the preliminaries

In my directed reading course we divided the texts into four groupings: Ideological criticism, Christological, Biblical, and Eschatological (Kingdom). These groups represent attempts to develop a theology of praxis from various starting points. My initial observation is that many evangelicals want to start with the Bible to do develop their theology. There is a problem with the Bible as the starting point, namely "who's reading of the Bible are you going to use?" However, as an evangelical I also feel that there needs to be a committement to the Bible in the process of building a theology of praxis. I'm going to start with the notion that it is not the reading that is primary, but the context in which that reading is being done. This is James Cochrane's proposition in Circles of Dignity (an excellent read BTW). The thing is we do this anyway. We read in a context. We look, especially those of us from a preaching tradition, for application of the texts we read. This is the process of developing what Schreiter calls a 'local theology' (Cochrane calls it an incipient theology). By taking this process of local theology construction seroiusly, we can begin to develop context appropriate ways of reading the Bible to construct a theology of praxis. At least that is my initial intuition, I'll probably adjust it as I look back at my own assumptions, especially concerning the context in which I read the Bible.

If the Bible is the definitive authority for faith and life, as many of us evangelicals claim it is, then the onus is on us to pay close attention to how we read and employ the Bible in seeking to understand our faith committment to this world.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Almost Final List

I've been working hard on that list and this is what I am proposing to my director tomorrow. This has been a fun exercise, but I could use a few more days. Deadlines are good too though. I wanted to keep it to 20 books as some of these are monsters and I'm probably reading them all at least twice! This is from my worldcat list (pomorev is my handle there):
  • Baum, Gregory. Religion and Alienation: A Theological Reading of Sociology. New York: Paulist Press, 1975.

  • Bevans, Stephen B. Models of Contextual Theology. Faith and cultures series. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2002.

  • Campbell, Margaret M. Critical Theory and Liberation Theology: A Comparison of the Initial Work of Jürgen Habermas and Gustavo Gutierrez. New York: P. Lang, 1999.

  • Cobb, John B. Christ in a Pluralistic Age. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999.

  • Grenz, Stanley J. Renewing the Center: Evangelical Theology in a Post-Theological Era. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2006.

  • Guder, Darrell L., and Lois Barrett. Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America. The Gospel and our culture series. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub, 1998.

  • Hall, Douglas John. The Cross in Our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

  • Herzog, William R. Parables As Subversive Speech: Jesus As Pedagogue of the Oppressed. Louisville, Ky: Wstminster/John Knox Press, 1994.

  • Johnston, Robert K. The Use of the Bible in Theology/Evangelical Options. Eugene, Or: Wipf and Stock, 1997.

  • Metz, Johannes Baptist, and James Matthew Ashley. Faith in History and Society: Toward a Practical Fundamental Theology. New York: Crossroad Pub. Co, 2007.

  • Moltmann, Jürgen. Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

  • Moore, Russell. The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2004.

  • Nolan, Albert. Jesus Before Christianity. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2001.

  • Schweitzer, Don, and Derek Simon. Intersecting Voices: Critical Theologies in a Land of Diversity. Ottawa: Novalis, 2004.

  • Scott, Peter, and William T. Cavanaugh. The Blackwell Companion to Political Theology. Blackwell companions to religion. Malden, Mass: Blackwell, 2007.

  • Siebert, Rudolf J., and Rudolf J. Siebert. From Critical Theory to Critical Political Theology: Personal Autonomy and Universal Solidarity. American university studies, v. 52. New York: P. Lang, 1994.

  • Volf, Miroslav. Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996.

  • Volf, Miroslav, and William H. Katerberg. The Future of Hope: Christian Tradition Amid Modernity and Postmodernity. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2004.

  • Yoder, John Howard. The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1994.

I'll let you know how I fare.

Friday, September 05, 2008

And It Begins

Met with Dr. Heather Eaton today to start setting up my directed reading course. It pretty much went as I expected. We set some goals including a paper which we plan on up to 10 revisions (basically something I can turn around and submit for publication). I need to determine about four academic journals that I want to get articles in, preferably either read by or vetted by evangelical academics. Part of the trouble with studying at a historically Roman Catholic institution is that I don't know what journals would be good to look at. But this side of the course can wait until Oct., the job I have first of all is developing my reading list.

We worked on that a bit, 20-25 books. I'm looking primarily at political theology in this paper. So I need to get a sense of how this is working out in the evangelical theological world. On my to investigate list I have:
  • Moltmann - Religion, Revolution and the Future; Theology of Hope; On Human Dignity
  • *Volf/Katerburg - The Future of Hope
  • Yoder - The Politics of Jesus
  • Muller-Fahrenholz - The Kingdom and the Power
  • Grenz - Renewing the Center
  • Stackhouse - Evangelical Landscape
  • *Bevans - Models of Contextual Theology
  • *Schweitzer/Simon - Intersecting Voices
  • Scott - Blackwell Companion to Political Theology
  • Lakeland - Theology and Critical Theory
  • Johnston - The Use of the Bible in Theology
  • Metz - Faith in History and Society
  • *Campbell - Critical Theory and Liberation Theology
  • Siebert - From Critical Theory to Critical Political Theology; The Critical Theory of Religion, the Frankfurt School
  • Baum - Religion and Alienation
  • Rush - Cambridge Companion to Political Theory
  • *Moore - The Kingdom of Christ
  • Nolan - Jesus Before Christianity

That gives me a place to start. I need texts about evangelical theological methodology, serious works that aren't afraid to question the faith stances within the evangelical world. I'm going to spend some time looking at articles tomorrow, but I need to nail the reading list soon. Many of the above books are just out of simple searches, so except the ones with stars (those I anticipate keeping on the list) they can all go. I expect at least something from Moltmann and Metz on the list as I need to cover European Political Theology; Intersecting Voices is a good coverage of the North American version called Critical Theology; and if Campbell is not good I have a lot of decent texts on Liberation Theology (the Latin American version). Moore excited me because the synopsis sounds like a historical version of my PhD topic!

What will be cool is that I'm going to work with different hermeneutics of reading, I'll read the texts one way then Prof. Eaton will give me a different hermeneutic to re-read the texts with. Should be fun, but a lot of thinking. I started doing this with my masters research when doing revision work. But at this level it is all about method and thinking.

Next Friday the PhD seminar starts up. I'm actually looking forward to it, even though I've not heard good reviews of it.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


What an incredibly frustrating day. Mostly because my house is a complete disaster! Despite best intentions and efforts, the mess that is getting kids ready for school while avoiding unpacking from vacation continues to overwhelm. Topping that off my wireless mouse finally died! Really sucks. I am going to buy a new one today (I have a half dozen decent wired mice, but none are USB???) What to do with a dead mouse anyway? What about the keyboard Sharon fried with a water spill? (And she wonders why I don't let her use my laptop!) Or the dozen CPUs I have stacked up in our crawlspace (including my original 286!) Peripherals, oh I got me a heap o-peripherals too. It really makes me sad.

I have a friend who makes wonderful greeting cards from old CDs. I have a pile of them to give her tonight. But other than that, I have so much stuff to get rid of that it isn't funny. So why not curb it? Well that is a good question.

If I curb it then it goes to landfill, not so good. I'm sure the inheritors of this planet will not be too impressed even if I have all the instructions to make my old BBS run again! (No ECHOZONE will not live another day on my watch, well I shouldn't say never - but you get the idea) Landfill is my least favourite option. But what other options are there.

I know there are computer recyclers. I should box up all these darn things and take them there. But then the second problem hits me - memories. Maybe it is the last bit of a dying self. Before theology I had a decent IT Security career. At one point I had a large network of computers (PC, Sun, and Mac) so that I could simulate client environments. But what gave out was my heart. In IT you constantly re-invent yourself. I went from college teacher to programmer to multimedia consultant to web developer to database developer to security expert to policy analyst to corporate trainer/PKI and permissions based computing expert to I don't care about computers anymore! Sure it took me many years, but here I am with a dead mouse remembering how much I dislike techy stuff now. To think I was considering trying to fix this darned thing. No my heart gave up on computers long before I did.

So that leaves me frustrated.

I should be excited. I'm in the last leg of my studies. It has been a real fight. But really good. Friday I start a reading course with Dr. Heather Eaton (my director), a research orientation at Ottawa U and I'm hoping to catch up with the rest of Heather's PhD students (there are four of us) for dinner. That means I'm off and running. Messy house and all.

Well I just need to pick a spot and start cleaning. Perhaps the bathrooms.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Writing Projects

I spent a couple amazing days with our dear friends Brad and Mary Culver. They have the only Vineyard in Ontario that is like Freedom. We were just coming off of a family trip (with Sharon's mother, sister and sister's kids) to Niagara Falls. That was a fairly intense time so we were really looking forward to the rest that we feel with Brad and Mary. But it was also a good opportunity to move forward with our writing project. Brad and I are writing a book, collecting some of our thoughts on micro-missional faith communities. We have lots of really good ideas, but right now we are trying to narrow it down to just those things that will be really solid contributions. Our big goal is to not present an alternative model of church, but rather to spark the imagination that fuels our freedom to do church in ways that reach out in sometimes completely new ways. As Brad put it, the game is completely changing, and that is exciting.

On Sunday we went to the Gig, which is an example of what is possible when you don't get hung up on models, but dare to dream with God about ways of reaching into marginalized communities (in this case it is musicians and artists). It was really nice church and they have a huge vision. That night we played Zombies (boardgame) and talked about one of the biggest issues with micro-missional churches - integrating families with kids. I'll keep folks posted on how this project is going. I also want to find a venue for my master's research. Publications under my belt is the name of the game in securing a solid teaching position.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Thwarted by the Crowds

Went out to see Dark Night, but I forgot it was "tight-night" (Tuesday's is cheap night at the theatres around here). It was a mad house. I got lost trying to find my buddy's house - they changed roads while I was away??? But we figured we'd see it on the normal screen instead of IMAX. Both of us are jonesing to see this film. But the sea of people at the theatre was a bad sign. As we lined up for tickets I caught the marquee that said our showing was sold out already!!!! I would have stayed, but my friend has class in the AM so another time Batman, another time!

I also have been trying to get out GPS up and running, with many setbacks. Sharon got one specifically for geocaching. The basemaps on the Triton line suck and the Canadian TOPO maps (Ontario) that I finally decided to buy require me to purchase an SD card! Arggggghhhh. We are really wanting to give this unit a proper field test. We used it coming home, but the current basemap just has major highways??? The new maps are very nice. This isn't one of those car GPSs that tell you where to go. "Turn right now, you are entering HELL!!!!" No, it is made for getting your boots dirty. It will be awesome when we go camping next.

Much as my day has been frustrating I did manage to make some lemonade. On our vacation my only purchase was a Morley Bright Inst-a-tector. Which I am getting the hang of. So far I found two inverted watermark stamps in a big pile of Wildings I went through tonight. I also found a sweet single band phospher tagged 2.5p stamp that I didn't have. Yay!!!! The inst-a-tector is something I've wanted for a couple of years. I showed up at the Unitrade headquarters in Toronto, on our way home, and was delighted to be given a discount on my new tool! So cool.

Sorry, nothing theological here. I'm still on vacation!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Reviewing Books

I will be adding more book reviews here. I joined the Early Reviewers group at LibraryThing and am about to get my second book. I also had a few people online approach me about reviewing their books. I'm quite open to more. What I can guarantee is that I will read the book and place my review both here and on LibraryThing (and if I can find it on Visual Bookshelf (via facebook) then I'll at least rate it there).

What I cannot guarantee is that I'll give you a favourable review. I will be fair and try to look at the book in an academic (ie. critical) fashion. Assessing what contribution this book is trying to make and how well it does that. I will also try to assess how this book will work for the intended audience (as best I can discern that). I will also be upfront about timing. I read quite quickly, but when I'm in the midst of papers or preparing for events free book reviews wait.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Well Prayed Ground

I've been on a bit of a trip this week, took my family to Southern Ontario to visit friends and hang with Sharon's mom and sister in Niagara Falls. I'm not fond of big trips, especially with so many people wanting to do so much. My kids are tired and I'm not really enjoying myself. But soon we will be with our dear friends Brad and Mary, that will be like an oasis just before we return.

But something cool happened. We were leaving Toronto and needed some food for the kids. So I suggested a mall near where I used to live in Mississauga. We got off the highway and fueled up cars and kids for the trip to Niagara Falls. Which BTW is like a giant slug chewed up all the kitsch in North America and vomited it next to one of the most beautiful falls you can imagine??? Certainly the falls shine even brighter next to all this tackiness, but it is seriously unnecessary. But back to my story.

When we were getting back on the highway we drove past what used to be a field. A field that I used to walk around in and pray. I had many intimate moments with my Creator in that field. So when I looked over what did I see? A mosque. Unexpectedly this made me very happy. How fitting that the place I found solitude for prayer would become the place of prayer for one of the prayingest religions I know. No matter what else you might think of Muslims, they pray. I think my joy also fitting considering that the days I spent there I was struggling with the theology of the Foursquare church I was helping to plant. I think that place is where I laid the groundwork for my exit from fundamentalist evangelicalism. But it would take quite a while for me to open my mind to see Christ at work beyond the evangelical church.

I think I'll pray for that mosque over the coming weeks. Pray that their times there with the Creator will be as life changing as my own.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

What Makes Me Sad about Revivalism...

Todd Bentley is getting a lot of traffic in the blog-o-sphere lately. I think Scott gives a really good treatment of the whole situation. For those of you who know me, I have real mixed feelings about the whole revival idealism that has overtaken the Charismatic world to which I still claim to be a part. But the problem I have is with that word revival. I was a lot more comfortable when we used to call these movements renewals.

I noticed this shift during the Toronto Blessing. For a long time we called it a renewal and felt that it was a time of God refreshing the Church. In fact, I was really refreshed through that movement. But it started to take itself far too seriously - and they switched 'r' words. It reminds me of what happened on the mount of Transfiguration. Which I think simply reveals a human tendency to camp around experiences. What our greatest need is not to do away with experience, but to learn how to reflect on these experiences in a critical way.

But the big problem is that most of my beloved charismatics have run reason and education off their lots, chasing them away with shotguns blazing! I think this is why I appreciate Mark Noll's work so much, especially the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (which I will buy for you Todd, just let me know.)

I'm a charismatic. I believe in healing, deliverance, prophecy, power encounters, the works. But I'm also using the brain God gave me to its full potential. You might say I'm intent on having my cake and eating it too - but in this case I know I can. The reason is I've experienced it. That doesn't mean it is easy. There are times when you need to just give your self to the experience, and there are times when you need to think before leaping. But not because these are mutually exclusive domains, rather because as Westerners (in particular) we have trouble bringing out full attention to more than one thing at a time.

I think Scott's offer to Todd (end of his
) is really good. I have yet to see one of these movements pastored well. I actually thought Toronto was pastored well in the beginning, but it felt like the Pentecostals got in there after a while and sorta railroaded things. I still have lots of respect for John and Carol Arnott. I know firsthand how hard it is to pastor in the midst of a renewal. So I have a few recommendations of my own:

1) Distinguish between teacher and pastor. Teachers should be encouraged to study and communicate theology. They should have the ear of the congregation and the pastoral body.

2) Stop picking and choosing from history. Teachers should help the whole movement reflect on what has gone on before and how the church responded. I think we'd save ourselves a lot of grief if we even knew a little about the great heresies of the past.

3) Stop picking and choosing from scripture. Charismatics are horrible exegetes. There I said it. This was Wimber's warning to Toronto - don't try and justify experiences with proof texts taken out of context. Yet, they did it anyway.

4) Stop the cult of personality. That is a frigging plague on our movement. How many of our idolized personalities are going to fall before we realize this? I think about Todd and Shonnah and I'm convinced that this is a part of the problem. It makes me angry because I see so often marriages that become casualties to ministry. There are a lot of facets to this issue, and I'm in no way justifying Todd's actions, but the model it flawed folks and we keep getting wake up calls but not listening.

5) Stop trying to make revival happen. Sure we can pray for revival. Personally, that word is tainted for me. I prefer to line up with Jesus' and pray for the Kingdom to come. Because that doesn't end up as a localized culture ghetto phenomenon. That is what happens in real life, amongst real people. We get into this love of manufactured excitement and miss that God chose a pretty mundane way to reach us. Doesn't mean that the Kingdom never broke in - that is pretty evident. But there is a lot of the story that is just life. I am convinced God wants us to appreciate that and let God show up there rather than in a stadium.

I'm praying for ya Todd. I know folks who have been blessed by Lakeland. I also know those who are frustrated by it. At some point this will blow over and another so-called revival will take its place. But will we learn from this one?

Friday, August 15, 2008

It Is Finished!

I'm sitting next to a pile of three identical documents. Each has the title: An Incarnational Theology of the Emerging Church. And all are authored by yours truly. I am done my Masters research paper!

Because it is a research paper and not a thesis all I do is hand it in and wait. My director (Dr. Heather Eaton) provides the lion's share of the mark. She's already seen it many times and proposed many revisions. So I'm confident that I'll do well.

What an incredible amount of effort went into this. It took a year for me to narrow my topic, research my area, present a proposal (at our seminar), revise this proposal several times, write my paper and do endless revisions. I clock in (with bibliography) at 59 pages - 60 is max. I am really happy I managed to not hit the max - I watched fellow students having to cut, cut, cut - so sad. That doesn't mean that I didn't cut lots along the way, but going into revisions I was pretty close to my targets for each section. There was one stupidly late night where I wrote a few pages, in the morning I ended up taking everything but one or two sentences out!

Well I'm gonna take these down to the school now.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Content of the Gospel

One of the areas I have been looking at in my research is what I call the evangelical witness of various evangelical traditions. The idea of evangelical witness gives me a broad way of talking about a variety of practices that these traditions employ in trying to present their understanding of the gospel to people outside of their groups. But what I didn't think was worth tackling in my paper (which has a stronger focus on the dismantling of the sacred/secular split going on in many emerging churches) is the content of this gospel. As I look at various evangelical movements I see that many of them consider a presentation of substitutionary atonement as the gospel. The Bridge Illustration is a good example of what I am talking about. It becomes a formula: you have sinned, you need to repent, Jesus paid for your sin, here's your get to go to heaven card now take your place on that pew over there. Certainly as someone with twenty plus years in the evangelical world I was led to believe this is the whole of the gospel content, now I am far from sure it is even the most appropriate presentation. Seriously, is this really good news? And if the gospel is supposed to be good news, then what is that good news and how is it relevant to the world that God is supposed to love so much? These are questions worth meditating on before the next time you are tempted to strap on a big placard and go out into public.

BTW the guy in the picture looks like a guy I know, and yes I can totally see him with an sign like this. Scary.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Lumière Festival

Thursday I had a complete draft of my research paper. Clocking in a 57 pages with a selected bibliography, I was happy with my wiggle room for revisions. Then Saturday morning the last of it to pass through my first readers returned and I made most of those changes in the early afternoon. I'm at 56 pages, which is good because I already have revisions to make that will add at least a page to chapter 2. The whole process involves agonizing over word after word. But the revisions are a lot more bearable now that I have a full draft and even better some of it garnered compliments on my improved writing ability.

Last night I took time to take my girls to a new festival - Lumière. What's not to love about dressing up like fairies, plopping glow sticks into homemade lanterns and enjoying dance, costumes, actors, jugglers, stilt walkers, and lots of lantern art. It was still light when we got there and Sharon dressed up in a convincing Snow White, she even dyed her hair. Instant celebrity. My favourite comment was a little girl asking her mom how it was possible for Snow White to be at this festival. I also loved it when kids would come up and my youngest would say, "that's not the real Snow White, it's just my mommy in a costume." It was in that terribly cute matter-of-fact manner that only Chelsea and pull off.

When the sun went down things really lit up. Tonnes of candles were offered up to make the night a success. It was very pretty. We forgot to take a camera, but in the long run I think a camera would have just got in the way. I didn't dress up this year, but I'm thinking if we go back I just might be Prince Charming. Too bad he is a forgettable bit role in the Snow White story.

OK, back to the revisions. Friday my director and I made a plan to get this paper ready to hand in by Friday. Most of it has been through her scrutiny once and a third of it is good to go now.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Have a Jesus Period

Everytime I see that add for tampons that has the tag, "have a happy period," I can't help thinking how many of the women in my life turned into Mr. Hyde just before their visitor arrived. How is anyone going to have a happy period after they've just decapitated everyone they claim to love!!! Well, I found an answer. King of emotionally manipulative kitschy Christian musical storytelling - Carmen, has some really horrid merchandise on his website. He also has surprises for the souls, braver than I, willing to offer him money. Perhaps he has solved other mysteries of the universe.

His solution - the Jesus Period. Yup. A Jesus Period. The secret contents of this box are not revealed (unless one send the requisite love gift) but for those of us who suffer the ill effects of PMS (Pretty Messed up Situation that happens once a month (at least) but this makes too long an acronym so we'll just use the first three words) it is really tempting.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Go and Vote!!!!

Scott is hosting the Worst Preacher Ever Championship. You can google up sermons from all of these choice contestants. Some of the pairings are particularly hard - Pat Robertson and John Crowder for instance. I went with Crowder because I don't identify with Robertson so I don't feel like he belittles my faith as much as Crowder does. Benny Hinn and Robert Tilton, both people I would like to hear less from, but with Tilton it is personal and while I dislike the theatrics of Benny and really dislike his theology - I do think there is something going on there.

Personally I'm rooting for Tilton to win!

Go and vote now!!!!!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Liminality of the Eucharist

This is a repost, the article was published in the now defunct Resonate Journal. I needed to reference it for my research, thought you might enjoy it.

Liminality of the Eucharist

There is a mall here in Ottawa where I enjoy sitting with a coffee and my Bible. I am convinced this is one of those places the ancient Celts would say is thin. That is a place where the veil between heaven and earth is so sheer that one almost stumbles through it to the other side, and into the very presence of God. I’ve stumbled across the threshold in that mall a few times now so just going there gives me a sense of expectation and longing. That mall is a place I want to experience with eyes wide open.

The Eucharistic Community

In the community I pastor we have been exploring the corporate Eucharistic experience. I have had the privilege of hanging out with some very cool Roman Catholics over the years. Their passion for the Eucharist has stirred up in me a deep dissatisfaction over the whole Protestant minimalist approach to this practice. I realize that I had been missing out on something good – and it had little to do with theology and a lot to do with expectation. For my Catholic friends the Eucharistic celebration is a thin space. In the sacrament they are actually encountering God and participating in God’s life. What is even more exciting is that their liturgical structures foster this expectation and create an environment where God actually shows up.

There is a lot of fear that can rise up whenever we talk about the Eucharist in this way. Many Protestants have been prejudiced with a notion that a sacramental theology excludes salvation by faith alone. This is the fear that the sacraments hijack the role of faith in the life of the believer. Many are scandalized at the notion that anything more than flat allegory happens at the communion table. And as a result it is no wonder that, since the time of Luther, there has been very little liturgical reformation in terms of the Protestant communion.

Maybe there is some validity to this fear because personally I now find the typical Protestant communion, with its little cups and little squares of bread, to be quite absurd. We need to ask the question: “What are we afraid of?” Are we afraid that God might really show up? Are we afraid that we might encourage people to recognize in the bread the body of Christ broken for them? Or that they realize, through the wine, that the blood of Christ seals the deal of a whole new covenant with God? These are legitimate fears. When God shows up things change and that can be hard to deal with. Just think of the frustrated disciples leaving for Emmaus; when they recognized Jesus everything changed.1

Many of us recognize that if we want to see healings, then we have to make space for them in our lives and communities. We need to ask in order to receive. We recognize that in the tension of these times we do not always see the things we long for – but that doesn’t stop us from asking, hoping and expecting. We can be comfortable with things like healing prayer, but still neglect a God given space for life changing encounters.

Not everyone will participate in the healing space, but almost everyone will participate in the act of communion. Jesus brilliantly tied His saving work to the most basic of human actions – eating and drinking. God “uses material things like bread and wine to get the new life into us. We may think it is rather crude and unspiritual. God does not.”2 In fact it is hard to think of any spiritual action that is more inviting and natural, yet also so meaningful. In order to overcome the fears that cause us to shy away from creating this space for Eucharistic encounters, let us examine some of the benefits that such a space can give our communities.

Shaping Eucharistic Encounters

The most basic benefit, and likely the most appealing, is the didactic nature of rich spiritual actions. Recently I attended a mass at a local Charismatic Catholic community. In the mass we were given the opportunity to write our troubles on a piece of paper and then toss them into a garbage bin set at the foot of the cross. It was a poignant moment in the service. After everyone was done the priest took the bin around asking who would like to have their burdens back? There were no takers. Actions like this make a dramatic impact on the participant. A richer vision for the Eucharist provides fertile ground for just such an impact.

When the elements of the Communion are small, they loose a lot of their potential impact. The richer the experience the more it will impact the participant. Recently in a home group we were celebrating the Eucharist and I happened to look down to see crumbs everywhere. I was scandalized. Not because I felt it was literally God underfoot, but because the whole thing was so messy. I realized that this made me very uncomfortable. In that moment God began showing me how comfortable I’d grown with the cross. The cross was almost a flippant part of my conversation, instead of the scandalous extent of our Great Lord’s love. This teaching moment would have been lost in small elements that possess no possibility for messiness.

There are many such moments in the Eucharist. Moments where we suddenly get what God is trying to show us, where the veil over our eyes is pulled aside and we catch a glimpse into the very heart of eternity. The Eucharist is only equaled by baptism in its rich potential for such an encounter. Our efforts at teaching are but letters on the page – it is not until the Living Word infuses them with presence that they burst to life in our veins invigorating our spirituality and passion for God. Those travelers to Emmaus found their hearts burning within them. Yet, it was not until the Living Word Jesus was recognized that the words propelled them to change their course of action.3

This invitation to change is the second benefit of a rich Eucharistic experience. The theological debate about the location of “real” presence need not find an answer in order for us to have a real experience with God. We are often so afraid of being deceived that we throw out the potential that maybe God will show up if we ask Him. Like most Protestants, I am not comfortable with the veneration of a host (wafer), but unlike most Protestants I expect to encounter the real presence of Jesus whenever I partake in the bread and the wine. In our fear we have done a disservice to the hungry masses, longing for real experience, real encounter. We have failed to believe that when God shows up everything changes.

You might suggest that we already have a space for encounter in our songs of worship or even some other aspect of our corporate liturgy. Corporate singing is quite accessible, but not everyone feels they can or should sing. Everyone eats and drinks. Jesus marries mystery to the mundane in a way that invites all of us to have that intimate encounter with Jesus. I like to think our community does intimate worship in song fairly well. When we had our first communion service in our newest home group, the response that struck me the most was “I liked it because it was intimate.” There is something about the invitation of the table that draws us into God’s presence. When we sing we exhale, lifting our voice and breath up to God. But when we eat and drink we take into ourselves the very meaning of the elements, taking God into ourselves in a very intimate way. I am convinced that we need to treat the Eucharist as a part of our corporate worship.

The third benefit might stretch our operative theologies. (Despite the challenge it is something very important for a full and rich Eucharistic experience.) When we celebrate the Eucharist we unite with the celebration of the Church throughout all of Salvation History. The reason this notion is a problem is that a connection has been made to the crucifixion in a way that suggests the Mass is a re-enactment of the sacrifice of Jesus and that in the celebration Jesus is perpetually offered in sacrifice for our sins.

Some conceptions and theologies of the Eucharist conform to this understanding, but there is another way of approaching this, one that I believe works with both understandings of the Eucharist. We see the participant as sharing in the collective memory of God’s saving action, participating in the reasonable response of deep gratitude that is the Eucharistic celebration. This participation in the shared collective memory is often called anamnesis, which is Greek for memory lifted up.

When we see the Eucharist as an invitation to participate in this anamnesis then we are acknowledging a connection with both the historic Christianity of the Last Supper and the fulfillment of history in the coming Kingdom Feast. The Last Supper narratives in the gospels represent the ways that the primitive Christian communities celebrated the Eucharist. It is not until the fourth century that the Eucharistic forms begin to become overly complicated. At that point we see the addition of venerations, processions and other ceremonial actions.4 Looking at the pattern of the gospels there is the implication that the Eucharistic event is both a memorial and a moment of recognition and that both are received with thankfulness as the word eucharist suggests.

The God Who Invites

But the idea of a memorial does not adequately capture the sense of anamnesis. It simply implies that we remember what God has done, give thanks and go on with our lives. But there is something deeper at work here.

There is an open door in the Eucharistic experience. God stands on the other side and beckons us across the threshold into that dangerous space where He is present. The latin word limina means threshold, and so this Eucharistic experience is a liminal experince.

The whole history of the Church is about this struggle at the threshold. When we celebrate the Eucharist we are standing with the whole of a great cloud of witness, seeing not only the accomplished work of the cross – but the invitation into the Kingdom work of the Church. God stretches out His hand and says of the bread, “behold what you are, become what you see.”5 This is memory come to life in the believer: the recognition that we too participate in this thing called Salvation History. This has the potential to really impel the participants into all that the Father has in His heart for them.

When we celebrate the Eucharist, we are inviting an encounter with the Living Word. We are inviting a visit from the God who changes everything – including our hearts and minds. We are participating in the rich heritage of the Christian Church – joining our hearts with the faithful before and after us in holy declaration that all Jesus has done for us makes a difference in our lives.

By celebrating the Eucharist, we are opening ourselves to stepping across the threshold between this world and the next – into the very presence of God. And we are letting the Word teach us through profound act and action. In the Eucharist we find a thin place just waiting to be experienced. The celebration of the Eucharist will be a place where you will want to keep your eyes wide open.

1 Luke 24:13-33.
2 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Glasgow: William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., 1944), 62.
3 Luke 24:33.
4 Paul F. Bradshaw, In Search of the Origins of Christian Worship (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 216.
5 Eucharistic formula usually associated with St. Augustine.